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When was the last time you raised your prices? Do you know your profitability on each of your clients? If you haven’t raised your prices for legacy clients in a while, you’re probably losing thousands of dollars of revenue. Fear of increasing prices is a very common issue for agency owners. However, overcoming that fear might be easier than you think once you get out of your own head.

As Agency Scale Specialist on our team, Darby Copenhaver talks with hundreds of agency owners and finds that one of the most common fears is raising prices. It is a hard conversation that you should have with yourself and your clients. If you are transparent and communicate your value it will never come as a surprise.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Agency owners’ fears around raising their prices.
  • Understanding and communicating your agency’s value.
  • Good systems to raise your prices and be more profitable.

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2 Most Common Fears Around Raising Agency Prices

Darby spends a lot of time helping agency owners get to the next level and says many of them are scared to raise their prices. For the most part, they seem to be fine with raising prices for new clients but stop themselves from increasing for existing clients. They will typically justify the decision by saying those clients helped them get to where they are now. However, that is like not taking credit for all the work you’ve done to grow the agency.

  1. Loyalty to Legacy Clients - As an agency owner, you may feel a certain sense of loyalty to your oldest clients. They’ve probably been with the agency for years and it’s logical that you want to continue that relationship. You may also believe in order to raise prices, you need to provide additional value. However, if you’ve been working with a client for five years you should consider that you are most likely much better at what you do after five years of experience. Those clients are now getting a better quality of services and strategy for what they were paying five years ago. This is not how it works in any other industry.
  2. Balancing Capacity and Pricing - Another big challenge agencies face is bandwidth. They find it hard to keep up with fulfillment and delivery as the agency grows. By not raising your prices, you’re handcuffing yourself to a client at a discounted rate. Meanwhile, you’re bringing in new clients at higher prices. It will take you the same amount of time, effort, and energy to complete the tasks for the legacy clients as for a new client. Basically, you won’t have the time and bandwidth to bring on more new clients paying the right price. In this sense, your loyalty is getting in the way of your growth.

Understand and Communicate Your Agency’s Value

Darby usually asks agency owners if they are effectively measuring and communicating client success frequently enough. It is commonly a question that takes agency owners a few minutes to answer and very few have a good answer.

Communicating client success can be a challenge depending on the type of agency. To start, focus on asking the right questions. You should really know what the client cares about from your onboarding process. This way, you can know what to measure for success.

If you’re doing that part correctly and getting it right from the beginning then you’re setting yourself up for success. You’ll be able to relate back to them the results that you’re getting in a matter that they know, understand, and care about.

Communicating the value you’re providing to clients is also crucial when it comes to the team. Your team should understand the value of their work for each client and why you charge what you charge. If you’re not communicating value efficiently to your team then you’re probably not communicating it to your client either.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

3 Good Systems For Raising Agency Prices

  • Have a healthy sales pipeline. You have to have predictability so you can be selective. If you’re raising prices for new clients coming in, you should have new opportunities lining up right behind them in case you need to rethink your pricing strategy. At the end of the day, it’s an experiment, so make sure you have a plethora of opportunities so you’re not just relying on the few you have in front of you.
  • Include price as part of your success conversations. Part of the success conversations you should be having with clients needs to be laying the ground for upcoming price increases. Talk about what you’re investing in new technology, talent, training, etc. In short, all the things the "behind the scenes" things they don’t see but are contributing toward getting them more effective results.
  • Start with the right mindset and expectations. Be prepared to lose clients as a trade off for more profitable ones. Expect that you may lose a few legacy clients and set the new pricing in a way that you'll be OK when that happens. Digital Agency Elite Mastermind members have said after getting the courage to double their prices and preparing to lose a few clients they ended up not losing any because their clients actually expected the price increase.

Training Agency Clients to Expect Price Increases

This is something that Jason and Darby discuss with mastermind members all the time. It’s part of building a relationship with your clients. You don’t go for the long-term, hard sell right away before you gain their trust. It’s a lot to ask someone to enter a long-term commitment, like a retainer, solely based on case studies and past successes. Instead, start with a foot-in-the-door offering.  Build a relationship, show some results and some wins which naturally lead to talking about a long-term commitment like a larger project or retainer work.

By doing that, you’re already building a relationship and trust where you’re no longer competing for price. You’ve proven you can get the results you promised and the price won’t matter. It also won’t be difficult to justify because there is now a foundation and an understanding of the value you bring to their company.

Other than that, once there is a relationship you should train your clients to expect a price increase at least once a year. If there are big gaps of time between raises then you're training them to see it as a rare occurrence.

