Surviving and thriving: reflections on our first “proper” year as a new agency

4
min read

Adrian

Maddie

Charley

Sam

Lorna

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As the year comes to a close we’ve found some time to reflect on what we’ve learnt as an agency, and how we’ve grown over the past 12 months. From working with a diverse range of clients on projects of varying scale, to facing new professional and personal challenges, we have faced lots of learning curves and opportunities to grow.

To make sure these important learnings aren’t forgotten in the merry haze of Christmas, we’ve asked the team to share with us what they feel their most important takeaways from this year are.

Adrian — Managing Director

This year has felt like our “first proper year” as a business. We’re settled, both physically in our new office, and mentally with our agency offering and positioning. We’re more comfortable in what we do and are focusing in the areas we’re good at which is ultimately leading to better, more meaningful work. What really has been motivating is to be having exciting conversations everyday around creative innovation and the model we’re bringing to market. Everyone is interested. Not just our clients but everyone is asking questions — partners, press, contemporaries and our wider network of creative talent. It’s not all about the numbers, but performance is good too. We’re pretty happy to have had 116% growth YoY. Ultimately we are still a small, independent company without any funding in a competitive, changing market. Sometimes we can be over ambitious, get distracted or focus in the wrong areas. But with the vision we have, and increased rigour and focus in 2023, I’m pretty excited to see what we can achieve. In the next few years I’m hoping we’ll be defining the way creatives collaborate and work. Watch this space. And yea, we’ll finally put up our website in Jan because the best thing I did this year was take a few days off and let the team sort it out. Needless to say they smashed it. Thanks guys.

Maddie — UX Lead

One thing I’ve learnt this year after moving from a large company to a small agency is the importance of adaptability and flexibility. Smaller agencies tend to have less structure and are more fluid in terms of roles and responsibilities. This was a challenge for me at first, but it’s also been a great opportunity to learn new skills and take on a variety of tasks and projects. I’ve learnt the significance of effective communication and collaboration in a small team, as everyone plays an important role in the success of Ah Um. Overall working here has been a valuable learning experience that has taught me the importance of adaptability and the value of strong communication and collaboration in small teams.

Lorna — Content Lead

The big thing I’ve learned this year is that I love being back in the office! It’s so great to regularly be seeing the team in person, working closely together throughout the day and exploring all the great stuff on our doorstep. Plus we’ve even started having in-person meetings with clients, which makes such a difference.

I’ve also been reminded again and again what a great team we have. Everyone works hard and pulls together, always having fun as they do. And we continue to champion the things that are important to us — mental health, wellness, personal interests and personal development. Here’s to 2023 and great things for Ah Um!

Sam — Copywriter

The fact that we’ve worked across a range of clients from multiple industries (and pitched to others) has been a great experience. It’s been useful to learn from a diverse group of people, particularly about their own challenges, and how we could solve them through content production and strategy.

From a copywriting perspective, I’d say this year has also been beneficial in getting experience writing on a lot of different projects, with different formats/audiences in mind. Writing across social media / email / sales decks / scripts has taught me a lot in how to tailor writing to the medium.

Charley — Creative Designer

This year I’ve learnt that I really enjoy being immersed in the clients’ world and understanding their values completely before getting into the creative work. It really helps my design visions come together and makes the workload feel lighter.

And that’s a wrap…

2022 done, almost! Looking to the new year, we’re excited to continue defining our creative collaboration model and achieving even greater success. Here’s to 2023!

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In housing your content team the Ah Um way

Some businesses use agencies, some freelancers, others their own in-house agencies to get their content done. While they can all be great ways to ensure your creative content is delivered – we reckon we’ve developed a better one.

The great resignation, quiet quitting, skills shortages, in-housing nightmares… all phrases that have become increasingly common when talking about the workplace. There’s no denying that hybrid ways of working have changed the business landscape – and now, more than ever, businesses are looking at ways to optimise how they create content. But what is the best way to get great content?

