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Are you seeking the best approach to train your sales team? Have you considered implementing a foot-in-the-door offer? Today’s featured guest reflects on past mistakes made while attempting to step away from sales, and shares a recent success could lead to a complete overhaul of the sales funnel, resulting in a tenfold increase in the closing rate. Tune in to hear about the journey from startup life to agency ownership and the creative acquisition strategy he’s using to become his own client and create the ultimate success story.

Jim Huffman is the CEO and founder of Growth Hit, a customer-centric growth marketing agency that specializes in technical marketing. He shares his journey of becoming an accidental agency owner, some lessons learned about building a sales team, and his careful approach to crafting a foot-in-the-door offer that could boost his agency’s sales funnel.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Lessons in crafting a successful agency team.

  • The Power of the Foot-in-the-Door Offer.

  • How to become your own client and create the ultimate success story.

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At the start of his career, Jim juggled marketing, creative, and sales for a couple of successful startups while also teaching marketing at General Assembly. As his reputation for delivering top-notch classes grew, so did the number of requests for his marketing expertise. This led him to take on freelance marketing projects, which eventually flourished into a full-fledged business.

Like many entrepreneurs, Jim faced the challenge of pricing his services when the freelance work started pouring in. Initially, he quoted a modest $500, thinking it was a great price. However, as he sat down to do the work and calculated the amount of hours it took, he realized he could have made more working at Dunkin Donuts. That was his first lesson in raising agency prices.

An Agency Owner’s Journey from Salesman to Strategic Leader

The realization that he needed to fire himself from sales was a pivotal moment in Jim’s entrepreneurial journey. After getting a taste of what it was to work on the business instead of in the business, he recognized the need to step back from certain roles to focus on higher-level strategic tasks that would drive the growth of the business.

Around this time, Jim's current partner interviewed for a junior role. Although he was overqualified for the position, he expressed his willingness to discuss other ways he could bring value to the agency, which eventually led to his appointment as COO. By hiring a COO specializing in conversion rate optimization, Jim saw the value of bringing in experts to take his agency to the next level. He quickly recognized the importance of not getting in the way and using that time to focus on other aspects of the business.

The process of firing yourself from various roles within the business can be challenging and uncomfortable. It requires letting go of control, trusting others to handle important aspects of the business, and investing time and resources into training and development. In Jim’s experience, once he started he quickly began looking for other roles where he could replace himself. He says the trick is to start small and work yourself up to what you feel will be most difficult to delegate, which in his case was sales. The key is to keep in mind you’re working to build a business where you’re not just another cog in the machine.

Missteps and Lessons in Crafting a Successful Agency Sales Team

A key aspect of success in firing himself from sales was Jim’s focus on building a strong sales team. However, it was not a seamless process and he acknowledges there were a few mistakes along the way. One notable misstep was hiring a salesperson without ensuring there was enough lead volume to support them. In hindsight, Jim recognizes this as a glaring oversight on his part as the business owner.

Additionally, he still didn’t understand the differences between different roles in the sales team, like what a hunter does versus a closer. He also hired people and provided them with the agency’s CRM, processes, and automation, instead of focusing on getting a solid sales script and making sure his new hires could close.

One specific challenge Jim has found while training his sales team to replace him is customers who want to have an in-depth conversation about aspects of their services that not every salesperson would understand.

In these cases, you don’t necessarily have to have a specialist. Instead, build these types of scenarios into your training. Some valuable strategies agency owners can implement include creating a repository of success stories that your sales team can reference during sales calls and offering a foot-in-the-door. This way, they’ll have valuable examples of past successes to demonstrate the agency's ability and get a little bit more into detail regarding how your agency would approach their particular challenge.

The Power of the Foot-in-the-Door Offer

Jim recently saw an encouraging success that has made him reconsider his entire pricing model to incorporate a foot-in-the-door strategy. His current sales funnel typically involves two calls, a conversion optimization assessment, and a monthly package priced at 10k. This process usually takes about 30 days to close.

However, Jim recently had a conversation with a potential client and, sensing their specific needs, he spontaneously offered a foot-in-the-door and managed to sell a smaller package within just 72 hours, a huge jump. Thus far, it is a one-case-only success, but the results are encouraging and worth exploring.

To create an effective a foot-in-the-door you should consider the following:

  1. What’s the perceived value to the client?

  2. Is it easy to create for the agency?

  3. Does it lead to the logical next step?

  4. Is it being co-created with the prospect?

Think about things you’re already doing and that you can slice off your core service and go through each of these items to come up with a valuable offer. Finally, remember the prospect is going through their own struggles and by providing a foot-in-the-door you are offering prospects the opportunity to address these questions with a smaller commitment, making the final decision a no-brainer for them.

Becoming Your Own Client and Crafting the Ultimate Success Story

One innovative strategy Jim has been testing recently was leveraging profits from his agency to buy a B2C company that he could use as a model for approaching potential clients in the same industry. This unique approach allows agency owners to not only diversify their portfolio but also gain valuable insights and experience that can be applied to their core business.

This can provide a new revenue stream, access to a different customer base, and opportunities for cross-promotion and collaboration. In Jim's case, he identified an opportunity to acquire 50% of a client's company, enabling his agency to handle the marketing side and become their own client. This strategic move has doubled their thought leadership content, as they now create content around the newly acquired B2C company in addition to their existing content.

Acquiring a B2C company can be a great opportunity for agencies to gain valuable insights into customer behavior, marketing strategies, and product development, which can be applied to its offerings. Moreover, by showcasing the success and growth of the acquired company, agency owners can demonstrate their expertise and capabilities to potential clients, making it easier to secure new business. This strategy can also open up new opportunities for partnerships, collaborations, and joint ventures with other businesses in the industry.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Jim_Huffman_no_AD.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you making a mark in your specific niche? Have you taken the necessary steps to elevate your brand and attract your ideal customers? Our guest today, a seasoned agency owner with fourteen years of experience working with influencers believes these are areas where agencies could learn from influencers, who by heavily focusing on developing their brands can grow to compete with big brands that have historically overshadowed smaller competitors. Tune in to learn more about her agency’s approach to influencer marketing and why you should stop being a volunteer at your own agency.

Casey Benedict is the CEO and founder of Maverick Mindshare, an influencer marketing agency with over 14 years of experience in the industry. Casey shares insights on working with influencers, emphasizing the importance of expertise, processes, safeguards, and quality assurance; she also talks about learning to delegate and the importance of finding your zone of genius and staying in that lane as a way for owners to always stay in touch with the parts of the business they most enjoy.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Using influencer collaborations to grow your agency.

  • What agencies can learn from influencers.

  • Changing your mindset from volunteer to visionary.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Being the Bridge for Brands and Influencer Marketing

Casey's journey into the world of influencer marketing began with her own experience as a home baker and blogger. She was inspired by the community of food bloggers and the potential for brands to leverage their influence. This experience led her to a blogger retreat, where she observed the challenges faced by bloggers and PR agents in collaborating effectively. It also sparked the idea of becoming the bridge between bloggers and brands — and her agency was born.

Through her agency, Casey has successfully facilitated mutually beneficial connections between influencers and brands, prioritizing the quality and authenticity of influencer campaigns.

In today's landscape, numerous influencers are rivaling major brands, such as Mr. Beast's Feastables competing with Hershey’s and Logan Paul's immensely popular energy drink. This presents a compelling opportunity for agency owners to tap into, enabling them to compete with the largest global agencies by elevating their brand.

Combining Agency Processes with the Human Elements of Influencer Marketing

Casey's agency has been working with influencers for over 14 years and she disagrees with the common perception that influencers can be difficult to work with. Although she acknowledges this is likely due to her agency’s expertise and attention to processes.

She attributes this perception to the fact that influencers are human beings, with their unique personalities and perspectives. In traditional marketing, the focus is often on digital media buys or static content, whereas influencer marketing involves collaborating with real people who have the power to engage audiences authentically. This human element introduces a level of unpredictability and risk, but Casey believes that with the right processes and safeguards in place, these challenges can be mitigated.

How Clarity Plays a Role in Marketing Your Agency

Over the past fifteen years, influencers have shown us that by being authentic and true to themselves, they can compete against major corporations and make a significant impact in the industry. Likewise, it is crucial for agencies to elevate their brand and stand out boldly to compete against the biggest companies in the world.

Understanding your brand thoroughly can be a time-consuming process, but by defining core values and target audience, you can establish a strong foundation and set a clear direction for you and your team. This clarity not only guides your decision-making process but also helps you connect with your audience on a deeper level.

Agency owners often dedicate most of their time to helping their clients and overlook the need to focus on their own business. Casey has also faced this challenge, but she recognizes the importance of building a brand that resonates with people.

Imposter syndrome, self-doubt, or fear of judgment are just some of the reasons holding agency owners back when it comes to sharing their thoughts and ideas with the world. Despite the plethora of opinions on social media about how to build a brand, putting yourself out there requires courage, vulnerability, and a willingness to take risks.

Overcoming these barriers demands starting small, embracing unique strengths, and gradually expanding their presence, enabling agency owners to overcome their fears and establish themselves as confident thought leaders in their industry.

Changing Your Mindset from Volunteer to Visionary

At one point in her agency’s growth, Casey had to ask herself if she wanted to be a non-profit or a CEO, based on the tasks she was taking on. Her day-to-day was filled with things she should’ve been delegating and it felt like she was doing volunteer work for her agency, rather than stepping into the role of a CEO.

It is crucial to prioritize tasks that hold greater value and impact for your agency, rather than becoming entangled in smaller, less significant tasks that could be assigned to others. If you find yourself falling into this pattern, categorize tasks as $10, $100, or $1000 tasks to swiftly identify and prioritize those that will significantly impact your agency's growth and success. By delegating, you can entrust tasks to someone who will approach them with a level of enthusiasm that you may not possess, yielding superior results.

Doing $10 tasks may create a sense of productivity, but once you really look into it, you can pay someone to take care of that giving yourself time to tackle the bigger tasks. It’s about building your agency around your life, your values, and the things you want to do. This way, you build a stronger organization and attract more of the right people.

Likewise, agency owners may feel unprepared to invest in growth, but according to Casey, it is essential to adopt the mindset that your agency is equipped to handle expanded business and growth. Taking the necessary steps to support this growth, whether by hiring additional team members, investing in marketing, or expanding services, is crucial for sustained success.

What Do You Do Best? Staying True to Your Strengths

Part of getting to a point where you’re effectively delegating tasks across your team is embracing diversity in team dynamics. As an agency owner, it's important to recognize that not everyone will approach tasks the same way you do, and that's perfectly fine. Embracing a team with diverse skills, personalities, and working styles is essential for the success of any organization. This diversity can lead to increased efficiency, creativity, and overall success.

Realizing this took the animus out of team differences for Casey, as she was able to embrace diversity in team dynamics and understand each team member's strengths and weaknesses. By recognizing what each individual excels at and what they may struggle with, agency owners can delegate tasks more effectively.

Casey encourages agency owners to find what they do best and let that guide them. There’ll be many voices wanting to tell you what’s best, which KPIs to follow, and what to focus on so make sure you touch base with that zone of genius as much as you can.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: CaseyBenedict_E2M_09_42.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you considering narrowing your focus in the near future, or do you prefer to retain the flexibility to take advantage of growth opportunities in specific sectors? Our featured guest established a PR agency by recognizing the potential to connect forward-thinking companies with journalists. In the current uncertain economic climate, she opts for diversification and maintains the agility of her agency to capitalize on the expansion of emerging sectors. Gain insights into her journey of building a PR agency that harnesses technology to enhance brand visibility, her pivotal moments in realizing the agency's success, her strategies for solidifying its growth, and the ongoing learning curve inherent in the agency's evolution.

Amy Jackson is the founder of TaleSplash, a PR agency focused on effectively helping startups and emerging brands. She shares her journey from working in corporate PR to starting her own agency, discusses the role of the media in times of change, and explains how the agency is using AI to efficiently connect journalists with relevant sources and products.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The power of versatility and adapting to economic shifts.

  • Getting beyond the $ million mark.

  • Why growing an agency is a continued learning experience.

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The Art of Brand Elevation and Media Matchmaking

After a decade in the corporate world and navigating the challenges of the pandemic, Amy recognized the pivotal role of media in shaping people's understanding of the world. This realization sparked her vision of bridging innovative companies with journalists to promote their products. Serving as a matchmaker between clients and journalists, she has steadily expanded her agency, empowering founders to elevate their brand awareness and position themselves as valuable resources for journalists.

So far, her agency journey has been one of discovery. As much as one can prepare themselves, speak with other owners, and read about the experience, you won’t really know until you jump in and start your journey. Her first year with the agency was about building and creating. After that, each year has brought on new challenges as they grow, like staffing and learning to run the business profitably.

Overall, she always keeps in mind what clients want from her agency, which is coverage at big outlets, speak at conferences, and have people pay attention to what they represent as thought leaders to bring in more customers, investors, and have more credibility. This commitment to meeting client expectations is vital in the face of intense competition, ensuring the agency's ongoing relevance in the industry.

Building an Agency Team of Experts

Amy first felt the momentum of her agency when she began enlisting the support of experienced individuals, enabling her to deliver top-notch services to her clients. She surrounds herself with people who have decades of experience. As a result, has been able to offer a diverse range of services and support to her clients, ultimately leading to their success.

Her team has helped multiple clients be recognized by the White House, brought into Senate hearings, and be a part of important conversations in the media. This level of support and expertise has added immense value to her clients and set her agency apart from others in the industry. All this is possible thanks to the team of experts she assembled.

The Power of Staying Versatile and Adapting to Economic Shifts

Amy cites the current economy as a key factor in why she hasn’t niched down her services. Amy’s agency needs to remain fluid during tough times while certain niches have their moment. Versatility makes it easier to focus on some key industries like AI, climate solutions, lifestyle brands, and health tech.

By diversifying, Amy can capitalize on growth opportunities in various sectors and mitigate risks associated with focusing solely on one industry while allowing her agency to adapt to changing economic conditions and industry trends, ensuring long-term sustainability and success.

Growth Strategies to Get Beyond the $2 Million Mark

Up to this point, Amy has relied on personal networking to drive her business. She has explored various marketing channels such as lead generation, attending events and conferences to connect with other industry professionals, and has also received some referrals. However, the majority of her agency’s growth has been attributed to meeting people at events.

Typically, this approach can only take a business so far, usually up to the $2 million mark, before hitting a ceiling. This is because the potential to meet new prospects at events is limited. To surpass this point, it is essential to establish alternative channels for business growth. These channels are:

  • Inbound: This includes social media, podcasts, blogs, website, and ads as ways for the clients to find you and get to know you and your services before reaching out and becoming customers.

  • Outbound: Building an effective sales team with a clear target and a deep understanding of the ideal customer profile to actively pursue leads.

  • Strategic partnerships: A key component in any agency’s growth strategy. In her case, forming alliances with other businesses has helped her expand her agency’s reach, access new clients, and tap into new markets. Strategic partnerships also provide opportunities for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and mutual support, ultimately enhancing the agency's capabilities and competitiveness in the industry.

Grit, Growth, and Grace

In the world of PR, if you come from a traditional PR education and agency background, you won’t have any notion of sales and financial infrastructure. In Amy’s case, it’s something she’s had to learn on the fly as an entrepreneur and a focus of hers as her agency continues to grow.

The agency experience is all about continuous learning and overcoming challenges. As Guy Kawasaki explained in a past episode, looking back at his career he likes to break life up into thirds - grit, growth, and grace. This concept emphasizes the idea that learning is a lifelong process that involves embracing challenges, seeking growth opportunities, and remaining humble and open to new experiences and knowledge.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Amy_Jackson_No_AD.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Is your agency prepared for a strategic acquisition to accelerate its growth? What advantages does an acquisition offer compared to organic growth? Do you have the necessary resources to navigate the acquisition process while ensuring the continued growth of your agency? Our featured guest today will discuss his ongoing acquisition process, outlining his reasoning behind this move, sharing why this felt like the perfect moment for an acquisition, and how he kept his peace of mind during this time-consuming process.

Manish Dudharejia is the founder and CEO of E2M Solutions, one of the largest white label services agencies with clients all over the globe. Manish is a friend of the podcast who’s been on previously talking about big decisions agency owners need to make and sharing hiring tips for agencies.

On this occasion, he discusses the recent acquisition of a white label WordPress development company, adding over 80 new team members and 100 new agency clients to their existing roster. He explains the decision-making process behind choosing to acquire rather than solely build, emphasizing the need for rapid growth and expansion in serving over 300 agency clients globally.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Strategic acquisitions as a strategy for agency growth.

  • Acquisition vs. organic growth.

  • 2 tests for cultural compatibility.

  • The Lion Framework.

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Strategic Acquisition as a Fast-Track to Agency Growth

Manish has been building E2M for the past ten years and recently embarked on a new phase in his journey by adopting acquisition as a growth strategy. Why now? One of the key reasons was the ability to acquire clients and add new team members rapidly.

When it comes to rapid expansion, acquisition stands out as one of the most effective strategies for an agency. Manish had a clear objective to increase his agency's scale by around 50% over the next three years. While achieving this organically was not impossible, it would have been time-consuming and presented its own set of challenges, so an acquisition made sense.

By acquiring an existing company, E2M was able to instantly add 80+ new team members and over 100+ agency clients to its portfolio. This immediate influx of resources and clientele allowed E2M to scale up its operations significantly and achieve its growth goals much faster than if it had pursued organic growth strategies.

Ultimately, Manish’s goals of dominating his niche in a short amount of time required a big investment and he opted to make a big move that would take less time. This way, combining forces with another company in the same space allowed E2M to strengthen its market presence and establish itself as a dominant player.

The Biggest Appeal of an Agency Acquisition

For Manish, the biggest appeal of an acquisition is that it’ll bring your agency new customers and especially new talent. Building a strong team is no small feat, and the process can be disheartening. However, acquiring a company with a skilled team already proficient in the area where Manish aims to expand can significantly expedite his agency's growth and heighten its chances of success.

Of course, is not as easy as finding a great team and adding them to your company. It's crucial to consider the cultural fit between the acquiring and acquired companies. Culture plays a pivotal role in the success of an acquisition. Misaligned cultures can lead to integration hurdles, increased employee turnover, and ultimately impede the success of the acquisition. Therefore, gaining a deep understanding of the company being considered for acquisition is essential. This understanding provides valuable insights into its operations, culture, team dynamics, and overall potential for success.

In Manish’s case, he knew exactly what to expect, having established an eight-year relationship with the owners of the acquired company that provided a clear understanding of its internal workings, team dynamics, and overall performance. This familiarity allowed for a smooth transition and integration of the new team into his agency.

Vetting Acquisition Targets: 2 Tests for Cultural Compatibility

There are two big tests to pass before embarking on an acquisition process.

  1. First off, ask yourself can you take an entire month off from the business and find it has grown when you come back?

  2. The second test is for those who don’t have the luxury of having known the other company for many years and can attest to how they work. Do a test project with the company you’re planning on purchasing. This way, you can see first-hand how you would work together. Regarding this second step, Manish goes even further and prompts agency owners to ask themselves if they would invite the CEO of the company they want to purchase to have dinner at their home since most likely they will be a reflection of their company culture.

Finally, Manish also mentions the importance of having a strong leadership team in place before considering an acquisition. Two years ago, he wouldn’t have embarked on such a time-consuming endeavor as acquiring a business since he still didn’t have the proper support and was more involved in the day-to-day tasks in the business. Having a capable team supporting him through the integration process helped increase their chances of a successful acquisition.

The Lion Framework to Learn the Importance of Rest and Downtime

Agency owners often feel the pressure to maintain a constant 100% effort, fearing that any time off will lead to everything falling apart. In reality, taking time away is not just an opportunity to recharge, but also a chance to evaluate what's not working and what is, ensuring you have the energy to address any issues upon your return.

Moreover, your attitude and energy will dictate your team’s overall attitude to work. A pissed-off owner that hates their job will likely lead a frustrated and exhausted team that lacks initiative. This is why Manish takes his time off seriously. After removing himself from day-to-day operations, he enjoyed a freedom he hadn’t seen in years.

However, the acquisition process brought him back to 18-hour workdays and numerous critical decisions. During this time, he made a point to take daily walks, giving himself the opportunity to recharge and gain the clarity needed to face the next day's challenges.

According to Manish's Lion Framework, which he shared at a recent mastermind event, taking time for self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. Rest time is crucial not only for personal health but also for sustaining productivity and creativity as a business owner. It serves as a vital tool in preventing burnout, maintaining mental clarity, and enhancing overall well-being. In this sense, Manish emphasizes the importance of surrounding oneself with a supportive team and community that offers encouragement, guidance, and assistance during difficult periods.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Manish_DudHareija_No_AD.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Do you run a virtual agency or a more traditional in-office business? It all comes down to what suits your and your team’s work style, and one agency owner has found a way to incentivize in-office days. She also shares the lessons learned after two big clients left within weeks of each other. This feature guest has constantly been evolving and adapting to change. She shares her reasons for being an advocate for the collaborative and innovative environment that comes with a shared physical workspace. She also shares the challenges she has faced that forced her to diversify her client roster and empower her team to be independent.

Sarah Segal is the CEO and founder of Segal Communications, a public relations, social media, and influencer marketing agency that specializes in crafting communication strategies spanning the events, hospitality, and food niche. She shares her journey from broadcast journalism to accidental agency ownership. Sarah also talks about why she established a hybrid agency show where she encourages her staff to go to the office, and the decision to resize her agency and diversify their client roster.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • An innovative approach to promoting office culture.

  • Adaptability and resilience when big clients leave.

  • Building a self-reliant agency team.

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Going from Broadcast Journalist to Accidental PR Agency Owner

Sarah began her career as a broadcast journalist in New York City, first working behind the scenes for various networks before transitioning to an on-camera reporter. However, her move to San Francisco marked a significant turning point in her life. While covering a particularly harrowing story, Sarah, now a new mom, found herself unable to desensitize herself from such distressing content. This realization prompted her to pivot her career path.

This new stage of her career involved moving into PR and working starting in in-house positions before eventually moving to an agency, where she reunited with an old college friend who first presented the idea of starting an agency together. Sarah was working a couple of freelance gigs and a particular opportunity to launch a resort in Sun Valley, Idaho offered the perfect chance for the agency’s first gig.

Following her partner's departure for an in-house role, Sarah has successfully operated as a solo agency owner ever since.

An Innovative Approach to Promote In-Office Culture

Sarah, a forward-thinking advocate of new technologies and platforms, initially established her business as a virtual agency even before the pandemic. However, as she began to expand her team with freelancers and staff, she quickly recognized the irreplaceable value of in-person communication within her PR agency. Face-to-face interactions and fostering a sense of community in the workplace were paramount to her.

While her team had become accustomed to remote work, Sarah sought to strike a balance between virtual and physical presence. She carefully selected an office space that felt like a home away from home and introduced amenities such as work slippers. Furthermore, she implemented mandatory office days for all staff members. She created a point-based reward system for additional days in the office. Points are cashed info things like extra PTO, high-end headphones, and even international travel.

This way, days at the office don’t have to feel like punishment for her staff and she is leaving room for them to spend extra days of the year there at their choosing. This not only fosters a sense of community and camaraderie among team members but also allows for more spontaneous and creative interactions that can lead to better collaboration and idea generation.

When Big Clients Leave: A Lesson in Adaptability

Every entrepreneur is cautious about how they move ahead with growing a company. Throughout the years, Sarah has received all types of advice about what not to do with her agency, and, by heeding this advice, she successfully expanded her client base, securing several major accounts. However, when the agency lost two of those clients in six weeks, Sarah had to start making tough decisions to stay afloat.

Unfortunately, this meant she had to lay off part of her staff leaving her feeling terrible, yet also relieved about being able to make payroll. This experience served as a poignant lesson that she hopes never to repeat.

Since losing those clients, Sarah has restructured her agency to diversify their portfolio. Now, her agency does not focus solely on big clients and has a range of small and mid-size clients. This way, if any of those clients depart, it has no impact on her P&L. By spreading out the risk across multiple clients, the business owner was able to protect their bottom line and ensure financial security moving forward.

Furthermore, diversifying clients also opens up opportunities for new business relationships and partnerships. By working with a range of clients, the business can expand its network and potentially tap into new markets and industries. This can lead to increased revenue streams and a more stable financial foundation for the business.

Cultivating Independence by Building a Self-Reliant Agency Team

As your agency grows and you bring in new team members, you'll find that your role shifts to that of a leader who nurtures and develops others. It becomes essential to empower them to embrace your vision and handle challenges independently. By doing so, you can free yourself from the pressure of making every decision.

When you invest in training a proficient team, they become equipped to tackle any obstacle, allowing you to step back from being involved in every single decision. For instance, Sarah entrusts her team to handle minor decisions and seek guidance for major issues. It's not about her making the final call, but rather ensuring that all written materials leaving the agency are reviewed by a second party.

Her team knows to come prepared with multiple options when seeking her input, akin to the 1-3-1 rule recommended for mastermind members. By teaching your staff to consider various solutions and choose the best one, they can gradually take charge of decision-making.

For Sarah, one of the most important things is that her team keeps her up to date about the temperature of each client. Unfortunately, she also thinks temperature checks are something people don’t necessarily learn until they’ve had the experience of getting that call from a client who is leaving. As an agency owner, patience is key as your team gains the necessary experience, ultimately surpassing your expectations.

Only by adopting this mindset of letting go of small tasks that your team can handle on their own can agency owners finally let go of some of the things they used to do and start doing the things no one else can do.

Shaping the Agency’s Client Communication Strategy

As someone who runs a communications and PR agency, Sarah has seen with concern that most agencies have a very close-to-the-vest approach to how they handle their media. These agencies won’t give clients access to the emails and connections they have and keep those as their value.

According to Sarah, the primary reason clients seek her agency's services is the time and effort it saves them. She and her team handle tasks that clients simply don't have the bandwidth for. This understanding has shaped her client communication strategy, emphasizing transparency.

Sarah prioritizes open and honest communication with her clients, sharing media lists, expenses, and other pertinent information. This commitment to transparency not only fosters trust but also ensures that clients are well-informed and aligned with the agency's goals and objectives.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Sarah_Segal_-_no_AD.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

What does it take to be truly remarkable? Do you struggle with imposter syndrome? Even uber-successful entrepreneurs like Guy Kawasaki have had those moments. Transitioning from corporate giants like Apple, Inc. to crafting a legacy of remarkability, he has devoted the latter part of his career to unraveling the essence of extraordinary achievements and the secrets of remarkable personalities.

Learn more from Guy Kawasaki’s reflections on navigating the dichotomy of being undervalued and overvalued throughout his career, his unwavering commitment to paying it forward, and his enduring quest to craft a legacy that transcends generations.

Guy Kawasaki is a world-known marketer, author, speaker, and podcaster whose career has lately focused on empowering and inspiring people to reach their full potential. His expertise spans innovation, entrepreneurship, and social media, and he has worked with esteemed clients such as Apple, Nike, Audi, Google, and Microsoft. Currently serving as the Chief Evangelist at Canva, he is fervently committed to helping people become extraordinary through his latest book. Learn about his fascinating life story and insights on career progression and personal growth.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • What is an evangelist and how does it relate to marketing?

  • Overcoming self-doubt and hidden benefits of imposter syndrome.

  • Guy’s advice on growing a successful marketing agency.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

The Evolution of Success: an Entrepreneur’s Career in Thirds

Throughout his career, Guy has experienced the spectrum of financial success, from feeling undervalued in the early stages to being pleasantly surprised by the substantial offers he received later on. Now, he views his career path in thirds. For the first third of his career, he felt underpaid for his accomplishments. However, in the second third of his life, he found himself being offered significant sums of money for his work. He knew how much he wanted but was surprised to see people were willing to pay that sum. Now, in the final third of his life, he is financially stable and focused on giving back.

Looking back on his journey, he reflects on the importance of not having everything handed to him as a way to build character and resilience. He had to work hard, prove himself, and continually strive for more to reach the level of success he has achieved, something for which he is now thankful.

With such an interesting and successful career, Guy now aims to leave a legacy of empowering others, which he actively pursues through his podcast and writing, solidifying his commitment to positively impacting people's lives.

Chief Evangelism Officer: Spreading the Word on Innovation

Guy is currently the Chief Evangelist at Canva, a position he previously held at Apple as well. According to the definition of evangelism, this means he is dedicated to spreading the good news about products that can benefit others, emphasizing their value in enhancing creativity, productivity, and communication.

To him, evangelism goes beyond traditional sales tactics because it’s about genuinely believing in the value of what you are promoting and wanting to share that value with others. It is about making a positive impact on the lives of others by introducing them to something that can improve their quality of life.

Whether it is through promoting a product that enhances creativity or sharing a personal success story, spreading the good news can have a ripple effect, encouraging others to pursue their own goals and dreams. This is why being an evangelist is very close to his heart and something that influences the rest of the work he does.

Overcoming Self-Doubt and Finding the Hidden Benefit of Imposter Syndrome

Thinking back on his career, Guy reflects on the things that held him back at times and finds that most people are held back by their mindset. You can have people in your life who don’t believe in you and, as much as it sucks it’s also a relatively easy thing to ignore as long as you believe in yourself. However, if you don’t believe in yourself, then that’s a real problem.

In his experience, this kind of mentality can slow your progress, as it did for him back when he was writing his first book. Filled with self-doubt, he wondered if he had what it took to publish a book. Thankfully, he was able to overcome this by realizing that he didn't need external validation or permission to pursue his passion. It’s a thinking he carries with him and advises anyone to adopt, whether they wish to write a book, make a movie, or try anything new.

Doubts about one's capabilities often stem from imposter syndrome, a common feeling of inadequacy experienced in new or challenging situations. However, Guy asserts that imposter syndrome can signify awareness and humility, catalyzing growth, rather than a barrier to success. He contrasts this with entitlement syndrome, emphasizing that while imposter syndrome can be overcome and lead to personal development, entitlement is counterproductive to growth.

Guy’s Advice on Growing a Successful Marketing Agency

The most impactful companies in history are those that continually revisit their customers' preferences and adapt to industry innovations. They go back and ask what it is their customers most enjoy about the product they offer and adapt using new technologies. According to Guy, Kodak could have realized they were in the preserving memories business instead of the chemicals and film business and pivoted to adapt to that new technology.

Likewise, successful agencies must keep ‘working backward’ and never lose sight of what it is clients want and how they can help them. Moreover, the best agencies are the ones that can solve the biggest problems the fastest. For instance, agencies that integrate AI into their services and embrace new technologies outperform their competitors. This forward-thinking approach ensures agencies remain relevant and capable of addressing clients' most pressing challenges.

The Paradox of Remarkability and the True Path to a Remarkable Career

In his latest book, Think Remarkable, Guy delivers a practical and sometimes radical discussion on how to transform your life and make a difference. It is an extension of the work he has done on his podcast Remarkable People, where he has interviewed the likes of Jane Goodall and Marc Benioff. Through his conversations with high achievers, he shares valuable insights on how to become remarkable.

First off, as counterintuitive as it may sound, Guy’s #1 advice to creating a remarkable career is not striving for remarkability. To him, the real way to be remarkable is by striving to make a difference. People like Jane Goodall didn’t stop to think how she could get people to think she was remarkable. She just went ahead and did remarkable things. The natural outcome of adopting this mindset is that you don’t need to position yourself as a visionary; people just conclude that you are.

In today's rapidly changing world, where technology and artificial intelligence are transforming industries and job markets, the importance of making a difference becomes even more crucial.

So how can agencies be in the game long enough to make a difference and find success? From his experience in tech, Guy’s advice is to keep throwing stuff at the wall and be ready to highlight your success. “One thing Silicon Valley is very good at doing is declaring victory and hiding defeat”, he says jokingly. He acknowledges that navigating the path to success in business is often humbling and emphasizes the importance of perseverance and resilience.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Guy_Kawasaki_-_E2M_AD_17_34.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Have you considered the potential for growth through a strategic acquisition? How do you anticipate the agency owner's role evolving during an acquisition process? What steps can be taken to ensure a seamless integration once the deal is finalized? Our featured guest today has undergone a significant transformation, transitioning from white label to a more comprehensive service offering and shifting from project-based to retainer-based services. Now, she embarks on a new journey for her agency as she navigates a strategic acquisition. Tune in to hear about the evolution of her career and what she’s learned about setting the course for a smooth agency transition and post-acquisition planning.

Leah Messina is the founder and CEO of Sinuate Media, a full-service digital marketing agency that works as equal parts data analytics, creative genius, and strategic mastermind for its clients. Leah recounts her transition from the entertainment industry to establishing her own agency in New Mexico, highlighting key milestones such as the shift to a retainer model and the expansion of services through a strategic acquisition.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The downside of the white label model.

  • Shifting to a retainer model.

  • Seeking to grow through a strategic acquisition.

  • Post-acquisition planning and integration.

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From White Label to Reinvention: Adapting to Market Shifts

Leah always wanted to have her own business and, after working in digital publishing and working at a small digital agency, she fell in love with this evolving industry and felt drawn to the emerging technology.

Leah's agency opened for business in 2006 and initially operated as a white label agency, providing services to larger media agencies who would then resell them to clients. While this arrangement allowed her team to work on prestigious projects, it also relegated them to the background, handling the day-to-day marketing tasks and creative execution.

The economic downturn revealed the drawbacks of the white label model, with clients delaying payments and seeking to internalize services. This shift led to a substantial loss of business, as white label clients accounted for approximately 70% of their revenue at the time.

Determined to overcome this setback Leah thought about some of the requests they sometimes got from customers, and identified an opportunity to diversify their services.

The shift was not easy, as it meant redefining the agency's business model and finding new ways to generate revenue. By embracing it, she showcased her willingness to embrace change and steer the agency towards a more sustainable and diverse future.

Transitioning to a Retainer Pricing Model

As she reevaluated her service offering, Leah also started thinking about the direction of the business and making strategic changes to adapt to the evolving needs of clients and the industry, which included a shift from project-based work to retainers.

With projects, the focus was on delivering work efficiently and quickly, while retainers required building long-term relationships and serving as advisors to clients. This shift necessitated more integration with clients, being involved in early conversations, and offering solutions to operational issues that could impact marketing efforts.

During this transition, Leah’s agency was able to keep some key clients who were in the process of launching new businesses, which was a definite win. Apart from that, attracting new clients and retaining existing ones demanded additional sales efforts, such as public speaking and marketing training.

One of the primary challenges encountered in this shift to retainer-based work was persuading clients accustomed to giving orders to seek advice instead, which took positioning themselves as trusted advisors by showcasing their expertise. Additionally, Leah's team had to find a balance between providing valuable resources and not undermining the positions of marketing directors or CMOs.

Charting a New Course for Growth with a Strategic Acquisition

After two years of putting a heavy focus on the sales side of the business, Leah has been able to step away from the day-to-day operations and the role of project manager. Now she’s focusing on the business development side.

Looking ahead, her plans for the agency include integrating AI into their work and expanding through acquisition, specifically a web development company to enhance their services and capabilities further. In terms of fit, Leah focused on cultural fit, niche expertise, profitability, and the retention of key personnel as the main features to ensure a smooth transition. She also looked for an agency with a good process that didn’t require immediate huge changes. This way, they could just get to work and optimize it over time.

Right now, her mayor concern is how to integrate the teams and manage client expectations. In some cases, this requires keeping the acquisition a secret from clients for a period during the transition. By maintaining continuity and gradually introducing changes, businesses can mitigate potential concerns and ensure a positive experience for all parties involved.

Post-Acquisition Planning and Navigating Integration

During the acquisition process, Leah has learned the importance of good documentation and having a solid set of books and proper records when considering buying a company. Without accurate and comprehensive documentation, it becomes challenging to justify the acquisition and make informed decisions about the business's financial health and potential for growth.

Agency owners can run into a few gotchas once the past owners leave and the hard part starts with the integration so it’s important to ensure the sellers are coming from a place of transparency and accuracy in financial reporting.

Finally, being very conscious of the need for ongoing business development and strategic planning post-acquisition, Leah is now thinking about developing new retainer opportunities. This will involve taking a fresh look at the industry after the acquisition and finding new opportunities to establish a business that drives recurring revenue and complements its existing services.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Leah_Messina_NoAD.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you the bottleneck in your own agency's growth? Does the weight of every decision rest on your shoulders, leaving you overworked and your team underutilized? This guest is a successful agency owner who found himself in the industry after being laid off during the global economic crisis. He turned this setback into an opportunity and started his own business. However, as the agency expanded, he realized he was hindering progress. He had to shift away from the superhero mindset and empower his team to move forward. Tune in to learn how unexpected events can lead to new beginnings and the importance of seizing opportunities.

Irwin Hau is a successful entrepreneur running two agencies: Chromatix, an agency focused on stunning web design that drives users to engage faster; and ConversionCow, a SaaS focused on lead conversions. He shares his journey from working at top ad agencies to starting his own businesses. Despite being made redundant during the Global Financial Crisis, Irwin took the opportunity to venture out on his own in a move that ultimately shaped his success in the business world.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Unlocking agency potential by shedding the superhero mentality.

  • Rethinking agency roles.

  • The Lion Framework.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Going from Redundancy to Resilience

The global financial crisis of fifteen years ago was a pivotal moment for Irwin. Despite having worked at the top two agencies in Melbourne and loving his job, he found himself made redundant – a harsh reality that could have easily crushed his spirit. However, Irwin's philosophy was simple: life's too short to wallow in self-pity, and true character is revealed in how one picks himself up.

Instead of giving up, he seized this unexpected turn of events as an opportunity to pursue his long-harbored entrepreneurial dreams. Yet, as any business owner knows, the path to success is rarely a straight line. He faced challenges, struggled to find clients, and had to take on low-paying projects just to keep the business afloat. However, his passion for making websites fueled his resilience and he continued to push forward.

This unwavering passion fueled Irwan’s resilience, enabling him to push forward despite the obstacles. To him, true resilience isn't merely about bouncing back from failure; it's about adapting, growing, and thriving in the face of challenges. It's a mental toughness and determination to keep going, even when the road ahead seems insurmountable.

Shedding the Superhero Mentality to Unlock Agency Potential

Irwin understood at some point he was becoming the bottleneck at his agency. Everything had to go through him and the first step to solving that was learning to let go.

His initial reluctance to delegate stemmed from a fear of losing control and a belief that he was the only one who could do things the right way. However, as he reflected on his own mindset and the impact it was having on his team and his business, he recognized holding onto this mentality was hindering growth and limiting the potential of his team.

