When people are motivated to set up a business because of something very personal to them, the impact on the development of that business can be good and bad. It’s about balancing head and heart issues – how to harness that lived experience to drive business success while remaining objective enough to make hard commercial decisions.
For Jon Manning, founder of Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support (AEMHS), the motivation behind his business start-up could not be more personal and powerful; diagnosis of bi-polar disorder two years ago, aged 27, after first being hospitalised when six years old. The creation of the business is, Jon admits, as much about his own route to better health as helping others with their mental ill-health.
“I’d been through all the NHS services but couldn’t get a lot of support. Different diagnoses at different stages meant different places to go and new waiting lists to join – I was getting fed up. After the bi-polar diagnosis, I went to talks to learn about my disorder, but it didn’t help and I felt others in the room wouldn’t be able to help me either. So I thought I’d come up with new training; sharing clinical techniques for ‘normal people’ to learn how to help their unwell colleagues quickly, without having to wait.”
Jon is clearly frustrated about the time it takes to get through the mental health system – up to two years from initial GP referral to diagnosis. Average diagnosis of bipolar disorder, due to its complexities, he says, is 13 years; one explanation of a rise in suicide rates. Which is why Jon set up Arthur Ellis Mental Health Support – named after his two grandfathers one of whom, Ellis, had bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, spending 30 years in hospital.
Luckily the development of Jon’s business has been spectacularly fast compared with the workings of the NHS. “Our first year’s income was achieved in the first four months, meaning I could bring in a team of ten clinicians – psychologists and health practitioners – to do the training.”
After the first year, 8 Award Nominations and 2 business awards followed bringing support from major companies and the ability to increase his professional fees from £200 a session to £1,000 a day. A new annual package for businesses means turnover is expected to be £300,000 in just the second year.
As if that isn’t likely to keep Jon busy enough, he has set up a schools service alongside the business – a not-for-profit arm to develop a programme of support for the 75% of children who are rejected for mental health support. Schools can refer students directly to AEMHS for a course of treatment (involving their parents) to try to keep them out of the health service system.
Keep it simple
Of course the development of the business has been nowhere near as smooth as the story this far may sound; like most entrepreneurs, Jon has to learn some hard lessons. Keep it simple is his top tip…
“If you do just one thing but do it really well, you can profit from that. You don’t necessarily have to start with a huge range of products or services. Focus on one thing at a time, once you’ve aced one, you can add another. I started out with 16 services – all the things I wanted to do. I took advice and reduced the list to 11, but was then advised even that was too much. Now I’m focusing on two – training workshops and an online coaching platform.”
Getting started with the workshops wasn’t all plain sailing either. “No one wanted to do them at first” admits Jon. “I thought about what medical conditions had most impact on people – treatment for anxiety and depression are top of the list – so I developed exercises and imagery to simulate those conditions.”
Feedback – good and bad – on those re-focused workshops was important for adapting and improving the offer. Invitations to a free event won some paid business, which meant Jon could afford to recruit mental health practitioners to develop new workshops. The annual package of quarterly workshops – on anxiety, depression, trauma and enduring illnesses – was born, including clinicians proactively reporting on issues each month to help tackle anything before is has a business impact.
Know your purpose
Jon’s stresses the importance of understanding the purpose of any new business – not just what you’re doing but, why you want to do it. For him it’s about doing a good job and working on something that’s worthwhile. Communicating this is also important. “If your purpose is clear to everyone you work with, that will pay off. People need to buy into you – what you’re doing and why – that’s the way to get clients.”
As well as balancing head and heart, another issue for people with a deeply personal motivation for starting a business is being able to let go – trusting others to help run the business when it becomes too much for one person. Jon agrees…
“It’s hard, but if you have specific strengths in one area, you need to see the specific strengths in other people. If you bring in people who are better than you [trained and with more relevant experience – for example, clinical staff] delegation is easier because they’ll do a much better job.”
Because ‘people buy people’ – which is certainly the case at the start-up stage – bringing in other staff can be an issue, but Jon believes this is about being open and managing client expectations. This relates to another of Jon’s guiding principles – honestly – particularly if things go wrong…
“I’ve told clients exactly what’s happened when things didn’t go as planned. I’d rather put work back a month than rush it. I’m sometimes guilty of over-sharing, but I believe honesty can really help build your reputation, as can asking your clients for advice – they appreciate being consulted; they like to help.”
Thinking long term
“The big question is… do you want to do something for now, or create a business? For a business to succeed, you need a long term view – a vision – and you need long term agreements, long term clients, and long term goals. Solving a minor problem is probably not the basis for a sustainable business. If you’re tackling a bigger problem [like mental health and wellbeing at work] it’s about chipping away and coming up with long term solutions.”
Which brings us back to the ‘why’ of the business you’re starting. For Jon Manning, that purpose became increasingly clear through dissatisfaction with his previous employment. “I realised the work I was doing was good money and quite flexible, but it was menial and without purpose – I needed to help myself.” A year later, Jon is sure he made the right move. “I haven’t had a salary for the past 12 months so I’ve left all that life behind, but I feel a lot better now than I’ve ever been.”
Further information about Arthur Ellis Mental Health Service: https://arthurellismhs.com
Jon is based at the NatWest Accelerator Hub in Milton Keynes, https://www.business.natwest.com/business/business-banking/services/entrepreneur-accelerator.html#hubs