'You just need the ability to stretch yourself and push yourself. Don’t stay comfortable. It’s worth the risk.'
Having struck out on his own after working in the corporate world for many years, Jeremy Biggerstaff knows what it takes to follow your creative dream. And achieve it. For, although he admits to having 'lost the vision' to work for himself at one stage in his career, he refocused and got himself back on track.
He’s now managing director at Flint Studios in Belfast, with offices recently opened in Derry~Londonderry and in Warrington. In just five years the business, which he runs along with four others, has amassed around 30 staff and collected numerous awards.
The most recent of these include winning Best SEO Campaign in the 2017 DANI Awards and being named the Digital DNA Company of the Year 2017. Flint Studios also won Tech Business of the Year at the 2017 SME Business Eye Awards and was ranked 13 in the Deloitte Technology ‘Fast 50’ the previous year. There are various other accolades too.
'I’ve heard people say that once you get to 40 you can’t run your own business. That’s nonsense. It’s never too late. At 41, I had the opportunity to do that myself.
Flint Studios was ranked 13 in the 2016 Deloitte Technology Fast 50
'I always had an aspiration to work for myself. I think it was because of who I’d worked with. Some of my early bosses were very entrepreneurial and those mentors showed me that you should have the ability to do this for yourself.'
Specialising in creative web solutions with Magento eCommerce, Flint Studios works with more than 200 customers and is a fast-growing business. However, as Biggerstaff points out, this growth is part of the company’s overall plan, and they always work within their means to achieve their goals.
'I’m also a qualified chartered director with the IoD,' he says. 'That whole process helped define our strategy and plan. We work on a three-year cycle. We set out our plan and what we want to achieve. I would encourage people to do that for their personal and professional development. It’s all about accountability and it’s all in line with our capabilities and the size we are.
'Quite often people set their goals way beyond their means and therefore feel they’re failing when it doesn’t work out.'
Technology always held a fascination for Biggerstaff, who was making his career decisions back when computers were just starting to properly take hold in the workplace. Drawn to computer networking, which was in relative infancy at that stage, he decided to do a Computer Science degree, feeling that it would guarantee him a job. His course was one of few at the time to offer student placements and so he spent a year working at KPMG as a junior IT consultant. Biggerstaff threw himself into the role and subsequently ended up working for the company after graduating, designing images for kitchen software.
'I built up a good relationship with my boss and I realised then that the customer is the most important thing. No matter what happens, the customer always needs to be looked after and helped. That attitude helps you along the way.'
Remaining at KPMG for the next few years, Biggerstaff realised he had to choose whether to focus his career on the technology or the business development side of things. Opting for the latter, he took up a position with a software company, where he spent the next few years learning about how to grow a company.
'I then moved into a more senior business development role in a very large telecoms corporation called Nevada Tele.com as I wanted to broaden my experience in selling,' he says.
'I remember it because it was my first senior position in terms of managing people and because it was so different in what I had to do. Ultimately, it was again part of the plan to keep my career options open.'
After that particular job 'ran its course', Biggerstaff took some time out on his own, before securing the position of managing director at UTV New Media. This new role saw him take responsibility for their new media company, UTV Internet.
'That was the first company where I did my first proper strategy direction, on how you could move the business forward,' he says. 'We created all the online portals for property, jobs and cars, expanding UTV’s new media portfolio and creating software that was second-to-none.'
Also involved with merger and acquisition work, Biggerstaff helped to create TV and radio ads – another learning curve in his career.
'Before I went to UTV I’d never created a TV ad for selling telephony,' he says. 'But there’s always somebody there to help. I would encourage anybody trying to build and develop their career to have multiple mentors – somebody to help you with different areas, for example commerce, creativity and people. All of those things matter. Even now, I meet my former boss for lunch every quarter.
'I think that’s particularly important in the creative industry, where you’re always trying to come up with new ideas.'
After seven years at UTV, Biggerstaff realised he had somehow lost his vision to work for himself. So, when the company started undergoing changes, he decided he would refocus on it. Looking to see if there were any companies he could work with, he took part in a project with Invest NI and came across Flint Studios, who were approaching the end of their first year in business.
'I thought they had loads of potential and that I could contribute to that,' he says. 'I joined them for an initial period, working part-time to see if we gelled, and then became an investor. At the end there was an opportunity to buy in to the company and now it’s the five of us who own and run the business.
'Our mantra is that we’re a learning and challenging environment. A good honest day’s work is what it’s all about!'
Jeremy's advice for entrepreneurs:
- Don’t take the first thing that comes along and feel you have to do it. Take your time. It’s about finding the right job for you.
- It’s never too late to start your own business.
- Work outside your comfort zone.
- Find a mentor – more than one.
- Have a good idea of where you want to get to and write it down to keep accountable.
- Set realistic goals and objectives and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can achieve them.
- There are very few shortcuts. If you want to get to the next level you’ve got to go over the stepping stones along the way.
- Understand your marketplace.
- Don’t underestimate personal and professional development.
- Doing something you enjoy and having a passion and desire is important.
- Ask for advice and have a plan. There’s lots of support out there.
For more information on Flint Studios visit: https://flintstudios.co.uk/home.
This article was originally commissioned as part of Creativity Month 2018, themed this year around creative industries careers and skills. For more articles you may have missed click here.
By Claire Savage