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Build a Thriving Digital Agency Where?

Jacob Baadsgaard is Founder and CEO of Disruptive Advertising, an agency that helps companies grow to the next level using Google and Facebook ads, leveraging the platforms with revenue—through a CRM- or lead-gen-based campaign or by ensuring that the ecommerce analytics are strong so everything is revenue-driven, testing website experience to see what resonates with potential customers, and perfecting the website experience so clients can effectively scale.

Jacob started his career in web analytics implementation with Omniture. He soon discovered that pay per click (PPC) was the easiest metric to track and provided the most insights, and left Omniture shortly after it was acquired by Adobe to go out on his own. As his agency grew, it leaned heavily on Google-Adwords-based paid search to drive traffic to landing pages—but had no way to measure conversion until they implemented Unbounce.com to refine the landing page experience.

Disruptive Advertising is located in Lindon, Utah. With a 2017 population of almost 11,000, Lindon nestles between beautiful Mount Timpanogo and Utah Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Utah. In 2009, 2011, and 2013, CNN Money Magazine listed it as one of the “100 Best Small Cities to Live in America.” Lindon is part of the Provo-Orem Metropolitan area, with a 2016 population of slightly over 600,000. Lindon is not the bustling metropolitan area where one would expect to find a thriving advertising agency with over 100 employees.

Disruptive Advertising has around 500 clients—and they’re not the mom-n-pops. An enterprise team manages accounts with monthly spends of $100 to a million dollars. A small business division works with lower-spend clients, e.g., healthcare and home service companies. The majority of Disruptive’s clients have an average Facebook and/or Google monthly spend of $20,000 to $50,000. Hardly average. How does that happen?

Jacob credits his company’s success to the fact that it takes its own marketing and branding very seriously, to the tune of a million dollars a year. Disruptive drives a lot of inbound, but, at the same time, maintains a laser focus on its performance-driven PPC and PPC ancillary services. When clients request “other” types of work, Disruptive provides these by partnering with agencies that excel in those specialties. Quality control is also critical for keeping Disruptive’s customers happy.

In order to track the performance of over 100 employees, Disruptive uses a technology that continually audits all accounts to confirm that best practices are consistently and universally implemented. Employees and their managers are likewise responsible for ensuring this is done. In addition, product owners in the areas of Google Ads, Facebook Ads, site testing, and analytics review all accounts on a specified schedule—a triple redundancy that ensures customers get the services they expect.

For years, Jacob put all his energy into growing his company, to the detriment of his health and his relationships. He felt the success of his business was a reflection of his value as a human being and that, the minute his company stopped growing, he would no longer be a good person . . . he would be a failure. A company valuation and mergers & acquisitions expert asked him some pivotal questions: “What is your plan with the business? What is your exit strategy? What is going on?”

When Jacob didn’t know whether he wanted to sell the business or what he enjoyed about it, the expert told him, “If you love what you’re doing and you love the people that you’re working with, run it the way that you love running it, take a little more off the table along the way, and just be involved with it long term.” When Jacob realized he could define his own success, he fell in love with his business all over again.

Jacob can be reached on his company’s website at disruptiveadvertising.com or on its LinkedIn account at: https://www.linkedin.com/company/disruptive-advertising/

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Quick Wins for Long Term Profits

Josh Dougherty and Polly Yakovich own A Brave New, a 4-year-old boutique marketing agency focused on branding, inbound marketing, and web design. A Brave New uses strategy, marketing, content, and technology to help clients around the USA tell their stories, expand their reach, and connect with the right kind of customers, clients, or donors, “who will benefit from whatever they have to offer.”

A Brave New believes in developing a “smart strategy” and diving quickly into execution to get “80% of the way” to the final results—energizing client companies with quick wins, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and leveraging that experience to refine the strategy. Targeting perfection from the start wastes time and strategy does not have to be “complete” at the time of implementation. Companies can learn a lot by “doing,” adjust their course, and develop strategies iteratively over time. A Brave New has found that flexibility and nimbleness empower companies to leapfrog over the competition. In simple words, “Get to the marketplace quickly, then fix it.”

Both Josh and Polly came from a “big agency” and executed carefully-planned, strategic, employer-supported exits from big agency life. They honestly and openly shared their long-term goals with their employers and maintained good relationships with them as they adjusted their work schedules and phased into working at A Brave New full-time over a period of two years.

In this interview, Josh and Polly address the curiosity, discomfort with the status quo, and drive to explore new ideas that characterize the entrepreneurial spirit. They give a lot of credit for A Brave New’s success to great mentors and a network of entrepreneurs who advised and encouraged them through the hard times so typical for start-up companies. Josh comments that, “Fortune and the future really favor people who are bold and set big goals.” Polly agrees.

