Lauren Hamilton is the founder of Digital Narrative, a marketing agency offering an intuitive, integrated and holistic approach to creating outstanding digital experiences for small businesses.
Digital Narrative began as a freelance maternity-leave project and has evolved into a thriving and successful agency that is continuously growing.
In this interview, you will learn more about how Lauren built her business and the strategies she has used to scale her business to what is today.
Scaling your business as a female entrepreneur
When and how did you start your entrepreneurial journey?
I started working for myself as a sole trader in freelance digital marketing when I was pregnant with my second child, around 8 years ago. I have run my own small start-up in a completely different niche before – running food walking tours of Sydney’s hip inner villages – but that business failed due to my woeful inexperience and total lack of time to dedicate to it.
With two babies at home, I decided I needed to become my own boss to enable me to primarily work from home when it suited me, and this is why I started Digital Narrative.
At what point in your journey did you decide it was time to grow your business?
After about 2 years, I realised my main strength wasn’t in the execution and minutiae of the marketing strategies I developed for clients; it was in that initial big picture, and also in business development.
I found winning new clients easy but applying myself to account management was hard as my client base grew. At this point, I hired my first junior content producer, Ash, who was with me for 2 years. Hiring Ash gave me the confidence to know I COULD manage staff and my clients at the same time, and that I could ‘win’ and handle enough business to sustain more than just myself.
This year, I decided it was time to scale up again and now have a team of three, plus one valued consultant, who work either remotely or in our Sydney office.
What circumstances have enabled you to start thinking of the scaling process?
It was less a case of what enabled me to do so, than what would have happened if I didn’t scale up! I love to win new business and develop new and exciting campaigns for existing clients, and without people to work with me on these projects, my head would explode.
I did need to pay out in advance a chunk of money for salaries, rent and for subscriptions to various software we use… which meant each time I’ve scaled up I’ve had to draw a smaller salary that month to keep cash flow happy. But it’s a small price to pay.
What were your learnings from hiring your first employees?
I’m still learning, but one of the biggest things I am trying to improve at is not being everyone’s Mum. Including my staff, my clients, my friends and relatives… I have a tendency to want to take care of everyone and keep everyone happy, and that’s a bit unrealistic in a business sense.
When you’re an employer or you’re working with subcontractors, establishing boundaries is essential if you don’t want work to take over your life. This is something I’m still striving to improve at.
How important are culture fit and team composition for the growth of your business?
Culture fit is the main thing I look for in hiring. You can (mostly) teach people skills, programs and so forth – you can’t teach people to get on with others and to communicate in an open and effective way. Well, maybe you can, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to do.
Do you have any tips on when to hire a new team member?
I look for people who are highly reliable, friendly with clients/customers/suppliers or other stakeholders, and fun to be around – as well as good at what they do. Hiring people who are great at ownership is a biggie for me – owning up to and correcting mistakes, rather than trying to hide them, or shift blame. And owning tasks wholly. I also look for people with initiative, who are resourceful and get on with stuff so that I don’t have to micro-manage.
Moving forwards, Future of Digital Narrative
How do you decide between outsourcing and in-house hiring?
Outsourcing definitely has its benefits, and in my early days, I relied on it a lot. It certainly reduces your paperwork when it comes to superannuation, taxes etc! I’ve had one absolutely excellent subcontractor who has worked for me for years and who ticks all of the above boxes. Yet, because he has his own freelance projects on the side, he has no interest in becoming a full-time employee, and I respect that.
In-house hiring does usually bring a more laser focus on the role you’re offering, with no split priorities. You also have the opportunity for the person to work with you in person more commonly, and I find certain benefits to that.
Does scaling always mean more profit at the end of the day?
I think not. In many cases, it may ultimately lead to more profit but in the short term can be less profitable. It requires a certain amount of courage, because there’s a messy period each time you scale up while everyone settles into the new paradigm, and it can be hard.
You have to ride that out, find a new normal and then think… what’s next?
What other ways are you using to continue growing your business?
I am a huge fan of good old-fashioned networking, both face-to-face and online. I love going to events, and most of my clients have come to me via referrals.
In addition, because I’m able to write well, I like to reach out each month to different businesses with aligned brand values and offer some ideas for cross-promotions.
Swapping a blog, offering a discount for their network and presenting at their events are all good ways to gain exposure for your brand.
What are your future motivations? Where do you see yourself and your business growing?
I’m motivated by the thought that maybe one day, I will be able to earn twice as much as I’m earning now while working half the hours. Honestly, that’s what I want – for my clients to be happy, my staff to be happy, and me to not work a million hours a week anymore! So, I guess work-life balance is the answer!
I would love to grow my team, have a larger office with room for more of us to work in-house, and hand over key account management to team members so I can detach from my devices more.