Episode 24 – Geoff Griffiths – CEO Builtvisible

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Audio Transcript:

VO Guy:

Hello, and thanks for coming along to And We Have an Office Dog. 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 had success and where they’ve learned some hard lessons. All will be revealed with your host, Chris Simmons, 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 today, we’ve got Geoff, CEO at Builtvisible. Hi, Geoff.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Hi, Chris. How you doing?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Not too bad, thank you. And you?

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Very, very good. Thanks. Yeah.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And how long’s been Built… Oh my gosh. How long has Builtvisible been going? I should get my words right.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. I think we’re our 13th year now. So, yeah, it’s a fair old time, but I’ve sort of been there for nine of those. So that’s kind of my involvement with it.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So as with every podcast, this is your perfect opportunity in the case that may be potential member of staff or potential customers listening, give us a plug. What do you do? What do you do best?

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Oh, a plug. Lovely. The way we like to talk about it is we’re a proudly independent, unashamedly specialist organic digital agency. So we’ve evolved from SEO and sort of branched out into those kind of natural segues that that’s provided, typically working across financial services, travel, e-commerce, B2B, so huge sectors, really. Anything high competition, really. And the kind of big idea, I guess, is all about this meaningful agency experience and trying to deliver that to people that we employ, the human beings, the clients that we work with every day and obviously the work that we do. So I guess that’s us in a bit of a nutshell.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And 13 years of being that or did it start off as doing all of the things agency related?

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

It actually started off super technical and super strategic. So Richard Baxter who’s sort of the old school SEO. [crosstalk 00:02:24] know him very well. Yeah. He kind of came from that world, really. Sort of super technical. And I guess we kind of just evolved with the space to kind of… Because content came into play, as things became more difficult to measure, we sort of built out a data sort of capability. So, yeah, sort of even since I’ve been there, it’s really, really evolved. I guess everyone kind of knows us for the technical side. Like the Trojan horse, I guess, in terms of the work we do. But yeah. The Trojan horse, sounds very cynical, isn’t it?

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Come in one service, buy four.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Unknowingly as well. But no, it’s sort of a testament to the way we operate, it’s not sort of a cynical salesy thing. But yeah.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. No, it’s good. I’ve followed a lot of what you guys do over the years and I do know that actually you are honest about it. The cynic in me would really like to push you on that, but no I’m not going to. So the agency was going for 13 years, but in the last nine years or so, what would you say has been one of the biggest successes that you can think of?

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

I mean, that’s a huge question. I’m kind of quiet. I separate processes and outcomes pretty clearly. So my past life, I was a freshman rugby player, and kind of in that world you can’t buy in, you can’t get high on your own supply if you know what I mean. You can’t just buy into the bullshit. And the thing is… Ooh, can I swear? [crosstalk 00:03:51].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

We might get the whole podcast taken down, but we’ll see.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

If I do, I’m sorry about that. Yeah. And we’ve grown organically in the last 13 years. We’ve never sort of had investment, we’ve never done the acquisition thing. We’ve just grown by doing really, really good work. And I think not obsessing over the outcome. So really looking at, okay, well, how are we operating? What is it that we’re doing? And I think one of the big things, I guess it’s sort of super relevant and this is something I’m really, really proud is we launched something after a couple of years of testing it quite recently called Career Architects, which is sort of really the embodiment of this idea of processes versus outcomes. And it’s essentially a career progression framework. So we’ve seen all those years sort of the people we’ve managed to develop and the dividends that’s kind of paid into the company.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Awesome.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. It’s such an interesting space, isn’t it? Because you can’t get a degree in this. You have to sort of learn on the job. You can only really do it via experience and getting things right, getting things wrong. And we’ve kind of taken a load of the stuff that I kind of learned in my past career, really sport into how to build a team, and sort of how to build cohesion, togetherness, teamship, and then overlay it, okay, how do you want people to behave? What are those competencies that allow people to perform really highly? And then sort of finally integrated it with the hard frontline of developing organic digital marketing skills. And it’s driven the agency for some years now. We’ve really sort of formalized it in the last few years. So I guess that’s kind of a big success that isn’t an outcome.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I’d say so. Yeah. I know. I’d say so because I think agencies are people businesses. Like you said, at the very beginning, it’s people you deal with from clients, but it’s also people you deal with for the actual delivery of the work and the thinking. There’s two different versions of an agency, isn’t there? There’s the agency which employs people who think a lot and get a lot of very high thought and creative based work done. And then there’s the other side of agency, which just faffs around with a thousand page titles and metas and says it’s SEO. So the high thinking, high growth style agencies, like Builtvisible, for example, you need the right people and you need people to stay because otherwise you have brain drain and you spend all that time and effort bringing people in. And having a career path in an agency is essential to keep people on that purpose driven focus of where they should be going. But also kind of knowing where they’re going is really, really important for them to know what’s going next.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

