Be a good person first
Influencer: Todd Imming, CMO at The Korte Company
As told by Jon
Through the years, we’ve been fortunate to work with a growing list of great clients. Clients that trust us to do our job, that look to us for advice and ideas, that respect us as business professionals. Joe and I consider ourselves very lucky in this regard, and really, it’s one of the best parts of being at Gorilla. All of our clients have influenced us through the years, but one client and one lesson really comes to mind.
It was three or four years back. I received some bad news from the vet about my yellow lab Deuce. He’d been given about three months to live with what was thought to be an aggressive form of cancer. The doc said even with surgery, odds weren’t good whatsoever.
Enter Todd Imming, CMO at The Korte Company – a long-time client of Gorilla. I talk with Todd several times a week. And while we talk about work, we often stray outside of the 9-5. In casual conversation, I told him about Deuce and his scare. Todd expressed concern.
In fact, he called daily to check on the pup. And that was it on many occasions. No “Hey, where are we on this?” Or “I have revisions for that.” Just “How’s Deuce today? Is he doing okay?”
Todd knew that this dog was a big part of my life, and he genuinely cared about how he was doing. This is the CMO of one of the biggest Design-Build construction companies in the United States and he was concerned about one of his vendor’s dogs. That was amazing to me and it had a big impact on me.
It’s something I try to keep in mind with employees, clients and vendors. Work is important, really important, but the human side of it all — that’s what matters the most. I fail at it often, but that idea of remembering we’re all people at the end of the day, and business really is only a small part of the equation — that really resonated with me.
As for Deuce, I opted for surgery. He made it. And since the scare, he’s come to work with me almost every day. In fact, he’s on our website. He’s actually at my feet right now as I type.
Hire people who are better and smarter than you
Influencer: Dan Rashid, our first employee
As told by Joe
The two of us flew solo for our first few years in business.
As a pair, we collectively served as Copywriter, Designer, Marketing Strategist, Developer (gulp), Account Coordinator, Project Manager, Bookkeeper, IT Guy, Trashman, Plant Waterer and Floor Swifferer. Put simply, when you’re a startup, you figure out how to get stuff done (even if some things aren’t done so well).
The difference ten years later is that now every one of the roles mentioned above is filled by someone who’s exceptional at that role (although Jon still takes out the trash — he’ll talk more about that later).
Our first hire was a guy named Dan Rashid. He was a really talented employee and he helped with a variety of things around the office. But his primary job was that of Web Developer. He was also the one who taught us how to let go.
Dan was a Developer and we weren’t. So for the first time, we had to learn how to delegate. And how to trust. By hiring an expert who was way better at what he did than we were at doing that particular thing, we got that much stronger as a company.
Letting go of responsibility and trusting others to do the job is one of the most difficult things we’ve had to do. But reflecting on ten years of business and the nine positions that have been created outside of the two of us, it’s laughable to think we could have survived without the expertise of our respective team members. So we’ve committed to recruiting, hiring and retaining great people who bring things to the table that we never could have. And we’re stronger now than ever because of our outstanding crew.
Encourage your employees to grow
Influencer: Jim Mayfield, former SVP Executive Creative Director at Schupp Company
As told by Joe
My first real job was at Schupp Company, a St. Louis marketing agency, where I was hired as a Junior Art Director. Jim Mayfield was my first boss and also my first professional role model. He was that boss whom you were a little bit scared of — not because you feared for your job if you messed up, but because you wanted his respect. He was the first to give me a chance, and was also a tremendous teacher to me as a young marketing professional.
What Jim didn’t know for the first year and a half of my employment, though, was that his 23-year-old Junior Art Director had started a side marketing business. So the day I got the “Please see me before you leave today” email, I figured I was toast.
Jim sat me down, asked some questions to figure out what this Gorilla thing was all about and made it clear that my “Gorilla work” needed to remain a nights-and-weekends initiative that absolutely couldn’t conflict with my agency work. Then he smiled and sent me back to my desk.
