The Business Owner: Hilary Stephenson, Sigma Consulting Solutions
The digital company's founder tells us how exporting can inspire business ideas and why communication is key to making a profit
Company: Sigma Consulting Solutions
Founders: Hilary Stephenson
Location: Macclesfield, Cheshire
Proposition: We deliver exceptional digital solutions and an improved user experience for all
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
We design with users instead of for users. We engage them at the beginning of the process, helping to develop and test prototypes and early stage web interfaces or software applications. We believe that putting users at the heart of what we do delivers better products to a happier audience.
How did you finance your business?
We had a standing start in 2007 when we began building the new company. From there, we built a great team and portfolio of clients to reach our current position of £3.5m turnover and solid profits year on year.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
Customer and staff satisfaction. Focusing on finance is important, but that’s an outcome of doing great work for happy customers that the whole team feels proud of.
I can’t express the value of keeping track of customer feedback. At Sigma, we pride ourselves on working directly with clients to create something that they feel happy and comfortable with – if there’s an opportunity within a business to get direct feedback like this, then that’s definitely important.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
As an agency, we find scheduling our work and managing the pipeline of opportunity to be difficult to control. We are client-led and highly responsive, but it’s an extremely competitive market.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
We have invested in PR to raise our profile, and we run an annual industry event called Camp Digital, which boosts our position in the user experience field. It’s well attended and gets excellent feedback from clients, peers, speakers, and students – and the overall impact for our brand is extremely positive.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
Yes, we do see real value in working with overseas clients as it opens up new opportunities regarding the technology landscape, cultural change and projects based on legislative process, for example.
It’s also an excellent way to bring ideas from other regions back home. As an example, we recently worked on the Swedish Min Pension website, an innovative approach to guiding Swedish citizens on pension choices – this is something we’d love to discuss with organisations in the UK following the recent pension reforms.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
For me, it is still email – although I do have a love/hate relationship with it. We are currently trialling new communication and tracking tools to reduce the reliance on email, including Slack, and we’re using GitHub for project-related communications.
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
Flexible, trusted, collaborative.
What would you like the government to do for small business?
I’d like the government to give small businesses the opportunity to support government work. Things like broadening the G-Cloud supplier list to include smaller, niche suppliers, and facilitate collaboration between partners on joint delivery contracts.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
I am impressed by some of the thinking coming from the various digital inclusion initiatives. People like Helen Milner, Martha-Lane Fox, and Rachel Neaman are fascinating to follow at the moment.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
I want to continue our steady growth to allow us to invest in new talent and services. The market is exciting and dynamic, so we need fresh thinking and new approaches to offer value to our clients.
Our profile is good, but I want the Sigma name to be synonymous with high quality, inclusive, digital solutions across sectors. We also estimate that we’ll be at 50 plus people with a £5m turnover.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making a profit?
Communication is absolutely critical to our delivery. UX is iterative, so our business relies on crystal clear understanding of user, client, and technical requirements.
The team needs to pull together to maintain that, reduce the risk of project overspend and delivery quality the first time.
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