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What metrics should you track to create a successful lead generation strategy? Kara Brown had been working on a string of supply chain corporate jobs where she oversaw IPOs and eventually decided to create her own business and focus on lead generation. She believes filling the top of the funnel now will be the first to capture market share in the recovery. With LeadCoverage, she focuses on B2B revenue operations and acquisition strategies for scaling companies. In her conversation with Jason, they spoke about what she has seen working for lead generation, what every company should be measuring to keep a profitable business, and how you can save time on prospects that won't become customers.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Measure what’s happening in your funnel. Many agencies don't have a really good lead generation source and are leaning on word of mouth to get new clients. You really have to find that source to keep growing. Where do most businesses fail? Kara says most companies she works with fail at truly measuring what's happening inside their funnel. At the top of her lead generation strategies are “share good news, track who's interested, and then follow up.” Another successful strategy is getting as niche as possible. “When your niche is small, you can be hyper-targeted in your approach,” she says. This will save you a lot of time with clients that don’t meet your criteria.
  2. Measuring volume, velocity, and value. Kara is not running a creative agency, but she is all about making her business as profitable and valuable as possible. When it comes to how valuable her consultancy or her agency is, she thinks in terms of measuring volume, value, and velocity. Velocity is how fast are they getting in your funnel? Volume is how many deals can you handle any one time and how many deals are going to fill your pipelines? This is all about close ratios and trying not to spend too much time on deals that won’t close. And value is all about what is this potential customer truly going to be worth to you? For this, try to be really honest and don’t overvalue customers.
  3. Lead with pricing to save time. When you are speaking with potential customers, do you lead with the budget? Doing so could really help your closing ratio and save you a lot of time on deals that aren’t going to close. Kara prefers to be really straightforward with her approach and start the conversation by stating what her company does for customers and say “this is our minimum monthly rate” to find out whether it is on that potential customer’s budget or not. If they’re not, then she offers to use the rest of the call to give free advice. She assures this is helpful and saves her a lot of time.

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Measure Your Way to a Successful Lead Strategy and Stop Wasting Time on the Wrong Prospects

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here, and have another amazing digital agency podcast guest for you. We're going to talk about lead generation for your digital agency. It's going to be a fun show, so let's go ahead and get into it.

Hey, Kara. Welcome to the show.

Kara: [00:00:22] Hey! Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:23] Yeah, I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Kara: [00:00:27] Yeah, I'm Kara Brown. I'm the CEO and founder of LeadCoverage and we do B2B lead gen for supply chain, heavy industrial, and tech.

Jason: [00:00:35] Awesome. And so how'd you get started in creating an agency?

Kara: [00:00:40] Yeah, that's a funny story. So I was the 12th employee at a company called Echo Global Logistics. Very sexy, all the trucks. Uh, actually a super sexy, the guy that started Echo Global Logistics also started Groupon. So I got to send the first Groupon email. It's a true story. It came from my inbox. Got to watch them grow like crazy and then ended up being on the team that took the company I was working for went public.

So I did an IPO at about 25. Uh, I was asked to move to Nashville to do another IPO for a private equity company, for another supply chain management company. Sort of a stream of, of supply chain, corporate jobs. And then ended up back in Chicago, popped out two kids, moved to Atlanta, moved here for a sort of a garbage brokerage jobs. So it was sort of similar to supply chain but in a different space.

Instead of going public, that company raised $95 million in equity. When I exited that, the question was like, what to do next? And someone told me the statistic that less than 2% of female founders will ever break a million dollars in revenue. And I said, well, that doesn't sound that hard.

So I did it with an all female team. It took us about 10 months and now we're on the path to ten million.

Jason: [00:01:54] Awesome. So is Groupon still around? I haven't heard anything from them.

Kara: [00:01:58] Yes. They're still around. They're a publicly-traded company. Please buy some Groupon things.

Jason: [00:02:05] So you must have some stock.

Kara: [00:02:08] Yeah, I think… They still exists. They're still out of 600 West Chicago and sort of a Chicago tech darling from the early two thousands.

Jason: [00:02:15] Very cool. Uh, funny story, my wife got me a Groupon in a helicopter, like 10 years ago for my birthday. And I’m like, I'm not doing it. I'm scared to death of helicopters.

That's right. Let's talk about lead generation. You know, I find a lot of digital agencies, they take on the wrong clients and they take on the wrong clients because they haven't been building their pipeline. They haven't been building their pipeline because they don't have a really good lead generation source in order to really kind of tap on because they’re based on word of mouth.

So what have you seen working for lead-generation?

Kara: [00:02:55] Sure. So we have nine lead gen strategies, but I'll start sort of at the top. So at the top is share good news, track who's interested, follow up. Most companies that we interact with, either customers or people that would just help out as friends.

Are doing one or two of those and almost none of them, almost none of them, of the companies we talked to are tracking any of it, right? Like really, truly measuring what's happening inside their funnel.

And so one of the things that we've found successful for Lead Coverage is getting as niche as possible. So our niche is supply chain management companies over a hundred million in revenue or venture-backed. And basically, if you don't hit one or two of those criteria, we may take you on as a client, but we may not. We may say no, thank you. And that's been very successful for us. So in terms of lead gen, when your niche is small, you can be hyper-targeted in your approach.

If you're wide and not very deep, it's really easy to end up talking to a lot of folks that aren’t super valuable. The other thing that we like to measure, which we can definitely talk about later, we do a lot of measurement in our company, is we measure volume, velocity and value. And I think most important for agencies is value, right?

So a very smart man part of the Groupon kickoff team in the very beginning of the early days said to me, hey, Kara, it is… it costs to you, just as much money to run a $250,000 account as it does a $2,500 account. So get upstream and get as big as you can. Get your, get your retainers as big as you can, as fast as you can. Because that's where the real money-making happens.

Jason: [00:04:48] You mean you don't want to race to the bottom? I see a lot of people when they initially talk with us, we really kind of determined that pricing is one of their big issues. And they're like, well, my competitor is actually cheaper. We're actually more. I'm like, what does that matter? Do you want to win that race?

I was like, I don't.

Kara: [00:05:10] We just decided to raise our minimums. I went to a trade show last week for our very specific niche industry, right? So every single person at that show could be a customer for us, which I think is super important. We went to the show and the number that I told everyone, nobody said it was too expensive.

And I came back to the office after two days in the trade show floor. And I said, we need to increase our minimum because no one told me it was too much. And when no one's telling you, you're too expensive, you're not charging enough.

Jason: [00:05:40] Yeah. Yeah, totally. Yep. Totally agree. Get in a little bit more about kind of the velocity and the volume and the, the value. Let's talk a little bit more about that.

Kara: [00:05:49] Yeah. We love measurement. So we are not a creative agency. We don't have a creative director. We don't do creative. We don't do color theory. We're probably very different than most of the folks that listen to your podcast. But I still listen to the two Bobs and I'm all about agency work. And I'm like all about sort of consulting and how do I make this business as profitable and valuable as possible?

So when I think about how valuable my consultancy or my agency is, I think about volume, value, and velocity. So how fast are my customers finding me? And then how fast can I get them to close the deal? Velocity story is a funny one. I have a client that we have been or potential client we've been talking to for over two years.

And I think I may tell him it is time to stop talking to each other. Like it's nice. But, um, I've sort of sent him enough info. I've done enough. We've had enough phone calls. I've talked to enough of his people. It's been two years. If you're not going to buy, you're not going to buy, right?

So that's velocity. But we also had a few weeks ago, our first one call-close. So we were introduced to someone, they came through a LinkedIn post that I wrote, which I should definitely mention how we do LinkedIn because it's really interesting. And one call the guy was like, great. Let's do it. And our minimums, Jason, are $15,000 a month.

And the guy was like, I don't want your minimum. I want to be a big fish in your pond. We were like, all right, let's do it. So those are really exciting. So velocity is how fast are they getting in your funnel? Volume is how many deals can you handle any one time and how many deals are going to fill your, fill your actual pipelines?

This is all about close ratios, right? So you can have a whole bunch of conversations, but if they're only closing 5 to 10% of them, you're spending a lot of time on deals that aren't going to close. So I have a thing that I do… fair it may not be nice, but it helps me save a lot of time.

I will look at who I'm talking to before I get on the phone. And if they're not in our box, I will open the call with something to this effect: It's so nice to meet you, Jason. I want to talk a little bit about what we do and who we do it for. I'm going to tell you how much. If we're not in your budget, we'll use the next 25 minutes. I'm going to give you 25 minutes of free advice.

My minimum is $20,000 a month and my core market is supply chain technology and heavy industrial. Does that feel like something that you can afford? And if they're like, oh my budget's like $2,000 a month or something crazy, then I'll say, hey, no problem. Let's use the next 25 minutes and I'll give you all the free advice I can. That's really helpful.

They also don't call me again. So I don't have to like go down the rigor mortise of like giving them a proposal for $20K a month. And they're like, uh, we're not on the same page. So that stops that and then value, right?

What is this potential customer going to be worth to me? Like really, truly going to be worth to me. And I don't do the work you do. So I don't work with agency owners. But I would imagine that there are a lot of folks out there who overvalue potential customers, right? I think this product is going to come in at 80 grand and it comes in at 20.

I think that this customer is going to stick around for two years and they stay for three months, right? So being really, truly honest with yourself on values really important. And the best way to check out value is just to have someone, probably not you, if you're the CEO. Go back and look at your, at your previous customers, right?

Like take a deep dive and really be honest with yourself on how much is each customer actually truly worth to you?

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Yeah, I love it. And I love that you get right to the budget in the very beginning. There's so many people, you know, when I'm speaking to a crowd, one of the two questions I'll ask is all right, how many people get the budget every single time or almost every time? And then, you know, how many people ask for it?

And by the it's about 50% of the room than ask. And then 50% of that, it's only a quarter of the percent of agencies are actually getting the budget. And that's before they put all that work in it. I would always go to them and say, I just need a range of what you're trying to stick around.

Because here's the deal, especially on pricing, and I learned this the hard way when I talked to a small company, I never heard of called Berkshire Hathaway. And I pitched them like a $20,000 website. They were expecting 30,000. So like if I started out, like I would always try to lead with what's their expectation and then match them there. But I would also even have a floor.

Uh, so pricing is very important.

Kara: [00:11:12] So I actually disagree. I lead with our pricing. Because if they're willing to pay you $30,000 for a website, there's probably $120,000 somewhere in their budget, right? And I think as a woman, this isn't necessarily agency owner, but as a woman, knowing other women in business, we tend to undervalue ourselves.

And what I've found is, as my retainers have gone from 5 to 7 to 12 to 15 to $20,000 minimums, no one's saying no, right? Like very few people say to me, I can't afford you, right? Unless they're like just out of the box, but if they're in the box and they understand the value and I've done a good job of delivering what we do and showing them what we do and how we do it and what the value is we bring. As long as I lead with my minimum… Actually, it's not even the minimum.

I learned something at an EO event, the entrepreneur organization that the human brain anchors on the first number that you tell someone. So when someone says to me, Kara, how do we work with you? I say, well, our average retainer comes in between 30 and $40,000 a month, but our minimum is 20. So instead of them saying, oh, I can get this person for five grand a month because I say something like our minimum is five grand.

They're already like, oh, well she's like, she's really expensive. Like, can I afford her home? Like, oh, like maybe I should find another $30,000 a month somewhere to pay this person. So I think it's really important that you set your own standards and there's always money in corporations. I have worked for enormous corporations in my corporate career.

There's always money. Always.

Jason: [00:12:58] Yeah. Yeah. I call it the reverse engineer effect when you're going over the range, because so many people, when they go, I just need to know a range. A thousand, fove thousand? I would literally start at a billion and then a million and then a hundred thousand and 20,000. So they echo that first number going, holy cow, no one else said that.

What makes you so unique? And you can really separate yourself. And switching focus a little bit. You hinted a little bit to the LinkedIn post. Tell us how you do that.

Kara: [00:13:28] Yeah, so we can attribute $480,000 to two LinkedIn posts. And that's just in 2020, not in 2021. So super proud of this whole process.

I post super regularly on LinkedIn. Sometimes I post about being a woman in business. Sometimes it's about marketing. Sometimes it's just like, I don't know thoughts of the week that I've decided that I want to share. I have a ghost writer. She's on my team. Should we speak for about an hour a week. Now, because we've been working together for a while, she can get almost four LinkedIn posts out of that one hour.

I also write for Forbes and Entrepreneur and other magazines. So she does those for me at the same time. And she writes the post themselves. They're my words, but she physically crafts them. They go to my team, my team adds the emojis and make sure that they're, if people are tagged and then they go into a file for me to approve. I approve. And then they get scheduled.

So we have posts that are going out. We're recording this in September. We've got posts going up through the end of November and I'll be gone the entire month of October. So I'll still be posting even though I'll be in Europe, which is really nice. And so we can see attribution of almost $500,000 to LinkedIn.

And this is LinkedIn thought leadership. And it cost me probably 2000 bucks a month to do this. So it's my most ROI driven piece of, of lead gen that we do for myself. And it's been a terrific way for us to meet people.

You can't always track every single lead back to LinkedIn, but it was a, it was a funny story. I was at this trade show I just mentioned in our niche industry. And I ran into some guy that I had known from a million years ago. And he said Kara, I read every LinkedIn post and I was like, awesome. And he said…

Jason: [00:15:11] Stalker.

Kara: [00:15:12] Stalker, right? Well, that's the whole point, like, please stalk me. And he said, may I please introduce you to my CMO? I think that I'd really like to make sure that you two meet each other and now they're going to be a client.

So you never know who's reading it. They may not be liking, sharing and engaging, but put it be putting yourself out there is super important.

Jason: [00:15:31] Yeah. I love it. And these are just regular posts. Do you have a call to action on there or is it just helpful?

Kara: [00:15:36] Yeah. So we're trying to, the LinkedIn algorithm changes pretty regularly. We do this for clients as well. So we have a human being on our team who is regularly trying to sort of like bust the LinkedIn algorithm. Not in an ugly way, just in a, how do we use it to our advantage? So one of the stats she told me that I was really surprised is that less than 2% of people that are on LinkedIn are actively posting.

