James Chetwode and Rupert Brown became friends playing for their village cricket club. The men recognised how their complementary skills had helped their team develop. So following on from their sporting success, the two friends have launched a brand new IT and marketing consultancy, Chain Digital.
They aim to help Shaftesbury area businesses get the best from timesaving technology. “We set up the Dorset Knockers in Iwerne Minster – just a bunch of friends who wanted to play one or two games a year. We now have eleven or twelve games a year,” said James. “Trying to get eleven people on the cricket pitch on Sunday can be compared to invading Russia. So we thought, if we can do that, and it’s a lot of work for no reward, then we can go into business together,” said James.
The men have also been on group cycling tours together. Rupert says that he isn’t worried about working closely with a good mate. “Because we have joint interests in the cricket and the cycling and because we have our own specialities, we’re not arguing about the same things. So far it’s worked really well.” Since the men have swapped the cricket pitch for business pitches they’ve already scored successes in their first six weeks of trading.
Broadly, Chain Digital is offering to help businesses harness the opportunity of the internet. They can set-up an online shop, take care of marketing, make products appear higher-up in search engine results or help retailers gain Facebook or Instagram followers. “We are a full service agency but we specialise in the digital community,” said Rupert. “That’s where we’ve identified the biggest gap in this area.”
James believes that Chain Digital is offering something new for Shaftesbury. “I don’t think that anybody offers e-commerce advice outside Poole and Bournemouth,” added James. Rupert has e-commerce and marketing expertise from his previous hotel sales roles and from selling premium pet products online for a decade. James has an online media and video production background. They’ve pooled their skills to cover all online bases.
“We pitch ourselves as digital navigators for business owners that don’t have enough time to do online marketing or who don’t quite understand the latest changes with Facebook and stuff like that,” James added. “We can free you up to get on with running your business, selling what you make or designing products. We will look after the peripheral sort of stuff right down to your IT and even who your email provider is.”
This, they say, will help their customers ‘blow their own trumpets’, especially because British people can be quite uncomfortable about self-promotion. “Guillotine England is a client in Chilmark. Like most companies they talk about themselves but why should I believe them as a customer?” said James. “What we’ve done is get their customers saying how good they are. I’ve actually taken my smartphone out while standing next to a customer. He told me how much he loved wearing the clothes. We filmed a little piece – thirty seconds of him saying that he loved it.”
The company created a press release and social media content by featuring the experience of a French fan of the clothing range. “A hotel owner in Normandy saw a photograph of François Holland and David Cameron having a pint in a pub in Oxfordshire. The landlord in the photo was wearing one of their products. This French hotel owner wanted to have that look of an English country landlord. He tried to identify the brand and eventually got it. He was one of their first customers. Five years later our customers went to stay there, in France. I told them to get their camera and film him. I blogged the story and put it on social media and created a press release. It’s created some ‘noise’ and people on Facebook are engaging with it. It’s just a different angle. It is no longer a business owner saying that they are fantastic. It’s their customers saying they are fantastic. It’s a better sales tool,” said James.
James and Rupert’s focus has been on their customers, rather than their own Wincombe Centre workspace. A week after taking the keys to their office, the men still didn’t have enough chairs. We chatted as I perched on a tall, wooden stool, rescued from the tip. James sat opposite me, a foot lower down, balanced on a large purple gym ball.
“It keeps the core good,” James laughed. “That’s the joy of being a start-up. You don’t have anything to aspire to in terms of corporate. We can do what we want. The stool is quite entertaining and it is a story that we will tell in ten years time when we have fifty employees.”
And the men mean what they say. They have a goal for the growth of their business. I asked them what Chain Digital will achieve over the next five years. “We’ll have built our own barn with a groovy office and a Google-like slide and firefighters’ pole,” smiled James. “The one thing I used to say to my employees when I ran my last business was that I wanted them to look forward to coming to work. It shouldn’t be a chore,” added Rupert.
The men hope that their growth will come through referrals and recommendations from satisfied customers. Already, they’ve delighted some clients. “The smile you put on someone’s face when you save their bacon is just great,” said James, who gave an example of another way in which they had helped their clothing customer from Chilmark.
“They were not entirely ‘au fait’ with the backend of their e-commerce system. They hadn’t turned on US shipping. So if people were in the United States tried to buy one of the products, they couldn’t check out. There was no cost for shipping.” James explained. “Rupert looked at it, turned on the shipping and it was almost like somebody was waiting. They had a £510 order within ten minutes of us doing that. It made a massive difference.”
The men are planning a drop-in session where you can find out more about their business and what they can do for you. “We’ll be at The Fontmell in Fontmell Magna on 25th September, from 8.30am until 10.30am,” said James. “It’ll be an introduction to e-commerce and affiliate marketing. It’s basically a workshop with a bacon roll, teas and coffees, where we’re going to introduce different platforms that you could use if you wanted to sell things online. We just try to give people the tools they need to boost their business or maybe start their business. It’ll be really good fun.”
Rupert reckons that every successful Shaftesbury business needs a four-legged team member. He introduced me to Holly, Chain Digital’s dog. “She’s the most useless cocker spaniel in the world – but the most lovable as well. She is a character that follows me around everywhere,” Rupert smiled.
With an IT business, the men could try to attract clients from all over the country but Rupert says they want to focus on the Shaftesbury area. He says that a work-life balance is important to him and James. And he insists that the cricket will continue. It’ll be Google during the week and googlies at the weekend. “We don’t want to be your boring IT consultants. We want to be a fun local agency that everybody enjoys working with,” Rupert said.
You can contact James and Rupert at ChainDigital.co.uk.