Helen | 6 Jan 2014
I’m delighted to tell you all that as of January 4th, 2014, Ascendancy has been helping businesses with their digital marketing needs for a full 10 years! For those of you who’ve not been with us for the full 10 year journey, here’s a recap of what the last 10 years have brought us:
How the business came about
There were so many reasons for starting the business. I’d only been out at work for about 6 years before starting the business, having spent a ridiculously long time at University, but I’d already been made redundant twice and found office politics frustrating. I was also determined to forge a career in digital marketing, but at the time, there wasn’t much further I could go with my career as an employed person. Of course there are now many more opportunities in the digital marketing industry, but not in 2003, and especially not if you wanted to live in Shropshire and work flexibly around a young family. We had been living in the South East for a number of years but with the birth of our first child, wanted to move back to Shropshire to be close to family and to bring our children up in what we consider to be a more pleasant environment, with excellent schools on our doorstep. Of course, it made sense to start a business that I knew something about. At the time I had a choice between being a web designer or an internet marketing specialist, as I had the skills to do both, and I chose the latter because there were already plenty of web designers in Shropshire but few, if any, local specialists in search engine marketing.
The first Ascendancy clients
In my first year, although ostensibly an internet marketing specialist, I was pretty much kept going by being sent freelance web design and email marketing work by my former employers. I had been careful not to fall out with anybody and to retain good relationships with pretty much everyone I’d ever worked with. Gradually, the internet marketing work began to grow – I ran my first Google AdWords campaigns and by the end of the first year I had built up around half a dozen regular internet marketing client as well as continuing with a fair amount of web design work.
The juggling years
When I started Ascendancy, I had a five month old baby. To keep down childcare costs, most of my work was done while he was asleep. If client phoned at the ‘wrong’ time of day I had a travel cot full of toys that I used to quickly put him in, running off to the other end of the house with the phone so the client wouldn’t hear any background noise! If I needed to go to a meeting, my Mum would step in. My original business plan was that Ascendancy would stay this way for several years – working part time around my family. However, as soon as I sat down at my desk on day one I realised that wasn’t going to happen. I was going to want to work full time, and take the business as far as it would go. So, gradually over time, I booked more and more time at the local nursery, as soon as I had enough sustainable work to justify the cost. I also took on a lot of other non-Ascendancy work during this period, to keep my income at a reasonable level while the business built up. I’ve never been comfortable relying on others for financial support. At one stage, I was running two Spanish evening classes a week, one Family History evening class, lecturing at the local University a few hours a week, and I had a couple of private language students to boot. After a few months of this, and having forgotten to turn up to a couple of my own lessons, I realised I’d taken on too much and gradually cut back on my ‘sidelines’ as Ascendancy began to reach the stage where, after a couple of years, it could provide me with a full time income.
The first employee
Having just reached the stage of earning a full time income from the business, and having a solid foundation to build on, my husband and I decided to have a second child. The business was now a full time job and there was no way I could just disappear for a few months and then come back to a job at the end of it – the clients would be expecting their projects to get done, whether I was giving birth or not! So it was time to take on the first employee. It had to be someone who was comfortable working from my home, and who wouldn’t mind looking after two tiny children occasionally while I was out at a meeting. Who else would be prepared to do that but my Dad, Geoff, who became Ascendancy’s first employee in 2006. We’d also gone incorporated and become VAT registered during this year too, so it was a year of big and exciting change. Geoff and I continued to build the business from home for another couple of years, with occasional help from my brother Alex, and Janice, who started with us as a part time administrator shortly before we moved to our first office in 2008.
The first office and a change of strategy
Our first office was at the e-Innovation Centre on the Telford campus of Wolverhampton University. It was a room in a shared office facility, with communal kitchen, toilets and meeting areas. While it had its flaws – the walls were paper thin and we could hear our neighbours’ telephone conversations word for word, and the air conditioning never quite got the room to the right temperature – we were very happy in our office at the e-IC until we outgrew it.
While at the e-Innovation Centre we grew to a team of four, creating a specialist pay per click position, which was taken on by James in 2008 – and he’s still with us today! We also made the momentous decision in 2010 to start building websites in-house again. As I mentioned earlier, I did in fact have the skills back in 2003 to be a web designer myself, but had chosen not to continue down that path. My initial strategy was to build partnerships with web design agencies who would refer business to us, and we would return the favour. However, the relationships with all but a handful of the web designers we worked with were often problematic. Often, to optimise a website for search engines, the best thing you can do for it is to rebuild it – we needed more influence over our clients’ websites in order to have a greater impact on their traffic. This was a big decision because we did have some really good relationships with a small number of web designers, and were loath to upset them, as some of them had become personal friends over the years. However, it seemed to be the only way forward, so we took the plunge. We brought on board a friend who was already running a web design business from home, to run the web design side of the business. She eventually found another opportunity elsewhere that suited her better, but it started the ball rolling, establishing the web design and development arm of our business and giving us a foundation to build on for the future.
Our very own office
Although the e-Innovation Centre suited us very well for a couple of years, we could only fit four staff into that particular office. In order to accommodate our new web designer comfortably we would have needed to take on a second unit, doubling our accommodation costs – and the second unit wouldn’t even have been on the same floor of the building! After an exhaustive search of the office accommodation of Telford and the surrounding area, we found the ideal solution – a lovely, light, airy, brand new office unit in Shifnal which, even better, was available to purchase rather than rent. I jumped at the opportunity to give us a more permanent home with room to grow – there is room here for around ten staff eventually, so we should be able to stay here for the foreseeable future.
Almost up to date now
This is now our fourth year in Shifnal, and it suits us very well. We’ve had a lot of changes in the team in recent years – Geoff has now retired after 7 years in the Ascendancy fold, but is still coming in a couple of times a month to work on our accounts, so those of you who are clients will still be hearing from him from time to time! Janice, who you may remember from earlier in this story, has returned after a few years’ gap to cover the accounts and administration role in between Geoff’s visits. Search engine optimisation and content marketing services are being ably provided by our new team of Lauren and Fiona. Alex, who you may remember had done some work for Ascendancy in the very early days, returned in 2011 having completed his studies, to look after the web design side of the business.
What will 2014 bring?
2014 is looking to be an exciting year for our team. Having significantly grown the web design side of the business over the last couple of years, we are looking to increase our capacity in that area and plan to expand the team later in the year. We have some significant growth plans for the next few years, and with the strong foundations that we have put in place over the last few years we believe we’re in an excellent position n ow to deliver on those plans. To celebrate our 10 years in business we’ll be inviting many of our current and past clients, suppliers, colleagues, partners and friends who’ve influenced us over the years to join us at an anniversary party in the Spring. Look out for your invite when it hits the doormat and we look forward to celebrating with many of you very soon!