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Starting a social media Dialogue

diary-of-an-entrepreneur-stephens-3-200Name: Hugh Stephens

Company: Dialogue Consulting

Location: Windsor, Victoria

Hugh Stephens is effervescent and lives for his work. He takes it home with him at night when he leaves the office and he wakes up to it every morning. But when you specialise in social media, you can hardly expect any different.

Stephens founded Dialogue Consulting alongside Briony Walker (former online communications director for Headspace) in September 2011 and they are now on track for an annual turnover of $515,000.

He says the business fits in an “odd space”, offering services in marketing, management consultancy and training with the aim of helping businesses and not-for-profits use social media within their organisation. Stephens says the business started with just himself and Walker working on a 0.75 full-time equivalent each and has since grown to four FTE and multiple contractors.

SmartCompany had a chat with Stephens about his business development strategies, being married to the job and the benefits of watching sub-par television shows.

Mornings

Like most, Stephens starts his day with the sweet smell of caffeine.

“Coffee, so much coffee.

“I usually get up about eight o’clock and we don’t start until 10-10.30am. We start relatively late and that’s because I’m a bit of a night owl anyway.”

Once awoken by his morning brew, Stephens turns to his emails and social media.

“The first things I do: email, Facebook, Twitter.”

He checks his personal accounts as well as Dialogue Consulting’s Twitter and Facebook pages before he reaches the office. In terms of monitoring social media, Stephens says he checks up on his own social media accounts and manages his personal online brand more frequently than the company’s.

“Most of the leads we get are from people who aren’t already engaged heavily in social media. Facebook is rarely an opportunity for me to boost sales. Most of our actual business development channels are from conferences and events.

“It is kind of one of those ironic things as we would advise our clients, if it’s not going to provide benefit there is no point doing it – it comes down to cost benefit. Comparatively, I do check my personal brand quite frequently because we get a lot of media enquiries through me. My personal Twitter account is a lot more popular than the company’s because I also tweet about the conferences we attend,” he says.

You could be excused from thinking the office is his home, complete with a fluffy pet cat and set in a secluded section of the cosy Melbourne suburb of Windsor, away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets; from the outside the office resembles a modern two-story apartment.

“Eventually when I arrive at my desk I have to start doing real work. I’ll check my email and see if there is anything major that has come up for the day, but usually it’s just deleting the spam that I got the night before. So I start the day with the basic replying to stuff that needs to be replied to.

“As a team we start the day with coffees around the meeting table – sort of like an ‘agile scrum’ type management methodology,” he says.

Immediately images of rugby players at loggerheads come to mind, but in reality the office is much more relaxed, embracing casual Fridays the attire of the day is shorts and t-shirts.

Daily tasks

For Stephens, his daily routine is varied, but he recounts a fairly typical day last week.

“Matt (one of his co-workers) and I were at Albert Park at 7.30am and we co-presented an event targeted at mid to large-size not-for-profits organised by a branding consultancy. We were providing the social media related advice and we did this until about 9am.”

He pauses, trying to remember the rest of the day before quickly checking his calendar on his phone.

“My calendar rules my life.

“At 11am we went to a client and did some stakeholder interviews and there was a coffee in there somewhere too. When we got back to the office I would have done my emails and reviewed what was being sent out (he checks over others work before it is sent to clients).”

Stephens’ co-founder Walker is currently on maternity leave and, since then, he has taken on more of a managerial role and oversees all the projects. His afternoon is taken up with more client meetings.

“My life is a series of meetings.

“At 3pm I had a meeting with a prospective client, which was just a coffee and chat, till about 4.30pm. Then I had another meeting with another prospective client to talk about facilitating connections for him.

“It was back to the office around 5.30pm, it was a long day. Then I did the work that actually needed to be done: I had some buyers to write, reviewed some more documents and worked on some of our white papers (content marketing based) we’re in the process of writing.

But his day didn’t end there.

“That night I spent around two hours writing the content for our online course in online professionalism for employees. It is initially targeted at the healthcare sector, but it will eventually be re-purposed for different sectors,” he says.

When asked if he ever has time for lunch, a laugh issues from the corner of the room. His colleague Matthew Cox smiles and says, “Sometimes if you’re lucky you’ll be able to take it, you’re encouraged to take it, but often it’s better to do work”.

Stephens says he manages to eat lunch about 50% of the time, but Cox doubts this, gesturing toward a box of Savoy crackers on Stephens’ desk which often constitutes his lunch.

The Savoys, they say, are like the coffee, a vital part of the office.

“When I’m doing a piece of work, I’ll get lost in the work and forget about time and everything else around me,” Stephens says.

Each day, Stephens monitors the company’s sales pipeline.

“That’s probably the main figure I look at on a frequent basis. We use an online project management tool which tells me figures, I also check regularly around how projects are going and if they’re running on time. That way it’s easy for me to see where everyone is on their projects,” he says.

He measures the company’s performance based on customer satisfaction.

“The main performance metric of ours is client satisfaction. That’s usually something that on larger projects we’d have a specific client evaluation meeting whereas on smaller projects we work from workshop evaluation surveys or something similar.”

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Yolanda Redrup

Journalist

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Yolanda is a SmartCompany reporter who has a knack for covering business misconduct and retail issues. Previously, she was the editor of RMIT's student magazine Catalyst. Follow her on twitter: @YolandaRedrup
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