Will Craig, founder of Digital Impact, was looking for answers from someone who had first-hand experience in making a good business better and bigger.
At the time Digital Impact, a Glasgow-based web development and marketing agency, had six staff, and an annual turnover of £200,000. Will wanted to at least double that figure, getting it to the stage where it employed 30-40 people. Answers on how to get there were hard to come by. “Of course you search online for advice, but the answers you get are very general.” He says.
Will contacted the Scottish Business Mentoring service, which paired him up with Evelyn Toma, an experienced business leader with a stellar international career currently a director of a secure computer disposal company Re-Tek. Evelyn has worked both as a technology industry pioneer, with 20 years at Motorola behind her, and as an account manager with Scottish Enterprise. As Will describes it, the experience was wholly positive.
“Evelyn was quite direct and very frank, it wasn’t a mollycoddling experience.” Will explains.
“Through this engagement, I learnt quite a bit about planning ahead, as when you are running a business you don’t think ahead in the way you are supposed to, you don’t think about processes.”
That’s probably the most important lesson I learned: For everything you do you need a process in place, you need to have that, or every time you are doing something you are doing it slightly differently.”
Will’s engagement with Evelyn took the form 1-1 meetings lasting roughly an hour and a half. Guidance was provided on setting targets and on what Will Craig describes as “looking at things that frustrate you and how you could fix them.”
“She suggested things to carry out and I did them and they worked! For example getting projects done in time, identifying the reasons why the team were working so close to deadlines. She got us to write down three things we could do to improve processes and we put them into effect! It was all sensible stuff and relatively straightforward but you forget it during the day-to-day running of the business. Getting someone from the outside is really helpful for applying simple logic.”
Evelyn Toma remembers the engagement with Digital Impact in equally positive terms: “I know that being a managing director can be a lonely job. My work as an SE account manager made me realise that what I had myself learned about strategy from Motorola was invaluable but was not necessarily intuitive to SMEs. Some had great ideas and were doing great things but they were doing them in a shambolic way. They didn’t have the processes that would make them into excellent performers.”
“I enjoy mentoring as an opportunity to work with businesses and it gives me a chance to get out of my normal role of MD and take stuff that I knew worked and share it with some smaller businesses.”
“Businesses often make the same kind of mistakes, for example having management meeting where they set goals that they can’t possibly meet, and not differentiating between longer term and shorter term priorities.”
“I ask people ‘do your people have achievable goals, do they have the wherewithal to reach them, are they written down?’ You have to have goals and they have to know they have to deliver them. It’s not personal – but things in SMEs can become too personal. This is not about trying to be a nice person, it’s about training people to do what’s best to get the company where it needs to be.”
Thanks to Evelyn’s insights, says Will, Digital Impact was firmly placed on a positive trajectory. “My mentoring experience with Evelyn made us work in different ways. Whereas before it was ‘feast or famine’ we were now able to work in a different way and think more long-term about how we can put the right processes in place and make things better. We now have 11 staff and we’ve doubled turnover, and are working on a new car leasing comparison website. That’s not all attributable to mentoring, but I would certainly do it again.”
You can check out Digital Impact and the work that Will and his team are doing here: Digital Impact