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10 promises we will always keep

When I founded BS+Co. in 2018, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt why I wanted to start this company.

After years of working for other agencies, I had had it with all the bullshit so many of us accept as norms in our industry – e.g., micromanaging employees with an inch of their lives under the guise of “maximizing productivity” and leaning on bloated “value-based” pricing models (which really only benefit the agencies themselves).

The traditional marketing agency model, in most cases, genuinely hurts both agency employees and the companies they serve. So, I wanted to smash that with a hammer because I knew it could be better. It has to be better.

But beyond that mission-based “why,” I didn’t know much else.

Like, I didn’t know what BS+Co. would become because, while I’m a great strategist, I’m the absolute worst at predicting the future. For example, I’ve said countless times I would never want to hire employees. Joke’s on me, though! Just a few months ago, we hired our first full-time employee, Alyson Wuamett.

But I didn’t stop there; today, we have six employees.

The idea of scaling terrified me

Honestly, it still does. Because my experiences thus far had shown me that, in most cases, when a company chooses to scale, at least one of the following two things will happen:

  • A well-meaning leader (or group of leaders) will lose their way.

  • An ethos-driven company will open themselves up to the highest possible risk that they will become the thing they swore they’d never be.

I have seen too many times how much “compromise” was seemingly required to achieve growth.

You cut corners “just this one time.”

You make excuses for “tough, but necessary” (see: “bad”) decisions, but you say:

“It’ll only be this one time, though. These are extenuating circumstances, so we just need to all pull together.”

To be clear, I’m not saying these are bad-faith choices made by knowingly bad-faith actors. A lot of times, what you’ll find behind the creation of a toxic company culture are genuinely good intentions.

That’s because we’re only human, which means we are fundamentally imperfect. Our failures and missteps, as a species, are a feature not a bug.

More importantly, as someone who owns her own business now, I can’t tell you how many hard lessons I’ve learned over the past few years that made me say to myself:

“Well, shit. I really had no idea how hard some of this really was. Now, I totally get why so-and-so made the decisions they did.”

There is, however, a vast difference between making compromises and compromising yourself and your values in such a way that those who end up paying the steepest price for your growth are your people and your clients.

This is why I felt the need to sit down and write this article for you all today. And when I say “you all,” I want to be very clear about who that entails.

This is for you, our employees and the companies we serve (and only you)

Everyone else, you’re welcome to keep reading, but your presence is not mandatory.

We are at inflection point right now, as a company. And I know, by the end of this year, I will find myself surprised at how we’ve grown; I can feel it in my bones. On top of that, over the past year in particular, we’ve received a lot of unsolicited feedback on what it’s like to work with us (as one of our companies) and for us (as one of our employees).

Things like:

  • “Working with you all is like a breath of fresh air. This is what we’ve been looking for all along.”

  • “We feel safe with you, like you’re genuinely on our side and don’t have a hidden agenda. We actually matter.”

  • “I used to spend every morning sitting down in the bottom of my shower, trying to find the will to start the day, because I was so stressed about doing my job. I don’t feel that way here, and it’s incredible.”

  • “I never thought I was any good at this. I was always told I didn’t deserve the same salaries as others who held the same position. I feel so valued here, which is so different for me. And I actually feel confident!”

  • “I feel like I actually matter as a person here. That you genuinely care about me and my success. That you actually want to create space for me to flourish and reach my real potential. A lot of companies say that, but you actually do it.”

On the one hand, there is no way for me to properly convey to you the deep sigh of relief that I felt from within the very core of my being when I heard these things and realized that we were actually doing something different.

On the other hand, I was furious

The bar we’ve established for agency employees and our companies is so unbelievably low.

As a company, a truly “healthy” relationship with your marketing agency – where you don’t constantly feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle just to get the bare minimum done – shouldn’t be so far from the norm that it’s downright shocking when you experience it.

It also shouldn’t be such a defining differentiator to be an agency that is actually going to put your best interests first.

And as an agency employee … well, let’s just say, “I only spent 10 minutes in the shower crying before work this morning,” shouldn’t be considered a win. In fact, that’s not even the bare minimum, because your job should not be reducing you to tears or panic attacks on a regular basis.