So just by actively engaging in LinkedIn, they're already in the top 2% of folks that are sort of voyeurs only, right? And so, as long as you just put anything out there, you're going to be sort of doing better than other folks. If you get into like exactly what, you know, doing posts, doing polls calls to action links, links back to landing pages. Links to, to form fills and video.

We can, it's a whole another podcast we can do just to talk about how to like optimize LinkedIn. In my professional opinion, that this is specifically for my market, which is supply chain, heavy, industrial and tech. I don't need to put video out there. I don't need to be super complicated about it because no one's buying from LinkedIn, right?

LinkedIn just keeps me front and center for the folks in my world and in my universe. That when I see them at the trade show or when I send them an email or when they see something from me that's interesting and they have a need. They're like, oh man, there's this woman who posts all the time on LinkedIn.

She's really interesting. I'm going to reach out, right? So it's just about staying in the conversation.

Jason: [00:17:03] Yeah. It's about consistency. You know, you mentioned you were chatting with someone for two years. Holy cow, like if I was chatting with them, but when I look at my, our stats, most people don't buy from us for about a year and a half to two years.

They're digesting that content, which isn't a sweat off my back and if they never buy it and they just get helpful content, I'm perfectly fine with that as well. But, but yeah, just to go through the proposal process for two years, that is a yeah. Shit or get off the pot dude.

Kara: [00:17:34] And yeah, this particular human is such a nice guy and he's so kind, and I know he does want to work with us and he is very specifically strapped by, you know, investors and sort of what these investors want to do.

I get it. And it doesn't bother me to like, have a relationship with this person. He is also well connected. He's a good human, but we are going to have to at some point, be like, hey, I can't do one more deliverable for you, right? Like I can't, I can't put together another email or send you another proposal.

Like they're all the same. Like, it hasn't changed. Like the same proposal you got two years ago was going to be the same one I'm going to send you now because what we do, hasn't really changed.

Jason: [00:18:13] Awesome. Well, this has all been great, Kara. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?

Kara: [00:18:19] You know, I think one of the things that's really important to us, Jason, is the combination of failed the market. That sales and marketing, including PR and AR analyst relations, which I know a lot of folks in digital marketing don't really touch analysts at all. Cause it's kind of boring, but really important to your senior leaders, right?

So if you're going up market, and this is not small business, this is enterprise. So we're very fortunate in the, in our niche. We have sort of along the spectrum, small business, all the way up through sort of big corporate enterprise, even publicly traded companies. And so we get to touch everything from analyst relations to public relations, all the way through, but long story short, the deeper we get in the niche, the higher our prices can go and the more we get integrated with both PR AR and sales.

And the stickier you get, the more you can deliver math back to your client that goes to their boss, that goes to the board. The longer you'll stay in the organization, the more valuable you are and the more sticky, just the stickier that you get in inside those orbes.

And so that's my sort of best piece of advice is if you can deliver math back to your clients, specifically math that goes to the board or to some sort of senior executive, you will be very, very sticky. So find something that's meaningful to your customer that you can deliver on a regular basis. That means something to their boss.

Jason: [00:19:46] Awesome. Love it. What's the agency website people can go and check you guys out?

Kara: [00:19:50] Yeah. We're lead coverage.com and we'd love to hear from anyone who wants to talk more about lead gen or anything about supply chain.

Jason: [00:19:58] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Kara, for coming on the show. Make sure you guys go check out the website, connect with Kara.

And if you guys want to be around the most amazing agency owners in the world, where they're sharing  what's working currently to be able to see the things you may not be able to see as well as have fun scaling your business. I'd like to invite all of you. Go to check out digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind just for digital agency owners.

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

Direct download: What_to_Measure_to_Create_a_Successful_Lead_Generation_Strategy.mp3
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Do you know how using AI and data-driven algorithms could help you save money on inefficient positioning? Anne Cheng is an entrepreneur that started her business with an idea in mind: what if she could get inside the heads of people and understand what information they required to make decisions? Supercharge Lab is a cognitive artificial intelligence company that uses AI and data to try to understand what goes on inside customers' heads, or rather listen to the voice in their head. In this episode, Anne sat down with Jason to explain how this AI technology works, why business owners should embrace that it is the future and use this innovation to their benefit, and how agency owners could use it to create specific targeting and sales and marketing content that resonates with its audiences and find their sweet spot in the market.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Getting inside people’s heads. How can we really understand what goes on inside someone’s head? Anne explains that what really gives us away is how we write, instead of what we write. The tones, the structure, the number of emojis, and the type of words we use are giveaways that offer a glimpse into things like our emotional state, personality style, social styles of interaction, and conflict management. Her company uses this data to build algorithms that help them put people in categories of psychological profiles or cognitive styles. “After we applied it to sales and marketing, we've seen a significant lift in our customer ROI,” she says.
  2. How the industry will change. Will AI replace what agencies are doing for clients? This technology is becoming quickly democratized. A few years ago artificial intelligence was all about building training models and putting in huge massive slices of data. Today it costs $16 and 39 cents to run a learning model. It can be really quick and easy to train a model with a high level of accuracy. Is the technology strong enough to completely replace a human? “I think not at this point,” Anne told us. There is still a long way to go before that, but it is the future. For now, it’s all about not wasting money on inefficient positioning. “Data-driven algorithms are not the enemy,” she adds.
  3. Advantages for agencies. We should always use new technologies and innovations to our benefit, and to benefit our clients. We all know that agency owners struggle with their own marketing and have a hard time treating themselves like their own clients. Anne believes this struggle comes from not really knowing where your sweet spot is and that using these technologies could help you experiment. Using algorithms can help you determine the accuracy of your targeting. For example, if you would like to go after medium-sized businesses with revenues between 10 to 50 million, you can test your response rates. Algorithms are great ways to experiment. It's cheap, it's fast, and you're not wasting time.

Sponsors and Resources

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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Stop Wasting Resources and Use Data-Driven Algorithms to Find Your Sweet Spot in The Market

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here, and we've got another great episode coming to you. And we're going to talk around AI and what you can do with really kind of targeting the right audience, as well as having the AI tool, write the copy for you to convert faster. So I'm excited to get into this episode. Uh, so let's jump in.

Hey, Anne. Welcome to the show.

Anne: [00:00:31] Thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:32] Yeah. So tell us who you are and what do you guys do?

Anne: [00:00:36] Well, my name is Anne and I'm the founder and CEO of Supercharge Lab. Supercharge Lab is a cognitive artificial intelligence company, which means we take AI and a lot of data and we attempt to understand what goes on inside your head, or rather listen to the voice in your head.

And we do that for the purpose of applying it to sales and marketing. We try to improve the ROI as far as our clients. And so far it's been quite a ride.

Jason: [00:01:04] Cool. And so how did you… how'd you, how'd you all come up with developing this?

Anne: [00:01:11] Well, I guess it started with the idea that we said, what if we could get inside the heads of people and understand what information they required to make decisions?

Uh, and that way we could make decision-making more predictable, uh, less noise and biased. And, well, improve results across all kinds of positions that are being made. Whether it's medical decisions or diagnosis, whether it's sales and marketing, uh, purchase behavior. Um, so, well we decided to try to figure out how people, what information people take in, in order to make decisions.

And we came up with an algorithm that profiles, the information, uh, that people take in the site, the cognitive style of people, what we call or the psychological profile. And, uh, well the rest is history. After we applied it to sales and marketing, we've seen significant lift in our customer ROI. Um, we have had customers who literally renew their campaigns with us so often that they tell us they cannot see a day without, uh, using our solution.

Jason: [00:02:20] Awesome. And tell us kind of, how does… How did you guys really kind of write the algorithm in order to get inside our heads? I mean, how does all that work? That's always fascinating.

Anne: [00:02:34] So I think that's a great question, Jason. So a lot of people look at what we write because when we, when we write, um, whenever we write the contents of what we write is driven by who audiences is what we want to say.

Uh, but a lot of people fail to realize that what, what really gives us away is how we write. The tones, the structure, the number of emojis or bullet points, or the kind of words that we use. That actually is the voice inside our head. That's the tone of the voice inside our head to tell gifts, clues into things like, you know, your emotional state, your, your personality style, your social styles of interaction. Or even your style of conflict management.

Um, by understanding how it be right to be basically we're able to take these language models, parse it into an algorithm. And well, uh, we have been able to put everybody in some categories of psychological profiles or what we call cognitive styles, um, and hopefully using rules based and data-driven, uh, algorithms, were able to cut out a lot of the noise that actually, you know, gifts written comes from manual advertising and marketing.

Jason: [00:03:57] I feel, I feel dirty. You're profiling me.

Anne: [00:04:02] No, I don’t do that.

Jason: [00:04:04] Um, so. How would someone… As an agency, you know, they, and I'm talking more about not for their clients, but really for themselves, right? So we just got done as we're recording this, this week, our digital agency experience, where we have, you know, 28 of the best agency owners come out, um, to my house in Colorado, when we brainstorm on strategies and what's working.

And the common theme, and this is among most digital agency owners. And if… If, uh, if you don't admit this you're supporting terrorism. But we, they struggle with doing their own marketing and creating themselves as their own clients. Um, and a lot of them struggle with just identifying who their audience… Cause they try to go after everybody.

So how could, you know, AI really helped them out in order to reach more of the audience? Because they may not know who they're targeting yet.

Anne: [00:05:08] Yeah. So I think one of the biggest struggles as a… well a marketing organization is actually understanding where your sweet spot is. And, uh, you know, using algorithms, you can actually do a lot of experimentation.

Uh, one of the biggest things that, um, AI does, is that it gives you a score of how much you are able to resonate, how accurate, you know, your targeting is. So if, for example, you think you would like to go after, you know, a medium-sized business with revenues between 10 to 50 million, and you don't really know whether this is really the sweet spot for you.

You can actually test, um, the, the targeting and you can test things like, you know, what we call your, your outbound messages as well as your response rates. And if you see that your response rates are lower than another particular industry, you know…  It's possibly time to change and don't throw good money after, you know, a bad result all the time.

And so that's what Einstein says is stupidity, you know, expecting a different result by doing the same thing, all, all the time is insanity. So what I would do is use algorithms, use artificial intelligence, or what may be called big data, uh, to understand what your audience is and test the vigor at which they will respond.

Now, I've done that a lot with myself, with my own audience. Um, and I've noticed that, you know, we try to grow, uh, our customers by, you know, going after bigger companies. Well, it doesn't work. Um, we, we realized that we were not getting any conversions. We were not getting any customers inquiring. So we said, you know, maybe we should go back to, uh, the smaller businesses. And at the same time, we change up the different industry.

So algorithms are great ways to experiment and it's cheap. It's fast. It, it takes me three days to identify whether, you know, this is the right market. You're not wasting time. So yeah.

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Very cool. So will AI… Will AI replace what agencies are doing for clients? Like I look at it as, and I've been telling agencies like this for a long time. And if you think about kind of the car industry, you know, many, you know, many, a hundred years ago, I guess, you know, the car industry created dealers or the manufacturer created dealers, and they were the middlemen selling to the public because you can't go to the dealer.

Um, and forever, it was that way. And then, you know, Tesla came out and you, you don't go through a dealer… You buy it right from the manufacturer. And I kind of see a lot of this starting to happen with agencies that are just doing a particular service where, you know, Facebook and Google would always promote agencies. But I kind of see them starting to kind of pull back from agencies a little bit because now people can go directly to them and not use the middlemen.

Anne: [00:09:33] Yeah, for sure. I think, uh, one of the things about technology is that is becoming very quickly democratized. Artificial intelligence just a few years ago, was all about, you know, building training models, you know, putting in a lot of data, huge massive slices of data. Today it costs me $16 and 39 cents to run a learning model.

Uh, it takes maybe about an hour to, to train a model. And you know, it, it can be really, really quick and easy, um, with a high level of accuracy to train a, uh, artificial intelligence model. Is, um, the technology strong enough to completely replace a human? I think not at this point. I think that is still a way to go, uh, where, you know, copy is not going to sound like it's artificially written.

Uh, so that's, that's something which I think is going to, uh, have to develop a little bit more. But to understand your audience, to predict the audience with a level of, um, certainty, it’s starting to become quite democratized. So I think, yes, logic-based artificial intelligence is going to upend the advertising industry.

But that being said, artificial intelligence to going to upend almost every industry, if you let it.

Jason: [00:11:01] Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s, you know… That's what innovation is. It should always challenge the status quo and make us better. And you know, the one thing I always tell agencies is use the new technology, the new innovations to your benefit, and to benefit your clients, you know, going forward. Um, this has all been great, Anne. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Anne: [00:11:24] Yeah, I think, you know, the biggest question that we have as marketing organizations is how can we use that wastage? Um, today up to 26% of ad spend… It's wasted on inefficient, uh, positioning and efficient messaging. And I think a lot of us have to try to learn that, you know, data-driven algorithms and rules-based algorithms can… are not the enemy.

Our enemy is embracing… um, the, the innovation that is coming. So I think our enemy is truly ourselves. If we get over ourselves, we can definitely grow the business, um, in a massive, in a major way.

Jason: [00:12:09] Awesome. What's the website people can go and check you guys out?

Anne: [00:12:14] Well, it's superchargedlab.com. Remember as supercharged lab without an S at the end dot com.

Jason: [00:12:20] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show, Anne. You did great lots of great insights. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you guys subscribe, make sure you comment.

