In 2006, the marketing environment in Geelong was a very different place. It was the cusp of the digital revolution, but many local businesses were still contemplating the need for a website. Email dominated the digital space and branding was largely concerned with logos, signage and mainstream advertising.
This was the environment into which Brand Bureau (then Warne Marketing) founder, Kylie Warne, converted her kitchen table into an office and started a small business.
Raised in Geelong, Kylie had worked in several multinational corporations in Melbourne before returning home after a decade to take up a marketing role at the Geelong Regional Library Corporation. Working part-time, Kylie launched her own consultancy, Warne Marketing. As the work began to flood in she and husband Brett made the decision to forego her regular wage so that she could concentrate on the small business.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit; as a 14 year old girl I knocked on the doors of the local shops asking them to display posters promoting my babysitting services. At the same time, I used to get paid to produce signage for a local footy club. Even back then I liked being my own boss!” Kylie says.
“Frankly, it was terrifying to cut the apron strings and walk away from a guaranteed weekly pay cheque. I had worked for a variety of large organisations, and I’d become accustomed to having support from a range of departments; finance, IT, HR, marketing, not to mention being surrounded by supportive colleagues. When I started my business I was suddenly alone. It was a huge shock. But failure has never been an option for me. I never wanted to be on the wrong side of the statistics which suggest 60 percent of small businesses cease operating within the first three years of starting,” Kylie says.
Consulting from the kitchen table led to employing a full-time graphic designer and from that point the business took off. By the time the team grew to five the Warne’s renamed the business to “Brand Bureau”, had added two children into the mix and this time it was Brett who gave up fulltime work to move into the business as a web-designer so they could both juggle the business and family. Kylie says that more men need to be given the same opportunities, as well as women, to work flexible hours and care for their children, adding that flexibility and support for men is a missing link in the gender equity and national productivity debates.
It’s a busy life, running a business, serving as the President of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce and raising a couple of kids. It wasn’t any easier when the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) struck just two years into starting the business.
“It was a challenging time, those first few years. I didn’t take traditional maternity leave and I can distinctly remember giving a presentation to a board of directors twelve days after I gave birth to my second child. I don’t remember a lot about that meeting, but we won the job!
“The GFC provided us with opportunities to innovate our business model, and most of the changes we made later proved to serve as a foundation for today’s steady cash flow and growth.”
The market disruptions have come thick and fast over the past ten years, but one business’ disruption is another’s opportunity and rather than falling victim to the GFC and the digital revolution, the business took off.
“Technology will continue to present significant opportunities for consumers, business and government to understand, engage and build value-based relationships. In the near future, Geelong could - and should - be known as a destination that welcomes and nurtures start-ups and entrepreneurs,” Kylie says.
Kylie laughs as she says that if running a business was easy, everyone would be doing it. “I’m a very different person ten years on from those early days. I’m a lot more resilient. I have absolutely no regrets – my team and I have the privilege of being invited to work with diverse businesses and help reach their objectives. I’ve met some terrific people along the way that have become close friends. Our employees are like family.”
“For Brand Bureau clients, generating ideas is rarely the issue; if a business needs marketing ideas, they can search Google and they’ll find millions of ideas. Our job is to help the client articulate their goals and objectives and then identify the correct strategies and tactics to deliver return on marketing investment. We work with our clients to find a very clear, measurable, strategic way forward for their business.”
She said that the one thing that technology will never do away with is relationships and the business has been founded on long-term relationships with clients. And it was seeking new relationships with like-minded small business people that first led Kylie to the Geelong Chamber of Commerce.
“I became a member of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce around the time I started the business. I never imagined that one day I’d be President; the role is an honor and one I take very seriously. The Chamber brings together Geelong’s business community – from large corporates to microbusiness – and gives them a single voice. We advocate on behalf of business in Canberra, Spring Street and locally. Also, networking is a fundamental part of establishing a small business in a community such as Geelong and the Chamber delivers networking opportunities in spades,” she says.
And giving back, when and where you can, is just another part of doing business in Geelong. Brand Bureau provides pro bono work to a range of organisations, including Give Where You Live. “Working for multinationals gave me experience in corporate social responsibility, and even though we’re a small business, we’ve injected contemporary CSR practices into the business wherever possible,” Kylie says.
Community involvement, networking with other like-minded businesses all help to build a picture of who you are as a business and what you do. In this space, actions speak louder than words and Kylie says Brand Bureau has a focus on local procurement as a professional priority.
“I’m the first to acknowledge that we do business in a national and global context; but I also think there is a role for parochialism when it comes to supporting businesses in our own backyard. Local businesses are the ones that donate to local charities, sponsor local sporting clubs, fill the fundraising tins and employ our families, friends and neighbours. I do think it’s crucial that, wherever possible, local businesses and government departments support local suppliers.”
Brand Bureau’s clients include Deakin University, Epworth Geelong, Wettenhalls Transport and Golden Plains Shire. “We’ve done everything from developing national advertising campaigns to being flown by private plane to New South Wales to work on communications to support a $100 million construction project. But we also work with smaller organisations. Our clients appreciate the importance of a strategic approach. As a full-service agency, we use our knowledge, expertise and commitment to quality to ensure a seamless transition from concept to the intended audience,” Kylie says.
Life is certainly never dull at Brand Bureau!