This week’s Small Business Star is Brian Whigham, managing director and founder of Venn Digital, an independent digital marketing agency. Despite dropping out of his Computer Science degree at university, Brian knew it wasn’t the end of the road for him and technology. After a seven-year stint managing a rapid- growth recruitment agency, he decided to go it alone and set up his own design and development team.

Here’s Brian’s story.

I launched Venn out of a frustration with ‘fluffy’ marketing

Venn launched in November 2010, driven by the frustration of unaccountable marketing that was being delivered at that time.  I had left the recruitment industry, which was very KPI-focused, and was shocked by the amount of ‘fluffy’ agencies that were getting away with work that had no measurement or targets attached.

Equally, they were relying on third parties for a lot of their work and I didn’t want to follow suit and be ‘just another marketing agency’; hence, the Venn diagram philosophy – Creative, Strategy and Technology. Everything that you’d expect from a digital marketing agency is done in-house: design, development, PPC, SEO, content marketing, PR, copy… you name it, we do it.

Don’t let a challenging economic climate hold you back

I founded the business with the help of two angel investors.  With the country still in recession, money wasn’t readily available, but with a solid business plan and a huge amount of determination I managed to raise the amount needed to get us up and running.  There was really only enough investment for six months, so it was imperative that we acted quickly to gain independence.

The digital market is booming

The market is incredibly buoyant at the moment. The phenomenal growth in digital is, in effect, the modern day equivalent of the engineering boom.  Demand is huge and the skills gap is great.  Equally, the pressure on our clients to be at the forefront of digital is high so we are being pushed daily for more innovative ways of communicating with their target audience.

It’s crucial to stay on top of industry developments

It is, in fact, the most important and biggest challenge of our industry. We are constantly being pushed for the latest developments such as mobile-first campaigns; developing content across social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook; right through to Spotify advertising. We need to keep up with the latest developments on a daily basis. As a premium partner of Google, we do work closely with them to ensure the greatest returns for our clients.

To build a team of experts, you need to invest in them

We are investing in our team significantly and building very strong knowledge centres, so individuals can take ownership of what they deliver.  We always want to be seen as an integrated agency, but in order to do so, we need to ensure we are experts in our field.

Tech is our strongest area due to the content management system we developed over the past four years.  Acting as a backbone for everything we do, it gathers huge amounts of data that helps us and our clients make informed decisions on marketing strategy.

Know when to plan and when to throw the plan out the window

In our industry it’s imperative to lead, not follow.  Equally, to say that you have a clear five-year business plan in this market is bold.  Yes, it is important to have a plan and structure but in our experience, flexibility is the key to success.

Forget about traditional forms of marketing

What’s the definition of traditional forms? Print?  That died years ago.  We are mass consumers of information and we want it now.  TV is great for brand recognition, but digital is, without question, the only marketplace for the foreseeable future.

We grow our business by spotting opportunities

Our focus is to sell multiple services to our core client base.  Digital is so multifaceted now and it’s our job to inform and inspire our clients.  We have a strong relationship model that builds trust and as a result increases opportunity.

Equally, through our own approach to marketing we are fortunate to see global businesses coming to us for work.  Often they have a brief with a predefined outcome.  But more often than not, we end up evolving that brief and spotting opportunities they perhaps never saw.

Become a market leader through innovation

Our biggest success? Developing our own CMS has to be up there.  It has provided so much opportunity and now makes us a market leader in one particular sector.

Culture is also key.  If we hadn’t made this a focus from day one then staff retention, client retention and revenue retention wouldn’t be where it is now.

Enjoy the challenges, they’re part of the journey

From sleepless nights over money, to technical issues beyond my control, staff headaches, through to just having too much on – the challenges are daily.  But that’s why I do it.  Climbing Everest isn’t about reaching the top; it’s about the journey and occasionally stopping to see just how far you have come, but also how far you have to go.

Surround yourself with inspirational people

Strap in for the ride, tell everyone around you that you love them and that you will be back in a while.  It’s all-consuming and the sacrifices are unimaginable, but it’s a journey you will love.

I also try to surround myself by positive and successful people.  I’ve been very lucky to meet a lot of inspiring people and more often than not the best advice comes out over a beer at the bar, not sitting in some ‘business masterclass’ you paid £995 to attend.

Find out more about  Brian and his company Venn by visiting:

For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub

One last thing – if you are, or know, a small business star, share with us below.