Smart Agency Podcast: The #1 Digital Agency Podcast for Social Media, SEO, PPC & Creative Agencies

What can you do to stand out from your competition? How can you avoid costly business mistakes that make it harder to grow and scale your agency? In this episode, you’ll get some great advice on this and more from an amazing pro who’s owned three successful agencies over the past two decades.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • How the agency space has evolved over time.
  • How to avoid costly business mistakes in your agency.
  • Why specializing is more profitable for agencies.
  • What is 48in48? So get this!

Today’s guest is Jeff Hilimire who also happened to be my guest on episode #2 of The Smart Agency Master Class more than three years ago! With nearly 20 years of experience owning 3 different agencies, he says his worst mistakes were made over the past 3 years. He’s back on the show this time to tell us how you can avoid those mistakes to successfully grow, scale and enjoy your agency.

Jeff started his first agency in 1998 and sold it 10 years later. He stayed with the acquiring agency until it sold again another 5 years later. In 2014 Jeff started Dragon Army, a mobile gaming and app studio. A couple years later, he added an agency component to it. Today, Jeff and his team of 25 employees work with some amazing brands such as Coca-Cola, Red Bull and The Home Depot.

How Has the Agency Space Changed Over the Years?

There’s been an evolution in the industry. Full service agencies just aren’t a thing anymore (except the really huge ones who truly can offer a full range of services). Due to differing client needs and new technologies, there’s a larger demand for specialty shops. Most brands are moving away from having one agency manage everything.

The real opportunity lies innovation. I always tell my clients to make decisions based on the future, not just what’s happening today. That means always trying new things and not being afraid of making a mistake.

As Wayne Gretzky put it... “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

How to Avoid Costly Business Mistakes

Jeff has made plenty of mistakes over the years, but the 3 biggest came within the last 3 years owning Dragon Army. It all boils down to clarity and having a long term vision for your agency… In hindsight, that’s what was lacking and lead to these big business mistakes:

Mistake #1 - Upon entering a new industry, Jeff didn’t do enough research. If he could do it all over again he would have started the agency side at the same time as the studio. His prior experience is with the agency model and he knows how to operate and scale an agency. Jeff estimates this decision set Dragon Army back about 2 years.

Mistake #2 - Dragon Army took on a project (a new mobile game) that took 3X longer than he expected. This means all their resources were tied into one huge engagement. Looking back, Jeff realizes he didn’t do his due diligence on what would be involved in completing the project and how much it would tie up his team.

Mistake #3 - Jeff acquired a partner agency as a means to grow but didn’t dig enough into their financial and operational systems. He says he trusted his gut without the purchase with a business mindset.

What's the common theme here? It's lack of clarity and vision. Jeff's advice - take your time to and look at decisions from all angles. Entrepreneurs can be impulsive (i.e. like chasing the next shiny red object!) but it’s important to hold back a little, research a ton and understand the impact your big decisions have on the long term vision and goals.

And, once you have a vision the values, principles and beliefs fall right into place - consider Zappos.com. They operationalize their core values and use them to set company culture.

Why Specializing is More Profitable

Dragon Army is super specialized and it’s working. Jeff says the best way to separate yourself from the other “me too” agencies is to be the very best at one thing. Know your strength and only sell that service. A lot of agencies are so afraid of turning off potential clients or turning down a potential sale they end up saying yes to things that aren’t in their wheelhouse.

If you’re saying ‘yes’ to the wrong things, you won’t have time for the right ones. And if you don’t have time for the right things - you can’t grow or scale your agency.

Can you use your professional skills to do good for the community?

In addition to his agency, Jeff is also the co-founder of 48in48. The premise of the organization is building 48 non-profit websites in 48 hours in a hack-athon style event. In 2015 the team of volunteers built 48 sites in 48 hours in Atlanta. In 2017 it’s grown to 4 U.S. cities and by 2018 it’ll be an international event! And, the ultimate goal is to eventually growing to 48 cities worldwide, 48 websites in 48 hours.

