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

Brian R. Johnson has served as a leader in online advertising and conversion rate strategy for nearly two decades. He had been offering professional training courses in the Amazon ad space for years before opening his own agency with his partner. Now, Canopy Management is an eight-figure agency and the leading A-to-Z, full service Amazon agency. He joins the podcast to talk about how he built his platform and community before being an agency owner, how he learned the importance of documenting processes and giving new team members access to them from day one, and how he encourages everyone in the team to build each other up.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Building a platform. Many agency owners start their business by offering training courses, advising others on how to solve problems in their niche. This was the case for Brian, who admits he has trained some of his biggest competitors, but also says that this is what helped his agency grow quickly in the first year. People already knew him and wanted to work with him, either as clients or as employees because he had spent years building up a reputation and a community.
  2. Learn to get out of your own way. Agency owners can get in the mindset that they can do everything. In reality, you are crippling your team if they don’t have access to a documented process. It’s no good to the agency or the team if you only have it in your head. You need to document it and you’ll be surprised to see how the team can then take that and improve it.
  3. Encourage your team to build each other up. Our guest recommends doing “daily huddles” to build a more united team. These are 10-minute daily minutes where he will ask “who had a win yesterday?” “What are some problems that we should all be aware of?” And “who got caught being awesome?” This way, he encourages the team to celebrate their own wins and highlight their teammates' successes. It is a highlight of the week at this agency.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Create a Platform and Build an Eight-Figure Agency

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up everybody? Jason Swenk here. And I have an amazing episode with Brian who runs an eight-figure agency. Um, and we're going to talk about what it's like to run operations for an eight-figure agency. Cause I know a lot of you are trying to get to the summit to get to that next level. And so we're going to dive into this in this episode, so let's get into it.

Hey, Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:00:30] Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. So, uh, tell us briefly who you are and what do you guys do?

Brian: [00:00:37] Of course. So my name is Brian R. Johnson. I throw that in there cause there's a lot of Brian Johnson's out in the world. So, um, yeah, Brian Johnson out of, uh, based here in Austin, Texas.

I am currently traveling on the West Coast with my family. So I am in the Amazon space, uh, running an agency, actually co-running an agency, uh, that handles, um, multimillion-dollar sellers brands that are brick and mortar brands, as well as, uh, sellers who sell on the Amazon sales channel. And so we handle all their advertising and, uh, quite a bit of their marketing that goes into moving more product for them. So, that's kind of the short version of what I do.

Jason: [00:01:24] That's awesome. And so why would you partner with someone else named Brian? It’s got to be so confusing. That's the first question I got for you.

Brian: [00:01:34] Yeah. He actually recruited me. Because he tracked me down because I happened to be, um, I was the subject matter expert in, in my subject, you know, in the advertising space, within Amazon. You know, the niche within the niche, right?

And, um, he tracked me down a number of years ago and hired me to consult for his own account. And he says, okay, you obviously know a lot more than you think you do. I want to partner with you and work on… We originally came out with, cause I had already created like a community and… software. He’s like okay, next thing you need to do is produce, you know, a professional training course.

We did that. And that eventually evolved into the agency because everyone said you guys obviously know what you're doing. You've got a huge success record. Just do it for me. It's like, okay. Obviously that, you know, that kind of begs the need for the agency level of service, which is, as you already know, a huge learning curve by itself.

Jason: [00:02:35] Yeah. Well, I love how you guys, I didn't know, um, how you got your start that way. And that's actually a really good… Thinking about a lot of other agencies in the mastermind and people I've worked with. Some of the most successful ones have actually started from a training course. People like want to know how to do something and then they're like, just do it for me. And then it just kind of takes off.

Brian: [00:02:59] Well, I got to tell you just that, the… I've created a lot of my own competitors.

Jason: [00:03:04] Of course. Me too!

Brian: [00:03:06] Because of my training. You know, but I mean, that's just kind of a by-product of, you know, just, just giving to the community and just, you know, sticking your neck out there. And just saying, look, here's, here's what people need to know. If that creates competition, so be it.

Jason: [00:03:19] Well, and the thing people have to realize. And it took me… Man, and sometimes I still try to figure it out, right? Like, literally people, you can put out everything that you're doing, but it will never be the same as you. Because we're all unique. We all have our own personalities and we're constantly, always, I know I am, I'm always thinking of new stuff.

So even if you copied my old stuff, I'm like, oh crap. That stuff was two years ago. Like…

Brian: [00:03:48] Exactly, exactly. Yeah, you got to keep moving. You got to keep innovating. That's something where I've done that before. I did that in the software side, where if I didn't innovate within six months, everybody caught up to me.

I was like, oh there, hold on, you know, they're there, they're all your tail lights, you know, constantly. And so if you're not continually moving, continually innovating, then you're gonna get past.

Jason: [00:04:10] So let's talk a little bit about the operations, right? So an operations of a bigger agency. You know, let's talk about kind of the structure that you guys have, uh, within the agency. Because, you know, a lot of people listening, you know, some people, or most people trying to crack the eight-figure mark, some people are just trying to crack the million-dollar mark as well, right?

So, talk about the different stages that you guys have gone through on an operations front. Because usually most people I bring on, they're always kind of the, the ones doing sales and marketing and that kind of stuff. So I'd love to get your perspective on the ops.

Brian: [00:04:48] So, yeah, so, so, um, the, the relationship that my partner and I had was that he was the sales and marketing guy, right?

He had all the Russell Brunson experience and all the funnels and the, you know, the, the two commas and all that kind of stuff, right? And he, he obviously had that side of it. I had the technical knowledge. I was a subject matter expert. And so, we kind of blended those two together. Now, just because you've got sales and marketing and you've got expertise, you know, you can fill the roles. Doesn't mean you can execute on those roles.

People need to recognize that as like, you need to recognize when you need to step out of your own way. Because you might be holding the company back because you think you can do everything. Which is, in my opinion, foolish. But I know only know that because of hindsight, not because I didn't think the same thing when I was there.

Um, and so certainly the first year, um, it was, it was pretty easy because of the reputation I had built up over the years. It was, it was pretty easy, actually, from the sales and marketing standpoint. We just had to let people know that, hey, we were available and we, you know, got out there. That's not a common challenge I think among a lot of agency owners who are like, I have this expertise, but nobody knows who I am.

Because they didn't spend years and years and years, um, to become an overnight success. Um, they didn't, they didn't put in the time in order to build up a reputation and a community and an audience and those kinds of things to then translate that into, okay, here, here are my leads.

So the part that was the easy part was like we had, we had new clients that were coming in. The problem we had was we didn't have everything pulled out of my head as far as the processes. As far as like here's the checklist, here's how somebody, I can hand it off to a team of people. Um, and they can just execute and they can execute consistently, okay?

So is that consistent execution of a laid out plan wasn't there. And so we constantly, we stumbled. We, you know, we hit our face on the wall, you know what I mean, whatever analogy you want to use on this. It was a, it was a struggle. Caused a lot of pain. It caused a lot of tension between my partner and I, and so, um…

Well, I recognize that like, first of all, I had to get some kind of documentation. I was trying to, you know… In my head, I had, okay, I can solve a hundred percent of all problems on Amazon when it comes to advertising. But really what the agency team needed was, you need, they need like 50% of that, Brian. You need to get that documented. And you're the only one who has that knowledge.

And so once I got that first, first iteration, I guess, of the, the process, the documentation, the checklist out, then they looked at it and say, well, can we do it this way better? It's like, then they start innovating on their own because now they have control and you kind of like… You know, for me, I had to let go of the, the, I guess the feeling that, that I wanted to say, no, no, no, we can do all these other things.

And it wasn't until we acquired another agency, brought in somebody who had a lot more experience on the operation side and said, okay, we're going to actually have you do run operations.

That's when we made a huge shift between, uh, between here's all of the knowledge that we can do. Here's all the things we could do, versus here's all the things we need to do in order to run profitably as an agency and consistently as an agency, because that's what our clients expect of us.

Jason: [00:08:26] Yeah. You know, I see so many times, you know, people for the longest time they go in, like, I'm glad you explained it and be like, look, I can just do it. Like I can solve anything, just give it to me.

And you pull it back from people. And you're really crippling them. Like you're giving like huge crutch that if you take away, they're screwed. But I love how you put it and go if I could just get them 50% there. It's kind of what I call like, and also learn, I'm not delegating tasks, I'm delegating outcomes.

And like when you learn that, that is so freeing, because I love the story that you were like, hey, I gave him 50% and then they were like, well, let me innovate on top of this to make it better. And then the, and then how much pressure did that take off your shoulders?

Brian: [00:09:13] Oh, it was good because, because I was in a state of, you know, full on just overwhelm. You know, where you wake up and you're kind of like, you wake up panicked, like, oh, what do I need to do today? It's like, oh, you know, I mean, there was conversations where I had, um…

Jason: [00:09:26] Did you have a full head of hair like me before?

Brian: [00:09:34] Yes. Yeah, unfortunately, that was, uh, yeah. That, that was gone long time ago.

Yeah, the um… Yeah, it caused a lot of stress, uh, for sure. Um, you know, of course that kind of stuff always translates back to your family. Sometimes as entrepreneurs, we don't even recognize that. And we, we do need to, uh, because it creates it, echo creates an echo stress and echo attention from your family.

And that's exactly not what any of us want, but I think it's a by-product of trying to take on too much, trying to not hand the reins off. Mostly because I had enough ego there, I was like, well, I'm the one who knows all these things. And what it took me… it probably took me a good year and a half before it finally sunk in. Like that long. Is we don't need your a hundred percent of knowledge, Brian. We need your 50% of what's executable.

You know, and consistently and applies to everybody, not, not all these fringe examples of, uh, here's an exception, here's the advanced tactic and all this kind of stuff. It's like, that's all great and everything. We'll pull you in when we need, we need that. But to run the agency, you got to get that you got it's Pareto, it's even 20%, you know, of that. You know, is what we need in order to, uh, have a functioning agency that doesn't just burn through clients and staff.

Jason: [00:11:03] So what was the, what was the mindset shift? Because I remember when I transitioned from an owner to, you know, the CEO, there was a huge… Like for a while, I was depressed. Because I was like, all right, I'm not needed anymore. Like, um… And I did have an ego back then. Uh, and I was like, no, I know more than everybody, which is the dumbest thing.

Like, literally, after I learned what I learned, I was like, man, I want to be the dumbest person in the room.

Brian: [00:11:38] Yeah. Well, and we think that we, it was like, oh, well, I'm so clever. I'm going to hire people smarter than me. But ultimately if you're the one who came in with the knowledge came in with the experience, the tendency, uh, certainly I experienced the same thing as, as you and many others, is we still have a certain amount of control.

We're just like, I'm not a controlling, well, yeah, you kind of are, you know, when it comes down to it because this is your baby. This is your, your, your expertise. And if somebody comes in or a team comes in and says, hey, we could execute on this better than what you taught us, you’re kind of like wait, what that's not possible, you know?

And it's like, it took me the first two years to finally step back. When I finally actually stepped back and said, okay, I'm going to completely let go of… Like, one of the things I did recently, um, late last year is I completely stepped away from the software that I had invented years ago for this space.

And that was extremely difficult because that was my baby, you know? Um, and so while I still have plenty of value to the team and to clients and to, you know, audience. As far as, hey, here's the latest tactic than, you know, the, the advanced tactic, here's the exception. You know, also I can step in and do coaching at that point.

But I am not the thought leader within the, I might be a thought leader within the community, but I'm not necessarily a thought leader within the agency. And that's exactly what we should get to. Because if you're that one person that gets hit by a bus and the whole agency fails, that's your fault. That is your fault because you let it happen.

And at this point, like I could disappear and honestly this agency will continue to grow and succeed. Because of the teams that we have in place because of the knowledge base that we have in place. Um, and the pool of experience and the, and the level of collaboration within the, the culture of our, of our agency is very important.

Jason: [00:13:44] As an agency owner, it's hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or reinvesting and, you know, when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we're excellent marketers. But when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing, you know, our financial data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

And that's why my friend Nate created Agency Dad specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they're really good at. Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business.

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Well, you mentioned something important there too. You, your role really kind of shifted to from, uh, you know, coaching and, and really kind of coaching the team. And then as, as I found that we stepped into that, well, now you're not as emotionally attached to a lot of the decisions that they may have. Where then you can actually help them out a lot more.

Whether, you know, being from when you were coding, I used to be the world's worst coder, just cause I outsourced everything in college, right? So, but, but that's why I could lead development teams because I wasn't emotionally attached because I didn't care about the syntax. Like literally I was like, I just understand the logic that needs to happen.

Brian: [00:16:19] You could design it. You saw, you saw the direction it needed to go, but it's like, yeah. Don't make the code, because I'm just going to slow you down.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:16:26] Oh yeah. I'm like, there was no semi-colon there. Like I used to have people sitting over my shoulder and be like…They would yell at me. I'm like, yeah. I'm like, I don't give a shit about your stupid semicolon. You hire some joker that wants to put the damn semi-colon there.

I don't give a shit. I would get so mad. And that's when I, you know, we voluntarily, uh, or maybe forced out Arthur Anderson, uh, to start this. So, but, uh, all good. What…? On let's, let's switch to kind of the team, like a building a team around you, right?

You talked about, uh, going through a lot of people, right? Probably because you were maxing them out. Um, and we talked about, you know, that 50%. What other things did you do and what type of people… Was there a different type of people that you look for as well?

Brian: [00:17:21] Well, so the, the. And initially it wasn't a case of like, we had a lot of, uh, we, it wasn't like we had a lot of turnover as far as our staff, we had a lot of people who were stuck with us for a long time.

It was more a case of, you know, the client turnover and that creates stress, you know? Um, but ultimately there was a couple of things. One is, again, the training that I put out there trained not only some competitors, but also some of my best employees as well.

You know, and so they had started their own practice where they applied it to their own business. And so they already knew of me. So when they saw that we were hiring… that seems even better because now I can actually get in with the team that I have respect for. And that's the best way to interview.

You're not going to tell. Yeah. You know, it's like, you know, they could be. You know, they could be a fan of whatever, you know, we've, we've taught in the past or whatever, but really it's like, what, at what value can you add? What experience do you have coming in?

Um, and we continue to get that to, to the, you know, to this day. We have people that we have to turn away and say, okay, get a little bit more experienced before you come in. Because our bar is pretty high.

But that also helps us to hire smarter people than us. You know, people who have got their own ideas of their own experience executing on, uh, on my training and saying, hey, I'm going to do something a little different. That’s totally cool you know, they don't have to conform to everything because I want them to contribute to a growing innovating team, a team and culture.

Rather than, you know, cause otherwise I would just hire a bunch of, you know, VAs that were task-based out of the Philippines or something. And then just say like, okay, they're going to do it, but I have to manage each and every one of them.

I don't need that. I don't want that. Don't want to have to manage every single person. I want to have people who manage their own teams. And within that team, they've got a culture of collaboration and support and innovation and they get the job done and then they, then, then we celebrate their success every single day, every single week.

They charge themselves, you know, I don't need to be constantly propping them up. That is a drain on me. And that's something that, you know, once we have, um, I'm not sure what, what our, uh, what our total headcount is at the moment. I want to say it's probably north of 60, probably. Um, but you know, it started out where we were just hiring people who were specialized in here's the service. Here's the first service we provide and we started building out teams like that.

Um, and we had a very low employee-to-client ratio starting out. And part of that was like, oh, we're, you know, we're boutique. And, you know, we were very specialized and we're expensive and that kind of stuff.

That was all great and everything until you got to the point where like, okay, we can't grow. We can't scale because we can't find the people that we need because all these other competitors that we created or, or popped up in the environment, they're also out there recruiting, you know? And so then you start having a knowledge glut in your training, you know?

So that's when you have to really refine your training to make sure that each employee has access right from day one of the onboarding and they can shadow somebody and they can learn, how do we do things? Where do I get the information? So that they're not sitting around on their hands going, like, I don't know who to ask or where to go. You might as well just, just shoot them and send them out the door, you know? Cause they're gone if that's the case.

Jason: [00:20:43] Yeah. I'd love too that, and it sounds like you have your employees go through the ones that haven't started for. Like, I love how you recruit from the training course. That's brilliant. That's worked for a lot of my clients in the past. They were like, we just take the best. And we’re like, you want, you want to, like, you want to do this, but you don't want to do it on your own.

Like, we'll sell everything. So that's brilliant. But do you also, and I also like how you have, it's a training program for them to follow the process of going through it. Um, talk, lastly, let's talk about… What is the kind of the requirement for building bringing in people that will lead their own team? I think some people listening are struggling with that rather than going, like you were saying, hire in the Philippines.

Brian: [00:21:33] Right. Well, I mean, you know, we looked at, we look at other agencies not for their book of business, not for the clients or the revenue that they have, but the people they have. And so we, that's the acqui-hire model, you know, where you basically are looking for, like, what kind of talent do you have in your company that is worth us investing in or acquiring?

And so I think that was where I, one of the early best decisions we made. Is we picked up, um, an agency that, um… Like I said eventually became our director of operations and then eventually our COO. Um, you know, because the owner of that agency had so much, they weren't sales and marketing. They did it, but theirs, their, their, their best skillset, their best talent was everything has got to be a process.

It doesn't exist unless it's in a process. And then everything needs to be compared against what, how, what does that provide as far as a, a profit margin, you know, or a revenue per employee, and what's the efficiency of it. You've got to have somebody who looks at it from an engineering mindset like that. But can look at it along with the numbers, with the financing to say, this is correct. This is not correct. We need to change something here.

And constantly just be, um, the quite aggressive. You can't have somebody who's running operations. Who's a passive like, hey, I'm a team player. Like, is that? No, no, you need a driver. You need somebody who knows how to, like, how do we make this into a machine?

Um, let somebody else worry about sales and marketing and HR and, you know, whatever.

Jason: [00:23:11] Yeah, I love it. I love that you, uh, that they said, uh, or that you said, uh, it doesn't exist unless it's kind of written down. Like I remember one guest was saying, um, we didn't do it unless we communicated it several times to the client.

Right? It's kind of that same mentality. Uh, you know, I love it. Um, well, Brian, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Brian: [00:23:38] You know, there was two things that we, I do. Yeah. There's, there's two things that we do with than our agency that, um, I think that give us an advantage.

One of them is, um, uh, what we call a daily huddle, which is basically like a, like, like a 10 to 15 minute call with all hands on a zoom call. We literally have everybody on a zoom call for like 10 minutes, 10, 15 minutes every morning. And we don't get into the business. We basically say like, Hey, who had a win yesterday?

You know, and people go around like half a dozen people will say, hey I had this win and that win and whatever. Um, and then we say, okay, are there any critical issues that everybody needs to know about? Nope. All right. Who got caught being awesome? You know, that's something I learned from, uh, from a CEO coach. You know, who got caught being awesome?

They shout each other out to build each other up and say, this person helped me help me succeed yesterday or last week, this week or something like that. And, uh, you know, every single time we do that, every single weekday. And we, we leave and we're charged up and people feel good and people look forward to the calls.

It's not a drag on them because they know it's like, hey, you know what? I might get shot out. Cause I did some awesome yesterday and I really helped somebody and I get a little kudos. You know, I get a little bump, you know, from, from the group. And everybody gets to see, you know, that there's a collaborative environment. Especially when you've got new people who come in and their first week and they see that. They're like, oh yeah, I landed in the right place.

And that, that, that turns out great.

Jason: [00:25:06] I love that. You know, I've never. You know, that's kind of what we do on our mastermind calls. And a lot of times what I'll do in my coaching calls, I'll always talk about what's your past wins since we last chatted? Because you have to, you know, a lot of times when the reaching out to a coach or they're coming to their meeting, they want to solve a problem.

And they're not in that resourceful stat. They're in that stress state. And when you switch it to something positive, it switches that state to make them more resourceful in order to figure it out. But also too, I love that. Who did, what was it? Who did something awesome for you?

Brian: [00:25:42] Who got, yeah. Who got being caught? Who, who got caught being awesome?

Jason: [00:25:46] That’s. Oh, I never thought about that. I'm so borrowing that.

Brian: [00:25:50] Yeah. We first do it. You know, when we first did it, it felt a little bit cheesy. But you know, we've done it for, uh, you know, at least two years now. It's like, it's expected. You know, and people love it. And on Friday, you know, we usually like try to bump it up and we'll play some funny videos like that. And just get people just excited, you know, like, hey, it's Friday and it's fun, you know?

So those kinds of things, um, are, are certainly great. Um, if we have time, I have a second one too, if you'd like.

Jason: [00:26:14] Go for it, man.

Brian: [00:26:17] So the second one is, um, I will go through and I will talk to, uh, employees that, you know, starting obviously with the people it's like, okay, I don't want to lose this person, right? I want to make sure that they are, you know, firing on all cylinders, pointing the same direction.

They're happy and they're, they're fired up to wake up each day and do the job. Um, but one of the, there's a couple of things that I'll ask and that is, you know, what is it, if that energizes you in a day? What tasks do you do each day that give you energy and it builds you up that you're happy about, you're excited about doing?

Now on the flip side of that, which ones drain your energy? Which ones do you try to avoid? That kind of stuff. Because there's somebody else on the team that is excited about the tasks that drain you. Shift some things to make sure that every single day you're going, there's going to be an awesome day.

This is cool. A lot of, a lot of times, as, as an agency owner, we want to, you know, we look at the money and we think it's like, oh, I need to give people, you know, bump a little bonus, you know, a little more money. It's like, no, reduce the drag on their life so that they're not drained. So they're happy, their family is happy. You know, they feel energized every single day.

And you can do that simply by saying, you know what? This particular thing is part of your job description. But if it's not right for you, if somebody else over here is excited about doing that, then let's move it over. And then every, then both of you are happy.

Jason: [00:27:45] Yeah. You know, I, I learned that lesson the hard way. I remember when I would bring in project managers, cause I originally used to manage projects, right? And I hated it. Like literally I didn't want to talk to a clients ever. And I'd go to him in the interview process. I'd be like, hey, you're going to sit in this job for about a year and a half. It's going to suck and then I'll move you up.

Well, what I realized was some project managers love repetition. And they love the same thing over and over again. And they're like, I just want to stay here. Like, why are you pushing me to the next…?  Just be, and I portrayed, like I figured, like everyone's like me, like everybody wants to move up.

So I love that you go to them all the time. Like which one you get extreme, a lot of energy, kind of like looking on iPhone battery, right? Which one drains you, you know? Cause I do a… Coming up in the mastermind, I'm going to talk about like auditing your time and really getting rid of those, uh, things that just suck your energy. Because then if you have no energy going into a meeting, like, especially from the top, like, like don't you realize, like if you, if, if you come in and bad mood, your whole team… and it just propagates all the way down.

Brian: [00:29:03] It absolutely does. Yeah. I love the idea of time auditing. We've done that a few times and it's one of those things that needs to be done more often. You know, it feels like micromanagement. It's like, no, no, this is not for me. This is for you to know what you're doing. For you to recognize that you spend four hours every day doing something that is painful to you.

It's like, that's not correct. Don't continue to do that.

Jason: [00:29:27] We had a mastermind member that, uh, always would talk to their employees every week and going, they wouldn't ask the energy level, but they always said every time we chatted, hey, if you ever have anything that you do in the agency that puts you off that I guess they may be said, drains your energy.

Like, like, like literally come to me and we'll solve it right away. Because what happens a lot of times with your team, if they're constantly that way, and they don't feel that they can come to you. And you're not constantly saying that, they're going to go get another job. And then if you're trying to save them, it's already too late.

Brian: [00:30:05] Yeah. Well, yeah, you could broadcast that out and just say, hey for everybody, um, that's probably a good idea, but ultimately it's the one-on-one conversations is where you get people, to be honest. You know, and they're like going well, there's this one thing, you know, maybe, you know, since nobody else is listening.

I'm not going to come to you as I, you you've got an open door policy, but, um, you know, like I still don't feel comfort. I feel, I still feel like you're up on a pedestal somewhere. It's like, no, I don't want to be on a pedestal. I want you to hear as they come to me, but they don't. So go to them.

