One idea that is often debated is how to focus your company in the right direction. I am a firm believer in creating a niched company. It aligns people, processes, and products to one audience. I have helped many companies grow fast with this one strategy. Today’s guest is Tim Brown, Founder and CEO at Hook Agency. Hook Agency create compelling websites for people and drive traffic through Search Engine Optimization)and conversion through Conversion Rate Optimization. Tim was a client of mine that embraced the idea of a niched company. It took a while to transition to a niched company, but the success he has had of late is impressive. We look at strategies that he used to get there.
Don't miss an episode. Subscribe to Growth Think Tank.
Tim Brown: The Transcript
About: Tim Brown is the CEO of Hook Agency, an SEO & Web Design firm that’s gone from 1 person to 17 in 5 years. Championing small businesses and helping them drive more traffic and leads – has led him to growing his team and learning to lead to be more useful. Content strategy, Persuasive web design, and actionable, pragmatic small business marketing are his biggest areas of expertise.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Tim Brown: Choosing a niche. You know, we had gone through a workshop when you and I were working together. We were kind of identifying who this was the most useful to who, you know, ultimately you were saying your processes, your marketing, your sales, everything gets smoother when you niche and sell me going into that. At that time, I was very tentative and I was scared really. And I had to be honest, I’d ranked on Google. I’ve ranked on Google for the Minneapolis web design and Minneapolis SEL. Little Tim B design that I was at the time. And I was at, I was attached to this success that I had had currently and my three-person company and whatever, 300, 400 K in revenue or something, you know, and I had been, I’d been attached and I think ultimately over those couple of years, it was a matter of fusing those things out and really just looking at like being honest. But some of the things that you’d kind of questioned me on around. Who is this the most useful to? Who are you really the best suited for? And I think it just took a long time for me to get fully niched.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moment of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: Looking at your company? Are you ready for growth? Are you ready to really focus on the right customers and create the right kind of business across all your processes, your people, and have alignment? Today, we talk about leading the journey to a niche company. When you think about a niche company, do you kind of get a little bit resistance and maybe even a little bit scared because you’re turning down work well, I’ve done. Actually hundreds of conversations with companies around, how do you find your niche and what you’re doing? I don’t do these as much anymore, but I had to share this story with you because Tim at a Hook Agency, he really understands what it means to serve his clients and understands marketing. But now he’s a niche agency. We talked today with Tim Brown about his journey of leading the niche agency and really will help you understand how do you go through the resistance and what did the benefits on the other side of any initiative you have, but this whole idea of being a niche company will help you create more alignment with your people, better, more efficient processes, more impact, and even more profitability.
All of those things we unpack in this episode with Tim, if you are thinking about what your next step is as a leader, to make sure you check out some of the free resources we have at GeneHammett.com. That’s my brand. I’m here to help you be the best leader that you can be. If you are thinking about what it takes to be a great leader, what it takes to really create a space for your people to perform at their best. Then I would hope you do that. There’s a lot of free content. If you want to have a conversation with me, just go to GeneHammett.com and you can book a call right there. Just go to start your journey. Now here’s the interview with Tim,
Tim, how are you?
Tim Brown: Hey good. How are you doing?
Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on the Growth Think Tank podcast.
Tim Brown: Absolutely. I’m just happy to be here.
Gene Hammett: Well, we go way back. Let’s go ahead and be honest. I, you saw me give a speech. What was it about four or five years ago in Minnesota?
Tim Brown: Yes, sir. Four. I think it was yeah, four years ago.
Gene Hammett: What did I talk about in that speech?
Tim Brown: I actually don’t recall. I know that you talking about the business development of some type, and I know I was at the search conference, so men search.
Gene Hammett: It was maybe we should’ve had that planned ahead of time, but yeah. Where in real-time having a conversation, this might be a little bit different than what we’re using. On the show, but Tim has had an incredible journey over the last four or five years. , we worked together for about six months. Does that have that memory, right?
Tim Brown: yes. I remember there was a lot discovered in that time and, I got a ton out of it that I still use to this day, but I don’t recall how long.
Gene Hammett: So I think it was about six months, maybe it gone a little bit longer, but since then you’ve taken that foundation work that we did, you know, to, to really identify your company and, and put you on the right path. And you have now gotten close to 2 million about 17 employees, and you’ve found what we like to call the niched. When you think about the journey, you know, we’ll get into the steps of this, but you know, what did you really learn in the last four or five years?
Tim Brown: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things, I mean, there’s been a number of things, right. But there’s, profit has been a very difficult thing for me to nail down. That’s one thing that I struggle with, like, I guess being a very pro, but I think COVID hit us and hit us hard and we had just gotten into a big office. , but as far as getting into the niche, we want to like our work. We don’t just wanna make money, to be honest, like my wife and I are running this business together, and it’s almost crucial that you’re enjoying it. Otherwise, it bleeds into the rest of your relationship in, so choosing a niche, you know, we had gone through a workshop. You and I were working together, we were kind of identifying who this was the most useful to who, you know, ultimately you were saying your processes, your marketing, your sales, everything gets smoother when you niche. And some going into that at that time, I was very tentative and I was scared really. And I had to be honest, I had ranked on Google I’ve ranked on Google for the Minneapolis web design and Minneapolis SEO as little Tim B designed that I was at the time. And I was at, I was attached to the success that I had had currently and my three-person company and whatever, 300, 400 K in revenue or something, you know, and I had been, I’d been attached and I think ultimately over those couple of years, it was a matter of teasing those things out.
And really just looking at like, being honest with some of the things that you had kind of questioned me on around who is this the most useful to? Who are you really the best suited for? And I think it just took a long time for me to fully niched and at a certain point. At the beginning of this year, my wife just we’re on a walk up by the Mississippi River and it’s beautiful, but we’re frustrated. There are certain things going on in our business that were difficult, that were more difficult than they needed to be really. And she just said, Nope, we are doing this. We are going all the way where we’re going to not take any clients outside of this. And I pushed the date out a little bit. I said, July 1 then. Okay. And then she said, okay. And I was like, happy that we got to push it out because I’m scared of loss of revenue. To be real with you. I’m scared of loss of revenue, but as we’ve kind of gotten up to this day, we’ve made the announcement. We’re not taking any more clients outside of construction. And we it’s been a big moment for us. And honestly, deals have been closing easier and you just start to see there’s a lot of things. Right with a niche, but one of them is topical relevance on your website for SEO. Like the fact that you have just, we have a ton of content. So we have hundreds of blog posts about construction and contractors, and that has brought in leads over time that has enabled us to fully take the step as well. And it’s just been a, it’s been a scary, but every, you know, it’s basically the most calculated risk I’ve taken. I think in my business, I appreciate you kind of giving that, that initial push. And now we’re finally jumping off the cliff, but it’s, it feels, honestly, it feels very smart at this point and it feels like it’s just a wise decision for us. So we’re going to be able to connect with people so much better now. That we know who we’re talking to on every single little piece of marketing we’re doing every single piece of sales, every process that we make.
Gene Hammett: Well, I’m going to help you unpack a little bit of this and that journey. I know that you know, I have a good memory for these things. Cause I just, this is what I’m paid to do is ask questions and really relate my, my clients and reflect that back. But construction was one of the first things that you actually market you actually really liked to do. You were getting success in it. , specifically roofing companies. And I remember over the last couple of years. Maybe watching you put out videos where you’re actually getting on the roof, understanding the process of your roofers, seeing video, and they understand that you understand them. That is a big part of why you’re successful and where you are today. So thanks for being here, Tim, to talk about this. The resistance that you got. I know you said that your wife was like gung-ho and mainly because she’s so efficient at this, she’s kind of your COO. If that’s,
Tim Brown: Yes she is. she’s not romantic about this. She’s not like me because I am a designer. And I was like, well, we’re not going to be able to work on other kinds of, we’re not going to be able to do medical device websites. No, and we weren’t that good at them, to be honest, we weren’t, we weren’t the best in class at them because we don’t have that much context on that industry.
Gene Hammett: Are you moving to, or already at best in class for the construction?
Tim Brown: Yeah, I’d say, I would say. I don’t know of a better one. Well, maybe I know of a couple of other really good ones. So I would say it’s an aspirational thing, but it’s a reasonable aspiration to be the best SEO company for roofers. And I think more broadly the best SEO company for contractors. I think these are like real goal. Like, like we could, we could do this in the next five years versus like, you know, trying to be the best small business SEO company ever, or the best, whatever, you know, I think having real kind of aspiring but type goals. I think that’s huge.
