In April 2009 I sent off the necessary documentation to Company House to form Executive Compass. It was the first step in realising an ambition I had fostered for around 10 years: to have my own business.
Almost 30 years of working for major companies and studying at University had prepared me reasonably well and the company was structured using all that past experience. Even today people remark on how surprised they are at the depth and efficiency of our internal systems.
2009 was of course in the middle of the worst recession of my generation and so it was not easy. Executive Compass originally had two parts, the other offering heading hunting services to companies looking for senior managers and directors. I soon realised that this was going to take too much time and energy to be successful and so closed that part of the company down. This allowed me to focus fully on writing tenders and creating a strategic plan for the business for the next five years – up to 2014.
After around 18 months I moved the company to its current office on Newcastle’s Quayside and hired two writers. Soon afterwards, I hired a marketing and administration manager to deal with the avalanche of enquiries we were receiving. The office move was a tremendous success. It acted as a hub for all our activities and helped to instil a feeling of team work (not available when you are working remotely). I was also able to hire more writers. Directly employing our own writers remains a key differentiator to this day. All of our competitors use associates and freelance writers. I admit to having tried this, but using associates brings too many problems to make it a viable long term solution. Many associates are unreliable: for example, work is undertaken the day before the bid is due, associates are rarely as experienced as they say they are and they are always looking for the next job before they have finished the one on which they are currently working. I have also found that they usually only want a certain level of work, say four days a week, do not like working weekends ( a pre-requisite in this industry) and don’t actually care if the bid wins.
“Winning is Everything”
This is the reverse of our team. I decided that winning was everything and each bid is afforded the same amount of care and attention. As a result, we have an incredibly solid win rate, based on over 1,200 submissions, of just over 83%.
However, more important than winning is building a service based on trust, professionalism and high ethics. We have achieved this through training, hiring the right people in the first place and not being afraid to let those people go who do not live up to our high expectations.
Years 3 to 5 have been tremendous. In terms of personal satisfaction, it could not be higher. I am incredibly proud of the team. For example, John Bilcliffe was hired as an administrator but within months he asked to become a bid writer. He undertook our training programme, quickly learnt his trade, and has recently taken up the position of General Manager. This is a testament to his hard work and an Executive Compass business model that emphasises hard work and honesty over personal gain and churning out tenders without a care as to their ultimate success.
We have not had one “big break”. Rather, our success has come from the consistent application of our methods, constant improvement and moving forward, and working with the same customers over and over again. It is fair to say we are market leaders, but it is important that we keep pushing and maintain our position through expansion and constant improvement.
As we enter our sixth year of trading and look back over the previous five, I have to admit that even I am surprised at how well we have done. More important though is to look forward. So, following our birthday party (and yes there will be cake) and the ending of a major bid which has taken up six months of my time, we will implement our next five year plan.
This year we have broken all previous financial and tender win key performance indicators. To all those who have helped us in the last five years, including all of our customers, I would like to say: “Thank you. Due to the nature of the service we provide, our success is also yours and so let’s hope the mutual success we have shared continues for the next five years.”
Exciting, isn’t it!
- 7th May 2009 – Executive Compass formed
- March 2011 – moved to new office and recruited two additional members of staff
- 13th June 2011 – Executive Compass filed as a trademark
- November 2011 – achieved ISO 9001:2008 certification
- August 2012 – hired part time marketing assistant
- March 2012 – moved to a new, much larger office in the same building
- March 2013 – hired replacement full time Marketing Manager
- January 2014 – hired two additional bid writers
- April 2014 – hired second Marketing Manager
- April 2014 – General Manager appointed
- Involved in over 1,200 submissions:
- Largest bid win – £6.6billion
- Smallest win – £84,000
- Most wins in a month (published) 35
- Overall success rate of 83.7%
- Money raised for charity in five years – £13,400
- Number of staff – 7, soon to be 9
- Guesstimated number of words written in five years – 8.8 million
- Countries we have worked in or represented – 22