Sam Charles is the founder of Float Digital Marketing Ltd, a digital marketing agency. She is the winner in the Sage Ambition competition, which had a prize of a business advice meeting with entrepreneur Peter Jones. Here, she talks about her business and shares advice on challenges she’s overcome and how her ambition has kept her going.
Prior to starting my own business, I worked in the digital marketing industry for six years. I gained experience both in-house and within agencies, managing and delivering campaigns for small start-ups through to Fortune 500 brands in a range of B2B and B2C industries.
In 2013 I launched a UK lifestyle blog that soon transformed into a successful advertising vehicle. The website was a place to flex my creative muscles, exercise my marketing knowledge and generate a side-income alongside my day job. It was shortlisted in the Myprotein Fitness Awards and featured in Feedspot’s roundup of top lifestyle blogs.
Being offered free holidays, gifts and generating a modest five-figure passive income as a blogger was great. But most importantly, I found an entrepreneurial spirit inside of me that I didn’t know existed. This was far more exciting than any parcel I received in the post.
My day job took up so much of my time, I couldn’t focus on my own projects anymore because I was so exhausted. I was left always wondering what I could achieve if I were to go it alone.
The prospect of not having a guaranteed income every month to cover my mortgage was terrifying; however the fear of not trying and living to regret it was much greater. Armed with drive and experience, I launched Float Digital in May 2016.
Float Digital is an award-winning digital marketing agency offering SEO, Google Ads and content. We partner with some of the most exciting brands in the world to deliver jargon-free search marketing campaigns that work.
We’ve helped hundreds of clients, from London to New York, make their way to page one of Google with minimal fuss. The results? Sales that skyrocket, greater brand awareness and increased visibility over competitors, as well as maximised conversions, every time.
7 pieces of advice to overcome business challenges
1. Don’t let perfection cripple you
Nothing will make your heart sink quicker than seeing a typo on your website or in an email to a prospective client. Everybody is human and mistakes happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself – it’ll destroy your confidence and you’ll gradually begin avoiding particular tasks, which will slow down business.
Most importantly, if you waited for something to be perfect before you showed it to the world, nothing would ever get done. First, put yourself out there and then you can begin working towards making it perfect.
If you know there’s something that often catches you out, find a way to tackle the problem before it arises. For example, we work closely with a professional proofreader on our official documents and pitches. This way we have peace of mind that any mistakes will be taken care of, long before the client sees them.
2. Never try to be the cheapest in the market
It can be tempting to drop your price to secure a client but once you start reducing your price, you begin devaluing your offering.
If your unique selling point is price, you need to re-evaluate your business model. This isn’t just because it’s a slow process building a business on small margins but because there will always be somebody cheaper than you.
In the search marketing industry, there is always going to be another company offering the same services at a lower price. But although our pricing is competitive, it isn’t what sets us apart. We’re experts in what we do, and we focus on quality and transparency.
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3. Outsource tasks that aren’t worth your time
Outsourcing our finances to a bookkeeper and an accountant was a huge weight off my mind. Taxes aren’t my area of expertise, so finding a partner to support us in this area was a no-brainer.
Hiring experts to support us with other areas of the business didn’t come as easily though. With my broad marketing and sales experience, I felt as though paying somebody to do tasks that I could do myself was a waste of money. This was short-sighted and it only took 10 minutes for one of my business mentors to convince me why.
Time is precious and time is limited. There are only so many hours in the day and running a business is a big job. Outsource anything you can (to trusted suppliers), freeing up your hours for projects that only you can do.
The added bonus? This means you won’t be working on things you don’t want to, so you can dedicate time doing the things that drive your ambition.
4. If your client won’t agree to a 50% deposit upfront, they probably don’t have the intention to ever pay you.
A fellow director once told me if a client isn’t willing to pay just 50% upfront, they probably don’t have the intention to ever pay. Working in agencies, I was only too familiar with late payments, and with bills to cover every month, I couldn’t take the risk of clients not paying.
My clients pay on a monthly basis, so it made more sense for me to charge monthly in advance before any services were delivered. Luckily, my clients didn’t have a problem with this but I felt guilty every time it was questioned.
In my experience, I’d never fallen victim to non-payments because we didn’t begin work until the account was settled. Two years without a bump in the road made me complacent.
We began working on two campaigns before payment was received, based on the client’s request. They pushed back on paying the deposit, which seemed odd because if they didn’t have the money now, why would they in 30 days?
I should have smelled a rat but my guard was down. Sure enough, we never received payment for these campaigns. Lesson learned. This reinforced our rules and we’ll never start a campaign without payment.
5. Always have three to six months’ savings in the bank as a safety net
This advice is particularly relevant to those at the beginning stages of starting a business. I first heard it when I was on a startup business workshop.
When I decided to launch Float Digital, I had to quit my full-time job and begin with no clients. There was nothing more daunting than knowing I had no guaranteed income but due to my employment contract, I didn’t have a choice.
Although I couldn’t work on sales for my company until I officially departed the last agency I worked at, ensuring I was financially stable was one thing I could do for security. I made sure I had at least four months’ savings in my bank account before taking the plunge, and I took out three credit cards with £13,000 credit, just in case.
One month into trading, I secured two clients who paid upfront and agreed to monthly retainers. Sales snowballed, meaning I never dipped into my savings and I didn’t touch the credit cards. It was reassuring to know I had this safety net and I felt like I started my business off on the right foot.
Three years later, I stick by this piece of advice because you never know when things might make a change for the worse.
6. Plan your day the night before
You know you’re an entrepreneur when you spend every spare minute you have working on a business plan or setting yourself goals. This isn’t always something I actively do. Sometimes I’ll be running through ideas in my head while I’m driving, other times something will come to me when I’m cooking.
My project management software is overflowing with lists, notes and links. At the end of every day though, I scope out exactly what I’m doing the following day.
Naturally, my calendar gets booked up weeks in advance but having a clear vision on what has to be executed the next day makes getting things rolling much quicker. It’s also a good habit for when your team begins to grow.
I couldn’t imagine beginning a week without this plan and I’m constantly baffled when I speak to other business owners who don’t have a clarity on their future.
7. Put your health first
Last but not least, remember that your health takes priority.
When you first start a business it’s addictive and you want to always be working on it. But a couple of years down the line, you’ll be desperate for those quiet periods, so you can focus on yourself when you’re feeling burned out.
My motivation comes from my burning desire to build my business, pushing it to its limits. I can tell if I’m neglecting my physical and mental health because I don’t feel that spark that gets me out of bed in the morning.
I spent years feeling guilty for having “me” time and relaxing. This feeling only intensified when I became my own boss, seeing as you never finish work at 5pm.
Find out where your happy place is and what makes you truly reset. It might be curling up with a good book, a full-body massage or going for a coastal walk. You deserve it and the results of taking time out to rest will pay for themselves.
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