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From Side Hustle to Award Winning Agency

In this day and age, social media is the key to communication. It is everywhere; just a click away in the front pocket of your jeans, or in your purse. The world is at our fingertips and yet very few people take advantage of it. We like to see what others have to say; we spend hours trolling Facebook or reading threads on Twitter, but all it is for the general population is entertainment.

Lysa Miller is not the norm.

She started her company, Ladybugz Interactive Agency as a freelance gig about 20 years ago as she was working a full-time job at CBS Interactive. When she left her job to start a family, her part-time career became a bigger focus. As her children grew, and her time started to free up, she began to realize it was time to expand her small digital agency.

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Her company offered retainer-based social media and SEO packages once she completed client websites. She quickly became known as an expert and authority on all things web design, SEO, and social media. As an expert source, she often contributed to online publications, such as Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fortune, and CIO just to name a few. While the online media exposure was growing her business, work was beginning to take time away from her kids.

To create more time with family, Miller allowed her team to work from her home office. She created a fun working environment, but still maintained a separate company office for potential meetings and professional business. The relaxed setting really inspired creativity and collaboration. It worked well for a few years, but as the company continued to grow, it was clear Ladybugz needed more.

She met her future business partner around that same time.

Marc Avila started 3 Media Web in 2001. His story is similar, as he was also working a full-time job until he decided to leave and jump feet first into growing 3 Media Web. He also worked out of his own home, until he and Miller decided to lease office space together.

The two actually met on the social media platform Twitter. Avila had been impressed by some Ladybugz Interactive web work and began following her on social media. Miller and Avila began communicating and became friends and mentored each other while growing their respective agencies. In early 2016, they merged their two companies to become a larger full-service agency under the brand of 3 Media Web; now a 17-person company in downtown Hudson, Massachusetts with a second location recently opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

By merging their two companies, the entrepreneurs were able to accomplish far more in their businesses than they ever could by themselves. By utilizing social media and building upon that relationship over Twitter, they eventually became a successful, growing, thriving company.

Now that’s a testimonial for Twitter.

A Successful Business Model

After combining their two companies, Avila and Miller needed to decide on the next steps to elevate the business. After reviewing their business model, the pair decided to concentrate on three core offerings: web design and development, web support and hosting, and digital marketing for mid-sized and enterprise level companies. The clients ranged from large public companies and corporations to locally owned medium-sized businesses such as retirement communities, B2B companies, physicians’ organizations, manufacturers, biotech, and technology. They were prepared to cover it all, but they tended to focus on B2B with a few B2C clients.

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The strategy: form successful relationships with the current client base, increase price points and productize their services better. A smart strategy for growth.

Over the past 3 years, the revenue has been equally split between all three-core services. But what Miller and Avila did not expect, was that retainer part of their business would grow exponentially over that time.

“By focusing on successful client relationships, clients tend to stay with us for long periods of time,” says Miller. “Happy clients don’t leave!”

Building Traction and Acquiring Clients

Project success has always been a huge focus for the two partners.  Too many of their customers have shared their fair share horror stories about their past agency experiences.  3 Media Web’s goal is to complete projects on time and budget.

“Successful projects, make for happy clients,” says Miller. “And we share our success with the world.”

The team has developed a five step proven process that is applied to all of their work, from website design to support and digital marketing efforts. Because of these processes, the team has received numerous design and top agency awards.

“The company is built on reputation and solid knowledge, technical expertise, and customer service,” says Miller.  “This is why clients choose us.”

It boils down to trust.

Miller credits her partner for maintaining the company’s very strong technical expertise, one of 3 Media Web’s market differentiators.

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“Marc has built a strong technical team with solid design and development processes,” says Miller. “The team works together like a well-oiled machine that takes pride in everything they do.”

And the clients can tell.

Growth Hack Secrets

According to Miller, the hack to their company’s growth is no secret but is in many cases overlooked. Many businesses make the “cobbler’s kids have no shoes,” mistake. They are so focused on their clients and projects that they don’t make time for their own business.

She and her partner believe it’s important to practice what you preach.

“While Marc is internally running and improving the agency, I’m on the outside growing the business, building relationships, doing the PR, marketing and thought leadership,” says Miller. “I guess you could call me the face of the company.”

So far so good.

Most recently 3 Media Web was named one of the 360 Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America by Entrepreneur Magazine. The company was recognized for their hard work, dedication, and loyalty to its clients. They have had a steady revenue growth rate of 30% over the past 3 years and they hope to keep up the momentum.

The future looks very promising.

The Ups and Downs

With some great processes in place, the company was ready to take on the world. They had enough revenue to hire one high-level employee, and at the time, they had to decide to either invest in operations or in sales.

Since successful projects were the number one priority, the partners worried that increasing the amount of new work would hurt their quality, but they were also concerned that if they did invest in operations, sales would not support the revenue they needed.

Eventually, they made the difficult decision and invested in their operations team. The sales number didn’t increase right away, but it did allow them to set the business up for success. It didn’t skyrocket the numbers immediately, but it gave them a steady manageable increase that would prove to be one of their best decisions yet.

Rocket Fuel

We all know partnerships come with challenges. Two business owners, running separate businesses doing the same job can lead to conflict.

Let’s get personal for a minute here.

Miller is a relationship builder by nature. She loves making connections, working with clients, and nurturing those relationships. She is creative and extroverted, both useful skills when dealing with people, networking at events, and mastering publicity.  Marc is a technology genius and a master at setting up business processes. He is best at the technical aspects of the business and high-level company leadership. It has been a great combination to help the business, but the pair had to figure out how to maximize the use of their very different skill sets.

With help from some great entrepreneurial resources like Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman, they learned their situation was quite common. In that particular book, Wickman refers to their two personality types as the visionary and the integrator. By following some of Wickman’s principles, the partners were able to improve their role in the business.

Moving on Up

3 Media Web has made a steady increase of a 30% growth for the last three years, but there is always room for improvement. The partners chose to solidify their business operations early on, which leads them down a steady path of growth. They choose to continue to work on improving the business and are more selective about the projects and clients they take on.

The leadership team at 3 Media Web plays it smart, taking everything step-by-step and not rushing into anything that may be too risky. Keeping a level head and planning things out will help them expand without setbacks that could be damaging to the business.

A Word from the Wise

This agency owner’s best advice to anyone starting their own agency is to focus on operations first. Having solid processes and automation tools in place will make it easier to upscale. She also says it is important to only focus on core services, do not try to be everything to everyone.

“Specialize in what you are the best at, and be the very best at that,” she says.

From Beginning to Beyond

Clearly, Miller takes her own advice. She knew she excelled at relationship building. She has a creative aspect to her that was valuable in her own company, even when it was just a freelance gig. She took her small side hustle and nurtured it into something that blossomed too big for her to handle. She then went on to use social media to create a special bond with someone who would help her expand. She trusted her instincts and not only chose a partner she works well with but invested in the aspects of her company that made it steadily grow with a solid foundation instead of taking huge risks that could destroy the whole thing.

Lysa Miller did what a lot of us cannot. She persevered at her side hustle even when she left her full-time job to start her family. She reached out to others in order to expand her business and partnered to create a thriving company.

Where the path leads, nobody knows, but according to Miller, enjoying the trip along the way is what is important.