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

Have you ever considered running a fully remote digital agency? Wondering the pros and cons of leading a virtual team? Like anything else, there are pluses and minuses -- and it can be hard to know if it's the right choice for you. One agency owner decided to ditch the office space in favor of running a remote business and she's not one bit sorry.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • Working on the agency vs. working in it.
  • 3 reasons to ditch your office space.
  • #1 way to inspire remote agency teams.

Today, I talked with Jordan Lacenski — Chief Innovation Officer and the main boss at BrandBoss Creative. Jordan is also the Co-Founder of SheWolf Collaborative, an online association for high-achieving women. Here's the crazy thing... she just recently ditched her office space to work from her home and she hasn't looked back.

Working On the Agency vs. Working In It

Being an agency owner can feel like a circus. You have to juggle clients' brands and marketing as well as your agency brand and marketing. So, how much time should you devote to your clients and how much should you devote to your agency?

If you're the founder, almost all of your time should be spent on your agency. Here's why...

You can hire people to handle the projects and clients. You can find someone to do taxes and finances. And, you can even have someone build killer processes for delivery. But, what you can't hire for is someone to define your brand. As CEO, you should spend your time working on your agency and not in it. In fact, you have 5 specific roles as CEO and setting the vision is #1 on the list!

3 Reasons to Ditch Your Office Space

Jordan has jumped the growing trend of agencies who are ditching the office space for an entirely remote agency. It may sound crazy but, it can work. While it's not for everyone and there are circumstances where it won't work, there's never been an easier time to work remotely.

I had office space for my agency, which housed over 100 employees. But if I had to do it over again, I'd do a hybrid model with office space and work-from-home opportunities to offer my team a better work/life balance.

Jordan gave us 3 reasons she ditched her office space:

  1. No more rent. Why add to your overhead by paying rent?  You can help your profits margin by ditching your rent payment. This is especially helpful in cities like NYC where rent and the cost of living is astronomical. If your entire team works from home, you'll save on the fixed costs associated with having an office. And your employes will probably thank you for it :)
  2. Avoid traffic. In some cities, getting to work is its own nightmare. It can swallow up a few hours of your day. Those are hours you or your team could be working. Going remote means more billable hours in the day for you and your team.
  3. Hire anyone. Having a physical location limits who you can hire to a specific geographic area. You are constrained by hiring local or someone willing to relocate. With a remote team, you can hire anyone from anywhere, which gives you a huge advantage over brick-and-mortar agencies.

It can be really, really great but, there's one massive con...

Interaction among remote teams is very limited. This can lead to issues with agency culture, team bonding, and even branding. Plus, it can make agency team management a little more tricky.

#1 Way to Inspire Remote Agency Teams

Finding ways to inspire a remote team can be tough, right? Regular video chat meetings are a must, but it really isn't the same as having them in the office. Daily engagement with one another builds camaraderie chats are great for getting the work done, but most people are multitasking or focused on other things. What can you do?

Have a few in-person meetings every year ~ quarterly or even semi-quarterly. But, you should try to get your entire team gathered into a physical location. This will help the team bond, spread some of your culture around, and create a better remote culture.

Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency?

Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you’re a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits and great service to take care of your team.

For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out for 3-months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.

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

Do you have one mega client that would cripple your agency if you lost them? If you have a client that represents more than 40% or 50% of your total revenue, don't let them hold you hostage. Check out how one agency knew it was time to say goodbye and took a leap that helped build the agency he always wanted.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Why walk again from a $750k mega client?
  • What does productization look like for agencies?
  • The biggest mistake an agency can make.

I’m talking to an agency owner who lost a mega-client and lived to tell about it. Jeff Conlon is the CEO of Ideas, Money, Art (IMA) the video marketing agency he started in 2004. He shares his story of actually walking away from a client that was over 50% of the agency’s revenue, and how that decision has helped him grow the business into what he’s always wanted.

Why Walk Away from a $750,000 Agency Client?

Do you have a big but difficult client you’re afraid to get rid?

It happens to the best of us, right? We work hard to land and keep amazing clients, but sometimes we get backed into a corner where we need them more than they need us. That’s what *almost* happened with Jeff’s agency.

