The Experts Guide to Starting an Inbound Marketing Company

Experts Guide to Inbound Marketing

Today, almost 90 percent of businesses are increasing their inbound marketing budgets. Clearly, the necessity of an inbound marketing platform is imperative to any type of online success. Those who maintain a knack for internet marketing have quickly pinpointed the potential that lies in inbound marketing consulting. The truth of the matter is that successful online business today is all about timeliness, ease of access, and the ability to get a project done right.

With the massive online changes that take place at the drop of a dime (how did Google alter the algorithm today?), hiring an outside consultant to handle inbound marketing initiatives just makes sense. It’s too difficult for in-house marketing agencies to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the ever-growing competition in the online space (especially since their focus is often on outbound initiatives). As companies fight for presence on the 1st page of Google, those organizations who quickly realize the value of inbound marketing consultants will be reaching out to you. Now, the real question is this: are you prepared to translate passion into results?

If there is one thing that all inbound marketers have in common, it is most certainly passion. We understand what we do, the true value of our work, and how it can really make a difference in a company’s online presence. Explaining this value and difference to a potential customer is far from simple. Therefore, we have taken some time to create a playbook for those who are considering taking the leap and starting their own team.

The Experts Guide to Starting an Inbound Marketing Company will serve as a manual for those internet marketing gurus who are hesitant to pull the trigger and form a team. In our line of work, you know the designers, developers, SEO experts, and content writers that it takes to build online success and make a real difference. Unfortunately, getting started is often the most difficult part. Even so, with the passion for this business that we all share, it may be a bit easier than many consultant-hopefuls might imagine.

So, put on your thinking cap, brew that cup of coffee, and strap on your seatbelt, it’s time to breakdown The Experts Guide to Starting an Inbound Marketing Company.

Table of Contents:

Getting Started

It’s no secret that the trend in the U.S. economy has favored entrepreneurship and small business. Starting a business is certainly not an easy task, but with the powers inherent in our line of work (hello, we work online!) creating a place where like-minded individuals with a common goal can work together to make money isn’t so farfetched. However, let’s pause for a moment and discuss personality traits. We’ve already decided that passion is an unwavering requirement. But for those who are looking to build a business as inbound marketing consultants, there must be a strong sense of:

  • Drive
  • Motivation
  • Innovation

These may seem like no-brainers, but those who are looking to take this leap must understand that this is a big risk. No entrepreneur succeeded without taking a risk. Not only will you need passion along with these personality traits, but you also must be an expert. Don’t sell yourself to a client by making promises that you cannot keep. Past experiences have helped us to understand that Rome truly was not built in a day, even with all of the technological advancements we now have at our fingertips.

Next, it is critical that inbound marketing consultants remain resilient. Starting a business comes with few guarantees, but one thing is certain: this will not be easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. However, those with a true talent for inbound marketing will find that with the right team, proper organization, a little bit of luck, and slow and steady attitude will make the path toward success much more accessible.

Finally, taking the financial perspective, inbound marketing consultants must understand that money may not flow for quite a few months, if not a year or so. Ideally, inbound marketing consultants are encouraged to slowly build their business, while keeping their day job. This is certainly not an easy task. It calls for working during lunch breaks, week day evenings and most certainly on the weekends. Nevertheless, no startup sought success without sacrifice (alliteration aside, sacrifice will trickle its ugly head throughout the majority of this initial process). For those who are not swimming in extra cash, consider launching your inbound marketing consultant business as a side-business until you are financially able to cut ties with your 9-5 and make a go of it.
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Building a Team

Aristotle was a pretty smart guy and an entrepreneur to boot. He said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and this statement couldn’t be truer for building a team of inbound marketing consultants. Every business owner wants a beautifully designed website that functions perfectly, reads well, and shows up one page 1 of Google results. Yet finding a single person who can successfully achieve all of these things is highly improbable. As such, the key to creating a winning inbound marketing consultant business starts and ends with a great team.

