Wed, 26 May 2021
After deciding to leave the mean streets of LA, where he worked as a police officer for 13 years, Jason Smith started working at the leading Facebook and Instagram advertising agency Tier 11. He eventually moved to create his own company Spotlight Social Media Consulting in 2016. Today, he joins us to talk about the key factors that have helped him grow his team and making the decision to bring a VP of Operations.
3 Golden Nuggets
Sponsors and Resources
Oribi: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency
How Hiring a VP of Operations can be the Best Call to Grow Your Agency
Jason Swenk: [00:00:00] On this show. I talk with an agency owner who talks about how he has grown his team, how he's grown his agency. And when is the right time to bring in a VP of Operations and how did he do it? So let's sit back and check out the episode.
Hey, Jason. Welcome to the show.
Jason Smith: [00:00:24] Hey, how are you doing? Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Jason Swenk: [00:00:27] Yeah, man, I'm excited to have you on, I've gotten to know you over the past couple of years, but for the people that have not heard of you yet tell us who you are and what do you do?
Jason Smith: [00:00:35] Yeah, my name is Jason Smith, owner and CEO of Spotlight Social Media Consulting. We're a, uh, Facebook and Instagram only, I say only because we're not an all-in-one, we're Facebook and Instagram only ad agency. So we do paid media for Facebook and Instagram.
Jason Swenk: [00:00:52] Awesome. Now you have a quite interesting story of how you became an agency or really even what you were doing beforehand. So, yeah, I think it's interesting just to tell people kind of where you came from.
Jason Smith: [00:01:05] Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Crazy story, actually. When I tell it, people take a 360-degree turn and they're like, wait, what? So I was a, a policeman for the Los Angeles Police Department for, gosh, just about 14 years before I became an agency owner. And the reason why it's kind of crazy is because I went from getting shot at, chasing gang members, getting into shootings, all this stuff, and the mean streets of LA.
And literally, I mean that literally, I mean, we're talking about 250 homicides in six square miles in a year, and very violent places in, in Los Angeles. And, uh, went from that to, you know, the thing that kinda drove me to look for something else was number one, I was never home, was in court all the time. My days off were filled with court and overtime and it was just, you know, I never get to spend time with my family and I just, it was getting old, real fast.
And it sounds cool when you're up on the stand testifying as a gang expert or weapons expert and all this stuff. But in hindsight, personally, it's not that fun. So, and you know, I've been involved in tons of, and literally tons of stressful situations. I've been in shootings and been shot at and all that stuff.
And, man, for making $80,000 a year doing that. I just wanted to start looking for something else. And I stumbled across an opportunity where, you know, running Facebook ads was a core part of one of my friend's businesses originally, like with a supplement company. And he just kind of asked me buddy to buddy, like, hey dude, do you want to help me do these Facebook ads?
I'm like, yeah, I don't, I'm a dumb policeman. I don't know how to do this, but let's try it out, you know. So I ended up getting some good results and then I did a little bit more research and ended up finding a certification course. And gosh, the rest is history. And next thing you know, I have, I had 10 clients, not even a year later and making, you know, 30,000 a month, which I never thought possible from home. And yeah, it was pretty cool.
Jason Swenk: [00:03:05] So which is more stressful running an agency or getting shot at?
Jason Smith: [00:03:09] Man, I don't know. I’m just kidding. Well, it's funny because people will. You know how clients are sometimes. They'll try to intimidate you or something or say something to you. I'm like, dude, relax. Okay. It's not that doesn't work on me, okay.
So, and when I, when I shoot back stuff to them, they're like, Oh wow. This guy is not going to take my usual agency fluff here, right. You know, so it's pretty funny.
Jason Swenk: [00:03:33] I interviewed an ex-Navy Seal and he was basically was like, look, we just went over so much of training when we get in situations. Like, we weren't stressed.
And I was like, that's a great principle to apply, like in your agency, like go over this scenarios is over and over again. And it shouldn't be that stressful.
Jason Smith: [00:03:52] Right. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don't get stressed too much. Even my wife tells me like, man, you don't stress over anything. And I'm like, well, you know, after being shot at and being all these stressful situations, not, not much more in life is going to stress me out, you know?
So. Pretty funny. Even the guys on my team, stress out about stuff. I'm like, guys don't, don't stress out about that stuff. Just everything will work out, so.
Jason Swenk: [00:04:16] How has your agency grown in the past couple years? Like, what are some things that have worked for you that you wish you knew back when you were just getting started messing around with Facebook?
Jason Smith: [00:04:29] Yeah. Well, I mean, number one, I think having great people behind you and supporting you. That's probably the number one thing. I mean, you know, I'll never forget how I found you was through Ralph at Tier 11, but it was funny because the first time I applied to work with you, you denied me because I wasn't big enough, right?
But that was great motivation. No, no. And Hey, I mean, that's, and that's why you have an elite mastermind that you do because you get to pick and choose the people in it. And that's very important. And, um, I mean, I think number one, support and people behind you, I mean, Ralph and Deacon, those guys at Tier 11 have, you know, and still helped me today.
I mean, those guys have been an integral part of why I've grown and there's no, like, even though we're the same, we do the same thing. There's plenty of business to go around. They're just cool guys. They've helped me a ton. Um, I could call Ralph right now and say, hey, you know, what do you think about this? And he would, you know, he would tell me and we could talk about it.
So, that's I think probably the number one thing that's helped me the most and then being a part of, you know, probably your mastermind and the group and the support there. I can go to you or anybody else. And I mean, gosh, I just went to you recently, right? About some stuff and was, and you helped me out.
So that probably for me is the number one thing. And number two is having a great team, you know, having a great team of people who you can, you know, like, and trust. And not get bogged down with people you can't trust or waste your time or whatever. Those are probably the two things that helped me the most grow the agency and where I'm at today.
And I mean, I literally started from nothing. Like I had no clients, you know, and I tell the story on my podcast and Deacon from Tier 11 is the one that gave me, like my first two clients. And then it just kind of went from there. So, having that support structure and those people in your life. And I say your life, because it's not just all about business and you know, you and I could go out and have a drink or something.
And we're good friends. I think outside of the business world, you know, we also like the same things, right. You used to ride motocross, you're a big Jeep guy. So that's very important, so.
Jason Swenk: [00:06:34] Yeah, we'll party this summer.
Jason Smith: [00:06:37] Can't wait.
Jason Swenk: [00:06:38] I know. Talk about your team because a lot of people listening, they may be trying to scale their team, trying to grow their team. Where did you find them? How did you find them? How'd you evaluate them? You know, because, you know, that's an integral part.
Jason Smith: [00:06:53] Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I mean, most of my team came from recommendations from the mastermind, um, your mastermind and, um, Ralph actually helped me out. Ralph and Deacon over there at Tier 11 helped me on how to kind of screen people, give them a little bit of a test, have them record a loom video. You know, you can tell a lot about a person when they record a quick video. And of course, they're going to be nervous and I think I'm a pretty fair guy. Like I can kind of read through the bs and the nervousness and stuff like that.
But when it comes down to the core values of who they are as a person, you can tell a lot by just a five-minute video and it's, we send them basically a little test and say, hey, I want, give me a five-minute overview of this test. And it's not so much of a test. It's really just like an aptitude test of how much they know about Facebook because I. We all do it on resumes.
We all overcompensate for all this stuff, right. And, um, for them going through this competency test just shows me how much they know. And then what I do is send them over to my VP of operations. And actually my VP of operations came from a referral from a friend of mine. He used to be a professional skateboarder was, was in the upper ups of Ogio. You know, the company, Ogio, big company.
He used to work for them because he was a pro skateboarder. And then when he hurt himself, he went to work for Ogio and loved the operation side. So I got to know him. And just a cool dude, you know, and that's really what comes down to it in my opinion. And yes, they have to have a good work ethic, but if they're going to be part of your team, like, you gotta like them, right?
You really do, you know, and people say, oh, well, keep your personal side out of it. Well, I mean, I tend to think there has to be a personal side in it to make a team really solid, a good culture and a team that you can trust. So that's kind of how we evaluate stuff and really it's me talking to them or interviewing them. I have a pretty good, from my background and experience as a policeman, I have a pretty good idea of a person, right. When I talk to them.
Jason Swenk: [00:08:50] When they're lying or not.
Jason Smith: [00:08:52] Yeah. Just slap them around a little bit, you know?
Jason Swenk: [00:08:55] So, are you the good guy or the bad cop or good cop? Who would you play?
Jason Smith: [00:09:00] You know, it's funny. A couple of people that I've met, like clients have said, oh man, you're, you're such a nice guy, but then when I saw you in person, I was like, oh man, like this dude, could do some damage.
I mean, I'm not the tallest guy, but I, you know, whatever it is, what it is, I'm all tatted down. And I don't, I definitely don't look like the normal marketer. And I do talk about that in my podcast, how I went into this Facebook ad agency world and I don't look like your normal agency owner, and it's pretty funny. But I try to be the good guy, unless the bad guy has to come rear its ugly head. And if it does, you better watch out cause you may get pistol-whipped or something, you know.
Jason Swenk: [00:09:36] I love what you said about, yeah, you have to like them. I think it's… and you have to have that similar belief in the values that you share as an individual, because I used to hire the wrong way where I would try to hire my identical twin because I'm hiring someone to pick up the clack for the stuff I suck at.
And then if I hire my twin. Well, now we're going to have two people that suck at this one thing. It makes it a really big challenge. So a lot of times you have to figure out what do we personally believe in. Like, do we believe in resourcefulness, do we believe in failure and success and all this kind of stuff. And then, and it's not just about quizzing them and saying.
Jason Smith: [00:10:23] Right, right. Yeah, exactly.
Jason Swenk: [00:10:25] Coming up with scenarios that you can have them describe that a little bit with that.
Jason Smith: [00:10:32] Well, and too, I actually made the mistake one time of hiring somebody who is too entrepreneurial. If you know what I mean? Like when you're an owner of a company and you're trying to hire like exactly what you said, you can't hire your identical twin because that twin is then going to want to take over and be too entrepreneurial and almost do his own thing, you know. Which, you got to follow the systems, you got to follow the policies we have, right.
And an entrepreneur will not follow that. They need to be out doing their own thing. Um, and so I look for that as well. Like especially being a team player. And that's one of the, my biggest red flags is they say anything about me, me, me, then I'm like, then I kind of, have to side-eye them a little bit and say, I don't think this is going to be the right fit. So.
Jason Swenk: [00:11:19] If you're like many agency owners, it's very hard to show results and show value to your clients for the hard work that you've done. And up until now, you've probably been using Google Analytics, which is really kind of clunky and hard to use and just been around a long time. And there really hasn't been an alternative until now.
And I want to tell you a little bit about Oribi. Now I've checked out this tool and it's really pretty cool. It doesn't require any code for you to track interactions and conversions. There's no more jumping from different platforms. You can track your social and paid media really all in one place. And it really allows you to build smart funnels and get tons of insights. I mean, literally, I've even set it up where I could say I want this visitor to get to this particular page and it will tell me what's the likely chance that they're actually get to this page and what pages are actually coming from.
It's really pretty cool. So if you want to really kind of get away from Google analytics, I want you to check them out, go to Oribi. oribi.io/smartagency. And just for my listeners, you're going to get 20% off for the first three months using coupon code smart agency.
Let's talk about your VP of Ops of when you were looking to bring them on. Like, walk me through that scenario because a lot of times people don't know when to bring on that person. So what was the scenario of like, what was lifelike like in the agency and then we'll talk about the next.
Jason Smith: [00:12:58] Yeah, well, actually I had come to you about that probably what a year and a half ago, and was like, hey, I had a couple account managers that were managing accounts. And what I noticed really quickly was that there was all this information in my head and things that I was trying to disseminate to them and balls were being dropped. You know, client communication wasn't the best. And they were coming back to me often saying, hey, Jason, I don't really know what to do here.
And I'm like, what do you mean you don't know what to do? But it was in my head. It wasn't on paper, in an SOP, in any operations was not in the agency. And that's what I needed at the time. And you're like, Jason, you're just going to have to drop the money because I was worried about, do we make enough as an agency?
Like how much does one of these guys costs? I mean, all the things you don't really know about. And then when I finally found Eric and it was almost, it was a referral, I didn't really know he was good at operations. I kind of hired him to be a video editor because he's a high level video guy. And then he's like, oh, by the way, I'm also really good at operations. And I'm like, oh shoot, really? Awesome.
And then he's like, hey, I've been looking at all this stuff at the company. And I could really come in and help out with SLPs. And, you know, we didn't have a project management system at the time. Like we didn't have Trello or. Uh, I mean, we had Slack, but Slack is not a project management system. It's a communication tool, right?
And we kind of talked about it and he came in and all of a sudden, next thing, you know, six months later, we actually have things documented and hey, this is what you do to like reach out to Facebook and, and appealing an ad account that's been disabled and everything started coming down in writing, and it was really cool to see that process evolve.
And it's still evolving today. But it makes it easier for when we bring on somebody new. Hey, okay, review these videos. This is the kind of first step here. And, uh, yeah, we've evolved a lot as an agency since then. It's been pretty cool.
Jason Swenk: [00:14:50] And walk me through when you actually started onboarding him or when he started, did you just kind of give him like, here's what we need to do, go do, and then he'd just go execute. Or did he start coming up with all the, you know, hey, getting off Slack as a project management tool and that kind of stuff.
Jason Smith: [00:15:05] Yeah, no, he was great. I mean, he, he had the experience from Ogio to be able to come in and say, okay, these are the top-level things that we need to integrate, which is SOPs and what happens in this scenario and, you know, Facebook's pretty complicated.
So there was a lot of things and we kind of sat down one day for half the day and he just went through and picked my brain on everything and just kind of wrote it down. What are the most important things when we onboard a client, like we need to have a system for this stuff. So, you know, the account managers, when they onboard somebody, they can just check the boxes, which is really cool.
And I mean, honestly, he's been probably one of my biggest assets in the, in the company and the growth right now. And he went in and went in lucid chart and like mapped out, okay, you guys, we're going to have 10 account managers by this date and we're going to be doing these things. And. It's really cool, you know, to have somebody like that. And, um, at first I thought, man, I gotta pay him all this money, but look how much money we're making now. It's pretty awesome.
Jason Swenk: [00:16:03] Yeah. I mean a lot of people, they go, well, I don't know if I can fill up this person full time, because I think the holdup in their mind or their, their mindset is I need to come up with everything that they need to go do.
Which I think is a mistake, and a lot of people don't really.
Jason Smith: [00:16:18] Right. Well, not really, but yeah.
Jason Swenk: [00:16:20] Yeah. It's just like, I have to detail everything I want you to go do, rather than just saying here's where the agency's going. Now you're the how person. I'm the where and why you're the how, right. And you just go execute it. And like you said, you hired the right person. It's going to be amazing.
Jason Smith: [00:16:38] Yeah. And you may not hire the right person the first time, you know, I mean, and don't get me wrong. We've had our ups and downs and we've had our disagreements and, but that's just, I mean, that's life in general, you know, and you just gotta get through it.
He's a great guy, great person, very organized. He's an operations dude. That's exactly what I needed. You know, cause I am not an operations guy and I do not know how to go into Trello and build boards and cards and all that. Like, I hate doing that stuff. So I'd rather be talking to somebody about our agency and how good we are at Facebook ads and, and running high-quality Facebook ads. That's what I'm good at.
Jason Swenk: [00:17:14] Awesome. Well, this has all been amazing. Jason, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the listeners?
Jason Smith: [00:17:20] No, I just, uh, the only thing I do want to add is, is when you're ready to hire an agency for your Facebook ads, make sure you interview them. You have some great questions for them.
If you have a resource that you can reach out to, to ask if, hey, if this agency is good or whatever, don't blame the current agency coming in for all the stuff that happened before, because chances are, you know, if you hire the right agency, they can be a good partner.
And I want to stress the word partner because a lot of times. Business owners don't think a Facebook agency is necessarily a partner, but we're helping you grow your business triple and quadruple your business. And that's what we've done for companies. And that's why they'll never leave us is because we've grown them so much. And we're such an asset to their brand. They'll never, they'll never leave. So it's pretty cool.
Jason Swenk: [00:18:06] That’s awesome. And where can people reach out to you if they want to chat more about Facebook and I highly recommend they do an amazing job. So where can they go and check it out?
Jason Smith: [00:18:15] Yeah, they can go to, um, spotlightsocialadvertising.com or reach out to me. Jason at spotlightsocialllc.com.
Jason Swenk: [00:18:23] Awesome. Everyone, go check them out. Reach out to Jason. They do an amazing job. And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners, like Jason and many others, and just really be able to have that sounding board, that board of advisors to show you or see the things you might not be able to see and just have a lot of fun doing it.
Make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com. That's digitalagencyelite.com apply and maybe we'll have a conversation and then maybe you get to hang out with Jason and I and a bunch of other really cool people. All right. Till next time, have a Swenk day.
Direct download: Is_it_Time_to_Hire_a_VP_of_Operations_to_Take_Your_Agency_to_the_Next_Level_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT
Sun, 23 May 2021
True to his gambler style when it comes to making business decisions, entrepreneur Eric Siu bought a failing marketing agency for $2 back in 2014. By refocusing the agency's vision from an SEO agency to a full-service digital marketing agency, Single Grain has grown into a full team of expert marketers who share Eric's vision and passion for constant growth. Now he joins us today to talk about how you can use a game mentality to grow your agency by constantly leveling up.
3 Golden Nuggets
Sponsors and Resources
Wix: Today's episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out Wix.com/Partners to learn more and become a member of the community for free.
How to Grow Your Agency By Constantly Leveling Up
Jason: [00:00:00] On this show, I bring on a past client where we talk about how he's grown his agency and he has a great book called “Leveling Up” and going through the stages and talks about e-sports, and we talk about sports and how you can use this in order to really grow your agency. We talked about Clubhouse, all kinds of stuff.
