In conversation with Dan Matthews, Founder and CEO of Daniel Marks London. Musing on the realities of going it alone and starting your own business. The highs, the lows and all the other joys and little niggles in between!
Ok, ok so you have probably already clocked the matching surnames and guessed (correctly) that yes indeed Dan is in fact my husband! However alongside having that dubious pleasure (!) Dan is also the founder of a successful and rapidly growing specialist recruitment company Daniel Marks London.
The birth of Dan’s company almost completely coincided with the start of our own relationship back in 2006 and has been a journey that I feel I’ve watched him take from its humble start to where he is now. Therefore what better place to start this blogging journey of mine than by tapping up close family and friends and learning more about what they do along with the how and the why! I start today with Dan and his take on running your own business, the peaks and pitfalls of going it alone and what he would advise to anyone considering taking a similar path.
Q: Before going any further – Dan, can you tell us a little bit more about your company:
What exactly does your company do?
Daniel Marks London is an independent headhunting firm that specialises in talent within the Creative Agency arena. We work with the companies that make the TV and Cinema ads that create the Marketing and Advertising collateral and all the Digital activity you see around companies and brands. For our clients we represent Account Handlers, Planners, Producers, Project Managers, Technologists and Creatives at the Mid, Senior and Executive level.
What is your companies approach i.e. mission statement?
Our mission statement is simple and to the point: “To be the first, and only, point of call for leading talent within the Creative Agency arena”
What is your role within the organisation?
As Founder and CEO, my role is to run the company from a leadership and strategic perspective. I’m also currently leading the Creative Division, the newest area of the business, assisting our clients to find the markets leading Creatives.
How many people do you employ and where are you based?
We’re based on Great Titchfield Street in the West-End of London and currently employ 16 staff.
Q: What is your own educational background?
Rather randomly I graduated with a Degree in Biochemistry at Nottingham University!
Q: Can you talk us through your early job history prior to starting DML?
After University I started working at a mid-sized headhunting firm in West London called Quest. I moved from Quest for the opportunity to work in Sydney Australia for Hays Plc, a much larger recruitment business. I was here for 3 years setting up the Creative and Agency Division. Upon returning to London I set up Daniel Marks London in 2006, which I’ve been growing for the last 8 years now.
Q: What were you like as a student and an employee?
I was a good student but had no desire to stay in the field I was studying. As such I did the work that was required, but also enjoyed the sport and social aspect. I suppose I was biding my time to get stuck into the working world, where I was prepared to work hard with long hours.
Q: What drew you to set up your own company and branch out on your own?
It was something I’d wanted to do sooner, but being in Australia meant that wasn’t possible. As soon as I was able, and felt I had enough experience to get going, I was keen to get started. I had also worked hard for other people and felt why not give it a go, try it for myself.
Q: How did you decide what your company would be?
I was careful to write a Business Plan that gave me direction and a clear plan of what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. This didn’t take long, but was crucial in giving myself and the business structure. As far as what I was going to do, I focused on headhunting that I knew well, and within an area to recruit in that was interesting, commercially viable and I found exciting.
Q: How does it feel to be your own boss and be responsible for so many others?
It’s obviously great to be your own boss, but it does come with it’s own positives and negatives. As the company grows, this is organic so you adapt as the role changes. Again, having a business plan helps to keep worries at bay and the business on track. I have a great team that have joined the company as we’ve grown so that’s helped.
Q: Has it been worth the risk – has it been what you initially expected?
Absolutely worth the risk but certainly not what was initially expected! There are lots of ups and downs you can’t foresee, and being in this position means you have a lot to gain but also a lot to lose.
SCALING THE PEAKS:
Q: What have been your personal professional highlights and how did you embrace them?
Personal professional highlights I’d say are to have employed, to date, seven graduates that we’ve trained and are now doing a great job. So giving them an opportunity at a time when it’s been hard for graduates in a tough financial market, helping them to get a start in life. I’m certainly proud of that.
Q: Please tell me about some of the company highlights since starting in 2006?
