Rebecca Jones was told at school that she’d better hope she made ‘pretty babies’, because she’d never amount to anything. She left aged 16 with a handful of non-academic O-levels to her name. By her mid-twenties she was running her second company, and now she’s a world-famous expert in training and business growth.
She believes the dyslexia that had her labelled ‘hopeless’ at school has been the driver behind her entrepreneurial success, but when she came to write a book, it meant a whole new set of challenges.
In this week’s conversation Rebecca tells me how she overcame those challenges, why red shoes matter, how she fixes businesses, and how her new book, Enterprise Within, could make possible a whole new phase for her own business.
Rebecca’s site: http://www.rebeccajones.biz/
Rebecca on Twitter: https://twitter.com/redshoebizwoman
Nicola Huelin – The Invisible Revolution: Join the empowered Mumpreneurs: Inspiration, insights & practical advice to build a business you love: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invisible-Revolution-empowered-Mumpreneurs-Inspiration/dp/1910056618
Tony Llewellyn – The Team Coaching Toolkit: 55 Tools and Techniques for Building Brilliant Teams: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Team-Coaching-Toolkit-Techniques-Brilliant/dp/1910056650
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
Alison Jones: Hello and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. Today I’m thrilled to be here with Rebecca Jones. Now, Rebecca left school at 16 with a handful of O-Levels to her name but she started her first business aged 19 and has gone on to establish herself as an expert in training and in business growth through staff engagement. She’s the author of Enterprise Within, which published in September 2017. So, welcome to the show, Rebecca.
Rebecca Jones: Thank you very much for having me on, Allison.
Alison Jones: It’s absolutely brilliant to have you here. We’ve got to start with your own story, which is amazing. So tell us, what happened to turn you from that 16-year-old school leaver into this massively successful business women and also, what’s with the red shoes?
Rebecca Jones: Okay, so we’ll come to the red shoes as we go along through the story, I think. Yeah, as a child, I sort of struggled with school really, anything to do with writing, reading, all of that side of school life, I really struggled. In fact, I did struggle a little bit with the concept of just learning and doing stuff and regularly was told that I would never be anything, that I wouldn’t achieve much, that I wasn’t very good, I was hopeless.
I talk a lot, as you know, about mind-set and obviously for me, that a lot of that comes from things that people have said to you when you were younger. I could have quite easily, at that point, just accepted that that was my lot in life, that I probably wouldn’t ever achieve much. In fact, my cookery teacher said that she hoped I made pretty babies because I wouldn’t be able to keep a husband for my cooking alone. Clearly, my cooking skills weren’t up too much either, I’m not sure.
I did really feel at that time that, well, I would just try and get a job, which I did and I sort of veered from one job to another and never really found my thing. I realised that it was really difficult to manage to get a job even because actually, what I’d realised was, I was dyslexic and it wasn’t that I was stupid at all. I’m not stupid, I don’t know, I’m probably an average person. I don’t think I’m highly intelligent or anything but I’m definitely capable of more than it was being suggested. But obviously, when you’re dyslexic it’s very difficult to hold down a job where you’re going to have to write or read and do these things. Therefore, it’s just a natural thing, I think, for you to start a business and I became very determined. I had a drive and a passion to get out there and do something for myself, I guess. So yeah, that’s how it started.
The red shoes is actually a confidence thing. As a child, I wanted a pair of red shoes, wasn’t able to have them for one reason or another. I think my dad said something like they don’t polish up very well when you scuff them.
Alison Jones: There’s a practical man.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, he was actually right. Having now owned lots of red shoes, I can tell you they don’t polish up very well. When I was running my second business, actually, in my mid-twenties, I’d had a bad day in the office, a couple of meetings hadn’t gone very well, I saw a pair of red shoes in the window and I thought I’m going to have those. So I bought the red shoes, put them on and then just felt more confident, really. I used to go to board meetings, all the guys there in their suits and I’d be there in my business suit but underneath the table, I’d have my red shoes on. I used to just look down, underneath the table, and smile to myself, I had red shoes on.
Alison Jones: It’s your secret weapon. I love it.
Rebecca Jones: I guess so, yeah. I just used to wear them more and more. Then people used to sort of joke about them and point them out, that they would only ever see me in red shoes. Yeah, it just became a thing, I suppose. Then, a couple of people started referring to me as Mrs Red Shoes. I wasn’t quite so keen on that, it didn’t sound right to me, so I chose to amend that and call myself the Red Shoe Biz Woman. I’ve used that ever since really. That’s about, probably a good 10 – 12 years now that that’s been my brand, yeah.
