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

Are you trying to improve your client retention rate? How often do you communicate with your clients? Building a good relationship with your clients starts immediately after they sign on to work with your agency. Today’s guest takes us through his process of creating a level of trust with clients that make them want to stay. With clear goals set from the start and constant communication, they’ve only lost one client in ten years!

Jeff Barnes is Chairman of Barnes Health, the strategic healthcare marketing, and public relations agency be started in 2003. He began his career in the healthcare marketing and public relations space on the client side 34 years ago. Being able to look at things from the client’s perspective has been a plus for him as he has really focused on building good relationships with them. He sets clear goals and always makes them feel like they are the priority.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Keeping client churn rates at a minimum.
  • Why constant communication and a clear process are the key.
  • Why you should strive to find clients that really fit with your agency.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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Jumping From the Client-Side to Agency-Side

Jeff had been working in healthcare marketing and public relations for 15 years before joining “the dark side” of the agency world. Basically, he wanted the freedom and more flexible hours of being an agency owner. Back then, there weren’t many marketing firms in the healthcare niche, so he saw a good opportunity.

Barnes Health started with one client and the agency has grown significantly since. He still has that first client and, actually, a total of four legacy clients that have worked with the agency for 20 years.

Jeff has always preferred to work with a retainer pricing model. Some agencies may feel clients take advantage of working under a retainer expecting too many services under the retainer umbrella. However, the most important advantage for Jeff is having a guaranteed revenue, which helps him sleep at night. Nowadays, retainer clients account for about 95% of the agency’s revenue.

How to Keep Agency Client Turnover Rate At a Minimum

The average agency turnover is 25% for a variety of reasons. With these statistics, Jeff usually gets bewildered looks when he says he’s only lost 1 client in 10 years.

What’s his secret? Well, he’s learned from speaking with his clients most agencies are exceptionally good at the front end. They sell their services with a dynamic attitude and promise that gets clients excited for working with them. However, client success is an important KPI and many agencies fail when it comes to customer service.

There are two components to an agency 1) client acquisition and 2) client service.

It is a lot easier to retain an existing client than to get a new one, so Jeff focuses on providing great customer service to keep the turnover rate at a minimum. He has trained his team to communicate with clients on a regular basis and have a quick response time for any questions they may have. Each client, big or small, should feel like they’re the #1 most important client.

Remember if you neglect clients, they’ll probably start wondering why they’re working with you and start looking for other opportunities. Answer the unasked questions -- and if you don't communicate it, they don't know it happened.

Setting Clear Goals to Get Clients On Board With Your Strategy

The moment a client agrees to work with your agency, you should quit promoting yourself and immediately transition to learning as much as you can about that client. Focus especially on their goals, objectives, and the criteria under which your work will be measured for success.

The more educated and informed you are about every aspect of their operations, the more valuable you can be to your clients. Jeff’s team typically gets clients to sign off on the strategic plan that they build together. They list the goals and objectives with clarity on who is responsible, the timeframe, and how success is to be measured.

The overall strategy is documented and everyone on the team and the client is familiar with each step. It may be revised from time to time, but the client should always have access to the documents.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Maintaining A Good Relationship With Clients

Jeff favors constant communication with clients on a regular basis, even daily at times. In his opinion, this shows the agency is a very valuable resource for them. If there is no communication for three or four days, his team reaches out to make sure everything is in order - follow up on an email or run an idea by them.

He also emphasizes how important it is to do this with both smaller and bigger clients. The amount of attention should not vary based on size or a client's portion to topline revenue.

Moreover, this way of working helps you be more selective with your clients. If you don’t feel like communicating constantly with your clients, then there’s probably an issue there. Don’t take in clients that you don’t want to communicate with. You’ll start resenting them and feel burnt out.

Adapting Your Agency To a Changing Market

The one constant in life changes, and in the agency world, you better be ready to adapt to a changing market. Jeff has had a long career and in those years he has learned to adapt to the internet, websites, and social media. New things are coming now with novelties like the Metaverse and NFTs which he says he will leave to his team to understand and educate him.

To adapt to changing times, he likes to hire young professionals who understand and are using the newest technologies. It’s so important to stay ahead of  new trends because a lot of the work marketing firms do has to do with consultation. Staying on top of emerging technology, educating and informing clients about new tools is the best way to present new ideas to your clients.

However, Jeff says he is careful to not portray his team as being good at everything. It’s better to actually be great at one thing than to pretend to be good at everything. As a client, he always asked agencies what they were great at. If they answered everything, he knew they weren't a good fit.

Your Goals Should Reflect the People You Want to Work With

It's important to have clear goals of what you want to accomplish in your agency. Your goals should go beyond a revenue level. Go deeper with your goals and really create a future vision. What type of lifestyle and freedom do you hope to have? What do you need in order to really love your work and your business? Do you know what sort of people you want to work with?

For his part, Jeff credits his love for the business a being selective with which clients his agency takes on. In 20 years, he has been fortunate to never have felt like quitting. Regular communication with clients does not frustrate him because he actually likes the people he's working with and doesn't have any “nightmare clients.”

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_To_Reduce_Your_Agencys_Client_Churn_Rate_By_Being_More_Selective.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you planning to sell your agency at some point in the future? How are you preparing to make the process easier for yourself and your team? Our guest for this episode created a lifestyle business that allowed her to lead the life she wanted. When she decided to sell, she realized the business was already set up to work without her, which made for a pretty seamless selling process when the time for an acquisition came along

Jodie Cook is an entrepreneur, writer, and athlete who started as a freelance social media manager. She created and successfully ran her social media agency, JC Social Media, for ten years -- even growing it during the pandemic. She's sharing the story of how she grew her agency and sold it, without an earnout, in 2021.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why she decided to sell her lifestyle business.
  • How she prepared for the selling process.
  • Why you should hire a broker.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions. E2M is a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Subscribe

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Building and Growing Her Agency

As often happens with agency owners, Jodie started as a freelancer and went on to create her agency once she had too much work to handle on her own. To promote services, she went to networking events telling people she was a social media manager until she got a few clients. After a while, she got to a point where she had a full-time job worth of work for herself and could choose between continuing as a freelancer or building a team.

As for hiring, Jodie says she stuck to hiring other social media managers. It was a role she knew and could evaluate and train for and as a result, she developed a successful training process.

However, she also sees her agency could only ever grow as far as her own knowledge would allow. And in hindsight, it would've made sense to scale by hiring for roles that are not her strength.

Setting Up a Lifestyle Business

Agency owners get into the business for various reasons but at some point, we can all expect to have some degree of freedom. Jodie found herself as the owner of a big agency where everything relied on her and didn’t feel happy. This is when she did something that would change her life and her agency. She created a document with four columns where each column represented a step for how the business would start to change to a lifestyle business that could run without her.

This was a very important exercise that would later allow her to be better prepared for a sale later on. The four columns contained:

  1. Every single process that happened at the agency
  2. Who was in charge of every task (at that moment, it was pretty much all her)
  3. Who would be in charge in the future (either by getting promoted or looking for a new hire)
  4. Her plan (actions she needed to take and even dates)

Growing the Agency Through the Pandemic and Beyond

Back in March 2020, just as the world changed with the pandemic, Jodie had been running her agency as a lifestyle business. She usually traveled for a couple of months of the year and the business ran very well. She was no longer needed there all the time for things to work correctly.

This all came crashing down with the start of the pandemic. Clients in the hospitality and travel sectors were suddenly out of business and the agency shrunk by about 25% in one week. The shift meant Jodie got back to being very much involved in the business.

Initially, she tried to figure out how to make a shift in the changing economy. This included a decision on whether or not to lay off part of her 16-member team. After a team meeting, they decided to carry on, secure the clients they still had, and work to look for new clients.

The agency offered online webinars, replacing all their in-person events, and started to build the business back up. They not only managed to get back to where the business was before March 2020, they actually grew past it.

Preparing to Sell a Social Media Agency

With the agency back on track, Jodie asked herself what was next. She could easily go back to having a lifestyle business, but she really didn’t want to be pulled back by another emergency like this one. So she made the decision to sell in August 2020.

Once she got intentional about an acquisition, Jodie started to reach out to people that knew more about the subject and could point her in the right direction. The key is not discussing an agency sale with your team and just having a small group of trusted people who can help you navigate the process. Keeping it quiet until you have signed agreements saves you from hearsay and speculation by your clients and team.

She eventually started working with a broker who clarified how to prepare for the sale process. Basically, it entailed setting up processes, a second tear management team, and documentation. Jodie was relieved to see most of this was already in place because of how she set up the agency to begin with.

This gave her the opportunity to sell faster and be comfortable meeting with potential acquirers. She wasn’t selling in a desperate moment, loved her team, and actually raved about them so it was genuinely easy to convince buyers how great her agency was. Furthermore, this helped her feel more like she was interviewing the buyers instead of them interviewing her.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Successful Interviews with Potential Buyers

When discussing either a sale like this or even interviewing prospective clients, you want to feel in control. The person who is more eager to speak and prove themselves has lost control of the meeting. A possible buyer might even think you have something to hide if you seem too anxious.

As Jason advises, you want them to speak first because whoever speaks last is now in control of the meeting. Also, this way you can listen to them talk about their agencies and their plans for the future. Jodie listened to potential buyers first and then offered relevant information about the agency. If she had spoken first, she would probably go on tangents that didn’t really matter to them, which could ruin the meeting entirely.

Letting the potential acquirer speak first also gives you time to evaluate them to see if their agency is a good fit with yours. Remember, culture fit is one of the most important aspects of a successful acquisition.

Selling Your Agency Without an Earnout

All in all, the purchase process took six months, which is pretty quick for this type of transaction. There were two months of meetings with potential buyers. This was followed by two months of heads of terms with three of them, and then two more months of due diligence.

Initially, the three offers they got included an earnout and tied the purchase of the business to Jodie's role in earnout period. Basically, they wanted her to take care of the team and sales which would get her more involved in the business rather than stepping away, which was the goal.

Ultimately, she was able to convince the buyers against the earnout. Clients tend to grow attached to agency owners in the sales process and they only want to deal with them. They agreed to have no earnout and the handover process took two weeks.

It takes a lot of confidence to get the deal you feel is best for you. Don’t be scared into accepting the first offer-- have a number in mind before negotiations begin and be prepared to wait for it.

Is it Important to Get an M&A Broker?

Jodie did consider handling the sale by herself. If you commit to learning everything you need to learn for this process, it may be the best course for you and your agency. However, looking at the hours she would have to invest into this each day (at least 10 or 12) she decided labor would be best put into continuing to grow her agency. She opted to look for and hire a broker.

If you’re working with a broker, remember they are incentivized to get you a sale but not necessarily to get you the best possible deal. Sometimes brokers won’t educate you on whether you could be making a better deal, so remember to learn as much as you can about the process. Have the confidence to say no and wait for a better offer. It will save you a lot of regrets.

When looking to hire a broker, Jodie discovered many don't charge based on the completion of the sale. They charge a monthly fee and hence they may not necessarily be as invested in selling your agency. Because of this, she made sure to ask for completion rates and chose someone with a very high completion rate.

Jason also recommends using a broker that charges an upfront fee, another fee once you get to the LOI, and a percentage of the exit. No recurring fee. This means they have more skin in the game are more invested in selling your agency.

Life After Selling Your Agency

Life after your agency’s sale could be more difficult to adapt to than you imagine. A lot of agency owners feel depressed and purposeless after selling their life’s work, and it’s understandable. Your "why" for selling should be very clear from the beginning. Additionally, you should start planning for your post-sale life and have other projects in mind so you can find your new purpose.

Jodie visualized the sale and had in mind the exact amount she wanted from the sale. She also had plans to travel and start a new stage of her life. It looked slightly different than she had planned, as it was still the middle of the COVID restriction. However, she took the time to figure things out and even wrote a book, Ten Year Career.

Niching Down to Be a  Successful Social Media Agency

When she first started her agency in 2011 she says it was still possible to be a general social media agency. That is something she would change if starting an agency today. “I don’t believe you can be a general social media agency. I believe you have to have a niche,” she says. She would choose a vertical and horizontal niche. Then her agency would be experts in a specific space like Instagram for restaurants or TikTok for dentists.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_to_Sell_Your_Digital_Agency_Without_an_Earnout.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Does your agency's branding stand out from the competition? Is your offering and positioning unique? Does it establish your agency's authority in your niche? Today’s guest explains how he turned his speaking career into a thriving agency thanks to smart branding.

Travis Brown is the founder and CEO of Mojo Up Marketing+Media, an agency focused on building unstoppable personal and company brands. Travis has been building his brand since long before stepping into the agency world. Now, with his diverse and talented marketers, he helps others figure out and grow their brands.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Getting started with public speaking
  • Leveraging speaking engagements to grow the agency
  • What works with branding.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Subscribe

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Taking the First Steps in the Public Speaking Space

Before ever thinking about starting his agency, Travis began a successful career as a motivational speaker. One of the most valuable lessons he learned was that the hardest part wasn't the speaking itself, it was getting people to pay him to get on their stage and speak.

He hired a coach early on who taught him to invest time in figuring out his brand and unique positioning. Once he learned to do that for himself, it led to more than 2,500 paid talks over 10 years.

Travis started out speaking about leadership, management conflict, and corporate training and eventually turned to youth speaking. Later on, he got a creative position as America’s anti-bullying coach, where he could use his experience while also having a big impact. This new role was an opportunity to get to another level as he toured the country and had interviews on national TV. In hindsight, this taught Travis the power of creating unique positioning in the market where, instead of competing with anybody else, he was complimenting them.

After many years in that industry and working as VP of marketing in a bank, he decided to start his own agency to help other people build their brands.

How Can You Start a Speaking Career?

It is a powerful feeling to get up on a stage. It’s the sort of experience which changes how people see you. In fact, Travis now rejects invitations to tradeshows without a speaking engagement. He recognizes the moment you step on a stage people will look at you as an expert, which is a game-changer for elevating your brand.

Try to link speaking engagements to your area of expertise and your core beliefs so you really come off as an expert. Travis always takes the topic he’s asked to develop and links it back to his branding, which is his specialty.

How can you start? He recommends starting local. If you have a niche, look for an opportunity to do a breakout session. For example, if you specialize in marketing for dentists, reach out to the local dentist association. Once you do find an opportunity, build the presentation thinking like a marketer:

  • Have video and engaging content.
  • Offer valuable nuggets of info.
  • Have a free offer to get them into the funnel.

Following that, focus on leveraging the first speaking engagement into another and then another. Before you know it, you’ll be on a big stage with an audience filled with your ideal customer avatar. Being on stage will put you in the position of being the expert who can help them. They’ll get in line to hire you and your agency.

Turning Speaking Career Into a Thriving Agency

Travis says he has done it both the right and the wrong way. When he started his agency, he had accumulated a lot of experience in elevating himself and his brand. However, he didn’t know how to grow an agency. He got out there and got a lot of business for the agency with his brand. He soon learned it couldn’t be all about him. It had to be about the team and the focus really needed to shift to showcase their abilities.

His first attempt to do this didn’t go as well as expected. It was done too quickly and it didn’t make sense to remove him so fast when his personal brand was driving all the revenue. He had to start over and get to a point where he transfers the knowledge and credibility over to the agency.        

A perfect example of how to do this right is Gary Vaynerchuck and Vayner Media. Gary is the brand, but clients never expect to work directly with Gary himself. Travis has started to introduce his audience to his team, instead of just making it the Gary show. This is how Travis is rethinking his model.

Building your personal brand can be the fastest way to bring in revenue for the agency. You just need to know how to do it correctly so the agency can shine as well.

What Has Worked for His Agency’s Branding

Right now Travis and his team are leaning into the “diverse and talented” core of the agency. They realized they have a very diverse team, which is not common at all. The team of 15 people includes black men and women, Asian women, and Hispanic and white women. That diversity led to opportunities with companies that are looking to:

  1. Work with a diverse agency, and
  2. Trying to figure out how to get a similarly diverse team.

Now they are focusing on helping clients tell a story and develop an impactful brand through the lens of diversity. This way, they can help tell diversity stories by actually being one. They recognize that the diversity within the team helps them be that much better at telling diversity stories.

A lot of agencies may say they are diverse but can’t actually back it up. Credibility is so important nowadays and people are able to tell if you’re claiming you can do something but not actually doing it yourself. For his agency, diversity has become an important part of who they are and it also works as a unique identifier, which all agencies need.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What Are Your Agency’s Unique Identifiers?

Travis believes your agency should have its own “three uniques,” which are three things that identify and differentiate your agency. Some other agencies maybe have one or even two similar differentiators, but no other company should have those exact three since they are true to your specific DNA.

These identifiers will help you create your own unique persona as an agency. Those are your core values and how you will get very different types of people in your team to all work towards one single goal.

Moreover, being clear about your brand and core values will help you find like-minded individuals to join your team. For Travis, diversity is part of the agency’s culture and what he is building. He is passionate about building a brand and telling a story to help his client make the most impact and he wants a team that is equally passionate about that.

2 Tips on Hiring and Client Success

Travis likes to make sure that whoever his hiring is really passionate about doing the thing they’re hired to do. A lot of times in an agency you’re trying to fill some roles quickly. You end up hiring someone who is good but is not necessarily passionate about their role. In hindsight, he would really slow down and make sure people convince him that they want to be in their position within his company.

He also wishes he had spent more time understanding how to create a better client experience. His agency's end product is always good, but the process was sometimes a bumpy ride for clients. Now he really wants to focus on making the entire experience exceptional from start to finish.

Improving Customer Experience

Remember that you may be celebrating every time to make a sale, but the client is probably thinking “did I make the right decision?” A good way to ease their anxiety is to immediately communicate with them after the sale. Jason likes to send quick personalized videos where he welcomes the new client and offers a few pointers. People are usually surprised to learn his videos are not automated. This is why it’s worth it to think about ways to make each client feel appreciated. That extra effort will definitely separate you from everyone else.

Travis has learned there’s a difference between having a talented team and having a successful process. A successful process leads to a great experience. You need to map out every single instance within the client journey where you can impact and connect with them.

As the lead strategist in his agency, he has also learned once clients get to a stage where they’ll be communicating directly with the team, they feel abandoned by him. He empowers his team and lets them do what they do best. However, he is working on finding a way this in a way clients still feel taken care of.

As an agency owner, you need to position yourself as a thought leader and make it clear at some point clients will be working with the team.  Build up the team and make sure they know they will get better results than if you took care of every single aspect. Also, map out the process so they’ll know who they can turn to at each stage of the process.

Should We Look for Mentors in The Agency World?

After years of building his business from scratch, Travis admits he would’ve liked having someone to turn to. Nothing like that existed when he or Jason were building their agencies, but it is the entire reason behind the mastermind. Jason's goal is to be the resource he wished he had when he was starting out.

Think about how many times you’ve given advice to your team or partners. You probably can’t seem to do that with yourself and it’s because you are too attached to your business and your way of doing things to see other possible ways to approach a solution to your problems.

If you learn to ditch the competition mindset and look at it more as a community that understands and supports your most difficult challenges, then you won’t need a mentor.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_to_Leverage_Event_Speaking_to_Grow_a_Thriving_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Is it time to pick another niche for your digital agency? There are tons of benefits of niching down. However, there are a lot of concerns about making big changes and focusing on a specific industry. The good news is there are ways to test out a new niche instead of going all-in.

Alano Vasquez is the founder and CEO of Cyberwhyze, an agency that helps cyber security companies become brands that scale. Although he found success and even more room for opportunity in this space, he has had other failed attempts at niching down and understands it can be scary to choose a new market and fail. However remember, failures are just lessons to help you move closer to success!

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Failures that become lessons learned when niching down.
  • Testing out a new niche, rather than going all-in right away.
  • Having the right team in place to give your freedom in your agency.

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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First Steps and Lessons Learned When Niching Down

Alano was working in sales at a tech startup right out of college. He was laid off, unfortunately, but when another startup hired him, he soon realized they had no marketing. He decided to use what he had learned and focused on becoming a full-staff marketer.

After learning the tech industry and creating his own agency, Alano started working by with any client in the B2B space. He worked with education, healthcare, and fintech companies trying to offer as many services as he could. Within 3 or 4 years, the agency hit a ceiling of about $1.5 million in revenue.

In trying to work out a solution, Alano noticed a lot of density with the agency’s cyber security clients. However, at the time he actually decided they would focus on the tradeshow space. It seemed like the right choice at that moment. Unfortunately, this happened right before the 2020 pandemic and the end of all in-person events for quite a while. They had spent time and resources on experiential and interactive marketing when everything went virtual because of Covid.

How to Identify a New Niche for Your Agency

After his first failed attempt, Alano and his team went back to the basics and turned to the opportunity in the security space he had noticed before. They focused on branding and content creation for cyber security companies.

Before you pick a niche you pretty much start working with everyone so you can start to see what you like and do really well. You can see where you have success and start weeding out the things that you don’t like or do well. To his surprise, Alano quickly realized this new market presented a big runway of opportunities and was dealing. His agency Cyberwhyze started working with big brands sooner than he thought. He has rushed to create the capabilities in order to keep up with what the clients wanted from his agency. Now sees a possibility to double down on this niche.

You Can Test Out a New Niche Instead of Going All In

In hindsight, his agency would have niched down much sooner had he followed the advice he now gives to his clients. Some of his clients have a few verticals and try to put out a lot of broad-stroke marketing, trying to make it a one-size-fits-all. He finds clients tend to do this to avoid going through the process of creating an entire website for each vertical. Instead, Alano suggests creating a funnel with positioning that speaks to each specific persona.

Agencies can also apply this same principle. There’s no need to build an entire website for a new niche, just build a funnel, test it out on LinkedIn and run some Google ads. It serves as insurance to make sure you’re not going down the wrong path and it might help you feel more at ease when you eventually decide to go all-in.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Value of The Cheat Sheet as a Lead Magnet

Coming from sales, Alano and his partner knew very early on they did not want to give away strategy for free. They found a way to productize strategy and sell it as a core component of their work.

A good way to attract new clients to your strategy is a cheat sheet. CMOs love them and even bigger brands use them. Cheat sheets come in many forms and you can use them as an opportunity to offer something really valuable while capturing data to continue marketing to your prospects.

Cyberwhyze offers a cheat sheet paired with a video webinar that explains how companies can use it to their advantage. This has helped them build trust and led many people to their website. Even some big brands have contacted him based on their cheat sheet, so the agency didn’t have to jump through hoops to get their attention. It’s all about realizing there’s really no reason to offer strategy for free and later feeling remorse for it.

Having The Right Team to Provide You Freedom in Your Agency

Agency growth is also about continuing to refine strategy and making sure the right people are in the right seats. Agency owners are normally the think tank of the business and the ones coming up with all the client strategies. This could be because it is expensive to replace yourself in that role early on. In fact, most agencies don’t seek to do this until they hit the $5 million mark. For Alano, you have two options when it comes to replacing yourself in the strategy role:

  1. Do it anyway and maybe offer a profit share if you feel you can’t quite afford it yet.
  2. Keep trying to do all the strategy but become a bottleneck for your own business.

For Alano, it made sense to do this early on, even before hitting $1 million. It was the best decision for his agency. His clients have come to really like the person he hired for this role. The benefit for Alano is peace of mind and freedom. He is able  to take a vacation and only work until 5 PM knowing the agency is taken care of by his head of strategy.

The idea of replacing yourself might be uncomfortable. However, the sooner you can replace yourself as the head of strategy the better if you’re going after bigger projects. Remember, you probably started this business to eventually have more freedom.

This resistance could also stem from the fact that they don’t know the steps they need to take to make sure that this new hire will work. Agency owners are usually visionaries and many struggle with execution or hiring for execution. You need clarity of where you’re going and who you’re going after from the beginning. This way, your team will feel empowered to make decisions without you. Once you have this, you can hire the right person to replace you.

Staying True to Your Why as Your Agency Grows

Alano had to figure out his agency’s growth before getting to this point. He went back to the basics to figure out his individual why and his agency’s why. But don’t forget, figuring out your why should be followed by communicating it to your team and revisiting it from time to time to keep everything cohesive.

In this new stage, he is thinking beyond bootstrapping. He will now look at acquisitions, as he continues to explore his niche market.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_to_Test_Out_a_New_Niche_Instead_of_Going_All-In_Right_Away.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you measuring your client retention rates? Do you trust your team will build good relationships with your clients? A lot of agency owners focus on making the sale but neglect customer service. Today’s guest will talk about why you may be losing clients and why it's important to have someone dedicated to client success.

Khushbu Doshi is a customer service specialist with a passion for strategizing, making realistic actions plans, and following up on their implementation to get real results for agencies. She leads the customer service and sales division at E2M Solutions, a full-service white label partner that helps agencies scale their business.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • What works when it comes to improving your retention rates.
  • Effective agency-client communication.
  • How you should structure your customer service.

Closing the Gap Between Sales Promises And Customer Service Reality

Agency owners commonly focus on signing the deal and ringing the bell when they finally get that client. As important that is, you definitely don’t want to drop the ball when it comes to following through in customer service. If you do, you’ll end up losing clients and wondering why you have a high turnover rate.

Why is this so common? As a customer service specialist, Khushbu believes many agencies rely too much on the newest tools and miss the human-oriented approach. In a world of modernization, we all lean on technology to do things for us. This can be great for freeing up more time to focus on the things you do best. However, when it comes to customer service, it can lead to paying less attention to new customers and turning your attention to getting new sales.

It’s common to see a discrepancy between the possibilities that agencies present to customers during the sales process and what actually ends up happening. To begin bridging the gap, we should focus on the fact that the values you show on that first call with the client should be consistent in their journey with your agency. This is the only way to really earn their trust.

Managing Client Expectations After the Sale is Made

We’re not saying you shouldn’t try to improve sales or use new technological tools available to improve operations. However, once the deal is closed and you have a new client, make sure all the promises made during the sale are actually met. If you promise the client they’ll have tons of communication and feedback calls and then you don’t really do that, you’re already starting on the wrong foot.

Clients may be very skeptical at the start of the relationship and may even start to question the decision to work together. They need to feel reassured that you're a trusted partner who looks out for them and their interests.

Think of it this way, if you don't communicate it -- as far as the client is concerned, it didn't happen. Take immediate action whenever is required and immediately act once the client expresses concern or raises a red flag. Make sure that their journey with your team is seamless.

Structure the different stages of your agency sales process. Once a client gets to a new stage, introduce them to the team members they are going to be working with, rather than just having a salesperson just disappear. That same salesperson can be the one to explain from now on, they will be working and communicating with a different team. Also, as part of the onboarding process, define the process and roles within the agency. Let clients know who on the team is responsible for each part of the process so they know who to turn to when they have a question.

How Often Should We Communicate With Clients?

This will obviously change depending on the stage of the client’s process with your agency. In the beginning, clients need more frequent communication until they trust your methods and see results. Khushbu says her clients start with weekly meetings with the customer service team to ensure a seamless journey.

This allows her team to meet clients’ expectations and learn about their concerns as they move through the first stages. Apart from the weekly calls, she underscores the importance of letting clients know exactly what the team is doing. They should know the research they are doing, the number of team members working on it, something new added to the pipeline, and the time dedicated to these details.

Additionally, try to personalize communication with each client by offering alternatives and asking what they prefer (email, Slack, etc.). Remember sometimes a phone call is the best way to let your client know you are invested in the work you do for them. Nothing replaces a personal touch.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Communicating to Clients in a Monthly Newsletter

Khushbu suggests creating a monthly newsletter for clients detailing what the team has been working on that month. Rather than being skeptical about your work, they will start to trust that you know what you are doing and will be glad to have all details about the next moves.

In fact, many agency owners who started to use the monthly newsletter come back to Khushbu to tell her it has helped increase retention rates.

It’s all about attention to detail and customized communication with clients. Instead of spamming their inbox, prepare something that speaks to the specific plan and the results the team has been getting from the campaigns. They want real data and real information. When they get that, they know you are the one to trust.

Plan for Success: It’s important that you are constantly planning new things for your client and showing them what you’re planning to do. As mastermind member Deacon likes to say, “if you don’t have a plan for your client, they’re going to give you their plan, and it’ll never work.” You’ll be forced to follow their plan and then have to take the blame once it doesn’t work.

Should Agencies Have a Particular Role Around Client Success or Customer Service?

There’s certainly a need for roles focused on making the customer service experience the best it can be. We see agencies with poor retention rates that have not realized the huge gap between the picture they presented in the sales call and what they continue to present to clients afterward. A client success manager role is a must since there’s a thin line between salespeople and customer service. This is why these teams need to work closely to make sure that the experience is consistent with the client from the onboarding to the customer service and deployment.

These issues tend to create an internal battle. You may be very good at sales, but if you don’t believe that your team can deliver on what you’re promising then you’ll never get your client’s trust. You may be confident enough to sell but if you’re not confident about what will be delivered, clients will see right through that. Working on your customer service will bridge the gap between client expectations and the reality they get.

Using automation is helpful for some things and frees your time up to focus on other things. Don't focus too much on a particular template or tool when the way to take your customer service to the next level is great, personalized attention.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Keys_to_Improving_Agency_Client_Success_and_Reduce_Churn_Rates.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you a proactive or reactive agency owner? It's common to come into the business not having a full understanding of what it takes to grow your agency or the type of issues you could face. Today’s guest tells us about the process of growing his agency, ditching the competition mentality, and how he wants to help agency owners prepare to grow their businesses.

Bear Newman founded his agency Bear Fox Marketing with the belief that running a digital marketing agency specializing in SEO wouldn’t be as difficult as it actually was. Years later, he says it was one of the best things he ever did but admits he wasn’t quite prepared for some of the challenges. He has overcome a lot of obstacles, including losing clients that accounted for more than 50% of revenue. Now, with a full staff of employees and as he starts to step away from day-to-day operations, he crafted The Bear Fox Principle, a book to help prepare agency owners for what they should expect in the path of growing their business.

In this episode, we'll discuss:

  • Running an agency is more than just knowing how to do the work.
  • Why one client shouldn't be more than 20% of total revenue.
  • Why winning doesn't mean crushing every other agency.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Running an Agency Is More Than Just Doing the Work

Bear was doing SEO work as a freelancer when he decided to open his own agency. “I may not have fully thought through that career move,” he jokes. At the time, his reasoning was just, why not? How difficult can it be? He soon realized there’s a lot more to running an agency than just being able to do the work.

For starters, he had no idea what he should charge clients in order to run a successful business. For his first SEO account, he planned to bill $750 a month. That has definitely changed by now.

He also had to figure out every side of the business, from sales to servicing and marketing. Now his agency has great client reviews and is the #1 rated agency in Idaho. He has employees that are much better at selling the agency’s products and work on marketing, ads, and creative content to keep the pipeline full.

There's a Lesson in Every Experience While Growing Your Agency

A lot of agency owners live by the words “if you fail to plan you plan to fail.” Bear does believe in the importance of planning, but he also knows that you can’t plan for everything and tries to figure it out whenever he can’t. For example, he once got a meeting to pitch for the largest pest control company in the Valley. The marketing director quickly let him know he was just meeting with him as a courtesy because he was never getting that account.

Instead of feeling bad, he decided the experience of pitching the project would be enough. With that in mind, he went ahead with the pitch, trusting it would at the very least help him improve. In the end, he ended up winning the account.

Once he did get the account, however, he had no idea what to charge. Some people may say he should have anticipated that, but for him, the beauty of the agency world is also having the confidence to say “whatever comes at me, I’ll figure it out.”

Stages of Starting to Build Your Digital Agency Team

For Bear, his search for an agency team really began when he realized he was unable to keep up with the workload. He wanted to maintain the quality of work and didn’t want to be everything to everybody.

Like many agency owners, he focused on specific challenges. Bear knew needed a team of specialists who were really good at what they did so he could start to delegate tasks.

When he started his search for employees, the most important quality for him was having the right attitude towards hard work and never choosing to do the minimum.

Candidates were offered a client brief and the opportunity to create 2-3 Facebook ads and landing pages. If they only did two, he knew it wasn’t a right fit for him. It was important to find people who always strive to do everything above and beyond for clients and the agency.

The Worst Thing His Agency Overcame

The first year of Covid was the hardest for his agency. Two of his clients were making the transition to handling their marketing in-house and they accounted for about 53% of his total revenue. It was a really hard time, but he had to come up with a solution. He could either downsize and prepare for the loss in revenue or he could face the problem head-on.

He decided to hire a sales team to get that revenue replaced. Of course, the team was going to need time to set in and build the funnel. Bear made the bold move of hiring two salespeople, just in case one of them failed. If this didn’t work, he would lose the cost of both of them, but it proved to be the right decision. By the end of the year, they grew by 70% and now one of those salespeople is his VP of Operations.

Lesson learned: As Jason tells his Mastermind members, having one client account for 50% or even 20% of your revenue is definitely too risky and just not smart. Bear realized this and was already thinking about the options by the time the clients pulled out. However, he learned he needed to be more proactive than reactive in these types of situations.

Agency Owner Transitioning Out of Day-To-Day Operations

After hiring the right team to keep the agency’s momentum going, Bear is trying to extricate himself from day-to-day operations. At some point, every owner reaches a point where they need to spend more time working on the business rather than in it.

Bear now oversees staff training and overall tries to keep an eye on their metrics, clients, and set the course for the future of the agency.

With the right systems in place, the agency is getting all the pieces together to really accelerate its growth. For Bear, it’s like building an engine. The more expertise you have the better engine you can build, which will be your foundation to really move forward to the next stage of your growth.

Why You Need to Ditch the Competition Mentality

After all the ups and downs experienced with his agency, it was really important for Bear to create a guide for agency owners who are just starting in the industry. The Bear Fox Principle is a book about what it takes to build a successful digital marketing agency.

A lot of agency owners don’t know what they need to understand in order to grow their business. The book goes over the metrics you should know and what you need to understand to make a campaign successful. It also touches on integrity and how you can do what’s best for your client as well as your company. Both parties have to win and not because you win somebody else has to lose.

The “crushing your competition” mentality is a pervasive attitude in the agency world. Even Jason used to think that making it in his market meant crushing every other agency. That’s not true. You can learn a lot from people in your industry if you open up your mind.

Remember that success is created, not taken from someone else. Even if you don’t get a particular account, that doesn’t mean you won’t get another one. You just have to be resourceful.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Why_Ditching_the_Competition_Mentality_Leads_to_Real_Agency_Growth.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you thinking about buying an agency? What about just buying one department of agency to compliment your service offering? There are many reasons to consider acquiring another agency, like client lists or intellectual property. However, buying one for its resources made the most sense for this podcast guest. When a few red flags made him take a step back, he found he could structure a deal in the form of buying just the department he was most interested in rather than acquiring the whole agency. It takes the right circumstances and aligned interests, but it worked for both agencies involved.

Like many agency owners, Antoine Gagne started his agency, J7 Media, by accident. He hosted events that drove a lot of people in and realized he was good with social media. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram were still sort of new in Canada, so he started off selling social media management packages. He saw a lot of success in this market and eventually niched down to specialize in Facebook advertising. More recently, he has ventured to buy other agencies to expand his services.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Niching down to grow the agency.
  • When to raise agency prices.
  • Buying an agency department for the resources.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Getting to the First Million in Revenue and Beyond

In his beginnings, Antoine started an agency that offered social media management and content creation services. He eventually decided to focus on an area that was most profitable and where the agency really shined. As a Facebook ads agency, they were so specialized it was easy for clients to refer them to people looking for these exact services, which led to a stable sales cycle. Antoine really recommends figuring out one service that you’re good at and you’re able to sell repeatedly.

Once you settle on this, the key is to not give up, he assures. Keep going until it becomes easy for you to get more and more clients. At this rate, you will get to your first million in revenue. For Antoine, once you figure out how to keep it simple and go all-in on one service you do really well, you find that getting to the second million is actually easier.

When To Raise Your Agency Prices

Failing to recognize when it’s time to raise prices is a common problem for agency owners. Additionally, most fear this move will make them lose out on prospective clients.

To be clear, the point where you find a service you can sell repeatedly while improving and consistently getting better clients should also be the point where you get ready to raise your prices and think about your profit.

If you have an agency and you’re not focused on profit then you may be in the wrong business. The sooner you realize agency owners should not be looking primarily at just top-line revenue the better. In Antoine's case, the shift began with looking at the different parts of the agency and using this information to structure its prices. He figured out how much the agency was making from each department and then decided he wanted to make 40% net revenue from those parts of the business.

Next, he needed to decide what the agency should charge and how many clients it would take to meet the goal. It basically took some backward math to figure out how the pricing.

As to the fear of losing clients, all new clients agreed to the new price without further pushback. For their part, existing clients were gradually moved to this new price point at a different pace.

Why You Have to Focus on Net Margin Instead of Revenue

Getting J7 Media on the path to growth required a clear vision of the net margin Antoine was hoping for and adjusting the prices around it. A lot of people tend to start with the revenue in mind and plan around that. The problem comes when they don’t make any profit. This is a much more advisable way to go about it, especially if you plan to sell someday because your agency is valued on EBITDA.

It’s normal to start out with the revenue in mind and slowly get to the point where you realize you should be focusing on net profit. It’ll change the way you look at your business and the way you approach your agency growth. This mindset prompted Antoine to create new services to improve the profit margin instead of thinking about revenue. It was the starting point to grow into a healthier financial situation.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Buy an Agency Department, Not the Whole Agency

There are various reasons to acquire a company, like their client list or intellectual property. For Antoine and his agency, it was about resources. On one hand, they noticed their clients needed more from them. On the other hand, a lot of things had changed with Facebook and it no longer made sense being positioned only as a Facebook ad agency. Clients were now looking for a one-stop shop that could do all the media buying for them.

They looked into adding Google ads services, seeing this was the number one service clients needed at the time. However, they couldn’t just jump into this market 15 years later and become experts while still trying to figure out the Facebook changes. They ultimately decided to shop for an agency that could cover this new need.

Antoine met with a few agencies and ultimately decided to buy not an entire agency but just a department. They didn’t need all the different departments, so they structured a deal where they could acquire only the specific employees from this department and the transaction was good for both sides.

Structuring the Acquisition of an Agency Department

Some people have never even considered buying just an agency department but it could be the perfect solution in some cases. Keep in mind a lot of agencies have more than they can handle and would gladly sell just part of their operations.

Antoine was looking for a profitable Google ads department and in the negotiating process with this agency, he found out that employees in this particular department were not in love with that company anymore. The owner knew this and he knew it was a matter of time before he would lose these employees. In this way, the deal was beneficial for both parties.

He encourages agency owners to do this when possible and try to craft the best possible deal. Remember not everyone wants to keep their agencies. Many people have other interests or goals and want to try different things. If you come at the right time with the right offer, most of the time you’ll find interest and will be able to complete this transaction.

How Much Time Does It Take To Complete a Deal?

How much time will it typically pass between the moment you’re interested in a company and the time you conclude the transaction? It will depend on the size of that deal. Small transactions like purchasing a department for under $1 Million take just a few months to complete. However, other bigger transactions take more time. If you dedicate 5-7 hours a week reaching out to companies of interest, the meetings will come.

Antoine currently dedicates 5 to 10 hours a week to look at companies he would be interested in acquiring. At first, it can be overwhelming but he assures, that it’s not as hard as it seems and you could even end up wanting more.

Open Your Eyes To New Opportunities

We’re in a time of changes in the media buying space. A lot of things are changing and when things change many people quit. If you choose to be one of the ones who stay, then remember to open your eyes to the opportunities to buy agencies that are leaving a certain space.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Is_Buying_An_Agency_Department_A_Good_Way_To_Expand_Your_Offering_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you know how good branding establishes your agency as an authority? As a result, you will grow your agency faster. The fact is, being relatable and establishing yourself as a trusted advisor to prospective clients gains their willingness to let you help them solve their challenges and achieve their goals. Our guest today shares how branding helps establish authority and how she turned her agency from a side hustle to a full-time priority.

Annie Scranton had worked at several media companies when she founded her own PR agency, Pace Public Relations, focused on getting their clients media attention and placement to highlight their work.

After losing her job as a producer at CNBC, Annie sent an email to her network and got an answer asking if she could help get media for a client. It came natural to her. She got that person an interview and knew this was the path for her future career helping actors, CEOs, and authors get access to media.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Turning a side hustle into a full-time opportunity.
  • Branding yourself vs. branding your agency.
  • The importance of a solid pitch.

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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Turning an Agency From a Side Job to Full-Time Priority

Annie’s PR venture began as a side job that wasn’t really her number one priority at the time. After years of working in several media outlets, she knew many influential producers and reporters. This was her currency to take the business off the ground and allowed her to offer clients access to the media. Nevertheless, she admits she undercharged for many years, a common issue for startups.

This may have slowed her growth a bit, but eventually, Annie's pricing model evolved to monthly retainers. She finally made the decision to focusing on her business full-time once she had enough of a safety net to take the risk. Twelve years later, her monthly retainers are now up to 10K and she has offices around the world.

First Steps to Growing an Agency

Annie was lucky to have a big network of people answering her questions about the first steps she needed to take with her business. Since PR is a service industry, she didn’t have to manufacture a product or answer to investors. Once she made the decision to fully focus on building her agency, she hired a web designer to put together a website, opened a corporate email, and was ready to start growing her business. She quickly learned the importance of hiring a good accountant, since she hadn’t realized how much money she need to put away for taxes. It was a rough reality check.

As soon as she couldn’t handle the amount of work on her own, she started looking for her first employee. She started by delegating the low-level admin work to dedicate more time to getting new business. For this, she decided it would be best to hire and train someone who already had a background in media. Ultimately, overcoming the anxieties that come with being responsible for payroll was one of the best decisions she could make for her business.

The Difference Between Marketing Yourself vs Building Your Brand

Annie is a big believer in the power of building your own brand. In the debate between branding yourself or branding your agency, she thinks we should all do both. However, it is also a matter of your needs and your particular industry. For her business in PR, it really is all about the image she presents of herself as someone that can get you access to the media. Therefore, her branding is about 75% focused on her.

Your prospective clients want to work with you and your team, not your "company". People want to work with people that are relatable and that share their values. It can be aspirational in a way. You want to follow their journey, career path, and success. Remember that this is why it is so important to brand yourself. It attracts people in a way that just branding your business won’t do.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

No, Branding Yourself Doesn’t Mean You’ll Do Everything

It’s true that creating a situation where clients strongly identify your agency with your personal image may lead them to expect to work directly with you. However, Annie says it is true to a much lesser extent than people may imagine. At the startup phase, the owner is doing pretty much everything, which is why you should really love what you do. However, if you hire really smart people that you train well then you won’t have to do everything. It’s natural to grow and evolve within your agency to the point of being focused on growth and your vision for the agency.

When it comes to building your brand, Annie recommends posting and interacting on LinkedIn. It’s a very powerful tool if you use it well and it’s where she has gotten tons of new business leads. Building your brand like this is more than just posting about a new client you have. It’s more about taking new stories that people are discussing and writing a related post where you position yourself as a subject matter expert. It’s a good way to be consistent about putting your personal branding and message out there. Similarly, she attends webinars, seminars, and speaking engagements where she talks about personal branding.

Can You Describe What You Do in 20 Seconds?

If you have a business, you will eventually have to learn about personal branding. It will provide you with useful tools to interact with your audience or people in the same industry. You have to learn to draw people in with your elevator pitch. As a rule of thumb, if it takes you longer than 20 seconds to describe who you are and what you do you should really sit down and figure out your elevator pitch.

To put together a successful pitch, make sure to include how you can benefit the other person. No one wants to listen to you ramble on and on about your business, but if you can summarize it in “here’s what I do and here’s how I can help you” then you have their attention. Always think about the ROI for the person you’re talking to.

How NOT to Pitch Your Business

Annie once received a pitch about a Tequila testing for a client that was actually a recovering alcoholic. She wrote back to the person explaining how that pitch was so wrong on so many levels and how it would have taken a quick Google search to find out why. It really discredited that person for her.

You have to know who you’re pitching. It is unbelievable how many times people don’t do their research ahead of time when it’s actually easier thanks to social media nowadays.

Also, remember that it doesn’t always have to be transactional. Think about reaching out to people in the spirit of collaboration to develop a relationship. Maybe email them just to mention you really enjoyed their last article or conference. If you do that, they’ll remember you when your agency can help.

The Beauty of In-Person Collaboration

Annie’s agency has offices all over the world. Why not go virtual when so many people are making this move nowadays? They were virtual for the last two years, obviously, but PR is a collaborative industry and there are ideas that spark in an office that cannot be replicated in a Zoom meeting. “My job is to communicate,” she says, so she really prefers in-person interaction.

This is especially relevant when we consider how difficult hiring and retaining talent has become. Not being able to build a relationship with them makes it all that much harder, so, when possible, she prefers to have the kind of bonding moments that only in-person interaction can provide.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Why_Every_Agency_Needs_a_Solid_Elevator_Pitch_and_Good_Branding.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you doing your own bookkeeping? Are you paying too much for someone else to do it? You might be wasting valuable resources that could be focused on growing your agency and your profitability. In most cases, it’s not an agency owner's area of expertise and CPA's charge a ton for this service. It's worth it to hire someone who understands the scope of what you do and how to keep your books. Today’s guest is an expert in accounting for agencies and his company, Agency Dad, helps agency owners forecast their finances and establish a strong fiscal foundation for their future.

Nate Jenson is a certified management accountant, internal auditor, and fraud examiner who founded Agency Dad, an accounting company that focuses on profitability for agencies. He offers bookkeeping services for agencies but their main focus is helping agencies understand financials and what’s driving profitability. Nate has been on the show before talking about the financial benchmarks and KPI’s that can help you plan for the future of your agency.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why you shouldn’t do your own bookkeeping.
  • The high cost of bookkeeping mistakes.
  • How tracking time will help you improve profitability.

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YOUTUBE

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Why You Probably Should Not Be Doing Your Agency's Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping is not the sexiest topic and most creatives are not interested in it. However, a lot of agency owners do their own bookkeeping, even when it typically isn’t their area of expertise. Nate advises against this for several reasons, although he admits there’s a point in your startup when it’s OK.

There is a situation where handling your own bookkeeping makes sense. If you’re just starting, have only a few clients, one invoice a month, and no employees, then it’s perfectly fine. It can also be the best for you as you try to scale your agency and need to keep costs low.

Once you start growing, the complexity of the data grows exponentially. You get to a point where maybe you just hired your first employee, have several clients, and diversify your service offering. Then tracking that data becomes more important and more difficult. And, knowing the data leads to making better decisions for future growth.

Finally, you should also consider opportunity cost. If you started an agency, maybe you’re an expert on SEO or getting clients. Imagine how much money you could be making if you focused on what you’re good at instead of bookkeeping, which is most likely not your greatest strength.

2 Reasons Not to Use Your CPA For Bookkeeping

A lot of people use their CPA for bookkeeping because they lump all the "financial stuff" in the same category. But a CPA and a bookkeeper are drastically different. And, Jason and Nate agree this does not provide the best results for your agency. This solution keeps your books clean and reconciled but Nate says there are several reasons he does not recommend it:

  1. It is the more expensive option. Most likely, you will overpay to have your accountant do your bookkeeping. However, more importantly --
  2. CPAs usually keep books based on their tax knowledge. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, however, on the backend, it doesn't help you make good decisions for running your business or to move forward.It all starts with the data entry and your vision for the agency.

