Building a digital strategy business that focuses on using data to design websites, digital marketing strategies, content marketing now custom software has been an amazing journey as we head into year three at Data Driven Design.

When I first started the company, it was just me, as the business development, operations and project execution (yes, I was doing all the content writing, SEO, SEM, Facebook Ads and building all the websites), and my main clientele was "Other Agencies."

I liked it at first. They funneled me a ton of business. A former head of other digital agencies who could also execute projects and talk to their clients on behalf of their company, I got Data Driven Design off to a pretty solid start cash flow wise by basically whitelabeling all of my services to about 5-7 other agencies.

Some in Nashville, some in Detroit, some even in Atlanta or San Francisco. My business development conversations were often with agency owners in the midwest or south that didn't have enough resources, but had clients waiting on work to get done, and I came in, worked 100 hour weeks and helped them fill their gaps.

After doing this for over a year, I noticed that some brand clients were starting to trickle in, and that as the workload increased from agencies, I had no connection really to the end client.

Our services, being whitelabled, were being funneled through too many project managers and account managers from the other agencies. Client goals were not getting communicated properly to the people who actually do the work (us), and our work and the results and strategy behind it were not getting communicated from our agency clients back to the end client properly (if at all, and I doubt that the other agencies really understood it in the first place).

So about a year ago, I knew things had to change.

Mainly because I was miserable. Well, that's strong, but I wasn't happy. I knew that if I could remove unnecessary layers of communication, this ridiculous game of "telephone" would end, and our team would spend less time in meetings (the shit that I left when I started my company that had started up again), more time producing, and that we'd cut through all the layers of bullshit and earn the trust of the real people writing the checks - the end client.

So my business meeting with Gary Vaynerchuk, one year ago, solidified what I already knew.

I needed to stop dwelling on the "what ifs" and I needed to systematically and appropriately end the Data Driven Design whitelabeling services.

I met individually with my main agency clients and told them all we'd need to phase out of our relationships. We helped them hire full timers to replace us, and we transitioned their teams, onboarded them to the client relationships, and set them up for success.

Since then, we've had nothing but success. Our mindset of providing value to emerging brands and small businesses directly as their agency has set us up not just from a digital marketing and web design and development standpoint to succeed for them, but also has helped us focus and grow a new custom software development team at Data Driven Design.

We're building and executing our own set of principles to go with the process, people (now 11 total), tools and execution (what really matters), and things are totally different than when we started a little over two years ago - especially my mindset.

Prior to a year ago I wasn't really thinking about building a team. I was thinking about taking all sorts of consulting services to agencies. The need was there, and still is there, to be honest - many don't know how to hire the right people, how to determine what services to specialize in, and the most important thing, how to provide value to the client and and excellent client experience by quite frankly shutting the fuck up about themselves and just getting the work done.

A year ago I was even leasing out office space inside one of our partner agencies. Great people, great space, but unnecessary overhead cost that our team wasn't utilizing.

Now, not only am I NOT commuting three hours from Spring Hill, TN to East Nashville, but I'm living in Valencia, Spain, don't even own a car, and am far more efficient than ever.

The team is still in Nashville, but we are fully distributed and remote, with one moving to Chattanooga, one in California for the foreseeable future, and another new hire based in Detroit potentially moving to Miami.

Location doesn't matter. It's old school mentality. Another thing that wouldn't be possible without the decision to stop whitelabeling.

So now my mindset is on building the most excellent team around. One that is elite. One that knows speed wins, and to always be in the shoes of the client.

The timing for this post is perfect in my mind, because a year ago I made a job offer to someone that I've always wanted to work with; someone who can help me achieve the sentence I wrote above. The timing was wrong then, but it is right now, and I'm excited to see where this thing continues to go.

I'll tell you that instead of whitelabeling our services to other agencies, we are now 100% focused on building the best digital strategies, content strategies, websites and custom software around.

What a difference a year makes.

We've even built Alexa Skills and Alexa Flash Briefings.

And this is just the beginning.

Thanks for reading, watching and listening, and have a great day!


Paul Hickey, Founder / CEO / Lead Strategist at Data Driven Design, LLC has created and grown businesses via digital strategy and internet marketing for more than 10 years. His sweet spot is using analytics to design and build websites and grow the audience and revenue of businesses via SEO/Blogging, Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Facebook and Instagram Ads, Social Media Content Marketing and Email Marketing. The part that he’s most passionate about is quantifying next marketing actions based on real data.

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