Canny Creative Update: We're On Track To Top $600K This Year In Revenue

Published: November 19th, 2022
Tony Hardy
Founder, Canny Creative
Canny Creative
from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
started October 2015
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Well, it’s good to be back!

I’m Tony Hardy, co-founder, and CEO of a growing creative marketing agency based in the North East of England, Canny Creative.

In short, we help companies with their branding (or more accurately, typically rebranding). We also help them to generate better results through their websites and content marketing efforts.

That might be;

  • Attracting more website traffic
  • Increasing conversion rates
  • Aligning their brand and website to their business strategy
  • Improving marketing communications

Think of everything a marketing agency does, then add the creative element too. And boom, that’s us in a nutshell.

Right now, we’re averaging around £45,000 a month. I don’t know what is in USD, but given how shot to shit the pound is, it’s probably about the same haha!

Since our last interview, we’ve scaled the team back to 8, then grown it again back to 10. We’ve got our 11th team member starting in January, that’s our new Head of Operations, something the agency drastically needs!

We work with brands and companies around the world. Typically we work best with standalone marketers or small marketing teams. We’re great at building relationships and partnerships that feel like we work in-house when in actuality, we’re an outsourced agency.

That’s our true uniqueness.

We’re great at getting under the skin of our clients (in the right way of course!), and helping them with suggestions, ideas, and of course, the execution of their strategy.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

Oh, it’s been busy. Damn busy!

The last time we talked, we were heading towards $600k, and I think we fell slightly short. This year, we’re on track to top that massively. We’ll make that in £ rather than dollars.

I say “top it” - but again, with the bloody exchange rates being the way they are, we’ll probably just hit it. A few years ago, if you asked, we’d have looked a shit load better in dollars.

Since we talked, I’ve been on Goldman Sachs’ 10KSB (ten thousand small business) Programme, which was an absolute game changer. It’s 3 solid months of working on your business rather than in it, complete with residential stays, tuition, lectures, and connections that you make for life.

So that kept me busy for a bit!

The programme made me focus on our growth goals and challenges. And we’ve got an exciting new “service as a product” that’s coming out in 2023. I can’t tell you much right now, or I’d have to kill you, unfortunately.

We’re still smashing our blog posts out. Traffic is growing and growing. The new Google update helped a lot too. Given it was focused on updating around “useful content” - we did very well with it.

The blog is growing. Admittedly, not as quickly as it used to be, but we’re not worried. One of the posts we wrote last week was seeing keyword rank for over 250 keywords overnight. Crazy.

Life isn’t easy. Building a growing company isn’t easy. But I’d rather do this 365 days a year than go and do something else!

We’ve also been prepping for the launch of our podcast.

Here’s an exclusive;

Our new podcast is called Demand Better Marketing, and we want to build a community of like-minded people and marketers that want to get better performance from their brands, websites, and content. It’s coming out later this year. Actually, it might be out by the time this interview launches!

We also recently monetised our newsletter, which is a channel I’d literally never even considered before. Since taking that decision, we’ve had 3 sponsored placements and made £1000 off the back of it. Our newsletter is only 9000 strong, but the placements are tiny and relevant - so to see that making something back is very interesting.

What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

Honestly, opening up the business to more lead-generation sources is a constant battle.

We do a lot through content, that’s our main primary driver, and it will always be. But it can be a bit of an uphill battle at times!

As a result, we’re trying to diversify how we bring leads into the company. Right now we’re actively working on and testing;

  1. Paid adverts
  2. Attending more local networking events
  3. Running our own in-person events

Something else we tried at the turn of the year was “paid for outsourcing.” So essentially a company that takes your cold email, monitors, improves on and does all of the outreach for you.

We were mixed on it.

It cost us £8000 for a 3-month engagement from January through to the end of March/start of April. Which, to be honest, might have been a bad time to try it.

However, it only netted us around £4000 in new work. We were almost tempted to try it again later in the year, but not entirely sure if it's worth the investment right now.

The other big challenge we’re having right now is “getting the right people on the bus.” The team is great, but keeping staff happy, attracting the right team, and battling remote working requirements and requests are all mounting up!

To be honest, at times over the last 12 months, I’ve gone home and face-planted the sofa. “Fuck this, it’s not worth it.”

But, the night is always darkest before dawn. (And yes that’s a quote from Harvey Dent for my fellow Batman fans.) But, you get knocked down, and you get up again. (and that’s a quote from Chumbawumba!)

You just have to soldier on.

Life isn’t easy. Building a growing company isn’t easy. But I’d rather do this 365 days a year than go and do something else!

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

Hiring the right people is key. Hiring the wrong people is a costly mistake that we’ve made on several occasions. That’d be mistake number one.

And similarly, keeping the right people is important too.

As I mentioned above, the organic SEO and content approach has slowed a bit, so that’s forcing us to reconsider our marketing activity and what we do there.

I also mentioned earlier our mini-event type strategy.

We’re a relatively small company based in the North East of England. Which, I think you’d agree, is quite far away from Texas!

But that’s where we decided to launch our mini-events this year.

And, as a shock to nobody except me, it’s much much harder than anticipated! Trying to set up and run a workshop event, compile a guest, sort caterers, organize venues, etc, is much more difficult from a few thousand miles away.

We absolutely should’ve chosen something much closer to home. But hey, you live and you learn!

I wouldn’t even say that’s a bad decision, but more of a learning experience. You can always learn, especially when things are far from perfect.

On the front of the good decision, we finally decided to hire an Operations Manager, which is a role we’ve needed within the agency for a few years now. They don’t start in the role until January, but even getting that sorted out, I feel is going to be one of the best decisions we’ve made!

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

Oh boy, isn’t that the question?

I’m going to focus on the next 3 years instead of the next 5 if that’s okay. Simply because we actually have a 3-year plan now. The plan takes us from the start of 2023 through to the end of 2025. It’s not concrete, but it’s starting to set.

Financially, we want to take the company from where it is now to £1.25m in the next 3 years. That’ll return around a £315k profit margin in the year we hit the mile and quarter mark.

With the profits retained in the company over the next 3 years, we plan to open an office in the USA. We do a lot of work out there now, and a lot of our team loves traveling to the States, so it just makes sense for us to open up over there.

The remote working thing works for us, but, nothing beats getting in a room together and smashing out ideas, letting the creativity flow.

To do that, we need to make key strategic hires in the finance, sales, and marketing teams.

If we can hit that mark, we’re then on an ambitious quest to slowly take over the world.

I’ve got a “5 before I’m 50” stretch goal, which is 5 offices / creative hubs in different parts of the world before I’m 50. That’s 17 years away. To do that, we’d intend to grow the business to around £100mil in turnover with around a 35% profit margin.

What am I excited about? All the travel! I can’t wait to be on the road, meeting people, checking out new places, learning new things, and improving the business year after year.

In the more short term, we’re adopting the 4-Day Workweek, and have been trialing it with a mix of success.

What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

Ah, this is easy.

I read Traction by Gino Wickman for the first time, and the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) absolutely blew me away. We immediately started implementing its suggestions and practices within Canny Creative.

Hands down, the best book I’ve read this year.

I then got the audiobook version of Get a Grip, which is a fictional take on a company using Traction and its methodologies. And I was absolutely gripped by it!

I’m not one for buying into gurus and operating systems, and “the way” - it’s just not me at all. But the way Traction lays out business, and how to conduct it, just works well for me.

Similarly, Scaling Up by Verne Harnish is a great book that works in roughly the same way.

I love practical tips, ideas, and advice, and all 3 of those books deliver exactly that. Strategies for growth, not just ideas and airy-fairy bullshit.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Well, read Traction. That’ll help for sure!

But more importantly, always do the right thing.

We’ve always built Canny Creative off the back of strong partnerships and relationships. We want our clients to love working with us, which is why we’re always there, looking for ways in which we can support and enable growth.

It’s a proper cliche, but if you look after the small stuff, the big stuff will come.

Pay attention, do the right thing, be responsive, reactive, and proactive, and you can’t really go far wrong.

Treat your customers the way you want to be treated. Right, cliche fest is over.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Tony Hardy, Founder of Canny Creative
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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