It literally takes thousands of designers, developers, content writers and other marketing professionals. If you’re interested in learning more, sponsoring or volunteering check out 48in48.org.

Need Guidance and Support to Grow Your Agency Faster?

Most agency owners struggle to scale. We’ve developed an amazing mastermind to guide you through the journey of implementing the right systems so you can scale your agency — instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.

We do this by bringing together successful agency leaders to share strategies, offer advice, and reveal what’s working (and what’s not working) in their agency. The truth is, whatever you want to accomplish in life, nothing will help you go further, faster than getting the right adviser in the context of motivated peers. If you want to GROW fast and smart, Digital Agency Elite mastermind will help.

Become a Better Agency Owner

Business mistakes can be costly to not only your profits but your reputation. I hope this insight into Jeff's experience as well as my own helps you avoid making these business mistakes within your agency moving forward. However, you should also be evaluating other areas of weakness within your agency. No matter what challenges your agency is facing, I can help you get through all of it.

There are many topics I can give advice on from what to do when you want to speed up sales processes, ways to increase your business profit, or how you can build authority for your agency.

Growing your agency can be a major struggle for any agency owner and I can show you the different phases of growth you will experience, how placing a process for performance-based pricing can be the best pricing strategy for your business and the three questions you need to ask yourself to sell more!

Want more? Learn about my career and different experiences as well as tips, tricks, and insights by checking out my blogs that cover a wide variety of topics.

Check out more from my Ask Swenk series and more of my videos on my Youtube channel. There you will find advice from myself and other agency experts.


Are you overwhelmed with tasks that keep you in the weeds instead of working on growing your agency? Are you paying salaried team to do things an hourly assistant could accomplish? STOP IT! Learn how you can increase productivity and save boatloads of time and resources. Plus, learn how to help your sales team be more effective so you can grow.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Ways to save time and increase productivity.
  • How to help your sales team be more effective.
  • How to get unstuck from doing everything yourself.

Today’s guest on the show is Jeff J. Hunter, founder, and Chief Freedom Officer at VA Staffer, the outsourcing agency he created to help businesses build virtual teams. With a background in IT and virtual project management he knows the ins and outs of getting projects done virtually. He’s here to give us strategies on saving time and ways to help salespeople be more effective.

How to Save Time and Increase Productivity

Agencies are always trying to land more clients, right? However, there always comes a point where they can’t take on more new business because they’re too busy servicing the clients they already have.

Jeff’s a big proponent of “don’t hire until it hurts” so his advice is to make more time for servicing clients and growing your business by understanding what you do and how it impacts your business. He compared it to Pareto’s 80/20 Principle from 1865 ~ the trivial many 80% and the vital few 20%.

However 150 years later, in a technology age, Jeff believes it’s more of a 90/10 split. He advises his clients to list out all the tasks and activities they do. Then decide which are the trivial many and which are the vital few. The vital few are the ones making the most impact on the business. For most entrepreneurs, Jeff finds  90% of what they do can be delegated while they focus on the 10% which impacts their business.

Similarly, I tell my clients to make a list of everything they do and then rank each item as to how much it impacts the agency - low, medium, or high impact. This is how you can find the major time sucks (check out my productivity worksheet here). and then work on becoming more productive with daily tasks and increase productivity overall. I find that most will usually tackle the low-impact items first because they offer immediate gratification and make us feel good in the short term.

The hard stuff usually seems to get procrastinated, yet that’s the stuff that makes the most impact on business growth.

How to Make Your Sales Team More Effective

A solid outbound strategy is one of the three sales channels you need to grow your agency. (The other two are inbound sales and strategic partnerships, by the way.) But are your or your sales team spinning their wheels on mining the information and making connections? That’s a major waste of time and resources. Why spend your own time or pay the sales team top dollar to do the leg work, when you could use a $7-$8 per hour VA?

Instead, let a VA do the mining. They can do the research, make contact and set up introductions. This frees you or your team up for setting sales strategies and building relationships.

