Belfast digital marketing specialist Peter’s first alarm attacks his ears at around 4:30 am.
Sometimes, he knocks it off for ten or fifteen minutes.
Most of the time, though, Peter Meehan aims to be up and at it before 5:00 am.
That’s because he has started – relatively recently – to do the ‘Miracle Morning’.
The Miracle Morning is a best-selling book by American Author Hal Elrod.
It’s a morning routine built around six key practices known as ‘Life S.A.V.E.R.S’: Silence, Affirmations, Visualisation, Exercise, Reading and Scribing.
After completing his early morning routine and reviewing his goals, Peter starts work.
He gets stuck into the usual workload; replying to emails, completing tenders and proposals and meeting clients on Zoom calls.
By midday, Peter is ready to tackle a workout.
He dives into a T25 workout programme, an intense programme that he says is “terrible and brilliant in equal measures”.
After that, it’s time to review his goals again before finishing his workday at 4:00 pm.
For the rest of the day, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, a little bit of T.V. and hops into bed for 9:30 pm.
Peter’s from Carrickmore, a small town in Tyrone.
In English, it means ‘Big Rock’, which is where he got the name for his business, Big Rock Designs.
Although he points out, his wife deserves credit for the business name.
“I went to school in Carrickmore High School,” Peter explains.
“I failed the 11+; then after third year, I went to Omagh C.B.S. Grammar School.
“After A-levels, I went to the Art College, and I worked for a couple of years in Dublin,” he continues.
After his Dublin adventure, Peter spent the next two years travelling around the world.
When he came home, he decided he needed more computer skills.
“So I did a Masters Degree in 3D and animation at Ulster University’s Magee campus,” he reveals.
Safely back in Ireland and equipped with his new computer skills, Peter launched his business in 2003.
Explaining his rationale for starting a business while most people around him were opting for 9 – 5 jobs, Peter says, “It can be hard to make a decent living in the design industry until you are self-employed.
“My primary motivator was to make a better living and have a better life.
“Also, I didn’t like, ahem, people telling me what to do.”
When Peter launched Big Rock Designs in 2003, it was a different world.
The effects of September 11th were still fresh.
George Bush was U.S. President, and Tony Blair was U.K. Prime Minister.
Friends still reigned supreme on T.V., and the most popular websites worldwide included Yahoo, AOL and M.S.N.
And it would be another twelve months before Mark Zuckerberg would launch Facebook.
At the end of 2003, ‘Mad World’ was number one in the UK music charts.
Fast-forward to today, and Peter’s business is very much in sync with the times.
He offers digital marketing services such as Facebook Ads, Google PPC Ads and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
Big Rock Designs also offers training in Graphic Design, Digital Video Production and Digital Marketing.
Peter’s company works with companies of all sizes, from fledgeling start-ups right up to businesses with multi-million-pound turnovers.
“We work with anyone who wants to make money online,” Peter explains.
“Our client base includes engineering companies, construction companies, hotels, finance companies, restaurants, eCommerce businesses, and mechanics,” he adds.
Although there have been some significant technological advancements in the eighteen years since Peter launched his business, it would be hard to pick a more challenging year than the twelve months we’ve all went through.
Speaking about the effects of the pandemic, Peter admits it has been challenging.
“The grants were a lifesaver at the beginning to keep us going,” he reflects.
“Now we’ve started to gain momentum, and the business is going quite well again.”
With the ‘old normal’ now a distant memory and our ‘new normal’ seemingly here to stay, remote work looks like one of the most significant changes for local businesses.
Previously, Peter had three offices; Belfast, Dublin and Cork.
He let the Cork office go three years ago, and when the pandemic arrived in March 2020, he decided the time was right to leave both his Dublin and Belfast offices.
Instead, his staff started working remotely.
“This has been a great success,” he says.
“Everyone is more productive and happier.
“None of us are spending hours a week travelling to and from work.”
He continues, “Initially, my main business focus was computer training.
“Around two years ago, we started to concentrate more on digital services, and now it’s the main part of our business.
“When my business relied on computer training to survive, we needed a physical office.
“However, with the pandemic, people realised that you don’t need to be there physically to do training.
“The virtual experience is every bit as good, if not better,” he maintains.
And he’s enjoying the remote working life.
“Not paying for expensive offices is great,” he laughs.
“I’m at work in about 30 seconds.
“I love working from home, and when I am away from home, I can work on my laptop or my new Microsoft surface.
