Simon Dalley is the Founder and Director of digital marketing agency GrowTraffic, which describes itself as “a different type of digital marketing agency”.
For our regular Day in the Life feature, he spoke to Econsultancy about how he came to found GrowTraffic in the midst of a recession, why the business positions itself as ‘an antidote to SEO agencies’, his favourite tools for getting the job done, and his advice for digital marketers who are just starting out.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Simon Dalley: Along with Rachel and Hannah Weinhold, I’m part of the triumvirate of directors at GrowTraffic, a digital marketing agency based in Lancashire and South Yorkshire, which focuses on SEO and using a content marketing approach to sustainably grow traffic and sales for our customers.
In terms of what I do, my role shifts depending on what the business requires of me. I can sometimes be head down as a technical SEO or creating content for clients, sometimes I’m working as a digital marketing account manager, sometimes I’m on the road touting our wares, and all the while I’m generally trying to gently nudge team members (who we lovingly refer to as GrowFos) in the often weird directions I think we should take.
Ultimately, I believe if you have a great team they will get the results and build a great business around you. My role, in part, is to nurture that.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Simon Dalley: I normally just use the title Director as that gives me the flexibility to shift my role as required, but it’s not unusual for me to ironically refer to myself as director of traffic. Whilst I founded GrowTraffic over 10 years ago, there are two other directors within the business and our decision making is fairly equal. Between the three of us, we cover the role of an MD or CEO.
So, although I don’t report to anyone, decision making is generally shared between the senior team and where possible, we try to include the whole team in many of the decisions about the business. Fortunately, as we’ve grown organically, there are no outside investors to answer to.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Simon Dalley: I have been passionate about digital marketing, and especially search marketing and SEO, ever since I started out in the field. I think maintaining that passion, having a vision and understanding my own strengths and weaknesses are key skills. Throughout my career, I’ve always succeeded best when I’ve had the right people around me and that continues to this day.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Simon Dalley: I tend to wake up at 5 am. I try to run around 5 to 10 miles in the mornings a few times a week. When I’m not running, I use that time to read and learn. But a big part of the morning is about the opportunity to spend a bit of time with my son, despite him not being very interested in spending time with me these days.
I then head into the office when I’m ready. I tend to get in anywhere between 8:30am and 10:30am depending on meetings, what I’m working on and what I need to get involved with.
We all work flexibly. We have team members working at multiple locations and those who of us who do use an office often decide on the day whether we’ll be in the office or not. That means there is a lot of communication, generally on WhatsApp and Zoom, to discuss who’s going to be where and when, and who’s going to be working on what. But it works well for us.
My day will be determined by whether I’m working on one of our retainer clients, on a one-off job, whether we have a client about to launch a new product or service or if I’m working on GrowTraffic’s marketing or admin.
But I’ll always try to make a difference each day and there is always an opportunity to drive forward one element of the client work or the business.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Simon Dalley: There was a period in GrowTraffic’s history when I was still working in a full-time marketing management role, commuting one and a half hours each way, every day, supporting the business’ growth. So I love that I don’t have to commute to and from Manchester every day anymore. But it’s much more than that.
When our first employees started, they were working mums and this contributed towards the founding culture and ethos of the business. Rachel Weinhold talked about creating a business culture that facilitates women and that meant we baked in flexibility early on. It’s something that hasn’t changed as we’ve grown.
When I was able to move across from my corporate marketing life to working on GrowTraffic in a full-time capacity, despite having worked for relatively flexible technology businesses, this culture was still a revelation to me. For the first time, I was able to take my son to school and pick him up almost every day, and I have never missed a parents evening, whereas previously I had often only been able to dial in at best.
More broadly, I am free to explore a range of opportunities and interests, whilst working on the business, which is such a liberating and fulfilling feeling.
There’s also nowhere to hide. If things go wrong or if I have a bad day, it’s on me. Because it’s my brand and because of my passion for this business, I sometimes find myself too close to situations and I’m more affected by them than I would have been when working in previous agency or client-side roles. This has been both an illuminating and frustrating experience and something I’ve had to work on. So sometimes it sucks being me.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Simon Dalley: The most important metrics for us are client growth metrics as well as our margin and revenue. I say client growth because if we can measure and demonstrate it, we can prove our worth to our clients and we can also show potential clients what levels of growth they can anticipate with a certain level of investment, over a certain period of time.
