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How I Started an Agency at 17 – Carl Hewitt

On today’s Engaging Marketeer podcast, I am speaking with a very inspirational guy by the name of Carl Hewitt. Carl started a digital marketing agency at the age of, wait for it… 17! When I was 17 I was probably mucking about in a bowling alley and playing laser tag, but Carl was starting a business, which he has now grown to do marketing for some very established businesses, including the University of Portsmouth.

This is a great interview, Carl is a really inspiring guy. What he’s achieved at such a young age is extremely infuriating for a man of my advanced years, but you gotta love him.

For the full interview, which includes these below highlights, check out the episode on YouTube:

Carl on his motives for starting a marketing agency…

Darren: You started your company ridiculously early. What was it that made you want to go out decide not to work for anyone else?
Carl: I’ve always been interested and loved the idea of actually making something and having a project that’s constantly moving. The first business I set up, the only reason I set it up was because my mum wanted to go to Rome, and I decided that the best way to get some money together would be to start a business, and it kind of went from there really and snowballed to where we are today.
Darren: The question is, did your mum get to Rome?
Carl: We are going in April, I believe, so its all booked and paid for.

…on what it was like starting a business aged 17…

Darren: When you’re starting a business at that age, I presume your friends and people you grew up with were not starting a business of their own?
Carl: No, no, that was a challenge. You do sort of have to accept the sacrifices at that point and take the big step.
Darren: What was the response like from people that you went to uni with?
Carl: I actually only went to uni for about six months, I ended up dropping out to focus on the business. We started to hire people, and I thought that you couldn’t have your manager telling you to go to a meeting while he goes to a lecture.

…on the approach to business within education…

Darren: I find it fascinating that in schools, they will teach you Pythagoras’ Thereom, which you will never use in your life outside of school, but they won’t teach you how to leverage debt, for example.
Carl: I learned the order of metals in the periodic table in order of volatility before I learned what tax is all about. There’s a reason Mark Zuckerberg has a mortgage – because he could use that money better and grow it quicker instead of just buying a house upfront, but no one explains that concept in school.

…on finding clients without having experience…

Darren: When I started Engage Web in 2009, I’d worked for other agencies before, I’d been the web designer for Game, I had a long history of work and accomplishments that I could show. What’s it like at 17? How are you getting across that credibility to potential clients?
Carl: That was the big challenge. We had nothing to start with. We didn’t have a case study, we didn’t have a network (my network was my mates studying A-Levels) and we had no experience. It was really hard, and you had to find people that were willing to take a punt on you, because it was a risk.

…on the troubles involved with pricing…

Darren: How are you finding pricing? Especially when you get started, when you’re desperate for case studies, for testimonials, it can be easy to slash your pricing in order to secure business. Also, the cheaper clients are often some of the most difficult.
Carl: I follow a guy on LinkedIn who makes TikToks, and he does one where a £100 a month client says ‘yeah we’d like to check in maybe five minutes every morning just to see how its going’, while the £50k a month client just says ‘sorry I’ve got a spin class to go to, spend the money and f**k off’ and it’s just so true.

…on learning how to delegate…

Darren: How easy was it for you to hand over your work to someone else, stand back and let them get on with it?
Carl: I’m just doing that now for the first time, interestingly. All of our hires until the end of last year have been operational, so I’m only just realising how useful it is to not just have everything in your own head and all these tiny jobs, it’s all quite hard to balance.

…on training members of his team…

Darren: There’s a quote from, I think its Richard Branson, that goes ‘What happens if you train people up and they leave? Well, what happens if you don’t train people up and they stay?’ Do you invest in your team in terms of getting them on trainings?
Carl: Absolutely. Everybody has their own training budget for the year that they can pay for. We tend to try and guide people in the right direction, having seen every course under the sun, but they get to choose where they get their training.

…on previous mistakes…

Darren: What mistakes have you made over the years, or what would you have done differently if given the chance?
Carl: One of the biggest mistakes, which I’m sure every agency falls into in the early stages, is taking on everything that comes through the door. There’s something to be said for saying ‘yeah, we can do that’ and figuring it out, but if it’s not what you want your business to be doing in, say, five years, it’s not worth potentially ruining your reputation over.

If somebody would like to contact Carl, either to work with him and his agency, or to just chat about marketing and business, he can be reached at his LinkedIn, as well as his email carl@matthews.co.uk. Huge thanks to Carl for coming on the show in what was a fascinating and hugely enjoyable interview.

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