Follow your North Star to upscale your business, with Susan Hallam MBE

01 June 2018

The Big House was honoured to have Susan Hallam MBE, founder of Hallam Internet as the guest speaker to round off our first season of Creatives’ Club networking events. Her inspirational account of going from a ‘one-woman-band’ to building one of the UK’s leading digital agencies left the audience of creative start ups and established businesses wanting more.

Destined for digital

Packed with top tips, anecdotes and candid accounts of lessons learned along the way, Susan shared her story of her extensive digital career - moving from America to the UK, becoming a Senior Lecturer in Computing at Nottingham Trent University and presenting digital workshops before the internet was even a thing, right through to senior digital marketing roles at Capital One and BT.

Deciding that the corporate world was not for her, in 1999, Susan left the well-paid, secure Blue Chip life and set up as a one-woman band. This was when Hallam Internet was born.

"Setting up as a one man band allowed me to raise children. It was a lifestyle business. I took all of August off to look after the kids and when the kids went to Uni there was so much work coming in that there was enough to grow the business and focus on scaling up."
Susan Hallam MBE
Founder of Hallam Internet Ltd


Accessing business support

A self confessed grant junky, in the early days Susan took any help that was going. Business Link supported her and she took advantage of free coaching and mentoring. The mentoring has been transformational in building the business and she would recommend accessing any help that is available, such as that through The Big House programme.

Step by step growth

Once established, key milestones of scaling up Hallam Internet included employing the first team members, renting the first office space and signing a lease, then renting a bigger one, negotiating a new lease, learning about pension schemes, implementing HR policies and finally merging with Big Spring. Susan explained how the growth curve of a business has a long trajectory that happens in steps, not all at one.

Susan described that there will be a tipping point, a catalyst which will turn a one-man band into a scalable business. There will be a seminal moment when things will change. For Hallam, this came in 2010, when they became the first agency in Nottingham to be Google accredited. This relationship with Google has been a significant factor in helping the business grow.


A beautiful visualisation of the session from @alexamilnejewellery

Find and follow your North Star

Susan shared that the key to building any scalable business is to decide upon your North Star and to follow it, at every stage of your journey. It is important to set a vision, decide what people are going to buy from you, why and how. Stay true to that and let the North Star guide you.

According to Susan, Hallam Internet follows the following three values:

1. We are expert at what we do
2. We have an incredible portfolio and we can evidence what we do
3. Our clients like us

As the business grew, they had to hire people that matched the 'North Star' vision.


Finding a path to success diagram via @eskimon

Advice to other entrepreneurs

Looking back over the last 30 years, Susan has three pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs or business owners ready to take the next steps:

1. Make sure that you: Love what you do, do what you are good at, do what pays well

Otherwise you will be either:

  • Happy but poor
  • Rich but bored
  • Just a dreamer

2. Just do it, stop talking about it. Get over your ‘analysis paralysis’ and get it done

3. Invest in a good chair - scaling up successfully involves hard work and long hours. Success does not come easily

Scaling up and stepping back

Susan learned her biggest lesson just recently with the appointment of Stuart Ross as Hallam's new Managing Director:

"I’ve decided I don’t want to be a managing director when I grow up, so we have appointed a managing director to do all the jobs I don’t like. I am going to go back to the things I love - the internet, delivering results, learning new stuff, sharing my knowledge. "

"Take my baby it's yours, just give me the dividends. I am the entrepreneur who made it, grew it and scaled it up. Now I want to do what I want to do and have someone manage it on my behalf - it is not a failure it is a success of a scale up."
Susan Hallam MBE
Until recently was Managing Director of Hallam Internet


Hallam Internet is built on expert skills and great people

Hallam Internet today

Specialising in manufacturing and life sciences, Hallam Internet is now a 50 strong, full service digital marketing agency with a turnover in excess of £3million per year. It delivers SEO, PPC, social media, web design and development services to an impressive global client portfolio including the UN, Speedo and Jagermeister.

As part of its corporate social responsibility programme, this year Hallam Internet is also running a free to attend Digital Summit to raise money for Framework its chosen charity of the year. To book a place and hear from speakers including Capital One, Speedo, Google on 21st June 2018 at Nottingham Playhouse.

What does the future hold?

Susan’s closing thoughts focused on a positive future:

"It is an exciting time for the digital world, with machine learning, programmatic marketing and AI. With all the changes Google is making to search, a big change coming is mobile first - indexing mobile over desktop, this will have a huge impact on our industry. "

"There is an incredible rate of change in terms of what is happening on social media, facebook, the internet and Hallam Internet will be at the forefront of this change. "

"It has been an interesting journey creating this scaled up business. As we continue to grow, we are establishing ourselves as an emerging national player, proud of our Nottingham roots. We aim to be one of the top 100 agencies in the UK by the end of the year."

For more information on the free business support available from The Big House to help you scale up your business, visit our business support pages.