It’s context, isn’t it? And that’s the thing, you can sell the dream, but it’s about well, yeah, but is it actually happening? And we sort of look around and I guess there’s a… I don’t know what your experience with this is, but I guess I would sort of look at an average kind of agency tenure as being maybe 18 months to two years. Sort of back end of last year we were up at five years. And it’s not to say that we keep people here forever and it’s a cult. And it’s healthy that people can kind of go off and achieve their [crosstalk 00:06:58].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Come on, it’s a cult. You all meet at the [crosstalk 00:07:04].

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. I’ve just outed myself as a cult leader. But, yeah, you want to kind of… It’s a massive win-win if somebody can come in with a certain level of skills and leave however much later with, I think, many, many more skills. And I’m not the product guy. This is the thing, I’m not really an SEO anymore and I never really was, really. But I think I’m leaving as sort of a better human, sort of that can encounter hardship, have resilience. For me, the big, big element, the big kind of core characteristic of career architect is self-awareness. It’s the thing I’ve seen time and again in sports. And anyone who’s very, very high performing has a very high level of self-awareness. So a lot of what we do are feedback mechanisms here, how we manage people, the way that we train managers to sort of coach this stuff into people is the thing.

Because if you can understand how you’re thinking about something and, okay, why do I feel stressed? Why do I feel under pressure? Which are natural things that happen in agencies, then it’s not about avoiding that. It’s about being able to use it and use it as a positive. So, yeah, that’s the… You look around, you see, okay, well, the people that have gone from here and where they’ve gone and what they’ve achieved, I’m hugely proud of it. Yeah, I sort of see it as this… I don’t want to be egoistical about it. It’s not me. Do you know what I mean? It’s the team and the environment.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It is an incredible success. It really is. Because it helps you do what you’re doing best. It also means that you’ve got happy, good people. And I think that’s sometimes lost in agency land a little bit where at the top of an agency, you see the P&L all the time, and you can see the potential wins or the losses coming relatively quickly. Lots of people don’t get to see that. And being able to have happy people who know where they’re going and how that’s connected to something bigger than them keeps people around. But also, like you say, when they do move on, they move on as better than they were…. Hopefully better than they were in the first place, which is fantastic. It is a good one. It’s fantastic. So if you could go back in time, as far back as rugby land or back to the last nine years or so, if there’s one thing that you’d give as advice to the younger probably fitter version of yourself, what might it be?

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

COVID has definitely taken its toll. Yes. It’s a really good question. I think it’s a bit of a cliched one, but I think kind of the idea of gathering the right team in place, I think there’s a lot of people that try and take everything on themselves and it’s just the worst way to do it, basically. Kind of more tangibly, I guess, that I kind of worked with our non-exec around with this principle of I, and only I. Which I think is a really lovely mantra. The basis of that is kind of, I have to look at something I’m doing and ask myself the question, “Am I, and only I the person that should be doing this thing?” And kind of the broad principle, if there’s someone else that can do it. Firstly, they’re probably better at it than I am because that’s sort of a world trotted path. But also, it is probably a better division of resource and labor in terms of them doing that.

