The Wise Why

Episode #50

Episode #50

#50 Kirsty van den Bulk – Clarity with Your Communication

by | 10 Mar,2023

About This Episode

Kirsty van den Bulk is a multi-talented creative, she was an actor, presenter, sales trainer, and channel manager with extensive experience in field sales and event management. Kirsty was born with a speech impediment but in her true determined style she learned to speak and landed her first advertising campaign for Heinz baked Beans.

Kirsty looks past what her clients are going to say on camera, or post on social media, helping them to speak with confidence and streamline their content marketing.

Thanks to her experience as an actor, a make-up artist, sales trainer, channel sales and event manager. Kirsty has learned how to coordinate and work with people, creating harmonious working relationships and building long lasting friendships.

During her tenure in Channel Sales, Kirsty was the go-to person between the internal and external product and marketing teams, ensuring that the go-to-market message was consistent, on brand, and on message leading her to founded KVDB in 2020, a consultancy and coaching agency.

Kirsty’s no-nonsense approach to communication has supported clients who work in various industries, such as recruitment, security, shipping, environmental services, education, drama students, business coaches, and entrepreneurs. She tailors her package to her clients’ needs, merging her experience on camera and video production with presentation skills, clarity of expression, and years of sales and marketing.

Kirsty’s mission is to bring together her clients’ sales, marketing, and social media teams and create content that converts. She is also the host of The Wise Why Podcast.

Episode #50 : Full Transcription

Kirsty van den Bulk steps into the hot seat and is interviewed by Ben Thompson for the 50th Episode of The Wise Why.

During the interview Kirsty talks about her life, coming through divorce and her wonderful husband Dennis.

Kirsty van den Bulk: Hello, and welcome to the Wise Way. It’s the Fiftieth episode, if I can even say that this morning, and I’ve got a little surprise for you, or rather, I haven’t. I was challenged to do this by Alex Dean. So here you go, Alex. And enough about me. Straight up to you, Ben. Take the floor.

Ben Thompson: Thank you, Kirsty. And thank you for giving me this privilege, um, to present the 50th episode. You clearly have terrible all taste on host, but, uh, we’ll discuss that later in the podcast. Um, let’s start. For those who haven’t listened to the previous 49 episodes, tell us all about yourself. Uh, talk to us all about you, your background, and indeed, your business.

Kirsty van den Bulk: That’s really interesting, isn’t it? When you’re in the hot seat, you suddenly go, oh, I’ve m gone blank. Uh, so I started life as an actor, which is kind of very different, to find myself now running a business. And, um, I loved performing. I still love performing. It will always be my driving passion. And, of course, I spent years studying acting techniques. So, all the training that I do today and everything that I do today culminates from my life experience. So, I use Stanislavski in a, uh, technique in my coaching, which is very similar to what Tony Robbins will talk about with the whys and the where’s. But, Stanislavski has seven questions that you ask to get to the driving forces behind your character. So, I use those and underpin everything that I do with that. But, of course, I started life working. So, my first paid job was when I was eight, and it was Hinds baked beans. Then I went and helped my granny and my mom working in, um, catering. So, from sort of eight through two, in between the acting stuff that I did, I would do waitressing, even when I was too young to do waitressing. So, I kind of started working really young. You could say my parents took me out to work. Uh, I don’t mean that ridiculously. But then I got my first Saturday job working in a model railway shop. And then as the stockroom girl, I then moved to a dance shop. And then from the dance shop, I moved to a big department store called Orders. Stayed there on and off whilst working in Harrods, and Selfridges working in every single department within the retail store. And honestly, it sounds ridiculous, but I went from perfumery to computers. I remember the Atari coming out, the Commodore 64. No, I’m old. Um, and of course, I was there at the birth of video camera, the camcorder, the VHS recorder. All of these things were big moments in my life. And then when I got older, in my 30s, um, it was the birth of the internet. And the birth of the internet ended up, guess what? I worked for intel, and I ended up teaching people to sell PCs. And this was at the birth of Centrino and wireless platform and technology, and I launched digital cameras. So, when I look at what I do today, and of course, than I ended up in channel sales and then, uh, got to where I am today with KVDB. But when I look at what I do and how I help my clients, it I can’t think of the word I want to use, but it brings in absolutely everything that I started to learn when I was eight years old.

