Episode 17: Scaling a Company and Fostering Culture

 

Intro

Andrew Miller and Brian Forrester began as solo-entrepreneurs. Servicing clients in digital marketing the two put their heads together combining forces to found Workshop Digital, an award winning digital marketing firm based in Richmond, Va.

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The Full Interview

Origin Story

Before diving into their current roles as co-founders, we talked about the beginning of their careers. Since everyone is shaped in large part by experiences hearing their roles in the music industry, sales, and entry level marketing positions gave incredible insight into how they built themselves up for success.

Brian got his start in the record industry right around the time Apple’s first iPod was released, when digital audio was becoming huge. It allowed him to learn how to utilize digital media for marketing purposes. Nevertheless, the record industry was in steep decline.

Around the same time Brian was in Hollywood, Andrew graduated the University of Richmond and joined The Martin Agency in an entry-level position (a large marketing firm in Richmond, with clients such as Chevrolet, GEICO, and Chips Ahoy!). Andrew gained experience writing proposals, and piecing projects together. He moved on to work for Carmax where he grew out their SEO. His confidence and ability were growing, and he was educating himself on the job. Brian sought to do the same, and moved back to Virginia.

Back in Richmond, Brian worked for a dentist who also owned a dental consulting firm. As the token youngster, Brian was tasked with building a website for his employer. Next, the plan was to figure out how to drive traffic to the business. The dentist paid for training certificates in digital marketing and Brian began climbing the steep growth curve involved with any new skill. Having a knack for the business, and his employer shutting down shop, Brian was forced to play his hand. He set out on his own.

Meanwhile, Andrew moved to Michigan with his wife where he reluctantly began consulting on the side. Realizing how terrible the Michigan job market was in the mid-2000’s, Andrew began growing his marketing consulting business.

Things got interesting when they both were working in Richmond, solo.

How did they meet?

Brian said “we are a classic internet love story” because the co-founders met via Twitter. They worked in a shared co-working space and immediately began building a bond. Not realizing it at the time, the bond built in that small co-working space would plant the seed for the Workshop Digital company culture that it shares today.   Combining forces the company has grown to over 28 employees in less than 2 years.

Core Values and Team Culture

So how did the two combine forces, and grow a company with such great culture?

 

If they could align core values then they could make this work. In the beginning of the merger, they sat down with a 3rd party moderator and wrote out what each believed to be their strongest core values, the non-negotiables. The values are outlined in a January 2017 blog post by Andrew.

 

  • We are ethical.
  • We are accountable.
  • We are transparent.
  • We are empowered to be awesome in work and life.
  • We are eager to learn and willing to be wrong.
  • We go the extra mile for our clients

 

The one word they use to describe their team is “scrappy”, meaning hustle, “a willingness to go after it unsupervised and make yourself a better person” says Brian.  In all, Brian says the secret to company culture can be distilled down to one word…trust.

Pro-Tips

Andrew’s filter for hiring: he gives potential job candidates, or someone seeking advice on their own venture a list of 3 or 4 resources to look into. Then they sit down a few weeks later and have a discussion about them. He finds this to be the most effective interviewing style compared to just sitting someone down on a couch to talk for an hour. Andrew says “I’m not trying to be cocky or arrogant, I’m trying to make the most of everyone’s time by giving them some talking points or ideas to chew over. Then the conversation becomes valuable to both parties”.

Hire an Accountant EARLY: Not only will you legitimize your business in the industry and your clients, not only will you be given expert advice on important matters, but you will add a sounding board to your team. A team member beyond a friend, spouse or parent. Someone who will tell you when something is flat out a shitty idea.

Don’t get a big head. The next wave is in left field. Have a stable foundation, keep your eyes on the target, but don’t think you’re the greatest entrepreneur ever.

