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Building an Inbound Agency: A Year in Review

A year ago, some of the folks at Nexxtep and I decided to take the plunge and go all-in with inbound marketing. I knew we couldn't become a great agency without a creative director, and thankfully Steven Carter happened to show up at just the right time. We formed Ascend and haven't looked back yet.

Mostly because we haven't had time to look back. Y'all...running an agency is hard work!

Reflecting on the year I am both proud of how far we have come and frustrated at what we have yet to accomplish. I wanted to share some highlights and lessons learned for everyone else out there who has been in our shoes or is starting something new.


  • Launched almost 20 websites, ranging from small informational sites to complex eCommerce stores. We're refining our website design process more and more every month, and each site is better than the last. In May we brought on John Fuller as our front-end developer, and he has helped our projects become much more efficient while offering a range of bells and whistles to our sites as well.
  • We became a HubSpot Silver partner halfway through the year, which proved to us that partnering with HubSpot was the right move. Businesses in our region needed something to manage all of their marketing activities in one place, and we're happy to provide a solution that brings results. Speaking of which,
  • We set out to help our clients grow traffic, leads and revenue, and we did. In almost every marketing retainer we took on this year, we helped our clients to increase all three. Here are a few of our favorite wins:
    • One client grew their email list by over 5,000 contacts in just two months
    • Another client increased year over year sales by 166%
    • Another client reduced their cost per lead by 60%

Lessons Learned

  • Spent too much time working "in" the business rather than "on" the business. We want our clients to be happy, and successful, and we put a lot of work and focus into meeting and exceeding expectations. Unfortunately, that meant that Ascend's own marketing and strategy was put on the backburner for most of the year. We attended HubSpot's Inbound Conference last month, and while we were there we met with our account team (the folks who help us sell and deliver inbound services). During our meeting, we realized that while we had achieved practically every goal we set out for ourselves in the first year, we hit a plateau after the third quarter. We never regrouped to set new goals and benchmarks. We returned with a renewed commitment to focus on Ascend.
  • Not every project or client is a good fit (and that's OK). When you're first starting out, you're hungry for new business. For us that meant we took on a few projects that we shouldn't have, and a few clients that weren't a good fit for our services. No one likes breaking up, but sometimes it's for the best. To save us from future heartache, we're extending our "get to know you" phase for new marketing retainers from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to ensure that a partnership with Ascend will be a good fit for both the client and us.
  • Inbound marketing is always evolving, and our retainers need to evolve too. We initially structured our retainers with a predefined list of deliverables (2 blog posts per week, 2 emails per month, etc.). In reality, there's not a magic formula that will work again and again, month after month. We eventually learned that a better approach to take is a "sprint" approach. We outline a 3-month action plan, implement, and then review to determine what worked and what didn't work. From there, we outline the next three months, and the process repeats itself.

I am thankful I finally have some time to look back on the year, but that doesn't mean we're slowing down. I'm excited for what's in store for Ascend, for our clients, and for our families.


Happy climbing in 2017!