Philippa Seal is a professional business support provider to entrepreneurs, micro and small businesses. She is also a working mother. She directed a B2B advertising agency for 5 years. She then took 10 years out of her professional career to raise her family. She is now building her second career.She offers her support via UCL Advances and Stairs And Shares. We felt her experience, knowledge base and journey would be useful to the rest of us.
Philippa comes from a family of intermediaries and brokers. Three generations of her family were all ship brokers. Growing up in this environment instilled the four common roles of an intermediary in her. These being -
While at university she worked as an intern for a top four accountancy firm. Here she had her first experience seeing how client businesses worked from the inside. Accountancy as a profession and large companies as organisations were not for her. She feels big businesses tend to be siloed into different functions and departments. SME’s in contrast, tend to be more holistic. Her first role after university was in the creative space. She was a global media planner and buyer at independent media specialist. Here she planned and bought media worth £1m.
On Account Management
She soon became an Account Manager with a B2B advertising agency. Here she grew in the role and became an Account Director, managing 3- 5 clients with total ownership of these clients. In her experience a good Account Director should focus on business development. She needs to 'cross sell' and 'upsell' as well acquire new clients. Ensuring the gap between the clients’ needs and what the agency has to offer are kept as narrow as possible. This is done by acting as an intermediary between creatives and clients. The Account Managers accurately identify client expectations. And, ensure agency creatives generate great work within their briefs. She feels a good account handler anticipates what the needs of a client are. They build trust and strong relationships with the clients.
On Office Politics
Philippa tried an in house position as a Marketing Manager for a large law firm. She had always wanted to be the client for once. Her experience working as the Marketing Manager for the large law firm was a different to her agency experiences. The company culture, the people and their view of marketing was different to her previous experience. She feels that office politics dominated more than operational efficiency.
She felt that many jobs were about protecting positions and not about getting things done. So there was a vested interest in ensuring that a job took as long as needed. This created large overheads and organisational structures. Here you needed ‘10 people to change a light bulb’. Needless to say she soon left after a year. She feels more comfortable in environments where the focus is on delivering results and achieving common goals with a client. She would rather make her own mistakes and fail a few times as opposed to being in an environment where inefficiency is accepted as the norm.
On Setting up Businesses
Philippa soon went into business with one of the owners of the advertising agency where she was Account Director. With angel funding secured through a friend. A new business was set up and Philippa was asked to run it. They shared the responsibilities in a way her Business Partner focused on client acquisition. She focused on servicing the clients. And, setting up the structure of a full-service B2B communications agency. They hired freelancers to deliver creative services. This was an industry standard structure.
Philippa and her Business Partner had limited business training or education. She was from a client servicing background. Her business partner came from a creative background. She feels an MBA at this stage would have been useful. It would have given her the skills needed to help organise the business effectively. But setting up a new business whilst having two children under 5 meant time was at a premium. The responsibility for running a growing business with a turnover of £500 k. With 5 full time staff and a pool of freelancers was difficult.
Looking back she remembers she had no idea, where she was taking the business or if it had a natural life cycle. She feels having an external professional business mentor would have helped her. Her co owner did mentor her internally. But, she felt uncomfortable because of the potential conflicts of interest. When she left to raise her family the business returned to offering copywriting services.
On Building her Second Career
Philippa felt she needed to consolidate her knowledge base. She first completed an MA in Marketing. She then applied for an Executive MBA at Cass Business School. She felt this course supported her in becoming a more well rounded business person. Yet, she was surprised at the lack of experience of running a business the other members of her class had. Many seemed not to have the business acumen necessary to run a business.
She had already decided she wanted to try building a business herself and doing something that would help others along the way. She came across Mentors Me . Here the government was training business people to become business mentors. In return for the business mentor gave limited free support to UK based Businesses.
On Business Mentoring
During her training. She discovered that the Institute of Leadership and Managementoffered certifications in Coaching and Mentoring. She decided Business Mentoring would suit her interests in helping other small businesses. She is currently working towards her ILM certifcation in Coaching and Mentoring. She started to build up a client base while she was still training. Most of the initial clients were voluntary clients, i.e. they did not pay. But, they did allow her build up the 120 hours she needed to gain the qualifications she needed.
She now offers her services on a professional basis as well as a voluntary basis. She likes social entrepreneurs, because their issues tend to be more complex. In mainstream business she feels the motivating factor is profit driven. This means that although people do not work just for money, the focus of a business is clear. In the 'not for profit' and 'third sector' sector the motivation of workers can range from idealism to simply helping out. This diversity of motivations can make leading and managing a not for profit more challenging.
Philippa is now an affiliate member of the Association of Coaches. It is a professional body for professional coaches and mentors. She has been supporting micro and small businesses with a turnover of approx. £ 250 k. But, her ambition is to support more-established small scale businesses. She uses personal networking, workshops and talks to build her client base. This means going to events and meeting business owners. She feels that most business owners she comes across still do not understand the benefits of hiring a Business Mentor. This is despite recent research that businesses without a business mentor are twice as likely to fold after 5 years.
In terms of channels. She offers her support via:
Another example is a 10 year old spa and wellness travel agent employing 16 people. Here she is supporting the majority business owner transform the business from a traditional travel agency to a wellbeing and spa agency. This has meant supporting the business in accurately identifying issues, helping her come up with solutions and then supporting her in applying the solutions to her business. Philippa’s work is focused around change management and supporting the owner in communicating her vision for the travel agency in the next 3 years. Her staff are no longer order takers but salespeople. This means they have to a learn a new skillset involving cross selling , up selling, customer engagement skills, and business development skills.
To give you an idea of the range of her client base. One business is in cyber security software working on a contract with the MOD. They were 5 people when she first started mentoring them and they have grown to a 16 person company in 6 months.
Another example is a 10 year old spa and wellness travel agent employing 16 people. Here she is supporting the business owner transform the business. From a traditional travel agency to a wellbeing & spa agency. This has meant supporting the business in accurately identifying issues. Helping her come up with solutions and then supporting her in applying the solutions to her business. Philippa’s role has focused around change management. Supporting the owner in communicating her vision for the travel agency in the next 3 years. Her staff are no longer order takers but salespeople. This means they have to a learn a new skillset. Which involves cross selling , up selling, customer engagement skills, and business development skills.
She also works with typical small company growth issues – such as how to break into new markets, how to acquire new customers, pricing issues, bidding for new business, strategic direction and ‘when to say no’ and so on.
A couple of important issues for business owners is their own business comfort zone. And, the lack of perspective they have on their own business. She believes business owners are too focused on the day to day activities. This means they do not have the energy and space to work ‘on’ their building their businesses’.
If they don't continuously innovation or set up a process that allows for continuous innovation then every 3- 5 years, the business will have to change direction. This is because the market has changed. If the business fails to change quickly then it will close. But, in most cases by the time the business owner has realised that change is needed it is sometimes too late.
She also works with typical small company growth issues. Such as how to break into new markets? How to get new customers, pricing issues, bidding for new business, strategic direction and ‘when to say no’ and so on.
Philippa has a blog on her website - www.philippaseal.com . She is currently writing articles for the London Business Journal on Marketing. She is running a series of Marketing workshops in London. She is looking to grow her client base. She is a fellow of the RSA. She offers her CSR support via Stairs And Shares.
This blog post was first published in 2016 at www.bizstuff.co