Common traits of Entrepreneurs

February 28th, 2017 by Simon Bollon


BQ National Emerging Entrepreneur Awards

Am I an entrepreneur? You’ve probably answered that in your head based on what I do. I run a business. Does that do it? It’s fast growth. Does that make me an entrepreneur? I have a couple of alternative investments. Does that tick the box?

I recently attended the BQ Live Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, as a member of the judging panel no less.

How did I get that gig? I’m not even sure I’m an entrepreneur!

It was a room full of entrepreneurs (as the title of the evening suggests) and as a developing business owner I soaked up as much as I could from the throng, talking to as many people as possible.

I spend a lot time meeting and talking to business people. The majority of our client base is privately owned, independent, growth businesses. Some of them are entrepreneurial by nature, others are simply business people.

But what’s the difference?

Most would argue that entrepreneurialism is about having multiple successes (and failures). I’d say it’s not about what people have, it’s about what they are.

Ajaz Ahmed was a keynote speaker at the evening and offered his thoughts on this very subject. It got me thinking. So, here’s how I see it…

Entrepreneurs don’t live in fear of others, they don’t shy away from aggressive competition, they don’t envy and they don’t suffer jealousy. At the event, over 200 people celebrated each other’s success and they did it with sincerity. Many chatted but most listened, some told stories and others took mental notes. Always learning – there’s another common trait of the entrepreneur.

Mark Mullen (Chief Executive of Atom Bank) stated ‘in an era of dissolution we provide togetherness’. Quite a powerful statement for today. My experience suggests that entrepreneurs do celebrate others and do believe in togetherness. Uniting to deliver growth, opportunities and a better way.

Truth be told, I think ‘entrepreneur’ is a bit of a wanky term. It’s too often used and too little understood. You see, the other night wasn’t about a room full of people with multiple businesses, it was full of people with common traits. Entrepreneurialism isn’t about what they have, it’s about what they do.

Inherently they fill gaps or disrupt. Either seeing and grasping an opportunity or seeing stagnation and finding a different way.

Importantly, the very best entrepreneurs don’t do it alone. They do it as a collective, taking the best people with them, learning and teaching. What often separates them is their ability to unite and lead behind a shared vision and purpose. Entrepreneurs don’t work in businesses, they work on them.

Constantly evolving, never standing still. Changing businesses and sectors before change is even necessary.

Ajaz talked about them having a ‘bigger lens’ meaning they see what others don’t. They learn more and they do it quicker, which ties with the fact that they constantly steal ideas and ways of doing things. They see good things happening and take the best of their market (and often other markets) to form an attractive alternative. Constant evolution restricts revolution.

I recently spent time in a school interviewing sixth form students and I met one individual who stood out as aggressively ambitious. He stated he wanted to be an ‘entrepreneur’. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by it. I wasn’t quite sure he knew what he meant by it. But I had a standard question asking what the students would do if I gave them a £1,000. Common answers were shopping, book a holiday, a deposit for a car. This students answer was ‘invest in myself’. He couldn’t quite decide what, but he’d book on a course.

‘Invest in myself’. I’m pretty sure he’ll do well in life and I’m pretty sure he will be entrepreneurial. He might not have things but he already has the mindset.

Finally, what I’ve learnt from the best entrepreneurs I have met is their empathy to their customers. They just get it. They inherently understand. They have an exceptional ability to step into the client’s shoes and in so many instances, that is where most entrepreneurs’ ideas come from. They are not necessarily more creative, they just know there’s a better way for the customer.

The summary; entrepreneurialism isn’t about what people have, it’s about what they do. It’s a mindset that can’t be judged by assets.

Ultimately, entrepreneurs’ behaviours are what makes them stand out and excel but the biggest commonality is that they’re laser focused on customers. And so they should be because it is our clients that will decide our future, not we.

I never stop thinking, I never stop learning, I collaborate, educate and shape decisions around our customers. We have a business model at Boutique that doesn’t quite fit with the norm. Not necessarily disruptive. Not different. Just not the same.

I think I’ll tentatively accept the title.

The Wall Street Journal’s SEO is Probably Bricking It

February 20th, 2017 by Mike Bates


he sign of 'The Wall Street Journal' out of its building

I don’t know if the Wall Street Journal *has* an SEO on staff, uses an agency, or just crosses its fingers and hopes for the best. If I was working on their SEO, though, I guarantee I’d be looking at my reports with a very uneasy smile on my face for the next few weeks. You see, their SEO might just have been scuppered by a business decision.

