When Josh Collins returned to Hillsborough a few years back to help his dad with health issues, he had just started his own business as a sort of one-stop brand marketing company in the hopes that he could develop a core of clientele that would pay for his blend his artistic and tech talents with his business acumen.
Collins, a native of Hillsborough, founded The Digital Butler in June of 2018. He had started out in software development and traveled the world, including stints in Dubai, Trinidad and Kuwait. He had a knack for the work he was doing, but always found himself turning to his artistic side for fulfillment. He had honed his skills in graphic design and website design. He understood the value of social media and how to make it work in marketing.
“I wanted to do something I was passionate about,” Collins said. “I think you can do anything as a business. You just have to be strategic enough of how you can drive revenue from doing what you’re good at and what you love. That was the genesis of why I wanted to start the Digital Butler.”
Collins’ special mix of capabilities earned The Digital Butler an impressive core of clients, including the Hillsborough Arts Council, New Hope Camp & Conference Center, Reddersen Realty Group and Revival Records.
And while he might impress you with his knowledge and creativity, Collins would be quick to say the primary goal of his company is to develop relationships that lead to eventual business opportunities. Collins is more interested in playing the long game.
This style of management has helped Collins grow The Digital Butler’s portfolio, and it has helped grow the staff of the small business. Since starting the company, Collins has brought in Dillon Shambley as creative director; Iva Beveridge as marketing director; Nikki Kimmer as lead photographer; and Drew Ely as audio engineer.
Each staff member shares Collins’ artistic energy and thirst for a creative outlet. Each staff member is local.
Collins and Shambley knew each other from their days in high school despite running in different stereotypical circles. Collins was the two-sport athlete; Shambley was the artist and musician. But the two were friendly to each other in school.
“I think that’s one reason that makes our relationship so special is he was a wrestler in high school and I don’t look much different back then than I do now,” said Shambley, who looks exactly like what you would expect the leader of a rock and roll band would look like (because he is one). “That’s one thing I always thought was so cool about Josh. Here’s this big wrestler guy, but whenever we passed each other in the hall we always said ‘hello’ to each other.
“We kept in touch after high school and every time his band came through Raleigh I would go to the shows,” Collins said. “I saw him when I moved back to Hillsborough to help my dad. The idea of moving back to the town that I grew up in right after starting my business was horrendous timing for me. I thought it was a temporary pit stop. And then I was, like, ‘Whoa! Hillsborough’s changed significantly.’ I ran into Dillon that first weekend.”
The two immediately collaborated creatively. They would spend evening jamming on guitars. Shambley had bought an iPad, but didn’t know much about how to use it. Collins offered to help him out and show him some of the apps and programs.
“He’d gotten this iPad and was wondering about ProCreate and I told him that’s the program I use to create logos,” Collins said. “We just sat down at Cup-A-Joe’s and I showed him what I’d done and I was giving him tips with no intention of anything else. That sparked talk about big-picture ideas, opportunities. We balance really well with my big-picture, dream-head-in-the-clouds, and Dillon’s got enough of that, but also grounds me pretty well. We knew we wanted to work together. We decided in January 2019 that we would come up with a plan and execute it. Here we are more than a year later and he’s my creative director and we’ve created show flyers and logos together, custom graphics, videos, recorded and produced albums. It’s just been a cool ride.”
What attracted Shambley to want to work with The Digital Butler was also effective with his sister-in-law, Iva Beveridge.
“I actually called Josh for advice on something irrelevant,” Beveridge said. “There’s a huge aspect of serendipity to all of it. It came together beautifully on its own. Again, without any ulterior motive, which I think says a lot about this business structure, in general. The Digital Butler wants to help people market authentically and tell their story. Specifically, we want to help in this community everyone from musicians to small- and medium-size businesses structure their marketing not only to survive in the age that we’re in right now — where everything basically needs to be digital — but also to take people away from trying to outsource interruption marketing and reach out to people who care and want what they’re talking about. I’m from Asheville originally. My brother’s fiancé mentioned an opportunity to become a marketer with a company that she worked for, which was a nonprofit in Asheville. I was nervous to take that opportunity. I was a designer at a company for five years prior to this. I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. My brother told me Josh has been doing that, and I should just call him and ask for his advice. Josh and I had an open-hearted conversation about, basically imposter syndrome, and stepping into that kind of role. From there the conversation developed into can we work together? Could I be an asset to what you’re doing already? Would that be a better value proposition to give to new potential clients with both of us together?”
“And the answer was ‘yes.’ As you can tell by the way she articulates there’s a reason why she’s the director of marketing,” Josh said.
“I think there’s a lot to be said about being true to yourself and the business. You’ve gotta find that balance. You’ve got to hit numbers, you’ve gotta get revenue. I think often times what happens is people sacrifice the things that are going to make them successful longterm — creating an authentic engagement,” Collins added. “You have to understand your tribe in terms of your consumer. It is much more beneficial for a small- to medium-size business to not try to get the numbers of an Apple or a Target, but to focus on your niche tribe. You get higher levels of engagement. If you execute a marketing strategy effectively, then you’re putting out an authentic brand that you have thought through, defined and you’re very clear on your mission vision values, and what you put out digitally represents that. The better you do at controlling your branding, the better you do at managing your reputation.”
This personal attention, Beveridge said, helps prevent clients from wasting money and time on things and services that are not yielding what’s needed in the first place.
“All of us believe that being authentic and being yourself and embodying who you are, will surround you with people like you and who appreciate who you are, develop who you are. The same thing goes for business,” she added.
“For me, The Digital Butler is what drew me to realize this is something I really want to do,” Shambley said. “Not like something I want to do as a hobby. At the core of everything — it may be social media, it may be a website, it may be your business model, at the end of the day it’s a three- or four- or five-person team that keeps art so high in the mind that every step of the process is just the authenticity of what these people are and what we believe.”
It’s also what drew Nikki Kimmer to come on as lead photographer, and Drew Ely as an audio engineer. Kimmber and Ely are also Hillsborough natives. Ely plays keyboards in Shambley’s band. Kimmer was a regular at the bands performances, often taking pictures. Collins manages the band. The Digital Butler is not only a family of friends, but it is also a well-rounded, one-stop brand marketing company that focuses on small- to midsize businesses.
“What happens often times is a business will source a vendor to provide something, like outsource marketing, but then they have to go find another vendor that can do video,” Collins said, “and another photographer; someone who can do animation; someone who can do graphic design; someone who can do copy creation. The whole premise of what we do is help businesses share their story digitally, what’s uniquely them to build brand awareness, to create engagement from consumers and ultimately do it in a position where they have one vendor handling everything; where they’re able to reallocate that time they’re spending on managing multiple vendors and focusing on their business.”
Collins said he’s geared his company to help businesses, regardless of that company’s budget. He has found that when you’re helping an entrepreneur at their earliest, money-strapped stage, and you do so in a way that is personal and attentive, you’re planting the seed to potential future business when that same entrepreneur may have a larger budget.
“I really hate box-checking approaches. ‘I need a logo. Let me just get a logo up.’ If you put just a little bit more thought into it,” Collins said. “Twenty percent more effort into the planning and the thought process, there’s a way to get really creative with it. I helped launch C3 Hillsborough, a co-working space where The Digital Butler has its office. I created the logo. Inside the C3 logo is an ‘H.’ It defines the ‘Community, Culture Collaboration tagline. There’s a creative way to approach everything if you just take a little more time to think through it, versus just checking a box. Let’s say you’re a technician, a web developer, a photographer or a software developer. That’s what you’re really good at, but now you have to run this business. You have to worry about sales and revenue and all these projects you have to manage and it’s overwhelming. And then you start checking boxes. We spend most our time with clients, where even on a $500 logo design, we have an hour or two of meetings and discussions and a questionnaire that is filled out to make sure we understand who they are and where they’re coming from. Who they are today and where they want to go. So, when we create this logo, we’re creating it with the end in mind. We have consistent check-ins with them to make sure the vision that we’re implementing is their vision. Many times someone goes to a quick logo site and they pay money to someone that’s a graphic designer with no business acumen. They’ll be, like, ‘tell me what you want and I’ll put it in a digital design.’ We take a more strategic, yet creative, approach.”
Collins and the crew at The Digital Butler also believe they can help many businesses struggling to navigate the business climate amid the pandemic. As in-person meetings and consumer interactions have been greatly reduced, digital presence and social media skills are key to repositioning.
“Right now we’re just hyper-focused on figuring out how we can help,” Collins said. “I’m the marketing chair for the Arts Council. I do the River Park concert series. And I’m doing all the video production for Last Fridays. That’s a perfect example. We can’t have a 1,000-person event right now. How can we get creative? We’re going to do live-streaming digital. I took it a step further and talked about going to all the local businesses, and maybe they can do an intro or talk about the local businesses in an introduction where we bring it up about how we care about our community and we do not want to see any of our neighbors shut their doors.
“Social media, email marketing, having a good website, having a strong digital presence is more important than it’s ever been in history. It’s not going to change soon. We’re gonna be in this for the foreseeable future. How can we be an asset and a resource for businesses, especially locally and within our community.
“I don’t need a Maserati. That’s not a life goal of mine,” Collins adds. “I don’t need a 5,000-square-foot house. When I close my eyes for the last time in this world, I want to know I made a difference. We can have that impact with what we’re good at. The digital marketing can have an exponential impact, we’re not limited to in-person anything. So if you’re a business and the livestreams for Last Fridays creates some creative smaller in-person thing, anybody across the world can find that content now. We have the ability as businesses to have a compounded reach and growth, if you do it right. If you don’t believe me, who is actually profiting and not hurting during the pandemic? Amazon. Uber Eats. Grubhub. Not anything wrong with it, but the people that are digital now are the ones that are seeing the lowest impact from the pandemic. We’re a good example of that as well.”
“Josh said last week, and it’s rung in my head every since,” Beveridge said. “What the Digital Butler is trying to do and the inspiration for the people we’re bringing together is to find the beautiful meeting point between creative and technical. And how to make the marriage of those things work for everyone.”