How this full-stack agency turns “one-off” prospects into ongoing retainer clients
Sooner or later, every agency owner must solve a persistent problem that has plagued businesses for centuries: How to generate consistent cash flow.
After all, steady cash flow helps agency owners cover expenses, invest in technology and hire talented people to help do the work. Moreover, it lets them play a longer game when it comes to marketing and client acquisition.
Most importantly, recurring revenue gives agency owners the extra oxygen and headspace they need to work “on” growing their business rather than just slaving away day after day working “in” their business.
InboundMill is an excellent example of a digital agency that has replaced the uncertainty that comes with gigs and “one-off” projects with a business model that generates predictable revenue they're using to grow faster in a highly-competitive market.
So the question is, how did Bobby Tsui, founder of InboundMill, solve the problem of sporadic cash flow; a problem most agency owners struggle with for years?
On the surface, the solution was simple: make clients pay a monthly retainer. Of course, a so-called “simple” solution can often take years of trial and error to implement successfully.
Fortunately, Bobby has figured out what works. These days, he and his team consistently turn prospects for what are typically “one-off” projects into long-term retainer clients that provide predictable recurring revenue for his agency.
InboundMill attracts profitable retainer clients by:
Taking a partnership approach
When prospects reach out to InboundMill for one-off projects like building a website, for example, Bobby immediately starts educating these prospects, who may have limited knowledge of digital marketing, about what it takes to successfully build their company’s online presence.
During this educational process, Bobby positions his agency as a strategic marketing partner that will stay with the client for the long term.
This partnership approach helps InboundMill differentiate what it does from freelancers, web designers and other agencies willing to take on short-term gigs or one-time custom projects.
Focusing on a clearly-defined vertical
Based in Los Angeles, InboundMill has been helping interior designers and remodelers capture awareness and convert attention into a point of sales engagement since 2013.
Bobby has successfully positioned himself and his agency as the go-to experts in digital marketing for this narrowly-defined vertical.
The decision to target a niche has had a powerful compounding effect. Instead of having to create marketing assets and content for multiple industries, Bobby's team focuses on creating top-notch content specifically-designed to help the type of companies they serve grow faster.
Speaking the customer’s language
Another advantage of catering to a single industry is being able to create marketing content and sales copy using industry-specific jargon.
Here are some examples of how InboundMill uses targeted messaging on its website that appeals to business owners within its chosen niche:
“For every client, we architect a custom blueprint that...”
“Need help explaining the custom home building process in a visual way?
“We know how important it is to have a website that helps you win more jobs and showcase your beautiful projects.”
“We offer beautiful website design to provide the frame that your projects need for showcasing.”
“Knowing which metrics to keep an eye on is different for every industry. Luckily, we speak contractor.”
Showing that they understand and can interact with clients in the language they use day-to-day in their businesses is a smart move. It also communicates that Bobby’s team understands the client’s unique goals and needs.
Leveraging social validation
By targeting remodelers and interior designers, InboundMill’s case studies and success stories feature people and companies in the same space. This, of course, immediately establishes more credibility and trust for the agency.
When prospects see other people in their industry who are succeeding with InboundMill’s help, the power of social proof kicks into overdrive.
Every new success story further validates that Bobby’s team is getting results for its clientele.
Adding more and more success stories has a compounding effect that’s very hard for the competition to duplicate. This is because authentic stories about real-life clients and the results they’re getting are unique to the partnership they’ve established with InboundMill.
Managing client expectations
Another smart thing Bobby is doing is he conditions new leads and existing clients to think of marketing as a long-term investment. Framing his services as an investment, not just another expense, helps business owners have more realistic expectations about what’s possible and how long it’s going to take to achieve significant results.
By managing client expectations from day one, InboundMill creates a longer time horizon in which to achieve ROI while helping clients cultivate profitable relationships with their customers, who are typically affluent homeowners.
A key element of building a successful agency and achieving solid returns on your clients’ marketing investment is having control over the day-to-day implementation of the campaigns you’re developing for their business.
For agencies like InboundMill, getting full buy-in from the client is essential. This is why Bobby tells prospects that their marketing partnership won’t require the client to do any of the work needed to procure qualified customers. In other words, the services are “done-for-you, end to end.”
To successfully manage and implement their clients’ marketing campaigns on an ongoing basis, Bobby’s team does the following:
- They build and manage the client’s website.
- They create high-quality content for the client.
- They launch and manage paid ad campaigns.
- They do local search engine optimization (SEO).
- They leverage social media, influencers and industry authorities to promote the client’s content and brand.
- They assign a dedicated account strategist who runs monthly reports and does quarterly reviews with the client to make sure everything is on track.
- They continually measure the performance (KPIs) of the client’s website and content to help prove ROI on the services the agency provides.
Proving return on investment
Every experienced consultant and agency owner knows that generating positive results and a clear ROI is an essential part of building recurring revenue and long-term client retention.
That’s why InboundMill’s marketing team leverages tools like Hubspot and ConvertFlow to create multi-step CTA flows that capture and nurture leads using email and on-site messages throughout the buyer’s journey.
Being able to sync email campaigns with CTAs appearing on the client’s website, helps Bobby’s team compress the buying cycle of homeowners looking to hire an interior design or remodeling company in their area.
So far, clients are pleased with the results InboundMill is getting them. Bobby cited this recent example; “Conversions for one of our clients have 7xed since installing a snippet of ConvertFlow code on their website.”
In addition to getting better conversions for their clients, the decision to use ConvertFlow has produced some unexpected benefits for the agency.
As Bobby puts it, “We've been contacted by prospective clients based on the shiny object CTAs they've seen on our clients' websites. This has brought more attention to our website development services as a core skill.”
Of course, attracting new web development clients translates into more revenue for InboundMill. “Retainer work is our core pricing model, but we also love offering productized conversion optimization services to give new clients an immediate smile.”
Stacking the odds in their favor
By establishing a strategic marketing partnership with its clients, InboundMill can virtually guarantee positive results. In essence, they stack the odds in the client’s favor (and in their own). After all, everyone has a vested interest in making the client’s business grow.
That’s why Bobby and his team not only make sure they’re attracting a stream of qualified leads to their client’s websites, they also help convert those leads into paying customers, many of whom become raving fans who refer more customers to their agency’s clients.
Now that's a win-win!
This story was written and published in collaboration with StoryOps