The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Tapasya Das
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Adriana Stein, Digital Marketing Consultant and founder of Marketing Agency, AS Marketing. Adriana described how the demand for her services fluctuated: at the beginning of the pandemic many potential clients cut their budgets for online marketing; then began to realise its benefits as the lockdown forced many sectors to move online. Adriana was able to effectively scale her business to deal with the increased demand by working with freelances, and she emphasised the importance of finding collaborators whose mindset matched her own. With increased scale came the importance of clear lines of communication, and Adriana is working on making her processes as efficient as possible through effective communication strategies. Adriana also emphasised the importance of personal care during the pandemic, finding time to take breaks and separate the worlds of work and leisure. To deal with the lack of stability that is present in the current economic climate, Adriana recommends making work processes that are efficient, flexible, and digital. This advice can be adopted in any sector to find some constancy in today’s tumultuous business world.
Tell us a little bit more about your business “A.S Marketing”. What exactly do you do?
Adriana: Even though I am based in Hamburg, Germany, and I have been here for years, I am originally from the US. So I speak both German and English. That’s where I am working now, with clients, basically as a marketing consultant. We specialize in B2B marketing strategies, especially SEO and content marketing, within the industries for tech and pharma. So this last year, throughout 2020, it has been really interesting, regarding those two industries. One would also consider that maybe, they haven’t changed so much. But actually what we have experienced is, these industries have changed quite a bit.
I was going to say that maybe since you are primarily an online company, that maybe you haven’t experienced that many changes. Could you please take us through the kind of things that you have been experiencing within your sector?
Adriana: So last year was interesting because of what happened with marketing at the start of the pandemic. Everyone went like, “Oh my Gosh, we need to cut marketing! Cut it all out! We need to save money.”. The companies who decided not to do that realized after three to four months, “Wow! That was a really good idea that paid off.”. So what happened was that luckily our client base stayed. We are working fully digitally and fully remotely, even with global companies. That was okay but the demand basically went from 10 to 0 literally within maybe two weeks. Then after about three months or so, it just skyrocketed. It was crazy. Everyone started to see that the people who really focussed on digital marketing were doing well. Even if they were doing it beforehand, with the tech industry, in particular, they have always been sort of on board with digital marketing owing to their tech involvement. They are interested in working with tech people. So that kind of goes hand in hand logically. But the demand even from that perspective grew. So as an agency of course, that was, I would say, a rather positive side. However, the downside to that is, when you are an agency and when you are working with stakeholders of course, who want to understand. They might realize, “ Okay, how can I make sure that my investment is worthwhile?”. They might require to understand if the processes they are using are really worthwhile or up to date. There was really a whole new level of pressure caused by the need of really quick results while maintaining the high quality and high level. It was kind of a situation when people needed a lot of digital marketing but they also needed it to be way better than ever before. It was also way more successful than ever before. So I think it was pretty interesting, trying to find a balance for all of that in these past months.
Definitely. I mean it’s so good to hear that you experienced an increase in demand, when many agencies and firms were actually experiencing more of a decrease. Like you said, in the beginning of the pandemic, this was the situation. But how did you manage, first of all, this sudden increase in work, along with the challenges of the lockdown that everybody has been experiencing? And also, how did you manage the expectations of the people who suddenly thought, “Hey okay! I’m going to throw everything into marketing and I need all of this immediately.”? How did you overcome these challenges?
Adriana: I think, the process of overcoming these challenges is still in progress. But one of the things that I have learnt is scaling and that I have started by working with freelancers. I think that is actually a method that could really apply to any business because hiring employees takes a long time. To train them and to sort of get them on board with things, takes time. But when you hire a freelancer, especially a specialized consultant, who likely knows your industry and has worked with other clients like yours, there is a lot less time required for training. They can kind of just jump in and get started. So that is not even an agency tactic. It’s really something that any business can use to sort of put more resources into a certain side of their business at any one point in time. And also, it is of course a lot better for a volatile economy because you don’t have contractual conditions as with a full-time employee. I also think that a large majority of people want this flexibility in their work and so a lot of people want to work freelance. I mean let people work the way they want to work and it’s a win-win situation. That is basically how we have been able to handle it here. I work completely with global freelancers. So yes, we can pretty much scale up or down as much as we need. That has basically been my method for trying to handle the increased demand. But I think in terms of the reporting and the pressure from the stakeholder side, it has been one of the most difficult elements as an agency. I have had to take on a really whole new level of responsibility. Like the point of contact within the company and just making sure that everyone is satisfied with those processes. I think good communication is probably one of the most important elements there. I really strive to work with this approach. We have weekly meetings, we have reports, shared project management boards and we try to make sure that everyone really understands what we are doing, what we need to do and the results from all of those processes.
I think that is great advice for anybody who is experiencing an increase in scaling with freelancers and making sure that your communication systems are up and running and clear for everybody. So I wonder about your client base. Have you experienced a shift in the type of clients that you are receiving? Or is it a similar demographic in comparison to the ones that you were getting before the pandemic?
Adriana: I would say that there has been this cross-industry global demand for digital marketing services. Especially because we are working mostly on the organic side and everyone has started to realise that the organic side is more sustainable and that is better for situations like the pandemic. Also because we have those results from previous clients. So finding new ones, even in new industries, becomes a lot easier. So we are working with two new clients in the legal industry right now. Before they really didn’t want to do a whole lot with the digital world and then there was this huge demand in the last couple of weeks from industries like this that were traditional at least before COVID. And now after COVID, they decided to learn something from the tech companies that are fully digital. There was one we were working with and their workforce was completely remote as well. I find that really cool that they did that with a service-based person-to-person business. It is possible.
