Often when I write, it’s from the point of view of being the CEO of Bolt Digital and an expert in digital and direct to consumer marketing.
Today I’m writing to you all as ‘myself’ (obviously the same person as above!) and I’m going to share some of the changes, challenges and opportunities of the past year, both for myself and Bolt Digital – and for you guys and your businesses as the world and how we behave changes at an increasingly fast pace.
One of my favourite things to do is to use this time of year to reflect and look back to where I was a year or two ago. If you’re anything like me, as soon as something ‘good’ happens or a goal is achieved, you mentally move the goalposts forward and forget all about it.
It’s only when you look back at this time last year that you can see the progress or changes that have occurred.
Some of you know that Bolt Digital started around 18 months ago in my garden shed (aka the ‘shoffice’) with me and one other person, Kamal, who is now our head of content.
Back then, we were both ill all the time. We thought we were just ill. Now we wonder if the shoffice was a bit damp or something!!
By this time last year, we’d moved to a workspace in Kensal Rise, where Bri and Antonio joined us.
By then, it was 3 and a half years on from when I’d sold my previous business Talk to the Press (which I’d founded in 2007 when I was 30) but still, being in that sort of workspace with a team of three felt very familiar to me.
I was back on the entrepreneurs journey again, totally ready to do it all again and this time do it bigger, better and bolder than before.
Bolt Digital then grew quite a bit in terms of the clients we had. But the pace of growth picked up again in May this year when the four of us moved to the Huckletree workspace in Media Works, White City. We’re now a team of 12 and as well as some of the beloved (that’s you Maxine, Julian and Noel) brands and businesses we were working with this time last year, we’re now working with some businesses and individuals that we’re super proud to support and drive growth for, such as the childrenswear brand Trotters, Dr Leah Totton (Apprentice winner and business partner of Lord Alan Sugar), Studio10 make up, GP Nutrition, the supplement brand founded by nutritionist to the royal family Gabriella Peacock, and Altrient (literally the best Vitamin C in the world!) and others.
And whilst I can say that of course some of the growth is down to our own ambition and the vision we have for Bolt Digital, some of it is also due to change that is going on in the outside world, particularly in terms of where people’s attention is held.
You’re probably reading this on your phone – because that is where our attention increasingly is. All CEOs, brand owners and business owners are increasingly realising that attention is now held by mobile phones, mostly via a small number of apps within those phones (email, mobile browsing, Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms). That’s why Facebook and Google are increasingly taking shares of the advertising money that previously went into print, billboards, tv and PR.
The need for what we do as a business – build brands and personal brands by taking them direct to consumer – is growing and will only increase, which gives me even more determination to make sure we always stay on top of channels, best practises and strategies that work.
But when I think back over 2018, there have been so many highlights this year from writing my book Stand Out Online and seeing that published, through to going to New York for Gary Vaynerchuk’s Voice Con and attending a private dinner with Gary Vee himself.
We’ve got really really good at ecommerce and direct to consumer funnels through the Bolt Digital agency, and we’ve also launched our Bolt Talent programme which is a dedicated service for building the personal brands of CEO and experts.
Plus, there’s my work directly with Facebook as a speaker and trainer for their She Means Business campaign. Since the launch in 2016, the number of accredited trainers for Facebook has risen to from 8 to 20 and in total we’ve trained 20,000 female entrepreneurs around the UK – which is incredible!
Last month Facebook confirmed that this campaign (and with it us trainers) will be going into its third year as Facebook continues their mission to support and inspire female entrepreneurship around the world.
Working with my business partner Steve Bolton is another (ongoing) highlight. My approach with Bolt Digital – and my life right now actually – is to do things differently to how I’ve done them before.
With Talk to the Press, I’d felt very strongly that it was MY business, I didn’t want to share it with anyone and I didn’t want or ‘need’ any help with it.
I’m not saying that was a terrible approach – Talk to the Press became the leading and most visible business in its niche and it continues to grow to this day four years after it was sold.
But when it was taken over by South West News and I spent time with the 3 directors of South West News, I could suddenly see how these more experienced guys and the infrastructure they had around their businesses could just ‘gift’ Talk to the Press so much.
Don’t get me wrong, there are zero regrets here – I’m so proud that I started, grew and sold a business. I’ve done it that way now and I don’t need to do it again.
That is why when Steve suggested us working together rather than take the view I had before (No/I don’t need any help/It’s all mine) I thought ‘Why Not’. What did I have to lose? And I can categorically say Bolt Digital would not be where it is now were I not in a partnership with Steve.
Another highlight has been my nephew Luke joining the team. I never thought about working with family before (again, why would I when I just believed I could do everything by myself!) but it turns out it’s really really good. There is something about just knowing a team member so well and both wanting the best for each other that helps propel growth.
And that brings me to the rest of the team, all of whom have worked so hard this year. A highlight for me has been seeing how those who were with me originally in the business – Kamal and Bri – have so massively uplevelled alongside me.
Their work and talent has developed so much and I don’t even know if they ever stop and think back to how much more they are capable of – in terms of technical skills and creativity – than they were this time last year.
Kamal and Bri – if you are reading this and you haven’t stopped to reflect on this then please stop right now and honestly feel so super proud of yourselves.
There are some days when I’m slightly taken aback by what I’m now responsible for (e.g, campaigns, the complex multi channel campaigns we use, the content and the team). In particular, I feel very responsible for the money we manage for clients in terms of media buying which has increased probably fivefold or more.
Unsurprisingly, it’s been a challenge at times but most of the time I feel in my element.
I honestly think one of the ways in which I’ve been able to up-level is though working on my inner self and mindset.
Last Christmas, I read a book called The Miracle Morning (which details a morning routine comprising goal setting/meditation/exercise/reading a book/visualisation…..yes it’s quite intense) and in the spirit of doing things differently, I decided to actually do what it said. I’ve read dozens of self help and business books before and obviously we all read such books and understand them in theory. The difference has been putting things into practice.
I’m not perfect and out of the 365 days since I read this book, there have been dozens on which I have not done this routine. But overall, there have been more mornings than not when I have done ‘The Miracle Morning’ and I can honestly say that this practise and development of my inner state has supported me as we’ve grown so fast as a business.
For 2019, for anyone who owns a business or who has a personal brand they’d like to grow, fast changing times are ahead.
Every business and every person is now a media company and can take their products, services and messages direct to consumer.
Right now, savvier big brands are in ‘landgrab’ mode spending millions and millions on social platforms simply to secure reach and capture audiences. Many others are still not quite realising or believing that the shift is real and continue to spend on print, tv and outdoor media. It may be 5 or 10 years before the masses truly realise what is happening.
That means there is a huge opportunity before the big money arrives and the price of advertising and reach on the platform becomes out of reach for many.
We are living through times of incredible digital disruption and you can either see this is a bad thing (why are we all spending so much time on our phones?!) or an opportunity. For me, communication through media has always been an opportunity and the more time I spend in this social media landscape, the more I see it as exactly the same as the print media world I spent the first half of my career in, aside from the distribution mechanism. Oh – and the fact this new world is much better! And why? Because there’s no more middle man, you (as a brand owner or individual) can control the message, the frequency, the angle, and who you reach.
There’s also opportunity for everyone in this new world, not just those with enough fame to attract it, enough money to buy it through hiring a PR or wooing journalists, or those with enough misfortune/drama/tragedy to find themselves inadvertently caught up in it as they become the news.
As so much goes direct to consumer, the media itself is democratised. And that is the opportunity for 2019.