Finding the spark that ignites your career…

During this blog series, we’ve been tracking down accomplished digital marketing professionals from a variety of backgrounds to talk us through their career journeys with the aim of inspiring jobs seekers, aspiring freelancers and the trailblazing entrepreneurs amongst you! 

So, who better than Mark Williams-Cook to talk you through his career? He’s the Digital Marketing Director at Candour a creative digital agency based in Norwich, a YouTube partner and the organiser of SearchNorwich.

I got to know Mark after his dog, Snoop, won The Best office dog award we sponsored at last year’s Penguin Awards and from his ‘unsolicited SEO tips‘ series of posts on LinkedIn. They are seriously helpful, quick tips you can use to improve your SEO!

But, where did it all begin for Mark?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I never really had a specific career I was dreaming of when I was a kid. I didn’t enjoy many subjects at school, only sports. When my parents got a family Amiga 500 something really clicked for me; I really ‘got’ computers, so I knew it would be something to do with them.

What and where was your very first job?

My first full-time job was at a bowling alley in Norwich. I started work there on reception, which meant I mainly had to spray peoples’ shoes. Sometimes people took old shoes in and kept the used bowling shoes. I know, right…

When and how did you first discover digital marketing / your specific industry sector?

I had been making and publishing my own websites in HTML (even DHTML!) since I was about 15. At 17, I took over a little venture a friend had started that put on local music gigs in the area. At the time, most bands didn’t have a web presence, or if they did, it was a super basic one. I built a community gig and music site that was based around a forum. I offered a free sub-forum to any local band, which meant I got traffic from all of the bands’ websites collectively and they promoted their shows on the site.

Soon it had a few thousand members and we were putting on shows every month. The site was my first outing in PHP, built-in phpNuke. There was a module to add an ‘Amazon affiliate store’, which essentially just put the Amazon website inside yours and you got commission if you made a sale.

Several months later, I noticed I had started making around £50 a day in commissions – but I had no idea why. With a bit more digging, I found it was actually selling DVD players(!), which raised more questions than it answered. Another friend showed me around AWstats and we saw what was actually happening: I was ranking #1 (above Amazon!) in Google for this make and model of DVD player and people were just buying it through the Amazon on my site! This was definitely the ‘spark moment’ where I realised the potential of search engine traffic. Several thousand Sitepoint and Digitalpoint posts later, I thought I knew what I was talking about.

Mark Williams Cook Making of a Marketer

Share a mistake you made or an event you most regret from your career:

I would say it was when I started out, the imbalance between a lot of SEO knowledge and absolutely no knowledge of how businesses work. Quite early on I had 2 SaaS products that did really well, turned a profit in the first month, very low overheads and a good subscriber base. It’s kind of embarrassing now, but I wasn’t really aware that people bought and sold businesses… So, as my interest in them waned, I just kind of let them die off while I frittered away the money and saved nothing. I totally don’t regret spending the money, though.

Looking back, a mentor or someone with a business head could have highlighted the opportunity just to tie the business up and sell it.

Jumping in a time machine, what pearls of wisdom would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t blog about super-effective link building techniques and the niche you’re doing it in. It won’t “inspire people to apply this to their sites” – you’ll just end up with a dozen new competitors who have cloned your business overnight. Idiot.

What industry skill do you wish you’d learned sooner, and why?

CSS. Because it’s embarrassing. I can do what I need to get done in Python, C#, PHP, but can profoundly embarrass myself in front of any dev when I try and do any CSS.

What is the one thing you want to be remembered for from your career, and why?

I’d simply like to be known as someone that created a really lovely place to work. I’ve done time at several different agencies and many of them slip into becoming toxic work environments because of the nature of the work. People staying late every evening, work quality sacrificed for procedure or profit and putting huge pressure on staff – which contrary to popular belief – is not solved by sticking a ping pong table in the office!

If you were to publish your autobiography in 20 years time, what would it be titled?

DMOZ: Still waiting for approval.

Thanks, Mark for taking part in this series! I think it’s so important to share stories of ‘lessons learned and problems we can sometimes face in our careers to help others. So thank you for sharing, I’m sure your career story and tips will help many future business owners!

Keep an eye out for more in this MOAM series as I’ll be publishing new editions on a regular basis from equally inspiring digital marketing experts!

Could your career story encourage others to further their digital marketing careers? Or do you know someone whose story needs to be told? Get in touch with me, Emma on Alternatively, if you’re looking to explore the option of a career in digital marketing yourself, visit our contact page.