Ep. 19: Growing The Checkfront Marketing Team with Angela Heald
SaaS Marketing Insights Episode 19: Angela Heald, Checkfront
Angela Heald joined SaaS booking software company Checkfront three years ago with a mandate to build a marketing department. How did she go about building her team, and what did she learn in the process?
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Episode 19 Transcript
Paul: Hello and welcome to SaaS Marketing Insights, the show where we ask SaaS founders, CEOs, marketers and investors about the lessons they’ve learned in their quest to grow their companies. My name is Paul Stephenson, and I’m founder and CEO of SaaS marketing agency 47insights. On today’s show, I have an interview with Angela Heald, marketing manager at Checkfront. Hope you enjoy it.
So I’m here with Angela Heald, who’s the marketing manager at Checkfront. And this follows on from our conversation had with Jason Morehouse, CEO.
Angela: How’d he do?
Paul:? How did he do? I think he did really well, it was really… really interesting from my perspective, learning how, you know, the business got started from scratch, bootstrap from nothing. And you know, the bit that we want to talk about today is, those guys got it so far. But then they had to hand it over to the professionals… the marketing professionals, which is you and your team. And I guess the interesting thing is, how you took it from where it was at that stage, and grew a marketing department. So just to sort of back up. How did you get started started in marketing?
Angela: Yeah, so I was actually studying international business at university. And the courses that I loved the most were the marketing courses.
Paul: Very sensible.
Angela: Yes. However, my university staggered when they offered those courses. So to switch to marketing, I would have put myself back a year. And so I just set the goal to get my first job in marketing.
Paul: Cool. And so what was your first job in marketing?
Angela: So it was agency style SEO.
Paul: Right. That’s very dear to my heart. And how long were you in that role?
Angela: So I was exclusively doing that for maybe about seven months. And then I started to train people on it, I moved into PPC and slowly made my way across all the other online marketing channels.
Paul: Wow, so you had quite a broad base, before you came to Checkfront and guess at that stage… you didn’t know anything about bookings or tourist industry or whatever, those were all just like, B2B or different industries.
Angela: Yeah, so the agency that I got most of my experience in was also B2B. However, it wasn’t SaaS. So that was a whole new world. What really endeared me to Checkfront is the space we work in, travel and tourism. And there’s nothing I’m more passionate about so…
Paul: Becasue you get to go to nice places.
Angela: Totally. Nothing more fun.
Paul: So how long ago was it before you made that? Did you go straight from agency to Checkfront? Or was there anything in between?
Angela: Um, well, I had moved into… at the same agency I had moved into their marketing department actually founded their marketing apartment.
Paul: Oh, right, so you’re an old hand at this.
Angela: Yes. Yeah, I was one of the founding members of that. And that was a bit of a different beast, because it became marketing for the company, as opposed to for the company’s clients.
Paul: Yeah. And then you made the transition to Checkfront? So how long ago was that?
Angela: Just about two and a half years ago?
Paul: Oh, wow, but it feels like forever?
Angela: Well… sometimes feels like forever, sometimes feels like five days.
Paul: So what was the state… if I can put that the right way, of marketing in Checkfront, because the impression I got from Jason is that a lot of the initiatives, this sort of made things up a bit as they went along, it was very quick and dirty. And there must have been a bit more semblance of order to actually warrent employing you or to have, you know, the faith that you could… you could make a difference. So, you know, when you came in? What was this situation?
Angela: Yeah, so there was not a tonne of structure, I think the person that had previously done most of the marketing was also working heavily in product, she’s now our Director of Product, she moved full time into product. And that was when they knew they needed to hire somebody full time to look at the marketing. When I came in, they had a really come off a good run of years, leveraging free channels, kind of just taking leads where they get them. And yeah, and, you know, that obviously, changes very quickly. I think they knew that they needed to invest more in the marketing.
Paul: So when you joined, and the other person moved across product, you had a marketing department of one, you?
Angela: That’s right. Just me.
Paul: So that must have been quite daunting to come into a business that you hadn’t been involved with before, and then take on this role. So you know, you’re a marketer with some experience at that point. But here you are in an industry that you don’t know anything about. It’s a cool business. You like the look of it, you like the people, but then you’ve got to start understanding what SaaS marketing is all about.
