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Starting your own business – Part 1: Taking control

By 123 Reg - July 17, 2014
Barry Adams

Barry Adams of Polemic Digital

In this, the first in a series of posts, Barry Adams of marketing agency Polemic Digital explains why he decided to take the plunge and start his own business. In the coming months, Barry will be sharing his experiences, advice and tips as he strives to build a successful company from the ground up.

Towards the end of 2013 I was in a funny place at my job. We’d been enjoying a great winning streak at Pierce Communications, where I was the digital director, with two DANI Award wins in 2012 followed by a nomination for Best Agency at the European Search Awards. My own search engine optimisation (SEO) blog at barryadams.co.uk had just bagged a nomination for Best Blog at the UK Search Awards, and we’d just won a massive client retainer.

Our team was expanding with open positions for a web designer and a digital marketer, as we were winning client projects from big brands and needed extra hands on deck.

I first joined Pierce Communications in 2010 as a digital marketer, and was promoted to the digital director role in 2012. Since then the digital side of the business has blossomed; I managed to grow the team from its lowest point where it was just me and one developer, to the nine-strong team it is today. I should have been ecstatic. While outwardly I was able to behave normally, inside I was sullen and at times unmotivated. And I couldn’t figure out why.

In search of a lost spark

At around the same time, the company made the decision to undergo a rebrand. Pierce Communications had always been a bit of a three-headed monster, as I liked to describe it, with three distinct specialities combined under one roof (print, design, and digital). At times this worked to our advantage, but often it resulted in a perception that we were jacks of all trades and master of none – even though nothing could be further from the truth.

So the decision was made to create four separate brands: one for each aspect of the business, plus one ‘umbrella’ brand that we could use for multi-disciplinary pitches.

In the run-up to the rebrand I thought that once it was launched, I would feel different. I hoped to once again find my spark and be excited and eager to grow the business. I expected that the new brand would give me a renewed sense of ownership of the digital side of the company, and with that would come the motivation I needed to drive the digital side of the business to even greater heights.

When the rebrand was rolled out in early 2014, my digital side of the company wholeheartedly embraced their new name: The Tomorrow Lab. We felt it was a very strong brand and the whole business was excited about it. Feedback from clients and peers was universally positive, and now that we could profile ourselves as a pure digital specialist agency we could compete more effectively with our rivals, both local and international.

But for me, nothing had changed. The spark that had driven me on for the first three years of my time at Pierce Communications did not reignite, and I still found myself struggling to get out of bed every morning to go to work.

Finding that eureka moment

Then one morning, not very long after the rebrand, it suddenly struck me. Out of nowhere an insight emerged, and I knew what I had to do. There was no conscious thought process involved – it was as if my subconscious mind had been thinking hard about what I should do next, and once it had figured it out, it let the conscious part of my mind know with a sudden ‘eureka’ moment that I simply couldn’t ignore.

Archimedes bath eureka

Not every eureka moment has to happen in the bath

In hindsight it all made perfect sense: as the digital director at The Tomorrow Lab I had a lot of autonomy, but in the end it wasn’t my own business and I wasn’t 100% free to make all business decisions.

I’d also seen many of my friends in the SEO industry take the leap and set up on their own over the years, and invariably they seemed to enjoy renewed success and fulfilment.

Another part of me may also have been dreading the approach of the big Four-Oh, only two years hence, and there was perhaps a hidden sense of not wanting to lament missed opportunities.

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Lastly, over the years I’d built up a decent reputation in the SEO industry, and I felt I could capitalise on this somewhat and use it to grow my own business.

Goodbyes and new beginnings

When I floated the idea to my wife I wasn’t sure how she would react, as she was also in a time of flux in her employment, so from a purely financial perspective it made no sense at all for me to leave a secure job. But she knew exactly what state I was in and how important it was for me to take this leap, so she backed me 100%. Her support was invaluable and the final bit of motivation I needed.

So at the start of April 2014 I made the decision to leave my very successful job as digital director, and to start my own business.

Barry and some of the Tomorrow Lab team

Barry and some of the Tomorrow Lab team

This new business would be purely focused on that which I love doing the most: SEO.

My resignation talk with the boss wasn’t easy, but I suspect he wasn’t entirely surprised and expected this to happen sooner or later. Then I had to inform my team, and that was a truly difficult thing to do. I personally recruited each and every person in The Tomorrow Lab, so I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for their professional success.

A part of me felt I was abandoning them, but I knew that they would continue on a path of success. I’ve always stuck to the management mantra of hiring the best people possible, aiming them in the right direction, and giving them the mandate to do awesome work, so I knew they’d have the skills to do just fine without me.

The next three months proved to be hectic and exhausting, working my full notice during the day and putting things in place for my own business in my spare time. You can find out how I coped, and how you can do the same, next month.

You can find part two of Barry’s guide here.