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Agency owners make important decisions every day. But, what are the most important decisions to grow your agency? How can you make sure you’re making the best ones for the agency? Simply put, the biggest, most important decisions are the ones that positively impact your agency in the long term. Those are the ones made with the future of your business and your employees in mind. Today’s repeat guest has run a successful agency for ten years and now shares why he believes agency leaders should focus on making 10 big decisions per year while sharing a few of his in 2022. He also tells us why CEOs should allow themselves to be bored in order to spike creativity.

Manish Dudharejia is the founder and president of E2M Solutions, a full-service white-label digital agency. His agency works as a trusted partner with agencies to scale their business behind the scenes. E2M has been serving agencies for 10 years and currently works with about 130 agencies across the U.S.

Reflecting on the agency’s 10 years in business, he now identifies the changes that would set his business on the path of growth.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why agency leaders should make 10 big decisions in a year.
  • The yearly exercise to assess your past decisions.
  • Why you shouldn’t fear boredom.

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How to Make the Big Decisions and Grow Your Agency

As an agency CEO, there are always a thousand things to do and many people depend on you to make the right call at any given moment. Manish believes that a CEO’s job is to make 10 big decisions every year and tries to live by this. His agency turns ten in 2022 and that adds up to a hundred BIG decisions made over the years.

Some of the most important decisions he has made led his agency to where they are right now. To him, being an observer and learning what not to do helped him build a successful agency right from the start.

Decision 1: What is the right leadership style for your agency team?

Manish started his career working at two companies where he learned how leaders should not treat their employees. He never felt like his well-being was a priority. One of the things that struck him the most was employees being micromanaged and not given room to grow. When it came time to form his agency, he asked himself “what’s something I always looked for in an employer?” He also thinks about these lessons when he’s making a decision as an employer and thinks about whether a decision would make sense to him if he were an employee.

Companies solely focused on growth and profit end up being terrible places to work and have subpar customer service. However, companies that strive to be either employee-focused or client-focused greatly benefit from this approach because they are not putting themselves first. In the end, Manish is building his agency as a combination of these two approaches. An agency with a humanized approach to customer service which prioritizes employees.

Decision 2: How do you manage employee satisfaction and retention?

Manish says he has no strict budget when it comes to spending on employees. Usually, business owners create budgets at the start of the year, but he prefers to not set a limit and spends as much as necessary. Manish views this type of spending as an investment rather than an expense. His philosophy is “let’s do what is needed”.

Decision 3: How do you show appreciation to your team?

He also pays particular attention to payroll by paying top-dollar in the industry and never late paying his 150 employees. He knows how important this is for employees and has greatly helped his agency with retention. Employees feel taken care of and he’s very proud of that.

Employees are also an important element in his decision-making. If you’re about to make a decision, you should ask yourself whether the result benefits everyone at the agency. Remember short-term decisions to save money will not have long-term effects. If it works for everyone, then it will have amazing results in the long run.

Early Agency Mistakes: Trying to Do Everything for Everyone

Within the first 3 years, his agency was seeing great success and started jumping into trying new technologies like mobile app development. Trying new technologies is not a bad move, of course, but trying everything dilutes your team's focus.

Decision 3: What are your agency's strengths?

Dabbling in too much diluted Manish's agency's profits, because the revenue generated in some areas was then put into developing these new services. They kept growing, but the profits weren’t there.

It was the information era and people got easily distracted by every new development. The moment there was new technology available, every agency wanted to be among the first to implement it into their services. Years later, this is still the case many times. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be at the forefront of new industry developments. In fact, many times it is the only way to get ahead of the competition before the new space gets crowded. However, at some point, the novelty around these new technologies wears off, so rather than jumping from one technology to another, Manish prefers to focus on solving larger problems for his clients.

On the other hand, a way to continually try new things while also staying focused is to have an incubator division within the agency. Bottom-line, the key is to remain hyper-focused so you don’t dilute the work you’re doing.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Decision 4: What is your agency's CORE service offering?

Manish has concentrated his efforts on running an agency focused on one space -- white labeling to solve problems around customer service. When you’re starting an agency or any business you have a growth mindset. However, we often ignore the fact that, as the agency, the market also continues to grow.

With that in mind, Manish has set out to keep his agency hyper-focused on core services and in the niche of servicing only digital agencies. This has helped his agency achieve success and growth over the past ten years.

Decision 5: What can you learn from the past?

Many years ago, Manish started analyzing the prior year and taking a step back to assess how to improve its services and restructure its offering. One of the best decisions that came from those yearly meetings was productizing their service, which led to tremendous growth.

Doing this yearly exercise gives a clear idea of what’s working for your agency and what’s not. It also serves to trace the path of what to do for the following year.

In the agency business, we’re constantly looking forward to what’s next. Set aside some time to look back one year or even further in the past and realize what worked and what needs to change in your agency. You can implement this tactic in several areas. For instance, rather than just looking at new lead magnets, also look at old blog posts that did very well and think of ways to optimize that content and do similar posts.

