Friday, 11 August 2017

Graduate to Grown Up: Ben

Ben, age 31.
Studied Geography at Lancaster University,
graduated in 2007. 



On your graduation day, what did you want to do next?
I actually missed my graduation as I was working as a PADI Dive Master in Indonesia, supervising and teaching scuba diving to research students. I spent a couple of months out in Indonesia whilst i tried to decide what to do next. I always knew that a traditional office job wouldn't suit me and that, ideally, I wanted a career where I could work outdoors. However, it was difficult to know what steps to take or what career would be best. 

What do you do now?
I currently work as an Event Manager at Aim for the Sky, a company I set up a year after leaving university. On event days I spend my time managing my team, setting up and supervising team building activities, and teaching country sports - such as clay pigeon shooting and archery. However, I am also responsible for all of the organising and planning ahead of time. I work with my clients, and with hotels and venues, to ensure that everything runs smoothly on the day. As a business owner, I am also responsible for all of the business finances, marketing and day-to-day office management, so my job is pretty varied.

We have an activity venue in Chester where we teach clay shooting, archery and air rifles. The farm also has a quad trekking centre where groups can go off-road and explore the Cheshire countryside. We are there most weekend and host lots of stag/hen parties, as well as groups of families and friends. I really enjoy my job, especially when the weather is good. During the week, our main focus is the corporate team building events. These range from small groups of 15-25 people to large events with 150+ delegates.

Before I started Aim for the Sky, I worked for a number of other events companies as a freelance instructor, teaching archery and helping out on team away days. This experience was invaluable as I was able to see what other businesses did well, and what could be improved on. When I launched Aim for the Sky in 2008, I originally focused on teaching country sports, and actually worked as a subcontractor for a number of the events companies I worked with initially. After that, I expanded into team building, creating new and exciting activities including our 'construct a catapult' challenge and our treasure hunts. My main focus has been to build unique activities that are good fun. I really want clients to be impressed and excited when they arrive at our events, and see what they'll be doing with us. 

Has your degree been relevant in your success, and are you glad that you went to university?
My degree isn't really relevant to what I do now. However, I'm still really glad I went to university. I met a great group of friends and, more importantly, I met my wife Natasha there. She is one of the main reasons I started Aim for the Sky, and has always encouraged me to do something I love. Although she works full-time as a solicitor, she is also a director and shareholder of Aim for the Sky and is a great person to talk to about my ideas and ambitions for the company. She's currently on maternity leave as our son Edward is just 6 months old, so we're getting to spend a lot more time together at the moment.

Whilst I definitely enjoyed my time at university, I'm not sure I would recommend it to someone hoping to work in events now. The cost of tuition fees has increased significantly since I attended university and, in reality, industry experience is much more valuable in this line of work. There are courses available in event management, but I'm not sure how useful they really are. If you can gain work experience in the field you're interested in, then I would definitely recommend that as a good place to start. 

What are the best and worst things about being your own boss?
The worst thing about running a small business and being your own boss is that if you're tired or unwell, you still have to go to work. It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it is difficult to keep going. Due to the type of events we organise, we also have to work very long days on occasion, particularly if we're travelling to an event further afield. I'm not a morning person, so definitely don't enjoy a 5am start, especially if I know I wont get home until 9-10pm. Luckily it's not every day, and the events usually make it worthwhile, but it's definitely a side worth considering if you're thinking of starting your own business. On the plus side, you can decide when you work, so if I need a day off during the week or want to spend time with my family, I can do. 

The best thing about running my own events business is definitely seeing our clients enjoying themselves, and receiving positive feedback about our activities and events. We're really fortunate that all of the customers we work with are looking to celebrate with colleagues, family or friends, so generally come to us with the intention of having fun. We have a number of clients who have come back to work with us year after year, it's great to see familiar faces and to know our team have done such a good job the client has come back to us again. Sometimes we work long days, but it's all worth it to know that the groups have had an experience they'll remember, and talk about it with colleagues, friends and family.

What's next for you?
We have just launched our new website which is really exciting. We're already seeing an increase in the number of event enquiries we're getting from the site, so hopefully that will continue to increase. We're currently based in Cheshire, and do a lot of work in the North West. However, with the new site launch, we are looking to branch out to cover more areas and regions of the North of England and the Midlands, so hopefully we'll see an increase in the number of events we have in those other areas. 

Long term, we would like to set up our own activity centre and clay shooting school. We have a great venue in Chester that works for us now, but ideally we would like our own purpose built centre. The biggest challenge is finding the right land, so our goal over the new few years will be to try to find the perfect location and start the planning process. 

Interested in finding out more about Aim for the Sky?
Check out their website: www.aimforthesky.co.uk
Or find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn


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