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Friday Interview: I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to my MBE

From leaving school at 16 to receiving her MBE award in the 2020 New Year’s Honours List, Janice Ross has mentored and supported countless entrepreneurs in the North East over the years.

By Helen Bowman

Before we start, can you tell us how you are feeling amidst the Coronavirus pandemic?

It’s certainly a very worrying time. I think it will change how we live and work in the future. In the meantime, I’m a practical person, and sometimes boringly sensible! My plan is two-fold; covering home and work. I’m in a vulnerable household so we battened down the hatches a week before the Government guidance and stopped external contact with everyone. WhatsApp is getting some use!

I’m lucky that I can work from home and my employers, TEDCO Business Support, have done everything they can so we can safely continue to deliver the full service for North Tyneside Council’s The Business Factory project. I’m particularly loving the new Business Factory online site which was developed by North Tyneside Council last year to bring 24/7 support to residents and businesses of the borough. TEDCO planned to go paper-free in April so we have been able to bring those plans forward. In the midst of uncertainty, it brings a little light knowing we are at the forefront of a more environmentally sustainable business future.

Do you have any advice for people who run their own businesses?

Keeping abreast of the rolling changes is proving a little frustrating for some but by sticking to the Government website you can find out what is happening at the soonest possible time. They are updating it regularly, so if the information isn’t there when you look in the morning, check again every couple of hours. It will filter down to Local Authority websites in time too.

Secondly, ask for support. Don’t isolate yourself from the myriad of people who are able to help online. Each area has a business support organisation so use them now. If you are a member of a club, networking group or organisation, see if they have a Facebook Support Group where you can ask questions and share your own expertise, or provide a place to offload any frustration or worries. If they don’t, why not suggest it? The National Women’s Network Facebook Group is a safe place for me to share my thoughts.

Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background

I’m currently working for TEDCO Business Support Ltd as one of the start-up business advisors on North Tyneside Council’s Business Factory programme, but my career has taken me down several paths up to this point.

I left school at 16, choosing (against advice!) to do a BTEC at Newcastle College rather than doing A Levels. My work placement from college was in a hotel and I was offered a job when the placement ended. I loved meeting people as receptionist, but the shift work got in the way of my social life so after a few months I took the customer service skills I’d learned to a daytime receptionist job in an accountancy firm. From there I moved closer to home for a step up the ladder, with another accountancy firm. I stayed there for 18 years, progressing to Development Director, a role which included the marketing and HR.

I began to feel there was more to life than working for someone else and I was doing lots of voluntary work with the National Women’s Network at the time. Everyone there worked for themselves. I was the odd one out. A fall down the stairs at work was the wake-up call I needed that something had to change. It literally knocked me off my feet and it was a pivotal moment. In 2008, I handed in my notice and started working for myself – I launched Janice Ross Marketing.

I studied to become a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) with Maria Wright of Change U as part of my business offering – a life-changing experience. I loved helping people to change, but it was one person at a time – I wanted to reach more people, for the ripple to flow further. That realisation helped my business to take off and I was soon working with local authorities including North Tyneside. That was how I got involved with the Business Factory – I became the resident Marketing Consultant and was subsequently offered a full-time role. I’ve been there six years now.

You were recently awarded an MBE – how did that come about?

What a shock! I knew absolutely nothing about it until I received an official-looking letter in mid-November. I initially thought it might be another round of jury service but when I read it I thought it was a joke.

It had all started about 18 months previously when my friend Ann Clement, of Tadaima Tuition, pulled together the application to acknowledge the community work I do.  We’ve known each other for years through the National Women’s Network and she worked with some of my other business friends to make this happen. She’d gathered letters from all over the region to support the application – small businesses I’ve helped, community leaders, charitable organisations, the chair of my local parish council. I guess it all adds up and it’s nice to know Her Majesty agrees!

I don’t consider it outstanding, but they obviously did. It’s hit me since, just how big it is. I’ve had imposter syndrome, decided there must be some mistake, felt unworthy. You name it, I’ve had the emotion. Since it was announced publicly, life has gone haywire. I’ve had hundreds of messages, flowers, cards, gifts – there’s no escaping it!  I’m so humbled by the award and by everyone’s reaction to it.

