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

Want to fast track your agency's growth trajectory? Are you looking to push your agency to the next level? Start thinking ahead and planning in advance for anticipated growth. Dig into your financials, loop your team in and get there faster when everyone's on board.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • How to get into the growth mindset.
  • How much cash reserves should your agency keep?
  • What's a healthy agency profit margin?
  • #1 way to make sure your vision is being implemented.

Today, I talked with Ted Kohnen, he is the non-founder president of Retina — a global full-service agency with a deep technical foundation. The agency brought Ted in as their President as part of their growth strategy, which makes him the perfect person to talk growth! He's here to share growth tactics and strategies that you can apply in your agency right now.

How to Get into the Growth Mindset

When you're looking to grow, start by looking at your balance sheet. Most agency owners come from the creative side or the account side, not from the financial perspective. Usually, agency owners hire a CFO and get right back to being creatives. Stop! If you really want growth, you need to understand your financials. Ted says you can get your hands dirty by paying attention to two main factors.

1. The near-term... This is your receivables, expenses, and cash flow. Understanding your near-term financials will help you manage your agency tighter. You know when and where you need to cut back and which business processes you need to find a way to automate or outsource. If you can see the bulk of your expenses, you can really start to dig into what your financial pain points are.

2. The long-term... This is your future expenses such as expansion, opportunity, and headcount. These are things you should be planning out when you're looking closely at those near-term financials. The sooner you start creating a financial strategy, the sooner you can start growing your agency when the time comes.

Pro Tip: Let your CFO know your long-term plans. If they don't know, how can they help you get there? CFO insight and buy-in is key to getting where you want to go.

How Much Cash Reserves Should Your Agency Keep?

Every agency needs to have some cash in the reserves, but how much is often a point of contention. Luckily, Ted's here to save the day. Ted recommends keeping 6 months in the bank. To do this, you need a deep understanding of your pipeline. Just like you need to learn your agency's financials, you need to be hyper-vigilant in learning what your pipeline looks like.

Now, some of you may be saying, "We're fine! We have like 7 months worth of cash flow in media spend!" Stop right there! Don't mix your operating expenses with your float! Make sure you're storing them in different accounts. If you rely on media spend for operating expenses, you're going to get burned.

What's a Healthy Agency Profit Margin?

Ted said (that's fun to say) a healthy profit margin is around 20%. Now, you may remember my podcast with Mark Asquith who quit his agency at a 50% margin! But, that's not typical. Anywhere from 15% to 20% is a healthy margin. If you're over 20%, you may be neglecting research and development (employee education, culture, tech stacks, etc.) If you're under 20%, you need to start crunching those number! Remember, it's your responsibility to understand your financials, don't rely on your CFO.

If you're within 10%, you may be fine. But, if you're operating at a 5 - 10% margin, you need to pivot!

#1 Way to Make Sure Your Vision is Being Implemented

One of the hardest parts of running an agency is trying to make sure your employees are on board with your vision. Ted says he took Sheryl Sandburg's advice from her 2013 book, "Lean In." And that advice is to make sure you take time to walk around and talk to your team (high-level to entry level.) Engaging your team in casual and easy conversation can ease their concerns and lets you know share your vision. This isn't a formal "town hall meeting" nor is it schedule or have an agenda. He says to get to know your people on a personal level; which gets increasingly more challenging as your staff size increases.

Make sure to foster those relationships outside of the office as well. Get your team involved with a charity and let them volunteer during paid work hours, or take everyone to a sporting event. Ted plays bubble soccer with his team! Whatever works for you, your team, and your company culture. Just be sure to engage with your employees and make sure you're all carrying your vision forward. If you notice a particular employee doesn't seem to share your vision, don't put off the inevitable.

Be Purposeful with Your Time

Ted left us all a tip before he hopped off the podcast — look at requests for your time through a sharply focused lens.

Don't just take every meeting that comes your way. If someone wants your time but it's not related to growth, employee culture, or client delivery, don't give it to them! Do you know the 5 roles of an Agency CEO? Spending time getting to know your employees is way more valuable than that meeting about a new CRM that you don't need!

