This week on An Agency Story podcast, we have Amy Hage and Brittney Trahan, Co -Mavens of Strategy Maven Agency – a marketing firm based out of New Orleans that specializes in bridging the gap between customer awareness and sustainable growth for global e-commerce businesses.
Amy and Brittney always knew they would walk the path of starting their own business. Amy comes from an immigrant family where a career in medicine, engineering, or law was encouraged but she chose to follow her heart rather than imposed expectations. She would eventually declare her major in international business management in hopes of traveling abroad and she gained so much more than what she initially anticipated with her decision. Brittney emerged from a background characterized by the struggle to survive, possessing an innate understanding that she aspired to create a different future for herself. Through unwavering determination and diligent efforts, she achieved remarkable success in attaining that very dream.
Together, these two strong entrepreneurial women share their journey from working for other marketing companies to starting their own email and SMS marketing agency. The co-mavens take us through their journey of navigating through the challenges of starting an agency during the pandemic, finding their niche, and growing their team.
Brittney and Amy offer valuable insights to building a successful business partnership, the importance of healthy boundaries, and creating a work environment that brings fulfillment and alignment with their admirable morals. This episode will leave listeners with the inspiration to follow their dreams and to do what feels right.
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 Story podcast. I’m your host Russel. In this episode, we have Amy Hage and Brittany Trahan Co-Mavens of Strategy Maven Agency, a data-driven and intuitive marketing firm based out of New Orleans, Louisiana that specializes in growth marketing for global e-commerce businesses. Embarking on a remarkable journey, these tenacious entrepreneurial women invite us to witness their evolution from acquaintance to friends and eventual business partners. A wonderful balance of personality traits, Brittany and Amy dive into the intricacies of their business partnership revealing the secrets behind their harmonious collaboration, amidst the challenges they’ve encountered along the way. Uncover the fascinating story of how their career path was forged over a memorable happy hour, shaping their future and paving the way for their impressive accomplishments. Enjoy the story. Welcome to the show today everyone. I have Amy Hage and Brittney Trahan with Strategy Maven Agency. Welcome to the show today, Amy and Brittney.
Thanks for having us.
Thank you. We’re excited to be here.
If you don’t mind, start us off with a quick overview. What does Strategy Maven do and who do you do it for?
Strategy Maven is a full service email and SMS company. We have clients in all industries. We service a lot of e-comm clients, but we also have a lot of brick and mortar businesses from variety of different industries and backgrounds, small businesses, large businesses. We cover everything from the audits, the strategy, the creative, the implementation, the copy, everything from A to Z.
Let’s go back in time real quick. What did young Amy and Brittney wanna be when they grew up? What was that looking like in the younger years?
Young Amy definitely had no idea what she wanted to do.
Neither did young Russel, for that matter.
I grew up with Middle Eastern parents, so the three career choices were doctor, lawyer, engineer. I did know that I wanted to have my own business. I just didn’t know what I wanted that to be and I knew that more as I got older and in college. I was frustrated with having to take a bunch of biology, chemistry, I was like, none of this is anything that I wanna do. I did international business management, started working in marketing which led me to where I am today, which is owning my own agency.
Wonderful. Are your parents okay with this? Are they happy with where you ended up?
Yes, they are. They’re very supportive. They’re happy. It’s funny cause my sister’s in law school so I can sense she’s getting a little favoritism right now.
Oh yes. Sibling rivalry never hurts. What about you, Brittney? What did Young Brittney wanna be?
First I wanna say Amy’s parents are so supportive. It’s the sweetest thing ever because every time our business posts anything on LinkedIn or Instagram, they’re the first people to respond and clap and share. They’re the sweetest. Young Brittney, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do because I think I wanted to do so many different things. Growing up we were in a little bit of survival mode. I went from job to job, depending on what would best serve me and my family at the time. What I took from that was I learned so much about so many different positions. A lot of what I didn’t like to do a lot of what I liked to do, and it gave me a really good perspective on a lot of different things, different companies, industries, people, and I find that really helps me today. I lean on that experience a lot, dealing with different business owners today. I believe that as I went through my career journey, I wanted to do something of my own. I just didn’t know what that would look like or what that would be, what Amy said. It was really to see what it morphed into and how it became what it became today, and being able to use those experiences has been beneficial.
