On this week’s episode of An Agency Story podcast, we have Kristina Witmer, owner of Witmer Group – a team of highly experienced marketing and content experts who support Inbound Marketing, Outbound Marketing, and Sales Enablement efforts based out of Addison, Texas.
Kristina completed her studies in PR and journalism and successfully graduated from college. She would find herself working for some big-name agencies right out of the gate. Kristina has an impressive background, from working as an account supervisor for Omnicom to spending time working for J. Walter Thompson as an interactive role for client solutions, to eventually starting her journey with Witmer Group, and a whole lot more in between.
Kristina believes her entrepreneurial background with these big agencies and different experiences helped her envision and create a strong foundation for her own agency. She learned how to thoroughly understand the ins and outs of different brands, how to talk to people from different walks of life, and what types of services would work best for those clients.
Despite having the opportunity to work with these established companies, it’s not to say that Kristina’s journey hasn’t seen any hardships. There have been times of uncertainty while she has learned to navigate the complexities of building and establishing her agency’s own foundation.
Kristina takes pride in the sequence of events and people that led her to owning her own agency. She believes there’s an abundance of humanity in owning a business and it is a role she refuses to take lightly and through struggle, hard work, and dedication she has created a thriving agency and lifestyle for herself and her team for the last 13 years.
Enjoy the story.
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Welcome to An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. From the excitement of starting up the first big sale, passion, doubt, fear, freedom, and the emotional rollercoaster of growth, hear it all on An Agency Story podcast. An Agency Story podcast is hosted by Russel Dubree, successful agency owner with an eight figure exit turned business coach. Enjoy the next agency story.
Welcome to An Agency podcast. I’m your host Russel. On this episode, we have Kristina Witmer owner of Witmer group, a team of highly experienced marketing and content experts focusing on sales enablement based out of Addison, Texas. Kristina got her start in the big leagues of agency life by working with several large agencies to include Omnicom and JWT. It’s on the biggest playing field that she has built the foundations that would later guide her path. Kristina believes there’s an abundance of humanity and owning a business. And it is a role she refuses to take lightly and through struggle hard work and dedication she has created a thriving agency and lifestyle for herself. Enjoy the story. Welcome to the show today, everyone. I have Kristina Witmer with the Witmer Group. Thank you so much for joining the show today, Kristina.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Very happy to have you. If you don’t mind, start us off. What does the Witmer Group do and who do you do it for?
Broadly speaking, we create, we implement lead nurturing solutions. We focus on technology service companies typically. Anybody that resells, implements or office, those type of software or technical solutions for companies, we help them figure out how to get those leads moving through the funnel.
Sounds like you’ve been working on your elevator pitch. Very succinct. Let’s go back in time a little bit. What did you think you wanted to be when you were growing up and, coming into high school timeframe as well, what was young Kristina thinking?
Young, Kristina for some reason wanted to be a truck driver for a long time.
Very, that’s different. Ok. Nice.
I’m pretty sure that had to do with family road trips, we used to get the trucks to honk and stuff like that. I don’t know if people do that anymore cuz it seems a little risque for some reason, but back in the day, that’s what we did and I had a lot of fun with it. For a long time I would tell people that. I don’t know if I really knew what I wanted in high school, but once I got to college, obviously I had to choose something. I started with PR and journalism as my major, and then added some sort of social studies as a secondary minor, but graduated with PR and journalism. I knew something with communications. I took some advertising campaign classes. I always loved that type of stuff and I love technology too. That was early days of technology for advertising and it was fun. I enjoyed that part of it.
I always thought the notion of being a truck driver, I could see some real appeal about that, but I’ve learned too in more recent years, my patience in driving has gotten me down. I dunno if the pandemic created that or what, but I think I’ve now ruled out truck driving is a possible career opportunity.
I think a lot of people forgot how to drive too.
