From flexible working hours to impressive employee benefits and innovative uses of technology, businesses across the Sheffield City Region are setting the bar high. We asked some of the most disruptive companies across the area to tell us what they’re doing, why and how it’s helping them elevate their business to the next level….

Simoda – Managing director Daniel Bumby

Tell us a little bit about your business

Simoda are based in the fantastic eagle works at Kelham Island in Sheffield, we work with business leaders & IT teams to help them solve issues, address challenges and achieve objectives through technology products, solutions and services.

What are you doing to shake things up in your industry?

We have implemented what we call the ‘technology first’ strategy – unlike our competitors we don’t have a traditional sales approach, we have a team of experienced and skilled technology experts (commercial and technical) who work together to help our customers.

This means we don’t operate a traditional sales structure where you would see a salesperson targeted to earn the business profit from sales to customers, instead we provide healthy basic salaries and everyone in the business is included in our companywide profit share scheme.

​This ensures our first focus is on finding and delivering the right technology solutions and support rather than the salespersons commission cheque.

How does what you’re doing make your business stand out?

Our culture and our people are our major strength, lots of businesses talk about teamwork or collaboration but it is at the very heart of our success. We also like to market our business using our own voice rather than using lots of IT acronyms.

What are the risks that come with doing something a little bit different?

Our technology first strategy means we have committed to providing our commercial team with healthy salaries to remove the commission/bonus elements, this is a financial risk but one that we knew would pay off as our customers love our values, culture and ethos.

What are the benefits and what has the reception been like?

We see many benefits from implementing our strategy, which include:

  • Collaboration without fear or resentment
  • Focus on training and development
  • Customers are clear on our objectives
  • Fantastic culture

The reception has been fantastic, our customers love the fact that we strive to understand their business needs before we talk technology, they also love that we have offerings that put technology first rather than commercials. Our partners and vendors love the clarity we provide them when engaging in market opportunities.

 

Gravitate – Co-founder Sam Newton

Tell us a little bit about your business

We are a digital accountancy firm based in Kelham Island, with a people-first approach and a big focus on using the best technology to make life easier for our clients. We’ve scrapped timesheets and charging by the hour to focus on client relationships.

What are you doing to shake things up in your industry?

We are working hard to change the perceptions of typical accountants and do something a bit more personable and fun – we have a very modern outlook on business. Our digital approach means we work with some great technology, freeing up both our time and that of our clients so we can focus on building a strong relationship and growing their business.

We know how important Google reviews are for referrals so we have a big focus on that, as well as our social media. We use LinkedIn a lot – it’s a huge source of revenue for us – and that’s where we show the more personal side of us, as well as through other channels like TikTok. We’re not the typical suit-wearing, briefcase-holding accountants, we wear our own hoodies and merch most of the time!

We have a fun office to work in, with mini golf, a Sheffield mural and a beer fridge, and we offer great employee benefits like bonuses, profit sharing, a flexible working policy and plenty of social events, from after work drinks to days out at Go Ape and Crystal Maze.

How does what you’re doing make your business stand out?

The way we work is a real reflection of who we are as people – what you see is what you get. I think a lot of people find that very refreshing and most businesses just want to talk to real people who have their best interests at heart and who they can genuinely get along with. The fact we are offering them an effective service that will save them time, while being upfront about who we are, is probably our biggest selling point.

What are the risks that come with doing something a little bit different?

Not everyone is interested in doing things differently and there are still some people who prefer business to be much more formal and traditional, so they might be put off by our approach – but that probably means they’re not the right client for us either.

What are the benefits and what has the reception been like?

I think the benefits speak for themselves – we have a 100 per cent staff retention in our accounting team and our employees shout about us from the rooftops because they love working here so much. We’ve also attracted the best people in the industry and their ethos really aligns with ours.

We have received some amazing reviews and have great engagement on social media, which is also where most of our clients come from.