Alison Jones: I’m smiling here as well because I remember years ago, back in my corporate life, I had to do a big meeting with a CEO and armed myself with a pair of bright pink shoes, so I totally get where you’re coming from. They make you walk differently, don’t they?
Rebecca Jones: I think it just makes people smile, it’s, you know it’s nice. It’s interesting, isn’t it, because it’s not just a female thing. I’ve met loads of guys who say, “Oh, I only wear red braces,” or “I only wear pink socks,” or whatever. Yeah. Sometimes it just makes you feel, I don’t know, that you’re ready to go…
Alison Jones: There’s a great tip right there, brilliant. I’ll just go back to the dyslexia thing again, I think that’s so interesting. I loved what you said about, it’s hard to hold down a job so what else would you do but start your own business? That’s just brilliant. But actually, you’re in really good company, aren’t you? There’s a great tradition of bright dyslexic people starting really successful businesses, Branson is the classic example, isn’t he?
Rebecca Jones: Exactly. I’d read quite a lot of work on this when I did some research work on how do we develop entrepreneurial people. One of the things we spotted is often somebody who’s overcome adversity of some kind or another because they’re just used to having to do that. I think that’s it, isn’t it, it’s that determination to do something. I’m not sure if it’s against the odds, but even when the chips are down, you sort of go, “Well, I’m going to try anyway.” So, yeah, it is very common to have people who have struggled at school who becoming quite successful business people.
Alison Jones: Yeah. I used to do voluntary work with the Adult Basic Literacy Campaign and tutoring a guy who was brilliantly successful in business, but absolutely illiterate, functionally illiterate. It was incredible-
Rebecca Jones: Really common.
Alison Jones: Yeah, really common. And I think you’re right, you overcome stuff. Sadly though, I think there are probably two ways it can go, either you get crushed, or you develop that kind of resilience. It’s just tragic so many people probably were crushed and could have been very successful.
Rebecca Jones: No, I agree and it’s interesting, isn’t it because when I go into schools or colleges and talk about being entrepreneurial, they’ll often say to me, “Oh, we’ve taken the naughty children,” as they tend to refer to them, “out of the class.” I go, “No, I want them.”
Alison Jones: They’re the ones I’m talking to.
Rebecca Jones: Those are the ones I want. That was me. Yeah. I mean I would do anything to avoid going to school. It is quite interesting now that I love going back into schools and ended up being a teacher.
Alison Jones: Really? Of course, you did. Yes, you do the training.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah.
Alison Jones: There’s a whole conversation here around schools and entrepreneurship and getting ready for a life of making the rules rather than following the rules.
Rebecca Jones: Definitely, definitely.
Alison Jones: But we’re not going to do that today, fascinating though it would be. I want to talk to you about Enterprise Within because it’s just a great phrase and obviously, it’s the title of your book, but it’s actually a whole lot more than that, isn’t it? Just tell us about what it means, where it came from and what you do with it.
Rebecca Jones: Okay. Well, it came from my work with failing companies, so I started going into companies that were struggling. I realised, from my own experience as an entrepreneur, that sometimes we tend to take everything on ourselves, on our own shoulders and believe it’s only us that can fix the problems because we are the entrepreneur. And realising that actually, probably your staff had the answers and if we maybe spoke to the staff, that we would be able to come up with some different solutions.
I started speaking to people about encouraging their staff to be more enterprising and getting them involved in the business development element of the business, if you like, to help us turn around struggling businesses. The more I did that, that training grew and I ended up going into bigger and bigger organisations. Obviously, they didn’t want it to be called Turnaround Business Fix-y Type Projects-
Alison Jones: I don’t know, that’s a great title.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, and that’s the sort of thing, I don’t know, I can’t remember what I used to call them. So I ended up just calling it Enterprise Within. Because, for me, it’s the idea that we either have an entrepreneurial ability within you but also within the business and that that comes from working together. Yeah, that’s where the name comes from. It’s about having that sprit within yourself and in the organisation.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s nicely ambiguous, that it embraces both you as a person and the bigger organisation. You developed from that a suite of products and services that all hang off that trademarked title, haven’t you?
Rebecca Jones: Yeah. Well, in fact, it kind of has come slightly the other way around in the fact that I’ve developed some of the training programmes first, then I speak at conferences, so I have a couple of talks around that same area. And then the book’s come since, because, of course, everyone wanted the book, so the book’s come from that. That kind of made it a little bit easier, I wasn’t starting from scratch with the book, I already had stuff I’d done, if you like, with my clients.
Alison Jones: And I think that’s really important, isn’t it? You’ve actually got a model, you know it’s working, it’s out there in the world and then the book comes. Often, people try and do it the other way round. So tell us about that, why did you want to go on to write the book? Why was a book important in that mix?
