Alex Ritchie runs two rapidly growing businesses, both of which were step up in the tough economic climate after being made redundant. Alex Ritchie Consulting, specialises in women’s entrepreneurship and she is also co-founder and director of the enterprise consultancy, Venn Street. Both businesses have a strong client base within the youth and enterprise focussed charity sector. Venn Street project manage and deliver the Global Entrepreneurship Week campaign on behalf of the UK host Youth Business International, reaching over 345,000 people in the UK in 2013.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I have always found the more formal ways of learning rather difficult, I tend to learn best from ‘doing’ rather than being told what to do. This, combined with being a bit of a rebel, saw me leaving school at 16 off to get my first pay packet! I moved from job to job and across various industries gaining a whole host of skills, knowledge and experience, whilst trying to find something that really captured my interest, which eventually came, in the world of entrepreneurship.
Being someone who isn’t afraid of hard work and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone I soon began to more up the ladder and into more exciting opportunities. This was the 90s and although having a degree was still the norm in most professions it wasn’t quite as hard to get your foot through the door without one as it is these days.
Around 14 years ago I moved into the business support sector and became the youngest and the only female business advisor for a regional Business Link, thanks to a few years of experience in IT management. This helped me to realise my love of entrepreneurship and passion for connecting people to the right support and advice so that they could reach their potential.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Overcoming self-doubt and my internal saboteurs.
A lot of my work is about working behind the scenes and helping others to achieve great things so I originally found it quite hard to accept that I too could achieve great things in business and could be good enough to take a share of the limelight (something my friends and family might be astounded to hear!).
What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
For me, being an entrepreneur means taking back control of what I do and how I do it.
It offers me the freedom to take my business and my future in the direction that I want and at the pace I want, sales permitting of course!
I won’t say it doesn’t come with a whole host of challenges and uncertainties but when I compare my life now to what it was four or five years ago I am a much happier person. One of the biggest stresses is ensuring that there is a solid and long-term pipeline of work and income but I’ve found that, to me, even that isn’t as stressful as working for a larger organisation where you don’t believe on the vision or feel that the working practices are wrong. Although I will admit that as an employee the security of having a monthly salary and added benefits was a big plus, I soon learned, as so many other people have over the last few years, that this can easily be taken away from you in an organisational restructure or downsize.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?
When I was a child I had a very vivid imagination and was a bit of a dreamer. I loved to bury myself in a book and to write my own stories. I always imagined that I would be an author one day; it was a bit of romantic vision of me sitting a in a lovely house by the sea, writing chart topping and award winning novels. That dream still pops its head up now and again, although I don’t think I’ll be giving any of the booker prize winners a run for their money. I was recently commissioned to write a business book by Harper Collins, ‘Starting a business in seven simple steps’, due to be published in May 2014, which has given me a greater insight into the writing process.
Although a far cry from writing those chart topping novels it was a great experience and has spurred me on to revisit a new version of that childhood dream.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
There’s not one particular person but when I worked in the enterprise support sector I managed a network of female ambassadors. These were women, of all ages who ran their own businesses. I found that after meeting up and working with them I’d come away on fire, so excited and with loads of ideas and plans of my own. Through listening to their many stories of how and why they had setup in business I realised that the similarity that they all possessed was passion. Whether that passion is to make a change in their local community, to produce the most useful products, offer the most efficient service, run the best business they could or even to change the world, the passion was there. It really gave me the confidence to consider running my own business.
What does the future hold for you?
The last couple of years have been pretty tough but at the same time exciting and fulfilling. I really do feel that things are now coming together and I’m so excited about the future. My business partner and I are looking at how we might grow Venn Street by developing new services. Even more exciting for me personally is that I am going back to what I know best and working on a plan to rebrand and grow Alex Ritchie Consulting in order to focus far more on helping our clients to develop engaging services and campaigns for women entrepreneurs.
And the novel? I’m signing up to a writing course in the New Year so watch this space!