Start-up Business Case Study: Sleeping Giant Media, in Folkestone
The Setting – Code Harbour Event in Folkestone
We bring you yet more Kent Business News - with all the networking events, our team at Whitefish Marketing have been busy, trying to attend them all this week. On that note...the first Thursday each month is host to the Code Harbour meeting. Held at The Workshop in Folkestone Kent, the Code Harbour event was designed as a networking meeting for web developers and digital professionals to meet and discuss latest trends, learn new ideas, and bounce thoughts off one another.
Each month the organizers find new keynote speakers to offer advice, present on their chosen subject, and effectively start the ball rolling for the evening’s discussion.
In fact Whitefish Marketing, ourselves, were invited as a keynote speaker some months back, and our chosen topic was on “bridging the gap between web developer and digital marketer”. Some interesting research went into that one, we can assure you.
For this month’s event (3rd April 2014) the MD from Sleeping Giant Media (Luke Quilter) took to the present stand, to outline his experiences on setting up a business from scratch, and a quick review of the lessons he has learnt over the past 5 years.
The Company Formation - Sleeping Giant Media
Sleeping Giant Media was the brainchild of 2 individuals, Anthony and Luke, both of whom worked full time in another capacity within the Digital Marketing industry but, like all simple business ideas, realized a gap and wanted to fill it.
Previously at Holiday Extras (in Hythe, Kent) they realized there were numerous agencies that were good at technical attributes, or great customer service, but couldn't translate the two into a synergized service for customers. Effectively they looked to fill the void, with a mission goal on providing quality service at both front end and back end.
Set up part time, and from Luke’s living room, it allowed them both to keep costs low, create a planned process, and build a business plan. That was their starting thoughts. Naturally for a service based industry overheads are much lower than retail or manufacturer and this helped considerably.
One thing Luke recalled.
“It should be simple. Create a business plan to start off with, and if you follow it to the letter you should earn lots of money. Sadly in reality this is not always the case. You have to adapt.”
"Year one, involved horrendous long hours, working at home from the dining room, with no separation of business and work."
The move to full time Digital Marketing
So after a period of working part time, there inevitably had to be that leap of faith - the step into the unknown transitioning into full time capacity.
Initially, Luke and Anthony put the idea a business plan to their existing boss, and negotiated a potential partnership. Some campaigns to help pay the initial bills were helpful.
After that, the search extended to small businesses, and connections through friends and families - anything to help get a foot in the door of their next potential client. Despite only taking on small clients, Luke remarked on their benefit, to a start-up such as Sleeping Giant Media was at the time;
“One positive thought, practice on small clients allows you to cut your teeth, minimize risk, identify gaps in your current process, then disprove your customer/product service so you can rebuild it better”
Luke suggested that in the early days, some guerrilla marketing tactics are required to get yourself visible to begin with, to make yourself look credible to new customers. Whilst you are not scamming people, after all you know you can deliver on your service promise... but it's about first impressions and making them count.
Testimonials are great. Empowering other people to endorse your product/service is essential, more realistic, and of value to the end client than listening to just one business harping on about how good they are.
Their First Office locations
Eventually Sleeping Giant Media moved out of their residential abode and into a small office after just 4 months operating at full time, timed just after taking on their first full time employee.
"In the early days, you do everything yourself, from cleaning the carpets, washing the cups, it's all hands on deck. 5 years on and 20+ employees, and it’s still the same" joked Luke.
Around 1.5 years into the business, more focus was bestowed on corporate branding, developing their identity and building their business personality. Money was coming in, but aside from a fresh coat of paint in the office, they adhered to a policy of no lavish expenses, believing the adage that you never know what will come round the corner. Money was reinvested into the business, and cash flow became ever more important as clients took out 90 day payment terms. It goes back to the saying Revenue is Vanity, Profit is Sanity, Cash Flow is Reality. In short… cash is king!
Expanding further, as the company and your staff grew, more focus for the Directors needed to be centred on meeting the correct legal requirements. HR became a legal area which needed attention. Whilst it is not necessarily condoned, there is arguments that too much focus on the minutiae at the early days of a business could bog you down in admin instead of trying to find and properly service new customers. For a start-up with no staff, which is more important… ensuring the company adheres to correct procedures now for potential future growth should they ever reach that stage, or concentrating on the present to secure customers and revenue, to fight another day?
Employing staff as the business expands
Talking about employees, Luke mentioned that they invest in staff training in the early days, to ensure they have full product knowledge and understand the company’s core values. On average it is suggested that a new employee will start to return income for their business within 3.5 months.
Luke commented further on their recruiting methods, noting that employing at an executive level is key for them. Executive level employees having a knowledge, skill set and interest in digital marketing is essential. They don't want to be focusing too much on crunching new employees with intensive training. Otherwise we lose sight of our own core skills and move into trainers. They need to have a certain element within them to be able to hit the ground running.
The directors at SGM try to adopt a bottom up management structure, gaining information and feedback from employees on the front line with daily communication with the clients, rather than a top down approach with ideas dictated by management who may often be separated from the client. This switch of approach proved beneficial for them, offering better value for their customers, meeting their individual needs and wants, rather than that of the directors. When looking to develop a proposal for new clients, Luke looks to present “value” over “cost”.
Staff are an essential feature to SGM, as is their welfare. Luke commented on their desire to build an atmosphere. “It's not a job this is a passion and an environment. We try to build a campus feel environment, allowing people's interests and passions for the interest to shine through.”
The other area they wanted focus on, was to make their brand and company image approachable. People buy from people, they don't like faceless corporations. Think Trust indicators.
This is Personal, not just Business
One interesting point which Luke repeated several times throughout the presentation was how, as a director of your business, you had to take the rough with the smooth. Yes, there were times when people would call to complain and quite strongly so. Certain element of conflict will ALWAYS happen, there is no avoiding that. However, as the MD or one of the directors, you do tend to take things personally. This is your business, this is an extension of who you are, and therefore any attack on the credibility of the company is a personal reflection of you.
This is personal, not just business, and if you are not careful you will take home problems and the weight of the world. Luke provided some insight into how he dealt with such problems.
Awareness - Understand your limits. If you don't know a topic find someone who does. If tax, accounting is hard... Find someone. That way, added problems are not burdened on you.
Emotional control - Do not let your emotions determine the decisions you make. Anger naturally being the worst of the bunch. Go home, sleep on your thoughts, and decide with a clear mind.
Determination - Do not let others talk you out of something you believe in. Likewise, find a strong support network, as long as they are not “yes” people. You need some people to challenge you occasionally.
Perspective - Lastly, gain some perspective and maintain a positive attitude at all times.
Business Challenges for the Future
The challenges to overcome in the future involve scalability, internal communications and optimizing processes, whilst retaining the high levels of service quality.
Other elements such as higher staff turnover will inevitably follow as the business expands, and should be seen as natural evolution.
And targets need to be kept in sight, whether it be 5 years or 5 months into the business. Set realistic targets (We all know about SMART objectives, right?) and work backwards to set your milestones. You should look to continuously push forward at a sustainable rate. Rest on your laurels and you may go backwards.
One lasting remark from Luke to sum it all up
“It’s a continuous process. There is NO REST, at any time. You cannot afford to be complacent.”
More about Code Harbour in Folkestone, Kent
More on Sleeping Giant Media in Folkestone, Kent
Run by Luke and Anthony, SGM is predominantly a digital agency “big on Search”. View more that the Sleeping Giant Media website.