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

Experts are sensing a downturn in the economy... But is your agency recession proof? So many variables go into a healthy agency. Maybe you should look at raising agency prices? Maybe your agency really needs to hire (or fire) to make yourself indispensable to clients? If the economy takes a hit, you have to know who to hire, who to fire, and the right way to price your services in order to survive.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • How to grow in a recession.
  • When should you raise your prices?
  • 3 reasons clients love project managers.
  • Is your agency business partner still the right fit?


I had a great conversation with Scarlett Rosier, Co-founder of Rhyme and Reason Design. Scarlett is one of those "unicorns" who actually went to college and got a Masters in Advertising. (So many of us are accidental agency owners who just fell into the business!) Scarlett is put her skills to work as the Director of Operations at her agency for the past 10 years. She's here to talk about growing in a down economy, nailing your pricing, and the value in project managers.

How to Recession Proof Your Agency

Worried about a potentially volatile economy? Don't be! When the market goes down, your agency has an opportunity to go up. Here's the big secret — in-house marketing teams are usually the first cut.

Cutting the in-house team, therefore, justifies agency costs for your clients. Brands still need marketing in a recession. But, they can usually save money by getting more help externally.

Don't fear a recession; embrace it. If you survive the recession, you'll have a bunch of new clients and a reason to raise prices. And you need to raise prices in order to be profitable.

When Should You Raise Your Prices?

The simplest answer is this — whenever you can! You have to be able to justify a price increase with value. So, if your value has gone up over the past year, your prices should too.

Let's say you've hired two new people, learned a ton of tips and tricks, and you're even better at helping clients this year than you were last year. Your prices should reflect those improvements because your clients are benefitting from them.

I recommend reviewing and raising prices at least once a year. You should constantly be improving, building better processes, learning new techniques and strategies. And that means you're giving clients more value year-over-year.

Adjust your proposals to match the increased value. Plus, you probably give your employees a yearly raise based on performance, right? Your clients should be giving you one too!

Think about it this way... If you have a heart attack, are you going to use the best surgeon or the cheapest one? Price your agency services to match your skill and you'll attract the ideal clients instead of the ones who just want a bargain.

A price increase is the fastest and easiest way to grow your agency business.

3 Ways Project Managers Help Retain Clients

Want to know what clients really want? They want relationships and regular communication. They want to feel assured they've made the right decision to work with your agency. And that's where a great PM helps retain clients.

  1. They're the client's trusted advisor. Your clients need someone to touch base with so they don't feel like they're in the dark. Clients have questions, ideas and business goals they want to talk about. A PM is their agency contact for listening, sharing, and connecting.

  2. They are a single point of contact. No client wants to have to go through a new person every time they need something, and frankly allowing them to do that would cause massive problems anyhow. Project managers build client relationships, which brings tangible value to your agency. It's easier to make existing clients happy than constantly bringing on new ones, right? Happy clients make agencies giant.

  3. Project managers attack pain points. Hiring an agency requires a leap of faith on the client's part. They don't know if they're going to get results, and they're spending money on potential value. Project managers can help ease those fears and avoid buyers remorse. A good PM will anticipate the client's fears and talk through them.

Is Your Agency Business Partner Still the Right Fit?

Business partner relationships can be like a marriage. You rely on each other, and you know the day-to-day struggles the other faces. But, what happens when your marriage evolves or changes?

But also like marriage, business partner "divorce" isn't easy. And the realization of its necessity something many owners grapple with.

I have a saying — "You either know the bad partner or you are the bad partner." Sure, sometimes partnerships are successful, but oftentimes I see the partners outgrow each other.

So how do you know when it's time to part ways with a business partner? It's all about communication and goals...

Scarlett says to look at how the person argues as an indicator of their communication. Are they articulate? Can they stand their ground intelligently? You don't need to agree all the time, but being able to disagree effectively is what makes a great partnership.

Rhyme and Reason was initially founded by three partners, but there came a time where one of them had different goals. That's when Scarlett realized there needed to be a shift in the agency's leadership. If a partner has career goals that don't align with yours and with the agency, it may be time to part ways.

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

Do you want to hire the right salespeople? Not sure what measures to take to set them up for success? Curious about the best way to compensate your sales team? Sales is a critical part of your agency's success. Sales drives conversions, captures clients, and helps relieve some major the burden from the owner. Hiring an amazing sales team and setting them up for success if the key to longterm agency growth.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • #1 way to set up a successful agency sales team.
  • 2 things every salesperson needs to do.
  • How do you separate your services from a commodity?
  • Should you pay based on commission or salary?