It's a really cool episode. We jump all around and we talk about a $75,000 Pokemon card. Crazy stuff. So, you're going to love this episode. Let's get into it.
Hey Eric. Welcome to the show.
Eric: [00:00:36] Good to see you, Jason. It's been a while.
Jason: [00:00:38] Yeah, man. It's been a while since we worked together. So tell us, uh, for the people that haven't heard of, you tell us who you are and what do you do?
Eric: [00:00:45] Yeah, thanks. So my name's Eric Siu. I helped level up the world through marketing. I have a couple of marketing businesses. I have an agency called Single Grain, a software company called Click Flow. And then, uh, we got a whole, you know, marketing education stuff and marketing school and the events tied to it.
So a bunch of stuff. And I also invest in different MarTech SAS companies, which is my background. And then, um, other than that, I have a podcast called Leveling Up. I have a book called Leveling Up right here, coming out, and then I have a podcast called Marketing School and that's basically it.
Jason: [00:01:12] Very cool. And so how'd, you get started in all this? You haven't been in the agency world too long. And so how did you kind of jump into it?
Eric: [00:01:21] Yeah, so it's pretty unconventional. So the agency that I took over and, you know, the story already, I bought the company for $2 out of pocket because it was a failing SEO agency at the time, because the Google algorithm updates basically made the business model invalid overnight.
And I was brought in as a number two to help save the company. Because I'd previously had helped turn another company around, which is a startup. And so this was a different challenge, you know, different service, like the plane's going down, right? Like, can you put the plane back together while flying it?
I was like, okay, this will be an interesting challenge. About six months into it, the four other co-founders said they wanted out. And Neil Patel was my podcast co-host he was like, hey Eric, you should get out as a friend. There's no brand equity. There's nothing here.
And I was like, okay, why don't we do this? I'll give it a shot. I'll buy it. I'll pay $1 for 10% of your shares and another dollar for another 10% of another partner's shares. The rest through the profits of the company, with contingency that the company failed and owned nothing. So asymmetric bet, you know, I'd have unlimited upside with my downside would be it's basically an MBA, right?
And so fortunately it worked out, but I almost lost everything. I'm happy to go in that direction, but that's how I got started. First year, had no idea what I was doing dropped all the way down to one employee.
Jason: [00:02:28] And so, you know, a lot of people are listening. They're like, what was the point where you almost lost everything? Let's go to that story a little bit.
Eric: [00:02:36] Yeah. So two thousand... what was it? Thirteen or so, something like that. New year, I'm like, okay, look at me. I'm the CEO. Now I own a hundred percent of the company. Look at me. And I ended up reading this book called “Let My People Go Surfing” from the Patagonia co-founder. And I was like, yeah, let my people go surfing.
Nobody wants to be micromanaged, whatever, stop showing up to the office. So I'm like, you know, I hired some senior people I'm like, yeah, let them do their thing. Whole thing implodes. And then I have people calling me saying, you know, people are showing up to the office and like just wearing like, almost like pajamas and eating like chips while watching Family Guy. Whole thing is just blowing up in front of me.
And then my outside accounting firm calls me and they're just like, hey, it might be time to shut it down. Basically I went from bad to worse just because I didn't build a rapport with anybody. I let them do their thing. I had no vision. I had no sense of what culture meant and the whole thing just fell apart.
And I almost took another job. So I was at a crossroads. I had said yes. And then I basically, the next day I was like, I can't do it. And I continued on with Single Grain.
Jason: [00:03:31] And so that's the all-time low and your accounting firm says, you know, let's throw in the towel, Eric, what did you do to turn it around?
Eric: [00:03:40] Yeah, when I first started at Single Grain, because my background's in SEO, we were getting about 4,000 visits a month, which is okay for a blog. I had started to focus on a lot of guest blog posting, a lot of, um, you know, building more relationships. And we started publishing a lot more content. We had good domain authority on our website, which is just how strong our website is.
And throughout that first year it started to increase rapidly. So we went from about 4,000 to about 50,000 visits a month. And then we got that number one ranking for the agency keyword that you know about digital marketing agency, right. I have nothing to hide. And so that's how we started getting all these leads, and unfortunately I couldn't fulfill the leads anymore.
So what we started to do was we started to refer the leads out and I would take 25 to 30% commission for the lifetime of the customer. That kept us afloat. And then I realized that these other agencies were, they couldn't retain the client. And so from that point on, I was like, okay, let's take on some contractors. We have some more money to play with.
We took on some contractors and then from there we're like, okay, the contractors are good, but they're not, they're mercenaries throughout fully embedded with the culture. So then we started hiring full-time people. It really started to take off again, once we hired that integrator and I'm sure people have talked about it on this podcast, visionary integrator concept, rocket fuel.
And that's when things started to blow up. And my thesis has always been with the agency. If I were able to make it work, the services business is not super interesting to me, but the cash flows to be able to take that and go reinvest in more exponential or durable sources of income. That's more interesting.
And fortunately, that worked out and then now, you know, combined with everything, we’re at about eight-figures. We’re over eight-figures. Yeah.
Jason: [00:05:08] And so what's kind of the percentage that you would reinvest and did that number go down over time? Like, you know, in the very beginning sometimes, or did it go up over time, but everybody's probably listening are like, well, how much should I reinvest in the company? Or should I rate the company?
Eric: [00:05:26] Yeah, that's a great question. I would put an asterisk by this because I come from a gambling background. So all in, you know, if I'm betting on myself, best investment ever, right? Warren Buffet. I don't recommend this for everyone because your mileage may vary. You might have a mortgage, you might have a family to take care of. Who knows? Like there's a lot of other commitments.
I was fortunate enough where I didn't have any of that to worry about at the time. So I continued to press every single year. I put everything back into the business. I think it's fine to pay taxes. Absolutely. But if you have a good sense of what you can do with the business and you can create more jobs from it and you don't have a lot of other overhead to worry about, then, you know, for me, I kept pressing.
And so for me, it was a hundred percent and I didn't necessarily want to raise money because, you know, I've seen that game before. Right. And there's nothing wrong with that. And in some cases I might raise money for other stuff and we have, but at the time I just wanted to bootstrap my way up to, to prove that I could do it before, you know, thinking about anything else.
Jason: [00:06:17] So let's talk about, you know, Leveling Up. Why did you write it?
Eric: [00:06:21] Yeah, that's a good question. Uh, I remember on another podcast, this guy, uh, Anthony Pompliano was asking me, why are you doing a book? Nobody reads books. And I'm like, well, I read books. So I started writing this book, and I don't recommend this, while I was trying to save the agency. Stupid.
And people are like, yeah, it's going to take you probably five to six years to do it. It took me six years, probably seven drafts. I was like, it probably will probably take me two. Took me seven. And so, I come from an e-sports background. All I was really good at growing up was games. And you know, there's a stigma towards games, right?
Parents always looked down on me, friends, maybe didn't respect it. And then it was just like, I wasn't seen, and now you see e-sports taking off, but you have 3 billion people in the world that are playing games and then feel like they have a stigma. They feel unseen, but in sports and I'm sure you've played sports. Right.
But just understanding that look, sports foster teamwork, communication, resilience, all that, all that I got from games. And my point is, you know, I think business is the ultimate game. Life is a game and I wake up every day and it's the same feeling I've had growing up. It's fun. Right. I'm just going to keep playing until I die, which is why I have a fundamental kind of buy and hold model where I just want to go buy other businesses.
And so. That's what it is. I just do this, have fun. I've treat life as a game there's level-ups, right? In the book I talk about, you know, one of the chapters is thievery. If you think about Apple, you know, Apple, as an example, by the way they stole this from Xerox, this mouse, they stole from Xerox, Steve Jobs himself said everything in life is a remix.
And so if we think about Elon Musk, the rockets, they look fundamentally the same, you know, you just add on the 10 to 20%, that's unique. They come back to earth. And so I think encouraging people that like. That chapter talks about where I ethically learned to steal, right? And people have a there's cognitive dissonance there because we all like to think that we're original.
And so the book is about treating life as a game and going out throughout life and collecting power-ups and from a business perspective, just understanding that there's levels to the game. Right? So, Jason used an example, you had the agency, you sold it and you started doing the training. And then now you're back in the agency game, but you're buying other businesses you're investing.
And so you’re consistently leveling up and that's what it is. And you don't have to get to the next level. But if you want to get to it and you don't get to it, it's just because you didn't beat the current one.
Jason: [00:08:23] Have you ever played the game Age Of Empires?
Eric: [00:08:25] I haven't, but I played a lot of StarCraft and Warcraft.
Jason: [00:08:29] Okay. So there was a game in college that I would play with a bunch of my buddies where the kind of start off in the stone age and you have to acquire wood, gold, and I think food, and as you acquire so much, you actually start moving up to the next stage and then your weapons get better. Your houses get better. Your technology gets better.
And that's kind of how I have always looked at, and that's one of the reasons why we created the agency playbook and that framework of kind of like you're talking about you're going, all right, once you get to the next level, you have to kind of reset a lot of, you know, the gold, the water, the food, and you have to kind of almost start over.
Is that kind of what you're talking about with leveling up?
Eric: [00:09:10] It's exactly that. So StarCraft, Command and Conquer, you know, Warcraft and I'm not familiar with Age Of Empires. It's, it's a strategy game, right? We're all, what we're playing is it's a resource game, right? You decide how you want to use your resources and you can go get more resources than those that do the best job they get the most.
Right. And that's not saying, we, you need to go get the most necessarily, but that's how you do it. That's how the game is played.
Jason: [00:09:29] So, you talk about is the first level kind of a, I don't like to use steal. I like to kind of like reenergize it, like you were saying, you know, Apple wasn't the first that came out with MP3 player, they were the ones that made it better.
Right? They kind of took something, you know, and the mouse you just showed me, I'm surprised he's still using a mouse. Like, who are you? Like he's still using them.
But they made it out of like a soap thing if, uh, from the story that I heard, uh, which is kind of cool. So is that the first level of the 15 that you're talking about is kind of like.
Eric: [00:10:04] No, it's not, I mean, you know, it starts out with, uh, you know, newbie mindset, right? So whether you want to call it newbie mindset or beginner mindset, understanding that let's say you, Jason, you're continually learning, you're getting better and you have an open mindset.
I think, as you become more and more successful as you, you gain levels. Sometimes it's easy to get cocky and let your ego get in the way. And so, you know, there's just those types of concepts. And again, if you compare it to a game, if you get a sword, for example, you keep using it, you're gonna lose durability. Some, some you have to keep sharpening, right?
So on the spot, just because you wrote yesterday, it doesn't mean you don't have to write again. It's to keep training your mind, you know, your physical body. All that stuff. And your life is like just going around, collecting power-ups to make you more efficient as a person.
And, you know, it might be a very kind of, you know, neurotic way of looking at it. But at the end of the day, life is just a lot of, “if this, then that” statements. So we're, we're in essence robots.
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Yeah. I'd see a lot of people trying to over-complicate things, you know, like when I work with someone or when they come into the mastermind, they're trying to think so far ahead. And I'm like, you sometimes just got to go back to the basics. I grew up playing tennis and I played in college. I remember one time, and I tell this story I think a couple of times on the show, where I was getting crushed by this one kid that I was so much better.
And my coaches yelled at me go back to the basic stupid like I was trying to overthink this complicated thing of going. I was like, ah, just, hit the ball over the net and wound up beating them. And I think we do a lot of that in business. We just overcomplicate it. And if we just went back to the basics.
That's kind of why, you know, with technology and you see this all the time, it's a great responsibility and we have all this power. But you can really send people away. If you don't just kind of go back. And I think what Gary Vaynerchuk talks about, you know, the Jetsons going back to the Flintstones and then you can separate yourself from everybody else.
Eric: [00:12:54] Totally. Yeah. That's well said.
Jason: [00:12:56] What are some other levels in the book that you talk about?
Eric: [00:12:59] Yeah. So one of them is about thinking long-term. So I'm just looking at this Pokemon card. You just mentioned Gary V. So one of the guys that used to work for me is now on his brand team. He actually just told me this Pokemon card over here. So it's like, okay, I'm looking at this piece of cardboard. I paid, there's like $75,000 Charizard cards. I paid like two grand for this one.
Jason: [00:13:16] What? So wait, wait, wait. There's a $75,000 Pokemon card.
Eric: [00:13:21] Yeah. So I'll tell you how this all relates. Right? So you're in business. I mean, you can definitely, you know, take a look at trends. What's trending, but also thinking about the long term. So when I, when I buy this thing, if I think about the markets a little bit, if I think about what's going on in the world. Where should I be putting my money?
Okay. I'm not trying to get a return on this immediately. I'm just going to store it. Right. You know, this thinking about art, think about collectibles, so A I'm looking at trends, but also I'm thinking long-term like, I'm totally okay with losing money on this. So. What type of long-term decisions can you make? Right?
So for example, you mentioned profit a little earlier. Can I defer profits for as long as possible so I can build enterprise value in my company, right? And this applies directly to agencies as well. Can I think long term where, you know, maybe I want to work with people. Can I build the right culture?
Cause a lot of agencies that you might talk to, maybe you don't wanna work with these people because they're too short term focused and there's a lot of ego and they just want to make money, right? That's not long-term thinking. So that applies directly into life, and in business in general, you want to work with long-term people and play long-term games with them.
Jason: [00:14:19] Love it. What else? So I'm still blown away by, uh, you know, I look back at all the baseball cards I collected over the years. I mean, I have, Hank Aaron, Mark McGwire, all these amazing ones. I don't think there was anything close to that.
Eric: [00:14:32] One just sold, that's the record, 5.2 million bucks baseball card. A couple, I think a couple of weeks ago.
Jason: [00:14:37] Babe Ruth?
Eric: [00:14:38] I don't think it was a Babe Ruth. I think there was a Mike Trout card that sold for like over a million.
Jason: [00:14:42] Who's Mike Trout
Eric: [00:14:44] You, you, Angels Slugger.
Jason: [00:14:47] Oh, I've been out of the baseball card games since '91.
Eric: [00:14:52] Yeah. Well, but let's see, like now it's like, okay. Maybe it makes sense to get that hooked. The Rock has a U of Miami card. It's worth 45 grand right now. When he, when he was playing in college, right.
Jason: [00:15:02] It's crazy. Well, I'm Florida State. I would burn it even though I do like The Rock. I still like you, Dwayne, but I would burn anything with Miami on it. Yeah. I was listening to something with Gary Vaynerchuk and he was talking about collecting business cards as baseball cards.
Of going, if you could get the original Steve Jobs business card or Jeff Bezos card, that would be interesting, right. And thinking about that. So we're totally off track. I just got so screwed up by the $75,000 Pokemon card, but that's my ADD, what are some other levels that you talk about in the book?
Eric: [00:15:41] Yeah. So, you know, one thing I want to touch upon is the concept of the wealth ladder. And this actually comes from the CEO of ConvertKit, Nathan Barry. And so, you know, when you start out in life, you go to school and then you try to build great habits, right? Whether it's playing sports or games or whatever, and then it's like, you go get a job.
And then the next level after that is maybe you start freelancing on the side, right? Maybe you kind of hold the job to kind of keep you safe a little bit. And then it starts going well, maybe you start the agency, right? Or you can start with dropshipping first. It's not the best e-commerce business model, but then it starts going while you start to hold inventory.
So you're constantly leveling up in your career. And the next thing is maybe have productized services for your agency who knows, right? Or maybe you do go on a pay-for-performance model. You can do that too. It scales really well. Right. Revenue per employee, is super high. Then it's like, Oh, you know what? I got out all this extra cash now.
Why don't I go build a network of X business, right? Or why don't I go build like a platform business? Or why don't I go build less space X? Or why don't I just become an investor. And not all of these are mutually exclusive, but you can see there's levels to everything. And so that's what we were talking about earlier about, that's the concept of the wealth ladder.
So I think those that are listening right now that maybe might be starting out, or maybe doing a couple million bucks a year, just understanding that there's levels to everything. And, you know, I think Jason, I can both attest to this stuff takes a lot of time. So that's another concept.
Jason: [00:16:54] When do you know you've reached the top of the level that you should be? Because I see sometimes people get to a certain level and then they go. Man, I liked it back in the day with like the typical situation with a lot of people, like they're an accidental agency owner. They got kind of thrown into this because they knew how to do something well. They were like a freelancer and then they were like, well, I don't want to do everything myself. So let me hire people.
They hire people. And then they realized that the business is making more money, but they're making less. And they're like, I just want to go back to where it was. And so some people go back to freelancing, which is perfectly fine, and it's just, you've reached that level of where you want to be, or you go find a different level or some people implement the right systems and then they can kind of break through and figure out what's the next step.
So how do you know when you're at the right level or. Should we move?
Eric: [00:17:51] Totally. Yeah. So I think there's two things. There's contentment. And then there's congruency. I think when you're waking up in the morning consistently, maybe three days in a row, and then you're realizing that Holy crap, this agency behemoth that I built, that's maybe doing 20 to 30 million bucks a year.
And maybe I'm not making as much as before. Maybe this is a pain in the butt and this is not congruent, but you still keep finding yourself doing it consistently. So there's no congruency there. Right. So asking yourself, okay, there's something off there. But then also asking yourself to like, am I content?
Forget about the future. Forget about the past. Like, am I happy right now? Am I content with what I have right now? Right. So we're getting philosophical here, but ultimately that's what matters right? In life. Like your operating system up here. If it's not content, then why are you doing what you're doing? So I think taking the time to reflect, I used to just work the entire time, seven days a week.
Now I block out my Fridays and those Fridays are typically just reserved for thinking. I might have conversations with a couple of friends or whatever, but. Block out that time, like, what should I start doing? Stop doing, keep doing what, what really pisses me off right now. And it's just constantly like, you know, kind of updating my operating system, my brain, you know, that's at least what so.
Jason: [00:18:56] Very cool. Let's talk about what are some key strategies that every agency owner needs to know about?
