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

Considering adding software as a service to your offering? Do you have a SaaS idea in mind? Having proprietary agency software is a great way to meet the needs of your clients. However, building it is no easy task and often takes longer than expected. Today’s guests created an email marketing system which led to building their agency back in the early 2000s. They share lessons learned and challenges overcome in the process of building their email marketing agency out of a SaaS model.

Robert Dodd and Joe Solano are the founders of XL Technologies, a digital agency specializing in helping US-based real estate brokers grow and scale their brokerages. They have over 20 years of experience and help their clients using their proven and tested agent acquisition framework.

They also created proprietary software for real estate brokerages, which they use to help get clients better results from their campaigns. Their product, and the one that actually got their partnership started, is eCampaignPro. This email marketing system helps build targeted agent-to-agent email marketing lists.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Discovering the right niche and selling a solution.
  • The #1 common mistake sending cold emails.
  • Recommendations on building your own SaaS.


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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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

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 getting a new perspective to the show.

Discovering the Right Niche and Selling a Solution

Robert and Joe have been involved in internet marketing since the dot-com bubble era. Robert moved to Florida to work in a startup, which didn't work out. He met Joe through a project, and they started XL Tech together. They developed an email marketing system, which was a challenge to sell to businesses. They decided to niche down and adapted the system as a solution for the real estate market, specifically brokers. It was a great success.

Evolving from SaaS to an Email Marketing Agency

They identified common mistakes while managing agent-to-agent marketing relations and decided to provide a more complete solution. The concept of their agency was born from the need to help clients better use their software. Their company quickly grew with the success of eCampaignPro. However, they ended up getting into hot water with Google after some of their customers were spamming clients. As a result, their email traffic got blocked, which caused a significant disruption in the business.

They decided to help real estate brokers strategically map out the right approach and leverage social media as another way to reach out to agents. Their agency used their understanding of their audience's pain points and motivations to create an agent acquisition framework. They take everything brokers may need to put together a fully functional and omnipresent marketing campaign to get their message out. They also handle all the pre-qualifications, appointment setting, and follow-up all the way to the onboarding process.

#1 Common Mistake in Email Marketing

Joe and Robert say that creating software to sell with agency services is an unbelievable undertaking and will almost certainly take longer than expected. One of the most common mistakes in people's approach to cold email is being too aggressive with the frequency and cadence. Therefore it's important to have the right balance between cadence and messaging to get the results you're looking for.

With the way algorithms work today, it's essential to be tactful and strategic with your approach. They work out email sequences in their agency, which doesn't try to say everything at once. Sometimes they just contain a simple introduction. Then they wait to see how engaged the audience was with that message before following up.

Although they grow brokerages from scratch to thousands of brokers, they've never taken equity. They acknowledge it's an interesting prospect they haven't explored and are proud of the results they can get for their clients.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Do you have passion for your agency and clients? Have you identified your agency's purpose? Do you know your why and does your team buy into your vision?  One agency had a hard time with this and decided to begin a startup incubator to fill the void. The results have been amazing for the agency, the team, and their clients. She managed to create a very cool agency model that both creates opportunities for startups with a lot of potential and also provides investment opportunities for her staff, even in the early stages of their careers.

Laura Hutfless is the Co-Founder at FlyteVu, an entertainment marketing agency that helps brands connect to consumers via pop culture and purpose. Their work varies depending on the client, but it includes music events, influencers, endorsement deals, and more recently gaming. In short, they help clients try to keep up with pop culture and stay at the forefront.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Why agency projects need to have a purpose.
  • The process for working with incubator clients.
  • Advice for agency owners starting to invest.


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Sponsors and Resources

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


Why Every Agency Project Should Have a Purpose

Laura started her own agency, but her niche was something she stumbled upon accidentally. Before starting the agency, she worked in the talent agency CAA brokering deals between talent and corporate brands. As brands began to spend more on entertainment and influencers, Laura was asked to work for them. She saw the need to help companies navigate the new influencer culture to stay relevant to younger consumers, which led her to start her own agency.

She wanted to take on as many clients as possible to help these companies make sense of this new landscape. However, she felt that she was only helping people who already had a lot of money just make even more money; and she began to lose her passion for the job. To combat this, she decided that every project at her agency would have an actual purpose. This means working on either a movement, a change in culture, or a gift bag.

Laura also applied these principles to her incubator clients, investing only in startups she truly believed in and incorporating causes that were close to her heart. Laura wanted 20% of the agency's revenue to go to charity. So, she created the FlyteVu fund, which clients, teams, and vendors can access, and which can reach up to $1 million dollars each year.

One of her agency's first clients was Bumble. Although they did not receive equity, it was a mutually beneficial partnership that allowed the agency to earn credibility and learn a lot about the process and what a brand like that needs. Laura wanted to set up a startup incubator for future opportunities and to help entrepreneurs with great ideas and no funds. Now the agency has enough staff and hours to dedicate to these kinds of projects without taking payment.

The Process of Working with Startup Incubator Clients

When choosing incubator clients, Laura looks for mission-driven brands that resonate with her and her team's values, ensuring that it is something they believe in. There is a dollar amount attached to the equity they will receive in the company. This determines the hours spent on that client, and they are capped on the number of hours. Laura also looks at the brand's growth plan, strategy, and where they are in their timeline to better understand what the agency's role is and how far they can get them.

Laura's agency offers services for incubator clients for a year. After a year, they can either go off on their own or retain FlyteVu as their agency and pay their fee. Laura also pays for the equity of companies that are not yet at a point where they can benefit from their services.

When it comes to having dedicated teams, Laura only sees the need to have a separate account team. She wants to offer her staff opportunities for investment and wealth-building, which she never had as a young executive. By setting up her own incubator, Laura is able to give back and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs while also benefiting her agency.


Advice for Agency Owners who Want to Start Investing

If you’re interested in setting up an incubator, Laura recommends you start small. It has taken her agency some time to figure out a process that was right for them and she is thankful she gave herself that time. “You don’t have to dive in a big way,” she says. A lot of these startups need a phone call a month or some advice. These entrepreneurs don’t have the connections you have and at the beginning that’s a huge part of the agency’s involvement.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Do you want more clients? Thinking about increasing your offering to attract more clients? Truth is, the opposite strategy is what helps a lot of agencies grow. Scale back to scale up! That's what this agency did when they took the scary approach of cutting back on their service offering and niching down. However, the results speak for themself.  That is how one PR agency went from functioning as a full-service to niching down and focusing on just one area. Learn the motivation that led to making this transition and how he prepared for it.

Matt McAllister is the Managing Director at Candor Content, a content marketing agency that helps technology companies grow by driving organic traffic and generating inbound leads. Their content programs turn websites into organic traffic magnets by publishing content that attracts visitors, builds trust, and forges enduring relationships. With a team so passionate about writing and content marketing, it’s hard to believe the agency was first focused on PR. Matt offers some insight into that transition process and their eventual success.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Simplify your agency service offering and say no to the wrong clients.
  • Going all in on niching down.
  • Is the emergence of AI affecting content marketing agencies?


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Shifting Focus From PR to Content Marketing

Matt started his agency 12 years ago, initially focusing on the PR side of the industry. At that time, he believed that most companies allocated a budget for public relations and that he would find clients easily. He did not consider content marketing because it was not yet a big thing. However, he had a content-centric approach to doing PR, offering to publish articles, research reports, and take over clients’ blogs.

Around 2015, HubSpot became popular and many companies realized the power of inbound marketing. They needed content to fuel their inbound engines, so Matt and his team focused more on creating content. However, in the early days of his agency, they fell into the trap of trying to be all things to all people. They gave clients a full-service offering where they would do anything needed, including branding, design, and positioning. This approach proved to be very stressful because they were a small team and had to rely on freelancers.

Simplifying the Agency Offering and Saying No to the Wrong Prospects

Eventually, they realized that it was time to strip down their services and focus on what they enjoyed doing the most. Niching down and saying no to the wrong customers is a natural part of growing an agency. But it's not as simple as it may sound. You have to consider possible risks and start implementing it with some clients first to assess the response. The hardest part will be drawing a line in the sand and start telling clients you will only work on a specific space. This involves offering referrals for all those wanting other services outside that expertise.

It's important to take the time to feel well-prepared for the shift. Too many agency owners pull the ripcord too early and go back to what they feel is safe before seeing results. Fortunately, they started to see results right away. Existing clients responded with more budgets for content creation, something they already knew his agency was good at. Additionally, new prospects trusted them in this area of expertise. They figured they must be really good at that if they were willing to focus on that one area.

Going All In On Niching Down to Attract More Clients

Realistically, you may go through a few rough weeks where you lose clients that don’t fit your new niche. The important thing is to push through that point. Matt’s agency lost about 10-15% of its overall revenue at first. "It was scary," he admits, "we’re a small agency so this was a significant part of our revenue for sure." He was definitely tempted to take some of the PR work opportunities that they have following their shift to content. Thankfully, his partner reminded him they needed to go all in on their strategy for it to work. Big changes like this benefit from having people around you who will hold you accountable for your commitment.

If he could go back to the agency’s first few years, Matt would have brought on help sooner. It’s common for agency owners to decide to do everything themselves at first to cut costs. "I called it an agency," he recalls, "but it was me and a couple of freelancers." Looking back, he would have liked to have more trust in the project and given more work to other people.

Scaling Back Services to Scale Up the Agency

As far as the transition, he would have more faith that it would all work out in the end. It certainly would have saved him some sleepless nights. Moreover, he would have cut down the agency’s services even more. It was a gradual transition, starting with the PR and messaging, and positioning offering. However, they kept doing email marketing and other services that they eventually dropped. Nowadays, it’s clearer for him that the agency shines when it comes to SEO, lead generation content, and brand generation content.

If you want to scale up, you must be willing to scale down first. In order to figure out how to strip down your offering, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What would I do if I only received my payment after having performed?
  2. How can I be the best at what I do and be clear about that?

How is the Emergence of ChatGPT Affecting Content Agencies?

Many in Matt’s team are writers and journalists who are very passionate about their craft. Understandably, a lot of writers are a bit nervous right now about the emergence of AI writing tools. There’s a lot of talk about these tools replacing writers. Matt doesn’t think this will be the case.

AI provides writers with the tools to get better ideas, get over writer’s block, and have the potential to make them better editors. Like anyone in the content creation space, he’s been following this technology closely and he’s excited about it.


Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Are you feeling threatened by AI? Are you worried that it could replace your agency's creative work? There are so many uses for artificial intelligence and it is here to stay. So it's time to embrace it and unlock the power of AI for your agency's growth. From creating meeting summaries to building websites, there are so many applications people aren’t talking about yet. Today’s guest has explored many of these tools at his agency and offers a few tips on the ones you should be testing to become more productive.

Carl Cleanthes is the founder of Epic Made, a digital art and animation studio that does most of its work in the entertainment advertisement space, including NFTs and PFP collections. In his agency, Carl has implemented the use of AI to generate images that can serve as a reference for the work they do. However, he has also discovered other very useful AI applications that any agency owner can implement to boost productivity.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • How AI is helping creators and agency owners.
  • The benefits and power of AI in creative work.
  • Will AI replace your agency?


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


How AI is Revolutionizing Creative Work

The conversation around AI is a layered and complex one, and not without controversy when it comes to copyright. At its core, however, artificial intelligence is a tool to help make human beings more productive, more creative, and allow them to execute their ideas faster and on another level.

Many people became aware of AI tools mostly through the use of ChatGPT or some image-generating artificial intelligence software. In reality, AI has been around for a long time but what’s really getting people excited now is the machine aspect of it.

The Benefits of AI in Creative Work

Pumping in a data set and creating content from that seemed like a distant possibility not very long ago. Now, AI’s ability to do this is just getting better and better, with the possibility to generate tons of content in just seconds.

This record-breaking shift to AI we’re seeing with ChatGPT is largely thanks to how intuitive it is. The ability to just drop an idea there and get very good and in some cases amazing quality text that needs very little editing is something that is helping get productivity to levels we could only dream of in the past.

Will AI Replace You or Your Agency?

Of course, not everyone has a positive interpretation of these developments. Some people fear AI will replace them. Instead, we should reframe it as adapting to the many ways in which AI can help us improve what we do. For writers, it’s a great tool to get that first idea to start your text. In fact, people who are just using it to create a text and then copy and paste are missing out. The real great results will come from combining the ideas the AI can give you with your own writing.

Carl doesn’t believe AI can fully replace human creativity. It will, however, hurt the bottom of the market. It won’t make sense to pay someone to do something you can now do yourself with AI.

The Power of AI in Business Productivity

Most agency owners have heard of ChatGPT or Jasper. However, their widespread use has made some people think this is the first AI tool of their kind. This is not true at all; these types of tools have been available for years and have many uses.

For instance, Carl uses Fireflies and Otter AI, which are AI bots that join your meeting, record it, transcribe it, note all the questions, and automatically email that to everyone in the meeting. He also uses Midjourney for image generation. In this case, he uses it to generate ideas instead of manually searching for references on the internet. It’s a good way to get a sample of what’s out there on the internet with the added benefit of saving time.

For copywriting, he uses some of the more known ones and also recommends Neuroflash. These tools are not only great for generating ideas for posts but also a good way to spice up an email or get a start on tedious tasks like writing a letter of intent. There’s still much to learn about the subject, so the important thing is to stay informed and constantly learn about this topic. You’ll find AIs for building landing pages, thumbnails, creating websites, so many functions most people are not yet aware of and that can really help you boost productivity.

TikTok is a Good Place to Start Researching AI Applications

Many people are unaware of the vast range of AI tools available, from building landing pages to creating websites. TikTok is an excellent platform to start researching and learning about AI applications, with informative and easy-to-digest content.


Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Did you know that applying behavioral science to your agency's work will result in better outcomes for your clients? By utilizing research-backed methodologies, you'll gain a competitive advantage. With extensive research on how to decipher customer thought processes, behavioral science is an incredibly useful tool for influencing and predicting their behavior.

