I started my working life in the motor trade in my family’s Toyota dealership, predominantly in after-sales, where I developed a keen (perhaps morbid) interest in crashed cars. After five years learning the inside & out of cars, how they crashed & how to repair them, I went self employed as a crash repairer. For two long years I repaired & painted cars, often working past midnight until eventually being enticed off the tools into an estimating position for a large bodyshop, despite having to wear a tie!
Working my way up this side of the body repair industry for three years, I was then offered the opportunity to join a relatively new independent assessing company. After three successful years, out of the blue one Wednesday, we were told we were being made redundant on the Friday. After some panicking (and lots of rum) I decided to set up my first company, Laird Assessors.
Marketing & Growth
Starting with a blank canvas I had the opportunity to disrupt the somewhat traditionalist industry with useful technology, smart marketing & high quality customer service. In a little over a year I was so busy that I needed help & hired my first staff member. Within half a dozen years we’d passed the £1m turnover mark. Today Laird is one of the largest assessors in the UK, having employed around 300 people over its history, winning many legal & customer service awards. We work with house-hold names; insurance companies, solicitors, hire companies & even Scotland Yard & the BBC as automotive expert witnesses.
Technology & Software
In the assessing industry there are a lot of different software packages that we needed to use, from repair estimating platforms and vehicle valuations to vehicle data, specification and fraud databases, plus accountancy & management platforms. Problem was nothing connected them all up other than a human; moving one bit of data to another. With no software available we decided to build our own.
Over the years we put in some considerable time & effort into developing an all encompassing hub that would pull together the myriad of information. We started automating much of the system, the customer facing booking systems, client & supplier APIs to exchanged data quickly & accurately; piece by piece it all came together.
I became intrigued as to how other companies solved these problems. A heating & gas company visited my house with carbonated paper sheets on clipboards; the engineer asked me what my address was to fill in his form whilst standing on my drive; clearly the booking system didn’t talk to the technicians. We adapted our system for them & they’ve never looked back since, growing the company to one of the biggest on the Wirral.
It was clear that the software had a market, so myself & the head software guru, Dr Adam Sykes joined forces & launched Livepoint Software in 2013. We have taken that product & ideas, called it Swiftcase and developed it considerably since, with the help of an ever growing team of developers, designers & coders. Falling into three broad categories, namely automation, connectivity & workflow management. It is now used in a wide variety of industries from insurers and wealth management companies to industrial engineers and the construction industry.
Marketing & branding has always been an important part of Laird and indeed any company’s growth. In the early days some of it was somewhat hit & miss, but we soon worked out how to hit more than we missed! As the company grew, so did our marketing needs, so in 2013 we decided to hire someone with both technical skills but also with the Laird attitude & ethos. Enter graphic designer Justine McLaughlin.
Working closely with the marketing team at that time, I found myself asking Justine increasingly for her stance on matters as I found she was not afraid to give an opinion that would go against the grain. I became progressively trusting in her honesty and clear thought process. Clearly this was a woman who was destined for great things.
I started my creative journey at a young age with a passion for Art and Design I began creating posters for local bands to use and taught myself on the creative suite as soon as I got my hands on a Mac. This passion drove me all the way through to Liverpool John Moores University to do a degree in Interactive Media which included, Web Design, Graphic Design and Animation.
Whilst in university I worked every hour I had spare in hospitality, at that age I just loved making as much money as I could but found that I really enjoyed the whole process from customer service to complaints handling. Working my way up the ladder from waitress right through to management I eventually took the leap and launched two restaurants and bars and worked at both as a general manager consecutively. I quickly learnt a plethora of lessons within these roles, lessons I take through business with me today, I’ve learnt how to drive staff and businesses forward with a can do attitude and a, ‘let’s get shit done’ mindset.
The digital design need within me was something that I still wanted to explore, whilst organising events for my own restaurant and external companies i was able to indulge in graphic design again igniting my passion and eye for design leading me on a search for a role within this industry. I was approached by an employee at a company called Laird Assessors to come in for an interview, they didn’t have a role but felt that I fitted with the company ethos and culture from seeing me in my previous roles on social media and wanted to explore opportunities with me. Intrigued, I wanted to understand more, little did I know that meeting would be the catalyst of change in my career.
At that meeting, not only did I meet my now business partner but I took the leap out of hospitality to take an opportunity i’d craved from such a young age in Graphic Design. Admittedly, the salary was much lower than what I was used to but I felt that the ethos of the company was exactly what I was looking for and saw it as a stepping stone in that industry. That decision changed my life and now I am an advocate of trusting your gut and going with your heart. When you find people that have the same mindset and vision as you it is imperative to surround yourself with them in order to bring the best out in you, and that it exactly what I did. Within 6 months I had launched my first business with my business partner and best friend Nik Ellis. Last year we launched our 3rd together, I’ve never looked back.
