Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Growth 100 case study: Impression Digital

Aaron Dicks of Impression Digital

Aaron Dicks of Impression Digital

Impression is a digital marketing agency formed in November 2012 by co-founders Aaron Dicks and Tom Craig. The business started initially as a side project, working on web projects for family, friends and charities, but as referrals started to increase, they registered Impression Digital Limited, planning to take the business full time.

As demand for their services grew, Impression stopped becoming a personal project and Aaron and Tom started building a brand identity. Both worked part time on Impression until April 2013 when Aaron left his day job to run the business. Tom joined Aaron full time in 2014 when they moved into new office space on Woolpack Lane.

Today, Impression’s offering has grown from being a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) and web design agency to many more digital marketing services typically associated with being a full service digital marketing agency – digital PR, content marketing and social media. To further develop their SEO offering, Impression has recently built an in-house PR team, delivering high quality digital press coverage for clients.

Applying for Growth 100

Aaron was prompted to apply for Growth 100 to add to his University-taught business management knowledge. Tom has previous experience in a Head of Marketing position, and Aaron felt he would benefit from some hands on training in this area. Looking at other growth focussed programmes; Aaron found them all to have intensive schedules over a short time period which he felt would mean too much time out of the office in one go. The schedule for Growth 100 with twelve sessions over a nine-month period was a good fit for Aaron as the time commitment was more spread out.

Aaron said: "Growth 100 appealed to me as the programme looked like it offered a good business education that is able to equip me on a personal level as a business owner. It came at the right time as we were actively looking for premises, new staff and were planning our next moves as the business was taking off."

Aaron also thought taking part in the programme would be a good route into the University and a chance to meet new people. He has since been involved with the University’s Careers and Employability Service where he did a talk to students about working in a digital agency. He also had the opportunity to present about digital marketing during the marketing workshop of the Growth 100 programme, which he used as a chance to develop his presentation skills.

Impression Digital’s growth challenge

Aaron joined the Growth 100 programme at an important time for the business, just before they took on employees and an office. They have continued to take on employees as the programme has progressed. Looking at their particular growth challenge, Impression is concerned about managing growth sustainably.

The challenge is to continue growing at a high rate without taking on too much external finance too quickly – if at all. Aaron says he sees too often digital marketing agencies growing too quickly and putting less experienced staff onto client campaigns. Impression wants to balance the opportunity for high growth in this sector with an attention to detail and staff development to ensure client experience isn’t compromised.

How has Growth 100 helped?

Each Growth 100 workshop focuses on a different aspect of running a small business. Aaron says he found the workshop on finance particularly useful: "I really enjoyed working as part of a team and being open with other business owners about how we are all performing. I also found working with the mentors to be really helpful. I’ve been working closely with a business mentor from the University who has got to know a lot about me and my business, meaning they have been able to give me tailored advice."

The finance workshop has helped Aaron to take stock of where Impression is from an outsider’s perspective. The business has always prepared financial forecasts but the workshop demonstrated the value of managing finance to enable it to grow more quickly. The session on best practice for accountancy has led the business to invest in accountancy software and to set up a process for invoicing and managing income. Aaron says that getting a grasp on this now will stand them in good stead later down the line.

Aaron says: "I’ve learnt to be selective and tactical in the businesses that we work with, so that we are always working on projects that are mutually beneficial for ourselves and our clients."
He added, "most importantly, the programme has given me the ability to step outside of the business and critically evaluate performance of both myself and the business from an external perspective."

The workshop on succession planning has also been beneficial. Aaron and the team are now looking to implement a non-executive board, something he says they wouldn’t have previously considered at this phase in their growth.

Would you recommend Growth 100?

Aaron says having the structure of attending the workshops has helped him to make progress with the business: "Being challenged on a regular basis at the workshops has been valuable. Being held to account every session and knowing that I have to show the progress that I’ve made has made me get things done."

When asked whether he would recommend the Growth 100 programme to others, Aaron says: "Definitely! I feel I’ve matured more into the role of a business owner during my time on the programme and as a bonus we’ve won some opportunities for new business from networking with the other participants."

For a business at Impression’s stage, Aaron has found it beneficial to talk to other participants who have been going through similar growth issues or have previously experienced similar challenges and can advise from their experience. The businesses on the programme vary in size and Aaron has found it useful to talk to small businesses as well as with larger businesses.

The Growth 100 programme is supported and funded by Nottingham City Council and the European Regional Development Fund.

Posted on Wednesday 5th November 2014

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