What Is Involved in Running Your Own Agency?

Paul Boag

The Boagworld show is back diving deeper into the huge variety of jobs found in the digital field. This week we ask the question that Marcus has been wanting answered for over 15 years; What does Paul do all day!?

This week’s show is sponsored by The Digital Project Manager School and Optimal Workshop.


Paul Boag: The Boagworld Show is back, diving deeper into the huge variety of jobs found in the digital field these days. This week, we ask the question that Marcus has been wanting to ask for over 15 years. What do I do all day? This week's show is sponsored by Optimal Workshop and The Digital Project Manager. (singing)

Hello. Welcome to the Boagwold Show, the podcast that all aspects of digital design, development, and strategy. My name is Paul Boag. Joining me on this week's show, as always, is Marcus Lillington. Hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Hello, Paul. Happy New Year. Even on the first episode of the show.

Paul Boag: Yes. As you will hear next week, we're not recording the show in order, so this is actually the second one we're recording. But happy New Year anyway and happy New Year to everybody in the chat room. Look at them all. They're all coming in now. We were feeling all lonely and sad. Now, they're here, which is great.

I did forget to promote the show, once again. I always forget. Just so busy. That's my trouble, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Hmm (affirmative). I know that feeling.

Paul Boag: Work, work, work. That's all I ever do. I spent most of the day-

Marcus Lillington: For someone as important and prince- or princess-like you, Paul, shouldn't have to work.

Paul Boag: I know, right?

Marcus Lillington: It's just wrong.

Paul Boag: Why don't people give me money for nothing? I still don't understand that to this day but there you go.

So, you got any New Year's resolutions, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington: Sort of. I don't really believe in them because people make them to be broken, I think. But I booked a holiday at the end of February, beginning of March. I feel that to stop scaring people when I unveil my pasty white, fat body on the beach, that I should lose a little bit of weight but all I have to do on that one is just to eat like a normal person. Then, I will lose weight.

Paul Boag: That's exactly the same as me. It annoys my wife no end because it's like, "Oh, all right. I'll lose some weight now." Bang! There. It's gone.

Marcus Lillington: Yes. Exactly the same conversation is going on at our house at the moment. She says, "I hate you. You just have to think to lose weight and you lose weight."

Paul Boag: I know. To punish me, my wife has started to making me go running with her. I don't need to go running but she figures that if she has to go running, then so do I, which I think is a little unjust but there you go.

Marcus Lillington: Mm (affirmative). I'm never sure about going running. I think it does more damage than good.

Paul Boag: So do many doctors but it's actually quite nice. It's nice to get out of the house. The running we do, it's running. Running's a bit of a stretch.

Marcus Lillington: Quick walking.

Paul Boag: You know, it's Rachel and Drew. They go running all the time, don't they? They post on it. They run properly. They like to. I mean, we're kind of ambling and calling it a run, so it gets out of the house.

Marcus Lillington: I do lots of walking. Yeah. Get a dog. They're the best things …

Paul Boag: There you go.

Marcus Lillington: … to get you out, year-round.

Paul Boag: Yeah. But then you have to sort out somewhere for them to stay when you go on a holiday.

Marcus Lillington: That's true, but more importantly, have you got any New Year's resolutions, Paul?

Paul Boag: Not a resolution. Yet, last year was a sucky year for me. It was hard work with the house and all the stuff that was going on. Going back to the whole, "He's a princess," 2019 is going to be look-after-myself year.

Marcus Lillington: Oh! That's good.

Paul Boag: And that does involve doing a bit more exercise and eating better and going out and having a life. It's like last year. I pretty much didn't go out to the pub with my mates all year, and that's sucky. So, we've started that again and that kind of thing. Just give me some me time. I need me time.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. I haven't failed on the going out to the pub with my mates. I've done plenty of that this year but I do feel like it's been a bit mad. Yeah. I think you're right. Try to look after myself a bit as I'm getting a bit older.

Paul Boag: Sorry. I know people hate it when we get distracted by the comments but Andrew Miller …

Marcus Lillington: But it's a goody!

Paul Boag: … has posted, "My nose runs and my feet smell. I think I've been built upside-down."

Marcus Lillington: That's actually a very good one.

Paul Boag: That's really good.

Sorry. You were saying, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Another comment, but this is relevant. Paul says in the chat room, "For 2019, Marcus, you should fill a gap on that shelf behind you." That's my guitars. There aren't any gaps, actually. I can take one down and get a new one.

Paul Boag: No. You could get another one in there if you squished them up.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, maybe. I'll be guitar nerd just for two seconds. There's a really, really lovely, new make called B&G Guitars, handmade ones in America. They're lovely and I'd really like one. So, if anyone wants to get me one, they're only about four and a half grand.

Paul Boag: Send me the URL and I'll put it in the show notes. You never know, Marcus. Somebody might buy you one.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. They're gorgeous. I built my own. All right. Stop reading the chat room.

Paul Boag: Start reading the chat. They're far too interesting, although I do want to include them a little bit, the people in the chat later and I will explain why now, which is what I want to talk about the premise of this season.

Probably the most common question that I get asked is, "So, what is it you do, Paul?" That's okay if your gran is asking you that or if your auntie is asking you that but when other people in the industry are asking you that, you begin to realize that your job has become quite obscure and quite weird. It's really weird, isn't it, how digital has changed over the 25 years or however long we've been doing it?

Marcus Lillington: Hm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: That it used to be you could say, "I build websites." That was all very straightforward and okay. 25 years ago, most people didn't know what a website was, but at least it was something tangible. "I made this. Look at this. This is what I made." Of course, now, with digital is becoming increasingly broader and deeper at the same time, more complex. The jobs have become progressively more specialized. More and more people are doing more and more obscure jobs.

