I’ve always admired people, who were not only able to introduce their ideas into their lives, but also were not afraid of changes, which were undoubtedly related to enterprises they decided to take up. It often happens that our profession no longer brings us joy, or just on the contrary, we love what we do, but we face difficulties related to finding a well-paid post. How about becoming responsible for our own destiny? Have you ever been thinking of changing your profession or even being your own boss? Imagine that you can plan your time and to what extent you devote it to your work on a given day. Living life to the fullest, doing what you love, as well as doing what you are really good at, should be one of our ultimate goals. Unfortunately, most of the times we fall into an everyday routine and we tend to forget about the fact that our work doesn’t have to be unpleasant, just on the contrary, it may help us make our dreams come true and enrich us as people.
I’m always really lucky, because whenever I think that I won’t find an interesting person for my next interview, someone just knocks at my door and I must admit that these are always very valuable people with extensive life experiences to share. A few weeks ago I had a chance to meet Valeria – the author of a website the Symonds Research – offering a great variety of training materials for trainers dealing with various fields, which make it easier for us to function in this complicated world. In this interview you’ll get to know more about the beginnings of Valeria’s enterprise, her passions, as well as plans for the future.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Valeria: I was original born in Sicily but I now live in the UK, living in the countryside in the county of Somerset, England. From here I work on my own my online business, providing training materials for freelance and corporate trainers.
Last years I also did a PhD in Cardiff (Wales) on belly dance, studying dance as a form of heritage and how dance travels across borders as an art form. I love belly dance and travel to Morocco, Spain and Egypt to get training and I teach belly dance here in Somerset.
Passion Piece: You were brought up in Sicily, Italy. What made you move to the UK?
Valeria: Well, I have always had a curious mind so, as soon as I was in my twenties, I started travelling and I ended up working for a while in Dublin, Ireland. It was here in an Irish pub over a pint of Guinness that I met my English husband.
A few months after meeting, we moved to Seoul, South Korea, for 2 years, where I taught Italian in Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and my husband taught English to business professionals. After that, we moved to Barcelona for a year and then was the beginning of our time in the UK and I have been in the UK for 15 years now.
So with the lack of work opportunities in Sicily, with an English husband and also the chance to study and work in the UK, I have come to call the UK home and am now a British citizen.
Passion Piece: You’re a well-educated person with a long and extensive professional experience. You’re also a founder and director of Symonds Research. Why did you decide to take up such an enterprise?
Valeria: After finishing the PhD, I did start teaching i.e. I taught Sports Sociology in the University of Bath, England, and I worked as a researcher at the University of Exeter, England.
To be totally honest with you though Natalia, I am finding that with cuts across the universities in the UK at this time, it is getting really difficult to get lecturing work and so I had to think outside the box.
And the truth is that I have always been keen to work for myself, to run my own business and to be in charge of my own destiny. I love the idea of having a business online that generates passive and scale-able income. So I like the idea of making a digital product once and being able to sell that same item time and time again and for it to be delivered passively, so automatically.
So I have taken all of my skills as a trained lecturer, as an experienced researcher, and with all of my web design skills from my site worldbellydance.com (my belly dance hobby site), I came up with the idea that selling training course materials online could be a good business for me to start.
Passion Piece: How important are quality training materials and services you offer to your clients? Where do you look for your inspirations?
Valeria: I have only been going for one year with this business but in that time I have been getting sales internationally such as from Palestine (my first sale), Singapore, USA, Australia, Canada, UK. Myanmar, Portugal and so on. Really worldwide.
The services for my clients (freelance corporate trainers around the world) are invaluable because it can save these trainers literally a hundred or so hours in research, course design and in making the course materials. I include all of the PowerPoint presentations, teacher’s handbook, students workbook and include all activities and certificates and checklists and all as digital files that come in one zip file, so these materials make it really easy for trainers.
I would add in fact, that any of your readers who are looking to start their own business, might want to consider being a freelance trainer! You can choose when you work, who you work for and what subjects you provide training for. Actually, spending your work time doing the things you love, so teaching the things you yourself are passionate about, and making money doing it, can be very rewarding.
For inspiration, in terms of the training materials I make, I actually make courses I am interested myself to research and create. Work and life has to be fun and interesting right?!
