Monday, 17 August 2015


Years ago when I was in advertising at a 50 person advertising agency with quite important clients like Heinz, Panasonic, Mazda and P&O we had a lot of small government contracts. What was frustrating was their smallness. This was explained by the commissioning body for Government advertising, The Central Office of Information, who said:

We worry about your size and the resources you have available. Even if you are more creative and astute than say Ogilvy and Mather or JWT they have such depth of resource”

At the time I thought this was nonsense but now I’m not so sure.

The trouble with sole traders or small businesses which abound in places like Brighton and in the new media sector is they tend to be introverted and slack at customer service. Great food that takes an inordinate time to reach you in a restaurant somehow tastes less than wonderful (however wonderful it may be) when put into a mouth dry with impatience.

As I watch the cohorts of sloppily dressed laptop tappers in coffee bars doing extraordinary things I wonder if what they are doing for their clients is on brief, on time and on budget. As I get cut up in my car by white vans with paint caked ladders on top and signage like “WePaint4U”, I know they are probably balancing three jobs in conjunction in their 10 to 4 world of under-delivery.

These sole trader/small enterprises are all working on a knife edge of panic. Too much work and they’re risking client wrath on a wide front; too little work and they face starvation.

Yet the alternative of being an employee carries its own problems of subservience, unreasonable demands and long hours. What we all want really is to be like Steve Jobs. We want to have our own way, be surrounded by brilliant executors of our ideas, be allowed to have tantrums and be treated like a God. Oh yes and have unmeasurably vast wealth.

Being part of a high achieving team sounds great too. But making it work is, as history shows, pretty hard. Human egos and incompatibilities of culture are the Goodwin Sands on which so many ships of ambition founder.

Human resourcefulness should be able to crack it but too seldom does.  We should be able to scale up the turnover and cash reserves of our businesses and at the same time retain our individuality and values. We should be able to find a place of like-minded people where we spend the 70% of weekly waking time which is working time.

My conclusions?

We must work harder. Britain has low productivity because we’re lazy - not driven enough to achieve fast results - not hungry enough.

We have to get better at working with each other. Especially with the people who give us money - our customers.

Unless we can lavish customers with care and attention we haven’t got a business worth developing. Big or small.

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