Rebecca Jones: I think it’s a couple of reasons really. The first one, which I think a lot of people don’t really think about, is that actually, it’s about putting it out there and saying, “This is my concept.” Obviously, nothing much is new in the world of business. A lot of things are just ideas rehashed or from a new perspective. So by putting it in a book, you’re actually stating, quite clearly, this is my view, so that was one reason for it.
The other reason is that obviously, there is a hope or a potential, that somebody that I would never even think to speak to, will pick up the book and might find it useful and want to speak to me about going into the company to deliver the programme or whatever. For another reason, I suppose, the fact that I just think what a shame that not enough people are hearing about it. I know that it works and that would be really nice for it to be shared out, really.
Alison Jones: So it’s infinitely scalable in a way that you speaking on a stage isn’t or you working in a company isn’t.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, there’s no way I can reach everybody. I just think it would be really nice for other people to see the concept and consider it. I’ve taken, yes, the work that I do, but also given it in a format that people could adopt themselves, so an easier format if you like.
Alison Jones: What’s interesting as well, I know a lot of people listening to this may have a methodology, they may have training materials and stuff that they’ve already worked out, just tell us a little bit about the detail, let’s go under the hood. How did you actually go about pulling the book together and writing the book? How much was drawn from what you already had, how much is new and how did it all fit together?
Rebecca Jones: Well, actually nearly all of it comes from what I’ve already done. There’s very little of it that’s completely new, maybe I’ve had to explain it in a slightly different way. But no, it is all a very robust system that’s been used in organisations from one-, two-man band type businesses all the way through to high street banks, big commercial organisations. Yeah, I know it works, it’s not a methodology that I’ve come up with on the back of an envelope. It’s been amended over the years. A couple of my clients have already said to me, “Oh, it’s great but it’s not exactly what you delivered 10 years ago.” It’s like no, it’s changed slightly since, you know?
It is, for me, very much about it being something that I know works and I’m just sharing those experiences. Therefore, it’s got some case studies along the way, some additional things you could consider. And that’s just coming from experience rather than just thoughts that I’ve had randomly, yeah.
Alison Jones: I know a lot of people when they’ve got material already, will say to me, “What do I? Do I just take it as it is? Do I write something that kind of sits against it?” Obviously, when you write something to be delivered in person or one-to-one, it’s different to what’s in a book because you haven’t got the same context, you can’t get the same dialogue going, how did you overcome that kind of problem?
Rebecca Jones: Okay and that was slightly difficult, I suppose because initially, I started, as probably everyone does, putting the headings done and then dropping things in underneath from the training programme or the talks that I do and then realising that doesn’t really explain how they’re going to implement that. So the only thing I probably have changed is the system is much, much clearer and the stages are much more defined. Each stage has then been, sort of pushed through into the book so that it takes you through a journey. I think the only problem I definitely had with that, was that that meant that there’s quite a lot of upfront information that people needed. So how do you provide that without it becoming quite, sort of hard work to read that first chapter, you know? You don’t want to put them off in those first few pages. But yeah, that was quite important that I would make sure people understand why they’re doing it at the beginning and then move forward into the actual idea itself after that.
Alison Jones: And how did you overcome that? Because you’re absolutely right, the temptation is to put everything in there and you realise that you have to back up and they need to know this and then it can become quite dry, can’t it, and your book isn’t at all dry. What technique did you use to make it work?
Rebecca Jones: My first book that I wrote was about business startups for women and in that, I used the idea that we followed, I can’t remember now off the top of my head, four of five or six women through their process of starting a business. So every time I gave a concept, I then spoke about it from their point of view. These were women I’d actually coached myself and so they were able to give me their experiences of that element of the book if you like. I thought that worked with that book, can I do it with the second book and realised that no, not really.
I talk about people being more stretchy and so then I just thought that I’d just have these characters, which were about stretchy people, so these are little characters that are in the book. They’re actually cartoon characters that my illustrator drew for me. They define certain parts of the book, so if this isn’t going well or that’s happening, so there’s a different character for different things. It kind of breaks it up in boxes if that makes sense.
Alison Jones: It does.
Rebecca Jones: It’s tough to explain, isn’t it, without seeing it.
Alison Jones: It is, I might have to put a spread up on the page so people can see what we mean. It’s great. I think it’s such a great example of how to humanise material. You bring in a bit of humour with the cartoons and you bring in some personal stories and suddenly it has texture and life and is so much more engaging.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah. You know, it’s written for chief execs, really. Then you sort of go, well, are they going to read it front to back? No, they’re not. They’re going to dip in and out of it for a start, so that has to be considered as well. But also, most chief execs I know, they just like a bit of entertainment really.
