As we celebrated HIVE's six year anniversary at the end of January, we started to reflect back on what has changed and the wild ride that we've been on over the last six years. From starting as Bee Social (our original name) to becoming one of only eight agencies in Colorado to reach the Platinum HubSpot Solutions Partner level, a lot has changed.
Where it all Started
Our agency was started in 2014 as Bee Social. Bee Social was meant to be strictly a social media marketing agency. We were going to focus on small businesses and help them utilize social media in order to grow their businesses.
Way back in 2014, social media was such a hot topic and so many businesses were becoming aware of the need to jump in on social media and start leveraging it as a viable marketing tactic. It seemed like a prime area to focus on, even though I had experience in many other areas of marketing, this felt like the place to start.
The agency was founded by myself and David Barella after working together at a different business and having a lot of success marketing that business strictly through social media.
It wasn't long after Bee Social was started that we began to realize that social media couldn't be the end-all-be-all for our clients. Our clients needed to do more. They needed more from us. We were starting to get requests for other kinds of marketing campaigns including email marketing, website development, blogging, and search engine optimization. That's why we started looking into becoming more of a full-service agency. Enter HubSpot.
Diving in with HubSpot
In 2015, we met Jacob Carlson. He introduced us to HubSpot and what it could mean for our agency. As an agency that was only about a year old, the idea of spending that kind of money on a software was scary. We weren't working with big clients. We didn't have a ton of clients. And we were looking at investing $1,000+ per month on a software that we had never used.
Sure there was the promise of increasing our expertise, producing better results for our clients, and even being able to work with larger businesses and demand larger retainers, but it was going to take a leap of faith and it was a big gamble.
If this didn't work, we were going to be tied to HubSpot and tied to that $1,000+/month bill every single month for the next year. For essentially a brand new business, it was a big gamble.
After several conversations with Jacob, we decided that if we were going to grow the way that we wanted to grow and become the agency that we were supposed to be, we had to take this leap of faith. We needed the team, tools, and processes behind us in order to break through in a crowded market.
We did it. We signed that deal and we haven't looked back since.
After we signed the deal with HubSpot, I remember telling Jacob that, "we want to be selling HubSpot within a month." We had to, right? The investment in HubSpot was substantial for a basically brand new agency and we had to start monetizing it or we were going to be in trouble. Jacob's response was a chuckle and a "Let's do it then!"
If you've ever used HubSpot, you know what happened next. That first month came and went and we were no where near ready to sell HubSpot. The tools were just too complex, there were too many things that we still didn't understand. We were far from experts and we couldn't sell something we weren't experts in.
So, a few months after signing the deal, we finally got to the point in our training and experience that we felt comfortable selling HubSpot - just to figure out that no one wanted to spend $3,000+/month on an inbound marketing retainer with a company called "Bee Social".
We had developed a reputation as "the social media people". I was affectionately (I think) known as the Social Media Guy in different networking groups and circles. While that is what I wanted to be at the start of Bee Social, it was now a major problem.
So after coming to this realization, we decided that it was time for a rebrand. We had to start new and we had to have a name, a brand, and an image that supported full service inbound marketing retainers. We had to position ourselves as inbound marketing experts, not just social media experts.
Thus, HIVE Digital Strategy was born.
In our rebrand, I wanted to keep the bee🐝 theme. I spent a while in Utah in my early career and loved Utah's fascination with bees. They even have bee hives on their cop cars! The reason behind it is that bees and hives represented a community. Everyone working together for the good of the community. I liked that and as I set out to start my business, I wanted to build that kind of community.
So after a lot of research, we landed on HIVE.
The early years with HubSpot were not easy. Not because of HubSpot, but because of our own mindset. See, we had been working with very small mom-and-pop companies mostly around the Denver area. We were selling very small retainers that were completely focused on social media.
Going from a couple hundred dollar per month retainer to a several thousand dollar per month retainer is not an easy jump.
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got was from Jeri Morgan of Code Blue Computing. We talked about pricing and I remember her telling me that we needed to increase our prices. She explained that we were worth way more than what we were charging, but that "we had to believe it first."
