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Season 2 – Episode 16 – Darren Jamieson – Engage Web

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Season 2 – Episode 16 – Darren Jamieson – Engage Web

Chris Simmance (00:49.882)
Thanks, Voice Over Guy. I’m really pleased to have on season two of the podcast, number one Apple podcast ranked Ted X speaking, Liverpool Comedy Festival winner, and importantly, agency founder, Darren Jamieson. How are you doing?

Darren (01:05.874)
I think I need a few more titles in there to be honest with you. It’s starting to sound like a WWE entrance, but I’m very well. Thank you. How are you?

Chris Simmance (01:13.466)
Very good, very good. For those of you listening, we’re recording this at the tail end of the year and it is not yet Christmas, however Darren is wearing a Ghostbusters themed Christmas jumper, I love it and I want one, but I would wait until December to wear it. So for those who are foolish people in the agency world and have never heard of you, can you let us know?

Darren (01:30.412)
It’s nearly December.

Chris Simmance (01:40.31)
who you are and what agency you run and what that agency does. Who are they?

Darren (01:43.95)
Who are these imbeciles? I’m Darren, and my agency is called Engage Web. And we help clients with a number of important services that you need, but we also supply other agencies with content as well. So a lot of the clients we work with, unfortunately, we cannot name because of non-disclosure agreements, which is a bugger for our brand.

Chris Simmance (02:05.982)
It is, it is, but you can do the graph pointy up green numbers things with in healthcare sector type case studies.

Darren (02:13.282)
Yeah, lots in property sector. Yes.

Chris Simmance (02:18.53)
So how long has the agent been running?

Darren (02:21.784)
Depending on when this goes out, we’re almost 15 years, so April 24 we will be 15 years old.

Chris Simmance (02:27.33)
So you will almost be 15 years old when this goes out. Happy almost 15th birthday, I believe.

Darren (02:32.302)
Thank you. I believe we deserve a 15 year old beer for that, I think. Definitely.

Chris Simmance (02:37.057)
I agree, hang on a minute.

Chris Simmance (02:45.258)
coming in with the sound effects and everything. I’ve got a whole suite now of these things. Brilliant. Longest ever. Cheer. 36 seconds. You almost got 36 seconds. Cheer. Um, so working with some agencies, but running an agency, uh, content being a big thing, I’m sure that would come up in a little while. What, what do you think has been some of the manger?

Darren (02:52.47)
It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful.

Gotta wait, gotta wait for me there, didn’t it? Gotta wait.

Darren (03:07.735)

Chris Simmance (03:14.026)
developments in your own agency over the last year.

Darren (03:17.278)
Over the last year, our world, I think, the biggest thing that we’ve had to contend with is AI, obviously. You’d be a fool not to mention that. Because we write a lot, all of our content written is human written. We do not use AI for our content, for our clients or for other agencies. But we use a lot of freelance writers. We’ve got writers in the UK, Canada, Australia, and the United States, because we’ve got clients in those countries. And we use a lot of, what’s the phrase,

Chris Simmance (03:23.533)

Chris Simmance (03:40.214)

Darren (03:47.574)
that are not associated with our brand and our competitors don’t know what they are, but they’re out there. And we’ve, we found that when chat GPT came in, our applications for writers went up probably four or 500% because everybody thought, well, oh, I can write content now and I’m going to get paid for it. And these guys are going to pay me per piece of content. And all I got to do is copy and paste from chat GPT. So we’ve had to get really hot on spotting AI content.

Chris Simmance (04:01.715)
Oh wow.

I can do this.

Darren (04:16.278)
But because we give everybody the same trial article, we can see the trials coming through and how it’s been using AI and how people are trying to pull a fast one.

Chris Simmance (04:26.754)
So you give everyone the same brief and if it comes back looking like a lot of the others, then you know it’s a robot or was a robot.

