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How our start-up built trust and reputation with early customers

It's tricky to build credibility for a business nobody has heard of (yet). The Clerkenwell Brothers explain how they earnt the trust of prospective clients...

Founders: Cass Horowitz, Nick Horowitz, Faraz Aghaei
Company: The Clerkenwell Brothers
Company description: A creative agency and production house specialising in working with start-ups.
Started in: 2016

Describe your start-up barrier:

The main challenge we faced when starting up was getting other business owners to trust us. We were an unknown company and didn’t have traditional agency backgrounds.

With start-ups everything is personal so, when you’re running the first marketing campaign a business has ever done, there’s a lot of responsibility to get it right.

What were the practical steps you took to create a relationship of trust with businesses?

We adopted new thinking

Firstly, we quickly discovered that not having come from big agency backgrounds was an advantage to us.

Many of the start-up founders we met had been burnt in the past by long contracts and expensive retainers. We brought a fresh approach to the creative process as well as the business model, often linking our own reward to the outcome of the campaign.

We prepare everything in-house

Working with start-ups, we always knew that budgets would be tight. We brought a lot of the skills and equipment required in-house, which meant we didn’t have to pay third parties to execute work (this is particularly useful in the production space).

This allowed business owners to take a lesser ‘risk’ initially, whilst allowing us to show them what we can do.

We've built the trust on both sides

Our business was created when we approached a company called AirCharge (in Clerkenwell) and offered to create some digital content for them, initially alongside our day jobs. What then started as creating a small video for internal presentations (Nick Horowitz directed it, Cass Horowitz starred in it) quickly grew into working on a larger scale video for the international side of their business – watch it here.

This process is something we have aimed to replicate, joining a start-up’s team at an early stage and growing with them. That said, it requires a lot of trust on both sides; our work is often a little bit more risky which suits start-ups who are both bold but also back our ability to execute the campaign.

We've been flexible

Having worked in start-ups we knew how important it was to be fast and flexible. With our clients, we imagine our office to be sat in theirs. Clients can message us through a central platform and we generally reply within the hour. This allows us to be ‘creatively on call’ for any challenge big or small.

There’s no need to ring an account manager or compose a long email; we’re always ready to respond to whatever it is that’s needed.

We're honest

We realised very early on that, in order to build a good reputation and grow in the long-term, we had to be honest from the start. That meant not inflating the size of the business or pretending we could do things that we couldn’t.

Dishonesty may win you business in the short-term but it won’t be good for your brand down the line. We’re really pleased that all of our work so far has come from referrals and we have a reputation for delivering what we promise.

What was the outcome?

We’ve had the pleasure of working with brands big and small in the last year. Our first client was Little Moons – we love the brother-sister team behind the company and together we’ve launched mochi bars across London, grown the business' social channels and increased distribution.

More recently we’ve started working for the team behind Yacht Week as well as Whole Foods UK.

What key questions should other start-ups ask themselves when trying to build trust and reputation with early customers?

  • What am I offering that’s different to what’s out there already?
  • What’s the purpose of what I'm selling or doing? Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get someone to pick a product off the shelf, download an app or visit a website – it comes down to the story you tell, how you tell it and how you make people feel.
  • Who is my customer really? We don’t believe in the old fashioned way of defining consumers. It’s better to think of people in terms of what they do rather than just how they're defined. After all, 67 year-old grannies can like rock music too.

What one piece of advice do you think new business should take on board to build trust?

Be honest and upfront – with a start-up you’re your own brand.

Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?

I think in the early days it’s easy to feel like clients are doing you a favour by taking you on. Never underestimate the value of what you’re offering.



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