Man did that hit home. We were struggling to sell inbound marketing retainers because we weren't fully bought into it. We didn't believe that we were worth that kind of money per month. Why would someone trust us with such a large campaign? The self doubt of a small business was a huge issue.
Once we finally overcame that issue, we started to see success. We started working with companies that were great fits for us. We started growing quickly and we eventually reached our first tier within the HubSpot Partner community. In 2017, we reached the Silver tier.
It was a huge deal for us at the time. It was confirmation that we were on the right path and that great things were ahead.
Back in 2017-18, I remember starting to join the first sessions of HubSpot's LIONs program. They were just being started up with Dan Tyre and David Weinhaus. We were in groups with other agencies talking about agency issues, goals, and sales processes. It was enlightening.
We were a small Silver Partner Agency in a group with other partner agencies that we looked up to from around the states. Almost all of them were Gold or above partners. It was a level we strived to reach. We wanted so badly to be on that same level as all these other partners.
Through all of our work with Tyre and Weinhaus, we established better processes, learned new skills, and really started to define who our ideal customer was.
One thing that really started to come out of this was the fact that I am simply not a salesman. I am passionate about the marketing. I'm passionate about the creative. I'm passionate about the results, but the sales process was not something I was passionate about. When my calendar told me it was time to make sales calls, I ignored it.
Finally I realized that it was time to outsource it. I needed someone that liked sales and was good at sales to just take over that part for me. I could and would still be involved in the later parts of the sales process as needed and to talk through strategy, but I needed someone to start and manage the initial conversations and help close.
That's when I hired Michael Thebeau, our Business Development Manager. It was another leap of faith. I was going to be taking on a new salary, investing a lot in training, and hoping that Michael was going to be able to catch on and close deals.
Not long after Michael started with HIVE, we finally reached the Gold tier within HubSpot. It was a huge deal! We were now invited to exclusive events, trainings, and even HubSpot's Partner Days.
Denver's Top Partners
As we have grown and evolved throughout this process, we have also started to receive other recognition outside of just our tier status. There is nothing better than when your hard work starts to turn heads, right?
In 2017, we were named one of the top digital marketing agencies in Denver by Expertise and we've been awarded that recognition every year since!
Then in 2018, we were named one of the top digital marketing agencies in Denver by HubSpot. This put us in elite company within the HubSpot Partner community. We then won it again for 2019!
I remember looking at Platinum and Diamond tiered agencies and thinking that they were giants. To reach those levels, they must have huge funding behind them, teams of 100+, and been in the industry forever.
Well, that's not exactly right. Sure, to reach the Platinum or Diamond tiers, you have to have great processes and a great team, but it doesn't mean you have to have a giant team or an unlimited checkbook behind you. I am sure some of the agencies at this level do, but it isn't the prerequisite that I perceived it to be. Some of the biggest agencies like Revenue River, Impact, SmartBug, and Square2 do have very large teams (comparatively), but they've also all found their niche. They have figured out who they help, how they help, and they don't get distracted by the wrong fit prospects or customers.
That is what we had to learn. We had to figure out that everyone that was willing to write us a check was not necessarily a good client. Not all revenue is created equal. We were spending time catering to the wrong clients, working with clients that made us miserable, and learning industries that we had no interest in. That is just not how you scale.
When we realized all of this, we started to look at who we liked working with, which industries we wanted to grow in, and where our expertise was.
Once we did that, we started to develop reputations in those industries. We started to be found by companies in those industries and we started getting referrals from our clients in those industries. That's how we became a HubSpot Platinum Solutions Partner.
Our journey is far from over. In fact, HubSpot generously (or something like that 😉) added a new rung to the ladder. In 2019 they announced that they have added the Elite level - above the Diamond level now.
While our team is proud to be a Platinum Agency and we are striving to become a Diamond and then Elite Agency, our primary focus now is to grow the right way. We want to do great work for our clients, build long-term relationships, and really leverage our experience and expertise to be the best agency partner we can be.
We do have a goal of becoming a Diamond Agency in 2021 and we believe we can get there, but it's going to take a lot of hard work, great ideas, and an even bigger team to deliver on that goal. The ride from Platinum to Diamond is sure to be a fun and interesting one! Stay tuned!
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