My Interview With Julia Shuttleworth of Shuttleworth Weaving

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Julia Shuttleworth & her husband, Rob, own a South African-based company called Shuttleworth Weaving that makes beautiful rugs out of natural fibers! Her rugs look so beautiful, she runs her business off the grid, & her business philosophy is so good, so I knew I had to find out more about what she does.

1. Tell us a little bit about what you do.

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

My husband, Rob and I have a small handweaving business that we took over from his parents five years ago. We live and work off the grid, his parents started weaving and spinning in the evenings by candlelight about 40 years ago and it slowly grew into a business, first supplying our local tourist trade but now exporting worldwide. We employ 12 rural Zulu women who do all the spinning and weaving by hand. We mostly work with mohair and wool. I have the best job as I get to dye all the yarns into beautiful colours.
2. How did you end up starting your rug business? Was there a specific moment that you decided to do this?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

My husband had been helping his parents with the business his whole life. When we had had some other work experience and were married, we chose to join and take over the business from his parents. I chose to do it as I could see the potential of the business to do well and I thought it looked easier and more fun than the teaching job I was doing at the time!

3. What’s your philosophy behind the way you run your business?

We live consciously and authentically and look after the people and environment around us as best we can, in order to provide unique and beautiful rugs.

We live consciously and authentically and look after the people and environment around us as best we can, in order to provide unique and beautiful rugs.

4. What is your favorite part about having your business?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

My favorite parts about our business are that I get to be with my husband all day, and I can pop home to see my baby at any time. I love that we spend most of our time out of doors and make beautiful products from (mostly) natural materials.

5. Can you give us a list of the steps involved in weaving a rug & explain that process a little more? Do you raise the goats the mohair comes from?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

We buy the mohair (which comes from Angora goats). It is too wet here for the goats to do well (we live in a mistbelt forest) – they are mostly farmed in the Eastern Cape part of South Africa. The ladies who work here take handfuls of the raw yarn and spin it by hand on old wooden kick wheels. They then wind the spun yarn into hanks where I take it to the dye house and dye it in large pots into a myriad of different colours. We heat the water in a donkey boiler, using wood off-cuts from a nearby sawmill and then get it to the correct temperature using gas. We make sure that all of the dye is absorbed into the yarn so there is no dye that is left in the water. The hanks are then sun-dried and ready to be woven when the loom is set up. Getting the loom ready is often the longest part of the process, especially on our 9 meter (29 foot) wide loom! 1 – 8 people will then sit at the loom, winding the yarn onto the shuttles and changing the sheds using foot peddles. When the rug is woven, it is taken off the loom and left to settle into its final size. Each warp thread is then tied off by hand and stitched back into the rug. The rug is then measured, weighed and parcelled up to go to its final destination. The heaviest rug we made weighed 160kgs (350 lbs)!

6. What have you found to be the best way to market your business?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

We don’t do much marketing for our business other than our local tourism branch – The Midlands Meander and our, rather outdated, website!

7. What is your favorite type of rug to make & why?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

My favorite type of rugs to make are the mohair rugs as the mohair is lustrous and takes the dye colours beautifully. I enjoy making one-off rugs for our shop as that is usually more fun and creative than sticking to a single colour or design that has been ordered.

8. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

There is so much that we have learnt about our business and ourselves that its hard to choose one specific thing. Generally I think I wish that I’d had the confidence to grow our client base sooner than we have done, but all the same the timing seems to be right.

9. What’s the best investment you’ve made in yourself or your business?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

The best investments I have made in myself are joining the 52WM course [writer Benjamin Hardy’s 52 Weeks of Momentum course] and getting myself a horse to ride. The best business investments are our wonderful staff and also a small commercial property that we managed to buy so that we are paying off a building rather than paying rent for our retail shop.

10. On your website, it says your company is located in the forests of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands in South Africa. It sounds like a beautiful place. What is it like, & what are some of your favorite things about it? Does the place influence your approach to making your products?

We live in a very beautiful place. Autumn and winter are the best as the days are clear and sunny. We occasionally even get snow, but it’s always sunny again after a day or two. We are surrounded by forest, grasslands, birds and wildlife as well as our horses who wander around grazing. We spend most of our time out of doors. The colours of the environment certainly influence our rugs - the sunrises and sunsets, the lichen on the trees, the grasses and leaves and the surrounding, ever-changing farmlands.

Oh yes! We live in a very beautiful place. Autumn and winter are the best as the days are clear and sunny. We occasionally even get snow, but it’s always sunny again after a day or two. We are surrounded by forest, grasslands, birds and wildlife as well as our horses who wander around grazing. We spend most of our time out of doors. The colours of the environment certainly influence our rugs – the sunrises and sunsets, the lichen on the trees, the grasses and leaves and the surrounding, ever-changing farmlands.

11. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I ever received is to take regular cold showers!!

The best advice I ever received is to take regular cold showers!!

12. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Does any aspect of it relate to what you do now?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

When I was a child I knew that I wanted to live in or near a forest and be outdoors, so in a way it does relate to what I do now. I didn’t ever think I’d have a business though!

13. Where do you get inspiration & ideas for new rug designs?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

Inspiration for new rugs usually springs from necessity! When we need to come up with a new weave or design it requires many hours of sitting at a loom experimenting and changing things, combining various colours.

14. What has been your biggest challenge or setback, & how did you handle it? How did it help your business more better?

Overcoming our set ideas and beliefs is challenging and difficult at times, but ultimately rewarding, as we become more confident in our decisions and take bigger risks.

Ultimately the biggest challenge is with ourselves and our mindset around everything we do. We are lucky in that we work well together and can usually find a way to proceed when we disagree. Overcoming our set ideas and beliefs is challenging and difficult at times, but ultimately rewarding, as we become more confident in our decisions and take bigger risks. Handling a staff member who developed a psychiatric disorder was an incredibly challenging ordeal. Living in a third world country country certainly comes with its own set of challenges as well as living and running a business off the grid.

15. What’s something about carpet-making that you wish they knew?

I just would like people to know how much love and process goes into making each of our (and any handmade) rugs, from collecting firewood to the beautiful singing as the ladies spin and weave. The repetitive motion of the actual weaving and spinning can be quite therapeutic.

Well… I guess I just would like people to know how much love and process goes into making each of our (and any handmade) rugs, from collecting firewood to the beautiful singing as the ladies spin and weave. The repetitive motion of the actual weaving and spinning can be quite therapeutic.

I also love the way the word ‘woven/weave’ is used so often in literature and becomes metaphor for the way life works!

I also love the way the word ‘woven/weave’ is used so often in literature and becomes metaphor for the way life works!
16. Why do you do what you do? What drives you to be successful/keeps you interested in what you do?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

I really enjoy what I do as there are always interesting challenges to overcome which makes it rewarding and never boring. I love working with my Rob (my husband) and feel grateful for that we are able to why we do together. My dye ‘office’ is basically in a forest so I feel very lucky!

17. What’s your favorite quote, & how does it relate to or inspire you & your approach to your business?

I enjoy most quotes as they usually all hold some truth. I can’t think of any particular one at the moment except perhaps ‘you don’t have to believe everything you think’. I have certainly learnt that since I joined the weaving as we have achieved some things that I thought were beyond possible!

I enjoy most quotes as they usually all hold some truth. I can’t think of any particular one at the moment except perhaps ‘you don’t have to believe everything you think’. I have certainly learnt that since I joined the weaving as we have achieved some things that I thought were beyond possible!

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

18. What are some of your biggest goals for the year ahead?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

Our biggest goal for the rest of this year is to complete a big rug order (on time) to be sent to the States and to try and get in a few days of holiday before December! Also to complete paying off a loan.