Ben Thompson: Really fascinating when you were talking about that, I could just see the real passion in your face for all of those stories. And actually, from our past conversations through networking and socials, it really ties everything together. So brilliant to hear. One of the other things I see, um, with really successful people is really successful people tend to have that really early job. Um, and it’s a real trait that I see. Just, um, a little bit of a probe, really, around your acting background. Um, do you miss acting at all? And I guess kind of the connection around that. I know that, um, actors and actresses make such huge sacrifices, um, and have lots and lots of jobs around the world of acting. Can you talk to, um, those listening a little bit about that?

Kirsty van den Bulk: Yeah. So, um, as an actor, there’s a joke, and I don’t like this joke, but there was a joke about, uh, why doesn’t an actor open his curtains to the afternoon? It’s to give him something to do, which is absolute poppy. Something, um, it’s just not true. I used to work when I worked as an actor, I used to run about ten jobs. So, I could be working for intel one day. The next day, I could be in Harrod selling, uh, Mac or Bobby Brown. The next day, I could be going out and coaching, um, or presenting or giving it out free gifts through event management. So, there was lots of different things that I did, and the acting work was wonderful when you got it. And I’m going to load that there, because there is only, like, 1% of actors that are truly successful. And what you’re doing is you are pounding the streets. There’s a song called Broadway Baby from Follies, and it talks about walking off my tired feet, um, pounding 42nd street to be in the show. And that is exactly what you are doing. You are going from casting to casting. At points. You are taking a trolley with you, a case filled with different clothes that you go into a toilet, you buy a coffee, you dive into the toilet. You get changed into the next casting. You set your hair for the next casting. You shake off the previous one, and then you go in and try and be somebody. Not try, you create the new persona for the next role. And then you could turn up. You’ve done all this work, and somebody could just turn around and go, right, turn to the right, turn to the left. Photo. Thanks. And you’re gone and you’ve spent hours preparing. It is the most wonderful job when you get it. It is the hardest job when you’re not doing it, because you are doing everything else. And you’re going to the toilet when you’re working in the Harrods, literally checking your phone to see if your agent has called, because you’re half there doing the job, you’re loving the job, but you’re also working with other people and they’re getting that call to say they’ve got a casting. And you’re sitting there going, why am I not being seen? And of course, what people forget about acting is a lot of the time you’re being cast because you are the right shape, you will fit the costume someone’s pulled out. And it’s very rarely to do with talent.

Ben Thompson: I can imagine it’s very mentally tough. I speak to a lot of people that have tried, um, to build a career in the world of acting and really come to me battered and bruised. So certainly, um, it’s a tough sector. And hats off to you. Um, let’s move on, uh, a little bit to your business. I’m keen to learn more about you, um, and we’ve come back to that, but let’s, um, talk about your business. Um, I think for me, the thing that really comes through is that, to use the games analogy, um, focusing on your introduction, you had almost, like, completed it in terms of built all of those skills to run your own business. So, um, talk to me a little bit about, um, KVDB coaching, um, and talk to me a little bit about why you set it up and where the business is today.

Kirsty van den Bulk: It’s an interesting one because I set up by accident, and I really mean this as an actor. You’re self-employed, so you run your business, you run you, and of course, you’re running all the other jobs. So, I’d run a business for over 30 years. That meaning to and then it came to a situation where my daughter started school and I wanted the flexibility and I was desperately trying to find a job that would fit in, but one that would still use my brain. And I don’t mean that rudely, I really don’t, but I didn’t want to just suddenly drop everything and all those skills and those wonderful skills that I’d learnt through working in channel sales and the business acumen that I then got. And, um, the jobs that I could get where, as many mums will tell you, you’re going to have to take a huge pay cut. You’re going to have to change the way you look at things, because it’s changed a lot now since COVID, but job shares weren’t necessarily so, um, I can’t think of the word I want to use, but they weren’t so readily available um, so I ended up launching KVDB. It was originally Opening Doors Consultancy, and I made a mistake with that. I’m open about the mistakes I’ve made. So, I launched because I wanted to launch as a brand and I didn’t want to be seen, I didn’t want to launch as me. And actually, the best decision I ever made was to drop the Open Doors Consultancy and go out as KVDB. And what I do is I bring everything that’s in my brain. I’ve got one client, I say to them, you just want my brain, so take a brain dump. That sounds really rude, but actually it seems like because I worked in general sales and I understand about pricing and this is a big thing that small business owners don’t do is we don’t price correctly, particularly if we are a service. So, we forget to add on that. We need an RRP, we need a cost to the business. And then in between there is the money that you’re going to make. So, I structure things like that, and I talk to people because I worked in retail, I talk about a retail calendar. Um, and I come in and I kind of do a couple of things. So, I fit when you have got a marketing team and I will come in, um, empower you to run your marketing and I will empower you with how to run your social media to create copy that will convert. I will then take that copy and make sure that that copy is through your website, your SEO and all of that overarching communication that you’re going to do. The other thing that I do is I work with corporates who haven’t got a marketing team and they might need a DECP, so a decimation exploitation and communication plan written for something like the EU. So, I will come in and be the brand voice for them. I will do everything I can to replicate their style of what they are doing, and I will develop it and then I will fill that gap for the project lifetime, if that is required. So, a lot of the time it can be that people are spending tens of thousands of pounds on a marketing agency, whereas I really firmly believe that marketing should actually be done by the people who are in your company. Sorry, everyone out there. Ah, so get a graduate in, get an um, apprentice in, train them up, get somebody who is mid-level in marketing and then get someone like me to come in, swoop down and empower them to go and deliver it. But I will also look at what you are doing with your go to marketing strategy because that’s what I ran when I worked for Hanwha and D-Link because I ran the channel sales. So, there’s a lot of stuff that I bring that even I didn’t know that I bought.

