What I Learned Running A Digital Agency For 10 Years

Steve Hyde, 
CEO, 
Push Award

When Ricky and I started Push in 2007 I had no idea quite how hard the journey would be from our small room in an accountants office in the loft to where we are today with 50 people, managing over £50 million of digital advertising spend for hundreds of businesses.

Equally, my expectation about the ‘payback’ and the rewards was in hindsight, misguided. Along the way there have been some really tough times and moments of pure joy. I thought I would share some of the personal lessons in some sort of order.

As well as starting an entirely new business we all started families. Ricky’s oldest son (Arjun) is exactly the same age as Push and my boy (Zac) is just 18 months younger. Our wives were both working too so it turned out to force a lot of pressure on family life.

Push Award

(Ricky & I winning the Google award for Highest Customer Satisfaction in EMEA)

 

Have enough cash to get started.

When we started Push in 2007 we did so with very little capital. A year later the recession kicked in and this led to lots of businesses being starved for cash. We made some poor decisions chasing the money and ended up working with customers who were ‘ok’ for cash flow but poor for profitability.

Know your core values very early on.

We worked with customers whose business ethics turned out to be in conflict with ours. Our gut instinct was that we shouldn’t work with them but we didn’t listen to ourselves and when they turned out to be ‘wronguns’ we felt rather silly.

Core values are very important as they allow us to – develop insight and know ourselves better, choose the relationships we have, clarify and guide our decisions and intentions and establish a relationship between us and the outside world.

Ask customers what you’re good at.

To be completely frank, in the first five years of our business up until 2012 we were a jack of all trades. Want a website with your AdWords campaign? Sure no problem. Need email marketing too? Absolutely we can do that. And while we’re at it why don’t we do some direct mail and stationery design?

Then it dawned on us, we would occasionally lose customers but they kept coming back for AdWords management and more PPC. This was a core service that we were great at. Rather than working on our weaknesses, when we focused on our strengths and built a business around these strengths we started to thrive.

Get a coach!

2012 was a pivotal year when we employed our first coach (Paul Thomas). He really helped us focus on what we were really good at and help us understand the importance of effective teams. In 2014 we started working with Shirlaws who have been absolutely vital in helping Push to develop into the company we are today. They’ve helped us increase our capacity, understand our unique culture and develop our relationships with our customer base.

We now work with Robert Craven, who is also a coach for Google and Robert specialises in helping agencies grow as fast as possible, so our objectives are very closely aligned. Robert has also helped to develop our senior team and we are passionate about training the future digital leaders of Push.

(Nic Rixon, our business coach at Shirlaws)

Love learning but love implementing more.

We have a saying at Push about being ‘Always Ahead’. This means we keep on learning about all the new techniques in advertising. This does not mean we prioritise research at the expense of action. In our world expressions like ‘Fail often, fail fast, fail cheap are the mantra and we all work hard to roll out new approaches to marketing quickly.

(This famous quote from Steve Jobs is on the wall in our office)

 

It’s all speeding up.

We’ve all heard and yawned at the expression ‘the only constant is change’. Now though the new rhetoric about change is that it is accelerating. We really have felt this pace quicken in the last 3 years. Our team now have training every Friday in order to learn about the very latest developments and techniques in digital advertising. They then collectively agree the changes that need to be implemented across all of our customers by the Tuesday of the following week. This is not going to slow down so businesses need to think about how they can organise themselves in the future to respond quickly to change. As a business we have had to continually evolve and my one message to all businesses is they do the same and try to keep ahead of change.

Culture rules!

The culture at Push has developed over 10 years with contributions from every member of our team. It’s no secret that we try to ‘work like Google’ and this respect we study their culture too.I read recently in Work Rules (Insights from Google) by Laszlo Bock a great quote ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. I think I’ll end on that point and look forward to the next 10 years.