British Army veteran Chris Flannagan from Wiltshire had set his sights on a new career as a drone pilot, but found few employment opportunities due to his disability. Not the type to let barriers stop him, Chris forged ahead to build his own drone security business: TLP Ltd – Drone Security Specialists, which launched in September 2019.
“I had enjoyed some very positive employment experiences including with the Police, but I was sure I wanted to become a commercial drone operator. I discovered that employment opportunities in this field were extremely limited due to my disability. My personal values, drive and stubbornness to succeed with my goal of becoming a drone pilot led me to establishing my own drone business.”
Chris attended the Help for Heroes (HFH) Business Experience course at Tedworth House, a bespoke scheme run by X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) that has helped more than 250 Wounded, Injured and Sick servicemen and women in 43 cohorts over the last four years.
The six-day course helped Chris to define the business offering and focus on the practicalities of starting to trade and deal with customers. Through HFH and XFE, Chris was welcomed into a network of support and advice through experts and peers. He said:
“It was an invaluable course and helped break down all the concerns and challenges into manageable bite-size pieces, that helped me to focus on my priorities and put me in a position to confidently launch the business.
“It’s difficult to select which element of the help I’ve had from XFE was the most helpful, as it has all been crucial. The best way to describe all the help is its family, a community where you’re not on your own. From doing the ‘Business Experience Course’ with continual email and telephone support to the invitations to attend networking events and peer-to-peer support, XFE is a family within a very big community of people who are all there to help you and your business be the best it can.”
Chris recognised that aerial surveillance is a vital tool in most security situations, however it is generally out of reach for most scenarios, due to the high cost of hiring not only a helicopter but also a Pilot and Aerial Observer.
Knowing that unmanned aircraft systems, or ‘drones’, present a simple, safe and fast aerial solution within the security sector, at a fraction of the cost of using helicopters, Chris focused on applying all his knowledge and experience to offer bespoke security assessments to construction and infrastructure sites, perimeter control at festivals and events and counter drone defence assessments.
As current UK Law requires, Chris has the appropriate certifications from the Civil Aviation Authority, ‘Permission for Commercial Operations’ (PfCO) and Drone Registration ID. Furthermore Chris holds his Level 4 Qualification in Drone Operations.
In such a specialist industry, set up costs for TLP Ltd – Drone Security Specialists were considerable. Chris explains he invested his own money into the business:
“I invested in my own training and development as well as the costs for setting up my business, building a website and social media campaigns. I have also invested in the equipment and qualifications necessary to operate lawfully within this field. This has enabled me to robustly market test the business and product we provide.”
Beyond the significant financial requirements in starting the business, Chris found the primary challenge to be psychological, a common feeling for new entrepreneurs who are working alone. Chris explains how XFE’s mentoring programme, supporting by the Royal British Legion, helped to overcome this barrier and focus on the practical challenges of defining his proposition:
“Without doubt my biggest obstacle was self-belief and how not controlling that would affect the success of my business and its financial worth. Having a mentor assigned to me by Help for Heroes has helped me overcome this obstacle. This relationship with my mentor has helped increase my understanding of the negative effects my ‘Inner Chimp’ has to identifying my worth, and how to control this better. This has been invaluable for me in how I approach the business, and has been instrumental in the success to date.
“Truly understanding what my offering was and who are my target customers are was the first obstacle. Understanding how to then communicate my key messages to these target customers and how to generate interest has been a steep learning curve.
“Social Media has been another challenge, prior to launching my business I wasn’t social media savvy, however it is a massively powerful tool in raising the profile of your business and I am now active in this field through the skills I have learned on-line.”
During his sixth month of trading, the Coronavirus outbreak shook the British economy and the government-enforced restrictions had consequences for Chris’s business. His agile proposition teamed with creative thinking saw TLP Ltd diversify quickly, Chris explains:
“COVID-19 has hit the business hard. Overnight, all enquiries and opportunities just stopped. This was tough because, although our Business Plan is fluid to reflect the challenges and demands of launching a business, it was not possible to anticipate this type of situation”.
“We have overcome this by diversifying our offering, this has included registering with ARPAS-UK ‘The UK Drone Association’ who are coordinating the ‘National Covid-19 Drone Capability Taskforce’. This is an initiative to coordinate the UK’s Commercial Drone Operators to identify how drones can be used in the fight against Coronavirus. In addition to this we have been working with the local farming community, to provide free drone security following an increase in criminal activity both on the farm and their surrounding land since the COVID-19 Crisis. A farm drone deployment can include everything from crop management and protection, livestock protection, anti-poaching and hare coursing operations to security patrols, providing a visible ground and aerial deterrent.
“On one occasion during the lock down, concerns were communicated to us about a vulnerable adult who was self-isolating and not responding to telephone calls, we were able to deploy and, by using drone technology, confirm the person was safe and well. This prevented unnecessary contact and calls to the Emergency Services”.
“Panic, fear, and anxiety are normal healthy reactions to businesses struggling with the impact of COVID-19. The best advice we could give is to acknowledge that yes things are different, but by adapting and accepting the environment you’re in, it will help you move forward. Just remember to stop, take check of your situation, and if needed: Adapt – Improvise – Overcome. Be kind to yourself – It’s a marathon and not sprint. I have tried to focus on the future and what the demand will be within the security sector for my services.
“Whatever your business sector is, wherever it is based, and however big or small – we are one community, if we come together, we will overcome this and come out stronger for our experiences.”
Prior to the Coronavirus crisis, Chris had plans to expand his services into thermal imaging, an asset in security that would give TLP Ltd a competitive edge. Although this has been put on hold temporarily, he insists that his focus remains on delivering this next generations of security services
When asked what advice he would give to other people thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, Chris replied:
“There is a lot to consider and it can be very overwhelming, even scary at times – that’s normal! It’s definitely not plain sailing and there are highs and lows along the way. It takes resilience, and support from others, but if you really want to make it happen, you can! Your route to success can change along the way with the more you learn, and that’s also ok.
“I used to work hard and be told when I could have days or time off. Now I work hard and choose when I have time off, this enables me to balance health, family, and volunteering opportunities.
“Having the desire to become an entrepreneur shows you already have the entrepreneurial mind set which is a great start. Do the Business Experience Course or Workshop, and let the X-Forces Enterprise Team break down those challenges/fears into bite size pieces. Find a good mentor who can help challenge your thinking and keep you on track!”
The Coronavirus outbreak created a new challenge to the survival of start up businesses, comments Ren Kapur MBE, XFE founder and CEO:
“On our business training courses, we stress the importance of agility. Keeping a tight rein on your outgoings will mean you are better able to respond to changes in your marketplace. The Coronavirus has shaken almost every business in the UK, with huge implications across society, and forced many to quickly rethink their proposition. XFE included; within days we needed to find new ways of working, new ways of communicating, new ways of living.
“The speed at which Chris has been able to diversify his service and take up new opportunities presented by the lockdown has been impressive and I applaud him in coming forward to support his community. In these extraordinary times, ex-military entrepreneurs are able to call on their roots of adaptability to thrive under pressure. The Forces ethos of improvise, adapt and overcome has never been so appropriate.”
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X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) is an award-winning Community Interest Company that nurtures entrepreneurial ambition in the UK military community, official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans Company and MoD’s Career Transition Partnership. XFE supports Service leavers, veterans, spouses, cadets and Armed Forces family members to start their own businesses with a full package of training, finance, networking and mentoring. Start your journey by registering today here.
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