Our guest today, Shirin Oreizy, is the founder and CEO of Next Step, a marketing agency that specializes in using behavioral science and research methodology to help clients achieve their marketing goals. Their approach is different from traditional marketing, which often puts all customers in the same box. Instead, Next Step seeks to de-risk the process and provide evidence-backed results. Shirin discusses the basics of the behavioral science approach, why it is so useful for agencies, and how her agency's methods lead to the best possible outcomes for clients.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • The role of behavioral science in digital design.
  • 4-phases to use behavioral science to your agency's advantage.
  • The importance of process transparency to gain clients’ trust.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

An Under-Utilized Tool that Became the Agency's Differentiator

Behavioral marketing agencies have changed the way companies approach business, by offering unique solutions and products designed to meet the specific needs of their clients. While many agencies may rely solely on website design, graphics, and typography, successful agencies understand the importance of behavioral science in creating unique products and driving conversions. Shirin's interview explores the four-phase methodology used by her agency to leverage behavioral science, as well as the benefits of process transparency in driving sales.

The Role of Behavioral Science in Digital Design

The gap between what we know we should do and what we end up doing is significant. Behavioral science takes into account the fact that people’s emotions, environment, and social factors heavily influence their decisions. By studying these behaviors, agencies like Shirin's can identify gaps in existing marketing plans and develop tailored solutions that meet the unique needs of their clients.

Understanding Human Behavior to Design Unique Solutions and Products

Behavioral science is a social science that takes into account many external factors. It's important because people’s emotions, environment, and social factors heavily influence their decisions. Behavioral scientists take into account things like people’s laziness, biases, and heuristics, which are often overlooked in traditional marketing practices.

The 4-Phases to Use Behavioral Science to Your Agency’s Advantage

Shirin's agency has developed a research methodology called the science of design, which uses behavioral science as the backbone to understanding a situation. It’s a combination of qualitative and quantitative research to try to figure out why consumers prefer a product or ad. The 4 phases are as follows:

  1. Behavioral Science Assessment: Their behavioral science researchers analyze how the client is currently marketing. They identify gaps and issues that can be addressed immediately.
  2. Qualitative Research: This phase involves talking to about 10 people to verify the agency is moving in the right direction.
  3. Quantitative Research: This phase involves testing the different hypotheses against each other. The goal is to figure out what works. The test groups have significant numbers so there is no question about the results.
  4. Incorporating the principles: Designers and copywriters get involved to incorporate these principles into the work they’re doing for the client.

Why Process Transparency Will Help You Sell More

Process transparency is one of the core principles of behavioral science. Research shows that human beings value effort, hence explaining the process behind a product or service ensures clients will value the result more. Clients with information about what happens in the background are willing to wait longer, increasing the likelihood of driving conversions.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Do you have trusted referral partners? Every considered merging with an agency partner? A merger can be a good way to expand your service offering, but surviving a merger is a whole other thing. The right partner gives you access to highly skilled professionals, more creative ideas, and proven methods to maximize success. Today's guest found a great, longtime partnership. However, when it came time to merge their agencies, both opted to maintain ownership of their individual entities. He explains the thought process behind this decision and the road that led to his eventual acquisition.

Gus Wagner is the president and owner of The Rocket Group, a full-service agency based in Missouri. In its long history, the agency has worked in all sorts of different sectors with businesses, organizations, and nonprofits; focusing on government communications and politics. Established as a virtual organization since its beginnings, the agency has always worked with independent contractors to help build and perform their client marketing tools and activities. For this episode, he recalls his agency journey and how he and his partner decided to set up a separate agency to work together and not lose control of their individual businesses.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Protecting agency ownership when collaborating with a partner.
  • Should you sell your agency to a competitor?
  • When and how to announce an agency acquisition.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

Sponsors and Resources

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


In 2001, Gus, a sales and marketing manager for different manufacturing companies, quit his job and decided to start his own agency. After 21 years of working with The Rocket Group, he had completed numerous opportunities and projects, specializing in tools to help his clients communicate online and in the real world with their customers and prospects. Gus is also a certified social media strategist and enjoys training interested parties in these ever-changing modern communication platforms. Over the years, he has made valuable strategic partnerships, with some colleagues working with his agency for more than 5 years. On a daily basis, his agency works with 19 state associations, 200 individual member public utilities, and one national organization.

Protecting Agency Ownership While Collaborating with an Agency Partner

However, there was a time when Gus decided to set up a separate agency to protect ownership of his original business. This happened when he officially formed an agency partnership to maximize his success. Instead of merging their agencies, they created a third entity owned by both of businesses. Whether because of different industry niches or partners who didn’t want to get too involved in the entire agency’s operation.

Many agency owners are always networking and passing business back and forth but keep their businesses separate. In fact, clients are often aware of this. For Gus and his partner, it was a case of simplifying things for the clients. This way, they would have to deal with one entity instead of two.

It seemed like the best way to go about these partnerships since Gus also didn’t want to sell a piece of his agency. This is because many businesses don't want to give up ownership of their organization, especially to someone they don't trust. When it comes to selling your agency, there are many things to consider, such as your employees, clients, and the value of the agency itself.

Should You Sell Your Agency to a Competitor?

If you decide to sell, it's important to make sure that the buyer is someone you trust and that the process is done right. In Gus's case, he was approached by a competitor who wanted to acquire his organization. They accepted and closed the deal in March 2020. The buyer was a known competitor who had been working with the same pool of clients for some time. It was a smaller agency trying to win social and digital campaigns for public utilities. They were trying to do it differently and weren't being very successful with that client base. They were put in touch by a client who had worked with both and they got to compare strengths and weaknesses. The conversation grew from there.

At that time, Gus’s agency was growing more than he and his partner were comfortable with. Hence, it was attractive for them to form a larger structure to take over that growth. It took about six months from the initial conversation to signing the paperwork and making the announcement.

How and When to Announce an Agency Acquisition

Announcing an agency sale can be challenging as clients may assume the services will quickly lower in quality. However, if you wait until they have positive comments about the service to announce the sale, they’ll see there was nothing to worry about. In Gus’ case, the buyer was excited about the purchase and the new capabilities it brought for their agency, so they made the announcement right away.

Gus has been in this industry for over 21 years with The Rocket Group and about 15 years before that. He advises keeping things simple, keeping your eyes on the prize, and keep moving forward and upward. He also emphasizes the importance of protecting ownership of your agency, which he did by setting up a separate agency and forming agency partnerships. This way, you can maximize your success without giving up control of your original business.


Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Are you running your agency, or is your agency running you? Are you lacking the freedom you thought you'd have in your agency? Many owners start growing their agency, getting more clients, and hiring more people and quickly find they’ve built a prison for themselves. Today’s guest went through this and came up with a method to regain freedom and buy back your time. He now helps clients set up systems to identify their buyback rates and delegate tasks so they can maximize time and revenue.

Dan Martell is the CEO of SaaS Academy, the largest coaching company for software CEOs. He has owned and sold several agencies and continues to invest and buy companies through his company, High-Speed Ventures.

As a troubled teenager, Dan discovered his obsession with computer programming while serving time in a detention home. Many years later, he started and sold several companies. He has two venture companies and has been an angel investor in about 50 companies. He is currently CEO of SaaS Academy and is further developing his personal brand as an author. Today, he talks about his new book, Buy Back Your Time, where he details the method he created to help business owners regain their freedom.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • How to calculate buyback rate and conduct an audit of your time.
  • 3 mistakes entrepreneurs make when they reach the pain line.
  • 5 key hires to help you delegate and reclaim your time.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


How to Calculate Your Buyback Rate

The “buyback rate” is a concept that many entrepreneurs are embracing to avoid the “pain line.” This is the point where they can no longer balance their personal and business life. Dan's book explores the buyback rate in-depth and discusses how it can help you build a successful business while enjoying your personal life.

Dan, the author of Buy Back Your Time, teaches entrepreneurs to calculate their hourly revenue value to determine their buyback rate. To do this, divide your annual income by the number of hours you work per year, then divide that amount by four. The result is your buyback rate.

Calendar Audits to Identify Tasks You Can Delegate

Once you have your buyback rate, it's time to audit your calendar. Dan advises clients to audit their calendars for two weeks, highlighting tasks they enjoy in green and tasks that drain their energy in red. Each red task should be rated on a scale of one to ten based on the cost to outsource it. Tasks rated as one will cost ten dollars to outsource, tasks rated as two will cost twenty-five dollars, and so on.

After classifying tasks, Dan suggests that you work through the $1 tasks, the ones that will cost the least to outsource. While this might not free up a lot of your time at first, it's important to build the muscle of delegating.

Dan warns that buying back your time isn't about going to relax. It's about using that time to generate more revenue for your agency. It's important to avoid the "pain line," the point where people start making rushed decisions.

The "pain line" can cause entrepreneurs to stall, sabotage themselves, or sell their business, even if it's thriving. Dan has developed a replacement ladder with five levels to help you buy back your time gradually. The levels are Executive Assistant, Delivery, Marketing, Sales, and Leadership.



The Five Steps in the Replacement Ladder

Dan suggests starting with an Executive Assistant, who can help with scheduling and administrative tasks. Next, hire for Delivery, so you can delegate client work. Marketing and Sales come next, where you delegate lead generation, conversion, and follow-up. Finally, when you have a team in place, you can focus on Leadership.

Dan emphasizes that buying back your time isn't a one-time event. Instead, it's a loop that you should continually refine. It's essential to solicit feedback from your team to prevent stagnation.

In conclusion, the buyback rate is a useful concept for entrepreneurs who want to balance their personal and business life. By identifying the tasks they can delegate, entrepreneurs can focus on generating revenue and avoid the "pain line" that often causes them to stall, sabotage themselves, or sell their businesses. The buyback rate allows entrepreneurs to buy back their time gradually, building a team that can take over their day-to-day tasks, and create a successful business while enjoying their personal life.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

What are you doing to keep your team happy? Do you have an amazing culture? Is your team passionate about the agency's vision? Do they understand their growth plan beyond their current role? Your employees are your most valuable asset. That's why one agency owner shares his strategy for maximizing employee happiness and how that's led to massive productivity for his e-commerce media agency.

Samir Balwani is the founder and CEO of QRY, a media buying agency for e-commerce and direct-to-consumer brands. Their media methodology and testing framework called the QRY Paid Media Process has enabled e-commerce brands to reach new customers and accelerate growth.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • The importance of people management for team happiness and productivity.
  • Favoring process-driven thinking and management layers.
  • Thoughts on DTC moving to an in-store product line.


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Sponsors and Resources

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

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.


Importance of People Management for Employee Happiness and Productivity

People management is a critical factor in keeping employees happy and productive, yet it's often overlooked by many businesses. Samir, the founder of an agency that specializes in working with direct-to-consumer e-commerce brands, understands the importance of prioritizing people management. He's implemented various strategies at his agency to ensure that his team is engaged and motivated, even as the company has grown.

One of the keys to maintaining a sound work environment is to create a culture of feedback and communication. Samir has implemented 360 reviews, growth plans, and annual plans to help his team stay passionate and excited about their work. He also recognizes the importance of preventing burnout by ensuring that workers feel valued and appreciated. Allowing employees to voice their concerns and be heard is a crucial part of creating a space where they can thrive.

Favoring Process-Driven Thinking and Management Layers at his Agency

Another critical aspect of people management is fostering a process-driven approach that doesn't hinder innovation. Samir believes that layers and organizational structure are essential to allowing people to learn from those with more experience. His agency has a coordinator level, a manager and strategist level, and a director level, which has helped to empower employees while also providing them with the support they need to grow.

Being a Data-First Business and Sharing Valuable Information

As a data-driven business, Samir's agency collects a lot of valuable information about the e-commerce marketplace. They've created a benchmarks page to share high-level trends and KPIs with their clients. This helps to build trust and demonstrate their expertise.

Should Direct-to-Consumer Brands Make the Move In-Store?

Samir also believes that direct-to-consumer brands will need to reconsider their approach to brick-and-mortar stores in the coming years. These stores can provide valuable validation and brand awareness. However, they may not be the best fit for every brand. Working with wholesale partners like Target can be a more strategic way to build brand awareness. It also allows a brand to grow without cannibalizing a company's entire product portfolio.

Improve employee happiness and productivity in your agency. Take a cue from Samir and prioritize people management. By creating a positive work environment that values communication, feedback, and innovation, you can set your team up for long-term success.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Are you in the growth phase or the scale phase of your agency journey? Do you need generalists, specialists, or both? Knowing where you're at is the key to knowing who to hire to get where you're going.  Today’s guest is in the scaling phase and believes this is when an agency needs to hire specialists. Before that, it’s all about hiring generalists that can handle multiple tasks and get the business to the next stage.

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

Manish is a valued partner of the show and as a repeat guest, he shares his experiences solving some of the most common agency growth challenges. In this episode, he shares some of the hiring decisions that may be holding back agency's growth.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • When to hire a generalist or a specialist.
  • The differences between the growth phase and the scale phase.
  • Why automation is the next step after hiring specialists.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM


A Common Hiring Mistake for Agencies in The Early Growth Phase

If you’re past the initial growth phase with your agency, what would you have done differently to scale faster? Like many agency owners, Manish didn’t know a lot about building a team back when he started his business. More than 10 years later, he has learned that when you’re starting an agency or you’re in the growth phase, you want to make sure you start off with a team of generalists.

Generalists are people who are not necessarily tied to a specific role. They are able to work in several different roles during the agency’s growth phase. After reaching certain goals and entering the scale phase is when you need to hire specialists.

After opening his agency for business, Manish started looking for specialists right away. He figured he couldn’t run the agency without them.

The Importance of Hiring Generalists in the Early Growth Phase

When starting an agency or in the growth phase, it is essential to hire individuals who can be flexible and perform multiple roles. These individuals, known as generalists, can provide much-needed support in various areas, allowing the agency to save costs and reduce the number of people to manage. Hiring generalists during this stage also enables the agency to avoid having idle employees and ensures that the quality of work does not compromise.

