I’d love to say I always wanted to be in digital marketing but that wasn’t the case. You cannot connect the dots looking forward so I will try to succinctly take you back to the start to explain how I fell into this space.
I'm actually an electrician by trade. I left school in year 10 and went straight into an electrical apprenticeship. From there I went to night school to study electro-technology and that gave me the ability to get off the tools and design electrical schematics for a company called Hatch who had the contract for Alcoa Alumina mine site.
At about the two year mark, my boss at the time said I was good for a giggle and should apply for a popular reality TV show called Big Brother. He even gave me the time off work to go to the auditions.
At the time I was reading a lot of books about manifestation/visualisation so after my first audition I went shopping for the outfit I was going to wear on opening night. (I had 4 auditions still to get through).
By the third audition I took two weeks off work to go down south surfing and snorkelling. As I told my folks “you don’t get it, I need to get my head right for the big event.” They thought I had gone mental.
Long story short I probably was a little mental but I got the call from the producers. I made the cut. I was one of 12 (out of 300K) to be on the show.
I look back now, and laugh at my 23 year old self. Here is a brief clip from my experience:
After the show, my life dramatically changed. I spent the next few months travelling around Australia doing appearances (mostly in nightclubs), using my Myspace page (which went from 150 people to nearly 15,000) to promote the events. Looking back this was probably my first experience with digital marketing.
I remember travelling from venue to venue with a little notepad and journalling what i liked about each respective venue and what made them different, unique and successful.
After a ton of market research I settled in Melbourne and started an events and promotions company called Secret Society with friend Nic Davidson which looked after boutique hospitality venues and events. This was right around the time Facebook was just starting to get traction and we were leveraging this alongside Myspace, Youtube etc to fill our venues with human traffic.
I met my wife Jodie in Melbourne and soon after convinced her to move to the Kimberley in the Northwest of Australia (small town called Broome) where I took a job as the marketing director for Matso's Broome brewery it's a beer company and a group of accommodation properties.
Long story short I learned my skills through necessity being in roles I was under qualified to do and through isolation being in one of the remotest parts of the planet.
I realised early on that a lot of businesses were spending money on marketing with no real measure of success and I wanted to provide them more transparency and data on what was or was not working towards driving revenue and sales.
I started Dilate in 2012 after helping a friend who was working as an automotive salesman to build a website to generate leads. After generating more leads for the salesman than the dealership was generating for themselves the Dealer Principal called us in for a meeting. My friend got a promotion and I got my first client.
When they asked me what my fee was, I tallied up the bare minimum I needed to survive at the time and set my first retainer. The dealership was a part of a bigger dealer network. I started getting referrals and grew organically from there.
I started the business from a home theatre room and bootstrapped everything so there was literally no start-up costs. Lucky because I think at that point I only had a few grand in the bank saved from my time in Kimberley.
From there, things grew quite organically hiring my first staff member in 2014 leveraging my relationship with Murdoch University I was able to reach out to the head of the multimedia department and asked them to keep their eye out for a talented web developer. That was my first experience giving part of my role to someone else and I learnt some valuable delegating lessons in those first few years, I am still learning in this area.
Dilate has now grown to 50 + staff worldwide and prides itself on having some of the best talent in the digital marketing space.
I have now delegated most functions of the agency and the main role I play in is business development. I’m basically in charge of all inbound inquiry. My job is to ensure the perfect fit for both Dilate and our clients.
Who is your target demographic?
Our target demographic falls into two categories that we have named:
Brian/Barbara the business owner who owns a business between $500k - $10 million and has 1-50 staff.
Danny/Debbie the decision-maker who is the Marketing Manager, General Manager or CEO of a company with more than 10 staff and revenue between $2 - $20 million.
Without our clients we don't have a business. I truly believe that whether you are pumping gas, working a check-out or building world-class marketing campaigns there is no higher purpose than being in the service of others.
Our team works to a core set of values and we collectively try and live those values on a daily basis. Our values can be found here.
The most important ones relating to our clients/partners are:
Transparency - making sure the client understands the work our team is doing. I don't sell. I educate. I teach our customers and allow them to ask me for services because they understand the value it will bring.
Also if we make a mistake (which does occasionally happen in our space) we have to be Accountable and transparent about what happened, this is how trust is formed.
Also Empathy plays a big part in what we do. Understanding that our services aren’t right for every business and being empathetic to better understand the various problems owners are facing. Both internal and economic.
How do you attract clients?
The number 1 way we attract clients is by doing a good job and getting referrals and word of mouth that comes from doing exceptional work.
