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Agency growth case study: Uniform

Quick facts

Company name, date formed

Uniform, formed 1998

Office locations

Liverpool, London

Prior year approximate fee income

£2.65m

Ownership

5 shareholders:

MD, Commercial Director and 3 x Creative Directors

Staff numbers, excluding freelancers

Total staff 53
Creative 50%
Account/Client servicing 20%
Digital 10%
Strategic 5%
Admin/Finance 5%
Other (Ops, R&D, Business Dev, Marketing) 10%

Describe what you do, why you do it and who you do it for.

 

Uniform logoWe’re a design and innovation company. We use design, innovation and imagination to create change. We provoke and inspire thinking, questions and experiments that change perspectives and ideas of what’s possible now and in the future.

We’re interested in design that makes a difference, that transforms our client’s business, no matter the industry. From sport to retail & consumer goods, from property & place to public good & the arts our work strives to deliver results. We work with national and international brands, and include the likes of Mitre, Amtico, Canary Wharf Group and Unilever.

Looking back

What has been the hardest thing about getting your agency to where it is now?

Getting the balance right between creativity, culture and commercial success has always been critical. And investing in the right parts of the business at the right time, putting solid processes in place and not being afraid to run the company like a serious business – something which is often a challenge for many design agencies and studios.

Right now

What might slow/prevent your growth to the next level?

It feels like the step change in scale becomes more drastic as you get bigger, for us there have been 3 distinct phases from startup (3 founders) to 50 people; up to 12 is like a close knit family, 12-30 gets a bit more grown up but you can still take the whole team away for a weekend in Europe, but from 30-50 you need serious financial commitment and energy to keep the business in balance and stay ahead.

Now it feels like the next significant change will hit at around 75, and presumably again at 100+. Making this transition will be interesting! Our current focus is on ensuring we have the business in a good place before we enter that next phase of aggressive growth, so right now we’re working hard on creativity, culture, processes and developing our clients (both existing and new) which will drive better work, a more dynamic and autonomous team and ultimately deliver better profitability.

This will then allow us the breathing space to reinvest time, money and effort in to another phase of growth, focussed in London and on digital services.

What’s next

What are your aspirations for the business? 

Our long term aim is to be seen as a global leader in design and innovation, alongside the likes of Ideo for example, it’s a huge task but it’s important to have those big ambitions to keep driving you as a business. In the shorter term we’ll continue to grow, we’ll continue to climb the Design Week Top 100 rankings (were currently at number 43 and hope to hit the top 20 in the next couple of years). And whilst growth is important to us, we want to ensure that we continue to be recognised for both our creativity and our innovation, and in doing so build a great business that people know, love and respect.

Advice

What advice would you give slightly smaller agencies looking to grow successfully?

If you are looking to grow, make sure you invest in business development and marketing early on. And for a high growth plan don’t be afraid to invest in senior people, they may feel expensive at the time (they might even be paid more than the founders) but it will pay off in the long run, providing you get those appointments right.

Cash in the bank and the right level of investment is critical too, as you get bigger profits may increase but the swing of cash flow will too. You’ll need to be able to take the higher highs with the lower lows!

Think about how you’ll differentiate, and that’s not just about being incrementally better or smarter than the competition, real differentiation is about defining a unique offer and a territory you can own and protect. For us that has come from a commitment and investment in R&D and creative technology combined with a strategic led, integrated offer all under one roof.