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Are you willing to start saying no to wrong customers to see real change for your agency? Kerrie Luginbill is a partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Old Town Media, a Colorado-based agency that since its beginnings offered a unique and agile approach to web design, development, and marketing by providing customers a business-driven approach. Now they partner with companies to create and implement marketing strategies that connect with their audience and inspire action. Kerrie discusses how she increased revenue by 4X in under one year. And now, after 15 years in the business, her agency crafted a "no-fly" list for customers, identified their target client, and the growth that resulted from this move.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Saying no to wrong prospects. Kerrie and her team really noticed a difference once they identified the right target customer for them and started to say no to the ones that did not fit that target. It was what catalyzed the growth, she says. Of course, it’s not easy turning down business, but they found that saying yes to the wrong kind of customer really reduces the amount of space you have for the right ones. Especially when it comes to clients that are disrespecting your team. Learning to say no can be a way for you to protect your team and a catalyst for growth.
  2. The no-fly list. With that in mind, Kerrie and her agency began creating a no-fly list, writing down all the similarities that made some customers not fit in the target customer model. They started identifying red flags, like referencing another company’s vision to explain their own. They wanted to work with companies that had a clear vision of where they wanted to go. Their biggest focus was value, because ideal clients must have a lifetime value customer that can afford them the margin to have an engagement with them that's large enough for them to drive value.
  3. Shifting to value-based pricing. It's very hard to get to value-based pricing when you're working with a small margin. Once you start saying no to low-margin clients you will start to identify people that share your values and with which you can form a strong engagement and a strong relationship. You can find that those clients are even easier to work with. This way, you start to reduce stress on your team, which helps reduce turnover. This is when you can start shifting to value-based pricing.

Sponsors and Resources

Ninja Cat: Today's episode is sponsored by Ninja Cat, a digital marketing performance management platform where you can unify your data, create beautiful, insightful reports and presentations that will help you grow your business. Head over to ninjacat.io/masterclass to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Saying No to the Wrong Customers and Shifting to Value-Based Pricing

Jason: [00:00:00] Welcome, agency owners. I'm Jason Swenk and here's another episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass. And on today's episode, I have an amazing guest who went from $500,000 in revenue to over $2 million in just under a year. And we're going to talk about the one thing that she actually did at her agency in order to accomplish this.

Now, before we jump into the episode. I want you to do me a favor. I want you to take a screenshot of the podcast. And then I want you to upload it to social media and tag us so I can give you a shout-out for listening to the show. Let's go ahead and bring Kerrie on.

Hey, Kerrie. Welcome to the show.

Kerrie: [00:00:43] Hello. How's it going?

Jason: [00:00:45] Awesome. I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?

Kerrie: [00:00:50] Yeah, my name is Kerrie Luginbill and I am a partner and the Chief Strategy Officer at a creative agency in Fort Collins, Colorado. So just about 45 minutes North of Denver.

Jason: [00:01:03] Awesome. I'll uh, we, we just moved to Colorado in Durango, so I'm starting to just try to figure out where everything uh is, but, uh, uh, I'm… Let's go ahead and jump into it and talk about what's the one thing, you know, that took you from 500,000 to over 2 million in less than a year? Because there's a lot of people that spend years, sometimes decades.

Um, and they hit that plateau and they can't figure out what do they actually need.

Kerrie: [00:01:34] Yeah, and full disclosure. It was more than one year. It was a couple of years, but there was a really distinct difference that we, we took a different direction that we took with the agency that really catalyzed a lot of that growth.

And it was really identifying the right target customer for us and saying no to the customers that were not in that target. It's really hard as an entrepreneur to say no to business and to work. But what we found over the last couple of years is that when you say yes to the wrong kind of client, you are really creating, you're reducing the amount of space that you have for the right client.

And that was really inhibiting us. And so we had to kind of fight ourselves. Our, the ownership, there are three of us that are partners and, you know, so we'd have to question each other and serve as checks and balances for each other so that we could stop taking in what was not helping us grow.

Jason: [00:02:34] What were some things that you did in order to kind of really narrow it down? Because I always look at, you know, when you start an agency, you're just reactionary. Like you got a pulse, you got some money, like I'll take you on. And then you, you know, there's a, there's a switch like you guys went through, like, how did you start evaluating going this is the people I need to say no to?

Kerrie: [00:02:58] Yeah, absolutely. It's funny you say that. I remember the first couple of years, uh, trying to launch the agency and literally taking anything. Um, and I think you're, we're all there at a certain point. And I think there's a level of professional maturity that comes with being an entrepreneur for a specific amount of time and starting to get things under your belt, bigger clients that give you a little bit more confidence to say no to some of those smaller clients.

But what we did was we actually started creating a, like a no fly list and we would write down the similarities that would cause, you know, clients to maybe not be that ideal target customer. And started to find a lot of correlations between them and then started to build out the correlations between the clients that were really strong for our company and really fit with us well, and then between those two, we started to create essentially a target persona for our client list.

And the biggest thing that we focus on is our client's customer value. So when you hire an agency, you as a, as any kind of business product or service, you must have the amount of margin that allows you to work comfortably with an agency. So, you know, businesses with really tight margins, uh, independent restaurants, salons, things like that are actually really challenging for us to work with. Because they don't have the margin in the day to day to be able to have a large enough engagement with to create a lot of value for them.

So we started to tease that out and it really comes down to our ideal client is a client that has a lifetime value customer that can afford them the margin to have an engagement with us that's large enough for us to drive value.

Jason: [00:04:51] Yeah. I love that. What are, what are some of the criteria? So obviously that's probably one of the criteria is of the no fly list. And I like that. I've never heard of that. I, I always treat it as kind of like a Vegas buffet. Like you try everything out and then the stuff that you were like, ooh, I don't like that. Like, you're not going to go back to that section anymore. But, and then by the time you come back to the, well, I guess a smaller buffet, the time you come back, the second time, you probably be like, ooh, I like this stuff.

So what was some of the criteria on your no fly list at first?

Kerrie: [00:05:25] Yeah. So I think at first it started, it wasn't very sophisticated. It was, you know, the little things that we were identifying. Um, typically one of my big red flags is if a client comes to us and they, they want help, you know, defining their brand messaging, creating, you know, creating a place for them in the market and they reference other company's visions to explain their own vision.

That's usually a pretty big red flag because I start to, you know, it's almost like, well, is it your idea? Or did you see somebody else had a great idea? And now you're trying to replicate that. And so we really look for that strong vision from the client, whether we're working with the business owner, operations director or marketing director, it's really important that they have a vision for where they want to go so that we can work together to tease that out and really hone it in.

But if they're referencing someone else's vision that has been successful, that's usually one of those red flags.

Jason: [00:06:27] Oh yeah. Like I, I remember getting all the time, hey, I want to build… I get this great idea that no one's ever thought of, it's Facebook, YouTube, and Google put together. But I have a budget of like a thousand dollars.

And I'm like, holy cow. Like, get me off the phone.

Kerrie: [00:06:45] Yeah. You know, um, we, we were known for building websites in the, in the beginning. Because Old Town Media started creating websites before WordPress was, you know, really taking over the market. It was a much higher barrier to entry. And so everybody had to go hire a professional for their website.

It wasn't something you could kind of go figure out yourself very easily. And so that created a reputation for us where we were known as a web shop for a lot of years. And people would come to us wanting a website for an idea before they had a business plan for that idea. That was another one of the big red flags on that list is if you don't know how you're going to operate business and you want a website because you think that that's going to solve all of your problems, that's typically not the answer.

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Yeah. Yeah, I know I, I love that you make sure that… I love the criteria because I think a lot of agencies we take on certain industries that have a low margin. And then they're like, hey, I'm at my cap. Like they can't spend anymore. I'm like, well, are they really? Like, how can you actually add value? And they're like, and they keep their pricing the same.

Like, there's so many mastermind members that we, we, uh, they come in in the very beginning and they're like, oh, I'm at my cap. And then by the time we're like, no, no, no, this is who you actually need to go after… And as we're raising our prices and, and you tell me when you actually did this, when you actually started kind of implementing the no fly list and then your target persona that you're going after. I presume that you were able to probably charge more, which meant probably that you could hire the right people, which meant you had more freedom.

Am I on the right path?

Kerrie: [00:09:48] Yep. Absolutely. You know, and people still get through the no fly list every once in a while. And we actually we've broken out, you know, our ideal target to incorporate a percentage of clients that we’ll take on that don't have the margin that we work with a little bit differently, but they have to be passion projects for us.

It has to be something that we're really passionate about as a team. Um, but you are exactly right. Once you start saying no to those low-margin clients and, you know, you'll start to identify that the people that you have a really strong engagement with and a really strong relationship with, they're usually easier to work with too.

And so you start to, you know, reduce some of the stress on your team, which increases, you know, how long your team members stay with you. You're reducing turnover. You're reducing that chaos in the company. And you can start shifting to value-based pricing. That's kind of the buzzword, I think, in the agency world is everybody's like, you know, time and materials versus value-based pricing.

And it's really hard to get to value-based pricing when you're working with such a small margin. You're really, you know, serving as more than just a like brand or creative partner, but also a sales partner and like an advocate for smaller businesses. And I think it's just a very different relationship.

Jason: [00:11:11] Yeah. How, uh, what are some things that you guys do in order to demonstrate, you know, the value in your pricing? So you can charge on value-based pricing rather than time and material.

Kerrie: [00:11:24] Yeah. So it really comes down to making sure that you have really, really clear objectives and key metrics for your clients.

And so it's actually kind of interesting. We use KRAs for our employees. So key result areas where you basically, you define an objective, you have actions that then will help you achieve the metrics that achieve your outcome. So, you know, you start with an outcome actions metrics. We've taken that KRA approach to actually how we look at our client engagements and we define them the same way.

We say, okay, we're working with a client. We're doing content creation for them. What's the outcome we're trying to achieve? What are the actions we're taking? And what are the metrics we're looking at? When you can tie it into the data for them, and you can say, hey, when we pull this lever, you have more sales. And you can start to look at what outcomes you're achieving based on the actual actions that you're taking.

That time of material dollar amount is not as relevant because there's such a strong value to actually achieving those outcomes.

Jason: [00:12:36] I see a lot of agencies, they really don't focus on the results or they don't focus on kind of the leading indicators that will actually get the results. And, and like, and it amazes me because a lot of times when I'm chatting with an agency owner that wants to scale faster, um, it really kind of, and like I was chatting with an owner not too long ago, they had resentment for their clients.

I was like, well, let's get to the real problem. And I told him, I said, the real problem is you're resenting your clients because you're too dependent on the clients. He's like, well, what do you mean? I was like, well, you're dependent on the wrong types of clients that aren't paying you the right amount.

And I asked what's the value that you deliver to them? He didn’t know. And I was like, well, how could you ever charge value-based pricing if you don't know the value? Like how are, how are they? So, um, I'm glad there's, there's agencies that are focused on the results. Cause I, I see when, when our mastermind members and the people that go through our frameworks, when they start kind of understanding the results that they deliver.

And that's the key part is you gotta be able to deliver the results to your clients. There's so many people that go well, I took a course on how to start an agency from Joe, Joe. And I'm like, well, they taught you Facebook ads, but did they teach you like how to deliver the results and all that? Like, and they're just learning on other people's dime, which always frustrates the heck out of me.

Kerrie: [00:14:05] Yeah. You know, and I think in those earlier days where you're working with smaller clients that maybe it's a solo preneur or some, you know, small margin kind of business, a lot of times they don't have their own data figured out. And so it becomes even more challenging for that agency to tie their outcomes to their results, because they're not getting the same kind of data back from the client.

And that is… That's something that we've started working on. How can we actually help our clients get to more sophisticated reporting internally so that we can tie our, our actions to their results and start to get a little bit farther into that? But it's a lot of client education too, you know, a lot of times, um, it's explaining the difference between lead and lag indicators and trying to help them see that, you know, by the time you're looking at this number, it's already too late. And we should really be looking at these lead indicators and some of these numbers over here, because they're ultimately going to influence these lag numbers.

So I think it's, it's really just marketing, especially in today's age, is getting a lot more sophisticated when it comes to data and being able to correlate activities to actual outcomes. And it's something that I think agencies are, are really, they need to be more responsible in getting there and focusing on that.

Jason: [00:15:31] Totally agree. Well, this has been amazing. Is there anything Kerrie that I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Kerrie: [00:15:40] You know, I think the biggest thing I wish that somebody would have told me like three or four years ago is it's okay to say no. It is okay to say no. If it doesn't feel right, or if you know, a client is not respecting your team or your time, it's okay to say no. Because when you open up that space, you are creating space for something better and a better fit and a better relationship.

And that's what will grow, grow your agency.

Jason: [00:16:08] Yeah. And, and those troublesome clients that you should say no to, like, if they're treating, mishandling your team, you're not making money on that end. Like, and I don't even care if you're making money on that. It's going to cost your team and your employees, which then just makes you have to do everything all over again, which is a complete nightmare.

Um, and you go back and then you're just… Then you get to a point where you're selling for penny on the dollar to someone that's going to take advantage of your client portfolio. And I don't want that to happen.

So awesome. Um, what's the agency website people can go and check you out?

Kerrie: [00:16:45] Yeah, oldtownmedia.com. We're on Facebook and Instagram, but we probably put the most of our, uh, fun stuff on Instagram, so…

Jason: [00:16:56] Awesome. Well, everyone go check out their website and Kerrie, thanks so much for coming on the show. If you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners that are on a fast growth pace and really scaling their agency fast and they want to be surrounded by other amazing people. Um, so you can scale your agency faster, go to digitalagencyelite.com.

This is our exclusive community our mastermind, uh, members where we just have so much fun together going through, you know, the frameworks that are working for other agencies.

So go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_One_Agency_Increased_Revenue_By_4X_in_Under_One_Year.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Do you want to create a machine that ensures agency growth? David Butler was working as a special ed teacher when he decided to try his luck in the real estate business. He later created an agency looking to reinvent himself during the 2009 financial crisis. With Jason's help, he was able to grow and ultimately sell his business. David now enjoys a new lifestyle and focuses on his family. He joined Jason on the podcast to talk about how he implemented the "Netflix model" to prevent client cancellations, how he streamlined the company's hiring process to put the right people on the right roles, and how making a white label agreement with a larger company was the key to really grow his agency.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Creating a machine. Once David started to see his agency grow organically from his first apartment management company client, he implemented the “Netflix model” where he charges a very competitive fee to make sure the agency won’t lose customers. How did he keep it profitable? “I figured property managers would be so busy they wouldn’t utilize us all the time,” he says, “But they would still need us.” Of course, he made sure to estimate how many clients they could handle.
  2. Streamlining the hiring process. Being a big believer on the principle of hiring your weaknesses, David hired a local company to take care of the customer service and clients are continually amazed by how quickly they get a call back. He also believes in the importance of putting the right people on the right positions and made sure to create a hiring process that would eliminate unfit candidates. “It’s stupidly simple,” he told Jason.
  3. The big change. The Netflix model failed when it came to hiring a highly paid sales team. This is when he started considering a white label agreement with a larger company. It was not easy, the entire process took about two years. However, this company had 350 sales agents and this was the key to the growth. Now, his agency was taking 100-200 new clients each month and he could continue to focus on hiring the right people.

Gusto: Today's episode is sponsored by Gusto, an all-in-one people platform for payroll, benefits, HR where you can unify your data. Gusto automatically applies your payroll taxes and directly deposits your team's paychecks, freeing you up to work on your business. Head over to gusto.com/agency to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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White Label Your Sales Team to Create a Machine and Streamline Your Hiring Process

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? Jason Swenk here. And I got one of my friends that ran an amazing agency for a number of different years. Now he went from being a special ed teacher to owning apartments, to owning an agency, to selling it. And now he's financially free and just travels and does what he does and has a ball doing it.

And today we're going to talk about his journey. So possibly you can learn a couple of little nuggets from him and do the same thing. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, David. Welcome to the show.

David: [00:00:38] Hey, Jason. Good to see you.

Jason: [00:00:39] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on and uh, and tell your story. So, you have a pretty fascinating story that always amazed me and everyone else that heard it. So, and I'm not going to give you justice on telling it. So tell us kind of who you are and tell us a little bit about that trajectory from special ed teacher, apartment, to owning an agency and then selling it.

David: [00:01:02] Gosh, I’ll try to keep it into a nutshell. I was a high school special ed teacher for about 10 years and coaching high school sports and then a good friend of mine gave me the, um, the really famous old infomercial Carleton Sheets… Uh, how to buy real estate with no money down. And, uh, I listened to it on cassette tape in my car as I drove to work and I use the basis of that to buy my first house in England of all places.

And it was a real, uh, let's just say fixer-upper. And, uh, so we fixed that up and we sold it, I was teaching special ed there. Came back to the US and bought my second house and bought another three houses with that and a fourplex. And I was still teaching high school.

Then my buddy said, hey, think you got some skills here. Let me introduce you to some people. So I got a couple of angel investors together and, uh, we start buying apartments in 2004 or five. Bought apartments for about three years, all in Arizona. Bought a few thousand apartments.

And that's where I, through the process of buying and owning and asset managing the apartments I kind of... Well, and then the 2008, uh, downfall, right? 2009. You know, we were doing amazing until then and then, uh, everything crashed. I distinctly remember 2009 with my friend who got me into everything. He was like, man, I'm really sorry I got you into all this. As we were talking about our loan workouts and stuff.

And I said, yeah, I said, I got to make some other lemonade, man, because this lemonade isn't working for me. That's when I looked around and I just really kind of discovered… Websites were kind of new for apartment buildings back then. Not everyone had them. And so I started getting into the technology world of apartments and that industry of managing and operating and operational of apartments.

And I was like, I kept on asking our, um, my own property managers and stuff to manage our social media. And, uh, they would just never do it, right? Like they couldn't do it. They’re too busy to do it. I was like, I got to hire someone to do this for me, right? And so I looked around.

I looked at other agencies and you know, they were going to charge me like a couple thousand dollars a month or something to manage the social media for my parcel. That's like nuts, right? Like I can do this for better and cheaper. So that's how I started my first marketing agency, right? Like, I didn't know anything about owning an agency or anything. I just started to do it myself.

Jason: [00:03:49] Yeah. And talk about how it progressed. And I loved what you used to charge. And I used to kind of get onto you.

But obviously, I mean, I literally would try to make an example out of you of how little you actually charged, and then you were a volumes game. So talk a little bit about that.

David: [00:04:07] Yeah. So I had one employee and we were running the social media, you know, Facebook mainly for my six apartment communities. And the property management company that had about a hundred apartment communities under their management said, hey, can you start doing this for our other clients?

And so that's how it kind of started to organically grow. Was, you know, then we went from like, you know, 10 clients to 20 to 30, 40, and I just said, you know what? I'm just going to make it so cheap that people will sign up and they'll just never cancel. That really was the play. It was just straight-up Netflix type of play, right?

It's just like, so we charge $99 a month, right? It was just classic. Under the hundred. So that anytime anyone would think about canceling they'd be like, wait, the property manager would be like, wait a minute… That means I gotta do it, then? Like for 99 bucks, they probably paid out of their own paycheck for us to do it for them, right?

Just so they wouldn't get in trouble with the owners and their bosses for not keeping it up to date, right? So that was the play. I mean, it was just a straight-up $99 play. Yeah.

Jason: [00:05:23] Yeah. And I remember just being like David, if you could just raise the prices and then obviously, you know, you're like, dude, we're a factory, we're a machine.

We just have all this. And, and now knowing you like, it would be stupid for someone to cancel, which is such the opposite. That's why I wanted to have you on like talk to you about like... What was that mentality around it? Because there's a lot of people listening that may be in the same boat of going I want it to be like, I'd never want to lose a client because it'd be stupid. But I also want it to be like, I want to create a factory like this machine.

So how did you make sure that it was profitable? And how did you create this machine? Because you had a lot of people too.

David: [00:06:06] Boy, that's a good question. I mean, again is kind of based on the Netflix kind of play, right? I knew that property managers in that were just so overwhelmed that they probably wouldn't utilize us as much as they thought they would, but they still needed us.

And so I knew some people would, it's just like Netflix. There's probably some people that binge Netflix, you know, a hundred hours a month. And there's probably people that don't watch one hour a month, right? But the people that don't watch one hour a month don't ever cancel because they just want it there. So when they do want to watch it, right?

So it was like that. I mean, I never went to business school and never got an MBA, you know, any of that stuff. So, I mean, it was really kind of back of the napkin, just like, hey, how many hours, how many clients do you think someone can manage? Like, it was really, you know, it was not fancy and the, hey, is this profitable or not?

