One of our loyal customers – Graham Todd from the Spaghetti Agency – has given us his story about the good, the bad and the ugly of how his company was formed, also offering some helpful advice along the way about branding and starting your own business. Take a read below, yeehaa!

How did you come up with your company name?

Jo and I met on Twitter way back when Twitter was cool and new (before it got overrun with spammers). Jo was working in a marketing agency as a proofreader and copywriter, and I was driving a van for a local wine merchant, and tweeting for them as I went.

During that time, I worked on a lot of community stuff thanks to all the noise I created on social media. Jo watched with interest, and gritted teeth. My spelling and grammar wasn’t (and still isn’t) great. Jo wanted to fix my spelling of ‘your and you’re’ and she took to Twitter to sort me out via some sarcasm and a large dose of mickey-taking.

From there we worked on community projects, organised networking, and ran social media training events for small businesses. Jo and I got to know each other and worked really well together, albeit remotely most of the time.

Life for both of us changed in 2013 when we both got divorced from our previous partners and found that actually, we kinda liked each other, too. We hadn’t realised it amongst all the blogs and tweets but the answer to both our futures was staring us in the face… we were just too busy looking at our phones.

We both left our day jobs and decided to do this thing officially. We moved in together, got a dog, and set up a business. That’s what everyone does after meeting on Twitter, right?!

Jo had her own part-time proofreading business. It was called Jo’s Correctional Facility and we just ran with that, training and running social media for businesses with content and other stuff as we grew.

We sent out a weekly email called the Friday Digital Roundup. It’s light-hearted and a bit of fun – we share quirky content we find online as well as some tips and links to content we’ve created. It always had a Wild West feel to it.

When we approached our website and branding agency to get our website rebuilt from the ground up, they suggested re-branding. They said we needed to show everyone what we really did and incorporate something more in line with what we were about. The Wild West town of Spaghettiville was hand-drawn by a very talented lady in Peru and the logo and branding designed by the team at Edge of the Web in Warwick, as they built the new site.

The concept was created and all was ready to go until disaster stuck. The brand name we desperately wanted was taken, and by someone who almost did what we did. We chose to leave that name behind and continue building the site until the right name came along.

As the site was built we spent hours in the office coming up with phrases and words from the world of cowboys and westerns but nothing really fitted. We wanted a word everyone would get, but also a word that was so on-brand it would smack you in the face like a hoof from a horse when you got it.

One night, after no luck finding this word, I decided enough was enough and watched movie after movie on YouTube, looking for the elusive Wild West word. I got quite drunk on red wine and shut the laptop…

“I really need to stop watching Spaghetti Westerns,” I proclaimed. And there it was. Spaghetti Agency was born!

What struggles have you had as a start-up?

Setting up a business is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a dream until you do it and then it becomes a constant dream… As in, you never stop thinking about it. Running a business for us is 24/7 as we never really switch off.

In the early days we didn’t have anything formal in place but we had clients coming in so we just got on and started working for them. The systems and processes came along as we grew.

We had big contracts via connections we’d built up over the previous few years and it was all good. Initially the first issue was growth. We quickly grew and then reached capacity, so we couldn’t earn any more. We also needed to become VAT registered, which ended up costing us money and causing some headaches. Running a business doesn’t come with a manual! In fact there are no rules and when you come from a cushty ‘real job’ it’s one hell of a shock to the system.

We soon realised we were very good at social media and marketing as we had happy customers and more business than we could deal with, but we were very bad at pricing, saying “no”, delegating, sleeping (no time for it), and I was terrible at letting go.

Now? Now we outsource and delegate to our awesome team and oversee most of what happens. As directors our role is to build the business; not to do stuff we don’t need to do. We do all our own marketing but outsource other tasks, getting experts to do it properly. No more spreadsheets or techie stuff.

Banks, accountants, office space, time, cash flow, lack of sleep, no money, late nights and lots of hustling – that was life then. Now? Yeah, it’s still kinda like that, but now we know why we’re doing it and what we’re aiming for. (Thanks to an awesome business coach, which has helped hugely.)

How important is branding for you?