Jason: [00:30:38] Yeah. I love it. Awesome. This has all been amazing.

Um, where can, uh, what's the website people go check out the agency and maybe even check out the training too?

Brian: [00:30:48] Yeah. Well, so the, uh, focus on the agency I guess, is, um, you know, it's canopymanagement.com. We do focus in on the, uh, the Amazon space, but love to see how, you know, you know, if you kind of want to see as far as like how we lay out, how we present our team and you know, our success stories and that kind of stuff.

It's a good little format that we're using that works for us. Uh, yeah. That's canopymanagement.com.

Jason: [00:31:13] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. That was a lot of fun and I learned a lot as well as all of you. So make sure you guys subscribe to the podcast, leave a comment. And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis, I would love for you guys to go check out the Digital Agency Elite.

This is the mastermind that we put together. Put the most amazing agencies together that are sharing what's working for them right now. And then be able to see the things that you might not be able to see, um, in your, uh, in your trajectory. So until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Chris Leone was playing drums in Japan trying to figure out his next step in life when a keynote by Gary Vaynerchuk inspired him to enter the agency world. He ended up working an entry-level position in a small agency and worked his way up to being president and CEO of WebStrategies Inc, a multi-million dollar agency that focuses on mid-low funnel, lead generation, SEO, PPC, social advertising, and inbound marketing. Chris sat down with Jason to discuss how he worked his way up from the bottom of the totem pole. He also shares his experience with an agency acquisition just as he was named CEO and how he built a culture of learning. Chris's team is encouraged to speak up and take ownership of their ideas, which goes a long way.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The power in saying someone’s name. Our guest is not afraid of a challenge. His first day as CEO came right after an acquisition and he was asked to handle the first meeting between both teams. This is an important moment, as the first impression on a new team is critical and may determine whether or not the acquisition is a success. He decided to spend time before the meeting making sure that his team knew everyone by name before they arrived. That way, they would feel welcome and less hesitant to give the new company a chance.
  2. Attack ideas, not people. Chris has worked hard to create a work environment where employees feel safe to speak their minds and be themselves. “It’s not a performative culture” he says “It’s a learning culture”. He builds on the belief that leaders who are open to test an idea, observe and then implement from there greatly outperform the ones who are much more rigid in their thinking.
  3. Adapting to the online office. The past two years have brought many changes and, right now, many are still not ready to go back to the office. Regarding his agency’s decision to go virtual, Chris says he continues to learn and adjust to the situation. But does not consider this will be a permanent change, nor one that will work for everyone. In his case, it made sense to go virtual if his team did not feel comfortable going to the office yet. For the future, he does not dismiss the idea of going back to an office.

Gusto: Today's episode is sponsored by Gusto, an all-in-one people platform for payroll, benefits, HR where you can unify your data. Gusto automatically applies your payroll taxes and directly deposits your team's paychecks, freeing you up to work on your business. Head over to gusto.com/agency to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Rise to the Top of the Totem Pole By Building a Learning Culture for Your Team

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here and I have another amazing show where we're going to talk with an agency CEO and also owner who started out at the ground level couple of years ago as an entry-level employee. Worked all the way up to a CEO. And we're going to talk about what they did. How did they become a multi-million dollar agency? Lots of amazing things.

And also talking about how they went virtual in the past year. So it's packed, it's packed and let's go ahead and get into it.

Hey, Chris. Welcome to the show.

Chris: [00:00:38] Hey, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:40] Yeah, I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what you do?

Chris: [00:00:44] Yeah. So my name is Chris Leoni. I'm CEO of WebStrategies. We are a digital marketing agency based out of Richmond, Virginia. We focus on kind of mid-low funnel, lead generation stuff, SEO, PPC, social advertising, inbound marketing, that sort of thing.

I got about, 30 employees that are located, uh, both in central Virginia and, uh, increasingly scattered throughout the world as we start to shift towards more of a full remote model over here at WebStrategies.

Jason: [00:01:15] Awesome. So let's kind of back up to where, when you started with the agency. You know, as probably the low guy on the totem pole, it sounded like, and walk us through how you went from that to CEO. Cause it’s fascinating.

Chris: [00:01:29] Yeah, it's been quite a, quite a long journey. So that was, we're going back 13 years here, so 2008. I was actually a year out of school. I was playing drums in Japan in a marching band, as kind of crazy as that sounds, trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. And I stumbled across a keynote that Gary Vaynerchuk was giving.

This is 2008. This is like Wine Library days for anybody who follows Gary V. And I was like, yeah, that's what I want to do.

Jason: [00:01:55] I remember that. I remember going to see stuff that he did.

Chris: [00:01:58] Yeah, I was at, I was at web 2.0 in, in like late 08 when he kind of made his big break onto the scene. But I found him on big.com when that was like the place to go to find interesting things on the internet.

And I immediately clicked. I'm like internet marketing is place I want to be. And so I started kind of figuring out what I was going to do and I was interviewing, uh, I set up interviews at like Ogilvy in New York city and a couple other agencies up there. I thought I wanted to be up in New York, do all that kind of thing.

But then one of my former neighbors living down the street from me in Central Virginia, come to find out that he started internet marketing company. And so I reached out to him with the plan of talking to him and just as a learning experience and maybe even use it as like practice to go and interview at the big places.

But after talking to him, he was like, hey, I want to offer you a job. And he explained it and I'm like this actually sounds really interesting. So I kind of abandoned my original vision of going to New York City and I stayed in Central Virginia, which is not what I had planned to do.

And I was like bottom guy on the totem pole. I was really only full-time marketing person at the agency. We were primarily web development back then. And we kind of realized that the recurring revenue model was a really nice one and we wanted to get more into the lead generation side of the equation. So I was the first one coming on, doing that, making like, you know, nothing a year, but it gave me some ownership over the position and what we were doing. And I really had a passion for this kind of work.

So as we shifted more towards, uh, digital marketing and, and, you know, retainers with clients, I was always kind of the person there at the top. And the team kind of came out from under, uh, built out from underneath me, I should say. Went up, uh, director of digital marketing and then CMO, COO, president. And eventually CEO with a, with an acquisition kind of sandwiched in there as well.

Jason: [00:03:49] That's fascinating. Let's kind of skip ahead to the acquisition, right? Because you were telling me when, when the acquisition happened that's when the owner was like, all right, you're now the CEO of both entities. So we'll just do that.

Chris: [00:04:04] Yeah. And, uh, the founder and CEO at the time, he's been a mentor to me and he's never been afraid to throw me into the fire.

And I'm the kind of person who thrives in that kind of situation. He very much did that on my first day as kind of being president CEO and it was the day that our two teams met for the first time. So our existing team, and then the team of this company that we had acquired. And as anybody who's been through an acquisition before knows, that first impression that you make on the new team is so critical, right?

Cause they're coming. I mean, put yourself in their shoes. You know, a lot of these acquisitions don't work out for several different reasons, right? And one of which is the team, the new team comes in, they look around and they're like, yeah, I don't like this. I'm out. This is, I was maybe already on the fence or I was considering going somewhere else.

And they just kind of need that exposure to a new culture, new people to be like, yeah, it's time for a change. So, yeah, those teams coming together in the same room for our quarterly retreat, which is like a full two day immersion thing. Which is already kind of tough enough to manage, especially for an introvert, like me was exceptionally difficult with the teams coming together.

But I just kind of kept my mind on the most critical thing at the time, which was, I need to make sure everybody believes that this is the right place to be going forward.

Jason: [00:05:23] And so how did you do that? Right? Because I feel that agency owners need to do that on a consistent basis, honestly, right? If you think about it, like, and I'm glad that you had that vision going in, of going, like, this is the main goal, right?

This is all that matters. So what were some of the things that you did in order to make sure you kept the right people in the right, you know, on the bus, really?

Chris: [00:05:44] Yeah. Yeah. And we were just talking about this before we went live, as well as you know. In an agency, hopefully, you have processes, hopefully you have these things in place so that you're not dependent on any single individual for any of the services that you sell.

But nevertheless, I mean, you still need people to do all this work and good people are hard to find. So it's not like we have machines running and we can swap people in and out and the machines keep running. Like you need people to do this stuff that they're critical, right? So to answer your question directly, you know, the first thing that I did was actually kind of a small thing, which is we literally spent like 20 minutes of putting faces up on the screen and having everybody memorize the name of everybody in the company coming in.

Because I wanted every person in my company to be referring to people on a first-name basis immediately. And there's so much power in just saying somebody's first name. So, that was like something I thought of at the last minute. Is like, everybody's got to know everyone's name here.

And so when they walked in the door immediately shaking hands saying names. And then all of our retreats since are very much built on this. But especially in that particular retreat. It's not necessarily a company strategy stuff or whatever. It's, I want to spend a lot of time. Building trust, having vulnerability with each other.

There's so many studies out there that say that teams that are willing to be vulnerable with each other are closer and tend to perform better. And so there was a lot of awareness building, a lot of trust-building in those first meetings so that people could immediately see, hey, this is not a performance culture where we're stepping on each other’s throats.

This is a learning culture. This is a place that's psychologically safe to express your thoughts and opinions. And we attack ideas. We don't attack people. And we just really exemplified that in the first two days. So people could see, this is a place where I could be myself. I can be open and I can be honest, and I'm not going to be penalized for that.

So I think that set the tone right away and maybe created a sense of relief for some people who are looking for something a little bit different. And, you know, we've just been building on it since then.

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I like what you said. We attack ideas, not people. And I like that, you know, the vulnerable. When I'm interviewing agency owners for the mastermind, one of the biggest things that I'm looking for is are they vulnerable? And are they transparent. If they can't be transparent with me? Like, I don't want someone coming in thinking they know everything, right?

And same thing with employees. I want someone to say, look, I want to learn every day, I want to help people, right? I want to be surrounded by amazing people that inspire me. And especially if all of us have a similar belief, right? Like when I was hiring people, you know, in the agency, I'd be like, here's where the ship is going and here's why we're doing it.

And then people believed in that and so they would stick around. And then especially if they could show their vulnerability to the team… I see this with the mastermind members, as soon as they're like to, man, man, I just want to quit. Things are down. I really don't know what to do.

And then they're able to get help, then other people can open up and they'll be like, yeah, you know, I actually have that too. Then they can work together on it. And it's almost kind of like, I've never been in, in war. I've never been in the military, but I love watching those things. Like, you'll see the comradely of people when they're in intense situations. And the bond that they create.

And I even remember that too, when we're working on really extreme projects, like with tight deadlines when we're in the office, like we still remember that stuff.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Chris: [00:10:23] Right. Well, and, and I wonder too, what the last 14 months have done for teams that really had a buckle down together.

When everybody was feeling the pressure of their job. There was an existential threat outside. There was the kids being at home. And there was, we were all kind of going through something pretty heavy together. And I sense that that has created stronger bonds within our teams. I would imagine it's happened in several other places.

But just to just go back on that 1.1 more time, I had, so I just finished reading this great book “Think Again” by Adam Grant and I really liked how he framed this, which is there's like two ways of having a discussion. One is you have somebody who immediately becomes a preacher, a prosecutor, or somebody who's politicking for a certain idea. So preaching, prosecuting or politicking, right? That's really trying to impose your idea and your mindset onto somebody else versus more scientific thinking.

And the studies that he cites in that book show that leaders who think more as scientists. Here's a theory. Here's our hypothesis. Let's test it. Let's observe and then implement from there, way outperform people who are much more rigid in their thing, right? So going back to attacking the idea, not the person when we attack the person, obviously that starts to become pretty personal.

We're really clinging the ego. We're clinging to our set beliefs on something. But when we're looking at the idea and we separate ourselves from that, now we can just say, hey, let's test this. Let's run it. Let's look back what happened. And as long as nobody feels like I'm going to be looked down upon, because my idea didn't pan out.

If they don't feel that way, then everybody's continuing to contribute to the next stage in the process. But if somebody feels like they're going down with that ship, that's going to do a lot psychologically to them, morale, everything like that. And you see that in performance cultures especially because everybody is looking for an opportunity to stump on somebody else.

And as soon as that campaign didn't work and that idea didn't work, they stump on them. That's a really toxic culture. And so we really, we want to avoid that and be more in a learning culture where we look at ideas where we test ideas, where we give people ownership over ideas. That's another thing that our team really likes.

And we see this in the surveys that we run. When somebody comes to me and they say, hey, Chris, I have this idea for this new thing, or there's this new service, or we want to test this thing. I say, go for it. Let's test it. And look at what happens. They get a sense of ownership over that. And they're not afraid if the idea is not going to work out.

They like it. Having that sense of ownership and then be able to see if it actually contributes to something in the long run. So yeah, the book is Think Again by Adam Grant and it talks about how we eliminate biases in our own thinking and the openness and the scientific method that could be applied to basically anything.

And ultimately how that affects long-term performance.

Jason: [00:13:17] Yeah. Well, and too, when you attack the idea, not the person you're taking out emotion out of it. And that really just screws us all up as human beings, if you think about it. Like I tried my damnedest to not make a decision based on emotion, but it's easier said than done.

Chris: [00:13:37] Oh, sure. Yeah.

Jason: [00:13:38] I probably fail at that 99% of the time.

Chris: [00:13:42] But, hey. At least that 0.1% is maybe the awareness that you shouldn't, right?  One of the other books that I've been really into lately, cause I'm, don't always read business books is so Eckhart Tolle has a great book, A New Earth that was pretty hot in the last maybe 10 years or so.

He talks a lot about identification with form and he explores it from a lot of different angles. But we have too much personal identity attached to our ideas and our opinions on things. And we've seen that no more than in the last 12 months with everything going on, right? So any attack on the idea automatically becomes a personal attack, right?

And that's going to bring us all down and it's going to make us a lot more combative and it's going to make us a lot more miserable. So we have to find a way to separate ourselves from our opinions and our ideas. Um, and I think we're going to be a lot happier if we do.

Jason: [00:14:30] Yeah. Let's switch a little bit of focus and let's talk about how you guys have gone remote. And how do you keep your team inspired? I won't say motivate because I always tell people if you have to motivate your team, you have the wrong team. Like you should be worrying about de-motivating them. So like, how do you keep people in this going in the same direction?

Because you had a physical office, you've gone virtual, and lots of people are doing that. So, you know, how are you going to kind of replace some of that in office culture, going to lunch that kind of?

Chris: [00:15:06] Yeah, this is the question of 2021 right now. And we're seeing a lot of opinions on it, but they're just opinions.

And, you know, to be honest, if this was a podcast where we were advocating, or you guys were like advocating fully remote. I would be bringing up the ideas of why you might want to consider an office. So I'm not overly committed to any setup here. I'm committed to kind of learning from what we have in the last 12 months and figure out where do we go from here and what's the best thing to do for our team.

Jason: [00:15:35] Yeah. Well, what was the decision that made you guys go virtual?

Chris: [00:15:39] Okay, so some of it was just timing. We had an office and the lease was expiring in end of April, 2021. And I closed our office in March of 2020. So people were not coming in. And then at some point in the summer, I said, if you want to go and you can just communicate so we don't have too many people in there at once.

But people really were not going into it. So I was thinking, all right, why rea… I didn't want to stay in that space anyway, so I knew that we were going to let it go. But why sign onto something in March of 2021 when people still can't go into the office or still don't want to go into the office.

So part of it was timing to say, hey, let's let it go. Let's reinvest what we're saving from that into the team with benefits and people and the like, and I could talk about that if you'd like. Then wait to see what happens and how does the team adapt to being fully remote. And by the way, this is something that they overwhelmingly said they wanted to do.

And two, you know, what happens to the commercial real estate market? Because I think anyone can piece together it's, you know, rent is going to become a lot more affordable. So if we feel the need to go back, that's something that we're going to have to learn over several months. Then let's kind of take advantage of the market situation at that time and get something that could be even better for us than I could find right now that would be a lot more expensive.

So that was the original impetus to going fully remote, at least at this point in time.

Jason: [00:17:07] And so how has it been going? Like, is there anything that you would change?

Chris: [00:17:12] I mean, there's certainly going to be things that I change based off of what we learn as we go, right?

At this point, I can't say that there's like, oh, I wish I could have that back. I mean, we gave away our office furniture. Like we raffled it off just out of a hat, gave it to people, you know, we gave them a thousand dollar home office allowance, which at this point, like is the equivalent of like three years of rent.

So it's to anybody saying this is like a cost-saving move, it ain't. Trust me. It's not. So, no, I wouldn’t take anything back. It's just kind of learn and adjust and get better. The next decision you have to make.

Jason: [00:17:50] Very cool. Awesome. Well, this has been amazing, Chris. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Chris: [00:17:58] You know, the one thing I say, Jason, at this point is we all have to be in learning mode right now. Because I'm sure there's a lot of people out there looking at how all 2020 went and how 2021 has gone so far and probably believe this is what's best and this is what we should do from here. But all the remote work that we experienced in 2020 and into 2021 was not happening in a normal setup for anyone, right?

There was a lot of pressures, external pressures and lack of social interaction that we had just with our friends and family. So I don't know that we can look at everything proceeding, everything, opening back up and say, hey, we were better that way. Or we were not better that way. We just have to be in learning mode and accept that the rest of 2021 and going into 2022 is going to be maybe the real test of how well remote work can really perform for your team.

There's no right answer for everybody here. Talk to your team, communicate, observe, do all the things a good leader has to do to make sure that the people are coming first. But you're also taking care of the company so that you can continue to employ your people.

And then, you know, make the right decisions from there forward.

Jason: [00:19:08] Yeah. I love it. And what's the website. People can go and check out the agency?

Chris: [00:19:13] Yeah. Yeah. We're WebStrategies Inc, I N C, webstrategiesinc.com.

Jason: [00:19:18] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Chris, for coming on the show and make sure you guys all go check out their agency website. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, and you want to be around people that are transparent, sharing, growing open to new ideas, having a lot of fun. I want to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com and see if you qualify for this exclusive mastermind.

And if you do, we'll actually have a conversation. And, uh, talk a little bit more and make sure you're the right fit for it. But, uh, it's an amazing group of individuals that run agencies and, uh, we'd love to invite all of you to go check it out, go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

After working on his own using his experience in the agency world, Chris started specializing in the project management side of the business. Eventually, he decided to form Genius Digital Marketing with a partner and they have been growing ever since. Now, they work with growth-focused companies to accelerate their digital marketing strategies by operating results-driven campaigns. He talks a bit about how to make the jump from being a freelancer to having his own agency, how breaking sales and breaking operations is a normal part of growth, and how sales fix everything.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Making the jump. Like so many agency owners, Chris worked in the agency world for a while before deciding that he could do the job on his own. After working together on some projects, he and his partner decided to "make it legit" and he went from freelancer to agency owner. By this point, he knew that his expertise was on the project management side of the equation and was clear about what he was bringing to the table and how his partner complemented that, which made the transition a logical next step.
  2. Sales fix everything. You never want to talk about losing a client. But if you can just get more sales, then you can afford more people and you can afford to potentially lose something. It’s about being confident in trying new things while you grow. Sales will fix everything while you solve your next bubble of growth.
  3. Don’t be afraid to increase prices. Sales will fix everything, yes. But don’t forget to raise your prices. Bringing on more sales, you're going to have to bring on more levels, more people. And if you do that and don’t raise prices, you may find out at the end of the year that you worked a lot more and still earned less. 

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Keep Growing While Sales Bring New Opportunities

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? Jason Swenk here and I got another exciting episode about how an agency owner went from freelancer to bringing on a partner to a thriving agency. So it's a really good episode and I hope you enjoy it.

Hey Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris: [00:00:26] Hey, Jason. How's it going, man?

Jason: [00:00:27] Yeah, man. Excited to have you on, um, and, uh, talk about, you know, your journey as a freelancer to agency owner, to, you know, successful agency owner. So tell us a little bit about who you are and what do you do?

Chris: [00:00:41] Yeah, sure. So, uh, my name's Chris. I work out of, uh, our office here in, uh, the Dallas area.

And, uh, I didn't always live here, actually. I just moved here six months ago. And the reason I moved here was, is for this business and for this partnership. I had been living in Las Vegas before that it's kind of where I'm from and where I grew up. But, uh, Aaron and I, Aaron's my business partner, we formed an agency about a year and a half ago. And have been working on the agency this whole time, you know, kind of forming the partnership, getting all the business stuff going, and earning clients and new business.

And, uh, eventually it got to the point where we were like, hey, you know, let's actually own a building. Actually, we bought a building and let's run our, our office out of the Dallas area. That's where he lives, where his family's at. And I moved down here. So, um, yeah, that was about, you know, like I said, about six months ago and you know, we've been, we've been doing pretty good work since then.

So it's exciting times, you know, moving around doing different stuff and trying to grow the agency and, and deal with all those hurdles and, and having fun while doing it.

Jason: [00:01:46] Yep. What, uh…? Kind of take us back kind of… what made you think about transitioning? Cause there's, you know, we have, uh, quite a bit of probably, I would guess, you know, freelancers that listen to the show that want to go into creating an agency one day.

Um, where were you at? Like in like going well, let's, let's make this legit. Let's, you know, let's kind of like, let's start hiring people. It's like bring on a partner. Where were you at?

Chris: [00:02:18] Yeah, sure. Great, great question. Um, you know, we were… Well, I was, recently out of the agency world. I had worked for a couple of different marketing agencies, a few different people. And realized that, you know, I could do all this stuff on my own and, you know, get to keep all the money as opposed to splitting it with somebody else or only getting paid a commission or something like that.

So I, I did, I did freelance for a couple of years after, uh, my agency world. You know, it got to the point where you kind of start to feel like you've niched up a little bit. You have a few little bits of expertise and mine was kind of the project management side of the equation.

I was really good at coordinating efforts. I was really good at finding, you know, subcontractors to do certain bits of work. Uh, Aaron had actually been one of those people. So I had a client that needed, you know, really expert level paid search management. And that was not me. Um, I've gotten better as a result of working with Aaron, but, uh, that was not me.

So I actually contracted him and he does a fantastic job. And I was like hey, man, I have other projects that I need help with. You should totally check these out. And we, uh, kind of just kept working together. And he did the same for me. So it was like, hey, you know, I have a few projects where coordination is really needed. Uh, you know, why don't you hop over here?

And we started communicating with each other's clients. It kind of happened, you know, by osmosis. But the problem we were running into is scale. You can only do so much as an individual and you want to try to make more money and you want to try and scale and have more freedoms and the more and more we talked, you know, our answer to that scale problem was hey, why don't we work together?

You know, we'll both kind of champion these different sides of the business. And, you know, if we need to subcontract that more, we will. But then, you know, we have a brand we can put behind, it will look more official. We'll have a couple of people, maybe we'll spin up a website and we'll earn more business that way just by kind of pretending to be an agency, so to speak.

And then it became, hey, this is actually working. You know, if people are buying into what we're doing, hey, we need to hire someone. Let's do that. And then when you start hiring people, you actually have to legit, you have to file with the state and, and all that stuff. So, uh, we went down that road and, um, it's been working. So it's just been kind of a road of, hey, if it keeps working, let's keep doing it.

Jason: [00:04:31] What's been like, if you could look back at last year, right? Like as you guys were getting going and that kind of stuff, what was the main focus of starting the agency that you felt like you had to kind of get over?

Chris: [00:04:49] Um, I mean the main focus, you know, big thing we've had hurdles with is like delegation. You know, feeling that you don't have to do everything and, you know, trying to be okay with that.

So, you know, getting tasks out, trusting that, you know, there's somebody else that can do some of that stuff. Uh, really operational, you know, internal things are challenging. Because you have a relationship with a client.

And if you come from the freelance world, you're everything to that person. You're the relationship. You're the fulfillment, you know, you're the invoicing person, you know, you're, you're everything with that. And it's almost like your, your children or your pets or something like that and dealing with. So, trying to step away from that and focus on like, you know, what your true expertise is inside of the team is, is a challenging bit.

I think it's, it's oftentimes overlooked a little bit. But once you break through that, then, you know, scale comes a lot more easy because now you're doing your thing and other team members are doing other things. And, uh, that was a big part of it.