That’s very possible, and now just so many people are out, more so than ever. Used to be you’d have times a day where you’d be like, all right, nobody’s gonna be out. Now it just seems like there’s a constant flow of traffic 24/7. First world problems. We’ll connect all the dots on how you got from truck driver to agency owner. It sounds like once you figured out what you wanted to do with your career, you got started in working for some really large agencies. Was that experience helpful for you when you eventually decided to start your own?
Definitely. When I exited college, I found a job at an advertising agency and I knew it was in my space, but I didn’t exactly know what I’d be getting myself into. Started as a coordinator, worked my way up to account executive and other roles over time. Working at a large agency, first of all, corporate is interesting because you get siloed into the one company goals and their brand and their mission. With larger agencies or any agency, it was great because I got to see multiple accounts, try to understand their brand, how do they talk to people, what types of things would work for them. It was nice. I really liked seeing the perspective. It also helped me have to figure out how to work with different types of personalities, cuz a great difference of a telecom company versus a national defense company, different types of people. It was like, that’s the biggest thing, how to work with people and how to understand what they’re trying to do.
Sounds like some good experiences. What actually led to the process of starting your first agency, which isn’t the agency you have today? What did that evolution look like?
I worked at a few agencies. Omnicom and Jay Walter Thompson and things like that. At various points I’ve had a lot of experiences. I’ve left a job, I’ve been laid off because the market they were focused on took a dive. Seen a lot of different things. I also took a position as a manager of a small Texas based agency. They were based in Houston, I was running the Dallas branch. I had a lot of different experiences and a lot of experiences over time of running a team, so I had a sense of how to make people enjoy their job and how to get the most from people, and then also how to talk to clients. I felt pretty comfortable at that. At some point, within the agency I was working at, there were all these layers of management and layers of how much time it took to get a proposal, basically working directly with clients trying to find interactive strategic solutions to their problems, would take weeks to deliver just because I had to talk to someone else. I had to get approval there. Not to mention, the delivery of it took a long time too, so I felt frustrated because I was like, I can do this stuff faster, just as good and probably cheaper if you start to think about, related to all these levels of management that an agency might have, that is, to me, at the time, was unnecessary. A pal and I, we started a business and, decided to still be right there with retainers, solutions and smart brains and maybe a tiny bit priced a little lower to be more competitive. Marketing to me now is do it, try it, measure it, learn, repeat.
You left the office space company, what do they call that in the movie? In itech? Started your own practice and moved on. Did you have clients when you were making that leap? What was that like for you?
We had the sense of relationships that were loyal to us, I would say. We also had a sense of some of their frustrations with timing and speed and quality and things like that, so off we went. It’s crazy when you think about it, cuz that seems like a bold move, but at the time it seemed like a no-brainer. Seemed like what needed to be done.
Stepping out from what you’re saying, these very large corporate environments, so many moving pieces, but probably a lot of resources as well. Was there any kind of wake up calls or realizations when you stepped outside of oh, I don’t have access to this anymore, or man, I really missed this, that transition from a big agency to your own business?
What ultimately made that company fail is that some of the structure for financial processes, tools for account management, some of that structure that you take for granted. It was such a learning lesson in so many ways, but some of that was missing. Every large agency and every large company, any company can always have improvements, but obviously they spend a lot of time building those things. I’m a big fan of the newer solution, when you think about software solutions and other things out there that work really well. Zelle and Venmo, anything new. A lot of times they beat the old ways, big time. I think we did succeed with our solutions and that kind of stuff, but when it came to the structure and the processes, there was a lot of gaps.
Speaking of things, I thought MySpace was gonna be around forever, back in mid two thousands, but here we are.
I know, right? I still miss MySpace. It was fun. It was like your own little, carved out persona.
I don’t know if I remember catching it there as you were explaining that, but I know enough that agency wasn’t to last forever. How did that journey end and then so begins Witmer Group, what did that look like?
