BLOG: A Collaborative Business Model

When you’re starting a company, there’s a real pull between working on the business and working in the business. One day you’ll be pitching to clients in shiny offices, the next beavering away in your little studio.

The way I’ve always balanced this pull is by hiring freelancers as new projects come through the door. It means my company can expand and contract quite fluidly, and leaves me free to work on whichever aspects of the project – be it business or creative – which I think need the most attention.

Whether it’s film makers, designers, marketers or sales people, I structured Mash Media Cafe to remain small, agile and at the centre of a great network of talent that can be called in at whichever stage of a project they’re required for.

Effectively we’ve turned the concept of artistic collaboration into a very flexible business model. This is a huge benefit financially, as it helps keep costs to a minimum by only paying people for the period they’re actually needed on a project. Everyone involved can either invoice the client directly or invoice me and I’ll subcontract. What this means is that we don’t need an accounts department – let alone complicated tax structures and NI costs – and we can pass these savings on to our clients.

Aside from financial benefits, this model also means that we can boast a huge array of disciplines and regarded professionals when pitching. I’ve found that prospective clients really like this idea of a large, disparate group of independents who come together under one banner when a project beckons. It means they can have their pick from a huge pool of creatives, far larger and more diverse than any one creative agency could keep on contract.

Ultimately, this collaborative network of a business model gives the client choice and value; not a bad pair of cards to have up your sleeve when pitching!

Of course, this whole system depends entirely on the size, quality and reliability of our network. Fortunately, I’d been managing business development and networking events at other agencies for many years before starting Mash Media Cafe. It meant that I already had a wide network of desirable talent, and there is no way that I would have started this business without that. No one should.

Once that network was in place, we needed to get our name out there and secure our first clients. I was feeling pretty ambitious at the time and so simply drew up a list of every company we’d love to work with, decided which were aligned with our network and then approached them on a speculative basis. It was tough, but without being tenacious and chasing every lead then no company will ever evolve from ‘good idea’ to ‘functioning business’.

Our lean model is a great comfort when looking for new clients. As we don’t need truckloads of money every month to keep cash flow fluid, we can be a bit more picky about who we work with. If the job’s not fun, doesn’t pay right or the proposition isn’t worthwhile then, well, we won’t take it.

As well as making Mash Media Cafe a fun company to be involved with, this ‘pickiness’ (if you will) also gives us credibility in the industry and a very strong portfolio. Not something you can buy, I assure you!

Given the current financial climate, with jobs scarce yet talent abundant, I think that we’ll probably start to see more of these collaborative businesses models popping up. Who knows, it may even become the norm. I just hope that they too have the network and contact base to make a real go of it.


Mash Media Cafe work with clients to help them stay ahead of the competition by designing compelling campaigns, creating fresh ways to engage audiences and using relevant means to share messages.

Illustrated by Marianna Madriz

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