Episode 18 – Becky Simms – CEO Reflect Digital

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Audio Transcript:

VO Guy:

Hello, and thanks for coming along to And We Have An Office Doc, the digital agency podcast where we talk to agency owner directors and learn more about what makes them tick. From the things that make them similar to the things they’d rather have known sooner. Where they’ve success and where they’ve learned some hard lessons. All will be revealed with your host Chris Simmance, the agency coach, and he’ll be talking to a different awesome agency person in each episode. Asking them four questions and seeing where the conversation takes us over the next 25 minutes. Okay. So let us begin. Over to you, Chris.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Thanks, voiceover guy. And on this podcast, we’ve got Becky Simms. Hey, Becky.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Hi.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

How you doing?

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Very well, thank you.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So this is a Monday morning podcast. We’re both just talking about our respective weekends and just for those listening on the podcast, Becky’s just explained that her team at Reflect do a four day working week, which I’m infinitely jealous of. So I’ve almost given your agency a plug there, but first and foremost, tell us what you do. Tell how long you’ve been doing it and what you do best.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Perfect. Yeah. Thank you. So we are Reflect Digital. We’re a digital marketing agency and our superpower is that we use human behavior and psychology to really understand an audience. So actually when we’re looking at different search strategies or different ways to reach people through digital channels, we understand humans in a different way, and we know how to nudge them and grab their attention and make things sticky. So that’s what makes us really special.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So when I used to do any keyword research, the best I ever got was an audience persona on a PowerPoint presentation that they like shopping at Waitrose and their favorite brand is Gym Shark. So it sounds like we go a lot further than that.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Well, we definitely do. Yeah. The aim is to really try and kind of scratch under the surface to get down to motivation, because actually it doesn’t really matter where you shop and all those things that tend to go into traditional personas. It’s actually, what’s going to drive you to want to buy something or engage with a brand or whatever it is that the brand’s looking to do. So yeah, that’s what we do and it’s pretty good fun, and we’re pretty good at it as well.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I mean, you’ve been going for what, 11 years now, so you must be good at it.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. Oh, it’s been a journey. I can’t believe it’s 11 years to be fair. And the psychology addition to what we do has been over the last kind of three or four years. And I just feel like that’s elevated us to a different level and just all of our strategies to a different level. It’s just put us in a different game, which is brilliant. And the results that we see and the way that we understand our client’s brands are just… Yeah, I’m so proud of everything that team do, because it’s not my work, it’s their work.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Brilliant. That’s true leadership to be proud of what everyone else does. So as with all of these podcasts, we’ve got four questions for you and we’ll see how the conversation takes us. So the first question I’ve got for you today is what do you think has been one of the biggest successes you’ve had over the last 11 years of running Reflect?

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Oh, biggest successes. I think the thing that changed our direction, well, not so much our direction, but built momentum was when… And I almost feel like this was just a sign of the times as well. When we very first, started agencies didn’t network the way that they do today, agencies didn’t talk to each other. It was a bit more like what it is in other industries. Because actually I think agencies were a bit of a weird world that actually we really work together. We talk to each other, we share each other’s love. We share our own secrets with people.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. We do. Yeah.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And I think probably about six years in, we became part of the agency collective and we started working more and talking more to other agencies. So suddenly instead of this battle that we felt like we were doing on our own, we suddenly were like, oh, everyone has the same problems and we can all share with each other and help each other. And that for me was a real turning point in our growth because suddenly we unlock this ability to kind of get tips and hints from other people, to be part of a network and to grow together. And something that maybe new agencies today won’t ever have that because there’s so many networks out there, but for us that was a key moment.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I think the sharing with people that are in the same boat, I think there’s something to be said for that in the sense that you often think as an agency leader, you kind of think I’m in this on my own and there’s no one else to talk to. And the best person I can talk to might be my husband, my wife, or my mate. But realistically they don’t get it because they’re not doing it. And then you start talking to other agency owners and you start realizing, okay, well they have that and solved that or they’re having that right now and we could work together on solving it. There’s plenty of websites out there. There’s plenty of businesses out there. And you’re not really competing on everything all the time. So unless you’re talking to a direct competitor that you compete in [inaudible 00:05:20] with all the time about, I don’t know, your pitch documentation, then it’s easier to talk to people who know what they’re talking about and the issues that they have.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Exactly. Yeah. And to be fair, that’s the other weird thing, I guess, about agency worlds. And maybe it’s, again, some other agencies are different, but we hardly ever come up against the same agencies. There’s so many out there that actually you don’t often compete with the same agencies. We’ve carried that through and we are now part of Polymensa, which is a really kind of tight knit group where we spend a lot of time together and we’re all million pound plus agencies, so that we’ve got similar challenges. And that, again, we meet weekly, virtually obviously, but we do face to face meetups as well. And that is really helping our growth because we do all have similar challenges or maybe we’ve conquered them and can help give tips. And it’s really useful.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And it helps to keep accountability between each other because you know all too well as an agency owner, that there’s a million things to be done, and they’re all equally as important at certain times, and you can’t delegate everything. And if you don’t have that little bit of accountability from someone who you know will chase you up because they’re having their own problems, which you are helping them hold to account for, then that’s obviously quite important as well.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. Accountability’s really important. And we bring that into the team in the way we work now. So actually we’ve implemented the EOS, the entrepreneurial operating system into our business last year. We don’t follow it to the letter, because I know quite a few agencies do it. We don’t follow it exactly to the book as much as maybe we did when we first started, we found our own way that works with it. But there’s so much around accountability there. I think that’s so important, knowing that you’ve got to get something done by a certain time, otherwise someone’s going to be knocking on your door.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Absolutely. And you get it done, done as opposed to done and ready and a bunch of sidetracked conversations and a half finished thing. You’ve got to be accountable. And if people are holding you there, then that’s really important.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Definitely, definitely.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So if you could go back say, well, around 11 years ago and talk to the younger, more spritely version of Becky, what piece of advice would you give yourself when setting up the agency?

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Do you know what, when I saw this question, I was like, oh. For our 10 year anniversary, I wrote a letter to myself. So this was a year or so ago. But I wrote a letter to my former self of all the things that I wish I’d known. And it went on for a long time. [crosstalk 00:07:53] that long on the podcast. Because there’s so much stuff. I think some of what to me I haven’t really ever considered is the human impact of running a business and hiring people. And the weight that you take on, the weight of responsibility for not only just kind of the obvious things of making payroll each month and creating a nice place that they love to work, et cetera. But actually we deeply care about our team members and we’ve supported team members through illness, through family illnesses, through things that were never on my radar that I thought, wow, I’m going to need to consider this in my day to day work. And a pandemic. We’ve all just done that.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Forgot about that.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. That was weird, wasn’t it? That was, yeah. That was really weird. It’s all those things that actually when you’re sitting there, at what, I was about 23, yeah, I’d love to start running a business and hire people. It was never on my radar. I just thought that I’m going to need to build the business. And it’s quite an obvious thing now you’re here and you’re doing it, but I don’t think it’s something you prepare yourself for. And the highs and lows of that. And on the flip side, the highs are amazing. Watching your team grow and then succeed. And even actually, again, this is a lesson that you learn, it’s harder when it first happens, but actually seeing them move on to do different things and to progress their career in a way that maybe you weren’t able to help them with. And those kind of things, really difficult at first when you lose your first team member, it’s literally an arrow to the heart.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I remember my first ever hire, when he decided that it was time to move on, I was both proud because he was going to a bigger agency and so on. And it was good to see him progressing. But I was also devastated. I was like, what have I done wrong? How did I hurt you so much? It’s hard to take that out. Yeah.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. It’s less so now though. So actually one of the things we’ve introduced over the last 12 months for our team is these kind of visual career development plans. Literally I wanted to rip up those horrible pieces of paper or Word docs where it’s just boring fields and we’ve turned it into like mirror boards and it’s visual. And we try and get our team to talk to us about what do they want, and what do they want past Reflect? Because we’re very aware that most people won’t be with us forever. It’s not how the world works. So tell us about it and let’s get you prepared for it and help you on that journey. And let’s have the best out of you while you’re here and help you be the best you can be. And then let’s wish you well and remember that you had a good time with us afterwards. So yeah.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And that’s a great way to look at it, isn’t it? That you look after the people and the people all look after you. It is a decision that people don’t consciously make as staff that they effectively lose their freedom for a little bit in order to be paid for something, whilst you agree to provide them with money in exchange for some of their time. That’s the draconian style, you get paid to be there, but if you can add that nice culture to it and you can make it actually about making them succeed in life in general and help them through other things, then you’re onto a winner because people will care more. And if they leave the agency in a year or two years or five years, least when they leave they look back fondly, as opposed to in some agencies where they walk away and go, “Bloody hell, my head hurts thinking about that spreadsheet I had to do every single Monday,” or something like that.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, we’ve got ex team members that are some of our best advocates. They recommend staff to us. They recommend clients to us. And that’s kind of what you want that, you know it’s all worked out. Yeah.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