If you want to make smart growth decisions you need a good bookkeeper to help you with the data. What do you need to know from the data to make good decisions? Can you hire a new employee? How much should you charge? Can you give your team a raise?

Imagine you want to sell your agency soon, you would probably have very specific questions about valuation and how the decisions you’re making right now will affect your business. When would you like to sell? In one year? Five years? In terms of the data, you have to know what you’re putting in and why so you can answer those questions in the backend.

If you are planning to sell and do not know this information it could be a red flag to potential buyers. You should know the financial outlook of your agency at any time. If you want to have an opportunity to sell you should have everything in order. And if you want to sell in the future, you want to know what you can do as of now to maximize your value.

The High Cost of Making Bookkeeping Mistakes

According to Nate, 96% of data analysis happens at your data entry. This means that if you don’t know how to properly enter the data you will run into trouble.

Overall, you want to do everything right in your bookkeeping from the beginning. Nate has been hired to “clean up books” and fix years of improperly kept data which sometimes takes months. If it’s too complex, he even prefers starting from scratch and rebuilding everything.

Having the right systems and the right processes in place can even help save money you're already spending in bookkeeping. In one of the worst cases he’s ever seen, Nate rebuilt his client’s entire system and set up everything in a way so they were able to replace two full-time bookkeeping employees and replace their roles with one part-time employee.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Importance of Tracking Time for Profitability

Based on experience, Nate says most agency owners are not tracking time with the data they measure. Usually, he gets some pushback when he mentioned it. However, most do admit they should be doing it, but their employees don’t want to.

An agency's biggest overhead cost is your team’s time. If you don’t understand where people are spending the most time, you won’t be able to identify which client relationships are not profitable. Tracking time is a data entry task so if you have the systems in place where you can run payroll and track time, you can easily run reports that specify profitability per client. This way, you can identify which clients are using up most of your time.

Rarely does Nate find an agency that isn't losing money on their engagements. What they need to do after they find this out is adjust and find out where they can raise prices or what things they need to stop doing. Sometimes you can even increase profits when you cut a service offering or stop making a specific product. Do less and make more money!

How To Handle The Shift to Tracking Time 

It’s common for your employees to pushback when you start tracking time. Jason recommends being very honest with your team and clearly explaining the agency will suffer unless some things change. It’s also important to reassure that you will not be tracking the employees themselves, but rather collecting necessary information for the business to keep growing.

Make it mandatory, not optional and be ready to make non-compliance a reason for dismissal. Oftentimes, the employees who complain the most about necessary changes like these are not a good culture fit for the agency you’re trying to build. It will be the same with some clients and it’s ok if you decide to cut ties.

How to Find The Right Person for Your Agency Bookkeeping

Someone who is doing their own bookkeeping is also typically someone who is already overwhelmed. They have so much to do and they feel they can’t afford to hire someone else to help. With this mindset, it becomes difficult for them to see the benefits of making a change.

A good bookkeeper knows your industry, understands data analysis, and can put those numbers in front of you to help make decisions. They will be able to show where you are losing money and what can happen if you make some changes.

Of course, you also have to be careful. You can’t just hire anyone to do your bookkeeping. Some people ask their support staff, like a receptionist to do it. You may be freeing some time for yourself, but it will probably create problems further down the road.

Mistakes like incorrect invoicing can cost your agency thousands of dollars, so make sure to put in the effort and choose the right person for the job. It doesn’t have the most expensive solution, but it's important to  really understand the role and the difference between someone who understands accounting and someone who knows how to use Quickbooks.

Pro Tip:  Nate's suggests a quick test to determine if someone really knows about accounting is to ask them this quick question. “Does the debit increase or decrease my assets?” If they say increase right away, you’re good. If they hesitate, they’re not thinking like an accountant.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

 

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

Direct download: How_Smarter_Bookkeeping_Helps_Increase_Agency_Profitability.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you have a clear agency vision? If so, have you shared it with your team and have their full buy-in? It takes courage to make changes that will help you scale faster. You need clarity to define your vision for the agency and a team that shares that vision. It may rock the boat a bit too much for some in your team. However, when you surround yourself with people that believe in your vision you'll see results so much faster than working with those who resist it.

Arti Sharma is a marketing and business leader who had worked for 15 years contributing to the growth and success of several start-ups and Fortune 500 companies when she created Measure Marketing Results Inc. As a marketer, she felt a lot of people were talking about marketing but no one was measuring it. She saw the opportunity and started reaching out to some old clients offering to build a campaign for them. Her business has changed a lot since then, but the most significant change came about five years ago when she redefined the agency’s goals and created a vision script.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why finding clarity is the first step toward change.
  • Your mission statement and vision script.
  • The importance of surrounding yourself with the right people.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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How To Find Clarity for Your Agency

Digital agencies nowadays find themselves in a very crowded space. In order to stand out, agency owners must answer the question “how do I differentiate myself from everyone else?” Usually, agencies go to Jason with a variety of problems that are standing in the way of their growth. The majority of those problems stem from a lack of clarity which affects the agency owners' ability to focus on niche, services, pricing, and even leadership.

Five years ago, Arti ran a successful company that had changed between building websites and offering SEO and SEM services. She started to question what she was building and whether it aligned with her personal and business goals. In essence, the agency’s mission statement “influence, inspire and impact” had not changed. However, she realized her clarity was lost somewhere along the way.

As agency owners know, sometimes this can happen as you worry about all sorts of issues like building a team, getting new clients, and maintaining sales.

Holding Your Agency Team Accountable to the Mission

The real change began in January 2020, when the team met to discuss the mission statement and create a complete vision script establishing how they would operate based on that mission. From then on, they made the commitment to hold themselves accountable to the mission by measuring operations, serving customers, hiring, and sales and marketing. Turns out it was perfect timing.

The company navigated the pandemic by serving its customers and building a niche based on the new commitment. Looking back, those were uncertain times for any business, but their new commitment was the push they needed to think outside the box and actually live their mission in daily actions.

Arti's team is still working on their changes, but so far they’ve become Hubspot partners and changed their offering to be more of an account-based marketing and sales enablement company. They’ve even built another business, an agency for agencies that wish to outsource some of their services.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Importance of Creating Your Agency’s Vision Script

Measure Marketing Results' mission statement remains the same and continues being true to its goals. The next step Arti took was redefining the vision statement in accordance with its goals and creating a script.

To do this, they got really specific and identified, among other things, who their ideal clients are, where they would find them, what sort of impact would they have on their business and growth. They broke that vision down as much as they could and this provided much-needed clarity for the agency.

Creating this vision script ultimately impacted their systems, sales scripts, thinking about where they would find clients and partnerships. It became clear that the agency would need to align itself with companies like Hubspot and leverage its tools to expedite the agency’s go-to marketing strategy in the world of inbound marketing.

Crafting your Value Script entails:

  • Defining your core values.
  • Having a vision of where you want to be in 2 years, 4 years, and 10 years.
  • Big action items for each year to move toward your goal.

The Vision Can’t Stop with the Leadership Team

Defining your agency’s vision is another important step, but you need your team’s commitment to make it a reality. The problem many agencies have is the vision stops at the top management tier. The CEO and leaders are committed to the core values and goals but what about the rest of the team?

Arti’s team held a two-hour meeting with all their staff when they crafted the vision script. They explained the vision, answered questions, gave examples of who the customer was. They also explained how these changes would affect them as service delivery or client management team. Team members needed to understand how implementing these principles correctly would impact the agency.

It was important for them to have everyone on the same page and have the newly defined vision for the company align with the staff’s vision.

Don’t Let Your Clear Vision Get Distorted

Not everyone will be on board with the changes, but those are the ones that will probably end up going in a different direction. You can’t let your vision get distorted by other peoples' opinions of the vision. Go over your vision and if they don’t get it, then maybe they aren't the right people to help the vision become reality.

Changing the trajectory of your company takes time and work. Having the right people on your team is essential for that.

Investing In Your Agency Team

Arti doesn’t take all the credit for knowing what steps to take to lead her agency in the right direction. She heavily invested in finding her mentors and surrounded herself with the type of people that would advise her on the next steps for her agency. Additionally, she completed a leadership program, read business books, listened to Jason’s podcast (always a wise decision:) brainstormed, tested, tried, failed, and finally succeeded.

She believes in the impact of having a team that shares your vision for the future of the business. With the guidance of her mentors, she identified key people in the team that would be ready to take the risk with her and started to invest in them. They have now wrapped up a leadership program and are working on building a management team.

For her, it’s about investing back in your people, in your processes, in your systems. If you do this, the sales will come through and you’ll be able to retain customers.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Do_You_Have_a_Clear_Vision_and_Does_Your_Team_Support_It_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:40am EDT

Do you want to start charging for strategy instead of just execution? A lot of agencies out there are getting paid for execution and giving away strategy for free. They end up being viewed as a commodity instead of for the value and expertise they bring their clients. It’s mostly about learning how to cross that bridge. Our guest today specializes in helping business owners make this transition. It involves a lot of trial and error, trusting your experience, and learning to listen to clients.

Stephen Houraghan is a brand strategist who helps businesses amplify their brands and teaches designers and brand builders how to specialize in this area with his Brand Master Academy. He started his career working in finance and stockbroking and eventually left that world to start his own agency offering web design services. With the rise of freelancer platforms, Stephen saw clients wanted more value, so he tapped into strategy, which in time opened the doors to a different type of business and relationship with clients.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Stop giving away strategy for free.
  • The thought and process of selling strategy.
  • Listen to clients to create authority.

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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Figuring Out How to Charge for Strategy

When Stephen started working as a freelance designer he tapped into his professional network and was getting lots of referrals. He was doing what he loved and money wasn’t a worry. However, this started to change with the rise of freelancer platforms. Clients were pushing back on his prices and he realized he needed to offer more value to retain customers.

He started his agency and thought about how to compete with freelancers. Being more competitive would require solving the right problems for clients and offering more. He turned to branding, something he really loved to do. Eventually, that led to piecing together the puzzle of brand strategy.

Brand strategy is the key to making competitors irrelevant. Offering all the pieces of building a brand to clients put Stephen on another level, no longer competing with freelancers who just offered a logo or website. It took years of developing and improving his process but now clients do not compare based on logos and brochures but rather based on long-term success based on the strategy behind these items.

How to Test Your System for Selling Strategy

No matter how you fell into the agency world, there comes a point where you have to turn what you’ve learned into something which proves value to your clients. The bridge you need to cross to get to that point is experience. You need to realize you already have the building blocks to shift to this model. No one jumps into a creative project and just drags pixels around. It takes thought and a process. This process may be more or less detailed and, for some, it involves research and building a brand persona. Begin by documenting it and you will slowly develop it from there.

Usually, freelancers and new agencies will not charge for the labor involved in the process. Taking this step will really make a difference in your growth because there’s no ceiling to what you can charge when you sell strategy.

For his part, Stephen started by splitting up his services. He increased his design prices but made sure to sell them as the product of a comprehensive process. At first, he included the strategy for free as he slowly transitioned to taking his clients through his system. With time, his system became much more comprehensive as he tested and refined it.

A big part of doing this was pushing the impostor syndrome away. Of course, you have to be very careful to not just slap a title on yourself as you start to sell brand strategy but trust your experience. It is about building the system, but it is also about building confidence in yourself, your system, and knowing that clients need that system whether they know it or not.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What are the Elements of Brand Strategy?

Knowing the concept of brand strategy is a start but you need to understand its elements and how to tie them together to create more value for clients. Stephen identified a lot of common elements, including buyer persona, competitive analysis, positioning, storytelling, brand personality, brand mission, etc. The challenge was to figure out if every single one of these elements applies to every business, in what order, and how he could go about developing them.

Asking these questions was the start of putting together a system to build a brand. It all starts with the customer, naturally, but it goes beyond the persona. You have to dig into their journey and understand each of the challenges in that journey. From there, it’s about looking out into the market and understanding all the players in that market. Look for gaps where you can go in and offer something different, new, and fresh. Your messaging, what you say, and the buttons you push within your message is your most influential tool as a brand.

That is the value of brand strategy. All these elements in the right order will help you resonate with your audience in a way that a logo or a website alone can’t replicate and will give you the ability to sell your thinking instead of giving it away for free.

Learn To Listen to Clients and Ask The Right Questions

The trial and error to figure out your process will most likely result in some mistakes. For Stephen, the most obvious mistake was taking the position of “I’m the brand strategist and you don’t know what you’re talking about”. He would tell clients that they didn’t need a logo and try to push them in a certain direction. “9 times out of 10 that conversation did not end well,” he acknowledges.

Both Jason and Stephen agree that selling on strategy is about asking the right questions in order to help them determine the direction they need to follow. It doesn’t work unless you ask the right questions, listen, and walk them through the plan. With this framework, they never lost a deal over price.

Remember that no one likes to be told that they’re wrong. You can’t just tell clients they need something they don’t think they need because they most likely won’t listen. It's about showing and demonstrating the need to create the desire.

Stephen learned about negotiations and started to structure conversations with clients. He asked more questions and really tried to understand what they wanted and get them excited about the brand they wanted to build.

The Right and Wrong Way to Create Authority

Many people think building authority takes a lot of talking and flexing your muscles. Actually, questions are a really powerful tool when it comes to building authority. The more you are talking the less your clients are talking. It is so important that clients feel you are interested in their business and helping them build their brand.

With the right questions, you can get clients to consider that there’s maybe another path they haven’t considered. You can get them to dream about different possibilities that will help build a relationship and build authority. Remember, you always want to position yourself as a trusted advisor, and listening to your clients is a great way to do that as well as separate your agency from the competition.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Do you feel that your agency has hit a plateau? Are you wondering what steps you could take to reignite your growth? Maybe it’s time to get out of your comfort zone. Maybe you're not making your agency's needs a priority. Maybe you're just too close to your business and can't see the forest for the trees.

In this week's podcast episode, our Agency Scale Specialist Darby Copenhaver shares the common challenges he's hearing from agencies. In his role, Darby speaks with agency owners who are looking for a leg up, whether that means working with Jason or not, to identify their issues and create a game plan for overcoming them so they can achieve their growth goals.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Overcoming the most common issues for agency owners.
  • How to get more clarity so you can scale.
  • Branding yourself vs. branding the agency.
  • Why the fear of missing out (FOMO) is holding you back.

The Most Common Reasons Agency Growth Reaches a Plateau

As agency owners, we put so much energy into our clients’ success and strategies and we forget to do the same when it comes to our own marketing and growth strategies. Because of this, many of the agency owners that come to us frequently feel stuck. They’ve plateaued and can’t figure out what comes next. In Darby’s opinion, this is rooted in a lack of prioritization.

We tend to put ourselves last because we want to do the best we can for our clients. This is very common, but we need to make time for the things that we want to accomplish in our businesses. Remember there’s a difference between making time and having time. There’s always time where you make it. You may not think you have time, but you must make the time to overcome the plateau you're on.

How Clarity Will Help Overcome the Plateau You're On

We’ve talked about the importance of niching down and the benefits it can bring for your business. However, it is still a very common fear, and understandably so. Agency owners feel they’re missing out on something or going in a certain direction will mean leaving many opportunities behind. This kind of thinking pulls you in many different directions at once. A clear vision of the goals you have for your agency will make all the difference.

Improving yourself and your agency will take dedication and intent. Reaching your goals is just as important as reaching the goals of the people you work with. This is something that we often discuss in the Digital Agency Elite mastermind when we advise members to say no to some things and delegate tasks to free their time for focus on what they really want to do.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Understanding That Comes With More Clarity

Once we start to cover some of the things that may be slowing their growth, agency owners start to recognize some small changes that could make a big difference for their agencies. One of the most common ones is capitalizing on their existing relationships. They realize they haven’t taken the time to recognize opportunities with existing clients and grow revenue from there. There’s so much low-hanging fruit there that they don’t realize. With the help of the mastermind team, they realize they need to go after those opportunities and empower their team to do so as well.

Many of them also overlook the importance of creating content and building authority. Having clarity about who you are as an agency, who you audience is and what you offer can lead to building content of value around that. This can only improve your business because providing value-driven content instead of generalized marketing tips will lead to better opportunities.

Should You Brand Yourself or Brand Your Agency?

Sharing your personal branding helps you align with the right clients. Remember that people buy from people and tend to not trust companies and corporations. Personalizing things will help you establish yourself as someone clients can trust. You can see bigger companies commonly offer a personification of the business (like the Geico gecko) people can relate to.  And in Jason’s social media, you’ll see posts about his adventures on the mountain, which personifies his brand and attracts the type of people that share his love of adventure.

Many agency owners believe that branding themselves will mean that they’ll be expected to do everything themselves. It’s a misconception that people need to get past because it’s just not realistic. If you buy a Tesla, you don’t expect to deal directly with Elon Musk in the purchase process, but that’s the personality that probably attracted you to that company and that product in the first place. It’s about investing in the leader and having the confidence that their team will work in consonance with what those figures represent.

Some mastermind members that took the step to do their own content on Youtube or their own podcast find that many times clients and employees approach the agency because they wanted to work with them. They are attracted by the personality and the values that they represent and now this content has become their main source of leads.

Lose The Fear of Missing Out & Start Taking Risks

The clarity that you need to continue your growth will come with losing the fear of saying no, niching down, and putting yourself out there. Mastermind members feel encouraged to make these changes and lose that fear because they can see it works for other agency owners. Once they see it works, they want to reach that same level of success.

As Darby says, anything in life involves some degree of risk. Every time you say yes to something you’ll be saying no to other things. Just take into consideration what you are really giving up and what are you gaining.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Why_Your_Agency_Hit_a_Plateau_and_How_to_Catapult_to_the_Next_Level.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you have a clear vision of your agency’s future and your role in it? Would you like to sell your agency or just transition out of the role of CEO, maybe to Chairman? We all have to confront these questions at some point as we consider our agency's growth trajectory and what's next. Today’s guest may help you start to think about how to structure your agency for your eventual exit.

Zach Williams is an entrepreneur and longtime mastermind member who founded Venveo, a digital agency that focuses on the building construction space. He’s been on the podcast before talking about the 2 strategies that grew his digital agency’s revenue by 4X. After many years in the business and growing his agency from just four people to over 65 employees, Zach started thinking about the best way to continue moving the business forward. He concluded it was time for him to step away as CEO, while continuing to contribute to the agency’s vision.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How he made the decision to become a Chairman instead of CEO.
  • How he structured the agency to be able to get to that point.
  • What support Zach needed in order to get through the difficult times.

Redefining Success and Gaining Clarity In Your Agency

A lot of agency owners get into the business because they love the work and then end up hating it. For Zach, it was important that he built something that he loved while trying to keep a clear idea of his role in it and what he brought to the table. Once the company saw real growth, he started to redefine his idea of success. He started by clearly setting out his goals for the business and his personal goals. He found that what he brought to the business as an individual no longer served the goals for the business and it became clear then that he needed to exit for both the business and himself to thrive.

Zach was always very focused on business growth and getting the agency to be self-sustaining. He never wanted to be the type of entrepreneur that focuses solely on EBITDA. His goal was to create a business that could grow beyond him. Making the decision to really focus on that changed the way he and his team structured the company, the people he brought to work on the business, and even the clients they took, which made for a really smooth transition process when the time came.

How to Make a Smooth Transition Away from Agency CEO

Other than having a clear vision of what type of business he wanted to build, Zach credits these as the most important steps he took to grow his agency:

  1. Picking a niche. This is probably the most important thing you can do. You need to understand who you are targeting, what’s the value that you’re bringing them, and how are you going after them. Understanding this made all the difference for a company that business remained a small-scale operation with four employees for many years until they knew who to target and how to get better at sales.
  2. Improving sales. Looking back, Zach recognizes that he initially didn’t really like sales, which affected his agency’s growth. He knew he needed to improve a lot in that area and finally did so following Jason’s advice. He saw results right away, landing his biggest deal shortly after starting to implement Jason’s advice.
  3. Hiring a Director of Operations. Once he started filling the sales pipeline, and his confidence grew as a result, he started to build into infrastructure operations. He hired a Director of Operations and a counterpart to oversee the client strategy and continued to grow 20%-30% year-on-year. The turning point was understanding that filling your sales pipeline will lead to a waterfall effect where having more opportunities will get you to a point where you can increase your prices, which will lead to hiring the right people. This will all allow you to follow your vision.

Why You Must Trust Your Team and Empower Them Make Decisions

Agency owners can have a hard time giving up control, even when they say they completely trust their team and are convinced they have the right people in the right positions. You can’t really grow unless you give people the autonomy they need. This will not only give you more time to focus on what you really want to do, it will be good for the business and your team will grow more confident from that trust and the knowledge that you have their back. They are going to make mistakes and that’s ok. If your team doesn’t think they can take risks, then that’s on you as a leader. It will even help you get rid of team members who resist change and want to stay in a box.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Process to Getting a New Agency CEO Ready

For Zach, when it came time to select and start to train a new CEO it was a no-brainer to go for someone inside the organization. This person was already a team leader who had worked in the company for years and really knew the business, was a culture fit, and had a good rapport with team members and clients. As to the transition, he mapped out daily tasks that he could start to exit. He identified parts of the business where he was really involved and that would require either a new hire or delegating it to someone who was ready. This gave him more time to really think about how he wanted to position his new CEO and executive team for that transition. When it came time to announce it, the team was ready and saw it as a natural next step.

What's Next After You Transition Away From CEO?

After a successful transition, Zach now has two main roles in the company:

  • He continues to be involved in the marketing part of the business (attending events and appearing on podcasts).
  • He is still focused on finding new things the agency can build to offer new value to clients.

This will really depend on how each agency owner sees their life after transitioning out of the role of CEO. Some may want to have nothing to do with the business and focus on new projects or hobbies. That’s fine too. Zach really likes the process of building something and getting it off the ground. He found he really shines when it comes to creating things that can help the agency be more successful with clients.

In the end, selling the business is not for him. He loves his team and his business and can still play a part in helping the agency grow.

Remember that Jason always identifies 3 reasons why an owner should really consider selling their business:

  1. You need the money.
  2. You don’t like the business anymore.
  3. You’ve reached your max and you want someone else’s help.

In addition, transitioning away from CEO has created time for Zach to pursue new ways to create. He is working on a new project called The Untold. A podcast where he uncovers obscure stories about businesses we all know. If you like business, you really need to check this out to learn really cool stories that will entertain you and change the way you think.

“Words tell you something, fonts make you feel something” ~ Zach Williams, Font connoisseur

Why You Need the Support of Like-Minded Entrepreneurs

We’ve said it before but it’s always worth highlighting the benefits of having a group of people that you trust and who can offer valuable advice. Being an entrepreneur and trying to build and grow a business will be difficult and isolating. Very few manage to do it successfully, which is why you need the support of people who will understand and ins and outs of growing a business. Zach had the support of Jason and the mastermind, who offered their expertise to help him get through the tough times and keep him accountable for his goals for the business.

If You Avoid Discomfort, You're In Your Own Way

If he could go back and do something that could help his business grow faster, he would push himself to go in a direction that seems uncomfortable but that would ultimately help the agency. In his case, it would be sales. He didn’t like sales and subconsciously avoided it but it was the key element to grow his business.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_To_Get_Away_from_Being_Agency_CEO_and_Remain_Part_of_Its_Future.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you starting to grow your agency and feel the need to keep adding services and saying yes to every potential client? Getting out of that startup mindset is difficult. However, you will be glad you did it when you start seeing better results for your agency by just learning to avoid complexity and focusing on the right things.

Kait Le Donne worked in marketing in her 20s and started to do brand consulting for small businesses on the side. She came up with a plan to help a client become a known entity and get more speaking engagements in their field by writing a book. The strategy was so successful she found a new career path and founded Brandwise Media, a niche agency specializing in helping business owners build audiences excited to buy their books and using those books as a vehicle to drive up brand awareness for themselves.

In this episode, we'll discuss:

  • Getting out of the startup mode.
  • Narrowing down services.
  • Why you need to raise your prices.

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.

Subscribe

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How Would You Simplify Process If You Could Start Over?

Raise your hand if you can relate. When you start to scale and people want to work with you, you start to add more. You have more revenue, so you add more people and keep adding services. It becomes about asking yourself, what more can we do? What more can we add?

Two years after starting her agency and with other seasoned entrepreneurs around her, Kait realized the reality of growing broke. Her top-line revenue was increasing and expenses were increasing in correlation. In short, growth costs. At some point, you really have to ask yourself if you had to rebuild your business, would you do it in the same way? For Kait, the answer was no.

She realized she had fallen into the trap of thinking that the more she offered clients quantity-wise the better her agency would be. In reality, creating value is not a matter of more is more. It can come with pulling back and going back to what you do really well and establishing profitability there.  Then you decide if you want to grow that and how.

She started to question “do we really need these complex processes?” “Do we really need this many clients? Or do we just need less clients at the right price point?” She encourages any agency owner that has started growing their business to ask themselves these questions. The bigger the better is a truism that many entrepreneurs fall for.

When you’re in startup mode, it’s normal that you just throw a lot of stuff to the wall to see what sticks. With experience and growth, there will come a point when you start figuring out your path.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What Can You Do To Start Narrowing Down Services?

There are many ways to go about it, but Kait identifies three main aspects that really helped her get on the right path for her agency:

  1. Start prioritizing the right clients. Letting go of clients that are just not the right fit for your agency may sound frightening, and you may expect it to be a really difficult conversation. However, most likely it won’t be as bad as you imagine. At the end of the day, anybody in a service business will respect it if you tell them “This is what we need to do to continue working together. And if we can’t, then that’s fine.” You can go your separate ways on good terms.
  2. Simplify the process. Kait and her team came up with what they call the Brand Turbo Charger Process, which in short contains the five or six parts of the process from the moment the client enters the door to the moment they leave. “There is a time and a place for a complex web of SOPs,” she acknowledges. “But this has been very illuminating for our business.”
  3. Figuring out the time to bring full-time employees. Not only the right time to bring in a new team member but also having the right employees in the right positions. When does it make sense to take this step vs. when your staff is largely compiled of contractors, which a lot of us do as agency owners, and there is a time and a place for it.

It may sound overly simple, but it is all about gaining clarity of where you want to take your business.

Lose the Fear of Raising Agency Prices

Once you have a clear vision of the future of your business and start prioritizing the right clients, it’s time for another difficult step. Ask yourself what was the last time you raised your prices? Raising prices may sound like a risky way to lose a lot of clients, but it is the next logical step for a growing business. You can double or triple your business just by making some simple changes instead of adding services. Kait let her clients know her prices would go up by 10% at the start of 2022. All the right clients already expected this move.

You may think that clients will walk out when you decide to raise your prices, but you have to trust that the right ones know your value. And if some do leave, then now you have space for the next right one. Kait even did this with her online course. Once she doubled the price, more clients showed up because now the pricing said “this is not like every other online course out there.”

What She Wishes She Had Known

As an entrepreneur, you will always have to exist in duality. You’re focused on operations and suddenly you have to focus on sales. There always seems to be a fire to put out. Maybe you ask yourself am I over managing? Am I undermanaging?

The sooner you accept that as an entrepreneur you actually thrive in duality instead of fighting it, the better. Never get comfortable. That’s when you start doing the same thing over and over again. And you probably chose this business because you like uncertainty and you are comfortable with the fact that there will always be an issue to fix and a puzzle to put together.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Why_Your_Startup_Mindset_is_Holding_Your_Digital_Agency_Back.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you looking for ways to improve your customer service? Have you implemented a customer success strategy in your organization? Nils Vinje is an author and leadership coach who founded the first-ever customer success firm, Glide Consulting, to help organizations improve their leadership skills and teaches the tools you may be lacking to implement a proper customer success strategy, which he details in his new book 30 Day Leadership.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • 5 keys to improving your clients' success.
  • Tracking where you stand with your agency's clients.
  • 4 Pillars to becoming a better leader.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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We’ve all had a bad customer experience some time in our lives. Maybe we feel exasperated by a customer service team and has failed to solve a problem several times or is slow to provide answers. As agency owners, we need to be aware of the consequences of inefficient customer service and how it will affect brand loyalty. It often boils down to lack of onboarding and a clear, no real-time assistance, and mostly the absence of a clear strategy. So how are you getting success for your clients? How can you improve your customer service?

5 Keys to a Great Customer Success Strategy

According to Nils, it is very common for organizations to lump customer service with other areas like sales. It takes a village to serve a customer and there must be a team responsible for this task. “You have a product strategy,” he tells owners, “you have a sales strategy, what’s your customer strategy?” He often gets blank stares. Because of this, he prepared his own 5-Step framework for customer success:

  1. Being Prescriptive
    Let’s say you ask for lawyer referrals to do some kind of business deal. You get two referrals, one that confirms his experience in the area and asks you what he should include in the contract and one that gives you a list of things you should cover, a series of recommendations, offers a perspective of the best scenario for you and finally asks how you would like to proceed. You should strive to be like the second lawyer. Clients are not paying you to be asked what they want to do. Be the trusted advisor right from the beginning.
  2. Transformation
    Clients are usually expecting some kind of transformation from buying a service. They are at point A and want to get to point B. It is up to you to define what is the absolute best transformation for your clients before they ever go through your process. Ask yourself how you could provide the best possible value for them. That is the destination because then they will very likely renew and expand their relationship with your agency.
  3. A Fresh Start.
    This is the moment right after your client signs up to work with you. Their openness, willingness, enthusiasm, and ability to get things done will never be higher than at that point so this is the moment to set expectations regarding how you will continuously drive value to that customer over time.
  4. Engaging Middle.
    There is a sense that all the intense part of the process happens at the beginning and then we get into a rinse and repeat the cycle. This rhythm is important. However, we must not miss the opportunity to continue to add value to our clients and come to the table with recommendations on what to improve and what to change.
  5. Crushing the Milestones.
    According to Nils, businesses need to architect the right milestones for their customer strategy and build stepping stones to get there. This way, you can understand whether you are on track or off track with a customer.

If you answer each of these steps in a very detailed manner, then you now have a customer’s strategy.

Keeping Track of Where You Stand With Clients

Client churn is going to happen, and that’s ok. It will be an opportunity for you to upgrade. The key is to know when it’s going to happen because it’s the surprise that kills you. When you have a strategy in place for your customers, you can know how on track or off track they are, and that can give you a very good indicator of how likely they are to renew.

If your client retention rate is not as good as you hoped, what are you doing to fix this? Jason likes to recommend a system of monitoring client satisfaction with a stoplight approach: red, yellow, and green.  Everyone starts out at yellow and hopefully moves to green once they start seeing results. Clients in the red are the ones in danger that need intervention because they're at risk. How can you communicate better with your red and yellow clients? How can you help them more? Or is there something they're not telling you? Intervention is the key.

Improving your customer retention rate by 5% would probably double your business and achieving that will require working on your communication with clients. It’s better to over-communicate with your clients than to under-communicate. As soon as there is a vacuum of information where there is not an answer to an issue, your customer will likely be thinking negatively and assume you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

4 Pillars of Becoming a Better Leader 

A lot of agencies start by accident and you suddenly find yourself leading several teams that rely on you to point out how they can improve at their jobs. When thinking about the complex world of leadership, we can’t just pick some random tips and expect to get a better result. We have to take a long-term view and apply it to develop our leadership skills.

As a first step, Nils came up with four fundamental pillars to become a better leader:

  1. Leading yourself. All about you and your psychology;
  2. Leading others. The interactions with your team;
  3. Leading with communication. The tools and techniques to communicate and send your message to the people that you work with and your clients as well;
  4. Leading with metrics, which is all about how we measure our progress to identify how we can improve.

The Most Important Leadership Tool

If you really want to improve your leadership skills, Nils suggest you focus on Feedback. Learning how to give negative feedback in a way that will help people get better at their jobs will be one of your most important qualities as a leader. However, giving negative feedback is something that most people try to avoid because it is uncomfortable and they don’t have a system to do so. Here’s a 3-step process that you can implement:

  • Here’s what I observe. Start with these words and follow up with an objective and very specific instance. This is not the place for generalities but rather for a specific event or behavior you witnessed.
  • The impact that had. Your interpretation of the impact of that behavior you observed.
  • Help me understand what’s going on. Invite them to share their point of view. We never know where someone else is coming from. But, if you choose to just share your observations and the impact they had and then ask them to explain what is happening, you will get them to share their side of the story, which you would never get on your own.

This is a fairly simple framework that anybody could start using today. “I guarantee your employees want that feedback” Nils assures. It will improve their lives, their jobs, and your relationship with them and you can even implement it with clients too. For more insight on the tools to becoming a better leader, go get Nils’ new book 30 Day Leadership.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 5_Keys_To_a_Great_Customer_Success_Strategy_to_Retain_More_Clients.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Build It and Maybe They Will Come?

Unless You Get Different and Stand Out from the Crowd

Do you want your digital agency to stand out from your competition? Putting together a compelling message for your audience is not enough to really make an impression. Differentiating your agency is an important part of getting your audience’s attention and getting your message across among the slew of marketing messages they get every day.

Mike Michalowicz is a small business author and entrepreneur who has devoted himself to making entrepreneurship simple and answering the question What makes entrepreneurship successful? He is the mind behind many great books like 'Profit First', a favorite among mastermind members, and his latest 'Get Different'. Mike has also been on the podcast before to discuss how to grow your business without constantly working in it.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to stand out from the competition.
  • Ideas that break the norm and introduce an unexpected element.
  • Ripping off other industries.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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How Can You Stand Out From Your Competition?

Ask yourself “are you better than the competition?” You have to have a definitive answer, and no, it does not mean better in all capacities, but there must be an area where you shine. If the answer is yes, then you have a responsibility to market yourself appropriately. You MUST be noticed. If you don’t, then clients will end up choosing a lesser offering and it will be your fault. Every business has the opportunity to be the best in its category. If you’re not, you may have some fine-tuning to do, but the opportunity is there.

Worst Marketing Examples

We tend to think bad marketing is marketing that doesn’t speak to us, that we don’t like or is offensive. But the fact you noticed it means that it was better than 99% of the marketing out there. There’s marketing all around us every day that we don’t even bother to notice. That’s the worst marketing. Being seen is the first hurdle.

The second hurdle is getting the audience’s attention for the right reasons. Don’t try to emulate something that isn’t true to your brand or the attention you get will be becoming a ridicule and an example of bad marketing.

How to Market Your Agency

For Mike, the way to be noticed is to be different, to break through the common noise that is always circulating in every market. Look at your competition and notice the same four or five things that everyone is doing over and over again. Those are the four or five things you should never do because they are easy to ignore. Why?

This is the result of Habituation, which is the action which our brains see something that is not relevant, qualify it as such, and ignore it from then on. Mike goes back to the “Hey, friend!” message. The first time he received that email he was curious, but as soon as he noticed it was just a cheesy marketing technique, he began ignoring it.

You never want to be the common “hey, friend” in your marketing, and the way to avoid it is to introduce something unexpected in your messaging.

Steps To Stand Out and Not Be a “Me Too” Agency

In the agency world, when you’re just starting out you may look at your bigger competitor and try to copy everything they’re doing. It makes sense because they have achieved the success you want, but this creates sameness in the industry. Instead, consider identifying whatever the common approach is and thinking, how can I flip it?

For example, Mike knew sending email blasts was a common practice in his industry and took a look at a couple to see the most common features. The look was almost always white background and black text. He thought, “how could I change this?” and came up with the invisible ink email blast, with a black background and black text and directions to highlight the email to reveal the message. The clickthrough rate was double that any other email he had ever sent, all because he did something different.

He also recommends doing a simple R&D (aka: "rip off and duplicate") by looking outside of your industry. Take a look at what people are doing in vastly different industries and find out what you could replicate in your own content.

Be Bold

“The reptilian mind tells you that doing different equals death,” Mike says, but in modern society, it is the way to get noticed. Also, “different” has an expiration date. It will last until too many people start replicating it, so milk it while you can and start working on your next approach. But don’t worry; it will take time before others dare to replicate it.

It’s also important to clarify different doesn’t have to be completely outside of who you are. It doesn’t mean a complete 180-degree change; it can be subtle. The trick is to dismiss ideas that don’t resonate with you and adapt the ones that do. It’s about amplifying who you are.

Remember, no one will have any idea about you or your digital agency until they do business with you. Until then, they will only know your marketing, so it has to be absolutely congruent with your brand. If there’s any incongruence, there’s mistrust.

How Can You Hold Your Audience’s Attention?

Speak their language. Show them you really understand their particular industry. Use language specific to that industry and use relevant data to get their attention. Using their language will instantly get you noticed above all the white noise.

“Marketing is the ultimate act of kindness. It is a necessity to be of service. The world is starving for good things. So if you’re doing good things, the world is starving for you.” ~ Mike Michaelowicz

Want more?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Does_Your_Agencys_Messaging_Stand_Out_from_the_Competition_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you having trouble selling yourself and getting prospects to see the value you can provide for them? In this episode, James Muir joins Jason to talk about closing more sales and his book, The Perfect Close. James shares the process leading up to it, 4 high leverage areas in sales, how to prepare messaging that works to get a high close rate, and the two questions that can improve your closing percentage without ever sounding pushy or manipulative.

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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4 High Leverage Areas in Sales

The truth is there’s no messaging that will suddenly overwhelm people with persuasion and approval. You have to do your research and make your that you’re delivering the right message to the right audience and using the correct medium. James breaks down this process into four high leverage areas in sales that will you to improve your closing rate:

  • Market. The single best thing you can do to improve sales is sell only to ideal clients. Targeting the right customer will be pivotal because everything else falls below that in your funnel. If you get that wrong, everything you’re doing in sales will fall on deaf ears.
  • Message. Now that you figured out who you want to target, what is the message you want to send? It’s a very narrow window to get your message across once you have their attention, so you have to make sure that you’re delivering a high-impact message.
  • Medium. Now that you know who you’re talking to and what you’re going to say ask yourself where do these people hang out? Remember to meet the customer where they are (social media, trade shows, etc).
  • Motivation. This is about personal motivation, what gets you out of bed in the morning? Getting all these elements just right will require a lot of work and the right motivation will help you get through it.

Are You Talking to the Right Prospects?

For his part, Jason recommends thinking of N.B.A.T. before engaging in any new project conversation. These steps will help you save time and energy on the wrong prospects.

 Need:

Ask what the specific needs are and what specific end results they’re expecting. Ask how this project fits in with the overall company vision. If they need to pull in another person to answer that question, hold onto that nugget of information.

B – Budget:

Ask for the budget. More often than not, you won’t get an actual number so act like a reverse auctioneer… Start with a ridiculously high number saying, “Is your budget $500,000, or $400,000, maybe $300,000…?” They either give you a more realistic range or the name of someone who knows. Hold onto that nugget of information, too!

A – Authority:

Were they able to answer the questions about need and budget? If not, and they gave you another name or two, then you know who you really need to be talking to.

T – Timing:

Only you know what you can do and how long it takes. You might really want or even need this project but, if the timing has unrealistic parameters you are setting yourself up for failure.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Messaging to Increase Your Agency's Close Rate

There’s really great research available on how to create effective messaging and identifying the different elements you should consider when crafting a sales pitch. Some of these elements include determining the Issues or problems the customer has, as well as the goal they’re trying to achieve.

Then there’s the Trigger event, which are occurrences that lead to a sales opportunity and will indicate the best time to sell your product or service.

The most challenging part will be the Insight or unconsidered needs, where you get your prospect to see a compelling enough reason to buy by tapping into their unconsidered needs, which are shortcomings, challenges, or missed opportunities that they haven’t considered yet. This will help you create a value proposal of how you can produce some results for them.

The natural outcome of this will be Skepticism, which is the perfect moment for you to reveal your mechanism of action, the thing you do for the customer that produces the desired results.

For this, you will need Proof. There are many types of proof you can present, but you can get the best results with third-party validation because it is the hardest to fake.

You don’t necessarily have to follow this order, but this is the mechanism that will get buyers to make a decision now and not wait.

Related: Overcoming the Top 5 Agency Sales Objections

2 Questions To Improve Your Closing Percentage

Before you go into any meeting, you should have an idea of what you want the outcome of this meeting to be. You should have an idea advance and a couple of alternate advances. If you have that prepared, then you’re ready for the two questions, which are designed to be non-confrontational or pushy:

  1. Does it make sense for us to X? (where X is your sales advance).
  2. What do you think is a good next step?

It’s all about really considering the possible results before you walk into the meeting. Think about, what’s the best thing that could happen for the client? And what other things you can do keep the ball rolling?

By doing this, you’re pacing the sale at exactly the rate that the client is ready to move. It’s when you try to move a customer faster than they’re comfortable with when it can feel pushy or manipulative.

Want the Support of Like-Minded Agency Owners to Help You Grow?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Have you made these common mistakes that hold back your agency? Our guest, Sandy Smith is the President of Smith Publicity, has grown her agency for over 25 years and she shares lessons learned from 2 common mistakes she made over the years. Sandy's agency is focused on book marketing and author promotion services publicity. At first, a one-person shop they have grown to more than 30 employees with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Canada. Sandy and her Senior VP, Marissa Eigenbrood, are on the show sharing how their expansion process led them to open an office in London that ultimately brought more problems than business. They also share why you should act fast when an employee just doesn't fit with the company and why you need to find someone you trust so you can transition from owner to agency CEO.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Identifying the source of customer service problems. Although the agency is US-based, it used to have a London office. Susan later identified this as the source of 95% of their customer service problems. London was an important market for the agency and held 10% of its business. However, it took too much work to get their UK clients to understand how the business worked in the US and get them to a place where they saw the value in the agency’s work. In the end, these clients just weren’t the right fit for the agency, and closing the London office was an important step to move forward.
  2. Waiting too long to do what’s best for the team. Hanging on for a little too long after seeing someone just isn’t working out in their role is a common problem for small business owners who try to avoid these decisions. Sometimes the person is not a good culture fit for the agency; you never want someone to mess culture up, even if they’re great at what they do. For Sandy and Marissa, it was actually the opposite, someone was a great culture fit but who kept making the same mistakes in his job. After spending time and resources in retraining, they had to accept it wasn’t working out and make the necessary change..
  3. Transitioning from Agency Owner to CEO. With the help of Marissa, Sandy is in the process of doing something we know can be a difficult process -- transitioning to the role of CEO. We know by now that this transition is more of a marathon than a sprint. For Sandy, it has been about finding the right person to take over the tasks she no longer wants to handle and focus on the ones that she enjoys. “It's having trust and sharing, opening up our books, opening up our real thoughts,” Sandy says. “And it's not an overnight process. It's many years of trusting and slow steps of giving control and giving insights and allowing, and this is the hardest part, for difference of opinion.”

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Avoid These Common Mistakes in your Agency

Building Trust to Help You Transition from Agency Owner to Agency CEO

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, all! How's it going?

Marissa: [00:00:04] Hi, Jason, how are you?

Jason: [00:00:07] Doing good. So I haven't done two people on the podcast in a long time. So we're on these little boxes. I apologize for these little boxes, but for the people listening and watching, tell us who you guys are and what do you guys do?

Marissa: [00:00:23] Oh, well, thank you. I am Marissa Eigenbrood. I'm the senior vice-president at Smith Publicity. We are a book publicity and marketing agency celebrating 25 years in business this year in 2022. We focus on working with, with authors and experts and publishers on building awareness around their launches and beyond. That's a quick summary there.

Sandy, pass the baton.

Sandy: [00:00:47] Yeah, I’m Sandy Smith, Sandy Poirier Smith, but no one can pronounce that, but Sandy Smith. And I'm the president here and co-owner of Smith Publicity. And we started off as like a one-person shop and now we have 31 of us, 32, Marissa? And we've grown pretty much every year.

We've learned a lot. We've made a lot of mistakes and we've done some really great things. So we're excited, Jason, to talk with you and, um, pick our brains and see if we can help some of the people here.

Jason: [00:01:19] Awesome. So, well, let's, let's jump into it. What's the biggest mistake you guys made?

Marissa: [00:01:28] Love that. Wow.

Sandy: [00:01:29] One I would say is, as we were growing, we expanded our offices. We are based in the US but we had a Toronto office, a Los Angeles office, a New York city office, and a London office. And this is back in the day where… while we have always been hybrid, believe it or not even 20 years ago we were hybrid, having that kind of a brick and mortar office kind of made sense. And people expected that.

And our London office gave us this great, like worldwide, you know, kind of brand appeal, which was fantastic. However, our London-based our English-based caused, because they probably were maybe 10% of our total clients, but they caused 95% of our customer service problems. And the reason for that is the education that took to get them to understand what we do in the US market was just so much work.

And one example of that is an author said “I want to be on Oprah.” Well, okay, that's great, and can't she just schedule me in that type of thing. They just didn't understand that the vastness. Even geography, there was one author who said I want to pop a new office for a meeting. I will be in a meeting in… I'm going to a wedding in San Francisco, can I drive over to see you in New Jersey this afternoon?

It just… like some people just didn't have the scope of the US market. So even though it looked good and they did, you know, 10% of business, we decided not to continue having a London-based office just because those clients were not the right fit for us.

We spent so much time trying to educate and get them to a place where they saw value in what we do.

Jason: [00:03:28] That's awesome. Yeah, I know I'm figuring out the perfect clients for you is, uh, I always tell everybody it's kind of like a Vegas buffet. Like you gotta kind of try everything and then you're like, oh, that thing made me sick. I'm not going to eat that anymore. So…

Sandy: [00:03:44] Yeah, Marissa, another mistake that you want to talk about, unless you have another idea is, um, our evolution of the longer projects rather than the shorter but more quick projects that were evolving to.

Marissa: [00:04:00] Yeah. I mean, I think this is, this has definitely been an evolution. And also, um, again, it was not necessarily a giant mistake cause it worked really well for us for a long time, but kind of having that moment of realization and I did I had to really connect to that as well, is they're having times over the years where we've tried to incorporate other types of services that haven't been the real meat and potatoes, the publicity that we, that we focus on and we're, we're, we're really great at.

We for a few years added in social media services and, you know, we, we dabbled in other areas too. And I think it's really kind of realizing when it's time to say goodbye. And sometimes you hold onto those, those things for a little too long and we were doing that with shorter-term campaigns. I think, uh, we had previously six-week-long campaigns, or maybe even four-week campaigns… We actually had three-week campaigns, which in today's world of publicity sounds absolutely insane to do just three weeks of work with someone and have it be impactful.

But, you know, it's been part of the changing landscape of the media that we've had to react to as well. The time things are taking, the delays. The publishing industry is phase two, so there's so many factors that have influenced those decisions, but, um, really giving our, our publicists, our authors, the time that they need and, and really kind of building that awareness of, of how much time is really needed to be impactful is something that has evolved.

And we've really learned and grown from over the last few years in particular and so at this time, you know, we've, we've eliminated everything that's six weeks and less, pretty much. And you know, two months is not far behind it, I think too.