Angela: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, it was incredibly exciting. And I had a really good base in all of the online marketing channels specifically. So I came in pretty confident. It was just a matter of, I guess, understanding what they had done up to the point where I entered what had worked really well. Thinking about what I wanted to do moving forward, how I was going to make my mark in this company. And and yeah, and going from there, I was… I was totally excited, I probably should have been a little more nervous then I was.
Paul: So how long did it take, before you realise that you really needed to hire to help you.
Angela: I mean, I could have hired the second I started. I don’t think that, you know, I needed to get really overwhelmed to figure that out. There was a lot that we needed to do, a lot we wanted to do. And I very quickly sort of felt like I was accomplishing 5% of dozens of things instead of 100% of a few things, very spread thin.
Paul: So how long did it take before you hired someone?
Angela: So we hired somebody, I want to say about six to eight months after I started? Yeah, it was my first hire.
Paul: And what was the role that you hired for first? Because that’s always the thing, who do you hire first?
Angela: Yeah, so the role I hired for first is probably not the role that I would have, you know, set up to pick first we actually had somebody internally who was very, very talented, and wanted to move into marketing to do video marketing.
Paul: Oh, great.
Angela: Yeah. So my first ever hire was a video marketer. At that point, video was not a huge part of our marketing mix. It is now though. Probably not the, you know, if I had beforehand sat down and been like, ‘what’s my first hire’ It probably wouldn’t have been video marketing, just because it wasn’t part of our mix. Now it is, and she’s incredibly talented. So very, very lucky to have started with her.
Paul: Great. So I mean, given the nature of the market that you’re in… travel and stuff, video really pays well in that sector. So it was a very prescient and useful thing to have somebody in house that could could handle all of that. So then, so two and a half years down the road now. What other roles that you you hired since… or the companies hired in terms of marketing.
Angela: Yeah, so it very quickly became clear to me that I would need to hire for the skills that I didn’t have. One of those is design. I can… I hope, I think I can recognise good design, but I can’t create good design. So I have a designer, very integral part of the team. And he does everything from our website designed to our brochures, our PDFs, anything like that goes through him, that helps our brand look really good out there. And then a writer, so like I said, I got actually started in SEO, it required a lot of writing. So it’s not that I didn’t have the skill, but it was that I was very, very, burnt out on it.
Paul: Yeah. Yeah, been writing all those perfectly optimised keywords and you just go blind in the end looking at content.
Angela: Yeah. And content was going to be a huge part of our marketing strategy moving forward. So it was a very important role to fill.
Paul: So, that’s a great thing to come on to. So what would you say are the channels? So clearly, content marketing? And SEO is a major one for you? What are the other sort of Marketing Leavers you guys pull to get business your way?
Angela: Yeah, so we do a lot of paid advertising, across various channels, AdWords probably being our biggest one. And we don’t drive a lot of revenue through social media marketing, but it is very important to us to remain connected with our customers. So we see it as more of a customer retention play, they can always talk to us, they always see what’s going on with us. So that’s really great. And we actually do a lot of events as well, a lot of offline marketing.
Paul: Yeah. You always seem to be going somewhere. That is just part of your industry isn’t it, the whole travel thing?
Angela: It is Yeah.
Paul: So you know, it’s it’s an essential, that people not only understand the brand, but meet the people behind it. And yeah, get to understand that there’s a lot going on in this business.
Angela: Yeah, I mean, I started and, you know, I was asked, Have you ever done a trade show? And I was like, do people still still do that? is that a thing? In our industry, it is a thing. People love it. They love the excuse to sort of meet face to face. And you know, our customers are not super technology savvy. So face to face…
Paul: No, because I guess a lot of it is like family businesses or owner run businesses?
Angela: Yeah, It varies. I mean, we have definitely a tonne of owner operated, we have a tonne of family owned businesses that are very large. And then we also have global enterprises with, you know, multiple locations across the world so…
Paul: Wow. So there’s a lot going on.
Paul: So in terms of like the, two and a half years now that you spent at the forefront of SaaS marketing with Checkfront what are the you know, the things that you’ve learned through… good things happening or learn through bad things happening, that maybe are different. Make SaaS and Checkfront different from other businesses or, or commonalities you’re seeing with other businesses.