Jeff says knowing what not to outsource is just as important as knowing what you should outsource. And relationship building is definitely not something you can farm out.

How to Get Unstuck from Doing Everything

Stop doing the things you suck at by eliminating, delegating or automating. Try doing the 90/10 exercise above outline above or check out Jeff’s webinar at 9010Life.com. Jeff says he guarantees you’ll find that 10% of what you do is actually the stuff you should focus on.

Also, a lot of the things you’re stuck doing because you’re the only one who knows how. So, start documenting what you do and how you do it. Use a tool like Screencast or TinyTake to record the what and how you do things. Because, the first step in delegating what you do is teaching others how to do it.

Need Guidance and Support to Grow Your Agency Faster?

Most agency owners struggle to scale. We’ve developed an amazing mastermind to guide you through the journey of implementing the right systems so you can scale your agency — instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.

We do this by bringing together successful agency leaders to share strategies, offer advice, and reveal what’s working (and what’s not working) in their agency. The truth is, whatever you want to accomplish in life, nothing will help you go further, faster than getting the right adviser in the context of motivated peers. If you want to GROW fast and smart, Digital Agency Elite mastermind will help.

 

Improving as a Digital Agency Owner

When you increase productivity, you will be surprised at what you can achieve for your digital agency and it will help you improve as an agency owner. Is this the only struggle you are facing at the minute? No matter what challenges your agency is facing, I can help you get through all of it.

Through my experience running my own digital agency and helping other digital agency owners, there are many topics I can offer guidance on whether you are an established agency facing struggles to new agencies unsure of what the different phases of growth you will experience will look like.

Growing your agency team can also be a major struggle for any agency owner and I can show from knowing when it’s time to hire a sales manager or expand your sales team to perfecting your business strategy with creating a process for performance-based pricing and how to keep your big-name clients happy.

Are you ready to create something cool and want more advice? Learn about my career and different experiences as well as tips, tricks, and insights by checking out my blogs that cover a wide variety of topics.

Check out more from my Ask Swenk series and more of my videos on my Youtube channel. There you will find advice from myself and other agency experts.

 

Direct download: How_to_Get_Unstuck_from_Doing_Everything_Yourself.mp3
Category:#PODCAST -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Hopefully you already know your agency employees are your biggest asset. But, is your agency “employee-centric”? Do you have the right people in place to find, lead and retain an awesome team? In this episode we’ll hear from a 15-year agency owner about why and how he brought in an HR Director and an agency President to accelerate agency growth.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • How to know when it’s time to hire an HR Director.
  • Why you might want to bring on an Agency President.
  • When and how to get help growing your agency.

Today we have our first ever three-peat guest on the show! Founder and CEO of BrightWave Marketing, Simms Jenkins is making his third appearance and this time he’s sharing the strategies he has used to make sure his team remains his #1 most valuable asset. (You can find his first and second interviews here.)

Since the first couple times he was on the show in 2014, Simms says BrightWave has continued to innovate in the email marketing arena. His agency business has doubled and he’s authored two books on the subject. Today, BrightWave is working with huge brands like Chick-Fil-A, Panera Bread, CarMax and Mattress Firm. He’s the first to admit their success is largely due to having and keeping the right people on his team, plus adding a few key people in his executive team.

When to Hire an HR Director

Simms says the real key to his agency’s success is the team and company culture. Those were the driving forces behind bringing in someone dedicated to attracting, engaging, and retaining agency talent. He hired for an HR position when his team reached about 25 and it’s been a great investment. In my case, I hired an HR person when my agency got to 50 employees but in hindsight, we’d have done better to have one as we reached 15 employees.

“We hired at a key turning point in the business. We needed to position [our agency] as an employer and make it a great workplace.” ~ Simms Jenkins

Most agencies are completely client-focused as they climb the growth ladder. However, they forget their biggest asset is their human capital. An HR position is particularly important when your agency is in a growth phase. In most cases, human resource functions fall onto the owner and/or office manager which is time suck. And aside from saving the agency owner’s time and energy, having a dedicated HR person creates a better experience for candidates and new hires, leaving a favorable impression and smoother transition.

