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Are your wondering how to get bigger clients and grow into a multi-million dollar agency? Mary Ann Pruitt has a background working in media and was unsure about starting her own agency. Now at her agency, Mosaic Media, she works hand-in-hand with other agency owners, business owners, marketing departments, and media buyers to provide a multi-pronged strategy supporting clients' marketing goals. On the show, Mary Ann talks about the early days of having a full-service integrated media agency and how things changed once she took the step to niche down. She also shares why agency owners should trust their team and stay in their lane to focus on business development and growth.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Focusing on what you do best. Like most agencies, Mary Ann’s started being a full-service integrated media agency. It worked for a while, but she says she was constantly banging her head against the wall feeling frustrated. She felt like they could never land a big brand or were not able to make it. That all changed once she started asking herself how she would build the agency into what it needed to be. She figured out what they're the best at and what's a business model they could build. Niching down was a scary step, but after getting the first client in their niche, Mosaic Media saw significant growth in a 12-month period.
  2. Focus on your own marketing. Too many people think they need to hire a sales hunter right off the bat but don't give them a clear call to action. Mary Ann works with many agencies and something she says is an unpopular, but necessary tip is there is no magic salesperson to grow your business. You need to be building your own brand and build your own funnels. It’s your job as the agency owner. As you're scaling and as you're growing, 50% of your day should be spent on business development.
  3. Stay in your lane. Agency owners can sometimes get caught in growth mode. They keep going and pushing. But when your team doesn’t need you for the little things anymore, it’s a great moment. That is when you know you have transitioned from agency owner to agency CEO. You may feel your team no longer needs you but actually, there’s a lot for you to do. Like figuring out what new offerings should you be researching and how can you take this to the next level and continue to grow. Grow your team and nurture your team to the point that you can trust their judgment. “We just need to know where our strengths are and our lane is and stay in that lane and not get in the way of everybody else doing the work,” Mary Ann assures.

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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Growing To a Multimillion-Dollar Agency By Focusing on What You Do Best and Staying on Your Lane

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here and I am excited, I have another amazing woman that owns an amazing agency on today's podcast. And we're going to talk about how she's grown to a multimillion-dollar agency in the past decade, what she's learned, what you can learn and learn it faster, right?

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

All right, Mary Ann. Welcome to the show.

Mary Ann: [00:00:31] Thanks, Jason. It’s so great to be on.

Jason: [00:00:33] Yeah. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what you do?

Mary Ann: [00:00:37] Yeah. My name is Mary Ann Pruitt and I'm with Mosaic Media. We are a media firm that partners with agencies in the paid media space, uh, anything with traditional, digital, and even in the PR and crisis comms space. So that's what we do.

Jason: [00:00:52] Awesome. And so how did you get started? I always like to ask people why they got into this industry.

Mary Ann: [00:00:59] My background. I mean, it's so funny. My background was in media, actually. I was in media sales for many years as a top sales agent for some of the largest media firms in the nation. And frankly, I fought going agency side for a long time, just because there was an image that went with that, and a…

Jason: [00:01:17] What image is that?

Mary Ann: [00:01:20] Yeah, is that you go from that side just because, and you're never going to be actually a successful agency. So, yeah. So I fought that for a while and frankly it, I realized, okay, you've reached your peak. You're still young. You can keep making great money for the rest of your career and stay comfortable, but you'll never be challenged. You'll never feel excitement like the new sale and the next sale, everything. It's just gonna be the same thing over and over and over again.

So I took that leap of faith in myself and started an agency. Uh, we started really small. We started, like most agencies, we started full service where we were very broad and we're the full service integrated media agency.

Jason: [00:01:58] We don’t want to seclude anybody.

Mary Ann: [00:02:00] Yeah. We don't, no, we're going to… We serve everybody. And then we realized, really honestly about six years ago is when we made a huge shift and focusing on what we were good at. It's an amazing thing. Focus really on the one thing you're good at. And we started to see our revenue, frankly, start to double year over year.

Jason: [00:02:19] So before you got the focus, where were you at in revenue, head space, and number of people?

Mary Ann: [00:02:28] We were at, in a very, very good year we were having a million like year over year. You know, when you first start, it's pretty easy to double your revenue because your first year's revenue is 250, 300. Then you're going out 300 to 600. That's such an easy, easy jump. And then really, truly, probably in 2016, we were hitting just at a million. And now we are projected eight times that.

So where was my head space in that? I felt like I was banging my head against the wall constantly. It was this… why do I feel like we can't ever land the big brand? Or why can't we ever do this? Or why, you know, it's that frustration. And in our team, there was five of us? And actually, the wonderful, amazing thing about that, it would, we still have to have those employees with us today.

They were with me from the beginning and now they're our senior VP team. And it's amazing to see how they have grown as we've evolved as an agency. Uh, so yeah, so the headspace, the revenue, it was frustrating. It was, uh, you felt like, okay, how do we break through?

And then frankly, I had, I called them come to Jesus moments where I was just like, look, what are we going to do? How, how, how am I going to build this agency to what it needs to be? And I frankly locked myself in a room for a couple of days. And what are you good at? What are you the best at? And what's a business model you can build.

That's where we went and it was a leap of faith. It was scary to niche down, but we did it. And now we've seen that revenue just multiply every year.

Jason: [00:04:05] How long did it start until you… When you committed to that decision, when did you feel that you started getting momentum?

Mary Ann: [00:04:13] It really takes a good, well, almost right out of the gate within the first three months we caught one client that was, all right, this is part of our niche. And I was like, all right, this is great. It's going to work. Then I started testing it with other people of how I was using that language and how I was using that elevators speech and all of a sudden things started to happen more and more.

I'd go to a conference and I test something and… more and more. And really that first year is where we saw it grow significantly, probably that 12 month period. And I think that's one thing for agency owners is patience is a good thing, and we have to have faith that we know what we're doing. We're planting the seeds. Things are happening. Decisions are not made overnight.

And we have to continue to cultivate that. Probably within… so the first year and two years, it's then refining the systems. You're going from being small mom and pop to now, okay, I've got decent sized revenue. How am I growing the team? How are we building our efficiencies and building the processes a whole new level of challenges come.

And then when the pandemic hit, actually, we grew even more. Part of that was our inbound and our thought leadership was pretty strong going into the pandemic and people were looking for answers. And frankly, that's where we started to just evolve from there and get more and more out of it.

But really I'm a big believer in helping people and when you have that mindset and you're not going in for the pitch all the time, but you're there for the relationship and to help… That makes a big difference.

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I'm so glad that you said that because people have such an angle of going, well, I want to scale. Well, first they don't know why they want to scale, and there's no reason, I guess it's just a brag. I mean, I remember, when I had the first agency, I remember we would brag by how many employees we would have.

And then if someone was like, I have 50 employees. Oh, fifty. I have a hundred. And then you're like, what's wrong with me? Or, you know, like when you were at 10 or 20 and, uh… So I'm glad you mentioned that because that's, you gotta have a direction, but I'm glad too, that you started focusing on the brand and doing your own marketing.

I think too many people think that they need to hire a sales hunter right off the bat. They don't give them a clear call to action of who to contact, but I'm like if you build the brand and you build a brand that's helpful for a particular market, you can create all this business that a closer can come in and close and it makes it so much easier.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Mary Ann: [00:07:54] That's exactly right. And frankly, a lot of agency owners and we primarily work in the agency space. That is what we do. We help agencies. So we help you build your media team, we help assess your media team. We help be the relieve pressure for a big agencies and their media. But then also helps supplement anything that you can't offer currently and actually become a revenue source for you.

That's what we do. So I'm in contact with agency owners every day, and a big thing that I say regularly that they know they need to hear, but probably isn't too popular is business development falls on us as the agency owners. And we can try all day long to go get that magic salesperson or go get somebody to go get the sales for us. We need to be building our own brand and we need to be building our own funnels.

And frankly, it's the expertise that we offer. That's our job as the business owner and as the agency owner. Um, frankly, we shouldn't be in the weeds all day long of doing the actual work. We need to be, if you're, as you're scaling and as you're growing. 50% of your day should be going towards business development.

That is how you grow. And that is how you focus and get your company back onto a growth path, frankly. So I'm with you on that of you have to be patient and you have to cultivate those seeds. Uh, but also don't look for a magic bullet.

Know what you're good at. Niche down to that. And don't be scared to niche down to that and focus. I mean, I live in Anchorage, Alaska. Okay. We're a small. 95% of our work is not in Anchorage, Alaska. We are in all 50 states doing work. How are we doing that? Because I didn't get caught in the market that I live in. I didn't get caught into a small mindset.

I got, I let myself and the company then evolve to think bigger than where we lived or where we operated out of. Now I have employees all over the place. I live in Alaska. It's amazing how, honestly, frankly, the last 18 months have taught us all a lot of you don't have to be in a brick and mortar anymore. And we all knew that, but now we're so much more comfortable with it.

So there's all these different elements as an agency owner that we have to be honest with ourselves and we have to know what's holding us back. And sometimes it's us. That's the bottleneck.

Jason: [00:10:17] Truth be told we're always the bottleneck until, until you realize you're the bottleneck and you get out of your way, you know, like we had, um, a couple of weeks back, we had our agency experience where we had 25 of the best agency owners come out to Colorado.

And a lot of us were taught like a lot of the takeaways were, man. We, we have the best like they're multi-million dollar agencies. We've done this over the years and the owner is still crippling their team for making decisions. And they're like the toll booth that everything's flowing through them. And we're like…

I literally stole the computer of one of our members so she couldn't be emailing all day and like hid it. I was like, no, like your team will be fine. Like go, go on vacation. And that's a lot of advice I give to people a lot is, hey, go wait for a week or two weeks and come back.

Mary Ann: [00:11:15] Yep. And honestly, so if we look at it and we realize and recognize where we're holding things up or what we're not doing on our end, we need to question, why are we doing that? What control am I trying to gain back from my team or from the product? What am I afraid of? What's holding me back? What anchor is holding me back there and what anchor do I need to cut?

I often say this and is that anchor serves a purpose. They are things that are supposed to keep us grounded. There are things they're supposed to keep us steady, but anchors also can hold us back. So what is it that I need to work on that I need to cut back because we are the bottlenecks.

So before COVID, I had this rule that I'd actually work out of the office one day a week. And what I found was that was the most productive day for my team because I wasn't there and they got so much done and they knew exactly what they were doing. And like, you know, this is a true testament to let them be, let them do their job. They'll come to you when they need things.

So when we feel like we need to control, or we feel like we need to be on top of everything, is there a trust factor there? We hired them, we trust them. We know our executive team, so we know that we can trust them in that element. I'm not saying be completely hands-off. That is not what I'm saying in any way. We just need to know where our strengths are and our lane is, and stay in that lane and not get in the way of everybody else doing the work.

Jason: [00:12:41] Yeah. And, and when you start getting out of the way, and I always warn people on this… When the agency doesn't need you for the small things that you used to do, it's all pretty hard thing to swallow because you're like, oh, crap business doesn't need me anymore, but I want you to remember it needs you for something else.

So you're transitioning from an owner to a true CEO. Then that's when you can scale. That's when you can sell it, if you want, or you can take long vacations. I've had clients that have come to me in the past that never took vacations. And I'm like, that's the number one thing we're going to work on. Like, why the F are you working so hard if you can't enjoy it?

Like, this is crazy.

Mary Ann: [00:13:32] Well, and I think… We also get caught in our growth mode of where we want to be, right? So we're on that trajectory. We keep going, we keep pushing and, you know, it's the, it's the oxygen mask. We have to take care of ourselves first, we have to put the oxygen mask on first and then put it on the others. So we're building this team in order for us to be able to then transition, like you said, transition into something else.

So when, when they no longer need us for the little things it's actually a great moment of we've grown as a company. I'm now a CEO. I'm no longer just a small business owner. Now I'm a CEO working at an executive level, thinking visionary thoughts of where I need to go with the company. What do I need to do next? What new offerings do I need to be researching? How can I then take this to the next level and continue to grow?

So it actually opens up so much more opportunity for us as agency owners to have that growth trajectory and mindset. It's a total mindset shift.

Jason: [00:14:32] It is, it is. Well, this has all been amazing Mary Ann. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Mary Ann: [00:14:38] You know, I think we always just have to be honest with ourselves of how are we getting in the way for our own good, but for others and our team. And making sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to just grow our team, but nurture our team and take care of ourselves in the process, as well as grow the company and stay into the, and get out of the way mentally, physically get out of the way. It’s fine.

And now I've heard about it. Don't worry about it.

Jason: [00:15:08] Awesome. What's the agency website people can go and check out?

Mary Ann: [00:15:12] You can go to mosaic.agency/contact that comes straight to me.

Jason: [00:15:16] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Mary Ann, for coming on the show. Lots of amazing information for all of us to take in. Hopefully, you guys go start executing it.

If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe, make sure you comment as well on your biggest takeaway. And if you want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis, and be able to come out to Colorado and do the digital agency experience, go to digitalagencyelite.com and see if you qualify.

This is only for experienced agency owners that are really wanting to scale fast, have fun and just, you know, create an amazing agency and amazing life.

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

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

Want to build an amazing agency culture and brand? After running his own agency, Historic, for eight years and leading teams of creatives, Ted Vaughn took on the task of co-writing the book on all aspects of building your agency's brand and how leadership shapes its culture. Ted is on the show talking about how you can use culture to help further grow your agency. He covers the six parts of marquee culture established in his book, Culture Built My Brand, the biggest gap he’s noticed in company culture, and how to align your principles and values to attract the right people.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Shaping culture to grow your agency. If you’re an agency owner looking to create a brand and culture that can help grow your business, remember your leadership, the decisions that you make, the ways in which you operate all become more critical than technical expertise or unique ability. Your role as a leader determines how the culture works or if it becomes toxic. Ted explains one of the biggest gaps he’s seen in company culture is leaders who fail to understand the reality of their power and do not build bridges over to the people they lead so that they can actually be given feedback on how to reshape their HR systems or their values.
  2. The six layers of marquee culture. In their book, Ted and his partner identify six layers of marquee culture. Your marquee culture is at your forefront. It is the thing that galvanizes and draws attention to your agency, attracts great people, and keeps great people. Each of these layers translates into behavior-shaping principles for the people who are a part of our organizations. These 6 are: principles, architecture, rituals, lore, vocabulary, and artifacts. The single most important layer is the first one. Ted and his team have found many times the values or ideas that hold an organization together are too vague or abstract. He talks about the way to transform them into behavior-shaping principles for the people who are a part of your team
  3. How the 6 layers interact. A lot of agencies might already have some of these layers in places but not in a way that actually transforms them into core values. This is because they haven't actually integrated them into their decision-making. For example, in the case of architecture, Ted believes HR systems and structures should not simply be healthy or unhealthy. They really need to be built in a way that furthers aspects of your brand value. For rituals, it needs to be organic experiences that energize your people, not just staff meetings. Remember these layers are permeable, they're not just independent ideas that operate independently from the others. Your principles should inform your vocabulary and rituals and so on.

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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Shaping Agency Culture With the Six Layers that Build an Effective Brand

{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 I have another amazing episode for you where we're going to talk about culture and how you can get the right people. Who do you need to bring in? How do you evaluate them? All that kind of good stuff, so you can grow your agency faster. And so let's go ahead and get into the episode.

Hey, Ted. Welcome to the show. Gotcha with the water.

Ted: [00:00:28] You did. That was so fast. Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. Huge fan, uh, really have been inspired by your work and your network. And, uh, just a real honor to be on the show.

Jason: [00:00:40] Awesome. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what your agency actually does.

Ted: [00:00:45] So I've spent most of my life leading in non-profit circles, leading teams of creatives. Um, started an agency with my business partner, Mark Miller about eight years ago, called Historic.

We thought it would be just a cool idea to serve some of our niche clients. Bootstrapped it, and, uh, you know, eight years later, we're, uh, we're doing over a million dollars in business and have a staff and a brick and mortar. And we've learned a lot in the journey, both about who we are and about what makes us tick.

And I think that's why we wrote a book and it's why I'm talking to you today.

Jason: [00:01:19] Great. Let's talk about building a culture within your organization. You know, I look at it as everyone's building a culture… Matters of, are you building the culture that you actually want?

Ted: [00:01:30] Yeah, I mean we... believe senior leaders are shaping culture as the most significant contribution to their organization.

I mean, if you are leading an agency, the how of your leadership matters more than the unique skill that you bring to the table. Unless, it's a boutique lifestyle brand and literally you are an employee of one, but if you want to scale, if you want to grow, the single greatest question you have to wrestle with is the how of my leadership more than the what of my technical skill or talent.

Jason: [00:02:05] So give us a little bit more about what's the difference between those.

