CEO interview: Christian Thomson

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by Jacob Solomon Nov 24, 2022 News

Christian Thomson had just been named Young Business Person of the Year at the Cornwall Business Awards when we last talked to him.

There has been a lot of change since then. He relocated to Canada with his family in 2012 to start a digital marketing agency. He's back.

You have to go from Newquay to the other side of the world. The story is what it is.

In 2012 my wife was suddenly diagnose with stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma. At the time, we had three children, all under the age of five. She’s originally from Vancouver, so we decided that we would fly to Vancouver to go for her treatment and to be close to her family. We left Errant Surf behind. We were initially going to go there for a few months,

but then a few months turned into a year, a year became three years and before you knew it, we had been there nine years.

She had to go to Canada between her treatments. Much of Errant Surf was dependent on me. We had a surf school in Spain, a guesthouse, a bar and a lifeguard training centre. It was a travel agency and an online shop, and we ran surf tours to the islands. As I focused on my family, I lost focus on the business.

I had to change myself because I couldn't do anything related to surfing. After growing Errant Surf in the early days, I went down the path of becoming a marketing consultant and applying the skills I learned to local businesses. Digital marketing, social media, search engine optimisation, and conversion rate optimisation were some of the skills used. It was more about convincing business owners that they needed to have their websites ready for the mobile revolution back in 2012 when many of these marketing channels were new to local companies.

Marwick Marketing grew from referrals. Four team members and the agency were hired within a year.

continued to grow.

In these early years, I made a concentrated effort to make myself redundant. Having seen what happens when you are everything to a business like I was at Errant Surf, I wanted to

make sure that I was replaceable quickly.

I have learned a lot from that. Marwick Marketing in Canada now employs 23 people and is one of the highest accredited digital marketing agencies in the world. Two years ago, we were one of the fastest growing companies in western Canada.

Our children grew up into teenagers after Theresa beat cancer. We moved to Costa Rica after we decided to leave the mountains in Canada and return to the beach. One of the advantages of starting a business is that you are redundant. We relocated to Costa Rica after selling everything in Canada. It all got a bit strange after Covid hit. Schools and the beaches were closed by the government. There was a lot of doubt. We would have stuck it out, but with the three kids, it just wasn't the right thing to do.

We hadn't thought of coming back to Cornwall, but in a wake-up moment, we thought it was a good time to return to Newquay.

In 2020, I was lucky enough to meet my now business partner, Angie Dosanjh. She was the marketing manager for the Business Development Bank of Canada. She wanted to leave the corporate world, so she bought into Marwick Marketing and continues to lead the

Canadian team.

Angie has been a great asset to Marwick Marketing, and I’m grateful that we have such a great working relationship, even if we’re 5,000 miles apart!

Since you've been gone, has Cornwall changed?

Two years have passed since we came back. They are working with organizations.

like the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and the Cornwall Trade & Investment Company it’s been excellent. So great to see so much new support for local businesses.

Since we left in 2012 it has changed a lot.

Newquay has lost a lot of the stag and hen parties. And that was, to be honest, one of the reasons we almost didn’t want to move back with young children! But we’ve come back and seen it’s nothing like that anymore, it’s all trendy co-working spaces, lovely cafes, a cool entrepreneurial scene and, of course, a vibrant surf community.

The community of Newquay is the best in our opinion.

away.

It's different from running a digital marketing agency in Cornwall.

opposed to Canada?

The location of our office is in Squamish, which is between the two Canadian cities ofVancouver andWhistler.

The ski resort ofWhistler is well known for its skiing, while the tech city ofVancouver is well known for its technology. The population of Squamish is 20,000.

However, we have access to seven cities within an hour’s drive of Squamish. Obviously, with Cornwall’s geography, we don’t have that volume of businesses. We look to support

local businesses as much as possible, but equally, we strive to work with companies outside of Cornwall and across the UK. We even have a client in the Orkney Islands, Orcades Marine.

We want to build our in-house team in Cornwall. The town of Newquay is located in the state of New England.

has a lot of similarities to Squamish. The same sized population and people choose to live here for the lifestyle. By being based in Squamish and Newquay, we’re able to attract talented digital marketing experts who want that work-life balance.

You can spend your free time surfing in Newquay or snowboarding in Squamish while working in an agency environment. This is in turn.

creates a loyal, healthy and focused team.

Digital marketing has changed over time.

Very much so; reflecting on the last ten years, it feels like another world. When Marwick Marketing was born, the only real social media platform was Facebook; 85% of websites were not mobile-responsive, SEO was not understood, and Google My Business didn’t

launch till two years later, in 2014. It’s safe to say digital marketing changes at a breakneck pace every year.

Thankfully we have a big team of talented people between Newquay and Canada who are constantly keeping up to date with digital marketing. Our team are constantly learning,

testing and strategising so that our clients can come to us in the knowledge that they are getting the very best digital marketing solutions to help them grow their business.

What are the most frequently asked questions from customers?

Our most significant request is to increase revenues and market share, that’s what we do. The mechanics of doing that are the tools we have in digital marketing, be it conversion rate optimisation or social media ads or web design or content marketing. To grow your

business, you need to be helpful, visible and trusted by your potential customers.

