10 lessons I learned after 3 years running a marketing agency
Over three years ago I left the comfort and security of my marketing job to begin an adventure. I started Bite IT Marketing after recognising early on that there was a gap in the market that we could fill. Coming from a client-side background I knew first-hand how frustrating it is to get a cold-call from a marketing agency pitching me services we didn’t want or need. I wanted to create something different. In fact, I needed to.
Lesson 1: Put the hours in
Despite people warning me that ‘starting your own business is the hardest thing you’ll ever do!’ I cracked on anyway. Three years in, I’m still as passionate about Bite as I was 3 years ago, in fact even more so. When I was setting up I was intensely working so many hours because I absolutely love it. I get a real kick out of helping a client grapple with and understand their marketing challenges. I love coming up with new ways of executing campaigns. The positive feedback we get makes it all worthwhile.
Lesson 2: Take a break
If I could go back in time, the one thing I would tell myself is to trust my gut a little more. I am guilty of going down a few rabbit holes. I need to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to take your foot off the gas every now and again. As I enter year four, my goal is to take a breath, try and have a bit more downtime and spend some more quality time with my family.
Thankfully, I don’t steer this ship alone, my team are highly capable and I trust them to deliver nothing short of excellence. Some days in the office I’ll marvel at how we’ll all roll our sleeves up to get the job done to meet a seemingly impossible deadline.
Lesson 3: Nurture your professional relationships
I was so anxious about getting my first customer. I was extremely fortunate to secure ours from my previous role -which was a huge boost. I spent hours working on my pitch and my story. I made it my priority to understand the client’s needs. I learned quite quickly that there is a gap for our service and our story continues to resonate. My network remains supportive and one of our first clients has been there right from the start, which is incredible.
The channel is small, everyone knows everyone so your reputation is everything. Most of our work comes via referrals and word of mouth. I must confess that I get very frustrated if I think we could have done more to win a new client. We work very, very hard on our pitch ideas to our clients. We add value just through our pitch process alone.
Lesson 4: Know your market
I have worked in technology marketing for most of my career which includes six years of channel marketing experience. Needless to say, I am confident that we understand the unique challenges of marketing and selling through the channel.
We know we have to be better than the other agencies and make life easier for our clients. We need to understand their challenges better than everyone else. We hit the mark most of the time but we’re always striving for more.
Lesson 5: Hire when you need help
We needed extra hands from the moment we won our first client -less than 6 weeks after our launch. My first hire was a Designer/ Account Manager. Right from the start we could step in as the outsourced Marketing Managers and deliver an end-to-end service with confidence.
As we grow we have more conflicting priorities and deadlines -so I’m very honest with the team. Occasionally, we need to work outside of traditional working hours to fulfil our client’s needs. Someone once told me ‘You’re so lucky, look how hard your team are working for you’ – this means everything to me. Where we can, we try and balance that, so extra time off at Christmas and days off on birthdays are always welcomed.
Lesson 6: Allow your team to shape the culture
I believe that culture is everything, but it’s the people who make it. I like to think that we’re creating a culture here at Bite where people are respected and work creatively. We value ideas so creating a judgement-free space for idea generation is very important.
I want to create an environment where you feel excited to come in every day. We’ve all had those awful experiences where the Monday blues kick in and you dread the thought of coming into work. I would feel gutted if anyone was feeling this way at Bite.
Lesson 7: Live by your cashflow
Cashflow is everything in a small business, and luckily I have a very valued team member who keeps a close eye on that with me. I’m sure every business owner will agree that the biggest expense in any business is the staff. So monitoring the costs of staff, making great hiring decisions and managing your resourcing is the key to success. Starting out, the biggest challenge is deciding between winning the work then hiring the staff or hiring the staff then winning the business. We’re entering year four with the right people in the right seats on the bus which is really exciting.
Lesson 8: Track your big wins
Running a business is mind spinning at times. It’s so important we keep a record of our big wins and milestones. Some of our big wins include being finalists for two consecutive years for Best Channel Marketing Agency at CRN. When our work on the ‘Think you know Symantec’ launch with Exclusive Networks won an Innovate Project of the Year award at CRN. Some key milestones include new team members joining, moving to our new office, welcoming our office pup, every time we get a thank you from a client. There are so many proud moments so remember to cherish them.
Lesson 9: Celebrate your wins
We’re officially three and have beaten the odds to make it here, so of course, we’ll definitely be celebrating with cake and fizz! We’re also taking the opportunity to finally focus on the Bite brand and story. We’ve splashed out on a new website, social and content. We’re treating ourselves to a refresh because we deserve it.
Lesson 10: Plan for the future
We have new team members to help us manage our growing client base. We’re still learning what works for our clients and for the whole team. Going into year four we’re establishing more processes including revamping our HR policies, creating templates and guides to make the teams life (and mine!) a little easier. I’m super clear on our offering of marketing-as-a-service and who our ideal clients are which makes new business development easier than ever before.
Naturally, we continue to support our clients with as much passion and energy as we have before.