The Business Owner: Simon Schnieders, Blue Array
With a keen focus on worker wellbeing, Schnieders gives his staff free gym membership and even offers them a stake in the business
Founder: Simon Schnieders
Company: Blue Array
Location: Reading, Berkshire
Proposition: Blue Array is a boutique search marketing agency that specialises in large scale SEO,giving their clients an unfair advantage in search by providing a consultancy style service with the scale of an agency.
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
Customer service and communication needs are at the beating heart of what we do. Most SEO agencies are known for their lack of transparency, direction or strategy. Which has caused uncertainty, a lack of communication and misinformation to become a common problem within the industry.
Blue Array takes a different approach. Not only do we deliver qualified results for clients, but we do so with regular communication. We make a concerted effort to understand our clients, from their values and cultures to the people behind their businesses. Allowing us to deliver SEO strategies that have a return on investment over time, at a level that no other marketing channel can compete with.
How did you finance your business?
The business was bootstrapped with our first few clients and has remained investor and debt free throughout.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
Finding the right employees and keeping them motivated will make or break a young business. Here at Blue Array we employ a small number of young employees who work for us under the national apprenticeship scheme, as we believe they are the future of business. However, we believe that employee motivation is also incredibly important for a growing business to thrive.
We focus on our staff’s wellbeing and health, offering free gym memberships and other perks to ensure they are healthy and of a solid state of mind. To ensure all employees maintain a good work/life balance, they are only required to work a 33-hour week and discouraged from any work after hours. Additionally, we offer all employees vesting stock options in order to give them a stake in the success of Blue Array.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
It’s a real juggling act between hiring and training the right people, whilst having enough business to justify the increased head count. When you’re focused on maintaining an undiluted service offering, that becomes a real challenge.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
Most of our new customers arrive from ‘word of mouth’ referrals which is great to know that our work speaks for itself. However, we do also take a proactive approach to attracting new customers. Being an SEO agency, it’s important for us to practice what we preach and ensure that we focus on our website.
In addition, we use various PR tactics to raise the profile of the business amongst the marketing industry. It’s also important we place ourselves directly in front of the right people and therefore we attend many networking events to meet with likeminded business owners, as well as speaking at events and exhibitions to engage with the SEO and tech communities.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
I think there’s a level of ambition and subsequent scale where it’s demanded. Once we’ve cornered the UK SEO market (and we’re well on the way) we’ll be looking at exporting our service offering into key European countries and then the US.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
Slack. We live and breathe Slack internally as a method for documenting client relationships, particularly taking advantage of its email integration function and Bcc’ing all communication there. We don’t surprisingly utilise it much as an instant messaging tool.
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
Transparent, Driven, Motivated.
What would you like the government to do for small business?
In the tech industry, I’d like to see a longer-term approach to venture capitalism and the government could incentivise that kind of an approach with tax relief. I think that’s part of the reason why we are struggling to see anything like a Google, Apple or Facebook in this country. Another reason is the lack of equity that employees get over here vs. investors. That throttles the eco-system.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
I’ve never placed anyone else on a pedestal so there isn’t really anyone that comes to mind as a hero. I’ve worked for some very driven people in the past that have been an inspiration when times get really tough.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
We’re hoping to be in at least one other European country at that stage and have at least quadrupled the team size.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
Keeping the agency throttled on growth has been an intentional part of Blue Array’s strategy. Blue Array is a small company, and we use that to our advantage. We employ a team of 12 strong people, rather than a team of 20 who may be average at their jobs. This allows us to be more efficient and produce outputs of an excellent quality- similar to that of a larger agency.
Our clients like working with a smaller agency as we can offer them a much more personal service. Remaining small allows the team to dedicate an equal amount of time on each client, concentrating on giving them the best service possible. We’ve throttled growth specifically by keeping clients at eight days’ maximum a month, no matter how large their budgets are.