Sandy: [00:05:41] And that’s hard too because we made money from that. It was a great place but it just wasn't in the clients are our best interest to continue with that based on the changes we saw. So that was interesting.

The other one, um, and I don't want to just harp on mistakes. I think it's all small businesses is when someone is not working out in their role. I think sometimes we hang on a little longer than we would because our emotions get involved. We like these people. We want it to work. And I'm thinking of someone, Marissa, who was in our business development coordinator and years, and years and years ago. This person was fantastic individual. And we just kept changing the job description and kept changing his focus. And it wasn't working and we probably should have, in hindsight, let them go a lot sooner.

It just wasn't the right fit. But as a small business, we get probably a little more connected to our team and that's probably a mistake. And fortunately, we don't have to do this very often. We have hopefully better hiring and onboarding and vetting before we get to that stage.

But that's something that we struggled with as a small business. I don't think it's unusual, but I know that that since reading, cause we read a lot of books here, you're supposed to hire slow and fire quickly in small businesses.

Jason: [00:07:03] Was it that this person was not a cultural fit?

Marissa: [00:07:07] I think it was actually the opposite. It really was the, I mean, he really got along so well with everyone, you know, really was a nice fit with so many, but the skills were hard to really build in the direction that we needed them to go. Um, Sandy, would you agree with that?

Sandy: [00:07:25] I do. And again, because we read a lot of business books, I know that 80% of people are let go because of soft skills, the culture, and 20% it can do the job, but they just don't fit in. But I think in this case, it was the, exactly what Marissa said, culturally, he showed up, was great, people liked him…

He was all in, just kept making the same mistakes over and over and over again. And we probably gave him too much grace and too much training, like retraining and retraining before we just said square peg round hole.

Marissa: [00:07:59] Yeah. I mean, we've, we face it the other way around too. I mean, just fairly recently, we had someone and I learned from another great industry partner recently that, uh, she started at Shake Shack. They have this phrase where they say there's no, skunking, there's no skunking of the culture.

So even if you're amazing at your job and you, you're just one of the best in terms of the skills, if you are skunking up the culture and you're creating negativity there. You know, you're not a right fit and they're looking at an exit plan and that was, you know, we've had to have those conversations recently.

And I think that, you know, that's just as hard to deal with, as, in terms of letting someone go or figure out an exit plan as it is for someone who does, you know, who has that connection from the emotional side, from that cultural side, because you're like, wow, this person's great at their job. They're great at the tasks.

It's just that on the other side it’s…

Sandy: [00:08:54] Person. Yeah, it's just not a team player.

Jason: [00:08:58] I have a question because you guys have achieved something a lot of people listening are wanting where the owners can kind of start transitioning a little bit out, right? Like have a life again and find someone to, you know, run operations and really just kind of take the baton and run.

So going back 13 years and knowing what you know now, how can people listening do that? Because I find that's a big struggle. They, they, they don't want to relinquish control. Was that tough for you guys?

Sandy: [00:09:35] No. Oh, it's really hard and it's hard for it for two reasons. One is the company is our baby. It's our livelihood. That's, what's going to be funding our kids college and our retirement and all that. So that's, that's important to us.

It's also too, and I've learned this from many of our authors. People will sell a company or they turn over control to the next generation. Three years later, they're bored and then they write a book because they want to connect back to what made them feel good and what kind of got them out of bed every day.

So while, and I'm just being very transparent. I am not necessarily looking to step out of the business fully. What I'd like to do, Jason, is pick and choose more of the things that get me excited rather than the things that I don't want to do anymore.

My husband on the other end, as we speak he's outside with our chickens.

Jason: [00:10:27] He is he's chasing chickens? Should that be the title? Can you send me a picture of him chasing the chicken? And that’ll be the thumbnail.

Sandy: [00:10:39] If you flip through my phone, for everybody at home, is the picture of him, which of course, like it's not coming up because the, our Google call is on here, but here he is sitting on his tractor this way, yes, sitting on a tractor in the backyard.

But he's excited. He's a few years older than me, but not that older, but he's excited to really dive into other passions outside of the work. And I am still like, oh, I want to do this, but I'd never had time sometimes to really dive into some of these other opportunities for us. I think the hardest thing is to, to trust in someone.

Um, and what made it easier is Marissa because she is, not to get her head big, but she is….

Jason: [00:11:23] Be closer to the screen.

Marissa: [00:11:25] Right, here I come.

Sandy: [00:11:44] And she’s tall. She’s super tall too. What are you, 6’3, Marissa?

Marissa: [00:11:33] 6’3, yes.

Sandy: [00:11:34] 6’3 and she wears heals. So she’s got a beautiful confidence. But…

Marissa: [00:11:39] I just intimidate people into letting me run their company. That's all it is.

Sandy: [00:11:44] Exactly. It's having trust and sharing, like opening up our books, opening up our, um, our, our real thoughts. And it's not an overnight process. It's many years and trusting and slow steps of, of giving control and giving insights and allowing, and this is the hardest part, is allowing for difference of opinion. Mistakes allowing for those mistakes and saying, I'm going to, I'm going to let, not just Marissa, but our team, they have a different view than I do… weekly updates, but I'm trusting the team and say, okay, you feel strongly about this. Let's go.

And that's worked for us. And, and we might talk about this in the future, but we're getting to that stage of size, where we need a lot more expertise than we have from running the day-to-day business than we have now.

We don't need a human resource person sitting in an office or a cubicle all day. But we need human resource expertise, the same thing for IT, the same thing for all the other functionalities, a CFO. And having someone like Marissa it's just so great because I don't feel like I'm in a vacuum doing it alone.

And that's something that for people who are looking to do this in the future is to find that internal person or someone new who, whoever to accompany, someone that you trust. But I’m just as excited to grow the business and a sounding board for the headaches and the challenges. So it's actually freeing because we're not alone.

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Yeah, you know, I, I always tell our mastermind. You know, once you figure out as an owner or leader where the ship is going, then you can bring the right people on and delegate the outcomes rather than delegate the tasks because many people will do them very differently. And the reason why I've always liked to get a number of different, really smart people together is because you see things differently.

And I like how you probably did it in stages of, you know, this was not a quick fix. Whenever I tell anybody when you want to get to a point where you have the option to sell or the option to pick and choose to do what you want the agency, that's really when your agency scales, because now you've transitioned from owner to more of a, a leader because the owner does everything. Like, you can't chase chickens as an owner. Uh, well, I mean, I guess you, you chase different kinds of chickens, the pay you collect the checks.

Marissa: [00:15:59] I was just going to add in too, I think the fact that even as a small, smaller company and a smaller agency here, you know, having the 30 some people, but even in the years prior, if we were closer to 20, there's always been layers and having that in place with  Dan as CEO, Sandy, as president. We've had other vice presidents as well in there.

So there's, there is we're leadership-heavy, but in, in the right way, is that it feels like it's not an agency where you have the CEO and you just have somebody who's replacing that person. And there's no kind of other people around to support that.

So I think, you know, for me and I listen, I've again, 13 years, I've been here. It's my entire career. I started at Smith a year after college and it's intimidating at times to even think about running a business when I didn't work really anywhere else before, and this is all I've known.

And so it's just, it's so great to know that as I learn more things or take on new responsibilities and, and grow over time that I have others around me who are, who have a lot of them who have been through it just as long or longer than I have, but who are just there to support. And just especially when Sandy's role in having Sandy as a partner, so many things that we do together all the time, it's just doesn't feel as daunting of a thing that potentially take on whatever that looks like in the future when Dan wants to fully, fully go off the pasture and, and, uh, and seeing what's next from there.

But it's, it's knowing that you have these true, like partners that you're doing this with, you're not making the decisions solely on your own, and you've got these different opinions and ideas to loop into it. And I mean, that's always been something that we've, we've really just kind of stood by at Smith is that everybody has a voice at the table.

So we're always looking at, it's not just the leadership team, but new people who are joining. And what ideas do you have? How can we grow? What, what, what are you bringing in from wherever you worked before? Some of our best ideas and, and most profitable growth opportunities have come from the ideas that have come from those who are newer to the team too.

So it's just knowing you're not alone through all of it, makes it a little less daunting.

Jason: [00:18:10] Yeah. And I think, you know, I go back to, you know, Sandy, what you said too about now that I don't have to do everything, but I still want to be a part of it, and like how you were saying like a lot of owners that sell or whatever.

I was like that. When I sold my agency, for like two weeks I was like, yes, I can go chase my chickens or whatever, right? Um, I can't get this out of my head. This needs to be in the thumbnail. How you can chase chickens and grow your agency. But I was depressed after I sold because I didn't feel like I had that significance.

And then I also went through a depression in my agency when I was running it when I actually transitioned from the owner to the CEO, the person really leading the ship. Because I didn't have to do all the other little stuff. I only had to do like five different roles, which were like, you know, setting the vision for the agency, coaching and mentoring leadership team, blah, blah, blah, right?

And I always tell my mastermind members and the people that I work with and all the people listening on. I'm like, look, when you get to this point where you can pick and choose the things you want to do, you'll go through a depression. And then you have to realize, you go your role switched and like, you need to hand over the reigns and trust the people that you put in place.

And then once you do that, then it's very freeing. But in the very beginning, when you go into a meeting and you're like, hey, can I help? And they're like, no, Jason, I got this. And then you go to the next meeting. They do the same thing and you're like, I'm a piece of shit

Sandy: [00:19:47] No, we don’t. And that's the goal, but it's when you've been needed and you'd feel at the end of the day, like, wow, I helped, I did this. I need that taken away. That's a big shift for sure.

Jason: [00:19:57] Oh yeah. What's the biggest, most important thing you've learned in the business to date that you both have learned? And I'll let you go first, Marissa.

Marissa: [00:20:09] Wow. I mean, I really think it's and I'll shout out to, uh, Diane Eichenberg, that’s my mom because growing up, she’d always told me to be true to myself.

And I almost got a tattoo on myself at one point and did not do that. And she was very happy that I didn't do that, but it sounds so basic and cliche and, but I really, it, over my years, I learned that. I actually, I went through kind of a big personal transition about like seven years ago, six or seven years ago now.

And it was this moment where I personally had this like kind of moment where I'm like, I've got to just be true to myself. That was the time that I found that I could really come forward and encourage more transparency and just honesty and open communication about things and sharing my ideas more fluidly.

I think that was just such a big, big jump. And then it's, I feel like so much of the company has even changed, not just because of me that way, but I'm saying this as a whole, we've all just moved into this culture of transparency and we definitely had earlier years where there was a lot of walking on eggshells or trying to like kind of scoot around having to have tough conversations sometimes because of people's feelings.

I just feel like we are in such a great place now of all of this, knowing that if we're honest with each other, we have those open conversations. We state how we're really feeling about something. It's really making our work easier. It's making everything more productive and more efficient in a lot of ways too.

And that's just been kind of, like I said, it sounds so cliche in some ways, but it really has been such a big moment for, or it's a big transition for me and then understanding the company moving that way as well.

Sandy: [00:21:50] I agree with you everything Marissa is saying, and I'll take a different turn here and kind of a client service perspective. Something is to just pay attention to the details of what’s working and try to replicate that. And what I mean by that is many years ago, when I was working closely with Dan and he was working his 18 hour days, seven days a week, as new agencies owners kind of do, is to really pay attention to the nuggets of what's working and to try to replicate that.

And when you read something that Dan wrote about an author, you just want to read this book. It's like, damn, this is really good. It could have been the worst book or not the worst book, but a book that would be not appealing to me in the slightest, but he could write in a way that it's like, wow, I want to see that.

Well, how do you capture that spirit and duplicate, replicate that on all our projects? And the same thing for even onboard or communication. And when I first really got into working with Dan, what was exciting for me was finding his brilliance and what he was doing, and then making it happen more consistently across all our clients.

You know, for example, we have an author questionnaire that people have to fill out before they start working with us. We have, that wasn't standard when we first started and now we do what we've expanded it. And now our publicist and our team get the right information at the beginning and we don't stop.

And the same thing with our communication delivery, where we used to have monthly reports, and then we started having cumulative reports and then we started having standard calls and more sophisticated reporting. Just figuring out what makes one client happy, what makes one publicist efficient, taking that nugget and then replicating that, where it makes sense. I think that is something that we do well.

We never rest on our laurels that we, that we're as good as we can be. We want to keep learning and listening to our clients, listening to our publicist, because we want to be ahead of the service that we provide rather than trying to catch up with the trends. And I think that's one way is really listening and then picking out those golden service deliverables and trying to make it standard across where it makes sense.

Jason: [00:24:14] I like it. Yeah. You know, I, I think too many of us forget about the things that are working and we are constantly focused on new stuff rather than just going back to the basics. You know, I always joke with people when I was playing tennis in college, like if I was doing bad, my coach would yell out, go back to the basics. You're thinking too hard.

Marissa: [00:24:36] Yeah. I mean, we've definitely had, in our industry, there's always something new popping up. Whether it's, you know, Substack and Clubhouse and TikTok and new media. I remember when podcasts first showed up. I mean, that wasn't that long ago when they were really something that was worth paying attention to and adding in for our work.

And we're like, oh, what are these podcasts has gotten their basements, you know, doing their podcasts and is this going to be a thing? And, and it was something that we really had to, you know, we have to always kind of pay attention to what are those things that are starting to bubble under the surface and get some attention and how maybe impactful… but not kind of throwing everything resources, time, energy into, oh my God, how do we figure out how to have Clubhouse as part of our campaigns and make sure it's a staple in there and, and, you know, it's okay, well, we can dabble in it a little bit.

That's always kind of been, our approach was not running full force into whatever the next trend is, but really settling back into it. We'll say, hey well, traditional media is, is dying in a lot of ways. Certainly certain areas of it are not doing as well as they should when I started 13 years ago here, but there's a lot of other spaces that have, that have been booming with blogging and podcasts and video casts and whatever else it is.

So that's always has been something that we, we really tried to not let the trends dictate our, our decisions and our, the direction of our campaigns too much over, over time.

Jason: [00:26:01] Love it. And wrapping up, if there was a billboard, what would you guys put on the billboard? And it doesn't have to be work-related whatever it was, what would be on your guys' billboard?

Marissa: [00:26:14] Oh, I love that. Well, it's funny. I feel like, I feel like Dan would say we do good things for authors if Dan was on this with us, because that's always been the tagline for so long of Smith.

It sounds so basic, but we always say we do good things for authors since there's so many bits around that, but, um, I'll have to go back to my previous one and say, you know, be, be true to yourself, which Diane will get some credit there again.

Sandy: [00:26:39] I'll agree with Marissa. You know, one thing we say on our clients service, I think the answer to almost every question we get is it depends. And it's kind of a standard joke because for what we do, there's no one right answer. Whether it's a timeline, the length of service, how much you should be doing. So from a company perspective, I would say it depends because it really depends on you. So that's something from, from the service.

But I do want, Jason to, um, chasing chickens and running an agency. I think we might have to do something with that.

Jason: [00:27:15] Oh, yeah, you definitely should. Awesome. Well, um, what's the agency website people go and check you guys out.

Marissa: [00:27:24] It is smithpublicity.com. Tried to keep it pretty easy.

Jason: [00:27:28] Awesome. Well, I think everybody appreciates the easiness because a lot of times people make it very complex and misspell everything because they couldn't figure out the right domain. So we all appreciate the easy names, but, uh, thanks so much everybody for coming on. Uh, it was a lot of fun. I wish you guys tremendous success.

And if you guys want to be around other amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we can help you be able to figure out if you want to chase chickens or not, and really focus on the things that you wanted to be doing, I'd love to invite all of you to go check out the Digital Agency Elite.

This is our exclusive mastermind for agency owners and agency leaders that really want to get better and be surrounded by amazing people. So you guys can grow your digital agencies faster.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 2_Common_Mistakes_to_Avoid_While_Growing_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you afraid to niche for your digital agency because you think it means saying no? Are you scared niching down will pigeonhole your agency and limit its potential? Think again! There are so many benefits when you choose to focus your agency services on a specific market. Joe Giovannoli worked for a full-service agency right out of college and decided to replicate that model when it came to building his own business. Like many agency owners, he was hesitant to focus on a specific market. But once his agency, 9Sail decided to niche down to just SEO for law firms and construction, they started to grow quickly. Joe is on the show sharing about niching down twice, life after learning to say no, and the most exciting deal his agency has landed.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Niching down twice. There is a lot of fear associated with niching down and making the switch to only go after a specific market or provide a specific service. Joe did this twice, once to change their service offering from a full-service agency to an SEO & SEM agency. Then again to focus on two specific industries with law and construction. Both times it was a scary step and he found himself relieved at the results. “We started getting more referrals. We've started getting more qualified leads, and we actually started to establish a name for ourselves in those spaces,” he says.
  2. Clients that take you with them. When asked about the most exciting deals they’ve gotten as an agency, Joe thinks back to the times they get referred by past clients. This is a testament to their work as an agency. Some of former clients have worked at several different companies over the years and each time they get to a new company they call 9Sail to work with them again. “That’s the really exciting stuff,” he assures “the deals that we get referred in from a past client, or we get referred in from somebody that's happy.”
  3. Life after learning to say no. What is life after learning to say no to being the agency that does everything and choosing a niche where you can be an authority? “The word relaxed comes to mind,” Joe told Jason. For starters, the team feels comfortable learning the space and knowing they're going to use this knowledge time and time. Rather than always needing to learn the nuisances of different industries. Also, niching gives them an opportunity to build their pipeline where they chose the clients that are the right fit for the agency. This results in a more predictable means for growth.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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Saying No to Trying to Be Everything to Clients & Finding Success After Niching Down Twice

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

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Joe, welcome to the show. I'm excited to have you on.

Joe: [00:00:05] Yeah. Thanks. Excited to be here.

Jason: [00:00:07] Tell us who you are and what do you do?

Joe: [00:00:11] Uh, yeah, so, uh, my name's Joe Giovannoli. I am the founder and CEO of 9Sail. We are a search marketing company for law firms and construction companies. So we work on both the SEO organic side, as well as the paid search side of a marketing strategy that a law firm or construction company might have.

Our goal is basically lead generation for those, those companies.

Jason: [00:00:35] Awesome. And, uh, tell me a little bit about you and how you got started in the agency.

Joe: [00:00:40] Yeah. So I actually, uh, had started a company while I was in college. Uh, that was a social media marketing agency. And then coming out of college, I decided to work for a full-service marketing firm, you know, really just to get more experience.

I did sales and, you know, moved from there to another agency and realize that, you know, I love this agency world. I love the pace of it. I loved working with different clients and speaking with different business owners and, and marketing leaders. And I decided to start my own thing. So kind of fell into the industries that we are, that we're in now, you know, law firms and construction companies were just two really interesting spaces for us to be in.

And we identified some opportunity in the market so we went for it.

Jason: [00:01:24] Awesome.

Joe: [00:01:25] Yeah. We didn't set out to be just an SEO and SEM company. We were a full-service agency cause that's what I, only thing I knew and frankly, I didn't know that I could break off services at the time when I started the company. So we've been an SEO and SEM company for the last five years.

Jason: [00:01:43] What made you kind of drill down? Like what was the turning point or what was the aha moment?

Joe: [00:01:50] Yeah, there was a lot to that. I mean, really being a full-service agency, unless you have, you know, teams of people specializing in each thing, it's very difficult to be an expert. So we had one of those situations and I always refer to the book by John Warrillow 'Built to Sell'.

We had one of those moments where, you know, we had what we call fires all over the place. We had, you know, projects that were behind because a client was behind or, you know, somebody wasn't happy with the design or they had approved a design and then somebody, you know, told them, oh, you should try this. And then they want to changes.

And, uh, meanwhile, some of our SEO clients are just reaching out on a weekly basis saying, hey, we just closed this great deal or, hey, we, you know, we settled the case that made us, you know, $50,000, you know, this is great, thanks so much. And we realized, you know, what? Light bulb. We need to specialize because we're really good at this and we can only get better with, with time and with practice and with process.

So we said, you know what, let's cut the bait and really focus on what we know.

Jason: [00:02:47] Yeah, you know, it takes a while to get there. You know, I was talking to, um, a mastermind member this week and when they joined, they were around the 500,000 mark and now they're around the 2 million mark.

And I told them when you're going through this process, things will change. And a lot of times as things change, you have to make things simpler. And I was talking to a member and telling them how they had needed to drill down and say no to more things and really start eliminating some of the stuff that's not profitable or some of the stuff that's not streamlined that they do really well.

And, um, I'm excited to see where they, they can go cause when agency owners figure that out, that's when they have substantial growth and then they run into all new issues.

Joe: [00:03:38] Yeah. Honestly, that's like the launchpad, right? Is, you know, as soon as we recognize that and listen, we turn down more work than we take on a regular basis. And I have a couple of SEO agency partners that I have just grown to like and build relationships with.

I say to a prospect, hey, it's not for me, but here's two names that I recommend that you reach out to. I can make personal intros for you if you'd like, but we know what our wheelhouse is. And the second that we start to stray from it we're not doing our people any favors internally because they can't see themselves as experts anymore because they're working on 20 different industries. And you know, we're not doing our clients any favors because we're in a way trying to reinvent the wheel over and over again, learning things that maybe another agency could do better than, than we can.

Jason: [00:04:24] Yeah. What's the biggest deal or the most exciting deal that you guys have won?

Joe: [00:04:31] That's an interesting question. So for us, we get just as excited over the small boutique law firms that we work with as we do when we get a big law firm. So one of our clients who was a very, I would say older law it was much older law firm in New Jersey, they just rebranded because one of the partners became a named partner. And so we are helping them through the transition of changing the name online from one to another.

And, uh, you know, that has been super exciting. We've been fortunate to work with the chief culture officer there. She's now the chief culture officer. She's been at a couple of different law firms and, uh, we've had the opportunity to work with her pretty much everywhere she's went for the last five years. And, uh, that was really exciting.

The deals that we get referred in from a past client, or we get referred in from somebody that's happy. That's the exciting stuff that we, we love working on.Online Training for Digital Agencies

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Yeah. You know, that just tells you, you do good work when, uh, you know, I used to, we would work with some of the biggest brands and then we would get, I remember this one time we got in bed with Aflac and we were real excited. We were like, we can do all kinds of really cool things with this duck. And the CMO got fired.

And I was like, no! Like we were so close, but then that CMO got hired at another big firm or a big company and then they brought us in. It's always exciting when you get referrals or they take you along on the journey. I'm curious, what's been one of the biggest challenges that you guys overcame in the past couple years, that really made a difference for you guys?

Joe: [00:07:30] Yeah, you know. You kind of touched on it earlier and it goes back to saying no. I had a real challenge ahead of me when I realized that we did have to say no to things, because for me revenue and dollars where ways to grow the company and kind of grow the talent on the team and, and add to the team. And so I really struggled for a long time to say no.

And we had somebody come to us that knew of us and had been referred to us and essentially said, hey guys, we're willing to offer you pretty much three times what any of one client would typically pay us to kind of take over our search presence and know online presence. And it was so not a fit for anything that we had ever done and some back and forth conversation happened and we said, no.

And that was a big thing for me because I am a helper. I like to help people. I like to be the guy to not say no. And I learned, and I realized that I could say no, but I could offer them a solution, right? And, and I think that, that for me was the way that, that we got over that. But I think that that's been the biggest thing that we've overcome.

We have challenges today that we still face that we're still working through. And those will probably be the answer to that question in the future when we can solve them. But, you know, I think all in all our biggest thing was saying no. And I think we do that really well now.

Jason: [00:08:56] Yeah. One of our mastermind members, Chris, when he learned to say no and he did something very similar to you. He had a bunch of strategic partners that were in the same space and he really scaled his digital agency by going to those partners and saying, hey, here's a perfect lead for you. Because he had such a high criteria for his clients, and they were still really good leads, but they would pass them to other people that do the exact same thing.

And then they would replicate back and forth and really what became one relationship became a many relationships. It was when they started doing that, their digital agency scaled really quick and they really grew their agency fast.

So what's life like now that you've learned to say no? Like what does your daily routine look like?

Joe: [00:09:51] So we have our team kind of siloed out, you know, they work on, you know, I have, uh, somebody that's, their entire workload is law firms. I have actually two people that are in that way. I have one person that's just specifically focused on the contractors and construction companies.

So it's been a lot calmer and what I've found too and, and we've been seeing a lot of success with this is that, you know, our clients don't compete with one another. That's another thing is we don't take clients on that directly compete in the same market. So we will get a, a backlink opportunity and we'll be able to leverage that relationship for a couple of different clients over the course of time, because a different, you know, it may be a good place for a blog article, like a guest blog or something of that nature.

So for us, I think the word relaxed would come to mind because I think that the team can feel comfortable, you know, learning a space and, and knowing that they're going to use this time and time again, rather than kind of playing ping pong between different industries. But, you know, for myself personally, it's been great because growth is kind of predictable, right?

Is if I say, you know, hey, I really want to add two new clients a month and you know, I want to grow at that scale for the next year and we want to make sure that we're getting the right size clients. For me to say no to a bunch of things isn't a big deal because I know that I'm building a pipeline and I'm referring things out to people, but I'm getting the people that I want, right?

And in a way, now we're interviewing prospects to see if they're a fit for us, rather than, you know, scraping to grab everything and every dollar that comes our way.

Jason: [00:11:23] I love it. Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Joe: [00:11:29] No, not really. Other than I would say, you know, again, we talked a lot about, you know, our niche and our niche and, or however you want to say it. And, uh, I think that it really is something that people fear. I've talked to so many entrepreneurs that they fear that switch, right? That change of like, oh, well, we're going to only go after this or we're only going to provide this specific service.

And we did that twice. We did that with the service, changing our service offering, and then we did it again by picking a specific set of clients. And both times it was the most nerve-wracking yet rewarding thing in literally six months.

Like it went from being like a, oh my God, I can't believe we did this to and like, are we doing the right thing? To wow. We opened the flood gates. We told people, this is what we specialize in. We started getting more referrals. We've started getting more qualified leads, and we actually started to establish a name for ourselves in those spaces.

And we are no longer trying to be everything to everybody. We're just trying to be everything to somebody, right? And we are trying to be that go-to person for search marketing in these two spaces. Especially in the legal space, in and around the New Jersey, New York market people know our name, they, we are part of that conference,

Jason: [00:12:40] Yeah. I love that when I see digital agencies really do that, then they can say, well, it really steamrolls a whole, whole thing in order to scale the agency, because now you can be selective of who you take on, you can raise your prices to whatever you want, based on the value and their expectations.

You know, we were talking about this in the mastermind. I was asking people like, well, when do you guys raise your pricing? And some people are like, well, once a year, but we only do that for new people coming in and we were talking about strategy. We were like, look, you should all set up tiers and saying, the next five clients are at this price. The next five clients is this price.

And then once we get to this level, then we're going to go back to all our existing ones and raise it. And just little small changes like that can grow profitability because everyone focuses on top-line revenue and that's, I think bullshit.

I think it's all-around profitability because when we come in and we buy an agency, we're looking at profitability. I don't care if you're a 10 million, $20 million agency. If you don't have any profit, you're not worth anything.

Joe: [00:13:47] Right. Yeah. Well, it's funny you say that. So we operate a little differently than that model, but I think in the same vein. So we have set three, five, and 10-year targets as to what our average client is going to be worth. And again, to your point, we look at both top-line revenue, but a profit, right?

So we have it worked out where we know if they're at a top-line revenue at this all of our expenses are completely baked out. We know what our profit's going to be. So we've set those targets and essentially we know now that very similar to how, cause we also run traction, very similar to how you set quarterly rocks. We set quarterly expectations as to what our clients need to be paying at that point in order to make sure that the average of all of the clients that we have equals out to that number.

So, you know, we're really excited for that. And it is something that the entire team kind of grabs onto because they also know that the higher the dollar figure that the client is paying, the less clients that they're managing and the more detailed they can get with their clients, right?

So, and we try to explain this to our small law firms all the time is that, you know, you're taking the right step by doing the work that we're doing and working with us. But the reality is if you were paying four times this, right? You're going to have somebody that pretty much read a 50% of their time is going to be dedicated to just your stuff and think about all of the things that they could accomplish for your brand if they were solely focused on you.

Jason: [00:15:09] I love it.

Joe: [00:15:09] It's selling that vision.

Jason: [00:15:11] Yeah. Tell us what's the website people go and check you guys out.

Joe: [00:15:15] Yeah. So, uh, our company is 9sail.com. So it's the number nine, sail, like a sailboat, S A I L. Check us out. We're in the process of redoing that site again, you know, we're going to be expanding some of our SEO services to granularize some of the things that we do really well.

Digital PR is a, is on the horizon for us, something that we're going to be breaking down because it is pretty much the same thing as the backlinking that we do just, you know, on a, on a larger scale. So we are super, super excited about it, but yeah, check us out at 9sail.com.

Jason: [00:15:46] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. You rocked it. Everyone go check out their website, reach out to them if you need it. And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where you can scale your digital agency faster and see what's working and really have 60 plus trusted advisors to really help you out. I'd love to invite you all to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And go check it out, and if it's right, we'll have a conversation and let you know. So go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Increase_Your_Agencys_Revenue_By_Niching_Down_and_Saying_No.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you struggle to embrace automation in your agency's operations? Jordan Bell was already an ads expert that taught the ins and outs of creating successful ads when he started his agency Agency Bell, where he applied his knowledge to offer direct response ad mastery with AI-powered automation and retainer-level audience insights for law firms. In his interview with Jason, he talks about why it was difficult to embrace automation which ultimately became a game-changer for his agency. He also chats about the importance of really understanding what you're doing and not fully relying on technology as the ultimate solution, and why it takes a solid structure, more than just new technology, to get your agency through difficult times.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Embracing automation. Jordan was the guy when it came to ads. He could calculate the exact bid that we would need at a common conversion rate in like a specific keyword or targeting group. It was all manual. This is why it was very hard for him to embrace automation. In the end, it wasn’t about getting into machine automation, but actually turning it into a competitive advantage for them, which became a massive milestone for his agency.
  2. Can you find your way through a problem? We all need to get back to the basics at some point to remember what’s important. As Jordan puts it, you should learn to fly a plane before turning on automated navigation. “There’s so much technology available to us that it often becomes the solution in people's minds,” he says. They forget that, in order to be reliable, efficient and successful you should be able to understand what you’re doing in the context of what we're trying to achieve or the larger vision and goals. At the end of the day, regardless of what task management program you use, can you write down what outcomes you need to be able to achieve when you know, you've got like 20 or 30 tasks due that week?
  3. A solid structure to get you through. These have been difficult times where many have had to learn to adapt to new circumstances. There are solid frameworks that protect any kind of business and Jordan has learned that it’s not about getting to the new tech. It’s more about the management side of running a business, being in charge of the outcomes, having a vision for the future of the business, designing the lifestyle. These years taught him to really consider what work he should be doing versus not doing in the business as an agency owner.

Sponsors and Resources

Verblio: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Verblio. Check out Verblio.com/smartagency and get 50% off your first month of content creation. Our team loves using Verblio because of the ease in their process and their large pool of crowd-sourced writers.

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Using Automation as a Competitive Advantage & Really Understand the Context of What You're Trying to Achieve

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

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Jordan, welcome to the show.

Jordan: [00:00:04] Hey, thank you.

Jason: [00:00:05] You know, the funny thing is, is whenever we record these shows, it's like we have chatted before, which we've been chatting for like 10 minutes, but I guess we have to do that for you listeners out here, making it believe this is the first time we're chatting. But, um, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Jordan: [00:00:20] Yeah. So my name is Jordan Bell. I run a digital ad agency called Agency Bell. I've been doing it for about five years, but my experience in advertising and agency-type services is about over a decade or so. I'm a builder type of agency owner. I kind of classify them as like, kind of like the builders and engineers, the service people, the sales focus ones. I'm a true builder and a service type of person.

So I built the agency really from a service perspective as a guy who was cutting his teeth in Google ads on large accounts for a long time. And getting really involved in the technology side of it and really enjoying the customized integrations.

And so, you know, I ran an agency or I helped run an agency as a junior partner for a little while after my last corporate role, seven years ago or something and, um, after that I was teaching digital marketing courses, advertising courses at coding academies and stuff, and a couple of colleges and a while also consulting and taking on like really not really like, um, you know, corporate, not a lot of corporate projects. I had a couple like Fortune 500 ones, but, um, a lot of like, uh, hit the hammer, strike the from hammer to anvil, get the outcome type of in the trenches types of roles.

I always enjoyed that. And, um, the consulting gigs came from teaching adults in CMOs. Good to go digital, stuff like that. And then eventually the consultancy, it just kind of became more and more until it became time to start an agency again. I'm an individual agency owner, right? My wife and I work on it together, but I'm a primary principal on it and we haven't had done it before. We'd like, you know, partners or multiple people, which is, uh, its own a wild ride of challenges and volatility in the past.

But today, after working on a lot of different industries, we're currently focused primarily on large-scale law firm projects. So, um, think like, you know, multimillion-dollar annual budgets for plaintiff driven. So you've got your mass like product liability, lemon law, um, motor vehicle accidents, those kinds of things. We work with a lot of investors, so we're usually like one of the three or four people at partner like, uh, companies at the table.

You've got the large-scale investment companies that are investing in plaintiff operations for law firms. And then the law firms who are the subject matter experts and sometimes they're have their own large scale budgets. And through that, it's sort of given us a nice corner where we can really build out larger-scale programs that are really fully integrated into their CRMs.

So the way I like to think about it is that there's a lot of lead generators out there, and we like to train the ad systems to optimize towards people who are more likely to take the desired final action, which with your thinking about e-commerce it's like optimizing to the conversion pixel, right? But in the lead generation world, you're optimizing to a person who is more likely to sign a contract retainer, or like, if it was like a car dealership, it'd be like a person who's likely to buy the car at the end.

So that created a big, a massive burden of technology because you have to protect data pipelines because if you don't have perfect data flowing between a firmer, a company, that's actually, um, doing things inside their CRM, it can destroy the campaigns quickly. So it created a data requirement for ad data and CRM data, and automation where power's out to your users and a bunch of other fun technology because people contact our clients through chat and form and phone, and there's different levels of engagement in the pipeline.

So it really encompasses all of like, what I know from my background is an MBA, business modeling with them and their own operations as companies, as clients. And so it goes far beyond like the advertising stuff and it lets us stay up to date on the new tech that's, that's out and really weaponizing that.

So it's a massively difficult thing to do, and it takes a while to onboard people in our team, but it's a lot of fun and I enjoy it. I'm where I want to be. So…

Jason: [00:04:08] That's awesome. Tell us about what's a big milestone that you've achieved since starting the agency that you're really proud of with running your digital agency?

Jordan: [00:04:21] Yeah, it used to be like I was for a while the guy that somebody knew that was really good at ads and it didn't involve automated bidding inside like Google ads, Bing, Facebook. It involved a lot of manual work. I used to like calculate the exact bid that we would need at a common conversion rate in like a specific keyword or a targeting group, and like be able to pinpoint and say, okay, I needed a negative 20% bid modifier.

It was all manual. I mean, it was good. We'd calculate it. But I was teaching people to really go in there and move all the levers and switching over to automation and machine learning was, I was extremely stubborn about like, not wanting to like take my hands off the levers. It'd be like, I don't want the computer to fly the plane. I want to fly it myself. You've got to feel it differently, right?

And that journey, I'm a risk-taker in some ways, but risk-averse and others and trusting automation systems to think big picture strategically like a person who's looking at many different factors, not just the ad system, which itself is a rocket ship, but looking at many different factors before making a decision inside an ad program, when you're dealing with multi-million dollar budgets. That is one extremely hard to teach in collectively with, um, as we bring on team people internally, and we have a small team for that because of this.

But also it's like what logic rules inside ad systems are going to account for that. They don't make the technology that is designed specifically to solve the kinds of problems that we're trying to solve that would make it like we could not set it and forget it, but there's so much ad tech out there that is like, oh, you won't have to do as much. It'll tell you exactly what to do.

And yet no program was able to give us those exact winning solutions or even close. And so learning, not whether to go into machine learning and automation, but actually how to make it our competitive advantage the way we used it was a massive milestone for us. The reason, the way that we had to do that was we had to think about how to make sure that all the data that we wanted from disparate sources were not available from these static reports that would take hours to put together.

I used to hand-piece together all these like reports, but they had to be available in seconds, completely dynamic, so I could, we could change date ranges and filters and stuff. Google systems didn't even have, like, not all the views that are possible are actually available. And their own tools aren't even flexible enough for it.

So we had to be able to recreate things like dynamic reports that are based in sheets that pull data from APIs. We had to create audit systems and the audit systems are like, cause we use this thing called offline conversions where, where a CRM action happens and then a person has a unique click in the URL. And then we follow that, we connect it to the person and it, and it kind of, um, in updates, Google. That person, they get, I call it a superhero Cape when one of 20 leads gets a superhero cape, and that's the person you want more of. And then you have to immediately send that to Google. But that data pipeline is extremely fragile because there's so many things that can break that connection.

And so learning how to audit that in workflow, we're dealing with thousands of leads per week, it could become doing it manually is, is an impossible job. I was up to like three or four in the morning, every night, just trying to manually like hand stitch these things together, and then eventually learning how to build operational workflows like that was a massive challenge.

But when we finally like wrapped our heads around it and got through like these 40 step, like Zap(ier) automations, that was a huge milestone. In the biggest account that we have we finally just did a workflow where we had to treat it like an e-commerce setup and where like multiple conversions could come from one lead, like multiple cases.

And that was extremely difficult because if, if not to go too into the weeds, but if you mess that up, you can't undo the damage to the account. And so building that entire thing to protect that meant that as soon as we committed to the machine learning aspect of our agency, it put a huge burden of things that we had to accomplish in order just to be successful. When you raise the bar that high, you have to be able to get over it, or you have to go back and lower the bar.

And so that was really big for us.

Jason: [00:08:28] Yeah. So, I mean, that's amazing how you're, you're trusting machine learning and AI in order to do things that used to do manually. So what's life like now that you've turned over that stuff, like, what are you able to focus on now?

Jordan: [00:08:45] Building the system better. We couldn't focus on things before. Like we couldn't take like this satellite image view in seconds of anything in the campaign we want to see you. So if I want to look at the income, like income or age range inside a particular ad group or geographic location and instantly get statistically significant data on a specific, customized low conversion action, like assigned retainer up to the minute basically that they're doing it. We didn't have that ability before.

To be able to say in 10 seconds we can get to that information and get a stat that's relevant. It changed the way that we could optimize campaigns with the level of granularity that we could get to so that rather than 10 different decisions that could be made, we can isolate down to the two or three where at least two of them are highly likely to work.

We're creating the science in the advertising world, where there were so much more of the, there is a, there's a data science obviously to advertising that a lot of people don't realize until they really get into it and look at the data. But our decisions are far more likely to deliver the expected outcome.

And when we're dealing with return on investment for like large scale investors that becomes a competitive advantage for us because we become the company and they don't want to work with anybody else. So our retention is incredible at that point. We're talking about years not months when with our retention.

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Now, how did you guys go about finding the right solution? You know, because there's lots of tools out there that say they do machine learning and AI. And there's always a fuzzy thing between each and then people were like, well, if you do this, then why can't the customer or the client go directly there and just bypass the agency? So talk a little bit about that.

Jordan: [00:11:34] Yeah, great question. When I used to teach one of the first lessons that we did in the marketing course was about how I would call it like the ninja digital marketer will have a set of skills. Like they'll be a creative thinker, they'll be kind of like a data and analytical thinker, and then they'll be a strategist as well.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

And all the kind of technology and the programs that we're using and the way that we bring them together, which is always cool, people are often surprised that I don't make a decision on technology and workflows until far later in the game than most others will.

And the reason is because we're trying to pick a decision that's not, that we're not going to have to iterate on and change a bunch of stuff the next day or the next week. We're trying to make a decision that accounts for all the factors or as many of them as we can reasonably do while allowing for variability afterwards and allowing us to have the flexibility.

So when we do things like pulling data from like the tracking URL, we pull everything because we don't know that we're whether we're going to need it yet. And oftentimes that's how we're able to like sort of save the day on scenarios because we pulled it, not knowing when we'd need it, but having it anyway.

And so one of the reasons why it's difficult for companies to execute on this is because in order for them to do this properly, they, well properly in the sense of like what we're trying to achieve here, they have to be able to tap into a series of strategic decisions that come from first off knowledge of the market and what you can do to understanding how machine learning is working in how the system is looking at signals and having outcomes from that.

We have to be able to predict based on experience and like vast amounts of data. The difference between asking a single qualifying question that's slightly different in its wording and what the user experience of the person is going to be like who's just did a search, which there's search psychology in there.

And then following that process through what kind of data does it produce and how did the ad systems learn from it as the law firm or any other is changing things in their CRM? There's a long pattern of factors before you can make really effective decisions. And it's, unfortunately, it creates kind of a tight rope because digital can be pretty unforgiving in a lot of ways, but it's what makes the work interesting because you can no longer just look at ad data and say, oh yeah, just make this next move. You know, it doesn't work that way. It's a, it's a worthy challenge.

But I also like to make it accessible though, you know, we get on a call, like, do you want to teach the firms how to think about this stuff because there'll be a better partner. They'll appreciate the fact that we're confident that nothing that we're doing yet or how we packaged it as proprietary. It's just really difficult to do and it's really great for big outcomes and sustainable.

So like we have $200 click keywords in some accounts and that usually produces high click fraud rate, and we have one of the lowest click fraud rates I've ever seen on that on our most expensive account, because we've trained Google to avoid lawyer and marketer clicks that destroys budgets.

So you, it's very hard without all the pieces together you actually can't really do it very easily on your own. And that's why it's fun, but it's also, there's also, it's pretty high stakes at that point.

Jason: [00:14:34] I remember back in the day when I was first advertising on Overture, so this was before Google and yeah, there's a bunch of click fraud because I know people, you just see the competitor and you'd go back and forth and be like, ooh, I charged this guy a dollar.

Jordan: [00:14:51] Yeah, we have click fraud software but it doesn't really, it eats like it's a whack-a-mole game, right? And the bigger, the ratio of people you don't want clicking to the ones you do it can really mess up campaigns. It's hard. We won't even start some kinds of campaigns without a runway budget and without like certain factors in their tech and their operations being okay because that's our story.

If there are things that we can't reasonably control and they're not the right fit, then that becomes our story at that point. And most of the business was built off like our and my reputation because we drive to success, you know, we aim for that outcome. And that was a level of commitment that it's very exhausting at times, but you know how it is.

And you don't always know if it's a click, it's like, how does one person who types in the same keyword, how do you know the difference? You know, what's happening. You just don't know where it is.

Jason: [00:15:39] Let's switch focus a little bit, because a little while ago, we were talking about some things that you were doing that's really helping you guys out and kind of going back to the basics. Talk a little bit about that, cause I know your agency is doing really well. You guys are growing and scaling the agency fast, but why would you go back to the basics? Because a lot of people were like, oh, you're advanced. And we're talking about very advanced stuff right now that machine learning all that.

So why go back to the base?

Jordan: [00:16:09] Yeah. I've heard some good things from people that better explain it than I do. So I'm going to borrow one from a person who said this to me recently, is that show me, you can do long division before you get a calculator, right? Or I've always described it as like, show me, you can fly the plane before you get your like computer navigation, like on, you know, within like a 747 or a fighter jet.

Like what are the stories that are, that are amazing about crash landings with planes? Is that the pilot was able to land the plane in a river, right? And what computer is going to do that at that point? Is, is a team's ability it can fail fast when the plug is bolt, can you get a candle in the dark and find your way through a problem, or like have a get out of the woods with the stars, right?

And I've found that that is so important, especially in like comprehension of the material, because it's so much technology that's available to us that it often becomes the solution in people's minds. And they forget that in order to be the most successful, the most efficient, the most reliable and achieve results when we set the bar high is we have to be able to understand what we're doing in the context of what we're trying to achieve or our larger vision and goals.

You know, to talk about it as if you don't need the technology, but you can operate faster with it and you can be more efficient with it and get to better places, because then you're talking about, then you're living it. It's authentic.

You know, I'm not a great salesperson on the phone. I'm really not, I don't say all the right things, but I close the deals because for me it's authentic. I believe in it. I understand how it works and that interestingly in the success and challenges of the, of the agency that we've had in, in my own. When we won it was because we understood it without technology and process and in any kind of, and you know, frameworks have been awesome, but like we've been looking at a lot of things like whether like agile adaptive would help us, you know, like EOS, OKRs all those kinds of things are, are, are really coming to the forefront now.

At the end of the day, can you, regardless of what task management program that you have, can you throw things off the desk and then write down what outcomes you need to be able to achieve when you know, you've got like 20 or 30 tasks due that week? Can you say, this is why they're important, what they're going to achieve, its current place within the scope of the work, because then no matter what you have, you can prioritize, you can do what matters and that every time we get away from that we struggle.

So I make the technology decisions and the operational policies and the workflows, all that kind of stuff is one of the last things that we do to get it right. But we have to have that comprehension in the beginning and the ability to operate in the dark with a candle in a piece of paper.

Jason: [00:18:46] Yeah. That's awesome. Yeah. I always tell everybody every quarter you should look at going back to the basics. You know, I always use the story when, when I was playing college tennis and I was losing to a guy I should not have been losing to. And my tennis coach go back to the basics, Swenk! Go back to the basics dummy! And as soon as I stopped overthinking about my backswing or my follow through, I was like, all right, I'm gonna just look at the ball and hit it. And it started working.

Jordan: [00:19:16] Yeah, that's great. I mean, I'm a, I'm a musician so this is kind of like someone playing, doing their scales or doing the rudiments on a, on a drum or something like that, right? Like there's a reason those are important because it's got, those have to be second nature to build things on top of it.

And it's why, you know, whether it's in an ad campaign, right? We, we’re looking at all like the data and the tech and like all the suggestions that has, but we're lost. Why are we lost? At the end of the day what do we have to do? We have to say, what is the business problem we're solving? Who are we reaching? Well, how would we describe them? Demographically, behaviorally, like when something is stopping in their newsfeed.

Like, what would we say to them that would make them go, yeah, oh, I'm going to stop doing this thing that I really want to do to, to look at an ad that I didn't ask for. What's in it for me? Why do I care? Like, and there's going into user experiences on at that point. User experience, design and copywriting, and really good targeting theory is timeless. It really is.

It's the same skills we use to decide whether what we should write on a direct mail piece and where we should send it and what kind of things to put on billboards. That skill is so still important. The best copywriting books are ancient, and yet we apply them differently today just based on the technology.

And I'm a big believer in the, in the traditional foundations there. If someone can, she can talk me through that strategy. I can teach him how to use it. That's no problem. But teaching the basics and teaching the foundations, that's the challenge.

Jason: [00:20:40] Yeah. Many years ago, when, when I started helping agency owners and I was developing the playbook, I really thought about that of like, what are the foundational systems that you need that will stand the test of time that are the basics that you go back and forth.

