How Vanguard 86's unexpected journey has grown a community
It's natural for businesses to go through a whole bunch of changes, yet it's rare for them to reflect on the lessons learned from these changes. Were good decisions made? Have you ended up where you expected to be? Are you heading in the right direction?
It's been 18 months since I made the difficult decision to change the direction of Vanguard 86. And in reflection, we're not where we expected to be.
Vanguard 86 was born with a very different purpose. The company I'd been working for (THE Marketing Company) was downsizing and moving to Auckland and a few of us were made redundant. I voluntarily resigned to hopefully take some pressure off the owner from making some difficult decisions. During my time there I really enjoyed working with businesses that wanted to grow, and helping them discover how marketing could unlock their business' full potential.
I decided to take a gamble and go out on my own. The aim was to get just enough coaching and consulting clients for me to be my own boss, but I quickly realised it wasn't going to be easy. I started working out of the dining room of the rental I was in. I asked the Taranaki Daily News photographer that interviewed me to take a specific angle so it was harder to see that I was sitting in the kitchen!
For the first few months I had to turn down a lot of work due to my previous contract. It almost ruined me. But I held on and after almost 6 months I could begin to work with almost everyone that enquired. But after those few months, a lot of those initial enquiries had gone elsewhere. It was a rough time.
A large local business offered me a full-time position that came with a 6 figure salary. It was an insanely good opportunity, and one I really wanted to take. But I had a vision to help as many businesses as possible improve their marketing. New Zealand is still in its infancy when it comes to tapping into the potential of the internet, and I wanted to be part of changing the face of the industry. I couldn't do that if I was working for one massive company. I worked out a deal where I would contract in for a few months and advise from within. It was great to have the stability for a period of time, but ultimately it wouldn't work out.
The stability of income had reduced the stress and enabled me to focus on my marketing. After a few weeks another big business needed strategic help in growing their online sales. I was asked to help.
After a few sessions they had an unusual request. They identified that the plans we'd created would be invaluable to their business, but they didn't have the expertise to implement the strategies. They asked if I could create a plan for how I could work and deliver on the plans on their behalf. It was certainly doable, but would involve another massive leap into the unknown.
I pitched a solution and they were impressed. Enough to give us a shot for 6 months. We had a small window to prove that we could deliver results otherwise the dream was over. I hired someone to help, and we got to work.
I knew Rakesh through my sister, and I knew he was an absolute ace when it comes to SEM (search engine marketing). He was going to help me manage the client, and together we would work really hard to overcome teething issues and show results for the client.
A few months before, we had started using HubSpot to grow our marketing efforts. The client started using it as well so we could use it for their marketing. At the beginning of the following year we became a HubSpot Silver agency.
Confident we had a working service model, I approached a few other businesses I'd consulted in the previous year to see if they'd see value in out-sourcing their digital marketing and lead generation. Almost everyone said yes.
3 months into 2017 we were having to hire again to keep up with this growth. Laura joined us, and with her passion for social media and design, we were able to solidify the budding capabilities of our small agency.
As we began to deliver consistent results, our clients began talking to their friends and we began receiving requests to chat almost every week. I was working closely with HubSpot to grow my abilities to manage our own sales process, and this was helping us train our clients on improving theirs. We went from signing 6 month contracts to re-signing those businesses on 12 month programmes.
We weren't resting on our promise to lead the way in digital marketing either. We were growing our knowledge base in an attempt to become New Zealand's most qualified agency with HubSpot. We also hit the amazing milestone of becoming a HubSpot Gold partner.
At the tail-end of 2017 we had our sights on another lofty goal. We wanted to see how we compared to our peers, and we felt the best way to do this was to enter the New Zealand Direct Marketing Awards; an annual event where New Zealand's best agencies submit their work for assessment. We didn't expect to get anything, and had entered mostly for the experience of submitting our work and to see who did win. So you can imagine our shock when we picked up Bronze in one of the most packed categories of the night. Those smiles didn't leave our faces for weeks!
More clients joined but as we grew we faced new challenges. Letting go of managing our client's marketing directly was not easy for me. It involved a lot of trust and implementation of processes to ensure the standards remained as high as they always had.
We've never taken outside investment. Our growth has always been organic, so when new clients came onboard we had to re-shuffle workloads until we reached capacity. As soon as it looked like we'd reach our limit we had to hire new people. This happened quite a bit when we hit early 2018.
My wife, Lee, came onboard as office manager to help me with invoicing, HR and the accounts. Quade joined us to assist Laura with website and graphic design. Bek joined us to help manage new clients as they came in, and Andy joined as our software developer to work on websites and new web applications to change our client's businesses.
To reflect the agency's growth, we redesigned our branding to suit the change we'd made from a small one person consultancy to a digital agency.
But a new challenge was emerging. We were now pitching for work alongside the established players in the market. We'd win some, and lose others. We were kind of like your local team being promoted to the league above - a great opportunity and despite being the same sport, the game had changed.
A question plagued me. How do we show we're different when we're surrounded by agencies that have had years to cement their position in the market? After all, they all say they'll help businesses grow, but how do we show that we've been delivering results since day one? How do we explain that going with a provincial agency has advantages over a big city one? How do we reach people already using digital marketing but not maximising its full potential?
Whereas growth has brought its own pains it has given us a unique advantage in answering those questions. I have a great bunch of uniquely talented people that can help me. In the old days it was me, myself and I. Now it's 'we', and as a team we can really start the next phase of this adventure.
We have some great plans ahead. From some new software aimed at making analysing client happiness easier, to bringing website design to clients - we're evolving to bring our client's marketing forward.
We finally reached a lofty goal earlier this month as well. According to HubSpot's partner directory we have more HubSpot certifications than any other New Zealand-based HubSpot agency. We believe in investing work time into training and development, and this has really paid off for us and our clients.
The journey hasn't been easy, but it's also far from over. As we continue to grow we're driven to help other businesses grow too. We understand what's required to ensure that marketing is delivering a positive return on investment, because I've been in the position where marketing has needed to drive our own growth.
I'd like to thank the businesses that have been with us on this incredible journey. But I want you to know that this is only the beginning. We're still building our pool of talent so we can deliver the latest marketing solutions.
And if you're keen to discuss how you could grow your business with us please book a no obligation chat by clicking the button below.
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