When you move quickly and don’t have the option of hiring 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 in large corporations and rambling businesses, she has used agencies to get things done. When the relationship worked well, the agency was an integral part of the marketing department. When this was not the case, Jantsch noticed that the agency was treated like a salesperson.
Tuff Growth was born from the desire to become an integrated marketing partner for companies with high growth potential. “I didn’t just want to generate traffic and write emails,” Jantsch said. “I wanted a team that could think holistically about what it takes to find quick wins, operationalize them, and then evolve them.”
In order to grow, instead of saying “yes” to every company that wanted to be a customer or to every person who wanted to work for the company, Jantsch found that she needed to say “no”. Not always, just when the fit wasn’t right.
When Jantsch first went out on her own, it was only her. She could have stayed on a one-woman show, but Jantsch was ambitious and wanted to build a team. His dream was to hire the best talent from across the country, allow them to work remotely, and create a culture that inspires everyone to do their best.
While starting her business, Jantsch didn’t have the money to hire a group 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, etc. Once she got good at something and knew the skills to look for, she hired to replace her.
Tuff’s long-term vision is to be an end-to-end partner for every stage of the marketing lifecycle, including revenue awareness, acquisition, activation and retention. It took three years to build a team with the expertise to do all of this.
Bringing in his first and second employees was both intimidating and exciting. At first, she made quick hiring decisions. “I was just excited that someone wanted to work for me,” Jantsch said. She has not been diligent on skills and cultural suitability. After a few mistakes, she took seriously developing a hiring process.
“We spent about six months thinking about what the hiring process should look like,” Jantsch said. “We are devoting more time and effort to our people, our hiring process, our career framework, our benefits and our compensation structure.”
Before even writing a job description, the team writes an impact description. This document details the level of experience required, the skills taught by Tuff, and what employees can learn independently. Then, the structured hiring and onboarding processes come into play.
Jantsch wants candidates to know as much and even more about Tuff than Tuff knows about them. The team writes about their culture on their blog, explaining their compensation structure and how to progress. The company makes sure that the team has sufficient structure to work independently and feel like strong contributors to the team. “The new hires are ready to go from 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 perfect customer was and how to present themselves to them. Above all, Tuff listened to the market, its customers and prospects. Their comments helped Tuff be on the right playing field. “They [partners] focus on hyper-growth, ”Jantsch said.
Typically, these companies have raised a series of seed or series A venture capital and sometimes a series B. Tuff does not work with startups that have not proven their 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. Customers use Tuff to help them think about metrics to track and build a growth model. They need a repeatable, sustainable formula for long-term growth to guide their internal teams and show their investors.
Tuff tested everything, including outbound sales, referrals, paid acquisition, content marketing, and workshops, to find this repeatable formula for generating new business for themselves. It’s the same process they use for their clients.
“We’ve finally found the right mix of channels that now consistently brings us, our customers, every month that we feel is really right for us,” said Jantsch. SEO, in combination with content marketing, worked best for them. “If you go to Google now and type in ‘growth marketing agency,’ Tuff will be number one or number two.”
Organic SEO traffic driving content unlocked their growth. The content includes long blog posts, videos, and landing pages. What these tactics have in common is that they add value. “When you provide valuable content, you become important to the user,” Jantsch said. “You build your credibility with them. They want to contact you.
“At the start we said ‘yes’ to a lot of things,” Jantsch said. “We just wanted the experience. We worked with anyone who wanted to work with us.” Without outside funding to fund new hires, Tuff’s only hired when the team was packed. Over time, Jantsch gained the confidence to unlearn the behavior of saying ‘yes’ at every opportunity. She has learned to wait before hiring and “We have ended partnerships that are no longer successful for Tuff,” she said.
Now, instead of waiting to post a job until the team feels a bit exhausted, Tuff posts a job six months before the time the team thinks they need someone to join them. “As a first-time founder, it took me almost a year to make this transition from trust to decision making earlier,” Jantsch said.
What did you say “no” to that helped your business grow?