Scaling your business in 2018

Is 2018 the time to expand your horizons and scale your empire? We’ve been speaking to Simon Barbato from creative agency Mr B & Friends to uncover his thoughts on scalability.                                                                                                                                                      Simon founded Mr B & Friends in 2006 and has since become one of the largest independent agencies in the South West. With 43 staff members, the Mr B & Friends team carry out brand, creative and digital work for clients in Europe, the US and Asia.

How do you know it’s the right time to scale up?

“Businesses have a rhythm. When that rhythm is disrupted by sheer workload, you start to notice a drop-in quality. People get tired and overworked, but as you’re still winning new business you’ll see a tipping point.

The key for me is watching my employees. Because when they start to suffer, everything else will suffer.

When there’s a sustained period of business and you can forecast more on the horizon, it’s time to scale. It doesn’t feel like a spike anymore, it feels like you’ve created a new norm.

At six years old we went from 11 to 22 people in one year, and at nine years old we went from 25 to 40. The agency started to mature and our reputation grew. We were winning work without having to go out there and find it.”

How do you start the process of scaling up?

“Everything starts with a plan. You should map out your finances, pipeline, what might come in the future and any new business you’re pursuing.

You should then allocate resources. So, if you have 20 people, you can allocate 20 people to those different accounts.

Consider if there are any holes. For example, our existing business right now is very healthy, but our teams are at tipping point. We don’t want to increase the size of our teams, we want to start a third team. So, we now need to scale again.

It all starts with a commercial plan, allocation of resources, personality fits and the skills you’re bringing in. We’d then consider what type of person or team we need and speak to a recruitment consultancy like FWD Thinking.”

What do you already need in place to scale a business?

“You need capital, infrastructure and a working pipeline. You also need guarantees from your clients that they’re going ahead.

We’ve had clients say they’re giving us the contract but pulled out at the last minute. But then you have people with nothing to do. At the moment we’re lucky because we can replace it with other work.”

How do ensure you’re employing the best talent?

“We work more from instinct than credentials and qualifications. We know when someone’s going to fit, so really we hire for attitude. Talent is important but it’s secondary.

Our process starts with a long list of potential people that’s managed by one person. The shortlist is managed by a panel of 2-3 people, and the final decision comes from either me or my business partner.

We’re looking for people who have the right frame of mind. They’re capable of working in a team, into hard and fun work, but also have the talent to fill those roles.”

What measures do you take to maximise employee retention?

“We won a national employee experience award this year. We’ve been invested in our people for the last 3 years. We pay average and above salaries, and offer a range of practical benefits including bike to work, season tickets, car parking, gym membership and death employment benefits.

We also run a group fitness program. Since starting the program, our absentee levels have dropped, camaraderie has gone up, and the barrier between the most senior and junior employees has disappeared.

In 12 years in business we’ve never made a person redundant, and that’s because we run the business in a prudent way. We’re not stingy, we just have a real focus on the commercials. And we’ve got a great set of clients.

By combining all these elements with an ego-free space, makes for a very happy working environment.”

How much of your success would you say is down to the people you’ve hired? 

Absolutely everything. But all businesses need strong leadership too. Sometimes we must make tough decisions, but ultimately, we have strong brand values like our ‘act like it’s yours’ principle.

We empower our people to have a sense of ownership of the business. We always say, if it was your money and name across the door would you do that? It compels people to stop, think and make better decisions. I think almost everything comes from the staff but it’s also about strong leadership.

Is 2018 the right time to scale if you run a business in the South West?

“There’s something very special happening in the South West at the moment. London is by far the creative capital in the UK. But Bristol is coming up as the second most creative hub, the new devolved government has created great commercial opportunity.

People can afford to buy properties here, so we’ll get more young people coming from London, getting a good salary, good working conditions, and can afford to live. But the most important thing for me is talent. If I can find the best people, great things happen.

We’re a service industry and we have to come together collectively as a commercial community. We have to get great talent looking at the South West as a place to settle, send their children to school and have a great career.

This region really does have everything. I’m a Londoner and came down 10 years ago and I absolutely love it here.

How can FWD Thinking help?

We’ll be wearing our interviewing hat again next month with another special guest. So be sure to revisit our blog for another exclusive interview this January.

We’re putting ourselves at the forefront of the commercial landscape in the South West, forming partnerships with great firms and business heroes to reveal the latest insider info.

We’re on a mission to help talented people forge careers across marketing, digital and sales. If you’re looking to scale your business next year, we’re here to help you build your empire. Call us today and together we’ll find your business a team of champions.