TechBrunch: Steven George-Hilley founder of Centropy PR
In the first of a new series of interviews with business entrepreneurs and start-up founders, The Commentator caught up with Steven George-Hilley, founder of communications agency Centropy PR to discuss what challenges new businesses are facing as Britain prepares for Brexit
Every month The Commentator will be interviewing entrepreneurs from across the UK who have taken the plunge and decided to launch their own business. Given the backdrop of Brexit, political uncertainty with a minority Government and social unrest, starting a business has never been such a challenge.
Centropy started with three retained clients and two staff but is already seeing growth.
We met with Steven George-Hilley, founder of Centropy to discuss what it was like setting up an agency and how he is getting on just four weeks into the job.
Four weeks in, how is it going and do you have any regrets?
I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from friends, family, clients and former colleagues.
I’m not known for doing things quietly, so I wanted Centropy to launch with a bang. We needed staff, paying clients, good financial support, a proper office, IT system and website if we were going to hit the ground running. All these ingredients were essential for establishing us as a challenger brand from the outset and getting clients excited about what we're up to.
Our strategy has worked - dozens of prospective clients are entering conversations about how we can help them improve their communications approach to enable them to grow. They like that we're independent and ambitious for growth.
My only regret is that I didn’t break away sooner.
That said, I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 11 years working for other great agencies like Weber Shandwick, Lewis and Hotwire.
Why did you decide to go out on your own?
Self-employment runs in my family, on both sides across several generations. So you could argue I was simply following tradition.
In truth, there has never been a better time to launch your own business.
All the resourcing issues that used to be a barrier to self-employment are now easily available online. IT support, file storage, accountancy, HR, legal services are all easily accessible for reasonable subscription fees.
For example I was able to build my own website and set up my basic IT infrastructure myself using an online business service.
I’d also reached a point in my career where I was looking for the next big opportunity. It was kind of a make or break moment.
It was time to break out.
What barriers do you think are preventing ambitious entrepreneurs from starting their own businesses?
The scariest part about launching your own business is cutting yourself off from the comforts of being employed by someone else. No matter how hard your previous job was, when you are independent you have none of the protection associated with being on the payroll of someone else.
You instantly lose your entitlement to holidays, sick pay, well-being schemes and pension contributions. On top of that your role and responsibilities increase dramatically, this includes taking responsibility for the company finances, operations, marketing, contracts and legal work.
It’s a big decision, however well-connected you are. There’s every chance that you might struggle to find work, lose momentum and the entire experiment goes wrong.
You have to be mentally and financially prepared to power through a crisis of confidence and keep going even if things don’t turn out the way you planned.
How are you funding Centropy and will you need investment in the future?
With good financial management, PR overheads can remain low. There are office costs, travel and phone bills etc. but I’ve kept all this to a minimum.
I’m currently surviving with no salary, living off minimal savings, backed up by a credit card for business expenses.
It may sound horrible, but there is something very appealing about cutting all your household and personal costs when you’re trying to build your own business.
The luxury London lunches are gone, swapped instead for fishfinger sandwiches or a bowl of soup. Both are very cost effective, when I get time to eat.
It may sound crazy but I made a commitment to reinvest any profits from the first quarter back into the company, to raise my own capital and move into our Q2 with reserves. It’s about putting the future of the business first, not splashing out on the first cash that lands in the bank.
What do those thinking of launching their own agency need?
Confidence is key. This also has to be backed up by contacts.
You need to know that your clients trust your judgement and view you as someone who can offer them a level of service they would never get anywhere else.
New entrepreneurs will find they are made to feel incredibly welcome and others are very keen to offer advice and support. I’ve already made so many wonderful new friends and am the happiest I’ve ever been.
What next for Centropy PR?
I have mountains of paperwork to complete and nearly a dozen new business leads to either pitch or prepare proposals for. It’s going to be a very busy Q1 but we’ll take stock on our plans at the end of the calendar year.
What I can promise is that Centropy will continue to invest in its team and is geared towards growth. This will come from delivering outstanding client services and operating quicker and slicker than the established agencies in the market.
What's the best thing about owning your own agency?
Being able to pick my daughter up from nursery every day.
Steven George-Hilley is the founder of Centropy PR @StevenGeorgia
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