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Our July Masterclass for our South Yorkshire group contained a multitude of lessons from two of our highly successful Entrepreneurs in Residence Neil Ewin and Mark Woodward. Neil was the techie who wrote the software that was Visualfile and Mark was the salesman who transformed the business when he joined Neil at a very early stage.


The History

From Neil on his own in his back bedroom to 150 employees in 21 years and selling the company for over £20m, an amazing achievement.


The Lessons

Never stop learning; Neil and Mark attribute a large proportion of their success to a decision they made early on to do as much training and learning, personally and for their employees, as they possibly could afford.

Get to 25% of your market before you go overseas; but you can get to dominate ie 25% of a small market more easily than a big market; Visualfile’s software got to a 25% share of the solicitors conveyancing market and was thus interesting to Lexisnexis who bought them.

Communication skills are vital. In the early days, 10-12 employees, it was very social, drinks after work etc and everyone knew what the others were doing. But as you grow, 20-30 people, the quality of your product or service can decline as they didn’t know what was going on.

The lack of communication skills was recognised and improved through the training. And they started recruiting for soft skills – techie’s are generally not good at communicating.

Weekly newsletter prepared by graduate trainees, 360 degree appraisals with comments from 10 people, quarterly staff meetings, Friday in house drinks.

Shoot the ducks

There are always people who are not performing/are negative with adverse effects on the others – known as ducks.

It was a regular item on management meetings agendas, what are we doing about the ducks. Training and mentoring were the first “remedy” but if that fails they have to go.

Keeping Customers Happy

They aimed for exceptional customer service and frequently got positive net promoter scores. 70% of their new business came from existing customers.


Nick Butler