The next way we get clients is by walking the talk and using all the digital strategies that we provide to our partners /clients.
What is the funniest/most strange request you have received from a client/prospective client?
One client asked for a lift to a meeting. Haha but HEY I mean that’s the kind of people we are!
What is the piece of work you’re most proud of that you’ve done for a client?
I am always trying to make the most recent work the best, I have a saying that I always say to my team. Try to be 1% better everyday you show up and by the end of the year you will be 365% better. Or 260% if you remove weekends and public holidays. haha
Here is a project we just finished if interested.
Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?
In early 2018 I was working with a business advisory company and my Account Manager in that company and I really clicked. His name was Tom Parker and one day out of the blue Tom organised a meeting at my office. Which was strange as usually I always went there.
Long story short Tom pitched me by saying sports teams are run better than most businesses and showcased what he could bring to the table in the area of systems, process and strategic growth. Tom is an analytical left brain and I am a creative right brain, it just made sense.
So in October 2018 I sold tom 35% of the business and he came to work at Dilate as our GM which has since evolved into Head of Strategic Growth. (We pick our own titles here and Tom seemed to like the ring of that better. Example my title is Head of all things wonderful.
Any tips for finding first employees?
The old hire slowly and fire quickly rule always applies. But most importantly hire based on attitude not skills. Skills can be taught attitude is conditional and very very hard to modify. We have always got the team involved in the hiring process and also try to bring people into the business for a week or so before we hire them in concrete just to see how they mesh culturally with the existing team. Dilate is like a big family and we try to ensure our new teams members align with our values and purpose.
What is the most common service you sell?
Digital marketing - Paid Advertising strategies - Google ad products, Facebook, remarketing etc (instant gratification products) and SEO (long term investment in brand) that’s 90% of our business the other 10% is one off products such as websites, hosting etc
What motivated you to start your own business?
I wanted to see if I could, and was young enough with little or no responsibilities to give it a try.
If i had to start today with (the knowledge I had then) two kids and no real business experience, I don't know if I would have taken that risk. However it has paid off and I am very glad I did.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on you creating your own your company?
I was very lucky to have a strong support network who supported those early days where I didn't do much besides work. It’s been a 7 year journey and I am only just starting to find balance. I am also lucky to have an awesome team. I have people with me today that were there at the start, which is always great to keep you humble.
What has starting a business taught you?
I have learnt that those who risk big win big, but as you grow you care more because your business is responsible for more people. This can make you a bit more conservative. In the early days if you take a risk and it goes wrong, you don’t eat, so to speak. I can make that decision for myself, but I cannot make that decision for my team. Conservation slows growth, but stable growth is still growth. These days I take more of an educated risk approach.
Things will always go wrong, but i have always found solace in a quote by Napolean Hill:
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
What I take from this is that things aren’t always going to go your way, and you can have the roulette wheel land on your colour ten times in a row, but it’s what you do when it lands on the wrong colour that actually matters. Some people see problems, others opportunities. (even if it’s just the learning)
In other words when life throws you lemons - start an online ecomm store selling organic, gluten free, vegan friendly, ethically sourced lemonade and contact Dilate Digital to help get people buying.
What is stopping us being 3x the size we are now?
Well I actually believe there are no prizes for the biggest business. We want to be Australia’s most respected marketing agency. (starting with Western Australia)
What are the top apps your business could not run without?
Slack - removes internal email and allows collaboration and sharing fast.
Gsuite - allows us to create team drives and also amazing Google sheets that integrate with all sorts of rad stuff including our company dashboard which is the heartbeat of the business.
XERO - best accounting software with amazing integration ability .
Copper CRM - This is expensive but an Awesome CRM that lives in the back of Gsuite and follows the client from first touch point/ proposal right through the life of the client.
SEMrush - Industry standard for all things SEO .
Google keyword planner/trends - Research and validating market size.
Are there any new services you’re working on?
We have started offering smart branding its similar to the old school banner advertising except the audiences are created based on customer search history. I.e. if you search for ‘Subaru Forester’ you will see advertising related to that brand, make and model at a time that is more likely to draw traffic and enquiry.
Here is an overview of that service recently explained by our own Tom Parker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pZEh4LoJN8
Also, Spotify ads, taking market share from Radio advertising.
We are always working on stuff. The I in Dilate is our value for Innovation.
Would you ever sell the company?
I already sold part of it, but that was to help the business grow. At the moment I am enjoying what I do and the people I am doing it with. So hopefully that continues.