19. What are some of your longer-term goals?

Julia Shuttleworth Interview

Photo by Karen E Photography

Our longer-term goals are to get the weaving running more independently from us so that we can build ourselves a much needed house. We will build it ourselves, by hand, so will need time to do it. Once we have done that we hope to travel and see more of this wonderful continent.

You can find out more about Julia & Shuttleworth Weaving here:

Website :: http://www.shuttleworthweaving.com/
Facebook :: https://www.facebook.com/shuttleworthweaving/

My Interview with Writer & Speaker Jessica Smith!

Here’s my interview with the amazing writer & speaker Jessica Smith (who also writes under the pen name Paula Jean Ferri)! In this interview, Jessica talks about why writing matters to her, writing to make a difference & inspire, & gives a lot of awesome advice about writing!

 

1. Tell us a little bit about what you do.

I am a writer and speaker encouraging differences and healthy mindsets in regards to our personal relationships to ourselves.
2. How long have you been writing? Was there a specific moment that you decided to become a writer?

Well, I’ve been a journal writer since I was about 8, and an avid bookworm long before that. I dabbled a little in writing when I was younger, but that disappeared for a long time as I attempted to find a “stable job.” In college, I opted out of an internship to write a senior paper instead. This paper was unique and my college professors strongly encouraged me to publish it. As I continued to work on it and expand the ideas, it became my first book, Awkwardly Strong and from the moment I hit publish, I was addicted and HAD to do it again. So now that I am pursuing life as a full time writer, I feel like my life has come full circle.


3. What is your favorite part about being a writer? What do you enjoy most about writing non-fiction?

I love hearing other’s stories. I love it when they share with me the impact and difference my writing has on them. Especially considering writing non-fiction is almost like writing in my journal. I have all these ideas and resources and experiences floating in my head and I’m simply sharing what is in my head, which makes writing a lot easier than fiction, where you constantly have to fact check, see if this will work or not, and all the changes when it doesn’t work out. Non-fiction is so much more straightforward.


4. How do you approach writing a new book? How do you decide what to write about? Do you write an outline & make plans, or do you just start writing?

I’ve started books both ways and my best results come from a mixture of the two. I start with an outline that is pretty much like a table of contents, but when I sit down, it just flows like a conversation might. So I usually have to move a few things around because as I write the direction might change a bit from where I originally intended it.
5. What is the best investment you’ve made in yourself/your writing career?

The best investment I’ve made is in myself. In 2017, I quit working full time to focus on writing for about six months. That six months made a HUGE difference in my understanding and ability. That was also when (and why) I started investing in mentors that have really jump started my career. Richie Norton, Benjamin Hardy and Richard Paul Evans have done so much for my writing in such a condensed amount of time and given me tools that are irreplaceable. They were worth so much more than I paid for their courses and time.
6. Who are some of your favorite authors or books & why? What is your favorite underrated book or author?

This is a hard question for someone who reads as much as I do!I love the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling), the Michael Vey series (Richard Paul Evans), Books of Bayern (Shannon Hale), Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis), Gallagher Girls (Ally Carter), Faerie Tale Collection (Jenni James) and those are just the fiction series. I love alternate tellings of fairy tales in particular, just because the stories are classic for a reason, and I love to see the unique views that people put on them. Under appreciated authors include Jessie Holmes, Shannon Hale and Morgan Rice. Again, mostly fiction, because non-fiction is often just underappreciated in general. Which makes sense, stories are always easier to read than information.
7. What advice would you give your younger writer self? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I would tell myself to just do it. For years I said, “Someday I’ll publish a book.” It’s now one of my biggest pet peeves. Someday is code for, “I want to do it without the commitment.” Whether that be the work, the time, etc, it’s a cop-out for “I want to, but not really.” Someday doesn’t exist. I wasted so much time waiting for someday to arrive. I got tired of waiting. The best advice I ever received actually has nothing to do with writing directly. It was, “Advice is just that- advice. You are the one who has to find out if it is good advice or bad advice.”
8. What things outside of other books & authors influence & inspire your work? (Films, music, people, your past, your hopes, the world around you, etc?)

People. Patterns and stories are everywhere, and as I talk things out with friends and family, their wisdom and insights shed light on my experiences.The more I learn, the less I realize I know. The more diverse the experiences I have, the more I am able to connect two very different ideas and see patterns life creates around us.  People are wonderful.
9. What is the best way to market your books?

I’m still learning what works best for me. There are so many different options and people always say they found what works, but it is usually what works best for them. There are so many different experiences and ways to reach the end result. When I figure it out, I’ll get back to you and let you know. 😉
10. What’s a common bad writing habit you’ve noticed with your own work or other writers & how do you fix it? What is one of your favorite GOOD writing habits, tricks, or devices that you love when you see other authors use it?

My bad writing habit would probably be not paying attention to the grammar, syntax, and all the things you would think writers would pay attention to… I figure that’s what editors are for. They do a great job at it and are also worth every penny I spend on them to fix my bad habits. I am studying to learn and improve though. Can’t fix what you don’t know.

I am however, good at just hitting publish and I love reading what others have published. I get SO excited when author friends tell me great story ideas and then finally tell me they are publishing! It is a scary thing, especially if you want things to be perfect. However, something that has been proven to be good advice for me is that prolific is better than perfect. Just get it done and learn as you go. It’s great to see your progress and you see more growth than waiting for something to be perfect and realize no one is really looking anyways. Hitting publish makes others stop and look at what you are doing, because they can see the time and effort you are putting into your work.


11. Have you published books with a traditional publisher or self-published? What are some of the pros & cons of each?

I am currently self-published, but open to traditional publishing. I like being self-published because I love being involved in the entire process from A to Z. I like writing, I like marketing, I like learning and it is good accountability for me. I can’t blame anyone if things go wrong. It means I have something new to learn and step up doing. It is a lot of time and work, which makes growth a little bit slower.

Traditional publishing you automatically have a team of experts to help, but rarely are they as passionate and involved as you are in your own work. And they take a cut of the profits. It also carries more weight of authority, but that can come from other sources as well.
12. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Does any aspect of it relate to what you do now? What was your favorite book as a kid?

I was never the kid with clear ambitions. Reading was about the only constant in my life, and I was always finding new things to be interested in, which was the perk of reading since I couldn’t always experience things first hand in the little town I grew up in. Which ironically, has been a huge benefit to writing. One of my favorite parts is the fact that I can study something new with each new project, or make a series and go in depth with one particular subject.

When I was younger I loved historical fiction, so I read Little House on the Prairie series multiple times, as well as the Great Brain series. I also read Chronicles of Narnia several times, that was really the only break from history that I read. I also loved the Dear America series.
13. What has been your biggest challenge or setback, & how did you handle it? How did it help your writing?

In life in general or as an author? Hahaha! The hardest things I’ve experienced have made being an author seem like cake walk, and I talk about them in my second book, Tragically Strong. As an author, I guess just the frustration of not growing as quickly as I would like to. It’s a slow process trying to grow a business, especially while working a full time job and trying to balance sleep, a social life, and day to day living.
14. What’s something about you or your creative work that most people don’t know but you wish they did?

That this is an expensive process. Between the hours I spend on a project, paying editors, designers, formatters and promotions (thought I do fairly well in keeping costs down). Even with two published works, I haven’t even come close to breaking even on my first one, much less the costs of the second, the maintenance cost for domains, emails and software that helps me keep things up and running. Maybe that is the most frustrating part, I invest SO much into what I do, and have hundreds of people say, “That’s so great! Where can I get it, I want a copy” which translates into maybe 3 sales. And the ones that buy it, don’t often read it or finish it. I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into every project and feel like it’s not making a difference, I’m just talking to myself in an empty room. While it is frustrating, it’s also a good reminder to me that I do this, not for the success, but because I love it, because it is therapeutic for me and maybe, if I’m lucky and do well enough with this, maybe it can help someone else, too. That would make it all worth it.
15. Why do you do what you do? What drives you to be successful/keeps you interested in what you do?

