Banter Group is a can-do marketing agency that likes to work hard, but encourages its employees to have their life as their priority. Based in Bowral, Australia, founder Valentina Borbone works alongside her 10 employees to deliver marketing solutions without the fluff and the bravado.
While only 14 months young, they’re currently turning over a revenue of $60,000 a month by managing around 50+ clients at any given time. Their growth so far has been seriously impressive in such a short amount of time, and what’s best is that they’re an agency that sticks by their ethics - delivering work that is worthy of the big smoke without ripping off the locals struggling to make a profit.
Read our full Interview with Valentina below..
Who are you and what brand did you start?
Hello! I’m Valentina Borbone, and I’m the founder of Banter Group. We’re a can-do marketing agency based in Bowral, in the gorgeous Southern Highlands of NSW, Australia. I say can-do because full-service is totally over-rated. I barely know a single marketing agency that can do everything. Banter is full of straight-talking, informed and innovative professionals who deliver marketing solutions, without the fluff and bravado.
Sole trader, small, medium, large, international, it doesn’t matter what size you are, we work with all shapes, sizes and industries. It’s our extensive work history and breadth of industries that give us the skills to work with a business problem and to find the right solutions.
We are only 14 months young, but now have a team of 10 people. Say that out loud. I’m hideously proud.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Banter Group?
Our family moved out of Sydney for a number of reasons and found ourselves in Bowral, and have never looked back. Whilst a newbie in a small community, I realised how difficult it was to find anything I was looking for digitally. I can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. I thought I’d register a business (with another local as a business partner) and see where it took us.
We both thought we’d do a little small scale work to help out businesses who didn’t really know where to start. I’d spent most of 20 years helping big companies, it was time to help the start-ups, the mums and dads. The day I mentioned I was doing this publicly, was the same day our first client came on board.
I fundamentally believe that conversations create solutions. Be that in mental health or in business. I’m a pretty straight- forward kind of person, and wanted a name that reflected a collection of people, working together for a greater outcome.
We started with Beehive and quickly remembered our own marketing rules – say what you are, don’t make people work hard to work out who you are. Avoid using your own name. If you search anything bee related, well, we were competing with bees and apiatry. Banter Group captured us perfectly.
We used a local brand identity genius to create our brand. The brief was a brand to be professional and timeless. The custom font gave us a wonderful double meaning. Our brand ‘speech’ marks originated from the design extensions on the word Banter. I feel so happy whenever I see it. It won’t date. It says what we are on the box.
Take us through the early stages of Banter Group's brand journey
I’m not very good at procrastinating, so our journey was quick. We made a decision to start the business, we brainstormed the name within 5 days, registered our ABN and within 10 days had a business plan of who we were targeting, what our service offering would be and who in our team of two would do what.
10 days after that, we were hiring our first recruit, a part-time Creative Director. That same week we moved into a small office space locally and bought some IKEA desks, Aldi chairs and a great second hand iMac quick smart. The problem was I wasn’t sure if we really need a Creative Director, but the CV was too good to be true.
Banter was about offering experienced individuals a chance to continue their craft, in a massively different agency. Real work-life flexibility. You pick your days, your hours. Leave early for ballet classes, leave in the middle of the day to attend school assembly. Work hard, but have your life as a priority, and deliver work that is big-smoke standard that doesn’t rip off the locals struggling to make some profit. Good doesn’t mean expensive, and expensive doesn’t mean good. We all know this. I just decided to actually do it, not just talk about it.
Start up costs, all in, were about $14,000. Most of that was excellent tools (computers), salary for 3 roles and a lease bond.
The biggest hurdle was recruitment for the first 3 roles: Creative Director, Web Developer, Account Manager / Social Media Manager. Our first Account Manager didn’t make 3 months probation. Heartbreaking in such a small team and community. I felt for her, but I think we both knew we jumped at a trial and it just didn’t work out. We are still very friendly now.
I had to wait for the right people to come along, but also for me to be able to offer them something they wanted to be a part of. I hired an attitude and personality, because I knew I could teach skills to a certain extent. The strategy paid off in spades. Two of the biggest learnings I’ve had in my career; 1) you can’t teach an attitude and 2) your gut feeling is always right.
Describe the process of launching the brand?
Strategy for the business was easy, as I’ve spent years creating strategies for other companies. I had to deploy a new strategy for Banter Group – and that was my incredibly supportive husband. Without him giving me the pep talk and support I needed, I wouldn’t have gone ahead with the business.
Funding was equally easy, because I decided to self-fund, literally from savings. I gave myself 12 months to go un-paid and build my team. I’m not interested in building a healthy bank balance. I want to build a team that LOVE what they do, that get paid what they’re worth, and get to go home when they want to. Every sacrifice financially for me has been because I can see the greater vision. I started to repay all my expenses after 9 months. I’ve built the team to 9 people. We’ve moved into a larger office space and have taken out a 2 year lease. I’m pretty close to the wire every month financially, but it’s my decision, and I don’t begrudge a moment of it.
Promotion of the business was straight-forward. I used a local Facebook group for women in business to recruit my team and the rest was word of mouth, using the same group. I’m fortunate enough to have a strong professional profile from my work in Sydney, and so LinkedIn was a great platform to tell my network what I was now up to. I had been freelancing for 2 years, so my network was excited to see me back in the hands-on game.
