Helen | 5 Jan 2024
It seems slightly surreal to be writing a blog post about ’20 years of Ascendancy’. Surely I’m not old enough to have run a business for 20 years?
Having consulted my 2004 diary, however, it does appear to be true.
On January 5th 2004 I sat down at my home office desk and made a couple of phone calls. I registered myself as self employed – and then called the website hosting company I’d used in my old job, to organise a couple of domain names and get a hosting account set up. Back in 2004 I did actually know how to build a website myself (in nested tables, for those who remember those). That phone call to the hosting company, incidentally, provided me with a steady stream of business for many years, as they referred me to a contact of theirs who went on to become my biggest client and also my biggest referrer.
I also called my old employers and made sure everyone knew that I was now self employed and could potentially continue to do some work for them but at a higher hourly rate. Sure enough, they became my first client.
Don’t worry, this blog post is not going to be a full account of every single day from my 2004 diary. I’ll confine myself to a few business lessons I’ve learned along the way, along with some fun stories. Lesson one is…
1. Always be nice – even when it is physically painful
Shropshire in particular is a small place. Everyone knows everyone. Your reputation in business is everything, and people buy people.
Thankfully I’m quite even-tempered (a learned quality, I definitely wasn’t that way as a child) so I don’t find this too difficult. But no matter what anyone does to you, never bite back. You never know when you might meet them again, or who they might talk to.
But do walk away with dignity where you need to – you don’t need to say yes to every project, if it’s not right for you. That’s still something I struggle with.
2. Be yourself
As mentioned above, people buy people. In the world of digital marketing, it’s safe to say there are a lot of sharks. There are also a lot of people who really don’t have a clue what they are talking about and will charge you for their advice anyway. People will buy on trust. If you’re not being honestly yourself, you risk coming across as fake.
In 2005-ish I went to a workshop about how to present yourself as a woman in business. The key message was ‘women who power dress and wear lots of make-up make more money’. As somebody who violently loathes all that ‘girl stuff’, this depressed me greatly. I decided to pay as much attention to my physical appearance as your average man does, and people could like it or lump it, even if it did mean earning less (which is bull, by the way). I’ve not regretted it. I’m not sure that was the lesson I was meant to take away from the workshop though?
I’ve tried to extend this philosophy to Ascendancy as a whole – honesty and transparency is at our core. We don’t pretend to be bigger than we are, we don’t have a fake London or New York office, we don’t offer services we don’t do well, we provide honest and transparent reporting of results. If you want fakery, there are plenty of other agencies out there for you to choose from.
3. Our industry changes all the time – but also doesn’t change
Looking back at what we said on our website in 2004, there’s barely anything on there that hasn’t stood the test of time. Most of it is still entirely true, even if the jargon is a bit out of date (want to see old websites? Check out the Wayback Machine).
Great quality content, written with search engines in mind, still rules. The exact detail of how you achieve it has, of course.
Building websites for your users rather than for your own vanity is still the key. Using data to guide you when making changes, rather than going with your own personal preferences, is still the key to success.
Having accurate data on your results is still crucial – and still fraught with difficulty, especially in this post-GDPR era.
The detail has changed, but the bigger picture rarely does.
4. Don’t make business decisions based on what your mouse mat tells you
OK, so I threw this one in to make sure you were still with me.
It is true, though, that I did once have a client whose cursor appeared to be moving around the screen by itself, pointing at potential target keywords in a spreadsheet. Said client threw their arms skywards and thanked the spirit guides for pointing them towards the right keywords to target.
(I worked out later that the cursor was moving because it was on a gel mouse mat with bubbles floating around in it – a bit like this one) (They don’t seem to sell these any more – maybe because people were letting their mouse mats make too many important life decisions?)
5. Change one thing at a time
This is a digital marketing point as well as a general business point. When the proverbial hits the fan, our gut instinct as human beings is to make lots of changes in the hope that one of them works (‘this campaign isn’t working – let’s try changing the keywords, the targeting, the ads, the website copy, the imagery….!’)
But if one of those changes does actually make a difference, positive or negative, how will you know which one it was if you did it all at once? Test, measure, roll out. Don’t just throw stuff at the wall and hope for the best, no matter how tempting it is.
6. Expect the unexpected
(See what I did there? Told you there were 5 lessons then gave you 6? Oh, never mind.)
Here’s to the next 20 years!
And an ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE THANK YOU to all the clients, staff, suppliers and valued partners of Ascendancy who have worked with us over the years.
We love you – and there will be a party later in the year, when the weather is a bit warmer 🙂
See you all soon and here’s to a great 2024.
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