Today, I talked with Alex Chernyak, Director of Business Development at Martino Flynn, a digital agency in New York. Alex has over 15 years of sales and digital marketing experience, and he's owned his own agency, too. With a start in radio, Alex was drawn into the agency space by the allure of freedom. And, since then he's been helping agencies build killer sales teams and sales systems. Over the years, he's learned how to find, hire, and train salespeople that accelerate agency growth.

#1 Way to Set Your Sales Team Up for Success

Are you thinking about hiring for sales? Hiring isn't easy. But, hiring sales is one of the trickiest in the agency space.

Sure, hiring for core values and culture is important. And, you should always have a vetting process in place to weed out poor applicants. But, that's only going to get the right person in the door. How do you set them up to win accounts?

The answer:  agencies must have an existing sales system in place to facilitate sales success.

Salespeople aren't plug-and-play. And even if your sales hire has experience in another agency, there are nuances to every agency business that just can't be handed off. You can't give your new salesperson a phone and expect them to start setting appointments or landing deals. It doesn't matter how great of a salesperson they are or what agency they worked at before; they need support and an existing sales system.

Sales rockstars are built — not born.

2 Things Every Salesperson Needs to Do

1. Build a sales list. List out 200 - 300 prospects. These are the prospects your sales team is going to target with drip campaigns, paid content, etc. And, they should be constantly rotating this list based on interest. Here's a great tip from Alex — keep a separate list of your top 10 - 20 prospects. The sales team should have extra resources (e.g., audits, outreach support, etc.) for these prospects.

2. Find ways to communicate value. Your agency sales team can help you break free of being viewed as a commodity. Sales needs to diagnose problems, build rapport, and justify the price with value. Always sell solutions (not features) and talk value over cost... always!

How Do You Separate Your Services from a Commodity?

Here's the hard truth. There are people who are offering the same services as your agency for a fraction of the price. Where some prospects are concerned, if price is all that matters, you already lost.

So, flip the script. It's not about price — it's about quantifying value. Sure, that web developer in another country can build a site for $500. But how good is it at converting leads? This is where your sales team comes into play. When a prospect starts talking price, change the subject to value. Here's an analogy:

A prospect comes to you and asks you to build a killer WordPress site. You quote them $25k. They come back the next day and say, "This freelancer overseas said he can do it for $2,000. Why should I pick you?"

If you've given your sales team the right playbook, this one should be easy... Why is it only $2,000? Can they build it as fast as you can? Do they have the level of experience you have? Do you offer a unique branding style that no one can mimic? Don't sell them a service. Sell them a key to unlock the treasure chest with solutions to their greatest challenge.

This isn't always easy! A lot of the work we do is invisible to clients. And an effective Account Manager can continue to communicate results so your agency is never viewed as a commodity. However, if you hired the right salesperson, they can communicate it with confidence and head it off early and communicate value before it becomes a question with the prospect.

Should You Pay Based on Commission or Salary?

In short - both!

Straight commission sales compensation isn't low-risk high-reward — it's low-risk low-reward. It leads to higher turnover. Plus, your salespeople don't have any incentives to be an evangelist for your brand. They don't care how good the prospect is or how well they fit with your culture. They need to make ends meet, so they can't afford to be selective with who they sell to and why.

On the flip side, straight salary is for marketers. Salespeople need incentives to go above and beyond in order to land the bigger, better clients. They are driven by the challenge of earning their commission and need you to dangle the carrot.

Salespeople should wear a marketers hat and a sales bandana. Give them a commission and a base-salary. I always suggest the base be something they can just barely live on. But the commission structure should help them live the lifestyle they choose. That's why a tiered commission approach works well. Ask your salesperson how much they want to earn for a year, and then help them develop a plan using your base salary + commission structure in order to earn that level.

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_Hire_Train_and_Pay_a_Successful_Agency_Sales_Team.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Not sure how to determine agency prices? How can you stay competitive while separating your agency the competition? The first step is to stop copying them! Quit focusing on the competition because it always results in you becoming a copycat agency. If you want to grow, you have to dare to be different.

In today's episode, we'll cover:

  • The best way to determine your agency pricing structure.
  • Why agency meetings may be costing you too much.
  • How to separate your agency in a crowded market.

Today, I talked with Nick Eubanks, CEO and Founder of From the Future. Nick got his start by spamming cold emails and working real estate. But, once he started his agency, he grew fast! In just 5 years, Nick's agency was worth millions. He's sharing his story so you can grow quicker, and also avoid some of his mistakes.

The Best Way to Determine Your Agency Pricing Structure

Many agencies determine their pricing structure by looking at their competitors and matching or competitively pricing themselves in the market. Let's be honest — a lot of you probably started out by picking a fair-sounding price point. Am I right?

