Learning the lifetime value of customers from Digital Lighthouse helped Tony Willson and his wife Lindsey recover the 30% dip in their company turnover caused by the recession.
“Our turnover had gone down over the previous 18 months about 30% – I should think we’ve probably made that up in the last six months since joining Digital Lighthouse,” says Tony. For the past 10 years, he and Lindsey have run Helmsman Services, which provides clients with cost-effective outsourced training and development solutions. Its clients come from both the public and private sector.
“Something that was really rammed home on the Digital Lighthouse weekend was the lifetime value of a client,” recalls Tony. “It shocked me to realise that our clients’ lifetime value was very high, but we were only spending pathetic amounts of marketing to get them.”
Soon after that first Digital Lighthouse event, Tony was approached by a company looking for a £5,000 sponsorship for a one-day seminar on outsourcing. “Normally, we wouldn’t even bother to speak to them but because we wanted to get into outsourcing with local authorities, we did. I got them down to £2,500, and we sponsored the laptop bags. We would never have done that before Digital Lighthouse… but as a result of that sponsorship, we got our first local authority client.”
At the event, Tony happened to be sitting next to someone who worked for a local authority.
“There was one of those sessions where you have to turn to your neighbour and chat. I told the lady next to me what we did and on the way out she said, ‘I think we’d better have a chat because I’m just about to lose my training co-ordinator’. She worked for Tunbridge Wells District Council, and we signed a seven-month contract with them about six weeks later – and have just renewed it, at a higher price, for a year.”
Digital Lighthouse also inspired Tony to use a telesales company to contact local authorities and generate more leads for the company.
Before the calls were made however, Tony mailed each council official on the list a personalised, printed ‘To Do List. “I had learnt from Digital Lighthouse that you need to give something away to start a relationship. At the bottom of each list, I added ‘Ring Helmsman to outsource our training and development.’ When they received the telesales call, most of them remembered the giveaway. It was very successful.
“Most local authorities take ages to make decisions. Now we are talking to two in Kent who have said they want to take up with us in April and we are talking to a couple of others and have appointments to see a few more.”
He also hired a Business Development Manager to take care of the company’s marketing and bring in more business.
“I should have done it 10 years ago. If not for the catalyst of the Digital Lighthouse, I would never have done it. Digital Lighthouse’s impact has been vast. It’s given us a totally new outlook particularly on marketing. It’s given us a positive outlook on the whole thing and it’s changed our thinking from ‘Let’s see if we can weather this recession’ to ‘Let’s grow the company’.
“For two years, we’d been saying, ‘Gosh, I hope we’ve got a business at the end of this financial year.’ And that’s exactly what we got. Digital Lighthouse helped changed our perspective so that we started to think, ‘We want something bigger’ and that’s exactly what it’s now attracting.
“The recession had exactly the impact we thought it would have while we were thinking that it would be negative. Directly we started to think that we could actually take advantage of it, particularly because people are trying to cut back and our services would cost them less, things began to change. My mind-set was that the recession was going to affect us adversely but it’s now affecting us very positively. Our services, particularly the outsourced services, are all about saving our clients’ money on their training – not just the cost of training but the people and time involved. We can go to people and say, ‘We will save you money. We will charge you a fee, but we will save you a hell of a lot more than that.’”
He’s also benefited from finding out what other business owners are doing successfully. “One of the other benefits of Digital Lighthouse is that it opens your eyes to what other people are doing and how it could be used by us. I haven’t adopted everything – I haven’t written a book yet – but it has caused me to take on a PR lady. She’s writing articles for us every month for either the care sector or local authorities.”
The company’s websites have also been changed several times – rewritten to be customer rather than company-focused. “We changed the copy and put news and sign-up boxes for newsletters.”
Although the latest version of the website went live only a month ago, it has already generated interest from a large care organisation. “I’ve got an appointment with them next week and that came from the website. It’s very good when they come to us and ask, ‘Can you possibly come and see us?’
“They have their own training department, but they’re looking at it and thinking whether or not they really need it. It’s all about saving money and in most cases, we know we can do the job that they would employ somebody to do for probably 50% of the costs.”
Helmsman has also been approached by an affiliate company and the deal could boost its turnover by 25%. “They are a health and safety advice company and they don’t do any training but they want to. They are quite big – they have a million-plus turnover. Rather than set-up their own training department because they haven’t got the expertise, they’ve come to us. The MD says on their turnover, they should be turning over about £200,000 a year in training revenue. We will do the training so we’ll get the major part of that and they’ll get the rest. It will certainly enhance the service they give to their clients.”
With all the new business coming in, Tony has hired one new person and if either of the two new care companies come on board, he says he will need to hire another person in the next few months.