Since opening the restaurants when I was 22 right through to launching my first business with Nik at 25 I have learnt first hand the peaks and troughs of business, what works and what doesn’t. As i was so hands on in every business it has enabled me to learn the real difficulties first hand businesses go through. I am an outside the box thinker and thrive off peoples passion and enthusiasm. Working with businesses to navigate them through their growth is extremely rewarding. My creativity and Nik’s business acumen compliment one another allowing us to look at a business from all angles and drive it to success.
Whitfield Business Support
We had serviced offices in Whitfield Business Hub with loads of other businesses of all shapes & sizes. Tenants had seen what we’d created for the likes of Laird, Swiftcase & Whitfield & would ask us to build websites, design graphics, help with tech. We decided to set up Whitfield Business Support Limited in 2015 as a vehicle to handle this work load. It was, to an extent, just a side line. No business plan was needed as people were wondering into our office to ask us to build stuff for them. We didn’t have huge ambitions at the start.
However, it became clear that there was a real need, not just internal serviced offices, but further afield for good digital skills. We started to market the company & it grew. We hired a web developer, then a graphic designer & it was clear that we’d inadvertently hit on something.
Justine & I shared a deep interest in learning, developing & discovering how technology can be used. We started attending conferences, TEDx talks, anything that taught, inspired or expanded our minds.
One such event in Liverpool was to become a pivotal point. Held in the epicentre of creative tech, the Baltic Triangle in 2018, we rocked up all excited & were given large name badges with ‘Whitfield Business Support Ltd’ written on them. Chatting to the other delegates we noticed they tended to have really cool & clever names. People asked us if we sold photocopiers or something. Clearly it was time to change our name.
Around three months later, about 250 rejected (or already taken) names and several bottles of wine we came up with the name Revolution Four.
This was the first time either of us had experienced such a radical & complete brand change and the results were astonishing. Our conversion rates increased, our brand awareness seemed amplified, we were prouder of our website, adverts, social media, it had significantly invigorated the company.
Within a year our turnover had doubled and we were able to hire more staff in specialised & IT areas to be able to offer almost all digital marketing services under one roof. We won several awards including one for Best Start Up; despite technically being 4 years old at this point, the brand was so strong, it overshadowed any memory of the original company; people genuinely thought we’d burst onto the scene.
In 2017 we launched a campaign, Wirral Wolves, a play on Dragon’s Den, looking for entrepreneurs or start-ups needing investment and business acumen. We were inundated with all sorts of weird & wonderful ideas, ranging from the weird to the boring.
However one chap was working in a high end recruitment company and had some ideas to disrupt the industry and really wanted to go on his own. After a few discussions Justine & I agreed to invest in him; the basic deal was that we’d set up the company, develop the brand, build a website, provide all the marketing plus some practical things like an office, tech hardware, admin support, which would leave him to concentrate on what he does best, recruitment. We came up with a great name, Lacuna, which is Latin for “to fill a gap”. Within a year it had grown to a point where we needed more staff and the company was doing great until covid hit. That story is to be continued…
Not Non-Exec Directors
We’re not non-executive directors but our role as marketing strategists often crosses into that territory, for marketing isn’t just about trying to attract sales or raise brand awareness. Sometimes internal procedural changes can be very effective, often costing very little to change other than mind sets.
As an example we were tasked with a marketing strategy for a large manufacturer supplying goods throughout the EU. We like to really understand a company before we start anything, so we spent some time at their head office.
Following their customer journey we discovered that they very kindly shipped samples out for people to test their products. We asked what they did with the data they collected on those red hot leads. Checking with some lovely ladies who’d been there for 30 plus years, we were shocked to discover they didn’t even save their basic contact info. It took minutes to develop a simple re-marketing process to contact the leads, give them an easy call to action and hey presto another source of sales. A huge return on investment.
Process like this may seem obvious and this is a simplified example, but we’ve discovered that they are often overlooked; perhaps it’s tricky to see the wood for the trees, or in this case it was because “that’s what they’d always done”.
Having an overview of a company & how it operates allows us to suggest more efficient processes often taking advantage of contemporaneous tech. It help us formulate smarter marketing strategies rather than the typical spend-big, reach far, tell everyone approach.
Marketing has changed significantly recently with the incredible ability to hyper-personalise advertising, sending a specific message to exactly the right demographic, in precisely the right way, just at the time they will buy. Sounds a bit Big Brother but if you’re going to see adverts anyway, wouldn’t you rather see stuff that actually interests you?