It was about three years that it lasted. I call it sustainable unsustainable growth. I just think that we didn’t have the financial structure in place to support our needs. We really needed sort of this outside third entity to control some of that cash flow. Cash flow is really important for a growing early agency. All that was not structured very well. We were both account people and sales people and, client service people, but we were missing some of that structure. It was hard. It was a friendship, honestly, that was broken. It was a embarrassment in some ways, to people that you’re working with. A lot of ugly things. Someone we worked with, had to let him go, and I hate that. That’s made me gun shy and more cautious about certain things. I love employing people and paying people and supporting the community, but it’s a big responsibility. Anybody who takes layoffs and anything else lightly is honestly, they’re just, I don’t know if we’re cussing on this thing, but, it’s just not cool. There’s a lot of humanity in owning a business.
We’re not an R-rated podcast, but we’re not PG either. We’re like eighties PG13, so we can go to that route, which is, when I watch a eighties movie with my kids, the rating system was different, if only slightly.
We’re in Texas, so I know that damn is always acceptable for some reason.
Oh yeah. Now, right, they generally cuss on television and things like that. We’re in a different era. When that kind of all ended, did you immediately go into the Witmer Group? Did you need some time to decompress? How did you transition to starting Witmer Group?
It was fast. In some ways we were able to divvy up some of the client relationships that we had, depending on what they were offering them and continue to service them. It was more about our inability to work together and the business’s functioning ability than necessarily the client relationships, cuz we had some going on. It was really exciting because in some ways I felt like I was at the bottom and only could go up. While it was intimidating and when people would hear about it, they were like, oh my gosh. It was divisive. Even some of our friends were divided. It was like a divorce, oh yeah. But it was also exciting cuz I was hustling. Somewhere in the course of agency life in this business is that I knew that retainers were important. If you don’t have retainers, you can’t grow, you can’t estimate where you’re going, and you can’t really help clients because in order for them to succeed, I have to succeed and it has to be mutual. I was looking for retainers, even small retainers, and I think that really helped my mindset. Once I got the first small retainer, I was like, okay. You paid for the phone. It was so literal, okay, I got this covered and let’s keep moving up. Not to get too deep into it, but there was some money owed, so I really had to hustle and get creative and juggle things in a different way. I had a lot of relationships with freelancers and contractors and things like that, so I was able to employ people at, an hourly contract basis so I could easily stack and grow based on that.
That business breakup really is, you mentioned it, just like a divorce in so many different ways. Even having to split client relationships or however that ends up netting out in some ways, kids. I’m sorry you had to go through that, but it sounds like you were able to take a lot of learning lessons, go forward with some new positivity and energy that has obviously worked out well for you. Now that you’ve had your agency for11years now and counting, how has your services evolved from when you started the Witmer Group to where you’re at today?
I realize we’re in the13th year, so 12 years counting the
Lucky 13 it’s gonna be. Every year is more and more dramatic. The funny thing is that, you’ve seen social media change so much in 10 years, unbelievable. It was probably 15 years ago where companies were like, do I need to be on social media? That’s not that long ago when you think about it. We’ve gone to this place where, how does supporting leads and company growth fit with social media and blogging and all these other tools? We are heavily focused into, what’s the buyer’s journey for your company? What’s the personas of people you’re talking to and how do we support them at those various stages? Content that’s accessible, whether it’s examples of what you’ve done for your clients, other helpful tools. There’s gated content, which is anything behind the email address. What’s valuable enough to bring these people in? I really still struggle with helping clients to understand, if you tell me that your goal is to book a demo, it’s not enough. People have this journey of getting to know you and the younger your audience is, the more they’re not ready to talk to you till they’re ready to talk to you. Honestly, it’s still a battle. A lot of people do not get it. We are metrics driven and we are more and more, forcing the idea to help our clients understand what they have to do to be competitive.
That’s such a great point. I would almost rather transition the whole podcast and talk more about what you just mentioned in terms of creating a true funnel and how do you actually stairstep someone through that and I end up having to work with a lot of folks on that same notion, right? Your starting point can’t be a 30 minute phone call. That’s for you, not for them, and guess what? No one’s interested in doing something for you at that point. Can you look back and identify a turning point in the business where you’re like, all right, now I feel successful and things are really starting to point in the right directionless stress, more satisfaction? Is there some point in time where you can look back and identify that?
