Christine kicks of season two by talking how developing her agency’s mission. We dig into why it’s important to make an impact to society, how you can go about creating your own mission, how you get buy-in from the team, and how it impacts your go-to market.
The new season of Agency Unfiltered is here. To kick things off, we have Christine Mortensen, president and founder of Sprk'd, a Chicago based digital marketing agency. Christine and I talk about how agencies can discover and develop their mission, and as Christine points out, your mission and your mission statement are distinctly different. Ask yourself, what's your company's purpose? And how are you making an impact to society? We dig into why it's important to build a mission, how you can go about creating and communicating your own mission, how you get buy in from the team, and review the greatest benefits for having a well-defined mission. The new season of Agency Unfiltered kicks off with a live studio audience right now.
KD: Hello, Christine, thank you for joining us.
CM: Thank you for having me.
KD: Welcome, welcome. So, I'm really excited to talk to you today. I know when we were speaking the other day, you were mentioning that Sprk'd has recently aligned themselves with a mission, and I thought that was really interesting. I think there's a ton of lessons that we can instill on of all our agency partners, or even any business really. And so, maybe the best place to start is when I say mission, what is that specifically referring to, maybe a general sense, but also Sprk'd as well?
CM: Yeah, when I think of a mission and having one, I think of something more along the lines of how are you giving back, and how are you contributing to society? So not necessarily your more traditional mission statement of why it is you're doing what you're doing, but what's the purpose behind it and how are you making an impact to the society as a whole?
KD: That's great, and so that actually segues pretty well, and so are there any other points of differentiation from a mission versus a specialization? You mentioned mission statement, but like target vertical, target audience. Are there any other notes in regards to differentiation?
CM: We had actually started out, our agency is going on seven years old, so this Memorial day.
CM: Thank you. And so for six years we've gone without having even a mission statement. So we would always just serve B2B companies, any industry, had a slight tech leaning, MSP sort of service area. You don't need one, per se, and we'd had a little bit of a specialization. You could even argue that that's not really much of a specialization. But it always felt like there was something missing for those six years. Like, yeah we're doing marketing and it's great, and it's really great to help these businesses grow. But why are we doing it? And so having a mission really helps to give you a purpose and helps to give you more drive and direction and something that just having a specialization really can't.
KD: Yeah, that's great. It jives really well with HubSpot's new kind of maybe mission themselves, but it's to help businesses grow better, right? You're not just helping somebody grow through marketing, you're helping them grow better. And so maybe, well let's just dig in, like what is yours, and then how did you, what was the light bulb moment to determine, you know what, actually, this is something that we need to instill into our team?
CM: Yeah, our mission is to help 1,000 women-owned businesses generate a million in revenue. We haven't set a timeframe on that yet, because quite frankly, it's probably going to take quite a while. But, we're really eager to get that going and to really hit that number. What started that is, back in October, and I'm really not sure what was so special about October, but I had found this statistic that out of all US small businesses, only two percent of women-owned businesses hit the million dollar revenue mark, and quite frankly, that pisses me off. This is unfiltered right?
KD: Me too. Yeah, exactly.
CM: I was really not thrilled with learning that stat, although I was also not surprised. There's a lot of different obstacles that women-owned businesses face that others don't. And there's also a lot of socioeconomic issues that go into it as well, but that's where that all kind of came about. We also had, at the time, started a group for women in martech specifically because we saw a need for that as well, and it really kinda happened organically. It started with creating that group, creating a directory so that we can help women in martech find more speaking engagements and really just kinda grew from there.
KD: That's great. And so, again, another good segue. If I'm an agency or any business, and I want to discover my mission, how do I get started? Is it just looking for statistics that piss you off? Or is there a more methodical approach to it?
CM: For the better part of our existence, I had always been searching for a broader reason why, why we're doing what we do every day. Because as an agency owner, you all know, this is not easy. And sometimes it's like why am I even doing this? But having that mission really, really does help. It does give you a broader purpose and a broader direction. I would say that if you're trying to find a mission or trying to create your mission, really look inside yourself and see what are the things that you really care about, things that resonate really well with you. Is it something that's about the environment? Is it something about your local community? Is it changing the statistics of revenue for women-owned businesses? Find what really resonates with you, and I'd also say what's going to resonate with your team and your potential clients and your services that you offer. There's a lot of implications of finding that mission that could completely change the direction of your agency. And that's something you might want to be cautious of, so I would say first, as a founder, you've got to start looking inwards and then going outwards from there.
