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Episode 20 – Ginny Nicholls – Interim Digital

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Episode 20 – Ginny Nicholls – Interim Digital

Thanks voiceover guy. And I’m happy to have Ginny Nichols on the podcast from Interim Digital. How are you doing?

Ginny Nicholls (00:40.252)
Thank you.

Ginny Nicholls (00:43.916)
I’m good, thank you Chris, thank you for having me.

Chris Simmance (00:46.026)
Yeah, welcome, welcome. Um, Ginny, you’re one of the, uh, agency partners that work with the OMG center. So unlike usual podcasts where I ask how you grew your agency, we’re going to talk about how you help grow agencies. Um, so, um, first and foremost, if you just give us a bit of an intro to yourself, what you guys do and what you do with agencies, that’ll be a good starting point to the conversation.

Ginny Nicholls (00:56.552)
Hahaha, yeah.

Ginny Nicholls (01:09.7)
Yeah, sounds good. So I’m Ginny, Ginny Nicholls, and I am the founder of Interim Digital. We are a collective of former agency freelancers who have all been pre-vetted, all have a pedigree within agency world of, say, a minimum of five, six, seven years. And we have formed an agency for agencies and brands, but predominantly agencies, to help support internal teams as and when they need that extra pair of senior hands.

Chris Simmance (01:39.122)
Lovely. And, and, uh, so I was on a, I was on a panel, uh, take it offline conference in Bulgaria back in, I think it was October, feels like a decade ago, but it was only just down there only a few months ago. Um, and, uh, the panel was, uh, agency freelance or in-house and I, and I know, and you obviously do because of the business that you run, that there’s always the right time for the right requirement. And, um, and I think almost.

Ginny Nicholls (01:48.166)

Chris Simmance (02:06.066)
in all agencies at some point or another, there is either a capacity requirement or a skill set requirement to have a freelance support in place. How did you, so did you start the business by essentially being that person and then realizing there’s an opportunity to

to work with agencies on a wider scale? How did it all come about?

Ginny Nicholls (02:37.112)
Yeah, it was, to be honest, it was a bit of an accident, which is, I think, sometimes the best way to do it. Yeah, because I worked in agency side, in performance agencies, so for Search Laboratory and Leeds and WMG and Enjoy Digital in Leeds and have always had agency experience before becoming an SEO freelancer myself. And a few years into freelancing, I really started to kind of miss that agency environment. And I…

Chris Simmance (02:41.128)
They all are, all the best ones are!

Chris Simmance (02:56.042)

Ginny Nicholls (03:05.256)
to be totally honest, wanted my cake and I wanted to eat it. So I wanted to be a freelancer, but I also wanted to work with agencies. So reached out to a couple of agencies as a freelancer during COVID actually. And then as we came out of COVID, it became really apparent that there was two big shifts in the market. So the first big shift was that there was a lot more senior level freelancers in the pool. So that’s people who are kind of ex senior account managers, ex head ofs.

Chris Simmance (03:09.11)

Ginny Nicholls (03:34.788)
ex-technical, whatever they might be. And, you know, they could have been furloughed or made redundant. And now their personal circumstances are the freelancers. On the flip side, there were a lot more agencies who, and the smart agencies, so I guess we’ll come on, come onto this shortly, is they, the ones who took COVID as an opportunity to reflect and go, actually, do we need to refill all of this head count? Or do we minimize outgoing risk?

Chris Simmance (03:40.642)
Yeah, yeah.

Chris Simmance (03:59.562)

Ginny Nicholls (04:01.532)
Do we really look after the core people that we have internally? And do we partner with great freelancers, boutique agencies, you know, two, three man bands to help with the actual delivery. Um, and so it kind of seemed like a really good opportunity to go, well, hang on a sec, we’ve got some brilliant freelancers. We’ve got some brilliant agencies. Both have been burnt by each other in one way or another. So that’s really why we’ve got set up. Agencies have had a rubbish time working with freelancers, finding good ones, maintaining the relationships.

Chris Simmance (04:24.409)
Mm-hmm, yeah, at some point.

