How Carrie Rose Grew Rise at Seven Agency to 100+ Staff

June 23rd , 2022

Find out from Carrie Rose, the CEO & Founder of Rise at Seven — a search-first creative agency — how she grew the company from 0 to over 100 employees in 3 years.

Rise at Seven specializes in large-scale creative PR campaigns that improve rankings, generate traffic, and increase sales and revenue for clients.

In less than 3-years, Rise at Seven has grown to over 100 employees, 7-figures in revenue, has 3 UK offices, is the winner of numerous awards, and is about to launch in the US.

Carrie stopped by to tell us her story and answer questions from the community about agency growth, including why she’s got mixed feelings about taking investment.

03:09 – Do you recommend taking on investment as an agency?
05:50 – What was your go-to-market offer when you launched?
07:55 – How does Rise at Seven acquire links for clients?
11:37 – 2 crazy stories about linkbuilding for brands with very little traffic
15:03 – What’s the secret for landing links on Forbes, Washington Post, etc?
18:12 – Marketing, PR, SEO and agency positioning: All about selling What People Want
21:10 – How long has Rise at Seven been going, number of staff, offices?
22:10 – How have you achieved this impressive level of growth?
23:35 – Stand out, bold brand values, always agile: Driving the growth of Rise at Seven
25:38 – Marketing ethics & creating a strong, positive company culture
29:00 – Follow Carrie Rose on social media

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Carrie, tell us about yourself and how you got started?

  • After I graduated, I got my start in the industry, working for Branded3, a large, high-profile marketing agency in the UK. At the time, they were one of the best SEO agencies in the UK and Europe.
  • I worked 6 years for Branded3, mainly on the creative side, connecting SEO with PR and big creative campaigns. I progressed quite fast up the career ladder.
  • I was so in demand that I started freelancing on the side. Pretty soon, I was earning more freelancing than in my full-time job.
  • I knew I had to start my own business. I’ve always been entrepreneurial since I was a kid selling chocolate bars at school.
  • So, I applied to be on BBC’s The Apprentice. I got through to the final 30.
  • At the end of the auditions, a panel of investment advisors asses every candidates’ business plan. Mine was to start an agency. They said, “You’re business plan is perfect. You need to go get investments; you need to move fast.”
  • Within 2-weeks, I landed a 5-figure investment, giving me the funding to launch Rise at Seven with my Co-founder, Stephen Kenwright.
  • Since then, we’ve grown rapidly. We’ve been profitable from day one, winning a huge brand, Missguided, on the spot without a pitch after 3 weeks.

 

Do agency founders need investment?

On reflection, I have mixed feelings about it now than I did at the time. I wanted money to market the agency. I wanted everyone to know about us.

I had to put money into promoting social posts, paid ads, and going to conferences, absolutely anything that would get the word out about Rise at Seven. I needed money for all of that.

We received a 5-figure investment and took the unusual step of paying it back in 3-months.

I will say that the investment gave us massive confidence. I didn’t need to look at the bank account for the first 6-months. I knew the money was there. It gave me time to focus on sales and marketing. I was constantly selling, getting the word out, bringing in sales leads, and winning new clients.

On reflection, the investment was a part of our success early on, but not because the money itself was essential for cashflow.

Rise at Seven made a profit from day one. It’s very rare to do that. Someone told me that if you focus on sales, everything else falls into place. So I did.

Money makes everything simpler; it buys time, people, tools, and everything you need to grow a successful agency. However, I don’t think you need investment to grow an agency or any business. But, investment can give you confidence.

 

What was your go-to-Market offer when you launched Rise at Seven?

When we launched, our core go-to-market offer was Digital PR.

When I worked for Branded3, SEO retainers were common. $10k to $25k p/month, or more, were normal.

We noticed a shift in the industry, with brands bringing SEO in-house, only working with agencies for projects. Looking back, we hit the market maybe 6 months too early with our offer, before demand peaked.

That’s another part of the key to our success. Getting to market with the right offer before demand for these services started to take off.

Brands were still spending SEO budgets but on links. Brands wanted to earn those links with content and PR. Although Rise at Seven started offering full-service SEO: Technical, Content, and Links, the Digital PR side grew to 70% of our revenue in the first year.

So, we switched to being a search-first creative agency.

 

How long has Rise at Seven been in business; how many staff do you have?

Rise at Seven is just coming up to the end of its third full year in business.

We have three offices, one in London, Manchester, and where we started, in Sheffield. Plus, we are about to go international, opening a US office in New York City soon.

We currently have 101 staff and are hiring for 12 new roles. The most we’ve had so far is 108, but we’ve had a bit of a shift around with staff leaving. That’s happening a lot in the UK, US, and worldwide.

To get to over 100 staff in under three years is really good; it’s crazy.

 

How has Rise at Seven achieved this impressive level of growth?

In my experience, we have always worked hard to be DIFFERENT instead of better.

There’s a quote that we’ve taken to heart at Rise at Seven, from Sally Hogshead, a NY Times bestselling author and world-leading brand guru, “Different is better than better.”

We want to stand out, be different, and get noticed. Everything we do, from pitch decks to our brand, social media, and how we talk to and service clients, is with that in mind.

Consider Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow” theory: “put a Purple Cow into everything you build, and everything you do, to create something truly noticeable.” Godin, a world-class marketing expert — author of 19 bestselling books on the subject — urges business owners to be “Remarkable.”

There are so many agencies out there: PR, SEO, social, advertising, video, and creative agencies. When you’re pitching against 5 or more agencies, getting noticed is BIG a competitive advantage. Purple cows stand out.

Being different gives us an edge, but we have to innovate A LOT. Rise at Seven changes every three months, and that’s crazy. But it works. It’s helped us get to where we are today.