Besides, as an agency grows it’s important to have a process for finding, hiring, engaging with, and retaining talent. Even though it’s a non-billable position, this role is huge for agency growth.

Why Hire an Agency President?

Simms didn’t set out looking to add an agency president, it just sort of made sense. He had hired a consultant to counterbalance some of his own leadership weaknesses. After 6 months of consultancy, it was a natural fit with the team and culture, so Simms brought him on permanently.

Simms remains the CEO, focused on external factors such as: developing strategy, positioning and sales. His agency president is focused on internal processes like delivery, operations and creative. He says they collaborate very well together and having clear, defined roles helps the team understand the individual roles.

The Main Roles of an Agency CEO

CEO Simms says his role as CEO is threefold:

  1. Set the strategic vision for the agency. Also, communicate the vision, goals and values to the team.
  2. Provide resources to execute the vision. This includes providing the necessary leadership, skills sets and tools to get the job done.
  3. Understand agency financials. Provide a stable business environment by understanding where they’re at and where they’re headed financially, as well as identify potential obstacles in achieving financial goals.

I couldn’t agree more! In fact, I’ve found there are actually just 5 roles for an agency owner to transition into an agency CEO.

Simms' final piece of advice for all agency owners is to know what you don’t know. He says it’s important to have some sort of trusted advisor to help you make decisions and get your agency to the next level. Whether it’s a Board of Directors, business coach, or mastermind group he stresses that every agency owner needs help knowing how to get where they’re going. And, if you need help, I might know a guy :)

Ready to Discover the Best Agency Strategies Working Today?

Most agency owners struggle to scale. We’ve developed an amazing mastermind to guide you through the journey of implementing the right systems so you can scale your agency — instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.

We do this by bringing together successful agency leaders to share strategies, offer advice, and reveal what’s working (and what’s not working) in their agency. The truth is, whatever you want to accomplish in life, nothing will help you go further, faster than getting the right adviser in the context of motivated peers. If you want to GROW fast and smart, Digital Agency Elite mastermind will help.

Direct download: Is_It_Time_to_Add_a_President_or_HR_Director_to_Your_Agency_Team_.mp3
Category:#PODCAST -- posted at: 7:00am EST

How can you protect yourself and your clients from brand copycats? I recently had some major issues with a copycat and had to take action FAST in order to protect my business and brand. In this episode, learn what you can do to proactively defend your agency and clients’ intellectual property.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • What is and what isn’t intellectual property?
  • Why register your agency’s brand assets?
  • Tools and tips to keep your assets protected.

Today’s guest is Cheryl Hodgson, founder of Hodgson Legal and BrandAide.com. She’s an attorney, advisor, author and expert on everything related to brand protection. Cheryl specializes in intellectual property and brand assets. And, she shares advice protecting your and your clients' brand assets. Cheryl touches on everything from copyrights and trademarks to goods/service names and domain names.

What Is and What Isn’t Intellectual Property?

Cheryl says often the term “Intellectual Property” is misunderstood. Legally, this term only applies to assets in five specific areas:

  1. Brand Names: This is one of the most important assets a business owns. It’s a unique identifier with a long life and requires protection. Cheryl says most businesses don’t put enough time into developing names. They settle on it with little thought. But Cheryl advises seeing what’s already out there to avoid conflicts before you settle on a brand or business name.
  2. Copyright: Any artistic expression of an idea is copyright protectable and includes things such as programs and content. Without the registering you have rights but no remedy.
  3. Patents: Things like inventions and software are patentable. Patents are exclusive rights granted for a product or a process that provides a new way of doing something or offers a new technical solution to a problem.
  4. Confidential Information: Any private or classified business information can be intellectual property - things like lists, non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, etc. that should not be shared without your permission.
  5. Domain Names: In most cases, a web address is more important than a physical address. Domain names are a business asset and need protection.