It was just like, yeah, I think I can make it work.

Jason: [00:07:09] What were some of the things that helped you build the agency and get it to a level where… in a little bit, we'll talk about, you know, the process of selling it and what's life like now. But what were some of the things that helped you along the way? Like from the different people that you've hired on the management team that kind of stuff.

David: [00:07:28] Yeah. So I would say there's a few, really big things. One was, uh, I've been a member of Entrumpeneurs organization for since, uh, 2007 and being a part of that organization has been life changing, right? Being around the other entrepreneurs and learning from their mistakes and learning to build on my strengths versus tackling my weaknesses.

That's been like... Hire out your weaknesses, do what you're good at and hire out the weaknesses. Like if they only taught that in school, right? I think that was a key. And then also one of the foundational pieces of my company was building what we did around Wow Customer Service. So the Zappos model, also a Ruby receptionists, a local company.

We amaze people by answering the phone when it rang, like with a live person. And we responded to emails like… Our customer service, our ticketing. We would respond within 20 minutes, right? And in the apartment industry, that was just unheard of in the vendor piece. Like you would send out an email to people's customer service and not hear back for a week.

And so people would hear back from us within 10, 20, maybe five minutes, right? And they would like, when they called, like, they'd get a live person. Like they were just amazed. And we were actually hopeful. We hired people that love to help people. Like it was stupidly simple.

Jason: [00:09:10] It's kind of like, like, you know, people ask, I think like Walt Disney was like, how do you get people to smile all the time?

He's like, well, I hired people that were happy and smiled all the time. Like we didn't train them to do that. We just… we did it.

David: [00:09:25] Yeah. I became a huge believer in the Jim Collins, you know, get the right people on the bus and put the right people in the right seats. I really, really focused on streamlining our hiring process.

And my key to hiring was we hired recent college grads with degrees in journalism and communications and media, and we screen the heck out of them on writing, right? We made them write and write and write like the initial application had like 10 questions that they had to write answers to. And because the job entailed a lot of writing on the behalf of clients, I knew the clients wanted people that could write in like full sentences and spell and… again, really simple stuff.

But that screening process of screening out the people that would, you know, write like two word answers and, and their punctuation and like, and then, you know… Young college graduates that were just hungry for their first job and wanted to be involved in the field that kind of, I think they had to learn a little bit in the hard way that there's not a lot of paid jobs in journalism, and it's very hard to make it on your own as a blogger.

I mean, hard to make a living, right? I'm sure some people do but most people, uh, have a difficult time. So the hiring piece was another piece. Yeah. For sure.

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Awesome. And then let's talk about the selling process. How did that come to fruition? Because you sold to one of your big clients and a lot of people don't realize that, that you could do that. And it's also kind of dangerous sometimes too.

David: [00:12:13] Right. Right, it's definitely walking the tight rope. So what was interesting was I built a company up to, I think about four or five, 600 clients.

And we built our systems and that, and what I realized was at $99, it was not, where it was not profitable was it was not profitable to hire a highly paid sales team. And I would say out of all the things that I failed at, that's what I failed miserably at was whenever I tried to hire a salesperson and get them to perform. And just make what I'm paying that, like, it was just like, it never worked, right?

So the big change there was, you know, I'm a big Costco shopper and Kirkland Signature and this and that. And then with entrepreneurs organization, I was like, hey, I think there's something to this white label thing. I think that might even been learning some from you.

And I partnered with a larger company to do a white label agreement with them, which took probably gosh, maybe two years to put together and formalize and all the, you know, it was a big company and all the legal and this and that. But that was the key to the growth was because they had 350 sales agents around the country that I didn't have to pay for.

That was the biggest thing, right? And I still got to charge them what I charge my regular clients on the wholesale side. And so my profit margin was still there, but that's where the magic happened, right? I mean, we started adding a hundred, 200 clients a month and all I could do was focus on hiring great people and increasing our systems and scalability and everything.

And we got to a couple thousand clients with them. We’re about 65 employees about at that time, right? Just like you said, it was a factory. And, um, that was when they came to me and just said, hey, we're, you know, we're interested in buying your company. And I said, well, that's not really why I built it, but I said, sure, I'll listen.

And I also knew that if they didn't buy me that, you know, they were probably going to recreate it or do something else. Like you said it's a dangerous spot to be in when you're… That's the whole piece is when you, right? When your client concentration goes to 60 and 70% of your clients come from one source, you know, you live by the sword, you die by the sword, right?

Jason: [00:15:00] I've known people where they've done this, where they'll outsource to an agency. And they'll become 90% of their business and say, I want to buy you. And they'll say, if you say, no, we'll just go away. And then you're like, crap. Now that didn't happen to you. You're the lucky one. But, uh, walk us through the process of like, so they say, okay, well, here's what we're thinking. All this kind of stuff.

A lot of people are thinking, how long did it take in order to come to a deal? In the due diligence phase, maybe to, you know, the, the term sheet and all that kind of good stuff.

David: [00:15:41] Oh boy. You know, when you're dealing with a bigger, bigger company. That has a board and everything from them saying, hey, we're interested to actually getting serious.

You know, I think was probably three to five months probably? Which that gave me enough time to kind of like, kind of get my head around the process and start talking to people. And I hired an M&A consultant at that point to kind of represent me. And I think that was, looking back, that was a huge piece of it because it took me out of being the direct guy.

And so when we did get to term, he, and on into due diligence, he got to be the middleman and he got to be the, you know, he got to be the bad cop and I get to be the good cop. Because the other piece was, they were still my client, right? So if everything fell out, I still needed to have a good relationship with the company, right? And so it kind of allowed us to play that good cop, bad cop piece.

But I think it was probably, you know, 10 months or so. But the piece that made that go a lot quicker was, you know, they were a majority concentration in my company. And so they kind of knew the backend financials and due diligence kind of, because they knew all the moving pieces of that.

And so that took a lot of the uncertainty out from their side, I think, and helped move it faster than normal.

Jason: [00:17:20] Very cool. And it's always a kiss of death. I always tell everybody going until the check is deposited and the paper is signed. Sometimes people go, oh, well, my life's going to change and I can kind of kick back and, and kind of relax. Did you just go, hey, if this happens great. If not, I’m good.

David: [00:17:42] I've been through some big real estate deals before. So I think that helped. But the other piece is I knew I needed to make it to the finish line for this to happen. Because if it fell apart, like you said, they were gonna be the 1600 pound grill and take some drastic measures against me, that would not have ended up well, right?

I mean, is this classic North Korea, right? Like you don't want to be the first person to push the button and send the missile. So you're just kind of waiting and you're just your head down, making everything perform, you know, they're looking at your metrics, like crazy as you're getting ready to close, and you're just trying to. And you're trying to keep your team together, right?

I think that's the other piece in the sale piece is... So who do you tell, when do you tell them? Who knows? Right?

Jason: [00:18:38] And when did you do that? When did you start telling people.

David: [00:18:40] So when I sold real estate apart, big apartment buildings what I learned was to not tell people. When you tell people for whatever reason, I think it's just human psychology, they tend to jump ship.

I mean, they're just like, oh, this boat is sinking or not going to my direction. I'm going to go look for it or something else. And you start losing key people left and right. So I learned not to do that. I only told one person in my company, which was my CFO, because I had to, because I relied on her for all the financials and there's just no way that I could keep it from her.

So she was my inside person up until we needed to negotiate key employee contracts for the upper management team. Because that's… in a acquisition, they want to secure all your top-level management to make sure they come over on the transition. And so that was a big piece was…

I mean, part of that sale processes is that you have to tell people, tell the executive management team at the last minute what's going on and get them to sign employment agreements with the new company, to make sure that there's going to be a smooth transition there. And a lot of times that's a key piece to closing the deal, right? Because at the very end, if all your top-level management walks off the job and the company…

I mean, if you're selling a service company, right? I mean, that's what you're selling is the people and the processes. You lose a lot of that, and you could be subject to a whole renegotiation at that point. So that's a really stressful time. And then also you got to make sure that those people don't recognize the leverage they have in that situation and over leverage their position and to extracting what they would like to extract from you during it, right? So that's really stressful point.

Jason: [00:20:44] Yeah. I remember going through that as well, and that is not fun. And am in the same vote of going only tell when you need to. Uh, because yeah, when, when we made the announcement, some people don't like change and they just, for whatever reason, they don't like change, even if it's going to be better for them. Because that's how I judge, when we sold it, I was like, look, same type of culture. Not much is going to change. They're going to have a little bit more resources. I think it actually is better for everyone.

And a lot of people advanced, but there were some people that were like, nope, I like the mom and pop mentality, even though we were kind of the middle, you know, we were not small. But, um, they still like, you know, kind of the, they can come to me for anything and they knew everyone, so… It makes some things.

So what's life like now for you after selling? Because I see your Facebook, you’re just traveling around the world.

David: [00:21:45] Yeah, it's been kind of interesting. Uh, I volunteer, I'm the president of the PTO at my kid's high school now. Really involved with my kids' lives. You know, I got a freshman, a university and a sophomore in high school and a seventh grader. And so a lot of focus has turned to them. I try to really provide a lot of really unique, fun travel experiences for them.

That's my go-to thing is I just love travel and stuff. I mean, with the pandemic, it's been kind of a bummer. But at the same time, I've kind of rediscovered, you know, traveling in the United States to national parks and hiking and river rafting. We rafted the grand canyon this last year. Due to the pandemic, they had openings, right? When's that ever happened?

So taking advantage of that lemonade piece, right? Taking advantage of what life gives you when it does and figuring out what that is and going with it.

Jason: [00:22:42] That's awesome. So, well, I'm so happy for you to see, where, where you started and where you ended up. It's very well-deserved with, with all the hard work. So congratulations for that.

David: [00:22:53] Thanks. Thanks. And I got to put a plug in here too, with you, Jason. Because gosh, we met at, uh… What was a social media…?

Jason: [00:23:02] On the aircraft carrier.

David: [00:23:04] On the aircraft carrier. And we were in line for the virtual ride and we just started a conversation, right. So I was like, who are you? Who are you? And what do you do?

And we started the conversation and I hired you as a consultant, uh, over the last couple of years of the company, you know, it was just really, really helpful to have you and your experience in selling your agency in the background to be able to bounce things off of and ideas and like, hey, this is happening now.

Like kind of, you know, or things with employees or just that. Your experience with the agency, uh, selling your agency and being able to, um, have your guidance in that was a big key, I think those last couple of years. So, uh, I don't think I've ever really gotten a chance to thank you formally for that. So thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Jason: [00:24:01] Well, it was my pleasure, you know, I just wanted to be the resource I wish I had, right? So, that's all we can do is keep paying it forward and that kind of stuff. So well, thanks so much for coming on the show. It was, it was awesome having you. Can't wait to have you come out to Durango and be ski bums together and go explore because I love the experiences too.

So awesome. Well, if you guys enjoyed this episode, what I want you to guys do is share it out with your fellow agency owners. I would help them out and help us out. And if you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners and you want our help to really kind of see the things you might not be able to see, so you can navigate and get to the places where, you know, uh, have the opportunities to do what David has had, I want to invite all of you to go digitalagencyelite.com.

This is our exclusive community and mastermind, and it's just amazing people. So go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Create_a_Profitable_Agency_Machine_That_You_Can_Eventually_Sell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Drew Hendricks was a philosophy major who started in the agency world after building his first website in the 90's and never looked back. Today, he owns Nimbletoad, a full-service digital marketing agency that specializes in website design, SEO, and PPC. Recently, Drew expanded by founding Barrels Ahead, an agency where he adapts his love for wine and developed an organic growth marketing framework to address the unique needs of the wine and craft industry. Drew's conversation with Jason is filled with useful tips from all his years as an agency owner. He shares his secret to convert more proposals as well as why you should be quick to respond when potential clients reach out to you.

  1. Agency Owner vs Entrepreneur. The mastermind has really helped Drew understand the difference between being an agency owner and being an entrepreneur. Most agencies come to be as the result of a problem and he has seen that many agency owners focus on being an authority on that problem, instead of being an authority on your agency. Too many people are stuck in actually doing the work rather than kind of treating the agency as the project, he says. If you want to be a business owner then that needs to be your top priority. You can't do both.
  2. The secret sauce for proposals. Over the years of writing proposals, Drew has learned something that worked really well to help position the proposal, defray the pricing, and justify it through very objective terms. In the pre-talk process, you will usually ask the client who their competitors are. Then use tech tools to assess competitors' spending on SEO or PPC. When you show this data to your clients you can say, this is how much you need to spend to compete with them. And if they don’t want to spend that amount? Then you let them know that maybe they should be playing in a smaller pond.
  3. Show enthusiasm. In a world where showing genuine excitement over something is supposed to make you uncool, dare to be different. If a potential client contacts you, call them as soon as you can. Don’t be afraid to look too anxious. They’ll appreciate the quick response. And that goes for other aspects of the business too. Our guest says he has interviewed many people and forgot the last time someone mentioned they were excited to work with the company.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Become an Authority on Your Agency and Use This Secret Sauce for Proposals

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Uh, excited to have you listening to the show today. I have one of our long-term mastermind members who has grown several agencies over the years, and really has taken… Today, we're going to talk about the amazing things that he's learned over the years and applied them to his current agency that he's doing right now.

I think you're really going to love this episode, so let's get into it.

Hey, Drew. Welcome to the show.

Drew: [00:00:35] Thank you, Jason. Thank you for having me on.

Jason: [00:00:37] So you're the first guest to, uh, actually be in the intro on the mountain, waving back to the drone. So I was just watching that. I was like, oh, there's Drew. So well I digress. Yeah. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Drew: [00:00:58] Yeah. I'm Drew Hendricks. Right now I'm running two agencies. One’s Nimbletoad, which is a generalist agency. And the other one is a brand new venture called Barrels Ahead, which is sort of the culmination of everything I've learned over the last 30 years of running agencies.

Jason: [00:01:12] Yeah, that's awesome. Uh, and you actually started an agency before me. So tell us kinda how did you get into it? And, uh, it tells us kind of the origin story.

Drew: [00:01:24] Yeah, it's, uh, it's, it's kind of an interesting story. So in college, I majored in philosophy and ancient Greek with the goal of becoming a professor of philosophy. And upon graduating, I ended up, um, finding myself in San Francisco and, um, kind of biding my time until I could go get a PhD. And ended up getting a job as a stock boy at a winery and realized I had a really good palate for wine.

And from then on, I just sort of started reading everything I could about wine and learning everything I could and figured out that, um, it’s super interesting, and there was just so much knowledge that could be done there. So I ended up sticking around for 10 years in that wine store, revamped it to, um, change the name, rebranded it.

Wrote one of the first, um, websites back in '90, '95 or so. Wrote a wine auction site. And from there in '98 started the first, um, agency, which was, um, Intellect; which helped independent wine stores compete with, um, better-leveraged chain stores. Like right then BevMo had just started launching, Trader Joe's was coming up in the ranks, and then Total Wine.

So we helped wine stores with their marketing.

Jason: [00:02:33] Wow. That's incredible. And especially going back to '95. Hell, man, I remember back in 95, we were all getting the AOL CDs for the free internet.

Drew: [00:02:44] No, it was, it was, that was definitely the time.

Jason: [00:02:47] What was it? Progidy?

Drew: [00:02:52] Oh, wow. Pardon?

Jason: [00:02:23] Or, or it was Prodigy, right? Like if…

Drew: [00:02:56] Oh my God. Before that, no, in college it was Prodigy. I had a Prodigy account that was, you know, there was… In college, I remember the first day that I, that we actually got connected to the internet and I found it so interesting. I went to the school library and I was able to connect.

I went to Gonzaga… went to Gonzaga and I was able to connect to the UCSD library down in California. And from there I could get out to a library in Europe and it blew my mind that I was able to go from Gonzaga, to UCSD to Europe. And from then on, I kind of caught the bug and right then HTML, it just started coming into it.

And we actually wrote one of the first, um, one of my first philosophy, um, presentations actually at hyperlinks in it back in '92.

Jason: [00:03:38] So Front Page or Dreamweaver? Or just plain text editor

Drew: [00:03:45] Dreamweaver. It was Dre… but it was, this was precursor to Dreamweaver.

Jason: [00:03:47] That's true. Yeah. I guess it was like Netscape Composer.

Drew: [00:03:51] Yep. Yeah, it was making… My mind doesn't go back that far as far as the tools, but yeah, it was a lot of, um, Pearl scripts and CGI scripts.

Jason: [00:04:01] Yeah. Well awesome. Well, let's, let's talk about kind of the journey or what are, what are some of the lessons, since you've had several agencies over the years. What are some lessons that, um, you'd like to share with the audience listening in?

Drew: [00:04:17] I think one of the biggest ones that, and this is one that I only recently have come to the realization of... And it's actually been through this mastermind group, your mastermind group that really helped me realize the difference between an entrepreneur and an agency owner. And the importance of what an entrepreneur is. Because we usually start… most of the agencies that I've founded were the result of a problem.

Like, I'd see a client would come in, they'd have an issue and I'd figure out how to solve it. We'd build them a site. We build them like a web platform. And then I figure, man, well, I can sell more of that. And then I become an authority in their problem, but not really even an authority on the actual agency.

So what happens is we end up building, we have 10, 12, 15 clients, all, all very different problems, authority in all these different problems, but not an actual authority on running the ads. And I think this last iteration, we took the best of what we knew about and what our skillset is at Nimbletoad.

And we're finding experts now to actually perform the processes that we do. Whereas I can now sit back as an entrepreneur and solve the problem of what actually can make that agency grow. And I think too many people are stuck in actually doing the work rather than kind of treating in the agency as the project.

Jason: [00:05:36] Yeah. I mean, isn't that so true with, you know, I look at running an agency and kind of like six stages of climbing a mountain, right? So from the staging part, before you embark on, you know, making the climb to base camp; to the climbing, the crux, you know, the crest all the way to the summit.

And right in the middle, right? Like it's kind of right in the middle is where you actually start working on the business. Like, that's how you can kind of get to the next level rather than in. And, uh, like I was saying in the mastermind, it's like in the very beginning you're constantly, always thinking about the what and how, and I'm like, no, no, no, you should be focused on who, who can do it?

Who do I need to hire? … everyone else but you.

Drew: [00:06:24] Yeah. That was a huge learning curve for us and, and for our agency. Figuring out actually that I, I, although I can do it, I'm not the best person to be doing. It was, it was a huge, huge step.

Jason: [00:06:36] So how did you get over that? Because there's a lot of people listening right now that they struggle with that.

Like, they're literally like, well, no one could do it as good as me.

Drew: [00:06:48] You know, it was learning. It was learning to say no. And learning about where do you want to go? Cause really, like you said, would that plateau, if you're trying to be the authority in everything, you're an authority in nothing. So you really have to pick your battle. And if you want to be the best web developer out there, or the best SEO person, go get an in-house job at another agency and you can be the top dog for SEO.

But if you want to run a company, that needs to be your top priority and you can't do both.

Jason: [00:07:17] Exactly. Yeah. I, I tell people too that like 80% is better than you doing your full thing on it. Because cause you're doing a thousand different things, even if they're not at your a hundred percent, they're still ahead of you because you're doing so much, so many other things.

So I'm like just, if you can find someone to do 80% that you know, to get there. Or I was interviewing someone not too long ago, um, who was also the mastermind Canopy guys. And, uh, he was struggling with, you know, delegating, um, and everything had to flow through him. He was like the toll booth of everything that had to go through on operations.

And finally, uh, Brian, his partner went to him. It was, his name is Brian as well. So I was like, how did you guys start an agency, Brian and Brian? And he goes, look, I just need you to document 50%. And then that's a good foundation the team can take and build. And it's changed everything for them. And now they're, you know, their, their agency is well, you know, into the summit and beyond.

Drew: [00:08:23] Yeah. Those guys are rocking it.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:08:24] Yeah. Um, one thing I want to ask you and you, you talked about this, uh, I was just thinking about it. I know, I didn't tell you to pre preplan for it, but you did a incredible what's working now. Um, you know, at the digital agency experience, not too long ago, about proposals, um, of what you've learned.

So tell, tell the listeners a little bit about that. Because I thought that was brilliant.

Drew: [00:08:49] You know that I'm glad you brought that up. So we, over the years of writing proposals, we, I have figured out, now I don't want to say it's a secret sauce. But it's something that's worked real well to help, um, position the, um, the proposal and defray the pricing and justify it through, um, very, um, objective terms. So what happens in the, um, pre-talk and this is the secret sauce guy. So, you know…

Jason: [00:09:17] Listen in.

Drew: [00:09:20] So what happens in the pre-talk is you always ask who are your biggest competitors? So if it's an SEO person you're going to ask, um, who do you want to outrank?

Or if it's a, um, pay-per-click or if it's even a local business, you need to get a list of the top three or four people that they want to actually outrank and compete against. So then in the, in the proposal stage, you take those three competitors and you run them through your tools, whether it's SpyFu or any of those business intelligence programs; which will give you a good idea of what those competitors are spending on SEO or spending on pay-per-click.

This allows you to come up with a proposal and a pricing of that proposal with instant justification. So then when I walked in person through the proposal, a list of the competitors is the first thing. I'm like ok, we went back to our desk, put pencil to paper, you guys want to compete against these people. They're spending X on SEO. This guy's spending X on SEO. And this other third competitor is not spending anything on SEO, but he's spending a ton of paper. So, if we want to compete against these three people, this is where you need to be. And instantly, suddenly the… if the retainer is 10 grand a month, that may be what it is.

And if they go, whoa, that's way too much. The instant objectification is, well, you may need to play in a smaller pond cause these aren’t your competitors.

Jason: [00:10:46] As an agency owner, it's hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or re-investing and, you know, when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we're excellent marketers, but when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing our financial data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

And that's why my friend Nate created Agency Dad specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they're really good at. Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business.

He understands everything from how to structure your books, to improving the billing process and really managing your financial efficiencies. Agency Dad will show you how to use your financial data to make the key decisions, you know, from making your agency more successful and most importantly, more profitable. If you want to know how your agency finances stack up to the rest of the industry, Agency Dad can tell you that you know how to do that.

A lot of my listeners have already gotten their free audit from Agency Dad. If you haven't yet, go to agencydad.money/freeaudit before August 30th and get your free financial metrics. Also, just for smart agency listeners, find out how to get your first month of bookkeeping or dashboarding and consulting for free. It's time to clean up your agency finances and listen to dad.

Go to agencydad.money/freeaudit that's agencydad.money/freeaudit.

I think it's so brilliant. It's such punching him in the mouth. Uh, you know, I feel like, well, you know, it's kinda like shit or get off the pot. Um, you know, it's like, do you really want to compete against them? Because, and it's, and it's really compelling. Like I never thought about when you, when you shared that, like, that's really interesting.

Like, I wish I did that on their proposals. Like if you really want to compete against them, because at the end, like I used to, like, I don't care who your competitors were because, you know, we were in the design business, right? Like, I didn't want to be sidetracked with designing something that looked like someone else.

But like with the SEO or the pay-per-click, like you're talking about, like in comparing them… And then hitting them in the mouth going you know what? Maybe, maybe you need to go play in a smaller pond. Like that's fine.

+Drew: [00:13:30] No one wants to hear that either. So it's, it's the best objection saying well, that's our pricing. Or it's the best refusal or rebuttal?

Jason: [00:13:38] Oh, yeah, no, I, I love it. I mean, uh, we can end the interview now. I think everybody would be happy.

Um, what's, what's another strategy, um, that, that you've learned over the years, uh, that you want to share with the audience?

Drew: [00:13:54] You know, I would say be quick to respond. So many people worry about, oh, if I'm too quick to respond they're gonna think I'm too anxious. Or let's set up another date, I want them to know that I'm busy, but that's never worked out for me. I think you gotta be genuine. And if you really want it, show your enthusiasm.

And actually the other thing is, and this ties into anybody outside of the agency, even applying for a job. We've been interviewing for an operations manager right now. And I've been through so many interviews, I cannot tell you the last time someone actually ended the interview saying I'm really excited about this position. I feel like I'd be a great fit. I can't wait to work for you.

And the same thing when you're seeing a proposal or you're talking, everybody plays hard to get. If you're excited about winning the client, be honest and be enthusiastic. Let them know that you are stoked to be doing this. And I don't see that too often.

Jason: [00:14:47] Yeah. It's such an easy thing. And like, if I wish we could actually have the permission to use, uh, the cut from Vince Vaughn in Swingers, when, you remember? When, when the one guy gets the girl's phone number. And he goes through his friends with how long should I wait? And they're like seven days, eight days, two weeks.

And he's like calling her like over and over again. Like we've all seen that. And, uh, you know, I took, I took the approach you took, Drew. So if someone reached out on our website, I literally would call them while they're still on the website. And I would always call and I would say, hey, this is Jason from Solar Velocity. I'm so sorry. It took me so long to call you back.

They're like, I just hit submit. I'm like, well, that's how pumped we are. Like, we really want to chat with you. And like, thinking back, we won so many deals. Like we are almost a quarter way done the deals when they actually would be like, hey, you know, we're still getting proposals. Like the first proposals from reaching out to people.

I’m like idiots, you guys watched the movie swingers.

Drew: [00:15:57] Yep. Yep. That is definitely did show enthusiasm and ask, ask for the sale.

Jason: [00:16:03] That's an important thing too. Ask for the sale, you know, um, I'm doing training for you guys coming up, uh, around sales and like one of the parts that as I was doing this training, I was like, when we're auditing our salespeople, um, which you should be doing weekly. You know, one of the things you should be looking for is, is your sales person asking for the sale?

Like that's the most important part. That's kind of like giving away everything and then going all right, well, chat with you later.

Like ask for the freaking sale. Brilliant, awesome. Drew, this has been amazing, man. I don't know. What's taken me so long to get you on the podcast. So I'm so glad. And I'm glad that we actually saw you on the podcast on the mountain waving.

Drew: [00:16:55] Oh, yeah. That’ not….for listeners that don't know Jason's got a mountain's house, Swenk mountain. It's quite the climb, but beautiful view looking over the, over the lake and that's awesome.

Jason: [00:17:10] Yeah, it was, it was fun. Especially the first year, you've been out there twice. And the first year it was kind of fun. No one really knew what to expect hiking up and at high elevation. And, uh, it was kind of fun watching…

Drew: [00:17:23] Yeah, cause you were at like 10,000 feet or no?

Jason: [00:17:25] Uh, no, the, the, the top of the mountain is, uh, 8200.

Drew: [00:17:31] 82? See, I get the elevations all messed up. I was talking with another member of the mastermind about going over engineer paths on, on, on my podcast.

Jason: [00:17:39] That was 13,000.

Drew: [00:17:42] On the podcast. I talked about how we went over a 10,000-foot peak. I think it's a little higher.

Jason: [00:17:48] Yeah. So the one we took the ATVs? Uh, yeah, that was 13,000.

Um, so you were way up there above the…

Drew: [00:17:56] That was an incredible experience.

Jason: [00:17:58] Yeah. I'm so glad I can't wait for you guys to come back out. Um, is there anything I didn't ask you, Drew, that you think would benefit the audience?

Drew: [00:18:07] I would say just figure out what you don't know. Figure out what you don't do and start there.

I think there's a TV commercial that… maybe Matthew McConaughey was talking about that, but. Don't say yes to everything and figure out what you don't want to do, and then find a referral partner to refer that out to. That's so important because you don't have to actually lose the business.

You can get the business back with a referral to another agency.

Jason: [00:18:33] Yeah. Awesome. Or I'll say all right, all right. Um, where, uh, where can people check out the agency?

Drew: [00:18:41] Go to barrelsahead.com and you can find me on Twitter at @DrewHendricks. Um, Facebook @DrewHendricks.

Jason: [00:18:50] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Drew, for coming on the show. You've rocked it. You killed it. A lot of really good, uh, information and strategies that people can go execute now. So if you guys liked this and you want to hear more of this and be surrounded by really cool people like Drew and so many others. Uh, I'd love to have you guys all check out the digitalagencyelite.com. Should be scrolling up or for the listeners.

I mean, it's pretty easy name. That's why we picked it: digitalagencyelite.com.

Go there, check it out. And it's an amazing group of people growing and sending the mountain faster together rather than all alone by your lonesome self. So, and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Convert_More_Proposals_Without_Doing_a_Ton_of_More_Work.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Are you creating a solid recurring revenue stream for your agency? Dan Sundgren has been involved in the digital marketing industry since he became one of the first employees at Google around 2003. After years of witnessing the rise of that tech giant, he eventually started his digital agency, FreeGren, which specializes in SEM, SEO, SMM and Website Development and Maintenance. He sat down with Jason to talk about the lessons he learned at Google about breaking the rules and how there's always a different way to look at things. He also talked about his decision to work with contractors rather than having employees, and why recurring revenue is the goal.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Breaking the rules. Working at Google for many years since its beginning Dan had the opportunity to witness how that company grew, broke many rules, and created a new paradigm for corporations. One of the lessons he carries with him from that time is that you don't necessarily have to follow hard and fast rules. There's always a different way to look at things. And it’s good to remember that you can flip things on their head and think about it differently.
  2. Working with contractors. Another learning experience with Google was the way they took care of their employees. However, Dan and his partner decided early on that they would work with independent contractors. To do this, Dan spent years building a network of trusted partners that have now worked with him for years. He relies on them to do the heavy lifting. It has its own complications, as Dan admits, but he exclusively works with people he can trust. After all, it takes years to build a reputation and a name and he doesn’t want to sabotage that by doing crappy work.
  3. Recurring revenue is the goal. Like Frank Kern a few weeks ago, Dan talks about how he chose to scale slow and make sure his agency had solid recurring revenue streams for PPC, SEO, website maintenance, etc, where it is very repeatable. Now this gives him the tools to make pretty accurate forecasts, to the point that he can tell where his agency will be in 12 months.

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.

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Contractors vs Employees and Remember that Recurring Revenue is the Goal

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, agency owners. Welcome to another episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass. I am Jason Swenk and I have an amazing guest, Dan. We're going to talk about his building his agency over the past four years. But also what he's learned. He's one of the very first employees at Google. Um, I think he was telling me back in 2003 or 2004, he can correct me in a, in a second.

Um, and we're going to talk about really amazing things. So I can't wait. Um, but before we get into the episode, I want you to do something. I want you to take a screenshot of the podcast and then upload it to your favorite social media. Tag us, so I can give you a shout-out for listening to the show. And let's go ahead and jump into it and talk to Dan.

Hey, Dan. Welcome to the show.

Dan: [00:00:53] Thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:54] Yeah, man, excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Dan: [00:00:59] Uh, my name is Dan Sundgren. Uh, I started an agency over four years ago with a partner of mine, Scott Freeborn. The Genesis of our agency is FreeGren. After a long and laborious naming process, we mashed our names up at five o'clock and decided to call it good.

And we named our company FreeGren because we're a 50-50 two-headed beast. And we've just had a blast last four years building our little agency up here in the Northwest. Um, Scott came from Dexcom Media. Um, my experience was with Google, and AOL, and Merkel. Uh, worked in-house and built teams for 20 plus years.

Done quite a few things. And, uh, managed, in my estimation, over a billion dollars in paid advertising. Which at the very least gives me some scars on my back to figure something out, uh, you know, in the future. So, so that's what we're doing.

Jason: [00:01:58] So I have one question that I have to ask, are you the one that would send out the AOL CDs to us?

Dan: [00:02:04] Yeah, no, I, I think, I think, yeah, those were the…

Jason: [00:02:09] For all the old people. Uh, for us to get on the internet, AOL literally used to send out CDs so we can get on the internet and they give us like 50 hours.

Dan: [00:02:18] Yeah. The stacks of CDs, just carpet bombed in, in the mailboxes. Yeah.

Jason: [00:02:24] I love it. Well, um, tell us, uh, you know, what, what did you do for Google? Um, and tell us a little bit about the early days. And did I get it right in the intro? Was it 2003 or four?

Dan: [00:02:39] Yeah, I started, um, towards the end of 2003.

Jason: [00:02:43] Wow. It must have been crazy seeing all that growth.

Dan: [00:02:48] It, it was wild. Um, we were, obviously, we weren't public yet. Um, we would go down to campus in Mountain View because we started the Seattle office, a handful of us to really support the sales operation.

The engineers weren't even here yet. And, um, we have these global sales summits down there every year for the first three years, I think. Which were, we would like rent, Google would rent the village of Lake Tahoe and just run wild and engineers would be running around with bottles of booze and it was a, it was a wild time. It was a very wild time.

Um, got to meet chef Charlie who's, I don't know if you know the backstory, but Larry and Sergei hired The Grateful Dead chef. So chef Charlie was the guy who invented the entire food ecosystem at Google with just this gorgeous spreads and sushi bars and, you know, the works, right. That was his Genesis of, of like taking extra good care of people with their, you know, their stomachs.

So it was really crazy to watch them reinvent the way companies even think about employees. Really, that's what they were doing.

Jason: [00:03:56] I love the movie Internship that features Google like pre-show. Is it really like that? And you're like, no, it's just a lot more drinking.

Dan: [00:04:07] I was, again, I was in the sales team, so, yeah. Um, so there was definitely, there was a definitely a class system at Google. Um, and I think there's still, it's very engineering-run. Um, sales is sort of, I think in the big picture at the company sales and marketing and sort of a nice to have, I guess we've got to have those folks. But really the brain it always has been is with engineers.

It's an engineering-driven company. Um, not all tech companies are though, right? Some are very sales rooty. You know, um, some are a little of both. But they're still the hardcore… The engineers are running it. We know what's best for the user, blah, blah, blah. And I, you know, I don't know what it is today because it's so big, but…

Jason: [00:04:53] Yeah, well, I remember, um, my dad was my stockbroker for many, many years. I remember when Google was about to go public and I said, I want to buy stock. I want to buy a lot of stock.

Um, and he goes, no, no, no. $45 is way too much.

Dan: [00:05:12] Reverse Dutch Auction. Yeah. I remember they came out with that and the engineers again decided, and Larry, and so you're like, we're smarter than the market. We're going to do a Reverse Dutch Auction and all the brokers were like, you can't do that. Like why not?

And they did, they've constantly done things that are contrary to what you're supposed to do. Which I always found super refreshing, especially when I was working there. But I've watched them for the last 17, 18 years… geez. Continue to do things that sometimes you scratch your head and like… There's always something, right?

Like Jason, like, oh, no broad match modified is going away. Or there's a big algo(rithm) change. I'm like, yeah. Okay. They're, they're just going to keep, I mean, of course, they’re constantly….

Jason: [00:05:58] So, what, what have you learned from them and your years at Google? And did you guys call each other Googlers? Um, what did you guys…?

Dan: [00:06:08] Googlers, yeah. I got my… Right behind me is my hat. See the new that's called a Noogler hat.

Jason: [00:06:11] Oh, it is true.

Dan: [00:06:16] You had to wear it your first day. It had a propeller.

Jason: [00:06:19] Oh, that's funny. That's…

Dan: [00:06:21] Yeah. Around campus. So it's, it's a real thing. Um, I think what I've taken away is that you don't necessarily have to have hard and fast rules.

There's, there's always a different way to look at things. Um, there's always a different way to flip things on their head and kind of think about it differently. But, um, they inherently do obsess over their employees. They, they take ridiculously good care. And again, now it's 150,000 people, definitely different company, but it was clear from the get-go that this was a new paradigm of corporations.

Of… We want to take care of every need you have. And your personal life as well. I mean, nursing station and dry cleaning and like… All that stuff, it all kind of adds up to you feel like you're in a very comfortable environment that you don't have to worry about a lot and you can just do great work. And really they have the 10, was it the 10 per 10% time or 20% time? Sorry, 20.

Which again, one of those little Google things like take a day every week and just spitball stuff. Like, you know, that was unheard of, really. HP and Dell weren't doing that.

Jason: [00:07:31] No, no, they were too corporate.

Dan: [00:07:36] Yeah. It, you know, and so we, we try to like, with our little agency, we don't have any employees, actually.

Um, we built a virtual agency from day one, Scott and I, um, have very, very deeply in, in trusted partners. And we rely on them to do a lot of the heavy lifting and the nitty gritty. But that's for, with 20 years of vetting really good partners that we've entrusted those people as part of our company. But they're independent contractors.

Jason: [00:08:07] Yeah. Well, let's talk about that because I mean, you're, uh, a couple of million in revenue. And it's just you two, but you guys use contractors and strategic partners. And a lot of people are like, well, how do you do that? Right? Like what, like walk us through that a little bit.

Dan: [00:08:27] Yeah. That's probably the hardest thing to do and also the most important. Um, luckily I've been very involved for 20 years in, uh, marketing, uh, networking groups. So, um, we have a group up here in the Northwest called Seattle Interactive, and, uh, um, I've been on the board of that since the inception. There's another group in Portland that's fantastic.

It's um, they, they throw a search fast every year. It's SCM PDX, and I'm sort of the Seattle liaison there. So over the years. Um, I've slowly built this base on, you know, LinkedIn for instance of four or 5,000 people that I've met and talk to and, you know, kiss babies and shook hands and work the floor and how it got out there.

And, and through that Genesis, you start to build, um, a couple things, a big, big network. But also, B, uh, sort of the spidey sense of people that you would want to work with and you can inherently trust and, um, you can feed off each other in a positive way. So you can kind of weed through a lot of that. And the metamorphosis of that great network is when we started this, I had just started calling people and I was like, so-and-so is really good. We should talk to them.

And putting those p… those building blocks in place, and those partners are with us today, four years later. So, yeah, but it's hard and there's challenges, right? Not having employees versus outsourcing. Um, I'll be the first one to admit that when we were looking to scale a little bit and, you know, when people tap out, as far as their time and what they have to give you, because they have other clients too. We have to find some bench strength and that's, you know, we were very, very careful and meticulous about that.

Jason: [00:10:21] Um, so how are you always recruiting that talent then and making sure like you can fill…?

Dan: [00:10:30] Yeah. Uh, it's through, through my network, um, asking, you know, just literally asking around and talking to different folks, remembering people. Oh, you know that, I remember that guy was a WordPress developer. I met him. He was solid.

Kind of, we interview and vet them like you might an employee, but for what they do as a contractor. And we have some hard and fast rules. We are myopic; I'll admit it, like we are US-based. We, uh, we just are myopic that way. I want… and even selfishly I'd like them to be on the West Coast. And even more, it would be great if they're in the backyard in Seattle or Portland.

Because there's just so much great talent and good people. And then, you know, there's sort of that affinity. And, um, when you build a big network, you have a reputation to uphold and you know this as well as anyone, right? Um, your, your name is your brand, is your worth, uh, to sort of the greater… thing out there, which is business. And, uh, I take that pretty seriously.

Like you, you know, if you spend 20 years nurturing a career, you don't want to sabotage that going, you know, by going out and doing crappy work and not taking care of clients. And, you know, because the word kind of gets out and you just don't want to be that person. You just want to continue to keep that bar high.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

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Well, it takes what? 20 years to build a brand? And one second to tear it down.

Dan: [00:12:56] Yeah, right? Yeah. Good adage.

Jason: [00:12:59] Right? Like, we've seen that with many, I mean, I used to work for Arthur Anderson out of school. Right? And so we saw, you know, that was one of the biggest brands out there in the consulting practice. And then foom! You know, gone.

So it's, uh, it's, you gotta be very, very careful, um, at that. Um, what is, this has all been amazing. I love to kind of see the origin story and how you kind of tapped into that. Is there anything else that I didn't ask you that you think, you know, the audience would benefit from of what you've learned over the past four years of have grown your agency, and congrats, very quickly?

Dan: [00:13:45] Thanks. Um, well, a few, a few nuggets. I think that, um, and again, uh, I'm super transparent and love to share like you, so nothing's sort of off the table there. Um, but some nuggets that we picked up, um, from the get-go and still hold true are… Like the recurring revenue piece to me is the goal. Um, I just don't, I don't know how these web development shops go out and build their book every year.

I, it's a head-scratcher it just seems like a nightmare to me. That's just my 2 cents. Um, so we built, um, really solid recurring revenue streams in for PPC, SEO, website maintenance and hosting. Um, where it's very repeatable it's, um, we can, we can forecast with it pretty well. Um, let me, I can tell you probably in 12 months where we'll be, you know, in the big picture and, um, it continues to build on itself.

And we built our agency purposely pretty slow where I, I call it like we’re, like a snake, right? Like we'll eat a big mouse and then we'll just, we'll take some time and digest. And, you know, we won't worry about getting a new client until we get that one dialed in and really plugged in and make their phone ring. Then we'll move, we'll move into the next, next mouse.

And so we built it really slow on purpose with that recurring revenue in place. So that we have a predictable business model and that's, that's kind of been something that's been really critical to our success, I think. Um, and then do, you and I were talking before the show, uh, one of the best things you can do is figure out what you don't know.

Like what are your blind spots? Um, and what's, and what's coming, right? Because, um, I was selling 88 x 31 banners in 99. And that was it. And 468 x 60s. So clearly things have gotten a little different

Jason: [00:15:40] A little bit. Little change.