 

Resources

Training

CodeAcademy– mentioned on past episodes, this is a great free resource for learning to code

Google Adwords: Certifications, sometimes referred to as becoming Google Partners, training allows you to learn the ins and outs of how SEO works with Google. m

Books

For setting goals as a company, and making sure the team is onboard. Brian and Andrew love Traction, a book about the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).  Influenced by the book, the company looks at everything one quarter at a time. This is similar to the OKR method for setting company and individual goals.

Web Analytics 2.0 a book for Digital marketing, Andrew calls it “The Bible” at the office

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant: Brian mentions that when he started Dynamic Web Solutions, it was like a blue ocean, referring to the concept of blue ocean vs red ocean.  Blue ocean companies are those that are developing a new market (think Uber). While red ocean companies are competing with established entities (opening up a real estate brokerage).

Blogs (Brian went H.A.M. on Blog recommendations, check out these if you want to learn more) 

“Dont buy an SEO book, or a PPC book because the rules and algorithms change so much. Look to the online resources and links.  ” Brian and seconded by Andrew
MOZ– Search enginge optimization (SEO) and Inbound marketing blog

Unbounce-Landing page optimization (LPO) blog

Adwords– Pay-per click (PPC) blog info about betas, and interface and updates

Wordstream– PPC blog

PPC Hero– PPC blog by Hanapin marketing

Search Engine Land– PPC, SEO, SEM (search marketing)

Optimizly– Conversion rate optimization (CRO) blog

Blind Five Year old– SEO resource

Built Visible– SEO firm with tons of resources

Bruce Clay– SEO

WordPress Plugin

Choose your platform wisely. Brian recommends WordPress because of how SEO friendly it can be. Install Yoast which is a free SEO plugin.

Hustle Round

Listener Questions:

How to distinguish between legitimate SEO companies and scams?

“If you’re looking for an SEO company, arm yourself with the right questions. Ask for case studies, and ask for recommendations from clients…more than a testimonial ask for a phone number or email. Look for a track record of success. Then ask them to explain how they achieve results” Brian responds. 

“What we often see from sketchy companies…everything lives in a black box behind a curtain…sketchy ventures will tell you not to ask any questions”. This is a HUGE red flag, says Brian. Transparency is key, a good agency doesn’t hide behind a curtain.

How do you scale from 0 to 1? If you have no SEO, how do you scale at all?

“Learn”, Andrew says. “Educate yourself on nights and weekends, or have your employer pay for it. Try and learn and fail, progress at your own pace. Don’t give up after a month or two, sometimes it takes us 3, 4, 5 even 6 months its just how it works”.

Andrew’s Three-legged stool of any good SEO strategy: 1. Technical, 2.Content, 3. Outreach. Not just to technically optimize your website so that it ranks well, but also creating great content and putting it in front of influencers and your audience that makes them want to engage in it some way.  Become credible.

Weekly Callout:  Ace Callwood-founder of Painless 1099. Driven, very smart, looks for ways to solve problems that don’t already have solutions. Also, Chris Busse- record of success like Create Digital, founder of API Vista.

Recent Awards (at original air date 01/2017)

40 under 40 2016

2016 IMPACT Awards

Tweetables

“I begged, borrowed, and stole my education from the companies I worked for” -Andrew Miller

“I try to filter by sending them away with a little bit of homework” Andrew Miller

“My initial market research was to google other companies and see what was in my own backyard” Brian Forrester

“scaling company culture is tough, and its an intangible” There is no measure for company culture” -Brian Forrester

“The one word that builds company culture is trust” -Brian Forrester

“For the merger to workout 1+1 has to equal 3. The whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts”Brian Forrester

“A lot of times systems come out of stress fractures” Brian Forrester

“The wealth of opportunity can almost cause blindness or complacency”
“The Whole Must Be Greater Than the Sum of the Parts”

“Don’t get a big head. the next wave is in left field. Have a stable foundation, keep your eyes on the target, but don’t think you’re the greatest entrepreneur ever” Andrew Miller

“Don’t be a dick. Be a good boss, people will respect that.” Andrew Miller

 

As always, shout out to Cole Ross for the beats. 

 

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