Whilst fighting for my life from cancer, I began to write again
When I look back at my school years, I reflect on being bullied and on occasion I was beaten up. I once wanted to be a marine biologist, but finally decided to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, and I kept scuba diving as a hobby instead. I wound my way through a number of different businesses, which eventually lead me to owning a multi-million pound manufacturing business. Then my life came crashing down around me. In 2014 I was diagnosed with Cancer. This caused me to make one of the biggest mistakes of my entrepreneurial career so far. I put the wrong person in charge of my business, which lead to my selling my business to staff at a huge loss to me.
This page is about the raw truth. It’s about my story from the early struggles as a young entrepreneur, through to publishing my first novel at the age of 53.
Lessons from cancer…
If nothing else, going through cancer taught me one huge lesson in life…’do what you enjoy and enjoy what you are doing.’
My about page is me laid bare on the page. After showing my emotions in an interview on the radio, baring all here seems tame in comparison.
1962 – when life for Russell Bowyer began
I was borne in 1962 in the East End of London. But before I reached the age of two, my parents moved my brother and me to Hertfordshire. My dad was a Company Secretary and my mum at one point had her own nursery business. So I think my mother is where I’ve got my entrepreneurial spirit from.
I was a workaholic from an early age – pre-1973
As early as I can remember, I’ve always worked hard. When my parents moved us to the countryside to a sleepy village of Langley Upper Green, I remember working for a couple of local farmers. One was a pig farmer, who from memory never actually paid me at all. But it didn’t matter, as I enjoyed helping him feed the pigs.
An entrepreneur in the making – a workaholic from an early age.
The other was an arable farmer. I picked potatoes for this guy alongside the gypsies. I remember getting 50p per full container, and the containers were huge (or so they seemed at the time). But this was my way of earning my pocket money. All I know is that I was under 10 years old at this stage in my entrepreneurial career.
In around 1974 we moved to Clavering. Clavering is the village made famous by Jamie Oliver. In fact my mum worked for his father Trevor, in his pub The Cricketers. On occasion, I would help bottle up in his pub and I remember young Jamie as a happy little blond kid. At this point in my young career, I had 2-3 jobs mowing lawns for neighbours. In addition, I worked on a calf farm, and in the summer months bail carting for another local farmer.
All leading to a young entrepreneur in the making.
Scrapping through my A Levels in 1981 and then struggling at college to pass my foundation course
My goal was two D’s at A Level. What happened though? I finished with a D in Art and an E in Biology. So the college I had lined up for my Accountancy Foundation Course, refused my entry. So not being put-off, I set about to find a new college.
I eventually found Ealing College Of Higher Education, who accepted my grades as they were. My parents helped me arrange a bedsit in Ealing, to live in for the 9 months of the course.
After failing the exams the first time around, I eventually got my foundation exams, which were a necessary stepping-stone to becoming a Chartered Accountant.
I listened to my inner-voice and ignored someone else’s thoughts on what were my limitations…I believed in me.
Told to give up, as you’ll never make it as a Chartered Accountant…
When I failed the exams on the first go, the head of year encourage me to give-up my goal of becoming a Chartered Accountant. His reasoning… if I was struggling so much at this stage, I didn’t stand a chance at passing the Chartered Accountant Exams.
I wasn’t put off by his remarks, but instead re-took the exams and passed. On to my next goal…to live and work in London
1982 – My first full-time job in the West End of London
My first boss was a lovely man, Mr Sugarman. Mr Sugarman was one of around 15 partners in a firm of Chartered Accountants Leigh Carr, based just off Baker Street, London.
A move to London to begin my career path to become a Chartered Accountant
One of the lessons I learnt from him was interview style. I always remember his casual approach in my interview with him. We talked about sport and about travel, but from memory, nothing really about work.
Whilst doing my articles with Leigh Carr, I gained loads of experience. It took me a few attempts at each stage of the qualifying process, but I did eventually qualify as a Chartered Accountant in 1988.
