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Are you looking for the right formula to take your agency into the multi-millions? Getting to the million-dollar mark can happen easily, but getting to the multi-million level takes strategy. It's all about building processes, hiring a team, and choosing a niche so you continue to grow. Today’s guests found themselves in a situation where they needed guidance to take their agency to the next level. They share the #1 most instrumental decision that changed their agency, key steps to their successful growth, and more.

Chase Williams and Ryan Klein are the co-founders of Market My Market, a digital agency that uses marketing and systems processes to help law firms and franchises grow. They do organic in the digital space, such as SEO, content marketing, web design, lead gen, and more. Over the years, they have set their agency apart by not taking a "package approach." Instead, they are look for gaps and put together plans for their clients based on newly identified opportunities in their digital marketing. This approach has helped them build long-term relationships and take their agency to the multi-million dollar level.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • #1 most important decision to spark real change in your agency.
  • Searching for the right salespeople.
  • 4 key decisions to get over the multi-million dollar mark.
  • What to look for in an ops manager.

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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.

 

#1 Most Instrumental Decision Sparking Change in Your Agency

Ryan and Chase were working 9 to 5 jobs at a law firm and an agency. They kept getting approached by friends to build websites, which they didn’t actually know how to do. However, since it meant extra money, they were willing to learn. Soon they were working 60+ hours a week, so they decided to quit their jobs and focus on their new venture. They went on to bootstrap the agency from Chase’s basement in Brooklyn. Years later, they now have 37 employees in two offices.

Chase recalls, the most instrumental decision they made to spark true change for their agency was working with Jason for guidance. With his support, they started focusing on niching down. First with a specific core service of SEO and next a vertical niche in law firms, which accounted for 60% of their clients.

At the time, they were taking any type of job pitched to them, whether logos, websites, or graphics. Once they started to focus on helping law firms and building processes around that, they saw a real change. This was really important to building a proven system they used in order to adapt and scale.

Finding the Right Salespeople with an Aggressive Commission Structure

At first, Ryan and Chase didn’t realize how difficult it is to find a good salespeople. They started by hiring a very charismatic person who didn’t have a lot of experience. After about six months of educating and working on his skills, they felt he could do it on his own. However not long after he left the agency to work for another company. After all the time and resources spent mentoring him, this left them feeling deflated.

This so common - agency owners are their own best sales person. Looking back, they were trying to learn what works and what doesn't. Furthermore, they understood no one is going to pitch the agency's offering better than you. Their best find came once they were willing to poach talent and pay them really well. The alternative is taking the time to train younger, inexperiences sales people who take their new skills elsewhere, or more seasoned sales people incentivized to stay. In short, they pay a decent base and offer bonuses that are basically a piece of what the person sold.

It’s tough to find good salespeople and even tougher holding onto them for a long time, but this approach has really worked for them.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What to Look for in a Agency Operations Manager

When it came time to look for someone to handle operations, Chase and Ryan went for the office manager route. This led them to a couple of administrative people who were highly organized. Ultimately, it came down to high-level organization and an awareness of the need for processes and systems.

The person they found had worked for several startups and local governments but never actually at an agency. This can be a major plus. Finding someone who has experience building systems and can bring their particular experience to the agency world can lead to a great fit.

4 Key Moves To Will Help You Get Beyond Million Dollar Mark

  1. Focus on the proposal. The proposal is the driving tool documenting everything you’re going to do for the client. This is where you reassure them they made the right decision. It is a contract, but it is also a narrative walking the client through the plan. Coupled with sales, the proposal drives home why you’re the right partner for this client. When you take the time to create a well-constructed proposal, you’ll stand out against other agencies. Rather than just pointing out numbers, tell a story and explain where they’re at right now and where they can get with your help.
  2. Hire an in-house content team. It is a lot of work putting together an in-house team. However, it allows you more control and it’s a great benefit for clients. Your agency is more of a partner, rather than a commodity when you have an in-house team of writers who specialized in creating the content your client needs. It's an added benefit that you should also add to your proposal.
  3. Implement EOS. Implementing Entrepreneurial Operating System can provide you with a ton of insight. Of course, it does entail a lot of change and shifting mindset. It’s also not something you can do half-way or it won’t provide the expected results. But when you go all-in with EOS you really see the results for your agency. To ensure success, consider hiring an EOS implementer. You’ll see better results than if you try doing it yourself.
  4. Time tracking. Make sure everyone on your team is time-tracking. It may sound too like you’re micromanaging them and most employees will not like it. However, the data it provides is very useful. It leads to important discussions like if a client is over capacity, is it time to upsell them? Will you need a new SEO person soon based on the amount of work? It also helps you decide when it was time to raise prices. Without this data, you’re just shooting in the dark and hoping something sticks.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what 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: 4_Pivotal_Moves_to_Get_Your_Agency_to_the_Multi-Million_Level.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

What big agency failures have you had? How did you overcome them? Most people don’t like to talk about failure but we all know it's part of being an entrepreneur. The road to growing your agency is filled with them and it’s good to reflect on how we deal with failure. It's also important to look back on things that seemed like the worst-case scenario can turn out to be blessings that lead us to new and exciting paths. Today’s guest has turned his past failures into an opportunity to share the lessons that can come from failures.