Ultimately, he was working more hours and was constantly tired. The fact that everyone came to him for everything slowed the overall process. Instead of being the central figure, he should’ve been the one bringing superstars together to build something great. The more he was tying himself to every project, the harder it was to scale. In the end, people didn’t necessarily want “Irwin’s results,” they wanted the results Irwin’s team got.

Ask yourself which “line” your agency is currently on:
1. Unfocused line
2. Emergency line
3. Table line

Whenever you find yourself in the emergency line, remember the easiest job in the world is the hardest to do by yourself. Yet, the hardest job can become the most rewarding when you have a team to support you. Trust in your team and rely on them to help you get through the emergency line(s).

Rethinking Agency Roles: Is Someone Else the Better Leader?

Once he decided to address the bottleneck situation, Irwin called his team. Following the “important and urgent matrix,” he instructed them to take care of all important and urgent tasks themselves while deciding what to delegate, delay, or eliminate from the rest.

They also conducted an exercise where mentally every member of the team, including himself, was fired. Then they wrote down who they needed and wanted on the team based on their overall goals and whether they were the right fit for the role.

This exercise can help agency owners not only assess the team but also whether they are the best suited to lead the team or if someone else could be doing a better job. Once you let go of your ego, you may find that delegating most of your workload would greatly improve the overall process so you can get to a place where your team can deliver amazing results without your involvement at any stage of the process. This way, you’ll be closer to the goal of sticking to the parts of the business you really enjoy and reducing working hours.

The Lion Framework for Being Productive Rather Than Being Busy

Most agency owners start their business to do something they’re passionate about while creating more freedom for themselves. However, they often go from being a slave to someone else to being a slave for themselves. During this year’s Elevate event, mastermind member Manish Dudharejia, Founder and CEO of E2M, spoke about the Lion framework. He drew parallels between the hunting habits of lions and the need for agency owners to emulate their balanced approach to work and rest.

It is okay to rest and space out. Don’t fill your day up with activity so you don’t feel lazy and unproductive. Whenever you’re not working you’re exercising or thinking you’ll end up burned out and never have the time to think about the things you need to think about.

Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you’re going forward, so think about being productive rather than being busy. Being busy all day is not a guarantee that you’re actually being productive and getting things done.

Leaning on Your Agency Experience to Empathize with Your Clients

For Irwin, the biggest success in his career has been starting a business and seeing it through, despite challenges and uncertainties. Turning what was just an idea into a business didn’t happen overnight, but with dedication and perseverance, he was able to build something.

He encourages agency owners to move forward and try, even when faced with obstacles and setbacks. Success is not just about hitting financial goals or being acquired by another company, but about following through with your ideas and commitments.

Moreover, by going through the process of getting from idea to actual business agency owners are better able to understand and relate to clients who come to them for help in designing and building their businesses. This empathy allows them to provide more accurate guidance and support, based on their own experiences and lessons learned.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Have you ever felt like a broken record with your team? Do you find yourself repeating the agency's goals and vision, only to be met with glazed-over expressions? Have you effectively communicated the agency’s direction and vision? It’s a common struggle for agency owners to feel they’re desperately trying to rally the troops behind a unified purpose, yet somehow missing that elusive "click" of genuine understanding and buy-in. Today’s guest is a specialist in the art of leadership alignment and how to foster authentic goal comprehension that permeates every level of your organization. Learn how leaders can achieve authentic goal understanding by talking, not just telling, and invest in aligning their teams to the business's direction for success.

Julie Williamson is the managing partner at The Karrikins Group, a small boutique consultancy focused on helping leaders align and deliver on shared goals. She discusses the need for clear and easy-to-articulate goals, highlighting that repetition does not equate to clarity, and stresses the importance of engaging in productive conversations with team members to ensure understanding and alignment.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Fostering authentic goal understanding among your agency team.

  • Making sure the path toward the goal is clear.

  • Navigating trade-offs and unified execution with your team.

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How Leaders Can Foster Understanding of Agency Goals

As a specialist particularly interested in executive engagement, Julie works with business owners that are having a hard time aligning with their teams to pursue a common goal.

It could happen that they haven’t really defined said goals but often business owners make the mistake of assuming that clarity is measured in volume – the more they repeat or emphasize a goal, the more likely their team will understand and align with it. However, this is not how alignment works. This approach often falls short because it fails to engage employees in productive conversations that help them truly grasp the goals and their significance.

One of the things she encourages in these cases is to talk, not tell, when it comes to setting and communicating goals. Leaders need to invest in meaningful conversations with team members to ensure they not only understand the goals but also feel connected to them on a personal level. By involving employees in discussions about the goals, leaders can help them internalize the objectives and understand the impact of their work on achieving them.

One of the key aspects of engaging in these conversations, as Julie explains, is ensuring that team members can articulate the goals in their own words and understand the underlying drivers behind them. This deeper level of understanding will allow them to make informed decisions and choices that align with the shared outcomes.

Bridging Individual Roles to the Overarching Purpose

To ensure each team member understands and works towards a common goal there must be consistency in how every member is contributing to the overall goal. 

Just because the goal is clear it doesn’t guarantee that the way to the goal is clear. Each individual may have a different perspective on how to achieve the goal based on their role and responsibilities within the organization.

Therefore, leaders must clearly articulate the goal and ensure everyone understands what it means in the context of their own work. Otherweise, different employees may end up having their own interpretations of thegoal and behave differently in moments when they need to use their discretionary decision-making skills.  

To address this challenge, leaders must create a shared understanding of the goal and how each individual's efforts contribute to it. This can be achieved through open communication, collaboration, and a clear alignment of roles and responsibilities. By fostering a culture of teamwork and shared purpose, organizations can ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal in a coordinated and effective manner.

Empowering Leaders to Navigate Trade-Offs and Unified Execution

As a leader, try to look for people who share your core values because this is how to find the ones you don’t have to manage once you communicate the overall goals. This can be especially challenging once you start to scale. As you start hiring more people and getting more and more degrees of separation from the senior management, focus on building better leaders.

Invest as much in building leaders as in building technical skills because as your agency grows. You need strong leaders who can guide and inspire their teams towards achieving the core goals and growing in the same direction.

One of the key strategies Julie has been implementing is to encourage leaders to talk about trade-offs. Leaders often make decisions without fully understanding the trade-offs involved, which can impact the overall success of the organization. Even if they don’t fully realize it, leaders are making trade-offs with every decision they make; it may be profits vs. revenue, long term vs. short term, or reliability and predictability vs. variability and risk. Help your up and coming leaders understand the trade-offs and how to voice them because you may find their idea of what the trade-offs is different than the one you have.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


What do you think is holding you back from scaling your agency? Have you received coaching? And if you have, have you implemented their recommended measures? On today’s episode we talk about agency owners’ accountability and why reaching out for help can be useless unless you understand what you want. Scaling an agency is hardly something you can do independently. You’ll need support and community along the way. A lot of the times the most important step to growing is figuring out if you’re ready to change. Get ready for some hard truths and expert advice.

As Agency Scale Specialist on our team, Darby Copenhaver talks with hundreds of agency owners and finds a common thread when it comes to what’s holding them back from scaling their businesses. Seeking help is the first step, of course, but you’ll also need the right support and the willingness to make the necessary changes.

Many agency owners get as far as knowing to ask for help but then don’t follow through, ultimately rendering any investment in coaching useless. Tune in to see why showing up consistently is the most important thing you can to and how accountability and community play a big role in the journey of growing an agency.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Are you ready to accept help?

  • Showing up makes all the difference.

  • The agency transformation blueprint.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

The Roadblock to Agency Success: Are You Ready to Accept Help?

More than once we’ve had agency owners contact our team saying they need help and then they can’t even clear an afternoon for a free call to talk about what’s getting in the way of their growth. If there’s something that has really surprised Darby is how many people are just not prepared to get help.

First, they need to recognize they want to change and get to a point where the pain of not changing is greater than the pain to change.

Agency owners need to be open to receiving support to progress. Not every form of assistance may be suitable for everyone, whether it's from a mentor, a coach, or a community. The real challenge lies in being receptive to help and taking the necessary actions to effect changes in their businesses.

In reality, a lot of agency owners feel they want to step up to the next level but don’t want to risk what they have. This means that whenever something doesn’t go according to plan they’ll falter and reject the help. On the contrary, hard periods are when you’ll need to invest the most, learn valuable lessons, and surround yourself with the right people rather than isolate yourself.

How Showing Up Propels Agency Owners Forward

People who actually make it to the top have some things in common:

  • They’re curious.

  • They’re humble.

  • Their outlook is that they’ll either win or learn.

The more comfortable you get with your agency the more you’ll feel you have to lose by trying something risky with the business. However, remember you can always start again as long as you have something to offer. How many agency owners do you think tanked their businesses because they tried something new? Not nearly as many as you may think.

Both Jason and Darby have repeatedly seen that the agency owners who consistently show up, put in the work, and follow through on their commitments are more likely to see positive results. By being consistent in their efforts and showing up for their team members and peers, they can build momentum and make progress toward their goals.

The Agency Transformation Blueprint: Clarity, Focus, and Finding Your Tribe

Once you commit and are willing to make the necessary changes, you’ll need a clear idea of what you want, where you’re going, and a community.

Too many agency owners seem to be waiting for everything to fall into place magically but this just doesn’t happen. Running an agency is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint and you’ll have to learn to pace yourself and have a sense of where you’re going and what it is that you do really well that’ll get you there. If you were getting paid on performance only, who would you do it for? Who is it that you can help the most and deliver the most value to? That’s your starting point. Once you do that, it’s all about how to get your audience’s attention and find the right team to get you there.

Setting clear goals and knowing your direction is crucial for success and defining your target audience and focusing on delivering results will help you create a solid foundation for growth and development. This is where having a tribe or community to support you through the journey becomes super important. Whether it’s mastermind groups, networking events, or one-on-one interactions, find your tribe and actively engage with them. A community will help keep things in perspective and constantly challenge you to stay accountable to your goals and overall direction.

Turning Obstacles into Lessons and Finding Strength in Community

There will always be challenges and difficult times in business, but it is important to view these obstacles as opportunities for growth and learning. Agency life has many highs and lows, and understanding can help you develop resilience and adaptability to navigate through tough times.

In the agency industry, you’re either approaching the storm, in the storm or just got out of the storm. In any case, the storm is always there right around the corner. It doesn’t have to be something bad, a storm can be a pressure test and could help you see things you need to see.

Being part of a community can also help you realize everyone is growing at a different pace and that while not all years bring big wins, they all bring important lessons that will prepare you for an amazing year ahead. Furthermore, a year represents a very short part of your agency journey and one bad year is not the end as long as you’re focusing on building the right foundation for your ultimate goal.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Darby_and_Jason_-_E2M_ad_09_47.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you establishing genuine connections with your target audience and clients? Have you developed a compelling brand narrative that resonates with your audience to cultivate a dedicated following? Our featured guest today played a pivotal role in shaping the iconic brand identity of Red Bull, which has become a benchmark for creating captivating content. He shares Red Bull’s strategy for creating engaging content, the initial missteps he addressed regarding staffing decisions and much more. Learn from his diverse experiences in the agency space and his insight into creating brand fandom.

Geoffrey DeStefano is the founder and CEO of Brand Programming Studios, a strategic and creative content studio that bridges the gap between entertainment and marketing. Geoffrey is a seasoned professional with experience in both the advertising/marketing and entertainment/media industries. He shares insights from his time at Red Bull's media and creative agency during the brand's growth in North America. He discusses transitioning from the advertising business to the television industry and working on popular shows like Mad About You and Friends.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Keys to compelling brand stories.

  • Creating true connections to develop brand fandom.

  • Boosting agency performance through better leadership.

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

Red Bull’s Playbook for Creating Engaging Content

Geoffrey left the ad business to work as a studio executive on shows like Mad About You and Dawson’s Creek when an old friend contacted him about an ailing agency that needed his expert advice. At that agency, he helped turn things around and became part of the team that made Red Bull a brand that pushed the limits by doing things differently.

One of the things they discussed when trying to establish Red Bull as a rebel and unique brand was leveraging entertainment content. They truly excelled at content creation, with a strong focus on pushing the limits and doing things differently. Years later, Red Bull has become a leader in the marketing space creating engaging and unique events that serve as content generators.

Red Bull's approach to content creation has set a strong playbook for other brands to follow. With Red Bull Media House, a separate entity focused on producing and distributing content, they’ve been able to monetize its marketing content, a strategy that has proven to be successful for the brand. By leveraging entertainment content for the brand, Red Bull has engaged with consumers in a meaningful way and created a strong connection with its audience. With this, they’ve been able to build a loyal fan base and establish itself as a leader in the industry by thinking outside the box and taking risks.

3 Keys to Crafting Compelling Brand Stories

Brands can tell wonderful stories that resonate with their audience and create a lasting impact. How can you guide them to discovering these stories? For Geoffrey, there are three very important aspects:

  1. Talk to clients about giving their marketing a sense of purpose. It has to be informative, engaging, or entertaining or no one will pay attention to it.

  2. Influencer marketing is like word of mouth on steroids. It may not be seen as authentic as when it first exploded but it’s very effective and there’s a way to do it right. As a brand, don’t give up control of how your product will be presented, and make sure to search for influencers who line up with your brand.

  3. Driving fandom. Fandom goes way beyond just liking a brand. It has to do with creating passion and loyalty for that brand. Building fandom through brand passion involves creating a strong emotional connection with consumers. If you can find a way to create the level of fandom that saved brands like Apple and Jeep, you’ll have an audience that can get you through hard times.

Personal Interaction as a Powerful Tool to Create Connection

Personal interaction is a key component in building relationships and fostering loyalty in business. It is particularly relevant in the agency world, especially in the context of building and maintaining client relationships.

This is where a podcast becomes a powerful tool agency owners can use to create a personal connection with clients and prospects. By sharing insights, thoughts, and expertise through a podcast, they can showcase their personality and expertise, allowing clients to get to know them on a deeper level. This personal connection can lead to stronger relationships and increased loyalty from clients.

Once you’ve established yourself as an expert, you won’t need to pitch. You’ll be invited to projects and assess whether or not your agency would be a good fit with the brand but you won’t be asked to compete for the company’s attention.

Boosting Agency Performance Through Amazing Leadership and Trust

Agencies go through several inflection points while growing their teams and clientele. At some point what worked before won’t be as effective and you have to adapt. When he came in as an expert consultant to help Red Bull grow as a brand, Geoffrey noticed a need to improve communications and how the team was staffed.

If you’re having similar problems at your agency, look at your leadership team and see what you need to fix to ensure strong leadership at the top and set the tone for the entire organization. By ensuring that the leadership team consists of top performers, the rest of the team is more likely to follow suit and excel in their roles.

Geoffrey focuses on two main issues:

  • Effective communication. As he spent some time at the Red Bull offices, he noticed everyone spent their day emailing each other. This is a creative business and interaction is a very important part of sparking that creativity. So he shut off the email services for 48 hours to incentivize communication in their open-space office.

  • Trust as a form of empowerment. Geoffrey believes in giving people reign to innovate. This motivates people once they feel free to create and grow beyond their skill set. It’s not about giving up control but rather giving people the space to develop and grow.

Trusting Your Gut to Weed Out Toxic Team Members and Preserve Morale

As human beings, we have innate instincts that can guide us in making decisions in difficult situations, which can apply when it comes to hiring and managing employees. Trusting your instincts and being able to act on them can prevent toxic individuals from negatively impacting the team and the organization as a whole.

Geoffrey encourages agency owners to use their instincts to stay vigilant and proactive in addressing issues within a team. One or two individuals with negative attitudes can bring down the morale of the entire team. As a manager or leader, it is crucial to recognize when someone is not the right fit for the team and take swift action. Delaying the decision to remove a toxic team member can lead to bigger problems down the line.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Geoffrey_DeStefano_-Clutch_ad_18_09.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Do you have a clear understanding of the client acquisition channels needed to grow your agency? Is your agency vulnerable to leadership or a client leaving? Today’s guest built his agency working with venture capitalists and private equity firms and found great success in that area, so much so that he never worried about client acquisition again.

More recently, however, he’s been focusing more on setting up the channels that guarantee his agency’s growth and continued success. Learn more about his unconventional path to agency ownership and his commitment to quality over rushing to ship subpar work.

David Baeza is the founder and CEO of Buttered Toast, an agency that works with the world's leading Venture Capitalists and Private Equity firms. They focus on growth architecture and lead generation, delivering powerful website designs, data-driven whitepapers, compelling ads, and customer testimonial videos. David shares his journey to becoming the founder of his own agency, his unique approach to pricing, and his areas of focus for future improvement.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Creating multiple acquisition channels.

  • Charging on tangible results.

  • Mastering client acquisition. 

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Leaving a CMO Job and Starting an Agency to Serve Clients

Creating an agency was never David's plan. However, his role as CMO at a venture-backed company in Boston demanded extensive daily commuting, especially as he was starting a family.

When he eventually left that position, a VC board member invited him to join as a consultant and help some of their tech companies. With time, the same client asked him to build a company around that consulting gig.

It took a little convincing from friends, but he ended up creating his company and once that first client opened up their VC network and portfolio, the work started to pour in.

With only his prior knowledge in hiring agencies but enough experience building a marketing department, he set out to do just that and built a marketing department that venture-backed companies could reach to as needed.

Embracing the Challenge of Creating Multiple Client Acquisition Channels

Given the specific moment in time when he started his agency, for a long time, David didn’t have to worry about client prospecting. Clients just kept coming.

Even once he started to remove himself from operations and spent the majority of his time in business development, it kept working. This continuous client flow remained the same during the pandemic while many other businesses were struggling. However, after 2022 the economy took a turn, and VC referrals dried up. His agency was left vulnerable and so they started focusing on their client acquisition strategy.

Suddenly, David became very aware of the need to have multiple client acquisition channels in place to ensure a steady flow of clients. Now he has an upcoming book in the hopes of getting future speaking gigs, as well as a podcast, and weekly YouTube videos.

Even though he now understands the importance of having an inbound channel, strategic partnerships, and outbound channels to balance the agency's client acquisition efforts, he wishes he’d started these efforts sooner to safeguard against potential disruptions and maintain a consistent flow of clients.

However, the best time to start developing those channels if you haven’t already is RIGHT NOW, so he knows he’s on the right track.

Charging Based on Delivering Tangible Results

Since the beginning, David had a unique approach to pricing his agency's services, emphasizing charging for outcomes, rather than by the hour. From his background as a growth marketer and CMO closely aligned with the balance sheet, David believes in getting paid for delivering tangible results for his clients, rather than billing for the time spent on a project.

When creating a statement of work for a client, he takes the time to understand their true objectives and desired outcomes. This involves unpacking the client's initial request and getting to the root of their goal. This way, he ensures that the work being done will directly contribute to the desired results.

Charging for outcomes also allows his agency to position themselves as strategic partners rather than just vendors, which to David is only possible given that they’ve been in the client’s shoes. By working closely with clients to achieve their goals and being transparent about what is achievable, David builds trust and long-term relationships with his clients. This approach not only benefits the client by driving real results but also allows Buttered Toast to demonstrate their value and expertise in the industry.

Mastering Client Acquisition: Setting the Stage for Successful Engagements

David likes to start a new client relationship with a discovery call where the client answers ten questions about their business. Among other things, he tries to get a clear idea of how marketing is accountable to the organization. After that call, he has a very good idea of the KPIs the client is looking for and the levers that need to be pulled.

He’ll usually follow that up with an email detailing the client’s answer to every question and an invitation to add any corrections or additional information before moving on to the next stage.

In the future, he’ll start working on setting up the next meeting during that first call. This simple yet crucial step can help streamline the communication process. Setting the next meeting keeps the momentum going and ensures all parties are on the same page. Additionally, it demonstrates professionalism and organization, which leaves a positive impression on the client.

Finally, another crucial aspect of conversion rate optimization is understanding the client's budget. To avoid losing deals, you need to discuss budget expectations, understand the resources available, and align proposals with the client's budget. Even though David’s conversion rate is pretty good, he admits deals lost in the past have probably been due to omitting this simple step.

How to Navigate Leadership Changes

CMOs get replaced all the time at tech companies and for agencies it means there’s a 50% chance that they’ll keep the marketing agency and 50% that they’ll cut it. Navigating leadership changes is a common challenge that many agencies face.

One key strategy for agencies is to establish strong relationships with their clients and be proactive and transparent in their communication. Agencies can build trust and credibility with clients, regardless of leadership changes.

Approach the new CMO right away to understand their goals and priorities and communicate the agency's capabilities and how you can support their vision. Usually, they don’t want to have to manage a team; they want more freedom and support to succeed in their goals. Start by trying to sell them on a foot-in-the-door project instead of trying to commit them to the relationship right away. Present yourself as a valuable ally and do what you have to do to get them excited about starting the relationship, even if it means traveling to meet in person, which they’ll appreciate since few people are willing to do it nowadays.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: David_Baeza_-_E2M_ad_12_39.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Do you feel trapped in an operation tunnel vision? Are you ready to shift your attention toward strategies for agency growth? Our guest today initially viewed strategy sessions as a luxury she could only afford once her agency had achieved significant success. However, upon receiving guidance from a coach to address alignment issues, she and her partner began scheduling daily strategy sessions and prioritizing working on the business rather than just in it. Tune in to hear about her accidental path to agency ownership and her vision for the future after implementing more intentional planning for growth.

Samantha Martin is the co-owner of Prime Marketing Agency, a female-led experiential agency that creates epic brand experiences that leave a lasting impression. She discusses her entrepreneurial spirit and how she navigated through different roles before landing in her current position.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Navigating cashflow constraints.

  • Unshackling from RFPs and into a more relationship-building model.

  • Prioritizing strategic development.

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

The 0 to 100 Leap from Freelancer to Co-Ownership

During her student years, Samantha was a member of a dance group that toured the US and Canada for various gigs contracted through an agency. This is where she ended up getting her start in the agency industry. Throughout the years, she kept working different gigs and staying open to possibilities working at different agencies at a time.

Eventually, the start of the pandemic brought a unique opportunity to work at an agency startup, seeing its growth from the ground up. It was an important experience she took to her next opportunity, where she could become co-owner of an agency she’d previously worked at.

It was practically a zero to 100 growth from being a gig worker at several agencies to owning a 50% stake in one. It was scary and risky but she knew how the business worked and felt ready to figure out her new role as owner.

Navigating Cashflow Constraints and Cultural Complexities

So far, the most challenging aspect of agency ownership for Samantha has been cashflow. As an agency that actually keeps and maintains equipment like foodtrucks, trailers, and large rigs, they’ve found it challenging to manage all these pieces while still accessing more freedom to grow the business quickly. They also have warehouses in three different cities in Canada, which adds to their operational expenses.

Furthermore, while growing a team has been incredibly rewarding and recruiting both English-speaking and French-speaking professionals offers a great advantage for the agency, it can also be a challenge for the owners. Basically, there are cultural differences between both that they are actively working to smooth.

After the pandemic, the agency has been fortunate to have a steady flow of leads and, while the number of clients has decreased, they have acquired larger accounts and diversified their portfolio across various industries.

In the immediate future, Sam wants to focus on getting to a point where the agency has a healthy amount of both big and smaller clients, which not only provides stability in terms of revenue but also allows for better resource planning and team motivation. There will also be a focus on clearly defining which clients they want to service and building the specialized teams to address those particular needs.

Unshackling from RFPs

As her agency grows, Sam is also working on feeling more empowered to step away from some of the less-than-ideal parts of agency life, especially when it comes to filling RPFs. Requests for Proposal are already a controversial figure in the industry, with most agency owners hating them and striving to get to a point where they feel comfortable enough to deny them.

RFPs are often time-consuming, costly, and offer no guarantee of securing the project, given the intense competition from multiple agencies. Successful agency owners have chosen to avoid responding to RFPs altogether, citing the time and cost involved in the process. These owners choose to focus on building relationships, showcasing their expertise through other means, and strategically selecting which RFPs to respond to. This allows them to not rely on the traditional RFP process and it’s where Sam wants to steer her agency in the future since she considers the model is slowly dying.

Heading to a Relationship-Building Model

Shifting the focus from simply responding to Request for Proposals also allows agency owners to position themselves as advisors engaging with clients and prospects.

Instead of spending time and effort on crafting proposals and competing with other agencies can often outweigh the potential benefits. Instead, agencies can decline RFPs respectfully and propose alternative solutions, such as paid discovery sessions or consultations, to demonstrate their expertise and value to clients.

By reframing the conversation and showcasing their unique insights and capabilities, agencies can attract clients who value quality over price and are willing to invest in achieving the best results. This approach not only helps agencies stand out in a crowded marketplace but also fosters stronger, more collaborative relationships with clients based on trust and mutual understanding.

Escaping Operational Tunnel Vision by Prioritizing Strategic Agency Development

Part of saying no to RFPs is putting more focus on the bigger picture, which is a must for agency owners to continue to grow their business. After being in the weeds day after day working on accounts, for Sam it was luxury to shift to working on the business instead of in the business.

Initially, it was almost a foreign concept for her to take time from day-to-day operations to work on planning for the bigger picture. It seemed silly to take two hours every day to just talk about the business when she and her partner talked about different aspects of operations on a daily basis. However, it was suggested by a coach that saw Sam and her partner’s issues with the business were easily solvable by being more intentional about working on strategy. Now she can clearly see how this intentional focus on strategic planning and development has been beneficial for their company and has allowed them to better serve their clients and team.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Samantha_Martin_-_Clutch_ad_12_55.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you considering starting an agency but feel like it might be too late to do so? Our featured guest today had a thriving career in PR and successfully managed an agency for nearly two decades before deciding the missing piece in that career was building and growing her own agency. With an extensive client network who already knew and trusted her work, her agency reached seven figures in just one year! Now, she contemplates the next steps for her and her team. Listen to discover how she achieved rapid agency growth and valuable tips for retaining key employees.

Amy Littleton is the owner of Stretch PR, a full-service creative public relations agency that stretches to deliver results beyond expectations. Amy shares her journey of building a seven-figure agency in just one year, the lessons learned, and insights into why she decided to leave a long career in the industry successfully running a different agency to start her own.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Agency structuring for sustainable success.

  • Building a seven-figure agency in one year.

  • Setting ambitious revenue goals.

  • Three questions to ask before exiting your business.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Why Trust is the Foundation of a Great Team Leader

Amy's introduction to the world of public relations began with an internship at General Mills in Minneapolis, where she embarked on a nationwide media tour promoting Columbo yogurt. This initial experience in creating events and generating newsworthy moments paved the way for her subsequent role in Chicago, where she led an agency for several years.

Given the reins to manage the agency and make decisions on behalf of the owners, Amy was entrusted with a high level of autonomy, allowing her to hone her skills in agency management. The owners recognized Amy's capabilities and confidently relied on her to drive financial results and effectively lead the team. This level of trust empowered Amy to exercise her decision-making freedom, take calculated risks, and ultimately steer the agency toward success.

One of the key lessons Amy learned during that time was the importance of trust in managing people. She learned to look at each team member beyond their functions at the agency and to support them as people during significant transitions such as starting a family or sick parents. Trust is the foundation of any successful team and is essential for fostering collaboration, communication, and accountability.

However, as the years went by she started to think about the next chapter in her career and realized she needed to build something of her own before the end of her career. It was the one thing she felt she hadn’t done in business, so she took the leap and made it happen.

Laying the Foundation: Structuring for Sustainable Agency Success

The hardest part of agency ownership for Amy in this first year has been client management. As the owner, she feels the weight of ensuring that clients are well-served and remain long-term partners, all while focusing on establishing a sustainable business model, team development, and policies. While these were tasks she had undertaken before, it is now her responsibility to create a cohesive structure for all these elements to function effectively.

When it came to expanding her team, Amy faced a significant decision: transitioning from relying on independent contractors to seeking full-time hires. While some may view full-time hires as unnecessary or risky in the first year of business, Amy believed it was the right move for her agency.

She chose to initially build her senior team, bringing on board a senior vice president and a vice president whom she had previously worked with and trusted to deliver. Now, she is gearing up to make additional mid-level hires to provide further support for the senior team.

Building a 7-Figure Agency by Leveraging Connections

Amy had already established a solid footing in the business world when she launched her agency in 2023, having cultivated strong connections within the industry. She attributes her agency's rapid growth to these relationships. In addition to capitalizing on her existing network, Amy differentiated her agency by offering a unique blend of services, merging business communications expertise with sports communications and brand activation. This allowed her agency to appeal to a diverse range of clients and offer a comprehensive suite of services, secure business quickly, and establish a solid foundation for growth.

Most people would be hesitant to leverage those connections and maybe doubt approaching them. In this sense, Amy emphasizes the importance of using LinkedIn to stay connected with past clients and colleagues, showcasing expertise, and leveraging relationships to drive business growth.

As today's Rolodex, LinkedIn played an important role in building a network of people Amy had worked with in the past, met on new business pitches, and connected with over the years. It’s the platform she used to reach out to people and let them know about her agency and where she was able to generate new business opportunities, secure referrals from vendors, and grow her client base organically.

Navigating the Agency's "No Man's Land" by Setting Ambitious Revenue Goals

After a year of incredible growth, Amy highlights is focusing on setting clear goals and objectives for business growth. One million dollars in revenue still seems unsteady for her, so she has the short-term goal of reaching $3 million in revenue and building a more sustainable operation.

In addition, Amy is focused on evolving the agency’s services as they continue to move forward. The point between $1 million and $4 million in revenue can feel like a no man’s land where the agency owner is growing their agency but continues to be at the center of the operation. To get past that, owners need to gradually step away from day-to-day operations to focus on being the face of the organization, coaching the senior leadership, and setting the agency’s goal and direction.

Ultimately, agency ownership will always present different challenges at each stage. It’ll never feel like the storm has passed and you can now relax. But as you move forward and seek to delegate part of the load, you’ll find it gets easier.

3 Questions Every Agency Owner Needs to Answer Before Exiting

At the end of your career, with all the crazier days of building the agency behind you, the thing you’ll probably remember the most is the relationships you built. Working through challenges with a team, facing difficult situations together, and coming out stronger on the other side will be some of the most memorable parts of the journey, even more so than the wins.

It’s during these times when you find out what your team is made of and also who’s willing to ride out the tough times with you and your agency. There are also good moments to see how well your team manages a crisis without having to run to you. Can they make the key decisions following the roadmap you created?

This is when you’ll know you can step back and enjoy more of your time. Is this necessarily the time to sell your agency and retire? It really depends on the person, but no one should even consider that option without a clear vision of what comes after the sale. In her case, Amy has learned entrepreneurs need to answer three questions:

  1. Have you done enough?

  2. Do you have enough?

  3. Will you have enough to do?

If you have an answer for all — especially #3, then you are ready for the next stage of your life.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Amy_Littleton_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

What does it take for an agency to not only survive but thrive over decades? What mindset and approach enabled this agency owner to pivot and leverage new opportunities? In the challenging world of business, most companies struggle to reach the one-year mark, with even fewer making it to the five-year milestone. Hence, for an agency to make it beyond that it means the owner has weathered more than a few storms and learned to navigate and adapt to a constantly changing industry. Today’s guest has steered her business through over two decades of growth, demonstrating the ability to pivot, take calculated risks, and understand her agency's value to ensure its sustainability. From learning the importance of self-renewal to using the pandemic as a time to pivot and grow, tune in to learn about her journey and the changes in the marketing landscape over the past couple of years.

Marlo Fogelman is the founder & CEO of Marlo Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in all things hospitality, lifestyle, and CPG. Marlo has owned an agency for over 20 years and today she shares insights on the evolution of her agency from a PR firm to an integrated marketing model. She discusses the variety of services her agency offers, from creative services to full-scale marketing support for clients in the hospitality, lifestyle, and consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) industries.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Making time for self-renewal while owning an agency.

  • The foundations of agency rebuilding.

  • Pivoting to retain talent amid the turmoil.

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

How a Career Pivot Led to Accidental Agency Life

Despite her initial intentions of practicing law, Marlo felt unfulfilled and unsure of her career path. It was during this time of uncertainty that she stumbled upon a job opportunity in PR, which ultimately changed the course of her career.

Working in PR, Marlo discovered her passion for marketing and communication. She excelled in her role, turning around a national brand that had previously struggled in the market. Her success in PR and her passion for quality work and ethical practices guided her decision to start her own agency, specializing in hospitality, lifestyle, and CPG clients.

One of the pivotal moments in her career was receiving a call from the CEO of a 27-unit restaurant group, offering the opportunity to take over their marketing efforts. Despite initially hesitating, Marlo accepted the challenge and exceeded all expectations, setting new sales records and achieving unprecedented success for the restaurant group. It was an interesting opportunity to be on the other side and see the results her team could bring controlling both the execution and the strategy instead of just implementing the client’s vision.

The Entrepreneurial Balancing Act: Finding Time for Self-Renewal

Becoming an agency owner meant a shift in how she worked and how the work she did integrated into her life. Instead of spending late nights highlighting legal documents, Marlo now spent time in Nantucket with clients, enjoying wine and meeting interesting people. However, since it didn’t feel like work, she didn't take enough time to recharge.

This realization came later in her career when she led a team of 45 people and was putting all of herself into building and growing her business. While she would do it all over again, Marlo acknowledges she would also take more time for herself.

Taking time for yourself is not just about relaxation and self-care it is also about gaining perspective and clarity. Her advice to agency owners is to take a complete month off from their business to see what breaks and to recharge their energy. This allows individuals to step back, evaluate their priorities, and delegate tasks effectively.

Crisis as Catalyst: The Unshakable Foundations of Agency Rebuilding

The pandemic dealt a significant blow to Marlo’s agency, causing her to lose two-thirds of her clients overnight. Despite the uncertainty and fear surrounding the pandemic, she decided to seize a new opportunity, ultimately rescuing her hospitality based business from complete collapse.

Marlo’s adaptability and willingness to take calculated risks were crucial for her agency's survival. She recognized the need to pivot her business strategy and embrace new challenges to ensure the agency's continuation. Even in the face of adversity, this readiness to reset and rebuild ultimately preserved her team and kept the business afloat.

In hindsight, her decision prevented the need to lay off most of her hospitality practice team, which would have meant starting from scratch. Nonetheless, she encourages agency owners to remember they can always start again and rebuild. Creativity and experience are invaluable tools at their disposal; underestimating them would be a mistake.

Staying Curious as a Competitive Advantage: the Perils of Outdated Marketing

With 20 years in the industry, Marlo has witnessed many changes and knows how important it is for owners to keep up with them to stay relevant and successful. Continuous learning and curiosity are essential in marketing, so she advises always expanding your skill set and staying up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies.

This is how she first fell into her niche, as she noticed that marketers for resorts and senior living communities getting paid a lot of money and weren’t doing a good job. Most of all, these marketing fails came from people who had failed to adapt to the changing landscape. They expected to do the same things they did 10-15 years prior and still get great results. Simply relying on outdated strategies and techniques from the past is not enough to succeed in today's fast-paced marketing environment.

Furthermore, Marlo touches on the pitfalls of agencies that lack expertise in certain areas but still offer those services to clients and emphasizes the importance of being honest about one's capabilities. This ensures clients receive high-quality services and results that meet their expectations.

How Proper Pricing Can Be the Key to Work-Life Balance

One common misconception peddled online is that running an agency allows for a life filled with endless vacations and leisurely days at the beach. While achieving success certainly requires hard work, Marlo rejects the notion that agency owners should be constantly overwhelmed and working non-stop.

If you find yourself facing a perpetual state of busyness and overwhelm, you may be undervaluing your services. By prioritizing the value of your expertise over your time, you can justify increasing your prices to better reflect the value you offer to clients. Start by raising prices for new prospects, and seeing the results, you’ll work up the courage to raise prices for legacy clients as well.

While some existing clients may leave after a price increase, this will create space for new clients who appreciate the value you bring. In reality, many agency owners report minimal client turnover following a price increase, as clients recognize and appreciate the expertise their agency provides. This shift not only results in a significant revenue boost but also reduces the workload.

Regularly assessing and adjusting pricing to align with the value you deliver is crucial. This proactive approach to pricing can lead to enhanced revenue and a more sustainable business model in the long term.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Marlo_Fogelman_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you interested in breaking away from conventional agency practices? Do you want an agency structure that best suits your team? Today’s guest established her agency right after college, without any prior experience working in an agency. She designed her agency's structure based on what felt right for her team rather than following standard industry norms. Emphasizing culture, and prioritizing raises and recognition over promotions, she has fostered a team of passionate individuals who love what they do. Learn about Scout's journey in building a thriving agency culture without hierarchies and how her approach to business helped her build a passionate team.

Scout Driscoll is the founder of Design Scout, a branding agency with a rebellious edge. They work with clients across founder-driven industries interested in breaking the status quo. She shares insights on creating a thriving business culture without the need for traditional promotions or ladder climbing.

With over 21 years of experience, Scout discusses working with founder-driven clients who aim to break the status quo with strategic and personality-rich brands.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Shaping a unique agency culture.

  • Crafting an agency culture that goes beyond promotions.

  • Engaging directly with business owners.

Subscribe

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Defying 'Best Practices' and Shaping a Unique Agency Structure

Scout wasted no time establishing her own company straight out of college after missing out on her dream job. That was over 20 years ago, and the journey to develop her agency has been nothing short of remarkable. The most surprising revelation for her over the years has been realizing that as someone who had never worked in an agency before owning one, she could truly chart her own course.

Initially, Scout’s agency was a straightforward graphic design agency with clients in the hospitality and entertainment industries. They slowly moved to being a much more strategic, focused, brand strategy agency. While still offering full-service design, the agency now dedicates three months to delve into a client's emotional drivers and brand work. Additionally, the agency naturally transitioned into an all-women team, fostering exceptional chemistry among the staff, although Scout emphasizes that she is an equal opportunity employer.

Reflecting on her agency journey, she finds it’s all about finding a business that makes sense to you and not being afraid to hone your processes. More than adopting practices because they’re supposed to be the industry’s best practices, she prefers to adopt practices that truly fit her team’s needs and make her agency sustainable.

Motivation Beyond Promotions: Attracting Talent Driven by Great Work

After twenty years in the business, Scout now manages a small team of passionate individuals and is focused on creating the best work environment for them.