So I think there’s that. And I think the other one as well is that… This is really interesting. I got sort of quite a bit of feedback from my senior leadership team on this topic a few years ago. And since you addressed it, yeah, really useful. Again, I wish I’d known it earlier. And it’s kind of come from that past sporting background. So the analogy I always talk to people about is, we play on a Saturday, that was our jobs. Then you train all week to play on a Saturday. You come in on the Monday morning and you come and do your weights, do your fitness, get your physio. And then there’s couple of hours, three hours on video analysis.

And you sit there and you’re not sitting around patting each other on the back. You’re looking at, okay, well, what is it that we can improve on in terms of as individuals, as kind of units of the team, as a whole team, in our preparation. And you sort of pick all these things apart. And I think I was in that kind of a head space where it kind of removes the ability to celebrate. And with rugby, it’s like you go out and have a blowout in the evening on a Saturday and it’s all good. But, yeah, you hop straight back to it. And I think I kind of lost that with work. Yeah. But actually, at the same time, it’s a journey I’m sure many agency owners have been on. But just taking stock of things and being like, we’re not packing parachutes. And actually, we are way better than we were in search time period ago.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. It’s so hard to have the ability to have any kind of retrospect in an agency because things happen so quickly. And unless you have that dedicated time to put any kind of retrospective in place, or even just introspective after you’ve spent any time doing any retrospective, it’s really hard because every week blends into the next. I don’t know if it’s anything like this for you guys at the agency, but it’s Monday right now when we’re recording, and it’s going to be Friday tomorrow in [crosstalk 00:12:18] perspectives. It comes really, really quick, thick and fast. And if you don’t put time in and the mechanisms around it for the team as well to give and receive the right kind of feedback, then you lose something. Every bit of good that they could have been extracted from that for the future is potentially lost. And every little bit of improvement is potentially missed as well.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

And I think it’s fascinating as well because you set the culture. And our job really is to provide a framework and that’s how I [inaudible 00:12:46] my role and my team’s role. Build a framework, provide the structure, and then just allow people to explore it. What opportunities do exist there? How can you proliferate that at 65 people now, in the same way we could do it when we were 10 people. It’s a really tricky thing to do. But however, that kind of, I guess, mindset that I certainly had was being reflected in the teams. And that was really, really interesting in terms of people just sort of giving everything to the core, not really celebrating. Always, “What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?” And your job’s not to come to work and to blow smoke up your own arses.

Your job’s to come to work and to solve problems and do things for the right reasons. And typically, those are because there’s an opportunity to make something better. So a hundred percent agree, sort of building structure into that is important. My senior team and all the teams have their own… You can engineer this stuff to a degree, but the key is that it becomes habit and it’s not just lip service and it’s not just going out on the piss because you’re an agency. It’s doing things that are really meaningful and that do facilitate that kind of teamship.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Meaning is essential in all of this. Do you think there’s something that you kind of have done over the years, you’ve learned over the years that’s really set you up for the success that you’re seeing now?

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

That’s a really, really good question. Yeah. I think as an agency we’re quite good at listening. I spent a lot of time listening. That’s really, really important because-

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Hopefully to this podcast, of course.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Right. Yes. As everybody should, Chris. Otherwise, we probably listen to all the other ones and then stumble across this one. Yeah. I think sort of listening’s a key part in making sure that you’re not being led by yourself in a lot of ways. I sort of firmly believe kind of the answer… I don’t have the answers. I’ve never professed to have the answers. And I don’t think really often any individual does have the answers, but when you know you’re getting it right is that you know the answers in the room.

