My marketing agency turned one-year old last week!
When my partner and I opened business, nobody wanted to take a chance on us. We had to take a lot of bad contracts and do more work than we signed up for just so we could get going. We had clients who cut us off mid-contract. We had clients who refused to pay despite service already rendered. We also had clients who berated us and forced us out of our agreements. Quite the baptism of fire for us.
Despite all of that, I have no hard feelings or regrets. I understand that it’s all part of the process. This is all part of growing up in the industry.
But it wasn’t all bad news for us.
I’m happy to say that we’ve already serviced over 30 (?!) different clients in various industries like government, technology, food, and real estate. We’ve nearly tripled the size of the team since we started. And most importantly, we continue helping our clients fulfill their commitments to their customers and communities. Our mission is to help them fulfill their missions!
I am really proud of this milestone considering I had zero experience working in an agency when I started. It was a year full of fun, learning, and growth. To cap off the week-long celebration I’ve had in my head, I wanted to share my biggest lessons (and failures) from Year 1:
1) Stay ultra-conservative with cash flow.
Cashflow is the lifeblood of your business. Without it, you can’t do anything. Repeat after me: YOUR PASSION CANNOT PAY THE BILLS! When we started, we thought that we would be able to manage our expenses well and collect payments easily.
It never happened.
There were so many expenses outside of what we forecasted. It was also quite the challenge to collect payments from clients. There were dozens of times we got stuck because we didn’t have enough cash to make things work. Shit happens so it would be smart to be ultra-conservative with projecting costs and anticipating your cash flow. Make sure you have enough cash for all the rainy days.
2) Be picky with who you do business with.
This works for your suppliers and your clients. It’s hard to move around or get things done when the people you’re supposed to be “partners” with try to shortchange you or unfairly cut you off. We took many deals and we got burned badly.
Looking back now, I would’ve passed on certain opportunities just because we weren’t a good fit with the supplier or client. Trust me on this. Some deals aren’t worth the emotional stress. If you don’t benefit equally from the arrangement, it would be wise to reassess the situation. Doing business with a supplier or a client should be beneficial for both parties. It shouldn’t be parasitic.
3) Respect your own time and worth.
This advice works two ways.
First, learn to value your own output. I have seen how many people take creative work for granted. It’s not as simple as clicking and copy pasting. There is a lot of effort that goes into making a single design or video. Say no to clients who aren’t willing to match (or at least come close) to what the market is actually paying for the same service.
Second, pay yourself. My partner and I took little to no salary at the beginning for the sake of the business. It didn’t take too long for it to backfire on us. The stress that comes with financial instability will pour over to work. Even as the owner, you must be compensated fairly for your time.
4) Invest in people.
I will never take full credit for our success. Never. I played only one role in this whole act. It’s my team that makes the magic happen. I would be absolutely nothing without them.
A huge part of our success stems from the fact that I invest in the growth and well-being of my team. I don’t allow consistently working long hours at the office. I give my team full creative control over campaigns. Hell, I even require everyone to pursue a passion or project outside of the office. My team will always come first on my list.
This was a philosophy my partner and I shared from the very beginning. The commitment we have to the growth of the team has returned positive results for us. Business is great because we take care of our people.
5) Do things with love and service.
It’s easy to get disheartened or jaded doing business. Many people only want to make money. They are even willing to step on other people if necessary. Fight against this. I’ve always taught my students that businesses exist to solve problems. Profit is a measure of how effective your solution is. It shouldn’t be the end-goal. The financial rewards will follow after great service.
I’m proud to say that clients happily refer us to their family and friends because we do everything with love and service. We do our best to overdeliver on our promises. We stay transparent with everything we do. We will never compromise the integrity of our work. Yes, it will get frustrating but this will never get in the way of our commitment. When you do things with love, amazing stuff tends to happen to you.