By contrast, if each year you raise a percentage based on inflation and upgrades and you’ve already established communication with them where they understand the results you’ve gotten for them, they won’t question it.

Check out a Foot In the Door Framework with 90% Close Rate:  https://jasonswenk.com/foot-in-the-door

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.

Want more brilliant Agency Scaling Advice from Darby?

Check out one of his other interviews  or book a blueprint call with him and get a plan specific to your agency's scaling needs.

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

Has your agency struggled through tough times? Could you pivot quickly if necessary? Back in 2020 many businesses, including digital agencies, were scrambling to adapt during the covid pandemic. Today’s guest got her agency to the other side and almost back at pre-pandemic revenue. To do that, she put together a series of guiding principles her agency team sticks by as they search for ways to carry on. She shares lessons on why building leaders and leveling up leads to amazing agency growth.

Robin Blanchette is the founder and CEO of Norton Creative, an agency that specializes in the restaurant industry. With a niche like restaurant hospitality, her clients were particularly affected by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Many in her situation tried different approached and found what worked for them. For her, it was 50% about diversifying and 50% digging deeper into her niche.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How the pandemic affected her business.
  • The principles that kept her team afloat.
  • The importance of building leaders.

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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Choosing an Agency Niche Based on Experience and Passion

Robin was not an agency person by nature. She worked for an agency once in her 20s and never wanted to do it again. She had a background on the client side so as CMO and Media Director got to work on all the pieces of running marketing for restaurants and developed a real love for that industry.

Although she really enjoyed this work, she was also a single mother of small children. She was looking for something that would allow her to be more present in her kids’ lives. She naïvely thought running her own company would allow her that time and the agency was born from the idea.

Choosing a niche was a no-brainer because Robin already had a background in the restaurant industry. That’s where her heart is and what she is drawn to. Could she sell other things if necessary? Yes, but that’s where her expertise is and where she shines. Since then, they’ve worked with about 150 restaurant brands whether for projects or partnerships.

Adapting Your Agency Model In a Downturned Economy

In early 2020, most of Robin's clients were in the restaurant business and were closing due to the lockdowns. She had the worst week of her career as many clients couldn’t pay. Many were laying off staff and even she had to let go of some employees. It was a tough time, but one of the things she remembers is everyone's level of compassion and understanding. Even laid-off employees understood the decision and Robin really felt a sense of community in those moments.

Thankfully, not every client had to shut down; many changed their model to drive through and delivery and kept going. A lot of people used creative measures and figured out how to stay in business during those months. This helped Robin and her team stay afloat and keep fighting as well.

Some may think the pandemic proves that choosing a niche could be a negative. And back in 2020, Jason advised mastermind members to dedicate 50% of their efforts to continue to support their industries and 50% of their resources to explore new industries that were thriving with the new events.

For her part, Robin decided to go even deeper into the restaurant industry. They did a lot of pro bono work and provided support to their clients. They also did a ton of branding work for digital businesses, which they now continue to do for bigger brands. All in all, they did some work outside of their niche while also digging even deeper into their industry kept them afloat in these difficult times.

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4 Guiding Principles for Getting the Agency Team Through Tough Times

The pandemic was certainly a hard time for many businesses. Agency owners had to get creative and look for new opportunities to get their agency past these difficulties. Like many, Robin did think of shutting down at some point. After all, she didn’t have to answer to shareholders. However, her team was looking to her for leadership. Inspired by them, she decided to not give up and figure out what was next for the agency.

Everyone had to be focused and working, so she created these 4 guiding principles:

  1. Focus on what you can control. Don't waste time or energy on things you can't control. Instead of worrying about the unknowns, what do you know to be true and how can you use it to your benefit?
  2. Get comfortable getting uncomfortable. Every member of the team needs to be flexible and take on new tasks and truly be a team player, even when something is a little outside their comfort zone.
  3. Assume positive intent. The uncertainty of a health crisis and changing economy is unsettling but international positivity is the only way to get through it.
  4. Don’t waste the crisis. Think about how to leverage the forced changes into ways of leveling up or renewing the business.

Leveling Up & Building Leadership

Robin’s principles for the pandemic are values any agency owner can implement at any time. You don’t need a global crisis for your team to understand the agency’s mission, vision, and values. When you have guiding principles, your team feels empowered to make decisions that meet the guidelines you've established.

Robin believes the measure of success for her guiding principles is the fact that the agency made it through and returned to their pre-pandemic revenue. Those principles helped not only to grow the agency but also to build leaders in the organization.