What about your own marketing? How have you been spreading the word about your own firm? Have you made any changes in how you communicate with potential clients?
Adriana: I would say that the biggest thing is LinkedIn. If you are in the B2B world at all, that’s probably going to be the most successful platform in terms of networking, branding and just spreading the word about what you are doing as a company. It is not really about your company profile but you can also develop a personal brand. That is the biggest thing you can do, not only in the marketing world but probably in the B2C world as well. It is really useful for career development as well. But my partner, for example, works in the gas and oil industry and he has done a lot of networking on Linkedin. There are a lot of job offers there as well. So I think that is probably the best place to be if you want to improve your career or your business, whatever the case may be.
So tell us a bit about how your business is going in the present day. We were discussing earlier that the restrictions in Germany are quite strict, unfortunately. So how are you finding things?
Adriana: So we have been in lockdown in Germany since October. Even over Christmas and New Years, we had a two-person meeting limit. So that was pretty rough. Even the holidays were isolated. Even though I was able to take a bit of break which is probably the number one thing I would recommend for people. We should all take breaks, especially now that we are working at home, we have this sort of brain space from work and that is something I have personally struggled with a lot, trying to separate my work-life balance. And now, they have extended the lockdown further through the 14th. And then we have these special masks that we have to wear now and you get a big fine of course if you don’t wear them. So I think the best thing to do is just try where you can, take breaks and go outside if all possible (if you are luckily allowed to do that). We can still do that in Germany, we can go outside, even though everything is closed. But just try to take a walk and get some headspace. That is probably the best we can do for now.
Yeah, I think it’s very valuable to mention not only the business side of the dealing but also the personal side. We are all in this position working as hard as ever. Not being able to have the downtime that we would like, I think that affects us. What about your outlook for the coming months? Unfortunately no one can predict what is going to happen next with the economy and the pandemic. But do you have any projects coming up that you have, like expanding or anything like that?
Adriana: I am fully versed in the digital world. I already have some projects in the pipeline that are digitally based. And of course, we would like to continue scaling and working with more freelancers. That model was clearly proven to be successful this year. So I think regardless of how the pandemic continues and when it ends at some point, the emphasis on the method is not going to change. That’s a really permanent outlook and is something that was already in the works even before that. So even if you are not in a digital industry let’s say, I would really encourage everyone to consider the parts of their businesses they can make digital. There can also be things on which they can sort of reduce their risks by making things person-to-person. Because we don’t know what is going to happen in the future. Even in the coming months, with the vaccine, we don’t know how long that is going to take. Of course, there are other things that can always change. History has shown that stability is temporary. So we have to prepare for that in the business world as best as we can. I think, just trying to make your processes digital and also flexible to sort of making you a bit more prepared for any kind of risk is really what I would recommend. That is not just in a few months but just for as long as you are in business.
I think never, truer words were spoken. Stability is temporary, in these days that has definitely been proven. So I think that is perfect advice that digital marketing can offer at least some kind of stability in these times. So you have given some brilliant insights into your industry and the ways people can deal with the challenges of the pandemic. Through scaling with freelancers, communication and also the personal side of making sure you get some headspace. But I am sure that as an independent business there are some things that you need help with. So if you could name some things that in the current climate you and your firm as a marketing agency need help with? What would they be?
Adriana: That’s hard to answer because I can give a lot of small things of course. But if I am looking at the big picture that is agency-based, one of the biggest things would be recurring revenue. That’s something that is needed for every business. You need recurring revenue because that creates sustainability. So for me in particular, that’s the biggest thing and of course, that’s really hard to predict at the moment who is going to say and who is going to maybe make changes to how we work together. I also think that just really finding the right people is probably the second biggest one. Finding people who have the right mindset is really important because I think the mindset is probably one of the biggest things when it comes to finding the right team members. If people are engaged, they want to be a part of a team. Everyone one our team, despite the fact that they are spread out, we do communicate regularly about what is going on. We are always open to suggestions on how to improve things as well. So I think finding better ways to find people with a similar minding. Really creating that company culture because we are working with clients too. So of course, we have to meet their expectations as well, especially with the people whom we are pairing on those projects. So that is probably the second. And the third I think would be probably process-related. Trying to make processes more efficient and optimise them in terms of scaling and also when you are working remotely, you really need to have good processes in place to make sure that everyone knows what they need to do and by when they deed to do it. They are also working at a capacity that they feel comfortable with. It’s not too much or too less. They feel okay, they know what they have to do today, they know what they need to do, they have the information they need to finish their work and they are comfortable with that process. So that’s actually quite difficult. And I think it’s always a work in progress process to improve that.
Well, thank you so much Adriana because I think you have given us not only a very thorough insight into your particular market in the digital marketing industry but also a lot of advice and a lot of insights that I think can be relevant to many different sectors. So I think it’s been a really interesting experience speaking to you. Do you have any final words for anybody watching?
Adriana: I think just keep your chin up! Stay strong! One of the things that have been in the back of my mind throughout this entire process is that we are sort of struggling together and that sorts of helps me to feel like, “Okay! Even though we are isolated, I am not alone and other people are feeling this too. So you know we are surviving this together.”
About the Guest
Originally from the US and now living in Germany, Adriana Stein is a Digital Marketing Consultant and Marketing Agency Founder of Integrated Digital Innovations who develops holistic online marketing strategies for B2B and B2C companies across English and German-speaking markets. By acting as an external strategic partner to Senior Level Marketers, her go-to marketing strategies are for businesses looking to expand into new markets, increase sales, and sustainably grow their business. Her speciality lies in creating holistic marketing strategies that incorporate various techniques like native-speaker level SEO, LinkedIn content marketing, and marketing automation.