Russell Bowyer a young entrepreneur in the making – living the dream in Australia as the ‘Flying Auditor.’
Living the dream in Australia as the ‘Flying Auditor’
I left Leigh Carr to work for Moores Rowland in Fetter Lane, London. I chose Moores Rowland as they were the most likely firm to send me to Australia. In mid-1989, true to their promise, I was sent to Perth.
These were some of the best months of my life. Most of us have heard of the ‘Flying Doctor‘ in Australia, well I worked as the ‘Flying Auditor‘. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel across the majority of Western Australia. My travels included flying in Cessna planes, driving 4-wheel drives and visiting way-out small mining towns in the middle of Western Australia. The places I went and the people I met was simply fantastic…I loved every minute of my time in Australia.
I was having the time of my life, but in early 1990 I had to return to the UK office. This was despite my request of an extended stay. I worked in the London office again for a further six months, but the experience of Australia had changed me.
In the end, feeling extremely nervous doing so, I handed in my notice to start my very first business. This was in June 1990, and the business was a graphic design business.
1993 my first mistake in business and investing – I lost my first significant amount of money and my business wasn’t doing too well either
A turning point in my life was when I lost money. I’d stupidly invested into penny shares. This was with money that I’d made from my graphic design business, but with an amount that I couldn’t afford to lose.
I’d invested via a call from America. This confident guy was selling shares in a commodity type business ~ I think oil from memory. It was a bit like the conversations you see had on the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, if you’ve ever watched the film. In fact, when I watched the film, I tried to recall the name of the company that had called me. For a while I wondered if it had been the same Stratton Oakmont.
Mistakes happen in life. I realised it wasn’t about what the mistake was, but what I did after making the mistake that mattered more.
This loss came at a time when I was newly married, we had just bought our first house, and we had a baby on the way. I had to do something.
So along came my next business venture. I set up Adrian Adams, which was my own Chartered Accounting Practice. But that wasn’t enough for me, so I decided to take my Chartered Tax exams at the same time. I wanted to become a Chartered Tax Advisor too. My rational was that most business owners want to pay the least amount of tax as is legally possible.
So in just 9 months, which was under the recommended 12-month period, I qualified in late 1993.
My biggest life lesson so far – Divorce!
I must have been in my own little world, beavering away and working hard, when my wife informed me she wasn’t in love with me any more. I remember uttering the words…’is there anybody else?’ And of course there was. It turned out to be one of my clients, who had become a friend too – or so I thought.
Divorce hit me extremely hard. I would cry myself to sleep and wake up distraught, as I missed having my daughter around. I missed her waking-up in the morning and looking for her daddy. This killed me at the time…it was so painful for me.
Divorce is a lesson in life to learn from. A message for you to change and to do something different.
For me, I had always thought of marriage as being for life. But unfortunately my wife had other ideas. This part of my story is where I compare it to the game of Snakes & Ladders…I’d just landed on a square with a snake’s head on it.
Time to re-engineer my business – Business development step 1
Divorce, together with the pain and emotions that this brings, was a huge kick up the back-side for me. It led me to re-engineer my life and my business. Having always been a workaholic, I knew that I had to change something.
After reading The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber (A great business book by the way, and worth a read) I changed things around. At the time, my business was wholly dependent on me. It was difficult to get away from it. I would be at my business from probably 8am until 9-10pm every week day and then at weekends too.
These long hours were not conducive for a married life, and I bore the consequences of that. But I’d thought that I was building a future for my family.
In the months that followed, I transformed my business. It was changed from one that completely consumed me and depended on me night and day, to one that didn’t. I began to ‘Work-on‘ my business instead of ‘Working-in‘ my business. My love of travel was re-kindled and I began to travel the world once more.
I increased my prices to make higher profits whilst I productized my services…
After meeting Ronald J Baker, I decided to ‘Productizing my services. Ronald J Baker’s mission was to revolutionizse the face of law firms. He wanted to change them from charging by the hour to charging by way of a fixed fee. This inspired me to make a major change to my Chartered Accounting Practice.
