Hedley Aylott on founding digital marketing company Summit Media

BAFTA-winning Hedley Aylott trained as a composer in Manchester and, while working with felons, released the first-ever record from a British prison in 1995. In 2000, he co-founded digital marketing company Summit Media

Starting Summit was a natural evolution for me. Having worked with prisoners, I wanted to continue to help ex-offenders by putting them in positions of responsibility. So founding the company was a continuation of that journey.

We set up part of our business in the Czech Republic four years ago. Between then and now, the conditions there changed dramatically. Because the currency rate went up, it was costing us an extra 45 per cent to operate in that market. The cost of labour also increased, as did inflation. So it became as expensive as the UK.

With all those factors coming into play it should have been an obvious decision to say: “Stop.” But I didn’t. When you have emotional ties to something and you’ve put a lot of effort into it, the personal element can cloud your judgement.

The writing was on the wall for a long time, but I felt a duty and responsibility to the members of staff. I truly thought that I had failed when I had to make redundancies, but sometimes it is important to know when to give up. It’s not a question of failure, but preservation.

In the end, I managed to scale down the operation in time so that it didn’t become catastrophic to the rest of the business. But I definitely put off making a tough decision for longer than I should have done.

People matter

When I hired some senior people for the business, I made the mistake of placing importance on their CVs rather than going with my gut instinct. Culturally, they just didn’t fit in. I think they traded on their past a lot – and we were taken in by that. But in reality, they weren’t that good.

After they left, we realised that we were more than capable of carrying out those roles ourselves. It taught me that you have to be very clear about what you want from people.

If someone isn’t working out, don’t keep them on. It’s easy to look for the best in people, but you sometimes need to be ruthless.

Breaking free

Working hard does not guarantee success. It’s typical of entrepreneurs to think that it does, but you need to be able to stop and say, ‘Am I running in the right direction?’

For years, I used to think having an assistant was a luxury that I couldn’t justify. But six months ago, I hired one and it made a huge transformation. By having a really good person to support me, I’m now able to give more time to the business. In the last three months, the business has had more momentum than ever before.

It’s also really important to know when to take time off. I’m not one for long holidays, but you need to look after yourself. I wish I’d spent more time away from work and done more with my family in the past. Even if it’s taking an extra day off, life will go on.

When to say no

We are not a time-conscious company but I realised we were expending more effort on certain clients than others – even though they were paying the same amount. We just assumed that because we were working harder, we were getting more in return.

But ultimately, having relationships with clients that don’t work has been both distracting and disappointing for us, and unprofitable in terms of effort. Now I have learnt when to say ‘no’ to an opportunity. Otherwise, those late nights you stay up working won’t mean anything.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for growthbusiness.co.uk when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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