Ted: [00:02:09] Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of times, you know, even for Mark and me, we each have really unique skill and technical ability that offers value that our agency still really needs. But as we've taken on staff and as we've grown and as we've had to empower our staff, the company culture that we shape and that we lead becomes our brand in ways our skill and talent alone could never fully embrace.

Our brand, the touchpoints of our brand, our growth, and this will certainly be true if we go beyond, you know, our current, you know, one point, whatever million-dollar mark to 5 million… exponentially becomes the case. Then you go even further and it gets even more important.

Your leadership, the decisions that you make, the ways in which you operate become more critical than your technical expertise or unique ability as a designer or as a strategist or as a PR person.

Jason: [00:03:06] Now I've had people on to talk about culture from Zappos, who so many people modeled, you know, Tony Shay and all those guys did.

So what are ways where agencies listening right now… How can you start shaping the culture in order to scale your agency faster?

Ted: [00:03:26] Well, we've the book that we wrote, “Culture Built My Brand”. It was really written on the back of our learning. We have sweat a lot of blood made a ton of mistakes. And I think the idea for us in the book is, is a marquee culture and a marquee culture is like that marquee sign. It's that well-lit banner. That is the forefront. It is the thing that galvanizes and draws attention, attracts great people, keeps great people.

So in the book, we talk about a marquee culture, having six layers or six dimensions. And the single most important is the first, which we call principles. What we find often in our, in our own agency it was true and the clients that we serve it's true. And I would assume for many of you listening it's true.

We have these values or these ideas that hold us together that become our riverbanks or our guiding ideas. But they're so vague or abstract or unclear they don't actually translate into behavior shaping principles for the people who are a part of our organizations.

And I would say probably one of the first places to start the first layer in our book on culture and brand is principles. Taking your values or recreating your values so that they're actionable, applicable culture-shaping principles that really give those who are a part of your team, clear behavioral guidelines, so that they know how to be on-brand, how to operate, how to make decisions in ways that will really further your brand in unique ways and not just have abstract ideas.

Jason: [00:05:01] So one of our principles in our culture is really being resourceful. So give us an example of… all right, that's kind of the, the layer here. How do we take it further.

Ted: [00:05:14] Yeah. I mean, we often will work with brands that have some version of innovation as their value, right? Maybe it's stated that way, or it's stated with a really sticky phrase. But then when you look at how people behave or you begin to ask questions around decision-making, or you look at how money is spent, you quickly realize that the organization's not structured in a way that actually takes the value of innovation seriously.

It's because they haven't actually taken that value and then integrated it and baked it into decision-making in all sorts of different ways, which really is the second layer of our book and culture, which was architecture.

We don't believe that HR systems and structures should simply be healthy or unhealthy. They really need to be built in a way that furthers aspects of your brand value. So if you articulate innovation, that should absolutely show up and shape how HR functions and how decision-making and power and governance take place in your organization.

Jason: [00:06:16] So like with, you know, our organization being resourceful. Like how would you bake that in even more and kind of take it up a notch?

Ted: [00:06:25] Well, I'm assuming that when you say resourceful, you're talking about resourcing others, right? Being a part of something larger than yourself?

Jason: [00:06:32] No, I'm talking about being resourceful is like figuring out like, all right. You know, we normally do it this way, but we could do it another way. Or, oh man, I don't feel like we have enough resources, you know, just figuring out a better way to do things more efficiently.

Ted: [00:06:51] Yeah. I mean, again, I think what's interesting is even, you know, I, from the outside of hearing that word immediately took it in a different direction. So I think one of the questions that I would have would be when you say resourceful, what are the specific behaviors or ways in which that value translates to how your people lead, behave, are asked to budget how they solve problems.

You know, I think there'd be fantastic ways for you to approach problem-solving in more bootstrapped, organic lean ways where you create heroes or you reward people who approach problem-solving through resourcefully challenged opportunities versus just throwing money at problems or thinking everybody needs to have support staff or, um, but I mean, there could be so many different ways that that value shapes the brass tax of your agency.

I think it'd be a fun conversation to figure out how you're doing it today.

Jason: [00:07:45] Gotcha. And so what are the other layers now that we have the principal. And then I think the second was architecture, if I…?

Ted: [00:07:50] Architecture. Yeah. So principles being the idea that you want your values to be actionable and really shape all sorts of practical aspects of your people's behavior.

Architecture being the structures that support your people. We talk a lot about Frank Lloyd Wright and the architecture that he did intentionally around the environment he was in. Third layer would be rituals. We talk about the experiences that energize your people and the best rituals and organizations are those that are organic. Not just top-down staff retreats or all staff meetings, but those rituals, like we talk a lot about the pumpkin carving contest in the jet propulsion lab and NASA.

The next layer would be lore, the sticky stories that shape us. There are some really fantastic ways you can shape story, do storytelling in ways that further your brand value that help provide differentiation to your brand.

Next layer is vocabulary, having phrases, words, ideas. We talk a lot about Netflix and some of the great language that they have from “Sunshining” to, um, different terms that they use to shape their culture. And then the last layer would be artifacts, which are everything from clothes to your physical space, to brands that we've worked with that set up unique opportunities for people that have private space in a shared workspace.

One brand that has a football field mini version of a football field in their environment because they have a value of leaving it all on the field, all sorts of ways that you can physically shape your brand value in your space.

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Very cool. So give us some more examples of each of the layers, just so people can start going oh, okay, cool. This is what we can actually do. Like once we form the principles, how can we build a better architecture and so on?

Ted: [00:10:41] For sure. So these layers are somewhat, uh, permeable, right? They're not just independent ideas that operate independently from the others, right? Your, your principles should absolutely shape vocabulary. As a matter of fact, a lot of times in brands, we see those, those values, those principles show up in their vocabulary because they get phrased in ways that become really sticky and interesting and helpful.

Uh, architecture is absolutely informed by your principles. The way that you conduct HR hiring, onboarding. Rituals, uh, those again, in the book, we talk a lot about rituals being organic. When you have people that love your brand, they will often create their own experiences of the brand. One practical example for us at our agency, we do staff camp, we do Christmas gatherings. We constantly ask our staff how they want to participate and engage and be a part of those experiences.

And in the process we've gotten all sorts of rituals in our agency that have been organic from our people, but mark and I would have never dreamed of. From cool patches and stickers and badges that have been developed in previous years that continue on to this day to other activities and games and things that operate within our agency.

And another great example is we had a member of our staff want to do a music club, right? That's a great example of a ritual. We were like a music club! Awesome. Why not? That's becomes such a significant part of our agency that any new staff person is given a Sonos speaker so that no matter where they are in the US they can be a part of music club, be on Spotify, be a part of this experience.

It's a way that we want to honor that because it's become such an important ritual within our organization. And we have no formal authority over music club. It's just an organic thing that our people develop that's become a key part of their… I think they would say a key part of their positive, satisfactory experience of working with us.

Jason: [00:12:45] So are rituals more kind of like experiences and then like architecture is more like systems and…?

Ted: [00:12:51] A hundred percent. Yeah. I mean, you think about architecture, right? Like no architect designs a home and simply says, well, it's safe, it's stable, the plumbing works. You're good. That's not an architect, right? An architect is very, very interested in the design and shape of that structure, matching its external and internal audience and environment needs.

It's not just safe or not safe. There are so many other dimensions to architecture. We think HR, the systems that support your people. should be the same way. You know, a lot of agencies, when we were a young agency and even today we cannot comp like 52 or 72 and sunny, not 52, 72andSunny, or, you know, name the agency, right? That has fantastic compensation plans.

But there are so many different ways that you can do comp. One for us, one of our architecture branded ideas at, at historic is travel pizza. What is travel pizza? Anytime somebody on our staff has to be gone overnight, we provide a $50 stipend for meals for their family. It can be Ubereats. It can be pizza, it can be whatever you want it to be.

Travel pizzas become an unbelievable way that our people feel valued and their families feel valued because they get a cool night out whether it's out or it's brought in on us because their person that they care about is gone. Lots of other ways to do compensation, to structure, to architect compensation that deliver unique value through your agency. That go way beyond annual salary.

Jason: [00:14:32] Yeah, I like that. Remind me, what's after ritual and let's talk about examples.

Ted: [00:14:38] There's a lot. It can be complex. So the, the layers of culture, somewhat in a linear order would be principles, architecture, rituals, and then lore. Lore being those sticky stories, right? Every brand that we’ve a part of I've been on staff that has had those stories that echo through the hallways and often they're incredibly toxic.

Jason: [00:15:01] So would that be like, like what a story…? This happened at our agency where we were sent these lounge chairs that were double-sided and they sent it like 10 of them from China in these boxes with all these packing popcorn.

But when we opened the boxes up, we had so much packing popcorn. It literally went down a hallway. And so we were like, let's keep it. We'd literally kept it until we sold the office. There was a whole hallway of packing popcorn that you could run and jump and do flips in and lose articles of clothing. So is that like a lore?

Ted: [00:15:39] Well, that sounds like an amazing ritual, but I would say the minute, the minute you cleaned up that popcorn, I believe that was probably an incredible story. A lore that is a positive example of how your agency describes its culture through story. And if I'm you, you know, Jason, I want that story to continue echoing through the halls.

I want new staff to be told that story when they're onboard, because that says something about who we are, what we value, how we behave, that goes way beyond any HR manual or onboarding. That is a great example of lore. A great example of toxic lore would be when I got hired as a C-suite leader in a non-profit and the second day in I was told by one of my colleagues, you know, you're just a plane flight away from losing your job.

And I was like, huh, tell me more. He's like, well, the person that you're replacing was hired when the CEO sat next to them on a plane and before the plane landed, they were hired on staff and a negotiated salary. So just remember if he sits next to somebody who does your job better than you, well…

Now that story had existed for years in the hallways of this organization. I, dumb enough thought I'm going to ask the CEO about that. So I brought it to the CEO and said, hey, I heard this crazy story. Is that true? He's like, well, it's kind of true. Not really true. Who told you that story? I was like, well, this is where I heard it in multiple places, but, um…

He's like, you heard it in multiple places? Like a lot of people told me the same story. Point being, that negative story, toxic story shaping this leader's culture had been told for years and he had never heard it. The idea here is the more senior you are in the brand that you lead, the more self diluted you probably are as well. The more people are saying things about you or about the brand that you don't know about just by nature of your power and position.

It's incredible how often senior leaders and brands we serve are clueless about stuff multiple people on the ground talk about and say on the routine.

Jason: [00:17:55] Oh, yeah, yeah. And one of the things just going back to that story that I'm thinking about now, is the only time we cleaned up that popcorn was to put all of that in my VP of operations sunroof in his car. And we filled up his whole car. So when he came out to his car and just literally went…

Ted: [00:18:16] I mean, to me, that's the epilogue, that's the, like the story, the story lives on there's layers to the story, right? I mean, you know, I would say like, Jason, that's a great example of how a story could very well create a sticky idea, vocabulary, which is the next layer, and that sticky phrase becomes a principle that now… This is how these layers work together.

Sometimes principles create stories that create rituals. Sometimes the way in which we have the principle or value shapes our architecture, which creates it, these layers work together. But the point is there's a reason why Southwest and Netflix and Zappos, and many of the brands we know and love and talk about in this book are as successful as they are.

It's not a happenstance coincidence they hit the market at the right time. They were aligned intentionally from the inside out, right? We have a philosophy of brand that your brand is your culture, your story, your product, your experience, and your identity.

Don't start with identity. Start with culture. Defining that from the inside out is always far more sustainable and effective and long lasting, and has far less drama than starting with identity.

Jason: [00:19:36] I love that. Well, this has all been amazing, Ted, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Ted: [00:19:42] Well, you can't talk about company culture and brand and agency life without addressing power. I think maybe one of the tangential elements to this conversation today has been the dynamic of power. And I think anybody listening who's a leader or being led, understands that power is a thing.

I would say that one of the biggest gaps that we experience in company culture are leaders, is leaders who fail to understand the reality of their power and build bridges over that power to the people they lead so that they can actually get the truth. They can actually be told that toxic lore, they can actually be given feedback on how to reshape their HR systems or their values.

It's amazing how, again, self diluted senior leaders are because of the power gap and their failure to build a bridge over that power. I would just challenge all of your listeners, if you have power of any form, be aware of it and build a bridge over it for the purpose of shaping a healthy company culture.

Jason: [00:20:49] I love it. What's the name of the book and where can they get that?

Ted: [00:20:53] Yeah, the book is Culture Built my Brand. Originally we wanted to call it Culture Ate my Brand, but the publisher thought that was a little too, little too negative. So they scratched it out and we have built, you can get it at any bookseller near you from Amazon to Barnes and Noble to…

They just started shipping. We had some shipping-related challenges as I'm sure everybody's experienced. Um, but, uh, you could also visit culturebuiltmybrand.com to get access to a whole suite of tools that I actually think as agency owners… You may or may not ever want to take culture seriously as a part of your service group as a brand, but I guarantee you, if you apply some of the thoughts and ideas we have either to your agency or to how you serve clients, it'll make you a better agency.

So take advantage of these tools, CultureBuiltMyBrand.com and then our agency is just Historic Agency.

Jason: [00:21:47] Awesome. Well, Ted, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you guys subscribe, make sure you like it, comment and share it with a friend. And, uh, if you guys want to be around other amazing agency owners, sharing what's working and being able to see the things that you might not be able to see.

I'd love to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind, just for experience agency owners that are trying to just grow faster, have a lot of fun and just build an amazing culture. So thanks so much.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 6_Layers_of_Shaping_an_Agency_Culture_That_Wins_More_Clients.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

After working for big agencies for part of her career, Josy Amann decided that starting her own business and getting rid of the commute would align more with her plans to have a family, so she co-founded Media Matters Worldwide. Today, her agency is an experienced, independent media strategy, planning, buying, and analytics partner that has grown beyond the eight-figure mark. In her interview with Jason, she talked about the "scrappy" first years of starting an agency, how she realized they needed layers and strategy to beyond the 3-million mark, and the three pillars to build your pipeline.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Learning to implement layers. They were a very linear organization for a long time and that worked well for them, but growing their business beyond the 2 million mark required a leadership team, as Josy realized, she calls this “putting layers in place”. Josy and her partner needed to get out of the business to run the business, and their leadership team was pivotal for that. So, when they first started the business, for example, they used to have an analytics lead. Now they have someone that minds the data, an analytic storyteller, and someone that does all the business intelligence and dashboarding. It is more expensive this way, but it definitely improves the level of the service they are able to provide.
  2. More clients or bigger clients? Once they were ready for growth, Josy knew it was important to have a growth strategy. You want to grow, but how are you going to attract bigger clients? Bigger clients bring the bigger dollars. “You can use the same team that you have built for a client half its size and really scale the agency,” she says. Some agency owners focus on having more clients at that point. That’s valid, but you may end up adding a ton of people and having less profit. And when it came to getting those bigger clients, Josy had some names in mind, but also industries. Her agency has grown while remaining wide, with half of their clients being B2B and the other half B2C, and that has allowed them to ride through difficult times while exploring new industries.
  3. The pillars of building your pipeline. First of all, put your money where your mouth is. Do all the lead generation run, retargeting campaigns, LinkedIn, etc. Run on all the lead gen sites that are out there so that when people search for an agency they can find you. The second pillar, something that people don’t talk about enough, is identify similar culture-like creative agencies, marketing agencies, and marketing consultants that you can take time and really build relationships with and be there for each other over time. And finally, get serious about PR and hire a PR agency and get out there, do things like this and be on panels and write articles and really be more involved in the ad community.

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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What Are The Pillars of Building Your Pipeline & Attracting Bigger Clients?

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here, and have another amazing episode coming from an amazing agency owner that's grown her agency to well over eight-figures. And we're going to talk about how she's done it. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Josie. Welcome to the show.

Josy: [00:00:24] Thanks, Jason. Nice to see you.

Jason: [00:00:26] Yeah, you too. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Josy: [00:00:31] I am Josy Amann. I'm one of the co-founders of Media Matters Worldwide, and I started the business with a business partner, Taji Zaminasli.

Jason: [00:00:40] Awesome. And are you guys still business partners?

Josy: [00:00:42] We sure are, since 2005.

Jason: [00:00:44] That’s amazing.

Josy: [00:00:46] We've been working, talking every day for over 20 years. I feel very blessed. Very lucky.

Jason: [00:00:53] Well, tell us, how did you get started? I'm always curious why people, like, where were you accidental? Did you guys have a mission to do? How'd you guys start?

Josy: [00:01:02] I, you know, I, we both had worked at the big agencies. That's how we got our start right out of college. We’ve always been in media. That was, that was the beginning.