Also, you know, earning business was, uh, was a tricky thing too. Um, because you know, we're lean, right? So you don't have a ton of money to be advertising and, uh, you have to try to really leverage your relationships and try to make that stuff work. I mean, I can't tell you how many Upwork, uh, you know, proposals I've put out in my lifetime. It's, it's an ungodly amount and same with Aaron that you grind up, you earn new business, you earn your relationships and then those roll into other relationships.

Then you, you know, be part of cool groups like, you know, uh, the one we're a part of where you learn even more tricks and tactics and strategies, which is cool.

Jason: [00:06:32] As an agency owner, it's hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or reinvesting. And, you know, when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we're excellent marketers, but when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing, you know, our financials data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

And that's why my friend Nate created Agency Dad specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad, they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they're really good at.

Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business. He understands everything from how to structure your books, to improving the billing process and really managing your financial efficiencies. Agency Dad will show you how to use your financial data to make the key decisions. You know, from making your agency more successful and most importantly, more profitable.

If you want to know how your agency finances stack up to the rest of the industry, Agency Dad can tell you, you know, how to do that. A lot of my listeners have already gotten their free audit from Agency Dad. And if you haven't yet, go to agencydad.money/freeaudit before August 30th and get your free financial metrics audit.

Also, just for smart agency listeners, find out how to get your first month of bookkeeping or dashboarding and consulting for free. It's time to clean up your agency, finances and listen to dad.

Go to agencydad.money/freeaudit. That's agencydad.money/freeaudit.

Yeah, I look at it as kind of, as you're starting the agency, that really the main focal point is. Because you have to get to a point where you can actually afford people a lot of times. And I look at it as you need to focus entirely on lead gen and converting sales. Then I look at, you know, then, then you get to a point where… and, and tell me if you guys have gone through this, where now marketing and the lead gen or the, I like to kind of say, especially in the very beginning, you're creating this automated lead generation, right? You have this pipeline coming to you.

And then you have to start going, man, I can't handle all these sales calls. I can't handle, you know, the follow-up. You know, like literally marketing's breaking sales. And, and I, I find like, as you kind of keep going up, you know… marketing's job is to break sales. And then sales’ jobs is to break operations. Then your job as like the owner is really to kind of fix the stuff that the teams are breaking constantly.

And it's a constant like, boom, boom, boom, boom. Because as you just keep going up and up, you know, what got you, there is not going to, you know, get you to, to the next part. Have you guys found that yet?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Chris: [00:09:39] Yeah. So, you know, it's something we, we deal with constantly, you know. You have to have the pipe running and you have to have, uh, new opportunities coming through.

And, you know, I was in sales for a long time and sales really do fix everything. It's kind of the motto is if you can just get more sales then you can afford more people and you can afford to potentially lose something. And you never really want to talk about losing a client. But, you know, it's always a fact of, uh, running an agency and being in the industry is that, you know, you, you lose clients and it hurts when you don't have a pipe coming, you know, feeding new opportunity. It hurts worse.

So if you can have sales coming in and the potential loss, because maybe something wasn't fully optimized, somebody didn't have the time to move to something or, you know, you know, something, the relationship just didn't work out. Or you have a toxic relationship that you've been hanging on to because you need it.

Now you have the confidence to say, well, you know, I don't have to spend my time there. I can, I have confidence in the pipe. And, uh, that's like really the key. So we're actively in that process right now and trying to optimize the funnel. A lot of our growth has been because of our relationships and our ability to kind of grow those clients and do more work in those areas or get referrals.

Uh, you know, so the pipe now. Like a lot of my focus actually is on that right now. So we have things we're going to try to bring those in and it's working, you know, and sales will fix everything and then we'll solve our, our next big bubble of, of growth.

Jason: [00:11:07] Yeah. Yeah. The, and the, the big thing I find is pricing. And so a lot of times you go, well, let's just do more sales. But we don't think about raising the prices and increasing the pricing and looking at going, well, if we bring on more sales, we're going to have to bring on more levels, more people. And so they bring on more people, but they didn't raise their price.

And then at the end of the year, you look back and you're like, holy cow, I made less than I did last year. And we actually were.

Chris: [00:11:40] You did more work.

Jason: [00:11:42] Yeah. We were bigger, we did more work. Like… I'm so confused. And it really comes, you know, to the pricing and, and that's one of the easiest things. I find that when agencies really can kind of get from one level to the next level.

I look at it as kind of like climbing a mountain, right? Like you got base camp, and then you get like the climbing level, and then you get to the crux, and then you get to the crust. And then the summit. You know, most people kind of, as they're building and climbing, they're not laying the right foundation or putting kind of the safety nets on, in order to hold you up because, you know.

It just like, I remember I went through this many times and maybe you're going through this now. It seems like, were like, you'll self-sabotage yourself in sales because, you know, uh, and this is why you need to bring on a salesperson. Because they don't care about operations. They just they're like, I just want to sell.

But you're, psychologically as the owner of the agencies actually selling you're going, holy cow, I don't know, like I don't want to break operations. But it's a natural progression. You've got like when you're working out, you're constantly breaking down the muscle in order for it to rebuild. And you know, in the very beginning, I look at turnover as a good thing because your original clients are not going to be your, you know, probably the clients for you in the next couple years. Do you see that as well?

Chris: [00:13:08] Yeah, you kind of have to run before you walk in a sense, you know, bring people on and break operations. I think that's a great way to put it, uh, cause you, you have to force yourself into that position. Even though, you know, it's not going to be comfortable. And it goes back to the pipe too, is having confidence that there's going to be another opportunity.

And I think that relates to the sales thing as well is, is that you can be confident in the pricing and the higher pricing you need to be charged. Even if that person says, no, you're confident you have another opportunity. That's going to happen soon so that you can afford to be picky and say, look, but this is what we charge.

And by the way, when you have more team members in your, your, you know, having a more robust team, you're doing better work, you're providing a better service. So you should charge more for that service. It's not just you individually. And hopefully, by this point, you've learned a lot and you've become, you know, an expert in your field. You should be charging more for that because it's, it's value.

And that's one of the, that's another really big hurdle we've faced over our start here is pricing. What we were charging a year ago for services is not even close to what we're charging now. I mean, we joke about all the time. If you remember, when we used to just be happy for like 500 bucks a month? You know, for a client now, it's like no way we would even, we wouldn't even be in the room to talk to that person for that much.

It's, you know, it's, it's not really an ego thing as much of it as like a recognizing that you really do have value and you really do provide a great service. And having confidence in that.

Jason: [00:14:36] That's awesome. This has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Chris: [00:14:44] Um, no. I would just say, you know, keep at it, you know. If you are one of those freelancers that's trying to grind up, you know. There is light at the end of the tunnel and there are plenty of niches out there for you to find something to work on. There’s lots of problems to solve. So keep at it. Uh, keep listening to Jason because he's full of great info.

Jason: [00:15:01] Aww, thanks so much for coming on the show. What's the website people can go and check the agency out?

Chris: [00:15:07] Yeah. So we're Genius Digital Marketing. The website is geniusdm.com.

Jason: [00:15:13] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. You guys, uh, you provided tons of value to, uh, you know, our listeners. If you guys enjoyed this episode and you really want to kind of step up your game in your agency and really understand what exactly you need to focus on, what are the systems in place? Or what are the systems that you need to actually build in your agency to actually get to the next level and to get underway where the whole business is not depending on you.

My whole goal is for you not to be, you know, in the business. I want you to work on the business and if that's the case, I want you guys to check out the agency playbook.

So go to jasonswenk.com/playbook. Request the invite to it and we'll break down the eight systems for you to go check out. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 01_How_to_Grow_Your_Agency_By_Filling_Your_Sales_Pipeline.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Have you had a few failures in the agency world? Everyone is afraid of failure. But when you change perspective and treat it like a lesson instead of a defeat. That's the lesson from today's guest, Frank Kern, a well-known marketing consultant and agency owner who has ventured to start several agencies over the years. In this episode, Frank discusses some of his failures from these past businesses, the lessons learned, and what he would do differently. He offers valuable advice for anyone starting a digital marketing agency. He offers an honest and upfront take on every stumble, from starting in the advertising world without really knowing the rules, not listening to his own advice, and taking on every client, even the bad ones.

  1. Don’t be afraid to start over. Frank shares the knowledge he has gained over the years starting different agencies and learning from the mistakes made in each new venture. He has never been afraid to start over. “That’s what I love about the advertising business,” he says, “it’s never going away”. So there’s always a new opportunity waiting for the ones who dare to take that step and learn from past mistakes. He is now enjoying his most successful venture and is very glad everything happened as it did.
  2. Don’t try to grow too fast. This is the first lesson Frank has taken from his past agencies. Where in the past he used to take as many clients as he could get, now he sets a target. Five clients a week. This enables him and his team to not be reactive and build out operations. It’s been a learning curve for them. Drilling into the process, making sure there are checklists, getting better at inner team communications. But Frank says it’s been worth it and that he’s definitely seeing the results.
  3. Take accountability. Having a business partner is not easy and takes serious commitment. Some prefer to not even attempt it. Frank has been lucky to have a few amicable separations from past partners. The secret? He doesn’t really know, but he shares the importance of taking accountability for your mistakes. “If things are your damn fault, you have to realize they’re your fault”.

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Wix: Today's episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out Wix.com/Partners to learn more and become a member of the community for free.

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Don't Be Afraid to Start Over in the Agency World, Just Like Frank Kern

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here, and I have another amazing guest, Frank Kern. If you guys haven't heard of, uh, he is amazing. I've learned so much from him over the years on writing copy and marketing and direct response. Kind of the godfather of direct response marketing.

A lot of you guys know Frank Kern and he's done a bunch of agencies in the past, so we're going to talk about his experience with marketing and his agency.

Let's go ahead and get into the show.

What’s up, Frank? How's it going?

Frank: [00:00:40] Dude, I was just watching the intro roll. I love the just two seconds of pensive staring off into the distance.

Jason: [00:00:47] Well, I don't want to lose anybody's attention. Especially people with ADD like us. So, you know, you got try to keep them there.

Frank: [00:00:55] I didn't tell you this pre-interview. So if I don't make any sense today it’s because I have dyslexia and ADD and I woke up at 12:52 and… No, or 12 something, and my dyslexia…

I mean, I have the biggest font size ever on my watch. And I thought it was, I thought it said 4:52. So I took my ADD meds, which I keep right beside the bed. And they kicked in. I've been awake since 2:00 AM

I’m just like… so stupid right now.

Jason: [00:01:24] There you go. Well, that makes it fun for a podcast.

Frank: [00:01:28] Yeah, that's my disclaimer.

Jason: [00:01:30] Awesome. Well, um, for the people that have lived under a rock for a little bit… Tell us kind of a little bit of your origin story about how and why you've wanted to create an agency over the past couple of years.

Frank: [00:01:45] Uh, okay. I'll be mercifully brief because this isn't even remotely interesting for anybody.

Um, sold credit card machines door to door. Hated it, very bad at it. Um, Googled or there wasn't Google back then, it was 1999. Did a search for how to sell credit card machines on the internet cause I didn't wanna have to talk to people. They were all mean to me because I was going door to door and interrupting their, uh, place of business.

Discovered direct response marketing and advertising that way and started selling courses. Sold one that got me in trouble with the government. Um, it's important to learn the rules of advertising if you want to do advertising. I did not learn them, but, uh, after that I did. And um, then, sold stuff about dog training and kind of cut my teeth on that and sold a lot of marketing-related information.

And always felt like… It's going to sound really weird, but I always felt like it didn't count, you know? Like that's… to use my, uh, my late grandfather’s term it’s Mickey mouse BS. And I was like, I need to do it for real. I need to actually build campaigns and do stuff with real businesses. So it was for that reason and because I absolutely love advertising and I get to hit refresh on other people's stats besides my own.

Um, that's why I did it.

Jason: [00:03:00] Yeah. Well, um, you, uh, like I told you a couple of years ago, you kn… I found you and Jeff Walker and a couple other people through a Tony Robbins event I went, where they sent out the, I guess the money masters or something. And that's right when I was coming off selling the agency and I’d never heard of direct response at all.

And I was like, wow, if I could put this together with what I know here… I was like, man, this could be a pretty good machine. Uh, so I want to thank you for, for, for doing what you've done over the years. And, and, uh, you've been… Someone that has really figured out how to make someone kind of respond to you. You know, especially in the marketing front.

What what's kind of like, how did you go about figuring that out? Or was that just kind of intuition? Like I know you were saying, well, I just hated getting kicked out of strip joints and all these kinds of restaurants I was going into. I needed to get them to come to me. You know, how did you figured it out?

Frank: [00:04:05] Well, I started by making horribly egregious unsubstantiated claims in advertising because that's what I responded to.

And of course, I didn't realize there were things like regulatory bodies. This is again in 1999. And then I learned that you really can't do that and it's frowned upon. Um, so I wanted to see, well, what, what if you don't do that at all? And, um, I kind of stumbled over the whole philosophy of results in advance, which is the easiest way to convince somebody you can help them is to actually help them in advance of asking for their business.

So that's always been my big secret, you know, and it was just doing that.

Jason: [00:04:43] Yeah. And so when, when you started the first agency, what were some of the challenges that you experienced? Uh, and how did you overcome them?

Frank: [00:04:57] Dude, so the first one… I think this is number four for me. We've got it right now, finally. But I've been attempting this since 2010, all right? So we're 12 years into your boy, Frankie, trying to make, trying to work 30 times harder for way less money, basically. When you, I know, but I like it. I can't help it, you know, and I would rather do this and make less money than do the other stuff. I don't know why.

But anyway, the first one was a partnership between my cousin, Trey Smith and I and Jordan "Wolf of Wall Street" Belfort. And we had a plan, Trey and I mainly had this plan, which was we would create lead gen pages for home services companies and then manage their Google PPC accounts.

We would charge a flat fee and then like, you know, let's say it was 600 bucks a month or something. And we'd spend 400 bucks on traffic and we'd keep the $200 bucks. It, uh, we did roughly 15 seconds of research, you know, and were convinced that we were geniuses.

And Jordan's job was to, uh, hire and train salespeople. Cause neither Trey nor I are qualified to do that at all. So, um, that failed spectacularly, you know? So we, uh, by we, I mean, I leased a bank building in, uh, on Prospect Street all the way in California that… You know, we hired, I wanna say 40 people off of Craigslist. You know, and Jordan was training them up and then he had to go on tour to sell his stuff.

And then like, nothing really happened. I got to, I got to have a lease on a bank building for a couple of years. So that was fun.

Jason: [00:06:41] So why did that fail though? Like what, looking back, what could you have done to make that work?

Frank: [00:06:48] Um, I could have, uh, used ads to get them, you know. So for whatever dumb reason, uh, I oftentimes fail to heed my own advice, which is all right if you want to grow the business, take the thing that's working real good and do a whole lot more of that. And then find a way to systemize and automate and scale from there.

So we had this method of getting customers, which was internet ads. But when we partnered with Jordan, we were like, nope, we're not going to do that, we're going to do something we have no idea how to do, which is to call them out of the blue and then, uh, try to sell them something, you know, and so that was dumb.

Uh, I mean, I’m sure people make it work, but we didn't know what the heck we were doing. And of course that model, I think would probably have ultimately doomed us because there wasn't enough margin in it.

Jason: [00:07:42] Yeah. So what was version two?

Frank: [00:07:46] Uh, let's see. Version two was current branding. It, that was so close to working. That's where, uh, we would do video campaigns for people. So we'd script their videos. They would shoot the footage. We would have it edited. We would run them. Excuse me, I'm losing my voice already. That's what happens in the wake up at two.

Um, we would run their Facebook media for them and everything. And that actually was going pretty good. Um, I did what, uh, what I think a lot of people who are creative types do is I immediately outsource the operation. And I outsourced it to someone who didn't understand advertising. Really good understanding of operations, but didn't understand advertising.

And all of this is on me because I never sat down and said, here's how the business works and here's how all the moving pieces work. So we ended up over-hiring tremendously and didn't make any money, you know, but that was, that was pretty close.

Jason: [00:08:46] Okay. And then what about option three or version three? 3.0.

Frank: [00:08:50] So version 3 was, uh, we tried, um, in-house again, uh, current branding once again. But instead of doing all that production for people, we were like, you know what, man? We're just gonna run their media for them at a pretty decent price.

I just arbitrarily pulled 2,800 bucks off my butt. You know, like seems like an easy yes. And, um, that was going great. And then I decided it would be a good idea to partner with Grant Cardone and, uh, form Cardone Kern. I did that because I made a lot of assumptions that I'd never discussed with Grant. Uh, so again, I, I want to take full responsibility for this. I'm not here to say Grant is a bad guy or anything.

So I partnered with him thinking that they would have the infrastructure that we needed to grow the agency. Cause you know, you go down to his operation, it's pretty impressive. They got meetings and stuff and… you know, meetings and stuff and people wear suits and they, they really look like they know what they're doing. And they do, but not for an ad agency.

So when we partnered together, oh, and I also thought his audience was primarily business owners like brick and mortar people. So my vision for that, and this was incidentally, a conclusion that I drew after going to one event and talking to one attendee who was a roofer. And I was like, this would be the easiest client to win forever.

This must be what all of his customer base is like. We should partner up, you know, and so zero foresight on, uh, on my part. So we, it, it blew up. Um, well it blew up in a good way. We got to walk clients really fast. We grew it to damn it, it was $895 a month, just under $900, a grand. And then, uh, we started hemorrhaging because the operations were bad.

We, uh, by we, I mean, I, uh, had to hire a team. And then I had one dude to help me manage them. And he was good, but he was inexperienced too, in terms of trying to manage a team that big. So we just did a bad job, ultimately. Mainly is a result of operations, like missing calls, you know, like dumb things that operations people know how to do.

Jason: [00:11:04] So what were some of the… I don't want to put words in your mouth about some of the assumptions, like thinking about, you know, if you were going to partner… Because a lot of people listening on the show, they, they reach a, a plateau or they're, they're kind of an inner plateau and they go, I need a partner because I can't, I don't, I feel like I've reached my max and I need to work with someone.

And then they were like, well, let's just join together. So, you know, so many people are doing this and then it blows up in their face. So what would, what would have been some of those questions or assumptions to check with your partner and go, and then be like, oh, well let's kind of try this out or no, this is probably not going to work out that you could have avoided.

Frank: [00:11:48] Yeah, I probably should have said, okay, I'm operating under the assumption that you're going to provide this team. Is that a true assumption? And he would have said no, because he doesn't lie. You know, he's not a bad person. Just, I've never had the damn sense to ask him. And Grant so busy he's like, all right, cool. Don't mess it up. Sounds like a good idea. Let's go.

You know, so it was, we didn't really talk it out. So that probably would have been the first question was, you know, here's my assumption is this accurate? And, um, that would, that really would have been it. I think we could have overcome everything else.

You know, he would've said, no, dude, I don't have that. And I'm not going to give you that you got to go build your own. I would have said, oh, I could do that on my own; I don't need us to partner together for this. We would rather keep all of the money and… You know, if I'm going to have all the headaches anyway, I might as well keep all the money.

Jason: [00:12:38] Yeah. And so what, what are we looking like at version four now of, you know, post, you know, kind of making that partnership go away? I think this is the version you're on right now. Is that right?

Frank: [00:12:53] Yes. Yeah. So we're looking great. What I learned is number one, don't try to grow too fast. So our target is five clients a week, you know, where it used to be as many as you can get, let's just hire more people, right? Nope, five a week. That's it, you know.

So that was lesson number one. And that enables you to not be reactive and building out your operations. And lesson number, whatever number we're on is most of this stuff, I mean, I don't know about you dude, but ads are easy, you know? It's not, I mean, don't, don't tell clients it's for God's sake, but it's not really that hard. But the operations behind it, especially when you do it, we do, which is we're full service.

So we'll, you know, the first thing we typically do is go fix their email. Cause that makes everything work better and they get immediate sales and then they're happy, you know? So that requires so many tiny little things to go right. That, um, that's just been a tremendous. Um, a lesson it has been that big of a learning curve, really.

It's just more. Okay. Let's just keep drilling into this process, you know? And make sure there's checklists and yada yada, yada, yada. So it's been good. And then inner team communication is still we're good at it, but we could really be better at that. Um, but with clients we're good. But between ourselves, you know, we’re doing…

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Yeah. When I, when I look at kind of the stages of agency owners that go through, they go through, there's like six. And I look at kind of the first stage is like, figuring out, like, how do I get the clients? And then the next is like, how do we get the right clients? The next is like, like, how do I replace myself from not being the salesperson or being the account manager for the clients?

And then it's like, how do I build the team? And it's just like all these little stages you have to go through or systems that you need to actually set up in order to kind of, you know, get you to a point where you can pick and choose and do the things that you love doing. Like, cause I was telling you years ago it was like most agency owners are accidental.

They don't want to get into it. They just, they knew how to do something really cool in marketing. And someone's like, hey, do you do this for me? And they're like, okay, you're going to give me money to do this? Like, all right, let me go do more of that and, uh, you just kind of fall into it. And then, like you're saying you're being reactionary.

Um, one thing I, I have a question and probably a lot of people have a question on is, let's say you have a partner now. You got in, we didn't go over the assumptions that we figured out. Um, how can they actually go to their partner… Like how can we make a pleasant split up? Uh, you know, in order for us to go our own ways, because a lot of people, even including me, I had a partner and I looked at it like, if you don't know the bad partner, you're the bad partner.

Um, that's kinda how I looked at it. And that's one of the reasons why we sold, um, you know, it was a good offer, but still I probably would have been still doing it. Um, I'm lucky that I had did have a partner that we disagree. But like what, what, what would you suggest to these people listening? Like how can you do a, a good breakup?

Frank: [00:17:17] I have no idea. Um, I just ended up giving everything to the partner. I'm like, okay. Like, well, our very first one, you know, it was clear that it wasn't working and everything was in my name. So I was able to be like, all right, guys, this isn't working. Um, I'll keep paying the lease. It's in my name. See y'all later. And nobody, you know, no one cared, uh, because they're like, oh, thank God we have to mess with this anymore. This was way harder than we thought.

With Grant, I just gave him the agency. I was like, we were still doing, um, I can't remember, maybe half a million a month or something in billings? At the time, I was like, you can have it. And I never talked to him, actually. I talked to other people in the organization.

I voiced some things that I needed and I wasn't able to get them. And I was like, well, this isn't really gonna work for me. Um, y'all can just have this, if you want. We can just be cool. And they're like, alright.

Jason: [00:18:18] So how do you get to a point where… I love that, because a lot of people would spend years and years fighting back and forth.

No, I did this, my name is on blah, blah, blah, all this kind of stuff. And like tons of resentment versus you're like, fucking take it. Like, let me restart. Like, how do you do that? How do you, how do you get rid of those emotions that a lot of us would struggle with?

Frank: [00:18:46] Well, if things are your damn fault, you have to realize they’re your fault.

And so like if it was a different scenario and Grant had misled me. And said, yeah, we got this, dude. Here's everything I'm going to do to the letter and then just didn't do it. And then it was like F you Frank. Then I would be mad, you know, we'd have a really serious problem. Um, but he didn't, I just didn't ask.

So I had to, it was my damn fault, you know. It wasn’t his. So what am I going to do? But you know, pitch a fit? If some dude, you know… he's got other stuff going on. He’s gotta roll on out. But also in our business, it's like, it's easy to just to start another one.

There's this, this is what I love about the advertising business. It's, it's never going away. You know, it doesn't matter what the economy does. It's like we ain't going anywhere. It could be world war three, you know. I've always made this joke and it's old by now that the world war three could happen and there'd be like seven people left. One of them selling cockroaches or something.

And he's going to go to the guy with a bigger cave wall and be like, hey, I'll give you five cockroaches. If I can advertise my cockroach sales on your wall there, you know, like in, it'll take off from there. It's just never going anywhere. So I have no scarcity around it.

Jason: [00:20:10] Well, you know, that's how I look at agencies is, you know, when we had the big gold rush, right?

