From the Ground Up: An Interview with Kyle Washburn of Alchemy Creative
Every year new digital marketing channels open up allowing businesses to engage with their audience innovative and exciting ways. As a marketing service provider, staying on top of these trends and expanding your service offerings is key to being successful. When it comes to being a full-service agency, providing great service is easier said than done. From finding great talent to establishing efficient processes, full-service digital agencies have a lot on their plate.
From finding great talent to establishing efficient processes, full-service digital agencies have a lot on their plate. Click To Tweet
We’ve had a blast interviewing the owners of marketing providers across the country for our “From the Ground Up” series. This time, we sit down with Kyle Washburn from Alchemy Creative, an UpCity Certified Premium partner and one of the top HubSpot Certified Partners in the United States. Below we discuss how Alchemy Creative got its start, how they maintain quality as a full-service agency, and more!
Q: Tell me a little about Alchemy Creative and how it got its start.
A: We actually grew out of another company. A couple of our current team members were working for the same employer that was a conglomerate of businesses. One day we just decided to take that leap of faith for ourselves, went to our boss and said, “Hey, we want to go out on our own and create more opportunities for ourselves. We’d love to keep you on as our first client.”
To our surprise, he was actually really receptive to the idea! He not only wanted what’s best for us as his employees, but he also saw it as a beneficial change for both parties. It’s definitely not the usual way that an agency gets started, but our team has grown really quickly from day one and I think a lot of it has to do with that first big win.
We’re a full-service marketing agency. We handle creative marketing strategy, public-facing marketing solutions such as review platforms and things of that nature, and we even help clients with website development, application development, sales, and software support. What we do is everything and anything related to your brand and that diversity is what helps us service our clients so well.
We’re a HubSpot partner, so one of the biggest services we offer to clients is inbound content: social media, video, blogs, that type of stuff. That’s one of our biggest line items and one of the things I’d say our team spends the most time on every single week. Marketing automation would be our second most popular service, be it messenger automation through a widget on your site or Facebook Messenger or setting you up with a killer CRM to help your sales team. Lately, we’ve had more and more people ask for pretty deep email automation and nurture campaigns, so we’ve been getting deeper into that area as well.
Q: One of the things I’m always curious about when it comes to full-service agencies is how you stay on top of things. How do you ensure that your team doesn’t sacrifice quality as you offer more and more services?
A: One of the ways we stay on top of things—and keep the client accountable as well—is by being very relationship and transparency-focused. We have weekly meetings with every single client and we talk about the plans of what we want to do, how we want to do it, and how we’re going to do it; we also talk about the previous week, what the plans were, and how we executed on it. All of that helps us stay accountable for what we’re doing because we know that we’re going to be meeting with the client all the time. They’re really plugged into what’s going on.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in growing your business thus far?
A: Like with growing any business, one of the most difficult things is cash flow. By nature, as a full-service agency owner, I have to bring on specialists. I’ve found that to be the MOST impactful thing I can do for the business. I need a specialist for Facebook ads. I need a specialist for copywriting. That can be hard to justify when I only have a couple of clients paying for a particular service; I can’t just hire somebody to specifically execute on a single campaign. For me, one of the biggest challenges is making sure that we have our cash flow in line so that we’re able to bring on those specialists when we have enough work for them. Paying close attention to that allows us to scale strategically rather than bringing on a generalist who won’t be able to execute at the highest level.
Surprisingly, white-label services are a growing segment of our business as a result of the specialist nature of our team. We started out with just one agency and currently, we’re working with three agencies in a white-label capacity helping them fulfill on their projects. They don’t need a copywriter or a designer full time. They need them for a couple of hours a week. They hire us because they don’t want to bring on a whole team of specialists.
Q: How important is being recommendable to your company?
A: I actually just got off the phone with a client this morning who said that they were planning to go in a different direction, but when they started to read online reviews our competition just didn’t hold up to the overwhelmingly positive reputation we’ve built for ourselves.
