How Portland’s Copious Stays afloat

By The Portland Egotist / /

The Portland Egotist got this from Kat Liljegren at Copious Creative. It’s part editorial, part wisdom, 100% ego. And that’s a good thing. Maybe we can apply that to all our agency endeavors.

Defying the Recession

“Unemployment at all-time high.” “Sales down, Prices up.” With headlines like these dominating the news for the last few years, it’s not often you see one that reads, “Interactive marketing agency sees 35% growth in 2010, hires 5.”

Yet stories like this do exist. This particular headline describes Portland-based interactive agency COPIOUS, which provides web-based branding and marketing services to regional and national clients. After steady but marginal growth in 2009, the agency hit the $1 mil mark in billings in 2010 and expects to see an additional 25% growth in 2011.

So how do they do it? How does a small business gain ground so competitively while bigger, more established, businesses struggle to stay afloat? It’s all about having a plan.

“When the economy slowed, we knew we needed to react,” said COPIOUS Principal and Strategic Director Patrick Ezell. Like for many businesses owners, the instinct was to cut back — work harder and spend less. But cutting back alone meant derailing the agency’s business goals, and that just wasn’t an option for the goal-oriented business owners.

“We knew there was a better option out there, we just had to get to a point where nothing was sacred. Where we could lay everything out on the table and say, ‘This isn’t working. We need to change that,” said Ezell. “We decided the only way to defy the recession was to aggressively pursue new sales and grow.”

With that same hesitation and uncertainty that plagued so many business owners pushing them forward, COPIOUS put their broad service offering “under a microscope” to figure out what they did best. Anything that didn’t hit the mark they’d either improve or cut out. That way they would be free to focus on projects that would advance the business.

“We did some introspection and realized we’re really good at unpacking a project and determining current and long-term needs,” said Ezell.

This realization lead to a strategic reduction in the number of clients, opting for projects with long-term potential over one-off jobs. Turning down paying clients is tough in a downturn, but doing so helped the agency stay focused on their goals.

“You never know your true strength until you do some heavy lifting,” said Ezell, “2009 taught us what our weaknesses are and how to minimize them.”

Of course, in the present tumultuous business climate, success today is no promise of success tomorrow. With the lessons of 2009 fresh in their minds, COPIOUS set out to make 2010 all about getting it right. So just as they do for their clients, COPIOUS set in place a plan of their own.

“I wanted to spend as much of my time as I could on billable work, but I had to daily commit to putting some of that energy into growth” said Ezell.

Instead of continuing to rely on word of mouth, the team got aggressive chasing new business leads. They followed through strong, doing the homework needed to deliver winning proposals and as a result, landed several pivotal clients. First Birchbox, an ambitious New York-based start-up with a killer business plan and $1.4 mil in seed round funding. Next NW Natural, the largest natural gas utility in the Northwest.

To complement their reinforced client list, the team brought on five new team members throughout 2010. They recruited designers and developers from as far away as Texas and Ohio to build a team capable of carrying the agency forward.

Entering 2011, the agency is poised for even more growth. They expect to hire up to four more employees in the coming months and continue to grow, but at a slower rate than 2010.

“This year our focus is really on cementing client relationships and continuing to seek projects that strengthen the agency’s skill set,” said Ezell.

As for fiscal predictions that the economy is finally looking up, Ezell can’t help but hope they’re true.

“We’ve seen the busiest start to the year since 2007 and I truly believe we have all the right people with the right mindsets to tackle anything 2011 can bring,” said Ezell.