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Staffordshire University Law School alumni Mark Blackhurst started an internet venture after graduating and has turned it into an international, multimillion pound digital business. Since 2010, Digital Next has grown from a six staff SEO firm to an industry leader in search and web development employing nearly 50 people in England, Ireland and Australia.
“We’re still the same company but with more potential,” Mark explained. “On the back of our success in SEO, we started employing engineers, developers and content writers – headhunting talent from internet giants like Google – to improve our offering. We’ve got some really good people; the best team we’ve ever had. In every aspect, the business is doing really well.”
Mark, 37, from Stockport, graduated with an LLB(Hons) in 2000 and gained his LPC in 2006. His law degrees stood him in good stead for launching a business with brother Justin, who comes from a design and marketing background. “We’ve both got different strengths,” Mark said, “so we bring different skills and knowledge to the business, which has been massively advantageous.”
“Having worked in law for a while, launching Digital Next was only possible because of what I learned. Shortly after gaining my LPC, we realised the company was viable, and I went into it full time. For anyone, I would definitely recommend law as a good base for launching their own business. I still use what I learned at Staffordshire University and we’re now upskilling our own staff with that knowledge – it has been invaluable.”
One example was opening Digital Next’s Melbourne office in January 2014. Looking to capitalise on opportunities in Australia’s fast-growing internet sector, Mark and Justin bought an office in the country’s second largest city. “The web is still in its infancy over there,” Mark said, “so there are a lot of opportunities. Coming from a legal background, I was able to arrange permits for our British staff to work over there, which has been extremely useful.”
Three years ago, Digital Next’s head office in the UK relocated to The Sharp Project, a thriving hub of digital media, TV and film production companies on the outskirts of Manchester. More than 60 companies share the 200,000sq.ft business centre, with Digital Next being the second largest on campus, behind sportswear retailer JD Sports. However, Mark has no intention of slowing down.
“We’ve worked with some amazing companies recently, including EE Telecom, fashion brand Forever Unique, and automotive firm UNIpart. We’re onto a good thing at the moment, so we want to keep growing the UK side of the business and aim for growth as an international company also. Our services now span search engine optimisation, web design and communications. We have some excellent clients and we are continuing to grow.”