But to do that, you’ve got to create an environment where people do feel a level of psychological safety, they’re okay with disagreeing with each other, what I call positive tension. But really listening to each other and understanding different perspectives to kind of work out what the right thing to do is because we’re always faced with sort of myriad opportunities and decisions to make, options everywhere. And my approach is got to get all of them and then really assess and then go with the right one. But to do that, you kind of need to drop the ego, listen to people, just all understand where your intentions are. I think that’s really important. But I can’t remember what the question was. I just sort of rambled there. [crosstalk 00:15:40].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. If there’s something that you’ve learned along the way that’s helped you with success, it’s learning to listen. And part of listening… There’s that old saying, “You’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a reason,” blah, blah, blah. The reality is if you know yourself and you have a positive idea of who you are, you know what you are, and you’re hopefully equipped with a good level of empathy, then you can really listen. And then you deploy some critical thinking and good communication skills to that, and you can have the good kind of conflict, what you call it? A positive tension.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Positive tension.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So you can have the good kind of conflict where someone can challenge someone on an idea or an assumption or a belief. And you know that there may be some conflict there, but everyone knows it’s for the best outcome in mind. And whatever outcome is chosen, everyone feels like they’ve been heard and they’ve had an opportunity, but they all commit to whatever that one thing that everyone’s picked is.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, exactly. And that’s where sort of really strong leadership does come into play when it’s saying, right, here is the direction. But I think just to call it back, it’s one of the things which I saw time and again as a rugby player is that… I remember being 18 years old, hadn’t got a clue what was going on. I was trying to decide whether to play rugby or to go to university. And I was sort of surrounded by these sort of huge blokes at Bedford Blues in the National One at the time rugby.

And it’s a very cultural thing, but I remember being asked, “Well, “Geoff, what do you think we should do?” And it’s this kind of inherently cultural aspect of rugby that I sort of think is… How do you engineer that in an organization? It’s really interesting because that’s not normal. If you’re a junior, there’s this kind of position, this idea of how you come in, sharp, get on with it, learn the ropes. But actually, there’s so much gold there in terms of how people perceive the world that can have such an impact on what you do [crosstalk 00:17:33].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Absolutely. And not to get at this from a political end, this is not the podcast, but education is missing that ability to listen and think. Education often teaches you how to do, not how to think. And when you come out of even higher education, you’re often taught what the content of a book and an exam are. Then you come into an agency and someone like you says, what do you think? That’s powerful. That changes people’s perspectives on the world. And you’ve just got to hope that they’re… And for the most part, most people are smart enough to be able to start learning, “Oh, wow. Someone wants my opinion. And I need to think of how to give it in a concise, intelligent and fair way.”

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. Do you know what it is as well? I wrote about this a while ago, actually, and it’s one of these huge driving factors for career architect because anyone can be taught SEO. That’s the beauty of it. Or content, whatever it is. This process [inaudible 00:18:32] some stuff. Yeah. You need some common sense, but actually, I made the mistake of saying to my sister, who’s a clinical psychologist. Well, of course, you don’t inherently have the ability to interpret feedback. And she would, “Oh, actually you’re wrong.” And sort of pointed out to me that actually humans have evolved as such because we can interpret feedback and know things are dangerous and survive.

But you’re exactly right on the education piece. The ability to give and receive feedback and do something with that, you don’t get taught that. You don’t get taught… Resiliency is difficult because you have to sort of experience it, but again, you don’t get educated on that. And that’s why we try to sort of really get all this stuff nailed down. And I think there’s more gold in the behavior aspect in some ways of what we built, because all these agencies, yes, they can appear very fun. They can do this, that and the other. But the reality is, it is that kind of… Yes, you have all these amazing upsides of being in an agency. However, there’s deadlines, there’s resourcing, it’s stressful. There’s clients, there’s conflicts in teams, cetera, cetera, cetera. But it all has to come. You can’t have one without the other, essentially. So our job really is to help sort of develop people to [crosstalk 00:19:48].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

You’re kind of undoing the entire childhood of someone, in a sense. Because everything through childhood is, remember this and this is authority. Authority is the thing. So don’t challenge authority throughout school and throughout parenting and things like that. And then you come out of that into the wide world of business. And this is why quite a lot of juniors find it’s quite stressful and anxious in any position because they’ve come out of that kind of, “This is the authority and these are the structures and here’s the things to remember, so here’s your desk, do your work, please. And if you do it, we’ll pay you.” And that’s great.