Coming out of the pandemic also helped her commit to leveling up in every way. It’s something her agency is applying to talent, and partners. She took this opportunity to turn into the best version of herself, which it’s really something we should always strive to do.

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.


Would you like to create more freedom in your agency? How can you spend less time making decisions? How can you make the right decisions to grow your agency without too much emotion or personal bias? It's time to improve your decision-making skills and spend less time on small agency tasks. Today’s expert uses science to explain how you can greatly improve your decision-making skills in order to create the role you really want within your agency. All you need is discipline and the right framework to keep yourself accountable.

Dr. Frederic Bahnson is a surgeon who found a new career path in coaching. Initially, he needed information on how to make a career decision and found valuable resources that helped him not only with his career but with other aspects of his life. He decided to share those tools and created his own framework, which he now shares in his book Better Than Destiny.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why struggles with decision-making could start with your ego.
  • 3-step framework for making better decisions
  • How to know when it's time to replace yourself in daily agency operations.

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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The Process and Skill of Decision-Making

As much as we theorize about decisions, we can all fall into these same mistakes again. Decision-making is a skill and as such, you’ll get better with practice. You develop a framework, evaluate how you’re doing with it, get feedback, and observe the results about why something might have gone wrong. Sometimes you can attribute a bad outcome to bad luck.

You can’t control everything, but always make sure to assess the results you get from implementing the decision-making process. Pay attention to how you go about making important decisions and see if it’s effective, and if not, go back and revise. The important thing is to have a process.

Being Honest and Self Aware Making Decisions for Your Agency

You can approach decision-making from many angles. Dr. Bahnson encourages us to remember we all have biases and blind spots. You may have tendencies to go for things that will be beneficial in the short term but not so much in the long term. There are systematic ways in which we make decisions that are not in our best interest or fail to follow through with the decisions we’ve made.

We find ways to justify this to ourselves but if we were honest we could identify the patterns of how we consistently fail to make the best decision or double down on a bad decision. We fool ourselves into thinking we can’t give up on a project because we’ve already invested so much in it. You may think giving up is admitting the resources you poured into something are really lost. That leads to you digging and digging deeper into a hole, ultimately not where you want to be.

Is Your Ego Playing a Role in Making the Right Decision?

Some of it is ego and some of it is just your ego tripping you up into thinking you’re being objective. You think you understand yourself well enough not to worry about biases. Recognizing your own biases when you’re calm does not mean they won’t be a problem for you. That perspective disappears once you’re in the heat of the moment. You start to make decisions based on your emotional reaction or the status quo and not consider that you’re being affected by your blind spots. This is something that we can much sooner recognize in another person than in ourselves, which is where our ego comes into play.

Should we completely remove emotion from the equation when making an important decision?

No, Dr. Bahnson does not recommend that. Understanding how we feel about something is an important part of the decision-making process. The idea is to use emotion as a piece of information but it shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat when we’re making a decision. One way to do that is to have a process you can implement as a series of steps to making a sound decision.

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3 Step Framework to Making Better Decisions

  1. Decide how much time, effort, and resources are worth spending on a particular decision. Don’t fall into the trap of small decisions when you’re building your agency. Otherwise, you may end up spending too much time on things like what color to paint the walls. It’s not that the details don’t matter, just not so much if you’re doing it at the expense of strategy.
  2. Think about what’s important to you when it comes to a particular decision. People approach different decisions in different ways depending on their priorities. What are your priorities and how much of a role do they play in the decision you're making?
  3. Consider your options and narrow them down to a few viable ones. If you determine the decision is in fact important and you need to spend time on it, figure out how to thin out your options by identifying a top few that you’ll spend time researching. It becomes less overwhelming when you have a few concrete options to consider.

Deciding When to Step Out of Daily Agency Operations

A common decision agency owners face at some point is when to step out of daily operations. It is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make for your agency to start empowering your team and grow. You need to be clear on the direction you want to take your agency and which skills you personally bring to the table. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll be able to identify tasks someone else could be doing much more efficiently so you can focus on agency growth.

As he details in his framework, Dr. Bahnson suggests that you start by recognizing all the little things that you’re spending time on, like making follow-up customer calls. Whatever it is, if it’s taking up more time than building your strategy then you should ask yourself if you’re better off paying someone to do that. That person would at least be able to put 100% of their attention on those tasks. You shouldn’t spend more time on the day-to-day operations than on the big initiatives for your agency. Instead, try to focus on things that will matter two or three years down the road.

Why Do People Struggle So Much With Delegating?

It requires a certain level of humility to recognize you might like how you do something but someone else could do a much better job. It can be hard to admit for an agency owner who built their business from scratch. However, it is very likely someone who doesn’t do it exactly your way could actually get better results doing it their way.

When is it time to start looking to replace yourself in some agency tasks? When you assess how you’re spending your time and realize you’re focusing too much and spending too much time on small tasks. If you’re spending more time on a three-day framework than you are on three-year planning and strategy, it’s time for a change.

Decision-Making for Agency Owners

Similar to Dr. Bahnson’s framework, Jason advises mastermind members to consider two things when they are making a decision:

  • Is it going to save you time?
  • Is it going to give you freedom?

If you want your time and freedom to be a priority when it comes to agency decisions, then it could be useful to create rules and make decisions based on the rules. Giving yourself rules around decision-making is a good way to keep yourself accountable. If it’s well thought out, these rules will be easy to follow and something you can evaluate and update.

Giving yourself a goal with rules will force you to focus on what truly matters. You just need to be honest about the amount of time and energy a decision is worth. Dr. Bahnson says a good rule of thumb is asking yourself -- how much will that decision matter in three days, three months, and three years from now?

Growing an agency, you need to focus on the three-year term. You shouldn’t be focusing on the three-day horizon. You won’t have the energy to focus on both and do it well.

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: 3-Steps_To_Improve_Decision-Making_and_Create_Freedom_In_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

What is the life cycle of a video marketing agency? How can you transition from accidental agency owner to something else in order to fulfill your goals? What does life look like after you sell your video marketing agency? Today’s guest hadn’t seriously considered selling until he stepped back to realize the bigger picture. He remembered his original goals and realized there were other projects he wanted to focus on. This guest shares the way he started and grew his agency into something a team member actually wanted to buy. He also shares how he created a smooth transition for the buyer and decided what is next in his entrepreneurial journey.

Doug Dibert is the founder and creator of Magnfi, a video software platform, and also the founder of Crossing River, the video marketing agency he recently sold. Like most agency owners, he fell into the business by accident when he started making wedding videos and soon turned that into a business. However, as Doug grew his agency he started thinking about selling and pursuing his filmmaking passion.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to differentiate your video marketing agency.
  • Knowing how and when to sell your agency.
  • Finding the right buyer for your agency might be easier than you think.

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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Starting a Video Marketing Agency

Doug went to film school and actually started using the school’s equipment to do paid jobs. He mostly worked filming weddings and got inspiration from a class on documentaries to try to apply those techniques to his wedding videos. So he took the material he filmed at one of those weddings and made a small trailer video. He posted it to social media and went to sleep. The next morning, he had thousands of views, shares, and messages from brides asking if he could do the same for their wedding. After a while, he also started getting requests from businesses that wanted to invest in video marketing.

This is how the agency was born. They produced videos for businesses all over the world and focused on small to medium-sized businesses. Then the '08 recession hit and the agency lost all its marketing clients. Thankfully, the wedding video business stayed strong so the agency stayed afloat and also started to do videos for social media.

Video is such an important tool and every company should utilize it. Back then, Doug had a hard time standing out among big video production companies. He thought about how to differentiate himself and concluded that instead of being a video production company they would focus on video marketing strategy. Their services went beyond creating video content. It included helping clients optimize their YouTube channels and animate their logos. They especially focused on creating content around the client’s strategic goals. The word got out and they became the go-to video marketing agency for businesses.

Creating a Platform to Systematize Video Content Creation

Back in 2015, Doug rejected a few clients who wanted to film videos on their phones and send them to the agency to be turned into professional-looking video content. He didn’t see the potential at the time. Later Doug realized 90% of his clients wanted videos shot and edited the same way. He got the idea to create a platform to systematize video content creation.

Simple videos like testimonials, “about me” videos and expert tips are the core of what every business needs to see some real growth. With this in mind, Doug set out to create this platform for low-cost video content creation. His goal was to satisfy 90% of clients' needs and, in case they wanted something more personalized, they would pay an extra fee for those services.

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Seeing the Bigger Picture and Deciding to Sell Your Agency

Doug’s big goal when he started was to make movies. The opportunities to create videos for companies came by chance and the agency started to grow. He had people willing to invest in him as an entrepreneur who wanted to see if he was able to grow a business, so he focused on that.