Eric: [00:19:03] You know, I, I think still, like we want to talk about mergers and acquisitions. I think unfair advantage agency owners have, you know, people are like, oh, SEO's dying, whatever, but like, okay, Google, YouTube, hello. Like, they're still one of the biggest companies in the world. As long as there’s search, there'll be SEO.
And, um, the fact that some of the smartest founders I know are really, really good at SEO because it's the compounding effect is so strong. So, let's say you don't really understand SEO right now. That's fine. Can you go use a tool like Ubersuggest or Ahrefs these SEO tools, go find a website in your niche that's ranking for all the keywords you want. Go buy it, right?
And then all of a sudden you have the advantage. You're going to collect all these leads and you can retarget all these people hitting your website. And you can buy these websites for, you know, I wouldn't say pennies on the dollar, maybe dimes on the dollar, but a lot of these websites are, are under-monetized, right?.
So I just think it's people going back to long-term thinking again, if you start with SEO, it forces you into long-term thinking because all the short-term stuff I tried in the beginning, it gets torn up, but the hit, the long-term stuff, it just keeps compounding and it forces you to think like an investor.
So how can you take the MMA mindset that maybe Jason's been talking about on this podcast or in his mastermind, and then using it from a marketing perspective? That's one thing.
Jason: [00:20:13] Yeah. You know, I, I love that you brought that up cause, uh, a mastermind member we've been talking about that quite a bit about buying certain assets that rank really well, and he's been crushing it, you know, on it.
So it's, uh, it's not necessarily just buying the whole company it's buying, you know, assets in order to fit into, you know, those things that you're missing out on, rather than just trying to build it up from scratch.
Eric: [00:20:44] Well, by the way, like, I think that's what you and I are. We're kind of nerding out on before. It's not now it's just buy versus bill and there's a book called “Buy Then Build”, right. And there's another one called “Buying a Small Business”. It's a lot more complicated than it seems. And not saying it's easy, but it's, um. Look, I think if I can do it at least I think anybody can do it. So.
Jason: [00:21:02] I agree with that. No, I'm just kidding.
Eric: [00:21:05] But the other thing too, by the way, I don't know if you've been hanging out, hanging out in the Clubhouse. I've been spending quite a bit of time there. So I I'm investing 20 hours of my time a week in it, but like I'm meeting like two or three amazing people every single day.
So I just think the organic reach on that is super strong. And, um, you know, obviously with these social channels, the bigger they get, the less organic reach there is. So.
Jason: [00:21:26] On Clubhouse, I have been, I like it. You know, my thing is I'm at this stage of my life right now, where I don't have 20 hours a week to invest, or I don't want to invest 20 hours a week in it.
And you don't have to invest that much, but like Eric's saying is you can get that much more back. So how are you utilizing it? Are you just utilizing it to build, you know, relationships? That's what I've been seeing on Clubhouse. What are some strategies around that?
Eric: [00:21:56] So, for those that haven't tried it, I mean, you know, audio-based social network. So for me, it's networking at scale. It's building relationships at scale right now. We're not able to kind of, you know, meet in person as of this recording, but that's what it is. And so you see a lot of these people, like let's use Grant Cardone or Ty Lopez love them or hate them, they're spending a lot, a lot, probably more time than I am on these apps.
Like there's one guy that I'm friends with, um, he was part of this rap group called Pretty Ricky. You know, he's on the app all the time, but it's some of these people, I were, I was just like acquaintances, what's in the past, but we've interacted quite a bit and we start interacting afterward.
So it's reinforcing or building new relationships. Like I never interacted with Grant Cardone before the app, uh, Ty Lopez, same thing. Now I do, right? And then a lot of other influential people. But what I'll say is this too, what kind of came full circle for me was when I was about 24, 25 years old, I reached out to this guy, Dave Capernaum, he runs this agency called Likeable.
And, um, yesterday he was in room. And he introduced himself and I just came. I tried to and I said, hey, like, you know, you actually got on the phone with me when I was 25 for 30 minutes. And you'd talked about this organization, entrepreneurs organization. And I, I owe that all to you because you brought it up and, you know, thank you for that, right?.
And then all of a sudden he's like, oh, by the way, like with your upcoming book, I have 700,000 followers on LinkedIn. Let's do a Live. Okay. And let's also get you an article on ink as well. But that just came from me, like talking about him for like 15 seconds. So it's a lot of serendipity and it's a lot of relationships at scale. You get what you put in.
Jason: [00:23:16] Totally agree. Yeah. I mean, I, uh, I love obviously the audio and I love that it's not recorded and you have to attend live. What I find working really well on Clubhouse is getting in a room with a bunch of people. I mean, if it's just two people talking, not good, might as well listen to a podcast.
I mean, if you can get a ton of people and they're just having a conversation, it's kind of like it amplifies it where it's like you're listening in to someone's dinner conversation around something you're really interested in whether it be growing an agency or whatever it is.
Eric: [00:23:51] Some these conversations like, you know, legit people would be paying 10 to 20, $30,000 for a mastermind to learn. And I hate using that word because it's become kind of this, not saying yours is, but it's dirty and in a lot of different ways, but, um, you know, it's.
So let's say, peer group. Right. But being able to listen to this advice and some of the stuff I listen to, I'm like, oh crap. You know, I'm going to try it. So I have gotten some really good stuff on it, by the way, like the peer group that I do with, you know, Neil, my podcast co-host, we had a live event.
And through Clubhouse, I learned about this thing called a shuttered venue type of grant coming out as part of the coronavirus relief. I didn't know about that. But some guy talked to about, he's like, yeah, you can get this. And like, yeah, we had a shut to our event last year. It's going to come back. But you know, that's what it is. So just little micro-moments like that.
Jason: [00:24:31] Very cool. Awesome. Where can people go and get the book?
Eric: [00:24:35] Yeah, you can go to levelingup.com or you can just go to your favorite online retailer. It's Leveling Up Eric Siu and you'll find it. And yeah, that's basically it.
Jason: [00:24:43] Awesome. Well, everyone go check out the book.
Uh, Eric's a really cool guy. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where. We have a ton of fun. We're able to see the shit that you're not able to see right in front of you. And a lot of times we'll talk about strategies that we don't talk about anywhere else. And it's pretty amazing.
So if you want to scale your agency faster, be surrounded by amazing people and have a lot of fun doing it. Make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.
Direct download: How_to_Grow_Your_Agency_By_Constantly_Leveling_Up.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT
Wed, 19 May 2021
With just a little over two years as the CEO and co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory, Alessandro Bogliari and his team have built an amazing global influencer marketing agency. They help brands and companies launch influencer marketing campaigns on TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube. Alessandro joins us today to talk about how to identify trends and what to do in order to really separate your agency from everybody else.
3 Golden Nuggets
1. Starting on a budget. Growing his company from just two workers to 20 in a short amount of time, Alessandro highlights the importance of being able to grow your agency on a budget. You can still get amazing results on a budget rather than spending money you don’t have.
2. Don’t just hop on a trend. Every time you create content for social media you should always take into account the specific medium, demographics, and type of user experience. Don’t just hop on the new hot thing before you understand it.
3. Be curious. Dedicate some time to research, listen, and read about what’s trending right now. Engage with the new generations and given let them show you how they use social media. You have to keep up. Don’t just read about the new thing in the newspaper, because by the time it gets there, it’s already been happening for a month and it's old news.
Sponsors and Resources
Oribi: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency
Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I talk with an amazing agency owner who's grown his agency to really big and in a very short time for really looking at the trends. And so we go through, how can you identify the trends and what do you actually need to do in order to do that major land grab and really separate your agency from everybody else?
It's a really cool story. I hope enjoy it.
Hey Alessandro, how are you doing? Welcome to the show.
Alessandro: [00:00:30] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Jason.
Jason: [00:00:32] Yes. I'm excited to have you on and tell your story. So tell us who you are and what do you do?
Alessandro: [00:00:39] Sure I am the CEO and co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory. We are a global influencer marketing agency. We specialize mostly in TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Um, we are based in the States, but we also have people in Europe I'm from Italy originally. So I understand the importance of having people both in the US and Europe.
And we mostly help the brands and companies from Fortune 100 up to, you know, direct to consumer stuff of companies, get in front and engage with gen Z and millennials on like major social media. So that's what we do. We help them from the beginning of the like, understanding the KPIs up to reporting and digital analysis.
Jason: [00:01:17] That's awesome. Now, how did you get started?
Alessandro: [00:01:20] Uh, I started a couple of years ago. So the agency is like, you know, fairly new. Uh, started no funding, no VC, just a couple of people. Uh, both Italian and because we started that as a new journey and we understood before I'd say anyone else I think is like, you know, one of the few agencies that understood the potential of TikTok, back in late 2020, early 2019.
Although other agencies and companies were still thinking that like, you know, TikToK was a kids app. It was just something for lip-sync and dancing, but I was a big fan of Vine and it was discontinued, but I was so love with it. When I saw TikTok and I was watching so many videos on YouTube about TikTok compilations, it was a different environment.
It was a little bit more cringy, let's say that, you know, with furries and gamers and everything, but I saw the potential. I was seeing Instagram going down in terms of organic creation. And TikTok was giving the opportunity in a really democratic way to give like in a meritocratic way for everyone to get the spotlight that they did deserve.
And so we said, let's really focus on that and invest on that. And we, we, we have done that. We started growing, we started getting amazing clients on like Sony Music, Universal, Warner Music Group. And then we got Google and some others. And these friends.
And yeah, from two people now we're 20. Again, between Europe and the States. And, uh, so again, it started like, you know, uh, just totally like organic and we're actually growing in that way. And I'm so proud of what we have achieved so far.
Jason: [00:02:51] Tell me a lot of people listening want to understand, because there's always new shiny red objects out there. Okay. And so kind of what you described is going after the shiny red object and it actually working, which is amazing.
And there's always, you know, new apps coming out like clubhouse is out and everyone's talking about it and you know, saying, oh, that's the next big thing and all that kind of stuff. So tell me the, kind of the, the story about. How did you go, all right, let's go all in on this and not just get distracted by all those other things.
And then how did that turn into landing the Fortune 100 companies that you're talking about. Cause a lot of people are going well, how do you land some of these big brands? Like I remember that's how, you know, my agency brain worked many years ago going, man, how does this one company get, you know, to work with Coke and how does this one company get to work with Home Depot and that kind of stuff.
And then, so tell that story a little bit.
Alessandro: [00:03:51] Yeah, of course. I have to say that I have to mention that I've done many years as a growth hacker and a growth marketer, as you want to call it. So it's a lot of like out of the box marketing ideas, it's a lot of like data scraping, SEO, both like white and black and gray, you know.
It's understanding how you can be on a budget. And still get amazing results also without adding maybe millions in your pockets. Because when we started, you know, we, we started at zero in terms of investments. So you have to think about like, okay, what is the typical way we don't have the money to do that. How can you start in a little way? And so, to be honest, like I spent a lot time doing SEO since day one and, um, thanks to that, we got the majority, like we get 95% of our clients, maybe now 90 because of a lot of it it's retention and word of mouth.
But we've got those thanks to SEO, good positioning, referrals, the position we’re on listed. I mean, now just today we are fourth on Google for in terms of marketing agency. And, again, we started two years ago. If you look for TikTok, like, marketing agency, we are second in the US.
So what we have done is that, while we saw for that opportunity especially for TikTok, we created a landing page. And we started doing some backlinking and the competition was zero, right? Like no one had anything about TikToK. And we went all in. We had nothing to lose. We were not like in, in this for two-three years, we were starting from a few weeks. So we said, you know, why go, yeah I mean, we were doing Instagram and YouTube of course, but it was so competitive.
So we said how we can get like an advantage on that and getting in on SEO where no one is dealing there. That was TikTok, we thought. We did that, we did our landing page, easy one. We created some really good backlinks. I've been also working a lot with journalist that we'd did a lot of for free. That's why we have been featured on a lot of publications. Writers, Wallstreet Journal. I personally write on Forbes and many others. We got on ID week and so on.
So, you know, those really good backlinks at Google understands that they are valuable and you start getting the right positioning. And what happened is that managers at these big companies, they, what did they do, they, our people hopped on a ride, so they go on Google and they look for a solution and they find you.
And then after that to start creating case studies, you build up your credibility, your awareness of your branding, your positioning, and after that. If Sony is doing something, Universal Music and Warner Music Group, are going to look at that and say, hey, they are doing this, can we do that? They do some digging and then they found out about the company or the agency behind that, and we start growing.
So it's, step-by-step, it's super long. It's super like, you know, sometimes probably it takes a lot of energy, but again, you can start for some action. I think the SEO is an amazing way to start, especially if you think about budget.
Jason: [00:06:54] If you're like many agency owners, it's very hard to show results and show value to your clients for the hard work that you've done. And up until now, you've probably been using Google Analytics, which is really kind of clunky and hard to use and just been around a long time. And there really hasn't been an alternative until now.
And I want to tell you a little bit about, Oribi now I've checked out this tool and it's really pretty cool. It doesn't require any code for you to track interactions and conversions. There's no more jumping from different platforms. You can track your social and paid media really all in one place.
And it really allows you to build smart funnels and get tons of insights. I mean, literally I've even set it up where I could say, I want this visitor to get to this particular page and it will tell me what's the likely chance that they actually get to this page and what pages are actually coming from.
It's really pretty cool. So, if you want to really kind of get away from Google analytics, I want you to check them out, go to Oribi oribi.io/smartagency. And just for my listeners, you're going to get 20% off the, for the first three months using coupon code smart agency.
I think it's really, really smart. Like you said, there's nothing for you to lose. Like let's just go after TikTok, there's no one doing it. And especially if a big company comes to you for TikTok, they're going to want Instagram and all the other ones out there. So it's just a really smart strategy. And I like how you systematically went through it.
Let's kind of switch focus a little bit, and let's talk about Instagram Reels and TikToK, and let's have some fun about how agencies could use it, because I see a lot of agencies using it very poorly. So let's talk, what's working, you know, when it comes to developing that kind of content or content strategy around it.
Alessandro: [00:09:01] Definitely. Yeah. Good question. I can see a lot of companies that are trying to understand the differences. We just released one week ago, uh, an infographic about basically Reels versus TikTok. We have scrapped and analyzed the 60 active influencers on both platforms that, that, you know, like uploaded at least many videos.
And what we noticed is that in terms of the average views it's pretty the same, like the same in terms of like, you know, of course, like, you know, there are some people getting 50 million, others are getting less, but on average we saw the same. Instagram Reels, Instagram is definitely pushing a lot Instagram Reels, but just because they want to be like, you know, still they're the cool kids, right? They want still to be in a way understanding, especially gen Z.
But what we noticed is that this is that, this is what I say all the time. Instagram Reels is still, in my opinion, even if it's pushing, Instagram, it is still network-oriented, you know? So you follow your, your friends and friends of friends, but at the end of the day, it's mostly about like the people that you start following. While on TikTok, it's a sort of an inverse funnel. No matter what we're following, you're going to see all the time, new content, amazing content from people that you do not follow. Based on the content that you liked. So it's more content-oriented.
That means that, um, what we see is that we can see on TikToK, a better engagement into sub-community. Whenever you go to a TikTok video and there is a trend, or there is a meme on that video, you're going to find tons of people commenting on that and making references to maybe a sub-Reddit that they saw like, you know, some time ago. Or they are talking about now, like, you know, the Game Stop, everything that happened there.
While, um, Instagram it's, a bit more still on the likes, but the comments are more like, you know, I want to say didascalic, but, um, they have less engagement and community, like no type of things. So again, they are pushing a lot on that. But TikTok, the big difference is the strong community.
So brands, I think that they should understand that, that difference. What I say all the time is that you, if you're a brand, you cannot expect to take it on YouTube video, cut it, putting it vertical and put it on TikTok. It's a different medium, different demographics, different type of user experience.
You should shoot all the time a video thinking about the type of medium is going to go. The same also goes for Instagram reels and TikTok. Just one week ago Instagram said, if you're going to put videos with TikTok watermark on it, we're going to show it to less people, right? They want to have original content on that.
So I think that a lot of brands sometimes fail it because they make cringey media started to jump on trends, but they have the opposite effect. They try to be cool, but actually they don't understand what happens. That's why I think that only few brands, whenever they give the opportunity to gen Z employees in the company to jump on that and actually really like make content, in that way they kill it because it's not trying to recreate something that is cool, but actually it's sending someone that understands their own generation and make that type of content.
So long story short, make a content all the time for the right type of audience, the right type of medium, and try not to repurpose the same on different social media, because the majority of times it's just not going to work.
Jason: [00:12:17] Yeah, it's kind of like doing a commercial for CNN and then running that same commercial on the Cartoon Network.
Alessandro: [00:12:23] Yeah. Exactly.
Jason: [00:12:24] Or Nickelodeon, I would be like, people are going to be like, what, what is this?
Alessandro: [00:12:29] Yeah, exactly.
Jason: [00:12:31] Awesome. Well, this has all been great, Alessandro. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the agency owners listening in?
Alessandro: [00:12:40] I'd say, try all the time to understand what is trending. Like not only of course reading the different newspapers out there. Whenever you read the news, it means that it's already been happening for a month, you know, in the communities. Go on, uh, different apps go on the app store, like, and see what apps are trending. What is going to be the future of things.
Whenever possible, talk with gen Z and millennials to understand what is really happening in the background, you know, behind the scenes, because they're gonna go and look for the next app. Right now it's TikTok, what is it going to be next.
Personally, I'm watching a lot closely what is happening in China for such a commerce. And I'm pretty sure that we all know what is happening there. Uh, like, it started already two years ago. It's going to be now in the US and after in the, in Europe and then after Latin America. So instead of just watching what is happening on, in the US and only closely, like, reading the newspaper, try to get like really in the work in progress. Talk with people that are creating the next trends.
