Advertising, Marketing & PR

Published: March 27, 2020 | Updated: March 27, 2020

It’s good to talk: Entrepreneur says openness, transparency and flexibility is key to survival

Tom Keeping, Founder and Creative Director, Keeping Studio.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Entrepreneur Tom Keeping is calling for openness, transparency and flexibility as businesses get to grips with the coronavirus lockdown.

“We need to talk to our customers and suppliers.

“Be honest about the plight we’re all facing and work out a way forward,” he says.

That could be deferring – or staging – payments.

But, says Tom, Founder and Creative Director of Bournemouth-based Keeping Studio, the key thing is to communicate.

“I’ve been in situations where I could have changed a proposal to suit a client’s requirements if I’d known the price was not right for them.

“The same applies to the coronavirus crisis. Talk to us at an early stage and we can, perhaps, work something out,” he says.

Like so many, Tom’s business has quickly had to adapt.

It is offering free advice to help businesses work remotely.

And it is providing a payment holiday, followed by monthly instalments, for work that is started between now and April 30.

“We have to think differently and be creative as we adapt to a new world,” said Tom.

The 24-year-old has done plenty of adapting himself over the years.

From an early age he knew that, one day, he’d have his own business.

“I used to set up an office in the lounge, surrounded by plastic boxes and using leaflets from Sainsbury’s for my paperwork. I guess that was a sign of things to come,” laughed Tom.

“I always wanted to do design and was always sketching and drawing.”

Leaving school at 16, Tom tried his hand at a web designer apprenticeship before deciding – after a few months – that he’d rather spend the time learning on the job with his own business.

And so began his entrepreneurial journey.

Tom said: “I knocked on the door of just about every shop in Bournemouth and offered to build them a website.

“It was for crazy prices, sometimes as little as £20, but it was paying the rent at home and that was how I looked at it.”

The following years proved something of a rollercoaster as Tom employed a developer to build up his business – Keeping&Co.

At its largest the business was employing 15 full-time staff and occupying a prestigious office in Avalon, the distinctive building which once housed the headquarters of McCarthy & Stone in Bournemouth.

Today Tom’s agency, Keeping Studio, has a smaller team – four, including himself plus a lead designer, senior designer and a designer – but, he says, the size belies its strength and experience.

“I feel very fortunate. We have an incredibly talented team,” said Tom.

Specialising in brand and experience design, the agency has clients in professional services, including finance, accountancy and law, as well as real estate, lifestyle and hospitality and tech start-ups.

And they’re worldwide, from America to the Ukraine and Germany to London as well as, of course, Dorset.

Tom said: “We make sure our client’s brand is at the core of everything they do.

“That means every touchpoint, from the digital presence to the physical presence.

“It could be the packaging and brochures to the website and the tone of voice used.

“One of the first things we do is carry out an audit looking at every aspect.

“We’re able to latch onto any brand, either working with an internal team or working independently.”

Tom, who is a Board Director of Silicon South and also heavily involved with the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA), said he hoped to build his agency up to between ten and 15 staff, but a very different makeup than before.

He added: “I have no ambition to grow bigger than that.

“The best creative work happens at that scale.

“We collaborate with a number of partners and I’m also a great believer in peer support.

“I freely admit that I’ve made many mistakes over the years and if people can learn from them, then that’s OK with me.”