There have been moments where I feel that and I don’t know if it’s because things have changed so much, but I have growth with some of these hiccups because I’m still fine tuning some of those pieces. The best I’ve ever felt is honestly right now, and it has a lot to do with realizing that clients have a lot of bad habits that aren’t serving them and no longer accepting their way. I need to get success for clients, that’s my goal, and however I have to do it, that’s how I’m gonna do it. Understanding that some people are a fit for us and some aren’t. With Covid, we actually had a little bit of a uptick at first because people were looking for digital ways to communicate. I know obviously it was different for every business. That was exciting, but sometimes something like that will feel good, but it’s taking you off your long-term path. For me it’s repeating successes for clients in this space. Honing the process and then also understanding that LinkedIn is gonna change in three months and making sure we’re prepared for that.
Great perspective. Looking back at your journey, what are you most proud of thus far? What do you have hanging on your refrigerator?
I’m most proud of having a team, people that I have worked with for almost the entire time that seem to feel respected and seem to have love for the company. When I look at it, there’s a lot of people who have rooted for me, for Witmer Group and been supportive for so long. I appreciate that more than I ever have and I try to give myself kudos. We’re all hard on ourselves, especially I know business owners can be tricky, they never take the credit or they never appreciate how far they’ve come. They’re like, oh my gosh, all these things I need to do. I try to appreciate and articulate that I enjoy paying and supporting people to do a great job for our clients. There’s something I enjoy about the community and being part of it.
Doesn’t get any better than that. I love you mentioned that the curse of ambition, that you can’t be satisfied with what you got, but that’s probably the reason why you’ve achieved the success that you’ve had because of that ambition. I love what you had mentioned too, and I don’t know if you identified this, I think that is very common for a lot of business owners as well, oftentimes is imposter syndrome. Sounds like you recently overcame that as well in terms of what’s it turned your business around. Any other thoughts to speak to that?
My fiance has a friend, and we were talking about imposter syndrome recently. There was something they gave to giving it a name. When that thing comes that says, what are you doing? Are you good enough? Actually giving it a name so you can be like, go away, so and so. It was almost like a brand persona for that. I don’t know if I’ve used exactly, but I think it’s more common. Everybody deals with that kind of stuff.
I’m gonna try that. That’s pretty interesting.
Let me know because I haven’t done it exactly, but I can tell there’s something powerful to it.
I don’t know. I feel like I’m gonna feel schizophrenic or something like that. Go away Steven.
Just don’t do it in front of people.
That’s probably a good tip there. In another respect, reflecting back, if you could go back to the beginning of your agency journey, what sage words of wisdom would you give yourself?
I would probably do business course or something about business and sales and the structure of that. I’ve had good experiences. I’ve had good relationships, but there is a point where you’ll plateau as an agency if you don’t have a foundation. It can be a little misleading because you think, oh, okay, these people like me. It’s, I’m not gonna ever say easy to get new business, but people recommend people and when it’s a referral that’s an easier close to something. When people like you and they like working with you, there’s a false sense of progress. I would say the earlier you can get your sales process, your onboarding process really understood and metrics driven and all that kind of stuff, the better you’ll be. I wish I would’ve done that eight years ago. I’ve always had pieces, but I’m talking about process, real process, real structure for that kind of stuff.
You really are hitting so many growth points that agencies have to overcome and I think what you’re describing there is a term, I didn’t know this had a name before but I’d always known once an agency got to kind of 20, 25 people, things started to go to crap. Some either don’t make it through that or they scale back, which is what happens probably more often than not. They call it the Valley of Death. I think often the reason of that is because they don’t have a lot of the components that you mentioned there in terms of solid processes. The business grows beyond just one person to juggle all the balls and make it happen, and then you’re forced to the referral, only getting your business by referrals. You can’t grow the business indefinitely on that.
