SOMETIMES our lives really are shaped by “sliding doors” moments. A quirky turn of events or snap decision can seal our fate.
Two decades ago, Phil Fraser was taking the first steps on his entrepreneurial journey, after leaving the security of a job at William Hill, when he was offered the chance to work for somebody else.
“As the business was just starting to grow, I was offered a job in a digital advertising agency but I turned it down. I wanted to develop my own company so I could see where it would take us.”
At the time, it might have seemed like a risk. But Mr Fraser’s faith in his own business acumen was not misplaced.
“My business plan was launched on a kitchen table,’’ he recalled. “After leaving William Hill I carried out consultancy work into online gaming and decided that online bingo would be the next big thing. I drew up a plan and went to the market to get some funding.
“I got nowhere because the dotcom bubble was bursting, among other reasons.
“So I built my own website which listed the US bingo sites. The site was built pre-funding pitch to gain market information on the players.
“These sites then started contacting me to place advertisements on my website and it became a successful business.
“We ended up building a comparison website for online bingo.”
After five years of painstaking development, he started to build up an office and hire staff.
“We sold it in 2018 to XLMEdia which is listed on AIM,’ he recalled. “We exited with a big stash of cash.”
Mr Fraser has travelled the full business journey. He now works with ambitious SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) owners as a “Business Sounding Board”, which he describes as occupying a position somewhere between a coach and a mentor.
He’s an extra pair of ears and eyes for business owners who may work in isolation. His mantra is a simple one - it doesn’t need to be lonely at the top.
“In the business advice books, nobody seems to have written the chapter on what you do after you’ve sold the business,’’ he said.
“After I’d sold the business, a number of friend asked me about their business problems. I found that I liked talking to people about their business ideas and people seemed to gain value from it.
“During the first lockdown, I had time to think about what I was going to do next. I decided I could make it work.
“When you’re running a business, at no point can you turn to somebody with expert knowledge and say, ‘Does this sound really stupid?
“People often say, ‘I’ve got this opportunity, I just need somebody to talk to me about it.
“Sometimes, when you’re starting out, and even when you’re an experienced business owner, you’re making it up as you go along. “
Mr Fraser can offer clear-headed objectivity to people who may feel emotionally attached to ideas that cannot work. He can be more detached than family members, employees and friends.
“Too frequently, people providing advice will have an inbuilt bias,’’ he said.
“I can be completely objective."
“A lot of issues facing a business are irrelevant to size.,’’ he said. “You will always have human resources and market penetration problems.
Businesses also face problems linked to sales, growth strategy and cashflow.
“The issues faced by business owners are pretty similar across sectors,’’ he said. “Sometimes, if you’re talking to somebody who is focused on a particular sector, you find that, because they are in the sector and too close to it, they don’t ask basic obvious questions such as: Why are we doing that?
“Often it’s because they’ve always done it that way.
“I can also understand what they’re going through, and that’s hugely beneficial to people who might have been sitting awake at midnight, worrying if everything is going to fall apart. because I’ve been there and done that.”
He is passionate about helping fledgling entrepreneurs achieve their potential. Over the last year, Mr Fraser has appeared on more than 40 podcasts, webinars and interviews, talking on a variety of business subjects.
“I really enjoy working with Young Enterprise and the Prince’s Trust. and talking to West Yorkshire school sixth forms,’’ he said.
“ By spending just an hour with young people every few weeks, I know I can make a big difference. It’s also making them aware of how their lives can change.
“I did eight jobs before I turned up at William Hill.
“ I then ‘accidentally’ started a business at the age of 32.,’’ he said. “The business I ended up launching simply couldn’t have existed when I was at school, and that point applies to young people today.
“The jobs of the future do not exist today. I always remember that my father in law worked for one company - Goodyear - until he retired. In most cases, that doesn’t happen anymore.
“A lot of my advice to business owners is simple - just do it. Too many people don’t take the plunge. You need to write two columns before making a decision - in one; the best things that could happen; in the other the worst. In many cases it would be stupid not to do it, as it is so weighted towards the positives.”
Phil Fraser’s business journey took him from a kitchen table start up, with no investment, all the way to multi-million pound sale to a PLC 18 years later.
He now works with SME-owners as a Business Sounding Board.
As a Business Sounding Board, he gives SME Owners the time and space to regularly discuss their challenges and opportunities, with no sense of judgement or bias, and in complete confidence.
This allows them to explore their options in full, culminating with a list of issues to address, a clear target in mind,and a renewed enthusiasm and confidence for the challenges ahead. He is also a volunteer mentor with a number of organisations including The Prince’s Trust.