Are You Looking for Outsourced Copywriting for Your Agency or Clients?

Verblio is a content creation solution designed specifically for agencies. Their writers can help with everything from blog posts to ebook to video scripts and more.

Forget the hassle of finding and hiring your own writers. Verblio has a pool of more than 3,000 highly vetted writers who produce custom, SEO-rich content. You set the criteria for style and tone and they match you with writers that have expertise in your specific subject matter.

Verblio's platform is designed specifically for agencies -- and for a limited time, they are offering my audience 50% off your first month of content. My team is using Verblio and loving it, so make sure you check them out.

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

Do you struggle to find the right employees? Would you like to retain the amazing employees you have? What about the R&D tax credit that got one agency $150K? Employee retention and acquisition doesn't have to be a headache. And, agency expansion concerns don't need to keep you awake at night. With the right culture and the proper hiring methods, you can find those hassle-free employees and keep them around. Plus, when you train and develop their skills, you could be eligible for a major tax credit.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • The 3 biggest employee onboarding red flags.
  • #1 most important employee retention tool.
  • Does your agency qualify for a big R&D tax credit?

Today, I talked with Dobbin Buck, who's living the dream at his agency GetUWired. Not only is Dobbin a super passionate agency owner, but he also gets to spend his days working from a cabin-turned-agency nestled at the foothills of Blue Ridge Mountain in Georgia, USA. Dobbin has over 40 team members now, and he shares his experiences with hiring and retaining those employees — as well as how his agency landed a whopping $150,000+ tax credit.

3 Biggest Employee Onboarding Red Flags

Finding, hiring and onboarding employees is tough! I've talked to tons of agency owners who don't want to grow due to concerns of hiring and managing a large team. Increasing your headcount doesn't have to be super stressful if you pay attention to the warning signs and you can filter out those potential trouble employees.

Here are 3 signs that someone may not belong at your agency:

1. They don't jive with your culture: This is huge! Your agency's culture defines the business. If you have a cultural misfit, it may be time to have a talk. Things like this are fairly obvious right away, and it might be an easy fix either with a conversation or by cutting someone loose. It's way easier to change someone's skill-set than it is to change their personality or comfort level

2. They chase the carrot too hard: Having an employee that goes the extra mile is great! Who doesn't want that? But, if you're interviewing someone who seems to only care about the hustle, you might want to reconsider. They're going to get burnt out faster, and they may be too focused on work to really get to know your business and your culture. Remember, employees need some time off work to build critical relationships.

3. They don't think outside-the-box: Dobbin said he includes a problem in his hiring process that isn't solvable without outside research. If the employee comes back and complains that they didn't receive enough material, it's an immediate red flag. Make sure you're hiring people who can take the reigns when they need to. Here's a link to his 10-step hiring process mentioned in the interview.

#1 Most Important Employee Retention Tool

Company culture is everything.

Your culture is the gas in the tank. When you offer an amazing agency culture, your employees will stick with you. In addition to culture, avoid those red flags above and a build a team who shares your vision, which will help keep them around. In today's climate, team members have so many options. There are thousands of agencies hunting for great talent, so it's key to use your culture as a #1 driving motivator. Your company is the one major differentiator you have against other their other options.

Pay is great, but when team members know they are part of a bigger plan and they work with people who share that vision, they're going to stick around.

Does Your Agency Qualify for a Big R&D Tax Credit?

Dobbin talked about how he got a tax credit recently for a whopping $157,619! Now that's a tax credit! The R&D tax credit — officially "the Credit for Increasing Research Activities" — is for experimenting with technology with a qualified purpose. Most agencies qualify, so if you're not trying to capture that R&D tax credit, you're missing out! Dobbin said he hesitated for a long time before finally making the jump and working with a tax firm to apply for it... It looks like it paid off! If you want to know more about the tax credit, I did a podcast with a tax specialist - check it out here.

Are You Looking for Outsourced Copywriting for Your Agency or Clients?

Verblio is a content creation solution designed specifically for agencies. Their writers can help with everything from blog posts to ebook to video scripts and more.

Forget the hassle of finding and hiring your own writers. Verblio has a pool of more than 3,000 highly vetted writers who produce custom, SEO-rich content. You set the criteria for style and tone and they match you with writers that have expertise in your specific subject matter.

Verblio's platform is designed specifically for agencies -- and for a limited time, they are offering my audience 50% off your first month of content. My team is using Verblio and loving it, so make sure you check them out.

Direct download: Does_Your_Agency_Qualify_for_a_150K_RD_Tax_Credit_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Feel like your agency is stuck or reached a plateau? It happens, whether you're just starting out or in business for many years. Don't get frustrated or settle for the status quo. Instead, it might be time to get back to the basics, get scrappy and get creative. With the right strategy, mindset, and persistence you can make some tweaks that help you jump that next hurdle and reach a new level for your agency.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • How working for free can really pay off.
  • How to execute outbound sales.
  • #1 most important agency growth tip.
  • Why you should re-think your billing.

Today, I talked with Colton Bollinger founder of, an Instagram marketing agency. Colton started out in 2016 providing free Instagram marketing services to some buddies and golf instructors. What started out two years ago as a solopreneur-venture has grown now to include two partners and a team of  44 employees!

How Working for Free Can Really Pay Off

Colton got really scrappy in the beginning, which meant bootstrapping his business and executing unconventional ideas. One of those ideas was to work for free and develop case stories.

Sometimes giving away your services for free can actually help you grow. It seems counterintuitive, but that's exactly what Colton did and he says it was a major key to his early growth. He started by offering his Instagram marketing services totally free. Instead of making his clients pay, he asked them for video testimonials. These videos performed better than just a written testimonial and served as organic, value-adding references. He says his "clients" were more than happy to record testimonials to help him grow and succeed since he'd delivered them great results for free.

How to Execute Outbound Sales

Beyond his inbound leads, Colton knew he had to execute on outbound sales too. He started out by cold calling and sending super specific direct messages to prospects. (Kinda like Joey Gilkey suggested with his LinkedIn outbound strategy.) I always recommend a 3-pronged approach to prospecting -- inbound, outbound and strategic partnerships. That way when one channel dries up you can still scale and grow with the other two.

Hyper-specific, highly targeted messages are critical. Don't be generic with a copy/paste message. Be unique, different and personal. Do your homework and point out what they're doing right and where they could use improvement. The more personalized you can make your outreach efforts the more of a payoff you'll see from them.

Related:  How to Find and Train an Agency Sales Rockstar

#1 Most Important Agency Growth Tip

Go back to the basics!

Here's the interesting thing about agency owners, we're all pretty similar in skill and knowledge. Most of us are just hustling to grow and scale their business the best way they can. But, if what you're doing is not yielding the results you want then it might just require one minor tweak.

It's like a pro golfer (Colton was one!) or tennis pro (I was one!) who knows all the intricate moves and complex strategies of the game. But sometimes they just need to go back to tweaking their swing and BOOM!

Seriously! Find little areas for improvement or small things that you can do differently. Those micrometer differences may be exactly what you're missing. It's almost never some giant thing that needs fixing -- it's usually a small tweak.

Why You Should Re-Think Your Billing

Cash flow is king... Don't settle for the old "the check's in the mail" excuse!  Colton said automating their billing and setting up recurring billing was one of the most important things his agency has done. Think about the way you're billing customers and look at ways you can improve cash flow such as:

  • changing payment terms
  • accepting credit cards
  • charging a month or more in advance

There are so many tools out there, Colton likes Moonclerk and Stripe recurring. Instead of waiting for the check to come in the mail, you can spend that money on client acquisition and grow at accelerated speeds. Reconsidering your billing options may give your agency the growth boost it needs.

Are You Looking for Outsourced Copywriting for Your Agency or Clients?

Verblio is a content creation solution designed specifically for agencies. Their writers can help with everything from blog posts to ebook to video scripts and more.

Forget the hassle of finding and hiring your own writers. Verblio has a pool of more than 3,000 highly vetted writers who produce custom, SEO-rich content. You set the criteria for style and tone and they match you with writers that have expertise in your specific subject matter.