Teamwork

With years of industry experience, it is likely that you’ve come across your favorite developer, designer, writer, SEO expert, etc. Molding these minds and talents into a cohesive online marketing team may not be easy, but will most certainly be worth the effort. In our experience at Inbound Authority, the two most essential components in building a team lie in communication and integrity.

Communication

Being in a virtual office isn’t easy. The ability to easily communicate with every member on the team is imperative to staying organized and on task. Build your team with good communicators who understand that they must be available when a project deadline changes, a client frantically calls and needs a design change, or a news story must be written by tomorrow. These things can and will happen. If every member of your inbound marketing consulting team is not onboard with quick and accessible communication, many problems will ensue.

At Inbound Authority, Google Hangouts are our best friend. Beyond specific task discussion, it is important to keep the team comfortable with regular communication. A weekly meeting can do wonders for brainstorming, project flow, and the overall production of the team. Finally, communication is important because it is very easy to take a “zoomed in” focus on your individual tasks and goals. Taking a step back by communicating with the members of your team will help to propel internal initiatives forward. In addition, regular communication has proven to boost rapport, an absolute necessity for any successful team effort.

Integrity

The business world tends to be a harsh place. Everyone is after something and while we’d like to think that our joys come from the good work that we do, money is often the driver of each and every business activity. Therefore, cultivating a team based on the integrity of your team and their talent is essential. Trust is a big factor in any type of business situation. However, when business is 100% online, it can be easy to lose trust when face-to-face conversations seldom occur.

Creating an inbound marketing consulting team founded on integrity will immediately push your squad ahead of the competition. When the designer, develop, SEO expert, and writer can all rest assure that the individual tasks need to get done to build a website are completed well, in a timely manner, and with integrity, work flow naturally improves. A team that trusts each other can be trusted by a potential client – this is something that many businesses miss. Integrity is seen, felt, and heard by business owners. And those looking to hire you and your team will recognize integrity immediately.
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Staying Organized

Project management is an issue for companies with 3,000 employees and an issue for companies with 3 employees. In today’s highly competitive market, every moment of the work day that is not utilized intelligently, can be said to be a moment of waste. Inbound marketing consulting is a place where organization is paramount. While the mantra “content is king” may still be ringing across the internet, successful inbound marketing consultants know that organization truly rules the land of online marketing.

Basecamp Logo

At Inbound Authority, we handle project management using a tool called Basecamp. We like to think of Basecamp as a project management tool on steroids. From an organizational standpoint, Basecamp provides the necessary tools to breakdown projects, individual tasks, project goals, and a means of communication all the while.  From a task-completion standpoint, Basecamp ensures that all team members are kept up-to-date on deadlines, changes, and when each task in the project is completed. Being able to access all projects in one, convenient location is priceless when it comes to managing multiple projects at once.

Collaboration using Basecamp has helped to keep Inbound Authority organized, on task, and within scheduled deadlines. Any inbound marketing consultant team will benefit from Basecamp’s incredible features such as:

  • Discussion/Messages: team members are able to discuss specific tasks of projects in an organized fashion, emails are sent to alert those linked to the particular task when new discussions are taking place. Ask questions, get answers, and receive email notifications whenever relevant discussions are taking place.
  • To-Do Lists: as each task within a project is completed, team members are able to check them off and see them quickly move to the “completed to-dos” list. Simple, easy, and super helpful in keeping everyone on pace and, most importantly, on the same page.
  • Milestones: used to highlight bigger tasks that those individual requirements on the to-do list, milestones are used for things such as a website launch. With the ability to assign individual tasks that link to a milestone, every member of your consulting team is well aware of the larger tasks at hand.
  • Files: from Word documents to large Photoshop files, everything is stored on Basecamp in an organized, easily accessible manner. Team members are able to click on a project, a specific task, and find any files associated with that client. In addition, email notifications are sent upon request to inform the team that a new file has been uploaded to the project management platform.
  • Dashboard: current projects, future projects, personal tasks, team tasks, and much, much more is readily available and viewable from the dashboard. Basecamp’s dashboard makes staying on task effortless, as any necessary information is quickly viewable upon entrance into Basecamp.

