“I didn't realise the extent of expertise that Fortus could bring to the table – with their impressive range of added value services" Craig Nolan, Managing Director, InterkeyFind out more
It takes vision to fabricate business success in a constantly shifting economic landscape says Interkey Managing Director, Craig Nolan. You need partners with the expertise to help you take educated risks
Interkey’s been building large steel structures across the UK since the early noughties, mainly for food sector clients. It initially focused on delivering successful fabrication projects, but in recent years has used its connections to open the door to turnkey contracting opportunities. The result, according to Managing Director Craig Nolan, is expected turnover of £7 million in 2020.
It’s an exciting business model, says Craig, because he’s able to make the most of existing relationships, without the burden of additional overheads.
The value of diversification is a lesson he’s learned the hard way. Early on, the business had become heavily factored to invest and grow, he says. But once recession hit, all it took was a delayed payment from a large client and an unsympathetic bank for the business to be at significant risk.
Today, with expert, insightful support from Fortus, the business is now debt-free. “We use our own money to grow, which gives us the power to choose who we work with,” he says.
Advisors who are part of the ‘family’
There’s been a few versions of the business over the years, with directors coming and going, but in the end it’s always been Craig’s ‘baby’. That’s why he works with experts who act like they’re part of the ‘family’.
“When I realised the range of expertise that the team at Fortus brings – with their additional advisory services in compliance, HR, tax, finance and more – it was obvious we’d get all the benefits of a bigger firm, with the personal service of a smaller firm,” he explains.
Robust information and processes
“You need robust management information and processes to measure the success of your business. Fortus ensures we keep more up-to-date records, manage our cashflow and control spending. These are just a few areas they’ve helped us transform. As a result, we know exactly where we are as a business.”
An instrumental role
Just because you’re running a big business doesn’t mean you know all the answers, Craig says. “Sanjay isn’t scared to tell me my latest idea isn’t great,” he laughs. “But for my better ideas, he knows the right people to advise us, and then helps us move forward and achieve our ambitions.”
Fortus continues to play an instrumental role in helping Interkey build robust foundations so it’s ready to grow to the next level.
“I’m a bit of a control freak,” admits Craig. “That means there’s a genuine risk I’m controlling too many facets of the business and creating a single point of failure.”
He adds that Fortus has helped him identify where he has great people in the business that he can delegate to, and where he needs to find new talent to recruit into key roles.
“I find it hard to let others hold the reins, so it’s been invaluable to have Fortus pushing this agenda,” he says. “The team at Fortus has supported us as we push the team to meet and spend more time on planning and we use them in a Non-Executive Director capacity. We’re now thinking more about where we want the business to go.” Craig says.
R&D tax relief
Fortus quickly identified that Interkey’s innovative, bespoke creations represented genuine sector innovation. “The result is that we’ve been able to claim £100,000 a year in R&D Tax Relief,” says Craig.
“Our previous accountant said we didn’t even qualify – that was eye opening in itself.”
Preparing for a contracting sector
The impact of IR35 tax law changes, which shift responsibility for deciding whether contractors are operating inside or outside of the normal employment frameworks – is still to be seen. “We rely heavily on contractors, so we’ve been proactive in making sure they take on the responsibility and are behaving like businesses, not employees,” Craig explains.
“It’s a challenging time in construction and it’s hard to attract talent in this sector. Most engineers want to be self-employed, so we rely on Fortus to keep us on track as the implications of changes in tax law become apparent.”
Craig’s noticed a shift in culture too: “Clients aren’t as loyal to their fabricators and are demanding more for less money. Contracting is a becoming more important and where the most opportunity lies.”
Fortunately, Interkey’s well set up for expansion, as it currently rents out 40% of its commercial property – allowing plenty of flexibility around future contracts. And, thanks to its contacts in the industry, it can sub-contract fabrication work out to meet demanding deadlines. “Margins aren’t as good, but it means we can deliver for our clients,” Craig adds.
Today, you’ll find Interkey’s creations transforming the skylines at some of the UK’s best-known sporting destinations, from Twickenham and London Olympic Park to Tottenham Hotspurs innovative stadium. Times may be good, says Craig, but he never forgets that he almost had to blow the final whistle during the recession. And that Fortus was there throughout to help him rebuild a business that’s now stronger than ever.
the benefits of advice
It’s great to work with someone like Craig who’s so passionate about his work. He’s tremendously loyal, and very focused on his people. And that’s a good thing at a time when the business needs skilled talent to evolve and grow.
Initially, he was reluctant to move from using the services of a bookkeeper to taking on a business advisory and accountancy firm, but he’s since realised the scope of our services and how we can guide him through the complex business of expanding.
That’s also why I see the biggest challenge on the horizon coming from the recent changes to our IR35 tax laws. As the implications make themselves known, I look forward to helping Craig mitigate this risk as he continues to make the most of the opportunities in the contracting side of the business.
I’ve convinced Craig and his team to spend more time on planning for their future. They’ve already begun to wow clients with the latest 3D rendering of their future fabrications, and I can’t wait to see where they take the business next.
“Fortus continues to play an instrumental role in helping Interkey build robust foundations so we’re ready to grow to the next level”
Craig Nolan Managing Director, Interkey