(Written by Cathy Hayward)
Five years ago today I sat at my kitchen table on what was officially day one of Magenta Associates. The hangover from my leaving party on Friday night had faded and with it, the security of a full-time permanent job and a monthly pay cheque. I had a fledgling website, a stack of business cards, tons of enthusiasm and no real clue about what lay ahead. I had never done PR before, and never ran a business before.
Thanks to my former job editing FM World, the first few clients came quickly. Within three months, we had enough work for me to justify hiring our first employee and moving my clutter from the kitchen table to our first office. But then came the challenges that every start up faces: how to persuade clients to deal with someone other than the founder, clients who thought that 90 day payment terms were fair, and how to grow when 110 per cent of my time was taken up with existing clients. And I still knew very little about PR. Fortunately, some of our early clients knew more than I did and brought me along with them. To gain knowledge and credibility I took a post-graduate diploma in PR with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which made me realise I knew a fair bit more than I thought. My understanding accountant sat down with me and talked me through the profit and loss reports and learned not to use financial jargon or my eyes glazed over.
There were difficult times. We have let people go – poor hiring decisions because we were growing quickly and desperately needed someone who turned out to be incompetent or lazy. There’s no hiding in a small business. There were times when cash flow meant I had to pay our staff out of my savings and I didn’t get paid myself for several months. There were even scarier times when we won lots of new business in a small space of time and struggled to deliver to all the new clients with our limited resources.
But there have also been some brilliant times. Winning our biggest client (and now re-signing the contract for another year), being approached by some of the most well-respected firms in our sector, being asked to take part in tenders from organisations we had never heard of, having so many of our clients recommend us again and again and having clients come to me and say how wonderful the team is. We have been constantly stretched into doing new things. Whether it be taking on several FM service providers’ crisis communications, or chairing the judging panel of a major IT company’s internal real estate and FM awards, we have gone in directions that I never thought about sitting at my kitchen table five years ago.
When you set up a business and you’re the only one on the payroll, you do everything yourself. As a bit of a control freak that suited me fine. It took me a while (ok, years!) to realise that other people could do parts of the job far better than me. And of course when you hire the wrong people, that trust erodes and you’re back to control freak again. The secret to our success has been hiring brilliant people and letting them get on with it. It’s also been asking for help – whether it be asking clients to recommend us, to give us honest feedback or to ask for support in certain areas. So many people have helped us along the way.
Magenta is now nine employees and three regular freelancers and we’re hiring again so that number is on the rise. We’ve had to move offices in Brighton and set up an office in Lancaster. The Christmas lunch is more than a few people round a pub table, our team days have taken on a life of their own – barista training, chilli challenges, wine tasting and now a trip to Barcelona – and there’s a buzz in the office that just isn’t possible when it’s only you at the kitchen table.
The same kitchen table that I started Magenta on, now sits in our Brighton office. Occasionally when I’m sitting around it with the team, or a client, I wonder where we might be in five years’ time. What I’ll know then that I don’t know now. What skills, experience and people we’ll need to charter that journey. But in the meantime, I’ll just get on and celebrate the here and now. On the 19th of this month we are holding a party to thank everyone who has brought us to this point, and who will take us to the next milestone. I hope to see you there.