Is there a lot of companies that don't have a digital presence?

It’s a mixture, for sure. Some companies will just be starting out, while some will have been around for many years and simply want a fresh set of eyes on their growth plans and marketing strategy. You can have established companies in Cornwall that have been successful for many years and have little to no digital presence. This is fine, but when they

want to recruit top talent or generate more business, they will want to consider putting their best foot forward.

The challenges of opening an office with Covid were discussed.

There were a couple of opportunities that came up. When Covid first hit Canada, there was a dip in business for about four weeks when everyone panicked and paused their marketing campaigns. We saw our most following that.

extensive growth period in Canada. So we were able to grow there, which then coincided with the launch in Newquay. So, I think it was good timing.

Is there a lot of involvement with the Canada office on a daily basis?

Marwick Marketing runs under one umbrella, and in terms of education, like internal training, it’s all the same stuff. But in Canada, we’re a team of 23, and in the UK, there are three of us at the moment with two new people coming this autumn. We definitely

have our own little bubbles, but we share many resources back and forth, which is good. I like to think of Marwick Marketing as the local Cornish marketing agency with global expertise and experience.

How will the business grow in Cornwall?

There is a good spot for digital marketing agencies in Canada.

that sweet spot.

We know every single one of our clients and we get to really understand their business because we are not a large agency. Everything we do is done by our team and we are not a small agency. Quality of work and security can be compromised by this.

Do you have any thoughts of reviving surf businesses?

When we moved back last year, I said I wouldn’t do anything within the surf industry. But then fast forward to more recently, I’ve been doing a lot more surf contests again, and recently I won the 2022 Masters British Longboard Union title. So I thought, you know what, I have this fantastic marketing agency and all this experience of Errant Surf, I should

do something.

I just launched an online surf shop called 10 Over Surf, which is driven by some high-quality content marketing under the banner of Longboarder Magazine, which will be digital first.

We have spent the last ten years growing ecommerce shops in Canada from start up to multimillion dollar companies so why not have my own brand?

When you were in Canada, did your love for surfing diminish?

When I moved to Canada, I stopped everything to do with surfing.

Surfing has been a huge part of my life since I was nine years old. It was odd to leave something like that so quickly.

something ingrained in your DNA.

Landing in Canada, networking and growing Marwick Marketing was a real experience. I knew no one, and no one knew me. I had a blank slate as to how I wanted to be perceived. It was just peculiar. I was wearing a suit a lot of the time, walking around Vancouver, meeting people in their offices, just completely different from what my life had been like just a few months prior, running Errant Surf in a pair of shorts in Newquay and being a

sponsored surfer for Fat Face clothing.

The experience of being taken out of your comfort zone has changed the way you do business.

It’s made me more resilient. Going through what we went through as a very young family. Theresa and I were still in our 20s, and Dylan, Summer and Joel (Summer and Joel are

twins) were all under the age of five.

I tried to stay strong. Looking after Theresa, who couldn't get out of bed, and taking calls for Errant.

Surf. I’d hide in the toilet and cry. I feel that if I can overcome that, in a new country and come out the other end successfully, we’d probably be okay in the future.

There are opportunities all the time. We are open to recognize them. One of the most fascinating things about being a business owner is the ability to make something from nothing. Business growth is limited by our imagination and belief in ourselves.

Is your strongest attribute a business person?

That and just not being afraid to work hard. I don’t think there’s any such thing as an overnight success. You have got to be prepared to work hard. If you’re not physically in front of the computer and working, it’s in your mind, thinking all the time. And I’m

happy to do that.

In more recent years, I’ve been a big fan of hard ‘sprints’ followed by ‘miniretirements’. Big pushes for new business or projects followed by time away from the business. Like we did moving to Costa Rica for a year and Vancouver Island for a year. We’re in a sprint mode now, we are growing Marwick Marketing in the UK and just launched 10 Over Surf Shop –

but I know in three years, we’ll be taking another year out.

I think looking at life like this keeps your enthusiasm high, your energy levels boosted and motivates you to be your best. I can’t imagine just working hard now at 40 to retire

at 70 – I’d lose interest quickly.

You seem to have a good work/life balance.

First and foremost, the family. Health, physical and mental are included.

For me, this is being able to surf every day. Then business. I think of my businesses as additional children. I’m here to support them, grow them and nurture them until they become “adult businesses” my businesses aren’t me. So the work / life balance isn’t a

thing; it’s just life. Not a tugging of one over the other.

Is it a good idea for all small business owners to be able to operate without them?

I don't think that's a tip, I think it's a qualification for a business.

or you have simply created a job for yourself. It was a hard lesson I learnt with Errant Surf. The business didn’t operate without me. So, although I thought I had a business with Errant Surf, and even though we employed many people and had operations overseas, what I had was a very stressful job that I had created for myself.

I own a business that is not mine. The surfer is Errant surf.

was me. I would just wish I’d learnt that earlier.

  • TAGS
  • 10 over surf
  • CEO
  • longboarder magazine
  • marwick marketing
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