Price your agency's services intentionally. Sure, you can do what your competitors are doing. But, at that point, you've already lost. Instead, try this — price your services based on your value and desired margins.

The average net margin for a services company in the U.S. is 32% - so make that should be your goal.

To figure out how much you should charge clients, add up your agency expenses and labor expenses, then figure in the value of your services. Then charge clients at least 32% above the cost of your expenses. But, remember, you're selling a solution — not just a product. You can charge as high as 50% or more over margin and still attract clients.

Bear in mind, you need to factor in all of the miscellaneous business costs into this model. For example, have you ever considered how the expense associated with internal meetings?

Why Your Meetings May Be Costing You Too Much

Internal meetings are a great way to build company culture, create rapport among the team, and of course, brainstorm. But Nick says they're more expensive than we realize.

Let's say you have 4 team members attend an hour-long meeting. If you're billing their time at $200 an hour, that meeting is costing you $800.

Not only is that meeting costing you billable hours, but those four employees aren't directly servicing clients during that time. So, the meeting expense is actually more than you think.

The lesson here is not to cut out meetings - team meetings are a great way to keep your team working cohesively. But, you need to be aware of how much meetings cost. And, build those costs into your price structure.

How to Separate Your Agency in a Crowded Market

Nick's agency started using technical SEO strategies combined with a design/UX team to stand out. But, it's about more than just services. Being unique requires some critical thinking.

What are your competitors doing? Whatever it is, think about doing the opposite. That's how to fast track your growth. For example, if everyone is approaching SEO the same way, add a twist and do technical SEO.

Look for opportunities in your niche. And, when you find one — latch onto it. Sure, you should definitely compete for clients. And, you don't have to just go after clients no one else is taking on. But, you should always be looking for under-serviced prospects within a market.

In other words, don't watch your competitors and just copy what they're doing. Figure out what they're doing and do something entirely different. Identify your strengths and what you do better than anyone else.

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_Determine_Agency_Prices_Without_Copying_the_Competition.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Looking for an innovative way to inspire your team? One agency has broken the mold on bonuses and profit-sharing. Instead, they're inspiring their team with 50% of top-line revenue. If you want your already amazing team to be inspired enough to hustle harder, check out this incentive program that has an agency team out-earning the leadership team.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • 3 ways to identify bad clients.
  • A unique and inspiring employee profit sharing model.

Today's podcast guest is Shaun Sheikh, CEO and Co-founder of Jump 450 Media. Shaun has been on Forbes 30 under 30 list, and his agency has blown up tot he tune of 8 figures in just a few years. Like most young agency owners, Shaun has introduced some creative strategies and innovative operations processes into his agency. Today, we talk about a few of those including an exciting employee compensation model that he calls his secret sauce of success.

3 Ways to Identify Bad Agency Clients

Learning to say no to bad clients is one of the major pillars of agency growth. When you start out, you want (and need) to take what any and every client you can land. That's fine! You should be taking on all clients and discovering who your agency really is. Who you can help and who you can't. What you're good at and what you're not. What you love to do and what you don't. But, once you get established and learn the hard lessons, it's time to get really focused so you are only working with ideal clients that pay what you're worth.

So, where do you start? How do you figure out which clients are good and which ones you need to "swipe left"?

1. Start with culture.

Before you even think about cash, think about culture. If a prospect isn't a good fit with your agency's culture, you'll know. A good pre-qualification process is the key to identifying them. Remember, there's no such thing as a bad client ~ only a bad prospect or bad process. There's no strategy involved here. Trust me; you'll just know. Get rid of these prospects/clients ASAP. They're a terrible fit, and you will almost certainly run into issues with them in the future.

2. Analyze client spend.

Does the client's time-to-value ratio make sense? Some clients may be valued at big bucks, but they end up taking up too many agency resources. When agencies first start, naturally they want to land high ticket clients. A $50k client may seem like a dream-come-true. But, if you can service seven $10k clients with the same amount of effort, that $50k pain-in-the-a$$ client no longer makes sense, right?

3. Map out future potential.

This is the hidden client statistic no one ever talks about. What does their future potential look like as far as upsells, future campaigns? Is this client adapting to their changing environment? Are they innovating in their industry? Does their potential look as though it will support your goals? If not, then don't spin your wheels.

A Unique and Inspiring Employee Profit Sharing Model

There are several schools of thought on employee profit share programs. And, I know a lot of agencies who swear by this type of monetary incentive. However, Shaun has a pretty interesting and unique profit sharing model you're going to love.

Jump 450 gives its agency employees 50% of the top-line revenue!

That seems like... a lot, right?

Here's the catch... Employees can only earn that incentive if they outperform their own salary. They have to hit their salary goals first. Then, they start earning additional revenue based on performance.

