Tips From a Marathon Runner on Building a Business With Endurance

Like training for a long‑distance race, marketing needs a methodical approach with an emphasis on focus.

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Marketing is a fast-paced business, ruled by ever-changing technologies and trends. And in an industry that's ruled by speed, enduring agencies are somewhat rare.

The Brandon Agency is one of those remarkable agencies that touts a long history: They'll celebrate their 60th anniversary this year.

Interactive Director Nick McNeill knows something about endurance. Outside of the office, he's also an avid marathon runner. He's found many parallels between long-distance running and building a business that lasts decades.

He and Email Marketing Manager Ashley Henley shared their wisdom for running an agency that outlasts the competition.

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Stick to the fundamentals

Nick attributes The Brandon Agency's success to the same principle on which he runs: Stay true to your foundation.

"Keep your eyes on the things that are really important, the core," he says.

While in running this means centering on your breath, form, and simply putting one foot in front of the other, for The Brandon Agency, it's about ROI, KPIs, and putting data to use for their clients.

New techniques and technologies abound in both running and marketing, and although they can be helpful supplements, it's important to know what your business is all about and to stick with it.

But this doesn't only promote longevity—Ashley has also noticed that their strong foundation enhances speed. Because they have a strong core and routine, "We are able to produce fast turn-arounds when necessary, while maintaining high-quality work," she says.

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Move toward big goals one step at a time

Training for a marathon is methodical. And quite often, as in business, getting started is the hardest part. Nick recommends overcoming the initial intimidation by breaking a big goal into much smaller ones.

"I would joke that when I started running, I struggled to get to the next mailbox," he says. "I think businesses struggle with the same exact thing. There's a potential to overthink what you're going to do, when you just really need to get out the door and start."

As an agency, freelancer, or business of any kind, it's productive to keep your eyes on a lofty ambition, but it's easier to get started if you're moving toward something attainable.

"Break things into chunks. A marathon is 26.2 miles—so I'm going to run the first 5 miles, then I'm going to focus on the second 5 miles, and when I get to 20, I've only got a 10K to go," says Nick, and the same applies to business.

He also recommends being measured and deliberate about increasing your workload, whether that's in terms of what you offer or how many clients you serve—just the same way you track and increase mileage while training. "One of the rules in running is don't ever increase, on a week-to-week basis, more than 10%. So have some reasonable limit on how fast you pick things up, and that helps you to kind of keep an eye on things and not overdo it," he says.

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Switch up your routine and embrace the challenge of change

If you're preparing to run a 26.2 mile race, most experts would advise you switch up your route frequently—not just to prepare, but to prevent yourself from getting bored or burning out.

"With anything you can get in a rut if you don't shake things up a little bit," Nick says. "Change is something that's almost mandated for us at The Brandon Agency—if there's an opportunity to us to optimize or make things more efficient or just to kind of keep things fresh."

Although the agency has remained focused on innovating ways to grow their clients' businesses, the means of doing so has inevitably shifted with time. When it launched in 1959, it was a merely a postcard business; now their verticals are much more expansive, offering everything from web design and SEO to brand strategy and social media management.

Of course, the landscape of marketing has changed in the many years since the agency began. But they've managed that change by embracing it as good runners do. "Look at it as a new challenge," says Nick.

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Stay inspired and keep learning

For The Brandon Agency, time has proven that moving forward requires constant learning.

Ashley recommends staying entrenched in what's going on throughout the industry by "Reading blogs and listening to podcasts from other industry leaders and never assuming 'you know it all,'" she says. "You will never know it all in tech. There is always more, new, and better to come." (She recommends This Week in Tech, the Litmus blog, and Really Good Emails.)

Nick suggests staying motivated by tracking your own progress and learning from the work you've done.

"I think it's important in training and in marketing to keep a log, so you can always refer back to your history. Then you can go back to the last year and say 'OK, we had a really good month. What was the cause of that?'"

Whatever your method, in running or in business, the goal is to keep going—getting a little better with every step.