And then I think it was 28, we were working at an agency together. That's how we met. We were working at a performance agency and I said, how are we ever going to work at this pace and commute and all of these things and have a family? Like I knew I wanted to have a family, had just gotten married, at 26 I knew that was on the horizon. So that was a big piece of kind of the thought around starting our own agency.

We also had really unique backgrounds in that Taji was in buying and broadcast. And I was in planning. We just had very different backgrounds that came together. So we knew we could create a holistic solution for a media company.

Jason: [00:01:51] Awesome. And what was it like the first couple of years? Now you're where a lot of the listeners are wanting to be right now. You guys have an independent agency that's doing really well, it's growing. But obviously, it didn't start that way.

Josy: [00:02:08] Yeah. The scrappy days, right? Uh, so Taji and I both, when we started the agency, we didn't, we didn't raise money. We didn't have any… we weren't like trust fund babies or anything like that. It was all kind of bootstrap.

So when we started the agency, we said, why don't we become a freelancing team. And we’ll become an arm of some of the bigger agencies. We've worked for Gyro and they did all of their media and it was a really great way to get our foot in the door and it kind of bought time so that we could get our clients of our own.

So that's kind of how we started. Then we started getting clients of our own. Then we moved away from the agency model and that just kind of built upon itself. And as we grew and as we saved money, that's when we started to hire. And I think that's why it's taken 16 years.

Jason: [00:02:55] Exactly. Overnight success in 16 years later. Looking back, especially, uh, I always talk about, it's easy to get to the million mark by accident, or maybe even the two or maybe even the $3 million mark by accident.

But really kind of scaling it from there, you have to have the right systems or the right team member in place. What systems or teams or rolls did you feel that you needed in order to get you to the level you{re at now?

Josy: [00:03:26] Yeah, you've obviously done this before. I could have used your advice years ago, but by trial and error. We learned that as we grew, we needed layers.

We were a very linear organization for a long time and that served us well. And to your point, got us to the million, 2 million mark. But to grow the business, we needed more layers and also a leadership team. And that has been pivotal to our growth. So having a leadership team, having the layers, it a hundred percent key cause Taji and I needed to get off the business so we could run the business. And the leadership team has really allowed that.

Jason: [00:04:04] Yeah. What were the layers? Like, give us example of some of the layers.

Josy: [00:04:08] Yeah. So instead of where we started our business, we would just have, say like an analytics lead. Now we have someone that minds the data. We have an analytic storyteller, and then we have someone that does all the business intelligence and dashboarding.

So in ways business has become more expensive cause we need three people to do the job that one person did years ago. But the services and the level of customer service we're able to provide. You need those layers.

Jason: [00:04:39] Yeah. And talk about a little bit about the team structure. Like, because obviously, you guys have gone through many different levels over the years, right?

From, you know, the infancy of getting the $2 million mark and so on. If you had to go back and do it over again, or if you're chatting with someone that's at the two or $3 million mark and they really want to excel past the eight figure mark, what would be some of the important things that you would tell them?

Josy: [00:05:08] Hm, come up with a strategy for new business because I think that's one of the things when we really… We knew we could scale the team. We knew we were ready for growth, but how are we going to get the bigger clients? Because the bigger clients are what bring the bigger dollars. You can use the same team that you have built for a client half its size and really scale the agency.

So coming up, we came up with this marketing flywheel we called it. And really a three-pronged approach to getting new business. And I think that really started to fuel the funnel and get us in front of bigger names.

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I like that you said bigger clients because a lot of agencies, when they think of scaling, they think of, I need more clients. That's a possibility. If you want to add a ton of people and make a lot less profit. So when you started saying I want to target bigger customers, did you get specific and going, like let's start naming them and coming up like a hit list or did you start picking a particular market?

Josy: [00:07:10] Yeah, it was kind of twofold. Yes, definitely picking up names, but it was also thinking about industries. And we've always been an agency, we've had half of our clients, B2B and half B2C. And I feel that has given our agency strength, just the people working for, uh, the agency specifically, but it's also given us the ability to kind of ride through difficult times.

So in COVID, for example, the beginning of COVID, we had some of our retail clients that only, they don't even have e-commerce, shut down their stores, shut off their budget. Who was still up and running? All of our B2B clients. So that really helped us weather the storm. And we've learned over 16 years, you know, we've made it through the 2008 crisis and different ups and downs of the business through the years, that kind of balance of portfolio has always helped us.

And in the B2C realm, same thing, you know, looking at the industry, looking at what the hot challenger brands are is really key too. When you look in the FinTech space and the beauty space, they're really changing the world of media and that's exciting and it builds your portfolio. You're not just doing the same same.

Jason: [00:08:20] And now you have a bigger team that you can kind of focus on multiple industries. Would you have done it different? Do you think if you picked one particular industry in the very beginning, laser focus, do you think you could have gotten to the level quicker, or are you glad that you were spread out.

Josy: [00:08:37] I'm glad we were spread out. There was a moment in time before really it was popular to be women-owned at the time, but we said, you know, why don't we embrace kind of who we are instead of always hiding that we're women-owned business, which we did early on. Why don't we embrace that and focus on only, you know, women focus brands, sustainable brands, eco brands?

So we thought about going in that direction and then it just seemed too limiting from where we came from, but it actually opened up the doors. So I think just that like opening up of the universe to say, we want to go in that direction, opened up those brands for us.

Um, so, you know, whether it worked or not, but I don't think I would've done anything differently because again, it's so exciting to learn about all the different industries. And I think our people love it too. It's constantly making you think about different audiences and how to reach them.

Jason: [00:09:29] And I think you mentioned kind of three pillars and building that pipeline, what were they, or what are they?

Josy: [00:09:36] Yeah, the first was put your money where your mouth is and do all of the lead generation run retargeting campaigns, run on LinkedIn, run on all the lead gen sites that are out there. So that when people are looking for you paid search, you're there. Step number one. Step two is identify similar culture like creative agencies, marketing agencies, and marketing consultants that you can take time and really build relationships with and be there for each other over time.

So not just a meet and greet, but really have brainstorming sessions and really be there to help each other. That, that has brought in a lot of business as well. And then the third is really get serious about PR and hire a PR agency and get out there, do things like this and be on panels and write articles and really be more involved in the ad community.

Jason: [00:10:32] Yeah, I totally agree. And because there's so many agencies that just depend on one channel. And you know, they look at well, we're just relying on all the business coming on a Facebook. I’m like what is Facebook changes, right? You need all the other…

Josy: [00:10:48] What if it changes?

Jason: [00:10:50] Yeah. And I love that you built strategic partnerships too, because not many people do that and they just… You know, I get those emails all day long going, hey, you got a big audience of agencies. You send out my email. I'm like, how is that a relationship? That's just a, it's a transactional thing.

It's like, Hey, why don't you try to help someone and then become friends and then you could both take over the world together, a small part of the world?

Josy: [00:11:18] That's business, right? I mean, that's what it should be about, should be about relationships. It should be leaning on each other. It should be about transparency.

Jason: [00:11:25] Yeah, exactly. Well, Josy, this has been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Josy: [00:11:32] Maybe advice around, uh, we've been a remote agency since 2005. That's when we started the agency, that was one of the ways that, like I said earlier, how are we going to have a family? We're still gonna work our tails off, but taking away the commute might help. So we started a virtual agency back in 2005. Which, you know, we didn't have all the tools we have today.

So people, I get a lot of other agency owners calling saying, how, how can you give me advice on how to kind of weather the storm and how to create this remote agency that we've now, you know, we've canceled all of our office space and now we have a remote agency. How do we fix it? Cause people aren't super happy.

And, I would say hire people that love to work from home. And I think that's what we've always done. We've always hired more senior people, people that don't need handholding trailblazers. That's created a different kind of agency culture, which we love, but hire people that really love to work from home.

Cause if they don't, they're never really going to embrace it.

Jason: [00:12:40] Yeah. Yeah. And I know. And when you're a virtual agency, it really kind of takes the handcuffs off of you for finding talent because there's amazing talent all over the world. In a lot of remote cities, we were, I was chatting with some of the mastermind members and people are like… And they're all over the world. And, and some of were in California and New York, and they were like, are your employees coming to you asking for raises because everything's costing more? And everyone was like, yup, yup, yup. But one person and he was in Kentucky and were like, we all need to recruit from Kentucky.

Josy: [00:13:16] Yeah. I love having our employees all over the country. It not only helps with hiring, but it also helps with times zones. We have a lot of global clients. So being able to kind of have people pinch hit early in the morning or late at night is super helpful.

Jason: [00:13:29] Yeah, it's awesome. What's the agency website people go and check you guys out?

Josy: [00:13:34] Oh, mediamattersww.com.

Jason: [00:13:36] Awesome. Well, everyone, if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe. Make sure you go to their website. Say a thank you to Josie for coming on and giving you guys a lot of value.

And if you guys enjoyed this and you want to be around other amazing agency owners where they're sharing out strategies that are currently working right now and having fun and, and a lot of times it can be your shrink when things go blow up. We all need that, right? Because who else are we going to go to?

I'd love to invite all of you to go to the digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind just for agency owners. We'd love for you guys to apply.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 3_Pillars_to_Fill_Your_Pipeline_and_Grow_Beyond_the_3-Million_Mark.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Would you like to successfully bootstrap your way into a thriving agency? Rich Kahn has been fascinated by the internet since its very beginning in the 90's. He started a newsletter to talk about new internet developments and grew his audience to a point where he got offers to advertise products. He realized with a relatively small investment in hardware and his home internet connection he could make profits of thousands of dollars. From that point, he made sure every little success in his business could lead to further success by testing his ideas small and not going over budget. In his conversation with Jason, they talked about his formula for bootstrapping a business into success, why a bootstrapper should always be willing to learn everything they can about a business, and the importance of differentiating between profit and profit margin.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Bootstrap from success to success. The internet has been a passion for Rich from day one and led him to start his first business, a newsletter. He quickly grew his following and started advertising on it. He did this with a very small investment, some hardware and the internet connection he already had. So he turned a couple hundred dollars into thousands in earnings. “That’s how I’ve always done it,” he explains. “You just kind of take one success and roll it into the next.” When he gets a new idea, he tests the waters small to see if there’s approvability. Then he runs a bigger test and, if that works, he just keeps growing that and scaling that as fast as you can with budget you have.
  2. Learn as much as you can. If you’re planning to bootstrap a company, you should try to minimize costs wherever you can. Of course, at some point it may be better to look for investors, but at the very beginning, when you're first figuring out your business model, margins, and everything else, you have to be a sponge and be willing to learn. For his first company, Rich took a week off from work to learn everything he could about HTML and web design and started making websites for his clients. “You gotta be working 70, 80, 90 hours a week to learn everything and do everything that needs to get done because you can't afford to bring in a high-end CFO to help you manage funds,” he insists.
  3. Profit vs. profit margins. Something he always makes sure his team and clients understand is the difference between profit and profit margin. A lot of times people get hung up with trying to make 70 or 80% margin on a campaign that at margin level there will be not enough room to scale it. In the end, you may have a killer margin but are making $2 on a campaign. It’s important to try to maintain a balance between the profit and the profit margin. Although it’s hard to talk in general terms when there are so many business models and variables, Rich recommends proving something that works and find the scaling point and always keep in mind that you pay the bills with the profit, not with the profit margin.

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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Be Willing To Learn Something New and Bootstrap Your Way Into a Thriving Agency

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

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? Jason Swenk here. And I have an amazing guest where we're going to talk about bootstrapping your agency and how to grow it. I'm excited to get into it. So let's jump into the show.

Hey, Rich. Welcome to the show.

Rich: [00:00:18] Hey, thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:20] Yeah, man, excited to have you on. How have you been able to bootstrap a lot of these companies? So let's talk about some of the companies that you've done and how you bootstrapped them and grew them over the years.

Rich: [00:00:32] I guess bootstrapping is done regardless of the business. So we've done everything from email newsletter, right? And email marketing, basically back in the nineties, early nineties, like 93. I ran an ISP out of my house with 300 phone lines coming in. I've ran click networks, I've ran contests search engines, and now an ad fraud solution. And the bootstrapping technique for me has always been the same.

Take what little resources you have, and most of my companies have had just a couple thousand bucks to get started, and really do as much of the work as you possibly can yourself. Even if it comes to web design, learn it yourself, or you hire some people that can do it very inexpensively because you've got to protect that what little budget you have. And get the company started, right?

As I've started to see a little bit of success in small pockets of each of the different companies and each company's a little different. But when you start making a little bit of profit from something that I zero in on that, to make sure it's actually profitable and it's not just a fluke and slowly start to scale that up.

As I was able to scale up stuff like that, go back to 93, my email newsletter. I was writing a newsletter because… it actually, it wasn't for profit. It was just fun. I was thrilled with the internet. It was launched in 91 for public consumption, I think it was September 1st of 91.

93 I got started and I started writing articles on all the new things that were happening and what was making it… Because I knew this was going to change the world. I just, I was hooked day one. And so I started with just writing a letter because I thought like a newsletter that I thought it was interesting. And I thought people would be interested in it.

Back then with a couple of months I had over 20,000 subscribers, which back then was a lot, considering the makeup of the network and everything, there was more…

Jason: [00:02:14] Were they all AOL email addresses?

Rich: [00:02:17] Yes. Yes. What ended up happening was I was a big chatter in the AOL chat rooms and I would jump to the chat room, just say, hey, I've got a newsletter talking about the changing internet. If anybody's interested, sign up here.

And that's all I did. And I ended up getting 20,000 subscribers that way all up. Back then they didn't call it opt in, but it was all opt in. I just started writing because it was something that I found interesting. And I'm not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, but it was something that I wanted to do.

And probably once I broke about 10,000 subscribers, somebody said, hey, can I advertise in your, in your newsletter? I thought, sure, why not? And so I tested it on one article. I wrote in, I had one person advertise in it and obviously it was all profit, cause it was, there was no cost to my part. I was just my internet connection. And that was pretty much my total overhead for the month. And it made money.

I'm like, wow, this is pretty cool. And as I'm analyzing saying, wow, this might be a business model, because the Ms model didn't really exist back then. Also, after the first article opposed I got three or four more people said, hey, can I advertise in your newsletter?

So, again, I started the company buying some software to help me manage the list. I had my AOL connection, my normal internet connection, some hardware upgrades that I needed to do. So that was my initial cost. Put a couple hundred bucks into it, nothing crazy. And before you knew what I was making a couple thousand a week, just from people wanting to advertise in the newsletter. That started the growth from there.

And then what was interesting, again, bootstrapping the whole way. Somebody again said, hey, you know, the worldwide web is out now. Maybe you can start a mall. I'd be happy to sign up and have a store in your mall. Cause that was kind of the thing back then. So I put a newsletter, I put a newsletter out, said, hey, we're going to put together a web mall. I'm going to basically build your website, give you three pages, do all the design work, host it for X number of dollars. If you're interested, you know, send me money.

It was, it was that poor of a campaign and I got something like in the first week I got like eight or 10 grand. So it took a week off from work, because of course it was still working full-time, and read 2000 pages of HTML and then graphic design and put together the whole mall, wrote all the 50 or 60 websites, whatever it was. When it was all said and done, I finished it up in a week and the mall was launched and we were up and running.

And that, that's how I bootstrapped into that. And all of a sudden we started growing a web development business. Then the next thing was people like, hey, I see that you guys do web development services. Do you offer a way to connect to the internet? I'm like, all right, I'm sure I could figure this out. So I, I ordered a couple hundred phone lines into my house from Verizon, got a T1 routed to my house.

There was a big story behind that, but. You, just kind of take one success and roll it into the next. And that's how I've always done my stuff. So if I came up with the idea and not all the, not all my ideas were successful. But you came up with an idea, you test the waters small. And if there's approvability, then run a bigger test and that, that if continues to prove itself, just keep growing that and scaling that as fast as you can with budget you have naturally, you know. You don't want to start taking loans and bringing on partners.

I have not had any luck, you know, going after funding and stuff like that. That's, I've always had to bootstrap and you just continue to parlay your success into the next success, until the next success. Until next thing you know, we end up selling that company. So, again, I'll start bootstrapping. You know, one of my more successful companies, we started with five grand and just took a while to parlay each little success into the next and trying to find out what campaigns worked until the next thing you know, you're doing really well.

You know, you’re winning 500 awards, you know, winning Ernst & Young awards. I mean, you start winning all this other stuff and people recognizing what you're doing. And it all started with $5,000 investment. So you can definitely bootstrap your way to big money, but you gotta be very careful with how you do it.

It's always just testing the wins and like, I'll remember the first one, I'll give you an example. I ran a campaign that I was testing and I made 10 cents and I was flipping out. I was like, this is great. My wife's like you made 10 cents, big deal. I’m like, but you don't understand. I only spent two and a half cents to make that 10 cents.

