No More Hustleporn: How to Identify the Missteps

Tweet by Ryan Law

VP of Content @AnimalzCo. I tweet about writing & content strategy. My end-of-the-world book series, The Rainmaker Writings, out now👇

before I joined Animalz I cofounded a much smaller, much less successful content marketing agency

watching Animalz grow has helped me identify the missteps and wrong turns we took

most boil down to one thing: we weren't honest with ourselves about the type of company we were 👇

1/ the agency had pivoted to content marketing in response to growing demand

(previously it had offered SEO, "reputation management," website design)

I joined to head-up our content marketing, but old habits die hard...

if we couldn't land a deal, we'd keep offering ad hoc packages until they said yes


a) crippled our ability to deliver results. we spent all our time scrambling to deliver the new services we'd promised - ABM, PPC, design, etc - instead of getting better at content

b) diluted our social proof. any results we did generate would be next-to-useless for persuading new customers because they were too dissimilar to be persuasive

"oh, you generated $X with ABM - that helps my content marketing how?"

2/ this was partly because our head of sales did not care about content marketing

he was a smart + experienced enterprise sales person, but "content marketing" was just another widget to be sold

this was fair - the agency had pivoted service offerings multiple times previously

joining sales calls with @jimmy_daly and @kplikethebird made me realise that sales is NOT an exercise in persuasion

they care about content more than any two people I know. they share their enthusiasm and try to solve problems.

sales are almost an incidental result

3/ our brand identity suffered as a result

we wanted to hedge our bets, so when we started to struggle selling content, we positioned as a "growth agency"

our services repertoire became "anything we could feasibly deliver" instead of "the few things we're really good at"

this worsened the death spiral. we didn't know what we offered, and now prospects didn't really know either

we went from a pipeline of people mostly interested in content, to a pipeline of people interested in... anything and everything.

I worsened the situation by...

4/ generating a bunch of unqualified traffic

I embarked on an epic content marketing campaign and managed to rack-up over 100k visits per month

trouble was, my content was all super top-of funnel. best performers included "saas metrics" and "saas pricing"

for a company with a nailed-down value proposition and service offering, this wouldn't be a problem

for us, this was a nightmare. there was no qualification happening at any part of our funnel. by now, we were trying to sell anything to anyone

this lead to...

5/ ...distracting ourselves with a rebrand

business was waning, so we looked for explanations. we had lots of justifications - all of them totally missing the point:

"people keep spelling our name wrong"
"we sound too corporate"
"the website design doesn't convert" we doubled-down on the already-diffuse brand identity and poured weeks of effort into a total brand overhaul

new logo, new name, new brand colours, new website design

a mammoth effort that left us burnt out and solved precisely zero of the problems we hoped it would

6/ we thought we were a startup

throughout all of this, we never really acknowledged the fact that we were a services business

we modelled ourselves after fast growth startups, despite the fact that their model made no sense for us

instead of reading about agency unit economics and positioning strategy, we dreamt of acquisition and hyper-growth and software products

as a result, we never managed to articulate the problems that were killing us, despite how commonplace they are in the agency world

the common thread through all of this:

we were a content marketing agency that didn't want to be a content marketing agency

Animalz is the exact opposite: it's a team of 80+ people myopically focused on delivering one thing - content - to the best of its ability

like content marketing itself, that focus has compounded over time:

- every article refines the process for future articles
- every success is a case study that makes future sales easier
- the association between brand + service offering becomes tighter and tighter