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How I Survived my First Year at an Inbound Marketing Agency

Mar 15, 2017
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INBOUND MARKETING AGENCY.png“Hello Rhonda. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to support Ryan Shelley, owner of Shelley Media Arts, as he grows his inbound marketing agency.”

A year ago I joined Shelley Media Arts and while the job offer wasn’t phrased exactly like that, I certainly was about to embark on a mission that would challenge me and allow me to play an important role in the growth of the agency.

But first I had a question, what was “inbound marketing”? After a quick Google search and a few minutes on my new client’s website, I realized I had a lot to learn! I would be learning more than a new industry; I would be learning how to work remotely and how to help an entrepreneur grow his business. I was up for the challenge and here we are one year later, having grown from a team of two to a team of eight (soon to be nine).

I have learned a few lessons which helped me survive my first year with our inbound marketing agency. I’m sharing them in hopes they will help someone else who is growing their own agency or is part of a growing team and needs some encouragement. Much of what I describe comes from my experience as part of a remote team. Many agencies have a similar work arrangement and find that it works out very well as long as there is open communication, which leads me to my first point.

Communication is Key

Communication is essential to any organization, especially when working with remote team members. And, there is a lot to communicate when you are working on inbound marketing campaigns for several clients! We use technology to keep us in touch and on track with our projects, namely Slack for instant messaging, Zoom for video conferencing, and DoInbound for project management. It’s not the technology that keeps us connected, though, it’s our open and comfortable work environment. It’s easy to feel alone when you work remotely, but when you know that your leader and other team members are accessible it feels more like a real office than a virtual one.

I can’t say enough about how important video conferencing is to our team. Since we are all remote, our weekly calls keep us connected and give us a way to build relationships. If we relied solely on instant messaging or email, we would not be the cohesive team that we are. One thing that I often do on our calls is reiterate what Ryan has stated that he would do or that he wants me to do. It helps us make sure we are on the same page and that I have a clear vision of our next steps.

To learn more about the collaboration tools we use as a team, check out this post.

Success strategy: When you’re running a busy agency it can seem like there’s no time for meetings, and messages from your team members may seem like an interruption. You have to make it a priority to stay in touch and keep everyone focused.

If you’re working in an agency, ask questions – lots of them. Make sure you understand not only the “what” of what you’re doing, but the “why”. There are a lot of moving parts to the inbound marketing methodology and asking questions will help you learn how inbound marketing works.

If you’re the agency owner, communicate not only about individual tasks or projects but your agency’s overall goals and mission. Be open to questions and transparent about your vision. Your team wants to know how their role fits into the bigger picture.

Your Agency’s Mission is Your North Star

One thing I realized very quickly working with Ryan is that he has a mission that he is truly passionate about. He makes it very clear that he wants to connect businesses and target audiences in a more human and authentic way. It’s not just a catch-phrase to him, but an overarching belief that what we do is important and it’s our purpose to make marketing human.

Having this clear mission in mind has helped me in myriad ways but especially in our content marketing efforts. I often ask myself, “Is this going to help our clients connect with their audience in a real, authentic way?”

Success strategy: The culture and mission of your agency should be reflected in everything you do – every marketing strategy you develop, every service you provide, every team member you hire, and every client you choose to work with. It gives your team the guiding principles that will keep them on track with your company’s goals and values.

Treat Your Client’s Business Like Your Business

Early on, I realized that working in a small agency required me to think like an agency owner. I won’t pretend I know how to run a marketing agency, but everything I did was toward the goal of making the agency a success. After all, my job depended on it. If Ryan’s agency went under, I was sunk too. But it wasn’t just that. I truly wanted to see this thing fly.

Being a “virtual assistant” in an inbound agency puts me in a unique position. I not only serve my client, but I serve his clients. I have a personal stake in their success and I consider each of their businesses to be my businesses. As such, I never want to put anything out into the world, on my clients’ behalf, that I wouldn’t be proud of. I may be anonymous from the outside looking in, but I take complete ownership of everything I produce.

Success strategy: As an inbound agency, we have to take responsibility for the work we produce for our clients. It helps us be meticulous in providing the best quality service. From creating content strategy, to designing professional-looking graphics, to posting meaningful and helpful social media posts, to proofreading copy, every bit of work has to be undertaken as if your name is on it.