Verblio's platform is designed specifically for agencies -- and for a limited time, they are offering my audience 50% off your first month of content. My team is using Verblio and loving it, so make sure you check them out.


Direct download: How_One_Agency_Got_Scrappy_and_Grew_to_6_Million_in_2_Years.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Do you hate writing client content? Or struggle to find writers who can match tone, style and use industry-specific language for your clients? Do you never have time to create agency content because you're so busy with client work? There's a better way! Creating content doesn't have to be difficult and finding the right writers for your agency doesn't have to suck. If you avoid the biggest content creation pitfalls and figure out how to hire the right writers, you'll be creating rankable content in no time.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • 3 biggest content creation pitfalls.
  • How to set-up your writers for success.
  • 5 types of content that own SEO.

Today, I talked with Paul Zalewski, VP of Marketing at Verblio — a content creation platform specifically for agencies. Paul experience spans from phone marketing to SEO and everything in between. Soon after taking the leap to digital marketing he was ranking #1 on Google for "stop junk mail" and helping businesses get high SERP. Today, he's working with Verblio to bring content to agencies around the world and he's here today to share strategies for ramping up your agency's content creation.

3 Biggest Content Creation Pitfalls

Over time, Paul's seen some common pitfalls in content creation when agencies make while working with clients.

1. Not doing your homework. Make sure you pour through their existing content and really define their tone, style, and the types of buzzwords their niche uses. There's a big difference between a tech(y) blog that's informative and filled with block-style paragraphs and a quick-burst super casual tone, like mine. Make sure you hone in on the way your client wants their content structured.

2. Set expectations. This is huge! Content creation is an ongoing process. Your clients are going to have to be involved sometimes, and they need to understand how content ranking works - we know you don't jump to the #1 Google spot overnight, but do they know that? Education is huge.

3. Set up long-term success. Align your agency's goals with the client's goals. What does success look like to both parties? Everyone needs to know what the process looks like from start-to-end. This means you may have to explain some SEO functions to your clients and you have to make sure you're both using the same metrics to define success.

How to Set-Up Your Writers for Success

Whether your agency handles content in-house or outsources it, finding a way to communicate your goals to the writer can be tough.

At Verblio, all of Paul's writers are required to do a ton of research before they tackle client projects. Any time you're hiring in-house or outsourcing your content creation needs, make sure that your working with someone who is willing to put in the time and energy.

Writers need to be able to really think about the skeleton of the work they're creating (intent, CTA, tone, style, etc.) and being able to communicate those goals to the writer will set you up for success.

Paul has hired over 3,000 writers in his career, and his most important qualifier is: writers need to be able to write for digital. You want to know that your writer has some skill, can make boring content engaging, and has some expertise in your subject matter.

Is it easier to teach a writer to be a marketer or a marketer to be a writer? Neither! Hire one that knows both.

5 Types of Content That Own SEO

We know you might already know this... but what's ranking best these days.

  1. Long form content or even a book. Don't expect everyone to read the entire thing, but pillar content is ranking right now.
  2. Video creatives — especially if you're leveraging social media! Don't just post a video, but add an SEO-rich description.
  3. Audio content (like our podcast) — again, don't just throw audio out there, but instead, add something like these show notes :)
  4. Recycled content! Do you have any old posts sitting around that were killer content pieces for you in the past? Revamp them into some new fresh content - here's a strategy to follow.

With that said, you can ignore #1-4 if you've already found the high ranking content that works best for you and/or your clients. Make content that works for you. Don't stress over following all these lists of "Top Tips" or you just might end up with best practices overload!

Direct download: How_to_Avoid_the_3_Biggest_Content_Creation_Pitfalls.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Is your agency profit where it should be? (Hint: net profit should be at least 30%) Are you constantly struggling with cash flow? Do you always pay yourself last, or not at all? Solve all these problems and actually enjoy running your business again when you apply the principle of Profit First.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • What agencies are doing wrong with their cash flow.
  • Why businesses should put profit first.
  • 3 basic steps of putting profit first.