So as a part of the ‘Productizing Process‘, I increased my prices too. Which in some cases meant tripling them for some clients. Productizing of services is where instead of charging for services by the hour, you charge a fixed ‘product’ fee instead.
Productizing a service business transfers the risk of cost over-runs away from the customer.
The adoption of productizing in a service or consulting type business, transfers the risk. The risk which is transferred is of any inefficiencies and cost over-runs within the firm. This risk is transferred from resting with the client to lying wholly with the business.
Clients rest easy with productized services…
Clients agree the price upfront, and rest easy not worrying about the hours it will take to complete the work, nor the hourly rate charged.
Examples of my productized services included a fixed fee for a set of accounts to a fixed price for a company tax return. It was then up to us as a firm to make sure work was completed in a timely manner, whilst still making a profit. This is a lesson to be heeded by any business that charges by the hour, which includes accounting firms, solicitor firms and any other hourly-charge-rate business.
As a part of the price increasing process, I used a tool that I now give away for free on my bowraven.com website, which is the price increase calculator tool. The price increase calculator helped me to analyse my company’s data. This tool is how I calculated how many clients I could afford ‘lose’ at the new pricing levels, but be no worse off. In fact what happened was I lost a few clients, but my profits increased.
This allowed for recruiting more staff and to grow my business.
Providing business development for my clients – Business development step 2…
During my own business transformation, I began to do the same ‘transformational’ help for my clients, by providing a ‘Business Development Service‘ to many of my top clients. I helped them grow their businesses and to make higher profits…life was great once more.
I ran my Chartered Accounting Practice for just over 10 years, until I sold it on 4th July 2003. In fact I managed to sell this business in almost record time – in just 6 weeks. I have since written a sell my business fast guide about how I achieved this.
2003 I sell my accounting business in record time and become a property investor and an owner of an elderly care business
At the same time as deciding to sell my accounting practice, I also sold my large house. With the combined net proceeds in the bank, I invested in a few investment properties across the UK. I also invested in nine acres of beach-front property on the north west coast of Australia. I’d fulfilled one of my life-times dreams…to own a piece of Australian Real Estate.
The property location was amazing…looking out on a bay where Hump-Back Whales bring their young. Near to the second largest reef in the world, the Nigaloo Reef. In a region which is a paradise to scuba divers.
It felt like retirement…but lead on to business development step 3…
It felt a bit like I’d retired. So I decided to do more travelling around the world and booked a ‘round-the-world‘ flight ticket.
When I returned home, one of my former clients approached me for help with his ailing elderly care business. His partner had died and things were going from bad to worse for him. In the end his brother and me invested in the business, so we each owned a third.
I became the Managing Director of the company, with the aim to initially ‘stabilise the ship’. With my second goal, once the business had been stabilised, to grow the company and associated profits…’business development step 3.’
Working my way towards my first million-pound business, as managing director and an angel investor combined
At the same time that this was going on in my business life, I met my second wife to be. After a short period of courting, we got engaged and then tied the knot. We married on our own beach on the property I’d purchased in Australia.
However, this marriage turned out to be the biggest personal mistake of my lifetime. The woman that I’d married had borderline personality disorder and was completely crazy. Of course the relationship ended in divorce. I lost loads of money and weight throughout the relationship and the divorce proceedings. Plus in the end, I had to sell my Australian property…I was gutted.
My first million-pound business…
In the mean time, the elderly care business was going from strength to strength. It reached a turnover of just over £1.1 million under my guidance as MD, whilst making reasonable profits too. However, there came a sting in the tail with this business. The two brothers hated each other and they fought like cat and dog.
This for me was too much. So I decided to look for a new business, one that I’d own on my again without partners. Through this buying process, I ended up in the Financial Mail News Paper. At the time that I was looking to buy a business, the country (i.e. the UK) was going through a recession.
