Rob: Welcome back to Repeat Digital’s podcast, The Marketing Download. Today’s guest is the very own Olly Fisher, our Managing Director and we’re going to be talking about the trials and tribulations of starting a digital marketing agency. It’s been a journey, right? It’s been four years.
Olly: Yes, it’s been one hell of a journey. A fun one, a scary one, just an “everything under the sun” one.
Rob: I mean it’s interesting because I’ve known you since University, since athletic society and running around and nights out. And I can see that you’ve come a long way. But you studied Law at University, which is totally different to where you are now. So it’s a pretty unconventional start to digital marketing, I’d say.
So what drove you to study Law? How did you find your University experience and more importantly, your degree?
Olly: Oh, that’s a long story, but let’s give it a go. So I studied law because I didn’t know I was going to go to uni until like a week before the deadline for submission. But my A-level tutor, my six form tutor, said that you probably should go to uni just for the experience.
So I decided to go and then I thought, “what’s a cool degree” and law sounds cool. BecauseI think I’ve watched one of those Suits episodes, and that seemed pretty cool. So then I went there and I didn’t really care.
Rob: So you didn’t study Law in college?
Rob: Right. Okay. So Suits is what made you decide Law is the right approach. Okay. Well, that’s very different, and you didn’t enjoy it at all. Was there any part of that degree that was interesting?
Olly: I dunno, I don’t want to reveal that I was a bad student, but I didn’t go to many seminars.
Rob: A bit of a lazy student then. Okay. So did you know pretty early on though, and once you discovered that law wasn’t for you, did you know, pretty early on at that point or whilst you’re at university, that digital marketing is something you’d like to go into?
Olly: Oh, God, no, I just fell into it. I did. I got lucky. I actually went and worked at M&S after uni, just in, just in a store, a new opening store. So we stocked all the shelves and all of that kind of stuff. It’s pretty boring to be fair. But then yeah, I got a job back down in Cambridge with an agency called Genie Goals.
That was my start in digital marketing and PPC specifically. And yeah, it just, it was awesome.
Rob: Were you applying for any other professions outside of digital marketing? Was it kind of just casting a wide net and then ended up landing in digital marketing? Or were you very focused on saying, you know what I want to be in digital marketing?
Olly: It was not focused at all. I think I applied for a lot of recruitment jobs, which I would be so terrible at because I hate talking to people. Why am I on this podcast?!
Rob: Well you’re just talking to me and everyone else is listening.
So, okay. I mean, were there any mentors that you found? Talking back to Genie days I suppose, can you pick out a mentor from that that maybe you looked up to and sort of thought, do you know what I aspire to be like them, and maybe start an agency or did that come later?
Oly: At Genie it was, I think it was just so great. Like there wasn’t this particular mentor. It was just the culture that was so amazing. So everyone was amazing, so they could all have been mentors and I really enjoyed working there. It was sad to actually stop. But I got the opportunity to go to Lincoln and start up a business with a friend. So I took that with the experience I got from Genie.
Rob: So there’s a risk starting a business with a friend.
Olly: Gosh. Yeah, it was, it was well, as you can see, like I’m no longer in that business. But we’re still friends. We’re still friends. It wasn’t a bad fallout. It was just different directions. So yeah, I decided to leave and then get employed again. And then I realised I didn’t want to be employed again, so that didn’t last very long.
Rob: Is that other agency still going?
Olly: Yeah, no, well, it’s in a different form, in a different form. It sort of like merged into another company, which is like the reason why I had to, well, I didn’t have to leave, but I didn’t really want to be part of that. And it would be, I would have been diluted, I guess.
So yeah, I took employment as a safe bet and then that was boring. I just didn’t really, I guess I didn’t put the effort in. I probably shouldn’t be saying this cause they’re probably gonna listen to this podcast. Well, they might. I don’t know. I don’t know how interested they would be in this, but we’ll see.
But yeah, I did learn stuff there as well. And everyone was great. Yeah. I just think I knew in the first week or two that I didn’t want to be employed and I wanted to try and launch an agency by myself. And luckily it’s obviously gone well, as you can see.
