Spotlight: Can’t Afford a Fancy Marketing Agency? Phlywheel Offers a DIY Alternative

Can't Afford a Fancy Marketing Agency? Phlywheel Offers a DIY Alternative

Small businesses often don’t have access to full service marketing agencies like big companies do. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find unique ways to market their offerings.

Phlywheel wants to bridge the gap between those massive agencies and small businesses. So the company offers a DIY platform for marketing.

Phlywheel DIY Marketing for Small Business

Learn more about the offering and the company’s journey in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Provides a DIY marketing platform for SMBs.

Co-founder and CEO Tara Hunt told Small Business Trends, “With ever-tightening marketing budgets, Phlywheel is focused on doing more with less. On Phlywheel, members can find a full range of digital and traditional marketing guidance across strategy, research, design, writing, optimization and more. Content features include masterclasses, expert guest speaker series, case studies, how-to videos, digital tools and downloadable guides, as well as actual templates that have been used on live campaigns. Expert coaching tops off the premium Phlywheel experience as members are offered one-on-one access in addition to online community lessons.”

Business Niche

Providing personalized solutions that work for SMBs.

Phlywheel is based on the “teach a man to fish” mentality. The founders, who stem from award winning strategic marketing firm Truly, Inc., had all sorts of tools and templates and knowledge. Realizing that there are many small businesses or individuals that couldn’t afford their services, they thought, “what if we could teach them and guide them to do it themselves?” That would take less time and then they would have the expertise in-house!

“Because a lot of SMBs don’t have the budget to spend on the time needed to invest in creating a digital marketing strategy, Phlywheel provides the tools to become in-house experts, reducing dependency on external experts and helping organizations market smarter.”

How the Business Got Started

After realizing that SMBs struggle to access quality marketing resources.

Hunt and the team at Truly noticed how many SMBs weren’t able to work with them because of budget concerns. So they decided to build something they could use.

“The idea of Phlywheel began in spring 2019 when the need to provide a resource for SMBs became apparent. The platform officially launched in July 2020, as industries and the economy were still trying to process and adapt to the massive changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. At that point, the platform was not only thought of as a modern take on a digital agency, but a real solution to challenges the pandemic presented businesses.”

Biggest Win

Getting through the public beta period.

“Phlywheel only launched publicly a week ago, but we ran a private beta for 5 weeks before this. The beta was all about proving our thesis that we can scale services and really help SMBs with the combination of content, community and coaching. Though we did a ton of research ahead of time, I was still nervous about the beta. We had a pretty overwhelming response with 50 businesses signing up! It would be a real test!”

Biggest Risk

Turning down other business to focus on Phlywheel.

“We’ve been wanting to create and launch Phlywheel since June of 2019, but focusing on it kept being put off due to inbound work with Truly. In early 2020, we decided to “burn the boats” and turn down new leads altogether, which puts us in a bit of a scary position. We only have a handful of bigger clients and Phlywheel, which isn’t make much money yet!

“This, of course, could go very wrong as we’re spending that cushion of savings we have from being cautious on growing Phlywheel. As an executive team, we check in on this frequently. We still get lots of inbound leads (though a bit less since COVID-19 hit!) and we have that discussion again, “Should we take this potential client on so we mitigate our risk and give ourselves more runway?” It’s a difficult balance, but we are really committed to what Phlywheel can do in the long term, so we need to put that community first…even if it’s not replacing the lost revenue yet.”

Lesson Learned

Don’t say yes to everything.

“These were the projects that I could feel would be the wrong kind of challenge. The red flags were there: they didn’t have solid goals, they weren’t ready for marketing (product was still in disarray), they didn’t completely value what we bring to the table, etc.

“I love a good challenge. But I need to pick the ones that have a path to winning (not hopeless causes!). No agency or company should be arrogant enough to think they can fix something nobody else has been able to fix. I’ve learned that this idea is a deadly form of vanity now and wish I could go back and tell myself this.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Slowly growing the team.

“If we had an extra $100,000 kicking around, I’d be using it to invest in talent. But, to my previous experience of hiring too many people too fast, I’d spend it very very slowly and wisely.”

Company Value


“We don’t like taking ourselves or anything so seriously that there isn’t room for fun and laughter. From our Llama mascot, Elphyra, to the weekly planning jams and happy hours with our members, the goal is for the platform to come to life, to stoke engagement between members and our team and make the experience educational and lighthearted.”

Favorite Quote

“The trouble with normal is it always gets worse,” by Bruce Cockburn.

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Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program

Image: Phylwheel, Tara Hunt

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.