The great thing about our careers, is that they're all different. For some, that means following a linear path of career progression. For others, it's all about trialling different things to gain a variety of well-rounded experience.
From law student to running an integrated commercial support consultancy with an impressive career journey in between, we spoke to Warren Paull to find out how he's found his time running his own limited company, Commercial Outcomes.
Could you please give us a brief outline of your career to date, from university to now, including an overview of what you do as a freelancer?
I did a law (sandwich) degree at Brunel university. I decided to do this because I was good at both law and business at A-level and, although my passion was for business, I thought law gave me more options after university and would differentiate me when applying for commercial graduate schemes.
After university, I got onto the Royal Mail graduate scheme, into their media directorate as a product manager – helping them to sell more direct mail services to businesses. I quickly progressed and ended up coming off the scheme a year early when I was promoted to New Product Development Manager.
After lots of successful new products - and killing lots of terrible ones - my role here cumulated when I developed a new market definition for the business, which changed how it would approach the market and deploy its resources. This in turn led to a project developing an entire new business unit for the business, known as Market Reach, whereby we were employing both vertical and horizontal integrative strategies to offer an end-to-end diversified media service (with emphasis on how other media could be augmented by adding mail to the mix). The key was to move Royal Mail away from selling a commodity - essentially stamps - to selling a value-added media service.
When this project ended, it felt like a good time to move on. I felt I had achieved good things but, I was increasingly bored. I wanted to see the commercial world from the other end of the scale from the Leviathan that is Royal Mail, so I took voluntary redundancy and set to work as an independent marketing contractor working for a variety of small businesses.
This was a great education as it taught me to embrace pragmatism - which was the perfect complement to the best-practice/by-the-book marketing I had learned at Royal Mail - you need to be able to embrace both to make progress in the real world. Also, it taught me that as frustrated as I had become with the bureaucracy and politics of large businesses, small businesses suffered from equally frustrating problems - primarily a complete lack of any processes whatsoever and emotional, knee-jerk reactions to stimuli. In short, this experience made me a far more rounded marketer/business person. I also had my first taste of hustling for business.
Through my work as an independent contractor, I met a financial services & technology company that were hoping to make the leap from very successful SME to becoming a large enterprise. I took a Head of Marketing position with the company. It was an all-encompassing commercial role where I did everything from strategy, to setting up CRM systems, to building sales teams, to writing copy. Revenue grew by some 30% in my first 12 months at the firm. One of the divisions was then approached to be acquired by a larger company. I left the company shortly afterwards, as my job was pretty much done as far as the challenge they had presented. The role had come along at the perfect time, as the company was large enough to benefit from my ‘best practice’ knowledge, whilst moving fast enough to require me to be hands-on and entirely adaptable - requiring the pragmatism I had learned as a contractor for SMEs!
At each business I had keenly observed how they worked, the people, strengths and weaknesses - and had been constantly learning.
At this point, I had a lot of experience with a pretty wide variety of businesses. At each business I had keenly observed how they worked, the people, strengths and weaknesses. I had been constantly learning and I had seen that the number one trait all successful owner-operators had was that they were ‘doers’. The most important thing to do if you had ambitions of having your own business was to start - and to sell! Lots of other things are very important but, without sales they mean nothing.
So, I observed that I had built a large network, I certainly knew a thing or two and, importantly, I knew what I didn’t know - but had developed good relationships with people that could help with these things. I was a good contractor - my strengths were as a change-agent - not in managing the status quo. I also liked the ‘stress’ of hustling for new business and juggling multiple different areas of responsibility.
Further to all of this, my previous employer - the financial service / tech company - asked me to continue supporting their business as a contractor.
All of this led me to the conclusion - NOW was the time to jump ship and put all my efforts and money into scaling my contracting - by starting a consultant/agency.
With the help of some other very talented people, we developed a solution - part consultancy, part marketing agency, and part IT workshop. We offer cross-functional, commercially-focused consultancy with an integrated supply chain for delivery. This service seeks to provide senior managers with the ultimate precision-tool to improve the effectiveness of sales & marketing strategy, increase the efficiency of sales & marketing operations, and provides hands-on resource to manage change and get things done.
Did your University discuss freelancing/working for yourself/starting a business as a viable option post-graduation?
No, however that may be due to studying law. They did make clear that you could have your own practice eventually though, which I suppose is he law equivalent. They were very good on the vocational side, however - I studied a sandwich degree and spent a year working as a clerk for the Treasury Solicitors and a small family law firm.
Would you encourage others to start their own business/work freelance? If so, why?
If it’s in you, you will know. And if you know that you’re an independent, commercially savvy, ambitious, persistent, optimistic, resilient person….then you will end up being self-employed. If you have to force it, don’t do it. If you are this sort of person though, frankly, you have little choice but to be freelance/run your own business.
You did a graduate scheme and worked a 9-5 for almost five years before deciding to go freelance. Was going freelance and starting your own business always your plan? If not, what influenced your decision to go freelance?
I always had the vision to have my own business. It happened slightly quicker than I thought it would though - the drive is internal and pushes you towards it, I think.
Do you feel your graduate scheme helped to shape your career? And would you recommend a graduate scheme to others?
Yes, it was the precursor to everything that followed really - an intense period of work-based experience - allowing one to acquire knowledge and experience beyond one’s years. My subsequent work as a contractor and latterly running the consultancy follows the same principle - our breadth of observation and experience with a huge number and variety of different businesses, products and people augments our skills and knowledge far beyond one’s years.
Is there anything you would change about your journey/career so far?
I don’t think I would, no. Even the bad experiences - they have been the best learning experiences.