Josh can be reached on Twitter at @doughj or on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/jdough/

Polly can be reached on Twitter at @pollyyakovich or on Linked in at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/polly-yakovich-5a5151b/

Both are also available on the company’s LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/a-brave-new/ or on their company website, a Brave New, at https://abravenew.com/

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Branding and Bonding on the Floor

Rhiannon Andersen is Co-Owner and CMO at Steelhead Productions, a company that designs exhibits and tradeshow environments, customizes displays to the clients’ specifications, rents out the components, and oversees shipping, setup, onsite union labor workers, and teardown.

Many companies sell complete exhibits or tradeshow environments. Steelhead Productions has been in the “rental business” since Rhiannon’s father started the company 22 years ago near Seattle. Rhiannon and her business partner, Sean, bought the company in 2006. In 2007, they decided to move to Las Vegas, thinking that, although they were doing well in Seattle, opportunity would be much greater in convention-rich Vegas. They arrived just in time for the economy to take a dive.

Riding out the 2008 through 2010 economic downturn by providing a lower-cost “rent vs. own” option for cash-strapped exhibitors, Rhiannon believes today’s “collaborative consumption” (e.g., Airbnb, Uber) is transforming how people have access to they want and is “right in line” with Steelhead’s rental philosophy.

Steelhead buys infrastructure components and maintains its massive inventory (and some of its high-end clients’ properties) in a 50,000 square foot warehouse near the Las Vegas convention center. The company provides flooring, infrastructure components, backdrops, furniture, specialty lighting, video screens, monitors and more—everything tradeshow and event managers need for temporary, impactful, and sustainable branding. Each display is customized to meet the renting client’s requirements. Rental exhibits have another advantage in addition to lower cost and curated setup—flexibility. Because companies don’t buy high-cost displays, they can easily update and refresh their “image” with every show.

Due to high fuel costs, the cost of crating tradeshow infrastructure and shipping it long distance can be prohibitive. Rhiannon recommends that exhibitors or tradeshow marketers develop relationships with exhibit rental companies like Steelhead near where they are exhibiting.

Rhiannon has found her company’s membership in Entrepreneur’s Organization and exposure to other entrepreneurs has brought an increased understanding of smart ways of being a business owner.

She feels that the future of the tradeshow industry does not rest on techno-glitter as much as on the human-to-human connection and bonding that can happen on the tradeshow floor.

Rhiannon can be reached on her company website at exhibithappy.com, which resolves to: https://www.steelheadproductions.com/. On LinkedIn, the company shares thoughts on industry trends. Instagram and Facebook speak more to how the organization works.

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How to Grow a Happy & Healthy Digital Agency

Clodagh Higgins, author of A Happy & Healthy Digital Agency: 6 Pillars to Build a Profitable Business with Ideal Clients and Digital Agency Coach/Consultant for GROWIT GROUP, consults with digital marketing agencies and provides them with the resources they need to make wise business (financial, hiring, and recruiting) decisions. Her company, Growit, targets agencies new to inbound marketing or looking to accelerate team success, analyzes their goals, evaluates current go-to-market strategy effectiveness, and builds strategies aligned with the desired results. Growit has clients in Canada, the U.S., the UK, and South Africa.

In this interview, Clodagh explains that digital marketing entrepreneurs and their employees are two distinct kinds of people. Marketing entrepreneurs open their businesses because they love marketing, marketing strategy, and exploring new ideas. Given training, they may learn the intricacies of sales, marketing, and software technologies, but often have little idea of how to scale, how or when to hire, or even how to evaluate profitability. Employees of marketing entrepreneurs choose to work for entrepreneurs, but they want to know their career paths and the work process . . . and need structure and support to do their best work.

The most prevalent (and deadly) problems Clodagh sees in agencies are:

  • Chasing sales and not paying attention to services
  • Failing to hire a “traffic manager” when the service department gets beyond around 4 employees.

Clodagh emphasizes the importance of and reasons for a company to:

  • Define its 5 core values . . . and post them on the its website
  • Understand the DNA of the purchaser and the lifetime value of a customer
  • Mine current customers for more work . . . and for referrals
  • Time-track services and target 70% utilization of a services team
  • Post a page, “We are always hiring,” with 5 core values in sentence form
  • Make sure that clients are aware of an agency’s value add

Clodagh provides guidelines determining expertise, so agencies can offer higher value to their clients . . . and charge more for their services . . . because they are experts. She also recommends several software solutions to help agencies make operate more effectively.

