Episode 54 - Rob IllidgeFind out how to maximise your reach on social media and stop the scroll. Making Conversations about social media scrolling Count!
Rob Illidge, Social Republic
Making Conversations about Social Media Scrolling Count!
“It’s the willingness to take constructive criticism…” –
Rob Illidge, Making Conversations Count (October 2021)
“We don’t deliver social – we define it.”
This was the brand message that Rob Illidge was pushing out that led to Wendy Harris – the conversation Queen – wanting to have him on this podcast.
As a highly experienced telemarketing trainer and expert in using conversations for sales, Wendy is only too aware of the power of social in modern-day business.
We’ve had a few people on the “Making Conversations Count” podcast talking about social media….
The difference with this one is that Rob is just like you and me.
He’s had to work hard to get where he is, starting alone, and working long hours to get started.
So what’s different about this episode?
Well, for one, it could be about any one of us.
Social is a huge part of digital marketing right now.
Not only for social proof but also to reach the audience you want.
Brands are hungry for engaging content that consumers want to join in with. How do you stop the scroll on social media?
It’s like sparking a networking meeting conversation, only with strangers, online.
Rob tells his story which involved the “pursuit of happiness” and grafting away, largely unsupported.
And the fact that he was spending a lot of his early days on the telephone having the conversations… well, you can probably get an idea for the relatability here.
Listen to other episodes on your favourite platform…
Full Episode Transcript
Making Conversations Count – Episode Fifty-Four
October 28th 2021
Wendy Harris & Rob Illidge
00:02:02: Standing out from the crowd
00:03:44: Rob’s background
00:07:08: Building a business from nothing
00:08:39: Using other people’s experience
00:11:07: From cold calling to becoming a brand
00:14:07: Targeted content
00:14:57: Rob’s stand-out campaigns
00:16:58: World’s first quizbot
00:21:44: Rob’s pivotal conversation
00:30:22: Learning to manage staff
00:31:25: Differing views on failure
00:34:14: Become the Wikipedia of your industry
00:37:02: Final thoughts
Wendy Harris: I can’t remember a time in history when social media engagement was so competitive. It seems that everyone is looking for that magic piece of content that will create the thumb stop. And that is a real term. It’s where you get the consumer to stop scrolling to read your content. Brands are hungry to do it and consumers are hungry to be challenged, which is why we have joining us this week, Rob Illidge, on how to get people’s thumbs stopping during their social media scrolling. We’re making conversations about social scrolling count.
What’s new, Wendy Woo? Well, thanks to you lovely listeners, we’ve been charting in the UK, in India and Romania. I’ve also discovered that there’s such a thing as stories on Spotify. If anybody wants to explain that to me, I’m all ears.
When I saw what you did, it’s social media plays such a massive part in what we do. It is the online conversations of our life now, and I think what particularly struck me was your strapline of, “We don’t deliver social, we define it”; and from that made me go, well, this is where a lot of people get it wrong, because they feel they’ve got to play the game that everybody else is playing, when in actual fact it is about you carving out your own lane, your own conversation, so that it’s only ever going to be relevant to you and who you want to be speaking to.
Rob Illidge: Yeah, absolutely.
Wendy Harris: So, I was applauding going, “I’ve got to speak to Rob”, because this is what people need to know, that you can do things the way you want to do things, you don’t have to follow everybody else. It’s that black sheep, or the flamingo in the flock, or whatever you want to call it; it’s about standing out in the crowd, isn’t it?
Rob Illidge: Yeah, definitely. We call it thumb-stopping, or call it scroll-stopping. The attention spans now, especially for our younger users, is so much shorter than ours, it’s throwing out attention quicker than we ever used to, and being able to do that and stop someone’s thumb from going down that page.
Wendy Harris: Yeah, and it’s getting harder when the platforms change so quickly on us. I thought I’d just got into a rhythm with LinkedIn.
Rob Illidge: Oh, God!
Wendy Harris: What a mistake that was! Don’t ever feel secure in what it is that you’re doing, because then they go change everything and you go, “Well, where’s everybody gone?”
Rob Illidge: We literally have one person within the company, who their job is to basically just keep on top of everything and almost be educating us as well, because some people will be doing certain things and they’ll understand their area, but they won’t understand maybe what else is going on. They’re kind of in their own bubble I guess, and that’s the only reason we do social media, because I can’t imagine us doing lots of other things, like building websites or SEO, whatever it may be; because literally, as we’re talking now, something else will be getting tested or rolled out and a lot of people say it’s a full-time job, and obviously it is, because you have so many agencies.