And if you guys want to be around the best agency owners out there and really tap into their heads, because maybe you haven't tapped into the AI yet, um, I want to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com and apply. And, uh, if we feel that you're right and the group's right for you, we'll have a chat and… So good at digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Do you know how relationship equity could help you grow your business and establish yourself as a category of one? Michael Stamatinos has always thought of himself as a connector. His love for building bridges and connections led him to the business development, marketing, and sales world. He founded Omorfi, an agency that empowers individuals to take a leadership role in their community and he focused on his passion for the healthcare sector, the role of leadership in communities, and helping people make connections. In this episode, he sat down with Jason to talk about how relationship equity became the core of all his interactions with the people in his life, how agency owners could use this concept to improve their relationships with clients and peers, and how being passionate about your business can really help you establish yourself as a category of one.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Relationship equity. Michael considers himself to be a connector. He loves creating connections between people and really believes in the concept of relationship equity. To him, relationships are like a bank account, you have to make sure to make a deposit and you have enough money before making a withdrawal or a purchase. “There are folks that are very quick to make massive withdrawals and they haven't substantiated,” he explains. People will sometimes try to get something from a person without first establishing a true connection with them and building trust. How can you do that? By taking that relationship and multiplying it by time and by value. That is what truly builds relationship equity.
  2. How can agency owners use it? Relationship equity is all about connections and being bridge builders. Agency owners can really benefit from this approach when they focus on really understanding who it is that you're trying to serve and know what it is that's going on in their environment and in their world. Understand it so well that they think, this person really gets me and my business. But this is something that you can also take to your relationship with peers. “It's amazing what doors can be opened when you try to approach the world from a place of abundance,” Michael assures.
  3. Be in a category of one. Having that connection and understanding of your client’s business and needs will happen especially when you find a niche you’re really passionate about. When there's a connection that allows you the opportunity to start building and cultivating that relationship and building that bridge, this is the start of establishing yourself as a category of one in your industry. This way, you can empathize with and what they're going through and ask how can I help? Who can I connect you to?

Sponsors and Resources

Sharpspring: Today's episode is sponsored by Sharpspring, an all-in-one revenue growth platform that provides all of the marketing automation, CRM, & sales features you need to support your entire customer lifecycle. Partner with an affordable marketing automation provider that you can trust. Head over to sharpspring.com/smartagency to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Investing in Relationship Equity and Establishing Yourself as a Category of One

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Excited to have another amazing episode. We're going to talk about relationship equity, and you're going to want to really hear what we're going to talk about and I got an amazing guest. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Michael. Welcome to the show.

Michael: [00:00:22] Hey, it's good to be here.

Jason: [00:00:23] Yeah. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Michael: [00:00:27] Uh, so Michael Stamatinos. Managing partner of Omorfi and we work with clients that are focused on growth. We work on strategic growth initiatives with some execution services.

So it really boils down to one word: access, access to the right people, access to the right strategic partners, and in some cases, access to the right growth capital. So we really view ourselves as bridge builders and connectors at heart. I am a connector and that's really what we're focused on.

So come from a pretty humble background. Parents are both immigrants, so grew up working in restaurants, being Greek, and just love working with people to the point where I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. And after my training, I realized that I didn't want to be in living receptacle to people's stuff. I still wanted to help people.

So gravitate it into the world of business development, marketing, and sales, and been there ever since.

Jason: [00:01:18] So I'm dying to ask you and you. And you probably get asked this a lot just based on how you did the intro about your family being Greek and in the restaurant business. Is your family like the Big Fat Greek Wedding?

Michael: [00:01:29] 100% Yes.

Jason: [00:01:33] How many cousins do you have?

Michael: [00:01:35] We have several cousins named Nick and Peter and Costa, and it's very family-oriented. And my dad is quite a character, you know. When he talks to people, he's very animated, loves to tell stories. My mom's a little bit more of sort of the, just a homemaker, very peaceful, very calm. So sort of the ying and yang there. But my dad was a really hard worker and just grinded for a long time and stayed consistent.

I think if there's anything that I've taken from him, it's that. Staying consistent and having discipline.

Jason: [00:02:07] Awesome. Well, let's talk about relationship equity. How do you view this?

Michael: [00:02:13] So I have an interesting story of how that kind of came about. So as I mentioned earlier, yeah, I'm a connector. I've always been a connector my whole entire life.

I get a lot of joy out of putting people together, regardless of whether something's in it for me or not. And I was in a meeting one day with a client… And I don't know if you've ever had, if this has ever happened to you, but I got a stream of thoughts that were so clear that I had to excuse myself from the meeting.

And I call it, I got a memo from that office, if you know what I'm saying. And that hadn't happened to me up until that point in my life. So I left that meeting. I always carry a little notebook with me. So I jotted down three sort of overlapping circles with a circle in the middle that intersects all the other circles.

And I called it relationship equity, and really relationships are very similar to a bank account. When you initially start a bank account, you deposit some money. Well, if you want to go out and purchase something after you've started your bank account, you would draw some money. The reality is that if you continue to withdraw and you want to make a big purchase and you don't have enough money in there deposited, it's going to say insufficient funds.

And that's really how I'm seeing the world now is that there are folks that are very quick to make massive withdrawals and they haven't substantiated. They'll do withdrawals by putting in deposits into that account. And sort of the three circles within relationship equity, that makeup relationship equity rather is trust. How do you build trust with people?

Well, you have to have some level of authenticity and I'm not here trying to be someone that I'm not. I'm a real person, normal person. And there has to be some sort of a connection. In our case, it was through, you know, one of your members, Pete, Pete Cunningham. And that's how we really kind of transferred that relationship equity.

And so there's that trust that. And then how do you build that relationship? Well, you take that trust and you multiply it over time. And it doesn't necessarily have to be long stretches of time. It could be short, such as it's on there's some folks that have gotten really close to in short amount of time.

And then how do you build equity within that relationship? Well, you take that relationship and you multiply it by value. And the way that I define value for me is helping someone for the sake of helping them not having a hidden agenda. And when you do all those things, you build relationship equity. So when people ask me, what game am I in?

I'm in the game of building relationship equity all the time. Whether it be with my wife, with my kids, with my friends and family and with clients and prospects. That's what I'm doing. And that's look, that's what got me here today. I didn't reach out to you and ask you to be on your show. It was through a series of activities of trying to add value and trying to be helpful and building relationship equity, which inevitably was transferred to this particular moment here.

So this is something that I'm going to be doing until I'm not here anymore, regardless.

Jason: [00:05:10] Yeah. I love the term and I've always told people, you know, especially cause they're like, hey, let me, uh, you got the audience I want. I'll give you this amount of money. I'm like, no, it just doesn't work that way.

I'm like, you got to make deposits before you're withdrawing. I mean, a great example… It's always been, since I've been a kid, my grandfather worked on the long island railroad and I've always wanted to ride in front of the steam engine. And I met this one guy, Greg, that a mutual friend introduced us because he usually takes off a lot of time. We go play.

And so we started kind of a couple of weeks ago, epic Fridays. So we just go out, climb mountains, do some really cool stuff. And I was telling him, you know, we were talking about like bucket list items and stuff like that. And I was like, man, you know, I've always wanted a ride in a steam engine.

He's like, I know the owner of the Durango Silverton Railroad. Let me call them up for you. He surprised me. And so in the next couple of days, I'm going to get to ride, hit the whistle and everything. So just, just from relationships, like I didn't ask for that. So…

Michael: [00:06:17] It's amazing. It's amazing what doors can be opened when you try to approach the world from a place of abundance and not to sound all woo or anything.

But when you really try to add value and try to really help people for the sake of helping people, not only are you advancing society at large, but I dunno, it just, there's more opportunities that have come across my desk that I could ever take advantage of. It's just trying to be, be that way. So I think I'm going to keep doing that.

Jason: [00:06:41] Yeah. I mean, there's so many examples. I, you know, I think of, you know, in our mastermind, you know, some members like Dunkin or Ian or Jeremy. They provide so much value to the membership, but they get so much business back and that's not their whole intent. Like they don't go in it saying like you were saying, well, what can I get from this?

It's like, I'm going to give, but then whenever they need anything, like people are like, I'll give you the shirt off my back. What do you need? And they're just people that recognize that you really start scaling… You know, I was very minded, many years of my career, like, oh, you're in this business, I'm going to take you down.

And then I'm like, no, no, no, you can build relationships and work with people. And even if you never get anything back from it, you feel good by doing it.

Michael: [00:07:30] Yeah. The currency that I play with is relationship equity. And I get, as I mentioned earlier, like I view myself as a bridge builder. And what better way to live life than to continue to build bridges, show people how to build bridges. In other instances, you're doing the bridge building for them.

But then you're also building tools to show people how to build bridges. I mean, I didn't go to a fancy school. I don't have any of these fancy degree. I didn't go in and I didn't do any of that stuff. And somehow I pinch myself sometimes when I find myself in some of these meetings with people, quite frankly, that sometimes I'm like, wow, how did I get here? Oh my gosh. And I did.

And it has a lot to do with knowing how to get access to just scale. And it's all about building relationship equity.

Jason: [00:08:18] Yeah. So the agency owners listening in, is there any steps or there's no trickery here, but if they're thinking, well, man, I would like to build more relationships and I'm thinking back, you know, a couple of years ago for me, I was crappy at building relationships.

Like it's very hard to get in with me. Once you're in, you're in, you know, I was always closed minded and that kind of stuff. So how can agency owners benefit from this?

Michael: [00:08:47] The way that agency owners can benefit from it is as follows is, understand who it is that you're trying to serve and know what it is that's going on in their environment and in their world and know it's so well to the point where they're like, wow, this person really understands me.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

That's how you connect with people. You having been a former agency owner and knowing the growing pains, the ins and outs you'd been there before. And when you're trying to serve a specific niche or market and you understand problems that are very… And I'm not talking about just surface level deep, I'm talking about going four or 5, 6, 7 levels down.

That's when there's a connection that allows you the opportunity to start building and cultivating that relationship and building that bridge. So it starts there. And then the other thing that you really are trying to do is you really are going to have to position yourself as being, you know, that category of one.

That truly understands that market. I mean, you have quite a niche and I'm assuming it wasn't, it was, it didn't happen by chance. This was done by design. And it had a lot to do with how you position yourself and how you understood the pain points that agency owners were going through.

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Yeah, I always tell everybody I'm like, you have to know your audience you're going after and understand what they're feeling. Not their problem, but yes, you have to understand their problem, but how does that problem actually make them feel? And then empathize with them. You know, there's many people that do what I do that has no empathy and they just, they just kind of go shouting down from their fake mountain going, hey, I can help you, you know, look at what all the shit I've done.

Versus like, I've been what you're going through. I totally get it. How can I help? Who can I connect you to? You know, one of the things I always tell people after I, I meet with them, like, is there any back connect you with? Because I do believe, like you were saying, you're a connector, you know, I've seen that, like the people that go, hey, you need to meet this person.

And then whenever they're like, man, that relationship was amazing. Thanks so much, Jason. You know, and then just keep building on that. So I totally agree with all this. It's so easy. It's not like rocket science. I think you have to be aware in order to do it and kind of almost, you're almost kind of changing yourself a little bit because I think early on, I think we're all takers versus givers and when you give yeah, you get more.

Michael: [00:12:10] And there's a great book called The Go-Giver and it's, I'm looking at something that I've described to as a kid, that there's something that when you shift from everyone defines success differently, by the way. For me, it's about being able to have the time and money to do what it is that I want to do and do it with the people that I want to do with and having great relationships with those people.

I mean, at the end of the day, I'm not a slave to money. Don't get me wrong. It's, it's an important aspect of things that it's not the end all be all. And when you really place your identity outside of that, you start to make this shift from being successful to then being significant. So the shift from being successful to significant is it's a long journey and it takes a lot of work.

And I can't say that it was a smooth ride for me, and it's not, I'm not done. I'm not done by any stretch, just so have a lot of growing to do. And the best is yet to come.

Jason: [00:13:03] Yeah. And I think when you make that shift to significance, I remember when I sold the first agency, I was depressed and it was because I didn't have that significance.

And then when I was able to create the community that we've created and really connect all these amazing agency owners together. You know, then I was like, oh man, I feel like I'm on top of the world. Versus before I felt like I was on the top of the world by myself. And that sucked a lot of people look at it from the outside and they're like, oh, that's awesome.

I'm like, no, man. Like I enjoyed the journey. I enjoyed the climb. And now I feel like when you're connecting all these other people, you can be on their journey as well. And that's really pretty cool.

Michael: [00:13:46] It's like, you know, like, a Sherpa.

Jason: [00:13:49] Yeah, exactly. But I just, I can't climb as much. I can't climb as fast as, as those guys. That's amazing. Whenever you watch any of those Sherpas on Everest, I'm like, how are they doing this? And why would they want to do it?

Michael: [00:14:06] It's crazy to see that happen. But I think it's metaphoric too. The hardest clients usually have the best views does. But sometimes those climbs might not necessarily be successful. I mean, I have to tell you that, you know, part of my growth story , and I'd be remiss if I didn't say this, came through a failed startup.

I had placed everything into this, everything, you know, some people spend money to go do their MBA. I dropped every single thing that I had saved into this thing. And it didn't go well. And my identity was wrapped up into that. So having visions of grandeur, you know, making it and had, I knew just kind of looking back now because you know, you get kind of depressed when you lose everything.

It's, it's not a fun place. You learn a lot about yourself.

Jason: [00:14:56] But it makes you appreciate everything so much more as you're moving forward, because I was hiking the mountain yesterday and I was going through this thick brush and it just kept getting thicker and thicker. I couldn't get through it. So I had to backtrack. I had to go back down. And then find another route up.

And that's, that's everything. We do everything in business, in life, everything it's never a straight path. It's always the zigzags and knowing when to turn back, I mean, I could have probably made it through, but I would have been bloodied and banged up.

I was like, kinda like walking. So, awesome. Well, this has all been amazing. Michael, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Michael: [00:15:42] I think just to, just around knowing and taking that niche that you feel like you can be the best in the world. I mean, I didn't say this, but you know, we have a really big presence in the digital health space.

And it's sort of done by design in that aspect. And we've really positioned ourselves and placed ourselves to being in a category of one and pick something that you believe that you can be in a category of one and name it, name it, and tame it and proclaim it is the reality is that there's a lot of digital agencies that are out there and it's hard to differentiate.

So do your damn best to be able to do that and pick your claim and work it and work it and work it and work it and stay consistent over time. Consistency over time wins. I'm telling you that there's, you know, people may think that we're pretty successful at what we do, but I got a lot of scars on my back to showcase that it's been a long journey and we stayed consistent throughout the whole entire time.

