Spotlight on - Kirsty Hulse
At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to the founder of Roar! Training, Kirsty Hulse. We chatted about career changes, the highs and lows of business and her advice to anyone starting out.
I began my career in SEO and then I founded my first company, an SEO agency, Manyminds at 26, with global clients like Virgin Atlantic and IBM. The model was all remote, completely independent flexible working. I realise looking back I began that business not through a love of SEO or a desire to run an agency, but through an ultimately belligerent belief that businesses do not need to be run from one central location, that if you give people professional autonomy and treat them like adults they will be happier and the output consequently better.
In less than 3 years, I scaled that business to a team of over 50 independent, remote staff. The issue with the model, however, is that it was entirely reliant on me. I began to burn out. The business cost around 35k a month to run and it was becoming unbearable to manage. I started working for myself for freedom, though found myself kind of...shackled in by this big monster I had created.
During this time I had qualified as a coach and began mentoring people to be more confident and speak at events. This felt so much more “me”. So in May of last year, I took a big financial risk, wound down Manyminds, walked away from the hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue I was generating and started again. I set up Roar! Training and our mission is to level the professional playing field.
Why did you choose your career path?
I mean, the noble answer would be something about helping people but the truthful answer is more along the lines of me being good at it. We all have different skills in life and mine is motivating and uplifting people. Having worked in SEO which is an industry where you are constantly having to justify and prove your worth, where positive outcomes are never guaranteed, I suddenly found myself in a space where I know, every single time, that I coach someone or deliver a workshop in a company I will deliver. In this capacity, I have never ever, ever, had a bad day at work. I have the usual business stresses about making money and staying sane and solvent, but life is a trade-off, I am happy to risk security to do something I genuinely love.
Oh everything, all the time. If you’re learning and growing and stretching yourself and your capabilities the whole bloody thing is a challenge. I don’t think I have had setbacks as such because every time I have made mistakes or failed they have been huge lessons and we really cannot learn anything without them. For me, setbacks have been experiencing huge cash flow issues in my first business (I wrote about that in-depth once) and then having fraud on my bank account so all my money was stolen. I couldn’t pay any of my team. I fell behind in 5 figure tax bills. I got in huge credit card debt. The stress made me stop leading the business so as a result, the quality dropped, we began to lose clients, we did free work to keep them, it all started to spiral out of control. It was absolutely horrific, I have never experienced stress like it. After an excruciating 12 weeks, the money was returned by the bank but I felt completely terrified of it happening again, I felt like the rug could just so easily be pulled from underneath me at any time. I had a similar experience when COVID hit, my business literally collapsed overnight, only this time, it didn’t come with that heavy stress, because my earlier experiences gave me tools, lessons, coping strategies and a belief that I’ve got it. If you run a business, shit hits the fan, that’s all just part of it. So now I just make sure I am taking the lessons and moving forwards.
Drive and determination
Honestly what gives me determination is my deep-seated need for external approval. I’m only a tiny bit joking, I think that is deep down, why so many of us work so hard. To make sure we are adding value, to make sure we are busy, important, needed. With a lot of my coaching clients, they come to me struggling with work-life balance because they are so busy.
And, for so many of us, we are the ones who, outside of our conscious awareness, avoid taking breaks, avoid time out because those external demands on our time - they validate us. They make us feel important and useful in the world. Sometimes feeling like you are not that indispensable in your company, that your business won’t collapse if you are not present for a couple of weeks, it scares us, because nobody likes to be reminded of how completely, utterly, ordinary we are.
Being a coach is illuminating, because you see patterns within people and those patterns often look the same, so you begin to see them in yourself. A couple of years ago “succeeding” to me looks a lot like money, travel, big conference stages, the things that made me feel important and special. Now those things still absolutely play a part, but my notion of success is more rooted in whether, in a meaningful and sustainable way, these things help in me actually enjoying my life.
My best ideas, my best work, my clearest thinking does not come from action; it comes from sitting, staring, reading, researching, listening. For so many years I got that wrong, I thought that success was productivity and productivity was doing. Now I know (both from anecdotal evidence but the hoards of empirical research that supports this) is that success is doing and being. Sometimes you just have to be, so you can create some space for your best thinking to shine through all the other noise.
Follow your instinct, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn't. Our subconscious brains are faster and more powerful than our conscious brains can often recognise.
Acknowledge you are holding yourself back and that’s totally OK. We are built as humans to avoid the threat, we are terrified of social ridicule because we evolved in packs. By default, we are scared, never let that stop you.
Nobody succeeds alone. A lesson I learned from my first business, surround yourself with people who teach you, are smarter than you, lift you up.