20 years of brightfive: what have we learnt?
October 2023 marked our 20th birthday. Over the last two decades we’ve grown our business against an ever-shifting landscape of industry changes, technological developments, a recession and a global pandemic. We’ve seen team members come and go, we’ve moved offices (a handful of times) and welcomed new babies into the world. In short, an awful lot has changed since 2003!
As we celebrate this milestone, brightfive’s co-founder and director, Katie Frost, reflects on 20 years in business.
Looking back on the last 20 years, it’s the changes which really stand out. When we started brightfive, it was just Simon and me: he built websites and I designed presentations and stage sets for live events.
The scope and scale of what brightfive does and what our roles entail has since grown. While I still specialise in events graphics, brightfive has diversified its range of services, including brand, digital and print design and more general event production.
The landscape of the event industry has transformed, particularly in the last 3 years. Before the pandemic more than 50% of our business related to live production. We had to adapt to the rapid transition from in-person to virtual and hybrid events, a challenge I feel we rose well to, tackling a busy roster of virtual and hybrid events for international audiences in their tens of thousands in 2020 alone.
On the web side, we’ve gone from ‘knocking together’ relatively simple brochure websites, to designing, building and supporting business critical web-based software, cutting edge content management systems and ecommerce platforms. We have also expanded our skills and expertise into digital marketing and all that embraces - SEO, paid advertising, lead generation, email and content marketing, and social media.
Another big change was adapting from being an employee, to business owner and eventually, to a team leader. Leading, developing and caring for our team has been incredibly rewarding, but also challenging at times, particularly through two years of lockdowns. We have seen a big shift in how we work, embracing remote, hybrid and flexible working. Despite bidding farewell to a few brightfive alumni over the years, our team is one of the few things which has changed relatively little and I see the longevity and low turnover of our people as a sign that we’re getting some important things right.
And of course, I’ve changed. I was 25 when we started brightfive and so, in many ways the business and I have grown up together. When we started the company I had never led a team, and hardly knew a thing about running a business (which turned out to be so much more than just producing good work). I’ve navigated the changes, challenges and growth of brightfive, alongside huge life events like getting married, becoming a mother and all the other beautiful, painful and messy things that come with growing up. 20 years on, both I and my business are radically different. What may have been lost in the way of boundless energy and enthusiasm has made way for deeper understanding, patience, resilience and (dare I say) ‘wisdom’.
Reaching 20 years is an achievement in itself, but what I am most proud of is how we’ve conducted our business. We’ve made our personal values central to how we run brightfive - aiming to treat our clients, suppliers and team with honesty and integrity, applying ourselves to our work with diligence and pragmatism - all the while remembering to retain a sense of humour and perspective. This, I think, is a big part of why we are still here 20 years on and why we retain talented people and have long, fruitful relationships with clients and suppliers. I am proud that we have created a good place to work, that we continue to deliver great projects, and, from a personal perspective, that we have balanced the needs of our business with the needs of our family.
So, what have I learnt?
Take calculated risks - while planning is essential, sometimes a leap of faith is necessary.
…but be cautious with money - balance growth and investment with a realistic view of your financial responsibilities. Prioritise being able to pay your rent, your team and your taxes and don’t get too big, too fast.
Recognise the peaks and troughs - there are natural ebbs and flows in the work calendar which can feel overwhelming. Prepare financially and emotionally for this. Trust that busy times will calm and that lean times will end (and try to enjoy the opportunities both can bring).
Adapt your offering and keep learning - industry, technology and the world at large is changing fast, you and your business need to be agile and responsive to stay relevant.
Back yourself & know your worth - you are, ultimately, your only true advocate. Charge for your expertise and your time. This includes travel, meeting and ‘thinking’ time. These are all essential parts of the process; be confident in their value.
Work hard and be nice to people - if you can create work you are proud of and treat those around you with kindness, you can’t go too wrong.