Miles Burke

Startups, digital marketing, small business & more.

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Lombok, Indonesia

15 Lessons from 15 Years of Digital Agency Management

This week marks fifteen years of running my digital marketing agency. Back in the golden era of October 2002, I struck out on my own, setting up a little desk in a cluttered spare room of my home.

A few months later, I was paying rent for a small office, and had taken on my first employee. Fifteen years later, I am proud and humbled to say Bam Creative is still in business, and has weathered the many ups and downs over that time.

I started thinking of this milestone as an opportunity to reflect on my personal journey of managing a digital marketing agency.

As a result, I have put together these fifteen thoughts, in no particular order, which may be a help to anyone managing a digital agency, or indeed, any small to medium sized business.

Frequent change is the only constant

In just about every industry, change is now a constant. You either both accept that, and be open to changing your workflow, offerings, business model, etc or you should start to plan your exit.

The amount of changes we’ve enacted over the last 15 years is amazing; but we’ve had to, to stay relevant. Both technology and customer expectations frequently change; we either both adapt and ensure we are offering the right services, or we become a dinosaur business.

If your business is resistant to change, expect to become irrelevant eventually. It may not be an overnight disruption, but it will occur. Look at the lessons behind the change of circumstances of large companies such as Kodak, IBM or Blockbuster.

We either adapt and ensure we are offering the right services, or we become a dinosaur business.

Your team are the most important asset

Sure, I started the business, and initially took all those personal and financial risks, but that only gives me credit for so long. If it weren’t for the individuals in my talented team, both past and present, the business wouldn’t be where it is today.

Whilst it is very important to keep your customers in focus, your number one concern should be ensuring you have a happy, healthy and motivated team to drive the business forward.

Take time to show them gratitude, ask for their input on everything from workflows, to purchases, to recruitment and business direction. The more your team feel a sense of ownership, the harder they will work to ensure your business is a success.

If it weren’t for the individuals in my talented team, the business wouldn’t be where it is today.

Profit, not gross turnover, is what keeps you going

I’d rather have 10% profit in a million dollar business, than 0.5% profit of a $10,000,000 business (that’s $100k versus $50k, for the maths challenged). Turnover doesn’t allow you to hire your dream team, it doesn’t allow you to build assets for future proofing, or purchase the right equipment. Profit does.

It seems that people still consider profit a dirty word, yet without it, we wouldn’t be in business. Ensure you have built in a profit margin and do your utmost to always reach it. Profit matters, regardless of business size, and continue to reinvest it back to the business to foster growth.

Your customers should care that you make a profit. I know I want my suppliers to still be there for me in a few years; if they didn’t make a profit, it’s very likely I will lose those providers, and the relationships I have built.

It’s all about customer service

The difference between your business or product, and your competitors, often boils down in the customer’s eyes to customer service. The cost of your product fades into insignificance, if you provide great service.

Equally, if you provide garbage service, it doesn’t matter how cheap you make your product, you won’t retain the customers you have.

I, along with most people, remember the service I received from a supplier more vividly than the actual product, down the track. I would get great service than the cheapest product.

We’ve made plenty of service mistakes over the years. The best service you can provide, is to pipe up and admit you’ve done something wrong; customers are people too, and they appreciate the honesty and transparency.

"Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." Albert Einstein

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein

Your business shouldn’t rely on you

To create a sustainable business which has a chance of continuity after you eventually exit, you need to focus on removing yourself from the early days. I am in the enviable position that I can take a few weeks off from work, and I know the business will continue to operate in my absence.

This is an enviable position to be in, for many business owners. Look at what you do, and what the business relies on you to be there for, and empower others to be able to do make these decisions or do those tasks.

Even if you have no desire to exit, your mental and physical health will be better for always be conscious of your businesses reliance on you.

See my article on the 6Q Blog, How to Delegate Effectively and Get More Done, for more thoughts of mine on delegation.

Look at what you do, and what the business relies on you to be there for, and empower others to be able to do make these decisions or do those tasks.

Cash flow, not profit, should be your focus

As I mentioned above, without profit, your business won’t survive. Something even more important is cash flow – without the ability to service ongoing costs, your business won’t even be open long enough to enjoy those profits.

