NURTURE: The work-love balance
“Nurture comes from that innate feeling – a need to be loved and to want to give love… I wanted that to be central to the way we do things”
Interview: Sue Wilcock / Anna-Marie Casas Pictures: Pagepix
Rechenda Smith talks to Norfolk Director
In an age dominated by buzzwords, it’s good to go back to some basics. Simple words that go hand in hand with business success that have stood the test of time.
Nurture, the act of caring or protecting something while it grows and develops, is as crucial to business prosperity today as it is to life itself. And one Norfolk business leader has taken an intrinsic personal desire to nurture and made it her company brand and ethos.
Rechenda Smith is the founder and Managing Director of Nurture Marketing, a Norwich consultancy she started from her garden shed in June 2022. At the end of last year, the company moved to Blofield Business Centre, Blofield Heath, on the outskirts of the city, and now employs two full-time staff.
“Nurture comes from that innate feeling – a need to be loved and to want to give love,” explains Rechenda. “I consider myself to be a very nurturing person, and I wanted that to be central to the way we do things – to nurture relationships that are enduring.”
In the space of barely over a year, business is flourishing.
“I put in £6,000 to get everything off the ground, initially using the shed as my office, and in our first year we’ve already turned over £77,000,” she proudly reveals.
Rechenda’s decision to launch Nurture came after a particularly difficult spell in her personal life. Looking back at her formative years, it’s clear that her road to adulthood has also played a part in her ambition and drive.
The early years
Born in Norwich in 1983, Rechenda describes her childhood as “colourful”.
“My mum is a proper Shannock, and her parents and grandparents were also born and bred in Sheringham. Dad was a Romany gipsy. He rolled into town one day, met my mum in a pub, I then came along, and they got married pretty quickly.”
Rechenda’s parents split when she turned three. “I idolised my dad because he was absent. I used to visit him, but that stopped when I was six and I didn’t hear from him again until I was 19 when I got a call from a TV show saying he wanted to reunite. It’s not something I wanted at that time in my life, and he has since passed away.”
Rechenda lived with her mother, two half-sisters from her mother’s first marriage, and eventually a new stepfather.
“Home life was frenetic in the early years, and we moved around a lot in Sheringham,” she reflects. “Although we have a fabulous relationship now, back then I wasn’t very close to my mum. As the years have gone by, I have realised that she did the best she could. She worked night shifts as a care assistant and I was looked after a lot by my stepdad, who was strict, but fair.”
Finding joy in reading and jigsaw puzzles, Rechenda describes herself as an introverted child but remembers school life fondly. She attended Sheringham Primary, followed by the high school and then sixth form.
“School was my anchor – I loved the structure it offered, and I particularly enjoyed English, history and music. I was in all the top sets, and I excelled at GCSEs.”
A university first
Rechenda was encouraged by her mother and stepfather to pursue A Levels and then university. She aspired to becoming a journalist – fuelled by a love of writing – or an archaeologist, an interest sparked by discovering a spearhead at West Runton Beach.
However, it was another fascination – with the workings of the human mind – that led Rechenda to choose a degree in psycho-social sciences at the University of East Anglia, accessing education grants and working in her spare time to earn extra cash.
“I was from a working class background and the first person in my immediate family to go to university. I was the only one who was academic. I worked at William H Brown in Norwich at weekends when all my friends were partying and hung over, and I also did a stint at Norwich Union.”
Immersing herself in university life, Rechenda gained confidence to come out of her shell. However, she began to experience crippling panic attacks and agoraphobia. Nevertheless, Rechenda battled through and in her last year at university, she volunteered for the Red Cross, working in the charity’s fundraising and marketing department before graduating with a 2:1.
Spotting a job advert in the local newspaper for a fundraising and marketing assistant at St Matthew Housing, a homeless charity in Norwich, Rechenda applied.
“I did a lot of research before going to the interview. There were other candidates who were far more experienced than I was, but I was told I was the most passionate and that’s why I got it.”
Keen to progress up the career ladder, two years later she became a press officer at Colchester Institute in Essex before moving agency side to Mosaic Publicity, an integrated marketing agency in the city, as a junior account manager.
Co-founded and run by former BBC journalists, Chairman Kevin Bentley – now leader of Essex County Council – and his wife and CEO, Karen Ainley, Rechenda is extremely grateful to her mentors.
“Mosaic was one of the best places I ever worked. Kevin and Karen were like my career parents and my grounding force. They taught me how to write a press release properly and sell into the media, as well as the importance of client relationships.”
Rechenda learnt some valuable lessons; for instance, always doing groundwork on journalists before pitching a client to them. “I learnt to pick up the phone, what to say, and also what not to say.”
However, it was not long before Rechenda wanted to move on. “I was very ambitious. I regret not spending more time at each place to learn more, but I was a bit unstable in my twenties and easily bored,” she admits.
Rechenda went to work for a property PR agency as an account manager based in London, but her stint was cut short by the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent housing crash. Fortunately, her tenure at Mosaic stood her in good stead and she rejoined as an account director.
However, within a year, Rechenda once gain grew restless and decided to explore self-employment opportunities. “In my naivety, I thought I’ve learnt everything I need to know about marketing and PR. I left and dabbled a bit in freelance.”
Rechenda’s services were taken up by a former client, Itineris, a web design agency based in Copdock, Suffolk. It was not long before Managing Director Tim Butcher asked her to join the team on a permanent basis.