And the people that got the richest were the ones selling the stuff to make gold. That's kind of how I look at agencies. Um, especially as when COVID hit and everything started shutting down, I was like, you know, hey agencies are going to get a lot of business because people can't do what they used to do anymore.

And, uh, and I, I guessed right on that. But I love how you, you say take ownership in your own mistake. It's like, it was my fault. And I, I think too many times, including myself, probably, I mean, that's a hard thing to do. Admitting, going, hey, I could have avoided this. This is my mistake. Let's just move on.

And hit the reset button. And it's kind of like monopoly, let's play another game, here we go. It's like, I screwed up that one.

Frank: [00:21:05] Yeah. I'm glad I screwed up that one. Cause this one's great. And I get to keep all of the money. So like, okay. You know, this actually worked out pretty good. Otherwise, it'd be giving most of the money to Grant.

Nice enough guy. But, um, I'd prefer that I keep it.

Jason: [00:21:22] I think he's got enough money too.

Frank: [00:21:25] Oh, yeah. I think he, I hope they're doing well.

Jason: [00:21:28] Yeah. Well, awesome. Well, Frank, this has been amazing, man. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Frank: [00:21:37] No. I want to ask you something. Because you said something that really hit me at the beginning.

You were like, I've never even heard of direct response until after I'd sold the agency. And I think me and you were joking around about this by email. I was like, if I didn't have this damned, uh, I guess like moral compass and inability to sell something that is not measurable. I would be a zillionaire, you know, but I just can't do it.

And I don't even know how to attempt to do it. Because I know there was some value to it and like having cool stuff and well-branded things. I don't know how to make those things, but that's why God made other people, you know. Um, how do you sell that kind of stuff? Not with a clear conscience. I, I don't think there's anything wrong with doing it as long as a client knows the game going in, you know.  But how…?

Jason: [00:22:25] Well, we… Yeah, our agency, we developed, um, user experiences, you know, from websites and then we built applications. So if you think of sites like Legal Zoom, we built that, uh, you think of Hitachi Power Tools or Lotus Cars, their website, like none of those websites back then had really caught actions other than find my dealer, you know, Legal Zoom did about getting in, but we never really ran ads.

Um, so we always said, you have to have this amazing, like when someone comes to your website, you have to have this amazing experience and tell the right story in order for them to, um, you know, build an trust you. You know, we never really, we, we, we didn't get their people's email addresses; even though looking back at the agency, we were one of the first to build e-commerce stores.

We were one of the first to build an email marketing system. So our clients could broadcast to their clients. Like, and we were one of the first to build a CMS system, but we did what typical agency owners did was we kept working on our clients that kept paying the bills and we couldn't keep up. And then we, uh, started using other partners, like MailChimp. Like, we started all that before MailChimp.

So, you know, everyone, uh, misses the boat. Uh, I think we missed the boat, but at the end of the day, I'm right where I'm supposed to be. I'm loving life and doing everything, so…

Frank: [00:23:54] You get to have the pensive view off the balcony in your opening for the Podcast, man. The only way is like, we will make you more than you pay us or we'll refund the difference plus 20%.

I mean, the company is called Grow Ads for God's sake, but that's like hard work. I mean, it's actually not because you just choose the right clients, but you know what I mean? It seems to me, hey, the grass is always greener, but I'm like, man, these dudes that are getting paid half a million bucks to make a commercial. Those are the ones that are the smartest people in the room.

Jason: [00:24:24] Yeah. Well, I mean, it's, you got to do what you enjoy doing, right? Like you said, the grass is greener on the side that you water. So, you know, whatever side you want to water, like it's going to be, you know, you're going to enjoy it. I always just hate when people do something that they don't want to do in the agency just to make money.

I think that's a big, big mistake. I'm like the money will come. Like all the, you know, the mastermind members and the clients I've worked with over the years that have had, you know, the best lives, it's the ones that they, they didn't care about the money. They just cared about doing the right thing and doing what they wanted to do.

And that made all the difference. So…

Frank: [00:25:03] Well, you've made a whole boatload of it. And I've made, spent a whole boatload of it. At the end of the day. That's really it, you know, am I going to have a good time today?

Jason: [00:25:15] Well, I look at it as like you make money to save time in other things. So you have time to, um, you know, one of the things when, when I ask our mastermind members… I probably shouldn't tell people listening because now you know my trick question, but I ask them the first question usually is what do you do for fun?

If they say I work all the time, I don't let them in.

Frank: [00:25:37] Oh, dude, you wouldn't let me in then cause I really do all the time. But I love it so much, man. But because it's because I'm finally doing.

Jason: [00:25:44] Yeah, but you surf and you do all… or do you still surf or no?

Frank: [00:25:49] Seriously. Like, I'm in this little room right now and it's my pool house.And so I get up kind of pool house, go back.

Um, I've gotten that routine, you know, during COVID and everything. But really, I really like it, you know, like to me, it's so cool. But I’m an addict. Like I'm a hard core ad person specifically with direct response. So I get to hit refresh a whole lot of other people's stats all the time.

I get the dopamine hit constantly. You're like, ooh, hit, refresh on this to see how this is going. Okay. Is it refreshing over there? Hot damn. Moving on. What else can we do? You know? So to me it’s not work, really.

Jason: [00:26:27] Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, that's, that's the whole thing. But I still, I do want you to take some time off.

Gotta have some time. So...

Frank: [00:26:37] Well, you know, weekends and stuff. I'll sit around and walk over to the other house, the main house. Hang out there.

Jason: [00:26:44] Well, awesome. Well, what's the website people go in and check out? Is it growads.com or…?

Frank: [00:26:49] It’s .org. I didn't have the money for the.com. Actually, I never even looked to see how much the.com costs cause .org seemed cooler to me.

Jason: [00:26:58] Well, I think .org usually ranks higher anyway .org ranks higher in Google anyway.

Frank: [00:27:04] Oh, I don't even know about that stuff.

Jason: [00:27:06] Claim that.

Frank: [00:27:10] I have no idea about SEO because I have ads. You know, it’s like, you want to get known? Run ads. Yeah, or go to frankkern.com. Both of those sites will cure your insomnia pretty well. I think if you have it.

Jason: [00:27:26] Whatever. Everyone goes, check out both those sites. And thanks so much, Frank for coming on the show.

And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners where, you know, we have a lot of fun, we're going over constantly what's working, what's not working. Sharing and being able to see what you're not able to see because we're too damn freaking close to it.

I want you guys to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is our inclusive mastermind. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Is your agency as profitable as it could be? Are you successfully forecasting agency finances? Nate "Agency Dad" Jenson has built his business around helping agency owners drive profitability. Nate is a certified management accountant and internal auditor who focuses on offering the tools and accounting practices necessary for a thriving agency, with his business Agency Dad.

On his second visit to the podcast, Nate talks about forecasting and the importance of managing the future, instead of wishing you could change the past. He explains why you, as an agency owner, are very in tune with your business and can make a pretty good forecast of where it will be in three months. He also offers valuable advice on how you can take that first step to start managing the future.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Having a plan is the 1st step. One of the questions Nate gets the most from agency owners is “when should I hire a new team member?” You need to do your forecasts, he says. What are your sales going to be in the next 3-6 months? There are a number of methods you can use to make that forecast, like linear regression. He recommends the Dilbert method, where you sit down and write down what do you think sales will be in the next months. Most agency owners are pretty in tune with their business and can make a pretty good estimate of what a few months in the future will look like for their business. You’ll never be exactly right. The important thing is to be looking forward.
  2. Have a line of credit. Even with forecasting, you can find one month you don’t have enough money for payroll. Of course, no one wants that, but you have a lot more options if you catch it weeks in advance. You have more time to make some adjustments, reduce expenses, or take a loan. Jason always advises mastermind members to get a line of credit, even if they don't need it, for those cases. You may think you don’t need it, but things may not be that good a few months ahead. It’s better to have it than to go through the embarrassment of missing payroll. Your team may start jumping ship, and finding the right talent is not easy.
  3. Fixed vs. variable. You should really understand the difference between fixed costs (payroll, rent) and variable costs (sales commissions, direct media spend). Nate advises moving your fixed costs into variable costs. The more you do this, the easier it is to be profitable. Basically, if you can change those fixed costs to variable, your breakeven number goes down. And so as soon as you hit this number, you're going to hit that profitability sooner each month. So your sales can be lower and you're still going to make more money.

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Stop Focusing on the Past and Start Managing the Future

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? Jason Swenk here. I am excited for another episode. On today's episode, we're going to talk about why it's important for you and how you can actually forecast your agency so you can actually be more profitable. I have a repeat guest, Nate, who is amazing at all of this, and let's go ahead and jump into it.

Hey, Nate. Welcome to the show.

Nate: [00:00:29] Jason, thanks for having me on again. I appreciate it.

Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah. I'm excited to have you back. Uh, so for the ones that haven't checked out, the, the first episode that we had you on, uh, tell us a little bit about who you are and what do you do?

Nate: [00:00:43] All right. So I'm Nate Jenson, uh, the owner and founder of Agency Dad. Our, we're an accounting firm. We focus on helping, uh, marketing agencies become more profitable.

That's really, that's really, our niche is how do we, how do we drive profitability? Uh, we don't do any tax work. We don't do anything like that. We do bookkeeping. We do, uh, financial reporting. So everything we do is geared to make you more profitable.

Jason: [00:01:06] Well, we all want that, right? Because I think too many agency owners always focus on, you know, just top-line revenue. Hey, Jason, I want to make it to the million mark. Then I want to make it to the eight-figure. Mark. I'm like, well, what's the profit?

Nate: [00:01:20] Yeah. If you could work less and make more, I would rather just have a lower top line and more profitability. So…

Jason: [00:01:28] Exactly. Well, let's, let's talk about like, are there, like, how can we create forecasts? Because, you know, I think a question I get asked often, and I think as you do as well, like, can I afford to hire someone? Or what does it look like when I need to hire someone next? Like how do I figure that out?

Nate: [00:01:47] Yeah. That's, that's probably the question I get more than anything else. Can I hire somebody to, when do I hire somebody? And if somebody asked me that my, my response is, well, what are your sales going to be in the next three to six months? And if we can't, if we can't answer that, then we really don't know if we can hire somebody. So, so for me, the forecast is where you start.

Jason: [00:02:06] And so if that's where we need to start for, like, what is our sales look like for the next three months? How can we forecast that out?

Nate: [00:02:14] Okay. So there's, there's a lot of methods, right? Uh, if you're like me and you're really into accounting, you can use linear regression. You can use exponential smoothing.

There's a lot of, kind of analytical tools like that. If you're an agency owner and I say linear regression, you're probably tuning out and...

Jason: [00:02:33] Yeah. I kinda, I kinda almost passed out when you use those big words cause I've never heard those before.

Nate: [00:02:39] Yeah. So there's, there's a method that, that… If you're an agency owner and you just want to sit down by yourself and, you know, do your own forecast there's a method I would recommend.

And I've, I've heard it called different things, but the term I like is the Dilbert method. So if you're familiar with Dilbert the comic strip, uh, there's a lot of, uh, let's say questionable business practices used in that comic strip. Uh, but the idea is you sit down and you basically say, hey, what do I think it's going to be?

You know, what's my best guess? And so I've actually found, Jason, most agency owners are pretty in tune with, with a lot of the ins and outs of their business. You know, so I can do, I can do the linear regression, but if, if someone says, hey, I happen to know that every December our sales go way down, because you know, the seasonality of the business. Uh, a business owner or an agency owner, they can, they can say, well, my, my sales were, you know, they're 500,000 in November. I'm expecting them to be, let's say 400,000. Just because that's what happens.

And for a, for a simple kind of first pass, I think that's a totally appropriate way to set up your first budget or your first forecast.

Jason: [00:03:51] True. And then now that we kind of set out the future forecast for sales for the next quarter. What's the next step in order to, you know, making sure we're profitable or when we can actually hire?

Nate: [00:04:04] Uh, similar again, if you're using the Dilbert method already, uh, the next step is… Think of a forecast, like your profit and loss statement, right? You look at your PNL for the prior month, what did I sell? What are my costs of goods sold? What are my expenses? And so you're setting up a PNL, but it's in the future. What about, what am I going to sell? What are my costs of goods sold? What are my expenses?

Okay. Get your rent, get your payroll and get all that in there. And what am I expecting my profit to be? And it's hilarious, Jason. A lot of people will say, hey, well, I'm, I'm, I'm not good at this. I don't really know how to do this. Uh, having a plan is, is, is the first step, the, the number of times that I've actually set up a forecast for a client and I've come back to that client and said, hey, if everything goes according to plan, you're going to lose $10,000 a month, right?

Uh, that it, that happens all the time. And the one thing that we know about a forecast is it's going to be wrong. No matter what it is, it's going to be wrong. You're going to be high. You're going to be low. But if you, if you do the forecast and your plan is to lose money, you know, you've at least got to take some action, make some changes.

Jason: [00:05:17] Yeah. You know, one of the things that we did, uh, that I think is really easy for all of you guys listening, is we had our bookkeeper export out all of our expenses on a spreadsheet. And literally, you know, like, like you were saying, and then we had, like, we basically put out 12 months, so he said January, so here's what it is fixed. And then we copied that all the way through December.

Then we added a couple of columns to the spreadsheet above and said, well, here's what we think we're going to bring in revenue. Kind of like what you're saying for the quarter. And then we could play with the model, uh, because then we did all, you know, we put in the easy formulas, you know, minus income minus expenses, and then, you know, divided that by, you know, to figure out our profit margins.

So if we wanted to hire someone in the future, let's say three months from now, we would put in their salary under payroll. We would add them in there. And then it was really easy to figure out going, well, man, okay, we can afford this person because we look like we're bringing in, you know, a million more dollars this quarter and we can afford to do this, this and this.

And it still keeps our profit margins at X. Is that what you’re saying?

Nate: [00:06:37] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Um, you can always go deeper, right? You can always go and say, hey, we can't afford it, but should we afford it? Should we maybe look at raising our prices before we do it and so forth? There's all that stuff.

But just for a first pass. Yeah, exactly what you said as you build out your model, say, it's say it's only three months, right? Maybe it's the year, but maybe it's just a few months. And you say, hey, we're making this, you know, this net income at the end of the, each of those months. Like you said, play with the model.

What if we add one person? What if we reduce expenses here? What if we can get one more client? And again, you’re never going to be right, right? It's just a forecast, just a guess anyways. But if you're looking forward and you, you can play with that model and say, can we hire, can we, uh, you know, can we, should we reduce our rent? You know, should we not renew our lease? All these kinds of things.

Uh, you've just got to look forward. So many, so many people manage just historically, right? They see how did we do last month? Oh, we didn't do as well as we thought we would, well, what are we gonna do different this month? Well, let's just, let's work harder, right? That's not a plan, you know, you, don't working harder is well… You're gonna just gonna work yourself to death.

And that's when you say let's get more revenue because we don't really know why we're profitable or not profitable.

Jason: [00:07:52] Yeah. I, I remember one time I came into, you know… we used to do our budgeting and our forecasting really not existed. And I remember coming, looking at the bank account right before I went into a leadership meeting and I was like, holy cow, this is the lowest it's ever been.

And I was like, we're not going to be able to make payroll in the next two weeks. If nothing changes. And we were able to, we made payroll for all 12 years. Um, we just made it that one. But after that I realized I needed to do forecasting and build a performer out to really show me, is it like… Because you're always going to have in the future. Like if you do this modeling, right, you're going to see where you actually start losing money where you don't have money, right?

And it's just about how far out is it, and then it gives you that time of going, wow, man, I got six months to get my act together in order to make a major change. Especially if a big contracts about to end. And that's going to take a really big dip in your income. You know, let's say, Nate, you probably deal with, you know, these, this all the time where some clients have a huge contract, that's like 40% of their revenue.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Nate: [00:09:16] Yeah. Yeah. For sure. And, and when, uh, when business comes in kind of in a lumpy way like that, uh, that's much harder to, that's much harder to deal with. Um, like one of the things as I was preparing for this podcast, and I was thinking about… Is there's really two kinds of, of revenue that I see and predicting the revenue for each of those kinds takes a different sort of mindset.

One is the retainer revenue. If, you know, if you have a book of clients and you're like, hey, I know who my clients are and how much they pay me. Your revenue forecasting is actually pretty easy. And if you have, uh, you know, if you have, your, you know what your payroll is, uh, it's pretty easy to say my retainer is enough to cover my payroll, my other expenses, and so forth.

If you're a more project-based, you know, say you're a web developer, uh, you're, you're much more reliant on, hey, how much business do we think we can pick up in a given month or a given quarter? And it's interesting, Jason, I've actually seen, I don't know if, I don't know if I'd call it a trend yet. But I've seen quite a few of my clients who are on that, uh, in that project-based kind of revenue.

They've actually, as they're doing their forecasting and I'm helping them with their forecasting. Some of them have actually moved from a, uh, traditional employee type model on the expense side to contracting a lot of that. Because… Yeah, well, yeah, predictability. When your revenue is so lumpy, it's very nice to have your, your, uh, cost be a lot more variable, you know?

Even if a contractor is more expensive per hour… Might be cheaper overall if your revenue is, is way up and way down.

Jason: [00:10:59] Yeah. You know, the, the other thing, I have a lot of mastermind members that… In the past couple of months, and even right now, they're going through acquisitions and they're getting bought. Uh, like I'm thinking of one of our masterminds Dean that just sold maybe three months ago and… uh, you know, very successful business, you know, in the multimillion-dollar range.

And he never really did forecasting. He never put a performance together. And when they actually, and this is why it's good too…  Especially if, if you guys are listening both, it's good for predicting out and profitability when you need, and to make yourself a little more relaxed rather than that volatil… volutary…?

Nate: [00:11:41] Volatile.

Jason: [00:11:43] Yeah, there you go. Big words I can't say. I went to Florida State, guys, come on. Um, but uh, all the people that are looking to buy you are going to look for the future cast. And they want to know because that's what they're buying sometimes. And if you don't know it, that's going to send up red flags. So for your sanity, for your predictability, and especially for, if you want to be able to potentially sell one day, please make sure you do these on a regular basis.

Nate: [00:12:17] Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's again, it's driving that profitability right? Managing to the future instead of just wishing you could change the past. Um, but, Jason, there's something you mentioned a few minutes ago that I wanted to get back to. You talked about that time when you were almost out of money for payroll, right?

We actually, and I recommend this as well, but we actually do for our clients, uh, multiple kinds of forecasts. So the first one is the PNL forecast, but we do a separate cashflow forecast. So we'll usually have that, like a rolling eight week forecast. And the payroll is a perfect example…. Is if it's, if it's Monday morning and that's when you run your payroll and you're out of money, you're like, do I have personal money I can throw in the business?

Do I have a really good banker friend that can somehow can be aligned really fast? And even if you do, you know you're going to pay through the nose on that rate to get the money. Uh, it's, it's a totally different experience if you're looking ahead and you're like, oh my gosh, eight weeks, our bank account goes negative.

Uh, what can we do? Well, if you need to get a loan, you have eight weeks to get it. But you can say, hey, maybe we can reduce expenses. Maybe we can not take that owner distribution I was planning on. You have a lot more options. So the PNL forecast is where it all starts. Uh, but you need to take that and go to the next step and say, how's my cashflow going to change based on, you know, based on my expectations of sales and expenses and so forth?

Jason: [00:13:43] Yeah. You know, um, that reminds me, I tell our mastermind members and I tell people in agency playbook, the first thing I want you to do is get a line of credit. And they'll be like, hey, Jason, I'm good. Like, I got a ton of cash I can operate for over three months.

I'm like, things are not always going to be that good. Um, and so get a line of credit when you don't need it. And so if you ever do come into hard times, you don't have to miss payroll and you don't have to be embarrassed. Because if you miss payroll and you tell your employees and your team that, or your contractors, they're jumping ship. And finding the best talent is very, very hard.

And I always say, get a line of credit. I don't care if you don't need it. Like, I think we tapped into it one time when we actually need it. And then here's the other trick with the line of credit. They will cancel it all the time if you never use it. So every month I would just take out like 5,000 for one day, put it back in so they see some movement.

Because it doesn't cost you anything, if you don't use it.

Nate: [00:14:49] Absolutely. Totally right. So it's, but the point is, I think you, you have that use it when you need it. Uh, have, you know, get it before you need it, like you say. But just, you've got to look forward, again, the number of times I've seen people who they just, they have no idea where they're going.

They just know where they've been or where they are. And, and then they want to know, hey, should I do this? Should I do this? And should I do this? You got to look at the future. And I, I know this can be an overwhelming thing for people. And that's why I say, hey, if you can't do a 12 month forecast to a three month forecast. You know, look at your sales for three months and then once a month, sit down and add on that next.

That's gonna, that's gonna get you way ahead of where you are if you're not even doing that. And it's just a great place to start.

Jason: [00:15:35] So awesome. Well, Nate, this has been awesome. Is there anything I didn't ask you before you tell the listeners about this cool, special offer?

Nate: [00:15:46] Uh, let's see. I would have one thing I guess, and this isn't just with forecasting. This is with, you know, kind of bookkeeping and reporting in general.

One thing I wish my clients understood more, uh, when they, when they became clients, was the difference between what a fixed cost is and a variable cost. Uh, if you have a lot of what we call it, fixed costs, and that's a cost that just you pay every month, it might change, but it doesn't change because you sell more.

So you have rent, you have insurance, uh, you have your payroll and things like that. A variable cost is a cost that does change with sales. And so if you have sales commissions, that's going to go up the more you sell. Any direct media spend obviously is going to go up the more you sell. Uh, so if you're contracting your work, that kind of stuff's going to go up the more you sell.

Uh, the more you can move your fixed costs into variable costs, the easier it is to be profitable. Because the more fixed costs you're like, I've got to sell this much every month just to break even. And then when I go above that and that's my profit. If you can change those fixed cost to variable, uh, your, your breakeven number goes down.

And so as soon as you hit this number, you're going to hit that profitability sooner each month. So your sales can be lower and you're still gonna make more money.

Jason: [00:17:06] Awesome. Yeah. You know, I, I didn't really learn that until kind of the very end and, uh, you know, it, it makes a big difference, so, uh, great advice.

Well, Nate, this has all been amazing. Um, if people want to know more and you know, possibly work with you and, uh, because they they're like me, they look at numbers and they go, uh, dizzy. Um, what can they do to reach out to you?

Nate: [00:17:32] Oh, thanks. Uh, first of all, one thing we actually do is we... We take most of the numbers and we put them on charts, graphs, and we make them really easy for people to just see a picture and understand it and move forward.

So that's number one, but if they want to get a hold of me, uh, agencydad.money is our website. We do have a free offer for your listeners. It's agencydad.money/freeaudit. And what we do is we actually do an audit of their financials, uh, comparison, compare their financials to some industry benchmarks.

Jason: [00:18:03] I like that. Yeah. You guys better take Nate up on that offer. That's uh, that's crucial. I mean, because we all want to know where we stack up and where we actually need to go. So make sure you guys go there. Say the URL one more time.

Nate: [00:18:16] It's agencydad.money/freeaudit. And, just because of the topic of this podcast, I'll mention  that's a third, a forecast that we do is we actually forecast people's metrics. So they can see in the future, if their metrics are getting out of whack, based on what they should be. Just another way to give us a red flag on something.

Jason: [00:18:38] Awesome. Well, everybody go check out that and get that free audit.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

Nate: [00:18:45] Thanks, Jason.

Direct download: How_to_Manage_the_Future_and_Skyrocket_Agency_Profitability.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00pm EDT

Can you identify some services that might be holding your agency back? Maybe it’s time to consider getting back to the basics. Phil Blackmore and his agency Create Health are really passionate about bringing back something the world of health marketing was really lacking: creativity. Recently the pandemic helped him reflect on the agency’s true core and what they should be focusing on. This is how the agency recently re-launched with the motto “creativity is the cure”. Phil joins the podcast today to talk about how that move reenergized the team and made running an agency much easier.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Getting back to the basics. We tend to fall into the trap of going after what’s novel and trying to come up with something cool that hasn’t been done before. That can get you a bit of exposure, but it’s not the backbone of your business. Phil explains that the pandemic gave him a chance to really reflect on what it is that his agency was really good at. To think about what they enjoyed doing for their clients.
  2. Get rid of what may be holding you back. It became clear that his agency shined the most when it came to bringing creativity to the health care sector. And so, they made the decision to shed other services, like tech, to focus on what really mattered to them, and what they were best at. The entire process took about six months, but Phil says it was definitely worth it. They could now focus on what they were better at. Clients were delighted at the results and the team seemed happier.
  3. Fewer HR headaches. According to our guest, another advantage of having a very clear focus for your agency is that it makes some things much easier. It has allowed the agency to change culturally and clearly identify the opportunities for growth in the future. Also, this simplifies the task of knowing exactly what sort of talent to look for to make that happen.

Sponsors and Resources

Ninja Cat: Today's episode is sponsored by Ninja Cat, a digital marketing performance management platform where you can unify your data, create beautiful, insightful reports and presentations that will help you grow your business. Head over to ninjacat.io/masterclass to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Getting Back To The Basics And Figuring Out The Backbone of Your Agency

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? I'm excited for another episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass. Now, before we get into it, I want you to do me a favor. If you're listening, obviously you’re listening to the podcast, take a screenshot. Upload it to your favorite social media channel and tag us, so I can give you a shout-out for listening to the show.

Today we're going to talk to an amazing agency owner across the pond over in London. Um, because that’s the only city I actually know over there. He said he was outside of it and he was trying to explain it to me. But we're going to talk about getting back to the basics and a lot of things that we're ignoring and we're not doing for ourselves, but we're doing it for our clients. So let's get it to the episode.

Hey, Phil. How's it going?

Phil: [00:00:54] Really good. Thanks, Jason. How are you?

Jason: [00:00:55] Hey, man. Awesome. Well, I'm excited to have you on, uh, so briefly tell us who you are and what do you do?

Phil: [00:01:03] Yeah, so my name is Phil Blackmore and I'm one of the agency owners of Create Health, which is a specialist advertising agency that, uh, yeah, by the name, as you can probably guess, does everything in health care.

Jason: [00:01:14] Awesome. And so in, in kind of pre-show we were talking about really, you know, getting back to the basics. And so what, what have you found in scaling your agency? You guys have been doing it for a while, um, and... You were telling me a little bit beforehand about when COVID happened, it kind of made me rethink something.

So what happened? Tell us that story.

Phil: [00:01:41] Absolutely. So, I mean, we obviously spoke, I think, about 14 months ago. And, um, I think we felt we were doing pretty well as a business. But obviously COVID, I think is certainly the most, testing period of time I've ever been through as an agency owner. And, you know, as I'm sure anyone listening to this can empathize. You know, a lot of things, I didn't think I'd have to face I have. With regards to decisions on staff, services, all kinds of things.

But I suppose, through all the darkness, there was a real opportunity to actually reflect on what it is I'm trying to build and what it is we're trying to do as an agency. And I think one of the things I found really interesting was I've always believed that we're really good at what we do. Um, but actually we were probably guilty of hiding that by trying to come up with a clever way of explaining that to potential clients and prospects.

So yeah. The, the pandemic and the last 12 months has given me a real opportunity, I suppose, to reflect back on what is it we like doing? What is it we're respected for? And how on earth do we just kind of simplify the story and get that back out to existing clients to expand them? But also to new clients we want to work with?

Jason: [00:02:48] Yeah, I think we all kind of fall into that trap. Especially the ones of us that have been doing it for a while, right? Like it's, you know, we just get reactionary to everything. And then, uh, you know, I remember doing this when we were building an e-commerce platform back in 2001. You know, like, clients would call and we'd be like, okay, like they're paying the bill, let's take our foot off this.

Or when we were developing a CMS system in 2002, like I was like… Go on.

Phil: [00:03:22] Absolutely. And I think the really funny thing, if anything is, in some ways you… I don’t know, I think you'd get so obsessed with the novel, trying to come up with something new and cool that hasn't been done before. And actually as much as that's wicked, that can get you a bit of exposure. It's not the backbone of your business.

It's good for that awareness, but actually it's not what you're going to be bought for. Um, you know, people want a good solid foundation and want to know that you've got the goods to back it up.

Jason: [00:03:48] You know, one of, one of my favorite movies is Moneyball. Now I'm not a huge baseball fan. Um, but I love, you know, sports stories and, like, what you just explained is kind of like us getting up to bat and trying to hit a grand slam every time. And what's going to happen is we're going to strike out more than we're going to score. And what you know, why I loved Moneyball was they were like, we just need to get the right players that can get on base.

I don't care if they get hit and they get on base or if they get walked or whatever it is. I just want them to get on base. And I think agencies really need to focus about how can we just get on base? Like stop over-complicating it. So what were some of the things that you did to make it not as complicated?

Phil: [00:04:42] So I think, um, we fundamentally went back and looked at, firstly, what is it that are, why did I set the business up in the first place? In terms of why did I and my partner Bill, why we started and it was because we believe that in our sector creativity was massively underrepresented. Um, in the healthcare space, it's a very safe, conservative kind of sector as you'd expect because of the subject matter.

But it's also the most, uh, emotionally rich from, I suppose, a story perspective, you know, health touches us all. And what I thought was interesting was that, looking back at all the pitches we'd won. Looking back at kind of the business, historically, the one thing clients kept saying about us is that they love was just how creative we were. And how we were bringing, I suppose, broader thinking into a sector that they hadn't seen before.

So we went back to basics and was like, well, you know, what's wrong with this sector? And then came up with this kind of, I suppose, positioning that I'm very pleased with, which is creativity is the cure within healthcare. And we then, having got that basic kind of sentiment, went out and found scientists who specialize in behavioral psychology and other such areas to really help back up our belief that creativity is the cure.

So yeah, we have this really lovely line, but then we made sure it was grounded in the science. And yeah, we stripped back our services. Um, actually got rid of certain departments so that we could focus and invest more on, I suppose, the creative and the planning side of things, which is really resonating with, with our clients. And the team and the energy is just so much better now.

Jason: [00:06:16] Oh, and you probably do things a lot more efficiently too, if you started stripping away some of the things. And a lot of times I find agency owners have a hard time of getting rid of some services. Um, so what was kind of the step or like, especially if you're doing some services for legacy clients, did you just say, hey, we're not doing this anymore? Or did you just stop marketing it for new ones coming?

Phil: [00:06:42] Yeah. So I think one of the biggest, I suppose, shocks was we turned off building tech internally. So we used to have a department that, that built the apps and the websites, the CMS is all this sort of stuff. And we made really good money off it, historically. But we got to that juncture where it's like, you're either going to be a tech agency or you're going to be a creative agency.

You can't really be both and didn't have the, I suppose, capital to, to try and do both properly. Um, so as I said, we realized that we preferred creative more, that we were better at it. So we turned off those services for tech. We still think digitally and techno, technology, but we've partnered with agencies that are really good in that space.

So they do the build and the maintenance and all the stuff that we quite frankly, weren't that good at. We have the upfront strategy and ideas. Um, and yeah, and that's for the clients that we had on board. Uh, and we went to great lengths to make sure that we handed them off to partners that we, we felt had the same values as us.

So they didn't feel like we'd, we'd kind of left them high and dry. We'd done the right thing. And we sell, felt immensely kind of cleansed and relieved that we had one less thing to focus on. Um, as I said, creative is what we're good at. And it's what clients… what's lovely when you talk to procurement, you know, you go in with a really niche offering of, this is what we do, and this is why we're great at it. This means, again, you, you get rather than being a generalist, being that specialist really does get you higher up the list.

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That's ninjacat.io/masterclass.

And when you do that too, I mean, you can demand so much bigger on prices. It's kind of like if you just go see a general, your general doctor and they're checking the oil and checking your temperature, they get paid so much. But if you need to have brain surgery, you know, they're going to be getting paid so much more than, uh, someone that's a generalist.

Um, so when you started peeling back some of the services and getting rid of those, how, how quick? Cause a lot of people listening are like, well, how quick did you start to see a change and growth and profit and also revenue?

Phil: [00:10:05] Yeah. So, I mean, it was obviously a frightening to have to turn things off. Because as I said, we've made historically good money. But then when you start to turn off all the other things that you don't need to have suddenly, you know, all the different platforms, the hosting. Everything else that actually was, unbeknownst to us costing us tons of money behind the scenes. In terms of, and not necessarily being recharged back as it should be.

There were a lot of clients that we weren't charging the hosting. On to, you know, silly little things that I think a pandemic certainly sharpens your eye on. Um, but yeah, I mean, in terms of a change, it's certainly taken about six months for it to kind of wash through.

Um, but yeah, the last sort of six months have been tremendously good in comparison to the others. Because, yeah, we've, we've just had more time to focus on the stuff that we enjoy doing. And because we enjoy it, we do it better.

Jason: [00:10:51] Yeah. Yeah. I almost look at it as you're climbing a mountain and you realize the trek to the summit is really like… you could die by going this one path. But if you backtrack, you can get on an easier path.

And then you can get up there, um, you know, eventually without little risk. I, I kind of look at it as like, that's kind of what you've done is like, all right, this is the risky pass is going up there. And then when you start again you’re like, man, this is really pretty easy, a lot easier, you know? And now you probably see a lot faster growth too.

Phil: [00:11:30] Well, I think it also just makes it so much easier for us thinking about staff in terms of who you're hiring. Um, having that clarity of focus has meant that we've been able to change culturally in our kind of our processes. You know, creativity is very much at the heart of everything we do. Um, we're really clear on where the opportunities are and things like CGI now and other areas to amplify what we do creatively.

So yeah. Uh, in some ways it's just made it really, really simple for us. It's also meant, I mean, we're, we're based in Bristol. It's a big tech city. So we were always competing against people who could outbid us for the best talent anyway. So yeah, in some ways it's, it's nice not to have those kinds of HR headaches either.

Jason: [00:12:10] Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, when, when I'm talking with our mastermind, we're always talking about recruiting, right? Because we're at levels. You know, everyone in the mastermind is at a level where they're getting tons of business. But it's, it's harder to keep up. And they're trying to get out of the day-to-day operations and really build the leadership team and really transform from an owner to a CEO. And it really comes down to talent.

But now if you've stripped back a lot of the services you know exactly what you need. Because a lot of times I find agencies hiring people to do things that they have no clue about because they want to add more services. And I actually think that's actually a mistake in most cases. Because how can you measure someone on something you've never done?

Like you're going to be a horrible manager rather than look, I've done millions of websites. I can measure. And I know if someone is BS'ing me in the interview or BSing me for the first six months. Um, you know, it'd be like, you're gone in the first week.

Phil: [00:13:19] Yeah, absolutely. And as you said, it's, it just, I’d say, I think that the thing I struggled with is probably the biggest shift in terms of becoming a, an owner is the, your time is, it's so precious. And you can end up doing tasks, which, you know, are not really reflective of the, of the value that you have on the business.

So, yeah, the more you can do to, as I say, get back to basics. Strip away the things that you think are doing you favors... But really aren't and actually just, just focus on, on, on the bits that you enjoy. The business is going to do so much better.

Jason: [00:13:50] Yeah, exactly. Well, this has all been amazing, Phil. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Phil: [00:14:01] I think, uh, the key thing would be whatever your point of difference or proposition is, just make sure that it's something that really runs through the core of the business. Not something that just sounds nice on a flyer or a website. As I said, creativity is something I'm very passionate on. And so, you know, having that as a driving force for the business means that it's infectious. And others pick up on it because it's coming from the top down.

Um, and I think the key thing then is to nurture it. Uh, and just make sure that it then comes back up towards you in more interesting ways as well. That's, that's how the business will grow through the, the great people that we hire.

Jason: [00:14:34] Well, I think, you know, the reason why it's worked for you so well is you have such passion and the belief in it. Versus choosing it based on, well, I think we can do this to make more money.

I think the make more money as a byproduct, right? I think when people start just focusing on the money, I think they start making bad decisions. Um, and, uh, it gets a little bit more challenging. So, awesome, uh, what's the website people go and check out the agency?

Phil: [00:15:03] Uh, is createhealth.com.

Jason: [00:15:06] Awesome. Well, everyone go check that out.

Thank you so much, Phil, for coming on the podcast. It was a lot of fun and yeah, we just got to go back to the basics. And if you guys want to be able to really kind of see the things you might not be able to see in front of you and you want to be surrounded by the best talent. Uh, from all the agency owners all over the world, I want to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

This is our exclusive mastermind just for agency owners that are going through a rapid scaling of their agency. And they want to get to a point where they have the opportunity to sell it one day or to exit in the things that they don't want to do anymore. And have that freedom that we all really wanted.

So make sure you go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Every agency owner needs solid negotiation skills to feel more confident when dealing with clients. Mori Taheripour is an executive and award-winning educator who focused her career on negotiations. She currently teaches at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and works privately with entrepreneurs, corporations, foundations, and universities. She wants to make negotiations more accessible and help people realize it's a skill we all have and are better at than we realize. In this episode, she discusses why negotiations make people anxious and how you can get better results by being prepared and understanding motivations and your values. Mori also explains why you should be curious and avoid just wanting to be right, plus her new book, and much more.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Making negotiations accessible. Most people get really anxious about negotiating and think about it as a mere transaction. Somebody wins, somebody loses and that’s it. Mori believes that is just a small slice of the pie. Negotiations are more than that. People maybe link them to negative experiences or think they are not combative enough to be a good negotiator, but we actually negotiate every day. It’s a skill that we all have and could get better at if we change our perspective. And the first step is to be prepared and understand yourself, your motivations, and your values.
  2. Be curious. The fact that most people think about negotiations as a win or lose scenario means they’re not thinking about long-term solutions that focus more on the relationship. Think about a divorce or a separation from your business partner. Those negotiations don’t necessarily have to become a conflict. You need to be able to clearly explain your why’s and be curious about theirs. Don’t assume that you have all the answers. Don’t come to the negotiation just expecting to be right. Especially if listening can lead to a solution that benefits both parties and preserving a relationship.
  3. Not all about prices. If negotiations were just discussions about pricing, Mori says she wouldn't be teaching it. It's not fun, it's dreadful. It should be about educating your client about what you can offer them and why you do what you do. Tell them how passionate you are about your mission. Make it a conversation so you can also get to know their motivations and their whys. At the end of this, now it's time to discuss pricing, and by then your value and the benefits they will get from contracting your services should be very clear to them. If it's not, it doesn't mean you should now start lowering your prices. It's ok to not want to negotiate that point.

Sponsors and Resources

HighLevel: Today's episode is sponsored by HighLevel, an all-in-one marketing platform that will give you the tools, support and resources you need to succeed with your agency. Head over to gohighlevel.com/swenk to enjoy an exclusive 30-day free trial.

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Learn to Negotiate Successfully and Never Have to Lower Your Prices

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up, agency owners? I'm excited to have you back for another episode. I have an amazing guest and we're going to talk about negotiating, which is always a fun topic, and I'm really excited to get into it. So let's go ahead and start the episode.

Hey, welcome to the show.

Mori: [00:00:25] Hey, Jason. How are you? Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:27] Yeah. I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Mori: [00:00:32] Um, so Mori Taheripour. I teach at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, uh, for part of my life. I teach in legal studies and business ethics department, and largely I focus on negotiations.

So, um, apart from Wharton, which is where I do most of my teaching, um, I've worked with entrepreneurs and, um, corporations and foundations and universities. And spend most of my time focused on teaching people how to negotiate successfully, um, and, and doing so from a very different perspective than most negotiation classes.

So that's, that's really the focus of my work. I do some work in sports. I'm also focused on teaching, um, working with athletes and, and helping them as they think about transitioning out of the sport. And some diversity and inclusion work.

Jason: [00:01:22] Very cool. Awesome. Let's talk about negotiating and kind of, you know, everyone listening is obviously done negotiating, you know, their whole career.

Um, so talk about kind of the first step in negotiating. How can you set up where you're positioned better?

Mori: [00:01:41] So let me go back just a little bit. I think it was funny when I heard the intro and you said we're going to talk about something fun: negotiating. Most people don't think about negotiations and think it's fun.

Um, in fact, a lot of people are very anxious about it. And that's because, um, they have bad experiences. They think about that one negotiation that they had, that they thought they did really poorly in. Or a divorce or whatever negative experience that they've had around negotiations. And oftentimes they think about it as such, because they, they think about negotiations as being a mere transaction.

Somebody wins, somebody loses. Black and white, that's all it is. And so people who, a lot of people are this way, they're not very combative, right? They don't really want to argue and bicker. So they think, oh, I don't want to negotiate, right? Whatever they can do to avoid it, get an attorney, whatever it is. Um, but the truth is that that's really not what negotiations is.

I mean, it's a small slice of the pie. But negotiations is something we do all the time. And each and every person who's listening to this, or, you know, parents, um, daughters, sons, uh, teachers, right? These are individuals, all of us who negotiate from the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we get to sleep at night, right?

So the reason I want to start there is because I want people to understand that this isn't a skill that they're not familiar with, or they have a bad memory of. It's a skill that they use daily that they're probably a whole lot better at that they even think they are, right? But they don't think of those conversations as being negotiations.

And so what, you know what, I just wrote this book that I terribly launched, um, right at the beginning of the pandemic. So not the best time to release a book. But putting that aside, um, the, the reason I decided to write this book was really sort of at the heart of this conversation was to make negotiations something that's really accessible and, and a lot of people are really good at. And so they're using this opportunity to just become better, um, and, and doing so by better understanding themselves.

So long answer to your question. Fundamentals are important. One of them is preparation. And, um, most people who learned about negotiations, read a book, see an article, listen to a podcast are taught, you know, that you are best when you prepare really well.

That's absolutely true. What we often don't talk about, though, is the sort of the earliest step in preparation, which is the better understanding of yourself. Taking some time before every negotiation. And thinking about things like your values, things that you don't want to compromise. The things that are really important to you that if you did so then there is not doing well because you've sort of left on a table the very things that are really important to you, your convictions, right?

Um, and, and to create those sort of personal boundaries. And remember how is it that, you want people to remember you after this conversation, right? What's, what's most important to you beyond just an outcome that you want? I feel like because a lot of people don't talk about that in preparation, I'd love for your listeners to understand that it's actually, the very first step is a very personal step. And everything after that is so like, what I'm sure most people have learned.

What do you want to get out of the deal? What do you want the deal structure to be? And all those things are really important and there's ways to do it and do it well. I just wanted to sort of drop that in there because it's a part of the conversation that a lot of people leave behind. And I think it's fundamentally one of the most important parts.

Jason: [00:05:20] Yeah. I totally agree with that. And I, and I, um, I love that you pointed that out. You know, I've always looked at negotiating is it's in most, I, I think maybe a little bit different and maybe not all the time. But as I got later in my years, I started realizing that both parties need to win. It's not a winner or a loser, right?

I think if you go into it that way, then it's even harder to negotiate. Um, you know, like case in point. I remember when I was building my house in Colorado. If I just kept beating them up, literally they're not going to want to work with me and they're just going to watch it and just get it. Versus I want you to make money and I want to get a good deal and I want to get a good end result, you know? And, uh, do you see a lot of people look at it that way?

Mori: [00:06:09] Well, I see a lot of people who think about it and that sort of win-loss scenario, right? Because again, it's transactional for a lot of people. But, but the, I mean, that's a perfect example that you just gave because you want to incentivize your counterpart, right?

So if it's a house that you're building, um, a project that needs to be completed by a certain date. So it’s the negotiations with your employees or contractors, um, negotiations with your client. Because, you know, if, if you don't take it away to account that this is more, uh, sort of a collaboration or a partnership, then you stop thinking about the value of this particular client or business relationship in the long-term.

So I think about it from a long game, right? I think about every interaction being part of something that becomes more of a journey than just like the sprint to the end. Because, you know, people like doing business with people that they like, right? They don't pick a business, they pick people that they like.

So, you know, I think that the less we focus on the end game. That the, you know, whether you win or lose a focus more on the process, then I think there's a natural extension of this relationship. That's based on collaboration, problem-solving, um, creation of values as opposed to extracting values.

So we don't use the term winning in my class too much, because it almost gives us a sense of competition, that's not necessary. Because it's not about competition. You're really only competing with yourself, right? To maybe get the better deal than you did the last time. Or what can we do better? But to think of your, your counterpart, as competition eliminates the opportunity for you to come up with sort of innovative, um, long-term deals that’s focus on anymore our relationship.

Jason: [00:07:57] What are you… And maybe, um, I want to ask you this cause there's a lot of people this way. Um, and even with, with me, and I want to know if I'm missing out. Um, so when someone comes to me and they go, Jason, I want to join the mastermind. And, uh, and I tell them, hey, this is the investment. And they go, and then they try to negotiate with me.

And I say, the price is the price. Like if I didn't give you enough value then, you know, and then I try to tell them. And, and at the end of the day, if it's not right, it's not right. Like I never negotiate on the price. Am I missing out with that? Like…

Mori: [00:08:40] I don't think so. Um, because part of that is to understand your own value, right? And, and to know that in some ways, when people negotiate, things like that. And this is sort of, I'm going to take this somewhere I wasn't planning, but I see it a lot in people that sort of enroll in courses, athletes, whoever like these self-development self, um, sort of help type of courses.

They don't always sort of jump in with that investment. And it's so strange to me because it's an investment in yourself, right? We're quick to buy a car to buy a house, but this is sort of where you can reap the rewards of this journey for years on end, right? And so part of what you are doing with mastermind is to create an opportunity for, for people to sort of make the investment, but they reap the rewards of that investment in perpetuity, right?

So what's that worth to people? That's usually the question, right? First of all, why are you here? Right. So what was your why? And if your, why is his success evolution development, then what's that worth? And I would, I would like to think a lot, right?

So I don't think that there's anything wrong with that. I think that that part of where people go wrong is that they want to go right to the price point. They want to know somebody's budget, which I inherently disagree with. Um, or they want to list out their pricing. And the truth is that that immediately makes it a transaction.

The sort of the piece before that. There's like four steps to the negotiations process. So it was like the preparation then when we call information exchange, which is when you first get to know somebody, right. That building rapport. Understanding more about them. They get to know you better. You're building sort of affiliation or connections.

And it's during that time where you want to understand their why, right? So why are they even here in the first place? What are their long-term needs? Well beyond just the transaction, right? And you want to sort of explain to them your why, right? The reason why you do what you do and why you think you've been successful.

And so to move it away from a black and white sort of somewhat superficial, visual, transactional conversation. And it's also during that time where you talk about your value, right? Why you were so to the people listening and like their agency is, is better positioned to, um, you know, help this client than their competitors.

And, and these are what we offer, and this is why we stand by our product and, and here's some of our success stories. But you've not yet talked to anything about pricing, right? So this is this sort of long educational process. That's demanding sort of connectivity and really human connection, human connections. It brings, it brings humanity into the conversation.

So by the time you're done with this piece, when you arrive at that next stage, which is the bargaining that transaction, right? Then you're your client, your counterpart is, is far more educated at this point, right? They, there shouldn't be any surprises. Usually, if you do this well, an opening offer is not like, oh my God, how did we get there?

Because you've spent the whole time sort of educating them and vice versa. And so I would just say that, that it's important to put off the money conversation as long as possible. It's the most painful part of the process anyway, but you put that aside and then you educate and then you educate and then you answer questions. And you get them on the same page as you, and you better understand their wants and needs.

So going back to, or are you doing something wrong? I don't think so at all, because I would, I wouldn't assume that by the time somebody gets to you in that point. Where they’re wanting to sort of enroll and be a part of, they've learned so much about it. Uh, but, and so at that point, you're not taking that piece for granted. You just feel like you've done enough to, you know, sort of explain and express your value.

It is no longer your job at that point to undercut yourself, right. Because if they haven't understood what this can do for them, then it's the reeducation as opposed to the okay let me drop my pricing. Why, right? So I think that there's a lot to discussions that are far more enjoyable to end the pain of talking about pricing.

If that's what negotiations was, there was no way I'd be teaching it, right? Because it's, it's dreadful. It's, it's not fun. It's uncomfortable. Right? So you just put it off as long as you possibly can.

Jason: [00:13:22] What's the fourth step? Is that the decision?

Mori: [00:13:25] No, that's when you come basically to a deal, right? So either you come to a deal or you don't, right?

That's sort of the commitment and implementation of the contract with deal. Or if there's no deal at all, then that's really sort of that decision point. And then, you know, for a really great, um, negotiations that end up being something long-term, then that end become sort of very fluid. Because every time you go back to the table, you're thinking about how do we make this better?

How do we enhance this opportunity for one another? Let's revisit it. We're both in a better position now. And so if the first three steps go rally well, now that end is no longer the sort of as hard end. It's sort of this very fluid ever evolving opportunity.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

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Love it. Um, let's switch gears a little bit and let's talk about… Let's say you're in, you're in bed with this person and you really can't get out of it. And you need to try to go, well, it needs to be this way because, you know, hey, you're paying us for, to being the expert, but they want to do it their way.

How can both parties win or like, and these guys are stuck. You can't just, sometimes you can't fire them. Like it could be, it could… Well, let, let's, let's use it as this example. Cause I think, let me, let me switch this. You have a business partner, right? In your agency and you guys are not seeing eye-to-eye anymore because the agency has grown at a different pace.

What steps would you take? And let's say their lives are not matching anymore. What steps would you take in order to fix that?

Mori: [00:16:23] Um, so I've never been married, but the one divorce I've had is one from my business partner. So I, I get that example really well. Um, and I think that… First of all, you have to have the courage to look at yourself and figure out why it's not working anymore, right?

Is it that you are, you know, not looking at growth and they are? Your long-term goals have changed, or you have to understand your own why first, right? And, and because these decisions are not easy. And worse yet, they're sort of like become, you know, little knicks, but you keep sort of pulling out and then now it's a scar and it's really bad and you can't get rid of it, right?

So you sort of want to just confront the situation the earlier the better. And you want to know very clearly what it is that's not doing for you anymore, right? Because if you're not happy, and I think we undervalue personal happiness and gratification, especially in business, right? There's a lot easier ways to make money than to be an entrepreneur.

So, so for the blood, sweat, tears, the work that you put in, the no vacations, the no sick days, right? What is it that you want to get out of it? And sometimes we realize that we've gotten into, out of touch with the things that we have wanted originally. Maybe even burnt out. Maybe there could be a variety of reasons, right?

Or I don't see eye-to-eye with this person anymore. And what seemed like, um, a real match just doesn't really work anymore, right? We're so going into very different directions. The point behind why people, and I include myself in that, why comes up to this head that it doesn't need to get there. Is that people A put out the conversation and they keep putting it off.

And then in that case, it comes out some other way, right? There's anger, there's animosity, there's disrespect, whatever it is. So you don't want that because, I would assume, unless your partner is a horrible person, right? They’re, they’re dishonest or whatever it is. You don't want to blow up this relationship. And you kind of want to avoid all the lawsuits and all that kind of stuff, right?

So the earlier you start having these conversations the better. You may find that they're exactly the same place and that now the negotiation becomes how to untangle this relationship? So that nobody's losing and in fact, you are now both well on your way to finding your own fulfillment and happiness, you've outgrown this.

But when people don't talk or they avoid the conversation, in the long run it builds resentment. Resentment in yourself because you didn't have the conversation and resentment of your counterpart, who you are now blaming for everything.

And I, I just, I just think that because there's such a depth of relationship involved. The worst thing you can do is actually to not have a conversation. And it doesn't have to be one conversation. Generally, it won't be. If you've been in business for a long time, you could be friends. You could be family members, you could be, I mean, there's so many other aspects to consider that this isn't like, okay, I'm going to build up the courage to go happen to one conversation.

No, it's, it's sort of a process that has to be revisited over and over again. I feel like there's a great opportunity actually in untangling these relationships in a way that could be beneficial to both parties. When it doesn't ends up that way, it's because there's A sort of ethics issues become involved. Or B that people have put off the conversation and now there's anger.

So there's less emotionality when you treat it as, you know, we've been around the block a few times. I want to go a different direction. How do…? I sense maybe you're not happy either. Can we talk about this? Maybe, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's something else, but this is sort of what I've been getting from you. So let's talk.

And I think that's, it really, really simplifies a very complicated issue. But because I've gone through it, I know that it would have been far less complicated had I had the courage to actually talk about what was bothering me a whole lot earlier than I did.

Jason: [00:20:55] Yeah. I, I've, I've found over the years I've done it sometimes good. Sometimes very bad. Um, whenever you push, I think we're just like, if I'm pushing on you, your human nature is to push back. And then it's just a constant battle. Unless you can do something like you were talking about kind of pull them along a little bit. And then there's not that friction or that angst.

Um, but what do you do if you're at a point where, hey, you're pretty tangled up. I mean, it is a ton of knots and, uh, there's not much like… Is there certain things you can do to try to untangle? Like if you've gotten, just, let's say you, you do want to work it out. But like, you've both been building up. You both hate each other right now.

Is there a way to kind of come out the other side and both people win.

Mori: [00:21:49] So you can always get an attorney, but I never think that people when they get attorneys, but it just sort of escalates everything. Especially if there's a relationship. Um, we can kind of talk about this. We call it going to the balcony, which means that sort of you know, you almost…

Jason: [00:20:55] Push one person off.

Mori: [00:21:49] Yeah exactly. No, not quite. But you do create a third person, right? You get sort of this imaginary third person. And all it means is that when we’re on the heat of debate and conversation our egos don't allow us to be curious anymore, right. We're sort of drive hard. And then when they disagree, we drive harder and then harder.

And we want to be right and we can't really hear the other person. And so you have to allow yourself to stop and be like, well, like… This is, not only is this not getting better, but what are we doing? Right. So why is it that we can no longer even have a conversation? And what they mean by going to the balcony is that you actually have to sort of lift yourself out of this conversation and become almost like a third party that's saying, okay, let's start again.

And you go back to the why's, right? Why are we here? What is it that you want? What is it that I want? Let's press reset. This is becoming only harder if we doubt. And if you can do that, then what it means is that you're now, first of all, you can hear each other, right? You're not sort of talking over each other.

But that level of curiosity can allow you to see somebody's perspective that you've been so blind to, right? You know, a lot of studies show that, that, first of all, being curious as is not an easy thing for a lot of people, right. We want to come into conversations without minds already made up.

When we know people really well, we’re even less curious, right? We're sort of filling in the blanks when they talk. I know them so well, I don't have to ask. This is what they want. Truth is people grow, people change. So if you can then change that mindset from I'm right, they're wrong. To that's not getting us anywhere.

But maybe turning it to how about we just, we engage in this discussion from the place of… What if we started from zero? What if we just better understood each other? Because in that situation that you mentioned, you're not changing somebody's mind, right?

This isn't like I'm right, so let me make you understand how right I am. It’s neither of us is frankly trying to be right. We're just trying to untangle, which requires understanding. And we're not getting there because we're too far into this from an emotionality perspective, right.

Taking breaks in those conversations is so important. Um, it doesn't always have to be done. And like I said, these conversations aren't normally addressed and fixed in like three hours, right? It's over time. It's many times. When things get heated, you take a break. Um, because if you don't, again, then I would say you need that other party, that's going to keep you sort of, um, level-headed and less emotional.

But now you've removed the very thing that made you business partners in the first place, which was your relationship.

Jason: [00:25:07] Yeah. I love that. And I, I want to point out kind of the, what you said on curiosity. I think if we do have curiosity on what that other, how that other person sees it. And kind of almost like a lot of times too, because emotion just clouds judgment. And it's very hard for me. I get very, very emotional when people come after me, um, to a point where I'm like death to you all, right?

And so, I'm talking mainly about my HOA. Maybe you get me, right. Um, but you know, if I think if you kind of step back and go, if I was going to give this advice, to my friend that was going through the same situation, what would you give? And I, and I always felt like you can kind of take emotion out of that.

And especially too, if you're curious about what's their point of view. And then look at it kind of like what you were saying is like, how can both, all parties win and we just come out. Versus…

Mori: [00:26:09] Right. It's hard, by the way. It's really, to be curious, it's not easy, right? Because we want to be right. And so to have the humility, have the confidence to say, I'm very prepared for this conversation.

I know what I want, but the humility that says, but I can't know everything. There's no way that I know every part of what's going to sort of fix this, this issue. And I don't want anybody to think like, oh, she's just saying, oh, she makes it sound so easy. It is the last thing from easy, right?

Starting at what would appear to be easy, which is just being curious because you have to take your ego out of it. I will tell you something about emotions though. I'm not that person who thinks there's no room for emotions in negotiations. We're human beings, right? Not robots and emotions inform us, right?

They can, they can tell us what's important. What's worth fighting for? What makes us unhappy should be addressed? What makes us happy should be embraced, right? Emotions go wrong when they get ahead of you. Right. And so, again, don't disconnect, just be super aware so that you know, what's happening.

And like you said, when you get angry, you can just say, hold on a minute. Okay. I just need a little break. Let's, let's just let me go walk around the block for a minute and, um, and I'll be back or it let's just move this to Friday. Cooler heads prevail. We'll come back to this. And so I think just to understand that, that you don't want to shun emotion because they inform you. You just don't want your emotions to get the best of you.

Jason: [00:27:49] I love it. Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Mori: [00:27:58] I think that, um, and you know, I talked about my book, um, the, another reason why I decided to write a book in the midst of a million other negotiations books that are out there is that I didn't want to write something that was prescriptive. I don't want to say, do this, do this. And you're guaranteed a good outcome because that's not how things work.

And I don't want people to memorize formulas. How to say a certain thing. Um, I think that, that the, the best outcomes come when you're completely authentic. Both to yourself, as well as your presence in that conversation. And whether it's a client or a relationship, um, when, when you really have worked on showing up as the best of you, right?

Who you are and you honor that, then there's no reason to memorize how to’s, right? The only thing that you have to navigate is, first to be really prepared and that sort of one the most important things. But also all you really have to do then is first of all, show up as you want to be remembered, right?

And as you want to be treated so with kindness and dignity and respect. But also to know that in order to be really, um, true to, to your presence as well as theirs, to kind of disconnect from the outside world. Get rid of all the distractions and just be really present in this conversation.

Because you'll get emotional cues, you'll get information about your counterpart. You'll better know how to answer questions, right? So in a world that we're distracted all the time, this is even harder and yet more important. So I would say to people sort of celebrate yourself, right? Be confident in who you are and what you do.

Nobody does it better than you. Nobody knows it better than you, right. So to come in with that level of confidence. Have the humility to be competent, to be curious, engage in a way that is humane, right? Is, is, is, is empathetic and kind and open. Then, you know, I don't see anything but success at the other end of it. Because even if that one deal doesn't work out, you so enjoy process and maybe they have as well that this will be a relationship that they can go back to when they do get more money or when the economy changes.

So you leave an indelible mark on people and it could be good or it could be bad. And so your value proposition comes when it's really, really good.

Jason: [00:30:28] Awesome. Well, this has all been amazing. What's the name of the book again and where can they go to get it?

Mori: [00:30:35] Let me show you so that you can see. It's called “Bring yourself: How to Harness The Power of Connection to Negotiate Fearlessly.” Do you see that?

Jason: [00:30:42] Yup, we do.

Mori: [00:30:44] Not your ordinary negotiations book title. But yeah, it's on Amazon. It's on every online retailer. But it's, it's all about stories. It's like an autobiography, actually. So it's not academic. It's just, about human connections.

Jason: [00:30:57] Very cool. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Mori: [00:30:59] Thank you so much for having me.

Jason: [00:31:00] Exactly. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners who can help you navigate through emotion and make sure you're prepared and really set you on a path for scaling your agency faster, I'd love to invite all of you to go apply at the digitalagencyelite.com.

So, go there. And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Having your own agency and the responsibility for people’s livelihoods can be an isolating experience. Darren Fox says he fell into the agency world unexpectedly. After a while of offering freelance web design services, it became clear he could not continue solopreneur. So, Darren founded Idea Marketing Group. and started building a team. Even though he loves building relationships with his team, as the agency grew, he had to separate himself to maintain his leadership role. “You definitely feel like you’re on an island,” Darren says. In this episode, Darren is candid about the loneliness of agency ownership. He also talks about ways to overcome isolation in order to grow a successful agency.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. It can be very isolating. Something that is not discussed much but agency owners should be prepared for is just how isolating it can be at the top. As your agency grows, so will your team. You may find that, as the leader, it’s better for you to put some distance to maintain respect and avoid favoritism. You can’t be everyone’s best friend because you may be in the position of firing them at some point. It’s difficult and it will leave you excluded from fun lunch outings with everyone, but Darren agrees it’s for the best.
  2. Turn to people that can relate. Darren and many other mastermind members have agreed that one of the best remedies for the loneliness of agency ownership is sharing in a group of people who relate and offer advice. As an agency owner, you can feel burdened with the pressure of being responsible for people’s livelihoods and the future of your business, which you can’t really discuss with your team. However, other agency owners will understand those concerns and offer new perspectives.
  3. Find the right pace. We’re all impatient about the success we want to see for our company. We want to scale fast and take on every project we can get. But, that kind of thinking can lead to burnout for you and your team. You don’t have to take on every client. Learning to say no is an important part of the process. Our guest recommends talking with your team to be sure that they can handle the workload. Set expectations for each project and be realistic about deadlines. After all, you’re counting on them and they have to know that you've got their back.

Sponsors and Resources

Ninja Cat: Today's episode is sponsored by Ninja Cat, a digital marketing performance management platform where you can unify your data, create beautiful, insightful reports and presentations that will help you grow your business. Head over to ninjacat.io/masterclass to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Learn to Deal With the Isolation of Agency Life and Find the Right Pace to Grow

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, everybody? Jason Swenk here. And I have an amazing guest coming on the masterclass to talk about the doom and gloom of owning an agency. The things that not many people really talk about that you need to be aware of and to make sure that, you know, look, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. So we're definitely going to have a lot of fun.

Um, but let's go ahead and jump into it.

Alright, Darren. What's going on, man?

Darren: [00:00:33] Hey, thanks for having me. It's awesome to be here.

Jason: [00:00:36] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. I was, I had Drew on last week and he was one of the other ones on top of the mountain with us. That was in the intro. So you're the second guest on the intro. Tell us, uh, before we jump in and talk about, you know, all this amazing stuff that we wish we knew about, tell us who you are and what you do?

Darren: [00:00:58] Sure. So, uh, Darren Fox, president and founder of Idea Marketing Group. Uh, we're a full-service agency that is known for custom web development.

So that's been our core focus and we work with all types of industries, but we've really been, you know, narrowing that down to food and beverage within the last year or so.

Jason: [00:01:19] Awesome. Well, I'm excited to have you on, so let's, um, let's go ahead and jump into it. Let's talk about what are some of the things that you didn't expect, you know, creating an agency. Because a lot of times we come in and we think, you know, creating an agency there's low barrier to entry and we're going to have all this freedom, uh, you know, to do whatever we want and have all this money.

So let's, let's talk about what did you not expect?

Darren: [00:01:45] Oh, yeah. So, I mean, I guess a lot of it is time initially of like how much time it really takes. Everybody thinks that, you know, because you have your own business, that you're just going to be, you know, going out, doing whatever you want, getting the work done.

And I feel like when I first started, I was probably working almost double the hours that I was previously for like a fraction of the price. Probably like my first job, like pushing shopping carts at a retail store is essentially what I was making, but working so much harder and longer.

And, you know, I kind of fell into the agency role unexpected. I was really just going to kind of do it as like this freelance thing and do it on the side. And it all just kind of happened. Then, you know, it started to snowball and I was getting bigger and I was like, I can't do this by myself. I need to start hiring. And, you know, just learning about the challenges of hiring and trying to bring on the right people.

And I think, you know, I obviously learned some mistakes early on that the best thing to do is, you know, spend that money and hire the best talent that you can early on. Um, so that was probably like one of the biggest mistakes out of the gate is I was just trying to hire like what I could kind of afford. And just learning early on that, you know, that's not the right type of mentality that you need to have to make the agency successful.

Jason: [00:03:14] Yeah. I, um, I see a lot of times, and I even did this as well. Like in the very beginning when you're hiring someone, you're hiring them to do something that you don't know how to do. That you're really trying to sell them on working with you versus the opposite. And I look at it now looking back and I think you do too of going, if I could go back again, I would actually hire someone to do something that I already know how to do really well.

So then I know how to manage them and they're actually doing the things that I don't need to be doing anymore. So I can go on to the next.

Darren: [00:03:51] Right. Yeah, because I mean, every agency owner should constantly challenge themselves to, you know, do professional development and just keep growing. Because as soon as you stop, you die. Like, yeah, this is just kind of the nature of the beast, especially in this industry with how fast everything changes.

Jason: [00:04:10] Yeah. What about like, when things go wrong? Like, what's your, what's your thoughts of, uh… You know, can you go to your team? Can you go to your employees? Like, I mean, it's pretty, I remember it was pretty isolating.

Darren: [00:04:25] Yeah. Yeah. You definitely feel like you're on an island. Like, you know, you want to share these things with people. But at the same time, they're putting their trust and faith in you as a leader.

And you don't want to jeopardize that either, because then they start to question what you're doing. So, yeah, it's an extremely lonely position to be in. And it's tough too, because I'm the type of person like I like to develop like really solid relationships with my staff. And then there's also that fine line too, of like, well, you still have to be the boss.

You can't be somebody's best friend because you may be put in that position to where you'd have to fire them. And I've had to do that and, you know, it's, it's a hard position to be in. So I think just kind of knowing that fine line of like, wanting to bring on people that fit from a culture standpoint, because they share the same values as you do. But you also have to kind of, you know, keep that line in between of not becoming friends.

I mean, you can be, but it's like, it's a different type of friendship.

Jason: [00:05:32] Yeah. How have you gotten around that? Because, you know, I've, I've struggled with that in the past. And even on this go around, you know, it's, it's really, it might, like with Stacy and her team, like they're, they're like family now. Um, and I know what you're saying about like, you know, if you get to a point where you have to fire someone because they're not doing something, it makes it that much harder.

But I guess elaborate a little bit more about, because most people don't realize this and it does get very, very difficult.

Darren: [00:06:11] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, when you say family, you look at it and the people that you work with are probably the people that you see more often than your actual family. So in essence, they are your family because, yeah, you're around them so much.

And, you also, like, as you've grown, you add staff, I remember, or a smaller, we would do everything. It was like a, a tight little group too. We would do like launch outings and everything. But then as you get bigger yeah, it's like, oh, we can't really just bring everybody out to lunch or we can't do this.

And then you have to start to be selective of like, well, if I go out to lunch with this person, is it going to piss off the other person? And people start to see that you're playing like favoritism. Um, so that's also hard too. So, you know, a lot of times like the team would go out on lunch outings and I'd be like, yeah, I'm going to sit this one out because you guys will be able to bond more without me there and present.

So those are some of the challenging things too, is just pulling back and sometimes it puts you or paints that picture of like, oh, you're this guy that, you know, doesn't want to be around the staff when really you do, you just have to like… Yeah, it's, it's hard to say. It's like, yeah, you've got to kind of just separate yourself.

You can't do after hour get-togethers or those types of things.

Jason: [00:07:33] Yeah. I remember when I had, I think we're about eight people at the time and a lot of the people at this level, um, I remember having them over at my house, like a bonfire behind and I just treated them as like friends. And then I remember the culture really started shifting a little bit in the wrong way, um, for like listening to us.

It was kind of like, they didn't look at you as the leader anymore, but like, oh, I can do whatever. I remember having to get rid of a lot of those people. And I remember coming back at it going I can't do that anymore. And it's like, one of my favorite movies is miracle right there about the 1980 hockey team.

If any of you have watched or hasn't watched it, you got to go watch it. It's really pretty amazing. And, uh, Herb, I think it was Herb Green was that w was that the coach's name at the time? And the whole, this whole committee wanted to put all these a, a, you know, all these, a, um, star people on the team. He was like, no, I want the right people on the right position.

Um, it's not, they're not the best player, but the best player for the team. And I remember him separating himself from his team. Like… and I remember the doctor and his assistant coach was like, has he ever done this? It's like, no, never, but there's always a reason. And, uh, it is, you know, it is pretty lonely at the top.

Um, what are some things that you've done to kind of make you sane because you are on an island?

Darren: [00:09:15] Yeah. Um, so actually probably the best thing was joining the mastermind group too. And just being around other agency owners and just being able to share with them directly. Because those are the stories that we haven't been able to share internally.

And then you have somebody that's in the same boat as you, that you can be like, all right, I get it. Like, let's just talk through this. So I think that's really valuable too, because, yeah, I see it with every agency owner where they start to have second thoughts of like, do I get rid of the agency? Do I keep going? Is this the right thing for me?

Um, so yeah, I mean, we all battled depression too, which is an unfortunate thing as a business owner, but, it's something that everybody should be aware of.

Jason: [00:10:03] Well, I think, I think the depression comes because we do feel like everything's on our shoulders. And there's, you know, there's, it's like these people are going to eat or they're going to die, you know, with us.

And that's, I think we put too much pressure on ourselves. You know, I've always joked about, I've always been fired from every position I've ever had, other than the ones I create. Um, and it's always been the best thing, right? So I can go on to the next, and I could eventually find this. And I look at, look, even if you make a wrong decision as an agency owner. That's okay.

Like you get a reset, even if it does take down and you have to lay people off. That's okay. People are going to be fine. They're resilient. They'll actually go do it. So it's not a life and death situation. Um, yeah. And you know, I hear so many stories, kind of like yours. I was many points in my agency where I just wanted to throw in the towel.

I was, uh, I was looking through some of the stories and old emails, um, to kind of look at some of the successes that our clients have had over the years. And, you know Jack well, and I remember Jack, he sent me an email many years ago. He goes, should I shut down the agency or push on? And like there's so many times, and I remember sending him an email. I was like, uh, no, you should push on.

And I said, whenever you feel it you're at the max kind of the Navy Seals have this motto that you're only at 40%, you still have 60% to go. I'm so glad he continued, cause now is a multimillion-dollar agency, uh, you know, owner. And he's picking and choosing doing what he wants, but it's just like, sometimes you have to disconnect and get the emotion.

Like how do you… in your agency, I think a lot of times I would, even in my company now, uh, you make emotional decisions. So how do you take emotion out of it when you're making a decision?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Darren: [00:12:04] That's the hardest thing, because I feel like I make a lot of decisions based on emotion too. So I think the best thing to do in that case is don't decide right at the moment. Like, digest it, take, uh, take time.

Um, like I think another thing that agency owners fail to do is they don't take vacations. Like, especially early on too. And that was something that I started to do, because just as you said, it's kind of like a reset to get away and be like, all right, recharge, think about it. And really just like reflect on where you're going, what you're doing and think about it. Because I've had those moments too, too, where it's like, all right, what do I do?

And sometimes that is it's like, you just need to get away.

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I love that you said take a vacation, get away, because especially for the first couple of years, or decade for some people… You work around the clock because you're like, this is my time I got to grab as much as I possibly can. But it's almost kind of like, you know, my son, um, he runs the mile at track and a lot of kids take off just sprint the first two, and then they die at the last two. You got to pace yourself.

And I find, I found, you know, especially in doing this business… You know, I, I felt like I wanted to get all the market share, but I knew I was like, well, why, why, why do I need that? And I said, I need to have some time to self-reflect to do my own thing. That's why I only work Monday through Thursday, you know, from a certain time to a certain time.

And that's the firm's goal of each quarter is around my time goal. And that's a rule. I don't break it. I think so many others, if they did that, then they enjoyed a lot more. And yeah, you might not grow as quick but who cares if you grow a thousand times, you know, every, every year, if it's going to get you a shitty life?

