Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Birthday thoughts in search for a purpose by Veronica Hannon, Owner and MD of Transform Communications LTD

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 I was ambitious enough in my aspirations.

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 more and more busy and our starvation budget was surpassed. Not by a lot. But by just enough. The children (were able to) join after school clubs – ballet, swimming. 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. Equally, the 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 the Corona virus 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 Growtht, 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. No 11: Sustainable cities and communities 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. No. 3: Good health and well-being. Today, this has to resonate with everyone with the tragedy of Corona virus and how this has impacted millions of people. At Transform I want to create an environment that supports good health and the wellbeing of our team. 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. Even in the good times 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 every day matters. And sometimes, especially on birthdays, to recognise that that’s enough.