Tell us about your background?
It’s quite a long story for such a short number of years! I have certainly managed to pack a lot in. I guess the story begins about 12 years ago when I was in a fatal road accident. I was on annual camp with the air cadets. I had been at 267 Twickenham squadron for a number of years and absolutely loved everything from learning leaderships skills through to drill practice, flyingangry., gliding and shooting. The coach crash was tragic and traumatic. I lost my best friend and two other friends. Many cadets were severely injured with one being left in a coma for a number of months. After the event cadets and parents of one of the lads who lost his life committed suicide and with front page news, court case and huge, military funerals, I soon became isolated, confused and angry.
After a few turbulent years, I ended up studying Psychology at university to try and understand how the accident had affected me and provide myself with the tools to deal with it. I had a number of brutal conversations in the months that followed on from the accident and began to emerge from the shock and immediate grief the accident had caused. I was told by friends that ‘everyone has a story’ and ‘my story would not be an excuse for inappropriate behaviour’. I realised that if I stood any chance of overcoming this ordeal, I would need to understand how the human mind works, how my mind was working and how I might be able to move forward.
Whilst studying I was also working in a small, leading and rapidly growing marketing recruitment agency called Stopgap where I learnt huge amounts about recruitment, marketing, business and leadership. I never knew how lucky I was at the time but the experience certainly shaped much of who I am today. I met a lot of great people at Stopgap and they provided me with a lot of love, care, confidence and acceptance. I guess I grew up at Stopgap and will always be incredibly thankful of the experience. Claire Owen, who was the founder and managing director of the agency placed me at JWT after I graduated.
I began looking after recruitment advertising for a number of clients including Deloitte, Barclays, Diageo and The Met Police. I loved learning about the media, marketing strategy and budget management but most, I loved putting my degree into practice in both a creative and commercial manner. I realised I was easily able to put myself in the shoes of others the create unique and engaging campaigns I also realised that I caused absolute chaos in a corporate environment. I expected reward, transparency, insight and control. I expected some level of autonomy and even though I was a new and very junior member of the team I still expected to share my opinions and make a valuable contribution to the development of the business.
I read two books in August 2008 – the first was a million little pieces by James Frey, an alcoholic who got his life back on track through sheer iron will and determination. The second was bringing nothing to the party by Paul Carr. Paul had been a columnist for the Guardian and a tech entrepreneur. His tales of entrepreneurship made me feel alive and within a few weeks I was standing on Greek Street in Soho waiting to meet him.
I had already left my job at JWT and was looking for a new opportunity ‘media side’. I knew that I could sell media and knew how to sell it to both agencies and clients directly. I had guessed that if I got involved with an early stage business I would be able to help shape the product, the marketing activity, the sales messaging and would be able to learn lots about the areas of business I knew very little about. I soon joined the founding team of BraveNewTalent – a social recruitment platform that connected graduates to employees. Led by Young Global Entrepreneur, Lucian Tarnowski, we secured over £1 million in funding and launched in the UK, India, America and Australia.
I developed a strong network and learnt huge amounts about entrepreneurship and technology based start ups. I realised, more and more, that my biggest skill was being able to understand others. I could understand what motivated our clients, how we needed to engage with them and what would make them buy. I understood investors and could present the business in a way that made them keen to invest, our team, our consumers and promotional partners – I found it very easy to tailor our messaging, our pitches and my presentation in order to meet their demands.
After about a year at BraveNewTalent, I decided to set up on my own. I launched a business development consultancy for start up business in which I offered sales & marketing consultancy, a sales and marketing outsource function and training and development workshops. The essence of the business is exactly what I do now yet the softer, more business critical skills I needed to make it happen was entirely non existent. Between now and then I have consulted with over 30 businesses and worked with Peter Jones, Doug Richards, Tech Hub and Central Working. I continued to develop my business skills and iterate the frameworks I used to execute my consultancy and workshops.