Dan: [00:15:43] A little bit. Uh, yeah, it's always changing in, in social media and like, um, all the new flavors of media. You're still trying to reach an audience, but there's just different ways to do it. Different platforms, what's up and coming?

Um, You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet. And you know, if Pinterest is something that we should try for our clients, let's give it a chest. Let's not be afraid to just, I don't want to stay like, this is what we do. These are the four channels we, we only know.

Um, but also not, you know, spread yourself too thin and try and stay in your lane a little bit. So it's that balance, right?

Jason: [00:16:16] Yeah, it totally is. Yeah. I mean, I totally agree with you on recurring revenue. Like it’s… We all want, like, we all get into the agency space or create a business for predictability and freedom and money.

But a lot of times we create this kind of prison around us and we don't have predictability. We don't have freedom, we don't have money. Right? Like, and we keep hiring more people. Um, but, uh, you know, when you actually start figuring out some of that. Like our, our agency, we were 80% project-based. And how we got through it and how we create a predictability is we just created a huge pipeline.

Like I was chatting with a good buddy of mine a little while ago, and he was talking about how he's starting to resent some of his clients. And I told him, I said, look, buddy, like you're resenting your clients because you have a lead generation problem because you're too reliant on the existing client base. Rather than having a over abundance of people coming to you.

And then you just pick it up. And then charging what you're actually worth. Um, so, but I, I agree with you on the recurring revenue. And also too, like, if you're not always learning… Like that's always been a core value in our agency and our business now. Even when we bring on people in the mastermind I’m like, you have to always be like, am I, what am I learning today? What are the lessons that today taught me?

Or what are the lessons that the mistakes that I made last week or two seconds ago? Which happens a lot. That's what my team tells me a lot.

Dan: [00:17:56] No, absolutely. And knowing when to say no and stay, when I say stay in your lane, Jason, is like… If a client came and said, hey, do you guys do TV and radio?

We just, we trust you implicitly with the digital. I would be the first one to go. You know, we absolutely don't have any core expertise. That's just that staying in your lane, you know, that's, it's hard enough to stay on top of what we do do. Um, but maybe I could find a partner or, you know, maybe I could, I could vet, ask around that around town, whatever.

Um, I think a lot of you get in that trap of no, let's do everything, you know, let's do 15 different disciplines. Um, and if you do want to get into that, you know, subject matter experts, either employees or contractors and get someone good to really do the work. Don't pretend you can, you know, learn on the fly sometimes if you're going to slot that in.

Jason: [00:18:50] Yeah. And when you go to your clients that like, they give you that great honor, and be like, we trust you explicitly to do this and you go, hey, we don't feel comfortable with it, but let me connect you to two or three people. Like you, like, you're the connector. Like they will always come to you and they're coming to you for a problem and they'll keep coming rather than you take on a project that you just totally botch.

And then it's just, it's over.

Dan: [00:19:20] Yeah. Yeah. And then you're setting yourself up really, if you, if you take that, that other path, I think. Um, and trust, is it, I mean, that's, I guess if one, I mean, that's the big one, right? That's the cornerstone of everything is, is trust. And you probably hear time again from the best client relationships are that just it's like relationship.

Like you've gone through the fire, you’ve broken some eggs to make the omelet. You've, you've fixed things that have broken. But you know what? That's good because it's like the Nordstrom thing, right? When, when you go to Nordstrom, I dunno, I haven’t  been in Nordstrom for years. But their whole mantra was you don't like it? We'll, we'll take care of it.

Like we're just going to take care of it, and you just know that when you go in. Um, it's that white glove service, you know, things are going to go haywire, but we will fix them. We'll make it right. We'll, we'll answer our phone. Um, I can't tell you how much negligence we continue to run into in the agency world.

It's kind of, it's kind of disturbing, still, to take a client from an agency off the road and… They have no idea what they're getting. They just been stroking a check for 10 years. The guy won't call them back. They don't, they don't know where their Google analytics and their data is.

They have no idea what's going on and they're paying like eight grand a month for 10 years. And the guy that won't courtesy call them back and it's still happening. And that's kind of why we started our, our shop because, um, Scott, uh, worked at a company and a lot of that was happening and you’re just like, that shouldn’t still be happening.

Jason: [00:20:59] Yeah, I, it's amazing. So many people go to me as they're starting out and they go, uh, what's, what's the secret to scaling fast? I say, you have to be better than everyone else in the service that you deliver. Like, because I see so many, uh, these people will be nameless, but there are so many people that are really good at marketing themselves and selling. But then on delivering they fall down.

And they're like, why can't we grow? But then they keep putting out content to show people that… I'm like, good gosh, like, your model is broken. Like, take that dog behind the shed and shoot it, like stop. You're not built for this, so… But, uh, yeah. It's uh, yeah, so it's a, it's always a breath of fresh air when I find people that can deliver results and that actually care, you know, uh, about that.

So congrats on your success. Um, what's the website address where people can go and check out the agency?

Dan: [00:22:05] It's free. freegren.com.

Jason: [00:22:09] Awesome.

Dan: [00:22:09] Or, or Jason, you can go to nobullshit.agency.

Jason: [00:22:14] Oh, I like that one better. You should lead with that one.

Dan: [00:22:18] And, and you'll, and you'll end up on our, on our homepage.

Jason: [00:22:21] There you go. No bullshit dot agency? Oh, I love that. Yeah. Go there. Use that URL. That's way better.

Dan: [00:22:29] You know? Um, it's, it's, it's a little, I guess, you know, it'd be a little bit, yeah, you know, in your face.

Jason: [00:22:36] No, no. Like, like the people that you want to work with, just since you said that, like the people that you don't want to work with, they'll be the ones that get offended.

It's kind of like what I say on the mastermind, like on our mastermind page, like our first core value is no douche bags. And if you're offended by it, well, you're probably not going to do well.

Dan: [00:23:03] Yeah, yeah. We use the Tommy boy quote, you know, I will, you know, I can trust the butcher and put my head up cow's ass, but I might as well trust the butcher, you know, that, that old quote.

Jason: [00:23:12] Exactly. I can quote that whole movie. Guarantee it’s the best part. I got time.

Dan: [00:23:23] Yeah, the movie quote. I can talk and movie quotes probably for a good five minutes.

Jason: [00:23:27] Um, I think we should just come up with a podcast just to talk movie quotes, do it.

Dan: [00:23:33] We should do it. We should do it. That'd be a challenge. Can you, how long can you talk and movie quotes?

Jason: [00:23:36] Oh, I could do it for a long time. I mean, I just go back to the eighties and nineties movies that I grew up on, you know, exactly Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison.

Dan: [00:23:49] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Jason: [00:23:51] All those. Sorry. We're so derailed. What about hosting?

Dan: [00:23:56] I like derailing. Derailing is good sometimes.

Jason: [00:24:01] Well, awesome. Well, everyone go check out, um, nobullshit.agency. I love that URL. See, I even remember it. I don't even remember the other one. So, yeah, that's memorable. So go check that out. And um, if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners, because look… We all have blind spots like we talked about and other people can see them a lot better.

I want to invite all of you to go to the digitalagencyelite.com and, uh, see if you qualify to be with the best agency owners all over the world, sharing what's working now. So you guys can grow your agency and scale it a lot faster and create that predictability, that freedom and the money that you want, and really the impact that you can have on the world.

So go do that now. And until next time, have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Why_a_Solid_Recurring_Revenue_Stream_is_the_Key_to_Agency_Growth.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Brian R. Johnson has served as a leader in online advertising and conversion rate strategy for nearly two decades. He had been offering professional training courses in the Amazon ad space for years before opening his own agency with his partner. Now, Canopy Management is an eight-figure agency and the leading A-to-Z, full service Amazon agency. He joins the podcast to talk about how he built his platform and community before being an agency owner, how he learned the importance of documenting processes and giving new team members access to them from day one, and how he encourages everyone in the team to build each other up.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Building a platform. Many agency owners start their business by offering training courses, advising others on how to solve problems in their niche. This was the case for Brian, who admits he has trained some of his biggest competitors, but also says that this is what helped his agency grow quickly in the first year. People already knew him and wanted to work with him, either as clients or as employees because he had spent years building up a reputation and a community.
  2. Learn to get out of your own way. Agency owners can get in the mindset that they can do everything. In reality, you are crippling your team if they don’t have access to a documented process. It’s no good to the agency or the team if you only have it in your head. You need to document it and you’ll be surprised to see how the team can then take that and improve it.
  3. Encourage your team to build each other up. Our guest recommends doing “daily huddles” to build a more united team. These are 10-minute daily minutes where he will ask “who had a win yesterday?” “What are some problems that we should all be aware of?” And “who got caught being awesome?” This way, he encourages the team to celebrate their own wins and highlight their teammates' successes. It is a highlight of the week at this agency.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Create a Platform and Build an Eight-Figure Agency

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up everybody? Jason Swenk here. And I have an amazing episode with Brian who runs an eight-figure agency. Um, and we're going to talk about what it's like to run operations for an eight-figure agency. Cause I know a lot of you are trying to get to the summit to get to that next level. And so we're going to dive into this in this episode, so let's get into it.

Hey, Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:00:30] Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. So, uh, tell us briefly who you are and what do you guys do?

Brian: [00:00:37] Of course. So my name is Brian R. Johnson. I throw that in there cause there's a lot of Brian Johnson's out in the world. So, um, yeah, Brian Johnson out of, uh, based here in Austin, Texas.

I am currently traveling on the West Coast with my family. So I am in the Amazon space, uh, running an agency, actually co-running an agency, uh, that handles, um, multimillion-dollar sellers brands that are brick and mortar brands, as well as, uh, sellers who sell on the Amazon sales channel. And so we handle all their advertising and, uh, quite a bit of their marketing that goes into moving more product for them. So, that's kind of the short version of what I do.

Jason: [00:01:24] That's awesome. And so why would you partner with someone else named Brian? It’s got to be so confusing. That's the first question I got for you.

Brian: [00:01:34] Yeah. He actually recruited me. Because he tracked me down because I happened to be, um, I was the subject matter expert in, in my subject, you know, in the advertising space, within Amazon. You know, the niche within the niche, right?

And, um, he tracked me down a number of years ago and hired me to consult for his own account. And he says, okay, you obviously know a lot more than you think you do. I want to partner with you and work on… We originally came out with, cause I had already created like a community and… software. He’s like okay, next thing you need to do is produce, you know, a professional training course.

We did that. And that eventually evolved into the agency because everyone said you guys obviously know what you're doing. You've got a huge success record. Just do it for me. It's like, okay. Obviously that, you know, that kind of begs the need for the agency level of service, which is, as you already know, a huge learning curve by itself.

Jason: [00:02:35] Yeah. Well, I love how you guys, I didn't know, um, how you got your start that way. And that's actually a really good… Thinking about a lot of other agencies in the mastermind and people I've worked with. Some of the most successful ones have actually started from a training course. People like want to know how to do something and then they're like, just do it for me. And then it just kind of takes off.

Brian: [00:02:59] Well, I got to tell you just that, the… I've created a lot of my own competitors.

Jason: [00:03:04] Of course. Me too!

Brian: [00:03:06] Because of my training. You know, but I mean, that's just kind of a by-product of, you know, just, just giving to the community and just, you know, sticking your neck out there. And just saying, look, here's, here's what people need to know. If that creates competition, so be it.

Jason: [00:03:19] Well, and the thing people have to realize. And it took me… Man, and sometimes I still try to figure it out, right? Like, literally people, you can put out everything that you're doing, but it will never be the same as you. Because we're all unique. We all have our own personalities and we're constantly, always, I know I am, I'm always thinking of new stuff.

So even if you copied my old stuff, I'm like, oh crap. That stuff was two years ago. Like…

Brian: [00:03:48] Exactly, exactly. Yeah, you got to keep moving. You got to keep innovating. That's something where I've done that before. I did that in the software side, where if I didn't innovate within six months, everybody caught up to me.

I was like, oh there, hold on, you know, they're there, they're all your tail lights, you know, constantly. And so if you're not continually moving, continually innovating, then you're gonna get past.

Jason: [00:04:10] So let's talk a little bit about the operations, right? So an operations of a bigger agency. You know, let's talk about kind of the structure that you guys have, uh, within the agency. Because, you know, a lot of people listening, you know, some people, or most people trying to crack the eight-figure mark, some people are just trying to crack the million-dollar mark as well, right?

So, talk about the different stages that you guys have gone through on an operations front. Because usually most people I bring on, they're always kind of the, the ones doing sales and marketing and that kind of stuff. So I'd love to get your perspective on the ops.

Brian: [00:04:48] So, yeah, so, so, um, the, the relationship that my partner and I had was that he was the sales and marketing guy, right?

He had all the Russell Brunson experience and all the funnels and the, you know, the, the two commas and all that kind of stuff, right? And he, he obviously had that side of it. I had the technical knowledge. I was a subject matter expert. And so, we kind of blended those two together. Now, just because you've got sales and marketing and you've got expertise, you know, you can fill the roles. Doesn't mean you can execute on those roles.

People need to recognize that as like, you need to recognize when you need to step out of your own way. Because you might be holding the company back because you think you can do everything. Which is, in my opinion, foolish. But I know only know that because of hindsight, not because I didn't think the same thing when I was there.

Um, and so certainly the first year, um, it was, it was pretty easy because of the reputation I had built up over the years. It was, it was pretty easy, actually, from the sales and marketing standpoint. We just had to let people know that, hey, we were available and we, you know, got out there. That's not a common challenge I think among a lot of agency owners who are like, I have this expertise, but nobody knows who I am.

Because they didn't spend years and years and years, um, to become an overnight success. Um, they didn't, they didn't put in the time in order to build up a reputation and a community and an audience and those kinds of things to then translate that into, okay, here, here are my leads.

So the part that was the easy part was like we had, we had new clients that were coming in. The problem we had was we didn't have everything pulled out of my head as far as the processes. As far as like here's the checklist, here's how somebody, I can hand it off to a team of people. Um, and they can just execute and they can execute consistently, okay?

So is that consistent execution of a laid out plan wasn't there. And so we constantly, we stumbled. We, you know, we hit our face on the wall, you know what I mean, whatever analogy you want to use on this. It was a, it was a struggle. Caused a lot of pain. It caused a lot of tension between my partner and I, and so, um…

Well, I recognize that like, first of all, I had to get some kind of documentation. I was trying to, you know… In my head, I had, okay, I can solve a hundred percent of all problems on Amazon when it comes to advertising. But really what the agency team needed was, you need, they need like 50% of that, Brian. You need to get that documented. And you're the only one who has that knowledge.

And so once I got that first, first iteration, I guess, of the, the process, the documentation, the checklist out, then they looked at it and say, well, can we do it this way better? It's like, then they start innovating on their own because now they have control and you kind of like… You know, for me, I had to let go of the, the, I guess the feeling that, that I wanted to say, no, no, no, we can do all these other things.

And it wasn't until we acquired another agency, brought in somebody who had a lot more experience on the operation side and said, okay, we're going to actually have you do run operations.

That's when we made a huge shift between, uh, between here's all of the knowledge that we can do. Here's all the things we could do, versus here's all the things we need to do in order to run profitably as an agency and consistently as an agency, because that's what our clients expect of us.

Jason: [00:08:26] Yeah. You know, I see so many times, you know, people for the longest time they go in, like, I'm glad you explained it and be like, look, I can just do it. Like I can solve anything, just give it to me.

And you pull it back from people. And you're really crippling them. Like you're giving like huge crutch that if you take away, they're screwed. But I love how you put it and go if I could just get them 50% there. It's kind of what I call like, and also learn, I'm not delegating tasks, I'm delegating outcomes.

And like when you learn that, that is so freeing, because I love the story that you were like, hey, I gave him 50% and then they were like, well, let me innovate on top of this to make it better. And then the, and then how much pressure did that take off your shoulders?

Brian: [00:09:13] Oh, it was good because, because I was in a state of, you know, full on just overwhelm. You know, where you wake up and you're kind of like, you wake up panicked, like, oh, what do I need to do today? It's like, oh, you know, I mean, there was conversations where I had, um…

Jason: [00:09:26] Did you have a full head of hair like me before?

Brian: [00:09:34] Yes. Yeah, unfortunately, that was, uh, yeah. That, that was gone long time ago.

Yeah, the um… Yeah, it caused a lot of stress, uh, for sure. Um, you know, of course that kind of stuff always translates back to your family. Sometimes as entrepreneurs, we don't even recognize that. And we, we do need to, uh, because it creates it, echo creates an echo stress and echo attention from your family.

And that's exactly not what any of us want, but I think it's a by-product of trying to take on too much, trying to not hand the reins off. Mostly because I had enough ego there, I was like, well, I'm the one who knows all these things. And what it took me… it probably took me a good year and a half before it finally sunk in. Like that long. Is we don't need your a hundred percent of knowledge, Brian. We need your 50% of what's executable.

You know, and consistently and applies to everybody, not, not all these fringe examples of, uh, here's an exception, here's the advanced tactic and all this kind of stuff. It's like, that's all great and everything. We'll pull you in when we need, we need that. But to run the agency, you got to get that you got it's Pareto, it's even 20%, you know, of that. You know, is what we need in order to, uh, have a functioning agency that doesn't just burn through clients and staff.

Jason: [00:11:03] So what was the, what was the mindset shift? Because I remember when I transitioned from an owner to, you know, the CEO, there was a huge… Like for a while, I was depressed. Because I was like, all right, I'm not needed anymore. Like, um… And I did have an ego back then. Uh, and I was like, no, I know more than everybody, which is the dumbest thing.

Like, literally, after I learned what I learned, I was like, man, I want to be the dumbest person in the room.

Brian: [00:11:38] Yeah. Well, and we think that we, it was like, oh, well, I'm so clever. I'm going to hire people smarter than me. But ultimately if you're the one who came in with the knowledge came in with the experience, the tendency, uh, certainly I experienced the same thing as, as you and many others, is we still have a certain amount of control.

We're just like, I'm not a controlling, well, yeah, you kind of are, you know, when it comes down to it because this is your baby. This is your, your, your expertise. And if somebody comes in or a team comes in and says, hey, we could execute on this better than what you taught us, you’re kind of like wait, what that's not possible, you know?

And it's like, it took me the first two years to finally step back. When I finally actually stepped back and said, okay, I'm going to completely let go of… Like, one of the things I did recently, um, late last year is I completely stepped away from the software that I had invented years ago for this space.

And that was extremely difficult because that was my baby, you know? Um, and so while I still have plenty of value to the team and to clients and to, you know, audience. As far as, hey, here's the latest tactic than, you know, the, the advanced tactic, here's the exception. You know, also I can step in and do coaching at that point.

But I am not the thought leader within the, I might be a thought leader within the community, but I'm not necessarily a thought leader within the agency. And that's exactly what we should get to. Because if you're that one person that gets hit by a bus and the whole agency fails, that's your fault. That is your fault because you let it happen.

And at this point, like I could disappear and honestly this agency will continue to grow and succeed. Because of the teams that we have in place because of the knowledge base that we have in place. Um, and the pool of experience and the, and the level of collaboration within the, the culture of our, of our agency is very important.

Jason: [00:13:44] As an agency owner, it's hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or reinvesting and, you know, when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we're excellent marketers. But when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing, you know, our financial data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

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Well, you mentioned something important there too. You, your role really kind of shifted to from, uh, you know, coaching and, and really kind of coaching the team. And then as, as I found that we stepped into that, well, now you're not as emotionally attached to a lot of the decisions that they may have. Where then you can actually help them out a lot more.

Whether, you know, being from when you were coding, I used to be the world's worst coder, just cause I outsourced everything in college, right? So, but, but that's why I could lead development teams because I wasn't emotionally attached because I didn't care about the syntax. Like literally I was like, I just understand the logic that needs to happen.

Brian: [00:16:19] You could design it. You saw, you saw the direction it needed to go, but it's like, yeah. Don't make the code, because I'm just going to slow you down.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:16:26] Oh yeah. I'm like, there was no semi-colon there. Like I used to have people sitting over my shoulder and be like…They would yell at me. I'm like, yeah. I'm like, I don't give a shit about your stupid semicolon. You hire some joker that wants to put the damn semi-colon there.

I don't give a shit. I would get so mad. And that's when I, you know, we voluntarily, uh, or maybe forced out Arthur Anderson, uh, to start this. So, but, uh, all good. What…? On let's, let's switch to kind of the team, like a building a team around you, right?

You talked about, uh, going through a lot of people, right? Probably because you were maxing them out. Um, and we talked about, you know, that 50%. What other things did you do and what type of people… Was there a different type of people that you look for as well?