Hiring our now Managing Director Robin was a highlight. He was the first person to join Daniel Marks London and he’s been a lynchpin in helping the company grow. We work really well together.
Certainly winning the Award for ‘Best Small Agency’ in 2011 at the Marketing and Recruitment Awards was a highlight and a real boon for the business. There was tough competition and a lot of people at the event on the night. I genuinely wasn’t thinking we’d win – a definite highlight. Also, sponsoring Industry Awards such as the Campaign BIG Awards this year. It’s great to feel you’re putting something into the industry and getting acknowledgment and recognition for that.
HITTING THE ROCKS:
Q: Setting up alone can’t possibly come without its challenges – what have some of the difficulties been?
2008/9 with the financial crisis was hard and any plans for growth were put on hold. We managed to hold steady and push through but it was a lot of work for little return for a long time. We learnt from this though and ultimately we’re stronger as a result.
Q: What have the harder times taught you for the future?
To not taken anything for granted, to be prepared to grind it out when you have to, and if possible to have a plan so you’re prepared for lean times and the curve balls the world throws you.
Q: Do you have any tips, secrets or anecdotes you are happy to share with us – either relating to your company or just as part of your career as a whole?
Be brave, take risks (calculated!) and enjoy the experiences on the way. Also, make sure you hire the right people – that’s what can make or break a company moving forwards.
Q: What is it like being the boss – how do you deal with stress and stay on top of your game? On the flip-side what are the benefits of working for yourself?!
Exercise helps to clear the mind and focus. Having a business plan helps relieve stress. Knowing that as long as you do the best you can do, you can’t ask for anything more.
The best benefit is having the freedom to make certain decisions. Like the office you work in, the employees you hire, marketing and company strategy and direction. Obviously the days and hours are what I choose - but with a challenging job to do that benefit comes and goes!
Q: As part of each interview in this series I would like to delve a little further into the individual and their personal relationship with their chosen profession. Could you give us the lowdown on one relevant item/thing that has helped to inspire you? This could be a book, film, TV show, advert, song - anything that you feel has inspired you along the way and relates to what you do.
One thing that inspired me, rather randomly, was a paperweight my Dad always had on his desk when I was growing up. It was a silver block inscribed ‘What would you do today if you knew you could not fail?’ It made me think that if you don’t give something a try you’ll never know if you could do it or not. Simple but effective and certainly something that still inspires me today.
DIRECTION AND ADVICE:
Q: What has been the most important thing you have learnt since starting out in 2006?
You’ll have ups and downs, big and small, but stay true to your beliefs and treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself.
Q: What have been the biggest surprises?
Probably that I still get surprised all the time!
Q: If you could talk to yourself 8 years ago as you were taking those first initial steps what advice would you offer – would you encourage others to do the same?
I would say hang in there buddy – it’s worth it. Personally I don’t think it’s for everyone but I’m glad I made the decision when I did.
Q: Are there any major no, no’s – pitfalls you would tell people to avoid?
Not having a business plan would be one. Resultantly, not having a clear agenda of your business’ role in the market you’re entering. A lot of companies I know have not succeeded due to not having a clear identity and becoming scatter gun. Write a plan, make amendments as you go but keep your focus. That way you’ll grow organically but not be spread thin with no direction.
Q: Are there any particularly useful resources out there for those interested in doing what you have done?
The Internet has loads of forums and sites for help but there’s not one in particular that I’m aware of or would specifically recommend. They can be helpful, but they can also be a distraction. It’s a case of having an aim, breaking it down and taking it one step at a time.
THE FINAL SWEEP:
So there we have it - the lowdown from Mr. Matthews on the ins and outs of building up your own business from scratch. I think it’s fair to say that the decision to go it alone is not one to be taken lightly and that it's important to think out what you intend to do clearly before going ahead. Yes there will be scope to make changes along the way but you have to start with a clear direction and focus in order to make those first inroads toward success. Thanks Dan for sharing your thoughts and your personal experience with us.
To keep up to date or connect with Dan you can follow him on:
or see what his team are up to @TeamDanielMarks