One of the key aspects of Scout's approach to building a strong culture is her emphasis on equality and empowerment within her team. She has one brand strategist who lays the foundation for the team’s groundwork on each project, as well as an operations manager who handles what each member does, for how long, and how much it’ll cost. Every person on her team is a designer of the same stripe, meaning that there is no hierarchy or ladders to climb within the agency.

It is certainly a unique approach and not to everyone’s liking, but for her it fosters a sense of equality and collaboration among team members, allowing everyone to feel valued and respected for their contributions.

Scout is clear with potential hires from the beginning that there are no promotions within the agency, but rather a focus on recognizing and rewarding great work. This approach attracts individuals who are not solely motivated by climbing the corporate ladder, but instead are passionate about doing great work and being recognized for their efforts. All team members are focused on producing high-quality work and supporting each other, rather than competing for promotions.

The Benefit of Engaging Directly with Business Owners

As someone who never worked at an agency before owning one, Scout has created her own unique work structure with her team. Each designer has a close relationship with their clients and manages their own projects internally directly with them, which to Scout is a more efficient way to work. This way, she’s managed to design a very slim operation that works for everyone.

She takes pride in developing client relationships and prefers to work with small companies where she and her team can directly engage with the owner, rather than navigating through multiple decision-makers.

Scout prioritizes her team's job satisfaction and conducts annual employee reviews focused on their comfort, sources of inspiration, and suggestions for improving the work environment. This approach has resulted in significant growth and continuous improvement for her agency.

In line with her belief that overworking the team yields poor results, Scout ensures that most staff work around 40 hours per week, with parents working around 35 hours. She firmly believes that this policy fosters a better work environment and improves results.

Finally, Scout advises agency owners to remember that just because someone is a good hire doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know how to be the right kind of boss for them. It takes time to understand each individual's needs, preferences, and coaching style to provide the necessary support and guidance for their success.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Scout_Driscol_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Is the fear of failure the driving force that keeps you striving towards your goals? For too many agency owners, the relentless stress of this life corrodes their drive, fueling an unhealthy obsession with avoiding defeat at all costs. Putting together a great team and taking the time to stop and figure things out is often the only way to get out of that trap.

Today’s guest managed to do this by implementing the lessons learned from the bike trails. She took the discipline and important insights learned from sports and translated them into business. As a result, she was able to improve her results and grow her agency. Tune in for insights on finding freedom and flow in business without being rooted in fear.

Karley Cunningham is the founder, creative strategist, and growth accelerator of Big Bold Brand Inc., a marketing agency that works with innovators, disruptors, and changemakers who seek a strategic business advantage and desire bold differentiation. Her team helps these innovators sort out their businesses and build great brands.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How a purposeful plan will help you prevent burnout.

  • Plan to thrive, not to survive.

  • Avoid operating from a place of fear.

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

Prevent Burnout with a Purposeful Plan: Taking a Sports Approach to Agency Growth

Karley, a former pro-level mountain biker and passionate sports enthusiast, attributes the most significant impact of sports in her life to the structure it provides. As a creative thinker prone to distraction, she values the discipline and routine that sports have instilled in her, enabling her to focus and succeed.

For her, it’s been easier to absorb business lessons by drawing parallels between sports and business, which is how she’s gotten to important shifts like taking a rest week every six to seven weeks of the year to catch up, think about the agency’s vision, and breathe. Like navigating a challenging trail in the mountains, running an agency requires determination, resilience, and a deep sense of purpose.

However, the most important thing you can do to prevent burnout is to have a plan. Many agency owners let the day-to-day consume them until they feel the only way out of the constant stress is to get out of the business altogether and sell the agency. At this point, they need a clear plan detailing the short-term and long-term goals they’re aiming for that will provide a direction and strategy.

Additionally, Karley’s advice to agency owners is to ensure the journey is as fulfilling as the destination. Just like in outdoor adventures where the climb must be worth the descent, agency owners should find joy and fulfillment in the process of growing their business. By integrating elements that excite and motivate them into their plans, agency owners can maintain their passion and drive toward success. In this sense, she recommends agency owners to "plan to thrive, not survive" as a key mindset to adopt in order to achieve success and growth in their businesses.

Plan to Thrive: Teamwork and Collaboration for Agency Success

Just like preparing for a challenging adventure like hiking the Grand Canyon takes planning ahead and anticipating challenges in order to thrive in the face of adversity. Agency owners should remember that, just like hiking a mountain, doing it all by yourself can prove to be very difficult and even boring.

Having a strong team and a supportive network can make all the difference in your journey. By surrounding yourself with a team of smart and capable individuals, you can leverage their strengths, make better decisions, and achieve greater success as a collective unit. For Karley, watching her team thrive is very rewarding and something you can only get through collaboration, teamwork, and shared decision-making in overcoming challenges and celebrating victories together.

Ditching the Fear Mindset Operating from a Place of Passion

Right now, the next stage for Karley is to prepare to sell her core methodology, which she was able to develop and systemize during the pandemic. As she prepares to turn it into a licensable system, she is admittedly stepping into a scary part of the process, a prospect that both excites and scares her. Despite her apprehension, she is determined not to let fear be the driving force behind her efforts.

Due to the many stresses of agency life, owners can end up fueled by the fear of failure, which is a horrible way to live. Karley encourages agency owners to be aware of what the dangers are but avoid running from a place of fear and instead try to hold on to the enjoyment of the process. To get to this place, think about surrounding yourself with people who know how to navigate those dangers and build a team with the skills to get you out of any situation. By doing so, you can operate from a place of passion and trust in their abilities to succeed.

And if you do ultimately fail, then it can serve as experience for the next adventure. In the end, there are no lives at stake. The agency may die but you’re still here to keep going.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Karley_Cunningham_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Have you ever wondered what it takes to scale an agency from millions to tens of millions in revenue? Or how to successfully pivot from services to products? Today's guest has walked that path - not once but twice.

He’s built two successful agencies with the mission to lift brands up, tell compelling stories and recognize new products. As he reflects on his journey, he recounts the differences between scaling an agency to $25 million and to $50 million, as well as the pivotal decision of starting to sell a SaaS product. Tune in for valuable insights and inspiring stories from his entrepreneurial experience.

Phil Case is the President and Chief Client Officer of Max Connect Digital, a digital marketing agency that combines the most extensive real-time consumer data sets with personalized and dynamic ads. Phil shares his journey of growing his first agency from $300,000 to around $5 million and then scaling his current agency from $18 million to over $50 million. He discusses profit margins, business growth strategies, and the competitive mindset needed to succeed in the industry.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • A smarter approach to sustainable growth.

  • Attracting talent through an SVP structure.

  • The path to becoming a $50 million agency.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Foundational Clients: The Smart Approach to Fueling Sustainable Growth

Looking back, Phil knows he would scale his first agency differently. Back then, he worked grueling 60 to 80-hour workweeks, constantly putting out fires while striving to appease everyone. He also fell into the trap of trying to cater to every need, becoming a jack-of-all-trades for his clients.

If he could go back he would tell himself to focus and maintain high standards. He now understands that striving to excel in a specific area and establish a strong reputation for himself and his agency and have a minimum threshold of what they will do for clients. The growth process would’ve been slower, but it would have prevented them from taking on clients who placed excessive demands on the agency.

Admittedly, committing to a single niche at the outset can be challenging, especially when faced with numerous options and critical decisions. Furthermore, you can’t control your inbound and the type of opportunities that come to you when you’re just starting out. If given a do-over, Phil would be deliberate in building a stable foundation with a select group of clients, who would serve as the cornerstone for the agency's continued growth.

Aligning Talent and Vision for Exponential Growth

When it came to enhancing the agency’s growth and focus, Phil found it crucial to expand his team with individuals he trusted to excel beyond his own capabilities. Understanding the agency’s ideal client and vision is essential for attracting a team aligned with the common goal. This alignment empowers the team to make autonomous decisions for the agency, freeing Phil from constant oversight.

Empowering a team, trusting them to make decisions, delegating responsibilities, and allowing them to grow within the organization are key components of scaling an agency effectively. Once he had a big enough team, Phil appreciated the ability to spread the responsibility and burden of running the agency across a group of people. With a diversity of voices now up to speed on the agency’s goals and vision, they make way better decisions than Phil would haveon his own. This is where exponential growth started for his agency.

Attracting Top Talent Through an SVP Structure

Even as Phil successfully built a top-notch sales team at his second agency, he found himself frequently stepping in to close deals or develop strategies alongside the C-suite. To address this, he implemented a senior vice president structure, tapping professionals from diverse backgrounds such as higher education, automotive, and retail. This strategic shift allowed him to confidently direct inquiries to the experts, fostering a sense of empowerment within his team to handle client interactions and secure deals without his direct involvement.

Moreover, by entrusting specific industry expertise to the senior vice presidents, the agency positioned itself as a frontrunner in those sectors, attracting clients seeking specialized knowledge. Phil's deliberate approach to hiring and training three vice presidents concurrently during the onset of the pandemic proved fruitful, as it provided an opportunity to onboard exceptional talent seeking to make an impact. This bold move resulted in several outstanding hires who excelled in leadership roles.

Since making these hires, they’ve been much more intentional with their growth and have doubled down on existing client relationships. They are focused on providing more quality, value, and performance, which has accounted for 60% to 70% of their growth in recent years.

The Path to Becoming a $50 Million Agency

Coming into his second agency, Phil had a clear-cut mission in mind: World domination. They wanted to be the best and perform well for clients and so their sight was always set on the next milestone. If they were doing $2 million in revenue, they were already thinking “How do we get to three?”

With an unwavering commitment to progress, Phil's approach to reaching $50 million differed significantly from his strategy to achieve $25 million. Initially lacking a clear understanding of their ideal customers, they have since become more deliberate in their pursuit of growth.

Once they reached $25 million, they started to interrogate whether they really wanted to exponentially grow their client base. They took a step back to analyze and define what a bullseye client looks like for them and what were the industries where they consistently outperformed the competition. This mindset shift led to the realization that the most underappreciated growth mechanism was their existing book of business.

With this in mind, they focused on signing on fewer clients per month and doing quarterly business reviews for each of their accounts. By prioritizing quality over quantity, being intentional in their growth strategy, and investing in their team and resources, agencies can position themselves for long-term success and sustainability in a competitive industry. Once that focus came to be, Phil’s agency propelled from $25 million to $30 million.

Now, at $50 million, they deal with different challenges like inner departmental collaboration, orchestrated strategies, and scaling systems and structures.

Expanding Their Market Reach by Selling a Saas Product

As his agency scaled, their margins remained relatively consistent. As they’ve hit different revenue peaks, the composition of the types of services they’re offering is what tended to affect their profitability. Recognizing that certain client compositions or services were less profitable, the agency focused on enhancing its value proposition, optimizing pricing strategies, and improving operational efficiency to boost its bottom line.

At this stage, the emphasis for Phil is on exploring ways to deliver greater value, adopt effective pricing strategies, and establish efficient frameworks to enhance service delivery. In this sense, they’ve now set out to build marketing technology platforms they’re starting to sell as a SaaS-type product.

By leveraging their expertise in marketing technology and developing innovative solutions, agencies can expand their market reach and tap into new revenue streams. This approach allows agencies to scale their business, increase profitability, and potentially attract investors or buyers interested in acquiring the SaaS product.

Agency owners can rethink their approach to their agency business to running a services-based firm and a SaaS company simultaneously. Phil acknowledges the different mindset required for each type of business and emphasizes the importance of incubating the SaaS business and eventually separating it from the services-based firm to ensure success in the long run.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Phil_Case_Audio_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you debating the value of building your brand? Perhaps you're wary of the effort needed to establish your identity, only to feel confined to your business once you become the face of the agency. Our guest today specializes in helping clients effectively brand themselves and elevate their agencies.

He understands the common fears and reservations surrounding personal branding and offers valuable insights into its benefits. Above all, he wants entrepreneurs to understand that personal brands should evolve continually, ensuring that they don't limit your growth. Tune in for expert advice on cultivating trust and credibility in the industry through consistent branding efforts.

Jason Barnard is an entrepreneur, writer, and CEO of Kalicube, a digital marketing agency that makes your online brand representation irresistible to potential customers. Jason loves to solve the puzzle of how algorithms work and figure out how clients can use them in their favor. In this conversation, both Jasons emphasize the significance of branding yourself to elevate your agency to the next level in the digital marketing space.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why a personal brand won’t tie you to the business.

  • How to build and pivot your brand.

  • Communicating your evolving value.

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

The Relatable Factor: Using Personal Branding to Connect with Clients

Building a strong brand requires consistency above all else. Without it, your company risks fading into obscurity. As long as you provide value, consistency will help you gain your audience’s trust over time. For Jason, it’s also very much about believing in the value you bring and being proactive. It’s a journey that never ends, Jason says, and a game you lose unless you devote enough time to building that brand over time.

Most agency owners believe they need to choose between building the agency’s brand or their personal brand. Commonly, a personal brand is seen as something that will tie you to the business forever, turning you into the face of the company. However, you need to be the face of your agency, especially in the beginning, and this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never be able to walk away.

Being the face of the agency simply means that you are the relatable figure that people associate with the business. People prefer to interact with individuals rather than faceless entities, and having a recognizable figure can significantly enhance their connection to your agency.

According to Jason, we all have a personal brand, whether we like it or not. As soon as you step into the digital landscape you’re leaving a footprint and, even if you try to stay in the background, people will seek you out to figure out who’s behind the agency.

Furthermore, agency owners should consider their career trajectory beyond the agency. Whether that means transitioning to roles like investor or author, having an established brand can make this pivot much smoother than starting from scratch.

Building and Pivoting Your Brand on Your Own Terms

For many people, one of the scariest parts of building a brand is thinking they’ll have to be very active on social media. To this, Jason says: not necessarily. To build your brand, you need to do things that make sense to you. This might be appearances on podcasts, writing articles, or social media. It all depends on your talent set, how you want to be presented, and how your audience is going to consume the information you provide.

If, instead, you’re looking to pivot an existing brand, Jason recommends auditing and updating all existing content about yourself to ensure it accurately reflects your current brand identity. This may involve revisiting old blog posts, social media profiles, podcast interviews, and other online assets to make necessary changes and corrections. It’s what he did when he decided to become a digital marketer after many years of being known on the internet as a cartoonist. He set out to align all his content with his current brand message to present a cohesive and compelling image to your audience.

For people looking to achieve something similar, he advises looking at what they have in their digital ecosystem, deciding what they want to communicate, and refocus everything. Once you do, Google will represent you in the way you want and your audience will see you the way you want to be seen.

Communicating Your Evolving Value in the Digital Age

One thing all entrepreneurs should keep in mind when it comes to branding is that we’re not permanently just one thing. People change and evolve; likewise, your personal brand should always evolve. If you have an active career, you’ll probably need to reposition yourself at least three times as you accomplish some goals and set out to conquer new ones.

In today's digital landscape, with the increasing influence of AI and algorithms, effectively communicating one's identity and value proposition to the target audience is paramount.

As individuals, we may struggle with defining who we are and what we stand for however as professionals, we must recognize that change is inevitable and that our personal brand should reflect this evolution. It can take time and self-reflection to truly understand our values, goals, and strengths. However, by actively engaging in this process, we can better align our personal brand with our authentic selves and create a more compelling and impactful online presence.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Jason_Barnard_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you striving to refine your selling strategy and cultivate enduring client relationships that stand the test of time? How can you elevate your approach to not just closing deals but fostering long-term partnerships that drive mutual growth and success? Today's guest started her business with the idea of embodying a strategic dance of trust, value creation, and genuine connection. Tune in to learn how leading with strategy can lead to success in the agency world.

Molly Baker is the founder and CEO of Indie Consulting, a marketing agency that specializes in strategic planning and activation. Molly shares her journey from working with big brands to starting her agency. She explains her reasons for prioritizing strategy and highlights the need to deeply understand client goals and strengths before making recommendations. 

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why Molly chose to sell strategy to gain clients’ trust.

  • The challenge of developing a repeatable process. 

  • Offering a foot-in-the-door and client workshops to become a trusted advisor.

  • A unique approach to account management. 

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Ditching the Agency Model and Forging Her Own Strategic Path

After graduating from college, Molly kicked off her career working at a prominent agency, where she mostly worked in digital media buying for a few years. She learned a lot and enjoyed all the great things that come with working at bigger agencies. After that, she went to work on the brand side at Ben & Jerry’s, a great experience that allowed her to work with all types of agency partners. However, the brand side ultimately wasn’t for her.

Wanting to find her own way in the industry led her to work freelance for some time as she gained more and more interest for the strategy-based offer. Eventually, it was time to give her vision a shot and see what happened.

She always saw herself starting a company, although she refrained from categorizing it as an agency, aligning with her distinct vision. This leap of faith has proven successful, as her business continues to thrive five years later.

Selling Strategy and Building Long-Term Client Relationships

Most agency owners typically start by leveraging their expertise and working as freelancers, tailoring their services to meet their clients’ specific needs, all while trying to establish a successful business model. For her part, Molly took a distinct approach from the beginning.

Initially, her value proposition centered around offering businesses the opportunity to hire her for a period of 3 to 6 months, instead of bringing in an in-house marketing director or digital strategist. This allowed business owners to thoroughly assess their needs and devise a plan before committing to a permanent in-house hire. It proved to be an appealing offer, especially at a time when business owners were overwhelmed by the options presented by digital but knew they had to embrace it to be relevant.

As her business evolved, Molly expanded her services to include addressing traditional strategy inquiries, such as the most effective investment models or creative strategies tailored to each business. This evolution ultimately led to the development of a fractional resourcing offering, providing clients with a dedicated partner who could seamlessly integrate with their team on a full-time basis.

It’s a very effective way to gain clients’ trust and get over the initial hesitancy that can come when they suspect the agency is just trying to sell something. Molly built a true consultancy where they sit down and help clients figure out the gaps in their business, which goes back to the very basis of the agency work: helping someone solve a problem.

Developing Repeatable Processes Amid Market Abundance

When it came time to start delegating some of the load to her team, Molly faced several challenges. Initially, she hired friends she’d previously worked with, which made for a seamless integration due to their similar styles and approaches. However, once the team started to grow and she hired outside of her known pool of past associates, it became more about effectively communicating how she wanted things to be done. 

It ended up being more complicated than she thought, since the way they did things couldn’t always be translated to a teachable process. It took teamwork and helping her team get educated through some of the same courses she’d completed but they eventually got there.

As they built their process, they encountered projects that served as valuable learning experiences, teaching them not to rush through tasks. Understanding a client's business goals and needs before making recommendations was crucial to Molly and her team. As a result, individuals who sought to speed the process were not a good fit for them.

Given the sheer volume of options available in the market, strategic planning has become more important than ever, as clients are realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach no longer suffices.

Of course, selling a process that takes three to five months to complete is challenging, Molly has learned that diving straight into execution only leads to increased spending while testing, learning, and making corrections along the way.

Using a Foot-in-the-Door Offer to Sell Clients on the Value of Strategy

Even though clients are currently more aware of the fact that the right solution won’t come from a few paid ads, Molly admits it can be hard to sell clients on the value of strategy. In such cases, a foot-in-the-door strategy emerges as a valuable tool to attract clients for a smaller commitment, allowing them to experience your work and view you as a trusted advisor.

Statistically, clients are 20 times more likely to engage your services again after their initial commitment. Therefore, including a foot-in-the-door offer can help you close a lot more deals and cement a relationship that can help clients feel more secure in paying the higher fee.

Offering Client Workshops to Become a Trusted Advisor

Beyond the foot-in-the-door strategy, Molly and her team are also preparing to implement a strategy workshop where clients will be able to learn from each other and get to see examples of what her agency’s strategy output can look like.

These types of networking events provide a space where agencies can showcase their capabilities and expertise more interactively and engagingly, rather than relying solely on traditional sales pitches and capability decks.

From her experience, Molly has seen clients at these workshops are mostly interested in learning what’s working and not working for other brands and which tools they’re leveraging. Providing this information also perfectly positions her agency to connect with potential clients and present themselves in a professional yet friendly environment where they can showcase their expertise.

For Molly, it’s like a "karmic boomerang", highlighting the idea that by consistently offering help and support to clients without expecting anything in return, agencies can build a positive reputation and trust with their clients. This approach creates a cycle of reciprocity where clients are more likely to turn to the agency for assistance and solutions because of the trust and goodwill that has been established over time.

A Unique Approach to Account Management

Molly is very decidedly against the general idea of what account managers are and has been since the beginning of her agency journey. In her view, account management can mean many things to different people and she challenges the traditional notion of account management as simply project management.

She believes that account management should be viewed as a partnership, where agencies work closely with clients to understand their needs and goals, rather than just focusing on getting tasks done.

Molly's agency takes a unique approach to account management by assigning account leads based on skill set and personality match, rather than having dedicated account managers. This allows for a more personalized and tailored approach to client relationships, where the agency aims to be a business partner and thought partner for their clients. By building curiosity and soft skills within her team, Molly ensures that they can show up better for their clients and truly understand what makes them tick.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Molly_Baker_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Do you treat your team like employees or like people? Every agency owner should recognize the immense value of their team and ensure they are treated with the utmost respect. This may entail parting ways with toxic clients, as the well-being of your team is irreplaceable.

Our guest today faced challenging times during the pandemic when they had to terminate their agency's largest client to prevent the team from burning out entirely. It was a difficult decision, but it ultimately demonstrated how much he valued his employees, leading to a shift in the company culture and a newfound appreciation for their skills, which could be harnessed for incubator businesses. Tune in to discover how he faced the loss of a big client to choose the team that was making his dream a reality and how celebrating the small wins helps keep everyone sane and focused.

Miles Marmo is the founder of Agency Squid, a boutique consultancy and creative agency based in Minneapolis. He shares his journey of building a successful agency, navigating challenges, and creating an incubator agency model, as well as the importance of understanding consumer segmentation, industry trends, and merging it with creative outputs.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Learning to savor the small wins.

  • Choosing your team over a bad-fit client.

  • The benefits of incubator brands for agencies.

Subscribe

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

Why Agency Owners Need to Savor Every Success

Miles, a former athlete with experience working in agencies on the brand side, never anticipated becoming an agency owner. However, his entrepreneurial spirit was ignited by his competitive nature and desire for some degree of control over his work. His love for working with people also made entrepreneurship a natural fit for him.

Overall, he describes owning an agency as a rollercoaster with exhilarating highs and challenging lows, so maintaining a sense of balance is very difficult. In this sense, Miles tries to always remember to celebrate the wins, no matter how small.

Agency owners often dwell on losses and setbacks, leading to demoralization. Success is almost expected and therefore not celebrated as much as it should be. Instead, Miles believes that celebrating even minor wins not only boosts morale but also provides a sense of accomplishment and validation for the hard work put into the agency.

Undoubtedly, agency owners will face common struggles and moments of doubt and burnout when they feel like giving up and taking a job instead. However, he believes that by focusing on celebrating wins and finding joy in the successes, they can stay motivated and inspired to continue growing their businesses.

The Make-or-Break Moment: Choosing Your Team Over a Bad Client

One of these hard moments happened to Miles during the pandemic, when he faced the tough decision to part ways with a major client who negatively impacted the agency's culture and caused burnout among employees. It was a moment where he even questioned whether he had chosen the right career path and his effectiveness at managing his team

Although difficult, it became clear the client would never be content with the agency’s work. This decision ultimately led to a sense of relief and a reshaping of the agency's values and its approach to new business. In the end, prioritizing the team's welfare was crucial for the business’s overall health and success.

Letting go of a client that negatively impacts your culture is a way to show your team that you value them much more than any client. At the end of the day, as an owner, your team is building your dreams and is your greatest asset. You can always get more clients, but assembling a great team is difficult.

For Miles, the key to a successful agency lies in the team that supports it so he greatly values having a team that believes in the vision and works towards achieving it. This sense of unity and shared purpose not only motivates everyone but also leads to better results for the agency.

The Double Benefit of Incubator Brands for Agencies

During the pandemic, Miles recognized the potential of his team's unique skill set and saw an opportunity for them to embark on more fulfilling and lucrative creative endeavors. In this sense, he highlights the importance of allocating time effectively and setting boundaries to ensure the team focuses on client work as well as internal projects. Many agencies leave creative projects for later and prioritize client work. However, by managing time wisely and dedicating specific days for internal work, the agency can balance client demands and working on their own brand.

In this regard, Miles discusses the benefits of leveraging his team’s skills to build incubator businesses where they can gain valuable experience and expertise that can be applied to client work. It gives them a playground to creatively express themselves without the limits usually imposed by clients, as well as rare access to the full supply chain logistics and insight into the impact of a design decision. While dedicating time and commitment to these ventures may be challenging, the benefits far outweigh the effort.

Why Neglecting Self-Care Ends Up Affecting Your Agency

Being your best self is crucial for success, which is why Miles stresses the importance of mental health in this industry. Neglecting self-care can lead to a decline in performance across all aspects of life.

With a one-year-old at home, Miles has gained a new perspective on the significance of self-care and how neglecting personal well-being can have far-reaching consequences. Delaying self-care until a specific goal is reached is counterproductive, as one's well-being directly impacts performance and overall satisfaction.

Seeking support from an entrepreneurial community or a therapist can provide invaluable assistance during challenging times, ultimately leading to improved performance, success, and contentment in both professional and personal realms.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Miles_Marmo_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:00am MDT

Are you prepared to elevate your agency team and pave the path to success? As your agency expands, the need to grow your team becomes inevitable, and having standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place beforehand can save you a lot of headaches.

Today’s guest went through a rapid growth phase with his agency and found he was ill-prepared to delegate responsibilities and clearly define tasks. As a result, he lost employees and clients but has since learned that SOPs should be in place before hiring and that a good SOP takes him out of the process as quickly as possible. Tune in to gain valuable insights on navigating the complexities of scaling an agency effectively.

Robert Brill is the owner of Brill Media, a white-label media buying agency that helps clients supercharge their business. At his agency, Robert works with a fully remote team of passionate experts and has created a culture of promoting from within, keeping the team members engaged, upskilled, and motivated to take leadership roles.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • When rapid growth meets poor processes.

  • Consistency and clarity as a result of proper SOPs.

  • How to correctly implement SOPs.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

From Dreams of Advertisement Glamour to Owning an Agency

In a departure from the most typical agency owner narrative, Robert says this is the only thing he’s ever wanted to do professionally. Growing up, the idea of working on high-profile projects, like commercials, sounded like a dream to him. He craved the recognition that would come from showcasing his work. “I didn’t have the ability to become a rock star, so I went into advertising,” he jokes.

After working a couple of marketing jobs as a college student, he continued that path following graduation and spent the next ten years in the advertising business. By 2013, he still had a love for the business but felt himself becoming a bad employee. The desire to operate according to his vision and the prospect of reducing the stress of taking time off motivated him to establish his own business.

Most agency owners know that - contrary to his expectations – running his agency demanded even more and he ended up working twice as hard. However, becoming a CEO and taking on more responsibilities was the only path to what he wanted and it was a big motivator for him.

What Happens When Rapid Growth Meets Poor Processes?

Once you start gaining traction with your agency and your brand attracts more clients, you’ll need to be prepared to start hiring as the amount of work increases. For Robert, however, it was particularly challenging since he had to triple his staff throughout one summer.

The big lesson Robert took from that summer is that he should have started hiring sooner. It felt like a big risk earlier in the life of the business. However, he’s learned that of all the big risks, this is one he should have taken sooner.

Initially, he hired people he had worked with previously, assuming they would excel in their roles without much guidance. However, within six months, one of his key hires quit due to dissatisfaction with the lack of structure, organization, and process within the business.

At this point, no one was happy, — not Robert, the new hires, the existing hires, or the clients. It took him six months to figure out the missing piece was standard operating procedures. Simply put, the lack of clear guidelines, workflows, and systems was leading to confusion, frustration, and ultimately, high turnover rates.

Consistency, Clarity, Growth: The Impacts of Finally Implementing SOPs

Agency SOPs sounded like the most boring thing in the world for Robert. However, after hiring a Chief Operating Officer who created his agency’s first SOP, he quickly saw the benefits that come with sticking to your processes and refining them over time.

Now everyone on the team understood what was expected of them because they knew where their responsibilities started and ended. As a result, they were more satisfied with their job and stayed longer. The agency’s output grew stronger, everything ran smoothly, and clients returned.

With proper SOPs, Robert also has a better understanding of which steps of the process need documenting while still offering enough autonomy for his team to feel empowered. Furthermore, he has seen the importance of actually enforcing the SOP after it’s created, otherwise it’ll be useless.

Six years later, his staff once again doubled, but with the proper systems the agency’s revenue stayed consistent over time, and turnover was greatly reduced for both clients and employees.

3 Steps to Correctly Implement Agency SOPs

According to Robert, it’s important to start building SOPs before hiring new employees to streamline processes, prevent mistakes, and ensure consistent quality in operations. Clearly defined SOPs help to avoid the chaos and confusion that can occur when knowledge is only held by a few individuals. For him, the process of implementing new SOPs generally goes as follows:

  1. Identify the tasks involved.

  2. Document the process while performing it yourself.

  3. Delegate the tasks.

Hiring first and letting that person figure out the process seems like a less effective approach to Robert. For starters, figuring out the process first can help you pinpoint the person you’ll need for the task.

Tip: There should always be someone in charge of the SOP, updating and refining it, and ensuring its implementation. Additionally, you can appoint another team member who normally would have nothing to do with that particular part of the process and ask them to follow that SOP to see if they can find any gaps that can be corrected to create a more effective guide.

How Outsourcing SEO Expertise Unlocked New Opportunities

After five years of trying to figure out SEO for himself, Robert finally hired an expert who did a year’s worth of work for him and dramatically changed what he understood about SEO. This investment not only improved his business's SEO strategy but also allowed him to speak more confidently about marketing in general, create content on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, and potentially offer SEO services in the future.

As a result, he’s learned that a proactive approach to learning not only benefits the individual but also the team and the business as a whole. In the future, Robert may want to change his offering to include SEO services, and investing in expert training can lead to improved performance, increased efficiency, and better results for the business.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Robert_Brill_audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Is your agency work affecting your family life? Are you challenged by finding the right talent to assemble a team to take over some of the work? Today’s guest thought she’d always be a solopreneur but as her workload mounted, she realized she needed reinforcements to maintain her level of service and keep clients coming back. Getting the right talent to balance it all was not easy but she relied on a largely untapped talent pool: moms looking to keep their careers thriving while raising their families. In this episode, Sara discusses her experiences scaling her agency and balancing motherhood with a creative career.

Sara Jensen owns Brighter Messaging, a digital agency that helps small businesses manage their online presence and generate leads through content-based marketing. Sara shares her journey from being a solopreneur to running a digital marketing agency.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Building a compensation model to empower your team.

  • Taking advantage of the largest untapped talent pool.

  • Getting wiser about client choices.

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

Delegating for Success: From Solopreneur to Agency Owner

Starting as a freelance writer, Sara began to build her agency right as she had become a first-time mother. That was twelve years ago and she was building her agency from the ground up while navigating motherhood. At the time, she was ghostwriting, blogging, and juggling clients' demands. As the business grew, clients began requesting more services, and Sara realized she needed to level up by building a team.

The first role she hired was a virtual assistant, although she admits to being hesitant and unsure of how to work with someone else. Despite her initial reservations, Sara took a leap of faith and trusted her VA to help her navigate the process of delegating tasks and creating processes.

One of the key challenges she faced was the fear of losing control and not being able to deliver the same level of quality to her clients. This fear is common among entrepreneurs who are used to doing everything themselves. However, Sara's willingness to trust her team members and let go of some responsibilities ultimately led to the growth and success of her agency.

Incentivizing Success: A Compensation Model to Empower Your Team

Sara’s assistant was the first person to introduce a project management system – Asana – to the agency, changing everything about how they worked. To this day, it’s become an essential element of how her team works together and how she manages to get her ideas from her notepad to the team.

Having introduced a more structured system to the team’s everyday work and communications, Sara understood the importance of building processes and started to do so herself, a task she later delegated to the new project manager. For her, having consistent processes is a huge piece that helps set clear expectations for everyone on the team.

Another important factor for finally letting go of many tasks was being intentional about the compensation piece. At her agency, the team works as contractors and they’ve structured their compensation model around client retainer packages. Each role within the agency gets a portion of those retainers, as an incentive to be more invested in the client’s success.

By building trust, setting clear expectations, and providing opportunities for growth and development, agencies can create a culture of success and achievement that benefits both the team and the whole agency.

Taking Advantage of The Largest Untapped Talent Pool 

Another important aspect of how Sara has structured her agency to serve the interests of the working moms that mostly make up her team is offering flexible hours and part-time work. Most of her team members have side gigs and are in some stage of motherhood figuring out how to have a career while still dedicating time to their families.

For Sara, offering flexible work to moms is a very important part of her business model. In her view, moms are a largely untapped talent pool simply because they opt out; they don’t think they can work while taking care of the family and most companies certainly don’t offer choices for them to do so.

Getting Wiser About Your Client Choices to Prioritize Your Family Life

For agency owners, their family life suffers if they fail to flip the switch from agency mode to family mode at the end of the day. However, Sara believes it’s misleading to think of it as something you can switch on and off. It depends on the day and what she’s doing. In her experience, it also gets easier when you get wiser about the type of clients you choose.

Setting expectations and boundaries early on is a big part of ensuring clients respect the balance between work and family life. Sometimes this means the agency loses certain opportunities that just weren’t the right fit. However, by making these choices the team solidifies the values they uphold and stays within that lane.

In Sara’s case, it took a long time to get to a point where she could prioritize family time and set boundaries with clients. In this sense, a big part of this shift came from investing in coaching to clarify what she wanted their life to look like and defining her values and goals. Through this process, she was able to identify the types of clients that aligned with her values and boundaries.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Sara_Jensen_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Do you prioritize new clients or building lasting relationships? Would you be willing to lose money on a client in order to build a long-lasting relationship? Today’s guest has built two successful agencies banking on the power of planning for the long term instead of focusing just on the numbers. She’ll explain how she and her partner formed their vision of an agency where people could do their best work, clients felt heard, and it would all translate into business. Tune in to learn all about the visionary approach that led her and her partner to success.

Kim Lawton is a successful agency owner with two agencies under her belt. She’s the founder of Inspira Marketing, a 300-employee agency reaching the nine-figure mark, as well as the president and CEO of Enthuse Marketing, a purpose-driven group committed to building brands through effective experiential marketing strategies. She shares her journey building two agencies and discusses her approach of over-resourcing client relationships, her role as the chief possibilities officer and president/CEO, and her entrepreneurial journey from a young age.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The four pillars of relationship building.

  • Risking losing money for long-term client relationships.

  • Strategic hiring to fuel growth.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

The Four Pillars of a Relationship-Driven Agency

Although she’s an accidental agency owner, according to Kim she’s been an entrepreneur since the age of fourteen, when she managed her father’s pizza shop and fell into the role of marketer. It wasn't until years later, working at an agency during the rise of experiential marketing, that she truly started to believe in her marketing abilities. It was there that she met her current business partner.

As Kim and her partner dreamed of owning their own agency, they kept a journal to define the key elements they wanted to include. Their primary focus was creating a place where people felt seen, heard, and empowered to do their best work. They believed this would translate into a successful business.

Rather than focusing on the numbers, hourly billing, or time spent on each account, like most agencies, they made the strategic decision to invest in relationships over profit. As they planned how this would look as a profitable business, Kim and her partner decided their agency would be built on four main pillars:

  • People: Their investment in talent.

  • Organizational development: Tools they invest in that help people do their jobs more effectively.

  • Client leadership: How they show up for their clients.

  • Growth and reputation: They measure the previous three elements and look at that to establish how the agency performed that year.

It may seem counterintuitive for business owners who prioritize profit margins and bottom lines, but it was a conscious choice to become their clients' preferred solution, even if it meant potential short-term financial losses. Their long-term relationship investment approach not only allowed them to create long-lasting relationships, but it was also a good way to quickly identify bad clients. If the client didn’t value the time they were investing in their project, it was easy to say goodbye to them and not look back.

Maximizing Client Relationships: A Strategy for Long-Term Success

How do you start to set up a structure where the business is set to lose money with each client for the first year? Kim suggests allocating a portion of marketing expenses to client service. This approach allows agencies to prioritize nurturing existing client relationships, leading to increased business opportunities and revenue.

Of course, it wasn’t a reckless strategy, Kim and her partner set a maximum 15% loss threshold per client and assigned specific departments to absorb these costs. They also regularly evaluated the value provided to clients and sought to exceed their expectations.

Despite occasional overinvestment in certain clients, they take pride in sustaining numerous client relationships over sixteen years.

Pro tip: Kim and her partner went above and beyond for their clients and meticulously tracked any additional hours spent outside the scope of the project and presented these as zero-dollar change orders. This showcased their dedication and established a strong foundation for future collaboration. This transparent and proactive approach not only fostered goodwill with clients but also paved the way for potential opportunities in value-based pricing and performance-based marketing.

Consistent Outreach for Consistent Results: Leveraging Cold Calls

Cold calling has proven to be a successful strategy for many agencies and it has certainly been the case for Kim. In the initial stages of the agency's development, one of its primary objectives was to transform cold calling into an effective strategy. Today, at their agency, this approach is known as the "nifty fifty" and has resulted in a steady stream of opportunities and business expansion. Kim and her partner committed to contacting a set list of 50 individuals each week, holding each other accountable for completing these calls.

For Kim, it’s all about timing. There’s a right time and place for these calls, but by regularly reaching out to her network and staying connected with past clients, they were able to uncover new opportunities, referrals, and partnerships that ultimately contributed to the success of her business.

Balancing Client Needs and Agency Vision: Their Path to a Second Brand

The opportunity for their second venture came from a client engagement, prompting them to develop a specialized team dedicated to delivering the client’s brand message within the hospitality industry. As discussions progressed, the client realized that their agency's brand, focused on experiential and client-facing elements, did not align with their objectives. They sought an approach more grounded in education, prompting whether establishing a dedicated business department would suffice.

Kim and his business partner's wife, an educator eager to reinvigorate her career, collaborated on a program tailored to the client's requirements. While the results met the client's expectations, a new challenge emerged: the exclusive focus on the program overshadowed the agency's identity. Consequently, they restructured the agency to revolve around the new program, shifting the focus from the client to the new business.

