Episode 40 - Martijn Hoving - Founder Onder
Speaker 1: Hello, and thanks for coming along to …And We Have an Office Dog, the Digital Agency podcast where we talk to agency owner directors and learn more about what makes them tick, from the things that make them similar to the things they’d rather have known sooner, where they’ve had success and where they’ve learned some hard lessons. All will be revealed with your host Chris Simmance, the Agency Coach. And he’ll be talking to a different awesome agency person in each episode, asking them four questions and seeing where the conversation takes us over the next 25 minutes. Okay, so let us begin. Over to you, Chris.
Chris Simmance: Thanks, voiceover guy. And on the podcast today I’ve got Martijn or Martijn, the founder of Onder in the Netherlands, isn’t it?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah, it’s based in the Netherlands. Yeah, yeah.
Chris Simmance: Welcome to the podcast.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah, thanks a lot for having me.
Chris Simmance: How are you doing today? How’s things over there?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. Things are quite busy, busy in helping people with SEO. We have some projects running. Yeah.
Chris Simmance: So tell me a little bit about Onder. Give the agency a plug, just in case there’s a potential client listening.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. We are a small but growing SEO agency founded three years ago. Before that I was a full-time freelance SEO specialist, just as many of the other podcast attendees. We are focusing solely on SEO, so no Google Ads and no socials. And we have the ambition or the dedication to be the best or one of the best SEO agencies in the Netherlands. So I think that’s basically it. We are around 10. Yeah, I have 10 team members right now that-
Chris Simmance: Wow. 10 people in two years, two of those years being a pandemic as well. So, that’s amazing.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. I think the SEO demand is really growing. Also, in the pandemic first weeks we were in quite a panic.
Chris Simmance: So was everyone.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. Some travel clients had called me and said, “Okay, goodbye.” But after that, we had a lot of clients that are really growing in the do-it-yourself market, for instance. Yeah.
Chris Simmance: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. So two years, I think for you it must feel really short but also really long given how much you have to do. But in those first couple of years, you’re not just the founder, you’re the everything for quite a while. So how many different hats do you currently wear?
Martijn Hoving: I think five or six different hats because, yeah, founder, SEO specialist, just improving strategy for clients, but also doing sales, hiring people, doing administration, working on marketing, training people. A lot. Yeah.
Chris Simmance: I remember I once did a presentation to the team because they used to think that I was just not in the office. They didn’t really understand. So I did a presentation to everyone to explain, “This is where we are now. This is where we’re going to be.” And in the one slide where I was like, “This is where we are now,” I showed the organization chart, and I was like, “All of these roles, there’s the finance, the operations, the marketing, the CEO, the accountant, the hiring and firing, the thises and that, that’s me. And I really want that to not be me. So this is the future of the agency, and this is how we’re going to get there.” And it made people understand, A, why I’m not in the office very often because I’m in meetings and all sorts of things, and, B, why there needs to be a change and everyone’s got a place to live. And it gave the company some more direction, which is great.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. I think we right now are in the situation that we maybe hire people that do some stuff that I’m doing, like, yeah, just discuss the administration, for instance. We have some help with that, but maybe we can hire someone for two days a week to get shit done that I do in the evenings.
Chris Simmance: Trust me, the additional brain space that you get from having someone you can trust to do something, even if it’s a day or two a week, it pays in the long, long run because you get to be more creative, you get to do more stuff with the team, you can do more training. It’s a hell of a lot nicer for you and your longevity of your If you want to be the best, you got to get the best in there.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah.
Chris Simmance: So in the last two years, what do you think has been one of the major, most successful things that’s happened in the agency?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. Apart from growing revenue and being successful in the financial kind of way, the two successes we have is hiring team members who have the potential to be at the core of the agency for a lot of years. That’s my guess right now. So we began small and we are growing, and I have to have people around me that can grow with me, towards some kind of level. So there’s no freelance Martijn anymore, but it’s a team of specialists that are running the show. And the last success is the change from Martijn is needed in every SEO strategy towards Martijn is not needed anymore.
Chris Simmance: Yeah. That’s a nice feeling, isn’t it?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. Some clients I don’t speak to anymore, maybe in some kind of relationship way or building relationships, but not the strategical part. So, that’s a good situation.
Chris Simmance: That was one of the things that I feared a lot when I started the agencies was that you hire someone, they’re good, they’re good at what they do, but then when you hand that client over to them to deliver all of the services and you only ever see the client maybe on a quarterly review, or a lunch, or something like that, there’s a lot of risk with that, but you have to trust the team.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. And I think if the shit hits the fan, the client will come back to me.
Chris Simmance: Oh, yeah. You can bet that. You can bet that. So if you were to go back just two years now, if you were to go back and talk to Martijn the freelancer, what advice would you give yourself?
Martijn Hoving: I think that’s a really good question. Yeah. I think I was kind of risk averse in the beginning. We could hire people more faster and add them to the team. But, yeah, I think if I hire someone right now, in two months, capacity is filled. So I think I should have told Martijn early in the days, two years ago, “Okay, just hire two persons instead of one, or hire three persons in the year instead of one in the first year.” Because in a growing market, well, we can grow a lot faster-
Chris Simmance: Absolutely.
Martijn Hoving: but I’m quite risk averse and I was, in the beginning, too focused on creating a cash flow runway for the first months if something like a pandemic happens.
Chris Simmance: Yeah. I mean, good work, good planning.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. But I think, yeah, I’m kind of risk averse, and I should take more risk sometimes. Yeah.
Chris Simmance: I think that would be good advice to give yourself, take a bit more risks. But at the same time, like you said, you need to balance that against being able to do stuff. Cash in a business is the thing that drives it. The people do the delivery. If the people don’t exist in a business, obviously, there’s no one to deliver anything. But assuming you have the right people, you have a cash flow, and the cash flow allows you to move to the next step. But it also protects you if there’s a client that leaves or a problem like that. So being risk averse as a permanent way of being, that’s obviously difficult, but being risk averse in a sensible, intelligent way is very sensible and very intelligent.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Simmance: So is there something other than the risk aspect of things that you wish you’d done differently from the beginning? Because, obviously, you’re early in your journey and there’s a long way to go in a nice way. You should be excited about that, which I think you probably are. But is there something you’ve learned early on that you realize now, like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done it that way”?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. I think I work in SEO for 10, 11 years in the agencies, client side. So the good things about that time and the bad things, yeah, I just put them in my organization. Good things like give people space to educate themselves, get people involved by our own marketing because it creates some kind of support from them or, yeah, some kind of team thinking. And also, I think people should be self-regulating. The new generation also are [inaudible] getting skill. And I think people in this agency do their own scheduling, do their own planning, have their own communication with clients. I think those aspects are really important right now. Yeah.
Chris Simmance: So what do you feel like, on day one when you set up or in the first few months of setting up the agency, what was it that was like, you did it right first time? What was that where you went, “Ah, yeah, perfect first try”?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. I created a structure. You can grow to 10 people without structure, but if we just create a structure with processes, administration, all projects in one kind of system, the registration of hours, all those kind of stuff that I learnt in the past where we just put that in the beginning in the right order so we can scale up easily without being chaotic or something.
Chris Simmance: Absolutely. It’s the boring bit, the systems, the processes, the ticking of the boxes-
Martijn Hoving: It is.
Chris Simmance: but between having an agency which gets If you get to, say, 10 people and you don’t have that, then it’s really hard to get it done because you’re trying to get 10 people to do a new thing. Whereas if you’d, like you say, done it early on, then that means that your life is a lot easier now and it will be able to scale better because you can modify those things better.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. I think that this year, maybe the half of next year, we have to get all processes in line. But the, yeah, strategic part, administration part, project part is done in the beginning. Yeah.