And, he does this on a monthly basis!

This bonus structure helps agency employees feel as though they co-run the company. They get involved with every client and try to outperform themselves. Some of Jump 450's employees out-earn the leadership team... Crazy, right?!

Keep in mind, to get qualify for the bonus the team has to perform like crazy. And, all of that extra performance means better profit margins profits for the agency. In reality, the team is getting 50% of the profit they hustle for. This is the above and beyond stuff they aren't expected to do. Late nights, next-level pitch prep, and after-hours client meetings, etc.

And, when the employees earn big, so does the agency. It's literally a WIN-WIN.

Will this work for every agency? Maybe not. But, if this kind of incentive program fits into your existing business model, it can be a great way to get to the next level.

Direct download: Why_an_8-Figure_Agency_Bonuses_the_Team_With_50_of_Revenue.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT

Have you ever wondered how agency culture effects business growth? If you think they're two separate things, think again! Your culture speaks volumes about your agency. When your culture is a defining factor of your agency, you will experience amazing growth. Simply put, the foundation of every great brand is a great culture. So spend time developing an amazing culture and you will create brand ambassadors to move the needle on your agency's business.

In this episode, we'll cover:

  • How it's important to niche horizontally or vertically.
  • How agency culture develops brand ambassadors.
  • #1 way to cultivate amazing agency culture.


Today, I talked with Brandy Obvinseva the co-founder of Gallant Culture. Brandy has a degree in international studies and intended to be a political ambassador. Instead, she helps companies find their brand ambassadors. After a stint at Texaco and a few other oil & gas companies, she co-founded her agency, Gallant. Since then, her agency has changed a few times but it's always been driven by culture. She has unique views on niching and culture that have helped her agency explode.

Why It's Important to Niche Horizontally or Vertically

Selecting and marketing to a specific niche is a significant growth pillar for agencies. It gives you purpose, drive, and a defined process to use to score clients and drive profits. It just works.

But what is a niche?

Is it the industry you choose to work in? Is it the services you offer? Maybe. It can be. But, you don't have to niche vertically into an industry. You can niche horizontally based on a specific skill set or expertise in a specific technology.

If your agency helps plumbers build websites. Then plumber websites is your vertical niche.

If your agency helps anyone build a Joomla (software) websites using a specific set of processes, then Joomla websites is your horizontal niche.

Ready to have your mind blow? You can really drill down and have BOTH a horizontal and vertical niche.

Here's the secret — a niche is anything that helps you understand your clients better and motivates you to accomplish their goals effectively. Selecting a niche doesn't mean saying "no" to clients outside of your audience. It just means identifying with and understanding a specific audience, ultimately giving your agency an advantage over others.

Want to figure out your niche? Try this!

Write down three of your clients biggest challenges every day for 30 days. At the end, map out what their issues are. And, think about how you can pivot your agency to solve those problems. That's your niche! You could even have multiple niches but focus on building one niche at a time.

How Agency Culture Develops Brand Ambassadors

As Brandy says, "If you want to have a group of people that are going to wave your flag, they need to know what flag they're waiving."

Your culture is the unspoken rules of your agency. It impacts how your employees pitch to clients, communicate with them, and (most importantly) converts them. Always lead with culture, hire with culture, and even choose clients who are a good culture fit.

But, here's where it gets interesting...

Brandy says you don't have to specifically "define culture." It's naturally going to be interpreted uniquely by each team member. One of your employees may be perky and bubbly, while another may be methodical and quiet. That's fine! There's room both within the same agency culture.

For example, if one of your core values is honesty, both can find ways to allow honesty to shine through in their work. The important thing is that your culture drives them. They should be your brand ambassadors. To that end, they need to understand your culture and live it.

So, if you're still trying to find your niche, start with your culture. What kinds of clients fit your agency's culture? Which of your team members and clients can be your agency's brand ambassadors?

#1 Way to Cultivate Amazing Agency Culture

How do you nurture and grow your culture? By being adaptable.

Your agency culture will evolve and change over time. As your team gets bigger and new employees enter the scene things will change. The rules of your business will change too, and you'll probably pivot a couple of times along the way. That's normal and completely natural as part of the growth process. But, you have to be willing to constantly develop and improve upon your culture as the agency environment changes.

Let your team members, clients, and industry guide you. In the beginning, a minimalist culture which promotes enthusiasm and hustling may work out great. But, 5 years down the road could be another story. You will have new clients and employees who are going in another direction.

The culture of today will not match the culture of the future ~ adaptability is a must.

Direct download: How_to_Create_Brand_Ambassadors_to_Grow_Your_Agency_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT