This was a big thing for two risk averse people.
When we told people that we were giving up our safe, corporate marketing careers to start our own marketing agency, there was a 50/50 divide of opinion:
- You’re idiots! Why risk everything you’ve achieved, including your marriage? It’s a bad idea and will only end one way.
- Why not? You have complementary talents, are not afraid of hard work, and if it doesn’t work out, others out there will want to take you back on, we’re sure of that.
What people perhaps didn’t know was the strength of the shared vision we had for deciding to change the direction of our working lives. We both wanted more flexibility over how we worked as we got older. Our two children would soon be young adults, and their greater independence would be our greater freedom. Our work doesn’t tie us to a desk or a location, and the opportunity to work (if only for days or a week at a time) in the warmth, during a British winter, appealed hugely. We had a long weekend away in Malaga in 2014 to talk it through, see if we were brave enough and then to plan how we’d make it work.
How do you get two people who work 4 and 5 days a week in senior marketing roles out of employment, into self employment, while raising a family, paying the bills and feeding the cat?!
We were aware of numerous successful BestOf Marketing franchises in the south east and when we learnt that the one in Fleet, where we live was available, we decided that was where to start. Our five-year franchise agreement began on 1 August 2014. Tracey left AQA to start the BestOfFleet while Nick kept his head down, worked hard and one salary was just about OK once we’d got rid of all unnecessary expenditure. To give an idea of how successful Tracey was, it took only two years for Nick to tell employers, TWM Solicitors, that he wanted to leave to join her in their new venture. TWM could not have been more helpful in their co-operation with our plans.
The firm suggested a six month tapering off arrangement where he wound down his commitment to them, and increased his time in the new business. They also recruited his replacement while he was still there. He tells people who ask about our story how grateful we are for their gesture and so, to Matthew and Andrew at TWM – thank you!
About half way through the franchise term, we realised there was a problem. The franchise model was built on selling the same package to every customer. We’d both come from a professional corporate background where our advice and expertise was tailored to specific circumstances. We weren’t really cut out for the ‘volume game’ and we got far greater pleasure advising larger businesses who really wanted access to a part-time marketing director.
What the Bestof did do was open doors to local opportunities which otherwise we would not have got to see. Most notable of which was the application by Fleet to become a Business Improvement District (BID). The Fleet BID (at the smaller end of BIDs in terms of size) led to operating a second BID of similar size in Oxted. These have become significant projects in the agency. The commitment to both led to our decision not to renew the BestOfFleet in July 2019.
Meanwhile the consulting side of the business was gaining traction. The networking meetings were paying off and word started to spread about the quality of our work. Businesses with a reputation to promote and a brand to nurture will put a high value on working with an agency that can ‘act in their name’ and do it accurately and with empathy. It saves a business so much time and is one less thing for the owners to worry about. This means we have a varied portfolio of clients, mainly focused on services in the B2C and B2B sectors. We’d always like more, but it is the quality of the relationships and friendships we’ve developed that provide the job satisfaction that was perhaps missing in the corporate world.
September 2019 was a landmark moment. That was the first time the vision that we had for Sixth Sense Marketing back in 2014 became a reality. We packed our laptops and a few papers and headed to Barcelona for a week. We name it a Workation and we managed successfully to work each morning and relax in the afternoon. Other similar weeks are pencilled in for 2020.
As with every growing agency there is the tension between working on and working in the business. Our associate network and VA resources are vital to service delivery. We will always remain an owner-led agency. We guarantee clients that one or other of us will be their principal contact. But at the same time the business needs to function well when we are not at the wheel. That’s our next challenge…and one we will report back on as our journey continues.
Nick and Tracey Shrimpton. December 2019.