We've got a repeat guest today, Mike Michalowicz who is an entrepreneur and the author of six business growth books. I had him on the show previously talking about his book Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself. Then recently, we used his Profit First theory as a workshop in our Agency Mastermind and I knew I had to get him on the show again.

Mike got his start as an entrepreneur who was very successful very early in his career. His early success led him to other investment opportunities which left him feeling unstoppable and invincible. He had multiple homes and expensive vehicles... but, in hindsight, his own ego and arrogance got in the way.

He says he never had a real pulse on his business finances and little care to know any details his accountant shared with him. So, in 2008 he had no idea his businesses were failing until his accountant called to tell him it was time to declare bankruptcy. Within a month he and his family if five lost their cars and homes. After a couple years of feeling sad, sorry, and insignificant Mike decided to become an author writing about his experienced with a new goal to eradicate entrepreneurial poverty.

What Agencies Are Doing Wrong With Their Cashflow

Typically, agencies (and for that matter, all businesses) are doing a bank balance accounting method. Your accountant tells you to look at income statements, P&L statements, balance sheets, etc. which can get mind-numbingly boring. And all you care about is the bottom line, right?

That's because we're trained to think:   Sales (minus) Expenses = Profit

And that "bottom line" is your profit. So that's where your attention is focused because that's what matters most.

But Mike challenges us by asking, why is the thing we care most about falling to the bottom of the list. Think about it. Don't we always put the most important items at the top of our list? It's backward and wrong that profit is just considered "what's leftover" after everything else.

Why Businesses Should Put Profit First

Mike's formula for putting profit first is important because it means you are making money. It's human nature that the goals we put first are the ones we get done. That's why so many people work out in the morning. What comes first is what gets done.

Look, as a society, we are always asking other business owners "How big is your business?" and that's because we care most about revenue. But, you can have a huge business and not be profitable at all. What we should be asking is, "How healthy is your business?"

So many agencies are living check to check. They're most concerned with top-line revenue instead of profitability. But when you get into a situation where you can't pay vendors or worse, can't pay your employees does topline revenue even matter? No.

Putting profit first flips the formula:   Sales (minus) Profit = Expenses

3 Basic Steps of Putting Profit First

I know what you're thinking and it's a little more than just pulling profit out first.

1. Stop making excuses and give it a shot.

We know it's difficult to get on board with trying something new. We're all are used to handling our business accounting the way we've always done it. And so Mike says there are 3 general excuses people give for why they can't implement Profit First.

  • "My business isn't profitable so this will never work." ~ Yes, it's not profitable because you're using the old method. You can do this and you can be profitable if you get rid of your own head trash.
  • "My bank will charge me fees for opening 5 different accounts." ~ Look, your bank is your vendor and they should want to help you do what you need to do to be profitable. Explain what you're doing and why. If they are adamant about charging fees, then change banks. Yes, it's a real pain to do that and it will take 1/2-day of your time making the switch. But in the end, it's your profitability worth it?
  • "My accountant won't go for it." ~ A lot of accountants are set in their ways, but you're the client. Explain why you want to do things this way. If they can't get on board, ask them what percentage of their clients are profitable using the old-school accounting method :) If you really can't get your accountant onboard, check out Mike's resource of Profit First trained accountants.

2. Open multiple bank accounts and segment your money.

Most business owners are habitual bank balance checkers. Admit it, you're checking at least daily, maybe even hourly. So in Mike's book, he spells out his process which includes opening 5 different accounts all dedicated to different things (profit, taxes, etc.) That way, when you're checking the balance you're looking at money that is earmarked for a specific use and not looking at one lump sum.

3. Start slow and ease yourself into the discipline of profit first.

It's hard to undo the way we've always looked at business accounting. So, don't expect that you'll be able to pull out 30% profit right off the bat. At first, the goal is to break old habits so start by pulling 1-2% profit from every check that comes in. It's like someone who decides to run a marathon, they train by starting slow and building up to the marathon.

For example, if you receive a $1,000 payment and you put 1% of that into a separate account for profit, that's just $10. If you can pay your expenses and run your business on $1,000 surely you can run it on $990 and you won't even miss that $10. Start slow and build that "profit muscle."


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