And if you jump on those and you're going to be, as we have done in the past, that the agencies that are going to not just understanding those. But understand a blue ocean market getting there before the others and you're going to have a super competitive advantage. So yeah, listen, read a lot that talk with people, do surveys, getting the game there because at the time that you see that in the newspaper, it's already old.
Jason: [00:14:03] I love it. I love it, man. And, uh, what's the website people can go and check you guys out.
Alessandro: [00:14:08] Sure, uh, they can check on influencermarketingfactory.com. It's our website. They're going to find, find the case studies. We also trying to keep up like it with different blog posts about of course, like, you know, TikTok, but also now more and more on social commerce, we're going to also work now in our reports.
So yes, that is the best way to do that. And I need to want also just to connect with me. Uh, you know, they can find me on Instagram with @alexeidos, that is my username, if they want to. And I'm always open to like, you know, get, if they have any questions super epic to like, you know, help anyone that wants maybe to start agency or some young people that want to understand more about what does it mean to be an entrepreneur.
Jason: [00:14:44] Awesome man. Well, thanks so much to go check out those resources. And if you want to be surrounded by amazing people that can see the things you might not be able to see that understand the agency world, and you want to be in the know and really see those trends. I would like to invite all of you to go check out the Digital Agency Elite.
This is our exclusive agency owner mastermind, where we're constantly scaling faster. We're growing and having a lot of fun. So make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.
Direct download: How_to_Keep_Your_Agency_Relevant_By_Staying_On_Trend.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT
Sun, 16 May 2021
When Ben Childs founded Digital Reach in 2011, his mission was to create an agency that operated with integrity, honesty, and skill. Over the years, he has grown to become a leader in the B2B digital marketing space throughout the country, leading a team of 38 people. Today he's here to talk about the things he wishes he knew in order to scale his agency faster.
3 Golden Nuggets
Sponsors and Resources
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How Does Ben Solve Big Agency Problems?
Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I chat with one of my mastermind members that has grown a really nice size agency. And we talk about culture. We talk about some of the things that he wished he knew about in order to scale his agency, to close to 40 people, and really still enjoy it and create that freedom that he wants, rather than that prison.
So. Let's get into the episode. I think you'll enjoy.
Hey Ben, welcome to the show.
Ben: [00:00:32] Good to be here, Jason.
Jason: [00:00:33] I'm excited to have you on. We've known each other a while, you've been in the mastermind. So tell us who you are and how did you get into this crazy agency life?
Ben: [00:00:42] Yeah. So my name is Ben Childs. I'm the president of Digital Reach Agency. We're a revenue-focused B2B digital marketing agency focused on SAS, tech, startups and enterprise, search, marketing automation, design development, and Account-based Marketing.
How I got into it is not too dissimilar than I think most people. I had a job at an agency that was pretty crappy. I kind of woke up one day and realized they were pretty churn and burn. So I moved up to San Francisco with a lot of my buddies and I got a job, this is dating myself, at a Daily Deal startup back when those were a thing and they ran out of money and didn't have a lot of prospects.
So I took the, uh, computer. That was my severance package from that job, went to RadioShack next door and got a Magic Jack. And just started calling people from my grandma's dresser that I used as a standing desk saying that I could do their digital marketing.
I had sold it before, but I had never done it, so just, I knew the holes in the market and just said, "Hey, I'll be doing the work. I'm going to undercut everybody on price. And you can trust me because I need the money for rent." Sold my first few people without a website, cause they were like, yeah, I love it. Let's do it. And that was nine and a half years ago.
And now we're 38 people and. Doing bigger stuff than that.
Jason: [00:02:00] I love it. I always tell everybody when they come to me about starting an agency and they're like, what do we need? I'm like, you need to know how to do something really well.
Ben: [00:02:09] Yeah. One of the things I like about the podcast is there's no real like service kind of education, because if you're not good at what you do, there's not a lot that you can learn from an operations or client management standpoint.
And so I think that's something that, you know, when I talk to people about starting businesses, I'm like, well, are you like good at it? And they're like, yeah, I guess it's like, well, maybe you should. Look, I learned on the fly and I was up at 12:00 AM, blowing up Adwords accounts, learning on the fly.
And I, you know, I wished I had known better, but the fact is, is you're going to learn some hard lessons along the way, either way.
Jason: [00:02:44] Yeah. Well, yeah, I mean, you never do it perfect. And especially too, when we look back and we go, oh man, I wish I knew this before I hit the million mark or before I hit the 2 million mark.
So, what did you wish you knew back then that you know now.
Ben: [00:03:02] I wish I knew that I can raise my prices. Raising prices still is terrifying, but I hired a Director of Sales from a bigger agency. Gosh, like five years ago. And the first thing he did is just like doubled my prices. And I was like, that's scary. You can't do that. And he just goes, just shut up, Ben, just watch this.
And honestly, people took us more seriously. We started getting more kind of rarefied clients and got taken seriously at the table. And we've just found that raising our prices, you don't want to make it too necessary due to expense creep, but just kind of the more we charge, the more seriously people take us.
And you get to the clients who expect that and expect to get longer contracts and expect to have a more gentlemanly relationship than, um, a lot of the riffraff that you're going to get undercutting everyone's prices.
Jason: [00:03:54] Well, yeah, I mean, I was kinda like you in the very beginning. It's like I was on a race that I didn't want to win, a race to the bottom.
I'll be like, oh, I'll like he said, I'll undercut anybody just to make rent. But I feel that a lot of times you have to do that in the very beginning in order to really kind of cut your teeth to figure out. It's kind of like, I always use it as like a buffet. Like you got to try out all this stuff, but it's almost like figuring out which buffet to try.
Like, you remember when you're in college or really young, you go to like the $5, all you can eat buffet and then like you would leave feeling really, really bad.
Ben: [00:04:34] Yeah. It's, um, but you don't know how to do it. And I know you had someone on a while ago who I think they were doing PR.
I remember that person who like. Bought a warehouse to like ship a bunch of stuff and it was insane and she knew what she was doing. And she was like, I started off boutique and I started off charging huge prices because we are good. And I started off like many people kind of owning a job being like, I guess I'm doing this now. And I was 23, 24, whatever it was.
So it's been a ride. It's amazing. Looking back.
Jason: [00:05:06] Yeah. And now with a team of almost 40 people, you know, a lot of times probably looking back too, and some people listening are like, man, that just seems like. A lot of headaches. And I remember kind of thinking back because I looked at it in phases. Right. And you probably look at it in phases as well.
Like, you have five people and they're all reporting to you, you know, it's overwhelming. And then you start getting up to 10 and they're still all reporting to you. And you're like, how do people do it with more people than this? So, did you go through that situation?
Ben: [00:05:38] You know, what happened was, is about a year and a half on, I brought on a couple buddies who were just kind of looking for either. One of them had gotten cut from minor league baseball. One of them, uh, was a professional poker player looking for an additional revenue stream. They're both geniuses and we've been friends since we were kids. They're geniuses. And I brought them on and, um, we ended up kind of doing it together. And so I had a pretty good team from day one in terms of people that could handle stuff.
So I would say that the issue for me is they do still handle stuff, and this gets into culture, but talking to the 37th or 38th person here, I just can't handle their problems. And I'm such a people person, and I just radically validate people, which I think comes across to clients and it comes across to employees too.
But you get to 38 people and you kind of have to focus what your time is on and be okay delegating to other people. And I know there was a person who was afraid of us hiring someone over him. And normally I would have been on like a two-hour call with them, you know, saying it's all going to be okay. But you know, you're at 38 people and I told you earlier, our biggest client raised their spend to a lot of money with us. And I can't spend two hours on the phone with this person talking about their job. They're either going to leave or they're not.
And that seems cold, but it's not because I have people that deal with that and I need to delegate to them. And they're very good at their job and they're better at that than I am. But choosing where to spend your time just becomes more and more imperative because I just love talking to everybody. It just makes me feel good and doesn't make me any money.
Jason: [00:07:15] Yeah. There's like a mind shift that I feel you go through when you really truly start scaling where you go. Well, I could do it this way. And I could do it myself and save money, but then you're like, well, all my time is in this. Versus just outsourcing it or bringing on someone to go do that where you might make a little less profit, but you know, at the end of the day, you're trapped.
Ben: [00:07:40] Yeah. I think of the book "Built to Sell." Where he talks about owning a job. And he talks about almost like a cause that's about the difference between an entrepreneur and someone who has an entrepreneurial seizure. A lot of people that start agencies have an entrepreneurial seizure where they're just like, I'm going to do my own thing. And then you end up owning a job.
And the fact is, is he says, it's better if you don't know how to do the thing you're doing. I have that benefit. This world passed me by, I'm a caged lion who forgot how to hunt. My partner, who's a genius, is deep in a lot of this stuff with clients. And that's something that I've worked on because he needs to work on other stuff, but he keeps getting pulled back in because as our clients go up and he just gets better and better at this, you know, we need to take a step back and work on processing and scaling.
And it can be difficult because it's always easier to just say, I'll do more myself. Great. I'll do it. And it's a tough mindset. And also you just have to make that decision over and over again. It doesn't just happen once.
Jason: [00:08:44] So when did you start realizing the role that you needed to kind of transform into in order to really scale the agency?
Ben: [00:08:53] Probably, uh, just recently it took me a very long time to get out of, um. Well, I'm still very involved in sales, but it took me a very long time to get out of every fine detail of sales. And that was a process. I think you remember you posted to the group, Marty chiding me in his legendary.
Jason: [00:09:14] Oh, I remember that day. I was like, oh wow.
Ben: [00:08:53] I, um, Again, I just love to love if you're listening to this. So, I interviewed a salesperson who I just loved and we had a great time at like an arcade in Seattle and it was great. And I was telling the group, I was so excited and, I just did not do my due diligence. And Marty from Bad Rhino just, just gave a 15 minute. Just tongue lashing. And I just sat there and took it because he was right.
Jason: [00:09:44] It was out of love too.
Ben: [00:09:46] It was, it was honestly, he was like apologizing. I was like, no, this is great. This is why I'm talking to others.
Jason: [00:09:48] He called me, like, after he was like, man, I kind of feel bad. I was like, no, no, no. I was like, that's why we're all in the mastermind to hear the honest truth. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.
Ben: [00:09:58] Well, and Jason, I think, you know, I'm super transparent and super honest. So I'm not there defending myself saying that what I did is amazing. Cause I have an ego. It was very educational. But to that point, I ended up, uh, having another Sales Director come in, that was at a different agency.
I actually think it's valuable that they weren't sales-focused before. I like to see my sales team as almost more like project managers, kind of, that are just like very consultative and then getting our subject matter experts involved. That can end up being a little bit more expensive, but you just show people that you're the real deal.
And so that's only recently happened. And so if you're talking about what role I fill, I'm kind of learning that every day. Being an entrepreneur, you can wake up in the morning and just stare into the abyss and you could do anything, which is kind of awesome, but kind of terrifying.
So I'm learning more about culture. I'm learning more about process. I'm learning more about integrating the 39th and 40th person. I'm learning more about finances. You could be at a premium and lose money. You can be dirt cheap and make money. What happens on the backend matters. So I'm learning more about that. I'm trying to shed my kind of fun character that I play when I'm just ignorant of the day-to-day business and just here for fun.
Because, you know, if you're down 10% at a million. Yeah, it's a little bit. If you're down 10% at 4 million, that's a lot. And if you're up 10% at a million, it's a little bit. And if you're up 30% at 4 million a heck of a lot.
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Love it. Well, let's talk about the benefits of niching down and not niching down. Because we see this a lot and I always chat about it. What are your thoughts on this?
Ben: [00:12:38] It's easier at the beginning to not niche and it's, you just need the money. You take everything, all money is good money, and you just kind of need to learn your lessons along the way.
If you start niched, that's great, but it can be difficult to find the right opportunities. For us, we went hard B2B like five years ago, but like, if an e-commerce company wanted to pay us money, like, okay, super top secretly, I'll take it and not tell anybody. So we niche down to a persona. Really. There's usually niching verticals and there's niching services. We've just decided to niche down to a persona.
So, in our industry, B2B SAS in tech, the director of demand gen and the CMO, we just want to like wake up in the morning and know what they're thinking. And any service we provide, we need it to be, you know, we, we do a great job at marketing automation and it's in direct response to enough of our clients saying, we will pay you for marketing automation, because no one does it good.
Just being like, okay, let's do it good. And then we can here with them. They tell us what's wrong, what needs to happen. And we build and build, and now like you present it to someone and they're like, holy crap. Like, I didn't know, an agency could do that for me.
That has its own downsides. You know, the Chris from Rankings.io, we always joke that he does SEO for personal injury lawyers that are 40, that have two kids that live in this specific zip code, and he charges a heck of a lot of money. And he probably doesn't have to worry about the utilization rate of different people and stuff like that. But there's benefits to some niching. As we've seen, it's a differentiator.
So we're not entirely a me-too agency. And there's benefits to doing a lot because you can fulfill needs. And, you know, I mentioned the client that's spending a lot of money. I can pivot a lot of different ways to make sure that they're getting value. So last year our churn rate was positive just because of upsells and various people getting involved.
But. You have to, this is one of the reasons why I'm trying to get a better handle on the backend and the finances. It's you run a little thinner, you know, we're awesome at chat, but it's like, okay, do I capitalize that department to basically get ready to go out of the gate? Do I make it run on its own revenue?
All of a sudden you have several little digital agencies that you need to be an entrepreneur on.
Jason: [00:14:58] Yeah. It's, I always tell everybody in the very beginning, you got to kind of try out everything. Unless you really know what you're meant to do. And then even as you do it for years and years, and you see a lot of the bigger agencies doing this, they become the masters for that vertical or that horizontal niche. And then they start creating other practice areas.
Ben: [00:15:20] Yeah. Yeah.
Jason: [00:15:21] And they can actually grow. And I always tell everybody too is like, look, when you pick a niche, you still can take on work outside of it as long as it fits it. It's just, you're just marketing to that. And it's weird. When you market to a particular niche like a lot of us have seen, we'll have people from outside that they were like, we've heard your stuff. We want you to help with this.
And we're like, you came off the website? Like most of this. So I just want to kind of get rid of a lot of people's worry because so many people fight it for so long. Or don't fight it. Like just keep going after all of them, but it just, when you can get a little focused, it makes things a little bit easier in order to, uh, to grow.
Ben: [00:16:03] Yeah. And it makes sales easier. I mean, if you're doing one service on one vertical teaching someone to sell it and be able to speak words that the other person just jumps at is real easy. You know, for what we do, I need someone to come in with a little bit more experience who's done it. And that costs money.
But, you know, the idea is that makes money, but things get a little simpler when you niche down and we're continually niching down on who we work with and what we do.
Jason: [00:16:32] That's awesome. And tell us some of the benefits, because I always joke that when I ran the first agency, I was in search to kill mode. Like I would have never talked to any other agency owners.
I would have just like searched and destroyed. And I always joke, like I would have never let myself into my own mastermind, which is the wrong mentality. And I've learned that over the years. And I want everybody regardless if it's our best run or whoever's mastermind, or you guys create your own, what's the benefit that you get from chatting with other owners?
Ben: [00:17:04] Yeah. I've never considered myself to have competitors. Even people that we go up with. If I do, like, I should just be more different. I should just look at what I'm doing and make it different than they are, because if they're doing what I'm doing. Like from the prospect, why are we different? I think there's a major benefit because it just frees you up.
And this is just from an entrepreneurial perspective, it helps justify some of your decisions and make you more confident. I was giving the example, like we were having trouble getting paid from a client and I brought it up to the mastermind and you gave a great, great answer, which was like, yeah, you can do whatever you want. Why don't you like send them flowers?
And I was like, I didn't know. I could do whatever I want. And that seems like a silly thing to say, but you get into your routine of day-to-day. And honestly, like, that's a lot of my job now, now that you mentioned it, as president, is I talk to people on the team and they have this problem. And I say, well, why don't you just stop doing that?
And they're like, I can? And it's like, yeah. And I don't expect them to wake up in the morning and stop working on a client just because they want to, but I have the opportunity to say, why don't you just not work on them and let's fire them. And that's the benefit of talking to a mastermind group is they're able to just be like, Hey, why don't you just not do that? I'm like I thought I had to.
Jason: [00:18:28] Yeah, I know. It's just getting that outside perspective. You're so close to it. And I think a lot of times we're so emotional. Mostly connected to it where we just can't see the solution that's really apparent. Like you talk about something and like literally the other 10 people are looking at you going, you know exactly what to do, and then you hear it and you're like, Oh duh, that's so easy.
Ben: [00:18:52] And, and that gets to the other benefit for me is I just realized I had something to offer. There's just been several questions where I go, oh, I absolutely know this answer. I did it. The prospect said this, it went great. Or just people have different personalities. So I can open up someone to be a little bit more direct, a little bit more transparent or something like that.
But to your point, yeah, I mean, we're talking and someone in the group was like that wasn't the first time I blew 30 grand. And I was like, oh, that guy has his stuff together. And he makes mistakes too.
Jason: [00:19:24] A lot of times what I've found too. Uh, even when I'm leading it or been in other masterminds myself, I'll give someone advice and then I'll have to ask the question. Do I do that?
Ben: [00:19:38] Yeah. You almost like put on a brave face and you're like, why don't you tell the client this? And then it's like, you get on a call and it's like, whatever you want, Mrs. Client. How high?
Jason: [00:19:48] Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Well, awesome. Well, Ben, this has been amazing. Thanks so much for coming on. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?
Ben: [00:19:57] Yeah. I just want to say, as you scale culture becomes more and more important, and that is like such an amorphous word. I'm a big football fan and culture is just being used over and over again to where it's overused, but really it's, if you're listening to this podcast, you probably started an agency and the agency is really you.
And the goal of culture is to just scale that out to where people make decisions you would make. They act in ways that are congruent with how you would act, even if it's not exactly how it's to where, you know, the 39th and 40th person can come into a, oh, this is how this works. And it's different than my previous agency.
