What does it take to build a successful digital marketing agency from the ground up?
In this week’s episode, we are joined by Mickey Mellen, who is a veteran WP developer and co-founder of GreenMellen Media. We talk about choosing your niche, hiring, vetting clients, making sales easy, and much more.
This episode is a must-listen for anyone who dreams of going from freelancing to running a successful digital agency. Tune in to this week’s episode of the WP Elevation Podcast to learn how Mickey made it happen!
Mickey Mellen is the co-founder and technical director of GreenMellen Media, an Atlanta-based WordPress and digital marketing agency that has 6 employees and over 150 clients. GreenMellen began by offering web design services and has since grown into a one-stop-shop for all things digital marketing. In addition to website development with WordPress, Mickey’s company handles other strategy components for clients like branding, email marketing and SEM. Mickey is also an organizer of the Atlanta WordCamp conference and a local WordPress Meetup group.
Mickey Mellen has been developing with WordPress for over 14 years. He has worked with several platforms like Cafelog and Moveable Type before committing himself fully to WordPress. As a freelance web designer, he began by offering clients the option of custom-built sites or WordPress designs. Over time, he found WordPress to be a more reliable platform, whether he was using a custom design or ready-made template.
Mickey met his business partner Ali Green while they were both working on the Communications team for a large church in Atlanta. Ali was working as a graphic design intern, and eventually left to start her own company. Mickey and Ali contracted each other for their freelance projects until it made more sense to join together and create GreenMellen Media.
Mickey and Ali found their first clients through personal connections and referrals. As their clientele expanded, they began to slowly hire staff. Their hiring strategy is to first work with someone as a contractor until the workload builds to that of an employee. In Mickey’s experience, some contractors prefer to continue working as freelancers to maintain their independence. However, others want to become employees in order to focus solely on their technical craft while someone else manages business operations.
“We want to hire the best people with the best character.”
Before hiring new staff, Mickey takes a step back to “look from above” and decide what role needs to be filled. This is much more effective than hiring with the mindset that “we are super busy and need another body.” He takes a “hire character and coach skill” approach to find people that are aligned with the company culture.
Mickey found that his area needed more WordPress Meetups, so he started his own. For Mickey, Meetups have several benefits. They get people out of the office and away from their computers to network with people who can become valuable partners. Meetups are also a great opportunity for ongoing education. Mickey says he always learns something new, even when the topic is one he knows well or he is the one leading the Meetup.
Mickey finds clients that are a good fit by seeking out specific qualities in a company rather than focusing on a niche industry. He looks for companies who have heart, are connected to the community, and are doing the right thing. He also makes sure that potential clients have a designated marketing person they can work with. A two-person company won’t have time to collaborate with Mickey and his team. The clients they match with tend to have 10-50 employees. Working in several industries keeps things interesting and ensures GreenMellen Media is only working with clients they can truly provide value for.
Mickey has found it helpful to hire someone to manage and maintain clients. The company also uses Help Scout to respond quickly to customer support inquiries. They have an average response time of 46 minutes and are proud to share that metric when pitching clients. Help Scout also allows them to track how often tickets are submitted. Then the company can invoice clients if they have exceeded their customer support quota.
When working with clients, Mickey is upfront in early discovery meetings about retainer fees. Clients are given several options for ongoing maintenance and support after their platform has been created. Mickey finds that many clients think they will be able to create their own content. However, once they get going they need help. Mickey has a copywriter on staff to create content for clients and the agency.
Mickey acknowledges that there are accessibility concerns with the new Gutenberg. His Meetup had an accessibility presenter join them recently to grow their knowledge in this area. However, Mickey thinks many of the concerns about Gutenberg have been overblown. His agency will teach clients how to edit with the new tool. He thinks that any issues will come from lack of user knowledge rather than sites “blowing up.”
Mickey’s motivation to begin documenting company procedures came from a WordCamp conference. Mickey’s team uses Google Docs and TeamWork to create templates, document processes, and assign tasks to team members.
If Mickey could go back and tell his younger self anything, he would advise him to study more business in school. When Mickey became a business owner, he just started doing what needed to be done and learning as he went.
One area of business strategy that Mickey and his company are still challenged by is the ever-present question of where their next client will come from. GreenMellen Media has been getting more recurring revenue. However, for years the agency lived from one website to the next, and they are still doing that to some degree.
Gold Nugget Takeaway – Make Sales Easy
Don’t miss Mickey’s straightforward strategy for making sales easy at 27:30!
What’s Next for GreenMellen Media? Mickey and his co-founder Ali are still working on project management with the goal of getting “out of the weeds” to truly be business owners. This will take one or two more hires in the next year. Mickey and Ali hope this will free them up for business development and spending more time with family.