Back in July I met James from Wild Thyme Outdoors at Standon Calling festival. They were running the wilderness, outdoor activities. I was inspired by the incredible business they had set up and what they do to teach children about the fun outdoors.
James was an obvious choice to be interviewed as part of this series on Mrs Mummypenny. I also interviewed James for my podcast, links to watch or listen are at the end of this interview. Your choice whether you want to read, watch or listen to the interview!
Over to James.
How long were you in the employed world and what were you doing?
I left school at 16 to join the army, I was never much for being sat in class, I was always off in daydreams visualising all the other things I could be doing which were far more interesting. I still to this day have an aversion to paperwork. After the Army i started working in the outdoor industry. It was a fairly easy step from the Military to the outdoor industry, a lot of similar qualities and job stresses believe it or not.
The outdoor industry showed me my true passion in life showing people how to have adventures in the great outdoors or as I like to think of it “mucking around outside”! I valued the work we did with the ‘hard to reach kids’ the most. Over time I became a little bit of a behaviour strategy and intervention consultant, which is one of the other feathers in my cap.
Progressing from the Outdoor industry I began working for SkillForce, a re-engagement charity putting Ex-soldiers in the classroom with the ‘the hard to reach kids’. From SkillForce I have worked with several schools taking on their most challenging students and in my way calming them and guiding them to becoming contributing members of society. All this was alongside the blossoming business I’ll tell you about shortly.
At what point did you think, it’s time to leave and go self-employed? Was there a trigger moment?
I have always had this want and need to venture out on my own. I am not sure if it was inspired by my dad, who was a very successful self-employed commercial property developer or whether being self-employed made it easier to shun all the paper work I hated doing.
Either way I tell it like this; I was sat in a restaurant and the table next to us had a family of five, nothing unusual there, except all three of the kids were glued to their tablets with great big headphones on, even when the food turned up they didn’t even look up, the whole time ‘mum and dad’ where enjoying time together. Now I get that parenting is hard, especially with three kids who were all under 10, but I just thought it was sad that on an evening out these kids where essentially arrested by these devices. It was in that moment I thought I have something to offer more than just troubled youth. Wild Thyme Outdoors was born.
What plans did you put in place before leaving, e.g. training, saving money, building customer base?
Absolutely nothing, I jumped in with both feet, I spoke to a friend of mine who I knew had some land and a piece of woodland that I had used in a previous job to run outdoor camping courses, he loved the idea, so we purchased a few items and I had a few mentoring sessions from a business that I had seen doing something along what I was trying to do. (they have now become dear friends of mine) and through word of mouth and a little bit of Facebook advertising, it all began.
Tell us about your business?
Wild Thyme Outdoors – forest school and woodland skills. I wanted to get young adventurers off screens and outdoors enjoying the natural world, so many kids these days have never climbed a tree or had a stick sword fight, seen a real campfire or played in the mud!
We offer these opportunities, we are more than just a forest school now. I only use that terminology because it’s easy for people to understand. We now are a childhood school, rekindling the dying art of being a kid. The benefits of which reach much further than just climbing trees and making friends; resilience, empathy, problem solving, confidence, fitness and much more.
How is your business progressing?
We’re doing okay, we’re coming to the end of our second year, there has been a marked increase in our popularity and the reach of our message. It was a struggle at the start, the crippling uncertainty of whether we would ever be even minutely successful, having to cancel dates due to not meeting the minimum numbers to make the day work. It was tough at the time, but now when I look back at it, it’s all very daft we were doing the best we could there isn’t much more we could be done.
Can you share three business successes?
– During the summer we like to get out of the woods and on the road showcasing different skills and promoting the outdoor message that sort of thing. We have now got a back log of festivals. Inquiring as to our availability for next year! I see this as a sign of our hard work, and the ethos we promote being something that people wish to be apart of.
– We engaged an well-known institutional marketing company to do run an online campaign for us (they shall remain nameless) they essentially fleeced us to the point that the whole company was on the verge of collapse and as a small business there was nothing we could do to fight this huge company. When we finally managed to get out from under their influence things where dire. But with some hard work and diligence we were able to recover and surpass the point that we were at before the trouble started.
– Seeing the same kids come back over and repeatedly. It’s how I tell we’re doing a good job! When mum turns up with little jimmy and he’s dressed in head to camouflage , and has been Facetime-ing his friends at 5am (much to mothers despair) so they can talk about what they are going to do in the woods all day because they just can’t wait to be there together, the contraptions they build with string and wood to solve problems.
Can you share three learnings?
– Word of mouth is an insanely effective marketing device
– Don’t be afraid to talk to people about who you are and what you’re doing, although I don’t like the term ‘networking’ life at times really is about who you know not what you know.
– Its okay to make mistakes, I mess up on almost a daily basis, mistakes are just ways of learning, its cliché I know but this one really is true.
What things do you miss about the corporate/employed world?
This was a hard one, even in the corporate world I did pretty much what I wanted or moulded my surroundings to suit me. Having said that, I think it can be lonely at times when you set up your own venture.
What things are you grateful for now that you didn’t have whilst employed?
Tough question! I’m grateful for the challenges that running a business provides. In a way the pressure too, the ownership that you have over everything, if anything goes wrong, there is no one else to blame, and only you to solve the problem. That might seem really daunting, but its quite freeing.
What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of leaving the employed world and setting up their own business?
I want to reiterate the advice of all those famous entrepreneurs and say just jump in with both feet, but that could be a daft thing to do. What I would say is before you jump, take a look around, learn what you can about the industry you’re jumping into then go for it, information is power and the more information you can arm yourself with the easier you’ll be able to hit the ground running.
How do people find your business website, social media links?
An inspiring interview I am sure you will agree. You can watch my podcast with James here, or download the audio podcast to listen later.