People have always said to me that we were very brave for setting up our own business. “Were we?” I’d always reply. Honestly, I’ve always thought that it was the easiest choice we ever could have made.
Let me paint the picture.
Two lads straight out of uni, still living with parents, no serious relationships, no real commitments and brains packed full of knowledge fresh from a 4 year education. The least we could do was give it a shot. We had a passion for design; all we had to do was figure out how to make money from it.
The great thing about this journey is that Tom and I shared the same vision. We wanted to always enjoy what we did and be excited. We were determined to not let the world of business destroy that. Yes, we wanted growth but we wanted it to be managed and staged. Mainly because we were learning every day what it takes to run a business and to make decisions that affect other people.
Through the years we’re grown in stature and reputation. Our team has produced work that we’re proud of as well as work that we can say ‘pays the bills’ and although we have made mistakes, overall we’ve given our clients a positive experience of working with us.
Not only was the experience positive but the environment in which we worked was something that we’ve been particularly proud of. Tom and I wanted to create a workplace that was relaxed, fun and non-pressured. We didn’t want to work till all hours delivering stress filled and forced solutions. On top of that we now have families and it’s important that they’re not neglected. This belief applied as much to our team as it did to us.
It’s been a fun ride.
More recently though, our very steady ship has started to rock and as a result we’ve had to face realities that we’ve fought for years to avoid. We’ve had to look very hard at ourselves and team members and swallow some pretty big reality pills.
For the first time, it seems, the very important ‘business’ cloud started to rain on our parade.
It all started when I began having feelings of dread about Wednesdays. Y’see, Wednesday was our ‘Money Day’. It was the day that Jan would come in and as well as deal with all of the financials of the business, she’d also sit and tell me who owes us money, who we owe to, what we need to pay and who I have to chase. These are never great chats for me because my strength is being out, talking to people, raising our profile and generally schmoozing.
The great thing about Toward is that we’ve always had a strong customer base. Good relationships with clients have meant that we we’ve always been called upon to communicate something through design. We also have 10 years of experience behind us which is always a good sell. The problem is that as the current climate was squeezing clients, we were feeling that knock on effect. Cash flow started to suffer and soon our pendulum started to swing the wrong way. Because of this, both Tom and I had to face the realities of business by having to consider cuts.
Our team has always meant the world to us. To think that people would come and work for us, for our company and show commitment to our dream was a wonderful feeling. Whenever Tom and I felt that we needed another team member, we chose them as if they were going to be a new family member, someone who’d be with us for as long as the company was around. So facing the prospect of discussing cuts with them was painful. Whoever we were going to lose, they were going to be valuable people who were ingrained into the soul of Toward.
So after a very considered and open process we’ve had to say good bye to Liam and Annemarie. Liam, who’s been with us for eight years and been involved in the projects that have established this company and Annemarie who has put up with a studio full of rowdy men and developed into a great front end developer. Both very talented and lovely people who will be an asset to any design team.
It was a difficult process but a very necessary step which has taught us a lot about what it takes to run a business. It’s forced us to grow up, be better and create an even ground that we can now use to grow once more.
As part of this restructure we’ve also had the pleasure in joining a larger family. Over the years I’ve been lucky to meet and become friends with some inspirational business people who I turned to for advice during this testing period. As a result our great client and good friends at the MCL Group chose to invest in Toward and with their knowledge and backing of their team we’re predicting great things to come out of our studio.
The hook up with MCL gives us a couple of things. Firstly, they’re going to be our extended finance department who’ll run the money show. That will mean that we can concentrate solely on what we’re good at. They’re also going to give us a financial structure that will allow us to invest in skills and equipment. This means that we can try things that we were never able too. They also open us up to a much wider network which will bring us more business opportunities. We’re in a very lucky place.
This is the start of something new at Toward. A changed attitude to many aspects of the business but protecting the strand of our personality that people love. We will continue to be the best we can be and fill our work with as much individuality as our clients allow. We will continue to focus on relationships and produce work to be proud of.
To end this piece I wanted to thank Tom and the entire team, James Howells and all at the MCL Group. I especially want to thank the wonderful work and commitment of Annemarie and Liam who I’m sure have a bright future ahead of them. So now, when people say to me that we’re brave for running a business, I’ll probably reply “You’re damn right”.
— By Mike Jordan