Keep Developing Your Skills

The digital marketing landscape is constantly evolving. That’s what makes it an exciting industry. However, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all there is to know and do for our clients.

One thing I keep reminding myself is that I have to start where I’m at with what I know, then learn a bit more. It’s a step-by-step process and there are no shortcuts. Coming into our agency, I had some experience in social media marketing from my own personal business. I knew enough about online marketing to understand the guiding principles of what we were trying to achieve. But I also knew that if I was to not only survive in inbound marketing but thrive, I had to learn more. And each time I learned something new, I learned that there was even more to learn. It’s a continuous cycle, each step building up to the next. The more I learn the better able I am to carry out our mission.

Success strategy: Endeavor to be a lifelong learner. If you think you know it all, then you don’t know anything. Always be learning and growing, expanding your skill set and honing your craft. There are some great resources online, particularly HubSpot’s inbound marketing and content marketing certification training courses. Find blogs that help you learn more about inbound marketing and content marketing. Two I recommend are Content Marketing Institute and Convince and Convert

Consistent Effort Over Time Yields Results

Many times I’ve asked myself, “Is what we’re doing really helping?” I get impatient to see results, just like our clients do. But then I remind myself that inbound marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to see real results.

As a results-oriented person, I want to know that what I’m doing is having an impact. As Ryan constantly reassures me with his gratitude and his trust in me, the small role I play has a big impact on the agency’s success as a whole. It’s up to me to keep the faith and continue working hard toward our goals. Over the past year, we have grown from having 1 inbound retainer to achieving HubSpot Gold partner status. One of the keys to that growth has been consistency.

Success strategy: Even though you may not see immediate results, trust the process. Take a minute to look up from what you’re doing and look at the big picture. You’ll see that you’re making progress.

Change is Good

With personal and business growth comes change. As uncomfortable as change can be, it means additional opportunities for growth. Over the past year, my role with our agency has changed a few times. That’s a good thing. I never have to worry about getting complacent and bored! More importantly, however, is the confidence that has come from knowing I can navigate the transitions that come with growing a business.

Success strategy: Surviving a challenging period, learning hard lessons and growing personally and professionally, is very empowering. It’s rewarding to know that you can handle anything that’s thrown your way.

Feel the Fear and do it Anyway

Being new to inbound marketing, I have been asked to do things that quite honestly I didn’t know how to do. I’ve also seen opportunities for improvement in our agency and I’ve voiced my thoughts. I could have as easily kept my ideas to myself. In both of these situations, fear could have prevented me from growing and learning. Not only that, if I truly have our agency’s best interests at heart, I have to face my fear and do it anyway so that we can grow.

Success strategy: Take your own personal fears and ego out of a situation and do what it takes to get the job done. You’ll come out of it stronger.

Scalability Wins

Sometimes I reminisce fondly about the days when it was just Ryan and me working our tails off to get his inbound agency off the ground. I enjoyed being a two person team. But I knew it wouldn’t last. We were a fast moving train. In order for us to grow, we had to add more team members who could help fulfill our obligations to our clients. It’s been fun to see our talented team grow.

In order to scale effectively, Ryan put processes in place which have helped each of us define the role we play in our inbound agency while allowing us to work as a cohesive unit. The sky’s the limit as we each bring our unique abilities to the table.

Success strategy: Don’t feel threatened as your team grows. Make your talents known so that you can bring them to light for the benefit of your agency’s growth.

Over the past year, I have learned about a whole new industry. But more than that, I’ve learned what it means to be a part of something bigger, part of a team working toward making the internet a better place. I hope in sharing the lessons I’ve learned, it will help someone else entering this field, perhaps another entrepreneur, virtual assistant, social media manager, or content marketer.

Here’s to the next year! I’m excited to see Ryan’s vision for SMA expand and I feel grateful to be on this journey with him and our amazing team.

Going For Gold ; Inbound Marketing


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Rhonda Bavaro

By Rhonda Bavaro

Rhonda Bavaro wears many hats at SMA - Operations Director, Inbound Marketing Strategist and Content Writer. She loves helping business owners achieve accelerated growth through inbound marketing and creative content marketing strategies. She enjoys writing about digital marketing, sales, social media, technology, and health.

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