Our last Office Hours instalment brought together Found’s Tina Judic (CEO) & Hannah Thorpe (Business Director) and Cosmin Negrescu, our founder and CEO, as we continued discussing what SEO agencies currently do to adapt and even thrive in the difficult pandemic context.
But first, an important disclaimer: as data is volatile and variables are bound to shift in these fuzzy times, we redid our calculations on how agency clients’ traffic was affected and these are the results as of last week:
More than half of the businesses analyzed are affected by the COVID-19 challenges, but there’s also a positive trend emerging, which is, of course, good news.
Let’s see what insights and advice Tina, Hannah and Cosmin further have for this particular context still:
- Being a digital agency, there are a lot of processes in place to be able to work remotely. Yet, it’s a difference when you are used to coming to the office and working side by side. So, the two most important things, from the start, were focusing on the team and on the clients. In terms of the team, Found has, among other meetings, a weekly Friday business roundup, to keep everyone updated with the actual status and ask questions openly (in person or through Sli.do if there are more sensible things to be asked). Openness and transparency were key. Also, helping with social times and mental health, as these are really important for the agency.
- In terms of clients, the agency quickly understood their position from the get go, closely worked with Google and separated them into clusters:
triaging - shoring up cash, operations and focused on short-term actions.
assessing - shifted from triaging or open to invest a bit.
pivoting - seeing opportunities and change some things that they were doing, focusing on new products/services.
investing - clients who’ve seen an uptick, who are focused on growth.
This assessment helped with the right level of conversation with each client and the type of messaging the agency used.
- For the business owners out there, cash is immensely important, and there’s the general advice to have at least 4 months of liquid assets available to cover your operating expenses. Now it’s more important than ever. There was also the furloughing scheme that helped Found with their teams and the clients who needed to pause or downscale.
- As the new reality sets in, there’s also space for new conversations with some of the clients, tackling what’s next: “Where can we be more tentative?”, “What can we test more?”, “Where can we really push forward?”etc.
- In terms of business development, “we’ve become more human and building better relationships”: focusing on the people that are ready to have the client-agency conversations, being more understanding with people’s circumstances, really helping businesses that are struggling with information and expertise (answering all their immediate questions, helping with things like Google My Business etc.).
- At first, when the pandemic hit, it was about understanding if it’s the right time for clients to do something new and setting clear expectations so as not to create frustration. Also, showing flexibility and being there for them instead of following the rigid pitching processes from before.
- Found has something called “growth partnering”, an approach that means working with an agency specialist with a broad knowledge on strategy, channels etc. in order to assure the client gets the right media mix. Instead of focusing on one area, one channel etc., the client gets a bigger level strategy in place, along with consultancy (as the agency knows the trends across their client portfolio and industries).
- Now is the time to dissect the amounts of agency data available and show clients what to look at in the short-term, but also where the trends are, so as to push for growth at some point and prepare for the future. It’s also the time to understand the whole client business, not just the digital aspect of it.
- For existing clients, we had some requests for discounts and help, and we were able to adapt to them because we were fortunate enough to have the furlough schema and other processes in place. We are more open and honest, have more close conversations at the moment. It’s a time to show agility and creative thinking as an agency, and probably the industry is changing, as we become more understanding. (Tina)
- You have to look at your business and determine what is right for it. What is the cash that you need in order to be able to operate? Can you access government loans? Then, decide on a case by case situation, if and how you can help your clients. Be honest with them. Don’t feel obliged in any way to say yes from the get go.
- We have quarterly plans with the clients, so we’ve reviewed them, in order to see what can be reduced and what is mandatory to stay. Also, we’ve had lots of conversations on the fixed targets on yearly financials and how to move the revenue around, be flexible, so as to both be on the same page. (Hannah)
- We asked Intercom for help as we wanted to use it more in-depth. They’ve been really honest and said that they’re still working on a process for such matters, but they made an assessment of our business (How are you affected? How’s the industry?). So they had a process to create this new process of helping their clients, and it felt natural. (Cosmin)
- A new meeting that we’ve introduced is Sales & Marketing around new business, but also around content and communication. It’s daily and we managed to reduce it to 15 minutes now. It’s valuable for identifying the priorities every morning and checking-in. (Tina)
- There are a lot of communication and task management tools in place like Slack, but also new channels appearing like WhatsApp, in order to facilitate both prioritization and thinking, creative time for the teams. In terms of social, Wednesday is for sharing treats and there’s also scheduled tea times across the agency, to stay connected. The Friday roundup is more focused on business decisions as well.
- More communication and more feedback in order to adapt processes, have everyone aligned, get all the business messages across. But also adapting the number of meetings, if they need to be video calls or not, having phone calls and walking around etc.
- What helped with productivity, was having switch-off moments with the team. Quiz nights, virtual tours of a colleague’s house, wine and beer together, sharing personal fun pictures etc.
- Let’s go back to understanding the clients. If they’re triaging, it’s not the time for upsells, but there will be clients who need more agency help, so don’t be afraid to ask. Again, it’s about having open, honest conversations and understanding where they are.
- New business is still there, although it’s slowed down. The conversations have changed, as clients are looking for more immediacy than that 12-months strategy. It’s now more of the quarterly strategy. But opportunities are out there. You have industries like health, gaming, wellbeing etc. that are doing good. You have B2B clients whose leads used to come from events, so now you have to help them adapt to digital. And so on and so forth.
- Really look at the client list you want to target, do your research on how you want to tackle them and put in the extra work. Also, factor in all the circumstances. There may be big brands that are thriving, but are in a lot of pressure right now logistically, so they probably don’t need more digital marketing. But there are medium businesses that have opportunities to grow or expand in digital ways, so you can target those. You can check startup funding rounds and look for the ones that get more than 100%, you can look at companies that continue to go for senior hires on LinkedIn etc.
- For instance, we helped a B2B client in the tech sector identify new opportunities. They typically sold in certain industries, but we saw an opportunity in the healthcare sector based on a BBC news piece. We scraped Google news and looked at the frequency of that topic over the past two months and we saw a spike after COVID-19 that continued to grow. So we helped them pivot and reprioritize their business in that area. (Hannah)
- Clients come to us for advice on big business decisions. We can be their growth consultants now, which is gold to us. It results in a great partnership. (Tina)
- In terms of content marketing, we’re advising restraint. Don’t jump on the bandwagon, but do content partnerships based on data. Look at where your clients are in terms of consumed publishers and use that. (Hannah)
- Invest in a great Financial Director. Look at your P&L. Look at the financial opportunities in your environment (government loans, banks). Also, educate your team in matters of finances and economy consequences. This will help your team with their clients as well.
- Plan for the worst case scenario and work backwards from there. Plan for the best case scenario as well, look for investment and growth opportunities.
- This context is a good opportunity to look at the agency business, what you’re offering, your efficiency, how you make sure that you deliver what needs to be delivered, how you can improve your technologies and automate some things for better decision making etc. What can you strive for? What is the next step for your agency? There’s a lot of creativity around at this time. Ask your team what they want, how they see things etc.
- Another opportunity is the new stream of businesses realizing they can enter the online space. So, you can support them with innovation, set up their ecommerce spaces etc.
If you want to join the conversation, we’re preparing something more in-depth for SEO agencies, inspired by what we’ve learned from Office Hours, so keep an eye on our website for upcoming news.