Date: 29th March 2021
Steven is a born and bred Mackem from Sunderland, where he still lives and works from. Having just exited the previous digital business he founded in 2015, he has now started up his own digital marketing advisory firm, Causal Effect.
Causal Effect helps businesses gain increased visibility of their website through the implementation of various pragmatic digital marketing tactics designed to have a causal effect.
Outside of work he enjoys spending time with his family and Cockapoo, Benji and playing the piano.
What is your business motto?
I don’t have one currently, perhaps I’d better create one!
Why did you go into your chosen career?
Honestly, to get away from the long hours of motor trade! I used to work every weekend and 10-hour days during the week until I decided I wanted a Monday-Friday 9-5.
I would have taken anything, but the business that really appealed to me was ncjMedia (Trinity Mirror North East) working in the advertising department. It was something that came naturally to me and most importantly something I actually enjoyed doing too. It also gave me a lot of my life back to spend time with my friends and family too which was a real bonus!
It was great to be able to say that we had placed an advert in one of the titles or websites that had a direct positive impact on an advertiser’s business and it made the job of selling far easier to boot.
Fast-forward 17 years and a couple of roles along the way, I really got into the world of digital marketing and SEO in a meaningful way in 2009 and I was hooked.
It’s the game of proverbial cat and mouse that keeps me interested. We have to be at the top of our game and in tune with everything in the market, both from a platform and user perspective, to make sure clients benefit and maintains high visibility of their website.
What makes your business different?
I truly believe there is nothing new under the sun. You can find everything I know on the internet and that of any other agency for that matter. There is no magic potion or silver bullet that is going to make success inevitable.
The marketplace has been conditioned to assume going digital will have a positive impact on the bottom line automatically. It can, but these days the competition is far fiercer, and the platforms are making it increasingly more difficult to gain visibility without having to ‘pay-to-play’.
That said, it is the experience and understanding of what to implement and when that makes the difference with Causal Effect.
There are so many things a business can do with digital, but success comes with the ability to decipher what a business should do rather than what they could do.
Having a clear plan and implementing it without distraction will make a business succeed in digital.
I think it is that level of candour and openness that makes me as a person different to most. I’ll tell you exactly how I see it and what I think is required from a position of knowledge and experience rather than based on what I need to sell to keep a member of staff busy and in a job.
What essential item(s) do you always have with you?
Sounds quite sad, laptop and phone!
Do you dress up or dress down for business?
I have always dressed for the occasion. The last year has been spent in joggers and t-shirts but I’ll be back into the work attire soon enough when we can get out again for face-to-face contact which I have missed terribly.
Which person has inspired you the most in your career and in what way?
Sounds very cliché, but my dad.
He had a very successful and long career in banking but that demanded a lot of his time and started to have a negative effect on his health. He took the bold and brave decision at 42, with 3 young kids, to take early retirement to gain back some quality of life and also stand strong to his beliefs and morals.
When he had started working for the bank in the late 60’s it was a service that helped people to improve their lives with careful, prudent and considered financial advice. Whilst that still may be the case to a certain extent, the banks moved very swiftly into a sales and target-based culture which focused on how much a branch could sell, rather than how much they could help individuals and businesses.
That didn’t sit well with dad, so he chose to not be a part of it. That’s a decision I admire to this day. It taught me that no matter what, if you’re not happy or comfortable in a place or situation, then you have the power to change it and I’ve done that throughout my career to date. The trick is to do it without hesitation and with real conviction.
What is your proudest achievement in business?
Definitely starting, growing, scaling and then exiting my previous business. I had a great time working alongside my co-founder and team to build a well-regarded digital marketing business, operating in a very competitive marketplace where unfortunately so many businesses have had negative experiences.
I believe we managed to work with the client base to deliver digital success across many industries.
I learned a great deal about business in general, as well as about myself and how I operate as an individual.
What’s your company’s greatest asset?
The business currently is me, my laptop and phone, so I guess it as there’s nothing else, it would have to be me! Does that sound arrogant?! It’s not meant to be but I may grow the business in the future and as I am a big believer in hiring people better than me – watch this space.
If you hadn’t gone down your chosen career path, what would you be doing?
Good question, I do enjoy the training side of what I do. Sharing my knowledge to help people learn and understand is definitely something that I will continue to do, so probably some form of teaching or lecturing would be appealing to me.
Give us one tip for a successful business
Talk at the level of the person you are talking with – whether that be a member of the team, client or any other stakeholder.
I see so many people trying to grandstand and talk above their stations to sound better than they are; it just doesn’t do them any favours.
Authenticity is an over-used word these days, but I believe the reason why is that it is so important. With the advent of the internet, everyone has an unrivalled library of knowledge at their fingertips meaning any chancers trying to pull the wool can be called out relatively easily.
At what time of the day are you most creative and inspired?
Definitely after lunch, I am not a morning person particularly. I am probably at my most efficient and creative in the late afternoon and early evening.
How do you relax away from work?
I enjoy spending time with my family. We have the stereo-typical 2.4 kids; one son, one daughter and a Cockapoo!
I also love music and reading, and I play the piano, which is my mental switch-off place to go to when I want to escape the thoughts of the day.
What makes your blood boil?
People trying to steal a living out of digital marketing! The marketing space is unregulated which means there are no barriers to entry and setting up a business in this space costs very little.
I am working with a business currently that had a digital agency spend 7.5 days on a report that is just a regurgitated templated report that wasn’t even accurate, and they thought this was ok! I have seen it for far too long in this industry unfortunately and it still annoys me every time I see it – which is relatively often, too often in my opinion.
I also hate the checkout experience in Lidl supermarkets!!!
Why should businesses prioritise investing time and money into digital technologies?
In the first 3 months of lockdown in 2020, there were 4 years of eCommerce growth – according to Google here. That trend has continued. People are habitually spending a greater amount of time online, meaning there are more people online more often and ultimately spending more money.
The high street will need to evolve quickly into places that deliver experiences, and I think the days of retailers needing a bricks and mortar presence will slowly decline.
Only last week Thorntons announced that it was undergoing a consultation with staff to close all stores to retain a digital-only presence. Here is a 110-year-old business recognising that behaviours have changed swiftly and they are responding accordingly to save the future of their business. They recorded a 71% rise in eCommerce sales throughout 2020.
Anyone who is not seriously committing to invest time and money into digital plans and tactics will undoubtedly be missing out and losing digital market share to competitors moving into their space.
Why should businesses attend your webinar?
The world has changed. Irrevocably in my opinion.
We will work in entirely different ways. In the near future, remote working will be the norm, whether that be totally or in a hybrid way. With reduced commutes, we will have more time to spend on hobbies and doing things we enjoy. The opportunity for businesses to sell product and services online is sizeable.
These workshops are designed to equip business owners with the knowledge and plans to help distinguish their approach to eCommerce; whether that be investing in a fully functioning eCommerce website with 000’s of products and complex stockroom integrations or starting out in the world of selling online.
In my objective position as a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’, I can pull back the curtain on what makes a good eCommerce website, which is the best option, what are the options and ultimately the whole series is designed to help people who want to help themselves.
I will share my insider tips on how to deal with agencies, how to select and outsource the process as well as how to maintain and manage a good presence.
You can catch Steven’s four-part website design and eCommerce webinar series on the Digital Knowledge Exchange events page, including:
- An Introduction to Website Design Part 1: DIY v Professional
- An Introduction to Website Design Part 2: Working with Professionals
- An Introduction to Website Design Part 3: Building an E-commerce store
- An Introduction to Website Design Part 4: DIY using Wix or WordPress