So, I thought why don't we do a season on that? Why don't we get different people on the show and ask them, "So, what exactly is it you do?" And I thought we'd get a mixture of people, that we'd get some entrepreneurial people, like, for example, next week, we've got Chris Coyier comes on and is taking about his experiences setting up CodePen and running a successful blog and all that kind of stuff.

Other weeks, we might have, I don't know, somebody from Facebook talking about their user research work that they do at Facebook. We might get somebody who's a developer on. So, it'd be a mixture of people doing all kinds of different jobs. We'd talk to them about what does that involve? What does your day look like? That kind of thing.

So, that is the plan for the season. We thought or I thought, because Marcus contributes absolutely zero to this show, other than setting up-

Marcus Lillington: So not true. I've got two whole pages of notes here that I've written for today's show.

Paul Boag: Wow! Really?

Marcus Lillington: And I have to do thought for the day every week.

Paul Boag: Except for next week.

Marcus Lillington: I feel like that.

Paul Boag: You got next week off, as I remember. But yeah, normally you do.

And, also, don't forget you do all the editing of the show, so I do all the work beforehand. You do all the work afterwards, so it's swings and roundabouts and everything. You do do your fair share. It's okay.

Marcus Lillington: Thank you, Paul.

Paul Boag: I thought, "Well, why don't we start with me and Marcus," and we talk about our daily lives are like? I know from the Slack channel, which, by the way, anyone's welcome to join. If you want to join our Slack channel, it's boagworld.com/slacking for slacking. Some people have got some questions for us as well, which is where the chat room comes in.

If you want to post questions, there's an ask a question option in the bottom of your interface where you can post questions. We'll try and do those as well. Really, it's questions about our lives, our work. That kind of thing. (singing)

Right. But, before we do that, let's do a sponsor because we got really good sponsors this season. Sorry balsamic and previous full story, you were rubbish. We got proper sponsors this season. No, that's really me.

No, we got two really good sponsors, the first of which is Optimal Workshop. Now, a bit like balsamic, actually. Chances are, you've already heard of Optimal Workshop, though you said you hadn't in the future, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Yes. In the future, I said I haven't. Yes.

Paul Boag: Yeah. In the next show, you said you haven't heard of them.

Marcus Lillington: Yes. I've not used so there you go.

Paul Boag: Well, perhaps I just presumed everybody heard of Optimal Workshop.

So, for those who don't know, Optimal Workshop is one of the best tools out there for running fast and affordable user research, so if you want to justify your design decisions. If you want to, perish the thought, actually inform your design decisions, then Optimal Workshop is the tool for you because it's actually a suite of tools that do different jobs. You've got things like tree testing, so I'm going to test the information architecture of a site, so you do tree testing. If you want to create an information architecture, you can do card sorting. You can run various online surveys. You can do qualitative research like interview-type stuff. You can test real prototypes.

One of my favorite ones they do is called a first click test. Say, you've done a mock-up and you want to know whether users going to go in the right direction. You can just say, "Take the mock-up of the home page," and say, "Okay. Well, what's the first thing you'd click on on this," because it's some ridiculously high percentage. I want to say 86% that if someone clicks the right first link, they'll be able to go on and complete whatever their task is.

So, if they start off in the right direction, they're almost certainly going to be all right. So, if you ask people what the first thing they're going to click on and they click on the right thing, you go, "Yay! This is going well. Keep going."

So, yeah. Basically, but the other real killer for Optimal Workshop I absolutely love is the fact that they help you recruit participants, which let's be honest, is the worst part of user research. They've got participants that speak over 70 different languages. They've got a pool of 10 million participants, so you can specify the panel of people that you want to make up and test with. So, absolutely invaluable for building up some real evidence to back up what it is that you're doing. I was using it only just before Christmas and, in fact, I was supposed to be using it again today, but I slacked off most of the day and spent it in the pub but that's a whole nother story.

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 00:12:28. You do seem quite jolly today, Paul acts crosstalk 00:12:31.

Paul Boag: Yeah, because I'm having a me time, remember?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. I go to the pub after work usually. I'll be in the pub at 6:00, you see?

Paul Boag: Ah! I see. That's the difference.

Marcus Lillington: Maybe that's where I'm going wrong.

Paul Boag: Or where I'm going wrong, depending on your point of view.

Anyway, if you want to know more about Optimal Workshop, go along to boagworld.com/optimal. So, there you go.

So, enough of such stuff. Let's talk about us, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: It's all about me and you.

Paul Boag: Exactly. Yeah. I figured we'd double up, that we'd talk about both of us in one show.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, although, as I showed you earlier, I thought I better write down a few notes in my response to some of these questions and there are certain questions that we probably should avoid me on, like how did I get here, because that's like a whole show's worth of me rambling on.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I know. Yeah. I know what you mean. We'll manage it.

Anyway, right. First question and a question I'd really want to ask pretty much everybody is how would you describe your role to non-digital people?

Marcus Lillington: Well, that's easy because you said, well, back in the old days, you used to just say, "I build websites." That's what I say. What I actually say, "I run a web design agency." That's, "Oh, so you build websites?" "Yes," and that's it normally, but if they want to go, "Well, what do you actually do?" I say, "Well, really, my major responsibility is to bring in work." People understand that. Then, that's normally the end of the conversation.

Paul Boag: Yeah, so yours is quite easy, isn't it, really?

Marcus Lillington: As we will discuss, I do more than that these days but no one cares. They really don't. You do websites. Oh, and you're supposed to get the business in. Yeah. All right. I get that.

Paul Boag: I say, "I help companies make their websites easier," which I think pretty much covers it.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. I think that's really good as well.

Paul Boag: If I thought all the different things I do, it all really boils down to that, I think.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. That's a really good description for you.

Paul Boag: I'm trying to think of anything I do that doesn't fall into that category.

