Have you met Ross Musgrove? Since relocating back up to South Yorkshire this year, Ross has been sizing up the Sheffield Digital scene; meeting, connecting, volunteering and generally spreading positive energy and getting the Bravand name out there. Founded in London by Jilly Cross, Ross’s wife, Bravand is a digital design and build agency with a razor-sharp focus on project management, user research and user experience, plus an international network of freelancers across all areas of digital. In this Spotlight, Jilly and Ross tell us more about their approach, what they’re doing to tackle the ‘massive issue with diversity in digital’, and what ‘always having their clients’ back’ means in practice.
The Bravand team is made up of four employees (including Ross and Founder, Jilly), plus around 35 freelancers who specialise in areas like UX and UI design, project management, user insight, software development, quality assurance, content, social media and SEO.
Around 25% of the ‘collective’ is UK based, other freelancers live in the US and throughout Europe, and everyone works fully remotely and flexibly. After scoping out a project, the core team brings in the experts they need to deliver the work. This approach enables Bravand to grow and shrink depending on workflow, which has obvious pros, but what are the cons?
“We don’t explicitly say that we’re an outsourced business development function, but for some of our freelancers, we probably do that for them.” explains Ross. “And they have commented that it’s refreshing not to have to worry about the admin, pitching for work or chasing payments – we do all of that. Occasionally though, someone may become reliant on us if we’ve used them a lot and they start coming to us and asking for work when things go a bit quiet. But we can’t guarantee work and we are clear about this.”
“In these situations we encourage and support them to work on their CV and portfolio, get out there and meet new people. I recently saw an article where someone said ‘Your network is everything. Get out there and tell everyone who you are and what you do’. That’s been key for us the last 11 years. Some businesses will worry about their team members going out and working for others, but we like it. They learn new things from that work and bring those insights to our projects and vice versa.”
Even with such a broad geographical spread, Bravand maintains a tight company culture that Ross says has ‘grown naturally’, explaining:
“We work with likeminded people with the same values; we bring people together who like to work differently. Obviously people come and go, but by working with freelancers who are mainly on the same page – we tend to have many that stick around with us.”
All team members are invited to regular Zoom meetups where they can chat to and get to know people from different places and cultures, offering diversity of thought and experience.
And this diversity isn’t just about different nationalities; being a fully flexible and remote company means that people with different or limited working hours are welcomed at Bravand. More than this, the company seeks out and celebrates the skills and characteristics that come from other areas of life. Jilly explains,
“We don’t really care if you can do eight hours a day or two hours a day, if the work gets done well and the deadlines are met. Aga is a new mum – she used to work with one of our Development Squads as a Scrum Master and when she returned from maternity leave, she asked if there was an opportunity to freelance directly with Bravand. And to be honest, if you want something doing well and quickly, then I’d absolutely want a mum who is used to juggling lots of things to do it – that’s an advantage not a disadvantage.”
One of Bravand’s employees, Ashanee, arrived at the company through a 100-hour paid placement. Having no experience in digital or real knowledge of what a digital agency does, Ashanee – who has a retail background – started off testing websites. Jilly comments,
“Testing is a good point of entry for someone new to digital; you don’t need technical skills to test a website, as long as you have attention to detail and can test across different devices.”
Ashanee gradually started to see where her skills could be applied and how, with more training, she could succeed. After completing her placement – and a full website project including launching a charity shop which raised over £30,000 in three weeks – Ashanee asked Jilly for a job. Jilly says, “How could I not employ her? She’s amazing.”
Asking the difficult questions
When Jilly decided to launch her own agency, she knew that Bravand would be different to other agencies she’d worked for. Over ten years in, with a varied portfolio of projects and longstanding client relationships under their belt, Bravand has earned its stripes and found its point of difference. But it’s not easy to stand out in a crowded market place and, according to Ross, finding the words to explain “what makes us different” is hard. He says,
“We don’t tend to do that well in written tenders, not as well as when we sit and have a conversation with someone. That’s where we find success. That may be about to change though, given that huge agencies like R/GA have recently started adopting the same approach with a new associates model.”
Asking difficult questions and encouraging open, honest communication with clients is how Bravand approaches a brief, enabling them to really get to know a client and ‘have their back’. Ross explains,
“We are a champion of the client throughout the entire process; good project management and good delivery means having their back.
“This means understanding not just what the problem is that they are trying to fix, but understanding the politics and challenges they face internally. It’s understanding their budget constraints and, crucially, it’s being able to have difficult conversations and unpicking all of this stuff. That’s how we fully get to understand what they need and gain their trust.”
A bit like Marmite…
Part of Ross’s role at Bravand is to build connections with a view to growing the company’s client portfolio and its network of freelancers. He’s also just super friendly and keen to meet people, whilst finding out what’s going on in his hometown of Sheffield. That’s why you might have already seen him at one of our Senior Leaders Dinners, at Geek Brekky, or joining in the conversations on Slack.
He and Jilly have also teamed up with See it Be it in Sheffield (SIBI) – and Ross has become a SIBI Ambassador – and are already delivering full-day sessions to young people to raise awareness and aspirations about digital roles.
We’re really pleased to welcome Bravand to Sheffield and to our membership, and we’re excited to see what opportunities they bring to freelancers in the city through their work.
“Our website is like Marmite – we know some will love it and some will hate it, but that’s OK. If you like it, we can probably work really well together, and if you don’t that’s OK too, we probably aren’t the right agency for you.”