And it gets to everything in your agency from employee experience perspective that clients can tell that you have a great culture and your client wants to be there. So, that's something that I'm really working on and I've just found it more and more important because when you do that, all of a sudden employees give you the benefit of the doubt. All of a sudden employees buy in and want to help you throw out a goal and people use their creativity to help you.
And it's not an adversarial relationship. They're part of something. So that's, um, it's something that I'm working on and I've seen the value of. And, maybe next time we talk, I'll give you an answer as to how I found it.
Jason: [00:21:14] That's awesome. Well, I mean, it's always accidental and I always tell everybody, as, as you're building your culture, it's what you believe in. And you have to figure out and let everyone on the team know, you know, where you're going and why. And that gives them the power in order to make those decisions. And it's, it's great to see you figuring that out.
And that's why you've come so far along. It's like, you know what to focus on now and you've been focusing on it and that's great.
Ben: [00:21:40] You also have to pay attention to your habits, you know, how you live your days it's how you live your life. And so for me, I've had to really guard because scaling, you can just like, oh, just work more. Or, oh, sorry, you're going to have to work the weekend. And then you start building those habits and that just quickly becomes how things are done. And expectations. And so you really have to be on guard for getting in front of the right habits and taking a stand and be willing to lose a client or be willing to give someone a break for screwing up. And you learn it when you learn it.
Jason: [00:22:15] Exactly. Well, awesome, well, thanks so much Ben for coming on. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we can see the sh*t that you can't see. And we can, uh, help you along. And so you can scale a little bit faster and have a lot of fun doing it.
I want to invite all of you to go check out digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind where it's only for experienced agency owners. So go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.
Direct download: How_to_Double_Your_Digital_Agency_Prices_Without_Losing_Clients.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT
Wed, 12 May 2021
Chris Dreyer is the founder and CEO of Rankings.io which is an agency specializing in SEO for personal injury law firms. Chris believes in being super niched in order to be successful for his clients. He says it takes extreme focus to deliver great SEO results and therefore his agency does not offer any other services or work with clients outside the legal industry. Chris is on the show to talk about how he's grown his agency beyond the first million and is now looking at an 8-figure revenue.
3 Golden Nuggets
Sponsors and Resources
Oribi: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency
How Did One Digital Agency Grow to 8-Figures?
Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I bring back a repeat guest, friend, member, client on the Masterclass, and we're going to talk about how he went from a million in revenue all the way up to eight figures in the past couple of years. And we go over all kinds of really amazing stuff. So I think you're really going to love this episode and let's get into it.
Hey Chris, welcome back on the show.
Chris: [00:00:30] Yeah, thanks for having me, Jason.
Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah. I'm excited to have you back on. It's been a while since you've been on the podcast. Obviously, we chat all the time in the mastermind and back and forth about Star Wars and all goofy stuff. But for the people that haven't listened to the first episode, tell us who you are and what do you do?
Chris: [00:00:49] Yeah, my name's Chris Dreyer. I am the CEO of Rankings.io. We own a personal injury law firm SEO agency. So very hyper niche, both horizontally and vertically, and yeah, just excited to be here and happy to discuss it.
Jason: [00:01:05] Yeah. So last time you were on, you were just kind of cresting the million in revenue, and now you're a much further, so kind of take us through that journey a little bit about where you're at now and what are some key things that kind of looking back of going I wish I knew this time and I could have even gotten to your level now faster.
Chris: [00:01:30] That's a great question. That's also a really loaded question. Jason, still try to talk about all the areas. I feel like I had my white belt and then I put on, I don't know the jujitsu levels, but I felt like I had my white belt and then you kind of get your brown or whatever the next level is at a million.
And I think, you know, we're, we're approaching that. I don't even know that I would say black belt, but. Yeah, we're probably on target for our goal. This year is $9 million, stretch 10. And so it's, it's been a huge change across the entire company. I feel like we have a real business now. I think the difference is when you go to that million mark.
The owner can wear a whole bunch of hats and really hustle and get to that million mark and just fill, you know, use their, their sphere of influence and kind of depend upon referrals and get there. But I think that you actually have to do marketing, have to generate your own brand, your own inbound leads to really transition towards that, that eight-figure mark.
There are, if you think about the main components of a business, so you've got finance, you've got marketing, you've got sales and you've got operations. Finance wise. We implemented Profit First because I found out the hard way. I took my licks. The first three or four years of my business, we kept growing a hundred percent, but my revenue wasn't increasing now, it was investing back in the business.
But for me, it was becoming more stressful in those times. I'm like, well, why do I need a $2 million business when I'm making the exact same? So I had to learn how to be financially healthy. And as we grew, also, our profitability would grow. That was a big one. It took some time. Anyone that's read the book Profit First, it's this lean mentality of working off of less and considering profit.
And when you're don't have any profit to create those percentages, it takes a lot of work. So I would say that was a big learning lesson. The second on marketing again, we were depending upon referrals, our entire staff. I think I had one marketing individual and. Which is funny. We still have one marketing individual, but our marketing spend's way higher because we used strategic partners, but everyone was centered around operations and doing great work.
And that helped us get referrals from our clients and helped us build to that seven-figure mark. But continuing off of that, it's feast or famine on referrals, which I know you've talked about.
Jason: [00:04:02] But I like the way that you do referrals. And I love that, you know, at the experience you were like, I want to call you out, Jason, about referrals.
Cause you know, I always joke with people. And I'm serious about referrals aren't scalable if you're waiting for them. But the way that you do referrals is you're not waiting for them. You're giving ammo and you're building strategic partnerships where that is scalable and you've built an amazing business from that.
Chris: [00:04:31] Right, right. But yeah, we kind of joke back and forth. You and I, and. Basically is anytime you put attention towards something and you're intentional, it can create something and activates it. So we, after reading Chet Holmes book, the Ultimate Sales Machine, where he talks about his dream 100 clientele list.
I'm like, well, what if we did our dream 100 referral partners and were because we were so niched that there were a lot of services that our clients needed though, that we didn't provide. So I went and sought out individuals that we were trying to find and identify the best Facebook ads individual, the best pay-per-click the best, everything, video production, the services that our clients needed and really develop those intentional relationships.
So that, that really was very powerful. I think a lot of people have a scarcity mindset when it comes to competition in air quotes. When in reality, there's a lot of abundances. There's a lot of opportunity and you can actually have this rising tide type of effect, where we refer a PPC company, PPC leads, and maybe they don't do SEO and they can refer us SEO leads.
So it's, there's some mutual benefits there.
Jason: [00:05:43] Yeah, I love that. I mean, yeah, that's something I wish I did better at the first agency because I was just trying to murder everyone. If you had agency in your title, like, you know, you were my enemy and I felt like you were trying to take from me. But I liked how, you know, after I sold, I realized seeing a lot of what you do and what other members do and all that. About how that's has helped you and just also seeing how much work is actually out there and only taking on that perfect work that you look for is really big.
In switching focus a little bit. I think too, one of the main things that really changed a lot for you. I remember lots of conversations around this, was pricing, figuring out charging the right amount.
Because I feel a lot of people are way undercharging and you've kind of take it up a notch even above that.
Chris: [00:06:41] Yeah. It's a great question about pricing and. I think one of the benefits of niching, particularly as niche as we are with just personal injury firms, you can really understand the market and understand the levels of competition.
I know the SEO specialists with giant egos listening are probably thinking, Oh, I can just go to Moz or SEMrush and do a competition analysis and know exactly what I should charge. No, that's probably not the case. There are, there are intangibles that play into competition, and really understanding those intangibles and what it takes to create leverage to rank a particular industry is different.
And that's the thing that we started understanding is, by working with just personal injury law firms, we could model the individuals that were successful and apply that to the other firms. Because the legal vertical is a very fractured environment. They're geography, they're there in all different places around the country, around the world.
They have different practice areas. It's a very fractured type of environment. So the competition in Los Angeles is entirely different than St. Louis. And in some cases, Atlanta and the, uh, Orlando could be more competitive than a Los Angeles or Chicago, it's because of who's there. And who's investing in their marketing. Several years ago, Louisiana from a digital standpoint, had no competition.
Now you've got Morris Bart. You have Gordon McKernan, and you've got these individuals Labrador Earl's investing a lot in their marketing. So the dynamic has shifted, but that was a very long-winded way of saying it really helps to understand your market. But we started, I think in our first conversation, we talked about that foot in the door, the audit.
It basically allows us to set strategic targets and really understand who our client is, what their assets are, what their unique selling proposition is and what their competition truly is on a deeper level. And a lot of our competitors, they kind of try to play that against us. They'll say, Oh, well, we do an audit for free and other people charge $5,000 - $7,500 bucks.
Well, guess what? Your audit sucks because if it's free, you're not putting a lot of staff and time, and effort into that audit. It's automated by some tool. And it's garbage. So that's the difference. And the discoveries really helped us determine what we needed to do to get results from clients.
Jason: [00:09:16] Yeah, I love it. And the last thing I want to chat about, that I, I feel that you've done really well is kind of the structure and the different levels that you've created within the agency. Because a lot of people are like at the million, I feel that anybody can get to the million mark and a lot of people can maintain the million mark, but getting to the next level like you are, it's very challenging.
And a lot of times we go, well, who do we need to hire in order to get further along and really scale the agency rather than just kind of hit that glass ceiling? So what were some of the roles or what was the mindset that you had a couple of years ago in order to make that transition and really start scaling?
Chris: [00:10:05] It's a great question. And I obsess about operations and the right people in the right seats, more than any other thing. I think it's the most important aspect of running a business, particularly in having the ability to scale and scale with quality. The things that we've done is we've created, there's this big controversy, right?
You've had the pod people on and let's do the nomenclature really quick. So a pod is a cross-functional unit. That is cohesive. They're self-governing. Each individual has their own function in the pod that contributes towards a goal. And then you have, what's more traditional; the traditional hierarchy and the teams where a team has individuals all in one function.
So you have all the developers together, all the account managers together. And there are pros and cons to each. The pros of a pod is communication, collaboration. It's, they're self-governing, they can operate in their own P&L. That's kind of the pro. The con is they're harder to start up. You have individuals who don't have soft skills.
It's harder to, uh there are a lot of challenges and those situations, um, then with the team. The pro and I'm kind of getting long-winded here, but the team is you have a deeper level of expertise, but there's challenges in those communication silos. So, we really embraced after a lot of time and energy and reading about the biggest organizations, whether it's GE or a Ford motor company or Toyota, or Apple, we really embraced teams. Functional teams.
Because even though there's the downside of communication silos, you have extreme levels of expertise, deep level of expertise. Which by the way, Apple who is gigantic, that's how they operate is, they have teams, not pods and they have this deep level of expertise and they talk about their challenges.
There's a great article on Harvard business review that talks about their organizational structure that I really encourage individuals to read.
Jason: [00:12:16] Love it. Well, this has all been amazing, Chris, and I appreciate you taking the time for coming on the podcast and everything you do to help out the mastermind.
Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?
Chris: [00:12:29] Geez, I think the most important thing is to, you know, think about your operations. Right people, right seats. And then also one thing that's not talked about as much as to eliminate waste, where are you leaking money?
What tools should you not be using? What individuals aren't truly driving an impact for your organization? You need to evaluate those situations too.
Jason: [00:12:50] What, uh, I guess the last question, since I lied. In figuring out how to eliminate the waste, what's the best way to figure out where you're wasting money?
Chris: [00:13:00] Yeah on the tool and software aspect as an owner, or if you have a CFO or Director of Finances to do consistent reviews of your P&L and your vendor expenses. That's a big one that you can bring your leadership team. Uh, from a utilization standpoint, it depends on if you're using vendors or if you have in-house labor.
If you have in-house labor and you're doing almost everything in-house, you need to track it to see if individuals are really contributing for utilization. If you're using vendors, you're paying for a unit. So it's a little bit easier to track that.
And, um, it's having a scorecard or jumbotron, whatever you want to call it, to have this top-level view of your metrics, to understand where there are leakages because you can see on the scorecard where they exist.
Jason: [00:13:46] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Chris, for coming on, everybody, go check out Rankings.io and follow Chris and what they're doing, they do an amazing job. And it's been an honor to see how far you've progressed year over year. That's why we do what we do.
And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing owners like Chris, and figure out the things that you might not be able to see in front of you because you're just too close to it I want you guys to go to DigitalAgencyElite.com.
This is our exclusive mastermind for really experienced agency owners wanting to scale faster, do really cool things, and be surrounded by even more amazing people. So go to DigitalAgencyElite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.
Direct download: How_to_Grow_Your_Digital_Agency_to_an_8-Figure_Revenue.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT
Sun, 9 May 2021
Brent Weaver is the CEO and founder of uGurus. He leads the vision for the company and creates educational programs that help agency owners work on their business to drive additional revenues, increase profits, and create freedom in their life. Brent is here to share his insight on referrals and the importance of choosing a niche for your agency.
3 Golden Nuggets
Sponsors and Resources
Wix: Today's episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out Wix.com/Partners to learn more and become a member of the community for free.
Is Your Digital Agency Fishing in the Right Pond?
Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I talk with Brent Weaver about why referrals just aren't scalable and why it's so important to pick a niche. I hope you enjoy this episode. Hey, Brent, welcome to the show.
Brent: [00:00:13] Good to be here. Yeah, I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and, uh, a little bit about the agency that you're in and what you do now.
Yeah. So, uh, my name is Brent Weaver, CEO, and founder of uGurus. We are a business school for digital agency owners. We primarily work with agencies that are kind of 1 to 10 person range, really helping them to track more leads, win more deals, delivering delight for their clients. They can profitably scale their agency and achieve some freedom in their business in life.
Before, uh, we're coming on into the ninth year doing this business. But before that I ran HotPress Web, which is a digital agency based in Denver, Colorado for about, I guess, about 13 years. And, uh, grew that from, uh, my business partner and I from, uh, us in our bedrooms and high school to a 14 person thriving agency in downtown Denver, uh, serving over 300 clients.
And, uh, we had clients like Dish Network and Anheuser Busch Inbev and all sorts of, uh, smaller and medium-sized businesses across the board.
Jason: [00:01:17] Awesome!. Did you sell the agency? Did you were like, Oh, we don't want to do this anymore? What's the what'd you do?
Brent: [00:01:23] Yeah. So we did the business did get acquired by another shop in Denver.
We had probably about two years before we sold the business. I started to blog and build some training programs for agency owners, and we had done some deals with Adobe. And so we, um, Kind of started kind of riding two horses at the same time we had the agency business, which was growing really well. And then we had this thing that, uh, myself and my business partner would do, you know, a day or two a week.
We'd go and, you know, create videos, we'd go do our own thing. And, uh, and so we kind of felt like we were starting to run two businesses at the same time, but also I think just as I'm sure, you know, right. The impact that we had on. Other agency owners that were like following our processes and our methods, like we were getting all of these, thank you letters in all the time for people that we'd really helped them transform their life and their income and their freedom.
And after a while, it was kinda like, Hey, we really enjoyed doing this. And we wanted our agency to go and be in a good place. So we had some really great opportunities to get that business acquired. And so we pursued one of them and it turned out really well.
Jason: [00:02:24] Awesome. Let's talk about after high school, um, and do an agency, right?
Because I think I know how, how it goes in high school. It's like, dude, I can, I can get some money for a year.
Brent: [00:02:37] I was basically working uh minimum wage $6.25 I think an hour, at the time, at a fabric store and somebody paid me $500 to build them an order form for a candy store out of Michigan. And it took me about a day and I was like, cool.
When I went to my boss at the fabric store and said, I'm going to go ahead and do this other thing. Cause I basically made like, you know, two months wages in a day. So, so that was that.
Jason: [00:03:03] That's awesome. And so if you could go back to when you were starting, what would you have done differently? How would you grow the business?
Brent: [00:03:14] I think for me, it's, you know, finding that audience, a high-value audience that you can leverage your skills to get really great results. For, as I mentioned, our first project was a candy store in Michigan. The only reason we got that client was because my business partner's dad would go hunting in Michigan and, you know, he'd go buy at this candy store and he'd pick up, you know, they'd order stuff.
But then they'd grab these order forms, uh, to order stuff. When they came back to Dallas and they would have to fax the order form in, and Shernis, uh, the woman that owned the store would always, you know, have to call it. Well, I can't read your handwriting, you know, there's this like whole thing, a community that supported this business.
And we just happened to kind of be a solution for that business. Right. But this tiny little candy store in Michigan, right. I mean, she wasn't making massive money. And so yeah, we built this thing, but the value of it right. Was great for her, but like, you know, it wasn't like it was worth $50,000 or $500,000, right.
Or something like that. But I think that we could've, our same skills could have easily fetched us a lot more money sooner, but because we were fishing from this pond, that was kind of like the local neighborhood pond. Right. Like we only had the network that we had access to. I was making a lot more money than I would at the fabric store.
Uh, I think there were other high-value ponds out there. And I think that's the thing that. Um, when we eventually figured that out, right, let's go hang around businesses that are, you know, making millions of dollars or tens of millions of dollars or like Dish, you know, billions of dollars. And it's just a totally different way to do business.
Right. I mean, I remember when we got Dish Network as a client, I mean, they'd come in with these like last-minute deadlines, but they'd basically give us a blank check. They'd be like, Hey, as much as you guys can work over the next two weeks like we'll take all of your team's hours for the two weeks, and we'll pay you a premium on that time because, you know, we have some big deadline or whatever, right.
And so it was just fundamentally a different type of client to work with versus where your, your skills might not be as valued. So I think that the audience component is something that we eventually learned. And once we started hanging out with businesses who, you know, in the millions of revenue, like budget became not like inconsequential, but it became a much less deciding factor in terms of like who you were, you know, what kind of work you were doing.
Jason: [00:05:36] Yeah. I always found that when you first start out and I started out doing websites for 500 bucks too, I don't know why it's always, you know, 500 bucks, but you always think, well, that's the max someone will pay. Or if I charge them twice the amount, I have to do twice the amount of work versus figuring out that audience, like, you know, Dish Network. Like our first one, I think our first big client was like Wter.com.