Why Agency Leaders Need to Trust Their Gut

Manish is a quick decision-maker, so if he thinks a decision is the right one he acts on it right away. Some people stop themselves from making the right decision because they don’t haven't figured out the "how." Don't let this stop you from setting the right course for your agency.

The "how" is part of what you’ll figure out later on. At one point, he decided that, since his target audience was mostly in the US he should move there. It was a bold move, but he says it’s the best decision he’s made. He learned a lot, met a lot of people, and got a better understanding of how his clients think. He took those new experiences and has been working on improving his agency ever since.

Other than trusting your gut and making quick decisions, Manish recommends educating yourself as much as you can. He dedicates a lot of time to learning about human psychology and how the mind works. This has helped him a lot in making decisions in complex situations.

Entrepreneurs and Visionaries Should Not Fear Boredom

A wise agency owner makes sure there's always free time to do meaningful work. If you really want to grow your agency, make a list of the tasks you do and ask yourself “is this something that could be done by someone else?"  If the answer is yes, then start looking for that person. It's important to know when it's time to delegate, automate, or eliminate tasks to free up time for more significant work.

Many agency owners fear this point where they can have more free time for themselves because they fear boredom. Boredom is not bad. Boredom leads to creativity and creativity leads to productivity.  This creativity is vital for the role of a CEO in any company.

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

Are you searching for ways to stand out from your competition? Niching down is one way to do it, but that alone might not necessarily cut it when it comes to getting noticed. One school of thought drilling down even more in a technology or service vertical. And don’t underestimate how far genuine honesty and asking the right questions will take you when it comes to earning authority and trust.

Adam Pearce and Peter Gardner are the CVO and CEO of Blend Commerce, an e-commerce customer experience agency for Shopify businesses. Adam and Peter believe that Customer Experience (CX) is the cornerstone of both customer acquisition and long-term customer retention. They focus obsessively on improving clients’ CX pre-, during-, and post-purchase. They’ve been through some rocky years as they grew their agency but the real change began once they learned to see each others’ strengths and built a community of agency owners willing to help each other.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Figuring out your agency’s direction and niche.
  • Developing strategic partners and allies instead of competing.
  • 4 tips to build client trust and stand out from the competition.

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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.

Tough Lessons About Working with an Agency Business Partner

Neither Adam nor Peter were working in e-commerce when they first met through their wives. They both had the idea of starting their own businesses and found the right vehicle when they learned about something called Shopify. Adam was a bit skeptical at first, but he joined Peter and they started their agency journey with Peter in charge of development while Adam handled marketing. Seven years later, they have grown from a team of three to 20 people.

They’ve seen some rocky times in their agency, of course. One thing they wish they would’ve learned sooner was understanding each other better. Failing to do so sooner was the root of most of their problems. They’d always been clear about what they wanted to achieve with the agency but they both had very different ideas about how to get there.

Adam is a very structured thinker and planner while Peter is more of an idea man. They were pretty much opposites in that sense, which is why they clashed. The light bulb moment came once they realized rather than getting upset at each other for doing things differently, they could just work on different parts of the business while aiming for the same goal.

Is Choosing a Niche Enough to Help You Stand Out?

The answer is: not necessarily.

Picking a niche is an important part of your digital agency growth. Many agencies start doing a little bit of everything and eventually specialize in something they’re great at. Picking a vertical like WordPress or Shopify usually depends on getting an early start. For instance, just picking Shopify as a niche won’t cut it nowadays because the market is saturated. When Adam and Peter first started they were one of maybe two agencies in that niche. Now there are many and as a result, they’ve had to niche down further.

They niched down in the service offering by moving more into the retention side. Now they see themselves as a customer experience agency and focus more on the long-term value of a customer for their clients. They were smart in realizing the necessity to be laser focused, not just in the Shopify space but in picking a service vertical as well.

They think they have missed out on work due to a lack of experience in a particular service vertical. However on the other hand, they also win a lot of projects because there are not many agencies that specialize in lifetime value before, during, and after the sale.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Other Agencies Are Potential Allies Instead of Just Competitors

If you feel you have to destroy your competition, you may be missing out on valuable strategic alliances. Adam and Peter have always treated other agencies like friends and partners. It's something we promote and encourage with our Digital Agency Elite Mastermind members as well.

Early on and not knowing how to get more clients, they decided to approach bigger more established agencies. They presented themselves as a trustworthy referral partner and asked them to send any leads they didn’t want their way. Before long, they actually did start receiving referrals from these bigger agencies.

Of course, they also found agencies that were less than willing to engage with them. They even got some competitors trying to stop their progress. Luckily, they had already built good relationships with many agencies so these attempts not only didn’t work, but backfired.

It’s a mentality they still practice now that they are a bigger agency as they try to help smaller start-up agencies. Ultimately, there is enough business for everyone and they don't see a need for a "destroy the competition" mentality.