Jason: [00:16:49] I love it. Yeah. You know, and you have to be passionate and whatever you pick don't choose it based on money. Like we were talking in the pre-show, why you chose healthcare and why you started working with other industries, like in plastic that you were like, oh, that's healthcare as well. Cause you're passionate about it.

And the more passionate about it, the more you're going to do, and it's going to resonate with your audience that you're going after. Versus just kind of getting a stupid course out there that says here's the most profitable niches for agencies and pick one.

Michael: [00:17:20] Um, I care about two things that I'm very passionate about, you know, relationship equity kind of really factors into this notion of access.

And the way that I view access is around customers, partners, etcetera, but on a broader scale access around access to care, access to things like food. I mean, there's 50 plus million Americans now that don't know where their next meal is going to come from. That's an access  Golproblem, access to, you know, so access is something I care very, very deeply about when I see people that can't get access or maybe someone that wants to try to get into a job and necessarily can't get in and, um, you know, that's an access problem.

And then the second thing that I believe that things hinge on is leadership. And there are leaders right now that are coming into some very influential roles that they're not necessarily tech savvy, they're tech dependent. They grew up with an iPhone. They grew up with a smartphone. And they view innovation as, as a differentiator, the view innovation as a way to generate more revenue.

And when you're working with a digital agency and aspect of what they do is innovation. And the way I define innovation is providing value to many. Then you can do that incrementally over time. So those things kind of combined, you know, really hinge on whether or not people are going to be accepting of adoption of some of these innovations that come through.

And that's exciting to me because you interact with people that you just problems that they're solving can inevitably make a pretty big radical shift and be part of that journey is an absolute privilege.

Jason: [00:19:00] Yeah, exactly. Awesome. What's the website people go and check you out if they want to reach out to you?

Michael: [00:19:06] Well, I'm on LinkedIn, so people can check me out on LinkedIn, Michael Stamatinos, and they can go to our website, michaelstamo.com and they can hear from us there.

Jason: [00:19:15] Awesome. Okay, everyone, go check that out. Michael, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys want to build relations that equity and be around them, amazing agency owners all over the world that are sharing what's working. Having a lot of fun, passing a ton of business back and forth. I really never talked about that, but just really elevating each other along the way over the years.

I’d love for all of you to go check out digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind for agency owners that want to grow and scale faster and just be transparent and have a lot of fun.

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

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

Are you looking for the right formula for quick agency growth? When Ellen Jantsch was working as a head of growth in a small tech startup, she felt there was space for an agency focused on testing and executing strategies into long-term sustainable growth. She held on to that idea while she worked as a freelancer and when she started Tuff, a remote growth team for hire. They work with teams in nearly every industry to deliver actionable strategies to attract and keep more engaged customers. Today she joins the podcast to talk about how she found the right formula for quick growth for her agency, her strategic move to grow the agency's most valuable asset, and the moment she started thinking of a more repeatable formula to generate new business.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Test to find the right formula. When discussing how to find the right formula to grow your business, Ellen recalls that, more than anything, what helped her find the right fit for her agency was finding what didn’t work for them. “Testing and experimentation was a much quicker route to finding what was going to work,” she assures. The agency relied a lot on word of mouth at one point and at one point they started to try different approaches, from outbound sales to putting on workshops and events. Finally, they focused on an SEO strategy that now brings 75 leads per month to their door.
  2. The foundation to grow your most valuable asset. In an unusual move, for her second hire, Ellen searched for an HR person. “If you’re serious about building a remote team and a small team,” she assures, “you have to put a lot of foundation in place.” So, she worked with this person to set a career framework and think about the hiring processes. They decided on details like how to set up benefits and compensation and how to create an inclusive hiring process. It took a lot of time, but your agency team is your most valuable asset, after all. By the time she figured out what direction she wanted for the agency and the type of roles she needed to hire, there was already a solid hiring process in place.
  3. A predictable pipeline is everything. One of the things that became very clear for Ellen when she thought about what she could do to continue to grow her agency was that she would need to figure out how to create a more repeatable formula for generating new business. A more predictable look at revenue and growth would allow making strategic hiring decisions early, versus hiring someone when the pressure is up due to so much work. The only way to get ahead of that is to predict what the next six months are going to look like.

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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Finding the Right Formula For Quick Agency Growth and Generating New Business

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here. And on today's episode, we have an amazing guest, uh, fellow Coloradan, if that's a word, I don't know. I just moved here so I don't know. But we're going to talk about how she's grown her agency so quickly. And, uh, go over some of the strategies that have worked for her and some of the things that might not have worked, so it helps you avoid them.

So let's go ahead and get into the episode.

Hey, Ellen. Welcome to the show.

Ellen: [00:00:33] Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:36] Yeah. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Ellen: [00:00:39] I run a business called Tuff. We’re a small, fully remote growth marketing agency partnering primarily with startups, scale-ups, helping them get traffic and grow their revenue. We focus on tactics like Google ads, technical SEO, content, creative, Facebook ad, CRO, and email. Really trying to figure out how to test quickly and then operationalize small wins into long-term sustainable growth.

Jason: [00:01:04] Awesome. And so how did you get started creating your agency?

Ellen: [00:01:09] Primarily through freelancing. I think that's probably a common story, but I had done in my career prior to freelancing corporate marketing worked at an ad tech startup worked at like a really small startup as a head of growth. And I knew… Felt like there was an opportunity to, to start an agency like Tuff. But wanted to hone in on my own kind of experiences, primarily from an executional standpoint.

So I freelanced for about a year and a half. Some consulting to strategy work, but a lot of executional work running Google ads, running Facebook ads, writing email copy. Trying to just kind of hone in on the services that Tuff was going to provide initially. And then got to a crossroads where it felt like I had enough money in the bank.

I knew I didn't want to ever take capital as I started Tuff. And so I, I pretty much planned to have enough, enough money to pay myself a salary as well as two other people for six months, even if we didn't sign a single client. And at that point about three years ago, decided to start Tuff and put the freelancing work to the side.

Jason: [00:02:11] Awesome, and so what were the roles of the two people that you hired first and why?

Ellen: [00:02:16] Yeah, two people. Um, the first one was a PPC strategist, somebody to take over a lot of the day-to-day executional work I was doing for clients, Google ads, Bing ads, YouTube ads, that type of work. It allowed me to take off one hat and pass it to somebody else.

The second hire was crazy to think about now, a non-revenue generating employee. Somebody to help us with people ops. I do think that if you're serious about building a remote team and a small team, you have to put a lot of foundation in place.

We worked on a career framework. We thought about hiring processes. How do you set up benefits? How do you think about compensation? What's equitable? How do you create an inclusive hiring process? Just spend a lot of time getting that in place before we started actually thinking about building a team.

Jason: [00:03:00] That's great. No, that's really great. That's first time I've heard someone bring on like an HR-type person as their second role.

I thought you would say like project manager. And everyone always thinks they're not billable. Like, they're billable. I don't know why no one thinks that, but I usually tell people around the 10 person mark to get the HR and people usually are shocked. They're like, I thought you had to do that much later on.

But I think a lot of people think they're just doing paperwork. And they're not doing all the other things to make sure you get the right people.

Because the people in agency are the most valuable asset.

Ellen: [00:03:36] Especially in a service-based agency, you know, I think it's people work with Tuff because they like the experience of the team members here.

And if you don't get that right, then you have a lot of employee turnover. The cost of hiring the wrong employees is astronomical, if you ask me. And so I'd rather get it right the first time around.

Jason: [00:03:54] Yeah. Well, do you guys feel that you've got it right on the first couple of hires? I know. Man, I hired so many of the wrong people. I got rid of a lot of the right people too. Many, many years. Cause I didn't have that person.

Ellen: [00:04:06] Yeah, we really struggled in the beginning, mostly because we had a strong process for hiring, I feel, but didn't really know what we wanted. And I think that goes back to as well as being the kind of first-time founder never working on an agency before.

We hadn't really established our playing field. So we were kind of like saying yes to every opportunity. We were doing any type of service that we could offer. We were just trying to generate revenue. And I didn't have a clear enough picture around what we actually need out of team members and what kind of like the long-term vision and who the right client is for Tuff. And we've kind of paralleled those.

And as it became more clear around where we get the right results and the types of clients we want to work with, it becomes a lot easier to hire because you know exactly what you're looking for. But in the beginning it was a cluster. I was just shocked anybody wanted to work with us, to be honest.

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Jason: [00:04:50] Yeah, I think everyone has to go through the cluster. It's like that Vegas buffet, you're trying out everything.

What was the pivotal moment where you got that clarity?

Ellen: [00:05:00] Yeah, I think it probably happened about 18 months ago. And two things became really clear if I was going to continue to have any chance of growing Tuff, we had to figure out how to hire talent that's adaptable, autonomous more senior in position.

So not people that we'd have to train extensively in the beginning who had experience working on small teams. So really honing in on characteristics versus job responsibilities, and that's been really helpful. Um, the second thing would be how do you create a more repeatable formula for generating new business?

I think when you have a more predictable look at revenue and growth, it becomes a lot easier to then make strategic hiring decisions early. Versus waiting to kind of like feel the pinch in the stress of like, oh gosh, we've got a lot of work. We've got to hire somebody else. Or this whole thing is going to collapse. You can get to a point where you slowly get out of that and get ahead of it with hiring and you can't do that unless you can predict what the next six months is going to look like.

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Yeah. Building a predictable pipeline is everything, right? Like if your business is built on word of mouth, which I always joke around saying that's just not scalable. And you're relying on other people, then you're going to take on work that you probably shouldn't be. Because there's no such thing as a bad agency client and only a bad prospect or a bad process.

And, and so when you can build that predictable pipeline, it makes things a lot easier where you're picking and choosing. So let's transition to that. What's worked for you for building a more full pipeline?

Ellen: [00:07:25] I think more than anything, what hasn't worked. I have found at least with Tuff, testing and experimentation was a much quicker route to finding, finding what was going to work.

And I think in the early days we relied a lot on word of mouth. Um, larger agencies. We tried to kind of like create partnerships for any clients they didn't want.

Jason: [00:07:43] That doesn’t work.

Ellen: [00:07:45] No. Let's see, I put on workshops, I went to events. I would like get in touch with people that had been connected with LinkedIn. We tried outbound sales, um, saw some success there, but definitely not like a natural skillset for me. So a bit of a stretch. So we tried a whole bunch of different things for about a year. Um, got exhausted.

And finally realized how do we generate more inbound leads then have, have healthier conversations and get people knocking on our door and getting curious about working with top and wanting to work with us. And so we started getting really specific with an SEO strategy.

So that took, you know, that's a slow burn. It's not a, it's not like paid acquisition. It's not like referrals. It takes a long time to build it was a schlep. But now when you go into Google and type growth marketing agency, you're going to see Tuff in the number one spot. If you type content, strategy, agency, technical SEO agency, YouTube ads agency, we're going to be in the top three.

And now we're lucky and humbled enough to have 75 leads knock on our door a month. And we maybe take on one or two. And I couldn't have predicted that level of scale ever, but the organic acquisition has really been important for us.

Jason: [00:08:52] Very cool. Yeah. You know, I always tell everybody, it's kind of like, as you're building and growing the business, you got to experiment with what's not working. And then kind of go back to kind of the basics and really build on that foundation.

And what we found too cause a lot of times. In the very beginning, when we were growing our agency, we grew it from being in the search engines and people coming to us. Then when we started getting, wanting to get to the next level, we started realizing, man, we need this outbound channel. Man, we need this strategic partnership channel. You know, Google changes one thing, we're toast.

And then we're laying off a lot of people. So it's always… always a work in progress.

Ellen: [00:09:37] Yeah. I couldn't agree enough. And I think we kind of, you know, like we partner with clients every day to think about growing revenue and acquiring new customers or users for them. And we try to apply the same process for Tuff.

So we do quarterly growth marketing strategies. We stay pretty committed to it, but I would say we're like in that moment right now, Jason, where 75% of our leads come from organic traffic. And when you think about having all of your eggs in one basket, it's terrifying. And so we're starting to get to this point where we're capturing a lot of existing demand, how do we start to create a little bit more demand? And how does that look like for us long-term?

Jason: [00:10:12] Yeah. I almost even look at it too of like, when I hear 75 leads a month, I'm like, okay, good. How can I make them even better? Or how could I even convert them more? Like I was talking to Darby or skill specialist. I'm like, well, out of the conversations that you set up, how could we have the ones we want… How do we increase that conversion rate?

Just a little bit. That's always those little fine tweaks that work. I'm going to ask you something I've never really asked anybody that I'm gonna start doing the show. What's the thing that you've regretted that you haven't done in the agency yet?

Ellen: [00:10:47] For the agency. Hmm. That's such a great question. I think, um, this is very tactical, but I apologize. It's top of mind. We didn't add on our creative team until recently. And in the growth game, we're really metrics driven data driven, thinking about tactics and the strategies behind those. But if you don't have really good creative, you're not going to get very far.

And for so long we outsourced that. Not really trusting in our processes, not really understanding what that would look like in house. And we didn't bring it in house until about three months ago. And now I'm like, oh shit, we need to triple that team tomorrow.

And so I think I would've just looked a little bit more holistically at our services and figure out… Again, it just goes back to how do you exchange the most value? And where can you team be the strongest?

And I was slow to, I was slow to pick up on that.

Jason: [00:11:34] Awesome. Well, Ellen, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Ellen: [00:11:40] No, I think you've covered it.

Jason: [00:11:42] All right. Perfect. Uh, what's the website people go and check out the agency?

Ellen: [00:11:46] tuffgrowth.com.

Jason: [00:11:48] Awesome. Very easy. Everyone go check it out.

And if you liked this episode, make sure you guys subscribe. Make sure you hit the like button, comment. And uh, if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis. Where you can grow your agency faster because you can get their opinions and then they can share what's working for them. So you can scale and grow faster.

