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How difficult is it to start your own agency?

Despite the dire economic conditions of late, or perhaps even as a result of them, there has been no shortage of new businesses starting up, with creative marketers shaking the confines of big agency life to go it alone and take control of their own destinies. The Drum recently caught up with a number of new starts to find out the thinking behind their creation.

Open sign image via Shutterstock

Here we take a look at some of the biggest challenges faced by agencies as they start out on their own paths.

What were the biggest challenges in getting your doors open?

Open sign image via Shutterstock

  • Dave Brown, managing director, Apposing: Hiring full-time members of staff on the back of winning a significant contract is always the largest challenge and also the scariest. Suddenly I was responsible for the income and lives of my team. Making that leap of faith was the most challenging yet also the most rewarding.
  • Tom Sharp, creative director, The Beautiful Meme: No investment, no significant clients and no one’s heard of you.
  • Garry Allan, managing director, Big Think Agency: I’m please to say that our main challenge was getting ‘paid for’ work done and delivered whilst searching for an office, getting all our systems in place and pitching for new business. It is a credit to the whole team that we managed to look composed to all our clients whilst behind the scenes it was frantic!
  • Jessica Butcher, CMO and founding director, Blippar: Getting a foot in the door with agencies and brands as a brand new technology start-up (with a slightly silly name on first hearing!) and convincing the first brands to take a risk on the technology with us.
  • Tom Pratt, founder and graphic designer, Catalogue Studio: We were lucky in that we had a few projects ready to start. When you’re young and have no money you don’t really have a lot to loose so there’s a smaller risk involved setting up. The biggest challenge we faced was getting up to speed on the admin side of running a business, chasing invoices etc.
  • Chris Pyatt, co-founder, Class Creative: That initial jump into self employment was the biggest hurdle to overcome but being shortlisted by The Good Web Guide was just the push we needed. There were surprisingly few challenges to begin with as the main thing was we had both the ideas and courage to make a go of it.
  • Jennifer Corcoran, partner, Design by House: I suppose the self-belief that it was possible to create a space for ourselves in a congested market place was the 'biggest challenge', it was more a mental than a practical problem but it needed to be overcome before we launched.
  • Greig Anderson, creative director/founder, Effektive: I think making the final decision to go for it and taking the leap was the biggest challenge. I was lucky that I was getting some work from my friends at Bourne to begin with which really acted as a bit of a fall back should things be a bit quiet. It would have been a much more difficult decision to take without their initial support.
  • Tina Judic, managing director, Found: This was probably the separation from affiliate to agency and pitching Found as a search agency to be reckoned with.
  • Simon Douglas, co-founder, FOUNDED: Cashflow and watching the pennies in the early days is very important and making sure you invest in the areas that genuinely make a difference. Not the conference room table!
  • Greg Jones, co-founder, Glass Jar: We've actually experienced very few challenges in getting the doors open. The beauty of setting up a business like ours is that the start up costs are relatively low. It's certainly helped that we've built a strong network of contacts over the years so when it came to designing and building a website, designing business cards, printing marketing materials etc. we've been able to call in a few favours. The abundance of cheap office space in London currently has also helped us.
  • Helena Bullivant and Kate Myers, co-founders, HERO: Opening the doors was easy, as we already had ads to make. Finding the right name (HERO) was the toughest part.
  • Chris Gordon, new business director, Ingenious Rapport: Fighting perceptions, turning an existing business into a forward thinking creative agency and proving to clients that we can deliver.
  • Debbie Happell, director, Kayak: Getting our name and brand right to truly represent who we are – it's now loved by many!
  • James Lonergan, creative director, LONO: Finding the right people was the major challenge. It’s not that hard to find intelligent candidates, but I needed to find the right team who worked together with excellent rapport as I believe this is the only way to fuel creativity within a team. Also, although positioning ourselves amongst our competitors that have been longer established, and promoting our business with a very small advertising budget was difficult, good work and our reputation spread fast.
  • Gerard Savva, managing director and Becky Edlin, creative director, Magpie: Just having the guts to do it. We just got to a point and said “let’s just push the button!”
  • Pete Sharp, designer and director, March Design Studio: Starting the business was challenging, given that we funded everything ourselves. We were clear from the outset that we wanted to avoid business loans in the early stages. So our studio was set up on something of a shoe string budget, but as we develop we invest carefully, in the right kit for example.
  • Martin O’Toole, managing director, McGrath O’Toole: We’ve been very lucky in terms of winning a great deal of new business and having happy clients tell their contacts about us. So far, so good… Always looking for more clients though!
  • Jason Cartwright, founder, Potato: Hiring the best talent is definitely the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity we have. Running out of office space has also proved an intermittent but unavoidable problem, while certain institutions (the bank, local authorities, landlords, the taxman) have at times found our rapid growth tough to accommodate.
  • Rik Hopkinson, creative director, RedMeat Creative: We knew our portfolio would be a key ingredient to growth and a lot of work was done as a white label for other agencies. In order for us to win direct work we really had to stand up to the bigger agencies and insist that we would need to show the work on our own portfolio. This in turn has led us to more direct work of every shape and size.
  • Laith Clark, managing director, TapMob: Actually taking the plunge and doing it and finding good reliable people to work with.
  • Marcus Foley, client partner, TOMMY: Getting a front door you can call your own. We only moved into our own studio last summer. Second was finding the time, in between fee-paying client projects, to create an agency website which represented everything Tommy stood for as an agency which in turn would help recruit great talent to our London office.
  • Brian Whigham, managing director, Venn Digital: Raising the money and getting people to trust in my vision. I was very passionate about what we could build and asking people to leave well paid jobs or turn down graduate schemes to work with me was challenging. Once we had the core team the momentum built very quickly. Sales have continued to be strong as we have stuck to what we are good at and believe in.

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