Robert Craven interviews Andy Lambert - ContentCalSep 01, 2020
VIDEO: 55:15 mins
AUTHOR: Robert Craven and Andy Lambert
In this GYDA Talks, Robert talks to Andy Lambert of ContentCal. Andy is one of the founding team and director of growth at ContentCal. From starting out as an agency and then launching their software product in 2017, ContentCal is now used by over 40,000 businesses in over 140 countries.
Robert and Andy discuss:
- The journey to 2020
- Managing content in a crisis
- What does 'good look like?
- Authenticity with your audience
- Biggest challenge to doing good content marketing
- 6-step proven formula that took ContentCal to 40,000 users in 3 years
- The challenge of deliberately funding your growth from Day 1. The challenges that creates.
- Andy’s top tips for other agency owners
Robert Craven 00:41
Hello, and welcome to the GYDA Talks. And today I'm absolutely delighted to have as my guest the legend in his own lifetime, which is Andy Lambert from ContentCal. And it's great to have him here because so many of us have heard of him. So many of us use the product. So many wonder about using the product, and he's one of the guys who go to a conference. So hello. It's actually great to have you here.
Andy Lambert 01:10
Yeah, absolute pleasure. Thanks for the lovely intro, Rob.
Robert Craven 01:15
Just briefly, you and your words, describe what it is that you're doing and what you're doing at the business.
Andy Lambert 01:20
So I'm director of growth and one of the founding members of ContentCal, which is a content marketing software product.
Robert Craven 01:27
Cool. And we're in 2020 now, where I'm gonna say post COVID. I don't think we are but we're kind of at the end of July going into August. What's the short synopsis of how you've got to 2020?
Andy Lambert 01:44
Yet, so let's do it in four sentences over the last four years. So point 1, 2016 founded by a guy called Alex Paconne. He created us as a social media agency, and then came up with an idea for a software product, which ended up being called ContentCal wasn't then. But ultimately, him as an agency trying to build this trying to deal with numerous clients' productivity nightmare, lots of backwards and forwards around content plans didn't work. So went off and wanted to build a bit of software. Part two of the story is where I come into the fold. So Alex recruited me and one other to build the business. We have a bit of software background, created the business from scratch, we were still an agency at that point, but kind of kept the software as a little kind of side project. But with a team focused on it, raised some investment, 2018 was spent battling between are we an agency? Are we a software company? Are we both which gets more focus? That was a huge challenge. And then skip forward into 2020. We've now raised a series we now have venture capitalists on board raised close enough to 7 million and now used by 40,000 businesses in 140 countries.
Robert Craven 03:10
Why do you think the secret sauce about the product is that 40,000 people use it?
Andy Lambert 03:15
The secret sauce. The best thing I think we ever did in the early days was for every single customer we brought on whether that was regardless of how much they paid, even if they're using it for free. We asked them to write about this. They had a great experience. Write about it. If you got a blog, write about us. Here's our review sites. Go leave us a review. That leaves a digital footprint that serves you so well into the future, that you are speaking to a massive business yesterday. I was like how did you find us? They were like, well, I just Googled the best content calendar. You came up first. Then I read a review that said you are great. So I bought, I'm like, there you go. That was the strategy.
Robert Craven 03:58
And what do you think are those 40,000 or 35,000, I don't know, let's say 40 to one of those 40,000 people who love what you do? Because they don't have to go to you. They can go somewhere cheaper, you know.
Andy Lambert 04:13
Yeah, I mean, to be fair, there's 1000 other competitors to what we do. So not everyone loves us as much as I make I guess. Not everyone does, right. But I think the main bit of feedback is like we were just super intuitive. The key difference is Alex myself. When we're not software developers, we're content marketers. So when we look at software, we look at it through the lens of someone that is a practitioner of what they do, and we're selling to practitioners. So ultimately, the biggest bit of feedback we hear is like, it feels like you've looked at my Google Doc and made a digital version of it. So you can't hear any better feedback than that. Because you're living in your customers mind.
Robert Craven 05:06
Yeah. Are all your cells into agents? And what are good agencies, freelancers, and social media managers in businesses? What's the sort of split of users?
Andy Lambert 05:25
Yeah, fantastic question. Early Days was all agencies, because naturally, we had a great story to tell. And we had a really specific use case, because our product is missing a whole heap of features. But the main use case is agencies that really want to simplify the content management process with their clients. So creating content going through the numerous review and approval processes within the agency and the painful process of reviews with clients. So that was a really clear use case. That was our first focus. And it's still about 40% of our customer base, it's really just agencies, because we've grown a reputation there. But the nice thing about agencies is that they have clients and their clients also like to buy new software. So it ended up referring to brands, you know, where marketing managers or social media managers started to gain a keen interest in our product. And as our features developed over time, we've seen more and more people from b2b and b2c orientated organisations buying us too.
