Helen Duncan, managing director of marketing agency FIG, chats to BQ about the challenges of running a business, how she deals with stress, and her plans for the future of her business.
What is it the company does?
FIG is an integrated, full-service marketing agency, providing in-house creative, digital and PR solutions, based in the heart of the Peak District, Derbyshire.
Since I set up the company in 1996, we have built a national client-base of organisations across the B2B and B2C markets and have developed particular expertise in the manufacturing, food, education, traffic, leisure and charity sectors.
Fundamental to our operation is our sincerity and passion for what we do, and the fact that our goal is always to generate tangible results for our clients: we deploy marketing to enable our clients to achieve their business targets.
In 2017, our 21st anniversary year, we won the Chartered Institute of Marketing northern agency prize, and in 2016, its large agency award. We have definitely earned a reputation to rival those of city-centre agencies.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
In addition to setting FIG’s strategy, I work with my team of directors to devise our clients’ marketing strategies – and monitor their effectiveness.
As our client base expands, I continue to build our in-house team of experienced professionals to enable the agency to best deliver real results for our customers.
I take responsibility for ensuring that each team member receives on-going training to enable them to achieve their full potential - both for their own benefit and that of our clients.
My position allows me to “think outside the box” and identify new goals and strategies for FIG and our clients.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My early career was quite eclectic, having spent five years in the civil service before travelling extensively and working in the travel industry. Returning to the UK, I worked for BT in sales and marketing and only left three years later when I had my first child. I set up FIG (originally called First Impression) 21 years ago in 1996, alongside finishing two degrees and two more children! I like to keep busy.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
There are always challenges involved in running a business - for example, winning new clients as our industry becomes more saturated and it’s harder to differentiate yourself - but they keep you on your toes and that’s a good thing. The challenge is staying resilient throughout and meeting these things head on.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Running a business is always stressful, but I try not to dwell on things over which I have no control. My husband joined the business 10 years ago, so it’s not as lonely making the decisions and having someone to talk through what’s working and what’s not. My dog Pippin also comes to work with me. He’s my biggest fan and has a role as the stress manager for staff and clients alike.
In truth however, my stress levels have always been managed through regular exercise. I’m a bit of a fitness enthusiast and go to aerobic and step classes six times a week. I also enjoy getting out in the fresh air and walking in the fabulous countryside in the Peak District where we live.
Since I was in my early twenties, I’ve travelled the world and it’s still a great passion of mine. Working hard has enabled me to continue to travel and take my family to far flung places several times a year.
And of course, I enjoy a nice glass of wine at the end of the day.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to travel and I did get to work in travel but the job didn’t allow me to travel as much as I would have liked (often the case). I suppose my absolute dream job would have been a travel writer, but that’s still possible as a hobby when I retire!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I’m proud to have built a team of like-minded, hard-working, down-to earth experts, who share my passion for effective marketing and pull-together in its delivery. And we really do get on extremely well and support each other during more testing periods. I believe that if you enjoy coming to work, you’ll get the best out of people, so I do try to provide a nice working environment with enough down time and recognition to make people feel valued. We provide drinks at FIG Tavern at 5pm on Fridays, have regular paid-for socials, get presents on staff birthdays and offer team incentives.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
FIG still has the potential and desire to grow and build a bigger team. We are also actively looking for an acquisition which would strengthen our capabilities and grow the customer base. We’ve also been working hard to develop a management team over the last couple of years, which is the first real stepping stone for me and my husband to start thinking ahead about how the business can run with us on a part-time basis or give us the flexibility to travel a bit more in the future.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Aim high, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to take a risk or two.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Don’t worry too much about what others are doing; there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in our industry. Always listen to your gut feelings.
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