What business qualities make an SME successful? We’ve been visiting various businesses to bring you some insightful case studies.Fordway Solutions – No 78 in the Thames Valley SME 100.
Plainly a believer that if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger, Richard Blanford, MD and founder of Fordway Solutions, advises: “Never waste a good crisis.”
And he should know. One of his proudest career achievements is how his Godalming-based ICT integration company has dealt with the challenges of the recent recession and now come through it, he believes, a better, stronger business.
“Every recession teaches you a good lesson and this is the third we have been through in IT terms. You gain invaluable business experience, but the key thing is to learn from your mistakes – experiment fast, fail fast, and keep trying until something works.”
Fordway has learned to focus on what is important to its customers, and to engage with them more closely in helping to meet their business objectives. “Looking after your customers is number one, but also use your industry links to look for more customers. And, learn from what you don’t win.” adds Blanford.
“You have to accept that ‘No’ is not always ‘No’. Sometimes it’s ‘No, not now’. The customer may not want what you are offering at that moment, or it’s not good enough yet. Some of our current customers once said ‘No’ to us. You have to keep trying, and wait for the time to be right.”
Surviving those recessions is also a testimony in itself. “A lot of success in business life is about persevering and just being there. We have been around for more than 20 years now and have built brand-name recognition within our core target segment.” Longevity, long-term clients, and proven ability of an industry-experienced 45-strong team (two-thirds of whom are technical ICT engineers) now establish Fordway as a safe-pair of hands.
That reputation has brought Fordway steady organic growth (it is currently recruiting) and cash stability as a company. Its work remains largely within the UK and historically with the public sector – winning the company’s first major contract from Somerset County Council 10 years ago is another Blanford career highlight.
Fordway specialises in IT infrastructure optimisation, transformation and consolidation.
“Effectively, we make computer systems for medium and large companies work better, cost less and provide better service levels and resilience than they have at the moment.”
Fordway does this in three ways, engaging with clients at the appropriate level:
- Traditional – project-based consultancy work improving the client’s existing IT infrastructure
- Managed services – “Not only will we re-engineer the customer’s IT infrastructure, but we’ll help to operate it more efficiently, taking responsibility for delivering all or part of a function”
- Hosted or cloud computing services – “We host their computing infrastucture on our IT platforms and deliver services back to them.”
The latter is the IT breaking wave at present. “Currently we are charging into cloud computing and hosted services. Historically, our skills have been providing IT goods and experience to help customers deliver IT benefits for themselves. Much more these days we are starting to provide the complete IT service; using IT to underpin customer processes so they can deliver their core business capabilities.”
Fordway operates in the bespoke and early-adopter market, rather than the mass-made. Fordway’s tailored IT solutions will “fit better, and last longer than those off the peg.”
Being independent is a Fordway strength says Blanford, since the company can not only buy its bespoke tailoring ‘cloth’ from any vendor, but it is also constantly reviewing and examining any innovatory developments in the IT sector.
“As new technology becomes available, we are happy to operate at the leading edge – where we see it has a business advantage for our customers.” It’s an important final proviso. Fordway’s experienced team likes to learn new things but doesn’t get easily carried away by the latest IT ‘must-have.’
The company has a friendly culture of teamwork, known responsibilities, and trust and respect in colleagues’ abilities. Flexible hours and out-of-office working is normal. “We work hard to look after our people, incentivise them, and make them feel that Fordway is a nice place to work,” says Blanford.
Blanford leads from the front. He founded Fordway Solutions because “I just felt I could do the IT job better myself”, and admits he likes to overcome challenges. He is also something of a pragmatic ‘glass half-full’ man. “OK, so we had a 15% downturn in our business during the recession, but we still had 85% to concentrate on.”
He believes SMEs should not underestimate their strengths. Change is a way of life in IT nowadays, and SMEs should be able to be flexible, make quick decisions and keep attuned to their customers, says Blanford.
Mentioning Eurozone difficulties and news media coverage, Blanford urged SMEs to keep their focus. “News reflects extremes, not necessarily the business market you are operating within. There are some things you can be aware of, but can’t control. Be realistic, focus on the areas you can control, and get good at what you are good at.”