Overcoming seemingly insurmountable difficulties when starting up a business takes teeth-gritting levels of determination, embellished by a positive, can-do attitude. Such qualities had to be demonstrated more than once by Tricia Weener and Katharine Roseweare when setting up Intelligent Marketing in 2003.The outlook for Tricia and Katharine, winners of the Women in Business category at the recent Startups Awards, is rosy.
Intelligent Marketing achieved a turnover of £2 million in its second year of business, an 83% growth in 12 months. Big name clients such as Honda, Woolworth’s and Guinness have been impressed enough to give the duo their business.
But the birth of the creative marketing agency was a rushed, fraught experience that needed all of the tenacity Tricia and Katharine could muster.
They decided to go it alone while working together at another agency, after feeling that they could improve on what their employer was doing.
“The main premise to our business was the desire to demonstrate return on investment for marketing,” Tricia explains. “What we were hearing within boardroom was that there was not enough evaluation of marketing activity.
“Year on year, it’s becoming harder to justify spend if we’re not able to demonstrate the effect it’s having. That was the catalyst for Intelligent Marketing, because it’s very much about intelligent thinking but also evaluating every single campaign against pre-set objectives.”
But the decision left them with precious little time to get started. With the crucial run-up to Christmas approaching, Tricia and Katharine had to make the plunge – and quickly.
“We did a huge amount of planning, but in a very tight timeframe – we had just six weeks,” Tricia recalls. “There were a number of key things that were happening with our potential clients ahead of this point in time – if we’d waited any longer than that, we may have missed out on a key season.
“With some of our retail clients, the period up to Christmas is huge, so if we’d missed that time, it would’ve been a major issue.
“We had tight timeframes, but we worked through the night, every night pretty much, for those six weeks to get the business conceptionalised. What we were going to say about ourselves, our business plan, our business name – none of these things had been set up before the middle of April.
“Coming out of another business, you know everything that you need to have in place, but we didn’t have anything in place, we had to put these systems in from scratch.”
The first major difficulty came in attempting to raise the funds needed for the business. After deciding to use personal savings and loans from friends and family, Tricia tried to re-mortgage her house.
“I re-mortgaged my house, but my existing mortgage company fell through about two weeks before we were due to set up,” she explains. “I went into a frenetic panic to get another mortgage company to re-mortgage it and it cost us a lot, be we got the funding about a week after we set up, so we paid for everything on a credit card!
“I remember standing in PC World to buy our first PCs, with them not accepting our credit card. It was fine in the end, but there were moments, like every startup, were we thought ‘We really can’t do this’.
“The timeframe between the money coming in and when we had to make payments was perhaps a touch tight!”
The duo started with 11 staff, including three directors, a workforce that has now swelled to 30. Tricia took control of the company finances and new business, while Katharine oversaw the operational and HR aspects of the firm. Alongside fellow agency workers, they took on friends of friends, with a receptionist coming from a recruitment agency.
“That was one of the biggest risks we took,” Katharine says. “We had to make all of these estimations about how much business we’d be able t0 win and then deliver work through to the staff, so that was a juggling act.
“We also had to do a huge amount of speculative work, which we weren’t getting paid for.
“You only start bulling for the work six weeks down the line – but we had plans for that, we knew that would happen in the first month, but in month two we were profitable.”
Such early profitability is astounding considering that another obstacle nearly totally stymied Tricia and Katharine – they were left without premises shortly before the launch of the business.
“We wanted somewhere with a year’s lease and we estimated what size we wanted and so on,” Katharine explains. “We found one that was great, but right at the last moment, about a week before we were due to start trading, it fell though – another company came in with a higher offer.
“We then spent nights trawling through the streets, looking for signs on offices! In the end, we decided to move into serviced offices, which is one of the best decisions we made, because we grew much faster than anticipated.”
“At the time, it felt like the biggest blow,” Tricia admits. “It was one of those points where we wondered whether to just stop and not do it – it was so lucky that the serviced premises were fabulous. We took two rooms and then extended into another room.”