Chalk Social is a Ready Business

Chalk Social is a digital marketing agency based in London. It uses consumers’ social data to create better-informed marketing plans for clients; which include the BBC, NFL and The Children’s Society.

New venture, no capital

The company was formed in January 2013, by two long-time friends and online specialists, Davina Dunlea and Neil Kettleborough. “I’ve been in online marketing for 14 years and I’ve known Davina for ten,” says Neil. “We wanted to create an agency that uses the granular detail of social data to make better direct response marketing.”

The pair started out working from home, with no venture capital funding and no clients – but with a clear goal and a long list of global contacts. “In agency terms, we want to be relatively small but nimble,” says Neil. “We want to be known for great work, honest work for great clients.”

Within two weeks Chalk Social had its first clients and enough cash to afford hot desks at the Google Campus offices. “We’ve never sought venture capital, we don’t want venture capital, this has been totally bootstrapped,” says Neil. “That means we have to pay attention to costs.”

Serviced office small print

Unfortunately, Neil’s attention slipped during the latest office move: “We soon outgrew the Google Campus facility, and we took space at serviced offices on Rivington Street. Lovely offices, surrounded by new media businesses, the right place to be, but I didn’t check the small print.”

The small print meant paying a receptionist £35 a month to answer missed calls, £30 a month for each desk phone line, then all the calls charges on top. “I was furious with myself for not looking at that,” Neil says. On a start-up budget it’s extremely exasperating to be paying these charges.”

Neil decided to look for other solutions on the advise of a friend.

Mobility with cost transparency

The Vodafone solution is One Net Express, a cloud-based communication service that delivers virtual fixed phone and mobile communications through a single platform.

What this means is every Chalk Social employee has a mobile that acts as a desk phone. Callers only see a desk phone number and have no idea the call may be answered from a mobile, who knows where. Calls between Chalk Social mobiles are free. In addition, Neil can save money by not having to set up a costly call diversion service. All charges come through on one monthly bill, with no extras and no surprises.

Growing with the business

“[The platform] gives us the permanent feel of a fixed office number, but with all the benefits of being mobile,” Neil says. “There is real value in customers knowing you have a fixed office, that you’re not a one-man band as it’s important for us to be out and about. It means we don’t have to miss any calls.”

Neil says new business is reliant on Davina and himself being out of the office. “We have to be out meeting people face to face. One of the most effective ways of finding new leads is speaking at industry events. Neither of us can afford to be tied to the office.”

This mobility will be tested further as Chalk Social looks to open new offices outside of the UK. “We’re looking at an office in Australia followed by a Middle East office in Dubai. We don’t feel the need to open an office in New York, but Davina and I both have contacts around the world, many of our clients have needs in Australia and the Middle East. These are both exciting opportunities for the business, but they will involve being away from the London office.”

As with any start-up reaching a mature state, Neil says the challenge will be to retain the culture of the newcomer with the sensibility of the corporate. “It happens to every entrepreneur, there’s no way around it. But we want to hold on to this attitude for as long as possible. We have no desire to move away from Vodafone, we see them as a long term partner wherever we go.”