How I Started A $700K/Month Marketing Agency
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Chris Ciunci and I’m the Founder and Managing Partner of TribalVision. We are an outsourced marketing department for hire, dedicated to helping organizations grow. We do this by first crafting an overall marketing strategy tailored to the client’s specific needs. From there, we execute that strategy tactically, acting as our clients’ marketing team and keeping their best marketing interests in mind. Digital marketing tactics that we implement include; Google Ads, SEO, retargeting, social media marketing, email marketing, account-based marketing, and more.
Since 2010, we’ve served a variety of industries, including manufacturers, professional service firms, non-profits, startups, and a myriad of B2C organizations. Our Google reviews speak to the caliber of work we provide and reflect our rapid growth trajectory over the past decade. We’ve been listed as an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company on multiple occasions and are also frequently recognized as the Best Place to Work in the Boston and Rhode Island markets.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Along with my partner Damien Cabral, I led the marketing efforts of a well-known Federal Savings Bank in Rhode Island. As the CMO, I was responsible for managing a multi-million dollar budget and was constantly approached by creative agencies who were trying to get their piece of it by selling me a variety of expensive creative that was, from our perspective, unnecessary. From an ROI perspective, the often recommended investments that were difficult to measure, which doesn’t align with an environment like finance where data determines the majority of business decisions. My experience with this substantial disconnect--what the average marketing agency wants to sell organizations, versus what those organizations actually need, fueled my desire to start a different type of marketing firm. From TribalVision’s start, we’ve strived to align our business with our clients’ objectives, placing a heavy focus on lead generation.
The leaders that form on your team are going to shape your internal culture which will ultimately decide how successful your business is.
Since I wanted to keep TribalVision’s focus on your client’s needs, I refrained from pursuing or accepting outside funding. Instead, I funded TribalVision’s launch with the little money I had saved up for this sort of effort. With a 12-month runway and very little else, I began working out of a local Borders bookstore and signed my first client for $2K/month soon thereafter. In the early days, while I was functioning as a one-man shop, I would meet with Damien on a monthly basis to continue to flesh out the business and finetune the model. Once TribalVision grew to a place where he and I felt that the business could support 2 employees, he joined TribalVision in an official capacity. Fast forward to four years later the organization had a healthy roster of thirty-five clients with twenty-five employees, spread over four offices and three countries. Today, those numbers have continued to grow. We now serve over eighty clients and employ seventy-five full-time marketing specialists.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Having seen the approach many agency models take, specifically recommending costly creative to feed their team of on-staff designers, recommending unnecessary media buys that the agency takes a piece of, we knew we wanted to do something different. Our goal was to create a model where we had the flexibility to recommend the tactics and marketing approach that fit our clients’ needs. With that in mind, we developed the retainer-based approach TribalVision is known for today, where clients simply pay for our time. Since we don’t have creative on staff (web developers, graphic designers, etc.) we developed an extensive partner network of freelancers who we’ll bring into the fold of their need on a specific project. We pass that cost off to the client, without a markup, with the TribalVision team project managing the entire process. Figuring out this aspect of our business was a key way we are able to compete with the big agencies while providing creative work to our clients.
In the beginning, when we brought on a new client we would develop a robust marketing strategy, designed and customized for their specific needs. From there we would move toward implementation. Over the years as we’ve grown in size and agility we’ve been able to offer a variety of different approaches to launching client engagements that work for businesses with marketing efforts in different places. For example, some businesses need an audit and recommended optimizations but have a marketing strategy in place. Today we have a place for those types of clients. The same goes for organizations that need a specific marketing component addressed but nothing else, like a website or a trade show promotion campaign. We have a place for those clients too.
Describe the process of launching the business.
TribalVision was started on a shoe-string budget, fully funded by my own personal savings. I invested $50,000 to build out TribalVision and had a 1-year runway. At the start, it was me and my partner, Damien. With the initial investment, we developed the necessary business assets (website, logo, etc.) and I published a book, Marketing in the Trenches, which served as a blueprint for TribalVision’s approach to marketing.
At first, we took any client, but that evolved into focusing on manufacturers, and we expanded from there. Our initial launch was pretty quiet, our early wins really grew out of old fashioned pounding the pavement and driving the kinds of results that retain clients, whether that was filling sales funnels, improving return on advertising spend, or otherwise. Now, seven years later, TribalVision has grown into well-respected marketing thought leader in the New England business community.
This is quite an accomplishment given that I did not come from the agency side of the business and didn't have a Rolodex of clients to lean on. TribalVision was built on an idea and my work-ethic. I was and remain passionate about building our firm into an industry leader that helps business owners drive marketing results that can be felt throughout their businesses. Whether that’s filling their sales pipeline or equipping their team with sales assets they are proud to share with potential customers.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Traditional marketing firms operate largely on commissions, production costs, and markups. This arrangement is often counterproductive for clients, given the fact that the marketing firm’s revenue is directly tied to the size of media campaigns and production. The larger the campaign or project, the more revenue the marketing or ad firm makes.
