Self-Starter Stories: From Currys Digital to starting an events company
This week's #SelfStarterStory features Ben Maddock. Founder of Aim For The Sky, a team building and events company based in Cheshire and Chester and operating across the UK.
Our unique indoor and outdoor activities are the perfect addition to any event, conference, team away day, wedding or party. Whether you’re looking for country sports such as clay pigeon shooting, archery or quad trekking; arranging a stag or hen party in Chester; or simply hoping to entertain and impress your colleagues with some team building challenges, we can help.
Pick Yourself UK caught up with Ben to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey.
Looking back, what lead you to be where you are today?: When I left university 10 years ago I was unsure what I wanted to do in terms of a career. I did know that I didn’t want a standard office job.
Growing up I always loved being outdoors and had hobbies that included clay pigeon shooting, archery, and air rifles. I wondered if it would be possible to turn these hobbies into a business, and with some encouragement from my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) I reached out to some events companies to see if I could get some work experience.
After working for a number of leading team building companies I realised that I wanted to do things differently. This was when I decided to start Aim for the Sky.
Nine years later the business has expanded and is now organising events for small groups of 15-25 people as well as larger scale events with 150+ delegates across the North of England and the Midlands.
What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: The most challenging thing about getting started was obtaining initial business connections. For us this was building relationships with hotels and conference venues that we could work with on events.
To make things easier we actually started working as an outsourced activity provider for the events companies I began work with as well as reaching out to local hotels that we knew wanted to increase corporate event work. Building links takes time but is well worth it as it gives you the connections you need to grow.
What did you want to be when you were a child?: I always wanted to be a paleontologist because I love dinosaurs. Although I’m still a big fan and I know a tragically large number of dinosaur facts, there is a shortage of jobs for dinosaur experts in the UK. So I settled on Event Organiser instead.
What was your last job?: Before I started working as a freelance event instructor I actually worked in Currys Digital for a few months selling cameras and TVs. It was never going to be a long-term career for me, but I learnt a lot about sales in this role and enjoyed spending time with the team there.
When did you choose to PICK YOURSELF instead of waiting to be chosen by someone else?: We have recently launched our new website and so have been looking for PR and outreach opportunities.
As a small business owner you need to be able to engage in self-promotion, even if it can feel a little cringe-worthy. This is something I have had to get used to as part of the job as it doesn’t come naturally to me. Even your most satisfied customer is unlikely to take the time to talk about you in a publication or to nominate you for an award, so you just have to get on with it and sell yourself.
What did you learn from your worst boss?: During my short spell at Currys Digital I had one excellent boss and also a very bad one. I saw firsthand the difference having a good manager can make to staff engagement.
My first manager was very encouraging and made work a fun and productive place to be. In contrast my second manager was a bully and prided himself on being hard on the staff. I observed how in a matter of weeks morale had dropped to an all time low and most of the experienced staff transferred out to other branches.
Subsequently, the store lost all of its highly skilled employees, sales dropped and shortly after I left I learned that a decision was made to close the store. This is a shining example of why employee engagement is essential to the success of a business.
This also helped to inspire me to promote team building within organisations and to encourage companies to value their staff and to make engagement a priority.
What is your favourite business book and why?: It’s an old one but I love Jan Carlzon’s ‘Moments of Truth’. In the book he explains that each interaction between your company and your customer is a moment of truth.
Essentially, that moment can be either a good or bad experience for that individual. Whether or not the interaction goes well will ultimately influence the way that your customer sees your business and whether they will want to purchase from you again.
He also talks about empowering staff to act in the best interests of the customer and suggests you should ask staff to take responsibility for ensuring that each moment of truth is a positive one.
His focus on customer journey and on listening to and engaging employees is still so relevant today. This is definitely something we try to incorporate into our business strategy.
Do you do everything yourself? What do you outsource?: We definitely do a lot of things ourselves. Like most small businesses we don’t have the resource or budget to outsource marketing or day-to-day office jobs.
However, we have had an accountant for a few years so that definitely helps when it comes to managing the business finances. In terms of the events themselves, unlike most events companies we actually provide the majority of the activities ourselves.
Whether it’s clay pigeon shooting, catapult building or event cocktail making we are the activity provider. Of course we do use subcontractors for a few of the more specialist activities. For example duck herding: which requires 2 sheep-dogs, an obstacle course, an experienced sheep-dog handler and a whole army of ducks. That’s definitely not something we could do ourselves!
How do you market your business?: Like most small businesses we have a very limited marketing budget so haven’t been able to employ an agency or run expensive pay per click ad campaigns.
Some of the most cost-effective methods we have found to market Aim for the Sky are: (1) Twitter networking hours, which are a great way to talk to other local businesses or companies working in your sector, (2) Partnering with other businesses such as hotels and conference venues to offer joint packages and (3) Digital PR, we have recently started writing guest posts and commenting on articles.
Twitter hashtags such as #journorequest and #bloggerswanted are a great way to connect with journalists and bloggers.
How did you get your first traffic to your website?: Until very recently, we were pretty terrible at driving traffic to our website. Our previous website wasn’t really optimised for search and we didn’t do much in terms outreach or digital PR. We are definitely making more of an effort now and are working to increase our website traffic.
What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: I have always had the attitude that it is better to try something and fail than to regret having never taking a chance.
Starting your own business isn’t easy so it’s worth saving up so you can afford to have a period before you begin to make money. You may also find that in the first few months and years you need to reinvest your profits to grow your company. It doesn’t happen overnight but it’s definitely worth it in the end.
Follow Ben's journey via his social media channels below:
Ben Maddock has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story below.