Strategic Hiring to Fuel Growth

Kim and her partner were deliberate in their approach to building their agency, understanding the impact of every hiring decision on the agency's success. They were determined to avoid the common pitfall of reactive hiring that leads to a cycle of downsizing and expansion. Instead, they focused on strategic, long-term growth and sustainability, ensuring that each new team member added value to the agency.

In order for this to work, they instilled in their team the importance of considering the long-term effects of their hiring decisions and aligning them with the agency's annual plan and budget. Employees were involved in the decision-making process, fostering a positive work culture and team cohesion, ultimately leading to improved client satisfaction and retention.

Effective delegation is also crucial in maintaining balance within the team. In this sense, Kim’s agency used a specialized company to conduct weekly assessments measuring employees’ strengths and weaknesses. This approach allowed the agency leaders to gauge each team member's performance in real time and identify areas where they excelled or struggled.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Kim_Lawton_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00am MDT

What sets high-performing agencies apart from their low-performing counterparts? How are you positioning your agency for success? Our guest today is a seasoned business executive with extensive experience in product marketing and sales leadership. In his current role, he collaborates with agencies and gains insights into what separates successful ones from the rest. Tune in to gain valuable perspectives on agency performance and growth strategies.

Tim Condon is the Chief Revenue Officer of Clutch, a one-stop-shop were businesses can identify leading service providers through an innovative research process that melds the best of traditional B2B research and newer consumer review services. He discusses the difference between high-performing and low-performing agencies and shares insights from working with professional services companies and marketing firms, highlighting key factors that contribute to agency success.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Focusing on organic growth.

  • Making 100,000 leads in one day.

  • Shortening the sales cycle.

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Sponsors and Resources

Clutch: This episode is sponsored by Clutch, the #1 marketplace for agencies just like yours. With their innovative process, your agency will be matched with highly motivated buyers looking for the exact services you offer. Leave the lead generation to Clutch and let your team focus on delivery. Get started for FREE at clutch.co/smartagency by creating your agency profile.

Organic Growth and Operational Excellence Build a Scalable Agency

From his many interactions with agencies at Clutch, Tim has gathered some great intel on what is working for the most successful agencies. First, they start doing something they are really good at and focus on organic growth. Many prominent agency CEOs initially honed their skills in website development, later expanding their expertise to encompass SEO and pay-per-click advertising to drive increased traffic.

As these successful agencies matured, they strategically planned their expansion into new areas, leveraging their organic growth to thrive and deliver exceptional outcomes. Also, Tim has observed a crucial aspect of sustained agency growth lies in establishing a robust infrastructure. Agencies that have mastered this have implemented comprehensive systems for lead tracking, incentivizing sales teams, and organizing their operational structure. These systems are essential for ensuring seamless operations and maximizing growth opportunities.

Without a solid foundational framework, agencies may encounter challenges in effectively attracting, converting, and scaling their business. But by implementing streamlined processes, performance tracking, and identifying areas for improvement, they can enhance their lead generation, and client conversion, and ultimately scale their business to new heights.

Leveraging Brand Power and Partnerships to Land 100,000 Leads!

As CRO at Clutch, Tim has seen many different and innovative approaches to generating leads but especially remembers a time when he was working at the Washington Post. At that time, he was tasked with building a platform to showcase the Post’s potential as a local resource with a lot of local merchants.

The Washington Post faced competition from larger companies like Groupon and LivingSocial, so Tim capitalized on the assets at his disposal, particularly the Post's strong brand and local market distribution, to build a robust email list.

Strategically aligning with Papa John's, Tim proposed a mutually beneficial promotion that involved giving away pizzas in exchange for registrations on their site. The campaign's resounding success resulted in 100,000 new leads! And consequently, 100,000 Papa Johns pizzas delivered — which solidified the partnership between the two seemingly unlikely partners.

This was by far the best promotion either brand had done and Tim made it happen by leveraging his assets and knowing competitive dimensions. He needed emails and had something the competition didn't, a well-established brand with a huge market distribution.

How can you create lead gen that results in 100,000 new leads? Tim’s advice is to carefully assess the core requirements, leverage existing assets, and identify the dimensions crucial for a competitive edge.

Too many agency owners focus on immediate sales. However, by prioritizing email address collection, businesses can establish direct communication with potential customers, nurture leads over time, and increase conversion rates. Additionally, by standing out in the market and using creative approaches to engage with prospects, businesses can differentiate themselves and achieve sustainable growth in a competitive business environment.

The Power of Foot-in-the-Door Offers to Shorten the Sales Cycle

At Clutch, they conduct an annual survey on the sales cycle and, according to the results, 50% of agencies say their sales cycle expands to over a month, while 20% say it’s over three months. These findings are consistent across professional services and underscore the importance of implementing effective systems to convert leads into clients.

This is where a "foot in the door offer" comes in as a powerful strategy for agencies to shorten their sales cycle and secure new clients. With this approach, you offer a low-cost or low-commitment initial service to potential clients to establish trust, build rapport, and demonstrate value. It’ll be the first step toward upselling additional services or projects to the client, ultimately leading to higher revenue and long-term relationships.

Jason believes selling a foot-in-the-door offer helped his team establish a relationship and build a high-level plan to solve a huge gap the client hadn’t noticed. This way, they position themselves as an advisor and get a project sold before other agencies can come back with their proposals.

Ultimately, implementing a foot-in-the-door offer can help you drastically reduce your sales cycle from months to just a few days, so ask yourself how do I get my foot in the door? How do I get the attention? How do I get my foot in the door? And then what is that upsell to get your clients to where you need to go?

The CRM Advantage: Enhancing Agency Performance and Client Engagement

One key component of a successful foot-in-the-door offer is investing in a CRM system. Having a CRM system in place is crucial for agencies to effectively manage their client relationships and drive business growth as a tool that allows them to track and organize client information, communicate effectively with clients, and streamline their sales and marketing processes.

According to Tim, when agencies lack a CRM system or fail to utilize it effectively, it can be a red flag that their systems are not in place. This can lead to disorganization, inefficiency, and missed growth opportunities.

Investing in a CRM system can help agencies stay organized, track client interactions, and nurture relationships effectively, which is the sort of investment that will differentiate high-performing agencies from low-performing agencies.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Tim_Condon_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

What would you do if you sold your agency tomorrow? Are you clear enough on your purpose that you could keep on creating value? Today’s guest is the founder of a beloved app that changed the way people drive nowadays. He eventually sold that company but hasn’t stopped looking for ways to improve people’s lives through his startups. He’ll share what he’s learned from failure, why he was out of the company as soon as he sold, and why you should always look to understand users to create real value. Tune in to learn valuable insights into building successful startups.

Uri Levine is the co-founder of Waze, a popular app that helps users have a better driving experience, get to their destination faster, and avoid speeding tickets. After his business was acquired by Google a decade ago for over $1 billion dollars, Uri went on to focus on other ventures. He more recently wrote the book Fall In Love With the Problem, Not the Solution.

He shares his entrepreneurial journey, from creating Waze to building Moveit, and discusses the importance of solving real problems to achieve product-market fit and the impact of failing to do so.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.

  • Cracking product-market fit.

  • Making hard choices with conviction.

  • What comes after selling an agency for $1 billion.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Find a Problem Worth Solving: Advice for Agencies to Create Lasting Value

Years ago, Uri had the chance to meet one of his technological gurus – Steve Wozniak – at an event. He got to take a picture with him and that exchange inspired a chapter of his book called “Understanding Users”. In it, he explains there’s no right or wrong way to use a product, something he always tried to take into account when it came to Waze users and how they overcame problems.

In his view, every entrepreneur should start by solving a problem. “Think about something worth solving,” he advises. If a lot of people have the same problem, speak with them, understand their perception of the problem, and only then set out to build the solution. For Uri, this is the only way to guarantee that you’re creating value. Instead, starting with the solution may lead to creating a solution that no one was asking for.

Uri encourages entrepreneurs to find a problem worth solving and make it the North Star of their journey. This way, you’ll be much less likely to deviate from the path toward your goal and much more likely to succeed. To agencies, he reminds them that the problem is a significant part of their marketing. The story you’ll tell about the problem is much more compelling than one about the solution. An enticing story will help you make customers care, and if they care, they’ll make you successful.

Biggest Successes and Failures Outside of Waze

Although Waze has over 700 million users, and even more use Moveit, neither is Uri’s most successful product. His most successful venture was a voicemail company called Converse Technology. At the time, it had many more users than either Waze or Moveit and it was a massive success. Years, later, he switched to software development, always looking for innovation and change.

On the other hand, his first startup focused on mobile email and it became his first big failure. Uri knew focusing on a problem worth solving was the starting point for any successful venture. This should always be followed by speaking with potential consumers. This way, you’ll see whether or not they share your vision of the problem. If not, they may still point you to a different approach to the problem.

Unfortunately, Uri found a problem worth solving that later disappeared. Someone, in this case, Blackberry, had solved it better. It was time to pivot to a new problem.

Define Your Agency’s DNA Early in the Creation Process

Finding a problem and identifying a proper approach to a solution are the surest ways to create a venture with a better opportunity to succeed. However, a major part of your happiness in an organization will revolve around the people you surround yourself with, rather than you and what you’re doing. Because of this, Uri believes the agency’s DNA and the culture you build around it will be just as important as the mission you have.

This is something you can start to create from day one, as Uri did with Waze. From its creation, he decided the company would be the best place to work at and built the culture around that idea. Since then, he’s built more companies and always makes sure to define their DNA early in its creation process. The result will be nearly no attrition because you’ve created a favorable work environment where people want to stay.

Beyond the Myth of Overnight Success: Cracking Product-Market Fit

Half of all startups will fail as a result of not figuring out their product-market fit, which simply put entails figuring out how you create value for customers. If you can’t figure that out, then your business doesn’t have a future.

There’s only one metric when it comes to product-market fit: retention. If you create value, customers will come back. If they don’t, then you’re either too complex and they can’t figure out the value or you’re not creating enough value.

Think of the apps you use every day like, Netflix or Facebook, and ask yourself what’s the difference between how you use it today and how you used it on day one. There is no major difference. Once companies figure out product market fit they don’t change it because that’s the value they bring to customers. What users don’t know is how long it takes a company to get that product market fit just right.

New companies compare themselves to these giants and assume they’re failing if they haven’t made it big by the two or three-year mark. In reality, none of these big brands was an overnight success and we’re just not aware of how long it took them to succeed. For Waze, it was four years and it took Netflix ten years.

Creating value for customers is a continuous process that requires time and effort. It’s not an overnight process.

Why CEOs Should Make Hard Choices with Conviction

Ever since he sold Waze ten years ago people have asked Uri whether he still thinks it was the right decision. For him, there are no right or wrong decisions. There’s just deciding on making no decision.

Some people prefer to remove all emotion to make decisions based purely on the logic of what would be better for the business. For Uri, the most important thing is making hard decisions with conviction, which is a crucial skill for a successful CEO.

For instance, there’s a chapter in Uri’s book called Firing and Hiring, inspired by conversations with CEOs regarding their underperforming teams. In most cases, they knew exactly which employees were just not cutting it and had known for some time. For Uri, the big problem in these cases was that CEOs were being too slow to make hard decisions because they’d have to assume responsibility for the consequences.

If you struggle with an underperforming team, Uri recommends you take a look at any team member and ask yourself would you hire them today knowing what you know about their work? If the answer is no, then fire them immediately. It’s advice he believes can be applied to anything in life, your professional path, your relationships. If you’re not happy with where you are, then start making changes in order to change that today.

Selling for $1 Billion & How Embracing Failure Can Take You Closer to Success

People may be surprised to hear that Uri was out the door the day after selling his company for $1 billion. However, by that time, he was already thinking of new startups he wanted to build, so this was the right move to close that chapter.

Furthermore, he says that, contrary to what people may believe, the sale did not mean he was walking away with $1 billion in his pocket. By that time he owned just 3% of the company and after taxes and a divorce, he was left with far less, which he mostly invested in his new startups.

Nowadays, he spends his days coaching different startups Some of these could become even more successful than Waze at some point, while others will probably end up being big failures. The prospect of failing is not one that plagues him too much since, in his view, failure is an inevitable part of the entrepreneurial journey, but it is through these failures that one can learn and grow.

At the end of the day, if you want to create new things you’re set to fail. Over the years and by accumulating new failures, he has managed to become statistically more successful thanks to the experience he has gained.

Selling Your Agency: Key Considerations and Uri's Advice on Timing and Motivations

If you’re trying to figure out the right time to sell your agency, Uri believes you should consider whether the offer you’ve received is life-changing or not. If it is, then it merits serious consideration. Additionally, if you have aspirations to pursue new ventures and innovate to benefit others and revolutionize the industry, selling may be the right move.

On the other hand, if you believe you’re company is a once-in-a-lifetime thing then you should keep it. Don’t sell unless you know what you’re going to do next.

Above all, avoid selling solely due to exhaustion and the desire to rest, as this may lead to restlessness sooner than expected. Entrepreneurs are inherently driven to create and take action and often find it challenging to embrace prolonged periods of rest.

Finding Purpose in Value Creation

Nowadays, Uri feels happier and more fulfilled than ever and it’s because in the last decade, he was finally able to figure out who he is and who he wants to become. He now states confidently that his purpose lies in value creation and he finds equal enjoyment in both creating something himself and guiding someone else to do it.

Finding a purpose will center you, the sense of purpose and impact on the world can lead to greater happiness and satisfaction in one's work. Finding something you’re good at and that people will pay for will be the cornerstone of your happiness. Identifying one's strengths and finding a market for them is pivotal for personal contentment. When coupled with a meaningful mission to make a positive impact, it becomes the key to enduring happiness.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Uri_Levine_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Does your onboarding process set new hires up for success from day one? Do you believe the hardest part of adding new team members is the hiring process? Today’s guest believes most business owners disregard the importance of the onboarding process, which can affect a new hire’s chances of success in the agency. He goes over the many aspects you should improve for properly onboarding a new team member and why you don’t want to waste the time, money, and effort put into the hiring process by doing a bad job with onboarding. Learn valuable insights and strategies in setting up new team members for success and avoid pitfalls in hiring remote staff.

Noel Andrews is the CEO of JobRack, a hiring service that helps agencies find great remote talent from Eastern Europe and South Africa. As someone who focuses on finding the best talent and matching them with agencies looking to hire remotely, Noel knows the significance of prioritizing onboarding to ensure successful hires and discusses common mistakes agency owners make during the hiring process.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Common onboarding mistakes you should avoid.

  • How to kickstart a new hire for success.

  • Effective remote team onboarding strategies.

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Sponsors and Resources

Copper: This episode of Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Copper, a CRM solution built specifically for agencies that use Google Workspace. Its CRM integration works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar, and Drive, so you never have to switch tabs to add leads, track email conversations, find files, or manage tasks in your marketing or sales process. Head over to Copper.com/agencies and get a free trial exclusively for Jason’s listeners!

The Biggest Onboarding Mistakes Agency Owners Make When Hiring

Whether you’re hiring remotely or locally, hiring is hard so once agency owners get to the last stage of hiring and they’ve got a start date confirmed they breathe a sigh of relief thinking their job is done. However, this is not true. The next step now is onboarding and it is a critical stage in the hiring process that is often overlooked, with the most common mistakes being.

  1. Not preparing for it.

  2. Not prioritizing it.

Failing to adequately prepare for new hires leads to inefficiency. This looks like: no email access, Slack use, or client accounts ready on someone’s first day in the office. Even at big companies, it may take three days to get a new hire a laptop. It’s both a waste of their time and a terrible first impression.

For Noel, proper onboarding is a twelve-week process, where you’ll gradually provide them with the context they need to work in your agency. During this process, you should be preparing people with the background of who your clients are, what your services are, and why you do things the way you do. It’s the sort of detail that will help workers go above and beyond for the company.

Neglecting or rushing through the onboarding process can result in wasted time, money, and effort invested in the hiring process. Just like onboarding a new client, the first few weeks should be about how excited you are about them joining the team and offering everything they’ll need to set them up for success, foster a positive work environment, and ultimately improve retention and productivity in the long run. Especially if it’s a remote position, where you’ll have to be very intentional about making sure you’re giving them all the tools for success.

Emphasizing Values in the Onboarding Process

What Simon looks for in each team member will, of course, depend on the role. However, all his account managers, recruiters, operations managers, and customer success managers roles involve dealing with people, whether clients or customers.

In this sense, their energy and attitude play a big role in how they’ll do working in his agency. Of course, attitude is something that cannot be easily trained which is why hiring individuals who align with the company's values is the only way to ensure new hires will be a good fit for the organization and contribute positively to its culture. Not everyone has the ability to make people feel comfortable in a call or interview and that will play a big role for Noel.

Overall, he’s always looking for people who will be good at communicating and being part of the team.

4 Essential Elements to Kickstart Success for a New Hire

Ideally, any onboarding process will have a few elements that make it a great starting point to cement the relationship that the new employee and agency will form in the coming weeks and months. To build a successful onboarding process, Noel believes in the first week employees should at least:

  1. Get to a place where they understand the agency and its values.

  2. Know what’s expected of them in this new role.

  3. Understand the KPIs and metrics they’ll be measured against.

  4. Have a clear idea of what the onboarding process will be like.

Get Onboarding Right From Day One: Effective Remote Onboarding Strategies

Managing a remote team can be tricky, especially when it comes to training a new member and making sure they understand how everything works. Noel adopts a hands-on approach by closely supporting the new hire, dedicating daily meetings to guide them through the onboarding process and address any queries that may arise.

Additionally, he adheres to what Dan Martell calls the 10-80-10 principle in his book Buy Back Your Time. Basically, when delegating a task, 10% of the total time dedicated to delegating should be explaining the task, 80% should be dedicated to the actual execution, and then 10% should be checking, reviewing, and providing feedback by the manager. This is a critical part of the process since no new hire is going to instinctively know how to do things, even with the available SOPs.

A good way to help employees get comfortable with communicating their plan for the day and ask questions is to have them answer these three items at the start of each day:

  • What did you do yesterday that was impactful?

  • What’s your plan for today?

  • Do you have any questions?

It’s a quick way to assess who will adapt to the agency because people who actually share their plan for the day and aren’t afraid to ask questions are usually more proactive and make for a more successful hire overall.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Noel_Andrews_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Is the fear of failure holding you back from taking the first steps to establish your brand? Are you hesitating to start a podcast because you believe it would only be worthwhile if it garners millions of downloads? Our guest today is a true trailblazer in the podcast industry, having successfully built a thriving agency around his initial decision to create a show dedicated to entrepreneurs. Tune in for an insightful conversation on the power of pushing boundaries and the value of trying new things in the ever-evolving world of podcasting and entrepreneurship.

Pat Flynn is the serial entrepreneur and podcasting pioneer behind Smart Passive Income, a massive podcast with a long history of teaching entrepreneurs proven strategies to run and optimize their businesses. He’s also the founder SPI Media, an agency that helps people launch and grow their brands. Pat’s podcast was actually the inspiration for the Smart Agency Masterclass podcast and now he joins Jason to discuss the importance of taking risks and embracing failure as part of the learning process.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • What’s holding people back from starting a podcast?

  • Mastering the podcasting game.

  • 3 key principles for brand success.

  • Letting go to grow: lessons on delegating.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Navigating the Evolution of Your Brand and Business

Just like Pat has inspired so many entrepreneurs, he was inspired by the Internet Business Mastery to start his own podcast in 2007. The result was so terrible he never released that episode and it took over a year for him to gather the courage to try again. After finally releasing his first episode in 2010, he’s started several other podcasts and has amassed around 80 million downloads and a massive following.

Much has changed since he chose Smart Passive Income as the name for his brand and “passive income” has recently gained some negative connotations due to influencers promoting the idea of making money without putting in even 1% of the work. As a result, some big brands are hesitant to partner with a business associated with the term.

Of course, this is not what Pat teaches in his content, and, although he is now referring to it as just SPI, a rebrand is probably in the future to welcome as many opportunities as possible.

Currently, Pat is running a business with 11 employees, which is something he never would’ve thought he’d do. Back when he started his business, he dreamt of running a very lean operation working exclusively with contractors.

As the years went by, however, Pat felt a calling to help as many people as possible and he needed to bring the very best talent to the business to help him realize that. Once he had a team, especially his partner and CEO who took over project management and finances, Pat was able to focus on his zone of genius, doing interviews, building relationships, and going to events.

Focusing Too Much on the Numbers: The Misconception Holding People Back from Podcasting

For Pat, the number one reason people refrain from starting a podcast is the fear of wasting time. Things have changed a lot since he started and now it has become such a saturated space that he can’t blame people for thinking theirs may just get lost in the multitude of new releases each day.

Pat challenges agency owners to ask themselves, how many more clients do you need to make a positive impact in your business? Could a podcast help you close more business by attracting potential clients who wouldn’t otherwise find your agency? If the answer is yes, he suggests tailoring podcast episodes to appeal to potential clients and help them feel at ease about engaging with the agency.

In this sense, a podcast would provide the opportunity to define a much deeper relationship with your prospects than you would with a simple YouTube video. It’s quite a powerful connection you can create with a podcast with the way you as the host can become someone’s companion as they travel, walk their dog, or just go about their lives.

Mastering the Podcasting Game: Strategies for Building a Successful Podcast

When it comes to creating a successful podcast that resonates with a wide audience, having a clear vision and set goals is crucial. Merely hoping for a stroke of luck after posting your podcast episodes will likely lead to disappointment and frustration. Therefore, Pat suggests starting with a well-defined purpose and message.

Additionally, he recommends seeking assistance with the editing process early on. Podcasting is a lot of work, from planning to recording and editing and you may end up feeling exhausted, potentially discouraging you from creating content consistently. Lean into the parts of the process you enjoy the most, which will probably be the planning and creating connections, and you’ll start to see those connections lead to relationships and introductions to people who can open more doors.

Don’t lose sight of the benefits a podcast can truly bring to your business. This can happen when you focus exclusively on the numbers and get easily discouraged by low viewership numbers. Instead, focus on how an interview can lead to other opportunities; for instance, interviewing an industry leader can lead to being invited as a speaker to their event. Furthermore, it’ll allow you to pick their brain and position yourself as an industry expert just by having that connection with them.

Pro tip: Before he had his current numbers, Pat was able to get big interviews with figures like Gary Vaynerchuck by timing them just as they were releasing a new book. If you’re looking to get big names, this is when they are far more likely to take every interview opportunity they can to promote their work.

Humanizing Your Brand in the AI Era

A lot of people hesitate on whether or not they should create a personal brand. Pat believes that with the surge of AI, having a brand now becomes even more important. With everyone using AI and automating processes, a personal brand means creating a way for people to connect with you, to create a connection that is just not possible with faceless corporations and automated response systems.

In this sense, he also emphasizes the need to understand what a personal brand is and what it can offer. Basically, you’ll need to have a clear idea of what you stand for, what are your values, and how the work you do reflects that. People want to connect with others who share the same values, which means that not putting yourself out there will make you a human AI no one can relate to.

3 Key Principles for Brand Success

Back in 08, when he recorded that first podcast that never saw the light of day, Pat could’ve never imagined the evolution of his brand and the level of success he’s seen over the years. Like most people, he was afraid of failure and thought he was unprepared to venture into the entrepreneurial world.

With time, he’s discovered experience would be the best teacher and the importance of solving a problem, which is why his guiding principles formed over years in the industry are:

  1. Worry about failing as fast as you can: Pat cautions agency owners against letting perfectionism lead to getting stuck. “The riskiest thing you can do now is play it safe. Bold actions lead to bold results.” Playing it safe can actually prevent you from adapting to changes and trying new things because what worked in the past may not work in the present. To progress and grow, one must be willing to take risks and try new approaches.

  2. Serving first: Focusing on solving a problem for others and providing value will help you build trust, loyalty, and ultimately, financial success. For Pat, this emphasizes the idea your earnings are a byproduct of how well you’re serving your audience. Consider this rather than solely focusing on making money.

  3. Building community: Pat believes in the power of connection and belonging, which he fosters at his agency by creating safe spaces for his clients to come together. It’s not only about finding an audience or how well you serve your audience. It’s also about getting your people to find each other. Strengthening the bond between agency and clients will help future-proof your brand by creating a loyal and engaged community.

Partnerships, Delegation, and Prioritization in Agency Leadership

Pat’s partnership with his now friend and CEO was the leverage he needed to start to transition away from the parts of the business he least enjoyed. Looking back, he realizes he was holding himself and the business back by not letting go sooner. It was not easy for him, as he sometimes regressed to try to get too involved and micromanage the team.

To him, it’s like holding on to a ladder that takes you to a certain height while trying to climb a new one that will take you higher. In the end, as long as there’s open communication and a shared vision between partners, it’s okay to let go and not fear that the agency will get off track. Additionally, Pat underlines there’s no immediate need to train someone as CEO to have that kind of support. You may just need a business manager, which is a common struggle for agency owners.

For those grappling with where to direct their attention and energy, Pat recommends delineating personal and business priorities. "If you haven’t sat down with yourself, your partner, or your team to define your priorities, you’ll feel busy while getting nowhere. Once you do, things will start to align," he advises.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Pat_Flynn_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00am MDT

Do you want to sell your agency at some point? Do you know where you want to take your business before you’re ready to search for a partnership? Today’s guest started his agency at just twenty-three years old and was ready to sell ten years later, when his business was thriving and had a solid position in a coveted niche. However, the selling process was not as smooth as he hoped and he soon found himself looking for expert advice to understand a complex process that was sure to take a lot of his time for months on end. Tune in to learn how he navigated the M&A process while prioritizing clients and employees, and creating the ideal work environment for his team.

Simon Cristal is the founder of SWC Partnership, an international full-service marketing agency that helps clients increase lead generation and brand awareness by developing strategies and creative ideas. Last year, his agency was acquired by a global independent agency, which he says was a natural process and a great experience overall. Learn his insights on building a client-centric agency, the importance of taking care of clients, and the type of help you’ll need for a smooth acquisition process.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Positioning and prioritizing profitability.

  • From Zero employees to selling an agency.

  • The agency owner’s roadmap to M&A.

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Sponsors and Resources

Copper: This episode of Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Copper, a CRM solution built specifically for agencies that use Google Workspace. Its CRM integration works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar, and Drive, so you never have to switch tabs to add leads, track email conversations, find files, or manage tasks in your marketing or sales process. Head over to Copper.com/agencies and get a free trial exclusively for Jason’s listeners!

Lessons in Pricing, Positioning, and Prioritizing Profitability

Simon was born into the advertising world, with his father owning an agency that exposed him to the creative realms of design and copywriting from a young age. As he grew up, Simon navigated his way through several London agencies, honing his skills and gaining valuable experience. Surprisingly, the opportunity to set up his own agency came up earlier than expected. He knew he’d wanted to do it at some point in his career, although he didn’t expect to do it at twenty-three.

Simon started his agency with zero clients, which looking back was a risky move. He did, however, have a clearer vision of pricing. His first client was a big German dairy company and he knew the most effective approach to earn their respect was to refrain from underbidding.

It took around five years for him and his team to start really focusing on B2B and position themselves as specialists in helping brands connect to international audiences. This proved to be a savvy move, as the pandemic forced blue-chip businesses to seek out more affordable, niche agencies like Simon's, with their unique expertise in global brand-building.

In the ten years since starting the business, Simon has seen the importance of surrounding yourself with a good team to get through all sorts of situations. They operate under a very lean model since, in his view, it should never be about how many employees you have but about the type of business you build and whether or not it’s profitable.

This approach to building a passionate team and providing the best possible work environment helped him grow his business, and create great client relationships. It was even a deciding factor when it came to selling the agency.

Inspiring Creativity, Delivering Impact: Secrets of a Thriving Agency Mindset

Simon used to believe the agency should be focused on making sales. This has changed with time, as he realized they needed to focus on taking care of clients and looking for ways to help them succeed. It’s a friendly approach that sets the tone for a good agency-client relationship. For him, if you have great clients, great people, and great processes, the financials will take care of themselves.

Furthermore, Simon recommends using the NBAT framework (Need, Budget, Authority, Timing) as a practical way to ensure you’re picking the clients you can really help and offer the best results to. At his agency, they also use WIDI (I Wish I Did It) as a way to spark employees’ creativity. They organize a monthly meeting where people will take examples of great marketing they wish they had come up with. It’s a great way to stay inspired by innovative marketing strategies and continually strive for improvement. Taking a step back from the daily projects and allowing yourself to be inspired by others’ work will help you evolve and get better.

Working in the creative industry is fun and Simon believes it’s important to enjoy that. By being inspired, thinking outside the box, and prioritizing client satisfaction, businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors and create impactful and memorable campaigns. In the end, it’s the truly creative ideas that make for ads that people will remember for years to come. Here are Jason’s and Simon’s picks for some of the most memorable and impactful ads they’ve seen. What are yours?

From Zero Employees to Selling the Agency

Simon had always envisioned selling his agency at some point, and as the 10-year milestone approached, he realized that the timing was perfect. The agency had a strong track record of business success, impressive client retention, and a stellar team.

A point of pride for the agency was its commitment to creating a work environment where employees felt valued and motivated to stay long-term. Hence, when it came to finding the right agency to be acquired by, Simon prioritized the benefits for his clients and his team. Cultural alignment, opportunities for growth, and a shared vision were all essential considerations in the decision-making process.

Taking the advice from past podcast episode guests who spoke on this topic, Simon appointed an M&A advisor and conducted thorough research; This way, he was able to navigate the complexities of selling an agency and find a suitable partner. Even so, he was surprised by how much he underestimated the time the process took. It was a lengthy eight-month journey from the initial conversation to closing the deal.

Agency Owner's Roadmap to Mergers & Acquisitions

Overall, the selling process was a great experience and an undeniably time-consuming process. Sometimes, M&As may seem purposely dragged on for too long to make the seller feel they’re already too compromised and can’t back out or they would have lost all their time and effort. The right guidance and support will help you avoid that, although it is ultimately a process that can’t be rushed.

Simon’s best advice for other agency owners is to get the right help if you know you lack the proper knowledge and to leave all M&A activities outside the normal work hours. This way, it won’t take over your work day and you can make sure to keep the focus on the agency, as well as not feel you lost valuable time in case it doesn’t work out in the end.

Another key point was testing out the partnership before fully committing to it. Just like dating before getting married, doing trial projects or meetings can help both parties assess if their cultures and values align. As an agency owner selling your business, Jason recommends making sure you understand the buyer’s integration plan. It’ll say a lot about their motivations for the purchase. This step can help prevent any potential conflicts or misunderstandings down the line.

Other than that, he suggests investing time and resources into post-merger integration activities. Face-to-face meetings, team-building exercises, and collaboration opportunities are essential for fostering a cohesive and united team. These efforts not only enhance communication and trust but also contribute to the long-term success of the merger or acquisition.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Simon_Cristal_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00am MDT

Have you ever doubted your ability to steer your agency toward greatness? Does your team follow your lead on the decisions you make to get there? Many agency owners face this internal battle, questioning if they truly have what it takes to lead their business to new heights. Today’s guest has conquered those self-doubts and forged an unwavering confidence in his leadership abilities. He has grown his successful business over the years, gaining confidence as he accumulated more experience. Although he doesn’t regret past decisions, he realizes he could have retained a majority stake in his company and made it on his own had he trusted himself as he does now. Listen to the full episode to learn about his experience growing his agency and how he built the confidence to succeed.

Torey Azure is the CEO of Brandcraft Agency, a full-service agency that deals in videography, creative, digital marketing, and branding. Tori shares insights into his journey and the importance of having the right message for the right audience to improve digital channel performance.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Uncovering what clients need.

  • Building up leaders.

  • The confidence to not hesitate when making decisions.

Subscribe

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

3 Key Strategies for Authentic Client Interactions

Back in high school, Torey was able to blend in with different crowds, being the jock who was also voted as ‘most artistic’ in his class. Thinking back on that time, he realizes that the ability to relate to people from different backgrounds and industries has helped him succeed as an agency owner. It’s not about liking to be the center of attention but about having emotional intelligence and connecting with clients and colleagues on a personal level.

If you’re someone who finds it hard to network and especially starting a conversation with a stranger, Torey believes the most successful interactions will come from these 3 key strategies:

  1. Don’t have an agenda. Speak confidently without thinking about what the other party may want to hear, and learn to quickly identify when someone should or shouldn’t be a client. This will come from practice and being in many different situations with different types of people.

  2. Learn to really listen to people. Instead of pitching yourself, take a true interest in the other person. It will make for a much more enjoyable and memorable experience for them.

  3. Genuinely curiosity about people. Find out why they started their business. With the pandemic and so much time spent on digital environments, it’s as if people have lost the ability to riff off in a conversation and be invested in what the other person is saying. However, it’s a very important skill to help prospective clients feel comfortable.

Make a Lasting Impact and Avoid the Order-Taker Trap

Torey believes his job as a marketer is to uncover what the client needs, which is not necessarily what they think they need. This approach is crucial for providing effective solutions and adding value to clients' businesses.

Too many agencies fall into the trap of being order takers, simply doing what the client asks without questioning or understanding the underlying problem. This mindset can lead to short-term gains but ultimately results in a race to the bottom competing to offer the lowest price. Instead, Torey advocates for taking the time to truly understand the client's needs and challenges, even if it means challenging their initial requests.

It’s a lesson Torey has learned through experience when in the past his agency created a good strategy to find the client’s audience but it turned out to be the wrong message and the wrong time.

Instead of looking at surface-level problems like lead generation issues and attracting clients through low prices, try asking probing questions and analyzing the client's past experiences with other agencies. You could identify patterns and the potential root causes of their struggles.

Empowering Leaders by Cultivating Independence

He felt proud the first time Torey realized the agency had signed a new client and delivered the results without his intervention. He is currently focused on elevating his team to foster the leadership necessary for this to continue. There is no definitive formula for achieving this goal, but he emphasizes the importance of creating enough momentum to allow team members the freedom to fail. They may struggle to gain essential experience and knowledge without the opportunity to make mistakes.

While it may not be ideal for the agency to endure losses that could have been prevented, granting team members the freedom to learn from their mistakes is crucial for developing resilience and problem-solving skills, which are vital for long-term success. This approach may be nerve-wracking at times, but it is essential for personal and professional growth.

In Torey's experience, there were fewer failures than expected. Instead, there were mainly different approaches to tasks, but no catastrophic failures that resulted in losing a client. This is fine as long as everyone agrees on what the deliverables are and what the client expects.

Furthermore, to start letting them solve issues on their own, you can use the 1-3-1 framework. If an employee comes to you with a problem, turn it into a learning opportunity by asking them to come up with three possible solutions for that problem and then you’ll ask them to choose one. Eventually, they’ll stop coming to you and just come up with the solution on their own. Ultimately, if you’re trusting them to handle the task it’s because you believe they’re ready.

Strategic Sacrifices and Lessons Learned

Staring the agency around the time of the collapse of the housing market meant a lot of struggles and no clients at first. Back then, Torey felt he needed people around him to help him scale so he decided to sell a majority stake in his business. In hindsight, he sees this as a move born out of desperation since he had a clear enough vision and he would have eventually gotten there on his own.

It also wasn’t about the money, as not a lot of money was exchanged. In the end, his biggest regret is giving up too much and not keeping a majority stake himself. However, he recognizes he just didn’t know back then, which is a must to have a clearer picture when it comes to negotiations.

Get Unstuck in Your Agency: Build the Confidence to Succeed

When it comes to decision-making, Torey believes leaders should have the ability to make prompt decisions, take decisive action, and not become mired in overanalyzing every detail. This may lead to making some decisions without fully calculating the risks, but for Torey, the growth you gain is worth it.

Being able to make quick decisions when needed says a lot about a leader’s confidence in themselves and their team. Torey trusts his instincts and prefers to move and implement instead of thinking too much about it and losing momentum. Whenever he feels the need to consult on a decision, he reaches out to other entrepreneurs he respects and who have been through similar situations. Most of the time they only reinforce what he was already thinking, but sometimes that’s what you need.

Learning from both successful and unsuccessful decisions is crucial for personal and professional development. Ultimately, the greatest regret would be failing to make a decision. Having the confidence to take action and live with the consequences not only yields valuable insights but also contributes to making more informed decisions in the future.

Cultivating Self-Trust by Embracing Uncertainty

For many, trusting yourself and your decisions will take practice, and the more you do it the more comfortable you’ll feel. Torey rarely second-guesses himself and once he makes up his mind to do something, he gets to work. For him, this is a crucial skill for any agency owner who wants to test things and move to the next level. In this sense, it helps him to think there’ll never be a point in his agency’s growth where he feels 100% sure of the next step. Each step of your growth will come with its challenges and, even though he’s learned a lot as an entrepreneur and continues to implement those lessons into how he operates the agency, more revenue doesn’t guarantee having everything figured out.

Looking back, challenges have taught Torey that all problems are solvable, and by planning, and knowing how to identify the real problem, he and his team will surely come up with a solution.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Torey_Azure_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am MDT

Do you fear missed opportunities if you define a niche or turn away less-than-ideal prospects? Today’s guest started his agency as a college student and pivoted to digital services as the internet barely became a thing. One of the biggest shifts and struggles in his journey has been overcoming the fear of tuning down revenue and letting go of the notion that his way was the only approach clients would respond to. Tune in to learn valuable insights on navigating the agency landscape, committing to a niche, and maintaining a thriving business while prioritizing well-being.

Brendan Chard is the owner and founder of The Modern Firm, a digital marketing agency for solo and small law firms. His team helps attorneys build an online presence tailored to their needs and creates client partnerships at a pace that feels right for them.

Brendan shares his journey of starting initially as an IT business and evolving it into a successful agency serving clients nationwide. He discusses the importance of avoiding burnout in the agency world and the elements you need to find the right balance between fulfilling work and owning your time.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Overcoming the fear of turning down profit.

  • Managing workload with forecasting and hiring ahead.

  • Lessons from a workaholic anonymous.

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Sponsors and Resources

Copper: This episode of Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Copper, a CRM solution built specifically for agencies that use Google Workspace. Its CRM integration works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar, and Drive, so you never have to switch tabs to add leads, track email conversations, find files, or manage tasks in your marketing or sales process. Head over to Copper.com/agencies and get a free trial exclusively for Jason’s listeners!

How the Right Mentorship Turned a Side Hustle into a Digital Agency

Starting out in his dorm room at college, Brendan initially focused on providing IT services for small businesses. He had a knack for repairing computers and his results gradually led to being connected with several law firms that kept recommending him to others in the legal space. This was during the early days of the internet when clients began requesting website development in addition to IT services. Despite initial skepticism about the internet's longevity, Brendan transitioned to website development and digital marketing.