Darren (04:34.842)
Yeah, we use software to detect AI because it can detect whether it’s written in a passive tone and various other aspects to it as well. But when we’re seeing them all side by side, we can see that chat GPT, for example, uses a very similar structure and a same style for the conclusion. So when you’re looking at three or four in a row, it’s very obvious which ones have been chat GPT. Anyone can spot it.

Chris Simmance (04:37.89)

Chris Simmance (04:54.046)
Yeah. And, and, uh, and I’ve noticed this, uh, in, in article creation, it almost always every article I’ve ever seen created says in the something world of, or in the, in this something age. And I’m like, ah, come on, just try, try a bit harder, please.

Darren (05:14.299)
Yeah. They’re real chestnuts. I mean, we’ve been writing content and creating content, you know, before engaged web, because we work with the other agencies before as well. And I was, uh, worked with an agency in Manchester and where they would outsource to writers from India, for example, and they would use a lot of chestnuts. So it would be, yeah, in the world of accounting, or if you’re looking for an accounting solution, you’ve come to the right place.

Chris Simmance (05:26.188)

Chris Simmance (05:31.035)

Darren (05:40.434)
It was always you’ve come to the right place and it’s these chestnuts that come up again and again and again, and chat GPT tends to do that. So it is easy to spot if you’ve read enough of it. If you don’t read it very often and you just try and slap this content straight into your website, then you’re not going to notice, but other people will. And Google will is kind of important.

Chris Simmance (05:55.357)

Chris Simmance (05:59.104)

Chris Simmance (06:02.37)
So human people doing human things and writing content as humans, totally understand the value from that. It won’t break the internet from an AI dating point of view. Have you had any, if you had to have any, should we say difficult conversations with clients around either the use or not thereof of AI content on your side or…

uh, essentially to prove the value of the price point because humans are writing it. I’ve had a conversation with a few agencies where they’ve struggled at times to say, uh, we are not using AI. Um, but the price is still the same or we are using AI and the price is the same and things like that. What, where, where are you sitting with that?

Darren (06:52.246)
Um, we review our prices annually for content because obviously we’ve got to pay our writers and we’ve got to make a margin on it and standard of living is changing and they need to, to earn accordingly. Um, but in terms of convincing it to clients, we’ve not really had that problem. I, we do run a lot of workshops and training events where people come in and they want to be doing it for themselves. And everybody at some point has the bright idea that, Ooh, I could just get ChatGPT to do all of this for me and generate.

Chris Simmance (06:57.589)

Chris Simmance (07:09.056)

Darren (07:20.626)
2,000 pages of content in the space of five minutes and paste it all onto the website. And then we have to go through the whole exercise of explaining to them why that’s a bad idea. But in terms of existing clients, either other agencies or digital marketing SEO clients that we work with, nobody has come to us and said, why can’t we do this? Is it cheaper if we do this? Will it be quicker and better if we do this? Because they tend to know the value of it. We work with people long enough, they know the value of what we do, and they don’t have these.

Chris Simmance (07:28.364)

Darren (07:49.198)
bright ideas that could damage their website. It’s always new people, new businesses that have discovered it for the first time and think, Oh, I found a shortcut. No, let me pull you back a little bit. You haven’t.

Chris Simmance (08:01.706)
So are there any areas in which you are leveraging AI beyond content?

Darren (08:07.914)
Um, yes, actually, funnily enough, yes. The main reason we’re using AI at the moment is for, um, client call recording and transcript. So what we’ll do is, um, what we’re using, we were using Otter, but we didn’t like Otter. I don’t personally do it. It’s one of our sales guys do it. He’s found something different. So apologies. I can’t give you the really cool tool on this, but it’s not Otter.

Chris Simmance (08:21.028)
What’s your tool of choice there?

Chris Simmance (08:25.336)

Chris Simmance (08:33.357)
Well, I was hoping you were going to say Firefly’s AI, because that is absolutely epic when it comes to sales calls and things like that.

