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Sam Charles: ‘Why starting my own business gave me the work-life balance I craved’

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Sam Charles shares the story of her business, Float Digital

In our Your Story series, we speak to business owners about the challenges they’re facing and the steps they’re taking to overcome them.

In this interview, Sam Charles, CEO and Director of Client Happiness of Float Digital, talks about why she decided to start a business, the importance of getting the right support, and she offers advice that could help your company succeed.

After 10 years of working in digital marketing and SEO (search engine optimisation), I was looking for a better work-life balance when I found myself working long hours.

It was exhausting and I could not enjoy myself anymore.

I wanted to take the next step in my journey and so started my own business called Float Digital, an SEO and Google ads agency.

We execute jargon-free search marketing strategies that work, with the aim of getting clients to page one of Google with minimal fuss.

We have a mixture of different clients.

One day, we could be working with a wedding planner in London and the next, we will be working with a Fortune 500 brand.

We offer flexible packages so we can help clients in different scenarios and help them increase their presence in search engines, drive traffic, and yield higher conversions.

Search engine marketing is a form of internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages primarily through paid advertising.

Try and have a financial cushion to fall back on in case times get tough

Pre-coronavirus (COVID-19), we had more than 33 clients on the books with running campaigns. As the pandemic got worse, we went from 33 clients to three in less than a week.

It was a terrifying time and we didn’t know about any government support.

I have always kept a large amount of savings back, and I’m lucky that I’m four years into running the business. I have been able to accumulate that cushion that I can rely on.

Despite some big challenges, there have been some uplifts and we have brought in new clients who want to capitalise on the rising trend for online shopping and increased internet traffic.

Accept change and plan for growth opportunities

I try to dedicate one day a week to sit down, and spend half the day working on our strategy, growth and direction. I think it’s a great time to be working on this, and some people may have that extra time now where they’re able to focus on strategy.

I feel like not only is it really, really motivating, but also if you have got a clear direction, it’s much easier to go full steam ahead and get that work done and really execute your plan.

I have realised it’s all about checking back, sticking to your strategy and appreciating that things are going to change.

If you were forecasting to hit a milestone number in three years for example, then maybe that’s not going to happen anymore – but that’s OK.

Keeping connected is key during a pandemic like this.

We’ve seen that mental health can be a big issue if we don’t stay connected as we’re not in the office, so keeping that constant connection through web conferencing has been a big win.

We’ve started to build stronger connections by genuinely having that empathy and genuinely caring about other people’s businesses and their welfare.

Find somebody that you absolutely trust with your accounts

Transitioning from being self-employed to running a business was a huge challenge.

I did not realise everything that would be involved. I thought it was going to be a small transition. I didn’t anticipate all the challenges that would come with it.

It’s key to find somebody that you absolutely trust with your accounts and somebody who will educate you, so you can understand the reports.

I’ve learnt not to rush in finding an accountant – take the time to find the perfect accountant for your business, someone who can help you understand the tools (such as using cloud accounting software) so you can self-serve and have more control over the business.

Stay on top of your invoicing as it relieves a lot of stress

When it comes to dealing with invoices, we load the invoicing at the beginning of the month, so our customers are always up to date with their payments.

It really takes the stress off us because we know that they have already paid, and then we can deliver the work.

We’ve introduced direct debit payments, which has been a great success.

We started to find that people were not paying their bills – not because they didn’t want to, but simply due to a disconnect or just because they’re busy.

This has made a huge difference because it just makes it seamless for the client.

My top takeaways

Here is what worked best for my business:

1. Collaborate to innovate

It’s such a team effort with people who are not even in your team. It’s just people around you. I could not be where I am now or done half of the things that I’ve done without the support of other people.

You can find support by joining conferences, finding a business mentor or connecting with business leaders on social media.

2. Work with brands that you genuinely believe in and check their values align with your vision

Doing this makes things more enjoyable and motivating. The financial side of things then naturally follows – but who can pay the most is not our strategy. Our strategy is values-led.

3. Be transparent with your clients

Ensuring you are transparent and always teaching and storytelling will ensure a healthy and positive relationship dynamic with your client.

I’ve seen other agencies expect extreme prices for their products. That, and not educating clients along the way to support them, feels unfair to me.

Our clients stay with us for years and are genuinely happy. They wouldn’t look anywhere else because they know we’ll tell them straight how things work.

Sam Charles was talking to Sage Advice’s Millie Lane.

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