18/09/2014

BLOG: Opening the Second Office

There’s a scene in Jaws when Roy Schneider sees the size of the shark, staggers backwards and mumbles, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

It’s a bit like that the moment you realise that your business needs to expand. I founded Renegade as a low-risk lifestyle business. I was a freelancer, bringing in other freelancers when I won larger projects that needed to be delivered across Europe. However, as demand for our PR services grew, I started recruiting people full-time in our small office near the Forest of Dean.

After a few successful years, our ambitions evolved to offer new products and services. This was no longer a lifestyle business, we wanted to win new clients in different sectors. But that meant recruiting people with more experience. However, stuck in the middle of (what most people consider) nowhere, it was difficult to attract and retain the right talent.

There were a few options to solve this: 1) offer candidates a lot more money to join us 2) pay for their commute or 3) let them work from home; none of which were ideal. When you’re building a small business the last thing you need is fragmentation – and it’s not exactly cost effective to increase overheads. Then the penny dropped: we needed a bigger boat, or in our case – an extra one.

Choosing a location was also a challenge. Do we open in a city north or south of our current location? Cheltenham, Birmingham, Bristol or overseas? Despite the majority of our clients being overseas we opened a second office in Bristol, a city with bags of entrepreneurial, friendly, talented people.

There were also additional benefits – access to regional business opportunities and new collaborators. It sounded good and, with its established creative hub, we instantly felt at home. Unfortunately, wanting a second office and making it happen are two very different propositions. It’s not that it’s difficult, but it is time consuming and costly. There are the practicalities of getting the right space, but you also have to think about how to foster the right environment within it.

As a creative company we wanted something inspiring, relaxed and motivational – so we searched interesting spaces (lofts, studios, etc) in edgier parts of the city. But, from that grand vision, the process quickly shifted to the mundane: Are there enough parking spaces?

Who is providing telecoms? Is the broadband quick enough? How many waste paper bins do we need? Having an excellent operations manager, who made it his mission to find the right location, deal with the logistics, and be accountable for the opening was a huge benefit. Essential, even.

There were some tricky decisions – such as negotiating the right lease. We didn’t want to be stuck in a five-year contract in case the move was a flop, but we also needed some security. But actually the most difficult decisions were conceptual, such as should the new office be an extension of the existing one or an enterprise in its own right?

As founder, should I head up both offices or would an independent management structure better suit? We decided to split the functions, keeping the PR team in Gloucestershire and building our digital team in Bristol. This would give the new office its own sense of identity. It made sense on paper, so we gave the Bristol office its own budget and targets and set it up to win its own clients. In practice, it took a lot longer than we expected to pay off. We thought that because we already had contacts, gaining new business would be easy, but it took a lot longer than we thought to stand on its own two feet.

If you’re thinking of opening a second office, my advice is to set some expectations and then halve them. It’s great to have work in place from existing clients, but you need somebody hunting out new business from day one. That’s critical. Make sure you set a long-term strategy detailing how the office will become sustainable and scalable, and get the right people in place who you trust to deliver it.

After 18 months we’ve learnt masses and have made several changes; PR is now a core function of the Bristol office. We’re glad we did it because we’ve widened our talent pool, won new business, fostered new relationships and have interesting new collaborators.

We’ve now opened a satellite office in Berlin, principally to service our Onitsuka Tiger fashion client. It’s literally a couple of desks and a sneaker showroom in an open-plan creative hub but the lessons learnt from Bristol have been applied and we have a fantastic person running the office. So while it’s too soon to say we’re cruising, we’re definitely better prepared to tackle the big fish.


RENEGADE

PR agency Renegade recently opened its second office in Bristol and has been quick to become part of the city’s creative scene thanks in part to award-winning work for the GCHQ intelligence agency.

Illustrated By James Gibbs

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