So, today, we want to raise the bar – for those of you who choose to partner with us as your agency of record, as well as those who work for us now (or will in future).

More specifically, we want to lay out what our promises are to you (our employees and companies). Because we’ve already experienced many of those same growth-related tests of values and character that all business leaders face, and we know we will continue to do so.

1) We will never chase growth for the sake of it

Fun fact: We do not set revenue goals at BS+Co.

Don’t get me wrong, having a financially healthy company is a non-negotiable. (We maintain a balance of our expenses and income, we have a very comfortable profit margin, and so on.) But we don’t throw out big numbers to chase just because we can.

Our primary focus is to serve our companies and our people, and to build a place that no one wants to leave.

As we’ve learned over the past couple of years, however, when you focus on creating a place no one wants to leave, growth seems to organically follow behind it. When you build a company on a set of principles you protect fiercely, you start attracting more like-minded team members and companies – to the point where you can’t say “Yes!” to all the talent revenue potential that’s being offered.

2) We will never dilute our relationships to maximize profits

One of the most common ways traditional agencies maximize“productivity and profitability” is to increase (or max out, from the start) the number of clients an account manager or strategist has in their portfolio. From a surface-level business perspective, I guess you could say it’s an easy way to get your margins where you want to be, while guaranteeing your people are operating at peak efficiency.

But the only real winner in this scenario is the bottom line.

It pretty much sucks for everyone else involved.

It sucks for the people who are in charge of those relationships, because their time and attention is much more divided. They have to do more in less time. As a result, they feel more stressed and their ability to deliver the highest quality work (and keep their promises) is greatly diminished.

It also sucks for the clients. They don’t get the time and attention they deserve – and, by the way, also paid for.

At BS+Co., each member of our services team only owns a total of FOUR relationships, maximum. We want our people to have the capacity and mental bandwidth to provide a level of service our companies cannot get anywhere else.

Most of all, we want our companies to receive the focus, attention and value we promised them.

3) We promise you will get what you paid for

You know what is the absolute worst, as a company?

To be promised by your agency that you’ll be working closely with seasoned marketing and business professionals who are capable of holding high-level, strategic conversations, only to be stuck with folks who are green and inexperienced once the ink dries on your contract … and the senior people you do need are always just out of reach when you really need them. (Unless you want to increase your retainer, that is.)

It wasn’t supposed to be that way though. Your agency swore up and down it wouldn’t be.

During the sales process, those wildly impressive senior strategists were on every call, speaking your language and making the results you wanted to achieve seem more than attainable.

So, you sign on the dotted line … and then you rarely, if ever, hear from them again.

That won’t happen here.

First, we don’t hire people who aren’t capable of being the senior, big picture-thinker you need. Second, the people you meet in the sales process are the people you will work with. The only difference you’ll experience after you sign on with us is that we may bring in additional niche experts depending on how your goals and challenges shift, as you’re working with us.

4) We promise actual balance and to not overwork you so the business “wins”

You know what’s funny? (And by “funny,” I mean not funny at all.)

A meaningful number of the agencies that can’t stop talking about “work-life balance” and unlimited vacation policies are often the very same ones that create toxic work environments.

The kind where you feel you can never take a break for lunch. Where the unspoken expectation is you must always be on call, at all hours. Where you’re constantly struggling with anxiety. Where you’re always feeling behind. Where you never feel like you’re put in a position to do your job in the way it’s advertised to your clients, so you’re always disappointing someone. Where you feel like you’re set up to fail, but somehow that’s also your fault. (You’re just not hustling enough.)

If you work for us, we will not sell more than 30 hours of work, per week against your name, so your capacity will never be maxed out. Yes, there are times when we’ll all need to push or roll up our sleeves and go the extra mile for our companies, but that is not the norm.

Also, you never be publicly or privately scolded for taking time off. There is no invisible scorecard where you’re docked professional points for using our unlimited vacation policy.

You deserve rest. You deserve time off. You deserve the ability to spend time with your family.

5) Our companies will always come first

The only directive our company-facing people have is to help our companies win. That’s it.

They aren’t required to do anything else.

