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

Would you like to scale your agency? Is the thought of hiring a full-time employee overwhelming? Does your agency have a speciality that other agencies might need? Consider this tactic of collaboration and contractors as a means to grow your agency.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Growing your agency without hiring.
  • Maintaining quality, without overseeing everything.
  • Managing contractors and inspiring the good ones to stay.

Today I talked with Mandy McEwen, Founder and CEO of Mod Girl Marketing, which not only manages their own client base in healthcare and technology, but also provides services to other agencies looking to stand out and scale. Not hiring her first full-time employee until over four years of being in business, Mandy found the beauty and benefit of collaboration. Today she shares with us tips on using collaboration and contractors as a growth tactic.

How to Grow Your Agency Without Hiring?

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

When you are in the beginning stages of growing your agency, it should be pretty easy to realize what you are good at and what you love doing. And with that, you’re also able to realize what areas might not be your strong suit, or shouldn’t be taking up so much of your time.

If you’re doing it all, it’s time to realize that there are other vendors and freelancers that could be doing some of it for you. This is how the work can start to be broken out, without having to invest in a full-time employee.

You can also consider working in partnership with other agencies who white label their services. I’m not typically a fan of straight up white labeling, but it can work if you leverage it into a partnership with mutual benefit.

As Mandy points out, “why compete with agencies, when (we) can collaborate? They can hire (us) and (we) can hire them.”

How Do You Manage Contractor Quality?

Vetting, Vetting, Vetting

Don’t hire a white label agency or contractor based solely on reviews or price. Finding good people is key and will save you money in the long run.

Check on their capacity before starting with them. Ensure they have the bandwidth to dedicate the needed time to the project they will be working on.

Mandy assigns trial projects, whether directly working for her or one she made up, to get a feel for the person and their work product.

It’s kinda like going on a date with someone. You need to see if you and that person click before you would ever enter any type of partnership. My former guest, Melinda Byerly, talked about  tactics of a contractor courtship.

How Do You Keep Great Contractors?

Culture, Culture, Culture

People will stick around if they are enjoying themselves.

Bring in people who not only have the skill set you are looking for but have the personality and vibe that is going to mesh well with the rest of your agency team. Create a desirable agency culture so there’s nowhere else they’d rather work; and no one else they’d rather work with.

There is something to be said for working with people that you would also enjoy hanging out with.

Who Manages The Contractors?

Divide, Divide, Divide

Divide and conquer. This can depend on the size of your agency, client profile, and definitely, the project itself.

One of the best first hires you can make is a project manager. I know a lot of agency owners have a hard time justifying this type of hire because their hours aren’t billable, but their skill set is invaluable. My advice is to hire a PM early in the game and adjust your fees accordingly. It’s worth it in the long run!

If you are doing it all, you can’t focus on the growth aspects of your agency. Trust and delegate so you can grow and scale.


Direct download: Using_Collaboration__Contractors_to_Grow_Your_Marketing_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Are you asking your client questions? Are you asking the right one? Do you listen in client meetings more than you talk? If you want to land more agency clients, it’s time to start asking a lot of questions and identifying what your clients need, rather than just giving them what they think they want.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Getting over the hump of hiring.
  • Getting to the bottom of what the client really needs.
  • What questions you should be asking every client.
  • When is the right time to hire?

Today I talked with Pete Polgar, partner at Clikz Digital which started just a mere 6 months before this interview and is already at a team of five. Pete brings a background of consulting with agencies struggling with operational problems. He sheds some light on those early struggles at Clikz Digital and walks us through the steps he has taken to overcome them and grow his agency.

Getting Over the Hump of Hiring

There is a high turnover in this industry. You need to stop hiring based on an immediate need and start hiring based on what your company needs in order to achieve long term goals.

Ask a lot of questions

Vetting your candidates better will allow you to hire people that make you and/or your agency better. Don’t aim to hire “mini-me’s” and instead find the “yin” to your “yang.”

Pete is a frequent listeners of our show and recalls this episode where I advised listeners to “always try to be the dumbest person in the room.” And that’s what he has done whens it comes to hiring for his agency. He tells us we can accelerate agency growth by surrounding ourselves with people smarter than us.

