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Diary of a startup

Diary of a startup 5

The fifth instalment about Cirencester's Best Business...

This month, we talk about when and where you need to outsource skills. 


Kitting out the office

When you set up a new company you bring certain skills to the party, and if you have a partner they’ll hopefully bring a different set of attributes. But there are always going to be gaps in your knowledge or experience. The challenge when you’re in your first year of business and every penny counts is the begrudging decision to pay someone outside to help you. Here are some examples of where I’ve decided to go externally to help me.

Number crunchers

This is probably the most important area for any business and, as a supposedly creative person, numbers aren’t my forte. I can look at a P&L or a balance sheet and get an understanding of what’s going on, but don’t ask me to explain what EDITDA is, because I haven’t a Scooby. I will one day.

So via Google I found a local accountant in Cirencester who by luck happened to be not just a very good local firm but fun to work with as well. Plus, they have iPhones so understand what we’re trying to do.

Every week a lovely lady called Fiona comes to our studio and I give her a box of all my receipts, invoices, bank balance and anything else scary that I don’t know what to do with. She tells me who I need to pay and we agree which bills are most important and which can wait another week.

She also pulls together monthly cashflow and management accounts so I can see how things are going. We decide how much of my initial director’s loan we can afford to pay back (which is now all paid back) and generally chat about stuff we have coming up, so she feels part of what we’re doing.

They also sort out all our payroll, NI and all that dull stuff that, quite frankly, you shouldn’t have to worry about when you’re trying to build a new company. It’s a small price to pay for a highly dull (but vital) job. And at the end of each quarter they’ll sort out our VAT return and do all the Companies House reporting of our accounts. So essentially, I do nothing at all except sign cheques, nod sagely and try to make it clear that I understand what Acid Ratio means (I don’t).

Apart from obviously making sure that our finances are in order and we’re not going bankrupt, for me the comfort is in knowing everything is shipshape. So if one day some wise and savvy games company wants to buy Neon Play, I know all our books are pukka. Peace of mind.

Spreading the love

I love PR and wish I’d worked for a PR agency when I was younger. I honestly think good PR is worth its weight in gold. It’s so much more powerful than advertising and, if you’re clever, you can get a lot of PR without much or any cost. You do need to know the right people (which comes down to being nice and networking hard), but clearly you also need a good story and to produce excellent work. And a bit of luck always helps.

I managed to find a great PR called Marc who had just started his own agency and we were keen to work together as we clicked. I had a tiny budget, but he focuses purely on promoting the company rather than our work, which we do ourselves (we now have a marketing manager, which is a great luxury that we can now luckily afford).As a result, we’ve had PR in the Sunday Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, Metro, Director magazine, Mac Format and endless websites, blogs and review sites. We’ve also been on the BBC News channel, BBC Points West, This Morning and our local BBC radio station. Even these words you’re reading are PR really.

People are key

Without a doubt, your staff are the most important part of your company and it annoys me to the core when big bosses arrogantly assume the troops will just put up with pay cuts, long hours, rude management, office moves and not being appreciated. But sometimes there are issues you might need some outside advice on. Making anyone redundant or going through a disciplinary process is fraught with potential landmines, so if you do have to go down that road, get proper advice to make sure you tick all the legal boxes. It’ll save you a world of pain.

Legal eagles

I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of looking at endless overly long and complicated contacts, full of words that bring on narcolepsy. I roughly understand what they mean but am never 100% sure that there’s just one clause in there which might catch me out. So you need to get proper legal advice, even if it’s to back you up on a clause you’re unsure about.

And if you ever do get challenged legally, my advice is to talk to the person or company that has an issue with you in a fair and reasonable manner. Providing you’ve done nothing hugely wrong, you can often resolve things humanely over the phone without even getting a £300-an-hour lawyer involved. Bullies like to go legal to flex their muscles, but often they have no leg to stand on, so don’t just roll over. Talking can often resolve a potentially tricky situation.

Recruitment firms

When you start a company, if you post a job ad on your website or on an industry job site (like Bristol Media or Glos Jobs for us), even if you very clearly state that you don’t want recruitment agencies to call up, they will. And they’ll do all they can to engage you in a conversation, almost as if it’s a game to see how long they can keep you on the call. You generally end up being rude to them and saying you have a meeting to go to.

However, it’s not easy finding good people when you have no budget to advertise (or advertising doesn’t work), so sometimes, against all your instincts and prejudices, you need to use their services. Of the 11 staff I’ve taken on, four have come via recruiters. Expensive, but a necessary evil (as much as we all love them).

The challenge for a new business is to drive the rates down from the usual 15-20%. I went down the route of saying I was a new small business and couldn’t afford recruiters (both true), but I was willing to work at a certain (absurdly low) percentage. When it’s your own money, paying £4,000 for a recruitment bill really focuses the mind. Stick to your guns, know your limit and use the best recruiters you can afford. And I spread my risk by using a few, because you never know where your next employee may come from.

Jack of all trades

To conclude, you need to focus on what you do best. You can be good at many things or turn your hand to them when required, but for many specialist skills, which could risk your company’s future if not handled properly, it’s worth getting the experts in



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