The team has grown each year and our up-front attitude means we get to work with people who have the same values as us. We have built great relationships with our clients and a positive atmosphere around everything we do – and our unique way of working means we can focus on offering the best service rather than time on the clock.

 

Grimm & Co

Tell us a little bit about your business

Grimm & Co is a charity that champions the writer in every child. We build confidence, self-esteem and skills through workshops with schools, after school activities, holiday clubs, school residencies and family programmes.  We’re all about the socio-cultural literacies that support us in making meaning of the world around us and we do this through the joyful discovery of stories.

What are you doing to shake things up in your industry?

Currently, we are operating from a pop-up story street, Linger Longer Lane, in the Old Town Hall of Rotherham town centre.  We’re hosting festivals – our shop is open online and in the street with a magic-o-meter to check your inner character and many unique story-based products, many created in our workshop as artisan gifts.  In 2022 we will be opening Grimm & Co’s Emporium of Stories with secret doors, a feast of story-based foddery, a book nook, children’s workshops and story parties all on site.  Whatever your age, you’ll be able to come to Grimm & Co and engage in story activities at your table or sit in a quiet nook to enjoy artisan coffee and a good book.  This will act as a social enterprise, embracing our mission whilst supporting the charity that operates behind the secret door and at the top of the beanstalk.

How does what you’re doing make your business stand out?

We are strong on authenticity.  Every customer or school class visit is greeted with a theatrical explanation of how Grimm & Co was created and the attention to detail is fundamental.  Our story was written by our writer, Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentleman) and is the backbone for our work.

What are the risks that come with doing something a little bit different?

There was always a risk that people might not engage in this artistic, creative approach to retail that would provide the magical front of the charity.  However, this hasn’t been a problem.  People of all ages embrace the opportunity to have fun, to escape the everyday and to be playful.

What are the benefits and what has the reception been like?

The Emporium of Stories has emerged because of demand.  We receive three school visits a week, our workshops have waiting lists and the café and book nook are as a result of customer requests for us to do this.  People across Yorkshire and beyond have truly embraced this arts destination and we receive beautiful messages from customers about their experiences and their delight with our products.  It’s immersive – a witty joke told with a straight face – and we all need occasional relief from our everyday, a chance to embrace stories… we all love a good story!

 

Shakespeare Martineau – Ben Buckton, chief marketing and people officer

Tell us a little bit about your business 

Shakespeare Martineau is a full-service law firm providing specialist legal services for life and business and is a brand within professional services group Ampa. We work with businesses and organisations of all sizes, as well as individuals, families and private clients.

What are you doing to shake things up in your industry? 

In November 2020, we announced our innovative house of brands strategy and group, Ampa, which creates opportunities and provides businesses within the group with the infrastructure needed to enable growth.

Ampa offers bigger buying power and access to expertise, as well as shared values and beliefs – what we call our ‘Golden Threads’.

Brands within the group include life and business law firm Shakespeare Martineau, consumer champion law firm Lime Solicitors, planning consultancy Marrons Planning, uninsured loss recovery experts Corclaim, cyber security consultancy CSS Assure and Sussex law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter.

How does what you’re doing make your business stand out? 

Clients and people across our sector are crying out for change and transformation. It is time to consider the agile needs of clients more broadly and step away from the traditional consolidator model – our house of brands strategy does just that.

Our approach is different because we do not combine with failing or flailing businesses, but ones that are ambitious, looking for a route to fast-track and fuel growth. Culture comes first and if the main objective is to make a quick gain at others’ expense, then we know we’re not aligned.

So often in our industry, large and aggressive businesses will acquire firms only to destroy the very heart of that brand and ultimately the reason they have loyal clients – we want to reverse that.

What are the risks that come with doing something a little bit different? 

This is the first time this strategy has been followed in the legal and professional services industry so as ever there are no guarantees or role-models. That said, other industries have done something similar and done it well, and it feels like the right change for our sector, the results to date are positive and we are remaining agile, open to change and new ideas.

