Louise’s Top 5 Tips for running a business with a difference

An interview with Louise Sharp, Owner and Managing Director of Makara Health

Louise set up Makara Health in February 2013. Since then the company has gone from strength to strength. Here she shares some insights into the journey so far…

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1. How did Makara Health come about, why did you decide to set up the agency 5 years ago?

My vision was to set up a company that worked better for its clients and its people. Having set up and run two previous agencies over the last 20 years, I wanted Makara to do things a bit differently.

We offer a different proposition to many of the traditional healthcare communications agency models. We have an incredibly flat working structure of senior team members who are hands-on delivering all client work, supported by a core administration team.

I wanted to offer individuals the opportunity to work from home, wherever that may be, and to work at times that sometimes sit outside of the traditional 9-5, though we always have someone available within those hours too. The more flexible we are with our team, the more flexible they are with our clients, moving things around to ensure they can hit tight deadlines and pick up ad hoc requests.

Of course, our model might not work for everyone. Some people like to work in an office, and indeed we have a core support team who choose to do so. However, with mobile working and digital solutions to aid communications, for individuals that want to strike a work-life balance, while still enjoying all the benefits of agency life without the morning and evening commute, the Makara way of working works well. Our incredibly low staff turnover is testament to this.

2. How many staff did you start out with and how many people do you employ today?

When I started the agency, there was just two of us with a desire to get back to the core of delivering creative communications. As agencies grow larger there can be a tendency for line management responsibilities to take over and take you away from the core business of working with clients and delivering great work. My background is in marketing and psychology and I simply love working with and delivering results for clients.

Today we have a core team of 18 and an extended team in excess of 28. Our ability to be flexible in terms of resource keeps us nimble, cost effective and ensures we are always delivering high quality work.

3. What do you think has been the secret to Makara’s success, and how have you achieved business growth?

There is no secret! People buy people and if you have a great team with great skills and creative minds, and you offer them a flexible, trusting and supportive environment, they will deliver amazing results.

Oh, and a desire to strip out ego. We are here to make our clients look good, to deliver programmes that engage with and support our clients’ goals, to keep our promises of delivering on time, to be collaborative and to inspire great thinking. Our ethos is about being down to earth, being creative, working hard and encouraging bright minds.

Business growth comes from a true belief that we have something special to offer. Repeat business is vital to business growth. Achieving this comes down to delivering great work, being responsive and flexible to client needs, and always paying attention to detail. You are only as good as your last gig, so every gig needs to be a success.

4. What’s been your biggest highlight in the first 5 years of Makara?

In honesty it is seeing the Makara model work for our team and our clients. We’ve built a fantastic trust-base and have the most ‘teamy’ feel I’ve ever experienced in my agency life but with total flexibility of working location. This goes to show that contrary to old-style thinking, home-working, coupled with a dedication to make it work, leads to better outcomes for clients. A happy team leads to a flexible team and this results in fantastic client service.

I am so proud when we have company gatherings now and I look around at the great team of people that we’ve built. We have a diverse range of individuals, all with their own unique skills and all delivering great work. This means we also have happy clients that stick with us, not only because they like us, but because they trust us to deliver.

5. What top 5 tips would you give to other small business owners who are just starting out on their journey?

  1. Be truly client focused – mentally step into the shoes of your client/customer and look at yourself from that position. You get some great insights.
  2. Believe in yourself – if you really believe in what you and your business have to offer, others will believe it too.
  3. Work hard and be responsive – running a successful business requires dedication and a lot of hard work. Clients/customers want someone they can rely on. They need to know that you’ll be there when they need you, no matter what ungodly hour it may be!
  4. Pay attention to detail – it’s a cliché but the devil really is in the detail, no matter how big or small a project. Never overlook the importance of small details. Getting these right is the difference between a document flying through the approval system or coming back for yet more amends.
  5. Persistence pays off! – there will always be setbacks along the way, but the key is not to lose that self-belief. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the horse!

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