Time is running out for those who have yet to submit their entry for the Royal Tunbridge Wells Business Awards 2016. Closing date is April 15. To find out more about the awards and how to enter visit www.tunbridgewellsbusinessawards.co.uk. One of the local companies already on the entry list is Digitom
Small and medium sized businesses are often referred to as being the backbone of the British economy, even if it is the corporations that make the headlines.
But there is another class of business that is far more important to the economies of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells than people realise.
And those are micro businesses employing up to nine people. They account for around 90 per cent of all companies operating in these towns, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal.
Many of them are in the creative industries, with a large number making up the ‘knowledge economy’.
One such firm is Digitom, a video production company consisting of just five people, but one that boasts clients as diverse as AXA, Shepherd Neame, Citi Group and the British Army.
Digitom was founded by 37-year-old Tom Chown who built up the firm on the back of his credentials in the TV and film production industry, a path he went down straight after Sixth Form College.
His career prior to setting up his own company saw Mr Chown film documentaries, news, music videos and adverts all over the world, working with Bob Geldof, Kate Moss and David Cameron, to name a few.
Explaining how he came into the industry Mr Chown said: “I always wanted to work in TV and film and was never particularly academically minded.
“They told me at college that if I wanted to make it in this industry I would have to work really hard through work experience.”
Work experience paid off when he was offered a job at production firm Landscape TV, directing and editing TV programmes.
After freelancing in the advertising business for a couple of years, Mr Chown learned first hand how sensitive the industry is to world events.
“After 9/11 companies ceased spending on advertising and the industry just dropped and died leaving me out of work for quite a period of time.”
A job opportunity presented itself at the BBC in Tunbridge Wells, which he describes as a great place to ‘cut your teeth’ in the sector.
“I had camera training, edit training and radio. It also led me to doing documentaries and investigations, going undercover.”
Five years after he began at the BBC, Mr Chown moved again to Kent County Council, where he was deputy editor of Kent TV in 2007, before the recession hit and the channel was axed in 2010.
“They offered me a job at the KCC comms team but I couldn’t see myself doing it.”
By this time, Mr Chown’s reputation meant he was in high demand.
“I was doing some freelance work for the Press Association, by filming David Cameron and Vince Cable during the General Election and it kind of grew from there.
“The more I did for production companies the more I started to get approached by clients myself. In April that year Digitom started actively trading.”
For the first few years the company was a one-man band, with Mr Chown hiring out his expertise in a freelance capacity.
However, by 2014 his services were in such demand that he started to hire staff, each with their specialist areas, on a contractual basis.
“Although the majority of our content is for online, what we always aim to do is ensure the style and structure of it is always based on traditional broadcast media. We add broadcast values, online.”
Unlike many traditional industries, where tangible items are either made or sold, pricing the product is not an exact science, Mr Chown said, but the company aims for the professional market.
“Our clients are not shops on the high street who want to spend £500 on a video. Our business is marketing managers who nine times out of ten would have used video already.
“They understand the value of video and the merits of it and will therefore have a dedicated budget and they know the value of what we are doing.”
After learning how much the client is prepared to spend, Mr Chown works out whose skills he will require, what equipment will be needed, and how many hours the project could take.
Calculating the actual cost is a difficult task, with every project coming with its own set of requirements and specifications, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all pricing model.
“People drop us an email and say I would like a one-minute video, how much will that cost? You can’t calculate it from that.
“You get an idea after the initial conversation with the client when you find out where we will be filming, how many days we will be filming, plus travel and production time.
“It is still difficult, because how do you put a value on time? There will always be someone out there who can do it cheaper, as there is in any industry.
“You may get three different quotes but it is up to you how much you want to pay because of the workmanship.”
Eventually a price is found, and the team set to work on the ‘pre-production’ stage of the process. This involves researching the topic, storyboarding ideas and ensuring they have the right resources to execute their ideas.
The typical client will spend between £10,000 and £20,000 per project, although the actual price range can be as low as £5,000 and as high as £40,000.
Since October, the company has invoiced or received deposits for over 20 jobs.
And in a highly competitive industry ensuring the client gets what they want is vital, as Digitom relies on referrals for the vast majority of its work.
“The most important thing is understanding the client’s brief and making sure you deliver on it. Bad news always travels faster. One bad job and it will damage our reputation.”
Two years ago, Mr Chown made the decision to grow the business, after working as a sole trader and having to constantly cope with the ‘ups and the downs’ of working alone.
“When you are busy you are really busy, but then you go quiet, because you are everything. You are the business developer, the secretary, the accountant.
“I had got to the point where I asked what my legacy will be and whether I still wanted to be flogging my guts out by the time I am 50.”
Eager to pass on his knowledge about the industry, Mr Chown took on his first apprentice in April, when 18-year-old Kieran Ryan came on board. “His development has been fantastic,” said Mr Chown.
Only Kieran, who is working towards a diploma in media alongside his apprenticeship, actually works at the studio with Mr Chown.
The other four staff work remotely, with regular communication through Skype and online conference calls, reflecting a modern and cost-efficient way of doing business.
“I can be cheaper than much of the competition because the overheads are low. There is just no need for me to rent an office in the middle of the town,” said Mr Chown.
But he would not want his business to be located anywhere else.
“Tunbridge Wells is a fantastically creative town. It is ideally situated near London and Brighton.
“The council work well with the creative sector and are building the media centre on Monson Road and it is very much about nurturing that digital talent in the town.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Research shows that winning a prestigious business award adds credibility to your company, raises your profile through valuable media coverage, generates new business and inspires staff.