Many thanks to Steven Clark, Financial and Commercial Manager of Tayburn for his input.
Tayburn are a 40-strong agency that helps ambitious businesses create remarkable brand journeys combining strategy, identity, digital & service design. based in Edinburgh, they have branches in Liverpool, Manchester and Istanbul.
Agency profitability for 35 consecutive years? How on earth can you possibly improve on that?
By going for a 36th... In the meantime, in November ’14 Tayburn became the only UK agency to be included in the top 10 for both effectiveness (5th in DBA’s design effectiveness awards) and creativity (5th in Design Week’s Creative League Table 2014).
SO, HOW DID THEY ACHIEVE ALL THAT?
“In a sentence: We’ve created a remarkable culture here, and we’ve decided to make remarkable happen for our clients too. ‘remarkable’ is our mantra word here.
"But what makes us different, exactly?"
Value 1. Challenge the unremarkable.
“Stand for something, be distinctive, improve people’s lives and get talked about.
Value 2. Better together.
“Get the right people together from the outset, share things and collaborate with the best.
Value 3. Act with purpose.
“Be clear on the objectives, stay focused, take responsibility and do it with enthusiasm.
Value 4. Simplicity.
“Untangle complexity, get to the point and help make all our lives easier.
Value 5. Playful.
“Add some spark, have fun, celebrate success and if you like what you do, let it show.
Differentiator 1: Creativity & Astuteness
“We’re a very creative agency here, but we’re financially astute too. You have to have both of those traits, in parallel.
Differentiator 2: Effectiveness
“Your work for clients has to make money for them. That’s our focus every day. So although we love winning awards for creativity, we prefer winning them for effectiveness even more.
Differentiator 3: Client transparency
“We like to offer transparency to clients, so they can see the commitment and investment we’re making on their behalf. It increases awareness and trust.
Differentiator 4: Team transparency
“And we give transparency to our teams, so they have the information they need to manage jobs properly. Today, designers, artworkers and account managers are knowledge workers, even mini-entrepreneurs, for us. The days of them doing isolated tasks in the dark are over.
“In the old days we used a clunky, horrible job management system. I used to have to sit down with the account managers every month and ask questions like ‘Why is this job over?’ and ‘Why have we not billed this one?’ and it took an enormous amount of time to sort out each month. We only found out what was really happening after the event, when of course it was too late.
“That wasn’t the only problem. Clients are cute, as every agency knows. They subtly ask for amendments here and there, which used to get nodded through for free. But the extra work really mounts up. Our system didn’t make it easy to track those changes, causing big problems.
“Everything took so long to do. It used to take me two weeks to do the month-end every month. It was laborious to do the billing, the accounting entries, create the reports and have many, many meetings to chase the information we needed.
“It got to the point that we had to get a better solution. So I looked at lots of systems.
"We chose Synergist."
CHANGE 1. VISIBILITY.
“With Synergist I know what’s going on in every job, and the great thing about it is that I know it as it’s happening. Costs are captured real-time. So there are no surprises.
“And the team sees how many hours are allocated to a job and how many hours are left. So when we have a Monday morning meeting to allocate who will be working on which job, it’s completely transparent to all.
“And the W.I.P. is so good. Most design agencies don’t have a clue about where they are on time spent and costs incurred to a job. They have a huge amount of money tied up and they don’t know exactly where, until it’s too late.
CHANGE 2. BILLING.
“We create draft invoices based on quotes, purchase orders and so on. We get monthly invoices sent out by the 2nd of the month.
“But why wait until the end of the month? We can now get them out at the end of A Project. We never used to be able to do that.
CHANGE 3. TRACKING PITCHES.
“Investment in doing a pitch is now completely visible. Time, travel, expenses, staff utilisation, it’s all in there. The team understand how it all fits together. So pitches are managed properly.
CHANGE 4. EQUITY INVESTMENT.
“When we choose to, we sometimes invest in a start-up company’s branding and marketing. We take little or no fee, but we earn a slice of the equity in return. It’s a strategic investment.
“Synergist makes that feasible, because we know exactly when it makes sense to do it from a staff utilisation viewpoint, and everything is tracked so We’re in control.
CHANGE 5. TOGETHER.
“Synergist pulls everything together. We track income, work in progress, cost overruns, margins, time utilisation, profitability analysis – everything comes from Synergist.
“It’s all encompassing. You have to be able to see the big picture at a glance. We have 40 people here now. They all use Synergist and access the same data.
CHANGE 6. FINANCIALS.
“What Synergist delivers in terms of financial control is fantastic. One large prospective client asked to see our financials. Afterwards, they said ‘This is the best set of financial reports I have ever seen’.
CHANGE 7. MONTH END.
“Synergist makes it so much easier. My month end has been cut in half to 5 days, to get the billing sorted, check the accounting links, generate the reports and meet up with team members to talk things through.
“So it gives me 3 weeks to concentrate on other commercial activities and add value to other areas”.
CHANGE 8. EMPOWERMENT.
“The team are much more empowered now. It’s been an education for the team.
“It gives so much more knowledge to the account directors, for example. It’s increased the financial knowledge to non-finance staff tenfold.
“Empowering the account teams means they can advise the client rather than merely work on the job task. It’s a more consultative relationship, more valuable. And when they see that we’ve spent more on a job than the brief allowed, they’re keen to get it back again in another way. Having a real-time system makes that possible.
“It’s given them more of a sense of responsibility, more discipline. The team have become much more commercially minded now. They understand margins. it’s also helped our account managers & account directors earn more from existing clients.
PUTTING IT INTO PERSPECTIVE
“If Synergist was somehow taken away from us, it would be worse than us having a fire. We have disaster recovery for fire. But not having our system would bring delays in everything we do, and we’d lose the visibility everybody wants.
“There’s a buzz here. We do a lot of things to involve everyone. We have innovation teams. We do show and tells. I even do a session called ‘Finance is Funny’. You’ve got to keep it playful – that’s one of our values after all. And that phrase ‘Helping Make Remarkable Happen’: Synergist is more than supporting this.
“And Synergist gives us scalability. It’s all about growth. It makes growth more manageable.
“I would recommend Synergist to design agencies, creative agencies, digital agencies, even architects – any time-based company.”
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