And then looking at a digital agency, things change so quickly. You’ve not only got to keep doing the doing, you’ve also got to keep up on what’s changing, whilst also knowing that that’s not always going to be a constant, that’s always going to change. And then you’ve got all the deliverables which have already been signed off and agreed. And you’ve got layers of management and decision making between you, the junior, and the top. But if the people at the top and the leadership start saying, “What do you think? You’re on the ground? Do you listen to these things? You know what’s going on. It’s brilliant for people. In general, it’s brilliant.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Well, that’s the great game of building a culture, isn’t it? Because if we moved at the pace at which I could process and make just every decision in the business, we’d go absolutely nowhere. So it’s about getting people in and giving them that autonomy in a really safe way, giving them accountability, helping them understand that. I think also being very clear about it. We shouldn’t be afraid of these sort of like, “No, no. This is your job, but here’s what the next step up might look like.” I’m being really clear about that. Showing them that kind of path because it’s the balance, isn’t it? Because you kind need everyone to do the thing they need to do. We need to pull in the same direction if you want to achieve what we want to achieve. However, we can’t move at my pace. We can’t move at my COO’s pace. We have to move as one. And that’s the great game. That’s where all the fun comes in, I think.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

It is fun because if it was any slower, we’d be an accountancy firm or something like that. And the speed at which tax changes is a lot slower. So if you really wanted a slower pace of life, but in a service business, you’d pick an accountancy. So if there’s any potential agency owners listening or people who just started an agency for themselves and they were listening and waiting for Geoff’s one piece of advice that you could give them and they would be flying on all cylinders, what would that one piece of advice be?

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

That’s a great question. I think everyone’s going to talk about getting the right team in place. So I’m not going to say that, but that is sort of the big one because it frees you up to do the bigger stuff. But I think for me, again, just coming from team environments, looking at it through that lens, I think really putting some thought into how you can, again, build scalable structures and frameworks that allow people to really express themselves. When I joined Builtvisible, we were called SEO Gadget. Richard ran it. There was about 10 of us in a room. And actually, the only really way I’ve ended up here really is because opportunity was there and I was allowed to take advantage of it.

So I think kind of really focusing in on how can I create an environment and a culture, which very clearly shows where the opportunity is, very clearly allows someone to see how they can get there, allow them to be in control of that, really take ownership of that. And these are kind of really big nebulous things and it probably sounds, oh yeah, pie in the sky. But it’s genuinely where I would start. Because what it does is it removes the need for you. So that whole thing, getting the team in place, if I’m able to sort of set those, I don’t know, standards, framework, culture, that idea, then it allows people to take advantage of those opportunities. Because I think it’s one thing saying get the team in, but does the team know why they’re there, what they’re doing, where they’re going and how they can impact it. It’s useless.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

I think when you start an agency right at the very beginning and it’s just two people or no people, it’s just you. All you’re thinking is when’s the next client coming? Or how am I going to get paid? And how are we going to do this sort of stuff? And I think when you get to that sort of three staff members+, when you kind of have worked out how you’re going to be in charge, how you’re going to lead and getting out of your own way and like you say, by letting other people do the doing and you can help with the cultural and the structure stuff. When you sort of get to three staff members, all the way up from there, between three and five staff members is when you can really start building those frameworks and the cultures.

And I think if you wait until you get to that point, you’re then waiting for the next thing to do. So you need to start thinking of that on day one in apprehension of having those three people, because that will happen really quick if you’re any good. If you start on day one thinking, how am I going to build the structures for the right culture and for the right people, and how am I going to create pathways and purpose for people on year one? Then when you get to three people, you’ve got everything you need kind of on the shelf ready to go. But if you get to three people, then you’ve got all the burden and all the issues of three people and you never get that started.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. And I’m not a founder. I came into this when it was established and I’m sort of very aware of that. So I never sort of experienced those challenges, but I think another really interesting thing when I do my onboarding. So every new member of staff that joins, sort of do this onboarding process and I’m off of the bottleneck, but the first person to kind of talk about where the business would come from, et cetera. When Richard founded the company, it’s interesting how the purpose that he sort of tried to achieve there still informs the culture today. So we kind of bridged the two together because he started SEO Gadget at the time because he didn’t like the politics of in-house.

