about 2 months ago by Kimi

Adam Asks... Is Culture the Key to a Successful Niche Agency?

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Kelly Gilmour-Grassam is the Director ofMaking You Content Ltd, a copywriting and content creation agency in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Born in Yorkshire, Kelly is a proud adopted Mancunian who has drawn inspiration from her urban surroundings to create a name for herself and her business in Manchester.

Back in March 2020, Kelly popped into the We Are Adam offices and sat down for a chat with our co-Founder Leon as part of our #AdamAsks podcast. They discussed everything from Kelly’s own journey from student to business owner and where she hopes to take the business in the future, to the importance of investing in the personal development and wellbeing of your employees.

“We’re not trying to sell clients more than they need.”

Kelly kicked off by talking about how her digital content agency, Making You Content, came into being. At university Kelly was freelancing as a copywriter (and even essay writer for fellow students!), and she quickly identified a gap in the market that she decided to seize.

“There were a lot of freelance copywriters out there, and there were a lot of all-singing, all-dancing full-service Agencies, but there wasn’t much in between for content specifically. A lot of clients were coming to me and asking ‘could you write two blogs a month?’ or ‘can you write some content for my website?’ – for a lot of clients, that’s all they need. A lot of full-service agencies don’t hone-in on tone of voice, what your messages are, and what your audience is looking for. That’s how Making You Content came about. We go far beyond what a freelance copywriter would do, but we’re not trying to sell clients more than they need.”

“I never knew what I wanted to do growing up.”

From early on Kelly learnt that she had a natural talent for essay writing, as she was excelling in subjects that contained a lot of essay writing, such as economics, history, and politics. Her friends quickly ‘clocked-on’ to this, and Kelly became their go-to person when they needed essay help. When she was looking for ways to earn an income whilst studying, and to save up to go travelling, Kelly began picking up a few freelance writing jobs.

“Back in school, I didn’t even realise that ‘copywriter’ was a profession. I certainly hadn’t thought about starting a business. So I did really fall into it, to be quite honest, but I am so glad that I did because otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

“Don’t be afraid to dream big.”

Kelly grew up on a rural farm in Yorkshire, and when she first began Making You Content, she was working out of her bedroom there. Realising that, being so rural, she wasn’t going to attract as much business as she could, Kelly began considering a move to a city. Not wanting to go to London, she cast her eye towards Manchester.

“I really wanted to throw myself into a business community,” Kelly states, “I’ve always been a very sociable person and I very much wanted to see how far I could take Making You Content.”

Kelly won Freelancer of the Year in 2015, which acted as a ‘launch pad’ for her starting and growing the business. “It gave me a lot of exposure, and the prize money enabled me to take on my first member of staff. Even though I had big dreams of what I wanted for my career, I never envisioned that I would go and build an agency. I think that’s one piece of advice that I would give to graduates: Don’t be afraid to dream big.”

Going on to talk about how she never believed she would have an agency with several staff, she advises graduates and freelancers to “look at the big agencies and get inspiration from them. Because you could get to that point someday, and quite quickly!” Aside from part-time jobs that she had as a student, Kelly has never worked for anyone else - having gone straight from university to founding Making You Content. She believes that this has worked both for and against her and the business.

“It’s worked for us because we have quite an organic culture, clients like working with us because we say it like it is. However, it has taken me a long time to mature the business from freelance to a proper agency. We were undercharging, and it took us a long time to see the worth in what we were doing and charge properly,” she explains, also stating that getting processes in place was also a challenge for them.

One of Manchester’s leading employers!

Making You Content has created such a successful culture that they were amongst the first six businesses in Greater Manchester to be announced as members of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter in January 2020. Only businesses who have committed to pay all staff the real living wage, offer flexible working and provide security of work among other commitments outlined in the membership criteria (for more info, clickhere) are accepted as members.

“It’s a real privilege to be recognised,” Kelly says, after explaining how she played a part in its’ inception. “We have a very inclusive team environment, decision making is done by the whole business, and I think they [GMCA] liked the way that we involved our teams in our decisions.”

When it comes to building her team, Kelly has always gone for personality over experience, and talked about how she made her first hire on a gut instinct, against all advice. “I saw the passion and hunger in him and just thought ‘this guy needs a chance’, and he’s been the best employee we’ve ever had.” In fact, Making You Content has only ever had one person leave the business to date.

“Everyone has a life outside work.”

Kelly believes that it is important for business leaders to remember that everyone has a life outside of work and believes that flexible working practices have enabled to her to create a better culture within her company.

