With over 150,000 new private businesses started in 2017 it seems that everywhere we look there’s a start-up. In this new series we asked friends of JM Finn to describe the challenges entrepreneurs face as they look to change the world, make a fortune or simply earn a living.
In 2016, I launched Finito, having spent a long and successful career in public relations in the City of London. Having founded my own marketing communications agency in 1988, the decision to start all over again was not taken lightly, but I really believed I had an idea that could make a difference to people’s lives.
Ever since my first job in a leading insurance recruitment firm in the Eighties, I have had a passion for helping individuals, family and friends find alternative employment. I get a buzz out of guiding people into the careers that are right for them – where they will enjoy what they are doing, thrive and be successful – and I have taken every possible opportunity to do that.
It has always struck me that prospective candidates appear to leave school, college or university lacking the life skills that employers are really looking for. It does not matter how impressive their academic results may be, or how many extra-curricular activities they are able to list on the CV, many embark on a job hunt with covering letters, emails and approaches that are too often ill-conceived or haphazard.
This is where the idea for Finito was born. After 26 years of working with clients in the corporate, financial, professional services and luxury brand markets, I decided I actually get more pleasure from helping those seeking work, who are typically bright, ambitious and enthusiastic, rather than prospective employers. Finito helps school leavers, university graduates, college leavers and mature or overseas students move smoothly into the employment market, providing a mix of mentoring, coaching and guidance to students as they first decide on a career direction, and then seek to make that a reality.
I decided it was time to plug the gap and help more young people get prepared for an ever-more challenging employment market. I felt confident I had found a niche, which is so important when starting a new business, and I conducted further investigation of potential competitors and was assured that no one was really doing what we were planning to do.
In the early days, I shared my idea with John Griffin. I have known John a long time: he founded Addison Lee in 1975 with just one car and sold the company to The Carlyle Group for £360 million in 2013. While business success relies heavily on your own personal traits, you need to listen to others and surround yourself with people who are really enthusiastic about what you are doing. John had himself mentored thousands of people during his career and could immediately see the potential of the business idea, and he agreed to become my Chairman.
From day one we have worked meticulously to ensure we never let go of a student until we are con dent they are settled into employment.
Turning the idea into reality then required the drafting of a credible business plan, raising seed funding, and – in the case of Finito – building an advisory board that shared our passion. We were able to bring some fantastic people on board, including Dame Mary Richardson, the former Chief Executive of HSBC Global Education Trust; the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, the former Secretary of State for Education; Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham; Elizabeth Diaferia, previously Head of New Business for The Conservative Party; Ty Goddard, co-founder of The Education Foundation; and, Neil Carmichael, a former MP and Chair of the Education Select Committee.
We also built a management team that includes Colin Hudson, Director of Career Development at Cranfield University; Derek Walker, a former Director of Careers at Saïd Business School; and, Professor Robert Campbell, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bolton. We knew that without the commitment and belief of these senior players in their fields, the new organisation would not be able to attract the business mentors it needed to in turn attract students.
Early on, we set ourselves a target launch date, and we ironed out the company structure, the business location, and of course the vitally important business name and trademark.
Surround yourself with great people.
The next stage of taking a new business forward requires finessing your proposition, and that means giving serious thought to exactly what it is you are offering, and how you are going to communicate that to prospective clients. In the case of Finito, we needed clarity on what our students could expect to leave Finito with, and we needed to establish partnerships that would help us reach those students in the first place. We also knew that our best hope of success required us to establish a 100% success rate, and so from day one we have worked meticulously to ensure we never let go of a student until we are con dent they are settled into employment.
Marketing activities are, of course, the bugbear of any new business – so essential, and yet with the capacity to swallow such a chunk of much-needed funding. We focused early on proving our business model, which meant establishing case studies and testimonials, and making sure that all our students and their parents became ambassadors for the business. We established strong Quality Assurance protocols, knowing that those would guarantee our ability to scale up, and we have never stopped talking about what we are doing – participating in events and publications relevant to thought leadership in education and employment.
The challenge when starting a new business is to make sure that everyone knows what you’re about; in our case, the vast majority of the people that hear about us know someone who could benefit from our service. So, we have to get our message out.
This is where those personal traits are so key: believe in yourself, foster an entrepreneurial spirit, and be willing to take risks, knowing that the difference between success and failure really is small. If ever things don’t go well, turn every negative into a positive, and learn as you go.
It is important to listen to others, but don’t be thrown off course. Instead, make sure that everyone around you is brilliant at what they do and passionate about what you are trying to achieve.
Share your success – if you help others, there is every chance they will find an opportunity to help you out further down the line.
And finally, laugh as much as you can. There is nothing more fun that making a good idea a reality, with the support of great people.