2017 was a big year for Simple Creative Marketing, in so many ways. Here’s a run down on what year two of SCM looked like, from the inside out.

Hope this recap helps you with your business in some way. If it does, let me know in the comments.

Wins

  • 290 blog posts written and edited for our clients. Considering that it takes on average approx. 5 hours to research and write each blog post, that’s ~1,450 hours of content production right there! That’s a heck of a lot of coffee ☕ and worn out keyboards for our content team 😂
  • Launched new Virtual Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) service with 4 awesome clients.
  • Improved onboarding & online funnel process: We worked with Meryl Johnston at Bean Ninjas to improve and update their client onboarding process, as well as improve online sales funnel (including website, landing pages and email automation sequences in Drip). As a cool unrelated bonus the Bean Ninjas team ended the year by raising capital to fund their growth in 2018!
  • Built online presence and won national content distribution partnership: We worked with David Hazlewood at Knightswood House to create, and deploy a lead magnet, lead generation process, and winning a national strategic marketing partnership that includes KH-created content being distributed nationally (#awesomewin) and we’re currently going through a website redesign to start 2018 with a brand-spanking hot sales-focused website.

Dave even played with FB Live for the first time this year, whilst he was in New York to run the NYC Marathon, and one if his videos got 833 views #prettyEpicDave.

What do you learn from writing & editing 290 blog posts for clients in 2017? A heck of a lot. Click To Tweet
  • Blew up Linkedin, launched new product, online sales funnel, & implemented marketing dashboard: Worked with Paul Higgins at Build Live Give to implement a marketing dashboard, lead acquisition strategy, and launch new online membership product. Incidentally, Paul got 70,000+ views in 30 days on Linkedin thanks to a campaign that we ran for BLG this year.

Paul Higgins testimonial

Click here or on the image below to get the case study on how we were able to generate those results for Paul (note: you’ll be directed to our new messenger bot to receive the case study).

  • Set marketing plan, digital assets and funnel for a big kickoff in 2018: We worked with Scott Gellatly at Scale My Empire to develop a strategic partnership plan and partner kit, lead magnet and build his profile on Linkedin. Here’s one of the wins Scott had as a result of our collaboration:

  • Launched 3-week Linkedin Pod experiment (MVP) in Dec with 30 participants, had some great individual wins, plus awesome support & learning community. (Add yourself to the waitlist to be notified of our next round in 2018)
  • Committed to Pledge 1% of our profit and employee time in 2018 to a cause that we believe in. Pledge 1% encourages and challenges individuals and companies to pledge 1% of equity, profit, product, and/or employee time for their communities. Find out more by clicking on the image below.

  • Media mentions and podcast interviews:
  • Sharing Knowledge + Public speaking
    • Delivered talks internationally in multiple countries (view Anf’s speaker kit here):
      • Australia – Hub Southern Cross & Hub William Street
      • Malaysia – Paper + Toast, Kuala Lumpur
      • Taiwan – Project 0.1 (First time having a Chinese translator!) Taipei, and Impact Hub Taipei

       

      • Giving back to young Aboriginal startup founders – I delivered a 3-week “Intro to Digital Marketing” webinar training course for a group of inspiring entrepreneurs who were a part of Investible’s special accelerator program.

      • We (quietly) launched our new chatbot! Click on the button below to say hi to it and let me know what you think!

      Key Challenges

      With growth comes lots of challenges… what I like to call learning opportunities.

      Whilst we had day-to-day challenges I don’t want to bore you with those. Instead, here are the key challenges we faced in 2017 (not in any particular order). I’m listing them here to give you some transparency around what types of things you might need to overcome in your own business.

      • Identifying who our ideal client was (or could be). This had a direct relationship with our pricing model.
      • Finding product-market fit – this might sound strange considering we run a productized service, not a lean product/SaaS product or anything like that, but I believe the concept still applies. It’s all about finding the right service for the right clientele. (Note: A productized service is NOT an agency. Here’s why.)
      • Hiring and letting go of quality contract writers and editors for our team. I’ve noticed over the past 12 months that the market value of writers has steadily increased across the board, so being able to hire quality writers will generally cost you more now than it did when we started out in 2016. This might sound obvious, but what this meant for us practically was that we had to re-think our cost per job, how we priced our service, and how contractor costs were affecting our profitability (price too high and we can’t attract new clients, price too low and we go broke).
      • Too much time in operations, and not enough selling – As Director, I had to really put time and effort in working with our team to identify gaps and build our capacity this year, so that we could deliver on our promise to our clients. This meant I had to find a way to balance working in operations, delivering the CMO service (which is 1-on-1 and not scaleable currently), and also be our primary sales and marketing person. All I can say is that it helped tremendously to have a mentor, mastermind group, and daily accountability group to keep me in check and on an even keel.
      • Defining our methodology for the Virtual CMO Service – to be able to do this, we need to pull apart what repeatable steps we do with each client and be able to clearly articulate them, as well as identify clear KPIs or deliverables at each step. This is a work in progress.
      • Ensuring that we consistently delivered a quality service to our clients, and setting the right expectation with clients on what we were actually promising. More on this below.
      • The threat of Artificial Intelligence – I decided to include this here as a warning to all content marketers and people who are relying on content to be their bread and butter. Machine learning is catching up to (or maybe already overtaken?) our ability to research and craft compelling headlines, words and sentences. So it’s time to start thinking about how you (and us) can better serve clients and add value to clients beyond simply producing content for them. Don’t believe me? Read this and this.
      If you're a content business and you're not worried about AI impacting your work... think again. Click To Tweet