Getting to the Bottom of What the Client Really Needs

As an agency, your #1 job is to be the trusted advisor your clients need in order to achieve their goals. They rely on your experience and expertise to guide them to the solution to their problem.

The thing is, you have to be able to identify the right problems and start solving them. You can’t do this if you aren’t asking the right questions. Think: “What does the client actually need?” vs. “What do they want?”

Keep asking “why?” and keep digging until you get to the root of the problem. Once you find the problem and its impact on the business, that is when you can present what the client actually needs, not what you want to sell them.

Asking questions keeps the focus on the client, because, really, this is about them and not you.

Learn their business, listen to what they tell you and take lots of notes. This will allow you to visualize the information. Pete’s uses his meeting notes to build a process flow that he can later share with the client.

Clients are looking for a trusted advisor. They already made the choice to work with you, they don’t want to make more choices, so stop giving them so many. Be the expert. Know what their business needs and be able to tell them why. Then they will become your champion.

In the beginning it is all about learning - don’t sell first, just learn.

What Questions You Should You Be Asking Every Client

Did I mention that you should be asking a LOT of questions?

The types of questions are going to vary based on the client and the problems you start to uncover. But some good baseline questions are:

  • What do you want?
  • Where are you now?
  • What is your struggle?
  • Where do you want to be?

Ultimately you need to just keep asking questions so you can drill down to the biggest problem.

[clickToTweet tweet="Remember, the client's biggest problem is not necessarily the first problem." quote="Remember, the client's biggest problem is not necessarily the first problem."]

If thinking on your feet to ask the right questions isn’t your strong suit...then hire someone who is good at it. It’s that important.

Pete likes to use a whiteboard and draw out a map as they are solving a client’s problem. He says to focus on one problem at a time to solve and nurture it to build trust with your client.

Asking the right questions upfront also helped Pete start implementing a MAP (Marketing Action Plan) into his client engagements - which is something he learned from my podcast episodes on the 3 core elements of the agency sales process.

When Is the Right Time to Hire?

Learn from your employees. Find that one employee who is most resourceful, who is able to get things done quickly and do more with less. Then learn from them and incorporate that resourcefulness into your agency operations.

Listen to your employees when they feel overwhelmed or frustrated, but don’t let them dictate resolutions… because their resolution is usually going to be to hire more people. With that, make sure you are hiring based on asking the right questions, figuring out what is needed and best for the company and using measurable indicators to justify the hire.

Direct download: What_Client_Questions_You_Must_Ask_to_Grow_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00am MDT

Are the unknowns of the agency industry overwhelming? Do you sometimes feel like maybe it’s time to close shop? Learn about the 4 phases of successful agency growth from an owner with over two decades of experience. Hear all his ups and downs plus learn what to expect as you scale and grow.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • 4 phases of successful agency growth.
  • How to manage a growing agency.
  • Deciding whether to bring on a partner or not.

Today I talked with Chris Emergui, CEO of BAM Strategy, the agency he founded in 1996. With over 20 years of agency ownership experience he's seen his agency grow, deplete and grow again. He learned a couple things along the way and shares with us some of those nuggets of knowledge as well as the 4 phases his agency went through to get to reach the success they enjoy today. Sometimes just knowing what other agency owners have gone through can provide the encouragement and support we need in this lonely entrepreneurial world.

4 Phases of a Successful Agency Journey

Phase 1: The Start-Up

This is the time when you get things going. You could take this on alone or with a partner (although I don’t recommend partnerships - more on that later). This phase lends itself to being more ambitious and more willing to take some risks. This can be a time of quick prosper and scaling quickly, but can also include a downturn in business and can be messy.

This is when you learn lessons.

Phase 2: Switching It Up

This could be when you and your partner part ways. When you realize you have different visions. It’s a time when a business model change might take place. If you’ve been dealt the hardship of budgets getting slashed, this is when you anchor yourself with your client. Start servicing clients in areas that will not be affected if their marketing budget is cut.

This is when you are getting more experienced at knowing what to offer.

Phase 3: The Romantic Phase

This is the time when you have fun. You are at that 20-25 employee marker and you know them inside and out. You are experiencing growth and have a good, solid culture. You understand the impact you can have on the business.

This is the phase you would stay in if you could.

