As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Sartain.
Luke Sartain is the CEO and Founder of upUgo, the UK’s largest SEO company. Luke is a tenacious entrepreneur who originally learned his craft out of financial need in 2014. From there, he made a range of useful connections that led to business with a winner of the BBC’s The Apprentice, allowing him to scale his company and eventually build an international SEO agency, employing over 100 staff and working with over 1500 businesses. Luke is originally from Wiltshire and is a self-taught expert on all things digital.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started out truly with nothing. In 2014, I started to teach myself digital marketing skills such as SEO due to pure financial need. I found a few opportunities to build websites for some people in my network and that’s where it all started. I work until the job is done, and that’s how I taught myself the basic skills to build and run a functioning SEO agency. From there, everything has just grown. I’m now the proud Founder and Director of three different digital businesses.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’m not sure if this is necessarily that funny, but I definitely have an interesting mistake for you… A few years ago, I was commissioned to do some work with a rather well known figure from a popular reality show. I worked with them to help improve their automation strategy for their digital team, but I got quite swept up in the excitement of the project and signed the contract quickly without fully reading it — big mistake. I had been working on the project for a few months when one day, I tried to log in and I found all the passwords had been removed and the carpet was essentially pulled from underneath me. Of course, I lost lots of revenue, and at this point in time it was my only source of revenue. It was definitely a wake up call to never neglect my own business. I also need to not be so starstruck and read contracts properly!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’m a big fan of YouTube, so I watch a lot of informative videos there. I particularly enjoy listening to Elon Musk’s thoughts on the philosophies of business, and have really enjoyed reading “Lost and Founder” by Rand Fishkin too. These resources have explained to me stories of trust, and how all you have built can be taken away with the wrong investor. They’ve taught me to read things correctly and how to understand challenging situations.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Honestly, the purpose was money. At that stage in my life I was in real need to earn more money than the badly paid job I was in, however I also wanted to gain more autonomy through starting a business. At the job I was in, I was constantly criticized for pushing boundaries, creating ideas, and pushing deals that the company wasn’t ready for. My vision was profitable innovation without boundaries.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
My number one principle is perseverance. In life there are countless ups and downs but it’s important to push through. In the worst times, the best businesses are formed. Currently, while we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I see opportunity everywhere. And history shows that some of the most successful businesses in the world rise during tough times; both Facebook and Google were born during recessions. Perseverance is key.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Well for one, my brother-in-law is a paramedic in Birmingham — he’s also living with croons disease. Sadly, he’s been in hospital isolation for over a month and of course I can’t go in and see him. It’s even more frustrating as his condition isn’t covid related, but the knock-on impact of social distancing is extremely tough to deal with. To try to resolve the situation, I’ve tried a number of ways to move him to a private hospital nearer his family. For example, I even approached some of my clients in the private medical industry to see if they could help — nothing has so far worked. So, in the meantime, I’ve been trying to distract myself from the anxiety and pain by channeling energy into building projects in the garden with my kids. It’s not been easy, but I’m just trying to find some structure.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Contrary to the majority of businesses, I’ve actually been onboarding a lot of new staff and that has been a challenge. The pandemic has driven huge volumes of traffic online and I’ve seen a direct impact on the popularity for all my businesses, which is great, but at the same time I’ve got a growing workforce and an office space gathering dust. I’m finding it increasingly hard to create a sense of camaraderie and togetherness given the remote setting and the fact that over 20% of my entire workforce haven’t even met yet. I’ve tried organizing online games for team building, but it’s challenging as many people don’t want to spend their free time taking part.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I use a lot of dark humor to cope and help my family cope too. Whether it’s speaking to my grandma and joking about her funeral, or making dark jokes out of the circulating news stories, I find by pushing the boundaries of what’s comfortable, it’s easier to address and rationalize the root of the discomfort.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
We absolutely have an opportunity to accelerate environmental progress through more sustainable forms of transport and a better work/life balance. With my team at upUgo, I’ve announced that from September 2020, the team will be moving to a four day working week. This is a direct result of our experience through remote working and will hopefully give the team more time with loved ones, less time commuting, and more hours for hobbies and wellness. If more businesses did this, there would be less need for large office spaces, less traffic on the roads, and an increase in happiness. I also suspect local high streets will boom after the pandemic, as less people will leave their towns for work and will want what’s on their doorstep. This is all the general direction we, as a society, were moving in, the pandemic has just pushed action ahead of schedule by about 10 years.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
In terms of home life, I think we will all look after our families more and look to create a stronger sense of community. This will reflect into consumer behavior too, with less reliance on chain shops and a shift towards independent shops. In terms of work life, the pandemic has forced older generations to get to grips with technology, which is great and almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without the need for it.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Personally, I’m instigating a four day working week! I’m going to also keep on carving out the culture of upUgo and use this as an opportunity to find what holds the company together. I’m looking for the perfect harmony between administrative automation and human work to create incredible efficiency.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage others to not just sit back and roll over if their business is suffering. Investing doesn’t mean financial investment, put some time in and persevere. I had no money at all when I first started, so I know what it’s like. You can find ways around paying for things if you have time, for example instead of paying for an online class, find the answers online, they’re probably on YouTube.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My aunt is always full of life lessons. She always says: “if you find an opportunity to move forward, stick with it until you get there”. Even if it means being tired physically and emotionally, drive forward and opportunities will present more opportunities; not all will work, but in the end, something will land if you stick with it.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow me on Twitter: @LukeSartain, or follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lukesartain/