Emma Heathcote-James

Emma runs Spotty Dog Productions and The Little Soap Company. She says she loves the fact that, while others are terrified of the insecurity of losing their jobs, she feels more secure than most – even though she's working for herself.

"I have enjoyed a bit of a roundabout route to setting up several businesses, taking the decision to quit my doctoral studies around the time I was writing my viva. I therefore don’t claim to have completed my doctorate, instead taking the decision not to continue when an extremely attractive alternative presented itself!

"My doctorate was based on those who have had religious visions and experiences of angels in the UK. My work involved a lot of in depth interviews, in the end producing around 400 stories. Having been approached by several publishing houses, I decided to publish my book Seeing Angels, which was essentially my doctorate but in layman's terms, available to the mass market. When the release date for the book was brought forward to being before that of the close of my doctorate, this unfortunately went against University regulations, which stressed that a doctorate needed to be ‘original work’, and thus I would be plagiarising myself. Despite my protests, this meant I had to take the difficult decision to stop the doctoral study and publish. Thankfully the book and its three follow-ons have subsequently done very well!

"While working on my doctorate, BBC Everyman got in touch asking me to make a documentary on some of my work, which I helped to make and present. Television has proved to be a highly rewarding and enjoyable aspect of my work. Really getting the bug for working in the area, I ended up working on kids’ TV, short films, local radio and feature films. One production arose which needed the creation of a company to secure the funding, and Spotty Dog Productions was born. Some time after this I keep securing PR work – mainly for development agencies – looking after media and design talent in the South West of England, and have run Spotty Dog PR for the past eight years.

"As well as having the PR work going on, I felt a need for a diversion. I created The Little Soap Company in November 2008, in the garden at the back of my cottage. I make luxury soaps and soaks in the workshop – we are now stocked in our eight local Waitrose stores and have several other good contracts, as well as supplying farm shops in the local vicinity. I also make bespoke soaps for the Evesham Asparagus Festival and the huge Pershore Plum Festival (asparagus and plums are huge in this neck of the woods!), and we support various charities and source all staff and services locally. Having my own company enables me to be creative and still work for myself!

"Because I have no retail or marketing experience at all, I have had to learn so much along the way! This includes marketing, branding, packaging, sales and the like. You do need to have a certain work ethic to drive through the completion of a doctorate and four books, and I think this has served me well in my working life too. Solitary working on doctoral studies prepares you well for setting up your own business, although it doesn’t prepare you for working with other people! That said, one challenge is the loneliness of setting up and running a business. I have set up a local networking group for Women in Rural Enterprise (WIRE). We all run our own businesses ourselves, and we get together every month to discuss issues relevant to running a business, so we’ve learnt a lot from each other. Another useful person throughout my doctorate, and subsequent decision to set up a business, was my supervisor. He realised, like me, that I wasn’t necessarily suited to academia, and encouraged me to take on alternative challenges. I love the fact that while others are terrified of the insecurity of losing their jobs, I feel more secure than most – even though I’m working for myself."