He didn’t feel like he was doing really, really good work and he didn’t feel like he was being rewarded for that work. And actually those are three really key staples. We’re never going to have to know politics. The game is politics minimization, to be realistic. But also, the idea of doing really good work is obviously at the heart of what we do as a specialist agency. And the idea of rewarding for it is that kind of now the cliche work hard, play hard. But genuinely can we change people’s lives for the better through our reward mechanisms or have them buy into what we’re trying to achieve strategically. Still really in form of what we do today. But, yeah, I guess I’m a bit blessed in terms of I came in when it was already going and tried to kind of engineer that stuff in at that point. But I think the job Richard did at the beginning laid incredible foundations purely because he had a real sense of purpose in terms of why he was doing what he was doing, which I thinks quite interesting to look back on.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

So in a sense that one piece of advice has kind of come back from what you initially said to, essentially, if I’m listening properly to essentially set a purpose that you are really comfortable with at the beginning and live to that purpose and everything else, like you say, around the team and the culture and all of the other bits that come from that, they actually start with purpose.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

It’s the classic process and outcome. Yeah, exactly. And with us, kind of the big ideas around delivering the most meaningful agency experience in the world. So that’s the kind of [inaudible 00:27:22] strap line that’s written on the wall and all that stuff. But these things are only useful if they’re implemented. And this is the thing is we have a very clear value set, very, very value driven around this idea of sort of meaning and experience. And it [inaudible 00:27:39] to an agency, which is people, plants, and work. So again, if I can focus on making the employment experience here meaningful for 65 people as individuals, but also as sub teams, but also as a big agency group, then I’m doing my job. If I’m tailoring what we do to a wide variety of clients and not as, oh, this business or this business, as in the individual.

So is it a CMO who’s worked with us for 10 years? Or is it someone who’s just been dumped SEO on their plate because the person’s left and we are just currently their incumbent? We need to understand what the clients are doing, make that really meaningful. And then on the work side, obviously, working with a multinational conglomerate’s very different to working with a startup. And so how do you tailor what you’re doing? So it kind of works on all those levels. But again, it exists as a bit of a guiding light. The way I talk about values is they kind of… You know when you go to the bowling alley… I used to say this and I was like, “Oh, you’re a kid.” And people were like, “Oh, I still use them.” But they’ve got the bumpers on the side. To me, that’s what values are, right?

So we can chuck the ball down and we can explore side to side. We can see what’s out there, but there are some hard lines on how we operate, what we believe, what our purpose is. And we might bounce off them every now and again, but we’ll eventually sort of get to where we want to go to. And I have such a firm belief. I’ve got no evidence that proves anything otherwise, but focusing on that stuff is far more valuable than focusing on, oh, we need to hit this the top line or EBITDA or we need to… Getting obsessive over the metric. Absolutely, have a plan and go for it. [crosstalk 00:29:16].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yeah. Quite a lot of that follows, isn’t it? Yeah.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

Yeah, exactly. So, yeah, that’s the way we look at it, I guess. So, yeah.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Yes. I mean, you’re preaching to the choir. I love this stuff. Hence why I do this. But what wonderful advice to end the podcast on. Thank you very much for coming along, Geoff.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for having me. Really appreciate it.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

No, it’s been brilliant.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

People don’t really want to listen to my waffles, so I really appreciate it.

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

Well, I’ll let you know what the listening stats are eventually.

𝗚𝗲𝗼𝗳𝗳 𝗚𝗿𝗶𝗳𝗳𝗶𝘁𝗵𝘀 (𝗚𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁):

[inaudible 00:29:48].

𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲 (𝗛𝗼𝘀𝘁):

And in our next podcast, we’ll have a different, awesome agency leader and we’ll talk to them about the things they’ve learned along the way. Enjoy.

 

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