Did you start your business to make a difference – to make the world a better place?

Martyn Sibley

Martyn Sibley had a fierce determination to be independent and in the process, became a world changer. In 2009, he started his blog – martynsibley.com to raise awareness of the barriers and also the opportunities open to disabled people.

Martyn has had Spinal Muscular Atrophy since birth.  He has never walked and has always needed care for most activities of daily living.

His accomplishments include a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in marketing.  He has always sought new adventures and has travelled the world, with both mobility equipment and his care team. His passion to experience all that life has to offer has included scuba diving and flying a plane.

In 2011, sitting on a beach in Los Angeles, and having just completed an extensive road trip around California, Martyn conceived the idea of an on-line magazine Disability Horizons. This now has c.50,000 unique website visitors every month, c40,000 social media followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, and 6,000 email subscribers.

Martyn also co-founded Accomable, an accessible travel site which was bought out by Airbnb. He is extremely good at making a case for inclusion without ever preaching or making people feel guilty for not being disabled, has a wicked sense of humour and a thirst for adventure that leaves most people feeling like a couch potato!

This is how Martyn describes himself and what he’s good at:

Martyn Sibley Being in a wheelchair has shaped, but not defined, a lot of my life experiences.

My vision is for a fully inclusive world without any barriers.

I’ve learned a lot about the following:

– blogging and social media

– being a spokesperson in mainstream media (tv, radio and print)

– building a community to make social impact

– consulting for businesses, governments and charities

– speaking on global stages

– coaching and teaching social change professionals

– running Disability Horizons magazine (managing a team, working on the business model, updating everything based on the readers needs)

– selling an accessible travel website (Accomable) to Airbnb

– more recently I’m working on health, personal growth and work/life balance because I want to keep changing the world way into the future 🙂

I think some of the thirst for adventure comes from wondering what life as a disabled adult would be like if there were no barriers. In seeing all these opportunities I just want to grab them all! Moreover I want our community to enjoy them too, rather than focusing on what they can’t do.

This is the Q&A session from our Facebook Group:

Berenice Smith I run an infertility and loss awareness site which doesn’t generate income but really ought to. I’ve been looking at offering add ons and I wondered how you analysed/planned the monetary side and also how you became a spokesperson.

Martyn Sibley On martynsibley.com I never wanted to directly monetise the site. But by becoming an influencer, I get paid work as a result of my free work. I’ll come back to the media question afterwards.

– on disabilityhorizons.com we aimed to grow the audience enough that we’d get advertisers. This was a struggle but its working.

Then we created Accomable (vetting accessible properties for disabled holiday goers) which had its own business model and new life of its own.

After selling to Airbnb, I tried to solve the DH business model by offering information products to the community. We had some backlash about charging for things. Our 4 mission pillars are: content, digital events, social and holiday meet ups, and education programmes. I’ve been working with Ann and Brian, a professional fundraiser, on approaching corporate partners.

Media spokesperson question. I would say being a blogger taught me and enabled me to reach beyond my community.

In August 2009 when I started my blog I had no idea about writing, vlogging and podcasting but because I had a mission and plenty to say, I just learned as I went along.

In getting better at writing and speaking, plus with a growing following; charities put me forward for media opportunities, then the media found me, and now I even have an agent 😊

Helen Lindop You have bigger barriers than most of us when it comes to achieving what we want in life and business. How do you stay positive in the face of what must be some really frustrating situations?

Martyn Sibley I still get frustrated from time to time. But I’ve learned to focus on things I can control, and not give energy to things I have no influence on. I’m lucky that I’ve got a positive and optimistic disposition, but I do believe empowering attitudes can be learned. I can see things are, slowly, getting better amd it helps when we see progress!

Andy Boothman I would like to know more about your business planning and strategy Martin. For example do you work to a 5 year plan or something longer or shorter? Have you used investment or self funded? What are the pro’s and con’s of both?

Martyn Sibley For strategy and planning:

My initial plan, whilst still in a job before 2011, was – start blogging and see what happens.

Then it was to ensure I had enough freelance work to pay the bills. Which is still a priority.

With the bigger visionary ideas, I do plan for the objective/strategy/tactics, and work on a vision/mission. But particularly the tactics side need updating regularly.

In terms of funding, Accomable had a social grant and angel investors. But my World Changers community and Disability Horizons are totally bootstrapped.

I prefer bootstrapped. However, without investors Accomable could never have scaled enough to pique Airbnb’s attention.

The reason I prefer self funding is that you serve the community, using your vision, and there’s less risk of anything being derailed from investors looking for the financial return.

Obviously there are investors looking for social impact or longer time to see returns. But this is less common.

I just love how we can have an idea today, ask the community what they think, and if its positive we can do it in such a lean way.

As mentioned to Berenice funding a social cause is trickier. But with a mixture of aligned businesses, I’m positive we’ll crack that on Disability Horizons this year

Helen Lindop Can you tell us something about your community building strategy please? Eg do you research where your audience hangs out, design content for them, encourage them to join your mailing list, that kind of thing? Also, does blogging still work as well as it did when you got started?

Martyn Sibley A lot of what I do solves a personal need. Of course I’m aware that a blind person has different barriers to me, and not all social change professionals struggle with what I did. But as a disabled person and social change professional I’ve experienced things very similarly. This is a big factor.

My social media strategy is; tell my story, build my community, give calls to action.

Part one and three are more simple. I blog on my experiences, and invite the community to comment or join an event etc.

To build a community, this took a long time and refers to your point on research. In 2009 I spent an hour or two every night after my day job engaging with relevant people. Its vital to give and serve without expecting something. In the end magic happens, but community building can’t be forced or hurried.

Berenice Smith Have you been copied or imitated and if so, how do you handle people who try do that?

Martyn Sibley I know that I’m unique from my genes, my experiences and my way to execute so I don’t spend time worrying about being copied as its not possible. If peopletry to copy you, its confirmation you’re doing well and flattering.

This book puts my point into a business perspective https://www.blueoceanstrategy.com/what-is-blue-ocean…/.

Always look for the new ideas, your first mover advantage will always pay off.

Helen Lindop Is your freelance ‘pay the bills’ work primarily as a marketing consultant? And if so what kind of work do you do/ who do you work with?

Martyn Sibley Its partly my speaking gigs. Otherwise my clients are all generally in the inclusion space too.

I run an online community for people with my disability for the national charity SMA UK. I’m a panel lead for Open Inclusion who do market research for big businesses on inclusive practises. I make podcasts for them and Cambridge based Iansyst (who help businesses employ disabled people).

Supporting these organisations with social media is definitely a potential strategy to help fund Disability Horizons too.

There are lots of opportunities to expand the work I’m doing, to help more people and build a great business, and I’m excited to be working with people in the Drive Tribe to share ideas and expertise.