Ben Thompson: Absolutely. Knowing you, I imagine you get real great reward from going into a business and seeing those little things that they’re doing wrong and helping. Am I right to say that if I had to do that in.

Kirsty van den Bulk: The right way, yes. But I wouldn’t say wrong because I think wrong. Uh, that puts weight on someone. And I’m big about positive affirmation. I’m really big about lifting people up. So, I don’t believe anything is wrong. Uh, what is it? A, um, happy mistake or a magical mistake? That’s what they call them. So, it’s not wrong. It’s a magical mistake that can be twisted and spun or you can take, and you’ve done it this way. That’s great, let’s see what we can do and try it the other way. If the other way doesn’t work, go back to the way that’s always working. It’s like a lot of people think, oh, my website is wrong, when it probably isn’t. It just might need a few tweaks. Um, another thing that I see a lot is that people have not been consistent and there’s a lot of words that people say you’ve got to be consistent on your socials. The thing is, it’s not consistency with posting per se. Um, that’s good. Uh, it’s more about consistency with your key messages. So, I can go back to what I was saying two years ago and look through my posts and still see that I am talking about the same subject and topic today. So, two years ago, when I really what, three years ago now, when I really launched, it was all about video conferencing fatigue. If you look at my socials, video conferencing fatigue is highly up, is up there along with my video that’s just gone on YouTube today video conferencing, yesterday video conferencing fatigue. And that consistency. It’s not just about posting three times a day, it’s the overarching consistent key messages going out to market.

Ben Thompson: No really wise advice and can certainly relate to that. Um, one question I do have for you, because I hear this all the time and I think whilst I’ve got you, I feel like it’s wise to get your expertise out in this area. Um, you did touch on this before in terms of that piece, in terms of, um, I guess your own business is a really great example of should businesses put their name, should they show an individual or should they be coming across as a brand? What’s your advice?

Kirsty van den Bulk: So, I struggled with this and I’m clear on it. I was opening doors, consultancy, I was hiding, and I started launching out on social media. And then I hit this difficult point. Do I write a post for we or the Royal we. Or do I write the post for I? And it all came down to I have a brilliant woman, Chaela Hall. Uh, wow. Um, she kicks me. So, we all need somebody that puts us back on track because it’s very easy as a business owner to look outside your business, but when you’re looking at your own, it just becomes a myriad of mess sometimes. So, you need somebody else that will cut through that noise and the mess and get you straight. And she did that to me and KVDB. The reason I didn’t go with Kirsty Van den Bulk was not about arrogance. It was about the length of my name because it’s long. It’s as long as Open Door’s Consultancy. So, then it was like, well, KVDB, and everyone knows me as KVDB. If you meet anyone who’s known me, it used to be the Elkin when I was working as just Kirsty Elkin when I was in those days. But after I got married, it was, oh yeah, it’s KVDB. So, it made sense. And one of the big things is, look at Coco Chanel, look at YSL, Estee Lauder. Uh, and I’m just looking at the beauty and the fashion brands, but, look at the successful brands out there, and they are a name. Really big names. Yes, you’ve got some trademark names, but ultimately there are big named companies out there. And, um, there is a reason that we can communicate, and we can connect to a name. I know there’s a thing of what’s in a name, uh, from Shakespeare, but your real name shows a bit of vulnerability. But also, we want to buy from people. So, I do think that actually, unless you’re in a real corporate environment, use your name.