Gene Hammett: Well, it probably does a lot for you, but it does a lot for your team as well. So as you have grown, you have had to bring on people. You’ve had to figure out the right mix of this. And you had some resistance to this, the strategy of focusing when you did this, tell us a little bit about that resistance that you encounter.
Tim Brown: I think it’s always a little bit of romanticism. Like I’ve got designers and writers mostly very, you know, we’ve got creative people that are really focused on the work and kind of the nuances around the work and a designer making the same construction or roofing website over time. I’ve had. I’ve lost designers because of that. And I think that they get a little bit more, but the funny thing is on the other side, when it’s really complex, they get burnt out too. So I think ultimately it could be as long as like, we’re honest with them on the way in, Hey, we have somewhat repetitive of stuff. You have to find a way to make this creative nonetheless. You have to kind of come to terms with that, are you sure you’re going to be able, sometimes I start interviews that way you want to make the sale. You want to make construction websites over and over again. Like I started that way, like what makes you want to do this? Cause this is its own challenge. And same with writers. Like, are you willing to do this? Are you willing to like, I think a big question, kind of the overarching. Do you respect the trades? Are we working? Are you going to work with these people and treat them with decency? And like, honestly, I think they’re cool as hell. I think like contractors or some of them, like, I love their vibe. I think that they, they make more money than I do. Like they’re, they’re ballers. And I think it’s funny because you have some people that don’t respect that. And a lot of marketing agencies don’t respect that. And I, I love that we go in with a different tone, which is like, you guys are badass, we’re just here to serve you and where your marketing nerds, you know, that’s, that’s the vibe that I like to approach you with it.
I think you just got to kind of prep creative people for that and make sure that they have the right constitution that respects other lifestyles cause contracts, you know, construction is a different lifestyle and people are awesome. Yeah, it was a little different kind of vibe gone. They got there, a little rough sometimes there. Yeah. That’s probably an overarching generalization, but you know, it’s just a little bit more, no holds barred. Don’t pull punches kind of, individuals. So I think just being ready for that and, and kind of prepping people to, to know that they’re going to have to find new ways to be creative around the processes, not just around the making a pretty website things. So I think that those are the things that we kind of had to prep people for this. Are you ready for this?
Gene Hammett: So we’ve been talking about the people that were a little bit resistant. There was, I know we had a lot of conversations about this before we got started, but you know, you had resistance and you had to find people that were willing to accept. This is your market. This is what they would be. And you’re probably better because of it, because those people that need that creativity to work on a lot of variety, they can go someplace that are better fit for them. And now you have people that are willing to find creative creativity and joy inside the market that you’re in.
Tim Brown: I also want, and we had people literally leave, I think, partly because, so in that, in that niching process being okay with a little bit of employee attrition, I mean, it really it’s real, but at the same time, It’s the right thing, you know, it’s the right thing. And you can’t let a couple of stray employees that don’t get it, define where you have to kind of point to their eyes and, and, and drive forward nonetheless.
Gene Hammett: As you’ve grown, has it been higher, easier to hire people that do love the niche and do love the fact that you guys have this dialed in because you actually are much more. About the company you are and where you’re going than most marketing companies.
Tim Brown: Yeah. I think that we’re starting to see that I certainly see a number. Like I see people come to us and say, I’m in your tribe and I want to be here. And I, you know, not every single one of those I can hire, but it is. I see a little bit more of that. Like people coming around and applying to like five positions and then, you know, knocking on my LinkedIn and saying, Hey, I like sending videos and stuff like that. I certainly think it’s super it’s way easier to get employees. Now I will say then when I was just starting, but I also think like that’s the, we have a nicer office and I’ve made it a pretty big important part of our culture. I mean, I’m trying to make a cooler place to work, you know, I’m trying to make a fun place to work. And, everything around there, like all of the Mar the messages up on the walls, the, we have a ton of swag with like big vision stuff, like champion the underdog and support the trades and all these different things that our people can wear. That’s kind of the kind of vibe it’s, it’s a good vibe and it’s like it’s mission-oriented.
