Entrepreneur Andrea Chatten speaks to Business Sheffield about inventing a new kind of psychology – and the self-made business that is booming as a result
In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we are sharing the experiences of Sheffield women in businesses all week. Follow @Creativesheff to learn more.
Unravel CEBPC, established in 2014 by managing director and lead emotional and behavioural psychologist Andrea Chatten, offers bespoke mental health provision to children and families, both in schools and privately.
In the three years it’s been running, Unravel has transformed the lives of numerous children who may otherwise still be on a waiting list for specialist help. Bringing one child back from the brink of suicide to graduate secondary school as ‘most outstanding pupil’ is just one of its many achievements (although Andrea would lay the credit firmly at the child’s feet).
As the 46-year-old mum of two prepares to double the number of her employees, and release the fourth in her series of children’s books, ‘The Blinks’, we asked how she plucked up the courage to walk away from a 25-year teaching career to pioneer the first business of its kind in the country – and how she’s handling the rollercoaster of success she’s been on ever since.
What made you take the first step to changing your career path?
I’d spent years working with children with behavioural problems. By the time I got to 40ish I had children and was being well paid in a management role at a pupil referral unit. It’s very difficult to take the risk and walk away from that. Then my dad died and it suddenly made me think that if I got knocked over by a bus I would have died not doing what I wanted to do. So I decided to do the Masters in Developmental Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University. After I graduated, I would have had to wait a year before I could apply for a job – so I set up Unravel instead.
When did you take the first steps to growing the business?
It started off just me and very quickly I recognised that I couldn’t do it all. Within a few months, other schools were asking for my services. I’ve now got three staff, am currently recruiting for another three staff and I’m training one. And we’re in 15 schools across six boroughs, as well as our private work.
How has the business grown since you started out as a sole trader?
We’ve already expanded out of Sheffield, with clients in London, Malta and even Canada. I knew there was a niche but the growth has been much quicker than I ever expected.
How did Business Sheffield help you set up, develop and grow?
They saw potential, which was the biggest thing. I could ask them quite pathetic, ridiculous questions, but they never made me feel like that. I’m passionate about what I want my business to be but learning how to grow it is a big thing for me. To know that you’ve always got people who can offer advice and support takes the anxiety out of it and makes it a really exciting venture.
What advice would you give to others in your position – sole traders looking to grow?
You’ve got to just go for it, and learn to enjoy being out of your comfort zone. It’s about doing bite-sized chunks because, if you think about it too much, you’ll find all the reasons not to do it. You’ve got to have determination, commitment, passion and belief in what you’re doing.
How do you measure success?
At the end of every year I do an anonymous evaluation where I get the kids to evaluate how they feel the sessions have gone. From that, I do a statistical report for the schools and, so far, 100 per cent of the children have said they feel better.
What do you look for in an employee?
They need to be warm, kind, open and compassionate – all of those things first. Because it doesn’t matter how skilled you are on paper, if the kids don’t want to come to the session because they don’t feel safe, loved, cared for, valued and not judged, it doesn’t matter how much you know. You also need to be very geeky about kids’ emotional wellbeing because, if you really love this job, you are hungry for knowledge all the time.
What kind of employer are you?
I’m really strict on wellbeing – if my staff’s wellbeing isn’t as good as possible then they’re not going to be good for the kids. The worst thing that could happen is my staff being so preoccupied with this job that they are not able to be a proactive parent for their own kids.
What is your motivation for continuing to drive the business forward?
My dad had a really tough childhood but never got the support he needed when he was a little boy – and some of the issues he carried into adulthood affected me. When I’m working with the kids, it’s not just about them, it’s thinking ahead about their children. If I can help them manage the issues of today, they’ll be better parents of tomorrow and their kids might not experience some of the difficulties I did.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like Sheffield – and ideally every city in the country – to have a drop-in centre or central hub where parents can access virtually immediate emotional and behavioural support. I’ve been liaising with Nick Clegg and trying to get the government to realise that the current model doesn’t work. Unravel offers a different model that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I’m hoping that, by the time the government gets ready to roll something out, that we could be the someone they come to. Another possibility is to offer somewhere that kids with quite deep psychological issues can be educated while learning about themselves and their mind – almost like a positive mental health school where more intensive help is available and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is peppered throughout the curriculum.
If you are looking to start a business, become self-employed or already have a business operating in the city, Business Sheffield are here to help you get your idea off the ground, set up and grow. Call them on 0114 224 5000 to find out how or visit the Business Sheffield events page and book on to a workshop today.