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Finding time in our diaries for giving something back

Careful not to get too caught up in the day-to-day of his business, Christian Nellemann explains why he's found giving something back so valuable.
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Back in March 2016 I met Ross Gunning, the founder and conductor of the Glasgow Philharmonia Orchestra – a platform for brilliant young musicians throughout the UK. It led me down a path of giving something back.

He had two concerts lined up, but he was also considering quitting. Running the organisation, conducting the orchestra and constantly trying to find new funding sources were weighing heavily.

So, I decided to support, sponsor and mentor Ross. The work he was doing felt too important to not help. And this past month, I’ve been working with Ross again – reviewing his progress and looking at where his journey will take him next.

Why giving something back matters to me – and XLN

Entrepreneurs are strong-willed, self-driven and sometimes fiercely independent. In fact we’re so independent that when we become successful, we often find it difficult to let go of any aspect of our business. But in those early years when we’re making our way, we rarely get anywhere without help and advice from others.

XLN is a business that helps entrepreneurs grow – whether that’s through saving them money or providing free WiFi to grow their customer base. I’m always thinking of how I can help business to blossom in the UK. It’s a matter of personal and professional importance to me.

So giving something back matters to me for two reasons: because I know the difference my experience can make, and because it’s what we do as a business. Clearing my diary recently to help Ross felt like business as usual.

Giving young musicians a chance to do what they love

It was clear as soon as I met Ross that he was special. Like most entrepreneurs, he was a renaissance man. He was a gifted musician, salesman, marketer, fundraiser and networker all rolled into one. And the motivation behind the orchestra was compelling.

If you’re a gifted young musician wanting to perform in an orchestra for a living, there’s one, huge roadblock: you need orchestra experience. It’s one of those catch-22 situations that are all too familiar to young people nowadays. Ross’ orchestra gives these musicians that experience, offering a lifeline in an unforgiving industry. But, as you can imagine, putting on even a single concert is an enormously difficult task, both in terms of budget and logistics.

So, as Ross explained that day, he only had two concerts planned for 2016, and was struggling to work out where to go next. To give the musicians the experience they needed, and to grow his revenue, he badly needed to put on more concerts. And to do that, he needed business guidance, and meaningful funding.

With little hesitation I signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Ross. But even more importantly, I offered advice, and helped him build a three-year plan.

Giving something back: The power of listening

Entrepreneurs like to talk, but sometimes it pays to listen. Meeting Ross again recently, the most pleasing part of his journey over the last year was that he really listened and digested every bit of advice I gave. From PR to fundraising, he’s followed those steps precisely, and he’s reaping the rewards.

This time last year, two concerts were scheduled. This year, nine are booked and more are planned. As well as summer concerts, he now regularly runs enormously popular “Movies to Musicals” shows, and is attracting West End singers and TV stars to sing with his orchestra. He’s working with schools and children with disabilities, and has had over 400 musicians enrol in his orchestra. He’s now attracting musicians from across the country, has taken on two members of staff, and he’s about to host the UK debut of the globally renowned violinist Andrew Sords. But best of all, Ross is paying his musicians for every concert – he’s turning them into professionals. The progress is phenomenal, and testament not only to his drive and ability, but his willingness to listen and learn.

I was blown away by what he’s achieving, but of course he’s hungry for much more. His target for next year is 20 concerts, with shows in every corner of the UK – including the Royal Albert Hall and the BBC Proms. I have no doubt that he’ll get there, and we’ve already started to work out how.

Find out more about Ross’ story, and offer your support

Ross really is doing this for the musicians. He himself makes hardly anything from the orchestra, and it’s a round-the-clock job. Despite the progress, he desperately needs more sponsors, and more support.

So, to find out more about Ross’ story, to listen to his music, to offer your support (big or small), or even just to share what he does, follow him on Facebook, head to his website, or watch this video.

Or, contact me directly on LinkedIn or Twitter if you can think of ways to help Ross grow his orchestra.

Every bit of support helps, and giving something back is something you’ll feel good about. Watch this space.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Christian Nellemann

Christian Nellemann is a serial entrepreneur and founder CEO of XLN – a provider to small businesses of essential utilities. A two-time winner of EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and an inductee into their Global Hall of Fame, he was also BVCA CEO of the Year in 2015.

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