Now, if I could multiply that by a factor of a hundred thousand or a million, we could make some money, but this looks like a scalable... And like, she couldn't understand like initially why I was jumping up and down about seven and a half cents profit. But when it's 75% profit and you start doing the math and you start, and then you start proving that it is a scalable solution, things get a lot more exciting.

But again, testing something as simple as, as a 10 cent campaign. You know, with a seven and a half cent win. To me, I get excited about as a bootstrapper

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That leads me to kind of think about, because… Yeah, I mean, in the early days, I'd be like, well, yeah, who cares about the couple of cents. But how are you able to kind of multiply that by a million?

Rich: [00:08:15] That's the trick. Whenever I talk to clients from an agency voice, I always, I explained to them, there's two things. There's your profit margin. And then there's profit, right?

You pay your bills with profit, not with margin. So a lot of times people are so hung up with trying to kill the margin and make, you know, 60, 70, 80% margin on a campaign that at that campaign, at that margin level, there's just not enough room to scale it.

So maybe you're making two bucks on that campaign for the month. You can't do any with two bucks, even though you have a killer margin. So what I was trying to talk to my agency guys about, and the buyers is there's a good balance between your margin and your profit. You pay bills with profits. So I would rather have give up margin so I can scale it versus focusing on killing the margin and not being able to scale it.

So depending on the campaign, depending on the business model, there's a lot you have to contend with. And again, each there, you know, it's hard to talk in generalities because there's just so many different business model types, but you got to prove something that works and find, find the scaling point.

Like, don't worry so much about the margin. Worry more about how much cash you're going to put in your pocket that month. Because that's how you pay your bills and that's how you make money.

Jason: [00:09:29] I always tell everybody it's like… When you're scaling, you don't have to worry about that as much. Like, there'll be like, oh, if we dip below this certain percentage, then you know, hey, we're in the red, but you're doing this for the longterm.

And you know you're investing in the number one resource, you, that you can rather than putting it in the stock market or putting it somewhere else. So I'm like, hey man, go do it. So this has all been amazing, Rich. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?

Rich: [00:10:04] Uh, you know, I've seen lots of companies do very well with bootstrapping. I've seen lots of companies do very well with investors getting, you know, raising capital. And I always point to like if you have a really good, unique idea, that's hard to enter into the marketplace because you've got some unique IT, IP or something like that. Sometimes going after funding is the right way to go.

Like look at the big companies that we all know how many of them bootstrapped? Very few, right? They always got to a certain inflection point where they said, okay, now it's time to bring it. And there's a certain point where it makes sense to bring on outside money so that you can really scale something fast. If Facebook didn't bring on investors, we may not have heard about it. They may not have been as big as it is.

They blew up once they brought on their investors who had, you know, different relationships, different ideas, different experience in managing a company at that level. So for a bootstrapper, you know, in the very beginning, when you're first figuring out your business model, first, figuring out your margins and everything else, you gotta be a sponge and you gotta be willing.

It's not like, hey, I own a business. I can sit back and work the hours I want. That doesn't work with bootstrapping. You got to bust your ass. You gotta be working 70, 80, 90 hours a week to learn everything and do everything that needs to get done because you can't afford to bring in a high-end CFO to help you manage funds.

Can't afford to do that. You have to do that yourself. Maybe you have that skill, maybe you don't, but you have to sit back and learn as much of the areas that you don't know about. Maybe you don't know about content marketing, maybe don't know about SEO. You need to learn it, because you can't afford to pay someone else to… The only thing you do have is time and you don't have a lot of money to invest as a bootstrapper.

Well, most bootstrappers don't have a lot of money to invest, so you really have to focus on learning everything you don't know. And the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know anything. So you've got to really spend the time a good chunk of your time, learning every aspect of your business in order to how to grow it.

Podcasts like this are awesome because... When I was growing up in the business, there were no podcasts, there were no… People that you can turn to, you couldn't connect with people who knew the space very well easily. Unless you knew their phone number, you weren't getting in touch with them.

So today's, you know, entrepreneurs that are coming up in this space that are bootstrapping have access to all this great content, you know, tidbits like this, you know, 10, 12-minute podcasts they can absorb and pick up some information from experts who've done it for years. That is invaluable information.

And you really gotta get plugged into the right places to learn as much as you can about the areas that you don't know. So you can grow your business without having to go hire somebody to do it.

Jason: [00:12:28] Love it. What's a website, or how can people get in touch with you if they want to chat with you?

Rich: [00:12:33] I'm on LinkedIn. I got a huge following and I post almost on a daily basis on LinkedIn, just Rich Kahn. Or you can find me all the contactinformation@anura.io, which is the current company that I'm growing.

Jason: [00:12:45] Awesome. Well, everyone go check that out and, Rich, thanks so much for coming on the show. If you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to fast-track your agency a little bit more, and you want to know some of the systems, some of the framework that's working for agencies that's worked for me and what I would actually use again, I want you guys to go to jasonswenk.com/playbook and request an invite and check out all the systems that we have.

That's jasonswenk.com/playbook. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Is your agency constantly innovating and evolving in order to stay relevant? Clients needs are constantly changing as technology evolves. Are you keeping up with what clients need? Julia Smith has worked in digital advertising for over 25 years and has made a name being her client's mouthpiece. They even call her "the voice." She took that concept and formed her agency The Digital Voice, a B2B boutique PR agency that brings brands to life through engaging PR campaigns, awareness-driving communications, and immersive virtual experiences. Julia sat down to talk to Jason about how her agency has changed over the years, especially after the pandemic, and how this has ultimately had a positive impact on the agency. She also discusses the transition from being just a PR agency to being an experience agency, and what she wishes she had known when she first started.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Being a virtual voice. Before she started her own business, Julia worked at a company that didn’t quite know how to label what she did. They settled on “the voice” to describe that she was basically the company’s mouthpiece with everything she did. She represented them on stage and before the press and was their voice in sales and throughout all their business. She later took that concept with her when she decided to create her own PR agency and continued to represent her clients, organize events, networking events, speaking slots, etc for years after that. Every year brought different changes, but 2020 brought a real shift in the way her agency was doing things.
  2. The transition to agency experience. For Julia, the last 18 months especially have brought a lot of change and evolution that has had a huge positive impact on them and their clients. “It made us stop. It made us think a little bit more about how we can use every platform possible,” she explains. The agency went from relying on networking events, standing on stage, and getting their clients speaking slots to investing in a platform to now offer speaking events with live voting polls and 3D networking floors. How to use that on social media? You can use that same content of the speaking event and can take snippets of that to social media and do polls, write a news story based on that, do a thought leadership piece, do Q&A's and a podcast. This is what they now bring to their clients.
  3. The impostor syndrome. One thing that Julia wishes she had known when she first started her agency is that, more than vanity metrics like whether or not you have a huge reach, it’s all about who are you? Are they you for the message? What are you trying to say and who do you say it to? Now it is all about taking that and make it count and make it measure and show that the value is there. She used to let those vanity metrics get to her and have impostor syndrome but now she feels confident having a wide range of clients and loves working with startups. She has also accompanied some of her clients on their journey from being a small tech company to taking the step of going public.

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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Be Your Client's Voice and Make a Transition from Just PR Agency to Experience Agency

{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. I'm excited to have another amazing episode for you. We're going to talk about how a PR agency is really morphing to an experience agency. And even if you're not a PR agency, you're going to benefit from this episode. So let's go ahead and get into it.

Hey, Julia. Welcome to the show.

Julia: [00:00:27] Hi, Jason, how you doing?

Jason: [00:00:29] Yeah, I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?

Julia: [00:00:32] So I'm Julia Smith. I'm the founder and MD of a B2B PR agency called The Digital Voice.

Jason: [00:00:40] Awesome. And how long have you been doing your agency?

Julia: [00:00:44] Well, you know what I suddenly realized that I've just gone over a quarter of a century last year in working in digital advertising. But I set up, which is shocking in itself, but I set up the digital voice it's going to be 10 years next June since I set out.

Jason: [00:00:59] Wow. Congrats. And, and how did you get started by starting your own agency? I always like to know that origin story.

Julia: [00:01:06] Yeah, but you know, it's strange because actually the name of the company is based upon… about 11, 12 years ago I was working for a company and they couldn't think of what to call what I did.

And we settled on the voice, because almost that’s what I was for them. I was the voice, the mouthpiece of that business. And I did everything for them from represent them on stage and the press. And I was their mouthpiece and sales and throughout all their business. And that's when I then a year later decided it was time to set up on my own. And so The Digital Voice was born.

It's kind of out of how a lot of people know me as the voice in this industry. Probably stems from the fact that I have a very big mouth as well.

Jason: [00:01:50] Awesome. And, um, how has your agency changed over the years?

Julia: [00:01:56] Do you know what? It's been a complete change at every year. But more so in the last 18 months that we've had to, as everybody has had to is evolve their businesses. And I think it's, it's had strangely hugely positive impact for us and for our clients.

It made us stop. It made us think a little bit more about how we can use every platform possible. And we had to stop being so reliant on networking events, standing on stage, getting our clients speaking slots, being able to set up wine and dine, networking, physical events.

And you actually took a step back and went, hand on a second? We can make this complete, an experience in everything that we do and on every platform. And it ended up as a company we went from being… So I think 10 years ago it would just have been about content. It would have just been about press and content and every year is added on more and more.

And this year, I was thinking about before coming on here, Jason, and thinking, what do we do? And it’s actually press concept, thought leadership, SEO, social media, newsjacking, virtual experience, speaking, awards…  It’s everything. And it becomes very much of taking, uh, the voice, being the voice for clients in the new way of communicating. So big changes.

Jason: [00:03:24] Oh, yeah, definitely. And tell me, you know, because our industry is really, there's a ton of… Kind of male owners. And there's far fewer, you know, woman-owned agencies. Why do you think that? And tell us a little bit more about that because I always love having women on the show because I'm like, oh, another woman, this is awesome.

Julia: [00:03:50] Well, you know, it's strange you say that. Cause I, I know quite a lot of female owners of agencies, actually, over here of PR agencies. And lucky, I'm lucky enough to be co-founder of Digital Leading Ladies. And I'm a member of Bloom. All of these different organizations. So I kind of don't see it. I see a lot of women actually running their own companies.

I'll tell you why this also it's a massive benefit. I did it 11 years ago because I had young children. It enabled me to work the hours I wanted to work. And I still work strange hours that I do 6:30 AM to four, because at four o'clock my children, who are now teenagers, they walk in the door then. And my rule was that I'm then… They don't really need me, but should they need me, I can open that door. I can be there for them after that.

So running your own company actually gives you complete flexibility to choose how you work and what you work. Interesting enough, we were a team of nine, 10 women. We've now changed and we've got three and seven now. And so my, the, the, my head of content, Adam was delighted, he was like, thank goodness he was getting so outnumbered.

But to my mind, I'm still one of those believers that it's about who does the job right and nothing more. And I don't think it should even be, I don't see it, or I've never felt in any way that I've missed out or been treated unfairly for being a female.

Um, I actually feel quite positive and I've had, I believe, quite a positive experience. And it's what you make is how. If you don't make it in too much of an issue and you're strong in what you do and what you say, and, and you're, um, reviewed based on what you deliver.

Jason: [00:05:34] Yep. Exactly. And that's, that's how it should be. Tell us about kind of the transition from the agency to delivering more of an experience.

Julia: [00:05:44] Yeah, this is an interesting one. So I describe it like this. So I was saying to my clients, you know we get them… we ended up last year investing in a virtual experience platform called Rainbow. And I love it. It's fantastic because what it did was we create virtual experiences. And it is just that, it's an experience.

You can do live, you can bring people up on stage. You can do live voting polls. But it goes to, we have 3d networking floors, where you actually mix and mingle in bar rooftop lounges. We've got, we've done campfire settings. We did loads of Christmas parties and what we always discover… that kind of that's one part. So you create an experience, but then we also said to our clients that everything you do needs to be off of one thing.

So say you speak at an event. That's an experience. But let's look, go further. How do we take that experience and keep the engagement going on social media? You take snippets of that video of you speaking and you pop it on to your social, but you then do a poll saying I've got three other topics that are going to be talked about. Which one do you want to vote on what comes up next?

You take comments and news jack. You then write a news story based on what I said at that event, what the clients said. You then take it into a thought leadership piece and then you do Q&A's and then you do a podcast with Jason Swenk. And all of it is kind of building up though… It becomes not, it's not so two-dimensional then, is it? It's everything is about the experience. How do you feel, how does the audience feel? How much engagement…? That's the experience. How are we engaging? And can we make it into more of an experience?

Jason: [00:07:26] I love that. I love creating things and an experience. And I want to take a brief 20 seconds to have a mastermind member come on and tell you about the digital agency experience, which you kind of set it up pretty well.

So let's go ahead and hear what Justin has to say real quick.

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Justin: [00:07:43] I was just talking to one of the other members a little bit ago. And I was like this event is absolutely incredible. And I've been to a lot of events and I think I have like 19 pages, something of notes. And we're only part of the way through day two.

And I came at it with no agenda, but I came at it because I'm, we get holed up in our little bubbles. You know, we go through the grind. We're in the office every day, or, you know, we're working with our employees, we're working with our clients and I really just wanted to be a group of people that have been there and done that, that can speak the same language, have some of the similar problems that I have.

And I have found that to be the case, meeting a lot of great new friends now and making a lot of great connections and learning a whole heck of a lot that I'm going to take back.

In fact, I've been messaging my business partner non-stop like, Hey, it's go time when we get back, because I've got a lot of good things to him.

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Awesome. Well, thanks, Justin. If you guys are interested in more of the digital agency experience, go to digital agencyexperience.com and check it out. All right, let's get back to you, Julia, and talking more about what are some of the things that you wish you knew about five years ago? That would benefit you in your agency. Now today

Julia: [00:09:52] Vanity metrics meant everything five years ago, and that's how we were perceived. And I didn't have the confidence then to go it doesn't have to be that you've got to be seen in the big types lists and obviously in the US the Bloombergs and the CNNs and the Forbes. And they’re great. But what I wish I knew is I had the confidence to go, you know, in the same way that I work with advertising and companies.

And they're trying to always say, we're all about targeting. We can take your brands and we can talk at the exact user at the right time, right place. That should follow through in PR. That we now work with titles that are so wide-ranging and we don't care necessarily on their huge reach it's about who they are? Are they right for the message? What are you trying to say and who do you say it to?

And then match that up and, and then make it count and make it measure. And make it show that the value is there. It's not all about the scale and the reach. And I wish I'd had the confidence to do that. Cause I think, I think you start to, you get that imposter syndrome when you're not appearing in those big titles.

And for a lot of our clients, we work with Adtech and MarTech companies predominantly. We love working with startups. Two of our clients have been one of them has been with me seven and a half years. They went from a smaller company and they're about to IPO next year.

Another company doing the three years there was, starts out, they're about to IPO next year. I love those companies. Now for them, they're startups. They were never going to get into those big mainstream titles. But what we have the confidence now to do, and they love it and they get. Is that it's about what you're saying and the audience that's buying that.

And the same goes for social. It doesn't matter if, it's not about how many, it's not about how many followers you necessarily gained through. It’s who followers are and how engaging they are and what your percentage of engagement. Wish I’d known that. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.

Jason: [00:11:50] I know, I, I think there's a lot of us that have that imposter syndrome, right? It's kind of like, or, and we look at the wrong metrics and we look at those vanity metrics. I mean, I always tell agencies, you need to be creating content and really building your brand. And a lot of times for the first couple of years, they get discouraged. They're like all the a hundred people checked it out.

What if they were the perfect hundred clients for you?

Julia: [00:12:16] A hundred percent. We always say this and it's, uh, you know, you just go, it only takes one. It needs just one person to actually responded and go pick up the phone and make that sale, you know, for a lot of these companies. And that's what we're enabling going actually let's look and see what, uh, how it worked and how it responded.

I also try to explain to people it's about the mix with anything it's trying different things. See what works, see what fits and the same way you do within your day to day, life of trying on clothes. You then find what fits and what works. The main message I always say is Be loud. Be brave, be you. Do not try and change, do not to try and be like somebody else. It will ultimately fail.

And especially for agencies who are looking at, with their own with trying to advise the brands. Those that can be consistent in their tone and their message and ultimately make it resonate. It makes it far easier for the whole company to get behind you when you going, oh, I get it. I'm just, that's who we are. That's what we do. Be loud, be brave, be you.

It's kind of my big mantra that I try to…

Jason: [00:13:20] I love it. If people want to know more and check out the agency where can they go?

Julia: [00:13:24] So they can go to thedigitalvoice.co.uk or check us out on LinkedIn. So what we do, we almost use our LinkedIn, the digital voices, our runbook, and see all the different pieces of content from our brilliant clients. Or link in with me, Julia Smith.