So I think the office, the mission-oriented niche, I’ll play it again. And I do think for me, it’s been a big thing this last two years to just once my first employee left, I, I had like a soul searching. I’m a sensitive guy. When I added an employee left, I thought I was the end of the world. I’ve had several leave now. So I’m getting I’m, I’m growing up. But at the time I like made it a big deal. Like I, we need a we and our core values. We need our mission statement. We need everything. I desperately needed some things to give me some purpose in this company, some purpose. And I do believe we’re getting closer all the time and at the same time fill business. So it’s an interesting thing that we all go through.
Gene Hammett: I wish I already had my book because I could give you the game plan that would help you through all the little fine Dell elements of mission and vision and values. That creates the kind of company you’re talking about, but I want to stay on this next niche conversation for a few more minutes, just briefly your processes or more dialed in when you work with the same kind of clients over and over, you’re able to improve the efficiency and even the impact that you’re making. Tell us a little bit about how that works?
Tim Brown: Yeah, I think the first part is just every single client that comes in and particularly in roofing, but more broadly in any kind of contract in, construction-oriented. We’ve got a lot of remodelers plumbers. Patricians different things like that. We’re automatically shaving that initial kind of discovery of the industry off of the, of the, you know, the time it takes for our writers, our SCS, our creatives to kind of just familiarize themselves with what the point is, any kind of home service. First of all, it’s about lead. So we know what the objective is. We likely done some work like this in the past now context. I think the biggest thing, and my wife and I talk about it all the time is context is so big. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or even like, cause a lot of times like I’ve thought of myself as the brilliant founder, you know what I mean? Like I’m the smart guy that kind of had the brain that I was really just the guy who and nuts to risk it. I was risking it. You can believe that out, man. You can, you can believe this whole thing up. But the point is, is I had the goal to the audacity to say that I was going to do this. But what I realized is like a lot of times I’ll try to bust into the conversation.
And she’ll be like, well, like even if somebody wants me to be part of a conversation, like the creative guy, it’s not, not that great. Cause I literally need, I don’t have the context. I don’t have the context for that. And I think that that’s what a lot of marketing agencies are basically doing, which is uncomfortable. They’re trying to bust into a new industry all the time, busting into this industry, busting into that industry without context. And they’re trying to give advice. , which is ridiculous. And we’re trying to give a, marketing, you know, like the first thing I see, just a real quick thing is like to give marketing advice to a, a roofer. They would all go and do the exact same thing that all the other roofers are doing, but they wouldn’t know that they’re already doing that. So it’s like, knowing what other people are already doing so you can kind of come up with something fresh. And I think having context on the industry is probably the biggest one that affects our processes.
We just already know what other people are doing and know what’s already been done. So you can kind of break the rules and move in new directions.
Gene Hammett: Well, I love that detail that you added there. , let’s wrap this up with one piece to this profitability. So when you are able to get the right people aligned, when you are able to create more efficient processes, You would think that profitability increases. And I know that was one of the goals that you wanted to work on for the company, and maybe you’re not where you want to be exactly. But tell us a little bit about profitability changes over the broad approach to where you are today.
Tim Brown: Yeah, I’d say it’s, I can see where it’s going, you know, whatever, however, It’s profitable now, but I think we just, it’s hard to parse out from the COVID this distraction that we had in construction did all right. During COVID. So it wasn’t like a massive hit, but it just slowed everyone down and made everyone go. Like, I don’t know if we’re willing, you know, just apprehension basically. We’re definitely headed in the right direction at this point. And we’re starting to, we certainly see her client that just the profitability, the efficiency, everything goes up and we’re kind of cracking that door now to profitability and in a way that’s very exciting. And a way that kind of like gets the team makes, you know, we were very transparent about all this stuff. So it kind of gets the team excited because we’re planning on doing some profit-sharing next year. And, you know, if, if some of those people that left because of niching, , would’ve stayed, they would have been part of all that. , and, and been able to see the rewards of, of what it’s like. I think ultimately when you commit to something, I think everything in life is better when you commit to something hard.
