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Herald Entrepreneur: It’s all about the personal touch, says marketing boss

  • Publisher The Herald

DESPITE admitting he is often chained to his smartphone, Martin MacFarlane is passionate about face-to-face communication.

“The personal touch is as important and relevant today as it has ever been,” explains the 58-year-old owner of Scotia Marketing and Promotions. “In many ways, because modern life moves so fast and we often feel disconnected, people actually see it as more important than ever.

“You can’t compete with the internet but I go to where my customers do their business, I look them in the eye and get to know them, I deal with them on a one-to-one basis. People still like dealing with people – and if they trust you, they’ll use you.”

It’s this personal touch that the 58-year-old believes lies behind the success of his business, which has been helping other firms get their message out to customers for 17 years, specialising in the design and supply of branded goods.

And with more pressure on advertising budgets than ever before, the Paisley-based businessman believes traditional methods still have a significant part to play in creating a brand.

“If you need a painter and decorator and you’ve been using a mug with the name of one on it, the chances are you’ll give them a go,” says Mr MacFarlane. “And the cost of that mug will be next to nothing in terms of your overall spend.

“It’s always good if you can give a potential customer something they’re going to use on a daily or regular basis. And despite all the electronic devices we all have, it’s amazing how many people still rely on simple things like calendars and diaries to arrange their lives. These can get your message across in a simple, cost-effective way.”

Originally a sales manager for a big printing and design company, the father-of-two had to spend lots of time away from home and always had self-employment at the back of his mind. In 2000, the time seemed right to strike out on his own.

“I was 40 at the time and I remember thinking that if it didn’t work out, I could always get another job,” he recalls. “I was on a good salary and my employer thought I was mad. But I dipped my toe in the water and eventually built up a good list of clients and suppliers. After I got brochures printed off things really took off.

“I’ve never once regretted the decision to go out on my own. Being self-employed allowed me to do the school run every day and be there more for my boys rather than missing out – you can’t replace that time with your family.”

And he adds he has never regretted basing his firm at Storage Vaults in Paisley.

“It’s such a clean, tidy environment for all the companies based there and the staff can’t do enough for you.

“For me the success of the place ties in with things like Paisley’s bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021. Both culturally and in business terms, Paisley really is on the up and that’s great to see.”

In common with many small businesses, Mr MacFarlane pinpoints cash flow as being a constant worry and says he’d like to see laws that would make companies – especially big firms – pay their bills in a timely manner.

“Chasing people for money is the part of being my own boss I dislike most,” he admits. “I’ve also noticed that since the Brexit vote things have become more expensive, which is particularly worrying for small businesses.”

But the wider picture is bright, says the entrepreneur.

“I try to focus on the positive side of things,” he says. “I have friends who have more glamorous jobs and earn more money, but sometimes they hate what they do.

“I believe in hard work, getting out there and putting on your best face, not taking it personally if you get a rejection. I genuinely enjoy what I do and I feel privileged to do it. As for retiring…no way!”