Build In Public | Business

CrowdTamers 2021 Review – A Building In Public

In spite of being a startup marketer for 20+ years, I’ve only been running CrowdTamers as an agency for the last 1.

Before that, I was short term / fractional CMO, serving 1 – 4 clients at the same time, helping build, grow, and scale the marketing practices in their startup; I’ve used CrowdTamers as the business name for that business for a decade or so before that.

I decided in January of 2021 that I wanted to transition from a freelance marketer to an agency for a number of reasons (you can read about them here if you’d care to know more), but I had a few fundamental goals that I wanted to achieve in 2021:

2021 Business Goals

ObjectiveGoalAchieved%age
Create Content Engine63%
Create content regularly on CrowdTamers blog52 posts52 posts100%
Launch Podcast30 podcasts27 podcasts*90%
Launch YouTube Channel12 educational videos0 videos0%
Become a thought leader164%
Write a business book about go to market for startups150 pages9865%
Improve website trafficSessions ⬆ 200%Sessions ⬆ 462%231%
Make better use of social media966k impressions1,163,000 impressions117%
Close clients from content marketing2 clients5 clients350%
Get on podcasts to share the word10 podcasts660%
Launch Agency & Scale75%
Generate 10x the revenue of my freelance biz$112,250 MRR$43,179 MRR38%
Build a high-performance client service team8 FTEs4 FTEs50%
Launch AI product5 clients0 clients0%
Create product team3 FTEs0 FTEs0%
Test 2 new product ideas2 GTM tests3 GTM tests150%
Systematize GTM tests for fast onboarding15 SOPs32 SOPs213%
Generate reliable new business20 clients19 clients95%
Build a better agency culture0% turnover0% turnover100%
Payout profit share2 quarters1 quarter50%
Work fewer hours & spend more time with family30 hours/week55 hours/week55%

Goals vs. Achievements

I’d never launched an agency before, so a whole lot of my goals were pulled out of my ear. Profit projections, hiring projections, and product development were all based on a decade’s experience in building and growing companies with VC funding.

It’s quite possible to understand that bootstrapping is slower intellectually, it takes a little experience of how different it is viscerally before projections start to look more sensical.

All that said, I think I did a decent job of setting goals and measuring what I think mattered for the company to succeed and thrive. The average performance across all OKRs is 102%, which means that I set a lot of goals too low. I think I had a few of my most critical tasks were missed because of bad projections (revenue, profitable quarters), and some were missed because they were bad goals (team size). Of the most important OKRs, I’d say I was more like an 85%.

Let’s look at the major sections of the 2021 goals in a little more detail.

Create Content Engine

One achievement I can be proud of is that, along with Saumya, we’ve created 52 blog posts in 2021. None of them were filler. The quality of the content that we create is a source of pride for me, and despite putting no systematic SEO efforts into what we’re doing, I think the quality of what we’ve created is establishing a trend of better traffic and more relevant traffic than crowdtamers.com has ever achieved in its decade of existence.

We also launched a “podcast” of short snippets that speak about the strategy of marketing and leadership, producing quite a few brief snippets of marketing content that I think says something interesting.

Sadly, their impact as a medium on Twitter is virtually nil.

Likewise, we’re producing video content but the views are more or less 0 and the impact they present is quite minimal. That makes sense given that we’re exerting a minimal effort here as well, as I’m not producing very educational content; I’m just using this for further demonstration of thought leadership because I can showcase how I think and generate business that way.

So we’ll need to find a better way to package and distribute both of these in 2022 so that the effort put into making them is equaled by the result they provide. I didn’t have any idea what a sensible goal for the content performance should be—my goal for 2021 was simply to get into the habit of creating content regularly, and I think we’ve shown we can execute on that.

Become a thought leader

My book’s first draft is about 80% finished. I’ve recently realized that while the title is Launch Today, I should change the subhead to something like The Go-To-Market blueprint for Tech Founders. In the next 6 weeks, I’ll write the material that stitches the blog posts I’ve created over the last 12 months into a coherent book and prep it to publish in late Q1 or early Q2. I’m running behind on this, but it remains a constant task that I keep chipping away at. It’s one of the two largest failings I feel from 2021, largely because it’s a personal failing. No one else is responsible for it.

That said, many of my other efforts to begin establishing thought leadership are paying off.

Overall site traffic has been growing slowly and steadily since our big re-vamp and launch in February.

There’s nearly a year-long gap in data before that because as a freelancer my business was growing largely word of mouth and I honestly didn’t care much about the site, so I hadn’t even noticed that I’d broken my own analytics. Site growth would likely have been pretty flat since 2019, though, given the general neglect of the website and that we only published 3 blog posts in 2020.