Furthermore, you can learn from other agency owners. If we were all more willing to have honest conversations with other agency owners, we would realize we've all had many of the problems and even offer useful tips to each other.

4 Tips To Build Trust and Makes You Stand Out From the Competition

  1. Be honest even when it's hard: Honesty set you apart from the competition. If the client has unreasonable goals or expectations, just be honest and tell them. Maybe they’ll decide you’re not the right agency for them, but maybe they’ll hear you out and listen to your ideas.
  2. Don’t try to sell everything at once: You probably want to sell a client X, Y, and Z but you know what they really need at the moment is just X. Sell them X, do a great job and build trust. Then, once they trust you, upsell Y and Z. Moreover, not everyone can afford everything at one time. Doing it progressively is the best way to consider the client while still increasing your sales.
  3. Ask the right questions: Many clients come in with an idea of what they need, like a redesign of their website store. However, once you start asking the right questions and get them to think about the problems they’re experiencing you realize that’s not the solution at all. Being willing to challenge them on the real problem will help you establish trust.
  4. Be willing to educate them. Saying “just trust me” doesn't cut it. Really explain where they’re at and the plan on how to get where they want to be. Explain it almost to the point where they could just do it themselves. They won’t, that’s why they’re looking for someone to do it for them. Plus if they really understand, then you successfully showed them they can trust you instead of just asking them to trust.

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_Niching_Down_Isnt_Enough_and_4_Tips_to_Build_Client_Trust.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

How do you leverage relationships to get results for your clients? How can you leverage an acquisition to grow your agency faster? Today’s guest has a lot of experience in targeted product sampling and built her agency around taking products directly to consumers. It’s an industry where getting the product into the hands of the right influencers will make all the difference and your success will hinge on building the right relationships. She also used acquisition to grow her agency faster and tells us it's not as daunting as it seems.

Laurel Rundle is the founder of Aha! Marketing, an agency focused on targeted product sampling. They deliver millions of samples to consumers each year to thousands of locations by putting clients' brands at the center of human interactions already happening. They’ve worked with companies like Gerber, Gillette, and Dove to drive trial and awareness of their brands.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Working with big brands to get their products in consumers' hands.
  • Leveraging partnerships and influencers.
  • Using acquisition to grow your agency faster.

Podcast Takeover!!

Get to know your Smart Agency Guest Host:  Dr. Jeremy Weisz is the co-founder of Rise25, an agency that helps companies launch and run podcasts profitably. He followed Jason’s podcast and eventually joined the mastermind and has been a guest on the podcast before. Today, he’s helping Jason bring something new to the Smart Agency podcast audience by interviewing a special guest and bringing a new perspective to the show.

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 Digital Agency Based on Consumer Behavior

Laurel had worked in retail but was not very aware of product sampling when she went to an interview at Samples Incorporation of America. She got the job and worked there for many years. By the time she left she developed an interest in consumer behavior. She went right to starting Aha! Marketing, which is her digital agency focused on consumer behaviors with the goal of getting as many samples out as efficiently as possible.  Her agency works across brands, categories, and audiences which makes the work very interesting.

It is a fun business for her and she loves figuring out each campaign depending on the product and where they find the preferred consumers. Every brand campaign is delivered through one of their proprietor networks. Potential consumers aren't approached randomly but rather a part of a carefully selected group.

Finding the Right Influencers for a Product Launch

If you’re searching for restaurants online and a friend recommends one, you’ll probably go to the one your friend recommends. That is the same response Laurel and her team tries to recreate by working with influencers. There’s nothing quite like trying a product yourself. However, opportunities for this had been limited during the pandemic. Now, two years later, there are many renewed opportunities to get in front of consumers.

One of the markets where they’ve been making a lot of progress is new moms. They typically reach expecting and new moms through OBGYN practices and a network of midwives and doulas. Influencers normally have many questions about the product quality, brand, and logistics of receiving the products. If you are prepared to answer these questions and they like the product, you’ll make a very valuable relationship. These influencers are people who normally have a close relationship with new moms so their recommendations are at the top of their considerations.

Her agency works with other agencies as well as with brands directly. It involves a lot of detailed logistics to get the brands out there. If they agree to recommend the products, influencers are expected to provide feedback and probably photos. Finally, the number of samples depends on the brand. Some are sent to hundreds of locations and others to thousands of locations.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Working With Brands To Do Targeted Product Sampling

When it comes to working with the brand, it starts with the type of campaign they’re trying to build to determine the best approach for a particular product. Some other basic information includes how many samples they’re sending and how many consumers they want to reach. For some campaigns, they rely on intermediaries. For instance, for one campaign they targeted people at gyms and had intermediaries approach the trainers to recommend the product to their clients. They got feedback from both the intermediaries and the consumers.

