Joe Dawson, Director of Creative.onl Ltd tells us about the strategic growth agency for ambitious companies.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Joe Dawson: We are doing ok thank you, it’s been a challenging time, but my family and I are all healthy and have been very thankful for a good-sized garden for our children to get outside!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Creative.onl Ltd.
Joe Dawson: About 10 years ago, I got a job at a B2B magazine publishing company as an account manager, selling advertising space in technology and leisure magazines. I didn’t love this job, but it was my first time working on commission, and the role sewed the seed of the idea of self-employment. I really thrived on the aspect of sales that means’ the harder you work, the more money you earn.’
Later I moved into a web design role at the same company because I wanted a more creative position. I enjoyed this a lot, but I missed the commission and slightly resented the fixed salary.
After a couple of years, I moved onto a new company that was more digital-focused – our main focus was to design and build enterprise e-learning apps for iPad. But after less than a year, I decided I couldn’t ignore the call of self-employment, so I quit and started a small business as a sole trader, freelance designer, and front-end developer.
Over a short space of time, the workload kept mounting up as I won more clients and more projects, and I took the step of forming a limited company and growing a team to help me. You can learn more about this business at www.creative.onl
How does Creative.onl Ltd innovate?
Joe Dawson: We’re a full-service digital creative agency, but we do things a little differently to some. My background is in design, so we put a strong emphasis on UX and the importance of good design processes, but we also tread the line of functioning like a more traditional digital marketing agency in that we offer monthly packages covering a wide range of services from design and development through to content marketing and SEO.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Joe Dawson: It probably sounds awful to say it, but as much as we’ve suffered on a personal level, the pandemic has actually been a positive thing for our business in some ways.
We’ve always been a remote home-working team and never had a central office or studio, so we were well set up for the lockdown and having to remain working from home. But at the same time, we found that a lot of our clients were taking the downtime of the pandemic to update their marketing, their websites, etc. The attitude from many of our clients was, “we need to bounce back once the pandemic is over, so let’s focus on improving our digital channels now.”
We also host and develop an online student portal for a university in London. As a result of the university campuses having to close, the university injected a lot more resources into their student portal, providing more work for us. That’s just one example, but we had similar experiences with a number of clients.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Joe Dawson: Thankfully not, but we have tried to be as flexible and understanding as possible for our people who suddenly had to juggle homeschooling their kids and other unplanned changes in lifestyle and circumstance. But on the whole, we’ve been very fortunate. We’ve been trusting our people to work their hours and change their working pattern in whatever way they’ve needed to – and as long as the work gets done, we don’t mind when it happens.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Joe Dawson: Along with everyone else, we’ve been using tools like Zoom and Teams more than we did in the past. It seems like meeting overload sometimes, with a video meeting taking the place of communication which would previously have taken place as a simple phone call.
But being a digital-focused business and being a team that has always done remote home-working as standard, we already had most of the systems and processes in place before the pandemic hit.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Joe Dawson: There are so many! The UK definitely does not have a shortage of small digital creative agencies. But we’ve found that we thrive when we provide excellent customer service, have a good relationship with our clients, and ensure that the quality of our work is top-notch. We’ve never spent money on advertising, and our new clients tend to come from recommendations from other happy customers.