Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with JJ Associates International
Today I’m speaking to JJ Associates International, a husband and wife team from Bradford who now work internationally. Today they’re speaking to use from their European base in Portugal.
JJ Associates International, established in 1987, is owned by Phil and Yin Johnson.
Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business.
Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with your partner/family member?
For me it has been something I have known all my life. My parents were the some of the first Chinese people that came to the UK and were in business together running a food stuffs shop that supplied restaurants throughout Yorkshire as well as their own restaurant and take away. Family business is something I grew up with.
However, taking over JJ Associates International required a career change and grassroots training in a area I knew nothing about. I was reluctant at first. I overcame these obstacles and gained training and knowledge of the law and legal fields with some great people and companies and haven’t looked back since. In fact I am very proud to say that in the first year of taking over the business, Phil and I trebled the annual turnover and gained a new client base.
The opportunity to work together in this industry came from a telephone call from a long-time friend who I had worked with in the investigations and credit rating business. This friend was retiring and offered me the chance to take over his business, JJ Associates International.
My very first job was as an office boy in a detective agency and credit rating company in Bradford. The grounding I gained in that role, including shorthand, typing and outside investigation experience, gave me a real opportunity for the future.
Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together?
Very much so. Working with someone close to you can be problematic, however we are both very positive thinkers and up beat. We both have our areas of strength and deal with different areas of the business. It’s been the way we have worked from the beginning. Phil’s previous experience was invaluable at the start. The business has evolved and totally changed from day one, and we do feel we are at the forefront of our industry. We are specialists in providing international coverage and have networked and travelled extensively together to achieve this.
As you can imagine, I was very enthusiastic about taking on the company because of my previous experiences. I thought it would be hard to convince Yin that our future was in an industry she had never been involved with, especially as it sounded like the premise of a TV series! As usual it was no problem and she is amazing in our company.
What kind of business planning did you do?
Our main plan in the beginning was to grow the business. This we achieved: we became one of the leading firm of legal support agents in the Yorkshire area and we had numerous sub-contracted agents dealing with cases for us nationwide.
Over the years we could see that there were big changes taking place in the industry. This was due to law firms merging and changes in legislation, the data protection act, privacy laws and human rights. Of course, changes in the financial market also affected company budgets, and cases were being handled in bulk at discounted prices.
At the same time, in the early 90s a huge thing changed: technology! We needed to retrain ourselves. This was really the start of JJ Associates International as the business it is today. Planning to buy the first computer for the office was exciting and has proved to be one of the most important ways we have evolved.
Our visits to the USA and being part of our business community there has taught us both a lot about our business and professionalism in our industry as investigators. We are members of many of the state associations there and continue to learn and speak at conferences there.
The business planning initially from my point of view was to re-establish and re-connect with all the contacts in the legal and business profession that I had when I previously worked in the industry. Fortunately many of them were still there and some had risen through the ranks ad were able to use their influence to recommend us to their clients.
Our business planning now continues in making certain we keep monitoring the way the information market is changing and keeping up with it. Of course we are no longer restricted to the UK, so that means working in different time zones. We also work to make the best of the technology that is available.
Would you say that you and your partner have similar strengths or different ones?
We certainly have different strengths and abilities.
I organise and delegate well, which I was required to do each and every day in the beginning, with regard to the route planning and case load distribution nationwide. In addition to this, I was the surveillance operative for many of the insurance fraud matters. I would be out at different locations with my video camera and camera waiting for the evidence. Most of the time I used covert surveillance, but on occasion I was out in the open. I was rarely challenged as my cover was a stereotypical Chinese tourist: loaded up with my camera I had a pass to almost any place without question! We were proud to be one of the only companies to offer this service to our insurance company clients.
I am also a speaker of different languages and have used this in translation matters, especially when it comes to Chinese/Cantonese. One of the high street banks would use me for most of their translation or undercover matters of investigation. It also worked with normal undercover cases as I don’t necessarily look like what people expect when they hear ‘Mrs Johnson’. This has worked tremendously well for information gathering.
I did thoroughly enjoy working surveillance matters and on numerous visits have assisted our American colleagues whilst on visits there, which has brought back memories. We now have teams of operatives that we use for these matters worldwide, with up to the minute equipment and technology.
More recently I deal with all the organisation of our travel plans, flights, accommodation and city and country knowledge, including language.
I have a passion for the technology and have done since the inception of the internet. I knew and fully believed that within a few short years of it being more prevalent every household and business would have an access to information that previously they could only dream of.
I made it my purpose to make certain that JJ Associates International had a presence on as many social media platforms as possible. We were one of the first members on LinkedIn. This was because we realised it wasn’t a threat to share information, but to quote a friend of ours: together we are better. I have the confidence to know that there are enough opportunities to go around, especially when you cover the world as we do.
