Digital Week 09

This year Digital Week 2009 extends across the whole of the Yorkshire region, shining a light on the creative and digital stars from Sheffield to Scarborough, Barnsley to Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds where, for the second year running, the week concludes with the return of the Drum Awards for Digital Industries.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

My experience working as a freelancer in Leeds

I have been working as a freelancer in Leeds for just over a year now and have learnt a lot since I started. The importance of time management, being able to go out and speak to people about my work and of course finding time to actually sit down and get work done. Since starting I have founded a limited company with two friends and now split my time between running that business and working for myself.

Upon leaving university I found there was a lot of help available through university-led channels as well as independent organisations such as Business Link. It is clear that higher education institutions are keen to keep creative talent in the local community, especially as many people working in the digital sector tend to move down to the capital in search of work.

Personally, I am quite happy to stay on in Leeds and set up my professional working life from here. I have met plenty of interesting people doing exciting things here and there are opportunities available - it's knowing where to look and who to talk to that counts.

Events such as Digital Week, Open Coffee, the regular GeekUps and BarCamps as well as countless tech-orientated conferences are all strong indicators that there are lots of active, interesting people in West Yorkshire, often sharing office spaces or 'media centres' such as The Round Foundry, The Old Broadcasting House and Shine. These co-working spaces and creative hothouses are springing up in cities across the UK and further afield now - a clear sign that these small businesses and agencies are becoming more popular and successful. Our world is increasingly web integrated and many see the industries that are blooming out of today's hyper-connectivity as a new industrial revolution of sorts.

Stuart Childs is a Director at The Jam Jar Collective, based at The Old Broadcasting House and Red Eric Studios offering digital art workshops for education and interactive technology for events.

Last week you may have come across Stuart Childs having breakfast with Audioboo at Marshalls Mill. This week, you'll find him here:

Monday, 16 November 2009

Reflections On Digital Week: Imran Ali

As Yorkshire's second Digital Week draws to a close, it's fitting that we reflect upon the dualities of what we understand to be "digital" in our region's perception of digital media and technology.

Idealism vs Hedonism
This Saturday I spent the day at Bradford's first BarCamp, in the company of people recounting the history of web design, marketing iPhone applications, the legal challenges of Web 2.0 and using open source software for social change.

Around a hundred individuals convened to freely share, debate and deconstruct what they know - ranging from activism, technology and design to politics and sustainable living - this group was a living example of what Alvin Tolfer envisaged as an "adhocracy".

It was fitting that this should take place in Bradford, the city that gave us software luminary John Buxton, educated the founders of Freeserve, hosted the formation of the Labour Party and indeed Tim O'Reilly's maternal family. In the rubble of a city experiencing a long, slow decline, a group of individuals was again plotting to change their world and yours too.

This idealistic, gritty, meritocratic, grassroots, bootstrapped inspiration and optimism freely flowing from BarCamp Bradford stood in stark contrast to Friday's oligarchical DADI Awards, a closed celebration of the digital agency.

DADI's awards rightly recognise the achievements of the region's agency culture, but sadly fail to encompass the broader horizon of arguably more important and innovative activity...the incredible contribution that entrepreneurs, technologists, geeks and hackers have made in the region. Who will recognise and award the best startup, best application of digital democracy or most significant contribution to open source?

A Tale Of Two Booms: From dotcom to 2.0
In the late '90s dotcom boom, the loft spaces of The Calls and Marshall Mill along Leeds' "Silicon Shore" gave us dotcom success stories such as Freeserve, Ananova and Energis. Each laying down the media and infrastructural backbone of the British Internet and leading to multi-million and multi-billion pound acquisitions. Further south in Sheffield's Plusnet was punching above its weight to compete with powerful incumbents and inadvertently creating a vibrant technology ecosphere in the city.

Now in the 2.0 era, the infrastructure of glass, copper and radio developed during the dotcom boom is enabling an emerging infrastructure of innovation and thought leadership. Leeds alone has given us...
In our other regional hub, Sheffield, the arrival of 4iP and inQubator alongside venture-backed startups such as Ensembli and FuelMyBlog signal that investors have continued belief in the potential for local ideas to "go global". Further East in Hull, the city recently hosted it's first digital and technology conference.

What Is Digital?
Digital Week has showcased the region's potential as a hub for digital marketing and production, but perhaps overlooked the region's broader digital heritage and its achivements outside the agency world.

From startups & entrepreneurs, to tech conferences, indie publishers and indeed a well established games industry, digital means much more. Earlier this year, Lord Carter outlined visions for a Digital Britain, overlooking the very real fact that we live in a post-digital culture, enabled in no small part by the innovations of Yorkshire's previous generation of startups.

Looking to the future, Digital Week needs to embrace the entire continuum of digital culture in the region - to move beyond slick websites, tuxedoed awards and vacuous brochures towards engagement with the fuzzy, idealistic grassroots innovators and thought leaders around us.

For Digital Week to avoid the accusations of irrelevance, it cannot be owned by the Council, by regional development agencies or by sponsors, but must be owned by those who built the web, the internet and the post-digital culture we all enjoy today. It needs to be owned by you.

It only took us five-thousand days to build the web - what can we do with Digital Week in the next 365 days?

Imran Ali@imran

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Networking in the Digital Industries

Yorkshire Forward has recognised the Digital & New Media industries as one of its five priority sectors, this means we believe these industries are key to the economic growth and development of the Yorkshire & Humberside region, so we're supporting them through various projects.

The main area of work that I’m personally involved with is the networks, these are business networks for companies and individuals to meet others in the same industry. I can't stress how important it is to network with people in your own industries and in overlapping areas. I think some people are still put off by the thought of being in a room full of 'competitors' but when I’ve spoken to people who have been dubious they always comment on how they didn't realise that their competitors were also so complementary to them.

I always used to hate that phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and I still do, but there is an element of truth in it. I have had many conversations with people, who on paper I could easily think would have nothing to offer me, but a casual conversation leads to a piece of information, which leads to an introduction to someone, which leads to a whole new project / area of work etc.

I have also seen what positive things can happen when you get a few related companies into a room together, seeing first hand individuals striking up deals with each other that either cut costs or give them access to new customers they could never have accessed before.

It can be very difficult to justify spending time at an event without obvious ROI gains and the importance of making contacts can be difficult to quantify, but I do believe that the businesses that achieve the most success are the ones who do get out there and meet people and have conversations with others.
Digital Week is one such opportunity to be made the most of!

The following Yorkshire Forward funded networks exist in the Yorkshire region:

Electronics Yorkshire for the electronics and photonics industry
Game Republic for the games industry
Learning Light for the e-learning industry
Print Yorkshire for the print and packaging industries
Screen Yorkshire for the film, TV and new media industry
techmesh for the IT and Telecommunications industry

Emma Frost is Sector Development Executive for Digital & New Media at Yorkshire Forward. She can be found at the following blog:

For the full Digital Week 09 programme, and opportunities to network visit

Monday, 9 November 2009

Freelancing - Putting the Free back into working hours!

After working for 3 years in the web industry under the security of a full-time job, I decided it was time to take the plunge into the uncertain waters of freelancing. More and more people are taking this option, and as such more SME’s are outsourcing their work rather than employing people in-house on a full-time basis.

This means that, at the moment, it bodes well for people who decide to freelance. Because the freelancer spreads himself over various companies, and typically charges a not-so-modest hourly rate, the earning potential is much higher than that of an employed person. This also has its benefits to the hiring company because the freelancer is employed on a temporary basis to perform a specific task, thus they aren’t shelling out on full-time staff.

Ask any freelancer what the best element of being self-employed is and they will tell you that it’s because they can pick their hours and work from any location they desire. This, for the main part is true. You may occasionally be asked to contract in office or you may have a project that doesn’t let you sleep, but these tasks go hand-in-hand with the nature of freelancing and ultimately, you are in control of the success (or failure) of the project.
Personally, I feel a massive sense of achievement when I win a contract, or complete a project as a freelancer by comparison to the work I produced as an employee. I also particularly enjoy other elements of the job, such as meeting new people and travelling to new places.

It’s probably important to mention that not anybody can become a freelancer. You do need considerable experience within your industry and you need to be relatively easy going. If you’re the kind of person that relies on structure and needs to have a monthly salary paid in on the same date each month, you will probably struggle to adjust.
For me, that’s all part of the fun

This post was written by Matt Saunders, who trades under Northern Web offering web design services in and around Leeds. Matt Saunders is at Digital Week 09's Freelance Fair, Leeds, 10 November 2009.

How to grow your Digital Business

The Government’s report on Digital Britain offered nothing real for owner managed businesses.

Getting money out of a bank is as equally frustrating. Banks want loans secured on assets with an established business track record to show how loans and interest charges can be afforded. Which is difficult for a new start up business or a C&D company with no tangible assets.

And don’t get me started on the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme!

There are also communication and language problems. One of our studio clients has complained that “What I have found is that very often the corporate world finds it difficult to grasp what we do because it's not tangible in the same way as eg. selling computers is though what we are doing is creating, in effect, a digital asset and the real value comes from the publishing rights”. Last week I took a call from a digital entrepreneur who complained to me that she had asked an accountant to prepare some projections last March and because he does not understand the business they are still not finalised. But the good news is that we do understand you and your business.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom! Look around and seize the opportunities that are available. With the Luddite postmen on strike this is forcing more businesses to look to the Internet for alternative business solutions, i.e. digital solutions.

With the continuing advances in games consoles and mobile phones, the multinational companies need instant applications to add to their offering. And it is still cheaper and quicker to buy someone out than start the whole process from scratch. Which is great when you have that knock on the door and see a very large chequebook outside!