Marcus Lillington: I had something on my mind and it's completely gone. It's Friday afternoon. Ah!

Paul Boag: So, I do consultancy. I do training. I do mentorship. I suppose I do help agencies. That isn't really … That's a different thing.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, because mentoring, that could be about building teams, I suppose. Yeah, but still kind of related.

Paul Boag: I suppose, yeah. Digital transformation isn't always about just the websites. So, actually no, it shit. It's crap.

Marcus Lillington: Well, it's probably 80% of what you do, isn't it?

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, or do.

Paul Boag: All right. I'm going to ask the question, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, Paul.

Paul Boag: Tell people how you ended up doing the job that you're doing today.

Marcus Lillington: I've just got to say, yeah, I will but Andrew in the chat room says, "You're the guy that pays for drinks at conferences, aren't you?" Yes, I am. That's lovely.

Paul Boag: That is very true. What he's referring to is a conference that both me and Marcus go to every year, although unfortunately, I can't go to it this year because it clashes with my summer holiday, which is really annoying. It's probably our favorite conference of the year. It's called IWMW, which stand for the Institutional Web Managers Workshop, which is a terrible, terrible name, but the reason is it was set up this conference in 1942 or something like that. It's open to people in the higher education sector, basically. We were fortunate enough to be able to wangle our way into this earlier, if quite early on.

Marcus Lillington: Early days, yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah, and we were the only commercial people there. So, as a result, we've become known as basically the people that buy drinks, because the evil commercial people have to buy drinks for all of the wonderful perfect public sector employees.

Marcus Lillington: I'm perfectly fine with that.

Paul Boag: Yes. I'm not.

Marcus Lillington: That's a shame you can't come, Paul.

I've got Kat in the chat room said, "Calls for submissions are now open." I know they are, Kat. I've got a half-written one for a plenary talk that I keep going, "Does anyone care about this? Do they want to know about this? Oh, yes!" And then, I'm like, "Yeah. I'm going to do it." Then, "Oh, I'm not sure. Um, um, um."

Paul Boag: I have one all planned out to go but I can't use it because I'm not going to be there, which is rubbish.

Anyway, back onto crosstalk 00:17:13.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, but mine is currently … Sorry. I've got to say the title for mine, if it happens, is why you shouldn't hire an agency.

Paul Boag: Oh! That's superb. Do it. That would go down so well. That's really good. See? Look. The higher ed people in the chat room want you to do it.

Marcus Lillington: There are some things but one of the things I'm actually going to talk about in my thought for the day, if we get to it — But just keep moving it on and I don't have to think about it anymore. I'll do that one in the third episode — is I sometimes find myself doing work but I think, "Why are these people paying me to do this?" It's like that so hand that knowledge back and say, "Don't pay us to do this?" Kind of, do it yourself, to a certain extent, but I keep struggling with a have I got content for a 40-minute talk? Am I just repeating myself? But I will do it. I will.

Paul Boag: It may not be a 40-minute talk. The last plenary I did there was like 25 minutes.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, well, that'll be fine. That's mainly the case.

Paul Boag: You can pad it. It'll be fine. Anyway …

Marcus Lillington: So, how did I get here?

Paul Boag: … my second question was, yeah, how did you get to do the job you do today? Keep it reasonably short because it's not the most interesting of questions, but let's do it anyway.

Marcus Lillington: I'll do it in a bullet point fashion, which I've got here. So, you might have known, you might have picked up that many years ago, I used to be in the music business.

Paul Boag: Yes. You have mentioned that just once or twice.

Marcus Lillington: And the guitars are behind me. That didn't last forever.

About 1996, my wife said to me, "I think you need to get a job." I was like, "Do I? Oh, I think you're probably right."

Anyway, I ended up going to the job center, which is hilarious when I think about it because what do you do? I've been a musician since I was 19. Anyway, so I walked in there. I told them my story. They said, "Oh! We've never had one like you before."

Paul Boag: No shit.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Paul Boag: And what does being a pop star qualify you for exactly?

Marcus Lillington: Selling stuff, really, I think. But anyway, I didn't do that. They said, "Well, we've got this kind of temporary position. A paper company up the road. Big, huge, 20,000 person company. It's just kind of helping out, mail room kind of stuff." I'm like, "Yeah, all right. I'll go and do that."

I still, to this day, say it's my favorite job I ever had but I felt that I ought to try to move on and more money, blah, blah, blah. Take on more responsibility. I ended up going into their sales department. I ended up in their London kind of show room really. A paper show room …

Paul Boag: A paper crosstalk 00:20:00!

Marcus Lillington: … it was. Yeah, but I wasn't in the showroom part. That was just where I was based. My job was to go and promote the products to all of the huge advertising agencies in London. So, that's where I kind of learnt about print design more than anything else. So, just kind of talking to people about how the jobs they were working on and how our products might help them with that, so I had to kind of just start learning about design.

Anyway, I then started chatting to my sister, this is relevant. She's an HR person. I said, because I got sick of going to London, basically and, "Are you working with any local firms?" She said, "Yes. I've got this kind of start-up company just down the road from where we live in Alton called TownPages and they're hiring people hand over fist and I'm sure we can get you in there."

Anyway, so I went for a job. The interview is hilarious, because Paul, who worked there, was brought in. I can't remember quite why but there was some difficult question from the CEO or the MD or whatever his title was at the time, which probably about where I went to school or something like that. Then, Paul was pulled into the meeting to vouch for me, never having met me. I'm probably making this up but this is vaguely how I remember it, anyway.

Anyway, I got the job as a project manager. Then, I ended up moving over to be a producer back in the days of producers, which is actually a job that would quite suit me now if we had those … I guess I do that to a certain extent, kind of coming up with content and having a little bit of knowledge about how websites work and that kind of stuff. Anyway, that company ended up going under. Paul, myself, and Chris, who's the co-founder of Headscape ended up basically founding Headscape off the back of the work, so I missed a bit out.