Justin Skinner is a self-proclaimed professional failure. He's also an entrepreneur, author, and podcast host. When Justin's dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn't take off, he focused on graphic design and photography. He ended up working at a couple of digital agencies and eventually became a real estate entrepreneur. Neither of these careers was what he thought but he found great success and happiness in this unexpected path. Most recently, Justin has been spreading the word about the benefits of failure with his book and podcast, The Professional Failure.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Trying to minimize the risks when growing his agency.
  • Learning from his failures as a leader.
  • The big failure that changed his career path.

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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.

The Road to Growing an Agency is Filled with Failures

In the agency business, the road to growth and success is normally filled with a list of failures. People normally want to hide those failures and not talk about them. The truth is even big names like Frank Kern has experienced some failures in their incredible career. It's an inevitable part of learning and growing.

Agency owners may get to the point where they want to give up and see no way out other than selling. Jason sees this type of exhaustion all the time when advising agency owners. However, he believes discussing failures can help you realize you’re not alone and find solutions faster.

There are many different ways to go about building an agency. For Justin, it made more sense to grow with contract workers. According to him, this allowed more flexibility and freedom from project to project. The agency did end up having one key employee who did a great job. However, they end up never adding other employees.

The benefit of course is that they didn’t have to worry about employees in slow months. It definitely depends on how you want to manage your agency and the vision you have for its future. In Justin's case it was the best decision because it provided clarity on their bottom line and allowed them to forecast net earnings for the year.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Biggest Failure Turned into a Huge Success

Justin has had several failures in his career. One that turned out to be a big success down the road was his dream to play professional baseball. He played in high school and college and had several friends who got drafted so he assumed he would too. This dream never came true. Although he was crushed, he now realizes his life wouldn’t have led to him growing a successful business and becoming an author if he had continued to pursue a career in sports. Losing this dream led to many opportunities he couldn’t have imagined at the time.

It’s all part of learning to identify yourself with who you are rather than what you do. Justin realized he wanted to be a resource for others, whether he was an agency, owner, baseball player, or realtor. This has really helped him find joy in whatever he’s doing. Pivoting is part of life and sometimes you’ll find you no longer enjoy what you’re doing, so it’s good to know you can pivot to something else.

Lessons in Agency Leadership

One of his biggest failures was when he hired the agency’s one and only employee. Since he was used to working exclusively with contractors, it was hard for him to manage someone else’s time. He didn’t know how to train an employee and wasn't clear on the tasks required for the job. Without clear direction, the employee had nothing to do sometimes, which led to frustration for both.

Justin had to learn how to become a better leader who is clear about his expectations.

When you hire someone you shouldn’t assume they’ll know what to do. Keep in mind why you are hiring this person. You’re probably trying to save time. However, if you can’t figure out how to communicate their tasks properly, you’ll find yourself giving instructions over and over. The result of this poor communication actually adds more work, instead of saving you time.

Jason has struggled with this in the past and he realized he needed someone to manage and guide these new employees. He recognizes he doesn’t have the patience to do it himself but he still makes sure new employees receive proper training.

On the flip side, Justin thought he was empowering his employee by giving them the freedom to choose how to organize their day. In reality, the lack of clarity and direction left ambiguity as to priorities.

This "failure" turned into 2 huge lessons:

  • Be more organized, and
  • Give clearer instructions and realize we’re all different and everyone has different ideas about which are the boring or interesting tasks

Next time you feel like you've experiences a failure, consider what lesson it's actually teaching you.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what 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_Turn_Your_Agency_Failures_Into_Growth_Opportunities.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

How will your agency face an economic recession? Does your positioning allow your agency to evolve and come out stronger? If you haven’t been preparing for a similar scenario, now is a good time to make some changes. Think about your agency’s position in the ecosystem of today’s market and how it could pivot to improve it. Today’s guest has seen some tough times in his 10 years in the business. He shares some of the changes agency owners can make to adapt and thrive during a recession.

Manish Dudharejia is the founder and president of E2M Solutions, a full-service white-label digital agency. His team works mainly with digital agencies to help them solve their bandwidth problems. After 10 years in the business, E2M has worked with over 450 agencies across the country and currently has a staff of 160 people.

He's a repeat guest and friend of the show, who has shared the complexities of the Principle-Agent problem and big decisions for a successful agency. Today he's helping us learn about surviving and thriving in an economic downtown.

In this episode, we'll discuss:

  • How the right positioning is the key to facing a recession.
  • How, even in the middle of the recession, your agency can keep growing.
  • Why a recession is a time of opportunity for small and mid-sized agencies.
  • How to can face possible layoffs if business slows down.

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How to Prepare Your Agency for a Recession

To survive a recession, your agency needs a very strong position in the market and products/services that solve real problems. With a clear vision of your agency’s positioning and offer you’ll know exactly who your clients are. This requires some reflection about things you can improve and simplify in your offering.

Regardless of a recession, if you’re having issues with onboarding, then you have a problem with your product or service. A recession is a great time to test out your product or service. If there’s an absolute need for what you offer, then your agency can go through a recession seamlessly.

One mistake agency owners make during a recession is to stop offering some services. Many assume that, if things are slowing down, the business slows down as well. This isn’t necessarily the case.

A recession is still an opportunity to make the most of your existing clients. It's easier and more economical to retain existing clients than find new ones. The key is being more communicative with your clients. Reach out and start a conversation to find out what they need. Are there any other ways your agency could be helping them?  You can do this without sounding “salesy” but by listening, taking a genuine interest in their business, and looking for new opportunities.

2 Tips to Keep Going During a Recession

  1. Continue marketing. During hard times, agencies should continue marketing and producing content. Write a weekly post and send a newsletter to clients to make sure they’re engaged. You want to ensure your customer service is top-notch so you’re not losing your existing clients. This is how your agency will continue growing in a recession.
  2. Be flexible. A little bit of understanding, empathy, and flexibility goes a long way with both existing and new clients. This applies especially to brands and industries being heavily affected by the recession.

Why Agencies Have a Good Chance Withstanding Hard Times

Agency services, like website building and maintenance, are essential for companies. Even in the middle of a recession, businesses want their websites to be up and running. They are still likely to hire agencies for essentials like websites, SEO, and content as a way to engage new clients.

Don’t assume a recession means staying put and waiting for the fall. Embrace new activities and services and maximize other areas where you can. A recession may be a time when your agency loses some clients, that is true. However, it can also be a reset and an opportunity to go after new clients at a higher rate.

Agencies that survive in a recession are the ones who get really specific about the clients they’re going after and the problems they solve. Of course, people freak out when things start to slow down. Nonetheless, this won’t last forever. At some point, they’ll see the need for marketing to accelerate their business. The economy is cyclical and it will come full circle again.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Recession Can Be an Opportunity for Agencies

Mid-size and enterprise-level businesses look for cost-effective solutions in times of recession. This means it’s a good time for small to mid-size agencies to land an enterprise-level client. In a recession, those clients won’t look for enterprise-level agencies because of the cost. That also means an economic downturn is a great time to pivot your messaging and position your agency to tap into new opportunities.

A lot of agencies don’t realize their positioning might be off during difficult times because they’re just trying to survive. You need clarity to figure out your positioning and rethink your offering. How can you do it? Try to find ways to keep it simple. It can be one of the hardest things to do. However, when you position yourself the right way you'll land the right clients and take advantage of new opportunities presented in a recession.

Facing Possible Layoffs Within Your Team

Layoffs are one of the things agency owners fear the most about a recession. You may feel responsible for employees and dread the moment when you have to consider making job cuts. This isn’t necessarily the worst thing. For starters, doing it in sooner than later helps them find something else quicker. Also, it's a chance for you to really evaluate your team and choose just your best people.

In 2017, Manish was in the position of letting go part of his team. After that, he thought about how to better position the agency. They decided to pivot and become very specialized in a few services.

This is an exercise he recommends for every agency owner when on the brink of recession. He believes all agency owners should take some time at the end of the year to reflect on their agency's results. Consider where you can make improvements. This is an area he urges agency owners to listen to their clients. If possible, he recommends doing a survey with some simple questions like “is our offering simple or is it confusing?” “is our pricing simple or is it confusing?”

Client feedback is your starting point for resetting and simplifying your offer for the next year. He finds every time he's done this exercise his agency becomes stronger.

Be Obsessed About Freeing Up Your Time

Finding the time to focus on what needs to change and ways to improve the agency becomes easier the better you get at delegating it. Another thing to ask yourself in an end-of-year reflection is “what are my current tasks at the agency?" and “could somebody else be doing this?

If the answer is yes, it's time to find the right person and delegate it. The more time you free up from daily tasks the more time you can dedicate to working in the business and strategies for how to pivot during a recession.

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

Are you considering a merger in the future? Have you thought about the logistics of managing the resulting agency? How would the structure of that newly merged agency look? There are many things to consider with a possible merger, like making sure it equally benefits both the team and the clients. Today's guest entered into M&A as the solution for the future vision of his agency. He was lucky to find a merger partner who turned out to be a great fit for his managing style, which is key to their success.

Kevin Hourigan is the president of Spinutech, a digital marketing agency that takes a data-driven approach to craft measurable results for clients. Originally, Kevin founded Bayshore Solutions, which offered web design services, interactive marketing, and e-commerce for clients in 55 countries since 1996.

More recently, Kevin and his new partner decided to merge their agencies becoming an end-to-end solution offering greater value to clients. He now chats about the decision to go ahead with the merger and how they structured the resulting company.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Surviving economic downturn and adapting to the market
  • How to structure and lead an agency after a merger.
  • Building culture and inspiring a large team.

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.

 

How to Adapt to the Changing Market Needs

Back in January 1996, only 1% of companies had a website. At the time, Kevin owned an outsource-IT company that helped small businesses manage their servers. He and his team also liked building websites and offered that service to clients. However, the most common response was “what’s a website?” Other clients would argue they didn’t need one. So at first Kevin’s company was marketing a product that companies didn't understand or value.

He recalls, about six months after they started offering website development some of those clients started calling them back. That’s how they started and slowly grew their model to building a 10-page $5,000 website. By 1998 the team had grown from 3 people to 30 team members and continued to grow to 250 team members by the year 2000.

Little did they realize, the burst of the dot-com bubble was just around the corner and they were once again left with a 20-person team. It was a stressful time, with many businesses around them disappearing. They managed to stay afloat by adapting to the market which resulted in keeping some core clients.

Lessons and Recovering from a Down-Turned Economy

Looking back, it’s easy to see the mistakes made during the dot com bubble. The growth was immense and came in too fast. Many businesses spent money they didn’t have on the best websites and the consequences were disastrous. After going through such a rapid decline, going from making 250K per project back to 15K per project, why continue?

