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Weekend edition May 31, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Maryville founder shares the ‘mountains of marketing’

Epic Nine Marketing Outfitters is a Maryville-based firm that specializes in small business marketing, branding, and advertising.

A decade is a long time to lead a company. Jeremy LaDuke has watched his marketing agency, Epic Nine Marketing Outfitters, grow from one client to hundreds over the years, add 15 employees, and become a well-known name across East Tennessee. Now, he’s helping other local and regional business owners and start-ups find the same success.

LaDuke founded Epic Nine in 2014. It is a marketing agency based in Maryville that helps clients “conquer their marketing mountains.” LaDuke specifically emphasized his firm’s focus on branding identity, awareness, web design, and advertising. His primary customer base is ambitious local businesses that want to grow to be regional or national brands.

When asked about how it got started, LaDuke’s response was “survival.”

Jeremy LaDuke

He used to be a youth pastor, church planner, and associate pastor for a local congregation. However, he always loved the design side of things and even applied those skills to many of the ministries he was a part of. When he decided to leave the ministry, he leaned on his marketing skills to create a new career.

So, he created a unique concept in Maryville, a marketing agency dedicated to supporting and uplifting small businesses. A decade later, and that mission still holds true for Epic Nine, and LaDuke personally.

“I kept seeing these great small businesses pop up in my city, only to watch them close down and fail a few months or years later,” LaDuke said. “If they had stronger marketing, those businesses may still be around today.”

Additionally, he wanted to create a business that supports and uplifts employees. LaDuke wanted to cultivate a great workplace culture. The company had a big celebration for the 9th anniversary; however, for the 10th it was a bit more low-key.

“We’ve been through a lot in 10 years,” LaDuke admitted. He explained how Epic Nine rolled with the punches of the pandemic, and even found ways to excel in a virtual capacity.

They expanded their services to include virtual event planning that panned beyond a traditional Zoom call.

Using a platform called “Remo,” his team coordinated different rooms within the same video call for people to interact as they would more organically in small groups at conferences, parties, or workshops.

“The biggest virtual event we hosted was almost 600 people,” he said.

While they don’t do much virtual coordinating anymore, LaDuke has moved into a full-service model for Epic Nine’s marketing services. He credits the growth to his talented team and a shared mission.

LaDuke provided some tips for other start-up founders in Blount County.

First, he recommended crunching numbers on the front end. Be realistic about how much it will cost to get started, and how much revenue you will realistically bring in during the first few years.

Second, he emphasized the importance of branding. “Branding will either hurt or help you in all your marketing going forward,” he said. “Be distinct, memorable, and make it make sense.”

Third, he warned first-time founders to be selective in their hiring processes. Go slowly, get to know the person, make sure they’re a good fit long-term, and trust your gut feelings, LaDuke advised.

Finally, and perhaps LaDuke’s most important tip is to set clear, measurable goals. First-time founders can often get caught between reality and “what-ifs.” LaDuke said that writing goals down and seeing them through will better help people stay on track – both with their marketing goals and business goals in general.

In addition to running his own business, LaDuke brings his advice directly to local entrepreneurs in Maryville as the Interim President of the Sky City Entrepreneur Center.

“I’m just trying to help people learn from my mistakes,” he laughed.

A recent resource LaDuke provided to the community is his new book, Climb. It’s all about the risks and rewards of elevating your brand. It follows the story of a woman named Eva who is handed the keys to her family’s local used book and toy business. It was a charming place that offered visitors a blast from the past, but it wasn’t doing well, financially speaking, and hardly had a digital presence.

Throughout the book, LaDuke details different hardships she faces such as navigating placement on Google, reviews, advertisements, social media, brand awareness, and more. He also shows how marketing is not a “one size fits all.”

Climb acts as a simple guide for any small business owners looking to sharpen their marketing skills.

To buy the book, visit the Climb website, or purchase through to support local bookstores.

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