Michelle Collins joins us today to talk about her business The Flying Dodo. Only 5 months old, The Flying Dodo is a customer happiness consultancy. It helps companies to create meaningful and memorable customer experiences that lead to customer loyalty and stronger brands.
Michelle tells us ‘Happiness is an unfaltering human emotion. Because we are physiologically wired to repeat what makes us happy, happiness creates loyalty. By understanding the triggers for happiness I help businesses to design experiences that maximise positive emotions and minimise negative emotions. Services offered include holistic branding, emotional touch-point mapping, brain picking sessions and workshops. Customers may forget the things you do and say but they will never forget the way you make them feel.’
What drove you to start your own business? What was the turning point?
I’ve always wanted to have my own company. Even at school, I would have ideas about the business I would run and have kept an “ideas book” since I was about 12 years old. One of my favourite ideas was for an orange peeler called “pith off!” I’m convinced there’s still a market for it!
However the turning point came while I was working as the Head of Sales & Marketing for a hotel in Tanzania. I met a delegation from the government of Bhutan during one of my lobby shifts and was handed a business card from a gentleman working at the Department of Gross National Happiness. I remember thinking to myself that he had the best job in the world – what could be more important and motivating than the happiness of your nation? The gentleman explained that the Bhutanese government sees its role as creating the conditions for happiness and that financial wealth was only a small part of what makes us happy. Lasting happiness comes from within and immediate pleasures from outside. I looked around the hotel and had a eureka moment. I should be applying this to my guests’ experience and creating the conditions for their happiness whilst giving them sensory pleasures. So I set about researching the science of happiness and the more I read, the more I became convinced of the importance of this simple yet fundamental insight.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
Richard Branson has always been a role model for me because of his positive and genuine approach to business and the way he invests in people. I live by his 5 rules for business:
- If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. You must love what you do.
- Be innovative: Create something different that will stand out.
- Your employees are your best asset. Happy employees make for happy customers.
- Lead by listening: Get feedback from your staff and customers on a regular basis
- Be visible: Market the company and its offers by putting yourself or a senior person in front of the cameras.
He’s also recently been writing about happiness being the key measure of success so I now like him even more!
I also have to give a mention to Tony Hsieh here from Zappos who put happiness at the heart of company culture. He uses a great analogy to illustrate his approach: “if you think of the employees and culture as plants growing, I’m not trying to be the biggest plant for them to aspire to. I’m more trying to architect the greenhouse where they can all flourish and grow.”
What are your goals for your business?
To put happiness at the heart of every organisation and not just to pay lip service to it. Success is a consequence of and not a precursor to happiness. I want to be influential in driving this change and showing that making money and making people happy can go hand in hand.
What would you do differently next time around?
I’d get a coach / mentor to keep me on track. When you’re doing everything yourself, it’s so easy to get distracted as you lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes this can lead to total inertia as you freeze in the face of the enormity of things rather than breaking it all down into manageable chunks with a rational mind.
What difficulties and challenges have you had to overcome and how did you keep going?
My biggest challenge, as I’m sure a lot of other women will empathise with, is suddenly losing my independence by not having my own income. I’ve always been ambitious and career focused so being able to support myself was very important. It’s taken me a long time to adjust to not having a consistent income and relying on my husband for financial support. I guess it takes away an element of control which is so important to us as human beings. On several occasions I’ve been looking on recruitment agent sites thinking, maybe I should just get a job? But then I look at the jobs and think, this isn’t being true to myself. I need to follow my dream and make the most of this life by living it with passion and without regret.
What legacy would you like your business to leave to the world and your family/friends?
I’d like to fundamentally change the way businesses think and make happiness a core subject for business studies students. In fact, I’d like to see happiness taught in all schools as a standalone subject because I think it’s critical to our wellbeing to understand what makes us happy. We stand a much better chance of making the right decisions in life by knowing how our mind works and how it can play tricks on us. If I can achieve this and make even a small number of people happier then I’ll make a difference. Like all emotions, happiness is contagious, so I’ll be leaving the world a happier place than I found it!
What support did you seek out and what difference has that made to your business?
Firstly, I asked my family and friends for support and they have been amazing. Having a strong social support network is vital for giving you the motivation and strength to persevere. They’ve constantly surprised me by promoting me to their colleagues and friends, publicly recommending me on Facebook, Linked In etc. I’m so grateful to them. I also joined a couple of key networks, notably Women Unlimited and TheCube (a wonderful incubator for start-ups in Shoreditch). During the start-up process, you have really high levels of cortisol from fear which is a real barrier to ideas and progress. Having like-minded people to support and guide you is essential if you’re going to succeed.
How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
Oh gosh, I really have to work at planning as I’m much more of a big picture person and much less disciplined when it comes to the detail. However, I recognise the importance of planning and dedicated time to writing my annual plan and reviewing my progress against plan every month. I use my calendar a lot to set reminders that keep me on track too. What keeps me motivated is my belief that I’m doing something that I love and believe in. That, along with support invested in me from all my family and friends.
What has been one big success that you have achieved in your business?
Proving all the doubters wrong and developing a robust business model out of happiness! Getting the website launched was a real defining moment in feeling like I’d made it and that’s all thanks to a WordPress training course I did with Women Unlimited. I built the site and added the content myself before handing over to the HappyDesigner (yes, I am drawn to all things happy) who then worked her magic to make it look exactly the way I’d envisaged. Doing it this way saved me hundreds of pounds and gave me an invaluable skill.
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business?
Sell the cake not the recipe. A simple yet fundamental piece of advice from Araceli, one of the co-founders at TheCube. This shows again the importance of being with like-minded people who understand what you’re going through and can offer practical advice because they’ve been there and come through the other side.
What are your top 3 tips for someone who would like to start a business now?
Prepare yourself mentally and financially before taking the plunge. You need to get your support network in place. Join a business community so that you have a source of advice and help when you need it as well as a sounding board. Don’t underestimate how many questions you’ll have. Do your research. Make sure you have a market for whatever it is you’re going to sell. And don’t just ask friends and family who will always be biased and say what will make you happy. Ask independent people (ideally in your target audience) who will be honest and practical.
What are 3 books, websites or resources that you would recommend to other business owners?
Apart from the obvious with Women Unlimited . . .
- Delivering Happiness (book) by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
- Hub Spot – an inbound (online) marketing company with a brilliant newsletter and suite of e-books. I’ve put so much of their advice into practice and literally worked my way through most of their guides step by step www.hubspot.com
- Cafe’s and public spaces with WiFi! It’s a resource which saved me from myself on many occasions! If I get a mind blank or find my attention waning, I pick up my iPad and head down to my nearest coffee shop to refocus. Changing the environment makes a big difference and I find the caffeine always helps too!
Link to me as michellehawkinscollins
Follow me on @thehappydodo
Like me on facebook.com/theflyingdodo
Web address: www.theflyingdodo.com