Rob: Well, I suppose when you’re launching a new business and you’re launching it by yourself, you’ve got to have certain qualities about you.
What sort of qualities did you recognise in yourself or what were you looking to develop to help you launch that new business?
Olly: I am quite lucky to be fair because obviously in the Lincoln business, I launched that with help from my friend. I guess I’ll give him a shout out. It’s Pete Watson from Distract. Yeah, he’s a great guy. Went to New Year’s with him this year in a masquerade party. It was quite fun.
Rob: You’ve spoken about maybe not being as comfortable talking to people in the past? But that’s something that’s obviously very essential when you’re a one man band and you’re looking to try and find business. So you did a lot of networking in the early days.
Olly: Yeah I did, and I think the reason why it worked for me is because I tried to be different to everyone else. And by that, I mean, I just, I would say weird, but then when you’re weird, like people remember you. So I think that’s a good thing. And I’ll give you an example.
One of the first clients we had was a client that sells pants, like Sloggi pants. They’re called JustSloggi. And I used to stand up for my 60 seconds and go, we’re a great digital marketing agency and we sell lots of pants and everyone used to think it was funny. And I thought it was funny, but it’s probably not that funny looking back at it. But people seem to remember that. And then like other people stood up and they just talked like this really dry sort of 60 seconds. And I don’t think people remembered that.
Rob: Yeah. And you were the pants guy?
Olly: Yeah, the pants guy. And there was another one that got a bit too rude. I probably shouldn’t tell the podcast.
Rob: How did you get Sloggi? Were they your first client?
Olly: Yeah, I think they were, we got those from networking. I think it was a BN event which I did join just for the first year or I think it only lasted 10 months actually. I left before the end of the 12 months. It’s just too rigid for me, but I can’t knock it because it really helped me set up the business.
Rob: How did you choose the name Repeat? And were there any other names other than Repeat that you thought that you were going to go with?
Olly: Okay. So I’m very analytical and logical. And I thought, like, it had to be like a.com domain for SEO benefits or.co.uk. And I wanted it just to be quite short and to be fair, like a lot of domains are taken, so it had to be something available. So Repeat sounded pretty good and it was short and had a good .com domain.
So Repeat it just all sounded cool. So that’s why we went with that. But another one was a bit weird. It was like Super Duper Digital. And that was the other one, but I thought that was a bit too crazy.
Rob: You’ve got a lot of really weird agency names out there anyway. So I won’t name any in particular, but the amount of agencies in the UK, it’s just such a huge area. As the owner of the business, you have to wear a lot of hats, particularly in the early days when the business was you. And then even when you brought on one person, you’d be responsible for any legal side of the business, the accounting, client work and all sorts. I mean, diversifying your skillset must have been challenging.
Olly: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve learned a hell of a lot in the last four years. I felt quite comfortable to be honest, doing everything at the start. Like I think my skills were pretty decent at all of the technical stuff. And that’s where I started just learning new things and Googling. Googling such a big thing for me, I’ve just learned a lot from that and YouTube.
Rob: Our greatest business partner is Google.
Olly: Yep, exactly. And that’s something they don’t teach you how to do in schools, which they should, because it’s so important.
Rob: Yeah, for sure. Okay. Did you feel you needed to change yourself in any particular way to suit the business, particularly as it grew?
Olly: Yes. I’m pretty sound technically, but on a people level I struggle. I struggle with people. But obviously as we’re growing, you have to bring on people really, unless you stay sort of like a one man band, but then it’s hard to grow.
So that was probably my biggest challenge I’ve had. And I still have but I’ve been told I’ve got better. A hell of a lot better, apparently. But yeah, it’s hard.
Rob: The first role you hired for, I imagine it was your first PPC account manager.
Olly: No, yes. Sort of it. It was actually an apprentice.
Olly: I think someone sold me on something like a networking event to get an apprentice. Because then you can hire for less money, but obviously you’re giving them loads of benefits. Like you’re starting their career. So it’s not all about saving money. Although it partly is when you’re a small company and you’ve got to move as fast.