Ben Thompson: Absolutely. Absolutely. There is that common phrase (you do). I do. There is that common phrase. People buy people. Um, and yeah, I don’t think that could be truer, talking about that. People buy people, please. Um, what I would be keen to probe a little bit more about, um, is why you work with the clients you do. Um, what goes through kind of your kind of planning structure when talking to a new prospect in terms of they would be a good fit for me, I would be a good fit for them. Why do you work with a client?

Kirsty van den Bulk: I like the companies that have got a challenge. I’m going to be honest. I’m quite bold, and I know that I can be quiet, um, intimidated. I don’t mean to be, but I know that I’ve got this big personality, and I can be quite loud, and I make no apologies for that, because at my age, it took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin. But I like to work with quiet, um I guess my clients are quite similar, that they tend to be neurodiverse, like myself. So I am dyslexic and have dyspraxia, I understand that we don’t see things in a linear way. We like to look out the box, and then it’s about bringing all that out the box thinking down into a structure. So, most of my clients tend to have a mind map, but they just want a streamline. But it’s a streamline that will work for them. And, um, because we tend to be on the neurodiverse level, it tends to work. Um, I work with both men and women, and for me it’s all about empowerment. But I tend to work with very niche engineering or technical or something that other marketers do not, I don’t tend to do fluffy stuff. I don’t mean that rudely. Again, um, but as much as I have a background in skincare and makeup, I’ve only got one client that does skincare and makeup. Um, so most of my clients are engineering or again, because I suppose I worked in IT and technical, the stuff I work on tends to have some kind of technical aspect to it. And, um, because other marketers might not have my background, that’s where I can add value. And the reason people work with me is because I do a thing called listening. I know it’s really strange, but years ago I learned we’ve got two of these and one of these. So I tried to get this one shut and rather than bombarding them with ideas, I try to get by starting with what their end result is. And it’s like, what do you want? Um, and I don’t tell them what to do. That’s the big thing. I work with them, and I become part of their team. So, I don’t sit there and say, you must, because that’s pressure. You will its pressure. I’m, um, always about, how about and let’s explore, okay, why don’t you want to do that? That’s fine. Let’s not do that. I put a video out of that. Don’t go on camera if you don’t want to because it’s important. If you don’t want to go on camera, don’t do it. Stop listening to all the noise out there. So, I try to build a structured plan that is deliverable by them, that works for them, that will get them to the end result without giving them a huge amount of overwhelm. Because if you’re a small business or even a large business without a marketing team, nobody’s got time.

Ben Thompson: M?

Kirsty van den Bulk: So, I try to create by using content that you’ve already got and repurposing it in a structured plan that will streamline and deliver a good return on investment of the investment you give to me by paying me, but give you the end result that you want.

Ben Thompson: No? M, good advice. Really good advice. And just continuing that, just to probe a little bit more, uh, I think there’s always a bit of fear, isn’t there, around marketing? I think that if you’re a marketeer, uh, you love it, you smile like you’re smiling right now. But I think that for some businesses, particularly in that space that you were talking about in terms of engineering and certain types of technology, a couple of businesses that come into mind at the moment, um, it’s quite scary, isn’t it? Taking that step-in terms of, um, working with somebody like yourself, um, in terms of building that marketing, building that sales funnel, building that client strategy. Does it need to be scary? Can you talk through somebody who’s listening at home or listening to their office? What could they potentially expect from having that initial conversation with you and what that looks like?

Kirsty van den Bulk: So, it goes back to totally listening. The first thing we always start off with is a strategy meeting. And that strategy meeting is a brain dump. And it really is. I want to hear everything about your business. And we sit down, and we do different exercises. And those exercises will get us down to honey, you’re exhausted at the end of it. And so am I. I’m, uh, not going to say I’m not. It’s 3 hours of intensive your business and sometimes it needs to be two. And we hone it right the way down to the, why people come to you. This is what you do, this is how you serve. And this is how somebody feels when they work with you, or they buy from you. So, we create this whole structure. And it takes a lot of work, but from there, we’ve then got the foundation for your marketing. And what’s interesting, every time I do it, the customer has the answers. They’ve just never had the sounding board, the person sitting the other side to go, right, let’s write that down. Let’s write this one, let’s put that there, let’s put it there. And it’s a huge I mean, it’s huge, but my goodness, you’ve got years of content after that. Uh, and a lot of times I just did the strategy meeting and then people fly. And it can just be that, uh, intensive. Let me listen to your business. Okay? I also look at what you’re already doing. So, before we have that strategy meeting, I’ve gone and looked at all your socials, I looked at your website. I’ve already come with ideas in my own head that I know that I think could twist and tweak with Tweaks. And I don’t talk about I’m not about erasing everything and starting again. I am about Tweaking and tweaking and tweaking because marketing evolves. And one thing that you also I was talking about this yesterday. Um, you don’t necessarily want to plan your marketing too far and ahead, you might have an overarching plan, but things happen. COVID, we have disasters that happen. And if you’ve got your marketing planned to go out and it’s not appropriate for something that’s just happened, you need to get it down quickly. So sometimes if you’re planning too far in advance, you need to really think about, have I got the space to react to something if it happens? So, you need to have your plan behind, but not necessarily all structured, ready, scheduled to go out. Because if you’ve scheduled it, you’ve then got to go back in and unscheduled it. So, there is a sweet spot about not scheduling too far advance as well.

