In the company of: Nicola Stamford, the owner of The Big Bamboo Agency, who helps companies tell their stories
Nicola Stamford was a head of marketing and communications for nine years before setting up The Big Bamboo Agency in 2018.
Here she tells us all about herself and her firm.
Q: In a nutshell, what does your company do and how did it start?
A: The Big Bamboo Agency helps companies tell their story – to their customers, employees and anyone else who is important to them. Everyone loves a story! It started off the back of me winning one client in a sector that I knew well and was passionate about. I’ve always said that if you love what you do and who you work for, you’ll be so much better at it as a result.
Q: What’s the story behind the company’s name?
A: The company’s name was inspired by the surnames of original team members – Stamford and Harris. Stamford Harris was a heavyweight boxer from the 1960s, whose nickname was Big Bamboo! We like to think we pack a punch like our namesake, and also embody bamboo’s qualities of strength, flexibility and rapid growth.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing about it?
A: That it started off with me and one client and has become a team of 17, with 27 clients – three of which operate globally.
Q: What do you do?
A: I look after all my clients, whether or not I work directly on their accounts. At the end of the day, I have a responsibility to make sure that we as a team add value to our clients, as that’s what they’re paying us for. This is the driving force behind everything I do.
A: I did a BA Hons degree in Public Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University, which included a sandwich year within Yorkshire Water’s press team. This taught me a huge amount about using PR and communications to revitalise a business, and helped me secure my first job in a Leeds agency, working for clients such as M&S, Leeds United and Mace Construction. From there I went on to work for what was the biggest marketing and communications agency in the north of England. Clients included Pets at Home, Maplin Electronics, and a very large mechanical and electrical (M&E) contracting firm based in Ilkley. I was fascinated by the M&E industry and six years on went to work for the firm in-house, becoming head of marketing and communications. When we think of construction we tend to think about the builders (the bricks), but it’s the M&E guys and girls who make a building what it is. They heat it, they light it, they install fire alarms, security and energy systems – they bring it to life. Perhaps not surprisingly, Big Bamboo’s first client was an M&E firm which, I am proud to say, is still a client today!
Q: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
A: I wouldn’t. I love what I do too much to do anything else.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Being me. And loving what I do makes me a better me, a happier me, and therefore better for those around me. My nine-year-old son also motivates me. I want him to understand that hard work and dedication can get you anywhere, especially if you find your niche.
Q: What one thing do you wish you had known when you started out in business?
A: Not to listen to any doubts or doubters. Not to worry that you don’t know how to run a business (as few people do when they start out). And most of all, that you can and will get stuff wrong – it’s how you put it right that counts.
Q: What excites you about business?
A: The opportunities it brings, especially for others. One of the biggest excitements for me has been giving graduates a chance. I was a graduate once and if no-one had given me a chance, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
A: People who think they know it all. They can’t possibly – none of us can. We learn from others all the time, regardless of the level of the ladder we’re on.
Q: What advice would you give to people just starting their careers?
A: As I said, find your niche/your passion and then stick to it. Use those around you to help you learn and be determined. Determination gets you everywhere.
Q: Who in business do you most admire, and why?
A: I admire anyone who works hard at whatever it is they do.
Q: What moments of your career so far stand out?
A: My step into the freelance world that led me to set up Big Bamboo was a key turning point. It was a risk, and many decisions I have made since have been too. But as they say, if you don’t take risks in life, you’ll never see the beauty of opportunities. More recently, breaking into the top 50 agencies in the north of England, in 36th place, was definitely a standout moment. What an amazing achievement by the whole team – I couldn’t be prouder!
Q: What sets your company apart from the competition?
A: I was a head of marketing and communications for nine years. I know what agencies should be and what they shouldn’t be. We don’t ‘clock’ our hours, we don’t charge more than we quoted for, and we give back as much as we get. I like to think that’s why we have retained our clients for so long, why they have become our friends, and why we have won so many new clients off the back of recommendations and word of mouth.
Q: What is the most difficult challenge your company has faced...?
A: Navigating through Covid and knowing the right decisions to make at a time of such uncertainty was challenging.
Q: ...and what challenges are you experiencing at the moment?
A: As for now, the biggest challenge for us is retaining our amazing team, attracting new people to join us, and onboarding new clients whilst not neglecting the existing ones. But then, I guess they are nice problems to have!
Q: Have you got a five-year plan for the company?
A: Yes, I have. We have evolved as we’ve grown, but now we’re in a place where I can see the opportunities in more of a planned way. Watch this space!
Q: Why is it good to do business from Harrogate?
A: Because it’s where I grew up, it’s the town I am proud to call my home – and I love it!
Name: Nicola Stamford
Age: 41 (how did that happen?)
Job title: Owner and founding director
Company name: The Big Bamboo Agency
Company address: 5.14 Windsor House, Cornwall Road, Harrogate
Website address: www.thebigbambooagency.co.uk
Company founded: 2018
Number of staff: 17