3 Advantages of Hiring Generalists

In the early growth phase, it is common for agency owners to approach growth-related problems by hiring more people. However, this approach can be both costly and time-consuming, especially if the right employees are not found. On the other hand, hiring generalists provides several advantages, including:

  1. Reduced Costs: By hiring generalists, the agency can combine multiple roles into one, saving on costs and reducing the number of people to manage.
  2. Increased Resourcefulness: Generalists are known for their resourcefulness, which is an essential trait in the early growth phase. These individuals are versatile and can perform multiple tasks, providing the agency with much-needed support.
  3. Improved Quality of Wor Hiring generalists ensures that the quality of work does not compromise, as these individuals can perform multiple roles and provide support in areas where it is needed.

The Right Time to Hire Specialists

As the agency moves from the growth phase to the scale phase, it is time to start thinking about hiring specialists. Specialists bring unique skills and expertise that generalists may not possess, and they play an essential role in scaling the agency. Once the agency has reached a certain level of profitability and established a talent pipeline, it is the right time to start thinking about hiring specialists in each department.

Hiring generalists in the early growth phase is crucial for the success of an agency. These individuals provide versatility and resourcefulness, saving the agency costs and improving the quality of work. As the agency moves from the growth phase to the scale phase, it is the right time to start thinking about hiring specialists who bring unique skills and expertise to the business.

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: Hiring_Tips_for_Agencies_in_the_Growth_and_Scaling_Phases.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you want your eventual exit to benefit many instead of a few? Want to motivate and empower the team by making them personally invested in the agency’s success? Have you thought about employee shares or stock options? Learn what you should do and what to avoid in this situation from the CEO of an employee-owned agency. It was an unconventional exit strategy by its owner. However, it the new ownership structure offers many benefits for all involved and is a very interesting way to positively ensure that everyone at the agency has skin in the game.

Leeann Leahy is the CEO of VIA, a full-service advertising and marketing agency based in Portland, Maine. They are an award-winning team and one of the largest independent agencies in the business. How did they do it? Many years after its creation, the last remaining original partner decided to build a very interesting ownership structure that would benefit all employees instead of a select executive team. Leeann discusses the process of putting such a structure together, the challenges, and the many benefits it creates for the business culture and overall employee commitment.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • How to set up an employee-owned agency and mistakes to avoid.
  • Finding the right agency employee ownership option.
  • Why successful ESOPs start with a foundation of good culture.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

Sponsors and Resources

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


Create Something Larger than Yourself with an Employee-Owned Structure

In a sense, Leeann grew up in the agency world. She was a child actor in several commercials, so she grew up around the business of advertising. At one point in her life, she swore off that world. However, she fell right back into it with account planning. Since then she has had a successful career working at both large and small agencies. Ten years ago she moved to Portland, Maine and became the CEO of a very interesting employee-run project.

When the agency was created, its three owners had a vision of creating something larger than themselves. This is why they named it VIA (Vision, Instinct, and Action) instead of something tied to the founders. Over the years, two of the partners left and, as the last one prepared to step away from his active role, the agency got a lot of acquisition offers. With Fortune 500 clients and awards for best culture, the agency was a valuable asset for any buyer. Instead, the remaining partner had something very different planned for his exit strategy. He set up an agreement whereby he would give the agency to the employees.

This was not a typical employee-ownership program. It was completely bespoke, with lawyers and accountants advising against it. However, they started a program measuring the agency’s performance each year and if they reached certain metrics, the owner would gift a portion of his ownership in the form of options.

The program, which they called VEEP (VIA's Employee Equity Program) was meant to last for ten years. Fortunately, they were actually able to do it all by year seven.

Finding the Right Agency Employee Ownership Structure

Seven years after starting VEEP, employees could convert their earned "options" into shares. This is when they realized the lawyers and accountants were right.

The original agreement had the best intentions; however, it didn’t take tax implications into consideration. The problem was that the conversion from options to shares was prohibitively expensive because of the agency's growth over the years. As a result, they were forced to reevaluate their situation.

They looked at many different types of structures that didn’t involve giving up their independence. In the end, they landed on an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program), a program overseen by the government. It has huge tax exceptions, so there are benefits for both the employer and employees. It is basically set up as a qualified retirement plan.

Now everyone at the agency is given more shares every year at no cost to themselves. That grows over time and, by the time they leave the agency, they’ll have something they can roll over into an IRA or cash out. This way, they’re actually earning as the agency grows and everyone is invested in the agency’s success.

3 ESOP Models Depending on the Owner’s Future Role in the Agency

Does the owner get paid out in an ESOP structure? The short answer is yes. Of course, they had to find a way to make it work both for him and the employees.

In VIA's case, the owner was paid out in two segments with a down payment and the rest over time. Technically, it was all done through a trust. They set up a trust that "bought" the agency and allocated shares to the employees. This way, the Board of Directors would still govern operationally while a Trustee Committee oversees the Board.

It was a complicated feat to pay out the owner and recognize the value he had gifted employees over the years. It involved a lot of legal math and the collaboration of many lawyers and accountants. Depending on how you structure it and what the owner wants their future role to be, they can still have residuals or be completely out.

The owner payout in an ESOP can work in 1 of 3 ways:

1. The owner receives 100% of the buyout through a note with an interest rate or participation in the ESOP.
2. It could be through a down payment to the owner and a note for the remainder.
3. Funding can be sourced from an outside, third-party.

Pros and Cons of an Agency ESOP

To take a similar route with your agency and have successful results, the first key is having the desire for everyone to benefit, as opposed to just the founder and a small executive team. This doesn’t mean they’ll all benefit equally but rather in an equally fair manner based on their contribution and compensation.

People get nervous around ESOPs because it generally involves taking on debt to buy out the founder. This debt gets paid first, even before the owner’s note, so the government knows you’re repaying it. Furthermore, you have to hold a certain amount of cash in reserves for when people redeem shares.

At Leeann’s agency, they set up the ESOP so only employees can hold shares, but this also means the agency needs to be ready to buy people out when they leave.

There are some ties to it for the employees, like paying a penalty if you decide to take out the shares before reaching a certain age. Nonetheless, the big benefit for the business is the ability to operate as a tax-free organization.

Investing in Good Culture and Commitment to the Agency’s Success

Being in a creative industry, it’s important to provide a work environment where employees feel motivated and inspired. The key to achieving this is keeping them happy. This agency invests in its happiness factor by providing its team the opportunity to work for themselves. It’s an interesting approach to the problem of employee engagement by offering benefits linking the overall agency’s performance to the team's personal gain.

Of course, this structure is not without risks. It’s built in a way in which, if you maintain a good culture and an engaged employee base, they’ll be invested in the agency’s success. If people are not engaged and it’s just a job to them, then it all falls apart. On the contrary, if they understand the agency’s success is their success, then odds are it won’t fall apart.

To ensure they give a space where employees can voice their concerns, VIA introduced VN Voices. It’s a new figure apart from the Board of Directors and the Trustee committee called the Associates’ Panel. They’re a group of seven volunteers who represent the employees. They raise issues affecting the team and bring them to the Board and Trustees.

A Successful ESOP Starts with a Foundation of Good Culture 

If you’re interested in creating something similar to the model Leeann’s agency came up with, she recommends having a well-established culture. “It’s just not something you can create on top of it,” she says. VIA already had a culture of investing in happiness, people, and fun. They invest a ton in mental health and creating an equitable environment to introduce diversity. Investing in your culture is a good way to invest in your agency’s future. “No matter where you land, you’ll be passing on something more complete if you invest in the culture,” Leeann assures.

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_an_Owners_Unconventional_Exit_Strategy_Boosted_Agency_Success.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you want to grow your agency through an acquisition? Would what it would look like to merge with an agency offering complementary services? What if you could expand your team by acquiring another agency's talent?  An acquisition might feel impossible, but done right can be an amazing growth strategy. Today’s guest never thought he would acquire not one but two agencies. He saw acquisitions as an impossible growth strategy that required enormous amounts of cash. In the end, it was just about finding the right partners. He is on the show to share his experiences buying out his partners and eventually making two acquisitions.

Todd Neinkirk is the co-founder of Four Kitchens, a digital agency that makes websites for organizations that educate, advocate, and reform. Their team builds digital content platforms, design systems, and apps for ambitious organizations. After nearly selling his agency and then growing back stronger and expanding his team and offering through acquisitions, he shares some of the changes he made to get to this point, as well as some of the unexpected challenges of the acquisition process.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Taking a big risk to rebuild after a failed acquisition.
  • 3 big structural changes to grow your agency.
  • Why acquisitions aren't an impossible strategy.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Podcast Takeover!!

Get to know your Smart Agency Guest Host: Darby Copenhaver is the Agency Scale Specialist at the Agency Mastery 360, which provides agency owners with the coaching, community, and tools needed to scale and find their freedom. He helps agency owners scale through a proven framework for growing their agencies faster and connecting with other amazing agency owners. 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.


Taking a Big Risk to Rebuild the Agency After a Failed Acquisition

Todd started the agency with several partners he met working for a student publication. With over 16 years in the business, they worked with large media companies and small non-profits, education reform groups, and universities. Over the years, however, his other partners wanted out of the agency.

At the start of the pandemic, he still had one partner left. They were coming out of a rough year and Covid affected the agency much earlier than other organizations in the US and Canada. The agency kicked off 2020 with a massive gap to fill with clients, with things only getting worse later that March. Luckily, they didn’t have to adjust to remote work, since they’d made that transition years before. However, they weren’t at all sure about their chances of pulling through.

They started looking for a way out and reached out to an agency that could acquire their business. The acquisition didn’t work out and with PPE loans starting to take shape, it suddenly seemed there was a way out. Todd took a risk and made his business partner the same acquisition offer in order to assume 100% ownership. It was a bold move at such an uncertain time but he is thankful he took the risk.

It took a lot of readjusting, rethinking the way they did business, and making pretty significant changes in early 2020. However, he got his investment back by the end of the year and went on to have a very successful 2021. Not only did Todd and the team manage to get the agency profitable again, but in 2022 they acquired several other agencies to expand the business. He is the sole owner of the agency which is the largest it has ever been.

3 Necessary Structural Changes to Grow the Agency

When it came to the agency’s second chance, Todd didn’t have a magic formula. In fact, much of what he did were necessary steps for growth (niching down, building a leadership team, etc). However, it took hitting bottom and almost selling the agency for him to be ready to face the hard truths.

For starters, Todd focused on the key people in leadership positions. He knew the ultimate outcome for the agency would largely depend on the mindset of the people at the top. It’s not even about what they do, but their approach and attitude can change the tide and really influence people’s commitment to the work and overall enthusiasm.

Taking the risk to assume full ownership of the agency and commit to its success reinvigorated Todd. It motivated him to put in the extra effort to make the agency as successful as it could be. With this in mind, he dared to address 3 fundamental issues he’d avoided:

  1. Leadership changes. Some people in the leadership team weren’t in the right role. They had gotten the agency to where they were, but weren’t the right person for the next stage of its growth.
  2. Marketing. The agency’s marketing strategies just weren’t working. Fortunately, they kicked off a marketing engagement with an outside agency in 2019. It was a big investment Todd had avoided but it started to show results in mid-2020.
  3. Niching down. It was very important to be really specific about where they spent their time. This meant focusing on what they did best. In order to do this, they deprioritized leads that did not fit their expertise.

Building a Culture of Trust with Over Communication and Transparency 

The start of the pandemic was not an ideal time to make serious changes in any business. However, for Four Kitchens, it was necessary. The team needed reassurance Todd would empower the right people and make necessary changes.  Most importantly they needed to understand the vision of what success looks like.

Of course, at this point, everyone was paying close attention to these changes. To address the team’s concerns, he committed to communicating next steps, pipeline, and what else is on the table at least once a week. Ultimately he gives his team credit for rallying around the agency and showing enthusiasm about the new things they were trying. Not everything worked; some of the people they hired for leadership positions weren't the right fit, for instance. In one case, they had 100% turnover in one team and had to rebuild. However, the commitment to over-communicate with the team established a culture of trust.

The degree of transparency they had at the time about the agency’s finances is not necessary now. They have scaled back on these open-book meetings. If they get to a similar situation in the future, the team knows Todd will be forthcoming with information.

Why Mergers and Acquisitions Are Not Impossible with the Right Partner

Todd used to look at acquisitions as an impossible strategy for his agency. He had always assumed it required an enormous amount of cash on hand to even consider an acquisition. From a business standpoint, it is a great growth strategy. However, it seems overwhelmingly complex, and expensive.

This changed in early 2021, when a friend and fellow agency owner decided to retire, and reached out to let him know she was looking for the right partner to take over. Fortunately, they structured a deal that worked financially for both parties. The two agencies complemented each other as partners should, so they ended up forming a true merger.

This success gave Todd the courage to approach an agency in Costa Rica less than a year later in order to acquire their team.

A merger that helped reduce turnover. The Costa Rica team was part of his vision for international expansion but it also ended up being a good investment to reduce employee turnover.

Like many agency owners, Todd had regularly lost developers to tech companies offering up to 50% salary increases. How to fight this? A friend recommended hiring developer teams overseas and really investing in their compensation. Most people who hire international teams are just hiring cheap labor to feed bottom-line growth. However, if you really invest in those employees, you’ll end up with the same level of talent while also creating loyalty with a competitive salary.

How Different Acquisitions Present Different and Unique Challenges

After going through two acquisitions, one of the things that surprised him the most was how they differed from each other. With the first acquisition, it was a very small but very efficient and integrated team. The merger's influence on his agency’s structure was unexpected.

Todd's existing agency had much better ways to do things like technical strategy. In this sense, it was truly two equal organizations coming together to form a much better agency. The challenge was making sure they didn’t change anything the smaller agency was doing really well. Their processes were so efficient they heavily influenced how his agency would work from then on.

On the other hand, the second acquisition posed different challenges, mainly because it was an international organization. They had to create a separate entity to acquire that agency. Todd found doing business abroad is very different. Even simple things like opening a bank account proved to be very difficult and the process took several months. Thankfully, they had proper guidance and everything worked out.