Chris Simmance: So you’ve got the beginning of your agency relatively fresh in your mind. If someone’s listening to the podcast right now who’s just about to start an agency for themselves and they were waiting for your one piece of advice, what might that one little piece of advice be to that person?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. Just do it because, yeah, maybe it’s some kind of marketing gimmick, but I think that’s the mindset. If you have certain dreams or certain ambitions, just do it. Maybe you should do your research upfront. Is there some kind of demand for the things you offer? Do you have a vision of where that SEO, in this case, is going to? But then just do it. And I also think in the beginning, the years, the start, your network is really important. I created a network with old colleagues, old clients. The SEO community in the Netherlands is also quite good. So everyone in that area knows that, yeah, we started this. So I think you should get some kind of momentum as well.
Chris Simmance: Yeah, use your network. Using your network is essential, I think, in the early days. And I think the advice of, “Just do it,” is really good because people How do I say it? It’s very scary to go out on your own. If you’ve got a co-founder, it’s less scary, but it’s still scary. You’re putting your financial life on the line, but you’re also putting your reputation there as well. If you start your agency and in six months’ time you’re applying for a job, at least you’ve tried because you went out and did it. Personally, if I was ever hiring again in an agency and someone’s had on their CV, their resume that they started an agency and explained why they didn’t continue doing it, they would be way more hireable, I would see, than someone who’s come from another agency, because they’ve got a business mindset or at least an entrepreneurial drive to try and do something new. I think that’s really good.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. It’s a good aspect of people, but also I think that it should be the mindset of someone with a dream as well. Just try it, and if it won’t work, yeah, then just go work for a boss. Yeah. That’s what I did in the past as well. I worked for a boss and decided to get freelance and, yeah, just did it.
Chris Simmance: Just do it. Yeah. So at the beginning of the podcast, you said that the ambition is to become the biggest or one of the biggest, sorry, one of the best in the Netherlands.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah.
Chris Simmance: If it was a magazine front cover and the headline was, “You’re the best,” what would the best be? What is the best?
Martijn Hoving: Yeah, good question. I think the best differs a lot from the fastest growing or the largest. I think the best SEO agency, if someone in the Netherlands works for a really large brand and have SEO problem, a large issue, large migration, they should decide to go to us. We should be in the set of three brands or three dedicated SEO agencies in the Netherlands to beat. Yeah.
Chris Simmance: There you go.
Martijn Hoving: Just the agency.
Chris Simmance: You’ve come to that now. That explanation is key, I think. If you’re trying to explain that to your team, why we’re on this journey, it should be, “We will measure the best by being the one of the three agencies which always gets invited for pitches at this level. We will always be the agency that is or should always be the agency that wins out of those three,” and things like that. And having that, being able to define what’s defined, makes it way easier as you scale the agency further because people will stay longer and you’ll be hiring less frequently and things like that, and it’ll be great for you.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah. And I also think if that’s the vision, it’s not that sales-driven but more SEO-driven or quality-driven. We grow a little bit, not faster or how do you call it? less faster, but we should be-
Chris Simmance: Yeah. More effectively.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah, more effective, but it should focus on being the best and get the best results for the clients.
Chris Simmance: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I couldn’t agree more, and fantastic advice to end the podcast on is to just do it. But also, try and be the best at what you do is really essential. But try not to be the best in the Netherlands, otherwise you’ll be competing with Martijn.
Martijn Hoving: The Netherlands SEO community is really small, so I know my competitors. They are really nice guys.
Chris Simmance: Sorry if you’re listening, guys, but he’s coming for you.
Martijn Hoving: We will. We will.
Chris Simmance: Thank you. Thank you very much for being a guest on the podcast.
Martijn Hoving: Yeah, thank you.
Chris Simmance: Thank you. And in our next podcast, we’ll be talking to a different agency leader about their journey and the things they’ve learned along the way. So thanks very much for listening.