Ampa is growing rapidly, which is exciting but could pose new challenges for the group’s risk profile. In response, we created a new group information security officer role, who is working closely with teams to pre-empt these challenges, developing a robust multi-year information security programme that will continuously measure and manage risk.

What are the benefits and what has the reception been like? 

A key benefit of our group is shared access to greater support for the benefit of our clients, whether that be from other professionals across different brands, our enhanced infrastructure or our combined business operations capabilities.

We offer a greater breadth of career progression opportunities and adaptability across our legal teams, specialist teams and professional business operation areas. Each brand is empowered to deliver on its growth ambitions and retain autonomy while collaborating when it makes sense to do so.

The benefit of a portfolio house of brands approach helps mitigate risk for those businesses, brands, and people that join us – having a wider sector and service offering means we’ll be in a better position to weather future economic shifts and enable individual brands to focus on what they do best.

 

NTUK

Tell us a little bit about your business

NTUK was founded to assist with connecting contractors to suppliers in the construction sector. Our platform is easy-to-use and helps tackle key industry issues such as supply chain availability, price inflation, net zero targets and compliance in procurement by connecting national contractors to local suppliers.

What are you doing to shake things up in your industry?

We have introduced the first digital platform to connect contractors and suppliers more efficiently through the supply chain all the way to onsite delivery of projects, meeting the needs of all parties.

We are revolutionising procurement through our online platform to provide in-depth data-driven reporting, offering insights to help businesses improve their offering and de-risk their strategy.

How does what you’re doing make your business stand out?

A major benefit of our platform is that the contractor pays suppliers directly with no commission. The platform is solely subscription based – therefore there are no hidden or additional costs for end users. Our platform is provided using the SaaS (Software as a Service) model stored on the cloud, which gives our users unrestricted access and means there is no requirement for any complex software installations or hardware management.

We are the first business in the sector to create and roll-out a platform like this. We operate nationally across the UK, for every sector within construction, and offer a solution for all sizes of businesses.

What are the risks that come with doing something a little bit different?

As with all new and disruptive ideas, there can be a reluctance to move away from traditional methods and adopt new technology, particularly in the construction industry.

The biggest risk to the industry is resisting the need to adopt digital solutions –  we feel moving online is inevitable and the right course of action for both contractors and merchants.

What are the benefits and what has the reception been like?

Our users benefit from speeding up the procurement process, accessing new customers, improving stock availability, and introducing compliance.

Contractors will get the best availability and have access to the local supply chain for better compliance and to meet Environmental and Social Governance criteria. Contractors will also benefit from supply chain information if working in new regions.

Likewise, merchants get access to new customers and can service existing customers better. Merchants can also access detailed data reports that support regional stock profiles and assess the effectiveness of their branch network.

Our digital footprint means that suppliers and contractors can be reassured of transparency, while also homing in on any challenges such as missed sales and leads. This is a huge benefit that has not been seen so far in the sector.

To find out more about NTUK, please visit: www.ntuk.co.uk

 

Jessica Flinn Jewellery

Tell us a little bit about your business

Jessica Flinn is a fine jewellery brand founded by Jessica Flinn-Allen 13 years ago. We specialise in unique and unusual engagement, wedding and eternity rings. Selling both online and in-person, we’re most known for our one-of-a-kind centre stones which include salt and pepper diamonds, teal, blue and green sapphires and lab grown diamonds.

What are you doing to shake things up in your industry?

Firstly, we are the antithesis of typical high street jewellers. Among a sea of white diamond solitaires, we exist to offer customers something refreshingly different. Our designs and gemstones are proudly non-traditional.

Secondly, we work with salt and pepper diamonds – aka, the rebels of the diamond world. Unlike traditional white diamonds which are coveted for their colourless and flawless appearance, salt and pepper diamonds celebrate inclusions and imperfections.