I'd be delighted set to meet with them as well.

Jason: [00:13:42] Well, awesome. Julia, thanks so much for coming on the show. You rocked it. Thanks so much. Make sure you guys go check out the website.

Ad if you guys want to come to the next Digital Agency Experience, I want you guys to go to digitalagencyexperience.com and apply, and maybe you'll be with us at the next experience.

Until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Scott Harkey had a rocky start in the agency business, having to keep other jobs while he tried to get his agency, OH Partners, off the ground. It took time, but he built his reputation and now runs a stable of agencies, as he says. Scott talks about how the first years of agency growth are always difficult and why new agency owners should give themselves a long runway to get their business off the ground. He also reflects on the mistakes he made and why he should have focused on strategic growth and talks with optimism about the future of the agency business, where he sees tons of opportunities for independent agencies that are starting out as well as opportunities to rebuild trust with clients, which is at an all-time low.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Getting your agency off the ground. For Scott, the biggest challenge to getting over the million-dollar mark was gaining the experience he needed to project the confidence that would actually lead him to land jobs. “You almost have to earn confidence in this business,” he explains, “because people are smart and they smell your bullshit.” He advises people who want to make as an entrepreneur to give themselves a long runway until that plane finally gets off the ground. It’s very difficult, as he acknowledges, it will take time and you will need to become an expert on your client’s business before you can confidently say that you know exactly how to do a great job for them.
  2. Stop wasting time on bad pitches. After working hard to getting his agency off the ground and past the million-dollar mark, what would Scott do differently? For starters, he wishes he had been more strategic about growth. He is sure he wasted too much money on bad pitches and that he should have considered that the agency didn’t have the capabilities for that yet. “I should have only pitched what we had business pitching or key relationships that I had,” he says looking back. Another regret was holding on to unprofitable accounts. We’re all guilty of this, low-dollar pain in the ass clients that you didn't let go quick enough. “If I had done both of those things. I would probably be at 50 million in fees right now,” he adds.
  3. Hope for the future. With client dissatisfaction rates in the industry at 80%, Scott believes this is something we should all take seriously and try to work on. The good thing is, this industry tends to thrive during difficult times. There’s real opportunity to see eye to eye now that clients increasingly have more in common with agencies and can learn from each other. So there’s reason to be optimistic, he says, at a time when bad practitioners are getting weeded out of the industry and people who are doing things the right way have a ton of opportunity. “Especially for independent agency owners,” he insists. It is a good time for small agencies that want to do the work and build their reputation.

Stop Wasting Time on Bad Pitches & Earn the Confidence to Get Your Agency Off The Ground

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here, and I have an amazing guest who's grown a really big agency well over the eight-figure mark. And we're going to talk about his path to starting the agency, to growing it, to scaling it. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Scott. Welcome to the show.

Scott: [00:00:24] What up? Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:25] Yeah, man. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you guys do?

Scott: [00:00:30] My name's Scott Harkey, I run a stable of agencies. You know, anything from a film company to a research company, to a digital social agency. And been doing it about 13 years. We have 170 ish employees corporately based in Phoenix but also have an office in Las Vegas.

So, uh, I do a lot of clients within entertainment, casinos, hotels. And then, you know, other stuff, CPG, healthcare. Faking it till we make it, uh, until they keep hiring us.

Jason: [00:01:02] We all do that.

Scott: [00:01:03] …continue to hire us for 13 years and then sometimes we get fired too, but that's okay.

Jason: [00:01:08] That's awesome. How did you start the agency?

Scott: [00:01:12] Funny story. So I started the agency with my second cousin once removed. He was in the agency business. I was selling radio. His dad, my uncle was in the agency, great uncle, was in the agency business for twenty-five years. And, uh, I wanted to be in the agency business and literally like, no one would hire me because they thought I was a radio sales guy or a billboard sales guy.

So he and I talked and he just lost his biggest client and his partner left. And he had one other small client that I think produced like $8,000 in revenue, it was the Arabian Horse Show. And, uh, he filed the paperwork next day and we started an agency in his kitchen table and worked out of his little condo in Scottsdale with the two cats.

So I had a lot of motivation to get more clients so we could have an office and I wasn't in the condo with cats.

Jason: [00:02:04] There's nothing wrong with cats. I mean…

Scott: [00:02:07] Yeah, I love cats. It was fine, but like you have like a meeting and you have to, like, this was before like meeting for coffee was like, cool. We had to like fake it to like the, okay, you want to meet for coffee? Because they couldn't come to our office. It was embarrassing.

Jason: [00:02:19] Oh yeah, the cats would jump on them?

Scott: [00:02:23] Yeah, it was like what? You're in a kitchen table. This is like a, you're like in an apartment, bro. Like, what’s going on?

Jason: [00:02:28] I remember my first address for Solar Velocity. It was 9 25 Canterbury Street, suite 250, because I was in apartment 250.

Scott: [00:02:40] Exactly. Yeah. So we, we got an office after that. Like, you know, there was like bail bondsman and like some weird clientele. I was just happy to have an office. Like I didn't, I did not care. So, uh, it's funny to see like what we've come now. Like we're all have high-end tastes now in office and stuff. Like we've scrapped this out.

Jason: [00:02:59] Exactly. Let's talk about the different couple stages that you've probably gone through. So how long did it take you guys to get over the million mark? And what was the biggest challenge for getting over the million mark?

Scott: [00:03:10] Yeah. That's the hardest part, honestly. I think it took us… I mean, I, I remember like leaving radio and I was like pretty confident.

Like I was like, oh, I've got three or four clients I know are going to come with me. And none of them did. And I can remember, like my first client was like a personal injury attorney that I like had to like beg to hire us. And he would spend a lot of money in the market and he was, he was insane. But it probably took us three years to get over the million mark in fees.

It was so hard, dude. That's why I always tell people, like, when they're starting out, like give yourself a runway. Give yourself a long runway because it's not smart… And I think to make it an entrepreneurship, I think it's just the people that like have the longest amount of time to get this big plane up off the ground.

And then once you get off the ground, that's where people… You know, I think it's overstated, but like hockey stick growth and it can like go. But like getting that sucker off the ground is it's horrible. Like you need other jobs. Home hosts, you know, like I was still selling billboards like part-time. I had like some rental houses, like I was hustling. Anything I could get to like scrounge money just to like make sure that we had enough longevity to like, get this thing going.

Jason: [00:04:23] What were some of the different things that allowed the plane to take off?

Scott: [00:04:27] I think there's something inside of us that like, you almost have to earn confidence in this business. Because people are freaking smart and they smell your bullshit. And like, if you don't believe your own bullshit, like no one else is going to believe it.

So I think for me, it's about doing the work and failing enough times to where you know, like you're up, gonna bat. You're in a pitch or like, you know, a business so well, like, you know you're going to make somebody money. Like until you are sitting across from a client and you are so confident that you can drive a business outcome, then I don't think you're going to get any business.

And for me, that stupid personal injury attorney, like I knew everything about his business. I had studied everything. I knew how I was going to buy the media. I knew how the spots were going to be different. I knew everything I got and he knew it because I was, I literally told him that like, if we didn't improve his business, I would give all my fees back to him.

I was like, I had to beg this guy. And then the same thing happened when we won the Arizona Lottery account. It was a, it was a $55 million account in Phoenix in Arizona. And, uh, I studied the lottery business for two years before the pitch was up. Like I had lottery consultants. I literally have a master's degree in lottery business.

So when the pitch was up, I had talked to like every former marketing director. I talked to everyone, I looked at every form of pitch. And I think like in pitches, there's just a, there's a vibe of confidence that you've done the homework and that's when you're going to get business. And when you get business obviously that's when you start becoming profitable. You can't cut your way into profitability in the agency business.

It's about getting business and then keeping it. But initially, it's about gaining business. And I think you have to have like a real sense of confidence when you're going into a pitch like that.

Jason: [00:06:17] Yeah. I mean, we were talking kind of the pre-show it's kinda like, we think we do the best work. And I was like, we should all think that because if you know, you don't do the best. That's the problem. Like so many people come to me, they're like, Jason, how do you scale an agency? How do you grow? How'd you get to where you're, you're at?

I was like, we knew how to do something really well. And then we positioned that to the audience that we could do it really well for. And then that's how we were able to get the plane taking off and off the ground. But then it's kind of like, all right, now you've got the turbulence, right? The smack and the plane back down, or it's hitting the tarmac.

So what was the hardest part of scaling the agency for you to date?

Scott: [00:07:03] I think just in general, dealing with failures and. And I think in our business, the worst thing is perfectionism. And that's hard to say, right? Because in one hand, we're like, we need to do the best work. But on the other hand, I think perfectionism is a real disease in this business.

And you can't be in this business if you have that, because nothing's going to be perfect and there's going to be tons of stuff broken. And so I would say every year there's like a new failure learning that I have, um, that we've seen. And it's always different. And so I think the hardest part of scaling an agency is not being prepared for like the new failure you're going to face that year.

But having some maybe general skills or maybe some personal development that will just allow like perseverance through the failures that come. Like this year for me, it's been, you know, agency turnover and the great resignation. Last year, it was a major partner, minority partner fight.

You know, the year before that it was a ton of client loss year before that it was like mid-level managers that I was trying to empower and get less hands off on certain things and working more on the business, not in the business. So it's like every year there's like something you want to… In the early stages, it was like just trying to literally get business, anything.

In some years it was… I think I lost in one year, like 60 pitches. Like why was I pitching 60 pieces of business? I don't know, but I lost 60 pieces of business. And I think like each year the learning from those failures, catapults, like to the next form of growth. And I think like, we all want like just a steady Eddy kind of growth, but this business is so volatile it typically is like this, but like the trend line is like this.

And I always notice like my worst prior ends up being my best year, the next year, right? Like it's preparing me for the next step that I think we need to get to. So I think that's the hardest thing is that you're like in an octagon and you don't know what punches are going to be thrown, but you know, you've got to like figure shit out and, and, and kinda like get counselors, get mentors, get coaches, listen to the industry.

And like figure out your move and your counter punch when those come through. I think that's the hardest part.

Jason: [00:09:22] Yeah. Well, yeah, I mean, it's like Mike Tyson says, you know, you never know how you're going to take a punch until you get hit.

Scott: [00:09:28] Yeah, for sure.

Jason: [00:09:28] And, you know, we get hit all the time. It's just…

Scott: [00:09:32] All the time. Well, people are smart in this business. Like theirs. I, I'm not sure there's a business where there's more smart people that I've ever worked with. Well, there's been clients' side or other industries or lawyers or doctors. I talked to really smart agency people and they blow me away. They're freaking smart.

And I think, um, and they’re planners, like, like a lot of us are, or will be, we want to have a plan. That's the business we're in, we plan for clients. And so just to your point, when you're in the fire front, you get punched, the plan’s out the window and you're scrapping. And I think, I think that can really rattle people. And I think just the tenacious kind of scrappy, kind of street fighter mentality people end up pushing through that and the perfectionism like, hey, I have my perfect plan and now I need a new plan.

And like the freak out people, like, you're not gonna, you know, this business isn't for you and you're not going to make it.

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Yeah, you know, I never… I'd always have a north star, but I would never have a plan, right? Like I'm the type of person that when I'm building something, I always have extra parts because I'm more efficient. That's how I like to look at it. And I look at the agency business for me, even the community that we've built over the past seven years, it's always excelled when chaos has happened everywhere else.

And the same thing, like what I was telling you on the pre-show. I'm like, I really don't have anything planned to ask you. It's more, just a conversation. I'm really better at that. If I have to plan it out, I'm kind of like, oh, what's the next question I'm answering? And I can't be in the mode now.

Now that's just me, but I think kind of the moral of the stories is you have to figure out what's the truth or what's the north star of where you think you want to go. And then you start bringing on the right people to help you with that and realizing, and I think you probably will say this too… You're not going to be able to do everything, like your agency has grown to the multiple eight figures of where it's at now is probably because you brought the right people in and you probably said, who do I need to bring in rather than how?

Am I stretching or is that right?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Scott: [00:12:32] Yeah, I think, you know, I think for me, like, certainly we've done like every two years, we'll do a branding workshop for ourselves and we'll reevaluate mission, vision values, and, um, what we're trying to do. And certainly that's been successful. But I think when I'm at my best, I know when our agency's at our best, it's, we're open to a reset every day, every month, every year.

And I think people think when you, when there's a reset, like you're starting over. And I think like a reset, like I remember we were playing like, you know, Nintendo I'm, I'm older, but like, you know, I used to play Nintendo.

Jason: [00:13:08] I was Atari.

Scott: [00:13:10] Yeah, ok. So you’re older than me. Nintendo there's a little reset button and you would get to a point in a game and you're just like, screw this. And you like hit the reset button. You just start over.

You don't start over, you know, where the little points in the game are that like trip you up and so you can get through. And I think for even my life personally, my business life, like when I'm okay with like a reset and knowing I'm not fully starting over because I have, I have a wealth of knowledge.

We have a wealth of knowledge and agency and processes and clients, and, and we're just, we're just resetting, it's more like a digital campaign and like an optimization kind of, kind of piece to it. So I understand the north star and I agree, I think there should be a north star. But I, I also think kind of being willing to just reset things like everybody, hey, let's freaking reset real quick. Like, you know, what are we doing here?

And not be so, you know, not like die on the sword on some plan or some north star that you think is like, perfect. Like if we would've done what mirroring the industry would have said, we, we should have done, we would have no casinos and hotels clients. Like on our Vegas office, we'd like be doing CPG, you know? And now have like 60% of our businesses that, so I think just being open-minded to where the world and energy and your capabilities and your purpose, like is going to take you.

Jason: [00:14:31] Very cool. Now that we've talked about kind of getting the plane off the ground, let's talk about there's a lot of people listening, going alright, I'm in the multimillion-dollar mark, but I want to get over the eight-figure mark. For some odd reason. They want to do that because they think there's sunshine and rainbows over there.

But if you had to go back to yourself, when you were around the 3 million mark, what's a single thing that you would do in order to get to the eight-figure mark?

Scott: [00:14:59] It's a great question. I think I could, uh… I'm a wild card, I think I could have been a little bit more strategic on growth. I think I've wasted a ton of money on bad pitches.

I think I've convinced myself so many times that we can get a piece of business, which we couldn't. We had not, we didn't have the capabilities. We didn't have the experience. Didn't have the relationship. And I think I could have got to eight figures...

So that's like, okay. So like you're talking, like I get confused on the, I know that's kind of your terminology, but like I'm at like 5 million in fees and I'm trying to get to 10, right? How would I got there knowing what I know now?

Jason: [00:15:36] Yep.

Scott: [00:15:36] Yeah. I wasted money pitching. I should have only pitched what we had business pitching or key relationships that I had. And every time I can convince myself that we can get any pitch.

Jason: [00:15:47] Where you doing RFPs?

Scott: [00:15:49] Oh, yeah. Oh, hell yeah, I've done it all.

Jason: [00:15:53] You know what RFP stands for right?

Scott: [00:15:55] What?

Jason: [00:15:56] Requests for fucking punishment.

Scott: [00:16:00] Actually this digital agency we bought, Nomadic. They like, they laugh at me. They have so many brands within Fortune 1000 companies that came and talk about. Cause they’re like, they're like, here's the here's, it's 500 grand. You want us to do this, this and this or not? We don't report hours. We don't do RFPs, kind of blew my mind.

Jason: [00:16:17] That's how we were.

Scott: [00:16:19] It's smart. It's how it should be. Like people, you know, you need to build confidence with CMOs and people, you know, they… Just doing blank RFPs, rarely works. And even when you get them, you know, they're bad clients. Although I have had good success too. I mean, it's gotta be the right ones.

Like I pitched Monster and it costs me probably a million dollars. And then, you know, like everybody it's like, oh, you finished second. And I was just, I was devastated.

Jason: [00:16:44] A million dollars on a pitch. Wow. How much of a engagement would that have won you?

Scott: [00:16:51] Oh, man, it would have won me probably… three or maybe three to 5 million in fees.

I mean, I this business is like, uh, you know, we have a lot of casinos, you know, resorts is our client, Virgin’s our client.

Jason: [00:17:04] Put it all on black. You did it, you did it on that one.

Scott: [00:17:09] Exactly, bet on red. You know, but I do think… So I say that, but I do think you have to have some bets. You know, you have to have, if I wouldn't have made some, some crazy bets, like we wouldn't be where we're at. So it's hard to, but there's, you know, there's definitely some really crazy bets that I think if I would've taken back, especially early in our cycle. We weren't ready with the processes. We didn't have the talent capabilities. I think we could have got to that five to 10 million faster.

