Kayleigh Brown talks vanlife, women in ERP, and flirty cockatiels

Kayleigh Brown

Kayleigh Brown is an independent ERP consultant and Mental Health First Aider. Specialising in test management for IFS projects, she has a strong background in supporting multi-company, multi-site global implementations.

Kayleigh Brown is your go-to person if you want to know anything from how to manage IFS project stress to why a campervan beats a hotel when working away.

The independent ERP consultant shares what she’s learned from her career so far. She also reveals she’s a Marvel and Stars Wars geek, loves holidays and ‘gory’ history, and counts ‘flirty’ cockatiels among her many pets.

What type of ERP consulting do you do?

My bread and butter at the moment is test management. I’ll land on a project and I’m normally there for at least six months, full time. That’s different to a lot of other consultants, who may do a couple of days a week at one client and a couple of days at another.

So far, I’ve been back-to-back with IFS projects. But I wouldn’t discount other ERP products because the work I do doesn’t necessarily need to be on one specific system.

Do you travel much with work?

Sometimes, but when Covid happened that hindered the travel for a long time.

I travelled a lot before the pandemic. I live in the Tyneside area, and one of the most travel-heavy projects I’ve done was in Glasgow. That’s about a 3.5-hour drive from where I live. It was every week, which did feel a bit of a strain.

Is that why you bought a campervan?

As a kid, my dad used to take me camping quite a bit. I always loved it. I say I’m a border collie in human form because I feel happier outdoors than indoors. And our neighbour had a campervan, which I really took a shine to.

Later, when I was travelling backwards and forwards to Glasgow, I became sick of the sight of hotels, which I found quite impersonal. But when I got my camper and took it away for work, I felt so much more at home. It really helped my mental health.

I’m sociable and like meeting up with people I’m working with. But sometimes I need to take myself away after a day of work, and get some fresh air, go for a walk, and just chill out in my campervan. It’s so convenient, and I’m pretty good at finding countryside campsites near enough to cities and towns where my work is.

And when I use the camper with my family, we tend to go to the Lakes and take the dog. Both me and my husband David enjoy hiking… and pub crawling.

What sort of camper do you have?

It’s a VW Transporter, a T6 pop-top. She’s called Tess, short for Tesseract from the Marvel Universe. I’m a big nerd when it comes to Marvel.

Tess has a black and red colour theme. We’ve got Star Wars stickers on her and Star Wars bedding. It’s a bit of a geek’s paradise.

So, what was your first experience of an IFS project?

I was working for British Engines, where I was leading two teams in a sales office. A handful of us were picked to take part in a project to implement IFS. I think it was IFS 8 to start with, and then we changed to 9. I was a customer of IFS, and it was a complete transformation from the bespoke systems we’d been using for a long time.

I took on some of the commercial elements of it. And when we finished the first project, I was seconded into the project team to deliver the rollout across the rest of the British Engines group of companies. I managed to get one sister company in and then I was asked to leave that to do the HR implementation at head office.

When and why did you go independent?

I was coming to the end of the HR implementation at British Engines and I didn’t feel I could go back to the role I was doing before the IFS project started. Working on these projects opens so many opportunities to do something different.

So, when an agency approached me, I was quite excited at the prospect. I wasn’t looking for something independent and was a bit apprehensive about the travel. But it was my husband who really encouraged me to travel and try something new.

I took the leap and went freelance in 2019.

What was your first contract like?

It was with a company in Switzerland that had an HR team as part of their implementation. They needed some guidance, as well as a bit of consultancy. A lot of it was testing because they were already partway through the implementation.

I went to Switzerland for about 18 months. I commuted backwards and forwards with a small child at home, which wasn’t always easy.

But the project helped to build my confidence in travelling, going on sites, meeting new people, and dealing with different requirements. It was a good eye-opener.

I’d 100% recommend anyone to go to Switzerland. It’s stunning and the people are lovely.

Would you say there are more women working in ERP today?

Yes, absolutely.

In my experience, it’s fairly common to have a good few girls on the team now. I think it’s more balanced now than it’s ever been.

Women bring different things to the table. And that doesn’t mean guys can’t do the same things we do; they can. But it’s a different vibe when you’ve got a good mixture of people on a team.

Some of the best consultants I’ve ever worked with are women.

You’re a qualified Mental Health First Aider. What inspired you to do the course?