Branding is EVERYTHING to us. And when I say everything I mean EVERYTHING. We live and breathe it, and we love it! We have a great brand and I’m so grateful for the experts that helped us to create it and very grateful for Jo who convinced me that we needed to do it… even though at the time we couldn’t really afford it.

The truth is: without a strong brand you have no longevity of business. Branding is what your customers experience. It’s more than a visual identity: it’s what your audience engages with, and it’s what attracts people to you. Our branding gives us our uniqueness.

I feel that our brand is strong because we worked very hard at it from day one. Edge created our awesome website but that was it. A visual brand will exist on your business cards if you do nothing else. I see that a lot. But when you truly live your brand it grows, it develops, and then something magical happens – other people start marketing your brand for you and the brand starts to work for you, without you being there.

When we launched, we spent six months teasing it, leading up to a free launch event with 80 people by invite only. The event was free but the dress code was checked shirts only. We said nothing else until the big reveal, which was a fantastic moment.

From that point on we’ve been as Wild West as possible and we spread the brand into every touchpoint in our business. We wear cowboy hats and boots, we have branded T-shirts and hoodies from Clothes2Order, and of course I now own a really cool Spaghetti Agency cowboy hat.

Recently our friends at C2O created an awesome video of a Wild West shootout to show off the cowboy hat they’d made. They did it; not me. It’s great marketing for them but it’s also superb for us and it’s not an isolated incident.

People email us: “Howdy Jo, can you help me with this?” Some put “Yeehaa” on tweets, and we get sent so many cactus-related posts and presents it’s unreal.

The ex mayor of our town stole an inflatable cactus from a ball and delivered it to us with a note that read, “saw this and thought of you – so I stole it!”

All this is then shared on social media to further strengthen the message that we’re a Wild West brand, and people love joining in. They tag us in cowboy photos and memes and they let Jo know when they see a new T-Shirt she’d like.

What’s this got to do with social media and marketing? Well we say that most social media marketing is full of cowboys anyway, so why not be the best? But really that’s just a bit of fun.

Our brand is memorable. It’s fun, it’s easy to engage with, people ‘get it’, and that makes it easier for people to think of us when they think about referrals. We have a document we share with our associates to explain ‘The Spaghetti Way’ which is how we manage customer service, how we act, and what’s important to us. All new team members ‘get’ Spaghetti or they wouldn’t be invited to join us, as we’re very selective about who we let into the gang.

Why do we choose to be so different? Because who are you going to remember? A marketing company with the same old stock photos as everyone else (someone shoot that  handshaking man, please) with a name based around a fruit or a colour? Or are you going to remember the guys who rock up as cowboys and girls to black tie events?

Yes, that happened. And yes, it got some attention, and yes, it gained us clients. The right ones – not anyone who’s too serious to enjoy what we do.

Branding: live and breathe it or go home, partner!

What’s next for Spaghetti Agency?

We’re big on training and we always have been. The offering at Spaghetti is really growing now too and that side of the business will keep on growing. From PR to SEO and strategy we’ve added to our offering and our team but my main passion has always been training and speaking.

Marketing needs the horse shit taking out of it, really. Small businesses don’t need jargon and abbreviations – they need help to get better results, quickly. From the days in the back of the local hotel training a few people for a few dollars we’ve always loved empowering small businesses with the tools to keep up with the big guns.

Training, speaking and growing the agency is very much the focus now. We’re planning on driving the crappy cowboys out of town!

Any advice you can give to anyone starting their own business or agency?

Do it – but only do it if you really love what you do. There will be dark days. When you can’t pay yourself, you don’t move in the direction you wanted, you lose a client or team member, you miss an important family occasion or you simply can’t take time off for a holiday – you better make damn sure you love what you’re doing.

You need passion, energy, skills, focus, determination, a strong work ethic, good friends and mentors, an accountant, some business books, and lots of alcohol! Trust me, it’s one hell of a ride, partner – but it’s worth every moment.

Working for yourself is incredible but there will be times that you wonder why on earth you’re doing it. It’s natural. Be strong, stay faithful, and keep asking yourself “Why?”.

Why do you do what you do, and why are you going to keep on doing it?

Good luck. Yeehaa!