In August 2010, on the 10 year anniversary of the coach crash my closest friend was injured in Afghanistan whilst serving as a Royal Marine. He was severely injured and was brought home as an amputee. I spent a lot of time in hospital with him and was able to reflect upon my experiences to date and what I wanted from the future. ‘The Change Gang’ which is a small business consultancy bringing innovation and digital development to the areas of Education, Fundraising, Health and Entrepreneurship is the result of that process and a combination of all of my experiences to date. I am now also a published author, public speaker and have launched a number of fundraising platforms which utilise the power of social media for social good.
This year, on the 12th anniversary of the coach crash and 2nd anniversary of my friends injury, I will be running 30k to raise £30,000 for charity.
What is your proudest achievement?
I think it is difficult to be proud of one specific thing or event. If I did it would probably be passing my cycling proficiency test. I remember getting a letter sent home from school asking us to have our bikes and helmets ready in a few weeks. Unlike all the other children, who were really excited, I was a bit concerned – I didn’t have a bike, I didn’t have a helmet and I hadn’t even sat in a saddle in memorable years. We had about 3 weeks until we would be completing some simple tests in the playground and thanks to hours and hours of cycling around the block, a few cuts and grazes and a bucket load of determination, I completed my cycling proficiency test just like everyone else in the class.
Who is your female inspiration?
Claire Owen is the Founder and Managing Director of The Stopgap Group. Aside from being an incredible business woman and an award winning leader, she is the first woman who should complete belief in me and went out of her way to help me reach my business goals and objectives.
She is also the first person who told me there is no such word as ‘can’t’ and has been there to help me, support me or give me a kick up the backside whenever it has been needed.
Claire may not have taught me everything I know in business but she has certainly made me who I am and I hope that I will one day make her proud. I worked at Stopgap for just over five years in total and Claire’s honesty and transparency about the business meant I was able to understand how businesses work and how they could grow successfully. I learnt a lot about team management, people but most of all myself as Claire provided me with a family who made me fly. I owe Claire and the Stopgap family a lot – and I often go back to them or the memories I have of the team whenever I need guidance or support.
What made you decide to run 30k for charity?
As I’ve mentioned, the 21st August is an important day for me. On 21st August 2000, I was involved in a fatal road accident when can be seen here. Ten years later on the same day, my best friend was severely injured in Afghanistan whilst he was serving as a Royal Marine. Both events were incredibly challenging for me and have led to a number of years to survivors guilt, post traumatic stress and bouts of depression.
This year, I have made a commitment to turning my life around and sharing my story to hopefully inspire others to do the same.
I have always been reasonably unfit and often unhealthy so I thought a 30k run would get me in shape, help with my mindset and prove to myself than I can achieve anything I put my mind to, if I want it enough.
Tell us a bit about your business
The Change Gang is a business consultancy that helps individuals and businesses innovate in the areas of entrepreneurship, fundraising, health and education. The business is based predominantly on The Change Gang grids which I have created throughout my entrepreneurial journey. The grids essentially provide a framework which allow people to objectively understand their current business position and provide tailored advice for change, improvement or development. The areas we cover include fundraising, marketing, sales, mobile, personal development and women in business. We run workshops, offer coaching and consultancy along with technical solutions and franchise opportunities.
What is your top tip for starting a business?
Don’t fall in love! In my experience, when I fall in love with a man I excuse his filthy habits, over look his flaws and when things start to fall apart I kid myself that I can make them better. This is fine when it is a boy – I have some good friends who will provide cake, wine and a good night out in my dancing shoes to make things better. Falling in love with your business is considerably more dangerous and will take more than a carrot cake and a bit of Chesney Hawkes to cheer you up. It is essential that you are objective as a founder of a business. It is important to be objective from the initial analysis of your idea, your pitches to investors or key clients and in the way you develop your marketing plan and messages. You will also need to be able to make objective decisions as the businesses grow looking at how and why you can evolve, grow and develop specific areas whilst making difficult decisions that may have a negative impact on some individuals. You simply can not do this if you are in love with your business so for me, it is absolutely essential that you don’t.
What would you like to achieve over the next 12 months?
The next 12 months are looking really exciting for me and I am looking forward to growing The Change Gang whilst keeping fit and healthy. I have my book, ‘The Handbook of Entrepreneurial Marketing’ being published shortly (it is available on Amazon pre order at the moment) and a whole series of training workshops to deliver, starting with my business bootcamp which starts in early September.