Why Register Your Agency’s Brand Assets?

The biggest reason to register is because it adds value to your agency. No matter whether you’re considering selling in the near future or the long distant future, owning your intellectual property increases your agency’s value. That’s what buyers care about most - sales, revenue and assets.

Another great reason to register is to protect your turf. Cheryl shared a story about a former client who failed to register his brand and lost out big time! He started AmazonNetworks.com back in the early 90’s on the cusp of the internet boom. A short time later, a business named Amazon Book Sellers was founded. Initially there was no conflict but as Amazon Book Sellers grew they decided to register their brand. As you can imagine, eventually AmazonNetworks.com was sued and forced out of business.

[clickToTweet tweet="Why register your brand and services? Without a trademark, your brand identity becomes diluted." quote="Why register your brand and services? Without a trademark, your brand identity becomes diluted."]

Tools and Tips to Protect Your Agency

Your brand assets and intellectual property are your unique identifiers. When it becomes popular the value becomes diluted and it no longer distinguishes your goods or services from others. Registering and monitoring use of your brand names protects your brand’s identity. When naming goods or services, do your due diligence to see what else is already out there:

If you discover a copycat (like I did) of your registered assets, there’s a few different courses of action you can consider:

  • Simple, careless plagiarism can start with a direct phone call or email to the offender.
  • Handle blatantly egregious or fraudulent activity with a letter from an attorney.

Can You Force Someone to Release a Domain Name?

This is always a tricky topic. Cheryl says a domain name on it’s own is just like your street address... You can't do about anything if someone is just parked on it. However if someone is using a name you own for commercial use, you do have rights and protection. Likewise if you have a successful product or service, competitors or related businesses will try to duplicate what you’re doing by using a similar domain name with a different extension (.net, .org, etc.)

A Domain Dispute Resolution is a cost effective way to recapture your rights and avoid expensive court proceedings. Cheryl suggests speaking to a law professional or checking out the National Arbitration Forum or WIPO.

#1 Biggest Branding Mistake Agencies Are Making

There’s one major mistake Cheryl sees over and over -  a lot of marketing agencies and brands do not use trademarks correctly in their marketing materials. In fact, Cheryl says it's so common that she has created a PDF guide to help you. You can grab Cheryl's Marketing Professionals Guide to Brand Use, her Brand Protection Assessment and a FREE chapter of her book by clicking here.

Need Guidance and Support to Grow Your Agency Faster?

Most agency owners struggle to scale. We’ve developed an amazing mastermind to guide you through the journey of implementing the right systems so you can scale your agency — instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.

We do this by bringing together successful agency leaders to share strategies, offer advice, and reveal what’s working (and what’s not working) in their agency. The truth is, whatever you want to accomplish in life, nothing will help you go further, faster than getting the right adviser in the context of motivated peers. If you want to GROW fast and smart, Digital Agency Elite mastermind will help.

Building Your Digital Agency Better

Protecting your intellectual property is just one important aspect of creating the best business possible, you need to look at your agency in the bigger picture to find your strong areas as well as weak spots and then think of how you can fix them. No matter what challenges your agency is facing, I can help you get through all of it.

Through my experience running my own digital agency and helping other digital agency owners, there are many topics I can offer guidance on whether you are an established agency facing struggles to new agencies unsure of what the different phases of growth you will experience will look like.

Growing your agency team can also be a major struggle for any agency owner and I can show from knowing when it’s time to hire a sales manager or expand your sales team to perfecting your business strategy with creating a process for performance-based pricing and how to keep your big-name clients happy.

Are you ready to create something cool and want more advice? Learn about my career and different experiences as well as tips, tricks and insights by checking out my blogs that cover a wide variety of topics.

Check out more from my Ask Swenk series and more of my videos on my YouTube channel. There you will find advice from myself and other agency experts.

 

Direct download: How_to_Protect_Your_Agency_s_Brand_Assets__Intellectual_Property.mp3
Category:#PODCAST -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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