The Entrepreneur: Matt Turner, Clownfish Events

Founder: Matt Turner
Company: Clownfish Events
Description in one line: A bespoke event management company with 10 years' experience of designing, producing and running events across the UK.

Founder and MD at a successful event planning company, Matt Turner talks starting a business at 18, the numbers that are crucial to his business, the mistakes too many new entrepreneurs make and more..

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

What is actually unique these days? There are very few businesses that can truly say what they do is unique, apart from companies like Uber and Airbnb who start a completely new business model.

We’re not the only events company in the UK, but we have unique strengths and that makes us different. We have a very tight knit team and there’s no conventional hierarchy of management. Anyone in the team with a view is able to speak to anyone, challenge them and hold them to account.

It’s an environment where the whole team feels their voice matters, employee engagement is very high and that translates into a much sharper service for customers.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Maintaining steady growth in a tough economic climate. Clownfish has grown year on year despite having the odds stacked against us – and I also had no prior knowledge of how to run a business. Our clients are happier than ever and we are growing.

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

I am a firm believer in the saying that ‘turnover is vanity, profits are sanity and cash is reality’ – I look at the levels of cash we have in the bank every day.

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

We would like to be trading internationally one day, but for now we are concentrating on the London market. There are still plenty of opportunities closer to home before we should be getting distracted with other regions.

I come from London and it is where my heart is. However, we buy a lot of our equipment and party accessories internationally. I went to a trade fair in Spain recently and returned with an artificial ice rink!

Describe your growth funding path:

Funding for us has been relatively traditional. HSBC have been amazing and very supportive of us as a business. We’ve got a commercial mortgage on our premises and most of our other funding has come as a result of organic growth.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The cloud. Every programme we use is hosted – from our phones, accounts software, website, CRM system and van location tracking.

All our servers and files are in the cloud so we can always access anything anywhere, and this is fantastic. When I am at an event I can have full access to all the files I need – I can be anywhere and my office comes too. It’s incredible.

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

We are currently going through an internal change of direction to full-scale events production from concept to final clear up, and I want this to be more bedded in.

In three years, I want to be thinking about our international expansion and have a much larger team, giving us the ability to take on bigger projects.

Growth challenges

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

To keep going irrespective of the challenges you face on a daily basis – whether that’s staff problems, customers not paying on time, technical difficulties. It’s the little things you inevitably encounter daily, but you have to keep going regardless.

To use a fishing analogy, very often in business, you cast your line, show the audience your worm and see who bites. There have been times when I have cast my line and found no one was interested. It’s disheartening and it takes resilience to pick yourself up and keep going.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Talking about mistakes implies something you regret and that’s not how we think. Better to look at what I have done that I learned the most from. It is hard to pinpoint what that is. It's probably how to manage people effectively.

As a small business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats and they can very often be simultaneously contradictory. For instance, you need to be compassionate and yet strong, gentle and tough, generous and frugal. There is a fine line between micromanaging and letting people be empowered but accepting things might not go to plan.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Employment law is a minefield and is becoming increasingly complex, which is a risk to small businesses.

This complexity makes us worried about hiring people and we like to use freelancers rather than employ a team, with the exception of our core events specialists.

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

Being closed-minded – you need to be willing to try anything and too many entrepreneurs get stuck in their ways, so ultimately, they are not meeting all their customers' expectations.

How will your market look in three years?

Corporate events are a large part of our business and I can foresee these customers will want to be seen to be spending less money. In the past, a lot of external events were very lavish, it was cool to spend a lot of money and the more ostentatious the better.

The climate is different now and will become more so. Customers want to appear more understated – there’s the CSR (corporate social responsibility) movement which is very important and a greater awareness of finding ways to avoid being wasteful is influencing this trend.

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

Say yes to everything. That’s how we got going in the early days – just say yes and worry about how to do it later.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Having a PA.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learn on the job.

What would make you a better leader?

More experience. More time to think and reflect.

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

When you are 18 and sitting at home with a laptop, entrepreneurship seems very sexy. I was fresh out of school when I started Clownfish, I had no idea how rough and difficult the ride would be.

Looking back, if I knew then what I know now, I would have tried to partner with someone rather than shoulder the whole responsibility alone – running a business can be lonely and very difficult.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

A camera for when I am out at events, and Spotify so I can tune out and relax when I need to.

Business book:

I’ve never read one in my life, but I am told The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris is a good read. Maybe I’ll try it and I might even accomplish that one day.