Angela: So I think the biggest thing that I learned about SaaS marketing is how quickly it changes. So, you know, our product has changed so much our customers have changed, marketing has changed, the industry we are in has changed, our competitors have changed. What worked in 2012 is no longer working. And it’s not even that it takes six years for things to change. It’s just an adaptation from when we didn’t have a full focused marketing team to now we need a team. And yeah, I would say, the ability to pivot, the ability to like fail and not, you know, take it too hard. That’s very, very important in SaaS marketing.
Paul: Having a thick skin.
Angela: Definitely. Yeah.
Paul: So in terms of hiring, are you still hiring? There’s still…
Angela: I’m always hiring Paul.
Paul: Haha, anyone out there want a job?
Angela: Yeah, yeah, we’re always hiring. I mean, I will say I did learn a pretty good lesson hiring. And that was that i think i siloed my team a little bit too early. I hired very, very specific skill sets. And in times, that does hold us up a bit. Because we have one person specifically that can do a task as opposed to having a few people with broader skills. So in future I will be hiring more marketing generalists, people with skills and multiple channels, just so that as a team, we can be a little bit more scrappy, and a little bit quicker.
Paul: Yeah, so how much of your time is now spent managing your team verses actually doing stuff yourself?
Angela: Yeah, um, I don’t know that I can ever remove myself from doing the stuff, I actually really like it. But I will say that it’s a very small part of my day to day now. It’s really about empowering my team. And I actually find that really fulfilling.
Paul: Yeah, it’s always a bit of a sort of difficult point isn’t it, I think we’ve talked about it before, where you still want to keep all the skills that you have, and you still want to be able to you know, get those wins and, you know, create value itself. But then on the other hand, as a… for the company, actually, your greatest asset is probably the way that you’re able to manage your team, so it’s always offsetting those two things.
Angela: Yeah. And I’ve also moved in my career from… away from the spot where I could like Google the answers to things. Now we’re facing challenges every day that I’m like, I don’t know where to find the answer to this, you know, so it’s very different.
Paul: Right? So all you need to do is write down those questions, and we’ll put them out there. And we’ll find out the answers.
Angela: Sounds great. I should start a medium blog.
Paul: You should. That’s fantastic. So, I mean, you’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time. There must have been times when you felt like you were juggling flaming plates.
Angela: Earlier today
Paul: You looked so calm. How do you cope with managing your team and doing all the other things you’ve got to do? And the pressure that obviously comes from managment, you know, times hit marketing targets, whatever, and actually have a life?
Angela: Well, I’ll skip the life part for now. The work part, I think, a lot of times, I fall into a bit of a triage situation, which obviously I’d prefer not to be, but it’s a matter of like, what’s on fire the most, this exact moment, I try to be really cognizant of how important good managers have been to me in my career, and in my past. And so I’m constantly reminding myself not to let the management fall to the wayside and get too stuck in the marketing side of it. So that’s a really big challenge. Just like kind of always remembering to be there for my team, always remembering that that is an extremely fulfilling part of my job and keeps them engaged in their jobs as well. And then how I balance all that with life, I don’t know that I necessarily have a good answer for that. When I travel, I try to unplug from technology as best as possible.
Paul: I saw you on Instagram.
Angela: Well, I tried to unplug from work technology. But, but yeah, I mean, even that it becomes a little impulsive. Like I should just check in and make sure everything’s okay. When the reality is like they would everybody would be fine without me.
Paul: So you were recently in Scotland for two or three weeks?
Angela: Yeah, two weeks… just over two weeks.
Paul: So how did you juggle that? Did you switch off? Or was it…
Angela: Um, I did I…
Paul: Becasue there is no Wi Fi or internet up there.
Angela: Haha they’re not quite that far in the past. No, I I kind of gave everybody the heads up that I was going to unplug. I made sure I spent a lot of time with my team beforehand, making sure that they knew priorities. We have a great team here that truly supports our work life balance. So you know, nobody wanted to bother me while I was travelling, which is always a bonus. So yeah.
Paul: You came back and they’re all refreshed and ready to go again.
Angela: Exactly. Yeah.
Paul: Angela thank you very much for giving me an insight into Checkfront and the career and the progress you’ve made.
Angela: Thanks Paul, this is really fun.
Paul: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Angela. For more info on Checkfront, please visit www.checkfront.com For more info about this show. And to get our links to iTunes, Google Play SoundCloud, Stitcher and YouTube, check out www.pwlms.com. And if you have any SaaS marketing insights that you’d like to share on the show, please get in touch. Until next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai