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Agency Owner Martin Litt on How He Went From Wine Industry to Digital Marketing

I recently got the chance to interview a fellow digital marketer, Martin Litt, who moved from what many would consider to be the dream job of getting paid ridiculous sums of money to travel around drinking and selling wine as a wine salesman into the world of digital marketing. Here’s a few of the highlights of our interview.

Darren: So Martin, you’re background’s in wine, which I find fascinating.

Martin: Yeah, so I spent 11 years in the wine industry. I left university without a degree to start selling wine, which obviously my parents were thrilled by. I don’t know why I did it, because it was commission-only selling fine wine in Rotherham and Barnsley, which is a tough gig, but I loved it. I then moved on, and eventually ended up as a wine buyer, which is the holy grail of the wine industry. You’re basically severely underworked and overpaid and you just have to taste wine and take clients abroad every now and again.

My partner, who’s been doing digital marketing and websites for the last 14 years, has been pestering me since about 2015 to go and work with her, but I had it so cushy, I could see my life stretching out into infinity and I was happy with it.

Darren: I was just thinking then what would get you to move away from a job like that where it’s just wine and holidays, but yes I think imagine a global pandemic would!

Martin: Yeah, a complete shutdown of hospitality, that’ll do it! And the trouble is because I’ve spent so long doing what I’ve done and learning my craft and my trade, my skill set was so niche that I probably there aren’t any jobs doing what I did even now, two years on. I needed to switch and find something, and my partner said all the all the bad sh*t you’ve been
worried about has now happened, so there’s nothing to lose and that was it really!

Darren: So now you’re now you’re in digital marketing, and the company’s named “Quaff”.

Martin: Yes, that’s a hark back to me drinking lots of wine and my good lady running on coffee! We noticed a huge trend in a lot of sort of digital marketing agencies just going for one big random word with the word “digital” after, so we thought well there’s one, let’s make it work.

Darren: Does that mean that your fiancé wasn’t working in her own business until you left the wine industry?

Martin: She was trading under her name and doing her own stuff, she’s been doing that for 14 years. She’s got a great eye for colour and design, and the way sort of shapes and branding work together ,so that’s what she started doing and that generally evolved into more general branding, then into digital marketing and then into website design and WordPress website development. And that’s what we do now – I mean, I’m not the technical one, she does all the technical bits and pieces and I do all the soft skills, like SEO and the writing.

Darren: So with the two of you there now, I take it that means it’s almost like it’s gone from freelance to agency?

Martin: Yeah, exactly. So Kate, my partner, she’s always been very specific with who she works with, she would only work with people that she got on well with on a personal level. At the time, I was the breadwinner, and I just saw that as you know that was a luxury that she could afford. She liked working with single mums, women in business, women’s startups, because she’d been there, she knew the pain, and she could afford to provide a really good service without charging the earth. It honestly used to frustrate me a bit, I thought she could make a lot more money than she did, but she would have been a lot less happy, which is very important to us that we’re happy with what we’re doing.

Darren: So, what’s it been like going from freelance to agency, because that is a big step? It’s quite a scary step because you left the wine industry, now working within the new agency environment, that’s putting everything in one basket.

Martin: Well my eggs were firmly in one basket, because as I said the wine industry is only just recovering now. I’d come from an underworked and overpaid job, we’d just moved to a bigger house, I’d put my oldest in a fee-paying school – everything was fine on the salary I was on, and then that all disappeared. So there were certainly sleepless nights, but you do find out what you’re capable of when you’re put under those circumstances. I think a lot of people have found themselves to be a lot stronger than they thought they were and a lot more resourceful and a lot more willing to help other people. It’s one of the things that I love about BNI and that kind of structured group.

Darren: I like what you said about BNI; I’m in BNI as well as you know. There’s a lot of people who hear about networking groups like BNI and it’s not for them. Maybe they go once and they think it’s a bit of a cult –I’ve heard that many times – where you’re expected to do all these things and you’re treated like employees, and that’s not why people got into business. There’s so much negativity that surrounds networking groups, BNI in particular. How have you found it to be very different to that?

Martin: If I’m honest, BNI probably represents 65% of our business now, just through other chapter members and members across the UK, and globally in fact. What I really love about it is when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, when times get tough, people will look after each other.

For example, in my chapter at the moment, we have an events planner who has obviously had the worst couple of years of their lives business-wise. The moment lockdown kicked in, two or three other members stepped forward and said “right, between us, we can give you full-time employment helping us”. It took 10 minutes for this this individual to go from thinking “holy sh*t, how am I going to put food on the table?” to what started as colleagues turning into friends saying “we’ll help you out, don’t worry, everything’s fine”.

I see relationships like that building up all the time all over the place with the most unlikely of friends It’s remarkable how much people reach out and how much people rely on one another.

Darren: It’s really interesting you say that, as when people hear about something like BNI, they don’t see that from the outside. In terms of your marketing activities, what is it that you like to do for clients?

Martin: We have we call a digital partnership, and that’s where we become the digital arm of a business. So, we’ll talk to a client, we’ll figure out what they need, and we’ll say “right, for a set amount a month, on a retainer for the next 12 months, we’re going to do absolutely everything you need digitally”. That could be new website, SEO, CRO activities – it could be whatever they need, and we’ll just take care of it for 12 months.

