James tells me that as a young child he wanted to be a teacher and as a result loved going to school - but all of that changed when his parents got a divorce when he was 15. After seeing his parents dedicate their time and lives working on other people's vision without really getting any satisfaction - It was then he knew he wanted to get into business.
James is the now the founder of Zeffa - an independent media planning and buying agency which he started during the credit crunch. I spoke to James on founding the company and how he has managed to build it into a multi-million pound business.
The full interview is below
Hi James, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
All good here thanks! Hope you’re well and had a good Easter!?
Yes I’m fine thanks, Easter wasn’t so bad - unfortunately mine was spent been stuck in front on the computer editing interviews.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I was born in Wednesbury in the West Midlands and moved to Abergavenny in South Wales when I was 7. I now live in Cardiff. As a child I was often bullied and taunted for being a ‘teacher’s pet’. I loved going to school. Part of the reason for this was probably linked to the fact that I’d always craved to be a teacher but when my parents divorced I was 15 and I didn’t want to go off to Uni to study so I stayed at home.
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I wasn’t exposed to entrepreneurship as a child. What I had been exposed to though was seeing my parents spend their lives working for other people executing someone else’s vision and plan and never really being satisfied with what they were doing. I think my determination to do and be better inspired me to get into business.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
This has to be my mum. I’m a real mummy’s boy (and I’m not afraid to admit it!). My mum is a real grafter. She’s not afraid to get stuck in and get her hands dirty. She also handled her divorce with my father extremely well and supported my sister and I in dealing with the uprooting that divorce often causes. My mum kept me focused on schooling and worked hard to retain a sense of normality within our lives. I couldn’t have asked for more. If nothing else, she taught me that even when you’re faced with a situation that you see no way out of, you’re the only one that can make a situation better.
So tell me about Zeffa and how the idea came about?
Zeffa is an independent media planning and buying agency and our job is to help advertisers find the right people, in the right place, at the right time, the right amount of times. The business was born out of the desire to change the way our industry worked. Many agencies operate on fixed fees or retainers and I believe that this approach isn’t always right for every client. There are some brands that pay fees every month to an agency and no work or consultancy is conducted. Yes, having a fixed income per month is great for an agency but it isn’t the best use of budget for some clients.
What were you doing before you founded Zeffa?
I started my advertising career with global outdoor media owner Clear Channel and went on to work in local and regional radio sales.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
Convincing prospective clients to work with us. I started zeffa 4 years ago in 2008 when the ‘Credit Crunch’ was just kicking in. Clients wanted normality and stability – something that is common in times of uncertainty, so it was a real challenge getting them to understand why I was doing what I was doing and why I wanted to be what we are today.
How have you been able to fund the business?
I’ve been very fortunate that I run a business that doesn’t hold stock or need elaborate premises to operate within so right from the start, I just had to make sure that what I sold a campaign for, was more than that of the media I was buying in. Cash flow is always difficult to manage when you’re a growing a business. We have struggled at times where we have over traded but an open and honest relationship with suppliers and our bankers have meant that we have been allowed more generous credit terms.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Recruiting the right people! I like to talk and I love nothing better than sitting with a client and listening to the problems they’re facing and then being able to help combat those problems giving them not just a solution but becoming an expert in their field too. This is what grows our business but I can only do this when I surround myself with the best people. My team are wonderful and support me well in executing the reason that we do what we do. If my day was filled with meetings that weren’t relevant not only would I end up being stale but I wouldn’t be able to grow the business the way we have been.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Most definitely. I had an idea originally and it was only when I started chatting to customers and suppliers that I realized I needed to change my approach. I did and that’s why we’re here today. If I’d stuck to my original idea, yes, we’d have done ok, but we would have tightened our scope for growth phenomenally.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Getting to our 4th birthday. Every day you see or hear of a business closing or going into administration and it makes you realize how tough some businesses are finding it right now so getting to our 4th birthday in March was a real highlight for us. It made me realize that we’re bucking the trend and doing something right.
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
Our plan in 2012 is to build on the successes of 2011. We’ve strengthened our team with the appointment of a marketing executive so we’re going to have a more considered and thought out approach to how we market ourselves to prospective clients throughout the coming year. It’s definitely going to be an exciting year.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Know why you’re doing what you’re setting out to do - On those days where you're finding it hard, reminding yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing will get you back on track.
Surround yourself with the best people - recruit people who you can trust and will buy into your vision as much as you do
Make a decision - whether it turns out to be right or wrong, you'll learn from making decisions. If you don't make a decision it'll be the biggest mistake you make