The TownPages company was originally based on this idea that it was going to make loads of money from advertising via a website and kiosk and that kind of thing. It never did but we had a great kind of team of people who did design, development, et cetera, et cetera. The board, back in those days, said to us, "Do you think you can do something else with the business?" And we said, "Well, we could try being an agency-style business." We did that. We did it really quite successfully and brought in some quite big names but it still went under but we were left mid-project with a bunch of big name clients, most of which said, "We're happy to carry on with you," which was such a blessing. I didn't really realize it at the time.

Paul Boag: Oh, I did.

Marcus Lillington: But it was cut … Well, I suppose it's just we were working. We've got work. We're going to get on with it, whereas if you just suddenly decided to leave an agency or something and set up on your own, it be like, I've only got a few potential contacts here and there but we were kind of mid-project, which meant we could kind of start higher up than maybe if that hadn't been the case.

At the time, my role was, as I mentioned at the start of this conversation was sales, bring in business. Over the years, I have become more knowledgeable about what we do, the profession we're in, et cetera, et cetera. I've become I guess more of a consultant. I still feel like I'm an imposter, but then talking to people on this show, everybody does so yeah. I'm hired now to consult. I'll maybe talk about that a bit more in the next questions, so yeah. That's how I've got to where I am but that's nearly 20 years ago now.

Paul Boag: It's scary, isn't it?

Marcus Lillington: Its 17th birthday …

Paul Boag: 17th! Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: … next week.

So, all of that chat that I've just given you was all about the 10 years before that. Since then, all I've done is kind of to have this split role of be sort of Headscape promoter, sales-y person, plus kind of running projects, kicking projects off and doing consulting projects.

Paul Boag: So, I mean, obviously, I've overlapped quite heavily with Marcus' but I think the pertinent … What I think people are interested in is that career progression of how you go from one bit to another.

So, I trained as a graphic designer where I then got an internship with IBM, working on their first ever multimedia computers, the first computers with a sound card and CD-ROM. So, my job there. Well, I was a junior designer, basically. So, I spent most of my time designing icons, when designing icons had to be 16 pixels or 32 or 64 but whatever size they were, they were only 16 colors. So, I spent a long time doing that. Then, kind of moved up to interface design and that kind of thing.

Then, the web came along. I essentially almost got demoted from a design point of view because I was the most junior of the designers. None of the other designers wanted to touch the web because this was the time when it was gray background and centered text and there was no design to it so you give it to the junior designer.

So, I kind of stopped being a designer really and became a bit of a developer. I learned to code, but then when table-based design came along, then you could do some design now. There was an image tag and you could do colors and things. So, basically over time, though, that design background and the development background kind of came together into web designers as we know.

And, of course, then, I went on, did that for TownPages, as you've heard. I did that for Headscape. Then, we started to get in Headscape, I began to get a bit frustrated, I think would have been the truth of it. So, the user interface design became obviously more sophisticated over time. We have better understanding. It started to be some kind of scientific rigor to it that was accessibility involved, that kind of thing. So, I kind of learnt those things gradually. I mean, accessibility, for example, I kind of stumbled into because one of our clients, the national trust, wanted that.

But I felt I hit this kind of ceiling at some point where I began to get increasingly frustrated by some of our clients, because they weren't delivering content on time. They were making shitty decisions. All the things that are traditionally outside of your control as a user interface designer and because it was my own company and there was nobody to tell me not to, I started interfering in that kind of stuff.

I started to give them advice about that kind of a thing. We started to do site reviews and give them advice not just in those reviews, not just about their website but maybe how they run their website. To begin with, it was like how do they deliver and maintain content. Then, we started to talk about social media. Then, we started to talk about operating procedures and management structures and all of this.

Then, you find, "Well, actually, I've become a user experience designer," where I'm looking at the experience as a whole. So, kind of one thing. It's basically, my career has been built on getting frustrated by hitting barriers at various points in the organization and just pushing against those barriers to see how far I can get. You just do that more and more. You're building confidence and you kind of reach point where you're beginning to move up the food chain within organizations.

So, for a long time, I was dealing with some project manager within the digital team. Then, I was dealing with digital leads. Then, I was dealing with the director of marketing, and I'm running a workshop the week after next with the CEOs of a number of high street brands. So, you kind of work your way up the chain, if that makes sense.

Of course, as you move up the chain, you have to talk the language of each group that you come across, so you adjust your language. That means you have to learn about business processes or psychology or marketing or whatever else you're coming across.

So, that's how I've progressed. I think that sums it up.

Marcus Lillington: I think two things that you could take from what we both just said is it's worth but the kind of funny way of putting it is just, "Kind of just wing it and you'll get on with it." But actually, it's take risks. Be brave enough to take risks. Yes, you will feel like an imposter. I still do but if you can just jump in but try and bring value to whatever situation you have just jumped into, quite often you'll find out that what you're bringing is actually of value and people will be pleased with the work you're doing and they'll hire you again and they'll recommend you to people, so yeah.

Paul Boag: The other aspect to that is about grabbing opportunities as they come up, as well, because there have been various opportunities in my life that have been … For a long time, I said, "Oh, I've been incredibly lucky." And yes, certain things have just dropped into my lap but I have the gumption to grab them, so I don't know whether … Yes, it is luck but it's also about grabbing that and taking the risk, so, for example, my university didn't offer an internship. You didn't take a year out as part of my course but I happened to walk past a notice board that had just an index card pinned to it in our studio saying IBM is looking for an intern, right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: They didn't announce it. They didn't encourage you to do it. I just happened to spot that. Now, that was lucky, but then I put the work into get the job. Equally, I got an iPod and I looked for podcasts. There were no web design podcasts, so I started one. It was lucky that I was there at that moment when podcasting was just becoming a thing but there wasn't already people in that field, so I had a monopoly on web design podcasts, right?

Marcus Lillington: Hm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: Then, that lead onto people approaching me to write a book. Now, I didn't think I could write a book. I failed English. I was crap at that kind of stuff but I did it anyway. I got invited to give my first talk. That first talk was a broad, which is terrifying. For some reason, that makes it seem bigger. It was a big conference. It's like, "Crap!" Those opportunities landed in my lap because of the podcast, so grab the opportunities as they come along, I think would be the other piece of advice I would give there.

Marcus Lillington: Definitely.

Paul Boag: Right. Should we do the next question?

Marcus Lillington: What's the next question, Paul?

Paul Boag: Kat's just posted a question. "Question for Paul, speaking of interns, of which I've had a couple and soon will be getting more. How did you get into mentoring? Was it a conscious decision or did it develop naturally? What's satisfying or frustrating about it?"

That's a good question. Mentorship now makes up a big part of my revenue. I tell you how that came about was because of Brian Green, Marcus, right?

Marcus Lillington: Oh, really?

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Not because of anything he said.

Marcus Lillington: I was about to have a little rest then. I just was switching off crosstalk 00:32:14.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No. Then, I mentioned somebody you know, so Headscape has a non-executive director called Brian Green. Brian Green is like a financial advisor. I think his job has changed a little bit now but when this first came up, he sits on the boards of lots of different companies, right?

Marcus Lillington: He does.

Paul Boag: And so he walks up to these companies every quarter or whatever, kind of spews some advice at them and then pisses off and gets paid for that. I'm exaggerating it for comic effect but that's what it felt like to me. I thought, "What a great job." Basically, we're paying him as Headscape. He had a share in the company. We pay him for his knowledge and expertise. I want to do that when I'm a grown-up boy. And I had it in my head as almost like a retirement plan that I would just sit on a load of boards of companies.

The down side, the bit I didn't like is that Brian took a lot of his payment in terms of equity, so he owned a little stake in all of these different companies, which is a bit hit and miss about whether it pays you out. I'm a bit too risk averse for that. I was thinking, "Well, how can I do the same thing where I'm effectively leveraging all this knowledge that I've built up over the years?"

That's when I come up with the idea of mentorship, so it was a very intentional decision on my part. I'm going to start answering mentorship. I kind of offered two different types of mentorship. I offer a time bank-type mentorship where I'm selling hours effectively, which I'm not so keen on but I do it for agencies and people like that that don't have very deep pockets but then I do it for larger organizations, are well-known brands, and I'm on a retainer, basically where they pay a set fee every month and they could talk to me as much as they want. I do it all remotely. That actually is great, not only because … The best thing about that kind of model that Brian introduced me to is the fact that you're creating regular income on an ongoing basis for actually a relatively low level of effort. That's the dream, isn't it?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: It doesn't pay everything yet but it probably makes about a third to a half of my revenue every month, which is nice. Okay. Good question, Kat.

Right. Okay. So, we haven't really talked in depth about what it is that we do, right?

Marcus Lillington: Mm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: So, let's talk about a typical month. Let's say the last month. What do you do in a typical month, Marcus? What kind of different types of work?

Marcus Lillington: I do an awful lot of writing. I do documents, many, many, many documents. They are obviously the kind of sale-y aspect of what I do are proposals, contracts. I also end up writing a lot of very long emails. We mentioned this next week, because it was Chris …

Paul Boag: Yes. Coyier.

Marcus Lillington: … mentions how much he likes email. I'm like, "Yeah. So do I." Sometimes, communication with an existing client, that's a classic example. An existing client comes back with, "We've got this idea. What do you think about it? If you were going to be involved, what would it cost," blah, blah, blah? That doesn't warrant a fancy proposal. It's just kind of like, "Here's some ideas."

So, I end up writing emails often in that situation, but again, it's just writing. But what I've been doing a lot of lately are reports, reviews, summaries of stuff we've been doing. Chris and I have been out to America a couple of times recently where we've been doing loads of interviews, so I get the lovely job of coming back and writing them all up and trying to make sense out of them and summarizing and coming up with recommendations. I've just done a competitive review that took forever. I tend not to do that much in the way of analytics reviews because that's very much Chris' area but kind of usability, UX reviews, and competitor reviews, I've done quite a bit on lately.

So, checks his notes. Recently, because we're really busy at the moment, it is feast or famine, it seems at the moment.

Paul Boag: Oh, please tell me you haven't been doing design.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, no, no, no, no. Goodness, no, although I have got that … Design critique is something I do. That's not on my list. Very much so. I'll come onto my typical day when we get to that but I have been doing project management. Just because we only have Emma, who is fantastic, but she's kind of looking after all this stuff that's going on over here. Well, this extra thing that came in, like there's no way she could have done that as well, so I've been project managing a project just with Ed, who's one of our designers working on that, so I've been doing that.

And I guess, because most of our projects, either Chris or I will kind of account manage it, for want of a better term. We'll be the kind of go-to person if something goes horribly wrong or whatever. What that kind of often means is that we will kick a project off and we will facilitate the workshop that goes with that. We will do the interviews of the stakeholders and the users and all that kind of thing at the start of it. So, we've got a lot of knowledge based on whatever that particular project is, so therefore …

And this question made me think about what is it I do. A lot of the time, I'm just on the end of Slack usually or the phone with a, "What do you think about this," or Lee might be prototyping something and he might say, "What's your opinion on this? Does that fit with what we agreed three months ago," or whatever. So, I'm off on that person that has a critique role but it might not be just design. It might be for all sorts of reasons.

What else have I got here on my list of stuff I wrote down?

Paul Boag: You're just trying to make it sound like you do a lot, aren't you? It's what you're doing.