The Financial Mail happened to be looking to interview an entrepreneur. They were specifically looking for a business-man who was willing to risk buying a business during a recession…they found me.
In my personal life, I went through a few failed relationships during this same time. But I eventually met my soul mate. Only one problem, she lived some 2 1/2 hours away from where I was at the time.
So what did I do? Simple really…I turned my search for a new business to Dorset, which is where my new-found love lived. It was clear to us both that we were falling in love. Dorset was where I was destined to live.
2010 – I buy a fitted furniture business which designed, manufactured and fitted bespoke furniture
The business had around 26 staff and had a turnover of £1.6 million when I bought it. Whilst at this stage I had a few properties, I didn’t have much left in the way of cash in the bank. So the purchase of this manufacturing business was done mainly on OPM or Other Peoples Money. I obtained a bank loan, which was backed by the Government Loan Guarantee Scheme, plus a vendor loan for a large percentage of the purchase price.
The business was making a fair profit at the time, of around £100,000 per annum. But I had ideas for expansion…’business development step 4′.
Focusing on key profit drivers in any business will drive the growth. Targeting the average transaction value is a powerful growth-tool…and one that I applied to my newly acquired manufacturing business.
Software, which I had developed whilst running my Chartered Accounting Practice, came in handy. I used this self-developed software to find the key profit drivers of this new business. With the key profit driver identified, this provided the focus I needed to grow the business.
I had run the numbers through my own software…Increase Profit Software for this, and my aim: to increase turnover to £2.5 million with an EBITDA of £250,000.
At this time, I had also now sold my share of the elderly care business to the two brothers, to let them carry on with their in-fighting without me on the side-line.
My second million-pound business…now turned multi-million pound business. Success of ‘Business Development Step 4…
Between 2010 and early 2014 I had achieved my target. With my focus on the average transaction value of the business, the turnover and profits began to increase year-on-year.
Life was great…I was making good money, I was in love and engaged to be married…but then things started to go wrong…
There was tension in the business, and behind what was causing this tension were three related staff members. What transpired in August 2014, was my right-hand-man had been stealing from the business. As well as stealing, he had also been doing work on the side, not only with materials from my company without permission, but also whilst using my staff to do the work…at my cost. Together with his step son (who was my top-selling designer at the time), they were taking cash from clients, instead of passing it through the business.
After a lengthy HR battle, loads of stress and heart-ache, I managed to oust the pair of them in early October 2014. However, the step-son’s mother (also key to the business) left the business too. What added insult to injury, was them setting up in competition. They then began to take the factory and fitting staff away from my business. Fitters were difficult to recruit in the first place, so this became the next big challenge.
The police were asked to help with the prosecution of the staff…
I asked the police to get involved, but with a criminal prosecution, the bar is raised that much higher for proof of guilt with what is required for evidence. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough evidence for the police to take the case to the next stage, which was to the Crown Prosecution Service…lesson learnt…move-on.
Despite all this happening around us, my then finance and I flew to Barbados to get married. We got married on a beautiful beach of western Barbados…but something more sinister and worrying was developing inside of me…
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Cancer on 17 December 2014
Whilst all this is going on, unbeknown to me I was developing cancer. On 17 December 2014 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My first chemo was on New Years Eve, and then followed a few months of hell for me. I was fighting for my life.
As I decided to step away from the business, for what seemed like the best decision at the time, I put the person who I thought would be right for the job in charge of my business. This turned out to be a huge mistake. From having hundreds of thousands in the bank and making good profits, the business turned to making a huge loss and became a cash-drain on me personally.
To be fair to him, the business was going through turmoil, but in the circumstances, the person in charge needed to be a different person. My lesson in this case was that I should have been stronger, but I had other battles to fight…I was fighting for my life.
It’s hard to face the confrontation of business, whilst battling with a life-threatening disease at the same time
At the time, I found it difficult to face the challenges of business, together with the confrontations that this brought, at the same time as going through the emotions that having cancer brings.