Organic reach

An article that was kind of a throwaway—ranking AI content creators for 2021—is actually doing quite well for us as a source for organic traffic. Some short-term decisions on content in 2022 are pretty obvious, based on that. 🙂

“Make better use of Social Media” resulted in a decision to treat both Twitter and LinkedIn more seriously from my personal account and resurrection of CrowdTamers’ social media accounts, which had been lying dormant for several years.

There had been a little haphazard growth of my personal account from 2019 to 2020, but not much.

I took a few actions to boost my Twitter profile in 2021: I enrolled in Kevon’s Public Lab, followed a few big Twitter personalities & regularly commented, crafted more threads, and dedicated myself to regular Twitter-specific content. That paid off pretty well.

That said, none of that was what closed me to new clients in 2021. Instead, as we hit a summer slump and I struggled to find a way to generate more leads for my business, I turned to one of my old tactics for establishing thought leadership: social media distribution.

I joined a few decently-sized Facebook groups and started answering questions. My sales calls increased 80% month over month, starting in September, and 3 of the 5 clients I closed in Q4 were leads sourced through Facebook groups. Two more clients were people who were convinced to contact me and start a sales conversation because they’d been exposed to CrowdTamers’ blog content and found it useful enough to make them decide to start a conversation about how I could apply those lessons to their business.

The one area I completely fell off the wagon in is that I booked no podcast interviews over any of the latter 6 months of the year. I did finally get a lead in October from a podcast I’d recorded back in May.

Launch Agency & Scale

This was the big OKR, of course. Was it worth all of the work and sweat to make the jump from a freelancer to an agency? Could I achieve all my goals for growth and start changing the world?

It didn’t go how I had forecast, but I can’t complain about the result overall.

In general, I 2x’ed my revenue at the top line but growing from a team of 1 to a team of 6, really only changed my net profit by about $7k. In brief:

20202021
Income$115,510.21$368,088.27
Operating costs$76,248.38$321,307.77
Team headcount15
Contractors12
Labor Costs$65,241.55$183,445.77
Operations$8,352.12$59,322.19
Other costs$2,681.71$59,871.18
Taxes$8,637.47$41,668.63
Profits$30,623.75$46,780.50
Clients Served519

Because I didn’t have anything like the revenue growth projected, I also didn’t manage anything like the headcount I’d initially figured I’d try for. That’s probably for the best—hiring one or two more people would very likely have bankrupted me in August / September of the year when business was slow.

With those two big differences between projected revenue and actual revenue in place, it set the stage for the other big fail that I’m unhappy about for 2021: we only generated operation profits for 1 quarter—Q4. Overall operating margin for 2021 was around 14%—about a third of what I thought CrowdTamers should be able to achieve once we’re really functioning properly as an agency. As a result, we’ll end up paying out about $4500 in profit share for Q4 of 2021, and…that’s it.

It was a lean year.

Most of the other tasks around building and scaling the agency were at least 70% successful, and I think the team has laid a great groundwork for a higher performance year and a more performative team.

What Needs to Change in 2022

I’ve hired up a decent-sized team but we’re not operating at more than about 60% capacity-on good months!-right now. I’ve been getting better and better at building engines to reliably bring me, clients, since mid Q3; before that, I was really struggling to get on calls with potential customers (ironic, given my field of expertise I know).

That said, about 50% of our client work is now something that the team accomplishes that I don’t have to intercede on at all. They’re trained and functioning on some productized work and able to make clients happy without me doing anything more than being the mouthpiece through which communications are made.

The next step of any agency is to double down on the productized work, make sure that you only sell this and not stuff that you the agency owner have to do yourself, and then get cracking on growth.

2022 Goals

ObjectiveGoalAchieved%age
Scale-up Content Engine
Create content regularly on CrowdTamers blog78 posts
Grow Podcast1,000 listeners
Make use of YouTube100 videos
Become a thought leader
Publish Launch TodaySell 1k copies
Write Grow To Market150 pages
Generate traffic & sales from social500 clicks / mo
Build Launch Today course for tech founders10 clients
Get on podcasts to share the word20 podcasts
Grow Agency
Create 3 separate business units40k MRR each
Create self-sustaining CrewsHire 2 captains
Focus on selling productized services90% of revenue
Create Content & distribution Crew3 FTEs
Launch 2 SaaS products$1k MRR / app
Build vendor partnerships$10k referred
Build a stable roster of clients20 active clients
Build a better agency culture0% turnover
Payout at least $2k profit share3 quarters
Work fewer hours & spend more time with family50 hours/week
Improve agency margins40% margin

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