This month in-Cumbria is profiling some of the county’s young entrepreneurs and top employees to find out the pros and cons of being a young businessperson in 2023. Alex Staniforth, 28, is a self-employed motivational speaker, adventurer, author and founder of a mental health charity called Mind Over Mountains. He is based in Skelsmergh, near Kendal, but speaks across the UK and internationally. 

Tell us about your business/job… 

I deliver keynote and motivational talks at company events, conferences, awards evenings and awareness days for businesses, organisations and schools both online and in person. These focus on resilience, overcoming adversity and mental health, through sharing my adventures and personal lived experiences. I’ve published two books, Icefall, and Another Peak, and in 2020 co-founded Mind Over Mountains, a charity to restore mental health through nature, which often feels like a full-time unpaid job. None of this really feels like work – it’s just my life purpose that I’m fortunate enough to get paid for. 

When did you start in the role/set up the business? 

It was never really planned! When fundraising for my first Everest expedition I was invited to talk at my old primary school about carrying the Olympic Torch. As a lifelong stammerer that was my worst kind of nightmare! But I started saying ‘yes’, being uncomfortable, and found it easier than expected – quite literally overcoming adversity in the process. I worked all the usual hotel and pot-washing jobs but two disasters on Everest in 2014 and 2015 led to my first book deal, becoming a brand ambassador for Westgrove Group and more speaking opportunities. It’s still a ‘portfolio’ career, but speaking has become my main business for the last three years.  

How does being a young person impact on your work? 

It’s both an advantage and disadvantage. There aren’t many young professional speakers, so you naturally stand out and a lot of organisations are crying out for fresh perspectives and diversity, particularly for younger colleagues. At the same time, it’s harder to be taken seriously as a younger person and there’s a lot of imposter syndrome particularly when speaking to senior managers and leaders who have kids my age! 

Where/how have you learnt your skills?  

Mostly through practice, feedback and continually aiming for more. I’ve been lucky to have a number of great mentors since 16 who gave the leg up I needed to fast-track my progress. More recently I’ve invested in speaking coaching to manage my stammer better, worked with speechwriters to refine my content, and taken a number of courses to develop my business and sales skills which I’ve always lacked without experience of working in a business environment.  

What motivates you in your working life? 

A continual desire to improve so I can share my experiences with more people, hopefully inspire them and leave something bigger behind. Getting that feedback is the ultimate job satisfaction. 

What are your ambitions - both in work and life? 

I separate my life goals into four pillars – work, charity, adventure and self-development. In work I want to become an expert in my field, speak to one million people in my lifetime, with regular opportunities for travel which is another huge passion. Most importantly I never want to dread going to ‘work’. In charity my goal is for Mind Over Mountains programmes to be accredited and prescribed by the NHS nationally. Adventure-wise… you’ll have to watch this space! 

Who do you admire in the business world? 

I’m always inspired by Jamil Qureshi who is one of the most successful speakers in the UK right now. It’s incredible to see how he’s become so well-known for his expertise in performance psychology whilst so authentic and generous with his time. Also, my friend James Batchelor, who is an entrepreneur and CEO of Alertacall in Windermere. It’s refreshing to find businesses that were founded from a simple idea to do good in society. It’s always good spending time with ideas people. 

Do you have a role model? 

There are plenty. My parents always brought me up with a strong work ethic, and to believe that if I wanted something I had to go out and get it. My good friend Jeff Smith started a charity called Bigmoose after we were on Everest in 2014, and his ability to turn ideas into action and inspire others to join him has continually challenged me to think bigger – we can only achieve so much on our own. 

What do you see yourself doing in 10 years' time? 

Hopefully the same, just better. I’ve never really known anything different but I’ve recently started my journey in performance coaching which has been fascinating and complements speaking as an additional avenue to help people. Plus, if we learnt anything from the pandemic it’s not to have all your eggs in one basket!  

What would your advice be to other young people setting out on their career? 

Never get complacent or too comfortable. With competition you can’t afford to stop learning and adding value. 

Outsource the things you’re not good at, as soon as you’re able to. Appointing a CEO for Mind Over Mountains has taken it to a whole new level and hiring a PA massively grew my speaking business. 

Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track – a lot of people will try to push you towards a more predictable or ‘proper job’, even with the best intentions, but never settle for less than you’re capable of.