It’s been an incredible journey since EN’s inception in 2012. Here it is, told by Head Ninja Tim…
Exposure Ninja came out of my own freelance work. I had been building websites for tradesmen and getting some great results in competitive areas, after building and ranking a site for my next door neighbour.
I’d started branching out into different businesses, all driven by word-of-mouth referrals, and noticed that the exact same principles applied every time. Basically a simple, easy-to-use website, plenty of content, optimised for keywords, and some links.
The thing that shocked me talking to my freelance clients though, was how little they understood about digital marketing. Worse, the ones who thought they were the most clued up had gained all of their ‘knowledge’ from unscrupulous sales teams from large directory companies, who until that point were still dominating the market.
Most of the stuff they thought was true was the exact opposite of what I knew to be true having built and ranked all these sites, so in 2012 I started writing a book to share what I’d learned about SEO. The book was called How To Get To The Top Of Google, and went on to become one of the bestselling digital marketing books in Europe.
The success of the book started bringing in leads, because obviously it was packed full of enticing calls to action to request a free marketing review.
So, the hiring began… and hasn’t really stopped since!
The success of that first book helped us grow further and, by the start of 2014, we had grown to 20-something Ninjas — all working remotely. Around this time, people started to tell us that we needed to ‘go legit’ and open an office. That’s what big agencies did and they were great. We also needed to change the name because ‘Exposure Ninja’ didn’t really sound ‘serious’ enough. People wanted serious.
So in early 2014, I relocated to Nottingham as it was slap bang in the middle of the country, we had a lot of clients in the Midlands and our sales Ninjas were based here. We opened an office in an industrial part of town, moved in, got some desks, a pool table, and for the first time had office jobs. The Ninjas had grown up! Watch out world, here we come!
By this time, approximately half of the team were office-based, including me. I noticed my own productivity go down as we spent more time chatting, getting distracted, and doing meetings that didn’t need to be done. Since this is how every other marketing company works, we all persuaded ourselves that it must be ‘okay’ and that our early growth and productivity levels were a freak occurrence, something that was not sustainable in the long run. We bought some earphones so we could block out the office crap and tried to concentrate.
Within 6 months of moving into the office, it was clear that it had been the wrong move. Productivity was down, task completion was down, and profit was down. We decided to close the physical office and we vowed not to let what ‘should’ be done guide us in future. From now on, Ninjas would make their own rules based on what works for us and our clients.
In October 2014, our first month after telling the Ninjas that they could no longer use the office other than for client meetings, we saw productivity double. We were immediately back on track and resumed the breakneck growth pace, doubling our size in 2015.
During this time, we had been writing more books (Profitable Social Media Marketing and 101 Ways To Get Customers From The Internet) which both followed our first book to the #1 spot in Amazon’s advertising category, as we designed and ran more services for our clients.
We had always been able to help small businesses grow from no visibility to being prominent, but we now started helping larger companies dominate their markets. A large part of this was from building up our management team. We found early on that the best managers were often the hardest-working and most organised Ninjas. As we were growing so fast, people often ended up with a lot more responsibility than they’d anticipated, and those who had proved they could, rose through the ranks quickly.
We had also started running seminars and our free marketing review had started to build its own legendary status, which you can find in our training area.
In 2016 we started the podcast and began noticing that Exposure Ninja had fans. People would turn up at shows we exhibit at, pop up on Facebook live, and email us saying how they’d been following us for years.
Exposure Ninja Today
Our management team is absolutely sick, and it’s awesome to see the organisation and structure that they’ve built (God knows the organisation bit hasn’t come from me!).
We’re ambitious about growth, but we’re being careful to take it one step at a time. Our reputation is important, and all too often we’ve seen agencies explode by chasing growth at the expense of their clients. We’ll never forget that it’s our clients who fuel everything Exposure Ninja – when they succeed, they do more marketing. We can only grow from their success, so everything we do is focused on helping them win, take on bigger competitors, and become dominant in their markets.
Exposure Ninja is not like other agencies and, while learning from success stories is crucial to any business’s growth, we will never be like other marketing companies, so we’re not going to try. The office experiment was one very valuable lesson, but there are many others learned without having to make the mistakes:
- Locking clients into contracts, while it might seem logical, is not something that we want to do.
- Obscuring the amount of work carried out as part of monthly services is something else which every other digital agency does but we will never do.
‘Transparency’ is such bullshit buzzword agency speak, but by sharing absolutely everything we do, learn and work out in our books, podcast, and blog, and by showing our clients exactly what we’ve done for them in their reports, we aim to be truly transparent.
We’ll always be a bit different. We’ll probably never all work from a big, inefficient, high-overhead office, and we’ll always be called Exposure Ninja because Ninjas are cool and Exposure is profitable for our clients.