Phase 4: Continuation of Growth

A lot of agency owners think Phase 3 is ideal and want to stop growth there. But, you can’t stay there forever, no matter how much you’d like to. You don’t have a choice in this industry. You need to constantly go after new business and have a goal to grow. Because in this business, because you’re only one client-decision away from being shattered.

Phase 4 is where you start laying your infrastructure. Bring in the people to start handling the things you might not be so good at and start empowering them for success. In Chris’s case he brought in a new partner at this point.

If you hire the right people, put them in the right role and give them the right systems. Then you can start doing less and focus on growth goals.

This is the phase when you get out of the day-to-day and take on a new role of heading the ship.

How to Manage a Growing Agency

When we empower our agency employees we set them up for success. And that is really our biggest role in agency management - helping our people succeed. If they aren’t coming to you for all the answers, that’s a good thing. It means you are providing them with the right upfront direction so they can make decisions.

It feels good to be needed but you need to remember that being their “hero” isn’t a long-term solution. You want people who can run things on their own; you don’t want your agency to crumble if you get hit by a bus.

The transition from Agency Owner to CEO can be tough. And doing so can create both a freedom and a void. However, as CEO one of your five main roles is to mentor your leadership team, giving them confidence and direction. You are there to help them become more successful and grow. This is when you can really start scaling your agency, because now they are making decisions that are good for the agency and not just for themselves!

Your number one asset is your team. So invest in them, because that is an investment that will pay for itself.

Deciding On A Partner: Should You or Shouldn't You?

I always advise against bringing on an agency partner because you either know the bad partner, or you are the bad partner.

But, I know it’s pretty typical to bring on a partner when you are looking for a lead person to manage an area of business where your skills are lacking. An agency partnership or part-ownership provides a vested interest for that person while strengthening the agency leadership.

Chris’s advice is to make sure you are hiring someone you can empower, and someone who is smarter than you. Don’t be blinded by their prior experience and large network or influence.

Most importantly, you and your partner have to have the same view/reaction to any given event. While you can complement each other’s weaknesses, your vision needs to be the same.

Key Takeaways:

  • No one has all the answers.
  • Learn as you go is the nature of the business.
  • You’ll make mistakes along the way.
  • It only takes one big client to get on the map.
  • Keep on pushing! You will get that one break.
  • Don’t try to compare yourself to the larger agencies, but have the confidence that you can complete with them and can service the larger brands.

A mindset of perseverance is how you’ll find success for your agency. Things can change on a dime in this industry! You will find the hard stuff is what you’re going to remember, you’ll appreciate it more, when it’s in hindsight. And it will always remind you that you can handle it, you can get through. Let the tough times make you smarter and move on!


Direct download: 4_Phases_of_a_Successful_Agency_Growth_Journey.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00am MDT

Would you like to grow your agency faster by increasing recurring revenue? Do you feel like your agency is on a constant roller coaster gaining and losing clients? Then learn about innovative agency pricing,  a licensing model, that can set you on a stable path. Plus, turn the tables on the industry standard of always fearing losing clients. Instead, discover how to make your clients fear losing you.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • What is an agency licensing pricing model?
  • How and why does a licensing model work?
  • 5 Benefits of the licensing model.

Today I chatted with Andrey Polston, a man who has been obsessed with marketing and sales since he was 11 years old mowing lawns. He ended up self taught in SEO and web design, and his motivation and knowledge is impressive. Andrey now plans and operates his own virtual summits, including The Agency Summit. On today’s episode, he shares his ingenious licensing model and the benefits it can bring to your agency.

What is a Licensing Pricing Model?

In short, a licensing model is taking what you do, niching it down in a way that you can flip it on it’s head and license it for exclusivity.

This model was born from Andrey trying to solve the main challenges agencies face, including:

  • Financial instability and fear of losing clients.
  • Providing all the creative work upfront.
  • Relinquishing ownership of completed assets to the clients.
  • Difficulty proving value later in client relationships.

These challenges are what spawned this idea of creating a process that will make the clients fear losing the agency instead of always the other way around.

How Does the Licensing Model Work?

Generally agency clients have a broad range of customers they could go after. As the agency, you must understand your client’s clients. Then select a niche customer that you are going to help them go after. In other words, identify a single type of customer that is ideal for your client.

