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What I’ve Learnt: Matt Tomkin, Director, Tao Digital Marketing


With a wealth of experience in business, Matt Tomkin is now the Founder and Director of Tao Digital Marketing, a search marketing specialist in Bolton.

He set the agency up in 2017 having previously run companies in the worlds of eCommerce and telecoms. Tao provides services across search marketing, lead generation and web design, helping a range of businesses achieve their goals.

Here, he shares some of the lessons his varied career has taught him…


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

I’m going to go soft here and say a cuddle from my sons Ronnie and Rory to start the day. They’re growing fast – my eldest is six now so it’s at the point where I have to chase them around the house in the morning!

What’s been your luckiest break?

I don’t necessarily believe in luck. I think when you put yourself out there often enough, it’s funny how ‘lucky’ you become. If I had to pick one moment though, I’d say my luckiest break was meeting Gareth Smyth, CEO of business brokers Hilton Smythe, at a business networking event a few years ago when Tao Digital was first starting. He took the chance on us as a two-person agency over his existing agency based in London.

With both Tao Digital and Hilton Smythe being based in Bolton, we shared a mutual goal to expand and grow our businesses in our town and beyond. Taking Hilton Smythe on as a client took us to the point where we were no longer worrying about securing tiny jobs all the time. It meant we could invest in a new member of the team, allowing us to be more flexible so that we could move forward and therefore I had more time to be out selling and growing the business.

What’s your best failure?

Many years ago I set up a business called VO2 Sportswear. After selling my shares in the telecoms company I previously set up, I spent £15,000 on producing yoga kits for women that we wanted to sell to. The factory we used turned out to be shocking, the quality was awful and ultimately they were unsellable.

Even up until recently, we still had boxes and boxes of yoga kits in Tao Digital’s office! It was a huge waste of £15,000, but from it I learnt the importance of quality assurance. Through this we found a really high-quality clothing factory that we now use for my side business, Ultimate Teamwear.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

I think spending the time constantly learning is the best investment I have ever made. I’ve spent 16 years running businesses, making mistakes and learning from them. It’s really important to constantly develop your knowledge.

When I was young and naive I used to think I knew it all, but as I’ve progressed and started to read more, there hasn’t been a single book that hasn’t helped me in business some way or another. We have a mini library in our office, so when I’ve read them I bring them in to share with the team to help with our overall progression.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

A book I would recommend others to read is ‘Traction’ by Gino Wickman – it’s like a blueprint for your business. I don’t think the processes explained in the book will work for every organisation, but I do think it is a great read and any business owner would gain something from reading it.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I’d tell myself to take the risk and go all-in with the business you started and didn’t think you could grow! When I was 19, I qualified as a personal trainer and set up a website called Trainer Force – this was in the days before YouTube and Google. I rented some white-label software that used video clips of people exercising to use as example videos and put together food and training plans. The goal was to provide plans for people who couldn’t afford to go to the gym, let alone hire a personal trainer.

Back in 2005, a website named ‘The Million Dollar Homepage’ became very popular, where your business could buy a pixel on the site for $1. Coca Cola had around 20 pixels at the time. I bought 4 and placed the ad for Trainer Force right next to Coca Cola, where people’s eyes would be drawn to.

This was the only marketing I ever did and we got five subscriptions from it, before subscription models were even in the market. All of my friends and family were telling me to get a proper job and so I followed their advice. Six months later, a business in America did the same as I did and became hugely successful. If only I had carried on! Moral of the story: Believe in the businesses you start, even when you are young.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I would say the biggest influence on my working life has been Geoff Bateson, my old business partner at Comms Consult. Although we didn’t see eye-to-eye from time to time, when I look back now I find myself doing things he used to stress the importance of.

One of the biggest lessons he taught me was that sales are a lot more about people than they are about detail (e.g. spending the time putting huge proposals together for little ROI). If a business trusts you to help them, that trust is far more valuable than any amount of details you can put down on paper.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

When I was 16, I was a Grade 8 tenor horn player, the highest qualified in the North West for my age! I could still play a few notes now, I reckon…

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

Already we have seen that it will provide a lot more flexibility for employees, creating a healthier relationship with the office environment. It’s certainly changed my view on whether people in certain roles need to be in the office.

We’ve seen a lot of discussions around the death of offices, but we’re giving our staff the option to work from home whenever they like – and despite this they all choose to be in (socially distanced, of course) as they enjoy the collaborative environment and social aspect of coming into work. The option is always there if they want to stay at home.

What does success look like to you?

My definition of success is very different from a few years ago. My dream used to be flashy cars and material objects, and to be honest I do still want an Aston Martin at some point, but overall my view of success has changed.

With having kids it’s much more about providing a good life for them, but not only that, for our team as well, which is just as important to help progress and achieve their goals. The more we can help our team learn and upskill, the better Tao Digital will do and the better their future prospects. My ultimate dream is that in two years, Tao Digital will be able to run itself!

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