Robert Craven 06:28
So I'll ask you again. What's the split?
Andy Lambert 06:32
60 - 40 Agencies and 60 Grand.
Robert Craven 06:36
Right. Okay, that's interesting.
Andy Lambert 06:39
And when I say agency, that's a split between people like denser ages, for example. And people that are one person in that house with one client. So my class was all agency, but there's a huge spread between digital big boys versus freelancers.
Robert Craven 07:01
Don't sue is using the version a little bit more than that the one person from the dining room table.
Andy Lambert 07:07
I mean, they're still using it, whilst as a business. They might be using it a bit more, but the Freelancers how are they? How productive? because I mean, to be fair, this goes into the conversation we were having just before about activity versus true business results. So there's definitely, yeah, we see a bit of a mix of that.
Robert Craven 07:32
Yeah, so Okay, so we're in July going into August 2020, kind of locked down to being relaxed a bit are quite a lot. I mean, the question has to have been, and still is, you know, how on earth should you manage content in a crisis?
Andy Lambert 07:59
So yeah, we've done a lot of work around this, and we've had some professionals from NHS and that kind of things, or digital communications professionals to help either advise us and advise our customers on this stuff. And I found it absolutely fascinating. But it's a bit of guidance. The number one thing I should do is we've got a framework around it, we call it the voice framework. Voi See, number one key point is visibility. And that is the thing where most businesses struggle is that they have no idea what's going on and where so you'll find business leaders getting surprised by a either a blog post that went out on you know, on this site, or the fact they were doing a podcast on this and you know, they have no flippin clue about what's going on at any given point. So visibility is a key one. And once you've got visibility, you go into the O which is an organisation happening you can start putting together the things that are going on where you might like, that's actually maybe double down or do less on the podcast or let's forget Twitter, let's kill our messaging entirely. Let's change it we can once we know what's happening, it becomes easier to organise. So then we go into the AI bit which is more about ideation because this is about getting more and more people involved in what good content looks like so and this is a challenge and that we're trying to crack with a lot of businesses because the whole content marketing which is the mouthpiece of the business is run by a marketing team or a smaller team. Yeah, all of the inspiration and the ideas should be coming from a broader source. So ideation is critical to that. See, relates to collaboration, fairly easy points getting people involved, the best ideas are created together. And then II relates to execution because you know, I would have put delivery there but it doesn't make a nice acronym does it ?
Robert Craven 10:00
I mean, I think all of us have posted in these kind of viral videos about how not to advertise, you know, because every advert is piano music, quiet classical piano music, people looking out over a sunset, and then the strap line, whether it's McDonald's, or anyone is wearing this sort of cycle to get low voice, we're in this together, you know, and it's empty and meaningless. So, I hate the word authentic, hate the word with a vengeance because it's used all the time. But how do we demonstrate our value through the content? Is it just actions that speak louder than words? Or is there something that the good players are doing better than the bad players?
Andy Lambert 11:02
The best examples of this, it's a really hard thing to answer in a sentence. But the best examples of this is where you give your customers a platform, where your customers are using your services, or you're delivering either services where you know, I talk from a software lens, but that might well be delivering services for a particular client, ultimately, opening up what your customers are doing with your product or service to generate good. That, to me gives fantastic authenticity, because it takes the whole conversation away from your product, or you trying to feign you know, authenticity, to your point, where and I think Squarespace do some really good like customer stories related to this about, you know, because they're a Squarespace being a website provider. But the power that people generate through the website, so they talked about, they did a really short case study on a small business that was doing some really valuable work in their local community. To me, that represents it's not really about authenticity, necessarily. It's about Yeah, we offer a product, and that product can be used for some really good reasons and inspire people in the process. So that's the kind of marketing paid media that I think represents brands really well, if that makes sense.
Robert Craven 12:34
Yeah, I was just thinking about Google, I'll name them. Google used to do some beautiful things. In my humble opinion, some beautiful videos, stories about people being lost and people being found, and the glue or the thing that connected them up 35 years later was the granddaughter Googling and discovering that there's a modern story of two Indian kids who are put on a train and one of them gets off to go to the toilet and try and goes off and they disappear. You know, they reunite sort of 50 years later. And you're in floods of tears. I watched it with a roomful of people crying. But there's also that. And then you got to say, so does kind of large organisation have a purpose heart authenticity? Or do they just have a very cute comms team who know how to press people's buttons?