Alison Jones: That’s it. It’s so funny because if chief execs are your target market, some people think you have to be really super serious and use lots of long words. They’re humans and they haven’t got much time and they love visual content as well, don’t they? So I think putting the characters in there, it breaks up the page, at the most crude level, but it’s also got that visual engagement that just captures your eye. It’s amazing your eye can just skip over a page of text.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, definitely and just the odd table in there helps clarify things really for people and helps them realise that there’s a little pattern to it, you know?
Alison Jones: Yeah, brilliant. That sense of you drawing it out and having patterns in the visual content, so, so important. I know the book’s just in the process of being published, how do you see it working in the business? Do you see it fitting in and leading people onto your particular product or do you see people referring to it as recommended reading on courses? What are your thoughts about how it’s going to work with the business?
Rebecca Jones: Right. It works in a couple of ways. One is obviously when I’m out and about speaking at conferences and events. Let’s take the example of a conference, I was speaking last week, out in Spain, at a conference, you’ve got 45 minutes to get the basic concept across and obviously, with a bit of entertainment in it. The reality is some people will go, “I love that but I need more,” and they want that instantly. It’s no good saying to them, “Oh, well, if you phone me in a fortnight’s time, I’ll book an appointment with you and I’ll come and see you.” No, they don’t want that.
If somebody’s got it in their mind, oh this is great, I want it, they want it there and then, so being able to say to them, “Oh, I’ve got some books do you want to buy one?” – they love that, so that keeps it going for them, if you like, rather than having that break. So that’s one great thing, you’ve got a book you can sell there and then.
The other thing, of course, is the fact that it means that people can get to know the material slightly more in-depth and decide, “Yeah, this really is for me and I do want it,” and hopefully they’ll want it in-house and be buying that off of us. Long, long term, Alison, if it works, and this is always the thing, you never know whether or not your idea will really catch on, but if it does work, the idea of obviously training up other people to deliver the programme.
Alison Jones: Yeah, so it becomes something that goes beyond you, train-the-trainer sort of franchise idea.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, definitely. I think, as well, it’s not right to say it can only be delivered by me because that’s just not realistic, that’s not the case. Everyone will have their own take on it and I think that would be quite interesting to see how other people use the material.
Alison Jones: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. Briony Thomas, of course, is a really good example of that with Watertight Marketing. She’s developed a methodology and then, obviously, other people are then trained to deliver it as well. It’s great that you’ve done the trademarking, you’ve thought it through, you’ve created the intellectual property and the framework to position you to be able to do that in future.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah. It’s trying to make sure that you have got something different enough, I think. That’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s very easy to just slightly rehash an idea that’s been around before and say, “Oh, this is my own concept. This is my own idea.” But if it’s not really different enough, why would people pay you for it? They might as well develop their own, if you like. Yeah, that’s the other reason why it’s important it’s based on real-life examples and actual experiences. That combination of research and real life means that I can say to people, “I know it’s going to work and I know it’s going to work in other areas.” That makes it, I suppose, more robust, slightly different and that other people would want to take that concept on and use it themselves rather than well, it’s a slight tweak of an idea and I think it might work sort of idea.
Alison Jones: Or even, it’s a beautifully crafted model, but I’m not sure it works or not.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah. I know some people will, say, have a beautifully crafted model that works in one particular industry and just sell it to them and that, I know, works for some people but I’ve just never been like that. I work across a variety of sectors so I needed to know it would work in all of those sectors.
Alison Jones: Yeah and then it’s scalable, of course, which is important too. Let’s just talk about writing for a minute, the actual process of writing. What does that mean to you now, personally and professionally and how do you write best?
Rebecca Jones: The best story I’ve got to explain writing and me is that my best friend, that I’ve had for years and years and years, told me when I finished my master’s degree that I should never do anything again which needed that amount of writing. Then I told her I was writing my first book and she said to me, “Okay, I’ll stay your friend for now.” She said to me, “If you write another one, you’ll have to find a new friend.”
Alison Jones: What, because the strain on the friendship was just too great?
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, apparently I’m quite grumpy.
Alison Jones: But for everybody writing is flipping hard work, but if you’re dyslexic, this is a whole new level of hard, isn’t it?