Clodagh believes, “The future of agencies is all in the value and insights that they bring to clients” and an agency needs to remind its clients every single month of the results it has produced.

Clodagh can be reached by email at: Clodagh@GrowitGroup.com or hello@growitgroup.com

The company website, where Clodagh blogs about agency life, challenges, ups and downs is https://www.growitgroup.com/. Her book, A Happy & Healthy Digital Agency: 6 pillars to Build a Profitable Business with Ideal Clients, is available in paperback on Amazon and on Kindle.

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Control Risk? At What Cost?

Chris Denny is Founder and President of The Engine Is Red, an integrated creative agency which Chris claims functions more like a startup than like a traditional agency. The company provides a variety of services—branding, campaign work, and a lot of interactive and digital work—but it has eliminated the classic methods agencies use to try to control the risks and variables inherent in creative work—timesheets, project plans, change orders, scopes of work, contracts, and retainers.

The result?

Changing the way business is done changes results . . . Chris found that when his clients and agency were freed from old marketing paradigms, interactive creative collaboration resulted in bolder, more innovative work with less risk.

Chris says,

What does it take to produce risky and exciting and high-quality ideas? We’ve learned a lot about the sense of community and culture, the security and safety to explore dangerous things.

In this interview, Chris offers a number of operational insights he has discovered over the years. He believes that relationships are key to the quality of work produced . . . it’s not just a matter of talent.

The major cause of poor client relationships? Rigidity. Big ideas only break through when there is freedom and a trust in flexibility, when the client and agency representatives can sit down and hash things out from the beginning.

He says,

Find the right balance of predictability and safety, of freedom and autonomy, and focus on trust and empowerment. When things go wrong, be an educator and an encourager, not a critic – The more people as leaders focus on that, the more teams thrive and the more clients thrive. It makes all the difference.

At times, hashing things out does not produce expected results. One client wanted to expand its business of repurposing older buildings. In working with the company’s full leadership team, The Engine is Red discovered that a great barrier to “adaptive re-use” is not that people need to be informed about it . . . the real problem is that it is difficult to quickly estimate renovation costs. The company didn’t need a marketing campaign—it needed a tool. The Engine is Red worked with the company’s estimating team to prototype a product and ended up building a mobile application that fully specs cost, size, and occupancy of an adaptive reuse project—in under a minute.

The whole process of examining a campaign, pivoting to a product, and launching that product was completed in 10 weeks . . . on time and on budget—and all done with the original paperwork.

And why put an agency in Minneapolis? This was an early decision for the company, based on locating where there was a wealth of creative talent. Chris describes Minneapolis as “one of the most vibrant creative cultures in the country right now.”

Chris can be contacted on The Engine Is Red on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, on the company’s website at:  theengineisred.com,, or by email at: chris@theengineisred.com. He encourages listeners to stop in The Engine is Red’s studios, either in Sonoma County or in Minneapolis.

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Re-wiring Attitudes and Behaviors, Embracing Change, and Winning New Markets

Bree Groff is CEO of NOBL Collective, a global change agency that helps quickly-growing startups or huge legacy organizations seeking to grow or scale to negotiate change. NOBL does not provide the strategy, or the brand work. Instead, it looks at decision-making, communication, meeting patterns and day to day interactions—the company’s culture—and collaborates closely with the company to steer the “human side of things,” embed the capacity for change and the feeling that change is productive and energizing, and help its clients get good at change—which is a critical competitive advantage—all without losing their “core.”

In this interview, Bree talks the “critical mass” for companies . . . when the number of employees requires new ways of doing things. She references Dunbar’s number, which is a rough measure of the upper limit of loose relationships a person can maintain . . . and still remember people’s names. Organizations reaching certain sizes often need to develop new ways of working in order to “move to the next level.”

How do you change large corporate cultures? Bree has found that, if you can effect behavioral and mindset changes at the individual level—even with very large organizations—and by repeating this enough times, change the organization to what it wants to become—more agile, more digital, more collaborative, more authentic, more engaged . . . and ultimately, more profitable.

Meeting-heavy company cultures tend to have a lot of ad hoc status meetings. Bree feels meetings should be intentional, with a “strong cadence around what you’re talking about with what frequency.”

NOBL published Team Tempo, http://www.blurb.com/bookshare/app/index.html?bookId=7693002#, a guide to effective meetings. Bree recommends companies consider quarterly team retrospective meetings to evaluate the company’s internal environment and strategic sensing meetings, where teams discuss customer, industry, and technology changes that may impact the company.