I'd like to invite all of you to the digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind where the agency owners are growing very, very quickly and having a fun time doing it. So make sure you go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Are you looking to start your transition to the role of agency CEO? David Anderson started living the entrepreneurial dream more than twenty years ago when he started Off Madison Ave, a full-service marketing agency he founded with his partner after getting fired from his agency job. After two decades as a business owner, David has experienced success and failure. Having learned from many successes and the hard knocks of business and life. In his conversation with Jason, he talks about the many challenges and mistakes that helped him learn, why taking a step back from day-to-day operations is a marathon, not a sprint, the importance of building your leadership team and letting them make their own mistakes, and what he has learned after many agency acquisitions.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Taking a step back is a process. After many years in the business and finally being able to take a step back to being his agency’s CEO, David admits that he made many mistakes along the way. The first time, he recalls, he hired someone from the outside and did not have a solid onboarding process for that person. That fell apart quickly and they even ended up losing clients. Later, he had a leadership team implement EOS, which he highly recommends, but he chose not to be the innovator and integrator. It fell apart and he had to step in to fix the situation. Finally, he brought somebody up through the ranks, worked on a transition plan, clearly defined authority, and is holding that person accountable. “It’s a process,” he says, “and you will have your failures in it.”
  2. Allow leaders to learn from mistakes. David has figured out a leadership team system that works for his agency. There were mistakes along the way, however. One of them was tying the head of the team’s financial bonus to their financial income. He later changed that and now their bonuses are tied to the overall performance of the agency, not of an individual. Also, what business owners need to do is let go as they bring on those senior people. You don't hire senior people and micromanage. They don’t want to be told what to do. With that, you also have to accept that there will be failures and things that don’t work. If you want to grow your team, you need to let them make mistakes.
  3. On mergers and acquisitions. With 24 years in the business, our guest has seen his fair share of acquisitions. So, what does he look for in a potential purchase? In their case, as a full-service agency, they look for businesses that can complement their services. So they’ve purchased agencies that allow them to gain a deeper focus on some aspect of the business. On the financial side, they are definitely looking at the EBITDA. He’s also made some mistakes on this front, and his advice is that, when it comes to people who will help you evaluate a potential acquisitions organization, they need to understand the industry. The person selling won’t mind if you’re uneducated, but you will surely overpay.

Sponsors and Resources

Sharpspring: Today's episode is sponsored by Sharpspring, an all-in-one revenue growth platform that provides all of the marketing automation, CRM, & sales features you need to support your entire customer lifecycle. Partner with an affordable marketing automation provider that you can trust. Head over to sharpspring.com/smartagency to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Building Your Leadership Team & Letting Go of Day-to-Day Operations is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here with another amazing episode and amazing guest. We're going to talk to an eight-figure agency owner who's going to talk about how he really kind of transitioned out of really doing everything and transitioned more to a leadership role where he doesn't have to make all the decisions, which I think a lot of us like. We're also going to talk about M&A, growth, getting bigger, so sit back and let's get into the episode.

Hey, David. Welcome to the show.

David: [00:00:35] Hey, Jason. Thank you for having me. Looking forward to it.

Jason: [00:00:38] Yeah. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

David: [00:00:42] All right. So Dave Anderson, I live here in sunny Arizona, where it's still a hundred plus degrees here, today when we're recording this anyway. I am in Arizona. I have been an agency owner for about 23, 24 years now and worked at another agency for a good three years before that. The name of the agency is Off Madison Ave.

We are a full service, kind of going back to the old terms, full-service agency that does everything from creative media, public relations, social media, digital. All of the kind of stuff that we've had. We're about 35 full-time people but our business model is really evolved to where we're with a plethora of great talent out there now of how we're using a real combination of full-time people and people with specific skill sets to do our diverse client work every day.

Jason: [00:01:41] And so tell me kind of how did you guys get started or why did you start?

David: [00:01:45] Ah, that's a great question. So I have one business partner. Roger Hernie, a great friend of mine. So we were both working…

Jason: [00:01:52] Still, still business partner?

David: [00:01:53] Still business partners, 23, 24 years in October years later, still business partners. And I can, I can give some insights if you like, why I think that has worked overtime.

But we were both working at the same agency. And to be honest with you, I got fired one day. First time I'd ever been fired in my life from a job. Um, my wife and I were one month pregnant with our first child on the way. I still remember going and telling her and picking her up at work. And she said, how'd the day go? And I said, well, they got fired today.

That'll stress out your wife in any situation.

Jason: [00:02:26] Was it Friday?

David: [00:02:27] Uh, it was Monday. I started the week off the right way for her. So…

Jason: [00:02:33] I've always been fired on Fridays.

David: [00:02:35] Yeah, no, this was a Monday. And it's a story that needs to be told over alcohol. The agency kind of turned into, um, the culture was bad and the CEO asked me one day why it was bad. And I told him my honest opinion and I didn't last long after that.

So I come from the PR side of things. Background in politics, PR. My business partner worked for McCann Erickson, he is the creative guy. And we just working together, saw the value… Again, I'm an old guy way back then were PR and creative, but didn't really work well together, they were more siloed. And we really wanted to bring that together to bring a total marketing picture.

So yeah, 23 years later, we've done three small acquisitions over the years to help us grow. And like every one of you, we've had our best of days on our absolutely worst of days. Um, I'm a lot grayer now, but you know, we've survived.

Jason: [00:03:32] Very cool. And, um, tell me what's been the process…? How long did it take you? Or if you kind of remember some of the key elements or key things that happen to get to a point where you don't have to be in the day-to-day operations anymore.

David: [00:03:50] Yeah. It's a great question. And I'm going to be honest with you. I severely messed it up two times before I got it right.

And it's a thing that I work with kind of both other business owners now, and agency owners. The process of working on the business every day, not in the business. And then ultimately be able to move where I am now today, where I don't really have any day-to-day role in the company.

I'm still involved from a financial side. If we do an acquisition, like we did last November, I'm very involved. Um, but I work directly with our GM. So the first time I messed it up, I hired a person from the outside who supposedly had a lot of agency experience, bigger agency actually. And after going through the process, what I did horribly wrong was I didn't have a solid onboarding process for the new person that was coming on.

Honestly, I kind of said, this person's hired, he starts on Monday. And by Monday afternoon I was like, good luck! You know? And within six months, we've lost clients. Most hurtful was I lost, I think, three of our top-five leadership team members because of that person's leadership style, how they were doing. Just a bad, bad time. So I had to come back in and fix that.

The second time, I had a leadership team and we implemented EOS to be honest with you, which I'm a big fan of. But I chose not to be the visionary or the integrator and I left it to our executive team and the partners that were involved in the business. And that went really bad too, because when you kind of pick the integrator to lead, the other people didn't agree.

There was no solid decision-making. There was not clear definition on when to bring it to the owners or me as the owner of decisions. And, again, it completely fell apart and I stepped back into fix it again. Now this time, I think I have finally gotten it right where we brought somebody up through the ranks, worked on a transition plan, clearly defined authority. I am holding that person accountable. The biggest thing where I failed was lack of accountability as I kind of turned the day-to-day operations over to others. Now there's a level of accountability. I still am very involved at times on the EOS part of it on our rocks and making sure where we are.

And we are more than a year into it now and the person who runs the bay, they, her name is Sasha has done a fantastic job. The agency is growing. Our clients are happy. Our culture has improved.

So what I would say is it's a process. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and you will have your failures in it.

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Now I've seen it all kinds of different ways where… There's two ways I've seen it work out well. One is to bring in… One of the first guests actually brought in someone as a consultant to work with the team and to really kind of get to know them. And then eventually they hired that person as the CEO and it was kind of like, oh, well, you're part of us. You've been working with us for six months. That kind of stuff.

I've seen that work. And it's a good test. And then I've also seen kind of going through the ranks. But a lot of times what people struggle with is if you don't have people through the ranks, what do you do? And that's why I wanted to kind of give you option number one, that I've seen work.

I've also seen it not work where they brought in someone temporarily, and then it doesn't work, but that's fine. They're not the CEO yet. You're testing out the waters and then you can kind of go…

Let's talk about a lot of times when agency owners get over the couple of million mark, right? Like you can get to the million mark by accident, I feel. And then you can kind of get to the 2 million mark by accident and a lot of luck. But then to really kind of take it up from there, you have to build out a really good leadership team. So let's talk about how did you build out your leadership team?

Like not particular names, but what were their roles? What did you learn from that? Like, what did you… what didn't work?

David: [00:09:05] Yeah, so great question. And again, I feel we're in a good spot now, but lots of mistakes along the way. So how we do it, we call them group heads in our organization and we put people at the lead of like our account service team, our creative team, our PR team, and our media team and creative team.

So we put a person at the head of all of them, and then I made them the leadership team that they were the ones to work collectively. Um, you know, we're not big enough to, and never have been. And I, quite frankly, I don't think I agree with having people that are just managers and not… So they're working directors is what we call them.

They were directors that head of their group, group heads. But they were the ones who were responsible for making sure we weren't siloed and the workflow and functioning like that. And that has worked very well with us. But as agency owners know, actually any CEO leadership knows… The challenge there is managing the personalities, the issues, the finances.

You know, one of the biggest mistakes I made was tying my group head’s compensation to the financial bonus to their financial income. And then it was a question of how much money do I get? Because I get to put more in my pocket on that. And so what I did was their, and still is, their compensation of bonuses and stuff like that is based on the overall performance of the agency, not of an individual. Otherwise, you'll always have people looking out for their own personal wellbeing that they go through.

So it's really that… Now also as a business owner, agency owner, what you need to do, two things is one is you need to let go as you bring on those senior people. You don't hire senior people and micromanage. They don't want to come in and be told what to do, but you as an owner have to relinquish that.

And with that, you have to accept, there's going to be failure. There's going to be things that don't work. These are how people learn. And we as owners, when the first time something goes wrong, we jump back in to save the day and tell everybody else what they did wrong.

And believe me, I, you know, if you can see me, I've lots of gray hair. This is how I got to that point. But I think, and I've seen, you know, in entrepreneurs, business people as general, we hate to fail we're as competitive. But I believe if you really want to grow your team and you have to let them fail, just like our kids, you know, you have to learn lessons the hard way.

So I hope that's helpful.

Jason: [00:11:39] Yep. What was your first leadership role that you hired and second and third?

David: [00:11:44] I still remember that when it was Roger and I. Well, the first full leadership role that I hired was in our media group because it was the area that we were most knowledgeable in. Roger being a creative guy, me being a PR person. So we brought that media expertise and was one of the very first things.

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Jason: [00:12:06] Gotcha. And why the media role if you guys had expertise in it?

David: [00:12:11] Well, we really didn't. We were faking it. We were using a lot of outsiders to do the work for us. And when we got to a certain point in billings of media, we realized that we needed that expertise of not only just for placing and all of that, but the analytics behind it.

And that's where we really needed the expertise. That's why we started there.

Jason: [00:12:35] Gotcha. I always like to see when, uh, when people are like, well, so many people hire based on things that they don't know. And I'm like, I think the best thing is, is like hiring on the things, you know. Cause then you can actually, you know, are they full of shit or not, you know? Going there.

Kind of switching focus a little bit… This focuses on growth, mergers and acquisitions and buying agencies. You know, with our agency Republics, that's how we've been able to grow, we've done 10 acquisitions so far in the past year and a half, and just had tremendous growth.

So, and you've said you've done some MNA as well. So what do you look for? What's worked what hasn't worked when you bought agencies?

David: [00:13:21] Yeah, that's a great question. Our philosophy right now is to find things that complement the services. We aren't necessarily looking for another full-service agency. That's going to come in with creative teams, PR teams, all of that. Like the acquisition we did, um, in November of last year was a PR agency based out of San Francisco.

And we wanted to really bolster our PR capabilities. It was also a step in over 20 something years and probably something I would do different, maybe do different is… We've always been more of a generalist agency. We've had some core areas of focus and we really want to move to a much deeper focus in two areas specifically.

And this was a great way to bring in a book of clients that fit into that area where we want to be more specific. So I would say is, you know, an M&A there's two types: financial, which you're just adding revenue dollars, and they're strategic. And we're looking more strategic with the one we just did.

The one before that allowed us to get deeper into technology. How do we use technology more in our marketing? As a result of that, we've also started another startup, um, a SAS-based product in the marketing space that we've also done that. And if I go way back to the early two-thousands, we were a very traditional agency and we didn't have the digital capabilities that the whole marketing world was going to. And we made an acquisition to get us really deep into that space also.

So they've almost all been very strategic for us.

Jason: [00:15:05] Awesome. And when you're looking at buying an agency or when you bought these agencies, is it a roll up? Is it cash? How are you evaluating them?

David: [00:15:18] Yeah. You know, we do the typical valuations stuff that we have. And I'm sure you've seen more than once or twice that people in their minds have a much greater valuation for their agency than what the numbers… I can tell by your face you've seen that a couple of times.

And I've had, you know, while we've done four acquisitions, I've probably had 20 where we got to a serious conversation that we do. So we really look at the numbers. I'm actually a finance major coming out of school. But then you also have to take the intangibles into it. So it's always, usually a combination of some upfront money earn out that, you know, goes with it from there.

Jason: [00:16:01] How do you evaluate how much they're worth? Is it on EBITDA? Is it on top line? What are some of the factors that you put in there?

David: [00:16:08] More EBITDA. More is EBITDA. And then, you know, you play the whole add back game of what to, you know, really kind of goes to… From my country club membership, to my Ferrari, to my vacation home in there to get to where, it's a game.

I mean, you know, as well as I do, it's a game. What I would tell… and I'm sure you've had similar experiences use people who can help evaluate a potential acquisitions organization who understands our industry. One of the big mistakes I made on the first acquisition that we did is I used my regular attorney who knew nothing about the marketing industry.

I overpaid without a doubt because of that, the, you know, you know what you're doing. Because it does, it does become a game with add backs and you know… How owners are willing to structure their compensation.