Darren (08:41.238)
I don’t think it’s Firefly. I don’t, that’s not, I know that I can’t think what it is, but it’s not Auto and it’s not Firefly, but in terms of what we’d have to do is you do the call, you’d record it, he’d go back through the notes and write it the proposal, but that’s all generated now. So all of the notes are generated on the fly Bay AI because it reads the content. And that has saved a lot of time. That is useful, but obviously that then doesn’t go onto the internet. That doesn’t go into a client’s website. That’s for internal use.

Chris Simmance (08:46.52)
Thank you.

Chris Simmance (09:04.064)

And that’s the kind of things that agencies are going to have to start adapting to. There’s one of our partners at OMG, runs an AI leveraging tool called Kaizen. And what they do is they, I’m going to get some of this wrong. It listens to calls in the way that the one you mentioned does. It has access to emails that get sent backwards and forwards, and it essentially

let’s say the temperature of a client relationship and suggests ways and means that you can keep that client either happy or, or this client might be thinking of leaving because the sentiment of the conversation and the emails have changed and stuff like that. And now I think from a client services point of view is a bloody good opportunity for agencies. Um, the, uh, the leveraging of tools for stuff like that from a sales point of view, there’s stuff in sales calls that like, you know, and salespeople know that in the discovery.

mesh of conversation, there’s things that you miss that might be a little nugget that just gets you over the line and that’s where some of these things can really come in. Have a look on the OMG software resources page, there’s a link to join their beta. I think the beta is either free or much cheaper than the final product, it is very good.

Darren (10:13.75)
Yeah, that sounds awesome.

Chris Simmance (10:35.018)
I know in digital marketing and digital agency world, AI has been huge, a change in evolution over the last year or so. What other trends have you seen that aren’t like all underpinned by a robot that are kind of emerging in this industry?

Darren (10:53.198)
that aren’t underpinned by a ro-

Chris Simmance (10:55.498)
Yeah, you know, everyone talks about AI and yes, it’s big. Yes, there’s a different type of search results in the coming through and AI generated content, AI generated ads, et cetera, and so on. But, um, there’s an awful lot of other things, I think that are happening in this industry at the minute, especially when it comes to acquisition, retention of clients, there’s, um, you know, a cost crisis, should we say in terms of, um, the end result of the work that we do and the clients needing to, to

assess their own costs and things. What are you seeing sort of as an overall agency business trend?

Darren (11:31.618)
Well, what we’ve been doing a lot of lately is, for example, we build a lot of websites and we haven’t built a website for several years now where the client has paid for the website upfront, which is the typical way of doing it. We’re doing everything on pay monthly because it fits in with cash flow. We initially brought that in because we thought it would be good for new startup businesses because they don’t have the capital to invest, but we found it works for very established businesses as well.

And it works out because it obviously gives us a monthly retainer on the client. And we’ve managed to build up well over a hundred clients on that now on a monthly retainer for a website. The downside with that is when you win a new client as an agency, winning a new client, it’s usually a, yeah, brilliant, fantastic. We’ve got a great new client. Whereas when we’re doing it like this, it’s, yeah, we’ve got a new client. That doesn’t give us any windfall whatsoever. That’s an absolute shed load of work we’ve got to do.

Chris Simmance (12:04.523)

Chris Simmance (12:10.414)
Thank you.

Chris Simmance (12:25.55)
Let’s go.

Darren (12:28.79)
and we get a pittance every month for it. It just adds to the flow. But the idea being it makes the agency more valuable because you’ve got the long-term value, you’ve got the higher retainer and once the client is with you for that, they’ll stay with you for other things. So hopefully when they do need more work doing, they will come to you because you’re the guys that look after them. And because we’re also doing a lot of agency acquisition at the moment, we bought two in the last three months, we’re looking at buying more now. So we’d like to

Chris Simmance (12:36.874)
And there’s a lot of value add, yeah.

Darren (12:58.062)
three or four next year if we can in 2024. The agencies that have this recurring, particularly web design agencies that have this recurring makes them more valuable. The vast majority of businesses we look at don’t have this. They don’t even have contracts for their clients. They don’t have contracts for their hosting. It’s all monthly rolling because people don’t look at it like that. Web designers just look at the new client, few grand for the website or whatever it is that you charge and that’s it. Then move on to the next one and move on to the next one.