Well, I feel like I answered that a bit in the last question! I do it because I like it. It’s fun and has helped me to learn and grow in ways I never could have imagined. Best of all, it gives me a chance to serve and expand my reach to more people than I could influence just living life from day to day. It’s given me purpose and direction. It makes me excited to wake up in the mornings and something to work for rather than drifting listlessly through life bored out of my mind.

16. What’s your favorite quote, & how does it relate to or inspire you & your approach to your writing?

“Don’t get discouraged, get creative.” – Richie Norton. When I was little, I never saw myself as much of a creative type. Sure, I had dabbled a bit in writing, but that was probably the only “creative” stint I really had. I never understood the concept of imaginary friends, I was more of a student than someone who liked to play games, etc. I wanted to be creative, and didn’t think it was possible, until I realized the different ways to creatively connect the world around us, so it’s like the best of both worlds. I get to be creative with reality. Problem solving is creativity, so while I feel like my books are telling it like it is, I’m creating something that never existed before and I get to create answers to problems, which does make it hard to get discouraged.

17. If you could be the author of any book ever written, what book would it be & why?

I really wish I could have written The Alchemist. This is what I aspire to write, a beautifully written story with layers of profound truth. I just think it’s so beautiful. I read it at least once a year and always manage to find something new.
18. What are some of your biggest goals for the year ahead?

My biggest goals  for the coming year are to create an online course and publish my third book. To have both of those up and running within the next year while working a full time job will be a bit of a stretch for me, especially with smaller goals and projects I am also working on.

19. What are some of your longer-term goals?

Long term I am looking at not only writing, but to be a speaker and mentor for those who struggle with being different. I will continue to write books as well, that will be a constant. I enjoy it too much. I want to change the culture that we live in for those who are different in any way, but especially for those with neurodiversities. People like me with Tourette Syndrome, or those with autism, asperger’s and so on. It can be frustrating and difficult to have a brain that is wired differently, but it can also be so wonderful. I want people to see that.

20. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

People are great. You are a person. YOU are great.

 

Read more on Jessica here ::

My Interview with Speaker & Coach Stephen Lynch!

Stephen Lynch Interview Banner

Here’s my interview with Stephen Lynch! Stephen is passionate about public speaking & coaching others to be their best selves & learn to communicate well. I met him through the awesome 52 Weeks of Momentum course that I’m doing this year, which is run by top author Benjamin P. Hardy. In this interview, Stephen talks about what he does, how public speaking has changed his life for the better, & how speaking can take your life to the next level.

1. Tell us a little bit about what you do. How long have you been doing what you do?

Currently I advise the legal profession in England about issues relating to Brexit, financial services and corporate law. I work to support, represent and promote the legal sector at the independent membership body for solicitors. A large part of my role is to persuade, influence and lobby policymakers on behalf of our members. While I’ve been in my current role for only three months I have over six years’ experience of working in lobbying, political communications, policy, research and media.

In my professional life and spare time I also enjoy training people in public speaking and improving their communication skills. I have been doing this for over a year now.

2. In your article, you discuss how you were depressed & isolated growing up. Would you like to elaborate a little more on what that was like?

Being unaware and ignorant about mental health and depression when I was younger I was very confused and misguided about how to deal with it. Fundamentally this depression and isolation was characterised by a feeling of hopelessness and a lack of direction – not feeling in control, or of having freedom.

To give one example here I remember being at university in Sheffield as an 18-year-old. Here I got decent grades, did my best to stay active and tried straightforwardly to pursue what I enjoyed. However, I remember feeling very self-conscious and restricted a lot of the time. I was in such a negative thinking pattern and thought so little of myself I struggled to even go and speak to people who I actually liked and respected. I have since told a couple of these people that this was the case, as I felt my behaviour at the time needed an explanation and that I meant no offence to them by my aloofness.

In particular in groups of people I slowly realised these feelings were not normal or healthy. I started to investigate them myself for practical solutions. I was so misguided and ignorant of these things that it took me until I was 18 or 19 years old to discover there was even a distinction between introverted and extroverted people, and that these traits even existed. For a supposedly intelligent young person I was very naïve and too accepting of what was going on around me.

I would also feel hostility in certain situations, like my mere presence was causing others discomfort. In short I felt ineffective, anonymous and emasculated.

3. When did you begin to have an interest in public speaking? At the time, were you actively seeking something to help you get better, or was it something you kind of stumbled upon?

I must have had a latent interest in public speaking and communication because I’ve studied politics since I was old enough to read a newspaper. I remember watching speeches of Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy as a youngster on Encarta on my PC (probably while everyone else was out being a normal 6 or 7 year old!).

I remember doing readings at school masses and giving a couple of short presentations at school that passed without major incident. On some level I must have actually enjoyed them, and I was usually asked to continue doing them. But it wasn’t until I entered the working world where I faced the dread of a team meeting and “the creep” of waiting your turn to update the rest of the team of what you had on that week. At a time I was feeling particularly useless I remember giving a very poor, informal talk to colleagues. Some point after this I must have had a ‘fuck this’ moment where I decided things were going to change.

My next role in political communications involved much less scope for public speaking (and from the party’s point of view maybe it’s just as well!). I enjoyed the work initially but found it straightforward enough to start seeking out more challenge. It didn’t come from within so I decided to seek it externally when I forced myself to go to public speaking and acting classes.

I must have had a latent interest in public speaking and communication because I’ve studied politics since I was old enough to read a newspaper. I remember watching speeches of Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy as a youngster on Encarta on my PC (probably while everyone else was out being a normal 6 or 7 year old!). I remember doing readings at school masses and giving a couple of short presentations at school that passed without major incident. On some level I must have actually enjoyed them, and I was usually asked to continue doing them. But it wasn’t until I entered the working world where I faced the dread of a team meeting and “the creep” of waiting your turn to update the rest of the team of what you had on that week. At a time I was feeling particularly useless I remember giving a very poor, informal talk to colleagues. Some point after this I must have had a ‘fuck this’ moment where I decided things were going to change.

4. Did you have a “point of no return” moment around the time that you got into public speaking where you HAD to move forward? Did that moment make you resolve to get better, or did it just happen just kind of naturally on its own after you had that experience?

My previous answer partly covers this question, but one of the first speaking classes I took part in I remember sitting in the front row waiting for my turn to speak. The feeling I had was tortured anguish in the pit of my stomach. The feeling was telling me to go and be anywhere but right here in this room. This was the ‘where’s the hole to swallow me up?’ feeling.

I also remember having to psych myself up to go to these meetings in the early days. Telling myself I could not go home until I’d done the whole thing.

I got up to speak that time and every time since, but the memory of this stays with me. I didn’t want to feel that feeling again. I was sick of the feeling of people pulling faces when I speak. After two years of regular practice I still get nervous sometimes and I still perceive hostility and discomfort in the expressions of people in the audience. But I am much more used to them now, and am more streetwise about what’s really happening.

5. When did you first realize that public speaking had a positive impact on your depression & self-esteem?

I noticed increased fluency and sincerity in how I was communicating after only a few weeks. There’s usually a gap between how we feel we are being perceived (we tend to underrate this), and how we are in reality (often better than we think). And I felt I was closing this gap all the time and being much less self-conscious and concerned with others’ opinions – whether imagined or real.

I remember sitting with a friend on the Tube after a class and having a very frank conversation with him. I acknowledged to him at the time that I was being more honest with him than I’d be with almost any of my other friends at the time. As outlandish as it seems, it was a rarity for me to sit and have this feeling of being able to be myself and express myself freely without restrictions.

These sort of classes also allowed me to meet many like-minded, talented and genuine people. Being around them helped me open up and have free-flowing conversations with them. To state the obvious this all felt very good and natural, and something I wasn’t particularly used to. Being transparent and telling the truth (where appropriate) became a lot easier thereafter and I tried to be a ‘straight shooter.’ In this early process I also remember getting into bed to sleep and laughing very hard to myself. I knew something was changing inside me and had to put it down to these changes I was making.

These sort of classes also allowed me to meet many like-minded, talented and genuine people. Being around them helped me open up and have free-flowing conversations with them. To state the obvious this all felt very good and natural, and something I wasn’t particularly used to.

Being transparent and telling the truth (where appropriate) became a lot easier thereafter and I tried to be a ‘straight shooter.’

In this early process I also remember getting into bed to sleep and laughing very hard to myself. I knew something was changing inside me and had to put it down to these changes I was making.

6. What was the process like to become a speaker & coach? What types of training & massive actions did you take to get there?

I’ve had a set of unique experiences in my personal and professional life that I think others could find useful or insightful. The more I offer my reflections on these the more people tell me they’ve had similar experiences or that what I have said is valuable to them.

I think many people are held back because they’re simply unaware of how their mental health works, and how things like their environment strongly impact this. There are many coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with black moods. Equally there are several ways one can become more integrated, coherent and transparent in their lives and in the way they communicate. I can only share what has, and hasn’t worked for me with all of these things.

I’ve put myself through lots of training and mentoring in writing skills, public speaking and acting. One thing in particular I do a lot of, perhaps to the chagrin of others, is to volunteer myself often. A prominent politician recently said his advice for those aspiring to emulate him would be ‘to keep throwing your hat in the ring until people get tired of throwing it back at you.’ Take action consistently. Be persistent. Your desire, passion and belief has to be stronger than the person ignoring you or saying no to you. I’m sure I’m mixing metaphors by now but you have to outwork and outhustle these people who appear to be implacable obstacles. Yes is more powerful than No.

Equally, don’t take setbacks or disdain personally, even if it is. Use it to motivate you. Make sure you overcome and outlast those that seem to be in your way, sometimes deliberately. Be the final word in the book there, the full stop or the exclamation mark!

One thing in particular I do a lot of, perhaps to the chagrin of others, is to volunteer myself often. A prominent politician recently said his advice for those aspiring to emulate him would be ‘to keep throwing your hat in the ring until people get tired of throwing it back at you.’ Take action consistently. Be persistent. Your desire, passion and belief has to be stronger than the person ignoring you or saying no to you. I’m sure I’m mixing metaphors by now but you have to outwork and outhustle these people who appear to be implacable obstacles. Yes is more powerful than No. Equally, don’t take setbacks or disdain personally, even if it is. Use it to motivate you. Make sure you overcome and outlast those that seem to be in your way, sometimes deliberately. Be the final word in the book there, the full stop or the exclamation mark!

7. Did you have a mentor when you were getting started? How did they help you? If you didn’t, do you wish you’d had one?

I’ve had a bunch of them and I’m grateful to each of them for their unique style and approach. One of these inspired me by effortlessly radiating confidence. Another would hold their students to extremely high and rigorous standards, and wouldn’t excuse poor effort and performance for one second. Others would have such a forensic and methodical style, or such a personable and genial manner it created a very positive learning space. I would hope I have learnt from and taken elements from each of them.

One mentor in particular was one of the first people I encountered on this journey. They took complex ideas and broke them down into very simple takeaway messages using exercises and discussion. They embodied what they were saying and helped many, like me, to tap into their confidence.

Inspiration is a very lofty word but I observe it often in others and it’s a very positive cycle to stand on the shoulders of giants.

However 12 months later this person encountered a very sudden and drastic decline in their own confidence and had to weather a storm of their own. Without sounding like a Disney film, I’d be letting him down if I didn’t kick on and try to help others like he did. Inspiration is a very lofty word but I observe it often in others and it’s a very positive cycle to stand on the shoulders of giants.

8. What is the reason WHY you do what you do? What drives you to keep pushing forward even when you don’t feel like it?

I want people to fulfill their potential and overcome the same struggles many of us confront. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being held back by external factors or by who they are. Life is short and precious and we’ve probably only got one shot at this thing.

I know what it feels like to be so full of frustration, resentment and rage that you can’t even think straight, never mind get on with anybody or being able to be yourself. I know what it’s like to sit in your room for almost days on end avoiding people because you feel so uncomfortable and worthless. I know what it feels like to almost squander your degree, to walk out of your place of work and not feel able to go back, to miss out on opportunities, friendships and positive moments because you’re so wrapped up in yourself.

I also know the opposites of these feelings. I know what its like to feel like you’re being listened to, like your contribution is being valued, like people are identifying with what you’re telling them. I know the feeling of real confidence, achievement and purpose.

And crucially, I know which of these I want to roll with and experience most. That’s my WHY.

I want people to fulfill their potential and overcome the same struggles many of us confront. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being held back by external factors or by who they are. Life is short and precious and we’ve probably only got one shot at this thing. I know what it feels like to be so full of frustration, resentment and rage that you can’t even think straight, never mind get on with anybody or being able to be yourself. I know what it’s like to sit in your room for almost days on end avoiding people because you feel so uncomfortable and worthless. I know what it feels like to almost squander your degree, to walk out of your place of work and not feel able to go back, to miss out on opportunities, friendships and positive moments because you’re so wrapped up in yourself. I also know the opposites of these feelings. I know what its like to feel like you’re being listened to, like your contribution is being valued, like people are identifying with what you’re telling them. I know the feeling of real confidence, achievement and purpose. And crucially, I know which of these I want to roll with and experience most. That’s my WHY.

9. What is the best investment you’ve made in yourself or your work?

You’d expect me to say this but most definitely courses in public speaking.

There is something powerful about taking a decision and investing in yourself, it’s a point of no return moment.

A phenomenally successful mentor of mine said: Investing actual money in yourself dramatically changes the psychology of things. When you invest in yourself, you become highly committed to what you’re doing. Investing in yourself is an act that facilitates what Charles Darwin would call, “Selective Pressure,” which is a phenomenon that alters the behavior and fitness of living organisms within a given environment. It is the driving force of evolution and natural selection.”

It's very easy to quote too often from others but I love this one also, from the same source Ben Hardy: “Investing in yourself creates internal supply to match the external demand of the investment. The bigger you invest, the bigger the psychological leap — which then facilitates a radical upgrade in behavior, confidence, harmonious passion, and outcomes.” The same way you won’t get bigger or stronger lifting 5kg weights every month or so at the gym, you won’t improve or develop if you don’t take a big step and put yourself under more pressure. You won’t get stronger, if you don’t put yourself under the weight. And one more cliché for you, if you don’t challenge yourself you will not change. So take a big step.

It’s very easy to quote too often from others but I love this one also, from the same source Ben Hardy: “Investing in yourself creates internal supply to match the external demand of the investment. The bigger you invest, the bigger the psychological leap — which then facilitates a radical upgrade in behavior, confidence, harmonious passion, and outcomes.”

The same way you won’t get bigger or stronger lifting 5kg weights every month or so at the gym, you won’t improve or develop if you don’t take a big step and put yourself under more pressure. You won’t get stronger, if you don’t put yourself under the weight. And one more cliché for you, if you don’t challenge yourself you will not change. So take a big step.

I used to buy untold motivational and self help books and some of these have had a very positive impact on me also.

Trust yourself and your instincts Above all, don’t lower your sights or shrink yourself to make others feel less insecure Don’t let anyone stick labels on you or profess to tell you where you’re going or what you should be doing Don’t let yourself play down to your environment, if you can’t reform it then change it altogether Don’t take advice from anyone you wouldn’t be happy to swap places with Back yourself - you’re better than you think, just don’t be afraid to screw up and be embarrassed sometimes Some people might be more expensively educated than you who live in leafier postcodes and dine in pricier supermarkets but they’re not any smarter, hardworking or better than you.

10. If you could go back & give advice to your younger self, what would you say?

Don’t be so angry! Everything is going to be okay. Every trite piece of advice you can think of.

Joking aside the advice I’d give myself and anyone else younger is to:

  • Trust yourself and your instincts
  • Above all, don’t lower your sights or shrink yourself to make others feel less insecure
  • Don’t let anyone stick labels on you or profess to tell you where you’re going or what you should be doing
  • Don’t let yourself play down to your environment, if you can’t reform it then change it altogether
  • Don’t take advice from anyone you wouldn’t be happy to swap places with
  • Back yourself – you’re better than you think, just don’t be afraid to screw up and be embarrassed sometimes
  • Some people might be more expensively educated than you who live in leafier postcodes and dine in pricier supermarkets but they’re not any smarter, hardworking or better than you.

11. How have the challenges & setbacks you’ve faced helped you become the person you are today? If you could go back & not have to experience one of your bigger challenges or setbacks, why or why wouldn’t you?

This is a great question. I think the advice I’ve given in the previous question alludes to some of my challenges and setbacks as a younger man. More recently I’ve had to make decisions I would have otherwise agonised over and perhaps wouldn’t have made.

The older I’ve gotten the better I’ve become at dealing with setbacks, or rejection. Or having to say no myself to an arrangement that is not serving me and is taking more away from me than its putting back. So you simply become more resilient and almost blasé about these things. You can go in a different direction to others and go about it in a grown-up and sensible way. Not following a crowd and trying to fit in if it conflicts with your goals and values becomes easier.

That second question is also very good. I’m being honest throughout here but let me open up on this one. A big challenge for me is when I’ve been (or felt) rejected as a friend, or even as a relative, by people who I respect. Straight up that is difficult, it can get to you if you let it. You ask yourself why, and want to know the real answer.

It’s even more disappointing when I’ve thought this rejection is based on something arbitrary and/or something I can’t help. For example, whether its my political beliefs, or because I happen to be a Catholic and because I enjoy following Gaelic Games and like Celtic Football Club.

Losing touch with people you have time for is tough but you get on with it.

12. What did you want to be when you grew up when you were a kid? Does any aspect of that relate to what you do now?

Lots of things – an astronaut, Formula 1 driver, video games tester, lawyer.

Given my long interest in politics I think there is overlap with what I am doing now. I’m not a politician thankfully but they have to craft messages and arguments, and persuade people to follow them and endorse their ideas. Above all an effective politician is an effective communicator, and at times a salesperson.

A typical day of a politician would be spent making speeches, meeting people, representing their constituents’ concerns, arguing in favour of their ideas and how valid they are, defending their record from criticism after subjecting it to scrutiny.

There’s some overlap with what I wanted to be when I was younger. I like being where the action is so to speak, at the coalface and front of house. It’s great to work for an organisation that’s leading the way in their field and that’s at the cutting edge. What’s also great is seeing the output of your team’s work and seeing the wider world’s reaction to it.

13. What do you wish more people knew about you? What’s something most people don’t know about coaching/speaking that you wish they did?

A cracker of a question. There’s plenty of things to me that I only share when asked. I’m not the greatest at walking into a room and saying I’m this, I’m that. Something I’ve learnt, and something you’re doing very effectively here Ashlee is to ask specific questions. High quality questions that you’ve thought about will prompt better answers. You’ll be surprised what people will come out with if you merely work a bit with them and give them opportunities to answer something. Silence is often met with silence.

Like two actors on stage there’s a shared responsibility there to get the best out of each other. Interviewing isn’t easy by any means but a little curiosity can go a long way to finding out what you share in common and what makes someone tick.

High quality questions that you’ve thought about will prompt better answers. You’ll be surprised what people will come out with if you merely work a bit with them and give them opportunities to answer something. Silence is often met with silence. Like two actors on stage there’s a shared responsibility there to get the best out of each other. Interviewing isn’t easy by any means but a little curiosity can go a long way to finding out what you share in common and what makes someone tick.

So I guess my wish is simply to be asked good questions, then people can find out all kinds of things!

My mind also goes blank often when I’m asked what I’ve been up to at the weekend for example. 10 minutes after the question I’m still remembering things to say. And I still feel like I’m boring people no matter how busy mine has been!

14. What’s one of the best places you’ve got to speak at? What did that feel like? Did you have a sense of “making it” or getting to the next level when you did?

The best place I’ve spoken at is my old Sixth Form College. My Politics tutor gave me an entire lesson of his to come in and speak and answer a few questions from his AS Level class. This was a fantastic experience, I was very proud to have done it and I hope to have the opportunity to do it again. The questions I received in the Q&A were also very engaging, intelligent and challenging for me to answer. I felt around 10 feet high as I walked out of there and for hours and hours afterwards.

I certainly felt it was a significant step for me and I learnt much also about how to prepare for, and deliver talks in these kinds of settings. You can always improve and make adjustments no matter how experienced or great you think you are (I don’t think I am!).

Another time I was asked to deliver a workshop for over 30 young political leaders around the world. They were very enthusiastic and a great group to work with. I also felt my ego swell when the group of delegates from Ecuador asked me to come over and deliver another session for them!

15. What have you found to be the best way to market your work & get the right people to see it?

I think the person behind the brand should embody what they are selling. The same way a headteacher or chief executive makes themselves very visible around their workplaces and engages with people. You should see yourself as an ambassador for your work or organisation.

I think the person behind the brand should embody what they are selling. The same way a headteacher or chief executive makes themselves very visible around their workplaces and engages with people. You should see yourself as an ambassador for your work or organisation.

I don’t think I’ve discovered the best way to market yet but Facebook adverts are something I’m experimenting with. I guess I’m old fashioned in that I believe word of mouth recommendations and testimonials are quite powerful.

Someone I met in my acting class recommended that I go along and try DJing for a hospital radio station. He was so passionate and eloquent in his explanation of it that I was completely ‘sold’ on this idea, and have been volunteering at the same hospital for 18 months now.

16. What’s one of your favorite memories of something that happened to you after or because you became a coach & speaker?

So many great memories from this. I thoroughly enjoyed preparing to give filmed short speeches on a few topics – one about the power of the mind, another about self-image and confidence and a very early one where I had to answer the question: “If you knew you could not fail at something, what would you do?”

As I’ve mentioned before I believe in asking the ‘right’ questions and this is a magnificent question to ask yourself and reflect on the answer. I took my time to come up with the answer, and asked myself again when I doubted if it was simply an answer that others might want to hear. But my instinct was right, my answer to the question in my speech was to improve the education system in the UK. How and why I’d do this are questions for another day but this prompted me to go and work for a charity which advises teachers and parents interested in setting up ‘free school’ academies in England.

17. What helps you manage your occasional bouts of depression? Do you have a specific set of things you do when you start feeling depressed, or is there another way you work through it?

My instinct is always to withdraw myself but perhaps this isn’t advisable in all circumstances.

Having direction, and feeling productive and living truthfully are what I’m striving for. Sometimes the depression descends when I stray from any of these. Frankly the older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve walked along this path the more sensitive, or intolerant, I’ve become of anything that doesn’t align with these things.

