How tragedy turned this man into a successful business owner


Tue Mar 06 2018

Brought up in care homes and foster families across South East London from a baby, Paul Jacobs – now 29 years old and the proud owner of a very successful hotel – always felt like he was on his own in life, with no family or true friends to call his own. Read on to find out how life-changing injuries spurred Paul on to become a successful business owner.

From the wrong crowd to a different crowd

In his teens he mixed with the wrong crowd, got into trouble and lived rough. He was just trying to find his place in the world, and trying to make enough money to eat and pay rent.

One day he made his way to Trafalgar Square, London – in his words “maybe there was someone guiding me that day” – and he found himself mesmerised by a member of the Rifles, an infantry regiment of the British Army, who happened to be walking through the Square. Paul remembers thinking the soldier, dressed in full uniform, stood tall and looked so proud. Right there and then, Paul wanted to feel that same pride, to belong to something, so he marched up to the recruitment office.

 

Not long after, Paul joined the Rifles, completing his training at Catterick, Yorkshire, before being deployed to Northern Ireland for his first tour of duty. On any leave from his post in Northern Ireland, Paul booked himself into hotels and B&Bs across the UK. He loved the Army brotherhood but he needed space from the guys that he spent all day every day with.

For his second tour, Paul was deployed to Afghanistan.

His tough beginnings made him, in his words, “a fierce and phenomenal soldier”, and he finally felt part of something. Like all soldiers he was afraid going into battle, but he didn’t have family or friends back home to worry about. But life in the Army took as much away from him as it gave him.

The moment Paul’s life changed

In August 2009, after just two years in the Army, Paul was injured by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, while on active duty. He was left severely burned and without his sight.

He survived and was flown back to Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, where he spent three weeks in a coma recovering from his injuries. He woke up but would never see again. And in that moment he had to reinvent himself. He went from a fierce soldier who trusted no one, to someone who needed to trust and rely on other people to do everyday things. His life-changing injuries coupled with a lack of business skills meant Paul’s reinvention took huge courage, pride, energy and creativity.

The importance of the right partners

Against all odds, Paul decided that opening a hotel would be the perfect way of combining his love of staying in new places, meeting new people and swapping stories. And so the idea to take over Peel Hey Guesthouse in the Wirral, North West England, was born. He’d never stayed there, or in his words “seen Peel Hey with my sight”, but he’d stayed in Liverpool and The Wirral, and to this day absolutely loves the fact that the people are humble and true to their roots.

 

Read about how Paul raised the finances to buy Peel Hey  and how he’s modernising the guesthouse to help diversify the clientele, grow the business and get it going as the first in a chain of boutique hotels. 

The hotel has been under Paul’s leadership since February 2017 and he is already in profit. With the help of the right partners, Paul managed to secure a commercial mortgage through Barclays, which helped him to buy the hotel. For a man who’s completely blind, the fact that he had one point of contact at Barclays was, and continues to be, absolutely critical. Paul has to be able to completely rely on and trust all business partners, much more so than a sighted person. 

Despite having no prior business experience, Paul’s ability to spot opportunities for business growth and diversification is incredible. But as he says, because he’s blind he relies on people to bring his vision to life and not to take advantage of him. That’s why he was so happy with the one on one, personal and transparent service he got from both Barclays’ Business Banking colleagues, who helped to arrange his commercial mortgage, as well as from Nicola Colligan, a Payment Specialist at Barclaycard, who helped him to take card payments.

Paul says these partnerships are a big part of the reason why Peel Hey is a thriving small business in The Wirral.

Paul’s tips for fellow small business owners

Work with professional people, experts who you can trust, not family and friends

“Family, friends and business don’t mix. It’s fine to ask family and friends for advice, but ultimately it’s your business and your decision. You have to work with experts, people who will guide you. Not even give you advice but make you think about things in a different way.

“The fact that I am blind means I have to pick the right people and pick them more carefully than a sighted person. Where I want to go in the future, I need the best people, I’ve got a fantastic team around me and I’m very lucky.

“And that’s not just in business. I take on a lot of physical challenges for charity. I’m taking part in the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race with Police Superintendent Mike Rogers of Dorset Police. I completely trust him to be my eyes. Watch this space for my attempt to be the first war blind  to complete the race. If I do it, it’ll be a new Guinness World Record.”

 

Dream big but be practical

“I talk to Nicola (Colligan, Payment Specialist, Barclaycard) all the time. She listens to my plans for the business and makes me think about things in different ways. It’s not about her telling me what to do or even giving me advice, it’s just a different viewpoint from someone who’s been there and done it. Someone who works with small businesses all day every day."

 

“I’ve always got millions of ideas in my head and sometimes Nicola just reins me in so I can make sure all my dreams are achieved, one at a time. It means I can still dream big, but someone’s there to make sure I’m also being realistic and practical!”

Be kind and empower people, you don’t know when you might need others to do the same for you

“In business it’s so important to listen to other people’s ideas and to give them the confidence and opportunity to voice their opinion. Because I’m blind, it’s no good me trying to make all the decisions about décor or how the afternoon tea cake stand should look. That’s why I’ll always listen to Helen, the hotel manager, our chef, and the other amazing people who work at the hotel.”

Understand your market and competitors, and your opportunities

“My closest competitors are a 5-star hotel and a cheap chain hotel. It’s crucial that I know that so I understand what my niche is, who my customers are and how I can attract new ones.

“Things like upgrading my card machines and switching to Barclaycard means I’m now attracting hikers and dog walkers in for afternoon tea and coffee. Those people might not have brought cash or even cards out of the house with them. The fact that we can take contactless payments from smartphones and cards means we get a lot more ‘passing trade’ so to speak.”

So if Paul Jacobs, a man who has overcome such adversity, can become such a successful small business owner, there’s huge opportunity for other entrepreneurs to do the same. Why not read this article all about why Paul was attracted to the hotel business , how he picked the right partners, the benefits of switching payment providers and much more? 

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