Agency brand to one-man-band to get to The Other Side

“This crisis gave me permission to action drastic, yet practical decisions I knew I had to make.”

A marketing consultant working with passionate business leaders to create and execute marketing strategies for growth, Dan Kovac describes himself as “a sounding board, snake-oil salesperson detector, ideas-man and jargon killer.” 

It’s clear to see Dan’s drive and energy as a marketer and love of ‘thinking big’ – but the ‘COVID-19 effect’ for him was to stop, take a breath and instead, think small. Dan discovered this was the perfect moment for change; pivoting from building and operating a full-service digital agency to a one-man-marketing-band.

Over two weeks in March, Dan applied all his inherent brand knowledge to transition his full-service digital agency model, Pipevine Marketing, to Dan Kovac Marketing.

Dan Kovac and word and web have the unusual title of ‘almost’ working together, after a joint client pitch that didn’t come to fruition. When I read on LinkedIn that he had decided to put his agency business ‘on ice’, I reached out to ask him to tell his story.

What was your first reaction to the COVID-19 crisis?

I vividly remember the night Dan Andrews made the announcement that all hospitality venues were to be closed unless they could operate on a take-away only basis. At that point, at least half of my clients were in the hospitality game and I knew things were about to get hairy. 

I felt for my clients, and it was a huge blow for so many businesses. However, once Dan Andrews made that announcement, a wave of energy came over me. Any sense of ego or self-consciousness that surrounded my work drained away, replaced with an honest motivation to just do what it took to keep the wheels spinning. 

When COVID-19 hit, it was a crisis that gave me permission to action a number of drastic, yet practical decisions I had known I had to make for a while, but hadn’t, out of complacency and I guess fear too. 

As with any challenge, there is always an opportunity close by.

What has been your most successful business pivot during the crisis?

By far, it’s been retiring my agency brand, PipeVine Marketing (indefinitely) and replacing it with the most simple brand I could think of – Dan Kovac Marketing. 

I did this in the space of two weeks – something that would have been previously inconceivable. Along the way I learned my own lessons about branding.

While operating a full-service digital agency has been a great experience, right now, focusing on my strengths and what I enjoy most just seems practical. 

For a number of reasons, my intention with PipeVine was never to build a large-scale agency. My aim right now is to help a small handful of clients and do a great job for them. I do plan on building something on a larger scale, but when I pull the trigger it will be a team effort – not just me one-out running around like a headless chook. 

Trying to build a business and reputation behind the anonymity of an agency brand, while doing all the work as well, was exhausting. I had known for a while that things would be easier if I just operated under a personal brand – I’d be able to present myself authentically, showcase my work, write my own blog. Basically, I chose to stop the notion of building an agency, because it was getting in the way of me doing the work. 

Now is such a great time for everyone to assess and openly evaluate the strength of our brand and the clarity it provides our customer. 

Since making the move, I’ve been able to stabilise my client base, and have much more clarity on the path ahead.

What are three things you learned while pivoting from an ‘agency’ brand to setting up as a freelancer in the space of two weeks?

  1. Know what you’re in it for. If you’re looking to build a business bigger than yourself that runs on its own one day, you’re an entrepreneur. If you want to offer a great service to a select few and love doing the work, then you’re a freelancer. Knowing the difference is important because each path requires a very different approach. 
  • Boil down your primary business objective to an easy one-liner. It’s a great place to start. If you can explain what you do, who it’s for and how it helps to a 10-year-old and they ‘get it’, building the rest of the brand will come that little bit easier. 
  • Drop the ego. COVID-19 stripped my ego away and forced me to take action on things that I knew had to happen. The lesson here is don’t wait for a global pandemic to take action next time…
Dan’s web design for Panton Hill Hotel

How would you describe your ‘new’ perfect client?

My perfect client right now is an established small to medium-sized business. I’m brand-focused, so I work on how well people understand what a business does, the problems they solve and their overall visual identity first. Once the overall brand is set-up for success, I create and execute a tailored marketing strategy. I’m a good fit for businesses that know they need to improve their marketing, but don’t want to invest in a full-time marketing manager.

How have you stretched yourself, your skills and capacity?

I had a healthy obsession with learning, personal development and building my skill set as a marketer well before COVID-19. It’s stuff I really enjoy. So in a professional sense, it’s been business as usual on my slow but gradual path of development. 

Dan worked with Andrew Nisbett on the overall brand message for his business, Shift Perspectives, as well as website content and design process.

What strengths have you relied on and what new strengths have you discovered?

Meditation has been a key coping strategy and strength. For about two years now, I’ve meditated for around 10-15 minutes every day. I’m not going to say it’s changed my life, but it’s definitely enabled me to better regulate my emotions and improve my overall focus. It’s a part of my morning that I enjoy and it feels like it’s a practice that will pay even more dividends in the years to come. 

I’ve got a real monkey mind – I chase ideas, get excited about things fast, and I’m naturally susceptible to distractions. Meditation has definitely help me out here. For anyone interested in meditation, it’s important to understand that the aim is to recognise your thoughts, and then bring your attention back to your breath, or a sound, or whatever one thing you decide to focus on. 

So many people think meditation is about achieving no thoughts for a long period of time. This is practically impossible and not the point. The mental effort of recognising a thought, and then bringing your focus back, is the skill you’re developing. I’m no expert though, and it’s worth learning about the practice and why it works before you begin.

What has been most important to you throughout this crisis?

A simple routine that I follow like clockwork. I make sure I get everything done in all areas of my life, then switch off and try to do something that’s not screen-related. 

On top of this, having a clear plan for the year ahead, and the years after helps too. I’m not huge on regimented goals, but having a clear vision for where I’m going is important. 

I work hard on the tasks that challenge me every day, then switch off and happily relax with friends and family. 

If I don’t work hard during the day, follow my schedule, get my things done, avoid exercising or put off anything I know could have worked on, then generally I’ll be annoyed that night, non-present and fill my leisure time with more pointless work in an effort to feel better. 

When you look back at this in six months’ time, what will stand out as the most successful decision?

Hopefully retiring my agency brand and operating as Dan Kovac Marketing – so far, so good. I’m highlighting my focus on brand strategy and writing stories people want to hear and interact with.

What are the greatest lessons have you learned during this crisis?

As I’ve told my clients – don’t stop communicating, just be smart with your messages. Customers need to hear from you more than ever and what you say counts. There’s never been more noise online, and what worked not too long ago won’t cut it anymore. 

On a personal level, the crisis has been completely different for everyone, and I guess everyone will have carved out their own lessons. 

For me, with the pause button placed on all commitments outside work, being more mindful of what I re-commit to once things go back to normal is vital. I’ll be questioning the value of what I let back in, to make sure I don’t put too much back on my plate simply because it’s there.

Within the many forced changes we’ve all had to go through, whether it be in work or our personal lives, there have certainly been changes that are improvements. If we can hang onto those, while re-adding the things we miss and know serve us well, we’ll all be better off than we were pre COVID-19. 

Want to talk to Dan about your brand? Find out more here


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