Andy Lambert 13:36
I mean, we definitely are cynical about quite a large degree of that. And I think it's really hard to get the tonality of a message, right? If you're really trying to represent an authentic tone, given what's going on at the moment, if you really want to go down the route of trying to appeal to, you know, trying to tell a story and get that emotional engagement and be really cognitive or cognizant of what's going on, then that still everyone's a sucker for storytelling and then giving your customers a platform is a it's a really smart thing to do. Or telling your story through your customers makes a great deal of sense. We've done that once with success with the myeloma UK, which is a blood cancer charity. So they did some fantastic work, of course , and it's really nice to show the power of content marketing through a story like that, that's for sure. But quite a lot of our efforts from you know, during this crisis, and all been focused, and it's a fairly obvious thing to say, all of our efforts were focused on creating what we'd call short courses, which are educational related courses around digital marketing tactics delivered by practitioners. So that's Probably been our best move for the last three, four months, I would say.
Robert Craven 15:06
For us, it's really, so I've got the post on my thing which is radical candour and give a ship. And those are our values. And, you know, we're just thinking all the time. Is this a sort of thing that someone would do who gives a shit? Is this the sort of thing that we should be doing? Are we living and breathing, I mean, because you've kind of almost got, I think in a crisis situation everyone's kind of going through the Kubler Ross grief curve, there are different stages. And everyone's just watching the money evaporate and the turnover and the clients running away, everyone's in panic mode. Most people are in panic mode. It's been really interesting watching, and it's still fascinating because most agencies are transferring their pain to the client, it's most agencies, I reckon, 70 - 75% of agencies that I talked to have seen year on year, revenues in the last two or three months dropped by 25 - 50%, something like that. I mean, these are very ballpark figures, according to the slice of the world, I see. But that pain that they have, they then assume that their clients have so they kind of mealy mouthed around clients instead of being brave and saying, read to you as a client, I knew as a brand, I need to show bravery. And you need to help your customers, we need to help our customers to navigate the difficult times we're in blah, blah, blah. And therefore, you know, this is the best time bracket, look at Harvard Business Review centre, Ernst and Young research on previous recessions, this is the best time to be bold and brave, this is the best time to be out there demonstrating your values. This is the best time to stand out from everyone else who's not only cutting the fat, but also cutting the muscle. So yeah, cut the fat, I've got no problem with that. But there hasn't been as much leadership, I think that's what I'm trying to say, by agencies. Bearing in mind, we're in the marketing space. Because we've just been too many of us have been too concerned with ourselves and the pain we're going through, rather than who we work for, who like what really matters most clearly in many agencies, is the dividends of the directors. And then they care about their key staff. And then they care about the staff that make them feel a bit guilty. And then they care about the customers. Clients. It's kind of like, I think, you know, difficult times we reveal ourselves. And our priorities are one agency, a client of mine, as we went down, went down into the lockdown. Third, I can tell you one thing, we're gonna cut everything, but we're not cutting my dividend. It's like, Whoa, I mean, it's like, you know, like, really interesting point of view. They're all valid.
Andy Lambert 18:41
It makes me think of a survey we ran recently. And it was like 530 respondents all from a mix of agency and brand. We haven't released the results of the survey. We're doing that this week. But a couple of narratives that I will share that are really interesting is we allow people just to answer yes or no to a bunch of questions. But we are offered some free types that allow people to express their opinion. And there were quite a number of people that expressed the view of like, we're taking the opportunity to move forward all of our marketing budget to hammer the bejesus out of the media. Because we know our competitors aren't. So I was like, Well, that certainly speaks to your points around, you know, Harvard Business Review. And, you know, we're going to have a dip. And we're going to come back out, as we always do. Right. So the businesses that come back out strong are the ones that didn't go silent. And the other narrative that I thought was really strong through that is like, you know, lots of people have gone into protection mode and just gone like, I'm not going to do anything else. And then some people have their narratives like, you know, actually it's an opportunity for us to Focus, we can cut some of the fact we're always pushed and pulled in so many different places. So we are, we're using this opportunity to make sure our positioning is bang on, and then invest our time in like our longer term asset creation, which might well be like things like SEO, for example, which never really gets a look in because it takes so damn long. So you can actually start to think about Alright, well, let's go into analytics. Let's look at the things that have worked particularly well. And let's double down on those kinds of things.
