The key business moves that shaped the growth of my company

Ed Reeves, founder of Moneypenny, shares his thoughts on the key decisions that resulted in a step-change at his company.

I think it’s fair to say that as a company, we’ve never shied away from making bold decisions.

In fact, even choosing to set our telephone-answering service Moneypenny up meant going against the advice of every business adviser we saw. (We were categorically told by all of them that we would fail and that what we wanted to do couldn’t be done).

Fortunately we didn’t listen. We knew, from firsthand experience, that there was a gap in the market for the service. That didn’t mean things were easy though. Far from it, and a number of key decisions that resulted in a step-change for the company were made in those early days.

The first of these was convincing high street banks to let us provide customers with the option of paying by direct debit. This was no mean feat as in those days only large corporates were allowed this facility. We were turned down by each and every one of the banks we visited, so in the end decided that we had no choice but to gain authority from BACS themselves in Spain, then taking that back to our banks as evidence of our eligibility. Thankfully, perseverance paid off and we were the first start-up to use direct debit. For us the implications of this were huge as it meant we had an instant (and constant) flow of cash and could operate without ever going into the red. 

Secondly, we chose to create our own internal software to route calls. Initially, this was borne out of necessity more than choice as none of the phone manufacturers could operate in the way that we wanted. This felt hugely frustrating at the time, but in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened. Prompting us to create our own system, it meant we were able to tailor our software exactly as we wanted. Miles better than buying an ‘off-the-peg’ service from a huge provider. Now, our software is leagues ahead of anyone else’s and presents a considerable barrier to entry into our market.

A marketing drive

Our next step change came in the form of marketing. Unlike most small businesses, we literally invested every single available penny that we had into it, working on the basic premise that if we knew the ROI on £1, we’d be able to predict this for £100,000 or £1 million. This again proved to be a key turning point for the company as we quickly realised that our growth was rooted in a strong identity. By being bold with our branding we were feeding the perception that we had big plans. We even took a big film company on for the trademark, and won. To this day we continue to use the same formula and scale up our marketing every year. Never underestimate this as a small business.

Three years later we made our next big decision and bought a 12,000 sq ft office. A fairly bold move considering that we had a relatively modest team of ten, it was our only option as none of the commercial letting agents had been willing to let such a large premises to such a small start-up. We had complete faith in our plan though, deliberately aiming to grow fast and knew we’d sooner die trying than stay small. The decision paid off and within a few years we had outgrown this office too. 

Around the same time we also realised that our recruitment strategy, which up until that point had been a happy accident, was actually a big part of our success. From PAs to sales and support staff, it’s our philosophy to recruit employees on attitude, rather than aptitude. This resulted in an incredible team of staff with a positive attitude and smiles so big you can hear them down the phone. Crucial when customer service is at the heart of what you do.

Having the right contacts

Fast forward another couple of years and our next lesson came in the form of learning just how important the right contacts are. Having recently launched a dedicated service for our larger clients, we knew we wanted to target a number of specific sectors, but penetrating such large industries isn’t always easy – and that’s where contacts are key. Be it partnerships with professional bodies or getting to know the key movers and shakers, not only can they open doors you don’t even know are there, but they can also give you the credibility you need to totally dominate those particular sectors.

Since then we’ve made many more important decisions, from creating industry firsts like our online platform where clients can monitor their account to opening an office in New Zealand where our UK PAs handle our clients’ overnight calls; but those decisions from the early days were probably the most influential in helping us become the company that we are today.

Everything we’ve done has been scalable though. Most recently we opened our first office in the US and started building work on a new £15 million HQ here in Britain for instance, and while thinking big is crucial, there’s absolutely no point in setting yourself unrealistic expectations.

So my advice to any small business would be this: think big – bigger, no bigger again – and never stop knocking down barriers. 

Ed Reeves is co-founder of Moneypenny.

Further reading on small business growth

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