You know that saying about the ‘cobbler’s kids with no shoes’ (implying he’s too busy with work to take care of himself). Have you ever noticed that it’s the ‘cobbler’s kids’ and not the cobbler himself? I bet the cobbler didn’t just have shoes, he had really nice ones (for the record, my great-grandfather was a cobbler, and legend has it that he always wore nice shoes).
So, why don’t agencies do a better job of marketing? If ANYONE should be marketing, it’s agencies, right?
When we started Spoke, we did absolutely zero marketing. Yes, zero. Ironic? Yes. Akin to a dentist who doesn’t floss? Absolutely (but you’d be hard-pressed to know if your dentist flossed). Would you go to a dentist with meth-mouth? No. Not a chance. Like most professional service companies, we’ve been able to grow through our network, referrals, speaking engagements, inbound leads, and the growth of our clients.
The fact is, when we started, we were in a ‘controlled growth’ mode. We could only handle a few clients; more would have led to lower quality creative and account service. It was a deliberate choice.
Flash forward 8+ years, and we’re finally able to start eating our own dog food. We have resources to devote to marketing and the capacity to grow (don’t all call at once, now…we’re still a mid-sized shop). Our intention is ‘smart’ growth. That means taking on clients that fit within our highly-targeted market (businesses under $100MM in sales, divisions of larger companies, and startups) that are willing to invest in marketing, expect a return on their investment and are prepared to trust us (as if we were partners) to make the right recommendations.
For the record, we’ve fired a couple of clients over the years. They either wouldn’t listen to us or were too difficult to work with. Nothing ruins morale (and profitability) like bad partners.
So, what have we done?
First, we started with a thorough review of our past efforts to determine what worked the best, where we fell short, and where we knew we should focus our efforts.
What we’ve accomplished:
– For starters, we’ve been considerably more active on social media and our content creation output is up markedly. All these efforts align with an editorial calendar we created at the beginning of the year.
-We’ve been more strategic about our Spoke Friday and client events. We even went so far as to plan them out a year in advance.
-We’ve increased our networking efforts, and made better use of HubSpot as we guide leads through the buyers’ journey from ‘suspect’ to ‘prospect’ and eventually ‘client.’ We have also better-utilized this powerful tool to send out our periodic newsletters. This enables us to see who’s reading what, and what content our clients and prospects react to most positively.
-We watch our web analytics like a hawk, and continually make updates based on what’s working best.
-We also keep a strong eye on our MOZ score (a measurement of ‘domain authority,’ that indicates how we score from the perspective of search engines). FULL DISCLOSURE: we slacked off mid-year when we got busy and saw a drastic drop in our MOZ score (d’oh!).
-We’ve continued to increase awareness of Spoke and our presence in the community by maintaining involvement in the startup community and pitching stories to The St. Louis Business Journal and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We were proud to be ranked as one of St. Louis’ best marketing agencies by the Louis Small Business Monthly.
-We’ve continued to foster the culture at Spoke as we’ve grown (yes, that’s marketing, too). In addition to offering a super-flexible vacation policy (just get your work done), health insurance, and a 401(k), we allow employees to work remotely when they need to. We pride ourselves on maintaining a very low person-to-dog ratio and wine and dine our team regularly including taking the day off for fun events (this year we all went to the race track). All of that and we still have one of the best-stocked bars in St. Louis.
-We’ve spoken at events (Enterprise University and the Business Marketing Association) and get quoted in the press with more regularity than ever.
Have we executed our plan perfectly? No. Not even close.
You know how they say doctors are the worst patients? That’s us. Candidly, we’ve seen good results from our efforts but have been busy with billable work. Unfortunately, our own marketing efforts take a back seat to client work. No, that’s not a good excuse, but it’s the best we’ve got.
So, what’s in store?
First off, (literally) everyone at Spoke hates our website. We put it up a few years ago as a temporary solution with the intention of giving it a total overhaul shortly thereafter. In retrospect, we should have put an internal deadline on the relaunch. Soon (fingers-crossed-while-typing), we’ll launch a new website complete with a brand refresh and a much better user experience. At least it wasn’t built in Adobe Dreamweaver (small victories, right?).
We’ve seen good results from our content marketing, social media, and PR push, so we’ll ramp that up a bit. Practicing what we preach actually works…who’d-a-thunk it!
We’ll continue to send out newsletters. Every time we send out a newsletter, we seem to get new business, so we’re going to send them out on a more regular basis. We’re shooting for one/month (I’m willing to bet against that, but I’m wrong a lot and our marketing director, Ali is really mean).
We’ll stay active with The Missouri Venture Forum, iTen, Arch Grants, and we’ll likely get more involved in organizations such as the BMA and ramp up our participation in EO and The Alternative Board. We’ll reach out to our friends at the St. Louis Startup Connection to figure out how we can re-engage with them (somehow, our sponsorship fell off the 2016 calendar).
We’ll continue to maintain a strong networking presence in St. Louis, and start a networking/event for our Austin office in the spring of ’17.
We’ll continue to attend trade shows, but next year we’ve got a budget earmarked for sponsorship and exhibiting at our favorites.
We’ve been traveling a lot more this year, too. While we went WAY over budget on travel, we made a point of visiting friends and prospects while we were on the road – often leading to new engagements and a positive ROI.
As we grow, it’s vital to maintain our culture. We realize that we’ve accomplished this by sheer luck. We’re in the process of formalizing onboarding for both employees AND clients. Everyone needs to know where we stand and how we operate from the get-go.
While it’s still a fluid document, if you’re interested in seeing our marketing plan in more detail, swing by sometime (just promise not to tease us too bad if we don’t execute it perfectly). Oh, and you may want to get your 2017 plan in order, too.
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