Career Coach, Speaker and Author
Grace Owen Solutions
Grace Owen, founder of Grace Owen Solutions, is an experienced career coach who specialises in providing innovative people development solutions to individuals, groups and organisations.
Based in London, Grace and her team of freelance specialists work in partnership to design, deliver and evaluate training, coaching, consulting, resourcing, mentoring and speaking solutions to leaders and professionals across the private, public, charity, voluntary and SME sectors. Recent clients include London Business School, the BBC and Lloyds Banking Group.
In addition to running her burgeoning professional services company, Grace is also the author of the self-help career development book The Career Itch.
Why did you decide to start your business?
I started my business because during a career break in 2000. I determined there were two things I wanted to achieve in my career – first to fulfil my dream job as an employee and second to start my own professional services business.
The company was founded three years later in October 2003, having left my dream job as head of learning and development for Costa Coffee.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
From the age of 16 I worked part time in retail for Habitat, Heals and then Marks and Spencer. I then completed my first degree in Biology and Dance studies, yes really! After that I joined the graduate management training scheme at Marks and Spencer two years later in 1996.
By the year 2000 I had worked in the top 20 stores around the UK in HR and successfully applied for a role as a learning specialist in head office with a portfolio of products and clients to manage. I applied even though I was told by a senior manager not to bother as I had only just completed the graduate scheme.
I left M&S after 11 years of service, this amounted to a third of my life on planet earth! I then took an eight month career break during which I determined to find my dream job and start my own business….it was during this time that I experienced coaching and loved it.
In order to earn some money after the sabbatical, I worked for Whitbread Restaurants as a senior HR project manager to co-create learning and development solutions for six restaurant brands and came across coaching again. After 12 months I was approached to apply for the role at Costa Coffee and during my time there I completed an MSc in Learning and development with distinction, retrained as a coach and started the business…the rest is her-story!
Tell me more about your first book, The Career Itch. When was it published and how was the book conceived?
The Career Itch is a self-help career development book. It’s for people who want to learn how to take control of their career in four steps. The book is based on my career journey and those of some of my clients.
It was published exactly 10 years after I first experienced The Career Itch on Millennium Eve, although I didn’t call it that then. At the time it was a very uncomfortable feeling of inner restlessness that I hoped would go away.
I eventually wrote the book because I kept coming across people who had experienced or who were experiencing the Itch and they didn’t know what to do about it. After repeating the same information many times I thought it was time to put it in writing!
Where can I buy The Career Itch and what feedback have you received from readers so far?
It is available from my website and leading retailers like Amazon, Waterstones and WH Smith. Readers have been really enjoyed it, because it can be read in a couple of hours, is user-friendly and has depth as it takes a few months to work through properly.
Grace Owen Solutions offer coaching and training services, can you tell me a bit more about the type of clients you work with and the services which are most in demand?
At present I work with individuals and leading organisations like London Business School, BBC and Lloyds Banking Group. Eighty per cent of my clients are women, though there are a growing number of men, and I have intentionally grown a cross-sector portfolio because I thrive on variety and diversity.
The services most in demand are one-to-one career coaching and group or team leadership development. Having said that my speaking engagements are increasing as is the request for commissioned articles.
Has the recession impacted the number of clients who are seeking coaching services?
I work with high potential professionals and leaders who are specialists in their fields, so their knowledge, skills and expertise is always sought after.
The demand for my services is increasing and many organisations in particular are investing in coaching because leaders are facing so much uncertainty, complexity and growing workloads that offering one-to-one support is seen as one of the most cost effective ways to offer support whilst generating tangible results. Coaching works!
What are you working on at the moment?
On the coaching front I am investigating how to support the growing numbers of new and trainee coaches that are approaching me for counsel. I am speaking at a women’s network next week, so am in the middle of preparing my talk. In relation to the book, I am in talks with a number of partners about launching my book overseas.
Can you describe your typical working day?
No! If I could I would have to do something else! This week I have had an international call, been networking, had one-to-one coaching, prepared my monthly newsletter, delivered a leadership training course, talked to members of my support team, completed some admin, plan to have lunch with a friend and answered your questions!
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
The fact that I do what I love whilst enjoying a rich and rewarding family life with my husband and son. Flexibility, variety and a diverse portfolio of clients is what keeps the interest levels high for me. Ultimately, I believe that what I do fulfils who I am and what I am on planet earth for.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Long hours, cabin fever, discerning where and where not to spend my time, money, resources and expertise.
In the early days of the business I did everything and anything because the learning curve was so steep, now after seven years of building a successful business I have to be strategic and selective otherwise I will burn myself out. I don’t enjoy admin and even though I have outsourced what I can, there is no getting away from it!
What has been your proudest moment to date?
There are so many. Here are some in chronological order, attaining my dream job at Costa Coffee, learning to drive…on the seventh attempt, meeting my husband, buying a property, gaining a distinction in my MSc, registering my business at companies house, completing a diploma in coaching, getting married, burying my Dad in Ghana, giving birth to my son, self-publishing my first book and growing a business that each year exceeds the goals I set.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Turn your dreams into reality.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
I am inspired by my parents who are both deceased. They left a ‘good’ life in Ghana, overcame adversity in the UK and raised a family of amazing women.
I am inspired by my husband and son who keep life real and me grounded every day. I am inspired by countless men and women from every walk of life who have been and who are distant mentors and role models.
I am motivated by my faith, as a Christian, in God. Without Jesus in my life I would not be the person that I am today or achieved what I have. Finally, giving back to others motivates me to be and do more.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering switching gears and starting a business for the first time?
Be ready to make a mental shift from employment to self employment, over time we all become institutionalised. Get to know yourself, warts and all, this will enable you to make decisions aligned to who you are and who you are becoming.
Create a vision for your life and career based on what really matters most to you. Do your research, get informed and develop a plan to achieve your vision of the future. Don’t rush but take small steps each day towards your goals.
Find a circle of supporters who will be there for you no matter what. Ignore naysayers. Last but not least, be as financially secure as possible, unless you are content to downsize your lifestyle and eat beans on toast for months, maybe years. Become debt free and generate a nest egg so that you don’t end up chasing money and sacrifice your dreams.
Is there any additional information you’d like to share?
I would like to encourage anyone reading this interview with a dream or vision that just won’t let you go. Find a way to bring it into reality, whether it is a project or an enterprise. There are people waiting on you to be who you are and do what only you can do, so that they can be who they are and do what only they can do!
What are your future goals for Grace Owen Solutions?
My goal has always been to run a small business that has a global presence and that is what is on the horizon due to the partnerships that I am building with individuals and organisations. With over 15 years experience and having grown an outstanding portfolio of clients I now have more time to enjoy the fruit of my labour.
My exit plan is to free up more time so that I can give back to others through charity work in order to fulfil my life vision, which is to transform lives, one person at a time.
Grace Owen was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
The Twenty Ten Club connects, inspires and supports Black female business owners. If you are interested in becoming a member you can find out more here.