Telling the truth about SME life today

Barnaby Lashbrooke on why the way businesses get tasks done is changing

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Barnaby Lashbrooke

Role and company:?

Founder of virtual workforce platform Time Etc

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):?

Turnover £1.2m, EBITDA £300,000

Employee numbers:?

25 full-time employees and hundreds of freelancers

Growth forecast for the next three years:?

£3.1m revenue

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:?

Freelancer websites are prolific but, until now, they?ve been self-service marketplaces – time consuming to use and risky if you pick the wrong person. Time Etc offers a fully managed service: we hand pick and test every freelancer, manage your projects and monitor quality. Every task is set, completed and paid for through the system.

What’s the big vision for your business?

The way businesses get tasks done is changing. Before long, businesses will only hire permanent staff for key roles, and use quality freelancers for everything else. We want to be the trusted partner to the thousands of businesses that will benefit from the cost savings and increased flexibility by doing just that. And as we get bigger and expand into more countries, quality will continue to underpin the model. Right now, freelance marketplaces have no quality-control filter.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

We re in the UK and USA at the moment and seeing strong growth. We d like to tackle Australia next.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:?

When we started the business I wasn?t particularly careful about costs, so we burned a lot of cash just existing in the first few months. I’d set up my first business (in web hosting) aged 17, and sold it seven years later to a PLC so, although it was my own cash we were burning,it really impacted my vision for the business and we went into survival mode rather than growth mode. I learned a great deal about controlling cost and bootstrapping wherever possible, which is how we run the business today.

What makes you mad in business today?

Not many things make me mad, but shoddy service is one of them. Dealing with the big service providers like BT and British Gas has been painful over the past few years. These are industries that just haven?t moved with the times to adapt to how businesses want to work these days.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years

Our industry is worth about $1bn today and within the next three years that?ll be more like $5bn, so our market will see rapid growth. As SME owners look to bootstrap their enterprises, and freelancing increasingly becomes a career choice, virtual employees will become more prolific. Many SMEs are already outsourcing specialist roles like IT management, web design and HR but there’s no reason other than habit why personal assistants credit controllers, administration staff, project managers and even receptionists shouldn?t work remotely, saving SMEs money on office space, equipment, and the other associated costs of growing an in-office workforce.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow” If not, what can be done to improve things

A few years ago our industry was so young that financing didn?t happen. Thankfully there is now plenty of interest from the venture capital industry and other sources globally.

How would others describe your leadership style

I asked a colleague and they said inspirational?, which is very kind (she had no choice, I pay her wages). I hope that most people find me challenging and trusting in equal measure.

Your biggest personal extravagance ?

If you?d asked me in my twenties I’d have said the Ferrari I bought after selling my first business. It lived in my garage and was never used. Now I’d say being able to work from home a couple of days a week and see plenty of my 17-month old daughter.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Britain’s entrepreneurs deserve tax breaks if they successfully build a business to profitability. The entrepreneurial journey is so difficult and fraught and, for many people, involves years of risk and low or no income, so it would be extremely encouraging to see the government acknowledging this by providing one or two year tax breaks to those who have successfully got through it, as a thank you for creating jobs, wealth and prosperity for the country.



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