Robert Craven 20:29
But that's precisely to my point, which is that if you've had the most many agencies, in my view, about 75% have had, you know, a bit of a pause. That's the time to get your stuff in order. I mean, the Metropolitan Police have done it is hilarious. There's an article in The Economist, which yeah, there's been no shopkeeping for three months, shoplifting for three months, there's been a crime on the streets for three months. And the police know where everyone is. And that's why they arrested 575 drug dealers in one day. Because it's kind of like, oh, we can get on with our to-do list now. And you know, you're banging on the door. Yeah, he's here. Yeah. Oh, anyway. And I think the same thing applies to agencies, if that makes sense. That huge, great to do list, getting the systems in place, getting the VoIP in place, getting the network in place, getting whatever it is, and the opportunity to step back and say, okay, so that worked for us in 2019. Going into Christmas2020, Autumn 2020. What is it that our clients are going to actually want from us? Because post COVID What clients want from us is very, very different from what they wanted pre COVID, the world has changed the way, you know, the way politics, economic, social, technological, environmental, everything's changed, all the influences have changed. Not least, everyone's now charging stupid discount prices. Now, the brave person is speaking to Gary Sullivan from Equator, so this is the time to put your prices up to show strength and boldness and demonstrate that you have confidence in your product and your service and that you are the Waitrose. Yeah. Whereas everyone else is trying to go in the opposite direction thinking. So I think it's a really interesting time. So just getting back to where we were to do content marketing. Well. What is it? What do you think the biggest challenges are for marketers, for digital agency marketers?
Andy Lambert 22:51
Yeah, I guess the same challenges exist on both sides of the fence, whether your brand or client side, whatever, or agency or client side, sorry. The challenge comes in better organisation, which it's fair to say, right? I don't think anyone would disagree with that. Because the ways that people typically manage it is in a really broken way, because it'll be mixed across tools that aren't built to do content marketing, well be like Trello, Asana are monday.com, or Google classic spreadsheet. So there's definitely an organisation piece. But that isn't the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge relates to how you get ideas for great content. And that is the critical thing. And quite often you'll find content marketers battling between do write for SEO, and there is an argument for that, you know, you can write for search engines and write for keyword appearances, definitely. You can also create content from a fantastic understanding of like your qualitative data, not quantitative. And what I mean by that is that very few businesses and very few agencies really have a proper model of curating ideas from across a broader spectrum, right? Because the people with the better idea for content are the ones that are typically customer facing. So if an agency was working with Well, we have loads of agencies working with us, right? But like for an agency working with us on there, if they were creating content for us, what I'd want them to do is not going after the marketing team as to what content should we be putting out, they need to go ask our customer service team, they need to ask our sales team, they need to ask our product team. So the problem is content marketing lives in the silo when it is as I said earlier, the mouthpiece of the business. Yeah, it just becomes a marketers narrative. And that is not right.
Robert Craven 24:50
Yeah, absolutely. I'm just thinking of a conversation I had yesterday, we have outsource our grunt work was the social media out to an agency to kind of get a lot of you're out there doing some advertising work and stuff for us. And that's, I mean, that's pretty much what I was banging on about. Let me just explain to you exactly who that is. Joe is the person we're trying to reach. And let me tell you everything you need to know about Joe and what drives him mad and what's frustrating him and why Joe might want to work with us and why he might want to work with other people and what's going on in his head when he gets into the car and what's going on in his head when he's running. You know, it's been like that dreadful movie that women want. And, you know, if you get that Joe, and many Joe's love skiing, and they're not going on a ski trip this year. Or maybe they are and they don't know. Then you've got something you can talk about. If you've got the Joe's got two kids, Volvo estate and Land Rover, and his partner does the finance and they have 25 to 30 people. And they're not going on holiday this year in August, then you've got something you can talk to them about. And more importantly, when Joe reads it, you guys, oh my God, you're talking to me. But I saw a guy on LinkedIn the other day, I thought I can't comment on it. Because it was like Fred bloggs specialises in working with big five brands, medium sized businesses, small businesses, SMBs charities, and something else. It's like, late, you know, I mean, how on earth can you write any content when you're on the one hand? I mean, I guess you have the challenge off because you're selling into Dentsu and you're selling into the person working from their bed and their ironing board, you know? And, you know, getting that voice for the people. You know, when you've got one avatar, I think life's really easy when you've got 25. It's that tough.
