2018 marks the seventh year in business for Hove-based digital marketing agency, Search Seven. In celebration of this landmark, they are launching #share7, an initiative to raise £17k for 7 charities. We caught up with Managing Director, Gavin Willis, to find out more

How did you get started in the business?

“I was born in Portslade and, with the exception of three years at University in Southampton, I’ve always been based in Brighton. Being part of the local community means a lot to me and I had always had a dream to start an agency that had an ethos of giving back at its core.
It’s interesting looking back on the business and how much things have changed since we first started out seven years ago. In those days, I was working at Propellernet, an award winning digital marketing agency based in Castle Square in Brighton, and they had a great approach to working with charities. In fact, my experience there was really fundamental to shaping my thinking and to inspiring me to run a business with purpose.

At the time, Propellernet was going through growth and, as they started working on bigger brands, they were beginning to outgrow some of the projects that came their way. With their permission, I started working on some of their smaller clients as a side project. I was managing the client relationships as well as delivering. This was ideal as it allowed me to hold on to the relationships that I had developed there and give a solution to clients that the company was starting to outgrow.

As my portfolio of projects broadened, it presented the perfect opportunity to become self-employed. In April 2011, I left and started trading as Search Seven, which at that point was really just a consultancy. I started working from home and hot desking for a year, co-working at the Dock, and being based at several coffee shops. I started with three clients, but soon work started to flow in. I decided to take the plunge in November of that year and officially became a limited company. I invited Dave Lees, a former fellow colleague at Propellernet to come and join me as Head of Strategy a year later. We took a room without any windows at Hova House, shared with local property management company Harper Stone. A few years down the line we got the opportunity to move up in the world, quite literally, upstairs in the same building. At last we had windows! We got one more person in and then other creative friends, collaborators and freelancers would pop in, creating more of a buzz about the office.”

What are your thoughts and reflections on the last six years in business?

“From those humble beginnings, we have built a digital marketing agency of five people (four full time and one part time), specialising in search marketing and conversion optimisation. We work with local, national and international brands to improve their online exposure on search engines, working with brands such as Total Gas & Power, Manchester City Football Club, Greene King, Lingfield Park and Sussex Cricket to name a few. Our client relationships are keUSP is that we ground our work in an extensive research phase to assess the search landscape and recommend the best way forward to achieve the clients’ goals. We then offer a combination of tailored tactics and services, such as search engine optimisation (SEO), paid media (PPC & Display) and conversion rate optimisation (CRO).

However, it’s not been about creating a profit-making business. I was determined that Search Seven would be change-makers in the digital industry, showing that agencies can put passion over profit, and that it is possible to be successful whilst playing an active role in the community. From the off, I wanted to use the agency as a vehicle to make a difference and made our pledge to give up to 7% of our profits to the local community and towards charities every year. It is not only fundamental to our business model, but to our brand values and was the inspiration behind our name too.

Donations don’t just take the form of financial investments. We’ve also run charitable events like football matches and golf days. One of the highlights for me was the free digital marketing workshop we put on for charities, alongside Google and other industry leading partners, to provide digital marketing tips and insight to over 50 local and national charities on Brighton beach in summer 2016 as part of Brighton Fringe.”

What are you most proud of?

“Reflecting back on the past six years, I’m probably most proud of the charity events that have engaged the community. One particular highlight was celebrating our five year anniversary and surpassing one million in turnover by hosting a charity football match between Search Seven XI and a Trevor Mann Baby Unit XI at the AMEX stadium in May 2017. It’s easy to put money into a bucket or donate online, but actually getting together a lot of disparate people: friends, clients, partners and the wider community to pull off something spectacular was brilliant. And it just goes to show that creating engagement is what we do – whether it is online or offline!

We take great pride in our achievements as a local, professional service in the digital marketing sector. We’re only a small agency but we do things the right way, and making a real difference in the community is not only part of our goals but a motivation for the business succeeding.”

Have you had any difficult moments?

“Like any small business, we’ve faced challenges and one that stands out is when we worked with a large agency that went into liquidation a few years ago. As a result of working with a bookkeeper who did not have credit control experience; we ended up writing off £12k in bad debt.

We took the decision to work with a new accountancy team who could provide better analysis into business performance by using Xero, online accounting software, as well as having a more thorough and experienced credit control department. Our cash flow is now in a far better place, and this provides stability in which to grow the company and make decisions that can help the company be successful.

Being a small agency, recruitment has always been a challenge, however 2018 has started strong, with us recruiting two new senior people from Google and Deloitte respectively. We have the right vision and for the right person, which is appealing to anyone starting with us.
In general, I’m really pleased to say that we’ve overcome our challenges to be in the great place that we are today; cash positive, with a growing team, working with nice people and good businesses.”

Can you tell us a bit more about your previous charity work and why it means so much to you?

“It’s no coincidence that Trevor Mann Baby Unit (TMBU), part of Rockinghorse, is our flagship charity for Search Seven. When I was a few months old, I had pneumonia and they nursed me back to health. Fast forward one year into the business, I was looking for a charity to support. Around that time, my godson Ted was born scoring zero on the Apgar Scale (an assessment of how a baby is doing at birth, which determines whether they are ready to meet the world without medical assistance.) Ted had some swelling on the brain so he spent some time in intensive care and five days on a cooling mat to keep his body temperature down to reduce swelling and further damage. We were told things didn’t look good.

There’s a happy ending to this story though, because through the support of the exceptional staff, and the ground-breaking equipment at TMBU, he pulled through. The work all the staff put in to nurse sick babies back to health there is awe-inspiring and so that’s why we, along with the support of Claire and Dean, Ted’s parents, decided to choose TMBU as our key charity to support.

I think perhaps the proudest moment for me over the past six years was when me and Ted walked out together onto the pitch at our charity match at AMEX. That was definitely a highlight, and even more poignant when you think that if it wasn’t for TMBU, both of us might not have been here.

Everyone who works at Search Seven takes on our philosophy, and the team are all motivated to do well as the better they perform as a business, the more we can give back to the local community and other charity projects. This is a fantastic catalyst to why we have seen success in the form of profit growth year on year.”

Can you tell us a bit more about what #share7 is all about?

“2018 marks our seventh year in business and we are celebrating by launching #share7, an initiative to raise £17,000 to be shared across seven charities. It’s going to be a big year for us as we aim to match six years’ worth of fundraising in just one year! We’ll be hosting three charity events: a football match at the AMEX stadium on May 7th between Search Seven XI and Trevor Mann Baby Unit XI; a golf event at Mid Sussex Golf Club on August 30th and a charity quiz night on November 22nd to achieve this.

We’re really hoping that our #share7 campaign can help make a huge difference to our seven chosen charities: TMBU, Group B Strep Support, Alzheimer’s Society, RISE, The Sussex Beacon, The Clock Tower Sanctuary and the Nkuringo Foundation, through which Search Seven sponsor a local primary school in Uganda. All of the team members are passionate about the campaign and, indeed, have all personally selected a charity close to their hearts for this campaign.

We will be making a lot of noise about #share7 so look out for it on your social networks and do spread the word amongst the local community and beyond.”

What are your plans for the future?

“This is a big year for us in so many ways and we want to push on and to make a statement. We’ve recently made two new key hires and we’ll shortly be moving into new office space in Palmeira Mansions in Hove. It’s a great space that will enable us to grow, bring on more staff and feel proud to bring clients into.

So far all of our work is through word of mouth and referrals, but this year we want to put ourselves out there more and build relationships, as well as try to improve our own presence – might as well try practise what we preach!

In 2018, as well as aiming to smash the #share7 target, we’re also planning to launch the S7 Academy, which will consist of training workshops for local businesses, and also free workshops for students, looking to develop the digital marketing skills of both audiences. The future is looking bright.”

Get in touch with Search Seven:
or call – 01273 329122