Last month I advised you all to go digital first and find new ways to reach your customer online, before someone else did. I said I was going to do the same… and I did. I can hardly dish out advice and then ignore it myself.

I’ve had some mixed results, although in fairness, we are only three weeks into 2021. Nonetheless, I wanted to follow up on this theme as I believe it’s so important for our long-term prosperity.

Facebook is one of my key channels and when a post popped up saying ‘Facebook grants are available for small and medium sized businesses for £1,000 to £250,000,’ I guessed this was their way of giving something back to traditional businesses that had been affected by the pandemic, while Facebook had prospered from it. I am not one to turn down free money, I spent about two days writing proposals, submitting finances, marketing information, brand info, etc. I asked for a grant of £40,000 to hire a filmmaker to make content for my new digital strategy.

Diary of a Spectacle Designer was going on social media! I even asked Optician editor Simon Jones if he minded me using the same name as this column – ‘no problem,’ he said. It was quite exciting. The problem was, once I had the idea, I couldn’t wait for Facebook to bestow me with a filmmaker funds, so I bought the kit and hired one anyway. I was sure my proposal was so good that they could not fail to support it and pay for my newest staff member. Deloitte was auditing the process and I’d literally ticked all the boxes.

If you follow me on Facebook or have subscribed to my new YouTube channel, you will see I’m on episode four already and naturally, I think it’s fantastic. It takes a lot of time but it’s worth it. Or is it? A busy CEO spending eight hours a week making films being watched by literally tens of people. I didn’t expect millions, but even so.

Then, news from my accounts team. ‘Just received £1,900 from Facebook.’ I told them to send it back: ‘I’m not letting Facebook use my brand for their own promotional activity for £1,900.’ Then good sense took over and I quickly retracted the statement and thanked Mark Zuckerberg for the free camera and tripod I’d just purchased and moved on. Moved on to a social media storm of a different kind.

I’ve so far managed to dodge most online ‘haters’ but a Dutch optician was so incensed that I would no longer sell him a repeat of a limited edition frame (a pre-pandemic service) that he posted on an eyewear forum that I no longer made bespoke frames and asked the community if someone could copy my frame for him. The post went Facebook viral and I was emailed, messaged and called by concerned sales reps and opticians from all over the world. I jumped online to defend myself. What I wanted to write couldn’t be published here, but what hurt the most were the companies I’d helped over the years with their own production, offering to copy my frame. A red line I’ve never crossed.

Turns out the company had in fact offered to make it as a bespoke but he didn’t want to pay the extra money for it. In the end I was touched by the kindness of other opticians to tell him what I could not and he eventually published a retraction.

This might sound like a fuss over nothing. It wasn’t. I felt real empathy for famous people who have to deal with social media storms every day. I couldn’t sleep the night it happened. ‘This is what you have marketing staff for Tom,’ my wife told me as I fidgeted and stressed over my phone at 1am. ‘Yeah, if they weren’t back on lockdown furlough again,’ I thought to myself.

I didn’t say pushing a digital strategy would be easy. I know that I need to stick with the new YouTube channel and build an audience. I’m giving it three months full on and then I’ll see. My next controversy will be online sales. For this, I plan to work with the optician, not exclude them. Digital partnerships, that’s what I’m calling it. How can we use technology to sell more high-end products together? That’s the focus of the next four weeks. We can’t hang around, there’s a pandemic on.