And they were a billion-dollar water brand, like Crystal Springs, Hinckley Springs, Belmont Springs, all these different Springs. And it kind of changed our mindset of going, Oh, there are these bigger companies that will pay for value rather than pay you for the amount of hours that you actually work.
Brent: [00:06:20] Like a lot of people, I got convinced that your prospects sometimes start to dictate your mindset a little bit.
And when we first opened our office in Denver, we were trying to, you know, we're in a conference room, we were thinking about, hey, where should we get new clients? And we thought, hey, maybe the chamber of commerce, right. Or something like that. And they were running these classes for brand new businesses.
We thought that was a prime audience, right? People are like, ah, you know, all these new businesses, they all need websites. Right. But the problem was, they weren't established. They were $0 revenue. They were sole proprietorships. You know, these businesses that maybe had 10, 20, $50,000 a year in annual revenue, which is, there's a lot of businesses out there.
There's like, almost 20 million businesses in the United States that are making $50,000 or less per year. So there's a lot of them out there, which is why Wix and Squarespace and GoDaddy and all these major brands are going on volume. Like they focus on that market, but for us as a small services shop, not a huge market like that.
And so I was going and teaching these classes and I'd have all these people come up to me and say, oh yeah, maybe you can help me build a website. And so we'd go through the proposal process or I'd go through even qualifying and they'd say, well, yeah, well, we only have $500. We only have $1,000 dollars.
And while we had done some projects for $20 or $30K, I started to convince myself that that was the market now for websites that like getting $1,500 for a website was like becoming really, really difficult. And, and I started thinking, okay, well, we should build our business based on volume or this or that.
Like we were trying to solve the problem. And the only issue at the time really was. I was fishing in the wrong pond, right? Like, no matter how many cool sales methodologies I could use, no matter how much, you know, value-based language, right? Like if the pond that I'm fishing from literally has businesses that are, you know, $50K a year in revenue, like, you know, selling a $10,000, $20,000 website to them, it doesn't really make sense.
Jason: [00:08:13] Very cool. And so how did you figure out the pond that you wanted to the fish after? And like, how would you do that over again? Cause I find that a lot of people struggle with that. And like you were saying, you kind of go to the chamber of commerce, you get a couple of clients and then those referrals actually dictate how your next couple of years are going to go because it's always the same or lower.
Brent: [00:08:35] So I think once we sat down in a room and said, okay, this is not working. Right. So we looked at, you know, where was all of our money coming from, which I think is a really good exercise. There's this concept of the pareto principle where 80% of your yield or revenue comes from 20% of your inputs or originally it was like somebody looking at, uh, land ownership.
Right. But this concept is, has played really well in business. So somebody had kind of taught us that we looked at our client base and we looked at who you're making the most money from. And yes, we did have a lot of clients that were small potatoes and they were taking up all of our time, but they weren't really getting us the results.
So we looked at all of our clients instead of, hey, who's actually driving results for us. And it was, by and large, it was organizations that had, you know, had been established for five or more years. Had over a million dollars in revenue. Uh, for the most part, they had dozens of employees, whether it was a nonprofit or whether it was a business, you know, some of our clients had tons of employees.
So we started looking at this and saying, look, let's just at least start saying no to anybody that hasn't been established for more than five years, it's less than a million dollars in revenue. And, um, you know, that has less than, let's say, 30 employees. So that was step one was at least identifying, Hey, here are some qualities, some constraints that this audience has that is actually driving revenue for us.
And let's start saying no to all those other things. So which created some capacity for us to look at other types of businesses. The second question to that though is we started asking ourselves well, okay. So these are the clients that are driving all of our money. We know who is helping us make more money.
We want more of those clients. So the second question is where do they hang out? Where do million-dollar businesses hang out? Right at that time, I really wasn't super educated on like verticals or really this idea of niching. To me, it was like a foreign concept. And if anything, it evoked a little bit of like resentment or disgust like, Oh, I could never niche. Right? Um, but we at least started asking ourselves that basic question, right? Where do these million-dollar businesses hangouts? And we start identifying organizations, there's organizations like EO. YPO in the Denver area, there were organizations like it was called Diner. It was like Denver Independent Network of Restaurant, uh, something.
Right. And we started identifying these groups that these businesses hung out. And so for example, I went and gave a talk at the Diner Organization, which was basically this group of about a hundred Denver-based restaurants that were all roughly over a million dollars a year in revenue, right. There were the most successful restaurants in Denver that were independent.
So I wouldn't give a talk at this group about how to leverage their website and social media to get more butts in seats. And there was like the same number of people that were in my old Chamber of Commerce classes. You know, there's about 15 restaurants, right? Except in this instance, I gave this talk, and then, you know, half a dozen restaurant owners came up to me and said, Hey, I love what you're doing.
We don't have anybody that can do this. It's great that you're teaching me this, but can you just come in and do it for us? And every single one of those clients turned into a 10 to $20,000 initial project with ongoing, you know, 10, 15, 20K a year in work. So like one talk in the right audience. And it was a fundamentally different conversation afterward.
And so that was where a real light bulb I think happened for us, was like, Oh wow. We can go in. Share do the same thing, right? The dynamics are the same, go teach stuff, share stuff, give tons of value. And if the pond is just a fundamentally better pond than, you know, we're going to have different results.
Jason: [00:12:02] Yeah. I love to teach how to do it because there are so many agencies that think if they do that well, you're giving away the secret sauce. And at the end of the day, there's no secret sauce, but people will actually decide to work with you if they actually understand the plan. Like, I always tell everybody when I used to race cars and I would teach people how to go through a corner at a hundred miles per hour, like a 90-degree turn.
And they'd be like, there's no way. But if I could actually communicate and show them, there is a plan for them not to die and then actually demonstrate it to them. Then they're going to always. Be able to like, Oh, I can do that. And then like, I'd always laugh with my other buddies and be like, oh, now they're faster than me.
I was like, crap. I need to tell him, be like, hit the brakes harder there.
Brent: [00:12:54] Well, I think that the fundamental, like, I mean the classic agency business model of staff augmentation, where at the time we had, let's say a dozen people working at our agency for a company, even an established company to go up there and hire a team full-time to be a part of their organization is a lot of money, right?
I mean, if you're going to go hire three people to be part of a digital department, I mean, that's $50K in salaries a month, plus all the other stuff that comes with having a team. Right. Whereas you can pay an agency, you know, maybe even, it sounds like $50,000 is a lot of money, but when you put it in the context of the alternative for most businesses, or maybe they hire a, a jack-of-all-trades person that has 19 responsibilities within the business, and one of them happens to be maintain a website.
Right. And they don't have the experience to, you know, really do like hardcore SEO or pay-per-click or build funnels. Right. Uh, so I think at the core, right, like agencies. Want to showcase their skills, uh, almost like a job interview, right? I mean, it doesn't make sense for most businesses to go out there and hire an entire team.
Right. That's why agencies exist. Cause you can snap in those skillsets for a fraction of the cost. I think going out there and teaching what you do showing the results, uh, also is a big part of that showing your potential clients, Hey, this is what you can get with this kind of, to your point, right?
Demo-ing, I think is a big part of that pre-sales process.
Jason: [00:14:14] When you actually start doing this and you're, you're growing your agency, what's the mistake that you see a lot of agency owners make, or a mistake that you guys made with, you know, in terms of referrals.
Brent: [00:14:27] I mean, look, referrals are, referrals are great.
I mean, who doesn't love a referral, right? Uh, when, when somebody sends you an email and says, Hey, you got me great results. And here's my friend. You know, Joe and Joe need your results and you should, you guys should talk. Right? Cause then you get that a little bit of that credibility passes on. Right. And so referrals are, are great.
Uh, the problem is they're not really predictable. Uh, they're not really scalable. Now I've published content. We've published blueprints about how to create systems around referrals, but even that right is kind of dictated based on the size of your network. Right? How many clients do you have? If you have 10 clients, you probably can't go to all 10 of them every day and be like, Hey.
Can you give me another referral, right? Whereas, you know, with something like Facebook ads, right. I can go to Facebook every day and they will take my money and they will put my ads and in front of audiences. Right. So I think that referrals as a strategy, I call it kind of a non-strategy. Uh, it's hope marketing.
It's, you know, referrals are table stakes. You should be out there doing good work and that should create referrals for you. And that will be like one leg of marketing, you know, game plan. Right. But you're, you can't really sit on a one-legged stool, right. It's not super comfortable. So we need to have a couple of other legs on that stool.
And so I call those marketing engines, right. We want to have a couple of additional marketing engines outside of referrals. To help, uh, your business get those consistent leads that are predictable, repeatable, and scalable. Those are kind of three qualities that we want to see out of them. When I, when I say marketing engine, we should be able to put in a fixed amount of money, money, or time and get a predictable result on the backend of that.
So the biggest mistake kind of back to your original question is that I think agencies, a lot of times they're so busy doing the work. And building stuff with their clients that they forgot to go out there and build awareness for themselves because they're so comfortable. With referrals because referrals are so easy.
Like it's like the difficulty from relying on referrals, actually building marketing engines, uh, for the first time is actually a pretty big jump because referrals require you just to focus on your clients, which is what a lot of people are used to. Right. But going out there and proactively building a marketing engine feels like a lot of work.
And so they don't do it. And I think that that was the biggest shift for us, right. Where we went from being passive, passively engaged in our marketing to going, Hey, you know what we need to actually. Really invest in this. We need to put somebody in the business. That's in charge of this, of the marketing component of the business.
A lot of agencies out there treat themselves as they're, you know, they try to treat themselves as their own best client, uh, which is just, I mean, it's a recipe for disaster, right? I mean, we know that, that just doesn't work typically. And so we started this to shift resources, right? Both hiring internal staff members, dedicated to marketing the agency and then also hiring other agencies.
To help us market our agency.
Jason: [00:17:14] Very cool. And so what's one example of a marketing engine that you see really working well.
Brent: [00:17:21] So I think there are three kinds of categories of engines. One is content. I mean, you're definitely awesome at this, right? You publish a ton of content. You're super consistent. You've got the great frequency of it.
Another engine kind of category is partnerships. So finding other people that have your ideal client, either as their own clients or on a list. And then the final one is a paid advertising. So I kind of focus mostly on a track-based strategy where we're putting out. You know, the information we're putting out messaging and then the right people are coming to us.
I'm not a huge fan personally of operating outbound and no, it's a great strategy out there. But I think for, if you're trying to get into a position of authority with your clients, I think that publishing becoming an influencer in your niche is the way you create raving fans. Right? It's really hard to create a raving fan through, uh, through outbound connection where somebody has never heard of you before.
So in those three categories, I mean, one example of a content-based strategy. One of my clients does is they, um, they speak on stages. So it's pretty simple calculus day. Every time they go and speak on a stage where they're virtual or physical. Right now, right now, the physical is not really happening. So they've moved a lot of their stuff to virtual.
They get anywhere between five and 15 qualified leads. These are longer sales cycles. But they have found that if they get about 20 to 30 qualified leads a month, that gives them enough energy to like to keep their sales pipeline like over full, right. They always have plenty of opportunities for them.
Their marketing engine is really simple. Get on two stages a month and that's a solved problem for them. So their only marketing activities are really. Booking out those stages. So at any given time, they might have four to six months of stages booked sometimes even more now, before COVID hit, I think they were up to like 12 months of stages.
And then all of a sudden, a lot of it evaporated and they did have to kind of rebuild that in the virtual space, but you know, that's a marketing engine, right. They know that if they go put their hour or two hours a week into outreach to, you know, other associations or organizations in their niche, that they're going to get that next stage book.
Right. And they just keep kind of putting some time into that engine. No, they're not out there doing Facebook ads. They're not out there trying to publish blog posts. They're not out there on social media. Like their whole engine is just getting those stages, uh, booked onto their calendars. And then they're, they're just done.
Right? So that's an example of content, right? Where you're out there, gigging in your market.
Jason: [00:19:50] Awesome. Very cool. Well, this has all been great. Brent, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?
Brent: [00:19:58] You know, I think that I mean, just on that last point of gigging, I think that this is kind of back to that.
The core of what agencies can be doing for them. It's probably one of the one areas that I spend the most time coaching, which is. Helping people get out there into their market and building that confidence to share their content, share their expertise, start running ads, those types of things. And, um, I think that's probably one of the areas that I think people could always spend more time on or, or spend more money.
Right. I've got clients who, before they came to us were like a Facebook ads agency. That's not spending any of their own money on Facebook ads. Right. And so, so trying to figure out how to fuel your engines and being confident that if you do that, You know, you're going to get results. I once had a client that before we started working together, you know, they're trying to attract $50,000 clients and they were scared to spend $500 in advertising.
And that's one thing that I think. You have to think about it in the context of your client's value is like, if you're going out there trying to attract $50,000 clients or a hundred thousand dollar clients, right. The amount of effort that you need to put into that engine is probably at least somewhat proportional to, uh, to the output.
So that's something to think about as you're starting to build your marketing engines
Awesome. And, uh, you have a book out that everybody can go check out on Amazon. Or tell us a little bit about the book.
Jason: [00:21:16] Yeah. So the book is called, Get Rich in the Deep End. And, uh, the basic premise is how to overcome that dependency on referrals and word of mouth as a digital agency owner, uh, how to identify your audience, build those awareness channels, attract the right clients, establish yourself as an authority in your niche, and then build systems and processes to acquire.
Those prospects and leads. So we walk you through basically those five A's of audience awareness, attract authority and acquire. And the book is a little bit different in that we follow an agency on our story. This is kind of an amalgamation of a bunch of different clients that we kind of created a narrative in the story.
So it makes it really easy to read. It's a pretty simple concept. And, um, yeah, we'd love for you guys to support that it's called get rich in the deep end. I think your viewers would love to read that book. Awesome. Well, everybody go check it out. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want, and to be surrounded by amazing agency owners that can, you know, really see the stuff that you might not be able to see, and really know what it's like in order to grow above the eight-figure Mark or beyond.
I want you all to go to a DigitalAgencyElite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind where we're always looking for the right. Agency owner that can have fun that can share that'd be transparent. And that really wants to scale very quickly. So go to a DigitalAgencyElite.com, and until next time have a Swenk day.
Direct download: Is_Your_Digital_Agency_Fishing_in_the_Right_Pond_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT
Wed, 5 May 2021
Fran Biederman-Gross has grown her firm Advantages from a local printing business to a global end-to-end communications agency. As the CEO and founder an Inc. 500 company, she leads her clients on an invaluable journey of brand discovery that reveals their 3 keys: Purpose, Values, and Story. She joins the Smart Agency podcast to get really deep with understanding your purpose and communicating it in a way that gets your team and clients behind it.
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How to Unlock the 3 Keys of a Values-Based Agency
Jason: [00:00:00] Hey on this episode, I talk with an agency owner friend who talks about the real importance of having that North star, that why. And what are some of the things that you can do in order to figure your why out. Or make sure that your North star is the real deal. And then you have that complete clarity to make the right decisions that your team has the right decision.
So I hope you enjoy. Hey Fran, welcome to the show.
Fran: [00:00:32] Thank you Jason so much for having me today. What a fun time we're gonna have.
Jason: [00:00:36] So, uh, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Fran: [00:00:40] My name is Fran Biederman-Gross. And I am the CEO of an agency called Advantages. I'm a co-author of How to Lead a Values-Based Professional Services Firm, wife, mother, all those other titles that go in there.
But most proud of my professional work on the Three Keys and the agency that we have that in this demand generation bringing ROI to close the gap between marketing and sales.
Jason: [00:01:07] Awesome. Well, the mother is the hardest job. Uh, that's what I've learned. And, uh, the thankless job.
Fran: [00:01:17] You know, it gets better as they get older. I'm going to say not easier. Just better.
Jason: [00:01:21] Yeah. Well, I'm still waiting for the easy part.
Fran: [00:01:26] Yeah. I don't know when that comes.
Jason: [00:01:28] Exactly. So tell us, how did you get started in the agency life?
Fran: [00:01:32] Oh, in short, my late husband and I started a printing company pretty much out of college. It actually started as like a stationary business of taking overruns and pedaling, if you will, all over the streets of Manhattan and Queens, because there was a stationary corner virtually in every store, you know. There was a store on every couple of corners, if you will. And in the back, there was a printing company where you could order stuff that you need.
And then in the early nineties, I'm going to say that Staples opened up and really revolutionized how we bought things and then the internet exploded and how we bought things. So there wasn't really that need, but we really evolved into this incredible agency because I asked a lot of questions.
Like, why do you think you need that? Or why do you want that print quote? Or what are you going to do with that? So that whole curiosity of why really resonated, especially when I met Simon Sinek back in 2004 or five. And really, and pretty much as an innovator of taking the golden circle and bringing it to life. And that's how the agency, of course, I bought one and took that apart and created this really phenomenal Inc 500 agency in New York. That's very, purpose-driven.
Jason: [00:02:48] Let's talk about why did you buy an agency? You already had a business because you know, I'm always very curious on why people buy when it's pretty easy entry to get in. But I'm also on the flip side, like the agency that we're running now is like, that's all we do through growth is buy.
Fran: [00:03:04] So it's, you know, it's actually a really great question and I'm going to say that.
If you just isolate my life experience just as a matter of fact, not to get emotional in any way, but my late husband passed in 2001 and he was the debonair, very suave, very emotional, very friendly salesperson, and he would walk all the buildings. We went through 5,000 business cards, literally in every three months and he passed his card out and was so personable and was so memorable that we helped people all the time.
Not only in stationery and supplies and print, but we began to solve problems. And when he passed as you know, his voice still rings very clear in my head. You're such a waist behind a desk. I had to get out there and figure it out.
But what really resonated with me was the, problem-solving it wasn't what form do you need, or what brochure do you need or what trade show are you going to and how do I help you? But like, how do I really solve that problem? And what do people care about? And I needed, um, it was a very expensive education.