Then marriage is an example. I think, niching is a great example. I think anytime you really commit. I do think there’s magic in it. There’s a quote. That’s something like that where the universe responds with kind of an equal force and comes to meet you in the middle. And things will come together around not to get all business philosophical or whatever, but it seems like the universe comes to help. And it’s true in a niching way. In particular, because industry comes to help. They start to claim you and say, this is our guy. So don’t mess with them. And I do see that already. I see the construction industry, people starting to kind of claim us and feel excited for us to be part of it. And it does help that they’re a little bit of underserved and they’re probably excited to see somebody modern and kind of like with it that that’s excited to commit to them.
Gene Hammett: I can tell you from a business owner myself for many years, Wasted a lot of money on marketing. It feels incredible. When you work with someone who understands you and your business, you don’t have to educate them every time you don’t have to, you know, pull them along. You guys are coming in with these fresh, innovative ideas. You know, what’s worked. That really is a benefit, to being the company that you are today with Hook Agency. So, Tim, I really appreciate you sharing your journey here on the show.
Tim Brown: Awesome. Appreciate you having me, sir.
Gene Hammett: I want to ask you one final, final question. I have no idea. I say here, but we work together. I was your coach for, you know, six months or so you may not know the details, but do you remember the biggest level of impact I had on, on you and the business?
Tim Brown: Yes. The specific thing that I still think of that kind of echoes in my brain always today is I was very much, I am still very excited and motivated by marketing. And I needed to move a little bit more towards sales and I had maybe 30 or 40% of my time. Spend on both of those as I was starting to get a couple of people into the business, probably I’d say 30. I think it was more about like 20% marketing and 10% sales. And you kept on the kind of hammering on this idea that I needed to move it up to 15% or 20% sales and 10 to 15% on marketing. And I still, I don’t remember the exact numbers there, but I just remember, I always had to push it in that way because it’s a little bit unnatural for me. And so I still have that kind of resonating in my head too, to this day about making sure it’s a little bit more equal or I’m just making sure to prioritize stuff. That’s actually one-to-one and a big one for me is also like referral partnership. So that’s been a huge deal for me as well. So just moving up that the allocation of time and energy within the company as well, because that, as that scaled, that’s been a very good thing to, to make sure that there’s always as much or more effort going to sales, not just fluff the marketing stuff. And I say that with all due respect. Cause I love marketing.
Gene Hammett: Would you say that I challenged you appropriately to be who you are today?
Tim Brown: Oh, very, yes, very much challenged me in. And a lot of what I needed to do and has helped me get where we are now.
Gene Hammett: Tim, I really appreciate you being here. Hook Agency is definitely something I’m proud of being a part of, even though it was a short period of time, I’m glad we made an impact. And then even though it took you longer than I hope you have the kind of company, and I think you’re on the path to be one of the companies that can be on the Inc 5,000 very soon.
Tim Brown: Oh yeah.
Gene Hammett: Really excited about you being able to continue telling that story and make an impact across the market and building out the team that we have.
Tim Brown: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Gene Hammett: Which had a great interview with Tim. I really appreciate him bringing in that level of energy and passion to today’s conversation, to be honest with you, I don’t get as much passion as I’ve liked from the guests we have on the show, but Tim loves what he’s doing. I love being able to share some of the steps that he went through to become the company and the leader that he is today. Now he’s always evolving. I can see from the clarity, he has been a lot of the conversations that we talked about years ago are really playing through now in a big way. And Tim is really an incredible leader that I’m proud to be a part of.
And it really is something I wanted to share with you on this show. If you’re listening in here. You’re kind of curious about what I could do for your company. What’s your game plan. Then let’s get on a call. I’d love to help you figure out how to grow. Tim’s a little bit smaller than what I normally have done lately because most of my clients were probably 4 million-plus some of my clients are 10 million, 20 million, but if you have a business and you really are interested in growing, I will help you figure out what’s getting in your way and we’ll help you figure out exactly what you can do next so that you become the leader that your team deserves. Your company continues to grow with predictable success.
If you’re curious about that, just go to GeneHammett.com, go start your journey. And I’d love to book a call with you just to get to know you and give you that game plan for absolutely free.
When you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. Will see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
A QUICK FAVOR
And lastly, please leave a rating and review for the Growth Think Tank on iTunes (or Stitcher) – it will help us in many ways, but it also inspires us to keep doing what we are doing here. Thank you in advance!
If you want more from us check out more interviews: