- Who: Lucy Smith
- Website: academy.digitalgrads.com and digitalgrads.com
- Course Topic: Career Development
- Interesting Stats: Currently has 6 employees
Who are you and what digital training company have you created?
I’m Lucy Smith and I’m the founder and CEO of DigitalGrads, a training and recruitment business focused on early career development for the UK tech industry.
What market does your digital training serve?
I created the DigitalGrads Academy to help university graduates get the essential training they need to secure a fantastic junior role in the tech industry.
What’s the biggest benefit of taking your online courses?
Our training enables you to make confident career decisions, ace interviews, and learn vital skills.
As a newbie to the tech industry, you’ll discover why it’s a great industry to work in and whether it suits you or not. You’ll find out about commercial, technical, and operations roles available and what hard skills, soft skills, and experience you may need to secure a role with a tech company.
You’ll also find out what it’s like to work for a start-up in a fast-paced, performance-driven environment. Again, it’s not for everyone, so it’s all about helping graduates make the right choices.
They’re also completely free, so it’s all benefit, no drawbacks in my opinion!
How did you get into the market?
I got the idea while I was training the digital teams for various tech and media companies. I saw the need for accessible digital training programs to upskill the existing workforce. But I settled on grads because I love working with young people – and because they need the most help. Early product feedback showed that grads leave university without really knowing what opportunities exist for them, especially in the fast-growing tech industry, where new fancy job titles spring up all the time, and they are pioneering in creating new whole new disciplines that grads may never have heard of such as Customer Success, Product Management and DevOps.
So with the profits from my Marketing Consultancy LHS Digital and the proceeds of re-mortgaging my flat, I decided to help recent grads get a leg up in the tech industry by training them, and I wanted to see if we could deliver training online so I could help the maximum number of people.
Why did you decide to create a digital training company?I wanted to help young people make better career decisions, and online training struck me as the best way to do that. - Lucy Smith Click To Tweet
Young people have grown up watching short videos and so the medium suits them. Plus it’s a relatively inexpensive way to start-up and tests a training model.
Did you have any moments of doubt before you launched your training company?
I set up the first course using a WordPress theme and my own knowledge of the marketing industry. I contacted some grads on LinkedIn and asked them if I could help them secure a job in marketing. At that early stage, I was full of optimism and enthusiasm. The response was great. What’s not to like about free help from an industry expert? The first doubt crept in when after 10 of them had completed the course I asked them what they would pay for it and most of them stumbled over this question.
Even though I helped 5 of the 10 actually get jobs, most of them ummed and ahhed and eventually said that they wouldn’t have paid for it. So without revenue, I didn’t have a business model.
If so what made you turn it around and do it anyway?
Sheer determination and bloody-mindedness I guess. I knew I had something because they so readily agreed to the help, and we also got a 50% success rate on helping them get a job within a month of the training. So the initial test wasn’t wasted, I just had to figure out how the business would make money.
What are your online courses like?
Our courses can be broken down into short (3 – 5min) lesson videos. At the end of each module is a multiple choice quiz so we can be sure that the information is being absorbed. The candidates can retake the quizzes up to 3 times to try and improve their score.
How long does it take you or your team to create a new course?
- First, we source one or two industry experts, sometimes our clients, sometimes leaders in the discipline.
- Next, we interview them extensively using Zoom and record it.
- Then, we write the course script and create the course materials (presentations, tasks, quizzes).
- Finally, we film the course.
The whole process takes an indefinite amount of time. Our quickest turnaround has been around 4 weeks but it could take months to complete a very involved course.
Tell us a little about the process of launching your first course and getting your first enrollment(s).
- I contacted grads on Linkedin – connected and then sent a message explaining who I am and what I wanted to do.
- They agreed, and I gave them access to the course I’d produced via an off-the-shelf LMS on WordPress.
- I checked in with them every few days to see how they were getting on and to answer any questions.
- I started with 10 grads and they all completed it and gave me feedback afterward via a survey I created.
Do you have a lead magnet?
No, we have an active blog, but we point all our interested parties straight to the app to sign-up. The sign-up on our app and our free training is actually the equivalent of our lead magnet as we make our revenue from hiring fees.
What's the traffic strategy that works best for you?
Our 2020 graduate Content Marketing Executive writes the blog and social media posts that other graduates would love. We began stretching out across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and over the years have streamlined our efforts into Twitter and LinkedIn only. It’s working out really well and we always get a high volume of new users to sign up to our Academy this way.
What online course platform are you using?
We’ve built our own Learning Management and Analytics platform. The crucial difference is that the training and test scores are then populated on the candidates' digital profile which is what the employer uses to assess the candidate’s suitability for their role. The training really helps show employers that the candidates are motivated and keen as well as talented in their field.
Do you like it?
I love it!
Are there any features you wish it had?
We are constantly developing our own software to include more features to make the training more effective and the hiring process more intelligent and seamless.
What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?
We decided to build our own for a number of reasons – more IP and long-term value in the business. Our business model is slightly different from a normal training company and many of the off-the-shelf systems we looked at weren’t sufficiently customizable for our needs and we felt that we’d be forever just putting up with something that wasn’t quite good enough.
What other tools do you use to run your digital training business?
As far as possible we try to build our own technology so our system has elements of CRM, SMS messaging, and email automation built-in.
We use a CRM and Sales Navigator for sales, we use Mailchimp for newsletters, Mailshake for email outreach, GSuite for Business, WordPress for our marketing website as well as all sorts of tools for social media.
What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?
- The Pumpkin Plan and Fix This Next by Mike Michalowicz
- Platform Strategy
- The Business Made Simple University
Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?
Plenty! How long have you got?
The key thing is that you learn from your mistakes which I think I’ve managed to do otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
One that springs to mind is not running through enough recruitment processes for our own staff. You’d think that being a recruitment business we’d have the most robust internal hiring process. But in the early days, we didn’t.
I allowed my head to be turned by someone, who on paper, looked brilliant. They had such relevant experience to what we were doing, was a fabulously confident communicator and in my mind would add some gravitas and maturity to our team as well. I was so excited that this person had the potential to transform our prospects and because of this, I didn’t run a 2-stage interview process, nor did I run any assessments or get a second opinion.
We wasted a lot of time and money that we didn’t really have paying and training someone to do a role they couldn’t do. It led to sleepless nights, low team morale, people worries, and cashflow nightmares. In all honesty, it could have killed us if I didn’t act swiftly and terminate the employment as fast as I did, which wasn’t actually fast enough, plenty of damage had already been done.
It was all my mistake, and I’ve learned never to do that again. No matter how perfect someone appears we run a thorough and fair process involving more than just me in the process, and we make hiring decisions as a team. People really can make or break a business especially at the beginning.
Please share some idea of revenue for your digital training company.
We incorporated in Oct 2018. As we are nearing the end of year 2 we have almost quadrupled our revenue in year 2 which I am thrilled about. I invested around £60k cash from a StartupLoan and remortgaged my flat to get the business off the ground (remember we had to build our app). We lost that and a bit more in the first year. This year we look close to breaking even, and may even turn a small profit. We now have 6 employees and are getting around 300 new candidate sign-ups per month. So far we’ve helped over 3000 candidates train ready for a job in the tech and media industry of which we are extremely proud. And we believe that this proves just how valuable training is to help young people get jobs.
Please tell us a little about what the money you've earned from running your digital training company has done for you.
We’ve not turned a profit yet, but we’re close. Our business is being built to scale so that the rewards will come later down the road when we eventually sell the business.
In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?
To date, we’ve offered 12 free training courses and supported over 3000 candidates in just 2 years.
What has creating your digital training business done for you personally?
It’s meant a huge amount to me personally and professionally. Personally, I’ve learned to trust my instincts, it’s built my confidence and belief in myself, and professionally it’s a huge validation for the years spent learning marketing, tech, and business in my career and shows I also have business acumen, which I’m proud of.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?
I have always learned new things every day and I continue to do so, possibly even more so now. I enjoy the challenge and am ridiculously (and possibly naively) optimistic that everything will always work out.At the very start that optimism is important because it’s what gets you up in the morning and makes you start the business. - Lucy Smith Click To Tweet
Starting a business can take over your life. It certainly takes over your brain for most of the day. It’s so vitally important to get a balance. Most things will wait, so don’t push yourself too hard at the start.
Take decisions more slowly than you want to, and take the time to think things through and seek advice. In my second year of business, I got a business coach. Through working with her I have grown as a business owner and the help and support she has given me has been transformational. Some people get that support from their colleagues, or family, or friends. Whatever works for you, but you will need support, because the highs will be really high and the lows can be worse than you could ever imagine.
One thing is for sure, you will build resilience and enormous respect for anyone who does what you do because it’s hard work, life-changing and you have to make sacrifices along the way that you can’t plan for.