That's really why I bought the agency so I could actually dismantle it, which is what I did.
Jason: [00:04:18] Yeah, I see. So many times people will buy their first agency and then they just shred it apart. But it's just, it's a process like anything, and it's exciting to see and see where people have, uh, you know, taken it.
Let's talk about like, I love Simon Sinek. Like I haven't read any as books, but I love the Ted talk. I don't read any books. So.
Fran: [00:04:40] Hey, listen. As long as we're open and honest, I read my book probably more than any other book out there as I was writing it, but I'm not a big fan or a love of, you know, just reading.
I don't think I get so much still time either. So I'm right there with you. Ted talks are amazing.
Jason: [00:04:56] Yeah. I love them. So people always struggle with figuring out their why, and it sometimes takes them a very, very, very long time. And they always think like, well, let me like, just jot something on a piece of paper and that's my why. And I checked the box.
What was the process that you went through legal? I feel it's so important. You know, as I talked to thousands of agencies over the years, A lot of us were accidental kind of like you, right? Like you open up this printing shop, stationary shop, and then you start asking questions.
Right. And it was an expensive education for a lot of us, rather than coming from the agency world and knowing exactly what not to do from the big firms. Right. And going to go do it. And we never spend time figuring out that why or getting that clarity. Until five years later or sometimes, or how long did it take you to figure out that why?
Fran: [00:05:56] Well, I was in a unique situation. I was married to a very dynamic best friend who was very clear that he just loved when other people would get attention and they would stand out for all intents purposes, get noticed. Right. As our tagline still states to this day. And while that attention is really important, the question is how do you manage through the clutter of it?
But it was very clear to him and I, as we founded the company, you know, that's really what we love to do. When you really can connect with that, and I'm going to be honest with you, sitting down to do a wide diagnostic is a slog. That's the best four-letter word I can use to describe it. And until you surrender to it, you're just not going to do the deep work that it requires.
And what's amazing is when an entrepreneur does it and goes through that slog doesn't matter what business they own. It doesn't matter what industry it's in. There is an overarching thread and commonality between everything that they do. And this has really been my life's work because you know, the book is all about the three keys on how to unlock purpose and profit.
How do you get to profitability? Well, the quickest way is to do what you say we're going to do attach the dream. Cause that's where you know, all of your emotion and your drive really comes from, cause it's what excites you. So when you can articulate that really simple statement, that has a cause and an impact. And sometimes "so that" in the middle of it, it guides everything.
And it, look through the pandemic, it's made us almost infamous on mergers and acquisitions and how we can get people to come together. And how we can get people to pivot. And what's the next thing they should do. It's such an unlock, right?
So you have to discover it. You have to unlock it and then figure out a way to infuse it. Everything we do is always in those that three-step process discover, unlock, and fuse. But honestly, Jason, you gotta surrender to the slog.
Jason: [00:08:02] Yeah. When I start working with agencies, I tell them like, look, this could be a long process of figuring this out.
We'll keep doing other things, but it's very hard to figure out what's the next move when you don't have this. I was working, uh, I was telling you in the pre-show, started working this one agency that goes after nonprofits. And I was like, why do you do this? And they just kept repeating the typical BS that agencies... we want to make a major difference in the world.
And I was like, no, that's not it. That's not, it. It has to be that North star, which gives the ability to your team to get excited, to make a decision behind it. And then he was just mentioning, he was like, well, I would love in the next five years to help nonprofits raise a hundred million dollars.
I'm like, You're getting closer. It's measurable. People can get behind it. And then I was starting to tell them about ours. I was like, look, I just wanted to be like our whole why, our North star has to be a resource we wish we had when we were running the first agency. And then enabled our whole team to be like, what do we need to do?
They don't have to come to me as the toll booth and everything flowing through me, which is, this is just stressful shit.
Fran: [00:09:21] Here's a really good news. Jason, we have synthesized this so succinctly that you can pick up a copy of the book and read the appendix and it'll give you the whole outline and the theory and the things that you need to go through if you want to DIY it.
Or inside of pretty much, I'm going to say between six and eight hours, we get really clear. And you know, for us, when we, when we take on any client, we have to really identify these three keys that we talk about, right? Your purpose, your values, and your story. Now, a story there's a million books written and how everybody can tell a great story.
But the bottom line is it has to be memorable and you can't be the hero in it. Right? That's the big takeaway from story. And values to me, you start with that because you can actually separate the things that you value, that are wired to you as an individual. And that we can almost have another session on values, but when you just talk about purpose, like that's right, that the two, the fragment of the two sections of the equation of what this formula looks like, you're talking about the contribution and the impact.
And once we can identify what those two things are and not confuse them with the things that we, that we truly treasure and, and value, then you really get somewhere. And that will help any agency owner really get very clear on where the organization is going and how to rally the teams around them.
Like you said, it's really important to do that.
Jason: [00:10:52] So for the people listening that don't really have their North star, maybe they have a North star, but it's really it's like the East star. They're not there. Right? Where can they start? Like, what are some of the steps?
You know, the actively people listening, they'd be like, all right, let me get the sheet of paper. What do we need to do?
Fran: [00:11:09] So the first thing is you need, you need your mindset. There's one famous exercise that I'm really infamous for is, you know, on a sheet of paper, write 1 through 28, and just tell me what motivates you to get out of bed every day? And just keep going down.
And for some, it's funny, why 28? Because that's the page that we designed that had enough space between the lines, it was just an arbitrary number. The point is, is to get to the place where it's actually hard because people.
You know, we'll start with the easy things or like, Oh, I got a bed 'cause my alarm clock rang or I have to go to work today. And I have to brush my teeth and I get out, I get out of bed because, you know, I want to make the world a better place for my kids. And then you start getting to the hard stuff and the stuff that you don't, they can't really articulate.
And there's a good reason for it. Right? So this is science. This is biology. You know, your brain has a has a section. That doesn't have the ability to speak and you have to actually force the feeling to articulate the feelings, right? Like as, as agency owners, as marketers and branders, our job is to articulate how other people feel, if we're purpose-based anyway.
So if you think about it, we have to do it for ourselves. So the way that I want to make people feel, how can I articulate that? Even though I don't have the words. So that's one of the reasons why it's such a slog.
Now, being an outsider. Right. I've done thousands of these. And it's really easy for me to see viscerally, emotionally, where somebody's going, what's hard, help them through this slog to kind of like, I wouldn't say babysitter handhold, but just make it easier. Because you know what happens. Right?
We get stuck on something. We struggle. We procrastinate. And like, yeah, we'll pick that up later. Yep. It's going to take a long time. So I'll give myself permission to do that. But if you really want to get a headstart, you will sit down. And you will work through the hard stuff and you will really well slog through it and you will get to a place that it's in the ballpark.
Might be not wordsmith might need, you know, you would get the essence and the essence is really all you need. Cause that will manifest differently depending on what you're doing. The essence never changes.
Jason: [00:13:22] So after you write down these 28 line items and really like, really spend some time on it. And I love that you have, you know, go past the easy part because people are like, cause I want to make a difference. Like, yeah yeah. Well, and then tell me more about that. Right. It's kind of like the Larry King, like tell me more, tell me more, tell me more and then tell me that again.
And then you really kind of drill down into it. What's the next thing that the listeners need to do?
Fran: [00:13:48] So it's the same thing, but instead of telling me more, it's just why. You got to go five deep probably. Right? Because one, two is probably surface. You know, if you're really self-aware, you're gonna, you're gonna nail it and you're going to get clear or you can answer in less than five.
But the fuzzier you are, the more it takes and there's no right or wrong. There's no judgment on how many times I have to ask you that question. It's just about getting you to think and ponder to tap into the emotion of what feels right.
And then what I like to say is we have to pressure test it. Okay, great. So there's just, again, a series of other questions that I would think about, but what you're looking for is the secret sauce of looking through the patterns of your life, on anything that comes to mind. There's no right or wrong. So it's like, if I ask you to do this right now, like Jason, if I said to you, I'm going to ask you, tell me three different points in your life grade school, high school, college, you know, the most memorable event.
You could tell me something different today and something different in a week from now. And it wouldn't matter because I'm looking for the pattern. Trying to understand why, what were you doing? Were you so excited about something you accomplished? Somebody else, you know, you attributed somebody else to accomplish it?
We're just looking to identify those patterns. And once we can really articulate those patterns, we can decipher. And that's a very important word, right? Is it the way you do it? Or what you believe in. So deciphering that, and that's where a lot of people get really super fuzzy going through core values.
Like I was, I hate the word "core values". I believe that values are individual to a person or shared to a team organization or a community. So help me understand how I contribute and align to the organizational values as opposed to, what I call pin the tail on the visceral verb, right? How are you feeling today?
Because if I had a really crappy day or somebody, something really traumatically impacted me the way I go into that exercise with my team would suck and would totally influence it. And this is why people, you know, redo their values every few years. And this is why they put them on walls to remind them, but they don't live them because they don't...
Jason: [00:16:01] Yeah. I hate the exercise that people do around core values, because it is like total BS, like, you know, as we're recording this, you know, over the weekend, Tony Hsieh from Zappos passed away, which is horrible. But he was a big believer in really living the values. And I had a number of different people from Zappos on, and we talked about how those values actually go throughout the whole company.
And it all is like you were saying, it's you mentioned the key word believe. Right. And I think even Simon Sinek talks about it in his Ted talk is like, people don't follow you because it's you. They follow you because of what you believe in or something. I might've butchered it or something.
Fran: [00:16:45] I'll give you the quote, cause I say it a lot. "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." So when there is an emotional connection Between people, there's a commonality, chances are and something they align that they believe in, even if they can't articulate it. Right. You feel it, you feel it with your best customers, you feel it with your best clients, you feel it with your best employees, you feel it. Right?
It's this unspoken feeling again, going back to the biology of it. We can articulate it. The famous the Groundhog Day. What gives you the most energy? That's definitely a tip and trick to, to pressure test. Like, did I get it right? And I want people to be complete when they build a why statement, you know, you talked earlier about your own. Right?
Creating a place I wish I had for myself and that's mission-driven. But what's the impact on the other side? Right? So that these agency owners can have the life that you had or could have the life they want.
Jason: [00:17:45] Yeah. And so, yeah, we always talk about like, so they have the freedom to pick and choose and do the things that they love.
Fran: [00:17:50] Exactly. So that's a complete statement. See, I knew you had it. I just didn't get it earlier, but I, you know, when you remain focused, you know, the clarity that brings. Every program you do every, whatever it is podcast episode, everything is anchored to will this serve that or not? And that's when you have a permanent North star.
And when you get clear on that really early on. The exponential hockey stick growth, you can get to profitability really clearly.
Jason: [00:18:18] And so after now do the 28 things we asked the why, right? Like we have real core values, which I believe they're just your core values because you surround people that believe in those not that are your identical twins. So then what's next after that?
Fran: [00:18:33] So, I mean, there, you have it right now. How are you going to tell that to other people? So breaking it down a little bit on the three keys, purpose inside purpose is your why. This is exactly Simon's point. Everybody has one. You only have one. I don't care how many businesses you have.
I could debate that with anyone and show you the common thread. And you also have your vision. So you were very mission and vision-based inside that permanent North star.
Jason: [00:18:59] Describe the difference between vision and mission. I think that's important.
Fran: [00:19:03] So a lot of people get this really confused. Right? So tell me the dream that you have and tell me what you're going to commit to doing or dedicating yourself to doing every single day to achieve it.
So it's easy to look at a nonprofit that says I want to eliminate hunger, right? That's the vision, that's the dream. And what is this nonprofit going to do to actually contribute to that? You know, move the needle effort. Are they going to open a soup kitchen? Are they going to raise money to feed starving children?
There's all of these different missions that strive for that bigger vision. And by the way, we might have one organization dedicated to that vision and we might have different divisions that activate it in different ways. So common vision, differentiated mission. Right.
Someone's physically feeding children. Someone's physically taking care of vaccination. Someone's, you know, there's water, right. You can get so, so detail-oriented on what that vision could be.
That's another reason why people partner together, right? We both want, we have common vision, but we go about it differently.
And then you go into the vision into the values. So like you said, right, everybody has our own individual values and this is really why I try so hard not to use the word core. Yes, they are core to each of us as an individual. But when you look at an organization, we have to share them.
We might go about them differently. We might believe there are different aspects to them, but again, we'll go back to essence. The essence is the same. So when you can discover what these values are as an organization, you can really unlock them. We've built a really great framework, which is also easily identifiable in the book. Right?
Very simple path. They can't be aspirational. They have to be actionable. And you will use them as a decision-making filter for everything you do. And when you can empower your team and align them on what I call the underpinning of your brand foundation, which are these three keys, which is the verbal side of your brand. You will empower your entire team to mobilize further, faster with greater efficiency, hence the result of profitability.
So the way that you do that is the third key is through story, again. You know, starting with the emotional, why is this important? Like I've rewritten the way that a case study should be rewritten. Why, how, what -very simple Simon Sinek golden circle rule. Start with why this is important because nobody cares.
What's the opportunity, or I wouldn't say the problem, but what's the risk? What's in it for me? How can I identify to the problem that you were having and what was the result? Right. Because we all want the results. Nobody really cares about how we did this. Oh, we built this website and did it with... no one cares about that.
We just want the result of whatever it was that achieved this common opportunity or problem?
Jason: [00:22:04] My really good buddy. Ian Garlic, AKA Sasquatch, he calls me his little friend and I'm 6'3". He's bigger than me, but, uh, he calls them case stories and I hated case studies. But you know, how he taught me over the years is like you were talking about, is start with the results.
Do you want to know how one person did X, Y, and Z? Yes. And, really go into it and tell a story around it about around, like you were saying, you know, the emotions. Cause that's why people really buy or engage with you is to fix something that they feel or to get something that makes them feel good or something.
Fran: [00:22:41] Achievement is very fulfilling. And when someone can call me and say, wow, I had the same problem that this guy did on your, in the cases of, you know, that I see, or I heard about this, or someone told me about that. It's like a double brand validation because they're coming to me to solve that same problem. And they understand that we understand how to solve it.
I mean, that's the work of a case study, case story. And I love that word. We also call them, you know, like story sharing, story, doing story, being so almost to take case stories to a 2.0. How does the brand play out the story that they tell, right? How does their culture, how are they being, how are they doing?
What are they doing in the world? And what are the story that they're telling? So it's, um, it keeps going and going and giving and giving if you will.
Jason: [00:23:35] Yeah. Well, Fran, this has been awesome. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?
Fran: [00:23:40] I would just look at the pandemic as a really interesting opportunity.
As I sat down, like most of everyone else in the shock and awe of what the world was starting to experience thinking like this wasn't real. And then it was, and then for some businesses, it was much more impacting than others, but it's like follow the money and follow the opportunity.
We talk about results-driven and performance-driven, but the money is now from the government side is really going to be repairing these small businesses.
So how can you activate, you know, a grant in the marketing space, in the branding space to upgrade your team's skills so that you can actively participate? And we've really stumbled and proven a number of times now in the last few months, how well that's working. And for the smaller companies and I mean $25 million and under, a quarter-million dollars of budget and under, there is local and state grants that we have triangularly figured out how to actually help you. So as an agency, you can unconventionally figure out other programs where you can add other lines of business that you can expand on your own. Like we have.
Jason: [00:24:52] Yeah. I love being resourceful. You know, I always, when people come to me, they're like, I've tried everything.
I'm like really tried everything? Tell them to start listing. And then I tell them, make a list. And it was like two things I'm like really? That's it? And then they start laughing. I'm like, got to keep going, man. There's a solution out there. Somehow.
Fran: [00:25:13] There always is. It's like Jason, if I had more time to just, you know, go down my own list, I would, I'm sure I could learn a few things myself, because I don't know. I guess resiliency, I've been through a lot in my own life and we've come up from the ashes a number of times before 2008 to 2010, there was a whole revolution in what's needed. And 9/11, you know, took out a fair amount of manufacturing and businesses that we were very involved in.
And we've been there, done that. So this time the belief and the historical understanding, knowing that there is opportunity out there. I just had to find it.
Jason: [00:25:51] Oh yeah. Yeah. I always tell everybody I'm like, this is the perfect time to really kind of grow. Like I know everybody freaked out in March 2020. And then I think like a month later, then it was just like, you know, everything just kind of just kept skyrocketing in agency space. You know, because everybody started realizing how important agencies are to them and how digital and online and all of that. And there's, there's always opportunities.
So, and, uh, when I look back at, you know, when we started in '99 or 2001, or like you said, '08 and even, you know, I guarantee you're looking back in five years from now at this point, right now. It's a golden opportunity, even though there's lots of people hurting right now, you know, medically and that kind of stuff, but economically there's huge opportunity.
So hopefully all of you figure out your why, your value, you guys tell the right story and you guys can get there. What's the title of the book and where can people go buy it?
So the title of the book is how to lead a values-based professional services firm. The three keys to unlock, purpose and profit.
Fran: [00:27:02] They can go to 3KeysBook.com and explore a download the intro, et cetera. See some videos why we wrote the book. You can also find it on Amazon and pretty much every other book reseller. And I would say, check it out.
Jason: [00:27:02]Awesome. Great. Well, everybody go do that. And if you guys enjoy this episode and you guys want to be surrounded with amazing agency owners that share the same values that you do share, probably the same why about growing their agency and scaling agency.
I want you guys to go to DigitalAgencyElite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind for experienced agency owners, where we're sharing what's currently working, we're the support group, we're are the ones that you can share the wins and we'd actually get it right?
Like if you fired that awful client, you can't really tell your spouse - they'll be like, okay, good. But everyone else can celebrate with you and just have a lot of fun with it. Go to DigitalAgencyElite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day .
