A Week in my Life: Steve Brennan, CEO of Bespoke
Steve Brennan is CEO of Bespoke, a digital lead-generation agency in Preston, and author of the Amazon bestseller ‘Build Your Digital Marketing Strategy’.
Here, he shares what a week in his working life is like...
Perhaps it is only because I knew I would be writing this diary, but today begins with a 5k run. I don't get out for a run anywhere near as much as I should and always feel great when I do, so I'm pleased I got out today.
For me, Monday is always blocked out for content production, which means writing, recording videos, signing off marketing or working on assets with our team. I own Bespoke, a digital lead generation agency, and have done for almost 20 years. I'm lucky to have a great team in the office who run everything very successfully day-to-day, whilst I work on longer-term projects, new content and run digital workshops for our clients and prospects.
Today I'm writing an article inspired by a member of our team who launched a website with a 100/100 Google Page Speed score last week. Speed is absolutely vital in digital marketing and we talk about it a lot in our team, but I realised it is important in many other ways. The businesses that iterate the fastest dominate in most sectors, and the people who learn fastest get the biggest promotions, so the piece makes that link.
I'm working from my home office today as I'm finishing early to go and see my daughter at school. They are letting parents visit in the afternoon to see the children at their desks, and then they bring their books out to show us all their work for the year. Zoe doesn't know I am coming and she looks made up when I arrive which makes for a happy end to the day for me.
Today I head into Bespoke HQ to meet with our managers. They report in their weekly numbers every Tuesday and I ask them questions to try to help them make progress. We've had a good year so far and the June numbers are in today - they're better than expected. July looks like it might be down though so the team set some actions on sales and scheduling. It is often feast and famine in many agencies, particularly with project work. There was a time when I found it quite stressful, but I have come to learn it actually always evens out over the year.
When I go in on Tuesdays, I often drive home feeling lucky with the people we have hired. Chris is in charge day-to-day and really owns his role, he's very smart with decision making and is always proactive. Rebecca looks after the finance and is ultra-reliable and everything is always accurate. Lauren brings energy and drive to our team and Mel always contributes calmly and thoughtfully when we are working through something. There are few things I find more rewarding than seeing people succeeding in their roles and fortunately we have plenty of examples of that at the moment.
The team has had a curveball this morning however in that a member of our team has given in their notice. It's almost a year since anybody gave their notice so it is quite a big moment. The person in question has given two-and-a-half years good service and I like him so personally, I am disappointed to hear he will be leaving. Again, there was a time when it was sometimes stressful when somebody gave their notice but now we often know when people will be leaving as we discuss their career plans with them, and most people are happy to be very open and plan ahead with us. I’ve also learned that somebody leaving is an opportunity to get somebody new in which in turn is a chance to improve things again.
I've set my diary up today with back-to-back meetings and no gaps. Some of these are Zoom video calls, including three strategy sessions with marketing managers interested in joining our next Digital Accelerator cohort. Digital Accelerator is our programme where in-house marketers build a full digital strategy for their business. It's been really successful and is the most enjoyable part of my work. I love talking to people in marketing teams because we have so much insight to share with them now. They all have similar issues to deal with so are usually very grateful for the help.
The other curious thing for me is when I phone them they often tell me they have read my book. I put the book out on Amazon last year (it is called 'Build Your Digital Marketing Strategy') and strange things have happened since. I keep hearing about people who have it or have read it. For example, somebody told me they were at an event in London and somebody was recommending books they had been reading on their iPad and as they went through the list mine was there - a completely random person. It's great of course but for some reason, I am still a little spooked whenever somebody says they have read it. If you’re thinking of writing your own book, I really recommend doing it. It is a great way of organising the knowledge you have accumulated over the years and sharing it with others.
In the afternoon I have a 45-minute drive to Edge Hill University to look around their Tech Hub. We are doing some product development work with them next month, so are preparing for that. It is a brilliant campus and I end up doing some more Zoom video calls from there after the meeting. I'm home for just 10-minutes before I have to leave the house again to get a train into town as we are off to see a show tonight - The National are playing at Castlefield Bowl in Manchester. It's been a full-on day, I even had to skip lunch, but this is a great end to it. I'm back home for 11.30pm and am asleep pretty much as soon as my head hits the pillow.
I always have some travel in my week and today is a drive to Birmingham for a "mastermind session". This means I'm up at 6am and on the road by 6.45am. I usually listen to podcasts on the way down and today I listened to Lawrence Jones' interview with Sasha Lord which was brilliant. As always, I stop at Norton Canes services on the way to stretch my legs and get a coffee, and then for the last 30-minutes, I listen to loud music until I get to the NEC where we hold these sessions.
Mastermind sessions take place in a boardroom with a group of eight business owners and we get 50-minutes each to raise a question or topic and have everybody input and progress it. Sometimes it's a new business idea somebody wants to stress-test, sometimes it's a strategy question, and other times it's a problem to resolve. I think these kinds of things are vital for entrepreneurs. We don't have the support people enjoy in normal employment and can be isolated and under real pressure at times. Groups like this provide support when needed, but also, the brainpower around the table is extraordinary. I always leave these sessions feeling inspired.
I'm back home at 7.30 and fairly tired so it's a quiet evening. I never really watch TV and my thing at the moment is that I've bought a retro electric piano and am learning to play properly at last. I have always made music to unwind but normally with computers, or in studios. I'm enjoying learning to play more freely (though for some reason I can't seem to get away from just playing Souvenir by OMD tonight).
I keep Fridays as an "off grid" day, so emails are off, and often the space that gives me means I can head into the city centre to meet up with people. So in the morning, I head into WeWork to catch up with Leon who runs Door 4, and at lunchtime, I check out the new offices of some old friends of ours, Retrofuzz. I like meeting up with other agency owners. Some are competitive and less keen to meet, but I think we can really help each other, and if we get to know each other's niches we can help clients get matched up correctly too.
At the moment, Bespoke is working through a rebrand process so in the afternoon I have some time set aside to review the designs our team has produced over the course of the week, ahead of a meeting we are holding to sign some of the elements off next week. The rebrand process has brought real clarity for us, as rebrand processes often do. With many of these kinds of things the process is as valuable as the end product, it was the same with writing the book.
The week ends with a trip to our local Italian restaurant where we are regular customers. The staff are so good especially with Zoe, they practice Italian with her, let her go behind the counter to choose her own ice-cream, and one of the waiters even does magic tricks for her sometimes. It’s always a good vibe and is a good way for me to get out of a work frame-of-mind and into weekend mode before we do it all again next week.