Entrepreneur Interview: Julia Doherty, Green Umbrella

In each edition, there will be an interview with a local entrepreneur in order to learn from their success and to find out how they got to where they are today. This time it is Julia Doherty of Green Umbrella; a marketing agency based in Daventry.

How did you decide to start your own business in the first place?

Green Umbrella was launched in 2010. Its quite a funny story – I’d been in business for quite a while in recruitment, and as I’m a bit of an outdoors girl, I really wanted to buy myself a trailer tent. It was expensive – about £8000 – and my husband, Matt, who worked with me and was also the financial person, refused to let me take the money out of the business. Instead, he challenged me and said, “Julia, that’s fine. You can have the money, but you need to raise the money yourself.” It was challenge Julia!

I thought ok – what else am I good at apart from recruiting? Well, I’d been networking all these years, and I knew loads and loads of business people in the local area. So I thought Ill get them all together and teach them how Ethos Recruitment (my recruitment agency) used Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn to get business. With the Camping and Caravan show at the end of February, I had eight or nine weeks to raise the £8000 for the tent. So I worked out how many people I needed, charged them £25 a session, and ran six-week courses. I was teaching Tuesday nights, Thursday nights and Saturday mornings.

It was because of this I ended up getting my trailer tent at the Camping and Caravan show! It was happy, happy days! I had no intentions of this being a business whatsoever, but then people said to me “When are you doing your next set of workshops, Julia?” That’s when Green Umbrella was born.

Where did the name “Green Umbrella” come from, and the now infamous giraffe that you now use as your logo, how did that come into play?

Again – theres a story! If you imagine an Umbrella, and take my initials, J and D, you can combine them to make the shape of an umbrella. “Green” – my previous company was also green, that was because Id had a limited edition old Mini Cooper that was British racing green. This had been my pride and joy, but I had to sell that car to set up Ethos Recruitment. So Green, Umbrella, and everything is under one umbrella.

The giraffe symbolises a giraffe’s fart! I know that sounds a bit strange, and it also sounds funny when you’re standing up on stage saying it as well. But, you know when you’re standing underneath a giraffe and it farts? It goes straight over your head! Some of the things I talk about can get a bit technical, and if it’s going over your head, it means you’re having a giraffe fart moment!

What have been the biggest challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

I would say the hardest challenge is managing staff. I lead by example, and I expect people to follow me, but when they don’t they tend to go off and do their own thing, that’s when I find certain challenges.

The other challenges that I found, especially in the early days when you’re so passionate about your business, is that things tend to get squeezed out of your life. For me, a regret is that when my daughter Rachel was born, my husband Matt became a househusband – allowing me to continue with the recruitment business. In theory, this sounds great. But you do miss out in those early years. I was working so many hours, and they were crazy hours – up at four in the morning, taking temps to work, getting them out and about, and then taking phone calls at nine, ten o’clock at night.

How do you manage your work life balance?

I’ve learnt over the years! I’ll never forget when my daughter was about six years old and playing with a toy mobile phone; I had asked her something, she said to me “Mum – I’m working”. It was like, “Oh.” You can hear your own voice – and that was from a six year old.

Be there when you’re there. (You can be there but watching television and not really talking.) Rachel and I go out for a walk every evening, and we share with each other three good things that we’ve done today, so she says her three good things, I say my three good things. We’ve done that for God knows how long. I can’t remember when we first started that, but years ago, and we’ve always done that every night.

From a business point of view, I actually read a book called Early To Rise by Andy Traub, and this was probably about six or seven years ago. I now wake up at half-four every morning, quarter to five at the latest. I go out for a walk, but then I get a good two or three hours done before it encroaches on any family time. It’s amazing how much work you can get done in the early hours.

I’m most creative at that time in the morning. Come eight or nine o’clock at night, your brain’s all mushy anyway, so spend that time with your family.

How do you choose the right staff for your business?

