IN this week’s SME Focus an entrepreneur who has applied technology in the marketing industry explains that business owners sometimes just have to trust their instincts.


Ali Findlay.



What is your business called?

The Lane Agency.

Where is it based?


What services does it offer?

Specialising in achieving brand growth for owner managed businesses, digital marketing strategy and implementation – we support businesses to move more of their business online focusing on marketing implementation to deliver ROI (Return on investment).

Whom does it sell to?

Clients across five core sectors: Food and Drink, Retail, Professional Services, Third Sector and Tourism and Leisure.

What is its turnover?

£4.85 million.

How many employees?


When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

I’ve always felt fully committed to any business I’m working for or with and I guess I started to realise I could do it for my own family at the same time. I’d been used to 80 hour weeks for a long time, so I thought why not do it for myself? However, running a business is a bit like having a baby, if you realized how tough it really was before you did it, you might never do it. I thought I’d achieve greater flexibility, longer holidays … I’ve learned to appreciate other benefits, as these didn’t quite materialise! The main reason though was a craving for variety, I had ideas about every business I met, not just the one I was working for, and soon I was working with some of these businesses on their marketing strategies and growth plans – I loved it.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was head of marketing for a large motor industry business (The John Martin Group) effectively running an in-house retail marketing agency with a big budget in a fast-paced environment. It was fun, stressful, dynamic, future-focused and at the time we were ahead of the industry with our marketing approach – I had entrepreneurial leaders who let me innovate and try new things and they listened to me despite my age at the time.

John Martin Group was the first motor dealer in Scotland to have its own website, segmentation and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programme and aftercare call centre, customer magazine and it won awards for marketing from Automotive Management UK. At that time its turnover was £160 million.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I was supported by my first client, an entrepreneur who recognised the fellow entrepreneur in me and believed I could create a successful business while continuing to look after his. He was a silent partner with a 25 per cent stake in the agency, which I recently bought back. I’m very grateful for the start he gave me. He knew I wouldn’t give up easily.

What was your biggest break?

Two other entrepreneurs became my first two clients and they are still clients today – Peter Vardy and Nick Nairn, who have become friends, mentors and supporters.

What was your worst moment?

Oh, there have been a few. Realising that you’ve made a bad decision is never good, and I tend to dwell on these for a while before moving on, asking myself what I could have done differently. A call to say you’ve come second in a pitch you feel you’ve done an amazing job on is difficult to get over. But the worst moments of all are when a client makes a decision that you instinctively know is the wrong one, and you are not in a position to influence them to make a different choice. As an agency, you can only push back so much, then you have to let the client decide.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Meeting businesses, understanding their needs, developing innovative solutions that win trust and build relationships. I’m high energy and I like channelling that for clients. I’ve always enjoyed developing the careers of my team and seeing them progress. I’m still in touch with people I recruited in the mid 90s now working all over the world, I’m proud to be part of their journey.

What do you least enjoy?

I am fair, and I teach my team to be fair and give value for money, so in recent years we’ve learned to walk away from relationships that are one-way. We expect to build relationships with our clients that are based on mutual respect, trust and a joined-up pursuit of objectives. We like to be treated as an extension of their team, not viewed as a drain on budgets and costs. We deliver tangible value when we’re part of an empowered, engaging relationship focused on results. So we least enjoy being ‘supplier bashed’ and we love open mindedness, where we can mix things up a bit.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Procurement processes. Public sector procurement in particular is hugely time consuming and costly for agencies, there is no opportunity to get to know the client and hear briefs face to face, and no opportunity to build relationships during the proposal/pitch process.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

Some of these have already been realised but these are best summarised as:

We want to be an agency where both brands and careers are grown.

We want to be recognized as one of Scotland’s most innovative and best integrated agencies.

We want to become a Scottish Government framework agency.

We want to be at the forefront of driving equality within the marketing sector in Scotland.

We want to be known as one of Scotland’s most effective agencies – known for delivering results.

What are your five top priorities?

Client Retention/delight based on relationships, quality and results.


Team satisfaction.

Sustainable growth.

Enjoying what we do and delivering results.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

The Scottish Government could get out and meet agencies, see their creds, get a feel for what makes them different/better and then go through a procurement process that’s more intuitive involving less parties and a whole lot less form-filling.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Trust your instinct:

i. When you’re recruiting.

ii. When you’re deciding who you can work with.

iii. When you’re developing ideas.

How do you relax?

I don’t! I relax when I’m on holiday with lots of books (I love a lounger) but during the year I feel most relaxed planting flowers, hanging out at the stables with my daughters or walking my dog on the beach.