What persuaded you take the plunge to set up your own business?

I was still in full time employment at the beginning of last year, but the company I worked for split into two and I didn’t feel the direction of the new company was for me. So, I found myself in a situation where it was go and find another job or work for myself. I already had a couple of clients that I worked for in my spare time and I thought there will never be a better or more natural time to give this a go.

I had people telling me for years that my knowledge was good enough but I hadn’t taken it seriously or believed I could do it – it was partly a confidence issue and concern about the risk of giving up a job. But the risk side was eliminated once my job had changed. What was the worst that could happen?

When did Edge45 start trading?

The company was set up on 10 April, 2015 and the goal for year one was just to be here in 12 months still working for myself. I remember thinking I only need four or five clients paying £500 a month and that’s me living a fairly comfortable life. By the end of the year, that collective monthly retainer was significantly more and has grown very fast – I feel like I’m clinging on for dear life to a rollercoaster…

I’ve just employed someone else from the Hiscox Business Club – he was freelancing for another business here and I saw him applying for jobs with big SEO agencies in Leeds and I thought we need to have a chat.

Why digital marketing?

I am a mechanical engineering graduate and chose engineering because I was good at maths and enjoyed the practical aspects of maths. I worked as a design engineer for four years but knew it wasn’t for me so came back to York in 2006 and helped a friend grow a business. One of the things I covered in that time was learning search engine optimisation (SEO) and found my vocation in life – the perfect mixture of numbers and analytical thinking. I like to be able to see cause and effect.

What has been your biggest challenge?

There are lots of people who say they can do this – and the barriers to entry are quite low – so it comes down to how much they know, and what results they get. The problem is, the business is based on me and my knowledge. I’ve been able to turn that into something sellable but there is only so much I can do. Scaling up and finding people who can share the workload is a challenge.

What mistakes did you make?

Early on I over-serviced clients and effectively made a rod for my own back by replying to client emails at the weekend and late at night – they then think that’s the norm and expect you to be there at all times. I had to let a client go because of their excessive demands.

Isn’t digital marketing just all about SEO?

SEO has changed massively and it’s not the silver bullet that can fix everybody’s marketing woes. It’s just one slice of the pie. You can’t sell SEO on its own and I don’t believe that it is in most clients’ best interests. You can get some really good results by mixing in SEO with email marketing for instance or pay-per-click.

Companies might come to us for SEO because they want more sales online or to generate more leads – but what happens if their website is rubbish? SEO can lead a horse to water but you still need to make it drink. I had a client and tripled their online enquiries but their sales only increased marginally. We had to drill down into issues with the website, calls to action and pricing for example.

What gives you a working buzz?

Getting results for my clients – over the course of two years one client has gone from getting over 500 organic search engine visits a month to 25,000. They’ve been able to scale up, move to a bigger office, employ more people and I know that is on the back of my efforts. It makes you really believe in what you do – seeing that cause and effect.

On a personal level, the freedom to make decisions and not having to ask anyone. I just do it – working in a way that I believe it should be done.

Is there a downside?

The big downside is sometimes you wish you had someone around to check and validate decisions. When you’re a business owner there is no one there to correct you if you’re wrong. Am I going in the right way? It’s not being able to share the workload, the stress, the decision-making and that’s pressure.

Your biggest tip for firms looking to exploit digital marketing?

A lot of people think ‘I’ve got a website and that’s it’ but that is only where it begins. Just because you have a website doesn’t mean people will come to it or read it. You need to think about the purpose of the site – is it to try and generate business? In which case there is a lot you can do. Have you thought about the audience that you’re talking to, the language you use, the call to actions? Often the language won’t resonate with potential customers for example and enquiries won’t convert into sales.

What do you do to relax?

I spend all my free time off thinking how I can relax more…it’s easy to put your heart and soul into the business and it’s almost expected that you put all your hours into it. I’m now beginning to see that for this business to be successful, I need to learn to switch off and down tools.

Last night – counter-intuitively for an online marketer – I deleted my work email off my phone to help me switch off in the evening. My phone doesn’t beep at me anymore which is great.

Find out more about our other Business Club members and Edge45