Ginny Nicholls (04:31.592)
Freelancers have been burnt by some agencies by rubbish briefs, not having invoices paid, all of that kind of not so nice stuff. So we try and whittle out the good from the bad on both sides and plug them together. Because when you get that perfect synergy between great freelancer who really respects their channel and their expertise, great agile agency who really wants to scale and growth, but minimize risk, you end up with this perfect storm of brilliance and ability to, to scale fast.

Chris Simmance (04:37.998)

Chris Simmance (04:42.827)

Chris Simmance (05:00.246)
Absolutely. And I suspect we’ll probably touch on this shortly. But that point about the, there’s almost like a, I hate the word synergy, but the synergy of, I’ve cut that, cut that, we’re never going to use that word. I wish I wish I had the, the energy to do the, to edit this out. So not saying synergy again, everyone. So

Ginny Nicholls (05:17.981)
I’ll forget it, I’ll delete it from my brain.

Ginny Nicholls (05:27.23)

Chris Simmance (05:29.494)
When there’s that sort of confluence of, of an agency which is looking to grow, they are kind of willing to be agile and, and I’m sorry, agency people, they take the ego out of, I’m building it and it has to have a head count. Um, that’s probably when it works quite well for you guys, because you’ve got, you know, I’ve seen some of the team and I know, well, I’ve seen some of the, uh, freelancers who make up the pool.

Ginny Nicholls (05:31.868)

Ginny Nicholls (05:46.458)

Chris Simmance (05:57.678)
And, and I know quite a few of them personally as well. And I, and I, and I know that they’d be an asset to any agency that, that kind of, um, has that, that perfect timing of, um, I don’t, I can grow without having to, um, boast about head count, for example. Um,

And when you do that kind of balancing bit, so I’m pretending I’m a freelancer coming in, how are you judging whether or not they’re a fit for you? Is there some kind of test? How does it work?

Ginny Nicholls (06:29.244)
Yeah, well, I think we so we kind of coin it that we’re people first channel second, because there’s a certain level of expectation that if you’ve been working in a decent agency for six or seven years, if you don’t know your SEO or PPC onions, then the you know, there’s something really wrong. So we do a bit of talking around the channels, we talk about specific campaigns, we talk about, you know, the general ins and outs, but actually

The biggest bit of feedback we’ve got from agencies and also when I was agency side, was the difficulty finding these people who are brilliant at their channel, but also brilliant at articulating it. So for us, it’s who is the right cultural fit within the freelancer pool that we can confidently slot into an agency who will be great in team meetings, great client facing, and be able to take strategies and articulate them to.

you know, a CMO, someone who’s in procurement and someone who’s, um, you know, non-techy at all, because that’s what agencies really miss. And from agency, being agency side and the recruiting process to find those, I hate this word, so let’s cut this word out before it even goes in, but the unicorns of our world, um, it takes forever. Yeah, just cut.

Chris Simmance (07:43.811)
Here we go. Oh yeah, yep. Oh god, I’m gonna have to have start having a tally aren’t I on these podcasts. All these terrible words we have to use in this industry.

Ginny Nicholls (07:50.748)
Yeah, it’s true. It’s so true. I hate it makes me feel nauseous, but it’s kind of true. Like to find those unicorns of people who can articulate techie stuff really well, our freelancers who enjoy building their own personal brand and reputation, but have the deliver the goods to deliver as well are a really tricky thing to find. So we’re in this kind of position of build, build the community, um, or, and fill it with these kinds of people so that when agencies come to us and have a requirement.

Chris Simmance (08:00.115)

Chris Simmance (08:08.193)

Ginny Nicholls (08:19.132)
those people are there ready to go. You know, we’re not receiving a brief and then taking two weeks to go and find them. You know, we’ve just, we’ve literally this week on boarded the hundredth member of our community. So we’ve got a hundred SEO, PPC, performance, guys and girls, all same pedigree, all articulate, all pre-vetted, ready to go. And it just takes that pressure off the agencies of having to find those people who are few and far between themselves.

Chris Simmance (08:36.942)

Chris Simmance (08:47.41)
Absolutely, absolutely. And being someone who’s been on all sides of this fence, really, because you were in an agency, you were an independent freelancer, and now you’re bridging that gap. What do you what do you love the most about working with agencies out of the all areas that you know?