What’s the next step?

I’ll go to Buckingham Palace later this year to accept the award. My invitation letter arrived in January and I’m all set to take three guests to Buckingham Palace and receive my award. The original date is likely to be postponed due to Coronavirus but that’s ok. I feel like I’m on a bit of a roundabout, to be honest, and I need to decide which route to take next.

I’d love to have a say in the future of the region and will be keeping my eyes open for any opportunities to do so. If I can have a small influence on some level for the future health of the business community, then I’ll do whatever I can. I’m already working on ways to support businesses remotely. In the meantime, I’ll be getting a new hat!

Is your MBE going to change anything?

I won’t change my approach to my work. I set out to make a difference but I’m not the person in the limelight – I want the person I’m helping to be the one who shines, and I’ll continue to do that across everything I do.

I’ve reflected on this question quite a lot since New Year and I hope that the title of MBE will add some gravitas to the projects I’m working with. As co-founder of Take Away The Tears CIC, a charitable organisation supporting the world of dog rescue, I’m currently trying to find new warehouse space. The North East is renowned for its love of dogs and we ship dozens of pallet-loads of donations. It all needs to be stored and we’ve outgrown the space. Sue Nuttall, my co-founder who shines at the front of the organisation, has a constant puzzle working out the logistics, especially as we can’t ship just now. We both do this in our spare time, for fun, because we love dogs! But we need more support.

By day, I’m talking to TEDCO about some new ideas and I’d love to teach people to encourage others the way I do. My approach isn’t textbook, and I’d love to share my success.

What do you find the most rewarding about your work?

The sparkle that comes into a person’s eye when they get an idea during a coaching session. I can see the moment the lightbulb goes on and I love to share in the excitement of people’s ideas, their realisations and their passion. It’s as simple as that.

In fact, my overall philosophy is simple. An encouraging word now can make all the difference in the future. When you realise the difference someone is making, or could make, find a way to tell them or reward them. The feeling of validation and acknowledgement from another person, no matter how small it is, is priceless.

My networking friends encouraged me to start my business and were subsequently behind the MBE nomination – it’s all come full circle.

What challenges have you faced?

Not looking after myself properly. I didn’t set boundaries within my business when I first started out. I was working far too hard and running on empty.

It didn’t impact on my work at all but getting home I was like an empty shell. So, I did some therapy with Elaine Maughan of Elemental Changes in Whitley Bay – she helped me to work out my life purpose and gave me some strategies to follow. I use a guided meditation every night to help me sleep, which has been a game-changer.

I know when I’m getting low and tired and I make sure I rest now, but that’s the biggest challenge. I’m learning to spot the early signs and do something about it.

How do you find working in the North East?

I love it. I was born in Durham and still live there, up on the hill at Burnhope. North Tyneside, in particular, has drawn me in over recent years and North Tyneside Council is fabulous for business support. TEDCO is based in Sunderland and the projects it runs are so well rounded and balanced for all businesses in the region. I just love being a part of it.

Closer to home, my voluntary work reflects a real community spirit, with everyone looking out for each other. I love that. It’s a privilege to be part of it.

What are your North East favourites?

For my own relaxation, I love to be by the water. The energy and flow of all bodies of water totally inspire me. I often drive whichever route goes by the Tyne or the sea to top up my energy.

Cullercoats has been a favourite since I was little.

Caravanning became my escape a few years ago. With our tourer, we can head off in whichever direction promises the best weather. The Northumberland Coast is one we head to every year, with Beadnell one of our favourites. It provides the antithesis of my working day – I can kick off my shoes, feel the earth beneath my feet, do long walks and lap up the fresh air. To do this with my husband and soul mate Steven, and our mini schnauzer Jester, gives me the balance I need.

My favourite shop is Happy Planet in Whitley Bay – artist Gail Curry is a good friend of mine and I just love exploring her wonderful shop.

And finally, for my feel-good factor, I go to Skin Management Solutions in Benton for some ‘me time’ – I love it there.

I think we’ll access all these things differently in the next few weeks, and I’ll continue to support local businesses by ordering online or sharing their posts on social media so that someone else does.

 

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