“Martin from ART was a realist. He was grounded and intelligent. He understood the business and the bigger picture.”
With a background in sport, both as competitors and administrators, brothers Adam and Mark Walker set up Oaks Consultancy in 2008 to offer business planning, transformation and fundraising expertise to sports-related third sector organisations.
At the time Adam was Deputy CEO of UK Athletics and Mark was working within the Schools Sports programme for the Government. “We set up during the biggest recession in living memory,” recalls Mark, “but we felt we had a lot to offer. The Government was withdrawing funding from many third sector organisations, which meant they were faced with having to do something very different in order to survive. They needed to look at their governance, structure and find new sources of funding – including potentially a business model from which to start generating their own income.”
It wasn’t easy, because money was tight and many organisations were sceptical about the value of spending precious money on consultancy services. However, Adam and Mark presented a compelling case and once they had secured their first few customers the results spoke for themselves.
“Activation is the key word,” says Mark. “We feel that a lot of the traditional management consultancy advice is presented as a thick document that charities and social enterprises don’t really know how to activate. Our approach is based on not only providing a clear list of steps to take that will get them from where they are now to where they need to be, but also staying with a client through the activation of the plan helping them to generate new revenues and embed new working practices.”
Oaks Consultancy grew rapidly, reaching beyond sports organisations into the charity, education, physical activities and commercial business sectors, and Adam and Mark began to feel that a lack of funding was stifling further growth. Reaching 10 times the size they were at the outset in eight years, meant that in Mark’s words they were ‘burning cash’. So they approached their bank. “It was a painful process for nearly a year,” says Mark, “and it cost us £7K in legal fees to get to the point where the process collapsed.” However, the bank did recommend they try their local CDFI and Adam and Mark found ART Business Loans.
“ART’s approach was quick, concise and business-focused,” says Mark. “They asked for a business plan and accounts and made a straightforward assessment based on need and ability to repay. They were able to provide exactly what we needed at the right time.”
ART lent Oaks Consultancy £50,000, which enabled them to employ more staff in both their sales and delivery teams. Last year turnover increased from £500,000 to £750,000 and staff from 14 to 20. The business is forecast to reach £1m turnover this year and there are plans in place to create and move to a bigger office building on the family farm.