Today Brightspark has been in business for 18 years. Pre-social. Almost even re-digital. Some reflections on the ride so far to help you if you are thinking of starting your own business. 💪
Be very good at what you do, and if you are, the chances are, you will love doing it!
1. YOU HAVE A CHOICE!
This is the most important element for anyone as they start their career – they all have a choice. The employer is not the one with the power – we all have a choice. I used to think that employers were the all-powerful ones until I became one myself and I realised how much I rely on staff to assist me. You have a choice. While you may think the employer is the ruler of your destiny, it’s not. You can work where you want and enjoy your work. The choice really is yours!
Realising that you have the power and that you love what you do is a really good destination if you’re at the start of your career.
Realising that you no longer love what you do, and changing to something else might be another destination.
Mini Case Study:
Zanya Dahl ran a really successful web design company and I always admired their work. A couple of years ago, she decided she was done with running an agency and had a massive internal calling back to art. She started wrapping up projects and informing clients in late 2019. She began her new career as a painter in March 2020, and needs to be commended for best timing of the pandemic!
2. HIRE PEOPLE SOONER
Get people in to help you by doing the things you don’t love to do. But that doesn’t mean you have to possess a large office in the city where people have to come to. We’ve worked with talented international people over the years, and it really doesn’t matter whether someone is based in Spain, Portugal, Brazil or Australia, just as long as you are really clear on the brief and deadlines are set to allow for time differences.
Strive for a feeling of “flow” in your everyday work and with your team. Learn things together.
We set up “R&D Thursdays” way back in 2005 where we’d down tools on client projects, pick a theme to explore on a Thursday afternoon and learn new things.
If you can’t afford to run one weekly, at aim for once every six months or after every large project ends. Sit down and review learnings, how to improve, and we even write up our learnings into blog posts that we share here and across social media.
Ensure the team are congratulated for their successes and highlighted to the rest of the team to inspire the team. Train your staff, ask opinions, thoughts, do not take criticism personally if you really want to grow and learn.
Back when Web 2.0 was being born, we got into exploring. This was the shift that we needed to move out of SEO oriented marketing and into the new and emerging social media-land.
There was a mushrooming of communities around all sorts of interests. If you wanted to join a group and talk about books, you now had a social networking site to go to. (Goodreads – what a tragedy its Facebook login never worked!). Photographers could share images on Flickr. Cooks could share recipes. Does anyone remember a very early Eoghan McCabe app where you inputted items from your fridge and it scanned the web to find you recipes?
Apart from the strong sense of community and ‘anything can happen and get made’, I particularly enjoyed the design styles that were taking over at that time from the more rigid top and side bar navigation.
The Brightspark blog was always sharing and commenting on “things to do running a business in Internet Marketing”, and collaborating since we started the blog. Social media was a natural extension of that.
3. TOOLS & TECH
Be a lover of technology. Be a first mover, early adopter for the things that matter to you the most.
While we are not all natural lovers of technology, open the mind and listen and learn. Practise, ask questions, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Technology is the future and will help your business and career to thrive. I can say with confidence that this approach has saved my business thousands over the years by making us more efficient and taking away the costs of some of the manual processes.
One of the first memorable cost-savings I can remember was when I switched over to Skype for international calls in 2004. At the time I was working with an Indian developer and my phone bills used to cost €56 per phone call to India. The month I switched to Skype, I saved hundreds of Euros. Gradually other people got over the fact that you were calling from a private number, so we could use Skype for all our business calls.
I was amongst the first to use Zapier (got rewarded with an always free plan!), Basecamp (got an ipad), Twitter in the very early days when it was a community, and of course this blog!
When I started the business, websites were rather more static, and were built to be unchanging from one month to another. Blogs were just about to become a thing, so it was a bold move to add a blog to my site that I regularly updated. Right from the start, I wrote about how we do things, what made my business tick – you might call it, sharing the brand story, except we didn’t have a brand.
Fact: I didn’t fully understand what a brand was until about 2009!
Now I’m investigating ai-powered design and creation tools. I’m really interested in synthetic media, and I’m saving the summer months to really take in a book by Nina Schick called “Deep Fakes: The Coming Infoclypse”.
Finding a set of true thought leaders you follow to learn from is crucial. I’m so glad I found people like Mark Schaefer and Jay Baer at a time when people were shouting loudly about Gary V whose book ‘jab jab jab’ simply translated “The Cluetrain Manifesto” into social media.
4. BE CLEAR ON YOUR IDEAL CLIENT
And if they’re not one, have the courage to not take them on.
Learning to say no is an important step in developing your business.
It happened to me around year 3 and coincided with exponential growth.
What I look for in a client is a vision, some plans that we can work on together, and mutual respect. And I’ve been so lucky to work with lovely people over the years: ideas people from the many types of businesses we’ve provided marketing services for. Large and small. Global and local. Variety of sectors, the roles of the people buying, the politics! I admire people who successfully manage the politics that can go on.
What I really look for in a client is that they ‘get digital’, even just a little bit.
They don’t have to be able to create anything themselves, but it makes it so much easier when they really understand the value, as well as the costs involved with digital marketing. Social media can amplify any message and our marketing experience can drive you leads. This happens most when the client is clear on their vision and business, and are willing and able to articulate it.
5. REGRETS, I'VE HAD A FEW
I wish I had built my own social media channels and drove the numbers up high from the start, instead of working with clients to build theirs. While it was a joy to be on the Tourism Ireland team when they hit a million followers, years later when I was building my own Facebook audience for my course I was mortified because I was coming from such a low base.
There have been a few jobs that have netted thousands (hundreds of!) for my clients in leads, and because I priced based on trading time, I overlooked the opportunity to earn way more money if I had priced based on % of revenue generated.
I wish I could come up with more, but I can’t. I’m sure there are plenty but I’ve just blocked them out of my mind! My business coach would probably say I haven’t productised enough. My accountant would probably say I haven’t invested in enough fixed assets. But what matters to me is that I have managed to live and work in Brazil, Australia, Portugal and more recently Tenerife thanks to Brightspark. I’ve earned enough to raise my son and have a good life comfortably. I’ve given lots of talented people a really good start in their careers. And I’ve always bounced out of bed in the morning.
If you are starting out on your career path, look for something that gives you bounce.
Don’t be afraid to make an about turn and follow another path if a job is not giving you energy.
Always be learning.
Learn from those above you and those coming up behind you.
With that – I’m joining our intern for a call now on how we can get started on TikTok – he’s leading! I’ve committed to 18 days of TikToks in an experimental vibe, just to see what happens.