Sun, 2 May 2021
Mark Sullivan is an agency owner who has also spent over 22 years in public safety. He has seen people in the best and worst of times. When he’s not working as a firefighter, he is the founder and creative director of the 7-figure agency he started in 2014. Mark is on the show to talk about the similarities between fighting fires and running an agency. He’s also sharing the #1 lesson he wishes he had known much sooner.
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Is Owning an Agency Like Running Into a Burning Building?
Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I talk with a firefighter who also has an agency and has built a really amazing agency. And we talk about one of the number one lessons that he wished he could go back over. He actually learned the lesson from listening to the show.
As well as what you can do in order to really keep and build an amazing team and really be that right leader and what you should really focus on in your agency that can make all the difference, not only in your agency but also in your life. So I hope you enjoy this episode with Mark, the firefighter slash agency owner, and now let's get into it.
I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?
Mark: [00:00:45] Well, my name is Mark Sullivan. I'm the founder, creative director of Lime Biscuit Creative. We're a branding and design agency, just outside of Atlanta. We do a lot of web design, logos. We love to do startups or total rebrands for companies. Have been doing that for six years now, working on year seven.
And I also serve full-time as a Lieutenant at a fire department, just outside of Atlanta and been doing that for 23 years. So stay pretty busy.
Jason: [00:01:11] Yeah, it's a definitely interesting story. So what made you want to kind of do the agency biz? How'd you get into it?
Mark: [00:01:19] Well, it was kind of a backward, a way that we got into it.
I ran a music agency where we basically would help bands and speakers get events and get into like car shows, where they would sign autographs and stuff and get reimbursement for it. They would do a concert, or stuff like that. That kind of rolled into us, working with some talent from A&E and the History Channel.
And through that process, we learned real quick that, uh, those guys become divas really fast and it's not worth the hassle to work with them. But in that process, we learned that so many of them didn't have any kind of brand awareness. They didn't have any kind of design, uh, understanding of how it worked.
And so we pretty much started learning on our own, how to create a brand for someone, a personal brand, a company brand. And from that, we started doing what we're doing today and as they got more difficult to work with, uh, we decided we were just going to kind of abandon that part of our business and strictly focus on the agency side. And, was turned out to be a really good decision for us.
Jason: [00:02:23] Very cool. And what made you get into the fire department?
Mark: [00:02:26] Well, I was, an ADD sufferer from day one. I knew the traditional school route was not going to work for me. And, uh, I'm one of the kids that, you know, from kindergarten, my mom's got these books. What do you want to do when you grow up? And mine's been a firefighter ever since I can remember being in school.
It's always just been attractive to me as something to do. And I love the whole idea of you never know what's coming next. So for somebody with ADD, it works really good. It keeps you changing up things on a regular basis. And, uh, just set out to do that. And I got about two to four more years of that hopefully I should be able to retire from that. So looking forward to that now, especially my body is.
Jason: [00:03:07] I bet. I remember when I sold my agency, I didn't know what I was going to do after. And I went to, you know, I was talking about it to my cousin-in-law, being a firefighter is what I've always wanted. I thought that would be the coolest job.
And then he kept telling me stories about most of the things are car wrecks and involving very, uh, disturbing stuff. And I was like, I would pass out for that. So I kind of nixed the volunteer fireman route.
Mark: [00:03:35] Yeah, it is. It's definitely not what you see on TV, but it does have its moments. But it has been a culture change in the 23 years I've been doing it. It's nothing like when I first got into it, but, uh, still wouldn't trade it for anything.
Jason: [00:03:49] Okay, cool. So let's talk about kind of the agency. You know, you're a Lieutenant in the fire department. Is there some parallel between the agency and fighting a fire or saving people's lives?
Mark: [00:04:02] Ironically, there is some, it's been a very unique journey to kind of see how those things kind of correlate.
But you see a firefighter on TV, you know, going into these house fires or going into a building that's on fire and the camera follows them around and they can see everything that's going on and they walk right up to somebody and grab them, throw them over their shoulder and walk out. But, in reality, when you enter a fire, most of them are zero visibility.
So you're basically feeling your way around the whole time, trying to figure out where you're at, trying to find out if anybody's in there, if there's anybody that can be recovered or saved that's in there. And through that process, you learn, you know, which direction to go first based on the time of the day.
And it is a lot like working with a company. People will come in here in total darkness. They have no clue where they're at in a house, so to speak. They have no clue how to get out. And so their message is stuck. And so it's easy to relate a lot of those things. So it's actually been pretty cool to be able to talk with clients and just say, look.
You know, it sounds like what I was learning how to fight a house fire and going in, I have to learn these certain patterns to keep me on target of what I'm supposed to do. In a business is that same way. You know, there's certain things in business that if we forget to do, you know, we can stray away and wind up completely lost.
So, uh, there's a lot of, of, uh, similarities with that. But then at the same time in the business realm is keeping those people at the firehouse close to you and trusting you is a huge, huge thing. And you're literally, depending on someone else. Doing their job for your life to be safe. And, uh, a lot of times in what we do, I think we forget that we're entrusted with a lot of people's livelihoods and, uh, they want to trust us and know that their best interest is at our heart all the time so that they know their business is safe, their finances and their family are safe.
So that's kinda the two ways that I see that they kind of go side by side a lot of times.
Jason: [00:05:58] Yeah, I was, um, yesterday as we're recording this, I, uh, chatted with Nick a former Navy SEAL. And he was actually saying, look, I'm more stressed out running a business than I was getting fired at and in combat. And I was like, really?
And he was like, I was just more prepared. And he also said cause I asked, I said, well, was there ever a time that you didn't trust your teammates? Or how did you pick your teammates? And he goes, well, they, they were always assigned to us, but they had to go through a rigorous process that was proven.
Versus a rigorous process for hiring an agency employee. Cause everyone does really well in the interview. And then they all go to shit, you know, after that versus, you know, having a hell week and B.U.D.S. And probably the same thing at the fire department where you're, depending on someone's that your life is in someone else's hands.
But I like your analogy with, the same thing with an agency, right? Yeah. Your livelihood for a lot of your clients, especially in these crazy times of going, you know. Of going, hey, if they have an extra 20,000 to spend and you spend it incorrectly, you know, they could lose their house, they could go homeless, you know, and there's all kinds of repercussions that go into there.
Mark: [00:07:16] And that's caused a lot of sleepless nights here lately, for sure.
Jason: [00:07:19] Exactly. As you're growing your agency, how do you reassure? And I like that analogy that you use with the fire department to your prospects, how do you reassure or what's the process that you walk people through to reassure them that they're making the right decision?
Mark: [00:07:38] It seems to differ from person to person. The one big thing that we're lucky about here is almost all of our clients come exclusively from referrals. We do very little advertising. We do very, and when I say little less than $5,000 a year, total in advertising. So one good thing we have is that when they come to us, they already have a little bit of trust because somebody, they trust refer them to us.
But once they get to us. And we're talking about this marketing package or this brand package and launching this. Either a new company or whether it be just rebranding or a marketing idea for a company. A lot of times they'll get those cold feet right at the end. And we get a lot of clients that come in here, as you can imagine with our name, Lime Biscuit.
We don't do things the normal agency way a lot of times. And so when they come in here and they talk to us, they want it to be kinda like us and that I want a crazy name. I want to do this. I want to do this. But then when it comes down to it, they're like, no, I can't do this. It's just not in my DNA to do this.
And so they go back to their, their old path and stuff. And so we have to kind of just sit with them and say, look, this is something we have proven results with. It's something we've done before, it's something that we're comfortable with. And our goal is not to be a one-time check for me. Our goal is to continue a relationship with you and build with you.
And we wouldn't lead you down this path if we didn't think it was also going to turn into revenue for us at the end of the road. So they kind of understand that this is a process we're walking through with them as they stay in business. We're not just somewhere that wants to launch a logo on a website for them and walk away.
And I feel like once they understand that we're kind of their partner in that, they tend to trust us a little more and they get a little bit more gumption to kinda go forward with it.
Jason: [00:09:29] Very cool. What would you wish that you knew toward the start that you know now that you would tell yourself?
Mark: [00:09:36] That's an easy one.
Uh, and I actually learned this from listening to the Smart Agency podcast. So credit to you for this, because I have told this to so many other business owners. It's all right to fire somebody. And to say no to them. And for the longest man, we were just like, you know, we thought we had to take everybody.
We thought that it was, these people were coming to us. We have to do this with them. We have to take their money. We have to help their company. And man, it drove us just crazy. And we were working with clients. We knew we didn't align with, and it was just a struggle the entire time. But I remember specifically the day I was listening to the podcast and I was actually sitting at the firehouse.
It was about eight o'clock at night. And you were talking with somebody just about how, you know, we're not made to work with everybody all the time and that it's okay to fire a client. And man that from the beginning, it would have saved a lot of years and a lot of wrinkles on these eyes. Because that was the thing that, you know, I've learned that my gut instinct, when they come in and I'm like, I really don't think they're a client for us.
And I don't think we're a client for them. I've learned to just trust that and just chance offending them and just saying, we're not right for you. And man, I wish I'd have known that from the beginning.
Jason: [00:10:57] Oh, I'm glad that helped. Um, how do you tell if they're the right fit for you in the very beginning?
Like, I think it's different for everybody. Is it like a gut feeling or is it more of like, oh, you have to check the box for these four things?
Mark: [00:11:13] I think for us, a lot of it is gut because when we have somebody come in, like each client obviously starts at a different process, but like I said earlier, we do a lot of either rebranding or startups.
And so our first process in that is beginning their visual identity and how their logo is gonna look, how their colors are gonna flow. And if we come up with a really cool concept and just right off the bat, they're like, I don't like this. I like this. And they show us something that is so far removed from us.
That's generally an immediate response of, we're just going to give you your check back and you can go somewhere else. And we handle it with a lot of tact and we try to even give them other contacts to reach out to. But for us, we do, honestly operate differently. Like you don't go into many agencies where, you know, you got a firefighter with only a high school degree that's this coming in here doing this.
So, we tend to, to act differently with our clients. We like to have fun. We like to cut up with them. We like to show up at their office on announce with ice cream and stuff and whatever. And so if we don't see that they're going to enjoy that and something, that's going to make them feel more comfortable with us then that stomach just tells you this isn't right.
Jason: [00:12:35] That's good that you really kind of found the lane and, you know, who your ideal client is that you want to work with. It took us many years to figure that out, takes many. Sometimes people are still figuring it out. You know, maybe if there's someone else sitting into, you know, their own firehouse or somewhere else, listening to this and be like son of a bitch, like I can get rid of the pain in the ass client? Like it's very helpful.
Mark: [00:13:01] We've learned that there's usually somebody else there to give you a check, so to speak. So, for the long time, it was just terrified to fire 'em because where's the next revenue stream going to come from? And then we've learned. And like I said, it's compliments to you, man. It's been a lot of our staff listens to the podcast and it is the only podcast that we all listen to and that they're required to listen to.
And it's just been one of those things where, and you just got a grin and bear it and say, We're just not your team. Sorry. And after you do that, a couple of times it does seem to get easier, but you still worry about that income.
Jason: [00:13:39] Yeah. When, uh, I always tell everybody I'm like, your team is your number one asset.
And, uh, I will always stick up for my team. If someone comes along, I don't care if they have a billion dollars. I may, I may think of it a little bit different. But it would be a little harder to have that decision, but I would still choose the team because team's, everything.
So if someone gives you a billion dollars and then you have no team to execute on it. I mean, you're on the Island, you're on this little Island that you can't get off and you're imprisoned.
And we really, uh, we don't create our businesses to be in prison. Most of us are, uh, unfortunately without figuring out the right systems and, and figuring out that, you know, that getting that clarity. For, hey, these are the clients is, really kind of step one. Right?
Mark: [00:14:25] Right. We empower our team to make decisions without asking.
Like I'm gone every third day to the fire department. Most of the time they can reach me by phone. But yesterday for instance, I just got off this morning. Hadn't slept. So if I sound groggy, that's probably why, but uh, sometimes they can't get in touch with me and I want them to know that you've got my blessing to make this decision.
If my lead designer says this client is just not having it, then she's got full power to tell them to go somewhere else. And I try to make sure that they are equipped with that, and that gives them a buy-in and they understand that I trust them. And I believe that goes a long way.
Jason: [00:15:04] Well, I think he hit on something that most of us take for granted, right?
As we're being leaders and we're leading our team, most of us, we don't tell our team that we trust them, literally. Like, I trust you to make the right decision and whatever decision you make, I will stand behind you. And like, I think when your team members hear that, because you got to think of as like human beings, we all want to be part of a community.
We all want to have that significance. That's why they're probably working for you. They're probably not working for you because of what you're paying them. Right. Like, honestly, probably go somewhere like at the agency, like they could go work for a huge agency or a huge business and make more money, but they're not going to get all of that community, the accomplishment, the recognition, all of that.
And I think we forget a lot of times, like, I was talking to my buddy Gene and he coaches a lot of people on the business side. And, uh, we were talking, it was like, when's the last time you went to some of your team members and said, hey, I trust you. I really appreciate you. And a lot of times, most people will be like, I've never done that.
But they talk to their are other people like us coaches or advisors, and like, oh man, I could not do this without them. And I was like, why didn't you tell them that?
Mark: [00:16:21] That reminds me of The Office. I'm a huge fan of The Office where Michael Scott, you know, says behind Pam's back. He said, she's actually really talented artist, but I'd never say that to her face.
Jason: [00:16:32] I've watched one episode. I was kinda like that with Seinfeld when it was on, I thought it was probably the dumbest show ever. And then I watched it like the last season and then I've been hooked ever since.
Mark: [00:16:42] Exactly. But it is the team. If you don't have them to support you, especially with my schedule, it's not going to go anywhere.
And, you know, we try to do little stuff for them. It's, they'll walk in and there's literally something as simple as chocolate bars are laying all across their desk and keyboards and stuff like that. And it'll be on their Snapchat story later. My boss knows how to get to my heart by chocolate.
And it's just little stuff like that, but I'll make sure I send them a text or Snapchat when I'm at the station frequently, that just says, thank you guys so much. I love you guys. You don't have any clue how much it means to me and my family that I can trust you at the office. And just to let them know that I don't take them for granted.
Jason: [00:17:23] Awesome. Very cool. Well, this has been amazing, Mark. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?
Mark: [00:17:30] And I think coming from the firefighter side of agency owner, uh, side of it is, is that we spend so much time, uh, sometimes investing in our clients and in their lives and, and what they have going on. And we obsess over what we can do for them. And. I think sometimes you just gotta stop and think about yourself.
Think about your own agency. And I think about your own family. And I have seen hundreds and hundreds of times, people who never planned on their life-ending on a certain day. And it's so easy in the agency life to get wrapped up and even sitting at home, watching TV in the back of your mind is spinning like, well, what are we going to do for this client?
Or what are we going to do for this client? And. It gets so easy to rabbit trail and forget that we have our own lives and our own agency that we have to protect and watch out after. And I think it's just that as, you know, watch out for your family, watch out for your own employees, your own agency, because, if you don't do that, it doesn't matter what kind of clients come in.
Eventually you're going to falter. So take the time to stop. And you know, like you said earlier, spend time with your own clients and your, or your own employees and just say, hey I appreciate you and you know, how do you think our agency can be better? And you might be surprised the answers you get.
Jason: [00:18:48] Yeah, no, I totally agree.
It's a crazy world. And, uh, you know, we all, we try to work ourselves to death and we're like, well, in 10 years, when I sell the agency, then I'll be able to spend time with my family. I was like, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, because I think there's certain people out there that really preach work all the time and hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle.
And I don't agree with that at all. I agree. There's times to work hard and put your head down, but if you dictate your whole goals, all based on revenue and growth, rather than think about why are you trying to get that? When people talk to me a lot of times about, you know, my goal is to sell an agency like you did Jason.
I'm like, why? Well then, so then I can have fun. I can do. I'm like, you can do that now. I was like, you don't need that. Yes. It's a couple of little more zeros at the very end, but, but why do you want more zeros at the end? Right. And I'm like, look, if you start with a time goal and maybe keep it very simple. I want to take off Friday afternoons and not work on the weekends and just start there and think about in order for that to accomplish what systems do we need in place?
What team members do we need? What different types of clients, what do I need to charge? And you start there. I think a lot of us listening will be a lot happier rather than just chasing money. I heard something too. It's like maybe, maybe this was from the hustle King, Gary Vaynerchuk, which he is very brilliant.
And he talked about don't chase the gold, sell the pickaxeto the people going after the gold. I was like, that's kind of, that's pretty smart.
Mark: [00:20:27] I like that. Yeah. I listen to Gary all the time, but there's certain parts of that I just, I can't go along with, on the nonstop all day long. Doing what I do. It's just, I'm already working 60 hours a week doing that and, this is kind of my segue to retirement. I want to retire early from there and this will be my full-time career. And it just went a little quicker than we anticipated.
So luckily surrounded with great family and great staff that, that helped me keep it going. So, uh, I'm just blessed in that part.
Jason: [00:20:56] Awesome. Well, great. Uh, what's the website people can go and check it out?
Mark: [00:20:59] Uh, they can check out our agency at LimeBiscuit.com, just like the food.. And then my personal one on the fireside, my blogs and stuff is MarkTSullivan.Me and they can check it out there as well.
Jason: [00:21:13] Awesome. We'll go check it out.
And if everyone listening enjoys this episode and you really want to know what are the right systems that you need to put in place in order to really get a hold of your agency, where you can scale it on a consistent basis where not every decision has to go through you.
You're getting consistent leads. You're charging the right amount. You're not getting crushed on scope creep. I want you to guys go to check out the Agency Playbook at JasonSwenk.com/playbook request an invite. And check out the systems that have worked for thousands of agency owners over the past couple of years. If you do jump into it and you get a lifetime access to it and we're always updating it and it will show you that framework that you can follow.
So you can really scale and grow the agency that you really want. So until next time have a Swenk day.
Direct download: Is_Owning_an_Agency_Like_Running_Into_a_Burning_Building_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT