When you’re moving fast and don’t have the opportunity to hire an in-house team, outsourcing to a marketing agency can be a great solution. Ellen Jantsch started her marketing agency almost five years ago. As a marketer with 10 years of experience working in large corporations and scrappy companies, she used agencies to get things done. When the relationship worked well, the agency was an integral part of the marketing department. When it didn’t, Jantsch noticed that the agency was treated like a vendor.
Tuff Growth was born out of the desire to become an integrated marketing partner to high-potential companies scaling up. “I didn’t just want to drive traffic and write emails,” said Jantsch. “I wanted a team that could think holistically about what it takes to find quick wins, operationalize them, then scale them.”
To grow, instead of saying “yes” to every company that wanted to be a client or every person who wanted to work for the company, Jantsch found she needed to say “no.” Not always, just when the fit wasn’t right.
When Jantsch first went out on her own, it was just her. She could have stayed as a one-woman show, but Jantsch was ambitious and wanted to build a team. Her dream was hiring the best talent from around the country, allowing them to work remotely, and creating a culture that inspired everyone to do their best.
As she bootstrapped her business, Jantsch didn’t have the money to hire a bunch of experts in all marketing channels. Instead, she started small, perfecting just one channel—advertising on Facebook and Google. She would then learn another marketing channel—organic acquisition through search engine optimization (SEO), landing-page optimization, conversion-rate optimization, and so on and so forth. Once she got good at something and knew the skills to look for, she hired to replace herself.
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The long-term vision for Tuff is to be an end-to-end partner for every stage of the marketing life cycle, including awareness, acquisition, activation, and revenue retention. It took three years to build a team with the expertise to do all that.
Bringing on her first and second employees was intimidating and exciting at the same time. In the beginning, she made quick hiring decisions. “I was just excited that somebody wanted to work for me,” said Jantsch. She didn’t do diligence on skills and cultural fit. After a few mistakes, she got serious about developing a hiring process.
“We spent about six months thinking through what the hiring process should look like,” said Jantsch. “We put more effort and time into our people, our hiring process, our career framework, our benefits, and our compensation structure.”
Even before writing a job description, the team writes an impact description. This document details the level of experience needed, what skills Tuff teaches, and what employees can learn independently. Then the structured hiring and onboarding processes kick in.
Jantsch wants candidates to know as much and even more about Tuff than what Tuff knows about them. The team writes about its culture on its blog, explaining its compensation structure and how to advance. The company makes sure that the team has enough structure to work autonomously and feel like solid contributors to the team. “New hires are ready to hit the ground running on day one,” she said. “And, because candidates have the right expectations, employee retention rates are high.”
It also took a while to figure out who the ideal client was and how to get in front of them. Importantly, Tuff listened to the market, its clients, and prospects. Their feedback helped get Tuff on the right playing field. “They [partners] are focused on hyper-growth,” said Jantsch.
Typically, these companies have raised a seed or Series A round of venture capital and occasionally a Series B round. Tuff doesn’t work with startups that haven’t proven product/market fit or with huge organizations with thousands of people. The industry mix of Tuff’s clients is diverse, including e-commerce, fintech, B2B, and SaaS. Clients use Tuff to help them to think through the metrics to track and build a growth model. They need a repeatable and sustainable formula for long-term growth to guide their internal teams and to show their investors.
Tuff tested everything, including outbound sales, sponsorships, paid acquisition, content marketing, and workshops, to find that repeatable formula for generating new business for themselves. It’s the same process they use for their clients.
“We finally found the right combination of channels that now consistently brings us, clients, monthly that feel like a really strong fit for us,” said Jantsch. SEO, in combination with content marketing, worked best for them. “If you go to Google right now and type ‘growth marketing agency,’ Tuff is going to be in the first or second position.”
Content-driving organic SEO traffic has unlocked their growth. Content includes long-form blog posts, videos, and landing pages. What these tactics have in common is that they provide value. “When you provide valuable content, you become important to the user,” said Jantsch.” You build credibility with them. They want to reach out to you.
“In the beginning, we said ‘yes’ to a lot of things,” said Jantsch. “We just wanted experience. We worked with anybody who would work with us.” Without outside financing to fund new hires, Tuff’s didn’t hire until the team was bursting at the seams.” Over time, Jantsch got the confidence to unlearn the behavior of saying “yes” to every opportunity. She learned to wait before hiring and not firing quickly. “We ended partnerships that are no longer successful for Tuff,” she said.
Now, instead of waiting to post a job until the team is feeling a little stretched, Tuff posts a job six months in advance of when the team thinks they’re going to need a person to join. “As a first-time founder, it took me almost a year to make that transition of confidence to making decisions earlier,” said Jantsch.
What have you said “no” to that has helped your business grow?