They usually recommend brands add a QR code on the packaging of the sample because it helps drive responses. Furthermore, they often organize photo contests with cash prizes. They did it recently with Dove samples and they got back really creative photos of people in bubble baths with the soap. They can also add an offer or coupon, which works based on the brand’s target audience, product, and which offers have previously seen some success with their audience. This is done with a survey gathering useful information.

If possible, Aha Marketing likes to have the opportunity to work with the brand around how a sample is designed. They have an interest in the packaging and how it relates to the sample distribution. For example, is it in a tube or a packet? How efficiently can they pack it? Can they reuse material?

But not all campaigns involve a physical product. They recently worked with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in a campaign to educate new moms on the importance of beef as a first food. The campaign had educational purposes and included white papers for the physicians and displays for their waiting rooms.

Acquiring Another Agency to Grow Faster

Last year, while in the Goldman-Sachs program, Laurel had the opportunity to acquire another company in her space. The program helped her realize how this opportunity could really help grow the agency faster. It solved a lot of things for them, like getting access to some larger accounts and acquiring clients that complemented the ones they already worked with.

Most agency owners find the prospect of buying an agency too daunting a task. Of course, it does involve a lot of preparation but Laurel maintains it was the best decision for their growth. She was careful to involve trusted experts to give her the best advice possible. Other than that, she let the numbers tell the story. By the time she had the right offer, she knew she couldn’t let it pass. The deal was structured in a way that she couldn’t lose. She even recalls it as a fun process from which she learned a lot.

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

Would you like to dive into the NFT world? Agencies are finding ways to use NFTs to connect their clients with their audiences. What's an NFT and how can you get in on it? Today’s guest has worked with big companies that recognized their potential as collectibles. He also created his own NFT project with a charitable and environmental focus and now shares his experience.

Chris Madden is the cofounder of Matchnode, a digital ad agency with clients that include the Chicago Bulls, Lending Tree, New Balance, and many more. He also started Seabums, an NFT project that focuses on massively improving ocean health that has donated more than $140,000 to ocean charities. Chris had been studying the rise of NFTs and learning how his clients were successfully implementing them into their businesses. Eventually, he decided that diving into the experience was the best way to learn.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to land big brand clients.
  • How to get started in the NFT world.
  • Getting creative with NFTs for clients.

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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Podcast Takeover!!

Get to know your Smart Agency Guest Host:  Dr. Jeremy Weisz is the co-founder of Rise25, an agency that helps companies launch and run podcasts profitably. He followed Jason’s podcast and eventually joined the mastermind and has been a guest on the podcast before. Today, he’s helping Jason bring something new to the Smart Agency podcast audience by interviewing a special guest and bringing a new perspective to the show.

From Starting Small to Getting Their Dream Client

Matchnode started as a small agency with no outside funding and worked with whatever clients they could get. It was mainly a Facebook agency and expanded to Google ads and other paid ad platforms. Chris and his partner slowly built the agency and one day they got the most amazing lead off their website: the Chicago Bulls. By that point, they had done the work to be visible by such a big organization and were ready for the task.

Basically, his agency helps the team sell tickets by promoting things like family night or different theme nights. They have a budget for each season and an expected return (about four dollars per every dollar spent). They then meet with the Bulls’ creative team to figure out how they can turn their digital content into great paid social media ads that drive returns.

There are a lot of moving parts to figure out, but they are continually working to track better and convert better. Overall, it has been a great experience and has led to several other clients in that space. These opportunities are thanks to all the work they did since their first year.

Helping Clients Transition from Traditional to Digital Marketing

Now the agency works with big established brands who, after a long history of working with traditional marketing, are embracing digital marketing. Their marketing budgets used to focus largely on traditional marketing and now it is more focused on digital. Matchnode helps them make the transition.

It’s very different from working with digital native companies where the senior executives may understand the importance of having a presence in the digital space. With these types of brands, there is some resistance from executives who don’t really understand digital and need to be won over. Because of this, the language they use to talk about metrics, and way that they approach the problems changes.

According to Chris, one of the most effective weapons against this resistance is numbers. With digital, the numbers are so clear that clients unfamiliar with this space are often surprised. They may be familiar with more traditional means like a billboard, but when they see how detailed the results for a digital ad are, it’s very convincing.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Diving into the World of NFTs

Chris had been watching the development of the crypto space and wanted to dive deeper. As a digital ad agency working with the clients they worked with, it became clear to him that digital experiences were moving toward NFTs. He decided the only way to really learn was to jump in with a project of his own. He created Seabums, an NFT project with the mission of massively impacting oceans’ health. The first collection dropped in December 2021 and so far Chris has been enjoying the experience.

Working a lot with Facebook, he and his team witnessed how the digital space was changing. They purchased bitcoin as an agency and prepared for a future in which digital interactions and digital networks would be owned by people instead of centralized systems.

