Make it or break it: Sam Nolan @ Eden Marsh talks top tips for startups

08 Mar 2019 | Interviews

Make it or break it: Sam Nolan @ Eden Marsh talks top tips for startups

By Laura Giffard

Sam Nolan, MD of Eden Marsh lives with her partner (and business partner!) Alex, daughter Eden and Russian dwarf hamster ‘Chewie’ in Surbiton. Her happy place is either at her piano or on the ski slopes.

What does your typical day look like?


6.30am – alarm goes off – snooze

6.40am – snooze again!

7.50am – now I’m gonna be late!

Mornings are always pretty stressful trying to fit in a school drop off with my daughter. Then, like most Londoners/commuters I have to battle my way to work on South Western Rail and head to the office (Farringdon) for typically a 9 hour shift of non-stop phone calls/emails/staff meetings and interviews. The day goes quick and is a roller coaster of highs and lows. Lunch time is usually a case of grabbing a sandwich and eating it at my desk. Although often I will see a client or take a member of staff for a quick lunch somewhere for a general wellbeing catch up.

I try to use my commute times as constructively as possible because I REALLY struggle with commuting: – I listen to a lot of audio books and I like to listen to Podcasts, which interest me and inspire me. This can be anything from philosophy, learning languages to just some funny stuff from my favourite comedians.

Thursdays is my work from home day, which is so important for me. It just gives me that break from the commute, extra time to balance kids/work/homework and allows me to breathe a bit.

Weekends – I try my best to switch off from work, spend quality time with my family, read, play piano, go for walks, see friends – it usually involves wine at some point and a run (not at the same time)

What do you do after work?

At the end of the day I might stop off at the gym. Often when you own/run a business it can be all-consuming and it’s easy to neglect yourself a bit and actually, that can have challenging consequences. If I get ill then I know it will impact my business big time.

Having said that – I really hate the gym! So I force myself to do it, at least 3 days a week and look forward to my nights off so I can go home and see my family.

If I finish at 6pm, I will get home around 7.30/8pm – trains permitting.

This is usually just enough time to bunker down with my daughter, chat about school, read with her (possibly a bit of homework), eat and relax.

I always like at least an hour in the evening to watch a bit of Netflix, or whatever, which helps me wind down and switch off. I should go to bed earlier than I do but by the time I get home and do what I need to do it’s already 9.30/10pm and I really need a good hour to wind down.

Tell us about you and your business.

I’ve been in recruitment all my working life (16 years). I didn’t intend to go into recruitment but after I graduated from Uni I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so applied for lots of graduate trainee programmes.

I was really lucky to find a job with an excellent agency who trained me well and gave me lots of opportunities, like moving to Manchester to assist in the start up of a new business, which then led to a move to Australia to start up an agency and run it. I stayed with this business for 11 years. I had a great mentor/friend (the owner of the agency) who also supported me in my own business venture.

I set up Eden Marsh just over 5 years ago – it is a recruitment agency for the creative industry. We recruit designers/artworkers/art directors and writers et. for design and advertising agencies but also marketing departments of brands. We are now a team of 8. Tia – one of our consultants - refers to us as a dysfunctional family; she’s probably right!

They say year 3 is when you make it or break it as a start-up. Have you ever come close to breaking it? What’s your single piece of advice for making it?

Yep – pretty much every week! No, realistically, I’ve felt the pressure possibly two or three times where I wondered if I could actually keep it up. We were lucky in that we have always managed to be financially secure (due to hard work on all sides). But it was mainly the everyday stresses which creep up on you and I think the impact of this is incredibly underestimated.

In terms of starting up the business and getting it off the ground - I had been part of 3 start ups prior to setting up my own so I think I was aware of the pitfalls but even then – it’s never a given you will be successful. I was also setting up a business in a saturated market with no real genuine USP. So I just hoped that my previous recruitment experience, passion, determination, honesty, integrity and hard work would just pay off. You have to get the staff, and quickly, otherwise you’ll burn out and again I was lucky to quickly find key people who worked hard and supported me.

The first few years are tough but to be honest, 5 years in, it’s still tough! It depends on the type of business you run. Recruitment is a very competitive industry.

For me – I found the hardest bit is transitioning from being an entrepreneur and focussing on yourself and your clients and doing what you are good at; to managing people, ensuring they are being productive, ensuring you have the turnover to cover your overheads and pay your staff! I went from just managing myself to managing a whole team of people and that calls for a different set of skills. That’s where I think some businesses can fail because as a manager, you need to be resilient and able to handle the day to day monotony and for most entrepreneurs – well, it’s just not fun!

You also need to learn to detach and not take stuff personally – and that’s hard.

My advice is: SHOW UP.

No matter how bad you think the day is going to go. Keep going, one foot in front of the other, just keep going and you will get there. YOU have to keep the business moving and growing and it’s easy to get complacent, especially after some successes. It’s also easy to think it’s never going to get easier or better. It does, but you have to give it a chance and if you give up – well you’d never know just how far you could have taken it.

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