Since we are a smaller agency, we don’t necessarily have as large of a reputation that the really big guys out there have. We’re working on it, and that comes with time. We’ve helped clients achieve success, and having those case studies from those clients, testimonials, reviews, etc. all help us attract potential clients. We’re so confident in what we offer that I’ve gone as far as to provide a prospect with a past client’s phone number (with their approval, of course). I won’t even be involved in the process.
Honestly, we’re absolutely relationship-focused here. We focus on long-term retainer style clients, not project style clients, so when we work with people, we’re all about building that relationship and making sure everyone has a shared understanding of the goal and the path to get there. Through doing that, we build a very strong relationship with every one of our clients which makes me comfortable and gives me the power to do things like that.
Q: In order to be able to build those kinds of relationships, you must have to choose your clients pretty wisely. What types of things do you look for during the pitch process that let you know a client will be a good fit for your agency?
A: That’s one of the things I learned early on in our agency’s life cycle: finding the right clients is one of the most essential things you can do for your business. It can LITERALLY make or break you.
The second client we brought on was referred to us by another local agency here in Columbus, Ohio. They came to us and said that they were interested in working with us on some white-label services. As a test, they offered to give us this client and they’d see how things go. Little did we know that was their problem client and they were most definitely NOT doing us a favor. Now that I think back on those first conversations we had with the client, it was red flag after red flag after red flag. I wish I would’ve recognized it sooner because, at the end of the day, it really did harm our business.
We spent a lot of time and resources on building a meaningful strategy for that client; none of it got implemented. The client wanted to have a little too much control over what was going on; they weren’t in tune with SEO or digital best practices and we ended up losing the client as a result of us simply trying to implement industry-standard best practices. Everyone knows that your blogs shouldn’t be 150 or 200 words. Your blogs should be both search engine friendly and readable and relevant for your actual human audience. It’s about readability, engability, and crawlability.
That experience has taught me to look at their expectations as well as the questions they ask during the pitch process. I look for our clients that are looking for long-term relationships who want to partner with another business and not just have another transactional relationship. Any business owner knows that it’s not about volume, it’s about quality. One incredible client can make or break your business.
When it comes to recommendability, it doesn’t matter how many clients you can bring in the door or how fast you can bring them in. That’s why you want to make every single customer happy from the get-go, set those expectations, and make sure everybody has a shared understanding and is pleased with what’s going on.
Q: I know you mentioned that you prefer retainer-based clients, not project-based ones. What strategies do you use to keep those longer-term clients engaged even after you’re in maintenance mode, so to speak?
A: One of the most effective things we do is set a roadmap with each client. Usually, our retainers are for a specific amount of time. We don’t do that because we want to fire a client at the end of the retainer; we do that because it helps set that expectation over again. If you look at a typical 12-month roadmap for one of our clients, for example, every month we’re going to have specific SMART goals that are business-oriented and going to generate wins that our client will care about. Every month we’re talking about new things that are coming up and how we’re going to build on what we’ve done in the past, which keeps clients wanting to come to the next meeting. They leave those meetings pleased in some way every time and that little dopamine hit goes a long way.
There’s a leadership book called Leaders Eat Last, and the author of that book (Simon Sinek) talks about the dopamine hit that humans get when we get some sort of satisfaction. That’s something that we try to play off of every single time we meet with a business owner. Show them a win that they care about and give them that shot of dopamine; they’re going to want to keep coming back and stay engaged because you’re generating success for their business. We really like to set that roadmap even if they’re small goals, it’s just important that they’re attainable. Put attainable goals in place, that way you always have good news to deliver to the client.
Q: You’ve provided our community with so many great insights and strategies today. Thanks so much for sitting down with us. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
A: Honestly, with full disclosure and full transparency, UpCity has been one of the most profitable things that our business has ever invested in. Obviously, this isn’t an exact number, but off the top of my head, I think we received roughly 80x return on our investment after only one month. I don’t care what kind of marketing you’re doing, anything that can generate 80x ROI is worth continuing!
Alchemy Creative Co. was founded with one goal: to make your business’s digital marketing perform exceptionally. Their team is dedicated to digital marketing day-in & day-out, and with no hat swapping, they’ve become experts in everything digital. The end result: a one-stop agency that solves all problems with one team.