Turning points in growing your consultancy

The DBA’s John Scarrott looks at the example of Webb deVlam, which grew from 12 to 30 in three years.

Brand strategy and design agency Webb deVlam, has offices in London, Chicago and Singapore – and has grown from 12 to 30 staff in the London office in three years. Webb deVlam managing partner Tim Perry explains what has underpinned this change.

Making a move

‘We needed to move office. We were 12 people operating out of a tiny converted mews house. But the move was about more than geography and convenience – it was a physical signal of our intent and ambition. When we moved in 2010 it changed the entire atmosphere of our business, making us proud of our company and where we worked; and proud to invite clients there. We deliberately moved across town to a more vibrant area – a real change, which we wouldn’t have had if everybody kept going to the same old places for lunch. The “Den” gives us an additional 100 m2 of open working space, along with quiet space and opportunities for creativity and workshops. Although disruptive, we always felt in control of the change and the spirit of our team has been transformed as a result.’

Proposition and positioning

‘We realised we needed to get back to being one integrated company, across our offices. We started a revision of our visual identity, which developed into a comprehensive root-and-branch review of our proposition and positioning. Interestingly, we found we didn’t really need to change what we were doing, but did need to talk about it differently and to more clearly articulate our personality. When you’re smaller, who you are feels like a given – you have a shared language. As more new people are brought into the business, it’s really important to be able to explain it to them, to enable them to add their contribution. We’d always been good at producing – working hard on live client projects, but too busy to promote ourselves and to communicate our offer. It was our Achilles heel, I’d heard too many times “you’re the design industry’s best kept secret” – what a backhanded compliment! Now we also recognise we should never be “too busy” for business development, it’s our lifeblood. Having put a combination of existing and new team members into dedicated roles, we can continue promoting even when the studio is at full capacity.’

Work for NayaMed by Webb deVlam
Work for NayaMed by Webb deVlam

Creating our structure

‘As you grow, how do you structure your team? We often won business when competing with bigger agencies with account management functions and found ourselves asking – why do they need all these people and that extra cost? The answers came as we got bigger and moved from a small group of generalists, to teams of specialists. Our requirement for indirect staff, such as HR, studio management and finance, increased with the scale of our business – investment in these areas is crucial to keep pace with growth. The proportion of indirect staff in our agency at 30 people is higher than when we had 12 – probably one reason why larger agencies need to charge more.’

Fluidity

‘As you grow it’s key to create a structure that supports that growth, to delegate line management and to motivate people by providing a path to progress. But retaining some fluidity is essential as well. Being too structured would prevent the opportunity for interactions between teams and the results this brings. As we’ve grown, we’ve formed cross-functional teams working consistently on client accounts, but we remain mindful of the need to rotate people. While having them in client groups enables us to develop expertise and deep relationships, we want to keep our ideas fresh and our people motivated and challenged. This has manifested itself in the way we now recruit – wanting people to select us as much as us selecting them. We look for flexible staff – not too narrow in their focus, and ready to think on their feet. We encourage people to speak up if they want to try something new. Keeping a small company culture has been really important to us. We try hard to follow the “think big, act small” ethos. We recognise we need to continue to change for ongoing growth and success, but we’ve done really well being who we are and we’re way past where we expected to be.’

John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. His DBA blog, Conversations With, is here.

Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
Comments
  • Simon Barbato November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Good article that really resonates with our story. We’ve grown from 9 to 20 in just 12 months and plan similar future growth. Our primary concern is ensuring roles and responsibilities are clearly deigned to ensure efficient processes without losing the creativity needed to excite. Future proofing our agency in terms of working space is also a concern. Keep up the great work guys and congrats on the award!

  • Claire Storrow November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Thanks Simon, always great to hear that our story chimes in with other agency’s experiences. You’re right, delineation of roles and responsibilities is vital – there’s always a turning point when you realise that people can’t be stretched over different teams with dual identities. And again, work space – literal space to breathe – is a priority for a creative business. Feel free to drop in next time you’re in London and we’ll stop by if we’re in Bath – I see from your Twitter that you’re keen bakers; make sure you give us enough time to whip up a cake!

  • Post a comment

Latest articles

What to do and see at Designjunction 2018

From 20-23 September, London’s Designjunction takes place on the South of the River Thames, and will see installations, exhibitions, talks and its well-known fair spread across three venues including Doon