Ben Thompson: Absolutely. No, I can definitely resonate with that. Um, as you know, I host a radio show, and, um, we record the radio show in advance. And we had a guest on that was amazing. Really good but working within the HR space. And something happened very big within her organization. Uh, it was all over the papers, all over central news, BBC news, and the show was going out on the Sunday, as Sunday morning news was saying, exactly what happened. So, we all make mistakes, don’t we? And, uh, as I’m sure you can imagine, uh, that was, uh, a little bit stressful. A little bit stressful. Um, I think one of the things that, um, I’ve always really, um, admired about you, and I think always, um, really come through, is just strength for the people around you. Um, I can think of five or six times that I’ve seen you really supporting somebody, and really, I guess, um, being that shoulder, but also that rock, I guess, who is your I guess why, and who is your rock, who inspires you, whether that be business or personal.

Kirsty van den Bulk: So, it’s my husband, 100% Dennis. Um wow. When he came into my life, it was just like I didn’t know I needed someone like Dennis. Um, uh, and most people know this, I’d had quite an up and down life. There’s been some, lots of trauma within that life. It’s not been easy at times. And when I met Dennis, I was very defensive. I was still desperately trying to be an actor and still trying to juggle all these jobs. Uh, my husband just cuts through everything. He is the voice. He can give me a look across the room. I know instantly what he’s thinking. He’s the only person interestingly that can pull me back and calm me down. He is 100% my rock. Um, and he is the person that keeps me straight. He is the person that gave me the seed money for the business, the first £2000. Um, he has me, and I have him. And we have such a beautiful, wonderful, happy family life. And of course, my daughter, um, she is brilliant at cutting through anything. So, uh, my family, my husband, my daughter, my mum is really good. I’m on the phone to my mum at least, uh, three times a week, normally on the school run. She has no idea what I’m talking about. She says to me, I used to understand what you talk about, but now I’ve got no idea. And I’m listening, but it’s going over my head. And remember, I’m retired, and it’s hurting now. And I can hear my dad in the background going, all right there, uh, what is it today? And then my brother, who works, in HR, he’s there as well. So, when it gets too much, and particularly with HR stuff, and I’ve got some stuff I’ve got to sort out today. I can lean on Graeme. So, my family is really important to me, and they are my rock. We’ve gone through a lot of stuff together. Uh, Dennis is my lasso. He holds me firmly to terra firm.

Ben Thompson: No, absolutely. Just build on that. That was an honest overview. But knowingly I like to turn things into advice, um, going from being in a tough place and not knowing you needed that support and then having that support, what would be your advice to, um, potentially somebody listening who feels that they were in that place that you were before you met Dennis? What did you need to do to let Dennis in?

