8 insights: How to build an innovative digital agency

Ilona
Posted by
Managing Director

This is a transcript of the talk that I gave at the largest WordPress conference in the UK: WordCamp London 2016.

How to build an innovative digital agency

#1Timeline

  • I do a lot of project management at Moove Agency so I like timelines
  • In this case though, timeline refers to how long it takes to build a successful, established, aspirational agency
  • And the answer is: It does take quite a bit of time to build one.
  • When Adrian and I study other agencies that we consider inspirational, those that have fantastic portfolios and are working with the biggest brands in the world, we notice that they are at least 10 or even 15 years old.
  • When we started out, we did not think about how long it will take to get there, we just wanted to work for ourselves and couldn’t wait to get started.
  • But now, being 5 years old, we clearly see that this is a long-term commitment.
  • You won’t be an overnight success. You will need to dedicate yourself to this venture for at least 10 to 15 years.
  • So don’t be impatient. Put the hard work in and build the business one step at the time.
  • In fact, this might be your life’s project!

#2Co-founders

  • Starting a business with a co-founder is a great idea.
  • Running an entire business and being responsible for everything can be a tough and a lonely place to be, therefore having a co-founder can help you share the burden of responsibility and also celebrate your successes with.
  • Choose co-founders with complementary skills to you so that you don’t have power-struggles and both of you have distinct areas of responsibilities which really helps.
  • At Moove, I lead on business and Adrian leads on art direction. We ask each other for advice and opinion and we always consult on important decisions. We respect each others skills and expertise in our respective parts of the business and this has helped us to clearly distinguish our areas of responsibility.
  • Choosing the right business partner is crucial. Your business partner is someone who will be there from Day 1 until the end, so approach the decision carefully.
  • My recommendation is to choose co-founders whose primary motivation is not money but the journey itself. This will ensure that they will be always willing to invest into the business and they will be ready to make the right decisions in order to take the agency forward.

#3Success criteria

  • The most important thing about success criteria is: you need to define your own.
  • The earlier you define it, the better, because it will be your guiding compass as you shape and grow the agency.
  • At Moove, one of our success criteria is the quality of work that we deliver.
  • This is why we are so proud of our team and projects we worked on. It’s also why we always strive to work on something new that we have never done before.
  • Every project should ideally be bigger or more complex than the one before, or we need to do something more innovative than we’ve done in the past.
  • Hence we highlighted the projects like Momu website and Nacro case study > it is this constant innovation and relentless pursuit of interesting projects that we judge the success of our agency against.
  • Another success factor that is important for Adrian and I personally is that all of our team can keep good work-life balance. We do not work on weekends, we close the entire agency for two weeks over Christmas break, we don’t accept projects with unrealistic timelines and we do not track holidays. We’re not stressed, we enjoy our work and we have a life outside of work. That’s a sign of success for us that we are very proud of.
  • You will have your own success criteria. You will design your agency differently to ensure that it fulfils your dreams.
  • Defining your success criteria is a very important exercise because it will determine how you’re building the agency internally.

#4Finances

  • If you’re only thinking about starting an agency now, you might be asking yourself where to take the money from and how much money you need.
  • The answer is: you don’t need much to start.
  • We’re fortunate to be in the industry where all you need is a laptop and a connection to the Internet, your skills and determination.
  • Moove is a bootstrapped business, we have never taken any outside investment.
  • The initial investment into the company will be in the form of you pouring more effort into it than you get paid for, that’s the price you will pay – that’s the investment. If you’re not prepared to do that, it may not be a good idea to start your own business.
  • When Adrian and I started Moove, we paid ourselves way below our market rate. The money we saved, we put back into the business in the form of hiring new staff or purchasing new equipment. I very clearly remember that we paid ourselves around £1,000 per month or even less. After six months I came to Adrian and said that I can’t live on this, my monthly expenses are £1,500 so I’m becoming broke > so we increased our salaries to £1,500. ‘We were breaking even’. Everything else we earned, we’ve put back into the business.
  • Today, we pay ourselves better but we still keep re-investing huge amounts back to the business and our team: larger office spaces, latest equipment, competitive salaries, team retreats, and most importantly dedicated time and money for research, learning new skills and experimenting.
  • To grow a business you need to keep investing in it. To grow it from scratch you need to keep re-investing everything you earn back to the business for many years to come.

