Tara Hunt on Creating a DIY Marketing Platform for SMBs

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Marketing can be painful for small businesses; spending money is a hard pill to swallow.

As a result, they adopt a DIY approach that often goes badly.

Tara Hunt experienced the small business marketing challenge while running a digital marketing agency.

Work easily done as a freelancer no longer made economic sense.

But rather than walking away from marketing-hungry entrepreneurs, Tara did something different.

She and her team at Truly created a program called Phlywheel, a marketing platform that combines DIY lessons, templates, coaching, and community.

It allows entrepreneurs to do marketing without spending a lot of money.

My name is Mark Evans and I'd like to welcome you to marketing spark, the podcast that delivers small doses of insight, tools and tips from marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches. By small doses, it's conversations that are fifteen minutes or less. On today's show I'm talking with Tara Hunt, CEO and partner with truly ink and the CO founder of Flywheel, a new DIY marketing platform. Tar has been described as a digital marketing maven and social media pioneer. Now that's great branding. She has a major social media presence, including her signature videos, where to our combination of information, insight and entertainment. Welcome to marketing spark. Well, thank you for having me, Mark. I'm really interested in talking about your new venture, Flywheel, but let's talk a little bit about your digital marketing journey over the of the past few years. Walk me through what's happened and what you've learned about entrepreneurship and running a marketing business. Oh boy, how long do we have? Really loaded question, I know, but but I think your journey's really interesting. There's been some ops, there has been some downs and you've constantly displayed the ability to reinvent yourself and to keep moving forward. Yeah, well, I mean, first of all, what I'll say is that I have been on and off entrepreneur, as well as I'm always on marketing, for over twenty years now. So I have been in multiple roles, including running my own business, but also working on agency side, client side. You know, I've kind of done the gamut of roles in this industry and I've worked at startups, have worked at big companies. Yeah, so I've kind of I'm almost like a pet dish or some sort of like lab experiment to where I have been able to see every side of things. So, whatever I hear somebody say,...

Oh the grass is always greener over there, I can tell you definitively the grass is never greener anywhere. It's down entrepreneurship and being employees and it has its pros and cons. The grass is the grass. Wherever you go, it's it has its ups and downs and positives and negatives. I think the most comfortable I've been in this role is usually as a solo opener or, you know what most of us would refer to as a freelancer. You know, freelancer position if you have a nice steady stream of interest and clients coming in and you're not. You don't have to do a lot of hustling and getting out there and pitching yourself and you're in that lucky position can be really joyful because you are engaging in the work. You're doing a lot of interesting, variable work, your direct working directly with clients and projects and you know it, you really do truly have that sort of that myth that of entrepreneurship brings is the harder you work, the more you can make, so you control your own income. If you're in a lucky position or if you have worked, you know, really hard to build a good client roster and a good reputation as a freelancer, freelancing can be really lucrative as well as give you all that freedom that you would want and that a lot of people talk about when they talk about entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship comes in many different flavors, as you know as well, then, right, and I am in that flavor zone of having, you know, having a staff, like a paying salaries and benefits and all of the things that go along with having a staff. I mean right now we're even still paying for a workspace, even though we're all working from home. During the pandemic, I have an unlocked into a lease that cost me tenzero dollars a month. That that's overhead that, you know, I need to continue to pay for, no matter what they...

...influx of client work is, and during the pandemic it's definitely not been as lucrative as previously. I think everybody's budgets or being squeezed right now. So there are a lot of fixed costs when you're running a business with employees and equipment and physical space, etcetera, that you know as an entrepreneur that you have to take into it account. They're so if I was to say like my journey as an entrepreneur, that is rewarding. It is rewarding as as all that, because I love that I get to employ a group of people, create work for them, help them make a living, empower them, help them grow. That gives me so much pleasure. But it does like it's a holly different beast to tackle than, saying, being a solo entrepreneur or a freelancer on your own. So that's good. It's that classic adage would be careful what you wish for. Right. We all want to be entrepreneurs and it's and having been a freelancer and enjoying that, that the idea of being a solo preneur. That's great. But when your face with the growth question about whether you want to move forward, that's the hard part. I think yeah, yeah, well, and because the upside can be amazing. Right. So the upside of starting to hire people and scale your operations is you also scale your potentially scale your income, but you're taking on a lot more risk and a lot more fixed costs. That, you know, makes for you needing to go out and bring in that business a lot more. And so it turns from that, like the joy I up from being a freelancer where I'm hands on with all the projects, to, instead of being in the business, I have to work on the business. Well, that's a very different muscle group and that's where I've you know, when you talked about the ups and downs, that's where I've hit the downs, because that is not a muscle group that I had developed previously, and so there...

