Business Journey: Lorna Watkinson of Vibrant Thinking
Taking her first leap from a corporate role felt scary, but two businesses and a lot of fantastic support later, Lorna Watkinson hasn't looked back. She shares her business journey to founding Vibrant Thinking with us.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Vibrant Thinking helps team leaders set their hybrid team up for success. A hybrid team is a flexible work structure, in which some employees work remotely and others work from a central location or office. Prior to COVID-19, flexible hybrid working was an emerging trend, but the global pandemic has catapulted this model to mass adoption.
There are many benefits to a hybrid team including improved productivity, greater access to talent, improved employee experiences and lower costs (Mckinsey report 2020).
However, there are also risks that different cultures emerge within hybrid teams which negatively impact on morale and productivity. I help team leaders avoid the ‘us and them’ mentality, working with the team to identify shifts in working style, communication rhythm and team organisation that are needed to maintain high morale and productivity.
What did you do before you started this business?
I worked at Procter and Gamble in the media department for 17 years. I was based in Newcastle and the teams I worked with were split between Geneva and London, so I understand the challenges that come when you are not located together.
I have first-hand experience of working in a hybrid team that developed an us and them culture. I know how quickly small issues become major barriers that can impact on everyone and the business.
During my time there I built strong working relationships with people I have never met and honed my skills at being able to add value in meetings when I was often the only one connecting remotely.
When I left P&G I set up my first business Rainbow Pottery Painting (which is still going) before setting up Vibrant Thinking.
What inspired you to start up?
Vibrant Thinking was initially set up a couple of years ago providing creative team building sessions using pottery painting as a tool. I believe the use of creativity in problem solving is often under-utilised in business and wanted to offer a route where teams could have fun, learn something about each other and identify solutions to challenges that the team face.
Since the pandemic I’ve evolved the business to be focused on working with hybrid teams as I want to share my expertise in this area to help others avoid the mistakes we made.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I think its really important to invest in yourself, so I have a business coach (Lucy Patterson) who keeps me accountable, helps me set goals and then most importantly deliver them. I also have a mentor who is someone I can bounce ideas off and who rigorously questions assumptions I may have made.
But the person who gives me the most support and advice is my friend Josie Dunne from Funkyneedlework. She and I started our businesses at the same time and have supported each other through the bad days and celebrated the good days.
She, for me, is the one person who really understands the ups and downs of running your own business (and balancing it with your family). She’s always there for support and ideas but also makes sure I recognise the progress I’ve made.
How did you access any finance you needed?
When I set up Rainbow Pottery Painting I used my savings to finance it and also accessed a small grant to help fund some of the marketing activity. When I set up Vibrant Thinking I took a business loan out to fund the initial set up.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I think it has to be that I have actually started my own business – two of them in fact! I was talking to a colleague who recently left P&G and we agreed that it can be a big risk and quite scary to leave corporate to run your own business; it's a big leap and many people feel trapped and unwilling to make it.
So yes, I’m proud that I made that leap!
How do you differentiate your business from others?
Firstly, I think it’s the use of creativity to solve problems. How you look at a challenge from different angles to come up with better solutions.
Secondly, I would say it’s the fact we have a roadmap to follow, to set hybrid teams up for success. I see lots of the potential challenges and some suggested answers out there but not a clear route that helps team leaders.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
I have learnt an awful lot about myself being my own boss, there is nowhere to hide. I’ve learnt what I am best at, what I should outsource and I really value having that insight into myself.
The best bit about being my own boss is being in control of my time as I have been able to be there for all the school events for my daughter and be part of her life more than I would have been if I had continued in corporate.
The downside is that it's much more difficult to switch off and work/life boundaries do become blurred. But I think I would struggle now to go back to a situation where someone else was my boss.
Where do you see your business in five years' time?
I see Vibrant Thinking supporting Hybrid Teams globally, not just in the UK.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself even when others don’t and seek out like-minded people who will give you support and advice. Also, everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you think it will – and that’s ok