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Becoming Ruthless Research

May 25, 2015

WorkWhen I meet new people they often ask me how I came to be self-employed, and I think this is an interesting question.  Usually they tell me I’m brave, which is nice.  But my guess is that when people ask this they have a few ideas about what drives a person to become their own boss.  I think they often expect that a self employed person is a bit of a work-a-holic control freak that needs to be in charge and can’t / won’t work with other people.  Actually that’s not me.

In 2012 I took a business degree at Napier University, and one of the things that we did there was to “understand the entrepreneur” – and look at the variety of personal and professional influences that have led a person to self employment.

As I say this is a question that I get asked a lot, so I thought I’d enlighten you by giving you the highlights of the “understanding the entrepreneur” section of an assignment about myself (!) from my degree.  Worry not, you’re not getting the full self indulgent 9k words.  This time.

Early influences 

I grew up in the Lake District, which was at the time an area of very high employment.  It was expected that everyone would work, and that teenagers would have holiday jobs. 

When I was 14, my Dad was made redundant and immediately decided to open a sports shop.  He opened a second branch and continued to work for himself for the next ten years.  From the age of 14 to 22 (when I left University) I worked for my Dad at weekends and full time during the holidays as a shop assistant and occasional shop manager.  I was exposed to all elements of the business including buying, selling, pricing, stock control, accounting, staffing, marketing and customer service.  During this period a foot and mouth outbreak led to a drop in trade in the Lake District, and I was involved with diversifying the business into garment printing for which we received a local authority grant. 

Another early influence was my Mum who is a primary school Head Teacher.  My Mum loves her job, works hard, and believes that what she does makes a difference. 

From my influences I thus learned: 

  • Generic business skills;
  • The challenges and practicalities of self-employment;
  • The challenges and practicalities of working in an SME;
  • The importance of working hard;
  • The importance of earning your own money;
  • The importance of doing a job you love. 

Career influences 

I worked in research consultancy since I graduated in 2002, with steady career progression.  I started on a graduate scheme in London and then worked for satellite offices of two multinational research organisations and had senior roles at two charities. My key motivations during this period were job satisfaction and challenge.  I have always looked for a new role when a job has become routine or where I no longer enjoyed it. 

Throughout my career I have always worked in small offices which means I have always been involved in elements of the business outside my own role.  I have always had the autonomy to use my initiative, and have always operated projects alone or in a team of two. 

Through this experience I have a good track record of working as an intrapreneur: 

  • At The Audience Business (an arts charity) I built up a not-for-profit research consultancy department to a turnover of £[!]k operated by 1.5 members of staff.
  • At SDC (a mental health charity) I built up a not-for-profit research consultancy department to a turnover of £[!]k operated by 2.5 members of staff.
  • In 2010 SDC was looking to merge and I was heavily involved in this process.  I was the most senior member of staff for a six month period and this involved critically appraising a number of business models and markets, managing members of staff, and working very closely with the Board. 

Becoming self employed 

In 2010, I found myself in a position where I had the previous experience, functional skills and sector knowledge to set up a research consultancy business: 

  • I had a coherent fast-tracked career in research consultancy and was able to work autonomously;
  • I had successfully set up research consultancy departments;
  • I had critically considered a number of business models suitable for the current market;
  • I had been exposed to positive examples of SMEs and entrepreneurs. 

When SDC merged I negotiated a voluntary redundancy arrangement and decided to test out one of the business ideas that had been identified during the merger process.  This idea became Ruthless Research. 

…. and more than four years on I’m still here!


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