A Cardiff planning consultancy working for major contractors (such as Kier and ISG), local authorities, and private developers made the most of the mass take-up of digital to grow its business and save time on travelling.
The switch to remote working has the potential to eliminate at least four weeks of travel time for KEW Planning, as well as saving thousands in mileage costs and reducing CO2 emissions.
Kathryn Williams, founder of KEW Planning, said “The pandemic presented issues, because planning authorities and councils are used to face-to-face meetings and the restrictions meant this couldn’t happen.
But with the right technology in place, we were able to conduct site appraisals, apply for planning applications and hold public consultations online, so building projects weren’t put to a stop. Besides a slight fall in activity in April 2020, we bounced back and won new business.”
A new way of working
KEW Planning had already moved to Microsoft 365 to better manage essential office work, so had a ready-made way to stay in touch with clients: Microsoft Teams. The collaboration platform helped the team communicate better when working from home and meant client meetings could take place virtually, saving time and money, as the need to travel disappeared.
Kathryn says “it’s so useful having everything online. I work on London-based projects, which take up a lot of travel time.” Even just two trips from Cardiff to London a month could steal 12 hours of Kathryn’s time and thanks to MS Teams, life is a lot easier and so much time has been saved by not needing to travel.
With all the firm’s important documentation now saved on SharePoint; and a VoIP system meaning all landline calls can be picked up by Kathryn’s mobile, running the business is less hassle and cheaper. It also allowed for a smooth switch to remote working, helping KEW Planning to maintain their 100% record of gaining planning permission for projects, despite the pandemic.
“The great thing is, it makes how we work so much more flexible,” Kathryn continues. “If I need to meet with clients about an appraisal or do local outreach work as part of planning consultations, Teams lets me do that without having to leave the office.
“The last 6 months, we’ve seen revenue steadily grow and are planning for expansion. I think we’ll start to see restrictions ease in April 2021 and the further opportunities with changes in the property market. When this happens, we’ll be looking to grow our team and being on SharePoint means all my files and emails will be ready-to-go.
“Being so much better-connected means that when I’m back doing site visits after lockdown, I can still access any files I need while on-site, and any updates I make are saved there and then.”
Maintaining this hybrid way of working even when lockdown ends could save KEW Planning even more money. According to the latest Digital Maturity Survey for Wales, the average SME in Wales spent 14% less on hardware in 2020. Alongside falls in network and broadband subscription costs, moving to the cloud is a perfect opportunity for businesses short on cash after a difficult year to make savings.
Understanding audience helps creates sales
But digital hasn’t only helped save time and money for KEW Planning: it has been vital to its new business strategy and success.
“The Superfast Business Wales Digital Marketing webinars got us thinking about who we’d like to do business with and really looking into our overall objectives and how to grow outside of Wales and target the lucrative M4 corridor.”
Kathryn says KEW Planning has become far more strategic online and it’s paying off: “Alyson Eyval, our SFBW digital business adviser, helped build our digital confidence by advising us to refresh our website with new specific words in markets we are targeting, which has helped with the site’s SEO and search engine ranking.”
“It was so useful to have impartial feedback. We sent the free website report to our web developer, who was able to make changes straight away to improve the website.
“Alyson also advised on how to market and where to reach our target audience. We decided to run a Google advert campaign, which proved fruitful. We already used platforms like LinkedIn, but used this to a greater extent, allowing us to showcase our expertise in front of the right people. And being in front of the right people has already paid off, with a single post from LinkedIn securing us a new client.
Kathryn explains: “It’s a perfect platform for us, as it lets us start a conversation we can follow up on and, for our sector especially, it’s those conversations that lead to new business.”
Navigating the ‘new normal’ with confidence
Having made it through 2020, KEW Planning has exciting plans for 2021. With a new phase of planning work in London and the property market set to pick back up, digital has added a resilience to the firm that will help them grow sustainably.
“With the growth in clients and revenue, I’m looking at bringing someone senior on board to help us build on the success we’ve seen these last three years,” says Kathryn.
“Digital has been so important in getting us to where we are in 2021 and the free help from Superfast Business Wales has been such a benefit, helping us understand where tech fits into the business.”