My name is Max Shaw. I'm the Co-founder and Managing Director of ESPH, a Health and Fitness business with one site in London. We are a family-owned business and currently employ 47 people. My day-to-day involvement includes finance, marketing, operations and HR.

We have been working with Evoke for just over five months now. When we got them on board, the business was in a very difficult place. We had severe cash flow pressure, owed money to HMRC, and were behind with the rent and a number of other payments. The transition since Evoke arrived has been pronounced and has made a significant difference to how we run the business, and how it feels to run the business. From an initial conversation with Rob and Keith, we made a decision to engage them for half a day a week. 

We meet as a management team to set an agenda for the forthcoming week and we have additional phone contact with Keith whenever we need it. He and I tend to check in at least once or twice a week, so we feel that presence and they're a great resource. They are very generous with their time, so you don't get the sense that they're watching the clock and only giving you half-day a week, but that there is continuous support.

The transition since Evoke arrived has been pronounced and has made a significant difference to how we run the business, and how it feels to run the business.

The three owners of the business do not have a financial background, so the biggest thing that Evoke has brought is financial discipline, but Keith is much more than an accountant. He has a great breadth of business experience across all sorts of different industries. He is also a good human as well as being a good finance manager, but fundamentally Evoke has added rigor and structure to our reporting, cash flow management and management accounts, which has enabled us to move to a position being able to look forward and plan strategically, rather than just putting out fires, which is where we were 5-6 months ago. 

We have had a series of issues over the years and thought we were going to lose the business and potentially our house, because we were the only investors. Unfortunately, you become a little bit punch-drunk when you've been hit repeatedly and it’s difficult to see with any degree of clarity or objectivity what you're doing wrong and how to put it right. It's exacerbated by being a family business, so having an outsider provides clarity and perspective, which has enabled us to move to a more business-like footing and compartmentalize our working and personal relationship.

We have long wanted a non-exec Finance Director, but we thought we couldn't afford it. Of course, like a lot of things in life, once you start doing it you realize that you can't afford not to do it. If we had done it sooner, we probably would have managed to avoid many of the pitfalls that we've fallen into over the years. 

I run most things past Keith – financial planning, financial management, strategy, business development – as he's an invaluable sounding board. He is always very concise and clear and direct with his advice. The discipline of someone who holds you to account has been revolutionary for us. When you own and work in a business, on an equal footing with other members of your family, it's easy to let each other off the hook, and very often the emotions take precedence over what's best for the business. Having an outsider who is objective and dispassionate has made a massive difference.

Max Sharp, ESPH
Co-founder & Managing Director