I’ve made my mistakes along the way, but I’ve got an awesome team at the moment, and they’ve all been with me for quite a long time. I think the best bit of advice is to recruit on your own values. Anyone can have a skill set, but if you haven’t got the right personality type, if you don’t have that connection with somebody who is on the same page as you are, they tend to go off on their own train track. They need the same ethos, and they need to enjoy the same sort of culture that you do.

Since you’ve been in business, what’s the best piece of advice that you’ve actually received?

The best bit of advice, which I will never forget, was from this old boy called Ian Barry, he’s retired now (he was an accountant based over in Rugby). Before I set up my very first business I was working, and we won some investment awards (opportunity of the year awards). This guy comes up to me and says, “Julia, if you ever go into business on your own, come and see me before you see anyone else.” Fast forward three years and I decide I’m going to set up my own recruitment agency, so I went to see him. At the time one of my clients had a pot of money, about £12,000 in the bank, and we were going to start this business together. Ian said, “No matter what you do, Julia, don’t go into business with anybody else.” It wasn’t anything specific against this one particular guy that I was planning to go into business with. Ian said, “You need to do this on your own.” That was probably the best bit of advice I ever got.

What’s been your biggest learning point in running your own business?

Probably the biggest learning curve is you need a team. You need people behind you that are going to support you through thick and thin. Take people’s advice and know you can’t do everything on your own either. Everyone has weaknesses. I’m not a figures person. I’m not a detailed person at all. You need someone to sort of sweep up behind you and pick up the pieces. Just do what you’re good at. For me, it’s the creativity side of things, and I learn, I love my trade.

You always need an advisor. You need somebody to always help you and steer you in the right direction. I’ve always had a business coach, ever since I started.

How important has a business plan been in your business?

If you don’t have a plan, how do you know where you’re going and how do you know what you’ve achieved? I’m a big planner, so I do two types of plans every year. I take some time out in between Christmas and New Year, and I set my goals and objectives for the year, and that mixes between what our customers want, and what we want financially.

I do life planning as well, in the form of ‘what do I want to achieve personally this year?’ (For example, what languages do I want to learn) Then, I plan everything out. I put it in my diary that every three months I take a half-day out of the office, shut myself away, and make sure that we’re on track with where we’re going.

It sounds a bit geeky, but I also break things down into little mini goals and micro goals just to make sure that I’m on track. It does go off tangent, and you know, I also found it’s okay to say “I’m not doing that goal anymore”. At one time, I used to be quite self-critical – for example, last year, I wanted to read at least three business books a month. I got to September, and I’d missed two months, and I’d only read about one. So I beat myself up a bit about missing that target. But now I’m able to say “You know? That’s all right.”

You’ve got quite a unique organisation structure for your business. Do you want to say a little bit about that?

It’s a little bit different. I think that’s coming from the challenges I’ve had with staff in the past. We only have a very small team at head office. It’s just the four of us, and from there; we’ve now got probably about twenty social mediators working for us across the country. These are people who have got their own little part-time business, but on top of that, they’re also learning about social media every single week. The key thing is that they actually feel part of something – I think that’s what makes it so special and why we’ve kept people for so long.

We get together at least three or four times a year. I’m very transparent as well. I’ll tell them what companies owe us money and who doesn’t pay in full, for example. They’ve all got a really good idea of how much money we’re making in the business. I ask for their input as well with regards to new processes and new ideas I’ve got. They feel really engaged and a part of the Green Umbrella community.

What are your plans for the next few years? How’s Green Umbrella going to evolve in the future?

I work in such a fantastic industry, I usually get bored after a few years, and tend to think “I’m off to my next venture,” – but we’ve been doing social media now for seven years, and every single week there’s something new and exciting. I just don’t know where it’s going to be in a couple of years’ time, but I just know I’m still going to be around and still doing it. Social media will morph into something else – and so will my business.

I always wanted to retire by the time I was fifty, but then what would I do? I have absolutely no idea. I reckon I’ll still be doing this stuff when I’m seventy because I just can’t imagine not doing social media!