Celebrating 5 Years and 116 Clients of Marketing Envy
If someone would have told me 5 years ago that this is where we would be, I would have given them a Valium and told them to chill the heck out. Blood, sweat, and tears and truck loads of fun later, these are our key takeaways.
Note: Blog is written together with my partner, Amit Lavi. I write in singular first person instead of, ‘we’ in the hope that it sounds a little less cheesy…
So, where are we 5 years on?
- Team of 15 talented FTEs and an army of freelancers
- Worked with 116 clients; for the past 2 years, 80% of clients have renewed their retainer beyond the original 6 or 12 month commitment
- Average retainer has increased by 30% over the past 2 years
- Working only with B2B tech clients
- The ‘go to’ agency for cyber security companies
Whenever I hear of a new agency that has opened shop, I smile, sit back, and wish them luck. While I am obviously looking at a new competitor, their launch is way too early in the process to evaluate how much of a risk they really are. There are so many stumbling blocks to an agency’s success that are transparent to any agency owner.
As a small example (and a golden rule that I give to clients), many kick off and create a momentum that they simply aren’t able to keep up with in the medium-to-long-run. This then leads folks to assume that you have already bitten off more than you can chew and are overwhelmed. I am referring to the period beyond the hype of a launch. An agency will often launch with social posts every day, several times a day, multiple blogs per week, video posts, training sessions, and appear at almost every industry event. I see, ‘burnout and brick wall’ in neon lights. You simply can’t sustain that much self-promotion while also servicing clients.
It doesn’t matter whether you are an agency or a startup, pacing yourself is key to preventing burn out and killing all the efforts you’ve put in. Cos when you suddenly go silent, the negative impact is far worse than a steady pace with a peak for launch time.
Takeaways: About your market and running a business
- As a rule of thumb, most short terms projects are not worth the effort and are not profitable - in the long run. Aim for a retainer of 6 months minimum spend in order to be successful.
- Declare your niche; although it takes time to establish what that truly is. The sooner you establish this, the easier it will be for client and employee focus and retention.
- Take risks. Decide which new initiatives you are going to try each quarter or every 6 months. A good example for us was becoming a HubSpot partner in 2016. It was a large investment for us in terms of time and resources, but we have (mostly) not looked back.
We’ve also failed. In 2016, for example, we decided it would be an excellent idea to organize a massive growth hacking event. We had the legendary Growth Hacker, Sean Ellis and Matt Hodges, VP, Commercial Product Strategy of Intercom scheduled to keynote the event in Israel and we worked tirelessly to get the event off the ground. We then hit two significant obstacles:
- Insufficient time for organization set-up and ticket sales. This was our first time organizing an event of this scale and it was a lot tougher than we ever anticipated while keeping our current business going.
- Sudden escalation of the security situation in Israel; nobody was really interested in investing, sponsoring or buying tickets for an event that may or may not take place or considered high risk.
Lastly, between you and I:3. We didn’t know what the heck we were doing, and it showed.
So we raised our hands, cancelled the event 3 weeks before it was supposed to take place, and lost $15,000. It really hurt our self-esteem and pocket, but we got over it.
Takeaways: About your customers
- Trust your professionalism. Whether you believe that the customer is always right or not is beside the point. We are hired to do a job that our customers don’t know how to do, or don’t have the capacity to do. This means that we lead and recommend to our clients how they should be reaching their goals. That is what they are paying us for and the onus is on us to prove we are right.
- Not every customer is right for your agency. The sooner you can identify that, the better. Parting ways from a customer early on is much better than after you have already disappointed each other. The anxious client or the non-believer is the classic example; they call you several times a day and/or question your every move. You spend more time explaining what you intend to do and why than actually doing.
- Discounts do not lead to more deals or happier clients. They do lead to fee bargaining from that point and onto eternity.
- Help your client feel and look great. They hired you to do a job and are paying you a lot of money to get it done. It is their neck on the line if the agency does not deliver. Unearth their sore spots very early on and make sure you give them what they need to look good professionally. If they need a fancy presentation deck once per quarter to show to the board, so be it. If they are about to launch a new product and need a detailed breakdown of action items, give it to them. This enables them to trust you more quickly and let you get on with your work.
- Be honest with your client, even when you’ve fucked up. We all know where I am headed with this one but even the best intentions do not pan out sometimes.
Takeaways: About your employees
This is the most important element of all, as they are your face of the company and eco-system, without whom your agency is worthless.
- Quality over quantity. A small agency cannot afford even 1 average player. Hire winners for your first few years. Once you get to ~15 employees you can start to hire more B+ members who can support the A Team.
- Invest in training. No one is going to turn up on the job 100% right for the job. Even 50% right for the job is a bonus. So dedicate time throughout their period at the agency to train, train, and more training. The good ones will appreciate it and stick around.
- Not every agency employee can be customer facing. Some will be excellent at back office but fall apart in front of a client. Don’t try to change them, nurture them.
- Always recruit, even when you do not have a specific need. This is the only way you can keep providing good service to your clients.
Here’s to the next 5 years 😃!
Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.