To be told by a doctor that if you don’t go through chemotherapy you only have months to live, seemed more important than the loss of money through the failings of my business.
So I admit that at the time I was avoiding confrontation, which is one of the ten deadly mistakes of entrepreneurship not to avoid.
Don’t avoid difficult conversations in business…confrontation is a part of being an entrepreneur.
The spare cash that I had, was mostly used to shore-up the business, leaving my wife and I in a horrible place. In addition to this, four of my buy to let investment properties had to be re-mortgaged. The mortgages were with Mortgage Express, and for those that don’t know, Mortgage Express were a part of Northern Rock. When Northern Rock went bust, the government took their loan book over.
There wasn’t an option to roll-over these mortgages at the end of the term, so they had to be replaced with new finance. However, as the properties concerned were up in the north, the capital values were significantly lower than the mortgages secured against them. This was my kick in the teeth from the 2008 banking crash some 6 years later. I had to find an additional £200,000 to clear the old mortgages upon re-financing.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining…
But every dark cloud has a silver lining. Whilst going through cancer, I found a new freedom in writing. I wrote my very first novel. Writing was a distraction for me and gave me a focus away from the horrible thoughts brought about by cancer.
The chemotherapy really reacted badly with me, where I lost my hair, I had sepsis on three separate occasions, I got pleurisy and contracted fungal pneumonia too. But the good news was, in July of 2015 I was given the all-clear and I’m now in remission. Thanks to the doctors, nurses and support staff at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital I am now a cancer survivor.
2016 – I sold my business at a huge loss and published my debut novel
2016 was a mixed year for my wife and I. Going through cancer gives you plenty of thinking time. It also changes your perspective on life too. I realised that I didn’t like working in the manufacturing business, and my time away from it, helped me to recognise this.
In July 2016 I sold the shares in my manufacturing business to two of the staff who were keen to continue to run the business. This was despite the precarious state in which the business was in. I retained a small interest in the business, but resigned as Chairman and director and stepped back completely.
I became a published author…
In June 2016 I became a published indie author under my pen name Adrian Russell. The book is about survival and is quite apt based upon what I was going though at the time, both personally and in my business life.
In fact, the premise of the book originally came from a business idea that I had. The concept and idea was how only the fittest in business survive, which is very much like it is in nature. The idea developed from there, and is now in novel form and sold world-wide on Amazon.
I was invited onto Julian Clegg’s breakfast show on BBC Radio Solent in late 2016 to talk about my new novel ‘Nothing Left But Fear‘, and I continue to promote the book now. I am now an International Novelist, knowingly sold in the UK, America, Canada and Australia, to name a few countries where it has been bought.
Business development step 5…Russell Bowyer available for business advice and consultation once again…
Writing my novel ignited a creative spark inside of me. It gave me the confidence and urge to begin writing on my inBusiness Blog once more. I love to write and already this year (2017) I have added 13 new articles to my blog, with many yet to come.
At the same time, I have continued to add further products to my business software site Bowraven.com too, and I will continue to improve and develop this business alongside in-business.org.uk.
Contact me for business development advice
Please feel free to make contact with me, whether this is if you are looking for business consultation and business development advice, or simply for a discussion about any of the topics I cover in my about page above.
Whilst writing this page, I realised just how many times ‘Business Development‘ crossed my path as an entrepreneur. This is something I really enjoy doing, as I love to work with fellow entrepreneurs in business. Business development is a skill that I have developed over time, not only by working in my own businesses, but also whilst working with fellow entrepreneurs in their businesses too. I love to ask questions, which at times drives my wife nuts, but is a required skill for uncovering the ‘nuggets of gold‘ within any business.
Many times, it is the business owner that knows where to find the growth within their own business, but it is by asking the right questions that uncovers the key to that growth. For a free no obligation chat about your business and how I might be able to add value, please complete the contact page, and I will be more than happy to discuss your business with you.
I’d also love to read your comments, so please feel free comment below as well.