Dan Saunders talks to us about achieving a work-life balance while working full-time for Ingenuity Digital, running his own consultancy firm and managing family life. He shares his valuable insights into how companies can help employees who struggle with work-life balance.
Where do you come from and what do you do?
I'm currently based in Harrogate. We are part of the IDHL group, I work for Ingenuity Digital specifically, we have offices in Harrogate, Leeds, Manchester, and London as well. My job there is the Performance Marketing Manager. I deal, basically, in working with clients to find the best results for them whether it's online or whether it's through direct mail campaigns etc and then working strategy, together to help them really push that through.
That's brilliant. Recently we've heard that you've moved jobs so what were you doing initially and how different is your job now?
My main focus in my previous job was just SEO. The good thing about Ingenuity Digital is it's given me the opportunity to work on the design and development phase as well as the SEO PPC but also stretching my knowledge into e-commerce. I've just recently opened up my own ecommerce consultancy as well so they feed into two.
I can already tell you're an extremely busy man. You were able to start a new business a year ago while moving into a new job role. How do you manage that work-life balance?
It really wasn't easy at first. When I first started it, I did all the wrong things. I kind of committed to things that weren't gonna make money in the long run but I thought in the short term they were. I just pushed my time out there completely. I had no 'me time' and I really, really struggled with it as well. One of the best things I did was actually block booking out my time. So I'll say between 9 and 11, I'll do the calling out, dealing with clients, looking at strategies. Between 11 and 12, get ready, you know, just have a bit of chill-out time, just a little bit away, because the thing with digital marketing is you are, what, 99% of the time in front of a screen? Just pulling myself away from the screen, going for a walk, going for a tea/coffee. Just something, you know, to pull yourself away but also a little bit of activity as well. Trying to take as much time for the weekends as I can for my other half and my puppy. But then, also, you do realise it is difficult when you've got the consultancy side as well, to try and not let that bleed in as well to what you want to do. So block booking is one of the best best strategies that I've done so far.
Very good. So you have a wife and a dog, and of course they make you very active I can imagine so I'm sure it's very easy to stay committed to them as well as your work. I've just heard the news that you're welcoming a baby soon, so do you have any plans in order to develop your work-life balance a bit more, because I think you're probably going to need a bit more time at home. So how will you be further developing your work-life balance?
Well, Ingenuity Digital have been really, really helpful already. We've got a couple of appointments next week. So, even though I'm only three weeks in, they've said I can work from home and they've given me some holiday time as well for it. Making sure you’re working with the right people that have the right mentality. That's been such a massive boost. In terms of getting ready for, wow, having a baby in February, having a puppy and a very heavily pregnant wife at the moment, it's really not been easy. I've now got an hour and a half commute into work and then an hour and a half commute back as well. So basically as soon as I get back home, work is shut off completely. I mean, I don't have my laptop on, I don't look at my work emails or anything like that, and it's actually spending time with each other rather than just sitting in front of the TV. I mean sometimes TV's good, you can just be out there in the world and not really think of anything. Just spending time with each other, going for a run with the dog, going for a walk as a family, making sure I block out time. My mom was a single mom. She had to raise three kids on her own and she always always made it: when she was home, she was home. Whatever was happening at work, whether she had a really really stressful time, it was she's at home. Always took us everywhere, you know, we never ever sat down. I think that's probably why I'm like I am now [laughs], always on the move. Every weekend we'd be going to the beach, we would go for a run, we'd do something active. That got me into rugby, that got me into kickboxing and got me into basketball as well. It's making sure we're having that energetic output the way you can bond with time as a family. So that's one of my bigger plans as well when we've got a child, obviously when they're a little bit older maybe looking into the sports side of things but making sure we're spending time just us together.
How does it work with your consultancy firm then, do you accept calls at night? How do you fit that in with your full-time job?
One of the big things is setting clients' expectations properly at the start, letting them know that I'm doing this as well. A lot of people I deal with know that my full-time job is performance marketing but they know how important my family is to me. So I'll say, 'Right okay, go back to the block booking of times. I will be available for X, Y and Z time. I won't be available before, I won't be available after.' Whether it's work or the other work commitments, or my time for my other half. But then, also trying to balance that. Say, for example, someone has got an urgent campaign that needs to go live, needs to be sorted, then that takes priority. I can then say, 'Right okay, if I do that this time, I then need to take away that time, to make sure that it's balanced, to make sure you're getting the best for your customer but also at the same time making sure you've got that detachment from the digital world'.
What would you advise that companies nowadays should be doing to help their employees who struggle with that work-life balance? What could they be doing in order to enforce a better work-life balance for their staff?
One of the big things, in fact, at Ingenuity Digital, is that, everyone in our London office has got a free gym membership. It's all part of the contract. That's from day one, as well. There needs to be cycling to work schemes, and also rewards for going out and being active. My wife works for the Environment Agency, they get a pass to go to all National Trust Parks. We like to go to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. We get the chance to go discounted there or we can book in to get in free at certain places, as well. It's just something that rewards your employees for being out and being active, because it is so, so easy to get caught up. You know, I recently downloaded the Mario Kart app on my phone, and that literally nearly took quite a lot of my time, because you had nostalgia, you had the screen vibe. It was just a case of 'no, no, no'. Detach. Let's go out. Let's just take in a little bit of sunshine. Well, as much sunshine as we can get in the UK, and, you know, just enjoy being with each other.
We've had a question from a guy who is struggling to ask his current manager for more time off or more money. How would you deal with a situation like that?
Personally, when I've been in that situation, I've just been up front and honest with my boss. It depends on what sort of mentality they have. If you've got someone who is very numbers focused, or someone that's very personable, it all depends on the relationship. I had a guy who was very, very numbers orientated so I basically put forward, 'Look, you know, if I could do X with that, and that would equal X,Y and Z for you guys. Could I then do this, this and this?' So I put it as a proposal to them. You know, it's not always gonna work like that. Ideally, in an ideal world, the best way to do it is to just be upfront, honest. Think about what you're going to say before you say it and why you want to do it. Now, have you really earned it? 90% of the time. I'd say most people have, because we undervalue ourselves as people so, so, so much, and we just sort of take what we can get. But, if you know that you've earned it, you can put a positive case together, and you know your worth. Then, just put the case forward and be honest and upfront with your boss. If they say no, and they give you a legitimate reason, then okay. Ask your boss 'What are the next steps? What's the next action that we can take to get me from where I want to be to where I am now? How do I get there?' But if, they don't, they just say, 'No', flat out, and they don't answer you why, then maybe, that's not the right place for you to be in. I know it's a harsh answer, but it's got to be the case, you've got to think about yourself because it's very, very easy in this day and age just to forget and think you're just a wheel and a cog. You're not. Everyone plays a really important role in what they do.