Like we were talking, pre-show like, you know, how do we make sure we have that clarity? And then we get the positioning and then the offering, and then we can start prospecting and doing sales. Like there's systematic things that you need to do that will always stand the test of time and you just got to think about what is that for your business and constantly going, are we making it simple? Are we on the right plan? And then, you know, adjust rather than just see the shiny red object and where the cat trying to swat it down.

Jordan this all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Jordan: [00:21:35] The one thing I've been thinking a lot about is how like the systems, right? So like the agency playbook kind of systems, right? Like one of the things that has really kind of helped and, and maybe kind of almost like saved us from like the peaks and valley, like the, the days of where it's like, can we, is this gonna work tomorrow? Did we set our sights too high, right?

You know, I got married last year, we had a child, I started law school, like I was back to the 16 hour day. Like it was hard, like life was coming and also were, we were both work from home parents. So that whole psychological challenge that happens, like there's research about how people are getting like really beaten up their mental health is hard, is tough right now.

And one of the things that really has stood out to me is that it wasn't about getting to the new tech. And it wasn't even about something that would like, it would just be for agencies for anyone that's kind of like manager, running a business, you know, major responsibilities like that, who is in charge of outcomes.

It was really focusing on the vision, the designing the lifestyle, like what work I should be doing versus not doing, and then backing up from those outcomes, which I, I used to talk about all the time, but I wasn't taking those daily steps.

I worked with a CEO coach and I found that some of those just involved setting the vision for myself as an agency owner. Now, it's now as we're kind of running the agency together as, uh, you know, with a child at home is that we, we have to look at our life and our daily schedules and our vision and how that contributes and how we work together as a team.

And so everyone's got their own version of this in the pandemic era where then maybe they're in an office or not, maybe, you know, but everything is a little bit more difficult these days and it's changing constantly.

And the thing you just talked about with the going back to basics, there are solid frameworks that protect any kind of business. And it doesn't mean that you have to use, like, I've always finally, it doesn't mean you have to use one specific method. It doesn't, no one method solves everything. It's the application of it.

And I could not see it more clearly now how there were things that we did not have in place in every department like that. Uh, you know, just the planning element, the vision and mission, the OKR style, like KPIs, like the qualitative and quantitative outcome, and making sure that we are locking onto that.

I mean, we've had times where people, we had people working two jobs and we didn't know about it until like two full-time jobs, because that's what happened in advertising in the pandemic air, right? And engineering and stuff like that.

And so we had, like, we learned a lot of hard lessons that way, but if we started with those things and then build operational structures in which the outcome was still those things and we held accountability systems in place to that, that's the only thing that we feel now stands the test of time. Because everything else is just which workflow we're using, which project management system it's, I'm, I'm agnostic to those things. They're all, they all kind of work the same way.

But I've only really become safe and scalable from those basics and those frameworks and the things that we found worked for us. And then we, we made those, our bottom line. Like those are non-negotiables. And from there, honestly, like I feel like even still, I'm getting back to waves of peace, again, knowing that there's a big uphill battle to achieve the goals, but it's not scary anymore.

That's really the biggest thing that I, that I think even just from going into the new year that, that we found.

Jason: [00:24:57] That's awesome. Well, it's been great to have you on the show. It's been also great to get to know you over the past years of being in the mastermind and watching your guys grow. And watching you constantly take one tackle and then get up and then tackle the next one because running an agency's tough and you're always going to get beat down, but it's about like moving forward and moving forward in the right way and be able to just kind of sidetrack some of the things coming at ya.

What's the agency website, people go and check you guys out?

Jordan: [00:25:32] Sure, agencybell.com

Jason: [00:25:34] Really hard. Very easy. If you guys can't remember that you guys got issues, but uh, check out Jordan's, uh, agency website and, uh, thanks so much Jordan for coming on the show.

And if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe comment and if you want to be around other amazing agency owners like Jordan, where you can ask us any questions that you're struggling with. And we might be able to see the things a little bit differently so you guys can grow and scale your digital agency faster, go to digitalagencyelite.com and apply.

And until next time have a Swenk day.


Do you want to sell your agency in the future? What strategic relationships can help you grow and possibly sell your agency? Roy Chong was working in the music industry for many years before deciding to make a drastic change and start over in digital marketing. Now with Noodle Wave Media he helps companies in the healthcare space thrive by developing meaningful strategies and tactics that move their marketing efforts towards success. In this interview with Jason, Roy discusses the most important decisions he made for his business, how he always envisioned a strategic partnership for the future of his agency, and why you should always take your passion wherever you go.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The most important decisions for his business. Roy never really saw a reason to rent an office space he could not afford at the time, so very early on he invested in having a remote working model with a team that could work from anywhere in the country. It shaped the way his agency works and its culture because he acknowledges that not everyone likes or can work remotely. Finding those types of people that shared this vision really helped build their culture. The second biggest decision was niching down to focus on the healthcare vertical, where the agency really found its footing and scaled to the point where he could sell the agency.
  2. Making the decision to sell. Roy always envisioned a strategic partnership for his agency. He knew it was in his future but just needed to figure out how it would work and what would be the right time to pursue it. Jason helped him by pointing out some things he needed to work on, which provided some time to add another layer of value for clients. He also had time to consider what he didn’t want to lose with the deal, and the type of relationship he expected from this partnership. All of this ultimately led him back to Jason and to the partnership that would enable him to still be in charge of day-to-day operations.
  3. Taking your passion wherever you go. If you ever have to start again from scratch remember to take your passion with you. Passion is commonly depicted as what we do, “that isn’t necessarily true,” Roy says, “It’s who you are.” At one point in his career, he made the transition from the music industry to digital marketing. There is seemingly no correlation between both, but Roy argues what made the difference and helped him succeed in a new industry was taking a passion for helping people with him.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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Finding a Strategic Relationship That Fits Your Agency Growth Goals

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

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Roy, welcome to the show.

Roy: [00:00:04] Hey! Thanks, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:06] I'm excited to have you on the show. So, uh, for the ones that have not heard of you yet, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Roy: [00:00:13] Yeah, so I'm the CEO and founder of Noodle Wave Media. We're a full-stack digital marketing agency focused on the healthcare vertical. I've been doing that for 11 years. Prior to that, I was in the music industry as a music producer, and I've got kind of that entrepreneurial spirit so I flipped a couple of the businesses along the way. Father of two amazing boys and a passionate creative and marketer.

Jason: [00:00:44] And how did you get started and how long ago did you start your agency?

Roy: [00:00:49] Yeah, so I started it probably in 2000, around 2010. I had just kind of rotated out of the music industry and I'd spent 10 years there writing music for artists and I got signed to a production deal in New York and I was running the artists for my idols, and then I did a stint in Korea.

And then I decided, you know what, I'm kind of done with this it's time to start something new. And I realized at that time I’d been in the content game for 10 years. I thought, boy, combine that with using ability to create content and find a thread that resonates with people and tie that to helping small businesses, cause I had a marketing education and experience already, that could be something.

And so I started that 10 years ago with that exact premise of leveraging content to help brand build brand equity for clients. But at that time, like, and you'll know this, Jason, like that wasn't a thing, really. Large brands we're doing that, leveraging YouTube and all kinds of other platforms, but the small business owner didn't really have access cause they just didn't know how to do it.

So I started it at that time with that premise in mind. And I just remember people thought, yeah, but like who's going to search for a content marketing agency like that just seems offbeat and really way off the normal path, because you know, their traditional brick and mortar agency was the way to go. I don't know, but I think it's going to be something.

And of course, we all know that content marketing became the thing and we've been on a steady increase in incline from there, leveraging that idea that kind of the small to medium-sized business owner doesn't realize that the biggest piece of equity that they have is the knowledge in between their ears and the experience that they have.

So we just provided them the platform and support to do that. And here we are 2021 and... 22 geez 22. I lost the year. I think we all lost a couple of years there.

Jason: [00:02:43] We all did lose a couple of years. What was the biggest deal that happened to your agency or what's the most exciting thing to you and why when you were growing your agency?

Roy: [00:02:56] I definitely would have to say that I built the agency on the remote working model or distributed model, however you want to call it. And I did it really out of just trying to solve problems. You know, I couldn't afford office space. Like I just didn't have the cashflow, but then also at the same time, I was like, does it really even make sense for me to have an office? Because it's just going to eat into my margins.

This is just the way that I thought at that time that well why can't I just hire a bunch of people who live wherever, but are super talented and have them work on these projects with me.

It ended up of course, being very prescient and not until COVID hit that everybody else got it. But of course, leading up to that, that trend was already there, right? So COVID obviously the big pull ahead, but I would be championing this whole remote working lifestyle and people just didn't get it.

Like it was another thing that people thought I was crazy. Like, well, you need an office, right? Cause you need to have clients come and see you. I was like, I don't think so. I don't think I need that.

And for us, that ended up probably being the single most important decision that we made as an agency, just to keep that. And my vision was always, can I scale this? Could it be like from one man band man show to like 10 staff, then how about 20? How about 30 then? How about a hundred? How about 300? Keep going from there.

And that's just kind of, what's continued to happen today. And of course, when COVID hit people are like, oh, okay. I get it. That makes total sense. And now at a global scale where we're doing this thing.

Jason: [00:04:22] I love the remote thing because you know, you can recruit way out far, you know, all over the world rather than just driving distance. And then also too your team works a hell of a lot harder because they're not in a commute. I remember when I had an agency in Atlanta, I had some people that were in a car for two hours a day that could have been doing other things, having fun, relaxing, working on the business, maybe.

Roy: [00:04:50] Yeah, totally. Yeah. And that was the real value proposition. And actually, I don't know if a lot of people realize this though, maybe now they do, but at that time have... being in a remote working model, only certain people would thrive under that environment.

Like you and I would probably both know like people that just, they need to be around people. They need to be in an office. And that works for certain people and that doesn't work for other people. So, um, it ended up becoming a pretty cool automatic filter for developing a culture of people who worked the same way, who thought the same way who had the same kind of time management skills and critical thinking skills.

So just again, like when I say that that was the single most important decision, not only from an operational standpoint but like from a culture standpoint, from a productivity standpoint, like you mentioned, it had a lot of trickle-down effects, you know, making that choice.

Jason: [00:05:41] Other than, you know, doing the remote, working and figuring that out. What's the most important thing that you learned running your agency the past years?

Roy: [00:05:50] Uh, for sure. The other thing would be probably niching down in this specific vertical that's super key. I always knew that at some point that I would want to either exit the business or develop a strategic partnership.

I knew we didn't have the, necessarily the resources or the kind of client base to be a bigger agency. And our, my strategy was always to be part of a bigger agency. So I just thought about like, what would make us attractive to an agency that already has, and does everything? And for us that would just be to let's find a specialty, let's niche down. And it kind of just organically happened.

Like I didn't set out to build a company that like provided marketing services to the oral health care space. It's not something that you like set out to do necessarily. It was just through relationships. And as I kind of saw that continuing to grow in our reputation as, okay, we've got to double down on this vertical.

So by niching down two things happened. One, yes, we prepared ourselves for an eventual exit where we gained domain expertise in this one vertical. But it also, from an implementation standpoint, when we ran campaigns, it was just so much easier. Like there was no learning curve.

Over the years, we developed expertise in orthodontic, dental care, pediatric dentistry. All these different verticals. So we knew that our target audience. We knew what the client did. We knew what the value propositions were in general at all we had to kind of do was hunt for the nuance of that specific client in that specific geographic area. We compress the discovery process time to really short period of time because we know the industry, right?

So that was the other kind of key thing for us.

Jason: [00:07:32] Awesome. And eventually, you sold the agency. So why did you decide to sell? And kind of walk us through that process as well.

Roy: [00:07:41] Well, it's funny because my own personal journey was thinking about, you know, when is it time to kick in the strategic partnership that I always envisioned would need to happen? What time does that look like and when does that need to happen?

And as I was going through that journey of searching, I found you through that journey, which was so funny. And, uh, you know, kudos to you and your funnels and your content and having stuff out there that allowed other agency owners to discover that.

And I learned a lot just from reading some of your content about what I needed to do to prepare but also engaged you in a conversation at that time. You were gracious enough to entertain just a quick chat and let me know that there's some things that maybe I need to work on. And so, I think for me personally it was just knowing that it was time for me to add another layer of value to the clients. But also being real with myself in terms of what I wanted out of my lifestyle.

There's kind of a, like, I could easily say I could grow this business and then exit, you know, in the next five years if I wanted to, but what’s the cost, right? Like what am I giving up in terms of my lifestyle in order to do that?

I think when we get into leadership conferences or we talk with other entrepreneurs, we talk about the KPIs and the metrics and the sales figures and all that stuff. But oftentimes we don't talk necessarily about what's the livestock cost. What is the other side of that coin? And I think for me, it just wasn't worth it to do it alone.

And that was the point when I said, okay, it's time to find a strategic partnership. And that's what sent me on that journey. And it's funny because it didn't happen for two years, right? Like I started it and I thought about it and I marinated on it. I think at the time you were like, Hey, there's some things you work on.

And then two years later, I was like, hey, I worked on these things. What do you think? And then the conversation continued from there.

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Jason: Yeah, I always, I tell agencies the ones that have visions for possibly selling because too, like if you get to a certain point and you may not want to sell. It's not right for everyone. And sometimes Thomas and everybody at Republix gets mad at me cause I'll talk people out of it sometimes. But like you shouldn't sell, you got everything you want.

And then sometimes the other people were like, no, I want to take chips off the table. I want to sell, I want to do other things. I want to have a life after selling the agency. And I'm like, okay, cool. And I'm glad that you came back because I always tell people, start relationships with the people now that you think could buy you later on.

And right? Like we talked two years prior and then we were able to, you know, strike up a deal, and I'm so excited that we were able to do that. And too many people think about, well, I'll sell when things are bad. I'm like, no, no, no. You're not going to get what you want. You're not going to be happy afterward. Cause it has to work for both parties.

Sell when things are really good.

Roy: [00:11:42] Yeah, totally. Yeah. And it was interesting, I liked what you said about relationships because I did explore, you know, going the broker route and people had approached me over the years with that, uh, let me just entertain some of these conversations, but there wasn't that like relationship aspect, it was very transactional in a sense.

And at that point, I was like, wait a second. I got to reach back to Jason. Cause we had a conversation about this before. Like I actually kinda forgot because I, you know, there's all these other opportunities coming down the pipeline and then it just so happened that it was the relationship-based connection that ended up working out, right?

Jason: [00:12:16] Yeah. I mean, that's what I tell everybody is like your net worth is what your network is. You know, and the people that you know, and you hang out that you trust and they trust you. I mean, that's why we've been doing the mastermind for so long. It's about getting the right people around so you can create those relationships over time.

What surprised you going through the acquisition? Was there anything that surprised you?

Roy: [00:12:43] Oh, for sure. Yeah. It was a lot more challenging than I thought it was going to be, right? Like, I know you had prepared me with a couple of kind of points about this is going to be a lot of cows. And of course, Thomas and the team at Republix, they've been through it a million times and so they knew what was going to happen.

Like they're preparing me, like it's going to get busy, but it's very challenging to switch the hat between all of these corporate finance and other aspects of your business that perhaps, I mean, some industry leaders and agency owners might know that stuff really well, some don't and they leave it to their bookkeeping and accounting team.

I think it's wise to have a breadth of knowledge across all of those disciplines, right? But to the extent of like doing the deal, managing lawyers, managing accountants, and then in a very active way, more so than you would normally running your business. And then on top of that, running your business, right? It became pretty challenging. So it was, I knew that it was going to be weighty, I mean, it's such a deeply personal decision that you make.

So there's that, that's the other component like there's this emotional attachment to going through this process and then you're like doubting yourself or like is this the right time? Should I be doing this and that? And then there's negotiating aspects.

This is all these emotions that are happening, right?

Jason: [00:14:05] It's my baby. How can I sell my baby?

Roy: [00:14:09] It’s my baby, how can I…? And then you have people saying you shouldn't sell this and other people be like, oh, you should totally do it, that's amazing, right? So I think what I wasn't prepared for was the emotional rollercoaster that I was going to go through with that.

But in the end, what happened was, you know, luckily that it was a, I could see it through like this, this, this storm and on the other side of this storm is the breakthrough and the completion, and then it kind of winds down. So I think for any agency owner, that's thinking about selling, there is that storm you're going to, it's going to get tougher. It's going to get busy. You're going to go through the storm and then you will eventually come out that other side.

Even if you don't sell the business, you learn a ton of about your business along the way.

Jason: [00:14:48] Why tell people…? Cause there's lots of people that reach out and be like, oh, we want to buy you. And then they right they’re, they're scumbags. But I say like for legit people, you should go through the process because like you said, Roy, you're going to learn a ton. And then you're going to really know, because I went through it a couple times before we actually sold in order to learn more about like, what do they need?

So then when we finally did go through it for real, we had everything like, here it is, here it is. Boom, boom, boom. There is still that emotional roller coaster. I think I flipped a coin to decide if I was going to do it or not. Like, literally it was like 50, 50. It all worked out really well.

What was the turning point for you? Because you know, you're going ups and down. Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no. What was the turning point for you when you were like, all right, I'll do it? And how close was it to the close? Was it like the night before?

Roy: [00:15:44] Yeah. Like if you talk to Thomas, he'll say, yeah, this is one of the, the more messy negotiations that we had gone through because there was just so much back and forth and, you know, I was really fighting to have peace with the deal.

So I was fighting for things that I wasn't necessarily happy with upfront, but, you know, I prayed through it. I'm a man of faith and that was one thing that Thomas and I really connected on was, you know, that spiritual component, but praying through it a lot was really important for me. But I think at the same time, the turning point was some of the things that were happening in the periphery of my life at that time.

And in the periphery, like the business metrics made sense, everything lined up. I love the guys at Republix. I was really connecting with them. All of those things lined up and I have kind of like a laundry list of things that I think any person that's selling their business should check off in doing any deal.

But the real pivot for me was things that were happening around me. Like, my son, more of it, but a good friend and his brother passed suddenly, you know, like that was huge. Like, again, I'll go back to the things like cost, and this is just my own experience around, like, what was the cost? What is the cost? Cause everything has a cost. There's a, there's an upside, but there's a cost to getting that.

And so for me, it was really like those periphery things that had me say, okay, you know what? I think life is pointing me in this direction to do this because I want to free up myself to be more present as a father, more present as a husband, kickstart some things that I, uh, ventures that I've wanted to do just haven't had time to do.

So all those like soft lifestyle components really had an impact. I think it's just important to consider that iike for me anyways, it was one of the biggest transactions I'd ever have to do from a business perspective. It's not just about the money, you know? It's what are you gaining from this?

And if it's equitable on both sides, then it makes sense. It should make sense, right? Because if you just think about the money part of it, you might make a decision that you regret later, right? You have to really be happy with the deal at the end of the day. And I think for people that are chasing the money, they might be unhappy because they'll sacrifice like working with a buyer who you don't really like, but they gave you the best offer.

And that's not always the best decision to make when you're doing the deal. You got to really like the people you're going to work with because you're going to continue, hopefully, to work with them. So it's just those kinds of factors that kept it in my decision-making process.

Jason: [00:18:07] What's life like now?

Roy: [00:18:09] You know what? Nothing's really changed other than I just feel more at peace with everything. You can relate to this, like being in leadership, being an owner of a business and in leadership position is a pretty isolating lonely place because, I mean, even your spouse may not be able to understand truly what you're going through unless they were, uh, agency leader or owner before.

And so I think for me, I needed that sense of community and I needed a team of people to bounce these agency's specific leadership, specific ideas off of, and being a part of our Republix has provided that.

I still run the business on a day-to-day. That was really key, I think, for our communication to clients and the staff that I still be at the helm, and that's still part of the plan. So at least from a day-to-day, it hasn't really changed, but the weightiness of full ownership has lifted. And that's actually freed me up to be more open and be more inspired.

And you think even bigger than before, you know, like we're now joint, doing joint pitches with other agencies to bigger clients that we didn't have access to before, on one hand. And even clients that we did have access to do have access to, we can pitch better ideas.

So that's, for me, such a huge accomplishment, not only in building a business from nothing to where it is today, where, like you say, most businesses think about selling when they're on the downspout and then they go bankrupt, right? Like 80% of businesses fail. So we're in that small margin of businesses that have been successful.

So that's a huge accomplishment for me. And I'm kind of walking around with a little extra pep in my step, having achieved that and now scaling the team and growing the business in a way that I feel really confident that we can set it up for the next 10 years of growth.

Jason: [00:20:03] Yeah. And when you have that pressure off, you're not really worrying about money anymore. You can make decisions based on just what you feel rather than, oh, I need to take this deal.

And what people don't realize is when you actually start making that switch… If you did that in the very beginning, you would have grown five times as fast, and everybody always thinks they're were like, you guys have money. So it's easy for you guys to say that, but you know, looking back, if I could tell myself again on that, I'd be like, dude, start with that from day one.

And you know, in the very beginning it might be a little tougher, but later on, it'd be that much.

Roy: [00:20:45] Yeah. You know, like, I, I, at least for us, like we have pre, we have pretty good margins for the last 10 years. Like w like, as a corporation, we'd never had real money issues, like we didn't have debt. We operated in, you know, with a 45, 50% margin.

So decision making around money for the business was never an issue. I think for me personally as well, it wasn't necessarily the money that makes me, cause you know, when you get a liquidity event like that, you have all kinds of other problems after that, right? Like, so…

Jason: [00:21:14] Lots of cousins coming out of the woodworks.

Roy: [00:21:16] Yeah, right? Yeah. Yeah. Ray Ray from way back in the day who you haven't talked to in 20 years or, you know, like, or just managing it at all, it poses other situations. But I think it's, you know, there's something unique about calling yourself, the singular owner, where every decision comes down to you. And again, nothing's changed. I'm still making every decision.

Like Republic's is really great that way in the sense that they really want you to work autonomously, but at the same time have be part of this bigger vision. So I'm still managing the business, but there's just this underlying weight of that's been lifted because you feel like you have support, right?

There's other people who have been through this a million times that know what you're going through, as opposed to like, boy, I feel like I'm really just kind of going through this on my own and no one really understands. And so that part of it was really huge for me.

Jason: [00:22:09] Awesome. Last question, if you had a billboard and you could put anything on it, what would it be? What would it say?

Roy: [00:22:18] Oh, that's great. That's great. I love that question. Uh, it would be this: Take your passions with you.

Jason: [00:22:25] I like that.

Roy: [00:22:26] What I mean by that is a lot of people get caught up in thinking, I gotta find my passion, I gotta find my passion. And passion often gets related to what do you do? Which isn't necessarily what your passion is. It's who you are.

And that thing can be taken with you to whatever it is you're doing in the moment. Whether that's, you're a problem solver, whether that's your, you want to make a human connection, whether you want to give to people, whether you want to build people up, whether you want to, it doesn't matter what it is. Just know that you can take it with you wherever you go.

I took what I do in the music industry to digital marketing to help orthodontists and dentists, you know, like it's just, there's nothing correlated other than what my passion is to solve problems. And that was my billboard. That's what it would it be.

Jason: [00:23:18] I love it. I love it. What's the website people go and check out the agency outside of Republix?

Roy: [00:23:24] Sure. Yeah. It's noodlewavemedia.com. Noodle like as a bowl of noodles, wave, wave media.com. I would say that.

Jason: [00:23:32] Awesome, man. Well, Roy, thanks so much for coming on the show.

And if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe, make sure you comment. And, uh, if you want to be around other amazing agency owners where we can see the things that you might not be able to see, because just like Roy was saying, like it's very isolating making your own decisions and maybe you wanted some help with that. I'd love to invite all of you to go check out digitalagencyelite.com.

This is our exclusive mastermind for very experienced agency owners. Go there now, and until next time have a Swenk day.


Quinn Zeda had been running an agency for six years when she decided to start from scratch and focus on conversion rate optimization with Conversion Crimes. She and her team help clients identify mistakes in their website’s design, messaging, and navigation that is stealing revenue from under their nose. Quinn is really big on user-testing and customer research. In her interview with Jason, she explained the roadmap strategy she implemented to get the type of projects she could execute the way she wanted to, how this strategy helped her slowly educate customers on why they needed much more than just a website, and how she learned to appreciate the importance of systems and operations.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The roadmap strategy. When she first started her agency, Quinn was charging $1,000 for a website. One of her frustrations was with those $1,000 - $2,000 projects was that she could never execute them in the way that she wanted to. To be able to deliver the results that she knew she could, without scaring clients off with a $180K budget, she started with a 10K retainer presented as a roadmap of things she could accomplish for the company. After a couple of months, clients were seeing some really incredible results and excited to go on to phase two.
  2. More than a website. Creating her roadmap strategy was a great way for clients to understand that they were not paying $250,000 for a website. It may be what they thought they needed, but going step by step and getting them to approve a foot in the door project Quinn was able to educate her clients to see that they needed much more. They would gather information on who their most profitable customer was and who was draining their teams of resources and, with those insights, create a plan of action for the branding, the marketing, and the strategy.
  3. The importance of SOPs. Once you start bringing in more customers you need to make sure operations run smoothly, especially with the new hires you will probably need. Quinn acknowledges she didn’t really see the importance of systems, processes, and SOPs and the value they brought to the business when she first started her agency. It was only after her team started documenting some of these processes, even if it was in a very basic way at the beginning, and gradually became more detailed that she saw it was really a game-changer that saved them a lot of time.

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Raising Prices With a Roadmap Strategy and Why SOPs Are a Game-changer

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

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Quinn. Welcome to the show.

Quinn: [00:00:04] Hey, thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:06] Yeah. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and, uh, tell us a little bit about the agency that you started.

Quinn: [00:00:12] Yeah, so my name is Quinn Zeda. I started freelancing right out of college, which then turned into too much work than I could handle. I started hiring more freelancers, which then kind of morphed into an agency where I started then kind of hiring my first full-time employees that were like really dedicated to me.

And after running the agency for a few years, maybe five or six years on, then I shut it down and now I run a startup, um, Conversion Crimes, which is like a user testing SaaS.

And yeah, when I ran the agency, we were doing user experience, conversion rate optimization really focused on helping basically businesses around the one to 5 million mark scale. You know, people kind of get a business to a certain point. They reach a glass ceiling and they kind of duct-taped everything together. They found product-market fit. They started making their money and they're like, yeah, but now like what we built doesn't represent who we are anymore. So we come in and kind of restructure that. So…

Jason: [00:01:15] Very cool. And what was the biggest accomplishment that you had at the agency before you closed it down and why?

Quinn: [00:01:25] Yeah, the biggest accomplishment, I think, was kind of really getting with the value-based pricing that we went on. So when I first started, I was charging like a thousand dollars for a website and I ended at a quarter of a million for a website.

So originally, like when I started that, it was like, this client is like a thousand. The next one was 2,000. The next one was 4,000. Then at 8,000, I just kept doubling it every time I would send a proposal out. Granted, the deliverables definitely changed from each one of those jumps and kind of gave me more resources to get more clarity on the kind of projects that we wanted to do. And then I went from like 20K to like 180K and jumped.

So I'm super proud of being able to pull that off and then also getting an alignment with what I actually wanted from the business and the work that I really wanted to do. So one of my like biggest frustrations and like these like thousand or $2,000 projects was that I could never really execute them in the way that I wanted to.

Like, I would see all these things I wanted to do, but of course their budget is 2K. So I'm not going to do like months of work for like 2K and really getting that in alignment with what I wanted to actually deliver and add value and to have pulled that off. So it was like super, super stoked about that.

Jason: [00:02:57] What was the changing point or what made you change from, I think you were saying it was like 20,000 to 180. So that was a big jump. So, what happened?

Quinn: [00:03:08] Yeah. So the first one kind of ended up a little bit kind of in my lap, right? So I didn't really kind of go out and pitch that I'm going to sell that for 180 or what have you. It started out as a retainer where we, I like had this roadmap of things I wanted to accomplish for this business, and I couldn't really sell them on that yet. One, I hadn't proven myself yet. I couldn't really articulate the value. And it was also like out of their price range, right?

So what I did was it was like, okay, I'm going to do this first project for these like couple of months for this much retainer each month. I think it was like $10K or something like that, and then I'm going to get a result that's going to pay for the next phase. And this is the next phase that we're going to do of this project. And in that, I was able to get some really incredible results for the clients. So then they were like, okay, let's do the next phase.

And then when I got that one, I was like, okay, let’s do the next phase. And then it ended up being my end goal, right? So yeah, it was a really cool kind of process. Then after that I kind of figured out like, okay, if I did it this way, how can I repeat that was like kind of giving them the end result?

So that's when I kind of implemented this roadmapping strategy. Where instead of selling them on like this $200K project or whatever, sold them on a 10K roadmap of which I would just outline the project that I was going to do. Here's the thing, and this is the price. So that's kind of how that transitioned.

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Online Training for Digital AgenciesJason: Yeah, I like it. You know, it follows a methodology that I teach a lot of agencies have going sell them a foot in the door, which is basically a strategy, right? Of like, here's everything that we're going to do, and then figure out how long it takes in order for them to start seeing some results. And then it can transition to a monster, you know, engagement, you know, after. And a lot of people just don't figure that out.

You know, when I went from the $20,000 websites to the $80,000 websites and beyond it wasn't as graceful as that. It was more about this asshole, literally, I didn't want to say no to this asshole. And I literally was like $80,000, thinking he would just go away. And he said, yes.

And then I realized psychologically... Yeah. I was like, shit. Psychologically, I realized I was like, well, other people, this idiot would say it let's find some really good people that we can do really good work with, but I like your story better.

 

Quinn: [00:06:49] Yeah. And it's, I kind of had like the same thing as well. It's like, oh, I saw one person one time. Like, there's gotta be another person out there that would do this because we had a very unique kind of product that we were doing that was different than other agencies. We did a complete transformation because we were really experts in a lot of those different things.

We were able to cohesively pull it together where I think a lot of agencies can't and I also sold them on, like, you're getting our full attention. We only get, we're only doing one major project at a time. So you're getting our team's focus because the kind of work that went into that was like, really this deep work and you can't manage like five clients at the same time. At least I couldn’t.

Jason: [00:07:33] Yeah, exactly. So what were some of the details that go into it? Cause some people are like holy cow, $250,000 for a website. It's not just a website, right? Like it's strategy, it's research, like talk a little bit about everything that goes into it.

Quinn: [00:07:47] Yeah. So, um, I'm really big on customer research and stuff like that. So a lot of these businesses, they just kind of found product market fit through whatever reason, but then they didn't know who their most profitable customer was. They didn't know like who was like draining their teams of resources and stuff.

So we would actually go in, we would interview their team. We would interview all their different customer segments. We would go through their analytics, we would do user testing and we would kind of come up with a… we'd spend, like the projects were in general were like eight months long.

And so we'd spend like the first three months just going through all of that, getting all the data, making these like reports on them kind of putting all this stuff together and then kind of looking at all of it and being like, okay, this is your most profitable customer, but we're not even speaking to them on the website or we'd find out that people were coming in to the website, but then they were losing them on their backend operations. So they would get a lead in, but then it would take a week to get like their first like class scheduled or something like that, right?

And so it was like, okay. And we would also go into operations and help them. Um, cause that's part of, like you say, website conversion rate optimization, right? But it's also, you have to be able to deliver on the back end.

So sometimes we help them kind of restructure a little with their team. And then we would take all these insights and we create a plan of action and we would make outlines for sales copy, what kind of things are needed, and then kind of turn it into a final product.

So that's like the branding, the marketing, the strategy, kind of really a whole business overhaul. But how I got that lead in was a website. They're like, oh, we need a website. And it's like, well, no, you more than the website. You need to understand where you're taking the business if you want to grow your business. That's like the underlying goal here, right? It's not just about a pretty website with a cool logo.

Jason: [00:09:50] Yeah. You know, we always use the website as the end because people would be like, oh, I need a website. Well, why do you need a website? Oh, my competitor just redesigned theirs. Well, no. And yeah, if, if that's all you need go to a particular, you know, template ID site and you can get. Uh, website, you know, just pick a theme and you can do that versus if you really want results, then we can look at it a different way.

And I, I liked your process and analysis of everything that you went through. Cause I bet when you're explaining that to the prospect, they're like, oh yeah. And it separates you from everyone else. Did you find that?

Quinn: [00:10:33] Yeah. Yeah. And that's a big reason why we started with the roadmap because if I was going to like tell them those things or try to sell them on those things, they didn't believe me really at first, but if I can sell them on a roadmap for the website, and like kind of put those things in there and didn't tell them about it and they're like, oh yeah, that makes total sense. We can't just increase the leads on our website because we're losing them here.

So it would make no sense to invest there and not invest here. And nobody else really would point that out to them. So I had to kind of like weasel it in. If that makes sense.

Jason: [00:11:06] Yeah, no, exactly. Well, you know, what you're doing is you're educating them. You know, they came to you for a particular, something that they thought they wanted and you educated them. And then like, well, this is the process and it just, there was literally no, probably other choice that they had, you know, after you explained that. So that's, that's amazing.

Is there anything else? I mean, this has all been amazing and I always like to keep these short, like I was telling you just so people can really hear it and go, oh man, I need to make this simple if I'm just designing websites or if I'm just doing SEO or pay-per-click or whatever your particular services, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think if you were listening this show back when you were, you know, getting going that you would want to know?

Quinn: [00:11:53] I think in the beginning, I didn't really understand the importance of systems and processes and SOPs and stuff like that and how valuable they were to the business. So as like an agency owner, there are tons of processes that happen and even though what we were doing this like huge project that was very custom-tailored to the client, there is still a repeatable creative process in that.

And so every time we had someone do something, I had them like document it and start to make these SOPs. And they started out like really primitive, like, here's the 10 steps I'm going to do. I'm going to analyze analytics. Then I'm going to like put that data in a spreadsheet and then I'm going to like something super simple like that.

But the next time it's like, oh, I'm adding screenshots. I'm adding the step-by-step about what that means to add the data to the Excel sheet or what have you. And this has like saved me so much time when I'm, I never really created and SOP in my life, but my team has created though. And it's like, when someone else comes in or something, it's like, now I'm just like, oh, here's the SOP. Boom.

And I didn't really understand the importance of creating those in the in the beginning, but they've been game-changing for my business overall.

Jason: [00:13:17] I love it. I love it. What's the website, what's the SAS website people can go and check you guys out?

Quinn: [00:13:23] Yeah. So my SAS website is conversioncrimes.com. If you want to check out the old agency site it’s zedalabs.com Z E D.

Aand uh, let's see, like Twitter it’s just my name Quinn Zeda. I think I'm like the only one. So that's pretty easy.

Jason: [00:13:38] That is easy. Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and, uh, I wish you the best of luck. And for everyone that listened, if you want to be around other agency owners that can share the things that are working for them and be able to, hopefully, be able to see the things you might not be able to see. I'd love to invite all of you to go to the digitalagencyelite.com.

Apply and if we think you're right for the mastermind and we can help you out, we'll have a conversation. So go do that now and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Do_You_Have_a_Foot_in_the_Door_Strategy_to_Scale_Your_Agency_Faster_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you thinking of adding funny videos to your sales strategy? This eight-step framework may be just what you need to create successful sales videos. Joseph Wilkins has been creating sales videos since the half-hour infomercials that appear on TV. When his clients stopped getting the results they used to, he knew it was time to change spaces and switched to making videos for social media with his agency FunnySalesVideos.com. In his interview with Jason, he explains his eight-step framework to making successful sales videos, the process to make a solid video script, why you want professional comedians and actors involved in the process, and why you should never prioritize the comedy over the sale.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Eight steps to making funny sales videos. Joseph has been producing funny videos that sell for many years and has developed a list of eight steps that have worked for him and that will surely serve as a very good framework for anyone that wants to create these types of videos. These steps take you from really understanding who your audience is before even starting to think about ideas for the videos, getting in the habit of writing down at least 50 bad ideas before thinking about the ones that could actually work, the process of making a script that works and adding the comedy punch, hiring the rights talent, and more. And that’s just 50% of the process.
  2. You’re not trying to make the funniest videos. When it comes to videos like these, and as Daniel Harmon when he spoke with Jason about video ads, remember that you’re not trying to create a video that is just funny. You're looking to create a video that creates sales. The comedy has to support the sale. If it doesn’t, if it distracts from your main objective, then you should cut it out. “Some of the funniest jokes never end up in the video,” Joseph confirms. This is why the creative director will always have to push to get a video that is different and new for the brand, while also being laser-focused on the sales aspect.
  3. On agency owners appearing in these videos. “Don’t do it!” Joseph puts a lot of emphasis on this point. This kind of video is a top of funnel first impression video. You want to give it a good chance of grabbing the audience's attention and keeping it and getting them to click into your funnel. It’s not completely out of the question for the company CEO to appear on a video at a later point in time, but always keep in mind they should not be the comic relief. Comedy takes true skill and Joseph prefers to leave it to the pros.

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Leave The Comedy To The Pros & Follow These 8 Steps Funny Sales Videos

{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 and guest where we're going to talk about how to create funny sales videos that don't seem salesy that really get people's attention and convert. So let's go ahead and jump into the show.

Hey, Joseph. Welcome to the show.

Joseph: [00:00:24] Thanks, Jason, it's good to be here.

Jason: [00:00:25] Yeah. I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and tell us a little bit about your agency.

Joseph: [00:00:30] Sure. So I own FunnySalesVideos.com, which is kind of a recent breaker or rebrand to my original agency, which was Procreative.

For 20 years we've produced videos that sell, and I'll give you a quick background. We started primarily in television. So back in the day, our very first project, we were focusing on infomercials. So, you know, those huge 30 minute long infomercials that people would find in the middle of the night flipping through their channels.

Our very first project did over $200 million in sales and that kind of got us hooked and for the next 15 years that was our main focus, was television. But as you and I well know the way that people watch television, if they even do anymore, has dramatically changed in the past decade or two.

And so about five years ago after producing, you know, tons and tons and tons of TV commercials, infomercials and web videos and we'd work for, you know, some of the biggest brands on the planet, Google, LinkedIn, Chevrolet, McDonald's, um, we're a very small boutique agency, but we like to pretend to be clients that we're not so that we can compete with the best of them.

But anyway, after about 15 years, our clients basically said we're not getting the results that we used to, you know, we're spending the same amount of money running the creative we're spending sometimes even more for the media buying because it wasn't getting any cheaper, but the results just weren't there because the eyeballs weren't there anymore.

And so our clients started saying, what can we do to get back to the results that we used to get? You know, the return on broadcast ad spend that we used to, to see. And about the same time is when the Harmon Brothers, uh, launched their mentorship program.

For many years we had kind of watched them and they're actually just down the road from us here in Utah. And, uh, you know, I watched everything that they had been doing with the Squatty Potty, with, uh, Poo-Pourri, Purple Mattress, Chatbooks, Fiber Fix. And, uh, right when they launched their mentorship program, it was kind of a perfect time for us to pivot and really decide is this the new vehicle, that's going to get us the returns that we used to get?

And I'll just give you a couple of quick case studies and then we can talk about something else. But before we launched Funny Sales Videos, you know, when clients would call us and say, hey, we saw this really funny video. We want to do a viral video. We would say, sorry, we don´t do that.

Whenever people asked for that elusive thing that they think is just push a button and you'll get a viral video. But we don't do funny because frankly, the worst thing that you can do is try to be funny and end up looking silly if you don't have the right people in the bus, as far as the scripting, as far as the acting, as far as the editing, you know, comedic timing, and we can talk about all of those in a minute.

But we don't want to do something unless we can do it fully a hundred percent. And that's kind of the missing piece that the Harmon Brothers helped test to figure out with their courses. And I, you know, I, I'm not an affiliate, but I always plug harmonbrothersuniversity.com to anyone that's looking to up their marketing skills, whether it's funny or not.

And so our very first video, when we launched finally sales videos with this new information that we had got, got over 7 million views, and more importantly, over a half a million dollars in subscriptions to a SAS service that was a very, very niche audience. And so we knew were on to something.

Fast forward to today, our biggest campaign is, I think, I got a chat with the client, I think we've hit a hundred million views and just millions of millions of dollars in revenue. So we kind of feel like we've come full circle back to our original days of just killing it on television, that there it's a whole new playbook to work online and also to use humor to essentially trick people into watching a video.

Jason: [00:04:51] Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. I've had the Harmon Brothers on the show and, and had a lot of fun chatting with them. And I even worked with people in the past that have been on those Squatty Potties and that kind of stuff… not in the videos. In producing the videos not, not using the Squatty Potty. I don't think anybody would admit that.

I remember one of my buddies was like, well, before I get behind any video, I need to try it. And then he was like it works! So it was funny.

Let's go ahead and jump into it. Let's talk about kind of the eight steps that you found that really works for your framework. What's the first one for someone creating a really good sales video?

Joseph: [00:05:37] Yeah. So we, uh, this is the ebook that anyone can download from our website funnysalesvideos.com. We basically just put it together because a lot of the time we’ll have clients that want to do a video and we only take on kind of two or three clients at a time.

So the very first step is, you know, it's marketing 101, it's understanding who your audience is, what their pain points are, creating as detailed customer avatar as possible. And again, your audience is more savvy than most, but a lot of people I tell them you never write a letter and then walk to the mailbox and decide before you put it in the mailbox who to address it to, but that's what a lot of people do when they sit down and they write these scripts, they just think about the product and they think about why did I start this company? Or why did I invent this product?

And unless you really do the homework to figure out who is your customer and what they already saying about your product? We get too caught up in drinking our own Kool-Aid and, and an exercise that the Harmon Brothers taught us that everybody should do is go out and spend a good chunk of time reading through dozens and dozens and dozens of customer reviews.

Find out, what are people saying about your product? What do they like? What do they not like? What could you improve upon? Or what do you need to address in your marketing that will overcome the objections? You know, whether it's price, so you have to build a value proposition that, you know, yours is more valuable in the long run, or whatever it is, but really spend the time to identify the key selling points that cold traffic…

And these videos are top of funnel videos, right? So they're not that they're intended to convert cold traffic into clicks to your sales funnel. And so you've got to get them very quickly with the top-selling points. And then, if necessary, if there are objections that you've got to overcome, you know unanswered concerns never lead to a sale, so you've got to figure out what are your key selling points? What are any objections you need to overcome?

And then these kinds of videos when we launched them on number one comment that we look for, and frankly that we get very often, is I loved watching that video because that person just felt like me, or it felt like a friend or it felt, I want to be friends with that person.

Well that's because that person is you. We've stolen lines that you've written in your customer reviews and we've created a character that is so close to the customer avatar that it connects on a much, much deeper level.

And just a final thought, you know, some businesses will say, well, what if I don't have a hundred reviews to read through? Well, go and steal from competitors. Go read what other company’s clients are saying. If their products are close to yours, it's the same market.

So number one is just do your homework. Don't set pen to paper until you have a really solid understanding.

Jason: [00:08:41] Yeah. You know, I always tell agency owners that they have to have a real clear understanding of who their audience is and really in your marketing, it should be going after a specific audience.

And I really like what you were talking about overcoming objections, because that's a really good one. Like if you think about, when you're talking to your sales team and thinking of like, here are the objections. And like literally if you called them out and you were like, here are the objections and then like on the video, you're going to get their attention. So what’s number two?

Joseph: [00:09:10] Exactly. Okay, so number two is kind of the fun one that is harder to quantify, but it's the brainstorming. And what I always like to tell people is before you get scared, you know, thinking about a blank sheet of paper or an empty whiteboard or an empty Word document, I tell people your goal… And so this kind of video, we're looking for two things in the brainstorming phase, we're looking for number one, who's the character, the main character that this video is about?

And number two, what is the big problem that they are going to present in the video? And obviously your product or solution has to overcome and solve that problem. But you're got to get really creative and come up with crazy fun, irrelevant ideas.

I tell people come up with 50 bad ideas. Don't judge them. Don't filter them, get as many people into your brain, share as possible as you're brainstorming this. But you're looking for answer the two questions 50 times. Now people will say, that's, that's crazy. And I say, yes, it is. And that's part of the, the method is that bad ideas will lead to good ideas.

And if you don't put any judgment on it, it takes away the fear. And so we will literally sit down in, in my agency we'll do it virtually. We do it, we throw up a shared document and my writers will get into a document and it'll normally take us about a couple of weeks between four or five of us to just throw bad idea of the bad idea.

And then once you've got your 50 bad ideas, now you put on your, your serious thinking cap and you look at okay, which of these speaks to me? Which of these has the flavor of a fun story? And that's what you're looking for. Forget selling. Right now all you're interested in is hooking people's attention and getting them to watch past the first few seconds.

And so the more fun that character can be, the more bizarre that situation while still being intellectually relevant. It doesn't have to be literally relevant. I mean, there's no relevance in a magical unicorn that craps out ice cream, but it's relatable to the Squatty Potty because you can draw a parallel.

And so don't, you know, sometimes our videos are very, very, the customer avatar is the hero of the video. And sometimes it's a completely fictitious character that is still relatable to that customer avatar, but you really have to do the brainstorming to be able to arrive at what are the best ideas? And then as an agency owner, what I do is I present my best five ideas to the client.

So as an agency that's, that's what I would recommend. Don't give them the 50 bad ideas because they’ll think you're a terrible agency. Give them the five best ideas and sometimes the worst ideas on the paper to begin with will spark somebody else to say, well, that's bad, but actually what if we flipped that and come up, you know, you can get great ideas by going off on tangents.

So step two is brainstorming as many ideas as possible only worrying about those two things. Who's the character? And what’s the big problem?

Jason: [00:12:33] I really liked that, the brainstorming. And I liked that you said present, you know, the five best ideas that you have. Now, one of the things that I learned early on is don't tell people, be like, hey, we have incredible ideas for you. These are the best ideas we've ever come up with.

Because if the clients hate it, then they're going to be like, you're an idiot. And they're going to think you're a real bad agency going forward. So just always preface as, hey, we've got some from five ideas to go by. Don't get really Gung-ho for them because if they do shoot you down, that's fine. Then you can go off to the next one.

Joseph: [00:13:09] Yeah. So before I go on to three, just another power tip, you know, since your audience are agency owners primarily. Uh, along the lines of what you just said, what we do is when we present those five ideas to the client, we tell them here they are, they're not in any particular order. We're not going to show you all hand of which ones we like best until we get feedback from you.

And so you basically, you're trying to get the client to get ownership, right? If they pick the best idea… now, if there are five ideas and there's one that clearly you feel like is going to have the best success as an agency you're obliged to then share well, you had, that was good, but, you know, have you thought about, you know, this, this and this?

So yes. Yeah. There's politics when you dealing with clients as always. So anyway, step three is scripting. This is where the rubber meets the road. You're going to actually develop your script. Now, the first thing you do is go back to step one and look at your key selling points that you identified.

And most of the time, these videos are three to four minutes long for the long version. We do shorter versions, but the hero version, which incidentally, typically tests out the best when you're on a platform that allows longer versions, you can probably communicate three to five key selling points in that video, in that amount of time.

Now your most mentioned reason why people buy should be, you know, hit over the head multiple times in that video. So it's a prioritized list, but you take your key selling points. You take any objections, that becomes your marketing framework for the script. Then you take your character and the problem and you bring in a creative writer to create the story arc.