Once you determine this niche customer, pre-build high converting funnels, marketing assets and conversion pathways that will absolutely crush it for that one specific channel of customers.

Then charge your clients a monthly licensing fee for the funnel and its accompanying assets.

There is also the ability to nano niche the ideal customer you identified and then create even more streamlined funnels, as well as a possible IP that can be included as an add-on to the client. You can also sell an add-on of your marketing services.

Why the Licensing Model Works

“People will do more things to avoid pain, than they’ll do to gain pleasure.” ~ Andrey Polston

Agencies can play the game of constantly trying to report their worth and value, but the greater incentive here, is the fear of loss. You want the client to fear losing you, your talents, and your expertise.

With the licensing model, this is embedded in the beginning. “If you leave, that’s fine, but you’re losing all this work because it isn’t yours to keep.” And with that fear comes the underlying understanding that if they leave, you will probably walk next door to their competitor and offer this service to them.

When prospecting a target client you lead with the licensing model, exclusive to the niche you have determined.

This doesn’t work if you don’t have a niche and don’t identify specific categories of customers your client wants.

5 Benefits of a Licensing Model

Andrey has identified five major benefits to a licensing model.

1- Automated Recurring Revenue

When you’re dealing with a service, you go out there, chase the work down and then try to get them to pay for it. With the licensing model, they’re put on a subscription and billed at the beginning of each month.

2- Accumulated Advantage

When you start playing deeper into a niche you will start finding new pockets of opportunity you can take advantage of, such as “nano niches” or niches within a singular niche. This is where you can create even tighter funnels and an IP that can also be licensed out to a client or provided as an add-on.

3- Productizing of a Service(s)

In order to productize your agency service, look up the ladder to tap into a potential client that would want to sell your license as an add-on to what they are selling. This provides value to them in that you’re exclusive to them and their product takes a competitive advantage, because they’re now providing a proven marketing system, as a value add-on, with their client. By doing this, you are harnessing somebody else’s distribution channel, marketing, and sales efforts and piggybacking off of it.

4- Taking On Multiple Clients

Some agencies feel restrained by geographic location. However, you can take on multiple clients within the same location by niching down to those nano niches and licensing all those nano niches out. So different clients can pay per nano niche license, or one client could pay a large licensing fee for exclusivity within their city or location.

5- Potential for Referrals & Partnership

A lot of agencies start out as “full service” so they can compete against everyone. But, what that really does is just cut them off from referrals/partners, because they are competing with everyone. It’s simple - when your agency has one specific niche, you can partner with other agencies offering complimentary services.

With a licensing model your specialization becomes so narrow that you can now cross sell/upsell those different services or white label them out, and take a cut.

You can now go to every category of companies, that would have been a competitor, and work with them as a referral partner because you aren’t competing against them anymore. AND because of the high margins of licensing you can pay out a lucrative, recurring monthly affiliate rate :)

Direct download: How_to_Retain_More_Agency_Clients__Increase_Recurring_Revenue.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00am MDT

Are you "that" agency? Do you tend to talk a lot about how smart you are? The awards you have won? It’s easy to fall into this trap of trying to sell your agency as the best, but sometimes it’s to the detriment of the client /agency relationship. Not anymore. Learn how to scale your agency by collaborating with your client to make their lives easier. Be the agency that keeps things simple and lets the client shine.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • The best way to scale your agency.
  • Which clients you should be paying attention to.
  • How to make your client shine.
  • How to prove your agency’s worth.

Today I chatted with Melinda Byerly, founder of her digital consultancy Time Share CMO. She’s got over fifteen years experience in Silicon Valley working in tech with start-ups and becoming an expert in digital marketing and analytic attribution. She’s also learned a thing or two about clients needs when it comes to data and analytics, as well as how to manage those expectations. Melinda is sharing all this and more with us so you can learn how to set your client up for success and ultimately, setting yourself up for success as well.

The Best Way to Scale Your Agency

There is a danger to scaling too fast. If you’re a service business, it’s so important to find the right people that will help you move towards your goals. Instead of proposing marriage first, maybe it’s time to try “going on a date” instead?