With NFTs came the chance to own any digital object. In the broader landscape, NFTs are still limited in terms of their use but Chris believes what really matters is the piece of the crypto industry that has garnered more attention from the general public. They seem easier to understand than previous crypto movements that were truly financial in nature. It is a really fun and accessible way to dive into crypto.

He also had the opportunity to see how some of his clients were using NTFs. For example, Matchnode works with the Chicago Bulls, and they started to offer NFTs as collectibles that could win fans special perks. Fans with a certain pair of the collection win tickets or a day on the bench, which added to its value and turned it more into an experience.

Creating an NFT Project With a Charitable Component

As he got into NFTs, Chris saw one of the criticisms was that they are shallow and short-termed. Therefore, adding a charitable component seemed like the best way to add meaning. Chris had been playing with ideas to organize an environmental project to do cleanups. Once he found a partner, they defined the project, centered it around the ocean, and got to work. There are 10,000 pieces in the collection, all completely unique.

Basically, those who purchase these pieces will get full ownership and the right to do whatever they want with them. For instance, they can build a business around it and create and sell merch. 20% of the amount paid will go to charity. They’re also working on future components for this project that include a space in the Metaverse and games exclusively based on Seabumps.

Chris actually set up his NTF project in a way that he cannot change the price after they have been put for sale. Back when they were getting ready to launch their project, they studied the market and looked at similar projects. Since they had the charitable element and the idea of making this a project that would invite people who had never engaged with NTFs, they settled on a lower price.

Things like NFTs and the Metaverse are signs that the virtual world is becoming increasingly important for people. Through them, we now have ways for users to own digital objects and create their digital identities.

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

How can you boost agency profitability? Do you have a clear plan for being profitable? Some agency owners start out thinking they want to get to $100 million. But, whatever you expect to get at $100M, could you get it at $10M? How about right now? Most likely, what you really want is freedom. Today’s guest found out getting there is just a matter of setting up the right processes and having the right team. In tandem, these two elements remove the owner from daily operations and eliminate the need for your input at every step.

Chris Rodgers is the founder and CEO of Colorado SEO Pros, a boutique SEO agency that helps market leaders solve complex SEO challenges. His team achieves big results with an exceptional SEO strategy, AI technology, and top talent. He shares his experience in his first few years with his agency, and how he learned the importance of knowing the agency’s value and having the right people in the right seats on the bus.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Early mistakes when you’re building your agency.
  • Why raising prices is a real game changer to increase profitability.
  • Changing your hiring strategy to get the right people on the bus.

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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Treat Your Agency SEO As Important As Your Clients' SEO

Chris started his career working in corporate marketing. He was first attracted to the digital marketing side because of all the data and tracking and the transparency it provided. When he moved to Colorado, he worked as a senior analyst for an agency and, after a failed venture, eventually decided to create his own agency.

His agency started in his home office with an intern that showed up to work in his pajamas. (#Agencylife, right? :) He first started contacting businesses ranking on the second page of Google results to tell them why they needed SEO. Their answer: What is SEO?

Chris knew he needed to change his approach and went back to work on his own website’s SEO. Eventually, his website knocked down the biggest company in Colorado for the #1 spot in Google results and they started getting leads from all over the country.

This was a huge step for his agency and got them to a new level where they were actually struggling to keep up with demand. At this point, it was still a two-person operation and both he and his intern were SEO specialists. He still needed to figure out how to build an agency around their SEO services.

Common Struggles the Early Years of Running an Agency

Lack of knowledge on building a business around his skills led to some early mistakes. Chris and his team started off offering custom solutions as a way to differentiate from their competition. However, they experienced years of setbacks by not having the correct processes in order to scale.

By the second and third years, Chris had periods where he really couldn’t afford the salary for his team. The swings of the business were especially hard. If they lost a client, all of a sudden he had to skip a paycheck for himself in order to make payroll for everyone else.

For a couple of years, every time he felt they were starting to grow, there was a new setback. It seemed like he was never making enough money to pay his employees what they needed to make while also growing his agency.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The True Game Changer to Increase Your Agency’s Profitability

Things started to change once his agency got to $1 Million revenue and beyond. There was just more room to breathe. Chris focused on determining their ideal client. In order to grow the agency’s reputation, it needed to work with higher-profile brands on large and complex projects. They searched for brands that recognized the value the agency brought and paid accordingly.

However, the true game changer was raising their prices. They doubled their minimum prices and increased their contract length. They were finally getting paid on the value they delivered. In part, they were able to do this because they had a vault of case stories and a reputation for success.

In hindsight, Chris realizes that while considering the value the agency delivers what he did in the backend was sabotaging the effort. Always be aware of the value you provide.

Don’t start out too eager, doing too much for your first big clients. They can leave you in a heartbeat. Instead, start the year by setting clear goals for your agency. Look at the value you deliver. Think about the salary you personally want to make that year. Then ask:

  • What revenue does the agency need in order to make that happen?
  • How many clients do you need in order to get there?
  • How much would you need to charge?

