Simon Lawrence: “There’s a lack of skills in the B2B market”

Name:

Simon Lawrence

Role and Company:

CEO – Uncommon Knowledge Global Marketing, Commercial Director – Atelier Studios

Company Turnover (combined) 

£1.1 m

EBIT (combined) 

£260 k

Number of employees – (Combined)

17

Growth forecast for next three years (combined)

£2.1 m, £3.8m, £5.6m

Uncommon Knowledge is a passionate and restless B2B data and insight business, designing, delivering and managing truly integrated insight driven relationship marketing programmes in on and offline media – anywhere in the world. UKGM’s owners have in excess of 50 years of experience putting data at the heart of marketing programmes, transforming the way that some of the UK’s leading brands operate today.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Data is everywhere and more important now than ever. We’ve always believed that – but importantly, the clients now know it too. Despite this, there is still a significant lack of skills – particularly in B2B markets. UKGM brings vast experience to support the continuing growth in the market – evangelising the insight led approach – and innovating in creating products and services to support its clients.   

Because digital, mobile and social are so important to the marketing mix data agencies must have strong capabilities, skills and experience in these areas. UKGM and Atelier will work together to service its clients – and ultimately merge to become the UK’s first truly data driven agency.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations

Currently less than ten per cent, however our experience – particularly with US based global IT companies will guide and inform the solutions we develop.   

Biggest career set back and what you learned from it

After some initial meandering, everything I’ve done has led me to where I am now – I have no regrets. However in my last company we had a major setback in 2007, when we unexpectedly lost two very large clients causing seven years of growth to go into reverse and the cash flow gap hit us like a tidal wave. 

I realised that I’d lost touch with what was happening on the ground and had got too far from the coal face. I rolled up my sleeves up and got stuck in. It took us nine months but we turned it around and went on to continue on its pre 2007 trajectory to a successful trade sale in 2010. It was a scary period of very distilled learning and we almost didn’t make it, but the knowledge and experience gained was invaluable.   

What makes you mad in business?

I’m quite a passionate person and so I naturally get quite emotional about lots of things. But I’ve learned to be calm and control the emotions – and always take a balanced view of problems or issues. However, bullying, arrogance or stupidity will normally cause the odd twitch.

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

The data market is changing so quickly. I left my last company a year after the company sale and can hardly recognise the industry three years later. Traditional marketing handbooks are out of the window. Digital and social media are still front and centre, but mobile marketing, apps, and the data generated will be the biggest change to our way of life – and thus our industry. It’s going to be massive.

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

I don’t know – I’m lucky enough to be able to fund the growth of my business this time around, but I suspect not. We survived in 2007 partially because we had taken the time and trouble to develop a really good working relationship with our bank – where a great deal of trust was generated. However, the crash meant less money to lend and less local lending decisions. There’s money out there, and investors want a return greater than they can get in banks or the stock market. So if I needed funds I’d be looking at business angels / VC, peer to peer lending or even crowd funding.

How would others describe your leadership style?

I set the vision and give plenty of communication and support to ensure that everyone understands and is fully engaged. I’m certainly not a micro manager – I don’t have the time, and I think micro management is the killer of creativity and self expression. Everyone knows what they have to do, and I don’t expect to keep having to remind them.   

Your biggest personal extravagance?

I am a total sucker for fast cars – I have a few – including a car that I use for competitions. Lucky I have a very supportive wife!

You’ve got two minutes with the PM. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent entrepreneurial business free to prosper.

Entrepreneurs are the real engine room of the economy – creating employment, vibrancy in driving innovation and importantly tax revenues which help to pay for the welfare state.

Over the last few years the benefits around capital gains tax for entrepreneurs have been eroded to the point that they are pathetic – and not differentiated in any way from short term speculators on the stock market.

A person selling a business after ten years of risk and hard work will pay significant capital gains tax on the sale proceeds and then again if he tries to spend more than five per cent of it in any year. If the PM wants to encourage entrepreneurs he should re introduce a meaningful taper relief – and increase the threshold for unearned income – and ease the silly complex, regulations on the EIS.

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