There are two experiences that I had early on in my career that have really shaped the way that BeKonstructive Marketing has evolved. From our name to our business model, to our internal culture – these two experiences run deep within BeKonstructive’s veins.
As a content marketer, I often preach to our clients the importance of sharing your story with your audience. It helps build connection and authenticity which in turn leads to deeper and more loyal ties with your audience. So I’m taking my own advice and sharing my story – I hope this helps provides insight into BeKonstructive Marketing, our values, and our commitment to making compounding difference within the marketing industry.
The experiences I had early on in my career have really shaped the way that BeKonstructive Marketing has evolved. From our name to our business model and internal culture – my early career experiences run deep within BeKonstructive’s veins.
I started my career in 2010 with a three-month full-time unpaid internship. The agency I was working for was billing my time out to clients for $150/hr and paying me nothing for three long months. It was highly illegal.
At the time, I suspected that it wasn’t quite right, but I was scared to speak up. I knew so many people that had graduated from university at the same time as me that were struggling to land a job. I had an internship with a guaranteed job at the end of it; after three long years of full-time study, what was an extra 3 months of unpaid work?
I went on to work at this agency for three years. I successfully completed my 528 hours of unpaid labour as a copywriting intern, then completed my 3-month probation period on minimum wage ($36k/year) – this was the ‘guaranteed job’ I’d been promised after completing the internship.
I worked hard, developed my skills and was kept on after probation. Over the next 2.5 years, the agency would grow rapidly. When I joined in 2010, they had just 6 employees. Three years later, they employed a staff body of over 100 people, more than half of which were in the sales department.
Despite the highly illegal internship, I loved my job when I first joined the agency. Being part of a small team in a full-service agency opened me up to a lot of learning opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. I was able to tour the different departments – copy, design, websites, print, strategy – taste testing a little bit of everything while I figured out what I enjoyed the most.
I settled on web, where I was able to combine the copywriting skills I’d already developed with SEO and website development. I also got to work one-on-one with clients, and as digital marketing evolved, I was able to dabble a bit in emerging areas like Google Ads and Social Media Management.
The clients were great too – from all different industries and all different walks of life. I learnt so much about different industries and different business models as I continued to refine my skills.
However, as the agency continued to grow and grow, I started to notice a disconnect between what services clients were being sold and what services clients needed. In the early days, the business owners – marketing professionals themselves – were doing majority of the selling. They were listening to the business owners, learning about their businesses and their ideal customers, and crafting tailored solutions to suit.
But as we’d grown, the sales team evolved into something completely different. We had our own on-site call centre tasked with cold calling Brisbane businesses with the goal of setting appointments with one of our ‘business strategists’. The employees in the call centre were paid a base wage with a $100 commission for every appointment that they booked. The ‘business strategists’ (actually just salespeople, often with no first-hand experience of owning or running a business themselves), were paid a 20% commission on everything that they sold.
I’m telling you this because it is important that you know that our sales staff were extremely motivated by this commission. If a prospective client had an annual marketing budget of $20k, then the salesperson would sell them a $20k website, claiming that it would solve all their business problems.
By this stage, I was the manager of the Web Department. I had a production team of 6 and we were responsible for building these $20k websites. Which meant that I was responsible for breaking the news to these clients that the website would not “market itself”.
These hard-working mum-and-dad businesses had been duped by my colleagues into buying a website that had all the bells and whistles, leaving them with no budget left-over to market the new website through SEO or Google Ads.
I tried to talk to the sales department about this issue on multiple occasions, but they weren’t interested. They didn’t receive a commission on Google ad spend budget, and a service like on-going SEO split their commission into monthly payments rather than one lump sum.
I also tried to talk to upper management about it, but they weren’t particularly interested either. Websites were one of our more profitable products (the markup we were charging on them was outrageous!), and SEO and Google Ads were seen as less profitable ‘add-ons’.
Unsurprisingly, this profits-at-any-cost approach started to gain the agency a pretty nasty reputation. There were a lot of other issues within the company too – the illegal unpaid internships were not the only dodgy practices that they were engaging in – all of which ultimately led to the demise of the company.
I was fortunate – when the company went into liquidation and then entire staff body were made redundant, I landed on my feet pretty quickly in a boring-but-stable position as an in-house digital marketing specialist for a global B2B brand. Others weren’t as lucky and took months or even years to find employment in the marketing industry once more.
A few short years later when I started my freelancing business which would eventually evolve into BeKonstructive Holdings Pty Ltd – I knew that I wanted to go back to that period of my career where I got to sit with business owners and learn everything there was to know about their product, their customers, and their service delivery.
I knew without a doubt that this was the ‘right’ way to do marketing – especially when working with small business owners who don’t have money to waste and whose livelihood depends on the success of their marketing activities.
The ‘BeKonstructive’ brand was developed around this belief in there not being a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to marketing. At BeKonstructive Marketing, everything we do for our clients is constructive. If something isn’t working, we fix it or we re-allocate the budget to a different channel or platform. We track and report on everything, and we take the time and care to explain all of our recommendations to our clients.
We don’t make decisions on your behalf; rather, we give you all of the information that you need to make an informed decision for yourself. We take this approach because we know that no matter how much time we spend getting to know your business, we will never know it as well as you do. We see ourselves as your marketing partners – we are a part of your team and the better we are at working together as a team, the more successful our marketing activities will be.
BeKonstructive Marketing has been operating since 2014 with this ethos of being ‘constructive’ in everything that we do. The other point of difference that guides everything we do is our team and our commitment to employing young workers.
This commitment obviously comes from my time as an unpaid intern, but unlike ‘constructive’, it has not been a part of our value system since day one. It evolved a bit more over time as we grew, and I realised that 10 years on, marketing graduates were still being expected to commit to months of free labour to get a foot in the door.
If anything, the graduate situation in Australia has worsened over the past 10 years as more and more businesses have started to outsource low-skill marketing activities overseas. Things like social media management, email marketing and even copywriting are frequently sent to overseas companies that charge $10-15 per hour. Minimum wage for a degree qualified marketing graduate starts at around $22/hr. Add to that the overheads involved in employing and training someone who is fresh out of university…
I don’t blame marketing agencies for outsourcing all of their entry-level work overseas, it makes short-term commercial sense. But it doesn’t make long-term sense. If the lowest level positions at marketing agencies require 1-2 years experience, and all of the entry-level jobs are being outsourced, how are our marketing graduates supposed to gain those 2 years of experience?
If the lowest level positions at marketing agencies require 1-2 years experience, and all of the entry-level jobs are being outsourced, how are our marketing graduates supposed to gain those 2 years of experience?
Universities aren’t equipping marketing students with the practical skills that they need to walk straight into a marketing position. There is a gap that needs to be bridged between education and industry, and industry are not helping by outsourcing the few entry level positions that would have provided learning opportunities.
By choosing to employ predominantly graduates or soon-to-be-graduates, and building my business model around this, I have found a way to address this problem while also filling a gap in the market.
The gap is affordable marketing communications services for small and mid-range sized businesses. Business who have daily marketing communications requirements (think daily social media posts, weekly blogs, fortnightly email newsletters), but aren’t big enough to justify employing marketing personnel internally. They cannot afford to use traditional agencies for these services (the cost savings of outsourcing overseas rarely get handed down to the end customer), and have found that outsourcing to their own virtual assistant has resulted in quality issues, or a lack of strategic direction.
BeKonstructive Marketing fits this gap perfectly – our hourly rate is 2-3 times less than most standard agency prices. But because the work is done by degree-qualified students who live and work in Australia, many of the issues relating to quality, language, lack of knowledge about the Australian market/culture, and lack of marketing strategy are also overcome.
In addition to our BeKonstructive Marketing team of junior marketing professionals, in 2020 we also launched our own internship program ‘BeKause Marketing’. I couldn’t have launched this without the help of a few key people, most notably Kate Walters and Harry Frisch who volunteered to tribute as our first interns, as well as Helaina Gardiner who volunteered her time and expertise to help build relationships with local NFP organisations.
BeKonstructive Marketing aims to employ as many juniors as possible, but ultimately, we are constrained by the size of our business and how much work we have on at any given time. At the end of the day, we still need to be profitable.
BeKause Marketing is our unpaid internship program. It may seem contradictory to everything we stand for to have our own unpaid internship program, but we have crafted it very mindfully so that it meets and exceeds all legal requirements.
Our internship program pairs not-for-profits with marketing interns – we do not charge the NFPs for any of the work done. We do not make any profit from the program or from the work that our interns do. The internships are also self-guided; the interns set the days and hours that they choose to work, there are no expectations. If an intern turns up, they will be given real-world work to do, and I train and mentor them myself.
The program enables us to increase the size of our impact. We do not have an ‘interview’ process for the internship program, because you should not have to interview for an unpaid position that requires no experience. Rather, we have a first-come-first-serve approach, where when a position becomes available it is offered to the next person on the waiting list.
BeKause focuses on equipping our interns with the practical skills that they need to land a paid position. We encourage them to bring in job applications that they are looking at, and we work our way down the requirements list, teaching them how to use photoshop, Google Analytics, format WordPress websites and any of the other skills required in the positions.
It is not a perfect system, and the program is still evolving and finding its legs, but I hope that it eventually becomes a blueprint for other agencies wanting to launch unpaid internship programs.
Our Commitment to Continuous Improvement
You’ll have seen the phrase ‘continuous improvement’ around the website – in fact it is our 2022 focus word – but it really does define what we do and where we’re at right now.
Through everything that defines BeKonstructive Marketing, our changes, improvements, and ethos stem from the desire to improve on something that should be done better. As BeKonstructive continues to grow I am excited to see the improvements we make within our team and our digital marketing services in 5, 12, 20 years from now. After all, 12 years ago I was just starting out as a graduate in an illegal unpaid-internship.