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What are your SaaS company's current growth marketing challenges and wins?

September 05, 2023

Special Episode: The Inspiration Behind Our Agency and Podcast and Successfully Leading a Remote-First Company With Jeanna Barrett Of First Page Strategy

In this episode of Remotely Cultured, we flip the script as Chad Franzen of Rise25 interviews Jeanna Barrett, Founder and Chief Remote Officer of FPS.

Jeanna Barrett is the Founder and Chief Remote Officer for First Page Strategy (FPS), an award-winning remote growth marketing agency. Driven by data and based on inbound marketing methodology, FPS is a leader in achieving increased revenue and long-term, sustainable growth for SaaS, fintech, and startup clients. A one-time up-and-comer in the corporate marketing world, Jeanna gave it up to pursue her goals as an expat entrepreneur in Central America. Now a thought leader in remote work and growth marketing, she has assembled a team of experts around the world, with combined decades of experience in SEO, content, social media, lead gen, and other core aspects of inbound marketing. Jeanna has been named Top 40 Under 40 of brand marketers and Best in the West for financial technology marketing.

 

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Jeanna explains when and why she started First Page Strategy (FPS)
  • The evolution of FPS, from freelance consulting firm to remote-first marketing agency
  • The benefits of being a remote-first company
  • How to successfully operate a virtual-only workplace
  • The inspiration behind FPS’s brand culture and why Jeanna considers it to be the gold star
  • What services does FPS offer and how it sets itself apart from the competition
  • Why Jeanna decided to start the Remotely Cultured podcast

In this episode…

What happens when you burn out on your way up the corporate ladder? Is it possible to keep going and still feel fulfilled? That's exactly what Jeanna Barrett, Founder and Chief Remote Officer of First Page Strategy (and host of this podcast!), answers in this special episode of Remotely Cultured. 

In 2016, Jeanna was thriving professionally. However, she began to realize her corporate job prevented her from living life on her own terms. That's when she founded First Page Strategy — a remote-first growth marketing agency that brings world class talent to its clients. At FPS, Jeanna has fostered a culture with exceptional communication, a leading-edge tech stack, and modernized access levels. And while she shies away from using the term “family,” Jeanna dedicates herself to building a community that embraces kindness, understanding, and trust — void of office politics and micromanagement. This approach to leadership has been great for business — because when employees are happy and comfortable, they're not only more productive, but take pride in the work that they do. 

In this episode of Remotely Cultured, we flip the script as Chad Franzen of Rise25 interviews Jeanna Barrett, Founder and Chief Remote Officer of First Page Strategy. Jeanna discusses the reasons for starting her marketing agency, the challenges and opportunities of being a virtual-only workplace, the advantages of creating a positive and supportive work culture, and the motivation behind starting this podcast.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Transcript:

Jeanna: Hey everyone, welcome to Remotely Cultured. I'm your host Jeanna calling in from Roatán, Honduras where I run FPS and host this podcast. This episode is brought to you by First Page Strategy. At FPS we use data and big ideas to produce exponential growth for product-led brands who need to nail their acquisition goals and want to work with a flexible, nontraditional agency. For example, in one year, we have grown a client's total revenue by 197%, their organic revenue by 300%, and their paid revenue by over 1,000%. If you're a SaaS, FinTech, or startup in need to hit your 2023 high-growth acquisition goals, check us out at firstpagestrategy.com. I have Chad Franzen here today of Rise25 who has done 1000s of interviews with successful entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs. And we have flipped the script a little bit today and he will be interviewing me! Chad, welcome to Remotely Cultured.

Chad: Hey, thanks so much for having me, Jeanna, how are you?

Jeanna: I'm doing great. Glad to have you.

Chad: Good, good. Hey, I'm looking forward to talking to you today a little bit more about First Page Strategy and kind of everything that went into it, and the things that you guys do. Tell me, when and why did you first start First Page Strategy?

Jeanna: Yeah, so I started First Page — we call ourselves FPS so I'll probably say FPS throughout the podcast — we call ourselves FPS, we started back in 2016. So I was working in San Francisco and had been crawling up the tech scene and kind of startup scene in San Francisco and Seattle for about 10 years. And I just found myself really burned out and I wanted to travel, work on my terms, set boundaries with work and life, and home life. And, yeah, so I started a company where I could work how I wanted to work.

Chad: So how did you get started then when you decided to launch things on your own?

Jeanna: Yeah, well, I actually made a snap decision to move to Belize when I was in San Francisco. And it was something that was in the back of my mind for probably eight months after I had left the country after a short 10-day vacation, and I kind of felt like my heart was calling me there, but I didn't know what the next step was. And I found myself actually getting laid off from the brand that I was at. And it was a brand that was doing really well, that you know, they were a unicorn startup, I was never going to leave on my own, but I was really unhappy. And so the universe kind of like, answered my calling, and I found myself laid off and I immediately within one month, I made a quick decision. I was like, okay, I'm gonna go to Belize. I need to close my life down in one month here, and I need to start a business and talk to everybody I know in my career to try to get some freelance work or clients to sustain living in another country. So I really just went for it. It was like, you know, a to-do list of, okay, sell all your clothes, sell your scooter, create coffee and chats and like networking events with everybody you know, build a website, build a brand, register this LLC, like all the things, and I found myself, you know, kind of checking all those boxes and moving to Belize in July of 2016. July 1, 2016, actually, is our anniversary.

Chad: Wow, that that is amazing. I think that's something that a lot of people dream about doing but don't have the guts to do you actually did it. Congratulations. 

Jeanna: Yeah, thank you. 

Chad: So was FPS in existence by the time you hit Belize? Or were you just kind of doing freelance work for other people?

Jeanna: FPS was in existence. Like I said, I had set it up as an LLC, I built a website, I built a brand. At that time, it was not an agency. I thought I was just going to be freelancing and consulting. And right after I did that, I actually wrote about this journey for Fast Company and on Medium, and it really got picked up and shared quite a bit because obviously, it's like you said, it's something people dream about doing or are interested in doing. And I'm a content marketer so I wrote a catchy title in it, and it really got circulated quite a bit. And through that way, I had a brand that I had linked to and one of the articles reached out and they had just fired their SEO and content agency. So they asked me to pitch them, and at that time, I was like, I don't know what it means to pitch. I'm not an agency, but I started like reaching out to other people I knew that did SEO, I did content, and we kind of I kind of really just faked it till I made it to be honest. That's totally how it came about. So from there, I just started like really building this collective of really incredible smart, remote workers. And it was a time where I knew of and could find really smart people who just did not want to work in-house anymore. They did not want to work in offices. So they were working for themselves and they were consulting, but they were incredible experts in their fields, they had been doing it long enough to go out and consult on their own. So I started building the agency off of those people as independent contractors. And so every time I needed an email person, I would find a really incredible expert email person, really incredible expert SEO person, content person, lead gen person. And that's how I built First Page until we were able to hire our first employee in 2021.

Chad: So how many employees do you have now?

Jeanna: Right now, we have, we're about around 30.

Chad: Okay, wow. And everybody works remote?

Jeanna: Yeah, and that is a mix of full-time and what we call Extended Team Members, which are 1099 contractors, are the ethos of our brand, like I told you, we built our brand off of contractors, we will always have them part of our team. So when I say my team is 30 people, that is a combo of full-time and 1099 contractors, and we treat, we give our 1099 contractors perks, just like we give our full-time people, like we have, we treat them just part of our team as well. 

Chad: And everybody works remotely? 

Jeanna: Everybody is remote. I mean, 90% of them I've never met in person. Some of them have been here for four or five years, and I've never met them.

Chad: Why? Why is that important to you? What does it mean to you to be a first remote company, or remote-first company, as opposed to you know, a place where you can work remote, but you don't always?

Jeanna: Yeah, so that's an interesting conversation going on right now. Like, since I started my company in 2016, and we've been remote from the inception, I built all of my brands and systems and ethos on remote-first. And then 2020 hit, and now we're in this conversation where we see a lot of anti-remote articles coming out, remote work is ruining cities, or whatever the other reasons are, or you know, this fight to bring people back to the office or hybrid where people are trying to do half remote or half, half in-office. And those people are like, they're a company with some people working remote. We're truly remote-first. And what that means is it starts from the top and it permeates through your entire company. Your founder has to believe in remote work, your leadership team has to believe in remote work, and you have to build your entire company and brand to work properly remote, you cannot just go home and work remote. It requires incredible, like, incredible work. And we've been working pretty hard for seven years on this to build all of our processes to work for remote people, all of our tech stack to work for remote people, our access levels for remote people, right? So like access, tech stack, process documentation, async work, like making sure that you know how to work where you don't all have to be in front of the computer at the same time, understanding when to use Zoom and not to use Zoom, using deep project management systems like ClickUp or Asana to track your days and your project and workload and stuff like these are the things that you have to do as a company to really make remote work work for people. So when I hear companies say, oh, we tried remote and it didn't work, I'm like, well, that's because you just, you're actually an office culture company, and you just stuck everybody at home.

Chad: So what would you say is like a main thing that is important in remote work that maybe people who just decide, okay, you're allowed to work at home and use Zoom, that they don't realize that they need to do?

Jeanna: Yeah, so it's communication, tech stack, and access levels, and how you're working basically. So communication is, I mean, we're talking about this constantly. How do you communicate remote? Where do you communicate? How often? How do you communicate online? Are you communicating async or sync, are you using video or not video, like, that's a lot of like how you approach communicating with your coworkers, right? The other thing is access, like you have to do a lot with password management, with Google Docs, with privacy of folders and spaces to make sure that nobody is blocked to do their work. And everybody has all of the information they need when they need it. There is not information silos, there's not access silos. Then you have to be very intentional about your tech stack. You have to make sure that you have very clear tools, people know why they're using them, where they're using them and when they're using them, and where to go for certain things, how to find certain things, what not to do in these tools and stuff like that. So we're building you know, we're constantly documenting and talking about this stuff and improving how we're working remote together and it's a full-time job right? I have three or four people in the leadership team, a people person, an operations person, myself, client service person, and we're focusing on making sure that we are the best remote company out there, and it takes a lot of work and focus.

Chad: So given that all of these things are in place, and it's constantly developing, how would you describe the culture at FPS?

Jeanna: Yeah, so outside of being remote-first, like we're people first, honestly, like remote and people versus our culture. So we are really focused on — and this was important to me, because this is one of the reasons I was burned out as well, in my, in my career, and this goes into building the type of company I wanted to work at that I felt like didn't exist — we really focus on getting rid of, and not doing a lot of those things that make people feel really awful in the workspace, like the politics, the passive aggressive emails, like toxic work environments, people being pinned against each other. And I don't want to say we're a family. And because I think that's like a trigger for people because you have your family, right? But I did just have a coworker reach out to me on Slack and say, like, it really feels like you've built a community here, like, we want to be kind to each other. And we want to do great work. And we want to like working with each other. And that comes with acting and treating certain ways. And so all of that is built into the core values of our brand, and we make sure that we hire on those core values.

Chad: Before we get into some of the services you offer, one more culture question. Were these things that you had in mind right when you started? Or did this kind of develop, and you realized, oh, yeah, this is important? Because I know you're an expert already in marketing, but you know.

Jeanna: Yeah, no, this is like, marketing, you know, was almost my former career in some ways. I did still do a lot of marketing in the first seven years of the business, because I was acting CMO for one of our big clients. But I have stepped out of that. And really, my passion lies in like building an incredible company, an incredible culture and incredible remote-first company. So what, this all existed in my brain with what I wasn't happy with at my work, and the whole idea, the "why am I building this?" is because I want to work somewhere that I wish I had a place to work where people were kind to each other, and we could travel, do great work, you know, but still have time for ourselves. Like, people really want to work like this, let me tell you like we have people beating down our doors because we have really focused on our brand culture. So our culture and what we talked about, and what was important to us. And the stuff I'm talking about on this podcast stands out in our website and our Instagram and like how we're talking about working for First Page. And so you know, 10 years ago, five years ago, if you were a brand my size, you would have a really hard time recruiting talent. Right now I have, we're interviewing people coming over from Google and Facebook and on their resumes, which in my career was the echelon place to work. But because these big brands cannot figure out to let people work in the way they want to work, we're getting people with incredible talent come to our company, because they want to work like this. Because they don't want you know, people babysitting them and forcing them to work in certain ways. And so we're pretty like, as long as you get your work done here, if you deliver incredible work, you deliver on time, I don't really care how you're working. So you know, treating people like that has really paid off in spades for us, because now we have this incredible team that does incredible work for our clients.

Chad: Yeah, very nice. Sounds awesome. So tell me about the services that FPS offers.

Jeanna: Yeah, so we are a growth marketing agency. We specifically work with product-led brands. So tech companies, startups, SaaS, FinTech, any company that has a, is product driven, right? So we like to do product marketing, growth, marketing, kind of services. And so our core services are SEO, paid marketing, content marketing, lead generation, data analytics, strategy development is the first of what we do and everything, and then also marketing automation is part of kind of what we're doing behind the scenes with all of that. And we specifically really love HubSpot, so we can help companies that work in HubSpot as well.

Chad: So you listed a lot of very good services, but there are a lot of agencies that offer those similar services. What makes FPS different?

Jeanna: Yeah, so it's been an evolution. And this is part of like, what is the challenge of being an agency owner, right? Like, how do we talk about what we do? What is our secret sauce? Why would someone choose us or not choose us to work with us, right? And so really we kind of started out more of an SEO and content agency and what I was finding is that was commoditized. Like, nobody wanted to pay more than a $4,000 retainer for SEO and then they siloed us within their company. Oh, you're just the SEO team, you don't need to talk to our lead generation team, you don't need to talk to our customer service team. And ultimately, I do not believe in that kind of marketing. Like we really believe in integrated, full-stack growth marketing. And so I flipped the switch a couple years ago, and I started talking about us as a growth marketing agency. Because we want to be able to own and support many different channels because they all work together no matter what brand you are. So what we started doing was talking about what we, you know, our proven process, or the secret sauce of FPS as these growth hubs. So we start out when we work with a brand with a growth scorecard. So we've built our scorecard to be around these different growth hubs, we have an Attract Hub, which is focusing on bringing people into your website, raising brand awareness, filling the top of the funnel. We have a Convert Hub, which is where we then start to look at how things are converting, how to make sure you have conversion points on your website, improving conversion once we bring people in. And then we have our Accelerate Hub, which is basically throwing fuel on the fire and adding in more tactics and more channels to get more people in, more conversion, more middle of the funnel, top of the funnel, bottom of the funnel. That's everything that we would do within one year, right. So when we start with someone, we say the Attract Hub is going to be like the first six months, then we're going to look at the Convert Hub from six to nine, the last 10 to 12 months is Accelerate, and then Accelerate continues on past 12 months if you decide to work with us, which 99% of clients of ours still do. So when we work with a scorecard, we get on the phone with you. And we have this incredible scorecard that has all these like different questions were asking in these hubs, right? So for instance, in the Attract Hub, we might ask you to rate yourself from one to three on the question of "We regularly monitor our technical site health in a tool like Google Search Console, AHREFs or SEM rush". So there's a bunch of these questions, like over 30 questions where you're scoring yourself, and you're getting a grade in each hub. So then we know where your weakneess is, right? Like, okay, you're great at the Attract Hub, we don't actually need to help you there. They're like, let's come in and let's help you with your Convert Hub because you're really weak in converting even though you have tons of traffic. So this is helping us understand specifically and create a bespoke strategy for every brand that we work with. Because we don't have cookie-cutter retainers that are just like one-size-fits-all.

Chad: Okay, great. Hey, you know, you talked about your culture, and you're attracting potential employees or applicants from places like Google and things like that, would you say your clients, would you say the culture and FPS is noticeable or beneficial to your clients?

Jeanna: Absolutely, like, I don't think — I would love if clients connected the dots more to this. And so this is a great thing to talk about, right? Because we have a culture where people are really happy to be here. Like, I have a lot of quotes, I give everybody an anniversary gift, and they email me back and say thank you, blah, blah. Recently, two people said, this is the best job I've ever worked at. The other one said, this is so great for my mental health. And then I told you about the person that just messaged me on Slack and said that it feels like we're part of a community. When people work like this, when they feel happy, when their mental health is great, they do great work. And then therefore your work product as a client is really high quality, right? And also, because people want to work like this, we attract really top talent to do the work. Right? So we, I really consider our work product gold star. And this kind of goes into what we talk about with like, how we're different, right? So we are not, we say that we're not a traditional agency, that's one of the ways that we're different. And we're not traditional from our culture, to our operations, to also how we work as an agency. So a lot of agencies are going to outsource, we don't do that. They're gonna give you really young, inexpensive labor, that's an account manager who's 24 years old, who just got a job. And you'll never see the smart people that helped you sign on the dotted line again. We don't do that. And, you know, our process is also bespoke to product-led, high-growth brands. So everybody we bring in, we try to make sure that they have a tech background, that they've worked on high-growth companies, startup companies, they understand what it's like to do growth marketing for those kinds of brands, because it is definitely a unique culture and a unique way of working. And then we're able to just hire the best because we hire from anywhere around the world, right? So we're not stuck with hiring people in Ohio because we're an Ohio-based company. Or California because we're a California-based company. So we're able to, you know, bring in the gold standard experts that way also. So those are some of the ways that we're unique. And that matters to the work and the type of clients that we are working with.

