Redundancy has always been a driver for entrepreneurialism. Of course, it can be a devastating personal experience which suddenly fills life with uncertainties, but after recovering from the initial shock, for many, it’s a great time to step back and re-evaluate life and career. And that often leads to people finally fulfilling some lifelong dreams, including leaving the rat race behind and starting up their own company & being their own boss.
That’s exactly what happened to Ben Veal, founder of the boutique communications consultancy, ‘Second Mountain Communications’. Born out of Covid redundancy, Second Mountain Communications specialise in supporting and championing ethical and purpose-driven companies, charities, and the great people behind them by using creative, professional and valuable communications solutions to help them reach their target audiences.
A year on from the launch Ben now has a successful, creative business about which he’s passionate. And that passion obviously shone through to judges who last week shortlisted Ben and Second Mountain Communications for New Start-up of the Year at the 2021 Thames Valley and South West Business & Community Awards.
In this article, Ben shares the challenges, ups and downs of the past tumultuous year…
One year ago, I was told I was being made redundant: I’d soon be unemployed for the first time in a 15 year comms career.
Of course, I wasn’t alone in this situation. Just three weeks before I was “let go”, England had been plunged into its first national lockdown – and literally overnight, our world was flipped upside down by the pandemic.
In the face of widespread uncertainty, many businesses understandably went into short-term panic mode to protect their long-term futures. Cost-cutting was inevitable and the UK soon witnessed hundreds of thousands of job losses as industries were hit hard. I was simply a statistic.
I understood the rationale for the decision. I could see it coming. There was no way I could perform my senior leadership duties and act like it was “business as usual” in the face of a global pandemic with an NHS key worker for a wife, a six year old with additional needs and a one year old at home with me 24/7, needing attention, affection, homeschooling and support. I’d worked for the company for less than a year and couldn’t really expect loyalty from them. But that didn’t stop a tidal wave of emotions hitting me when the news came.
I felt confused, anxious, angry and scared when I was made redundant.
The whole situation seemed so out of my control. I was terrified about my future and what this meant for my family. How would I be able to provide for them? Could I find another job? Would anyone even be hiring?
I haven’t spoken up before about my redundancy and the emotional rollercoaster that it placed me on. I’ve kept it largely bottled up and to myself. But one year on, and having learnt a great deal from life under lockdown, I can now reflect back on this unexpected twist in the road with a much calmer head on my shoulders. I can look at it pragmatically. And I can see clearly now that being made redundant has proved to be the best career choice that I never made.
Stop, breathe, re-evaluate
I learnt a lot about myself in the first few weeks after my redundancy was made official – namely, that I’m focused, resilient and strong. One of the first things I did after receiving the news was set myself an outward-facing challenge: I hopped on an exercise bike and cycled from Land’s End to John o’ Groats virtually to raise money for Mind. I’m so glad I made the decision to do so: it gave me a goal and something to aim for in the midst of chaos. It gave me a chance to feel valuable at a time when I’d never felt more devalued. Most importantly, it gave me thinking time.
While peddling away, I realised that this was actually a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become the author of my life and write the next chapter on my own terms. I realised that for far too long, I’d been valuing the wrong things in my career and in my life: promotions, pay-rises, the acquisition of status and stuff. No more.
As the world stood still, so did I. For the first time in my life. I stopped, carried out an audit of my life as it was and made one simple decision: to stop being an employee, and to now become my own boss. To set my own rules. To no longer let work dominate life.
I made the decision to put my family first, above all else. Finally.
Climbing the ‘second mountain’
Three months after being told that I no longer had a job, Second Mountain Communications was born. August 1st, 2020 was one of the proudest days of my life. My very own business launched to the world. This was my chance to re-write the narrative. To tell my own story. To be true to myself. To live – and work – with purpose.
My business launched with a simple mission: to help good people and good business leaders do good, by sharing their values and achievements. We would only work with a select client base who shared our values. We would be guided by our principles and be unwavering in our approach. We would care deeply about doing the right thing, working ethically and with integrity. We would build deeply personal, authentic relationships with our clients.
We would deliver meaningful communications support for a brave new world.
Nine months on, and one full year after being told that my services were no longer required by my last employer, I look back on what’s been accomplished and couldn’t be more pleased.
Second Mountain Comms now has a ten-strong client base. We dedicate 20% of our time, each and every month, to pro-bono work, supporting people that we care about. We are a member of the Business Against Poverty ethical community, were the first Bath-based company to join the Children’s Hospice South West Business Club and are part of the Better Business Act coalition, pledging our support for companies to work in a way that benefits wider society. We are operating in a way that feels right to us.
I needed the nudge out of the door a year ago. None of these achievements would have been possible without it.
Now I put family first
Establishing a new business and making it viable during lockdown has been a huge achievement for me. It’s been a great source of personal pride. But it’s nothing compared to the relationship that I now have with my children. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
I now lead a business that puts family first. This is a company with home at its heart, that understands that children need active and involved parents, and that true creativity is found when there is genuine balance between work and life.
All of those mornings, sprinting out of the house before my kids had fully woken up to catch a train? Gone. The missed family mealtimes? Gone. The bath times and bedtimes that I couldn’t make? Gone.
Over the last year, I’ve been there for so many firsts. I was there when my son walked for the very first time, and I was there when my other son lost his first tooth. I’ve been there for family movie nights, for camping under the stars, for muddy walks and for kickabouts in the park. So many small moments of joy that would’ve been missed before: I’ve been present.
The events of the past twelve months have made me realise that everything happens for a reason – and that the many small moments we miss in our hurry to reach the top of the mountain soon add up. Pretty soon, there’s a risk we can find ourselves at the summit with no one to share the view with.
I now find myself climbing the second mountain of my life, journeying in a direction that feels oh-so-right to me both professionally and personally. Being “let go” set me free from a way of life that was not fit for my purpose – and that’s why redundancy was the best decision that I never made.