It’s often the case that a client doesn’t realise they need a test manager until it’s either too late or pushing it. So, I’m frequently brought in when people are at a level of stress that can end up unmanageable. And that’s why I did a Mental Health First Aider course with St John Ambulance – because I’m usually dealing with people who are under extreme pressure.

On ERP projects, it’s sometimes worth having someone who doesn’t come with that baggage of being part of the company. Somebody people can reach out to, and who has been there.

What was your own experience with your mental health?

I remember when I was a customer on an IFS project, I’d been doing ridiculous amounts of overtime. I was in the cinema one weekend with my daughter, Isla, who was about seven or eight at the time. There was an advert that had a mummy bear character who was too busy with work to do anything. She kept telling the baby bear to basically go away, and I just burst into tears. I thought at that point my work-life balance had to be recalibrated a bit.

Building resilience through experience has helped me since then. But I wished at the time I had somebody who could have been a sounding board. And taking the human element out, and thinking about the project, if people are feeling stressed, then it could lead to poor planning and decision making, and reduced motivation and even burnout.

How can a Mental Health First Aider help?

I’d like to get into projects early to speak to the people who are on the ground doing the work. I could do an introduction or a seminar to spot the signs of project fatigue and stress.

It would also be good to have this mental health support running all the way through the projects I work on as a test manager. People can then speak to me and I can apply what I learned on the course to that situation.

Tell us about your life outside of work.

I was born in a small pit village on the North East coast, on the cusp between Tyneside and Northumberland. I’m still in the same village. We’re so lucky to have the coast and countryside, and be fairly close to the city.

I’ve been married to David for 13 years and my daughter Isla is about to turn 13.

And I do enjoy travel. Holidays are my thing.

What are your most memorable holidays?

We’ve done the Maldives, which was like nothing else. It was amazing. Just me and David because Isla went on holiday with my mam.

We’ve been to Florida – my favourite holiday ever. I’d go back to Florida over and over again. We did Disney and all the parks. All three of us absolutely love the rides and things like that.

I’ve been to Boston for a country music gig, which was a bit of a trade-off because my sister wanted company for the gig. And when she said Boston, my mind went straight to Salem, which I was desperate to go to. I’m so into history, but mostly really gory history. Anything to do with the witch trials fascinates me.

What does David do?

Funnily enough, he’s a production engineer at British Engines, so he uses IFS. Sometimes I consult with him if I’ve got a question about manufacturing in IFS. He’s quite handy for that.

We’d love to hear about your pets.

So, we’ve got one dog, two cats, countless fish, and countless cockatiels in an aviary.

The cockatiels are funny. They can mimic, carry a tune and wolf whistle – they like to flirt! And when I go in, I’m like that lady from Home Alone with all the pigeons.

What else do you like doing in your spare time?

I’ve recently taken up yoga, which helps me to feel calm. It’s important to make time for the things you enjoy.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about ERP contracting?

You should expect the unexpected – and buy a campervan.

You’ll need to manage your expectations because it’s going to be tough. Try to build some resilience and speak to people if you don’t feel you’re coping. It’s so important to have somebody to talk to.

Being an independent consultant isn’t a bed of roses. It looks like an amazing lifestyle to a lot of people. It affords you some of the best holidays in the world, and you’ve got your independence and can manage your own time. But running a business and balancing your work and personal life can be tricky. That’s because it’s harder to switch off when it’s your livelihood.

I work in a little rented office, to keep my work separate from home. And because where I work shuts down at a certain time, I can’t be tempted to stick around for too long. My office is on the harbour in Blyth, so I get the sea breeze, which is lovely.

Do people go independent at a variety of ages?

I think it depends. There are university graduates who go straight into it, so they’re fairly young.

But some of the best consultants I’ve worked with have cut their teeth as customers of IFS.

I’m nearly 37, and it’s a mixed bag out there now. It’s probably not the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago.

And, to wrap up, what are some of the benefits of independent consulting?

I love it. Just being given the autonomy to come into a project and help people.

It’s a huge boost to see the end product after you’ve steered someone in a certain direction and given them advice. To see them succeed is really fulfilling.

And meeting new people is high on my value chart. I’ve made lovely friends and have stayed in touch with some amazing people. This sort of lifestyle and work affords you that. There’s no becoming part of the furniture. It’s a fresh start every time.

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