Somehow a year has passed since Tide Creative was born in the damp kitchen of a student digs in Cardiff. For me, it has been a year long journey full of passion, energy, highs, lows and more late nights than I care to recall!
I have decided to note down my story over the last 12 months, to try and inspire others who are leaving University that there is another path out there after graduating, that a glossy graduate scheme is not the only option and that running your own business is a reachable goal.
Let’s take it back to April 2015 – I, like many others, had succumbed to trawling through page after page of job adverts on Milkround and such like. With countless applications sent off for jobs I had no passion for whatsoever and a burning desire to be the master of my own destiny, I sat back and re-assessed.
Social media had played a huge part of my life throughout University, I was heavily involved in the cultivation of an extremely successful student nightclub event and was acutely aware of how social media can be utilised to market to extremely specific audiences at a fraction of the cost of traditional means. I was also aware of the fact that businesses and business owners in particular, were aware of social media but were often misinformed of its capabilities and did not want to invest the funds in employing a member of staff full-time to manage their social channels.
The marketing industry is extremely saturated and so in order to break-through I needed to have an extremely well defined proposition, something to allow me to stand out from any potential competitors.
So there-in lies the basis to the Tide Creative business plan – providing creative, pro-active and well researched social media management at a cost that SME’s can afford.
But how did it all start?
I had managed to build up a strong network of contacts in Cardiff throughout my time at University and was sure that my offering would be of interest to some of those people. There was however one thing holding me back, It costs thousands to start a business, right?
With barely a penny to my name after 3 glorious years frequenting Cardiff’s finest drinking establishments, withering my student loan away on anything and everything that I did not need, starting a business seemed somewhat out of reach.
It turns out I was wrong!
With it costing just £12 to register Tide Creative as a business with Companies House, I was half way there. I bought the domain tidecreative.co for just £1 and set about building our first website, with absolutely no experience whatsoever (IT GCSE is as good as it got for me).
A trip to the bank soon followed and we were ready for business!
By this point, I realised that I could no longer continue squatting in my girlfriends house and that I needed to be making some money in order to be able to actually eat. My main priority became bringing money in to the business as quickly as possible. I put myself out of my comfort zone and reached out to local businesses within Cardiff, promoting our services and urging them to come on board. Fortunately, the Del Boy school of sales paid off and our first client (Cafe37 – legends!) signed on the dotted line.
Make sacrifices in the short-term for long-term gains
Despite the fact we had signed our first client, unfortunately I still needed to pay rent for my house and needed some cash to invest in to the business in order to put together a sustainable platform for growth. As a result, I made the decision to take a part-time job, working three days per week for a reputable software company based in Cardiff, Innovantage. This gave me the freedom to work on my business 2 days per week (in reality it was 4+ including weekends and evenings!) whilst also giving me an injection of capital every month to invest in to the business.
Although my dream was to be sitting in my own office managing my own team, I realised very quickly that there are stepping stones to success and that sacrifices and sensible choices are to be made on the way. I also owe a lot to the senior management team at Innovantage, they gave me the freedom to grow Tide Creative, whilst nurturing me through the early stages – thanks chaps!
As projects began rolling in, I found myself working day and night, trying to balance my workload – free time was a forgotten memory!
Our first office and adding a Director
Fortunately, regular monthly contracts started to mount up, the business had a certain level of security and it was time to invest in our first office space. Set in the heart of the student area of Cathays in nothing more than a glass fronted converted garage, we had our first studio space, somewhere we could brand in our own way and really start to build the Tide Creative ethos.
(All hail IKEA for your fantastically cheap furniture)
For us, I really think having a dedicated space at such an early stage allowed for us to evolve, it gave the business an identity and actually led to us being able to form our internship programme alongside Cardiff University. The scheme gave the opportunity to 8 students to come in to the office 1 day per week, to learn about how we utilise social media to grow businesses – giving them real-life experience and skills which are not taught as part of the degree. We also aided in them building their own ideas, promoting entrepreneurship, something I feel incredibly passionate about. (This is a scheme we are looking to grow year on year, eventually creating a business accelerator programme for students across Cardiff.)
The space, I hope, became a very real representation of what can be achieved as a graduate, with it being so visible to the student population.
Balancing the workload and growing the business had become a tough ask as a lone wolf at this stage and I was keen to get fresh ideas in to the business. As a result I invited a talented friend from University, George, who had vast experience of the social space – growing his own successful clothing brand, Salt & Silk London, to become a Director of the business. This allowed for time and tasks to be split up as well as doubling the network of contacts associated to the business. A bold move but one which I felt was necessary at the time.
Upgrading offices, award wins and growing our team
In February, I left my part-time job to concentrate solely on Tide Creative, a scary move but a calculated one having built up firm foundations for the business. Over the next few months George and I engrossed ourselves further in to Tide Creative (I didn’t even know this was possible!), winning clients from across the UK, polishing our internal processes and strengthening our offering.
At this stage, our search began for our first employee, a daunting task for a small business! After around a month and a half of searching we interviewed Sian, a talented graduate, who would soon become our first employee!
As a result of becoming a team of three, we needed a larger space and I was keen to move away from the student area after finding a half eaten battered sausage in our letterbox clearly the remnants of a students antics the previous evening!
Fortunately, we came across a fantastic space in a city centre location, giving us over double the floor space at a very similar cost. Contracts were signed and we moved in.
A little insight in to the world of running your own business – you are the owner, accountant, handyman, painter & decorator, IT technician and all round dogsbody! This could not have been more prominent when we moved offices, having to kit out the space with all of the necessary equipment on a very short turnaround, but hey it’s all part of the fun (I never want to build another IKEA desk again!)
As we settled in to our new offices, we had some fantastic news that we had won the Santander Spark Challenge Award, a brilliant reward for all of the hard work and success we had achieved so far. In the same week, I also received confirmation that I was shortlisted in the final three of Cardiff Young Business Person of the Year at the Cardiff Business Awards.
Where are we now?
As we look back at the final few months of Tide Creative’s preliminary year, there have been further developments. We have continued to grow our team, investing in expertise and growing the knowledge base of Tide Creative – remember, employ people who are better than you!
George has now left the business to focus on his own ventures, a decision which will hopefully work out as a benefit for all parties and one which was certainly right at the time for both Tide Creative and George.
And our client base has begun to drive forward, with the company surging ahead in terms of growth.
Looking back, things have come a long way over the last 12 months, both as a business and personally. Tide Creative is beginning to become a recognised name in the social media sphere both throughout our home in Cardiff but across the UK and hopefully globally. We have worked with over 50 clients across the UK, Australia and the USA and I am excited for what the future holds!
Thanks for taking the time to read down this far and I hope this gives an insight in to what my life as a young entrepreneur has been like over the last year (do get in touch if you’d like to hear the gory details over a coffee).
I’d like to leave you with a word of advice for any budding entrepreneurs out there – I hope you can relate to my story and I hope it proves as a form of inspiration that there are huge opportunities out there in the world. Be brave and go after them!
In the immortal words of Steve Martin:
“be so good they can’t ignore you”