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A barefoot entrepreneur's keynotes on turning vulnerabilities into success


Robert Ashton

travels from UK

Social entrepreneur, enterprise advisor, best-selling author on a mission to help companies succeed through innovation

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Keynote speaker Robert Ashton is the barefoot entrepreneur. He is quirky and clever, passionate and pragmatic, Robert's a best selling business author, challenging conference speaker, Big Society troubleshooter, social entrepreneur and charity Trustee. As the Barefoot Entrepreneur, he literally walks his talk!

Keynote speaker Robert Ashton is the barefoot entrepreneur. He is quirky and clever, passionate and pragmatic, Robert’s a best selling business author, challenging conference speaker, enterprise  troubleshooter, social entrepreneur and charity Trustee. As the Barefoot Entrepreneur, he literally walks his talk!

Keynote speaker Robert Ashton is often described as the barefoot entrepreneur. He knows that understanding your vulnerabilities can make you stronger and more effective. He is a very humane speaker, quick to connect with his audience, helping them see their opportunity to create the future they want to see.

Robert Ashton is a successful social entrepreneur, founding Swarm Apprenticeships in 2013 to empower young people with attitude, using enterprise qualifications.  He can speak from experience about the loneliness of being a pioneer, as well as his success at winning investment and recognition.

Robert has written 20 books, mostly on business and entrepreneurship, but some in the ‘self-help’ genre.  He sees entrepreneurship as a skill that can enable individuals, organizations and even whole communities to take control of their futures. In 2019 he took a ¾ life gap year to go to university for the first time, and graduated in December 2020 with a creative writing MA, passed with distinction. He is now writing about people, place and sometimes prejudice.

Guided by his Quaker faith and a strong sense of social justice, Robert Ashton works with charities, schools, communities, housing associations and corporates. His project work can see him talking with rough sleepers one day, and Government ministers the next. He illustrates his talks with stark, real life stories about those he’s met. He goes out of his way to talk with those on the very fringes of society.

Robert Ashton takes his audience on a journey of exploration. He introduces uncomfortable truths with sensitivity and compassion. He enthuses, empowers and entertains, illustrating sometimes grim realities with humor and hope. In tough economic times he highlights opportunities audiences will realize they can achieve.

Mental health is another topic about which Robert speaks. He’s been Trustee of mental health charities, an NHS Mental HealthTrust Governor and is currently a Trustee of health and social care watchdog, Healthwatch. Robert is also very open about his own experience of living with depression and can speak with authority about the importance of managing mental health in the workplace.

Motivating, inspiring, hard hitting and often moving, strong-willed speaker Robert Ashton knows you don’t need to cross oceans alone or climb mountains to change the world. You need to be braver and confront what’s happening right now on your doorstep.

Robert Ashton is a Fellow of the RSA, member of Mensa and a charity Patron and Trustee.

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    Speaker Robert Ashton Keynote Topics

    • Entrepreneurship – Entrepreneurship as an attitude, that can help people and their organisations succeed in any field. How innovation can help any organisation wrestling with the fast changing business landscape.
    • Social enterprise – Social entrepreneurship and how social impact can differentiate any organisation with bottom line benefits.
    • Mental health and wellbeing in business and the workplace – Mental health and how being well at work is not about having a great employee support programme, but a culture that embraces difference and supports people to be themselves, which of course also benefits the employer!
Robert Ashton - video

Why we need to encourage children to be unreasonable! | Robert Ashton | TEDxNorwichED

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Interview with Robert Ashton

What sort of advice do you have for companies and individuals who wish to become more entrepreneurial?

I’d say that now, more than ever before, you need to do three things:

  • Define what success looks like to you in simple, explicit measurable terms and don’t be influenced by how others might attempt to define your success on your behalf.
  • Understand and clearly communicate the return on investment your customers will gain from doing business with you – and do it with passion, confidence & conviction;
  • Recognise that social impact is the most important point of difference when price, quality and service are equal.

What types of advice do you have for small businesses that wish to grow?

Again, three key points:

  • Understand why you want to grow – is it to help more people benefit from what you do or simply to make more money? The paradox of small business growth is that during growth, you spend more and make less . . . only by focusing on others do you eventually earn your pot of gold;
  • Growth means delegation; letting go, trusting and developing others. Learn to enjoy recruiting, developing and supporting people, even if they leave you to succeed elsewhere or on their own;
  • When you grow a business, everyone wants to help you, but usually because they want to sell you something you may not need.  Watch your costs!

What is the advantage of a small business versus bigger businesses?

Flexibility: You can turn on a sixpence to react to opportunity or threat. Big businesses cannot move fast but will catch up in time – so you just need to keep innovating, stay head and win

What types of events and clients do you generally work with?

I work a lot with:

  • business starters, particularly people who have escaped the constraints of large organisations
  • community groups, charities and social enterprises who want to take control of their future, become sustainable and make a difference;
  • public sector teams wishing to become more enterprising, collaborative and innovative;

As a speaker, I get hired most often to talk to audiences of people from the following sectors: charity, social enterprise, community organisations, volunteers, housing, health (particularly mental health), education and small business.

How are your perspectives and talks different from other presentations by entrepreneurial speakers?

I am very different to the so called professional speakers who have a suite of slick presentations they deliver identically to each audience. I prefer to research the issues facing each audience, try to understand their challenge and respond to the issues they’re facing. That means each presentation is different – I have been known to change my talk in response to what’s said in the session before I walk onto the stage!

I always speak with passion; I always tell the stories of those I have met and perhaps worked with and always, always listen to my audience. Oh and I’m not keen on PowerPoint and branding myself the ‘barefoot entrepreneur’; means I often speak without shoes or socks!

Here are five ways I differentiate myself:

  • I speak my mind – it’s easier to say what people want to hear, but better for all if I say it as I see it;
  • I speak to everyone – as an independent, I can talk with the people who appear to be holding back progress, hear their viewpoint and often negotiate a solution that works for all;
  • I write too  – with 16 book, most on enterprise and entrepreneurship, published, widely translated and on sale in 80+ countries, people recognise that I know my subject;
  • I care – entrepreneurship is as much about passion as it is about process. Others might see their clients as meal tickets; I take their trust in me more seriously and yes, I really do care;
  • I share – I do not believe in small print, preferring to be open, honest and trusting. I’m not precious about copyright either. I find the more freely I share, the more successful I become!
See keynotes with Robert Ashton
Non-binding request for Robert Ashton

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Keynote topics with Robert Ashton