Kevin was actually ready to quit at that point. He came close to going public with the company and already had a couple of angel investors. Although he felt it wasn't a viable plan, the investors wanted to move forward because they believed he could make it. And his agency did make it -- years later he was able to buy out those investors.

Three years after scaling back to a 20-person staff they had grown to 50 employees again. The agency figured out who they serve and the value they brought to those clients. Economic growth and recession is cyclical, but your agency can survive and even thrive in a tough economic climate

What is the Future for Agencies? 

Kevin owes much of his success to his ability to adapt to the market. While his company started out as an IT services business, he realized web development was the future. Even though clients didn’t see it right away, they eventually came around and embraced the internet era.

Then in 1996, his company went full-on with web development services. That was their sole focus for a while until the digital marketing side of the agency emerged. Once again they adapted to the demands of the market.

What’s next for the future of agencies?

Kevin believes the future of agencies relies on staying two steps ahead. The way agencies stay in the game is always being ahead of emerging technologies and being digital experts to their clients. As long as agencies maintain a level of expertise to help their clients grow their businesses, that’s how they stay relevant and necessary.

Using a Merger to Achieve Your Vision and Goals

Kevin’s goal for his agency was to become an end-to-end solution for customers – handling copywriting, web design, social media, etc. However, his team at Bayshore Solutions did not check all those boxes. They needed more team members who were experts in their areas and had more complex capabilities. This is why the merger was an easy decision for him.

He looked at partnering with a company he knew well. It belonged to an old friend at a competing agency. They both realized working together would help offer a better career path for their team and increase their value to clients.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What You Should Consider Before Starting a Merger Process

If you’re thinking about going through with a merger, here are some of the things Kevin recommends you keep in mind:

  • What does this mean for the clients?
  • How does it benefit the team?
  • How does it benefit the newly merged agency?

All of these aspects are very related and therefore need to be equally served. If the merger only serves one or two of these entities, one will be disappointed which creates the risk of a merger burdened by friction and frustration. If you value all three and ensure both cultures gel well, the result is an overall better agency.

Other aspects include the financial component and how involved you see yourself being in this new agency. Do you see yourself having an active or inactive role? This is a huge factor to consider prior to starting any M&A process.

How to Structure the New Agency After a Merger

The role you assume in the agency following a merger depends on how involved you want to be. For Kevin, it has been an evolving journey. He and his partner are 50-50 partners and early on they decided how that would work.

Both partners weigh in on very important decisions. Kevin is the executive in charge of web design and development while his partner oversees the marketing area.  Furthermore, his partner is very focused on culture so he handles that aspect. Meanwhile, Kevin is a numbers guy, so they really complement each other in terms of managing the business.

When it comes to their differences, they agree not to discuss diverging opinions in front of the team. Instead, they work it out privately and deliver one united message. This is what gets communicated to the team, so as to not confuse them.

This is not something they considered prior to the merger. They focused on how both agencies complemented each other and were lucky to find out later they also complemented each other's managerial styles.

Management and leadership styles are something to take into consideration if you’re thinking about a merger.

New Leadership Layers and Creating Accountability

From a team member perspective, the merger meant new layers of leadership that didn’t exist in the original agencies. The merger created many new management roles, many were filled by existing employees and a few by new agency hires.

For Kevin, the key to changes such as this is leveraging traction. Everyone at the newly formed agency knew who to turn to for help and who is in charge of what. The road to getting that sort of traction started with putting together an accountability chart. This has evolved as the agency has grown with new roles and management positions being created.

#1 Key to Agency Operational Success

Kevin and his team have an Entrepreneurial Operating Systems (EOS) integrator at the agency implementing “pure EOS”. What this means is the agency stays as close to the original system as possible.

Kevin says many businesses say they use EOS, yet they haven’t defined the integrator and visionary. What they are doing is a very light version of these principles where they pick and choose what they implement and, in the end, this holds them back.

Kevin and his partner run. their agency following an operating system that has been proven by many successful companies before them instead of one created by them. This entails many hard decisions but it's worth it. After all, this framework has been successfully implemented by over 80,000 companies. It may not be perfect, but Kevin attributes much of their success to closely following the EOS framework.

The Key to Building Agency Culture with a Remote Team

Today, with offices all over the country and more than 165 employees, the agency still chooses to work mostly remotely. Their offices are open for the staff to work on-site if they choose. There are often about 25-35 employees in the office every day.

However, to maintain culture they organize events designed to attract everyone to the office, such as an All Team Meeting. On those days, they serve lunch, and generally, many more people show up wanting to interact with their coworkers. They also have one person in the organization dedicated to serving the team and the culture. This ensures they have all sorts of virtual and in-person activities to build camaraderie and inspire the team.

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

How many hours per week do you spend working IN your business? Do you need a better work-life balance? Would you like to focus just on the work you really like? One agency owner went from dedicating 50+ hours/week to her agency to working 10-12 hours per week. She did it by recognizing her strengths, setting up the right systems and coaching her team.