KD: That's great. You mentioned that in the selection process, like in this discovery process, you want to also find somebody that may resonate with your team. So I would say, regardless of size, I'd be interested to know, are they involved in the process of refining and eventually defining the mission? Or did you have to achieve their buy-in? How did you kind of disperse this across your team? Any tips there?
CM: I like to say that we're small but mighty. We're a four-person team at the core. We work with a ton of different freelancers on the writing side. So really, for us, it was probably an easier task than a very large agency. I simply started with just having simple, casual conversations with our team. You know, running ideas past them or even just kind of having tangential conversations about it just to kind of gauge interest in the general topic of working with women-owned businesses. The team tends to be quite the feminists, so it seemed to work out pretty well in our case. I've worked at larger agencies in the past where they've implemented missions, and things that worked really well there were similar. Where it's talking to the champions of the agency, people who are usually the biggest cheerleaders, talking with them, giving them a little bit of a heads up, having casual conversations as well that way, gauging their reaction. Then making a large company announcement and asking people for thoughts and everything. This way you can really make sure that the team has a say. Not everyone's going to be on board for the mission, and that's fine, you know. There's a mission out there for everybody and a place for everybody.
KD: With your small and mighty team, maybe this didn't happen, but did you ever run into an issue at any larger agencies you've worked at where an employee didn't jive or align with the mission? How did that, what happened?
CM: This is probably like ten years ago, but yeah, so the direction of the company changed. They didn't necessarily take on a new mission, but the direction changed pretty sharply, and that person didn't last very long. It ended up being the best for both the company and for that person specifically.
KD: Mutual parting of ways?
CM: Yeah, exactly, yeah. So they chose to leave.
KD: So with your mission, how did you find that was then going to impact the way you go to market, the way you market yourselves? How does it influence your sales conversation, your client engagement? So once you've defined and discovered your mission, how does it trickle down to everything else that you do?
CM: I don't know what was so special about October, but that's when, late October, late fall is when we really started to get serious about this mission and really started to take a look at our services that we are currently offering. Because again, traditionally we were dealing mostly with B2B, like ten million revenue or more type companies. That is a very different set of services than dealing with companies that are under a million in revenue. Instead of the more traditional, full-service, inbound marketing solutions, we started to come up with online courses that we could do in a group setting, group coaching, one-on-one coaching.
And then also building out what we're calling a trusted network of people that are outside of the marketing expertise because it's going to take much more than marketing alone. They're going to need more than marketing help, so accountants, lawyers, brand specialists, all sorts of help, and really getting a group of people that we know, that we've worked with, or people that we know have gotten really good results. Getting those professionals all together in order to help and mentor as well. Also helping curate a little bit of ecosystem development where there's the SBA, there's all sorts of other organizations that are already in existence. So pulling them in as well, so that you can come into our collective, as we're calling it, and really be able to find the services that are going to be able to be right for them.
KD: So to go from traditional marketing services to introducing the education workshops, like programming, what does the process look like to actually scope that out as something ready to be serviced? You can't reference hours dedicated, right? Or anything like that? I wouldn't even know where to start building it, scoping out the time commitments, pricing it out. Any tips for that process?
CM: Well, we're still figuring that out. Not going to lie, again. Totally transparent. You know, like all things, and maybe this is because I have been in a bunch of different startups, you just start with an MVP, a minimal viable product. You've got to, as much as you can, to make it acceptable to be live. And you're going to iterate as you go. Anyone that has owned an agency or been in an agency knows that nothing stays the same for very long. And that's true of our pricing, packaging, et cetera. Really, just putting the message out there. There's a huge tendency to want it, as for me personally, I mean I know this is not everybody, but for everything to be perfect before you launch. I had to fight so hard, so I decided International Women's Day, that's the day we're announcing this. It's happening.
KD: How can you not? You know?