Look for ways to minimise the gap between doing the work and getting the money. Don’t become complacent in chasing up debtors. Look for ways to maximise your bank balance, so you can sleep at night, knowing you can meet the next payroll.

If you have serial debtors, let them find another supplier. The cost of maintaining an overdraft or having your cash flow tied up in a couple of greedy customers negates their ongoing patronage.

Also see my article, Seven Tips to Make Debtors Pay, on this topic.

Train the future of your industry

There’s nothing more heart-warming than seeing fresh faced interns become seasoned professionals within your industry over the following years. Universities and education providers can only service one component of a young person’s education.

It was one of my motivations when I founded the Australian Web Industry Association all those years ago – this is a platform to educate the existing, and future members of the industry.

Without the opportunity to get work experience under their belts, people will never crack this, or many other, industries. Take time to create some form of internship program, or at least an informal work experience process.

Sure, it takes time to show these people the ropes, however I see it as an investment in the future of my industry.

Automate what you can

If I spend every day repeating the same tasks, I am not feeling fulfilled. Many people, such as your employees, also don’t enjoy weeks of constant repetitive tasks. Always be looking for things that you can automate, and free up your team to better utilise their time.

Encourage everyone around you to do the same. A small investment in extra time spent now, can pay off in big time savings in the future.

Automation isn’t necessarily about replacing humans. I see it as a great opportunity to free people up to think more creatively, and utilise their most precious finite commodity – time – on better tasks and activities.

Have a life as well as a business

This one has been a challenge for me personally over the years. It is easy to get caught up in work, and forget there is more to life. Take time to decompress away from work on the weekend, spend time on leave each year, and value your personal relationships.

It is why I have non-digital hobbies like motorcycle riding, amateur radio and others; these give me a great reason to stop looking at computer screens for a while.

I’ve known many successful yet deeply unhappy people over the years – I would rather have an average income and enjoy my life, than have an obscene bank balance and suffer from deep loneliness.

Never stop learning

I feel a little fraudulent writing this list, as I don’t feel I know it all. The older I get, and the more experience I have, the more I realise how little I actually know.

That is one of the main reasons I always have side projects like growth.email – it’s not that I expect them to become unicorns, it is because they give me opportunities to learn more.

Don’t get so caught up in your business that you forget to continuously learn. If your brain isn’t taking in new information, it’s rotting. The threat of becoming unskilled is a very real issue for many.

See my article, 4 Scribbles That Explain Your Professional Future for more thoughts on this topic.

The older I get, and the more experience I have, the more I realise how little I actually know.

Include the wider community as a stakeholder

Every business has a number of stakeholder segments – there are your customers, your shareholders, your employees. One group I feel should always be considered a stakeholder is the wider community.

It needn’t be a huge burden on your finances. You could formalise some form of volunteering program, or give back to charities by donating your products or services, or indeed have a financial donation program.

I’m encouraged by the amount of charitable organisations my business has been able to help over the last decade and a half. This gives me a real sense of purpose in business.

See the Bam Creative blog post, Bam in the Community, for some of the examples on how the business gives back.

Empower not micromanage

Particularly in the early days of Bam Creative, I struggled with delegating tasks and responsibilities and allowing others to flourish. I still catch myself thinking ‘I can do this better, maybe I’ll spend this weekend on it’.

You need to empower your team to make decisions, including the inevitable mistakes, in order to grow your business. If I never let go of any roles in those early days, I would still be overworked and by myself.

Whilst some days, you may feel freelancing is an enviable option, having a team to support you is even better.

Don’t take it personally

This is the one thing that possibly challenges me the most on this list. It is very difficult for me to not take a resignation or a client leaving us, as purely business and not personally.

I often feel that these hurdles are personal in nature, when 99% of the time, these situation actually aren’t. I do, however, feel the old adage ‘It’s just business’, was first said by an employee, not a business owner.

Whenever you feel that you are getting emotional over something in the business, stop and collect yourself. Ask yourself, is this actually personal, or is it just the result of a business decision? Nine times out of ten, you’ll find it is actually the latter.