Andrea Jones is a social media strategist who runs OnlineDrea, a digital agency operating done-for-you social media services. They handle all social platforms and do content creation from video editing and graphic design and primarily work with online business owners in the coaching services. A big shift in her personal life limited the time she could dedicate to the business. Therefore Andrea drastically changed the way she ran things. Fortunately, she managed to do it in record time and found it was just what her agency needed.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Transitioning out of client work and into the CEO role.
  • Scaling back from 50+ hour workweeks to 10-12 hours.
  • Coaching your team and building the right culture to take a step back.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Are You Afraid of the Word “Agency”?

Andrea has always loved the internet and the process of content creation. She started a blog in 2004 and even a YouTube channel in 2007. What really jump-started her career was moving to Canada, where she started freelancing and slowly built a team. However, she admits she was scared of the word agency; so for many years she thought of herself as a freelancer who “just happened to have a team”.

Her work as a freelancer started as a necessity while she worked on her legal status in her host country. Nonetheless, in time she realized the repeatable nature of social media had landed her a really good agency business model.

Removing Yourself from Client Work and Scaling Back to 10 Hour Work Weeks

If you’re an agency owner, it’s not uncommon to work 50+ hours a week. Maybe you love your agency and don’t even realize you also need a break.

Andrea went through a similar situation where she was working 50-60 hours per week. She says she wasn’t looking for a way out because she really enjoyed the work. However, when she got pregnant, she knew she couldn’t get through such long work days.

She made a decision and started removing herself from client calls, hired more staff to support clients, and hired her first official employee. This made a real difference, although she admits it was a long journey. In the past, every time she iterated the structure of the agency she was still at the center of it. It was only after she got pregnant she realized everything was still going through her. The real change came once she accepted this wasn't sustainable any longer.

Making this change was no walk in the park. It was easier than it could have been thanks to getting super clear about agency culture. She took the Clifton strengthsfinder test and her second strength turned out to be positivity. She had never seen it as a strength before, but she realized that’s why some people worked really well with them.

So when it came time to remove herself from sales, she knew she needed account managers with the same energy and she leaned on that in their training.

Andrea knew she got it right when she got a message from a client praising her team’s work. It is a difficult realization that clients don't need you, but it is exactly what frees up your time to do other things!

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Transitioning from Owner and Strategist to Agency CEO

Changing the agency's structure also meant changing Andrea's role. She went from leading strategy to coaching her team. Instead of just being an agency owner, she really transitioned in the role of Agency CEO.

It was a big change but she now feels more like a mentor than an expert. In essence, instead of being the person who provides the solution, she guides her team to finding the solution. 

The downside -- some of team members didn't make the cut. Not everyone was on board with this new direction or stepped up to the plate for their new responsibilities. Some people did end up leaving, which presented some unforeseen difficulties. In the end, this created more space to hire the right people and bring on new talent.

Try to Not Rush the Process and Get the Support of a Mentor

Agency owners need to proactively take steps to reduce the amount of time working in the business before they’re burned out. Rather than being reactive out of necessity, you can set a reasonable timeline to do it successfully.

It took Andrea about six months to achieve great results with her team. She admits a more realistic timeline would be a 1.5 years to account for unforeseen challenges. It was just one month before her due date and she managed to figure it out thanks to her team. Nonetheless, taking the time to do it without rushing out of necessity is ideal.

A longer timeline provides time to test-run. Andrea and her team tested the results of her coaching efforts once she had her baby. Since having the baby, they’ve had some time to fine-tune the process. She really recommends giving yourself the time to practice not being around and actually limiting your hours. There will be things you may not have considered, like sharing your passwords, that can go much better if you run a test first.

Finally, one key element Andrea cannot recommend enough is getting the advice of a mentor. As an agency owner, you probably feel that if you managed to grow a successful business figuring this out can't be that hard. However, consider how much you would be helping yourself by getting the support of someone who has done it before. Andrea’s mentors helped her through many unforeseen bumps in the road so she is thankful for having had support.

Are You Looking for a Mentor or Trusted Advisors? 

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what 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_Set_Up_Systems_and_Work_10-12_Hours_per_Week_on_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Does your agency develop content for clients? Do you have an in-house content team or outsource? What issues have you run into building your content team? The key to amazing content is building an amazing team. However, a common struggle for agency owners is not knowing the right structure or managing style. Today’s guest will share some insight on what to look for when putting together your content team and the right questions to ask to ensure you’re getting the best talent.

Ryan Sargent is the Director of Content Marketing at Verblio, the world’s friendliest content creation platform. Verblio builds content marketing for other marketers at scale by pairing specialized, niche writers with advertising agencies and marketing professionals. Ryan has been on the podcast before talking about Verblio’s agencies are using content marketing.

As content director, he knows his share of building and managing a content creation team. Recently, and thanks to Verblio’s new podcast, he has had the opportunity to talk to other team managers from different agencies and learn that they all pretty much share the same issues, which he will explore in this interview.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Where to start when building your content creation team.
  • Asking the right questions to ensure you’re hiring the right person.
  • The best way to manage your content creation team.

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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.

 

Where to Start Building Your Content Creation Team

When it comes to building your team, structure is very important and the order you make your hires will set the stage for future success. For starters, you want someone who really owns the manager/editor role. This will be a linchpin of the team structure.

Usually, someone on the director level will have to work a lot on strategy. This is particularly true for in-house teams. The team manager must know the type of content the team is creating and why they’re creating that content. Management may not be the most attractive part of the job, but ultimately someone has to make sure that everyone’s on schedule and the lights stay on. If you can fill that seat with someone who specializes in project management, you’re off to a great start.

