Why wait until tomorrow when a coach can help you today?

- Chris Spratling

Helen Brown and Orla Murphy had known each other for years before founding Seeblue Marketing, having previously been colleagues at Vodafone. Wanting to transfer their marketing skills out of the corporate arena, they set up Seeblue Marketing in 2019. It is a specialist marketing agency serving the technology sector.

Like many start-ups, after a challenging first year they began working with Chalkhill Blue and they never looked back. In fact, the business has accelerated so quickly they are well ahead of their own goals. Here is the story of how they have achieved this trajectory…

How Chalkhill Blue helped Seeblue Marketing from year 2 of their business:

  • Helped refine the company’s value
    proposition.
  • Built robust sales processes &
    organisational structure.
  • Helped to define the organisation’s
    culture, embedded and ensured it was a
    real point of difference.
  • Introduced detailed financial controls.
    Worked through a number of strategic
    models to build a high performing
    mindset.
  • Injected real momentum in growth
    strategy.
  • Helped grow a high performing a team
    successfully.

Breaking the cycle of boom and bust:

Orla describes the first year of business and stumbling across Chalkhill Blue:
“Helen and I were excited to leave the corporate world and apply our expertise as marketers to B2B technology firms looking to scale rapidly. We had a pretty decent corporate network; but no investment, no clients – so very much starting from zero.

We worked our contacts and picked up a couple of clients, I even did a bit of dayrate contracting to keep things ticking over. But we were clear this was not what we wanted the business to be. We wanted to grow a business and build a team of employees – sell on our value, not our time as consultants.

As the months rolled by, it was apparent we were in a cycle of boom and bust without any forward momentum. It felt like we were running out of time to make an impact. We had no pipeline of business, work was simply not coming in fast enough. Would we become one of those statistics: the companies that go out of business in the first year?

Then, one day we saw a Facebook advert for Chalkhill Blue, and went along to an
introductory morning workshop…”

Early Inteventions, dramatic improvement:

Orla continues: “It is important to find the right coach for you, and to us it was immediately apparent that Chalkhill Blue was a good fit. It resonated on that first morning when they pointed out that you can be a subject matter expert in your field, but this does not qualify you to run a business. It was just what we had
experienced.

So we started working with Chalkhill Blue and the impact was almost instant. We focused on formalising a sales process initially, which was about introducing a rigour and consistency to our business development.

LinkedIn was a primary channel for this – actively connecting, nurturing relationships and writing content. We started building strategic partnerships to generate referral opportunities and encouraging recommendations from existing clients.

The emphasis with our coach was putting process and structure in place. We were (and are) nimble at doing this, but then it is the consistency that is essential. By following Chalkhill Blue’s early advice we secured two major clients in the first few weeks, which kept us going.

From then, it took the discipline of six to nine months of consistency for our revenues to really take off. But take off they did – we grew revenue 250% in that first year of working with Chalkhill Blue.”

Accountability and value proposition:

Orla reflects further on that first year of working with Chalkhill Blue: “A huge thing about working with a coach is the accountability. As business owners we are free to do what we want, so having someone by your side who knows what it takes to grow and keep you on the right path is invaluable.

Another area on which we dedicated time was our value proposition. It’s funny, as I know other businesses do the same, but this is one of the things we advise our clients on, but yet hadn’t spent enough focus on doing it for ourselves. Working with Chalkhill Blue rectified this, and we refined our articulation of how we offer value to the market which was an essential building block for us.”

Building a Team:

At Chalkhill Blue, we run a range of programmes on team development. It is almost always fundamental to growth, yet challenging to get right. Helen and Orla may have been at the start of their journey, but they already knew that they would need to recruit a team and senior people to manage it so they could focus on growing the business.

Orla describes the rapid growth of their team: “Building a team was always part of the plan. Chalkhill Blue have supported us as we have done this and we are ahead of schedule. We are up to seven (including Helen and me) and the plan was to be at five at this stage. If we continue on this trajectory we will be at 15 by the end of our next financial year.

We have already hired senior professionals, with the experience to manage technical delivery, so that we do not get drawn into the day-to-day operations too much. In one sense this may have been daunting, but Chalkhill Blue have shown us that cashflow forecasting is the most eye-opening thing: modelling various scenarios gives you the confidence to make bold but informed decisions which are key to growth.

This aspect of Chalkhill Blue’s advice leads me on to another. We have spent a lot of coaching time exploring our values and developing a culture. Part of the reason for going into business is to build something that you are in tune with, and so it is important that your team shares your values.

We do one-to-one sense checks with employees every month to see how aligned our staff are to the values and, of course, checking performance. Chalkhill Blue coined the phrase for this process for us – it is called ‘Setting the bar’.”

Growth Mindset and infrastructure:

We have a huge array of technical models and tools to help business owners achieve their goals. One that we introduced a little earlier than normal with Seeblue Marketing was the 7-S Framework because, simply, they were ready for it. Up to 95% of companies are held back from increasing profits by internal constraints, and the 7-S Framework works on coordination rather than structure to address this.

Orla observes: “The 7-S Framework is one piece of work that stood out to me. We started with ‘strategy’ and then ‘skills’ as we worked through the framework. The idea is to build structures which enable owners to step away from the business for x amount of time and have confidence that it will still function without. It is enlightening to be introduced to the technical theory like this behind successful business growth.”

Reflections so far:

It is already remarkable just how far Helen and Orla have come in such a short space of time, and they both recognise their decision to engage a business coach so early in their business lifecycle has played an important part in this.

Orla says: “We made the right decision to employ a business coach so early. We have activated everything advised to us, sometimes with our own stamp on it to make it work in our business.

As well as all the technical advice, sometimes it is just reassuring to have the experience by your side – to be encouraged to use cashflow forecasting to realise that yes, as the business owner it is okay to pay yourself more this month, when otherwise you may doubt if it was wise.

I have a Post-it note on my monitor, inspired by the work with Chalkhill Blue, with three words on it: clarity, focus, action. I find this a great mantra for getting things done every day.”

Helen says: “Chalkhill Blue are like a mirror and a compass. As a business owner you can get caught in the trap of the same thought processes circling back and forth (or on occasion go down a rabbit hole!). So having someone there to playback your own views and opinions helps you see things differently.

And then there’s the compass bit. We are experts in what we do, not in running a business. We’ve had to swallow the pill of being the first timer, the sales, finance and HR exec learning everything from scratch. The coaches at Chalkhill Blue have the capacity to bring into sharp focus what is coming further down the line and how we need to adapt today to anticipate and plan for the next phase. We would not be where we are today without that guidance.”

Quickfire Q&A

What’s your number one tip for working with a business coach?
Orla: “Just do it. I am a big advocate of working with business coaches. Athletes have coaches. High performers have coaches. That external perspective they bring is so important.”

Has there been one thing that’s stood out for you when working with Chalkhill Blue?
Helen: “Celebrate our successes. We are very hard on ourselves – we set stretch targets and work extremely hard to get there. But our coach has taught us that it’s a marathon not a sprint. We need to pause sometimes to celebrate how far we’ve come, and to build resilience for the next phase of growth.”

Find out more about Seeblue Marketing here: https://see-blue.co.uk/

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