It was a unique time for him to start the agency since being in business school gave him access to a lot of tools and mentors available to guide him through the process. He learned a specific business strategy one day, tried it the next day at his agency, and then reported back to professors.

Overcoming the Fear of Turning Down Revenue for Focused Growth

It took about eight years for Brendan to get his agency to the 7-figure mark. He recalls several bad decisions in terms of clients/projects taken to get there, which he now actively avoids.

In light of this, he focuses more on finding the perfect client fit, although he admits it’s something he still struggles with. While his agency operates in the legal vertical, they eventually discovered that their optimal niche was working specifically with solo and small law firms. They found that collaborating with larger firms resulted in increased stress and less enjoyable projects, as committees rather than individual owners made decisions.

Nonetheless, finding their perfect niche and learning to say no to the wrong clients didn’t happen at the same time. Brendan was very clear on the agency’s focus and knew it was better equipped to work with small forms. When it came to rejecting someone who was just not the right fit, however, it meant turning down potential revenue. It’s taken several misses to learn that, ultimately, not working with the wrong clients leads to a more streamlined and successful business model.

Why Forecasting and Hiring Ahead Is The Best Practice For Manageable Workload

One key moment for the agency came when they figured out systems to filter out unsuitable prospects and hone in on their ideal customer avatar. This shift coincided with Google's rise as the dominant search engine, resulting in a surge of organic leads and referrals. It marked a significant leap forward. However, the influx of work soon outpaced their capacity, prompting a reassessment of their hiring needs.

Until that point, Brendan was focused on growing the business conservatively, with a team intentionally built to manage the workload and balance the work without getting overwhelmed. Brendan knows it is important for businesses to find a balance between taking on new clients and ensuring they can deliver high-quality work to existing clients. At some point, however, it became common to constantly play catch up with hiring new team members as the business grew, which quickly became exhausting.

More recently, they’ve developed systems to hire ahead to avoid burnout and ensure sustainable growth. Hiring ahead of the curve allows them to bring on new team members before they were desperately needed, giving space for a smoother onboarding process and a more manageable workload for everyone involved. This way, new hires can be trained properly and have a smaller workload instead of being thrown into the fire.

Avoiding Burnout: Lessons from Workaholics Anonymous

For agency owners, burnout is mostly the result of comparison with other entrepreneurs and convincing yourself you’re lagging. As someone keenly aware of the risk of burnout, Brendan has made a conscious effort to avoid the pitfall. Nonetheless, early in his days of owning the agency, he did end up attending Workaholics Anonymous meetings, where he learned two valuable lessons:

1.   Letting go: The meetings were spaces where he got to turn off all devices and be present. As a result, he was able to focus on something else and the agency didn’t burn to the ground while he did it, proving he had done a good job training his team.

2.   Putting things into perspective: At the meetings, Brendan was surprised to see many of the other attendees were pastors. He learned that as spiritual leaders, they support their communities through the hardest times in their lives, including the death of loved ones. This helped Brendan put things into perspective. Agency work may feel like life and death matters sometimes but the sense of being tied to the agency is more the result of poor management.

The Wake-Up Call That Shifted an Agency's Course Towards Better Living

Although it’s not the most popular concept, Brendan believes that lifestyle should be a central focus when building a business. For him, his values around time and autonomy are baked into the core of how his agency operates.

It’s a philosophy that was forced on him after his son was born with a potentially serious medical condition. As it dawned on him that this was something he needed to focus on and that meant delegating, he trusted his director to take over sales, which ultimately led to a positive outcome. Entrusting his director with sales responsibilities resulted in a positive outcome, highlighting the significance of empowering and collaborating with his team. It was a game changer that changed the course of his agency.

As the business grows, agency owners shift their focus from day-to-day operations to strategic vision, team development, relationship building, and understanding key performance indicators. It can be a challenging transition, but it can lead to greater success and fulfillment in the long run.

Letting Go of Control to Find Balance in Agency Operations and Life

Brendan's reluctance to give up control of agency operations stemmed from his firm belief that there is only one correct way to do things or that clients will only accept one specific approach. In reality, granting his team the freedom to find their methods often leads to better results. Moreover, there is far more room to explore and experiment with new approaches than he may have realized. In the end, clients are primarily interested in the outcomes.

This is the first step to giving yourself the space to create balance in your life. For Brendan, that means making a good income, interesting work, with flexibility and autonomy over his time. The balance is crucial for overall satisfaction and fulfillment in both personal and professional life and is something he always keeps in mind when he thinks about the agency and the life he wants to build.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Brendan_Chard_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am MDT

Are you struggling to keep your clients happy and retain their business? How do you prepare your team to create the best client experience? In today's competitive market, delivering an exceptional client experience is paramount. Our guest today is a true master of client service, leading a team laser-focused on understanding each client's unique needs and proactively crafting tailored solutions that address their pain points head-on. Tune in to learn strategies for client retention and growth in your agency business.

Khushbu Doshi is a customer service specialist passionate about strategizing, making realistic action plans, and following up on their implementation to get real results for agencies. She leads the customer service and sales division at E2M Solutions, managing a portfolio of 200+ agency clients, and works closely with a team of 20 to ensure client satisfaction.

She’s been on the show before discussing ways to improve customer success and reduce churn. Int his episode, she’ll share insights into the importance of building trust and providing value to clients to foster long-term relationships.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Strategies to building trust and efficiency.

  • Understanding client needs.

  • Reviving client engagement.

  • The always & never exercise.

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2 Reasons Agencies Lose Clients

Client satisfaction and retention are crucial for any business and building trust through efficient service is a key way to grow your client base. In essence, there are two main reasons an agency may be losing clients:

1. Clients don’t understand the value your agency is providing, or

2. You’re bringing on the wrong agency clients.

To illustrate the impact of client satisfaction, Khushbu talks about the Delta 4 Framework, a way to rate client experiences that can be applied to products and services. Results of this framework will show your service’s efficiency, with a rating of four or above indicating that clients are unlikely to switch to a less efficient option. In the case of Uber versus traditional cabs, Uber's efficiency rating was eight, hinting that clients would rarely go back to using regular cabs.

Businesses can then keep track of their efficiency and rate themselves in terms of client satisfaction or a particular project. According to Khushbu, results from applying this framework should be met with the curiosity to find out “why” and what’s behind said results. If clients are unhappy with the service, why is that? The answers will help you define a roadmap to deal with those metrics.

Efficiency is not just about completing tasks quickly, but also about providing a seamless and effective experience for clients. When a service is efficient, clients are more likely to share it with others, leading to word-of-mouth recommendations and further growth for the business.

Understanding Client Needs and Tailoring Solutions for Success

Everyone brings a different set of expectations to the agency-customer relationship. Agencies should try to understand their clients’ pain points better. At E2M, they focus heavily on defining these pain points during the first client call and then tailor their offering to fit the solution that particular client needs.

For example, if a client lacks technical expertise, the agency can step in as a technical expert to provide the necessary support. If a client struggles with communication, the agency can act as a project manager or account manager to streamline communication processes and save the client time.

This approach is crucial in ensuring that clients save time and become more efficient, ultimately leading to a more successful and fruitful relationship between the agency and the client.

Furthermore, Khushbu highlights the importance of ongoing communication and follow-up with clients even after delivering a service. Checking in with them and ensuring the solutions provided meet clients’ needs and expectations helps the agency continue to build trust and strengthen the client relationship. It’s a proactive approach that not only helps retain clients but also establishes a reputation as a trusted and reliable partner.

Unlocking Agency Growth by Harnessing the Power of Existing Client Relationships

If you’re looking to elevate your agency's growth strategy, 70% of your success lies in your existing client base. It's all about deciphering the right metrics, tracking client health, and mastering the art of scaling relationships to ensure a seamless dance of value delivery and exceeding client expectations.

One of the main KPIs to track is the client retention ratio, which measures the percentage of clients that continue to work with the agency over time. Khushbu and her team take it a step further by categorizing clients into green, yellow, and red zones, unveiling insights that guide tailored strategies. From nurturing green advocates to championing red and yellow clients with extra attention, this personalized approach paves the way for sustained growth and client satisfaction.

Reviving Client Engagement with Success Stories & FOMO

Ever wondered how to rekindle the spark with clients who've gone MIA? It's a common fear — reaching out could lead to cancellations. Khushbu recommends approaching them with success stories, highlighting how they could be using their plan and the results they could be getting.

Try to stir that competitive spirit in them that says, “If this other client is getting these results why can’t I?” She describes it as creating FOMO around your services and the benefits they could be getting from the plan they’re already paying and it’s a way to be proactive in identifying and addressing challenges before they escalate.

Agencies must be more proactive about assessing the value they are providing to clients. Outsourced solutions may be seen as implementers or order takers, but Kushbu knows the importance of taking care of clients in a strategic way. By asking questions like "Are we delivering value?" and "What are the results we are actually delivering?" agencies can stay ahead of potential problems and ensure that they are meeting their clients' expectations.

Using ‘Always and Never’ to Train Your Agency Team to Deliver Exceptional Service

For Khushbu's team, client satisfaction is at the core of everything they do. But how do you ensure that your team is consistently delivering exceptional service? She has a few exercises up her sleeve that are game-changers.

One of her favorites is the "always and never" exercise – a simple yet powerful way to get everyone on the same page. Team members list out the things they always want clients to say about their service and the things they never want to hear. This exercise helps team members understand what clients expect from them and how they can work together to deliver exceptional service.

Once those lists are created, it's time to roll up their sleeves and get proactive. The team dives into contingency plans and potential solutions for any problems that could lead to client dissatisfaction. It's a preemptive strike against potential pitfalls. Additionally, Khushbu regularly asks team members the hardest problem they’ve solved for a client. This way, they’ll be more conscious when it comes to asking themselves “Am I solving the client’s problem right now?” It’s also a way to constantly capture client success stories.

With exercises like this, her team is primed to deliver exceptional experiences that keep clients coming back for more.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Khushbu_Doshi_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am MDT

Would you say your agency is like your baby? Could you be so emotionally attached to your business that you may be stifling its growth? Today’s guest will share his experience growing an agency and the turning points that allowed him to make real progress in its growth. From learning to communicate his agency's vision in a way that inspired buy-in to the surprising struggle of carving out space for a personal life amidst the chaos of entrepreneurship, his biggest challenge was letting go of the belief that he alone was the driving force behind its success. Tune in to learn his valuable lessons and tips for agency success.

Suken Shah is the owner of Envision Marketing, a digital agency that works with clients to find the right strategy that will them find success online. They mostly work with small businesses to help them build their website, SEO presence, and get more leads. Suken shares insights and stories from his 10 years of agency growth and the mindset shift required to see real agency growth. Tune in to learn his valuable lessons and tips for agency success.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The problem with calling your agency “your baby.”

  • Learning to communicate your worth.

  • The power of communication and transparency.

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Sponsors and Resources

Copper: This episode of Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Copper, a CRM solution built specifically for agencies that use Google Workspace. Its CRM integration works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar, and Drive, so you never have to switch tabs to add leads, track email conversations, find files, or manage tasks in your marketing or sales process. Head over to Copper.com/agencies and get a free trial just for Jason’s listeners!

Embracing the Entrepreneurial Leap & The Unexpected Realities of Agency Life 

Suken never had concrete plans to establish an agency. His journey into the world of digital marketing began when he was offered a teaching opportunity at the University of Nevada. Eager to excel in his new role, he delved into digital marketing, eventually formalizing his business as an LLC and initially running it as a side venture. He approached the transition from his corporate job with caution, gradually embracing the potential of his digital business as it gained traction.

As he embraced his new role as an entrepreneur, the most unexpected aspect of owning an agency was the sheer amount of effort required to build a team, attract and retain clients, and steer the business in the right direction. Suken was taken aback by the challenge of taking breaks and carving out personal time amidst the demands of the business.

Initially, he anticipated owning a business would allow him to maintain a similar income level as with his corporate job while having more free time. However, the reality was markedly different. As an agency owner, he found himself being the first to arrive and the last to leave, bearing the brunt of responsibility and often being the scapegoat for any misstep.

Driven by the fear of losing clients, Suken dedicated himself to client acquisition and business growth. His commitment to delivering exceptional results led to organic growth through client referrals, solidifying his agency's reputation.

The Problem with Calling an Agency “Your Baby”

Suken is still navigating the process of relinquishing control over certain tasks, acknowledging that it's a work in progress for him as a business owner. Delegating tasks used to be a struggle for him as he wanted things to be done a certain way. His agency, in many ways, has been like his 'baby', making it emotionally challenging to entrust control to others. This emotional attachment is a common experience among business owners who have poured their time, energy, and passion into nurturing the growth and success of their ventures.

After years of dedicated efforts to witness the gradual growth and success of an agency, it has become a source of immense pride. However, this attachment can sometimes lead to decisions being influenced by emotions rather than what is truly beneficial for the business's growth and success. Moreover, tying one's identity exclusively to the business can also impede growth by hindering the ability to delegate tasks and gain trust in the capabilities of a team. When a business owner views themselves as the sole driving force behind the agency's success, it may be challenging to empower team members and entrust them with greater responsibility.

Gary Vaynerchuk and VaynerMedia is a great example of how to do this right. He’s an incredibly successful agency owner, podcaster, and YouTuber yet he would most likely refer to himself as a creative and describe his qualities rather than define himself by what he’s doing at the moment.

Ultimately, building a successful agency requires a shift in mindset from being a hands-on entrepreneur to becoming a strategic leader. This transformation involves acknowledging one's strengths and weaknesses, delegating tasks, and empowering employees to take ownership of their responsibilities.

Quantifying Your Agency's Value Beyond Billable Hours

While having made progress in this area, Suken acknowledges he is still in the process of determining how to accurately price the agency's services based on the value they offer to clients. Quantifying the value of the services provided involves a deep dive into self-discovery and self-assessment and can be quite challenging, as it is a subjective process that evolves.

It is most likely inevitable to undercharge clients at some point and it did happen to Suken; however, through experience, client feedback, and a proven track record of success, agency owners can develop a better understanding of their worth and the impact they have on their clients' businesses.

An essential step in determining the agency's value is to begin tracking results. Whether it is revenue, leads, or website traffic, measuring metrics that are crucial to clients can effectively demonstrate the impact of the agency's work. This approach will assist in effectively communicating the agency's value and setting prices that align with this value. Suken began taking measurement more seriously around five years ago and has since become more disciplined and proactive in this aspect.

The Power of Communication and Transparency with Your Agency Team

Suken's top priority this year is to enhance agency communications, and he knows the work starts with him. He places great importance on actively engaging with team members and clients to ensure alignment and progress toward shared objectives. As part of this, he plans to conduct regular meetings and encourage team members to communicate extensively with clients through various channels.

Moreover, he advocates for transparency when it comes to addressing project challenges. He believes in openly discussing hurdles and potential issues with clients, rather than solely focusing on successes. He emphasizes the value of honest conversations, as he believes they can lead to effective solutions. Instead of the common practice of masking results or showcasing only positive outcomes, he believes that honest dialogue can foster trust and positive relationships with clients.

Furthermore, Suken's team has gotten better at preparing and communicating comprehensive plans to clients. They have established a thorough onboarding process, involving multiple team members in client meetings and documenting essential information to ensure everyone is aligned and working towards a common goal. This commitment to transparency and collaboration not only builds trust with clients but also sets the stage for the successful delivery of results.

Creating Effective Connections Strong Team Culture

Running a virtual agency, Suken is aware that building rapport virtually is not the easiest thing to do. Still, it can be effective in creating a sense of connection and understanding between parties. In any case, effective communication goes beyond just meeting in person. It also involves actively listening, showing empathy, and being present in conversations.

Furthermore, clients are becoming more aware of how technology can streamline processes and reduce costs, leading to a shift in expectations when it comes to meetings and communication. Being mindful of these changes and finding ways to leverage technology to improve efficiency will help agencies adapt to meet the needs of their clients while still delivering high-quality services.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Suken_Shah_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am MDT

As an agency owner, have you explored the possibilities of content creation? Has it proven effective in building an audience or generating leads? Today’s guest is an agency owner who has been writing books and collaborating with different publications for years. However, he finds that, for marketers, content doesn’t really bring a lot of leads. For him, it’s all about the credibility and trust you build through that content. He’ll discuss why content creation nowadays is all about credibility and learning to adapt to leverage new tools. He’ll also share why he chose an agency model that veered away from the more common use of RFPs and how it helped him tap into a well of talent waiting to find a meaningful job. Tune in to hear his thoughts regarding RFPs vs, referrals and the tools you should be leveraging in your content creation.

Scott Gillum is the founder and CEO of Carbon Design, a B2B marketing services firm that uses the power of audience insight to increase conversations, engagement, and revenue for clients. Scott shares how his agency has evolved its model to focus on efficiency and effectiveness for midsize companies by utilizing all contractors.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The agency model that helps you tap into a well of talent.

  • Moving away from RFPs.

  • Why content is KEY.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Building an Agency Model Around Work-Life Integration

Since his start in the industry, Scott has been always intrigued by engagement rates and frequently referred to Gallup’s data – a multinational analytics firm that conducts workplace consulting research – and found the results were frankly concerning. In the 25 years that Gallup has been measuring employee engagement rates, it has never been above 32%. Additionally, at least 15% of the surveyed employees felt actively disengaged.

Scott also worked as a management consultant for a while and observed people usually leave their jobs to attend to family life responsibilities like taking care of their kids or sick parent. He could see how much they struggled to balance both and ended up disappointed. Around this time, he was in conversations with an agency that offered him to work on a different and very meaningful project.

He pitched the idea to build a model that would allow an agency to tap into a well of talent looking for meaningful work but have to deal with the difficulties of being a main caretaker. “There are 5 million stay-at-home moms looking for meaningful work. It’s unused capacity we could tap into,” he explains.

The decision to engage solely with contractors also significantly influenced the agency’s operational approach. Scott notes they operate entirely on referrals, focusing on inbound leads and project-based work rather than traditional retainers. This is how his agency has operated for the past six years.

Referrals over RFPs: The Power of Building Relationships in Agency Business

In the agency world, one of the traditional approaches to acquiring clients involves responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs). These documents outline the client's requirements and ask agencies to submit proposals detailing how they would meet those needs. However, there is a growing trend among agencies to rely less and less on engaging in the RFP process. It’s a shift that highlights the power of building relationships and trust with clients, and the benefits that come with it.

In their six years operating, acquisition of business has been the hardest part for his agency. Being 100% referral-oriented, they don’t typically respond to RFPs, don’t believe in retainers, and focus exclusively on doing good project-oriented work, building trust, delivering quality work, and fostering long-term relationships with clients. Their goal is that clients are completely satisfied with the results and hire them again.

For agencies seeking to move away from RFPs, a potential approach could involve offering a reduced fee for a consultation to gain a better understanding of the prospect's needs. Spending at least one hour to build a tailored plan based on the client's input can demonstrate the agency's commitment. If the client approves the plan, they can choose to engage with the agency, or implement the plan themselves. If the client is dissatisfied, they receive a full refund.

How do you respond to an RFP? Watch this 2-min video for Jason Swenk’s answer.

Content is KEY:  From “Publish or Perish” to “Adapt or Die”

Writing, podcasting, and video creation are great lead generators in sales and things agency owners are encouraged to do to attract clients. However, as an author for several publications and books Scott finds that marketing is much more about building trust, establishing relationships, and ultimately driving business growth.

Content creation allows agencies to showcase their expertise, build credibility, and connect with their target audience on a deeper level. By consistently putting out valuable and engaging content, agencies can attract new clients, retain existing ones, and differentiate themselves from competitors. In Scott's case, he predominantly produces informative material based on client research and experience. Two additional ways for him to leverage his writing to build relationships could be to:

1. Approach industry experts for interviews, thereby enhancing audience trust and fostering connections, and

2. Take his research and advice to other formats like audio and video.

With the widespread popularity of audio podcasts and video content, it's crucial for agencies to adapt their content strategy to align with their audience's preferences. The emergence of AI tools that facilitate script creation and video editing underscores the need for agencies to be open to experimenting with new formats and embracing emerging technologies to remain relevant and competitive.

Establishing Trust Through Content: The Role of Credibility and Experience

With content creation becoming much more accessible thanks to AI tools, the other side of the coin is that a lot of bad content is thrown into the mix. According to Scott, some of this content is concerning because it has no knowledge or research to back it up. “We have a generation now that understands marketing tools but doesn’t understand marketing very well,” he says.

Credibility will make the difference between audiences more keen on either receiving well-researched facts or the opinion of a trusted source. In this sense, experience will play a crucial role in establishing credibility. The audience will typically look at someone’s practical experience in a particular field before offering opinions or advice. For instance, young life coaches who may not have experienced enough in life to truly understand and guide others will likely have low credibility compared to their more experienced counterparts.

Ultimately, credibility and experience go hand in hand when it comes to creating content. By combining a strong knowledge base with practical experience, content creators can establish themselves as trustworthy sources of information and opinions. This, in turn, helps build a loyal following and enhances the impact of their content.

AI Tools You Should Check Out in 2024

AI tools have been ubiquitous in the past year, and this year promises even more potential for those in the industry looking to leverage their capabilities. Scott utilizes widely used tools such as ChatGPT 4 and has recently partnered with Cassidy, a company that offers AI tools for website content creation and image generation, which can also aid in brainstorming. Scott finds that other tools frequently require updates, leading to the need for continuous adjustments to yield accurate results. In this sense, Cassidy seamlessly integrates with G Suite, allowing it to analyze files, proposals, emails, and more to facilitate content creation.

This type of AI tool can be extremely beneficial for small business owners and agency owners who are juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities. With the right information, AI tools like Cassidy learn from you, work for you and can help content creators save time and effort by automating certain processes and getting assistance in pulling relevant information from past projects. Will AI replace agencies? No — and learning to efficiently use these tools opens a lot of doors.

Overall, Scott remains optimistic about the potential of AI tools to be additive rather than replacing human workers. He emphasizes that AI tools can assist teams in finding past project work, pulling relevant information, and overall making the job easier for content creators.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Scott_Gillum_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am MDT

Are you fed up with the revenue roller coaster? Ready to get off and build an agency business model focused on sustainable profits? Maybe you’ve heard the saying "revenue is vanity and profit is sanity.” Our featured guest today experienced significant sustainable growth after breaking free from the “revenue trap.” By shifting the focus from revenue to the bottom line, he saw a remarkable shift, leading to financial stability and long-term sustainability. Listen or read to discover how this agency owner navigated through adversity, turned his business around, and expanded his team to more than 700 members.

Robert Berkeley is the co-founder of EKCS, a creative agency specializing in turning ideas into multiple assets. His team works with brands, agencies, and media companies as an extended team that helps them overcome creative production challenges, gain efficiencies, and improve ROI. Robert shares insights on partnership dynamics, dealing with negative people, and the importance of course correction when a business is heading in the wrong direction.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The key to partnership longevity.

  • Escaping the revenue trap.

  • Balancing client acquisition and retention for manageable agency growth.

Subscribe

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Sponsors and Resources

Copper: This episode of Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Copper, a CRM solution built specifically for agencies that use Google Workspace. Its CRM integration works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar, and Drive, so you never have to switch tabs to add leads, track email conversations, find files, or manage tasks in your marketing or sales process. Head over to Copper.com/agencies and get a free trial just for Jason’s listeners!

The Key of Partnership Longevity: Respect, Trust, and Value Alignment

Despite their different styles and personalities, Robert and his partner work very well together thanks to a shared set of values and mutual respect. For Robert, their differences mean they can be great in the sum of their parts, which has been proved time and time again over twenty years together.

Business partnerships really are like marriages and their success often hinges on respect and trust between the individuals involved. Without respect, there’s no trust, and without trust there’s no way to make it work. In their case, Robert and his partner have a fundamental desire to maintain that respect, which keeps them from overstepping boundaries and helps make decisions that align with their shared values.

In their partnership, all major decisions are taken together and they would never make a key hire or approve any major move without the other’s knowledge. This allows them to communicate honestly and have each other’s back if those decisions don’t go as planned. When there is respect in a partnership, there is a willingness to listen, compromise, and work together towards common goals.

Navigating Declines in the Industry and Pivoting to Profitability

With two decades of experience in the industry, Robert and his partner have weathered their fair share of setbacks and missteps. One of the biggest examples of this happened around their third year in business. They hadn’t quite broken through and did not have authority in the industry. Desperate for business, they eagerly pursued any opportunity that came their way.

Their initial foray into Google Ads led to a promising prospect in the form of a newspaper, which seemed like a solid bet at the time. Being good at what they did, they succeeded where others failed. However, the newspaper industry's rapid decline soon rendered their services obsolete, forcing them to reevaluate this niche.

After refocusing their efforts and downsizing the business by approximately 20%, they successfully navigated through challenging times. Seeking new avenues to leverage their skills, Robert recognized the potential in serving markets that prioritized quality over price, leading them to collaborate with creative teams. Many agencies and brands have creative teams but lack the resources or desire to manage production in-house due to fluctuating demands or limited creative capabilities. This became their main target and the right formula for his agency’s growth.

Why Focusing on Revenue is a MISTAKE

Looking back, Robert realizes that before pivoting, he and his team were overly focused on chasing profits rather than prioritizing revenue, which turned out to be a regrettable mistake. As the agency expanded, it became tempting to chase top-line dollar and assume that the costs would take care of themselves. However, focusing on profit means prioritizing the bottom line and ensuring that the business is financially stable and sustainable, making strategic decisions to maximize profitability and minimize costs.

One key lesson Robert shares is the importance of forecasting and planning for growth. By closely monitoring predicted revenue and aligning all departments within the company, including finance, operations, HR, and technology, his agency anticipated their needs and made informed decisions about hiring and resource allocation. This approach ensured that when a client required 20 or 30 people, finance was aware of the impact and costs, and HR was prepared to start recruitment.

Having a system in place ensures that new business won’t overwhelm the agency and prepares the business for growth without being caught off guard by sudden changes in demand. Robert also learned the importance of embracing CRM tools. Many agencies underutilize their CRM systems, missing out on valuable insights and growth opportunities. Rather than treating it as a glorified rolodex, investing time and effort into configuring and optimizing your CRM system can fully leverage its capabilities.

Pro tip: After many years of mocking the idea of having a business coach, now Robert says he wouldn’t do without one and it’s a move he highly recommends to all agency owners.

Setting Manageable Agency Growth by Balancing Client Acquisition and Retention 

In recent years, his agency’s efforts to build a more sustainable operation have led them to focus on a more customer-led approach to service delivery, instead of an operations-led approach, which supports their growth mission.

Looking ahead, Robert believes a 20% to 30% growth rate allows them to grow successfully and sustainably while maintaining their EBITDA and continue providing a great service for clients.

If you have a similar goal, remember it's crucial to consider churn when setting growth targets. Despite the agency's success in retaining most clients over the past four years, Robert acknowledges the impact of churn. For instance, if the agency plans to add $1 million but loses $200K due to churn, plan for $1.2 million growth instead.

Furthermore, it's essential to allocate a budget not only to acquiring new business but also to nurturing existing client relationships. Upon reviewing their client portfolio, Robert recognized the untapped potential for providing additional value. The agency is now actively working on demonstrating to clients how they can further benefit from the relationship to achieve their business objectives.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Robert_Berkeley_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am MDT

When was the last time you stepped back to evaluate whether your agency's strategy is truly aligned with your core mission and values? Is your team buying into the overall vision? Are they motivated and understand their role in the vision? If not, it’s time you start integrating vision and strategy for more effective results. Today’s guest has set himself the mission of saving small businesses from failure by teaching them how to combine their vision with effective strategy. He thinks agency owners should think about strategy a lot sooner to avoid moving blindly with no particular purpose in sight. In t his episode, you’ll learn how having a clear vision statement can motivate your team and drive growth.

Jimmy Newson is the founder of Moving Forward Small Business, a membership-based organization that helps businesses grow and achieve their goals through practical and actionable advice. As a business and growth strategy consultant, Jimmy has worked with organizations of all sizes, but his specialty lies in working with small businesses and entrepreneurs. Jimmy is also a contributor and member of Leadership Network with Entrepreneur.com, where he shares his expertise on small business management and growth.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Integrating strategy for clearer and more effective results.

  • Why you should rethink and adapt your strategy.

  • Building a purpose-driven 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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Strategy Can SAVE Small Businesses

At his organization, Jimmy’s ultimate goal is to save one million small businesses from failure by 2050. Why small businesses? According to Jimmy, 99% of businesses in the United States are small businesses and the failure rate among them is alarmingly high. “You have to start questioning why that is,” he says.

Jimmy's personal experiences have given him a deep understanding of small businesses' challenges. Despite working with large organizations, he deliberately maintains a small team and leverages available technology to bridge the gaps. His goal is to empower small businesses to thrive by implementing effective strategies that ensure financial success and long-term sustainability.

Is a clear vision enough to create this sustainability? Jimmy highlights the need to create a business plan that aligns with your vision, mission, and purpose. He also stresses the need for a strategy that outlines the rules of engagement and guides decision-making. This strategy will become the guiding force that will keep the organization on track and allow business owners to make decisions that align with their vision and mission.

Once established, new opportunities for your business should always be examined under the guise of “Does this align with my strategy?” By aligning opportunities with their strategy, business owners can ensure they are moving in the right direction and avoiding potential pitfalls.

Is it Time to RETHINK Your Strategy?

Most agency owners start out being good at something – whether Google ads, website building, etc. – However, once they step into the role of entrepreneur, they encounter various unfamiliar aspects of the business. “You don’t have to be good at all these things,” Jimmy clarifies, “but you have to be aware of them.” It’s about figuring out how to address these aspects of business without shouldering them on your own, which would probably not provide the best results.

The logical step is to hire a team and start delegating tasks. However, before that be sure to build a strategy that provides a path to reduce uncertainty around the future of your business. By developing a roadmap for their business, agency owners can navigate challenges and obstacles with greater ease.

Additionally, Jimmy suggests reevaluating and revising the strategy regularly to evolve and refine your vision and strategy and thus adapt to changing market conditions.

Building a Purpose-Driven Team to Cultivate Employee Motivation and Commitment

Once you’ve established and integrated a strategy into your agency’s mission and vision, how do you get people joining your organization to buy into that vision? They should be aware that their role isn't just a job; it's a mission fueled by the agency's core values. This is the power of having a compelling "why" behind your agency's vision.

As Jimmy emphasizes, people aren't just motivated by products or services; they crave purpose. When employees believe in the organization’s mission and values, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to their work.

Having a strong "why" behind the agency's goals can help employees self-validate their reasons for being there. This sense of purpose not only benefits them but also the organization as a whole.

As a leader, it's your responsibility to provide employees with the necessary tools and support for success, while highlighting the significance of their work. Helping them see the bigger picture and understand how their contributions make a difference will significantly boost their motivation.

This is a key lesson that Jimmy learned the hard way, leading him to now refer to key team members as stakeholders. To him, a stakeholder is anyone associated with your organization who should be aware of their importance in its mission and purpose.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Jimmy_Newson_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am MDT

Is your agency leveraging CRMs to tailor personalized client experiences and nurture long-term client relationships? Are you tracking customer interactions from first message to delivery? In the dynamic world of agency-client interactions, CRM tools play a pivotal role in streamlining operations and enhancing customer experiences. Today’s guest has made customer satisfaction his focus even since his start as a graphic designer and now offers a CRM system designed specifically with agencies in mind. Tune in to learn valuable insights on client management and relationship-building strategies for agencies.

Steve Holm is the CEO of Copper, a CRM company that helps agencies track clients from initial interest to project delivery. He discusses the importance of building better relationships with clients and shares his background as a graphic designer and his experience in digital product development.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How design can translate to customer value.

  • Crafting a success path for designers at your agency.

  • How to effectively use CRM to navigate customer relationships.

  • One CRM designed specifically for agencies.

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Understanding How Design Can Translate to Customer Value

Steve's journey began as a graphic designer, crafting yearbooks for elementary schools using InDesign. He then transitioned to digital design at an agency collaborating with Facebook on feature and product development. Through his network of industry connections, Steve ventured into partnerships with various companies, eventually assuming a leadership role in product management.

His background in design and product management equipped Steve with the skills to create a vision and roadmap for his company based on the impact they aim to have on customers.

Since the beginning, Steve has seen that design can directly impact customer satisfaction and, as a result, business success. To him, the most important thing to keep in mind as you design is “what is the value this is giving to customers and how can I make a connection between my design and the value they’re receiving?” Making this connection leads to increased revenue or reduced turnover.

In his view, this approach translated well into the role of CEO, as he understood the significance of prioritizing customers, designing with the end consumer in mind, and working backward to the technology, rather than starting with the technology and trying to sell it. It’s a philosophy very similar to that of Steve Jobs, who believed in designing products that cater to the needs and desires of customers.

Establishing a Clear Path to Success for Designers at Your Agency

As a designer who eventually transitioned to management roles, Steve knows that trajectory depends on the person. Throughout his professional journey, he has strived to elevate the role of design within strategic discussions to provide more avenues for designers to find fulfillment.

Establishing a clear career path for designers, encompassing both technical expertise and management responsibilities, is crucial for retaining top talent. However, not all designers aspire to or are suited for managerial positions; some excel as creatives and prefer to stay in that role. The problem is that in certain organizations managerial roles are perceived as the sole route for designers to have a significant impact on the broader vision.

At his organization, Steve focused on granting design a strategic role in project development. Addressing the issue of impact makes it easier to understand a designer's motivations for role transitions, their objectives, and how to support their success.

When designers only see themselves getting ahead by moving into manager roles, Steve perceives it as a flaw in company operations. Designers should have more participation in strategic decisions. By exposing them to the right conversations and strategies, agencies can leverage their expertise to drive innovation and create customer-centric solutions.

Navigating Your Agency’s Customer Relationships with CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a crucial aspect of any business and, as such, agencies should provide world-class relationship building across every touchpoint in the customer journey. It’s the way to engage prospects and close more deals, as well as, retain existing clients to grow those accounts.

With ten years of experience in CRM and looking at it from end to end Steve believes it’s important to provide the utmost quality at every step of the process. How are you engaging with customers from the moment they reach out? How are you interacting? Are you making sure to get feedback on what went well and what can be improved post-interaction? The right answers to these questions will help you remarket and grow your business from existing clients.

For Steve, a key practice in this process is to have a CRM that tracks all these interactions, documents, and tasks for the post-sales, and project delivery stages all in one place, as well as trying to automate as much as you can. Automating relationship building at scale will allow you to improve overall efficiency across the customer journey.

Two Key Aspects to Get Better Results from Your CRM System

The main problem with CRM is data integrity because it is only as good as the data you put into it. Do you have the right data in the system? Without accurate and up-to-date data, the CRM system becomes ineffective and may lead to missed opportunities or miscommunication with clients. In this sense, Steve recommends automating data entry and integration with other tools such as email and calendar platforms to ensure your CRM system remains reliable and useful for managing customer relationships.

Another key aspect of using CRM effectively is customization. Different businesses have unique workflows and processes, so it is essential to have a CRM system that can be easily customized to fit specific needs. This includes setting up multiple pipelines for different types of customers or projects, and being able to adjust and tweak the system as needed to align with changing business requirements.

The CRM Designed Specifically for Agencies

Copper CRM, Steve’s business, recently reset their focus to relationship-intensive businesses, such as agencies, consulting firms, and financial services, which rely heavily on building and maintaining strong relationships with their clients, rather than focusing on high-volume leads and deals.

Copper serves as both a CRM and project management system, which sets it apart from similar businesses. This integration allows clients to seamlessly track the entire client relationship, from pre-sales to post-sales, in one tool.

With Copper, agencies can focus on growing their business knowing their CRM is set up for success.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Steve_Holm_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

How do you prioritize between family time and business responsibilities as an entrepreneur and parent? How is that balancing act working out for you? Being an agency owners and a parent can be a bit of a mess and there’s no magic formula to balancing parenthood and being an agency CEO. For some parents, this means a lot of guilt about not spending enough quality time with their kids or not being 100% focused during family hours. Today’s guest started her entrepreneurship journey while eight months pregnant and has been constantly learning ever since. She’ll share some of the boundaries she’s learned to uphold to protect her family and rest time. She also explains why hiring was a daunting but key step towards improving both her personal and business life.

Audra Brehm is the owner of Brehm Media, a social media marketing agency focused on the beauty and fashion industry. She’s been on the podcast before talking about raising agency prices and why it does not scare away the right clients.

As a business owner and a mother, Audra discusses the challenges of balancing life and work, going back to starting her agency while eight months pregnant and learning to embrace imperfection. Tune in to hear insights on making it work and finding success in business while navigating the demands of family life.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The boundaries need to balance motherhood and being an agency CEO.

  • Embracing imperfection to find work/life balance.

  • how hiring the right team will set you free.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

The Balancing Act of Being a Mom and an Agency CEO

Balancing work and family is a common struggle for many individuals, especially for moms running their businesses. Audra jumped into the adventure of being a business owner while still eight months pregnant with her second child.

It was not exactly her plan. Freshly moving to Colorado and interviewing for jobs, she was presented with the choice to either relocate to Florida for work or start her own consulting firm with that brand as her first client. Being a self-declared bad employee, the possibility of becoming a business owner appealed to her even while eight months pregnant and she jumped at the opportunity.

Although excited about launching her business post-baby, managing both her business and family proved to be a challenging task. Many working moms grapple with the fear of neglecting their families while pursuing their professional goals. The initial years were particularly demanding for Audra as her business demanded a significant amount of her time. Over time, she learned to prioritize her time commitments alongside her financial objectives. Failing to uphold self-imposed time boundaries can lead to feeling torn between family and business responsibilities. Now she has non-negotiable boundaries such as being present during weekends or after a certain hour.

Does this mean she advises postponing starting a family until after establishing your agency? No. There’ll never be a perfect time to have kids, just like there’s never a perfect time to start a business. Audra’s advice is to stop pushing things off and just treat both with care. If you aspire to have a family and run an agency, you will find a way to strike a balance. It's a challenging juggling act that requires diving in and taking action rather than waiting for the ideal moment.

