How to run your own successful agency | Interview with Phoebe Dodds
Melon is a community of doers - with lots of talented individuals that are not only constantly upskilling, but also running their own businesses. We sat down with Phoebe Dodds, founder of Buro155 - a content marketing agency focused on startups. Phoebe is based between Paris, London & Amsterdam. She's also a co-founder of a dinner club, Food for Thought, gathering VCs, founders, creatives, and women in media for discussions over good food.
How did your agency journey start? Was it planned out or did you just dive right into it? Phoebe: I actually was working at a really dodgy PR agency in Amsterdam about four years ago, and it got so bad that I decided to leave. I started my own agency to make some money since I had 300 euros in my account when I left and was able to pay my (expensive!) rent the next month already, and it just grew from there. I had stopped receiving money from my parents after graduating and really didn’t want to have to ask again, so that was my main driver. Zero plan, just a lot of hustle helped by some urgency!
What inspired you to start your own venture as opposed to following a more "traditional" work path? Phoebe: At the time, I had a lot of experience relative to others my age: I’d started writing for the Huffington Post at 16, and then wrote for publications like The Guardian and The Moment Magazine, so had some nice stuff on my CV by the time I was 23 (the age I was when I founded my agency). Creative agencies offered super low starting salaries, and by the end of my first year working for myself, I’d earned more than double what the PR firm had offered me. I also had a Masters in Entrepreneurship, so I knew how to position services and start things from scratch, so was well-placed to put those skills into use! I also found it super exciting to wake up every morning and have full control over my work and the new offers I would come up with, and that’s something you just don’t have in a typical job. How do you approach developing a social media strategy for a brand, and what factors do you consider when creating this strategy?
Phoebe: Great question! When it comes to developing a social media strategy, I always start with their goals, because this really depends on the brand. You can’t create a good strategy if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. I also only work with organic content (ie I don’t do paid ads), so where possible, I try to build partnerships and come up with exciting ideas for content based around growth. This might be an interview series chatting to lots of different people, encouraging user-generated content, or setting up Instagram Lives with fun like-minded accounts. I also take into account budget, scope and the brand itself. I’ve worked with a lot of B2B brands, and of course their goal is to sell to other businesses, so hip Instagram content probably won’t do the job as well as focusing on LinkedIn. I also like to zoom out a little and include things like the founder’s personal brand and getting press coverage in my social media strategy, because these are often under-utilized resources. I’ve scored coverage in publications like Forbes, Vogue Business & ELLE for myself and my clients, and it’s been entirely thanks to the social media strategy!
What has been your favourite project you've done so far? Tell us all about it!
Phoebe: Ooh, a few years ago I worked on a great project for an American toy company that sold these little charm bracelets for girls aged 5-11. It was an audience I’d never worked with before, and I worked with a designer to do the entire rebrand including name, social media strategy, and tone of voice. I had to conduct a bunch of really fun interviews with girls from the age group, asking them questions like “would you refer to your friend group as besties, girl gang, or BFFs?” to understand their vocabulary and the words that resonated. It was so interesting and I got them some brownies delivered as a thank-you for taking part in my market research. The campaign was super successful and it’s always stuck in my mind as one of the best!
How do you measure the success of social media campaigns, and what metrics do you focus on?
Phoebe: This will totally depend on the campaign’s goals—some people want to build brand awareness, so we’ll focus on views and impressions and engagement. Some brands (particularly eCommerce, for example) just want sales, so we’ll look for clicks to the website as a measure of success. Others will be focusing on very specific things, like inquiries (for those B2B companies I mentioned before). Often, though, a brand will want a combination of these results, so the metrics will reflect that.
What would you say is the hardest part of running your own agency? Have you found a way to navigate that? Phoebe: It can be really lonely! I’m naturally an extrovert and love being around people, and unsurprisingly, my 3 year old Frenchie isn’t a great conversation partner. To get around this I’ve built a great community of like-minded women around me, and will meet new people for coffee and drinks as often as I can. A lot of my friends work from home from time to time, so I’ll invite them round for a co-work day. It’s super nice to mix a bit of chatting and making lunch together with some serious work time, and I’m lucky to have a home office, so we’ve got different spaces to take calls. As a last resort, I also love virtual co-working with a friend over Zoom. We’ll check in on the hour, let’s say 10am, and both say which tasks we’ll be focusing on, and then mute ourselves and check back in at 11am. It’s nice to have the company, and helps keep you on track!
How do you think the future of social media for businesses and brands is going to look like? What should they focus on?
Phoebe: I think community is the way forward. I was saying this in a guest lecture at Kingston University the other day–social media changes sooo fast, almost faster than any other industry, so it’s really not something you can plan long-term. I’d even say planning more than 3 months ahead is impossible. With that in mind, focusing on building real interactions with your community, through content, events, and rewards for the most loyal customers, is the best way forward. I always say that social media is a tool to get people to connect, and if that’s something that can happen IRL, even better. If you’re a BookTok account, for example, try hosting a Zoom book club. If you’re an online SaaS product for small business owners, see if there’s a way to get people to meet up at a conference or workshop in various cities.
Any advice for those who are just starting out and maybe want to have their own agency in the future?
Phoebe: Network, network, network. Build a LinkedIn profile and meet as many people in your industry as possible. I set myself a Q1 goal of 100 meetings, whether IRL or on the phone/Zoom. I think I reached about 75/100, and honestly, so many amazing opportunities have come from those meetings. It’s something we do naturally, but often can fall by the wayside during busy periods, so make it something you do intentionally. Also, keep learning. When I was starting out, I literally read about 50 books on business and marketing in the first 6 months. I kept notes and underlined key stuff, and that really informed my approach when I started working with paying clients. I still read business books, do short courses online, and listen to podcasts whenever possible to keep learning about stuff like Web3 and the metaverse (still can’t really tell you what they are…).
What's your fav career milestone?
Phoebe: Definitely writing for Harvard Business Review! I pitched them in July last year, and my first article was published in November. It was so cool to write for such an esteemed publication I’ve been a subscriber of for years, and also really helped my business because I got a lot of inbound requests. My second article is currently in the editing process, and will hopefully be published soon.
Thinking about starting your own business? Melon is a place for you that helps you not only with the organization part, but also through being able to explore and learn from the community full of inspiring professionals, making your upskilling journey a breeze. Check out Phoebe's digital world on Melon and sign up on the waitlist to get access - we're gradually inviting people to ensure the best & safest experience for everybody!