The Indie Series – Q&A with Chris Lucarelli, founder of Cal Partners

Chris Lucarelli, founder of niche marketing agency Cal Partners talks through the rewards and challenges of setting up and running a business in the region and offers some ideas to those thinking of going it alone

Tell us about Cal Partners

We are an award-winning niche marketing agency working with professional services and healthcare businesses. Made up of a team of Chartered of Institute of Marketing (CIM) Chartered Marketers we help our clients build marketing strategies tailored to their target audience. We then tactically deploy and track those strategies. We deliver and integrate both traditional and digital marketing support, ranging from PR and events, to content creation, copywriting, videos, animations, blogs, webinars, podcasts, search engine optimisation and social media management. For many of our clients we are an affordable outsourced marketing team.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

We collaborate with many suppliers in the region, and there is some incredible emerging talent, reflective of the region’s nationally recognised universities and colleges. The region also benefits from a strong network of business support. Organisations such as the North East England Chamber of Commerce, North East LEP, RTC North, NBSL, Tees Valley Business Compass, Generator and Entrepreneurs Forum, as well as events like Newcastle Startup Week all foster a collegiate environment with the region’s success at their heart.

And the most challenging?

Sometimes there can be a reluctance and lack of confidence to embrace change. We find it rewarding to unlock that confidence and shine a light on what sets a business apart, enabling it to stand out in the face of growing competition and increasingly sophisticated consumers. Examples of this include leveraging digital marketing strategies to reach new audiences or offering traditional services in a new, more accessible way. We see “North -shoring” of professional services and aspects of the healthcare sector as an exciting, under-exploited opportunity for businesses of all sizes in the region.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

Short term, the focus is to protect the team and business in the current climate. Our longer-term strategy is to keep using our experience, agility, and industry insight to do more of what works for our clients and help them “punch above their weight”.

We have kept busy over the lockdown, confirming that even during the most challenging of times, we are meeting a need that is out there.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

Do lots of research, get advice and take it steady. Starting a business is frighteningly easy, the hard bit is keeping it going.

The stage in life you are at and your commitments will determine the risks you can take. If you are thinking of setting up on your own straight from say university, then perhaps spend time working for someone else first, learning business basics such as communication, organisation, finance and marketing, arming you with valuable skills, connections and nous before going it alone. If you are setting up a business and already have a job, then test your idea as a parallel “side hustle” before fully committing.

Listen to your clients and customers, ensuring you are always delivering value, adjusting and improving for their benefit at every stage. You also need robust cash flow, ideally from several sources, as well as patience and resilience to keep going despite the inevitable hurdles. Depending on the industry, and whilst not always possible, the best test of a business is to bootstrap, reinvesting any profits and avoiding the temptation of loans or external investment.

Whilst a cliché, to get you through the challenging times, it is vital that you are passionate about and enjoy what you chose to do. Unless you are very lucky, there are rarely any silver bullets or quick fixes – success is down to persistent hard graft.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

Our clients realised that rather than hunkering down, stepping up their digital marketing game and delivering useful content across a range of channels was the most effective way to stay visible and stand out. We were preaching this long before the pandemic. With our combined 40 years of marketing experience, clients have turned to us for pragmatic, affordable and quick turnaround ideas.

Have you adapted your service in light of these challenges?

Other than moving out of the office, our day to day work hasn’t really changed. The crisis has highlighted the demand for what we have already been doing now for several years and dovetails with opportunities that the new digitally focused way of working present. For the industries we specialise in there is a growing realisation that a strategic approach to building an authentic and consistent digital presence, beyond a website and a few social media posts, is becoming crucial.

Cal Partners