Andy Lambert 27:15
Is super tough. And, you know, even I have opinions on this stuff. Yeah, we've absolutely not nailed it on. It's a lifelong endeavour. And that's why marketing is so fascinating. But the real challenge here, and what I'm not too sure about, is that everyone really thinks about it in this way. And I guess from the role that I play in content, it's kind of interesting, because I straddle marketing and sales, right, everything orientated to growth. So whereas it becomes a kind of a nice role, because it's not like I'm thinking about, like, from a marketing sense, where I'm like, I just want to get leads, and they will create some content that just builds you know, they will rank they will try and get, you know, rank for position zero in Google around like the best times to post on Twitter, which will drive good traffic. And there's nothing wrong with this as a strategy, but it will drive good traffic. And usually marketers go, Yeah, that's me done, smash that one. But the good thing about having a broader picture is that you know, being close to the sales function, we can understand that is really converting the right customer? Is that actually just bringing a whole load of freebie customers that are using us on the free version or paying, you know, your basic, your belly Basic Plan? Or, you know, are we doing this potential piece of content, which actually didn't get the same amount of traffic, but the people that did drive, looking, there's like a GA that follows the customer journey. Lo and behold, that is the type of person we were trying to appeal for. Because the CMO of Pfizer wasn't searching for the best time to post on Twitter.
Robert Craven 28:52
Yeah, I mean, that's always been my argument about long copy, you know that rather than writing a blog a day 500 words, which normally comprises nice sitting in Starbucks and realise that customer 33 is just as important and Starbucks in your business, those kinds of dreadful 500 word things. Why don't you just write one piece every 10 days, which is 5000 words, and then you're demonstrating your depth of understanding. And hey, guess what, maybe 1000 People won't open it, maybe only 20 will open it. But if the 20 open and go wow, these guys know their stuff. They've gone deep, deep, deep. They've done research, they've got case studies, they've really demonstrated their understanding. I think I'll talk to them and it kind of feels to me that this is a quality game, not a quantity game. Now the argument I have with my marketing person, of course is you need to have all the other stuff to be in the game, you know, because we all do our due diligence. People right now again, oh, let's just check out Andy Lambert. Let's see what he's doing on Twitter, Tick Tock. So there's a kind of a, you need to be doing this stuff to be in the game. But I'm sure you can relate to this, the deals you cut and 99% sure that the growth of He created us as a social media agency, and then came up with an idea for a software product, which ended up being called ContentCal wasn't then. But ultimately, him as an agency trying to build this trying to deal with numerous clients' productivity nightmare, is going to be dependent on the deals you cut, not the day to day work that you do deals that you cut are not necessarily directly connected to the social media output. And if I think about the big deals, the big bits of business that I've got Barclays Bank, I pursued them for three years. And then randomly I was in I've done a training session, I've gone to the bed at five o'clock in the morning, having celebrated got up at seven thinking I've always breakfast. So over that thing when you scratch your skin, it smells of alcohol. And as I walked into the breakfast, just to get a cup of coffee, there was the person I've been trying to get ahold of Jane Agates, there she was walking towards me with her name badge. It was like Jane Agates. I've been trying to reach you. Can we have a conversation? Not now. Oh, yeah, of course. And that turned into five years worth of the biggest client of the year. Second, is one later on a random email I wrote to the chief executive, you know, his name was Roger Davis. So it's our Davis, our Roger Davis, Roger Davis, Roger Davis with the needs of that need. I just want 15 minutes of your time to show you how I can increase your profitability by 10%, 100 emails to all those different things. And 24 hours later, the PA replies back. Another example was a body shot where I was so hacked off with her going on NDAs being like accountants I wrote and said, I can only assume that everyone at Body Shop is dope smoking sandal wearing hippies, Pa writes back saying you ought to meet the head of Body Shop UK. So you look at the big deals that you get from Google. Would you like to come and talk at our breakfast seminar, an eight hour journey walk from here? No, thank you. Oh, who's that? Sorry, who's that head honcho for Google I might be able to come along. None of that is directly related to the noise and communication. And I would even argue to call myself a thought leader because I have books and so on and so forth. It's about the engagement and the connection and a fair watch of luck that you cut those big deals and make them happen.
Andy Lambert 32:46
I wouldn't disagree with you here, the only two things I would say to that is like, one, there's an argument to make sure you're on as much retail shelf space as possible. And what I mean by that is like, you know, you're on the search term. So if someone is in your target market, let's say you're a marketing agency for hotel brands, you got to make sure you're there when people are searching, you need to show up. So, you know, if you sell cornflakes, you need to make sure in that way, you've got 12 different types of cornflakes and your first page of search results, you better make sure you've got five of them. So there is definitely a hygiene factor in making sure you are there when someone wants you. So that is one part of the strategy from where social plays into it where I've certainly from a personal brand perspective, because I would say, Yeah, I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm going to say it anyway, from your brand perspective. And I'm going to talk about LinkedIn specifically for your brand pages on LinkedIn. That shouldn't be a huge, huge focus. Yeah, it should be publishing your company news, use your LinkedIn pages as like a news ticker, basically. So if someone's looking you up, they can find you. But your personal profile is where it becomes more and more interesting. And it's having invested time in my personal brand and that sounds horrendously narcissistic.