...were a lot of things that I wasn't doing. You know what I first started, truly, I didn't expect this to be, you know, to turn into and the agency where I employed people and grew like this. I kind of just like went with the flow. Would not recommend that, by the way, to anybody. You know, when you when you look at when you standing at that cross roads, and that's where I was in I do believe it was two thousand and sixteen. I was standing at that cross roads. Where do I take on more business and hire somebody to help me scale and scale myself and the business so that I can take on the more business, or do I turn that business away and just, you know, kind of keep doing the freelancer thing? I you know, I only saw that. Oh well, I can hire somebody and we can just sort of play it by ear. If you're standing in that crossroads, I highly recommend that somebody sits down with somebody who has taken the path to scaling and ask them what are like five, ten, twenty things that you wish you would have known at that moment and wish you would have set up and then take that action to set that up in your business right away. Everything from time sheets, which, as a freelancer, I don't know about it. freelances out there, but I was not keeping time sheets. I was just like it, just doing the work. Or Yeah, all the way to setting up different processes and quality checks and calculating things like margins. You know, margins when you're on your own is are great, pretty other tast but once you're hiring people and you're adding equipment and software and then the salaries and benefits, and then there's the office space, that becomes well, maybe it's not as necessary, post pandemic as it was before, but it definitely was when I was hiring people. Like all that stuff starts to add up and cut into your margins and then you need to really, really pay attention to that...

...stuff. So that stuff that I found out the hard way. I drifted until it was like, Oh crap, I just painted myself basically into a corner. Well, that's part of the tough road of entrepreneurship some days, is is you don't know what you don't know until you go through it. So let's talk a little bit about fly will which, and I quote, has a mission to simplify the digital marketing landscape and provide members with the skills and tools needed to execute successful mark geting strategies. And that's that's a really good value proposition. Tell me about flywheales and what inspired it, how does it work and who needs it? I know that's a load of question, but I'm really interested this next part of your entrepreneurial journey. Did you wake up one day and decide this is something I we should do. Give me the backstory on on this new venture. The story of fly whale was really came out of some of the challenges that we faced when we were scaling. Truly as we grew bigger, as our overhead was growing with that and our margins were tightening. We found ourselves so early days and truly when it was just me, I could take on little, tiny clients. I could take on bigger, like a little bit not huge clients, a little bit bigger projects. I could grow and and contracts as needed. But once I had a staff, all of a sudden there was, like I'm kind of a minimum mandate that we could take on. So we couldn't take on little projects here and there because they would cost way more. Like our margins were shot with these little projects and then we would have a tough time balancing those little projects with a bigger project. So we had to actually start turning business away at some point. So a small start up or, you know, even like small counting firm would come to us and they had a budget of, you know, twenty five hundred dollars a month. Free Lance. At our could have worked with that. But now that I'm owning an agency and having,...

...you know, a bunch of people and the amount of work that we have to put into that, you know I could I no longer could take on a smaller mandate like that. So we had to start saying no. And the problem was is I would meet these amazing entrepreneurs, I would these amazing start up founders and think, oh, I can see a path to really helping them, but they're going to need time, they're they're going to need a lot of time to be put in. I could give them that path. It's going to take it, but it just clunky and we weren't able to make it work with our structure. Literally, I woke up one day and I had this idea and the idea came out of actually we had taken on one client start up. They had had some funding out of Montreal and they said, okay, yeah, we can't afford tenzero month, but but we can put in Fivezero a month and could you just use that time to just work with our junior marketing staff put together maybe lessons for them. So we kind of did this three months mandate with them where they would tell us at the beginning of the month what they were struggling with and then we would work together to kind of create like a workshop to work through these problems with them by the end of the month and we'd created, at the end of this three months mandate, a wonderful amount of material, wonderful amount of lessons that could be used for them. But also, we took a look at it, we thought, you know what, I bet there's a lot of startups out there that could use this kind of material, everything from how like putting together a better content calendar. Right, everybody wants to do content, but where do you begin? And we actually put together, or you use the process that we use inhouse and mapped it out for this startup in a presentation deck and we were like Hey, wait, we could probably Redo this so that it's more general and but aimed at a similar size of an...

...size of business and sell it, sell it for a lot less and then scale it that way. So we started thinking sort of in that educational realm and then, you know, as we looked around, we did a lot of ton of research. Early on, we spoke with a lot of different startups and a lot of different businesses in this with this size of marketing budget. We also testing and when we'd have inbound you know, we'd have inbound leads that we couldn't take on, we would start asking them like what would work for them? We met it out that it's not just education, because part of our mandate for this startup had also been that we're kind of on call coaching for them. So if they were having a tough time with implementing any of the ideas or they needed to sort of bounce their progress off of us to make sure that they're on the right track, we were there. So there was that coaching part that was there as well. Okay, we needed to add the coaching. There's a third part that I felt was also missing that I've always wanted to do. I've always wanted to be able to bring my clients together in a bit of a community thinking. You know what, if we had a community for class for our clients, especially if they're not really competing with each other. What they could also do is learn from one another, and that would also fill gap in their knowledge that we wouldn't have to fill, and then we could totally scale what we were doing. You know, as this came together and we realize, oh, we combine contents, here's great templates and guides and spreadsheets that we use already and we tested ton of times. Over here, you know, is our step by step plans and checklists, as well as learning materials. So all this learning material that we could put together with everything from small little lessons to bigger master classes. If we could combine that with some sort of coaching and this community, I bet we could create a really affordable level of support where small businesses...