However in the meantime you still need to consider practical down to earth matters when establishing and growing your business. Who is going to look after the bookkeeping and tax issues? Being disorganised will cost you. Companies who file accounts up to one month late at Companies House are fined £150 and late tax returns are initially fined £100. Whilst you are winning and doing the work who is going to mange these for you?

Come with your queries and listen to your Digital sector colleagues, as we at Montpelier Chartered Accountants, along with our business partners, host a multi-disciplinary workshop that will consider the issues of growing your business.

Simon Young is a Director with Montpelier Chartered Accountants. Montpelier will be offering their time in the form of consultation, to the highest bidder, on 9 November, 6-8pm at Revolution Leeds. For more information about the FREE Knowledge Auction visit

Friday, 6 November 2009

Protecting your Innovation

Digital week is sure to demonstrate yet again that the region is bursting with new media SME’s keen to show off their talent and itching to win that big client which will make their fortunes. Just make sure that in your efforts to win that account you aren’t in danger of giving your ideas away for no reward.
'Ah but I’ve got copyright protection' I here you cry, 'no one can steal my code' but the simple fact is there are a number of different coding structures and languages which can achieve an identical end result in terms of function, and if your innovation is based on a process, then that process can be recreated without breaching your copyright.

For a moment think about what your digital innovation actually does, rather than how it does it; this can be a tough thing to do for anyone who has just spent the last year focused on how to make the software work.

The essence of what you’ve created is the solution to a problem – either a new way of solving an old problem or a solution for a problem which has only recently emerged. Either way, it’s that solution which is where your value lies, not in your code. Ask yourself, if I was starting again today could I create the same outcome via a different method, either a different language, software interface, or coding structure? Think like a buyer for a second, is he or she going to look at what you show them and think to themselves – 'I like it, can I get it created for less than these guys are asking?'

If the answer to either of these questions is yes (be honest with yourself) then you need to think about an alternative form of Intellectual Property protection before you start trying to sell your innovation for millions.

There are a variety of forms of Intellectual Property protection, but for ease we’ll quickly look at two, Trade Marks and Patents.

A Trade Mark is a ‘sign’ (most typically a word or logo) that distinguishes your brand from those of your competitors. It can be used to prevent anyone else using the same or similar mark in the territory in which you trade. If you plan to sell your innovation under a brand name, then the simplest step you can take is to register that brand name as a Trade Mark. If your reputation for innovation is what makes the difference for you, then a Trade Mark is the best form of defence for your reputation. Don’t think that putting the letters TM after your name is enough – they might well serve to deter
some from misuing your brand but they don't carry any legal weight in a courtroom fight.

It used to be the case that Patents for software were hard to come by, not any more, software patents are filed all over the world every day. Patents can cost a fair bit, so unless you are going to sell your elegant and innovative solution for a decent amount, take some commercial advice. A decent patent attorney will give you at least 30mins worth of free advice before the clock starts, so get your thoughts in order and have your questions ready. They’ll want to know what your innovation does and how it represents a clear innovative step – not a bad question to ask yourself in any event.

Holding a Patent gives you a monopoly right to your innovation for up to 20 years, and during that time your can choose to licence the use of your innovation, to sell exclusively and therefore at a premium, or you can sell your IP as part of an exit strategy which enables your to relax in the Bahamas.

So if you’ve always thought that copyright was the only protection you need, think again, to avoid giving your ideas away, talk to an IP Attorney.

This post was written by Ben Wyatt, Business Development Consultant at Matthys & Squire on behalf of Montpelier.

You can bid for consultation time with Montpelier at the Knowledge Auction on Mon 9th November, a free event at Revolution, Leeds. Visit for more details.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Audio Evolution: Digital meltdown or a brave new frontier...?

Digital meltdown or a brave new frontier...a creative wild west or good old fashioned piracy asks John Robb...

The debate rages...just how does an artist survive in a time when music is free? When a political party can from in Sweden protest at the legislation against illegal downloading at the same time as musicians are sneered at for trying to make money and live, there obviously are some big issues to be dealt with here...

At the Audio Evolution: Music in the Digital Age discussion, we will be looking at the massive change in all media created by the digital revolution. How we can use these changes for our advantage, how we can embrace the web and what's going to happen next? Celebrate the anarchy whilst trying to get a handle on what's going on! What do we think about Peter Mandelson's attempts to reign in the downloaders? We celebrate the power of twitter looking at the Jan Moir incident and wonder what is next for social networking, and as we peer into the future we ask are we part of the problem or part of the solution...?

Pop culture has always been about cutting edge technology from vinyl records, the radio and the sixties telecommunications boom- it's now accelerating and sometimes we can't be blamed for being a little lost but the modern media person is internet savvy whilst no-one can quite guess where its going next...for every surefire web launch gets moulded into something quite different by the users...thinking and moving fast is the prerequisite of these thrilling hi tech times...the future is now!

John Robb will be leading the Audio Evolution: Music in the Digital Age event, 9 November, 12-2pm at The Foundry, Holbeck Urban Village, Leeds during Digital Week 09.
John Robb is an author, musician, TV pundit and journalist.