Don’t Let an Acquisition Deal Take a Life of its Own

For those considering an acquisition as a means to grow, Todd advises not letting the deal take on a life of its own. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not just trying to make the deal work. Ultimately, you’re trying to improve your existing agency. It’s very easy to slip into a mindset where you just think about the transaction as the thing you’re chasing. It should never be like this. The main focus should always be the outcome of the transaction.

That outcome won’t be immediate, it may take a year or two and you should prepare for this. An acquisition will fundamentally change your organization and you have to be prepared for this. Work with both your existing team and your incoming team because they will be the key pieces of that transition.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Do you have the confidence to charge what you're worth? Do your clients understand your agency's value? Understanding your value is an important part of growing your agency. It requires strategy and attracting the right clients. Most of all it requires a lot of confidence. If you truly believe in yourself and your pricing, the right clients won't think twice about paying it. Today’s guest specializes in taking her clients to the very highest levels in the market. She believes agency owners need to stop charging mainstream prices and start charging luxury prices in order to scale faster.

Kathryn Porritt is the owner of Icons Incorporated, a boutique agency that helps personal brands make the transition from mainstream pricing to luxury offers. Their clients land multi-million dollar deals in one transaction! They usually have big consulting gigs and commercial deals. Icon's job is to create connections for people for the sake of leveraging their personal brands at the very highest level.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Growing your agency by starting at the top.
  • Positioning yourself as the best at what you do.
  • Why niching down is an important part of finding confidence.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


What Are You Left With if You Don’t Build Your Brand?

When they start their business, agency owners tend not to put enough into growing their own brand. The thinking being it is essentially to not get too involved so the agency is more attractive for potential buyers upon the owner's eventual exit. For her part, Kathryn has gone through a similar process where she created, grew, and sold an agency. After the sale, she thought “what am I left with?” Without another business, advisory gigs, or book deal to fall back on, she had to take the lessons learned and start over.

After that experience, she advises agency owners to work on both their personal brand and the agency’s marketing in parallel. In the end, it takes time to build a personal brand into something profitable -- and now is the right moment to start. Even if you ultimately decide to sell, if you’ve protected your personal brand, you probably have a list of people who will follow you on other projects. That’s freedom. It allows you to explore other things once you sell. This way, you’ can build a profitable brand and have a legacy.

Starting at the Top and Growing Your Agency With a Luxury Pricing Model 

At some point, agency owners wanting to grow their business need to increase prices. Most of the time, they don’t even have a reason to justify their current prices. For Kathryn, part of the problem is most have experience with charging mainstream prices. Mainstream business strategies teach an ascension model, where you start from the bottom, build an audience, increase your offers, and eventually find people who will pay high ticket prices.

The core problem is most agency owners are not aware there’s a different way to get to the top. They don’t teach you the luxury strategy. The main difference between the mainstream and luxury models is that the latter will start at the top and then works its way down to still create an impact.

In essence, with the luxury model, you understand you have a true leadership position in the market. These are trendsetters and are not looking to the market for answers about what they’re building.

When you start at the top, you’re in the #1 position and work with fewer clients. For agencies, this means working really deeply with a handful of clients. Kathryn finds clients who work at this level are easier to work with.

Of course, you have to be really good at what you do. If you can provide a really specific world-class solution to a problem, then you can absolutely start at the top. The key element is having the audacity to go after a core set of clients who will invest heavily to have that world-class proximity.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

How to Position Your Agency in a Luxury Model

According to Kathryn, in order to position yourself in a luxury model you must drop humility at the door. It sounds harsh, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be a good or nice person. There’s also no need to post pictures with a private jet and brag about how much money you have. In reality, it’s about showing such a level of confidence and certainty that you are magnetic. Kathryn calls it “iconic embodiment” which is the moment where you step into the most arrogant version of yourself. This is the key to positioning the luxury model.

If, as an entrepreneur, you can walk into a meeting, sales call, or pitch with that level of power and the knowledge that you’re the right person for the job, you’ll be unstoppable.

What if you don’t think you’re the best? There is a space for all experts to claim as their own and where they can with all certainty and integrity claim to be the best. You may not be the best in the world for everyone. But you can certainly be the best for the right people. It shouldn’t be about pretending but rather about really believing you’re exactly what that client needs. This is why niching down and knowing your audience is such an important part of finding your confidence.

In the end, knowing your worth is a very attractive quality. If you don’t know it, then nobody else will.

Is this the Right Time to Charge Luxury Prices?

With the economy being what it is right now, you may want to change your offering a bit and work with a handful of clients who can afford it. If you’re starting to find it quite difficult at the low end of the market, is there a strategy where you could work with clients more deeply? Think about how you could restructure your agency so that you’re providing more attention to each client and be paid at a higher level.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

What do you think about hustle culture? Do you have a healthy work-life balance with your agency? Does your team? As the owner, you set the tone for the agency's culture. And what is important to you by extension becomes important to the team. Today’s guest owns a boutique agency she started after quitting her job in the tech space after feeling exhausted from 80-hour work weeks. She started fresh in Belize with a new mindset about the type of work-life balance she wanted and the culture she’d create for her agency.

Jeanna Barrett is the founder and Chief Remote Officer of First Page Strategy, an award-winning remote growth marketing agency. She has 17 years of inbound marketing experience working with venture startups, digital agencies, and fortune 500 companies.

Six years ago, Jeanna left the US and built a business in Belize. What started as freelancing grew into a full inbound marketing agency with 40+ experts across the globe. Beyond the success of her agency, she’s most proud of the culture she was created with her remote team. Jeanna encourages different passions outside of work and promotes a healthy work-life balance. She shares her journey of creating an anti-hustle culture for her agency.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Recovery from the hustle culture and burnout.
  • Prioritizing boundaries to create healthy agency culture.
  • Embracing your team’s passions and hobbies.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

Sponsors and Resources

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

Podcast Takeover!!

Get to know your Smart Agency Guest Host: John Corcoran 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.


Recovering from the Hustle Culture and the Burnout it Causes

In 2016, Jeanna was living in San Francisco and felt burned out by the non-stop work hustle and grind culture. She realized the “dream offices” popular in the tech world, with free lunch, snack bars, entertainment, and laundry service exist only to justify 80-hour work weeks. Jeanna was ready to leave the perks behind.

She was eager to live a life where she didn’t have to work all the time. She wanted time and freedom to focus on the things that make her happy.

Building a business in Belize may not be what she originally intended, but it is exactly what she needed to have a work-life balance. It is an opportunity to create a work culture valuing and encouraging different passions and pursuits outside of work. Her agency focuses on employee performance based on tasks completed and not on the amount of time spent in front of a computer.

A Lesson on the Benefits of Doing Content Marketing Right

Fortunately, after 15+ years of working in marketing, Jeanna had a network she could tap into. She was looking to work as a freelancer and started by calling old clients and colleagues. Eventually, her freelance business evolved into an accidental agency.

Getting her first big client was a lesson in content marketing. At one point, Jeanna wrote an article about how she left her career and moved to the Caribbean. It offered advice for people looking to do something similar and work remotely. In the article, she mentioned the company she used to establish her business as an LLC. Ironically the company had fired their SEO partner and contacted her to take over the role. She had not yet formed an agency but decided to give it a try.

She started with a small entry-level contract, so she just hired two consultants to work on SEO content. After that, they scaled every year, based on the services and the needs they cover. By year two, she added another three people to work on that account, and year three added another three employees.

At first, they worked exclusively on content creation but as the relationship developed they slowly added other services like email marketing and lead generation.

Prioritizing Boundaries to Create a Healthy Agency Culture

Since the beginning, Jeanna had a certain culture in mind for her agency. It was always one of the most important pieces of what she was trying to build. To avoid going back to old habits that ultimately burn people out, she focused on building a culture where the work would not leave employees feeling exhausted or stressed. No one is happy working under those conditions. Instead, she created a work environment that encourages a work-life balance. You are more efficient when you're not constantly replacing people and everyone is noticeably happier.

It would’ve been easy to go back to old habits, which is why Jeanna is obsessive about boundaries. For instance, she follows certain routines like blocking her calendar to ensure she schedules time to exercise and have lunch at a certain time. It’s more about making sure she takes care of her health. This is what works for her; however, it varies person to person. This is a conversation she has with all employees. It’s important for them to know which boundaries will help keep them delivering great work while remaining healthy and happy.

Boundaries with clients. If you’re going to respect boundaries within the agency, they should be established with clients as well. As a boutique agency, they only take on the business they can handle. They talk about their boundaries as a team and are very strict about adhering to them - even with clients. Ultimately, it’s about setting and managing expectations.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Should Your Agency Invest More in PPC or SEO?

One of the biggest objections to inbound and content creation is it takes too long to see results. Clients likely have to wait 6-8 months to see results. It is more of a long-term strategy when you’re using PPC ads to pull people in.

Clients tend to fall into the trap of overly investing in PPC and under-investing in SEO and inbound. PPC is an expensive but powerful engine. Some spend $50+ for one click, and even then, how many clicks does it take to convert a customer?

It is very competitive out there and if your competition is using PPC then so should you. However, Jeanna feels clients could be investing more evenly in what they put into PPC and the long-term strategy. Investing in a long-term strategy will get their business to the first page and ultimately reduce their PPC spending.

As an expert in SEO and inbound marketing, she says no brand has ever regretted investing in quality content marketing.

Changing Your Mindset to Retain a Happy and Fulfilled Team

You may really love your digital agency but there’s probably a lot you’re passionate about outside of work. This is true for every single team member and it's something Jeanna tries to find out during the interview process. She has discovered one employee has a cookbook, others are runners or had a band. It’s a great way to realize the different types of people within the agency and presents the opportunity to highlight or celebrate these passions. It’s important to encourage these outside hobbies because happy and fulfilled people are better workers.

A change in culture requires a change of mindset. If you’re under-investing in building your agency’s culture, the first thing to change is your mindset. Putting a number on how much you should spend makes no difference if you don’t believe in its importance.

Important Investments in Your Agency's Growth

Ultimately, the first significant change is hiring a leadership team. It’s one of the most important steps in realizing you don't need to micromanage people so they produce good work. It's also a way to get yourself out of daily operations and focused on scaling your agency.

Another important investment for growth is an amazing project management system. All your agency work goes through this system and it’s worth the investment, especially if you have a remote team. With a remote agency, the PM software is the central system that sort of becomes your "office space" and should be prioritized as such.

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_Create_Work-Life_Balance_With_Anti-Hustle_Culture.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you feel like you're in no man's land? Growing beyond the $1 Million mark and beyond 7 figures can be a very gray area where the agency is making more money but the owner is working more than ever. This is no man’s land and it's a sign you need a strong leadership team to get the agency to the next level. Today’s guest is an accidental agency owner, like most, who found the transition to Agency CEO reignited her interest in the business. She now runs an agency that serves its clients and aims to have an impact on the community.

Ruth Bernstein is CEO and co-founder of Yard NYC, a New York-based creative agency that helps turn brands into cultural beacons. They’ve worked with brands like Amazon, and Walmart with the belief that purposeful brands can both drive cultural relevancy and good business. After growing as an agency and getting past certain milestones, they have also worked to turn themselves into a brand that creates change.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • How to raise prices and charge what you're worth.
  • Why culture misfits that can cost your agency big opportunities.
  • Navigating no man's land by hiring a leadership team.


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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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


Starting a Female-Led Agency During the Industry’s Mad Men Era

Ruth and her partner Stephan worked on the client side in London and had never worked at an agency. At one point, while working with media companies, they started looking for agency partners in the fashion, wellness, and beauty space. They were looking for partners who could bring strategy to the table, were female-led, and really understood how to work with in-house teams. It was the '90s and still the “Mad Men” era in the agency space and none of the candidates met these requirements.

This is how they became accidental agency owners. They had never worked for an agency or run one but their search on the client side revealed there was a niche for this type of agency. Coming from the client side, they already had credibility and went for big-brand clients right away.

How Culture Misfits Can Cost Your Agency Big Opportunities

Mistakes help us grow. And one of those from Ruth's early agency days was delegating negotiations with a prospect to a consultant. It wasn’t right for the agency and nearly made them lose their first really big project. At the time, Ruth was in charge of strategy and Stephan was heading up the creative side. Neither of them had negotiated an agency deal. Since it was a big client, they figured it would be best to delegate negotiations to a consultant who could help make sure it was solid.

Unfortunately, the consultant’s tone and manner of handling the deal nearly made them lose the client. In hindsight, this person did not align with the agency's culture or vision. The client approached Ruth and Stephan because they knew and trusted them.

As a result, they learned communication is a key piece in showing prospects what it's like working with their agency. There’s nothing wrong with getting help in areas you don’t have experience. However, in this instance, they just needed the confidence to handle it themselves.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

How to Raise Prices and Charge What You're Worth

Pricing is not easy. You have to do your homework and understand competition and what the client is willing to pay, as well as your own value.

As a smaller agency working with both bigger and smaller clients, Yard NYC geared prices toward smaller clients. However, it got awkward when those clients started growing and it was time to raise prices. For a lot of agency owners, this is a really difficult conversation.

Usually, it’s more difficult to raise prices for legacy clients than for new clients. Even some of the mastermind’s members with very successful agencies have gone years without raising prices to legacy clients. Under Jason’s guidance, they learned to look at the opportunity cost between new and old clients. At the point where the difference is just too big, it’s time to approach those clients, have a conversation about value, and explain a price increase. Almost all clients admit they’d been expecting a price raise and had no objections. By raising prices on existing clients you can increase revenue without increasing workload.

A Non-Traditional Approach to Partnering with Clients

After years in the agency business and witnessing success stories for many of her clients, Ruth realized there were other ways to gain from a client’s growth.

The team at Yard NYC came up with a partnership program of co-investing in some client businesses and providing marketing. They work with some clients who receive venture capital funds and saw the clients' business transformation. The value-added and brand-building were great; after five years they would sell and capitalize on the investment.

It’s not the typical client-agency relationship, but for Ruth, it’s an opportunity for getting more involved on the venture side.

