Spotlight on - Sam Briggs
At Spotlight, we got the chance to have a chat with Sam Briggs of Vitty Creative, a reliable and honest Digital Marketing Agency based in Nottingham.
I was born and bred in Nottingham and trained in digital media at Nottingham Trent University. I graduated at the beginning of the recession, so the first few years were tough, but I persevered and have now been a front-end web developer for the past 11 years. In 2017, I decided to make a go of starting my own business and Vitty was born and it’s been onwards and upwards from there!
Why digital marketing?
One of the things that I love about web development and digital marketing in general, is that it’s a new and rapidly progressing industry, with new changes and advancements happening almost daily. This means that I’m continually learning – which I love – and it never gets boring as there’s always a new standard to get my head around or hot new technology to master. I’ve always been into computers and technology, and this, alongside the more creative aspects of web development is what drew me to the profession.
When at college and university, I had the opportunity to try out several different types of digital media, such as web design and development, video production, audio production and graphic design – and it was always web development that stood out as my favourite. I fell in love with web development as the possibilities are endless – only really limited to the extent of your imagination! Even if you can’t quite figure out how to code a complex or tricky element, there’s always someone out there willing to help you. There’s a real community of developers with extensive knowledge you can either share and tap into. On a personal level, seeing the various elements come together and a website come to life has always fascinated me, and the thrill of -finally- getting that tricky bit of code to work is like no other!
One of the other fascinating aspects about being in the web development and digital marketing industry is the way that you get little windows into so many different industries, businesses and people. In my time I’ve built websites for all sorts of clients, from butchers to blind installers, cafes to car dealers and parish councils to physiotherapists. Each project gives me an insight into a sector which is often unfamiliar to me and it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help these businesses and organisations and watch them grow and thrive.
I think that the biggest challenge I have faced is coming out of university in 2009, at the height of the recession. No-one was employing, and there was a lot of competition for very few jobs in the web development industry. I bounced around between a few different jobs for the first few years in my career, but this time taught me to be resourceful. I applied the knowledge learned from university, as well as transferable skills learned from my first few jobs to adapt myself and grow professionally. Whilst a web development job straight out of university would have been great, I believe that the way that things -actually- went did far more for my professional development, giving me determination and the will to succeed.
One of the key things that I learned from my early career experience is that life doesn’t just hand you a successful career and you need to work hard to achieve your dreams. Accepting that things won’t always go my way was the start of overcoming these setbacks. Throughout my career, I have tried to track down opportunities and to have an open mind to new and unfamiliar experiences. From some of the opportunities that I pursued, the skills that I have learned have seen me through starting my own business and a myriad of other times.
One of the other key ways that I managed to overcome my setbacks was to never stop learning. When I was working my first few jobs, I always kept on developing websites and improving my skills in my free time. I could’ve very easily given up on the career that I wanted to do and accept that life didn’t have that in store for me, but I realised that I always have a choice. This ‘side hustle’, building websites and developing my technical skills was what I wanted and chose to do, and that has since blossomed into a fulfilling career for me.
Drive to succeed
I’ve always been a determined person who would go and get what I want (or at least work towards it if it’s something big or complex). I don’t back down from a challenge, and even if something doesn’t seem to be working out, I take a step back and try to consider it from every angle to work it out. At heart, I’m a perfectionist and don’t like to settle with a half-acceptable solution, when a more optimal solution is out there somewhere.
The biggest lesson that I have learned throughout my career is that failure isn’t as bad as you might think, it’s just an opportunity to look at things differently and go again.
I have made mistakes along the way – haven’t we all – but by looking at them as opportunities for growth, rather than failures, they have allowed me to move on and build something better.
Before I started Vitty, I tried starting my own business twice before. Both times failed for various reasons, one of them being that I didn’t prepare as well as I could’ve prior to launch.
These experiences would have quite easily put me off the idea of starting my own business for life, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do. So when it came to the third time (third time lucky!), I made sure that I was prepared – I used my spare time to design the website, start advertising on social media, and get the business admin done. That way, when Vitty launched, I was able to hit the ground running, rather than being a month behind before I even started.
Advice to anyone starting out
Tip number one is definitely don’t be afraid to ask for help! You might be just starting out, but you are not on your own and there are plenty of people who have been in your industry who know just what you are going through. The majority of them would be more than happy to share advice, help and guidance, you just need to ask. Even the most senior people in your industry were starting out once.
The second tip I can give is to learn, learn and learn. Once you leave education, the learning doesn’t stop there! Learning won’t just mean reading some books or doing a course, you learn by doing and there are plenty of skills that you can pick up just by being a bit curious and open to new information. In every industry (mine especially!), there are new developments and advancements and you will need to keep abreast of these so that you can offer your employer or clients the best experience and grow in yourself.
All of this learning is helped by my third tip – enjoy what you do! You only get one shot at life and if you’re not enjoying something, look at changing it. Your career will be so much easier if you take pleasure and pride in the work that you do.
One of the best pieces of advice that I can give to people wanting to start a business is to be passionate about your industry. If you’re not passionate about what you do/sell, you are already on the back foot when trying to convince your clients or customers to commission your services or buy your products.
A business is a labour of love, so you need to be prepared for hard work and for it to take over your life. If you think about employment, when you take a week’s holiday, there is generally someone to answer your emails or at least pick up the phone and ensure that your business continues. When you run your own business, you don’t always have that and so a week’s uninterrupted time off will likely be a rarity! This is why enjoying your industry is key, it makes that graft feel a bit easier.
