Torchbox – Our EO Story: Our road to financial freedom

We’re a digital agency working with amazing not-for-profit and public sector organisations in the UK and around the world.

We design and build digital products and large content-managed websites, we’re the founding developers of Wagtail CMS, and deliver record-breaking campaigns across the entire digital marketing spectrum.

When we became employee owned in 2019, our goal was to repay the purchase price to our founders and be financially free in five years, but we did it in three! Here is our story.

Transforming the way we work

Like many agencies, Torchbox was very much founder-led. Established by Tom and Olly in 2000, they are strong leaders and very ingrained in the cultural fabric of our organisation.

Moving forward, we needed to make Torchbox more sustainable for the future by finding ways to develop leaders across the company.

So, we started by making some pretty major changes. We moved to an Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) structure, where employees can play a crucial role in the success of the company. We brought in a managing director to act as ‘integrator’ and take over the day-to-day running of the business and established three autonomous propositions with their own leadership teams and P&Ls.

The new propositions have been able to set their visions and objectives and drive forward change. Such as:

  • Our digital marketing team has grown from six to 26 people and delivers groundbreaking projects such as helping the Disasters Emergency Committee win a Guinness World Record for fundraising!
  • Our Wagtail proposition, formerly a cost to Torchbox, has opened new revenue streams and is now turning a profit.
  • For our Digital Products proposition, we knew there was an opportunity to do more work with the public sector, so we bought in specialist roles and now 20% of our revenue is from the government and public sector.

Alongside the proposition changes, we created our Trustee Board, formed by four elected people at Torchbox and our founders, Tom and Olly. They govern how we run the company, acting on behalf of all employees and ensuring that we stay true to our vision of ‘securing a happy, healthy, sustainable company run for all its employee owners and the wider good’.

We also have voice groups such as climate action, diversity and inclusion, and wellbeing. Anyone can join and get involved with these, which helps us find ways to listen and understand what people want and push through initiatives and changes that we all believe in.

We want our team to lead and inspire each other, be resilient, reach our full potential, and ultimately be happy in our work, so we also invest in soft skills training and leadership coaching.

These changes in leadership and culture have made us more sustainable, with better communication, and with increased productivity, enabling us to double our profit margin and become financially free within three years!

Looking forward to what’s ahead

Now that we are 100% financially free, we will start looking into how to reinvest some of our £1.9 million annual profit back into the business, focusing on three areas where we have already made significant progress.

  1. Focus on the employee: Over the last two years, we have increased our basic pay for all staff by 20% and improved our bonus packages and benefits (such as maternity pay). We will continue to benchmark our pay and benefits packages and improve these as much as possible to ensure we are one of the best payers in the sector.
  2. Quality of work: We will continue to select our clients based on our values, ensuring we work for organisations that are doing good for the world and on projects our teams find rewarding. We will also be launching our EOT innovation fund – a dedicated £200,000 fund to spend on innovation and R&D projects, commissioned by our staff, clients and environmentally or socially progressive organisations.
  3. Impact: We want Torchbox to have as much impact on the world as possible, not only in the type of work we do but also in ensuring we are good corporate citizens. Including continuing to focus on being a more inclusive employer, which in turn will help the digital sector become more diverse, initially through launching the Torchbox Academy. We will also become a B Corp and continue our Net Zero sustainability drive.

It has been an exciting three years, and it looks set to get even better.

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