Robert Craven 34:14
I'll just call myself a thought leader. So I think it works. That's one on narcissism.
Andy Lambert 34:19
There we go. So but like just doing a five minute video per week of all of the latest that's happening in social media and it's not groundbreaking. That's transformed my visibility and transformed what I get invited to. So and when I turn up to the party, that's when it gets interesting. If you know, you'd be invited to a speaking gig. You do a talk, someone approaches you after your speaking gig, you'll know the deal. And then hey, presto, it's all happened. So did social media drive that sale? No, it did. But did it play a part in that sale? Yeah. Did
Robert Craven 35:00
Oh yeah, I'm the worst for doing my due diligence on anyone I talked to, and the number of LinkedIn experts 173 followers, that's interesting. So he's that much of an expert, only 173 people. Or, you know, you look at a digital agency, which is, we can craft a future of your growth of your brand by offering some stunning material and content, and you go to their blogs and see they hadn't actually done a blog for six months. And when they did, it was just sending you to a Seth Godin blog or something, you know, so, so. And he's a really good example of someone who is out there, you know, and I guess, think about go down, which I really like, there's some sort of clever equation about content times quality, frequency times quality, if you get the two together, because not only is he out there a lot, whenever I turn Facebook on, he's doing a Facebook Live, but you know that if you ever listen to Seth Godin, you're gonna go away going, I wish I'd said that, I wish I thought, That's so clean. So he has that great combination of frequency, and quality. And I think one of the dangers that we go down the rabbit hole we go down is bashing out content, rather than this quality thing, rather than Perry Marshall talks about ratcheting the shotgun where you make a specific noise or a specific sound, that specific people your target will absolutely 100% identify, you know, and what is it that makes us click on that post or that link? Or because there's this game where everyone's prodding, I'm gonna make you profitable or happier, make you be able to do it cheaper, faster, friendly, within the next 10 days or your money back. Everyone's doing some version of that. But some of them you go, Oh, I trust. So we're back to that voice thing.
Andy Lambert 37:22
Yeah, and that's the thing that Seth has mastered. How is the art of brevity, he has Hemingway levels of brevity. And that he can say what would take me three a4 pages, he can say it in a sentence. And, you know, it's a lifelong endeavour. And I think it's a really interesting skill for all marketers to understand is how to really achieve brevity. Like, I'm not an ambassador for them. But Grammarly is a fantastic product for when you're writing and making your writing better. Because we all think that we can write but when you read someone who really can write, you realise that you're actually terrible. I think I'm mastering the art of copywriting. And actually one of them, I'm stealing a quote from one of the CMOS that I follow on LinkedIn, a guy called Dave Gerhart, who's really well, yeah, there you go. Good. So like he ranks copywriting as one of the number one skills for marketers, because he's quite similar in the way that he can put out a post on LinkedIn that cuts through all of the bullshit, and gives you a really salient point to take away. And, you know, he's built his personal brand off the back of it. And as a result, what I found particularly interesting about Dave Gerhart example is that it hasn't actually depended on the business because he's moved from drift to privy, yet that hasn't impacted his own, that his own value interest, he's now known as the face of privy not drift. And I find that a really fantastic thing that actually, you know, the quality of the individual transcends the business that you write with him. So I found that particularly fascinating.
Robert Craven 39:09
When I was doing my due diligence for me when I was following up, there's talk about the six step content marketing strategy. And, in fact, it's a more intriguing statement than that. There's this quote that says, the six step content marketing strategy helped ContentCal grow to be used by over 40,000 businesses in three years. I mean, that's a good copy. You have to admit, it's like, it presses the buttons. It makes me lean.