About six months later, shortly after I announced that I was making the leap and taking Gorilla full-time, he and the rest of the agency surprised me on my way out the door with a farewell party in the agency lobby, fully equipped with Gorilla decor. He showed that he supported me and that meant a lot.
Jim shook my hand, wished me luck and told me there would be a place for me here if it didn’t work out. I’ll never forget that.
When someone wants something as badly as I wanted to make a go of it on my own, you’re not going to stop them. Instead of firing me, Jim did his best to encourage me to stay in the months that followed. But he also let me do what I was going to do anyway — and still encouraged my development along the way. The lesson I took from this experience was not, “Oh well, I guess my employees will leave us eventually,” but instead, “What can we do to help our team achieve their full potential here, own their roles and find a place to grow?”
If we give 100 percent to creating that opportunity, then we’ve done our best. If they go, we’ll support them when they do.
Cash flow is crucial
Influencer: Norty Cohen, CEO/Founder of Moosylvania
As told by Jon
My first boss at my first real job was Norty Cohen of Moosylvania.
While at Moose, my interactions with Norty were relatively limited. “Good morning,” “Have a good night,” “Oh, sure, I’d love to present the copy lines you requested to you while you grill your lunch,” and, “So wait — you didn’t actually email me about the thing I just came in and apologized for and that was actually the guys in the other room who created a fake email address in your name and now I’ve thrown myself under the bus.” Stuff like that.
But when I left Moose, Norty offered interaction in a big way. He was one of the first people who reached out, offering to advise and mentor. That in itself is amazing as I had just quit the company he owned. But what was also amazing was one of the smartest marketers in town, who had grown one of the most well-known promotional agencies in the country, had offered to help me grow my business.
I remember one lunch we had in particular in which he talked a bit about cash flow. At the time, our business was much more project-based and we found ourselves constantly fighting the ebb and flow of the bank account. Feast. Then famine. Feast. Then famine. A big project comes in, money follows, but then money quickly goes out. And then it’s peanut butter and jelly for a month or two until that wave of business came back.
Norty shared the idea of approaching every job — small or large — like a retainer.
So it’s a project. Bill it over 6-12 months like you would a retainer. It’s easier for the client, guarantees money coming in for a set amount of time, and also gets a client in the habit of paying something every month — which often sets the stage for a true retainer of sorts.
Obviously, money in your pocket is always the best case scenario. But sometimes, when it’s in your pocket all at once, it doesn’t stay there long — especially when you’re a young business and you haven’t quite earned your stripes in money management.
Since that lunch with Norty, our business has shifted to almost 100% retainer billings. That means every month, we have money coming in — guaranteed. That means Joe and I and our entire team can sleep a little easier. That also means something other than peanut butter and jelly for lunch.
Genuinely help solve problems and be rewarded
Influencer: Brian Signorelli, Principal Sales Manager at Hubspot
As told by Joe
As of early 2013, we’d been doing some form of online marketing for our clients for close to seven years. But it wasn’t until then that we crossed paths with the now marketing-software giant Hubspot. We quickly became a Hubspot partner agency, using their software to amplify the marketing work we do for ourselves and for our clients — improving results and measurability of ROI for everyone involved.
And while we thought we were just signing up to make use of a software platform, what emerged was a strong partnership with a company that’s helped us grow as an agency in ways we wouldn’t have predicted.
Brian Signorelli, who’s since moved up the ladder at Hubspot, was our first point of contact, and we consider ourselves lucky that he was assigned to us. Brian’s job was to help little marketing agencies like Gorilla become experts in implementation of Hubspot’s software so we’d be compelled to sell and implement it for our clients as well.
And wow, did he teach us how to sell. In a period of two years, our approach to growing our own business was transformed entirely. Brian helped us learn that successful selling in the business-to-business world stemmed from genuinely helping solve business problems for our potential clients, well before a contract was ever on the table.