John Irvine, WightFibre
No-one will buy from you if they’ve never heard of you.
The average UK company spends maybe 2-3 percent of it's turnover on marketing.
In America it's around 5 per cent. The world's biggest brands are nearly all American partly because of this.
When I joined the company we had to convince Islanders that we were changing, and the new ‘WightFibre’ name helped that.
We were spending 10 per cent of our turnover on marketing. Half this was spent on letting people know we existed, the other half on directly acquiring new customers.
Newspaper, radio, leaflet and online marketing all played their part. It didn’t happen quickly – it took perhaps three months before sales started to increase.
But it worked! WightFibre is now a thriving local business, employing 33 staff. We're growing at an average of 15% year on year.
In difficult times, marketing is all too easy to cut. But that's a false economy – you cut off your flow of new customers and sales fall.
Over half of WightFibre’s new customers now come in after friends and family have recommended us. But the key to our success is still continuous, effective marketing to keep WightFibre in peoples’ minds.
The New Success Secret: Learn Faster
Commentary by Dave Simon
Things change – all too fast sometimes.
New products, new ways of doing things, new political boundaries...
Survival depends on learning. Success depends on learning faster.
“Anyone who thinks they already know everything is deluded” says John Irvine, CEO of WightFibre (see main story).
Most Island business owners interviewed for the 'Best Decision' Column agree that mentoring and coaching staff helps to focus their learning.
The best issues benefit both staff in their job AND the company.
Here are some ways to make sure you benefit:
Put Learning On Your Agenda – encourage everyone to learn how to complete their tasks better.
Find A Learning Champion – ask a senior person to continue that encouragement.
Create A Learning Librarian – arrange resources to make learning easier.
Increase Knowledge Collection – pool and store learnings.
Re-Use And Repeat Lessons Learnt – use your newsletters, videos, motivational posters, staff meetings, coaching sessions and career progression policies.
Sometimes learning can be linked to other useful activities. While surfing the internet for new ideas, employees can collect other useful info. They can also promote your company's profile when opportunities arise.
For example: find out How To Raise Prices Without Worrying Your Customers.
Data Gives Confidence
I keep a very close eye on our marketing. I have a dashboard – an ongoing report of spend and key indicators of it's results. It's a data-driven management approach. It gives me confidence in our progress.
Over the years, our actual spend has reduced to more like 7.5 per cent – but that's still above average for the UK.
I'm very pleased with the high rate of recommendations we get. We do work hard on providing a high-quality internet service and support services. The word-of-mouth means I have to spend less, so anything we can do to improve that makes my marketing budget more cost-effective.
Where I Started
I was torn between a career in the army and a career in business. After graduating, I was due to start Sandhurst on first of September or IBM on the fourth of August. IBM came first and I stayed!
My first ever job, while I was at school, was serving petrol at the local petrol station before the days of self-service. Petrol was 90p per gallon – that's 18p per litre!
Since then, I have worked for a number of start-ups, none of which became particularly successful. But apart from one, I don't think I lost investors any money.
I don't think anything really scares me in business. There's always an answer to a business problem. It just sometimes takes time to get there. In business, time is your enemy. In November 2012, WightFibre was just days away from going into Administration, yet here we are, stronger than ever, four years later.
Profit Enables Growth
I think the EBITDA is the most important measure of business health. This is an accounting measure that shows how much profit a business makes on a here-and-now basis.
In reality, it is only sensible to take any profit once you have invested back into the business. You need to maintain growth and keep it competitive – otherwise, in the long run, there will be no business left to run! Making ends meet is not enough.
We Need Change
I see the Island's economy as struggling to adapt to change at the moment. I see many small businesses doing as well or better than they have ever done – including WightFibre! But I also see businesses that are too slow to adapt to changes within their industry. But others are good at staying ahead of the curve – Robin Hill's Eco-pods and Isle of Wight Radio's new app are both good examples.
We could be doing more to help ourselves. We can look off the Island for the latest ideas and innovations rather than staring at our own navels complaining about the decline. We need to seek to do things differently.
We are a self-contained community. We have enough here to survive well if we stay positive. Negativity is the quick route to despair.
We need to play safe and pick our battles carefully. With so many small businesses, we have advantages. Their improvements cost less than big businesses. And they can be quicker to adapt. Change is what we need to keep up.
Invest In The Future
I wish I'd been advised to look forward to the longer term. For many years I was too focused on the next 12 months. I didn't look far enough ahead. Of course, if cash is a problem, you can only look short term – but you must still have an eye to the long term. Even short term decisions need to have a strategic context, otherwise they may not be the right decisions.
Mentoring and coaching staff is essential. Anyone who thinks they already know everything, or would not benefit, is deluded. I am a member of Vistage, a training, mentoring and self-help organisation for MDs and CEOs.
If I could, I would fund a gap year for every 18-year-old to let them travel the world and gain new experiences. Travel opens the mind. It provides context for what you know and introduces you to new ideas – even new ways of thinking. It can birth new ambitions. It can give you new contacts who help you do new things.
If nothing else it would help them appreciate the wonderful community they have here on the Island.