Marcus Lillington: I do bloody loads but yeah, most of it's just drinking tea. I have got a little note here that at least 50% of my time is spent on Slack.

Paul Boag: Wow! Really? That's incredible.

Marcus Lillington: No, it's not. It's a joke, Paul.

Paul Boag: I know. Well, no, because you could be using it for work purposes. I don't know.

Marcus Lillington: I do. Yeah, true. Good point but I meant it in a flippant way.

Paul Boag: In a derogatory way, yeah.

Marcus Lillington: I do content for the Headscape site. Not enough of it. I write the occasional blog.

Paul Boag: You have to do this.

Marcus Lillington: Yes. Podcast. That's the next thing on that one.

I need to keep an eye on sales pipeline, obviously. I need to occasionally poke our existing clients and say, "What are you up to? What are your plans," and things like that.

The thing that I don't do hardly anywhere near enough of but probably should, as a director and founder of a company, is strategizing about what the company should be doing but I've always got a kind of maybe on the end of that, because you could end up kind of worrying yourself sick if you do that. "Oh, we should be doing this. Oh, we should be doing that." Then, you think, "Well, what should it be?" Then, it's really hard to think what it should be. Then, you think, "Well, if we can't think what we should be doing, then maybe we're just overly worrying ourselves on that one," but yes, I should be doing more strategizing which I'm not doing.

But anyway, that kind of covers pretty much everything I do and I've rabbited on probably for five minute on that.

Paul Boag: Well, that's all right. That's okay.

Marcus Lillington: So, what do you do, Paul?

Paul Boag: Okay. So, my work splits into chargeable and non-chargeable. I aim to charge out 50% of my time. Then, the other 50% is used for all of that kind of crap that you have to do when you're running your own business, so that consists of … I don't do a lot of the finance stuff anymore. Cass taken that on, which has been brilliant so I probably charge more than 50% of my time now. I put a lot of effort in sales and marketing because I am quite a worrier, it helps me a lot if I know that I can round up some work if I need to, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Mm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: In fact, someone was asking in the Slack room how'd you deal with that? Somebody, this person has always worked in house and had a continual salary. How do you deal with that feeling of not having that regular salary in place? For me, it comes down to I'm organized, I'm in control. In some ways, I would feel more nervous going and working in a company for a salary because my employer could turn around at any minute and say, "I'm sorry. We don't want you anymore," while in my situation, at least I can see several months ahead and go, "Okay. I'm looking okay," or, "I need to do something here," or, "I'm in control of my own destiny."

So, I spend a lot of time with my marketing, which is obviously the podcast, is obviously writing, speaking at conferences, that kind of thing although I try with the conferences to get paid for that because then it's a double whammy, isn't it? You get paid and you get to market yourself, but something like IWMW we mentioned earlier, I actually paid to attend. It's that good. So, I do that.

I also, with myself, I'm very organized, unlike Marcus, that has the ability to hold things in his head. I don't have that ability so I use a torqual 00:42:41 pipe drive, which reminds me to chase people and lets me know where projects are at, leads are at and how likely they are come out so I can actually track all of that stuff. So, that's the unpaid part of my job.

Marcus Lillington: We have a spreadsheet, Paul.

Paul Boag: Oh, yeah. But yeah, you use a spreadsheet. Yeah, but you've always been better at holding stuff in your head than I am.

So, that's the unpaid time. I can't think of anything else particularly from the unpaid side of things. From the paid side of things, it's all over the place. I diversify my revenue streams as much as I possibly can so I make some money from things like podcast advertising, obviously. I make some money from sponsored posts is another one that I make money from. I write for other third parties, so I write for Media Temple, I write for Shopify, and various other people to make a little bit money out of that. All of those things for as much marketing things as they are making money things, mind. So, I would do them even if I wasn't getting paid for them. So, I don't make an enormous amount of money from that.

Where I make my main money is primarily through consultancy. So, I do a lot of training. So, for example, I do training through Econsultancy every couple of months, I would have thought, up in London. Then, I do training directly myself where companies have me going in, so this last couple of months, I've done training sessions with companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Cisco, people like that. Barclaycard, I've got one coming up for. I go in and do training on user experience or digital transformation or some combination thereof.

When I'm not doing training, I'm doing mentorship. So, I've already talked about that, which is either within house teams that are looking to increase the profile of digital or to work smarter or to become more user centric or it's with agencies that are wanting help in how to take their agency to the next level. More of the former than the latter.

Then, I also do some kind of reviews and report writing and stuff like Marcus has done, talked about, so I do user experience reviews, website reviews, digital strategies, just helping people discovery phases. I run a lot of workshops that aren't necessarily training workshops but are things like customer journey mapping workshops. Things like strategy workshops, those kind of things, to kick people off on projects, where they're struggling with too many stakeholders and that kind of thing.

Marcus Lillington: I do those as well. I forgot crosstalk 00:45:37.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah. It's easy. You forget all the stuff you do, don't you really?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Then, I do do some prototyping and design and development as well, which I love when I get my hands on that. I'm doing one at the moment where I'm looking at the information architecture and doing some insure 00:45:55 wireframing for a company in America. I'm absolutely like a pig in shit because obviously that's my roots of where I come from.

So, that's, yeah, all over the place, if you say it like that. That's a lot of different random things but that's intentional.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Going back to the question about worrying about where the business is coming from, I think that that's either something you can handle or you can't. If you can't, don't try it because you'll end up with a heart attack. I'm not suggesting that if you are able to kind of cope with dealing, getting a sales pipeline, then you should. No. You might be perfectly happy to carry on working for IBM or Microsoft or whatever but I would worry because both of you, Paul and Chris, are worriers. I'm not particularly. I've always been a believer in don't worry about things until they happen. Therefore, I'm able to cope with, "Oh, it's looking a bit bleak at the moment." Probably better. I mean, you and Chris can cope with it but I imagine that there are people …

Paul Boag: We struggle.

Marcus Lillington: … that crosstalk 00:47:13 on worse.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, so being able to cope with that is one of the key things of running your own business. Like, it's even more so when you own your own like Paul is.

Paul Boag: Mm (affirmative). Yeah. It helps if you've got other people to do it with but, I mean, after 13 years of trying to bring in enough work for anything up to 20 people, looking after yourself is easy in comparison. So, no. I very rarely worry about money anymore but yeah, it's certainly something that is a big deal.

Marcus Lillington: What a lovely thing to be able to say, Paul.

Paul Boag: Sorry?

Marcus Lillington: What a lovely thing to be able to say.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah, it is. I'm very spoiled.

Let's drill down to an individual day. Do you have any kind of routine or structural way of working on a normal day?

Marcus Lillington: Not particularly because, I mean, bearing in mind what I've just said, it's really based on whatever needs doing. Also, I have to make myself available to just jump on things, both either from a sales point of view or from somebody needs my help, advice, critique, something, whatever. Therefore, I have to be, yeah, available to jump, which I'm fine with, absolutely fine. It's never bothered me. I know that design as developers. "Oh, don't put me on two different projects in a day," or, "I want to work on the same project for a week." Actually, I'd get bored with that.

Paul Boag: Yeah. That would me.

Marcus Lillington: I like being able to go from something completely different to something else. I get quite excited if something comes in, especially if it's an interesting lead. It might be something for someone's made a recommendation to someone else about we've got this project and it's in a field that we work in. That kind of thing I find quite exciting. Today, I thought I'd just do what I've done today.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah, go on. Let's do that.

Marcus Lillington: First thing I did was I checked my email, which I think is what everybody does. I then had a call with Ed, quite a long call because I'm project managing this project. This kind of thing that suddenly came in out of nowhere. We were just going through a list of templates that needs to be designed where he's got to what he needs to do so I can then go back to the client at the end after this podcast recording and give him a progress update.

Another client, Chris and I are working with together and I had to kind of brainstorm a particular point with him about a technical thing. I don't know why he was asking me but I had to prepare for this podcast, which I did just before lunch.

I then went out for lunch, which is quite nice. That's a routine thing I always do on Friday. I go out with my wife for lunch. There you go.

We've got a new project starting in a couple of weeks where I need to think about some scripts for stakeholder interviews and questions for a survey. So, I was doing that, before that. Now, I'm recording the podcast. After the podcast, I need to get back to the client I mentioned earlier and I need to think about tasks for next week. That is a pretty typical day for me.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Okay. Typical day for me. I'll do yesterday because today went to pot.

Marcus Lillington: You went to the pub.

Paul Boag: Yeah, basically.

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 00:50:47.

Paul Boag: I woke up late, and then went to the pub. That has been today. Now, yesterday, I got up. Did me email. Then, I had a sponsored post to write, so I wrote that and submitted that to the client for approval. Then, after that … I normally check in in Slack first thing in the morning. Well, first thing-ish.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. This is where my 50% of my day is actually spent in Slack comment came in.

Paul Boag: I know. I keep Slack open all day but I'm pretty good at ignoring it after an initial kind of hello and how is everybody and is Nick cold?

So, then I wrote that blog post. After the blog post, I think I've prepared the script for this podcast or maybe it was a different one. I can't remember. Then, I had a mentorship call with an agency that I'm helping to specialize because, at the moment, they've got quite bored offering. We're trying to focus them a little bit more. Then, I did some work on a workshop that I have coming up the week after next. Then, I finish the day with a call with the same client as for those workshops because it's two workshops, one in Dublin, one in Rotherham 00:52:13.

Marcus Lillington: Rotherham? Blime 00:52:16.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I know.

Marcus Lillington: inaudible 00:52:17 proper, now.

Paul Boag: I know. So, we were talking through the logistics of all of that and sorting that out, so that's a typical day for me, really. Pretty much.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. It's basically all over the place, isn't it?

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: And I guess the point of this series is to … Demystify is far too strong a term but it is kind of like if people genuinely do want to know what you and I and other people and who are going to interview do. That's kind of it. I think with both of us, it's all over the bloody place.

Paul Boag: Mm (affirmative). It is.

Marcus Lillington: I quite like that.

Paul Boag: I do as well. I've got to say, I didn't need to do all of those different things I did yesterday. I chose to because I got bored, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Mm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: Oh! Blog posts are a typical example of that. I'll write three quarters of it and then I'll lose steam and it's like, "Oh, I'll just come back to it later." Then, I'll go and do something else.

Marcus Lillington: It takes me about a month to write a blog post. I'll do a sentence. Then, look out the window. Yeah.

But yeah, my only routine is that when I've got tons of stuff on, I like to get up really early or work on the weekend, when there's no distractions. It's that, as I mentioned earlier, I'm actually learning things about myself today. It's great doing this. It's that thing about always being able to jump on the weekend or early in the morning, that goes out the window so I can properly concentrate on stuff.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I will do the weekend sometimes, especially if I did a day like today where I slacked off. I will pick it up over the weekend, except I've no intentions of doing that this weekend but normally I would do, if I needed to.

Marcus Lillington: Because you're looking after your own health and your well-being.

Paul Boag: It's me. It's my time. It's my time to shine, Marcus.

So, well, last question because we've run over. We're not going to get to your thought for the day, I'm sorry to say.

Marcus Lillington: This is great. This is most excellent. Well, I think I've talked enough today, don't you think?

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Excuse me.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I was just going to ask you, do you think your job will change any or do you think now this is it till retirement?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. I can't see me doing anything else. Can you?

Paul Boag: No. No.