How to Navigate No Man's Land By Hiring a Leadership Team

A lot of agencies fall into a kind of “no-mans land” between the $1 Million and $7 Million revenue mark. It’s a point where, after bringing in more people, the agency is making more money. However, agency owners are working more and making less.

This is the point Ruth realized it was time to build an executive leadership team. At some point, you have to bring in people to be the brains of the operation. There comes a moment as you scale where growth starts to demand a stronger foundation; not only for your own freedom, but so your organization can thrive. Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself.

Hiring leaders is a necessary step but one that usually leaves agency owners feeling like the business no longer needs them. Ruth's transition to CEO came naturally since they wanted a female leader for the agency. In a sense, this shift renewed her interest in the business. It was an opportunity to get out of her comfort zone and grow. She didn’t feel like she wasn’t needed but rather she was needed in new ways.

The beauty of having the right team and amazing culture takes a huge load off the agency owner. We’re all creative people who want to make, create, and transform. As you grow, your personality will emanate from the business, which doesn’t mean you have to be involved in every aspect of it. It’s important to build a leadership team and create a culture that encourages growth and involvement. By building a strong culture, you create the basis for the agency to run without you.

How to Make an Impact While Reinvigorating Your Team’s Passion

Doing great work while also having an impact. Agencies are constantly serving their clients and making great things. That takes up a lot of their time. However, agencies also have the power to put their creative abilities to good use. There are many other things you can do to impact on your community.

Ruth wanted to galvanize her team and put their voices out there as a women-led business. They organized a campaign around women's values. It not only created incredible buzz and managed to raise awareness, but it reinvigorated the team and get them excited about making a difference.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

If you’ve been paying attention, then you know this is the year for AI content creation like ChatGPT. (Even Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile know it  :) Should your agency be using it too? Are you worried about turning off clients over this technology? Or could you make more money using it?  There are drawbacks, which is why agency owners need to know the best way to leverage AI for content. Today’s guests are experts in content creation as they talk about pros, cons, and how agencies can use AI like ChatGPT to be more efficient and grow their business.

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 marketing agencies and marketing professionals. Verblio is a preferred partner of the show and Ryan is a repeat guest who brings amazing insight.

This time, he is joined by Megan Skalbeck, the content marketing manager at Verblio handling strategic initiatives.

The team at Verblio are experts at content creation and have done a ton of research on how agencies can leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence and AI tools.  You can check out their survey results at With those results in mind, they shared some of their conclusions on the best ways to use AI for content creation while keeping high quality standards.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • How agencies can make more money by integrating AI tools.
  • Weaknesses of AI and a hybrid plan for using them effectively.
  • Why aren't more agencies using AI?
  • 3 tips for making AI more effective for your agency content.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

Sponsors and Resources

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

Links to other episodes featuring Ryan Sargent:

How Agencies Can Make More Money by Integrating AI Tools

Where do content creation experts stand on whether or not to use AI? Basically, if your agency isn’t planning on using AI at all in 2023, you are making a mistake. On the other hand, if you think AI is going to replace freelancers, fool Google, and you’ll never need a writer again, that's also a mistake.

The reality is, agencies need to be using AI as soon as the next few months. We should all learn to use AI not as a catch-all, but as an actual tool. To this end, work with people who really understand AI.

Find the balance. As it stands right now, AI tools can produce a lot of words. However, there are a lot of weaknesses:

  • Factual accuracy. There’s actually no guarantee the content produced by an AI is correct.
  • Sentence structure. A blog post created by AI does not necessarily have a logical structure or make sense at all.
  • Weakened SEO. Google knows AI-generated created content apart from what is human-written.

It is tempting for agencies to look at AI as a way to produce content at a much lower cost. However, with these weaknesses, the best alternative is a hybrid approach. Take content created by AI and improve it with human editing.

We shouldn’t view AI as a service or a finished product. It can do great work in saving writers from a blank page. With the right prompt, AI is great at generating ideas and continuing thoughts. As long as the writer is there to review and (probably) make significant edits, it can be really effective.

First Steps to Integrate AI as Part of Your Strategy in 2023

Curious about AI? Try a free version of any of the existing tools. This way, you can get a sense of their potential and learn how it works. If you’re not interested in exploring these tools in your own time, work with someone who is doing this. The important thing is to have a vision of how to integrate these tools into agency work. Don’t try to just jump into technology because it’s new without a vision for how it serves your agency. You don’t want to be the agency getting content that ranks but doesn’t convert and never makes money for the client.

AI is an incredibly powerful tool. However, it will add costs, both financially and in terms of time and effort. Instead of hiring an entire team of in-house writers or relying on the free version of the AI tool, find a partner who can provide AI expertise.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Aren't More Agencies Using AI for Content?

Can agencies use AI to make money? Yes, absolutely. But are they doing it yet? Verblio’s recent marketers survey reveals NO, agencies are actually lagging behind in the use of AI tools.

Verblio found agencies have been slow to adapt because they’re afraid of losing clients. They fear it could break trust or threaten the agency's position with the client. But, how true is this? Clients look at agencies as the experts to tell them if they should be using AI or not. The key is transparency. No one should be using AI to save money and hide it from the client.

The use of AI also depends on the type of agency. A branding agency won’t get as much use of AI as an SEO agency trying to produce content as rapidly as possible.

There is also an advantage to having the surge of AI now as opposed to 10 years ago. The Google algorithm is much better now at rewarding quality results. The algorithm doesn’t care how the content was created - it only cares about answering the searcher’s query.

All AI content is not created equal.  How you plan to use it determines how efficient it proves to be for your agency and the results it achieves for your clients. For instance, if you’re creating content around cutting-edge technology, it will not give the best results. AI is great for local SEO on more general topics because it’s been trained with existing online content.

3 Tips to Make AI Effective for Your Agency's Content Creation

  1. Be transparent about AI use. Don’t underestimate the importance of being transparent with clients regarding your use of AI. Some of them may be concerned you’re not using it enough, or on the contrary that you’re overdoing it. An honest conversation about this allowing them to voice their concerns goes a long way.
  2. Human intervention makes it work. Figuring out the best way to use AI is really important to get the best results possible. Take whatever the tool creates and give it a quick edit. To really get the most out of AI, have a human involved in the process providing structure and input throughout.
  3. Find a partner. The current economy makes the use of AI very valuable. It’s not a time when many people are able or willing to hire an entire writing team for content creation. You can instead find a partner and leverage AI to create a lot more with less.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (Attract, Convert, Scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

If you're in the early stages of your agency, what should you prioritize in order to grow? With so many things to track and so many hats to wear, how do you know what's most important? What deserves your time and attention? As a solopreneur with a startup, building relationships and establishing values for your are crucial for growth. Yet, some owners are not equipped to maintain these parts of the business. So, how can you prioritize these factors when growing your agency?

Today's guest, Christy Pretzinger, understands that solopreneurs are not in a position to oversee relationships consistently. That's why she hires compatible talent to help her develop and sustain team-building programs and workshops. These initiatives cultivate a supportive culture and ensure her team embodies their values. Christy talks about maintaining a positive company culture and explains the importance of relationship building, how she attracts like-minded people and her strategies for maintaining client and employee relationships. 

In this episode, we'll discuss:

  • Why it's important to build relationships when seeking opportunities.
  • Strategies for maintaining client and employee relationships. 
  • Growing an agency during uncertain and challenging economic times.

Christy Pretzinger is the President and CEO of WriterGirl, an agency that helps hospitals and healthcare organizations create patient-friendly website content to grow their brand and strengthen their position in the marketplace. Since 2005, Christy has grown WriterGirl from a freelance writing business into a nationally recognized healthcare content consultancy. She is passionate about building environments where people can thrive and strives to reinvent how we view the work world. As an experienced entrepreneur, Christy shares her experiences with younger agency owners to help them grow.



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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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Podcast Takeover!!

Get to know your Smart Agency Guest Host:  John Corcoran 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.

Episode transcript:

John Corcoran  0:00  

Hey, I'm John Corcoran taking over for Jason Swenk in this episode of The Smart Agency Masterclass, and I run Rise25 and Rise25. We are an easy button to help businesses get more clients and referrals with done-for-you podcast and content marketing. And for over a decade, we've been helping companies to give to their best relationships and partnerships through a podcast. I also am a longtime podcaster and have done Smart Business Revolution Podcast since about 2010. And I got to know Jason by listening to his podcast, and then we joined his Digital Agency Elite Mastermind, we've attended his events. And we wanted to learn from someone who grew in multimillion dollar operation with over 100 staff and then sold it. So if you are an agency that wants to grow, contact Jason and his team because they can help go to But you can also email

And so I was also honored when he asked me to take over the show as a guest host. So check out today's episode with an amazing agency owner. Today we've got Christy Pretzinger, and Christy is the owner and CEO of WriterGirl. It's a fast-growing organization that creates content and provides strategy for hospitals, and healthcare organizations across the United States. Christy went from being a freelancer to an agency owner. So we're going to talk about that journey. And she uncovered her passion for creating an environment where people can thrive writing a book on sharing your experience around doing that, just that. And one of the things that she talks about, and we'll talk about this interview is about viewing culture through the lens of a balance sheet, and helping fellow business owners and others who have a direct impact on the culture.

So Christy, I'm excited to hop into those topics. And first, let's start at your origin story, how you got into the agency world into becoming an agency owner, you'd been a freelancer, and you actually ended up, you knew a woman who a former client of yours, who'd started your company, WriterGirl, and you ended up partnering up with her. So talk a little bit about how that came about.


Christy Pretzinger  1:55  

Okay, thanks for having me, I'm happy to talk to you. That's, I guess, an interesting story. She was a client, and she brought me on as a partner, and really kind of to sell, you know, stuff that it was a company at the time that did advertising copy. So it did like headlines and naming and things like that. And a year later, her largest client, she really kind of had one client. And he was indicted and imprisoned actually for tax fraud. So she was expecting a baby and was obviously made her very nervous. And she wanted out. And so I bought her out for a pittance. And basically got the name of the company which is WriterGirl. But I had to pivot pretty quickly because there was no client anymore. And started seeking out more long-form content, because that was the kind of writer that I was. And you know, as the Queen, Oprah says, luck is preparation meeting opportunity. And so what happened is that through a series of events, a hospital group was redoing, they were merging and renaming actually. And they needed three websites done for each one of their three hospitals. And they had to be done pretty much simultaneously, the marketing director of that hospital group had been a former client of mine when I was a freelancer. So she reached out to me and thought that most of the content was done. And I came to find out like a week in that literally nothing was done. And I had like 35 writers on it, you know, within like 20 minutes. And then once we finished that it was a huge learning curve. But fortunately, it was going so quickly, that we could make mistakes, and then fix them without really causing any issue. And so by the end of that, I thought, well, I'll bring teams of writers to hospitals. 

John Corcoran  3:42  

And so it just seemed right? Yeah. Before we get to that, I want to ask you about how you brought in that first big project. You know, was it it was a kind of a case of fake it till you make it, you know, you saw the opportunity? There must have been part of you that was saying, oh my gosh, wow, this is like a massive project for me something bigger than I've ever handled. So, you know, I'm wondering how you set yourself up, for lack of a better term to take on that big project?

Christy Pretzinger  4:14  

Well, I'll talk about I won't talk about the one that made me decide to go into hospitals really was kind of an accident. So I'll talk about how I actually deliberately went out and got one because that's more interesting. And what happened? There were two things. One of them was I went to, I'm in Cincinnati, I went to The Ohio State University and ended up landing their business for a small project, just like a just a brochure at the time. But she was saying they had a whole bunch of work to do. And if we could do this well, but she was warning me that the medical director had an undergrad in English and then, you know, had gone on to get his MD and she said he hates everybody's writing. And when we did this, he made two changes and it was like commas, and she couldn't believe that. And so then she gave us a very large project to do the website content for their heart hospital, and that was probably the time the biggest single project we'd ever had. And I honestly wasn't sure if we could do it that I've thought, well, I done that other hospital project, I did have some writers, I had done some learning. And I knew how to project manage that kind of thing. And I had a really good relationship with the client at Ohio State. And for me, I've always found, especially when I was building the business, that having that really, really working to build that relationship with the client was key to being able to not only produce excellent work, but get the grace if you made a mistake. Because I would always say nobody will work harder than me to find something about you to like, because, you know, clients can be challenging, right and personally, and what I think and there's gotta be, there's gotta be a point, like, I had to work with one of her employees, and this woman was very challenging. But over time, we finally did build a relationship, and then it just made it so much better. So that then you feel like you can, if you make a mistake, you can acknowledge that and they'll give you the grace to fix it. So me relationship building has always been key. But then this was an interesting one to the next really big one. This was when I landed $150,000 from one client, and we'd never ever, ever had that kind of money. It was Indiana University. And I went through I'm a WeBank, a woman-owned business, which has never gotten me anything except this one time. I called the diversity person, who in this instance, was a man, which usually isn't that it was. And for whatever reason, he's like, Okay, I'll connect you with our marketing director, which was like, Oh, wait, why? And he got me on the phone with them. And that hospital system at the time, had to use it or lose it budgetary thing. And they had like foreign $20,000 That was going to go away had been earmarked for something. And it didn't fit in, or I think it had been earmarked. And the work didn't get done in that calendar year, or whatever their year was academic year. And so they said, Can we give you a check for $450,000? And then work it off? And I was like, Well, yes, you can.

John Corcoran  7:06  

That was not a hard Yes.

Christy Pretzinger  7:10  

I can complete again, luck is preparation, meeting opportunity that was just me calling and thinking, Well, why don't we try getting in this way? And

John Corcoran  7:20  

that's great. That's great. How did you make that transition from being a freelancer to managing teams of writers? And all the different challenges that come from moving from one to the other? Can you talk about that?