Jason: [00:17:04] Well, if you're selling you don't mind, if the person buying you is uneducated. Make sure you tell us that lawyer so all the sellers can use that versus

David: [00:17:14] Yeah, I totally agree with you. The other thing, I had this happen once as we went through a whole valuation. We were moving forward and then it came back and I had this owner. It was a PR agency said… I think the valuation of their company came back and like 1.5 million, something like that.

You know, pretty small agency. And the agency said, well, just our contacts are worth a million dollars alone. Who we know in the media is worth just a million dollars alone. So I would never sell for less than $4 million. And I was like, well, I guess we won't be moving forward.

Jason: [00:17:47] Yeah. I always like to tell that person I'm like, well, you can wish in one hand and crap in the other, it gets filled up first.

David: [00:17:53] I love that. I'm going to steal that if that's okay. Cause that’s very well said.

Jason: [00:17:58] Yeah, Well, I stole that from cousin Eddie on Vegas Vacation.

David: [00:18:04] Love it. Absolutely love it.

Jason: [00:18:06] Well, this has all been great, David, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

David: [00:18:11] No. Well, a couple things. One is, you know, as agency owners and entrepreneurs, make sure you have a great network around you of advisers is what I would say.

Find like-minded… I'm a member of EO Entrepreneurs Organization. It's, you know, provides the CEO forum. Vistage. I was part of Vistage. Get people around you who know more than you, have more experiences that you, that you can experience share. Because that's how we learn and grow. And that's what we do best.

I would also say, do whatever you have to do to work on the business every day, not in the business. And I fully understand when you're a smaller agency crossing that first million-dollar mark, $2 million mark, and you're finally making good money. And then the thought of hiring a six-digit leader, a six-figure income. Oh my gosh, that's going to set me back again.

That's how you grow, you know, and it's just what you need to do um… If you want a growth the company. If you want a lifestyle company then, you know, that's perfect. And neither one is right or wrong. It's just, you have to marry it up with what you want to do. And the whole process I went through of getting out of the day-to-day, it's absolutely a marathon. It's not a sprint.

I would say you need at least 18 months to plan properly for that. That's just my experience to do it in the right way.

Jason: [00:19:36] Awesome. And, uh, what's uh, the agency website people go and check you guys out?

David: [00:19:40] Uh, Off Madison Ave. A V E, not avenue. So offmadisonave.com.

Jason: [00:19:46] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, David, for coming on the show. It was awesome.

And I totally agree with you on surrounding yourself with amazing people that are further ahead, so they can actually help you and see the things… And kind of setting me up for that, that was perfect. I want to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind just for experienced agency owners.

So I understand that there's other groups out there that have all kinds of different industries. But if you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis, I want all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Forbes has called Nancy A. Shenker a “bad girl” because she selectively breaks rules and takes calculated risks to help companies innovate and grow. Nancy had worked as a CMO for big brands like MasterCard and Citibank when she ventured to start her own business, TheONswitch. That was more than 18 years ago and she credits her client side work for providing the insight needed when she first started. Those experiences are what contributed to her still being in the agency world today. In her conversation with Jason, they talked about how staying in business through the years has meant adapting to different challenges. They also touched on some of the lessons learned in more than 18 years of owning her business, and why people shouldn't underestimate experience and the wisdom that can come from it.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. On adapting to changes. Nancy actually credits the hard times of the 2008 recession for preparing her for the pandemic. “When the economy takes a downturn, you're sort of stuck throwing all of this stuff overboard,” she recalls. When it came time for everyone to welcome the new digital and minimalistic model, she had already adapted to it years ago. “I've been co-working and managing a virtual team for the last decade, so I was good.” In her opinion, the pivoters were the ones surviving and thriving. It was a time to do market research, to find out how customers were behaving, but many went into a state of inertia.
  2. Lessons learned over the years. After 18 years in the business, lesson number one for Nancy has been to always trust her gut. She doesn’t have a lot of regrets, but she always regrets moving forward with projects where she felt like something didn’t seem quite right. Another important lesson is to always watch your P&L. Hope is great but money in the bank is better. Always make sure to have that cushion because you never know when things can go south. Also, remember that a good profit margin for your business should be an average of 30%. And finally, invest in things that will bring you long-term value.
  3. Don’t underestimate experience. Nancy is very passionate about calling out ageism in business. “I now bring to the table wisdom that I didn't have even 18 years ago,” she says. She calls for people not to assume that an older person cannot understand technology. She even challenges anyone a social media strategy contest, since she’s been in the social media and digital media realm since the late nineties and feels that, at 65, she can offer a unique perspective.

Sponsors and Resources

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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Lessons Learned After 18 Years in the Business & Why We Shouldn't Underestimate Experience

Jason: [00:00:00] All right. What's up, agency owners? Today I have an amazing guest who has been in business for over 18 years. Actually, today is their 18th birthday. We're going to talk about the lessons learned about growing their agency. And let's go ahead and jump into the show.

Hey, Nancy. Welcome to the show and happy birthday to the business.

Nancy: [00:00:25] Thank you. How are you doing?

Jason: [00:00:28] So, uh, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Nancy: [00:00:32] Sure. My name is Nancy A. Shenker. And as you just said, today is the 18th birthday, so it's fortuitous timing, um, of my consulting company slash agency called TheOnswitch.

Um, I was an early-stage entrepreneur. I left corporate life and started my own business long before it became popular to do that. Um, and previously I was a CMO at a company called Reed Exhibitions, the producers of Comicon. And then before that I was at MasterCard and Citibank. So the first part of my career was on the client-side. So when I got ready to start my own consultancy, I sort of knew what things look like from the other side of the desk, which gave me tremendous insight and probably contributed to my still being around 18 years later.

Jason: [00:01:26] Yeah. What were… Going back to when you were the CMO and working with a lot of different agencies over the years, what were some things that really pissed you off?

Nancy: [00:01:39] Um, I think that, um, account people who had never really worked in or on the business, um… Always seemed sort of whimsical to me. Like if you couldn't tell me specifically what was going on with a project or why I should be spending my money on direct rather than conventional print… Then you were really just like a host or a hostess.

So that was like number one, that stuck in my craw that I didn't really need somebody to take me out to lunch or invite me to parties. I needed a person who was going to give me creative ideas to grow the business.

Jason: [00:02:22] A strategist.

Nancy: [00:02:22] Um, yeah. Yeah. The other thing, um, was, um, paying for people who weren't actually working on my account and the recession was a tipping point for me when I really had to take a long, long, hard look at my overhead as a business and to say, whoa, whoa, like my clients are paying for my equipment. They're paying for my toilet paper. They're paying for, you know, all of this stuff.

And when the economy takes a downturn, you're sort of stuck throwing all of this stuff overboard that you just bought in the previous 10 years. So I was actually really in great shape to handle the pandemic. Because I went with this minimalistic virtual model back in 2008, which suddenly became popular in 2020.

And I'm like, whoa, I've been doing this for 10-15 years. I'm all good. I don't have any stuff to throw overboard at this point. I'd been co-working for the last decade. I have been managing a virtual team for the last decade. So I was, I was good. I mean, no one was really good in the pandemic, but I was better than most.

Jason: [00:03:47] Yeah. I saw a lot of agencies growing actually in the pandemic, just because, you know, there were so many businesses that… Traditional, their traditional way of getting business they couldn't get anymore. And they really needed, you know, that digital, um, expertise in order to reach their customers and really kind of make, get, get them through because you know, the, the loans of the government only goes so far.

Nancy: [00:04:15] Yeah. I mean, I would say probably, you know, 20% of clients said... Oh my goodness, the world is changing. Human behavior is changing and my customer's changing and I'm going to get first-mover advantage by dealing with that. And then there was a whole other swath of the population that went into this like inertia state.

So the nimble, the strong, the… I hate the word pivot, but the pivoters are surviving and thriving. And those people who sort of… pause. I mean, I just saw this statistic that was shocking that two-thirds of companies, you're talking about major companies, postponed or canceled market research during the pandemic.

And I would argue that that was the time to really be all over how are my customers behaving? What are they buying? What are they clicking on? How are they shopping? Because if you understood that, like, if you really understood, basic human behavior, which shifted largely to digital... Um, you were way ahead of the game if you were on top of that.

Which is what taught us this lesson that, you know, I've learned starting in, when I first started my career in the 1970s. You know, our tagline as a business is bright and timeless marketing. I've seen media change radically. Um, but, um… What has stayed the same is your understanding of basic human behavior.

Um, that's timeless, whether it's B2B or B2C, if you really are inside the head and heart and wallet of your customer, you'll never be wrong.

Jason: [00:06:08] Yeah. What were, what were some of the things that you've learned over the years of running your business?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Nancy: [00:06:15] Um, well, my lesson number one for today, I'm doing a series of nine lessons learned over 18 years. And lesson number one, which is live on my LinkedIn profile today is trust your gut.

You know, and I think that it's very easy when you're a business owner to be swayed by clients, by your team members… But at the end of the day, you know, if you're a successful business owner, your intuition is usually pretty good. So if you have the heebie-jeebies, as I say, about a client or about a prospective employee or a current team member. You know, the chances are probably better than even that your gut is right.

So, um, you know, the biggest mistakes I've made or learning moments I've had in the last 18 years have been when something didn't feel right to me and I moved forward with it anyway.

Jason: [00:07:14] Yeah, exactly. Cool. And what are, what are some of the other nine? Obviously we, we don't have time to go over all nine.

Um, and I'm not gonna put you on the spot for that, but look, give us a hint for some other ones.

Nancy: [00:07:26] Um, always watch your P&L. You know, especially if you're a creative, um, and a storyteller, it's pretty easy to delude yourself and say, well, things will turn around tomorrow. Or, you know, I'm, I'm spending $10,000 on this because I think it's a good, calculated risk.

But, you know, that's one of the big lessons I learned from the recession is that, um… Hope is great, but money in the bank is better. Like always have that cushion. Also because you never know when things could go south and you don't want to be too leveraged when that happens. So, you know, as I like to say, especially for women, business owners, PNL does not stand for purses and lipstick.

Um, when you're in a service business and your biggest expense is people, um, you really have to spend very, very wisely.

Jason: [00:08:34] Taking care of your employees has never been more important than right now. And while paydays are great, running payroll is a major pain. Calculating taxes, deductions, compliance, none of it's easy. Unless of course you have Gusto. Gusto is a simple online payroll and benefits built for your small business.

Gusto automatically applies your payroll taxes and directly deposits your team's paychecks, freeing you up to work on your business. Plus, with Gusto’s help you can offer benefits like 401k's health insurance, workers' comp, and a lot more.

And because you're a smart agency masterclass listener, you're going to get three months free once you run your first payroll. Go to gusto.com/agency.  That's gusto.com/agency for three free months.

Yeah, I always, when I work with agencies, I'm always surprised about how low their profit margins are. And they think in the agency business that 10% is good or 15%. I'm like the average is over 30%. And then they kind of get shocked a little bit and I'm like, that's the average. I was like, you can go over. And they're like, but when you get bigger, it goes down.

I'm like, no, it doesn't. Only if you're, if you get dumber.

Nancy: [00:10:02] Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And, um, you know, when I first started my business, I think I was more into the creator comforts. Um, you know, I'd mentioned to you that I just moved to Arizona about three, four years ago. And I was kind of shocked at how many agencies have big spaces and their names on the door and big staffs.

A lot of them did have to do some serious bloodletting when the pandemic started, you know. And you're right, there are some who didn't miss a beat and whose clients really needed them. And there are others that just could not sustain their expense base when things took a turn for the worse. So I'm a, I'm a minimalist both personally and professionally these days.

Jason: [00:10:52] Yeah. I, I would always invest in anything that would be for the long-term that they would generate. And then personally, I would only invest in things, um, that were related to experiences. I would never buy a $50,000 watch, but I would buy a $50,000 experience.

Nancy: [00:11:14] Oh yeah. I mean, you're talking to a woman who spent an insane amount of money on a 12th-row seats to see the rolling stones when they came through, um, a few years ago, pre-pandemic. And I will never, ever regret that expense.

So, yeah. Memories, travel, experiences… And talent, you know, if you find people… I'm working with a couple of women now who I've known for years who are worth every penny, I pay them and then some. Because they are helping me scale the business and deliver great quality work and enabling me to sleep better at night, which at this stage of my life is super important.

Jason: [00:11:58] Yeah, exactly. Uh, give us two other tips that you've learned over the years.

Nancy: [00:12:04] Um, build a really… Another people tab is build a really strong inner circle. And that inner circle can change or evolve over time, but you really have to have people in your life who will tell you the truth, who aren’t just bobbleheads.

Um, operations is really key. You know, you could be doing the best creative in the world, but if stuff isn't happening on time and on budget, you're screwed. Um, and then, you know, this isn't one of my nine tips, but it's my, you know, one mini regret, in terms of how I started and scaled the business… I think having product, having tangible product is super important. Because being exclusively in a service business, no matter how much you productize your service, it's still a service.

So, I mean, I'm not done yet. I have another 18 years at least ahead of me. And I have a few product concepts that I hope to launch over the next five to 10 years. Including, you know, I, I'm a writer and I have a bunch of books on Amazon and I have, um, some courses I’m developing. So yeah, I'm really into passive revenue these days.

Jason: [00:13:24] Well, let me, let me tell you, the grass is not always greener on the other side. It's greener on the side you water. When I sold my agency, I thought just like you, I was like, ah, I've been in the service business for 12 years. Let me go develop a product. And I developed an iPhone app and I hated it. I literally wanted to… I put a gun to it and just blew it up behind the shed. And…

Nancy: [00:13:46] Yeah, and that's one of the reasons why I haven't launched my… I have one product idea that's actually a physical, tangible product, a household product. And when I started delving into manufacturing and trademarking and distribution, I'm like, nah, I'm not, I'm not doing that.

So I think that there is an opportunity and I think you've actually done it really well. You know, and I'm not just being, you know, a sycophant here. But like developing products that people in your industry truly need, you know, it's productizing your service, which is also a form of a product. I think smart, digital marketers are doing more and more of that these days.

So kudos to you on that.

