Ahead of the curve: How Smart50 winner Grace Chu started FirstClick Consulting
Friday, May 2, 2014/
Name: Grace Chu
Company: FirstClick Consulting
Location: Prahran, Vic
Grace Chu always wanted to start a business, she just had to wait until the right time and opportunity arose.
Growing up, Chu’s mother had been an entrepreneur and this gave her an example of a strong, diligent woman to follow.
In 2005 Chu realised a web presence for businesses was becoming more and more crucial, and she decided to launch her own search marketing agency specialising in SEO and SEM.
“Australian premium brands were not tapping into the opportunities of the internet. I felt the power of online operationally and strategically hadn’t yet been adopted,” she says.
“There was a gap in the market between businesses with a website and businesses who actually used digital marketing successfully.”
Prior to starting FirstClick, Chu had worked for eBay and McKenzie Consulting, and these experiences gave her an awareness of the power of online marketing.
She says at the time there wasn’t an agency providing strategic and quality service, but now the industry has boomed.
“In 2005 it was the tipping point. It was good timing and I could see the growth was going to be substantial,” she says.
As expected, the business grew quickly and Chu acquired some major clients, including Fairfax Digital. The business started turning a profit in its second year, but Chu had to be selective about clients because coinciding with the launch of the business was the birth of her first baby Jamie.
“At first it felt like FirstClick was my first baby and Jamie was my second. But there has to be a balance when running a business and looking after a newborn. I was very time poor so I had to be efficient and I didn’t want to compromise on quality, which meant I had to be selective about clients.”
Being selective has served Chu well and now the business has 34 staff across Melbourne and Sydney and turns over approximately $30 million.
Chu spoke to SmartCompany about running a business while raising children, getting the right processes in place and finding the right employees.
Chu’s mornings revolve around her children. Her second child, Jackie, is just seven months old and Chu’s recently returned to work after taking maternity leave.
“My day starts when Jackie wakes up, usually between 5am and 7am. The mornings are family time where I get the kids ready for school and me for work. If something urgent comes up I’ll answer calls and emails though,” she says.
“My current work hours are 9am to 4pm Monday to Wednesday and it’s a mix of emails, meetings and planning sessions. I meet with the major clients and further strategic relationships.”
Chu says her current jobs include planning for the next financial year, a quarterly performance review for the business and working on any major business developments.
“A lot of my time is also spent providing support for the team and mentoring the senior management team.”
In the past eight years Chu’s role has changed dramatically. When she started FirstClick she was playing all roles – office manager, chief executive and book keeper.
“I would do everything from devising how we sell to clients, delivering products, monitoring results, managing staff and determining the company values. It all came from me. I also had to learn the best way to manage our finances,” she says.
But over the past five years Chu has worked on building her senior team to allow her to spend more time working on the company’s strategy.
“The senior team can now hire people who are better than I am to fulfil roles in the business,” she says.
As well as focusing on strategy and maintaining the company’s major clients, Chu continues to embed the company philosophy.
“We have a ‘so what’ philosophy. I believe by encouraging people to ask ‘so what’, you’re able to question the impact of everything.”
The company’s strategy has three main objectives – find new clients, retain clients and build the FirstClick brand. The company has endeavoured to position itself in a thought leadership position in the market, ensuring it’s considered the experts in search marketing.
“We take a holistic view of a client’s business and we’re not just focused on specific campaigns. We want to make sure we’re not just getting traffic to their website, but also delivering a return on investment,” she says.
“We use a range of our own digital marketing tactics to build our business. We have a website and a strong focus on SEM, SEO, social media and also PR.”
One of the most formative moments in the business’s history was surviving the GFC. Chu says there were a few strategies which helped the business not only survive, but flourish.
“From the first day we were selective about our clients and this didn’t change during the GFC. We resisted the temptation to take on everyone. You need to be able to turn away people who aren’t going to be worthwhile,” she says.
“This paid off during the GFC because it meant we had a good list of quality clients who were also resistant to the GFC. Quite a lot of our clients even increased their spend on search, while pulling back on other marketing areas. This allowed us to benefit.”
Chu had also invested strongly in financial management from the outset, which meant the business had a strong cashflow and during the GFC it was able to invest more, opening a Melbourne office, rather than scaling down.
However Chu says none of the success would have been possible without finding the right talent.
“We have a four-step interview process. The first step is a meet and greet, either in person or over the phone, then there is an in-depth interview assessing their technical skills and thirdly they have to present a detailed case study to members of the team,” she says.
“This is an important stage because we want to be sure people know their stuff. The final step is making sure they’re a cultural fit. The applicant has to come in for lunch with some of the team members. We need to make sure the candidate likes the people in the team”
For Chu, her hobby is spending time with her children.
“My son’s hobbies have become my hobbies. So it’s things like building Lego and listening to Avicii,” she says.
“If I have time I love travelling and reading and finding new websites. But at the moment my family is my hobby.
“You have to decide what you want to do in life and, while work-life balance is great, I do believe you only have one life and there’s not much of a difference between work and life so you have to decide on what you’re going to do.”
Looking forward, Chu’s focus is on continuing to deliver real business results.
“We want to help our clients make money, because if they’re successful, we’re successful,” she says.
“In the next five years we want to grow at 20-25% per year and achieve revenue of over $100 million.”
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