Our Story – From Zero to $70+ million online
The Attwood Digital website went live in 2012, but our internet marketing story goes waaay back to 1998.
Our founder, Mark Attwood was, back then, a stand-up comic and theatre company owner. He had just been commissioned for a slot on Granada TV for a short comedy film following a stint as presenter of the Arts programme on Granada using his character, John E. Blagg (who also had a regular column in the Big Issue at the time).
Mark’s girlfriend at the time complained one day that she was paying for all the meals they went out for and that he should start pulling his weight more financially. This seemed like a fair point, so whilst waiting for the post production on the film that was going to make his fortune (it didn’t), he decided to go out and get a job.
That afternoon, he went to a job agency in Manchester and got a job the very same day in a creative marketing agency in Salford as a sales executive.
That agency had a little room, almost a sweat shop, full of web designers do some amazing things on the then infant internet.
Mark found himself more interested in what they were doing than what he was doing, which was selling domain names for £200 a pop!
Fast forward to 1999 and Mark had made the top 100 UK websites list in Internet Magazine for his first website, a discount internet travel site called Whoopydo.com (Lastminute.com was at no.60!).
He narrowly missed the dotcom bubble (which was a blessing in disguise), and went on to form his own promotional marketing agency at Fireball Media Ltd.
Whilst there he pioneered the development of many online vouchers for his clients, which included many high street banks, building societies, shops and brands such as RBS, Panasonic, Iceland to name but a few.
The internet was a burning passion for Mark as he watched Yahoo get superseded by the rise of Google, even though his partner at the time thought there was no future in the net.
Cut to 2003 and Mark found himself sat round the dinner table of his future wife. His future- father-in-law (although he didn’t know it at the time), who owned a waste transfer station in darkest Gorton said, in broad Mancunian: “’ere, you know marketing. Come and market my skips”.
Mark was initially confused, not really knowing what a skip was, but soon got excited as he realized there was bugger all online for skip hire companies worth talking about.
He came up with the idea of creating an easyjet for skips, and so Topskips.com was born.
Full of enthusiasm he spouted things like “a proper brand… easy online ordering… answering the phone in two rings… credit card payments… branded skips” and so on.
His father in law thought he was mad: “Who the hell is going to pay online up front for a skip? This is a cash business!”
Despite the skepticism, the project somehow got off the ground.
At 3pm on the day of launch, Topskips.com got its very first online order from Lynette Heywood in Rochdale.
Mark was so excited at this historical event, he sent Lynette a bunch of flowers proclaiming she was “The world’s first online skip hire order”!
The development of Topskips.com took a back burner whilst Mark was busy with his marketing agency and burgeoning family until, one fateful day in 2005, his father-in-law walked through the door in tears. He was retiring, and doing so was leaving two of his daughters, including Mark’s now wife, out of a job which was upsetting him greatly.
Mark greeted these tears with bombastic enthusiasm: “Great – now we can make Topskips.com national!”
Until then, Topskips.com had been a local business, generating orders for his father-in-law’s business in Manchester. Mark had long thought the model had potential to go national, and now was the time to try the idea out.
Pretty soon he sold out of his agency and went full steam ahead creating innovation after innovation online (at least in the skip hire industry).
He started business blogging in 2005 (which very few people were doing back then), created geographic long tail landing pages (which nobody was doing), used Google checkout and Paypal for ordering skips (unheard of), started producing online video (which still pays dividends seven years later), was an early adopter of Twitter and Facebook (FB even sent him a T-shirt for getting the highest CTR for an ad they had ever seen in 2008).
The business grew extremely fast (too fast, in fact, but that’s another story), and evolved into what is now PAL Hire – a national hire company that delights its customers with its USP of being a one-stop hire shop with a single point of invoicing and never runs out of kit. Take a look at palhire.co.uk
It was in 2008, whilst at a business conference in San Diego, that Mark first realized his experience was in demand. Almost all of the other 17 delegates were begging him to help with their businesses online.
Already running a business, and not wanting to go back to building an agency at the time, Mark decided to start teaching others what he knew. In the first two months of starting his internet marketing seminars, he was getting paid over £10,000 a day to share what he knew.
He went on to develop businesses in ecommerce, including a website dedicated to selling goalkeeper equipment (thegoalkeeperco.com) and publishing, including a magazine for the skip hire industry (skiphiremagazine.co.uk).
Then, as the recession began in late 2008, disaster struck. Most of Topskips non-domestic clients were construction companies, and they started dropping like flies, leaving an enormous hole in cash flow.
Combined with a £257,000 theft, Mark, along with his business partners at the time, was forced to calling in the administrators, despite achieving an annual turnover of £7 million and employing over 100 people, in February 2009.
It was a dark time, but within 6 weeks Mark had pulled off a six-figure investment from one of the country’s wealthiest people to take the business forward.
Since 2009, the PAL Hire business has established itself as one of the UK’s leading hire companies and in 2012, Mark decided to hand over the reins to focus on developing his already successful digital marketing agency work.
So, £50 million later, a Crains 40 under 40 business award, numerous appearances on BBC Radio 2 (Jeremy Vine and Chris Evans) and The Daily Telegraph, this culminated in the establishment of Attwood Digital – a digital marketing agency dedicated to providing businesses with the benefits of Mark’s expertise and all the hard-won experience he has gained in the business trenches.
