We caught up with Joe Friedlein, founder and director of Browser Media, to hear about business from the start, what makes Browser Media stand out, what Joe has learnt and the plans for Browser Media in the future.
Why was the business started?
I founded Browser Media back in 2005. There were two key driving forces behind the decision.
Firstly, I wasn’t especially happy in my previous role, which was a business development role. I missed the day to day client contact of account handling and am not really a salesperson. It is actually ironic, as anyone who has started a business will know that you absolutely have to be a salesperson and very thick-skinned. I just knew at the time that I wanted to get stuck back into helping clients directly rather than just be responsible for hitting sales targets each month.
The second driver was an aspiration to improve the quality of search engine marketing consultancy that was typical of the era. Search marketing was exploding and every man and his dog was suddenly an SEO expert and extremely happy to take money from trusting clients. I found this really frustrating as I could see that the medium that I found so exciting/interesting was being tainted by false promises and terrible work ethics. I was determined to prove that it was possible to provide ethical search engine marketing services and resisted the ‘get rich quick’ approach that a depressing majority of agencies took.
I have no doubt that my approach has limited our growth over the years and many would accuse me of not being ambitious enough, but I pride myself on the ridiculously long client relationships that we enjoy and I sleep easily at night knowing that we have always done our utmost best. We love our clients and they enjoy working with us.
How are you different?
I often struggle to answer the USP question as I am not sure that we are that different to many other (good) agencies. The services that we offer, whilst an unusual blend of geeky tech and fluffy marketing, are not unique.
I would say, however, that we are brutally honest and clients have told me that this sets us apart. We say it as we see it and are not afraid to have the difficult discussions and ask the challenging questions that many others may avoid. Again, this has cost us business over the years as we will walk away from a potential project if we do not believe we can add value, but the strength and duration of our client relationships leaves me convinced that our honesty is greatly appreciated and is certainly a selling point, if not 100% unique.
What have you learnt?
Where do I start? Running a business is very much like raising a child, with epic highs and crushing lows. The reason that I still do it is that we are all constantly learning and I am happiest when I feel that I am learning.
It is very difficult to distil 15 years of running the agency but I think that a very helpful piece of advice would be to expect the unexpected. You simply cannot rest on your laurels and you must ensure that you are taking time to work on the business rather than in it. I am sorry to resort to a cliche, but it is true and successful businesses are those that can adapt to change quickly and with minimum disruption. You need to be ready for anything.
The whole Covid situation is an excellent example. Who would have thought, even in early March, that our working lives would be so different in a matter of weeks? It would have been easy to curl into a ball and cry, but it has been fascinating to embrace the challenge of remote working and most clouds have a silver lining. In this particular case, I have learned that remote working can and does work, so our recruitment geography has suddenly got a lot wider and I feel less worried about the ever-present challenge of finding the right people to join the team.
I have also learned to be confident in your own decisions and to trust your instincts. As a business owner, you are offered advice from all angles but I have learned to pick and choose what I listen to. Over the years, so many people have told me to be more ambitious and try to build the agency up to sell / retire on the yacht, but I have always focused on building long term relationships with clients and to build an excellent team. Quality of life is very important to me and integrity is part of my DNA. We are still here, whilst a lot of the boom and bust agencies are distant history, so I am happy with this approach.
What are your plans for growth?
I want to grow the team to allow them to expand their own horizons and offer them new skills / challenges, but we are not interested in growth at any cost. Not having any external investors is great for decision making but I have a mortgage and children to finance, so I am a little risk-averse at times. I was training as a chartered accountant before diving into the world of digital marketing and I have been scarred with an attention to detail when it comes to cash flow!
The meteoric growth of our agency is not as important to me as delivering brilliant results for our clients. Recruitment is always challenging and we can be a little choosey about who we work with, so our growth tends to fluctuate over the years. There is no doubt, however, that digital is here to stay and the Covid experience has highlighted just how crucial online is, so we are certainly not bored.