Create the job you love

Cast your mind back to when you started your current business. What did personal success and happiness look like to you back then? Now look at your current position – have you kept true to your word, or become a slave to the business?

Over the last decade or so, my dream job has changed a number of times. As a result, I have done my best to mould my role to fit what excites me. If you are quietly suffering terminal boredom, it will become quickly apparent to others no matter how hard you try to hide it; and your negativity will become infectious.

Take time to assess your role regularly, and ensure you include a component of your role that excites you. In the beginning, it was one of the reasons you decided to start a business.

Cast your mind back to when you started your current business. What did personal success and happiness look like to you back then?

Summary

Starting and leading any business can be, at times, tough work. It can often take a personal, emotional and physical toll and often you won’t have anyone to discuss it with. I still have moments where I ask myself ‘What the hell was I thinking in 2002?’ however I am pleased I made the decision to be the master of my own destiny.

Starting and managing a business isn’t for everyone – many people are better off being an employee, or a solo entrepreneur. This shouldn’t be considered a failure or a shortcoming. There’s only a small percentage of us that have some insane personality trait that wants to create a business with all the challenges it contains.

If you are one of these folk, I hope that there was at least one point in the above list that resonates with you. I wish you continued business and personal success!

LinkedIn marketing

How to Go Viral Thanks to the LinkedIn Network Effect

I recently posted a status on LinkedIn that received more than 4,700% more views and engagement than my 10 posts prior. This is how to replicate that success for yourself.

LinkedIn is a powerful platform. At last count, there were 467 million people on LinkedIn, sharing views, virtually networking and connecting with each other.

I have always been a little lazy on LinkedIn. Whilst my network has been steadily increasing, and I have been frequently posting, I don’t really go out of my way to engage with my network.

I had an idea for an experiment, to see how I could grow my subscriber list for growth.email and build a bigger network on LinkedIn.

The results?

LinkedIn post statistics

LinkedIn post statistics

Instead of the usual 200 or so views on my updates, and little to no likes, I ended up blasting the stats out of the water with this one.

12,041 views of this single post
70 comments
34 post likes
4 reshares

This resulted in a number of positive effects elsewhere as well;

60 new subscribers to growth.email
39 new LinkedIn contacts
3 enquiries about the work I do

An amazing response, overall.

What’s the LinkedIn effect?

LinkedIn encourages posts that get engagement to spread across the platform. If a user comments on a post, they send it to their contacts feeds as well.

For example, I am a contact of the commentor below, not the article poster. I saw this in my feed because my connection commented on it.

LinkedIn activity in feed

LinkedIn activity in feed

A smaller effect is seen if you take a look at a connections profile. You also see their recent engagements on the platform, such as this example, which puts the article as a link there as well.

LinkedIn profile activity

LinkedIn profile activity

You want comments (& many!)!

The trick with getting a post to spread on LinkedIn, is that you want to get people commenting on it. It could be a simple Yes, which is what I used – the length isn’t the concern here, it’s the reach.

This made me think – if I asked people to subscribe to my email list, AND comment on a post, in order to get some valuable research, would that be too hard for most people? I would need to offer something of great value to do that.

What value can I offer?

So I put my thinking cap on – what would attract people specifically on LinkedIn, to go through that process? I always consider what would attract me, and what I thought would work is some deep data or research on articles that are shared.

Imagine if I had the top 1,000 articles that had been shared on LinkedIn? I could use that for a number of things;

  1. Build a list of curated content to share myself
  2. Use this as a basis for writing about new topics
  3. Find gaps in content that I could write about

I ended up collating the data, using a paid account on Ahrefs, which makes this process a lot easier, and saved it as both CSV and XLS formats.

Most shared articles on LinkedIn

Most shared articles on LinkedIn

Then I made a quick graphic to share (images are far better noticed in a LinkedIn feed, than plain text posts) and then wrote a quick intro to it, with the steps.

LinkedIn post

LinkedIn post

Don’t just stop there!

I nearly left this research as is, and walked away with this blog post and some learnings.

I then recalled my own advice; reuse content where you can.

