Many of us dream the dream of launching our own digital consultancy, building your own brand and creating your own unique selling point within the world of digital marketing. The growing demand for digital skill-sets has arguably assisted the trend in more and more people launching their own ventures. According to a recent survey in the Economist, from the period of 2008 to 2012 there was a 431,000 increase in people working on their own or as a freelancer or consultant with a majority being attributed to the information or communication trades.
To understand just what it’s like for someone to launch their own digital venture from nothing, I caught up with Col Skinner, founder of Manchester based Digital Consultancy, Profoundry. Col provides a fascinating insight into what it was like to go it alone, pitching to clients, building his reputation from scratch and shedding some of his personal opinions on the digital marketing sector as well as some handy tips and advice for newbies launching their digital careers….over to you Col
Tell us a little about Col
I am a driven and slightly out spoken chap who is keen to live my life my own way even when that might be against the grain of normality.
When did your digital career start?
My career started when I got onto a one year PPC Assistant placement scheme run by Mediavest (now Carat). I used this experience to produce my 22,000 word dissertation on search marketing and to gain an agency job on graduation.
Profoundry…can you sell it to us in a Tweet?
Profoundry is an independent digital consultancy helping businesses improve their digital direction through tailored services & training.
You’ve taken the big, bold step in launching your own venture – how has the first year been as a Freelancer?
My first year certainly wasn’t a walk in the park. I had to graft to find clients and to get my name out there. I had to make a lot but whilst earning very little. I believe it was a success but my mistakes taught me a lot for year two.
What have been the biggest challenges for you in going it alone?
I think the biggest challenge has been gaining work/clients without having the freelance reputation and results to properly sell myself.
How do you differentiate yourself from the more established digital marketing agencies?
Well not being an agency makes one big difference. I see myself as a reliable, flexible and personable digital consultant. If you hire me you get me and I don’t pretend to be a team and focus a lot of my time educating the client as it is about producing ROI.
What are the skills you look for in recruiting digital talent?
I have yet to recruit anyone in my own business but have experience of recruitment from previous roles. I look for those with an analytical mind and a clear passion or interest in all things digital. Staff turnover is very high in the digital industry so it’s important to invest in those that appear to have long term potential.
Should higher education (universities) be providing more of a digital marketing syllabus to graduates or should graduates not worry so much about formal qualifications and go work for a start-up?
As someone who did a Marketing degree that contained no digital related modules or syllabus (shocking I know) I think it is really important for higher education establishments to lay the foundations. I believe that my particular degree course at Huddersfield University now includes digital marketing but Im sure many others still don’t.
Digital every element of our personal and working lives. There aren’t many roles today that don’t encompass digital elements in some form. The government should be actively encouraging successful digital evangelists and advocates into the education and skills sector to shape tomorrows students. Particularly when there are reports Europe may have a shortage of up to 900,000 digital professionals by 2020.
How would you suggest a digital marketer develops their career to ensure they keep on top of the breadth of digital channel tactics e.g. Is it time to specialise in a specific vertical or take a broad approach?
I think there is an interesting trend of digital marketers starting to specialise in certain verticals such as CRO, UX or Content Marketing. The industry’s recruitment demand and trends seem to yoyo between a want for ‘full stack’ Digital Marketers knowing a little about a lot and the *insert digital channel* Manager or Executive.
Personally I would recommend those looking to develop their career go for the broad experience approach. Try and gain varied experience in-house, in an agency and with different business types. Become versatile and agile. Learn about everything from email marketing to project management. Specialising may seem logical but what happens if one day you want to try something else and all you know is that specialism?
One of the biggest errors organisations make is jumping into the tactics section. It’s good to see one of the key consultancy areas you provide is Strategy and Planning. Can you provide an overview of what this would cover and key areas for my readers?
I believe success in the digital arena rests firmly on three main pillars; Insight, Strategy and Analysis. Strategy is simply setting out the main elements that will help you succeed or achieve your KPI’s. A business or brand should have an over arching digital strategy and then more specific strategies, examples of which may include:
- Search Marketing Strategy
- Online PR Strategy
- Content Marketing Strategy
- Outreach Strategy
- Site Launch Strategy
Key areas of the above strategies may include timescales, competitor benchmarking, creative ideas, SWOT analysis and budget considerations. Take into account stakeholders, client assets, USPs, target audience, performance tracking and KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators).
What’s on your reading list?
I would like to answer this in true digital marketing fashion by referring to my aptly named “20 Blogs To Blow Your Digital Socks Off” blog post.
Who are your respected people in digital worth following/subscribing to?
Oooh that’s a tricky one as there’s a ton of influencers, preachers and commentators in the digital marketing industry. Amongst others, I closely follow the thoughts and shares of the following folks:
- Dan Barker – @djbarker
- Tony Dimmock – @Tony_DWM
- Pritesh Patel – @priteshpatel9
- Rand Fishkin – @ Randfish
- Aleyda Solis – @aleyda
- Chris Lake – @lakey
- Gareth James – @SEO_Doctor
- Ian Anderson Gray – @iagdotme
Any advice for a newbie digital marketer learning the trade?
I guess I would have to draw on some of my own learning’s throughout my years in digital. Collaborate as closely as you can with your agency client or in-house organisation. Try and base any decisions on the three pillars I mentioned earlier; Insight, Strategy and Analysis.
Utilise data to backup your points or plans whenever or wherever you can. Educate the client on why you are doing something, not just what or how. Avoid industry jargon when discussing things with stakeholders or clients. Lastly, for god’s sake stay away from selling or doing any negative SEO or blackhat techniques.