That’s interesting. I don’t know if I’ve heard that term or not, but that makes a lot of sense, and I bet that you spend a lot more energy too, right? Having the same result. Maybe you are succeeding in quotes, but the amount of energy you have to spend for it is depleting you from other areas of growth or even your life, your personal life. The things we all want is to be able to travel and do things and spend time with people.
To a point, naming things makes them so much more clear. And what you’re saying there that, I’ve always thought this is fascinating, how many agencies seem to be trying to get out of being an agency. They start selling t-shirts, all kinds of random things that aren’t actually a service-based business, but as you said, I think the same amount of revenue becomes harder and harder to work for.
I think I did grow up on agencies being everything to everyone, and that doesn’t work. That’s, I think a misconception and it’ll do a lot of damage the longer you keep believing that, in my opinion.
Fascinating tangent, there. Let’s get back to Witmer Group. What does the future look like for you? If we’re talking 10 years or more from now what are we hoping for?
I am hoping for repeatable processes, more case studies and success stories. I guess as an ultimate goal, I’m hoping for the ability to be more selective with who we work with because there’s all types of wonderful people and wonderful clients, but we now ask for a commitment for the gated content I was talking about before with, really valuable content along the buyers journey. I am requesting? Demanding? I don’t know, but if you’re gonna work with us, you must contribute to that conversation. You don’t have to do the work, but you must help us figure out what is valuable to these people, because I can’t do that on my own. I have to have clients’ participation and I have to know what’s worked in the past and things like that. More tight processes and more tight expectations from clients, just to elevate who we work with and how awesome our results are gonna be.
Sounds like a good goal to me. Last big question for you. Are entrepreneurs born or are they made?
I’m gonna say born. I’m gonna say born because I’m the youngest kid of three. I’ve always been the entertainer, less responsibilities than the oldest. Less pressure in there. I feel like my ability to compartmentalize and not really worry. If you think of all the fears of being an entrepreneur, it can weigh you down. I’m gonna stick with born, but I think there’s something about strength and personality and the way you look at things and the way you look at risk has got to be there. That’s what I’m gonna go with.
All right. I like all the answers to be fair about that, but you are one of the few that do stick to the born category.
Most say middle and then some go made. There’s a very small percentage that they go full born. There’s no right or wrong answer to it. If people wanna know more about Witmer Group, where can they go?
Witmergroup.com is the website. You can connect with me on LinkedIn as well. One thing that I would encourage you, we have an inbound marketing ebook, which completely free, it’s good 10 pages or so of real good ideas for how you can do content and create your own system whether you work with us or not. Those would be the two things. Check us out and then you might wanna grab the ebook cuz it’ll be helpful with the process and understanding.
There you have it folks. No reason not to go get the free ebook. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Kristina. Went on so many great tangents, so many really cool part your story. Really appreciate your transparency and taking the time to share with us.
Thank you. This has been great. Appreciate it.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. Are you interested in being a guest on the show? Send an email to email@example.com.An Agency Story is brought to you by Performance Faction. Performance Faction offers services to help agency owners grow their business to 5million dollars and more in revenue. To learn more, visit performancefaction.com.
In front of my team, the owner that we are working with asked me out on a date. It wasn’t a first meeting, but it was a recurring meeting and he said something about me not giving a response to if I would go out on a dinner or something. It wasn’t the first time it came up and I was just like, this is really weird. I’m a Libra. I’m pretty quick in certain conversations, especially if it’s a response or a reactive. I was like dodging, all I did was dodge. Cuz the funny thing is, you’re a business owner. You wanna make money, you wanna grow, you wanna keep your people employed. I don’t wanna say no, get the hell away. I don’t wanna say yes cuz I don’t want to, and it’s just ok, just laugh, it’s just weird.
Just to be clear, this was a client asking you out on a date, did they just shoot you an email?
During our weekly let’s talk about status of projects meeting. Just so weird.
That is definitely weird. Did he eventually get the point or?
Oh yeah. I would never really give a response. The funny thing is, I could have said anything, but I can’t help it. I want the money, I want the business. I wanna do awesome things and help clients.
Probably not the most professional thing in the world to ask, especially in the course of a client meeting.