Brian: [00:17:21] Well, so the, the. And initially it wasn't a case of like, we had a lot of, uh, we, it wasn't like we had a lot of turnover as far as our staff, we had a lot of people who were stuck with us for a long time.

It was more a case of, you know, the client turnover and that creates stress, you know? Um, but ultimately there was a couple of things. One is, again, the training that I put out there trained not only some competitors, but also some of my best employees as well.

You know, and so they had started their own practice where they applied it to their own business. And so they already knew of me. So when they saw that we were hiring… that seems even better because now I can actually get in with the team that I have respect for. And that's the best way to interview.

You're not going to tell. Yeah. You know, it's like, you know, they could be. You know, they could be a fan of whatever, you know, we've, we've taught in the past or whatever, but really it's like, what, at what value can you add? What experience do you have coming in?

Um, and we continue to get that to, to the, you know, to this day. We have people that we have to turn away and say, okay, get a little bit more experienced before you come in. Because our bar is pretty high.

But that also helps us to hire smarter people than us. You know, people who have got their own ideas of their own experience executing on, uh, on my training and saying, hey, I'm going to do something a little different. That’s totally cool you know, they don't have to conform to everything because I want them to contribute to a growing innovating team, a team and culture.

Rather than, you know, cause otherwise I would just hire a bunch of, you know, VAs that were task-based out of the Philippines or something. And then just say like, okay, they're going to do it, but I have to manage each and every one of them.

I don't need that. I don't want that. Don't want to have to manage every single person. I want to have people who manage their own teams. And within that team, they've got a culture of collaboration and support and innovation and they get the job done and then they, then, then we celebrate their success every single day, every single week.

They charge themselves, you know, I don't need to be constantly propping them up. That is a drain on me. And that's something that, you know, once we have, um, I'm not sure what, what our, uh, what our total headcount is at the moment. I want to say it's probably north of 60, probably. Um, but you know, it started out where we were just hiring people who were specialized in here's the service. Here's the first service we provide and we started building out teams like that.

Um, and we had a very low employee-to-client ratio starting out. And part of that was like, oh, we're, you know, we're boutique. And, you know, we were very specialized and we're expensive and that kind of stuff.

That was all great and everything until you got to the point where like, okay, we can't grow. We can't scale because we can't find the people that we need because all these other competitors that we created or, or popped up in the environment, they're also out there recruiting, you know? And so then you start having a knowledge glut in your training, you know?

So that's when you have to really refine your training to make sure that each employee has access right from day one of the onboarding and they can shadow somebody and they can learn, how do we do things? Where do I get the information? So that they're not sitting around on their hands going, like, I don't know who to ask or where to go. You might as well just, just shoot them and send them out the door, you know? Cause they're gone if that's the case.

Jason: [00:20:43] Yeah. I'd love too that, and it sounds like you have your employees go through the ones that haven't started for. Like, I love how you recruit from the training course. That's brilliant. That's worked for a lot of my clients in the past. They were like, we just take the best. And we’re like, you want, you want to, like, you want to do this, but you don't want to do it on your own.

Like, we'll sell everything. So that's brilliant. But do you also, and I also like how you have, it's a training program for them to follow the process of going through it. Um, talk, lastly, let's talk about… What is the kind of the requirement for building bringing in people that will lead their own team? I think some people listening are struggling with that rather than going, like you were saying, hire in the Philippines.

Brian: [00:21:33] Right. Well, I mean, you know, we looked at, we look at other agencies not for their book of business, not for the clients or the revenue that they have, but the people they have. And so we, that's the acqui-hire model, you know, where you basically are looking for, like, what kind of talent do you have in your company that is worth us investing in or acquiring?

And so I think that was where I, one of the early best decisions we made. Is we picked up, um, an agency that, um… Like I said eventually became our director of operations and then eventually our COO. Um, you know, because the owner of that agency had so much, they weren't sales and marketing. They did it, but theirs, their, their, their best skillset, their best talent was everything has got to be a process.

It doesn't exist unless it's in a process. And then everything needs to be compared against what, how, what does that provide as far as a, a profit margin, you know, or a revenue per employee, and what's the efficiency of it. You've got to have somebody who looks at it from an engineering mindset like that. But can look at it along with the numbers, with the financing to say, this is correct. This is not correct. We need to change something here.

And constantly just be, um, the quite aggressive. You can't have somebody who's running operations. Who's a passive like, hey, I'm a team player. Like, is that? No, no, you need a driver. You need somebody who knows how to, like, how do we make this into a machine?

Um, let somebody else worry about sales and marketing and HR and, you know, whatever.

Jason: [00:23:11] Yeah, I love it. I love that you, uh, that they said, uh, or that you said, uh, it doesn't exist unless it's kind of written down. Like I remember one guest was saying, um, we didn't do it unless we communicated it several times to the client.

Right? It's kind of that same mentality. Uh, you know, I love it. Um, well, Brian, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Brian: [00:23:38] You know, there was two things that we, I do. Yeah. There's, there's two things that we do with than our agency that, um, I think that give us an advantage.

One of them is, um, uh, what we call a daily huddle, which is basically like a, like, like a 10 to 15 minute call with all hands on a zoom call. We literally have everybody on a zoom call for like 10 minutes, 10, 15 minutes every morning. And we don't get into the business. We basically say like, Hey, who had a win yesterday?

You know, and people go around like half a dozen people will say, hey I had this win and that win and whatever. Um, and then we say, okay, are there any critical issues that everybody needs to know about? Nope. All right. Who got caught being awesome? You know, that's something I learned from, uh, from a CEO coach. You know, who got caught being awesome?

They shout each other out to build each other up and say, this person helped me help me succeed yesterday or last week, this week or something like that. And, uh, you know, every single time we do that, every single weekday. And we, we leave and we're charged up and people feel good and people look forward to the calls.

It's not a drag on them because they know it's like, hey, you know what? I might get shot out. Cause I did some awesome yesterday and I really helped somebody and I get a little kudos. You know, I get a little bump, you know, from, from the group. And everybody gets to see, you know, that there's a collaborative environment. Especially when you've got new people who come in and their first week and they see that. They're like, oh yeah, I landed in the right place.

And that, that, that turns out great.

Jason: [00:25:06] I love that. You know, I've never. You know, that's kind of what we do on our mastermind calls. And a lot of times what I'll do in my coaching calls, I'll always talk about what's your past wins since we last chatted? Because you have to, you know, a lot of times when the reaching out to a coach or they're coming to their meeting, they want to solve a problem.

And they're not in that resourceful stat. They're in that stress state. And when you switch it to something positive, it switches that state to make them more resourceful in order to figure it out. But also too, I love that. Who did, what was it? Who did something awesome for you?

Brian: [00:25:42] Who got, yeah. Who got being caught? Who, who got caught being awesome?

Jason: [00:25:46] That’s. Oh, I never thought about that. I'm so borrowing that.

Brian: [00:25:50] Yeah. We first do it. You know, when we first did it, it felt a little bit cheesy. But you know, we've done it for, uh, you know, at least two years now. It's like, it's expected. You know, and people love it. And on Friday, you know, we usually like try to bump it up and we'll play some funny videos like that. And just get people just excited, you know, like, hey, it's Friday and it's fun, you know?

So those kinds of things, um, are, are certainly great. Um, if we have time, I have a second one too, if you'd like.

Jason: [00:26:14] Go for it, man.

Brian: [00:26:17] So the second one is, um, I will go through and I will talk to, uh, employees that, you know, starting obviously with the people it's like, okay, I don't want to lose this person, right? I want to make sure that they are, you know, firing on all cylinders, pointing the same direction.

They're happy and they're, they're fired up to wake up each day and do the job. Um, but one of the, there's a couple of things that I'll ask and that is, you know, what is it, if that energizes you in a day? What tasks do you do each day that give you energy and it builds you up that you're happy about, you're excited about doing?

Now on the flip side of that, which ones drain your energy? Which ones do you try to avoid? That kind of stuff. Because there's somebody else on the team that is excited about the tasks that drain you. Shift some things to make sure that every single day you're going, there's going to be an awesome day.

This is cool. A lot of, a lot of times, as, as an agency owner, we want to, you know, we look at the money and we think it's like, oh, I need to give people, you know, bump a little bonus, you know, a little more money. It's like, no, reduce the drag on their life so that they're not drained. So they're happy, their family is happy. You know, they feel energized every single day.

And you can do that simply by saying, you know what? This particular thing is part of your job description. But if it's not right for you, if somebody else over here is excited about doing that, then let's move it over. And then every, then both of you are happy.

Jason: [00:27:45] Yeah. You know, I, I learned that lesson the hard way. I remember when I would bring in project managers, cause I originally used to manage projects, right? And I hated it. Like literally I didn't want to talk to a clients ever. And I'd go to him in the interview process. I'd be like, hey, you're going to sit in this job for about a year and a half. It's going to suck and then I'll move you up.

Well, what I realized was some project managers love repetition. And they love the same thing over and over again. And they're like, I just want to stay here. Like, why are you pushing me to the next…?  Just be, and I portrayed, like I figured, like everyone's like me, like everybody wants to move up.

So I love that you go to them all the time. Like which one you get extreme, a lot of energy, kind of like looking on iPhone battery, right? Which one drains you, you know? Cause I do a… Coming up in the mastermind, I'm going to talk about like auditing your time and really getting rid of those, uh, things that just suck your energy. Because then if you have no energy going into a meeting, like, especially from the top, like, like don't you realize, like if you, if, if you come in and bad mood, your whole team… and it just propagates all the way down.

Brian: [00:29:03] It absolutely does. Yeah. I love the idea of time auditing. We've done that a few times and it's one of those things that needs to be done more often. You know, it feels like micromanagement. It's like, no, no, this is not for me. This is for you to know what you're doing. For you to recognize that you spend four hours every day doing something that is painful to you.

It's like, that's not correct. Don't continue to do that.

Jason: [00:29:27] We had a mastermind member that, uh, always would talk to their employees every week and going, they wouldn't ask the energy level, but they always said every time we chatted, hey, if you ever have anything that you do in the agency that puts you off that I guess they may be said, drains your energy.

Like, like, like literally come to me and we'll solve it right away. Because what happens a lot of times with your team, if they're constantly that way, and they don't feel that they can come to you. And you're not constantly saying that, they're going to go get another job. And then if you're trying to save them, it's already too late.

Brian: [00:30:05] Yeah. Well, yeah, you could broadcast that out and just say, hey for everybody, um, that's probably a good idea, but ultimately it's the one-on-one conversations is where you get people, to be honest. You know, and they're like going well, there's this one thing, you know, maybe, you know, since nobody else is listening.

I'm not going to come to you as I, you you've got an open door policy, but, um, you know, like I still don't feel comfort. I feel, I still feel like you're up on a pedestal somewhere. It's like, no, I don't want to be on a pedestal. I want you to hear as they come to me, but they don't. So go to them.

Jason: [00:30:38] Yeah. I love it. Awesome. This has all been amazing.

Um, where can, uh, what's the website people go check out the agency and maybe even check out the training too?

Brian: [00:30:48] Yeah. Well, so the, uh, focus on the agency I guess, is, um, you know, it's canopymanagement.com. We do focus in on the, uh, the Amazon space, but love to see how, you know, you know, if you kind of want to see as far as like how we lay out, how we present our team and you know, our success stories and that kind of stuff.

It's a good little format that we're using that works for us. Uh, yeah. That's canopymanagement.com.

Jason: [00:31:13] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. That was a lot of fun and I learned a lot as well as all of you. So make sure you guys subscribe to the podcast, leave a comment. And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis, I would love for you guys to go check out the Digital Agency Elite.

This is the mastermind that we put together. Put the most amazing agencies together that are sharing what's working for them right now. And then be able to see the things that you might not be able to see, um, in your, uh, in your trajectory. So until next time, have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Build_an_Eight-Figure_Agency_by_Training_Your_Competition.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Chris Leone was playing drums in Japan trying to figure out his next step in life when a keynote by Gary Vaynerchuk inspired him to enter the agency world. He ended up working an entry-level position in a small agency and worked his way up to being president and CEO of WebStrategies Inc, a multi-million dollar agency that focuses on mid-low funnel, lead generation, SEO, PPC, social advertising, and inbound marketing. Chris sat down with Jason to discuss how he worked his way up from the bottom of the totem pole. He also shares his experience with an agency acquisition just as he was named CEO and how he built a culture of learning. Chris's team is encouraged to speak up and take ownership of their ideas, which goes a long way.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The power in saying someone’s name. Our guest is not afraid of a challenge. His first day as CEO came right after an acquisition and he was asked to handle the first meeting between both teams. This is an important moment, as the first impression on a new team is critical and may determine whether or not the acquisition is a success. He decided to spend time before the meeting making sure that his team knew everyone by name before they arrived. That way, they would feel welcome and less hesitant to give the new company a chance.
  2. Attack ideas, not people. Chris has worked hard to create a work environment where employees feel safe to speak their minds and be themselves. “It’s not a performative culture” he says “It’s a learning culture”. He builds on the belief that leaders who are open to test an idea, observe and then implement from there greatly outperform the ones who are much more rigid in their thinking.
  3. Adapting to the online office. The past two years have brought many changes and, right now, many are still not ready to go back to the office. Regarding his agency’s decision to go virtual, Chris says he continues to learn and adjust to the situation. But does not consider this will be a permanent change, nor one that will work for everyone. In his case, it made sense to go virtual if his team did not feel comfortable going to the office yet. For the future, he does not dismiss the idea of going back to an office.

Gusto: Today's episode is sponsored by Gusto, an all-in-one people platform for payroll, benefits, HR where you can unify your data. Gusto automatically applies your payroll taxes and directly deposits your team's paychecks, freeing you up to work on your business. Head over to gusto.com/agency to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Rise to the Top of the Totem Pole By Building a Learning Culture for Your Team

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here and I have another amazing show where we're going to talk with an agency CEO and also owner who started out at the ground level couple of years ago as an entry-level employee. Worked all the way up to a CEO. And we're going to talk about what they did. How did they become a multi-million dollar agency? Lots of amazing things.

And also talking about how they went virtual in the past year. So it's packed, it's packed and let's go ahead and get into it.

Hey, Chris. Welcome to the show.

Chris: [00:00:38] Hey, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:40] Yeah, I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what you do?

Chris: [00:00:44] Yeah. So my name is Chris Leoni. I'm CEO of WebStrategies. We are a digital marketing agency based out of Richmond, Virginia. We focus on kind of mid-low funnel, lead generation stuff, SEO, PPC, social advertising, inbound marketing, that sort of thing.

I got about, 30 employees that are located, uh, both in central Virginia and, uh, increasingly scattered throughout the world as we start to shift towards more of a full remote model over here at WebStrategies.

Jason: [00:01:15] Awesome. So let's kind of back up to where, when you started with the agency. You know, as probably the low guy on the totem pole, it sounded like, and walk us through how you went from that to CEO. Cause it’s fascinating.

Chris: [00:01:29] Yeah, it's been quite a, quite a long journey. So that was, we're going back 13 years here, so 2008. I was actually a year out of school. I was playing drums in Japan in a marching band, as kind of crazy as that sounds, trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. And I stumbled across a keynote that Gary Vaynerchuk was giving.

This is 2008. This is like Wine Library days for anybody who follows Gary V. And I was like, yeah, that's what I want to do.

Jason: [00:01:55] I remember that. I remember going to see stuff that he did.

Chris: [00:01:58] Yeah, I was at, I was at web 2.0 in, in like late 08 when he kind of made his big break onto the scene. But I found him on big.com when that was like the place to go to find interesting things on the internet.

And I immediately clicked. I'm like internet marketing is place I want to be. And so I started kind of figuring out what I was going to do and I was interviewing, uh, I set up interviews at like Ogilvy in New York city and a couple other agencies up there. I thought I wanted to be up in New York, do all that kind of thing.

But then one of my former neighbors living down the street from me in Central Virginia, come to find out that he started internet marketing company. And so I reached out to him with the plan of talking to him and just as a learning experience and maybe even use it as like practice to go and interview at the big places.

But after talking to him, he was like, hey, I want to offer you a job. And he explained it and I'm like this actually sounds really interesting. So I kind of abandoned my original vision of going to New York City and I stayed in Central Virginia, which is not what I had planned to do.

And I was like bottom guy on the totem pole. I was really only full-time marketing person at the agency. We were primarily web development back then. And we kind of realized that the recurring revenue model was a really nice one and we wanted to get more into the lead generation side of the equation. So I was the first one coming on, doing that, making like, you know, nothing a year, but it gave me some ownership over the position and what we were doing. And I really had a passion for this kind of work.

So as we shifted more towards, uh, digital marketing and, and, you know, retainers with clients, I was always kind of the person there at the top. And the team kind of came out from under, uh, built out from underneath me, I should say. Went up, uh, director of digital marketing and then CMO, COO, president. And eventually CEO with a, with an acquisition kind of sandwiched in there as well.

Jason: [00:03:49] That's fascinating. Let's kind of skip ahead to the acquisition, right? Because you were telling me when, when the acquisition happened that's when the owner was like, all right, you're now the CEO of both entities. So we'll just do that.

Chris: [00:04:04] Yeah. And, uh, the founder and CEO at the time, he's been a mentor to me and he's never been afraid to throw me into the fire.

And I'm the kind of person who thrives in that kind of situation. He very much did that on my first day as kind of being president CEO and it was the day that our two teams met for the first time. So our existing team, and then the team of this company that we had acquired. And as anybody who's been through an acquisition before knows, that first impression that you make on the new team is so critical, right?

Cause they're coming. I mean, put yourself in their shoes. You know, a lot of these acquisitions don't work out for several different reasons, right? And one of which is the team, the new team comes in, they look around and they're like, yeah, I don't like this. I'm out. This is, I was maybe already on the fence or I was considering going somewhere else.

And they just kind of need that exposure to a new culture, new people to be like, yeah, it's time for a change. So, yeah, those teams coming together in the same room for our quarterly retreat, which is like a full two day immersion thing. Which is already kind of tough enough to manage, especially for an introvert, like me was exceptionally difficult with the teams coming together.

But I just kind of kept my mind on the most critical thing at the time, which was, I need to make sure everybody believes that this is the right place to be going forward.

Jason: [00:05:23] And so how did you do that? Right? Because I feel that agency owners need to do that on a consistent basis, honestly, right? If you think about it, like, and I'm glad that you had that vision going in, of going, like, this is the main goal, right?

This is all that matters. So what were some of the things that you did in order to make sure you kept the right people in the right, you know, on the bus, really?

Chris: [00:05:44] Yeah. Yeah. And we were just talking about this before we went live, as well as you know. In an agency, hopefully, you have processes, hopefully you have these things in place so that you're not dependent on any single individual for any of the services that you sell.

But nevertheless, I mean, you still need people to do all this work and good people are hard to find. So it's not like we have machines running and we can swap people in and out and the machines keep running. Like you need people to do this stuff that they're critical, right? So to answer your question directly, you know, the first thing that I did was actually kind of a small thing, which is we literally spent like 20 minutes of putting faces up on the screen and having everybody memorize the name of everybody in the company coming in.

Because I wanted every person in my company to be referring to people on a first-name basis immediately. And there's so much power in just saying somebody's first name. So, that was like something I thought of at the last minute. Is like, everybody's got to know everyone's name here.

And so when they walked in the door immediately shaking hands saying names. And then all of our retreats since are very much built on this. But especially in that particular retreat. It's not necessarily a company strategy stuff or whatever. It's, I want to spend a lot of time. Building trust, having vulnerability with each other.

There's so many studies out there that say that teams that are willing to be vulnerable with each other are closer and tend to perform better. And so there was a lot of awareness building, a lot of trust-building in those first meetings so that people could immediately see, hey, this is not a performance culture where we're stepping on each other’s throats.

This is a learning culture. This is a place that's psychologically safe to express your thoughts and opinions. And we attack ideas. We don't attack people. And we just really exemplified that in the first two days. So people could see, this is a place where I could be myself. I can be open and I can be honest, and I'm not going to be penalized for that.

So I think that set the tone right away and maybe created a sense of relief for some people who are looking for something a little bit different. And, you know, we've just been building on it since then.

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I like what you said. We attack ideas, not people. And I like that, you know, the vulnerable. When I'm interviewing agency owners for the mastermind, one of the biggest things that I'm looking for is are they vulnerable? And are they transparent. If they can't be transparent with me? Like, I don't want someone coming in thinking they know everything, right?

And same thing with employees. I want someone to say, look, I want to learn every day, I want to help people, right? I want to be surrounded by amazing people that inspire me. And especially if all of us have a similar belief, right? Like when I was hiring people, you know, in the agency, I'd be like, here's where the ship is going and here's why we're doing it.

And then people believed in that and so they would stick around. And then especially if they could show their vulnerability to the team… I see this with the mastermind members, as soon as they're like to, man, man, I just want to quit. Things are down. I really don't know what to do.

And then they're able to get help, then other people can open up and they'll be like, yeah, you know, I actually have that too. Then they can work together on it. And it's almost kind of like, I've never been in, in war. I've never been in the military, but I love watching those things. Like, you'll see the comradely of people when they're in intense situations. And the bond that they create.

And I even remember that too, when we're working on really extreme projects, like with tight deadlines when we're in the office, like we still remember that stuff.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Chris: [00:10:23] Right. Well, and, and I wonder too, what the last 14 months have done for teams that really had a buckle down together.

When everybody was feeling the pressure of their job. There was an existential threat outside. There was the kids being at home. And there was, we were all kind of going through something pretty heavy together. And I sense that that has created stronger bonds within our teams. I would imagine it's happened in several other places.

But just to just go back on that 1.1 more time, I had, so I just finished reading this great book “Think Again” by Adam Grant and I really liked how he framed this, which is there's like two ways of having a discussion. One is you have somebody who immediately becomes a preacher, a prosecutor, or somebody who's politicking for a certain idea. So preaching, prosecuting or politicking, right? That's really trying to impose your idea and your mindset onto somebody else versus more scientific thinking.

And the studies that he cites in that book show that leaders who think more as scientists. Here's a theory. Here's our hypothesis. Let's test it. Let's observe and then implement from there, way outperform people who are much more rigid in their thing, right? So going back to attacking the idea, not the person when we attack the person, obviously that starts to become pretty personal.

We're really clinging the ego. We're clinging to our set beliefs on something. But when we're looking at the idea and we separate ourselves from that, now we can just say, hey, let's test this. Let's run it. Let's look back what happened. And as long as nobody feels like I'm going to be looked down upon, because my idea didn't pan out.

If they don't feel that way, then everybody's continuing to contribute to the next stage in the process. But if somebody feels like they're going down with that ship, that's going to do a lot psychologically to them, morale, everything like that. And you see that in performance cultures especially because everybody is looking for an opportunity to stump on somebody else.

And as soon as that campaign didn't work and that idea didn't work, they stump on them. That's a really toxic culture. And so we really, we want to avoid that and be more in a learning culture where we look at ideas where we test ideas, where we give people ownership over ideas. That's another thing that our team really likes.

And we see this in the surveys that we run. When somebody comes to me and they say, hey, Chris, I have this idea for this new thing, or there's this new service, or we want to test this thing. I say, go for it. Let's test it. And look at what happens. They get a sense of ownership over that. And they're not afraid if the idea is not going to work out.

They like it. Having that sense of ownership and then be able to see if it actually contributes to something in the long run. So yeah, the book is Think Again by Adam Grant and it talks about how we eliminate biases in our own thinking and the openness and the scientific method that could be applied to basically anything.

And ultimately how that affects long-term performance.

Jason: [00:13:17] Yeah. Well, and too, when you attack the idea, not the person you're taking out emotion out of it. And that really just screws us all up as human beings, if you think about it. Like I tried my damnedest to not make a decision based on emotion, but it's easier said than done.

Chris: [00:13:37] Oh, sure. Yeah.

Jason: [00:13:38] I probably fail at that 99% of the time.

Chris: [00:13:42] But, hey. At least that 0.1% is maybe the awareness that you shouldn't, right?  One of the other books that I've been really into lately, cause I'm, don't always read business books is so Eckhart Tolle has a great book, A New Earth that was pretty hot in the last maybe 10 years or so.

He talks a lot about identification with form and he explores it from a lot of different angles. But we have too much personal identity attached to our ideas and our opinions on things. And we've seen that no more than in the last 12 months with everything going on, right? So any attack on the idea automatically becomes a personal attack, right?

And that's going to bring us all down and it's going to make us a lot more combative and it's going to make us a lot more miserable. So we have to find a way to separate ourselves from our opinions and our ideas. Um, and I think we're going to be a lot happier if we do.

Jason: [00:14:30] Yeah. Let's switch a little bit of focus and let's talk about how you guys have gone remote. And how do you keep your team inspired? I won't say motivate because I always tell people if you have to motivate your team, you have the wrong team. Like you should be worrying about de-motivating them. So like, how do you keep people in this going in the same direction?

Because you had a physical office, you've gone virtual, and lots of people are doing that. So, you know, how are you going to kind of replace some of that in office culture, going to lunch that kind of?

Chris: [00:15:06] Yeah, this is the question of 2021 right now. And we're seeing a lot of opinions on it, but they're just opinions.

And, you know, to be honest, if this was a podcast where we were advocating, or you guys were like advocating fully remote. I would be bringing up the ideas of why you might want to consider an office. So I'm not overly committed to any setup here. I'm committed to kind of learning from what we have in the last 12 months and figure out where do we go from here and what's the best thing to do for our team.

Jason: [00:15:35] Yeah. Well, what was the decision that made you guys go virtual?

Chris: [00:15:39] Okay, so some of it was just timing. We had an office and the lease was expiring in end of April, 2021. And I closed our office in March of 2020. So people were not coming in. And then at some point in the summer, I said, if you want to go and you can just communicate so we don't have too many people in there at once.

But people really were not going into it. So I was thinking, all right, why rea… I didn't want to stay in that space anyway, so I knew that we were going to let it go. But why sign onto something in March of 2021 when people still can't go into the office or still don't want to go into the office.

So part of it was timing to say, hey, let's let it go. Let's reinvest what we're saving from that into the team with benefits and people and the like, and I could talk about that if you'd like. Then wait to see what happens and how does the team adapt to being fully remote. And by the way, this is something that they overwhelmingly said they wanted to do.

And two, you know, what happens to the commercial real estate market? Because I think anyone can piece together it's, you know, rent is going to become a lot more affordable. So if we feel the need to go back, that's something that we're going to have to learn over several months. Then let's kind of take advantage of the market situation at that time and get something that could be even better for us than I could find right now that would be a lot more expensive.

So that was the original impetus to going fully remote, at least at this point in time.

Jason: [00:17:07] And so how has it been going? Like, is there anything that you would change?

Chris: [00:17:12] I mean, there's certainly going to be things that I change based off of what we learn as we go, right?

At this point, I can't say that there's like, oh, I wish I could have that back. I mean, we gave away our office furniture. Like we raffled it off just out of a hat, gave it to people, you know, we gave them a thousand dollar home office allowance, which at this point, like is the equivalent of like three years of rent.

So it's to anybody saying this is like a cost-saving move, it ain't. Trust me. It's not. So, no, I wouldn’t take anything back. It's just kind of learn and adjust and get better. The next decision you have to make.

Jason: [00:17:50] Very cool. Awesome. Well, this has been amazing, Chris. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Chris: [00:17:58] You know, the one thing I say, Jason, at this point is we all have to be in learning mode right now. Because I'm sure there's a lot of people out there looking at how all 2020 went and how 2021 has gone so far and probably believe this is what's best and this is what we should do from here. But all the remote work that we experienced in 2020 and into 2021 was not happening in a normal setup for anyone, right?

There was a lot of pressures, external pressures and lack of social interaction that we had just with our friends and family. So I don't know that we can look at everything proceeding, everything, opening back up and say, hey, we were better that way. Or we were not better that way. We just have to be in learning mode and accept that the rest of 2021 and going into 2022 is going to be maybe the real test of how well remote work can really perform for your team.

There's no right answer for everybody here. Talk to your team, communicate, observe, do all the things a good leader has to do to make sure that the people are coming first. But you're also taking care of the company so that you can continue to employ your people.

And then, you know, make the right decisions from there forward.

Jason: [00:19:08] Yeah. I love it. And what's the website. People can go and check out the agency?

Chris: [00:19:13] Yeah. Yeah. We're WebStrategies Inc, I N C, webstrategiesinc.com.

Jason: [00:19:18] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Chris, for coming on the show and make sure you guys all go check out their agency website. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, and you want to be around people that are transparent, sharing, growing open to new ideas, having a lot of fun. I want to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com and see if you qualify for this exclusive mastermind.

And if you do, we'll actually have a conversation. And, uh, talk a little bit more and make sure you're the right fit for it. But, uh, it's an amazing group of individuals that run agencies and, uh, we'd love to invite all of you to go check it out, go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Build_the_Best_Agency_Culture_by_Attacking_Ideas_Not_People.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

After working on his own using his experience in the agency world, Chris started specializing in the project management side of the business. Eventually, he decided to form Genius Digital Marketing with a partner and they have been growing ever since. Now, they work with growth-focused companies to accelerate their digital marketing strategies by operating results-driven campaigns. He talks a bit about how to make the jump from being a freelancer to having his own agency, how breaking sales and breaking operations is a normal part of growth, and how sales fix everything.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Making the jump. Like so many agency owners, Chris worked in the agency world for a while before deciding that he could do the job on his own. After working together on some projects, he and his partner decided to "make it legit" and he went from freelancer to agency owner. By this point, he knew that his expertise was on the project management side of the equation and was clear about what he was bringing to the table and how his partner complemented that, which made the transition a logical next step.
  2. Sales fix everything. You never want to talk about losing a client. But if you can just get more sales, then you can afford more people and you can afford to potentially lose something. It’s about being confident in trying new things while you grow. Sales will fix everything while you solve your next bubble of growth.
  3. Don’t be afraid to increase prices. Sales will fix everything, yes. But don’t forget to raise your prices. Bringing on more sales, you're going to have to bring on more levels, more people. And if you do that and don’t raise prices, you may find out at the end of the year that you worked a lot more and still earned less. 

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Keep Growing While Sales Bring New Opportunities

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? Jason Swenk here and I got another exciting episode about how an agency owner went from freelancer to bringing on a partner to a thriving agency. So it's a really good episode and I hope you enjoy it.

Hey Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris: [00:00:26] Hey, Jason. How's it going, man?

Jason: [00:00:27] Yeah, man. Excited to have you on, um, and, uh, talk about, you know, your journey as a freelancer to agency owner, to, you know, successful agency owner. So tell us a little bit about who you are and what do you do?

Chris: [00:00:41] Yeah, sure. So, uh, my name's Chris. I work out of, uh, our office here in, uh, the Dallas area.

And, uh, I didn't always live here, actually. I just moved here six months ago. And the reason I moved here was, is for this business and for this partnership. I had been living in Las Vegas before that it's kind of where I'm from and where I grew up. But, uh, Aaron and I, Aaron's my business partner, we formed an agency about a year and a half ago. And have been working on the agency this whole time, you know, kind of forming the partnership, getting all the business stuff going, and earning clients and new business.

And, uh, eventually it got to the point where we were like, hey, you know, let's actually own a building. Actually, we bought a building and let's run our, our office out of the Dallas area. That's where he lives, where his family's at. And I moved down here. So, um, yeah, that was about, you know, like I said, about six months ago and you know, we've been, we've been doing pretty good work since then.

So it's exciting times, you know, moving around doing different stuff and trying to grow the agency and, and deal with all those hurdles and, and having fun while doing it.

Jason: [00:01:46] Yep. What, uh…? Kind of take us back kind of… what made you think about transitioning? Cause there's, you know, we have, uh, quite a bit of probably, I would guess, you know, freelancers that listen to the show that want to go into creating an agency one day.

Um, where were you at? Like in like going well, let's, let's make this legit. Let's, you know, let's kind of like, let's start hiring people. It's like bring on a partner. Where were you at?

Chris: [00:02:18] Yeah, sure. Great, great question. Um, you know, we were… Well, I was, recently out of the agency world. I had worked for a couple of different marketing agencies, a few different people. And realized that, you know, I could do all this stuff on my own and, you know, get to keep all the money as opposed to splitting it with somebody else or only getting paid a commission or something like that.

So I, I did, I did freelance for a couple of years after, uh, my agency world. You know, it got to the point where you kind of start to feel like you've niched up a little bit. You have a few little bits of expertise and mine was kind of the project management side of the equation.

I was really good at coordinating efforts. I was really good at finding, you know, subcontractors to do certain bits of work. Uh, Aaron had actually been one of those people. So I had a client that needed, you know, really expert level paid search management. And that was not me. Um, I've gotten better as a result of working with Aaron, but, uh, that was not me.

So I actually contracted him and he does a fantastic job. And I was like hey, man, I have other projects that I need help with. You should totally check these out. And we, uh, kind of just kept working together. And he did the same for me. So it was like, hey, you know, I have a few projects where coordination is really needed. Uh, you know, why don't you hop over here?

And we started communicating with each other's clients. It kind of happened, you know, by osmosis. But the problem we were running into is scale. You can only do so much as an individual and you want to try to make more money and you want to try and scale and have more freedoms and the more and more we talked, you know, our answer to that scale problem was hey, why don't we work together?

You know, we'll both kind of champion these different sides of the business. And, you know, if we need to subcontract that more, we will. But then, you know, we have a brand we can put behind, it will look more official. We'll have a couple of people, maybe we'll spin up a website and we'll earn more business that way just by kind of pretending to be an agency, so to speak.

And then it became, hey, this is actually working. You know, if people are buying into what we're doing, hey, we need to hire someone. Let's do that. And then when you start hiring people, you actually have to legit, you have to file with the state and, and all that stuff. So, uh, we went down that road and, um, it's been working. So it's just been kind of a road of, hey, if it keeps working, let's keep doing it.

Jason: [00:04:31] What's been like, if you could look back at last year, right? Like as you guys were getting going and that kind of stuff, what was the main focus of starting the agency that you felt like you had to kind of get over?

Chris: [00:04:49] Um, I mean the main focus, you know, big thing we've had hurdles with is like delegation. You know, feeling that you don't have to do everything and, you know, trying to be okay with that.

So, you know, getting tasks out, trusting that, you know, there's somebody else that can do some of that stuff. Uh, really operational, you know, internal things are challenging. Because you have a relationship with a client.

And if you come from the freelance world, you're everything to that person. You're the relationship. You're the fulfillment, you know, you're the invoicing person, you know, you're, you're everything with that. And it's almost like your, your children or your pets or something like that and dealing with. So, trying to step away from that and focus on like, you know, what your true expertise is inside of the team is, is a challenging bit.

I think it's, it's oftentimes overlooked a little bit. But once you break through that, then, you know, scale comes a lot more easy because now you're doing your thing and other team members are doing other things. And, uh, that was a big part of it.

Also, you know, earning business was, uh, was a tricky thing too. Um, because you know, we're lean, right? So you don't have a ton of money to be advertising and, uh, you have to try to really leverage your relationships and try to make that stuff work. I mean, I can't tell you how many Upwork, uh, you know, proposals I've put out in my lifetime. It's, it's an ungodly amount and same with Aaron that you grind up, you earn new business, you earn your relationships and then those roll into other relationships.

Then you, you know, be part of cool groups like, you know, uh, the one we're a part of where you learn even more tricks and tactics and strategies, which is cool.

Jason: [00:06:32] As an agency owner, it's hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or reinvesting. And, you know, when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we're excellent marketers, but when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing, you know, our financials data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

And that's why my friend Nate created Agency Dad specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad, they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they're really good at.

Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business. He understands everything from how to structure your books, to improving the billing process and really managing your financial efficiencies. Agency Dad will show you how to use your financial data to make the key decisions. You know, from making your agency more successful and most importantly, more profitable.

If you want to know how your agency finances stack up to the rest of the industry, Agency Dad can tell you, you know, how to do that. A lot of my listeners have already gotten their free audit from Agency Dad. And if you haven't yet, go to agencydad.money/freeaudit before August 30th and get your free financial metrics audit.

Also, just for smart agency listeners, find out how to get your first month of bookkeeping or dashboarding and consulting for free. It's time to clean up your agency, finances and listen to dad.

Go to agencydad.money/freeaudit. That's agencydad.money/freeaudit.

Yeah, I look at it as kind of, as you're starting the agency, that really the main focal point is. Because you have to get to a point where you can actually afford people a lot of times. And I look at it as you need to focus entirely on lead gen and converting sales. Then I look at, you know, then, then you get to a point where… and, and tell me if you guys have gone through this, where now marketing and the lead gen or the, I like to kind of say, especially in the very beginning, you're creating this automated lead generation, right? You have this pipeline coming to you.

And then you have to start going, man, I can't handle all these sales calls. I can't handle, you know, the follow-up. You know, like literally marketing's breaking sales. And, and I, I find like, as you kind of keep going up, you know… marketing's job is to break sales. And then sales’ jobs is to break operations. Then your job as like the owner is really to kind of fix the stuff that the teams are breaking constantly.

And it's a constant like, boom, boom, boom, boom. Because as you just keep going up and up, you know, what got you, there is not going to, you know, get you to, to the next part. Have you guys found that yet?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Chris: [00:09:39] Yeah. So, you know, it's something we, we deal with constantly, you know. You have to have the pipe running and you have to have, uh, new opportunities coming through.

And, you know, I was in sales for a long time and sales really do fix everything. It's kind of the motto is if you can just get more sales then you can afford more people and you can afford to potentially lose something. And you never really want to talk about losing a client. But, you know, it's always a fact of, uh, running an agency and being in the industry is that, you know, you, you lose clients and it hurts when you don't have a pipe coming, you know, feeding new opportunity. It hurts worse.

So if you can have sales coming in and the potential loss, because maybe something wasn't fully optimized, somebody didn't have the time to move to something or, you know, you know, something, the relationship just didn't work out. Or you have a toxic relationship that you've been hanging on to because you need it.

Now you have the confidence to say, well, you know, I don't have to spend my time there. I can, I have confidence in the pipe. And, uh, that's like really the key. So we're actively in that process right now and trying to optimize the funnel. A lot of our growth has been because of our relationships and our ability to kind of grow those clients and do more work in those areas or get referrals.

Uh, you know, so the pipe now. Like a lot of my focus actually is on that right now. So we have things we're going to try to bring those in and it's working, you know, and sales will fix everything and then we'll solve our, our next big bubble of, of growth.

Jason: [00:11:07] Yeah. Yeah. The, and the, the big thing I find is pricing. And so a lot of times you go, well, let's just do more sales. But we don't think about raising the prices and increasing the pricing and looking at going, well, if we bring on more sales, we're going to have to bring on more levels, more people. And so they bring on more people, but they didn't raise their price.

And then at the end of the year, you look back and you're like, holy cow, I made less than I did last year. And we actually were.

Chris: [00:11:40] You did more work.

Jason: [00:11:42] Yeah. We were bigger, we did more work. Like… I'm so confused. And it really comes, you know, to the pricing and, and that's one of the easiest things. I find that when agencies really can kind of get from one level to the next level.

I look at it as kind of like climbing a mountain, right? Like you got base camp, and then you get like the climbing level, and then you get to the crux, and then you get to the crust. And then the summit. You know, most people kind of, as they're building and climbing, they're not laying the right foundation or putting kind of the safety nets on, in order to hold you up because, you know.

It just like, I remember I went through this many times and maybe you're going through this now. It seems like, were like, you'll self-sabotage yourself in sales because, you know, uh, and this is why you need to bring on a salesperson. Because they don't care about operations. They just they're like, I just want to sell.

But you're, psychologically as the owner of the agencies actually selling you're going, holy cow, I don't know, like I don't want to break operations. But it's a natural progression. You've got like when you're working out, you're constantly breaking down the muscle in order for it to rebuild. And you know, in the very beginning, I look at turnover as a good thing because your original clients are not going to be your, you know, probably the clients for you in the next couple years. Do you see that as well?

Chris: [00:13:08] Yeah, you kind of have to run before you walk in a sense, you know, bring people on and break operations. I think that's a great way to put it, uh, cause you, you have to force yourself into that position. Even though, you know, it's not going to be comfortable. And it goes back to the pipe too, is having confidence that there's going to be another opportunity.

And I think that relates to the sales thing as well is, is that you can be confident in the pricing and the higher pricing you need to be charged. Even if that person says, no, you're confident you have another opportunity. That's going to happen soon so that you can afford to be picky and say, look, but this is what we charge.

And by the way, when you have more team members in your, your, you know, having a more robust team, you're doing better work, you're providing a better service. So you should charge more for that service. It's not just you individually. And hopefully, by this point, you've learned a lot and you've become, you know, an expert in your field. You should be charging more for that because it's, it's value.

And that's one of the, that's another really big hurdle we've faced over our start here is pricing. What we were charging a year ago for services is not even close to what we're charging now. I mean, we joke about all the time. If you remember, when we used to just be happy for like 500 bucks a month? You know, for a client now, it's like no way we would even, we wouldn't even be in the room to talk to that person for that much.

It's, you know, it's, it's not really an ego thing as much of it as like a recognizing that you really do have value and you really do provide a great service. And having confidence in that.

Jason: [00:14:36] That's awesome. This has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Chris: [00:14:44] Um, no. I would just say, you know, keep at it, you know. If you are one of those freelancers that's trying to grind up, you know. There is light at the end of the tunnel and there are plenty of niches out there for you to find something to work on. There’s lots of problems to solve. So keep at it. Uh, keep listening to Jason because he's full of great info.

Jason: [00:15:01] Aww, thanks so much for coming on the show. What's the website people can go and check the agency out?

Chris: [00:15:07] Yeah. So we're Genius Digital Marketing. The website is geniusdm.com.

Jason: [00:15:13] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. You guys, uh, you provided tons of value to, uh, you know, our listeners. If you guys enjoyed this episode and you really want to kind of step up your game in your agency and really understand what exactly you need to focus on, what are the systems in place? Or what are the systems that you need to actually build in your agency to actually get to the next level and to get underway where the whole business is not depending on you.

My whole goal is for you not to be, you know, in the business. I want you to work on the business and if that's the case, I want you guys to check out the agency playbook.

So go to jasonswenk.com/playbook. Request the invite to it and we'll break down the eight systems for you to go check out. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 01_How_to_Grow_Your_Agency_By_Filling_Your_Sales_Pipeline.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Have you had a few failures in the agency world? Everyone is afraid of failure. But when you change perspective and treat it like a lesson instead of a defeat. That's the lesson from today's guest, Frank Kern, a well-known marketing consultant and agency owner who has ventured to start several agencies over the years. In this episode, Frank discusses some of his failures from these past businesses, the lessons learned, and what he would do differently. He offers valuable advice for anyone starting a digital marketing agency. He offers an honest and upfront take on every stumble, from starting in the advertising world without really knowing the rules, not listening to his own advice, and taking on every client, even the bad ones.

  1. Don’t be afraid to start over. Frank shares the knowledge he has gained over the years starting different agencies and learning from the mistakes made in each new venture. He has never been afraid to start over. “That’s what I love about the advertising business,” he says, “it’s never going away”. So there’s always a new opportunity waiting for the ones who dare to take that step and learn from past mistakes. He is now enjoying his most successful venture and is very glad everything happened as it did.
  2. Don’t try to grow too fast. This is the first lesson Frank has taken from his past agencies. Where in the past he used to take as many clients as he could get, now he sets a target. Five clients a week. This enables him and his team to not be reactive and build out operations. It’s been a learning curve for them. Drilling into the process, making sure there are checklists, getting better at inner team communications. But Frank says it’s been worth it and that he’s definitely seeing the results.
  3. Take accountability. Having a business partner is not easy and takes serious commitment. Some prefer to not even attempt it. Frank has been lucky to have a few amicable separations from past partners. The secret? He doesn’t really know, but he shares the importance of taking accountability for your mistakes. “If things are your damn fault, you have to realize they’re your fault”.

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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.

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Don't Be Afraid to Start Over in the Agency World, Just Like Frank Kern

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here, and I have another amazing guest, Frank Kern. If you guys haven't heard of, uh, he is amazing. I've learned so much from him over the years on writing copy and marketing and direct response. Kind of the godfather of direct response marketing.

A lot of you guys know Frank Kern and he's done a bunch of agencies in the past, so we're going to talk about his experience with marketing and his agency.

Let's go ahead and get into the show.

What’s up, Frank? How's it going?

Frank: [00:00:40] Dude, I was just watching the intro roll. I love the just two seconds of pensive staring off into the distance.

Jason: [00:00:47] Well, I don't want to lose anybody's attention. Especially people with ADD like us. So, you know, you got try to keep them there.

Frank: [00:00:55] I didn't tell you this pre-interview. So if I don't make any sense today it’s because I have dyslexia and ADD and I woke up at 12:52 and… No, or 12 something, and my dyslexia…

I mean, I have the biggest font size ever on my watch. And I thought it was, I thought it said 4:52. So I took my ADD meds, which I keep right beside the bed. And they kicked in. I've been awake since 2:00 AM

I’m just like… so stupid right now.

Jason: [00:01:24] There you go. Well, that makes it fun for a podcast.

Frank: [00:01:28] Yeah, that's my disclaimer.

Jason: [00:01:30] Awesome. Well, um, for the people that have lived under a rock for a little bit… Tell us kind of a little bit of your origin story about how and why you've wanted to create an agency over the past couple of years.

Frank: [00:01:45] Uh, okay. I'll be mercifully brief because this isn't even remotely interesting for anybody.

Um, sold credit card machines door to door. Hated it, very bad at it. Um, Googled or there wasn't Google back then, it was 1999. Did a search for how to sell credit card machines on the internet cause I didn't wanna have to talk to people. They were all mean to me because I was going door to door and interrupting their, uh, place of business.

Discovered direct response marketing and advertising that way and started selling courses. Sold one that got me in trouble with the government. Um, it's important to learn the rules of advertising if you want to do advertising. I did not learn them, but, uh, after that I did. And um, then, sold stuff about dog training and kind of cut my teeth on that and sold a lot of marketing-related information.

And always felt like… It's going to sound really weird, but I always felt like it didn't count, you know? Like that's… to use my, uh, my late grandfather’s term it’s Mickey mouse BS. And I was like, I need to do it for real. I need to actually build campaigns and do stuff with real businesses. So it was for that reason and because I absolutely love advertising and I get to hit refresh on other people's stats besides my own.

Um, that's why I did it.

Jason: [00:03:00] Yeah. Well, um, you, uh, like I told you a couple of years ago, you kn… I found you and Jeff Walker and a couple other people through a Tony Robbins event I went, where they sent out the, I guess the money masters or something. And that's right when I was coming off selling the agency and I’d never heard of direct response at all.

And I was like, wow, if I could put this together with what I know here… I was like, man, this could be a pretty good machine. Uh, so I want to thank you for, for, for doing what you've done over the years. And, and, uh, you've been… Someone that has really figured out how to make someone kind of respond to you. You know, especially in the marketing front.

What what's kind of like, how did you go about figuring that out? Or was that just kind of intuition? Like I know you were saying, well, I just hated getting kicked out of strip joints and all these kinds of restaurants I was going into. I needed to get them to come to me. You know, how did you figured it out?

Frank: [00:04:05] Well, I started by making horribly egregious unsubstantiated claims in advertising because that's what I responded to.

And of course, I didn't realize there were things like regulatory bodies. This is again in 1999. And then I learned that you really can't do that and it's frowned upon. Um, so I wanted to see, well, what, what if you don't do that at all? And, um, I kind of stumbled over the whole philosophy of results in advance, which is the easiest way to convince somebody you can help them is to actually help them in advance of asking for their business.

So that's always been my big secret, you know, and it was just doing that.

Jason: [00:04:43] Yeah. And so when, when you started the first agency, what were some of the challenges that you experienced? Uh, and how did you overcome them?

Frank: [00:04:57] Dude, so the first one… I think this is number four for me. We've got it right now, finally. But I've been attempting this since 2010, all right? So we're 12 years into your boy, Frankie, trying to make, trying to work 30 times harder for way less money, basically. When you, I know, but I like it. I can't help it, you know, and I would rather do this and make less money than do the other stuff. I don't know why.

But anyway, the first one was a partnership between my cousin, Trey Smith and I and Jordan "Wolf of Wall Street" Belfort. And we had a plan, Trey and I mainly had this plan, which was we would create lead gen pages for home services companies and then manage their Google PPC accounts.

We would charge a flat fee and then like, you know, let's say it was 600 bucks a month or something. And we'd spend 400 bucks on traffic and we'd keep the $200 bucks. It, uh, we did roughly 15 seconds of research, you know, and were convinced that we were geniuses.

And Jordan's job was to, uh, hire and train salespeople. Cause neither Trey nor I are qualified to do that at all. So, um, that failed spectacularly, you know? So we, uh, by we, I mean, I leased a bank building in, uh, on Prospect Street all the way in California that… You know, we hired, I wanna say 40 people off of Craigslist. You know, and Jordan was training them up and then he had to go on tour to sell his stuff.

And then like, nothing really happened. I got to, I got to have a lease on a bank building for a couple of years. So that was fun.

Jason: [00:06:41] So why did that fail though? Like what, looking back, what could you have done to make that work?

Frank: [00:06:48] Um, I could have, uh, used ads to get them, you know. So for whatever dumb reason, uh, I oftentimes fail to heed my own advice, which is all right if you want to grow the business, take the thing that's working real good and do a whole lot more of that. And then find a way to systemize and automate and scale from there.

So we had this method of getting customers, which was internet ads. But when we partnered with Jordan, we were like, nope, we're not going to do that, we're going to do something we have no idea how to do, which is to call them out of the blue and then, uh, try to sell them something, you know, and so that was dumb.

Uh, I mean, I’m sure people make it work, but we didn't know what the heck we were doing. And of course that model, I think would probably have ultimately doomed us because there wasn't enough margin in it.

Jason: [00:07:42] Yeah. So what was version two?

Frank: [00:07:46] Uh, let's see. Version two was current branding. It, that was so close to working. That's where, uh, we would do video campaigns for people. So we'd script their videos. They would shoot the footage. We would have it edited. We would run them. Excuse me, I'm losing my voice already. That's what happens in the wake up at two.

Um, we would run their Facebook media for them and everything. And that actually was going pretty good. Um, I did what, uh, what I think a lot of people who are creative types do is I immediately outsource the operation. And I outsourced it to someone who didn't understand advertising. Really good understanding of operations, but didn't understand advertising.

And all of this is on me because I never sat down and said, here's how the business works and here's how all the moving pieces work. So we ended up over-hiring tremendously and didn't make any money, you know, but that was, that was pretty close.

Jason: [00:08:46] Okay. And then what about option three or version three? 3.0.

Frank: [00:08:50] So version 3 was, uh, we tried, um, in-house again, uh, current branding once again. But instead of doing all that production for people, we were like, you know what, man? We're just gonna run their media for them at a pretty decent price.

I just arbitrarily pulled 2,800 bucks off my butt. You know, like seems like an easy yes. And, um, that was going great. And then I decided it would be a good idea to partner with Grant Cardone and, uh, form Cardone Kern. I did that because I made a lot of assumptions that I'd never discussed with Grant. Uh, so again, I, I want to take full responsibility for this. I'm not here to say Grant is a bad guy or anything.

So I partnered with him thinking that they would have the infrastructure that we needed to grow the agency. Cause you know, you go down to his operation, it's pretty impressive. They got meetings and stuff and… you know, meetings and stuff and people wear suits and they, they really look like they know what they're doing. And they do, but not for an ad agency.

So when we partnered together, oh, and I also thought his audience was primarily business owners like brick and mortar people. So my vision for that, and this was incidentally, a conclusion that I drew after going to one event and talking to one attendee who was a roofer. And I was like, this would be the easiest client to win forever.

This must be what all of his customer base is like. We should partner up, you know, and so zero foresight on, uh, on my part. So we, it, it blew up. Um, well it blew up in a good way. We got to walk clients really fast. We grew it to damn it, it was $895 a month, just under $900, a grand. And then, uh, we started hemorrhaging because the operations were bad.

We, uh, by we, I mean, I, uh, had to hire a team. And then I had one dude to help me manage them. And he was good, but he was inexperienced too, in terms of trying to manage a team that big. So we just did a bad job, ultimately. Mainly is a result of operations, like missing calls, you know, like dumb things that operations people know how to do.

Jason: [00:11:04] So what were some of the… I don't want to put words in your mouth about some of the assumptions, like thinking about, you know, if you were going to partner… Because a lot of people listening on the show, they, they reach a, a plateau or they're, they're kind of an inner plateau and they go, I need a partner because I can't, I don't, I feel like I've reached my max and I need to work with someone.

And then they were like, well, let's just join together. So, you know, so many people are doing this and then it blows up in their face. So what would, what would have been some of those questions or assumptions to check with your partner and go, and then be like, oh, well let's kind of try this out or no, this is probably not going to work out that you could have avoided.

Frank: [00:11:48] Yeah, I probably should have said, okay, I'm operating under the assumption that you're going to provide this team. Is that a true assumption? And he would have said no, because he doesn't lie. You know, he's not a bad person. Just, I've never had the damn sense to ask him. And Grant so busy he's like, all right, cool. Don't mess it up. Sounds like a good idea. Let's go.

You know, so it was, we didn't really talk it out. So that probably would have been the first question was, you know, here's my assumption is this accurate? And, um, that would, that really would have been it. I think we could have overcome everything else.

You know, he would've said, no, dude, I don't have that. And I'm not going to give you that you got to go build your own. I would have said, oh, I could do that on my own; I don't need us to partner together for this. We would rather keep all of the money and… You know, if I'm going to have all the headaches anyway, I might as well keep all the money.

Jason: [00:12:38] Yeah. And so what, what are we looking like at version four now of, you know, post, you know, kind of making that partnership go away? I think this is the version you're on right now. Is that right?

Frank: [00:12:53] Yes. Yeah. So we're looking great. What I learned is number one, don't try to grow too fast. So our target is five clients a week, you know, where it used to be as many as you can get, let's just hire more people, right? Nope, five a week. That's it, you know.

So that was lesson number one. And that enables you to not be reactive and building out your operations. And lesson number, whatever number we're on is most of this stuff, I mean, I don't know about you dude, but ads are easy, you know? It's not, I mean, don't, don't tell clients it's for God's sake, but it's not really that hard. But the operations behind it, especially when you do it, we do, which is we're full service.

So we'll, you know, the first thing we typically do is go fix their email. Cause that makes everything work better and they get immediate sales and then they're happy, you know? So that requires so many tiny little things to go right. That, um, that's just been a tremendous. Um, a lesson it has been that big of a learning curve, really.

It's just more. Okay. Let's just keep drilling into this process, you know? And make sure there's checklists and yada yada, yada, yada. So it's been good. And then inner team communication is still we're good at it, but we could really be better at that. Um, but with clients we're good. But between ourselves, you know, we’re doing…

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Yeah. When I, when I look at kind of the stages of agency owners that go through, they go through, there's like six. And I look at kind of the first stage is like, figuring out, like, how do I get the clients? And then the next is like, how do we get the right clients? The next is like, like, how do I replace myself from not being the salesperson or being the account manager for the clients?

And then it's like, how do I build the team? And it's just like all these little stages you have to go through or systems that you need to actually set up in order to kind of, you know, get you to a point where you can pick and choose and do the things that you love doing. Like, cause I was telling you years ago it was like most agency owners are accidental.

They don't want to get into it. They just, they knew how to do something really cool in marketing. And someone's like, hey, do you do this for me? And they're like, okay, you're going to give me money to do this? Like, all right, let me go do more of that and, uh, you just kind of fall into it. And then, like you're saying you're being reactionary.

Um, one thing I, I have a question and probably a lot of people have a question on is, let's say you have a partner now. You got in, we didn't go over the assumptions that we figured out. Um, how can they actually go to their partner… Like how can we make a pleasant split up? Uh, you know, in order for us to go our own ways, because a lot of people, even including me, I had a partner and I looked at it like, if you don't know the bad partner, you're the bad partner.

Um, that's kinda how I looked at it. And that's one of the reasons why we sold, um, you know, it was a good offer, but still I probably would have been still doing it. Um, I'm lucky that I had did have a partner that we disagree. But like what, what, what would you suggest to these people listening? Like how can you do a, a good breakup?

Frank: [00:17:17] I have no idea. Um, I just ended up giving everything to the partner. I'm like, okay. Like, well, our very first one, you know, it was clear that it wasn't working and everything was in my name. So I was able to be like, all right, guys, this isn't working. Um, I'll keep paying the lease. It's in my name. See y'all later. And nobody, you know, no one cared, uh, because they're like, oh, thank God we have to mess with this anymore. This was way harder than we thought.

With Grant, I just gave him the agency. I was like, we were still doing, um, I can't remember, maybe half a million a month or something in billings? At the time, I was like, you can have it. And I never talked to him, actually. I talked to other people in the organization.

I voiced some things that I needed and I wasn't able to get them. And I was like, well, this isn't really gonna work for me. Um, y'all can just have this, if you want. We can just be cool. And they're like, alright.

Jason: [00:18:18] So how do you get to a point where… I love that, because a lot of people would spend years and years fighting back and forth.

No, I did this, my name is on blah, blah, blah, all this kind of stuff. And like tons of resentment versus you're like, fucking take it. Like, let me restart. Like, how do you do that? How do you, how do you get rid of those emotions that a lot of us would struggle with?

Frank: [00:18:46] Well, if things are your damn fault, you have to realize they’re your fault.

And so like if it was a different scenario and Grant had misled me. And said, yeah, we got this, dude. Here's everything I'm going to do to the letter and then just didn't do it. And then it was like F you Frank. Then I would be mad, you know, we'd have a really serious problem. Um, but he didn't, I just didn't ask.

So I had to, it was my damn fault, you know. It wasn’t his. So what am I going to do? But you know, pitch a fit? If some dude, you know… he's got other stuff going on. He’s gotta roll on out. But also in our business, it's like, it's easy to just to start another one.

There's this, this is what I love about the advertising business. It's, it's never going away. You know, it doesn't matter what the economy does. It's like we ain't going anywhere. It could be world war three, you know. I've always made this joke and it's old by now that the world war three could happen and there'd be like seven people left. One of them selling cockroaches or something.

And he's going to go to the guy with a bigger cave wall and be like, hey, I'll give you five cockroaches. If I can advertise my cockroach sales on your wall there, you know, like in, it'll take off from there. It's just never going anywhere. So I have no scarcity around it.

Jason: [00:20:10] Well, you know, that's how I look at agencies is, you know, when we had the big gold rush, right?

And the people that got the richest were the ones selling the stuff to make gold. That's kind of how I look at agencies. Um, especially as when COVID hit and everything started shutting down, I was like, you know, hey agencies are going to get a lot of business because people can't do what they used to do anymore.

And, uh, and I, I guessed right on that. But I love how you, you say take ownership in your own mistake. It's like, it was my fault. And I, I think too many times, including myself, probably, I mean, that's a hard thing to do. Admitting, going, hey, I could have avoided this. This is my mistake. Let's just move on.

And hit the reset button. And it's kind of like monopoly, let's play another game, here we go. It's like, I screwed up that one.

Frank: [00:21:05] Yeah. I'm glad I screwed up that one. Cause this one's great. And I get to keep all of the money. So like, okay. You know, this actually worked out pretty good. Otherwise, it'd be giving most of the money to Grant.

Nice enough guy. But, um, I'd prefer that I keep it.

Jason: [00:21:22] I think he's got enough money too.

Frank: [00:21:25] Oh, yeah. I think he, I hope they're doing well.

Jason: [00:21:28] Yeah. Well, awesome. Well, Frank, this has been amazing, man. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Frank: [00:21:37] No. I want to ask you something. Because you said something that really hit me at the beginning.

You were like, I've never even heard of direct response until after I'd sold the agency. And I think me and you were joking around about this by email. I was like, if I didn't have this damned, uh, I guess like moral compass and inability to sell something that is not measurable. I would be a zillionaire, you know, but I just can't do it.

And I don't even know how to attempt to do it. Because I know there was some value to it and like having cool stuff and well-branded things. I don't know how to make those things, but that's why God made other people, you know. Um, how do you sell that kind of stuff? Not with a clear conscience. I, I don't think there's anything wrong with doing it as long as a client knows the game going in, you know.  But how…?

Jason: [00:22:25] Well, we… Yeah, our agency, we developed, um, user experiences, you know, from websites and then we built applications. So if you think of sites like Legal Zoom, we built that, uh, you think of Hitachi Power Tools or Lotus Cars, their website, like none of those websites back then had really caught actions other than find my dealer, you know, Legal Zoom did about getting in, but we never really ran ads.

Um, so we always said, you have to have this amazing, like when someone comes to your website, you have to have this amazing experience and tell the right story in order for them to, um, you know, build an trust you. You know, we never really, we, we, we didn't get their people's email addresses; even though looking back at the agency, we were one of the first to build e-commerce stores.

We were one of the first to build an email marketing system. So our clients could broadcast to their clients. Like, and we were one of the first to build a CMS system, but we did what typical agency owners did was we kept working on our clients that kept paying the bills and we couldn't keep up. And then we, uh, started using other partners, like MailChimp. Like, we started all that before MailChimp.

So, you know, everyone, uh, misses the boat. Uh, I think we missed the boat, but at the end of the day, I'm right where I'm supposed to be. I'm loving life and doing everything, so…

Frank: [00:23:54] You get to have the pensive view off the balcony in your opening for the Podcast, man. The only way is like, we will make you more than you pay us or we'll refund the difference plus 20%.

I mean, the company is called Grow Ads for God's sake, but that's like hard work. I mean, it's actually not because you just choose the right clients, but you know what I mean? It seems to me, hey, the grass is always greener, but I'm like, man, these dudes that are getting paid half a million bucks to make a commercial. Those are the ones that are the smartest people in the room.

Jason: [00:24:24] Yeah. Well, I mean, it's, you got to do what you enjoy doing, right? Like you said, the grass is greener on the side that you water. So, you know, whatever side you want to water, like it's going to be, you know, you're going to enjoy it. I always just hate when people do something that they don't want to do in the agency just to make money.

I think that's a big, big mistake. I'm like the money will come. Like all the, you know, the mastermind members and the clients I've worked with over the years that have had, you know, the best lives, it's the ones that they, they didn't care about the money. They just cared about doing the right thing and doing what they wanted to do.

And that made all the difference. So…

Frank: [00:25:03] Well, you've made a whole boatload of it. And I've made, spent a whole boatload of it. At the end of the day. That's really it, you know, am I going to have a good time today?

Jason: [00:25:15] Well, I look at it as like you make money to save time in other things. So you have time to, um, you know, one of the things when, when I ask our mastermind members… I probably shouldn't tell people listening because now you know my trick question, but I ask them the first question usually is what do you do for fun?

If they say I work all the time, I don't let them in.

Frank: [00:25:37] Oh, dude, you wouldn't let me in then cause I really do all the time. But I love it so much, man. But because it's because I'm finally doing.

Jason: [00:25:44] Yeah, but you surf and you do all… or do you still surf or no?

Frank: [00:25:49] Seriously. Like, I'm in this little room right now and it's my pool house.And so I get up kind of pool house, go back.

Um, I've gotten that routine, you know, during COVID and everything. But really, I really like it, you know, like to me, it's so cool. But I’m an addict. Like I'm a hard core ad person specifically with direct response. So I get to hit refresh a whole lot of other people's stats all the time.

I get the dopamine hit constantly. You're like, ooh, hit, refresh on this to see how this is going. Okay. Is it refreshing over there? Hot damn. Moving on. What else can we do? You know? So to me it’s not work, really.

Jason: [00:26:27] Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, that's, that's the whole thing. But I still, I do want you to take some time off.

Gotta have some time. So...

Frank: [00:26:37] Well, you know, weekends and stuff. I'll sit around and walk over to the other house, the main house. Hang out there.

Jason: [00:26:44] Well, awesome. Well, what's the website people go in and check out? Is it growads.com or…?

Frank: [00:26:49] It’s .org. I didn't have the money for the.com. Actually, I never even looked to see how much the.com costs cause .org seemed cooler to me.

Jason: [00:26:58] Well, I think .org usually ranks higher anyway .org ranks higher in Google anyway.

Frank: [00:27:04] Oh, I don't even know about that stuff.

Jason: [00:27:06] Claim that.

Frank: [00:27:10] I have no idea about SEO because I have ads. You know, it’s like, you want to get known? Run ads. Yeah, or go to frankkern.com. Both of those sites will cure your insomnia pretty well. I think if you have it.

Jason: [00:27:26] Whatever. Everyone goes, check out both those sites. And thanks so much, Frank for coming on the show.

And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners where, you know, we have a lot of fun, we're going over constantly what's working, what's not working. Sharing and being able to see what you're not able to see because we're too damn freaking close to it.

I want you guys to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our inclusive mastermind. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: What_Did_Frank_Kern_Learn_from_His_Failed_Agencies_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Is your agency as profitable as it could be? Are you successfully forecasting agency finances? Nate "Agency Dad" Jenson has built his business around helping agency owners drive profitability. Nate is a certified management accountant and internal auditor who focuses on offering the tools and accounting practices necessary for a thriving agency, with his business Agency Dad.

On his second visit to the podcast, Nate talks about forecasting and the importance of managing the future, instead of wishing you could change the past. He explains why you, as an agency owner, are very in tune with your business and can make a pretty good forecast of where it will be in three months. He also offers valuable advice on how you can take that first step to start managing the future.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Having a plan is the 1st step. One of the questions Nate gets the most from agency owners is “when should I hire a new team member?” You need to do your forecasts, he says. What are your sales going to be in the next 3-6 months? There are a number of methods you can use to make that forecast, like linear regression. He recommends the Dilbert method, where you sit down and write down what do you think sales will be in the next months. Most agency owners are pretty in tune with their business and can make a pretty good estimate of what a few months in the future will look like for their business. You’ll never be exactly right. The important thing is to be looking forward.
  2. Have a line of credit. Even with forecasting, you can find one month you don’t have enough money for payroll. Of course, no one wants that, but you have a lot more options if you catch it weeks in advance. You have more time to make some adjustments, reduce expenses, or take a loan. Jason always advises mastermind members to get a line of credit, even if they don't need it, for those cases. You may think you don’t need it, but things may not be that good a few months ahead. It’s better to have it than to go through the embarrassment of missing payroll. Your team may start jumping ship, and finding the right talent is not easy.
  3. Fixed vs. variable. You should really understand the difference between fixed costs (payroll, rent) and variable costs (sales commissions, direct media spend). Nate advises moving your fixed costs into variable costs. The more you do this, the easier it is to be profitable. Basically, if you can change those fixed costs to variable, your breakeven number goes down. And so as soon as you hit this number, you're going to hit that profitability sooner each month. So your sales can be lower and you're still going to make more money.

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Stop Focusing on the Past and Start Managing the Future

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? Jason Swenk here. I am excited for another episode. On today's episode, we're going to talk about why it's important for you and how you can actually forecast your agency so you can actually be more profitable. I have a repeat guest, Nate, who is amazing at all of this, and let's go ahead and jump into it.

Hey, Nate. Welcome to the show.

Nate: [00:00:29] Jason, thanks for having me on again. I appreciate it.

Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah. I'm excited to have you back. Uh, so for the ones that haven't checked out, the, the first episode that we had you on, uh, tell us a little bit about who you are and what do you do?

Nate: [00:00:43] All right. So I'm Nate Jenson, uh, the owner and founder of Agency Dad. Our, we're an accounting firm. We focus on helping, uh, marketing agencies become more profitable.

That's really, that's really, our niche is how do we, how do we drive profitability? Uh, we don't do any tax work. We don't do anything like that. We do bookkeeping. We do, uh, financial reporting. So everything we do is geared to make you more profitable.

Jason: [00:01:06] Well, we all want that, right? Because I think too many agency owners always focus on, you know, just top-line revenue. Hey, Jason, I want to make it to the million mark. Then I want to make it to the eight-figure. Mark. I'm like, well, what's the profit?

Nate: [00:01:20] Yeah. If you could work less and make more, I would rather just have a lower top line and more profitability. So…

Jason: [00:01:28] Exactly. Well, let's, let's talk about like, are there, like, how can we create forecasts? Because, you know, I think a question I get asked often, and I think as you do as well, like, can I afford to hire someone? Or what does it look like when I need to hire someone next? Like how do I figure that out?

Nate: [00:01:47] Yeah. That's, that's probably the question I get more than anything else. Can I hire somebody to, when do I hire somebody? And if somebody asked me that my, my response is, well, what are your sales going to be in the next three to six months? And if we can't, if we can't answer that, then we really don't know if we can hire somebody. So, so for me, the forecast is where you start.

Jason: [00:02:06] And so if that's where we need to start for, like, what is our sales look like for the next three months? How can we forecast that out?

Nate: [00:02:14] Okay. So there's, there's a lot of methods, right? Uh, if you're like me and you're really into accounting, you can use linear regression. You can use exponential smoothing.

There's a lot of, kind of analytical tools like that. If you're an agency owner and I say linear regression, you're probably tuning out and...

Jason: [00:02:33] Yeah. I kinda, I kinda almost passed out when you use those big words cause I've never heard those before.

Nate: [00:02:39] Yeah. So there's, there's a method that, that… If you're an agency owner and you just want to sit down by yourself and, you know, do your own forecast there's a method I would recommend.

And I've, I've heard it called different things, but the term I like is the Dilbert method. So if you're familiar with Dilbert the comic strip, uh, there's a lot of, uh, let's say questionable business practices used in that comic strip. Uh, but the idea is you sit down and you basically say, hey, what do I think it's going to be?

You know, what's my best guess? And so I've actually found, Jason, most agency owners are pretty in tune with, with a lot of the ins and outs of their business. You know, so I can do, I can do the linear regression, but if, if someone says, hey, I happen to know that every December our sales go way down, because you know, the seasonality of the business. Uh, a business owner or an agency owner, they can, they can say, well, my, my sales were, you know, they're 500,000 in November. I'm expecting them to be, let's say 400,000. Just because that's what happens.

And for a, for a simple kind of first pass, I think that's a totally appropriate way to set up your first budget or your first forecast.

Jason: [00:03:51] True. And then now that we kind of set out the future forecast for sales for the next quarter. What's the next step in order to, you know, making sure we're profitable or when we can actually hire?

Nate: [00:04:04] Uh, similar again, if you're using the Dilbert method already, uh, the next step is… Think of a forecast, like your profit and loss statement, right? You look at your PNL for the prior month, what did I sell? What are my costs of goods sold? What are my expenses? And so you're setting up a PNL, but it's in the future. What about, what am I going to sell? What are my costs of goods sold? What are my expenses?

Okay. Get your rent, get your payroll and get all that in there. And what am I expecting my profit to be? And it's hilarious, Jason. A lot of people will say, hey, well, I'm, I'm, I'm not good at this. I don't really know how to do this. Uh, having a plan is, is, is the first step, the, the number of times that I've actually set up a forecast for a client and I've come back to that client and said, hey, if everything goes according to plan, you're going to lose $10,000 a month, right?

Uh, that it, that happens all the time. And the one thing that we know about a forecast is it's going to be wrong. No matter what it is, it's going to be wrong. You're going to be high. You're going to be low. But if you, if you do the forecast and your plan is to lose money, you know, you've at least got to take some action, make some changes.

Jason: [00:05:17] Yeah. You know, one of the things that we did, uh, that I think is really easy for all of you guys listening, is we had our bookkeeper export out all of our expenses on a spreadsheet. And literally, you know, like, like you were saying, and then we had, like, we basically put out 12 months, so he said January, so here's what it is fixed. And then we copied that all the way through December.

Then we added a couple of columns to the spreadsheet above and said, well, here's what we think we're going to bring in revenue. Kind of like what you're saying for the quarter. And then we could play with the model, uh, because then we did all, you know, we put in the easy formulas, you know, minus income minus expenses, and then, you know, divided that by, you know, to figure out our profit margins.

So if we wanted to hire someone in the future, let's say three months from now, we would put in their salary under payroll. We would add them in there. And then it was really easy to figure out going, well, man, okay, we can afford this person because we look like we're bringing in, you know, a million more dollars this quarter and we can afford to do this, this and this.

And it still keeps our profit margins at X. Is that what you’re saying?

Nate: [00:06:37] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Um, you can always go deeper, right? You can always go and say, hey, we can't afford it, but should we afford it? Should we maybe look at raising our prices before we do it and so forth? There's all that stuff.

But just for a first pass. Yeah, exactly what you said as you build out your model, say, it's say it's only three months, right? Maybe it's the year, but maybe it's just a few months. And you say, hey, we're making this, you know, this net income at the end of the, each of those months. Like you said, play with the model.

What if we add one person? What if we reduce expenses here? What if we can get one more client? And again, you’re never going to be right, right? It's just a forecast, just a guess anyways. But if you're looking forward and you, you can play with that model and say, can we hire, can we, uh, you know, can we, should we reduce our rent? You know, should we not renew our lease? All these kinds of things.

Uh, you've just got to look forward. So many, so many people manage just historically, right? They see how did we do last month? Oh, we didn't do as well as we thought we would, well, what are we gonna do different this month? Well, let's just, let's work harder, right? That's not a plan, you know, you, don't working harder is well… You're gonna just gonna work yourself to death.

And that's when you say let's get more revenue because we don't really know why we're profitable or not profitable.

Jason: [00:07:52] Yeah. I, I remember one time I came into, you know… we used to do our budgeting and our forecasting really not existed. And I remember coming, looking at the bank account right before I went into a leadership meeting and I was like, holy cow, this is the lowest it's ever been.

And I was like, we're not going to be able to make payroll in the next two weeks. If nothing changes. And we were able to, we made payroll for all 12 years. Um, we just made it that one. But after that I realized I needed to do forecasting and build a performer out to really show me, is it like… Because you're always going to have in the future. Like if you do this modeling, right, you're going to see where you actually start losing money where you don't have money, right?

And it's just about how far out is it, and then it gives you that time of going, wow, man, I got six months to get my act together in order to make a major change. Especially if a big contracts about to end. And that's going to take a really big dip in your income. You know, let's say, Nate, you probably deal with, you know, these, this all the time where some clients have a huge contract, that's like 40% of their revenue.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Nate: [00:09:16] Yeah. Yeah. For sure. And, and when, uh, when business comes in kind of in a lumpy way like that, uh, that's much harder to, that's much harder to deal with. Um, like one of the things as I was preparing for this podcast, and I was thinking about… Is there's really two kinds of, of revenue that I see and predicting the revenue for each of those kinds takes a different sort of mindset.

One is the retainer revenue. If, you know, if you have a book of clients and you're like, hey, I know who my clients are and how much they pay me. Your revenue forecasting is actually pretty easy. And if you have, uh, you know, if you have, your, you know what your payroll is, uh, it's pretty easy to say my retainer is enough to cover my payroll, my other expenses, and so forth.

If you're a more project-based, you know, say you're a web developer, uh, you're, you're much more reliant on, hey, how much business do we think we can pick up in a given month or a given quarter? And it's interesting, Jason, I've actually seen, I don't know if, I don't know if I'd call it a trend yet. But I've seen quite a few of my clients who are on that, uh, in that project-based kind of revenue.

They've actually, as they're doing their forecasting and I'm helping them with their forecasting. Some of them have actually moved from a, uh, traditional employee type model on the expense side to contracting a lot of that. Because… Yeah, well, yeah, predictability. When your revenue is so lumpy, it's very nice to have your, your, uh, cost be a lot more variable, you know?

Even if a contractor is more expensive per hour… Might be cheaper overall if your revenue is, is way up and way down.

Jason: [00:10:59] Yeah. You know, the, the other thing, I have a lot of mastermind members that… In the past couple of months, and even right now, they're going through acquisitions and they're getting bought. Uh, like I'm thinking of one of our masterminds Dean that just sold maybe three months ago and… uh, you know, very successful business, you know, in the multimillion-dollar range.

And he never really did forecasting. He never put a performance together. And when they actually, and this is why it's good too…  Especially if, if you guys are listening both, it's good for predicting out and profitability when you need, and to make yourself a little more relaxed rather than that volatil… volutary…?

Nate: [00:11:41] Volatile.

Jason: [00:11:43] Yeah, there you go. Big words I can't say. I went to Florida State, guys, come on. Um, but uh, all the people that are looking to buy you are going to look for the future cast. And they want to know because that's what they're buying sometimes. And if you don't know it, that's going to send up red flags. So for your sanity, for your predictability, and especially for, if you want to be able to potentially sell one day, please make sure you do these on a regular basis.

Nate: [00:12:17] Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's again, it's driving that profitability right? Managing to the future instead of just wishing you could change the past. Um, but, Jason, there's something you mentioned a few minutes ago that I wanted to get back to. You talked about that time when you were almost out of money for payroll, right?

We actually, and I recommend this as well, but we actually do for our clients, uh, multiple kinds of forecasts. So the first one is the PNL forecast, but we do a separate cashflow forecast. So we'll usually have that, like a rolling eight week forecast. And the payroll is a perfect example…. Is if it's, if it's Monday morning and that's when you run your payroll and you're out of money, you're like, do I have personal money I can throw in the business?

Do I have a really good banker friend that can somehow can be aligned really fast? And even if you do, you know you're going to pay through the nose on that rate to get the money. Uh, it's, it's a totally different experience if you're looking ahead and you're like, oh my gosh, eight weeks, our bank account goes negative.

Uh, what can we do? Well, if you need to get a loan, you have eight weeks to get it. But you can say, hey, maybe we can reduce expenses. Maybe we can not take that owner distribution I was planning on. You have a lot more options. So the PNL forecast is where it all starts. Uh, but you need to take that and go to the next step and say, how's my cashflow going to change based on, you know, based on my expectations of sales and expenses and so forth?

Jason: [00:13:43] Yeah. You know, um, that reminds me, I tell our mastermind members and I tell people in agency playbook, the first thing I want you to do is get a line of credit. And they'll be like, hey, Jason, I'm good. Like, I got a ton of cash I can operate for over three months.

I'm like, things are not always going to be that good. Um, and so get a line of credit when you don't need it. And so if you ever do come into hard times, you don't have to miss payroll and you don't have to be embarrassed. Because if you miss payroll and you tell your employees and your team that, or your contractors, they're jumping ship. And finding the best talent is very, very hard.

And I always say, get a line of credit. I don't care if you don't need it. Like, I think we tapped into it one time when we actually need it. And then here's the other trick with the line of credit. They will cancel it all the time if you never use it. So every month I would just take out like 5,000 for one day, put it back in so they see some movement.

Because it doesn't cost you anything, if you don't use it.

Nate: [00:14:49] Absolutely. Totally right. So it's, but the point is, I think you, you have that use it when you need it. Uh, have, you know, get it before you need it, like you say. But just, you've got to look forward, again, the number of times I've seen people who they just, they have no idea where they're going.

They just know where they've been or where they are. And, and then they want to know, hey, should I do this? Should I do this? And should I do this? You got to look at the future. And I, I know this can be an overwhelming thing for people. And that's why I say, hey, if you can't do a 12 month forecast to a three month forecast. You know, look at your sales for three months and then once a month, sit down and add on that next.

That's gonna, that's gonna get you way ahead of where you are if you're not even doing that. And it's just a great place to start.

Jason: [00:15:35] So awesome. Well, Nate, this has been awesome. Is there anything I didn't ask you before you tell the listeners about this cool, special offer?

Nate: [00:15:46] Uh, let's see. I would have one thing I guess, and this isn't just with forecasting. This is with, you know, kind of bookkeeping and reporting in general.

One thing I wish my clients understood more, uh, when they, when they became clients, was the difference between what a fixed cost is and a variable cost. Uh, if you have a lot of what we call it, fixed costs, and that's a cost that just you pay every month, it might change, but it doesn't change because you sell more.

So you have rent, you have insurance, uh, you have your payroll and things like that. A variable cost is a cost that does change with sales. And so if you have sales commissions, that's going to go up the more you sell. Any direct media spend obviously is going to go up the more you sell. Uh, so if you're contracting your work, that kind of stuff's going to go up the more you sell.

Uh, the more you can move your fixed costs into variable costs, the easier it is to be profitable. Because the more fixed costs you're like, I've got to sell this much every month just to break even. And then when I go above that and that's my profit. If you can change those fixed cost to variable, uh, your, your breakeven number goes down.

And so as soon as you hit this number, you're going to hit that profitability sooner each month. So your sales can be lower and you're still gonna make more money.

Jason: [00:17:06] Awesome. Yeah. You know, I, I didn't really learn that until kind of the very end and, uh, you know, it, it makes a big difference, so, uh, great advice.

Well, Nate, this has all been amazing. Um, if people want to know more and you know, possibly work with you and, uh, because they they're like me, they look at numbers and they go, uh, dizzy. Um, what can they do to reach out to you?

Nate: [00:17:32] Oh, thanks. Uh, first of all, one thing we actually do is we... We take most of the numbers and we put them on charts, graphs, and we make them really easy for people to just see a picture and understand it and move forward.

So that's number one, but if they want to get a hold of me, uh, agencydad.money is our website. We do have a free offer for your listeners. It's agencydad.money/freeaudit. And what we do is we actually do an audit of their financials, uh, comparison, compare their financials to some industry benchmarks.

Jason: [00:18:03] I like that. Yeah. You guys better take Nate up on that offer. That's uh, that's crucial. I mean, because we all want to know where we stack up and where we actually need to go. So make sure you guys go there. Say the URL one more time.

Nate: [00:18:16] It's agencydad.money/freeaudit. And, just because of the topic of this podcast, I'll mention  that's a third, a forecast that we do is we actually forecast people's metrics. So they can see in the future, if their metrics are getting out of whack, based on what they should be. Just another way to give us a red flag on something.

Jason: [00:18:38] Awesome. Well, everybody go check out that and get that free audit.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

Nate: [00:18:45] Thanks, Jason.

Direct download: How_to_Manage_the_Future_and_Skyrocket_Agency_Profitability.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EST

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