When I think of the Channel Islands, my overarching perceptions are they are a tax haven populated by banks; Sark doesn’t allow motorised vehicles; and Guernsey is widely regarded as a poor relation to Jersey.
However, Guernsey, as my new friend Tom Langford, informs me, is highly successful and brimming with innovative entrepreneurs who are probably propping up a bar somewhere after a Sunday afternoon spent at the allotment. Showy they are not.
Tom is one of four Guernsey Boys – as I shall call them – who started up Potting Shed in 2007, a full-service design, advertising and digital agency. Tom, along with friends Al Mitchel and Jay Aylmer, and later Ed Prow, worked in agencies together for years before finally starting on their own. Today, they work across various sectors. “We’re agnostic regarding clients. They range from the financial sector to alcohol brands, cryptocurrency, retail, property and government.”
Who is your customer?
“Any business with a good story to tell, but who doesn’t know how to tell it; a company that is proud of what it has achieved,” beams Tom. “It can be a new business without a name or an established brand embarrassed by its current website or social media presence. We explain that that’s OK, it worked for you five years ago, and you’ve outgrown it. A business owner may come in with a good message, which is unclear from their current branding.”
New clients don’t just take a number and line up for a ‘mission’ or ‘vision’ to be created for them. It is a deeply collaborative process. Tom works with new clients to find out what they love about their business, what they’re good at and what they wish to be known for.
I like Potting Shed’s unique terms. The next step is to create a Brand Bible, and get started on Hero Creative. I am a little baffled by this term. Essentially, it’s Potting Shed-speak for the top-level message from which everything flows; website, social media etc. I was hoping for a little more Deadpool, but you can’t have everything.
Tom and his team create Brand Stories – short narratives around a point the client wishes to focus on. “Branding is about consistency. If I’m in a meeting with someone, I should be able to check out their website later on, and the message should be the same as our conversation. Likewise, for their social media, everything must tie up. It’s our job to give our clients confidence; in themselves and their message.”
Another assumption is that Channel Islands businesses aim their goods and services entirely offshore. So, from a marketing perspective, why shout about it at home if your customers are elsewhere?
Potting Shed, however, has a 60/40 island-to-offshore client ratio – knocking that assumption on the head. However, since the Pandemic has reduced the desire to have an ‘agency around the corner’ somewhat, that ratio will shift more in favour of offshore as the company grows.
Guernsey has 65,000 inhabitants, so the business community is small. Because of the pandemic, MDHUB was now online and, wanting to reach a wider network, Tom joined MDHUB in 2020.
“I don’t use it as a networking tool as such, it’s more of a way to meet new people and see where it takes you. I like the peer groups; I belong to a creative and a tech group. It’s good to know we all have the same issues. People rally around.”
The Unseen Scene
Potting Shed is not operating in a vacuum. Many businesses on the island have nothing to do with finance, the law or accountancy. For example, did you know that Specsavers and Moonpig originated in Guernsey, and are still based there?
“A lot more is going on here. We have entrepreneurs and innovators, and everyone just quietly getting on with it.” To that end, their own Ed Prow founded Tekex, an accelerator and incubator network specifically for Channel Islanders, connecting innovators with expertise, private capital and all the necessary ancillary services. Tekex has over 500 members, raising over £8.5m in funding. Not bad for an island with a population the size of Walton-on-Thames, eh?
The current climate
“It’s hard to compare anything to anything. We’ve grown so much there is no before or after Covid.” In the current climate, potential clients are taking longer to commit, but it’s ramping up. “Our main export is the financial sector, which creates a bit of a bubble around the Channel Islands, and protects us a little from outside forces.”
When I ask if they have an exit plan, he says they’re in no rush. “We enjoy the beautiful company we’ve built.” With that, Tom and I end our Zoom call, and he heads to the beach.
Tom was interviewed by fellow MDHUB Member Kate Bendix.
If you are interested in finding out more about the MDHUB, please visit www.mdhub.co.uk