The traditional options

Agencies

External agencies bring an outside perspective, and the potential to see creative and marketing opportunities that may have otherwise been missed. However, they’re also known for working in pretty rigid models and working in silo to your internal teams with account managers blocking access – missing possibilities for collaboration.

In-house teams

With your delivery team in-house you can realise the benefits of having your content created by a team who are already experts in your company and its culture, as well as having more creative and financial control over outputs. However, sometimes being part of the furniture can mean resource is not put to good use, creativity can get stale and the breadth of experience within the team can be limited.

Freelancers

Using freelance resource can be ideal for plugging some skills gaps, but they don’t come with out their own issues. Freelancers often don’t tend to, or want to, work as a part of a collaborative team, which can make managing wider projects where freelancers are involved more difficult. Plus there are added admin implications such as IR35 compliance and general management of disparate freelancers.

Recruiters

Recruiters can be a good option to help you find the resource you need for a particular project – but that’s kind of all they do. They aren’t content specialists, they focus on individuals rather than teams and don’t manage the people they put in your teams – so if it doesn’t work out you’re back to square one.

The Ah Um option

We’ve taken the best bits of in-house teams, freelancers, external agencies and recruiters and designed a way of creating content that delivers everything you need, in the most flexible, efficient way possible.


How do we do this? We build, embed and run the creative teams you need for your projects directly within your business, for the time you need them. So you can…

  • Get flexibility – onboard and stand down teams on a project-by-project basis, a bit like how an in-house team would work

  • Access top talent – get the benefits of an external agency in terms of having the best, most enthusiastic writers, strategists and creatives making content for you

  • Keep costs on track – our model means you can actually resource your teams efficiently without the overheads of recruiters, full-time staff or using freelancers

  • Realise top-level outputs – embedding a creative team for a particular project means you can achieve the outputs you need without letting other internal projects slip, and without increasing headcount, and long-term costs

  • Mitigate risk – increase the creative capabilities of your existing teams without taking on additional risk or admin – we’ll deal with any personnel absence/changes/issues so you don’t have to

So, you could say we’re like an external agency in structure and experience, but we deliver more like an integrated, in-house team. Our teams take the time to get really involved in your project, understanding the nitty gritty of your product and business, no matter how technical and work with you to get it right, while bringing the fresh eyes and outside perspective needed to make your comms and content strategy fresh, accessible and exciting for your audience.

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What’s it like being a designer for Ah Um? 🎨😛

Take a sneak peek behind the scenes at Ah Um and get to know what Charley, our creative designer, gets up to day-to-day.

A typical day on client work 💪

At Ah Um we focus on understanding our clients before creating their content, so a typical morning for me might include reviewing some brand guidelines and messaging documents. When those don’t exist, I’ll use tools like colour-picking software which help me grab a palette from their existing website!

If we’re working with clients using the embedded team model, we will also join in on the client’s standups and meetings to ensure we’re working efficiently as part of their team.

For video and animation based projects, I’ll make a moodboard containing imagery, fonts, tone of voice and any other information which sets the client apart from its competitors. Once this is done I start the sketching phase. Check out our brainstorming article for the specifics! Then I’ll spend the afternoon working closely with the other project members, and help to create a pitch deck for us to showcase our ideas to the client.

A typical day with no client work 💡

On a day with no client biz I’ll work on designs, videos and animations for our social media channels.

I also make sure to spend time on my personal development, which includes good old chats with the boss about my ambitions, enrolling on courses to help me hone my skills, and watching the BEST youtube tutorials (thank you Ben Marriott).

Courses and development 🔧

One of my goals has been to improve my motion design and animation skills, so I have used my yearly training budget to take part in Ben Marriott’s Master Motion Design course. It was incredible! I’m obsessed with his tutorials and this course was just an entire new level of detail. I learned sooo many useful techniques and workflow tricks that can be applied to every project for a smoother overall process and improved end product. We covered loads of animation styles and took a deep dive into the technical bits of after effects (my favourite thing to nerd out about).