Finding Work/Life Balance Through Delegation and Goal Setting

Like Audra, many agency owners experience the guilt and stress that often come with trying to juggle both family and business. She’s found the way to be present in both aspects of life is to set clear boundaries. She has also learned to delegate tasks, set goals, and communicate with her children about the demands of her work. This open communication has allowed her to involve her children in her business and help them understand the importance of her work.

Similarly, Audra prioritizes quality time with her husband, who also serves as her COO. They have intentionally set aside dedicated hours each week to simply enjoy each other's company without discussing work or family matters. This practice helps them nurture their relationship beyond their roles as parents and business partners, preventing burnout from an exclusive focus on work.

Of course, accepting imperfection will also be key to finding peace as you try to balance both worlds. Audra believes even the smartest and most successful people have figured it all out yet. It’s a real struggle to maintain a good family life, be an engaged significant other, and have a successful business all at the same time.

It’s a grind all the time and it’s okay to acknowledge that,” she says.

As a mom and a business owner, Audra knows giving herself grace and recognizing that it is okay to make mistakes or fall short is not only ok, it’s essential.

Hiring, Firing, and Finding the Right Employees to Set You Free

One of the key lessons Audra strives to impart to her kids is that you don't have to wait until retirement to start living life to the fullest. It's possible to build a thriving business while raising a family - the key is learning to find joy in the journey, through both the highs and inevitable lows.

Will there be challenging days where you feel stretched thin as a manager and parent? Absolutely. But there will also be triumphs when everything clicks into place. The path is about embracing the ebb and flow.

For Audra, one of the biggest game-changers in her work-life integration has been making the right hires, even if it represents an initial financial strain. Once intimidated by the prospect of expanding her team, she can attest that leaping to bring on supportive talent was one of the best decisions for her agency's growth and her own sanity.

With around 15 employees now, Audra can step away trusting her team will handle everything. "Are we the biggest agency? No. But I can walk away and come back without anything going up in flames," she remarks.

Of course, building a solid team is an ever-evolving process. It requires having the humility to learn from hiring missteps, the courage to make staffing adjustments when someone isn't the right fit, and the wisdom to provide learning opportunities that unlock each person's potential. By staying open-minded, nimble, and committed to continuous improvement, agency leaders can assemble a talented crew that propels the business forward while enabling a sustainable work-life balance.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Audra_Brehm_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am MDT

Gary Vaynerchuk and Steve Jobs both became the face of their brand, but could this marketing strategy cost you when it’s time to sell your agency?  How can you avoid becoming the brand to build a ‘sellable’ agency? Today’s guest is an entrepreneur who has successfully started and sold four businesses. He discusses the value of personal brands in relation to company success and delves into the challenges faced by service companies in building assets compared to tech or SaaS startups. Tune in to learn about common mistakes made by agency owners when considering selling their businesses and the pitfalls of an obsession with scale.

John Warrillow is the founder and CEO of The Value Builder System, a sales and marketing software for business advisors to find, win and keep their best clients. In addition to having started and exited four companies, John is the best-selling author, Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to add value to your agency.

  • Build a ‘sellable’ agency.

  • Equity rolls vs. earn-outs.

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Sponsors and Resources

Copper: This episode of Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Copper, a CRM solution built specifically for agencies that use Google Workspace. Its CRM integration works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar, and Drive, so you never have to switch tabs to add leads, track email conversations, find files, or manage tasks in your marketing or sales process. Head over to Copper.com/agencies to get a free trial just for Jason’s listeners!

How Businesses Fall into the Revenue Pitfall

Agency owners and service-based businesses often fall into the trap of overvaluing their companies when considering selling them. This common mistake is rooted in their relentless pursuit of growth and expansion. As a public, we tend to idolize big companies as opposed to good companies. This can turn into an obsession that leads agency owners to focus solely on increasing revenue, rather than building systems and processes that can make the business less dependent on the owners and founders.

This fixation on growth typically results in rainmakers focusing predominantly on their sales expertise, which, while driving business growth, also increases dependence on the founders. Paradoxically, this dependence diminishes the overall value of the business. For John, the obsession with growth does agencies a great disservice by creating a culture of focusing solely on revenue.

Consequently, businesses become so intertwined with the owner's presence that they essentially create a job for themselves rather than an asset that can thrive independently. This realization can be a bitter pill to swallow for many agency owners, especially when they recognize that their ego often drives these attitudes. By subscribing to the notion portrayed in "Mad Men" that their primary role is that of the charismatic pitchperson, they inadvertently create successful jobs rather than valuable assets.

An Easy Method to Add Value to Your Agency

So how can you avoid the revenue pitfall? John recommends agency owners take their CEO hat off from time to time and replace it with that of the parent of the business. In this sense, rather than micromanaging employees to hit revenue goals, empower them to take ownership of their work. They will feel greater pride and engagement, enabling the agency to thrive with or without you.

By prioritizing long-term sustainability you can increase your agency’s value and make it more attractive to potential buyers. It's not just about winning big clients or receiving accolades, but about creating a valuable asset that can stand the test of time.

John also introduces the concept of assessing agency services according to how "teachable, valuable, repeatable" (TVR) they are to make strategic business decisions based on this. The TVR framework encourages agency owners to assess each service based on how teachable it is to their team, how valuable it is in terms of differentiation from competitors, and how repeatable it is in terms of recurring revenue.

According to John, aency owners should focus on services that score high on all three criteria, as these are the services that will ultimately lead to a more sustainable and scalable business. This is not necessarily easy. Getting rid of some low-scoring services may mean walking away from 90% of your revenue. If this is your case, you can jettison the lowest-scoring services at least once a year.

Striking the Right Balance as an Agency CEO

Building a business that can run without you and that you can eventually sell will also require you to make the transition from agency owner to CEO. This means assuming different roles like setting the vision for the agency, being the face of the organization, understanding the financials, and coaching and mentoring the leadership team.

Personally, John disagrees with Peter Drucker’s notion that the two key functions that a CEO should focus on are product development and sales/marketing. In the context of an agency, the CEO should prioritize activities that drive revenue and attract new clients. “If you’re doing those two functions, your business is worthless without you” he argues.

CEOs who are too public-facing and personally branded may undermine the value of their agency when it comes time to sell. This is because potential buyers may view a highly visible CEO as a risk factor, leading to a larger portion of the deal being tied to an earn-out agreement. Therefore, CEOS need to strike a balance between being the face of the organization and focusing on the core functions of sales and marketing.

How to Avoid Becoming the Brand: Tips for Becoming a “Sellable” Agency

Would VaynerMedia continue to thrive without Gary Vaynerchuk? Just like Apple continued to grow without Steve Jobs, the most important element of that business is Gary’s framework and methodology. What people like Steve and Gary did very well in each case is that the brand supersedes the individual.

In Gary’s case, many people might not realize who he is as a creator or tie VaynerMedia to him. In any case, building a powerful brand that can grow even in your absence is all about branding processes and not just people. Of course, a strong personal brand can be beneficial but it is also essential to establish the processes that drive the business. By doing so, agencies can create value beyond the individual personalities of their founders or leaders.

For agency owners who include their name in the agency name, John suggests branding the processes; for instance, “3 things we do before onboarding a new client”. Codify and brand these processes to create a more valuable and attractive asset for potential buyers. This way, agencies can demonstrate a level of consistency and professionalism that goes beyond any individual's involvement in the business.

By establishing and branding the processes that drive the business, agencies can create value that is sustainable and transferable, ultimately leading to long-term growth and success. It’s something you can do in stages and could take 2 or 3 years complete. It’s an important element of reducing dependency on individual personalities and create a more valuable and attractive asset for potential buyers.

Equity Rolls vs. Earnouts: One of these will cost you MILLIONS

The classic way an agency is sold is you get approached by the buyer who says they’re willing to pay X multiple for it. However, once you take a closer look at that price, it’s really 40% upfront, with the other 60% tied to an elaborate earn-out component where you become an employee of another agency.

Alternatively, John highlights how private equity companies are increasingly doing "roll-ups" to consolidate agencies, especially in ad tech and tech-enabled services. In an equity roll deal, the seller gets some cash upfront but rolls the remaining amount into an equity stake in the entity owning the agency. This provides pros and cons compared to an earn-out model and gives owners more control over the transition.

Equity rolls like majority recapitalizations allow owners to sell just a portion of their shares to receive some liquidity. This payout offers financial stability to pay off debts or invest elsewhere while still having skin in the game to take risks growing the agency. However, selling a majority stake means giving up decision-making control. Owners must be comfortable with a new role and adapt to having outside stakeholders that may bring conflicting interests, especially regarding earn-outs or integrating services across divisions.

For its part, an earn-out means you’ll lose control of the agency, so be aware of the potential pitfalls of this structure. Instead, Jason suggests a different approach where the seller prioritizes receiving cash upfront and maintains control over the company until the earn-out or period of time is completed. This gives the seller more agency in the sale process and reduces the risk of losing control over their business.

All in all, as a seller, be aware of what the acquirer is trying to do, their motivations, and how that aligns with what you want to determine whether or not an earn-out makes sense for you.

Prepare Yourself Against the Potential Pitfalls of Acquisitions

There are potential pitfalls in agency acquisitions and it’s important to be cautious when considering selling or merging with another agency. Typically, as a seller, you have to be aware of the fact that you’re becoming a minority shareholder and giving up entrepreneurship for a job. Just be vigilant and protect your interests.

Do your due diligence when considering an acquisition and thoroughly evaluate the potential buyer and ensure that the terms of the deal are fair and beneficial to the agency. Furthermore, be wary of offers that may seem enticing on the surface but could ultimately result in a loss of control or value for the agency.

The most important way you can protect yourself is to understand the true value of your agency before entering into any acquisition agreements. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by promises of high valuations or potential growth opportunities without thoroughly evaluating the risks and potential drawbacks of the deal and ensure that all parties involved in the acquisition are aligned in terms of goals, vision, and values to avoid potential conflicts down the line.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: John_Warrillow_Audio.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Do you have enough of an appetite for risk to trigger exponential agency growth? Have you considered strategic partnerships as a growth strategy? Today’s guest changed the music scene for entrepreneurship and managed to grow his agency from $2 million to $16 million in just two years. How’d he do it? After getting past common initial struggles like developing sales and hiring the right people, he focused on strategic partnerships and found the right formula to scale his marketing agency. Tune in to learn from his incredible growth story and strategic approach to agency success.

Alex Rossman is the owner of Rossman Media, a socially led digital marketing agency that serves brands of all sizes to help them grow online, with a particular focus on social media. Rossman’s award-winning team is positioned for global expansion. He discusses the importance of having an appetite for risk and thinking long-term about company growth.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Learning when to hire employees.

  • 8Xing a digital marketing agency.

  • How to minimize the risks in an agency acquisition.

Subscribe

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

When to Hire Employees For Your Agency

Alex started out as a musician and was actually signed by a record label and touring at some point, all while maintaining a corporate job. However, the corporate job was draining and the music gigs weren’t profitable so he needed another way to balance his creative side while using his experience with sales and marketing. This led to his start in the agency world back in 2017.

Over seven years of steering his agency, Alex pinpoints hiring as his biggest challenge. Though his hands-on experience gave him insight into each role's requirements, finding candidates who could confidently take the reins proved difficult. Like many founders, Alex struggled to prioritize - should he start by beefing up sales or operations?

Eager to scale rapidly, Alex also fell into the common trap of over-hiring. Buoyed by high growth, he staffed up quickly rather than strategically. Soon he was building the plane while flying it, scrambling to course-correct profitability and organization.

To surmount hiring hurdles, agency owners need self-awareness around strengths, weaknesses, and business stage. Rather than focusing on rapid growth alone, smart hiring means filling gaps with experts who complement the existing team. This prevents overstretching capabilities and sets an achievable path for sustainable scaling.

Looking back, Alex wishes he balanced ambition with patience. Hiring is never easy, but by aligning roles and capabilities to the agency's most pressing needs, founders can build a thriving team equipped for the long-haul.

Centering the Utilization Rate to Increase Agency Success

Having learned from over-hiring missteps, Alex now centers his growth strategy on utilization rate and team optimization - two pivotal aspects for agency success. By closely tracking utilization, he ensures his team effectively spends time on client work, driving productivity and profitability. Now, Alex and the team rate incoming leads as high, medium, and low, which plays into how they decide to hire based on the amount of work they’ll have in the coming months.

Focusing on high-impact tasks and leveraging each team member's strengths, or "superpower," will also help you ensure you’re optimizing team performance and maximizing productivity. This approach not only benefits the agency but also serves the individual team members by allowing them to excel in their roles and contribute to the company's success.

Moreover, with an adaptable mindset, Alex continuously reevaluates team efficiency as the agency evolves. Assessing performance, identifying improvement areas, and adjusting roles over time is key. This may involve revisiting responsibilities, offering training, or reallocating resources to tap the highest potential impact.

8Xing HisAgency in Just Two Years

The driving force behind the remarkable growth of his agency lies in strategic acquisitions. As the agency owner, Alex has diligently focused on enhancing services for clients and nurturing relationships with both clients and employees. Additionally, he dons his investor hat to assess the industry's current fragmented landscape. Recognizing an opportunity, Alex leveraged mergers and acquisitions to bring on board companies that not only aligned with the agency's culture but also addressed operational gaps.

In 2022, their pivotal acquisition involved the purchase of a complementary social media agency, a move that facilitated horizontal integration and bolstered the management team with fresh talent and clientele. Buoyed by this success, they have subsequently completed three more acquisitions, significantly fueling their expansion.

The Required Mindset Shift for Explosive Growth

In the competitive agency world, organic growth hovers around 10% and, for Alex, thriving in this environment requires embracing a new mindset that welcomes calculated risks. For this, agency owners must step back from day-to-day operations and chart a course for where they envision their company in the next five years. This long-term perspective is essential for pinpointing growth opportunities and forging strategic partnerships that can propel the agency to new heights.

In light of this, Alex initiated discussions with agencies he had built strong relationships with over the years, exploring potential mergers. His approach was all about identifying the right agencies to acquire that align with his goals and values.

Successful mergers and acquisitions can yield numerous benefits, such as bolstering the management team, expanding the customer base, and venturing into new industries.

Of course, strategic acquisitions will also require agencies to assess the potential risks. “Do not think that you’re just buying a company to multiply your company by two or three,” Alex advises. Factor in potential setbacks like employee and client retention issues to better prepare for the challenges that may come with integrating a new agency into their existing operations.

Trying the Acquisition Growth Strategy? Minimize the Risks

For agency owners considering the acquisition growth strategy, Alex suggests starting small to minimize risk with the initial deal. In his experience, they began by acquiring a small lifestyle business with strong client retention and a vision that aligned with their agency's goals. Subsequently, they progressed to larger acquisitions with the second and third deals.

By effectively integrating and expanding these smaller acquisitions, the agency can confidently pursue larger opportunities. For funding, Alex eventually explored debt financing to support growth beyond what the agency's profits could sustain. This allowed them to secure the necessary capital for larger acquisitions and expedite growth. However, it's important to exercise caution when taking on debt and avoid personal guarantees to mitigate financial risks.

Agency Integration: How to Succeed after Mergers and Acquisitions

The hardest part of agency growth through acquisitions is not the buying process, but rather the integration and scaling of the acquired agencies. Successful integration requires careful planning, clear communication, and a focus on aligning processes, systems, and cultures. You don’t want to come in and suddenly change everything that made that agency what it was.

Alex advises against quick changes and instead embraces the existing culture, systems, and processes of the acquired agency. Don’t rush into making changes that could disrupt the organization. Instead, take the time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the acquired agency, identify key personnel and clients, and create a timeline for integration that can lead to a smoother and more successful transition.

In this sense, having a dedicated team or individual responsible for integration can also be beneficial. Alex handles some of these tasks and then hands them off to his directors. However, he’s planning to turn this into a dedicated role and have someone focused on identifying synergies, streamlining operations, and ensuring a successful transition for both parties involved. By having someone dedicated to integration, agencies can avoid overloading existing leadership teams and ensure that the process is given the attention and resources it deserves.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: How_Alex_Rossman_8xed_his_Agency_in_2_Years___Ep_677.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Would your agency keep running and growing if you had to take a month off tomorrow? Or would it all fall apart? Which systems could you start implementing right now to keep this from happening? Today’s guest went through difficult times last year and his focus wasn’t fully in the business. These struggles proved to be too much for a recent purchase, which he had admittedly rushed; as that acquisition started falling apart and becoming a burden, it started to take a toll on mental health. In the end, he had to sell. Now he thinks carefully about the processes and systems that must be in place in case of an emergency. Tune in to learn how he navigates his agency to allow himself time to focus on the things that are more important than money.

Robert Lee is the owner of Lesix Media, a real estate-focused agency that thrives on doubling clients’ productivity, sales, and marketing through innovative frameworks. Robert discusses his experience buying and transforming an agency that now focuses on helping real estate professionals, commercial roofers, political candidates, and organizations. He shares insights on finding a consistent path to growth and how setting up the right systems will allow you to take care of your mental health.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to use direct email to leave a lasting impression.

  • Avoid regret by trusting your gut.

  • More important than money: prioritizing mental health.

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Sponsors and Resources

Copper: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Copper, a CRM solution built specifically for agencies that use Google Workspace. Its CRM integration works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar, and Drive, so you never have to switch tabs to add leads, track email conversations, find files, or manage tasks in your marketing or your sales process. Head over to Copper.com/agencies to learn more and get a free trial.

From Young Freelancer to Entrepreneur Needing the Structure of an Agency  

Robert has been working with political candidates and organizations for around fifteen years. Starting as a freelancer who thought he could do it all, his understanding of what an agency was grew with experience. The more he learned, the more he appreciated the structure and organization needed to truly succeed. This wish to become a more formal and organized business was the idea behind his plan of buying into a direct mail agency. It was a natural transition after fifteen years in the business to grow a team and have a business he could grow.

In the end, he didn’t just buy into an agency but outright purchased one. They were one of his vendors around 2017 and it was actually a long process to complete. He already had the political marketing business and had plans to transition that business from just fulfilling mail projects to becoming a full-service agency.

Using Direct Mail to Leave a Lasting Impression

His agency currently focuses on helping political candidates and organizations spread their message. However, up until six months ago they were all about direct mail and were responsible for a lot of junk mail for real estate agents and commercial roofers. For Robert, direct mail may get a lot of hate but it can be impactful in a variety of ways. “You don’t have to use direct mail for everything, but don’t count it out,” he argues.

Personally, he favors sending obnoxiously large pieces because there are a lot ways to make it really creative and get people’s attention. It’s important to think outside the box when it comes to designing and executing direct mail pieces and there’s a lot of space for impactful designs, such as die-cut pieces and pop-up elements that leave a lasting impression.

Avoiding Regret in Your Agency by Trusting Your Gut

Looking back, there are many things Robert would do differently in that process to purchase and transition the agency’s services but the biggest one is to trust his gut. The company he acquired was a mom & pop shop with no sales processes in place. Despite having reservations about this, Robert chose to move forward with the purchase.

Instead of waiting until they created the necessary sales process and revisit the acquisition after a year, he argued against himself and went ahead with the purchase. As a result, he faced challenges and struggles that could have been avoided.

Basically, their sales process revolved entirely around the owners and referrals. There was no lead generation. Under these conditions, it wasn’t really a business so much as a job these owners built for themselves and were now trying to sell.

For his part, Robert had been planning this acquisition for a long time and was nervous he would lose the opportunity if he asked for more time for them to resolve the issues.

It was a valuable lesson in business. With those problems, the agency became more of a burden that needed his constant attention. It was not structured in a way that allowed Robert space to face these challenges and soon became an issue that took over his life.

In the end, he was forced to sell that business and, even though it was the right choice, he recognizes that if he’d listened to himself from the beginning, he could have avoid the headaches. In the quest for growth and success, it is essential to trust your instincts and listen to that inner voice that may be warning you to slow down and reconsider your actions.

More Important Than Money: Prioritizing Mental Health

Robert’s experience can be a great lesson for agency owners thinking about selling their business in the future and who are too involved in sales, marketing, or operations. If you’re too involved in any of these aspects and haven’t created a plan for someone else to take over, then you’ve created a great job but not an asset that you can sell one day.

Personally, Robert believes it’s important for agency owners to have those systems in place to prioritize mental health and rest whenever necessary. Last year he experienced two losses that left him lost and affected his ability to focus on the business. These times of personal crisis really underscore the importance of having a business set up to give you the time to handle a crisis. Without the proper time to grieve, he knows this grief would have eventually bled into his decisions and magnified the agency’s issues.

It was a reminder that running a business is not just about making money and achieving success, but also about taking care of oneself and prioritizing mental and emotional well-being.

Build a Machine, Not a Job: Structuring Your Agency for Sustainability

Reflecting on his experience, Robert realizes he should have invested more time upfront in developing structured processes and aligning his team towards shared goals. Though he had begun implementing some procedural tweaks, more robust and documented systems would have better prepared the agency when crises hit.

Many agency owners assume that building a business will automatically grant them freedom. However, in those critical early years, it often feels more like a noose around your neck. The end goal should be constructing an agency that runs smoothly without you, liberating you to focus on other pursuits.

In Robert's case, while his team was already taking ownership of their responsibilities, he still lacked a clear structure for making pivotal financial decisions. This resulted in undue financial risks, like retaining employees who did not align with the overarching vision. Though difficult, removing these individuals would have saved time and money over retaining them.

All in all, thoroughly systematizing processes and instilling a unified sense of purpose across your team early on is necessary so your agency can persevere in your absence. With a robust infrastructure in place, you’ll be able to focus less on maintaining day-to-day operations, and more on innovating and guiding your agency into the future.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Is the wrong prospecting process bringing you clients who are just not a good fit? Are you feeling trapped in a contract with clients you wouldn’t choose to work with again? Building strong connections with clients based on common ground and understanding can significantly impact the success and fulfillment of partnerships in the agency world. Today’s guest saw her first agency end after all partners lost their passion for the work. The reason? Working with clients who didn’t fit the agency’s personality left them all feeling stuck and overwhelmed. After selling and starting over, she has made the right prospecting process a focus of her new business and is seeing the results. Tune in for insights on starting over the right way after selling an agency that wasn’t working out.

Jodie Ball is an agency owner specializing in search engine optimization helping clients scale and grow. She has a decade of experience in SEO and digital marketing and uses a data-driven, non-siloed approach to capture target demographics at pivotal points during their decision-making process. Jodie shares her journey of building and selling her first agency with partners, along with the challenges and successes she experienced. She now enjoys the freedom to choose her clients and work with people she wants to work with.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How the wrong prospecting can lead to agency frustration.

  • Ensuring your vision aligns with your prospects.

  • Selling and starting over the right way.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

When Clients Don't Align: The Path to Agency Frustration

Jodie’s agency journey started when she was an intern helping build websites for musicians and got the amazing opportunity to work in the search engine optimization of an Amazon-owned business. She sort of fell into the role of executing an account for Amazon, a path she would have never imagined for her career. Later on, the people who first contacted her for that project called her when they decided to build an SEO agency and eventually became her business partners.

The Amazon gig helped them gain credibility as they started and grew their agency. Initially, she worked on sales and strategy and had to wear a lot of different hats as she and her partners figured out the agency.

After starting off with a bang with Amazon, Jodie’s agency went on to work with high-end fashion retailers like Skims and Good American. They stayed within the fashion niche to leverage their expertise and reputation in that area and attract clients who valued their industry knowledge and experience.

However, they fell into a pattern of taking on clients that didn't fit their agency's personality and started to feel stuck and overwhelmed. This led to stress and ultimately made the business less enjoyable. Five years in, her partners were now too busy for the agency and it seemed there was not enough meat left on the bone.

Basically, it seemed clients did not have a full understanding of the value the agency was providing. This resulted in unhappy clients and frustration on both ends. Looking back, Jodie sees their reporting was not complete enough to communicate the full extent of their results.

How to Find The Right Prospects: Correcting Past Communication Mistakes

Agencies must establish clear channels of communication with clients from the very beginning and consistently update them on the progress of their projects. By setting expectations and goals upfront, agencies can ensure that clients are aware of the value they are receiving and can better appreciate the results of their work.

There are certainly many things they could have improved which Jodie now implements in her new agency with her current understanding of prospecting that helps eliminate the wrong prospects since the beginning.

A lot of it has to do with educating the client during the onboarding process. Clients may not always be familiar with the intricacies of digital marketing, SEO, or other services offered by agencies, so it is crucial to take the time to explain these concepts in a way that is easy for them to understand.

Jodie finds that many times with clients the business model is a really great fit for the agency but the person they’ll be communicating with is not there yet in terms of understanding or being in the right mindset. This is not necessarily insurmountable and agencies can empower these clients to make informed decisions and better appreciate the work being done on their behalf.

Looking forward, Jodie would like to focus on growing the team, scale the agency to reach the 7-figure mark and retire to live a more relaxed lifestyle.

Selling an Agency and Starting Over the Right Way

As the partners' passion for the agency waned and problematic clients drained the joy from their work, discussions about a potential sale arose. Initially, Jodie resisted - in her early 20s with minimal living expenses, she felt ready to keep battling for their vision. But her partners craved more stability and Jodie admits their backend costs were spiraling out of control.

Then a familiar company came calling, sharing a business partner and needing project management with solid SEO chops. When Jodie's team opened their books to this potential buyer, the numbers spoke volumes - they were tanking fast. So they accepted a decent exit package and walked away.

For Jodie, the transition back to employee life quickly confirmed her entrepreneurial itch. Just selling websites at a corporate gig felt like a downgrade from the autonomy she once had. The realization cemented her future path - that the risks and rewards of building her own venture were worth the fight.

It was a bittersweet closing chapter for that first agency but Jodie emerged with the unshakable tenacity and determination to build something even greater in her next iteration as a founder.

Get Paid More with a Foot-in-the-Door Offer

Revamping her client onboarding has been enlightening for Jodie. She now deeply appreciates the value of an exploratory conversation to truly get to know prospects. In the past, she learned the hard way that seeming like a good fit upfront doesn't guarantee long-term alignment.

These days, Jodie's process kicks off with discovery calls and initial questions, but quickly dives into extensive conversations searching for that essential common ground. It's a critical step to prevent getting trapped in contracts misaligned with her agency's core. For Jodie, there must be a palpable connection - a sense you could comfortably chat with this person as a friend, beyond the business transaction. Without shared fundamental beliefs and values, any working relationship is doomed.

The next step to improve this approach would be to offer a "foot-in-the-door" to collaborate on high-level planning. This offer vets both sides - proving the client's seriousness and fit, while showcasing Jodie's agency value with some initial results. It's a win-win for rapidly progressing viable prospects toward full-scope engagements at well-deserved premium fees. With good results on this end, clients will see the value you bring for their business and be willing to pay a higher ticket to get there.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Do you dream of running a big agency? What’s your target number and how do you think you’d handle the added stress of an increasingly larger team? Today’s guest is the leader of an agency colossus: an over half-billion-dollar behemoth with around 4,000 employees spanning the globe, a scale very few founders could even imagine. He’ll share invaluable insights into engineering colossal expansion, the leadership mindset needed to wrangle this growth, and how his team handles agency valuations in their search to continue the agency’s growth. Tune in to this must-listen episode if you're looking for inspiration and practical advice on taking your agency to the next level.

Dimi Albers is the global CEO of DEPT, an agency that has seen phenomenal growth over the past eight years. He shares the pivotal moment back in 2014 when the partners at Dept decided to shift their focus from being a Netherlands-centric design and tech agency to becoming a global player that covers the full digital customer journey and the strategy behind acquiring 33 agencies.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The road to scaling to $500M.

  • Lessons from a cultural mismatch.

  • Inspiring your leadership team.

  • Elements to consider for an agency valuation.

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Convert Masterclass: Do you want the ultimate guide to building a profitable and self-driven sales team? Access our FREE masterclass and learn how much you should be charging to increase profitability, how to train your salespeople to respond to any objections, and more. Just go to AgencyMastery360.com/convert and unlock maximum profits.

Taking a $500M Agency to Global Markets

Back in 2014, Dimi’s agency made the pivotal decision to expand its services and target international clients. They wanted to transform from a design and tech-focused agency into a company that covers the customer’s full digital journey. This strategy was considered relatively unique and presented an opportunity for growth. At the time, the agency had a very good reputation in The Netherlands and was valued at 15 million USD.

To support their ambitious plans, the agency partnered with a Dutch private equity firm. This partnership provided the necessary resources and expertise to accelerate their growth, despite initial reservations about working with a private equity firm.

Even with capital backing, they remained relatively conservative in investments. Dimi focused on establishing profitability for core revenue drivers within a tight 12-18 month timeframe. The agency pursued a two-pronged growth strategy - mergers and acquisitions supplemented by nurturing intrapreneurial talent to drive organic business wins. Organic expansion from existing client relationships delivered a steady 25% annual growth rate, which compounded as M&A activity layered in.

For Dimi, scaling an agency is fundamentally a people business and requires making sound decisions consistently rather than betting on a few big moves. It may sound boring, but he cautions against the idea of explosive growth and highlights the unglamorous but crucial factors like hard work and incremental smart choices.

His agency methodically built its value proposition in the Dutch market first. From this solid foundation, they gradually expanded into Europe, the US, and ultimately APAC - advancing to new geographies only after careful evaluation of their capability strengths and each market's receptiveness. This thoughtful, capability-driven approach to global scaling enabled successful service expansions into new territories.

Trusting Your Gut: Lessons from a Cultural Mismatch

Quite early in their journey, when they were far less experienced, DEPT partnered with an agency that ended up being a cultural mismatch. This was the sole instance Dimi can recall facing such an issue. Being a first for him at that stage, Dimi admits to underestimating how long it would take to recognize and address the disconnect.

Ultimately, even though the merger was a sound financial decision, the misaligned team needed to be merged with a more culturally compatible group to rectify matters. Looking back, he thinks he could have made faster decisions by just trusting his gut. It’s possible to determine with a high level of certainty whether a partnership or hiring decision will work out after speaking with someone for a certain amount of time. In this sense, he’s learned to trust his intuition and instincts in business.

How To Deal With “Difficult” Clients at Your Agency

Dimi's agency evolved from being generalist to niche-focused through strategic mergers and acquisitions. As specialized firms joined, it opened up new service offerings and vertical markets like Amazon advertising expansion across Europe.

Their vision for growth centered on meeting client needs first. Starting with establishing a strong portfolio in the Dutch market, they then expanded across Europe as demand grew. For Dimi, prioritizing client satisfaction and value delivery guides their expansion more than conquering specific regions.

Within the agency, discussions revolve around ensuring both client and employee happiness take center stage before finances. Dimi meets daily with clients for meaningful dialogue on how his team generates value. He also connects with internal teams to gauge engagement, workload balance, and overall well-being.

When challenging client relationships surface, Dimi emphasizes communication to understand root issues, turn situations around through solutions, and either improve dynamics or mutually part ways if necessary.

Balancing Innovation and Strategy in Agency Growth

Scaling an agency requires clarity about some key questions. First of all, WHO; Who do you want to go after? Who do you need to hire to achieve this? Who do you need to become? Additionally, Dimi has also learned to think about the WHAT and HOW, because he’s found there’s a big difference between people who are good at defining the “what we’re going to do”, and the ones who are good at the “how we’re going to do it”. Instead, of looking for the unicorn who is good at both, he recommends looking for the brilliant WHAT people and the brilliant WHO people. Working and collaborating with individuals who complement each other's strengths requires self-awareness and the ability to recognize one's own limitations.

As a visionary who is mostly concerned with the ideas or the WHAT Dimi has run into some challenges when it comes to the structure systems an agency needs once it starts experiencing growth. In the past, he’s been slow to listen to the "how" people, who have a more cautious and strategic approach, which is something he continues to work on.

How to Inspire Your Team to Dream Beyond What is Logical

Although he admits to not being the best manager, Dimi knows his strength lies in inspiring people to think beyond what is logical. And he does it by setting the example. When he and his partner created the plan to expand and scale globally, everyone thought they were crazy. However, once they reached their goals in record time, they proved the sky was the limit.

Their vision not only challenged the team to think bigger but also provided a clear direction for the organization to strive towards.

Inspiring your team is about achieving something unique. It’s not necessarily about numbers and growth, it can also be about craft. Show them the impact they’re having. For instance, if you work with non-profits, show them how their work is helping change the world for the better. Reach beyond their perceived limitations and you’ll be motivating them to keep going.

Additionally, he also highlights the importance of vulnerability and personal connection. As a leader, Dimi openly talks about his mistakes. This vulnerability creates a sense of authenticity and trust within the team. It allows team members to feel comfortable sharing their struggles and mistakes, fostering a culture of learning and growth.

Key Considerations for Successful Acquisitions

Dimi’s agency has been acquiring agencies for some time as part of its expansion plans. For him, there are two main elements for a successful merger: capabilities and geography. Beyond that, they’ll consider:

  • Culture: It is the first and most important aspect they’ll consider. Can they see themselves working and growing with their team?

  • Quality of their work.

  • Quality of their second and third generations: Basically, they look beyond the founders. Do they have a good team around them who are ambitious enough to keep growing and running the business once the founders decide to scale back?

  • Numbers: His agency has excellent growth and margins, so any agency that joins them must be at that level so it doesn’t devalue the whole when they join.

8 Elements to Consider When Doing an Agency Valuation

While a general rule of thumb is that an agency making a million in EBITDA could be valued at four times that amount, there several factors that contribute to much higher multiples paid for agencies with exceptional qualities, such as:

  1. Growth rate: The faster an agency grows, the more valuable it becomes.

  2. Market: The markets that the agency is addressing also play a role in its valuation. Agencies that are targeting larger and more lucrative markets will generally be valued higher than those targeting smaller markets.

  3. Team: It’s important to have a talented and capable team. A strong team can contribute to the agency's growth and success, which in turn increases its value.

  4. Profitability: The margin percentage, or profitability, influences an agency’s valuation. Higher margins indicate a healthier financial performance and can lead to a higher valuation.

  5. Addressable market: Agencies operating in markets with more potential for growth and expansion will generally be valued higher than those in smaller markets.

  6. Popular and sought-after capability: Agencies that specialize in a highly in-demand area, such as AI technology consultancy, will be valued higher due to the premium placed on their expertise.

  7. Recurring revenue: Agencies that have a significant portion of their revenue coming from retainer contracts are considered more valuable than those relying solely on project-based revenue.

  8. Revenue concentration: Diversification of clients and revenue sources is preferred and can contribute to a higher valuation.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Scaling_an_Agency_to_500M_with_Dimi_Albers___Ep_674.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am MDT

Are you looking for motivation to get your agency off the ground? How has your client acquisition strategy evolved since you started? Have you tried building client communities to foster a competitive spirit that will lead to client wins? Today’s guest is a young entrepreneur who turned to marketing as a teen knowing college just wasn’t for him. He focused on learning and building a solid base and now has 400K/mo SMMA and has purchased another two agencies. He and his partner understand their strengths lie in getting businesses off the ground and recognizing potential for growth in partnerships. However, they’re still figuring out how to scale to eight figures. Tune in to learn from his inspiring journey and his tips for successful mergers and acquisitions.

Matt Shields is the founder of Estate AI, an agency that seeks to shift the paradigm for realtors who rely on referrals by teaching them how to run a business with consistent opportunity flow.  Matt is a young agency owner who has achieved impressive success in a short period. His determination and entrepreneurial spirit led him to purchase his first SMMA course at just 17 years old. Now, with over $425,000 in monthly recurring revenue, Matt shares his unique approach to acquiring agencies and achieving high profit margins.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Matt’s client acquisition strategy.

  • The $2,500 ad that got them a $1,000,000 win.

  • Building communities for client success.

  • Top tips for buying and selling your agency.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Outgrowing Self-Doubt to Catalyze Agency Success

At age 17, Matt felt school wasn't the right path for him and wanted to try a different entrepreneurial approach. He purchased a $597 marketing course that taught him key skills - sales, outreach, onboarding customers, and Facebook ads. However, as Matt took his first steps into entrepreneurship, the biggest hurdle had nothing to do with practical business tactics.

In that crucial first year, Matt was forced to face deep inner fears - the fear of failure, rejection, and not being good enough. He realized he needed to work extensively on his own psychology and overcome limiting beliefs about his young age and ability to successfully build a business. Confronting these mental roadblocks proved just as important as mastering the outward skills.

Although Matt eventually reached a good place and found success, in his view he never fully overcame self-doubt. Getting too comfortable would mean stagnation, which he wanted to avoid. While he conquered early fears around sales and now thrives in that area, he continues to face the challenge of overcoming fears of leadership and leveling up his mindset.

It's a constant process of self-improvement, because as a business grows, so too must the entrepreneur grow personally. Most recently, Matt has focused on becoming disciplined enough to consistently take action on the hard things, regardless of his passing feelings or mental resistance.

The Evolution of His Agency's Client Acquisition Strategy

Matt scaled his first agency through the strategic use of free trials. To attract initial clients, they leveraged LinkedIn automation, Facebook direct messages, and cold email outreach. This approach worked particularly well when they started emailing gym owners to offer free trial services. They completed around 70 free trials over 6 months - but only for prospects they knew could convert to paying customers. After that 6-month ramp-up period, they were generating $20,000 in recurring monthly revenue.

This early method provided valuable entrepreneurial experience. However, Matt's agency has since evolved its approach to client acquisition. They now rely on paid advertising and use the same systems they sell to run their own growth campaigns. This strategy rocketed them from $10,000 per month to $150,000 within just 3 months, hitting $350,000 in monthly revenue by their first year - all through paid ads.

To fuel this exponential growth, Matt and his partner reinvested all profits into paid media spending and building a robust sales team. They also recognized offering a compelling guarantee in their ads was crucial for conversion. Rather than innovate from scratch, they analyzed competitors' guarantees and modeled their own to be slightly better than existing market offerings. Matt believes that SMMAs don’t need to innovate, just pay attention to what works and do it better.

Their simple but realistic promise - "10 listing appointments in 6 months for realtors" - resonated powerfully with their target audience. This honed, benefit-driven guarantee helped attract a steady stream of new clients. However, Matt cautions that overused or unrealistic guarantees can become saturated and erode trust over time when not thoughtfully implemented.

A $1,000,000 Win from a $2,500 Paid Ad

According to Matt, the agency’s most successful ad was sparked by this philosophy of “paying attention to what works and do it better”. Imagine a fun, catchy music video that racked up millions of views and shares for them. For Matt's agency, that viral sensation was worth a cool $1 million in new business - all off the back of a single $2,500 ad spend!

