"9 Questions For…" is an interview series in which I ask founders and solo entrepreneurs to share their experiences of doing "their thing, their way". The questions might be the same but the insights certainly aren't! If you fit the bill and would like to share your learnings please get in touch.
In this edition of 9 Questions For… we hear from Mike Jordan, co-founder of Cardiff-based creative agency Toward and the man I call "The Real MJ".
Q: Are you a founder, co-founder, solo entrepreneur, consultant or something else?
I'm a co-founder, but I've had an issue with the term for some reason. It always seems like a tech sector, startup-type phrase when the reality is that my mate and I set up a business when we left Uni.
Q: What type of business do you run, what products or services do you offer, and who are your ideal customers/clients?
I run a strategic branding and digital agency for businesses with an ambition to grow. There's quite a lot to unpack in this.
Firstly, consultancy services make up a large portion of what we do. We help businesses understand the problem they're trying to solve before planning the best solution using creative and digital services.
These could be problems around brand positioning, internal culture issues, ineffective websites or digital presence, entering emerging markets, etc. Then, there are actual growth strategies where a business needs to increase its market value, in which case, all of the above and more become part of the discussion.
Ultimately, though, we're known for the creativity we apply to solving those problems and the extended team of partners we call on to collectively help our clients — from research and design to web development, PR, marketing, content creation and more.
Our ideal customers really can vary. We work with either startups with an ambitious vision to make a fast impact, very established businesses that require a new and effective direction, or those that need the advice and services of an experienced team of strategists, designers and developers.
Q: Why did you start your business?
As soon as I left Uni, I had the urge to shape my own path, to become the master of my own destiny. In hindsight, I think it's because I didn't have the patience to rely on people's judgements in various interviews.
I just wanted to get on with it, whatever "it" was.
Little did I know that the freedom I thought I'd have has shackled me for the rest of my days! Ha.
Q: What's the biggest challenge you are facing right now in your business?
Currently, it's building out a solid pipeline of work. There appears to be a lot of uncertainty and trepidation throughout the market, wholly reflective of our own behaviours at home, so it's completely understandable.
Also, working habits have changed so drastically that delivering and maintaining a culture that will satisfy everyone can be tricky.
Q: What's going well in your business right now?
Six months ago, we completely changed the way that we worked. Following a rebrand and the appointment of an influential NED (Non-Executive Director), we developed our growth strategy, which has created a very strong team ethic and a shared single vision.
We now communicate better, fight for the wins together, and analyse the losses together. We hold each other to account, and it's improved us immeasurably.
Q: What skill do you excel at, and which one do you want to get better at?
I don't think I particularly excel at anything, but I'm definitely a people person. My strength is in being able to sit, listen, engage, and share ideas (if I have them!) I like to meet people, share their vision, make introductions, and help in any way I can.
I need to get better at remembering the details! My poor 46-year-old brain is pickled, and it's getting worse, which is my excuse for sometimes not being prepared enough.
Q: What will be different about your business this time next year?
The team would have grown by a decent chunk. We'll be more well-known outside of Wales. We'll have introduced additional service lines to our internal operations. We may be dabbling with opening a second studio or office outside Wales.
8: What's the one thing you wish you'd known before starting your entrepreneurial adventure?
As a self-confessed numbers phobe, I wish I had given more time to understand how to best use our financial operations to shape and grow the business.
Q: Where do you live, and what do you love about your city?
I live in a Welsh coastal town called Bridgend. It's where I lived as a teen, moving away, never thinking I'd ever return. But return, I did with a renewed love of the coast, the peace and the beauty of the surroundings. The town itself is a bit rank, but the coast can be breathtaking.