Content Marketing Agency – 10 Lessons Across 10 Years
An Overview of 10 Years at Crispy Content®
It all started with content
We began precisely on the date of September 1, 2010, the very day the content marketing agency Crispy Content® was founded in Friedrichshain, Berlin. It was more of an idea and a name than a company, but was still equipped with its first client that nearly everyone knew – MTV International Media Networks.
Well-written entertainment content, tailor-made and efficiently produced, for websites and social media on the daily – and that with no additional fees for any language. That was our offer. We scaled our content production by outsourcing to freelancers. That’s why we changed our name to Crispy Content GmbH in 2011.
A client then contacted us about email content for activation and reactivation campaigns, which gave us the idea that content could also be used for sales purposes.
It quickly became clear that certain clients, particularly companies who decided to work with us due to our content:
- sold products requiring further explanation due to higher prices,
- needed a big leap of faith from their customers, and
- had long sales cycles.
It became obvious that in a time of increased digital communication, content would be the key factor for achieving any kind of marketing or sales objective.
Creative digital communication, supported by concrete numbers, data analysis, and operated with marketing automation – aren’t these the same pillars that content marketing is based off of in general?
The bet we made at Crispy Content® ten years ago has paid off. A whole ten years later, content marketing has become the new norm. Content marketing provides companies the opportunity to not only position themselves as thought leaders on the web, but also to efficiently scale their successful marketing and sales processes.
No businessperson can afford to miss this opportunity. As a result, content marketing has become an integral part of marketing and sales strategies.
Have we done everything right? Definitely not. So now to the lessons we’ve learned.
Our Lessons from 10 Years As a Content Marketing Agency
Lesson 1: Put good people in the right positions
How often do you read this quote:
“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”
It probably comes from Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. In any case, it basically means the following:
- Differentiate the roles in your company.
- Define the skills (talent or characteristics needed in a person) and knowledge (that can be built up) that complete the role.
- Find the appropriate people.
- Develop an airtight assessment to check skills and talent during the application process.
If you have the right people in the right positions, their skills and experience will help your agency to excel. When you have key people in the right positions, you can stop doing things where you don’t have the skills and spend time developing your business. You will end up much more successful this way.
Just as important as finding the right people, is to enable them to do a good job. So make sure they understand their role within the agency. No one needs a bunch of executives.
It has taken us years to fully understand this. However, success in this area enabled us to succeed in the next lesson.
Lesson 2: Motivate your team
To keep your team in high spirits, summer parties, Christmas celebrations and bonuses are hardly enough. Every company offers this and especially as a small agency, you usually lose to the competition due to salary expectations.
Our agency was born out of self-employment. In order to come “From Zero to One” (by Peter Thiel), it takes a willingness to take risks, an appreciation of personal freedom, the will to transform, and something along the lines of “stubbornness” or “persistence.” In other words the relentless ability to “just carry on.”
We also passed on this mindset to our employees. This has been their biggest motivator, because they have been able to noticeably shape the success of our agency.
Lesson 3: Focus on what you love
How many hours do you spend doing things you hate? Billing, tracking payments, scheduling meetings, etc. Whichever of these things they are – eliminate, reduce, automate or outsource them. Ultimately, this is what makes an entrepreneur’s job: managing operational resources to generate a profit. If you enjoy doing something, you will be faster, better and happier – truer words have never been spoken.
But also focus on a wider range of services. Just because influencer marketing is in high demand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, doesn’t mean you have to offer it if you don’t enjoy doing it. You can earn money with almost any service if it is done well enough. Crispy Content® is still first and foremost a digital marketing agency that keeps creativity at the forefront of its services.
Lesson 4: Position yourself
Position yourself in the market and its segments in relation to your clients in such a way that you are clearly defined. Your positioning can be based on an industry (“the best agency for insurance”) or on your services (“the best agency for content marketing services”).
The question is whether your service niche comes first and then the positioning, or vice versa. At Crispy Content®, the service niche came first and was summarized in our positioning: creative, analytical and performance-oriented content services. Since Crispy Content® started with only one client, we decided to use this for our positioning as well: the agency for creative and performance-oriented content marketing.
Lesson 5: Diversify your portfolio
A few paragraphs earlier we stated that it would be useful to focus on a particular niche. Nevertheless, one should keep a watchful eye on the market at all times and identify and evaluate opportunities for further business growth.
We started out as a content agency in a highly competitive content market (it’s not a nice memory: SEO content for five cents a word). We realized relatively quickly that these metrics would not generate sustainable business growth. Recognizing that the B2B market would require larger budgets and that client generosity would increase with proximity to sales, we added email marketing content to our portfolio. This was the correct assumption.
By 2015, we realized that while content only scales to a limited extent, digital products can do a lot more. This led to our partnership with HubSpot, a well-renowned market leader in the software industry. Though we used their software ourselves, we also realized it perfectly complemented our services. Above all, HubSpot is a standardized product, and products are easier to sell.
Lesson 6: Verticalize
Diversification, if successful, almost automatically results in a vertical. In the case of Crispy Content®, our verticals are:
What we have successfully done with vertical “Content” was first replicated with “Marketing,” then with “Strategy” and finally with “HubSpot.”
This verticalization affects not only product development, marketing and sales, but also the supporting software used, recruitment, HR management, and much more.
Lesson 7: Market yourself
How irritating is it when marketing agencies do their own marketing particularly badly. It’s obvious: the agency focuses “on the client” and since human resources are tough to scale, self-marketing “falls behind.”
In the case of Crispy Content®, this investment consisted of our name development, logo development, website design and regular publications on our blog and social media. Could it be any cheaper? The result was an inbound pipeline that has reliably provided us with six- to seven-digit annual revenues over a period of ten years. A more efficient method doesn’t exist.
Nevertheless, our website has hardly performed at all in terms of SEO. But what did work was ranking for the term “content marketing agency.” It was a key combination of low search volume with a high CPC and strong competition. Every search is a click, almost every click a hit.
We’ve also used other supporting marketing tools such as:
- Marketing cooperations with larger partners such as HubSpot, Searchmetrics or Citrix,
- Webinars, which are almost always preferable to live events, or even
- A book that more or less outlines our methodology published with a highly reputable scientific publisher.
This is enough. But if I were to do anything else, it would be the same as a what a marketing manager does from day one – full-time.
Lesson 8: Stay flexible
Anyone who starts an agency alone, with only a small network and without financial support, will probably not start off with the idea of hiring employees on the first day. They always starts with freelancers. However, the flexibility of not having anyone on the payroll creates the risk of not being able to keep important knowledge in the company in the long-term.
This is why we at Crispy Content® have adopted a mix of both: all tasks that involve skills that take more than 6 months to develop and are so individual that new employees cannot be poached by a competitor are managed by permanent employees. These are primarily strategy, project management, and quality assurance.
All other activities are performed by freelancers whose resources more or less inexhaustible, especially when it comes to internationally sourced services such as software development or non-German language content production. Especially in times of Corona, it is quite pleasant to travel with light luggage.
Lesson 9: Documentation is everything
From day one, we have documented every type of communication, whether it was in the areas of sales, marketing, PR, personnel, etc.
This has enabled us to identify and analyze successes and failures looking back. So, documentation is absolutely essential for a company’s learning process.
There are tools that make it easier such as:
- Quip for all types of notes
- HubSpot for the documentation of any CRM usage
- Airtable for creative content development
- Evernote as a library for all kinds of materials
- Google Drive document collaboration for texts and tables
These are the five tools that have become more and more popular over the years. But that doesn’t mean we don’t put them up for discussion every month. 😉
Lesson 10: Make an exit plan
What is the goal of your entrepreneurship in the agency? We often hear about deals with “the big exit,” the sale of the company to a larger one. In the agency business, with its barely scalable services, the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow is not always the pot of gold that will provide for you for the rest of your lives. More often, agencies are sold for five times their annual surplus and their services, employees, and cultures are hardly assimilated, combined, and reduced in a meaningful way. This usually doesn’t go well.
After a failed joint venture, I myself came to the conclusion that conservation and sustainability are much more important to me. I want to be proud of something, to continually make it better, so that it can possibly be passed on to the next generation. On a small scale, this may sound unattractive as a “family business”, but on a large scale it can also become the building blocks of a dynasty, as Serviceplan proves.
So actually, there is no exit plan.
These ten points are only a small piece of what we have learned over the last ten years. If you would like to know more about the agency structure, we can recommend our workshops and trainings, and last but not least our book “Methodical Content Marketing.”
Last updated on 05/18/2020 at 10:55 PM.
Gerrit Grunert is the founder and CEO of Crispy Content®. In 2019, he published his book "Methodical Content Marketing" published by Springer Gabler, as well as the series of online courses "Making Content." In his free time, Gerrit is a passionate guitar collector, likes reading books by Stefan Zweig, and listening to music from the day before yesterday.