Whenever I tell someone I work full time running my own business as a debate trainer, they normally ask me three questions:
1) What on earth is a debate trainer?
2) What do you do with your day?
3) You gave up a steady job to start a new business in the middle of a recession – are you insane?
What on earth is a debate trainer?
Communications consultant is probably the more conventional ‘corporate’ definition. I, along with my esteemed colleagues, teach people how to bridge the gap from merely speaking (a challenge enough in itself) to persuading. We do this through the medium of debating. What is the difference between speaking and persuading? In a word: scrutiny. Speak well and people will like you. Speak persuasively and people will agree with you too. Scrutiny normally involves either competing with someone else’s point of view or taking questions from an inquisitive audience. Debating covers both. More importantly, it often requires you to defend a position with which you may vehemently disagree, forcing you to critically evaluate your own personal beliefs for weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as exploring new and innovative interpretations of your new stance in a bid to make it that bit more palatable and convincing.
What do you do with your day?
I’d be lying if I said I worked for just as many hours per day as when I was a full time employee, but that’s mainly because my last job involved getting up at 5.30 in the morning, arriving to work at 7, and not leaving until 6. Now, I only get up before 8am if I have a meeting or a particularly long day ahead – bliss! My motto is: working hard is good, working smart is better (and yes I did steal that from TV series ‘House’). If I can get everything I want to get done in 2 hours, then I’ll work a two hour day. If I have a series of meetings, mountains of admin, and a workshop to run, it will be a 10 hour day. The point is, it is my time and I decide how to use it. The truth is, I spend a lot of that time glued to my laptop and phone ensuring that I can respond to any question or enquiry that comes through instantaneously as quality customer service is the name of the game for any start-up trying to keep its head above water.
You gave up a steady job to start a new business in the middle of a recession – are you insane?
Quite possibly, but I don’t care. Ultimately, the success or failure of a business depends on winning and retaining customers. Right now, I am gaining new customers every week, so things are looking good. It is clear there is a demand for what I offer, mainly because not many people offer it as debating is one of the most under-rated skills in both education and the workplace even though we rely on it all the time to persuade others to do what we want.
It is true that money is a lot tighter than it used to be (to put it lightly) and I am essentially living hand to mouth at the moment, but consider this for a moment. I recently attended a debating conference in Eastbourne, which wasn’t cheap. Yet when I paid my hotel bill and bought my train ticket, I was able to recall the exact moment I had earned the money to pay for it at the previous week’s workshop. That was new for me.
Never before has the link between the work I do and the money I spend been so clear. Moreover, every penny I earn comes from a customer whose business I have had to win myself in the first place, selling a service I created from scratch, to people I have never met. It is scary, but also invigorating. Most importantly of all, it has instilled in me a unique sense of purpose and pride in what I do, which I have never had before even in jobs I truly enjoyed. Now my eyes have been opened to a new and exciting way of life, I don’t ever intend to go back to the old one, recession be damned.
Tony Koutsoumbos is CEO of CLDS Debate Training Ltd