Both Jonathan and I always had ambitions to run our own business, and knew we could do it as well as, if not better than, other firms. We saw a "ceiling" on the potential for achievement at the large organisations we had worked for.
Did you need to borrow money?
No, that's the big advantage with consultancy work – the start-up costs are very low.
How have you built up your business?
We got some fairly large commissions early on and have tried to grow the business steadily. The idea has always been to ensure that we have sufficient funds to ride through any short-term lulls. This has given us a platform to spend more time marketing and selling our services.
This approach has been coupled with a very high reliance on IT. We have invested from the outset in hardware and software of a high quality, which enables us to match the larger practices in terms of standards of document production, use of planning software and database capabilities.
We've also looked to recruit high-calibre, highly computer-literate staff, as developing a good reputation at an early stage is vital.
How do you recruit staff?
Through advertising and agencies, but the best people we've found are those we've worked with before or are aware of from our knowledge of the industry. Joining a new company at the early stages can be seen as an advantage, as you're in a strong position when the company grows.
The staff we have are fully committed to MBM and we try to reward them in financial terms and in the way we operate. We place a high degree of trust in our staff, with flexible working arrangements and low-key involvement from us whenever possible.
We have become disillusioned with the full-time graduate education route for potential QSs. Both Jonathan and I were educated in the old part-time "day-release" tradition, which involved far more practical work experience. We are more inclined to recruit A-level students, to train to our standards through part-time degree education, than graduate QSs.
How do you find clients?
Networking. We had some contacts who gave us work and we developed a database of personal contacts to whom we offered our services.
We use company brochures and mailshots but find that the best way of building your client base is by getting satisfied clients. We also try and go to seminars and functions to meet new people – potential clients and prospective staff. We try to ensure that we improve the service offered to existing clients as keeping these is as important as getting new clients.
What was your biggest problem and your greatest success – so far?
Biggest problem – getting over the "perception" thing that comes with being a new company. Greatest success – our expanding client list. In the short time we've been trading, we have worked for some major building and M&E companies.
Advantages and disadvantages of forming your own business?
You become more proactive – otherwise the fees dry up. You have to turn your hand to a wider variety of functions, ranging from your core work skills, to more general business skills such as accounts, marketing and personnel. Another major advantage is being able to move the company into new areas of business, such as development, which would not be so easy working for others. Disadvantages? You have nobody to rely on but yourself and your key staff. If you don't do it, it won't happen.