A lot of times, people bring in a CMO person that will focus on strategy but are not willing to roll up their sleeves. What you need is a managing editor that can write content, develop a process, and then manage people under them.

Why Your Should Develop a Process Early

Something that Ryan kept hearing is that having a process is critical to ensuring that, whatever strategy you’re pursuing, you’ll find success. The process will allow you to generate content from a lot of different sources. If done right, you’ll set up a process that will be repeatable and will generate efficiency all on its own.

Creating the Content In-House or Outsourcing?

Ryan was surprised to learn that when it comes to content, everyone’s doing it a bit different. When it comes to where agencies are getting their content, the hybrid model is apparently very common. For every agency that is producing its content in-house, there are multiple that outsource at least part of it.

The same is true for in-house teams. This is a place where agencies and in-house marketing teams are operating in exactly the same way. Everyone’s mixing and matching, often depending on the type of content and industry.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Should the Content Manager Read Every Piece of Content?

Not all agency owners are equipped for managing teams. Some prefer to make the right hires from the start, give them the direction, and let them manage. People management is hard and can be tough to juggle with all the responsibilities that come with being an agency owner.

Because of this, some of the same issues kept coming up and no definitive answer is yet available. For instance, as a content manager should you be reading every single article produced by your team? Furthermore, once they’re producing dozens of articles a week, does your answer change? For Ryan, if you’re running a content team then yes, you should be reading everything.

However, he does agree that a content manager should only be reading pieces that are mostly finished. This is because:

  1. He wants to show his team that he trusts them, and
  2. He loves the creativity that comes out when he’s not constantly reminding his team of the content strategy.

Asking the Right Questions to Find the Right Talent

When you’re hiring people for your in-house content team it’s all about asking the right questions. Ryan likes to open the interview asking about the best piece of content they’ve ever written, followed by how did they know it was their best piece of content. Both answers are important. This way, he hopes to hear about something that isn’t a standard piece of content. Also, they would ideally talk about ways of measuring content success that are more conversion-centered than Google analytics.

For freelancers, his go-to question is “how did you become an expert in this topic?” The hardest part of outsourcing content is getting a writer that really knows the industry. For agencies, that problem is magnified because every client is in a different world and you need to find writers that can manage all those different verticals. The ability to vet a freelancer often comes down to that and the brief; a good follow-up question would be “what are the most important things you need in a brief?” If they talk about industry knowledge, sources to get started, content strategy, and most importantly, the purpose of this article, then you have a great candidate. If you get questions more directed at a style guide and less about coming up with the knowledge required to come up with the article, it’s probably not a right fit.

 

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

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

Have you heard of the four-day week? Is it something you've ever considered for your agency? Many people feel it is a good way to find the work-life balance we all dream of, while others argue it's not practical. Today’s guest decided to give it a try and now explains how he came to that decision and how it has worked out for his team.

Chris Free is the president and partner of Chromatic, a web development agency that has been in the business for 15 years. As a remote agency since its beginning, Chris and his team work to create a sense of camaraderie among employees. They wondered if a reduced work-week would make it even harder. He shares why and how he decided to implement the 4-day workweek and the result so far.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why they decided to try the four-day week.
  • The process to implement this new work style.
  • His team’s response and productivity results.

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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Do You Need a Break from Hustle Culture?

Chris always dreamed of owning his own business, although he never pictured it would be a digital agency. After graduating with a degree in interactive media, he figured he would work in video production. However, he quickly realized there were no such jobs he could find in Chicago, so he leaned on his programming skills. He ended up at a 10-person startup advertising.

His work at the agency helped him realize he had a ton of value to offer, so he joined two developer friends and started looking for clients. Just a couple of years later, they bought out the original founder and started adding more partners and employees. For him, the most challenging moment was when they started growing and he didn't have time to work on what he loved. As an agency owner, he was in sales and dealing with management problems and felt trapped.

After years of growing his agency and working on sides of the business he didn’t really enjoy, he pondered the idea of the four-day week.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

How to Start Slow With Flexible Time Off

Chris learned about the concept of the four-day week while reading about the downside of hustle culture. This book explains that you need to build a rest ethic as much as you build your work ethic. At the time, they needed a change so he and his partner agreed to test it out at the agency. They started by implementing a half day off every Friday. The results on the business side were not really impactful. However, on the human and cultural side, it was tremendously beneficial.

Their staff absolutely loved it, especially after the recent pandemic-related burnout that everyone lived. The result has been so successful that he sees no way back.

3 Common Concerns When Moving to a Shorter Workweek

  1. Financial Concerns. In the beginning, Chris was worried about torpedoing the business, which had never had any debt. He and his partner chose to start with half days off in the summer months, from from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Once the test was over they realized it had not had any material impact on their finances, so they continued through the rest of the year. When that test was successful, they decided to extended it to the entire day off. In terms of the benefits, their profitability isn’t up yet, but they expected it to be a longer play that pays for itself in terms of culture and retention.
  2. Clients Buy-In. How would clients feel about it? In the beginning this was a pressing concern for Chris. However, the response was surprisingly positive. Of course, there are still ways for them to contact the team in case of an emergency so clients don't feel abandoned on Fridays.
  3. Company culture. Chris and partners were concerned about fostering camaraderie among the staff. They’ve been remote since day one, so building culture has always been a conscious effort for them. While agencies that have an in-person model create that camaraderie naturally, remote agencies work hard to manufacture it. They have continued doing this with team retreats and weekly calls where they don’t talk about work. Overall, the staff is very happy with the change to a 4-day work week.

