Emily Howlett: The rewards (and drawbacks) of setting up my own company

Posted on June 2, 2015

I have many hats.

I have my mother hat, when I am chasing small humans out of muddy puddles and washing sixteen pairs of trousers a day.

I have my acting hat, which I wear to do such things as fall off stage in front of 500 people, or pull shocked faces on your television screens.

I have a writer’s hat, which is the quietest of my hats and is only on my head when I am alone and content, pouring out the jollop in my head onto paper. Or phosphor. Whatever.

About a year and a half ago, I invested in a new hat. A business person’s hat. At first, it felt unnatural, but I think maybe my head grew to fit it, because now it’s one of my favourites.

And, along with choosing the actual best business partner ever to exist, setting up our own company has been one of the most exciting and rewarding things I’ve ever done.

And I’ve done a lot of exciting and rewarding things; just look at all my hats if you need proof.

But, wonderful as it is to have our own Limited Company, it’s not been all roses and sunflowers. In fact, there’s been a great deal of horse****, which I hope is providing enough fertiliser than future roses grow in such abundance they take over the whole damn world.

For starters, let’s talk about telephones.

In many ways, Text Direct is wonderful, and there’s all kinds of apps and whanot now so we don’t even have to have a big, ugly minicom cluttering up the office. But, it’s still not the same.

It is not the same, from a hearing person’s point of view, as simply picking up the telephone and talking directly to someone else, with no middle man. It’s just not.

And, don’t forget, us deafies are still quite terrifying to many people out there – the idea of speech-to-text recognition might be just enough to convince some of them that we are, actually, all the things David Cameron says. Eek.


I can’t just rock up to a meeting, and neither can my Deaf partner. We need structures in place; interpreters, or small numbers of people present, or Deaf Awareness or just some bloody common sense…

And these things, again, are scary. They can put off potential collaborators, or supporters, just because it’s marking us out as ‘different’. If you can’t get into the actual room with actual people in the first place, you’re going to struggle to show them how awesome your ideas are.

Social media and the dawn of the email era has been fantastic for the Deaf community. It’s gone a huge way towards levelling out what was a pretty hazardous playing field. But, again, it doesn’t come without difficulties.

A Deaf conversation on Skype is completely different to a hearing one, not just because of the obvious difference between speech and sign, but because of speed, structure and language.

It causes problems, and sometimes nobody is really sure what the problem is – miscommunication – and so professional relationships break down over… nothing really.

And it’s the same with email; Deaf people are generally visual, and some will find long, descriptive emails the best way to absorb information. Others will despair of all the English, and prefer a BSL chat face to face.

And it’s the same with the hearingys; some like lots of words, and some prefer to sit, discuss and listen. Getting everybody on the same page, with the same expectations, is a minefield. Someone always gets one or two bits blown off in the process.

However, it’s really not all doom and gloom. It’s not even 50% doom and gloom.

I’m not sure if it’s being a mother or being Deaf, but, having this company, I have realised that I have a huge amount of patience. (I have several million faults to balance this out, don’t worry.)

And my partner has even more than I do (patience, not faults…). This has been a fantastic attribute while negotiating all the bumps in the road that come with this particular journey.

Even though it can cause problems, professionally and personally, such as when I expect other people to be as patient as I am, or I’m too laid back to push for stuff when I need to. But, generally, it’s been pretty useful.

Telephones? Oh, we fostered a wonderful relationship with Derby Theatre, and they very kindly offered us support in the form of a dedicated hearing PAD Phone Person.

Meetings? Oh, we have a sheet that we send out detailing our communication needs, but also detailing how exceptionally brilliant we are, and more than worth a little extra effort to get our brains involved in their projects.

Electronic communications? Oh, we just treat each new person and project as a fresh start, and set up best ways to communicate early on in the process.

And, we compromise. Sometimes we have to use speech instead of sign. Sometimes we have to let other people talk for us, demoralising as it can be. But we try to do what’s best overall, and we try to learn from our mistakes.

The differences will always be there, because we are different (or they’re different, if you prefer), but in time hopefully that’ll be all they are; differences, not barriers.

Our company, and the exciting, rewarding things we do with it, could never have happened overnight. And none of it would have happened if we’d said, “Hey, that’s bumpy, let’s not drive over there. It might hurt. We’ll go the easy way instead.”

You can go the easy way if you want to, of course you can. Sometimes it’s wonderful to do so. But, it’s not the only option.

Be patient, save up… and get yourselves a 4X4. Then you can drive anywhere the hell you like.

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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