      Improving our content delivery process

      This meant getting better at measuring our service delivery against specific targets.

      For our content writing service, our key metric was “time per job”. In practical terms that meant the time it took from assigning a job to a writer to delivering a draft (google doc) to our client for review.

      We toyed with the idea of implementing a ticketing system (we actually paid for it too), but decided against it as we had to get clear on our actual process gaps before throwing a software solution at the problem.

      With some dedicated focus from our team on this, we arrived at a clear value proposition for our outsourced content writing service:

      “From blog/article idea to first draft in 7 business days. The main benefit our service provides is cutting down the amount of time required by your team to work on the content yourselves. “

      The other distinction we’ve made with the service is that we can only deliver this result for content that is of a non-technical nature, such as client and expert case studies and broader/general topics. Here are some examples of what we produced for a few of our clients this year:

      Once we put this out there, one of our clients gave us positive feedback almost immediately, stating:

      ‘This is a very good explanation and I think the piece I was missing was “The main benefit our service provides is cutting down the amount of time required by your team to work on the content yourselves. “ which is different from delivering a completed/finalised article, which is extremely difficult for technical pieces, and completely achievable for non-technical pieces. So I am pleased you can explain this, to set a different expectation. I’d estimate, for me to prepare an article from scratch to completion would be about 10 hours.

      What could you, or your current marketing person, do with an extra 10 hours per week back up your sleeve? Focus on more important activities I’m sure!

      Failures (and what I learnt from them)

      1. The podcast that didn’t launch

      I was meant to launch Authentic Influence podcast last February but it didn’t happen.

      That sucked because I had recorded a bunch of episodes with some truly amazing entrepreneurs and people that I admire, and the interviews were real and epic. With everything else going on, including my mental and physical health being a real mess (which had massive impacts on my relationship with my wife, who was also helping me with the business),and the constant moving around from country to country as we became nomadic this year… the podcast took a back seat and never even got off the ground.

      I apologise to all the great guests that I’ve interviewed, and I do intend to release those interviews… I’m just not sure when yet.

      authentic influence podcast itunes cover

      The podcast that hasn’t launched… yet.

      2. A partner promo sale that went (mostly) wrong

      In May I tested a partner promotion for our content writing service.

      We offered a “$50 for 1 blog post” deal to one of our strategic partner’s lists, as a way to stimulate a cashflow injection into the business. I had hoped we could then up-sell trial customers to our monthly plan.

      At first it seemed great, and we got 7 signups from our partner, but then the whole thing turned out disastrous. We were not prepared internally to onboard and complete the work for all those new clients, on top of the existing work we had to deliver for our existing clients who were already paying full price (so we had to prioritise them first).

      Whilst we got the job done for most of the clients, we dropped the ball on a couple in terms of meeting our “7 day for a completed blog post” promise.

      In hindsight this was a valuable lesson in making sure you have the capacity to deliver BEFORE you go launching a marketing campaign. We also found that the quality of client didn’t fit our target ideal client, so we needed to have better qualification up front to ensure that the businesses who took the offer actually needed ongoing work, and could afford it at full rate, rather than just bargain hunters with no intention of moving forward with monthly content creation.

      One of the promo clients did end up becoming a monthly blog post + newsletter client, and they’re still with us today, so the campaign wasn’t a complete failure.

      Make sure you have the capacity to deliver BEFORE you go launching a marketing campaign. Click To Tweet

       

      Team

      • Started the year with 5 writers, 2 editor, no VA.
      • Cindy (aka. my talented wife) joined SCM to fill in both Chief Financial Officer & Chief Operating Officer roles. We call her our “CEO” as she’s our Chief Efficiency Officer. Her priorities were to get our Xero bookkeeping in order (Incidentally – we recommend you work with Bean Ninjas or another trusted accounting firm if you’re struggling in this area)
      • Ended the year with 4 writers, 1 editor, and 1 awesome part-time VA.
      • Our VA Mei (who we found through the help of The Virtual Hub) saves me and Cindy from doing 20 hrs per week of admin work combined, thus allowing us to focus on improving and growing the business.

       

      scm team

      Hiring tip: define job roles very clearly to avoid disappointment down the line. Click To Tweet

      Growth Activities

      • Worked with small business mentor and advisor Paul Higgins (Build Live Give) to take SCM from unprofitable to profitable in about 6 months. The biggest shift came from really tracking how I was spending (wasting) my time, improving personal productivity (by delegating work that really should not have been on my plate in the first place), and learning to understand and assess the key profit numbers in my business. With a few tweaks,
        Paul helped me take a service that was losing us money to finding ways to make us money (including raising the price – something that was long overdue).
      • Currently working with Scott Gellatly (Scale My Empire), an expert at helping services businesses to create productive teams and profitable projects, to make SCM scaleable in 2018
      • I’ve also been working on a couple of strategic referral partnerships and collaborations, and we’re excited to bring those to fruition in 2018. (Interested in discussion potential strategic partnership? Message Anfernee on Linkedin)

       

      Services Mix

      It’s interesting how some products and services develop.

      In our case, at the beginning of the year we had our focus all on growing our content service (which is what we started off with when we launched). Over time I observed some common complaints and feedback from our content writing clients as well as other business owners:

      • Having content being produced and published regularly was good for building brand awareness and sharing the expertise our clients had on their areas of focus, but they struggled with ongoing content ideas and getting that content in front of their target audiences (especially as most of them had small email lists to begin with). Scheduling their blog posts in Buffer or similar tools were not enough (we recommend MissingLettr for it’s ability to automatically recycle your blog posts)
      • Nearly all our clients neglected SEO or didn’t really understand it, and the key relationship SEO has with content marketing. The clever guys at Kissmetrics have explained it very well with these visuals:

      The relationship between SEO and content (visual - Kissmetrics)
      (Image credit: Kissmetrics)

      • Creating content alone (regardless of whether it’s blog posts, articles, podcast episodes, videos, slideshares or anything else) without a clear strategy, especially when it comes to promoting it and how it helps your sales flow, means you are throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks. This rarely works.
      • Some businesses have a content strategy (assuming they have one documented) that is not tied to your business objectives. Once you get clear on the relationship between content/digital assets you produce and how it helps move buyers along the buyer journey for your business – you may decide to invest your resources in producing other types of content. For example, some of the best content you may ever produce won’t actually be seen by the general public – it might be the sales brochure, sales presentation, or proposal document that you send to prospects to move them closer to signing with you. Or a strategic partner kit or media kit that you send out to specific companies and organisations that would could help you get in front of more of your target market.
      • The biggest issue: There’s so many ideas and experts suggesting all kinds of strategies and tactics, it’s very easy to get confused and overwhelmed with what to do, what to put money into, and in which priority.
      Want to win at content marketing? Have a strategy, and tie it to your business goals. Click To Tweet

      So based on this feedback and seeing it come up time and time again, and with a nice kick in the butt from my mentor, we piloted a 1-on-1 Virtual CMO service and worked with 4 clients (3 still active) to clarify and improve the service offering.

      At the start of our engagement, I helped each client to define a 90-day marketing strategy, and then on a weekly basis I worked with each business to execute on both lead acquisition as well as improving and developing onboarding, internal marketing processes and documentation, and training materials for their team (often a marketing VA or project manager).

      Related reading: 11 Reasons to add a Virtual CMO to your Marketing Team

      The Virtual CMO service quickly became our most profitable service offering, but there was one major challenge – as it relies on having me work 1-on-1 with each client on a weekly basis, and there’s only 1 of Anf, we are 1 client away from being at full capacity to deliver the service. For now that’s ok though… my focus is to get crystal clear on our methodology, and also help each client get tangible results that relate to new leads and sales generated, and time and costs saved, through the work we do together.

      What’s next in 2018?

      We’re still working through our strategic plan for 2018 but there are some definite areas of focus we want to look at once we kick in off the new year:

      • Taking our Virtual CMO Service from unscaleable to scaleable
      • Bringing onboard a new Operations project manager to help with systemising our business and process documentation (Cindy is taking a step back to focus on her own projects – a mutual decision)
      • Better demonstrating and sharing the impact our business makes to the communities and social impact projects we care about

      So that wraps up our 2017. I hope that you’ve gained some value from seeing “under the hood” of what it’s like to build this business.

      Have a safe and relaxing holiday break! See you in 2018.

       

       

       

      If you have any thoughts or questions feel free to add a comment and I’ll happily respond asap (probably after new year break).

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