Quickfire with Alex Pattenden

Founder, Unity Online
Alex Pattenden founded Unity Online in 2014 with the goal of providing cost-effective dependable digital services to SMEs in East Anglia. Today, the company has a team of digital strategists, designers, and developers, with more than 50 years’ collective experience in SEO alone.
Published in Suffolk Director Magazine, Autumn 2021
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We spent five minutes with Alex and asked him some questions about running a business.

How do you engage with and motivate employees?

By ensuring the health of the company is built into everything we do. When staff join us, we give them an understanding of what we believe success looks like in their role, and how that contributes to the success of the company. We have weekly one-to-one meetings, have invested in a great working environment and we have team social occasions. It’s also important to identify individuals who are not contributing to a positive working environment and address any toxicity quickly.

How do you maintain and enhance margins?

A lot of businesses only look at what they’re offering in the context of what it costs to deliver a project. We know that we must be billing a certain amount per member of staff each month in order to be profitable, and we make sure we have the amount of work to meet or exceed that target. I refer to it as our ‘blueprint for success’.

How can I put my prices up and keep my customers?

This question has so many variables. In broad terms however, you should aim for incremental increases instead of sudden rises, and you should be able to justify any price hikes. Ultimately, it comes down to value. People buy based on value, so if you can provide something over and above someone else’s offering, you can charge accordingly.

I’ve got this great idea – what do I do with it?

My focus for a business is always to look at whether and where it’s profitable. Therefore, the first thing I would do is an analysis to make sure your idea is financially viable. Then it’s about deciding the end goal and working it back. Look at other people who have had success in the same area and see what they did as well. I think it’s also important to reduce risk by trialling an idea first. We recently had a client who wanted to create an app, but they weren’t sure if it would work. So, to test the idea, we initially created an online portal with a smaller investment.  

How do I protect my reputation and enhance it?

Firstly, provide incredible customer service. The best way to enhance your reputation amongst customers is with great reviews, but you need to provide exemplary service for people to shout about good service. People don’t just write reviews because something was just fine. Secondly, recognise that everyone makes mistakes, but how you handle it makes the difference.  Showing empathy and providing a solution that works for you both is important.

What can I do about competitors who have an unfair advantage?

Competitors will always have USPs that are better than yours in some areas. There’s always something that you can do better, but it’s important to recognise where your strengths and opportunities lie. Other companies might be big, with more resources than you, but perhaps they lack a personal approach as a result, which you can exploit.

How can I shut off from the business and manage the work / life balance more effectively?

I think this has become an even bigger challenge with the pandemic because there’s no longer a line between the start and end of the working day. People need to find ways to define their downtime. I have two phones – one for work with all the apps (Teams, Zoom, Outlook, Slack), and one for personal calls with friends and family.

How do I cut my overheads and outgoings without negatively impacting my business?

I think this needs to be looked at in the context of improving efficiency and making the best use of time and resources, rather than simply cutting costs. It requires close monitoring of your business’s KPIs and seeing where your time and investment is best placed.  An overhead within the business is also your time and it’s about identifying the value of that. Start with yourself as the director and then apply the principle to everything else.  By doing a proper analysis, you can clearly identify productive processes (and people) and strive to have a lean business as a result.

How can I move my business to the next step?   

Decide where you want to go, break it down into steps and get to work!

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