Darren: [00:15:22] Exactly. Yeah. I mean, if it's consistent and you're still seeing that growth, even if it's small, I would much rather have that than… You know, early on we did some significant growth and scaled up, probably too quickly, and had it take some time back and just like, all right, we, we need to work on process. We have to do this, get this set up.

So yeah, I think that's the other thing too. Everybody's always so impatient to like, just as you said, cover everything. And it's like, you don't have to.

Jason: [00:15:56] Yeah. What, um… one of the things like, how did you kind of change the impatientness, uh, of kind of giving yourself more time, because I see so many agencies they rush.

Like how did you know…? Because everything in your company is designed to break, I look at right? Like think about, uh, marketing should break sales. Sales should break operations, right? And so how did you know what's the right pace for you to grow? I think not many people really talk about that.

We just talk about 10X, 20X, 2X, whatever it is. Like, how do you find the right pace for your growth in order for it to work for you?

Darren: [00:16:42] Um, really, it was the ability to learn, to say no, which is like one of the hardest things too. Because you can look like, just, as you said, you had access to production schedules, like, you know what's happening.

You could easily take another job on top of it and kill your staff or you can say, all right, you've identified this, you, you mentioned a couple of red flags and it's probably not the right fit. So even though you have the money and you're ready to go, we're not going to take on the project. So that's been like the biggest thing to like slow it down. And just make sure that, you know, selecting the right type of work.

That took me years to figure it out. Um…

Jason: [00:17:30] Was it because of process, process of elimination? Or why do you think it took you many years? It took me many years as well.

Darren: [00:17:40] Yeah. It's really, it's just, um, saying no to the money, because just as you said, early on, it's like everything's on our shoulders to make sure that we're paying salaries. We're making sure that we're providing.

So when you have the money there and you see it and like, okay, this is going to help everybody out. But at the same time, you start to look at it, is it really going to help everybody out or is it going to put them in a different type of mental state that you don't want them in?

Um, so yeah, it was challenging because yeah, when we first started, we were taking on any project that we could get because it was just a project to put in the queue. Um, so I think that was probably one of the biggest things and it's hard to learn and to, you know, say no.

Jason: [00:18:25] How… last thing I want to ask you, um, is your team is always going to say you're maxed out or they're maxed out.

So, and I don't think many people talk about this either of going, how do you really truly tell if your team is maxed out or not in order to figure out when to say no? Like I know you're saying when to say no to the wrong client, or when you can say I need to bring on someone else to help. Because that's a, I think that's an, that takes, you know, years and years to figure that out too.

Like, cause I remember my team going. Man, we're, we're maxed out. We can't take on any more work.

Darren: [00:19:08] Yeah. Now you hear that a lot. And, you know, there's things like time tracking that you can look at and everything, but really the best way is just to sit down with your team one-on-one and just ask them outright.

Like, how are you feeling like you want to go through it together? Like, let's talk about it. Because the other big thing too is like, you know, we're in the agency life, we're not in the ER. Like we have projects that, you know, sure they may have a deadline, but it doesn't mean that somebody is going to die because we can't get it done on that day.

Like, so that's the other thing too, is like just setting expectations and going through that. I think that's, you know, another hard lesson for agency owners is, you know, they do one project at this time and then figure that's what it's going to take for every other project. But every client's different, you don't know what it's going to like, be like to work with them.

Um, so really setting those expectations and letting your staff know that you've got their back and be like, all right, here's the deadline? What can we do to hit it? Can we pull in other team members? Or is this even a realistic deadline? Do we have to stretch it? So yeah. It's just really that transparency and just, you know, talking to your staff, like they're humans, because really they are the most important piece of the agency.

Jason: [00:20:31] Too it's, it's relying on them, right? Like I always tell everybody it's like delegate the outcomes you want, not the tasks. And a lot of times too, you can delegate the problems to them. Um, without divulging that you don't have a clue about it, right? So if you went to your staff going, uh, I don't know how to grow this damn company, can you guys help me out? They're all going to do, they're all going to jump ship.

But if you can kind of go, hey, what do you guys think? I want to get your input on, you know, what do you guys think we need to do in order to get to this point? They're going to be like, wow. You know, Darren's asking me for my input. So I feel significant. I can contribute. I can be a part of something bigger than myself. It's just about reframing that.

So just, and the other thing too, and I think you've realized this, you know because look running an agency's tough and you're going to have a lot of days where you wanting to quit. How you come into the office, if you guys have an office or how you show up, when you chat with your team, directly impacts them and their mood.

I remember when I would show up to the office, if a client screwed us or whatever happened, uh, or if I was mad at a business partner. If I showed up pissed or in a bad mood, it, it rained down.

Did you see that as well?

Darren: [00:21:56] Yeah. Yeah, because my team knows me well enough that they can tell as well too. And I'm the type that likes to do shenanigans and pranks at the office to keep everything light. And cause really it is… it's like, we're all supposed to have fun. Like, just take it easy and just do good work and rely on each other.

I mean, it's just simple rules.

Jason: [00:22:22] And Darren really means that like he showed up at the digital agency experience with, uh, what was a balloon launcher? Um, he was the first one when we found that creepy tunnel in the old mines. I was like, I pulled like literally guys, we found this old mine when we were on these ATVs and it wasn't locked.

And I opened this and I look at Darren, I go, you want to go in? And before I knew it, he was in and we kept one person out in case we all died, like an avalanche happened, but, uh, it was so much fun.

Darren: [00:22:54] Yeah, exactly. I mean, we only get one shot, so just make it count.

Jason: [00:22:58] That's right. Well, awesome. Darren, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the people listening in?

Darren: [00:23:06] Um, I would just say just, if you start to doubt yourself, just you know, talk to family and talk to loved ones, take a break. Um, because you're going to be able to push through it. Like, don't feel like it's all on you that you do have a support line that's out there

Jason: [00:23:24] And what's the website people can go and check, uh, check the agency out?

Darren: [00:23:28] Yeah. So it's an Idea Marketing Group. And then, then it's ideamktg.com.

Jason: [00:23:36] Awesome. Everyone go check it out. And if you guys liked this episode, you'll make tape. Make sure you take a screenshot. Shut us out on Instagram saying, hey, got a lot of value from it. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

We'll give you a shout-out back as well.

And uh, if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners like Darren and come to, uh, the mountain to have an amazing time and just be able to talk about the stuff you can't talk about with your crew. Um, I'd love to invite you guys together to digitalagencyelite.com and see if we're the right fit for you and if you're the right fit us.

So make sure to go there now. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 01_How_to_Overcome_Isolation_as_an_Agency_Owner_So_You_Can_Grow.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Ever wondered if you could make money on performance-based pricing? Kyle Sulerud was a Google ads expert with many years of experience in the space. He even had a training program teaching others his Google ads methodology. That was until he was presented with the challenge of running YouTube ads. Today he runs AdLeg, an agency specialized in this niche. Kyle joins the podcast to talk about his experience with the pay-per-performance model, how it has worked for him, how he refined his criteria to work with clients that he could ensure success, and the hurdles he has found in his learning experience.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. An unbelievable model. The pay-per-performance model may not be for everyone, but it has worked for our guest, whose model has evolved to charging a percentage of the profit. Clients jump at the chance of getting the service and paying only if the ads work and bring the expected results. They may not be as eager once they start sending the payments, but Kyle trusts his model and is confident that it gets the best results.
  2. Refine your criteria. At first, this agency didn’t necessarily know what the criteria for working in this niche had to be. They thought that working with companies that showed promise was good enough to ensure success. But with time and experience they have adjusted that to working with companies that have a certain monthly revenue from the product that they want them to advertise and have a sales team. Now clients practically audition to work with them and not the other way around.
  3. Maintain communication. Each client thinks about things a little differently and some may not understand why it’s better for them to pay an agency an amount that they would gladly pay to Google. To address this, Kyle and his team realized the importance of maintaining communication with them to present the progress they had made and how they stay on top of things. Hence, the email-only communication with clients turned into monthly or bimonthly meetings.

Sponsors and Resources

HighLevel: Today's episode is sponsored by HighLevel, an all-in-one marketing platform that will give you the tools, support and resources you need to succeed with your agency. Head over to gohighlevel.com/swenk to enjoy an exclusive 30-day free trial.

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Refine Your Client Criteria and Profit With Pay-Per-Performance Pricing

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up everybody? Jason Swenk here and I have another amazing episode for you. An amazing guest coming up, he’s in the mastermind, Kyle. And his agency is all based on pay for performance, you know. And we're going to talk about how you can do it. What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages?

And let's go ahead and get into it.

Hey, Kyle. Welcome to the show.

Kyle: [00:00:29] Hey, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah, man. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Kyle: [00:00:37] Yeah, so, uh, the names Kyle Sulerud and I live in the great sunny state of North Dakota. Um, and I run an agency called AdLeg. We, uh, did Google ads for a long time. About seven and a half years, um, in the space.

But for the past couple of years, I've really been focused on YouTube ads. And, as you mentioned in the intro, we focus on pay for performance, meaning we only get paid when our clients get paid. And, um, it's been a great model. I've been able to grow the team pretty quickly with that model. So I'm excited to talk about that today.

Jason: [00:01:15] Yeah. So tell us kind of… How did you discover this model? Or why did you choose this model? Because there's a lot of different models that, you know, you could have done, you know. What was… What attracted you to the performance model?

Kyle: [00:01:33] So, when we were just doing Google ads, it was all retainer-based. And I'd kind of always wanted to do performance-based. I've heard Dean Jackson talk about thinking about if you only got paid for results, what would you get paid for?

And I've always thought about my agency that way, but when you're running Google ads for roofing companies, that's, that's pretty hard to do. Um, obviously there's certain pay-per-lead models that can work for that, but. Um, it just never really worked out. Once I got into YouTube ads, I found that it, it could work out. For starters, because I didn't know what the results were going to be.

And I really didn't want to get paid for my first couple of clients unless I was bringing them results. So they knew that, they knew that I was, I was fresh with YouTube ads and they were willing to give me a shot. Um, especially since they weren't going to have to pay me if it didn't work. They just had to pay for their ads.

So we worked out a percentage of profit and because they are selling digital products, that was easy to track. And, um, from there it worked, the profit was there. My percentage was there. Everyone was happy. And that's the model that I've stuck with.

Jason: [00:02:51] That’s awesome. Tell us kind of a couple of scenarios to watch out for, like, if you had to go back, right? And take on some clients.

Cause I've, I've seen it work extremely well, and I've also seen it blow up in people's face. But it's blown up there in their face because of certain criteria. So can you talk a little bit more about that?

Kyle: [00:03:10] Absolutely. We really refined the criteria. And that has been extremely important. And at first we didn't necessarily know what the, what that criteria had to be. So we would take on clients that looked really promising. It looked like they had a product that was going to sell well through YouTube ads. And if we just sent traffic to that, then it would be profitable. And it didn't work for, for a number of reasons, either their product wasn't quite ironed out or they were in the middle of pivoting to something new, or they didn't have the sales team in place to handle the leads.

Um, for the most part, it came down to, to newer products. People that didn't really have something that was proven out fully. So our criteria now is you have to really be proven out. You have to have, um, we have a pretty high threshold for monthly revenue from the product that you want us to advertise. That doesn't mean from your whole business, but from the specific product that you want us to send traffic to, you need a certain amount of monthly revenue coming in.

Um, you need a sales team in place. If you're, if you're selling something with sales calls and we've found that that's pretty reliable. Because it's at that point and you have a machine. It's well-oiled and we just need to send more traffic to it and we'll make you more profitable. And then we can, we can actually take our cut.

Jason: [00:04:46] I love it. What is the, what's the typical kind of you think of a good percentage to have, or do you have a sliding scale? Cause a lot of people are like, well, how much should I ask? And I think sometimes people ask for too little.

Kyle: [00:05:03] Yeah. Um, that's something else that that's evolved. Um, the, the very first client got a really sweetheart deal.

Um, and since then I've learned the value that my agency can really bring and… It varies, but it goes as high as 25% right now. And maybe, maybe that can go higher, but I don't know. I think 25% is a pretty high number. Not everyone is on that level. It kind of depends on the client. Um, but yeah, anywhere from 20 to 25% is pretty reasonable for, for this. Especially with the types of clients we have, where they already have everything going on, all we need to do is send more traffic to something that's already working.

So it's pure profit for the client at that point.

Jason: [00:05:52] Yeah. And, and I would, I would gather and especially, you know, from, from hearing from you in the mastermind talk about it. It it's more like they're auditioning for you rather than you auditioning for them. Is that true?

Kyle: [00:06:07] Yeah, it, it really is. Um, we don't even talk to about 90% of people who apply to work with us. And, uh, once we talk to them, that's really just our way of verifying the numbers of going really deep and making sure that it's something that we think will work with our model and that it's something that we want to work on.

So yeah, we, we reject far, far more people than we accept it. It really is them applying to work with us.

Jason: [00:06:41] Yeah, it's, it's just an unbelievable model, you know? Cause a lot of times we're all, you know, the thing about… There's a lot of people listening that are at a point where they're like, and I came to this realization a little while ago of going, I remember chatting with…

There was like maybe three agency owners I chatted with in a row and they all were like, I resent my clients. And I'm like, I was like, well, you're in the wrong business. Like, why do you resent your clients? And they couldn't really tell me. They were just like, well, they always ask for these dumb requests, all this kind of stuff.

And I, and then I, the last person I said, you know, actually you probably have a lead, um, a lead generation problem. Because you resent your clients because you depend too much on them. And I said, if you had a ton to come in and you could pick and choose from them, that basically eliminates that. Then you're only working with the ones that you truly want.

And they're like, yeah, that kind of makes sense. And I love that you discovered that through this. Um, tell us the story about, I'm sure you probably had… where there's a client that they probably keep sending you checks and you're like crap. They're, they're probably like they start looking and going, how much money am I sending to Kyle?

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Kyle: [00:07:55] Yeah. So the, the pay for, pay for performance model sounds really great to a client before they send you any money. You know, this, this sounds amazing. Um, this agency they're putting their money where their mouth is and, um, great. I'll sign up. I'll pay them a percentage of profits.

Where that starts getting questioned is when is when a client is paying you 20 times more than they paid someone to run ads for them before, you know? Because yeah, people are out there willing to, to run ads for whatever, whatever kind of business you have.

That's not really what we do. We don't run ads. We partner with you. We're, we're in this as much as you are to try to make it as profitable as possible. Um, so yeah, once, once they start sending those, those bigger checks, five figures, multiple five figures a month. Now they're thinking, hey, I used to pay my Facebook ad guy $2,000 a month. Um, maybe I can find someone to do it for that.

So, yeah, it, uh, I can think of a specific situation where that happened. And the client was actually very transparent with us. They said, you know, we're, we feel like we're paying you a lot. And we're actually testing out a different agency right now who's just willing to charge us on a flat retainer. And, you know, we said okay.

I'd seen that happen before where, uh, a different agency came in and results just weren't there. And you know, that's not to brag, but I've, I have a really great system here and we're able to bring in results for YouTube ads like no other agency I've seen. So in this case they were testing this other agency.

Uh, they were about a month in with them. It, it wasn't profitable with them. Uh, they were told they just need some more time, you know, need more time to optimize. That's always the story. Um, even though we had been profitable in month one. They got a couple of months in and it still wasn't profitable. And with the retainer they were paying the agency, they were losing money.

And, um, finally they, they said, all right, you know, we're getting rid of this other agency. We're just going to go with you. Um, we get it now. And that's… think, they have to think about it like it they're paying the money somewhere, right? A lot of people don't think twice about doubling their ad spend and paying Google twice as much money.

But what we can do is actually save a client that money that they're paying Google. We get some of it, they get the rest of the savings and, overall, they just are way more profitable. And once they realize that they're happy to stay with us. So it's very, very rare that we lose a client.

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I think too, like, it's about the client not realizing that the time, time is more valuable, you know, especially going to a new agency. Now I want to know, and I, I hope you did, but you're too nice of a guy, so I don't think you did. Um, did you charge them a pain in the ass fee for coming back?

Kyle: [00:12:32] No. No, they're actually, you know, they're good clients. And like I said, they were, they were up front with us. They, they told us. They asked for a discount. Um, we, we stuck to what we were charging, you know? Um, yeah, well, I guess I'm too nice of a guy.

Jason: [00:12:50] I already knew the answer.

Kyle: [00:12:52] They’re still getting the same rate they were.

Jason: [00:12:54] I know I was like, I’d been like, all right, well it's 30% now. Um, suckers. What, uh, what have you learned from them leaving that you would have been like now that you have in your head, would you recall this story to them and saying, hey, you can go try them. But look, you're more than comfortable paying Google, but why not us? Like it's a cer… it's a percentage, like we never make over this percentage.

Kyle: [00:13:21] Yeah. There's different ways to frame that. And I think each client kind of thinks about it a little differently. One thing we've really learned is to be just really involved in communication. Um, for a while we were rarely meeting with clients. Uh, we mostly communicate by email.

Now we're meeting with clients once a month or once every couple months, at least just to talk about, okay here's where you were. Here's what we've done. Here's where you are now. Here's the plan going forward? Uh, here are some new changes that Google, um, that from Google, you know, that we're on top of, don't worry, we're taking care of this kind of stuff.

And just kind of over-communicating so that they know that we're, we're on top of it. We’re their partner, and it would be almost silly for them to look elsewhere.

Jason: [00:14:17] What about…? I know some people are listening in are going… All right so you set up this great system on YouTube. I presume this is under your account that you control or is that under theirs?

Kyle: [00:14:30] Yeah, it's, it's under our account that we control and we do get some pushback on that. Uh, we've lost some clients, um, who probably would have started working with us if that wasn't the case.

But it's been really important for me. Um, partially to just preserve our system. I don't want an outside party, even if it's a client having access to see everything that we do. Um, and then partially just because a lot of it is in the setup, I'm sure someone could take a campaign that we've set up and that we've been running for a few months and run with it and it would do fine for a while.

So we need to really just preserve our work. Uh, we don't require contracts, so that's just one way that we ensure that our work is protected.

Jason: [00:15:23] Yeah. I love it. Cause I know a lot of people are thinking, well, we'll set up everything on the client side and they have access to everything. And then like, like you were saying, a lot of the work is upfront.

And then, and I like how you overcame that objection to them as well of going I don't want you guys going in there and messing it up. Like we got to protect what we're doing. Rather than saying, if you leave, then you can run with it too. It's like how you, how you frame that. Well, this has all…

Kyle: [00:15:50] Actually, we invested some money in, in building out a portal that clients have access to so they can see some data in real time.

They can see how their ads are performing in real time. It's linked directly into the Google ads account. It's software that I hired developers to build for me. Um, so they can see the, the data, the performance data. They just can't see how everything is set up and how everything's being run.

Jason: [00:16:17] I love it. I love it. Kyle, this has all been great. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Kyle: [00:16:25] Uh, no, I think we pretty much covered it. I think pay for, for performance is great. If you can work it out, there's huge upside. It'll probably take you a wild and some downside to kind of figure out who you want to work with, who you don't want to work with, how much you needed to charge.

Um, but it's, it's been great for me. I'm definitely not going to be changing it anytime soon.

Jason: [00:16:50] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Kyle. Um, oh, before I forget, what's the website people can go and check you guys out?

Kyle: [00:16:58] Yeah, it's adleg.com. That's A D L E G.com. You can also find me on YouTube. I have a pretty active channel. Just search my name on YouTube and that'll come up for you.

Jason: [00:17:10] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Kyle, for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you take a screenshot, upload it to Instagram, tag us and say, hey, I really. The episode. Thanks so much. And we'll give you a shout out back.

Also, too if you want to be around other amazing agency owners on a consistent basis, I'd love to invite all of you to go check out the Digital Agency Elite. This is our exclusive mastermind where we're constantly ascending all of our members up to the top of the summit so they can get to a point where they can exit, whether it's sell their agency or exit of doing all this stuff that they hate doing.

So make sure you go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 01_Can_a_Pay-Per-Performance_Pricing_Model_Work_for_Your_Agency_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

Do you have the crystal clear vision needed to take your agency to the next level? John Quinton-Barber describes himself as a visionary and accidental entrepreneur. He had 30 years of experience in the media and communications industry when he decided he wanted to set up his own business. After eight years, Social is now a top 20 UK agency. He joins Jason to talk about how he remained focused on the future and the crystal clear vision needed to continue growing your agency, some of the hurdles he has found along the way, and the importance of investing in leadership to focus on the key aspects of your agency’s past, present, and future.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Invest in the right people. The first years of a digital agency are about survival. John focused on keeping the agency running but, after hitting one million pounds, he realized it was no longer necessary or efficient that he took care of every aspect of the business. He started to invest in people to take care of yesterday (the processes, HR, IT, legal), someone to take care of today (making sure the agency creating great quality campaigns, working with clients, giving them the best service), and then focused on taking care of the future, which is about strategy, vision, and where you want to go.
  2. Crystal clear vision. After deciding that he was not running a lifestyle business and getting serious about making something really special, John said he never looked back and never experienced doubts. A crystal clear vision will help your business thrive in hard times. If you don’t have that vision, you won’t get to the next stage. John admits he made many mistakes and that, by year four of his agency, he was barely making any profit and plowing every penny back into the business. But now, in year eight, he is reaping the rewards of investing in his dream.
  3. Build up leadership. Finding the right people was key to keep the business running, but empowering them was crucial to keep the business growing. John’s mantra is “if you weren’t in the business for three months, would it run? And would it grow?” Recruiting can become difficult when you’re searching for leaders that can make this mantra happen, so John focused on building leaders within his organization. He makes sure that every director completes a year-long leadership course and has the tools to succeed as a leader. He no longer is the only one focusing on the future, on the vision, and that is the key to continue growing.

Sponsors and Resources

Ninja Cat: Today's episode is sponsored by Ninja Cat, a digital marketing performance management platform where you can unify your data, create beautiful, insightful reports and presentations that will help you grow your business. Head over to ninjacat.io/masterclass to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Trust Your Crystal Clear Vision Begin Investing in Leadership

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? I'm excited to bring you another episode of the Smart agency Masterclass. I have an amazing guest all the way across the pond in the UK. And he's going to talk about how he's been scaling his agency over the past eight years and some of the trials and tribulations.

Now, before we jump into the episode, I want you guys to take a screenshot, tag us on Instagram. And we'll give you a shout out, um, when the episode, uh, when, when you actually do that. So we can, uh, recognize you. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey,  John. Welcome to the show.

John: [00:00:42] Jason, pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Jason: [00:00:44] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

John: [00:00:49] My name is John Quinton-Barber. It's quite a posh name. It's a UK name, John Quinton-Barber. And I'm the founder and chief executive of a marketing digital agency called Social, here in the UK.

Jason: [00:01:00] Awesome. And so how did you get started?

John: [00:01:04] Well, I've always… I’m 50 years of age. So about 30 years in media and communications and PR. And when I hit about 43 years of age I had this urge that I wanted to set my own business up. And probably quite a few of the listeners will be relating to this quite now. I had this urge but in the back of my mind I felt, I can't do it. I can't do it. And I just took the leap and did it.

So eight years ago I set up Social. Um, and what I wanted to do was just bring a different type of agency to the UK market. Because the agency world had gotten a little bit stale. It was offering PR, but it wasn't offering much else. Social was just about social media was just about emerging as the next big thing, next best thing.

So I took the plunge and set up the agency, um, with not, not, not a lot of money in my pocket, to be honest. Um, but a whole scope of confidence. And yeah, eight years on, we've gone from what I said about, talking about the dollars, about $10,000. To now about $5.5 million dollars after eight years.

So it’s been one journey from two people to 48 people right now. And there's a whole host of learnings.

Jason: [00:02:11] Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, it's… I remember kind of doing that jump, uh, you know, and there's many stages that you go through. Uh, if you think about it. And I always look at it as kind of like the stages of like climbing a mountain. Like at first you’re kind of like surveying of like, do I really want to climb that mountain? Or, you know, which mountain do I want to climb?

Um, what were, what were the stages that you went through over the past eight years that, um… were a point where you were like. I mean, were you ever at a point where you just was like, nah, this is not for me? Like, I want out. Or what… like describe some of the hard parts and how'd you get through them?

