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News Letter, Friday, July 10, 2009 23

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FEATURE

What’s the Storey? Earl reveals the reality of starting a new business
Starting a new enterprise during the current brutal economic climate may seem more than a little foolhardy; add in the fact that you aren’t a bright young spark fresh out of university, but a 50-year-old father of two and a former church minister, and the venture appears even more rash. But as Londonderry entrepreneur EARL STOREY proves, when you have a good business idea, there really is no time like the present.
“SO what’s it like to start your own business in the middle of a recession”? I’ve been asked that more than once over the last six months. The truth is that it’s been a lot of fun and scary at the same time. If you had told me a year ago that I would be running my own business I wouldn’t have believed you. But, having begun working life as a Church of Ireland member of the clergy, and done a few other things in between, I am now the proud owner of Topstorey Communications, a public relations and management consultancy business. My working life has taken me from Dublin to Londonderry. Twelve years ago my wife Pat also got ordained. Before this she had run her own small business as well as working for Weightwatchers, including being their assistant public relations officer in Dublin. Her ordination caused me to have a rethink about what I wanted to do in the future and eventually led me out of parish ministry, which I had incidentally found very satisfying. We now have two children, both of whom are college age, and live in Londonderry. This time last year I was director of the Hard Gospel Project (www.hardgospel.net). It was a three-year all-Ireland project set up by the Church of Ireland to help it address issues of sectarianism and racism. There were many high points to the job, such as being involved in planning a visit by the President of Burundi to Northern Ireland. The Project also hosted the late David Ervine as a speaker at one of its events shortly before his untimely death. I knew the Hard Gospel Project was a time limited initiative. My post came to its scheduled end in January of this year. I am more fortunate than many people who have recently lost their jobs in that I had plenty of time to prepare. That is always easier than the sudden shock of redundancy. Nevertheless I was aware of the clock ticking. So what do you do when you’re 50 and you know that your job is and writing. In fact, had I not been ordained I would probably have become a journalist. I decided that any new business would have to involve providing PR and communications advice for organisations that want to communicate their message to the wider community and to protect their reputation. A few years ago I interviewed Jerry Greenfield, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream, for an article on leadership. It was a fascinating experience to interview a man who had started a multi-million dollar company and still managed to remain a deeply compassionate individual. He is a man with nothing left to prove. Talking about leading an organisation Greenfield said: "You need to start with an acknowledgement of whatever the current situation is, not painting over what any of the issues are ... there needs to be an acknowledgement of what is real". This value inspired me to develop the other aspect of the new business - management consultancy. It involves working with leaders and organisations, helping them to look honestly at their situation and planning strategically for the future. This is what forms the other key part of my new business. Calling my business Topstorey Communications is a bit cheeky. It was Pat who came up with the name. TOP stands for Think, Organise, Produce … which is exactly what I want individuals and organisations to do to maximum effect. Over this past year I have experienced great kindness from strangers, and a willingness to share opportunities. One of the things I have also discovered in running a new enterprise is the importance of partnerships – working with other professionals to provide a service. Being the owner of your own business means not only delivering a product to existing customers – you have to go out and gain new ones. It is both great fun and hard work. The variety is immense and takes me north and south as well as into a variety of sectors. It includes working with Sunday Times journalist and News Letter columnist Liam Clarke and his wife Kathy to help organisations and individuals think strategically about their communication. It can mean helping an organisation to look at where they want to go or collaborating with a respected colleague to provide a leadership coaching programme. Ironically I am soon going to be licensed by John Lynam to deliver the Thomas International psychometric testing that gave me such a breakthrough. I always want life to be interesting. I also recognize that especially in the middle of a recession I have been very fortunate in the start I have had with the new business. It has been a good first six months but I know nothing is ever guaranteed. It is impossible to take out the element of risk in a business – including my own. Risk by its very nature contains the possibility of failure as well as success. But truth to tell, the excitement outweighs the fear.