We know that the revenue from display ads alone is rarely enough to keep a publisher afloat, creating the need for sponsored posts, e-commerce, and other means of monetizing their content. The WSJ has, apparently, done the math, and thinks that if it maintains its current readership and enough of these convert to paying to maintain access to the site, they’ll make the same, if not more, money. It’s a bold move, not least because this decision could make it much harder for them to maintain the traffic volumes this plan requires.

Wall Street Journal backlinks

If you didn’t know, to feature in Google News decks and rank well, a publisher needs to accept Google’s First Click Free rule. This means that if a user is referred to the site by Google, the first 5 articles they view each day should be free to access. This is regardless of whether the news site in question ordinarily charges a fee for online access. It’s this scheme that the WSJ has chosen to leave, technically falling foul of Google in the process.

At the very least, they’re already being flagged as being behind a subscription in SERPs, which lets users know they’ll have to pay for access. Let’s face it, though, you don’t have to be an expert to know that users are far more likely to opt for the free article that’s next to it.

Wall Street Journal PewDiePie article

But why does Google care? Well, ultimately, they like making money. To make money, Google needs you to use their free search platform, all the while clicking on a few ads. If it kept driving users towards pages that provide no content, and ask for money up front, it’d probably see a drop in user numbers. Their entire business model relies upon them keeping search users happy, and hunting for the content they want via Google.

It’s for reasons like this that quality assessment exists. Google pays people to use their search platform and report on the UX. They report back on the quality of the results and pages presented, and the companies behind these pages, and Google tweaks away accordingly. One of the most important criteria is also one of the easiest to achieve: does the page actually do what it is supposed to do?

Google guidelines on low quality pages

Now that the WSJ pages provide you with a single paragraph and a prompt to buy access, their pages no longer achieve this. Their articles no longer provide a ‘satisfying amount of [Main Content] for the purpose of the page’, and the subscription box makes the main content ‘difficult to use due to ads, other content/features, etc.’

Worse still, it makes assessing the quality of the page content itself impossible for the quality assessor. How can they give the page a high rating for expert, authoritative, and trustworthy content if the assessor can’t read it? If the page content can’t be reached and assessed, and the site does not fulfil the user’s search intent, WSJ’s quality score can only be poor. So what’s to stop rivals with better quality ratings leapfrogging them (besides the 123 million backlinks)?

Google is in a tricky place – by rights, other pages that provide similar, high quality content and fulfil user needs should overtake the WSJ in search. Google wants to keep users happy, after all, and free news sites of comparable quality will be more than happy to take the WSJ’s share of ad revenue and subscriptions.

Google might well be worried about letting them get away scot free, too. If nothing happens to WSJ’s search presence, what would happen? Wouldn’t other major publishers also like to get a bigger slice of the subscription pie? If everybody moves to a model that demands users pay up front, Google will only be able to provide results from a dwindling pool of (potentially less reputable) news sites.

The Wall Street Journal’s move to a pay-up-front model therefore means new opportunities for competitors, and potential losses for itself and its advertisers. Suddenly, ad space on their site has less reach, earned coverage has dropped in value vs placements with its competitors, and if organic visibility drops too, these changes will only become more pronounced. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to watch, and learn, from – I for one am keeping a close eye on their performance going forwards.

And to their SEO team, if they’re out there, here’s a backlink from We Are Boutique – you might need it moving forwards.

The evolution of apps and riding the wave

February 13th, 2017 by Charley Downey


using apps on the go

What would we do without apps?

It’s inevitable that there’s an app for anything we need to do. Any task you need to carry out, you name it, there’ll be an app for it somewhere. Sending a video from a night out? Snapchat. Convincing your friends that you’re now a super healthy cook? Instagram. Checking out your old friend’s cousin’s wedding from 2008? Facebook.

Online banking, dating, streaming, dieting, running, cooking, editing, messaging, leading, sharing, eating – there’s something for it all.

It seems that we’ve fallen into a world where it’s expected. We don’t need to do things the way we used to, because well, our tech is there to do it for us. We don’t even have to manually type stuff into Google anymore (god forbid, that would be a hard task) as Siri is there at the touch of a button to assist all our needs. Some say it’s a bad thing, but I think it’s brilliant.

A world where we can choose to be constantly connected isn’t something to be afraid of. From a personal perspective, it amazes me how rapidly the digital/social/share-economics industry has grown, and how it will continue to grow. Couch Surfing offers free accommodation to travellers. Meal Sharing allows you to eat in people’s homes around the world at the touch of a button– both of which would’ve seemed almost impossible for travellers to organise a few years back.  The volume of information and the culture we are now able to access as a generation through technology is unreal. Of course, we must also acknowledge that for all the positives, there are also negatives. But hey, that’s a whole different subject matter.

Apps are where we all are. Falling into the younger generation, I do think we, unknowingly, take apps for granted slightly. We’re used to being able to answer any question, access our finances, our friends and family instantly. I was a late 90s kid – so although I grew up in this crazy digital escapade, I do remember dial up internet and Nokias (before apps were a proper thing). But it’s only when I hear an older relative say how they’d have to walk to the bank in town to transfer some money, or wait weeks for a written reply from a loved one that I’m like, woah – we really do have it easy.

The point I’m trying to get to here is that the reliance on apps is a whole new wave within the evolution of technology. Apps were primarily for social or leisure needs, but they’re slowly beginning to play important roles in our day to day life. The shift in what we use apps for is incredible, and you either grab your surf board and ride the wave – or you bob your way back to the shore, and convince yourself that this gig will never take off. I came across a term recently that really stuck with me – it completely represents how fast-paced the modern tech world is, and how important it is for us as consumers, and businesses, to stay ahead of the game. ‘Digital Darwinism’ – the evolution of consumer behaviour when society and technology evolve faster than your ability to adapt.

It’s never been so important.

Personally, social media-wise, I think we have everything we need for now. The big five (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube & Snapchat) pretty much have all areas covered. A steep statement perhaps, but from a millennial point of view – I don’t see a huge gaping gap within the social media app industry that needs filling. Not any time soon anyway.

The sharing economy is the most recent wave to hit us, but this is something that’s been brewing for years. The likes of Airbnb, Deliveroo and Uber have taken the world by storm in recent years and it’s a sector that has no limits. As a society, we thrive to save both money and time, and businesses who can help us do so are the winners. ‘Airbedandbreakfast.com’ was launched in 2008 after two guys decided to rent out their living rooms as they couldn’t afford their own rent. Airbnb now has over 2 million listings in 34,000 cities worldwide. Deliveroo launched to market in 2013 and now has over 5,000 people across Europe and Asia delivering food to consumers. Uber was also founded in 2008 and is now available in 60 countries and over 300 cities worldwide – fulfilling one million rides daily, with over eight million users.

These apps gave consumers an easier life –  leading them to phenomenal growth and world domination. 

For me, my favourite app depends on the context. In terms of most used, Facebook is certainly at the top of the list. In terms of most useful, Uber is fantastic. I also love the Halifax banking app, Missguided and Instagram – I really couldn’t define one app as being my favourite.

Working in a comms agency – I’m one of the many meerkats bobbing up and down searching for new opportunities and platforms. As an agency, we’re constantly riding the wave of this crazy evolution… and the future excites us.

5 key characteristics to demonstrate in an interview

February 3rd, 2017 by Simon Bollon


mario and luigi

A bold title I know but this obsession with click bait has got the better of me. I should reword it to ‘5 key characteristics that will get you a job at Boutique’ but that might not be so broadly appealing!

That’s what this is though; the 5 key things I look for when interviewing. If you’re coming for an interview with us, the level of research you’ve undertaken will be evidenced by whether you focus on these elements. I’ll know if you read my blog. I hope you have!

Having employed 30 people (I know, it’s not a lot) and undertaken over 100 interviews (again, I know I’m not setting any records) I’ve kept details of every one of them and I’ve found there are 5 key areas I assess.

A recent Linkedin report highlighted the most overused marketing buzzwords in a profile. The list shouldn’t surprise anyone. In truth, most have their place. We’re marketeers. If we can’t communicate more effectively than most then we’ve something to worry about.

So, here’s my list of key characteristics I look for, and why.

Zeal

We just don’t like staid. It’s OK to know your noodles but I’d much rather you had a burning desire to know more, share your knowledge and impact on a business. We can teach people how to build PPC campaigns, assess TV responses or negotiate a link, but I can’t give you the passion for doing it.

Further, a general passion for life is always going to make you a fun person to work with. Nobody likes a bore. Well, they do, but not us. A natural zeal will also mean you’re always learning.

Collaboration

We collaborate constantly. With media owners, fellow employees, agency partners and of course clients. I’m always looking for how people have worked with others to the benefit of the eventual outcome. It shows personnel skills, empathy, goal orientation and a desire for collective responsibility. Collaboration also means sharing what you discover and that makes everyone around you better as well.

Infatuation

We’re KPI focused. Outcome motivated. Driven by results. We love data, stats, facts. We’re obsessed with knowing that we did what we said we would. It’s critical individuals can demonstrate that same level of obsession. The buzzword most would use is ‘results focused’ but can you prove it and did the pursuit make you lose sleep at night? I do hope so!

Resilience

Modern business means working life can be tough. We have high demands from clients, high demands of ourselves and our colleagues. We’re ruthless in our pursuit of world class performance and it takes a level of resilience to retain that high standard. Further, resilience also means the ability to get back on track when we divert. We try new things, challenge the norm and create realignments to ever-evolving goals. It takes a resilient character.

Live a little

Beauty blogging, home brewing, VW Beetles and Comic Con participation. All things that employees of Boutique have a passion for outside of office hours. It makes for rounded and healthy individuals. It’s testament to an engaged mind to have external activity that is motivating, exciting and brings to life a range of knowledge and skills. The worst interview answer is when people are asked what they do to enjoy life. The inevitable ‘go to the cinema’ or ‘socialising’ just kills me a little inside. Everybody’s interesting in their own way. The weird is often the most wonderful.

Employing millennials

February 1st, 2017 by Simon Bollon


group of professionals discussing work

Pesky millennials. They expect so much. You hear about how difficult modern day footballers are to manage. Try leading a large group of twenty somethings in a modern agency. Jeez, they’re a demanding bunch.

There’s a mountain you know? And to get to the top of the mountain you’ve got to do a lot of climbing. Hitching a ride is cheating yourself. I may be cynical, but getting there without enjoying a testing journey just isn’t as rewarding. You know what I mean?

If you haven’t see Simon Sinek speak about this issue, then I urge you to do so. Whether you are one of these modern employees or an employer of this wonderful new generation, his talk resonates.

Hey, the world changes and so do the people in it. We live in an era of high demand culture. We want everything now. Impatience is everywhere. That’s the role that technology and social media has played. If we want a reaction, to vent, to ask a question, to gain a referral, understand how something works, find something, find somewhere or make a purchase, we can do it. Quickly. And we’ll find the results. Quickly.

It’s created a reduction in loyalty, applied performance pressures across most business sectors and meant the bad have died, the good have thrived.

It’s also meant that in life, we expect more, now. These bloody millennials are the worst for it. Of course, as a modern agency, employing highly qualified, highly intelligent people, we’re going to have to work hard to satisfy and please our team members. I like to think we do it.

However, even though I’m only (!) 38, I feel ever so slightly from another world. A world where the choices weren’t so vast, job hopping was much more minimal and loyalty was high.

It sounds like we’re in a bad place, right? Well, no, we’re not actually. Our employee tenure is way above the industry average. We continue to grow and we continue to retain the best people. We have a real emphasis on team, culture and progression. We have a process of ‘Gain-Train-Retain’ whereby we source the best people and keep them, enabling them to be the best they can be and rewarding personal progression.

As a fast growth business doing exciting things I think there’s a natural inclination for people to stay, enjoy and benefit from the ride. No month is boring and whilst we have processes and curves, we try to do our best by every employee. Hey, I don’t always get it right and we won’t always meet demands. But I’m trying.

It’s a business’s responsibility to balance the demands of their own (we want 41% growth next financial year!) with the demands of employees (salary, job title, role satisfaction, client contact and more). Balancing short-term needs and the long-term vision of a business can be tricky. Marrying that with the long-term progression of employees with the short-termism in life creates a conundrum of culture. When they work together, it makes for a rewarding journey for the business, its clients and the employees.

So, after all of that I’m proud to announce I bloody love millennials. They keep me on my toes, they’re demanding and make me work harder every day. Our latest employee happiness survey testifies to that. There’s still work to do, but I’ll love doing it.

So how do we do it?

I’m not going to share too much of what we do, but our ‘Gain – Train – Retain’ process is built around core pillars:

  • Collective vision
  • 1-3-5 progression plans
  • Employee happiness programme
  • A programme of World Class performance
  • Clarity (based on the recently completed survey this, apparently, is the focus for the next quarter!)

I’d love to have the happiest place to work but I’d much rather be the most effective agency around. I think people get a real kick out of working with great clients and delivering great results, not using a slide to go to meetings. With that in mind, we’ll continue to expect a lot from our people because we know clients expect a lot from us.

What’s this leading me to say? What’s my point?

There isn’t one.

Wondering why I wrote this?

Because we always want the best people. And the best people have read to the end and know we’re a great place to work. I look forward to receiving your call or email. See you somewhere on the mountain.