Building a Digital Marketing Agency – The First 6 Months

I’ve been awfully vocal about starting Reform Digital during a pandemic with a kid on the way and now with less than 2 weeks to go before I meet my beautiful child, I figured it was a nice time to share my experience so far with starting a digital marketing agency and the rollercoaster ride I have been a part of.

In case you haven’t seen some of the awesome clients we have been working with, here are a few: Hagens Organics, GF Oats, Secrets Shhh, Bul Clothing, Off Road Industries, Verve Portraits, LeadSun, Positive HR, West Brothers and a heap more!

Hopefully I can offer as much insight as possible so you can see the inner workings of our agency and how we have rapidly grown from nothing to a 30+ client agency, over 6 staff and the array of things I’ve had to learn and adapt to in such a short period of time. Oh in case you were wondering if it was easy…..

Lessons I’ve Learned:

I probably should have taken accounting more seriously at university – It’s true. I used to roll my eyes at the concept of accounting… “who cares about profit and loss statements? Someone will do that for me” was my attitude and if I had time again, I would have really leaned into accounting and taken more on board. Luckily, I have landed on a super hardworking book keeper (you know how you are) and Xero has been a revalation.

The reason accounting is so important is it allows you to forecast your business, which is extremely useful when I’m hiring, it assists in helping me decide what to invest in and what not to and if you can look after your accounts properly, you normally have reasonably content clients who aren’t fussed about paying you.

Figure out what you stand for and stand by itThis is actually relevant to a lot of lessons I’ve learned, but it is a REALLY important one. As a digital marketing agency, there are some pre-existing industry expectations and I’ll be honest, a lot of them are negative. Unfortunately, due to some pretty average operators, digital marketing is often perceived as deceiving and often clients have a lot of insecurity about working with you.

This meant that early on, I had to decide what type of agency I wanted to be and how I would operate. Me, being reasonably blunt and not normally patient enough for the fluff and “salesy vibes” that comes with this industry, I decided transparency and a strong level of integrity were of the utmost importance to my agency, my team and my clients and this is something I’ve tried to instill in every system and operation within the agency.

I’ve also had to decide what I want to focus on and although I do offer some web development and some consultation, we had to figure out our strengths and where we wanted to be situated in this industry and we finally landed on a heavy Paid Ads, SEO and Conversion Optimisation agency that pushes for Return On Investment. I know I know, every agency says they aim towards ROI, but we prioritise it as our most important metric and we like to get a return as quickly as possible to build a solid foundation to any campaign.

Finally, you have to figure out what your structure is and after working at plenty of agencies, I decided that I didn’t believe in the “account manager set up”, meaning we don’t have any AM’s in our team, everyone is a digital strategist and everyone is able to understand the ins and outs of a campaign and the traffic sources we are trying to improve. This is pivotal as my opinion is that if anyone calls through to Reform Digital, they should be able to have a conversation about their campaign without having to be put through to the dedicated individual looking after the account. This makes for a far better experience and puts a level of responsibility on EVERY employee we hire, which I believe makes us unique and effective.

Partners make for amazing industry relationshipsEvery agency has a lead generation strategy and for me, it has always been content. My personal profile and consistent level of content I put out has always been the driving force behind how we bring on clients, but forming partnerships and actually providing value to those partnerships has been an amazing source of leads and opportunities for our business.

Often, these types of relationships start with “I think you can do some work for us” or “what can you offer” and the selling begins, then it’s more than likely a one way street or a really costly commission structure. For me, I try to see how we can help the partnership before expecting anything in return, which might seem counterproductive, but it has created some of the most helpful and amazing partnerships to date for Reform Digital.

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Embrace vulnerabilityI’m sure you’ve heard this before from some motivational novel written by a self proclaimed visionary, but I cannot stress how important this is. Starting this agency has been a life-changing experience, but it has come with a lot of pressure and has led to a couple of hour long showers with me thinking “why on earth am I putting myself through this?”. It’s a tough road.

I am always pretty open about the fact that I have had struggles with anxiety on occasion and even though 6 months is no time at all, during this period I have had plenty of situations that have triggered my anxiety and learning to deal with this and be on top of it has been an ongoing battle. Luckily, I have probably the best support system anyone could ever hope for and I have too many names to mention, but the biggest support in the world is my incredible wife.

Not only does she listen to my constant commentary about this business, my ongoing rants, my down moments and my big wins, but she constantly pushes me to be better at things and I couldn’t imagine doing this without her. Shameless plug of my wife I know, but the point is that you need support when you are in the early days of any business and you need to accept the vulnerable times and be grow from them.

Clients are literally EVERYTHING… But quality staff are even more importantYou cannot have an agency without clients and we have some of the best clients around. We do everything within our power to offer high quality service, results and open communication with all of our clients which makes for a great working relationship. But I’m going to be a bit controversial here…. Staff are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in your agency.

Leading a team has always been something I’ve wanted and I knew there would be challenges, but I can assure you right now, the team at Reform Digital make my life so easy that I have to pinch myself a lot of the time. Each member of this team provides impactful campaign delivery and strategic insight at all times, which means that we are always one step ahead of things.

The other important thing is company culture and this is amplified when everyone is working remotely during the covid environment, but the staff have banded together and have committed to short and productive meetings, with ongoing campaign discussion through our company Slack channel and the proper use of our project management software. I cannot be more grateful for my amazing team and as long as you know exactly how you want to hire and you are very specific with the requirements of each position, you can set up an incredible team of individuals that provide longevity to your agency.

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What’s Next?

For me, the next step is probably going to be learning to adapt to having a small baby with a business and operating on minimal sleep. I may very well need to invest in a drip filled with coffee to keep me going during this period, but finishing off 2020 on a high note and continuing with our current momentum is a MUST. We have the 2.0 verison of our website coming out very shortly (spoiler), we have a few new staff members coming on board and we have some awesome stuff waiting in the pipeline that we can’t annouce just yet.

Whilst this first 6 months has been crazy, Reform Digital is still in its early stages and getting system and processes organised earlier on makes it easier than having to make huge systematic changes down the track. This, along with refining our service offering, updating our proposal documentation, investing in some brand assets, continuing to push quality content, expanding our email database, building stronger partnerships, adapting to 2021 with less restrictions, featuring plenty of case studies and much much more, are all in store for the foreseeable future,

All I can say is that being “excited” would be an understatement for what’s to come for the rest of the year and a huge 2021!

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