It was a stroke of brilliance sparked by a clever HVAC ad Matt discovered. He immediately contacted that production company with a request: "Can you take this same awesome concept and adapt it to the real estate niche?"

One week and $2,500 later, the magic arrived - a fresh, industry-tailored spin on the original video that immediately resonated and took off like wildfire.

By keenly observing what's crushing it, repurposing ideas executed extremely well, and layering on innovation for further gains, he unlocked exponential success, which underscores the importance of truly understanding your audience, leveraging existing momentum cleverly, and constantly elevating your approach to stay ahead of the pack

Building Communities for Client Success

Scaling so fast, it’s fair to assume that Matt’s agency had a hard time combating churn. He does admit in the beginning the agency was not securing many deals for their clients. Despite this, clients were still happy and satisfied, a trend he also observed in his first agency acquisition. This did change a bit after the expansion of the sales team, which meant the agency’s founders stepped away from sales. To address this new low, Matt and his partner created a client community modeled after Alex Hormozi’s client mastermind concept. By bringing clients together, providing coaching, and inviting experts, they aimed to foster a competitive environment that motivated them to excel and achieve success.

The implementation of the client community proved to be a game-changer for the agency. The competitive nature of realtors within the community sparked a desire to outperform each other, leading to increased effort, dedication, and ultimately, success.

Furthermore, Matt emphasizes the role of a free Facebook group in building this community. He and his partner purchased an existing Facebook group within their niche, which had 8,000 realtors. This acquisition proved to be a valuable resource, as it provided a platform for interaction, engagement, and the opportunity to showcase their expertise. The free group served as a stepping stone for potential members to become part of the main paid community, as they were already familiar with the agency's values and offerings.

Most recently, Matt has improved by leveraging industry expert coaches. Recognizing his own limitations, he pays experts to advise clients directly. This provides high-quality guidance while ensuring his team gains deep real estate knowledge, significantly improving account management.

Lessons Learned from Early Mistakes in Community Building

In the very beginning, Matt and his team would keep their community members engaged doing eight calls per week to talk about strategy and progress. However, he now sees they were overdoing it. It was one of those early mistakes he now takes as a lesson learned. Rather than only giving people the best, the calls started becoming diluted.

Bumping up the number of calls offered resulted in a decline of their show rate. Clients didn’t have the time to show up for so many calls per week and didn’t know which ones to prioritize. Instead, make sure the quality is solid and you’ll keep people coming back.

Another early mistake he’s learned from was not establishing clear core values from the get go. He now sees the importance of being firm and upfront about the community's values, and giving potential members the option to opt out if they do not align with those values. This approach not only filters out individuals who may not be a good fit for the community but also attracts like-minded individuals who are eager to be part of a group that shares the same values.

The Top Tip for Buying and Selling Your Agency

Matt and his partner have acquired two agencies by leveraging their expertise and reputation and recognizing their limitations. With a respected reputation within a specific group of people and his partner’s coaching company adding to their perceived value, they’ve managed to draw people and sell their vision for the partnership.

For their first acquisition, it was difficult to come up with a valuation since the agency had been around for less than a year. They relied on a multiple of one-time EBITDA, although Matt admits lacked knowledge in the area and trusted his partner to make the decisions. Nowadays he would just bring in a broker to provide a legitimate valuation.

He’s since also learned the importance of legal agreements and the role of lawyers in creating these documents. In their initial partnership, they created their own agreements. However, Matt now recognizes the need to involve a mergers and acquisitions lawyer to ensure that the agreements are legitimate and protect all parties involved.

For the second acquisition, Matt met an agency owner who had a lot of potential but seemed stuck in his growth, making only around 10k a month. That owner wanted Matt to be his coach, but he would only consider getting involved with his agency as a partner. They eventually cut a deal and the partnership began with a revenue-sharing agreement and phantom equity, which eventually evolved into a flat retainer and phantom equity. This partnership proved to be successful, with the agency's revenue increasing significantly under the speaker's guidance.

Pro tip: When it comes to taking phantom stock in a partnership deal, remember that sometimes small business owners change their minds when the business starts to grow and claim less access for you under the guise of it “just being a phantom stock”. To protect yourself, make sure to always get a lawyer. It's going to cost you more in the very beginning, but it will protect you later on.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: How_Matt_Shields_Built_A_400K_mo_SMMA___Ep_673.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Do you find it hard to stand out on LinkedIn? Have you tried making connections there only to feel bombarded by spam? Our guest today is here to rescue your LinkedIn presence from obscurity. She specializes in coaching agency owners to transform their profiles into irresistible client magnets. During this chat, she goes over some of the most common misconceptions about LinkedIn, her concept of writing a “love letter” to your target audience, and why trying to be overly professional won’t work on this platform. Tune in to learn how to make the most of LinkedIn and differentiate yourself in this crowded digital platform.

Nicole Osborne is the founder of Wunderstars, a brand and marketing coaching program designed for agency owners and online businesses. With her help, entrepreneurs get to the bottom of how to stand out on LinkedIn. She discusses the importance of being authentic and sociable on the platform and shares insights on how to fix the common LinkedIn mistakes agency owners are making.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • What’s working and not working on LinkedIn.

  • How to write a love letter to your audience.

  • How to connect through vulnerability.

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Agency Blueprint: Do you need help accelerating your agency’s growth? If you’re having trouble scaling your agency, maybe you're just too close to the identify areas where you need the most help. This is why we're setting up a free strategy session with our Scale Specialist Darby where he’ll walk you through a framework for scaling your agency faster. Just schedule a chat with Darby – no string attached – at JasonSwenk.com/Darby. Together, you'll figure out your next steps for scaling your agency faster.

Rapport Building: The Secret Weapon to Make it in Marketing

As a teenager living in former Eastern Germany, Nicole had to help out with the family’s market stall sales after both her parents lost their jobs. She was tasked with selling sunglasses and, initially, she felt awkward and shy. However, she soon realized that building rapport with potential customers was essential to successful sales. By engaging in friendly conversations and making people feel comfortable, Nicole was able to draw them in, make the sale, and get referrals.

Reflecting on this experience, she realized that many agencies, despite being excellent at marketing their clients' businesses, often struggle to market themselves effectively. They fail to overcome their fears in order to become more visible and successful on platforms like LinkedIn.

Initially, agency owners may feel the pressure to portray themselves as uber-technical experts on LinkedIn. However, Nicole suggests that being authentic and talking about everyday things can be just as effective as long as you keep your ideal clients in mind.

Not Growing On LinkedIn?  Try This

LinkedIn has proved to be THE platform to be in for many agency owners. However, a lot of people have negative perceptions of it. Even though some still think of it as a “boring” platform, it has evolved over the years, transitioning from a strictly professional and corporate platform to becoming a more sociable and engaging one.

In this sense, Nicole encourages agency owners to be authentic in how they present themselves on the platform and not stick to an outdated overly professional style in their posts. This is the only way you’ll succeed in utilizing LinkedIn to connect with people on a more personal level.

Of course, there’s no denying that interactions can get quite spammy on LinkedIn. To this, Nicole counters that email marketing can also get very spammy, yet everyone uses it to promote their businesses. Likewise, as long as individuals focus on building genuine connections, the platform can be a valuable tool for business development.

It’s important to avoid immediately jumping to a sales pitch without first assessing if there is mutual value and benefits in the connection. Instead, engage in conversation and find common ground. By taking the time to get to know each other and finding shared interests, individuals can establish a solid foundation for a meaningful connection on LinkedIn.

Approach LinkedIn as a real networking event where you would hopefully not just talk about yourself but also actively listen and engage with others. Treat it like a virtual networking party and you’ll have global reach that will allow you to work with international clients and grow your personal brand across the globe.

From LinkedIn With Love, How To Find Your Ideal Clients

What works on LinkedIn is something that can change over time, like with any social media platforms. For Nicole, one thing that will never change is the human element, which is why you should always show up as yourself.

Instead of putting on a professional mask, start by thinking about what your ideal clients need and focus on that. It’s an approach she links to writing a love letter. Ask yourself what would appeal to your audience? What would they find interesting? What is it they're struggling with? What is it they're really hoping to achieve? Showcase your agency's culture, creativity, and problem-solving abilities and present yourself as a guide to help them get to where they want to be.

As to letting your authenticity shine through, don’t forget the importance of the human element. In this regard, while she’s all about making processes more efficient, Nicole advises not to lean too much on automation because it may hinder your ability to connect with potential clients on a personal level. Understanding your target audience and what resonates with them is crucial to bringing personality to these interactions, and it can’t be effectively done if you’re solely relying on AI tools.

Additionally, agencies should avoid outsourcing without providing a thorough brief and should be cautious of using appointment setters who may spam potential clients. These approaches can come across as impersonal and may not effectively showcase the agency's unique value.

Pro tip: Create polls that tap into your audience’s pain points. By reaching out to those who participate in the polls and engaging in conversations, agencies can provide value, offer tips, and potentially encourage further discussions about their services.

Ditch the Superhero Complex: Connect Through Vulnerability

One mistake agency owners make in how they present themselves on social media platforms is thinking they need to appear as superheroes who have everything figured out. In reality, people feel much more drawn to the vulnerability of someone admitting that they got to this point after making many mistakes. By sharing personal experiences and lessons learned, agency owners can establish a sense of relatability and authenticity, which in turn builds trust and credibility with their audience.

Additionally, having the confidence to talk about your mistakes can help you stand out. If you post like everyone else you’ll blend so much into the background that no one will ever notice you, which is certainly not the point of marketing. By being willing to share embarrassing or outrageous stories, you can differentiate yourself from competitors in the crowded social media landscape and capture your target audience’s attention.

Furthermore, focusing on specific social media platforms that align with your target audience will also help you stand out where it counts. For Nicole, LinkedIn is a platform where professionals are actively seeking learning and networking opportunities. She advises agency owners who’ve tried to use LinkedIn in the past and not seen results to rethink their strategy by following these steps: show up as your authentic self, write as if you’re writing a “love letter” to your audience, be vulnerable, and be visible.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: How_to_Stand_Out_on_LinkedIn_with_Nicole_Osborne___Ep_672.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Are you running a full-service agency? Have you already considered niching down? What about broadening your services once you do? Today’s guest built an agency that became a world authority on Google ads. Even though he eventually sold, he now believes more growth may have been possible with patience and the vision to expand his services after niching down, which he calls the “hourglass method”. Tune in to learn about his early failures and successes as a young entrepreneur, the lessons he takes from his years of experience and selling his agency, and why he believes agencies are the future of most businesses.

Kasim Aslam is the founder of Solutions 8, a highly successful Google Ads agency and the host of the Perpetual Traffic podcast. After seeing his dreams crushed by a financial collapse and rebuilding to reach the highest successes in the industry, Kasim talks about the importance of having a strong business partner and lessons he took from selling his agency. Tune in to gain insights from Kasim's experiences and learn valuable lessons from his agency success story.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why it’s okay to start broad before niching down.

  • Becoming an authority on Google ads.

  • Attracting potential buyers to your agency.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Ending Up $150,000 in Debt in His Early 20s

Despite having sold the most successful Google Ads agency and knowing few people have ever gotten to that level of success in the industry, Kasim is quick to acknowledge he’s not the brains of the operation. The joke between him and his partner is that Kasim made promises and his partner kept them, which worked out really well for both. After growing their agency which they sold in 2022 to now, for the first time in two decades – he’s an employee.

In recalling his agency journey, Kasim first remembers his greatest failures. In his early 20’s, he was working in the banking industry building software right at the time of the financial collapse of 2008. “It was the best thing that could’ve happened” he says looking back. He was making way too much money at a young age, had just bought his first house, a car, and was spending way more than he should have. However, once he lost his job he was quickly reminded that he did not actually own those things and ended up losing them. He was just 22 years old, $150,000 in debt and felt his life was over.

The lack of funds to float a percentage of a software building project had him searching for other types of web work. Website maintenance quickly led to website development, SEO work, and eventually to his agency, Solutions 8.

The Secret to Choosing The Best Niche For Your Agency

Starting an agency after a personal setback can be a daunting task, but Kasim managed to rebuild from scratch to have a profitable business with 15 employees. However, he went too wide on his offering and soon found it felt like having eight different businesses.

The agency was certainly profitable but he was miserable. The business could not run without him and he was working 12-hour days. At one point, he tried to sell the business. “I kept trying to get rid of it,” he recalls. He never got too close to actually selling it, since the valuation offered by brokers didn’t come close to his expectations and he knew his books were a mess, which made the agency much more difficult to sell.

Many things needed to be fixed, so Kasim hired his current business partner with the intention of having him run the agency. Right away, his partner started to highlight issues that could be fixed. Having someone in the trenches with him reignited Kasim’s passion for the agency and soon they were working on growing it together.

The years of running a full-service agency were incredibly stressful, but Kasim sustains it was the best way to eventually find success in the right niche. “You can’t niche down right off the gate because if you do, you’ll pick the wrong niche,” he says. In his view, it’s okay to start broad as long as you have the intention of niching down.

Once a niche is established and successful, Kasim suggests branching out to add related services or offerings. It’s the hourglass formula – start broad, niche down, branch out – to maximize your business’ potential and cater to a wider range of clients.

How His Agency Became the World Authority on Google Ads

The Google Ads piece of the business started by adding this offering to his real estate business. He picked the best Google Ads agency he could find and the partnership went so well that Kasim was soon sending agency clients their way. On one hand, it killed his margins but it was turnkey so they handled everything and all Kasim had to do was sell it and hand it over. Eventually, he started selling Google Ads as a supplement.

It was Kasim’s partner who first suggested the agency should start selling Google Ads.  Although initially hesitant, fearing that it would limit their scope, Kasim eventually recognized the value of specializing. Having first focused on building sales and client support, he was ready to build the fulfillment piece by niching down.

Does he regret selling someone else’s services? Not at all. Kasim’s message to agency owners is that it’s okay to resale somebody else’s product while you’re still figuring out your niche; just remember the importance of owning the relationships and providing value beyond being an affiliate.

As his agency grew and became three times the size of the partner agency, issues started to arise. He needed more resources from the partner agency to meet the demands of his expanding client base. However, the partner agency was hesitant to invest too much, fearing they could easily take their business elsewhere.

Negotiations for a new agreement between the two agencies turned sour and, ultimately, Kasim resorted to swiftly building an entire fulfillment team in India by targeting Google's offices there. The transition was not without its challenges, but with their previous experience with the partner agency they soon became a niche authority.

When to Sell Your Agency and How to Get More

Kasim did end up returning to the idea of selling, now in a better position to get the valuation he expected. He had even received numerous unsolicited offers for his agency, with some of them coming from reputable venture capital firms. However, he was advised to prioritize a disciplined process and not settle for the first offer that came his way. So he conducted a competitive process exploring multiple options to secure the best deal.

Interestingly, Kasim notes that the offer that eventually caught his attention came from a company backed by SoftBank, based in India. He had initially set his sights on offers from Silicon Valley companies. However, his mentor saw potential in this particular offer due to their "buy-side mandate," which made them a serious contender.

In terms of the price, Kasim admits he sold his agency for lower than he could have negotiated. However, it was an all-cash transaction with light due diligence and a short timeline, indicating that the buyer was serious and had the necessary funds.

In terms of timing, he firmly believes he sold just in time, with AI about to replicate what they did. This way, he was able to capitalize on the demand for his agency's expertise and avoid potential hurdles in the future.

Reflecting on what he could have done differently to potentially negotiate a higher price, Kasim knows he could’ve explored other options and engaged in more negotiations. However, he doesn't dwell on this, as he is satisfied with the terms of the deal.

Learning to Craft a Compelling Story to Attract Potential Buyers

Even though he doesn’t regret the selling price and moment, there are some things Kasim would’ve done differently with the agency. For instance, one of the main missed opportunities for revenue growth was the failure to pursue other avenues of monetization.

Looking back, he sees he could have doubled his revenue if he had added Facebook ads to his agency's services. Despite specializing in Google ads, many of his clients expressed interest in running ads on other platforms, such as Facebook. However, he became too focused on what was working and didn't explore these opportunities further.

Kasim realizes that he should have focused more on showcasing the potential growth of his agency, rather than just its current success. In this sense, he also missed the opportunity to tell a compelling story about a company on the brink of exponential growth that could attract more buyers and potentially increase the value of the company. With this, he’s learned that not only having strong financial performance but also crafting a narrative that captures the imagination and potential of the business.

Why Agencies Continue To Be The Future of Business

With new experience and perspective gained after selling, Kasim now thinks about the importance of taking risks, trying new things, and learning from failures during the early stages of your career.

Starting out young gives you the opportunity to experiment and try out everything and figure out who you are. This is true for anything in life, including entrepreneurship. Of course, this means you’ll also mess up a lot, and that’s okay, as long as you stay true to your character.

If you do this in your twenties, you’ll have an idea of what you want to give a serious try by your thirties. With a better perspective, your forties will be the time to cash out.

For his part, Kasim emphasizes the importance of confidence in one's abilities, which he believes comes from having enough experience. By now, he has built multiple successful agencies, and once you have achieved something once, it becomes easier to replicate that success. For his next steps, he would love to broaden his horizons but also keep in mind that the agency model is the future of business. Despite the challenges and saturation in the agency space, Kasim believes in its potential and his ability to excel in it.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Does your agency offer web design services? What is your perspective on creating impactful agency web design? What do you think of how most websites are currently utilized? Today’s guest is an expert in website design with a growth-driven approach to agency web design. He’s been working in web design ever since the early days of the internet and believes nowadays many businesses are building low-quality websites focused only on sales. In his opinion, websites should have a strong technical foundation and create a journey that leads to engagement and conversions. Tune in to learn about his passion for creating impactful websites, how he developed a very effective foot-in-the-door, and how he’s embraced podcasting as a way to attract the type of client he wants to work with.

Mark Bevington is the CEO and founder of Ninedot, a website design and development agency that takes underperforming websites and turns them into the best-selling tools for their clients. Mark shares his insights on the limitations of traditional websites and the importance of growth-driven design. With over 23 years of experience, he sees a need for websites to evolve and adapt to changing analytics and customer preferences and allow for easy updates that align with business evolution.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to provide value in web design.

  • WebCare as a foot-in-the-door strategy.

  • Using a podcast to create meaningful connections.

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Attract Masterclass: Do you want to know the four secrets to attract your ideal agency clients? Access our FREE masterclass series and learn how to create a magnetic agency, become an authority, and master the art of client attraction. Just go to AgencyMastery360.com/attract and unlock maximum profits.

Three Differentiating Factors that You’ll Find in Any Quality Website

With over twenty years in the industry, Mark has seen a lot as a marketer and agency owner. When he started his agency, the internet wasn’t really a thing, so they focused more on print work and newsletters and eventually moved to digital. However, some things remain unchanged because they’re at the core of a solid business strategy, starting with quality, which has taken a hit with the onset of AI.

In his opinion, since the pandemic and the surge of many new agencies that don’t work with the necessary standards, it’s become common to see crappy work all around. It can be challenging to differentiate quality work from garbage in the context of website design and development. Here are some differentiating factors:

  1. A reputable agency or designer takes the time to thoroughly analyze the client's business, target audience, and goals before embarking on the project. They conduct research and gather relevant information to ensure that the website aligns with the client's brand identity and effectively communicates their message.

  2. A well-designed website is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and optimized for different devices and browsers. For Mark, UI and UX have become such buzzwords and most people don't understand what that means. It’s not just about getting a client from point A to point B. Behind that should be an understanding of the experience based on the journey you're creating.

  3. A website should not be a static entity but rather an evolving platform that adapts to changing market dynamics and user preferences. A quality web agency conducts A/B tests, analyzes user behavior, and makes necessary adjustments to improve conversion rates and achieve business objectives. Garbage work, on the other hand, lacks this growth-driven approach and fails to leverage data to enhance the website's effectiveness.

Affordable Website Support as a Strategy for Long-Term Success

Mark’s web design agency has always provided some degree of web maintenance for its clients. However, as clients continually asked for a more affordable dedicated website support option, the agency developed a new service called WebCare. Through this service, his agency helps clients properly maintain the core functions of their websites by having an expert team keep a watchful eye out for technical issues. As Mark notes, most clients are brilliant at their actual business but lack the technical knowledge needed to run a website themselves and need reliable, judgement-free support to maintain it.

WebCare is all about maintaining a website as a long-term investment. While the aesthetics of a website may become outdated over time, proper maintenance ensures it continues to function effectively.

Additionally, it’s become a very effective foot-in-the-door offer for them. If a client comes to them with an underperforming site, they can offer this affordable option instead of hitting them right off the back with an expensive rebuild and get the relationship going. Being able to show quick wins to clients is a key element in building trust and further extending that relationship.

The Game Changer: Embracing Change Through a Mastermind

As a business owner, Mark acknowledges it can be difficult to allow himself to be vulnerable and open to change. Because of this, his business was at a point profitable but still not at the scale it could have been.

In this sense, becoming a mastermind member has proved to be the game changer for his agency’s growth as well as an emotional roller coaster.

The first 12 months were all about changing everything he thought worked about the business. Despite the initial challenges and doubts, the results of implementing these changes have been impressive in year two. Of course, success does not happen overnight and it requires time and effort to see the desired outcomes, but the mastermind has provided him with the necessary resources and support to implement the changes effectively.

After a year of establishing the right processes and SOPs, Mark now realizes how inefficient they really were with him handling too many tasks outside his expertise area. He needed to find people to handle these tasks. It was an investment – both financial and it terms of time – to get it right, but it’s been definitely worth it. This shift has brought newfound freedom to spend more time on personal interests and taking the time to think, implement, and try new strategies to grow the business.

Creating Meaningful Connections & Reaching the Right Audience with a Podcast

Even though his podcast it’s still in its early stages after launching three months ago, Mark loves podcasting as a way to connect with others, share stories, and create meaningful connections.

It all started as a way to reach more clients in the pet industry, since this is work Mark enjoys so much. A podcast seemed like a good way to get in contact with adoption shelters, animal centers, and independent pet companies.

Although he had initial resistance to the idea of starting a podcast, after discussing it with his colleagues and receiving encouragement, he decided to give it a try. It turned out to be another great benefit of being a mastermind member. The encouragement he received from the team pushed him to get into a world he now enjoys very much, with the experience not only serving as a marketing tool but also as a way to build unique relationships and friendships.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Are you trying to grow your SMMA but can’t get past the referrals stage? What’s holding you back when it comes to continuing your growth and reaching eight figures? Today’s guest may not have written the book on how to start a SMMA, but he sure read it from cover to cover and then threw all the rules out the window. He is a young agency owner who started out with dreams of outgrowing his post-college job and gaining the sort of independence and success he knew could come from entrepreneurship. He endured long months of looking for his first client and the hardships of trying to stand out before finding the right niche. Tune in to hear about the challenges and advantages of being a young agency owner and his experience and insights in growing a SMMA.

Stevie Johnston is the young entrepreneur behind Digital Ox Zero, a specialized marketing agency that offers turnkey digital marketing solutions, expert appointment-setting services, and business coaching for Chiropractic, Dental, and Integrated Medical Clinics. Stevie niched the niche and doubled down on a bold strategy, allowing him to scale his modest digital agency from operating out of his apartment to a $500K/month recurring industry-leading powerhouse with over 20 employees.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Finding the right formula for SMMA growth.

  • Going beyond referrals to build a scalable agency.

  • Focusing on creating a steady recruitment pipeline.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

 Unlocking His Marketing Potential & Finding His Drive

Stevie describes himself as a Tai Lopez case study, as it was one of his ads that inspired him to build his own agency. He figured if he managed to get at least ten clients to each pay him $1,000 per month he’d be able to have freedom, travel, and enjoy life as an agency owner.

Having recently graduated, Stevie found himself working his same college job at 23 and feeling stuck. He knew something needed to change and entrepreneurship offered a straightforward solution to his desire for a better life.

Tai Lopez’s ads promised exactly the type of opportunity he needed to do something different. It seemed simple, but of course he soon realized it was actually very hard. However, it was a proven business model so he trusted that getting through the learning curve would land him on the right path. He held strong for seven months waiting for that first and ended his first year with 20K in revenue.

But how did he stay motivated? Even though he had a hard time finding that first client, Stevie felt this was his chance. Going back to working at the juice bar was not an option. He felt he had a lot to offer as a great communicator with good work ethic; he just needed that first client to make it work.

Once he had his first clients, prospecting, learning sales, and working 10-14 hours from his small apartment was nowhere near the pain of going back to a job that only offered financial constraints and lack of freedom.

Initial Turning Points & Finding the Right Formula for SMMA Growth

The big turning point for Stevie was finding the right niche. Although he started out working with chiropractors, which seemed focused enough, it was still hard to stand out in a market with so much competition. When a client asked him to help them advertise their spinal decompression machine, he found a specialty within a specialty that actually needed attention and had lots of demand. Focusing on this niche he not only saw more consistent results, he became a niche leader.

A more specialized focus also helped justify a higher price point, which helped him get to 20K. As the agency continued to grow, however, Stevie realized they had no big differentiator. Anyone can run ads and it seemed like everyone did at that point, which started a big race to the bottom while high turnover rates were impacting his agency’s growth.

It was very frustrating to realize that his clients weren’t getting the results they wanted as they kept complaining the leads were bad. In an attempt to keep a client, Stevie offered to take over sales calls for one month. It was his moment to “get in the trenches” and figure out what was not connecting. That month they 4X the amount of leads turned into appointments. The model did work, they just needed someone at the phone with basic sales skills, energy, and that would follow up with clients.

As momentum built, Stevie first hired a dedicated sales associate and then continued staffing specialists internally, subsidizing expenses by raising prices. It was the differentiator they needed. It required more employees, more expenses, and a lot more headaches, but they were solving a problem no one else was willing to solve. As a result, referrals went through the roof, churn plummeted, and prices continued to climb.

Building Systems to Create a Scalable SMMA

As the agency gained more clients, the demand for their services grew exponentially, largely due to influential clients in the industry spreading the word about the agency's effectiveness.

This rapid growth came with the pressures of going from a small team of two to having ten employees and an office. They needed to set goals, track key performance indicators (KPIs), and develop effective hiring and training processes. The overwhelming nature of these tasks prompted Stevie to seek guidance from Judge Graham, a prominent figure in the agency space who had achieved a significant exit and subsequent sale of his agency.

With this guidance, Stevie began implementing a more structured approach to building his agency. This included focusing on enterprise value, establishing values and meeting rhythms, and honing hiring and management techniques. The goal was to create a scalable agency that could continue to grow and provide value to clients.

Going beyond referrals

Throughout their growth, referrals remained a significant driver of business for the agency. The influential clients who initially spread the word about their services continued to refer new clients, contributing to their ongoing success. However, at 400K high turnover rates became a problem again. With referrals bringing in five to eight clients per month and the agency losing eight clients per month, they found themselves at the same plateau as they did at 50K.

This realization led Stevie to understand the limitations of relying solely on referrals for business growth. Referrals alone were not enough to sustain the agency's growth.

It was time to start focusing efforts on inbound and outbound marketing, starting with paid ads. Additionally, he started building a sales development representative (SDR) team with two people responsible for cold calling potential clients and setting up demos for the agency's account executives. This new channel of outbound sales proved to be successful, as the agency was able to land five clients in one month solely through cold calls.

With the SDR team starting to bring some good results, Stevie’s already thinking about establishing other channels to drive growth. Agencies should aim to have at least two channels in order to break through the million-dollar mark in revenue. Once this milestone is achieved, additional channels can be added to further scale the business. For Stevie, it’s just something you have to do if you’re serious about year-on-year growth.

What Next: Focusing on a Full Recruitment Pipeline

Now close to hitting eight figures, Stevie has been meditating on what it takes to get to the next level. What people say about “what got you here won’t get you to the next level” is ringing very true to him as he reassesses the agency’s core values.

One key aspect he realized could be holding them back is not having a full recruitment pipeline, which is why he is hiring a full-time recruiter. Once you’re around the 20-million mark, it’s time to bring in a dedicated recruiter instead of relying on external recruiters and paying fees. As your agency grows, having a pipeline of talented individuals will be just as important as having a pipeline of clients. This way, agencies can better position themselves for success and overcome challenges associated with rapid growth.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: How_Stevie_Johnston_10Xed_His_SMMA_To_500K_mo_Recurring___Ep_669.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

What kind of culture do you promote at your agency? Do you keep track of things employees say are hitting or not hitting the mark about the culture? How has your culture changed since the pandemic? Today’s guest runs a 260-employee agency and has put great care to ensure that work flexibility and employee happiness are a big part of their culture. She believes giving employees reasons to stay at her agency are much more beneficial than the work of having to constantly replace key roles due to high turnout rates. Tune in to learn about the ways she has reintroduced in-person activities while keeping a mostly remote workflow and how she makes sure employees feel heard.

Jane Crisan is the CEO of Rain the Growth Agency, a fully integrated performance-based agency based in Portland, Oregon. Her agency offers agency a unique approach to scaling brands with deep expertise in media, creative, strategy, and analytics. With more than half of their employees working from all over the country, they’ve made a commitment to having a flexible-first workforce as a way to keep employees happy. Tune in to see their journey to small independent business to a multimillion-dollar agency and the struggles to maintain a flexible work culture following the pandemic.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Mapping out the path for employee career progression.

  • Building community while respecting work flexibility.

  • Making a deliberate effort to create culture.

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Making Sure Employees Feel Heard & Can Express Their Concerns

Like many businesses, Jane’s agency took the pandemic as a chance to open up its doors to talent from all over the country. It was a great opportunity to grow the agency, which started 25 years ago as a small independent agency and now has around 260 employees.

Getting access to talent they probably would’ve never been able to relocate to Portland was a huge advantage and it also meant committing to being a flexible-first agency. Jane puts a lot of effort into maintaining low turnover levels, and although she knows there’s no magic solution to making everyone happy, there are a few things she’s found are very important to creating a sound work environment. For starters, the agency conducts a yearly all-employee survey to gather feedback and identify areas of improvement. This survey has been conducted for the past 10 years and allows the agency to track trends and address any concerns.

The Importance of Mapping Out the Path

Over the years, the number one thing that came across with the annual survey was career progression. To address this, the agency invests time and resources in helping employees see a future within the organization. They employ a talent management assessment system called the "nine box," which assesses an employee's potential for growth and where they currently stand in their career. This system allows them to identify high performers, future leaders, and individuals who may need additional support or training.

The agency is also very committed to quarterly goal setting and tracks whether departments and individuals are setting and achieving their goals. For Jane, no matter the size of the agency, goal setting a priority and holding employees accountable helps creates a culture of continuous improvement and personal development.

Having a clear growth track can help tremendously to keep people motivated. Instead of shifting people's goals every quarter, at Jane’s agency the senior team sits down at the beginning of the year and establish career progression goals for each employee. This long-term approach allows employees to have a clear vision of their growth trajectory and helps them stay focused on their objectives throughout the year.

Additionally, the agency conducts quarterly check-ins to ensure that employees and their managers are on the same page and to make any necessary adjustments. Sometimes employees may find that their initial goal to be managers didn’t turn out to be what they expected and want to change paths. Many individuals excel as individual contributors and may feel miserable when forced into management positions. This is why it’s so important to help employees discern their strengths and interests, guiding them towards the most suitable career paths.

Mastering the Remote Agency Balancing Act

As a mostly distributed agency, Jane confronts an ironic challenge - remotely fostering the connections that sustain a thriving culture. Granting location flexibility wins employee applause yet strains community ties essential for engagement.

Seeking solutions – and since employees themselves expressed missing in-person interactions – Jane orchestrates annual on-site summits converging far-flung teams under one roof. Finally pairing names to faces, coworkers bond face-to-face, forging ties persisting long after their Portland return.

Supplementing yearly reunions, virtual initiatives facilitate camaraderie despite distance. Happy hours, trivia and Slack channels give employees seeking camaraderie space to interact casually. Laughter and levity still permeate daily experience.

While remote work poses undeniable engagement obstacles, for Jane flexibility prevails as a strategic advantage with proper caretaking. Her creative efforts to nurture connection amidst constraints highlight that distributed teams can thrive through unity-focused systems.

With purposeful community-building as a priority, employees feel recognized, valued and bonded through shared experience - the foundation for an agile, resilient agency built to go the distance. Though staying remote requires constant creativity, with the right workplace culture any isolated gaps soon disappear.

Cultivating Connective Tissue Through Deliberate Building

Jane understands a thriving agency relies on thriving teams. And cohesive teams demand deliberate culture cultivation. Hence the urgency of making connection central to company identity - binding individuals to collaborative community. Deliberate culture builds strong teams, so her focus is on creating and maintaining a set of values, behaviors, and practices that align with the company's goals and objectives. When a company takes intentional steps to cultivate a positive and inclusive culture, it lays the foundation for building strong teams.

For Jane, one of the key aspects of deliberate culture is the emphasis on connection and community. She prioritizes regular team meetings, both in-person and virtually, where team members have the opportunity to interact and collaborate. By fostering these connections, team members feel a sense of belonging and are more likely to stay with the company for a longer period.

Over time, the priority placed on genuine human relationships cements loyalty even amidst competing opportunities. When agency priorities align with employee values beyond paychecks, retention risk reduces.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


What fears or limiting beliefs hold agency owners back from pricing their services assertively? What critical ingredients are you missing to confidently quantify value? Today’s guest co-founded a small yet highly profitable creative agency in less than four years by starting out with a clear concept of the value she provides. Charging according to your worth is usually a difficult subject for many agency owners, as it gets to the core of how they value their work. However, establishing your value and pricing it accordingly sits at the heart of every agency's growth potential. Tune in to learn how starting out with a clear idea of your pricing will help you find your ideal audience faster and weed out bad prospects.

Shannon Fitzgerald is the co-founder and CCO of The Hooligans Agency, a boutique agency specializing in video content for small to mid-size agencies, advocacy organization, non-profits, and more. As she puts it, they make culturally dope shit that makes the world a more fair and equitable place. Shannon recalls her road from the media industry to focusing on the political and advocacy space, the challenge of not losing yourself in hustle culture, and much more.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Standing unflinching on price.

  • Communicating your values to find the right clients.

  • How to build a workflow structure to ensure smooth agency sailing.

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

From Success in Entertainment to Becoming an Agent of Change

After starting her media career very young working at the BBC and rising up the ranks at MTV developing binge-worthy series, Shannon decided to change her focus and go beyond primetime profits into the political field.

Following the 2016 election, she became a creative strategist and worked with over 80 congressional and statewide candidates. Eventually, she decided to create her own agency to focus on the non-profit and advocacy space, which was in great need of a new creative and storytelling perspective, and has been working on getting these more traditionally-minded organizations to take creative risks.

Standing Unflinching on Price: Projecting Self-Worth to Clients

For Shannon, quantifying her agency's value started by trusting decades of expertise. With 20 years as an entertainment power player, her creative vision at last found purpose converging politics with media. Intuitively connecting candidates' objectives to audience-captivating messaging, early wins confirmed - this was her niche.

Even while securing that first client, self-doubt barely surfaced. Shannon charged $1,200 for a 30-second ad, cementing her positioning confidence. She knew the right customers would recognize a premium creative's worth and pay for ingenuity.

Ultimately, if you don’t understand your worth, neither will clients. For founders struggling to project certainty, she admits self-valuation reflects inner beliefs. Shannon and her partner started out establishing their worth and trusting the right clients will appreciate their expertise and have been successful in finding an audience. Establishing your worth can be really difficult, but it’s a hurdle all agency owners must face on their path to growth. By boldly embracing self-worth from inception, her agency found its niche and charted the path toward maximum impact.

How to Communicate Value to Find the Right Clients

Once you have a clear understanding of your worth, it is important to effectively communicate this value to your prospects. This involves highlighting your experience, expertise, and the unique solutions you bring to the table. Being clear about your worth will also help you be clear about the type of client you want to work with. For Shannon, this means making sure the values are aligned; is the message they want to put into the world something she wants the agency to spend time on? Are they willing to try new things and trust her agency’s guidance? In this sense, she’ll typically turn in a document with 5 to 6 ideas for the client’s project varying from new and risky to more moderate. The client’s pick will let her know how far they’re willing to go in terms of creative risks. Next, they’ll develop the selected idea to create a campaign.

It is also important to be confident in your pricing and not undersell yourself. Charging prices that accurately reflect your abilities and the impact of your work are essential for attracting clients who appreciate and are willing to pay for your services. Confidence in pricing allows you to establish profitability, work fewer hours, and have the freedom to do what you love.

Structuring Workflows for Smooth Agency Sailing

Shannon's agency survives the chaos of campaign cycles through ruthless workflow efficiency. By maximizing available resources and strictly limiting revision round robin, projects emerge unscathed by decision delays.

Early on, Shannon learned overthinking routinely murdered great ideas. Now her team trusts initial creative sparks, moving decisively to harness that raw momentum. This scrappy, disciplined approach sets firm boundaries around agency bandwidth, eliminating time-draining distractions.

With non-negotiable processes comes responsibility on the client side as well. With cascading deadlines for feedback completion, accountability transfers to customers themselves. Stakeholders must consolidate direction, no drifting directives landing sporadically.

Failing that test risks additional charges - fees enforcing alignment. Weekend emergency edits draw penalties too. These rules, while rarely weaponized, provide productive pressure. Just knowing outputs remain on track guides teams internally to hit targets for which they stand accountable.

In such high-stakes environments, structure keeps all moving briskly towards the finish. By maximizing her crew’s gifts and limiting second-guessing revision requests, Shannon’s agency delivers despite unforgiving timelines. Within carefully defined constraints, creativity thrives.

Finally, although they are starting to move more towards a retainer-based model, Shannon talks about being project-based so far and how it’s helped her small team take on different kinds of projects. For big projects, they’ll call in contractors who’ll work with them for the duration of the project. This has allowed them to stay flexible about the type of projects they take on and not have to build a bigger team before the agency is ready.

Designing Your Agency Around Your Life & Not the Other Way Around

Shannon has been conscious of building the agency around her life. As someone who cannot stand hustle culture and the glorification of being busy, she wanted nothing to do with a life dedicated solely to working. Of course, building a business is no easy feat and requires a lot of work but she gives herself permission to take a break, workout, and take care of her mental health if needed.

Working non-stop will only lead to burnout. What you really need to start building the life you want today is a clear vision of what you want. How does that life look like? What do you need to start doing now to make that happen? How do you need to hire? Shannon refers to the idea of making yourself as obsolete and unnecessary as possible by building a team that can operate without you, ensuring continuity and growth.

