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Zoe Bedford

Female Founder Spotlight: Zoe Bedford

10 July 2021|Female Founder Spotlight, Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder

Female Founder Spotlight: Zoe Bedford
Female Founder Spotlight: Zoe Bedford

Zoe Bedford is the Chief Executive of ZPB Associates and a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization London. Zoe set up ZPB Associates in 2009 to start to build an environment where the NHS, independent sector, life sciences and third sector can have better connected and more productive partnerships. ZPB was recently listed in the top 20 healthcare comms businesses in the country, and the 8th fastest growing communication consultancy in the UK.  We were delighted to catch up with her recently to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I had spent a number of years working as Head of Marketing at a high-growth analytics firm. It was mad, chaotic, at times very stressful, but also an extremely stimulating, exciting and creative environment to be in. The company started to grow up a bit and mature into a full-fledged corporate, and I woke up one day and found that I was a bit bored. It took me a while to realise that I had come to love the hustle and the energy that comes with building and growing a business. So one week before my 30th birthday, one month before I was due to get married and six months before the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, I did what any sane person would do and set up my own company.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

I would be lying if I said it came to me in a flash of inspiration as I lay awake at night. It was more a natural evolution of what I was doing. I worked for a healthcare data firm, and we had spent years campaigning for greater transparency in healthcare outcomes, so that people could have more control and make better decisions about their health and care. It struck me that healthcare organisations and teams communicate really badly with one another and with their patients; and this was driving bad decisions that resulted in poor health and care through more effective communications is still the driving force behind ZPB Associates. 

How did you achieve awareness?

I believe trust and shared objectives is the foundation of all successful partnerships, whether they be business or personal. So I set about raising awareness through meeting people, networking and letting the quality of our work speak for itself. We didn’t do any of our own PR for the first ten years. Of course we have a website, and use social channels. But as a B2B business building relationships and a vibrant network of people with mutual goals and values has been the bedrock of our growth.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

We have been revenue generating from day one and have always run the business in a cash-smart way, which has enabled us to stay entirely independent and debt-free. Our growth has come from our team and client success. That’s not to say that we won’t take outside investment or funding in future if we feel it is a necessary injection to get us to the next level.

What are the key successes?

It is so hard to define these. I am very proud that we have had such a strong year during the pandemic. Our underlying business has grown by 37%, our bottom line has almost doubled, and we’re on track to hit our year end targets ahead of plan this year. That is something the whole team can feel very proud of as it’s through their commitment and effort that we’ve achieved that. However, I would have to say that the successes that mean the most to me personally, are when the quality of our work and the people in our team are recognised. 

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

The biggest challenge is always attracting and retaining the right talent. It’s critical to us that our team’s personal ambitions mirror our business’s ambition. If we want to work with ambitious, smart people who are motivated to make a difference, we need to offer them an ambitious, challenging workplace with opportunity to grow and develop. 

On a personal level, the challenges are numerous. I have three young children, a business and many many moving parts in my life, so keeping that all together whilst maintaining a sense of humour and some me time can be a challenge. But even in dark moments, I remember that I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have these opportunities and choices.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

Be clear in your mind what success looks and feels like to you, not just in terms of your business, but for you personally, and for your friends and family. The other thing I would encourage people to do is join networks such as the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation where I’ve been a member for six years. Surrounding yourself with people who instinctively get ‘it’ and have experienced your journey is immensely comforting, reassuring and also liberating.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

1. Founding a business is easy. Staying with it and growing it is harder.

2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be prepared to make yourself vulnerable. It can often feel that all eyes are on you – and a lot of the time they are.

3. Owning a business is a total rollercoaster. There are exceptional highs and some very deep lows. How well you manage yourself and your business during the lows will determine how quickly the highs return, and how long they return for.

4. Talk to people, ask questions and listen to what they’ve got to say. There is wisdom, insight and experience to be gathered from everyone, whether it be from the new intern or a wildly successful business woman you’re about to meet.

5. Have a strong set of core principles and values and use those as an anchor to your decision making. Your team will respect your integrity and authenticity. 

6. Keep going! 

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

“You need to be a builder, not a tenant.” Cassandra Stavrou, Founder, Proper Snacks

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. Dory, in Finding Nemo 

What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?