'I hope to take my product to the Middle East market'
The Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery was launched by Ulster Bank to help start-ups reach their potential. Lisa Smyth talks to two female entrepreneurs about their firms
Would it surprise you to know that £30bn was spent last year across the UK economy covering absenteeism and sickness?
Paula Milligan set up Live A Life Less Ordinary, which now designs, manufactures and distributes resources to assist companies and other organisations to address this very problem.
The 41-year-old has developed the business from her home in Antrim and has already sold her product to 60 companies globally since first taking it to the market in 2013.
With a background in sales and marketing, the mum of two believes she is ideally placed to sell her unique product throughout the world.
"What we are selling is quite intangible, so it is quite difficult for people to comprehend," she explained.
"We are really trying to sell the idea that by investing in staff, by finding out what makes them tick, you increase productivity.
"We're trying to get across the fact that it is like putting the wrong fuel in the car, you never really get to where you want to be.
"It has been more challenging convincing the older generations, the more traditionalists, but we are trying to put forward the importance of getting this right.
"We're saying that if it isn't right, then people are not working to their full potential - we're trying to convince people that actually, this is business critical."
According to Paula, organisations that invest a mere 10% of their time and resources into the engagement of their staff can create profits of £2,700 per employee every year - which can lead to a staggering £49bn of growth across the UK.
She added: "We help organisations to connect with their people in order to increase performance.
"The greatest leadership challenge of any group is how they communicate with each other and the relationships at play within their teams.
"We have developed a unique range of hands-on resources to help break down barriers, promote open communication, build trust and reach a place of mutual understanding to allow positive action moving forward."
Among the products created by Paula are card decks and board games that encourage colleagues to get to know one another better.
Paula said: "A lot of the content is about getting to know what makes people tick.
"By doing that, it allows people to shift pre-conceived notions about the people they work with - they realise there is a lot they didn't know about the other person and they really allow you to develop relationships with colleagues."
Live A Life Less Ordinary has targeted three specific areas: corporate, education and community sectors.
It already counts CME Group, Danske Bank and Belfast City Council among its clients. It has sold its products as far afield as America - in fact, Michelin US is currently piloting one of its games with a view to rolling it out across 13 factories.
Paula also has plans to push into the Middle East.
To do this, she has employed the time of a non-executive director who has extensive experience working in the region.
"I believe the product would go very well in the Middle Eastern market and we now have someone with good contacts in the area as part of the team," continued Paula.
"Business in the Middle East has a lot to do with trust.
"I don't believe an unknown young female is necessarily the best package for doing business, you need someone who has an existing relationship or someone who can introduce you to appropriate people." Another important aspect to develop in the bid to go global, according to Paula, is the digital platform. "This will allow our resources to reach a global audience," she said.
But the most challenging part of her work is the fact that she is self-employed. Paula left a successful career to establish Live A Life Less Ordinary, but she believes this demonstrates her commitment and belief in her product.
"You have to be really passionate about what you're doing," she said.
"Being your own boss is certainly a challenge because downtime really becomes a thing of the past, especially as I have two young sons.
"There is no such thing as home time, you don't ever really switch off.
"You end up thinking you will do that piece of work on a Sunday - in fact Sunday mornings have become a time for me to work.
"I do think you have to be a particular type of person to be able to do that and you also have to be very passionate about what you're doing.
"You can spend so much time working that you're not actually getting paid for, but when you believe in your product, it is worth it.
"Because we have developed the product, it is something we really care about and want to see it grow."