Currently six months in to a mentoring journey with the Natwest’s Entrepreneurial Spark initiative, Always Possible founder Richard Freeman couldn’t be happier.
The well-connected Brighton-based entrepreneur set up his “optimistic catalyst” agency last year to provide operational support, management training and thought leadership services to organisations across the South East.
His clients – ranging in size and scope – span the broad arenas of education, business, technology, the arts, government and the third sector. Business Advice met Freeman to find out how Entrepreneurial Spark’s input has helped give his company structure and provide him with a clear vision.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Richard Freeman, founder of Always Possible. We’re a catalyst agency supporting culturally and socially innovative organisations in the South East. We provide management training, leadership and productivity programmes, research and consultancy, product development and project management services to organisations of all types, so long as they have innovation at their core and want to change things for the greater good.
(2) How long have you been around for?
I incorporated Always Possible as a business in July last year, but had been operating under my own name as a consultant for six months before that.
I’d spent 15 years in the education sector, working with a range of non-profit organisations on government-funded community projects. I started in theatre workshops, then moved to the charity sector before focussing on youth work – developing strategies with local London authorities to give opportunities to vulnerable young people.
I moved to Brighton where I became the operations manager for training provider DV8, engaging school pupils in theatre, music and visual arts. Overseeing a team of 36 staff, I quickly became bogged down in admin, compliance and worries about staff retention and funding.
I realised that I’d spotted similar issues in all the organisations I’d worked at previously, and knew there could be more efficient ways of running socially and culturally concerned enterprises. I wanted to get under the skin of these organisations to help resolve some of their issues, that’s when I became a part-time consultant for my old employer and began laying the foundations for Always Possible.
(3) How do you make money?
We make money through direct consultancy, training programs and workshops. We also develop specific products for partner organisations like websites and resource material, for which they pay a fee.
We also offer retained consultancy, whereby we coach business owners in management and leadership. I suppose that organisations pay us for our connections.
A charity, for example, might want to work in a different market, or be visible to different funders. We can help broker those new conversations and offer advice and guidance where necessary.
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
We are not a one-size-fits-all management consultancy. Many of these firms will have rigid practices and specific processes that they stick to, and leave organisations with a long list of things to do rather than work with them to help resolve specific issues.
Our clients don’t always know what they want to begin with, they just know they need help. We work on a human level with business leaders to unpick what the issues are, then let them to take baby steps to get around them. We appreciate each venture works differently, and our huge network of partners means that if we can’t help resolve something, we’ll know someone who can. It’s why people recommend us and turn to us first.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
For me, going from full-time to part-time work at my former company gave me the chance to build better and stronger relationships with a wider network of partners. It allowed me to hone what we can offer. I sought funding for a series of leadership workshops, which funded the first six months of the business.
That first six months represented a testing phase, after which I could see how well the business would be received. Clients liked that we weren’t selling ready-made solutions to problems.
(6) How has Entrepreneurial Spark supported you so far – and what is most useful about the initiative?
They’ve been fantastic since the programme started in February this year. It really challenges you to think about your own motivations in business, and prepares you to be willing to throw yourself in at the deep end.
We have a fortnightly mentoring session with specific themes, where we look into certain aspects of business development. The programme also gives you access to consultants at KPMG and Natwest, who are open to chatting through ideas, and you receive working space access and networking events with other startups.
Having all that access and exposure is priceless when you consider the alternative to be sitting at a desk trying to figure out where your business fits in the world. It’s a hugely different and rewarding environment where the focus is on the entrepreneur, not the business.
Slowly, Entrepreneurial Spark is changing the notion of the entrepreneur as the greedy megalomaniac. The programme helps you to understand yourself and the impact you want your enterprise to have.
(7) In five years’ time, I will be…
We want to be a national leader in the business culture and innovation space. Always Possible can have a central voice in how company owners can motivate their teams, particularly in sectors that traditionally haven’t been very good at thinking commercially, like the arts or the charity sector.
Entrepreneurial Spark is helping us write a roadmap for the next few years, thinking about different approaches to scale up. The vast majority of our work happens in Sussex, but being part of a national incubator programme, our sites are set at the national level, with an aim to take on clients all over the UK. We can now focus on how Always Possible can be part of the national dialogue.
(8) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
I’m an optimist and not a man of regrets, so my advice is to be as bold as possible. When working with large organisations in unfamiliar areas, don’t be worried about not knowing something. Have the confidence to take on large projects, knowing that you can learn as you go. To do that, you have to engage a lot and retain information.
It’s also important to know what your company and you yourself are good at. Very few people are skilled in every aspect of business. Admit your weaknesses and learn from failure, then bring in people you can learn from.
Want to read more from our On the Up section? Find out how London dating app The Inner Circle reached the lauded £1m turnover milestone.
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