I took the research I had put together, did some fairly trivial analysis of title lengths, share totals, etc and wrote an entirely different bit of content, as a 1,200 word blog post on the Bam Creative blog.

That way, I am reusing my research once, but providing great value again. To sweeten the deal even further, we uploaded the data to Google sheets, and made it a free download, with no content gate or anything that would stop readers getting to it.

At current count, this article has resulted in hundreds of reads, downloads and shares all by itself. It shows my digital agency is a thought leader in the space, and helps with our SEO and more.

If you’re interested, you can read it over here: Content Marketing Lessons from the Top 1,000 Articles Shared on Linkedin.

Blog post on Bam Creative blog

Blog post on Bam Creative blog

That’s not even counting this 1,100+ word article, which talks further about this experiment. I’ll (hopefully!) get further shares, subscribers and likes as a result of doing a wrap up article.

Things I would do differently

Sadly, I did make some mistakes, so here is how I would approach this differently, should (more like when) I do this again. I share these with you, so you can learn from my mistakes.

Choose a better time to share

For some unknown reason (What was I thinking?), I posted my initial article on a Sunday evening, Perth time. Given many of my contacts are in the USA or Europe, that makes it early Sunday morning. Who checks LinkedIn on a Sunday morning? I certainly don’t.

I should have posted it at an optimum time for my connections – this would have been late evening (local time) on a weekday.

Have the hook in first two lines

Have a look at the grab above again. I added the ‘Want a copy?’ in as an edit after 24 hours. The issue is that most people will see the ‘status preview’which is only 2-3 lines in length. I put the original offer to share too far down for that initial view.

Clarify the process

I feel I made this a little hard. The description on how to get it was difficult. I didn’t know if I could send it to non-contacts easily (you can’t), and I have a habit of getting wordy. I should have edited heavily and made this post shorter.

Automate the process of delivering the data

The issue was it was manual – I ended up sending individual messages to 60+ people, with a shortened link to the data. If I had been smarter, I would have changed the welcome auto-response email when you subscribe to growth.email to include a link to the data, so then those LinkedIn comments would have been useless, however I would have asked for them anyway. It’s not like people would know, until they got a nice email with the data (and I doubt anyone would have called me out for it).

Understand what you can and can’t do with non-contacts

I don’t use LinkedIn messaging often, so I hadn’t realised they had locked down In-Mail to only paid LinkedIn accounts, and even then, significantly throttled how many you can send.

I ended up sending connection requests to non-contacts, with a custom message including the download link, as a work around, however that wasn’t the most eloquent way to approach it.

Takeaways

Here are my four big takeaways from all of this work.

  • Make sure you add true value to your audience. Nobody bothers engaging with garbage.
  • Plan ahead; choose the right time and article text.
  • Reuse the efforts – a blog post to follow up the article means more shares and exposure.
  • Effort in, results out. I could have gone half cocked, but wouldn’t have enjoyed the same results.

Best of luck! Let me know how you go with doing something similar.

build an email list

Digital Marketing Success: Build an Email List

I’ve worked with business and personalities large and small over the years, who have a large focus on social media audience building. This is fantastic – but don’t forget to build an email list!

I recently gave some advice to a musician I know, about how he should build a larger audience and engage with them better. I follow him on a couple of social platforms, and I see that he is building a strong following. Yet there’s an activity he seems to have missed – that is, continuously build an email list.

At the moment, there seems to be a big focus on vanity metrics out there. The average punter is asking how large can you build your social media following? The issue with too much focus on followers and connections, and not enough on actual engagement, means these people may end up left behind.

Your email list subscribers are something you’ve earned, and have control over. Unlike your social media audience, which is very much a ‘rented crowd’. Let me explain in more detail why it’s imperative you build an email list.

Audience at concert

Audience at concert

Benefits of email versus social

Social media is fantastic; I am not suggesting you should take your focus off this channel. However, to ensure better engagement with your audience, you’ll want to include email in the mix; here are seven compelling reasons why you should build an email list.

You own the audience

Unlike social platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, you aren’t sharing your subscriber data with services that sometimes have dubious privacy policies. Remember, these platforms are in the business of selling advertising.

Add to this, you could lose access to your account at any time, even though if you play by the rules, it’s unlikely. If you read the Terms of Service for Facebook and Twitter, you’ll find that your account can be terminated at their sole discretion. That’s a scary concept if you’ve spent money and lots of time, building that audience.

More visibility

Sending an email ensures you cut through the noise better, than posting on a crowded social media channel, such as Twitter.

Emails tend to get opened more (see below), read for longer, and are less likely to be clashing with similar messages at the same moment.

Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. – McKinsey

Better segmentation

The issue with social networks, is that your followers are in one big list. If you build an email list, you can also segment your audience by anything you wish to define them by.

If you can segment your subscribers, then you can email them more appropriate messages. If I have bought your album, I may want to hear about gigs in my hometown. If I have bought a ticket to a concert, I’m likely to be interested in your new album.

The footer of every email should also be used to promote your social media channels, to encourage subscribers to join you in the social ecosystem.

Email marketing example

Email marketing example

Ability to personalise

You can’t personalise a message to your audience on social, without hitting each audience member one on one, which is laborious and generally frowned upon.

Email allows you to personalise with whatever merge data you have available. Want to email a thanks to me (and every other person) who bought a ticket to your concert? Easy!

Increased engagement

Email has a far better open rate, than the chances of a followers seeing your social media post, organically. Social@Ogilvy reports the average Facebook page has a 2% organic reach. In a recent Mailchimp report, it showed artists have an average 27.12% open rate for emails.

If you want to reach more people from a single post, then email will give a 14 times better return.

Decreased costs

Whilst email isn’t free, and social media organic posts are, the challenge is trying to be visible to most of your audience. Statistics show a 2-8% of Facebook followers may see your latest status message. They want you to spend $20-$200 on promoting that post to your followers, making the platform nearly a pay-per-post business.

If you build an email list, you can enjoy a 25%+ open rate, and it will only cost you a few cents per subscriber or less, to reach their inbox.

4.24% of email subscribers will purchase, versus 0.59% of social media contacts.
Monetate.

Ability to connect socially

If you have someone’s email address, this means you can use this data to connect with them on many social platforms. You can also use this to display an ad, specific to your subscribers.

For example, Facebook advertising has a custom audiences feature, which means you can display a specific ad for your subscribers, where Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to send a connection request based on an email list.

Tactics

You want to link up all your active social profiles back to a website, and have that website link back to the different social platforms that you are active on. Think of it as your own small network.

Social platforms and website

Social platforms and website

This means that social media followers can visit your website and join your email list, and website visitors can find the appropriate social platform for them to follow you on. See my article, The Complete Guide on How to Use Twitter for Content Marketing for further tips on social media.

Say I find you on Instagram. I don’t use Instagram daily, whereas I do use Twitter a few times a day. I can click your profile link, find your website and then see you’re on twitter, and Bingo! I follow you on the social platform I prefer.

If you don’t have a large website, or you are in the early stages of building your own personal brand (such as a musician in this example), you want to ensure you have a clear primary and secondary focus when people visit your website.

This quick sketch below shows how a single page could work for you. Have a photo of yourself, a short biography with contact details, a prominent email subscribe form, as well as links to various social platforms.

Website with email and social

Website with email and social

There are a truckload of different methods to encourage visitors to subscribe to your email list. An often used technique (especially for musicians, writers and creators) is a freebie for signing up; in the musician example this could be an MP3 track off a previous album, the chance to win tickets to a concert, discount merchandise or more.

Out of all the channels I tested as a marketer, email continually outperforms most of them.
– Neil Patel

Summary

Successful digital strategy should always include an activity to build an email list – this helps protect you from the rising costs and dropping engagement rates on social media, and allows you to be better prepared for longer term success.

The seven main benefits again, are;

  • You own the audience
  • More visibility
  • Better segmentation
  • Ability to personalise
  • Increased engagement
  • Decreased costs
  • Ability to connect socially

Now that you understand that email is a vital component of your digital marketing, get cracking, and build that email list and engage better with your audience.

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© 2005-2019. Miles Burke.