Andy Lambert 39:43
There we go. I'm glad that presses a button. So yeah, I mean, it's the way that we've wanted to work and the way that we help our customers work and there's six steps to it. They all begin with C because she wanted to begin with C because ContentCal, shock aura. So I'll talk through what the C's are. But I mean, I won't make too much sense on a podcast, but there are. If anyone's interested, they can always go check out our website contentcal.io. And we've got some short courses, and one is related to this, the 60 marketing strategy, the seeds are, you start with your customer, funnily enough, so doing really good customer research and looking at not just what your customers are searching for, because this is a lot around like keyword research at the start what your customers are searching for, but also benchmarking your competitors at that point to understand where your potential customers are to. So there's a really good tool that I recommend in this space for doing competitive benchmarking, it's called awario tells you all of your influence the your competitors influences their share of voice, the amount they get mentioned, the channels they get mentioned on. So it's a great way for you to either, you know, you could copy your competitive strategy and try and weigh in on it, or you could do like when a, you know, zig zag type of methodology and go, right, they've gone that way. You know, I'm going the other way. So that's C is customer. The next C is context, which is step two. So that's when we dive deep into the type of things that we believe that our audience is interested in. And well, that's where we use both qualitative data that we would have that we were talking about. So qualitative data, getting input from across the team, along with quantitative data talking about, like, what are all the search terms that are happening, what's relevant to your audience, and that might mean that your content gets broader than, you know, we're talking about, if you're a hotel marketing agency, rather than just talking about how you can help hotels, you can start to really talk the language of what hotel owners might well be interested in. So that's your context piece. Then it comes into the third step, which is frak of our brains now, which is collaboration, right? So getting input from other individuals, right. Fourth step is creativity. Which is fairly self explanatory. In that creative process, in that we talk a lot about other tools that are really useful in that, but also once again, getting ideas from a broader set of people what I was talking about before, so having different views and as many different perspectives, because the best content is created together. Step five is channels. So where are we going to put this not nothing about social but thinking about, you know, all of the other channels email, you know, shot Quora offline, maybe that works, maybe direct mail works, because no one's sending that anymore. Who knows. But, you know, these are all channels. And then the five of the sixth and final step is calculation. So how do we then go back round in the circle? What worked? What didn't? ever improving? So that's it, there's our own hinges on probably what many people would have seen, as you know, represent it in different ways, I would say is, it's not earth shattering groundbreaking, but it's a simple thing that we've both us and ourselves have orientated ourselves around, and we kind of educate our customers to do the same.
Robert Craven 40:09
But 40,000 customers. Three years funding, proper funding. I mean, you've gone from being a small agency to being quite, quite grown up.
Andy Lambert 43:38
Yeah, it's fair to say. So it's also worthwhile saying that, so we have 40,000 companies using our product, about 2000 paying customers, so lots of people using it, but 2000 paying customers. So yeah, circa that, so yeah, we've gone from an agency, I think, at our peak probably had 15 clients and about 15 staff to deal with it. Yeah. So somehow, we've created a different model for our agency, because we still have agency clients, we haven't managed to fire them all yet.
Robert Craven 44:16
How many people have you got working there?
Andy Lambert 44:19
So from an agency perspective, we now operate a partner model. So we have one individual that manages it that we it's basically a retain staff member for content, and the rest of it is delivered by a team of freelancers.
Robert Craven 44:38
So how many people are on the payroll?
Andy Lambert 44:43
On the payroll just one.
Robert Craven 44:47
Okay, and then the rest of the business?
Andy Lambert 44:49
Rest of business 31 or 32. So, that's increased by 16% in the last three months. So, yeah, which is rather than mad.
Robert Craven 45:05
So presumably you've gone from, hey, while we're open, we're selling stuff, or we're giving stuff away? Aren't we wonderful too? Oh, we've got to do monthly reports to our investors. We have non executive directors and so on and so forth who have expectations and KPIs that we actually need to deliver on. So that's a journey that not many people are able to do the whole hog. That's why most agencies get stuck at 15 people and never take money. So was that deliberate strategy from day one?
Andy Lambert 45:38
And it is mostly, you know, this is where Alex, the CEO, as I referenced earlier, he is the one that has managed all the investigation, so I can't claim any credit for that. But he's a champion fundraiser, he really is. And, yeah, without the software element to it, and the appealing growth potential for our investors, you know, we wouldn't have got to this level on this level of funding and the gross because, and that's kind of why we took that decision that we did, where, you know, we don't want to lose the agency bit entirely. But we, it was a huge distraction for the business. Like I said, in 2018, we're like, the revenues were split between software and services. So it was a 50-50 split at one point in 2018. And you're like, well, it's kind of a pivotal point here, where we're really split, we've got a big in-house team, which is taking all of the HR stuff to go with, it feels like we're getting distracted. So it was quite a hard call to make where, you know, when clients hit the end of their retainer and left, and you know, moved on, we just didn't have any replacement for them and kind of, and just found a really good person to deliver that through a partnership model, that actually, you know, all things told the profit margin was better, is better. So when you take away all the admin overhead, that ended up being a good strategy on that side, and it allowed the rest of the core business to not be split. And now the software revenue is I think about six or seven times what the service revenue is. So it's just gone like that. And it was always intentional, is it we're always going to be a funded business right from the start. Because no, we didn't put in our own cash to start it unnecessarily. And creating software is rather pricey.