That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes, or say or do daft things still, or handle something not as well as I should have. But I think I have a system for getting clarity, getting things done and reaching people. And when this system malfunctions the red lights on the dashboard flash very brightly indeed!

I’ve been doing some reading about the causes of depression and anxiety. For many years it was believed depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Academics are re-examining this and are starting to believe that depression is caused from not having certain basic psychological needs met. We all want to feel valued, like we’re good at something, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that we’re making a difference, that we have a bright future. Our culture doesn’t meet these needs for so many people. The deep disconnect from these needs is driving the increase in depression and anxiety.

I’ve been doing some reading about the causes of depression and anxiety. For many years it was believed depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Academics are re-examining this and are starting to believe that depression is caused from not having certain basic psychological needs met. We all want to feel valued, like we’re good at something, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that we’re making a difference, that we have a bright future. Our culture doesn’t meet these needs for so many people. The deep disconnect from these needs is driving the increase in depression and anxiety.

I think I’ve improved in talking to people when I’m anxious, and not just about anxiety but just talking to people generally. It’s easy to become isolated and think you aren’t close enough to anyone to talk to them.

Exercise for me is a very effective tool and I get very lethargic and restless when I don’t exercise for several days.

I’m better at staying away from depression, than I am from pulling myself out of it when it descends on me. I meditate daily, have cold showers, listen to positive content, avoid negativity in the news where possible. For Lent I’m giving up caffeine and I also frequently abstain from alcohol for months at a time. Indeed I fantasise often about becoming teetotal.

Longer term, having things to look forward to is important. For example, I hope to travel to Africa again this summer after spending 11 days in Rwanda last year.

18. Looking back at your path & how you got where you are now, what’s one of the things you are most grateful for?

I’m not grateful enough to my parents for supporting me through a lot, including some leftfield career choices and gambles I’ve made in my professional life.

In their own way they give me the space and support that has helped me along the way. Without embarking on a life story, both of them grew up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This was a very divisive and acrimonious period, and while its frequently an elephant in the room in some sensitive situations they’re very stoic about it all [see boxing article].

I’m unfair to members of my family sometimes and I give them a hard time. By and large, for a very big extended family on both sides, my family are pretty solid. My relatives in Ireland also are very generous, reliable and straight up people who always make me feel very welcome when I go over.

“Learn how to be an effective communicator, because once you open your mouth, you tell the world who you are.” This is a quote from motivational speaker Les Brown, who is perhaps the best known speaker in his field. I like to introduce some of my seminars with this quote and I always repeat it a second time because its so profound. I remember listening to his speeches on an almost daily basis last year. Even at work I would have him plugged in. I’m really struck by how effective he is, how he uses stories and anecdotes to get his points across and rousing the audience from start to finish. The quote resonates with me because years ago I reached a point where I said to myself there was no point being around here, no point in getting out of bed in the morning and leaving the house if I didn’t feel like I could communicate with people. I asked myself what is the point in being here, in being alive if I couldn’t open my mouth and simply talk to people without it feeling like such an effort and strain? From that moment I slowly but surely started to force myself to improve it. I mentioned earlier how I forced myself to go to public speaking and acting classes and its fitting perhaps that I’m typing this sentence early on a Saturday morning where I have a day of acting classes and public speaking sessions ahead of me!

19. What’s one of your favorite quotes, & how has this quote helped or inspired you?

“Learn how to be an effective communicator, because once you open your mouth, you tell the world who you are.”

This is a quote from motivational speaker Les Brown, who is perhaps the best known speaker in his field. I like to introduce some of my seminars with this quote and I always repeat it a second time because its so profound.

I remember listening to his speeches on an almost daily basis last year. Even at work I would have him plugged in. I’m really struck by how effective he is, how he uses stories and anecdotes to get his points across and rousing the audience from start to finish.

The quote resonates with me because years ago I reached a point where I said to myself there was no point being around here, no point in getting out of bed in the morning and leaving the house if I didn’t feel like I could communicate with people. I asked myself what is the point in being here, in being alive if I couldn’t open my mouth and simply talk to people without it feeling like such an effort and strain? From that moment I slowly but surely started to force myself to improve it. I mentioned earlier how I forced myself to go to public speaking and acting classes and its fitting perhaps that I’m typing this sentence early on a Saturday morning where I have a day of acting classes and public speaking sessions ahead of me!

Read More about Stephen Here ::

My Interview with Natelle Quek from NatelleDrawsStuff

I hope that my art will bring a little bit of joy in people’s lives.
My Interview with Natelle Quek from NatelleDrawsStuff
Here’s my interview with Natelle Quek, owner of the NatelleDrawsStuff website & Etsy shop. She’s also one of my favorite illustrators & pin makers! Last year I began following her on Instagram, where I saw an adorable pouch made from the cutest axolotl fabric EVER. Those sold out, but she was nice enough to custom make me one. It’s honestly one of my favorite things that I own! I love Natelle’s art because she (a) draws super-adorable, fun, colorful animals & (b) her work involves some of my favorite weird animals like axolotls, platypus, aardvarks, tapirs, & capybaras.

Tell us a little bit about what you do.
I am working to become an illustrator and I also run a small business on the side primarily focusing on turning my illustrations into different merchandise.

How did you end up starting your online shop? Was there a specific moment that you decided to do this?
I decided that I didn’t want to follow the same career path that I had been doing for the past 5 years, and wanted to focus on my art.

What is your favorite part about the creative work that you do?
Drawing animals and connecting with people!

I see on your website that you’ve lived in New Zealand & now live in Gainesville, FL. What are some of your favorite things about those places? Have they influenced your creative work in any way?
Both places have very unique wildlife, and that has definitely reflected in my illustrations. New Zealand has rolling hills, flightless birds, and no snakes. Gainesville has gorgeous swamps and prairies, and suburban birds of prey, which was completely new to me when we first moved to Gainesville, and still stops me in my tracks when one of them flies overhead, screeching!

"I like to highlight animals that may not necessarily be overly popular, such as aardvarks, frilled-neck lizards, and the aye-aye." - Natelle Quek, NatelleDrawsStuff

A lot of your designs are about animals & nature. What are some of your favorite animals or plants to include in your work, & why? Do your dog & cat influence your art?
I like to highlight animals that may not necessarily be overly popular, such as aardvarks, frilled-neck lizards, and the aye-aye. I also like to share animals that are endemic to places that I have lived in, so I have illustrated a few New Zealand animals, a couple of animals found in Florida, and also Malaysia, the country in which I was born. I definitely also have designed merchandise that are inspired by my cat and dog!

"I draw my inspiration from exploring nature, so I like going on hikes and bush walks, encountering new animals etc. I also love traditional tattoos and Chinese art, and looking through art history books. " - Natelle Quek, NatelleDrawsStuff

Who are some of your biggest creative inspirations & why?
I draw my inspiration from exploring nature, so I like going on hikes and bush walks, encountering new animals etc. I also love traditional tattoos and Chinese art, and looking through art history books. Currently I follow many different designers on social media, including but not limited to; Phoebe Wahl, Pippa Dyrlaga, Sue Van Gageldonk, Becca Jane Koehler, Victoria Astrom, Lili Arnold, Susanne Suflanda Konig, Yumiko Higuchi, Gunnar Freyr, Bao Pham, Sarah Walsh, and Hilary Jane tattoos.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started? What’s your best advice for someone who’s just getting started with doing what you do?
Draw everyday, even if you don’t think it’s a good idea, or if it’s not executed to the standard that you had originally envisioned. Just put it down.