The shift in his mentality came from having a business coach who helped him see the bigger picture. He learned you have to continuously open your mind to new possibilities or you will remain stagnant. When his coach realized he wanted to make movies, she asked “why not next year?” He had been thinking about growing the agency more and delaying selling a bit longer. However, thanks to his coach he started thinking --  “why not next year?”

Back then he was stuck being the hands-on agency owner who wanted to do everything. This shift encouraged him to start hiring people to replace himself and focus on what he did really well. He hired amazing talent, built a great team, and started to focus on the business aspect of the agency instead of the creative aspect.

Finding the Right Buyer Might Be Easier Than You Think

In his case, Doug had no strategic team or advisors come in and help him prepare to sell. It was actually one of his editors who expressed interest in buying the agency. After looking into the agency’s recurring revenue, clients, assets, etc, the editor decided to buy. They also paid cash, so there was no finance clause or several payments over a period of time. In the end, the entire process from the conversation to selling the agency took about 3 months.

Doug also mentioned he was building a video editing platform and agreed to refer video production clients to the agency. In the end, he ended up staying at the agency for another year. He presented the new owner as his new partner so he could start building relationships with the clients.

Continuing his work at the agency and having other projects also helped Doug find purpose and fulfillment. Overall, the transition after selling your agency can be hard. You may expect to feel euphoric and end up thinking “what do I do now?” This is why you should always dedicate time to think about your life after the sale. Do you want to travel and rest? Maybe start another business? Or just focus on other projects? Whatever it is, knowing that there’s something else will help you avoid the emotional fallout that comes right after selling your agency.

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.


Is your agency purpose-driven? A shared purpose is something your employees will rally around and identify with. It is critical to create a sense of belonging and have their buy-in. Today’s guest built a successful agency with a great culture his employees really appreciated. When he exited the agency, he felt so inspired by the outpour of messages from those impacted by its culture that he decided to write a book on creating an agency with a purpose and a soul.

Ralf Specht is an author and business leader dedicated to making soulless companies a thing of the past. As the CEO of a global digital agency, he focused on building a culture focused on connecting the different teams. Years later, he received many messages thanking him for the agency culture he had created.

In this episode we’ll discuss:

  • His proven framework for building culture.
  • Why you should have a purpose if you want a successful agency.
  • How he made culture a hard fact.

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 Global Agency

When Ralf accepted the challenge of creating a global agency, it started with offices in four countries and 80 people. It was certainly a challenge but he remembers it as the highlight of his career. He focused on creating a sense of belonging and a culture that really motivates employees.

All companies should have a purpose and a soul and that should come before any revenue goal you may have. You should also have core values that speak to the behavior you want to see in your agency. This will be the way to establish yourself and really start growing.

By the time he left years later, Ralf had grown the agency to 19 offices and 1200 people. When he retired, he received many messages thanking him for the culture he had created for the agency. He felt this message was too valuable to keep it to himself, so he was inspired to write Building Corporate Soul and Beyond The Startup.

3-Step Framework for Building a Great Agency Culture

Hiring based on beliefs, attitudes, and soft skills are buzzwords that get thrown around a lot these days. In their beginnings, Ralf and his partners sat down to think about the culture and values they wanted to see in their agency. At first, they set out to write a list of the behaviors they wanted to see in the agency. This proved to be difficult so they changed their approach to list the behaviors they did NOT want to see. It was easy starting from there and it also helped them shape an idea of who they wanted to become.

This exercise eventually led them to figure out their purpose. It’s an exercise he recommends to all agency owners because answering the question “why are you here?” will be crucial to implementing this framework:

  1. Shared Purpose (Being): We’ve been discussing purpose in the agency world for years. However, Ralf believes that if the end game of a purpose conversation is a great PowerPoint deck, then you achieve nothing. He prefers to talk about shared purpose, which has to be a.) shared by the company’s leadership and b.) shared with all stakeholders.
  2. Shared Understanding (Believing): This includes all strategic elements like the mission, vision, and values plus an often overlooked fourth element “spirit.” For Ralf, spirit speaks to the intended company culture. As the agency leader, what sort of culture do you want to see in the organization?
  3. Shared Behaviors (Belonging): Studies show that the number one reason why employees are now leaving their workplaces in spades is that they don’t have a sense of belonging. The real work will start after you have shared purpose and shared understanding defined on paper. Up to that point, it is all about strategic thinking. Now you have to actually make sure that the behaviors in your agency reflect what you wrote to establish shared behaviors.

Agencies are not any different than any other company in the sense that they very much need to implement these principles as much as they would recommend their clients to do so.

