Andrew Stanten | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Andrew Stanten

Background:  

Altitude Marketing, based in Emmaus, Pa., is a B2B, tech-oriented, integrated marketing firm with a global client base. The firm's clients include Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Olympus, among others. 

The Mistake:

Ultimately, I think our biggest mistake, as I look back a couple of years, was not treating Altitude like a client. And this is really relevant for us, because we're a marketing agency. Our job is to effectively promote companies through best practices in marketing, to get the word out, to generate leads, all of those kinds of things. You know that joke about the cobbler's kids not having shoes? Well, that one gets old really fast.

I built the company in such a way that, in the early days, our business was built on referrals from friends and families, and then we started getting that first generation of new referrals. That was fine for a while, but in order to scale the business and start getting clients from all over the globe—and today we have clients from Silicon Valley to New York to the Netherlands—we had to stop treating ourselves like a stepchild. We needed to really invest in our own marketing.

We tell our clients all the time, "You've got to invest in this stuff." And we realized we needed to follow those same processes that we recommend for our clients. We needed to actually put somebody in charge of handling our own marketing efforts, because what was happening was, we might have a great idea [for our firm] and it would always end up taking a backseat to the client work.

Our clients can't be the guinea pigs ... experimentation needs to start here.

The Lesson:

There are so many things out there that we can be looking at, and experimenting with, in order to improve the results for our clients. But our clients can't be the guinea pigs. That experimentation is so crucial to our business going forward, and that experimentation needs to start here. When I talk about the need for us to be doing the same things that we tell our clients to do, I look back to when we started telling them they needed to make sure their websites were mobile-responsive, and yet our own site wasn't mobile-responsive.

Of course, we try to run a lean organization, and we wanted the clients to always come first. But at the same time, we would come second. We were fortunate to get by on those early referrals, but to scale up we really needed to reach beyond that level, and unless we changed the way we approached our own marketing, it just wasn't going to happen.

Looking back, I think that if we had followed our own advice and treated ourselves like a client way back in year three, we would have dramatically increased the slope of our own growth curve. Because now that we are following our own advice, and now that we have an account manager on our own account, and now that we've gotten serious about it, we've seen our business double—because we are really good at what we do.

Follow Andrew Stanten on Twitter at @stanten.

Pictured: Andrew Stanten. | Photo courtesy of Altitude Marketing