Naomi Bacon, Founder of Tandem Collective
Everyone is paid the same amount at Tandem and it works. Intrigued?
Tandem Collective is a community-led marketing agency, specialising in campaigns for the book publishing and film industries. They work closely with book, film and TV lovers on Instagram and TikTok to create immersive, unique content which is delivered directly into the communities that others are trying to reach.
Founder, Naomi Bacon takes some time from her busy schedule to share her journey in the hope that will inspire Business Matters’ readers …
What are Tandem’s USPs?
Most marketing agencies talk about being experts in community growth but they don’t have their own community around them, which feels disingenuous. We have built our entire offering around putting the community first, delivering what they want and need.
Our flat structure has made the headlines; we are all paid the same, including me. For me, the true meaning of inclusivity is that everyone is valued equally; we all have different skill sets and we are all of value. This promotes loyalty and roots out people that are self-serving or competitive in the wrong ways – that’s not what Tandem is. We are all ambitious and driven, but that’s channeled into our work rather than individual status or comparison within the company.
I recruit people without specific marketing experience; I don’t want them bringing learned behaviours from the industry, good or bad, because my team – who come from a huge variety of different professional and life backgrounds – have such a sense of multiperspectivity. They all love books, that’s how we found each other, and we operate as a hive mind – nobody owns an idea, we form them together, and that collective of different perspectives is what produces our creative and fresh ideas.
What is the main problem Tandem solves for your customers?
Resource – There simply wasn’t an agency serving the publishing industry.
Having been in-house, I was trying to work with mismatched budgets and agencies delivering proposals which weren’t relevant or right for the publishing industry. We are the only company offering this kind of service to the publishing industry, which is why we are growing so quickly globally, and we pride ourselves on offering an affordable option which understands the resource restrictions and the community to which we are marketing. Clients often comment on the creativity and enthusiasm of our team- they almost seem surprised!
What made you start Tandem? – did you want to rock the status quo, was it a challenge or a gap in the marketplace that you could fill?
I found 9-5 corporate structure difficult in so many ways – I’m up at 5am, I like to be active and get going in the mornings, not wait until 9am. I found the rigidity very claustrophobic, and that impacted negatively upon my creativity. I also had serious family issues which needed my attention and energy, and it was not possible to juggle and progress within a corporate job while giving those issues the attention they needed. When I set up on my own, I didn’t have to go anywhere, I could still do the work I love to a high standard but I could also be present with the people I love and be there for them.
That filters down now to the whole team- life happens and we all have the space, flexibility and support to navigate that while still doing our best work. Of course we are all going to be more creative and do better work if we can go for walks, hike up mountains, hang out on the beach, spend time with our families. I don’t have to answer to anyone’s stuctures of what a work day should look like; we enjoy an incredible balance.
What are your brand values?
Courage, compassion and connection.
Courage is not about not having fear, it’s about how you deal with that fear. Starting the business was a courageous act – the most terrifying and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done – and it’s the same with every new campaign. We take leaps and we trust ourselves to do so.
Compassion – understanding that everyone is an individual, work is not a be all and end all, but that it can bring so much joy. Our team is diverse – people from all walks of life, with neurodiversity, health conditions, disabilities, differing family situations, our own challenges. And that leads me to our final value; connection.
Our connection with clients, community and team members is everything; it has to be meaningful and genuine. I wanted to create a team that would feel like a found family, and I have. We genuinely love each other and don’t have to perform or wear professional masks around each other. We treat our clients like human beings – we don’t do ‘super corporate’ – we want them to enjoy and have fun working with us, and that builds respect too; we don’t mistreat each other.
Do your values define your decision-making process?
Absolutely. They’re in everything I do.
Is team culture integral to your business?
It’s everything. We run a yearly retreat in Italy, we get together for Christmas, we travel to co-work with each other – as a fully remote team it’s crucial to have meaningful, in-person connection whenever we can. There’s no forced fun, just genuine downtime together – relaxing on the beach, eating gelato, reading together, having a laugh. We have a zero-alcohol policy at all our gatherings. We have people in recovery on the team and we’ve all seen what happens when too much alcohol is involved in work situations in our prior jobs; we have an amazing time without it and taking booze off the table – literally – makes everyone feel much more comfortable. If a boss or company feels that free booze or the occasional free pizza on a Friday is the way to their employees’ hearts, they’re missing the point and misunderstanding those individuals.
What do you do to go the extra mile to show your team you appreciate them?
Along with the retreats and residential gatherings I run for the team, which are bigger gestures of appreciation, we have daily shows of gratitude and friendship. We each send out a ‘Thursday thank you’ to someone we’re feeling grateful for – privately rather than publicly. We have regular ‘friend chats’ where we carve out time to talk out what’s going on in our lives outside of Tandem, and we have such close friendships within the company which makes the culture quite effortless; we all enjoy being there, and it shows.
In terms of your messaging do you think you talk directly to your consumers in a clear fashion?
Yes, but also in an affectionate, familial way – we don’t do corporate chat. We voicenote, we have a laugh, we remove the jargon and pomp, and we don’t ‘gatekeep’; I was voicenoting a long-standing member of our community last night, just to check in, no agenda. I am very transparent with the community about the running of the company, which I think people appreciate.
What’s your take on inflation and interest rates – are you going to pass that on to your customers or let your margins take a hit and reward customer loyalty in these tougher times?
We increased 10% across all services, year on year, but remain very affordable. This price increase was necessary as we have had a substantial decrease in our profit margins due to the effects of inflation on our costs. The majority of our profits are reinvested in the company to finance current and future campaigns. We are highly dependent on this capital as we have no debt and have no plans to acquire any.
How often do you assess the data you pull in and address your KPIs and why?
On a monthly basis I sit with the data, but in saying that, I have never had a rigid business plan; which contributes to the success of Tandem. I look at the data but I just do the job as it presents itself. I hate the terms ‘targets’ and ‘KPI’s – sometimes you feel pressured to pull a target out of a hat, then if you don’t meet it, you feel like it’s a measure of your capability when it isn’t.
The KPIs that matter to me are values-based; do I have a happy, healthy team? Are we enjoying what we do? Do our clients keep coming back to us? Because when those things are in place, the numbers are great. If not, I go back to Connection; how can we better connect to improve things?
Is tech playing a much larger part in your day-to-day running of Tandem?
Our company is totally online, so we are very reliant on social media platforms, but we keep things quite simple. We are using platforms like Discord, but we try to limit the number of apps and platforms that our community need in order to engage with us; we want to encourage a balance our quality online offering with encouraging meaningful offline time.
What is your attitude to your competitors?
Competitor analysis is a huge thing for some but it’s not something I think about – firstly we don’t really have any competitors, as nobody else does what we do, and secondly I try very hard not to compare myself or this company to any other individuals or companies. I focus on our objectives, goals and successes – my brain switches off when I hear someone gloating about turnover, because it’s just not my focus. Profit doesn’t tell the full story of that company and the humans within it. It all comes back to our values; they are what matter to me.
It can be a lonely and pressured place to be as the lead decision maker of the business. What do you do to relax, recharge and hone your focus?
Nearly all decisions are made as a collective, so it’s either the entire team or the project managers and I making a final call on something together. I relax and recharge by climbing – I often work from a climbing wall – doing yoga, cycling, hiking, sitting on the beach. I start my day very early with an hour of meditation, reading, some Duolingo; anything peaceful that sets me up for the day. That sacred hour is very important. My lifestyle and environment encourages that way of recharging – I chase the sun, and right now I’m in Cape Town. I don’t work Fridays, none of the team do – we read, get inspired and recharge ourselves.
Do you believe in the 12 week work method or do you make much longer planning strategies?
We do have longer term goals but we work primarily in quarters, so shorter sprints – it helps us to focus on the here and now, which is why our business plan is so flexible.
What is your company’s eco strategy?
We all work remotely online, so our footprint is very small, but we used to print resources for our community and clients – now we provide all of those resources digitally to minimise our impact further. We also work with local businesses and small businesses for send-out items to minimise postage impact.
What three things do you hope to have in place within the next 12 months?
I want to set up local pods in territories where affordable solutions haven’t – until now – been available, including India, South Africa, and smaller territories across Europe. We already have a strong presence in Italy and Spain, but I’d like to see definite expansion into Germany and France, I want to invest in individuals within those communities. I also want to develop our film and theatre offering, and we are making exciting plans in that area. Apart from that, I want things to continue as they are – a strong, happy team; creative projects rolling in; enthusiastic clients – a lifestyle business that I’m proud to be a part of.