[crosstalk 00:11:38]. Yeah. That’s the good barometer for success. If you’ve got the right culture, people keep saying, “Go work with them, go and work for them.” So beyond the people side of things, is there something that you kind of wish you’d done differently or something that, not necessarily a failure, but something that you think now I’ve learned that, that’s set me up for this success that you’re seeing now?

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Good question. I guess we were more full service in the early years and we’ve kind of over time really taken that in to be our core services that we’re best at. That’s helped us with our growth, helped us focus and helped us being seen more as a specialist. But it took a while, because also you’re really committed to the services and the people that you’ve got offering those services, et cetera. But I suppose when I started the agency, I was just trying to replicate the agency I’d worked at. That’s all I knew. So I was like, well, I got to set up. I got to have a dev team, a design team, an SEO [inaudible 00:12:41] and et cetera. And you just mirror what you know, so it took time to kind of readjust that and to learn from that.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It’s funny, isn’t it? So I can’t remember who it was that I was talking to recently in another recording and they said something very different to you, but in the same context that they started their agency with the aim of trying to be completely different to the place they were working at. Because they thought they would be able to crack the model. And you started your agency trying to effectively mirror and improve what happened. I guess that the two versions of that you eventually… But this agency has been going for about 10, 11, 12 years as well. So I think eventually you probably end up starting this horseshoe effect where you end up coming to, this is how successful agencies work and this is mostly based on do really good stuff and do really good stuff with good people and it makes money and makes people happy and does some good in the world.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Definitely. And look after those people as well. Because I think that’s the one thing I wanted to change about where I’d worked before, was making sure it was really people-centric and that it was right for the people. So that was really important to us when we were setting up. Yeah. And I think, gosh, it’s such a journey running a business, running an agency, the highs and lows. I think one of the other things that it took me a while to realize is how much, and it’s slightly different now in this more hybrid world, but back in a face to face office four days a week, five days a week, one of the things that dawned on me one day was how much my mood was setting the weather in the agency. And it’s really important that actually even if something rubbish is going on, whether it’s at work or at home or whatever, you’ve got to try and be the voice of happiness and energy and everything.

Because if you are sitting there moody and miserable and feeling like, oh God, this isn’t going to work out, how’s anyone else going to get the energy? There was a point in agency growth where we kind of had a few losses in a row and it really hit us hard. Yeah, I actually probably made it worse for the team, but I didn’t realize I was doing it. And it was just over time, you almost just need a bit of time to reflect. Pardon the pun. And step away from it. And then you suddenly realize, and I think it was one of our business mentors pointing it out to us. Wow, okay. I can see that now, but when you’re in it, you don’t see it. And I think, yeah, that was a big thing.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It’s tough, I remember it was a little bit of an existential moment for me I think when I realized I needed to get out of my own way, and getting out my own way was essentially connected to, it’s not all about me. And it’s mostly about other people being able to behave and do what they need to do. And a bit like you, the mood set the weather. If I was knackered or really busy or running in and out of pitches, I didn’t look like I had a handle on things. And if anyone who I had previously worked with and hired in the past is listening to this podcast, sorry about that.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Love it. Love it.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Hopefully I’m forgiven. We’ll see. I don’t know. So if anyone’s listening to the podcast now who’s thinking of setting their own agency up or just started and they’re looking for support, support, guidance, advice, what one piece of advice would you give that you think will help them get things started?

