Impression: Aaron Dicks

The digital marketing entrepreneur talks about the challenges of starting as a small company in a competitive market

Name: Aaron Dicks
Age: 22
Company: Impression
Staff numbers: 2.5
Location: Nottingham
Date launched: 15/04/2013
Website: www.impression.co.uk

Tell us what your business does:

Impression is a digital marketing agency based in Nottingham. We help small and medium-sized businesses manage and maximise their online presence. Primarily, this is through website design and development, search engine optimisation and pay per click advertising, plus the management that goes with each of those.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I’ve always been interested in working in some way with the Internet. Since sixth form I knew that I didn’t want to work for a large company, so the focus on small businesses really came from that desire to work in small agile teams with decision makers. The actual idea for Impression itself was sparked by the co-founders when we realised we wanted additional challenges in our previous roles. Impression started as a side project for working with charities and small local businesses, but as our client base grew, we knew it was time to take it full-time.

How did you know there was a market for it?

When we actually registered our business almost a year ago now (late 2012), we didn’t necessarily know that there was a huge market for a company of our size out there, but that didn’t matter as our client base comprised mainly of old work colleagues, friends of friends and a few acquaintances. As our experience grew, rapidly, so did the size of our clients. Once we knew the services we wanted to offer, the market was right there in front of us.

What were you doing before starting up?

Before starting Impression I was working in an online marketing role at a national renewable energy installer, based in Nottingham. Nottingham’s seeing some major regeneration and investment in to small businesses at the moment, so it was important that Impression was based here.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I’ve always had distant pipe dreams of running my own business since school, but it was really whilst studying for my A levels that I realised that one day it might become a reality. After leaving university I was lucky enough to be able to walk in to a job through a contact that I made through some previous freelance work. I worked there for eight months but the desire to start up a company was too strong, so I had to leave and give it a go.

How did you raise the money?

Impression actually began through a soft launch around our day jobs, so we didn’t need to put any money in – we just worked during our evenings and weekends without taking any money out. It’s tough; the hours are long, and you don’t necessarily get to pick the perfect clients, but in the end when you have a comfy bank balance knowing you’re not going to have to pay it back, it’s all worth it.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

Impression is a digital marketing agency, so we manage services for clients, as well as website projects. We charge a consultancy or management fee on our work (as well as design, copy writing and web build on web work). SEO and PPC is a monthly managed service, so some of our income is through monthly contracts.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

We’re a small agency, so we often come up against larger companies that have been in the game a lot longer than us. We need to remain agile, quick to respond and, at times, really over-keen to service client’s work. Some of the hours are long as a result of this, but aside from the financial gain, we needed to have the backing and testimonials of some strong local brands so that we can win work more easily in the future.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Our first big breakthrough was finding our first partner agency to work with. Since then we’ve been able to win additional work through other partners too. For us, partnering with agencies that don’t offer our services is a great way to earn additional revenue. It means we only need one meeting per agency, rather than one per client, so it streamlines our operations with only a slight reduction in what’s left on the bottom line.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Anyone thinking of starting a business really needs to think about the financials. What it came down to for us was the amount of spare time we’d need to give up until the bank balance was at the tipping point where full time employment was viable. To calculate that, which has been an ongoing calculation, we needed to really understand the business model and the costs associated with it. I’d recommend any budding entrepreneur sits down to think long and hard about finances, mainly about the salary requirements (plus all the taxes that goes with it). Also, it’s worth thinking about how you sell yourself. Because there are two co-founders of Impression, we were able to use each other as a sounding board for testing ideas and pitches. Can you sell yourself as a business owner?

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

In five years we want to be comfortably running an agency recognised for its quality of work. Whilst size doesn’t matter, we do want to make sure we in-source all areas core to the business, grow a team and ensure that our in house systems are up to scratch. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a secondary office and 50+ heads, but I’ve witnessed too many agencies with growing pains to put myself through that!

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