Rob: Unfortunately money is a big part to play here. But you know, I’m sure I’m sure they’re doing well. And, and one of the things I found when I started and when I graduated, people wouldn’t necessarily give you a chance and they’d say, oh, you don’t have any experience. Well, apprenticeships were a great gateway into a business and to find that experience. So you gave someone that opportunity.
Olly: Yeah and it’s not all about the money is it? You do an apprenticeship and get paid later on in your career.
Rob: Yeah. And often the goal of the apprenticeships anyway is for them to pass their apprenticeship and then become a fully fledged employee at a higher level.
So as you got bigger, you had to delegate tasks. And have you felt that delegating is something that was challenging at first? I know there’s a lot of ownership of a task to be completed.
Olly: Yes. So delegation, it seems like it would be easy because you’re like getting rid of things you don’t want to do, but it’s not easy because when you first have to do it, like, it’s your baby and you’ve done everything and then you’re kind of protective over it. But you kind of have to delegate to grow, obviously because you can’t do it all yourself.
I had this weird thing, and I probably still have it where you don’t want to delegate crappy jobs because you just feel bad and you feel guilty. But if you’re trying to drive a business forward, you probably shouldn’t be doing crappy jobs yourself because you’ve probably got more important priorities.
Rob: Well, everyone I’m sure has experienced a certain degree of crappy jobs that they’ve done and do it. Not every job is sunshine and rainbows. Anyway, so yeah, definitely. Okay. So the big question now is, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced running Repeat? And how did you overcome it?
Olly: I know what it is but it’s a tough one. So it’s obviously COVID when it first all kicked off. Cause like the business world just went a bit mental. They all thought everything was gonna collapse. So us being a marketing agency, everyone, the first thing they cancelled was their marketing. And we were working on monthly rolling contracts.
So people just cancelled pretty much instantaneously. I think we went, we lost, like, I think it was like 70 or 60 or 70% of our revenue sort of like overnight. And then obviously we had staff costs to pay and more just general costs to pay. So that was scary. Really scary. And it was, it was horrible. Because obviously I have to make the decisions and the decisions would negatively affect other people or so I thought at the time. So the way we overcame it was to make those decisions, to make the hard decisions. Because if you do that, then you’ll be more successful in a way. And you’ll learn a lot, you toughen yourself up.
So I basically had to make people redundant. So we were a team of five and I made three people redundant. It’s not as bad as it sounds because they all got jobs pretty much straight away before the redundancy period even ended. So that was a massive relief. Yeah, I still stalk them on LinkedIn occasionally just to check. They’re doing good. It seems like they are so that’s great. I’m happy for them. And then, yeah, I guess moving forward, like to protect ourselves from that, we started implementing longer contracts. And the thing is, I don’t want to jinx anything, but obviously if we survive COVID and to be fair, it was about a four month bounce back, say four months after like it all went south, like came back and then it grew even more.
Rob: I think we just keep that in mind. We keep enough cash in a bank to protect ourselves from it happening again.
Olly: Yeah, so I feel like we learnt a lot and we’re ready to face any even bigger challenges but I can’t see anything bigger than that happening. Well hopefully not.
Rob: So you’ve been going for four years, and now it’s changed to something a little, little bit more positive in the four years that you’ve had the agency, what are the three best things that have happened? Three best things. You don’t have to say hiring me. That’s number four.
Olly: Suppose I can’t say that, but then you’ve got a massive ego again. Yeah.
Rob: Three things that have been the best, the best three things that you’ve experienced running Repeat Digital.
Olly: I’m probably going to miss things off here. I’m just going to go off the top of my head. So one of them is moving into this office. It’s way more expensive, which I was not obviously too happy about but then when we moved in, like, ah, it’s just so much better. Yeah. I just, I actually just want to come in now and I, before I didn’t, cause it was just freezing cold, it was just run down. There was no real hot water. It was just, it wasn’t very pleasant, but now I have a dishwasher, so we don’t need to wash dishes in freezing cold water and boil a kettle and everything is better.
So number two. God, this is controversial, but it is the lessons I learned from COVID. Just like going through the redundancies, I learnt so much doing that and just God, like, I feel like I could face any challenge now after getting through that. So I’m kind of happy it happened in a way, and obviously really happy that people didn’t really suffer that much.
