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Being her own boss suits Jane Shepherd perfectly – just ask her CEO

Jane Shepherd, of TheTownPlanner.
Jane Shepherd, of TheTownPlanner.

Every Monday, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Jane Shepherd, director of planning consultancy TheTownPlanner, of Grantown.

How and why did you start in business?

I am originally from Scone, near Perth, and went on to study geography at Dundee University.

Over many late-night debates in our flat’s kitchen, my housemates – all town planning students – sparked my interest in their specialisation.

Reading books and plans, and getting out of the office to appreciate good architecture sounded right up my street.

On graduating, I headed south to work at Flatford Mill (artist John Constable’s home in Suffolk) and also enrolled in a postgraduate town planning course in London.

I then secured a planning assistant role at Westminster City Council, and those first three years of my career proved to be the most formative.

Flatford Mill.

I learnt so much dealing with planning applications for numerous London landmarks in Knightsbridge, Belgravia and Covent Garden.

Working with the best architects, planners, and conservation officers around, I loved seeing our developments rising from the ground.

The next 30 years was spent climbing the career ladder in various planning departments in and around London, Surrey and finally in Scotland.

My last post was planning manager at Cairngorms National Park Authority.

Having seen it, done it and got the T-shirt, I needed a new challenge. Knowing the labyrinthine planning system and its bureaucracy inside out, I knew I would be much better employed helping frustrated applicants to get the permissions they seek – hence TheTownPlanner.

How did you get to where you are today?

Since launching the business nearly four years ago the learning curve has been steep, for while I know all about town planning, I knew zero about running a business. Thank goodness for self-help business books.

All the reading and perseverance has paid off. Most of my clients today are repeat business and word-of-mouth, so I must be doing something right.

Who helped you?

My husband, Peter, co-director of TheTownPlanner, works hard behind the scenes, providing much-needed technical and emotional support.

Other than the support of family and friends, it has been the Federation of Small Businesses that has helped me through the pandemic.

Without the smiley faces at its virtual networking and training events I would have felt isolated and alone.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

Just do it. Life’s too short and we shouldn’t wait to do what we want to do.

What is your biggest mistake?

Not setting up in business sooner. I love the flexible working – I’m a great boss – and being told “I love you” and “you’re the best planning consultant ever” by clients is pure job satisfaction.

It’s all very different to the feedback frequently given to council planners and wonderful to feel appreciated for once.

What is your greatest achievement?

As an introvert, having the confidence to set up my business without an office full of supportive colleagues to bounce ideas off has been a great achievement. I’ve learnt to reach out of my comfort zone and ask for advice when needed.

Personally, it was running the Edinburgh half marathon – sadly a one-off as I’ve since had a hip replaced.

If you were in power in government, what would you change?

I’d prioritise affordable housing – action rather than lip-service – and I’d make work on listed buildings VAT-free.

It’s wrong it costs more to restore our old buildings than to build new ones. Converting and re-using old buildings is generally more sustainable.

What do you still hope to achieve?

To be involved in a community church conservation and conversion project. My passion is church buildings and their links to the past and our ancestors.

I also want to set up a second business, offering genealogy and building history services.

What do you do to relax?

Explore graveyards and old churches – I’m a genealogy geek. One family line originates from Dallas, Moray, and being able to visit my ancestors’ old haunts, while imagining what it was like to walk in their shoes, is my way of switching off.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?

I’m reading Baggage by Alan Cumming, listening to Paul Weller and watching Secrets of the Museum.

Paul Weller.
What do you waste your money on?

Books, books and more books. I could open a bookshop, which should perhaps be my next career.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

My physio exercise programme.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I drive a Ford Fiesta, which is perfect for site visits and taking the CEO – canine executive officer – out for walks. If a car gets me from A to B, I’m happy.