A piece of advice that I was given when starting up, was that a business tends to take around 3 years to establish. There will be times in the first few years where very little work is coming in, you’re struggling to make ends meet whilst working all the hours you can, and you wonder what’s the point! But just remember that it takes time for good things to happen, if you grit your teeth and persevere, you will get there.
Lastly, the best way to think about business is as a series of mutually beneficial relationships. You hear those old adages of ‘it’s only business’ and so on, but at the end of the day you are a human being, dealing with other human beings (even if that particularly scary client can seem more like a monster!). If you, say, take the time to recommend one of your clients’ services to your friend, this gives them a boost and makes it more likely that they are going to recommend you in turn. By conducting all of your business with respect, professionalism and empathy, it makes it easier to build meaningful and lasting business relationships and ultimately to succeed.
Advice to live by
The best advice that I have ever been given is ‘You are going to die’! Although morbid and a bit off-putting on the face of it, it really means that you only get one life and you need to live it! For me, this means that I look at every day as a possibility and the realisation that you only get one shot at life means that I take a chance on opportunities and try not to just live in my comfort zone. If you want to go and do something, you have the key to making it happen.
Managing a team
Understand your staff and what drives them. The ‘customers come first’ mantra is dated and no longer applicable - at the end of the day, if your staff aren’t enjoying what they do and don’t feel motivated/loved, they won’t perform for you and your customers. You need to try and invest in your staff and help them to reach their potential.
Highs and lows
One of the things that I love about my job is no one day is the same. There are so many variations and facets to web development and digital marketing in general and you can go from trying to unpick some code one day, to putting together a social media campaign the next.
Another great thing about the job is meeting new clients and getting an insight into both the way they work and their industry. It’s really great to get under the skin of what they do, and then be able to apply that knowledge to work out how best to target their desired audience and help to develop their business. I love to see others succeed, so it’s great to be able to help them along their journey.
One of the worst parts of my job is seeing companies struggle due to getting bad advice on digital marketing or being taken for a ride by less reputable people. Unfortunately, the web development and digital marketing industries are unregulated, in that there is not an enforceable standard to meet for work in the sector. This sadly leaves some companies and individuals coming to me with broken, unusable, or substandard websites, having paid hundreds or even thousands of pounds for the privilege. I always do my best to offer my clients sound advice and build their trust in me, Vitty and our work - it’d just be nice to see all web developers and digital marketers doing the same!
Formula for success
As a formula for success as an entrepreneur, I’d say that the key ingredients are: loving what you do, being prepared for hard work, not backing down from a challenge and building mutually beneficial relationships with your clients.
Business during a pandemic
When Covid-19 hit, along with the lockdown restrictions and subsequent shock to the economy, it was a setback for most industries and we initially found that a lot of our prospective clients clammed up and cancelled projects. However, we have found that the digital marketplace (as well as digital marketing) has become increasingly important - for example, a shop that did not have a digital presence prior to coronavirus would struggle during lockdown, and would fall behind the competition who had invested in digital marketing. Therefore a key part of our strategy has been to remind our clients (both prospective and new) of how important that digital marketing is, and to encourage them to invest in it to benefit their business.
We also looked into attracting new clients in industries that have seen growth or needed innovative change - for example food retailers and companies within the hospitality industry. This has resulted in us securing a contract for a new website for a butcher, as well as a website for a cafe enabling them to sell takeaway meals in a safe manner whilst they were still closed.
I had also planned to use lockdown as an opportunity to train and improve my technical and business skills, but to be honest, the majority of these plans have fallen by the wayside as I’ve been too busy with work!
Remote working can be a great opportunity, but also potentially a big challenge, particularly if the workforce is not used to it. Throughout my time running Vitty, I have frequently worked from home or remotely and have some good tips to hopefully help other businesses in dealing with this new way of working.
One of the best tips is to ensure that you keep in contact with your team. Make time to meet online to discuss the business, your projects and strategies, but also make sure that you make time for a virtual ‘coffee break’ to keep that office atmosphere going and to help your team feel less isolated. Make sure to include any furloughed workers in this communication too (within the legal bounds of not making them do any work!) so their transition back into work is easier when it comes.
Another key tip for working from home is to manage your time. Just because you’re not commuting, doesn’t mean that you should feel obligated to work during this time. Equally, working from home isn’t an opportunity to get all those chores done around the house to avoid that report you’ve been dreading writing. The message here is to manage your time the best that you can; try to draw that line between ‘work’ and ‘home’ - even if they’re the same place right now. Critically, try to let the rest of your household in on your work plans, so that you can hopefully get a bit of peace and quiet when you’re trying to concentrate!
Don’t be afraid to step away or change your environment. Society seems to have gotten into a culture of working through lunch and not taking a proper break. If you can, try to spend a break in the middle of your working day away from a screen - go for a walk, read a book, sit in the garden, whatever you feel comfortable and happy with. There is all sorts of research to say that being in a green space or near nature is beneficial to your mental health and general well-being. Whatever it is, the key thing is to try and get a change of scenery and to avoid having a full day of sitting and/or screen-time.
We’ve worked with the majority of our clients to help to push them to the next level in their business during these uncertain times. Rather than resting on their laurels, we’ve helped to demonstrate how digital marketing can and is benefitting their business. From this work, we’ve been securing additional work from our clients, as well as gaining several recommendations which have introduced new clients to us.
The other way that we’ve been adapting is by investing in new hardware and software to offer our clients a better level of service. This has included learning some new web development techniques and other training on key issues affecting the industry (such as accessibility) in order to update and refresh our knowledge and in turn be able to allow our clients to reap the benefits.