Passion Piece: Seeing your website made me feel I could reach the pinnacle of my potential in any sphere I could possibly desire. There is a wide range of materials related to different fields such as personal development or marketing to name just a few. Who helps you create this high quality content? Where do you find your coworkers?
Valeria: I create all of the training materials and I believe every program we have is a very good standard. With the experience over 5 years of studying and researching for the PhD and then with the experience of being a university researcher in Exeter, I think (and I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant) I am pretty good at creating course-ware. The more you design the more experienced you become, I think, and you get more understanding and experience regards pedagogy (learning styles) and how to integrate various activities into the training.
The only person I have help me is my husband Paul, and he does the marketing and technical side of things. I can also do all of the web design work though if needed as I have worked on my belly dance site on WordPress for over 10 years so I understand all aspects of designing sites on WordPress and doing SEO. I designed the Symonds Research website using the Divi theme to start with in fact, and Paul now manages it so that I have time to create the training materials. I have 25 more training programs coming in 2020 so I need every second to work on them!
Passion Piece: What are the most common challenges faced by trainers? How to find the right solutions?
Valeria: There are indeed many challenges that trainers experience. I think most trainers will say that finding the companies to offer training for is one of the biggest issues. Some of our trainers though (who buy our training materials) offer their own workshops such as through Meetup or Eventbrite.
Common trainer challenges though very often are the day to day things, such as turning up on the day of the training and finding that that the training room or classroom is locked and with no sign of the key holder. Likewise, the issue of offering the training with a co-trainer and having the co-trainer pull out at the last minute. I have created a Trainers Pre-Training checklist freebie on the site to try and help trainers pre-plan for many of these issues.
Passion Piece: What do you find to be your greatest success?
Valeria: Wow. Good question. I guess I would say getting the PhD as I did it in what is my second language, although I speak what I think is near perfect English. Also, given it was a 5 year commitment it really involves and teaches you patience, motivation and how to be persistent and highly organized.
Passion Piece: The market needs keep changing all the time. What kind of innovations would you like to introduce into your business?
Valeria: What I do see is that there is constantly a market change in terms of what subjects are topical in training. A few years ago, health and safety was the big thing. In the last year or so, subjects such as mental awareness in the workplace has become big (so I created a training package for that topic).
The great thing about being your own boss is being able to adapt very quickly to market changes so I am working now, for example, and from January 2020 will sell a ‘Digital Wellness’ package and ‘Environmental Awareness’ package. So my innovations in my business tend to be the subjects that are topical and in demand.
Passion Piece: What does Valeria do in her free time? What are you passionate about?
Valeria: I have a feeling that you know what I am going to say here, because of the previous answers. I absolutely love dance and traveling to different countries to learn that country’s local dance/s. Belly dance (Raqs Sharqi) is my favourite dance though and I teach this locally.
I love to travel and so am off, for example, to Poland next week, Austria in a few months’ time, and we will go backpacking all over the islands of Crete in Greece in the summer. By being self-employed, I hope eventually to be able to work from anywhere and spend more time travelling. I love to travel! New foods, new dances, meet new and interesting people.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Valeria: I appreciate that anything can happen but I have genuine belief that my business will be successful especially given that the overheads are very low, working online. So I see myself still working for Symonds Research and training, but I am really not sure where my husband and I will be working. I have a feeling we will be living in either Greece or the Canary Islands in Spain, working for ourselves.
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Valeria: I am not sure if it is a motto but I would say that your readers should really believe in the 1%. I have this belief that anything is possible and the 1%s happen if you believe it is possible. Just because other people you know do not do certain things, you can if you are willing to work hard enough towards your goal. A second thing I would say is that any goal (no matter how big or small) can always be broken down into baby steps. Anything is achievable. Just that sometimes you have to just focus on the small steps. Eventually, you will reach your goal as long as you truly believe you can do it.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly interesting conversation. I hope that we will have the opportunity to make use of some new training materials appearing on your website soon.
You can make your own destiny, no matter how difficult situations you are currently experiencing. You should never resign from your personal growth and investing in yourself, as you are the best tool you can use to work, and the one which is always at hand. And you? Do you often make use of training materials? Or maybe you create them on your own?
See you around!
Photos by: Valeria Lo Iacono Symonds