Chris Simmance (13:10.139)

Chris Simmance (13:17.311)

Darren (13:25.998)
which is why a lot of freelance web designers live in hand to mouth, and then usually end up getting a job somewhere that sucks the life out of them they don’t wanna do, because they need that recurring revenue.

Chris Simmance (13:36.35)
Yeah, yeah, the ability to look far into the future as an agency leader is something which I say far into the future, farther into the future than you normally would do, is, is a very, I would argue, quite a learned thing. You know, when you first started the agency, you probably were looking

three or five months into the future at best. Then as you grew and you had, you know, more staff and more larger clients and things like that, that’s probably when you started to step away from the in the business and started working on the business and probably then, you know, helicopter view of the whole thing, you can see a lot further out. How far ahead are you sort of, I say planning, how far ahead are you strategically planning in the agency?

Darren (14:01.407)

Darren (14:26.43)
we’re easily working two to three years ahead. Easily two to three years ahead. So for example, one thing that we’re doing, this is getting into deep level stuff now, and I’m sure a lot of agency owners will realize this. When you’re an agency owner or any kind of business owner, there are certain things that you spend money on through the business that aren’t necessarily through the business. HMRC is not listening to this. It’s all legal. You know, for example,

mobile phones, for example, or you might buy an iPad or you might buy a new MacBook or something that, let’s be honest, it’s for you, but it goes through the business and that reduces the profitability of the business, but you’re not paying tax on the money that you would pay yourself either by dividend or by salary and then pay for this product. So it works out cheaper. You’re saving yourself money. But when you’re looking at a long-term view on it and you think, right, we need to make this agency more profitable, we need to make the agencies that we’re buying more profitable. So when they come together as a group, there’s much more profitability.

Chris Simmance (14:53.899)

Chris Simmance (15:07.788)

Darren (15:21.834)
that makes them more valuable for a potential investor or acquisition or sale for us. So we are now looking at two to three years ahead and reducing what we’re spending within the business so that we are making the agency more profitable. For example, real basic, I went to Costco the other day and I bought some huge packs of Pepsi Max, you know, the big crates of Pepsi Max on my own card with my own money because that was

Chris Simmance (15:38.366)
Oh, I love this.

Chris Simmance (15:42.935)

Chris Simmance (15:49.61)
You don’t run a cafe. Yeah.

Darren (15:50.714)
Normally it would have been through engage web because you know, it’s for the, we stock it in the fridge, but we also have one for home, but it was all done through my own car because we are reducing the expenses. It seemed absolutely alien for me to do that. Why am I buying stuff on my own card when I own a business? But that is what I did. Very small things, but those are changes that we make.

Chris Simmance (15:55.906)

Chris Simmance (16:07.681)

And the further ahead you look, the better resilience you have when things don’t go to plan as well. And there’s quite a lot of stuff in agency world that can come and slap you around the face without any real notice. The further ahead you plan, the more known and knowns there are that will come and slap you in the face, but you know, they’re coming. How do you feel like from a professional point of view?

Darren (16:21.435)

Darren (16:27.799)

Chris Simmance (16:33.57)
Um, that you’ve kind of evolved over the course of the last year with the agency. Like what, what’s changed around you professionally? Aside from buying your Pepsi max yourself.

Darren (16:42.01)
Um, I, which I’m not keen on. I hated doing it. It felt dirty, dirty. I have, I’ve had to let go a lot more. Um, the important thing I think is, cause we’ve, we’ve just recruited again now. So we’ve recruited for somebody to come into the, the SEO department. And it’s when you let go as an owner and you let other people run.

those departments that you were personally in charge of before, and you’ve been doing the do for many years. There’s a balance between letting them do it and stepping back too far and not knowing what they’re doing. So when you have to say, replace somebody or someone else comes in and you have to see what’s been done and then review what’s been done and show somebody knew what’s been done, you’re like, is this the way it’s been going on? Why, why isn’t everything being logged? How is it not being done that way? Why has that stopped happening?

Chris Simmance (17:25.024)

Darren (17:36.878)
There’s this disconnect and you don’t want to micromanage people. You don’t want to get in there and look at everything and get involved yourself because you need to take a, as you say, the helicopter view of it, but you also need to make sure that everything is being done the way you’re doing. There’s that fine balance that I think I’m still learning. Even 15 years I’m still learning.

Chris Simmance (17:54.143)

Chris Simmance (17:57.734)
I think the second you stop learning in an agency, you’re not doing it anymore. It’s just winding itself down. Somehow it’s going to be liquidating itself somewhere along the lines. And there’s every day you should be learning something and almost always you learn something because of, hopefully, because you’ve let go of the right thing to let someone else do it. And I think that’s where, you know, real resilience around operational procedures and things like that can help.

Darren (18:08.59)

Chris Simmance (18:23.514)
and the ability to look at something and, uh, from a leadership management point of view, you can, you can focus on the leading, they can focus on the managing and if you’ve done the leading bit right, you can give and receive the right level of feedback in a good way. It’s really, it’s, um, I don’t know about you, but I think, um, whilst there’s, versus an element of pain sort of stepping away and letting someone else kind of take control of something, which you love being just so, um,

There is an element of satisfaction sometimes seeing those people grow and develop in their careers over many years to come because you’ve given them the opportunity to do.

Darren (19:04.798)
No, that’s true. And to be honest, when I think back to when I worked in Manchester for a company called Just Search, there were lots of us there at the same time. And many of them have gone on to run agencies themselves or do fantastic things. Like Sam Rutley, for example, was one of the SEO guys at Just Search. He’s now the MD at Pushon. So you’re seeing these guys go on and do so well when we were all just together in a sort of a pool of SEO nerds.

Chris Simmance (19:25.742)

Darren (19:33.678)
just talking nerdy stuff. It’s brilliant to see how much talent was actually there because you’re not aware of it at the time.

Chris Simmance (19:35.44)

Chris Simmance (19:40.842)
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. What do you think, if we speak in a year’s time, apart from talking about your almost 16th birthday, what are we going to talk about in terms of the core focus that you’ve worked on over the last year and has hopefully been achieved?

Darren (20:00.718)
Hopefully what we’ll see is that we have acquired at least another three agencies and we have built up a bit of a group so that my time in Engage Web will hopefully be a lot less than it is now. Hopefully, and it will be split between other businesses, possibly all over the UK. Who knows? Maybe internationally, probably not internationally, because that would be a pain in the ass as nice as that would be. Um, but yeah, that is the plan. So.

Chris Simmance (20:06.722)

Chris Simmance (20:14.967)

Chris Simmance (20:29.645)

Darren (20:30.774)
We’ve got a meeting, for example, I can say this, a meeting down south in Luton, which is happening today. We don’t know if anything’s going to come of that, but maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but that is what we’re doing. We are looking to expand. We’re looking to buy other agencies. We’re looking to take them on as their own brands, not to dissolve the brands or anything and run them separately. And also associated industry. So not just digital marketing agency, something that could be relevant to us as an add-on perhaps, so maybe a podcasting agency, maybe a PR company, that kind of thing.

Chris Simmance (20:46.615)

Darren (21:00.802)
that would work together as a group.

Chris Simmance (21:02.882)
That’s awesome. And hopefully in a year’s time, we can celebrate all of or most of that being the case. And knowing you as I do, I know that you’re not gonna sit there and wait for it to come to you. So first of all, thanks so much for coming on the podcast a second time. And this is your obvious and very clear invite to next year.

Darren (21:22.058)
No problem.

Darren (21:26.773)
Thank you very much and I would like to accept.

Chris Simmance (21:29.935)
Thanks so much for coming on to the podcast today. It’s been great to talk to you again.

Darren (21:34.51)
Thank you very much. I’ve loved it again.