This week’s Small Business Star is Lime Creative. Jointly owned by Abi and Philip Goldfinch, with offices in London and Beijing, Philip heads up the digital arm and manages the business, while Abi directs brands and marketing. Their team, or limeys as they’re known, is made up of 11 creatives, coders and planners who work across a number of sectors and clients such as Stena Line, Financial Times and Gaggenau.

Here, Abi tells us how Lime came about and the story behind its success.

In the beginning, it was a bit of a balancing act

Starting up was the easy bit for me, as I’ve always wanted to have my own creative business; I just knew it was a question of timing. I was employed within a luxury travel-focused agency and started working after hours, privately pitching to secure a big travel account. Once this was up-and-running, I left employment to launch my own boutique company – Lime Creative.

The idea was for the business to be made up of a creative majority, rather than one that relied on an account handler to be the ‘middle man’. It allows clients to interact directly with the creative thinkers – the ‘doers’ – and meant they could get excited about their brief and see it shape throughout the project journey. Being in the industry for a long time, I felt that the perception of putting a creative person in front of a client was dangerous territory was old news. Larger agencies are focused on a multi-layered approach to any project, meaning clients often miss out on any interaction with the creatives and the chance for them to feel involved.

It’s important to be adaptive and change with the tide

The market has changed over the last few years, luckily to our benefit. The need for a big agency name to sit behind a project for good PR is far less essential. Clients are now demanding a more intimate relationship with their creatives. With value for money and consistency being key.

In the last year, I’ve also experienced the swing for a lot more clients seeking boutique creative agencies who can be more flexible in their offering, so they can also become an extension of a client’s marketing team. Supporting them on their overall vision and activity plan rather than just reacting to a specific brief.

Keep on top of trend swings and recognise long-term opportunities

It’s always essential for the whole team to keep in with the latest trends. Being aware of trend swings helps us compete against other agencies in our particular market space. Also keeping familiar with competitive brands and their creative marketing ensures we maintain a fresh perspective and stand out creatively so we don’t go down any clichéd routes. Our digital team keep the rest of the Lime team up-to-date so we can integrate any new thinking into the creative thinking.

We do this by keeping an open mind. Which doesn’t mean saying yes to anything and everything that comes along, but recognising long-term opportunities when they present themselves and making sure they fit the Lime model. We maintain a varied client base and this is by design. We like to take the processes we use for problem solving in one sector and apply that to other sectors. This means we stay fresh and constantly on our toes.

Offer more than one solution to a problem

We strive to stick to our mantra: strategic thinking, creative doing. Making things pretty is one thing and a given for any creative agency. We start with a strategic theory and then we concentrate on making it become beautiful.

Clients seem to require more than just a single answer to a problem. They need a more joined-up solution that looks at the bigger picture. As our commercial, marketing and design ideas are the product of creative with strategic underpinning, a client receives highly imaginative, yet ruthlessly effective, communications that get results. This approach has thankfully won us awards and more importantly, achieved some great ROI for our clients.

A strong team and good client relationships are a winning combination

To be honest, in the last one to two years we have gained 95% of business through referrals and reputation. Two major clients gained in 2014 were from us being approached directly with an extensive pitch process that secured their decision. Which is fantastic for us in such a difficult and cluttered market.

Achieving impressive results is one of the many reasons why we enjoy long-term client relationships as well as our overall business approach. Lime is made up of a mix of senior experts with a lovely mix of personalities that fit every client type. A majority of which we have a strong relationship in and out of work hours!

Client wins are emotional and heartfelt

I think there are two things that stick in my mind. Both emotional, heartfelt wins. One was winning our first big award, beating a division of Saatchi and other big-name creative agencies, bringing home a large resin square block with ‘Winner, Customer Communications’ inscribed on it.

The second was winning a pitch against large international agencies for a luxury German product. And then developing the relationship post-pitch to become their now global creative agency.

It’s tough to stand out among the big boys

Trying to stand out among the big boys and changing pre-conceptions that smaller agencies can’t produce the big thinking has always been an issue. Luckily, with the market swing towards the boutique creatives, this has become a smaller hurdle to leap yet it’s still a challenge.

With the recession challenges of the past few years we have still managed to maintain a steady growth. I think a lot of this success is because we’ve always avoided going down the specialist client-base route. Our aim was always to be specialists in what we offer but to a varied portfolio of brands. It keeps the creative team interested, – what we learn from one type of campaign, we can introduce to another client area and it has importantly meant that when one sector falls we have the others to keep us strong.

Take the time to grow a company beyond just ‘you’

No, seriously, I think my advice would be based around the question: are you a sole trader or a limited company? Are you more of a creative freelancer type or a creative with a business head? One is where people buy you and your creative talent – you cherry pick the clients/briefs and get paid a good rate with free time to enjoy at your choosing. Versus the other where it’s about shaping a business around your talents, where you employ people to fit your ‘style’ and you share your time between doing a percentage of the work and taking time to grow the company beyond just ‘you’.

Two very different challenges, both can be very successful, but one is about you solely doing all the work and the other is about you ‘creating’ a company not solely about you.

To find out more about Lime Creative, visit http://www.limecreative.com/

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