Recapping 3 Years at SparkReaction

6 min read

Hiring an Agency

SparkReaction ruined a lot of things for me.

In August of 2015, I was at a dead-end job––spending all of my free time looking for a job where I didn't dread going into work every day. I found SparkReaction on a now-defunct local startup website, along with a dozen other budding businesses. Spark didn't stick out. It wasn't the only company I reached out to that day.

But by the time I got to its caveman-covered website (remember this bad boy?), I was tired of sending emails into space to hiring managers who ignored candidates with fewer than 5 years of experience. I was tired of being passed over. And I was just damn tired of filling out applications online.

So I skipped all that, picked up the phone, and made my first call to the guys who I would eventually see as the most genuine, motivating leaders at any job I'd had. But that first phone call went like this:

"Uh, you said your name was Sandy? Yeah, one second––let me transfer you to Brian."

And then the line went dead. It was a beautiful first impression.

But I persisted, called back, told them never to call me Sandy again, and it was the start of something pretty cool.

My idea that first impressions in business were either good or bad, black or white? Ruined.

Over the course of the next 3 years, this team continued to challenge what I thought (and had been taught) about having a job:

Marketing degree? Often irrelevant.

Restricted PTO? Don't bother.

Mastering a skillset? Not possible.

Relationships? More important than money.

Working here has constantly pushed me outside my comfort zone to something bigger: I no longer see a "finish line" when it comes to my work. There's just me, goals to hit, and constant room to grow beyond them.

But I haven't always felt this way, and sometimes I relapse to the old ways because, well, I'm a human.

While I've certainly had my own growing pains, our agency has hit them, too––hard.

We've had months where we feel like we're spinning our wheels on the same issues. We've learned hard lessons about hiring the wrong people or working with the wrong clients. And there hasn't been a single quarterly meeting where there isn't at least one way-off projection or goal flat-out missed.

2017 has been a big year for us. Not only in terms of direction and structure, but in reflection. As I write this now from my office in Denver as a part of our new remote work option (also a big change!), I didn't want to miss the opportunity to show my perspective of that change to our community, clients, and plain ol' lurkers here on the blog.

INBOUND 2017

Growing SparkReaction Over Four Years:

We've Created Our Own Language

A typical team meeting when I first started here wasn't exactly structured. We were still getting the hang of team communication, and we had all come from different backgrounds, work environments, and experiences. As we added team members, we added communication styles, strengths, and weaknesses to our mix.

In the last year, we've developed a kind of language specific to our team. Over time, we read the same books, discussed articles we all liked (or hated), and worked with clients as a team. We've taken phrases and perspectives from all of these, and created a language de Spark:

You'll often hear us "coming back to value" when we talk about pricing, projects, and the purpose of our work. You'll hear "there's a caveat to that" because we're flexible. We've decided we're not a rigid agency, and there will always be exceptions to our processes. Speaking of––we speak a lot about "process" and "execution." The former is one we've struggled with in the past because we are such a nimble, boutique agency with unique clients. The latter is a fancy way of talking about a core piece of our culture we've had since day one: get shit done (GSD).

We're Not Afraid of Evolution

I'm a naturally anxious person. I've always loved routine, structure, and rules. SparkReaction has burst this bubble for the best.

We are constantly evolving. We pivot with software. We are always weighing, "What's new?" against, "What's best for our clients?" We're not afraid of change––and if you're one of our clients, you know!

We've begun to master the balance of progressive evolution and change for change's sake, and that's a trait we're proud of.

We're Taking Up More Space

Literally. SparkReaction has had healthy growth in name recognition thanks to our strong relationship with HubSpot employees and efforts such as our booth at Inbound. But we're spreading more than the word.

Our team is now operating in 3 cities, with Josh and I working remotely from Phoenix and Denver, respectfully. Our clients have always run the gamut of timezones, but now our team is, too. This means a stronger presence outside of Des Moines, opportunities for hiring talent in new cities, and trusting our team to follow their personal goals without sacrificing their roles on our staff.

But Some Things Never Change

Our Culture Is Still Our Core

willie-doge.jpegWe've grown exponentially in who we work with, why we do what we do, and how we deliver to our clients. But at the heart of everything we do, there's still an attitude of fun. We still eat team lunch together every Wednesday. We still have monthly social events to burn off steam. We still celebrate every birthday and anniversary with breakfast. And, as you can see to the right, we still really, really like dogs.

Our culture transcends our changes. We care about each other as more than just coworkers, which means people > profit. Kids get sick. Travel doesn't always go as planned. Burnout happens. Friends and family need us.

While we absolutely work to operate at our best for our clients, life happens. We haven't lost touch with the fact that we're all humans––and our humanness makes up our culture: the fun things and the necessary flexibility. This has always been our culture, and that hasn't changed one bit.

Our Transparency Doesn't Waver

Why am I even writing a post like this? One that admits our evolution and lays out exactly who we are?

Because transparency has always been a key part of our company. From the quarterly team meetings where we lay the finances out on the table (yes, all the finances) to the big shifts in our accounts and employees, our leadership team has always been transparent. This also means we collaborate with other agencies and industry leaders whenever possible––hence, the presentation I gave at Inbound 2017's Partner Day on our campaign case studies, wins, and lessons learned from losses. 

Speaking at INBOUND 2017

Transparency also means that in over 3 years here, I've never really been stumped. I always understand why we're doing something as a group, even if I don't agree.

And speaking of disagreement: You'll hear a lot of that here at times. When we're passionate about our projects, we're not afraid to speak our minds. We advocate for what we really believe is the right path.

Another preconceived notion of management of mine ruined. Speak my mind and be heard? Yes, please.

Our Relationships Are Still Our Reputation

All of the traits in this post make up small (and big) pieces of who we are as SparkReaction. We aren't a "big fish" agency––and we don't intend to be. We are still known for client services, excelling in HubSpot, and staying focused. We aren't the perfect fit for everyone reading this post or every lead we work, and that's okay. We've curated our clients carefully, and we protect those 1-, 3-, and 5-year relationships with all we've got.

If you're one of those relationships, thank you for aligning with us.

If you wish you were, reach out. Ask me how I can help you. If you want to be a part of the next four years at SparkReaction, let's see how we can work together!