We enjoy working long term with clients in creative industries because I find them more interesting generally to make a real impact. We do offer SEO packages on a monthly basis, but I’m actually trying to move away from that and reduce that offering, because SEO is a bit of a bug bear of mine. It seems to be a very convenient way to take a lot of money off clients without giving very many results. CRO, or conversion rate optimisation, is so often overlooked that clients are happily spending a lot of money to get a lot of people onto their website, which then isn’t suited to handle it, and for me, that’s daylight robbery, and I refuse to do it.

Darren: It’s interesting what you say there about SEO and getting people to websites when the websites don’t convert in the first place. I’ve worked at an agency before where that was pretty much what they did, and they were charging clients on a monthly basis to do the SEO, and the websites themselves were diabolically awful. I could see clients getting increases in rankings and traffic, but it’s not going to work because the sites are so terrible.

I personally think that that CRO should be a part of SEO, or at least with it, as you can’t do one without the other. It’s the same with Facebook advertising and Google ads. We get a lot of people come to us saying they’d like Facebook or Google ads, and we look at their website and there’s not really any point paying for traffic to send them there because that just isn’t going to work.

There was a lady yesterday talking about how she’d just had a really good chat with a guy for Google ads to get people to her website because she’s a sole trader and she needs some help with doing this. I’ve seen her website it’s a WordPress-hosted website with a plain-text logo and a free theme. It’s got the advertising down the right-hand side because it’s a free hosted website too. It’s in the financial sector – nobody, unless they were a complete nut job, is going to enquire with you on that website because it just does not say “you can trust this person with your financial investment”.

Martin: I mean financial services is an interesting one. If you’re a financial services business who is not willing to invest in your own website, who on earth is going to invest with you, I mean come on?

Darren: Obviously you mentioned SEO and how it can be it can be a con, and how a lot of people do it as a con. What do you do to keep up with the industry evolving and changing?

Martin: The sort of obvious answer for me is hanging out with industry professionals and just learning from each other –the reason I’m talking to you now is because we’re in the same WhatsApp group for marketers across the globe, again via BNI, which has been fabulous. Having that kind of personal network is super important.

As well, everything’s just a Google away. I must be honest, I don’t stay abreast of everything all the time. I’m not an expert and I probably I won’t be for another couple of years, so I have to keep myself accountable by making sure I’m doing the research that the clients don’t have time to do, and that’s part of the service.

Darren: The google analytics update – I have not spoken to a single person in the SEO industry that is excited about GA4 and thinks it’s anything but an absolute bag of shite. What have been your experiences of Google’s new analytics that we’re all going to have to use?

Martin: It seems to have tried to make something look simpler and be more complicated! It’s just one of those things where we’re not going to have a choice so there’s only so much I can grumble about it – I don’t like it but I will learn to love it I’m sure.

Darren: Are there industries that you don’t like to work with, or types of clients that you think “right, I don’t want to be working with them”?

Martin: Let’s start with clients because that’s a juicy one isn’t it? I don’t like a client who’s really penny pinching, I can’t stand it if it’s all about the price. The reason that the price is what it is is because of the results and the quality of the work. I don’t like clients who ask me to see previous examples of websites and then base their opinion on those websites – of course you don’t like everything about them, they’re not for you! That really winds me up.

Businesses and industries I don’t particularly like working with… there aren’t really any. I love an expert, I love experts in any topic, I could listen to them talk all day.

Darren: So you’re your agency now – what are your future plans, are you going to be looking to grow it, or are you going to be staying as you are?

Martin: We might take on a few either freelancers or members of staff in a couple of years, but the main thing for us is to work with businesses and people we like, doing jobs we enjoy, to make sure everybody makes more money. That’s it for me, happiness – being able to take a day off to go and build a pig pen, or take the afternoon off with my kids – as I’ve got the bills paid and there’s a little bit to play with every month. I’m 32, I’ve got through a global pandemic in a start-up business, and I’m just here to enjoy myself and make sure my clients are happy. For me, that’s all I need right now, I couldn’t be happier!

Darren: What sort of industries or client types do you particularly want to be working with in the future?

Martin: I love creative industries and the arts – it’s stuff that I can get my teeth into in terms of reading about, researching and creating interesting content, be that for social media or be that blog posts or whatever. I love writing long super long, detailed, valuable evergreen blog posts, so I want the stuff that I write about to be interesting for me.

Darren: As a sort of final note, if somebody wants to work with Quaff, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Martin: I’m fairly active on LinkedIn, but I don’t do a lot with the business page. If they search “Martin Litt”, there’s only three or four of us on there. We have a Facebook page but again, we don’t do a huge amount on there, so either just a direct email to me at martin@quaffdigital.com or just Google “Quaff Digital” and it should come up hopefully fairly high!

Darren: Thank you very much for doing this interview, I really appreciate you doing it, and it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you.

Martin: I’ve really enjoyed it, thanks for having me on.

If you’d like to listen to the full interview, subscribe to the Engaging Marketeer podcast on iTunes or on your favourite podcasting platform.

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