Interviews

PressPlugs: Being different in an age of bland uniformity

6 min read

22 August 2018

Deputy Editor, Real Business

Our series focussing on couples in business swerves away from the food industry and zooms in on media. Here, the founders of PressPlugs, Mike and Tracy Nolan, talk about how they met – and what skills they bring to the table.

Having worked as journalists and PR professionals, married duo Mike and Tracy Nolan understand the pain points of media from both sides of the fence. These barriers, in part, inspired them to create a business together.

But as we found out, running a business with your spouse has its ups and downs.

They spoke to Real Business about the creation of PressPlugs – and how they navigate the workplace as a team.

How did you both meet?

We first met in Birmingham in our mid 20s, but started going out at the start of 1999. We had bumped into each other again in a nightclub queue on the first weekend in January, when neither of us really wanted to go out!.

We were both with friends from other parts of the country who wanted to carry the night on in post new year party mode. The rest, as they say, is history.

What inspired you to start a business together?

Purely flexibility around our two children. We know too many people who materially have a lot, but their lives are crazy beyond the realms of madness in some cases. We could see our lives going that way both being in corporate jobs and we agreed that we didn’t want that kind of lifestyle for our family. We decided we had to take a risk or end up like them.

What specific roles do you both have?

I am the more pragmatic one who manages the business, whilst Mike is more the ideas and sales man. Having had psychometric tests done, we realised our strengths and we try to work to them.

How do you separate work disagreements from your personal life?

It’s not always possible, but we do it better than most. When the kids come home we go into family mode. To be fair though, we don’t have too many disagreements and have a very collaborative approach.

Do you have any rules to leave work at work?

Not specifically, because as the kids know, it’s our business so it’s different. Having said that, we value family time and fun so the kids do have a good environment.

What are your individual strengths?

I am good at detail and Mike is good at ideas. That sounds simplistic, but it’s about right. Also, when people meet the two of us they generally like us as there isn’t really any ego going on. We’re not at all corporate and have a very open and flexible attitude to business.

If you could swap your business partner for somebody else, who would it be?

We like Richard Reed of Innocents Drinks and his story of starting off and packing in corporate life is uplifting. If we could get Anita Roddick of The Body Shop back, she’d be great too.

We like that ethos about sustainability, being different in an age of too much bland uniformity, and really good ethics.

What’s been your biggest business achievement to date?

The fact that leading journalists from the likes of the BBC and other fine publications like us. Also, the ability to start on a small budget and grow it and attract backing has been deeply satisfying.

What are the perks of running a business together?

Not having to be answerable to bosses who can exercise huge control over you. Also planning a day the way you want and make it into a model where there is some balance. Seeing our kids in sports days and Christmas plays etc., is also hugely satisfying.

What are the downsides of running a business together?

The highs are high, but the lows can be crushingly low and escaping the monthly pay cheque can be awkward as it’s all about cash flow. Sometimes there is great doubt, but then it can be brushed away, by just a nice comment from another small business owner appreciating what we are trying to do.

We work from our office in our garden, so people think they can interrupt you at home more easily – people don’t treat you the same as if you’re working for an employer. It can be annoying.

What celebrity couple are you most like?

We’d like to say Bill and Melinda Gates, but we don’t have as deep pockets! They are rich, but give most of it away. We just want health, happiness and a fairly comfortable lifestyle, but don’t care for yachts and private jets.

We’d love to be able to give a great deal to help good causes as it restores faith in humanity and sets a great example to our kids.