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

One piece, am I only allowed one? I could probably go about 20.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I’ll give you two since you’re nice.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Well, I think probably center to all of it is remember that you are a human and that the people you employ are humans, your clients are humans, we’re all empathetic. We should all care for each other and all those good things. I just so often, my lens that I use, especially when I’m thinking about things for the team is to put myself back in their shoes and be like, how would I feel? Often I do a lot of mentoring with students and people thinking about being entrepreneurs, et cetera. And normally what I say to them is go and have a few jobs. Because I have the lens of my worst boss that makes my skin crawl a little bit. You can probably physically see that like, oh, yeah, I’ve got that one.

But then I’ve also got my best boss that really empowered me and really drove me to be better and to want to learn and to want to get up each day and go to work. And without that filter, like, yes, there’s some amazing case studies out there of people that have made it big and have never worked for anyone before. But for me that’s such an important part of how I measure and it’s my barometer of how I’m doing as a leader of being able to put myself back in my team’s shoes and imagine being that person with that good boss, bad boss and where I see myself sitting. So that’s really important to me. And yeah, just being really human and just not being a robot. And it’s so important. You’re hiring people that want to do well in their career and they want to do well and they want to enjoy where they work, and it’s your job to make that possible and to support them in that. And then they’ll do their best work.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Absolutely. Like I said, there’s a bit of a clear formula to doing this, but it’s the people bit that’s the hardest bit. Because you start an agency usually knowing how to do the doing and you learn how to do the leading as you go. If you come into an agency thinking I know it all already, it’ll be fine, I know the problems of that old agency, you might not know the solutions in that old agency, and you got to work them out. That’s when you’ve got to do people first. You’ve got to think about how human beings behave. It’s really, really important.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Well, once you are running your own agency, you suddenly realize the weight that was on those previous leader’s shoulders that maybe you didn’t fully appreciate, because sometimes you can sit on the sidelines and you’re like, I could do their job. That’s easy. They don’t do a lot. They’ve just done lots of calls or at lots of meetings, et cetera. But you don’t know that weight of responsibility and all the other things that are going on to keep the machine moving and everything happening. Yeah, it’s only when you really truly realize that. So I think, yeah, being human and then gaining some experience before you dive in, I think is really important. And it doesn’t have to be agency experience. I think the same, I suppose, whether you want to be an entrepreneur anywhere. I think it’s just having some real world moments where you’ve been really motivated, but also where you’ve maybe been demotivated because if you don’t know what that feels like, you are not necessarily going to be able to notice if you are creating that same atmosphere for somebody else, if you’re not aware of it.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Absolutely. I mean, it’s really good advice. I think part of that, if I understand what you’re saying correctly, is if you work in other places that aren’t just agencies, I think you get a bit more of a three-dimensional view of how people are. Because you have to deal with customers as well in an agency. If you only work in agency, agency, agency, agency, then you start your own agency, you may be missing a piece of how other businesses and how other people work. And if you want to be, it’s a similar type of thing if you want to be a great technical SEO just in an agency or wherever, you really need to be good at all of SEO in order to be able to be great at technical SEO, because-

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Exactly.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

You need to understand the three dimensional puzzle of how all this works. And I guess if you have lots of experience working in lots of different places with lots of different people, then you get a wider understanding of how the world really works and people in it.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Exactly. And you’ll also start to appreciate more the differences between a small business and maybe a big business. And yeah, because there are different dynamics and also you can empathize with your client’s pressure as well because you can imagine what they’re going through and pressures they’ve got under them. Because at the end of the day, our job is to make our clients look amazing and help them get their next promotion.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Exactly.

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

That’s one of the things we are always focused on, how can we as that marketing leader make sure that they’re going to get their next promotion and that they’re being seen to be brilliant. That’s the job.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Exactly. I think that’s spot on. Great advice to end the podcast on. So first and foremost, thank you very much for joining me, Becky. It’s been [crosstalk 00:21:22].

𝗕𝗲𝗰𝗸𝘆 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Thank you for having me.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Absolute pleasure. And in our next podcast we’ll have a different agency leader talking about their experiences and things they’ve learned along the way. So thanks very much for listening.

 

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