For those of you that don’t know, I originate from the Cathedral city of Peterborough in the East of England. Peterborough’s history is as a cathedral town, with a lot of the cities industry linked to the rail routes that connect London to the north of England and Scotland. Peterborough was designated a ‘new town’ in the 1960s and since then the population has boomed as government money flowed in to improve the infrastructure of the city.
However, Peterborough has never had a University, and has suffered from a bout of brain drain with the best talent often drifting to the science hubs in Cambridge, or making the 50 minute train commute to London. Some efforts have been made in recent years to address this, but the fact remains that there is a lack of entrepreneurial success stories in the city – particularly in the tech sector.
There are some companies who are absolutely flourishing in the city and doing exciting things, with the likes of BGL (whose brands include Compare the Market) really leading the way. Peterborough is also one of the UK’s first gigabit cities – with a gigabit speed fibre network connecting the city.
Scratch underneath the surface and you’ll find a bubbling tech scene trying to break free – there’s regular events like Agile and Digital People in Peterborough (DPiP) where freelancers, agencies and in-house marketers can come together and learn and network. There’s also STEM festival, occasional hackathons, and code clubs to attempt to get the younger generation coming through into tech.
My argument is, that with all of the above in mind, we’re not achieving as much as we should be as a city. We’ve got no major startup to shout about, no huge success to point to (yet), but we’ve got the ingredients to make it happen. We’ve got passionate people, creative talent, amazing connectivity, and a popular tech networking scene.
I think there’s five things we need to do as a city to start to generate some real success stories:
1. Open Up
We’ve got companies and freelancers doing great things, and achieving good results (for clients, and for themselves financially). We’ve also got companies and freelancers out there who are struggling. The issue is, most of the people you ask will tell you that “work is busy”, that they’re “growing fast”, or that they’re “struggling to keep on top of everything”. In some cases that’s probably true – but in a lot of cases in won’t be. Even when it is true, it sometimes feels like there’s a lack of ambition to go to the next level when you are busy.
The best way to improve as an entrepreneurial city is to be as open as we can with each other. Lets talk about our failures as much as our successes – knowing what doesn’t work is probably even more useful to a fellow creative as it’s not insight they’ll be given often.
The more you can talk about the better, but don’t just talk – make sure you listen to others too, even if their business is smaller or newer than yours. We can all learn from each other in the right environment.
2. Celebrate Success
Whilst there is a lot of networking going on in the city, it feels like success isn’t celebrated massively. I know of a design company who have worked on major football team contracts, a development agency who have grown massively in the last few months, and a marketing company who have recently picked up some big contracts – but we’re not celebrating each others successes. We should be, as we should be working in a more inclusive and supportive environment.
The other side to this is that those who are successful (be they company directors, in-house marketers, or whoever) should be open to sharing their stories on how they reached where they are now. For example, i’m sure we could all learn something on branding from the Compare the Market team who came up with the Meerkat for instance!
Tying in with the themes above – at present it feels like most of the freelancers and small companies are working in isolation. That’s probably from a lack of understanding about each others work, a lack of trust, or a fear of losing clients. We should address this and collaborate much better.
Just this week at Datify we’ve met with three other companies who offer complementary services to us – by understanding what they do, how they work, and what their charging models are we can start to build confidence in recommending them, and working together in a beneficial relationship. It benefits us as we’re confident our clients will be looked after, and it benefits the other agency as they can pick up new clients as we introduce them. This is happening elsewhere, but too often people are looking outside of the city when the skills are right on their doorstep.
4. Mergers & Collectives
There are an absolute wealth of creative talent and smart people in Peterborough. But there seems to be a lack of desire to really work together and make something bigger.
Lets facilitate new companies being created by considering merging smaller businesses, and joining freelancers together to create something bigger. Not something that can happen overnight, but something that the community should bear in mind when putting together new business plans. There is strength in numbers, and even having some freelancers working as a collective would be beneficial with transparency around different services being offered by different team members.
5. Think Beyond Digital
I feel we’ve perhaps become a little too focussed on digital. Don’t get my wrong, it’s the cornerstone of all of my work, but it’s perhaps that we’ve become a little too focussed on the technology and not enough on the purpose of what we’re doing.
Remember, we’ve all in this to make money, make a difference to the world, or to do interesting things (or a combination of the above). Lets have some networking for tech and creative people around why we’re starting our own companies and working for ourselves.
Lets talk about setting our own destiny at work, being in control of our projects, and trying to disrupt industries. Lets get experts in from across the UK on these topics, and work together to really make a difference to our businesses.
That’s my two cents on how we can make Peterborough a more entrepreneurial city. I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback, and then lets make a change and develop our businesses and grow our cities economy together.
If anyone wants to chat to me, I’m always happy to share my story, offer any advice I can give, learn from you, and talk about how we can help each other.