“Tim has a wonderful business mind and I latched onto him like another business father figure. I used my time there to learn from him while also diversifying my marketing skills to include things like email marketing, websites, SEO, PPC, and digital strategy.”
Rechenda also learnt about office dynamics and how to resolve conflicts.
“While I’m a people pleaser, I found out about dealing with confrontation – I’m not fearful of it now because I know it’s a way to resolve something before it becomes a real issue.”
Wishing to add to her CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) accreditation, Rechenda completed a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) certificate in social media monitoring and web analytics, funded by the company.
A major setback
Rechenda became determined to keep up with a ‘go hard or go home’ approach but burn-out was looming which would be followed by a period of turmoil in her personal life and health that left her at rock bottom.
“The pace was starting to grind me down. I used to go on mini-breaks abroad on my own and one time I sat at the airport and just cried,” she recalls. “I realised I couldn’t carry on. I quit and went to work in a charity shop for three years – but it was the worst decision ever.”
Rechenda was in her thirties and living in a flat she owned in Ipswich. After beginning a serious relationship, she moved into her boyfriend’s home and rented her flat out.
Meanwhile, after being made manager of the charity shop, Rechenda suffered a bad back injury at work that left her in constant physical pain.
With her relationship failing and unable to work, Rechenda faced being homeless and jobless.
“It was a really unhappy time in my life. I had to pack up my stuff and I drove back up to family in North Norfolk. I had nowhere else to go.
“I was at my lowest ebb and in physical pain. I felt I’d let my career go, and I was going through a relationship breakup. I stayed with my sister in Cromer and then I rented a bedsit for a year while I got my freelance work going again and sought physio treatment.
“I made a commitment to myself then that I was never going to feel like that again. Life gave me a few hard blows and I craved stability – and I knew only I could provide the solution.”
Making a comeback
In 2021, Rechenda was approached by a business contact, Celia Hodson, who had recently set up a social enterprise, Hey Girls, tackling period poverty. Based in Diss, the charity produces environmentally-friendly period products, giving away a box of tampons through food banks for each one sold.
“Celia asked me to work for her and it felt like a lifeline. Hey Girls really helped me to get back in the saddle, both in terms of my life and my career. I started as a web manager and ended up head of marketing,” she explains.
Slowly but surely, Rechenda began to piece her life back together. She moved to a rented house in Norwich, where she has lived for the last two years.
After selling her flat in Ipswich in Spring 2022 to her tenant, Rechenda paid off her car and student loans, and then took the decision to launch Nurture Marketing from her garden shed, investing £6,000 of her money.
“I started meeting people – not going to everything, but networking with a couple of people at each event and really getting to know about them and their passions in life. One of the first people I met in Norwich was Chris Elliott, Marketing Manager at The Feed, a social enterprise, tackling food poverty. He introduced me to his network, and it just took off from there.”
The business model
From the outset, Rechenda had a clear vision of her goals. “It’s very important to have a solid business plan – then you have the bigger, higher ‘Why?’.”
Rechenda’s plan was to create a marketing agency model in East Anglia, taking inspiration from her estate agency days. “I think the best estate agents have local branches, local knowledge, and local relationships,” she observes.
She wants to consolidate a ‘local hub’ of expertise in Norwich before replicating the formula in Ipswich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.
“I want to do great marketing. I want us to have fun doing it. I want our clients to have fun working with us. I want us to create brilliant results.”
The fun side is much in evidence at her offices, known as the ‘Leopard Lair’, and an informal staff handbook, ‘The Little Book of Leopards’. “It just stems from my love of leopard print,” explains Rechenda. “I wear it and my staff have started to as well through their own choice. It just brings some fun to the table.”
But there’s also a serious sense of community spirit; Rechenda’s desire to nurture extends beyond the remit of business, and she wants it to be her legacy.
“I love East Anglia – I want to build a well-respected business that gives back to the community. As a business owner, I believe that you have a duty to help people when they need help. I want to be remembered for caring.”
While Rechenda leads “from the heart”, she is harnessing the experience she has accumulated to make sound business decisions.
“I have a commercial head on me. Maybe it’s the exposure to all those amazing businesspeople I’ve worked with – although I’ve come across some who weren’t so good. I think I have a clear vision of how not to be a leader.
“Managing people is trusting my team – not micro-managing them but giving a steer. It’s about being colleagues. If everyone feels part of the journey, management is so much easier. The key is mutual respect.”
She adds, “I also want my staff to feel safe – safe to make mistakes, safe to be themselves. I have some great talent here at Nurture, so seeing them thrive is wonderful.”
Rechenda is proud of her transparent pricing structure for clients and favours a two-way collaborative relationship. She also uses a set criterion, to enable her to qualify the projects she takes on as well as the clients she works with, to ensure she is keeping to the core business values she holds dear.
But, ultimately for Rechenda, her intuition steers many of her decisions. “Doing a psychology degree is invaluable for business life and life in general, and it has definitely helped with client relationships. You can see where people are coming from, what they want, and whether you can make it work.”
Rechenda has a clear vision of where she would like to take her business, but what about on a personal front – how does she plan to nurture her own happiness and wellbeing?
“I don’t plan to get married or have a family,” she says. “The business is my husband and baby. I’d like to buy the house I’m renting, but I do plan to enjoy life as well, as we’re not here for a long time. I’ve recently discovered paddle boarding and a love of upcycling furniture – with lashings of leopard print, of course!
“My outlook is always positive; even when you have the roughest day of work, the sun will shine tomorrow.”