14 years? Where did that go?

Back in 2003 I was working for BT, managing a large team of systems developers and spending my life in cars, trains and planes, working crazy hours and unhappy at having little or no control over what I did every day. Then one day, I just couldn’t face it anymore, so I decided to do something to change my life. To quote Leonard Cohen, I was 50 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream.

I’d been working on systems that used the web for delivery for quite a few years – back then, Netscape was still the browser of choice and it involved a dial up connection that would work every third time you dialled. For some reason, I thought that maybe I could make a living building websites for businesses. I had the technical knowledge, there weren’t many companies doing it at that time, businesses seemed to want a website – how difficult could it be? I soon found out.

I quit my job in October 2003 and started as Daneswood on 1st November. All I had to do was find myself some clients – I knew people, so that should be a piece of cake. Yeah, right.

Round about then, I realised that it didn’t matter what I knew technically; the most important thing I had to learn was how to sell. Nothing else mattered – I could be the best developer ever (I’m not, by the way – ask anyone, literally anyone) but, unless I could persuade someone to hire me, it wouldn’t make any difference. So, I learnt how to sell. Or rather, I learned how to consult people in order to make a sale.

I got my first client pretty quickly – I leant on every friend I could think of and some finally gave in and gave me their business. My first client was Property Search South West and I’m proud of the fact that they are still a client today. I also went to just about every networking group in Exeter. Didn’t know a soul. But I found I could talk to anyone. Still do. Eventually, people started to get to know me, trust me and probably, just to shut me up, ask me to do work for them.

Of course, it’s not just me now. When I started out, I swore I’d never have staff ever again. Then I found out about VAT returns, invoicing, debtors – things that keep you awake at night. So, I took on a part time bookkeeper who could take that pain away from me.

And once I’d started hiring, I found it’s like crack cocaine and I couldn’t stop. A great team of people who know far more than I do technically, are more creative designers, know more about selling than I do and a lot more about marketing. A few people have come and gone in the last 14 years but Ben’s been here for just coming up to 12 years, Lisa for 8 and most of the team have been here for years. We even celebrated the end of our 14th year by hiring our 14th employee; our latest apprentice, Louisa. Our other apprentice, Luke, is only 2 years older than Daneswood. Not that it makes me feel old or anything…..

What have I learned about running a digital agency over 14 years? Enough to fill a blog for the next 12 months for sure. Most of it the hard way. Lots of mistakes, lots of things I’d never do again. But lots of laughs, some great highs, a few lows, met lots of really interesting people and found out a lot about businesses I’d never heard about.

Now for year 15.