Be Inspired | Do Good
Mike Childress didn’t set out to have one particular career. He marvels at how it’s been a factor of “different things that have unintentionally shaped who I am and how […] strange, seemingly unrelated hobbies founded the foundation of what I do.” Marketing became the clear connection that bound together all of his varied interests and hobbies. For Mike, he’s glad that God created this path he couldn’t have conceived of on his own, and he’s along for the ride as he watches how everything comes together. He’s also more than grateful for his wife, who he describes as “10 times stronger and smarter than me” for being the foundation that allows him and their sons to thrive.
Mike began his career in the military. During his time, he enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point to study computer-aided design, computer coding, and web design. It was only really after a teacher reached out and saw something in Mike that he considered working on his computer skills. Although his career in marketing now appears to be entirely different than his army environment, they’re quite similar. Both careers rely heavily on creativity, problem-solving and relationship building, except that in one job, he could shoot rockets for a living. His favorite part of the army was seeing people grow, “as an officer, I was in a position to be able to empower them.” This mentality is helpful today and one he takes with him in business and life, “I chose to make my business about empowering myself or empowering other people, […] if you’re spending your time focusing on other people and empowering them, it ends up empowering you a hundred times more than if you’re out for yourself.”
Mike decided to exit the army after ten years on active duty and make the leap into corporate America. He started in procurement and manufacturing but was quickly promoted to a project management role. In this new position, Mike began to gravitate towards marketing and soon enough, he moved into a marketing role, where he gained an incredible amount of experience. For some, Medtronic was the dream, but for Mike, his entrepreneurial bug was growing, but without the support of his wife, it wouldn’t have happened. After confronting what his future would look like in a senior position in Medtronic’s corporate environment, Mike decided not to look back and open his business.
After a 15-year absence from Roanoke, the collaborative business community and the wholesome family environment where Mike grew up drew him back. It was also a bonus that Agile Marketing as Mike puts it, “built itself.” Friends, acquaintances, and referrals organically were going to Mike for their marketing needs because they knew he had the skill set to do the job. Before he even decided to go full-time with Agile, he had already replaced his income, and in 2013, Mike opened Agile Marketing Collective LLC.
As a marketing consultant who runs a marketing agency, Agile Marketing does anything from marketing strategy, SEO, website design, graphic design, video production and brand stories. The key to any marketing process is an intentional marketing strategy, “I can make you a beautiful website, and we put content on it, but if it doesn’t connect with people, then you’ve wasted your money.” Having a compelling story that reaches people, on an emotional level, will be effective for the right customer.
As for target marketing and knowing your audience, “you can get 1,000 calls but if they’re all terrible customers then what’s the point.” Mike knew he made the right move in his career early on when he took on a gym as a client and realized he could make long-standing changes for a business. “We created an out of the box thing, [it] felt risky to all of us but we knew it was what their brand was.” Agile invested in the SEO of the website and out of the gate, their website blew up, beating huge players in the gym industry in the search rankings. The gym was “getting a ton of calls and converting them because they were bringing in the right people.”
Following his passion, however, has not always been a cake walk. “Owning your own business takes so much self-motivation and drive. Keeping your momentum going is a huge challenge.” Although it’s hard to admit, Mike realized the motivation he derived from his work was not as easy to keep up as it once was when he started the company. He had to strategize, “the drive was going to have to come from being invested in my clients.” Investment and the diversity of work and clients help maintain his motivation, “I can go from working on a Rolex campaign, helping a small business design a logo to then building an e-commerce site for an HVAC company.” But it takes an adjustment in perspective, because “selling a $30,000 watch is a lot different than selling cinnamon rolls.” To help with changing his perspective, Mike purchased a standing desk to help him pace around and stretch throughout the day.
As Mike moves into the fifth year of his business, the company has taken time to take inventory of what Agile Marketing does well, what it could do better and prepare for the day in and day out. Through embracing the opportunity of helping other businesses and taking the ego out of the way, Agile and Mike can meet and many times exceed their client expectations. During this process, he’s found the quality of the work increases as Agile has honed what they do well. The Agile team sees themselves as delivering excellent customer service, and their clients feel more empowered with the changes they’ve made.
An essential component of working with any new client is to help the business overcome any fear about the process of working with a consultant. Agile has “come up with methods to pull the right things from clients” to help them be themselves. Customers resonate with personality. So who are Agile’s ideal clients? “Someone who has been running their business for over a year. They have fleshed out what their business is and are ready to take it to the next level. People who are willing to collaborate.” Mike doesn’t pigeonhole himself: he doesn’t have an industry niche or revenue goal, he honestly, “loves the diversity and [he] will be honest about whether or not [he is] a good fit for [his] client because working with the wrong client will leave no one happy.”
With his breadth of experience in Marketing, Mike offers a few suggestions for what a business should focus on when it comes to marketing:
- Focus and Unity of Messaging with Input from Stakeholders: “If you’re starting to think about your business marketing, get your staff/stakeholders together and think about “Who are we as a company? What do we stand for? Who are our target clients and what do they want/need?” This is a litmus test for marketing. If it doesn’t fit inside of that framework, don’t waste your time on it. Anything outside of that will confuse people with the clarity of your message. Take a few days to do this – you’re never too busy not to get to the core of your business.”
- Some Web Presence: “A lot of folks feel like they have to wait to get the right website before hitting public but so many DIY options will look fine. At least have something for people to get an idea of who you are. People will most frequently go to your about or portfolio page.”
- Guerilla Marketing: “Just get out there. Don’t be paralyzed because you need to do all your marketing right now, just do something. If your website is just an about page, great! Just do that. Keep doing the next thing. Stay within the confines of your brand story. Don’t focus too much on the technical stuff. It can be a waste of time.”
Finally, Mike notes “if you’re marketing something and you do not measure your marketing then it’s pointless.”
As for how you can help Mike, if you’re interested in learning more about how he can help you or your business, check out Mike’s website and get in touch.
Listen to the full interview here.
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Written by: Emma Shulist