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How I Built A Leading Marketing Agency During The 2008 Financial Crisis

How I Built A Leading Marketing Agency During The 2008 Financial Crisis

Ben Austin, Founder and CEO of Absolute Digital Media, a multi-award-winning digital marketing agency specializing in SEO, Digital PR, and PPC.

Welcome, Ben! Please introduce yourself and your business

Hi, I’m Ben Austin, the Founder and CEO of multi-award-winning digital marketing agency Absolute Digital Media. I started the business back in June 2008 as a solopreneur. 14 years later, I never expected the agency to be where it is today. After welcoming our first clients on board, the business began to spiral. I’m here to share my story today.

So, Ben, where did your inspiration to be an entrepreneur stem from?

I’ve always been interested in business. From a young age, I could be found selling sweets on the playground, flowers picked from my parent’s back garden, and selling lemonade on our street. Even though I had a passion for it, I was never quite sure where I wanted to go with it. 

I spent a few years working in the finance industry before launching my own mortgage broker website which I learned to market and SEO myself. After a couple of weeks, I began to see some great results across the site, including its visibility for some of the industry’s most competitive keywords which remain some of the tops today.

And is that where Absolute Digital Media stemmed from?

Absolute Digital Media hasn’t always been known as ‘Absolute Digital Media’. It was first called SEO Positive before we rebranded in late 2010 to encapsulate a wider service offering. At the time we were a full-service digital marketing agency but have since scaled back to focus on our strengths in search, digital PR, and PPC.

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What makes Absolute Digital Media different? 

What makes Absolute stand out is that we’ve had no investment from the start meaning that since 2008  we’ve been a fully independent digital marketing agency. I did everything from scratch, cold calling businesses from my bedroom to onboarding new clients. 

At the time, marketing was still relatively new. Particularly SEO. After getting a few businesses’ initial buy-ins, I started to get cold feet. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. If I could be responsible for a business’s growth and revenue based on something I had little experience in but a whole load of passion. It was my dad who sat me down and told me I could, encouraging me to re-contact all the companies I had got on board and request their buy-in once again. 

How I Built A Leading Marketing Agency During The 2008 Financial Crisis

What challenges have you faced over the last 14 years?

You’re likely to come across a number of challenges during your time as a business owner. A major, recent one, as those presented by Covid. We lost over £800,000 worth of monthly revenue in just 3 months leaving the agency and the team at a loss as to how we would progress. It was a difficult time for all of us – our clients, our team, and the agency as a whole.

This one was different because it was unexpected and, ultimately, there was nothing we could do to stop it from happening. It required all hands on deck from across the agency and was entirely a team effort to pull us out to the other end. Off the back of this, we needed to remodel the business to remain a fully remote agency. It took a lot of time and thought but the team and I couldn’t be happier with how we’re progressing in our new remote working style.

How important is business culture to you? 

Company culture means so much to me as a business owner. Since we left the office at the start of 2020, we’ve re-invested everything and more we would have spent renting out the office back into our staff.

We’ve been focusing on new, creative ways we can reward them for their continuous hard work including all expenses paid for holidays abroad to Amsterdam and New York, and regular team building days which have included our own festival for our team and their partners to enjoy, the introduction of private healthcare for all team members, the ability for the team to work anywhere in Europe throughout the year and the implementation of 3 additional wellness days in addition to our standard annual leave allowance. 

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How I Built A Leading Marketing Agency During The 2008 Financial Crisis

How has the business changed over the years?

The business has massively changed over the years. Absolute went from an SEO marketing agency to a full-service agency and is now a marketing agency that specializes in SEO, digital PR, and PPC. Being able to do so was, and still is, all down to our growth. I went from being a one-man band to managing a team of now 35 across different departments in the agency, supporting our ongoing client wins which have recently included PlayTech and Lovehoney US. 

What’s next for Team Absolute? 

With our recent expansion to the U.S., we’re looking forward to further ramping things up further stateside. We’ve already welcomed a number of U.S.-based clients on board with us, with more in the pipeline, enabling us to operate in a wider market than ever before, supporting the ongoing growth of the agency and its team.

What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?

In any industry, but particularly in the digital marketing industry, it’s important to find your niche. Deep diving into the industries we know we perform best has enabled us to grow at a faster rate than before, honing in on the brands we want to work with within these areas. By doing so, we were able to create a plan that would enable us to attract the businesses we wanted to work with, allowing for greater scope across the agency.

Any final wise words, Ben?

Regardless of whether you are thinking about starting your own business, already own one or feel at a loose end, keep going! If it wasn’t for my dad encouraging me to just go for it, the agency wouldn’t be where it is today. If that’s you, then trust me when I say things work out the way they should!

How I Built A Leading Marketing Agency During The 2008 Financial Crisis

If you’d like to keep up to date with Absolute Digital Media, you can find us on Twitter @AbsoluteDMedia and @absolutelyben. You can also find us on LinkedIn. We’re always up for a chat so do feel free to get in touch!

Read more Empire Weekly Exclusive Interviews here.

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