“It’s the best kit I have ever bought; I was formerly an Apple Mac geek!”
The flexibility of working at home extends to family life for Peter too.
“If I need to take care of the kids, I can do it,” he adds.
But while he’s enjoying our ‘new normal’, there’s a lot of things he misses about the good old days pre-pandemic.
“I miss meeting with friends and family.
“I love playing golf, and I would like to get back into it too.
“I’m terrible, but it’s great for your mental health.”
Every cloud has a silver lining, and Peter says the global pandemic has helped him reconnect with friends worldwide that he had lost contact with over recent years.
Creating a good work-life balance is challenging at the best of times.
But throw in a pandemic, Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol, and it all gets a little trickier.
“At the start of the pandemic, I was good.
“And then I got into a terrible routine,” he recalls.
“In the last few months, though, I have been getting back on track and working out.”
Peter enjoys being his own boss.
“I enjoy the control, and essentially no one telling me what to do. I love the responsibility.
“And I enjoy not being dependent on someone else,” he insists.
Of course, like any business, Peter says he faces the usual challenges by being his own boss.
“I think the isolation aspect springs to mind.
“A few years ago, I felt like a prisoner in my own business.
“But I was able to get the right people to work with me and move my business in a direction which was financially and mentally better,” he adds.
Peter says he attributes his recent personal and professional development to one thing.
“I’m absolutely convinced if there’s a secret, it’s getting up early,” he maintains.
“When I get up early, I plan my day, get what I need done and usually finish around 4:00 pm on weekdays.”
On Saturday and Sunday, he aims to finish work around 10:00 am or 11:00 am.
“The weekend is a workday when you are self-employed,” he reasons.
Peter has a lot to take pride in over the last twelve months, especially after transitioning from physical premises to remote working.
“At the start of the pandemic, my business was not looking good,” he recalls.
“After restructuring, I have been able to survive and then grow.
“I’m very proud I’ve been able to give a pay rise to my staff when others are letting people go and furloughing staff.”
With the Northern Ireland Covid-19 vaccination programme continuing at pace, Peter’s looking ahead to brighter days.
He reckons he’ll still be working remotely in twelve months and has a few projects in the pipeline.
“I am in the process of creating an online learning course, and I want to have it completed and marketed,” he says.
And what advice would he, as an experienced Northern Ireland entrepreneur of eighteen years, say to the next generation of aspiring local business owners?
“Plan your goals,” he urges.
“Work out exactly when you are going to achieve them.
“And kick yourself if you don’t achieve them.
“Start finding others to do the tasks for you to lighten the load, for example, freelancers.
“Of course, I’m still trying to work it all out and practice what I preach,” he grins.
Peter says as well as setting yourself goals and targets, having a great website has never been more important.
“Get a decent website,” he urges.
“And get somebody to proofread it for mistakes.
“Don’t fill it with crap.
“Give people the information they need quickly and easily.
“And this isn’t a blatant shout out to Tall Paul Marketing, but spelling mistakes cost you money.
“Potential clients assume if you don’t take the time to proofread your website, then why should they trust you?
“I’ve learned this the hard way,” he says.
Peter says that whether you’re a new start-up or an established business owner, networking should be high on your list of priorities.
“Find a good networking group where you can get ideas and hopefully get some work.
“This is vital, I think.
“When you are self-employed, you feel you are the only one going through the issues.
“But it’s not the case; we are all in it and experiencing similar things,” he continues.
“Get involved with a group of people who want to help each other out.
“You are actively promoting their business, and they are doing the same for you.
“It’s called the Givers Gain in some circles. Remember, if you give, you will gain.
“I just wish I had done this fifteen years ago.”
And Peter says there are several things any small business owner in Northern Ireland can do to market their business effectively.
“Well, of course, Big Rock Designs can help you,” he smiles.
“I read an article recently from Richard Branson, and it really struck a chord.
“It went something like this, “there’s no point having a good idea if you don’t tell everyone about it”.
“Use your marketing platforms to get your message in front of the person who is looking for something when they are looking for it,” he continues.
“Get a good accountant; they will save you their bill many times over.
“Get a Good CRM system and keep every client’s email address so that you can remarket to them at least once a month,” he adds.
His company’s launch in 2003 seems like a lifetime ago now.
But the Christmas number one song of that year, ‘Mad World’, seems to sum up 2021 perfectly.
To find out more about Peter’s entrepreneurial journey, visit the Big Rock Design website.