Everything I’ve learnt over the past 16 years working in the digital industry - Primate | Digital Agency Edinburgh

Everything I’ve learnt over the past 16 years

Almost exactly 16 years ago, I walked into my first Digital Agency. I knew absolutely nothing, including what a CMS was or how to programme in PHP. Unfortunate given my first project was to write an in-house CMS in PHP. But I persevered and eventually amassed a reasonable amount of knowledge (or so I’m told).

Here’s everything I’ve learnt both working in and running a Digital Agency, boiled down into 10 salient points for your convenience.

1. Be curious

One of my biggest bugbears, that dates right back to when I first started working as a developer, is a lack of curiosity in people. Not only does it suggest an arrogance by assuming we already know an answer or outcome, it holds back our productivity and passion. You’ll never find a better developer than one who’s curious to find solutions, or a better strategist who’s genuinely interested in their clients' businesses.

2. Estimates are always wrong

Drawing upon my many years of experience, I’m able to estimate that 99% of all estimates are completely fictional.

3. Everything is urgent but few things rarely are

Not to take anything away from the motivation of a good deadline, but they’re only useful if there’s a genuine need behind them and they’re realistic and achievable. And if you are going to set a date in stone (like a completion date or tender deadline), make sure you stick to your side of the timescales. There’s nothing as demoralising as your team burning the midnight oil to hit a date only to discover the client isn’t ready to launch after all.

4. Everyone wants a CMS but no one knows why

Aside from publishing blog posts and adding the occasional staff member, does anyone actually use their Content Management System??

5. Good people are hard to find

Although it seems to be especially true in tech, I don’t think it matters what industry you work in: average people are easy to find, good people are tremendously difficult to come across. It can also be hard to truly assess someone until you’ve worked with them. It’s one of the reasons I believe in a rigorous interview process (with tests for developers) and lengthy probationary periods.

6. Stress is contagious

I’ve experienced my fair share of digital catastrophes over the years and, whilst it can be very difficult to avoid in the moment, becoming highly stressed is not going to help a server come back online faster or a bug to be fixed quicker. In fact, it’s more likely to be counter productive, spread to your entire team, and slow everything down.

7. Communicate!

Seriously, just tell people what you’re doing. Oh, and use Basecamp.

8. Mindset is everything

It took me 10 years of running a business to understand that the most powerful and important thing I can control is my own mindset. A positive mindset can lead to incredible results (the Pygmalion effect) and improved happiness, while a negative one can result in a spiral of doom (the Golem effect). I know, I’ve been there.

9. The only thing permanent is change

As the saying goes, there’s nothing permanent in life except change. This is especially true for digital and one of the reasons I love the industry so much but it also applies equally well to our personal lives and professional careers. Understanding that change is inevitable has helped me be more flexible and adaptable and run a better business as a result.

10. Digital isn’t as easy as people think

As wonderful as the likes of Google and Apple are, they’ve spoiled us with their cheap, often free, digital interfaces and tools. Tech giants like these have raised the bar in terms of expectations and most people never realise the hundreds of thousands of hours that are poured into customer research, user experience, digital design, development, testing, maintenance, support…. There’s a reason Google employs 20,000 software engineers and Samsung a whopping 40,000 developers - making good digital products isn’t easy.