We picked the brains of digital entrepreneur Alex Jordan to get his top tips on quitting your day job and setting up a company, building a good base of contacts, side projects, the pros and cons of being based in London, establishing a business on a budget, and much more…
Hi Alex, tell us a bit about yourself and Hyperlink Media.
I’ve worked in digital media for over 7 years as a freelancer and then for a stock photography agency as their Website and SEO manager. During this time I began building contacts and decided that one day I’d run my own digital agency.
In March I finally took the plunge and went full time on Hyperlink Media. Hyperlink Media is now based in Soho and offers web development and digital marketing services. We also have a regular team of freelancers allowing us to provide additional design, PR, advertising and branding services as required.
My introduction to the digital world was more through necessity than anything else. Back in 2003 I started an eBay skate shop which eventually moved over to an eCommerce website. I was fourteen at the time and didn’t have any budget so taught myself the basic digital marketing and development skills needed to get the site up and running. I sold the shop in 2012 and moved to London, taking the job at the stock photography agency and continuing freelancing on the side.
You quit your day job to start Hyperlink Media. Why did you decide to move on and how has it been so far?
Running my own agency has been my ambition for many years, so there’s never really been any doubt in my mind that the time would come. I was very lucky that my previous employer was incredibly supportive, allowing me to work part time to start building up clients and even becoming a client the day I left. Eventually I had enough work that taking the decision to hand in my notice was the obvious next step.
Whilst I really enjoyed my previous job, nothing compares to what I’m doing now. My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t have enough clients to keep afloat, but so far we’ve had more than enough projects to keep us busy. I’m currently in the process of building the team so we can take on even more work. The only thing I miss at the minute is free time.
How did you go about forming your company and how long did it take you to plan and action?
To be honest it didn’t really feel like a formal process. There were no business plans at first, no cashflow forecasts. I was freelancing and working on my own projects throughout university and during my evenings and weekends whilst I was employed, so the foundations were built over several years. It was only in the few months before going full time that I started going through the formalities of developing a plan of action, and even then it was only a case of stating in writing what was already in my head.
Although it happened a year before I went full-time, coming up with the company name was the last piece of the puzzle. All the names I liked were already being used by other digital companies. And then, quite by chance, I saw that hyperlink.co.uk was for sale. After some research I realised that it had a lot of potential so I settled on Hyperlink Media, registering the necessary trademarks, renamed the company I was already using for my freelancing and making everything official.
Agencies are extremely competitive; what does Hyperlink Media offer that’s different?
They are, but in my experience the competition tends to focus more on chasing leads rather than offering a high quality service and delivering results. Over the past few years I’ve worked with numerous agencies, and have experience of many more through my clients. In my opinion, many do not offer value for money. Instead, they rely on the fact that those paying for their services do not actually understand what they are purchasing.
One of my clients was paying a ‘top’ agency £1,100 per month for linkbuilding services. Whilst linkbuilding in the traditional sense is not an advised strategy in 2014 anyway, I discovered that this agency was outsourcing to an Indian company to carry out the service for $50. Needless to say the quality was terrible and the client was none the wiser.
Hyperlink Media is different because what we do is driven purely by our clients’ objectives. We’re here to help form a strategy, advise what is possible, and ultimately serve to offer the best mix of products for each of our clients’ individual needs.
Hyperlink Media is also different because we offer an option to have our experts work regularly with our clients in their own offices. Whether for the duration of a project, a regular part-time arrangement or for one-off consultations, this provides a direct point of contact who can really get to understand what our clients are trying to achieve and channel Hyperlink Media’s collective experience as required. I don’t actually know of any other digital agency that offers this service.
What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of being based in London?
At the minute, the services we offer are in much higher demand in London than anywhere else in the country. There’s also plenty of opportunity to network, and meeting clients is made easy by London’s transport links.
Considering the work/life balance, our Soho office is within a few minutes of pretty much anything you could want: food, theatre, parks, shops, etc. I considered an out of London office, but nowhere compared.
London is expensive. The cost of offices and people are far greater than anywhere else in the country.
Networking is a crucial part of any business. What are the best ways you’ve found to establish contacts and build relationships?
Networking and customer relationship management form the core of Hyperlink Media’s marketing strategy. In fact all of our clients to date have originated from networking in some form.
If you want to attend networking events, remember that everyone there is trying to sell you something and they won’t remember you! Okay, this sounds very negative, but in my experience the only business relationships I’ve ever maintained from networking events have been with people I’ve met at the pub afterwards, after the serial networkers there for the free food have left.
In my opinion the best way to network is informally, through introductions from existing connections and out of the context of formal networking events. Rather than going in pushing a business card, get into a conversation and wait for those you are conversing with to request your details. If they don’t ask for your business card or contact information then it’s unlikely that giving them a card will encourage them to get in touch later.
Once you’ve made the connection, maintain in. I find that sending the occasional email or message through LinkedIn highlighting something like an article that may be of interest can do wonders.
What are your top tips for anyone thinking of starting and establishing a web business on a small budget?
Your number one aim must be to establish a source of income. Some of my first jobs came from just telling people that I build websites, which cost me nothing. So you don’t necessarily need to spend lots to get started.
Consider any marketing as a tool to assist your customer acquisition strategy, rather than being your customer acquisition strategy. This means you should have a planned conversion path before you invest in things like flyers which may not actually support that conversion path. I guess it really comes down to priorities. Do you really need that thing, or is it just nice to have?
Agencies regularly hire contractors and part-time staff. What advice would you give to anyone looking to find short-term staff?
Make sure you know what you’re getting before taking someone on. Can they actually do what you need them to? Can you actually work together? It’s essential that you communicate effectively, set expectations and, above all, have a proper brief.
My first point of call is usually to reach out to my network of people I’ve already dealt with before, or see if someone I know can recommend someone.
What are your favourite tools of the trade (apps, websites, software etc.)?
Where do I start? I don’t think we’d be around if it wasn’t for Adobe Creative Cloud, WordPress or LinkedIn, but we owe a lot to Advanced Custom Fields (WordPress Plugin), MOZ, Experts Exchange, SEMRush, Google Analytics, ahrefs.com, Majestic SEO, HootSuite, Twitter, Facebook and AddThis. The list goes on!
It’s worth noting that Heart Internet’s technical support have been invaluable too, helping us set up custom server configurations.
What’s next for Hyperlink Media?
I’m a strong believer in side projects, so long as they don’t negatively impact the time spent on client work. One project that we’re about to launch is The Skateparks Project which is a UK skatepark resource. It will be a portal with information and guides for anyone in the UK looking to set up a community group to build a skatepark. We’re also putting together information about as many UK skateparks as we can find, with just over 1000 skateparks currently in our system. If all goes to plan we’ll be live for Christmas.