Now in my world, I use many many freelance creative writers and people would say, well, what if I don't have a really good writer that understands this kind of comedy? Well this step it's not funny. It's just a creative storyteller that you want to do this part of the scripting. We actually have 6, 7, 8 writers on every project that we produce.

And I'll talk more about that in a minute. So you basically take the story writer, the creative writer that takes the elements and build the story. And I always used Donald Miller’s story, is it StoryBrand? As a framework for how a good story should be written. So you got somebody who has a problem who meets a guide who shows them the solution, and then has the transformation that then shows how their world or their life is better because of that solution.

So that's the arc that we're trying to get. And we're also trying to call them to action. Now, once you've got your story, you also need to make sure that you spend a lot of time writing your big hook. That's the first five seconds of your video.

Nothing past that first five seconds matters if you don't create something that's attention-grabbing and the also works with the sound off, because 80% of people watching aren’t going to have the sound on. And we going to have to create visuals and titles and literally design in subtitles so that visually you're telling all of the story without the sound on.

And then, you know, the goal of that is to get people, to turn the sound on and peak their curiosity enough. So that's step three is writing the basic script. It's not funny, but it's fun, right? It's an entertaining story. And then step four, I bring in on every project, at least five professional comedy writers.

Now this is the difference between what I said earlier about how I used to say, I won't do a sales video because we don't have the talent to do that in-house. And so I spent a lot of time looking for good professional comedians. Now, how do your agency owners do that if they don't have any connections? Well, there are a lot of online freelance sites like Fiverr and Upwork and other places where good comedy writers in their spare time write for other people, you know, freelances.

I also watch a lot of standup comedy and I'll reach out to people. I'll send them an email or I'll go to the website and talk to their agent and you'd be surprised at how affordable some, I, I won't tell you the names, but some people that you would recognize from big sitcoms, the lead writers. They apparently don't get paid enough because they still want to do freelance work on the side.

I also have guys that worked for me that work on cruise ships as comedians.

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Joseph: [00:19:17] Now you're asking to me to give away all of my secrets. I would say a decent rate is like a hundred bucks an hour. And… really, oh yeah. Yeah, well, maybe not to the, some of the higher-end ones. I paid a thousand dollars to the guy that I was mentioning that they worked for a bigger show. But you got to understand, you're not looking for them to write a script.

All I'm asking them to do is review a sprit that already exists. Comedians aren't good at writing. They're good at creating jokes, right? They're not good at writing stories. They're good at bits, right? Fragments. Punch up, that’s the technical term. When I reach out to a comedian, I say, hey, I've got a script it's fully written, I just need someone to punch it up with some jokes, add in some witty comedy, a word here, a word there, a line here, a line there. That's all you're looking for.

And normally, you know, an hour or two for comedian. And then when you do that with five different comedians and everyone's kind of in the virtual writer's room, seeing everyone else's comments, it's kind of like Saturday night live. That's how they do it. They lock everyone in a writer's room and the riff off each other. So I do that in a virtual environment. Does that make sense?

Jason: [00:20:31] I really like that. And I like how they're all going off and building on each other's work rather than going, oh, we have five comedians. They all submitted it. Which one do you like? And then you're trying to make it better.

I really liked that. That's my favorite part.

Joseph: [00:20:46] That could be difficult sometimes because, I'll just be honest, It's kind of serendipitous how the script evolves depending on which writer put their comments in first because everyone's building off the previous one and there's no real stretcher for that, but the chaos just kind of seems to work.

I don't know if that makes sense, but it's a front part of the process. Probably the most fun.

Jason: [00:21:09] Yeah. I think that would be a lot of fun. So what's the next step after this?

Joseph: [00:21:12] Okay. So just one more point on comedy. You're not looking to create a funny video. You're looking to create a video that creates sales. And so, because of that, some of the funniest jokes never end up in the video.

The comedy has to support the sale. If it's distracting from the sale, if it goes off on a tangent that doesn't advance the sale, if it's too edgy, too offensive, obviously it's going to get flagged on Facebook or, you know, Instagram. There are certain rules that you have to follow.

So, but the hard part of as a creative director, and that's what I do, I, I kind of am the one that reviews everyone's comments and decides which ones make the cut. My job is to protect the brand while still pushing it to be different than, than anything that they're done before. Cause that's why they're coming to us in the first place, but also number on my, I need to be laser-focused on the sale.

So just keep that in mind. You're not just looking for the funniest jokes, you're looking for things that will advance, the story. Number one, get them to stay watching. And then number two, get them to advance, to click through to your sales funnel.

Number five is production. Now you would think as a guy who has spent literally 20 years running a video production studio… I mean, if we were to go in the other room, I could show this huge studio with, you know, million dollars of crap, man, you would think that I would say the most important part production is getting the best cameras and the best lights and the right crew. Not true.

The number one thing about production is casting. Finding the right actor to be your hero, to guide them through this journey. The two most important parts of your video success are the script and the actor. Everything else you can literally shoot with your iPhone and get better results than me taking a million dollars and having a bad script and a bad actor.

And in today's world, the democratize video, you know, this 4k camera here. I would have died for this 20 years ago. So if there's no excuses anymore, people can produce great content. Now, how do I find the right actor? Well, you might be surprised to hear that for every actor, and I'm talking to hero actor. There are supporting actors and other extras in our videos, but there's really only one hero actor. I will look at over a hundred candidates before I select my actor.

Now some agency owners may not know this, but the process of casting and getting actors to audition cost you nothing but your time. Here’s how I do it. I'll go to two or three good acting agencies here in my town, depending on where you live, you'll have more or less.

I will go to those agencies and I'll give them a portion of the script. You don't want to give them the whole thing. it'll overwhelm an actor. Just give them a good chunk of the script, maybe three or four paragraphs. But also before I do that, I'll look at the demo reel. I'll look at their pictures and I'll pick out of those hundred. I'll probably pick 20 of them to send the script and ask the urgency to have them do self-taped auditions.

In the world of COVID, everyone has a setup right now. With the zoom recording, whether it's the foreign that laptop, just like we're doing right now. And so I'll get back about 20 videos that are prerecorded auditions from these actors.

Then I'm going to select my top three to five and I'm going to invite my client to a joint zoom session. A lot of the times I'll have the actor come into my studio, or sometimes I'll just have them stay at home and do it. But what I'm doing there is I'm looking to see how directable, how coachable are they? Can they do this line faster? Can they slow it down here? Can they put the emphasis on this word?

I'm looking for how do they respond to me as a director because anyone can do a really good audition with no pressure and do 20 takes and send the best one, but can they perform on the day? The other thing that I'm looking for is what do they add to the script that I haven't written? What spontaneity do they bring out while we're filming? Because during the production, your script should get better if you picked the right actor.

And I love to cast actors that have experience in comedy specifically improv so that they can add things and riff off of what I've written or what my team has written.

And so acting, I could spend hours just talking about that one subject, but the final thing I'll say about production is backing up to what I said earlier. Yes, everyone has an iPhone, but guess what? Every single other video on someone's Facebook feed or Instagram feed or on YouTube, every other video has been shot with their iPhone or with their, whatever smartphone. So if you want to stand out and be disruptive, you should hire the professionals.

And so having both the right script, the right actor and a team of really good film production company that really knows how to shoot things, that's just going to increase your results.

So that's step five, production. And again, I go into way more detail in my ebook on each of these things.

Jason: [00:26:48] Awesome. I love it. And one of the things I want to ask you, because a lot of times, especially with agencies, you know, I tell them you need to position yourself as that trusted advisor, right? The Yoda, the Obi-wan, right? Rather than the Luke Skywalker.

And in doing that, and if you're creating a video and then you hire an actor and they're like, oh, that was an actor that wasn't us. So what are your thoughts on an agency doing their own video and having one of them being in the video? Because you know, one of the things…

Joseph: [00:27:25] No. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.

Jason: [00:27:28] Don’t do it?

Joseph: [00:27:29] No, for this… I have very strong opinions on this matter, so feel free to disregard, but these are my opinions. Marketing is like a salad. You should have all kinds of different ingredients. This kind of video that I'm talking about is a top-of-funnel first impression video. You want to give your very best chance of grabbing their attention and keeping their attention and getting them to click into your funnel.

Once they're in your funnel, by all means, throw at them other kinds of videos. CEO videos, customer testimonials, be in more videos for sure. But unless like the Dollar Shave Club guy, which a lot of people don't realize this, unless you are a trained comedian and have experience with acting, don't try to be funny because you'll end up looking silly.

That's what I've seen. Now I've seen this, the rules broken a couple of times well, but I can't tell you in the 20 years that I've been doing this, how many times I've had a CEO that says, I think I can act, we get into the studio and they suck.

Jason: [00:28:41] I get that. I get that.

Joseph: [00:28:43] So it's a very specific kind of skill. Comedy is the hardest thing for me.

Jason: [00:28:48] Yes. And I'm glad you preface that because I know a lot of people listening are thinking about, well, I want people to recognize me, but this is just to get their attention and then you can get them later on because you know, one of the things I always worried about, and I think they think about with putting all this together is…

You know, I think about with, um, what was the T-Mobile guy? Or let's say there's like, um, Fey, uh, Progressive Insurance. Let let's say she's like, you know, she's in all their videos and then let's say they don't like her anymore. Well, everyone associates progressive to Fey. And now they have to find a new spokesman and then it just gets harder.

But I'm glad you explained that. Cause I actually agree with that as well, because I've seen some really bad videos. Hell, people have tried to mock some of our videos that we've done and I'm like, that was really, really bad. Don't do that again.

Joseph: [00:29:43] Yes, yes. Now there is one place that I'll, I'll make an exception. If during this video you want to bring in someone, you know, very short clip that basically says, here's the dude who invented it.

And I've actually seen the Harmon Brothers do this pretty well with Lumē, their deodorant. They had some scientists expert who was somehow involved with the clinical trial and they burnt him in just as a start, like a second, you know, I'm the guy that's going to make some credibility here, but then they actually make fun of him in the video.

There's a way that you can do it if you really want the CEO to be in the video, but don't make them the comic relief in the sense that they're trying to be funny.

Jason: [00:30:31] Yup. Got it. What's the next step? What number are we on? Um, I've lost track of the numbers.

Joseph: [00:30:36] This is number six and the two after are a pretty quick. So we'll go quick cases. For step six, you've always heard the phrase comedy is about timing and when it comes to step six, which is editing, nothing could be more truthful. The difference between an editor who understands timing, especially comedic timing, and somebody that just knows how to edit is very different.

And so I'll give you an example, you know, we'll do film shoots and we'll do a line and the actor, and it's very well written and it's very well acted. But when we get into the edit, something’s just not working. The line doesn't hit the way that in our brains we thought it would and a good editor can simply put a cut here and punch from a wide shot to a close-up or take out a pause or overlap two sentences, or bring somebody else in quicker or even rearrange the entire sequence. And all of a sudden it works.

It's all about timing and it's also, you know, not a people back to the point I made earlier. A lot of people are surprised to hear our videos are three to four minutes long. They say people don't have the attention to watch those kinds of videos. And I say, uh, have you heard of Netflix?

They still put out two hour long videos and people are watching them. People don't stop watching the videos because they're long. They stop watching cause they suck. They stop watching because they're boring. They start watching because they're irrelevant.

And so, if your goal is to not make your video boring, you got to speed it up. It's got to be action packed from beginning to end. Our videos, the script feel more like five minutes when we read them. But when we filmed them and edit them so tight with taking out breaths, with speeding things up with, you know, literally over cutting people's sentences talking over each other. So that at no point in that video can you say, oh, that feels long, or that feels boring.

You still gonna get most people that don't watch it through to the end. In fact, the Harmon Brothers have said that only 5% of people that watch their videos make it through to the end. But 5% of a hundred million people is a whole lot of qualified people ready to click into your sales funnel.

So you've got an editor who knows how to keep it snappy and fast, people won't get bored. The other thing that we do is for most of our clients, depending on what package they go with, we deliver 32 different versions of the same video. Because what we're doing is we're giving them a whole bunch of data to test. You know, you've heard of AB split testing, well we do A through Z split testing.

We're going to create three totally different opening hooks. We're going to test which one gets watched through the most. We're going to create three different calls to action. We're going to test which one gets clicked on the most. We're going to do the long version. We're going to do the short versions. We're going to do the square versions for mobile. We're going to do the wide-screen versions for YouTube and for desktop.

So all of these variables so that it's not leaving things to chance. In our early days, it's kind of embarrassing to admit this, but even to this day our most successful video, then now has over 50 million views on one video. We didn't do this to, we just guessed and we were right. But guess what? We're seldom right every time.

And so what we like to do now is give our clients every single opportunity to test so that it's not gambling on one version, we're doing the split testing. So a good editor knows how to create all of those different versions. So that's step six.

Step seven we've already briefly touched on it, but it's the testing. And this might be the time to reveal the dirty secret that none of our videos organically went viral. That's not what it's about. This is about creating a video that where you spend a dollar on advertising, you get 2, 3, 4, or $5 in return. I explained it like a vending machine that's full of a hundred dollar bills and it costs $20 to use. How many times are you going to want to use that machine?

So understand that once you've produced this video, that's only 50% of the work. You've now got to build a dynamite sales funnel, and you've got to have a dynamite media buyer who understands how to buy Facebook, YouTube, you know, hopefully in step one, we've already identified who is your customer and where are they viewing online so that, you know, where you're most likely going to end up.

But having said that most of our videos they're fairly platform agnostic. We test them on YouTube. We test on Facebook. Test them on Instagram. So knowing that this is a conversion video, not a organically viral video.

Now organic views will come, maybe five to 10% of all views are organic because people love to share them and comment on them. And, you know, engagement is just through the roof on these kinds of videos. So we do get kind of a cherry on the top of the cake, but the cake is paid ads. So know that and plan for it. And budget for it.

Final step, I've already said it, it's don't think that this is going to be something that you going to put her or this work into a video, and then you’re just going to go famous overnight. That's no business model that I could predict, control, repeat. And we've heard about people that win the lottery and go broke, kind of liken it to companies that, you know, sometimes get a whole bunch of seed money and don't really know what to do with it.

In the world of video hits there are so many examples of companies that did have videos that went viral back in the old days, but where are they now? You want a repeatable controllable business that you can count on. And, you know, we have clients that have done 7, 8, 9 of these videos because every single time it's worked, it's given them that return.

It's not a flash in the pan and going through the steps is the best way to ensure that it will predictably bring those returns that your company needs or your clients need.

So those are my eight steps.

Jason: [00:37:13] I love it. I love the eight steps and they're so simple, and I'm glad you clarified on a lot of them because I can't tell you how many times I hear agencies I was like, we need to get more attention and we need to create a viral video. Or, and they're just, I'm like, there's so many different things that go into creating a successful video.

And I totally agree with you on all the steps. I mean, they're very well laid out and I'm glad you've built upon other people's framework for, from, you know, Donald's to the Harmon Brothers. Because when I look at growing our agency and growing the mastermind and seeing other agency owners, it's no one ever invents everything. It's always like, especially with your creative process, it's always just building on that.

And I really do appreciate that and that's why you guys are really successful.

Tell us, um, if people want to know more where can they go?

Joseph: [00:38:06] Real simple, funnysalesvideos.com. Take a look at some of the examples videos there, there's some case studies there, but most importantly, that's where you can download the free ebook that will give you that. And I should just add if, if you're looking to follow these steps to do it right, we won't take on a client until they understand this is going to take at least four months.

To go through all of these steps you got to take the time to do it right. Just want to make sure people understand this isn't the kind of thing that you don't want your clients calling up saying, hey, we need a video in a week. What kinds of videos can you produce? Hey, I've just heard this podcast. Maybe we'll try that. No, it's gotta be, it's got to take the time to get the results.

Jason: [00:38:49] Awesome. Well, I love it. And thanks so much for coming on the show. Make sure everyone to go to their website and check them out.

And if you guys want to be around other amazing agency owners, where you can build on what they've learned over their years of scaling and growing their agency faster, so you can do the same and really do it the right way and avoid some of the pain. You'll never avoid all the pain, but I'd love to invite all of you to go check out digital agency elite and, um, see a band, just check out the stories from the other mastermind members there of their growth and their success and what their life looks like now, rather than working around the clock and not enjoying what they're doing.

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

Direct download: 8_Steps_to_Create_Funny_Sales_Videos_For_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you struggling to retain employees? Do you know how to keep scaling without burning through talent? When Robert Glazer started Acceleration Partners, he always had a vision of working with an international team. Now, his agency, which is focused on managing partnership and affiliate programs for high-growth brands, has 300 employees in eight different countries. Robert joined Jason in this episode to talk about how he avoids burning through talent, how he trains his employees to ask why, and what he invested in to get beyond the referral stage.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Beyond the referral stage. Robert ran a referral-based agency for about 15 years. Of course, it couldn’t last forever and eventually, they started focusing more on sales and marketing so he and his partner would be less overwhelmed by the sales aspect. It’s a stage every agency will go through and they faced it by investing in leadership, having great marketing, and great delivery. In the end, they have exponential revenue growth from the time they started scaling the sales and marketing team and hired a fully integrated sales and marketing team.
  2. On not burning through talent. With an agency that has been in Glassdoor's best places to work, what have they focused on when building their culture? Robert says they always had a vision of working remotely with employees from different countries. They have also focused on offering a work environment where employees can grow professionally, which is one of the main reasons people leave their jobs. In the end, agency life is not for everyone, some will love its unpredictable nature and others won’t, but Robert made sure to create a culture that does not reward overworking employees unnecessarily and offers flexible hours.
  3. Asking why. On the subject of them not rewarding working extra hours with little results, Robert explains they have resorted to training employees to ask why. Why does the client need this data by tomorrow? Could this be solved any other way? Do they really need everything they think they need? “Don’t assume, because they're asking for something that it's the right thing or you can't explain to them the trade-off or explain the consequences,” he says.

Sponsors and Resources

Verblio: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Verblio. Check out Verblio.com/smartagency and get 50% off your first month of content creation. Our team loves using Verblio because of the ease in their process and their large pool of crowd-sourced writers.

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Scaling Your Agency Faster Without Burning Through Talent

{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 great episode where we're going to talk about how you can scale your agency rapidly without burning through a ton of talent, because all of us have been going through and going, how do we keep employees and how do we find the right talent?

And on today's episode, I have a guest that's going to talk exactly about that, that's done this. So let's go ahead and jump into the episode.

Hey, Robert, welcome to the show.

Robert: [00:00:32] Thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:33] Yeah. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Robert: [00:00:36] Uh, yeah, I'm Bob Glazer. I'm the founder and the chairman of the board of Acceleration Partners. Acceleration Partners is the largest global independent agency focused on managing partnership and affiliate programs for well-known and high-growth brands.

Uh, we have almost 200 clients and, uh, I think, uh, getting close to 300 employees across eight countries and we manage programs across 25 different countries.

Jason: [00:01:02] Very cool. And so how did you start the agency? What made you fall into this?

Robert: [00:01:08] Uh, like most agency owners… No, I don't know anyone who started the agency intentionally. I just, you know, I started doing some work in the affiliate space.

I found a lot of problems with it. I started helping a company fix its program. Uh, that company ended up being a huge success. It was called Tiny Prints. Sold them to Shutterfly for $300 million.

People then spread out from that and start saying, hey, can we do that thing that you helped us with there? And then I couldn't do enough of those. So I hired some people, so, and sort of the rest was history from there. So we were very, for years, just all referral-based, uh, word of mouth, you know, 15 years. It's really in the last five years that we've had kind of sales and marketing a little bit before.

Jason: [00:01:47] So, what were some of the stages that you went through, you know, in order, like, obviously go through the referral stage, right? And you only can get to a certain plateau. And I feel a lot of people listening to the show right now, you know, are at that level, right. They're kind of plateaued, you know, it could be at 5 million, 10 million, whatever it is, they're plateaued, but you have to do something different.

What were the things that you guys did different?

Robert: [00:02:10] We invested a lot in thought leadership, content marketing. We wrote a book that was the first in our industry called Performance Partnerships. So we really focused on having great… someone sent me the barbell strategy, having great marketing, having great delivery, which drove the word of mouth.

Eventually, though, you know, we were like, look, we don't want to sell or need to sell. Eventually, myself and Matt who is now CEO who is the VP of client services, we're just handling sales calls all day. So even if they were inbound, right, then you had to talk to these people. And we were, you know, the people that called us, we answered the phone, but we weren't following up with them and checking in and the things that you need to do to keep, uh, a sales pipeline moving.

So eventually we started to acquiesce. It was like, look, even if we don't want to be cold calling people like this is a lot of, I find, to manage. But from the time we started scaling the sales and marketing team and now with a fully integrated sales and marketing team, I mean, we will, we will sell more this year revenue than we did in our for… Our revenue growth this year will be more than our first 10 years, right? Combined.

So it takes a while to get those pieces working. You can go either way. Again, it depends on the type of business you want to build. I wanted to establish our marketing before our sales, like, get the demand going, but, you know, I've seen the opposite approach work too where you get account development and people calling and doing that.

We had a really good referral pipeline and we thought that that thought leadership would also help on the conversion of, you know, the people who are examining us.

Jason: [00:03:39] Gotcha. So what have you seen work to allow you to scale rapidly without burning through talent?

Robert: [00:03:45] Yeah, look, it's hard in this business. Paradoxically, I would say, you know, we, we started by sort of in the premise, you know, five or 10 years ago that people aren't gonna stay here forever and turning that into sort of an open conversation and, you know, having a productive alumni group. But we've, we've actually always been remote. We focused on having sort of a world-class, uh, culture.

We spent a lot of time and energy on our culture have been in Glassdoor's best places to work a few years. And look, agency life is not for everyone, but what's interesting is people who come here from other agencies really say to us, this is really different.

Some people are a lot of people, realize agency is not right for them. Maybe that's not the work that they want. So we've done a lot to really screen the type of person who likes that fast growth, high pace. You are serving clients. If you don't like client service, probably not a great role, but they like the kind of unpredictability and working on something new and different.

I think that the biggest thing that keeps your talent around is investing in your talent and helping them grow and develop. That's one of the reasons we are a growth firm and that growth has allowed for, you know, I think we've had 87 seven promotions last year or something like that, you know, across our team.

So for people to see that, oh, that person started associate and manager and now they are a director or VP. And that, that path is available to them. I think these days people leave for two reasons. They don't, they don't like their manager, maybe three reasons, they don't like what they're doing or they just don't, they're not growing or don't see a path for them.

I don't think anyone here is blocked. I mean, that's one of the nice things. If you go up 30% a year for a while, as we have, there's just new roles available every year. No, no one is blocked on their development path.

Jason: [00:05:31] So when someone joins from another agency, what do they say it's different?

Robert: [00:05:35] I think that… look, there's an interesting expectation gap. I actually think the last year has really shown some almost generational gaps in the workplace. We didn't see it before, you know, for better, for worse. I think some gen Z or people coming out now, I mean, they just, they think a 35 hour or 40 workweek is, is a work. That's the workweek and the expectation isn't above that.

Some people want to learn and be exposed to a lot of things and understand that they're going to have to do that. But I think the biggest difference… so, so look there's times when there's a lot of work or whatever proposal was due and clients are, but we generally want to solve these problems. We generally don't want people, they don't work weekends. They don't work nights.

And so what I've heard people express is at other agencies, people just didn't care if I was working 18 hours a day and they didn't care if I was burnt out or work weekends. They're like, no one wants that here. No, one's asking me to do that. But again, I think we all have to be honest, and this is the nature of the business. Sometimes if there's a million-dollar proposal and the client wants it on a Monday morning, someone's probably going to be working on that on a Sunday night.

Like I, I, to me, that's the trade-off of flexibility. The other side is you want to go watch your kid's soccer game on a Friday afternoon? Like you can do like awesome. Go do that.

So I think that's the biggest difference is people feel really supported. We are not celebrating. We actually talk culturally, we celebrate work performance, marketing, and we get paid how well these programs do. So we talk culturally about, we don't reward working hard. We reward working smart.

I've seen people work a hundred hours a week and not get a lot done and really exhaust themselves and those around them. So I think that's the difference. If you haven't worked in an agency before, agency life can feel different. If you have, I think there's some ones who… again, it's a badge of honor to pull it all night, or I don't think anyone's ever done that in history of our company.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

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Well, I mean, there's lots of people out there that talk about how much they work and how much they hustle. And that's really all they do. And that's perfectly fine for them. But I know when I'm working with agencies and I know when I'm running this business or the other agency, it's like, look, I want to do it smart.

I want to be able to maintain, to take off Monday and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and only work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That's what I want. And then you have to figure that out. Like in our mastermind, we were chatting at the end of the year, we were talking about what are the things we're going to say no to, in order to really like set the goal around time.

Your goal should be around your time, not around money because you always sacrifice money. And that always makes a big difference. Cause yeah, I remember out of school I worked for Arthur Anderson and that was like a badge of honor to see how many hours, you know, oh, you got to 80 hours a week? I got a hundred hours a week. I'd be like, you're an idiot.

Robert: [00:09:24] We actually train around asking, you know, why a lot. And when a client asks for panic for a ridiculous amount of things last minute, you go to them and you say, well, why do you need…? Well, my boss, I have a new boss starting tomorrow. And I wanted them to have this two years of data. And he said, hey, how about we give them X, Y, and Z?

And like, I don't want to reward the person spending 10 hours on something they didn't need to do, because it didn't produce a better outcome and it exhausted them. If they could solve that problem in a half an hour by asking why, what do you need? You know, a lot of times, I think it's explaining to clients too what that means.

Yes, we can chase those new to new markets, but you realize that mean the core launch mark is then aren't going to get the same support? And they'll say, well, can we do both? Can't… no, so we can either double the team or we can, I think a lot of times it actually if you're an agency that provides great services, your biggest problem is that your teams don't know how to say no well, or sort of put a lid on scope creep and they over-deliver.

And by the way, what happens when you overdeliver in an agency? I go look at the PNL at the end of the month and not only is the employee upset, but we haven't made any money. So that's a lose, lose.

Jason: [00:10:36] Well, yeah. And the clients are getting overwhelmed by all the stuff that you just provided them. And a lot of times they get confused, which means they're going to leave. So you just burn out your clients.

Robert: [00:10:45] Don’t assume, because they're asking for something it's the right thing or you can't explain to them the trade-off or explain the consequences. Again, if they say, well, let's chase this city and that city, are you okay if that deteriorates the results on the existing two cities?

Well, if it's one of these things where it's 99, 1% and it's oh, when you put it that way, I know I don't want to put those campaigns at risk at all.

Jason: [00:11:08] Yes. Awesome. Well, Robert, this has been great. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Robert: [00:11:14] Yeah, just in terms of, I think thinking about where you want your agency to go in terms of determining how you want to run it, right? I think there are a bunch of different paths, particularly, you know, there are a lot of people exiting these days, and I think there's a specific set of things that you need to do and understand your industry if you want to move towards that outcome.

Jason: [00:11:33] Let's go over a couple of those. What's important in your eyes?

Robert: [00:11:37] A couple of things. Cause you might hear from your friends who have SAS businesses or otherwise, but agencies are sold on EBIT. They are not sold on revenue. They're not sold on customers or clients or other things they're sold on trailing 12 month EBIT.

So, first of all, you can get over the fact that you haven't started a SAS business, you know, and your friend did, and he sold it for 10 times sales. And then you need I, so I think the two things that I see really hurt the most… one is not having everything relying on the founder, right? These are the things that impact valuation. Understanding that trailing 12 months EBITDA is the primary driver and then having a proper cost accounting for your business.

The amount of agencies I've seen who don't have for gross margins correctly, who aren’t putting, you know, the actual people cost of doing the works in a gross margins. Like this is kind of finance 101. You can't, if the people are delivering the service, then that is, you know, you can't say you have a hundred percent gross margin and operating expenses, it doesn't, it doesn't present an accurate picture.

And I would also encourage everyone out there to, you know, if you're an owner-operator, pay yourself a market salary in the business and then take the profits, so that you have a proper PNL. Because we, we've gone to look at businesses and they say their profits’ a million dollars in EBITDA, and then there's three founders taking $30,000 a year. Well, those financials are not accurate. And then you're very upset, but your evaluation is not going to be there.

So those are three of the things I would really encourage people to do if they're thinking about an exit down the line.

Jason: [00:13:07] What do you see the multiples being in? Uh, you know, I've seen them as ranges, so let's say you're under a million in EBITDA. What's the multiple?

Robert: [00:13:15] Yeah. So I built a chart on this for marketing agencies. I'm happy to share it with you. So under a million in EBITDA, I mean, right now it's hard, but it could be two to four times EBITDA with a heavy earn-out. Because again, under a million EBITDA, the owners, probably the head of marketing head of sales. I wouldn't expect them to get more than 50% of that upfront.

I think two to 3 million in EBITDA these days, maybe 5, 6, 7, you know, the first inflection point, major inflection point, is 5 million in EBITDA. And I think, you know, healthy agencies have 5 million EBITDA with recurring revenue, you know, business are, are going for 10 times plus EBITDA these days.

Jason: [00:13:58] Yeah, what we'll do is anything under a million in EBITDA is usually one to two X EBITDA. A million to 3 million is usually four to six. Three to about, you know, six would be a little bit more. And then if you're over the 10 figure mark in EBITDA, then it's really write your own ticket, depending on a number of different things.

Robert: [00:14:20] Agencies over 10 million, 20 million are getting 20 times earnings some of them these days. But I think he made the point you made is really interesting. Again, this is why you need to focus on what your strategy is. The problem, it's hard to get one of those one to two times EBITDA deals done, because why would that founder sell when they can just have to hold on a business for two years?

But they haven’t created anything beyond themselves that has value. In fact, if the earnings of that $1 million EBITDA, you know, and they are the head of sales, the head of marketing, the head of whatever, that includes $400,000 of things that you'd need to pay for other people, then it's really 600,000. So that's the problem. That's why those deals don't get done.

Again, if I'm the seller, do I want to give up the…? You know, you wouldn't give up one time, EBIT if it's, unless you saw it, your business is going to collapse. And even too, he said, if I just held on for two years. So if you want to get real value for your business, it needs to be a valuable business beyond yourself. And the more that you can take yourself out of functions, you know, when you start having a marketing person, when you start having a salesperson and you're not on all the sales calls, these are the things that might get you up to a two to three from one to two.

Jason: [00:15:28] Yeah. My partners always get mad at me. A lot of times I talk people out and I'm like, look, you're not worth what you think you're worth, and if you are worth what you think you are, like, why do you want to sell? Like, there's lots of mastermind members that we've gotten to the level where they're the chairman and they're not in the day-to-day and they're getting millions of dollars every year.

So why would they sell?

Robert: [00:15:51] Let's say, it's, let's say it's a million-dollar EBITDA business and you're out of it, but it's just only a million of EBITDA, which again is not a lot of scale. And let's just say someone will pay two to three times for that. I mean, do you want to sell the golden goose or do you want to keep getting the eggs, right?

That becomes a tough, tough equation. But I think if you certainly don't want to get a deal done, you go to market and you tell everyone, you know, that you want evaluation either, or you're… An agency is an agency. There could be a hot segment, but they've all, every sale has been valued generally the same for the history of, of time.

And I think when you go to market and talk to people and your expectations are just nothing like the deals that are, I always say market-clearing prices. We hear a lot of rumors, right? We hear LOIs… 80% of deals I think don't close, right? So you hear a lot of headline LOI that didn't close. You don't know whether the headline number had earn-outs or not. It could have had five or six years of earn-outs.

And so I, the only prices and comps you can use or what I call market-clearing prices, not the rumor that your friend said, or the LOI that your other friend said, or otherwise.

Jason: [00:17:00] Yeah. Awesome. Well, Robert, what’s the agency website, people can go and check out?

Robert: [00:17:03] Yeah. It's probably easier to Google than it is to spell it all out. It's accelerationpartners.com. Uh, hopefully, we're doing a decent job at SEO and you put Acceleration Partners. I'm sure one of your SEO agencies listening will, uh, will give us a call and offer to fix.

Jason: [00:17:18] Awesome. Well, 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 can see the things that you're not able to see and help you scale and grow and get to a point where you've really created the freedom in your agency, where you're making the profit. You don't have to make all the decisions. You don't have to have all the risks and your team is, you know, humming along. I'd love to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind for agency owners that are experienced.

Go there now and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Can_You_Scale_Your_Agency_Fast_Without_Burning_Through_Talent_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Can you effectively communicate what your business is about? With a 30-year background in marketing, Chris West noticed businesses normally handled their visual identity very well but need help when it comes to using their language. He started his agency, Verbal Identity, and has helped clients create a distinctive and impactful tone of voice for their brand. He is a big believer in the power of language and in this interview, Chris discusses the three levels of communication he teaches his clients, why humanity wins over corporate in social media, and his new book.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. 3 levels of communication. As a digital agency, you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. When looking at how the world’s biggest brands communicate, Chris identifies three levels of communication. At the 10,000 feet level, we have a vision of the world you want to create. What do you stand for? And even more powerful, what do you stand against? At 1,000 feet, we have the personality, which is a very important piece because customers buy into the personality of a business. Finally, at ground level, it's all about the details, especially when it comes to the language. Establish the language your business will use and identify with and communicate it to your team.
  2. Humanity wins. Even when it comes to some of the world’s biggest brands, like Microsoft, people would rather follow Bill Gates on social media than his company. That is because they want to follow a person, someone they can relate to. It’s important to be more than a corporate blank face that only speaks in business terminology and communicates merely in announcements. Dare to get personal, to share your likes and dislikes and you will attract like-minded individuals. And, perhaps more important, identify the ones that will reject you and cannot relate to you.
  3. Writing advice. When it comes to writing, some of the best advice Chris has ever gotten is “write like they’re walking away”. Be very intentional about your message and try not to rely on context and details to get your point across. Write like you don’t have time to warm up your reader because you’re already losing their interest.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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These 3 Levels of Communication Will Help You Differentiate Your Brand From The Rest

{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 and I have another amazing show for you and guest. We're gonna talk about the three levels of communication or language that you can actually check out in order to position your agency to be the choice. So let's go ahead and jump into the show.

Hey, Chris. Welcome to the show.

Chris: [00:00:25] Hey, Jason, how you doing?

Jason: [00:00:27] Hey, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Chris: [00:00:29] Certainly. I run a business called Verbal Identity and it came about because I have a 30-year background in marketing. And what I noticed was a lot of clients, business owners were really sweating their visual identity, but they were forgetting about their language.

So really what we do is we help businesses use language better.

Jason: [00:00:48] Awesome. Well, in pre-show we were talking about kind of the three different levels that you need to kind of really kind of position your agency. So let's kind of jump into it and talk about it.

Chris: [00:00:59] Yeah, thank you very much. So I think the thing that really kills and bogs down agency growth is how are you different from every other agency?

So you’re a digital agency, so are a hundred other digital agencies. So how on earth can you stand out and be differentiated? And I think that when we look at how the best brands in the world and the best businesses in the world communicate, whether it's a small, you know, super fast grain startup, whether it's a big brand, like we've worked with like an Alphabet over in Silicon Valley, their communication really works on three levels.

So if you're like at 10,000 feet, they're very clear and consistent always in their narrative. This is the world we believe in. So this is what we're going to stand for. And even better, this is what we're going to stand against.

So if you're a digital agency owner, you can't just be a digital agency owner. You can't just believe that the world needs kind of better digital, whatever, whatever, you know, everyone's saying that, right? You got to say that we do it fast. We do it better. We understand our clients better, or we, you know, what is the truth about you, about the world that you were trying to create when you set up this agency? What was it…?

How precise and personal can you be about, and when you find that, what is it you stand for and what is it you're going to start against? Cause we see people, elected president selected being very clear on what they stand against. And really you're fighting for election when clients are looking for which agency to take on.

So that's like in the 10,000 feet. Now, of course, you've also got to find the personality, my belief, and, you know, working with agencies here in the UK, is that what we find is clients buy people and then they buy the agency that those people represent. So what they buy into is the personality. And what you want to do is make sure that there's a thousand feet, there's a personality which is true to you, which kind of expresses this worldview. Are you as an agency, quite confrontational? Do you think the world is stupid and everything has changed or are you as a bunch of people actually much softer, more considered, more insightful, maybe more intellectual?

Whatever it is, if you can take your worldview and then represent that in your personality, then you really strongly differentiated. And of course the other thing that bogs us all down as agency owners, business owners is we're trying to do everything and we want to move faster and I've got six people writing content for me. I want all events sound the same and I want them all to sound like us.

So down at the ground level, there are some ground-level details and people often overlook this, but are the words and phrases we use and the words and phrases we don't use to describe ourselves? From the consumer world we had a wonderful client, Fred Perry, Fred Perry Clothing, the CEO kept on saying we don't use the word store. When we're writing our content because we're British and stories and Americanism, we have to use shop, right?

When you put that in the guidelines, he saved his frustration in these weekly content review meetings, just because these are the words and phrases we use and don't use. Also some things around grammar so a couple of other things. And then once you've got all those aligned, you're differentiated and you've got your team pointing in the right direction.

Jason: [00:04:08] I love it. What are some other areas where you see people going wrong with positioning, you know, their agency?

Chris: [00:04:17] I think agency owners are usually hyper-intelligent people and hyper passionate, hyper purposeful driven people. And actually they want to get all of that across in the first communication. So, you know, but I don't have time for it, Jason. I don't know how much time you've got for it. I mean, you know, I see 20 people writing to me each day, say, hey, Chris, we can do this we can do that, right? You know, I, my phone is going, WhatsApp is going three more emails have come in just as I've been thinking about what I should do about the other emails.

And actually, can you say something simple, just enough to open the door? More to the point, if you dare to do this, can you say something that 99% of the vault of the world will reject? Cause we don't want the whole world. What you want is the 1% of the clients that really get you. So what is it that you're going to say that 99% will reject?

That's one of the biggest tips. Be prepared to lose the people that are just going to waste your time in meetings anyway, and never love you. Focus on the ones, you know, the thing that will appeal to the 1% and then keep it simple. Keep it short. Unlike me, who tends to talk for too long.

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I love that you talk about talking about what you stand against or stand with. You know, I think that's very important when you're positioning your agency, because I find too many times agency owners try to appeal to everyone and they're going to appeal to a lot less rather than saying, hey, you know…

Like what we do with our agency mastermind, we're saying, hey, if you're an asshole, right? Or if you're all about yourself, do not apply. There's other places that you can go for that. And like, that's our stance. Or if you're not about sharing or, you know, helping other people out or being transparent, you know, hey, it's probably not right for you. And then that's our stance. And that's enabled us in order to really create an amazing place, you know, in the same thing at the agency, like we used to say the same thing about our clients.

Like if you think, you know it all, we can’t help you.

Chris: [00:07:28] Yeah, definitely got to help me. And I think, can I add something to this? Cause this is exactly what I believe as well. I mean, there are places for ourselves, right? But here's the thing I, I see that works really well when people are using language: humanity wins. So, if you look at the number of followers, I think Apple has on LinkedIn is… I don't know how many million it is, but Tim, who runs Apple, has twice as many followers.

If you look at how many followers Microsoft has is however many millions, right? But can you believe Bill Gates? I suddenly forgot his name, but Bill Gates has two and a half times as many followers. Why? Because humanity wins. People want humans to talk like humans to a human. Soon as we slip into the corporate stuff, people switch off.

Jason: [00:08:13] Exactly. Yeah. You know, I mean, that's what I love about social media. It gives you an idea of what's every day in the life of Bill Gates or, you know, Tim Cook or whoever, you know, rather than, you know… I always hate when people just share out or communicate just business and brand stuff. I'm like…

Chris: [00:08:34] Oh, and there's nothing. There's nothing. So what I'm for you for going to work this morning? Sometimes, I mean, that sincerely what happened going to work, but right… We're delighted. We've appeared at this. Yeah. Good for you. Nothing for me in that, right? But tell me how you have to fix the wheel on your car on your way there and you turned up and your pants were soggy because of the rain and you had to borrow some pants… Right, now I've got you. Rather than now, you've got me, I'm walking up onto the stage with you and man, I want you to succeed.

The human stuff wins.

Jason: [00:09:04] Yeah. And you know, I, my team fought me for a long time on this, you know, on social. I was like, hey, look, we live in the mountains. I want to share my life in the mountains on social. And it's been amazing where it's attracted people that have the same interest as well.

And then it's so much more enjoyable that we've attracted people that believe in the same things.

Chris: [00:09:29] And that's your differentiation. So 99% of the world might look at that and go, why do I want to talk to some guy that's stuck in the mountains? My life is four story, high glass fronted, lobbies and stretch love, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right?

1% are going to go. I found the man, right? He gets what it is. It's not all about that. So immediately you're streets ahead of the competition. And also, yeah, so you say, when you open up personally on social media, you really big, right? So don't want to phone this guy. He sounds like a corporate blank face. Or do I want to find this guy? Because he's honest, like you had, excuse me, crap day cause he missed all his night's sleep because his kids were up or whatever it was. Okay. That's like, that was me yesterday as well. So I can talk to this guy like an honest person.

Jason: [00:10:16] Yeah, I love it. Well, this has all been amazing, Chris, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Chris: [00:10:23] Ah, writers tips, maybe, you know, sometimes people say Chris, you know, you're an award-winning writer. They never say that. I always try and get them to say that, but they never say you're an award-winning writer. They say, Chris, you know, you're a writer and you're in the room. So let me ask you a question. Best writers tip ever?

So I would say right like that already walking away. It was this piece of advice I heard three years ago and it's like, that's great, right? And you don't have time to warm up the reader. You don't have time to explain the context or anything else. They are already walking away. So what is it you want to say? Get it upfront and start back.

So for me, it's a, it's a lovely piece of advice walk, write like they're already walking away because they are.

Jason: [00:11:06] I really liked that. And I'm probably the person always walking away because my attention span is about this big, a lot, like everyone else. So, you know, get to the point really pretty quick. Tell us a little bit about the book and where people can check it out.

Chris: [00:11:21] Do you mean this book? Thank you very much. Yeah. So. I've been running this business for 10 years. Love language, love what it can do. I think it's a sneaky, amazing thing, language. Uh, people said, Chris, can you put it, can you stop talking to me and just write a book so I can read the book and stop listening to you?

So the book came out in September. I'm delighted to say it hit number one in its category on Amazon straight away. And really it talks about this framework that everyone can use this simple framework, 10,000 feet worldview, thousand feet personally, ground-level details, how you make sure they will reinforce each other.

And then there's a little bit about how do you build ROI because we all, we all need to worry about, there's 20 things I could do right now to help my agency, is it going to be ROI for this? Is this the most important? And then it talks a little bit about quick wins and a few other writers' tips in there as well.

Jason: [00:12:14] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Chris, for coming on the show. If you guys enjoyed this episode and you would like to know the strategies that are currently working and literally have access to them every month, if that sounds of interest to you, I'd love for you guys to check out the digital agency elite.

This is where we have members and guests come in once a month to really go over strategies that they're crushing it on as well as be surrounded by amazing agency owners.

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

Direct download: 3_Levels_of_Communication_to_Differentiate_Your_Agency_Brand.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you struggling to get your agency beyond the million-mark? What benefits await beyond seven figures? Erik Olson merged companies with his current partner four years ago and they started Array Digital, an agency that, in its beginnings, focused on website development and mobile application services. They introduced digital marketing services as a smaller branch and then realized it became more popular than expected. In his conversation with Jason, Erik spoke about making the decision to niche down and why reaching the seven-figure mark made such a difference. He also talks about his book about the journey to a million dollars.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Why seven figures? It took Erik 11 years to break a million dollars in revenue but he really saw a difference after that point. Why seven figures? “It’s a nice round number,” he says. It’s not random at all, only 4% of businesses reach the million-dollar mark, so reaching that number meant, to him, that he crossed the threshold of success. Once he did it, he realized that running the business became a bit easier. He finally had extra money to invest in their own marketing, getting clients gifts, a mastermind, and things that were unaffordable in the beginning.
  2. Invest in your people. A huge component of any business is its people and Erik knew this was another area that could see significant investment once the agency started growing. “When I hired my first employee, the only benefit that I had was paid time off,” he recalls. As time went on, they were able to offer more benefits like dental, medical insurance, and even retirement matching. He’s giving his staff what they need to be whole when it comes to their finances and the work itself.
  3. What he would do differently. If he had to start over from having a 300,000k business trying to get to one million, Erik says he would quickly focus on the ideal prospect. This is something that took him a long time but now he says he would 100% niche down at that point. “First and foremost, I would certainly identify very clearly who it is I'm talking to or want as a client. And then I would be pretty rapidly going towards niching.”

Sponsors and Resources

Verblio: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Verblio. Check out Verblio.com/smartagency and get 50% off your first month of content creation. Our team loves using Verblio because of the ease in their process and their large pool of crowd-sourced writers.

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What Are The Benefits Beyond the Seven-Figure Mark & How You Can Invest in Your Team

{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'm excited. I have another amazing episode. I have one of my mastermind members who runs a really successful agency. His partner has actually been on, so I thought I would bring him on as well. And we're going to talk about scaling to seven figures. I know a lot of you watching or listening are constantly trying to battle and you're really trying to get there. And it took me a number of different years to get there and he's going to talk about it as well.

So let's go ahead. Get into it.

Hey, Eric. Welcome to the show.

Erik: [00:00:37] What's up, Jason? Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:38] Yeah. I just realized too. I've had Drew and Darren on and, and Kevin and you. Now you're the fourth person on the intro that you can see the drone, the drone flying out from experience. I see them, I see them, I could see the shining head off the edge.

Erik: [00:00:57] Hey! Why’d you have to go there, man? Now that was awesome. As a matter of fact, uh, one of the pictures from the experiences my Twitter profile, picture up on the mountain, it was like the, I guess it's the first full day we hiked up Swenk mountain. Yeah, that was amazing, man.

Jason: [00:01:14] It was fun, yeah, at sunset. So yeah, it was fun. And then obviously the ones we did on the ATVs, since you guys were the suckers in the back, you guys got dusted, but…

Erik: [00:01:25] Yeah, I definitely should've brought goggles to that trip, that's for sure.

Jason: [00:01:28] Exactly. Well, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Erik: [00:01:31] Sure I’m Erik. Online I go by Erik J. Olson. I am the CEO of a digital marketing agency in Chesapeake, Virginia named Array Law. We have been in business for about four years.

We, um, we've gone through a bunch of different iterations and I've run several previous companies. And so about four years ago, my business partner, Kevin Daisy, who was also on your show recently and also a mastermind member, we merged companies. And at that point, we decided that we were going to rebrand as Array Digital.

And at the time we were focused on website and mobile applications, and we did this little thing called digital marketing off to the side. We had one person that we were just like, just go take care of that extra value-added service. And one day I sat down and I looked at all of our financials and I saw that we were making pretty good money.

It just wasn't a lot of it, very high percentage. So high percentage, but low dollar amounts. I'm like, what don’t we focus on this a little bit more? And I had been focusing on it and like, you know, my research and whatnot for the last year. It took about six months before we started to get some real recurring revenue from that.

