In 2013, Cori Kohlmeier was determined to redefine the marketing scene in Wichita, Kansas, with the launch of Advantage Marketing.
Over the past decade, Cori's entrepreneurial spirit has navigated the agency through various challenges. From the crucial decisions of expanding her team at the perfect moments to overcoming internal communication hurdles, Cori's journey is a testament to resilience and strategic thinking.
By tapping into her extensive network, fostering a flexible work environment, and optimizing team meetings, she has not only weathered the storm but also set Advantage Marketing on a path of continuous growth and innovation.
Currently, the Advantage team has grown to 16 members, serving a portfolio of over 50 clients. Cori’s story offers valuable insights into scaling a marketing agency and exemplifies the value of strong leadership.
Today we’ll be sharing the key decisions and strategies that set the foundation for her ten years of business success.
16 Employees, 50+ clients, Est. 2013
From “One Day” to “Day One”
Cori started her career working as a senior account executive in television sales, where she gained experience with media buying.
“I was really fortunate that I had a local sales manager who was all about training,” says Cori. “She trained me in media math, which includes the TV ratings and shares.”
This meant that Cori not only learned sales and negotiation skills at the TV station but also creative skills within the production side of operations.
“I was writing my own scripts and helping clients produce their look and brand, which a lot of account executives didn’t do at the time,” she says.
Cori always wanted to have full control of a client’s project from day one. This passion eventually led her to her next career move–working as a strategist at a local advertising agency. Once there, Cori developed an interest in client data.
“I would ask the clients questions like, ‘Tell me about your business. Who's your demographic? What are you experiencing? And how do we break down that marketing budget throughout the year? Should we dedicate certain dollars to the spring or the fall? Let's look at your sales cycle, and then let's make decisions based on the data that we have.’”
As her time with the company progressed and Cori gained traction with her clients, she began to set her sights on agency ownership.
At first, Cori set a goal to purchase the agency she was working at, outright. But mounting frustrations about the agency’s “archaic” systems created a roadblock.
“Everything was on paper, and this was at a time when we should’ve been embracing an electronic world,” says Cori. “It was really frustrating for me. I just wasn’t able to do the things I wanted to do for my clients.”
So, after five years of working for the other agency, Cori decided to break out on her own. In 2013, she launched Advantage Marketing, leveraging her strong relationships and solid reputation. This foundation of trust and professional excellence encouraged many of her clients to continue their partnership with her at the new venture, appreciating her expertise and service.
On Day One, Cori remembers sitting back in her newly established office, strategies, and deliverables for her 15 clients already ironed out from her years of prior work on the accounts.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Okay… now what?’” she recalls.
Evolving as a Leader To Overcome Scaling Obstacles
Having left her former agency’s analog processes behind, Cori was free to implement the project management processes and strategies she’d longed to introduce. Newly founded Advantage Marketing’s clients saw their results skyrocket, and the agency’s reputation spread quickly by word-of-mouth.
As the referrals kept rolling in, Cori faced the classic “chicken and the egg scenario” of increased outputs and too few employees to fulfill the work.
To tackle this, Cori’s first step was reaching out to one of the TV sales reps she had worked with for a few years.
“I knew a lot of reps throughout the years, and Amy was the strongest by far,” says Cori. “We actually didn’t like each other in the beginning but developed a friendship when we both happened to be pregnant with our sons at the same time.”
Amy officially joined Advantage Marketing in October 2014 as the Vice President, bringing a list of clients and doubling the agency's client portfolio.
“Amy didn't start off as a partner,” Cori explains. “She worked her way up and earned the position. We’ve collaborated closely through a lot of the details of the agency, and that's how we've been able to grow it.”
Image: Amy Hoefer (left) and Cori Kohlmeier (right)
Following a full year of steady growth, Cori and Amy hired subcontractors and part-time employees. Amy took the project management processes and streamlined them to improve efficiency when handling a multitude of clients. As the incoming work kept increasing, the duo were able to add more staff and slowly expand the team.
However, the work never stopped, and neither did Cori.
“As an entrepreneur, I will work all the time,” Cori shares. “I started missing things in my personal life, and it was very clear to me that I needed to change my approach.”
Cori aimed to manage the day-to-day operations in a way that would not hinder her agency's growth trajectory.
Achieving balance in her personal and professional lives meant Cori would need to take an organized, systematic approach and make some big changes to set the agency up for next-level success.
Here are 7 strategies Cori implemented to scale fast while maintaining her personal well-being:
1. Leveraging Mentors for Business Advice
Any time Cori felt stuck or needed business advice, she looked to her network of industry leaders. For example, a valuable lesson she learned from the KSDBC (Kansas Small Business Development Center) at Wichita State University was all about investing money into a business.
“They talked about how many big companies borrow their money to grow their business,” she explains. “They don’t use their own money. I think many small businesses get caught up in, 'I don’t want to owe anyone anything,' but I wanted a level of comfort and self-sufficiency at my agency.”
Taking on good debt, like strategic loans or financing, meant that Cori could boost her agency’s growth far more rapidly than relying solely on personal investments.
After discussing with her business advisor, Elaine Hanna, whom she met at the KSDBC, Cori chose to secure a microloan early in her venture to add to her personal investment in the business. She recognized this would provide immediate financial support, enabling her to quickly scale–a pace her personal investments alone couldn’t match.
Later, she and Amy obtained a second microloan to purchase another marketing agency, six years into the growth of Advantage Marketing. This strategic acquisition accelerated their scaling, introducing fresh clients and new talent to the team.
If it wasn’t for her conversation with Elaine, she might not have considered leveraging a microloan in the first place.