“We write content, we don’t need to be in the office nine-to-five Monday to Friday,” she states, going on to explain some of the various flexible working practices in operation at Making You Content. “I’ve always tried to be very accommodating of the fact that people have lives, and I think that has been paid back to me multiple times over by their loyalty.”

“Acting like an air traffic controller.”

As Making You Content approached its’ sixth birthday, Kelly made her first senior hire for the company – an Operations Manager. Until now, Kelly had been ‘wearing many hats’ and managing everything, acting like an ‘air traffic controller’ directing everyone. By hiring an Operations Manager, it’s freed up her time to focus on the vision and growth of the company, as well as giving her some time back to deal directly with clients.

“It’s very new to me to have someone come in and, essentially, highlight and fix all of the things that you’ve done wrong!” She laughs. “It’s like when your Mum comes round to your house, and starts asking things like ‘why are the cups there?’ and ‘I’ll just clean the bathroom for you’ and you think ‘that’s how I do things!’ when really, they’re just here to help.”

Looking towards the future of Making You Content, Kelly considers how the business has evolved over the past six years. Starting off focusing purely on content creation, over the years they have evolved to give clients a more comprehensive service. “We’ve moved away from pure content creation, to book-ending that with strategy and distribution,” she notes, explaining that they had been doing a lot of this with clients anyway, but not seeing it as ‘work’.

“If people are enjoying the job, then they are going to do better work.”

A large part of the Making You Content culture focuses on learning and development and Kelly will work with employees to aid their personal development. The company recently took on their first digital marketing apprentice, and Kelly explains that during the apprentice’s training they have shown a genuine interest and aptitude in certain topics. Because of this, they are looking to send their apprentice on additional courses and training sessions related to these interests.

“If we play to our employee’s strengths, then we can always plug any knowledge gaps in other areas by hiring someone,” Kelly explains, “I think that it is important that you let people invest in their own development, and that you don’t try to shoe-horn them into something that doesn’t necessarily fit.”

Employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is also a huge focus for Kelly and the team, and the business even has a Head of Wellbeing. Identifying that one of her team had an interest in mental health and wellbeing, and was even studying to become a counsellor, and recognising that allowing him a wellbeing position within MYC would help them in their future career, she worked with him to create the role. He has since introduced several initiatives – from a fruit bowl in the office to birthday days off – to help improve employee satisfaction and wellbeing.

“It’s helped him,” Kelly says, “and it’s helped us. I think that people appreciate that.”

The Secret to Great Content

The conversation then moves to what makes a great piece of content. “If I was to pin-point it to one particular thing, I would say that it’s understanding ‘why’ you’re creating that piece of content. I’ve seen great content and well-worded articles, but you don’t really understand the point. It doesn’t matter how nicely it has been written if you don’t really get back to the root of why you’re creating it,” Kelly advises, pointing out that the reader won’t really know what to take away from the article and you won’t see a return on your investment.

Kelly then reflects on what sets Making You Content apart from other agencies in the industry. “I think our model really sets us apart in our market, as I’ve not seen many other agencies with the same structure as us, whereby every piece of work goes through an editor. Our clients have trust that we have quality control. It’s really helped us to develop a mature editorial team.”

From Manager to Leader

Since expanding her team and bringing on an Operations Manager, Kelly has noticed that her role is evolving from a ‘manager’ role to a leadership role. “The key thing in leadership is that you’re moving away from being a manager to being a leader,” she explains, “since bringing in an operations manager, I’ve been spending less and less time managing the day-to-day of people’s work. My role is now going to be the person that inspires, leads, and sets the standard.”

It hasn’t been an easy transition, and she has sometimes struggled putting on her ‘boss hat’ when required, as there was so much going on whilst the agency was growing. Talking about the challenges of leadership, she says “It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the background or how much stress you’re under, you have to put that best foot forward. And to know what ‘best foot forward’ looks like for each individual member of the team. It took me a while to get my head around, but I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable with it, and able to put the ‘leader hat' on quickly if I need to.”

Advice

Kelly finishes by sharing a couple of pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs who wish to build a successful agency. “Find a niche, and stick to it closely,” is her first piece of advice, going on to explain that by focusing on content, Making You Content became the go-to agency in Manchester whenever somebody needed content creating. “If you don’t specialise, it’s hard to get that recognition.”

“I’d also say, look to who you can partner with. Especially in the Manchester community, there’s such an amazing support network there.” She suggests joining networking groups, as it helps build a strong support network that you can lean on in hard times.

To hear more about Kelly’s story as well as her fantastic insights into the world of content creation, you can listen to the full episode of #AdamAsks here, and follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram to stay up-to-date with the latest #AdamAsks episodes!