Kirsty van den Bulk: It’s really interesting. That’s a really good question, because I didn’t realize just how lonely I was. I’d become very independent, too independent. I’d become very resilient on myself. Um, and I didn’t let anyone in. And I think what the difference here was. Dennis never told me what to do. And, um, I got to that point where if somebody told me what to do, then, um, it was almost like I couldn’t accept it was not like I couldn’t accept advice. But I’d become very self, too self-reliant. So, I’d been right down at the depths. I’d been divorced. And, um, suddenly I was running lots and lots of jobs. I was very successful at running the jobs, but I was tired. I was exhausted and I needed somebody to just stand in my way and stop me. And that’s exactly what he did. And I think the way he did it and I think back to this, because he’s younger than me, and I wouldn’t go out with him because he’s younger than me, um, he just stayed at a steady heartbeat. So, I guess the thing is, if you’re if you find somebody that you know is worth it, that you know, has a real, really soft heart, because I do, um I’m soft as putty, but I come across as tough as nails. But if you’ve got somebody, who is you can see that they are really worth it, or you know that you’ve become tough as nails. Look for the person that is the consistent heartbeat in your life. The person who is just always there. The person who is just, I don’t know, um going down to your parents and putting your belongings in the back of the car because you’re refusing to move in with them, but you get back to their house and you find that your belongings are in the back of the car. Find that person, the person who is just constantly there. And if you are closed off like I was, take the blinkers off. Trust. Because I’d lost my trust. I’d lost my faith. Um, I’d lost my belief because the divorce really hurt me. I’m not going to sit there and say it didn’t. It had to. Happen. Um, it had to happen. Because for both of us, we were both in a toxic situation and it had to happen. It doesn’t mean that it was an easy decision to make. I’ve been married by that point for twelve years. I’ve now been married with Dennis longer, but I still care about that person. So, I think what Dennis did for me was he allowed me to. That’s what he did. He allowed me to still care for the person that I’d left without any jealousy. Um, he said it was okay, whereas other people that I’d been hanging out with, I’d gone out with, felt uncomfortable about me having an ex-partner of quite a big ex-partner. Um, whereas Dennis was like, yeah, I’m not threatened by that. So, I guess it’s difficult to say what would I do as advice? But I would say to somebody who is in my position, look for the constant support and the heartbeat and just lift those blinkers.

Ben Thompson: I’m going to challenge you there because I think that sentence you said, it’s difficult to say what I would do as advice. I think you’re wrong, because you’ve just given a good three minutes of really solid advice there. I’m pushing back, um, on you, on your own, the Wise why? Episode 50, who would have thought it, right?

Kirsty van den Bulk: I think it’s because I don’t like giving advice back to how I work. I want to listen to what people want and the end result. So, I, um, think advice is lovely. It happened, um, yesterday. Someone said to me, I’m not charging enough. So, I just turned it back on them. I didn’t give them the advice, but they thanked me for my advice, and I was like, but you said it.

Ben Thompson: No always good. Um, let’s go back to something you touched on there. I mean, you skim past it in, um, your own life in terms of that you were working lots of different jobs and where many hats and that is a real trait of an entrepreneur, isn’t it? Saying yes, seeing opportunities and doing them. What’s your advice under that umbrella? And what have been your own experiences? And what would you say to those listening in terms of, um, is it fine to wear lots of hats? Is it fine to overwork yourself? Is it fine to do all of these things? Um, or in hindsight, should you maybe not?

Kirsty van den Bulk: You should say no. You should learn to say no. You have to learn. The one thing I keep banging on about at the moment is boundaries. And, um, you have to know your no. If you don’t know your no, you will burn out. So, learning my no came at a price for me. It came at a price that I didn’t recognize it and I blew my life up. Um, I went to an event, working in events, and I was unprofessional. I was totally unprofessional because I didn’t recognize I was burnt out. If I had realized at that point I wouldn’t have gone to the event, I would have said no. Uh, the contract that I was supposed to be working on I um, knew was a no for me. I knew it was a no, but I didn’t have the guts to say no, and I blew my life ah up. So no, you’re no. It’s so important. And I now stand by that, and I will say no when I need to. And that includes leaving a job. So, if you stay in a job too long, you become toxic. Recognize it. Um, I stayed too long in my last job. I became toxic. I’m very honest about that. Um, I didn’t say no quickly enough. I knew I was saying no because I was looking for other work. Sorry, Manisha. Uh, but, uh, sorry, but I didn’t know how to say no. So, there’s been a couple of times where I didn’t say no quick enough. But now I say no. And I swear, everybody, the one thing you must do as an entrepreneur, the one thing you must do as a small business owner is know where your limit is.

Ben Thompson: No, good advice. Really good advice. Let’s get back into the KVDB coaching. Let’s get back on that and let’s talk about these three years. So, over the three years, what have been your mistakes? What have been your hurdles along the lines, what have been the bits that, uh, actually, in hindsight, if you were to rewind and do the business again, what would you have done differently?