Break it down to smaller, attainable goals and then reach for them. If you just have the mindset of getting as many clients as you can, you're creating a big headache for yourself.

Getting the Right People On the Bus So You Can Charge More

Chris recalls advice from another agency owner about addressing management issues. He was essentially told to get the wrong people off the bus, which he proceeded to do.

In the beginning, his agency focused on hiring and training new talent right out of college. It seemed like the best approach compared with hiring more experienced professionals requiring a higher salary and still needing some training.

However, years later Chris found they did not have the acumen and experience to deliver at the level needed to raise prices. As a result, they changed their hiring philosophy and started hiring more experienced talent. Now they have a staff of twelve with over 100 years of combined experience and lower turnover. It has been the best way to ensure a high-level experience for their clients.

When it comes to retaining employees, Jason says you’ll have a better chance with workers who have a lot of experience in a different field. If they are willing to learn, it can work out better than hiring young workers who receive your training and then leave after one or two years.

Also, don't forget to take culture into account as a very important part of your hiring process. For Chris, it's been a striking difference, and he doesn’t have an endless stream of fires to put out. Things are now stable and growing.

Don’t Feel Guilty About Your Hard Earned Freedom

A more stable situation at the agency allowed freedom from being bogged down by emails and meetings. He no longer handles everything and his team has things under control. This gives him more time to focus on CEO-specific tasks but it also sometimes makes him feel guilty.

As an agency owner, it’s completely normal to feel displaced when going from working non-stop to finally having some freedom. You’re so used to having a long list of things to do and suddenly finding no one seems to need you anymore leaves you feeling useless or insignificant.

However, remember this is what you’ve been working for since the beginning. Don’t feel guilty about the time you get to spend on your hobbies and family. This is what helps you recharge and have more energy to pour into your business strategy and vision. Also, it doesn’t mean you’re out of it forever. Many agency owners work out a happy medium according to how involved they want to stay. You can find a way to be relevant and just do the things you love without doing all the things -- that is called balance. 

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What story are you telling prospective clients about your agency? With audiences getting savvier about skipping over or blocking traditional marketing, it’s important to tell a story that engages your audience. Today’s guest specializes in creating such narratives for his clients and offers some tips for agency owners who want to leverage this strategy.

Zachary Slingsby is the founder of Human Factor Media, an award-winning branded content team that makes short films for brands. Their creations drive higher brand recall, awareness, and affinity than any other form of modern marketing. In this interview, Zachary explains how his love for stories led to a career creating content that resonates and why your agency's branding should not be an afterthought.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to be better at storytelling.
  • Change the narrative and stand out.
  • Why your branding should not be an afterthought.

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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Agencies Must Be Intentional About Marketing Their Brands

Zack’s love for stories began with his love of film and literature. However, for him the traditional artistic path was filled with a number of frustrations so he decided to change course. Marketing provided the perfect niche to use this skill set in a time when brands are now acting as stages for their audiences. Engaging and entertaining storytelling is now a must for modern companies and a major focus for anyone developing their brand.

It’s common for agency owners to forget to market their own agency. Many expect to have time to develop their branding later but find that is not really the case. Many agency owners work around the clock and don’t have the systems in place to create the freedom or lifestyle they've wanted since the beginning. You’ll find that, unless you’re very intentional about treating your agency like a client, it won't happen. Most never put the effort they should into their own marketing.

Why Storytelling is an Important Marketing Tool

Storytelling may be a bit of an overused term by now, but to Zack, it’s the best invitation to let your audience know “this is who I am”. Good storytelling is an effective and, in some ways, very simple way to get people to join your culture. In essence, commerce is all about lowering the uncertainty about one another so that we can exchange value. This is where true narrative value becomes an asset.

It’s a superpower that small companies can really tap into. A commerce giant like Amazon can never hope to feel like a local presence in the user’s life. By contrast, agency owners can use storytelling to create fans that later become clients. Let your audience know who you are outside of work so they can feel they know the real you. Instead of looking to compete with big brands or big-name agencies, offer something they can’t.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why You Must Create a Narrative That Wins Your Audience's Attention

Every brand and agency has similar marketing options thrown at them. Because of this, their value propositions look strikingly similar, especially if it’s a niche with a lot of competition. Those companies will often end up competing in the same space, using the same marketing, and the same messages.

So, why not try to use narrative value to distinguish yourself? With so much competition, the way you speak to people becomes the only value you have. The way brands like Lexus, Patagonia, and Northface are committing to storytelling tells us they’ve identified something about where the market is. Users want brands to get past the age of commercials. We expect brands to compete for our attention in the same way that our favorite media company does.

Jason likes to use the example of Apple -- they don't sell products in their ads. They create a vision and tell a story. The launch of the iPod wasn't just another MP3 player, it was "1,000 songs you can store in your pocket."