For this reason, often the main objective of many firms has been to strategically push their clients to implement bigger marketing budgets, in order to drive their own self-interests. This business model fails to truly put the interests of the client first. At TribalVision, since our clients only pay for our time, it’s on us to drive results or otherwise the clients walk away. So we always have a carrot in front of us and our clients truly appreciate the level of investment we bring to the table with every decision that makes that impact their business and our relationship.
Don't expect results overnight. You don’t just wake up one day and have 7 figure revenue.
Another piece of our business that I feel separates us from many of our direct competitors, is that we practice what we preach. By that, I mean that many of the same marketing tactics that we recommend to clients were first developed, tested, and optimized for our own internal marketing efforts. For example, before we ever ran an Account-Based Marketing campaign for a client, we’d run several for our own lead generation efforts. Today, we continue to test new marketing tactics and approaches internally to generate new business. We are constantly striving to keep our marketing efforts on the cutting edge.
Our proactive internal marketing approach has generated the majority of our clients over the years. That and our involvement with other outside organizations, manufacturing consortiums for example, where we provide marketing training and other resources to businesses looking to get started marketing. Sometimes those engagements translate into new clients. I also never pass on a speaking opportunity that puts the TribalVision name out there. You never know who is in your audience and since every business has marketing needs, we try to leave no stone unturned.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
In the last 4 years, TribalVision has experienced tremendous growth. We have nearly doubled our staff during that time, growing to be one of the top marketing agencies in Rhode Island and a significant player in the Boston market, which I only dreamed of when I founded the company.
Today, as we continue to grow, we are working to identify ways to innovate on our business model in order to drive results to more and more businesses looking for a fresh approach to marketing.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Since TribalVision’s primary focus is to align itself with the goals and objectives of our clients, a key component that is essential to success is our ability to foster and apply leadership skills. This element is important, not only from an internal point of view, related to aspects that pertain to our team members but also from an external point of view, in terms of our interactions with clients. Our dedication, drive, focus, and expertise need to be properly channeled to the companies that our firm designs and implements marketing strategies. If we were less than optimally proficient in terms of our leadership abilities and skills, the end product, which ultimately is the reason why small to midsize organizations come to us, would not fully represent our values, or at least it wouldn’t be up to our standards.
At TribalVision we are keenly aware of the importance of leadership and we have worked to define and live by several principles that not only guide us as we conduct business, but also provide a framework that reinforces our internal structure.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As a full-service outsourced marketing firm, it’s imperative that we stay on top of the latest tools and technology available -- both for our clients’ sake and our own.
Many of these tools/platforms include CRMs such as Pipedrive and Google Streak; Email marketing automation tools such as Active Campaign, HubSpot, PersistIQ, Apollo, Sendgrid, and iContact; Drift conversational marketing chatbox, Visual Visitor lead tracking, Vidyard video platform for creating personalized videos for our clients and prospects, OpenReel for video content, and several more. With regards to the marketing platforms that we leverage for our clients - in addition to all of the above - we also utilize Facebook Ads Manager, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, and of course, Google Ads.
When it comes to freelancing, we have built a stable of freelancers from all over the world, from California to Boston to South Korea to Portugal. With over 100 freelance partners in our network, we’re allowed to “pick from the pile” when choosing what is best for our clients, and simply pass the costs along without any sort of upcharge. This enables our clients to have access to the right talent for their objectives at an efficient price-point.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are several books and podcasts that are popular among the team; however, for myself, I found the book Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Taylor to be extremely influential when building TribalVision.
I should also include that writing two books of my own, Market Smarter and Marketing in the Trenches, were helpful in my path to building TribalVision to what it is today. These two self-published books not only helped me develop my status as a thought-leader but allowed me to prove my clients and prospects with something useful that they could implement on their own - with or without TribalVision. They also helped distinguish TribalVision from other firms in the area given they explain the rationale behind our outsourced model, which tends to make sense to most -- especially those who have been burned by the jaded model of yesterday.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don't expect results overnight. Remember you have to innovate on your initial business concept. I think this is what trips a lot of people up. But it’s true, you don’t just wake up one day and have 7 figure revenue. You have to reiterate your hypothesis and figure out what works.
Also important is to always be present and engaged with your team. The leaders that form on your team are going to shape your internal culture which will ultimately decide how successful your business is. Impart what you can in terms of your vision and let them run with it. Trust that your internal leaders care the same as you.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking for new talent at TribalVision. Anyone who is interested in marketing and client-service is ready to work hard, and values doing the right thing - both in and outside the office - are strongly encouraged to apply.
Where can we go to learn more?
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