The top three pieces of advice I would give to agency founders: Be DIFFERENT, be agile, and keep changing and innovating. Never stand still.

 

How important are values at Rise at Seven; have these contributed to your growth?

Values are so important at Rise at Seven. Our brand values are integral to how we speak, select, and work with clients, employees, and service providers.

Rise at Seven has 4 core values:

  • Enthusiastic as hell
  • Sharp as a tack
  • Experts in your field
  • PROUD TO BE US

If you don’t tick those boxes, you won’t get a job here. It’s that simple. We only want people who are a strong fit for those values. It’s the same for other agencies and service providers we work with.

At Rise at Seven, we apply those values to clients too. If you don’t tick those values, you don’t get to work with us. We make sure our people and clients match.

Staying true to our brand values is a big part of the secret of our success.

 

Should values and ethics influence the clients you work with?

We recently turned down a brand with a $1 million+ marketing budget because we didn’t believe they ticked those values. As a business owner, that’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I firmly believe I’ve got to protect my people, brand, and what we’re known for.

When you’re working on marketing campaigns, it’s the people on the client-side you’re actually working with, not the business — so you’ve got to match and work well together.

The last thing you want is a client negatively impacting your company culture, team, and reputation.

In month 5, a huge gambling brand contacted me, asking if we’d work with them. It could have transformed the business at that point. They’d worked with me before, but they were a very difficult client. I turned them down.

Ryan Stewart, CEO of The Blueprint Training and WEBRIS, had a similar experience. Early in his career, working for a massive marketing agency, one of their clients was Monsanto. For those unfamiliar with that brand — because it doesn’t exist anymore — Monsanto was an agrochemical and agriculture biotech company known for causing huge environmental damage worldwide.

As Ryan points out, marketers understand people. We help encourage them to buy products, goods, services, and experiences. We play a big role in what people see, watch, read, and ultimately purchase.

BUT . . . we should draw the line, have a wider conversation in the industry about ethics, and take action — such as leaving agencies working with unethical clients and turning down work — when a company is either unethical, or doesn’t align with your agencies values.

Difficult or unethical clients can cause a much bigger problem for agencies. If your staff hate working with them, they will leave. Don’t chase the carrot. It makes more sense to turn away difficult clients than lose talent and cause damage to the company culture and values.

 

Sell what people want: PR, SEO, Creative combined

A lot of businesses and brands are sitting on valuable content assets that could be used to generate PR and links. That’s what we started doing on a much bigger scale, winning some dream clients in the process. We came out as an agency that connects brands’ PR, content, social, and SEO teams.

We use this approach to win hundreds of valuable organic links, driving thousands of clicks, traffic, page views, new customers, and revenue for clients.

It all comes down to the creative vision and direction. A strong creative approach gives journalists stories they want to run. Everything we do for clients, the results we get, flows from that. Journalists keep coming back for more, so our clients are constantly earning organic links.

As marketers, we have to understand human psychology. You’ve got to break your product down to the simplest factors that influence buyer decisions, such as:

  • What do your customers care about?
  • What do they need your product for?
  • What do they watch on TV?
  • Where do they hang out online?
  • Which celebrities and influencers do they follow on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok?

That’s how you get in front of your customers when they’re thinking about buying your product.

 

How does Rise at Seven land organic links for clients in big media brands like Forbes, Washington Post, & CNN?

Google has moved away from manipulating users. And yet, to this day, so many marketers get linkbuilding wrong, even some Digital PR agencies.

Brands need to earn those links. It’s all about trust.

The only way to earn real trust is through strong brand awareness, social, PR, content, and thought-leadership. Get All of those channels working together to help brands earn that trust.

Our creative approach is different to most PR, SEO, and Digital agencies. We run creative-led brand campaigns. Our process is to creative brand stories and content that earns national press coverage, driving clicks, traffic, and sales. We work with a lot of product, brand, and social teams to make that possible.

When it comes to landing organic links on Forbes, Washington Post, The Financial Times, CNN, and dozens of others, relationships are important. You’ve got to earn and keep those relationships with journalists. But it’s not a huge part, maybe 40% at most.

Where PR’s and SEOs go wrong is they’re not giving journalists what they need. Journalists do not care about your product or brand. All they want is a really good story.

You’ve got to give journalists a story their readers want to read, ideally with unique data. Remember, journalists are KPI’d on eye-balls, views, and clicks.

Give journalists creative stories, turn research-driven data into engaging content, share brand assets and content journalists are going to want to cover Follow-up with journalists, show them the success those articles have generated for clients.

Build relationships, and then follow and engage on social media, especially Twitter.

And that’s a wrap . . .

 

5 Takeaway’s for Agency Founders

  • Be different, be bold, stand out. Be remarkable, become the purple cow!
  • Make your offer clear, targeted, irresistible, and know exactly what problem you’re solving for customers.
  • As a founder, focus on sales, bring the money in, and every other growth-related problem will solve themselves.
  • You don’t NEED investment. It helps, but it’s not essential. If you do take investment, aim to pay it back, quickly.
  • If your doing Digital PR and linkbuilding, remember that journalists don’t care about your brand or product. All they want is a good story: Give them one and you will land high-value links and build brand trust, awareness, and drive traffic, clicks, and sales for clients.

Are you an agency owner wanting to overcome plateaus, scale and hit 7-figures, and go international? Get started with The Blueprint Training today.

 

Learn more about Carrie Rose

If you’ve gained insights into growing an agency from this post, follow Rise at Seven and Carrie Rose on Twitter, and across the Rise at Seven’s social media channels:

 

Ryan Stewart

I build, grow and sell digital agencies. Most recently, WEBRIS, a 7 figure SEO agency.

June 23rd , 2022

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