James Pybus – Background
I was a driver/bodyguard to a businessman. It was an unusual job, dropping off at 7am and collecting at 11pm most days meant I had plenty of time to run my own businesses and get paid as an employee at the same time. The downside was that I was primarily stuck in one location in central London, away from home, and when the role came to an end in 2016 I was faced with the decision of what to do next.
I have had numerous businesses over the last 25 years; my businesses have ranged from a website designer and digital marketing agency owner to a bed and breakfast owner, and from a flooring trade supplier to an affiliate marketer and digital marketing trainer. Despite the range of industries, I have worked in, my passion over this period has consistently been digital marketing. I have worked for a wide range of businesses from solopreneurs right through to HP and Microsoft Platinum partners and global retailers. Over the last 4 years, I have provided training to approximately 300 business owners, global digital teams, and marketing/PR agencies. I am also honoured to be a Freeman of the City of London and Liveryman.
I wanted to become a freelance digital marketer and have flexible work hours so I could spend more time with my wife and family – I have three children, James (6), Lily (4), and Molly (18) months.
Upon leaving my employed position I realised I needed some credibility so that people would take me seriously as a digital marketer. Unfortunately, I left school with next to no qualifications and joined the Army at 16, where I served 7 years as driver/close protection to senior officers, ambassadors, and NATO diplomats.
A lot of people who do SEO and who call themselves digital marketers have a reputation as ‘snake oil’ salesman – many can’t even provide you with a simple optimisation lesson which gives the industry and the genuine people a bad name. Digital marketing isn’t a spooky dark art, it’s a process and like anything good, it takes time build.
I felt frustrated that I had so much experience in digital marketing but had little credibility in the eyes of corporate decision-makers. However, unlike most senior digital marketers that I met in corporate roles, I didn’t just talk about digital marketing – I was actually at the coal face and doing the work, training people on the nuts and bolts of digital marketing, and getting great results despite the lack of formal training.
I felt disheartened when I took on some temporary contracts for global corporations and when liaising with their in-house marketing team (particularly Digital Marketing Directors and Managers) and realised that many of these individuals had little first-hand, practical experience of digital marketing, despite the fact that they were influential decision-makers in charge of huge marketing budgets. Having come from a small business background where budgets are tight and expectations are high, I was horrified at the huge amounts of money wasted on ineffective marketing.
I befriended a board member in one of the large organisations I was working for, and one day asked the question ‘Why do some many senior managers have very little knowledge of digital marketing yet control the purse strings for hundreds of thousands of dollars of marketing budget?’ I was shocked by the response and it has stuck in my mind ever since: ‘You only need to know 5% more than anyone else in the room to be an expert.’
My driver/bodyguard position was very solitary. I was quiet, discreet with little personal confidence, and struggled with dyslexia but that statement – ‘you only need to know 5% more than anyone else in the room to be an expert’ – rang in my ears. I felt like I had suddenly woken up! I realised I was as good as anyone else out there. I had spent 24 years working hard to develop my skills so that I could provide clear, coherent, and practical advice based on first-hand experience. In my opinion, BS, jargon-fuelled advice just can’t compete with an in-depth understanding of the industry, and I wanted to make people realise that.
If corporate ‘Digital Marketers’ could do it then so could I! I was 49 years old and I applied for an MSc in Digital Communications; after a tough 2-hour interview I managed to secure a place despite having no formal qualifications. My confidence was still low, so I didn’t mention my dyslexia, fearing that they wouldn’t allow me to complete the course if they found out about my additional challenges.
I was nervous starting the course as I still had confidence issues that made me feel as though the other students were somehow better than me, but I didn’t show it and kept my head down. Over the following year I got to know the other students quite well (some are still friends), most were from corporate backgrounds but to my surprise out of 20 students, only 3 had any digital marketing knowledge. After a couple of terms, I found myself disappointed and disillusioned with the course overall, as I had naïvely assumed that at the very least if you had a Masters in a topic you knew the practical basics as well as the theory, but in reality, we were just applying Masters level thinking to a specific topic (which in this case was Digital Communications), and it was all very formal, theoretical and academic with no practical execution. Despite my reservations about the course, I completed the first year and got a Postgraduate Certificate before resigning from the course. At this point, I realised the corporate life I thought I wanted to be a part of wasn’t for me, and that my talents are far better utilised working with smaller businesses rather than in corporate settings, which seem to be full of politics, BS and people desperate to climb the corporate ladder, even if that involves unethical or unscrupulous actions… Although small and medium-size enterprises have smaller budgets, from my experience they are often far more dynamic and far more prepared to listen to logic and reason. When I’ve worked with SMEs, we’ve been able to get stuff done quickly and simply, without having to convince a series of ‘marketing professionals’ who lack practical experience in the industry yet assume that their approach to marketing is the best option out there instead of reading what the data is telling them.
In 2018/19, about 20% of my business was training digital agency staff – it was a real eye-opener! It seemed to me the owner of the business had generally started up the business specialising in a specific digital channel (for example, paid ads). Over the years, their customers had gradually asked for more and more digital services alongside their particular zone of genius, and they had taken on freelancers or employed staff in these areas to support the growing needs of their business, eventually growing into a full digital agency. However, this approach has a couple of issues:
1.) Every ‘department’ works as an individual team, therefore they are not providing an integrated digital strategy to the customer.
2.) Not one agency in the last 4 years of training agencies has been able to share with me their digital strategy. Each department has its own ideas and workflows, and this just doesn’t make sense. Many essential digital tasks, like keyword research, are carried out multiple times and the customer pays for this work again and again. In the vast majority of cases, the content team wasn’t communicating with the optimisation team (and vice versa) so the content and anchor text were random and without focus.
I did some contracting a few years back for a large business where they were paying an employee $50,000 per year to do paid advertising. However, upon further investigation, I found that this person was only reporting on the paid ads and that the business was outsourcing all of the set up/monitoring/adjusting of the adverts to an external digital agency for a further $1800 per week – not including their actual advertising budget. This external agency was also automating their advertising so that they could take on more customers, and there were a number of issues with their automation that resulted in far more being spent on paid-ads than was necessary. In my opinion, if you are paying someone in-house $50,000 per year, they should be able to set up, monitor, adjust AND report on the ads without having to outsource them to an external agency. This was just one example of the wastage I witnessed working in a corporate setting – it’s a crazy world!
Another interesting experience I had was when I provided training to a top digital agency that supported 8 well-known high street brands. After the training session, I asked the senior manager what they thought of the training, and was given the response ‘It was great training for the junior members and also good for me to see how the digital channels fit together but we’ve got a problem – we haven’t done half of what you have been teaching us and I have worked out it will take us between 18 months and 2 years to catch up.’ When I asked what the solution was, I was shocked to hear them advise that they would gradually phase it in over the next two years and ‘hope no-one will notice’! Given that their customers were charged thousands of dollars per month for their services, this attitude really surprised me.
Recently, I’ve started to see larger organisations, particularly global retailers, starting to tighten their budgets and become more aware of the money they are wasting. I have actually had 4 corporate enquiries since January 2020 that are wanting to move away from their agencies and bring their marketing in-house and I have been asked for quotes to train their internal digital marketing departments with an integrated digital strategy.
One of the biggest take-aways of the last few years, however, is that small businesses can compete online against larger businesses if they have a strategy in place (which many of the larger organisations don’t!). A website is a website, the same things need to happen whatever the size of the company.
Having been through this unique situation and seen the same issues and problems arising over and over in different organisations, it made me think more about the importance of a standardised framework for Digital Marketing, and I was inspired to create a methodology that I could share with businesses. In 2019, together with my wife Gemma (a data analyst), we came up with ‘The Logic Digital Marketing Methodology’ which covers optimisation, Paid ads, and the on-going content strategy. Once the foundations of the Logic Digital Marketing Methodology are completed, businesses can then consider other digital channels like social media, email marketing, etc.
Last year, we self-published a book on the Logic Digital Marketing Methodology called “Lost in the Digital Noise” and developed a keyword research tool to work with the methodology. Prior to developing this tool, collating lists of 10,000+ potential keywords was taking us 5 days, 14 hours per day, and using our new tool, the same amount of work can now be achieved in less than 2 hours. In 2019, our keyword research tool won Best Marketing Management Tool at the B2B Marketing Expo, ExCel, London.
I feel like I am building a legacy; Gemma and I now teach MSc students at the University of West London and have recently been guest lectures at Hult International on digital strategy, and continue to offer training to both small business and large business teams.
We have made our keyword research tool-free to use for any business and I hope to share the strategy/methodology with any business in any industry at a very low cost in order to spread the word, as I strongly believe that this logical methodology can really help any business to find greater visibility and success online.
It makes me happy and love the thought that we could help all businesses, large and small if they give us an opportunity and listen to what we are saying.
I now live in a world where I have the freedom to spend time with my family; I take my children to school each day and collect them, and I work from home alongside my wife, without a daily 2-hour commute in and out of London.
Thank you for reading
Best – James Pybus