Creating Consistent Culture Across Different Agency Offices

Ralf’s agency started as a global agency, which posed the challenge of building a culture where the different teams felt part of a whole. To address this, he and his partners enforced a single P&L mindset and a mantra of better, faster, cheaper, with an emphasis on better always being #1. With that, everything within the organization was set up to support collaboration rather than competition between offices. They also designed complementary roles across the four offices. Therefore, the offices had to work together or they would not be able to deliver on the various client briefs.

As to the belonging element, Ralf believes if a CEO tells you his agency has a soul, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. If you want to know whether or not a company has a soul and a great culture you don’t need to ask the CEO. You should ask the employees  - they are the soul of the organization.

This is why he implemented a formal evaluation structure four times a year. Under this structure, every manager talked to their team to understand what mattered to them. This evaluation included which parts of the company worked for them and which didn’t. Those evaluations included a score and financial benefit depending on the score and worked very well for them.

Finally, they implemented exchange programs to encourage better communication between the different offices. This way, employees had the opportunity to make connections and understand other work cultures.

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A Great Culture Gets You Through Difficult Times

In his book, Ralf studies cases of companies that do culture right. There’s so much to learn from companies like Airbnb and Salesforce that place belonging at the center of their operations. As we know, culture really shows when things get difficult. It’s always easy when things are going well and everybody feels good. However, not every company has a culture that can get them through the bad days.

Airbnb gave a great example during the pandemic when the hospitality industry went through some really difficult times. You may not know that this company had to let go of 25% of its workforce. This is because they did it the right way. We all learned of similar cases where the companies, unfortunately, did everything wrong (like firing hundreds of employees via a Zoom call) and the whole world knew within a few hours.

Airbnb had been honest with its staff since the beginning of the pandemic. It was unknown territory for everyone, after all. They sent several memos throughout the year with updates and finally sent a written communication notifying them of their decision and detailing their reasons.

The main reasons this was such a great example in protecting culture through difficult times is:

  1. The company made sure the people who had to leave didn’t leave with a trauma.
  2. Those who stayed understood those who were leaving were a critical part of the company’s success thus far.
  3. The people who had to leave received a lot of support from the company.

All in all, it was a master class in ensuring that your company’s soul remained intact after such a difficult time.

Why Internal Culture is #1 in an Agency's Reputation

When we talk about culture, there is this perception we’re talking about an airy and soft thing. Ralf made it a hard fact. This is why his book contains real-life examples of companies with souls. Employee votes really matter more than anything else when it comes to the companies’ soul index. When it comes to agencies, they are companies like any others and should strive to have strong cultures.

However, it is common to see an agency’s value propositions do not match its external value propositions, which are usually about what they do for their clients. In fact, very often there is no internal value proposition. There should be one and it should be in sync with the company’s external value proposition. Studies indicate that internal culture is one of the most important factors of a company’s reputation. You can’t fake it. It has to be real and it starts with a shared purpose.

To create a sense of belonging:

  • Ask yourself, what does it feel like to belong in your agency?
  • How can you create belonging and help others feel like they belong there?

Some people want to build a $100 million agency and have no purpose beyond that. As someone who’s run a very successful 8-figure agency, Ralf says you don’t get to that level of success without a purpose. Remember without a purpose and something they can get behind employees will not feel identified with the company or feel empowered to make decisions. This way, the company will never run without you, which should eventually be one of your goals.

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_Your_Agency_Needs_a_Soul_in_Order_to_Maintain_Great_Culture.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Do you want to scale your agency but fear growing too fast? Today’s guest was part of the exponential growth of a big-name agency and never thought he want to work in the agency business as a result. However, he took the lessons learned from that experience and grew his own agency making sure to work on what he loves and build a team around what he doesn’t.

Hernan Vazquez is the co-founder of Scale Driven, a digital agency that helps clients develop high-level marketing strategies that generate revenue at scale. He was part of the success of Frank Kern's agency and its eventual failure when they grew too much, too fast. . He later took those lessons to start implementing the benefits of developing your own brand to grow your agency faster.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why you should do what you like and hire for what you don't.
  • Why it's normal to question owning an agency.
  • Lesson learned from fast, exponential growth.

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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Hernan has been in the digital agency business for the past 14 years. Throughout his career, he always did media buying, SEO, and paid media work for a few clients. He was also the marketing director on the client side for several brands.

At one point, when he was feeling burned out from all the work, Hernan sat down and wrote out the amount of time spent on each job, the revenue per hour it brought him, and the fulfillment he got from each. In the end, agency work was the most profitable and fulfilling. So he decided to go all-in and the agency went from being an afterthought to being his sole focus.