And then the second piece to that is I think I've held on to unprofitable accounts. That 80/20 rule always exists, right? You know, I've probably had three to five unprofitable, low-dollar pain in the ass clients that I didn't let go quick enough.

Jason: [00:17:51] Walk me through the mental on… Because I find that I'm guilty of it. We're all guilty of it. What was the turning point? What was the switch that you were like, dude, I'm losing too much money on this client. Get rid of them.

Scott: [00:18:03] I just think more data and awareness for internal operations, right? Like we had better systems to identify it more and you're not making biased decisions. You're making more data-driven decisions.

So we have an analytics group that really, we nail this shit really well now. So it's not like, oh, this is a $500,000 client. No, this is a $72 an hour client, you know, and we only make money at $92. So you're, you know, $200,000 client, you make $250 an hour on they’re actually great.

So just having better awareness for that. And I think, I think agencies should go through this process monthly and really have their finger on the pulse. And most likely everyone has the 80/20 rule. I, every year I've done it, I've had it. And I think I was losing out on organic opportunities with my big clients that I'm holding on to shitty low dollar, low dollar amount clients and low dollar per hour clients. Um, that also were a pain in the ass and it was just killing us. And I was burning people out…

If I'd figured that out earlier, probably even more so than pitching bad business. I could've got to eight figures faster. But if I would have both those things dammit. Man. I, I probably would be at like 50 million in fees right now. Now that I think about it.

Jason: [00:19:15] Well, we had mastermind members all the time… they're always looking to scale faster. And one of them, we do this exercise quite often and we identified for one of the mastermind members there was a number of different clients that he needed a literally double the rights in order to make it profitable.

And so literally we came up with a game plan and we just said, hey, just chat with them, double the rates. If you lose half of them. Okay. And that's what we were fully expecting. He retained all of them and literally by just talking to them, he increased his MMR by 60K.

Scott: [00:19:51] What's MMR? I'm not used to that terminology.

Jason: [00:19:54] Monthly recurring revenue.

Scott: [00:19:55] Okay. Yeah. Yeah.

Jason: [00:19:57] So just doing nothing. So that turned out to be what, 700,000 extra a year. And if you just do that, like, I'm glad you walked us through all of that, because at the end of the day, it's about pricing.

Scott: [00:20:10] And we suck at pricing. We suck. I've learned a lot around. And just what you said. I agree with, like you just go to the clients and be like, dude, here's the… I'm getting crushed. Like I'm out. Or we got to change and either they go away or you get, you get the rate.

Jason: [00:20:25] Awesome. Well, Scott, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Scott: [00:20:30] I, I do think that the industry is changing a lot right now. And like you said, I, I think that's when… That's our time to shine, honestly. I think this year, this has been my best year ever, you know, with all the chaos. But I do think that our client dissatisfaction rate in this industry is still at an all time high. I think it's in the 80 percentile.

Basically our clients say we suck as a, as an industry at serving their needs. I think we've got to solve that better. I think there is a real opportunity. And I, I think for the first time ever, we're seeing CMOs and VPs in marketing… We're seeing our clients and us have more in common than ever.

They all have agencies and we run agencies. So I think we can learn a lot from each other. And I think the new model is really trying to find gaps that they have, we certainly have. And being respected in the industry, I think it means a lot more. And it's really interesting, I think time for the business.

And I think the people that really run good agencies are doing things the right way have a ton of opportunity. Cause I, I think a lot of the, the bad practitioners are getting weeded out of the business. It's getting too hard for them to survive. So I would, I guess I would just leave the audience with like a sense of real optimism and encouragement.

And especially for independents, especially for independents, especially people grinding it out. The publics are, are so fucked right now. Good friends of mine run, run a lot of great agencies and some of our amazing agencies. And they're not going away. Let's not kid ourselves. But I think for the first time in our business, there's never been a better time to be an independent agency and to offer real solutions in a humble, cool vibe way to brand marketers.

And the playing field is probably more level than it's been in a long time. So that's, that's a lot of fun. That's what gets me really excited.

Jason: [00:22:22] Yeah. I interviewed someone and they're doing a lot of research and agencies fell… For trust levels, agencies fell between politicians and car used car salesmans. So let that all sink in guys.

It's, it's about building trust and reputation that, you know, it takes years to build, but seconds to knock down. Think about that.

So what's agency website people go and check you guys out?

Scott: [00:22:50] Yeah. So our, our main agency is ohpartners.com. A couple of our big sister agencies would be nomadic.com and a matteroffilms.com. And so you can see some of the additional agencies we have, but the main one is the ohpartners.com.

Jason: [00:23:06] Awesome. Well, Scott, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be around amazing agency owners that are constantly chatting about the industry, sharing what's working. Sharing what's not working. Be able to see the things that you're not able to see.

I want all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com now. This is our exclusive mastermind that is only for amazing agency owners. So go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Ben Worthen was a journalist for most of his professional career. During those years, he heard many marketing pitches and grew to dislike the type of marketing that focuses exclusively on selling a product. That's why, when making the transition to creating his own digital agency Message Lab, he focused on combining journalism, data, and design to create content that resonates with people. In this interview, about how he has focused on marketing that creates meaningful interactions. Ben also shares his agency’s growth strategy and why it's important to grow smart rather than growing fast.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Creating meaningful interactions. Most companies are focused on trying to sell you something all the time and are missing 90% of the chances to create opportunities for meaningful interactions. In this sense, Ben has never really liked the type of marketing that focuses exclusively on selling a product. Instead, when he transitioned from working in journalism to working in the marketing industry, he knew he wanted to bring his approach to storytelling to his agency and always ask “how can I make someone care?” This is what he tries to do for his clients. Making stuff and putting it out into the world with the goal of making it valuable.
  2. What’s driving their growth. When it comes to creating something that people will care about, you don’t want everyone to care. You’re trying to find your audience, find the people who care, and then focus on them and show them understanding, authority, and a plan. If you try to create something for everyone you’ll end up creating something for no one. This is what Ben has been working on to effectively communicate with people in the key non-sales moments and it is what has been driving his company’s growth. “You care about people that you're trying to reach, and those people are somewhat narrow,” he says.
  3. Growing smart. Despite seeing some pretty big successes in just three years, Ben regrets starting with the idea that running a digital agency would be really easy. This drove him to make mistakes like going on a huge hiring spree as soon as the company started to grow. We convinced ourselves that we had the business model of a high growth startup,” he recalls. This meant that, as much as they were growing, they were not growing smart or strategically. They were not investing through time and ewsearch strategy and trying to make their service better and that created what Ben calls weak growth. Now he tries to look at growth as an indicator that what they’re doing is what people want.

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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Focus On Creating Meaningful Interactions and Grow Smart, Not Fast

{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 on today's episode, I bring on an agency owner that's only been doing the agency for three years and has already grown a huge agency where a lot of you would like to be and created this singular mission. And we're going to talk about it a lot of what's worked for them and what's not worked for them. So this is really good episode. I hope you enjoy it.

Hey, Ben. Welcome to the show.

Ben: [00:00:32] Thank you for having me.

Jason: [00:00:33] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Ben: [00:00:38] I'm Ben Worthen. I'm the CEO of a company called Message Lab. And we are a content agency, which can mean all things to all people, but we have a very narrow focus, um… Specifically, we're focusing on using journalism and that kind of storytelling to help our clients communicate with the people that they want to reach outside of a sales opportunity.

So if you think about the world in terms of when you want to buy something and when you don't want to buy something, a kind of binary reductive way of thinking. If you're anything like me, I want to buy something five, 10% of the time.

And when I do, having someone come to me and give me a product information is really valuable, super helpful. But most of the time, I'm just a person in the world who wants to be entertained, want to be informed. I want to be engaged somehow. I want to flip through stuff on the phone. I'm going to have to search around to listen to something cool.

And our belief is that, you know, companies that are focused on trying to sell you something all the time, which is like, you know, most companies all the time, they're just missing so many opportunities, 90, 80% of the chances that they have to engage with you and have some sort of meaningful interaction around an idea.

So that's where we come in and that's where this background that we have in journalism and some other things that we do, which I'm happy to talk about, come into play. And where we think that we can create opportunities for meaningful interactions that over time are going to pay off for the companies we work with.

Jason: [00:02:03] Yeah. You know, I mean, that's a good mindset and a good north star to kind of follow because, you know, I would always, as I was training my sales team or as I’m you know, helping out the mastermind members… I'm like, look, you're not selling anybody anything. You're positioning what they actually need. But if you're trying to sell them something you've already lost.

You got to ask the right questions and really kind of position it in a way where… Let's just jump on a call. Let's see if we can work together, see if I can help you out. See if I understand your problem. And then if we do, and we both agree, then I'll tell you how we can work together. And it just kinda just takes down everybody's fences and then be like, all right, cool. That sounds good.

Ben: [00:02:47] Yeah, exactly. And imagine doing that in the digital environment where it's a one to many interaction. You know, there's the, the point, the number of times, you know, like a banner ad, as an example for a product is like the ultimate spray and pray, you know, experience. It's super cheap. It doesn't cost much to make, and it doesn't cost much to get in front of somebody.

But if you're lucky, 1% of people are going to be interested in it at any given time. So our whole mindset… And so I'll back up for a moment. Early in my career, for most of my career as a newspaper reporter, a journalist. I worked in the Wall Street Journal and I was someone who day in and day out, had companies come in and just try to pitch me.

And it was always this schlocky marketing message. And I would sit there very politely. But in my head of thinking like, you know, nobody cares, how on earth is this going to be interesting to people? And, you know, and I was the one who was being paid essentially to listen and hear out people. When I made my own transition to marketing, I think I brought with me some of that disdain for the way marketing has always been done.

And in particular, this notion of like, people just don't care, we don't care about what you're trying to say most of the time. And if you think about what you try to do as a journalist, you're really, you're sitting there trying to think about like, well, how can I make someone care?

You know, what's the story? I think this thing is cool. I think this guy, Jason has this great story. How do I tell it in a way it's going to be interesting to people? And that's sort of the filter through which you run everything. And as I spend more time in marketing, what actually happened was I gained a huge amount of respect for the rigor, the discipline, the analysis, the, the process, everything that goes into doing marketing on behalf of a big entity.

But I still couldn't let go of that notion of like come on, let's just make something people care about, you know, that can be valuable too. And when you're describing, you know, working with your team, you're talking about trying to create a moment that's valuable for the person on the other end of the phone call, uh, in that moment.

And what we're trying to do with our clients is do that same thing digitally. Do that same thing in a one-to-many scenario where you're making stuff and putting it out into the world. But the goal of it is to be cool. The goal of it is to be valuable. The goal of it is to, you know, find someone who has a problem and give them an answer that's going to help them.

It's not really about your product or to find someone who's curious about a topic and inspire them. You know, they don't know that they're looking for it, maybe, but it finds them and it creates a moment of value for them. And then, you know, from there, that's where the marketing part kind of kicks in, you know, what do you do with it? How do you make it part of your go-to-market motion?

How do you integrate it into, you know, the data collection and aggregation of everything else that you're trying to do? So that you can not just like make cool stuff and pat each other on the back, because like, wow, that was so cool. We love it. Shiny. But it's doing something for you. It’s valuable. And you can, you can look at… You can go to your boss at the end of the year, put up a slide that has some data points that shows what you've accomplished through making that kind of content.

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Yeah. And I think it's, you know, when you're trying to reach out to people and, you know, why is it important and share and care? It's not about caring for everyone. It's actually about like, trying to push the people that you don't care about away and create this little segment that you actually care about.  And then show them empathy and understanding and a little bit of authority and show them a plan.

And I think you can destroy it. I think most people try to be like, I'm this for everyone. And I'm like, you're this for no one when you actually try to do that. They just have a hard time wrapping their brain around it. I mean, that's, you know, we were talking to the pre-show like, you've grown your agency fairly quick and you're like, what was that impressive? I was like, yeah.

Some people wait a decade to get to where you're at. Some people never even get close Online Training for Digital Agenciesto it. I find when there's a turning point in the agency owner the mindset shifts a little bit. That's when their agency can really excel. And it's not all like, you know, like you said, it's not all about sales. It's about so much more in order to grow the agency. Do you agree?

 

Ben: [00:08:05] Yeah. Well, the funny thing listening to your description is the thing that I feel has propelled our growth is just looking at this challenge of you know, how do you effectively communicate with people in these non sales moments? And it's doing exactly what you said, which is, you know, you don't care about everybody. You care about people that you're trying to reach, and those people are somewhat narrow.

My mom, I always use this example, but my mom loves me dearly. And if I do something, she's going to read it. She's going to check it out. She's going to watch the video that…

Jason: [00:08:35] My mom is the same way.

Ben: [00:08:05] Yeah. You know and she's going to listen to this podcast. But, she's not going to buy something…

Jason: [00:08:41] Say hi mom.

Ben: [00:08:42] Hi, mom. She’s not gonna buy for most of our clients, right? You know, like our, our clients run the gamut from like B2B companies. It's just like, there's no way she’s gonna buy a million dollars worth of software. You know, it's just not plausible. And so it doesn't matter to them if my mom sees it and likes it. But that's where, you know, to go back to our growth, that's, what's been driving it. You know, it’s not…

I mean, yes, it's hard to make something cool, but it's not hard to make something cool. Lots and lots of people make cool stuff. And yes, we have our own way of doing it. We have our own way of positioning it. We can talk to about the skills that we use in order to make cool stuff. And, and that's part of it.

We have to bring together and our side people who are journalists and people who are designers in order to create experiences. But then like, let's go back to that question, right? Like how do you know that it's reaching the people that you want to reach? That's hard because it starts getting into how you promote it effectively, you know, how do you target?

How do you do segmentation? And then how do you know that that's working? And it gets into analytics and like, oh my gosh, now this is getting crazy, right? Because how do we, you know, page views for the web? That's like the first thing everybody looks at, right? Page views, because right. Well, if you're getting a million moms coming in, giving your page views, and if that's all you're looking at, you're going to think you're killing it. When in reality, You're not reaching the people that you're trying to reach.

And then it gets even more complicated because, you know, we're not really trying to sell something. We don't want you to, to click and buy. You know, what we're trying to get you to do is we're trying to create an impression. We're trying to prime the pump.

And that means that the key thing isn't, you know, did you click on the buy now button? The key thing is that you come back. You know, the key thing is if you came back another time where you more likely than somebody else to do something that we want? Then that's what you had previously had an interaction with our content.

And to do that you got to mix together a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds. And so for us, that meant like you got, we got to get people who can create the content. So we brought in a bunch of people who were journalists.

You know, we needed people who could make experiences that people wanted to consume, so we brought in a bunch of designers. And then we needed people who could do the promotion and the audience development and all of that, so we had to bring in into those people.

And then analytics. It's like, well, if the traditional way of doing analytics, isn't giving our clients the kind of data that they want, we kind of have to invent our own analytics. And so we did, you know, we hired a bunch of people who understood analytics, were able to grapple with this challenge of how do you do analytics specifically for content that isn't meant to sell people anything.

So our team just started to grow and grow as we introduce these new capabilities. And every single time we're introducing a new capability we didn't really have a market for it. We didn't have someone who wanted to buy it. We just felt like in order to do this work well, we needed to be able to do this. So we effectively brought on a team, built the team because we thought that the proper way to do this work needed to include the skills that they brought to the table.

And then something that we've had as sort of a through line in our experience was once we had the team in place, we could go either to our current clients or other clients. And we could begin to have conversations about the, hey, you know, it's cool. What if we were able to do this? And then only after we had the capability and the capability, would it be good to have a market opportunity to do it?

Jason: [00:12:15] Very cool. What's a big mistake that you made that you wish you could go, go back and redo?

Ben: [00:12:22] For me. And it's so laughable at this point was just thinking that this whole agency thing was really, really easy. Yeah. We had had this experience where in 2018, I walked into the coworking place and it was like, all right, great. Now we're a company. Let's see what happens.

And I was lucky that I knew some people who want to take a chance on hiring us. I say I was us even though, initially it was just me. You know, where able to pull together some teams, ran the whole business that first year on a spreadsheet. I had this enormously complex spreadsheet, but everything worked. The cells always added up.

And, you know, and things were growing. People were coming in. We're adding more people and very quickly at the beginning of year 2, 2019, we went on a huge hiring spree. And I think we convinced ourselves that we had the business model of a high growth startup, meaning that all we had to do was just bring on the people and no problem, no problem, no problem.

So we didn't grow smart. We just sort of found people that we thought were cool. And we brought them in and we also had simultaneously, we were going really fast, but I don't think that we were growing strategically. In the sense that we weren't selling the same set of activities, the same product over and over again. People were coming to us for a really broad range of things that broadly fit the skills that we had. And we were saying yes.