If you want to create content for us, sure! We’ll take it, but you don’t have to. If you want to offer suggestions on how to improve the business, we’re all ears! But, again, it’s not an expectation.

We do this because more than a few of us have not had this as the status quo in the past.

For example, we’ve been told only client work is billable and it’s what should be taking up all of our time. But then we’re also assigned mandatory, monthly content creation deadlines (like lengthy blog articles requiring research and multiple drafts) that are nearly impossible to hit without working late nights or weekends.

So, we either need to overwork ourselves to hit all of our commitments, or we become a failure at “fulfilling our promises.”

If you come to work for us, we will not put you in that impossible position, where you never have enough time to do everything asked of you. More importantly, when you’re in a company-facing role, where you own a relationship, that is the only thing you will be responsible for – owning that relationship and putting our company first.

6) We promise we won’t offer a standardized suite of services

Do we have marketing and business strategy toolbox that’s full of trusted best practices, frameworks and playbooks? We absolutely do.

But one thing we always promise our companies is we will feel like your in-house marketing team. That means we don’t put you on autopilot, as we take you through cookie-cutter marketing programs; instead, we get to know you and we do what really needs to be done.

When you work with us, we operate alongside you, as if we are your direct employees. That’s how we think of ourselves when we work with our companies. (The bonus for you, of course, is you’ll have a deep bench of industry experts at your disposal.)

7) We promise to always be objective

If we offer you a piece of advice or make a strategic recommendation, know that we are doing so because we thoroughly believe it’s the right move for you – we don’t work angles or architect solutions where we also benefit behind the scenes.

To be fair, is really easy for us to say … and not so easy for you to believe.

That’s why we put our money where our mouth is. For example, we only partner with software vendors if we can do so without opting into any sort of commission-based program.

We are building a business where we are profitable solely based on the services we provide directly.

As a result, our people only recommend tools and strategies because they’re the right recommendations; there are no incentive programs or internal mandates lurking in the background, silently twisting their arms to offer advice they wouldn’t otherwise give.

8) We promise to always be in the business of earning your trust

This one is pretty straightforward, so I’ll keep it short.

If you work with us, you won’t be trapped by long-term contracts or commitments; your relationship with us will operate on a month-to-month basis. We consider it our responsibility to show you every day that we are worthy of your trust and your investment.

9) We promise to be up front if we’re not the right fit for you

We are not for everyone. This isn’t exactly a bold claim, because you’re not for everyone either.

That’s exactly how it should be, though. You can’t be everything to everyone. (Unless, of course, you like being trapped in a miserable, endless cycle of people-pleasing, failure and disappointment.)

That’s why, if we recognize that we aren’t the right marketing partner for you, we aren’t going to lie to your face and pretend we are so we can take your money. Nor are we going to organizationally contort ourselves like a gymnast so we can be whomever you want us to be … again, so we can take your money.

And if we see you won’t be happy or successful as a member of BS+Co.’s team, we won’t put you through weeks of endless interviews and situational exercises, so we can (internally) seem impartial and fair when we make a final decision. You deserve to be somewhere you can flourish and find success, and we don’t want to stand in your way of finding that place.

We will tell you the very second it becomes clear that we’re not a good fit for each other. (And we also hope you’ll do the same.)

10) Finally, if we make a mistake, we will own it

OK, I feel like this one should be obvious. Like, this isn’t a promise one should have to say out loud.

You shouldn’t have to put, in writing, that, if you make a mistake, you’ll own it. That you won’t displace blame or try to cover anything up. You’ll simply say:

“Hi, I made a mistake fully and on my own. Here is why that happened, here is what I learned and here is how I am going to make it right.”

But here we are.

So, for the record, here is what we believe:

You should be 100% confident that your employer or agency will be accountable for their actions; that they won’t lie to you or try to pass the buck when something goes wrong.

If we screw something up, we’re going to own it. Then we’re going to talk about how we make it right. If, for some reason, we don’t realize we made a mistake, tell us the moment you know something is off.

We won’t bombard you with excuses or “reasons” why something wrong is actually “right” (or someone else’s fault). We’ll listen to you. We’ll take it to heart. We’ll own it. And then we’ll make it right.

These are our promises to you. Hold us accountable to them; we promise to always do the same.