How We Started A $3M/Year Digital Marketing Agency In Just 90 Days

Jeff Gapinski
Founder, Huemor
$250K
revenue/mo
2
Founders
44
Employees
Huemor
from Pittsburgh, PA, USA
started December 2011
$250,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
44
Employees
244K
alexa rank
1.91K
followers
1.19K
followers
market size
$40.8B
avg revenue (monthly)
$150K
starting costs
$11.7K
gross margin
90%
time to build
210 days
growth channels
Word of mouth
best tools
trello, Trello, 1Password
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
4 Tips
Discover what tools Jeff reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Jeff reccommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name’s Jeff and I’m the co-founder of Huemor, a digital marketing agency focusing on building memorable websites.

We help companies, big and small, discover what makes them unique and channel it into a memorable experience that outsells and outshines their competition online.

We keep our process simple, transparent, and customer-focused. We avoid buzzwords and bullshit – we spend our energy instead focused on creating best-in-class user experiences that translate into the things that matter.

To date we’ve helped over 200 companies transform their digital presence, we’ve earned over 100 international awards, and we’ve scaled our team beyond 40 people.

our-development-agency-helped-200-companies-won-100-international-awards-and-makes-3m-year

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

As a graphic design student, I had started to freelance in my senior year to earn some extra income. It wasn’t anything crazy, but I felt like it funded my happy hour outings and allowed me to gain some real-world experience.

After I graduated I accepted a corporate job for a local company. It was a steady paycheck but I didn’t feel like the work was challenging enough. I kept freelancing to scratch that itch.

About 6 months into my new job, a close friend of mine (Mike) reached out to me. The company he was working for was a growing media placement company. They would receive requests from agencies all over the tri-state area to print, assemble, and place advertisements. The owner saw an opportunity to do more of this creative work in-house and had tasked my friend with the responsibility to build an internal agency.

Sitting down and doing the hard work to assess what went wrong, admit to your failures, and come up with a path forward will yield your biggest improvements.

Knowing my background in digital, my friend felt like I would be the perfect fit for this new endeavor. It was a pay cut, but the whole concept felt way more exciting than what I was doing. So I left my current job and joined my friend.

The two of us dove headfirst into understanding how agencies run. Neither of us had prior hands-on experience, so we turned to books, podcasts, and various other media to understand the dynamics. We started to build out a business plan and pull the pieces together.

Then something went wrong.

Our boss at the time began having issues with his partners. The work environment quickly became toxic. It was clear to Mike and me that if we had to run this company under their control it would never work out the way we wanted it to.

So we did the only logical thing a couple of 22-year-olds with no experience would do. We told our boss that we were going to do the agency, but on our own, and that he could be our exclusive media partner.

He didn’t love this little power move, but he agreed.

So we were off. I rolled up my existing freelance clients under the umbrella of ‘Huemor’, our newly formed agency along with my former boss, and went off on our own.

Describe the process of launching the business.

To start, our initial costs were essentially just a domain name, hosting, and filing/service fees via LegalZoom. We opened up business bank accounts and a credit card off of personal guarantees.

Our launch was pretty low-key. After a marathon weekend session, we completed our initial website and got it online. Mike and I cracked a couple of beers and cheered for what was to come.

10 years ago there weren’t the plethora of digital platforms out there to help promote new companies.

Project management and client relationships are the backbones of any successful agency – never cut corners with either.

Our process of acquiring our initial clients was also really simple. We asked each of the clients we already had to refer us to a few folks they felt could benefit from our services. We also put up ads on Craigs List pointing to our website.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our process of acquiring new clients today has become much more sophisticated. At a high level, the breakdown looks like this:

  • 50% Inbound
  • 40% Referrals
  • 10% Outbound

We’re actively working towards bolstering up our outbound efforts, but it’s a work in progress.

Inbound

In terms of Inbound, I subscribe to something I refer to as the ‘Eco Chamber Effect’. An eco chamber repeats things over and over. The ‘Eco Chamber Effect’ focuses on making sure that your messaging is consistent, and applied to all of the channels your potential customers are on.

If you go looking for Huemor, you’ll find us across several different third-party sites commending us for our prowess in user experience design and development. You’ll see we have active social media channels (Both personally and as a company). You’ll see we produce helpful, in-depth content consistently. We have retargeted in place to continue to stay in front of those who engage with our website. Etc etc.

