Susan Hallam founded Hallam Internet at a time when business use of the internet was just about to take off. Since then her company has grown to 27 staff and is still at the forefront of the digital marketing revolution.
As the winner of our Digital Business of the Year Award we asked Susan about her journey so far.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I delivered my first internet workshop in 1993 whilst working as a Senior Lecturer in Computing at Nottingham Trent University. I left the university to take senior digital roles at BT and Capital One, and it was at this stage I recognised that business use of the internet was about to take off. I wanted to take advantage of such a huge opportunity so began to offer digital marketing consultancy services.
What were some of the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
As with any startup business, keeping the cash flowing on a regular basis was my greatest challenge. I was fortunate enough to start the business with a hefty work contract with a government agency called Business Link, offering digital consultancy services to small businesses in the region. This contract kept the cash coming on a regular basis, and also was a great opportunity to raise my profile to businesses across the region.
How did you fund your business?
The business is entirely self- funded through its profit and organic growth. Over the years I’ve taken small loans to cover projects like the development of our website, and we have a good working relationship with our bank.
What is your top tip for growing your business?
Have a good business plan. You can't achieve your growth targets unless you know where you're trying to get to, and you can see what the route is going to look like. Alongside a plan, our growth has been powered by some exceptional business coaching, and I have lots of mentors to thank for the success we've achieved to date.
Why would you recommend that people build their network and find the support they need to start and grow their business?
I may own a digital marketing agency, but I also know that people do business with other people. People they trust, people they like, and people with whom they have a good relationship. I've been running the agency for more than 16 years, and networking is still one of my top priorities. It's amazing what you can learn from folk, and the support your network provides is invaluable.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't believe that work and life balances. Instead I have work and life sprints. When I first set up the business I had two young children, so I always took the whole of August off to be home with them. That was my family sprint, so come September (with the kids back at school) I’d put my head down and have a work sprint.
A big profitable contract meant long hours, but without fail my husband and the kids ate dinner together every evening. As they say, life’s not a dress rehearsal, so make time for what’s really important to you, and for me, that's family.
How has mentorship made a difference in your business?
My coaches have played a huge part in our business success. Coaches have helped me to clarify our business culture and values, helped to guide our financial planning and recruitment strategies, and helped to shape our strategy. Drawing on the experience and collective wisdom of coaches has given me a wider view of the business and helped me to understand my specific purpose as Managing Director.
If you want to make connections with successful ladies like Susan, there’s no better place than at the Forward Ladies Awards Grand Final. Held in Leeds at the Royal Armories on the 1st December, it’s set to be a fabulous celebration of women in business! Find out more and book your ticket here.