CM: Right. It was kind of serendipitous. I was like okay, we've been spending an entire, more than a quarter, repurposing everything. Lots of whiteboarding. So there was a lot of whiteboarding, like how do people hear about this? How do they, once they do, what happens? You know, buyer's journey mapping.
KD: A very HubSpot thing. That's great.
CM: Yeah, it is a very HubSpot thing, so a very, very helpful thing. And really figuring out like what, we can figure out what's missing later. We're going to find out pretty quickly. People will tell us.
KD: And I would assume, yeah, the feedback piece of it all, too, is going to be instrumental to having it grow and figuring it out from the MVP to the full rollout.
CM: Right, so I would say just don't let fear get in the way.
KD: Any cautionary tales, red flags, potholes through your experience that you can share with the larger group, so we can hopefully avoid those potholes? Anything in particular?
CM: I think trying to get ahead of how it's going to impact your services is probably going to be the biggest consideration that you should keep in mind. Because like I said, we were going from ten million revenue companies. Now we're going to sub one million. That's a big difference. And how is that? Is that going to make it harder for us to keep our margins? Is it going to mean that we have to expand our team that much more? By how much? So those are the considerations that I'd say you'd have to take into consideration.
KD: Yeah, that's great. Things to keep in mind, right?
CM: Lots of considerations.
KD: What about the sales process? Like you're going from companies that were at ten million. Now you're sub one. Is that a drastic change as well, the way you have those sales conversations with the prospects?
CM: Not that I've noticed so far. I have been doing a lot more video calls than I would care to do. But, that's a kind of personal preference. The process itself hasn't really changed that much. It starts with either Facebook group or email or a phone call or meeting at a group or at a networking event such as this and then picking up the phone, getting on each other's calendar, and taking it from there. So it's still a pretty “inboundy” process.
KD: All right, that's the answer I was looking for. No, I'm just kidding. Two questions for you, the final questions. One, what does this mean for your entire or existing client base? So where do you see the split? Is there a number you're looking for? Because I would assume there's still a handful of clients, maybe people in your sales pipeline right now that aren't a perfect fit for the mission, maybe support it, but not like the type of business you've described, and so what happens to those folks?
CM: Yeah, and actually that's one of the considerations I wanted to bring up, so thank you.
KD: Yeah, I get you.
CM: Thank you for that. So we're still servicing all our male-owned companies, so all of our clients that are owned by men, we still love them dearly. They're still great.
KD: They're going to watch this, and they're going to be really excited to hear that.
CM: Right. They know that we love them. So that part's not changing. We're trying to do what we've always done. We're just trying to add this extra component to it. That's how we're working it. Other agencies, I'm sure, would try to probably make a complete change. And that's also fine, but to each his own. I would just say, you know, it's never good to piss off your existing clients, so don't do that.
KD: Final question for you, and I don't know if I prepped you on it. But it's something I ask for all audiences, so I think by going first today, you became the guinea pig.
CM: You're welcome everyone.
KD: I ask this to everybody. It's not too bad. What do you find is the weirdest part of agency life?
CM: Oh, man. It's all weird. Okay, you can have the best day of your life and the worst day of your life in the matter of an hour.
KD: You want it to go the other way. You want it to be bad and then, you know.
CM: Yes. Yeah, you don't have control over that. You could have like, okay, story time. So we had won our biggest client, this is like on a Friday, won our biggest client ever, and it was maybe like 10:00 in the morning. Like 12:00 in the afternoon, I get a random email from a client's lawyer saying
KD: Never good.
CM: That they're terminating the contract, and we had no, there was no indication that they were unhappy, and so that was the best and worst day. Two hours, the best and worst day.
KD: Congrats on that big client by the way.
CM: Oh, thanks, thanks. So yeah, so that's weird. And you know, not getting notice that a client's leaving, and they still wouldn't answer my call. I'm like, can we talk about this?
KD: We can do whole episode based on just what happened after the lawyer reached out to you.
CM: Right, yeah, next time.
KD: Basically, I think you can have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That's weird, but hopefully the exciting part?
CM: Yeah, but you never know what's going to happen.
KD: Cool, that is it for me. I appreciate you coming on.
CM: Thank you.
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