When you’re looking for the right person, it can take time to see if you will work well together, so that’s when you “go on a date.” Don’t do a contract, do a project - just one, minimal-commitment-type project together first. If that goes well, do another project together. This will allow you to get a feel for that person, how you work together and how they fit into the agency.

Build your agency one person at a time and take it slow, so that it’s the right fit.

“Dating” is a great concept with clients as well. Find out what keeps them up at night, do they wish they had somebody doing X?” Then focus on X first. Take it one problem at a time to make sure it is going to be a true client/agency partnership.

Taking on a bad client can be like a cancer. I like to say: there are no bad clients, only bad prospects or a bad process. If you don’t qualify your prospects, you could be letting in the wrong ones. And, if they aren’t following your process in the beginning, they are not going to follow your process under contract. Pay attention to those red flags!

Either bad clients never should have been let in, or you created them.

Clients You Should be Paying Attention To

Think about your prospects... Are they responsive? Pleasant and respectful? Do they listen and take your feedback into consideration? These are the clients you want.

An agency/client relationship is a collaboration. You need to be respectful of your clients requests, but it’s a collaborative effort and they should respect your experience and expertise as well.

Agencies tend to talk a lot, touting their awards and boasting their accomplishments. In a desire to impress, agencies are constantly selling themselves. Stop. It’s better to listen and ask questions, make the client the focal point. Focus on the needs of the decision maker in order to achieve their goals and ease their pain points.

Is Your Direct Client the Hero?

They should be.

You need to make your day-to-day client contact look good. Don’t make the mistake of always trying to make yourself look good and in the process throw your sponsor under the bus.

Before doing a presentation to a larger group, meet with your direct client contact. You are presenting on their behalf, so position things the way they would like them positioned and be sure to create moments for them to step in and be the expert. Establish moments to help them shine; allow them to be the hero.

People are loyal to people. There is a high turnover in this industry and if your client-sponsor leaves their, make them want to take you with them.

Are You Effectively Proving Your Worth?

Have you ever had a project where you’re totally killing it? But… you’re getting great results and all of a sudden your client wants to change directions?! You weren’t effectively communicating those great results.

First, you need to be sure you are setting expectations with the client. Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting unachievable expectations. Let them know what results can and cannot be tracked or quantified. Not everything will be trackable so be honest with them about this and most importantly, help them understand so that your agency is held to reasonable expectations.

At the same time you want to make sure you are being authentic and have high integrity about this. Don’t just regurgitate analytics reports -- make sure you are providing useful analytics that can help navigate the course of your client’s digital marketing.

Tell them what those analytics mean and provide them with a recommendation - that is your value add. By doing this, you’re preparing to justify yourself. You’re educating your client and managing their expectations so they can manage their manager’s expectations… which circles back to making them the hero.

Remember:  there is a difference between what you do and what you provide.

How to Know What Your Clients Want

Do you know what your clients really want? Your client hired you to do work for them and make their job easier. Don’t put more work on them. The more options someone has, the harder they have to work to make a decision. The harder, their brain has to work and the more you risk them shutting down or walking away. Remove that friction from your client’s decision making.

Keep it simple, such as saying:

  • “Here is option A and B. The data suggest option A” ...OR...
  • “The data is silent so it’s a judgement call... Here is our opinion on the judgement call.”

This is what they want! Their biggest decision is hiring you and then after that, answering “which of these things are you going to do?” Keep it simply “yes” or “no.”

Are Your Agency's Presentations Powerful?

Are you doing the work ahead of time but saving the presentation for the night before? Don’t.

Give data presentations they can’t ignore - make it easy for them.

For as much as you do the work ahead of time, you should be dedicating the same amount of time to preparing your client presentations. Be prepared with the material, so that you don’t need your slides. This gives you the ability to look the decision makers in the eyes, really listen to their questions and thoughtfully answer them.

When you put time into your presentation, you will present with more confidence. More confidence makes you more believable. When you’re believable things are less likely to sit on the shelf and clients are more likely to take action.

The action is what you’re looking for! When a client takes action, they’re happy. When they’re happy, they are more likely to re-engage you! And that makes you happy, right? :)


Direct download: Smart_Agency_Master_Class_Podcast_-_Melinda_Byerley__version_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT