We spoke to Neil Martin and Cristina Harvey from the B2B writing and training agency, The First Word. They have worked for clients like Barclaycard, The British Library and Great Western Railway. Neil and Cristina told us about how they started their business journey at Club Workspace and are now based at Workspace’s Cannon Wharf.

Tell us a bit about yourself

The First Word is a B2B writing and training agency based in London. We train and coach people to become better writers at work. Everyone thinks they should be able to write well because they were taught to do it at school or at university. The reality is often quite different! We help people to write clearly, concisely and in their own voice.

We also write all sorts of copy, from web and marketing to customer service and corporate communications. Our client base is pretty diverse, which keeps things interesting. Right now we’re working with The British Library, Southern, Great Western Railway (GWR) and the Charities Aid Foundation.

Pitch your business in a sentence

We banish the blah, bull and bunkum from your business and help your people write with real personality.

Give us a potted history of The First Word

Like lots of good ideas, it started in a pub. We were working in a branding agency, running writing training as a sideline project. Neil had worked as a writing trainer before and understood the big difference it made to people’s confidence and productivity at work. Cristina was working on the client management side, and had a background in journalism and PR. We were putting the world to rights over a beer or three one night and it grew from there.

We set up the business at around the same time as the 2010 banking crisis hit. Some people told us we were mad leaving our jobs just as the recession was taking hold.

We cold called companies for six months and nothing happened. Then the phone rang – someone senior at Barclaycard had picked up a little marketing postcard we’d sent them in the style of a personals ad, and wanted to talk to us. After a few meetings, they gave us a big contract to help them transform the way they write to their customers. That was a good day. And it got better from there.

You recently moved from Club into Cannon Wharf. Can you tell us how it happened? What are the advantages to being based at Workspace?

We really liked the social aspect of working at Club – and the flexibility. But when we decided to grow our team we realised we needed our own private space and a more permanent home.

Neil Martin & Cristina Harvey, The First Word



We didn’t want anything too corporate, but we did need somewhere ‘grown up’ enough to bring our clients. Cannon Wharf fits the bill – with the added bonus of a reasonable rent compared to other places we’d seen. It’s a quiet area but it’s already started to change in the six months since we moved in. 

Have you ever sought outside funding?

No. Like every start-up, we ran the business pretty lean in the early days (a laptop each and a seat at the kitchen table). We didn’t have many overheads so we were able to build up our coffers steadily until we felt it was the right time to grow.

Where do you see your business in a year's time? In three years' time?

We want to keep working with interesting and challenging clients that genuinely get the difference great writing can make to their people, their business and their bottom lines.

We plan to keep growing our team, because every time we take on someone new, we find better ways of doing things. Finding people with fresh ideas that want to grow with us is definitely going to keep us busy over the coming year.  We’d rather be small and brilliant at what we do than big and a bit average, so we hope to expand little by little more in three years. That said, we’ve talked about setting up overseas. Does Workspace have offices in Hong Kong and Sydney?

What trends are you seeing in your industry?

The big trend we're seeing is companies using digital channels over email. Customers absolutely love it, but many businesses are struggling to find the right tone when they’re writing on things like live chat.

Some companies still use formal language, which really doesn't translate on social media.

Other companies go too far the other way. Their writing ends up being too matey and they get carried away with emojis. We help our clients find the right balance between being personal and professional.

Another trend is savvy brands realising how words shape every experience their customers have with them.

Neil Martin & Cristina Harvey, The First Word

 

It’s not just in ads or on the website, it’s every contact they make with the brand – from signage to product packaging to customer service. Words shape the way we feel during every single one of these interactions, however small they seem. Get it right and you get loyal customers for life.

Have you collaborated or done business with any other businesses based at Workspace? Can you tell us about how it came about?

Yes, we met one of our freelance copywriters at Club Workspace Leathermarket in London Bridge.

Cannon Wharf is a spectacular new business centre, providing office and studio space to Workspace customers across six floors, with a large reception area and high-tech meeting rooms available. Most spaces come with floor-to-ceiling windows, offering City skyline views. If you’re interested in looking at our available spaces at Cannon Wharf, please don’t hesitate to arrange a viewing here.