I had always dreamt of starting my own business and at the age of 24, I realised there was a gap in the market for a results-focused creative agency that actually put the client at the heart of the business.
So, after much business planning, meetings with banks and estate agents, sourcing equipment (including an
Apple Mac Quadra 800!), I finally took the plunge and moved into an old barn with a modem, a computer and the all important telephone. The barn was cheap, freezing in the winter and a sauna in the summer, but it was a quirky place to meet clients.
I had no clients but knew by getting on the phone and focusing on delivering value, we could attract clients. I had 6 months to find enough revenue to break even, so the pressure was on. My wife and I had also just bought our first house so the word mortgage was also quite daunting.
I had managed to learn how to build interactive presentations that loaded onto small CD-ROM cards (remember them?!) - this turned out to be a great asset in the creative space back in 1999. So, my first job was to build an interactive college prospectus for Surrey University - cue lots of late nights and painful programming lingo.
The hardest part of building the business was getting on the phone and taking the knock-backs but getting back up time after time. Not many businesses wanted to risk using such a young company with a limited track record. However, once the first few projects converted, the ball started rolling.
In the late 90s, there was a new buzzword doing the rounds - websites. With my knowledge of the interactive programming language, I managed to build our first paid website for a client called Bakers Timber Buildings and I am proud to say they are still a client today. After that the rest is history: we started to win website projects from SONY and larger creative projects from a wider range of clients.
After a few years, we had a team of 4 and a dedicated sales function. With 6 staff, the barn was getting tight so we combined solid graft and profit and we bought the old doctors’ surgery in Handcross. This was a win win - with more space, no landlord and it looked good on the balance sheet. This felt like a great achievement, but the hard work had only just started.
We had to renovate the building before we moved in. 4 months of working weekends later, the office was ready for the team to move into. After an amazing launch party, we were ready.
6 awards, more staff, a recession, a foosball table, and a new brand later, we still live in The Old Surgery with a well-established client base including Gatwick Airport, Thakeham Homes, Eurovia and many more.
In 2011, I realised the business needed more digital progression. With this in mind, Ben Harvey bought into the company to drive our offering forward. His technical appetite, skills to lead and structure digital solutions is infectious. He has helped us build recurring revenue and some truly business-changing products for clients.
It can be simple really - business is about making the right decisions. As long as you make a lot of the right ones, your business should grow and prosper. With that ethos in mind, we have always been sensible with retaining profit over the years to help not only with our own sense of wellbeing but meaning we can invest in growth when the time is right. This has seen us in good stead through the recent Covid-19 outbreak.
Here are five pieces of wisdom I've learned over the last 21 years:
1. Cash is king for survival and growth.
2. Always listen carefully.
3. Employ outstanding people.
4. Don’t make rash decisions (consider and qualify).
5. Reputation is everything so put your clients first. Always.
What a time for Storm12 to turn 21! I feel immensely proud of what we have achieved as a wider team. We have an amazing senior management team with a bunch of hugely talented creative and technical individuals.
So, please raise a glass of bubbly with me and the team for turning 21! A hard but rewarding journey to date, with an exciting business plan for the next 5 years where we will further develop our digital offering and insight-led approach.
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