Jason: [00:14:32] Thank you. Well, uh, is there anything Nancy, I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Nancy: [00:14:39] Um, yeah, I mean, something that I think a lot about these days is, I turned 65 last February. Um, I have been very often told that I don't look 65, but what I say is this is the new 65. I would like to see the agency world and the marketing world become more age diverse.

Um, it's something that I'm passionate about and you know, I now bring to the table wisdom that I didn't have even 18 years ago. So when you see that person who's old enough to be your mother or your grandmother, don't assume that they don't understand technology. Because I challenge any millennial to a social media strategy contest because I've been in the social media and digital media realm since the late nineties, early two thousands.

I helped build the first website for MasterCard. I was on Twitter day one of the Twitter launch. And it’s funny cause I recently said to one of our associates I've been using social media since 2005. And she said, oh my God, I was only six years old then. So yeah, don't assume that because somebody is older doesn't mean that they can't understand new tricks.

So that's my final bit of anti-ageism bad-ass wisdom.

Jason: [00:16:15] Awesome. And what's the URL. People can go and check the business out?

Nancy: [00:16:20] theonswitch.com, T H E O N S W I T C H.com just like a light switch, but not. Um, my daughter actually helped me name the company and, um, feel free to follow me on LinkedIn because I'm, as I said, I'm a storyteller and that's where a lot of my content goes.

Jason: [00:16:39] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Nancy, for coming on the show. And if you guys want to really be around an amazing inner circle, kind of like Nancy mentioned, where they're all digital agency owners and we're all wanting to grow and scale up faster. I'd love to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

Go and check that out and apply. And if we think it's right for you and vice versa, we'll have a conversation. So go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Do you know which levers you can pull in order to scale your agency faster? Greg Bond believes his purpose in life is to add value to other people's lives. He is the head of revenue at SharpSpring, a company that aims to help businesses better understand their customers so they can maximize their value proposition. Greg oversees the sales function and works really close with the marketing team. He understands what it is agencies, and end-users, are really trying to do with that platform. Greg discussed the levers agencies need to pull to scale faster, some of the challenges agencies face, and what works for showing ROI and continuing to grow.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Levers you can pull to scale faster. One of the biggest challenges for agency owners is when they need to hire new employees and must raise their prices to be able to afford that. Will their clients pay that? Well, that depends. Do they know how much value they are delivering to their clients? Sharpspring focuses on ROI and being able to report specifically on this piece of revenue. With the consolidation of tools and bringing data into one place, you’ll have a centralized data repository that drives your automation engine and behavioral tracking, making your message more relevant. This is what gets you extra conversion rates and will help you grow your revenue.
  2. Why are agencies bad at their own marketing? You probably recognize this. The cobbler’s shoes. Agencies spend a lot of time and effort working with their customers and they don't do a great job of marketing for themselves. Agencies spend all their time trying to blow their clients away to get more clients through word of mouth. That’s great, of course. It’s the first requisite to start scaling. However, you can’t raise your prices when you’re built on referrals. About this, Jason asks, what if you hire a hunter? That way, con can stop self-sabotaging, you’ll continue to scale, and you can finally raise your prices.
  3. What works for showing ROI. For Greg, it’s all about showing value at the end of the funnel. Agencies bought into the lead marketing approach, he says. But with new customers these days there are multiple interactions before they actually make a purchasing decision. So the idea is being able to track all the different interactions across the entire funnel. Having all that data in one place and being able to map it to a singular campaign and then show when this deal actually does close enables agencies to tell what contributed to a sale and report on it in a way with confidence.

YOUTUBE

AUDIO LINK

Levers You Can Pull To Scale Your Agency Faster and Why Agencies Are Bad at Their Own Marketing

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk and I have another amazing episode with my friends at SharpSpring. We're going to talk about what are the levers you need to pull in order to give your clients better results to scale your agency even faster. We all want to know this, so let's go ahead and get into the episode.

Hey, Greg. Welcome to the show.

Greg: [00:00:25] Hey! Thanks, Jason. Happy to be here, man.

Jason: [00:00:28] Yeah. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Greg: [00:00:32] Yeah, so my name is Greg Bond and I'm the head of revenue over at SharpSpring, which very recently we were acquired by Constant Contact. So, um, a lot of really cool integration stuff going on there between those two companies.

And yeah, I just kind of oversee our entire kind of sales function and work really close with our marketing team. I actually, I've been with the company a while and I came from VP of customer success. So very close to our customer base and really understanding what it is that our agencies and even our end users are really trying to do at the platform and kind of what their pain points are and what they're struggling with.

And I've been able to bring a lot of that into the revenue focus of the company. So…

Jason: [00:01:13] Awesome. Let's get into it. Let's talk about some of the levers that agencies can pull in order to kind of scale their agency faster and get better results for their clients.

Greg: [00:01:25] Yeah. And I, I think, you know, when we talk about this, especially in the context of SharpSpring, I think what a lot of it focuses in on for us is tool consolidation. I think is one of the main things. Over the years, the technology revolution of the past 10 years, you know, the past decade. Um, has brought a lot of different point solutions to market that are fantastic tools.

But the problem with them is that you end up with siloed databases and all this information that, that sits in each individual tool. And you almost have to have a whole team of operational wizards to connect these things and pull all that data together.

You've got all this different reporting that's ended up end up in silos. And you can't really work to unify that customer experience and report on where exactly what attribution is the attribution that you should be pointing towards for your clients that you're working with to say, hey, this is where that sale came from.

And at Sharpspring what we really focus our customers in on is ROI and being able to report specifically on this piece of revenue, where did it come from? We talk a lot about being a full-funnel marketer, and I think that's really the space where we want to play and where we think agencies can leverage to improve their own results.

Jason: [00:02:45] So ROI has always been very important. And I think a lot of… You know, when I talk to agencies, one of their biggest challenges that they have is well, I can't afford to hire someone right now. I'm like, well, why don't you charge more? They're like, well, I don't know if they’d pay that. Um, and then my next question to them is, well, how much value do you deliver your clients?

And a lot of them go, I don't know. And which is really freaking scary. So depending on your industry, sometimes it's hard to show an ROI. How have you found... Or what are some of the things that have worked for agencies for showing ROI in order for them to, you know, have the client stay with them longer, as well as to charge more?

Greg: [00:03:29] It really is about showing that value at the bottom of the funnel. I think agencies in the past and marketers, just digital marketers period, they… They bought into this inbound marketing approach where you have the lead magnet. Somebody fills out a form and that form gives you somebody's email address in a really nice tidy bow of, hey, this is where this person came from.

But the new customers, these days, there's multiple interactions before they actually make a purchasing decision. And so you have all of this noise in the system. So being able to track all the different interactions across the entire funnel, sometimes people move into the middle of the funnel and then back up to the top and then back down.

And, you know, they may not necessarily be ready yet when they talk to your sales team. And to be able to kind of… Keep all of that data in one place and be able to map it to a singular campaign and then show when this deal actually does close. That's the place where I can now track all of those interactions back and say, whether I want to look at first touch or last touch or any different number of touches and attribution. I can tell you what contributed to that, that sale and be able to report on it in a way with confidence, right?

Like being able to go to your client with confidence and say I am 100% sure that our marketing efforts drove this sale. As well as your sales team, right? Like, I don't want to take the sales team out of it. The sales team has a role to play as well.

But marketing runs alongside the sales team and helps enable them to be able to close those deals. And you need a singular system that can track all of those interactions without some sort of XL ninjitsu happening there in the middle of it. Yeah.

Jason: [00:05:14] You know, Dean Jackson always talks about out of a hundred percent of the pie.

Like he always draws like this square and then he basically draws a line down the square and says 50% will never buy from you. And that out of the other 50%, they'll eventually buy from you, but maybe like 10% are ready to buy now. Then the other 40% is over time, right? And so it's really important to really kind of think about it in that way, because a lot of people just go after the 10% and they forget about the 40%.

Like, when I look at our data and the different things… There's a lot of times people don't engage with us or, well, jump into the mastermind or buy a, our framework for like two or three years. Which I'm like, that's awesome. Like we held their attention that long, but you know, some people. Yeah.

Greg: [00:06:07] And I talk a lot about it with our teams. I talk a lot about the buyer's journey. And there are plenty of people who fall into the bottom of your funnel, who are ready to buy right now. It's the first time you ever talked to them, right? But that's where they are in their buyer's journey. And they just happened to find you at that time.

I think so many people look for that, you know, zero moment of truth, that, that place where, you know, that's all marketing is like targeting that person. But there are so many other people, like you said, there's a, the vast majority of the people who will buy from you in the future are not at that point yet. And how do you nurture them to get there?

And how do you drop them in at the top of your funnel? Where at the top of your funnel, it's damn near impossible to keep them accurately it attributed to the right campaign over a long period of time. But you still have to fill that top of the funnel and help nurture them down. But with a unified database and behavioral tracking and a tool like SharpSpring, you now have that ability to get all those different touch points in and have them all in the system so that when two years from now three years from now, they actually do convert into a sale, you know exactly how to attribute that marketing spend.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:07:19] You've been working with agencies for a long time. Why are agencies so bad at their own marketing?

Greg: [00:07:25] That's a great question. I mean, I think one of it is, it's, you know, the cobbler shoes. They've spent a lot more time and effort working with their customers and in collaboration with their, their clients. So they don't do a great job of marketing for themselves.

And I, and I think the other one is the number one way that agencies get businesses through word of mouth. Word of mouth is about delivering results, right? If you deliver results above and beyond the expectations of your clients, that's where you get that word of mouth from.

And so they spend all their time and I believe rightly so, they should spend all their time trying to blow their clients away and just deliver those results. Again, being able to point back to the ROI and say, hey, this marketing spend this effort that we drove, drove these results. And if you do that over and over again, you'll get word of mouth.

And so it'd be great if you could also fill the top of your funnel with a bunch more content, but if it comes at, at the risk of losing the results for your clients, then I don't think it's worth either.

Jason: [00:08:28] Yeah, I see that, you know, I, I just had, um, as we're recording this. A week ago, we had 28 of the best agencies over at the house for a three-day experience.

And we all talked about like, where were the biggest challenges? Some of them were, you know, we're not doing our own marketing. And they thought, well, in order to scale my agency, the lever I need to pull is the sales. And I need to find a hunter. I, I started asking more questions as well, why? I was like, well, what about the business coming to you?

And they said exactly what you're saying, most of their businesses generated by word of mouth. I said, well, congratulations, you're doing a great job. That's prerequisite one for scaling an agency. Right? Like, because there's a lot of people that take a stupid Facebook course and go, I'm a Facebook ads agency. They can't deliver shit. And then it screws it up for all the legit people out there.

But what I told them, I said, what if you actually hired a hunter in order to scale? They're like, what about the leads? I'm like, well, that's the other thing, you pull the marketing lever, you can start generating and building your pipeline.

Because what I found was there's a lot of owners that the better they do in marketing, the more meetings they have. Soon they get overwhelmed and then they start self-sabotaging themselves. And a lot of you listening right now, you're doing this shit right now. I can promise you. You're self-sabotaging yourself, but if you hired a hunter, then they can start closing that business. They're not going to sabotage you. They want to do well. And then you can scale.

Then you can raise your damn prices because when you're built on referrals, you can't raise your prices because they're like, oh, I paid 10,000 a month. You can't charge a hundred thousand to a guy that just referred you 10,000.

It's just a different playing field.

Greg: [00:10:16] And I think agencies, it's such a unique business because it is a professional service. And, in professional services businesses, it's the expertise that people are buying, right? And the agency owner and the principal is that main source of vision and creativity. So you have to have them involved in the sale.

And you also want them involved in every client engagement. That's what the clients purchased, right? So it becomes a scalability issue for your agency, right? Like there's only a certain amount that you can scale yourself. And so you have to hire people who have that ability to cast a vision and be that sort of thought leader as well alongside of you.

And you need to be able to share the spotlight a little bit with them. Or at least have, like you said, that hunter that goes out and brings people in front of you and does it in a way that doesn't require a ton of your time so that you can spend the time delighting your customers with incredible results.

Jason: [00:11:09] Yeah, exactly. And, and I look at it to have going, you know, as your business scales and you scale the agency, you better damn well start putting the people in place for this, right? Like you should have someone like the director of happiness, making sure you're delivering the results, right? That's what we have. So I don't have to.

Like, my attention to detail is probably like everybody else's, that's why I was telling you, like our shows use like 10 to 15 minutes. Like we're all like attention to detail, like bird, where's the bird? So… Well, this has all been amazing, Greg. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think our audience needs to know about?

Greg: [00:11:47] I don't think so. I mean, I think we kinda covered all the, all the main topics that I think are worth really focusing on. But I think one thing that I want to make sure is clear here is when we talk about tool consolidation… And I think everyone hears cost savings, right? They hear that, oh, I can make my life a little simpler, have fewer log-ins and things like that.

And that's not really what we're saying. What we're saying is the consolidation of tools and bringing all that data into one place and being able… For that CRM, that centralized data repository to be the thing that drives your automation engine and all that behavioral tracking, being able to make your message more relevant. The right person, the right message. The right person, the right time.

That is what gets you those extra conversion rates. That is what helps you grow your revenue. And it's not just, oh, you get to save some money. Yeah. Okay. That's cool. Yeah. That's another benefit. But the real benefit here is... It's actually the right way to build a customer experience that people will go nuts for.

Jason: [00:12:52] Awesome. I love it. Now, Greg, you guys have a special offer for our audience for a short time. So tell us about.

Greg: [00:12:59] We do. We want to offer anyone that that's a listener of your podcast series a half off their onboarding and their first month free. So big offer here for, for you guys, um, especially for, for this podcast and your audience, Jason.

Jason: [00:13:13] Sweet. Thank you very much. Where can they get this? Cause now they're, you know, if you want to get… right? Like, we need to tell them. So where's the call to action, so you can give me attribution for it?

Greg: [00:13:24] So head over to sharpspring.com/smartagency, and you can schedule a demo right there and that will help us secure that offer for you.

Jason: [00:13:35] Awesome. And you'll be able to schedule with one of their cool strategists that can walk you through everything and set you up.

So I highly recommend SharpSpring, go check it out and get your half month or the full month and a half off the onboarding. That's a tongue twister.

Greg: [00:13:52] It is a tongue twister. You know, it's about a $1,600 value right there.

Jason: [00:13:55] Ooh, go get it, guys. Go get it while it's hot. But, uh, thanks so much for coming on the show and uh, until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Do you know the importance of building relationships to help your agency scale faster? Brian Cosgrove was doing well at a big agency but felt it kept him from doing what he really wanted to do, which was starting his own business and bringing innovation to the way the services are provided. Once he founded BrainDo, they started scaling and, within a year, had already grown from two to eight employees. In this conversation with Jason, he talked about the important role that building relationships & collaborative culture played in getting his agency off the ground, why he was always confident that they could run a big program, and what bringing value to his clients really means for him and why it is one of the guiding principles for everyone working at his agency.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. What contributed to their growth. Once he and his partner hired their first employee, figuring out how to get benefits for their staff, how to do payroll, and making everything official with the agency made it a lot easier. They ended up going after a big contract, and that led to them getting at least 8 more workers, which allowed them to build out a lot of different services. What contributed to their faster growth? Brian credits the importance he places on maintaining good relationships with past clients, team members, and employers. He left his position at a big agency in good terms and, thanks to this, they still wanted to contract him afterward. Also, they were always confident that they could run a big program and positioned themselves to be ready for it.
  2. Building relationships & collaborative culture. Other agencies started reaching out to partner with them because their expertise. This helped them start to build relationships with local agencies that could refer clients. Also, former clients that were working at different companies started calling them. So Brian highlights the importance of these connections to get his agency off the ground. The importance of building the type of network where everyone is willing to help one another and believe they can all rise together. Of course, good work is a big part of it. “Because of that relationship, I don't want to leave the client in a worse place,” he says, “I refuse to do it.”
  3. The chain of value. After signing a contract, the agency will usually deal with the company's manager on a day-to-day basis. One of the guiding principles at Brian’s agency is to make sure that that manager is benefitted from this relationship with them. They want to see that person get promoted and fully engaged. They should love what they're doing and help break down barriers within the organization to provide value. “The way I see it,” Brian says, “is I need everybody on my team to say everything that we do has provided value.” The principle is to make sure that what they do brings value to the customer, but also helps them help their team, their whole company and organization. And make sure all of that ends up helping their end customer.

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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Building Relationships that Will Help You Scale & The Guiding Principle of Providing Value

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swank here and I have another amazing guest for the podcast so you can grow your agency faster. We're going to talk about building relationships and creating a collaborative culture within your agency so you can scale faster. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:00:25] Hey, how are you?

Jason: [00:00:26] I'm excited to have you on. So this is your first podcast. I'm honored you picked me to be your first podcast. But, uh, for the people that have not heard of you yet, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Brian: [00:00:39] Yes. I’m Brian Cosgrove. I’m the owner of BrainDo Interactive Consulting, and we do a lot of work across the board, uh, focusing in analytics development and different areas of digital marketing.

Jason: [00:00:53] Great. And so how did you get started?

Brian: [00:00:55] Interesting story. I was in aerospace engineering and I was looking for as some side money during the holiday season and I applied for warehouse job. And found out I wasn't the best at doing packing boxes, but I was a bit overqualified. And the owner of the company asked if I could help out with some things related to their SEO program.

So I read a bunch of like white papers. I read a bunch of like academic papers on people that were actually developing these engines. I tried to figure out, okay, who's the talent? Like how they did it? And then figure out what we should do and came up with a plan. And implemented it and started ranking top.

In my other career I was like, okay, I can see where I'm going to be at in 10 years. And that's cool. But this is like amazing growth and I'm able to have a huge impact and I'm still in my early twenties. So I got into that and that kinda got me to crossover into this digital marketing thing. Worked in that space for a little while, went to my first agency Razorfish and started off in SEO. And then I had to fix analytics.

Was there for about three years and then went into another company another comp company to help them build out their digital practice when they were doing all kind of like direct mail TV, pretty much all traditional marketing. I went there with some, you know, one of my colleagues from Razorfish.

And then that went really well and kind of grew that. And then struck out with a good friend of mine on our own in 2013.

Jason: [00:02:38] What made you want to leave? Since the one agency was going really well and you were leading that. What was that itch?

Brian: [00:02:44] I already knew, like, I kinda knew since I was young, that I wanted to kinda like start my own thing or make my own thing.

I always kind of had a sense of, you know, we could do things a little bit differently. We could innovate a bit in how these services are provided or culture. So for me, it was kind of like I liked doing what I was doing. But it was almost like a trap because it was keeping me away from what I really wanted to do, which was kind of start something fresh.

Jason: [00:03:10] Gotcha. Awesome. And when you started the agency, how long did it take you to really kind of start bringing on and building a team?

Brian: [00:03:20] So it was just myself and my partner for, I guess, February to November. And then we hired our first employee in November. And at that point we figured out how to get benefits for them. We figured out how to do payroll. We figured it out, we made everything official and we got all that squared away and that made it a lot easier.

And then we went after a kind of big contract to kind of do all many different digital channels in, you know, a year two and ended up hiring eight more people that year.

That kind of allowed us to build out a lot of different services that we needed someone to run point on. So I'd say within a year and a half, we were at 10 from, you know, two.

Jason: [00:04:05] That's great. So what do you think contributed to that growth? Like how did you have that fast growth? Because a lot of people for a couple years, they're just kinda, it's kinda them, their business partner, maybe a couple of contractors.

Brian: [00:04:18] It's an interesting thing. So while I was still working, before I even started, I really cared about the relationships with my clients, with my colleagues, with my management, with team members, with vendors. So I had a pretty big network at that point. And it was… You know, there's an interesting thing that happens when you kind of let people know like, okay, I'm going out to do this on my own, you know. People that you've built relationships with that care about you they kind of want to figure out how to work with you.

So it helped out tremendously just to kind of lean into that. As soon as we left the place that we were working on asked if we could do some contracting with them. And I was like, we can, but you know, it's gotta be at our contracting rate. You know, it will give you somewhat of a discount for a period of time, but this is how we have to work for our business.

And we were able to end up converting our former employer into our client, which was based on the fact that it maintained good relationships. We also took a lot of care in transitional work. Backfilled our roles sort of before we left. We left them in a good place to be like, okay, they’re good.

All of our big retainers are renewed. Our team they're fully staffed. They can run without us. And then they still wanted to contract with us afterward. Other agencies reached out, they wanted to partner with us because they knew that just individually, myself and my business partner had some expertise in certain areas. And they said, hey, we need help there. Can you guys help us out?

So we ended up building relationships with other agencies that were in the area, you know. And then it was like someone who was a former client, you know, went to another agency, brought us in. I'd say a lot of it was kind of just relationships that got us off the ground. I think a big thing for us is we're kind of confident we could run a big program, like an enterprise program.

And so, while we took on some smaller clients, we kind of just always positioned ourselves to be ready for that. Like we always kind of really played that role that we're ready to do enterprise work at a moment's notice. And we knew that that would get us a six-figure contract or something like that from a client, which again is sort of like a game-changer when it comes to hiring employees and say, I already kind of have your salary on contract.

Like I can afford to pay you in the future without worrying about that.

Jason: [00:06:37] Yeah, I think so many lessons in there that I want to make sure people don't skip over. It's you know, the one is you gotta be really good at what you do. Like a lot of people are like, how do you, how do you create a successful agency that’s growing?

And I'm like, well, you have to know how to do something better than most. And to actually get people results. That's rule number one. But I also liked that you talked about building relationships and really not just going, you know, what's in it for me, you know, like a lot of our mastermind members, they do this amazing… where they're like, look, I don't have any problem today, I just wanted to show up and help. Like help other members, right?

And then when they do need help, everyone will… Here, here's the shirt off my back. Here it is. And it's not like I'll do this for you, if you do this. Like we get, you know, all those slimy emails that you get? Like, oh, you have my audience, can you just blast this out?

Brian: [00:07:43] Yeah, there's a lot of that going on. Honestly, it's, it's building a tighter circle with people that you don't have to… You know, there's no fakeness to it. There's a lot less agenda. It's sort of like let's all rise together, to me has always been important.

Jason: [00:07:59] Yeah, iron sharpens iron, right?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Brian: [00:08:04] And I also really care about doing good work. So that point, and so I think that was another thing was that we were kind of committed to making sure we did great work no matter what. It wasn't like, uh, maybe we'll do well, maybe we won't. It was like, we're going to do great work no matter what, because of that relationship. I don't want to leave the client in a worse place.

I refuse to do that. And that, and that was just sort of a… an important lesson, I think

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And I think a lot of people forget that, you know, we kind of ring the bell. Or the gong, you know, ring the gong when you sell a deal and you're like, yeah, that's good for you. But you know, the client is already thinking, like having buyer's remorse, like you should be thinking about… Like, I was chatting with Darby, our agency scale specialist yesterday, and he's been bringing on a lot of really amazing members. And he's like, look, I'm so invested because I want them to have the best experience because it's, it's my word of what they went on.

And I'm like, that's why we get along so well, we will do anything to move people along rather than like yeah. You gave us money. Yeah. Good luck.

Brian: [00:10:10] Yeah, exactly. I mean, the way that I've seen it. So usually when we take on a contract, there's occasionally if it's smaller company, we might be dealing with the owner or upper executives. But usually when it comes to day-to-day, we're dealing with the manager that they have on their end. That's managing the relationship with us.

And I've always told my team and, and this is kind of been a guiding principle… I want to see that person be in a position to get promoted. Just for working with us, they're doing so well, but they're now getting promoted. They're fully engaged. They love what they're doing and they're helping break down barriers within the organization to provide value.

On top of that, the way that I see it, especially in the bigger organizations is I need everybody on my team to say everything that we do has provided value. Obviously, like it provides value to the brand that we're doing this work for… We're, we're billing for it. And that works out and ultimately it should be contributing to our culture.

But after that, the client, that first person, that first line of contact or the person on the front lines, make sure that we're doing everything we can to help them. Make sure that what we're doing not only helps them, but helps them help their team. Make sure what we're doing not only helps them and helps their team, but helps their whole company and organization. And make sure all of that ends up helping their end customer.

Because like, if you can follow that, that thread all the way through, and there's no conflict anywhere along the way, let's proceed. Let's move forward with this project and give it everything you've got. If there's a conflict on the way, maybe that's project we don't want to take on. Maybe there's a different reason that we, you know, maybe we want to propose something else.

But if you can't follow that all the way along the way, then you can't have confidence that what you're doing is going to provide value. Another thing, I think that was important for us is... And this came up after working in other agencies was, you know, I remember a gentleman said to me said, look, I want to be able to be proud of who I see when I look in the mirror. I want to be able to be proud to tell my kids, the clients and the projects that I work on.

And so another thing that we took on very early on was like to be picky. And so it's picky not just on the clients and the projects we work on. We want to do things that provide value to the world, but we also care about kind of like… Are we providing value to that organization? And so the how is just as important as like specifically what we're doing.

And I would say, I want to add too, that team members put a lot more energy into it.

Jason: [00:12:26] Oh, yeah. I think a big part of why you've gotten to grown so fast too, is you have belief in your team and you. And you said that we knew right away we could take on enterprise clients, right? There's so many of us that didn't start that way, right?

We didn't start with at a big agency, like a Razorfish or go to... Like me, I was accidental. I remember I joke with people. I'm like, my first client asked me for an invoice. I didn’t even know what an invoice was. I didn't know all these terminologies. And so for many years I had kind of that, um, imposter syndrome.

That I could do a website, but I can't do anything else. And I see a lot of people that way. So I just want everybody listening, even if you have that… Look, I even feel like the imposter syndrome too. And I've been in the agency space since 98. And so you got to kind of go look, I'm really good at this and I can dominate this part and go do it.

And build relationships like Brian has talked about… Correct me if I'm wrong, if you make all your managers and all those people rockstars, they get promoted and where do they go? Other companies, and then they bring you along. Don't they?

Brian: [00:13:43] Yes, exactly. And so, in fact, I just received an MSA for a sneaker brand I'm super into, you know, like huge brands that I liked already loved are now like our client base.

And I feel like… This morning, just from work, doing, working hard with some people while they worked in other companies before that. And so the way that I say it is just, that should almost be the end goal. That should be the expectation. Like we're all kind of in our careers together. We are all sort of like at certain points in certain stages.

Our clients should be going to other companies, and when they do, they should want to come into work with us. And we should be sort of a secret tool that they bring to the table. Is that it bring that success along with them.

Jason: [00:14:26] Exactly. Yeah. Cool. Awesome. Well, this has all been amazing. Brian, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?

Brian: [00:14:34] I just want to touch briefly on the collaboration part. One thing that helped out was that a lot of our brainstorming sessions early on, and what helped us grow is that we, you know, this person was a graphic designer. This person is doing SEO. This person is an analytics and that person's doing paid media.

We would do a lot of like collaborative work early on to say, you know, kind of all hands on deck. Like how do we solve this client's paid search need? And get ideas from a lot of different people and made sure that everybody on our team knew Google analytics, knew kind of some of the mechanics of how the other channels worked.

And that went a long way to them building relationships, them doing sort of cross-channel collaboration. And then being able to offer solutions to clients that were kind of like a bit more thought through. A bit more holistic or integrated, and a bit more defensible, maybe from different angles. So I would just say like, if you have a few different disciplines, like make sure to figure out how those two go together to be better than if you only worked on just one discipline alone.

Jason: [00:15:38] I love it. I love it. What's the website people go and check your agency out?

Brian: [00:15:43] Uh, brain.do.

Jason: [00:15:44] Awesome. Well, everyone go check that out. Thanks so much, Brian, for coming on the show. Lots of amazing stuff.

And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners and you believe that iron sharpens iron, where other agencies are sharing the strategies that are working for them, and they're able to see the things you might not be able to see.

I want to personally invite you all to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind just for experienced agency owners. We only take a few every couple of months. So go there now, fill out an application and maybe we'll chat if we feel it's right for you.

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

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

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