The goal is to appear early and remain top of mind.

our-development-agency-helped-200-companies-won-100-international-awards-and-makes-3m-year
October 2021 - December 2021

Referrals

We place a huge focus on project management. As a point of reference, we have a director of projects who oversees our project management team, then 4 project managers who are specialized across our lines of business. This ensures that our clients receive a high level of attention throughout their project, and in return, have a more positive experience.

At the end of each project engagement, we ask each client to leave us a public review. We ask them if there’s anyone they could introduce us to that could benefit from our expertise. Sometimes we even go as far as to check out who’s in their network and ask for an introduction specifically. We receive referrals without asking of course, but we receive many more by formalizing this process.

Outbound

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m an expert on Outbound sales. It’s still new to us but we’ve seen some success. Our position here is to find very targeted groups of people we believe we could help, then provide them with value for nothing in return. Over time trust and expertise is established, and when the timing is right we become their go-to.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’re the most successful we’ve ever been. Our team has grown, our average project value has increased, and we’re more efficient than we ever have been.

  • Average Project Value: $67,500
  • Average Client Relationship: 2.7 Years
  • YoY Growth: 74%
  • Team Size: 44

As we continue to grow we want to focus on expanding our retainer relationships. Right now the majority of our revenue still comes from 1-time projects, we plan to change that balance within the next two years.

We’re also considering the expansion into new services, namely programmatic ads within the next 3 years. This would complement our retainer offerings well and allow us to control more of the variables associated with conversion optimization.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

After 10 years of figuring things out the hard way, I recently compiled a list of my biggest takeaways from failure. Things I wish I knew when I had first started.

  • Lesson 1: Books are great tools for learning, hands-on experience is better.
  • Lesson 2: Brand identity and marketing are paramount for long-term success.
  • Lesson 3: Seek out, form, and nurture partnerships as early as you can.
  • Lesson 4: Project management and client relationships are the backbones of any successful agency – never cut corners with either.
  • Lesson 5: Letting go of a bad client will always be a net positive.
  • Lesson 6: Document everything, build process early, and iterate frequently.
  • Lesson 7: Start by hiring for experience and leadership – then focus on hiring for potential.
  • Lesson 8: Failure is inevitable – what you learn from it, and how you overcome it will accelerate you faster than success.
  • Lesson 9: Expressed gratitude (to clients, partners, and employees) can never be too much.
  • Lesson 10: Seek out those who know more than you and learn as much from them as you can.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use many tools to power our business, but I’ll reflect on the ones I believe are most integral:

Hubspot was a large investment up front, but we’re so happy we made it. Having a single source of truth for contact data has allowed us to make better decisions in regards to marketing and better understand what’s working. Their custom reporting has also been tremendous for our sales team to both project and track success.

Asana is the back bone of all of our projects. Not only does it allow us and our clients to stay organized, but it also provides us with valuable resource planning insights. Helpful features like templates also allow us to onboard clients in a matter of minutes as opposed to hours.

Slack is the glue between so many of our tools. It allows us to receive instant security and site health alerts. It allows us to easily communicate with clients and manage a global workforce.

When it comes to tools, I’d say make sure you invest in ones you know you’ll use and will save you time. When you’re first starting you may need to skimp to keep overhead low, but as you scale the time you save with software will oftentimes outweigh the associated costs.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I was never a huge reader until I owned a business. Then I found myself picking up a new book every couple of weeks. At this point, I’ve probably read well over 100 business books, but the three that stand out to me the most are:

  • Profit First: This book gives great, practical advice to get business owners focusing on profit and a simple system to manage it.
  • Agencynomics: More specific to agencies, but a very practical and relatable book that provides you with real figures to aim for.
  • Built to Sell: Great book for focusing on systems and how to make yourself less critical to the success of your business. Amazing for anyone considering working towards a sale or simply reducing the amount of time they need to spend on the day-to-day of their business.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Failure is inevitable – what you learn from it, and how you overcome it will accelerate you faster than success.

I've failed countless times in the last 10 years as a business owner.

I've screwed up hiring decisions. I've put together ineffective processes. I've lost accounts. I've damaged relationships with employees. I've had to do layoffs.

If you're in business long enough, you're going to fail.

It sucks, and no one likes to talk about it, but it's the truth.

Sitting down and doing the hard work to assess what went wrong, admit to your failures, and come up with a path forward will yield your biggest improvements.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

At the time of this post, we have open positions for a web designer and sales representative. To stay up to date with what abilities we have check out our careers page.

Where can we go to learn more?

To learn more about our business, Website.

For advice on business, UI/UX, and demand generation LinkedIn.

To stay up to date with agency insights, case studies, and news Newsletter.

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

-  
Jeff Gapinski, Founder of Huemor
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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