How a decision is made can have a major impact on decision quality . . . and acceptance. After numerous client queries of, “How do I make a decision?”, NOBL developed a “Decider app,” available as a Slackbot at thedecider.app/slack or as a web version at https://thedecider.app/. This tool asks a series of short questions and then recommends and defines the decision-making process that best fits the circumstances, highlighting the process’s advantages and disadvantages. The decision-making methods include: autocratic, avoidant, consensus, consent, consultative, delegation, democratic, or stochastic.

Bree can be reached on her company website at https://nobl.io/, on LinkedIn at /in/bree-groff-94281136/

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Advanced Digital Sales in the Middle of the Funnel

Bob Afsari, CEO of Campaign Creators, a Platinum HubSpot Partner, started his career with “a love for business development and a love for sales.” Disillusioned after companies he worked for consistently failed to deliver the products he sold, Bob decided to start his own company so he could control the whole process.

Bob presented his story, “Shattered by Embezzlement: How We Rebuilt Our Agency to Become Happier, Healthier, and More Profitable,” at HubSpot’s Inbound 2018.

In this interview, Bob provides a brief overview of his presentation, describing how a trusted employee diverted $330,000 in payroll taxes to her personal account over a period of 5 years, how the theft was not discovered until his accountant called the IRS, and the actions Bob had to take to save his company and avoid personal financial ruin. He provides precautions to prevent such embezzlement—a hard lesson learned.

To save his company, Bob developed a laser focus on his company’s mission, slashed its services, learned to say “no” to clients who weren’t the right fit, and made a huge number of changes that had only before been “under consideration.” His strategy, born of fear and desperation, worked.

Bob notes that the wealth of information on the internet, the credit crisis of 2008, and “the millennials” have transformed the way that consumers make purchases—they no longer want to be “sold.”

Today, Campaign Creators helps companies craft and frame consumer communications in a way that is personal, relevant, meaningful, and, respectful of how 21st century consumers want to receive marketing communications. It implements sophisticated lead nurturing strategies, digitizes sales processes, and turns the typically-outbound middle-of-the-funnel (consideration stage) sales cycle and sales journey into an automated, custom, curated educational process. Middle-of-the-funnel marketing automation workflows and the wealth of information provided to potential clients empowers them to autonomously determine their fit with a company and its products.

Bob can be reached at his company’s website: https://www.campaigncreators.com/ or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bafsari/

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Changing the Marketing Game: Technology and the Gig Economy

Daryn Smith is the Cofounder and Director of Mpull, a full-service inbound marketing-technology agency serving South African companies and, to a greater extent, partnering with and supporting agencies from around the world. Mpull has 50 employees as of this interview and is a Diamond HubSpot Partner.

Working together at Verizon, Mpull founders, Daryn Smith and Graeme Wilson saw a huge waste of marketing dollars. Six years ago, they started Mpull with the dream of having a Software as a Service business, providing a software for managing marketing and tracking return on investment. The company pivoted into an agency when they discovered that this type of product was already offered by a number of MarTech providers. Software as a service still remains a long-term goal.

In this interview, Daryn talks about technology’s impact on marketing . . . many brands are replacing work that agencies used to do for them with marketing technology software . . . and getting faster, better results with more scalability. The result? Fewer brands are interested in signing long-term retainers.

Daryn presented “”Why Agencies Need to Pay Attention to the Gig Economy” at HubSpot’s Inbound 2018 conference. In a gig economy, you only pay for what you need, when you need it, and where you need it. Daryn sees a big trend in this direction. So who needs it?

Much of what marketing agencies have done in the past can be done today with software . . . better, faster, and with greater scalability. With software “lifting” much of the load, many brands are starting to build “in-house agencies” The result? Fewer brands want to sign long-term retainers with marketing agencies.

But, just as one marketing agency rarely excels in all aspects of marketing, software cannot do everything.

When Mpull started getting “a lot of small project requests,” the administrative overhead made an hour project massively complicated and expensive. Daryn realized the growing gig economy needed an easy way for agencies to engage with brands on a gig basis, with integrated payment processing and administrative functions, brand-to-service provider matching, and the ability to start work immediately

Because Mpull works with a lot of agencies, Daryn was also aware that highly-skilled agency staff still pull salaries, even when they are “on the bench.” How could Mpull give its agency partners around the world an additional way to make revenue when their employees weren’t busy?

Daryn describes Mpull’s “On The Bench” platform, which manages gig administrivia overhead, enables agencies to engage in the gig economy, and provides agencies with “burst capacity” when needed. He talks about the policies needed to protect your client base, managing rates to prevent commoditizing services and a consequent “race to the bottom,” and how to maintain a base of recurring revenue.

