How I changed career
I read maths at the University of Nottingham. I didn’t have a career path in mind but, just before I graduated, it dawned on me that this was it – it was time to get serious. I remember my friends suddenly getting sensible haircuts and suits and applying for jobs, so I did the same, and joined haysmacintyre. Once I started my training, I got the bit between my teeth and wanted to make finance director at 30. I left the firm a year after I qualified and went first to Citizens Advice as financial controller, and then to CELS (the Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences), which was expanding the life science economy in the north-east, as their group director of finance when I was 30 and six months.
By 2010, I was ready to leave. CELS had gone through a major transition and started a merger process, so I took the offered redundancy. I wanted to reboot my life. I sold my house in Newcastle and started living in the moment, waiting to see what opportunities would come my way. What came along was a placement as a strategic management advisor at St Walburg’s Hospital in Tanzania, with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) – I’d applied two years before, but the timing was perfect. Six months later, in January 2011, I set off for Africa for six months. On one of my first days back in the UK, I went to get my hair cut near my parents’ house in London and bumped into my CEO from CELS. We’d been chatting about starting a business and, on that day, we did. We went for coffee in Starbucks in Hampstead and that was that. Better2Know, our sexual health business providing fast diagnostics and referrals for treatment when necessary, was born.
My LinkedIn profile says I’m the finance director, which of course I am, but at Better2Know this is a catch-all role that takes in human resources, IT, finance and, increasingly, business development and marketing. I spend a lot of time doing digital marketing, devising advertising strategies, building relationships with people who can supply and/or promote our services. Right now, I’m considering how to tell corporate service companies such as banks, law and accountancy firms about our business. These are all sectors where people might need discreet sexual screening at a time that suits them, so should be good places to look for new customers.
We are also looking at dating agencies as they’d be an excellent market to work with. Aside from Better2Know, I also do three days per month for NHS Sheffield. I’m a lay member for audit and governance for the clinical commissioning group and it’s a role that’s very important to me. It helps me keep on top of what’s happening in the health service but, more than that, it adds diversity and interest to my working life.
My typical day
My days are varied but, when I’m home, they always start with a long walk with my dogs. That preps my mind for the first tasks I have to deal with when I reach the office, which will normally be a slew of emails from all over the world. We have more than 5,000 clinics worldwide and operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so there is never a moment when something isn’t happening. I do spend a lot of my time in meetings and, since starting Better2Know, I’ve had to bring myself up to speed with digital marketing, with tracking our activity online and using Google Analytics.
It’s fascinating to see the impact health stories have on our stats and it’s even more interesting following up to see which headlines generate sales. I travel a great deal – I really can’t think of when I last spent seven consecutive nights in my own bed – but, having said that, I’m not too bad at scheduling days off. One of the reasons I wanted to have my own business was to manage my time better and I haven’t forgotten that.
The challenges I’ve overcome
There’s the constant challenge of learning and keeping up to date, which I love. I’ve had to learn all about sexual health – it’s a new language and I’m proud to say that I can hold my own when talking with practitioners. And it was the same with VSO in Tanzania. I had to ditch most of my standard working practices and start from scratch. There was so little infrastructure of any description in place, I had to think on my feet and work in a much more collaborative and ad hoc way. I had absolutely no frame of reference, but it did me good to throw out all my rules.
The health sector can be quite tricky. Doctors need to see evidence before they will commit to anything and are quite risk averse. The first question they ask is, “what’s the proven benefit?”. If you don’t have that, you may as well leave the room. And sexual health is such a sensitive subject. People use our services when they’re scared, ashamed – they may have caught an STI after a one-night stand – and in need of total confidentiality with absolutely no judgement. They won’t want to go to their GP, or a sexual health clinic – they want reassurance, fast screening and fast results. For the brief time that we’re helping them, we’re their best friend.
How the ACA helped my career
It’s helped in every way possible. The fact that it is a globally recognised mark of excellence unlocks so many doors. When people see those letters after my name, they take notice. I’ve no doubt that my ACA was what enabled me to work with VSO, got me my job at the NHS, and has given me the skills to co-run my own business.
The habits of an accountant
Accountants are firm and decisive. We’re organised, systematic and analytical, which means we can often see solutions clearly, even in non-financial areas. We’ve been trained to focus and work fast, and that skill doesn’t leave you.