The Box: Picking the brains of the industry expert behind the creative agency

Tell us what your business does:

In a nutshell we create exciting film and animation for businesses of all sizes. It can either be a short film, that gives an overview of a new product or service, an outline of the company for the homepage of the website, a series of films from senior management to the staff or even educational films for a sales team or potential customers.

Film and animation has become the fastest growing medium for communication, because of this we've also developed a private communication app for delivering videos we have created direct to customers or staff, known as The Cloud Courier. 

Where did the idea for your business come from? What motivated you to start it?

I've always loved being creative, (I was that kid with a crayon in his hand all the time!), and getting a career in multimedia and filmmaking was a dream come true for me. Getting to work for creative agencies and helping to tell stories for huge enterprises like HSBC, Shell and Vodafone was very exciting, but after a while you start to wonder if you could do it for yourself.

I kept meeting small business owners as clients for some of the agencies I was working for and wondered what the difference was between them and me? What had they got that enabled them to start their businesses? Silver spoon, a lottery win?

Eventually, I came to realise it was confidence, planning and dedication. So with a little bit of planning I got everything ready (website, accounts, company registration etc) and then I quit the freelance world and started up The Box.

What were you doing before starting up?

I started my career by having to relocate from London to Edinburgh and got a job working for KLP (Part of the Euro RSCG Marketing Group). I had no idea about marketing and didn't realise that I was going to be working for a globally renowned marketing company. Luckily they were a great bunch of people, with heaps of patience, so I was educated on the job in 'The dark arts of Marketing'.

I was one of the multimedia guys, just two of us to begin with, and they wanted me to do their film and animation work. I got to work on some very big brands and for global clients such as HSBC, Kimberly-Clark and Bass Brewery. 

I then relocated to London and luckily I landed a job in the games industry and went from animator / modeller to art director to producer / director. During that time I learnt a lot more about the business side of things (people management, finance and legal) and got to travel the world at the same time. 

I enjoyed working in both industries but my first creative love was always making little films. So with my wife just giving birth to our first-born I made the executive decision to hand in my notice at THQ and start up my own company. We laugh about it now but at the time it seemed like a nuts decision!

What did you have to overcome to start it and get it off the ground?

It sounds a little corny but the first thing I had to overcome was doubt. No one in my immediate family or in my circle of friends had set up their own company before so I was really on my own. 

When you're sitting at the dining room table, there's no emails coming in yet and you're phone hasn't rung in days it starts to get a little intimidating. I'd left behind a well-paid career, had I gambled it all and lost?  I had to take each day and break it down into manageable chunks.

Monday AM: new business research, Monday PM: show reel editing, Tuesday AM: New business calls etc. It sounds silly but having a pad and paper with tasks that are physically crossed out felt reassuring, like I was making real progress.

The other thing to overcome was awareness. No one knew I existed and the only way round that was to announce to companies who I was and what I was offering. That meant that any fear of cold calling had to be dealt with too. It's too easy to rely on emails and letters as a way to try and get new business, but a phone call to the right person is what helped me to win so many new clients.

All I asked for was the opportunity to send an email of the showreel or the chance to provide a quote on their next film / animation project. By getting a bit of my personality over, and listening to them and their needs, it's an easier way in to arrange meetings and to get the ball rolling. 

The irony now is that I regard one of the best parts of being a business owner is getting to meet lots of new people and cold-calling gives me the opportunity to make that happen.

What makes your business stand out from others like it? 

I'll pop my 'sales hat' on here for this question! We believe it's a mixture of creativity, quality and fun that’s what makes us stand out. 

Creativity: It's in all of us, but to be a good creative it's down to education (never stop learning!) practicing until you get better and better and heaps of real-world experience. We've made so many films, written heaps of scripts and illustrated and animated so many people, places and things that we have a big old pool of creativity to draw from now. 

Quality: When I worked at the top-end of corporate film production in Soho you have to have very high standards. I've kept these standards whether it's for another multi-national or for a local start-up. This quality threshold is what makes the difference between an 'OK' film and a 'great' film.

It's all too easy to find cheap film and animation but I believe that it's a fool’s errand to go cheap. So many people are using video as the first point of contact for their company now and if that film is below par you'll do yourself no end of damage.

Fun: We tend to have a lot of fun when filming or meeting with clients to review animations. At the end of the day we're making films and we're getting paid to do something we love so you can't help but bring a little of that childish joy to the meetings or on a shoot day.

What was your first big breakthrough?

I was trying all sorts of sales targets when I started out. I approached games companies and marketing agencies, as I had experience with them, but I also contacted hotel chains, theme parks, private clubs, expo organisers, PR firms and restaurants. Basically anyone who might need a film! 

I was offering work for free to demonstrate what I could do for them and created a film for the new flagship hotel at Chessington World of Adventures and for Holiday Inn. They liked the result and asked me to put together a quote to film and edit a promotional that was for several of their new hotels across England, Scotland and Ireland. 

Suddenly I felt legitimised and that the hard work, risk taking, and perseverance had paid off. It meant I could call other hotel groups and explain I was a supplier for Holiday Inn, which opened up plenty of other doors too. 

You're prime minister for a day. What would you change for small businesses? 

Does everyone say better tax breaks for this question?

What's your best customer service tip?

Do the small stuff for free; kindness usually comes back to you. 

What would you do differently? 

I would have found a business mentor much earlier. I spent too much time making it up as I went along, but there are so many funded or private mentoring schemes out there, a quick Google search and a couple of phone-calls could save plenty of time and money down the line. When I moved the office to the Surrey Technology Centre and became part of Surrey Incubation that's when the business really started to grow and soon after Richard  (the art director) became the second full time member at The Box.

What one piece of advice would you give to people who want their own business?

Don’t wait. There is no 'perfect time' to do it. With my wife just giving birth to our first-born I made the decision to hand in my notice and start up my own company. We laugh about it now but looking back at the timing of it still seems insane. Seven years later we have no regrets and I can safely say it was the best thing I ever did.

Visit The Box of find out more about the agency. You can connect with them by following the business on Twitter and check out all their videos on Vimeo.

We use cookies to create the most secure and effective website possible for our customers. Full details can be found here