The secret to starting your own forklift training business? Back yourself

Andy Russell -
Forklift Diaries
- 13 Apr 2023 ( #1123 )
6 min read
Making the decision to go for it and start my own business gave me a boost I wasn't expecting.
Making the decision to go for it and start my own business gave me a boost I wasn't expecting.

In 2021, amidst the uncertainty of the global COVID pandemic, forklift trainer Andy Russell decided to take the plunge and start his own business. He talks about the many ups and downs of the process and offers some real advice for other trainers looking to branch out.

I worked as a forklift operator for a number of years, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I first made strides toward becoming a forklift safety trainer.

At the time, I had just been promoted to warehouse supervisor at a haulage company. One of my responsibilities was sourcing additional forklift operators via recruitment agencies to fulfil our workloads. The search for forklift operators proved more difficult than I had thought, and my boss said it was the most difficult time he had ever experienced. This was when I became aware that I could become a trainer for the company, giving us better scope to recruit and provide the training required, as well as do the refreshers for the guys we already had.

To be honest, I wasn’t keen on the idea as I knew how much extra work would be involved; however, I was wise enough to know that it would be a good addition to my CV. I completed the instructor course in 2018, but it wasn’t until I started training one to one that I realised I got a real sense of satisfaction from guiding someone and seeing them grow. 

After COVID came along in 2020, during the periods of lockdown, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I was doing with my life in general, and felt that I needed to find a better work-life balance. I was being woken with calls during the night, covering shifts on days off, and finding my weekends and family time were being disrupted. The culmination of all these things and the enjoyment I knew I received from teaching led me to conclude that working for myself might offer more control of my working life, while at the same time giving me a challenge and job that I would be proud to take on.

Becoming self-employed is a calculated gamble, but I was also doing it when COVID had changed the landscape of the working world. 

The biggest obstacle was my own confidence. I have always been determined and strong-minded, but building my confidence to match is hard for me. Making the decision to go for it gave me a boost I wasn’t expecting.

There were, of course, other fears. But I settled these in my mind one by one: I felt I was determined enough to believe I could find enough prospects, I was confident that I could make it work financially if I could find the work, and I knew that being in control of my diary would allow me to fit work in with my life - instead of the other way around.

The two most influential people during this process were my partner and a close friend. My partner, who was supportive towards the change in our financial security and of how potentially stressful this move could be, made the point that it was unlikely to be any more stressful than my current 24/7 role. 

The support and encouragement of my good friend was also vital, as he was already self-employed in this sector, primarily as an HGV trainer but also as a forklift trainer. He shared his expertise, allowing me to lean on his experience - the good and the bad - to help me shape my own start-up. 

In August 2021, I started Russell MHE Training with my diary open for bookings just five months later. 

Five years as a warehouse supervisor meant I was aware of the impact that the shortage of forklift operators and instructors was having on the industry. I also already had several contacts that would lead me in the right direction. 

All the work that has come my way over the past year has been down to the contacts that I carried over from my previous employment. Even colleagues I had worked with who are now in new positions have kept in touch and brought me onboard for their training. Maintaining these relationships has been a huge benefit. 

In the beginning, I had lots of enquiries that were slow to turn into bookings. I got in touch with a previous contact from a recruitment agency and offered myself as a forklift operator, not just allowing me to work, it also gave me access to new warehouses/companies, sharing my details for any training they needed. It has been a useful and free networking tool while keeping my own skills fresh at the same time.

Through this word-of-mouth network, I am now onboard with a major UK retailer, which has provided the bulk of my work for the past year - and been responsible for much of my success. This shows no signs of letting up, so I will continue to build on the relationships already formed and seek out new ones along the way.

My advice to anybody who is thinking about starting a business is research the industry you are going into. This will give you the confidence to know there is a place for you and your business. 

Financial planning is a hugely important part in any start-up. Research the costs involved and a plan to see you through with a timeframe that is practical, as you won’t know when the first invoice will be paid. I planned my first six months very carefully in order to keep a roof over my head.

It is also important to lean on as many people as possible for advice and support. They don’t all need to be in the industry for you to learn something that might occur further down the road, so any information and advice is worth listening to!

Finally, be confident, believe in yourself, believe in what you’re doing and the service you are providing. Be honest when building relationships with contacts and customers and stick to your word. This, in turn, will make you someone who can be trusted, allowing you to build good relationships and keep your customers happy. I can’t highlight enough how important this is for repeat business.

I feel that the gamble for a better work/life balance has paid off. Yes, things were tough for the first few months while I was finding work. I spent hour upon hour tucked away on my laptop, working hard behind the scenes. But I feel I now have a good system that allows me to put the effort I need into my work, but gives me time to switch off.  

My overall experience of starting my business has been really positive and affirming. There are so many things you need to learn very quickly at the start. I now understand how some people are swamped by it all. But I was determined to embrace the process and turn it into the positive experience. I’ve applied this to everything from purchasing my laptop, to meetings with accountants/banks, choosing branding, meeting customers, building course presentations/paperwork, researching further training for myself, and even taking advice from my partner about Excel spreadsheets. There is absolutely no doubt that I will continue to keep learning about my business with each passing month and allow myself space to continue to grow. 

Do you work in or around forklifts? The Forklift Diaries would love to hear your story!

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