Daryn can be reached by email on the company website: Mpull.com, at @darynsmith on Twitter, and on Linked at (https://www.linkedin.com/in/darynsmith/). The “On The Bench” website is: onthebench.io.

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Proof of Performance: Good Work Breeds Opportunity

Dan Altenbernd, COO and Partner of H2M, works with clients to align objectives with allocated marketing budgets. He estimates that 75% of his company’s clients have never worked before with a marketing agency and 75% of his clients are from outside the Fargo area. His company provides key marketing strategy development and tactical deliverables based on a client’s true needs.

Faced with so many marketing “newbie” clients, H2M has a newbie on-boarding process to help clients feel comfortable, using in-depth conversations to discover the client’s pain points, expectations, and objectives. H2M requires clients to define goals clearly and works with them to determine how effectiveness will be measured—not by views or click-throughs—but by proof of performance metrics such as growth percentages. The company strives to deliver intellectual property in a way that tangibly “answers the client’s questions.” Proof of performance is almost a company mantra.

In this interview, Dan speaks of due diligence as being critical for clients that are selecting their first agency—look at the work of agencies under consideration, randomly call clients listed on their websites, and find an agency with that will be comfortable to work with. H2M only works with clients with whom it is comfortable –without contracts!

Trained as a graphic designer, Dan started his career setting type by code in a print shop, providing services as a graphic designer, and as a bartender/waiter . . . all at the same time. He fell into advertising as a traffic manager, scheduling and learning marketing operations. A couple of hops later, Dan ended up at H2M.

Dan’s partner, David Hanson, H2M’s CEO, knows marketing strategy. Dan thrives on being out here, growing relationships, finding new opportunities, and understanding businesses and their challenges. The company’s internal culture is focused on supporting employees, but also allowing broad autonomy, with open paid time off and untracked vacation time. What matters? Relationships and the consistent quality of the work—and not slacking off efforts for clients who “have been around a while.”

Dan offers a few life lessons to ponder. He believes ego has no place in growing true relationships. He warns people and companies to “not believe your own press.” He emphasizes the importance of honesty and transparency in retaining clients, growing friends within the business, and promoting success.

Dan can be reached on his company website at h2m.bizor by email at dan@h2m.biz.

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When We Need to Use the Funnel to Feed the Flywheel

Ingunn Bjøru, COO of Avidly’s inbound line and Country Manager for Norway, is based in Oslo. A very recent merger of four former HubSpot Diamond agencies, Avidly is now the world’s largest inbound agency and HubSpot partner. With additional offices in Stockholm, Sweden, Aarhu, Denmark; and “all over Finland,” Avidly enables growing companies to use one agency to promote their products across four Nordic countries, with a fifth (unnamed) country to be added in the near future. The increase in staff from the merger brings the company an increased breadth of critical skills.

The merger of four companies in four countries has created some expected and unexpected problems. For instance, outsiders are often not even aware of the geographies of these countries and frequently assume that the Scandinavian countries are culturally similar. What to do with “all the staff” has been less of a problem since employees have taken advantage of the opportunity to redefine themselves and choose their areas of concentration.

Ingunn discusses how Avidly is involved in HubSpot’s Sales Enterprise launch, how that product will enable larger companies to convert their sales teams to inbound, and the product’s growth strategy. She suspect’s that it will be easier to add sales functionality to HubSpot’s Sales Enterprise Module than it will be for sales management software SalesForce to integrate marketing into its product.

Ingunn presented “Recipe for Growth: How We Became the World’s Largest Inbound Agency” at HubSpot’s Inbound 2018. She talked about cultural differences, recruitment, and forecasting.

One cultural difference is the concept of Tillitsbasert ledelse. Tillitt is trusting somone, basert is basing it on something and ledelse is management. Management trusts the team it has hired . . . inspiring the team to rise to the challenge and deliver. New employees don’t have to earn trust. Trust is implicit in the hiring and is only taken away when they fail.

Ingunn mentions how it is always difficult to know when to hire new staff. She described how Growit Group, a company that helps agencies grow, built Avidly’s budget and supplied a template using sales metrics to trigger hiring and identifying the roles to fill at various sales levels.

She endorses service level agreements as a way to manage intracompany and client expectations and compares and contrasts HubSpot’s non-transactional marketing flywheel with the marketing funnel. In particular, Ingunn notes that the flywheel model, which is built on the idea of maintaining long term customer relationships, is not appropriate for businesses selling a one-time product. Ingunn is concerned that, while marketing professionals migrate from the funnel to the flywheel, they will come up with too many “versions” and confuse the market.

The Avidly company website is http://avidlyagency.com and Ingunn can be reached on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ingunnbjoru/

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