Christy Pretzinger  7:37  

Yeah, it's interesting. In retrospect, now, I have a few different experience shares, I guess, around that. One of them is that when I became a freelance writer, a long, long, long time ago, I did it because I was a competent writer. I never wanted, I didn't have a passion to be a writer, you know, I was a good writer, I made a good living as a writer. But it wasn't, it wasn't my passion. So when I started building WriterGirl, I wasn't feeling like I had to hold on to being a writer and wasn't like, oh my gosh, this is who I am. This is my talent. So as it started growing, I used to write project manager. And so the first thing I let go of was the writing. Because it wasn't my passion anyway. And I was okay at project managing, I'm really, especially now, I'm not a detail-oriented person, I would really have to really put on that hat and do that. And then sales came more naturally to me, but at that time, as it is for most people building a business as a solopreneur, you know, at that time, you're like, Okay, sell, sell, sell, sell, project, manage product, manage, and, you know, farm out the work to writers, and then oh, crap, there's nothing in the pipeline, sell, sell, sell. You know, I mean, most people know that drill. So that was how I mean, like, a lot of people I was doing that the difference for me was unlike people who maybe are engineers and, and do something in an engineering field, or a doctor or like a dentist or something like that. I'm not the only one with the skill set. So I was able to move out of those roles. And because I had done all the roles, I knew what was required. And I could hire people that were better at it than I had been. And that was really key. I don't think I knew that at the time. But I also never had a lot of ego around that. And I know sometimes that that's again, an experience share that I see, especially with younger businesses where they think well, I'm the one who's the best at that. I'm like, well, that's great if you want to have a job for the rest of your life. And there's nothing wrong with that. I didn't want a job for the rest of my life. So I was always really happy to hire people that were you know, better, faster, stronger than me in whatever capacity that was.

Strategies for Maintaining Client and Employee Relationships

John Corcoran  9:41  

Yeah. Now I know one of your passions now is building maintaining a culture within your company. And you were telling me beforehand that one of the things that you've always believed is if I couldn't build a business based on kindness, I would go back to being a free Freelancer so that was important to you. Was there a point Lean was our breaking point, like sometimes I talk to business owners and they realized that their culture is off. They don't like their own culture. Sometimes they have to fire a bunch of people to change the culture. Was there anything like that? Or what was the realization that culture was really important to you as you built your business?

Christy Pretzinger  10:17  

Well, I think because when I started freelancing, I had left a job because I felt completely unappreciated and taken advantage of, it had been a really good situation for a period of time. And then it just stopped being a good situation. And largely because the woman who had been my boss left, and I think she had shielded me from a lot of things and had promoted me and champion me. And that was wonderful. Then she was gone. And I was like, wow, this is a mess. And I didn't like that at all. And I had had a lot of jobs, I'd moved around a lot before I only worked in the workforce for I don't know, what, seven years before I started freelancing. And so and I think I'd had like four or five different jobs, I stayed about a year and a half the last one I was there for, I think, for years. So I'd seen a lot of different things that workplaces that weren't necessarily that appreciative or kind to their people. So for me, it was always from the outset that I wanted to do that that was a core belief of mine. And I think, again, looking back on it, at the time, I have grown and changed but at the time, because of my own insecurities. I wanted to be everyone's favorite client, meaning all the 1090 nines, the contractors that I would hire, I wanted to be their favorite client. And I wanted to be every client's favorite vendor, I wanted everyone to like me. And so I thought that maybe I guess maybe kindness was a core thing. It's always been a core thing for me. And then once I never had to fire anybody, because of culture until many years later. And that was just a situation we knew was going awry anyway. But really, the people that are drawn to this organization seem to be of like mind. And that has been I don't know what that's about. I don't know what that magic is. Because that's actually been true in most aspects of my life, too. I haven't had a lot of negative people around me, generally speaking.

John Corcoran  12:10  

There isn't, is there anything that you do deliberately in the hiring process, or in your own content marketing, that you put out on your own website that would attract people like that? Yes,

Christy Pretzinger  12:22  

very much. So I mean, I think that there's a lot of people when people look at our website, especially if they're women, because it is a woman in business, and it's called WriterGirl. And they're like, oh, I want to work there, I think it would be fun. And we are very, pretty loud and proud about our values, which are we are empowered, curious, kind and fun. And so we do that in our own content marketing, we talk about that we talked about, we have a program called kindness counts, and we use that the organization to go out and do things in the community, you know, whether it's, you know, volunteer someplace, or go clean up, you know, something that's a mess, things like that. We also do something called moment makers that we do for our clients. So we try and mark a moment for them if they get married, if they have a baby if something happens, and so we do something. And we actually have a file within our SharePoint called moment makers, where we can put all that stuff so everybody can see it, and drawn it and build on it. So all of those things we do talk about quite a bit. And then the people that work for WriterGirl talk about it a lot. And they tend to have their friends want to come work and their friends tend to be project managers and writers or content strategists and things like that. So we get a lot, a lot, a lot of people that way.

Growing an Agency During Uncertain Economic Times

John Corcoran  13:29  

And did you know many companies when COVID hit in 2020 film that they had to make deliberate changes to their culture, because all of a sudden, everyone's dispersed? They're not under the same roof? I don't know if they were before. But did you have to make any deliberate changes in order to maintain that culture that you wanted when COVID hit?

Christy Pretzinger  13:48  

Well, what's interesting is when I was building the business, as I started hiring people, I never wanted an office because I would have to go there. And I didn't want to have to do that. I didn't like that whole environment. And, again, I think I've shared with you, John, that my goal was always to work as little as possible make as much money as possible. So I didn't want anybody to see that I wasn't going to the office. And so I mean, I was hoping that would happen at the time, it didn't you know how it is, when you're building a business, it's like working 24/7. But I was hoping to get to the point where I am now where I don't, don't work as much. So we've been virtual from day one. So we did not miss a beat when COVID hit. And in fact, what we were able to do was help a lot of our clients who you know, largely work in hospitals and healthcare and some agencies that serve you know, like big agencies that are full service agencies that also are clients of ours that serve hospitals and health care and help them figure out how to do that virtually. You know, are there different tools that you use? How do you collaborate? How do you make sure that you still feel like you have a culture going on? And so much of it has been ingrained in us that we never had really pulled it apart before. And looked at it doesn't like well, why does this work? You know what, what is the magic that makes it a an environment where people do truly feel like they can thrive.

John Corcoran  15:03  

Yeah, some companies like Zappos, for example, developed a whole b2b culture consulting division, I interviewed the head of it a bunch of years ago. Were you were you it? Was this something that you just kind of did as, as an add-on without charging for it? Or did you ever think like, you know, we have built a really good culture, we should turn this into its own business initiative?

Why It's Important to Build Relationships When Seeking Opportunities

Christy Pretzinger  15:26  

You know, we never really did. It was just, it was really more ad hoc. And again, it was building those relationships with our clients. I mean, our mission is we build relationships, one word at a time. And then our values are, we're empowered, curious, kind and fun. So that kind of underpins everything that we do. So if we had a client who's like, Oh, my God, I'm working from home, my kids are homeschooling? I'm not really sure. And we were always like, Okay, first of all, just don't worry about it. It's fine. I got kids here, too. It's okay. Let's just make this work. And then they'd be like, Well, how do you? I don't even know how to use Zoom. What is this? Like? You know, so just helping people with things like that? Yeah. Now, with the, with the book that I'm writing and things like that, that's that really, it's not so much about being a revenue generator, fine. If it is, it's really more about having an impact on other business owners, you know, like us, that have a direct impact on culture, probably more smaller business owners, although within an organization, I've never worked in huge fortune 500 companies, but you know, the smaller groups within organizations have their own cultures, right, within a huge organization. So, my mission, personally, is to sort of reinvent the way people look at the world of work by making it someplace where it is literally life, work, balance, not work life balance. Hmm.

John Corcoran  16:38  

I want to ask you also about you niche down and decided that you wanted to work with hospitals. Talk a little bit about that. thought process behind that, and how you did that. And were there bumps along the road. I mean, there's been major health care legislation that has come down in the last 15 years, I don't know if that ever, you know, changed the way that you had to operate.

Christy Pretzinger  17:03  

Well, you know, what's interesting is chaos creates opportunity, right. And if, if nothing else, you can say that healthcare in the US is chaotic. When we started working in healthcare, only trying to think like, even I know, 11 years ago, I think that the Affordable Care Act had just passed a little bit before that. So there were all sorts of things and hospitals, it was really just chaotic. They didn't even know how to price anything. And that was one of the requirements at the time. Because they would just build it all into the, you know, the CAT scan that you had, or whatever, they have no idea how much surgery costs, how much anything costs, I still don't think they do. But that was a general idea of trying to control costs by at first understanding them. So we had a lot of communication, there was a lot of opportunity for communication there. In terms of getting into it. As I said, After that one client hired me, it just I looked around, I was like, there are hospitals everywhere. And they must be doing things like this one is doing like, you know, doing entirely new websites where they have so much content that has to be written, who's going to do that? It just seems like a really, it seems simple, you know, you tell yourself the necessary lie, right? It'll be easy. That'll be easy. And that looking at hospitals, and at the time, strictly content, not even content strategy was like we write words on the page. And the reason I did that was because that's what I understood. I didn't want to try and sell at the time search wasn't even a big deal. But I didn't want to do web development or design or any kind of that because I didn't understand it. And I didn't want to look stupid trying to sell something that I really didn't understand. So we ended up probably inadvertently, narrow, narrowly niching in a way that worked really well it ended up being a very narrow and very deep niche. We've never had any problem having growth numbers within just that narrow niche.

John Corcoran  18:53  

I want to ask you also about you mentioned earlier about the importance of relationships. And you said it's always been about the relationship with the client. But you're at a size now where I'm sure all the relationships don't go through you. So as you as you grew to a larger point, and you had to step away, step back and let others manage those relationships. How did you you know, oversee that process to ensure that other members of the team were building that relationship in the way that you really wanted it to be built.

Christy Pretzinger  19:26  

You know, it's so interesting, because so much of things around culture and relationships is fair. It's very esoteric, isn't it? And it's kind of hard to quantify it, which is exactly what I'm trying to do by looking at culture through the lens of a balance sheet. So one of the things that because first of all, I was bootstrapping it, it grew slowly. So I would still be involved at some level and I could see how someone was working. I did once have a project manager who was working with me and she started behaving very passive-aggressive manner to me. What the time I didn't realize she was treating the client that way. I thought she was just doing that to me. Well, then we went to a client meeting. And I saw how angry the client was with her. And I was like, Oh my gosh. So that was a big learning. For me. It's like, oh, however they treat me is how they're treating the client. So I started sorting for that, and watching the kind of people who would be more interested in a, what's the word, not a transactional relationship, but solicitous relationship and appreciative relationship. And then what because I was still, like I said, I was still involved, at some level for quite a long time, I could observe that and see, you know, what's happening here. And also, another thing that I did very early on is we use the Enneagram as a tool. And even when we were much smaller, we have an Enneagram, coach, who types everyone. And then, when we were much smaller, we had full company groups, when they were like, I don't know, seven or eight of us. And we would have workshops, full day workshops. So we really understood and dove into that. And I don't know if anybody, any of you or the audience are familiar with Enneagram work. But if you have an excellent coach in the Enneagram, it's more about your motivation, and really understanding why someone does what they do. And so when you know that about your coworkers, it, it builds empathy for them. So like when I was still managing more people, like, say, for example, I had an employee who was a three and I had to kind of, I can't remember what I had, it was gonna be a challenging conversation. And so I was able to call the Enneagram coach and go, What should I, okay, this is what I have to do, which I do. And she was able to coach me through and say, Well, remember, as a three, she needs to feel like, she looks good, and that she's winning. And so I could communicate to her in that way. And so we did that a lot. And so there's this core group that has a real solid understanding of that. And we are continuing to build that out, we've grown, you know, we added, I don't know, 15 people all at once we doubled in size, like within a six month period. And those people don't have as much core knowledge about that as the rest of us. But we are actually bringing everyone in town for a retreat, and a big part of that is some Enneagram work to let people know how to use that. Did that answer your question?

John Corcoran  22:10  

Yeah, nothing I want to ask about, which I think is fascinating. I can't tell you how many businesses, I've talked to business owners I've talked to where, you know, they've experienced these big downturns and they're predictable after nine, meltdown, 2008, COVID, that sort of thing. And you say that you've actually you actually grew through these time periods. So I'm wondering if you could unpack that a little bit kind of reflect back on you know, the years with WriterGirl and why you think that was the case?

Christy Pretzinger  22:43  

Again, some of it, I'm so not a, well, here's your technique, kind of business owner, I'm much more esoteric than that. So for me, when we grew in, oh, eight and nine, I had a coach say to me, that WriterGirl is you and it won't grow until you do. And so I've very deliberately spent time every day on personal development. For me, some of that was kind of some sort of some spiritual kind of reading. I didn't read a lot of business books, I've never been a big business book reader, I don't, they just don't interest me that much, generally speaking, unless they talk a lot about culture and things like that. So I did a lot of a lot of that kind of work. And that was when we actually hit a million for the first time when I did all this work on myself. So I don't think that's a coincidence. I think that that correlates, especially when you are a sole owner of a business. And I think even if you're a partnership, you know, being able to grow yourself, and recognizing your blind spots, your weaknesses and embracing those, you know, and like I hire for my time I would hire for my weaknesses, I knew that this was not a strength of mine, I'm going to find someone who's got that as a strength. So through it just coincided that spiritual work that happened to coincide with the big Oh, eight, nine, downturn, and our business just grew phenomenally now. I'm trying to think I didn't hire my first salesperson until this is 22. And she's been here 11 years today. So until 11. And that was a big deal. Hiring a salesperson was huge, because that took me out of the day-to-day sales. And I actually hired her and said, go build it

John Corcoran  24:18  

Relate to the relationship piece as well, because the salesperson is building the relationship. And so she was when you hired her 11 years ago, and you have the same salesperson level, you have more but still have her she was 27.

Christy Pretzinger  24:29  

She's 38 She had just gotten married, and now she has five kids still works full time. So I've literally watched her, you know, grow up. And it's, you know, really,

John Corcoran  24:41  

what do you think that relationship work? Well, because again, another one that I've heard a lot from business owners is they go through different sales reps.

