As we all know every business has a history and the entrepreneurs that start those businesses have a story, so we hope you’re sitting comfortably and will enjoy reading about ours.
Vision versus reality
In Equilibrium’s business purpose has always been to improve wellbeing but in the beginning a very different product mix was offered. In 1998, ambitious premises were secured in the historic and expensive West End of Edinburgh and precious capital was spent converting them into a complimentary health centre with 4 consulting suites and a training room. As well as offering individual counselling and hypnotherapy sessions, a joint venture was arranged with a national hypnotherapy school and our director, Alastair Taylor, delivered weekend hypnotherapy courses in those original premises for two years. To help achieve the weekly turnover target, the consulting rooms were also offered for rent by local alternative therapists. Alastair and fellow director, Jan Lawrence’s memories of this period are that, despite an advertising campaign for ‘talk through’ services being offered to local business employees, the phone didn’t exactly ring off its hook and the company’s initial weekly financial target was well out of reach. They have many stories to relate of this early period including Jan helpfully spilling a full can of blue paint all over the carpet and up the wall when they were putting the finishing touches to the premises the evening before opening – she’s always enjoyed abstract art!
Gains and casualties along the way
A bit like a happy marriage, the leadership of a business can take a while to get right and some straight talking may be necessary. One of the original 4 directors left during the first two years and Dr David Mason Brown joined the company in his place. David’s experience as a medical doctor as well as his passionate interest and specialist knowledge of wellbeing led to our first corporate training courses being delivered in the Edinburgh training room. Around this time, under the company’s general wellbeing umbrella and to try and reach those financial targets, we almost joint ventured with a pharmacy chain to diversify and sell supplement products to help improve general health. Thankfully it was decided to stick with helping to improve wellbeing by talking rather than popping capsules as the proposed supplier fell by the wayside!
Looks can deceive
To improve awareness of the company and gain more business, we started attending various exhibitions. Photographic evidence has mysteriously been lost but Alastair fondly describes the initial stands as ‘pathetic-looking’. We certainly weren’t one of those companies whose image promised the world and then failed to deliver – we worked in reverse, the product was good, you just needed to be persuaded to stop at the bland stand to hear about it! Happily this was another area we developed and later invested in our own exhibition materials.
Like a phoenix from the ashes
It’s always said that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. Taking a lease on large city centre premises in a capital city proved to be one of those such early learning experiences as, during one unfortunate month, the income was insufficient to cover the rent causing a default on the lease and the end of our time operating as a city centre business.
Losing our Edinburgh training venue and consulting rooms was actually a big turning point. Instead, we started working with other trainers to offer open courses at various venues throughout the UK, delivered consultancy services for businesses across the country, rented rooms in a therapy centre for any continuing 1-2-1 counselling appointments, and used home offices for the administrative side of the business. As a small business start-up, we also received help from the Scottish Government resource, Business Gateway, in the form of free corporate contact details to enable us to start sending out bulk emails advertising our corporate courses which led to the successful database we have steadily built today.
A successful period followed as we introduced and developed the website and the growth in course delivery and consultancy requirements led to finance and admin staff being employed. Around this time we also diversified into conferences on Stress and Mental Wellbeing in both London and Scotland. Although initially well attended and definitely worthwhile, it was eventually decided that the stress they caused those organising them was not worth it and they were knocked on the head … a great example of a company who practices what it preaches and takes the wellbeing of its workforce seriously!
Another downturn hits
Heraclitus’ quote “There is nothing permanent except change” was fitting once again. After much discussion, the second of the original 4 directors decided to leave the company and move on to other projects. This coincided with the 2007 economic downturn and the business focus altered once more. Sadly, we also had to move to smaller premises within a business centre in Fife which weren’t a hit with anyone who visited or worked in them – but, in retrospect, they made us appreciate what we have now. One of the lasting memories of those times is perching the milk on the windowsill which looked out onto a fairly desolate internal courtyard. It invariably fell off and had to be retrieved by someone climbing out the window – the difficult bit was stopping the office chair rotating long enough to climb onto the window sill to get out of the window … thankfully we were on the ground floor!
Up, up and away
So, at that time, it was decided to reduce the number of open courses we ran and concentrate more on marketing and delivering in-house courses to businesses across the country. Attending a seminar with Glaxo Smith-Klein sparked the idea of developing and adding resilience courses to our repertoire. These really took off between the years of 2010 – 2013 and are still as popular as they are relevant today.
A few out-takes
Surely no business succeeds without a few tales of “you won’t believe this but it’s true”?
We’ve had our fair share including:
- One of our trainers drove miles from home to deliver training for a customer, only to manage to lock himself out of his car with the course workbooks still inside it.
- In the early days, a local authority turned down our application for an interest-free loan giving the encouraging reason that we ‘weren’t viable’.
- Trainers have emigrated as far afield as Canada and Australia – they said ‘due to personal reasons’ but we have our suspicions!
- We lost a trainer for a day when the airline he was travelling on forgot to record him on his flight to the Shetland Islands – careless but true.
Where are we now?
It’s been an eventful 20 years and, looking back, a real journey in resilience and the power of the growth mindset.
We can happily report that –
- We currently have a repertoire in excess of 35 courses to help organisations enhance resilience, health and wellbeing in the workplace
- Our range of customers is diverse in both purpose and location – from NATO to the Methodist Church and from the Shetland Islands to Cornwall and Europe
- We have a great network of specialist trainers who deliver our courses throughout the UK and abroad
- The In Equilibrium database is still growing and many thousands now receive our weekly email and bi-monthly newsletter
- Our website continues to evolve and hosts numerous free resources and a regularly updated blog
- We moved into our lovely new offices this Spring which enjoy open views – the rousing sight of the Forth bridges is visible on a clear day
- Every week we are inspired by the positive feedback we receive from those who attend our courses
- We are very grateful to the long-suffering spouses of our directors who remained positive and ‘believed’ in them throughout this journey
Would we change anything?
Special anniversaries are a good time to take stock and those who have considered our 20 year journey have commented that it reads like a case study in resilience which, far from a criticism, we feel is fitting and gratifying. It also reflects the final thoughts of Jan and Alastair in answer to the above question.
“This process has been about using trial and error to progressively create a successful team, didn’t think it would take 20 years, but it has been worth it!” Alastair Taylor
“It’s certainly been character building! Lots of highs and lows but I don’t regret a thing. We all spend a lot of time at work and creating awareness about mental health, diversity, and bullying can really make a difference to an individual’s approach and those they come in contact with. When you see the amount of good feedback we get it’s all worth it!” Jan Lawrence
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