UCL Innovation and Enterprise


The First Word

16 August 2013

Focusing on objectives

After meeting at a creative writing agency, Cristina Harvey and Neil Martin decided to set up their own business, offering copyrighting, branding and training workshops for organisations wishing to improve their team’s writing skills. Nearly a year later they had been very successful in securing clients, but with their increasingly hectic work schedule, they sought the guidance of a SMILE mentor to help them develop a long term strategy, reassess their finances and consider new contracts to enable them to make the business more sustainable.

Person writing

SMILE matched The First Word to mentor Francis Seriau, an experienced mentor and entrepreneur in the music industry. He has helped several other creative businesses through SMILE and has particularly enjoyed working with The First Word. Francis was able to help Cristina and Neil refocus the business, concentrating on their goals and objectives for the future, a particularly crucial step for a business still in its relatively early stages. Neil found that “…one of the most difficult things about running your own business is that you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off – and when you do it’s often friends or old colleagues rather than objective experts. So, although we’d already been trading for a year before working with Francis, his expert guidance has been invaluable.”

“… one of the most difficult things about running your own business is that you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off...” Neil Martin, Co-Founder, The First Word

Although Francis does not have a background in writing or publishing, his experience within creative industries gives him a vital insight into the challenges faced by start-ups in this sector.

“He helped us clarify our objectives for the coming year, by reflecting on what has worked so far and giving ourselves tangible aims to work towards. He has also given us some ideas on how to standardise and diversify the services we offer. Perhaps most importantly Francis has given us a fresh and objective perspective – vital to a company run by two strong-willed directors!”

Cristina and Neil recognised that they had taken on a vast amount of work in setting up their own business and with the strategies they developed with Francis, were able to feel much more confident about the future and gain a crucial sense of perspective when assessing how they would develop.

“…when you’re tied up delivering work it’s hard to think about anything beyond the next week, never mind the next year! Francis has helped us appreciate what we were already doing well and to identify where we can more be more efficient in the future. We intend to grow over the next year, and without Francis’ help we wouldn’t have a clear strategy for doing so.”

This was clearly a mutually appreciated mentoring collaboration, as Francis in turn commented that to work with Neil and Cristina are “very nice people and a very nice company!”