My takeaway there is I need to get onto my parents because they do not like my posts so they need to step up. I need more parental support, clearly. How did you two end up meeting and then what eventually led to the inspiration to actually start building an agency together?
We briefly crossed paths at a company. I was entering and Brittney was on her way out. That’s how we met. Brittney started freelancing after that. I would keep in touch with her and I would always ask her because I was also interested in doing my own thing. I would always ask her for advice, how she started, how she got clients, things like that. It eventually morphed into Brittney wanting to branch out on her own and establish an agency. She would reach out to me because she wanted a business partner, but I wasn’t ready at the time. After about three years of Brittney reaching out to me every now and then, I was like, you know what? This is a great opportunity. Brittney’s great, we work really well together. We both have similar work ethic. I took the plunge and almost three years later here we are.
Are you upset, Brittney, that it took her three years to get on board or have you moved past that?
No, I’m not upset at all. It’s funny cause I didn’t even realize what I was asking for at the time when I was asking her to be my business partner. I say this all the time, how fortunate I feel because it’s really like you’re married to somebody. The decisions you have to make together and the trust you have to have in each other, this is your livelihood and the people you employ’s livelihood. I feel like we really lucked out the way that this came about. I think it was perfect timing and it happened exactly the way it was supposed to.
Yeah, I always say that a business partnership is like marriage without intimacy. Hopefully, or maybe most cases, I do have a few husband/wife teams. You were building these experiences, I think you were speaking to it early as well, Brittney, in these careers. What were some of the good, bads and uglies that you were learning in your career before you started the agency that you were able to take away and say, I’m not gonna do this, or, I gotta make sure I do that. What did that look like for you guys?
I have worked for other agencies before as well, and something that was a really big deal to me, that’s really important to me today is how we build relationships with our customers. How we speak to our customers, how we treat our customers, and the work that we deliver to our customers. It was difficult to be part of other organizations, businesses or agencies where I didn’t have control over that, it may not have been in a degree that I was comfortable with or not maybe a way that I would’ve approached it. It’s nice to be where we are now, where we have control over that and can have the freedom to build those relationships and treat our customers the way that we want to. For me it’s definitely the experience with dealing with people, I feel like has benefited me the most, and that’s the experiences I look back and lean on the most.
What about you, Amy? Anything stand out as key lessons learned in your previous career?
Don’t take shit. Especially when you’re working for someone else, I feel like you’re more inclined to just take it, and sometimes it’s not what’s best for you and then it’s not what’s best for the client. That’s one of the main things that drew me to start my own agency, so I could manage those relationships myself, like Brittney said. If there’s someone that is, we’re not jiving, I don’t have to take that. We can separate and go our own way and they can find a better partner for them and vice versa.
I name all the podcasts a single word. I’m might be be upset right in this moment, cuz otherwise I’d just name it don’t take shit. I’ll have to figure out a one word encapsulation of that sentiment when the time comes. One of the interesting things, I’ve talked to a few other folks in the same case, the birth of Strategy Maven came about during the pandemic. What was it like to launch a business during that time?
It was scary because everything was still unknown, but for us, since we work with a lot of e-commerce, that part was booming. I felt like it was a really great time to start because there’s so many other e-commerce businesses popping up. E-commerce was thriving because everyone was at home shopping online, so that worked out pretty well in our favor. But starting a business in general is scary no matter what time, let alone during a pandemic. We haven’t experienced starting a business during any other time period, so I don’t know what to compare it to. It was definitely scary.
Obviously a lot of times economic stability is either the inhibitor or the scarier part when you’re starting a business, how do you go from the steady paycheck to unsteady or uncertain if nothing else. Were you able to have a good jumping off point in terms of clients or where you were gonna find clients to make that easier? What was that like for you guys?