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, and you have to find an editor who is very willing to accept that as well because, actually, it’s not the spelling – most people probably think it’s the spelling element, but the reality is when you’re typing it will work it out itself, you know, you teach Word to understand you and correct things so that’s fine, but I mean some words are just so incorrect it just makes people laugh when I get people to correct that and change that. I’m not going to produce it with those mistakes in. But actually, it’s not that, that’s not the problem, it’s the train of thought. My train of thought just goes all over the place. So if I start a chapter and I don’t get on with it that day, coming back to it means I’ve got to start reading it all again and actually, it’s not just sometimes that chapter, I’ve got to read the whole book again. It’s a long process because I really struggle with train of thought and that mapping out of things is really, really important because again, that’s a big problem.
Alison Jones: So that visual framework, you think, allows you to hold it in mind more easily, does it?
Rebecca Jones: Yeah. So I end up with Post-it notes all over the office and stickers everywhere. I don’t think I’ve got a brilliant system, at all. I’ve tried all sorts. I have tried with some stuff, doing it verbally so I just talk and then somebody types it up and then we’re supposed to tidy it up, but that doesn’t really work for me either. It’s just a case of getting on with it at the end of the day, to be honest.
Alison Jones: That’s so interesting. I do have one really dyslexic author who’s dictated his whole manuscript and we’ve got a development editor working on it. Because you’re right, it needs, not just copyediting, it needs a different level of editing. And, of course, this is why God invented development editors and copywriters and ghostwriters, you know? There’s no shame in getting a professional in to help you because you’ve got the expertise but you’re not an expert in writing a book. Why should you be? It’s just so interesting. I love that you feel that you haven’t quite got a system and yet you’ve managed to get the book out, you know?
Rebecca Jones: Yeah and I’ve got another one on the go at the moment. I just think I should have sussed this system by now, but no. It’s interesting you saying about ghostwriter because somebody said to me, “Well, why didn’t you just use a ghostwriter?” I’m not sure. I think because this is so much me and so important that it comes from me and my voice. I found that that probably wouldn’t, necessarily, work for me, personally. I know it does for other people and I know there are some amazing ghostwriters but I think you have to decide what the main purpose is. For me as a presenter and a speaker, predominately, it has to have my voice in it. I want people to be able to say when they’ve seen me speak and they’ve read my book first, “Oh, it just sounded like the same thing,” and vice versa. If they’ve heard me speak and then they pick up the book, when they read the book they should be able to almost hear my voice. Yeah, I think it’s really important for me, personally, I find.
Alison Jones: I love that. You’ve given tips all the way through this, it’s been fantastic, but if I asked you for your one best tip for somebody who’s listening and is writing their first business book, what would it be?
Rebecca Jones: Keep cutting it back. Whatever you think you need to put in there, you probably don’t. So keep cutting it back, you’re probably putting way too much in one book.
Alison Jones: Is this the voice of experience?
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, most definitely. Yeah, and I still think I’ve made the same mistake this time, way too much information in and people really struggle with that. So we do need to try and keep cutting it back and simplifying it and if that means having a series of several short books rather than one huge tome of a book, then I think that’s probably the way to go.
Alison Jones: I think that’s so true. I’ve often said to people, “Actually, you’ve got a series here. You’re trying to do too much in one book.” It takes too long to get it out and people don’t really realise it’s for them because it’s just so broad. Yeah, it’s so true. Fantastic, what a great tip, thank you.
Now, I always ask my guests to recommend another guest onto the show, I’ve had some brilliant people this way. So who do you recommend, somebody who has something interesting to say about the business of business books, who do you think people would love to hear from?
Rebecca Jones: I think they’d probably love to hear from one of my best friends, Dr Lynda Shaw. I’ve known Linda for a long, long time now and her new book is out next month and it’s called, I’m going to have to make sure I get this right now, aren’t I, Your Brain is Your Boss, I believe it’s called. She’s a psychologist and she has some really amazing things to tell us about how our brain influences our decisions.
Alison Jones: Brilliant, I don’t know Lynda and I love that title so I’ll get in touch with her and hopefully we’ll have her on the show soon.
Rebecca Jones: Yeah, no problem. Yeah, we’ll connect you up. That would be great.
Alison Jones: Wonderful, thank you so much. Now, if people want to find out more about you Rebecca, more about your shoes, hopefully, we’ve got some pictures of your shoes, we’ll have to put those on the blog, where should they go?
Rebecca Jones: They can go to my website, which is, www.RebeccaJones.biz so that should be easy to find. Or the book website is www.ExpertiseWithin.Com and they can see the book there. Follow me on Twitter and chat to me on Twitter, I love discussing the concept of sharing knowledge and information and learning and all of that amazing stuff. I’m on Twitter and it’s @RedShoeBizWoman.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. I’ll put all those links up on the show notes so people can find them easily. Thank you so much, I’ve just so much enjoyed talking to you today, Rebecca. Thank you so much.
Rebecca Jones: You’re very welcome.