Known to her friends as Hurricane Viv, Vivienne Watkins is a personal friend as well as a force of nature! Having spent the majority of her life working for others, she finally decided to strike-out on her own. With an extensive employment background in retail, sales, insurance, nutrition, personnel, training and customer services she isn’t a person that is easily daunted by new challenges. Whilst valuable, her last post as a senior employee for a huge retail chain was also responsible for giving her the push she needed on the path to entrepreneurship. Let’s find out more about this straight-talking Welsh business woman.
What brought you to the world of self-employment? Was it necessity or personal preference?
I took early retirement from my last post. I desperately wanted to be at home whilst my daughter was young. I was travelling a lot at the time – up and down the country and, as a senior manager, I was constantly being moved to new locations, either to manage the opening of a new store or to ‘sort things out’ in a failing outlet. I’d had enough – my daughter was starting in secondary school and I wanted to be there for her… not my job. Also, the high-heels were killing me.
[yes, she’s always like this]
What do you think are the key personal attributes someone needs if they’re going to be successful as a self-employed worker?
They need to have excellent self-motivation. As an employee, if you don’t show up to work you get the sack – that’s usually motivation enough! When you’re self-employed it’s different, you could be tempted to think “I’m the boss, I can do as I like” because the consequences of not turning up to work aren’t always as immediate. Time management, self-discipline, a good knowledge of the field or market that you’re entering – these are all fairly basic attributes that you should have or be actively developing. Most of all, you should be enthusiastic! There’s no point leaving a job you hate to work for yourself doing something else you hate! That’s just twp*.
[We laugh] *’twp’ is Welsh for ‘stupid’.
What are the pros and cons?
Self-employment gives me the freedom to do what I want, when I want and to the degree I want to do it. It gives me flexibility in working hours and a choice regarding the areas I want to concentrate on at any given time. I’ve found it to be far less pressured than working for someone else. There are fewer constraints – working for large national companies comes with a huge amount of bureaucracy and constraint… I used to have nightmares about health and safety, employment law and looming deadlines! Now, I work with other self-employed people, people who love what they’re doing, who love their work but also love life and living – I mean really enjoying every day, not just existing in anticipation of the annual holiday abroad. I now live to work rather than work to live. I may not earn as much money as I used to but I’ve found that I want less too. I don’t feel poorer in any way – I feel like I’ve won the lottery!
You met me, that’s reward enough, surely?
That’s also true. You’re a joy.
[I laugh and she rolls her eyes]
And the cons?
There are very few negatives for me. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain enthusiasm and ‘get-up-and-go’ because there’s no one breathing down your neck, that’s why it is important that you have that inner motivation and self-discipline I mentioned earlier. You can become less tolerant of other people and problems because you can just walk away if you want to – there may be less motivation to ‘sort things out’ when you’ve got an escape route! On a practical level, you don’t have the wage safeguard, sick pay, holiday pay, work-rate levels, work-place benefits, training opportunities, job security and workers’ rights that you often get as an employee. Sometimes there are issues with liability for others and issues pertaining to the law which you are solely responsible for. Ignorance is no defence when you’re self-employed and no one else to blame if things go wrong!
What are your experiences working with young people?
I have worked with people of all ages during my working life and can honestly say that young people can be as good, and often better, than employees with greater knowledge and experience. Young people are usually bright, enthusiastic and energetic and (given the chance) can inject much needed life into the workplace. Of course, they need a good attitude towards work and to be a willing team member; they also need training and the tools they need in order to do the job well. They’re often less jaded, more enthusiastic, have fewer bad habits and fewer negative preconceptions than older employees.
Very occasionally, you will come across a young person that is particularly immature, very easily distracted and less socially aware. I must admit that, in general, sickness and absences are always higher amongst young employees… especially on or after bank holidays or weekends! There does seem to be a growing consensus amongst employers that young people are work-shy and lazy, only interested in their mobile phones and social media. I don’t think that’s entirely fair.
If you could do it all again, is there anything you would do differently?
Absolutely! Hindsight truly is a wonderful thing! When I was young I took the safer route. I wanted the security of a house, a car and the trappings of the 80s dream life! If there’d been the support and opportunities that are available now I’d like to think I’d have gone into self-employment. As it is I came to it much later in life and my ambitions are far more modest now.
In your experience, what do you think is the main cause of business failure?
A lack of understanding of the market or business that you’re entering is a silly mistake but one that is made too often. You can and do learn as you go along but there are things you have to know before starting. Overspending is a big one, not understanding the competition, not keeping up with trends are big factors too. The media sometimes romanticises entrepreneurship: “I am going to be an overnight success” may be an effective affirmation but it is not a business plan!
If you could give a young entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Know your trade inside out! I love a good S.W.O.T analysis myself! But anything that gives you a plan of action, a way forward, is as good a place to start as any. Research everything! If you need to have business premises then you need only remember 3 things: location, location, location! This is particularly relevant if you’re going into retail. Don’t think of a Plan B after Plan A has failed, your Plan B should be waiting in the wings, ready to go, if the initial plans don’t pan-out as expected. Oh, and talk to people! Be friendly, outgoing and interested in other people! Make sure they remember you!
[There is literally no one west of Swansea that does not know Hurricane Viv]
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me today! I’ve really enjoyed it! Diolch yn fawr.
Croeso! Me too! I’m off now to do a S.W.O.T analysis… I love it!
[I laugh again]