That was really nice to see recurring revenue in an area that we really enjoyed working in.

Jason: [00:02:51] Yeah. I think, you know, for many years, or some people take even longer, it's you do the things that just keep coming to you rather than really go and really look at what are the things that give me a lot of energy or which are the ones that like take energy away?

And like, if you can match like the ones that give you energy with the ones that make you a lot of money and profit, you're like, all right, let's do more of that. But I think we get too involved in the process in, in the business that we can't even see it. So how were you able to kind of take some time and to see that and really kind of, I look at it?

Erik: [00:03:23] Yeah. So as far as like the, the pivot that we were going to make?

Jason: [00:03:26] Exactly.

Erik: [00:03:27] Yeah, well, honestly the work started to dry up a little bit. We had a whole bunch of very expensive software developers on staff and we were wrapping up some projects. We were going into the holidays. And we had about five prospects, several, like, yes, we're going to sign with you.

And we're like, oh man, we're going to need to get more office space and all this stuff. And I wouldn't say that that actually was probably like late summer that happened. And then going into the fall, the prospects didn’t close. Going into the holidays, the prospect started ghosting us.

And so our projects were wrapping up. We didn't have a lot of new projects coming and we were, honestly, quite afraid for the future. So we started having some real discussions about what are we going to do here if this doesn't work out the way that we had hoped it was going to work out?

And, you know, my background was software development. I did software development for 15 years, so this digital marketing stuff was new for me. And so I spent about a year just deep diving into, uh, getting this taking in everything I get my hands on, you know, online personalities, articles, blogs, you name it. I was just consuming, consuming and learning about it, and we were getting better as a team. But, um, I realized we had to make a pivot and actually we had a conversation that the riskiest thing that we could do was to do nothing.

We had to pivot and take that big, big risk. But, you know, from a personal standpoint, I was walking away from the thing that I knew the most about. So, it was, it was a challenge.

Jason: [00:05:00] Yeah. And I know when I'm always talking to people about niching down and really going all in on it, they're like, well, what if it doesn't work?

And then I'm like, well, what if it does? Like, that's a bigger, it's like, that's the bigger thing. It's like, I've seen it 95% of the time work. There's always those exceptions for bad implementation, but when you can kind of go all in to something that the market needs, that you have passion for forget about it. So…

Erik: [00:05:30] Yeah. And you know, we did not niche until, well, until we, honestly, we joined the mastermind and we kept hearing about it and we kept meeting and learning about the businesses of mastermind members. And what we noticed very clearly was that the members that had niched the most as far as industry or discipline seemed to be doing the best.

And so we started to kind of go down that path. But again, it's a scary thing because you're not used to it. You're used to people just coming to you from various industries for various needs, but it also gets exhausting when every time a prospect comes to you it's like a brand new problem that you may not even know how to solve. And you have to kind of be like, yeah, we could do that. And you don't really know if you can.

I'd rather do the same kind of work, frankly. As far as the work itself, over and over again, but the, uh, the creative output or process be the variable for each client. So we can still be creative. The things that we do as far as like run ads or build websites, it's the same, right? And so we get better. We get more efficient.

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Yeah, I remember cause we did a lot of custom application development and yeah, it was, there was no set playbook. I mean, it was always, always different and it was just challenging. And at that part of the business was always the one that was kind of close to breaking even, it seemed like.

It was just, we were really profitable on the creative and the digital marketing. I just wish I cut that, the development a little quicker, but back in the day when we were growing, we, that was one of the things that could actually help us to grow. But it's a little different nowadays, you know, going forward.

What are some of the other things that helped you guys get over the seven-figure mark?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Erik: [00:08:19] Yeah, great question. So it took me 11 years to break a million dollars in revenue. Uh, 11 years as a business owner. The first four years I was doing government contracting for the Navy. I, I live in the Norfolk, Virginia, uh, market, and there's a ton of Navy here. And so a lot of people get DOD work.

I started my own little company with another, with a partner and it was just a two-man crew. And right off the bat, we were making good money but it wasn't seven-figure money, but it was, it was a good income for an individual. And it was one of those situations where you don't want to walk away from it.

But I knew I had to one day and eventually I got the boot and had to golf on my own and, uh, started to, to really focus in on business and started hiring people and growing a team. You know, one of the things that really helped me a lot was when I did that, when I took that step and I, I started to take on commercial clients, I knew that I had an opportunity to get a lot of work from my network, but only if I told them what I was doing.

So I literally had to tell the world on a daily basis what I was doing. And it was, there was hesitation for me to do that. And I see this in a lot of new company founders or freelancers, where it's almost like they're hedging their bets in case they fail. It was what it seems like.

And that's how I was feeling like, well, if I tell everybody, if I tell my mom, my dad, my aunts, all my friends from high school, every, everybody that I know, if I tell everybody, and then it doesn't work out, I'm going to be embarrassed.

But I knew that that, that was it. There was one plan for me, it was the plan that had to work. And so I had to activate that network. So that was a big, big thing for me, was telling everybody what I was doing and making sure everybody knew what I was doing.

And it continues today because you know, all companies kind of pivot a little bit and tweak their offering and whatnot, or, or they niche, or, and so we, we have to continue to tell people what we're doing so that if someone knows me from years ago, or we just met, I want them to know that Erik is the guy that does X, Y, or Z.

Even if they're not a prospect, they can carry the message on. So that was a big part for me.

Jason: [00:10:40] Why the seven figures?

Erik: [00:10:42] So yeah, you know, why million dollars a year in revenue? Why is that pertinent? Number one, it's a nice round number and it's something that our culture kind of throws around a lot, you know, millionaire's kind of a big thing.

Not that if you make seven figures that your agency, if you're a millionaire, not by a long shot. You may actually be losing money in reality. So it's something that's recognizable, but also I learned a couple of years ago that only 4% of businesses reach the million-dollar mark.

Jason: [00:11:12] Really. Oh, wow.

Erik: [00:11:13] And to me… yeah. To me that meant that 96% of businesses either are mom and pops or they struggle to get there or do they just die trying.

And so it's enough of the challenge where I knew I wanted that. But once I crossed that threshold, what I didn't realize until afterwards was that the business just got a little bit easier to run. So we finally had a little bit of extra money that we could put into things like our own marketing and getting clients gifts and a mastermind and some of these extra kind of like things that were unaffordable in the beginning. Nice to haves later.

And now we could actually start investing back in the business and we can hire people, the right kinds of people. So it just got easier as a business owner once we cross that threshold. Now, the number of self is it's just a number. There's nothing magical about it, but right around that point for me in my personal experience is when things started to really change.

Jason: [00:12:20] Yeah. Yeah. I agree with you on there. I remember… It took us a couple of years to get through to the million dollar mark just on the top line. And then I realized, you know, after that I was like, well, okay, that's top line. Well, how do we get it to, you know, the profit? Like, make that the profit, like literally I just got off an interview a little while ago, not sure uh, when that show will go live, but it's with Don scales.

And we were talking about, he's done 40 acquisitions and he's a CEO for a huge global agency of over 500 people. We were talking about like, which are the ones that he looks for. And he, uh, I remember him telling a story about, he was talking to the Omnicom CEO. He goes, hey, I'm going to go look at this one agency. And he's like, well, where are they at? And he's like, well, they're a million in revenue. He goes a million in EBITDA? He goes, no a million in revenue. And he goes, if I were you and I was flying to them, I would fly by and wave. He goes, I wouldn't talk to anybody for that under a million and EBITDA.

And I didn't realize that for many years to come as well of going… Cause we all have that, that mental hurdle we want to get to that million and then you get to a million, then you're like, you go to the next. And I totally agree with you, you know, Erik on it does get simpler because you can afford to, you're really starting to focus on building your team.

Like, you know, like what we talked about in the mastermind a lot with your guys' success group is around recruiting and building leaders and that kind of stuff. And when you can invest into that, it takes, um, all the weight off your shoulders. Have you found that as well?

Erik: [00:14:07] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And, and people, that's a huge component of any business, but certainly in, in agency life, you, you have to invest in your folks.

And, you know, in the beginning, when I, when I hired my first employee, the only benefit that I had was paid time off and that was pretty cheap. So it was like, you know, two weeks of paid time off and we kept hours and all that stuff. And, but as time went on and we made a little bit more money, I was able to offer more benefits.

So when we offered dental, we offered a vision, we offered a medical, of course. And then, you know, one of the most recent ones was retirement matching, which that's a big deal. I mean, that costs us a lot of money, every pay period to put money into someone else's retirement account, but we're giving our staff what they need to be whole when it comes to their finances and hopefully with the work itself as well.

But all that costs money. You need tools as well, right. So it's easy to say, oh, you need to do great work. But if you don't give them the tools, if you can't afford the tools, they need to do great work, then you're asking for something that's unreasonable. So yeah. You need the money to invest in your people. Now that's probably the biggest component, right?

Jason: [00:15:26] Yeah, exactly. Well, if you had to do one thing over again, you know, so it took you a couple of years in order to get to the million mark if you were starting over today and you're around 300,000. What's, what's the one thing, if you had one thing that you could do in order to get you over a million, what would it be?

Erik: [00:15:47] Oh, man, great question. If I was at 300,000 and I wanted to get to a million as quickly as possible, I do think that I would very quickly focus in on the ideal prospect. It took me a long, long time to get to that point. So I don't know if that's, if I would a hundred percent niche at that point, but I would certainly know who I'm speaking to.

I think niching is very, very powerful, but one of the main reasons is powerful is that even though you may be doing almost the same kind of work in one niche as the other, you can speak directly to your prospect. So before we did any niching, our messaging as a marketing agency was something along the lines of, we do great SEO, websites, fill-in the discipline. We do great digital marketing. But we can never say for who.

And so the moment that we started to niche in, and when we have two agencies now, I'll go with the newer second one, which is HPAC contractors, these are people that put AC units into homes. We can say we do amazing digital marketing for HPAC owners and we can talk about the different kinds of manufacturers that they interface with and the pros and cons of each and what their customers want out of them. And so we can get very, very specific in the messaging that we provide to our ideal prospects.

So back to the question, what would I do? First and foremost, I would certainly identify very clearly who it is I'm talking to or a want as a client. And then I would be pretty rapidly going towards niching.

Jason: [00:17:32] I agree with that because then you can charge and raise your prices to whatever you want it to be. Like, I always tell people I want to print the t-shirt like “Raise your prices, stupid.” Literally, just because so many agencies are hardly charging anything.

And if you can charge more, you make more. If you make more, you can hire the right people. But in order to do that, you have to separate yourself from everyone else out there, all the me-too digital agencies out there. So make sure if you're a digital agency and you're want to get over the million mark, look at your agency pricing, look at who you're actually going after. And I look at that as… that's how you get over it. And then once you get over it, now it's about, you know, kind of keep scaling it.

I see a lot of times people get over it and then they're like, I kind of liked it when it was in the fun stage. And I kind of go back down the mountain, like at base camp, it's easier to breathe at base camp. And I'm like, but the view's not as good.

Erik: [00:18:35] Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned raising prices and I've heard you say that many, many times, and it's a scary thing, right? And especially when you're a young company, because you haven't figured everything out. And so you know that there's a lot of opportunity for improvement in your offering and your customer service and you're afraid… you know, I think a lot of times people are afraid of raising the price on existing customers. So they're fearful of raising the price for new prospects. And I think those two things should be separated. You can handle how much you charge existing customers separate from how much you quote new customers.

When we started to raise our prices, it was pretty shocking to everybody that people were saying yes. That happens.

Jason: [00:19:23] Oh, they'll, they'll say yes really quick. And then you're like, oh man, I should have said more. But I'm glad you brought that up, it's like, you really want to start with raising your prices on the prospects coming in.

And then once you get enough, if you want, you can go back to your clients because there's an opportunity cost there on agencies, right? You know, you'd be like, oh, well I’m making 20,000 more a month on this one client then some of the old ones. Well, you need to have a conversation like a Dean in the mastermind. We had a conversation and, uh, he had a bunch of legacy clients. Literally we thought he would lose about half of his clients, but the other half would say yes, because he doubled his price.

Every one of them said yes. And he made it another 60,000 in monthly recurring revenue just by going to his old clients, not even including raising the pricing on the prospecting. So it's huge, huge thing that everyone can do.

Eric, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Erik: [00:20:23] Sure. If you don't mind, I did write a book about my journey to the million-dollar mark and it's called Million Dollar Journey. And it is up on Amazon and got a little bit of a shine here, but yeah Million Dollar Journey by me, Eric J. Olson. And it's just the whole story of everything that I did. So the stuff that we talked about today, uh, but then a lot more things went into it and the merger on the pivot and whatnot.

Jason: [00:20:47] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show, Eric. And everyone go check out their book, Eric's book on scaling over the seven-figure mark.

And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you guys want to be around amazing agency owners and have a good time and scale and have those people that actually understand what you're going through and that are all digital agency owners. I'd love for you guys to go check out the digital agency elite mastermind, go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: What_Benefits_Await_Your_Agency_Beyond_the_Seven-Figure_Mark_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Would you like to 4X your digital agency in less than 3 years? Joe Shelerud is the co-founder of the Amazon advertising agency Ad Advance. Joe was on the podcast two years ago talking about using automation to retain agency clients. Since then, he and his partner have managed to 4X their agency and have really seen the results of the processes they were just starting to implement two years back. In this new interview, Joe talks about growing the team, the agency's first key hires, the processes they implemented to train new team members, and much more.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. First key hires before scaling. It has been two years since we last spoke with Joe and he has managed to 4X his agency in that time. According to him, one of the key things that he was focusing on back then was building out the automation, the systems, and the structure for his agency. He and his partner were still managing all accounts and the first step for them was to look for ways to reduce the amount of time they spent on daily tasks. Because of this, some of their first hires were developers to make sure they were building those systems and that structure.
  2. Hiring for culture first. When it came time to start building the team and start growing, Joe decided that the priority would be hiring people that were a right fit for the team. “Experience is great,” he assures “but at the end of the day, if you get that one wrong fit within your agency or your group, they can take down the entire group.” This is why the agency has mainly focused on 1. People who meet the culture bar, where experience is an extra piece of the puzzle, and 2. Hiring locally, which has worked better for their team.
  3. Establishing a training process. As they started hiring new team members, it was time to put together processes that would help them get up to speed efficiently. They started analyzing what day did every day in terms of client interactions, picking apart different pieces of tasks that we knew that they could no longer support in the long term. As they were able to do that, each of these little pieces became documents or little training videos, and eventually will be an entire training course.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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4X Your Digital Agency in  <3 Years & Build a Great Team By Hiring For Culture First

{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 another amazing episode for you. We're going to bring on a past guest from two years ago, who 4X their agency. So we're going to talk about how they've 4X their agency, grown, outgrown, many offices and lots of cool things. So you can grow faster in your agency.

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

Hey, Joe. Welcome back to the show.

Joe: [00:00:31] Yeah. Thanks for having me on again, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:33] Yeah, man. I'm, I'm excited. So for the people that have not listened to the first show and we'll link that in the show notes if you go to jasonswenk.com, but, um, go ahead and tell us who you are and what do you do?

Joe: [00:00:44] Yeah. So for those who don't know me, I'm Joe Shelerud. I'm located up in Duluth, Minnesota. So we're up, but kind of on the tip of Lake Superior on the Western edge. You can take i35 up to where it ends and that's where we're based out of. I got my start in e-commerce actually selling on Amazon. I've got a chemical engineering background. And so I was selling these organic chemistry molecular model kits, and they're used for organic chemistry courses when you go through something like chemical engineering.

And as I was going through that journey of building out my seller business, um, started really focusing on the advertising side. And as I was reaching out to different agencies to try to manage my own what I found is that the tools that I had built up in the strategies I put in place was actually a lot more complex than what I was seeing these other agencies that they were offering.

So at that point I got this idea that, you know, maybe, maybe I could help out other sellers. So that was about five years ago. I combined up with, uh, Matt Wicklund who's our co-founder at Ad Advance. And since that point we've been really focusing on first on Amazon advertising, but now really branching out into all forms of e-commerce advertising.

So, yeah, now we've had a lot of growth in happy to talk to you about it today.

Jason: [00:01:58] Awesome. And yeah, I mean, well, I mean, the big thing that I want to know more about is, you know, it's been two years since you've been on the show, so, and you were like, we've 4X our agency since then. So what were some of the reasons, what are some of the systems or what are some of the things that you've done that you can contribute to that?

Joe: [00:02:17] Yeah. Yeah. So it was really fun listening back cause it was about two years ago exactly that we recorded our last episode. And when we were doing that, one of the key things that I was focusing on is just building out the automation or the backend, the systems and the structure for your agency. So in the first three years that we had built up Ad Advance, Matt and I were managing pretty much all of our accounts.

And over that period, we were really focused on, all right, we're in their day-to-day, how do we make our lives easier? And how do we make sure that we're getting that massive value that we can get to our clients while also reducing the amount of time that it manually takes to do all these pieces?

And so since we were doing it day-to-day, it was a great driver to really develop those systems in that structure. So before we even started scaling the agency, some of our first key hires were actually developers, versus account execs. And so we spent a lot of time developing the technology that goes into the backend to automate the pieces that should be automated, all those pieces that are just manual tinkering so then we could really focus on the core things that we do well as an agency.

And that's really working with our clients, setting the right goals, building the relationships. So that initial first three years, kind of going up to when we recorded our podcast, it was really focused on the process and getting that all in place.

Since then, now we've been on this big scale phase where we've been able to leverage that technology, um, and really grow it our agency.

Jason: [00:03:53] And so the team has probably grown in the past two years as well?

Joe: [00:03:58] Yep. So two years ago it was Matt and I, and we had just hired Eric. Eric was our first local hire. Since then, now the office in Duluth, every new hire has been local and we now have 14 people in the office here. We've gone through three different offices since two years ago because we keep outgrowing them. And so it's been really fun to watch and see this team expand, but implementing the same practices that we built up from day one.

And really delivering that performance that Matt and I personally could do, but being able to transition it to this big team, um, and really seen that succeed overall.

Jason: [00:04:36] What was the stages of the different roles that you were hiring that you brought in since the, you know, it was the three of you now it's the 14 of you?

Joe: [00:04:46] Sure. As we were scaling up, um, the, the core people that we were hiring were our accounting execs, um, to work directly with our clients and kind of overtake that role that Matt and I were initially doing from the start, which is working directly with our clients as we go.

And so one of the key pieces that we took into account is hiring for culture first over experience, and it's really worked out well for us overall. So any interview that we had do, like experience was great, and we do have a lot of people with previous digital advertising experience, which is awesome, and they can bring unique perspectives to the table. But at the end of the day, if you get that one wrong fit within your agency or your group, they can take down the entire group.

So we've really focused, first, you have to meet the culture bar to get into Ad Advance. And at that point the experience is just some extra pieces that go along with it. And the other piece that we probably gone against the grain for, especially over the last year, is we are just hiring locally. So we work all in the office and we've had to transition back and forth with COVID as we can.

But what we've seen is when we're all in the office, you get all this collaboration that is so hard to drive when you're working remotely. And you see this support in just this organic group coming together that again, it's really hard to drive when you all work in remotely. And we had some awesome case studies for this too, because we had to go remotely for a couple of months and we had to onboard some people remotely.

This is a lot harder than being able to just look over to the person next to you and yeah, just talk through things. Or we're in kind of an open area in our latest office, you can overhear some conversations and so when somebody else is talking to a client and they say something awesome it's like, oh man, like, yeah, that is a great strategy or I love that approach that you took.

So it's really that culture-first approach that we've found has worked really well for building out our, our agency. And then also going locally, it's worked great for us in that collaboration that you get. It just seems. It seems to have so much of an impact for us.

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Yeah, I love that you started hiring first to replace client interaction that you and your partner had, because now you can concentrate more on your business and building that, versus building other people's businesses. And that's usually kind of a trap that a lot of people get into.

So how’d get the account managers up to speed? You know, what was like kind of the training regimen or were you hiring people that have the skills? You know, after the culture obviously fit, you know, tell us a little bit more about that.

Joe: [00:08:43] Yeah. So we have some people like our initial local hire. He had a lot of digital advertising experience. So getting him up to speed was pretty easy from a technical standpoint.

But overall, what we started to do is each day analyzing what we're doing for client interactions, and then trying to document that or trying to transition that over. And it was just picking apart, different pieces each day that we were doing that we knew that long-term, we could no longer support.

And as we were able to do that, each of these little pieces became documents or little training videos, items like that.

We had a recent hire and he's got an education background and so he came in and he was super fired up to put all these things together into a nice learning management system. And so now we have this structure training program, so everybody can go through their Ad Advanced university training and get certified, gone through all the different steps that we have.

And again, each piece how do I leverage what I'm currently doing and can expand that to many, many people as this agency keeps growing? It's really interesting that the first person that we heard locally, how much time Matt and I had to spend with them directly versus now when you have 14 people in there, you've got to find other ways to do it.

So it's a constant challenge, but it's constantly, it's a fun little adventure to figure out how you can transition each of these little learnings or pieces of information to the team as we keep growing.

Jason: [00:10:14] I love it. And I love that you mentioned kind of a learning management system and a trainer, obviously. When we were building our sales team, we had a sales trainer. That's how you do it. A lot of people think, oh, I'll just bring some skilled people in, and then you're wondering why everybody's doing things all differently. And even if you do have SOPs for them to follow, they're just literally going to be like, oh my gosh, like, how do I, how do I scale this digital agency? And then they start thinking bad thoughts.

Joe: [00:10:46] Yeah. And that's what we've seen too. As we've implemented the learning management system. It's great for the nuts and bolts on what you need to do, but there's gotta be that support that goes along with it. And so another piece that we established is everybody who comes in as they're new with the team, they have an established mentor and they sit next to that mentor for the first two to three months.

We did this weird thing where we'd love to, we switched desks every month to just to build relationships with different people. We just randomly draw for desks in the office. But they stay with their mentor each month for that first two to three months and make sure that they're getting the support as they go, because you can read all these SOPs or these documents or watch videos, but putting them into practice and then dealing with different circumstances that aren't specifically covered.

These are all the pieces that, you know, that's why we value just being in person so much too, is you just get that interaction and having that established mentor, it’s just somebody that they know that they can go to, to, to build up the skills.

Jason: [00:11:46] Yeah, I love it. Well, is there anything else that I didn't ask you that was, that contributed to, you know, 4Xing your digital agency in the past two years?

Joe: [00:11:56] I think the last thing is, you know, we focused a lot on the tech and the process as we started scaling and that system has worked out really well. It's going to pull out, you know, typical reports or client dashboard where people can log in to pull the information they need, bidding optimization, stuff like that we can incorporate in.

But the other major piece when you're establishing it is always asking the question should this be automated? Should this go into the software? People hire people to make sure that they've got another member of their team. And so what we want to do is you want to be very, very clear on what should go into the process versus what should go into human intuition and experience.

And so we try to make sure that's very clear, the goal setting, the relationships, you know, all those key aspects and how advertising ties into the business as a whole. These are all the things that people are hiring us for. So I'd say probably my last word of advice is just making sure you've got a really clear line in the sand as you build out these processes.

Really what should be automated versus what comes down to us and why we're being hired to do the job.

Jason: [00:13:04] I love it. What's the website people go and check out the agency?

Joe: [00:13:08] Yeah. So you can go to adadvance.com. Feel free to follow me, Joe Shelerud on LinkedIn. Um, yeah, we've got a lot of good resources and information there.

Jason: [00:13:16] Awesome. Well, Joe, thanks so much for coming on the show and I'm thrilled with your growth with your digital agency over the past two years. Hopefully, I'll be back on in the next two years and you'll have even bigger growth. So make sure you go check that out. Now, if all of you listening, if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we're constantly, you know, seeing the things that you might not be able to see and sharing the things that you actually need to do so you can have the rapid growth that Joe had.

I want you all to go to digitalagencyelite.com and fill in an application. And if we feel that you're right for the mastermind, we'll have a conversation and see if we can have some fun together.

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

Direct download: How_to_4X_Your_Digital_Agency_By_Establishing_the_Right_Processes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you looking for opportunities to make more connections? You could be just one conversation away from your next big client success that leads to scaling faster. Tom Schwab started his agency Interview Valet in 2014 with the theory that targeted interviews on established podcasts could be used much like guest blogging. This podcast guest strategy has grown into a business that provides the fastest way for authors, speakers, coaches, consultants, and brands to maximize the benefits of podcasting. In his interview with Jason, Tom expands on how to start conversations that lead to success in your business, how to get the contacts that will lead to those conversations, and why you should look for a true connection to get people interested.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Conversations that lead to success. The idea behind Tom’s podcast marketing service is that everything great in his life has come from a conversation. He believes that in your personal or professional life you owe your most important connections to that initial conversation, it could be a customer you really wanted to work with, a business partner, a great employee, your best friend or spouse. “It wasn't a funnel. It wasn't a, you know, social media strategy. It was conversations.” Because of this, he wants to emphasize the importance of human connection as something that can’t be replaced by automation.
  2. How to get more conversations. Remember that more is not better, better is better. Tom tried to keep in mind that you can never say enough of the wrong things to the right people or the right things to the wrong people. So you should always make sure that you’re talking to the right people in the first place. Are they interested? Make sure they're interested in having that conversation and then make sure it is a conversation by asking their thoughts on something, as opposed to just asking the same five questions and them just giving talking points.
  3. Look for a connection. How can you get the connections that will lead to the conversations you want to have? Try to figure out who you're going after and who's connected to them and see if they can connect you to them. You should look at putting together a targeted list and go over this with your sales team. But whatever you do, don’t just treat it like a spam list. Figure out what's the connection? What's that degree of connection? And then ask. Remember that people usually want to have their friends, their friends of friends and people they want to be their friends on their podcast. So figure out how to fit in one of those groups.

Sponsors and Resources

Verblio: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Verblio. Check out Verblio.com/smartagency and get 50% off your first month of content creation. Our team loves using Verblio because of the ease in their process and their large pool of crowd-sourced writers.

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Being One Conversation Away from Scaling Your Agency Faster

{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'm excited to have another amazing guest. And we're going to talk about how you can scale your agency faster through one conversation. You're one conversation away from scaling faster.

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

Hey, Tom. Welcome to the show.

Tom: [00:00:26] Hey, Jason. I am thrilled to be here.

Jason: [00:00:28] Yeah, I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do? For the people that have not heard of you yet.

Tom: [00:00:34] I am Tom Schwab. I'm the founder of Interview Valet, a podcast interview marketing service. We help authors, coaches, speakers, brands, get their message out on targeted podcast interviews.

And I'm here in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which proves if you could do it from Kalamazoo, Michigan, you could do it from anywhere.

Jason: [00:00:54] Oh, that's awesome. Well, let's kind of jump into it. You talk about kind of you're one conversation away from really hitting it out of the park. So I guess elaborate a little bit more for us.

Tom: [00:01:05] Yeah, as I look at it, everything great in my life has come from a conversation. And that could be that big customer that you acquire. It could be that partnership that you have. It could be that great employee. Heck, take it personally, right? Your spouse. It was probably a one conversation that connected you with them.

It wasn't a funnel. It wasn't a, you know, social media strategy. It was conversations. And I think one of the things, while I'm a big proponent of automation, I think it can't replace human connection. And I think the bigger the sale, the bigger the relationship, the more trust is involved in it. We need to focus on conversation as opposed to just automation.

Jason: [00:01:48] Yeah. You know, I just got off a sales mastermind call. So for our mastermind, we have our own little mastermind just for their salespeople that they can call. And one of the members was talking about, well, hey, I'm taking this course on doing videos to sell better. You know, selling through video and I told them, I said, let's step back.

You shouldn't use video to sell someone off the first conversation. You should use it as, how can I get a conversation in order to just say, yeah, that sounds kind of interesting, let me chat a little bit more. So I totally agree with you about one conversation.

Tom: [00:02:30] And the whole idea of people can see the sales pitch coming. And I think they want to know who they're working with. You know, HubSpot years ago did a study and they found an about the founder page was highly indicative of a buying decision. And so, you know, the bigger, the decision, the more you want to know what this person is who their heart is. Why do they believe at this way?

And if you think about it, you know, from branding, you think of all the big brands today. If I say one, you know, you could probably say the person that goes along with that, and it doesn't come from a 10-second social media ad. It probably comes from you hearing a conversation with them over the years.

Jason: [00:03:11] Well, how can, you know, because that's a question I get a lot from our members and other agencies I chat with is, you know, how can I get more conversations?

Tom: [00:03:21] Well, I would say always remember more is not better, better is better. And then what is a conversation, right? So you want to have the conversation with the right people, a mutual friend, Shane Duffy, out there in Texas, I always remember something he told me. He's like you can never say enough of the wrong things to the right people or the right things to the wrong people.

So make sure you're having the conversation with the right people from the very beginning. Are they interested in this? Just because you can yell to 3 billion people through the internet, doesn't mean they want to hear you. So first make sure that it's focused in there that they're interested in having that conversation and then make sure it is a conversation.

Like here, podcast interviews, I understand what the word comes from, but to me, the best interviews are more conversations, right? It's not, you're asking the same five questions and I’m giving the same talking points. So have that back and forth. You know, if you've got a client that asks you a question, well, instead of just answering one, jump off on a video and say, hey, you know, Jason just asked me this question. I thought it was great. I had to think about it myself here is my answer.

And then encourage people to say, what are your thoughts on it? You know, start that conversation. Sometimes people will say, well, that's not scalable. I don't know if it's scalable or not, but it's effective and I'd rather have effective than ineffective and scalable.

Jason: [00:04:56] Oh, I totally agree. And you're really a great connector and you're connecting a lot of these great people together to have these conversations and then people kind of go, oh man, I had a great conversation here. And then they relate that to you. Is that something that you've had to work on in order to do that better and to continue to do that?

You know, that's something I always struggle with.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Tom: [00:05:20] Well, first of all, thank you for saying that I'm honored by that. And I think it's come with time also, because one of the things that I thought of is that the best gift you can ever give somebody is an introduction to a new idea or a new person. You remember that professor in college or the teacher in high school that really opened your mind to something, or once again, going back…

Jason: [00:05:43] Still waiting, still waiting on that one.

Tom: [00:05:47] How about the, the person that introduced you to your spouse, right? That's not something that you could do for yourself, but it changed your entire life. And I've always loved that of getting introduced to people and getting introduced to ideas. And I think we're blessed to be a blessing so trying to do that for other people too.

And that's one of the biggest thrills I get is listening to podcasts right now and hearing a podcast host, you know, say, oh, this is my friend so and so, and that they build up a relationship there and going my company Interview Valet had a small portion in making that happen. Once again, uh, another mutual friend of ours, Morgan Wright, he pointed out to me years ago, well it was like a year ago, that remember we used to play that six degrees of separation with Kevin Bacon?

Jason: [00:06:36] Yep, Kevin Bacon. Yep.

Tom: [00:06:37] So Y2K. Right now it's like 2.3. So with that you're 2.3 degrees of separation from anybody in the world. So right? If you want to have a conversation with them, well, then you probably should go on LinkedIn or think who could introduce me to, to Jason Swenk? Who knows him? Right? Because you'll get a lot further with that conversation than you will just with some spam email.

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I'm glad you mentioned that because that was something we did in the agency a lot. Especially when we wanted to reach into brands and I tell people to do this in the mastermind all the time, like, come up with your top a hundred hit list and then start going who's the contact in that hit list? And then who do I know that knows them that can connect us and create that conversation that we've been looking for?

Because people think that... one of the excuses today, you know, on the mastermind call was like, well, I can't send a strategic gift because no one's working in the office. They're all at home. But like we were talking about like, hey, what, if you figured out who you're going after and who's connected to them and seeing if they can connect you?

Cause that's how we landed some big accounts.

Tom: [00:08:53] You look at that at one side, you know, it's that account-based marketing. I would say that's even more granular than that, right? Of the relationship at an account-based. Whereas you look at that and somebody else comes and says, well, you know, I can buy this list of, you know, 5,000 companies and, uh, I can scrape this database, so can everybody else, right?

And they're probably doing it also. I, I laugh. You know, I get pitched to be on my podcast about four times. Jason, I don't have a podcast, right? But everybody loves it and wants to be on it. And I wonder how many good clients are getting the same thing where it's just another email that somebody is just spamming them wherever it's an introduction from a friend.

Yeah. It's almost like the mob, right? If Jason vouches for them, I’ll take a meeting with them.

Jason: [00:09:48] Yeah, exactly. I just think that's some low-hanging fruit, for all of you listening, that you should look at of going do we have a targeted list that we're going after? Or have this go over this with your sales team, which you should have a sales team. You should not be doing the sales, but that's another story, and that's another episode we can chat about.

But then identify what's the connection? What's that degree of connection? And then ask. And I think you'd be really surprised if we come back, if you look in two weeks, do this for two weeks, I think you'd never stopped doing it again.

Tom: [00:10:22] We teach the same thing in podcasting, right? People will spam list and I'll always say, you know, come up with a target list of 10 podcasts and then think about it. What are the three types of people that people want to have on their podcast? Their friends, their friends of friends and people they want to be their friends.

So figure out how you can figure out to be in one of those groups.

Jason: [00:10:44] Exactly. Well, this has all been amazing, Tom, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Tom: [00:10:51] The one thing that I would encourage people, you know, we're blessed to be a blessing and a lot of times people will say, well, what I know everybody knows, right?

I, I've got nothing special in a conversation to add. That's not true, right? You are an expert on something. You look at the legal definition of an expert, is somebody by their training, their experience, their life knows more than the average person. I guarantee you, you're working 16 hours a day, sometimes in your business, you know more about your business. You know more about your industry.

GoldenNow, are you the one expert? No, there's not one expert, but you are an expert. And what you know could really help people. What's ordinary to you is amazing to others. So share that, you know, he's there as a podcast guest, as a podcast, host doing blogs, videos, whatever it is. I think you'll bless a lot of people, but you'll also be amazed at how it comes back and helps your agency.

Jason: [00:11:53] Awesome. Well, Tom, I know you have a book that came out, so tell us where can the people listening get it?

Tom: [00:11:59] Uh, yeah, so, um, we got a book called One Conversation Away. It's my second book, Podcast Guest Profits was the first one. Uh, you can get all of those. I'm not here to sell books. I sell some, but I give a lot more away.

If you come back to Interview Valet, with a v.com, forward slash swenk (interviewvalet.com/swenk). We'll put everything there. I'll put my social media. Uh, if you'd like to talk about how your agency or your clients could use targeted podcasts or interviews, I'd be thrilled to talk with you about that also.

Jason: [00:12:28] I thought you were going to be like I'll put my social security number there. I'm like, like don't put your social security. I just mentally that my mind went there, but awesome. We'll go check that out. Thanks so much, Tom, for coming on the show.

And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners where they're sharing, what's working and then also have a mastermind specifically for your operations, for your sales team.

I want you all to go to digitalagencyelite.com, request an invite and start applying, and maybe you'll be the right member for us and, uh, we will chat soon. So go there now. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Are_You_Just_One_Conversation_Away_from_Massive_Agency_Success_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you know the value you provide to your agency clients? Is your agency getting paid what you're worth? Do you always ask for the budget before presenting a proposal? Stephen Brown used to think that just doing good work would get clients to pay the right value, but his position at Cookerly PR, a public relations agency based in Atlanta, helped him understand a lot about charging what you're worth and how to ask the hard questions to determine if you are budgeting the right way. Today he sat down with Jason to discuss how to charge what you're worth by understanding the value your agency provides, how to get your first big clients, how being rich in process will help you keep your deliverables consistent, and much more.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Charging what you're worth. Stephen used to think that just doing good work will get clients to pay what he’s worth, but eventually he learned that he needed to have a sense of that worth first. You should always have a pulse on your industry and an estimate of what others in your sector are charging. Also, one of the most important things he learned with experience is that you should always ask for a budget or at least a minimum amount of what the client is expecting to spend. In Jason’s experience, less than half of agency owners do this.
  2. Getting the bigger clients. A lot of small agency owners want to know how they can get their first big client. It depends. Some of our guests did so through connections in the business, others target a couple until they get a big brand. Stephen believes that doing great and consistent work will lead you to the bigger brands you want to be working with. “Start small,” he advises,  “and it will start laddering up”. Start with something you can handle. People will start seeing what you did for a smaller brand and start and ask if you could you pilot that for our bigger brand.
  3. Keeping deliverables consistent. According to Stephen, his agency is very rich in processes, which is a big part of how they can keep their deliverables consistent. Things don’t change depending on who is in charge of a certain department. Instead, everyone is kept accountable and communicates new developments in their weekly meetings. Also, at the end of the month they send each client an account summary that contains details about each campaign being put together so that no client will ever have to ask what is their agency doing for them.     

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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Are You Charging What You're Worth?

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

Jason: [00:00:00] All right. What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here and I have another amazing show for you and an amazing guest where we're going to talk about how do you know what to charge? And charging what you're worth and budgeting and making sure that you're extremely profitable. I have a great person on that's going to get into this so let's jump into the show.

Hey, welcome to the show.

Stephen: [00:00:27] Jason, it’s a pleasure. Wonderful to see you.

Jason: [00:00:30] Yeah. Awesome to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Stephen: [00:00:34] Absolutely. So I'm Stephen Brown and I am the President of Cookerly PR. We're based in Atlanta, so we're a one-city agency that represents national campaign. So we do a lot of national and global work, but we are strictly based in one city and have our staff of about 22 here that do crisis work and creative work, depending on which client you've got.

Jason: [00:00:57] Awesome. Well, let's get into it because, you know, we were talking kind in the pre-show, you know, a lot of my mastermind members when they come in or a lot of agencies when I chat with them I find out they're not charging enough. They're really bad at budgeting and really they're not profitable. And you guys are extremely profitable, which congrats on that.

So what are some things that you've learned over the years in order to do that right?

Stephen: [00:01:21] Sure. Well, the naive me, the one that worked at a bunch of multinationals over the years was always like, oh, just do good work. Do good work and the money will follow. And I learned my lessons over the years and under the tutelage of Carol Cookerly at our firm, learned a lot about charging what you're worth and actually stepping back and asking all the hard questions to determine if you are budgeting the right way for a project.

For instance, we do some work that is project-based fixed fee base that is very predictable. Um, it can be a media relations or social media campaign where you know you're doing it for a certain amount of time.

Then we have those other things that just come out of nowhere. Yeah, the oil spill, the having to, um, help a company out of a crisis, and those are drop everything and charge crisis rates type of opportunities. And so we really have to look at the project at hand and determine with the staff that we have the people that we have, is that something that we can fit into our portfolio or is it something that we need to be charging extra, even have extra people for, um, to be able to handle it?

So it's been very important for us to get our financial house in order on any type of initiative that we do.

Jason: [00:02:32] How do I figure out what I'm worth and when I should actually be charging? How do you guys do it?

Stephen: [00:02:37] Sure. Well, there's some sense of benchmarking. Um, you know, we have our ways of finding out what others in the industry are spending.

Um, as I was telling you, at one point we, we know a young lady in our, in our own city, that's charging way too little. And I think to a certain extent, you don't want to bring down the whole vibe of your industry, the entire collective bargaining power of your industry by charging too little. Um, you definitely want to have a very good hourly rate that you could actually make a good profit margin off of.

And you want to have a variety of people at different spectrum. So you may have the senior, most person, the senior council all the way down to some more junior folks that might do some of the monitoring, might do some of the research, some of the early forms of writing. So you have to make sure you've got a spectrum of that in an agency, I guess, we’d be considered a mid-sized agency.

And in that you have to have all those different areas represented with a price of fixed age.

Jason: [00:03:29] What are some things that you guys picked up along the years about budgeting? I remember, I've chatted with people and I remember how we did budgeting before we were got a little bit smarter. I would just look at the bank account.

Stephen: [00:03:44] Absolutely. I think we've found that we don't want to be the kind of agency that's the training wheels for somebody. We're better off when someone has worked with agencies before, maybe didn't get everything they wanted to, but they got the very notion that working with an agency was going to be able to help them. It was just the wrong agency.

So with us, you know, we usually say like, you know, do we have a minimum amount? Because, uh, to a certain extent you're going to work just as hard for that one that is coming in under your minimum, um, as the ones that are actually paying you what it really takes to, um, to put a team together.

Um, we're usually telling our clients that, you know, hey, to, to be able to do reserve a team here that's going to work all the time on your behalf, um, it's really going to be a certain amount. And that's going to be able to get you those two to three people that are going to be consistently reachable that are going to be very knowledgeable about your business, um, and an ongoing basis. You know, whereas something else that's just sort of coming in over the transom, as they say, that is something that we've not known the person before and are just starting to sort of suss out what it might be that they want to do.

They might come in and say, well, we only have this much to spend. And then sometimes during, uh, you know, low economic times, you might be willing to take something like that in. But I would say before, you're willing to do that, think twice about like, you know, is it worthy of your firm's portfolio and is willing to spend what it takes to really get the job done?

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Yeah, one of the things I always train my salespeople on, I had always say, hey, you got to ask the budget. Before the pandemic, I was in New York speaking in front of like 800 agency owners. And I asked them, I said, how many people ask for the budget, you know, in the first meeting? It was about 50% of the room.

I said, how many actually get it? And about another half of that, so a quarter actually would get it. So that means 75% never actually knew the budget. And I would just be like, you got to ask the budget and then come up with a way in order to be like, what are you trying to stay around? And I always would do it like, are you trying to say around a billion dollars, a million dollars, a hundred thousand?

And it just worked my way down in order to figure it out. And usually 99% of the time it would work and then I chatted with Berkshire Hathaway, I think they're still in Atlanta, but many years ago, maybe like 20 years ago, they called us up for a website and I'd never asked the budget up to that point. And I pitched them a website for like 20 grand and they laughed me out of the office cause they were expecting 300 K.

So then every time after that I was like, what's your budget?

Stephen: [00:07:32] Yeah, there's nothing worse than finding out that you've really undersold a project. We found that out one time where we put together what we were defining as branding versus what someone else was referring to as branding and ours was sort of a early messaging, early branding, sort of several workshops.

And we were competing against two others that had extended it into a six-month-longOnline Training for Digital Agencies process with more focus groups than you could ever imagine. And that prospect wanted to hear that. They wanted it to take a long time and involve a lots and lots and lots of arduous activity. So we're used to a lot of public relations clients want to move fast and we want to fast-track the research to get enough to be dangerous, in some cases.

And, um, but it is interesting. You know, one of the first questions we do have to ask in a prospecting call is that, do you have a range in mind? Um, do you have a budget in mind? Most of us were applauded or got into this public relations field, because we were great communicators or brainstormers are very verbal or great writers.

Um, it isn't the cause necessarily we were good at calling the question for money. So that is one of the things that Carol Cookerly has taught us all that we really have to really know how the business mechanics work for a company and in doing so you really have to know who's paying for this. And how much is it worth to preserve the wealth of your company to have a public relations firm build your brand, handle your brand well?

Um, it's one thing to just say, hey, let's contact the Wall Street Journal for you. It's another one to say, hey, let's contact the Wall Street Journal with these precautions and knowing that we're contacting them for a story and it could go south, you know, we're going to actually work with you to find the seven reasons why that story could be great and help you make sure that those three reasons why that story could go south don't happen.

And so we're definitely having to mitigate risk and determined that we want to take an endeavor forward based on our knowledge and based on research. So that definitely takes a lot longer than somebody else who's just like, oh yeah, I'm going to just call the person I know and try it out. So it's a whole different approach to PR for sure.

Jason: [00:09:38] Kind of switching topics just a little bit outside of budgeting, but you guys have worked with a lot of big, big companies and a lot of people want to know, you know, how did you start getting the bigger company? With me, it was, we targeted one or we targeted like five. We got one and then use that to get another one.

What worked for you guys in order to get some of the big brands?

Stephen: [00:10:05] Sure. I think part of it is just doing consistent great work. It starts leading to the things that you really love. I've always wanted to work on campaigns, companies that were launching something and you start launching a few things that maybe aren't that renowned, aren't that big of a deal.

And then all of a sudden you're finding yourself launching in the big leagues. So launching Mercedes cars, you know, launching new products for some of our clients, the Georgia Pacifics or the Novellas of the world where there's a lot bigger stakes and a lot bigger environment to do so.

Where you're actually gonna be, hey, could we launch this new car in Las Vegas? Could we launch this, a new aluminum recycling program at the Kentucky Derby? And all of a sudden you're kind of taking it up a few notches. So I think you do have to start off by going a little small, making sure that you can get that right with that, you know, that local restaurant before you are doing something chain-wide for a chain that has hundreds and hundreds of locations.

So I'm, I think, you know, you just start with your passion, start small and it will start laddering up. People will start seeing what you did for a smaller brand and start saying, hey, could you pilot that for our bigger brand?

That works well, hey, could you do that for our whole chain? And so that's the way we've seen a lot of our areas grow and people coming back to us for more.

Um, we had a really great, um, event last night where we launched our Novellas client, did an event to be the official recycling partner for state farm arena here in Atlanta, uh, with the Atlanta Hawks.

And, um, you know, it was one of those things where one of our clients was like, wow, this is the first time I was in sports illustrated. He'd been an athlete growing up and he's like, I'm in there for an aluminum, you know, cup, that's going to be at arenas. But the notion that that's just a Monday night for us to be able to have a great announcement like that for, um, a great company like that is very exciting.

And we have some folks off this week at an electric vehicle show to be able to just show off some fantastic new innovations. And it becomes really nice when all of a sudden you've got people in multiple cities. One's launching the global water center in Nashville while the other folks were in Los Angeles and while we're doing some events in Atlanta.

So it becomes very exciting to be in multiple places, um, launching, um, major activities.

Jason: [00:12:25] Last question I have for you is as you're working with these big brands and you're building the team, how do you guys make sure that your deliverables are consistent?

Stephen: [00:12:37] Our company is rich in process. So I think unlike a lot of places where I've been before, where it's sort of, depending on who's in charge, it could be a lot of different ways. We have a very rigorous process here. We have what's called our scheduling update and every Monday morning we get together at 10:15 precisely. And we go through everything that's in the shop.

Every activity has initials by it. So everybody is very accountable to what's being done. Then at the end of the month for all of our clients we send them something called an account summary. And that's got every item, every reporter we're contacting every store that's in the works, every campaign that's being put together in extreme detail so that no one ever has to ask, hey, what is that agency getting us?

So for us, we have a very, very rigorous process, um, along the way, uh, the status calls where we're pretty rigorous about our agenda. And so that helps us be able to make sure that we're always moving our clients forward and it's working well for us.

Sometimes you're in the brainstorm mode where it's blue skies and any ideas is great. But when we're in that scheduling update or we're in that account summary world, we were very linear, very, very process-oriented.

Jason: [00:13:47] Very cool. Awesome. Well, this has all been great, Stephen. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Stephen: [00:13:54] I would just say that those of us in PR at agencies, marketing firms, we're all looking for those folks that have great writing skills.

We're looking for those folks to have great media relations, social media, marketing, research, content analytics. And I would just say that, um, you want to look for people in your firm that, uh, possess a lot of different side passions as well.

