How To Set Up Your Own Digital Agency – Interview with Polemic Digital Founder, Barry Adams

I am always inspired by people who set up their own business. There are many entrepreneurs in the Search Industry who are brave enough to establish their own agencies and attract big brands as their clients. Barry Adams, the founder of Polemic Digital set up his agency in 2014 and is now nominated at the UK Search Awards. I first met Barry when he was working for another company and was impressed he had been nominated so soon after starting his own business. I wanted to interview him on setting up his business and what he recommends for those looking to go out on their own.

1) What was the catalyst that prompted you into starting your own business?

It wasn’t one specific thing that prompted me to start working for myself. Looking back, it was an accumulation of many different things that eventually made me decide to go out on my own. Things like not being able to choose my client projects, increasing levels of stress and lack of fulfilment at my job, the growth of my own personal brand, seeing others in the industry starting their own business with great success, and a general sense of ‘now or never’ as I approached my 40th birthday all contributed to that decision.

In the end it was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment where I woke up early one morning and realised that starting my own business was something I needed to do. From there, things moved quickly: I spoke with my wife about it, who was very supportive, and then got the wheels in motion to launch my own company.

2) Did you stop your current job straight away and then move to your business or did you build up clients before you quit the day job?

I was lucky and got my own clients straight away. There was a three month transition period from when I decided to start my own business to when I left my old job as digital director at a creative agency. In this period I managed to quite quickly pick up a few clients already, mostly because I had such a strong personal brand as a SEO specialist.

For nearly three months I worked 40 hours a week at my old job and then worked on my own client projects after hours and on weekends. It was a bit of a relief when I finally left the job and could work full-time on my own clients, as it had been difficult to juggle both workloads.

3) Were there times it was too hard and you wanted to give up? If so, what made you carry on? (and what makes you carry on)?

To be honest, while I’ve had a few rough patches, I have not yet considered giving up. The rough patches I’ve experienced to date have all been because I’ve taken on more work than I could handle, and not once has there been a time when I struggled getting enough paid work – it’s been quite the opposite.

Since day one I’ve enjoyed the freedom and empowerment of working for myself, and I thoroughly enjoy the day to day work and getting my hands dirty with SEO again. In my old jobs I’d gotten increasingly removed from the actual hands-on stuff, so I relished getting back to that – and I haven’t gotten bored of it yet.

At this stage I don’t think I could work for someone else again. It would have to be quite a special in-house job working for a very special website that could lure me back to regular employment.

Barry Adams

4) What has been the highlight of running Polemic?

There have been a series of highlights actually. I consider myself incredibly lucky that Polemic Digital has been such a success from the first day of trading. Recently I’ve picked up a few large and very interesting projects working for huge UK brands, which I am incredibly proud of.

A recent highlight has definitely been the three nominations for the 2016 UK Search Awards. In my previous job our digital team was shortlisted for such awards regularly, and we even won a few, so when I started my own business it was one of my long-term goals to achieve similar recognition. It took me two and a half years, which is much quicker than I thought, to get my own work shortlisted for the UK Search Awards.

The next goal is to convert these nominations in to award wins – but with such stellar competition in the UK, that’ll be a huge step up.


5) What has been the biggest disadvantage of running your company?

I know a few people who also run their own business, and their recurring complaint is that they can never ‘switch off’ from work. But, to be entirely honest, I don’t share that complaint. I have no trouble taking time away from the job. I try to have a sense of perspective about work in general and my business in particular. While I love what I do and am passionate about delivering quality SEO services, in the end it’s just about websites. No one’s life is at stake if an SEO audit is a day or two late. No one will suffer harm if I respond to that email a few days later.

So I really don’t see any disadvantages… I’ve had a steady stream of work since the beginning, I tend to get paid in a timely manner, I think I’m managing a decent work-life balance, and I enjoy the freedom of working for myself. Can’t really see any downsides, to be honest.

Sure, there are some aspects of self-employment that aren’t so much fun – like the financial admin and tax stuff – but those are small burdens to bear compared to all the upsides.

barry-with-others at EU Search Awards 2015

6) What three tips would you give to someone looking to start up their own business?

First of all, make sure you start a business doing something you enjoy. You’re going to be spending a lot of your time and energy on this, so it better be something you get some satisfaction from.

Second, get your administrative processes in place early. The admin side of running your own business can grow very quickly, and it’s much easier if you have the foundation in place to enable your business to expand. So know when you need to start charging VAT, ensure you set aside enough money to pay the tax man, make your invoicing process as smooth as possible, etc.

Third, and maybe most importantly, get your new clients to sign an agreement before you start any work. I always do this with my new clients now, and it really helps in ensuring everyone is on the same page with regards to deliverables. It’s a good way to prevent projects from ballooning way beyond the original scope without you getting paid anything more. And, very importantly, you will have a very strong legal case when a client refuses to pay – after all, they’ve signed up for your service in writing.

Thank you Barry for taking the time to be interviewed on SEOJoBlogs. Look forward to seeing you at the UK Search Awards.

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