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. So you were working in San Francisco, and you know, things happened, you left that job. And then you started your own thing. You move to Belize. And now you said, you're in Honduras. Have you lived anywhere else since then?

Jeanna: Yeah, no, no, I just kept going south. You know, like, I grew up in Seattle, and it's super rainy there eight months a year and all my friends and you know, most of my family are still there. But I wanted more sun. So I went to San Francisco. San Francisco is a lot sunnier than Seattle, but it's also freezing. I don't know if you've ever been to San Francisco in the summer?

Chad: Yes!

Jeanna: It's not actually a warm place. So then, yes, I moved to Belize. And then, two years ago, I actually moved to Roatán, Honduras. So I lived on an island in Belize and I moved to an island called Roatán that's in Honduras. So they're very similar islands, diving cultures, Caribbean islands, both beautiful places.

Chad: Wow. Wow, very cool. Do you have any other places in the back of your mind?

Jeanna: Oh, man, like since I've been down here, I just, I cannot like sing the praises of Central and South America more. It is such an incredible part of the world that not enough people explore. A lot of Americans only go to Mexico. There's so many great countries below Mexico that are really inexpensive, beautiful culture. They are safe, despite what you'll hear. I've been traveling in all of them. The people are incredibly kind. They'll give you the shirts off their back. There's smiles on their faces. It's just such a warm culture, Latin culture, incredible music, incredible food. It's just such a beautiful part of the world. I can't, I will never leave it. I'm here forever.

Chad: Very nice. Have you had any employees who were you know, I was stuck commuting to work in the winter in Indiana. And now I can, you know, live wherever.

Jeanna: Yeah, for sure. We definitely, we have like, okay, so that's the beauty of remote work, right? Like, you don't have to be, have a backpack traveling the whole world to work at my company. If remote work for you means being a mother at home in Indiana then that's okay here too. You know, like, we don't judge or push any type of culture. But we definitely have people that travel more and take advantage more of the remote lifestyle and the travel lifestyle than others. We have Slack channels where people share like the one time the year they do it, or the four times a year they do it, whatever that is. But we have some certain contractors who are in other countries too, which is really cool, too. We have someone in Sri Lanka. Um, we have someone in Switzerland, British Columbia, or I'm sorry, United Kingdom, Britain. And yeah, just, we've had someone in Australia, so just various countries. And it's always fun to learn about other people's cultures that way, too. We try to share cultural celebrations in Slack as well.

Chad: I have one more question for you. It's about the podcast. You have already, you know, produced multiple episodes, but what do you enjoy most about it? And what made you decide to do it in the beginning?

Jeanna: Yeah, yeah. So with Remotely Cultured, we're focused really on not only talking about remote work, because I love talking about remote culture and like how people are working or how they're building remote companies. So that's a lot of the guests we're bringing on. But I try to also talk to marketers and people working in tech for tech brands. So we want to have those product-led tech company conversations, we want to have marketing conversations, we want to have remote conversations. So it's really at the cusp of that. I always say I'm like, I love the networking opportunity. I am going to age myself here. But my, you know, career started back when Twitter and all of the social media brands were just getting started. I remember when Instagram launched. And I remember when Facebook launched. So I started my career in content marketing and social media marketing way, way back many moons ago. And then —oh, I lost my train of thought.

Chad: In terms of the networking aspect.

Jeanna: Oh, yeah. And so I started out with doing like Tweetups networking, right? So that was a really great thing when Twitter started way back in like 2007 and stuff. And you get to meet a lot of marketers that way. And now it's really hard to do networking, right? Like not a lot of people go to conferences anymore. You can kind of do social networking, but some people are burned out or not as, you know, involved there. So I'm just finding that these conversations these like, one-on-one conversations to really dive deep into what people are passionate about, like people are so interesting, right? And there's just a million people doing a million cool things. And so, I really just want to highlight that and it's been so fun to have the conversations and then you know, keep up with people afterwards.

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. Sounds great. Hey, Jeanna, it's been great to talk to you. Very interesting stuff. The remote culture sounds very enviable. Thanks so much for allowing me to talk to you today.

Jeanna: Thank you, Chad. Nice to have you on.

Chad: So long everybody.

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