A network of freelancers in the South-West is making top quality marketing support available to regional businesses by working together as a ‘virtual’ communications agency.

The network has been established by Bryony Thomas of Clear Thought Consulting, who identified a gap in the market for a communications service that was affordable to small to medium-sized businesses in the region.

Speaking about the approach, Bryony Thomas, (http://www.bryonythomas.com) said: “At a time when SMEs are on the frontline and expected to drive economic growth, they are being hit by public sector cuts and a reduction in government-funded marketing support. Buying in marketing support from big London-based agencies is too expensive an option and we are finding that more and more businesses are turning to the ‘virtual agency’ approach to ensure that they don’t stand still, can keep on growing and market themselves.”

One company that has recently benefitted from the model is Gloucester-based Ascentor, a risk management company, which didn’t want to join the ranks of an estimated 10% of South West businesses affected by public sector cuts (1).

Ascentor appointed Bryony’s Clear Thought to lead a virtual team of the South-West’s best freelancers and micro businesses. The team, made up of six local businesses, came together to develop a new marketing strategy, launch a new website and kick off a new marketing programme to help Ascentor capture new business.

The results have been swift. Ascentor is now on target to achieve 40% growth and has seen its web traffic doubling in the first month. Since the launch, the company has been in active discussions with potential private sector customers for business in excess of £400,000. The company is now set to achieve £2m turnover in the next financial year and has plans to employ two new people, as demand for information security consultancy increases.

“We had developed a very good reputation, expertise and knowledge for our public sector clients, and we have put this into powerful effect in the private sector,” said Dave James, Ascentor’s managing director. “But we’re just not known for our private sector work, and growing our business means building our reputation in both areas. Without an existing network to tap into, we needed to find a way of marketing ourselves to this new market. That’s when Bryony Thomas of Clear Thought Consulting came in.”

Providing marketing transformation programmes for small businesses, Bryony Thomas worked alongside Ascentor to establish a twelve-month plan to get a watertight marketing operation in place. This started with clarification of their thinking to understand what they want to be known for, what their messages should be, and what exactly they are offering their customers. She then brought together the best in local marketing and creative expertise, including Valuable Content, a Bristol based content and copywriting company, Design Bull, a Bath-based design agency which specialises in brand identities, Atomic Smash, who created the online risk assessment tool, Bright New Day, which provided social media support, and Creative Template Solutions who produced branded templates for the business, to provide additional services, including copywriting and website design.

Ascentor has just launched its new website, and has kicked off its new services for the private sector with the release of ‘The Board’s Guide to Information Risk’ which can be downloaded from the site. There’s also a handy Risk Review to help small businesses understand how information security affects them.

Dave James comments: “We’re half way through the twelve month programme, and I can see that we’re heading in the right direction. We thought that this kind of strategic marketing consultancy would be out of our reach, but with such talent on our doorstep, we have really benefitted from tapping into the South West freelance and micro-business network to grow our business.”

Bryony concludes: “In recent years there has been a definite trend towards more of a freelance and micro-business economy in the marketing and creative sector.

“This is certainly true in Bristol and the South West, where there are lots of people who have left top marketing and creative jobs at big agencies in London and elsewhere to come and live and work in the region. This means that I am able to pull together a team of some of the very best people in the creative and communications sector and give small businesses access to expertise that they would not otherwise be able to afford.

“These are businesses that can’t afford to have a marketing team on their payroll, but certainly need one for their business. When it comes to marketing my philosophy is simple, if you can’t outspend the competition you have to out-think them, and that’s exactly what Ascentor are doing.”

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For more details about the services provided by Clear Thought, visit http://www.clear-thought.co.uk

For more information about Ascentor, visit http://www.ascentor.co.uk

References:
1. Begbies Traynor Red Flag alert. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/oct/17/north-south-divide-widens-cuts

Published on: 11:40AM on 11th April 2012