You Don't Have to be Big on Every Platform

So how can you use narrative to your advantage? You know that including a healthy dose of video in your marketing will make a great difference, but it doesn't mean you know how to use it. There are incredible success stories like Gary Vaynerchuk, who built his agency empire on video content. Everything changed once someone on his team started following him around to film his day and make daily vlogs.

Of course, this won’t necessarily work for everyone; we don’t all have adventure-filled days. You can also find successful examples of agencies that have created a presence on YouTube by making their team and office part of their content.

In any case, Zack’s advice is to choose one platform and focus on growing your audience there. It doesn’t have to be all of them. This way, you can commit your resources to a particular endeavor. If you manage to grow one channel to thousands of subscribers, you’re ahead of the competition. But it's not all about vanity metrics, so don't get too caught up in the numbers.

Just remember that it can’t be an afterthought, there has to be a process and a well-conceived plan as well as someone dedicated to making and posting this content. Spend some time thinking about what bringing your values into a story looks like. If you don’t think you’ll have a lot of time to create content, Zack has clients who just film for one week a year and create enough content to post twice a month.

Finally, keep in mind this is a long-term strategy. Consistency really is the ultimate virtue. You just need enough success to keep them coming back.

Your Agency's Branding Should Not be an Afterthought

It’s easy to think creativity is separate from your business goals. You may even delay some of the most experimental projects for your agency. You think you’ll get to it once you have more time, more budget, more freedom. However, working on your branding should not be dismissed as an afterthought.

With the emergence of so many new voices and people spending money to skip ads, the creative factor can be the key element you need to get their attention. Stop thinking of it as the luxury of a few big players and start seeing it as what it is, an indispensable part of your agency’s strategy.

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

Do you dedicate time to work on your agency’s marketing? Would you hire a dedicated team to handle your agency’s short-term and long-term marketing strategy? Today’s guest talks about two common mistakes that sabotage your pipeline and how he built a dedicated marketing team for his agency.

Jeff Gapinski is the founder and president of Huemor, a web design agency that focuses on building memorable website experiences. They focus on helping their clients vastly improve your key metrics, and display your brand with pride. After eleven years in this business, Jeff says the biggest change came with building a sustainable pipeline by focusing on his agency’s marketing.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Building your agency team around your needs.
  • 2 mistakes to avoid in building a sustainable pipeline.
  • Long-term and short-term strategies for marketing 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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Building Your Agency Team Around Your Needs

Jeff had been freelancing since college when he got a referral for a very good opportunity for e-commerce. Ecommerce was quite new and, although he was a talented designer, he knew he would need help. He put together a team to tackle this challenge and the client was pleased with the results. It was a natural progression from there to forming an actual agency.

After finding a cofounder for his agency adventure, Jeff went on to hire several former classmates for key roles. He admittedly built the team around the needs of their original client but quickly figured out this was not sustainable in the long term. Subsequently, the agency went through a couple of iterations as they shaped the team to what it needed to be.

For the first few years, he was the sole project manager, which he acknowledges lasted too long. It wasn’t until year three they finally hired a dedicated project manager. By contrast, the agency now has six project managers and a director of projects. Things now run much more smoothly.

2 Mistakes that Sabotage Your Agency Sales Pipeline

When it comes to building a sustainable pipeline, Jeff believes agency owners make two common mistakes:

  1. Falling back on their network. Many fall into the trap of using their immediate network to get business. This usually consists of contacts from past jobs and referrals from existing clients. Ultimately it is a very limited pool.
  2. Not marketing the agency. Agencies seldom spend time working on their own brand identity. In fact, they tend to end up with a very generic site and generic marketing you can theoretically stamp any logo on.

Work on Your Branding to Differentiate Your Agency

Always keep in mind brand identity is paramount for an agency. It is the foundation you build on to get business. However, many agencies use their website primarily to show their clients' work and hence their identities become their clients. Of course, you don’t want this because clients will likely change over time.

With this in mind, Jeff and his team set out to create a very distinct visual identity. They created a mascot featured on their website which sets them apart from other agencies. They tied their website and mascot to the concept of space, which relates to the idea of breaking boundaries and going to places unknown. These elements tie their brand identity together. According to Jeff, it has been a huge differentiator for the agency and they have gotten positive feedback from prospects and clients.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Short and Long-Term Strategies to Build a Sustainable Pipeline

You should be thinking about your strategy in terms of long-term and short-term moves. Companies, in general, make the mistake of trying to do all the strategies at once. With this method, nothing really gains traction.

A long-term strategy should include any sort of owned media as a cornerstone of your brand. This will take six months or even longer to gain traction. This includes podcast, SEO, and content marketing.

Of course, you also need a short-term strategy to bring in results while you set your long-term strategy into motion. This includes things like paid ads, cold LinkedIn outreach, paid social, etc. Both are essential because one is sustainable and built for the long term while the other secures opportunities immediately.

