MEET TRACY MCCOULL - NATURAL SOUNDING VOICES
Running your own business can be tough but running one of the biggest voice over agencies in the North of England as well as looking after a family while battling breast cancer and changing careers is just plain remarkable but that's exactly what we discovered when we sat down with the truly amazing Tracy McCoull.
Mother, businesswoman, wife, survivor and friend it's impossible not to feel a little bit in awe upon hearing Tracy's story yet she has a fantastic ability to make you feel instantly at home with a huge smile and an infectiously positive outlook. She tells her story with honesty and gentle humour and I am really quite honoured to be able to bring it to you here. Over to you Tracy...
SO, TRACY, WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
What a great first question – my story is very much ‘still in production’. Things have certainly changed a lot in my life in the past couple of years, but reflecting back - change has always been a big factor in my story.
My childhood was pretty typical and then I left home when I was 17. I moved around the UK a lot, working in Bournemouth, London, Shropshire and York. My mom always jokes about the room that my old addresses took up in her address book – I don’t think I stayed in 1 place for more than a year. I moved to Newcastle in 2000 and I lived there for 17 years. I met my husband, bought my first home and gave birth to my son there. I still live in the North East, it’s an amazing place to live – I’m not saying that I’ll always live here, but it would have to be somewhere pretty special to get me to leave (Canada and Australia are both viable options)
Up until the age of 29 I worked in the hospitality industry. I moved into nursing after moving to Newcastle. When I moved to the North, I felt that I needed a change and a new challenge. I qualified as a learning disability nurse and worked with children and young people in mental health services up until 2017 when I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
I stopped working during my treatment and while I was off work, I started most unsuspectingly on my entrepreneurial journey.
My husband owns an audio post-production company in Newcastle and like it or not, I’ve always been involved in his business and its development since it started in 2010 from the spare room of our 2 bedroomed Tyneside flat.
Rich and I had talked about setting up a voice agency back in 2015, however, it was not until 2017 that we actually got the opportunity to do something about it. During periods of wellness in my treatment I worked on creating and developing Natural Sounding Voices (or NSV for short) and the original plan was that I would set up the business and when I went back to work we would get someone else to run it. The more I worked on NSV, the less I wanted to go back to my nursing role, so I decided to take a career break. After a very short time, I realised that my career as a nurse was over and I made the decision to relinquish my registration and run a voice agency.
So now, I’m a full-time agent (not of shield), but of voice. I run a voice agency in the North East and we specialise in finding voices for our clients that are natural and not too ‘voice overy’ if you know what I mean!
We source voices for anything that needs a voice. Radio and TV commercials, video games, animations, documentaries, audiobooks, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, podcasts. We represent both UK and international artists and we currently have the largest selection of North East voices than any other voice agency in the world!
DO YOU THINK YOUR BUSINESS JOURNEY WOULD HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IF IT WASN’T FOR BREAST CANCER AND IF SO HOW?
To be honest, I don’t think I’d have a business journey or a story to tell if I hadn’t had breast cancer. I would most definitely still be a nurse, working in the NHS. Time away from work, out of the ‘eye of the storm’ so to speak gave me some great perspective. I was off work for a little over 12 months and during most of that time, I always intended to go back to my job. During my treatment I was so focussed on physically getting through it, I didn’t really give much thought to how I was psychologically coping. However as time grew closer to me going back to work, I had huge amounts of anxiety about re-starting my nursing role, fully aware of what I was going back to.
I’d also created, built and launched NSV and I’m not sure I could have handed it over to someone else to run.
HOW WOULD YOUR BEST FRIEND DESCRIBE YOU?
I’m really lucky – I’ve got quite a few best friends.
My favourite littlest best friend would probably say that I’m great to play games with, especially chess and building Lego, I love kisses and cuddles and telling stories, he’d also say that I love tidying up.
My closest best friend (aka hubby), he’d also say that I like tidying up (there’s definitely a theme running here). He’d probably also say that I am determined and headstrong and passionate in whatever I do.
Then there’s my best friend, I’m not sure what he would say, he’d probably use swear words and put the word strong at the end.
