12 Lessons From 12 Years Working in Marketing

I've taken the lumps so you don't have to

Hey, welcome to Mind Your Marketing. The weekly newsletter that gives you actionable social media advice for your brand.

Today’s post is a little different. It’s the 12th anniversary of me starting the social media agency Cave. So, I thought it would be fitting to break down the 12 lessons I’ve learned building a marketing agency over that time.

Enjoy below!

Did someone forward you this email?

Twelve years ago today, I started the marketing agency Cave without a marketing degree, knowledge about professional services, or how to scale a business.

In that time, I've taken lumps, learned a lot, and worked with some great brands.

Here are the 12 lessons I’ve learned along the way: 👨🏻‍🏫

1. A big-name client with a small budget isn’t a big client. They're a cheap one. 💸

Working with a big-name brand should mean big-time dollars. Just because you recognize the brand name doesn't mean you should work for lower rates.

2. Don't get in a headcount contest with the agency down the road 🤼‍♂️

When starting, it should be painful to hire. Over-hiring is going to lead to necessary layoffs. And having to let people go sucks on all fronts.

3. Niche down, then expand 📝

We started finding our footing by working with moving companies. We found you could find what works for one moving company and replicate it in each market. This got us on our footing, and then we could explore working in other industries.

4. Find great partner agencies 🙏

We partner with other agencies to fill in the gaps for our clients. This gives our clients and us more capabilities without absorbing the overhead of multiple divisions (video production, Google Ads, PR, etc.).

5. Freelancer websites aren’t your friend 🙅🏻‍♂️

Sites like Upwork and Fiverr are a race to the bottom as a freelancer. If you want to land bigger clients, you go to where they hang out online.

6. Create a separation from work 🏔️

Our first ‘office’ which was really bedroom in downtown Toronto.

Creating a life outside work is pivotal to my physical and mental health. I’ve gone through bouts with work dominating every aspect of my life, and the toll that’s taken isn’t good. Today, I create space away from the agency to help fuel my tank in other ways. 

7. Never do free spec work 🆓

I don't care if someone has been a client for 10 minutes or 10 years. If they want to do a project, request 50% of the deal upfront. This covers base costs and protects you if the client goes AWOL.

8. Talk to clients, often 🗣️

I’ve made the mistake of not touching base enough with clients in the past, and those are the relationships that fall apart the fastest. Having a regular meeting cadence and sending weekly updates goes a long way to making sure you and the client are on the same page.  

9. Create a 'no-fly' list ✈️

Create a list of criteria that automatically disqualify someone from being a client. This can be a certain revenue size, industry, etc. Knowing who you don't serve is a good first step in building your agency roster.

10. Referrals are great, but you can’t bank on them 🏦

I love referrals, but it's impossible to scale a business with referrals alone. Because of this, we've created a ton of content to drive inbound leads. 

11. Awards are B.S. 🏆

At least we got to celebrate before they canned us.

The worst-kept secret in marketing is that awards are pay-to-play. These are self-back-patting exercises instead of meaningful toward clients' success. I’ve been guilty of paying absorbent fees to ‘enter’ award contests. They’ve largely been a giant waste of time and money.

12. Believe in yourself 💪

Negative self-talk and doubts creep into your head. That's normal. But finding tools to fight back against those and to help you believe in yourself is massive. You are in this game to keep improving and become the best version of yourself, not someone else.

I'm sure the next decade-plus will give me more lessons.

Thank you for reading,