The Entrepreneur: Heather Baker, TopLine Communications

Having started out as a "naive 27 year-old in the teeth of 2008's financial crisis", Heather Baker shares the rise of becoming a £1m company

Founder: Heather Baker
Company: TopLine Communications
Website: www.toplinecomms.com
Description in one line: A digital marketing and communications specialist that develops and executes data-led strategies for fast growing technology companies
Previous companies: None
Turnover: £1m
12 month target: £1.4m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We’re a marketing and communications agency that works with fast growing tech companies to help them get in front of prospects and customers.
  • We’re early adopters of technology ourselves.
  • We’re unique, or almost, in our approach to analytics and our application of data for clients’ communications strategies.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

I founded TopLine Communications in 2008 and my timing was awful – right at the moment the global financial crisis started to bite. Getting through that has certainly made us more durable than we otherwise might have been, but it’s something of an understatement to say that it was challenging at the time

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

The bank balance, of course, receivables, incoming leads, visits to the website – and my Twitter followers.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We’ve been working in Europe for some time and earlier this year we also started working in the US and Australia. To date this has been driven by clients’ need to have a presence in those markets but we plan to broaden that reach in the near future.

Describe your growth funding path:

At the start-up stage TopLine was backed financially by myself and two other investors. We put in £32,000 in total which the company paid back a long time ago. We were profitable after the second year and our profits fund additional investments.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

I’m huge fan of software-as-a-service solutions. We currently use 14 different applications, from Xero accounting solutions to the Bullhorn CRM, and in every instance implementing a quality SaaS solution has dramatically improved our processes and saved us a huge amount of time.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

In three years we’re targeting £2.5m turnover and we want to be servicing some of the worlds’ most exciting companies, of course.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Buying out the other two original investors was a really tough process that took more than six months and meant I had some incredibly fast learning to do. But it was completely worth it.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Not specialising early enough.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Dealing with BT to get our offices connected was a nightmare. We’ve moved twice since we started and on both occasions it’s been extremely difficult to get basic phone and broadband service set up. It would have been seriously detrimental if we didn’t have a good continuity plan in place.

I launched TopLine as a naive 27 year old in the teeth of 2008’s financial crisis but the biggest challenge I’ve faced since hasn’t been un-interested bank managers or late-paying clients, it’s been BT’s inability to furnish us with the internet and telecoms facilities for which we have paid good money.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Thinking that marketing their product will be easy enough for an intern or a graduate to do it!

How will your market look in three years?

London’s technology sector is growing up, finally, and there are some very exciting tech start-ups operating under the radar at the moment. London really could be the birthplace of the next Google or Facebook in the near future. Watch this space.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Don’t go into business with anyone until you’ve worked with them and seen them at their worst.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

London’s black cabs.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Both, actually. I did executive MBA two years ago and, combined with the learning I’ve done on the job, it’s proved to be very valuable. I couldn’t put one over the other.

What would make you a better leader?

A better work life balance. I’m working on it.

Business book:

Chet Holmes’ The Ultimate Sales Machine.

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