Jessica Hickman is a determined advocate for positive change. Having won awards and recognition for her work, she is a dynamic activist in the field of bullying and mental health in work, school and online environment.
However, before becoming the champion that she is today, she also suffered from extensive and prolonged workplace bullying that included physical and emotional intimidation, misogyny, threats, harassment and verbal abuse. This is all despite her being in HR.
Having filed over 30 reports to upper management with poor results, she decided to be more proactive and made the decision of moving interstate from Darwin to Sydney.
Now as the founder of Bullyology, a company that works with organisations to break the silence of bullying, Jessica is interested in finding practical solutions for workplaces and schools with her relevant expertise.
We talked to Jessica about her personal and entrepreneurial journey.
What was the moment where you thought “I’m going to start my own business” – and when was it?
I remember sitting in a Tony Robbins conference in September 2017. I had just walked out of my workplace in July and moved interstate from Darwin to Sydney to try to find a new direction following the 3.5 years worth of workplace bullying.
The conference was built to help people shift past limiting beliefs and old stories holding us back.
I vividly remember making a commitment to myself that day — “I will not be a victim of my circumstances”. I am going to turn my pain into my passion and break the silence on bullying.
Within the next month I registered a business named Bullyology and started the process of trademarking the term across Australia and the UK (where I am from).
There was no turning back once I had shared my truth on LinkedIn.
The first few months after launching Bullyology were tough. I progressed with small steps and had a few doors closed in my face along the way. I remember ringing up one lady who was well known in anti-bullying circles and having her dismissed me immediately as ‘too young to know anything’. But I had made a promise to myself to avoid negative, judgemental people and never let anyone bring me down again. So I politely thanked her for her time and moved on.
Every no, has lead me closer to a yes!
What gave you the confidence that Bullyology would be successful as a brand?
I understand on a deeper level that this had happened to me for a reason. Something within me was unleashed, I stayed awake for two days after the conference, brainstorming on papers scattered across my bedroom wall.
The energy was electric. I felt like I had been born for this purpose (as crazy as it sounds). The information on training, keynotes, route to markets seemed to fall out on to paper and I couldn’t help but be amazed, considering that I have no business experience.
Suddenly, I started to share my story on workplace bullying and the flood gates were open. My inbox started to fill with people who were struggling, business leaders who didn’t know where to get help and support, and media outlets who wanted to share my story.
When did you launch, and how did you start building up awareness?
In October 2017, I shared a post on LinkedIn about my experience. This was particularly confronting because I had built a strong persona in the oil and gas/construction industry, has won multiple awards for my work in culture change and mental health programs. Now, I was peeling off the mask and sharing for the first time what really happened to me. For 3.5 years I had masked toxic leadership, put on a brave face to do my job to an exceptionally high standard which eventually led to me collapsing at work from stress/burnout from being bullied long-term.
At first, my aim was to build an awareness campaign and become a keynote speaker, but soon after I was approached about partnering up with organisations, consulting and developing online programs and tool kits.
I had to innovate on the spot and sell programs and products that I had not yet built. I guess the best advice I ever gave myself was “today you are ready because tomorrow may never come”.
I didn’t became The Bullyologist overnight — I had to create this person. During the first year , I poured all my savings into personal development and flew all over the planet to attend seminars, give talks, absorb insights and wisdom and dissect the latest anti-bullying research. Success models success and I knew I needed to surround myself with the best of the best to create a solid knowledge foundation for Bullyology.
Practically speaking, what were the steps you took to start generating your own salary?
When I launched Bullyology at first it was a typical side hustle.: looking super successful on social media but doing events and talks for free in the spare time I could manage while working a full time job.
The full time work was a far cry from the previous role and I am forever grateful for the CEO and colleagues of that company who supported my dreams and aspirations for Bullyology. I remember my attempt to pitch the CEO to partner with me (even though I had no products or plan). She was kind enough to provide advice and support and eventually I had an offer to partner with a tech company as a ‘Bullying Subject Matter expert’ and it was time to leave full time employment and step into my business.
This was my first taste of being invoiced for my time, and I was quick to negotiate a good retainer each month that allowed me to influence their business while Bullyology was growing momentum along side.
Bullyology has been self-funded from day one. When I launched the business I invested all of my life savings into the development of the brand and business. While undergoing consultancy gigs I continued to invest 80 percent of earnings into the business and pay myself a small salary for living costs – The typical startup story!
In 2019, I thought about investment to speed up the development of my ‘Upstand Academy’— our online learning platform; but the experience left me deflated! An organised group of fraudulent investors wasted my time and racked up huge lawyer fees (a sharp business lesson indeed).
How has the business changed since you started? (Any more team moo members, different products/services offered, locations covered, marketing differences etc.)
As we approach 2020, I couldn’t help but smile on while reflecting how far Bullyology has come. It’s been a journey of highs, lows, and some tough lessons learnt. Resilience is something that is core to my every day operations.
Partnerships have been core to the growth. Late last year Bullyology negotiated two fundermental (JV) collaborations that have changed or will change the reach and impact that Bullyology has.
With each partnership, we have a wealth of consultant experience, marketing, networks, locations covered and forward thinking innovators.
I am in the business of people, integrity and respect so I have been careful to drown out the offers from people who don’t align with the brand values, beliefs and objectives (there have been a few).
My goal with Bullyology is to have limited staff (overheads) but build a strong team of trusted associates.
Currently we have myself, Kim (Our part time marketing intern), Johannes (tech/online academy) and mainly outsource the rest to independent contractors (including Bullyology accredited trainers).
Bullyology content is licensed and sold via 3rd party retailers and training providers.
What do you hope to accomplish with Bullyology?
Bullyology is growing, this year alone I have keynotes in 4 different countries. I value personal development as key to business success and am activity pursing new opportunities for growth, mentorship and bigger impact.
Lastly, what advice would you give to anyone facing adversity right now, and looking for a way to turn things into a more positive path, like you have?
I’ve turned a traumatic and negative experience into something incredibly positive and useful to others – and that makes me happy. I was driven out of a place I loved for no other reason than being a good human but I discovered that forgiveness removes fear, gratitude conquers hate and resilience leads unerringly toward the light at the end of the darkest tunnels.
I encourage anyone facing adversity at this time, to find peace in the suffering, understand you have more power than you think and step into your future using adversity as your superpower.
For after all, adversity is your fuel.