Christy Pretzinger  24:48  

Yeah, I've had the same sales rep and the next sales rep has been there, eight or nine years. So, you know, I think part of it is that and I would really love to ask Reba that's Her name this question. But I think what she would say is that I always knew that you had my back. You know, when I hired her, I had just gotten that big $450,000 piece of work from IU, I handed that over to her and paid her commission on it. And she worked it very hard and earned it because I knew from watching some of the businesses, I didn't want to compete with her, I didn't want to be out selling against my salesperson. So everything I did was to set her up for success. And so when I first was hiring people in those roles like that, I tried to do everything I could to, to make sure they were going to win. And she always knew that and saw that. And, and in fact, has said many times, you know, we have we very much appreciate each other that, that she's always felt taken care of, for lack of a better word by me. And she said a lot. You know, we've been through a lot in 11 years, a lot of family things have happened on both sides. And, you know, she's always had a very supportive environment for when these things happen.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

John Corcoran  25:57  

I mentioned, I touched on COVID briefly, but can you talk a little bit about how that downturn starting in March 2020 affected your business?

Christy Pretzinger  26:07  

Yeah, when it happened. I told everybody because we were already all virtual. I said that anybody who wants a job with WriterGirl through all of this will have a job. We are not letting anybody go during COVID. There's not gonna be any reductions in staff or anything like that. You said that early on. I said it right away. I said, Yeah, guess what, because because of our model, you know, we work with so many contractors, we could just shrink the contractor pool and bring the work into the people and keep them busy. If we needed to. That did not happen at all. Partially, largely because we worked in health care, and talk about chaos, right? I mean, that was completely chaotic. And they still needed to communicate to people and communicate differently. They might not even more. Yeah, yeah, differently, and more. And so we were able to help meet that need for them.

John Corcoran  26:54  

Yeah. So but you did have to pivot though, to different types of communications. Right. Okay. Yeah. So like, communication. Okay. Okay. And did that feel like, well, we got to do what I gotta do? Or did it feel like, okay, here's what we're gonna, you know, an opportunity for us. I mean, sometimes companies resist thinking, okay, maybe this moment shall pass. But then as it goes on, they realize, oh, you know, we really do need to meet this demand in the marketplace, we can't build that big website project, because they put it on hold, we've got to help with the crisis communications, when we could do that.

Christy Pretzinger  27:26  

Because again, we have, you know, we have 29 or 30 employees. And then we have upwards of 80 to 99 writers that have been trained through the WriterGirl Academy. So they've been, you know, they've been vetted and trained. And we have, like a database of areas of expertise. So some of them might be marketing writer, some of them might be highly skilled medical writers, some of them might have crisis communication and PR experience. So we could pull from that, as well as recruit for that, if we needed it. I think we did a few if I'm recalling correctly, a few kind of crisis management. Like, you know, binder kind of things for people that could then be adapted for whatever crisis they're facing. COVID was the one that let's make it as kind of like, put crisis here. And then these are the things that you have to do. And we were able to do that. And I think we might have leveraged that, and done that for a few different clients at the time and said, Hey, we know how to do this, we can help you do this, because it could talk about their communication plan and the different kinds of things that they needed to do. You know, we've always had a big group of people that we were always willing to pivot and do something new. And again, I never once saw there's someone who's like, well, I don't know if we know how to do that. But the person who does our recruiting is like, Well, we'll find somebody that does, it all figured out and done that, you know, and I'm sure it was during COVID, that we started working with some consultants on various things. And one of the things that they helped us do was guide us through developing an ideal client, and then red, yellow green projects with those clients. And so then that helped us to kind of narrow down so we weren't, again, niching even further, to make sure that we know these are things that we do, we do not do a lot of medical content writing, it's very expensive to find those people. It lowers our margins. It's challenging, because we don't do a lot of it, it's hard to source it. So that becomes a red product project that we probably wouldn't take on unless it was with an ideal client, and they really, really needed it. And then we would do that.

John Corcoran  29:27  

You mentioned WriterGirl Academy, that sounds like not a small endeavor to build that out. Talk a little about what that looked like and why you decided to create that sounds like a training program for your writers.

Christy Pretzinger  29:39  

Yes. And that was many years ago, I kept wanting to do it. And we probably gosh, we probably had six or seven employees. And I kept saying I really want to WriterGirl Academy. And then I realized absolutely no one is scared of me because nobody was doing it. But I also wasn't forcing it to you know, be done. So then the person who is now one of my EVPs of operations, I really want it for Gonna be an employee. And I think she's been here eight or nine years now. And she had contracted with us before, and I reeled her in and didn't have actual work for her. So I said, Here, just go build out this, you know, right URL Academy. And so with absolutely no training or instructional design background, she did. So she didn't even know what a learning management system was. And I forgot to tell her because that is not my strong suit details. And so, but she did, she built it out, and over time, has adapted it and changed it and added to it. And at one point, my intention was to build that up as a separate business. And I did kind of try that. And I wanted to fail fast if it wasn't going to work. And I think it was, I had the idea so many years ago, that if I would have done it, then but I didn't have the time, the money or the resources. By the time I had the time, money and resources, the moment had passed. And it was going to take way more money and a lot more of my time that I was willing to invest. So I did it and was like, nope, not doing that. It was gonna be called wonder writer. And then we just I scrapped that, but we have all the content we developed for that, and brought that into the writer girl Academy. But it's still it's, you know, it's still a challenge to keep it updated. Because unless you have a full time, you know, learning management, I mean, you know, person who's an HR instructional designer, it's challenging to keep that up to date, but we do a fairly good job of it, and everybody does is run through that.

John Corcoran  31:23  

Right, right. And you see that that helps get people prepared to hit the ground running and to do the job. 

Christy Pretzinger  31:29  

Yeah, yeah, a lot of it is training them on the right or go away. And now we'll be training them because we're making a big investment in Salesforce. We've been using Salesforce, but we're vastly upgrading it so that it will be good for the next five years at least. And there's a portal that our 1090 nines can now access, they have not been able to access Salesforce prior to now. So now they will and we're getting rid of all these other things like base camp and you know, harvest time tracking all these different kinds of things. So we'll do a formalized training for them on this. So and that will be part of the academy as well.

John Corcoran  31:59  

Got it. Got it. Well, this has been great. Christy, thanks so much for your time, where can people go to learn more about you connect with you learn more about WriterGirl?

Christy Pretzinger  32:07  

Well, they can find me on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, somehow, again, I've hit my limit in technology, somehow I have two profiles on LinkedIn. And I've never bothered to get rid of the one that's wrong. But the one that has more than 500. You know, connect is me. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also find us at And you can email me directly. I'm Christy@writergirl. I'm happy to talk with younger businesses that would like experience share. I also do offer coaching. And I'm happy to talk with people about that. And I really, as I said earlier, I think that it is so invaluable when you are a young growing business to find places like you know, Jason Swenk mastermind, like Entrepreneurs’ Organization because they're like-minded people who can help you scale so much more quickly than I did. So I would highly recommend that.

John Corcoran  32:58  

Yeah, absolutely. I second that. Christy, thank you so much for your time.

Christy Pretzinger  33:02  

Thank you, John. Appreciate it.

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Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Looking to improve agency margins and profitability? Which key metrics are important to track? Are you paying yourself a salary? How much cash should you have in reserve? If you’re hoping to sell soon, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of starting to pay yourself a salary. Potential buyers will pay attention to this and many other details you could start to work on right now. Today’s guest owns a CPA firm focused on helping agency owners scale by getting their finances in order and avoiding the biggest mistakes in agency finances.

Chris Hervochon runs Better Way CPA, a CPA firm that specializes in virtual CFO services for agencies. Over the past eight years, his company has provided services to marketing agencies and nonprofits all over the US. He provides some insight into the key metrics you should be measuring, why you should pay attention to your gross margin, and more.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Avoid the biggest mistake in agency finances.
  • How to increase your margins.
  • Why you should pay yourself a salary.
  • Key metrics to manage agency cash flow.


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Sponsors and Resources

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

The Biggest Mistake in Agency Finances

The biggest and most common mistake Chris sees agency owners make with their finances has to do with cash management. Usually, they fail to understand how cash moves in and out of the agency. Also, how it’ll move into and out of the agency in the future. This is critical because it’s how you can really understand how to grow in the future.

As an owner, you must understand the way cash moves within the agency impacts clients, the work you do for them, and how you collect payments. This impact the people you pay to work for the agency. All of this helps you get a clearer vision of how you’re going to scale and bring in the next client.

Pay Attention to These Key Metrics

  • Profitability. When it comes to profitability, you need to be over 15% or 20% to be good. 15% or less is when the alarm starts ringing and you need to pull some levers to figure out what’s going on.
  • Net income. If you’re using some sort of accounting software and looking at P&L, net income is your bottom line.
  • Gross margin. This varies wildly across agencies because every agency operates so differently. In this particular case, measure yourself against yourself and track that over time. Make sure you’re maintaining or increasing margins over time.
  • Cash reserves. Every business should set aside cash reserves to fund growth. They help pay for unexpected costs that occur throughout the year, and they're often kept in your business account.
  • Pipeline. Make sure to have a process to measure your pipeline. This bleeds into your forecast and indicates what roles you need to hire, when, as well as who you need to fire and when.

Why You Need to Pay Attention to Gross Margin

Gross margin is your revenue minus variable expenses (cost of sales). This is the percentage of revenue you can keep in order to pay fixed expenses and then pay yourself. In short, the costs you’re going to incur every time you generate a dollar.

If your margins are very low, it's hard to pay for fixed expenses needed to operate the agency and deliver your services. If you don’t have enough money to pay your team, for example, you might start making bad decisions, like cutting staff, expenses, and software. At that point, you don’t even have enough to pay yourself as agency owner, which is definitely a problem.

This is why you need to pay attention to margins and make sure you have enough money every time you generate a dollar of revenue to pay those expenses. In the end, having revenue is good, of course; however, there’s really no point to it if it won’t allow you to pay for your fixed expenses.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What Works for Agencies When it Comes to Increasing Margins?

According to Chris, pricing and how you price will always be the biggest lever you can pull to increase profits. This may be difficult in our current economic times. However, that’s your biggest opportunity to move the needle. How can you increase prices?

  1. Build up value so you don’t face pushback from clients when it’s time to raise prices.
  2. Have value conversations with your clients.
  3. Ensure your sales and pricing functions are split.
  4. Be open to flipping some internal capacity to external capacity and bringing in contractors. This can be beneficial and prove to be more cost-efficient than having a full-time employee.
  5. Cut unnecessary software costs. Take a look at who’s using what software and get rid of what's not needed.

It's Important to Pay Yourself a Salary as an Agency Owner

Many agency owners don’t realize the importance of paying themselves a salary. They skip the salary to increase profitability. Paying yourself little to no salary just to be at 30% profitability is not an option if you want to sell one day. A prospective buyer will look at agency finances and see margins are good because you’re not paying yourself.

How much should you pay yourself? To determine the average salary of an agency owner in a given area, Chris’ team does a regional compensation study.

They take the owner’s functions in the agency and determine how proficient they are at these tasks. Next, they assign an hourly rate based on the bureau of labor’s existing data. Then add that up and have what the agency owner should pay themselves from payroll. The resulting salary is just low enough to save in taxes while also satisfying the IRS. The rest of the agency owner’s compensation is taken out as a draw or distribution. The amount of that draw depends on how much cash you can take out of the agency

Make sure you have an adequate cash reserve to get you through difficult times and invest in the agency. It’s a balancing act between what the agency owner should be making and planning for taxes.

Average salary for agency owners: For agencies around $1 million, most agency owners Chris has worked with have salaries ranging from $175,000 to $225,000 for an agency operating profitably. For agencies closer to $3 million, the agency owner’s salary doesn't necessarily increase much. It is roughly the same for tax purposes. The draw is where there's an increase and takes total compensation to around $500,000.

How to Project Your Agency’s Future Investments

Usually, investments in your agency’s future are in capacity. This means “people costs” such as equipment, bigger space, etc. The best way to calculate this is by putting together a capacity model and figuring out which roles you need to fill, the amount of work they’ll take on, and how much they’ll cost. Forecast that into the future and see what it does to your cash flow.

From a cash flow standpoint, look ahead to six months. Maybe the results of that tell you that in seven months-time you won’t be able to make payroll. However, knowing now gives you enough time to do course corrections.

How much should you have in cash reserve?

Typically, Chris wants his clients to have between 2-6 months of fixed expenses in cash reserve. Chris conducts a brief study of the clients' plans to spend and invest in order to assess and make a recommendation. Most agency owners land between 3 ½ to 4 ½ months cash reserves needed.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

What do you need to know about selling your agency? Is the market right for a sale or acquisition? What does a successful M&A deal look like? It's actually a good time to sell and there’s no shortage of buyers. If you are prepared and have guidance, an acquisition can be smoother and faster than you think. Today’s guest specializes in mergers and acquisitions in the agency space. In this conversation, she shares how to realistically determine your agency's valuation, two common questions about acquisition deals, and what you can expect when you sell your agency.

Amanda Dixon is the founder and CEO of Barney, an M&A advisory firm for agencies. In her career, Amanda went through a couple of exits as an entrepreneur and describes the experience as atrocious. She saw a need for a company that understands the valuation of digital assets. As a result, she created a firm that has helped over 150 media, marketing, and tech companies through acquisitions.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • How long does it take to sell your agency?
  • How to realistically determine your agency valuation.
  • Answers to 2 common questions about M&A for digital agencies.


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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 and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Selling a Digital Agency In an Unrepresented Market

After growing her own business in the digital space, Amanda decided to sell and started looking for a professional valuation. Unfortunately, she found herself surrounded by people who just didn’t understand new technologies and how to value digital assets. She was selling her own, life-changing agency but felt ignored by the market. Since larger firms were not returning her calls, she went with a broker who didn’t have the experience or sophistication to sell a business the size of hers and the results were not quite what she expected.

Through that experience, Amanda discovered a huge opportunity for a niche firm for this kind of acquisition. Businesses valued <$250 million needing national buyers were severely underrepresented. So seven years ago she started her firm to help guide agency owners going through that same process.

How Long Does It Take to Sell Your Agency?

Selling your agency can be a painful and complicated process. Many times, agency owners get into it not really knowing what to expect. It can drag on for a long time if, for example, the buyer keeps coming back with last-minute changes. In these situations, agency owners may be afraid to pull out of the sale for fear or financial repercussions.

In the height of the pandemic, without in-person meetings, the process took around 90 days. With in-person meetings back, this adds a couple of weeks and sometimes months to the process. Overall, in the worst-case scenario, it is currently taking her team around 5 months to complete a sale.

For Amanda, the most eye-opening discovery working in M&A is that it doesn’t have to drag on forever. For starters, one of the things that delays the process the most is finding the buyers. Since her firm is focused on digital-based business, that part of the process is faster. Approved sellers that work with them are referred to several interested potential buyers. This is good because deal fatigue is a very real thing.

Having a buyer pool interested in your particular industry helps to create a sense of competition. With several potential buyers, you can have more control and ultimately choose the one that makes sense financially and fits your team and your culture.

How to Realistically Determine Your Agency Valuation 

Agency owners are typically very eager to know their agency’s worth. The multiple of EBITDA formula is a good place to start and is what Amanda’s team analyses first.

EBITDA = Earnings Before Interest Tax Depreciation Amoritization

Of course, this doesn't offer a clear picture of the agency’s financial state. For instance, they see many agencies that have grown too fast and have too many team members. In these cases, since their margins may be low, it’s hard to judge financial health with just the multiple of EBITDA. On the other hand, if an agency isn’t staffed enough and are at a breaking point, they may have 50-60% margins which is not scalable.

The next step is determining where the agency falls within Barney's valuation range. They consider factors like client concentration and new client acquisition. Of course, agency owners don’t always agree with the results and believe they’re worth more. However, it is a very efficient formula for determining agency’s value.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Agency Owners Need Executing a Profitable Acquisition Process

Many agency owners are caught offguard when someone shows interest in buying their agency. This results in wasting a lot of time and the sale never happening. Amanda strongly believes most agency owners need representation through the acquisition process.

They need the support to ensure the terms of the purchase are clear and negotiated in a way that protects them. For instance, a buyer may say they’ll pay you $10 million for your agency. In reality, they may intend to pay $5 million and the other half is contingent on what happens post-transaction.

Looking for M&A advisory services can also help you find more buyer options. Amanda’s team is often approached after an agency owner has an acquisition offer. They will guide them through that offer, of course. However, it is more advisable to meeting with other potential buyers, just to see what else is out there.

When to Bring an Accountant or Lawyer into the Acquisition Process

To be clear, an accountant should be part of an agency well before you even start thinking about selling. Having clean financials is crucial to getting through the finish line. If your books are a mess, sort that out before starting the acquisition process.

When it comes to an attorney, the point of bringing them in may depend on the size of the agency. Some prefer to bring them in at the LOI phase. However, most don’t choose to do so until they have prepared the purchase documents.

An important rule of thumb is choosing one with experience representing digital agencies. In general, the terms and specifics are different in the digital space. Like, non-competes average 5 years in the agency business. Retaining an attorney with this type of experience will make sure this doesn’t restrict your ability to form another agency in the near future.

2 Common Questions About Digital Agency Mergers & Acquisitions

  1. How Do Earnouts Work?  Acquisition advisors love a deal where the owner gets to capitalize on how the agency continues to grow after the transaction. However, earnouts are tricky. The key is that the earnout shouldn’t be tied to rapid growth. In essence, it is intended to be protection for the buyer in the event of catastrophic implosion. But when you're on the seller side, it's not something you can control so make sure you’re happy with however much you get at the closing table.
  2. Are Agency Rollups a Good Idea? In theory, doing a roll-up is a great idea. Unfortunately, most of the time integration is much harder than people think. Buyers want integrated agencies to become a well-oiled machine with systematized processes. It is possible, however, merging multiple agencies doesn’t increase their value unless you prove cross-selling services to a unified client base. Until you’ve done that and have historical churn numbers on your clients, a rollup doesn’t provide a lot of value.

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Pressured to Sell

Many agency owners may have concerns about what’s happening with the current economy. However, Amanda says the agency space is seeing strong interest from buyers. There are still many more buyers than sellers in agency M&A.

The market isn’t going anywhere so you shouldn’t be pressured to sell. And if you do want to sell, it is not a situation where you won’t find buyers because of the economy. This industry is only growing, so no matter where you are in the process, you’re in a great place.

Do You Want to Transform Your Agency from a Liability to an Asset?

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 Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

Would you like to increase agency lead generation and have so many prospects you get to pick and choose who you want to work with? Finding the right lead gen strategy is an important part of your agency’s growth. Today’s guest has found a simple framework that worked for him as well as many of his clients. By just fine-tuning 3 aspects of most lead generation strategies, you could be quadrupling leads in just one month.

Dave Valentine is the owner and founder of Avadel Agency, an outsourced sales & development rep agency that helps clients fill their sales pipelines and book meetings. He owns eight businesses and tested the success of his lead generation framework in several different industries. Today he shares how going back to the basics can help you quadruple your leads and unlock a new level of growth.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why a quality case study should be kept short and to the point.
  • How an outrageous offer can help you get your agency to seven figures.
  • Inventive ways to use old tools that are regarded as outdated.


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Sponsors and Resources

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



Dave is an entrepreneur who started his first agency at the age of 25. Looking back, he has made some common mistakes, like making his agency a catch-all and trying to be everything for everyone. In spite of this, he built the agency over 7-figures. However, relied too heavily on him and clients expected Dave to be involved in everything.

In the end, this led him to sell his former agency and start Avadel. Now, growth comes not from relying on one person but from how they generate leads.

3 Things To Increase Agency Lead Generation in 30 Days

According to Dave, increasing your agency’s lead generation in record time will require just three key elements:

  1. Quality case studies. Most people think a quality case study needs to fill two pages or more to get client’s attention.  Dave believes all you need is a sentence that follows this formula: We work with X company and got Y results in Z time. Additionally, if "Z time" is 90 days or less, it is incredibly compelling. When you put that in an email or an advertisement piece, it will get people’s attention.
  2. Outrageous offers. Dave credits this element with helping him get six of his businesses to seven figures. An outrageous offer is something that sounds too good to be true. Actually, it is a way to increase your profits and book more meetings. More meetings give you an opportunity to assess clients so you can pick and choose the ones you want to work with. It’s really about understanding what your deliverables are and how good your team is.
  3. Cold emails with creative follow-up. 86% of the meeting booking they do at Dave’s agency come through cold emails. This statistic surprises most people because we all tend to shut down this kind of outreach. We get hundreds of emails every day from people trying to sell us something, so how do you cut through the noise? Dave recommends those emails be short and to the point. “Two to three sentences is the sweet spot,” he says. Also, look to create human connections. Let it come across that they’re dealing with a person, not a bot. Lastly, he uses creative direct mail follow-up, like a piñata with a QR code that sends them to a calendar to book a call.

Dave has found a lot of success in taking these strategies seen as old and outdated and leveraging them to generate new business.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why You Need an Outrageous Offer to Attract Leads

The "outrageous offer" is a bold move that can bring great results for your agency. It’s always a great way to stand out and put pressure on the competition. Of course, you have to be careful in how you word it. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. A good way to ensure you’re not over-promising is putting conditions around the offer.

For example, if you're a web design agency, you can guarantee you’ll have a client’s website ready to launch in 12 weeks. The condition is they get you all the information required within the indicated timeline. It’s a way to hold clients accountable for their outcomes.

This doesn't work for every type of agency and sometimes you have to take some risks.

When creating an outrageous offer for a flight school, Dave and his team offered a test flight at $49.99. Most flight schools make a similar offer at a much higher price point of $300, because it covers gas and the pilot’s time. Their outrageous offer meant losing some money. They trusted the process and as a result, saw a 4x increase in lead generation with the same ad spend. And, their close rate stayed about the same! In the end, they soaked up all the leads their competitors were getting.

Over the years, Avadel has successfully repeated this strategy for different industries.

Gaining the Client’s Trust so They’ll go All in on the Bold Strategy

Increasing lead generation isn't just about the agency. It’s also about creating opportunities for clients to engage with you. Right off the bat, Avadel does this by acknowledging when a client books a meeting. When a meeting is booked, the prospect receives a video from Dave talking about the challenges that probably led them to his agency and thanking them for taking that step. It’s a simple thing that clients find really helpful.

In every sales conversation, they try to anticipate the client’s objections and proactively address them. They acknowledge some of the most common concerns and offer a money-back guarantee. This way, the client can move forward and go all in on Dave’s strategy with ease.

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: 3_Things_To_Increase_Agency_Lead_Generation_in_30_Days.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Is your digital agency too reliant on you? Are you always putting out fires and answering questions? Is your team empowered to succeed without you? It's all about being intentional with how you spend your time and creating the processes to support your role as agency CEO. In this episode, a time and profit expert shares ways you can stop being the superhero at your agency and instead be the super visionary.

Mike Michalowitz is an author and entrepreneur who focuses mostly on researching ways to make businesses run more efficiently. In this research, he noticed most businesses starve for profitability and very few achieve it. He's been on the podcast twice before chatting about his books: Profit First and Clockwork. His book and framework, Profit First, has changed the way many small businesses approaches profitability. One of his other best sellers is Clockwork, where he disrupts the "hustle harder" mindset. He's sharing how agency owners can reinvent their role in the agency to work less and still do the things they love.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • Why you should strive to be the super visionary instead of the superhero.
  • How a four-week vacation can help you ultimately exit operations.
  • How to start empowering your team.
  • Do you know the most important function at your agency?


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Sponsors and Resources

Verblio: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Verblio. Check out 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.

Why Your Superhero Syndrome Is Your Agency's Bottleneck

Agency owners are commonly the bottleneck at their agency. The processes make it so everything has to go through them. It’s not efficient at all, causes a clog in project completion, and exhaustion for the agency owner. Michael calls this the Superhero Syndrome.

Many agency owners believe they are the best at everything and can fix everything. They are the agency’s superheroes. However, having a superhero fix everything ultimately weakens the police department. This is what happens to agency teams. They can become too dependent on the owner always solving issues. According to Michael, instead of being the superhero, agency owners should strive to be super visionary.

What the agency really needs is for the owner to have a clear vision of where the agency is going and then drive the team to get there.

How to Set Yourself Up as the Super Visionary

Part of having the clarity to become a super visionary is empowering your team to follow your vision, as opposed to you making the decisions. Michael believes the easiest way to position yourself as the visionary starts with one word: shareholder.

The term entrepreneur has become overused. It used to me "someone who had an idea then took the risk of organizing a team and resources to pursue it." Now, it’s become “someone who works like an animal.”

On the other hand, a shareholder is someone who receives earnings and never says “I need to go to the company to solve something.”

As an agency owner, you’ve taken on an extraordinary risk the only shareholder. Only about 15% of the population ever takes this risk and 3% manage to do it successfully. Sure, in the beginning, you’re the only resource and work a ton. However, you should exit operations as soon as possible.

As a shareholder, you should create jobs. By doing the work yourself you’re stealing the job from people who want and need it. Michael believes viewing yourself as a shareholder, you'll have a better understanding of your role as someone who takes care of strategic planning, vision, and creating jobs.

It’s important to remember you have the right to reinsert yourself into work in a way that gives you joy. If you love sales, then find a way to assist in sales without it being fully dependent upon you. That’s perfectly valid; just make sure the agency can run without you.

Creating an Agency that Runs Without You 

How can you prepare your team for your ultimate exit from operations? Michael recommends the “four-week vacation” in which you spend four consecutive weeks away from the agency with no physical or online connection.

Why four weeks? He looked at how much time goes by before a business starts repeating cycles. Across all industries, it is monthly. Therefore if an owner is able to be away for 4 weeks, then they can be absent forever.

The challenge for any agency owner who wants to exit operations is to book a four-week vacation at least two years from now. If that gives you too much anxiety, it’s probably an indicator that you have a problem. In the end, this test is more about the agency having a vacation from you than you getting a vacation from it.

People tend to think working on the business instead of in it is something that happens after you work hard enough. It’s actually the result of a lot of intentional planning and preparation. That day may never come if you don't plan for it.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Extending the Four-Week Vacation on All Levels

After his four-week vacation and making sure everything ran well without him. Michael’s team approached him to talk about a new problem. The agency worked well in his absence, which was great. However, his tasks had fallen on other people and now the rest of the team was too dependent on those in charge.

The answer Michael came up with was repeating the formula. Everyone would take a four-week vacation. Not at the same time, of course, and planned a year in advance as he had done. This way, everyone has to prepare processes and backups to cover while they are on vacation. As a result there’s always a backup -- not only for vacations but also when someone leaves.

Life happens and this method means the agency doesn’t suffer as a result. He looks at it as an intentional fire drill to ensure a smooth transition in case something does happen.

2 Steps to Empower Your Team 

  1. Move to a delegating leadership style. The deciding style is when you’re in control of all the decision-making. For instance, you explain a task to an employee and answer their questions when they come back with doubts. On the contrary, a delegating style is all about the outcome and empowering employees to determine how to get the end result.
  2. Capturing processes. SOPs are relevant but are usually stale and hard to execute because it’s a lot of information. As soon as an employee is assigned a new task, they should record training of the work. If they can teach it, they've mastered it. Furthermore, each new person can record new things added to the process. Should anyone leave, the new person assigned to that task can go back to previous recordings and learn.

What's the Most Important Function at Your Agency?

The QBR or Queen Bee Role concept is about looking at what nature does and translating that to business. In a beehive, the most important function is the production of eggs. Everything else is secondary because the survival of the hive depends on it.

In any business, there is one single most important activity. However, some agency owners may not know what it is. Michael teaches clients how to identify principal activity so it is prioritized and protected at all times. Most small businesses tend to think everything is important and never see exceptional progress. It's especially important your agency team understand that important activity and their role in elevating it.

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_Be_the_Super_Visionary_in_an_Agency_That_Runs_Without_You.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am EDT