Garry Viner is the Co-Founder & Head of Search at Rocket Agency, an award-winning Australian digital marketing agency specialising in SEO, Google Ads, paid social, display advertising and email marketing.
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I was one of those people who never knew what I wanted to do. Back when I was at school, if you liked maths you really only had one or two careers option – you became an accountant, or maybe an actuary.
Neither sounded particularly appealing, but I ended up with degrees in Maths and Actuarial Studies and embarked on short-lived and tedious careers as first an actuary and then an analyst for a couple of merchant banks.
I had previously started an electrical engineering degree but gave that up after a humiliating interview which turned out to be for the Australian Navy – somehow I had managed to miss the fact that this was the employer, and after flunking two hours of questions about ships, I thought it best to try something else.
What was clear to me right from the start of my work life was that the corporate life was not for me. I was looking for a way out, and found it 20 years ago when a good friend and I decided to start a web development company. We built some great sites, including a platform for the loan syndication market that is now used by thousands of banks around the world.
In 2006, we took on a third partner and built a CMS that at its peak was powering about 2500 Australian businesses. We started to take on digital marketing clients after the first few years, and over time fully transitioned away from web to marketing, as that former market had become saturated. W
e rebranded as Rocket Agency in 2016 and my role currently is Head of Search, which means that I work with my team to get the best results for client in Google Ads and competing platforms.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I spend about half my time on client work and half on the business side. The business work could be anything from technical stuff which might fall on my lap as the sole remaining geek from the bad old days, working with the sales team auditing accounts for potential clients, marketing work across LinkedIn, reviewing the financial side of the business, all the usual stuff.
On the client side, I’m responsible for some of our key accounts so I need to make sure that they are getting the love they need. I work with a very talented team of account managers and production specialists, so there’s a lot of collaboration and chat across the office.
The thing that works for me is that I’m able to spend much of my time at my desk. I can just plonk on my headphones, switch off the outside world for a bit, and drill into numbers, beautiful numbers. I would really struggle in a role that required me to be “on” all the time.
Not sure any recent workdays would deviate too much from the above, although we did have a team-building event last week which involved a scavenger hunt in which I got to run around town dressed a bit like Borat (but with clothes under my home-made mankini), solving puzzles, exhorting strangers to join our conga line, and trying like hell to beat the teams containing my two business partners. I failed – the one featuring the MD dressed in the onesie won, naturally. I guess it was just like any other work day, come to think of it.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Running a business has both pros and cons in terms of work-life balance. There’s a lot of out of hours work, but there’s also a lot of flexibility. I prefer working in the office as I find it more motivating to be around other people, but whenever I need to work from home, the option is there.
My wife is a teacher and so she clearly can’t do her job remotely, which means that when one of the kids is sick, it’s more likely to be me that stays home.
It also means that I can choose the hours I want to work. When my children were born it was important to me to be out of the office by 5:30 so I could enjoy dinner and bath time with the kids, and then help getting them to bed. Then if more work needed to be done, I could do it after they were asleep.
There was a period when my role did not involve as much collaboration and meetings, and I could do all my work remotely if I needed to. This meant that when I spoke to my business partners about the possibility of living overseas for a couple of months and working from there, they were open to the idea.
My family and I ended up spending 9 weeks living in Florence where I worked during the day, enjoyed amazing fresh food in the Piazza downstairs at lunch with the family, spent the early evenings in galleries and museums, and the weekends in any of a number of stunning historic towns.
Unfortunately it’s hard to imagine how that would be possible now, with changes in my role and the company structure, but you never know.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
Delegation is important. I’ve got some great people that I can rely on to do a good job when I’m not able to keep on top of my workload. I’m also fortunate in that I have two very understanding business partners and friends with whom I can share anything – if any of us are struggling under the weight of work, the others will do what they can to ease the load.
Given how my day is often a mix of so many different units of work, it can be really difficult to move from one task to another. I find I need to plan out my strategic time. I try to book periods in my calendar where I can focus on client work, say, and then the ad hoc stuff sits outside that.
Otherwise I just try to take breaks where I can. I’m not one for eating lunch at my desk. I need a good break in the middle of the day, and again before working in the evening, if I need to do that. One thing I can’t do, though, is get up early and work before work. Only sociopaths do that kind of thing.
5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
There are a number of things I love to do in my spare time, and for me work is something that facilitates my ability to do those things. As hackneyed as it sounds, I don’t live to work, I work to live. One of those things is travel – I love exploring new places and cultures with my family, and so we always make sure we have some new adventure to look forward to.
The other things that keep me sane are getting out to see bands where I attempt to relive my youth with hundreds of other foolish middle-aged men and women, and supporting my team, the mighty Roosters. Please don’t tell anyone that I’m middle aged. I often have the next six months planned out in terms of non-negotiable dates and this keeps me happy.
I find that the best way I can be a good husband and father is to make sure that I balance the needs of my family with my own mental health. When you have a demanding job, a wife, children and a particularly stupid dog, there’s not much time left for yourself, so you need to make the most of that time.
6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
I know I’m most likely to be efficient and successful when my head is in a good place. One thing I try to do is meditate. I don’t do it as often as I should, but when I do I really feel the benefits. I do it on the train on the way to work, although sitting in the lotus position chanting OM in a crowded carriage can put sometimes seem odd to strangers.
I start most days taking my dog for a walk, and there’s nothing better than a mix of early morning air and unconditional love to get your day off to a good start. Walking is really important to me. I’ll walk at lunch when I can just to reset myself.
I’ll have my music on, or a comedy or sports podcast, and I’ll stride briskly around the streets and parks of Surry Hills, where the activities of the local hipsters and eccentric residents are usually enough to take my mind off work for an hour.
I also do Pilates twice a week at lunchtime. A body like this doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s a small class, usually just a couple of us, so I get great feedback in terms of what I’m doing right and wrong.
7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
Hmmm. I’m not a self-help book kind of guy. Not even really much for non-fiction. So I will use the word “improve” loosely, and simply list my favourite authors, all of whose works have expanded my mind, made me a more empathetic person, and given me a better understanding of the internal and external world. In no particular order:
Iain M Banks, David Mitchell, Don Winslow, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Erich Maria Remarque, Margaret Atwood, Tim Winton and Raymond Chandler.
8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Find humour in things. Not that you’d know from reading this.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Look, reading through some of the interviews on this site, there appear to be a lot of superhumans around. I’m not one of them.
Life is hard. Work is hard. Just try your best. You’ll go through some periods where everything you touch turns to gold, and others where everything turns to shit. Try not to get too down when the latter happens, don’t become complacent when the former happens. Care about the quality of the work you do, care about your impact on the world, teach your kids to become good people.
Going back to question 1, I now realise what I should’ve been all along. I should have made a fortune out or writing those pointless books of home-spun wisdom that you see all around. Maybe I’d have made enough to have retired by now.
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