Don’t Have a Plan ‘B’
When the Grow team first discussed the very first edition of their Grow Exeter Magazine being about startup to scale up businesses, I immediately though of some of the companies we work with and the unique and frankly thoroughly impressive journeys they and their teams have been through.
First, I should wish Dan, Llew and the Grow team the very best of luck in the launch of this publication and it’s only through their startup that Exeter now has its only dedicated business magazine and something we were keen to be involved in from the outset.
It’s been tough choosing just a couple of the great organisations we work with to briefly discuss here, so for those of you who call IT Champion your partners, I promise we will do our best to talk about some of the great work you do in the coming issues.
We were recommended to the soon to be AWP team by an existing client and we first met in our then very crowded top floor office in Southernhay. Immediately it was clear that the team was going to be a force to be reckoned with and that they had a very clear plan. From getting their IT systems setup and IT Support and advice a new business needs to helping them move in to their first office in Ashfords House, through to gradually taking over half of a building on Pynes Hill, it’s been great being part of the team growing to just under 30 people and one of the most highly regarded civil engineering consultancies in the region.
We first met Owen, the founder and MD of Air Marketing shortly after his relocation to Exeter from London. As with AWP, we’ve helped the Air team as their trusted IT Partner from the start and it’s been great to see the team quickly grow to nearly 20 people within the first 18 months. I am sure this is down to the energy and professionalism of Owen and his team. We had the pleasure of engaging them on a campaign to grow our brand last year and the results were impressive.
Our own journey was far from the text book approach that many of us have read about in business startup books. We launched in late 2009, which was perfect timing if we had wanted to start an IT Support business in the height of a recession. As it was, we found it incredibly difficult to find our feet and to get our first few customers to trust us as their IT Partner, let alone break even. The challenge to launching our company, like so many others is that there are so many unknowns and that you have to quickly learn a vast array of new skills in areas of the business that you are not experienced in or particularly enjoy because you don’t have the team to delegate these tasks to. The worst of these for me was attempting to enter and reconcile bank statements on a very clunky accounts package at 10 o’clock at night. The pre-launch business plan was a very quick casualty of the realities of starting the businesses and the first 12 months saw us adapt to the realities we experienced.
Another particularly difficult aspect to adapt to was the phone never ringing in the early months. I think in the early weeks and months, we would have even been happy to have someone calling to try to sell us something, anything, just not the silence in the office and all the time knowing that that ever so precious working capital we scraped together was shrinking at an alarming rate.
After what seemed like an eternity, we had a website, marketing material and a plan to get our business able to find and support customers. Our model was simple, we would be providing unlimited, lightning fast IT Support and expertise to local businesses with customer service and flexibility at its heart.
Perhaps the area that we got most wrong whilst building our business plan was how hard it would be to win new clients and how long this process could take. We spoke to thousands of companies in the first year and whilst I would probably say around 40% would say they were not happy or felt their support was lacking in a key area, there was a huge resistance to change. Even though the company was unhappy, we found that for many businesses, things had to be very wrong to look at changing IT provider. We had underestimated just how integrated and trusted an IT Partner is to many businesses and things had to be very bad to even consider change.
For nearly 8 years we’ve been looking for a way to overcome this and whilst I’m not sure we ever will, our launch of what we believe to be the regions only Zero Risk guarantee in 2016 certainly helped.
Over time, we grew our client base to the point where we were breaking even and gradually, some of those companies who had no appetite to move when we originally spoke to them were keen to revisit our support as their provider had let them down or the relationship had broken down. Happy clients that were keen to recommend us and have conversations with potential customers helped massively.
Eight years on we now support hundreds of local organisations with their teams in the thousands. Our staff are our secret weapon, with almost half of them coming to us straight from school or college via the National Apprentice Scheme. We are incredibly proud of the team we have created and seeing them grow into adults over this time has personally been one of the most rewarding aspects of my journey.
Although they probably don’t know it, Andrew Hicks Engineering Ltd was our first client and I would like to thank Andrew and the team for choosing us as their IT Partner. They are still working with us today and we have seen their business expand over the years just as ours has.
Over the years I have spoken to lots of individuals who are looking to or have just started up their first businesses and the only two pieces of advice I ever feel qualified to offer is always have more money on hand than you think you need and don’t have a plan B, just be prepared to modify plan A for as long as it takes to make it work.