Reflections on One Year in Business
This was going to be more of an advice list to marketers considering starting their own agency. Then I read James Clear’s year in review and I decided I liked his format better and it would sound less like I’m some sage that knows exactly what will happen to your business only because it happened to me. That would be a rather selfish lens through which to give advice. Instead, I’m hoping you’ll get more out of hearing my mistakes and successes and use it to be better than me, faster.
WHAT I DID WELL
1. Adapted on the Fly – As we’ll get to in the “what I did poorly” section, where I am now is not at all where I expected to be in my romanticized version of what my business would look like. Good and bad. My client base grew FAR quicker than I thought I would, and the solutions I currently do the most of what was not what I expected.
One didn’t even exist in the form it is now until I realized the full extent of the need, packaged the deliverables, and put a name on it (Foundational Marketing). Now its the #1 service I offer, and rarely will I work with clients without it. It’s the trunk that all other marketing efforts branch off from. I believe it’s that important to the success of my relationships.
When I started I envisioned I’d be doing more “after the first contact” consulting, building out whole relationship building systems for clients. Just hasn’t been demand for it yet. I still hope to build that in as my relationships with clients get closer.
Point being I was happy to be able to pivot quickly to what my client’s wants and needs were, and didn’t hold onto this idealized version of what I thought my clients should want. My core goal is still to help my clients grow their businesses, and that’s still exactly what I am doing.
2. Invested in my Clients – Forget your margins, don’t nickel and dime yourself or your clients weighing the cost of useful tools and people that make delivering superior results easier.
This is because retention is everything. And I am never afraid to invest time and money into clients, invest in tools that make how I serve clients better, because I know they will stay with me longer and tell their friends who will also become my clients. I will make more money (and be personally happier) spending time making my clients’ businesses better than having to spend time prospecting and selling for my business.
That extra mile may mean you break even the first month of business with a new client. You may be worried they’ll take advantage of you and run as soon as you deliver that value. Cut that fear out of your brain. Do you know how hard it is to find someone that genuinely cares about them like you do, that isn’t just trying to meet a quota?
A business owner isn’t going to bail on someone that treats them well and makes a difference in their business just to save a quick buck getting a extra listing set up or something. That’d be crazy. But months from now when their numbers aren’t quite as good one month and the 5th marketing sales guy of the week calls them with a great deal they’ll remember that extra mile you went for them and stay loyal. And probably add services that will make up for the investment.
3. Invested in my Business – Much of this fell into two buckets:
– Finding people to handle needs I’m not good at. I have never balanced my own books. I was an English major in college. I also have a client whose a very good accountant and we have a great relationship so it works out for us. Check out David French & Associates if you need great business financial advice, especially if you’re in Austin Texas.
I’m also not a graphic designer; my slide decks look super amateur. So I hired a designer and paid the money for professional looking sales decks, logos, business cards and thank you notes. DO NOT SKIMP OUT ON THIS. It’s a couple grand to save yourself hours of pain to look like a real business and close bigger clients.
Don’t be a marketer that’s unwilling to put their money where their mouth is and invest in their own marketing. You already own a computer so it’s not like there’s some other huge upfront cost to starting a marketing agency.
– Finding people to take over tasks so i could focus my time in areas only I could do. I did not expect to grow as fast as I have and thus needed help faster than I anticipated. But here I am with five contractors working with me part time and I would have crashed and burned without them. Not only are they excellent at what they do they’re great people that care like I do and make this thing feel a lot less lonely.
This is a classic Technician problem where you go into it romantically thinking you’ll be able to spend all your time actually creating Facebook Ads and building websites and then the other 100 hours of stuff a business owner does hits you and you have this crisis of character and who you are.
The faster you realize you’re an entrepreneur now and not an SEO guy, the faster you can serve more people more effectively and be 10 places at once. Your clients will still love you, assuming you find the right people that care like you do and train them in your ways and preferences properly. Margins will take a hit but you’ll get hours back to bring on more clients and the flywheel begins to turn.
3. Sent a Lot of Thank You Notes – I also sent a lot of gifts. If there’s anything I am hyper aware of it’s that there’s 100,000 people that can set up a good Facebook Ad, build a website, do keyword research. Digital marketing is a commodity, and while it may be what your client is physically getting, as Michael Gerber says, your “product is what your customer feels as he walks out of your business.”
A handwritten, snail-mailed thank you note will make your customer feel loved and appreciated like nothing else will, and stand out in the age of email and messaging apps. Remembering they like fishing, or a book you discussed in your first meeting together and sending them a gift related to that has the same effect. Doesn’t have to be expensive, its the thought that counts. It was an emphasis I had going into this and I’m proud to say I didn’t abandon this in the fast pace of keeping up with the business growth.
WHAT I DID POORLY
1. Misjudged Everything – And I mean everything. How many clients I would have, how fast they’d come, What the average revenue and profit would be per client, what services I’d be delivering the most of, how big I wanted to get. Like I literally misjudged what I wanted to be when I grew up.
While I do think you have to be prepared for things to not go entirely as planned and be willing to adapt to that, I definitely did a poor job mapping my plan out from the beginning. I assumed since I had worked in agencies and helped grow them that I didn’t need to do that. But you’re not starting a business, you’re starting YOUR business. And that starts with a deeper, realistic understanding of yourself and your goals. And then mapping out how your business should look when you’re realizing that potential.
I do have to say I have learned a lot about myself through this process; that I want a lot more than I originally thought and much of my initial design was more a reaction to my current environment rather than a real look into what I wanted. That my ideas are going to keep coming and I’m not going to be satisfied quietly running one business the same way at the same level for the next 40 years. And I am not entirely sure me 1.5 years ago could have known how me now would feel. But hopefully reading this gives you pause, encourages you to spend some more time reflecting on what you want and why you want to start a business and you find yourself in a closer mindset to start that you’ll have later.
2. Documented Processed – This is Business 101 and I was not diligent enough at it. I have some good building blocks in place but not nearly the level I should be at. Because the normal thing happens and you get so caught up in emailing clients and trying to do sales and delivering on services that the real work of building the business, the work ONLY YOU can do gets lost in the day to day tasks of keeping the business moving.
It’s another Technician trap I need to break out of and start closing the inbox and spending the time doing work outlining and documenting the business like I should have been doing from the beginning. This is going to be my biggest emphasis in 2020, and so far I’m excited about the progress I am making.
3. Time Management – This is somewhat tied into #2, but I fell prey to the concept of work expanding to fill the time available for its completion. For me, it’s not work but “emails” and the little tasks that can either wait or be handed off to others but you do them because they give you that fast little drug-like hit of productivity satisfaction when you get to check it off your list. But the list just get refilled, it always will.
I’ll be focusing on doing the thing that every single productivity hack list recommends and that’s time blocking and turning off the email to allow for dedicated time for process documentation and other types of work only I can do as the owner.
Thank you for reading, hope this helps you wherever you are in your journey.
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