Founded in 2016 and with the backing of NatWest, Esme business loans range from £10,000 to £250,000* over a 1 to 5 year repayment period and purport to support SMEs with an easy 10 minute application process. Zoya Malik, Managing Editor SME spoke to StrawberrySocial’s founder Rebecca Fitzgerald about the challenges in the search for business funding and the benefits brought about by an ESME loan to her business
Zoya: What is the scope of your business?
Rebecca: StrawberrySocial Ltd. is an online brand protection agency which provides companies with social media crisis backup, moderation and engagement; we specialise with digital, advertising, PR and employer branding agencies whilst still working directly with brands. Unlike many other agencies, StrawberrySocial often operates in out-of-work hours, especially when working with advertising agencies. My own previous experience with charities has manifested in StrawberrySocial and the service which we provide for charities and their forums and social media.
Zoya: What led you into this business line?
Rebecca: I set up the business after becoming a Director at a large social media management company where I was able to gain the expertise necessary to start my own business. Having been enveloped in the world of social media, events and theatre for 15 years, I decided to set up my own business.
Zoya: What is the demand for your business and who is buying your service?
Rebecca: People have bought into our service because of the range and flexibility of the services which we provide. Having been in the industry for 15 years, we also are able to advise on risks involved in individual campaigns and online marketing plans (creating guidelines and escalation workflows) as well as provide last minute moderation in a crisis. Due to our prior experiences and interest in charity work, StrawberrySocial often works with charities who require specialist monitoring and protection, especially as sensitive issues are at the heart of many charity forums and social media channels.
Zoya: How do you differentiate your product and what are special aspects of your service?
Rebecca: StrawberrySocial not only provides a social media management service, we moderate social media and we have also placed online safety (we have all completed the NSPCC online safety training as well as having Child Exploitation and online Protection (CEOP) Ambassadors in our midst) and brand protection at the heart of the business. One of the most special aspects of our business is our ability to work around the clock during non-traditional working hours, providing a service at times of the day when most other providers would not. The StrawberrySocial team are often white-label and can work from an email provided by a client which allows output to be higher and unnecessary confusion to be averted.
Zoya: Who is buying your product/service?
Rebecca: Often StrawberrySocial is picked up by companies who are unable to moderate their social media during the evenings and weekends and/or have products and services that require extra attention and crisis protection. As a team, we have built up a set of expertise around charity forums too, which has lead us to become popular within this field; charity forums require a different moderation to other forums which often requires a greater understanding and empathy towards the matter which we at StrawberrySocial have!
Zoya: How did you initially fund StrawberrySocial? Own equity, loans?
Rebecca: In the beginning, I funded StrawberrySocial by using my redundancy money and a £7,000 loan from Government Enterprise. It was only in the later stages, when looking to scale up the business and invest in more marketing, that I turned to Esme Loans for financial support.
Zoya: What were the challenges in raising capital?
Rebecca: The challenges with raising capital, as with any business, is the constant expenses which have to be paid in order for the business to grow. We have several freelancers who work with us and trying to keep them on-board when work is low is difficult; it is the constant need for more staff and financial constraints which makes raising capital difficult.
Zoya: How did Esme Loans help you? What has been the loan amount and repayment terms? How is this more competitive than a traditional bank loan? What are other benefits?
Rebecca: Esme managed to provide fast capital which funded the marketing for StrawberrySocial and gave me the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in ages. Unlike traditional banking, obtaining a £25,000 a loan from Esme was simple, hassle-free and came with a flexible repayment plan.
Zoya: Which types of businesses can benefit from this loan model?
Rebecca: Any business small or medium businesses looking to scale-up can benefit from the Esme Loans model. Whether you’re a business looking to invest in a big marketing campaign or are just looking for some extra cash to be able to easily pay your staff, a loan from Esme can help.
Zoya: How did you approach Esme Loans and what was their lending criteria? What did you have to show Esme Loans to satisfy the lending criteria?
Rebecca: We completed a very simple online process with Esme. The application was clear and very user-friendly and, unlike many loan providers, Esme really had a good idea as to what working in the social media realm involved. The criteria was providing access to our accounts via Quickbooks so that they could be reviewed. We also had to provide details as to what the money was for and specify the goals.
Zoya: What other plans do you have for StrawberrySocial?
Rebecca: I’d like to be able to bring in some more permanent members of staff onto the team. Since I was able to employ a Social Strategist to work with us on larger ad hoc projects and assist us with our marketing, StrawberrySocial has already begun to grow and I’m hoping it will continue to do so.
*From £25,500 for Sole Traders