When we started we didn’t know the full direction we wanted to go in. We offered a lot more services than we do now. That part made it more difficult. We’ve found that since we’ve niched and became experts in email and SMS, it’s been much easier to find clients and serve clients. It’s much easier to provide high quality work and results by doing so. We didn’t have a ton of clients when we started. We had to build everything from scratch. We had to learn a lot of all of this on our own. We reached out, made some good relationships and things like that, but we had to make a lot of these decisions and lay out what this was gonna look like ourself. Because we chose to grow our company slowly, we were able to choose how this grew and it’s, knock on wood, worked out really well in our favor so far. I feel fortunate for that, being able to make those decisions, build those partnerships and build the clientele, all of the things. There’s so many little things that go into it that you don’t realize. I don’t know if you have anything to add to that, Amy?
Like she said, we didn’t really start off with clients. We incorporated in October of 2020, and we both went full-time in January of 2021. We didn’t consistently pay ourselves until year two, year one was more sporadic, bras for pay. But we both had savings to ensure we could live off of that while we were growing this. By year two we were able to pay ourselves monthly, which is great. I know a lot of people say that’s unheard of for a startup, but we really hustled because we were running outta savings, obviously, and that’s something that we had to make work. It was either this works or you’re done.
I always love hearing that from owners, where their have to comes in. It could be from a variety of sources, but nothing more motivating than the power of a have to. Interesting enough you mentioned starting very broad in terms of service offerings and narrowing down, positioning, nicheing, however you wanna talk about that. How long did it take you to get there? When did the light bulb come on and say, we need to do this, not that, what did that look like for you guys?
I wanna say it didn’t take that long, maybe six months to make that decision to cut services. We started cutting services slowly, went from a wide range of services to three services, and then we dropped another service and we had two services, and then by six months we were just focused on one.
What do you think, at this point, besides just from a service offering, what sets you apart from other agencies out there?
I love this question, because we’ve gotten the opportunity to work with a lot of different businesses now, and we’ve gotten to take over a lot of accounts. We’ve asked a lot of people that we work with their feedback to learn what the answer to this was. What we’ve learned is, it’s gonna sound so simple, but communication is the number one thing. Keeping communication open and communicating thoroughly enough so that the client feels comfortable so that expectations are understood and doing exactly what you said you’re gonna do. Those two things have set us apart more than anything else.
It’s so simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do that or how many clients we get that say have been burned by agencies in the past. It’s sad, but it’s true. Around the time we started was around the time a lot of other agencies started as well. To come out of it and seeing companies that we started with be closed, not be in business anymore, and we’re still doing this. It’s all just because we have clients that have been with us since we started, so I think that’s a testament to we actually do what we say we’re gonna do. A lot of agencies don’t, and I don’t understand why. I truly don’t get it. Maybe they have too much on their plate and over their heads, whatever. But because we slowly built this and structured it slowly and we had that year of trying to figure it out, I think we came out ahead.
We also definitely take extra steps. We do thorough work too. We’re gonna make sure things are communicated, we’re gonna make sure things are being brought to the client’s attention. There’s a lot of small things that we do that we notice other agencies or companies may not cover. I think that the client really appreciates that.
Yeah, that slow growth really hits home. What I see out in the world is I think sometimes you end up having to trade off what’s the best thing when the pressures of financial things hit. That’s the brick wall you run into sometimes as an agency owner and I can definitely see how that’s worked very well for you guys in terms of slowing the growth and being thoughtful and methodical about it. You said in our previous conversation, one of the things you really enjoy about the work you do is both the science and the creative behind the work. Do we have a left brain right brain partnership combo? How do you guys navigate the operational roles of the business?
How it works out so well is we have similar strengths, and then we have very different strengths as well. We are ying and yang for each other, which is super helpful. I would say that Amy’s strength, she’s very logical and she’s able to lay the steps out, get them completed. I would say I come in on the customer service end and the communication end. Things that I’m weak in, Amy’s strong in. We definitely see that come into play as we hire and work with our team and work with our clients.
To that end, what we were talking about earlier, the notion of a business partnership being like a marriage. It sounds like you both have cultivated a very healthy relationship which isn’t always the case in a partnership on more of the relationship side. How have you guys made this work?
We both have the same work ethic, which I think is really important in a partnership because if one is more driven than the other, it doesn’t work. We are both really driven, we both have that same goal, so when we come to the table to make business decisions, we know we’re making those decisions for the both of us, so we can both grow, make more money. That’s what a partnership is about. We’re on the same team, so if we have a disagreement, we hear each other’s points and then make a decision based on that. it’s honestly been really easy. We haven’t had anything that’s been super difficult decision to make or anything like that. We’re on the same page on a lot of things.
You mean no screaming or fighting or anything like that? No. Alright.
Not at all, and then we’re friends too. Before we weren’t, we were just acquaintances, but now we’ve formed this friendship, so when we’re not talking about work, we talk about life and other things and I think that’s really important too.
It’s funny, whenever Amy and I have to make a decision or talk about something, whenever we go to discuss it, we’re on the same page already. We’re already like, yeah, that’s exactly how I felt, or I wanna do the exact same thing. We’ve been fortunate to be very aligned right from the beginning. I feel like it’s really rare, and when we would tell people when we started that this was a partnership, people would make faces and warn us and tell us about their horror stories. We’ve heard that it can be very difficult, so feel really fortunate that it worked out the way it did.
There may or may not be an answer to this next question, but when you look at your partnership and making it work, do you have any traditions or rituals of, I don’t know, circle of trust Saturday or something where you guys make sure you show up, maybe you don’t talk about business? Anything like that in your guys’ relationship?
When I lived in New Orleans, it was much easier for us to meet up and go out to dinner like once a month. Now, every time I try to go to town, usually we’ll go out with my fiance and Brittney’s husband. We’re gonna have fun, get drinks, laugh, eat good food. We love good food. That’s kinda one ritual that we like to do.
Yeah, I think that is an important part, and if I look back at some of my business partnerships, that’s one of the things I would’ve maybe gone and put more attention to, is the life outside of work. Making sure you always make the time for that. Good tips for partnerships out there. As you look back on your relatively short journey as agency owners, what are you most proud of at this point?
I’m most proud of the team that we’ve built. Everyone is so good at what they do, and we feel very lucky.
I was gonna say the same thing, the infrastructure, the way that everything’s set up. It feels like a long time, but it hasn’t been a long time, cuz it took so much work to get here. To be able to step back and see it functioning all the time I’m like, oh my gosh. I don’t know if I could do it again. Going through all of that again feels overwhelming. The fact that we’re on the other side of that phase of it makes me feel really accomplished and proud of us for getting through that part, being where we’re at now, where we have something to build on. That’s feels amazing.
I would not do it again.
You would not do it again?
I would not do that phase again. Everything was so unknown. Everything was so frustrating. Now I feel like we have such a clear idea of what we are, what we’re doing, what we want.
I don’t disagree. I always described it as the early years there as in some fun and some interesting times, some good memories. I liken it to basic training in the military. I made some good relationships. I have some good memories. No way in heck could you get me to go do that again. I can very much appreciate that sentiment. Obviously you built a good platform for success. We’re talking in 10 years on the podcast, what are we talking about? Where are you trying to take this thing?
We have a lot more strategists. Right now, we are the lead strategist. We just hired our first strategist. In 10 years I would imagine that we are managing a team of amazing strategists who are copies and better versions of us. We’ve built amazing relationships with long-term clients and we are a few steps further back from the nitty gritty stuff that we’re all involved in right now
And we’re chilling.
Chilling. Are we chilling in New Orleans? Are we chilling in Austin? Where are we chilling at?
No, we’re chilling somewhere in South France, on a beach. With a coffee.
Nice. If I can get my kids to go over there, I might be in France with you, but I don’t think I’m gonna get my wife to go to France without them. We’ll see how that goes. Awesome, I look forward to hearing about that. Last big question for you, are entrepreneurs born or are they made?
They’re made. Lemme take it back.
I think they’re born.
Yeah, I was gonna take that back because I think you have to be born with that drive, but I also think that drive can be made. I think it depends, but you have to be born with some type of entrepreneurial mindset. I think a lot of it comes from how you’re raised as well. I think it needs to be both. I come from a family of, we have entrepreneurs in our family as well, so I think a lot of that maybe I was born with, but maybe it’s Maybelline. No, I’m just kidding. Maybe, because I was raised in that environment that kind of helped me.
Being born in a survivalist mentality, I think that is part. I don’t have entrepreneurs in my family, but I grew up around an environment where I wanted to make sure I was different. So I agree, it’s an environment you’re born in and if you’re wired a certain way, I think it can trigger that in you. I think it can be like refined and trained and guided, if that makes sense.
One of the things I feel like I’ve observed coming out of this question and talking with a lot of folks is that a lot of entrepreneurs had endured some type of hardship in their youth, and it doesn’t have to be extreme, right? I have some cases extreme like a parent died or something like that, or otherwise strict kind of parents or parents that didn’t really coddle them in any way, all range of circumstances. It all seems to point back to the common thread of some type of hardship. Do you feel in either of your cases that existed?
For me, I think it’s the case that I’m first generation American. I come from an immigrant family, they had to work really hard to get here and make something of themselves. I think that’s what gives you the drive is okay, they made something of themselves. Now it’s my turn. You’re not handed everything to you on a silver platter. You have to earn it, and that’s what was instilled in me.
That is a very common answer too, amongst people that are either second generation or even first generation immigrants. It’s similar to the hardship thing as well, but just a different catalyst I guess you could say. What about you, Brittney? Anything stand out?
I would say back to that survivalist mentality type of thing. I have a lot of family that lives off the government, so I knew what life was like, going from rent house to rent house and doing all the things. Seen and heard a lot of struggle. I I feel like we grew up in such a good generation, the coming of the internet and all of the things that happened. We’re the millennials that are right in the cusp of all of the change. I saw that there was a way out. I didn’t know what the way out was, but I knew that there was one. Knowing what I wanted differently for my life and for my family’s life, I wanted them to see there was a different way to do things, that life could be different. Things are possible that maybe they didn’t think were possible to do.
Thank you for sharing that. I know that was a little bit of a tangent that I normally go with that question, but very fascinating answers on both sides.
What do you think? Do you think they’re born or made?
Oh, wow. No one’s ever turned this around on me. Oh, man. Uh oh. I think in the end I probably lean to mostly made, I think you can be born. The way I always describe entrepreneurship, can you get kicked, wherever you wanna say, the face or other regions every single day and wake back up the next morning and do it again and brush it off? I think there are probably some personalities that are just more naturally born in that sense that makes that process easier. Then I think you can be made as well. I look back at my own journey, my initial career goal was I was gonna be a pilot in the Air Force and that was what I was gonna do my entire life. I think I would’ve been perfectly happy in that life to some degree. As luck would have it, I ended up on the path I did. So in that sense, you could probably say it was made. Somewhat born, mostly made is probably where I net out my answer.
Thank you for putting me on the spot with that. I really love that. Coming to the end of everything, if people wanna know more about Strategy Maven, where can they go?
Easy enough. Maven, m a v e n. I don’t know if that’s a commonly known spelled word or not. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Brittney and Amy. Absolute pleasure to get to hear your story. Made me think probably more so than any other podcast episode I’ve ever done. So I really appreciate that and you sharing everything with the folks at home today. Thank you so much.
Good, thank you. We were happy to be here.
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 5 million dollars and more in revenue. To learn more, visit performancefaction.com.
There was a time that we submitted a proposal that we were like, the call went terrible. Or no, it was a test project we did, and we’re like, this is not our best work. We tried, but it was a really difficult project and they picked our project out of so many other people and we were blown away. We’re like, how did this happen? That was funny. I remember that.
I do remember a number of moments like that. We thought we just submitted a complete piece of crap and maybe that is sometimes the entrepreneur’s curse where what we think is crap and our own ambition and desire to succeed actually means it’s still better than everyone’s else. The entrepreneur’s curse there.
That’s happened to us so many times, I feel like. We’ve submitted something we’re like, there’s no way they’re gonna go with us. We know nothing about this industry, blah, blah, blah. And they end up picking us and we’re like, oh shit. Now we have to learn about this industry. Crap.
Oh yeah, the old oops, we actually sold that to you.