Alan: My non-traditional career pathway


Alan is a 2013–14 Star Track co-creator. He is the founder of Grater Co., a Manchester-based marketing social enterprise that works with start-ups and students to achieve their dreams. We caught up with him briefly to find out a little more about how he is forging his own non-traditional career pathway.

So, Alan—what is it that you do?

I run a marketing social enterprise for start-ups and students, which means we help people bring their big ideas to market, whilst giving work experience and coaching. The service has been free for the past few months, which I’m sure sounds crazy!

How did you end up here?

I graduated with a marketing degree and ended up in a nice job at a creative agency. I worked for clients like Sony, MAG, Manchester United and The Co-operative group, whilst sneaking in meetings and business calls during my lunch breaks. I loved my job, but something about the startup culture got me addicted.

Lo and behold, I soon quit my job to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. On paper, I’m unemployed—but in reality, I manage marketing campaigns for eight other businesses: a charity that builds wooden kitchenware, a tech startup building a smartphone-charging revolution, an independent game developer, a training company that teaches people how to code, an events company that hosts startup weekends, a student hackathon, and community of tech entrepreneurs.

What made you take the initial leap?

I realised sometime during my placement that I was going to do marketing, but in a different way to how it’s being done now. This became even more apparent within my job in the creative industries, where my ideas secured big clients and keep current clients happy. I know now that I’m good at marketing and I made a conscious choice to help small businesses and my local community rather than bigger companies.

Why are you doing it all for free?

Every business needs to test its product. You cannot barge onto the market and believe that people would want whatever it is you are selling. It’s an experiment and it is temporary, I want to see what people enjoy about the service so that I can better re-package the service at a later stage. I’m speaking to a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs just because ‘free’ is interesting and unheard of in the world of marketing, where hourly rates are around £69.

Great, but how do you pay the bills?

Funny enough I get asked this every time I talk about my business. I was lucky enough to have a placement job during uni and that taught me how to budget and save money, so at the minute I’m living off that. At some point I might have to get a part-time job to pay the bills whilst business is picking up, but I’m totally comfortable with that.

It must be hard though, right?

It’s a different kind of hard. When running your own business, you tend to fight yourself a lot; you tend to doubt yourself and you tend to lose perspective. This happens very often and is really easy to overcome by looking inside yourself and realising that you are happy because you are ultimately doing what you love.

Have you got any golden nuggets of advice to give to others trying to forge their own career pathways?

When I was a student I believed in the idea of a career. It still exists today and it may be what makes you happy. My advice is to act if it doesn’t make you happy, because otherwise you will end up doing it for the rest of your life—being miserable throughout. Harvard Business Review published an article on the regrets of Top 500 CEOs and one of the top ones was not starting a company. I’m fortunate to have found my passion early; although it may seem like an uphill challenge everyday, I am fully determined to commit to it because I’m doing what I love whilst helping others.