In terms of goals, I have my own personal goals that are increasingly intertwined with those of the business. We have a good understanding of where we want GrowTraffic to get to, the number of employees we want, and the number and mix of customers we need in order to achieve our aspirations for the business. If we continue on our current growth trajectory we’ll definitely hit those goals.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Simon Dalley: As a marketer, I’m forever finding new tools to help me and as a business, we use a number of different tools every day. For communicating we rely on WhatsApp and Zoom. For project management, we use Asana with various extensions. We use Quickbooks for accounting. Then we’ve got various old faithfuls such as Google Analytics, SERanking, Hootsuite etc. I’m also a huge fan of the G-Suite for collaborating.
How did you end up founding GrowTraffic, and where might you go from here?
Simon Dalley: I’d done some marketing and market research work on a freelance basis, but it was whilst working in the marketing team at the server hosting firm UKFast in 2009 that I began to formulate the idea for GrowTraffic. During the time I was at UKFast we entered a recession and it was brought home to me the importance of developing a side project to help protect me in the future, should I ever struggle to find work.
The phrase “grow traffic” had become my catchphrase and was a bit of a joke in the marketing team; however, I was sure it would give me a brand I could scale from a freelance consultancy to an agency, should that ever be the direction I wanted to take it.
For most of the first five years, it was just my side hustle. My main plan was to create a client base I could fall back on when I stopped working in corporate marketing land.
However, during this time I was also working in head of marketing roles for tech businesses and it was no longer appropriate, or viable, to run GrowTraffic in my spare time with a bank of sometimes less-than-reliable freelancers. So after a few false starts, false dawns and wrong paths, the business was able to take off after Rachel began working on GrowTraffic clients in 2014.
The team has worked tirelessly to develop our reputation by focusing on our values of honesty, integrity and transparency. Our values are important because ‘SEO agency’ is a dirty word for many people in business. We decided to change this by positioning ourselves as ‘the antidote to SEO agencies’, by focusing on our values and using a more sustainable content marketing approach for SEO, whilst also teaching our clients how to do their own SEO and digital marketing.
Our client base continues to grow and we plan to recruit a further intake of staff before the end of the year. We’re also currently in the process of acquiring a building of our own to act as a new head office for GrowTraffic and a digital business hub, with offices for other businesses.
Which brands have impressed you lately?
Simon Dalley: We’re currently working with luxury stroller brand called Juniorjones. They’ve just had a huge brand launch that was incredibly well-received by the industry and potential customers. I’ve been impressed by their dedication to getting a product range to market that isn’t like anything else available.
I generally love it when brands offer customisable elements to their staff and their customers. It’s something Airbnb did with their customisable Belo logo, it’s something we introduced for customers using the BrightHR app, and it’s something Juniorjones have done with their strollers.
What advice would you give a marketer starting out in 2020?
Simon Dalley: I have worked in marketing for the best part of two decades and I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. When I started working in marketing, most marketing was still being sent through the post or being placed in physical publications.
A lot has changed and I think it continues to change at a pace of knots. Many of the marketers from the pre-internet age struggled to keep up with the changes and I’ve always been clear that every day I need to learn something new and I must be adaptable.
In our sector, technology continues to advance; SEO, PPC and social media didn’t really exist when I started out in marketing. Smartphones have had a huge impact on the way search marketing works since I first moved into this field. I find much more content than before via the magic of Facebook’s algorithm rather than Google. When it reaches the tipping point, voice search is going to change things again, as will the next generation of super-fast mobile internet. Be ready for that change.
I’d also say enjoy it. Throughout my career in marketing, I have met many inspiring people, I have travelled to various different countries and have had a variety of amazing experiences I wouldn’t have had if I’d chosen a less creative career path.
GrowTraffic recently turned ten years old. Seeing it develop into an award-winning business and taking on a life of its own is probably one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. I’d suggest that once you’ve got some good experience under your belt, there’s no reason you couldn’t go it alone.