Do What You Like and Build a Team Around What You Don’t

Hernan has built several teams for agencies and he has always been involved in every aspect, from operations to marketing. However, those experiences have helped him realize he does not enjoy the operations portion of the business as much. If he were to start over, he would hire leaders faster.

Oftentimes, agency owners are a bit cautious when it comes to starting to fill roles in the agency. This is commonly out of fear they won’t sustain the business enough to make payroll. This was certainly the case for Hernan, but now he realizes there are creative ways to compensate and motivate employees independent of revenue and cash flow.

For instance, he later hired someone in charge of recruiting and developing new talent. He offered that person a percentage of revenue and they accepted. He is now building a sales team and the sales director was offered a similar deal. As he has learned, you don’t necessarily need cash flow to afford those salaries; you just need the right people who share your vision and can maintain mutual trust for building the agency.

Hiring people who excel in areas where you don't allow you more time to focus on the things you truly enjoy. Being self-aware of what you like and are good at is the key to knowing what pieces you can delegate, eliminate or hire for.

It's Normal to Question Owning an Agency

Agency owners can get to a point where they are working on things they don’t like and feel exhausted. Many feel like prisoners to the agency they've built and this is typically when they start looking for a way out.

For Hernan, he was working as Frank Kern’s main ad guy and then transitioned into the role of CMO. He ran ads for 30+ clients and also did some coaching for Frank's students. When the agency started to grow, he also had to hire media buyers and train them. However, when Frank partnered with Grant Cardone and the agency saw exponential growth, going from 30+ clients to 220+ clients in eight months was a huge adjustment.

The team went from a handful of people to a staff of more than 60. They were also getting a lot of different types of clients, which is not what they were used to. The problem with explosive growth was, that although the revenue and demand were there and they were hiring people to keep up with the demand, they just couldn’t catch up to the demand operationally.

Hernan was stuck hiring and training a lot more media buyers and handling the ads for many more clients while also running the marketing for his own agency. He understandably ended up burned out and wanting an exit from the agency world.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Lessons Learned From Fast, Exponential Growth

After a year of feeling burnt out, Hernan observed other agency owners who really enjoyed the work. “What are they doing differently?” he thought. The difference was they were operating in their area of expertise.

Hernan is a marketing guy who really enjoyed that aspect of the business but got stuck deep in operations. That’s why he no longer enjoyed the work. He thought if he could just rebuild that concept of the agency on his own terms and without compromising on the things that he didn’t like to do, it would work.

One of the things he learned was it’s not about having an endless supply of clients but about having the right clients. They were at one point taking anyone and everyone and servicing all types of companies from webinar funnels to car dealerships. He knows now, it's better to grow slow, find what you're best at and be an expert in one area.

If you build a system, it will get you enough potential clients so that you can pick and choose, you’d guarantee that

  1. You’ll only do the work that you can deliver on.
  2. You can charge the right amount.
  3. It won’t take too much time.

Some agency owners fixate on building a big agency they're willing to sacrifice anything for it. They’ll end up 60  years old,  realizing life passed them by and they didn’t enjoy it.

The Importance of Creating a Personal Brand

For agency owners, creating your own brand is as important as growing your agency's brand. It is the best way to turn on the faucet and bring in the people you need. Of course, the goal isn't bringing in more clients than your team can handle but rather being able to pick and choose the clients you want to work with.

Hernan and his team have been working on rebuilding his personal brand. After being on both sides of the equation, he sees having benefit of hiring for a role that puts a lot of value and brings in clients. Now he’s starting to apply this and it is impacting the business on many levels. As expected, they get a lot more people wanting to work with them, but they are also very motivated from the start and they stay longer.

His message for agency owners is doubling down on content and putting advertising dollars behind that content for your ideal demographic. This is the #1 strategy that has a long-lasting impact on your business.

For the 3 Golden Rules on Scaling and more on scaling your agency, click here to be redirected to Hernan's page.

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_Avoid_a_Growth_Explosion_and_Enjoy_Agency_Life_Instead.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Are you setting up the processes you’ll need to sell your agency one day? How would you go about weeding out the red flags to identify the right buyer? Today’s guest started his agency at 25 and didn’t think he’d ever want to sell. The pandemic made him reconsider, but he needed to find the right buyer. Someone that would benefit his clients, his team, and allow him to still be a part of his agency's future.