Obviously they probably suffered at the time of it but I learned so much and yeah. I think most business owners don’t learn that much in their whole career but then I obviously learned it pretty quickly.
Rob: The best thing is one of the worst things because of what you learnt and that’s good.
Olly: I like that. And then finally, number three, I don’t want to say it, but it probably is hiring you and probably others as well.
Rob: And it’s not just me. We have had some amazing hires at the moment. We’ve got Emily, Creative marketing Manager, who’s just over there watching us intently. And she’s been amazing because we didn’t have someone dedicated to the creative side of the business and scaling us up and she’s got this different mindset and way of looking at things. And I think we’ve seen a huge improvement in the way that we market ourselves. We’ve rebranded. Surely that’s got to be one of the great things. Well, I know, I know you were very attached to the old, yellow, and blue and the boxy logo, but we’ve evolved.
Olly: Yes, it is much better. Thank you. Thank you Emily.
Rob: Good, good. And if you had to do it all again, if you had to start from day one, what would you do differently?
Olly: It would be to get more help, like external help. It can be internal like a leadership team, but probably not at the start because you can’t afford a leadership team.
So things like getting sort of, they’re called business coaches, but they’re not, I don’t really like that term. Another term would just be consultant, but that’s the same thing as a coach.
Rob: That’s still a good thing. We all need a coach. Some people read books, some people get a mentor.
Olly: Yeah, a mentor. Yeah. So we’ve got one, he’s called Ian. Ian has been a great help. Just having someone external to sort of bounce ideas off. A lot of it’s about wanting to know if your thinking is correct. Well, not correct, but that it’s the right thing to do. It’s about mindset. So yeah, that’s really valuable.
And I’ll give a shout out to the TAB too. So it’s called The Alternative Board. They’re just like a board of businesses that business owners go on to just chat about business and get support. That was really helpful as well. So, yeah, it’s just, it’s just to get more support. It’s a lot of weight on your shoulders and you don’t want that so it’s a way of getting it off.
Rob: They say being a business owner is a lonely place to be.
Olly: Yeah, that is true.
Rob: But it’s fun, you know. I think we’re very lucky that we’ve been friends since university and we haven’t faced any conflicts that we’ve had and thought it was a problem. It was just a natural way of debating a situation. Yeah. So I think we’re very lucky in this. And so, you know, going into business with friends can be difficult, but I think we, we don’t like to argue we’re not combative by nature, and we’re both invested in the success of Repeat Digital. You know, there’s no selfish motives necessarily. We want to try and improve everything and everyone. So I think that’s one of the things I love. We as a team have tried to be very focused on employee development and trying to make sure that each and everyone is performing to the best that they can and that they come away from Repeat Digital, if they do, you know, after a few years or whenever it would be. And hopefully they leave with fond memories and a lot of lessons learned. So just to wrap it up, the state of business, Repeat’s doing a lot better than when we had that setback during COVID, that’s slightly before my time. And so what are your targets for the business for the next 12 months?
Olly: So we’ve obviously sat down as a leadership team. We’ve set some pretty lofty targets. So it’s doubling in revenue. And yeah, like it’s a big, it’s a big target, but we think it’s achievable based on past results. We do have to stretch ourselves, but with any good target, you’ve got to do that or you just won’t achieve much really.
It’s also doubling the team and bringing on the right team and trying to create a culture that people want to be in. Yeah, like I’m excited for the next 12 months. I’m nervous, but I’m excited. And I think it’s good to be nervous in a way, because like, you’re not, if you’re not out of your comfort zone you’re not pushing yourself.
Rob: Good. Well thank you for being part of The Marketing Download. It’s been great to hear your experience. Now there’s a lot of people out there that will either be starting their own agency and would be interested to hear someone else’s perspective. But I’m sure there’s also a lot of people out there who have their own agency and so it would be interesting to hear how it’s been and the trials and tribulations.
So thank you very much everyone for listening and please subscribe. And if you’re watching from YouTube, please send us a like, drop us a comment. Let us know what you want to see next. If there’s any particular topics you want us to cover and we’ll see you in episode three.
Thank you very much.