- Names: Penny Bailey
- Business: Bailey Solutions
- Role(s): Managing Director
- Business function: Library software development
- Sector: Software development
- Hub member since 2006
What follows is an interview with Penny Bailey by fellow MDHUB member Kate Bendix for Platinum Business Magazine, no. 100.
“When I was a kid, I took out my full quota of books from the library every week and devoured the lot. Books gave me the foundation for a life of curiosity allowing me to flourish. Books are a conduit to so much more outside the four walls of a library.”
Starting out as an academic librarian, she moved into setting up libraries within law firms where none had previously existed. “Their libraries were two dimensional and there was no proper library system designed for them.” So Penny taught herself programming and developed one. I told you she was interesting.
A few libraries and programme iterations later, Penny was forced to leave her job after being sexually harassed to the point of quitting. A single mum-of-two with a mortgage, she had no option but to crack on and set up shop as a library consultant, and offered freelance programming services to businesses.
It was a success, but writing tailored computer programs didn’t make financial sense. Rehashing the same product was costly, time consuming and annoying.
So, she repackaged her library system as a standalone product and voilà, an entrepreneur was born and, in typical entrepreneurial style, she went against convention from the start. As a customer herself, Penny was sick to the back teeth of being held hostage by a salesperson every time she enquired after a service, so made her pricing transparent. It was 1999 and no one did this. But as most Brits would rather open their mouths for a root canal than ask “How much?”, business boomed.
Cometh the hour, cometh the woman
The 2008 recession changed everything. She had been a member of the MDHUB since 2006, and the peer group advice and support proved invaluable. Penny let 60% of her staff go, slashed costs and – you guessed it – diversified.
Bailey Solutions moved into schools, businesses and community libraries, blowing the competition out of the water by offering better products for less. The Simple Little Library System offers cataloguing, loans, searching and more to everyone from collectors to churches to law firms.
It’s also a highly configurable library management system used equally by a brick manufacturer who loans out brick samples, and a textile retailer who loans fabric samples to the film industry. Because the system can be customised, you can rename a book a brick. How brilliant is that?
The newest product, KnowAll Matrix, is more powerful and sophisticated, and aimed at larger libraries; government agencies and public sector libraries.
What’s unique about Penny’s business is that it works in the round. Whatever system she applies to a product benefits the end user and the company. They stopped travelling to see customers, and put a human on the end of a phone – garnering a 99% retention rate. They switched to digital marketing, stopped attending trade fairs, with exceptionally sub-par hotel breakfasts you had to force down because you knew it was 15 hours till dinner!
In 2015, Penny toyed with the idea of selling the business and attended one of Phil Green’s MDHUB workgroups on exit strategies. She realised the business wasn’t ready; there was too much code spread far too thinly, using a development tool Microsoft was withdrawing. Phil suggested to Penny that she ‘gets her house in order first’.
She re-engineered the company infrastructure, rewrote the code and the software, and hosted the lot in the cloud. Now it’s “software as a service,” highly configurable with a template suitable for all markets. The Simple Little Library System works like Spotify; sign in and personalise it.
One advantage to the cloud is installations and updates are automated so there’s nothing for the customers’ IT to do. Now, customers rarely get stuck; offsetting hosting costs, raising profits and customer loyalty. Two years later she was ready to sell.
In 2022 Penny sold Bailey Solutions to a Canadian company that serves Canada, Australia and the rest of North America. Once again, Phil Green of MDHUB helped Penny get the business ready for sale through the due diligence and sale valuation, and supported her through the negotiations.
Her company now serves 20 countries. She says it’s odd being the MD and having a boss, but also a relief. “How do you retire when you have your own business? My products thrive, my staff have jobs, my boss respects me and I work four days a week.”
“I’ve belonged to MDHUB for over 15 years and made genuine friends. It’s helped in unexpected ways through peer support, the recession, and ultimately, selling the business.”
Oh, and FYI, Penny’s daughters grew up to be a GP and a PhD researcher respectively – because they went to the library and took out all the books.