How to Be Better Leader and Prioritize Self Care

For many years Chris has had a hard time with work-life balance. He realized prioritizing his own well-being would make him a better leader. Transitioning to a shorter workweek was the push he needed to really take that seriously.

It's not uncommon for agency owners to get burnt out from long hours and oftentimes working on parts of the business you don’t necessarily enjoy. It might seem counterintuitive to take time off, however taking care of yourself is the key to success. Your future self will thank you.

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

What is your client onboarding experience like? Is it seamless and easy? Do your clients feel important and seen? This is the first impression new clients experience with your agency and it might be the most important interaction. Today's guest has been an agency owner for more than two decades and has adapted to the many changes in the industry. He shares how he has adapted to changes in the market, how he has an agile approach to project management and the most common mistakes in building the customer onboarding experience.

Michael LaVista is the founder and CEO of Caxy Interactive, a Chicago-based software and technology agency that helps companies unlock 4-5x growth by setting up new and efficient systems. Their expertise includes user-centered design, content management systems, e-commerce, mobile app development, and much more.

Michael is also the author of Superpowered, a book that goes over the seven leadership superpowers that technology executives can use to grow a more profitable organization.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The benefits of an agile approach to project management.
  • Ways to attract great agency talent.
  • Avoiding mistakes in new client onboarding.

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.

When it Comes to Agency Growth, Either Adapt or Die

Michael has been in the agency business since the “dot-com boom” in 1999 when his agency helped clients adapt to the arrival of this new tool. Back then, they believed all you needed was a great idea, then smack a “.com” on it, and you’d make a million dollars. “It was like the wild wild west,” he recalls.

Over the years, they’ve had to change their focus five or six times, from e-commerce to content management and more. Agency owners know you either evolve or die, so after their past focuses were commoditized to audiences they finally landed on offering tech solutions for business growth. They help companies whose current systems impede their growth. With their help, they unlock 4-5x growth. Over several decades in the business, they’ve amassed a remarkable client list, including Motorola and North Western University.

Roadmapping Growth By Updating Client Technology Systems

Michael’s agency creates a technology roadmap for profitable companies that want to grow but still run on spreadsheets and home-grown strategies that don’t scale. They re-engineer their clients' businesses taking advantage of available technologies. As much as we’re all aware of the available tools, not many are implementing them from a digital transformation point of view.

They commonly run into companies with systems designed around how they worked at some point in the past. A company starts as a single store but as they grow to multiple locations it may have new challenges. So, instead of being based on an idea, these companies’ systems are based on things that can easily go wrong. What happens then? What Michael’s agency does is helps these businesses engineer a system that will help them grow and open up.

A common misconception about their agency is their work with a company changes everything and replace employees with technology. According to Michael, in all the years working with different companies, upgrading their systems has never resulted in massive layoffs. Moreover, commonly the person doing the mundane tasks eliminated by the new systems are the owners and executives.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Benefits of Taking an Agile Approach to Project Management

In his career, Michael has learned the human mind is set up believing it knows step-by-step how something works.. The reality of course is that any big project has unforeseen complications. In these cases, you should be ready to adapt.

This is why he likes to use the agile approach to project management, meant to help teams deliver results with fewer headaches. In short, they lay out a general plan highlighting what they want to accomplish and they prepare for the fact that the “how” will likely change depending on circumstances. This allows them to deliver exactly what the client is paying for with the right priorities. Having a list of priorities ensures they always know what they should be focusing on in case the plan changes. For example, if you have prioritized ten goals you know number 10 is a good candidate to be modified.

For Michael, this is a good way to work transparently when it comes to what’s really happening at any time. It’s much better than letting the client believe the project will be finished by an exact day and time.

2 Big Mistakes in Your Agency Clients' Onboarding Experiences

In his agency, Michael has seen thousands of customer onboarding experiences. Two big mistakes are:

  1. Making it all about the agency. Some companies build their customer onboarding experience by thinking only about what they need. They approach it with “Here are all the things we want” and “This is what we need you to do”.
    Instead, it should be mutual and, best case scenario it should be easy and seamless. Your customer onboarding is the first contact they’ll have with your process and it will leave an impression, so make it a good one. There may be a ton of stuff you need them to do, but do you really need all of it right away?
  2. Not thinking about the entire client experience. Set up success early on by looking at the whole picture. Consider the entire client journey from the moment they sign on. Look for ways to set them up for success by preparing them for the most common struggles. You should always be aware of the hurdles new clients struggle with and be proactive in helping avoid or solve those. Track the entire experience to really understand their pain points, where people get stuck, what they are nervous about, etc.

Developing Ways to Attract Great Talent

Michael admits his agency needs to work on their methods for recruiting. He’s not alone; agency owners can get so busy with the work they don’t focus enough on their own marketing. You should always be hiring and part of this is to constantly communicate your culture. In Michael’s case, the most difficult hire has been developers who know what they’re doing. His agency is now developing a strategy for creating media to market his agency’s approach to technology with a spotlight on the developers. This shows viewers who they are as a company, what they do, and attracts employees that are a good fit.

