Q&A: Sam Charles on her start-up Business Float Digital
Although Float is a young company, Sam’s rise in the digital industry has been impressive, having moved from working with huge brands at established agencies to setting up on her own. People are beginning to sit up and take notice, as evidenced by her recent nomination for a prestigious UK Search Award and invitation to speak at high profile industry conferences.
We caught up with Sam to talk about how she went about starting her own business and what she’s learned along the way.
Do you think you are a natural entrepreneur?
In a previous life I was a self-employed commercial photographer and digital artist with my own lighting studio and creative suite software, so I guess you could say there was always a part of me that was an entrepreneur, even before this venture. I left that career behind because I recognised that I was heading down the wrong path but one thing remained — I wanted to own my own business.
After uprooting my life, transferring from my photography course to a degree in business and working at one of the largest digital marketing agencies in the world, I found my calling in SEO (search engine optimisation).
During the final year of my undergraduate programme I chose a pathway to Marketing to further specialise in my chosen area. I continued to accelerate my professional career in digital marketing across multiple agencies working with over 100 clients including Fortune 500 brands.
Before I started my own business, I created my own website in 2013 that I managed alongside my day job. I set up a blog to exercise my analytical knowledge and flex my creative muscles. Just a couple of months into my blogging, my website generated a steady income through advertising; that same blog now yields a salary and pays my mortgage every month. I guess it was a matter of time before I decided to go onto something bigger and better.
Tell us a bit about your business concept and how you might evolve it?
Float Digital supports businesses to increase their position in search engines, drive organic traffic and achieve higher conversions; we achieve this by demystifying SEO and executing successful strategies that yield return on investment (unlike untrusted services advertised on Fiverr and People Per Hour or companies that outsource to other countries)!
There is a huge stigma attached to SEO and so much conflicting advice online; Float Digital aims to educate business owners and marketing managers to support them in making smart decisions to increase traffic.
I completely understand that it’s difficult to trust an industry that has earned a bad reputation; that’s why I wanted to offer flexible and low-risk packages. There are no minimum contracts, no setup fees and no cancellation fees, and if it’s not working, we’ll continue to work on clients’ websites for free.
In the future, Float Digital will continue to support and educate business owners and marketing managers, just like we do now. The goal is to create trusted, reliable and flexible SEO support available to everybody in some shape or form, regardless of budget.
What made you start your business?
I decided that my twenties may be some of the best years of my life, and I spent Monday to Friday wishing my life away, then spent the weekend catching up on sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy but I figured there’s so much more to life than being stuck in an office, and I didn’t want to realise that when it was too late and live to regret it. Armed with experience and drive, I quit my job and launched my own business in May 2016.
I’ve always been a driven person and love to experiment with digital marketing strategies to get ahead of my competition (that’s what made having my own blog such an asset because it was a playground for my SEO theories). If you’re passionate about something, it makes sense to channel that energy into growing a successful business.
What have been your key decisions to help the business grow?
Taking the plunge and dedicating myself to my business 100% was a scary decision but equally one of the most important. Also, I highly recommend you get out there and talk to people, attending as many networking events as you can, and do things even if they scare you.
I’ve never been one for talking on the phone or speaking in large groups, but I saw an opportunity and went for it; next year I’m presenting a talk at the largest search marketing conference in Europe. Positioning myself as an expert in my field and educating people on something I’m confident and passionate about has opened up so many doors.
It’s been the ice breaker to many business relationships, and now I’m presenting at a digital marketing conference in Paris. If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d be speaking in front of thousands of people, I wouldn’t believe you — but now I couldn’t be more excited.
You’d be amazed by the opportunities that present themselves when you put yourself out there, and you might just surprise yourself.
What are your bravest business moments?
When I considered quitting my job to start my business, the thought of not being able to cover my bills was a daunting period. I’d spent so many years chasing promotions, working incredibly hard and saving all my money to invest into a property, and now I would jeopardise all of that by leaving a secure position.
I was lucky enough that I could rely on my blog’s passive income to keep me afloat (excuse the pun), and although it wasn’t enough to live on, it certainly took the edge off. I was adamant to make it work, even if it meant risking everything.
This is just the beginning and I know I’ll be facing much more difficult decisions and hard times, especially over the next few months. I’ve recently been shortlisted for a national award as ‘Young Search Professional’; putting myself out there in front of the industry is frightening, but I’m honoured to be amongst some of the leading professionals in my industry and receive recognition from companies such as Microsoft and John Lewis.
What have been the hardest lessons?
Rejection is more common than you’d like to think and business can be slow. I, just like the majority of other entrepreneurs, believe my business offers value and that I have what it takes to make it work.
Part of me thought that it would be a piece of cake, but that was naive. That’s totally okay though because it’s all a learning process, and everything you work on is a block to building a successful business. Just because every minute isn’t taken up doing client work doesn’t mean I’m failing. These precious hours allow you to focus and drive your business in the right direction, to form a company you’re proud of.
It’s important to look at the positives, even when times are tough; I found it really useful to track my achievements so I can reflect on them on a regular basis. It keeps me motivated on quiet days.
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start up a business?
Don’t quit your job without a safety net. I calculated a survival budget (you’ll learn about this at the Breakthrough workshops) and put aside enough funds to support myself for 3 – 6 months so that if it didn’t work out I wouldn’t be forced to use credit cards or to give up straight away.
I appreciate this is a lot of money but that’s why it’s crucial to plan and prepare before you leave a secure position. Cancel Spotify, sacrifice dessert and stop going on ASOS — it’ll be worth it in the long-run.