Once agency owners free themselves from minor tasks, they can focus on strategy and on leveling up to take their agency to the next level. An agency can only reach its maximum potential based on the current level of its owner. The goal should be to create systems and processes that can sustain the agency's growth even if you’re not directly involved in every aspect of the business.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Cracking_Profitable_Agency_Growth_with_Shannon_Fitzgerald___Ep_667.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Are you looking for ways to differentiate your agency? Have you considered expanding your agency’s offering with proprietary technology? Today’s guest markets to franchise systems and offers a platform built for their specific marketing needs. It’s a great way to cater to clients’ specific pain points while increasing his agency’s value. He details the unique challenges and opportunities of marketing for franchise systems, the strategic decisions behind developing proprietary technology to better serve clients, and the challenge of getting most clients to adopt this solution.

Alex Porter is the CEO of Location3, a partner agency for multi-unit brands and franchise systems. His agency has been delivering enterprise strategy with local activation for clients and helped them drive digital transformation since 1999. Tune in to gain valuable perspective on growing and scaling your agency and learning how having their own platform has helped them differentiate from the competition.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Finding their perfect niche.
  • Marketing to franchises.
  • Offering a dedicated platform for franchisees.

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Agency Blueprint: Do you need help accelerating your agency’s growth? If you’re having trouble scaling your agency, maybe you're just too close to the identify areas where you need the most help. This is why we're setting up a free strategy session with our Scale Specialist Darby where he’ll walk you through a framework for scaling your agency faster. Just schedule a chat with Darby – no string attached – at JasonSwenk.com/Darby. Together, you'll figure out your next steps for scaling your agency faster.

Podcast Takeover!!

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

Why Franchises was the Perfect Niche for This Agency

25 years ago, Alex was ready to go back to college for a PhD in Sports Psychology when he ran to an old buddy who told him the internet was going to be the next big thing. He offered him a job at his startup where he could learn about internet marketing. The appeal of getting very early into something like that was exciting, so he changed his plans and followed his friend and began his career in marketing.

About five years ago, after working for Location3 for many years, Alex and the team decided the agency would focus on the franchise space after one of their biggest clients went out of business. This event led the company to reevaluate their purpose and strengths. They realized they had a strong track record of working with franchise brands and enjoyed the relationships they had built in that industry.

One of the key insights looking into this space was that there were very few agencies specifically catering to franchises. This presented an opportunity for them to differentiate themselves and provide targeted solutions to franchise systems and their individual franchisees.

What It’s Like to Work With Franchises

The success of franchise marketing lies in the mindset of innovation. Alex and the team not only understand the business of their franchise clients but also focus on driving revenue. They constantly test new tactics and ensure that each dollar is spent efficiently.

However, franchise marketing also presents unique challenges, particularly in navigating the corporate versus individual franchisee relationship. Location3 primarily starts at the franchisor level, as they are responsible for assisting their franchisees in their marketing efforts. This why they first take the time to understand how this particular relationship works from a funding perspective in each case and aim to become the franchisors preferred vendor that they will then recommend to franchisees.

In terms of engaging with franchisees, most franchise systems have annual conferences to discuss operations, finance, and marketing. Location3 typically attends these conferences and provide education on new marketing strategies and showcase data-driven results. Throughout the year, they continue to engage franchisees with webinars and information to keep them updated on the ever-changing digital marketing landscape.

Bridging the Tech Gap for Franchise Marketing with Their Own Technology Solution

Franchise marketing is unique in that each franchisee acts as their own Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). The success of their marketing efforts directly impacts their individual lives, making it a highly invested interest for them. Location3 recognized this and developed its own platform called Local Act, which allows franchisees to understand and optimize their local digital marketing efforts.

Through Local Act, franchisees can track metrics such as website traffic, reviews, phone calls, and conversions. They can also analyze the effectiveness of their local marketing campaigns and make data-driven decisions to drive customer acquisition and revenue. The response has been very rewarding.

According to Alex, the decision to build the platform was primarily driven by client demand. Location3 saw there was no existing solution in the marketplace that met their clients' needs. The franchisees wanted their information platformed, and instead of building an Excel dashboard, they saw the value of hosting that data. Additionally, they believed that incorporating technology into their business would increase their company's value and enable them to transition from a services-based business to a technology-enabled services business.

Implementing this technology-enabled service required hiring various roles within their software engineering department, including a database person, a UI (user interface) designer, a project manager, and data analysts and data scientists to help understand and incorporate AI and machine learning findings into their data analysis.

Despite the company's belief in their tool for franchisees to drive customer acquisition at a reasonable cost, the adoption rate has not reached its full potential. This may stem from the fact that some franchisees still rely on traditional marketing methods like direct mail and is something Alex will continue to address moving forward.

Growth Plans: Calculated M&A Pursuits

In terms of growth strategies, Alex is considering the possibility of acquisitions. By acquiring companies that are similar to them but lack the technology platform, Location3 can seamlessly integrate them, further enhancing their services. Additionally, they plan to invest more in sales and marketing to attract more brands and establish more touchpoints with senior leaders in franchise systems. In this sense, they hope to attract more franchise systems with more than 50 locations, with strong management teams, and willing to invest in technology.

As to how they continue to add value for customers, they’ve implemented digital recruitment. Recognizing the hiring challenges faced by their clients, they developed hyperlocal campaigns across search, social media, and retargeting to directly reach potential candidates. This approach allows clients to connect with qualified candidates on a one-to-one basis, rather than relying on expensive job platforms where resumes are sent to multiple competitors. By targeting candidates directly, Location3 has been able to reduce the cost per recruit and successfully fill open positions for their clients.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Do you have a hard time letting go of agency operations and overall control? Have you embraced your role as the visionary and taken a step back from minor tasks? If you haven’t, why not? Today’s guest realized at one point that autonomy was his personal core value and that his agency would fail unless he prioritized it. This realization led to a new point of view, where he imagines how he would run his agency if he knew nothing about the business. This exercise has greatly helped him detach himself from agency operations and trust the agency can run without him. Tune in for an interesting discussion about autonomy in business, having employees vs. hiring contractors, and the benefits of building a personal brand.  

Nicholas Kusmich is a digital marketing expert who helps businesses rapidly scale revenue using Facebook Advertising. He’s behind the highest campaign ROI's in the world thanks to his “Contextual Congruence”– a proprietary process based on the marriage between direct response marketing and understanding social behavior.

He’s also the founder of H2H Media Group, a paid media agency that has been helping brands be heard since the onset of Facebook. Nicholas shares his journey of starting his agency in 2008 and how he transitioned from being a one-man show to building a team of autonomous contractors.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Strategies vs. tactics to build businesses.

  • The power of personal brand.

  • Putting autonomy first.

  • An exercise to help take yourself out of the equation.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Long-term Strategies vs. Tactics as a way to Build Business

Back in 2008, Nicholas was told having his own business would require selling an ebook and a course. In order to sell said ebook, he started running ads on Facebook. Once he became good enough, people were contacting him to do these ads for them. Suddenly, he had an agency. Since then, his agency has had the fortune of working with big brands and helping businesses that needed to be heard become brand names.

In the beginning, Nicholas admits he was charging way less than he should have, with an initial fee of $500 a month. However, compared with today’s landscape where you can get offers from people promising to work for free, it seems far more tamed. As an alternative, to get the attention of your first clients, he suggests being clear on what the fees are from the beginning but offering to only charge them after they see results. It’ll allow you to build leverage, get those new clients and not ruin your reputation.

Furthermore, you’ll get much better results by building your reputation using long-term strategies. Instead of emailing a prospect offering to send them a video, create 10 custom videos that offer value and send them over a certain period. You’ll be much more likely to get their attention and start a conversation. For Nicholas, “strategies build business and tactics make sales.” Yet everyone in the business seems to be using tactics.

Too many marketers are constantly chasing the latest trends in an attempt to capture attention and make quick sales. To some extent, of course it makes sense to always be aware of new developments and using new technologies. However, the consistency and focus on long-term strategies is what will allow you to build a successful business.

Recognizing the Power of Building Your Personal Brand

Nick, unintentionally, built the agency’s brand around himself and his knowledge. Now he’s spent the last few years pushing off the notion that working with his agency means working directly with him. In the beginning, he was very much the button pusher, running the ads himself and taking sales calls. However, he realized he wasn’t living the entrepreneurial dream he’d wanted and was burned out and stressed. Learning about Dan Sulllivan’s unique ability principal, he realized real growth and development would only come by surrounding himself with people with their own unique abilities. These people would then take over every other tasks outside his specific expertise.

Next, it was time to build his brand, but was it better to build his own or the agency brand first? It seems no one can agree on whether it’s best to develop your personal brand or agency brand first. But we can all agree on this: personal brands are very powerful. Logan Paul and KSI took out heavy hitters like Coca-Cola not because Prime is the best energy drink in history but because they had really strong personal brands.

No one wants to engage with a brand, they want to engage with a human being. Nicholas recognized the value of his personal brand in attracting clients. His unique point of view on acquisition and advertising strategies is what sets his agency apart from others. In essence, your personal brand is something that will stay with you for years to come. Will you also need to build a separate agency brand? Yes, because that’s maybe something you’ll sell or license down the line while you keep the personal brand you’ve worked hard to build.

Establishing Autonomy as a Core Value in His Agency

Nick strongly believes in upholding autonomy as his number one value in all aspects. Going against this, he says, would only bring frustrations. This is why he set out to create a business where he would either not have employees or strictly hire autonomous individuals who don’t need to be micromanaged and know how to take initiative.

Taking this step felt simultaneously liberating and like he was going against industry standards. He felt like team culture was very important for owners but something that went against his sanity overall. In the beginning, he admits to going too far with this approach, diving so much into autonomy that he ended up being a bad leader. It was one thing to give people space to operate and a very different one to feel disconnected from his team. He had to go back and bridge that gap.

In the past, having employees had been a source of pressure. Therefore, he set out to look for specific team members who value autonomy and initiative just as much as he does. This approach has worked out well for him. Of course, working with contractors has its down side but it’s what is right for him.

It’s a vision that a friend of his called “netting up”, which means maintaining his net revenue while working less and having fewer employees. Importantly, Nick always had a vision of building the agency as a lifestyle business. Diving deep into building an agency where he could maintain his autonomy was his way to continue to scale the business on his terms.

An Exercise to See the Benefits of Taking Yourself Out of the Equation

For Nicholas, many agency owners find it hard to give up full control of their agency’s operations and sales because they started the business as a skilled person working by themselves. If you have the skill and do the work, when it comes time to hand that work off chances are you’ll think “I can do it better!”

An interesting exercise for these cases is to imagine how things would be if you started a business you knew nothing about. In this hypothetical case, you wouldn’t build the business around yourself but rather hire great people to execute the business while you come up with strategies in your visionary role. It’s an exercise that helps agency owners detach themselves from their business allow them to reach new heights by taking themselves out of the equation.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.

Direct download: Embracing_Autonomy__Personal_Branding_with_Nicholas_Kusmich___665.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am MDT

Are you an agency owner or an entrepreneur who wants to take your business to the next level? Do you want to learn how to grow your revenue, profit, and impact in the world? Have you found yourself chasing only the money and feeling dissatisfied later? Today’s guest grew her agency from zero to seven figures in just two years, while also making a positive impact in the world through her social responsibility initiatives. She has transitioned from being a consultant to being a leader and aligned her business with her personal goals and values, and has used her agency as a platform to create social change and help others.

Natalie Hogg is the founder and CEO of Method Q, a marketing agency that offers a unique combination of services, including traditional marketing, talent placement, and fractional CMO work. Under her leadership, Method Q has achieved remarkable growth, evolving into a seven-figure enterprise within just two years of its inception. She reveals how she started her agency with a vision and a press release and explains how she faced and overcame the challenges of scaling her business.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • A press release setting a clear vision.
  • Allowing room for solutions to emerge.
  • The key to building a scalable business.

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Making the Best Out of an Unexpected Layoff

Natalie's journey into the world of marketing and agency ownership is marked by a blend of strategic foresight and a deep understanding of the digital landscape. Her career began in the bustling world of digital marketing, where she was getting ahead until an unexpected layoff derailed how she’d seen her path thus far.  The idea of starting her own business had been in her mind as something she’d do further down the line. However, this shift made her question “Why not now? Why should I have to wait years until I’m more experienced?”

She found a gap in the market, with many companies laying off their marketing and sales teams and later falling behind in reaching their goals. This is where she comes in to help them figure out who to hire. It all started as consultancy work, but soon evolved into a growing team and officially having her own agency.

One of her signature services is fractional CMO work, where she acts as a part-time chief marketing officer for her clients, providing them with strategic guidance and direction. This service has positioned Method Q as a trailblazer in the marketing world, offering a novel and valuable solution that sets them apart from their competitors.

With every success she tries to give back by taking on non-profit clients and she herself is on the board of StandUp for Kids, helping youth at risk of homelessness.

How a Clear Vision Will Take You All the Way to Success

Natalie’s vision for the agency started with a press release she wrote in 2020 about her future and her retirement. Everything she wrote there became a reality, even faster than she could have expected.

Growing an agency is a very complex endeavor that will have many ups and downs. For her part, Natalie has been able to pull through the hard times and not let fears of failure get to her. In fact, she says she’d never go back now that she’s had her taste of entrepreneurship. Her success is the proof that having a clear idea of where you’re going makes it much easier to take full advantage of the little uptick moments that get you to the next level.

Feedback Over Firefighting: Allowing Room for Solutions to Emerge

With over 20 clients, Natalie has had to accept she’s no longer able to handle all accounts herself and started delegating. It was time to make her team accountable and trust their work.

Giving up control is not easy and it will take hiring people you trust. If you’re finding it too hard to delegate tasks, it may mean you don’t trust your team. Ask yourself why this is the case. Did you have clear standards when it came to hiring or just started hiring when you were desperate for help? For her part, Natalie made many valuable contacts while working in-house and was already aware of the incredible value they would add to her agency.

As a boss, she sees herself as an empowerer and has no issue giving up control; however, she’ll always want to be in the loop to influence decisions rather than make them. Agency owners tend to fall into the trap of wanting to solve all problems and not let their team figure it out. This is a mistake. Instead, hard times can become teaching moments if you allow your team to talk through the possible solutions. In this sense, she knows the importance of having a good team to grow your agency and is doing the work to add the necessary talent to take her agency in the direction of being full service.

The Key to Building a Scalable Business

As the head of a multimillion dollar agency, does she have more freedom? “I did in the beginning,” she says. Now past that initial fun stage, boundaries means making a conscious decision to not put her full self in the business and end up exhausted.

Moreover, once you make the decision to take care of yourself to avoid burnout, who’s going to be there to fill the gap? Finding the right people to fill that gap is crucial for that transition into more freedom. As she continues to take on more, she will have to delegate part of her load. Sure, creating these jobs can end up initially impacting profitability, but it will surely help the business make more money down the line.

Letting go and being very strict about your free time is all about building habits and creating rules for yourself. Just like you schedule your meetings, block some time in your schedule exclusively for your enjoyment. It’ll help you enjoy your business that much more.

Building a business that is scalable means building a business where you’re not doing everything. You’re just doing what you do best and keep learning and evolving to then bring that to the business.

Making a Clear Mission Statement for Yourself

Curiosity and the will to keep learning is the key to any type of success. It also means not letting yourself getting too comfortable with what you know and continue to improve yourself however you can. That was the idea behind Natalie’s original press release, to set herself some goals that would take her out of her comfort zone. Now that she accomplished everything on that press release, she’s due for a new one.

The idea of a press release or any kind of statement where you publicly declare your goals for the next couple of years is a good exercise for all agency owners. It’ll be a clear mission statement regarding the type of business you want to create that can provide direction as to where you’re going and what your next steps should be. If a giant like Amazon does it, it can sure benefit your business.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


What does it take to succeed in business, especially in the agency world? How do you surround yourself with the right people who can support you, challenge you, and help you grow? How do you overcome the obstacles and fears that may hold you back from achieving your goals?

Today’s guest is an agency owner who shares his personal experiences of being in both conducive and detrimental social circles and highlights how the latter can negatively impact one's mindset and success. His philosophy underscores the importance of having a balanced perspective by interacting with people at different levels – those who are less experienced, peers, and more successful individuals. Tune in to learn about how surrounding yourself with the wrong people can leave feeling stuck and miserable, the fallacy of comparing yourself to others, and the importance of finding a community that will help you reach new heights and keep you accountable to your goals.

Ian Garlic is a marketing expert specializing in video marketing and storytelling. He is the founder of video marketing agency authenticWEB and is the mind behind Storycrews. He also hosts The Garlic Marketing Show, is part of the team at Video Case Story, and consults on video shoots. Ian known for his profound insights and innovative approaches in the digital marketing landscape. His journey in the industry is marked by a deep understanding of the intricacies of business growth, particularly in the agency sector, and a passion for helping businesses harness the power of effective storytelling in their marketing strategies.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Curating your support system.

  • Overcoming the barrier of overthinking and self-doubt.

  • Choosing the right group for you.

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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 e2msolutions.com/smartagency and get 10% off for the first three months of service.

Who’s In Your Corner? Curating Your Support System

Agency owners everywhere find themselves chasing the wrong yardstick, pushing relentlessly toward finish lines not their own. Gripped by others’ narrow definitions of success, they wake one morning in quiet panic.

The team too often hears from agency heads who built ventures according to the “right” metrics. Yet after reaching a certain level of success they find themselves stressed out and disillusionment sets in. Soon enough, they start thinking about selling because of how unhappy they are.

Ian knows that pain firsthand. Surrounded by big league players, he pushed his agency to serve ever-larger corporations. But in that quest for status, the work lost meaning. At a point, he felt far removed from the local businesses he set out to empower.

It was time for a change. He needed his own definitions, his own scorecard - rooted in his values rather than others’ demands.

If you find yourself chasing ideas of success that don’t fit with your values, look around and evaluate if you’re surrounding yourself with the right people. For Ian, being in the wrong group, even if technically you’re surrounded by very successful people, can have a negative effect on one's confidence, motivation, and performance.

By contrast, the right people will offer support and help you find the right answers. In this sense, Ian speaks about the importance of being with people who are at different levels of success - below, at the same level, and above you - to ensure a balanced perspective and growth.

Peers at all stages can become guides or critics. Just take stock of those given VIP access to your mind. Do they fill your cup or drain it? Nourish dreams or deflate them? With perspective, those draining more than giving face demotion.

Shortcutting Analysis Paralysis Through Shared Perspectives

As agency scale specialist, Darby speaks with many agency owners every week to help them come up with growth strategies and keep track of their goals. In this role, he has found that overthinking is a common barrier for agency owners that can lead to analysis paralysis, where one gets stuck in indecision and inaction. Making decisions is tough, and agency owners can fall in the trap of seeing all the angles and choices, which leads to worrying they’re making the wrong move.

He recommends seeking a supportive environment, such as a mastermind or a support group, where they can get feedback, advice, and accountability to help them make decisions and move forward. On your own, you may get too deep into what you’re trying to do and give up before giving yourself enough time to find the right way.

Having the right people to support you can help you transform not only your business but also your mindset. You’ll learn to receive feedback, which can be hard but is very important to get out of your own head and see things from a different perspective. Like most things, it takes practice, and being in an environment where you frequently get feedback will help you build that muscle.

Maybe you feel it’s not something you need right now but it will surely become important at some point in your growth. Anyone that says they succeeded completely on their own is either lying or in denial. After all, some of the most successful people out there couldn’t have made it without the right support system.

How Do You Know if a Group is Right for You?

You may find it takes a few tries to find the right community or group for you. It’s not just about getting to share your struggles, you also need to feel challenged. If you’re the smartest person in the room and everyone there thinks everything you’re doing is great, you’re probably in the wrong group. Do you feel good about what they’re doing and how they go about things? Do you like being around them? Are they going in the same direction you want to go?

Furthermore, look for a group with people who’ve already faced the challenges you’re currently facing. If you’re working on scaling your agency past eight figures and are currently in a group where no one has done that then can they really help you get there?

It all goes back to what you want to do and who you are. If you’re trying to build an agency, then you shouldn’t be in a general marketing group. In his case, Ian prefers groups that are not just money motivated but also think of the bigger picture.

It’ll take work to find your “pack” and you may even find that it changes over time as you evolve and go through stages. Maybe you’ll hit a stage where you want a lifestyle business and seek out people with the same goals. The important thing is that you understand what you want and what you’re going after at the moment.

Think of a Mastermind as an Investment in Your Growth

Focusing on relationships that better you as an agency owner and a person will be a huge step in your growth journey. Join a mastermind, start a mastermind, and figure out the groups you want to be in. You won’t necessarily get it right the first time, but it’s an important investment in the future of your business.

Start by getting clear on what you want and why you want it and, define what success looks like to you. Then push yourself to look for a community that will help guide you in the steps you need to get to that success.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Have you considered bringing on a partner to lighten the immense pressure of solo agency leadership? Do fears around lacking key skills or experience hold you back from taking the entrepreneurial leap yourself? When today’s guest launched his first agency, self-doubt around “going it alone” led him to take on a co-founder partnership. But without aligned goals from day one, hairline fractures quickly formed.

As their once amicable agency grew and priorities diverged, he outgrew the partnership and they went their separate ways. In this interview, he’ll talk about why he didn’t go into a partnership for the right reasons, how the dynamic between he and his partner worked, and how they went about the adjustment process after the split. Tune in if you’re an agency owner trying to figure out whether a partnership would be right for you.

Rob Rosasco is the founder and driving force behind Too Darn Loud Digital Marketing, a boutique agency that specializes in assisting law firms to amplify their presence and reach. Rob reflects on his early days in the industry, his eventual venture into starting his own agency, and the initial fears that led him to start his business with a partner. He goes into the dynamics of the partnership and how eventually he found himself outgrowing it, both professionally and in terms of the vision for the company.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Building an exit strategy after outgrowing your partner.
  • Dividing the agency when selling is off the table.
  • Preparing an ironclad clause for an agency partner breakup.

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Sponsors and Resources

Gusto: Running payroll and benefits is hard. Especially when you’re a small business. Gusto is a tool that helps make payroll, benefits, and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out Gusto.com/agency for 3 months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.

Outgrowing Co-Founders: Building Exit Strategies into Agency Partnerships

After working for a larger company in the legal marketing space for eight years, Rob felt starting his own business would be a natural transition. His journey into entrepreneurship began with a mixture of ambition and caution. Initially hesitant to venture solo into the competitive arena of digital marketing, he decided to start his business with a partner. This decision, born out of a desire to mitigate the challenges of launching and running a business independently, marked the beginning of a significant phase in his career.

At the heart of Rob's professional expertise is a profound understanding of sales and client engagement, a skill set essential for the growth of his venture. Despite his extensive experience, he recognized the need for support in areas like back-office operations, web development, and SEO. So he resolved to partner with someone who could complement his skills and share the entrepreneurial journey.

The relationship worked exactly as he had envisioned for a while, with his partner working his excellent selling skills to get clients while Rob ran the business. As the business evolved, Rob found himself at a crossroads. Both he and the agency outgrew his partner who got comfortable staying at a certain point in terms of growth. After seven years, the differing visions and philosophies between him and his partner necessitated a reevaluation of their partnership. However, their operating agreement did not include language for this specific situation where one partner was dissatisfied with the other’s contribution.

Rob's experience is not just a tale of business strategy and partnership dynamics; it emphasizes the importance of having clear terms in any business partnership, especially provisions for situations where partners may need to part ways due to divergent goals or strategies.

When Selling's Off the Table: Divvying Up Split Partnerships

Not all partnerships have to end this way. If you have a business partner and are thinking about parting ways, think hard about whether you have irreconcilable differences or just need to make a few changes. Having fundamental differences in your approach to the business, vision, and philosophy is very different from just needing a new role. If you do decide you just don’t see eye to eye in the business anymore, then it’s better to part ways sooner rather than later.

By the time both partners accepted it was no longer working out, they considered different options like splitting or one of them buying the other out. Selling the agency seemed like a possibility in the beginning, having already received some decent offers. However, Rob and his partner couldn’t agree on what constituted a fair amount.

Rob pushed to buy his partner out to have the company as a whole, but it wasn’t possible. Since neither of them wanted to sell, it came down to splitting their customer base down the middle. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was the solution that ultimately avoided a long legal battle.

Preparing for Bitter Ends: Ironclad Clauses & Agency Breakups

After the split, Rob and his former partner were able to chart a new course through thoughtful negotiation. With the client base divided 50/50, it was time to also decide who their employees would continue to work with. Four of their employees went to work with Rob while another two split their time between both as they went through the transition. As to their clients, they were informed as soon as the deal was made. However, it would be another four to six months before they’d see real changes like new bank accounts and invoices. Overall, it was a very successful transition, considering they didn’t lose neither clients nor team members in the process.

Golden Nugget: While their approach went smoothly, the experience revealed gaps in his agency legal safeguards. When co-founders part ways, air-tight client contracts become essential. Specifically, it’s important to include a clause in your client agreement clarifying you can transfer those contracts in case of a sale.

For context: smaller agencies (under $5M revenue) typically transact as asset sales. This means the buyer purchases all client contracts and can onboard accounts without seeking added approval.

But without explicit clauses permitting easy account transfers, securing signatures of dozens (or hundreds) of clients amidst an agency sale sounds nightmarish. As does trying to exclude accounts unwilling to switch over.

Come sale time, this clause spares chaotic scramble to confirm who stays and who goes. The buyer inherits your book of business cleanly. No need to parse accounts in the midst of a turbulent ownership shuffle..

It may feel premature early on, but it ultimately provides flexibility to pivot strategically as your agency evolves. Whether a bitter founder split or lucrative acquisition offer, you dictate the terms without complications.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Are you getting ready to sell your agency? Are you looking into potential buyers? How will you protect your interests in an M&A process? Today’s guest has a lot of experience, and even a book, in this area having sold the same agency twice and coming out mostly unscathed from the initial failed deal. He’ll share some of the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of selling your agency and the challenges of managing a large agency team. Tune in to gain valuable insights on navigating the process of selling your agency.

David Rodnitzky is a digital marketer who started and later sold 3Q Digital, a team of 500+ rockstar/ninja/guru online marketing pros who offer expertise in online analytics, decision science, strategic consulting, creative, and conversion rate optimization. He also founded Agentic Shift, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to helping agency founders successfully exit their businesses through mergers or acquisitions (M&A).

Recently, David poured all his M&A expertise into his new book, Selling Your Marketing Agency, which you can get on Amazon.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The Key to managing an agency team of over 100 people.

  • An ironclad acquisition contract clause that will save your agency.

  • Lessons to help you avoid pitfalls in the M&A process.

Sponsors and Resources

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

Accidental Agency Owner in Search Engine Marketing

According to David, he sort of glammed into the world of search engine marketing after started in digital marketing in 2000. He worked at a series of startups in Silicon Valley, for about eight years and moved on to a company where he found the culture was not one he agreed with. He was traveling to India three times a year to manage a team while his wife was pregnant and decided it was not a smart family decision. So he quit and set up shop in a coffee house in Pacifica, California.

Soon people started calling him to help them with search engine marketing consulting and he had an agency. That agency Today is 3Q Digital, part of a bigger organization called DEPT.

The Key to Managing Over 100 People: Maintaining Consistency of Quality and Processes

For David, it’s a lot harder to go from managing two people to 25 people than it is to go from 25 people to 100 people. No individual can manage hundreds of people. You can only dedicate so many hours per week to checking in with your team. In this sense, he has learned the importance of maintaining consistency of quality when it comes to the people he hires, as well the importance of processes.

Most agency owners would agree it's relatively easy to manage and monitor two or three employees and make sure that they are doing a great job. However, the more people you hire, the more you have to delegate that responsibility and the less you sort of know about how well your team is performing. So David has learned to remain constantly obsessed with quality on the team.

As to delegating, processes will be key to maintaining quality, and unfortunately, most agencies don't have many processes. At David’s agency, when a client is onboarded, the success or failure of that client is based on the person assigned to that account. The results could vary since everyone has their unique ideas. That’s why you’ll need a solid process to ensure consistency because you can't have a brand without consistent results.

An Ironclad Acquisition Clause to Save Your Agency from Ruin

Initially, David wasn’t planning on selling his agency, until the offers came pouring in unsolicited. So he hired an investment banker to keep track of these inbound leads and screen them to determine which ones were legitimate buyers.

At this point, David decided to do a "mini process" where he sent letters to some potential buyers hoping to get official offers. The idea was to create a competitive environment and increase his company’s perceived value. The result was three great offers with one clear winner. This offer was a lot higher than David had expected, as its owners were bent on buying an agency. In the end, they took the offer for $30 million in cash and $35 in an earnout over three years.

But business veterans know big payouts often come with equally big headaches. So before ink hit paper, David negotiated an ironclad clause: until the full earnout paid out, he would retain absolute authority on all agencies like finances, sales, and hiring. Furthermore, if the company failed to meet the initial terms David would have the option to buy the agency back. He’d soon confirm adding that clause was the right decision.

Earnout Loopholes and Buying Back the Agency to Rebuild

Under the deal signed with their new parent company, David would get his earnout if he managed to double the agency’s revenue in three years. They had to get from $17 million in revenue to $35 million in three years. Looking back, David believes the buyers didn’t think they’d be able to do it. However, after about a year and a half, it became clear the agency would reach that goal.

Unfortunately, the parent company was now facing some economic struggles and it became clear they’d be unable to pay the $35 million. This led to a second process that was the opposite of the first one. With their parent company struggling and trying to sell just two years after acquiring them, no one seemed interested in buying.

Finally, saving his agency came down to securing a $5 million loan to buy it back. Under this deal, they would give the parent company $5 million in cash immediately and remove the $35 million debt obligation, to which they agreed.

David took the company back and focused on scaling it and nine months later he got purchase offers once again. In the end, he sold under a traditional private equity deal.

More Lessons on the Agency M&A Process

Having sold his company once, David was prepared for the push and pull of negotiations and figured he’d had to make some compromises. He focused on making sure his interests were protected after the deal was done. “People are very nice during the M&A proves, but afterward it’s the contract that speaks,” he says.

Whatever the negotiation point you want to secure, David recommends getting it in writing. You’ll occasionally see a different side of people when money is involved, which is why he recommends working with people you trust and hiring the best lawyers you can. You can’t anticipate any wrongdoings, but you can protect yourself to the best of your ability by looking at every corner case before the deal is signed.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Are you paying attention to the changes AI is bringing to the agency world? How have you been finding ways to incorporate it to streamline processes? Would you consider hiring a dedicated innovation role to keep track of these technological advances and not fall behind? Today’s guest has been in the industry for over 20 years but has been active in staying on top of new technological developments that will change how marketers operate forever. He’s actively testing new uses for AI and working to keep his team excited about learning everything they can about these developments. Discover why refusing to learn and adapt will leave your agency in the past and the importance of a good AI prompt to get the best results.

Jeff Lizik is the president of RedShift Digital Marketing, an ROI-focused business that defines itself as more of an “anti-agency”. His team promises to increase clients’ visibility, boost website traffic, and grow their business while building real relationships that will impact their businesses.

Jeff shares how his accidental success as a paintball retailer led to his venture into the world of digital marketing. He also dives into the challenges he faced with Google's algorithm updates and highlights the need for agency owners to be versatile and adaptable in a constantly evolving industry.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The power of an expertly crafted AI prompt.

  • Will you eventually need a director of innovation?

  • Why you should hire highly skilled talent sooner rather than later.

From Accidental E-Commerce Success to Leading a Top Agency

Jeff found accidental success in the e-commerce industry in 2001 selling paintball supplies he got on eBay. Within a year, he had sold a million dollars worth of products and became the second-largest paintball retailer globally. At one point, he even participated in the beta testing for third-party selling on Amazon.

After his e-commerce venture, he initially decided to take a break and go back to a corporate job. It didn’t last long though; once he missed the entrepreneurial lifestyle, Jeff started building affiliate sites and was making more money than before. However, once Google implemented the Penguin update, all its sites plummeted in search rankings. Unwilling to rebuild the sites, he decided to start his own agency instead.

How Technology Has Transformed and Continues to Transform Marketing

With over two decades in the agency business, the main changes Jeff sees are powered by technology; nowadays there are very efficient tools that have helped marketers improve their jobs.

According to Jeff, technology has made marketers more efficient and effective in their strategies. Search engines, particularly Google, have evolved to become more complex. Everything about Google's search results has changed, such as the placement of ads at the top and the decrease in organic search visibility.

But most people now rarely use Google for searches and instead rely on YouTube and other platforms. Hence, videos have become more important in the decision-making process and social media platforms such as Instagram will play a larger role in driving consumer behavior and sales.

On the other hand, nothing is as simple as 20 years ago. Back in the early 2000’s marketers could still scam the search engines. That’s not possible nowadays, so you have to be good at your job. And we’ve yet to see the full impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the industry, probably the biggest transformation marketers will go through.

The Power of an Expertly Crafted AI Prompt

By now we should all understand there are potential dangers associated with AI, which is why its use should go hand in hand with human oversight and the correct prompts. There’s always the possibility the AI is giving you false information. Treat it as a tool, not a replacement for human expertise and judgment.

AI prompts are powerful tools that have the potential to revolutionize the way marketers approach their work. They can significantly enhance productivity and efficiency by streamlining processes and reducing time spent on tasks.

When it comes to creating the perfect prompts, there are already services that create these prompts for you, which not a lot of people know. These premium prompts are built by experts in the field and provide complete context and background information, ensuring that the AI understands the desired output accurately. By investing in advanced prompts, marketers can gain a deeper understanding of AI capabilities and maximize its potential.

In his case, Jeff works with very detailed prompts that produce very efficient results. How does he use this tool? After uploading detailed information about his agency and the type of clients they work with, he uses AI to create different personas and works through that until he gets one ideal customer profile. He then asks the AI to create headlines based on this customer’s pain points, as well as ideas for every social media platform. In detail, he’s experimented using AI for several areas and can confidently say he can use it for content strategy, lead generation, topic ideas, and lead magnets, and has continued to fine-tune it to get more efficient results. Done correctly, AI prompts can be a marketer's best friend.

Why AI Implementation Will Eventually Require a Dedicated Role

It can be tricky to get your team excited and comfortable using AI. They’ve been doing things a certain way for so long that they may be wary of so many changes. Jeff is slowly turning this around by offering individual members tips and ideas for how to use their prompts and save time. Furthermore, he’s also pushing for them to learn all they can about AI and its uses. Eventually, he plans to record SOPs from which they’ll learn the processes he’s currently figuring out. However, information about AI changes constantly, so he’s been holding off on doing that for now.

One important aspect of the future implementation of AI use in his agency will be hiring a dedicated role responsible for overseeing its implementation and maximizing its potential. Ideally, this role would be tied to all kinds of technological developments changing the industry, rather than just overseeing the use of IA prompts.

This director of innovation would be responsible for staying ahead of emerging technologies and trends. They would be tasked with identifying opportunities for implementing AI in various facets of the agency's operations and developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide the team in utilizing AI effectively.

AI is set to become an integral part of the agency business, which warrants dedicated attention. In this regard, having someone in this role full-time will be crucial for potential cost savings and efficiency gains.

Why You Should Hire Highly Skilled Talent Sooner Rather Than Later

At this point of their agency growth, there are some roles where Jeff and his partner look to hire people with the highest skill level possible. They no longer have the time to teach them and mold them into the role.

In the past, hiring people who don’t have the capacity needed for the role has burnt them and made the agency worse. Team loyalty is important, of course, but Jeff now recognizes the need to prioritize the agency's growth and success. In a sense, he recommends holding people accountable. Once you do that, they’ll either step up and become great in their role, or they’ll see themselves out.

Knowing how having highly skilled team members can significantly contribute to the agency's growth, Jeff wishes he’d invested more in talent since the beginning. However, after the pandemic, hiring outside your state and even your country has become much more common. This has opened many more options when it comes to finding talent. Hence, newer agencies are coming up in a new landscape where they can much easily find the best talent for their needs.

Don’t Fall Behind, Pay Attention to Coming Changes

If you’re not learning about AI and testing the many ways you could be implementing it in your agency, what are you waiting for? Way too many people in the agency industry are ignoring AI. Make no mistake, if you don’t adopt AI, you will be left behind. By the time the agencies not paying attention to the impact of artificial intelligence start to pay attention, it’ll be too late.

Additionally, with the rising prices of Google ads and Facebook ads Jeff he also encourages agency owners to think about the future. What if the search is no longer affordable for your clients? How will you get eyeballs on your client’s products and services? Options like video content and podcasts will be game-changers and we should all be on the lookout for more of these options before we’re blindsided by reality.

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

Looking to dig deeper into your agency's potential? Check out our Agency Blueprint. Designed for agency owners like you, our Agency Blueprint helps you uncover growth opportunities, tackle obstacles, and craft a customized blueprint for your agency's success.


Jason Swenk and Manish Dudharejia delve into the world of agency management and business scalability, shedding light on the complex yet rewarding journey. They explore how past challenges can be transformed into valuable lessons for growth, highlighting the indispensable roles of continuous innovation and strategic thinking. Through their discussion, they unravel the subtle differences that set exceptional work apart from the average, offering listeners practical insights to propel their own business ventures toward unparalleled success and distinction.

Manish reflects on the evolution of a growth-obsessed mindset, both personally and in business, acknowledging past mistakes as pivotal learning experiences. He shares his journey from conventional lead responses to a more focused, core-driven approach, underscoring the value of adapting and evolving business strategies over time.

00:00:00 - Opening Insights: Navigating Agency Management Mastery

00:01:23 - Introducing the Visionary: Insights from Manish Dudharejia

00:03:38 - Agency Growth Uncovered: Planning for Scale and Success

00:04:27 - The Power of Reflection: Innovating for Business Breakthroughs

00:06:46 - Transformative Decisions: How Past Lessons Shape Future Success

00:08:57 - Strategic Focus: The Key to Business Acumen and Achievement

00:10:43 - Pursuing Excellence: Elevating Business Practices to New Heights

00:18:58 - Concluding Wisdom: Summarizing Game-Changing Strategies

00:20:09 - Final Thoughts: Wrapping Up with a Special Opportunity

Resources: https://e2msolutions.com/smartagency

Direct download: Why_You_Need_to_Level_Up_Your_Agency_in_2024.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am MDT

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