Two years ago we opened the doors on Nuera Marketing for the first time. Today we’re extremely proud to have a portfolio full of truly remarkable client results, a waiting list for new creative and web clients, and the opportunity to continue growing on our terms.
As I reflect on our work, lessons learned, and the amazing trajectory on which we’re grateful to find ourselves, I’ve realized that some of the wisdom we gleaned through our early experiences might be suitable for other business owners and managers/directors across all industries. In that spirit, here are just a few of them.
Like most early-stage companies, there were a few moments where we felt we weren’t going to make it. In fact, there was at least one very serious time early on where my partner Grant and I slept on a decision to close our doors. They say it’s always darkest just before the dawn, and I’m not sure that’s scientifically true, but it certainly rings true in this case. In the days that followed that pending decision, our agency took one of the most important turns it’s taken to date–operational problems were solved, new business started pouring in, and we had multiple major client wins. In fact, our final quarter of that first year netted us 51% of our revenue for the entire year and most importantly, a handful of new team members and clients; all of which we’re still growing with today.
Those experiences seem distant as I write this, and they’re certainly not fun to reflect on, but they’re a big part of who we are today. No matter how many times you fail, or how bleak your current position might feel, success just might follow your next push–keep going.
Know Your Product
We’ve always believed in our ability to deliver for clients, but early-on, framing that ability in a way that sold our services presented a noteworthy, albeit brief challenge. Theodore Levitt once said, “Kodak sells film, but they don’t advertise film; they advertise memories.” In kind, there are a lot of people and agencies out there selling brand design, web development, social media management, digital marketing, etc.; but is that really what their clients are buying? We always knew we wanted to deliver not just creatively, but on a clear and significant ROI to our clients–that’s what we’re really selling.
Seems like a simple enough notion when you’re looking at any business other than your own, but it can prove difficult to see the whole forest that is your company’s landscape when you’re standing in the middle of it. Just like Kodak’s customers are really buying the ability to preserve their memories, we realized rather quickly that our customers aren’t buying our services–they’re buying growth. That’s our product; what we must deliver through our work.
Just Say No
I’ve written in the past about how to say no to a client, and that’s an important skill for every leader to develop, but what happens when something tells you it’s best to say no to new business? It could be a red flag you spot in communications or even something as simple as timing, but the question of whether to say no to a potential client–to new revenue–is a challenge that will present itself with some frequency to every growing company. For us, it’s happened three times in the last thirty days alone. In those instances, it was about timing and a lack of available bandwidth on time-sensitive projects. We made a commitment when we started Nuera to not be a typical agency; to never sacrifice the quality of our client work no matter how shiny the new business might be. To not overwhelm our team members or grow at the expense of sustainability.
With that sustainable-growth mindset comes tough decisions–from questioning our own model and pivoting when necessary to deciding what kind of business we want to take on and when–these aren’t decisions we’ve taken lightly. Every time we’ve turned away business, we discussed it and decided as a team, and we were honest with our potential client about why while offering help as they work to select the right agency team to deliver on their project. Nearly every single time, in the midst of being a little taken aback, they’ve shared how much they respect the fact that we’d turn away their business in the name of maintaining a high quality standard. Some of those people have since or will one day become Nuera clients, but what we’ve learned and committed to here is that we’ll never take on work if we’re not certain we can give it the attention it deserves.
Efficacy is Everything
Late in our first year, I talked about how being quiet made the right kind of noise for our budding agency; how the efficacy of our work was acting as our de facto business developer–attracting new clients and generating just the right volume of organic buzz. At the time, I imagined us amplifying that effect by promoting ourselves a little more and to some extent that became true. What was most exciting, however, was the scale at which this original approach continued working through our second year. To date, we’re proud to share that our work has delivered significant growth and a meaningful return on investment to each and every client with which we’ve worked. As one example, we’ve been thrilled to help one of our very first clients–Pratt Guys–grow their annual revenue by more than 250% since we began our work with them two years ago. For a different regional client, our creative, web, and digital marketing work caught the eyes of a national competitor who eventually acquired them on our client’s terms. While so many agencies focus heavily on how their creative work is celebrated within the industry, we continue to focus almost exclusively on efficacy. It lies at the center of our culture and behind every decision we make.
We’re headed into our third year excited about the work we’re already doing and about what’s to come, but for today, we’re pausing to reflect and appreciate everyone who’s supported us along the way. That’s really important because people do business with people and no matter how easy something may look from the outside, it takes a lot of those people working together to build something that works. In that spirit, to our clients everywhere–from Jacksonville to San Francisco and Oklahoma City to Costa Rica–to dozens of talented contractors and team members, and to those in the community who’ve shared, supported, or recommended our work, from the bottom of our hearts–thank you.
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