Success and expansion can be found in the midst of chaos as long as you keep pushing forwards, re-model your finances, work hard and remain fluid with your expansion plans.
Chatting openly with Business Matters about all things survival and expansion, Mark Wright, winner of The Apprentice 2014 and founder and director of Climb Online shares what he’s learnt in our Business Matters Podcast in the hope that it will inspire our readers to push forwards fiercely. We share a few of his insights here …
What was the first thing yourself and your mentor Lord Sugar insisted that your team did at the start of the crisis?
The first thing that we did was some financial modelling based on all the worst case economic scenarios and we’ve used that data to cut down on any costs that we possibly can, anything that was considered a non-essential item, for example, the fruit basket that was in reception, has all gone. We asked ourselves: what do we need to run our business successfully, and what is a must-have right now. These are the only two things to focus on keeping. Then we broke our business into two sides – when things are good you run a P&L business, you’re always looking to run a monthly profit and get those profits as high as possible whilst providing your customers with the best service. In a crisis like we’re in now and going to be in for a little while, we created a balance sheet and ensured that we have enough cash in the bank to pay our suppliers and run our business effectively.
Moving forwards what’s been your main focus now?
We’ve done a load of cash modelling and restructuring terms with suppliers to ensure that we have a longer term of cash flow as possible. From the here and now it’s all about marketing and sales. People generally make the biggest mistake in economic downturns of closing off their sales and marketing to save costs, the reality is that you want to look at other areas and increase your sales and marketing because they’re the things you’re going to need the most right now. So that’s what we’ve done and it is working well for us.
Pre-corona virus, being the most successful company to have left The Apprentice you were looking at expanding abroad. How is that going?
Yes it’s still our goal is to be the leader in our sector of digital marketing and provide more leads and sales worldwide. We set a very clear goal to dominate the UK and we now have offices in Manchester, Bristol, London – London has now expanded to 73 desks at our St Paul’s office which has been amazing to see. Whilst physical plans for expansion are on hold at the moment, testing the theories for how we can make maximum impact in companies outside of the UK is very much evolving.
What we’ve realised in the lockdown and the corona virus days has really solidified our approach moving forwards – that Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams have got to such high levels that we don’t actually need regional offices in new countries. So we’re going to expand but in a different method and move to a model of only having one office per country – grow from one hub and work digitally. You need to have one hub within the country you’re expanding into – for us it will be New York and Sydney, Australia, because it’s far easier to trade on both the time zone factor and the currency. So it’s great research for your readers who are in the service industry to learn from – don’t worry too much about spreading locally if your end goal is international domination.
Great advice. Due to the rise in success of Zoom etc, do you see members of your staff permanently working from home as part of the new normal? 60/70% time.
That’s the million pound question I think right now. Personally I’ve always been an old-school proponent of people coming into the office, dressing well, representing our company well and working hard during office hours. It’s an area which to a degree I’ve been wrong. I’ve seen first hand that you save costs through the business through the P&L and you also get the most happiness and productivity out of your employees. We have seen no fall in productivity within our teams during the lockdown – they seem to be much happier, much more productive, spending more time with their families, an increase in their fitness levels and all because they’re using that commute time where they’ve typically been on the Tube for an hour. There’s a strong benefit there.
So it’s more of a move to a hybrid model?
Yes, I think the end result will be the hybrid model where you’re in the office three days a week and home two. So you’re still having the collaboration with your fellow colleagues and you’re still picking up information from the business and you’re feeling as if you’re one team but you also receive the benefit of working from home and having a more structured work life balance. For me it’s been a bit of an eye opener to see just how easily the company can move to that model and still maintain the core output of work we normally do. It’s really valuable to us because the happier the employees are, ultimately the happier the customers are and we’ve seen it during quite challenging times.
So it’s not been all doom and gloom …
No it’s definitely not, we’ve been able to identify some pretty incredible insights during this time because it’s forced us to try things that we wouldn’t have risked trying otherwise.