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2 July

OV Key Skills Session with L6

It was an absolute pleasure for the School to welcome back OVs Tim Summers (Br 87-92), Will Kerton (Os 82-92), and Drew Benvie (K 85-96) to give L6 students the benefits of their experience in the latest Key Skills Session: Making the Leap – Starting and Running Your Own Business.

Setting up in the (socially distanced) John Moore Theatre, the trio took turns explaining how their very different routes after leaving school have led them all to be entrepreneurs and leaders in their own, very different, fields.

Key Skills Session L6 Will Kerton Tim Summers Drew Benvie

Tim worked in the City of London before moving to Bristol and becoming a partner in a traditional law firm. In 2010 he and a colleague applied their experience to the creation of an innovative law firm, Temple Bright. Their idea was that clients were often ill-served by traditional law firms whose business model (a pyramid of partners, assistants, trainees and support staff) involved delegation from senior to junior, and open-ended charging. Temple Bright would have only senior lawyers and would promise clients greater certainty on fees. To this end, the founders pioneered a streamlined, flat firm structure using cloud-based technology. This new model would benefit not only clients but also lawyers, who would have greater autonomy and flexibility. Temple Bright grew to 15 lawyers by late 2012, and early in 2013 Tim returned to London to launch a second office, initially advising tech startups. There he connected with Drew, another OV active in the tech community. Tim and Drew are now one another’s clients, and a further King’s connection lies in Temple Bright’s name (one of the two founders was in Bright House)! The firm now has 75 lawyers, evenly spread across its Bristol and London offices, and does commercial legal work for clients ranging from startups to PLCs.

Will Kerton’s route from King’s to entrepreneurship has taken a few twists and turns, including the Armed Forces and being the Three Counties’ most in-demand auctioneer from his time at Knight Frank. Will now runs Churchfields and Droitwich Salt with his wife, Gillian. Churchfields is a dairy farm, run by Gillian’s family for generations, which has been diversifying from traditional dairy farming since 2004 with their first scoop of award-winning ice-cream. Churchfields now has not only the farm and ice-cream to their name, but also have farm tours, a restaurant, café, and farm shop on site. Whilst managing the day-to-day running of an already very diversified business, along with the standard dairy farm work, Will and Gillian launched Droitwich Salt in 2017 – the only brine spring salt made in the UK. There are very few people would look at a dairy farm and then think ‘salt’ as part of the business growth plan, demonstrating to the listening students that every business needs to continue to think outside of the box, take leaps into the unknown, and keep adding value to their business offering.

A cutting client comment was what spurred Drew on to set up his own, multi-award-winning communications agency: Battenhall (guess where Drew lived when he went to King’s?). Drew’s career is founded in PR, from where his interest in social media stems. While working in a PR agency, social media was just getting started, and a (national brand) client joked about Drew being a ‘social media specialist’ and how that role would soon be defunct. This is what inspired Drew to keep his focus on social media trends and keep ahead of the curve so he could properly advise his clients’ communications strategies and take the leap to step away from the traditional PR provision. Skip ahead a few years, to see Drew surrounded by likeminded social media specialists, with Battenhall firmly leading the pack as the UK’s best social media agency and best specialist communications agency.

The L6 were kept enthralled by each of the speakers and were full of questions once they had finished their talks. Tim, Will and Drew each answered the many questions put to them, providing their own insights drawn from their personal experience, and from their different sectors.

Interestingly, when Tim asked the audience how many saw themselves as future entrepreneurs, only a few hands went up. However, when asked how many students had parents that ran their own businesses, considerably more hands were raised. So the panel acknowledged the students were aware of the hard work but also the benefits of being your own boss!

Some interesting points of discussion included the importance of networking. Although the panel acknowledged how difficult it is, at first, to walk into a room not knowing anyone and starting conversations with strangers, it becomes second nature after a while and the social etiquette of networking events is far more forgiving than that of normal gatherings. As with setting up your own business in the first place, you need to make a leap of faith – but you should also have a strategy, which reflects the product or service you are selling. For high value services (consultants and advisers like Tim and Drew) it’s basically the case that ‘people buy people’ and a handful of high quality leads can result in significant income. For consumer products (like Droitwich Salt) the approach may differ, and public profile-raising may be the most important aspect – Will’s request for a show of hands in the theatre showed that Droitwich Salt has already succeeded with this locally! But even for the marketing of such products, face-to-face meetings with significant individuals will be vital. Will said that networking is essential and being at the right event at the right time. Will also recommended the L6 audience use the OV network and speak to the Alumni Relations office to be put in contact with OVs in their area of interest and see if they can help, even if just for a conversation. Tim’s key takeaway recommendations for networking events were to attend; join a small group of people; listen, show interest and enthusiasm; talk briefly but powerfully about your own business when asked, then quickly make it about them again; after 10 minutes or so, get everyone’s business card, hand out your own and leave that small group. Make a note on the back of each person’s card what they talked about, and use that information for a personal follow up email the next day – making it mostly about them! Networking builds relationships and does lead to new business, although it may not be fast and it is a game of numbers; for example for every roughly six business cards gathered, that will lead to four meetings, which could eventually lead to two clients.

Key skills session L6

Another interesting question to the panel was ‘what does success mean to you’? Tim answered first, explaining that for Temple Bright, success came in two phases – first, the fact of staying afloat and sustainably doing client work without an employer’s longstanding brand and infrastructure (which success came immediately after launching); second, having a scalable business in which the co-founders were no longer doing client work themselves and could focus on strategy and growth (which success came about five years in). These are quite different stages and involve quite different skills. The first was gratifying but the second – which is rarer, and is arguably the difference between a consultant (paid by clients/customers for his own skills) and an entrepreneur (owning and growing a business) – has been thrilling. The next to answer was Will, who simply stated that they’re not successful yet! Although getting there, they constantly set targets and are still growing and learning every day. With Coronavirus, Will admitted it has been really tough, but they adapted and are still on track with most of their targets. Drew then explained that it has been tough recently for them too. However, during first lockdown he didn’t furlough any staff, but sent everyone home about a week before government ordered it. Battenhall then volunteered with the NHS to support their social media strategy, in particular on Tik Tok and Instagram, to get the message out to younger people about staying home and safe. As a considerable amount of their normal work had dried up, Drew used this spare capacity to support the strategy, and the resulting output has been award winning. This shows that in a situation where things could have been very dire, by doing some work that did not make the business any money, it was work that, as a company and individuals, they are incredibly proud of. It has also helped their business recognition, giving them the extra edge when pitching for new business.

When asked about their key words of advice for those starting out in business, Will, Drew and Tim agreed the following are essential: Take every opportunity, as you never know where it can lead; have a business partner with complementary skills if possible (although Drew has managed without); have a good idea which solves a problem; be reliable; show interest in and help other people; work very hard, but (Will added!) remember to play hard too (as long as the work has been put in first!).

Our many thanks to Tim, Will and Drew for giving the L6 so much of their time and sharing their experiences. It was a fascinating afternoon, for which the L6 were very grateful.