So as we been looking for people lately, it's been folks who have all the aforementioned skills or some of those in great abundance. But there's also folks who have just a lot of interest in life. And we've got folks here who are sports experts, movie aficionados and a voracious readers, voracious athletes. And that's just very important to be able to pull off what we do for companies, um, day in, day out.

And so I think that's the greatest thing is like recruiting this next generation is going to require people who have the direct skills, but also have a lot of, um, a lot of side passions to bring to those great brainstorms and those great campaigns.

Jason: [00:14:52] Awesome. What's agency website people go in the checkout the agency?

Stephen: [00:14:57] Sure. So you can find Cookerly PR at cookerly.com. So it's C O O K E R L y.com. Carol Cookerly is our founder. So that's where the name came from. And, um, we're 30 something years in business and look forward to working with a lot of new folks.

Jason: [00:15:12] awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and if you guys enjoyed this episode and you would not want to miss out on any other ones, make sure you guys subscribe. So you hear the amazing guests that we have.

And if you want to be around amazing agency owners, I mean, literally the best of the best, where they're constantly sharing, what's working and what's not working and being able to see the things you cannot see, make sure you go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our agency mastermind that might just be able to help you out and might be getting you to the next mountain summit that you need.

So go there now. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Increase_Profitability_By_Charging_What_Youre_Worth.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you want to get your agency to the eight-figure mark and beyond? What are you doing to get to that level? Erik Huberman had started a few e-commerce companies and was unimpressed by the agencies he had worked with, so he decided to form a small team that could assist his clients. He quickly saw a positive response and created Hawke Media, an outsourced CMO and marketing team that customizes data-driven, performance solutions to help launch, scale, and invigorate businesses.

In this interview, Erik talks about how setting financial goals helped him grow his agency to over $40 million. He also shares his marketing methodology and his book, The Hawke Method.  Plus the mistake many agencies make when they start growing, and much more.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. On goal-setting. During the first year of his business, Erik saw things were going well and decided to set financial goals for the next couple of years. He met every one of them, so he believes there’s a lot to be said about setting a goal and striving to hit it, and having incremental goals to get there. This will force you to step up when you're falling behind and keep you proactive in the market. In his case, he mainly used it as a scoreboard, as an indicator of growth. It really helped during the agency’s first years and he noticed a difference when he stopped doing it around year six.
  2. Agency mistakes. According to Erik, some agencies tend to protect themselves a little too much once they get good and do it too soon. They start throwing out long contracts, high minimums, they go upmarket, they only want to work with fortune 2000,” he says. He believes that this behavior alienates the people that got the business to that point. It is a solid way of doing business and works for many agencies, but Erik decided it wasn’t for him and went on to build his business model on challenging himself to consider can you be one of the best marketing companies out there and still work with small and medium businesses too?
  3. Understanding the purchase cycle. A lot of marketers and agencies fail to understand the idea of a sales cycle or a purchase cycle. Many times agencies advertise for clients that ask for daily performance reports. “The problem with that,” he explains, “is that what we’ve seen in e-commerce is that for a $50 average order value will be about a three-week purchase cycle and about five weeks for a hundred dollars,” so understanding the purchase cycle will be critical for the agency-client relationship and a big part of setting realistic expectations about the work.

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Getting to $40 million by setting financial goals & understanding the purchase cycle

{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 and I got another amazing guest. And we're going to talk with Eric of Hawke Media and how they built an almost $40 million agency, or probably by now, they're already over 40 million and cresting the many, many commas, whatever in there.

So, excited to get the episode. Let's jump in.

Hey, Erik. Welcome to the show.

Erik: [00:00:29] Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:30] Yeah, man. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Erik: [00:00:35] Sure. Uh, Erik Huberman, co-founder and CEO of Hawke Media. We're basically an outsource CMO and marketing team to companies. So we go into brands, identify full-time marketing and spin up different experts. All à la carte month to month. So it could be a Facebook marketer, email marketer, web designer.

We've been around about eight years up to 70 full-time people. We run marketing for about 600 brands. And then we also have a venture fund and a financing arm as well, amongst many other things.

Jason: [00:01:01] Awesome. And so why did you guys start an agency? What got you into it?

Erik: [00:01:06] I built and sold a couple e-comm brands and through my own experience, as well as then I started advising and consulting for a lot of other brands found out that 99% of agencies out there for lack of better word are full of shit. And kept getting frustrated over and over again and went screw it I'm just going to hire my own small team to help these companies.

And so built my little SWAT team and immediately saw the benefits. Like my clients started to like what we did. They started to grow and we started to need more and more people and just started to grow from there.

Jason: [00:01:35] Awesome. So you guys have been doing it for eight years. You guys are almost 40 million or maybe over it.

Talk about some of the progression that you guys went through. Like how long did it take to get over the million mark? Was it fairly quick? Did it take long? Like what clicked? That kind of stuff.

Erik: [00:01:53] Yeah. In the first week of business, I shouldn't say first week, I think it was like… a month in, because for the first month, I wasn't sure… I was like I built this team. I started working on clients and I was like, maybe I'll build my next company and then turn this team into my own team. And so I wasn't sure what I was going to do there.

And then after a month I was like, wow, this is really working. I should double down on this.

And so I set a goal and I would put it on a thermometer. I was like, all right, the first four years we're going to do one, two and a half, five, 10 million. That's, that's the goals. And we came within 1% of all four of those goals.

So I think there's a lot to be said about setting a goal and then really driving to hit it and having incremental goals to get there so you know how you're tracking against that goal. Because it forces you when you're falling behind to step up. If it’s too easy of a goal, you actually end up, well you will hit that goal is still. Like it's, I don't think when you set a goal, you ended up blowing past it, you manage accordingly.

So setting those goals really helped the first four years. And frankly, we didn't set goals for years five and six. And I saw the downside of that. I saw us not grow as fast, not do as well and not really know which direction we're going. But also, at that point we were big enough that it felt weird to just set another financial goal.

It's like, yeah, but what are we really trying to do? And it took a couple of years to develop that, but now we’re pretty clear.

Jason: [00:03:07] And you listed out financial goals. Were there any other goals? And not talking about the incremental goals, I want to get to those in a second. But was it just revenue goals? And then, hey, what are the little ones that we need to do to get there?

Erik: [00:03:19] Yeah, frankly, it was because that was the best scoreboard we had it. It wasn't any… It was intrinsic in the sense of like the goal was a goal cause it was the goal. It wasn't because then we could afford this or if you could do that. It was more of just an indicator of growth. And we assume that if we're hitting those numbers, we're also growing in the ways we need to be growing.

And so we knew what the levers that we needed to pull were between bringing in new business, retaining our business, retaining our people, all sorts of specific metrics that helped us hit those goals. That became a factor of it. But it was, that was the end scoreboard. That was sort of the result that we were looking for.

Jason: [00:03:50] So let's talk about the incremental goals at the stage to get to the million in the first year. And then let's talk about the incremental goals after that for the two and a half to five. I think that'd be interesting.

Erik: [00:04:01] Sure. Yeah, we just knew basically, and this is a rough number, we actually got, every year, we got better and better at this in terms of like, where do we need to be this month, next month? How do we need to be tracking?

But I also knew where were we six months in needed to be basically the run rate, assuming we went from zero to, you know, like the run rate for a million bucks is what? 80?

Jason: [00:04:19] 82, 50. I think.

Erik: [00:04:21] A month. Is that right? Yeah.

Jason: [00:04:23] Don't make me do math on the podcast.

Erik: [00:04:26] There we go. 82,500 a month. So anyways, we, I knew around 80 grand and so I was like, okay, so we need to be there within six months because then we need to make up for not being there the first six months. So we need to balance it out and assume that if we're going growing steadily, that'll be where we can do it.

Now, in marketing Q4 is usually a little better, so we ended up going up. But, yeah, I mean, first year we did $1.01 million. Like, literally just beat it. And it was surprising, but we did it and it was all around uh, yeah, just aiming for it.

So like when we, and again, I don't remember, it's been seven and a half years, but I, you know, assuming there were months where we were falling behind a little bit, that's where we ramp it up and be like we got to bring in more business, we got to retain, what are we going to do to make sure we hit these numbers?

And so we would, it would light a fire under our ass to hit it because also those were ambitious goals to grow that fast. And to grow 150% next year and a hundred percent the next year and a hundred percent the next year we had to do a lot. So anytime we were off track, it just kicked us into gear that we have to hit that.

Jason: [00:05:27] And I like that, you know, too many people set out a goal, but then they don't have an action plan in order to hit it or a place where they can measure it. And they just look, oh, January came, oh, we didn't hit it. Well, no shit. Like you, you were reactive to the market. You weren't proactive. You didn't try new things. You just kind of sat back.

Erik: [00:05:47] Yeah. The term I hear from the best operators out there is leading indicators. What are the actual controllable leading indicators and get to that result?

And in the first year we had no idea because like, I don't know how many people I have to talk to you to how many leads we get to… Like, we didn't have a funnel built. But I did know when we weren't hitting it the levers to pull. So I didn't have it down to a science yet. Now we do. Now my forecaster can give us our revenue within 1% and its forecast to the entire year accurately based on what the inputs are.

And then it's just a function of manage, you know, being disciplined about the inputs is how you scale a business at this size. And even earlier, but statistics play out the bigger you get too.

Jason: [00:06:23] Yeah. What are some of the, now that you guys have figured it out up till this point what are some of the leading indicators that are really important for getting over the eight-figure mark?

Erik: [00:06:34] Yeah. So I would say having a really good handle on your average retention of a client is number one. How much… those clients once you have the retention. But it depends on your agency. We run an agency with that's a different type of scale. We have 600 active clients. So if you're running more of a traditional like creative agency, or if you have bigger clients, but smaller amount, the statistics get a little harder. But for us, because of the scale averages play out. And so we know our average lifetime value of a customer, we consistently try to improve that, but we know where it is and we measure against it constantly so that we can improve it, know that we're doing things that improve it.

And then what's your cost to acquire a customer and what your pipeline looks like and what are your conversions on the pipeline? So from lead to qualified lead to, for us proposal, to service agreement, to verbal commitment, to assign the commitment, what is the breakage at each of those stages? And then we know based on the pipeline we have, how much business is going to come in the next month or two.

And then we can also then know what does it cost us to get a lead? How much are we investing in marketing? Which ways are we going to drive those leads? So how many leads about can we assume? And then you get that waterfall when you can start to anticipate how many leads do you need, and then you manage against that.

Okay. So we're going to need… whatever it is, a thousand leads this month to hit the numbers we want to hit next month. Let's go make sure we get a thousand needs. What are the ways to do that? Well, we have outbound marketing. We also have outbound sales. We have partnerships, we have every type of inbound marketing, advertising, etcetera.

These are all things we can… leverages we can pull to make sure we hit the lead count we need to. And then frankly, at this stage all leads are not created equal. So we actually measure different leads at different values.

Jason: [00:08:08] I love it. I love that you look at the leading indicators because then you can make the adjustment rather than wait, wait to the very end.

Let's kind of switch focus, or maybe not switch focus too much, but let's talk about the Hawke Method. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Erik: [00:08:23] Yeah. So it's been, you know, basically our marketing methodology that I've leveraged right now. It's been how I look at marketing for a dozen of years, but pop media has the entire time.

I've spoken about this hundreds of times at different conferences and we decided to put a book together called “The Hawke Method” that we just pre-launched that's coming out in Q1 that basically kind of digest… In a really easy-to-digest way everything we think of when we're looking at a company and their marketing. So how do we look at their strategy? How do we assess what they're doing? And how do we know where to invest? Where to pull back? What channels to use?

And so it goes from like the very high level, we call it “awareness, nurturing, and trust” the three pillars of marketing. And so we look at, are they covering those three pillars? Where are they not covering? And then we dive into and that awareness breaks down into advertising and PR and word of mouth and a few other things.

And then even in advertising, where do you advertise? Is it Google? Is it Facebook? Is it Tik ToK, Snapchat, etcetera. And so we break down into how to look at all these different things in a way that we try to make it replicable as things change, meaning like it's a thesis and a methodology. It's not a tactic that works right now and won't work a year from now.

And so, yeah, we basically put that together in a 200-page book and are putting it out there. And working on selling 20,000 copies and making it a New York Times bestseller, and we've already had several universities picked it up, like we're really making traction on getting it out there as a new way of looking at marketing.

Jason: [00:09:50] What are, I mean, obviously you've seen a ton of agencies and you guys have acquired a bunch from what I've heard. What do you think a marketing front agencies do wrong for themselves?

Erik: [00:10:04] Interesting. I… So this is my, a very controversial statement, but I think that they protect themselves too much when they get good.

I think that the, what I see happen with agencies that I don't agree with that has worked for plenty of people, so I'm not saying that never do this, I'm just saying this is my own view. Every agency that gets good and gets a good reputation, starts to be seen well in a, you know, sort of in the ecosystem, they start protecting themselves.

They start throwing out long contracts, high minimums, they go up market. They only want to work with fortune 2000. They do all these things that yes, they created, that's a solid way of doing business. I get it. But it alienates all the people that got you there. So I’m always kind of turned sideways to that. Why can't you build a business model and now thankfully we have, but this was our thesis, but why can't you build a business model of still being one of the best marketing companies out there, but still working with small and medium businesses too?

I’m not saying don't work with Nike and the big guys, but you can work with small guys too. And so that's really what built it. I think that a lot of times is interesting. I watched a lot of agencies struggle to get up to the eight-figure mark, because they get a little pretentious and they in too early.

There's agencies that are doing eight figures that I know that get pretentious and do just fine with it cause they can be. I'd say WPromote, you know, in the market they're constantly trying to go up market and stop working with small and medium businesses.

They, you know, got, I think it was Gartner to rate them as one of the best digital agencies, like few years ago. And like, so they started getting a bunch of Fortune 500 interest and leveraged that. I don't know how it's gone for them in the past couple of years because actually those agencies hurt really bad in COVID.

But I think that, you know, there's reasons to do it later, but a lot of companies jumped the gun and then they're like, oh, well, you know… One of my favorite things is like, we're staying small and boutique because we can serve our clients better. And I always go, okay, so you're telling me that I should hire you to scale my business and you don't know how to scale your own. Like, explain that one to me.

Now, if it's a creative agency, different story, but I'm talking about like the growth and performance agencies that say they're staying boutique, like then you're not good because you don't know what you don't understand growing a business.

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Well, I think what happens is they hit, like, I look at it as like six stages of scaling an agency and they get to a point where their business doesn't have the right systems in place. Everything relies on them, they haven't shared the vision with their leadership team. They don't have a leadership team, right?

They've gotten to this point by accident. And I think you can get over the couple of million by accident. Getting to the eight-figure mark is not by accident, but to stay there is true skill.

Erik: [00:13:41] Yeah, you brought up this point earlier that I actually think relates to that. So I drove, uh, 85% of our business up until we were about a 7 million runway.

And then it was the most ridiculous story, so I'm gonna skim over it. But I was hanging out in Monaco during the Grand Prix and saying the most, the richest people in the world, living their lives and went, yeah, I'm never going to be that in the way I'm operating right now.

And not that that's actually my goal. It's not really a monetary goal, but it's more like I want the option. And so I immediately objected out of sales completely. It was scary as shit. Like I had a few sales guys. I was like from now on all my leads go to you. At this, I was keeping my better leads because I could close them better, but I'm like, but if I give them the sales, like they're still going to close a lot of them, right? Hopefully.

Took that leap of faith. Thankfully had a good small group of guys that, uh, ended up doing really well with those leads. But we did dip. We went, that was June, July and August were down months for us and a little scary. And then we recovered and started scaling again. So, that was what got us into eight figure range, because that was the last piece.

I never, on the execution side, I immediately brought on a partner that's my co-founder that did a great job of, as he put it, I'd made promises and he'd deliver on them and…

Jason: [00:14:52] You deliver broken promises without him?

Erik: [00:14:56] Yeah, exactly. You got to know your strengths, but, uh, he, he definitely did a great job on that side. And so we were able to scale that side from the beginning pretty well.

So delivery wasn't as much of an issue. Cause I also, because I was the one driving sales, I did a lot of things that helped us sell. So I productized our offerings. I made things really easy to sell and really easy to put together and then build a team around that. So when I built a sales team, it was teed up for them in a way that was great too, which now we have one of the more higher producing sales teams in the industry period, or, you know, bringing on 80 new clients a month.

So that was built because of that, but it took that leap to be like, all right, I'm done. I can't do this. And I continue to do that. And that was three and a half years in. And that became a good lesson, that over and over again, when I find myself, you know, diving into something, that's taking a lot of my time, if I can out eject, eject, whatever that is, and continue to hone in more.

Like my focus more today is like a third strategic and working with our executives online, bigger initiatives to grow the business. A third growth, what expansion can we do? Whether it's M&A, whether it's launching a fund, what else can we do to build off this business? And a third promotional being on podcasts, you know, writing a book, that kind of thing.

And that becomes more and more my focus. When I find things now pulling me out of that, I look for who else could have that.

Jason: [00:16:08] Yeah. I always tell everybody your goal is to transform from the owner to the CEO. And like you said, it's kind of like four or five roles set the vision of the agency…

Erik: [00:16:19] I went to a program two weeks ago that actually said the exact opposite.

Jason: [00:16:22] Oh, really?

Erik: [00:16:23] Yeah. Cause they said your goal is to transform from a CEO to an owner, meaning your business should be working for you, not you running the business. And I think the problem is what do people, you know, the CEO of your own one person company. But when you're an owner and you're just, you're, you know, you treat yourself as a chairman or an investor, the way you operate is different.

And we're getting there. Like that's been, that was the goal for this year was to get our executive team in a place where I didn't have to do a lot of what they do. And we're there and we have a great executive team. We brought in COO two months ago. And so he's now stepping up and the goal was for him to run the day-to-day of Hawke Media so my focus can be on doing a better job for our clients, expanding the business.

So again, strategic and growth, not managing the data that like, whereas our accounts receivable.

Jason: [00:17:09] Yeah. And I remember I was chatting with one of my clients for many, many years. He started out around 300,000 now he's well over, they figure mark.

And I remember telling him when you transform from the owner to the CEO, congratulations, you're going to be depressed. And I remember going through this, like I would go into a meeting and they go, Jason, I don't need you. And then I go to the next one, Jason, I don't need you. And I'm like, shit, the business doesn't need me. Like, what the hell do I need to do?

And then someone's smart that run another agency was like, no, look, set the vision, communicate it often. Be the face of the organization. Coach your leadership team, you know, assist sales when you need to like add color, right? That's, that's all I'm good at if you want me to do follow up and that shit like, nope, like…

Erik: [00:17:53] You were probably really good at it at one point.

Jason: [00:17:55] Oh yeah, well, when you had to be, right? But then, then when you start tasting that really fancy champagne, I don't drink champagne, but I guess when some people drink fancy champagne or what is it Don Perignon or I don't know. I drink the Coca-Cola's I guess, right? I drink about a thousand of those a day.

Erik: [00:18:15] There’s gotta be something unhealthy about that, but I don't know.

Jason: [00:18:18] Someone told me it rots your teeth eventually. I'm like, I don't care. The Coke I used to clean my race car engine, so I might as well stop drinking that.

Erik: [00:18:15] Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.

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

Erik: [00:18:35] Yeah, I would say the one big thing that every, or not every, but most marketers miss that is just a huge one for agencies too is the idea of a sales cycle or a purchase cycle or consideration period where… When you advertise for a client, they're looking for daily reports on the performance. Yet what we've seen in e-commerce specifically is for a $50 average order value it's about a three-week purchase cycle. For a hundred dollars it's about five weeks. For $200 it's about six weeks.

And then it goes between two and three months from there. The issue there is like, if, so, if I raised your budgets today, you're not going to see the performance on it for months potentially.

And so understanding that purchase cycle so that you report against it is critical in the agency-client relationship, as well as just clients understanding the market. And we see this, we get into this fight a lot where it's like our ROAS this it's like that's a seven-day fucking window. You have a $400 product. What are you talking about? So…

Jason: [00:19:26] Well, it's about too knowing the right clients to bring on. Cause, you know, I always say there's no such thing as a bad agency client, there's only a bad prospect or a bad process, and you've got to kind of figure it out and be like, hey, if this is a bad prospect, let's not let them in.

And like, I'm like, dude, if you're at zero ROAS, eventually you're going to be so far in the green, who cares? You're getting free advertising.

Erik: [00:19:55] A hundred percent.

Jason: [00:19:56] So one last question I had, I lied, I guess… I remember maybe sometime back and maybe you've changed this. Do you guys still not have any contracts or long-term contracts?

Erik: [00:20:06] Yeah. We prefer month-to-month.

Jason: [00:20:08] Why is that…? Obviously, it's working well for you. I've seen some people struggle with it. I've seen some people love it, so…

Erik: [00:20:16] Yeah. It's not easy. I was on the other side and everyone was asking me to get married before they ever went on a date with me. Just felt screwed up. I'm not here to protect my vendors is kind of how I felt about it.

And I, sorry to use a derogatory term in our space, but if I'm running a brand and I'm hiring you to do my marketing, I don't give a shit if you want a long-term contract, I'm not signing it. And we still stand true to that. When people try to give us longer contracts we just say no, and if you don't want our business, that's fine.

We walked away from a few software companies who were like, we have never used your software so like if you want to give us a three month trial we'll do. Because as they said, it's not enough time to ramp up in a month. I'm like, if you want to give us a three-month trial we'll do it, but I'm not signing a three-year contract. You're out of your fucking mind.

Like, that's just doesn't make sense to me and so we just stuck to that. And then right now, or like our mission statement is accessibility to great marketing. The idea is we want to be nimble, flexible, accessible, and built that way and be the best at what we do. So by being month to month it forces us to be able to be flexible and nimble. We're just used to it. Our business has to function that way.

Jason: [00:21:16] Yeah. And then going back to, you know, your leading indicators and knowing your lifetime value of a client like you can calculate, like, when I look at, you know, our mastermind average member is in their 24 month. And like when you know that that's predictability, because I always tell people, you know, when we go to buy an agency, a lot of times, you know, when you acquire agency, you want to know predictability.

The longer-term contracts, a lot of times you'll get a higher valuation because of the predictability is there. But if you can show a track record of having your clients stay this long, that will act the same way.

Erik: [00:21:51] And I will say, cause we've dealt with all those conversations. Like if you're looking for an investor to value or a buyer, get a smart one that understands your business.

Don't go with someone that's using a cookie-cutter approach to buying the business because you're not going to get a good valuation. And my wife's a senior executive private equity. We have a venture fund. I look at those numbers all the time and it's like, I've had all those stupid conversations. I had… You know where it's like either you're stupid or you think I'm stupid because this, what you're saying is not actually how it works in this world.

And that's another good piece of advice I got a long time ago is have your pulse on, if your plan is to sell, which thankfully is not ours, but I get it for a lot of people. Have your pulse on the industry, know what it is to do M&A in your industry.

Talk to a banker once a quarter, talk to people, keep your information so you know what the multiples are, you know, what's happening, you know, who the buyers are having a relationship with them. And if again, your goal is to sell, call the people that would buy you and ask them what they would want to buy and just build that. It becomes really easy.

Jason: [00:22:45] And I love that. I'm like, yeah, if you know, like make a target list now of the people you have love to buy you and start forming a relationship with them now.

Erik: [00:22:54] Yep. It makes it so much easier to get a deal done. And then, you know, you can trust them. They can trust you. Like that part is so important and yeah, I mean, there's no reason for them not to tell you exactly what they want to buy. You just make it easy for them.

Jason: [00:23:05] Unless they don't know what they want to buy. And there's a ton of people out there like that.

Erik: [00:23:10] Yeah, then don't sell to them cause you don't want that type of buyer. You want someone that's very confident and knows what they're doing so that you can able, depending on what your outcome is too. The only thing I'd say the caveat is if you're really looking at just straight exit debt out and it doesn't matter as much who the buyer is, but that's a hard thing to do with an agency. And you're probably going to do a lot of headaches with an uneducated buyer.

Jason: [00:23:29] Well, yeah, and you're not going to get the valuation or the money that you want. If you want straight out buyers like us, we'll be like, all right, what's wrong? Like, what are you not telling us?

Erik: [00:23:40] Yep. We've looked at those deals. We actually, funny enough, we just passed on one. We look at those deals, but we offer less. We're like, key, like if you're not there, you're, there's a loss in value.

Jason: [00:23:51] Yeah, exactly. And that should make you feel good.

Erik: [00:23:53] The fact, especially if you're a sub eight-figure agency, like you can't tell me that you're not driving the boat.

Jason: [00:24:00] Yeah, exactly. What's the title of the book and where can people get it?

Erik: [00:24:03] You can get it at hawkemethod.com, hawkemethod.com.

Jason: [00:24:07] Awesome. Well, everyone go check that out. Erik, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners that have been to where you want to go and be able to see the things that you might not be able to see and just have a lot of fun and share the strategies. I want you to all, to go to digitalagencyelite.com.  This is our exclusive mastermind for experienced seven and eight-figure agencies and beyond.

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

Direct download: How_This_Agency_Got_to_40_Million_by_Setting_Clear_Financial_Goals.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you growing your agency to sell it in the future or prefer the idea of building a lifestyle business? Maybe you don't have to choose. When Anna Mannerfelt created Wired Mustang, an agency specializing in brand development and equine marketing, she decided selling her business was not the ultimate goal. Instead, she created a business to support her lifestyle. In today's episode, she sat down with Jason to talk about her negative experiences with agencies and why she fired a few plus the two-fold job of agencies. She also discusses why creating a lifestyle business doesn't mean you can't one day profitably sell it.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Why clients fire agencies. Before starting her own business, Anna dealt with many agencies and even fired some after growing tired of a common mistake: the over-promise. Agencies assured they had the capabilities and experience to take on the task and then ultimately would not deliver. “It’s like dating,” she says, “anyone can be a good salesperson, but can you actually deliver what you promise?” Make sure you’re really good at something before you find yourself in a situation where you can’t deliver on promises to clients.
  2. The two-fold job of agencies. In her opinion, an agency should, first of all, make their clients look good, whether by brand design or website or billboards. But most importantly, an agency should increase their clients' sales. Analytics is all good but by the end of the day, are you increasing sales? She makes sure to ask clients if her agency is getting them more business. And if not, it’s time to find out what they are doing wrong.
  3. Having a lifestyle business. We usually talk about the mindset of growing an agency to then sell it and enjoy the lifestyle you want. Anna says she would be bored out of her mind without something to do and preferred to build a lifestyle business. In Jason’s experience, we should all strive to design our business around us rather than having a business that controls us. There are a lot of negative ideas about having a lifestyle business but you could also sell a lifestyle business if you choose to. After all, any business is about setting up the right system and the business operating without you.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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Building a Successful Lifestyle Business That You Could Sell in The Future

{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 got another amazing episode for you. We're going to talk about growing and scaling your agency and really creating an agency that's a lifestyle business. I know a lot of times we talk about growing an agency building up real big and selling it, but what about if you just want to do a lifestyle business? On today's episode we're going to talk exactly about that, so let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Anna. Welcome to the show.

Anna: [00:00:31] Thank you, Jason. It's great to be here.

Jason: [00:00:34] Yeah. So I'm happy to have you here. Tell us who you are and what do you do?

Anna: [00:00:38] Sure. I'm Anna Mannerfelt. I’m the co-founder of an agency called Wired Mustang and we're based out of Denver, Colorado.

Jason: [00:00:46] Awesome. And, uh, tell us, how did you start the agency and why did you do it?

Anna: [00:00:50] Oh, my goodness, Jason. So I've been in marketing for 30 years, started way back when in Sweden and advertising. And then when I came to Colorado a few years ago now to start over, I saw there was a need for businesses to be represented correctly online with actual professional digital marketers. And having hired and fired a lot of agencies throughout the years, I saw there was a gap for this and a need for it, and also, uh, an opportunity for us to set up a business that we feel very, very strongly about, but also more of a lifestyle business that coincides with our personal interests with horses. So, there you go.

Jason: [00:01:31] That's awesome. And what were some of the things that when you were working with agencies and in your past, you said, I fired a lot of them. What did they do to get fired? Let's start it there.

Anna: [00:01:43] The over-promise. They said, we can do this or we've done this a gazillion times. They over-promised and they come in and do, it's like dating, you know, you go in and you work for the agency.

They, they, they're singing and they're dancing and they show their pretty graphs and analytics and all that goody stuff. But most of it was just show. It was all bullshit. I don't know if I'm allowed to curse. I'm sorry if I do.

Jason: [00:02:03] No, you’re allowed to.

Anna: [00:02:05] Okay. Awesome. It was just smoke and mirrors and it's just like any relationship. Anyone can be a good salesperson, but can you actually deliver what you promise? So that was something that, uh, throughout the years and in the advertising agencies and also in marketing, when I was on the corporate side, it was just very frustrating because you get sold this big hoopla of we’re going to do this for you.

But by the end of the day, Jason, in our view, in my view and agency's job is twofold. Number one is to make you look good, whatever that is. If it's a brand design or website or billboards, whatever it is that you are a professional at. Then, more importantly is two, are you increasing your clients sales? Not just make you look good.

That's something that we are super stickler at over here at Wired Mustang. We are a little bit of control enthusiasts, some will call you a control freak. I say that that's awesome. Analytics is all good, but by the end of the day, are you increasing sales? We ask our clients, are you getting more patients? Are you getting more signups with your insurance?

Are you getting more of this and that? And if not, what are we doing wrong?

Jason: [00:03:15] Yeah, that's kind of the thing that I've seen over the years when we're interviewing agencies for the show or for the mastermind, you know, the prerequisite is, is like, are they delivering the results? And I have so many people that go to me and they're like, hey, um, does your training show me how to do a particular service?

I'm like, no, it doesn't. It shows you exactly, like… It's already assuming you know how to do something really well. You shouldn't start an agency if you're not really good at something. I see these people creating courses, going live anywhere, travel the world. Own an agenc… like, I'm like, no, I don't do that.

So let's switch to the lifestyle part because I liked the lifestyle part. Because a lot of us think, let me sweat in blood guts all over the place for five, 10 years, build up an agency and sell it. And then I can have the lifestyle I want. Why did you decide right off the bat to create a lifestyle business for your agency?

Anna: [00:04:15] First of all, I'll be bored out of my mind if I retired on nothing to do. That's number one, you have to have something to do. And when it's a lifestyle business, it doesn't feel like work, Jason. It's we get up in the morning at 4:30, we go to the gym cause we all have to stay in shape, right? The older you get, the more you have to work. Same goes with your business.

We start at 6:30, 7 AM every day, but it doesn't feel like work because it's work, but it's just part of it. You become so close with clients that you're feel that you're part of their process of becoming successful. And when you share the same values of whatever it is that their products, goods, and services are, it's so easy to just become part of your everyday without feeling it it's a job.

And working in corporate and worked for agencies and you, you don't work for anyone. We're all working for our clients, but it doesn't feel like a job. And a lifestyle business is something that when we repositioned Wired Mustang, we said, you know, this is our lifestyle.

We do this so we can ride our horses so we can be part of the equine industry and build brand successfully, and also be better for even smaller brand owners out there to help them to be better with their business.

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Well, yeah, I believe everyone should design their business around them rather than have their business control them. Because you know, for many years I thought the opposite. I thought, you know, I'm going to build the business to sell it and basically created this huge prison around me. And then when I did sell it, I was depressed cause I, I did want to work.

You know, I didn't want to work as much, but I want to be able to pick and choose. And I think just the stigmatism when people are like, oh, I have a lifestyle… It’s like, this is a lifestyle business now, but it's a big business. And it fuels a lot of different people and industries and all that different kinds of things.

So, but I designed it around my lifestyle, but then it has to help out other people and just go around and around and around.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Anna: [00:07:32] Right. Everyone’s probably heard of operating within your sphere of genius. And then that's so easy to do that. And you are operating within your sphere of genius and so am I. So it's our team.

So I mean, that's, that gets their blood, sweat and tears and some days I just kind of wish I'm like, why am I doing this? Why am I not back in corporate America and the next second I go, oh, here's why.

Jason: [00:07:54] Yeah. And, and I feel you can sell a lifestyle business if you want. It's all about… Any business is about setting up the right system and the business operating without you.

Because when I look at a lot of lifestyle businesses, I look at, wow, man, they have a lot of freedom to do other things because they have allowed it, and it's not all dependent on that owner or that one particular person that does everything. So it does open up the door, but I just wish people would not say lifestyle businesses are a bad thing. I think it's a really good thing.

Anna: [00:08:28] Oh, no. As long as you have your brand lingo and your brand positioning, you can let someone else run with it. And I think that's why we're doing, I'm knocking on wood here, knocking on wood, whatever I'm doing. It, it works for us, uh, really, really, really well because everyone within Wired Mustang, they know our brand lingo, our tagline is increased online horsepower. Yes. We trademarked it.

And I've seen other agencies out there that have genius positioning because they stand on and then it makes it so much easier to not have to be involved in everyday. And whomever is taking over, stepping in, if it's a project manager, does that, they know there's certain look and feel with Wired Mustang probably was saying with your business, you know?

Jason: [00:09:11] Oh, yeah. And there's freedom in that. And one of the questions I ask a lot of people is like, like, how happy are you in your business? Like, on a scale of one to 10. And like, if all of you listening, the two people listening out there… So if you really are honest with yourself, like give yourself like 10 being the best one being the worst, uh, seven is a cop-out number. You're not allowed to do seven.

Where would you rank your happiness in your business? And I think a lot of you would find that you're in a failing grade. And so what are you going to do about it? Especially with, you know, new year coming up, you know, or new year's already here depending on when they release this or when you listen to it. Yeah, you need to figure that out and make those adjustments rather than the reactive, because I find too many people being reactive out there.

Anna: [00:10:00] Yeah, you'll have to be proactive. I mean, it's, it's, you can sit on the pity train or you can get off it and do something proper. No, no one's going to, and that's the benefit of being a business owner and you probably agree with this, Jason, is you have the power to do whatever you want to change it. If it's not for you, you can always go and work at… I don't know, Starbucks or Walmart or whatever you want to do, or step back to corporate, if you do that, but you have to give it a go if you're brave enough to do it, you won’t regret it.

Jason: [00:10:27] Yeah. There's always something else and there's always multiple paths that you guys can choose. Well, this has all been amazing, Anna. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Anna: [00:10:37] Oh, my goodness. That was a, that was a very pregnant pause right there. No, not at this point, but one thing I think is super important. You have to stick to the benefit for the audiences that if you believe in doing something, go for it. There's always going to be a Debbie downer saying, oh, you can't do that.

Of course, you know what? If someone says, I can't do it, I'm going to prove you wrong. I'm going to do it even better. And I think that's something that when people say can I do this? Can I do that? Of course you can. It's, it's all in your head.

Jason: [00:11:03] Yeah, exactly. I love it. What's a website, what's your website where people can go and check out the agency?

Anna: [00:11:08] Well, it’s www obviously, but wiredmustang.com and focusing predominantly on the equine-related businesses here in America. And it's a big business, uh, not just horses and tack, but everything around it. So, yeah, anyone want to feel free to go there and feel free to shoot me an email as well, if they want to.

Jason: [00:11:28] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Anna, for coming on the show. If you guys enjoyed the episode, make sure you subscribe, hit that little bell button so you don't miss out on any episodes. And if you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see the things you might not be able to see and show you the things that are working for them and others, where you can have a hypergrowth and scale faster and scale smarter and have a lot more fun, I'd love to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com and check out that page for you.

That might be the thing that's looking or that you've been looking for to get you to the next level you might've reached your top of the mountain that you think of, but I can promise you there's a mountain behind you that we can help you out.

So make sure you go there now and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Can_You_Build_a_Successful_Lifestyle_Business_To_Eventually_Sell_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Is your leadership style genuine and sincere? Do you have empathy where your team is concerned? Do your clients display empathy for their end-users? When Lonn Shulkin first started working at Bam Strategy, they had just lost their biggest client and were in the process of pivoting and taking the opportunity to shift their focus to find their ideal customer. Eleven years later, Lonn is now the CEO  at Bam Strategy and is dedicated to motivating consumer behavior through strategy, media, platforms, and creative initiatives. He sat down with Jason to discuss how they went from losing their biggest client to getting to eight figures, how they started building their sales team, and how empathy has helped them increase client and employee retention.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Building their sales team. Losing a client that represented 70% of their business meant the agency had to find a way to pivot and use that experience with a global client to diversify. After realizing what they were great at, they got specific on who their perfect audience was and then focused on the business development side to build the sales team around that.
  2. Investing in leadership. This agency has been able to improve its employee retention by understanding that each individual employee needed the time and attention and the effort from them to understand their role in the company. They worked to create an honest relationship where an employee could go to them if they had other job offers and give them a chance to discuss why they should stay. They also started doing more social activities as a group to create bonds and created leadership programs to start building up their leadership practice. Putting in that work results in a culture fit that permeates to all employees.
  3. Teaching their clients empathy. Just like they built employee retention and loyalty by implementing empathy into their company culture, Lonn says they now try to extend that concept to clients to teach them how to care about their customers in the same way. It’s been a big driver of growth and success caring about the end-user in the same way because that's what creates brand loyalty today.

Sponsors and Resources

Verblio: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Verblio. Check out Verblio.com/smartagency and get 50% off your first month of content creation. Our team loves using Verblio because of the ease in their process and their large pool of crowd-sourced writers.

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Grow Your Agency & Increase Employee Retention Through Empathy

{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 guest who has grown an eight-figure agency, very, very profitable. Done it through amazing team, amazing systems and done it with empathy. And so let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Lonn. Welcome to the show.

Lonn: [00:00:28] How's it going? Great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah, man. Uh, so tell us who you are and what do you do?

Lonn: [00:00:34] Uh, so Lonn Shulkin. I am CEO at Bam Strategy. Been with the agency for 11 or so years, and just very passionate about growing teams and certainly what we do, which is working as an agency with pretty large customers bring brands that you would know that really focuses on digital experience. So not necessarily the UX stuff, but how we can actually engage customers and communicate with them on a one-to-one basis.

Jason: [00:01:05] Awesome. Tell us kind of the progression or the different cycles that Bam has actually gone through in the past… I guess two decades.

Lonn: [00:01:14] Yeah, it’s quite the ride. I'm sure it's a common ride as a, as I've heard from other guests on your show. But, um, when I joined 11 or so years ago, we had that, that one really big flagship client was taken up 60 or 70% of the business and… yeah it was pretty scary times. And I think at the moment they had actually told us they were, they were a global brand and they had told us that they were going to consolidate all of their marketing in the US and we're based in Montreal in Canada.

So that was a moment where I had just joined the company and we had to figure out how we were going to, um… Luckily, we had a bit of a runway from the client, so they gave us a couple of years notice there, but usually you don't get that in my experience. Um, but we had to figure out, you know, how we were going to pivot and shift and how we're going to use a lot of our experience with this big global brand to diversify.

And so that was probably phase one coming in… the agency is actually 25 years old so coming in as sort of the new guy, there was a lot of work to do as far as aligning teams. And, and for me as a new leader, just sort of figuring out who are my people who share my vision and who buys into that and who can help me craft the company that we, we want it to be and grow it, because at the time growth was not always in an upwards sort of direction.

So lots of up and down. And then we had that big client and so really shifted to focus on those leaders in the company. And that's when I'd say we started shifting into phase two, which is more focused on biz dev, not a ton of RFPs, I would say, although we won a few. But a really big focus on when we had opportunities going all in and choosing those right opportunities cause we started to understand a little bit of what we were great at at the time.

And just putting our all into the pitches that made sense and throwing away the ones that didn't, and I think that was really key for us. And that's when we started winning a few and got a little bit of diversification.

Jason: [00:03:25] I like that you got specific on who your perfect audience is. It sounds like. And then you built the sales team around that. Too many people go, oh my God, I'm gonna lose my biggest client. And my gosh, that was so nice of them to give you a huge runway. And that doesn't happen. I've seen so many agencies go in there. They give you a good runway. And I liked that you focused on the sales team because a lot of times people just say, hey, sales, go find business, but they don't give them direction.

So let's talk a little bit more about the sales team that you guys created. Were these hunters? Were these farmers? Talk about the makeup of what you guys did.

Lonn: [00:04:09] So we've tried everything, as a joke between my partner and I, I mean, we played with the concept of telemarketing having hundreds of calls going out. We had a junior or mid-level salesperson. We had a software sales guy at one point who was more senior and, but it was still outbound calls.

And what we found time and time again is that, and it's still like this today as we've grown to be much bigger, we have our core what I'll call farmers who are really good at client relationships and growing those relationships.

And as I guess, leaders of the organization, what we need to do is leverage those farmers to develop leads as well as our own networks, because the blind pitches, while we've won some, and they are, you know, if I listed our clients, they would be some of them, the longest standing most meaningful relationships we've had have not been what I call formal pitch clients. Or formal RFP that goes out to 20 agencies.

So we don't have this Biz Dev person sitting here who just, all they do is call people and try and get opportunities for us. We've just not seen that deliver the kind of results we want. And we find that it, um, we still get the word of mouth leads that we would get, and we still get the blind RFPs that, that we might get, but we tend to just build on those relationships we have and get referred and find leads that way. And that's, that's, what's worked for us.

Jason: [00:05:49] Do you know, there's two winners to every RFP?

Lonn: [00:05:53] I'm sure.

Jason: [00:05:55] There's the one that wins the project and the first one out. Like, I always hated RFPs and I actually always turned them down. I just realized that RFP stands for like requests for punishment, real fucking problem.

Like it was just like, I hated RFPs because just like you were saying, unless I had someone on the inside or we wrote the damn RFP because that's usually who wins the RFP.

Lonn: [00:06:23] Yeah. I mean, listen, you can, you can sell your soul to the devil in an RFP and maybe get a pretty serious look on price, but then you're not happy that you have the business.

Jason: [00:06:33] I was chatting with a guest not too long ago, and he was telling me after the show… I wish I recorded after the show. I think maybe that should be a whole new segment because that's when a lot of the good stuff comes up, but he was telling me he on a lot of pitches, sometimes they'll spend a million dollars on a pitch.

And I'm like, holy cow, like that's a huge gamble. He's like, well that’ll win like 3 million for the year. I'm like, that's not a gamble I would do. And I do a lot of dumb stuff.

Lonn: [00:07:03] No. I mean, even if you're a really great agency, I can understand the margins on that would not work. So I think we need to be able to show in the pitch that we care.

And if they don't give us an opportunity to do that, we're out of the pitch for sure. Like that's, it's just either, it's going to be so easy that I can just send a spreadsheet in an hour with, with some sort of price and I'll just take a shot at it. Or I really need to be able to show who we are and showing who we are comes as you know, from a lot more than some document.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:07:33] So now that you started building the sales team that are farmers, what was the other part of the teams that you actually your leadership that you started putting together in order to really kind of take the agency to the next level?

Lonn: [00:07:47] So Chris, our founder, had always created this… I joined a company that had an incredible culture. Let me, let me start with that. And there was, I'd say for the size of the agency at the time we had more of an investment in HR and leadership, than other companies I had been at. And so my background previous to them had actually been at a company that sold HR solutions specifically around motivating and engaging people.

And so I would say that with me coming in, we, we doubled down on that. We doubled down on the concept of having more HR investment than other agencies. We figured out that if we could get really awesome people in and keep them here, because that's a huge problem for agencies, that alone would allow us to have sustained relationships with customers.

And that has proven time and time again, to be an awesome investment for us.

Jason: [00:08:43] Give us some examples of what you doubled down on in HR.

Lonn: [00:08:48] So at first we thought, uh, and this it sounds funny and COVID times, but at first we thought that ping pong tables and fruit and all those things were important. And they were.

We quickly shifted to understanding that each individual employee needed the time and attention and the effort from us to understand their role here, what they actually were going to do and how they were actually going to grow. That was critical. And so every single employee had a performance discussion. And so HR would get very involved in creating those forms and making sure that every person had those discussions.

And we would do those multiple times for per year. And we still do those. We, we changed them from very formal and like scoring based to much more conversational, getting to that human side of things and actually understand what makes the person tick.

And with the ultimate goal of, of course having great people and them being happy, but ultimately knowing the market that we're in and how much people get poached and move around to, to make more money we wanted, I guess that goal was to have a chance when someone was poached, we wanted them to either say no, or give us the first chance. That was sort of my, always the, the goal I put out there is that I want it to be so good that someone would even with a big paycheck in front of them, someone would come to us and give us a chance, basically.

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Just go to verblio.com/smartagency to learn more. That's Verblio, V-E-R-B-L-I-O.com/smartagency.

Yeah, I was going to say in our mastermind, one of our members, he always does this and I always preach this to the mastermind. He always said to his employees, if I do anything or anything happens in the agency that you don't like that demotivates you, or you're not happy with where you think "I need to go take an interview", or "I need to get my resume ready", come to me right away and let's chat about it.

And there's been so many people, so many mastermind members that have saved great employees from literally just starting the interview process, because once someone gets an offer somewhere else and then they tell someone about it, dude, they're gone.

Lonn: [00:11:57] Yeah. It's tough. It's tough at that point. So we started recognition programs. We started doing a lot more social activities as a group, so to create bonds, to create… There's a great book actually called, um, 12, which is by the Gallup organization. That's just about the 12 reasons, 12 things that motivate employees that are non-compensation based. And we started doing that with all our managers.

We started doing a leadership program internally with our managers, where we would go through personality types and conflict types and all the classic leadership programs to start building up our leadership practice so that, that could trickle down to people. And that retention, I think is a huge driver of client retention.

Jason: [00:12:43] Yeah, I think that's huge because you know, I look at there's six stages an agency goes through and the last stage is really building the leaders in the organization.

It's kind of like, you know, in the very beginning, it's kind of getting leads. Having a sales system and then the owner gets to a certain level, but, and then a lot of times people stop there. But if the leader that one leader is smart, they'll try to build multiple leaders where they're not the toll booth.

And that's, that's really pretty smart about figuring out what works because everyone's different. But the people you hire, I find if you hire on values, they're going to be very similar in their values, but different in skill set, different in everything else.

Lonn: [00:13:31] Yeah. And so that culture fit, we always emphasize that and we call it being a Bammer, but that's critical.

And there's been a big shift in that permeating from me and our leadership team to now everyone knowing what that feels like. And we can't necessarily articulate it, but it feels like something. It's very cool to see that permeate down to, to everyone, even a new person who comes in and they're like, oh wow I, I feel it too.

And we're on zoom every day right now, so it's, it's very cool to see that start to happen. And the other thing I'll say that I think is really interesting is that as we've grown those people, we invested in as leaders, 10 years ago, our, our leadership today and so that's really cool.

They've been with us for 10 years and even if they were leaders back then they are much more mature and awesome leaders that I would be happy to give the keys to the car.

Jason: [00:14:30] Yeah. The one thing I learned about selling the first agency was when I turned into an employee, you don't have to motivate the good employee. But you have to worry about de-motivating them.