This same Facebook group had women asking a bunch of social media questions, and I noticed that many of the responses were incorrect or misleading. I couldn’t watch these business owners taking and actioning the wrong advice, so I volunteered to run a social media chat one evening. Tickets were limited and sold out very quickly, which was a good indication that there was appetite for learning locally. Based on the event selling out, I had to quickly deliver our website and social media profiles so I could demonstrate that I practice what I preach!
Up until that point, I didn’t need the lead generation as word of mouth was working out just fine. That event put us on the map locally, and I’ve had many people approach me 12 months later saying how much they enjoyed the talk.
I’ve presented to groups of hundreds of people, but being faced with your locals, the people you see in the school playground, the café owners, that was one of the most nerve wracking presentations I’ve ever made. It was personal. I wasn’t sure I was ready to be identified. In Sydney you can remain anonymous walking down the street after a big presentation. Not in Bowral. Not with hair like mine. People remember the hair.
My mum who attended the event (and it was the first time she’s ever seen me speak) walked around handing out my business cards! Embarrassing, but she was so proud. Enquiries for help started that night.
The rest, as they say, is history.
One of the moments I realised we’d made our mark, was in winning the Outstanding New Business category for our local business awards when we were just 9 months old. That was definitely a stop-in-your-tracks-and-clap moment.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
Honestly, my best strategy has been to do what we say we’re going to do. Cost-effective, no rubbish, straight forward solutions that are right for the business. I believe in educating people to make good decisions.
Many of our clients have come to us to be ‘rescued’ from those that have ripped them off. I’m horrified by the stories, and funnily, the same names keep coming up. We are honest people. I can’t take someone’s money simply because they don’t understand what’s valuable or useful. There’s a great line from a friend of mine: “where there’s mystery, there’s margin”. Having been a media buyer in the past and seeing the rorts (which is the reason I couldn’t do it anymore), I decided to put my ethics first. Turns out that’s rare in business, and I just didn’t realise how rare.
Good business practice generates word of mouth on its own. A good brand, experience and product is fundamental. Every client is treated the same way, whether they are a 1 person operation or a multi-national. Everyone receives the same attention.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
Today our team remains steady in growth. Our 9th hire was an administrator role which is becoming more vital every day. 3 of the team have reached their 1 year anniversary in their roles. We have a brilliant culture that each of us foster. We’re managing around 50 different clients & projects at any one time, and each team member is invested in ongoing training both internally and externally. Everyone loves to learn and share, and we do most of that from within. The team is the success of the business. I whole-hearted understand that our success is because of everyone together delivering the best possible product and service we can.
Banter’s goal is to be sustainable for everyone. I’m very understanding that not all team members have 20+ years experience in their field, and I want to nurture and grow those careers, and the skills that come with technological developments. Our efficiency, process and skills will certainly drive profitability. Our first 12 months have seen all of us go through enormous learning curves. Those curves don’t seem as big any more, but they are definitely still there.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
There are three:
1. Hire fast, fire faster. If someone isn’t working out, put your brave pants on and make the tough decisions. You’ll feel sick about it, literally sick about it, but the option to keep them on has a worse impact.
2. Work with respectful clients. Life’s too short to work with unreasonable and unpleasant people. We’re not supposed to like everyone, it’s ok to walk away.
3. You can’t do everything. Outsource what you just don’t do well. I don’t do numbers. I have an accountant.
What platform/tools do you use for your brand?
Oh goodness, being a marketing agency, that’s a long list. Off the top of my head:
- Invision, Adobe Creative Cloud and Canva for design
- WordPress for web development
- Google Drive for file storage
- Google Analytics and Google My Business for necessary online presence and reporting
- Social Report for social media scheduling
- SEMRush for keyword and SEO management
- Yoast for SEO plugins
- WooCommerce and Stripe for ecommerce solutions
- Diigo for book marking great content
- Accelo for project & studio management
- LastPass for passwords and logins
- Call Dynamics for our phone service
- LinkTree for Instagram landing pages
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
Educational Resources: About 30 individual industry sources of information including HubSpot, Econsultancy, Social Media Examiner and Digiday.
People: I’m a huge Mari Smith fan, so follow her closely.
Books: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey; Useful Beliefs by Chris Helder; Scaling Up by Verne Harnish and Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Podcasts: I love Gary Bertwistle
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
My husband and my clients.
My husband wears the brunt of my travel commitments and manages many of our household needs around kids. I know how lucky I am. His confidence in me can’t be replaced by anyone else. He’s ex military and motivated people to fight for their country. He motivates me to strive for what I want.
My clients are a constant influence. Hearing their day to day problems, their frustrations and their successes, they influence what I do, how I do it and who I do it for. Without our clients, we don’t exist.
Any advice you’d like to share for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Discipline. You’ll achieve very little if you don’t have discipline.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
Right now I’m not looking for any immediate roles, though I’m always open to meeting anyone interested in my business, employees or investors. I relish that we are becoming an employer that people seek out.
Where can we go to learn more about your current offers/promotions/programs?
Our wonderfully easy to navigate website talks about what we do: www.bantergroup.com.au
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