I don't recall the exact day Verge Pipe Media became a reality. It wasn't when the blog began as a free WordPress site, or the day we processed our first payment from a client or the day we hosted a hospitality tent at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce golf tournament.
Verge Pipe Media introduced to the world at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament, September 24, 2010 (Moore's Mill Club)
It began more as an idea that Katie and myself discussed many times over the course of many months if not all of 2009. By the summer of 2010, I realized many people enjoy working for Auburn University for 20+ years and retiring, but I wasn't one of them.
In the summer of 2010, the iPhone was around three years old, Android phones were less than two years old, and most of our current employees were still in High School. I was amazed (as I am still today) at how many businesses continued marketing and advertising themselves the way they did pre-2000 and ignoring smart phones and social media. That's how the Verge Pipe Media blog began - as a forum for discussing things like Inbound Marketing, social media content, and the experience economy.
As 2011 began and we moved into office space in downtown Auburn, my initial plan was to build a team of tech developers (coders), Public Relations professionals, graphic designers, and copywriters. What I got was a communication major, a political science major, two software engineers, one computer science major and another English major with a background in video production.
I learned in a hurry how to leverage a wide network of freelancers to fill skills gaps.
The "code desks" at VPM, December 2011
In our first year and a half as an agency, we didn't really understand or embrace retainer agreements. That created spikes of very busy project work followed by lulls of business development to ramp up another spike in activity. No one was happy with the stop and start mentality and prospects didn't understand who we were and what we could do because the second, "Inbound Marketing" entered the conversation their eyes glazed over.
Key lesson learned from 2010 through 2011: Be specific in who you are and what you do. We were, in effect, selling a solution the market wasn't ready for using a labor pool that wasn't equipped for the challenge.
By 2012, I had a much firmer grasp on who we were and who we wanted to be. But, that type of change meant making some difficult decisions and holding on in the turbulence that was the shift away from a hybrid tech marketing agency to a marketing services provider. We didn't completely wipe development from our vocabulary and to this day we routinely have two to four active WordPress website development projects going at once. For the next two years we took on larger and larger clients and helped with everything from social media content production to full scale branding and search engine optimization projects.
Remember foursquare? There was even a foursquare day back in 2012 that we thought was pretty significant.
But, what I kept returning to over and over was that consumers were no more interested in being shouted at via advertisements than they were in 2010. In fact, even less of them were responding to banner ads and other forms of "online advertising." As an agency, we required all of our employees and interns to take and pass the HubSpot Inbound Certification (as we still do!), and we employed Inbound Marketing basics whenever and wherever we had an opportunity for clients.
They (clients) didn't quite grasp what we were doing but loved the results so I spent a lot of time educating, coaching, and repeating myself. Thankfully, all that extra time with clients began paying off as our word-of-mouth reputation became one along the lines of, "Verge Pipe Media loves spending time on-site and in face to face meetings." To this day I believe that's a competitive advantage we don't take advantage of because most "digital" agencies want to work remotely.
Key lesson learned from 2012 through 2013: Don't be afraid to go against the grain and make tough decisions on personnel. Leading is hard. Entrepreneurship is hard. Both get exponentially harder when you allow others to make decisions for you.
In the summer of 2014 I made the decision to partner with HubSpot formally. It was an expensive (for us) proposition and it wasn't well received by some of our employees and ultimately, some of our clients who we had to tell, "if you won't join us on this transition to HubSpot, we're going to have to recommend another marketing services provider." We then spent the next six months slogging through online classes and certifications so we could be the best possible HubSpot partner agency we could be. I'm not going to lie, there were many days early on that I wished we'd stuck to our homemade Inbound Marketing tools.
But the most important part of committing to HubSpot is we finally formally committed to being an Inbound Marketing agency above all else. We got better at social media content because we focused on converting prospects to leads and also delighting existing customers for our clients. We became better copywriters because we zeroed in on copy that informs, educates and converts readers into taking action. We developed into a much better video marketing team because we learned to celebrate our company culture in new ways and that led to being better advisors for our clients and their video needs.
None of this is to say what's happened since 2014 isn't worth mentioning. In fact, it's arguably just as important as the first four years that shaped the scrappy, independent agency we started as into the lean, agile, "always doing more with less" inbound marketing partner we are today.
But isn't every day Social Media Day at VPM?
In 2016 we completely changed our look and branding to reflect a more grown up agency and our commitment to partnering with our clients to help solve complex brand and marketing challenges. It was the next logical step in our continued growth plan.
Key lessons learned from 2014 through 2016: Software as a Service (in this case HubSpot) is only as effective as the team behind the scenes. Pay attention when sofware providers fill you with "success stories" from what they think are companies just like yours.
Today we're applying the tech dev lessons learned from the early days as we develop Virtual Reality content and most recently, ChatBots for clients wanting to distance themselves from their competition. We work daily on our 2017 mantra of, "Be obsessed with getting better" as we seek to improve the quality of social media, blog, infographic, and video content we produce internally and for others.
But throughout the past seven years, there remain a few constants with a very very Verge Pipe Media history and those are:
- If I take care of my employees, they can devote 100% of their energy to our clients
- We are a test and learn agency, unafraid to take calculated risks
- We will be known by the problems we solve
If you think a forward thinking, inbound marketing agency is the right choice for your own growth plans but want to know more about our approach and leadership in marketing, tap the "DOWNLOAD NOW" button below to download our FREE guide.