I’d describe myself as a scatty little neat freak, who’s a little bit naggy !! That’s probably the most accurate description.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE CRITICISM?
I don’t think anyone likes being criticised do they? But I do think it all depends on who’s criticising you and how they’re doing it. Over the years, I’ve worked for some amazing people and some not so great people. Those people that I look up too and respect all have the same thing in common; they all knew how to manage their staff team to get the best out of them. This is crucial for nurturing, developing and retaining your staff team. Everyone needs feedback on how they are performing, or else how do you grown and develop within your role and feel valued at what you do? The way that you deliver feedback, that’s the key.
During my time as a nurse, appraisals, supervisions and continual professional development was a major part of the role. Moving into the role of an agent, I initially really struggled with imposter syndrome, questioning my validity and capabilities at times. As a nurse, I had a university degree and a string of other qualifications under my belt, along with my mandatory training requirements from the NHS along with 15 years’ experience. As a voice agent, I had no formal qualifications and initially, it was difficult to shift my mindset away from my nursing background where qualifications are so fundamentally important. It took me a while, but I eventually realised that over the years, going right back to 2010 when we had a recording studio in the spare bedroom of our tiny 2 bedroom flat I had been learning and developing the skills that I needed to run the voice agency. And going even further back to my career in hospitality I had learnt the skills to work closely with clients and build and develop relationships. When I took stock of all my transferable skills, I realised that I was more than qualified to run my business.
Recently I’ve been speaking to my clients to get their feedback on the service that they’ve received from NSV and invited opportunities for areas for improvement. I was really surprised and delighted to hear what my clients were saying about the service that we offer – words like efficient, personal and professional and one client referred to me as his ‘secret weapon’ in voice over searching. It’s been great to get some feedback and also some validation that we are offering a great service to our customers and that I am doing a great job of running the agency.
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH OUT LOUD?
Without a doubt – Friends.
Not my real ones, although some of them are quite funny. I’m talking about Friends the TV series. I’ve watched it all about a million times and even now it still makes me laugh out loud. My sister and I used to have ‘Friends Marathons’ where we would sit on the sofa all day, each junk food and watch the video’s back to back. The fact that we watched videos gives you an indication of how long ago it was since I was able to sit down and binge-watch anything on TV!
WHAT’S THE MOST EXCITING PROJECT YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH FOR NATURAL SOUNDING VOICES?
There have been a few amazing projects, however the most rewarding is probably the Gala Bingo Adverts. One of our voice overs, Mike Cooper has been the voice of these adverts since August 2018. He’s appeared in many of their TV and radio advertising campaigns. Earlier in the year, his voice featured on the video boards at the latest West Life arena tour, as part of the Gala campaign.
It’s a really exciting project to be part of and the advertising agency who create the campaigns (Cravens) are based in Newcastle and we have a really good working relationship with them, which makes the project even more special.
AS A BUSINESS OWNER AND A MUM TO THE GORGEOUS JACK HOW DO YOU GET THE BALANCE RIGHT (AND STAY SANE)?
It’s really difficult at times and I some days you do get consumed by ‘mommy guilt’. However, I’m pleased to say that we have quite a good system worked out now. Originally I was working from our studios in Newcastle, but I quickly realised that I was losing over 10 hours a week driving and being stuck in traffic. Having to make these hours up in the evening and at the weekends fuelled my decision to work from home.
I now work from home 5 days a week – the commute is great!
I get to take Jack to school every day and he only needs to attend the after school club for an hour each day and not the 2 hours as he was doing previously.
I’ve recently also started taking better care of my needs. As a wife, mother and the only employee of NSV it was really easy to put my families and my businesses needs before my own. I think I’d being doing this for a while before I realised that something was not right with me.
I’ve recently realised that a happy me is a better mommy and wife and a more productive and efficient businesswoman. I really try and give myself some quality ‘me time’. I’ve started booking spa days and going by myself with a book, turning off my phone and just chilling out for a while – I highly recommend it!