Aaron Levenstadt was working at Google when he started offering SEO consultancy services to referred clients. When some of them asked for on-going support, he started Pedestal Search. His agency focuses on helping businesses drive more productive traffic from search engines to their websites or stores. Now, years later, he found the right buyer and continues to be a part of his agency’s growth.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How he decided to sell.
  • Red flags in possible buyers.
  • How to identify the right buyer for 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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A Lesson on Accelerating Agency Growth Early-On

Aaron started his agency charging $6K a month for SEO and analytics services, which was great for a new business. He believed rushing to scale too fast could affect his ability to provide a good service. It took him 6-7 years to get over the $1 million mark.

There were many lessons involved over the years of that agency growth process. One big lesson was learning how to explain what they do as an agency. Part of niching and finding your audience involves learning to clearly explain what you can and cannot do for clients. Once they nailed that part and had the processes to support it, growth accelerated. He also chose this time to start raising prices now that the agency had found an audience that resonated with its message.

Getting Serious After Hitting The $1 Million Dollar Mark

Getting to the $1 Million mark was the moment when Aaron actually started to get more serious about the agency’s future. He and his team laid out a blueprint of how the company should run and got to work. It was a good moment for him to start replacing himself in several tasks and move to more of a strategy-based role.

Basically, they developed an organizational chart where they could look at ratios of account strategists to see how many clients each could handle comfortably. The result was 4 to 9 clients per strategist depending on the size of the account.  They then added an execution and delivery layer to the chart and started filling those roles, which freed Aaron to focus on more strategic and directional level thinking for the agency.

Two Major Red Flags in Vetting Potential Buyers for Your Agency

Selling the agency was not the goal from the start. Aaron saw himself working in the agency until the end of his career and saw no need to sell it. This is where having guidance like the Digital Agency Elite Mastermind is really helpful. Aaron didn’t really consider acquisition seriously until some of his mentors started to ask questions about his future and legacy. Questions like “where do you see the agency going in the future?”, and “are you planning to grow your staff of 25 employees, or to 50 employees?” got him thinking

Around that time, he started to get emails from companies interested in buying his agency. It was the start of the pandemic and he got regular inquiries. However, he still wasn’t sure.

In dealing with potential buyers, Aaron found a few red flags he shared:

  1. Why are they interested in your agency in specific? If they cannot articulate a reason then they are just shopping around and are not serious.
  2. What is their reason for acquiring an agency? Are they buying to grow in a niche? Do they want to expand in a specific service area? Are they buying you for your team and processes? If they are not anchored to a why then aren't legitimate.

If you’re going down the path of deciding to sell, you need to understand where a buyer is coming from and where they are going. In Aaron's experience, buyers back then were only thinking about the low-interest rates and didn't have a real plan. A serious acquirer needs a full plan to cover different key factors like the culture fit which is so important for the possible success of a merger.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Identify the Right Buyer With a Commitment to Your Agency Vision

Aaron finally found the structure and vision he was looking for when he started talking to a buyer with a very clear vision from the beginning and showed a sort of confidence in what they could do together. Of course, there were difficult points where Aaron was not sure if he wanted to go through with the acquisition. He had built this agency working by himself with his laptop and meetings clients at a Starbucks or a restaurant. It was his baby.

However, throughout the entire process, this buyer proved to be the sort of person that does what they say they’re going to do. A reliable buyer provides a sense of relief because an acquisition is commonly a time-consuming and stressful undertaking. Aaron was able to visualize himself working with the new, merged company and that the acquisition would benefit his clients and his team.

Additionally, this buyer’s ability to work with his agency leaders really helped drive value for his clients and provided valuable opportunities for his team to learn and grow.

Things He Would Change That Could Have Boosted His Growth

Things turned out pretty good for his agency, but if Aaron could go back to when he was starting out in the industry he would be much more intentional about defining his ideal client sooner. His advice is to focus on finding your niche and audience early on. This empowers you and your team to say no to everything else and has a big impact on your growth.

He would also hire an operations manager a lot sooner. As an agency owner, it’s a commitment to start hiring for key roles, but having someone that can be responsible for running operations is incredibly helpful. Thinking back, Aaron now sees with a team of about 10, is the ideal time to hire someone to ensure operations run smoothly.

Agency owners are mostly visionaries and are not particularly good with management. You need the “how” people that take care of the logistics to implement your ideas and get you where you need to be. This is the first step in setting up the systems to eventually sell one day.

If the owner is doing everything, the valuation and the opportunities to sell will go down rapidly. An operations manager will help you both have more free time and focus on the vision for your agency.

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_Identify_The_Right_Buyer_For_Your_Agency_Acquisition.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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