When it comes to internal processes, Caxy Interactive focuses on creating a great project management communication system. They're empowering developers and trusting them to work without someone watching over their shoulders all the time. They focus on communicating what was going on, asking for input and ideas on a daily basis. The feedback is good and developers are positively surprised.

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: 2_Big_Mistakes_in_the_Agency_Client_Onboarding_Experience.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Have you built a scalable lead gen system to boost your agency’s growth? Most agencies start with referrals. But eventually, you need a reliable lead generation system to keep your pipeline full. Today’s guest found himself at that point when his agency reached $80K in revenue, at which point he realized the agency needed to step up in terms of lead generation to reach multi-million in revenue.

Jeremy Moser is the co-founder and CEO of uSERP, an SEO agency that earns SaaS companies high authority backlinks on the most coveted websites. When it came time for his agency to outgrow the referrals model, he turned to several strategies that helped his agency exponential growth. He now reflects on the lessons he learned about agency growth, the process to building his lead generation system, and why he picked Twitter as the platform to build a network and brand.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Going beyond cold emails to get past the $80K mark.
  • Why Twitter is a great place to form connections.
  • Podcasts as useful tools for SEO.

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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Helping Build an Agency Before Becoming an Owner Agency

Jeremy landed a job right out of college at a general marketing agency and web development firm. During his time there, he got to see a massive transformation after the founders split and went on to create separate agencies. Jeremy ended up staying with one of them and spent five years witnessing its growth, from being the only employee to being one on a team of 30.

During this time, he got to see the highs and lows of building an agency, seeing it go from a project to an actual company with organization and structure. Helping build the agency and witnessing the trials and triumphs, and what worked and didn’t is what helped him decide to eventually start his own venture.

Figuring Out How to Build a Lead Gen System

Up until about the $80K mark, Jeremy’s agency grew pretty much on referrals. He was tapping into his existing network, approaching past clients from his previous job by offering new services. It proved to be a good growth path for the early stages of the agency. However, they realized it just wasn’t sustainable if they really wanted to continue growing and reach multi-million in revenue per year. It was time to be intentional about lead generation by being active and aggressive about it.

However, referrals aren't scalable. So a lot of agency owners at this crossroads decide to hire a lead gen agency. Both Jason and Jeremy disagree with this strategy.

Jeremy says hiring a lead gen agency to do cold emails for your agency won't work without brand awareness first. It’s very unlikely in the early stages of your agency you’ll find high-profile clients simply by sending cold emails. As a result, he put his efforts into the long game with social media and organic content. For Jeremy, this worked better than the alternative of hiring a lead gen agency. It was a good way to build connections with founders and marketers at different companies, and it was one of the major drivers for them to scale past $80K per month.

Using Twitter to Make Real Connections

When he turned his attention to building a following on social media, Jeremy focused especially on Twitter. When he joined he didn’t really see much potential there to actually connect with people. However, at some point, there was a big shift in the algorithm and the platform's users.

He started posting what he was doing for his agency; sharing their wins and losses helped him build connections with other agencies and brands. He realized many of his Twitter followers were working at big companies. He decided this was the right platform to reach them on a personal level rather than someplace more transactional like LinkedIn.

While LinkedIn is always more sales-driven, with people trying to build connections on that basis Twitter was a more organic way of meeting people.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

2 Strategies That Helped Build the Agency’s Brand

Other strategies that helped boost his agency’s growth included creating content for third parties and an acquisition that led to their foot-in-the-door offer.

  1. Guest blogging: Try being an expert contributor for industry news outlets. Jeremy is a writer for Search Engine Journal, a top SEO publication. In the long run, this was a good lead gen strategy in the long run. They write detailed articles about SEO and link building that their potential clients could be interested in. This in turn gets them a lot of articles linking back to them or referencing them and ensures people searching for this information find uSERP.
  2. Acquisition and the FITD:  Jeremy's agency acquired a SaaS company which they had a relationship with their as a customer. A lot of SaaS companies – their ideal clients – used it as well. It provided a way for them as an agency to start building a relationship with potential customers. It created a good entry-level foot-in-the-door offer where a SaaS company could pay $200/month for this software. They actually ended up closing a good amount of deals from this acquisition.

The Positive Effect Podcasts Have SEO for Your Agency

Podcasts are a very useful tool when it comes to SEO for a number of reasons:

  • When you are a guest on a podcast, you almost always get a link back from doing it. Those natural links are always important. Whether they publish it on their site, social media, or their blog it has residual effect on your SEO.
  • You also get the opportunity to repurpose content. If you’re writing about a subject you also recorded a podcast on, you can transcribe the recording and optimize it.
  • Adding a podcast or video to existing content increases the value of that piece as a whole. By adding audio or video you can appeal to different types of learners because not everyone is going to want to read your super-long blog post.

Lessons in Agency Growth

One big lesson for Jeremy in his growth journey was investing in good talent. It may be hard to hire great talent right from the start because you just don’t have sustainable cash flow. However, once you get to a certain point with your cash flow and have a good client roster it is definitely something you should invest in.

Jeremy finds any time he feels uncomfortable with the amount he was paying for a seasoned senior hire it ended up being the best decision. It frees up a lot of time he redirects to focus on other aspects of the business. When he does that,  revenue climbs aggressively.

Now, he makes it a point to always think about things he is doing that somebody else could take over.

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

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