What ended up happening is I think it was what is called weak growth. We had pockets of revenue that if we took a step back weren't services that we would really ever sell again. And in that meant that we weren't staffed deliver it. We weren't, we weren't investing and through training through time through search strategy and making that service better for our clients.

And we weren’t creating a path for us to take the effort that we made, developing that and sell it to somebody else. And so when those projects went away, they just went away and we weren't able to take that and transition to some something else. So it took a little while to retrench our growth, also vastly exceeded our operational capabilities. We out kicked our coverage, to use a football analogy.

And it, it meant that we had to do some catch-up from a process standpoint, from our financial understanding of the business. Like they just didn't have a great read of what was happening. We were surprised at the end of every quarter, uh, which is not a place to be.

So we did a lot of work to fix those things, to have a, to refine what we did to narrow our focus a bit that. You know, it's tough because I think we look at the world through a lens of possibility and opportunity. And I still believe that to do the kind of work that we want to do is we want to do well. It requires more skills, more people with unique capabilities working together towards this one vision.

But now we're just having to be a little bit more smart about when we add that capability. Why we add it? Where does it fit in a roadmap? Versus just a like, yeah, come on. Let's do it.

Jason: [00:15:39] Awesome. Well, this has all been amazing, Ben. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the digital agency owners listening in?

Ben: [00:15:47] I don't think this is going to be relevant for everybody, but it's what's got us to where we are, which is there's a lot of things that matter as an agency and revenue is certainly one of them, profitability is one of them.

And we've adopted the mindset of looking at those factors as market validation for what we're trying to do. You know, if we are trying to put in place a new product. If we're trying to put together a new capability. If we’re trying to combine data and journalism and design and experiences in a way that people haven't done before, you know, the way that we're going to know is working is if we’re growing, if more people want the thing that we're doing.

And so rather than thinking of revenue as something that we're targeting and, you know, and, and designing around a revenue number, taking the model of saying, well, we have to hit this kind of growth as an indicator that what we're doing is what people want and looking at it that way.

And then designing the service that we think that we believe is what’s going to be the thing that drives us forward and then looking at that, you know, revenue profitability as the market telling us, yeah, you're right. This is, this is the thing that you want to do.

Jason: [00:17:04] Awesome. What's the agency website people can go and check out the agency?

Ben: [00:17:08] messagelab.com

Jason: [00:17:10] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Ben, for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, I want you guys to make sure you comment. Make sure you hit that like button and subscribe button.

I have a question for all of you. If you are wanting to grow and scale your agency faster, do you think it's easier to do it with people that are ahead of you that are in the digital agency world? Because there's lots of opportunities that you have from working with a number of different people out there.

But if you could be in a mastermind with amazing agency owners that are a lot further along than you, do you think you can grow faster? If the question is yes, I want you guys to go to the digitalagencyelite.com. I would love for you guys to apply after you check it out. And if you meet the criteria, then we'll have a conversation and see if it's right for you.

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

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

Do your clients have trust issues with your agency? How can you go about creating an honest rapport to build trust? Working at a larger agency Bob Bailey started to notice a trust problem. Clients are losing trust in their agencies. This trend has actually increased over time, with clients moving to in-house services. This is the opportunity he and his partners saw when they created their agency Truth Collective. They wondered "wouldn't it be great if a marketing agency could thrive by just telling the truth?" Then they set out to have honest conversations about strategy, creativity, and relationships. In his conversation with Jason, Bob spoke about all-time low trust levels in agencies, how he tries to build trust with potential clients from the first meeting, how he has built leadership teams in his agency, and why agency owners must themselves from being the fixer to empower their teams.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Honest rapport with clients. Trust in agencies has hit all-time lows, according to Bob. That’s not a place any of us would want to be. So how to gain back client trust in agencies? Especially in a time when more and more clients are moving to in-house many services. Bob believes the key to building trust starts with the initial conversation. He makes it a point to treat it as a conversation, not a pitch, and makes it about them. “I feel like squaring the meeting centrally right on their business and what they need is the place to be,” he assured. Also, he’s seen the positive effect of knowing who you are as a business and how you can help their business, instead of trying to do everything, which comes across as just wanting more money.
  2. Building leadership. As we always say, you can get to the million-dollar mark almost by accident. But to be a multi-million-dollar agency you’ll need to start building a structure, starting with your leadership team. Bob didn’t always get that right, in some cases because the people weren't quite right. But also because they weren't quite ready as new owners to really understand what that meant. They really had to look themselves in the mirror when the company hit a cap at $3.8 million and start to get serious about leadership. They needed more structure, so they selected a group and shared everything about the business with them. “If these guys are going to lead, they need all the information to become leaders too,” he acknowledges.
  3. Try to not be a fixer. How can you help your leadership team grow? Prepare them to solve issues and trust them. Bob and his partners started organizing weekly meetings with their leadership team to discuss new business leads and prospects, financial forecasts, what they call remarkable creative briefs and opportunities, they also talk about employees or client issues and possible solutions. This way, they started to prepare the leadership team and shared the information and metrics they may need to do their jobs. Ultimately, it is always about trusting that they are capable to face any issues that may come up. Agency owners normally get to where they are because they are very good at solving problems, but at some point it should be your team’s responsibility to do so.

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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Creating an Honest Rapport With Your Clients to Address Low Trust Levels in Agencies

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here. I have another great episode and we're not going to talk about frou-frou shit. We're going to talk about rebuilding trust in our industry, and we're going to go over some really cool things. And I didn't know, he was telling me in the pre-show Bob was telling me that agency trust is ranked between Congress and I think something else. He’ll tell us, I can't remember, but like it's pathetic.

So we're going to talk about what you can do in order to build trust. And if you have that trust, you can make more money, scale faster. and have the life that you want, where you have the freedom. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Bob. Welcome to show.

Bob: [00:00:49] Hey, Jason. What's up, man? Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:51] I almost forgot which buttons to hit. We were talking about frou-frou stuff before. I'm so messed up.

Bob: [00:00:58] I'm just going for the ride.

Jason: [00:00:59] Yeah. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Bob: [00:01:02] Jason, my name is Bob Bailey. I am one of the three founding partners of a creative company called Truth Collective.

And my role here is the CEO, which I have sort of reframed from chief executive officer to the chief everyone officer. And I don't know if that's frou frou stuff to you or not. But for me, it sort of keeps me focused on, you know, my most important thing and that’s my team. So thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:01:27] Yeah. As long as you're having fun and you guys are doing impact, I don't care what you call it.

So how'd, you guys get started in this crazy industry that we’re in?

Bob: [00:01:38] It's a good question. I've been listening to some of your shows and you know, a lot of folks, they tend to see a, a problem or a gap out there and they feel like they can fill that. And it was, it was similar with us.

We were working together at a, at a larger agency. And at the time, like there was just getting hard. Like it was, it was getting really, really hard. And we started seeing these patterns where consumers were trusting brands less. Agencies… clients were trusting their agencies less. And even like inside the agencies, people trusting each other less. And so we said, man, like… Wouldn't it be just really easy and wouldn't it be awesome if a marketing agency could thrive by just telling the truth?

Like, what if you were just honest about everything? What if you weren't like out there inflating case studies, inflating agency credentials presentations? What if you could just go out there and like be yourself and tell people the information that's going to really help them?

And it was a really like novel, like silly idea at the moment. But we really got behind it and, um, we've built, we built a business on that. And so it's been really fun.

Jason: [00:02:47] Well, how do you separate yourself? Because there's lots of agencies out there that are full of shit and they're not truthful. But they say they are.

So how do you guys do that? Like, tell me about the stat that you were talking about in the pre-show. And I kind of teased in the intro, like the agency industry is between Congress and what for…?

Bob: [00:03:12] Yeah. It's, Gallup does this annual survey on like trusted industries and they go through all of them and there is like pretty far down the list used car salespeople, advertising industry, Congress. So we're sandwiched between those two, those two industries.

And like, I don't, if like, for me, like that's not a place that I want to live and after eight years or so, it, hasn't not only as it hasn't gotten better. I think it's actually probably getting a little bit worse.

I mean, especially when you look at how clients are responding to it and in housing, everything. And it's really, it's a pretty interesting situation. And so I think we have some stuff to fix.

Jason: [00:03:55] Well, you know, when, when we chat and we interview agencies to join our mastermind, we ask lots of questions around their delivery and the results that they give to their clients.

And you'll be so surprised about how many that they don't know it. And they started by accident. They took a Facebook course on ads, and then they started like, they were really good marketers, but they could never deliver their own service efficiently. And like, it just blows me out of the water that, and people always ask me, what's the one thing you have to do to scale your agency?

I'm like, well, you have to do something really well for your clients.

Bob: [00:04:34] Yeah, for sure. I think that the work that we tend to do tends to focus on something we actually changed during COVID. But we got really focused in, on the stuff that we love to do and the stuff that we're truly like sort of brilliant at: creative strategy, insights, and big idea platforms.

And we really tend to focus on like high-impact tactics, like the stuff that's going to really like move the brand forward. Sort of gradually moving away from a lot of the activation kind of things. But, um, for us, it's really important that, you know, we're setting up. How are we going to know if this works? How are we going to be happy?

Like, yeah, there's the qualitative stuff. But a lot of times there's not business metrics in place. There's not foundational stuff in place on the client-side. And so we do all that we can to build those baselines so that we know for if we're helping them improve their business brand and in the behaviors of the customers.

It’s all we care about.

Jason: [00:05:32] What are some keys in order to build trust with your clients?

Bob: [00:05:37] I think it starts from the initial conversation. And I think that that conversation has to be different than anything that they felt from other agencies. I don't have a PowerPoint that I use to introduce me or my agency to clients. I have a conversation.

I feel like if you show up with your deck, then the meeting is about me and not them. And so I feel like squaring the meeting centrally right on their business and what they need is the place to be. And you'd be surprised how different that actually is. So I think it starts there and, you know, it sort of quickly goes into the things that we do and the things that we will not do.

And so, you know, I think that's also been a disarming thing where clients will, they'll say, you know, well, I know, you know, as the owner, like you want to do all my stuff. Uh, because you know, you're money motivated and I'm like, well, actually, no, like I don't want to do a thousand banner ads. I don't want to do all, I don't want to do your emails. I don't want to do those things.

Like I want to help your internal team be successful with that stuff. I think there's just like those sort… of known who we are and being okay with just like being okay with having a conversation about that. But I think it really just sets a tone for this is the kind of partnership that we're after, and this is how we're going to help you be most successful and help the other agencies in your network be more successful too.

Jason: [00:07:03] Yeah. You know, I always use the analogy of the creepy guy in the conference. Like, do you have the creepy guy in the conference come up to you and they just start throwing up on you about how cool their company is and how amazing he is. All that. You're like, you're the creepy dude. Get away from me.

The other guy comes up to you and starts asking you questions. And by asking questions, the whole attention is on them. People are going to like that conversation because it's about them. And that's what we always liked when we would come and have initial calls with our prospects. We were the same way. And I, and I always hate when agencies are like, well, we don't have our portfolio or our deck ready. What is that…?

I'm like, you don't need that shit. The companies that want that, that means you're going to be doing an RFP, which really stands for request for fucking punishment. You shouldn't be doing that. So I love that approach.

Let's kind of switch focus a little bit and talk about because you have over 30 people, um, you know, multimillion dollar agency. A lot of people can hit the million mark by accident.

But when you start getting in the multiple millions, you have to get a lot of things right. I mean, you still haven't figured out everything. I don't have everything figured out. No one does. If they do, you should shoot them with a water gun and be like, you're lying. But how are you building better leaders? Because I feel that in order to get to the level that you're at, you have to build a really amazing team, which it starts with the leadership.

Bob: [00:08:43] Totally. You're right, man. Like we, gosh… We've been in business for eight years now and you know, I always think about us like a version. You know, the current version of Truth Collective, and you know, we've been through, we've been through a few and we've tried some things and we didn't get it exactly right.

Whether it was, you know, you talked about the leaders and the leadership team. I think in some cases like the people weren't quite right. But then also we weren't quite ready as sort of new owners to really understand what that even meant. We were very much in a mindset of like we're modeling the behaviors we expect and why don't you just understand that stuff?

And that's not fair to anybody. And it also, you know, to your point, like you'll hit a cap and the cap… Our cap was like right around like three and a half to 3.8 million where… We can do that. Like kind of with any team, with any set of clients, like that's, that was what we were.

And we, you know, we did that and we said, geez, you know, it's us. Like we looked in the mirror and said, okay, like we got to get out of the way here. And we got to get really serious about the leaders on the team, but how we going to do it? And it was about the people, but we also just needed some real structure and we were growing and growing rapidly, but we weren't growing in like an organized way.

We started as an account guy, a strategist and a creative guy. And as we grew, like, we just hired more people like us. But what we weren't doing is growing from the standpoint of like the functions of the business.

Like I wasn't, we weren't thinking about, okay, how are we going to staff new business growth? How are we going to staff client service? How are we going to staff creative? How are we going to staff the administrative stuff? And, you know, people just looked at all three of us all the time for decisions. And we were just, we just became the bottleneck that was holding it back.

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Yeah, you were the toll booth. I always like to kind of say.

Bob: [00:11:43] Yes, you've talked about that before.

Jason: [00:11:44] Yeah, and you kept mentioning a keyword: how? You're like, how do we do this? How do we do this? When did you start realizing who? And giving them the power in order to make the decision?

Bob: [00:11:58] Yeah. It was actually in the fall of 2019. So we, we decided we needed to try the leadership team again. We selected people, you know, not by title. But by, like, if you run a function in the agency, you're on the team, like that's how we made the decision. So it was very clear and specific.

We got that group together, we got super transparent. We shared everything about the business. All the numbers. So no more like close to the vest ownership. If these guys are going to lead, like they need to know stuff and they need all the information so that they can also learn how to become leaders too.

So we started sharing that we met weekly every Monday, same agenda for 90 minutes and we just, we got into a cadence. And thankfully we did because, you know, we all know like what happened in March, you know?

So we had made about six months, five months worth of momentum together as a team when, uh, when COVID hit and sort of through everything… Um, hit the brakes on everything. And so we had to respond to that.

Jason: [00:13:05] You said you meet once a week on Mondays for 90 minutes and the same structure. And what was that structure of that meeting?

Bob: [00:13:12] The structure was, it was actually, are you familiar with a organization called EOS?

Jason: [00:13:18] Yep. There's lots of mastermind members and I've had Gino on, on the show a number of times.

Bob: [00:13:24] Yeah. We adopted that, that framework in the beginning, just because we needed a consistent framework. And that seemed to be, it seemed to make a lot of sense. It was pretty straightforward and simple.

And so it's you come in and you talk about like, what are the key? You know, you have a scorecard and so our scorecard is new business leads and prospects. It's how are we doing on our financial forecast today? You know, month and quarter, how are we doing? Um, we measure our, we call like remarkable creative briefs and opportunities, like of all the work in the shop how many of those have the potential to be really remarkable?

And then we, um, there's some, some accounting metrics that we measure. And so we sort of quickly hit those. We talk about any employees, uh, or client issues that are going on. And then we devote about an hour of it to like issue, discussion and resolution.

And so some weeks there's a handful of stuff that you have to move through some weeks. There's one thing. But the whole point is to use that brainpower in a really concentrated focused way to, to keep us moving in the right direction.

Jason: [00:14:32] I love it. I love how, you know, and thanks for going over some of the KPIs or I guess what they call rocks or, or, um, I don't know what they call it. But I get the gist of it because there's a lot of people that don't really know what to measure and they just go into a meeting. Hey, how's it going? And, uh, really kind of it.

I's like none of them, what's the agenda that you have for the week and let's, let's rock and roll. So…

Bob: [00:14:59] We went from having no sort of across-the-board KPIs to implementing way too many.

Jason: [00:15:07] Yeah, yeah.

Bob: [00:15:10] To getting it down to like now there's like five, that really matter. You know what I mean? Like, and if you get enough insight from those five to, to hit like 90% of the business. So we're, we're learning as we go, like, it gets you really hands-on. But now we've especially with COVID like, I think when she had the right team and the right sort of flow… I think letting go is actually been like a key and helping us grow and scale.

You were talking about that a few minutes ago.

Jason: [00:15:38] Yeah. It's very challenging. We had our digital agency experience at my house in Colorado, a couple, uh, two weeks ago. And a lot of the agencies here, multimillion, they have a hard time letting go on stuff.

I’m like, you just got to trust your team! Like, it's kinda like your baby, like let the baby fall and then they'll learn to walk. If you're going to be the crutch and you're always going to catch them, well, expect to catch them for the rest of your life.