Ginny Nicholls (09:07.948)
I, so I missed the pace of it big time when I was freelance. I loved, so I feel like my whole freelance slash interim career is complete polar opposites all the time. I really loved the independence of freelance, but then I really missed agency life. And the thing I love about smart certain agencies, and I think you nailed it, and it’s one of our strap lines as well, is the fact that head count for vanity is now extinct.

So within the smart agency world, so any agencies who have stripped their ego away, have a goal, know that they can delegate and get partners to help them achieve those goals if they’re willing to work with them really well, are the types of agencies that I literally, I’m an energy sponge, like I steal everybody else’s energy. So if I’m in a room with people who’ve got really good energy, then that is what motivates me. So teams who sit and listen and

Chris Simmance (09:56.253)

Ginny Nicholls (10:03.276)
and recognise how they can get freelancers into areas that they wouldn’t necessarily think of. So, you know, real life examples is some of the guys and girls in the community have helped huge agencies win pitches and, you know, formulate those pitch decks and do forecasts for those pitches. And, you know, on the flip side, other ones have helped mentor teams and cast eyes over training processes and all of those areas where…

The agencies that I love and that benefit the most from freelance partnerships are the ones that recognise that they can bring so, freelancers can bring so much to the table and they don’t have to just be a delivery machine. You know, they’re much more than that. The guys and girls who have been through those teams and come out the other side can then slot into and make a big difference very quickly. And the agencies that I love to work with are the types who will sit and listen and ideate and

Chris Simmance (10:44.321)

Ginny Nicholls (10:54.876)
and bring those freelancers in as parts of their team and recognize the value they can add.

Chris Simmance (10:54.903)

Chris Simmance (10:59.338)
Yeah. A capacity to collaborate, literally just thrown that out of my head. Um, I think, I think the, um, yeah, so I think, um, an ideal agency that would work with, um, with you guys realistically would, would not necessarily be one that has that kind of paradox of expertise, should we say, where they’re great at delivering certain services, but because they’re really good at one thing.

Ginny Nicholls (11:07.554)
A willingness as well.

Chris Simmance (11:28.81)
whichever that might well be in their sphere. They’re less willing to look for support elsewhere that helps them to grow in whichever guys that may well be. I think, you know, once, once if you’re an agency leader, listening to this and thinking, I’ve been burned by freelancers in the past, never again, I’m going to hire in-house. Maybe, maybe you should reconsider that because there are an awful lot of smart people who will never take a Monday to Friday, nine to five, ever again, because they don’t have to, and you’re leaving that.

Ginny Nicholls (11:47.199)

Chris Simmance (11:57.558)
that opportunity on the table. Um, but if you start, if, if the best agency leaders listen, they, they very, they, they don’t often, you know, you, you speak up when you’re talking about the vision, you speak up when you’re talking about anything leadership related and setting tone and direction, but you listen in all other aspects in order to get the right idea of what, what needs to be done and where to go.

Ginny Nicholls (12:05.544)
Mm-hmm without doubt. Yep

Ginny Nicholls (12:18.428)

Ginny Nicholls (12:23.718)

Mediaboard_sounds (12:23.745)
Hey, Voice Over Guy here, um, me again, looking to accelerate the growth of your agency? Well, check out omg.centre forward slash info. Oh, sorry Chris.

Honestly, I pay the guy once on Fiverr and he keeps coming back, keeps coming back. And so in your experience then, with working with agencies, other than, you know, that listening aspect and the ability to want to collaborate, what do you think separates some of the best from the rest?

Ginny Nicholls (12:51.1)
That’s a great question and I think the ones that I particularly have seen do the best, I think they have two, well three kind of really good qualities and it’s an obsession with client, a good client service is number one. The obsession to look after their team because I think on the flip side of agencies being burnt by some freelancers, there’s also this kind of slight

Chris Simmance (13:04.758)

Ginny Nicholls (13:17.532)
fear that I felt anyway from certain agencies that they think all of their team want to go freelance and it’s not everybody wants to become freelancers. So I think there’s a certain element of fear whereby if you get freelancers in the team, the team will start talking they’ll go, oh, this guy doesn’t, he only works two days a week, but look at the gig he’s got. And actually there’s a certain reassurance piece there to be done with agencies to say, not everybody wants to go freelance. They might say they do, but people actually say they do and then go freelance are very different.

Chris Simmance (13:19.982)

Chris Simmance (13:24.074)

Ginny Nicholls (13:47.828)
So, recognising the security within your own team, really getting to grips with your own team, looking after them and listening to them and empowering them and bringing everyone in as a collective is such a powerful thing. I think it’s when you’ve got the dictatorship leaderships that are selling, sell fast, sell first, think later, are the ones that become a toxic place to work and they might do well in terms of

Chris Simmance (13:48.546)

Chris Simmance (14:08.782)

Ginny Nicholls (14:15.48)
of revenue, right, but that might be their priority, which is great, but it really depends what you’re wanting to achieve. And if it’s growth and it’s attracting really great talent, attracting really great freelancers, attracting really great clients, it’s those people that listen and want to collaborate and recognise that you can’t achieve, doesn’t matter who you are, you can’t achieve your goals by yourself. You have to empower a team around you to support your vision and deliver it. So without that…

Chris Simmance (14:17.195)

Chris Simmance (14:28.119)

Chris Simmance (14:32.439)

Chris Simmance (14:39.552)

Ginny Nicholls (14:45.196)
you’re going to stunt your growth instantly. So yeah, that’s kind of, I think.

Chris Simmance (14:49.226)
I mean, I learned a lot of lessons from a lot of mistakes when I was running an agency. But one of those things, which thankfully, based on what you just said, I didn’t do wrong, was fear the freelance. What we used to do is just have really clear and well communicated, non-compete, non-solicitation and fair use of resources policies. And I…

Ginny Nicholls (14:53.724)

Ginny Nicholls (15:03.432)

Chris Simmance (15:16.874)
encouraged people to have their own side projects and their own out of hours and freelance projects and things because those were the people that, yeah, they want to do it for an extra couple of quid for holidays or whatever, and they might not necessarily want to be a freelancer, but they also would, I benefited as an agency leader from them being able to know more, have a broader experience, tackle projects which might need

Ginny Nicholls (15:33.512)

Chris Simmance (15:46.046)
might have lower resources than an agency can carry, but require smart ways of solving problems and things like that. And all of those things only make your team better. Um, and, you know, having a, an iron boot around their neck, um, doesn’t help. And if anything, it probably does the opposite, probably does push them to, to leave, like you say, a bit more toxic, uh, environment and the other aspect as well is like having.

Ginny Nicholls (15:56.017)

Chris Simmance (16:12.83)
brought in freelancers in the past into our agencies and worked with some, obviously some things go well and some things don’t as we talked about a moment ago. But I noticed that the look at that person they’re doing two days a week with us and they must have the best life ever. That, if anything else, was an opportunity for the team to see, you know, where their career might take them in a few years time and aspire to drive something.

Ginny Nicholls (16:19.534)

Ginny Nicholls (16:38.449)

Chris Simmance (16:40.594)
You know, the average turnover in an agency is about 18 months to enough to in a bit years or so. Um, so don’t, don’t fear and, you know, hold your team back just because you’re worried they’re going to leave, they’re going to leave at some point. This isn’t, this isn’t North Korea. So in terms of, um, you know, that aspect of like really listening and things like that, I’m guessing that quite a lot of the value that you guys play in the, in

Ginny Nicholls (16:45.318)

Ginny Nicholls (16:53.38)
Yeah, yeah. And last though, yeah. Yeah. Ha ha ha.

Chris Simmance (17:10.506)
the matching and the management aspect of this is that you kind of keep a view on making sure that the agency is listened to, so the scope is clear, and the freelancer listens to the scope and the brief, and that both sides have a kind of a really good understanding of each other. And I think almost all problems when it comes to dealing with any parties, whether it’s

Ginny Nicholls (17:22.886)

Chris Simmance (17:37.342)
all human beings, every conversation is an aggravation in many senses. And the best part of any relationship comes from my understanding of my words being conveyed properly and listened to properly by you and so on. So do you have like, a standard way of managing pros pitches and how does it work? So you know, if I’m an agency and I’m thinking, right, I need some

warm bodies to do some smart work. How do they go about getting the right communication so you can do it properly?

Ginny Nicholls (18:11.056)
Yeah, so a big part of that is that we say to agencies, you know when you get those tenders and they’re really rubbish and it’s the worst pictures of your life, don’t do that to freelancers, right? Just because brands do that to you doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it to freelancers. So learn from the stuff that you hate to get in your inbox from brands when you’re asked to pitch and do the polar opposite when you engage with freelancers because our…

Chris Simmance (18:21.816)

Chris Simmance (18:25.293)

Chris Simmance (18:34.231)

Ginny Nicholls (18:39.136)
One of my kind of internal KPIs, not that we kind of really measure it, but an objective, should I say, as opposed to a KPI, is to minimize the questions that are asked on the brief from agency to freelancer, because we’re both coming in at senior level. You know, we’ve got X head of SEOs, we’ve got X head of PPCs, whatever they are. So channel specific task level, we should expect there’s a certain level of.

Chris Simmance (18:48.175)

Ginny Nicholls (19:06.856)
lack of needs to communicate on the specific deliverables. So when it gets to that strategy overlay, it’s like, right, okay, what can we do to make sure that the go between, you know, back and forth with that understanding of the brief is as minimal as physically possible? So we treat it just as we would want the perfect brief from a client to agency, you know, brand to agency. So…

Chris Simmance (19:10.008)
Mm, mm, yeah, yeah.

Ginny Nicholls (19:32.56)
What are the business KPIs? What are they feeling they’re missing? What’s keeping them up at night? And what’s the biggest issue within the agency right now that we can solve and what’s the solution that we’re gonna bring to help that agency? And that can be anything from, they’ve recently lost a head off and they’ve got a bank of execs who now no longer have a mentor. So who in the community can bring their knowledge that will fill those specific training gaps?

You know, what is it within, it might’ve landed. So a really good example is, and we’re going back to your question about what makes brilliant agencies brilliant, is the ones that recognize that they, they aren’t specialists in certain things. So it’s, it’s really, really hard to hire an SEO if you haven’t got an SEO in house. It’s that constant chicken and egg. Like how does an AD or a client services director truly interview an SEOer?

So in that instance, we get SEOs to review the briefs, we get SEOs to communicate back to and articulate back to the wider agency team to say, this is how we bring it, but how we plug it into your overarching, you know, omnichannel strategy, et cetera. So really, I guess to go back to your original question, how do we make sure that it all works? Do we have a standardized process? We don’t have a standardized process, but we have a standardized ethos of, make sure that we’re getting under the skin.

Chris Simmance (20:28.204)

Chris Simmance (20:34.253)

Chris Simmance (20:53.918)

Ginny Nicholls (20:56.677)
of what it is that the agency needs and we design a solution based on that.

Chris Simmance (21:00.434)
And to be honest, your answer has made my question seem silly now, because actually it does make sense. Well, it makes the, the amount of nuance in PPC and SEO and, and an amount of nuance in agency and in general, um, means that a process per se will, will only restrict and, uh, curtail value, whereas, um, the, the governance based around ethos and it’s got to fit these kind of

Ginny Nicholls (21:06.113)

Ginny Nicholls (21:15.304)

Chris Simmance (21:29.29)
am I being understood and am I understanding boxes, and makes more sense because you’re talking about people at a peer level talking to each other. They need to understand that something needs to be written down in order to be able to be signed off as a contract. Anyone you know, who knows what they’re talking about would do that. But the

Ginny Nicholls (21:32.771)

Ginny Nicholls (21:38.844)

Ginny Nicholls (21:44.643)

Chris Simmance (21:48.874)
Um, the ethos and methodology around making that happen is, is actually more important to a certain degree than having a full on fill in this form, right? These, in these boxes process type thing. Um, so interim digital is spending all of its profits this year on R and D to build a one-time use, um, uh, magic wand. And that magic wand is going to get used to change one thing about every agency on the planet in one go. What’s the

Ginny Nicholls (22:00.198)

Ginny Nicholls (22:05.35)
I’m going to go to bed.

Chris Simmance (22:17.27)
What’s the one going to be used for?

Ginny Nicholls (22:20.264)
Can it be like a giant interim digital logo bat signal that I just send into the air so every single agency in the UK knows that interim digital is a thing and just our massive pin can alight the sky of the agency world.

Chris Simmance (22:24.174)

Chris Simmance (22:31.438)
There we go. So, so, so in lieu of using all of those profits in advertising, we’re going to do a giant bat signal that yeah. Okay. I’d say that there’s, um, you know, some, some truth in that in it to a degree that as an agency leader, you’ve just got to work out that it is possible to get decent support without a bank being broken. Uh, and B there’s lower risk of.

Ginny Nicholls (22:39.024)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ginny Nicholls (22:56.463)

Chris Simmance (23:00.962)
There’s, there’s much lower risk of being burned. If you’re working with an organization, should we say that, that helps to kind of govern the way that things are run and kind of the process around it, the matching and stuff, because yeah, sure. You can put a post on, on LinkedIn or whatever, anyone know any PPC freelancers and you’ll get 50,000 responses, most of which are generic, most of which aren’t going to go anywhere.

Ginny Nicholls (23:23.861)

Chris Simmance (23:30.558)
Or you can find a service that puts you in front of the right people who match your immediate requirements. And so that bat signal realistically needs to be in the back of someone’s mind 24 seven when they’re running an agency, doesn’t it?

Ginny Nicholls (23:42.276)
Yep, 100%. And actually, you know, on the, whilst we can, I can call it the bat signal, it is the wider thing for us, and I try and spend as much time as is physically possible doing it, is that kind of education slash reassurance piece to agency owners, that there are people out there that understand them and that understand the pressures they’re under. So a big part of what we try and bring as a community or a collective to these agencies is,

Chris Simmance (23:54.734)

Ginny Nicholls (24:10.156)
not just coming at them from a specialist channel perspective, but coming at them from an empathetic perspective as well. Because I’ve been in those agency teams, I’ve been in the pitches. I know the pressure that comes with clients. I appreciate the pressure that comes with recruitment. Everyone in the collective or the community, however we term it, understands those pressures. So when we strip interim back, what we’re really proud of doing is, is relieving pressure to give agency owners brain space back.

Chris Simmance (24:16.427)

Chris Simmance (24:39.502)

Ginny Nicholls (24:39.524)
because that is the, you know, when you’ve got a gap in, you’ve got a gap in resource, you’ve got a toxic employee, you’ve got pitches that you’re losing because you’re not being able to put the brain power into them because you’ve got all of these issues with recruitment. And you’ve, you know, you’ve got 50,000 plates spinning. And sometimes it can feel as though that there is no option. And yes, we bring people fast. Yes, we bring specialists really quickly and we have a great understanding of channels, et cetera. That’s, that’s amazing, but that is a given.

Chris Simmance (24:57.003)

Ginny Nicholls (25:08.924)
bearing in mind what we say we do, the real value add is bringing that emotional intelligence aspect and going, there is someone here who you can talk to and we have got your back and we’re not here just to make a punchy day rate and get the hell out of the back door. It’s a, what can we bring to help you immediately? And also what can we leave as a continuing value add? That’s really important for us is I don’t want agencies to see us as this kind of, oh, they’ve done a tech audit for us. Amazing.

Chris Simmance (25:08.974)

Chris Simmance (25:31.278)
Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Ginny Nicholls (25:38.876)
They’ve come in, actually, this person’s done 200 tech audits across 10 different agencies, collected their knowledge and brought their value to this agency. So reassuring them that we’re not here to make just a punchy day rate. It’s a, we’re here to support you and help you navigate and get a bit of brain space back.

Chris Simmance (25:58.986)
Not just a punchy day rate, perfect way to end the podcast. Thank you so much for coming on Ginny and anyone listening to this who hasn’t used any freelancers when they’re growing their agency considerate because it’s a very smart move. Anyone who’s used a freelancer in the past and you know the pain of it, that’s what interim helps to solve. So I mean, that’s literally it, right? Thank you so much for coming on and we’ll speak to you again soon, I’m sure.

Ginny Nicholls (26:03.416)

Ginny Nicholls (26:20.823)

Yeah, literally, literally.

Ginny Nicholls (26:28.316)
Brilliant, thanks Chris, thanks for having me, it’s been awesome.