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How to Discover Your Agency Niche and Build an Amazing Culture

I believe that the real value of conferences today isn't found on stage, but in the audience.

The relationships you build can change your business and maybe even your life. Today I'm excited to bring Michael Redman from Half a Bubble Out to share his Inbound Agency Journey. 

I met Michael and Kathryn at INBOUND two years ago. We were waiting in line during a cocktail hour and started up a conversation. I was struck by how passionate they were about their business and how much we laughed together. They're a blast! 

You're going to pick up on that in the interview. Michael is very passionate about his team and creating a healthy agency culture. He takes this so seriously that he even fired a client for disrespecting a member of his team. How cool is that?!

The Background

Michael has seen the marketing industry evolve over the last 13 years ago. Half a Bubble Out started back in 2002 as a full-service agency, launched from the Redman's guest bedroom. From there, they have slowly grown the company, adding staff and building a wide base of clients. 

Pick Your Niche vs. Discover Your Niche

One conversation that dominates the inbound agency community is the topic of picking a niche. The thought is that selecting a narrow focus will allow your agency to differentiate by showing expertise, create traction with more focused content, and win referrals within the same industry. This all sounds good, but if you're just getting started where do you begin?

Michael believes that rather than picking your niche, you should discover it.

Half a Bubble Out discovered the medical niche a few years ago. A medical device company that kills toenail fungus (of all things) was Half a Bubble Out's first venture into the medical niche. This led them into a niche within a niche by focusing on medical practices that specialize in procedures that aren't covered by insurance. 

Even with a focus in the medical niche, Michael also shared that they have clients spread across five or six different verticals. That type of diversification means you need a talented team that is quick to learn and always curious! 

Culture is the Most Important Thing at Half a Bubble Out

When it come to hiring new team members, experience is not nearly as important as fit. Every aspect of the hiring process, the space, and meeting styles all focus on the culture of the agency. 

When considering a candidate for an open position, Michael asks:

  • Can you write? 
  • Can you edit? 
  • Are you curious? 
  • Are you a learner? 
  • Can you move back and forth between different subjects? 

Michael and Kathryn take the time to make sure they hire someone who is the right fit. Rushing to hire someone based on a need or hiring based on skill can disrupt the culture. 

Importance of Protecting Your Team

We live in a world that says the customer is always right. On top of that, agency life has a reputation. It is commonly a place where people are put through the ringer to meet a client's demands.

Michael takes a very different approach. To Michael, it is extremely important that the client treats his team with respect.

When a team member feels degraded and under appreciated by a client, then the workplace becomes toxic. This toxic presence can run through an organization and kill all positive vibes in it's path.

As the CEO, Michael is the protector of his team. If a client isn't going to honor the team, it is time to fire the client. 

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That doesn't mean that the team doesn't work extremely hard to deliver results. It means there are healthy boundaries in client-to-agency relationship. When a client crosses those boundaries, it's ok to step in and take action to make things right. 

Agency Success Can Come in Seasons

Sometimes client results will come in cycles. Last fall, the Half a Bubble Out team saw a decline in client traffic. This dip caused some of their clients to begin to doubt the process. 

This creates tension on the team. In these times it's so important to keep the team calm and continue to educate the client; help the client understand the process and the time table for success.

Michael's client that was getting nervous has quadrupled their business since starting their partnership with Half a Bubble Out and has recently tripled their floor space for surgeries. 

The process of education starts with clear expectations. This begins in the sales process and the contract. The sales process should help you decide if the prospect is a good fit and allow you to set clear expectations. 

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If the prospect is the type of person who doesn't like to communicate and isn't open to talking, that is a big red flag. There needs to be an open dialogue between both parties to keep things healthy. 

Empathizing and honoring people helps build trust in a tough situation. 

What happens when clients panic? 

Michael shares a great story of what happens when communication failed with a client. In his book The Dip, Seth Godin says that the worst thing that you can do in a dip is panic. In this situation, Michael's client panicked! Despite great results in the early stages of the inbound engagement, the client decided to pull the plug. 

This is just life in the agency world. The important thing is to take a step back and see what you can learn from the situation. There is always something that you can learn. In a moment of failure, grab the lesson and let go of the rest. 

Cracking into Competitive Niches

Rabbit Hole Hay is a side business that Michael runs with one of his friends. They package hay into well-\ designed boxes and FedEx it to happy rabbit owners around the world. It's an amazing company! 

The whole strategy has centered around patience. All their growth has come from SEO and Amazon optimization. The process takes time, but the best place to start is getting your feet wet and gaining experience. This is a mix of client / expert interviews and a whole lot of reading. 

Look at people who are active online and search out material and academic resources. Google's academic search is a helpful resource in this process. The AdWord Keyword Planner tool combined with the HubSpot keyword tool helped Michael's company dig into the data. 

When you stack the low traffic keywords, you can start building momentum to really be competitive. Over time, the site as a whole builds more authority. 

Michael starts with a list of 50-75 keywords and adds these to HubSpot. He then creates a new campaign around this new set of keywords. It is important to freeze this campaign. If you want to add more keywords in the future, add them to a new campaign. 

Each week measure the site's position on each of these keywords. Track all this movement on a spreadsheet and assign a point value to each position change. If one term moves from #8 to #6 on a page, that is a 2-point win. This type of monitoring helps you see the little wins and can be very motivating to a team during dry spells. 

Taking Time to Do Community Together

The team at Half a Bubble Out is on the same page when it comes to delivering results to clients. Clear communication is key to keeping the ball moving down the field on every account.

Michael keeps the lines of communication open by holding staff meetings every Monday. This is the time for everyone to share an update on what is happening each week in their area of responsibility. 

Michael also takes the time to meet one-on-one with each member of his team. In this time he is checking in with team members, learning more about their personal lives, deepening the relationship, and learning how they can improve as a team overall.

Every Friday afternoon at 4:00 PM is "The Wrap" at Half a Bubble Out! Bringing in some appetizers and drinks to enjoy, the team wraps up the week. Eating together, drinking together, and just hanging out together creates an amazing experience. 

Sounds like an amazing place to work! 

Cool Tool Used by Michael and the Team

  • Social Ears - Do a better job searching social. Not just what is trending, but this shows who is trending.

How to Connect with Michael

  • Shoot Michael an email to say hi! If you're an agency just trying to get up and running, he is happy to help in any way he can! 

Topics: Culture, Services

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