WHAT DRIVES YOU IN YOUR BUSINESS AND HOW DO YOU KEEP UP YOUR MOTIVATION WHEN WORKING AT HOME?
Initially, I was really worried about working from home. I was worried that I wouldn’t be disciplined enough to keep myself focussed and motivated and I’d just be cleaning and watching TV every day. However, I am happy to report that I am totally focussed (most of the time!). I have a great office space in the house and I have a great routine that really works for me. I have alerts on my phone that ping at me at certain times of the day that keep me on track (emails, social media, meditation, research). I plan my days and my weeks in advance and although I can get distracted at times or get lost down a social media wormhole, my phone usually pings me back on track.
I’m driven by my voice-over artists and my clients. I want to get my artists work and I want my clients to have a great experience working with us. I know lots of my artists personally and I’ve built up some great relationships.
I’m also really passionate about raising the profile of the North East within the voice over community. The industry is historically very London-centric and I really want to change this and show the industry that there are lots of talented voice-over artists in the North East and not all of them have Geordie accents.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND DIFFICULT ON YOUR JOURNEY?
I’ve already spoken about the imposter syndrome and self-care, which have been the most difficult things that I’ve faced so far and overcome.
My main focus now is on reducing the North-South divide in the industry and focus the eyes and more importantly the ears of the industry on what the North has to offer.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP TIP FOR OUR AWESOME FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS READING THIS ARTICLE?
Take really good care of you.
Get your nails done, hair did, take a bath, buy nice things, book a spa day with the girls or by yourself, go for a walk in the park, on the beach, do the things that make you happy.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR NATURAL SOUNDING VOICES?
We have an exciting new development which I’m not allowed to talk about yet – but it’s going to be fantastic for the business and I just can’t wait for everyone to see it. I’ve been working on this for months and we are almost ready to launch it – so watch out for the notifications.
Also, I’ve been working with Northern Stage to create a 10-week course in voice-over, which gives North East actors a really good basic knowledge in working in the industry, the opportunities that are available and the reality behind the fantasy. I’ve managed to secure some amazing guest speakers to come and talk to the delegates. This venture is pushing me so far out of my comfort zone I can’t even begin to tell you; however I’m taking this as an opportunity to explore my new skillset and raise the profile of the North East.
WHAT’S THE NUMBER ONE PLAYED SONG ON YOUR IPOD?
I don’t have an iPod, I’m an avid radio listener though. I love Rag n Bone man – I could listen to him all day long
WHAT DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE?
· I’m loved (lots)
· You can’t have a fish finger sandwich without ketchup.
· Life is really short and once you have kids, the time just fly’s away.
DO YOU HAVE A BOOK OR FAVOURITE PODCAST RECOMMENDATION FOR OUR FEMALE CEO MEMBERS?
I’m a little bit obsessed with Steven Bartlett after hearing him speak at this year’s Newcastle Startup Week. For those people who don’t know who Steven is, I took this from his ‘about’ page on LinkedIn.
At age 7, he was considered a useless student, at age 18, he was a college drop-out, homeless, disowned by his family and completely broke and now Steven is the 27-year-old CEO Founder of Social Chain which uses owned media, marketing and technology to build Social Brands. In the last few years, he has become an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker and investor, and now leads a company of 700+ individuals across 5 countries, who are quickly disrupting the ever-changing social world. Social Chain now operates through six locations: Manchester, London, Berlin, Munich, New York and Bangkok.
IF THERE WAS ONE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO PUT OUT TO THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
WHAT MAKES YOU TRULY HAPPY AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE DOWNTIME?
It might sound a little cliché but spending time with my family (Jack, Rich and Dexter (our 11-year-old newfoundland dog). We’ve recently discovered the joy of camping and it’s very different to how I remember camping from my days as a girl guide in a muddy field. These holidays are great, Jack goes feral for the weekend and Rich and I just chill and relax (with a glass of wine obviously).
I am trying to get into shape, but I struggle with exercise as I hate it.I gained a lot of weight during my treatment and I’ve not managed to shift it yet, however, I am ever hopeful that at some point I will fit into my size 12 jeans again.