Kirsty van den Bulk: So, my branding, first, oh, my goodness. Um, I didn’t take advice and I set up a business. I guess the first thing is overwhelming. Uh, imposter syndrome. One of these buzzwords that we talk about, but overcoming them was really, really important. So, I set up at the beginning of COVID and then closed the business down and went dormant for a year because it wasn’t the time. Um, so I couldn’t change that. But then when I did launch, um, I launched backwards. So, I would always start with a website now. I would never start with a social media page. I would always start with my website. Because your website is where you disseminate everything from, your website is the most important aspect of your business. You want to put everything on your website and then put it all out across your socials. So, I would say start your website first. I would not have spent hours and hours and hours building my own website. I would have outsourced that right at the beginning. If I had known what it would do for my business, I would have changed my name. I would have come straight out and been brave with KVDB But I wasn’t ready to be brave and come out with KVDB There was a lot of acting stuff still on my back and I needed to learn to do that, I would have, ah, started going on camera earlier. I would have launched a podcast earlier because this was an accidental podcast, just like my business was an accidental business. And yet these two things are the things that changed things in my entire life. So, I’d have been braver and not worried about what everybody else was going to say. And one thing I’ve learned is there are everyone’s got an opinion on what you should, must, could do. But actually, you’ve got to trust your head in your heart and follow that. But, uh, I’m going to turn this back on you and go, I’m sure you have done the same things.

Ben Thompson: Yeah, definitely.

Kirsty van den Bulk: Um.

Ben Thompson: I always plan to set up my own business at some point. Was that going to be a recruitment business? I had no idea. And I probably hadn’t considered it. And I was asked whether I’d set up a recruitment business with Mike, Terry, Terry and Thompson and Terry. Um, and it has worked well. But actually, over those period of time, I think that we started the business with, um, a bit of a backwards idea in terms of we both put 250 quid into the business, but we both said that we won’t take any money out of the business or we had salaries behind us. Um, I think what that probably did in the first year in some ways has made us a little bit lazy in some ways because I think that we absolutely, um, were driven to get our values out and to get our brand out and all of those kinds of things. But actually, we weren’t too worried about revenue. And I think that actually, revenue is always a big part of a commercial business. And I think when we got into year two, from the first month of year two, revenue was double any other month, um, in year one, without doing anything differently. And I think it was the fact that we knew that then it’s got to start paying us a salary. Um, I think the thing that I always get challenged on under the marketing umbrella, which I still think I did the right thing, and I was strong, was keeping the brand Thompson and Terry when I bought the business out in 2018. Um, and the reason for that is that Mike’s, Mike’s Gray, um, I got on with him really well. And I just wanted to buy him out because I wanted to have the whole pie and I wanted to put my stamp on it. But Mike was good. There was nothing that I wasn’t proud of about the business. And we had built a brand, we ranked well on Google. We had and only really small things. It probably wasn’t about the money, but we had, you know, reputation. We had people knowing us, people liking us, people trusting us. And actually, six years or five years down the line, I can’t do math, clearly five years down the line. And m for people to say, oh, who’s Terry? For me to say that story in, to actually say, yeah, he was one of the founders, and I bought him out five years ago. I don’t mind that. I think that was wise. Um, I think the biggest mistake that I ever made in business a million times over, ah, is once I did the really wrong thing. Uh, and I think that when I bought the business out, um, you always think, you know what, you need to put your stamp on it. And there was one scenario that I’d read lots of business books, and I decided, you know what, I want to scale. I literally tripled my marketing spend. I doubled the size of the office; I doubled the size of the workforce. And I really, really went for it with him a month after buying the business out. And actually, I think that I took one hire that I probably shouldn’t have done. They approached me, but nevertheless, I probably shouldn’t have done. And actually, I’ve always regretted that. And actually, what I was probably trying to do with the business was to grow it to be something that wasn’t me, because I had spent a lot of money buying it out. And then actually, within three months, I really realized that that was a mistake. And we scaled back down to where we were before, and I think that our business was a lot stronger for it. So there’s definitely positives, but nevertheless, I’ve, ah, definitely, definitely made mistakes along the line.