Marcus Lillington: I mean, can you see me doing it? I can't.

I think that what we do at Headscape is likely to continue. I think building websites for people is going to be harder but I think because we're a small team and we are quite focused in the areas we work in, I'm fingers crossed. We'll still have the opportunity to continue to build websites, websites even, and I think that people will always want you to come in and consult for them and help them work out what it is they should be doing.

So, yeah. I can't see me doing anything different over the next 20 plus years. When I retire, I'd like to do more music but I can't see me doing much more of that over the next 10 years.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I just see myself doing less of the same, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Mm (affirmative).

Paul Boag: And kind of slowly ramping down into retirement but yeah, I think it's going to be pretty much the same mix. Some bits might drop out. Maybe we'll be doing this podcast in another 20 years.

Marcus Lillington: 20? Oh, no.

Paul Boag: How long are you off retirement?

Marcus Lillington: I'd be coming out to my 72nd birthday in 20 years time, Paul.

Paul Boag: Oh, bloody hell. No. No.

Marcus Lillington: I think it's realistic to think that I'll be working at this pace for another 10 years. Then, I think I hope then maybe just start ramping down a bit and gigging every weekend. That will be great.

Paul Boag: That sounds nice. Very nice, indeed.

Notice that both of us don't talk about hard retirement. Both of us talk about ramping down.

Marcus Lillington: I think that's just how the world is, Paul.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Maybe. I could switch off, I think. I think my penchant …

Marcus Lillington: Oh, totally.

Paul Boag: … is to put it off but I don't think I want to do that. I think I would go a bit stir crazy, if I just cut suddenly.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, I think, yes. Sorry.

Paul Boag: I took the best part of a month off over Christmas. It was like I got to get back to work. I can't cope with this anymore. So, you know?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. No, I misunderstood you there. No. If someone filled up my bank account with millions of pounds, I could stop tomorrow …

Paul Boag: Could you?

Marcus Lillington: … because I've got so many other things I could fill my day with. I wouldn't sit around all day watching the tele. I'd just got tons of things that I would do which I don't do at the moment, with music being the main one.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I forget that you're a rounded, …

Marcus Lillington: But it's not just that.

Paul Boag: … sociable human being, unlike me. You play golf. You've got your music. You've got quite a wild circle of friends, so yeah. Well, with me, it would be unhealthy for me to suddenly stop working, I think. There's only certain video games you can play.

Marcus Lillington: I used to kind of be on committees and things like that. I'm not saying I enjoyed them but I feel like it's kind of like a local community responsibility and things like that, which I just don't do at all at the moment because it's like sod that. I'm literally working flat out. The times when I'm not working, then I'm just putting my feet up or the equivalent of, so doing more of that work.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Cool. All right. (singing)

Well, let's talk about our second sponsor, who has supported the whole season, so thank you guys. Please don't switch off yet. Please listen to the sponsor because the sponsor is awesome. So, we're all going through that, "Oh, we've got to suddenly pick up all our projects after the holidays," and, "What were we doing on that project again," and, "What the hell was happening?" We're all having that. I had a conference call recently with someone, where we took turns in saying, "Could you remind me about that? I've forgotten that bit," because we've all been away. So, and already that's what you've probably dealt with, shifting priorities and vague client feedback and all the normal stuff that we deal with all the time.

If you run an agency like Marcus does, these challenges of communicating with stakeholders, dealing with changes, dealing with different priorities. It's a nightmare. I mean, Marcus is having to do this at the moment because there's just too much work for the dedicated project manager. Project management is constantly underestimated the amount of effort and work that goes into it. But, you get it right, then it benefits your team because everybody's less stressed. Your deliverables are better. You're more profitable. You got better client relationships, so it is worth investing and getting it right.

That brings us onto the sponsor, which is The Digital Project Manager, that has a course on mastering digital project management, which is a seven week online course that it covers everything from topics like project methodologies, leadership qualities to techniques about how you deal with daily tasks like estimating projects, handling budgets, writing briefs, dealing with unexpected challenges from stakeholders. The whole works. Everything that you need to be a great and efficient project manager, this course covers over a seven week period online.

I'll talk to you more next week — That was last week, depending on the audience watching this — about the details of the course but just to say, it looks incredible. It looks like a really good course because it's not just an online video course. It's a proper course.

So, the next iteration of the course starts on the fourth of February, so you're going to want to sign up a bit smartish if you want to get in quick.

You can find out more by going to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/boagworld, so it's a really good course. Definitely worth checking out. Thank you, guys, for supporting the show. It's much appreciated.

Marcus, do you have a joke for us?

Marcus Lillington: Yes. Sorry.

Paul Boag: It's all right.

Marcus Lillington: I was reading other things, checking my phone, just generally not paying attention.

Right. Here we go. I've just downloaded an album called Duvets, Sheets, and Blankets. It's mainly covers.

Paul Boag: Oh! Oh, no. No, no, no. No, that really is not a good one. Right.

Marcus Lillington: Oh! Andrew loved it, so there you go.

Paul Boag: Andrew has no taste is all I can say if he likes that joke.

Marcus Lillington: When does this particular episode of the podcast come out?

Paul Boag: Oh, just don't know.

Marcus Lillington: Ask Andrew in another channel that I'm looking at over there.

Paul Boag: Comes out in the 17th of January. So, that's next week, isn't it?

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 01:01:29.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So, anyway, thank you very much for joining us on this show. Hope you enjoyed it. Hope you found it useful, and I hope you're going to enjoy the whole season.

Next week, we've got a proper grown-ups on the show rather than just me and Marcus waffling on so we've got, we'll be joined by Chris Coyier, the founder of CSS-Tricks and CodePen. He's going to take about his experience as an entrepreneur. But till then, thanks for listening and goodbye. (singing)

Stock Photos from Jacob Lund/Shutterstock