The Business Ninja Interview - Chris Watson, Endor Learn & Develop

November 14, 2018

Chris Watson of Endor Learn & Develop shares with us some of the key factors in his personal success, the key lessons he's learned, and how nothing beats satisfied customers for advertising...


Where did your initial idea for Endor come from? What was your mission from the outset?

In 2001, I was really fed up at work and had been thinking about leaving my job as HR Manager for the UK’s largest brewer, but was struggling to find the next career move and didn’t want to just compromise myself and accept anything that came along. That summer we went on a family holiday to Corfu with a couple of friends and I had loads of time to reflect on what I enjoyed about my job (and the bits which were frustrating). After two weeks relaxing in the sun, playing with the kids and generally unwinding, I’d completely abandoned the idea of working for someone else. Instead, I’d drawn up a list of all the things that really brought me personal satisfaction and all the things I would strip out of a position to construct the perfect job. Recognising this role probably didn’t exist close to home, I decided to work for myself and create the position I wanted. By the time we’d landed back at Manchester airport, I’d come up with the company name (from the Greek word Endo meaning ‘from within’), sketched out the company logo and had developed a simple mission which was to deliver practical ideas to improve the performance of people. In 2002, Endor Learn & Develop was launched as a regional business consultancy providing bespoke learning and development services to companies in the North of England.


What’s the hardest thing about what you do?

As anyone who manages a small business will recognise, it’s all about juggling multiple priorities while never taking your eye off the ball. There is always so much to do - customers to meet, associate meetings, tenders to prepare, courses to develop, deliver and evaluate, networking meetings to attend, marketing to manage, social media postings, accounts to submit, vat returns …the list is endless. In the early days the volume and diversity of tasks required felt quite overwhelming, but over time you do get into a rhythm and get smarter in terms of knowing who to talk to and where to go to access the right sort of support. Fundamentally, you have to remember the reason why you started the business in the first place and then prioritise your workload based on one of the best business quotes of all time by Peter F Druker who said: “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”. Whenever things are getting too complicated or I’m not sure what needs to be at the top of the pile, this simple quote underlines what really matters most.


Is this your first business? If no, what happened to your first (and what have you learned)?

This is my first business, although I’ve been fortunate enough to have two bites at it. I picked up a rather large project in 2008 working in higher education for a couple of years which eventually took me to New Zealand and when I got home, I decided to reposition and rebrand Endor based on what I’d learned. When you’re starting off, working on your own out of a rented office, you tend to run at every job on offer; you aren’t in a position to be selective about the type of work or type of projects you get involved in and there is a danger that you spend all your time chasing your tail, running after every piece of work that is around. As a result, it’s hard to develop expertise in any particular field because you’re too busy reinventing the wheel for each and every project that comes along. This means that you become reactive rather than proactive.

In 2013, we rebranded Endor, developed a new strategy, appointed new associates and started work with a new web partner for the management of our website and online assessment tools. While the purpose of the business remains exactly the same, we more clearly defined our services – detailing precisely what we do offer and what we don’t. Our aim is to strengthen relationships in the workplace and beyond, by delivering practical ideas which people can relate to on a personal level. As specialists in transferable learning, we focus on supporting the core set of behaviours and abilities, most valued by today's employers. Practical skills which can be applied across a wide range of different jobs and industries, to build flexibility and extend performance in role.


What are your goals?

Our goal is to create an infectious enthusiasm for learning which will impact on performance and be transformed into long-term commercial advantage for every organisation we work with. We actively listen and constantly seek new and innovative ways to provide our clients with fresh and memorable learning solutions.  We aspire to be the leading specialist provider of applied transferable skills, by creating clear, informative and engaging learning which will help managers and their people to develop. Providing accessible insights and shared experiences which can easily be transferred back into the workplace. Ultimately, our intention is to provide down to earth learning and development, with a strong emphasis on the implementation of new methods and techniques to improve productivity and enhance relationships.


What does a good day in work look like?

I can honestly say that there aren’t many bad days in this job. The best days are very easy to identify because they are always the ones when you are working face to face with your learners – helping them to develop in a role. This may be on a bespoke in-house programme to address a specific need, running a 1-1 coaching session for someone, or by delivering an open course to a diverse group of organisations. I firmly believe that the longest lasting messages are often the least complex and for this reason always try to deliver clear, informative and engaging learning, which encourages participants to build external relationships, to connect and be curious.


What do you do when you’re not at work?

In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my wife and our four children, watching stand-up comedy, eating spicy tacos and listening to Nick Cave albums (although rarely at the same time).

I also do a bit of writing and this year brought out my first business book ‘Upskill - 21 Keys to Professional Growth’ which provides 840 user-friendly tools and techniques reflecting the latest thinking on how to extend capability, boost professional growth and take charge of your career.


What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business tomorrow?

Access the right support before you start. You can save lots of time (effort and expenditure), learning from others. So many ventures fail in the first 18 months because they haven’t had time to build up sufficient momentum to make the business viable, so eliminating as many distractions as possible in the first few months to enable you to focus on income generation is vital. There are pockets of funding available through various funding streams and numerous business advisory services that can offer superb advice and assistance. Soak it all up as early as possible.


Who do you look up to?

Everyone over 5’8”!


How do you advertise your business?

Personal relationships. We advertise through many channels, but the strength of the relationship is always the glue that sticks it all together. We have a business Facebook page, LinkedIn accounts, a strong web presence, a YouTube channel, Yell accounts, a well-subscribed blog and an Eventbrite page for our open programmes and they are all helpful for engaging with both Clients and learners; but (even today) nothing beats word of mouth. Traditionally Christmas is a quieter time for L&D and so we try to offer a couple of free open learning programmes in the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire regions – to say thank you to local businesses and to showcase some new ideas. These events are some of the most effective forms of advertising we offer because prospective clients really get the best possible opportunity to meet the team and see what we are about.


To what do you attribute your success?

I wouldn’t say that I feel especially successful. Endor Learn & Develop continues to thrive and has won a number of prestigious awards over the years including ‘Best Business Training Consultancy’ in this year’s regional enterprise awards which was great; but personally, I’m not particularly motivated by such measures of ‘success’ because they all feel rather arbitrary. Given that we all value different things at different times in our lives. This said, I think the thing that probably keeps me going the most is a relentless enthusiasm for what I do. Sticking at things is a key lesson in life. If you don’t like what you do - if you don’t feel connected to it in the first place, then it’s impossible to retain that enthusiasm, which means that you probably won’t stick around for very long when times get tough.

Reflecting on this last question again, you could say I’m a lover of longevity…


Chris Watson is a published author and his book: Upskill: 21 Keys to Professional Growth is available on Amazon. Find out more in our Recommended Reading Section.

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