Early on, IMA did a small project for a huge home services business worth over $100 million. That small project turned into a little SEO retainer and opened the door for them to work with 30+ franchises…. Well eventually, IMA was grossing $750K per year from this client. The agency always had other work, but this one remained more than 50% of their revenue stream.

So, why would Jeff walk away from that kind of revenue? Over the years, there had been too much turnaround on the client side. After many years with one VP of Marketing, he retired and the position has been a revolving door ever since. The synergy was gone and could not be recaptured. Working with that client was more stressful than it was worth.

When their contract came up for renewal, Jeff decided to walk away. The move was big, bold, and scary. But the agency has come out the other side and Jeff says it has been a huge relief.

Of course, the downside was letting go of the account team dedicated to that client. But on the flip side, it forced IMA to work on their own business. They created their own lead generation system and developed a way to productize their agency services.

And the new rule is… no one client can represent more than 20% of the agency’s revenue.

What Does Productization Look Like for Agencies?

With their newfound clarity and not wanting to be lumped together with all the other “full-service video agencies” (AKA “me too agencies”), Jeff and his team took a long look at their differentiating factor. That’s how they developed the Digital Marketing Quadrant.

Instead of selling multiple services, IMA offers their Digital Marketing Quadrant as a strategy which paves the pathway for clients to achieve their revenue goals. Instead of offering tactics (SEO, PPC, etc.) the Digital Marketing Quadrant starts with a small engagement and then advances toward larger projects that lead the client toward their goals.

Remember, your clients don’t care what you do, just as long as you get the results they want.


The Biggest Mistake an Agency Can Mistake

With over fifteen years in the business, Jeff says he’s made every mistake in the book. The biggest, though, was not understanding the value his agency provides and not going after clients who understand it.

This caused major strife… despite the fact that the agency had been growing rapidly for 3 years, profitability was in the single-digits. (This gives me nightmares, btw!)

At the time IMA was at nearly $2 million in gross revenue, yet Jeff’s income had flatlined and the agency’s margins were dipping. Why? The agency was in a growth phase, so of course, they were adding staff and paying out benefit but otherwise spending unwisely...

That experience, of single-digit margins, totally cured him! Jeff’s sights are set on 20% profit -- which is still way too low, but at least he’s aiming for double-digits :)


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

Are you having trouble handling your day-to-day agency operations while also growing your digital agency? Looking for an easy solution to management issues? It might be time to hire a CEO. Wait. What? That's right - hiring the right support as part of your leadership team can actually help transform an owner's role enough to grow the agency easier and faster.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • Why it might be time to hire a CEO.
  • Why your agency needs a social media funnel.
  • 4 steps to creating a killer social funnel.


Today, I talked with Audra Brehm founder and CEO of Brehm Media — a social media agency with a focus on health and beauty brands. Audra is also a member of my Digital Agency Elite Mastermind and she's here to share some tips and strategies she has used to realize some amazing growth at her agency. She's one of the few agency owners who actually hired leadership a CEO for her agency. She's also a guru at social media and gives us some golden nuggets on using social channels to find agency new business prospects.

Is It Time to Hire a CEO?

Being an agency owner is tough...  And, it's all much tougher when you're trying to handle everything yourself. The entrepreneur mindset attracts hustlers, movers, and shakers. We often think we can handle everything ourselves. But, the really smart ones hire and outsource for the things they don't enjoy or are not good at.

That's what makes Audra such a smart cookie. She didn't love handling the day-to-day employee stuff, setting the culture, putting out fires, etc. Admittedly, it's just not her thing. As I like to say, "whatever you suck at - eliminate, delegate or automate." So Audra hired a CEO to handle all that stuff she doesn't enjoy and it's been a breath of fresh air. Now she can focus on things she enjoys and is really good at.

Instead of constantly tending to crises, managing the team, or monitoring financials she has the space to grow the agency and take the business in the direction she wants, on her terms.

Just because you're capable of doing certain things within your agency doesn't mean you should be doing them. There are ways you might be spending your time that could be spent more effectively, or more enjoyably. Celebrate your strengths and stop worrying about your weaknesses.

