The Business Owner: Jason Downes, Powwownow

The managing director talks about keeping employees happy and the importance of 'creative and clever' marketing

The Business Owner: Jason Downes, Powwownow

Company: Powwownow
Founder: Paul Lees
Managing director: Jason Downes
Location: Richmond
Proposition: Conference call service providers
Size: 75 members of staff

How is your business different from what’s already out there?

Our business is built on its simplicity and the amount of viable options we give businesses and individuals to be able to communicate in an efficient manner.

Our reliability and customer service are also two areas which we pride ourselves on enormously. We take on board pain points that business professionals suffer from and aim to alleviate these through our services.

How did you finance your business?

In the early days our business was funded by a combination of traditional bank loans & owner personnel investment.

We as a business have always challenged ourselves hard to re-investment back into the business for growth, ensuring we have best in class tech & infrastructure to ensure rock solid reliability and ease of use. Our largest expenditure continues to be sales & marketing as we look to fuel growth and continue to be the fastest growing conference call provider in Europe.

What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?

Naturally you need to stay on top of your company’s balance sheet, ensuring you’re not making unnecessary expenditures and harming profits as a result. For me though, I think it’s more important to keep track of your employees. This doesn’t mean micro-managing them to the nth degree but focusing on their well-being and making sure they remain motivated.

It’s not rocket science, an enthused and happy workforce is far more likely to produce their best and go that extra mile for the company and its customers.

What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?

The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis would probably be ensuring that all my staff are inspired and happy to be at Powwownow.

This may sound a little cheesy but that is why we make such an effort with away days and running social events, I am aware that the little things can ultimately make a big difference to individuals.

What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?

We accepted a long time ago that marketing would be a huge tool for us as a business.

Advertising on the tube, on taxis and at stations is something we do a lot and have found it to have a big impact in terms of being noticed – it is crucial that the rest of our marketing and PR aligns with this in order to achieve the best possible results.

Conference calling is not the sexiest market around, admittedly, and therefore we knew that creative and clever marketing was going to be vital to gain brand exposure and familiarity. Once you have engineered the association between the service you provide and your company name, then it is up to you to deliver a quality product and service to ensure that brand familiarity develops in to brand loyalty.

Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?

I do think it is important but it shouldn’t be a focus at the very early stages. You have to be sure as to the right timing for the business in terms of exporting and expanding. Too early, and it can cripple a small business but too late and your competitors can steal a march on you.

At Powwownow, we’ve made huge efforts in the French and German markets as they have the most similar working culture to the UK but we accept that both nations are slightly behind when it comes to their outlooks on flexible working. It’s critical to do your research on the places you plan to export to, otherwise you’re affectively doing business blindfolded.

What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?

Aside from ours! Concur is now our default method for expenses & it great at doing expense claims on the go & also for giving increased control & visibility of expenditure.

Describe your company’s culture in three words:

Flexible, welcoming and ambitious.

What would you like the government to do for small business?

I still think the government could do more when it comes to broadband speeds around the country. My sister lives in Hong Kong, and she is astounded whenever she comes to visit me that there are certain areas of the country where she physically can’t continue her work due to poor broadband speed. If the UK wants to be a major global power and support small businesses, then this has to be addressed.

Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?

Andrew Pearce & not just because he brought me to Powwownow! Andy is a serial entrepreneurial who builds businesses with such passion & fun. Always challenging, always innovating & always demanding absolute focus on adding value to the ultimate customer.

Where do you want the business to be in three years?

In three years’ time, I would like to have doubled the business. When I was appointed MD 18 months ago that was the challenge and this hasn’t changed. We have enjoyed 20% year-on year- growth, and so I see no reason why this ambition can’t become a reality.

Establishing more brand notoriety and a stronger foothold in UK cities outside of London as well as in European countries is also a strong focus in the coming years.

What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?

From my perspective, it is critical to invest in the areas of your business where you are experiencing the most joy and yielding the best results. As mentioned, marketing has been a key area for us and has benefitted the business no end, it therefore makes sense to continue to invest and make strides in this area of the company.

I appreciate the argument of perhaps trying to correct weaker areas of the business but you don’t do this by simply throwing money at them and it’s far more important to focus on your businesses’ strengths.

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