Inbound marketing consulting teams should strongly consider using Basecamp, or a comparable tool, for project management. Successful consulting teams quickly realize the abundance of details that get lost in translation without a place to store all company information. Basecamp makes staying organized simple and efficient on all fronts.

Team members can also chat through real-time web based dialogue, providing an “office-like” atmosphere for project items that must be discussed immediately. In addition, Basecamp features a Time Tracking system that allows for users to log hours, a useful element when it comes to billing clients. All in all, Basecamp provides a superior platform for inbound marketing consulting teams. From managing projects to managing individual tasks, consulting teams are able to thrive in their own right with minimal time being spent on tedious project management tasks.
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Banking and Financials

If you’re like the majority of us in the digital marketing space, banking and financials may not be your strong suit. While it’s an aspect of business that we often roll our eyes at, it is most certainly a non-negotiable, really important piece of the puzzle when it comes to building your inbound marketing consulting team. At Inbound Authority, we believe that we have pulled together the most beneficial tools that strategically operate within our internal workflow.

The Experts Guide to Starting an Inbound Marketing Company would not be complete without an overview of how banking and financials should be handled in the online realm. Without a full-time or even part-time accountant on your team, which almost every startup consulting squad lacks, it is critical to streamline processes to make the financial aspects of your business as simple and straightforward as possible.

With the ability to integrate our financial tools with our project management tool (Basecamp) and our proposal tool (Bidsketch – we’ll get to that later), Inbound Authority is able to quickly synchronize financials, proposals, and project tasks with just a few clicks. Imagine a world where a potential client accepts your proposal and with the click of a button, an invoice is created. From there, one more click populates your project management tool with itemized tasks pulled from the proposal. I mean, we’re in creative industry over here, now let’s be creative with our approach to banking and financials.

Freshbooks

As mentioned before, most startups lack the funds to hire an accountant and most are under the impression that this means hours upon hours spent each week tracking invoices, expenses, and billable hours on client projects. Contrary to popular belief, however, Freshbooks alleviates the stresses associated with all of this, and for $20 a month to boot.

FreshBooks Logo

Using Freshbooks, inbound marketing consultants are able to auto bill clients on a recurring basis. Consultants may request that the client pays by credit card or Paypal and Freshbooks even handles things like credits, profit and loss reports, and all your expenses. From a functional standpoint, Freshbooks is professional looking and integrates into many other consultant tools like Basecamp and Bidsketch.

Additionally, Freshbooks has beautifully designed iPhone and iPad apps that make accepting payments on an invoice or recording an expense on the go simple, easy, and efficient. At Inbound Authority, we have not only saved thousands of dollars without the need to support an accountant, but have been able to significantly reduce time spent on financials through the simplicity of Freshbooks.

 

Taxes/Subcontractors

One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of running a small consultancy business is the need to pay quarterly taxes and keep good records on all sub-contractors in order to 1099 them at the end of the year. Again, Freshbooks plays a role in keeping these records organized and accurate. However, if you aren’t putting aside the necessary amount in your quarterly tax payments, then when it comes time to file your taxes you will owe a big bill (typically 25% of your earnings) and a penalty for not paying quarterly taxes.

Small business owners are often shocked by how quickly the year slips by and before they know it, they owe the government $10,000 in taxes. Therefore, we suggest that you setup something simple that reminds you to save 25% of each payment received. Then, we advise you to pay that amount at least every 3 months to the IRS to make sure that you and your business are covered. Regular employees will see an automatic reduction in each paycheck to cover taxes. But you’re the employer now, so pay or be sorry!

PayPal

Allowing for your clients to choose from a number of ways to pay is an incredibly powerful thing. People love options, especially when it comes to their money. At Inbound Authority, we use PayPal rather frequently to accept payments from clients as well as to pay our sub contractors. The most notable downfall associated with PayPal is certainly the fees. However, the convenience of use typically makes up for the small impact of their charges.

PayPal

Those clients who pay with a debit card will certainly appreciate your use of PayPal. In this regard, once the client pays you, you have instant access to these funds which would otherwise come in the form of a check, adding more days to the payment collection. Considering that many subcontractors will wait for payment before starting a project, PayPal is a beneficial tool for consultants to meet project deadlines.

For example, we build a lot of websites at Inbound Authority. We don’t usually retain enough money to cover the cost of a brand new site, but we also don’t want to wait a week to get started after a client has signed a contract and paid for the work to begin. Enter Paypal. The client pays, money is instantly available and then ready to be divided up between those working on the project. PayPal allows for us to get started on a project only minutes after receiving that initial payment from the client. Efficiency at its finest!
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Clients

Simply stated, clients are the lifeline of any type of company. Inbound marketing consultants’ greatest asset is their reputation. Building a business based on an online reputation is sort of what we do as a whole, so clearly, making sure that you and any consultants that will work on your projects are reputable within the industry is imperative. Online buzz travels faster than any other buzz in the world, make one misstep and you may suffer significantly. Therefore, it is important to build your consulting business with integrity.

Acquiring and capturing leads, then translating them into paying clients is much easier said than done. Nevertheless, using inbound marketing tactics, consultants in our line of work should have no problem getting prospects to the door. The issue often lies in getting them to stay there long enough for the sales pitch. Our approach is simple. Find a prospect, pinpoint holes in their web presence, and quickly identify ways that our agency can fill them.

The proposal is often the “make or break” moment for a company. When a potential client receives a proposal from you, they need to be able to recognize what is being offered, how that effects what they are or are not doing now, how long it will take, and how much it will cost – all within a minute or two. Therefore, your proposal must be succinct, eye-catching, and informative. Proposals are not the place to sugarcoat things, not in our business. At Inbound Authority, we make NO promises that cannot be kept and we make our promises (proposals) using an excellent platform called Bidsketch.

Hooking the Client

Like project management and banking, we don’t have a lot of time to draft proposals. So, we pinpointed the most efficient and immediate way to create professional-looking proposals that are easily replicated and quickly distributed. Let’s take a look at some of the most beneficial features of Bidsketch.

bidsktech-logo

Proposal Perks:

  • Reusable content to make proposal creation fast and well-organized
  • Professional templates to display the type of work the client can expect from you
  • Ability to track all clients (prospective and current)
  • Notification when a client has view the proposal (great for follow-ups)
  • Analytic details regarding how the client viewed the proposal and if it was exported to a PDF or not

Specific Features:

  • Ability to up-sell services using ‘Optional Fees’
  • Clients can quickly make comments then export to PDF to print
  • Electronic signatures to get the client proposal acceptance immediately
  • Legal bind clients to proposals with Bidsketch’s U.S. and international e-signature laws compliance

Integration for Project Management:

  • Once approved, the team can receive a message to get started
  • Basecamp Integration
  • Freshbooks Integration
  • Harvest Integration
  • Highrise Integration
  • Salesforce Integration
  • RightSignature Integration

Clearly we are big Bidsketch advocates. Keeping proposals professional, Bidsketch enables us to stay organized, integrated, and on point with every prospective client. Boosting productivity is a continual goal at Inbound Authority and Bidsketch allows us to stay focused on individual tasks and project completion without neglecting client acquisition and new business.

Keeping the Client

Inbound marketing is founded on the principle of interactive, two-way communication. At Inbound Authority, we like to think that this interactive, two-way communication trickles through the manner in which we interact with our clients. The days of explaining what “SEO” means may be behind us. However, explaining the value behind SEO, the services related to it, and the affect that this value has on their business is often far more difficult.

Addressing the value of your services is critical to keeping your clients. Therefore, we take an approach of education, two-way communication, and honesty to keep our clients happy and in it for the long haul. Integrity is a theme that runs throughout each and every one of our practices. We believe that when you do good, good comes back to you, often tenfold. As such, we focus on reporting, regular communication, and resilience to not only keep our clients, but keep them happy.

Regular reporting and communication with your client often goes hand-in-hand. Clients want to know what is going on with their business and they should never have to ask. We provide our clients with monthly reports to highlight where we are now and where we are going, as well as what we have done, and will do, to continually improve. When a client feels as though they are a partner in the process, they are often willing to take your advice with little backlash. This typically translates to more services and up-sell potential down the road.

Keeping the lines of communication open, we make sure that our clients understand we are always available to talk. When clients are able to feel comfortable coming to you with questions, a trust begins to build. This trust will prove to be instrumental in growing your consulting business.

Finally, resilience is a major factor in keeping clients. Things seldom go the way we plan and when this happens, the ability to be flexible and “make it work” will resonate with your client. Unexpected tasks, projects that need to be done yesterday and 2-minute phone calls that turn into 2 hour conversations can be frustrating. Nevertheless, those consulting agencies that can handle these stresses now (with a smile and a friendly tone), will find that they are able to keep their clients later.
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Final Thoughts: Lessons from the Tortoise and the Hare

The practice of inbound marketing is loosely synonymous with the “slow and steady wins the race” attitude. We all know that search rankings cannot change in one day. Unfortunately, businesses can also not be built in one day. It seems as though people misconstrue what we do as a “get rich quick” type of industry. Professionals in our arena understand that this is far from the truth. Creating and building a successful inbound marketing consultancy isn’t easy and it most certainly isn’t quick.

The consultants that form the team at Inbound Authority all came from a company that had never heard the story of The Tortoise and The Hare. This company believed that to be a successful inbound marketing agency, they simply had to look and act like one. Expecting quick results in this business is a direct path to failure. This is because true success in this industry comes from long hours, late nights, sacrifice of free time, and truly some blood, sweat, and tears.

tortoise and the hare

We would be lying if we said that building an inbound marketing consulting agency was easy. It isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination. But we approach our line of work in the same way that we manage our client expectations: with promises that we know we can keep. The online marketing industry gives limited guarantees, but these we know for certain:

  • The Hare: makes promises they can’t keep, tries to do everything at once while doing nothing right, reaches for overnight success with black hat strategy, false pledges, and shady business practices
  • The Tortoise: only makes promises they can keep, does one thing at a time – the right way, uses white hat strategy to achieve calculated goals and attainable objectives, and strives to do good, even when that means that results will flow slowly.

In our world, the good guy doesn’t finish last, he just starts slow. Inbound Authority was built on passion, integrity, and a motivation to truly make a difference. Hopefully The Experts Guide to Starting an Inbound Marketing Company served its purpose in giving that extra boost of confidence to marketers who know they can make a difference. With the right team, the right talent, the right tools, and an honest passion for the work that you do, the sky is truly the limit in this business. So, what are you waiting for?
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4 Responses to “The Experts Guide to Starting an Inbound Marketing Company”

  1. David Terry June 5, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Thanks Joshua for sharing this – I’m 6 months into my new Inbound Marketing Agency and you’ve helped me with some great tips here! Cheers – David

    • Joshua Gill June 6, 2013 at 3:27 am #

      Glad to help David. Hope it continues to work out well for you!

  2. Academic Ads March 23, 2014 at 4:38 am #

    Hit the nail on the head with this one Josh. +1 for Bidsketch, +1 for Freshbooks, we use Right Signature for digital insertion order e-signing (paperless what!) you can throw that in the mix.

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