Robert Craven 47:50
That's a really lovely store. I really like that it was an intention. It didn't just sort of morph and became the inevitable thing, because that's start with the end in mind thing that I just think that so many agencies just suddenly realise that they're 30 or 50 people. And someone says something glib, like, it's much better if you spend other people's money than your own, and they go. All right. Alternatively, the other thing that happens endlessly, is you have a room, I'm sure you'd have you have a room, you got a 15 person agency and a 250 person agency, and 15 person agencies doing a million quid with 20% net profit. So that's 200k. So the business is worth a million quid. The 250 person agency, we've been through loads of rounds since 1/3, or fourth round, and they're doing 20 million, but they're only doing 10% net profit. So the valuation of the business is 20 million. And, of course, the guy or the girl talking to you is sold virtual their share. So they've only got 10% of the business. So they're going to come out of running this growing this was about the same amount of money. And because they'd kind of not said, from day one, our x is going to be in 10 years time or whatever it is, and we're going to make sure we have 50% or whatever. I just think it's really interesting how that happens. And people get onto that escalator of having to raise more money in the hope that they can grow the business faster. But actually what they're doing is they're kind of they're running up the down escalator. It's great to run 250 person agency, but not if you're still worth what you were one year 15 person agency.
Andy Lambert 49:31
Interesting, very interesting story.
Robert Craven 49:35
I love your story. And you reminded me of Alex Lange, Shara Cardinal Path who says he was made redundant depressed for five days and then he woke up and said, right in five years time I'm gonna sell the agency and five years to the week. He sold his 170 - 180 person agency to Dentsu, you know, and that I'm not saying it's easy, and there's lots of luck. So, just two more questions, really. First question is what's next for you? What projects are you working on? What are your ambitions for the next year or so?
Andy Lambert 50:17
Our ambitions are pretty much set by our VCs now. So yeah, delivering on that. Yeah. So it's kind of hyper growth has changed the model of the business. So you know, we're continuing as we are just developing hard and focusing big time on hitting numbers, because that's certainly something when you're raising money from serious people, you know, you're like, the expectation gets very serious, you really see our, we put on our big boy beats. So that's good and challenging in one way. But there's also, you know, other exciting things that we're working on three that I'll call out at a really high level. One, as I said, we're looking at proper ways to systemize having the contribution of ideas from a broader team. So getting more and more inspiration around content, more of that qualitative input, like I've been talking about. Part two is trying to improve the way that brands find the right freelancers for their jobs, for the marketing jobs, because there's a lot of fragmentation going on in the agency world. And finding the right people is extraordinarily hard. We're kind of interested to find if there's a nut, we can crack there, because we've got quite a lot of momentum, quite a lot of brands and agencies and freelancers using our product, is there something we can sort there. And the third exciting thing is bringing in as a bit of a buzzword, but an ability to have a bit more machine learning into our product, which will help what we're looking at a content quality score. So how can we get both qualitative and quantitative input to help people craft better stuff? So I mean, that's a beast as an absolute beast of a thing to go ahead and create, but you know, it's content marketing still, it's in its infancy. So, you know, there's a lot of innovation still to happen in this space. So that's what we're going after. Wow, great stuff. And the final question is top tips, golden nuggets. If I were us, if you're talking to a digital agency leader, like myself, you get a different view of their world, but you're kind of poacher turned gamekeeper but you're also gamekeeper. What are your three golden nuggets, sort of your pearls of wisdom that you'd share? In terms of you're talking to an agency leader, like the people who are listening now, what would you be? So don't forget, or if there's one thing you could do, it would be Or the three or four things I never forget to do? I'm with you. So. Okay, now mine might be minor, very tinged by what we've done. So take it for what it's worth. If I were an agency, I would do three things. So one, invest in as much automation as possible to systemize as many processes as possible. Good Lord, the amount of wasted in agencies is ridiculous. So systemize as much as you can, you know? Yeah, great. That's a bit of news in it. But you know, that's our point. Point two is, if you can drive, use your skill sets to drive any form of recurring, lower risk revenues, if you can do any of that. Absolutely do so. And it doesn't always mean you don't need to be a software developer to do stuff. You can monetize skill sets in a recurring fashion to for example, we're launching an academy, where we actually have our customers delivering you know, that we vetted delivering really tactical skills workshops of which we will be charging for so that's recurring revenue. So yeah, recurring revenue, Systemising processes. And the third thing is like, make sure your customers adore you and get your customers to talk about you as much as they possibly can.
Robert Craven 54:40
That's absolutely brilliant. And I love that. Thank you so much for sharing the story. Thank you so much for being honest and straightforward with us and kind of giving us a little bit of a look underneath the bonnet of what's going on there. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you very much indeed.
Andy Lambert 55:01
My pleasure anytime, thanks a lot.