Bob: [00:16:09] It's true. You know, a lot of people, and I think a lot of agency owners, you know, you start an agency because you were really good in another agency or like maybe you were the fixer.

And you know how to fix it and you know how to move on, but that only gets you so far, right? You can't be the fixer, like you have to, to your point, like you got to like help him walk. You got to coach them, not do. You got to direct, not fix. And so that's, that's been a real, it seems really subtle and it seems really obvious, but it's not so easy.

Um, but it's been a real game-changer, like you said.

Jason: [00:16:43] Yeah. And when it happens too you get depressed, cause then they're doing the decisions and doing all the stuff without you, they don't need you anymore. And then you're like, what do I do? And you're like, well now you're the CEO, dummy. This is your new role. And this is what you're doing.

Bob: [00:16:57] Yeah, figure out what’s next.

Jason: [00:17:00] Yeah, exactly. So I went through that and I always make fun of my mastermind members when they go through that. I'm like, hey, dummy, this is what you wanted now. Let's, let's do it this way. Life will be better.

Bob: [00:17:15] It is, you know, I love it when people bring stuff that I would've never done or couldn't have done.

My whole goal is I want Truth to be something that I couldn't make. I want it to outgrow me personally. And I, like, I think that's when you're really into some exciting, like durable stuff as a business. So it's fun when that happens. It is intimidating though, sometimes.

Jason: [00:17:39] Oh yeah. Well, Bob, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Bob: [00:17:45] I think agency owners like... You put out a LinkedIn post the other day about you made a game out of it, but like, there was like…

Jason: [00:17:53] Yeah. Never have I ever?

Bob: [00:17:56] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And like, I've done all that. Every one of them I've done…

Jason: [00:18:00] Multiple times.

Bob: [00:18:02] Right. Habitually, right? I think like a key to happiness as an agency owner and the growth is like just, you know the answer. You know the answer is not to chase that stupid thing. You know the answer, you know what I mean? But the industry wants you to do that. Like there's so much crazy industry inertia out there. I think follow your gut.

You know, I just, I think have the courage to follow your gut because you're going to be way happier. You're going to make room for the stuff that you really want to be doing instead of falling into those old traps. And you're going to wind up differentiating your agency as results. So your post got me really thinking about that. And I think that's helpful for it's been helpful for me.

Jason: [00:18:48] Goog. Well, that's what it was designed for. What's the agency website URL people can go and check out the agency?

Bob: [00:18:55] Sure it's truthcollective.com. All one word is until the truth. It's not like some weird UFO tracking organization. It's not some church, you know, we, we'd get all kinds of crazy stuff, but truthcollective.com and we're all over social.

Jason: [00:19:13] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Bob, for coming on the show, we really enjoyed it.

If you guys liked that episode, make sure you like subscribe, tell a friend, tell a fellow agency owner that you'll help them out because look, we all know we're struggling a lot of the times they will help out.

And if you want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis and really what they're doing in order for you to scale faster. And you know, sometimes it's a shrink session. Sometimes it's a fun session. Sometimes it's like, oh my God, this is the best strategy I've ever heard. I'd like for all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com and check out the mastermind. See if it's right for you. If you feel it is, apply. We'll have a conversation and we'll go from there.

And, uh, so go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Dmitriy Pisarev became fascinated with computers and started building his first website at a very young age. He never lost that fascination and eventually got interested in direct response marketing, copywriting, and e-commerce marketing optimization, which is what led to starting his agency Conversion Whisperer. However, with diverse interests and a wide range of skills, Dmitriy has had a hard time choosing a specific niche. In this conversation with Jason they talk about how he changed his perspective on what his agency is, the struggle between niching down or going wide, and how figuring out your 'why 'should always be at the core of everything you do.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Should you niche? Dmitriy loved to lead his business by looking for new challenges that sound interesting, fun or like a difficult problem. However, he was made aware of a rule in business that you should pick a market, pick a service, and focus on that. “It sounds very easy,” he comments, “but in a way, it’s more difficult”. He can see the benefits and downsides of both. On one side, you're forced to do things that are not necessarily repeatable and are not scalable by not picking a market. But on the other, you're able to learn so much in those ventures, like is his case in e-commerce. He has been able to explore that space and is happy with the things he has learned by not niching down. It takes time to figure out a direction for your business.
  2. On creating an assembly line. Sometimes agency owners believe that they can teach other people to be the unicorns that they are. “It’s like Superman trying to teach people how to fly,” Dmitriy says. People may not have the experience to comprehend what you’re expecting. When you have a lot of talents and a lot of experience and can solve any problem better than most people, it may be difficult when you start to create a team and they can’t keep up. Dmitriy realized that it's about creating an assembly line, a process that could be followed from start to finish without many tangents in an expected way with everything to set it up. The only way to do that is to niche down.
  3. Figure out your 'why.' What is your reason for growing an agency? Do you know what it is? Are you after a specific lifestyle or want to accumulate a certain wealth that you can pass on to your grandchildren? Why are you pushing through? It may sound corny, but not everyone has figured out their motivation. Dmitriy believes this is the core of everything. “Once you figure out your why, revisit it,” he says. “Figure it out. Make sure it's aligned. Talk with your partner about it with your team, your leadership, just so they're all aligned.” If the trophy is worth it, maybe you'll do something that's not as exciting but drives revenue.

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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Choose Your Path Between Niching Down or Going Wide and Figure Out Your Why

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

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? I got another amazing guest and episode for you. One of our mastermind members. And we're going to talk about, should you niche, or should you go wide? He's been debating about this for a long time and it's going to be a really cool episode. He's a lot of fun, very smart. And let's get into the episode.

Hey, Dmitriy. Welcome to the show.

Dmitriy: [00:00:27] What’s going on, Jason?

Jason: [00:00:30] Yeah. Tell us who you are and what do you do?

Dmitriy: [00:00:33] A marketer aspiring to be a great leader. Run an agency that's focused on traffic, funnels, and email nurture sequences. And, um, we work with cool people. That's the qualifier.

Jason: [00:00:47] Well, why do you work with me?

Dmitriy: [00:00:52] You're, you're kind of a cool guy sometimes.

Jason: [00:00:53] Sometimes. Sometimes.

Dmitriy: [00:00:54] Yeah. When the moon aligns.

Jason: [00:00:56] That's right. So tell us, how did you get started in this agency life? Why did you start an agency?

Dmitriy: [00:01:02] Has anyone ever given you like a linear answer where it's like, oh, I went to school for this. You know, took a course and graduated and…

Jason: [00:01:11] No. No one has.

Dmitriy: [00:01:12] Yeah, I don’t think it works that way.

Jason: [00:01:13] Yeah, it doesn’t.

Dmitriy: [00:01:15] Yeah, man. I, I got fascinated with, uh, computers when I was, when I was nine years old and I built my first website right around then. And just, I discovered the magic of the internet. Just been fascinated with it ever since. Got really big into, uh, or deep into direct response marketing, copywriting. Then e-commerce marketing optimization.

I feel like I'm, uh, collecting coins along the path of like different skillsets that will help me in the future. So really the agency was the evolution of not being able to handle the opportunities that were coming in. And for the longest time it's been like, we're an anti-agency agency where, you know, we we're, we're not what other agencies are.

We worked with a very limited amount of clients and it's, uh, you know, service, integrity and dedication to delivering on the promises that we set is really important. And then just out of necessity, hiring a team, and then all of a sudden it's like, well, you guys are an agency. So I guess we are.

Jason: [00:02:18] Yep. Awesome. Why do you say anti-agency? You know, there's so many people that kind of say that. Like they think agency means something bad. And I get it, cause I'm the same way about coaching. I think coaches are full of shit. I think most coaches are the ones that have never done anything. Why do you think so many people are, they'll be like, oh no, I'm not an agency.

I'm like you get paid for services, marketing services…?

Dmitriy: [00:02:44] Yeah, man. And like, you've, you've really helped me change the perspective on that just last year. You know, I feel like there's a presupposition to what an agency is, or like a, a misunderstanding. And it's, it's just based off of the bad taste that's been left in people's mouths working with people who are more focused on the recurring revenue than the, the value of the relationship.

So, you know, in a weird way, it is kind of like a, a way to reframe the relationship and just help them better understand that things are going to be different around here. And one of our qualifiers is that clients had to have fired at least three agencies before working with us. So they know that it's not a fluke, right?

So they know that it wasn't just a, the person didn't get me or they didn't pay attention or they didn't understand. You know, it's like, no, this, this is really difficult, right? Just past having a plan of action and then being able to execute on it. When you are working in an agency environment, having that leadership in place, the processes, the systems to support communication and milestones and targets.

If you're looking at it purely from a hitting a certain goal of recurring revenue, it feels like what we're doing is a little different. And part of that is also the complexity of some of the messes that we've gotten ourselves into by really me leading us into the unknown of like the complexities of, hey, this client has this specific need. No one's been able to solve it for them.

This sounds interesting. This sounds really fun. It sounds like a difficult problem. I love puzzles. Let's try to figure it out and let's set clear expectations that we haven't done this before. We do understand kind of what it encompasses and how to approach it, and we're able to pivot quickly.

So if you're up for it, let's try to figure it out. And that's been, you know, part of the distraction.

Jason: [00:04:36] Yeah, totally agree. So let's get into kind of the colossal decision for, you know, niching down or going wide. Walk us through kind of what you've been through, you know, with trying to make this decision. Cause I've, I've witnessed it firsthand.

Dmitriy: [00:04:53] Yeah. It's like, uh, we get those flashbacks of PTSD. The war images.

Jason: [00:05:00] I'm trying to make you cry. That's my goal.

Dmitriy: [00:05:06] Yeah. Yeah, man. So look… There's this concept of building a business and an assembling a business that, um, I've been made aware of just very recently. And I think building an agency is, is… You've told me when we first started working together, like pick a market, pick a service and focus on that, which is really easy to say.

And I think there's been a lot of experience and realizations that are, have become so true to you that it's almost like not an option to go down the other path. In a way, this is the difficult. Playing the video game on difficult, because you're, you're forced to do things that are not necessarily repeatable that are not scalable by not picking a market. But you're able to learn so much in those ventures because we serve e-commerce.

And e-commerce itself is a very interesting and really broad space. Like we've done supplements, which are some of the most restricted things to, to market online, like the amount of compliance and crossing the T's and dotting the I's required there. So I've enjoyed the learnings that we've been able to achieve by not niching down.

And I feel like the realization now, when I'm looking at the efficiency of the team and our… Certain tasks that haven't been done before causing drag and lag on finishing a project that I would have been able to do.

So let me back up for a second then helping make sure I don't lose focus. One of the things that I heard is sometimes agency owners believe that they can teach other people to be the unicorns that they are. And effectively it's like Superman teaching people how to fly. They don't have that skill. They don't have that experience. They don't have the, the width of knowledge to be able to comprehend even what you're talking about.

So when you have a lot of talents and a lot of experience, and can pretty much solve any problem better than most of the people out there… In my experience, I became fascinated with that, just the, the joy of solving a complicated problem. So in that transition to an agency, I built a team to support me in that.

And what I found myself doing is expecting them to be able to read my mind of like, hey, go do this. And it's like, well, I expected them to end up here. And they ended up in a totally different area. So having those kinds of realizations that it's about assembling, creating an assembly line that a process could be followed from start to finish without many tangents in an expected way with everything to set it up, to request everything that's needed to deliver on it. The only way to do that is to niche down.

So my realization it's been 13, 14 years of, of doing this formally, is that in order to get to a certain revenue goal while keeping services at a specific level of excellence… You have to standardize, you have to have, create a process that's bulletproof.

Kind of like cars’ quality assurance. Like when Tesla started out, their QA was kind of shoddy. Cars were coming in, the panels had too many gaps between them or inconsistencies or like Ford's got it down. So…

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:08:24] Not on the Bronco launch.

Dmitriy: [00:08:26] Yeah. I heard about that. And you got, you got one, right?

Jason: [00:08:28] No, no, I'm still waiting. I ordered a year ago.

Dmitriy: [00:08:32] Okay. Okay. Yeah. I'm waiting on my Tesla. Hopefully I get it before I turned 60. T Cyber Truck. So in a way it's been something that has been kind of like a worm eating away at the fruit. Where I know that I have to do it, but there's also this joy and excitement and fulfillment of solving complicated problems and loving marketing, loving the technology that supports advertising, marketing, and sales that prevents me from, you know, really picking a, a narrow space.

So what we've done is we've said we help with demand generation by building conversion driven funnels, which we send highly optimized traffic to. And then the people that don't take that don't convert right away at the ideal level, we have a nurture sequence that joins the prospect exactly where their mind’s at in the conversation and making that decision to take that next step forward.

So we haven't really niched down, but we are streamlining a type of service and a type of focus. And then it's about qualifying the prospects that we work with and kind of like figuring out our north star as we make our way down there.

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Yeah. And everybody listening, it just takes some time. I mean, it takes some time in order to figure out the direction, who you're going after. And the biggest thing is, is just figuring out who can you help the most and putting criteria around it. And it doesn't have to be a particular industry.

You just have to know that particular person and know how to find them as well. And then when they do see you, it's kind of like… I always love to hear people are like, man, I, I started listening to your podcast and it felt like you were tapping into my office. That's kind of by design, right? Like I do have really good technology to tap into your office and here…

Dmitriy: [00:11:21] You’re a spy. Yeah.

Jason: [00:11:22] I’m a spy, yeah.

Dmitriy: [00:11:23] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jason: [00:11:24] Dmitriy sets up the technology and I was the mastermind behind it. Well, this has all been amazing, Dmitriy. And I think this really will help some people out with figuring out like, you know, especially if you've hit a certain ceiling, a lot of times it's just a little adjustments. Sometimes if you haven't picked a niche and really got really clear at your audience, sometimes that allows you to go to the next level.

So is there anything I didn't ask you, Dmitriy, that you think would help the audience?

Dmitriy: [00:11:56] One of the things that I feel like is a great, great pre-phase to this conversation is what is your reason in growing an agency? You know, and you talk about this a lot too. Are you building a lifestyle? You know, you're trying to get a mega yacht?

Are you trying to, you know, make sure that your kids and your grandkids don't want for anything? Are you just trying to get a bunch of skills so that you can buy and flip companies in the future? Like Simon Cenex, why I'm like, man, I, so many people recommended that book to me and I'm like, I've seen the Ted talk. I've seen his YouTube videos. I get it.

But it really is at the core of everything. Like, why are you doing this? Why are you pushing through this? Because if the trophy is worth it, maybe you'll do something that's not as exciting but drives revenue creates value for the people that you serve and gives an opportunity to create jobs for people and value and give them a place to learn.

So yeah, figure out your why.

Jason: [00:12:50] Yeah. I love that. Because you know, there's so many people that are running digital agencies that are kind of just going through the movements and the motions and they don't know where to go. They're just…

Dmitriy: [00:13:01] You can hit a million doing that.

Jason: [00:13:03] You're not staying consistent. You're going down, so…

Dmitriy: [00:13:07] Yeah, man. And look, you can hit a million dollars figuring things out, right? Like that's, that's the thing. It's like a million dollars in revenue is not this next worldly goal. Uh, you can do that stumbling along and figuring things out. But like once you get there, what's going to push you forward to standardize, to create processes, to do all these things that are going to help you scale?

So, yeah, to the guys listening, if you have a why, revisit it. Figure it out, you know, make sure it's aligned. Talk with your partner about it with your team, your leadership, just so they're all aligned. Yeah.

Jason: [00:13:41] Awesome.

Dmitriy: [00:13:41] Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

Jason: [00:13:43] What's the website for the agency where people can go and check you guys out?

Dmitriy: [00:13:47] So Business Jet Pack is going to be the one that's going to be rebuilt, uh, by Q1 of 2022, depending on when this gets released, it might already be live. But, uh, you can learn more about us at conversionwhisperer.com. Or, you know, really, if you just want to connect, find me on LinkedIn, Dmitriy Pisarev. So, yeah, I think you'll spell my name correctly on the title there…

Jason: [00:14:07] But spell it this one more time for the people listening. If they can remember.

Dmitriy: [00:14:12] They won't remember. It'll be we, we'll include a link forum. Yeah,

Jason: [00:14:18] I know it is difficult to spell, so awesome. Well, Dmitriy…

Dmitriy: [00:14:22] Appreciate it, Jason.

Jason: [00:14:24] Yeah. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Make sure you guys go check out both websites and really connect with Dmitriy. He is an amazing person. Really, really smart. And I love having him in the mastermind.

And if you want to be around other amazing members like Dmitriy and be able to hang out, ask them questions, see what's working. I'd love to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind for experience agency owners that are wanting to grow faster that have a team and that are not douchebags.

So you're not a douche bag, if you're a digital agency owner, you want to scale faster, go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

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