By Marissa Loper

A few years ago I flew to New York to meet with my client at her other agency.

While typing that sentence just felt pretty awkward, the meeting itself wasn’t weird at all. My agency and the New York firm shared a client but worked on different pieces of business. Getting to know each other would make us both better partners to our shared client, so I was grateful for the opportunity.

The president of the agency graciously showed the two of us around his drop-dead-gorgeous, primo-Manhattan-location agency.

Wow. I was impressed.

I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect looking office space for a marketing agency. The walls, windows and furniture were “industrial chic” and oozed with creativity. Black and white artwork adorned the walls, and brilliant pops of color and textures were mixed in to create interest. The agency was filled with beautiful young people. I instantly loved it.

He ushered us into his corner office, we sat down on his buttery leather sofa, and my heart was aflutter. I could hear the traffic below. The office hummed with energy.

Later that evening he took us out to dinner. While our client was in the restroom, our host politely asked me about Thinkwell. I grinned sheepishly and told him that it was nothing like the amazing agency he had built.

“We all work from our homes,” I told him. “My goal in creating Thinkwell was to strike a balance between work and life outside of work. So I hire amazingly talented people who want out of the rat race and are willing to work virtually. I’m not going to lie. It was a little intimidating to see your gorgeous New York agency today. When my team meets up in person, it’s around a farm table in my home office out in the suburbs of Memphis. Your offices are, well, stunning.”

I flew home the next day and confessed to my husband Brook that I felt a little daunted by the experience. There was a small part of me that longed to stay in New York and work in such a cool environment. But then Brook and I talked about how the president of the other agency had spent the evening with us instead of with his family. We tried to imagine how much he had to pay in rent for those gorgeous offices.

And Brook reminded me that the fabulous New York agency and my virtual Memphis agency both shared the same client. We had both won the business.

Skip this next part if mushy love stories make you nauseated.

This unabashed encouragement is Why I Love My Husband, Reason Number 1,483.

Brook makes it his job to remind me on the regular that I am, in his eyes, a total badass.

He and I make every major life decision together.

Early in my career, I used to dream about working at a big agency in a major market. The copywriter who mentored me predicted my next step would be moving to New York and writing commercials for the Super Bowl. How fun that would be!

But Brook and I wondered what kind of life that would offer us and our children.

Not the kind we really wanted, we decided.

Instead, we dreamed of a company where I could use all of my creativity to the fullest and enjoy a fantastic family life.

But I couldn’t find a place like that. So Thinkwell was born.

Okay, back to my story…

A couple of days after I returned from the New York trip, an email popped up in my inbox from the president of the other agency. In his note he begged me to teach him how to set up a successful virtual agency like mine. He was barely able to make ends meet. “Please help me,” he wrote.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Why am I writing about this experience?

  • If you are a creative person and want to join an agency, I want you to know what’s out there.
  • If you hire creative agencies to help you with projects, I want you to understand how agencies work.

First, to my creative friends: 

There are many large agencies in New York or Dallas or Los Angeles that are incredible. You can be assigned to some fascinating accounts, do some beautiful work and learn from talented people. You might get free access to a coffee bar or a gym in your offices!

But to balance the books and to pay for that beautiful office and all of those cool extras, your boss will likely ask you to work long hours. And unless you’re one of the lucky few at the top of the company, your paycheck will likely be smaller than you deserve. It’s not because your boss is greedy or heartless. It’s simple economics.

At my agency, I’ll pay you by the hour. The more hours you work, the bigger your paycheck will be. And I will pay you a nice hourly rate so that you don’t have to put in overtime to take care of yourself and your family. You can be proud of your work AND have a life outside of work.

This opportunity doesn’t come with a gorgeous corner office though. Your workspace might be in your spare bedroom or on your kitchen counter. This setup will allow you to use all of the talent God gave you AND be there to let the plumber in when your toilet backs up. You can throw all of your creative energy into designing a fabulous new logo and then pick up your daughter from school. You can rewrite a website while keeping an eye on an aging parent who lives with you.

These are a few of the benefits of becoming a Thinkwellian. It’s not perfect, and it’s definitely not for everyone—but it’s ideal for those of us who value balance and flexibility in our careers.

Now, to my friends who hire agencies:

If you are in charge of a big, sexy brand like Target or Starbucks or Apple, you can really benefit from the talent at the top of a tier one agency. Because the top talent will definitely be working on your account.

But if your brand is only medium sized or (gasp!) small, you will most likely be assigned the B (or even C) team. And that’s a mixed bag of nuts. You could very well get amazing results from young creatives and account managers who are itching to prove themselves and move to the next level. Or you may get mediocre results from team members who are new to the business and don’t yet know what they don’t yet know. And you will pay handsomely for that B- or C-level work.

Either way, you’ll likely feel the impact of the revolving door of talent that many large agencies suffer from due to the high turnover in this business. Because big agencies can’t afford to pay their young employees well, the best talent will agency-hop for just a slightly larger salary offer. And you’ll need to train their replacements about your brand and your style and your objectives. Over and over.

But there’s another option to consider.

Yep, you guessed it: Thinkwell.

At Thinkwell, we don’t even have a B team.

Because I don’t have to pay rent, my overhead is low. So I pay my people extremely well. And when I say we are family friendly, I mean it. Working from home means my team gets to be the spouses they want to be, the parents they want to be, the children they want to be and the volunteers they want to be. They control their own schedules, and this flexibility is my most effective recruitment and retention tool.

And here’s the best part: Every single person on my team could easily be working at the top of a tier one agency. Their individual and collective creative talent blows my mind. When I review their work, it’s like Christmas morning. My team is full of seasoned professionals who know how to drive results.

When you hire Thinkwell, you really can enjoy the best of both worlds. All of our clients are “the big clients” and so all of our clients receive our best effort.

And I hope this doesn’t scare you, but here at Thinkwell, we really dig long-term relationships. For example, we’re still working with one Fortune 500 company that hired us 19 years ago. We know that company’s culture and brand and history as well as (or sometimes even better than) its own employees do.

So what am I saying here?

Don’t be fooled by big city zip codes or gorgeous office spaces.

If your account isn’t a big fish at a large agency, come be a huge fish at our agency.

You will work with a fantastic team of A players. You will receive exemplary service. And you won’t pay a huge retainer for our services. (Honestly, we’ve found no one wins in a retainer situation.) We charge a reasonable hourly rate and can set up a budget for each project up front.

Ultimately, we’d like to become an extension of your team.

When you need our help, we’re there for you.

And we promise to always bring our A game.