There are a million reasons for any endeavor to fail, but if your idea is something that people want, it’ll probably work — you just need to keep turning up and doing the work.
Sam is the founder of SCRIBE Studio, an innovative commercial copywriting and marketing agency that helps high-value national brands in the UK to win more traffic, enquiries and sales. Based in Dorset, Sam has a first class honors degree in Creative Writing from the University of Surrey (Roehampton).
Where did the idea for SCRIBE Studio come from?
I’ve always felt that language is the most powerful tool in a marketer’s arsenal, but that it’s often overlooked or undervalued by businesses. SCRIBE Studio is all about breaking through the common perception of copywriters as ‘glorified typists’, and proving the worth of commercial writing through measurable real-world examples. We work with a select group of high-value national brands, rewrite their content, improve their KPIs, and then tell anyone who’ll listen about what we’ve achieved together. You could describe us as a premium copywriting agency, but I see us more as a growth consultancy that specializes in commercial content.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I tend to break the day up into two chunks, namely “Today’s Clients” and “Tomorrow’s Clients” (…or ‘content production’ and ‘business development’). Today’s Clients always come first, so I spend most of my morning on active projects. To stay productive, I put the blinkers on and focus exclusively on one client’s job for 2-3 hours at a time, sticking with the project until a draft is complete or a milestone is hit. Sometimes, the “Today’s Clients” part of the day could swell to 6 or 7 hours, but I try to avoid this, as it can create pipeline issues for the business later on if I don’t spend enough time on Tomorrow’s Clients. The “Tomorrow’s Clients” part of the day could be spent making sales calls, writing proposals or discussing content audits — whatever is needed to move the business forward.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We live in a strange time, where the execution of ideas has never been easier, and traditional barriers to entry are much lower than they used to be. This can cause commercial problems, because it’s easy for an inexperienced entrepreneur to build something that nobody really wants, or that doesn’t solve a need for consumers, and discover very late in the process, after they’ve committed themselves, that they’ve wasted their time. Because of this, I focus less on the ‘how’, and more on the ‘why’, of an idea. I first talk to clients and colleagues, pitch them the idea, and if they’re not interested, I listen very carefully to their objections and respond or adapt accordingly. Buy-in from other people needs to be there right at the start of the project, otherwise it’s not worth my time yet. If clients and colleagues can see value in an idea, I commit to the idea 100% and I execute it to the best of my ability, but it’s got to pass that initial stress-test first!
What’s one trend that excites you?
My desktop background is that inspirational image of Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster, complete with its own space-suited starman mannequin, on its way to Mars. Starman just reminds me that everything is possible. Anything that Elon Musk is doing, whether it’s in terms of SolarCity or Tesla or the Boring Company or the Hyperloop or OpenAI, it’s all about the fulfilment of big, bold world-changing dreams, which is a valuable and exciting trend in and of itself. The more our generation can do to make big dreams like these come true, the brighter everyone’s future will be.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I love the feeling of balling up a bit of paper and throwing it in the bin. I make short to-do lists and do my level best to throw the paper out at the end of the day. I also have my own personal whiteboard, which acts as a sort of ongoing brain dump for any distractions and half-baked ideas. It’s been the most effective tool for keeping my thoughts in order so that I can focus on stuff that actually helps my clients.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Persist! You’re capable of achieving fantastic things, but the only way to get there is to stick with the project until it’s done. There are a million reasons for any endeavor to fail, but if your idea is something that people want, it’ll probably work — you just need to keep turning up and doing the work.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I feel that, as a society, we’re all spending far too much money overburdening ourselves with massive mortgages, and that this overspend is dampening our creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. When the best minds on the planet each personally owe six to ten times annual earnings on their homes, it’s much harder for these people to take risks and try out new ideas. Thousands of world-changing innovations are out there, half-baked and waiting to take shape, but the pace of change is being slowed by these massive yokes of mortgage debt. We all need to figure out how to live for significantly less money.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Think about what the other guy wants, and give it to him. This golden rule is especially true in a content business: when writing commercial content, the opinions and thoughts and personal bias of the writer don’t matter — they have no place in the sales message. The only thing that matters is the reader’s reaction when they read the content. The same is true for every business out there — people need to want to buy what you’re selling, otherwise you’re wasting your time. This is a rule that’s easy to say — it’s another thing to actually live by this rule, but it’s so so important.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I’ve built my whole business development strategy around talking to people I can genuinely help. I don’t just make a ton of calls to every business I can find and spend a fortune on general advertising; I think it’s better for everyone if I cherry-pick. I look for established brands that need my help, and then I help them.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’d say it was probably failing to manage cash flow in the beginning few months of SCRIBE Studio. I underestimated the amount of time it would take to get invoices paid, and the amount of clients I’d need to take on each month, just to keep enough money coming in to cover costs. I’ve changed my payment terms since then — I now take a small deposit up-front — and I can forecast my cash flow much more effectively. I’ve also made it much easier for clients to pay me — I can take money by card or bank transfer, and people can pay directly from a link in the invoice itself.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Our news feeds are often heavily personalised to match the stories we read and click on most frequently, which I don’t think is a good use of content personalisation. I’d love it if someone could make a news app that actually works against the reader’s established bias, highlighting stories and articles written by journalists from the opposite side of the political spectrum. It’d help us all get more than one perspective on the world around us.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Probably a baby bouncer. We’ve just had our first child, so it’s been months since we spent any money on anything for ourselves.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Google’s G Suite. I can work anywhere, from any device, and share work with my clients in real time. I draft everything in Google Docs, and run my emails through Gmail, all for one single payment. It’s brilliant.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Age of Daredevils” by Michael Clarkson. It’s a captivating account of the men & women who barrel-jumped Niagara Falls in the early 20th century. These people were crazy! If ever you’re having a bad day, feeling like you’ve had enough, or that work is too hard or whatever, just read this for perspective!
What is your favorite quote?
“The mind always fails first, not the body.” This is a little-known quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger, describing his experience of trying to lift a ridiculously heavy weight just one more time in each set. His point is that our minds will tell us that we can’t do something long before it’s literally impossible for our muscles to do it. It points to a deeper truth about mental stamina, and endurance in business: no matter how tired I think I am, it’s usually just mental fatigue, — I can probably “lift the heavy weight”, be that making another phone call, writing another email or setting another meeting, just one more time before I sign off for the day.
- Any new business idea has to be worth something to a customer, first and foremost. Share ideas openly and readily from the very beginning of your startup process, adapt your idea as necessary, and you’ll dramatically improve your chances of success further down the line.
- Watch your cash flow carefully, and expect payments to take much longer to clear than you’d like. Take a deposit up-front if you have to, and make it as easy as possible for clients to pay you.
- When you’re tired and you think you’ve hit a wall, try not listening to yourself. Fatigue and discomfort are natural byproducts of working hard to make things happen, so anticipate these emotions and treat them as operational issues to solve, rather than true indications of progress.
Sam Haythornthwaite on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samhaythornthwaite/
SCRIBE Studio on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scribestudio/
SCRIBE Studio on Twitter: https://twitter.com/scribesalescopy