I cannot take all the credit for this, but I did realise early on that it was very important to create a brand image and as the USA was becoming our main market place in the last few years, we knew we needed to have an attention-grabbling look.
Yin developed our graphic branding to convey this message and I now only wear Hawaiian shirts, even with a business suit! This has proved a very successful way to get attention for myself and our business.
We use the same profile pictures for all our media and brand images and this is really very important for our online presence. We also use Facebook Business pages to promote our image and services as do many forward thinking clients.We also use LinkedIn as a CV and Twitter every day to promote our company.
What has been the biggest challenge to you for working together?
Being patient! I think we will both agree on this one.
I agree with Yin! I also try (but do not always succeed) to think before I speak. This is true not just of working together as a couple, but as a general rule I have found during our 28 years in business.
What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?
I think it’s being able to convey our business across continents and make our business fit in with how we wish to live. It has it’s ups and downs as all businesses and self employed people will agree, but we enjoy a lot of freedom purely because of technology and now social media, which we both love. We are available all times of day or night which is something our clients like, we have in-depth knowledge of various places in the world as we have experienced them as locals rather than tourists. We are very flexible which we have to be as working with people in different time zones can be a challenge, but it works for us. Our social time may be different to everyone else’s as we can be handling matters at any time. Most of our family and friends understand this.
Many of our achievements during the past years have really sprung from the reach that JJ Associates International have gained and the trust our clients place in our company. Some of the most satisfying achievements have been non-financial. We were involved as instigators of a further investigation in the USA which prompted the release of an inmate who had been convicted several years previously. We have also handled cases in many countries that achieved the returning of children to their lawful guardian after the breach of court orders. Our normal day to day activity continues, in my opinion, to be our biggest achievement as we never know who is going to ask us to do what next. The mere fact that some of the most high profile and largest corporations in the world continue to ask Phil and Yin Johnson of J J Associates International to assist is mind blowing to me!
Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business?
I would say that yes we have changed, but that would happen as part of life. We are fortunate to be able to spend time together both with work and outside of that, and business certainly doesn’t get in the way, it’s actually our way of life.
We are so much more confident in our relationship outside of business and I believe it is our ongoing experiences doing so many different things within the business that has enabled us to develop this attitude. It is a real pleasure to share these experiences together Have you made use of any outside resources to support you? If so, were they helpful?
People in our business, especially from the USA, have proved to be invaluable to us as a company with our continued education in this industry. We have found the American Investigators a great group of people who are willing to share and learn together in order to move forward. We have learnt a lot from their forward and positive thinking attitude.
What advice would you give to other couples/families who are thinking of starting a business?
It’s a big decision to make and to be with your other half can be very testing 24/7. It can also be very rewarding. There are lots of factors to take into consideration. Working together is not like being together, our work ‘head’ is very different to our relationship ‘head’: your feelings will be knocked along the way so you must think about that too.
Phil and I work together within the business but are not ‘joined at the hip’. We have very different ideas and sometimes we do clash! This would happen in business with any other colleague so you have to remember that, and try to pocket your ego.
My advice would be to define your roles, and to remember roles do change from time to time.
I would advise any couple who have some exciting plans together to go ahead and develop them. The world has changed and you cannot rely on a job for life anymore. If you have the foresight and confidence go for it! Before taking the plunge make sure you do your research and see if there is any way you can make your company stand out from the rest. Be understanding with each other and realise even couples are different people. Think before you speak and when you do talk to each other only use positive terms, that way you will both always feel good about the way ahead.
Do you have any future developments you would like to share?
Yes, 2015 is going to be very exciting. We will be continuing with our involvement with another Yorkshire couple who work together, Bob & Carol Bridgestock. They are crime writers and TV storyline consultants who have written and published 5 books so far about DI Jack Dylan. The sixth is being published and the launch date in May 2015. They are the advisors for Happy Valley TV program which was aired last year and achieved much acclaimed reviews and awards with the writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. They also advise on storylines for Red Productions which produces Scott and Bailey. Our involvement is actually as characters in their book series! We were introduced in their fifth book Reprobates. We will also feature in the sixth book as assistants to DI Jack Dylan who will be solving a crime in Hong Kong.
We are really positive about 2015 as it will be a fantastic year of opportunity for us. As well as what Yin has outlined which is so exciting, we have have also been involved with some investigator colleagues in the USE with their Radio/Podcast. They are setting up a new venture called Global Investigators Media Group and I have been asked to get involved and possible become a host on one of their shows. We can’t wait to get started.
If you’d like to find out more about JJ Associates International, you can find them online at www.jjassociatesinternational.com. You can also find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JJAssociatesInternational, Twitter at @jjassociatesYin and @philjjassociate, and at LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/yinjohnson and www.linkedin.com/in/philipjohnson.
Thank you for speaking to us Yin and Phil!
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