Mark has built a hand-picked team based on pure talent and trained in Mark’s methods of achieving maximum cash online in minimum time.
Attwood Digital is not your run-of–the-mill agency. Although we have worked with some of the biggest companies in the UK, we are also known for providing free information, advice and services for start-ups and struggling businesses.
Our doors are open to all that genuinely want to improve their income online.
A business is really a formalised social structure, or “family” in other words and, like a family, we have our own set of values.
All of our team are taken through intensive training on our core values because we can’t afford to have any bad apples.
The process for developing core values in your business is illuminating and powerful – please feel free to contact us if you need any help doing this for your own business.
Here they are…
1. Be Extraordinary With Amazing Service
At Attwood Digital, we want to amaze people by being extraordinary.
Emotionally connecting with our customers and partners and amazing them by going above and beyond what’s expected from a company at every opportunity is what makes us stand out.
We encourage every member of our team to be extraordinary every day.
Being extraordinary with service and experience, not with discounts or promotions, results in word of mouth which results in happier customers, happier partners, and happier team members.
2. Be Fearless, Look Forward To Change And Keep Optimistic
Part of being in a growing company is that change is constant.
If you are not prepared to deal with constant change, then you probably are not a good fit for a growing company like Attwood Digital.
Change is part of life, and especially part of business life in the 21st Century. It is the companies that adapt and evolve fastest that win the game.
But it is a very human trait to fear change. We tend as people towards stasis, keeping the status quo. If we can break this pattern and view change with optimism, we will improve and grow much more quickly.
Let’s nurture an atmosphere where everyone can realise their ambitions. Let us support our co-workers and celebrate their success.
3. Have Fun And Express Yourself
At Attwood Digital, it’s important to have fun at work!
Life is simply too short to work in a place where you can’t have any fun. We do not want to spend all this time and energy growing only to become a big, boring, corporate machine.
It’s important to us that we can always laugh at ourselves, and each other.
We believe that when people are allowed to breathe and let their unique personalities shine through, it makes the company more innovative as a whole.
We encourage positive craziness.
4. Look Everyone In The Eye With A Firm Handshake
The best way to build trust and faith, the cornerstones of our long-term success, is through open and honest communications.
Strong relationships that are open and honest in all areas – with our customers, our suppliers, our partners, our team members, our managers and directors – are what set us aside from most companies and allow Attwood Digital to achieve much more than without them.
If you can do this, you show that you are a centred and well meaning individual and people are far more likely to do business with you, and Attwood Digital. If you cannot do this, a limp fist with eyes averted says that you are unsure of yourself, your role and Attwood Digital.
A company is a formalised social structure, like a family. The family that plays together stays together. A fundamental part of this is the ability to look everyone in the eye with a firm handshake.
You need to be able to trust that your team-mates are going to perform. Our customers need to be able to trust that we are going to deliver on our promises.
They need to be able to trust that we will make amends if we get it wrong. You need to be able to trust that management will make decisions based on the priority to give the company maximum chances of survival and long-term prosperity.
5. There Are No Problems, Only Solutions
All who work for Attwood Digital are encouraged to not only see problems as opportunities, but to work out the solution to each problem – all problems have solutions, bar none!
We come up against brick walls every day in our working life and in our personal life. Most people see the brick wall and give up. They think it is too hard to scale, too long to walk round, the soil is too solid to dig under. We encourage each other to get over these obstacles and if necessary, bash through them. Whilst we accept that help is sometimes needed to find the solution to problems, those that shine are those that come to Management with the solutions ready prepared.
Linking in to this is how we strongly discourage blame culture. When things go wrong, we admire our colleagues who hold their hands up and say, like George Washington,
“It was I who chopped the cherry tree down”.
6. Make Do And Mend
Attwood Digital has always been about being able to do more with less.
We’re not about spending money for spending’s sake. We are all aware that every penny that the business spends unnecessarily is money that could be reinvested into growth, training and the pursuit of excellence.
We watch cash flow, we pay our suppliers on time, we reuse and recycle wherever possible. We are all aware of the value in a pound and we hate waste.
7. Have Belief And Be Focused
Passion is the fuel that drives us and our company forward.
We all know where Attwood Digital is going; no one is in any doubt about this.
Our leadership is clear and communicates the vision well. So much so that, our belief and determination to get there is embedded in the foundations of our company.
8. Be Humble
While we have grown quickly in the past, we recognise that there are always challenges ahead to tackle.
However good we become, whatever mistakes we make, we are no better or worse than any other person or organisation on this planet. Let’s all remember where we came from and never get cocky.
We have a duty therefore to share the fruits of our success with the less fortunate. Charitable giving is a mainstay of our company and we often take part in fundraising.
9. Be Grateful
All success starts with gratitude.
If we cannot be thankful for what we have now today we do not deserve success in the future. So we encourage Attwood Digital to be grateful for all the small things in their personal and working life.
10. Be Respectful
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.”
Aretha Franklin was right! Respect is fundamental in all areas of our business. Respect for each other as colleagues is so important. We are the team, we have to work together and should respect each other to get the best out of everyone.
Respect for customers and suppliers is also completely necessary – without them we would have no business. Respect for our environment, both within the office and the wider environment.
We have invested so much time, money and effort on creating a great environment to work in that we need to respect that everyone should be able to enjoy this without having to clean up after others.