Perseverance, leadership and washing pots

Third Sector trainer and coach Rob Legge recalls how he navigated the initial difficulties of starting his own business after redundancy - and how challenging and unpredictable situations can teach us the most.

By Rob Legge – third sector coach, trainer and consultant //

I was made redundant in February 2013 at the age of 55.  I had always wanted to start my own business and with the encouragement of Karen, my wife, set up Rob Legge Consulting to provide leadership coaching, training and consultancy.

And then nothing happened.

Two months on – with my redundancy pay-out getting lower – I had no customers and no real plan of getting them.

Thanks to a government scheme I was given the support of a business mentor for six months. They helped me develop a business plan and start to make baby steps towards my first clients.  An ex-work colleague based in Belfast gave me a few days’ work – and through the support of Brian Carr, CEO of BVSC I was allowed to pilot a half day course on Time Management.

Six months later, I was working one or two days per month as Rob Legge Consulting – not enough to earn a living.

I took the plunge and went to a local job agency and this is when things started to change. My business started to grow – and in a variety of “non-professional” roles I was constantly out of my comfort zone and rapidly developing my skills.

I had a variety of short-term, part-time jobs. Firstly, as a Christmas temp with Halfords HQ on the customer helpline.  I learnt to work under pressure trying to help customers locate the right bike for their child under the unforgiving Christmas Eve deadline.

I remember working with a shop manager in Glasgow to locate a bike in stock in the Warrington store. We had to ship it up to Scotland and then put it on a local bus, where it was dropped off in a village at 8pm on Christmas Eve… to a very relieved parent.

I worked as a kitchen porter at a local school where I learnt more about team work and leadership than a library of well-meaning management books. In a confined space, eight staff worked with precision, humour and respect to provide 245 meals – on time – to a very discerning clientele of teenage students.  The supervisor made me feel welcome, explained the role clearly and I was helped to fit in to a dynamic and successful team.

A month at a further education college, providing pastoral care during the post-exam period honed my skills in organising (a pool competition) and listening (post-exam blues). In this role, I learnt how to put together a range of workshops in a stimulating, entertaining and effective way for 17 to 21 year-olds who really didn’t want to sit through an hours presentation on the electoral system or sexual health.

And in the background, I began to provide regular courses at BVSC and those participants started to ask me to help them in their charities. Over time they recommended me to others – so that now, I’m in the privileged position of working full-time in my dream role as a coach and trainer for people in the third sector.

So why am I telling you this?

Perhaps because you aren’t in the job of your dreams yet. If not – hold on. Because like me, you might find that what you are doing now could help you to get to where you want to be.

My time washing pots in the school kitchen taught me so much about teamwork; my time at the call centre helped me work better under pressure. The work with the (at times brutal) students honed my facilitation skills. Although I learned these skills in different sectors and working environments, without doubt they have helped me become a better third sector coach and trainer.

So start where you are at. Look for opportunities to polish your current skill set – even in unconventional ways – and look for opportunities to move in the direction of your dreams.  Resilience and perseverance will give you the rewards you deserve and are looking for.