Kirsty van den Bulk: And I love that. The the scale business, I’m just about to, uh, do that. I’m coming off this call, and I’m talking to somebody, and I’m having that how do I employ them, how do I work with them? And IR 35 is, uh, a concern. I was reading about that last night, and it is that scale of how do you do it? And I’ve wanted to do it very simply, but without I very much want to run the business with money in, money out, so the business has no debt. And I’ve taken a little bit of a salary, but not a huge salary. Um, and this is the first year that I can take a salary, but, um, it won’t be huge, but it’s nice. But I also need to invest because something that you touched on there. What is the best use of our time? And, uh, my time is not necessarily spent doing my own marketing, which sounds a bit crazy, and I don’t mean not using my own voice. I refuse to have someone else answer any post, but the designing and the execution and the post, the actual putting out of the post, maybe it’s not the best use of my time, because I learn more going out and helping other people. So, yeah, I think that’s the mistake that a lot of people also make is we aren’t prepared to give a bit of our business away because we’re scared that you did it bravely m. So, I think cats off to you. I’m going to clap. So, I get to do a question because I’ve seen the time. So, I get to do a special to you. I have to say, it is weird sitting in the guest seat. It’s been very interesting, but also very strange. Um, so I’ve m got to ask you a question, of course, and then I’ve got to think about it. I want to know because you’re quiet, you’re young, okay? If you bought the business out in 2018, you’re still young. You’re a young entrepreneur. So, what advice have you got for somebody who might be at school, maybe 1819, knows they want to launch a business that isn’t doesn’t have the confidence or doesn’t quite know what, as you said, you fell into recruitment. What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Ben Thompson: Gosh, that’s a good question. I can tell you do this as a job. Kirsty um, for me, I think my biggest piece of advice is the toughest part of running a business is making that decision to start doing it. Um, and I appreciate that such a corporate answer. So, I’m going to build on that a little bit. Um, when you’re exchanged with children and families and mortgages, et cetera, et cetera, you absolutely have stuff to lose. But I think that as that 18-year-old and I think my probably biggest regret isn’t setting up a business earlier, I was very calculated in what I was doing in terms of each role to build my skill set, um, to be able to run a business. But actually, in reality, I think if I look back to that 18-year-old self, I think it would have taken me a little bit longer to get to the stage where I could run a really good business. But actually, most, most 18-year-olds, not all with different circumstances, but most 18 year olds live at home with family and have quite low outgoings. And I think that if you are in that scenario, I always think that society teaches us that we need to earn a good salary, that we need to have a nice car and we need to have, if you’re 18, nice trainers. But, I think I would always say what is the worst that could happen and what would be the result if the business didn’t work? So, I think if you’ve got a dream and you want to try and run your own business at 18 and I set up my business at 23, um, and I think I would have done it five years ago. I would have done it maybe even sooner than that. No, I’d have probably done it in 19 or 20, I think. Um, but I think that if you’ve got that dream, think about what have you got to lose? I think that if your decisions are going to impact others, you need to think very long and hard. Very long and hard. But if your decisions are going to mean that you can’t go to where do the kids go now? Ibiza. Um, on your holiday or Mar Bea, or whatever it was.

Ben Thompson: Ah, from Boredom, in my day. Anyway, that’s another story. Um, there’s not that much. When I set up my business, I sold my fancy car, um, that paid for my year of salary. And actually, I think that the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll start your learning. And actually, by the time you get to the stage where you would have done it previously, you’re probably going to be a lot more steps ahead. And actually, as a recruiter, uh, worst case scenario, if you’re 18, you set up your own business, do it for two years and it doesn’t work, you’re still going to be able to get just as good job as a 20-year-old who’s had two years in their working career. So, really, if you want to do it, it’s tough. Surround yourself with really great people. Think about your business costs, and if you haven’t got the risk, do it. Surround yourself with good people. There’s lots of people in Oxfordshire, two of them on this call, that will help you. Um, and just do it. Just do it. Use the phrase of Nike. There we go.

Kirsty van den Bulk: I love it. I absolutely love that advice. So, I’m going to come up here and I’m going to get you before we come off this call, in the studio space, I’m going to get you booked on so we can explore your wise. But thank you very much for stepping into the host seat. Uh, yeah, the hot seat. So, thank you.

Ben Thompson: Thank you so much for asking me.

Kirsty van den Bulk: Thank you.

In this episode:

00:06 I’ve got a little surprise for you
00:17 Present the 50th episode. You clearly have
00:35 Talk to us all about you, your background
03:12 Real passion in your face for all of those
03:37 Do you miss acting at all?
04:42 Life as an actor
06:40 Life in business
08:23 True cost of business
08:46 The missing link
10:26 Wrong can be a magical mistake
11:09 True consistency is not about social media posting
12:00 Your business identity
14:40 Why you work with the clients you do
15:56 Empowering others
16:36 Listening
17:11 Exploring the options
18:06 Fear of marketing
18:50 Understanding your end result
20:19 Marketing is fluid and evolves
21:19 When things go wrong
00:21 Supporting others
22:14 Who is your rock
24:35 What advice can you give to someone in a dark place
26:15 Find your person
26:48 Divorce really hurt me.
00:29 What has hindsight taught you?
31:00 Overcoming mistakes and hurdles
33:06 Ben’s Journey
41:58 Surround yourself with good people.

Connect with Kirsty :
Instagram: @kirstyvdbulk

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