Janie Van Hool is a prominent communication expert specialising in leadership development programmes and executive coaching. Janie is the founder of VoicePresence and author of The Listening Shift.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I started my working life as a classical theatre actor – my training was three years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. I loved working on voice, body and developing character – crafting my technique to tell stories to audiences around the world. The work I do in organisations could be described as a ‘dialled down’ version of this study. Essentially, I work with leaders to build techniques that enable them to engage, inspire and connect with their stakeholders. I started out as a freelancer but found that I couldn’t cope with the amount of client requests I received, so now I have associates to support me in the work I do – all of whom come from a creative or journalism background. It’s a boutique service, which enables me to remain a practitioner, which is so important to me.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Well, it wasn’t really my idea! I was doing an MA in Voice Studies and one of my fellow students suggested we do some work together in NYC and I jumped at the chance. We set up the company together, but when she returned to the USA, she ran it there and I ran it here. She is bold and visionary, so I was fortunate to have found her! She also inspired me to believe in myself more, which was quite a gift.
How did you achieve awareness?
Very much word-of-mouth. Developing personal impact, and leadership coaching in general, was fairly inceptual as an idea when we founded the business in 1999. I made a virtue of not advertising my services which meant that clients would sometimes have to track me down and it created a sense of exclusivity that I have certainly benefitted from. I still rely on personal introduction more than promotion through social media or marketing.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I haven’t needed funding, and growth has been organic. This was a conscious decision for me to ensure I could remain a practitioner – doing what I love, rather than running a business with full-time employees.
What are the key successes?
The key successes for me have been personal freedom and autonomy primarily, but also, I have been able to satisfy my curiosity by working with clients across so many sectors – Banking, FMCG, professional services, mining, sport, theatre… it’s a long list! I find that fascinating and it energises and motivates me.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Challenges have been few – until the pandemic. My approach – and style – had always involved working face-to-face, and it was hard to envision how this would translate online. Clients were also in crisis mode, and many decided to put sessions and events on hold until we could get back together ‘in the room’, which I understand. Financially, there was an impact on the business, but there was not much I could do so I overcame my worries by using the time productively and wrote my book – ‘The Listening Shift’ and published it with Practical Inspiration publishing. I learned so much from doing this that I now see the financial challenges of the lockdown period as an investment in the business and I’m happy to have had the experience.
What are your plans now/for the future?
In the short term, I am loving being back out in the world of face-to-face engagement with clients – speaking at live conferences, running group sessions in person and being in the room with coaches. I am incredibly busy, and it’s wonderful to be juggling diaries again! In the future, though, I plan to incorporate a blended approach – this allows for ‘little and often’ interactions that nudge learning forward and it works well. I’m experimenting with a mix of ideas, and, after the summer, I’ll start another book.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
You need confidence to start an entrepreneurship journey – and this is a bridge between believing you can do it and believing that the outcome will be positive. If you feel that’s true for you, then back yourself. You’ll need to work hard, but you will learn so much!
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
- Listen to feedback from your clients – seek it out and try to understand it without defending your position. It’s just data.
- Have a strategy but be prepared to change it.
- Trust the people you employ – when a business is your baby, it’s tempting to micro-control. Challenge yourself not to be that person!
- Keep celebrating – there is good in every day, week, month, and year. In the desire to forge ahead, it’s easy to ignore where you are and where you’ve come from, but the journey is as important as the goal.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
- BBC International correspondent Lyse Doucet for her fascination with and dedication to sharing the stories of people who might otherwise be forgotten and for her fearlessness in corresponding from the most dangerous places in the world.
- Dr. Cath Bishop – an academic, world-championship rower and diplomat whose thesis on winning is changing the way we think about success. She is a phenomenal thinker, and I am inspired by her articulate and inspirational storytelling.
- Mary Ann Sieghart – an award-winning journalist whose book, “The Authority Gap”, without demonising men, is enabling women to communicate fearlessly and insist upon change.
- Joyclen Buffong – founder of Rise:365 who has inspired young people in her community to play their part in volunteering to support and feed others.
- Greta Thunberg – proving that one, tiny, neurodiverse thinker can change the world – a lesson for all of us.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“You don’t need to set yourself on fire to keep others warm” – Penny Reid
“We are what we continually do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
Book: The Listening Shift: Transform your organization by listening to your people and helping your people listen to you: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Listening-Shift-Transform-organization-listening/dp/1788602579