This year I’d love to look into hand-drawn animation courses as liquid motion and morphing would be super cool techniques to integrate into my work.

Work-life balance 🌳

I really enjoy being creative and I spend most of my free time doing things like design, film and music, so having a full time job in the area I enjoy the most makes me really happy. However, when working from home I sometimes use up all my creativity at work and have none left to use on my hobbies, and vice versa! I’ve found that going into the office once or twice a week helps me have that separation between work and life, and even if it’s been a super intense working day, I still feel like I can spend time on my hobbies at home.

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Why your business needs copywriters

(Written by a completely unbiased copywriter)

Copywriting is absolutely everywhere, though you might not have noticed it before. Every ad you’ve seen, every website you’ve visited, every newsletter you’ve read, you can guarantee that a copywriter has been there, crafting the right words to convince you to take action. In its essence, copywriting is simply that: taking your reader from point a to your desired point b.

In the years before the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, a dedicated reader could have read every book in existence within their lifetime. Why is this relevant, you might ask. Well, then think, could you imagine hopping online and reading every page on google suggesting you should buy this or that item? No. It would take forever.

The fact is that we have far more choice in today’s information age, from the books we read to the brands we buy from. On the one hand, you can market yourself to people all over the world (something that a merchant in the middle ages likely would have killed for) but on the other hand, that power comes with an inevitable trade off — overabundance. The chances are that there are thousands of others out there that are selling the exact same thing that you are, so why should people choose your brand over theirs?

This is where copywriting is essential. The right copy will differentiate your business from the crowd and create trust with your audience. It tells a story about who you are. It makes your customers feel seen. It’s the jedi mind trick of marketing and advertising.

An experienced copywriter will have experience in producing a range of material for various brands. There are also a multitude of niches within copywriting — whether it’s B2B copywriting, technical copywriting, SEO copywriting — so no matter what it is that you need, there’ll be specialists out there that have been there and done it.

You might have a truly great product on your hands that you can’t wait to tell the world about, yet the results won’t be what you hoped without a real connection with your customers. And that’s exactly what a copywriter can provide. You know better than anyone why your business would be beneficial for your target audience, a copywriter simply takes that knowledge and creates a message that will reach them.

Now, you might ask yourself why you’d need to hire someone to do this for you. After all, couldn’t you write this yourself, or get an AI tool to do it for free?

It’s true that AI bots are smarter these days, and if you feed them the right input then you should get legible copy in return. But believe it or not, a copywriter’s first asset is not their writing skill, it’s an ability that AI doesn’t have.

Copywriters can think.

This is the true bulk of a copywriter’s work. Before a first draft is written, a copywriter will spend time researching your competitors and target audience, as well as familiarising themselves with your brand guidelines and tone of voice. These steps help to determine the content and style of the copy, as well as the medium it’s shared through as part of the overall messaging strategy.

Bringing copywriters onboard means more than just a refresh to your sales material, they can provide the direction that your marketing needs. They can assess the challenges that your business is facing and give you a fresh perspective. In this sense, the work of a copywriter is more proactive than reactive, arming you with expert guidance and a path to build a better relationship with your customers.

Ultimately, the first impression that someone gets when they visit your website, read your blog, or see an ad will be formed by the words that you use. The difference between engaging content and the all-too-familiar is one that your business will undoubtedly feel.

If you’re thinking of hiring a copywriting agency, or have already done so, take the time to share your views on what you think your business’s strengths are, who you’re trying to reach, and anything that differentiates you from the competition. This usually happens during the onboarding phase, but a successful partnership will be built through continued communication and collaboration.

With the right team in place, your business will break through the barrier of stale webpages and newsletters that never see the light of day. On the other side, the upturn in sales and brand awareness will have you questioning how you ever did it without copywriters.

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