"Draw everyday, even if you don’t think it’s a good idea, or if it’s not executed to the standard that you had originally envisioned. Just put it down." - Natelle Quek, NatelleDrawsStuff

What kinds of things helped you build a customer base when you were first starting out?
Posting on social media frequently, connecting with other designers within the same community.

Do you have a specific process for creating new designs? What are some of your favorite art materials to use in your art?
I usually play around with ideas and poses of different animals, either sketches on paper or drawing directly on my tablet that’s connected to my laptop. I love acrylic and watercolor, and I also love trying out different pens! Once I settle on a design, I clean it up as a vector image and finalize from there.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t give up.

"What's the best advice you've ever received? Don’t give up." - Natelle Quek, NatelleDrawsStuff

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Does any apect of it relate to what you do now?
I wanted to be a marine biologist, then I wanted to be a comic artist, and then I wanted to be a translator and travel the world. I’m sort of weirdly in between everything now; I am still connected to animals and nature, I am working towards illustration as a career, and I love to travel when I can (although the translating part has definitely fallen short!!)

What’s your favorite type of product to make & why?
I love designing fabric patterns and sewing; surface pattern design is quite challenging for me because I have to focus on interesting details and subsequently making a pattern that works on a larger scale when repeated across a yard. Having that come together, as well as holding a finished product in my hand after sewing it, are both rewarding.

"I love designing fabric patterns and sewing; surface pattern design is quite challenging for me because I have to focus on interesting details and subsequently making a pattern that works on a larger scale when repeated across a yard. Having that come together, as well as holding a finished product in my hand after sewing it, are both rewarding." - Natelle Quek, NatelleDrawsStuff

What has been your biggest challenge or setback, & how did you handle it? How did it help your business more better?
I didn’t have a background in illustration or design, so everything I have learned thus far in terms of the softwares used to create my art has either been self-taught, or from helpful advice from some very important people in my life. I feel like I am constantly playing catch up, while still needing to produce something tangible to keep my business going.

What’s something about you or your creative work that most people don’t know but you wish they did?
I’d like to think that I’m an open book 🙂

The cats you draw are so cute & funny. How do you come up with what they should be doing/wearing in your designs?
Most of the time it’s from seeing something my cat and other cats do something funny first hand, and I put it down on paper (like the pin of the naughty cat swatting at houseplants). Other times, I shamefully follow popular trends like pizzas and cats.

Why do you do what you do? What drives you to be successful/keeps you interested in what you do?
As mentioned above, I wanted to pursue a different career, and I hope that my art will bring a little bit of joy in people’s lives.

What’s your favorite quote, & how does it relate to or inspire you & your approach to your business?
I do not have a favorite quote.

What are some of your biggest goals for the year ahead?
On a personal level; take illustration courses to bolster my knowledge, and explore my art style. I believe art should be constantly evolving. On a business level; expand into different product lines.

What are some of your longer-term goals?
It would be pretty cool to work for/with a museum and non-profit organizations to illustrate for them, but that’s pretty wishful thinking right now. Something hopefully to work towards.

 

You can learn more about Natelle & her work at:
Website: www.natelledrawsstuff.com
Instagram: @natelledrawsstuff

My Interview With Captain Wendy Longman of Windsong Charters

If you think you’ve “made it” you’re not working hard enough!
My Interview with Wendy Longman of Windsong Charters in New Port Richey, FL

I’m THRILLED to announce a new & fabulous feature I am adding to Ashlee Craft’s World: interviews with people that I find inspiring or intriguing. This is the very first interview EVER. I think this will be an awesome feature, lots of fun, & hopefully will provide you with a ton of value. I’m looking forward to being able to interview awesome people because everybody knows a lot of things that I don’t know. I’m also really looking forward to the opportunity to learn as much as I can about business & living an awesome life through the interviews I conduct.

Today, I am interviewing Captain Wendy Longman, the owner of Windsong Charters, a local charter boat company located in New Port Richey, FL. I met Wendy at the wonderful Sip restaurant in downtown New Port Richey while I was acting in Leading Ladies. One of my co-stars was asking her about what she did for a living, & she said she owned a charter boat company & got to sail boats FOR HER JOB. Doesn’t that sound awesome & like it would be a lot of fun? She sounded like she really enjoyed what she did for a living & I found that totally inspiring.

I love when I meet people who really love what they’re doing, especially if what they’re doing is an opportunity they created for themselves. So, when I came up with the idea of interviewing people & then sharing it on my blog, Wendy was honestly one of the first people I thought of. I reached out to her, we emailed back & forth a bit, & here we are with this awesome first interview for my blog.


Tell us a little bit about Windsong Charters & what they offer.
Windsong Charters & Boat Rentals offers private sailing charters, private fishing charters, pontoon boat rentals (drive yourself or hire a captain), and paddle craft rentals (kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddleboards). We also do weddings, memorial services / ash scatterings, island BBQ parties on Anclote Key (bachelor, bachelorette, sweet 16, anniversary, quinceanera, etc), corporate team building…anything you can do on land, we make it more fun on the water or an island.

How did you end up starting your business? Was there a specific moment that made you say, “I need to start a boat charter company”?
LOL! There was no “A-HA” moment. Windsong actually started by accident drinking cheap beers and smoking cheaper cigars sitting on the island back in 2002. We met a retired aerospace engineer from San Diego and he wanted to start a “little retirement business”. He was an accomplished sailor and my husband and I were currently in marketing working for Corporate America. Hubby came up with the name and the deal was, we do the marketing (website, sales, collateral) and he taught us how to sail.

When the 2004 hurricanes played havoc with the area, he decided to move back to San Diego as he wasn’t overly fond of Florida. We had since bought our own personal sailboat and he asked if we could take over the existing bookings. I basically said sign everything over to me…state, county and city licensing. We had our personal sailboat commercially documented by the US Coast Guard, obtained our US Coast Guard Captain’s Licenses, and the rest is history!

If I were just a normal person with a normal job, there is no way I could do the philanthropic works within the community that Windsong allows me to do. - Captain Wendy Longman of Windsong Charters

What is your favorite part about owning your business?
Giving back to the community. My business allows me to give free kayak rentals to PTAs, churches, and other organizations for fundraising. It allows me to give away Sunset Sailing Cruises and Wine Tasting Cruises to Rotary Clubs and other charitable organizations for their fundraising galas and live auctions. If I were just a normal person with a normal job, there is no way I could do the philanthropic works within the community that Windsong allows me to do. Windsong is also a bit seasonal, so in those slower times it allows me to travel (I am a serious travel junkie – working simply allows me to support my habit!!! LOL).

What kinds of things did you do initially to attract customers? Was there a specific thing you did that really seemed to help?

Initially the website was the major source of getting the word out. Once I took over the company to run it full time I joined the Chamber of Commerce and did a LOT of networking. People do business with people they know and trust. A lot of our business is repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals. Of course, the website is where we get the majority of guests.

How did you get to where you are today? Walk us through the steps you took & tell us what happened.
It’s been a crazy wave of high and low tides! Where we are today is the result of a TON of literal blood, sweat, and tears. I could have never done this without my best friend and partner in life, my husband Bruce. We both had full time jobs when I took the company over and both of us were travelling a lot for work. Once the business made about 1/2 of what I was making in Corporate America, I left my job to market and build Windsong full time. So to go step-by-step over that past 15 years will take more space than I’m allotted in this blog. LOL.

How did it feel when you started getting more customers? Was there a moment when you realized you’d “made it” & that your business was working out the way you hoped it would?
Growing Pains in any company can make or break you. It’s a delicate balance of who to hire and when without sacrificing quality and ability to pay your mortgage. We hired some fantastic people who are still with Windsong today, to people that are sitting in jail today. Owning your own business is the hardest you will ever work in your life – EVER!!! As far as “Made it” – am I there yet?

If you think you’ve “made it” you’re not working hard enough! - Captain Wendy Longman of Windsong Charters in New Port Richey, FL
If you think you’ve “made it” you’re not working hard enough! My idea of have I “made it” is ever changing and evolving. As long as I am able to give back to the community, serve the community, provide the BEST DAY EVER to my guests, and be a source of employment for the community, then yes…I’ve made it

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
Not to hire the people that screwed me. But hey, if I didn’t have the opportunity to learn THAT critical lesson, Windsong might be in a very different place today. Things happen for a reason. These life lessons, whether business or personal, cannot be rushed or avoided. Life lessons are exactly that – you learn the lesson and move forward being better and striving for the best. Or you wallow and never grow.

Things happen for a reason. These life lessons, whether business or personal, cannot be rushed or avoided. Life lessons are exactly that – you learn the lesson and move forward being better and striving for the best. Or you wallow and never grow. - Captain Wendy Longman of Windsong Charters in New Port Richey, FL
Who or what are some of your biggest influences? Tell us about some of the people, books/movies/songs, or events that have inspired you the most & why.
My mom. She’s my rock. She’s my inspiration. She’s my everything. She is truly the strongest person I know (three bouts of cancer and chemo in 15 years). She’s a fighter. She’s Polly-Anna. She’s AWESOME SAUCE!!! I didn’t spend a lot of time in Corporate America, but the few “real” jobs I had, all three of my bosses made me the person I am today. They were wonderfully fair and insightful.

What’s something interesting about boats that most people don’t know?
Boats are a total pain in the ass!

Bring
Out
Another
Thousand $$$$

What is the best advice you have ever received?
From my Gramma: “You’ll know better when you’re 25”. At the tender age of 24 years and 364 days old, I wrote her a long letter (remember that ancient art of a piece of paper and a pen? Then you fold the papers that you’ve spent hours pouring your soul upon, stuff it in and envelope and mail it?) Anyhoo…I wrote her this long 10-page letter explaining how I know better and all the things I’ve learned.

I didn’t hear back from her for weeks and all of a sudden there is a postcard in the mail. No “Dear Wendy”, no “Love, Gram”, just the following written in RED PEN (like when I was in school!!!)…”You’ll know better when you’re 30”. OMG! I FAILED! WTH??!!!!

When I gave her eulogy I relayed this story. She wanted me to be ME first. Get my career and my life in order FIRST and NEVER make any major life decisions until you are at least 25. I relay this story to the youngsters I hire, friends’ kids, and to the youth I mentor in the community. You really WILL know better when you’re 25 and you’ll know even MORE when you’re 30. Never sacrifice YOU!

What is the best advice you have ever received? From my Gramma: "You’ll know better when you’re 25”. At the tender age of 24 years and 364 days old, I wrote her this long 10-page letter explaining how I know better and all the things I’ve learned. I didn’t hear back from her for weeks and all of a sudden there is a postcard in the mail. No “Dear Wendy”, no “Love, Gram”, just the following written in RED PEN (like when I was in school!!!)..."You’ll know better when you’re 30”. OMG! I FAILED! WTH??!!!! When I gave her eulogy I relayed this story. She wanted me to be ME first. Get my career and my life in order FIRST and NEVER make any major life decisions until you are at least 25. I relay this story to the youngsters I hire, friends' kids, and to the youth I mentor in the community. You really WILL know better when you're 25 and you’ll know even MORE when you’re 30. Never sacrifice YOU! - Captain Wendy Longman of Windsong Charters in New Port Richey, FL

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Does any aspect of it relate to what you do now?
I wanted to be an interpreter for the UN. By the time I graduated with my first degree, I spoke five languages. The UN thing never happened because I didn’t have the courtesy to actually listen to my Gramma about the 25-year-old thing. However, Windsong hosts guests from all over the world and my language skills have definitely come in handy.

I bet you’ve got a great story about something that happened while you were chartering a boat. What’s one of your favorite stories?
You really want to hear about being on a 44′ sailboat in the BVI (British Virgin Islands) during Category I Hurricane Olga? That sucked. The worst part was not being able to drink a beer because the barometric pressure and the winds just schlurped the beer up my nose. Most annoying. In all reality, it was one of the best learning experience of my life. (Wo)Man vs Mother Nature and the delicate dance of respecting her. Every day was trying to save the vessel. If you don’t have a vessel, you don’t have a safe haven. When my guests come in from a 15-minute Florida “micro storm” and complain about the “major hurricane” they experienced…I feel bad laughing at them, but they really have no clue.

Is there a previous job or business you’ve had that prepared you or inspired you to be where you are today?
My entire 49 years of life from shoveling sidewalks at 8 years old for $2 to getting fired from my first “real” adult job after college has been the greatest ride of life.

What was your biggest challenge or setback, & how did you handle it? How did it help make you/your business stronger & more resilient?
The “’Great’ Recession” of 2007 – 2009 was a challenge to say the least. Groupon contacted Windsong and we opened the Tampa market for 1/2 off Kayaks rentals. That helped get Windsong a lot of exposure. Because so many people lost their boats due to repo, we were able to gain that market. The pontoon boat rental company at our marina was closing their doors and gave me their blessings to “have at it in the rental biz”. I went into my nest egg, bought four pontoon boats, and started the rental side of the business. Many people back then could not afford a $500 boat payment on top of gas and insurance, but they could get a group of friends together, split the costs, and still afford a great day on the water.

Then we had the BP oil spill of 2010. It NEVER effected Tampa, but because of the insane media, the world was told we were a total loss in Tampa. We lost a lot of business. We tightened our bootstraps and learned to operate very, very lean. No one was laid off, but a lot of sacrifices were made by all.

Why do you do what you do?
To pay the mortgage. 😉

What drives you to be successful & keeps you interested in what you do?
My staff. If they don’t have jobs, they don’t pay their rent. I feel a sense of duty and responsibility to them. It also doesn’t help I’ve been an overachiever my whole life.

Never regret the things you’ve done...only the things you haven’t. I don’t want to live my life with should have’s, could have’s, and would have’s. - Captain Wendy Longman of Windsong Charters in New Port Richey, FL
What is your favorite quote & how does it relate to or inspire your approach to your business?
Never regret the things you’ve done…only the things you haven’t. I don’t want to live my life with should have’s, could have’s, and would have’s. There are a few of things we tried that failed miserably at Windsong (such as starting the Jet Ski Tours division). If we didn’t at least try – we wouldn’t have known it would be a failure and then we would have wondered and obsessed incessantly about the “What If’s”. By the way, it failed not because we suck, but because the insurance was so insanely cost prohibitive that it would have been fiscally irresponsible to move forward.

What advice would you give to someone someone who’s just getting started with their own business?
Be prepared for 80+ hour work weeks, no time off, no vacation, and no life for the first 5 years. Have a great attorney and an even better CPA. Pinot Grigio will become your best friend.

What’s next for your business? What do you hope to accomplish with it over the next few years?
The sky is the limit! Personally, I would like to take a small step back from the day-to-day operations at the marina so I can team with County and State Tourism officials to re-open scalloping in this county for sustainable recreational harvesting. This would be a significant tourism boost and create very much needed jobs in this area. I would also like to focus more on events, corporate team building, and increase our number of weddings. The past couple of years have been training really amazing Manager Trainees to help with the goals of expansion.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
When you’re in Florida, come float our boat! 😃

You can learn more about Windsong Charters at:
http://www.windsongcharters.com/index.html

1-727-859-0213
5015 U.S. Highway 19, New Port Richey, FL 34652
Open 9am – 5pm.