Seeking the advice of business mentors who have achieved the level of success you’re chasing opens the door to invaluable guidance and diverse perspectives.
2. Optimizing Internal Task Management
Navigating her agency’s growing pains also came with communication challenges. Cori identified this as another reason she was working long hours.
Her employees were sending emails asking her to approve things or check on projects. The time she was spending answering emails and participating in a clunky approval process was stealing the time she needed to focus on integrating her current agency and the one she just acquired.
When deadlines started being missed, something had to be done, so Cori implemented a better task management system. This decision not only helped her become less involved in the daily operations but also made workflows more efficient throughout the team.
I don’t like missing deadlines, and I don’t like redoing work. It’s not efficient, and I wanted to look at what needed to change to get a different outcome.
Cori Kohlmeier, Founder & President, Advantage Marketing
With their new task management system and processes in place, the directors could clearly communicate with their teams before any client work gets started, reducing any inefficiencies.
3. Proactively Seeking Feedback
When an old process isn’t working, or an employee makes a mistake, Cori takes a level-headed approach.
“I don’t like to say, ‘Oh my gosh! What were you thinking?’ That’s not productive,” she explains. “I say, ‘Let’s work our way back and see what we can do differently.’”
She emphasizes the importance of having those conversations with employees, even if it might be uncomfortable.
“I just want to get to the root cause of what we need to change as an organization so we can avoid future mistakes.”
A large part of fostering this improved communication with her employees involves truly believing in and trusting her team’s knowledge and expertise.
“When I'm making a decision about something, I talk to my team,” she says. “They know things, they’re experienced, and they are the true industry experts. So, I ask them what they think, and we come to a consensus together.”
4. Improving Internal Structures
As the agency scaled, Cori encountered a common agency challenge: their reporting structure needed to be addressed. Ad hoc processes that worked when the agency had 15 clients were difficult to maintain at 50.
“We used to have traffic managers input details into the task management system,” Cori explains. “But we were getting to the point where we were delivering so much creative and branding for our clients that the directors needed to take the initiative on that instead.”
Advantage Marketing revamped its organizational structure to set the agency up for where they wanted to go in the future. Their leadership team now includes:
You can't be afraid to try things. If it fails, maybe it isn't actually a failure. It just wasn't the right way to do it.
Cori Kohlmeier, Founder & President, Advantage Marketing
5. Eliminating Unproductive Meetings
Cori understood all too well the pitfalls of unproductive meetings, a common issue in her previous workplaces.
Determined to break this cycle, she decided to structure meetings with purpose and clarity, organizing them by specific topics to ensure efficiency and relevance.
This strategic approach respects her team's time while fostering more focused and productive discussions.
On Tuesdays, Cori has a 30-minute meeting with Amy and the production teams to discuss creative projects.
On Wednesdays, there is a quick touch base meeting between the media buyers to talk about negotiations and the stations they work with.
On Thursdays, they have a full team staff meeting to keep everyone from the agency on the same page about company changes, client projects, etc.
Once a month on Fridays they have break room meetings to talk about anything non-work related.
Cori has one other non-negotiable expectation for meetings:
“Everyone must have their camera on,” she laughs. “Maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned that way, but I think it helps to see people and know there’s a person behind that dark screen.”
6. Harnessing Workplace Flexibility
Another valuable lesson Cori has learned over the years is allowing flexibility in everyone’s schedules. This adaptability has been crucial not only for her personal life but also for fostering a supportive work environment for her team.
Cori shares a personal anecdote to illustrate this principle: “My kids come home, and I still need to work,” she explains. “But what kind of time do I give to them? I need to stop and give them their space to tell me about their day and how they're doing and check in with them and then I go back to work, and maybe I need to work later at night because I did that check-in time. But I'm still making up my hours and still doing what I've got to do.”
By practicing and advocating for this level of flexibility, Cori ensures her team maintains a healthy work-life balance, emphasizing that productivity isn't confined to traditional work hours.
She leads by example, showing that it's possible to meet professional obligations while also prioritizing personal commitments.
7. Trusting Your Team
Giving your team balance and flexibility also requires trust. Cori agrees that the key to a great agency culture is trusting your team to get the work done.
Although her team works remotely and on a flexible schedule, she doesn’t have time to micromanage anyone to make sure work is getting done.
“I had a friend ask me, ‘How do you know your people are working?’ And I just think that’s a very odd perspective,” she laughs. “There has to be a level of trust. We’re hiring adults, not babies. If the work isn’t getting done or we’re missing deadlines, I’ll know real quick.”
Celebrating 10 Years and Beyond
Cori was recently named winner of the AgencyAnalytics Great Agency Founder contest, nominated by her employees and colleagues. Of all the entries received, Cori stood out because of her clear dedication to fostering lasting relationships, prioritizing client needs, and nurturing her team members.
Celebrating the ten-year anniversary of Advantage Marketing, she looks toward the future with a commitment to growth and learning.
I don't think you're ever done learning. You can always pick things up and be better and so that's what I strive to do.
Cori Kohlmeier, Founder & President, Advantage Marketing
Her dedication to improvement isn’t just for herself and her business but a value she instills in her team. Embracing her philosophy of continuous learning, Cori is considering an executive business coach to strategically map out her agency's growth plan for the next 5 years. Despite her extensive experience, Cori understands there’s always more to learn.
“I always think that talking to people and gaining new resources is great,” says Cori.
Her enthusiasm is a reflection of the passion that guides her agency toward future success. With a decade of accomplishments behind her and a clear vision ahead, Cori Kohlmeier continues to lead with innovation, resilience, and a spirit of never-ending learning.