Wendy Harris: So, when you started out, was it just you on your own, or did you partner up with somebody; how did your journey start?
Rob Illidge: It’s an interesting question, because I see these agencies and business with lots of co-founders and that, to me, is like a dream. I think, “God, I wish there were two of me”. I haven’t actually got that much grey hair, but I’d be a lot less stressed, or would have been.
I didn’t really have a business partner, so I just did everything on my own. I’m kind of resilient in that way and stubborn, I guess; yeah, maybe stubborn. But I actually just decided I’m going to do it myself. I’d left, obviously, a full-time role, which is the biggest
Wendy Harris: Security blanket gone.
Rob Illidge: Yeah. I left my job on the Friday and celebrated a couple of drinks over the weekend. Then Monday came and I thought, “Oh, God, I’ve got to pay the rent at the end of the month”, and I’d spent all my money going on holidays, like you do; you live beyond your means, and all that sort of stuff.
Wendy Harris: The reality kicked in?
Rob Illidge: Yeah. So basically, I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, The Pursuit of Happiness?
Wendy Harris: Yes.
Rob Illidge: There’s a scene where he’s competing to win this job and he has to call lots of different people, and I basically did the same sort of thing where I made a list of lots of people I thought I could call, “Do you need social media services?” It does hurt your ego a little bit when you’ve got to call people and ask for work.
Wendy Harris: Yeah, I’m nearly at 2 million calls now, Rob, so yeah, I know how that feels!
Rob Illidge: Yeah, it’s an interesting process. So, I started with people I didn’t know very well at the top, and people I knew really well at the bottom, and worked all day ringing these people. It’s obviously a lot easier than in the movie, because we’ve got mobile phones. But as I got down towards the bottom of this list towards the end of the day, (a) panic was setting in, even though it was day one; and (b) you kind of have to throw your ego and pride out the window at that point, because you’re starting to ring people, you know, your ex-bosses or close friends.
It’s like, not asking them for money, but it’s almost like, “Give me a shot, give me a chance”, and I was quite lucky that by the end of the day, I’d picked up our first client, who was one of my old bosses; my very first boss, actually. She’d left to start a charity and interestingly, we’ve actually carried that through in that we work with a lot of nonprofit organisations, and globally now, and they were the sort of campaigns that we get the most out of, I guess. We feel like we’re giving something back.
Wendy Harris: The social impact.
Rob Illidge: Yeah, it’s that and our teams generally work really well with charities. I think it takes a particular type of person to work with a charity, so you generally have a good working relationship; it works well. So, yeah, went from there.
So, first day, first client, just me. I try and do everything myself, so if I get a plumber that comes round, I’ll watch him to see what he’s doing, just in case I ever need to do it. I like to learn new stuff. So, I built a website, that kind of make the company look huge, on day one! I did have a lot of experience. I’d previously worked on social campaigns for different brands, so I did have that experience, and that it just snowballed from there in terms of, referrals were great. They’re great in the beginning, but they’re just not sustainable, because they could dry up at any point. So, you need to build in other pipelines. But got a lot of referrals from people I’d previously worked with, and then it just went from there. It sounds easy, but it’s been really hard!
Wendy Harris: It’s not that easy, is it?
Rob Illidge: No!
Wendy Harris: It does sound easy when you hear it back, but then you’ve got to drop in the sometimes 70, 80 hours a week, that you maybe haven’t got much of a social life. Or, if you have got a social life, you work hard, you play hard, you burn out. It’s all of those things, isn’t it, because you’re working in the business, you’re working on the business, you’re working for the business, you’re working for the future, but you can’t take your eye off the ball today?
Rob Illidge: Absolutely. I think those holidays that you once used to go on, they disappear. Like you say, you work every hour that you’re given, because it’s really down to you at that point, until you obviously bring on staff, and that’s a challenge in itself; we could talk about that all day.
One of my almost breakthroughs was, we got onto the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator, and they were great in terms of having a coach where they sit down and work with you to just determine how much time you’re actually spending on everything. So, they literally make a list, you know, you’re spending 100% on all these different things. And then they work out, what do you actually want to be doing; or, how can the business benefit by you taking away this and maybe hiring someone, bringing them onboard? That really helped.
You do, like you say, work in the business and not on the business, whereas you should, as an owner, depending on your business model, but eventually start to just be working on the business and not in it. So, that was trying to find that shift.
Wendy Harris: And sometimes, those conversations need to happen within the business, with the team, so that culture is nurtured, so that everybody feels a responsibility and is invested in the business. But you do also need sometimes conversations outside of the business, don’t you, to say, “Hang on a minute, I’ve got a bit of experience and I can see this is happening. Have you thought about this?” and it’s just drawing on other people’s experience, isn’t it?
Rob Illidge: Yeah, absolutely, that experience and the willingness to take that criticism, constructive criticism, take feedback, look at every option available, and that feeling inside. I still get it now, but I feel like I’m six years down the line and feel better, but that feeling in your stomach when you’re not comfortable doing something, but you know it’s going to be for the best. Or, making those difficult decisions, whether that’s to hire, or let staff go if they’re not performing well; or, it’s just not the right fit, because at the very beginning of the business, you need somebody in there who can do everything, but then ideally you need experts, but then that comes with cost and everything else.
If say, for example, you’ve built a relationship with a client and you’ve been going to see them every day, but then you’re company starts to grow and then, you’re needed in other areas, how do you speak to the client and say, “I can’t see you now”?
Wendy Harris: It’s handing that over, isn’t it, handing it over to somebody else?
Rob Illidge: Yeah. It’s an awkward situation for them and for you, because you have that feeling inside your stomach, where you don’t want to let them down, or you don’t want to be seen to be leaving them.
Wendy Harris: Expectations are everything, aren’t they, because it’s that saying of, you promise to deliver, you always promise to underdeliver and overperform; that’s where you always want to be. If you’re overperforming and that’s eating your time away and it means that you can’t grow your business, because there’s not really much more you can do by being there, but they get used to you being there, how do you extricate yourself from that situation without hurting anybody’s feelings? Because, it’s an emotional attachment, as opposed to a financial decision, isn’t it, seeing the separation of that?
Rob Illidge: Plus, it’s also building that trust. So, if you bring in somebody who you say to a client, “This is a person I trust to look after you. I know we will still have some form of relationship, but I might not be there every day, but I personally trust this person”, and they’ve obviously got to build their relationship with them. But yeah, that trust-building is very important.
Wendy Harris: What I love about the story so far is that you started your business cold calling, which is kind of my bag. So, I have to ask, who does it for you now?
Rob Illidge: That’s a good point. Interestingly, we don’t do any, and this might sound crazy, we don’t do any advertising ourselves, which yeah, does sound a little crazy. We have lots of different things, so we do create content, especially on LinkedIn. From a personal brand point of view, we create content in terms of our own podcast, blogs.
We want our blogs to be informative and educational, so with the social media industry changing so much, every single day something new comes out, we want to be almost a resource so that if a small business owner or entrepreneur wants to know the latest feature on Instagram, for example, they can come to our website and can feel safe in that they’re going to find that information. It’s easy to read, it’s in a format they understand, and that sort of thing.
But yeah, apart from that, we don’t actually do any advertising, which I think is really nice, because I think it’s really nice to have built a company where we went from cold calling to now more about the brand, so that people have seen us and heard of us and are coming to us. It’s taken six years, but we’re in that position now, which is really nice. We’ve got nobody sending our LinkedIn messages, or anything like that; it just doesn’t happen.
Wendy Harris: But I imagine that it’s changed, because I don’t want people having the wrong impression, because paid advertising is different to content, I think. Content can drive that lead generation, without it feeling like you’re being a salesperson, and it can turn it from an outbound outreach to an inbound enquiry, and that’s really what the content is driving. So, you’re kind of using a social media platform and your connections to warm up that prospect part, and it’s something that I’ve been sharing with clients for about 12 years is, how do you take your online connections into a real conversation in the real world? I think, that’s what’s wonderful.
In some instances, cold calling still works, otherwise I’d be out of a job!
Rob Illidge: Oh, yeah, 100% it does, definitely.
Wendy Harris: So, it does work in some instances, but that is the beauty of building the brand, isn’t it, and being as open and as honest and sharing as much as you can in your online conversations. So, you’ve done that for yourself as an agency; how many of you are there that are in the Republic now, Rob?
Rob Illidge: Last time I looked, which is last week, we’ve got over 500 now, coming up to 600; and last year it was 400, coming up to 500. So, yeah, just over 500 now.
Wendy Harris: That’s awesome!
Rob Illidge: Yeah. Luckily, I don’t have to look after them all!
Wendy Harris: Well, you do, but you don’t actually look after them; you don’t go round giving them breakfast, dinner and tea!
Rob Illidge: That would be very nice, but I probably wouldn’t have a lot of time. But it was interesting what you said about, obviously cold calling still exists and lots of other methods of communicating and advertising. What we found is that obviously, our business is different to lots of other businesses. We’re in the social media industry; our targets, our people we’d want to work with ideally are marketing managers or marketing directors.
We’ve, in our previous lives, been marketing managers ourselves for brands, and we always like to think when we were in those positions, what made our lives easier; and that’s the kind of approach we have to advertising and marketing now, is what can we provide to make a marketing manager’s life a lot easier? And it’s that piece of content about our latest feature, is it a guide, something like that. So, they read that and they think, “Oh, I found this really useful”, and hopefully when they do need us, they come to us.
Wendy Harris: So, with all the content you create for your own agency, because you’ve got a beast to feed now with that many people within the organisation, so that’s a mammoth task in itself, I’ve got to ask this. So, in terms of clients, because you’re creating content, so you’re creating conversations for them, is there one piece of content, or campaign you’ve worked on to create conversations, that’s been your favourite and if so, what was it and why?
Rob Illidge: That is a very, very good question. I’d have to say, and no offence to anybody else who I’ve not mentioned, I’ve loved everyone of course —
Wendy Harris: They’re all our favourites!
Rob Illidge: They’re all our favourites. I think the work we do for charitable organisations will always have a big place in my heart. It’s something I’m looking to do once I potentially leave Social Republic one day, who knows what will happen. But we work very closely with British Red Cross.
We’re very fortunate again to have a referral for somebody who was doing some of the digital work for them, and they introduced us to the team, and it takes a long time, because of the size of that organisation, I’m talking thousands and thousands of staff, lots of different departments, huge pressure to get things right from a content communications point of view, simply because the amount of eyeballs that are on that organisation on social media, and the media as well. So, they’ve really got to be careful.
Wendy Harris: It has to be spot on, doesn’t it?
Rob Illidge: Yeah, and I think that obviously adds pressure, but it is good pressure. We’ve done it in the past, so you explain to them, “You’re in safe hands, these are the things that we’ve done”, and we’ve built lots of projects for them. One of them was around revolutionising how they managed community engagement, so it basically saved their staff time, money obviously, and resources as well. So, they had a platform that made it easier for them to interact with the users on social media.
But I think the one that I’ve probably most proud of is, we created the world’s first quizbot for first aid. And basically what that was, or what it is, because it’s been relaunched for another campaign this year, it’s a chatbot within Facebook that allows parents to teach their children first aid. Now, there is a disclaimer; they don’t get a qualification. They’re not qualified in first aid, so if anyone uses it, you’re not technically qualified in first aid!
Wendy Harris: It’s awareness, isn’t it? We all need awareness on the right and wrong things to do, because that’s the sort of thing that old wives’ tales get passed down, and they’re not necessarily going to be something that will save your life.
Rob Illidge: It’s interesting that you mention that, because there’s a lot of those examples within the chatbot in terms of the content, so making sure that people realise that it is an old wives’ tale. The biggest one is nose bleeds. What do you do? Do you hold your head back; do you hold it forward; do you blow your nose, and all this sort of thing? So, it’s a very simple way of a parent sitting down with a child, and obviously all children now are using the devices, so it’s like they’re reading a book. Now kids are like, “Why are you reading a book?”
Wendy Harris: It’s educating the parents, as opposed to the children, aren’t we?
Rob Illidge: Yeah, probably! But it’s a good excuse to sit down on Facebook, where they might just be normally scrolling through their feed, looking at pictures of their friends’ babies or cats, or whatever it might be, that they can actually sit down with their children and they can actually learn skills in under a minute, and that was the aim: every skill can be learned in under a minute.
So basically, you go onto the quizbot, you would select a topic to learn first, so either burns or nose bleeds; select nose bleeds; and then, you go through a series of questions. No matter what you answered, whether you answered correctly or incorrectly, you always learn the correct technique. Then it takes you on a path so that you always complete the whole quiz; but you can always come back at any point as well and finish it off. So, if someone’s made your dinner and then you have your dinner, you can come back.
Wendy Harris: Look it up and put it down.
Rob Illidge: Yeah, it’s fantastic.
Wendy Harris: And I guess there’s lots of mileage for lots of other topics as well? Listeners are going to have to send us some ideas on different topics, because it is that excuse to sit down with your kids to do something together, isn’t it, that they want to do, that’s not necessarily what we, as children, did at our age with our parents?
Rob Illidge: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something — we were just discussing exactly the same thing after we’d launched it. We said to each other, “Imagine the capabilities you could have with this”. I remember when I was a kid, my mum used to read me these stories where I could choose what happened next, and it was fantastic. And you could do this same sort of thing. So, you could have a story, but they choose the next action where they go, “The blue door or the red door?” or you could learn lots of different things through the chatbot.
So, there are lots of ways for people, and obviously if they want to get in touch with you or get in touch with me as well, people can do this themselves. The level of complexity with the Red Cross project obviously required a team, but there are platforms out there where you can literally build your own for your own business. It might not be a quiz, but it could just literally be pointing people in the right direction.
Say, for example, you know that the majority of your website visitors either go to your podcast section or your blog, you could point them in that direction straightaway, or you could ask them a question. It’s very easy.
Wendy Harris: I do declare, I have one on my Facebook page, I think.
Rob Illidge: Yeah, there you go.
Wendy Harris: I kind of went, “Yes to that, yes to that, yes, understand all of that. Now, you go and do it, please?” because it’s the building of things. And that’s why we need other people, isn’t it, that you can understand what you want to achieve, but getting there needs somebody who knows how to do it so that they can come to you.
Rob Illidge: I don’t know if you’re a big fan of Homeland, or anyone who’s listening to this has seen Homeland? So, Carrie, she has almost a mind map on a wall, and it’s just full of pictures of people and different links. And that’s how I describe how the chatbot looks behind the scenes; it’s just lots and lots of content and lots of wires going in between. As you zoom out, you think, “It surely can’t get any bigger” and then it gets bigger and bigger and, yeah, there’s a lot. For something of that size, it takes a lot of people, but there are solutions that you can create that are shorter.
Wendy Harris: Nice and simple, “Do you want this or this?” like asking the kids what they want for dinner, isn’t it?!
Rob Illidge: Yeah, you could do that, I’ll take that idea!
Wendy Harris: Lots and lots of conversations online, so it’s a good shout for the Red Cross there. I know they do get involved in lots and lots of different campaigns, so it’s good to hear some of the ones that we perhaps don’t hear so much about, because we do tend to have headline, and this is where social media can play its part in turning things viral. And I think it brings us quite nicely to me asking about Social Republic and some of your journey, and the leap of faith that you had really as well to where you are now, in six short years, to say, so Rob, what was that conversation that counted and what happened next?
Rob Illidge: I guess it takes me back to not a great time. I mean, it was great for me as a 16-year-old, going to college and having that freedom. And I think this is a case of generally, men or boys not growing up as quickly, maybe, as women for example in school. Boys are a little bit childish as you get to 14, 15, 16, whereas the girls —
Wendy Harris: Maturity isn’t level, is it; it’s not a level playing field at all?
Rob Illidge: I don’t know whether it’s the same now, but when I was at school, that was just the way it was, yeah, the boys still hadn’t grown into men, whereas the girls had become women. I basically left school, and I’ve also studied in America, I went to university in America, and that’s where I fell in love with social media; but over there, obviously they’d leave school at 18. I’m a big fan of potentially that happening here. I feel like, especially for boys, leaving school at 16 is very young. It was for me. Maybe I was still at a bit more of a childish level; I wasn’t that sure!
Wendy Harris: We’re all in such a hurry to grow up, aren’t we, when we are that age, that we think that we know everything and we can conquer the world. Yet in actual fact, it’s probably not until we hit about 30 that we really understand the nature of life?
Rob Illidge: Yeah, I agree. Once you hit that 30, you want to stop growing up!
Wendy Harris: Yes, I am still 30!
Rob Illidge: Like Peter Pan!
Wendy Harris: And Wendy!
Rob Illidge: Oh, yeah, of course! For my parents, looking back now, hindsight is an incredible thing. At the time, I thought these are the strictest parents in the world, and every teenager’s like that, I guess. Now I think, God, I must have been a nightmare and they did 100% the right thing. So, they said to me basically, if I didn’t pass my GCSEs, there was a potential for me to have to go into the army, because they knew I needed that structure and discipline.
So, I got through my GCSEs by the skin of my teeth just so I didn’t have to go in the army. I didn’t like cleaning my shoes anyway, so the thought of going into the army and having to polish them so you could see your face in them was a nightmare to me; so, I got through that and went to college, because I actually wanted to study law and that’s what I went to college to do, I have no idea why.
But I got to college and I just lost my head a little bit, because I had so much freedom, and I’d just escaped not going into the army, that sort of thing, and I was awful in my first year at college. It actually turned out to be the best thing I ever did, in a weird kind of way. I ended up failing my first year at college, which is quite unknown, quite unheard-of, because it is not that difficult to pass. There are lots of people out there that do fail the first year, obviously very embarrassing at the time, and I’ll never forget that moment where I went to collect my results and I just kind of laughed it off and I thought, “I’ll get through with a C”, and when you start seeing Fs, it’s really bad, really, really bad!
Then, I remember that sinking feeling thinking, “I’ve got to walk home now and go to see mum and dad –“
Wendy Harris: Do you think it was self-sabotaging?
Rob Illidge: Oh, yeah, probably 100%, yeah, I’d imagine. Yeah, probably. But yeah, that feeling of having to go home, knowing that — it’s funny with parents. You don’t care when they’re angry at you, but the worst thing is if they’re disappointed. That feeling is a lot worse.
Wendy Harris: Yeah. My husband always says to me, he’s another Rob, so Rob says to me, “You know your mum is off the Richter scale, because she’s been too quiet.
Rob Illidge: Too quiet, yeah.
Wendy Harris: You can blow up and you can be angry and you can throw this and that at them to try and get them to sit up and listen, but it’s when you really don’t have the words, because you are so disappointed. That silence is unbearable. How did you cope?
Rob Illidge: I can’t actually remember what the punishment was; I can’t imagine it being pretty. Maybe it was just so much disappointment, that made it even worse. It wasn’t, “Go to your room”, or whatever, because I don’t know what you can do at 16, but I was stuck between thinking, “It’ll be fine, I’ll just do the next year, I’ll just start again”, and the other half thinking it was the end of the world, I was going to be in a lot of trouble, which I was. But then, that led to the conversation which changed everything, I guess, which I would say is quite a pivotal moment.
I think the most frustrating thing was that I knew I could do the work, my parents knew, the teachers probably knew. I was exactly the same in primary school, exactly the same in high school. Because I knew I could do the work, I’d just mess around a little bit, try and distract somebody else who was next to me, or mess around with pencils or pens, or whatever; things that you do at school, fully knowing that I could just better myself up by just actually getting through the work and doing it. Maybe I’d relaxed too much, I think, thinking “I won’t revise. I’ll get to the end and it will be okay”. But college is a big step up from school. If you actually sit down and do the work properly, it’s okay, but it is a huge step up from an education point of view.
I remember history was our, me and my friends, our favourite subject at high school, and I had friends who ended up going on to do history at college, and they just said it was a world apart; it was so complex and difficult in comparison to GCSEs. So, obviously I had this disappointment in myself and obviously, my family. I’ve got great parents and I can’t complain at all about them, they were great. I think they just had, compared to my brother, they had a lot on their hands with me unfortunately.
So, the conversation was basically, I was invited to go and speak to the head of the year at college, who was also one of my teachers, taught IT. Funnily enough, since then, I’ve actually met him and I did a talk to the college, and his daughter was in that talk, which is a weird turnaround! But he basically said, this conversation was with my parents, and it was basically down to him whether I carried on. So, I had to obviously restart college, start from scratch, which is embarrassing when you’re a year older and it’s like, “What are you doing here?” and it’s like, “Well, I failed my first year”.
I guess he saw something in me, maybe saw a little bit of potential, maybe saw my parents and thought, “Do you know what, he’s not a bad kid, he can do the work”, and I think he felt sorry for my parents as well. There was also a little bit of anger aiming towards me, obviously, from him and from my parents like, “Why are you doing this? You don’t have to mess around. You can do the work”, and he said, “What is your other option; what else are you going to do, because you don’t want to things like your brother did, you don’t want to go in the army. If you left the education system, what would you actually do?” And thinking about it now, I don’t even know what I would have done, because I knew that something like law or business was definitely my kind of calling.
For some reason, I had everything all kind of mapped out in my head; so, by the time I’m 20, I’m going to do this, at 25 and 30. I’m a little bit behind that schedule, but I don’t know why I self-sabotaged it anyway in the first place. Maybe I just thought I could do it, so I’ll just do it, but no.
Wendy Harris: People with natural ability often do. I’m guilty of it. There’ll be people listening going, “Yes, and we know when!” It’s all right, keep that to yourself. But there’s got to be something that comes from that natural ability and getting to a place where you go, “I know I can do it”. But the knowing you can do it and the doing the doing is a different thing, isn’t it? So, what did you take away from that, because there’s always a teacher that will back you? And even having one of your favourite teachers disappointed in you, it’s like having silence in stereo, isn’t it? It’s like, “Oh, my teacher’s over here”, and you’re going, “Oh, no!”
So, what did that teach you that you’ve brought through into running a company, because effectively as a leader of a company, you are the teacher, you’re Headmaster, aren’t you? How do you translate that to the people in your team when you can see that natural ability and they’re not really fulfilling it?
Rob Illidge: I still am struggling, but I’ve got better over the years, of seeing myself at that Headmaster, because I want to be in the trench, I still like to feel like I’m in the trenches with people and not sat back in my ivory tower just telling people what to do. I want to be with people and lead with them, next to them, if that makes sense.
Wendy Harris: Lead from the front.
Rob Illidge: But then at times, you do have to realise that you are the one that also makes the bigger decisions, so you have to distinguish between the two. Even though I’m informal on LinkedIn, obviously my content is very informal and it shows off my personality, and I see a lot of content around failure. It takes me a lot not to comment on them, because I’m very different in terms of the way I look at failure.
Obviously, having lived in America, they’re advocates of, they love failing. If you haven’t failed in America, you haven’t made it. They want to see stories of, you’ve had 20 businesses and they’ve all gone bankrupt, and now you’ve made it. They love that kind of zero-to-hero story. Whereas, I think in Britain, we’re a little bit more reserved and we don’t want to show people that we’ve failed.
I think that’s changing a little bit now in terms of the way that entrepreneurs are, and maybe it’s because a younger generation are coming through.
Wendy Harris: Do you think it’s risk-taking; we’re not necessarily the risk-takers that the Americans are?
Rob Illidge: Oh, definitely, yeah.
Wendy Harris: Slow and sure and steady will win the day.
Rob Illidge: Yeah, and confidence as well. It’s a different world, I’d say, in the States. I see a lot of posts about failure and don’t be afraid to fail; whereas, I’m the opposite, I’m like, “You should be afraid to fail”. But it gives you a reason to make sure that you don’t make mistakes. I’m not saying that if you fail, then it’s the worst thing in the world, because obviously I did at this point. It’s about learning from it.
For me, my point of view is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I don’t see why people should embrace failure. If you do have failure, and everybody does in every day of your life, nothing ever works the first time, for me and the way I see it with staff is learning from it so it doesn’t happen again.
Wendy Harris: Take the energy of the failing and how it makes you feel, and turn that into some kind of laser focus to be better. It’s not joined-up thinking, is it; it’s, “Embrace the failure!” Well then, are you just going to be miserable? What are you going to do; are you just going to stay miserable, or are you just going to go, “Well, I’m upset and I’m disappointed in myself”?
I think you’ve got to take that silence to yourself and go, “Well, I don’t want to be sitting in this silence. What did I learn? What were the things that I could have done better? What will I do next time differently? Who should I have brought in? Who should I have spoken to?”
Rob Illidge: With staff, my approach is, if someone goes wrong, someone fails, whatever it may be, my advice is, “Don’t worry about it, let’s move on. Don’t worry about it, let’s learn from it”. If I’ve been in that situation and I’ve experienced it, then obviously I can give advice; but if not, then I’m on hand to help them find a solution. So, yeah, “If something’s gone wrong, don’t worry about it, let’s move on, let’s improve”.
I get lots of enquiries from people, young entrepreneurs, which is really, really nice to see. I wish I had the time to get through them all, but asking for advice on setting up a business. Sometimes, “I’ve also set up a social media agency, a rival company”, you think, “Should I be giving out advice?” but then, it doesn’t matter to me, so I would give advice to anybody, especially if they’ve worked in the industry.
Wendy Harris: Nat Schooler, he’s been on the show a couple of times, once as a guest and once as a host for me. One of the tips that he shared with me that I’ll share with you now was, if he’s getting asked a question from entrepreneurs, or what to do and how to do it, he blogs it. And that’s it; it’s content. Because then he knows, if one person’s asking, so many more will be asking the same question, or a similar question, so you can take that one question and turn it into a piece.
Rob Illidge: We call that “becoming the Wikipedia of your industry”. I don’t know if it’s famous, but there’s a story that I got told about a company in America that made swimming pools, so outdoor swimming pools.
Wendy Harris: Yeah, Marcus Sheridan.
Rob Illidge: Is that his name?
Wendy Harris: Marcus Sheridan; they ask, you answer.
Rob Illidge: Yeah, that’s the one. They were like, “Oh, we’re not getting any leads through, we’re not getting any business”. They spoke to an SEO, content expert, years ago and said, “How can we improve in the number of inbound enquiries that we’re getting?” and they basically advised him to become the Wikipedia of their industry.
They said, “How many questions do you get asked a day?” He said, “I don’t know, 400, 500 questions”, and they said, “Well, every one of those questions should be a blog so that no matter what people search for on Google, you’ve answered that question”, and they just absolutely nailed it and it does work. And that’s, I guess, what we’re doing as well.
Wendy Harris: And he’s got an agency that he’s running as well, isn’t he; he’s not just the pool guy, he’s got his own agency now.
Rob Illidge: Yes.
Wendy Harris: Yeah, come on, Marcus, come on the show, come and tell me all about it!
Rob Illidge: And give us all free pools!
Wendy Harris: I want to know the difference between concrete and fibreglass! Look at just that one conversation that you’re talking about from your college days and a failure, but you didn’t go on to fail, you turned that into your success. But that same similar scenario applies itself probably quite a lot throughout your life, in different sets of circumstances; everybody does. It’s kind of a recurring theme, isn’t it?
Rob Illidge: Absolutely. I won’t say there’s failures, but I would say there’s lessons to be learned, even now, every single day. I think, when you first start your business, you’re constantly learning, and it can be difficult sometimes to learn from things, because you’re doing everything within the business, so you don’t necessarily have a lot of time to be learning, because you’re then trying to do something else. But things from hiring your first member of staff, or when you lose your first client, how you react, and how do you build relationships from there; there’s lots of lessons. Every day’s a skill day!
Wendy Harris: It certainly is. And if you think about this that’s up here, this brain of ours, this supercomputer, we have to remember that whilst it’s good to be going on and growing, that sometimes we need a defrag and we need a little compromise and we need that reflection of time and what do we need, what don’t we need; what can we get away with; what’s interrupting the programme?
I could carry on chatting to you for another few hours, which is always wonderful with all my guests that come on. Thank you so much for coming and sharing that conversation with us and what you do and how you help. In terms of listeners, we always want the conversation to carry on after the show as well. Where’s the best place for them to find you?
Wendy Harris: Nailed it! You know, one day, somebody will say, “Instagram” and shock me! It’s been an absolute blast. Thank you so much.
Rob Illidge: Thank you very much for having me.
Wendy Harris: And there you have great conversation between me and Rob. And I love the way that he literally quit his job and cold called his way to forming Social Republic. Do carry on the conversation with Rob and his team after listening. Head over to our website, www.makingconversationscount.com to have a look at what treats we’ve got in store for you. Until next time, where we’re going to be bringing you a little bit of insight into how to get it right on video, with Simon Banks.
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I love this podcast. The guests you have on all bring something new to the conversation and definitely thought-provoking.
Sometimes this means I change something I do, or something I would say, and other times it’s a real opportunity for reflection.
Thanks for sharing your guests with us Wendy, the podcasts are brilliant.
I always enjoy listening to Wendy’s Making Conversations Count podcast and admire her talent for drawing out people’s stories and getting to the heart of things for finding out what makes them tick.
We all have pivotal moments and Wendy manages to find the right parts, showcasing the reasons why someone is who they are.
It’s those details that we connect to and come to more understanding of why people do what they do.
Love this podcast series. It’s a great idea to have a theme of ‘pivotal conversations’ and the variety of guests from massively different backgrounds keeps it fresh and interesting.
Wendy is a natural host and makes people feel at ease to share their stories.