The Digital Marketing industry is full of individuals that work either in-house or agency side, that want to take the jump and go on their own. For most, this is a dream that is never realised, but for some this has become a reality.
Over the last six months, I have been asked by a number of people both locally and well known within the SEO industry whether I would go on my own, especially since the changes at SEOptimise. In the past I helped start a search marketing agency in Hertfordshire, but I don’t think I would do that again.
I might consider consulting in the future, as I like the freedom of working on my own-time, in a place that I feel productive, which for me can change quite regularly. With that said, I am happy with my role at SEOptimise, and I have lots of things I want to achieve there before I think about that more seriously.
Two guys that did take that step, are James Carson & Marcus Taylor who both took the decision to start their own businesses with Carson Content and Venture Harbour respectively. I managed to ask both James and Marcus questions about starting their business, generating sales, reputation and their ambitions below.
Daniel: Hi guys, thanks for your time. Can you give us a bit of background about you, and your business?
James – I’ve been involved with web content since the start of my career, having been an English graduate. I worked as a writer and editor for a few companies, including Greenlight (the search agency which led me towards SEO) and SEGA (which led me towards social media and gaming communities). I then worked at Bauer Media at rose to Head of Digital Marketing. Just recently, I decided to start my own consultancy – Carson Content – focusing on Content Strategy… which basically means I focus on helping business plan and govern their content to build audience.
Marcus – I’m a bit shy when it comes to talking about myself, but there’s an overview of what I do and who I am here. My company, Venture Harbour helps companies in the music business grow their businesses online.
Daniel: What was the driving factor about wanting to start your own business?
James – I guess it’s always been an ambition. I’ve always been someone who takes their own way. I never really felt cut out for working in an organisation on a path that wasn’t under my control.
Marcus – For me personally, it started out as a desire for more freedom and control over how I spend my days – I have an enormous passion for digital marketing and the music industry, but I wanted to ensure that every piece of work I put out into the World was exceptional and not limited by the number of hours I could invest in it. Setting up my own business has enabled me to work in a way that helps me to do better work and be more useful.
Daniel: How long had you been thinking of setting up a business before you did?
James – It’s always been there, but probably about 18 months before I left my last position I’d been considering taking the plunge seriously, and so started building towards it.
Marcus – Well, in a way I’ve been running businesses since I was 16 – they just weren’t anything formal! For me, setting up a business has never been a leap of faith – it’s more just a technicality that becomes true the moment someone starts paying you for what you do. When I was 17 I got really into DJ’ing, and after a year or so friends of friends were asking me to DJ their parties for money – turning my hobby into a business.
I’ve been helping music companies and practicing digital marketing for years, and I had never really considered what I did on the side as a business, but when I got back from a year abroad in November I decided to formalise what I was doing and set up a company – Venture Harbour was then incorporated a few weeks later.
Daniel: What steps did you take before making the jump into self-employment
James – Networking! Before I really thought about going solo, I never considered much point in networking. But then I started blogging, spoke at events and talked to people afterwards, I discovered there’s a huge range of opportunity to be made out of the people you meet. I was fortunate because I was at a large company with large brands that could give me leverage, and thus met a great network quickly. I now think a reliable network is the most important thing in climbing any career path – it throws up such a range of possible opportunities that would otherwise be unknown.
Marcus – It wasn’t a very clear-cut ‘jump’ for me – it was more like four years of gradual learning and testing various ideas that eventually ended up in setting up a company! In terms of the things that had the biggest impact on setting up the company, they’d probably be the vast amount of books I’ve read, which gave me a lot of confidence that i’d be okay at running a business, and getting my financial shit together was important. Having enough in the bank to cover you if you have a bad month or few months is so important. It stops you thinking week to week and helps you think longer-term, where the bigger opportunities lie.
Daniel: How have you found generating business, since setting up?
James – I’ve only been going a month, so it’s not been too much about that yet. I made sure I took measures long before leaving salaried work that would guarantee my position for 6 months, no matter what happened. But through being able to take a day here and there to focus on talking to people about how I can help them, a few extra jobs have come. I think you have to accept that these things grow, and you’ll be very fortunate to go solo and find yourself inundated. It’s nice to have time to focus on activity not solely concentrated on driving revenue, but is still promotional!
Marcus – It’s been fine. I’m not an aggressive salesman or anything – to me it’s more important to get the right clients slowly than to get a lot of clients as quickly as possible, so generating new business is more a case of doing great work and building reputation over the long-term.
Daniel: What have you done to promote yourself/business?
James – I networked a lot. I went to every digital marketing event I knew about in London and which was reasonable for me to go to – which I think amounted to about 20 last year. I was fortunate enough to speak at 10 of those so that helped me. I also believe backing yourself up in blogging is a good way, but moving beyond your own blog is vital. I’ve respected blogs like Econsultancy and State of Search since I started reading them, and I’m glad to say I now contribute. Platforms like these have such great established audiences, that it’s a better way to get noticed by contributing to them in my opinion. It took a long time to get noticed by the editors of them, but if you do the right things, then it can happen.
Marcus – As mentioned above, the main focus for me in terms of promoting the business is ensuring that my existing clients will recommend me. I speak at a number of events, write for various blogs, and attend a lot of meet-ups, but to be honest i’d be doing that stuff anyway.
Daniel: Do you think having a good reputation is a key factor for setting up a business?
James – Absolutely. Without it I’d never have bothered. Having authority and trust is essential in digital media – don’t go alone without at least some inkling you have these attributes from a good network.
Marcus – If your business is operating a toll-gate then maybe not, but for me it’s tremendously important. Having a good reputation enables you to justify your costs, win potential clients much easier, and also feel much better about the work you do.
Daniel: What advice would you give someone thinking of setting up a business or becoming a sole-trader?
James – Start building your contacts and network at least a year before you go alone, otherwise you’ll probably have too many lonely days starting out. Also, that your working hours are completely out of sync with everyone else.
Marcus – Try to get your finances together, test your idea with a minimum viable product to ensure people want (and are willing to pay you for) the service or product you’re offering, fail as quickly as possible to learn what will work before you run out of cash / time, improve your reading speak and raid the business section at your library, do things scares you, dream big.
Daniel: What do you want to achieve from your business?
James – Honestly, I just want to get a feel for it. I will be going at least a year – if I feel this is the right path for me, with more opportunity, then I’ll continue to pursue it. I suppose a dream is simply to run an ethical business that can grow well.
Marcus – I believe Venture Harbour can be the best all-round digital marketing service for companies in the music & entertainment industries. I mean that sincerely. I am very passionate about the music industry clients I work with and I truly believe that what I can offer them is exceptional compared to anything that currently exists. Besides that vision for the company, my personal goals are to continue putting dinner on the table and being useful and meaningful to others.
Have you been thinking of going on your own? Has the information that James & Marcus have provided given you food for thought? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.