My parents were missionaries. Working for peace and reconciliation in places like Northern Ireland and South Africa. They had a strong vocation and a very deep faith that guided them throughout their lives. For a long time, I thought I didn’t have a vocation. I have worried for many years that I haven’t got a purpose or real meaning in my life.
I was talking recently with a colleague about the UN sustainable goals. He asked which goals I could stand behind. I pointed at Number 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. “That’s the one every business person jumps on. What is your real purpose?” I felt that he didn’t think this was enough of a stretch goal, and it’s been really bothering me.
This morning, in the early hours of my birthday, while the family is still asleep, I’ve been thinking about my purpose and the journey I’ve taken building a business.
15 years ago, I decided to go self-employed. I worked out our ‘starvation’ budget – what the bare minimum was that we could survive on as a family with 2 small children, and it looked like it could work.
So, I started my business from our tumble-down, poorly converted garage at the bottom of our garden. Slowly my work grew. I became busier and busier and our starvation budget was surpassed. Not by a lot. But by just enough.
The children joined after school clubs. They went to ballet – helping to pay our ballet teacher. They went to swimming lessons – helping to pay our swimming teacher. We went out to restaurants. We took holidays, although my laptop always came too …
We celebrated when we moved into our first office. My first employee joined us there, working full time. And we grew. The office grew (just a little bit).
My daughter told me when she was studying A-Level economics that the rule of a healthy economy is to keep the money flowing. The more money flows around an economy, the healthier it is.
Today, our one small business helps support many families. As Transform grew more people joined us all of whom had responsibilities of their own. They had mortgages and rent to pay. Children to raise. Dogs to feed.
We love where we work. We provide a supportive and stimulating environment doing really interesting work for clients based all around the UK and the world. And we try to balance work and life. My laptop still comes on holiday but now it’s mostly so the kids can watch Netflix while we’re away.
Equally, local businesses benefit from our trade. In our community, we now have many coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Not all of it is down to us, but I know we help.
When COVID-19 hit, we had to close our office doors. To keep everyone healthy we all worked from home and, like most businesses, we took a hit.
It was tough and it broke my heart. There were many sleepless nights worrying about the team and how I could keep the business together. It was difficult to see the impact on our clients and we tried to support them as they struggled. Half of our team were furloughed, and I had to take the difficult decision to make one person redundant.
Luckily, business is returning. Through the hard work and determination of my team, we’re growing again. We’ve given two promotions and we’re recruiting.
This morning, in the quiet time of the morning, I thought again about my purpose. Building a business is hard work and Coronavirus has shown how quickly it can all be taken away. On socially distanced walks across the fields with a great friend, who is also a business owner, we talk about the struggles and the emotional impact.
Today, I returned to the UN Sustainable Goals, I thought again about Number 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and I know it is my purpose. Running a business is not the mission of a megalomaniac. The vast majority of us do not want world domination. We want to provide great opportunities for people to do really interesting work for a fantastic bunch of clients.
And there are other goals that resonate with me.
On a very small scale, I believe in being part of a community, helping to create a safe, resilient and vibrant community. We run our Transform Talks – free for anyone to come and hear from world-class people about the work that they are doing. I’m working with a great team to launch our own TedTalk, because I believe in ideas worth spreading.
Today, this has to resonate with everyone with the tragedy of Coronavirus and how this has impacted millions of people. At Transform I want to create an environment that supports good health and the well-being of our team.
I have seen first-hand the devastation of disease. It was in 2006, just before I started my own business, and I led a project with Jon Snow from Channel 4 News and my client Phil Davis from Sumitomo Chemical. The project highlighted the impact of malaria, with a particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. I had organised a six-day filming trip in Tanzania and Uganda resulting in a special 10-minute film. This is an article Jon Snow wrote in The Guardian about the project.
As the family begins to wake up and my birthday celebration begins, I wanted to share these thoughts.
People who run small businesses have a purpose. While it might not be grand, it’s really deep and meaningful to them. As one of the 5.4 million micro businesses in the UK who employ 0-9 people, I know how incredibly difficult these past few months have been for many business owners. The statistics are staggering. Micro businesses employ 33% of the workforce and contribute 21% to the UK turnover. I know that it’s been a really difficult time. Even in the good times that we stay awake at night and worry. Not just about ourselves and our own families but all of the millions of people that collectively we employ.
I am extremely grateful as well. Grateful to have the opportunity to build a business. Grateful to the people that I work with who contribute so much and who are extremely fine people. Grateful to the clients that we work with because they make what we do so rewarding.
Purpose can come from any place. While I know I always want to do more, aim higher, achieve, greater things, sometimes it’s good to recognise that what we do everyday matters. And sometimes, especially on birthdays, to recognise that that’s enough.Back to news