The lesson here is to get out of your own way,  leverage your strengths, and hire for your weaknesses.

Why Your Agency Needs a Social Media Strategy

One of the biggest issues with social media is that too many marketers approach it without a plan. Audra says social media is actually more of a funnel. We should be developing a strategy with our social media that takes our prospects through the stages of the funnel.

You have to plan ahead, develop a strategy, and constantly monitor results.

Have a plan but also be patient and let the funnel do its job.

4 Steps to Creating a Killer Social Funnel

Audra shared her 4 steps towards creating a lean, mean, conversion-machine social funnel.

  1. Know your mission, vision & why. Whether you're creating social campaigns for you or your clients, you have to know who you (or they) are. What's the purpose of your brand? Don't just copycat other people's social campaigns. You have to create campaigns that reflect your brand and your purpose. From the tone, voice, imagery, and colors — your social content should reflect who you (or your clients) are and what you (they) stand for.
  2. Have a strategy. Meaning, benchmark your goals so you can measure your progress. Consider how many sales do I want in 6 months? What about in one year? How many new clients? How much in revenue? This helps you develop the social media funnel and tweak if you aren't hitting those benchmarks.
  3. Execute. It's so important not to just throw stuff out there on social media without any sort of call-to-action or next step. Are you driving to landing pages? Are you retargeting effectively? Retargeting is key and it's often a missed step or executed poorly. Remember who you're going after and why. Continue to speak their language even in your retargeting efforts.
  4. Analyze. Analyze. Analyze.  Are your campaigns working? Look at your numbers regularly and figure out what's working, what's not working. Numbers don't lie. If your analytics are in the red or flatlined that means people don't know, like, and trust you as much as you think. So it's time to change things up. If you're constantly in the green that's great but are those numbers consistent with your new business? Is your growing social popularity translating into sales?

We all know a lot of this, but we don't do it for ourselves as much as we do it for our clients. Treat your agency as well as you treat your clients :) Don't just execute without a strategy.

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

Wish you could eliminate the growing pains of running a digital agency? Wonder what pitfalls you could avoid if you knew in advance? With 3 big lessons from starting, growing, scaling, and exiting multiple agencies today’s guest shares a ton of knowledge on everything from business partners to building a team to merging with a bigger agency.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Merging with a bigger agency.
  • Building an agency team based on culture.
  • 3 misconceptions on bringing in a business partner.

Today’s interview is with a four-time agency owner, William Harper who’s the CEO of WM Harper, and former owner of three other agencies which he has successfully grown and exited. It’s been a hell of a ride for William, so I’ve brought him on the show to share the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Lesson #1 - Merging with a Bigger Agency

The grass isn’t greener, but William says he and his partner learned this lesson the hard way. They took grew their agency (William’s first of four), Underground, lean and mean. They started winning industry awards and getting noticed. They were landing more and bigger clients, which got them noticed by other agencies. Eventually, an offer came from a 100-person agency, Eisner Communications and William's agency, Underground, merged with Eisner.

On the outside, it appears that a merger will open new doors to resources and technology not otherwise available to a smaller agency. However, William and his partner quickly learned those big corporate resources come with a price.

Underground lost the ability to be nimble with their clients and projects. Their processes were quickly changed, existing clients prices were increased, and the agency was forced to fit into a corporate mold.

My advice is, do not merge with a bigger agency. If you do, keep your eyes wide open to what it will look like. The grass is not greener. If you’re looking for an exit strategy - just sell, don’t merge.

Lesson #2 - Building an Agency Team

When William went on to build another agency, he took with him the knowledge of the former and decided to grow his team based on culture. Instead of hiring talent, he viewed it as curating people.

Talent and skill are important, but he says his interview questions would also include things like:

  • Why do you love this business?
  • What do you want to achieve next on your career path?
  • What are your overall goals?
  • Do you want to lead? Create? Work independently?

We agree that hiring based on culture fit is more important than hiring based on talent. Specific skills are teachable, but matches of personality, values, and beliefs must be present from the start. William quoted a statistic that something like a mere 13% of people are engaged in their job. You need your agency team to reflect the 13%, not the remaining 87%.

