Since 2014, Help for Heroes and X Forces have supported more than 30 wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women through their Business Xperience programme.
This is a 6-day hands-on programme that delivers bespoke support tailored to each individual, their circumstances and ideas.
The course takes these entrepreneurs through the each area of business such as marketing, cash flow and budgeting. Individuals are fast-tracking their learning in business and are able to gain proven insights and confidence when making important decisions about starting a business or working within a business whilst accessing a network of like-minded people beyond the 6-day programme.
Here we take a look at veteran John Geden’s experience with the programme. John, of Hayland Hampshire, joined the army shortly after leaving school as a non-commissioned soldier in the RMP but after five years’ service, he was given the opportunity to convert to a commission after successfully passing the Regular commissions Board.
How many tours did you do and where?
I served for four years in Germany, in Berlin, Dortmund & Werl. I then went to Lisbon in Northern Ireland and this tour was cut short due to my start date at RMA Sandhurst.
After commissioning I was sent to NATO AMF in Tidworth as an Operations Officer and went to Cyprus in that time. Then to the RMP Training centre as a training squad officer. My last tour was after I was promoted to Captain and I was posted to Aldershot to command the RMP airborne unit, Para-Provost.
What are your best memories about serving?
Without a doubt my time in Berlin before the wall came down. The city held a level of mystique that I have not encountered since. I enjoyed learning about the city and how it had been sectored after the war. Modern history has always been an interest and so this was a good fit.
Also passing out from RMAS was a huge highlight and a profound honour.
What is your business’ name and simple description?
The business is called ‘Sinah Common Honey’ and is a bee farming business. I sell honey and bee related products such as beeswax candles. I also run training courses for new and improving beekeepers, collect swarms of bees during the spring and give talks to local groups.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
During my 10 years in the Army and 22 years in Hampshire Police, I encountered many unpleasant things that have left me with some unpleasant memories and mental scars. However compared to some I count myself very lucky that I have no serious physical injuries and can do a manual job.
I needed to do something that would give me a sense of worthwhile and achievement but that did not put me under too much pressure by placing huge demands on me.
I had been keeping bees for many years as a hobby and, after considering a few other options, I decided that this was the best fit for me. It is not perfect, it is a fairly solitary existence but I have measures in place to address this and most importantly I am happy.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to set up your business?
Several key obstacles.
Firstly finance, given the average yield of a colony of bees and the current price that honey sells for, there is a critical mass needed to make sufficient money. However both bees and the hives that they live in are extremely expensive (around £250-300 for a complete beehive when purchased new from a supplier). So I had to convince my wife that a personal investment from my retirement gratuity was a good idea!
Secondly identifying apiary sites to place bees, where they are easy to get access to, they are not too far away and the forage is good for the bees to make honey.
Thirdly I needed to increase my expertise because being a hobbyist beekeeper is very different to being a full-scale commercial bee farmer.
Lastly I needed confidence and business support. I suffered a severe nervous-breakdown in late 2013 and was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety & depression; these were things that I have never been bothered by before and it shattered my whole self-belief and took away a lot of my confidence and enthusiasm.
Does anyone work with you, or help you in your business?
My wife and both my daughters play a small part and my wife is planning to increase her involvement by taking over the wax candle making also organising and designing the honey wedding favours. She is a trained chef and also has a real creative flair, so this is a good fit.
What advice would you give to other people, thinking about becoming an entrepreneur?
- Think very deeply about what you want to do, and what you think you can do…the two things are not the same and there has to be a massive dose of reality from the beginning.
- I always think it is better to under-promise and over-deliver…this is true both in terms of setting my own goals but also in terms of delivering a product or a service to my customers.
- Keep it simple, there can be a tendency to over-complicate things and I have found that simpler and uncomplicated processes, methods and procedures are best.
- Run everything past a trusted friend, family member or mentor. Ask them to be critical of your ideas…someone who always tells you everything is great is not your best friend. Negative feedback is always more important than positive feedback and the more brains and eyes that view something the better the outcome.
What are the challenges you’ve faced in running your own business?
My own mental health has been a constant burden. I have had a few re-lapses and this crucifies my motivation and confidence. However I have strong support from my family and friends.
Also making the right decisions can be tricky. I have made a couple of wrong decisions and thankfully it has not cost me too dearly but it puts me on edge when I am considering how to develop the business.
Finding customers is also quite challenging, at present I only sell to customers at Hampshire Farmers Markets but I plan to start selling on-line in the near future and I hope that this will increase my sales. The Internet shop is in place and the PAYPAL account is setup, I just need to overcome a few minor issues ahead of this year’s crop to allow me to sell online.
How has the Business Xperience programme helped you?
Help for Heroes and X Forces have given me a lot of confidence and supported me every step of the way. I also know that they are there continually and can help me as I grow and develop, providing me with a sounding board for my ideas.
I will always be grateful for the advice, help, support and encouragement the team have given me.
What did you find particularly helpful about X-Forces?
Two key things…
Firstly the support in gaining grant funding. The £3500 has taken me to the point where the business should turn a profit in the first 12-18 months. Without this it could have taken 24-36 months.
Secondly the on-going support that X Forces gives me in terms of providing mentors and advisors.
What is your favourite part about having your own business?
I love speaking to the public at farmers markets and spreading my passion for the humble little honey-bee and what it’s role is in nature. We often forget that the honey and the wax are just a bi-product; their real role is to pollinate all of the crops that provide us with food.