Always have a plan. If I know what I’m supposed to be doing and where I want to get to, then I am so much more productive.
Susan Hallam is founder and CEO of Hallam, a digital marketing agency based in Nottingham UK. Hallam is an emerging force in the digital marketing scene with the transformational results and industry awards to prove success.
She was awarded an MBE for Enterprise and Innovation for her lifetime work in digital marketing. She is a trustee of Nottingham Castle, and serves as an ambassador for the Midlands Engine.
Prior to founding her company, Susan was a Senior Lecturer in Computing at Nottingham Trent University, and she held senior digital marketing roles at BT and Capital One.
Now a recognised thought leader in the digital marketing, Susan speaks around the world at digital conferences including SMX and is a digital marketing expert for Vistage, the world leading organisation of chief executives.
Susan lives in Nottingham, UK. In her spare time you will find her globetrotting with her husband, visiting her children who live in the USA and the Philippines.
Where did the idea for Hallam come from?
I delivered my first digital marketing workshops and consultancy in 1993 whilst working at Nottingham Trent University, and as time passed I found I was spending more and more of my time in this emerging area. I setup Hallam in 1999 and worked as a one man band for 10 years. Since then the company has grown steadily and we now employ nearly 60 people. An important milestone was our merger with a leading web design company which expanded our service offering, and enables us to work with much larger clients.
What does your day typically look like, and how do you make it productive?
Hallam has recently appointed Stuart Ross as our Managing Director, and he looks after the day to day running of the business. As CEO my role is now thought leadership and being one of the public faces of the business. I don’t really have a typical day. I might be out speaking at a conference, or spending a day doing research for a forthcoming event. I could be writing content for a white paper or blog post. I could be meeting with clients or partners or colleagues. I have found the best way to keep my day productive is to keep meetings to a minimum and ensure they always have an agenda. I use tools like Workflowy to keep myself organised. And I minimise the number of communication channels I use, so for example I don’t answer my mobile on demand. I check for messages and handle calls on my own terms.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Innovation as an essential part of our culture, and as a company we have introduced an innovation framework to provide a platform for sharing new ideas. But I think a key part of innovation is to recognise that innovation also happens even when we’re doing the ordinary stuff. We need to recognise and celebrate the small tweaks, the incremental changes, the subtle nuances of how we do things that are all part of bringing new ideas to life.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Machine learning and artificial intelligence is transforming the digital industry. As digital professionals it is giving us a whole new understanding of our customers and their behaviours. It is giving us new tools to reach our target markets. There is so much to learn, so many new opportunities, so many fresh developments. It is an exciting time to be working in digital.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Have a plan. Always have a plan. If I know what I’m supposed to be doing and where I want to get to, then I am so much more productive. It might be at the macro level like our business plan, or on a detailed level like my plan for producing new content. But having visibility of the plan is the key to getting things done.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I have worked long hard hours to build the company, and there is always one more thing I want to do, one more mountain to climb. My advice to my younger self would be to recognise our team’s achievements, celebrate them, and recognise just how great we are. Once you’ve celebrated then get back down in the weeds, should to the wheel, and get back to work.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
There’s nothing new under the sun. I work in an industry where everything is shiny and new. New technology, new tools, new ways of working. Many people working in the digital industry don’t recognise that the underlying principles of great marketing just don’t change. We ignore classic marketing principles and the key drivers in human behaviour at our peril.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
They key strategy to growing our business has been to focus all our energy on our people. If we have a great team that is competent and keen to deliver great results, then everything else will follow. Clients recognise passion and commitment. And when we have great people we get great case studies, and clients are willing to pay more for our services, and we win more business. Developing our Hallam culture has been our key strategy to grow our business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As the business has grown, it was a hard lesson to learn that my skills as an entrepreneur are not well suited to steering the ship that is a large company. I participated in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme, and the peer advice and coaching I received helped me to recognise my areas of weakness in managing a large company. I put together a plan to introduce a new leader into the business. Our new MD has responsibility for the growth of the business, and I focus on what I love the best: the digital industry.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If you are planning to grow your business, look to acquire other businesses where the owner is getting ready to retire, or is fed up and just wants to get out. You can acquire these businesses for a song, and you might be gaining a great client base, great intellectual property, great people.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
I bought a container of Amalfi lemons to make home made limoncello. I love to have a project. The whole process of peeling the lemons and calculating alcohol levels makes me happy. Now I get to wait and watch whilst it matures , shaking the big jugs occasionally. And it feels great to bottle it up and give it to friends and family at holidays. A great way to spend a hundred bucks.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
It’s got to be Gsuite. I love how I can use Gmail messages to schedule tasks and meetings. I practice my zero inbox on my emails and it works a treat. The integration of our Google Docs keeps us the whole team productive. Genius.
What is the one book you recommend our community should read, and why?
“Rocket Fuel“. – it’s a simple but powerful model that helps entrepreneurs to understand what they do best. I found it transformed my thinking about growing the business.
What is your favorite quote?
“Whether you believe you can, or whether you believe you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford
I’m a “glass half full” kind of person, and I know that my optimistic outlook underpins all my success. I like to surround myself with positive people with belief in themselves. To be frank I just can’t tolerate being around people with self-doubt and negativity.
• Recognise the value in preparation and planning. A strong plan, whether a business plan for the next year or a plan for the next two hours is key to success to getting things done.
• Take the time to celebrate your success and focus on the moment.
• Surround yourself with great people, and look after them well. If you take care of them, then growth and profit will follow sure as night follows day.
• As your business grows, understand that your role will change as you go from Entrepreneur to Leader.