What I've Learnt: James Smethurst, Managing Director, The Social Desk

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

James Smethurst, who founded The Social Desk in 2018, oversees everything that goes on at the Wirral-based digital agency.

He started out completing a business degree and working for the NHS, before doing a marketing Master's after working on a digital transformation project at the health service. The Social Desk, which he launched not long after, provides services across branding, social media marketing, digital content, web development and more.

We found out what lessons James has learnt.


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

I swear by the Calm app for daily meditation. I think it’s safe to say we've all struggled with mental health at some point, especially during COVID times. Calm is a really good way of detaching from the real world and concentrating on yourself for just 10 minutes a day.

What's been your luckiest break?

I would genuinely say that launching The Social Desk has been my luckiest break. To have the freedom to work for myself and build a team and business that I have chosen myself is liberating.

Having worked for large corporations for many years, I feel a real sense of achievement in following my dream and building and controlling my own lifestyle.

What's your best failure?

In late 2009, some friends and I decided to launch our own business, ‘Golfvouchers4U’. Unfortunately, due to time restraints (we all had full-time jobs) and lack of financial backing, we decided to let the business go. The idea was later picked up by Tesco and I'm sure is now doing well, but we are all extremely proud of what we achieved and what we learnt from the process.

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

I've always invested time and energy into my personal development, but I would say that my MSc in Digital Marketing was my best investment. It opened so many doors for me - most notably allowing me to follow my dream of opening my own digital marketing agency!

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

There are so many books I would recommend. I'll be honest, I'm not a big reader but I'm big into my personal development so books like 'The Chimp Paradox' and 'The Miracle Morning' would be up there, but for work, 'Think like Gary Vee' is a great book to help you live your best life, both personally and in business.

It provides 30 inspiring lessons which are easily digestible and a good reminder to keep you positive! It’s quite a short book too so a nice quick and easy read if you need a pick-me-up!

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

I don't think it would be just one, probably more of a lecture. Certainly I would cover topics such as - speed is better than perfection, always follow your dreams, face your fears and don't be afraid of change.

After leaving sixth form, I started university life off with a law degree and quickly realised that it wasn’t for me. The fear of being seen as a failure could have held me back from changing my path but it didn't and I switched to a Business Studies degree.

After many years in the working world, I then decided to do an MSc in Digital Marketing. This path has allowed me to follow my dreams and set up my own digital marketing agency - something that wouldn’t have happened if I had been afraid of change!

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

My Dad. Not only is he my best friend but he is my hero. This may sound cheesy but it’s true. I've watched my Dad work hard and provide for our family my entire life. He has taught me how to be a businessman, how to negotiate, how to sell and how to communicate.

By teaching me how to negotiate for a bike or golf clubs I wanted as an eight-year-old boy, he has taught me both life and business skills from a very young age!

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I'm dyslexic. This is definitely something that many people are unaware of, especially considering what I've managed to achieve. I've always seen and learnt differently. And despite being told I wouldn't amount to anything at the age of seven, I was determined to prove everyone wrong! I can't take all the credit though, I owe a lot to the support of my parents.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

Remote and flexible working has always been something that I, a business owner, have tried to accommodate. I think this is something many businesses were behind the times on and feel that COVID has proved that this is something that can be achieved on a global level!

Hopefully more businesses will now understand the need for flexibility and make work-life balance much more achievable.

What does success look like to you?

Success for me is a good work-life balance, a team of colleagues that can be described as both friends and a work family, and clients that value us as much as we value them. And of course, a profitable business and financial stability is nice - we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t profitable!

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