5 Difficult Decisions Our Agency Made In 2016
2016 has been a hell of a year.
Trump elected president.
But more importantly, what has been going on with NeoMam?!
When working in the fast-paced agency world, it’s easy to spend all your time looking into the future and missing out on what is going on around you.
With this post, I want to spend some time to look back and highlight the biggest decisions we made as an agency in 2016.
1. No More Work With Other Agencies
When NeoMam started back in 2013, the main bulk of our work was through larger SEO and media agencies.
We got to work with people who understood us, so we didn’t have to worry about managing and educating clients. The other big benefit was that we worked with far larger clients than is usual for such a small agency.
For a long time, it was great.
But eventually, as we started to grow and as content became more complex, the lack of direct contact with the client started to create problems. We wanted a working relationship where we could give and get 2-way feedback to help each other grow.
And we also wanted to move to a retainer model with clients so we could both benefit from a long-term partnership, which is a lot harder to do with an agency in the middle.
That’s why we decided to stop working with agencies at the beginning of 2016.
It carried a level of risk, as agency work was still a large percentage of our revenue, but we knew that if we didn’t stop now, then it wouldn’t get any easier.
I’m glad to say it was a good decision.
Since we stopped working with other agencies, we have been able to work on longer term retainer agreements with clients. This has allowed the flexibility that is needed to get the big results clients expect with content marketing campaigns.
Even though it doesn’t get any easier to say ‘no’ to new projects every time an agency enquiries about working together, we know it makes sense for our business and current clients.
2. The NeoMam Guarantee
One of the big challenges in the content marketing space is sticking out from other providers.
When we used to work primarily with infographics, a client could get the same service from pretty much every SEO agency in the world. We also knew that our price point was far higher and it was hard to show immediately why our service was worth investing over others.
The idea of a guarantee had always been in my head after hearing about some agencies using it in the U.S.
As NeoMam grew, we always took the position that if a client wasn’t happy about what we had produced or the results we had achieved, then we would give them their money back. In this sense, we felt confident guaranteeing a certain number of links we were expecting to achieve as it gives a clear indicator to what success and failure look like.
It’s the same position that Amazon and other companies take; they know that the real profit comes from building long term trust. It also only seems fair that the supplier should share the risk involved with content marketing.
So with the help of the wider team we started to put together a package that included the number of guaranteed results we would provide at different price points.
Our ultimate goal is to work long term with our clients and we didn’t want mistakes or unexpected problems to get in the way of showing clients what we can do.
In most cases we would produce another project for free, but in others we would provide a 100% refund.
At this point, I should tell you that we have never given a refund or free projects as we are just so awesome at content marketing.
Since 2016, we have given back nearly $10k in total refunds and launched at least 3 additional projects to hit the results we guaranteed to our clients.
It doesn’t feel great giving money away but it does put a figure to our mistakes. With a high stake in the outcome, we improved quickly. We also found that clients really like it when they get free projects – who would have thought?
3. Doubling Down On Specialisation
Since starting NeoMam nearly 5 years ago, the response I used to get from other agency people when explaining them what we did was ‘What else will you sell? You can’t just sell infographics.’
As time progressed, it became clear that this decision wasn’t a bad one as it allowed us to create a name for ourselves very quickly that would have been a lot harder if we were just another full service agency in Manchester.
But we did start to waver on our specialisation as more potential clients got in touch. We didn’t start PPC campaigns but we did start to create infographics for different reasons. Maybe it was for an investment magazine. Or a project for internal comms for a big brand.
Whilst we were still creating one type of content, the way in which clients were using our pieces was very different from project to project. As we quickly found out, the expectations and requests from an internal comms project are very different when compared to a content marketing campaign.
One of our biggest mistakes – apart from the usual hiring mistakes – was the decision to take on these type of design only projects. The problem was that the money was good. These were also big brands with international recognition.
The projects were completely different to what we normally did but more importantly, they really didn’t align with our passion: creating content people want to share.
In 2016, we stopped taking on any work that didn’t require us to produce content with the number one goal of getting media features and links.
Not taking on design only projects allowed us to look outside the infographic format. In 2016 we introduced video, standalone illustrations, data visualisation, posters and renders, just to name a few. As long as what we are creating is publisher ready, link worthy content, then we we’re doing what we do best.
The other benefit was that we could finally start to align our marketing message to the people we wanted to work with. Last week, our new homepage went live and we have been using different services page for the last 6 months. We have already seen a big change in the type of leads that we receive.
Whilst it was nice to see design only type leads, it didn’t make sense if all I was doing was sending them to another agency who could service them.
There is still lots of work to still do, but I feel far more comfortable knowing we have a clear idea of the type of work we want that aligns with our passion for doing all this in the first place.
4. The EOS System
Over the past year, the EOS has significantly increased our profit margins and improved the way we worked.
EOS provides a framework that any business can use, including different methods and techniques handpicked from some of the greatest business frameworks in the world, such as Good to Great by Jim Collins.
We now have a 90-minute ‘Level 10’ meeting every single week, where we report on how the business is doing and tackle issues on a weekly basis. And as I am writing this, we are about to go to our 2-day annual meeting in a cottage in Shropshire, where we will plan out 2017.
It’s worth noting that this system is not just for agencies and we have even recommended it to individuals just taking the step to working for themselves.
5. Our First eBook
After many months of work, we have finally put together our very first eBook and it’s available for download here: http://neomam.com/ebook
We wanted to produce something that would give potential and new clients an overview of some of the techniques we use to get features and links with the content we create.
To make it extra special we got it printed using blurb.co.uk and whilst it wasn’t cheap, the final version looked great. We have sent this out to current clients as well as a list of people we would love to work with in the future.
We will understand how effectively this works as a marketing approach later in 2017, but so far, people have responded well.
Looking Forward Into 2017
With the EOS process in place, we already have our goals set for 2017 and I am really looking forward to what this next year brings.
We know it will involve different ways of working, new formats and approaches to visual content – more projects like the cult TV show floor plans we did for Homes.com and standalone illustrations such as the concept cars we created for WhoCanFixMyCar.
We want to always be pushing our limits to make sure our content stands out, not just against other agencies but also the content that publishers are producing on a daily basis.
It’s not going to be easy, but we know it’s going to be fun.
I am going to be away from 16th December to get married in Argentina, so have a happy Christmas and New Year and see you in 2017.