Lessons Learned in My First Year After Starting a Division at a Digital Agency

Abdo Mazloum
By Abdo Mazloum
lessons learned in my first year after starting a division at a digital agency

Startups are stressful, hard work and fun! Yes, the fun part is how much pleasure you get from the growth of the numbers month over month. And growth justifies access to more tools and resources, attending global conferences, and hiring more people on the team.

Starting a new division in a company that has been around for 6 years is obviously easier than starting from scratch. So, I’m grateful to the founders of OPM Pros, Paresh & Sonny, who offered me their trust and the opportunity last year to launch this division that grew from a team of one with zero clients to a team of seven servicing over 30 client accounts. I’d love to share some of the learnings and advice that I’ve gathered along the way.

Failure is inevitable

You can run, but you can’t hide. The team and I have made mistakes and learned how to better deal with our failures and the questions that follow. We are in the service business so as we all know customers have high expectations and are almost waiting for you to slip to point the finger at you.
There are instances where we know that we could have done things differently to deliver a better outcome, and there are times when we’ve done our best with the resources we had to deliver the expected targets, but external factors don’t allow us to reach those goals. To name a few of those external factors: a client’s site returns a 5xx server error, the account credit card maxes out and there’s no backup in place, campaign settings are wrongly configured due to improperly defined specs, or the person in charge of launching the campaigns doesn’t have a solid understanding of all the levers in the digital advertising platform like AdWords, Bing Ads, Facebook, DoubleClick, etc. If you don’t have solid training and experience in these platforms, you can easily blow money with limited return.

Delegate as much as you can

This is one of the most effective management skills in my opinion. It’s all about maximizing the productivity of the team and leveraging their respective skills. People are special and different in their own ways, so if you have the ability to identify their strengths, empowering them to do what they are best at is a true accomplishment.
I’m sincerely proud of the team members I have hired over the past year. We come from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds that helped us strive in different aspects of our day-to-day jobs. Some people come from a creative background and love to work on content related projects, others come from a technical background and prefer to work on development and project management accounts, and others come from a business background and have strong interpersonal skills and prefer to be more client-facing, dealing with account management and negotiating the onboarding of new platforms.
Delegating smaller tasks to newer staff to build their confidence and competence is a great way to get things done so you can better focus on high-level strategic planning. The most interesting part is trusting the team members to take full ownership of their projects. Trust enables people to work together as well as personal accountability, which can result in a very high-performing team.

One-on-one training works best

During the first few months of the launch of the division, we were a small team of three and a few clients so it was easier to invest time one-on-one with the team members while directly showing them all the tactics and strategies for building the different types of SEM campaigns, installing pixels, performing an SEO audit, etc. A few months later, as we grew to a bigger team, it became much harder to take the time and sit one-on-one with each team member and offer them a personalised approach to developing their talent and skills.
The main advantage of a one-on-one training program is that it can be tailored to each team member’s specific requirements. In a group, not everyone will be at the same level and not everyone learns in the same way. Certain personalities may dominate, and someone may shy away from asking a question in front of everyone. People are more comfortable in a one-on-one situation, which works best in their favour to ensure they get a good grasp on the subjects they’re uncomfortable with.

Happy Staff = Happy Customers

Client retention starts with good staff retention. Taking the time to get to know your employees on a personal level is key to a successful employee-supervisor relationship. Engaged team members that are motivated and happy are more productive and will drive more revenue growth for the company. Making sure openness and transparency are core values of the company will help to eliminate unwanted surprises like hearing negative feedback from someone else or as late as when your employee submits their resignation letter. Encourage employees to express their opinions and listen to their concerns – try to find solutions to improve the workplace. Client-facing employees are the face of the company, and a client will notice whether the person on the account is happy or miserable, motivated or slacking. The drive and energy of the employees will reinforce a tighter relationship with the client.

Attending selected conferences is worthwhile

I have attended a dozen of local and international conferences in the past year and my experience overall was quite positive. It’s good to contribute to the digital marketing community locally and internationally. You’ll meet familiar faces of well-known bloggers, book authors, and inspiring influencers that have been sharing industry knowledge over the past couple of decades.
It was great to see awesome keynote speakers such as Avinash Kaushik at the Connect in Miami, Seth Godin at ClickZlive in NYC, and Marty Weintraub at the Hero Conf in Philly.
The content that is shared is relevant to the work you do on a daily basis at a digital agency. Several brands share some inspiring case studies with out-of-the-box ideas that you can learn from and test on the brands you’re working on. However, some of the content is tailored to the beginner level digital marketers and can be quite repetitive when you’ve spent the past decade of your life working online and have attended over a hundred conferences, so be sure to select your conference with that in mind.

Staying active is key

When you have to travel at least once a month and attend several networking dinners and cocktail parties, the effect on your body gets noticed quickly especially when you’ve passed the 30-year mark and your metabolism is slower than it was in your early 20s. Working out as much as you can is very beneficial for your health and especially your mind. I would recommend being physically active at least 60 minutes per day. Running is probably the easiest and most affordable sport ever. All you need is some activewear and running shoes. I try to run in the city, parks, and hotel gyms when I have some free time.
The OPM Pros team is also preparing for the Montreal Marathon on September 25th, so that serves as extra motivation, too. At OPM Pros we’re lucky to have standing desks – we can stand 20 minutes of each hour which helps increase the level of the LPL enzyme that is supposed to help you burn more fat. Being fit affects your performance at the workplace since it helps you sleep better, reduces your stress, allows you to eat more, and improves your mood and your looks. So why not stay active?
After a full year at OPM Pros, with a few white hairs appearing on my sideburns and some sleepless nights, we’ve become successful professionally and financially. Looking forward to more years to come!

OPM Pros Search & Display division July 2016


“Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.” Khalil Gibran

About the author

Abdo Mazloum
Abdo Mazloum is the VP of OPM Pros' Search Marketing & Display Division and has 8+ years of experience and technical expertise in SEM, media…
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