And I was de-motivated by a number of different actions. That's the biggest thing I worry about with my team and I tell the mastermind members, I'm like, if you have to motivate an employee, you hired the wrong employee. I’d tell them like, like, get rid of that person.

Lonn: [00:15:01] A hundred percent. Yeah. If they're not happy here, they, the writings on the wall, right? Like that's… We want them to go because they can be happier somewhere else. And I think that's the other concept of empathy is I would rather them be somewhere else and be happy than be unhappy here.

Jason: [00:15:15] from someone that's been fired from almost every job that is totally true. Some people held onto me too long. Wendy’s fired me the first day. So they, they had no empathy. I appreciate them because I wouldn't be where I was without them firing me and telling me I can't work at fast food anymore. So thank you, Wendy's. I've never publicly thanked them before.

Well, awesome. Um, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Lonn: [00:15:48] No. I mean, listen, we're working a lot on extending that concept to our end customers and trying to teach them how to actually care about their customers in the same way as we care about our employees. And I think, you know, that's for us been a big driver growth and success now is how we actually sit with our customers and say, you, you need to care about that end person buying your product in the same way you care about your employee because that's what creates brand loyalty today.

And that's to me, the joy of, you know, the cookie going away and all those things that people are scared of is actually, we have to actually show a value now. And to me, that's exciting. And if you're an agency who can deliver value to customers and help your customers figure that out, it's a bit of a holy grail, I guess.

Jason: [00:16:31] Awesome. Well, what's the website people go and check out the agency?

Lonn: [00:16:34] bamstrategy.com. B-A-M strategy.

Jason: [00:16:37] Awesome. Well, Lonn, thanks so much for coming on the show. You did amazing. Make sure you guys go to their website, check it out. And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis, that can see the stuff that you're not able to see and be able to hear the strategies that are currently working, not strategies from 10 years ago. But are currently working right now.

And just have a lot of fun and connect with amazing people. I want you guys to go to digitalagencyelite.com and fill out an application. If we feel that you'll be right, we'll have a conversation and we'll chat about it. And then we'll start introducing you to all the other amazing members all over the world that run agencies that can help you grow and scale faster and have a lot of fun.

So until next time, have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_Genuine_Empathy_Can_Reduce_Agency_Churn_Rate.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you having a hard time hiring the right talent to build your agency team? Manish Dudhareija first started his journey as an entrepreneur nine years ago when he noticed there was a huge demand for skilled developers trained in the latest technologies and there was a gap in hiring, training that fit his expertise. He created E2M Solutions, a full-service agency that offers website design & development, SEO, copywriting, and content marketing. In this interview, Manish shares how agency owners can address the common struggle of finding and hiring new talent. He also talks about how advertising your culture can help attract the right people, and the creative ways you can make your agency stand out to top talent.

  1. Advertising your culture. We’ve talked about how many agency owners need to do more to market themselves to potential clients. Manish adds another layer to this: marketing aimed at attracting the best people to your team. You’re really missing out if you’re not marketing your culture to attract the right elements. He likes to use LinkedIn to showcase his agency’s values and says he is as interested in candidates’ personality traits as he is in their skills. In this regard, he is looking to identify do they have the right kind of attitude? Do they have the willingness to learn? Are they curious? Are they accountable? The answers to these questions will be just as important in the process of selecting a new team member.
  2. Be creative in your search. When searching for your ideal team, Manish recommends creating ads that contain some sort of challenge, like code in the case of developers. This will help your agency stand out from the many messages just stating “we’re hiring” and is a way to spark the interest of the type of dynamic and curious individuals he wants to attract.
  3. On training his team. Manish has a team of senior developers whose main task is to be constantly researching and testing new technologies. Once the agency gets a new project, the team identifies the latest technology that they could work with and try to implement it. Later, when the opportunity arises, they propose that technology to their existing clients to let them know that they are always on the lookout for new developments in their area. This is also a good way to always have someone on the team that can train the rest of the developers and are creating the processes to do so.

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Getting Creative in Your Search for New Talent For Your Agency & Advertising Your Culture

{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 have another amazing episode and we're going to talk about, because look, I've been chatting with so many agency owners over the past months, and one of the big things is hiring the right people and just finding the right talent.

On today's episode, we're going to talk about some ways where you can find the best talent, should you hire seasoned pros or train them up? How do you train them up? And it really cool solution at the very end. So make sure you listen to the whole episode. So let's go ahead and jump into it.

Hey, Manish. Welcome to the show.

Manish: [00:00:38] Hey, Jason. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Jason: [00:00:41] Yeah. I'm excited to have you on. So tell us a little bit about your business. You know, you've been doing this for a while and you have over 110 people, but tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Manish: [00:00:52] Sure. Yeah. So I'm kind of an entrepreneur. I started this journey nine years back, uh, in 2012. So I founded E2M nine years back. And one of the reasons I founded this company is to solve a specific problem. That was kind of seeing, like, there is a huge demand of skilled and trained, you know, people, resources in terms of technology. And there was a gap, you know, I thought we can really feel where my expertise is, uh, strategy, uh, hiring, training people and, you know, injecting the traits like personality traits and how to have the force ready, where someone is looking for, like, you know, Uh, someone is not looking to hire people and they are looking for people who are trained to work with.

So that's how I founded E2M. So it started like nine years back and we are kind of a white label, uh, you know, outsourcing company. Uh, we build websites, we do a lot of web development. With WordPress and Shopify and big commerce. And we work with digital agencies, regardless of the size, across the US and the other parts of the world.

And yeah, you know, we help them scale their agency business with our white label services.

Jason: [00:02:13] Awesome. Well, let's get into it and let's talk about, you know, a lot of agency owners struggle right now because there's a lot of demand for what we're doing, right? But it's really challenging to find the right team members.

So what has worked for you? Because you guys have over 110 people what's worked for you to constantly keep getting the best people?

Manish: [00:02:36] Yeah. That's a very interesting question. And, um, I think, you know, similar, like the US, we have an adequate role here in India and we are also facing similar challenges hiring people.

But one of the things, you know, we are trying to do something is, so we often do a lot of marketing to attend the customers, right? But we never do a marketing to attract the people, right? Because we always think like, okay, you know, uh, that early the marketing has to be only to drive in the sales and leads. But I also feel like, you know, that you should also do a marketing to attract the people, right?

So we do a lot of branding our HR team, and we have a social media team, we do a lot of granting on LinkedIn. We expose or culture, you know, more often on LinkedIn and that builds the transparency, that builds the, like, that kind of showcase what we are, what our value is, right? So, we pay a lot of attention in that we, uh, be are vocal and we speak loudly about, you know, what our culture is, what kind of initiatives we have.

So it is not just about, uh, like, you know, the team outing lunch, or get together, but it's more than that, right? So one of the things, you know, which I believe is other than the skill, the traits are very important as well. The personality traits, right. We kind of, you know, when we look for the people, we just do not look for the skill, but we also look for the traits, like what kind of traits to the have, right?

Do they have right kind of attitude? Do they have the willingness to learn? Are they curious? Are they accountable? Are they responsible? Are they good with working with the people? Are they having an open mindset? That allows us to train people faster, right?

So obviously we look for the skill, let's say, if you are looking for a WordPress developer. Yeah. WordPress is something, you know, definitely that's the reason we are interviewing them. But apart from that, we also look for the traits, right? So we are kind of a company where we pay a lot of attention and a lot of importance to the traits. So that's kind of showcase, you know, in LinkedIn.

And transparency, right? I think, you know, one of the things that… Where people love to be in a transparent culture, right? So we don't ask them, we don't lock them into the contract that you have to sign bond with us. You have to work for X number of months or years with us. It's kind of a very open culture we have where we explain them the benefits, how we are different.

Uh, we showcase and we let our other people speak, right? So we are over… uh, so we are like one hundred people right now. So a lot of our existing, we talk about how we have a higher retention ratio. The other team members, they speak about their experience openly. So these kinds of things, you know, help us attract a really, really good talent and, yeah, happy, happy people.

I would say like, you know, we get a lot of, uh, new hires through over existing members. So because they are already happily working with over here, right. So they do a word of mouth. See, it's the concept of like, you know, the customer brings some other customer happy customer will bring another, you know, a customer.

The same concept applies when you were hiring people as well, right? That, okay, if you have a happy employees, happy you happy people working with you. Obviously they are going to bring other people, their friends and family members and friends and friends, they are going to bring that right. So I think, you know, there are the companies right now facing two types of challenges.

One is hiring new people, as well as retaining existing people. Fortunately, we are only facing one problem, which is like, you know, this is a good problem to have, hiring new people, for which we are also like know, working in a way that we are getting rid of that problem, but we do not have the second problem is retaining the existing people because we have a very transparent culture in a way where, you know, people feel more accountable and responsible and they can end with them the kind of growth they're looking for.

So that is helping us a lot to retain existing talent and bringing on the new talent.

Jason: [00:07:21] I love that, you know, because I think a lot of agencies are missing out on always be recruiting. And, and be marketing to, you know, the people that you may need, because like you were saying, I think they're focused on, you know, oh, I need to market to the clients. And, and look, if we're all honest here, digital agencies do a pretty crappy job at marketing themselves, let alone marketing to the people that they want.

But you know, as, as you guys are listening to this episode, I really want you guys to go, man, this makes total sense. You know, first I need to market to, I need to do a good job of marketing to my clients, because there's a lot of agencies that are built on word of mouth. But I need to commit to, you know, going forward to marketing our culture.

Because when you market your culture to people you're trying to hire, it will actually help you with your clients, because they'll be like, oh man, that's pretty cool. Like, I want to work with this, this team. And the one other thing that we did, and you guys may do this as well, especially as, you know, your employees refer other employees to the team. We would do a commission structure or like a little bonus to them if, once we hired someone and they stayed for three months or longer.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Manish: [00:08:38] Yeah, that's what we have already done. We already have that in practice. So it's, we also do bounty. So, you know, when you bring, refer to your friends and, you know, uh, any other candidates, if they get selected, you get a bounty of X number of amount once they complete three months. So we already had that in place.

The other thing, you know, we are doing differently is something… We know that, okay, the, everyone is using a Facebook and Instagram, right? So generally we do our services and what is meant on Facebook and Instagram. We are also doing our hiding our ads. So we have paid budget, uh, specifically allocated for that on a monthly basis where we do already creative posts, where not…

Okay, if you are looking for a WordPress developer, we put a PHP code and we say, okay, no, find an error on this. If you can find an error on this, you know, we are looking for you, right? So generally, you know, we do kind of this kind of creative ads and another example, you know, we, uh, that is kind of like, okay, our QA team is challenging that, okay, you know, if I'm going to review your code and I'm going to find X number of bucks, for sure. If you challenge that, okay. If you, if you do a code where I cannot find a bug at all, then we are looking for you, right?

So a lot of this kind of interesting ads we run on Instagram and Facebook that also helps us to be in front of, you know, people who are not even sometimes, no, they are not looking for a change, but the way we present ourselves, it makes them interested to apply for the position and change their mind.

So I'm actually reading a book right now, Atomic Habits. I'm sure you must have read. It's a really interesting book. I'm reading, you know, it's Atomic Habits. And, uh, one of the things, you know, that's book I read is see when you sell something, people are not actually interested what you are selling, but they get more curious, how you present it to them, right?

So it's like when we have an opening, we just don't say we are looking for a WordPress developer, but we present in a way that, okay, we are looking for WordPress developer when we don't write it very obviously. And that's kind of, you know, attract them. Okay. This company is standing out and that's where we are getting a lot of attractions.

Jason: [00:11:07] I love it. And I want to switch focus just a little bit, you know, as we kind of end the, or getting more toward the end of the show. How do you constantly…? Because I see agency owners struggling with constantly training their people with a new skill. So what have you seen work for you guys?

Manish: [00:11:30] That's a good question. You know, so we have, you know, different people with different, uh, you know, skill set, right? So we have project managers who just look after the projects team and like that. Then we have technical leads, they are only there to solve developers, technical problems. And then we have a senior developer, some of our developers are just working on exploring the new technologies, right?

So what we do is, you know, when we work with agencies and they are looking for, let's say they are hiring a WordPress developer with us, so then we ask them, okay, you know, there is a core vital, which is very important these days. We have started exploring onto headless CMS right now for building a fast-loading website, using react as a front end, WordPress is the backend, right?

So we kind of identify what is the latest in terms of technology. And we have a specific people who are just working on, you know, doing research and exploring the new technologies. And then when there is an opportunity, you know, we propose that to our existing clients that, hey, you know, we have been working since long and this is something new. What do you like us to try it out?

And they are always open for that. And that gives us a live project to work on. So it, it, it is kind of like, you know, we keep our eyes and ears open and we do a lot of research and we work with a lot of agencies. So we always get to know different problems than we have a technical team with just doing research, what's the latest out?

And then, you know, they learn for us because they are highly experienced and then they, you know, teach that they kind of teach that to other developers as well. And that's how we train that. One thing we do when they are doing that, they make sure to have the processes, they make sure to have documentation, right?

They make sure to have proper standards, coding standards in place. So there is documentation, there is a checklist. So the other developers who are being trained, they don't have to train on the wheel, they get drained faster. So this is something, you know, this is how we are managing basically

Jason: [00:13:41] I love it. I love it. I love that you have dedicated people to, to that, that train the rest of the team. I think that's where, you know, people make a mistake of, especially when they bring in a junior person and they think they're just going to learn up very fast. If you don't have a dedicated person or a dedicated system for training them, it's going to be a challenge and it's going to cost you more than it would of just hiring the more experienced person.

Well, this has all been amazing, Manish. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Manish: [00:14:14] Yeah, I think, you know, the one thing is that, uh, we work with a lot of agencies and help them scale and grow with our white label. So this isn't like that. So in case if any agency is facing a problem with management and you know, when you have projects on board, but you do not have anyone to help you executing those projects, then yeah we help agency owners, you know, with our white label services.

So we have a special offer for our listeners today. So we are, you know, we have, we are productized our white label services. So we have different monthly plans to choose from. So if you are listening to this podcast, you can go to E2M, to our website we have specifically designed for this audience, which is e2msolutions.com/smartagency.

So that's E and 2 is a numeric and M for marketing e2msolutions.com/smartagency. If you go to that, that is so when you, you know, use this link, and if you are going to sign up for any of our plans, you will get an additional 10% discount for first three months.

Jason: [00:15:23] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for doing that for the audience. Make sure everyone goes there and, uh, check that out.culture

And, uh, I think that will be a great resource tool in helping you all build in 2022, I can't believe it's 2022. That's crazy. So go to the website now go claim that offer and Manish, thanks so much.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Build_an_Ideal_Team_By_Marketing_Your_Agencys_Culture.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Are you using your resources wisely in order to scale content creation? Are you leveraging partnerships that will help you grow your agency? Content creation is following a classic marketing channel trend and continually evolving every year. If your agency is not keeping up with the increased demand, you're missing out. In this episode of the podcast, Jason talks with Laura Smous and Steve Pockross from Verblio about how agencies are helping their clients do more with content, as well as some common mistakes agencies make when it comes to content creation. They'll also share the biggest investments your agency needs to make in 2022 and how your content efforts can work with AI.

Laura Smous is the VP of Product Marketing at Verblio and Steve Pockross is the CEO at Verblio, and a three-time guest of the Smart Agency Masterclass. He believes content is still king, especially in a struggling economy.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Top trends in content creation entering 2022. Keeping up with content demands has become increasingly more challenging for agencies. Clients need original content, but that doesn't necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. Verblio's survey of agencies has shown the current trends include refreshing old content and repurposing content in new ways (like turning videos into blogs).
  2. Mistakes agencies are making in content creation. Verblio has identified 2 key mistakes they're seeing agencies make when it comes to content. First, an over-reliance on technology to create content results in sameness. AI has a place in content creation, but using it to create all content is a mistake. Secondly, it's important to have a content lead who sees and touches content as the core function of their job. If your agency is having people wear too many hats it becomes evident in the content output.
  3. Use AI for things humans are bad at. As Laura observed, "humans are bad at getting started." While she is not a fan of using AI to write content, she says there is a place for it in helping humans get started with content. Some great uses for AI is sales scripts, outlines, and other repeatable functions.

The Changes Your Agency Should Make in Order to Scale Content Creation in 2022

Jason: [00:00:00] Welcome back, agency owners. I'm excited, I have another amazing two guests coming on. It's been a long time since I've done a three-way on the podcast and we're going to talk about the three biggest investments you can do next year. We're going to talk about Verblio's survey that they did to all these agency owners that you need to be aware of. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Laura and Steve. Welcome to the show.

Laura: [00:00:32] Hi! Happy to be here.

Steve: [00:00:33] Hey, Jason. Good to be back.

Jason: [00:00:35] Awesome. Well, Steve, welcome back. Laura, welcome to the show. So I'm going to start with ladies first. Tell us who you are and what do you do? And then we'll go to we'll. Maybe get to Steve later.

Laura: [00:00:48] Sure. Well, I'm Laura Smous. I'm the VP of product marketing at Verblio. We're a content creation marketplace and platform. And I've been doing some sort of messing around at the intersection of marketing and technology for over a couple decades now, with the last number of years really focused on product marketing for high growth startups. So really happy to join.

Jason: [00:01:09] Awesome. Well, welcome to the show. And, Steve, I don't know how we'd let you back on, but tell us who you are and what you do?

Steve: [00:01:20] It’s good to be back. I'm Steve Pockross. I'm the CEO of Verblio. I've been here for five years. I have been working in startups, nonprofits, and Fortune 500's for the last 20 something years, always in high-growth industries. And Verblio is the intersection of my, two of my favorite places, the future of marketing and the future of work.

Jason: [00:01:35] I love it. I love it. Well, let's go ahead and get into why everyone's listening, which is every year you guys do an amazing survey and you always find out really cool stuff. So what have you found out in the survey? What are kind of the three big investments that we need to be thinking about for 2022?

Laura: [00:01:55] Well, I think the first piece is just that the demand for content has only increased. So, uh, that's a really good thing for all of us, but it is a, perhaps a really frustrating thing for a lot of the agencies that we've been polling because they're having a lot of the, the second piece of that would be they're having a lot of trouble meeting that demand.

So, uh, whether it's hiring, whether it's figuring out how to um, assemble a team of freelancers or whether it's leveraging technology or platforms like ours, they're having a lot of trouble making it work to meet that demand. So they know there's this huge growth opportunity, but rising to the challenge is tough. And I think along with that, there's all of the change that you deal with at any time. Um, but it's just accelerated.

So, um, new content types, huge focus on video. And I think that the biggest piece is figuring out where does AI fit into this puzzle? Is it friend or foe for digital agencies and the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to leverage that are really seeing an unfair advantage?

Jason: [00:02:50] Awesome. Let's talk about how are certain things changing in our market around blog posts or landing pages or, or the use of video? What are you guys seeing?

Laura: [00:03:03] Well, I think the first is just that, you know, there was already a challenge with content saturation, um, and the, the bar for content quality and what it takes to actually get noticed and, and sort of, and maintain performance was already really high.

But I think with the pandemic, um, there's been this massive rush online, so there's just more stuff, right? So the definition of what's good, um, what's performing content, whether it be a blog post or a landing page has changed and keeps changing. I think that's, that's the first piece. And then I'm also understanding that it's not an option, really not to do video, not to have mixed media content and different ways to consume your content and to have that really be not only some standalone pieces, but part of everything you do.

So really enhancing what used to just be written form content so that it's more engaging so that more audiences can engage with it and it can live in more places successfully.

Jason: [00:03:53] Yeah. You know, when I first started in this business eight years ago, I can't, oh my gosh. I can't believe it. I don't think I had this many gray hairs, Steve or Laura, but, um, I saw so many people just writing blog posts and that's all they were doing. And I felt like there was a lot of tone being lost.

And then I also saw when I just started doing video because I was a horrible writer before we started using you guys. Like literally it was like, people were like, you're an idiot, no more writing. But I like to kind of do the combo of you know, using all of the different mediums.

When I was made aware of you guys, I really liked it because I was like, hey, I'm going to send you my videos, and then you guys kind of summarize this in a blog post, and then we can turn it into micro-content, all that kind of different, really cool stuff. Do you find that a lot of agencies that are using you or are they using you for that? Or what do you see the trends going into?

Laura: [00:04:50] I think the really smart ones are. And I think that's one of the cool things. I mean, there are a lot of, um, agencies and, and direct brands that are using us to just build their core business. They've recognized that content is not only a thing that's necessary to grow a successful business, but it can actually be at the heart of the business itself.

So we're certainly seeing that definitely with niche agencies that really, um, understand that they can focus in one specific area. They can really scale and knock it out of the park by leveraging Verblio as a close partner. But I think there's still quite a few that focus on just one content type, just delivering it in one way and haven't really looked at how do you, how do you think about content is really being, repurposable chopping it up and making the most out of basically every dollar you spend there by making sure that it can live across channels and that people can consume it, how they want to consume it.

And knowing that a lot of us are on the go, we're almost entirely on mobile devices, but we do still have that human need for a deep, rich, engaging content. So it's not one or the other. Um, and I think that that's a thing, you know, a trend that is going away is really over-relying on technology and not thinking about the fact that we do need this really well-rounded content mix to have a, to have an effective content effort.

Steve: [00:06:02] And so one of the things that it follows is content is really following a classic marketing channel trend, which is it matures every single year. And as it matures, basically things that were cutting edge before now become must-haves.

So what we're finding is you've got your marketers who are still doing the must-haves, which is blogs. It just requires more every year. So now it requires blogs, SEO optimization, more frequency, more video. And then we have this next layer of agencies that are looking at how do you actually use this really powerful channel to create more of a competitive advantage, especially as it becoming a more powerful marketing channel.

And so we have a lot of agencies that are investing in, how do you go much bigger than ever thought of before if you have a partner that can help you provide it to do hundreds of pieces a month and really create a competitive moat? Uh, and so we're seeing these really kind of these three different types of agencies.

And I think it's also one other thing point to pull out is it really depends on what vertical is your agency's looking for. If you're in a super laggard industry, you can use some of the old techniques and it still works. But if you're in a super competitive one like, you know, personal injury attorneys where everyone's fighting tooth and nail in order to be successful, you really have to be at the edge.

Jason: [00:07:12] And so is the solution just do more like more content? Is that the trend that you guys see?

Laura: [00:07:19] I think it's a little more nuanced in that. I think one piece is do more. So all the things that were true before is still true, right? You still need consistency, you still need frequency. Um, and that's kind of the bummer, right? Is those, those have become table stakes.

But now we're starting to look at things like content refreshes as important a part of your content strategy as new content creation. And so there's a, there's a level of sophistication required to understand what's the right mix for, for any given client, for any given month, um, what should you be focusing on?

And that's, I think where it's difficult, um, as an agency to, to do that without a partner, to really even understand what are the options. And then two agencies, I think in general, are somewhat risk averse and hiring more people can be, can be a real dangerous proposition if you don't know that you can maintain that.

So I think leveraging a partner that you trust that you can turn on and off scale up and down, um, over time as, as your needs change is a safer way to grow. Also to be able to bring that expertise to your agency without having to always hire.

Jason: [00:08:21] So I like that you mentioned content refresh. I did a masterclass for 50 agency owners yesterday, and I talked about the low-hanging fruit in sales.

And that's contacting your existing clientele and looking at the old prospects, right? That's a low-hanging fruit. I look at kind of content refreshing is low-hanging fruit for content you've already created. So can you talk a little bit more about how are people doing that? Like, are they looking at Google analytics and being like, man, this page is getting a lot of traffic, but like we've changed a little bit. We should maybe redo this or what?

Laura: [00:08:57] Yeah. I mean, there's a few, there's a few different flavors of it. I think that, um, the agencies that we're seeing really take the lead on content refresh, um, understand that they're talking about that and they're able to sort of templatize their strategy or process to match what they're, what they're trying to do.

I mean, there are some very straightforward ones. Uh, my people really focusing on, you know, for example, local SEO for personal injury attorneys. You're going to want to make sure that every one of those many, many hundreds of posts or pages is really hyper-focused on a danger in that area, or, you know, things that might happen, things that are really relevant to that specific location.

And just going back and making sure that that information is, you know, that the statistics are up to date, um, that it is hyper-relevant to, um, the area, all of that is, um, is working really well. And, and from a strategy perspective, that's pretty formulaic. Then you have the other ones that are going back and saying, ok, we have this really strong performing post. It's declining. How do we understand what's missing now? Maybe what other people have caught up on? What other people who are ranking have added that, you know, looking for content gaps.

And then I think there are some that recognize that, you know, content is not really precious anymore, right? They may have thought something was going to do really well, put a lot of time into it. And I think just accepting that the analytics are not telling that story and maybe it's just, you know, the search intent was not there, right? So you may have, uh, thousands of words and it should have been a listicle.

You know, something like that, recognizing we're barking up the right tree that people are looking for this, but the way that we did it, isn't working and we need to redo it and make it a better match what people are actually looking for.

And then that will, um, be much more successful as part of the mix.

Steve: [00:10:35] And we see is kind of, uh, like a it’s still formulaing how agencies are gonna work with this the most successfully.  You'll have agencies that are basically saying, hey, we're going to do our table stakes. And then everything left over we'll put into SEO content or into content refreshes.

We have agencies that are coming in and saying, hey, our policy is five to 10% of your blogs or your posts will refresh every year. And then we have agencies that are looking at it bigger and basically saying, hey, we think if we use this percentage, could be 35%, ee fresh all of these. This is the cost for all of these, this is the ROI we expect you to get in our, selling them as larger packages.

So we're, we're looking forward to the dynamic trends as they evolve with agencies.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Laura: [00:11:14] Yeah. And we're, we're finding too that they're, their clients are open to it really, even in terms of what they're charging for it, it's almost an even swap.

They're starting to recognize the value and be as willing to pay for content refresh as they are for new content creation provided that they can be sort of walked through how that's going to impact them.

Jason: [00:11:32] What should agencies stop doing in the new year that you guys have found?

Laura: [00:11:38] Um, I think one thing is, um, maybe an over-reliance on technology. So as, um, you know, we know that the rules change constantly, the algorithms change constantly. So, um, there has been, uh, a huge sort of swarm towards really relying on those tools to tell, to tell us what to write and how to write it. Um, but that's created this sort of sameness in what's out there and, um, they’ve forgotten the human element, right?

So I think that, that complete reliance on technology to do that, thinking that it is really something that can be done without, um, having that human touch I think we'll start to go away. Because uniqueness and sort of authenticity is a piece that is still required for content to perform really well.

And you can't get that necessarily out of a machine.

Steve: [00:12:22] I'll add that I think there's like a couple of different ways that, so that we have agencies that manage us, the agencies that have a person who's senior level who's in charge of content at their agency who looks at it all the time and it's consistent perform really well.

We have, and then we'll have agencies who have a different contact for each member, for each one of their clients to work with Verblio, without having somebody oversee it and how to get the most value from their content. And so we'd really recommend that there's a content lead at your company, whether they're part of the, each one of your client representation or not.

Jason: [00:12:55] Gotcha. And for the past year, I've been hearing a lot around AI, around content writing. Where does that fit in? How do you feel that that's changing things in the industry?

Laura: [00:13:07] You know, I think for, for folks who are relying on it completely, you know, they are getting a sort of sameness or a lack of originality, uh, in the content.

So I think that is, uh, maybe not the direction I'd recommend. I would say that, um, figuring out how to use AI for the things that humans are bad at and use humans for the things humans are good at. So an example of that would be humans are bad at getting started, right? They're bad at doing that first step towards that task and AI, uh, it can really do a lot right now to, um, to give you a content outline, to give you a draft, to help you understand points, you should be hitting to do some of that underlying research, even for, you know, fairly specific topics. You know, we've, uh, we've done a lot of exploration of the tools that are out there and, you know, I could write an article on orthopedic surgery that would at least cover a lot of the bases, right?

So kind of getting you to that, uh, jumpstart, uh, is one piece. Humans are also bad at, I think knowing how, uh, how thorough they are, how closely they're following a process. You know, when you think about someone's own ability to determine whether or not they're following a sales script or something like that, not super high.

So I think just being really honest about what we're good or bad at, and then using AI for those things. Because it is really good at making sure you can be consistent, repeatable that there's some sort of ability to learn over time, um, and to actually catalog that information. But allowing humans to really focus on, you know, some of that originality and uniqueness bringing voice and tone.

AI is improving there and it may get there, but there are still a lot of challenges I think in bringing that, that originality to content that AI has not so far been able to touch. So the marriage of the two really, to me, seems to be the, the ticket.

Jason: [00:14:47] That's awesome. Yeah. I'm going to let you guys on a secret. I'm doing the Scooby-Doo moment. I'm really an AI bot. Jason's actually skating. I'm just kidding.

That would be cool. If it could do that. Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you, um, both that you think would benefit the audience before we wrap up and tell them about you guys, a special offer for the listeners?

Laura: [00:15:11] That's a really good question. You know, Steve mentioned having one person be your, you know, your point of contact, something like that, to just make sure that you can leverage efficiencies, you know, pattern match.

Um, I think just, uh, thinking about how can you consolidate the types of entities that are creating content in your organization. You know, we have a lot of folks who have internal content teams. They have external freelancers. They’re messing around with some different platforms and some different things.

They're trying, you know, the, the sort of generic marketplaces, like an Upworker or Fiverr and, um, that's a ton of overhead. And even if you get it right a few times, being able to scale that predictably is super difficult. So, you know, I think. Yeah, agencies should really focus on how can we make our own lives easier and take away some of that overhead and really focus on, um, a handful of scalable resources that can work together.

Because, again, focus on what humans are good at. That time and mental energy is much better spent thinking through a strategy for your clients and strategy for your agency growth than it is, um, just doing air traffic control. So that would be my advice.

Steve: [00:16:16] I have a totally different line of thought, which is a, I'm just thinking back, Jason, to when you were our first guest on our podcast. When we were trying to, uh, right at the beginning of, uh, March, 2020, and we were talking to about what marketers should do at the downfall.

And one of the big things that you stressed was take really good care of your clients. This is when they need you the most. This is like, this is the most important time to be authentic people, to really care about who you're working with.

And I think we're at the opposite side of that trend, which is there's so much business to be had by so many companies and we're seeing so many junior level people coming on and working at agencies and scaling as quickly as possible. I would just say, please be really conscious of your clients and the relationships you want to build on the way up. How many can you take on and really do well, because they'll remember it at the downturn too.

And we'll be having similar discussions, hopefully, hopefully not soon, but, uh, at the next downturn, we all know that they, they, the cycles keep happening.

Jason: [00:17:11] Yeah, anybody can be doing good in business right now. So I love that. It's, it's very customer-focused. Tell us about where people can go, uh, to, you know, try you guys out and tell us a little bit more about that.

Laura: [00:17:26] Well, um, anybody listening here can go to verblio.com/smartagency and get, get a nice discount on getting started with Verblio. Um, and you can also find out a lot more about what we do and all the different types of content we can help you with.

Jason: [00:17:39] Awesome. Well, guys, really appreciate you guys coming on.

Make sure you guys go to verblio.com/smartagency. We've used them for so many years. They do an amazing job. If you're not using them, go try them out.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_Can_Agencies_Scale_Content_Creation_in_2022_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Is it time to sell your digital agency? Considering a merger or acquisition in the near future? John Burns worked in mergers and acquisitions for 15 years when he realized a gap in the market, specifically for agency owners. So 7 years ago, he started Clare Advisors, a company that provides mergers, acquisitions, and financial advisory services to privately-held digital agencies and companies in the marketing, media, and business services industries. In this interview, John discusses what owners should consider preparing to sell their agencies, the common misconceptions of when to sell, and why now is a good time if you're considering selling in the next three to five years.

  1. What you need to start preparing. There's a number of factors a buyer would potentially look at in evaluating whether or not they should buy your agency. One of them is profit margin, whether you're consistently making profit and whether your profit is expanding. Also, revenue growth and scalability, since obviously buyers want to buy agencies that are growing and have a lot of momentum. John says the important thing is considering whether you have the infrastructure in place and the right team to grow, over any earn-out or follow-up period.
  2. A common misconception. One of the most common questions John gets is around the target revenue for selling. Whether an agency should be at $10 or $5 million and then sell. “This is a common misconception from owners,” he says because people think the right time to sell is when you’ve topped out at a particular number. Many commonly look to sell a business when their lease is up, and John agrees it could be a factor, so have in mind it may come up. But actually, the right time to sell is when you have the most momentum behind the business and the most wind behind your back. If you’re not in this situation and still want to sell, remember that Jason always advises the right time to sell is when you need the money or you hate the business.
  3. Thinking about selling soon? We have a very active market right now with a lot of owners who are thinking of potentially selling. There are really low-interest rates, so cash is easy to come by, and a lot of companies have excess working capital on their balance sheets because of either PPP loans or some of the fiscal stimulus. Also, capital gains tax rates are potentially going to increase at some point in the near future. It is a very dynamic climate and John advises taking some of those factors into consideration. Don't necessarily sell sooner than you want, but it is a good time if it's been something you're considering the next 3-5 years.

Common Misconceptions About Selling & Tips to Selling Your Agency in The Current Active Market

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

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Today I have an amazing guest. We're going to talk about valuations and preparing your agency for selling and why you would sell or why you would not sell. So let's go ahead and jump into the show.

Hey, John. Welcome to the show.

John: [00:00:21] Hey, Jason. Great to be here.

Jason: [00:00:22] So tell us who you are and what do you do?

John: [00:00:25] Uh, I am the founder and managing director of Claire Advisors. Claire Advisers is a boutique mergers and acquisition and financial advisory firm that specializes exclusively in working with agencies and marketing services companies.

Jason: [00:00:38] Cool. And so why did you get into this business?

John: [00:00:41] I've been doing mergers and acquisitions for about the last 15 years. Uh, started initially working in New York for a couple of different investment banks. And about seven years ago found there was a real gap in the market in terms of, uh, resources for agency owners specifically related to mergers and acquisitions.

So I decided to found Clare Advisors in order to specifically work with boutique agency owners ann the mergers and acquisitions field.

Jason: [00:01:12] I wish you just said that, uh, I got into it to pick up women. Because I keep thinking of there's a movie going, like, what do you do? I've been mergers and acquisitions.

I've always wanted to say that. And now I'm kind of am and that's the kind of…

John: [00:01:25] I was going to say. I think you technically can.

Jason: [00:01:28] Well, but I'm married. So I can't. Let's talk about what are some of the things, if someone's listening and they go one day I want to sell. Jason, I want to sell, like you did in your agency or, or like someone else, what do they need to start preparing?

John: [00:01:49] So there's a number of factors that a buyer would potentially look at in evaluating whether or not they should buy your firm. They should be looking at profit margin specifically. So whether you're kind of making, whether you're consistently making profit and whether your profit is expanding. Revenue growth, obviously buyers want to buy agencies that are growing as opposed to shrinking and scalability, realistically.

It's very common for any deal that happens to specifically have kind of an upfront piece and an earn-out or roll-over equity piece or some piece that's based on value later in the future. And so the important thing to prepare for is that your agency is in a position where you've got a lot of momentum and where you can grow, uh, over the, over the period of the earn-out, um, in order to maximize your valuation.

So you need to really have the structure and the infrastructure in place where you're in a good position to grow.

Jason: [00:02:44] And how big does someone have to be in order to really kind of start thinking about, hey, I want to possibly sell my business?

John: [00:02:54] So there's no predetermined limit in terms of, like I said, in terms of overall value. Firms sell that are two and $3 million of revenue. Firms, obviously sell that or 20, 50, a hundred million dollars of revenue.

So deals happen at all kinds of places in the spectrum of size. The main thing I would consider if I was thinking about selling is specifically, do you have the infrastructure in place? Do you have the right team in place to be able to grow over any earn-out or follow up period? Because there will inevitably be a link between the ultimate value that you get and the ability you have to grow the agency under someone else's ownership.

Jason: [00:03:33] What are some of the criteria that go into valuation outside of profit?

John: [00:03:39] Uh, so the rate of growth, if you're, you know, if you're doubling in size every year, you're certainly going to get a higher valuation than somebody who's growing at, you know, five or 10% or who's flat. I would say the quality of the management team to a certain degree, um, whether you've got that infrastructure and that team in place, and it looks like a team that can really, really scale and really, really grow the business.

The quality of your clients is another one. Uh, buyers obviously prefer retainer-based clients. The world is looking less and less like retainers these days and more like project-based work. But then the quality of the clients becomes really, really important. Is this a client that keeps coming back to you for more and more services? Is there consistency in your clients or are you effectively, you know, recreating your pipeline every three to four months?

Jason: [00:04:26] Gotcha. And a lot of people think there's a threshold on top-line revenue for when to sell like, oh, I'll get to the million mark or is it based on profit? What, what are you seeing?

John: [00:04:39] So the most common question that I get that is a misconception is owner say exactly what you just said, which is I'm going to get to $10 million and then I'm going to sell, I'm going to get to $5 million and then I'm going to sell.

The right time to sell is when you have the most momentum behind the business. So specifically, it's not necessarily that you're at $10 million. Um, it's important to be at $10 million dollars if you think that over the next couple of years, you can grow to 11, 12, 13, and 15, because the thing that will hurt you the most is if you decline after you sell during your earn-out period, that'll financially hurt you.

And so the ideal time to sell isn't when you've kind of just topped out at a particular number. The best time to sell is when you've got the most momentum behind you and the most wind at your back, going into your earn-out period.

Jason: [00:05:31] I've been telling people the best time is when you need the money or you hate the business.

John: [00:05:37] Those are alternatives as well. Yes, I agree.

Jason: [00:05:40] Alright. But the funny thing, I remember reading a stat many years ago, they said one of the most common reasons why to sell a business is when their lease is up. And I read that… because and then I thought about it and I was like, you know, they got something there because the lease is the longest term commitment that you have.

John: [00:06:03] It's certainly a factor that's brought up, especially nowadays of the question of do you have a lease and, just because everybody's working remotely or at least partially remotely, the question of, do you have a lease? How much space is it for? Where is it? And when is it up? That certainly comes up most buyers I know wouldn't make or break their decision based on that one factor, but it is a factor.

Jason: [00:06:23] And which deals do you see most? And let's say we value the agencies under 10 million. Agencies under 10 million is it more an asset purchase or are they buying everything?

John: [00:06:36] So I would say, generally speaking, most buyers want to do asset purchases as opposed to equity purchases, but that's going to vary between buyer and buyer and specific structure.

So I don't think there's, I don't think you can put too much into that as a generalization. It's really going to depend on the individual buyer.

Jason: [00:06:58] Let's get real for a minute. Do you want help scaling your agency so you can scale it faster? Now you might've been following my content for a while and you really wanting to accelerate your agency's growth. And maybe you're just too close to your agency and not sure which areas you really need the most help.

You know, I hear this all the time from a lot of agency owners, and that's why I brought in a new team member to help you figure out your next step. Now we spent the past couple of months working side-by-side, a little too close, and now we're setting up a free strategy session so you can grow and scale your agency faster.

And so I want you to meet Darby.

Darby: [00:07:34] Hey guys, I'm Darby.

Jason: [00:07:35] If you want to walk through a framework for scaling your agency faster, Darby's the guy. He can assess what's going on in your agency and really help you figure out our next step. He'll be candid, he'll be Frank and he'll be brutally honest. Just schedule a time to chat with Darby.

Darby: [00:07:51] That's me.

Jason: [00:07:52] No strings attached. He's ready to meet with you. So book a call at jasonswenk.com/darby. That's jasonswenk.com/darby. Darby will spend a little time getting to know you, your agency, your goals together. You'll figure out your next steps for scaling your agency faster checkout and wait for Darby.

Darby: [00:08:17] Uh, am I allowed to talk now?

Jason: [00:08:19] You can book a call with Darby. Just go to jasonswenk.com/darby and…

Darby: [00:08:25] Have a Swenk day.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:08:19] And I know when our agency is buying agencies we set a certain kind of requirement. You have to be close to or well, over the million in EBITDA because that's when the multiples really kinda start going up. I, I've always seen kind of anything under that the multiples are really fairly low. Are you seeing the same thing?

John: [00:08:56] It varies a little bit, depending on the specifics of the deal and the structure. I wouldn't generally say the multiples are… Generally larger firms get larger multiples, that's a fair generalization to make, but it really depends on the structure. If you are a smaller firm, you can partner with somebody and they can subsequently give you a tremendous amount of business because you do a capability that they don't do.

Talk about a social media or a digital agency kind of partnering with a PR firm as an example, if one can open up their client lists to all those services, maybe technically they're selling for a lower multiple than a much larger firm would get. But if they're able to really expand their revenue and expand their profitability in a way that they couldn't do on their own, regardless of kind of where the multiples fall, that's probably a deal that maximizes consideration for the seller.

So generally it's true, but it's, it really depends on the structure more specifically.

Jason: [00:09:53] And let's talk about what's the most common structure for something like that.

John: [00:09:57] Sure. So the typical one that you see in the market is like a three or five-year outs where you get a portion of cash consideration at close. Then there's either some kind of rollover equity or some kind of earn out over a three to five-year period.

You actually, as a seller, want a longer earn-out period, if you can do it, if you're, if the timeframe works for you, because it gives you more opportunities to grow, uh. If you have a very short earn-out period, you know, let's say 12 months and let's say COVID happens, or let's say there's a dramatic downturn in the economy, or you lose a client. It's really hard to make up that lost revenue in that lost profitability.

Having an earn-out for at least a couple of years or a few years, at least gives you a couple of opportunities in the event anything goes wrong to subsequently build back up and still try to maximize your valuation.

Jason: [00:10:47] Yeah. And I always tell everybody, you know, like the cool thing we do at Republics is where there's no timeframe on there now. It’s just when you hit it, you hit it.

And we want you to hit it. Where, when I went through, I did well, but I could have done, I lost millions in the earn-out because someone didn't tell me to think about a longer-term earn-out. And so when we were sold for the second time, that was nine months later, that sped up and it was just, it was over.

I was like, oh, wow, you douchebags sold a day after I went out of the window. That wasn't designed, was it? Um, but, uh, yeah, it was.

John: [00:11:27] Your model that you're talking about with no timeframe that looks a little bit more like what you would see from… It, it's a little bit on the unique side. I would say there's normally a defined timeframe just because there's, you know, kind of investment criteria that has to be made depending on who the buyer is.

So your model's a little bit different. It feels a little bit more like, it looks a little bit more like it's a partnership a little bit more like kind of they're rolling footy. So it's not something I've never heard of, but it's certainly more unique in the market.

Jason: [00:11:55] Yeah. Well, I mean, we look at it as we want it to be a win-win, you know, it's not, we don't want to… And, and the thing too is like, when we put the requirements on who we buy, a lot of people think oh, the market turned because of COVID, which it didn't, it actually went up. But there were thinking in the very beginning, oh, I'm going to take advantage of all these people that are losing and going down.

And I'm like, we don't want to buy agencies that are going on the down projectory. We want them to be going up so that they can speed up our, you know, success. And then we can go do the things that we really want.

John: [00:12:30] And if you buy somebody that's in a negative position or that's in a really, really desperate position, you're really not getting, you're truly not getting partnership from that owner. Realistically, that owner is looking to cash out, looking to leave. It’s not… Yeah. And it's just not a good situation for them either. So it's hard to make those situations work.

Jason: [00:12:52] Yeah. I mean, they're just, they're an anchor dragging the whole boat down and, uh, I’d just cut the line and be like, you can sync.

For the agency side. Now, if you're sinking, you can come to us and we can help you out on the consulting and you can be around amazing agency owners. But, um, let me ask you this. What is the biggest multiple you've seen for an agency?

John: [00:13:18] That's hard to say…

Jason: [00:13:20] Just on evaluation and, and I'll preface this because like you talk about different deal structures. Most people that are listening, if you think the valuation is the amount of cash you're getting, you should think again, that's just the valuation.

You'll get maybe some cash. Like, you know, a lot of times what we'll do at Republics, we'll do 50% cash sometimes a little bit more. But it depends on situations, but there's a lot of situations I've seen where people are like no cash upfront. We'll give you the valuation, whatever you want. But that doesn't mean anything.

John: [00:13:54] So the way that buyers generally approach valuation is ultimately it's gotta be a win-win for the buyer as well. Buyers are not in the business of giving away money just for the sake of giving away money. So there has to be some type of alignment between the buyer and the seller.

If you take a look at some of the publicly traded holding companies, as an example, when they buy firms, they typically would want those deals to be a creative to them. Meaning that when that profitability comes over to their publicly traded stock, they get more value for it than they paid for. What that generally means is that they should be buying companies at some type of discount of multiple to what they're trading at in the market.

So if you've got a publicly-traded marketing holding company and is trading at 14 times earnings or 15 times earnings, or, you know, something of that nature, most likely they're not going to be buying firms for, or be willing to buy firms for that multiple, because it's basically, you know, they're taking $2 over here and then moving $2 over there. It doesn't really add any value for them.

So they'll probably buy at a significant discount to that. So, If you've got a buyer, who's, who's a publicly-traded company and they're trading at 15 times, you probably, you should probably should expect your valuation potentially depending on the specifics of your company to be somewhat of a discount from that, either a high single-digit or low double-digit, depending on the buyer and depending on the circumstances.

Jason: [00:15:22] Well, this has all been amazing, John, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit agencies listening?

John: [00:15:29] I think that the, the only other thing that I would say that is relatively unique about this particular time period, that we're having this conversation in right now, post-COVID and just kind of the economic factors that they are.

It's a very active market right now. Uh, there's a lot of companies that are for demographic reasons you have a lot of owners who are thinking of potentially selling now. You have really, really low-interest rates. So cash is really, really easy to come by. A lot of companies have excess working capital on their balance sheets because of because you know, of either PPP loans or because of, you know, some of the financial stimulus that's been in the market and they've actually done pretty well through that period.

You potentially have capital gains tax rates going to increase in some point in the relatively near future. And so it's a fairly active market right now. Um, and if someone's thinking about potentially selling, I would recommend to them that they give it very serious consideration because there's a lot of people looking for companies right now. There's a lot of… the landscape is changing and people are looking for different capabilities than they were a few years ago as you mentioned earlier, is that some companies did really well during COVID.

And, um, so it's just a very dynamic market right now, so if anybody's thinking of selling in the next couple of years, I would say that they should probably take some of those factors into consideration. And effectively, uh, not necessarily sell sooner than they want to, but, um, it's, it's definitely a time to be thinking about that if you're, if you're planning on selling in the next three to five years.

Jason: [00:16:59] Awesome. What's a website people can go and check you out?

John: [00:17:02] Uh, our website is Claire, claireadvisors.com. So we're at Clair Advisors and you can, uh, you can find us there any time.

Jason: [00:17:10] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, John, for coming on the show.

And if you guys are interested in selling your agency and maybe, you know, you want to get my advice, or maybe you want us to even buy you, I want you to go to jasonswenk.com/sellagency and just a quick little form. And then if we think, uh, we can help you out or position you to a certain buyer, uh we'll we'll help you with that.

So go to jasonswenk.com/sellagency. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Do_You_Want_to_Sell_Your_Digital_Agency_in_3-5_Years_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

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