#5Marketing

At Moove, we perceive successful marketing as combination of the following three pillars:

i) Portfolio

  • The projects that we have delivered prove to our clients that we have the skills required – our portfolio does the talking.
  • The truth is that no marketing or sales method is more successful than word of mouth.
  • So keep on delivering your best work and look after your clients businesses and you can be sure you will be successful.

ii) Total sum of everything we do

  • The best marketing is done by your satisfied customers.
  • Marketing at Moove is the ‘total sum‘ of everything we do. It’s the professional way we answer phone calls, it’s the speed at which we respond to our clients, it’s the quality of work we consistently deliver. If you think of everything in your company as your marketing activity, you will understand why we at Moove spend so much time on improving every touch point that clients have with our business.

iii) Inbound marketing

  • After word of mouth, we believe that content marketing and inbound marketing are the most powerful ways to attract new business.
  • Writing useful blog posts, standing up on stage, inspiring others, creating free resources for others to use – these are all useful tools to generate more inbound marketing. I sometimes call it ‘passive sales’ because you’re waiting for people to find you and get in touch with you when they are ready.
  • We prefer putting our money and resources into generating useful content rather than spending money on PPC campaigns or other advertising.
  • The only sponsorship we do is for WordCamps where the money goes back into the community.

#6Team & culture

  • So much has been said about this topic that I will share just a few points from our own experience.
  • The team you have are your best assets and competitive advantage, no doubt about that.
  • Great team and culture starts with successful hiring.
  • The first 10 people you hire will create the culture of your team.
  • At Moove, we like to work with people who are passionate about their craft, get things done, are accountable, reliable and are nice people to be around. The best hires we’ve done were incredibly talented and at the same time very humble people. This is the combination that produces best results and fits our culture well.
  • The second important part of building the right team and culture is nurturing your talent.
  • In the digital industry, we are very lucky to have all of the cool things we all associate with working in this space already: unlimited snacks, drinks, parties, team retreats, holidays, you name it. That’s all nice but truly passionate and smart people want more. They want to work on interesting challenging projects, they want to grow professionally. And bringing precisely these kind of interesting and innovative projects to our team is one of the biggest job responsibilities that Adrian and I as co-founders have. So we put a lot of our time into doing exactly that: brining interesting projects that our team is excited about and loves to work on. That’s our secret to nurturing our talent and keeping our team happy.

#7Innovation

  • This is something that I am personally very passionate about: constant innovation and improvements.
  • At Moove, we like to improve things all the time. It’s not just how we develop our websites and refine our rapid WordPress development guidelines, but everything else we do too. If we pitch tomorrow, it must be the best pitch we have ever done. We always push ourselves to be better tomorrow than we are today in everything we do.
  • I strongly believe this is the reason that we move forward.
  • The thing about innovation though is that you will make mistakes in the process of discovering something new and trying something you have never done before. What’s important though is that you should never feel bad about it or even worse: be paralysed about making any progress because of the fear of mistakes. Woody Allen once said: ‘If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.’
  • So keep pushing, work hard on yourself and continue to innovate as much as you can.

#8Rewards

  • So what are the rewards? Why start your own agency?
  • Running a business is a very unique journey and you can’t replicate that by doing something else. You’re building something from scratch and it’s an exhilarating journey. You’re learning so much every day, you’re growing as a person.
  • It’s like once in a life-time trip around the world. No amount of reading about it will give you the experience, you have to do it yourself to really know what it feels like. It’s thrilling, it’s fascinating, it’s challenging.
  • If you know deep down that this is what you really want to do, then it’s the best job in the world. That feeling will be your reward.

Words of Amancio Ortega

  • Let me leave you here with the words of Amancio Ortega.
  • Most of you have probably never heard of him before but you might be his customers.
  • He is the founder of many fashion brands including Zara.
  • He’s 80 years old and he still goes to work every day which to me is testament to how successfully he has built his businesses – because the passion is still there and he still enjoys himself, even after all these years.
  • And this is his recipe for success that perfectly summarises everything I believe in too:

  1. Give customers what they want and give it to them quickly.
  2. Sell goods of highest quality and you will not have to pay for advertising. Best marketing will be done for you by your satisfied customers.
  3. Your fortune is in your hands. Work on yourself, do what you enjoy and go after your goals relentlessly.
  4. Stay with your feet on the ground and stay yourself.

Amancio Ortega – Founder of Zara Clothing

Good luck

  • I hope we have given you some useful insights into our journey.
  • Enjoy yours, celebrate your successes and have fun.
  • Good luck!
Did you enjoy reading this post?
Share it!
Ilona
posted by
Ilona Filipi
Managing Director

Ilona combines creative flair and super organisational skills to support clients in her role as Senior Project Manager. She brings over 10 years experience in the digital media field having delivered web solutions on projects for brands such as the BBC, O2 and Which? to name but a few.

all articles by Ilona