Earl Storey when a serving Church of Ireland clergyman
coming to an end? Except in the unlikely event of winning the lottery how was I going to earn a living and pay the bills like everyone else? As much as anything what I also want most out of life is that it be interesting. That was when I decided to work to a plan. I am lucky to have friends who will be honest with me. The first thing I decided to do was to talk to three or four people who know me well. This included a former employer. I wanted them to tell me what they thought I was good at … and what I wasn’t good at! This would help me plan the right way forward. I also decided to get some professional guidance and went to a career consultant. Every conversation helped me see the way forward. The breakthrough came when I went for a psychometric test with John Lynam at Thomas International. This simple but hugely revealing test helped John to identify my employment and personality strengths. It all gave me a crucial ingredient - the self-belief that I could set up my own business. But what would the product be? As director of the Hard Gospel Project I was responsible for the communications and media strategy dealing with difficult issues. This was one of the aspects of the job I enjoyed most. Added to this I have also been involved in freelance journalism

Earl Storey - Topstorey Communications

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ENJOY THE BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND WITH M&S

To help you enjoy the July bank holiday weekend, Marks & Spencer has teamed up with the News Letter to offer 10 lucky readers the chance to each win a £50 M&S gift card to spend in store. M&S stores across Northern Ireland will be open throughout the bank holiday weekend (from Friday 10th through to Tuesday 14th July) and whether you plan to spend it at home or away, M&S has a fantastic range of products to make the holiday extra special for the whole family. With summer in full swing, make a sunny statement in the garden with the Cappuccino patio set – perfect for smaller areas, the chairs fold down flat for easy storage. Or why not choose something from the vibrant Alfresco range including outdoor furniture, accessories, picnicware and beachware. And if you’re heading to sunnier climbs be sure to check out our 3 for 2 on selected luggage, as well as Fair-trade t-shirts 2 for £8 and mens polo shirts 2 for £18. If you plan to spend the holiday weekend relaxing with friends, enjoy quick and delicious alfresco food – it’s the perfect excuse for a picnic or a barbeque and M&S has a fantastic selection of treats to tantalise everyone’s tastebuds. Once again, M&S is making light work of dinner for two with this weekend’s ‘Dine In for £10’ promotion (available Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th July). And if you're looking for something refreshing to enjoy while the sun shines, make the most of our ‘buy 6 get 10% off’ offer in the wine shop. So whatever your plans for this bank holiday weekend be sure to visit your local M&S store* – we’re open all weekend including Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
* See individual stores for specific opening times.

How to Enter For your chance to win simply answer the question below and Text NLMARKS followed by your answer, name and address to 81800 Or Tel: 0901 2933 118

Q. What dates will M&S stores in Northern Ireland open over the July bank holiday weekend?
(All replied messages cost £1 plus standard network charge. By supplying your telephone number you’re happy to receive SMS/MMS messages from Johnston Press and its approved business partners. Johnston Press (or via its agents) and its business partners may contact you about new promotions, products and services. Please add the word STOP at the end of your message if you do not wish to receive these. Please note if you should enter after the stated closing date your entry will not be valid but you still may be charged. For quality and training purposes we may monitor communications. SMS/MMS service is provided by g8wave London N7.) Rules: Texts cost £1 plus your standard network charge. This will be charged to your mobile phone bill. Lines close at midnight on Saturday 11th July 2009. Calls cost £1. Ten winners will be selected at random from all the correct entries received. The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. Employees of Marks & Spencer, News Letter, their families and agents in Northern Ireland are not eligible to enter. The winner will be notified as soon as possible after the closing date. There is no cash alternative to this prize Usual Johnston Press rules apply for a copy contact the Promotions team at 2 Esky Drive, Carn Portadown BT63 5YY. Service is provided by g8wave London N7 9AH

Earl Storey with Jerry Greenfield (Ben & Jerry’s)

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