For their long-term strategies, Jeff’s team writes long-form content targeted at marketing managers, produces long-form articles once a week, and then adapts those for email distribution and posts on LinkedIn and other social channels. They also plan to eventually start a podcast.

 4 Key Hires to Build Your Dedicated Marketing Team

It’s normal to get distracted by client work and as the agency grows you may find there is less downtime to dedicate to agency marketing. You maybe won’t have the means to hire a dedicated team from the very beginning, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Jeff attributes the agency’s exponential growth over the last two years to hiring a dedicated marketing team comprised of:

  • Marketing Coordinator
  • Copywriter
  • Designer
  • SEO Specialist

It was a big investment to make, and you can rely on freelancers at first. However, Jeff says it wasn’t until they made the decision to invest in a dedicated marketing team that he started to see the results.

Don’t procrastinate working on your own brand as an agency. It’s an element that will help you succeed. You may not see the results in the short term but it will build up to be a very valuable investment.

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.


Is it time to replace yourself within your agency? Could you grow faster with by bringing on someone in a president role? What do you expect from someone in this seat? Today’s guest was brought into a digital agency to help run the business as the owner stepped back. He now recalls his journey adjusting to the role of president and gives tips on what you should expect when you start looking for someone to replace you.

Chintan Shah is the President of KNB Communications, a full-service marketing and PR firm dedicated to healthcare, especially in the area of health technology. He started his career in marketing, product development, and product management, and eventually found himself leading a sales and marketing division for a medical device company.

After overseeing an agency’s integration into this company, the agency owner actually reached out to him to let him know she was looking to step back from daily operations. She needed someone to help her run the agency. Fortunately, Chintah was looking for a new adventure in his career, so it was perfect timing on both sides. He has now been leading the agency for six years.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Where to start the search for new agency leadership.
  • Leveraging experience in sales as the president of an agency.
  • 4 KPI's that define and measure the success of new agency leadership.

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.

Related article:  https://jasonswenk.com/digital-agency-ceo/

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Filling a Key Agency Role Starts With Your Personal Network

The way this agency owner reached out to Chintah is a perfect example of how you should start with your personal network. They had worked together for three years previously, so it was natural to share the need to hire and ask for candidate referrals.

When you’re looking for someone to replace you, you may not want to start by openly broadcasting your intentions. For instance, you can start by reaching out to former clients and contacts within your network to let them know that you’re looking for someone.

It's important to understand the criteria of what you’re looking for. What do you want that person to do? Make a list to identify some of the top criteria, which will depend on your priorities. You may be looking for experience or someone who brings something new to take your agency to the next level.

Do More Sales Equal Faster Agency Growth?

Chintan believes there are a lot of similarities between the sales side and the marketing side of a business. Sales is part of the few key components that will help grow your agency. Do more sales fix a growth problem? As a former salesperson, Chintan believes this is not the case at all. Of course, it is part of overall agency success, but you have to have scalable processes and tools, and technology to help you grow.

As he started this new phase of his career, he leveraged his experience as he learned other parts of the business.

  1. Learning about the agency’s growth.
  2. Bringing in new business.
  3. Defining core capabilities.
  4. Looking for new growth areas.

He also immersed himself in the PR aspect of the agency, an area where he really leaned on his team’s expertise and willingness to teach him. At one point, he thought he needed to have a key role in all aspects of the business. However, he learned that having confidence combined with the right processes is the key to letting go and trusting the team.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Hiring an Outsider to Run Your Digital Agency

Chintah’s advantage when it came to fitting in with his team was that many of them already knew him. Furthermore, at the time he joined the agency, the team had shifted after a few key players left. The timing was ideal for an outsider to come in and run the agency without causing unnecessary friction.

Some things changed in the hierarchy as their relationship changed from working as a client to working in the company. It was Chintan to establish a new type of relationship with the team.

Looking back on the process, he admits he could have been more aggressive in getting new clients. When he came in and started assessing the state of the agency, he took a look at their clients. He worked on really defining the agency’s capabilities and growth potential. However, a lot of their digital marketing services needed improvement. In hindsight, he should have leaned into that faster to secure new agency business and grow a little bit faster.

4 KPI's that Will Help You Define Success Running an Agency

Most agency owners should not be in a position of managing the full team. As you grow your agency, you’ll need to delegate several things while you focus on strategy. One of those delegations is management (and there are only 5 roles of an agency CEO.)

As you probably do with clients, it’s good to sit down and define aspects of what success looks like. A good place to start is with realistic growth expectations and additional investments. In short, it's about having a business plan that says “this is what I expect.” Following this, make sure to assess on a quarterly and monthly basis to really see how they are doing.

There are 4 KPI's to assess when defining success:

  1. Top line revenue and net income.
  2. The number of clients in the portfolio.
  3. Ability to upsell or cross-sell existing clients.
  4. Size of the team.

Looking at all those things and finding where you may be over-leveraged and where you may not have enough resources. It is a balance that takes learning and that can vary for different types of agencies.

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

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