Wildheart was founded in Brighton, UK, in 2014 and 6 months later I found myself in India, a place I’d always dreamed of visiting. After 7 months I moved to Stockholm to start a family.
Fast forward to December 2018 and I’m a full-time single dad still running Wildheart from my Stockholm office. And I’m happy to say that 2018 has been our best year ever, both in terms of growth and profitability.
Let’s rewind – where did it all begin?
I’ve always been into technology: I grew up on a diet of Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Knight Rider, Star Trek, Star Wars, Tron, ET, Back to the Future, Robocop, Blade Runner, Alien and the Terminator. Blade Runner is still my favourite film and I must have seen it over 20 times now!
I’ve always understood that technology is shaping our world and that the line between man and machine would eventually disappear. Have you seen this demo of Google Assistant – where a Google AI makes appointments at both a hairdresser and a restaurant? It’s quite something!
I started my career in the 1990s as a web designer. I made the move from Cape Town where I grew up, to London, and then down to Brighton where I lived for 11 years, before finally settling in Stockholm.
The missing link
I noticed that designing and building websites was becoming commodified with the rise of web standards and open-source software. I also realised that building websites was not going to be the problem that needed solving for very long.
Over the years as a web designer I poured a lot of energy, passion and expertise into designing and building websites that no-one ever saw. My clients were happy with my work but their businesses weren’t growing through their websites. Most business websites were nothing more than expensive online brochures back then.
There was something missing; it was marketing. How do people even find you?
Remember, I started designing websites before the iPhone, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and even Google! I realised the problem that needed solving was how to be found. And 20 years later this is more true than ever.
Corporate vs creative: a collision of two worlds
In 2006 I started my first marketing agency and eventually took on two business partners. My partners had decades of traditional business experience and I learned loads from them. In fact, the lessons I learned in this real-life business school still help me to keep Wildheart on track today.
Like many in business, my ex-business partners were obsessed with growth. The idea is that growth is almost the only thing that matters. This is a fundamental core principle of modern capitalism and global economy.
Their approach to growth was all about pounding the pavement and pressing the flesh (an English metaphor for shaking hands!) – building relationships with individuals in person.
The problem with this approach is it’s both expensive and time-consuming. You can only be in one place at a time. It’s also not what a digital business owner should be focusing on. There are other ways to grow which I’ll get to later in this series.
Having physical offices with the right addresses was also important for them. It was important to them to have their staff on location under the watchful eye of their managers. They invested heavily in all the infrastructure and management needed to make this a reality.
They created a high pressure and competitive environment for themselves and their staff. They employed a lot of staff and had a high churn rate, meaning staff came and went – often. This meant they also had high recruitment and training costs, as their management team constantly had to replace staff and train the new recruits.
A high churn rate also affects the quality of work you’re able to deliver. This is not always true and depends on the sector you work in – but in digital, which relies on teams of highly skilled individuals collaborating well, it’s a train wreck.
The shift from web design to marketing
By 2006 WordPress was gaining popularity and I’d shifted design and development exclusively to this platform. But WordPress is just a tool and while today it powers around 32% of all websites on the world wide web, it’s only one part of the business marketing puzzle that each business has to solve in its own way to find success.
One of the problems with running a web design agency is that when the website is built, the relationship ends and you have to look for a new project. As a generalist rather than a specialist, I’d been working with email marketing and social media since my early days of building WordPress websites back in 2006. So, offering marketing services was not a huge leap for me; it felt like the natural next step.
Growing the team, but at what cost?
With the fancy office provided by my business partners came the expensive team of full-time employees.
In order to make full-time employment palatable to creatives the salaries are high – because being told what to do is not an easy compromise for creatives to make! The high salaries mean high costs to the employers. Both parties are also locked in with a notice period and the law protects full-time employees (as it should) from being let go without proper cause. But for a small business with variable income, the high fixed costs of offices and full-time staff can be a real weight around the neck.
With a team of 6 full-time staff and fancy offices in central Brighton, I felt the weight of those costs around my neck every month when it came to pay day. Without a recurring revenue model of repeat business that’s a lot of pressure on one neck!
We had started to move towards monthly retainers with some clients and this helped ease the pressure, but a lot of our work was still pure consultancy. This is time intensive and requires lots of expert knowledge.
As one door closes, another opens…
By now you might be wondering how and why I got myself into all of this?! Well, it wasn’t as clear then as it is now. A lot of it came down to lack of business experience and confidence on my part. Of course, it takes courage to run your own business but it takes a different type of courage to run it on your own terms using a method that your business partners don’t understand or believe in.
And this is how I came to shut down a growing agency and part ways with my business partners.
And out of all this experience Wildheart Media was born.
In the next post of this mini-series, I share my experiences into what I’ve learned so far from running a remote business.
And if you want to find out more about how we can put all this experience to good use for your own business, why not book a free consultation?
Go back to Blog series: Running a remote business.