Thirdly, we operate in other niches too. When most people think of sapphires, they see blue – yet we work with teals, greens, violets and more.

Our showroom is unlike any other jewellery experience – an intimate space hidden away in the leafy suburb of Tapton. The Art Deco inspired space has two intimate ‘stations’ where people can experience our jewellery. This summer we will be refurbishing our space to create a ‘fine diamond’ experience, complete with a fine jewellery sushi track.

How does what you’re doing make your business stand out?

We’re offering customers something they didn’t know even know they wanted. Our alternative designs and gemstones capture people’s attention and drives customers to choose us. But that’s not the only reason.

Many customers choose us because of our values. Not only are we proudly non-traditional, we’re fiercely inclusive. Our models are always diverse and we actively support the LGBTQIA+ community.

What are the risks that come with doing something a little bit different?

Operating within fine jewellery niches has its highs and lows. We’ll sometimes take a punt on a gemstone colour, or what we perceive to be an emerging trend, only for it to flop. Figuring out what our customers want to see next from us is always a learning curve.

Occasionally we’ll also receive some push back from people who don’t align with our values.

What are the benefits and what has the reception been like?

The reception to both of our brands has been remarkable. Actively disrupting the industry with alternative gemstones is exactly what our customers have been searching for. Between the two of our brands (Jessica Flinn and sister brand Flinn & Steel) we’ve grown over 800 per cent since the start of the pandemic and gone from a team of three to over 20. Together, our two brands achieved a turnover above £2million – which is impressive considering that this time two year ago, we were still working out of our founder’s living room.

 

Webmart – Founder Simon Biltcliffe

Tell us a little bit about your business

Webmart is an entirely self-funded print marketing company with three UK offices. Our motto is: ‘innovate, create, communicate’.

What are you doing to shake things up in your industry?

We are a Marxist-Capitalist business, which is less frightening than it sounds! Basically, we use capitalism, which is really good for making wealth, but then Marxism for sharing it out equitably. Once we’ve made profits, we have a minimum retained profit level which is £400,000 a year and the rest of it gets shared out amongst the team. This last financial year we shared out £700,000 of surplus profits, which equated to a 26.93 per cent base salary bonus for everybody in the business. Putting profits back into the business means we can support lots of charities and we have a real passion for good causes.

We offer paid volunteer days and are committed to sustainability and helping the environment as much as possible.

How does what you’re doing make your business stand out?

We are a marketing services business which is based purely on delivering the optimal mix of marketing online and offline, to ensure customers get the best return on advertising spend, and we’ve got a skill set that allows people to do that faster than anywhere else, more efficiently than anywhere else and more effectively than anywhere else.

We’ve got the world’s first postal calculator, so it’ll work out the carbon offsetting required in the product range.

Our whole business model offers a unique approach to hiring and people development – we just had one of our younger members of stuff win a European award for talent which was amazing and shows how much we invest into our team.

What are the risks that come with doing something a little bit different?

Telling people you are a Marxist-Capitalist definitely gets a mixed reaction and can put some people off who don’t understand the concept. But personally I think it’s riskier to do the same old things you’ve always done without any change or growth because that’s how you end up going out of business.

Bringing something new to the market can make people a little apprehensive but as soon as you explain it properly, they’re on board and can’t stop shouting about how much they love working with you.

I’m currently writing a book to explain the benefits of Marxist-Capitalism so hopefully more people will understand why it’s so useful.

What are the benefits and what has the reception been like?

We offer a radically evolving environment and the people that generally come to us and get through the first probationary period love it and bring all the people with them.

We have a wonderful opportunity to work with great talent, and you maximise your intellectual, emotional and financial return as part of the outcome of us working together.

The people who love working with us recommend us to some really cool companies who align with our ethos, and it allows us to be selective about our suppliers too.

Ultimately, we want to bring the best solution and the best marketing expertise that we can to help them develop their business better and be more successful going forward.