Sunday, 12 July 2020

Let's Get Down to Business: Peter McConnell, What Are Words Worth

PETER MCCONNELL returned to Henley a year ago after three years in Australia and set up a new business, What Are Words Worth. His father was in the RAF and Peter was young when the family moved to RAF Medmenham. He attended Great Marlow School, Bucks College and the Polytechnic of Central London where he studied social science. He lived and worked in London until 1995 when he and his wife Amanda moved to King’s Road in Henley. He has been a keen rower since racing with Sir Steve Redgrave at school and sculls almost every day or, if it’s sunny, he’ll be out on his slipper launch, Wiltshire Lass. He enjoys travelling, good wine and music and plays the ukulele in a band called The Yoko Mainwaring Experience.

Describe your business

I’m a business storyteller and freelance copywriter, writing content for websites, blogs, case studies and printed collateral.

How many people does it employ?

Just me.

What did you do before?

The most recent thing I did before returning to Henley was shout at kids as I was a school rowing coach in Melbourne. My very first job was working on a building site with other rowers. Eventually I joined a magazine publisher and then when we moved to Henley I worked for an advertising agency in South Stoke. I then joined Blue Box Marketing in Friday Street and I could walk to work. In 2002 I was appointed marketing director at the River & Rowing Museum, where I spent five years and helped increase visitor numbers by 120 per cent. As budgets became more restrictive, there was less room for creativity so I went freelance using my experience in marketing to help other businesses. My favourite client was the Boat Race and I’m still its official archivist. Among many other activities, I was involved in the original Henley Food Festival and I ran Regatta Radio for 10 years. In 2012 I became Henley’s part-time town manager, which entailed promoting and working on the economic development of the town. Some of the initiatives I was responsible for were the shop front improvement scheme, the introduction of free wifi in the town centre, promoting the Midsomer Murders tours and developing the Visit Henley website. In 2015 my wife, who works for a major international consulting firm, was offered a three-year secondment in Melbourne, which is where we lived until we came home last year. My claim to fame while there was featuring in a few episodes of Neighbours.

When did you start your business?

In January.

What was your objective?

To do something fulfilling that I was good at, where there was a clear market need and, of course, to make a living.

Who or what influenced you?

Apart from my wife, there were many former colleagues and business contacts in Henley who helped me see there was a real business opportunity for me.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

I work regularly with a creative learning coach.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I would have started networking from day one.

What’s the best thing about running your own

The variety of people and businesses I’ve got to know. The wealth of talent in this town is amazing.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

The constant need to win new business.

Where is your business headed?

I have a plan for where I’d like to be in two years, which involves an improved utilisation rate alongside regular work for a number of retained clients.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Actively listening to people is far more important than talking.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Think very carefully about what your market opportunity is and be absolutely certain that you’ll be able to make a living from it.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?


What three qualities are most important to success?

The ability to know where your business is and where it’s going. To know your numbers and to always be in sales mode.

What’s the secret of your success?

I’m waiting to find out, but it never does any harm to be friendly — life’s too short to be miserable.

How organised are you?

I’m surprisingly good at it.

How do you dress for work each day?

Casual. My default style when meeting someone is a polo shirt.

What can’t you do/be without every day?

My Thesaurus, my phone and my laptop, the tools of my trade.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

I like to vary it. If I have a deadline it will be a sandwich but if I have time I’ll go out and meet someone. Once in a while I’ll go sculling to clear my head and then work late.

Do you continue to study?

I don’t think you ever stop learning but I don’t study formally beyond reading relevant websites and blogs.

What do you read?

Mainly modern literature. I love seeing how authors use the infinitely poetic variety of the English language to create art that you can only see in your mind. In my business it helps to learn from the best.

How are you planning for retirement?

Ultimately to spend at least four months a year travelling but to still enjoy summer in Henley.

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