In this interview, we talk with Jonathan Holt-Thomas, Founder of Jolt Digital, a full-service digital marketing agency, about the original source of inspiration for starting the company, what’s the meaning behind the brand name, and what’s next for Jolt Digital.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What did you do before you started your business?
My story is meandering, but I’ve pretty much always had a little hustle going on since I was in school – I did anything I could turn my hand to in order to make some money, especially if it involved tech and making stuff.
I freelanced doing photography and design from when I was about 16 years old through the rest of school and university, picking up animation, VFX, and film at university and then marketing along the way through a necessity for my clients.
When I graduated I hated the idea of having a salaried full-time job, and I’d built a couple of contacts and clients, so I, perhaps naively, decided I was going to do things on my own and freelance full-time. I was seriously broke for a long time!
I got lucky a number of times, mainly by being able to join a very sociable and collaborative coworking space. Through some more self-teaching and a company I worked with very closely there, I was able to (finally) learn how to code and build websites, which was the major missing piece in my skill set – and it turned out it would start actually paying my bills.
I ended up getting a lot of web work over the years as well as making connections with others outside the office which then led to even further opportunities. I consider myself very lucky for the chances I had when so many people don’t get those chances.
How was the idea for Jolt Digital born?
I’m not sure if it was really an idea – more natural evolution. I’d always wanted to start my own company, and an agency doing this sort of thing was exactly what I gravitated towards. The catalyst for the evolution from being a one-person operation to founding Jolt Digital was COVID-19.
The business was doing well as a freelancer anyway and growing steadily, but when the pandemic reared its head, many existing clients had to restructure their revenue streams and marketing to survive, other new clients came along with new offerings in response to the pandemic. This meant I was absolutely snowed under and stuck to my desk for pretty much every waking hour – not to mention we couldn’t leave the house!
It was rough, but I started bringing on a few extra people to help with projects when needed, and we filled that capacity too. I decided I was lucky enough to stop thinking about my business as ‘me’, and to start thinking of it as ‘we’. So, I did a bit of research and asked around for an accountant, and set up the business as a real company. Since then I’ve been doing my best to figure out how to run a company and manage a team (they put up with my failings and shortcomings brilliantly) – considering I’d never had a full-time salaried job, so most of this was alien to me.
What does Jolt Digital do?
Jolt Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency. Our ethos is a friendly, no-nonsense, and performance-focused service. We love ‘big pictures’ – taking a holistic approach to a company’s digital presence and helping them grow through a connected strategy across website design & build, SEO, PPC/Advertising, conversion optimization, branding, and the rest. We feel it’s kind of pointless focusing on one discipline if another is letting the side down or contradicting your efforts. Put simply, we not only build websites that look great, we also get your business traction online.
How did you name your brand? What was the reasoning behind choosing the name Jolt Digital?
This is kind of a funny story (to me, anyway!). When I was about 14, I was really getting into graphic design and photography, and thought quite long and hard about coming up with a name for my ‘business’ offering these services; and settled on ‘Jolt Digital Arts’ based on a portmanteau of my names Jon and Holt. It didn’t really go anywhere, and the name just began to make me cringe, so I abandoned it entirely.
As time went on, I just went by my actual name instead of pretending I was something else. Well… when I then grew my actual business to the point in 2021 where I had to become a real company, I went to my good friend James King at Design Ensemble – a branding expert – and said please help me with a name and a logo.
A couple of days passed and I got an email from him that said something like ‘how about Jolt for the name?’.
I’d never told him about Jolt’s previous incarnation. I figured it was meant to be so we went with that! I’m quite fond of it again now! We added on the digital as we felt it was a bit non-descriptive on its own, making it Jolt Digital.
What domain name did you choose for Jolt Digital? What is your experience with it?
I’m not too precious about domain names, especially when starting out. I wanted joltdigital.com, but that was taken. I’m not always a fan of the fancy TLDs like .agency or .work etc – so I settled for a local .co.uk domain with joltdigital.co.uk. However, at the time of writing there are some potential changes on the domain front, so watch this space…
What is your biggest challenge with this business? Have you overcome it, and how?
My biggest challenge relates to ‘busyness’ and delegation. Since we launched the workload has been huge, pretty much at all times. This is great for business, but it means I’m flat out most of the time. Along the way, I’ve brought on some great people to help out and done what I can to delegate tasks, but I’m still super busy.
So I’m trying to find the time to train people, delegate, document processes, as well as get the ‘day job’ done, especially when a lot of things seem urgent and I end up (stupidly) doing them myself because it’ll be faster ‘this time’. So it’s definitely been tough along the way and I’m not good at delegating. Parkinson’s Law also seems to mean that no matter how much capacity we have, we’re all just so busy. I need to learn to slow down sometimes and plan ahead!
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a business when it comes to naming their brand?
One thing I always try to keep in mind with naming businesses, which you hear all the time, is that it doesn’t matter as much as you think – especially to start. Give it a name that’s okay for now. Maybe it’ll grow on you, maybe you’ll change it later – which is totally fine. What matters is that it isn’t totally random, it isn’t offensive, and is somewhat memorable. What matters is being a good business!
What do you know about premium domains, and what do you feel is their role in building successful brands?
I definitely see the importance of premium domains, especially in mature brands that want recognition and recall at scale e.g consumer products. If you’re a startup on a shoestring budget, I wouldn’t put all that budget into a domain! But – Jolt included – once the brand is better established, having a premium domain may be worthwhile doing.
I know of a tech company that was new on the scene a few years ago which bought a premium domain from another very well-known household name – the domain was one word but not the current owner’s actual brand name, so they were happy to sell but at a pretty huge price (millions). By the looks of what that company is doing now, it was worth it, but at the time it seemed like an overly huge number. So like many things, it’s about balance and risk and reward.
Where do you feel your knowledge about domains as brand assets can improve?
I’m always interested in learning more about branding holistically as it’s definitely not my focus area, and domains definitely come into this. I’d like to see more data about the reception and opinion of less traditional TLDs, non-branded domain names, and other modifiers like dashes or word prefixing e.g (getproduct.com/wearecompany.com). If anyone’s got more on this, I’d be interested to learn more!
What is next for Jolt Digital?
Right now, we’re building our team and capacity to do more great work for more people, and we’re also looking to expand into other markets such as North America and Europe. We’ve got a few things in the works with the above, so watch this space!
Last thing, if some of our readers have more questions. Where can they reach you online?