Lesson #3 - Bringing on an Agency Business Partner

I often advise people against bringing in a partner. As I say, “you either know the bad partner or you are the bad partner.” After about one year, I brought in a partner to my digital agency. And, over the years, William says he’s had great partners along the way in each of his agencies. But he too advises against it now that he’s been through a variety of scenarios.

There are a few misconceptions about bringing on a business partner:

1- You need a partner in order to convince clients to work with you.

FALSE. A partner does not provide instant credibility. You can be an authority on your own. Build your team based on values and you can count on the culture to provide checks and balances.

2- You need a partner to fill in your own gaps.

FALSE. Surround yourself with people smarter than you in certain areas without giving up ownership. It is possible to get that yin and yang flow in your agency without a partner.

3- You need a partner to call BS when necessary.

FALSE. A lot of agency owners wish they had a sounding board for making decisions. Instead of giving up a piece of ownership to a partner you can hire a mentor, join a mastermind, or create your own board of advisors.

While it might seem like a good idea to bring in a partner, oftentimes issues arise when the partners need different things out of the company for different reasons.

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

Are you looking for a creative way to reward your agency team? Ever considered giving your key employees a stock option? This can be a great way to incentivize and reward your loyal and hardworking team. The real key is to do it the right way so you don't lose ownership or control.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • How profit-sharing can boost your agency's value.
  • What is an ESOP and why have one?
  • Should you be offering free services to gain new business?

Today, I talked with Matt Fickin, Sales Partner at Techwood Consulting, an SEO and paid ads agency. I love having salespeople on my podcast. They can help give agency owners a unique perspective. Matt's agency's culture is all about value. So, when it comes to providing employee value, he decided to set up a profit-sharing model. The more success employees achieve, the more money goes into their wallets. He's on the show to explain the benefits of using profit sharing to incentive your agency's team.

How Profit-Sharing Can Boost Your Value

Here's the question — why should you think about profit-sharing? Let me ask you this: how do you currently motivate your employees? Is it your culture? Or, are you offering promotion incentives? Maybe bonuses? Hey! Those are all great! But, what if you could directly reward employees based on your entire agency's success? That means employees aren't getting rewarded based solely on their projects — the whole agency needs to succeed.

That is baking success into your agency's DNA! It's a great way to get all your team members collaborative and accountable while spreading responsibility throughout the agency... when everyone succeeds, everyone wins.

I'm not saying this will work for every agency model. And, you can definitely find ways to bake value into your agency without giving your employees a financial stake. But, it can help boost the team as a whole and incentive your key players.

What is an ESOP and Why Have One?

Matt set up an employee profit-sharing based on the ESOP model. ESOP stands for "employee stock ownership plan." Basically, it means giving employees stock as an incentive. So, the better the agency performs, the more money the team makes! When your agency's value increases, their wallets get fatter!

Usually, an ESOP involves a vesting period. So, employees may not be able to cash out their shares until they've worked for you for at least 3 - 5 years. This means your most loyal employees are going to be benefiting the most. If an employee leaves, your agency simply purchases their stocks. It's cash for agency-wide wins. Matt also says that you can fast-track executive staff or key employees. In fact, you can even give execs partial ownership using the same methods — which I advise against.

Even better, an ESOP comes with some pretty hefty tax benefits. You should definitely talk with your tax person first — these are going to vary by business, state, etc.

Should You Be Offering Free Audits?

Of course, I couldn't have a salesperson on the show and not ask about the sales pipeline. Matt says one of the best ways to get clients in the door is to offer up free audits. Sure, some of your prospects take your audit and do the fixes in-house or with another agency. But, by and large, most prospects are going to stick with you once you give them a free audit. If you establish trust up front and prove your authority with audit itself, there's no reason they'd need to look elsewhere.

Audits are a great way to impress your prospects and help you get your foot-in-the-door. Now, a caveat here -- Matt admits that he doesn't offer free audits when clients want complex circumstances. But, you can figure out when and where a free audit would be appropriate.

Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency?

Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you’re a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits and great service to take care of your team.

For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out for 3-months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.

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