...would get agency expertise, they would get our input, but they would also be able to share with one another. This would be like a fraction of the budget that they would have and then they would have all this budget left over to spend on implementation. All they would need is to be ready to like roll up their sleeves and do it themselves. So whether they hired somebody more junior or whether they there was a partner sort of on board that was willing to take on this sort of work, and so that's sort of the evolution of flywheel. And then everything else. You know, we did a lot of testing and building and implementaying from there. How is it worked and what do you learn along the way? In theory it sounds great, especially for companies that don't have a big enough marketing budget to afford an agency but really need marketing help, and he surprises along the way. Has It panned out the way that you expected? So yeah, there''s been a ton of surprise. So number one, I'll say, on the positive side, non surprise side, is that we actually proved our thesis a couple of times over. There are super engage community members who fit that profile that we envision early on. The cofounder, who is in charge of business development super engage, comes to every Webinar, engages in every what we call our weekly planning jam sessions and spends a lot of time in the community listening to learn and then digs into our knowledge center on a regular basis, and he calls it his Willie Wonka chocolate factory of marketing knowledge, because they were have a ton of different resources in their right. So he can go into that anytime and like pull out ideas and French. So we have a few of those people on various degrees, and then we also have more not the junior person, but the person that was we didn't even see it necessarily the person that would be...

...buying flywheels a junior person. We saw the person that would be buying flywheel as I'm in. This happens a lot and you probably notice this in your your work. The person that's put into the marketing position doesn't necessarily have a marketing background. They might have a finance background or a legal background or even a business development background, but marketing is not their background. They're just been put in that position because they're super smart. Maybe they even have an MBA right and they're like you could do this mark, this digital marketing thing. How hard could it be? And they are how hard could it be? And then they get into position they're like wow, there's a lot of stuff going on here in this marketing world. That person we find has been hired by this organization is more likely. They do attend some of the Webinars, but they're more likely to really dive into the knowledge center and they also tend to do a lot more in the with the weekly planning jams so they get stuck on something or if they have goals that they need to be held accountable to. But they also really love the community because quite often they're kind of lonely in their organization. They're the CEO or whoever's put them in that position is okay, you go and solve this and they're kind of the only ones that are in that role. Fly will actually became a bit of like an extension of their team and then they feel like they're not as alone, and I think it's been especially important during the pandemic for this group. I run into into marketers like that a lot of work, quase marketers, and I can see how this completely be a great resource for them. And they're super smart and they pick up things in no time. For instance, we were doing a whole researching your audience and by the time we were finished kind of the week of programming, the people in this group already had these amazingly robust built out audiences and they had fully adopted the tools that we suggested. It was really it's that group is super, super quick and they'll pick up an absorb everything a bunge. Well we have found, though, that's been surprising,...

...on the other hand, is that we actually have quite a few marketing professionals in Flywale. I thought eventually we were probably going to attract some marketing professionals, because part of the road map for Flywheel is hey, maybe you can and marketing professionals can come on board and then they can actually find mandates through these companies as they grow. That would be great to be able to match people up and because we already know that they're they're friendly to our approach. That's great. We have probably a good one third of our membership is are these marketing professionals and they're they're engaging in the content, learning and utilizing it just as much as anybody else, not that they don't know this stuff already. Necessarily, it gives them sort of a I think a lot of marketing professionals have their own processes and we're sometimes really curious. I don't know about you. I'll read, for instance, other marketing professionals all the time and be like, oh, that's it. I try to solve the same problem a slightly different way. This actually looks more efficient to our yeah, I like a better process, so I think we're always, and I and I didn't even realize that coming in, but I think we're always learning from one another as marketing professionals. We can't service everybody. The the beautiful thing about our industry and it should never be a winner takes all. It should be a we all all grow together and we can all take on so many clients at any given time, so it's not a zerosome game. I am perfectly fine with opening up by my Pimmoo or whatever you know. This saying goes like Shit, sharing our processes with, quote unquote, the competition, because that's great. Better marketing practices are going to grow more broadly. I lost my job the in of April and jump back into marketing consulting and I almost feel like I've gone back to school in terms of the kind of insight that I've got from Linkedin, from Li listening to podcasts, and I think...

...you're right. I think the marketer and marketing is a you're constantly learning new approaches, new ideas, news, new ways of doing things, and I think that maybe the appeal of Flywheel to marketers is that there's always a different approach or new perspectives. Marketers who are open to that. I think other ones that will be successful. I feel like we haven't covered a lot of ground because we've only talked about your entrepreneurial journey and fly wheel button. On the other hand, we've covered a lot of ground. So thanks are for the insight. I really appreciate it. I mean it's really great to talk to people who are in the trenches and doing some really new and interesting thing. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review and subscribe by Itunes or your favorite podcast APP. If you like what you're heard, please rate it. For show notes on today's conversation and information about Tara, visit marketing spark dot colas blog. If you have questions feedback, would like to suggest a guest or learn more about how I help be to be companies as a fractional CMO consultant and advisor. Send an email to mark at marketing spark dotcom. Talk to you next time.

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