John: [00:02:51] I’ve never had that. Never, never had that moment, Jason, where this is not for me. It's always, I've always felt it's for me. It's quite, almost like a mission, really a zeal within me to make this work. Um, the pain points. So as we know, when you set an agency up, it's about survival. You know, I've got family, I've got two young children. They were two young children at the time.

It’s about survival. I need to bring the income in. And you find yourself doing everything, you know, planning the business, servicing the clients, uh, wiring the, uh, the IT of the desk, sorting out the HR and the finance. So, um, in the first two years, that's what life was like. And we hit a million, a million pounds, so about $1.5 million, in about a year three.

And that's when, for me, um, not the fun… Well, it was no longer, it wasn't fun anymore. But it was just like, oh my God. When it was about 10 people in the agency and we're bumping along about 1 million, life was good. You know, we could, we could, we all knew each other. We all knew each others’ strengths. We could work together.

But as soon as we hit that million-pound mark, that was it. We then had to refocus on actually, this is a business. And I had to make some decisions. Because I decided then it wasn't a lifestyle business. I was plowing back every bit of penny, every penny, back into the business. And taking a very modest salary. Because I had this vision that we can make this business into something really big and really special.

And that’s something I carry within me all the, all the while. And I’ll keep all the while until the end until the big events at the end.

Jason: [00:04:19] Well, I think… Yeah, no, I, I think you're, you really hit something I want to point out. You had a crystal clear vision.

A lot of us, when we get started in the agency, it's kind of accidental and we really don't know where we're going. We're just reacting to all the work coming to us.

And, but when you… and then I remember going through a pivotal point too, like you did of going all right, wow. It's like, you make this certain threshold and you're like, man, it's kind of not fun right now. Because the whole business has changed. But if I, if you don't have that vision of where you're going, you can't make it to the next part.

It's kind of like, if I want to reach the summit and you kind of get up to like what I call, like, you know, the, the crux, right? That's kind of like in the middle, right? You're in the climb and you're like, well, I kinda liked it back at base camp. Like that's where the party was.

But, uh, you know, talk about, you know, when you're at kind of that crux and you're going to like, Brett the million and a half, or, um, dollar mark. What did you have to do? Was it about building the team or…?

John: [00:05:31] It was, I mean, my, my kind of like epiphany came when who is my chairman now, and he's in his sixties, late sixties. And he's not a PR man. He’s a, he's a financer. And he said to me, he said, John, you created something special here. And you could, you could actually float this in years to come.

And I was like float with it? I mean, I had to Google float it. What’s that? Float it? You know, man, I'm trying to survive here. And that probably sowed the seed for actually the ambition I got. The belief I got in myself. So what I decided to do was okay, we, we, we’re hitting the million mark. I'm now going to have to invest in a team around me to do the HR, to do the finance, to do the day-to-day.

And I describe it like this, Jason, it's a… It’s my, I always, when people say to me, I want to set up a business I say, okay, you need somebody to look after yesterday. You need someone to look after today. And you look after tomorrow. And what I was doing, I was doing yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

What do I mean by that? Yesterday is basically someone that can sweep up after you. So basically all the kind of processes and the HR, the IT, and all the legals that on a business side becomes all consuming. Find somebody to look after yesterday. The today is about ensuring you're creating great quality campaigns, working with clients, giving them the best service, and ensuring that clients are happy. Clients are alright.

And the tomorrow is about strategy. It's about a vision. It's about where you want to go. And I just, again, as I said by year three, when this hit me and my God between a million and probably 2 million, the pain hit me. It hit me where it doesn't hurt. I mean, made loads of mistakes, loads of mistakes.

We’re in the UK, I’m in Manchester, which is in the north of England. And you know, the, the eye on the prize was let’s open a London office. You know, why? But, you know, we, we, we need to open a London office. And we opened a London office in year four and we shut it down in year five because we got it all wrong. We got the wrong people. We didn't have the right business strategy… We just approached it completely wrong.

Delighted to say today in 2021, we now have another London office and it's doing really well. So we live in those lessons.

Jason: [00:07:40] Yeah. I, I look at it as if you look at kind of three lines that an agency can be on, right? The first line… especially, you know, it happened what lasts last March, right?

A lot of people panicked and they kind of went into, you know, a fear-based mentality. And I look at those businesses. They're barely surviving. Like they've just gone straight down. And then I look at other agencies, and I've been in this spot in the agency world for a couple of years of running the agency.

You're kind of on this unfocused line and it's kind of the rollercoaster line…  Let's call it the rollercoaster line, right? And these are the preppers, uh, you know, these are the preppers of like saving up all the money and all that kind of stuff. And then you have, and I'm glad you mentioned focused on the strategy to the tomorrow. Let's call that the strategy line.

These are the people that are in kind of positioning mode of going, like, how do we, um, how do we take over, uh, you know, more market share? How do we, um, acquire more talent? How do we acquire, which we've talked about in the pre-show acquire more agencies, right? And you’re really kind of taking up another level.

So I want everyone listening or watching to go, what line or have you been on and what line do you want to be on? And hopefully you guys want to be on the strategy line, but you may be like, you have to be honest with yourself of going, are we on the rollercoaster line? Because the only difference you said was leadership.

John: [00:09:17] Yeah, no, we all, Jason, we're all on that. We all, we're all, you know, we all default back to those positions. You know, it's not, it's not all rosy and that's a model world, but I have to, you know, you have to dig deep. You have to dig deep in, in three things, in confidence, in your reserves, so your own health and wellbeing, because it’s a big journey. But then you have to dig deep into your pockets and you'll have to invest in people, the right people.

And I, you know, my, if you looked at my business about four years ago, you'd go, John, you know, you're barely making a profit. You're growing quickly. You're making it. You're spending quite a lot of money on the setting, so, business development team, finance, team, HR at a really quality number two guy. But you know, is costing me, uh, you know, it's a decent salary.

Um, but that was that investment is now starting to pay off. We have got in our business now, eight PNLs. So we've had to really bolt on PNL's and you know, we're now starting to see the world.

But the, the mindset for that is, you know, is sacrifice. You have to make the sacrifice. It's almost like when I hit year four, it felt like year one again, because I was having to kind of on this cycle of sacrifice. And now I'm on year eight and I am reaping the rewards. And so my, my message to anyone listening is if you've got a growth journey and growth plan, just go for it.

Get the right talent. No, not the talent, not necessarily gonna deliver, you know, the, the, for the clients. The talent that is going to deliver for you sitting by your side to help you grow and scale your business.

Jason: [00:10:50] Yeah. I love that. You said kind of invest in your company. And, and a lot of times people will misunderstand me a lot of times when I say, hey, the only thing that matters in your agency is your profit margin. And are you making money?

That matters when you get closer to having an exit or, you know, liquidity event later on. But in the middle or in the beginning, I'm like, invest as much as you possibly can because you totally control everything. Like you can put money in the stock market, and I encourage you guys to do that as well, but that's you don't control any of it.

It's like literally bet on red bet on black, you know, it's, I mean, it's a little more calculated. But with your agency, you can totally control the situation way better than anything else. So if you're listening, make sure you're investing heavily. You don't have to have 32% profit margins year over year.

I know a lot of people reach out and they're like, I'm worried I'm at 15. Like, well, you're not even close to selling, so don't worry about it.Online Training for Digital Agencies

John: [00:11:56] Awesome. No, it's true. It's true. And it's, um, you know, I, I do a lot of reading, obviously around some of the most successful companies. And you know, the successful companies didn't make a profit until, I said, you know, two years for listing or, or selling.

And profit isn't really important if you… and I keep telling colleagues if you want to makes it grow. But you know, my, my mindset when I, it's interesting, my, my pits, some peer agencies in the UK that I… I would have a drink with and we chat too.

And, um, sometimes I look at them through real kind of like, uh, envious glasses because you know, they're out having holidays four or five times a year, pre-COVID and… And that’s great, you know, I'm all for that. I'm all for the lifestyle business. I think that's fantastic. You made a decision. But for me, it's just, as I said before, Jason, is quite a mission with me.

I've got a mission and I'm going to make it, it's going to happen. I will scale this business and I'll take it to the UK A market. Uh, because I believe with that we've got a great proposition for investors. The one thing that, um, Jason, again, you'll be, you'll be so familiar with this is that culture of people.

So while this is all happening with today, tomorrow and yesterday and invest in the center, um… we ha, I had to make sure that that Social probably has to be one of the best agencies to work for. Um, to say we invested a lot in the culture is wrong. It sounds like it's forced. We nurtured the culture that we were creating and we've got fantastic culture now.

And I know every business owner says that and that, you know, generally have. And we continue to invest in that now with our people. Um, so the pandemic, uh, for, for us, didn't really hit us. You know, we, we grew through the pandemic, both financially… and we added nine new people during the pandemic year. So, but kind of how I think the… all that, all that groundwork in the first five years helped us through this tricky year.

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Why I know some people, like, you know, they're on the strategy line and usually you can accelerate your growth in a time like this. And they're literally, like, we don't want this to end because we're like, we're just reaping the benefits, uh, you know, for it. So let's talk about kind of like the transition from building the right team, right?

So I look at that as kind of when you're building the right team, you're, you're in the crux. But then, kind of the next level up, I look at the crest and you're starting to build the leadership team. So let's talk about that because not many people do. Um, what are you, what… what does your leadership team look like?

And, and how did you go about building it? Like what was, and would you go in the right order? The same order? So a lot of times people go marketing sales or do sales and marketing, you know, operations, that kind of stuff.

John: [00:16:03] Well, for me, the first, the first kind of… the first again Eureka moment or epiphany moment for me was, uh, the operations side of it. Um, and so I brought in who is my number two now, Rob, managing all of the operations side of operations side of the business. And that was the, the first kind of key hire in this space. We are now a leadership team of nine across the business, um, head solve and directors.

Um, and you know, that that team has taken time to build. And that team is, you know, we're a trusting team. Um, we work well together. We also get friction, which is, which is healthy I see. Uh, and I believe in, but yeah, the, for me, it was very much about operations, operations, you know, the business had to operate, um, and had to operate effectively.

So bring that person in. I had a mantra about, and this is a really good test for anyone who's listening, the mantra is if you weren’t in the business for three months, would it run? And would it grow? B. And obviously your priority is it has to run, so get it right. Make sure. And it's a good exercise to do is visualize.

But just don't be happy with it running, it’s got to grow. So what do you need to make it grow? So to make it run, I brought the right people in and then to make it grow, I've empowered the people in the business. They need to make it grow. Not just me.

Um, and again, I'm off after next week for a whole month now. I'm taking a sabbatical. My phone is off. My everything's off. They can’t get ahold of me unless it’s burning down and that's the first time in eight years.

But again, um, and again, I really want to reach out to anyone who's listening who's in that, in that probably two, three, four year phase. Just stick at it, because you get the right people and the right counsel and advice as any business, you can make it.

Jason: [00:17:55] Yeah, I look at it as… And, um, and I'm actually showing a lot of our mastermind around this now of going, what are the things, if you audit your calendar for the past couple of weeks… What are the things that totally drain you? Which are the things that give you energy? And then when you look at the ones that drain you, because that's the things that like, you have too many of those that's when you're like, screw it. I'm outta here.

Like, I don't want to do it anymore. All right. Or let me sell for this low valuation. I'm just, I'm done. Um, which you benefit from when buying. You know, you're like, oh, you've got low energy? I'll buy you, right? So if you guys are in the UK, obviously, go check them out. Um, but what I tell people is look at the low energy and then outsource or delegate or hire for that stuff.

Like, I, I don't know why we always hire for things we don't have any clue on… like on. It doesn't make any sense. I mean, I've been guilty of this. I'll be like, I know nothing about pay-per-click. Let me go hire someone to do pay-per-click. Rather than like, I know everything about UX so let me hire UX, because I can manage that. And then figure out a process like it's just, it's just goofy.

Um, what are some things… switching focus a little bit, what do you do in order to build your leaders within the organization? Because you know, at our top level masterminds, we're always talking about that.

And also recruiting, recruiting is a really big thing. Like we cannot find enough people, it seems like. So how are you building leaders and then is recruiting your biggest issue too?

John: [00:19:34] Uh, on building the leaders. It's, uh, it's important that we've got the program. So if you there's a few ways, we went with an external provider who does a year-long leadership course and I send…

I, I want to say congratulation to my leaders that I'm dead proud of them. Uh, got the card here… the cards are there.  Um, so I went through it, I went through it, uh, three years. And now quite a lot of my, well, all my leads will be going through it. Um, and that's a day, month commitment for them.

And they have, you know, they, they, they, all the topics are from culture to finance, to leadership, to behaviors. Um, I make people go through that process and I see them during the year just grow and blossom which is fantastic. And then I encourage them individually to find a mentor that's not me, someone that I can confide in probably about me, you know.

If you want to moan and groan about me and they need someone external so they can have that. Again, we have identified a person for them in their life. Um, and you know, the, the company pays for that, it, it's a paid thing. So that you can never get enough, all the external kind of like counsel.

Myself, I have a mentor, I’ve had one for five, six years. I belong to a board, the top of the alternative board, which when I was in America, I sit on the alternative board every month. And I just sit there and cry about people and money, cause that's always come up.

But, um, but yeah, so leadership for me is I want to just, you know, embrace that. I said to my, one of my colleagues today, my strategy here is to get you working less and your reward going up every year. And that's what we've got to get through as a leader. And if you're working less in the business, then you know, you're, you're winning for me.

Jason: [00:21:24] Yep. And then what about recruiting? Is that a, a big challenge for you guys like finding enough talent?

John: [00:21:30] Absolutely. It really is. It's a, you know, to the point where it depends on the, it depends on the, on the area you’re recruiting. So imagine digital social that's really, really sought after for obvious reasons. And that's challenging to recruit in them areas. So we want to, we want to do a blend of three things.

We want to grow our own, um, so grow our people that we've already got into business. Because, you know the’re very valuable to us, not just in monetary terms, but, just in, in their futures. We want to, I think mentioned before we were looking to acquire an agency. So we're looking, you know, where we can’t, where we can't build a team because the talent pool, looking for jobs or employment isn't there.

We're looking now just to, to hire, to, to acquire a boutique agency, particularly in the digital space. Um, and the third, the third area is looking at apprenticeships. So we're looking at bringing kids out of school and instead of kids going to, we call it school, university straight to us and we'll run a program with them.

So that's something we're looking at for the next, for the next eighteen months. I I'm glad to hear, or we shouldn't be really glad to hear, that it's the same in America. But the talent is just strange. We’re going through a strange time.

Jason: [00:22:45] Well, uh, what we found, you know, in our agency and, and all the other agencies in the mastermind is when you get to a certain level… And it's around about 3 million you're you're cause you've, you've built an amazing team, you're building the leadership team.

But it's hard to continue to find really, really good people. And it takes them a while in order to adapt to all the processes that you have. And so a lot of times what we'll do is we'll say like, kind of like, we’ll bring someone in on the junior program and show them a couple of tracks.

You can go kind of the skilled track, or you can go the manager track and then show them the different layers or levels that they can go up, you know. And it makes a huge difference because you know, like I'm thinking of, of Zach's agency now, like to train their account strategist, it usually takes about two years.

Right? Like, so you got to start thinking two years prior, like how do we get all these people up? And it makes a really big difference. So, yeah. It's, I always love when I chat with people all around the world. And they're like, yeah, it's very different over here. I'm like we get all the same issues.

John: [00:24:02] Good to know. Yeah, it is, I imagine. And it’s about to how much, I mean, one of the things is obviously pay reward is very important. Isn't it? Of course, but actually culture again, progression L&D. If I'm honest, you know, our lead in development is just catching up, you know, we've, we've got, we've made huge strides in the area.

We've got so much more. So we working on that, so we're just, we are catching up the, this the, you know, the, the high growth of the last eight years, um, to make sure we've got all that in place.

Jason: [00:24:30] Awesome. Well, great. Well, um, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

John: [00:24:37] Um, I think, I think for me it's about looking after yourself, you know, and I think again, just, just it's really part resilience is really, really key.

And nothing more has been mentioned, so I, what's been mentioned a lot more of the last 12 months is wellbeing. Um, second is acknowledging that, you know, you are human. Acknowledging that you are… You know, you haven't got all the answers. Acknowledging that it’s lonely then, and obviously you've got a mastermind course, which is fantastic, Jason. And, and again, if, if you can find something like that, or find something where you can find a buddy or a mentor for yourself, absolutely take it on.

Because it, you know, you've got to have that in your, I think, in your life, if you want to grow, grow big, because it is a challenge.

Jason: [00:25:24] Yep. Well, John, where can people, uh, what's the website address people can go? Especially if you're in the UK and you're going, hey, I want to, I want to be a big, bigger part of a team and you can buy me, John.

So where can they go?

John: [00:25:36] Oh, knock yourselves out, if you will. Um, well it's very simple. It's social.co.uk.

Jason: [00:25:41] That's great. That's awesome. I mean, that's a very easy URL. I've had some guests on that literally they spell it out like five times and you still wouldn't even get it. So congrats on getting that. And thanks so much for coming on the show.

And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you're in the UK and you want to possibly sell, go check them out. And know this is sponsored, uh, but he did drop a lot of amazing bombs. So go check that out.

And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing people on a consistent basis, I would love to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is for agencies all over the world. Where we share the strategies that are currently working and little shrink moments, right? Like we can like cry on each other's shoulders to get us through.

But go there and until next time, have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_One_Agency_Grew_to_5.5_Million__By_Investing_in_Leadership.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EDT

After the life of digital nomad led to the failure of his first company, Dean Dutro started Worth eCommerce. Since then, found the Digital Agency Elite mastermind, learned the importance of having a mission and values, and grew an amazingly successful agency that helps eCommerce stores drive new and repeat sales with email & SMS marketing.  He recently sold that company and today he’s here to talk about how his early failure led to having a strong belief in the agency’s values and mission, the process of getting ready for an opportunity to sell your agency, and what he advises everyone to do in order to enjoy a successful agency acquisition.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. It can be lonely at the top. One of the things mastermind members learn is the importance of having a mission and values, in order to surround yourself with people that you want to work with. This a foundational step to elevating your business. You can succeed with a self-centered business, but it can get lonely at the top. It’s better if you’re thinking about elevating your team and having an end goal with your mission.
  2. Prepare yourself for acquisition. The end goal for every agency owner should be to exit at some point. If you’re thinking about selling your agency, Dean shares some key parts of the process, including how he discovered some accounting and business terms that were key to the process and he had never even heard of before. He mentions that the two most important pieces that buyers look for is EBITDA and the age of the company.
  3. Get a Broker. With so many things to consider and prepare before even being ready for buyers, Dean recommends a broker. It may seem expensive, but they will get better deals and find good fits. A good, broker, lawyer, and accountant working as a team will get you through this process successfully.

Sponsors and Resources

HighLevel: Today's episode is sponsored by HighLevel, an all-in-one marketing platform that will give you the tools, support and resources you need to succeed with your agency. Head over to gohighlevel.com/swenk to enjoy an exclusive 30-day free trial.

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How to Prepare for the Opportunity to Sell and Enjoy a Successful Agency Acquisition

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up agency owners? I'm excited to have another great episode. I have a good buddy and a Mastermind member, Dean, who just recently sold his agency. And we're going to talk about the process of how to get there, how to get to a point where you have the opportunity to sell. And then also, what is the process like and what is life like after?

Uh, so let's go ahead and get into the episode.

Hey, Dean. Welcome back to the show.

Dean: [00:00:36] Hey, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:38] Yeah. Well, for the people that haven't checked out the first episode, uh, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Dean: [00:00:44] Yeah. Um, my name's Dean and I am the CEO of Worth eCommerce, which is an email marketing and SMS marketing agency for e-commerce companies.

Jason: [00:00:56] Awesome. And let's kind of jump into it because I was so excited for you. You know what… You know, I know we were chatting for a long time about the opportunity to sell and the process there. Let's talk about kind of getting to that point. What do you feel…? What's the level you are? What are were the things that you had to do in order to get you to the point where people wanted to buy you?

Dean: [00:01:22] Yeah, that's a great question. I think there's a lot that, that went into it. And a lot that's happened over time and, you know, kind of going all the way back to the start of my agency career. You know, the first agency that I started in and kind of co-founded with my current business partner, um, was a UX design agency.

And we had this idea that we were going to be like digital nomads travel worlds. Go to Thailand and Australia and Asia and all these places and make a lot of money and live on beaches and drink beer. Uh, and we did that for like a year, but then we ended up just essentially broke and in debt. And both of us ended up living at our parents, or in my case, my grandparents' house for about six months to a year, um, on and off afterwards, cause we just failed.

And at that point that's actually when I discovered you guys, the Jason Swenk masterclass. I ended up stopped, stopped doing business with Ryan who's my co-founder and went on my own path. And one of the things that you guys taught was you got to have a mission and values, right? To get people to join you in order to work with the people that you want to work with.

And that, to me, it was like the first foundational step. You know, before it was like very selfish and self-centered, and there was no sense of like community anywhere I went. So when I moved back to Oregon and kind of decided like, hey, I want to build something where I can have a team around me. I have a mission, there's people I want to impact.

And my mission was very personal. It came from, uh, you know, my family, like my parents and grandparents were both small business owners and entrepreneurs. Uh, my grandma had a kitchen design business and ended up selling it when she retired. And my mom had a, a vintage clothing business before Shopify, like when Etsy was blowing up. But that didn't go well for her in 2008 hit and, you know, kinda hit them hard.

But, so I kind of had this vision of, I wanted to do something where I could help small and medium-sized businesses grow. And I want to do that with a group of people that I loved hanging out with that I thought were superstars and wanted to do it locally at first. Um, and just kind of grew that over time

Uh, fast forward. That company is called Instant Email Copy, which is what it was called when I joined you. And Ryan approached me and he was doing e-commerce himself. He was actually building stores and I was doing email for e-commerce. He's like, hey, like, why don't we join forces and use our skills to like grow again?

And by that time, like our skills have leveled out where, when I first joined, he had all the digital experience and I, I was doing like enterprise sales. So we kind of felt like a power balance and we went and created Worth eCommerce. And we did like two weeks in my hometown of Bend, Oregon. Uh, where we just like, figure out, like, what are our values, like who we want to be?

What kind of people do we want to bring on? What type of people we want to work with? And setting that was like the first step for us, um, to, to continue to grow over these last few years. Two years actually.

Jason: [00:04:24] Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, I love that. Uh, I love that story and I love that, you know, there's so many people that talk about being a digital nomad and doing agencies. And I'm like, Yeah, that's good to kind of start and I'm sure that was a lot of fun.

Dean: [00:04:41] Oh yeah.

Jason: [00:04:42] But it's like you said, it's just centered around you rather than like… When you start realizing, and I think what you guys realized was how can I elevate my team? Which will, right? Like you get to the top of the mountain, but it's kinda lonely at the very top. Like it's more, I actually had more significance of growing our team than actually growing the agency.

And you have to have a purpose, like you were saying behind that. A lot of times it takes people a while to figure that out. Um, because you're just like, well, what am I good at? Like, what do I like? What, what do I believe in? And how do I surround myself with those, those people? What were some of the other things, now that you had a purpose and you were building the right team, um, you know, that you felt that you had to do in order to get to the point where you had the opportunity to sell it?

Dean: [00:05:36] Yeah. So I think it was really important, and one of the things I figured out was that at least in my space, in e-commerce, you know, I started working in a vertical niche, both from a service perspective, a client perspective, and software perspective. And it's a little bit of a risk from the software side, but basically I chose a software company that I loved working with. Who had great customer service, great customer experience.

They weren't the best at what they did at the time, but they had a similar vision of wanting to help similar types of customers and clients. That company is called Klaviyo and I joined them when they had like 400 customers. Um, now they have like 60,000. And so we got to really ride that wave, uh, and become experts in that specific skillset, that specific software, helping specific companies.

Uh, which led us to be able to charge a premium, uh, created better processes systems. We’re kind of like first, first, maybe not first to do email marketing, but like first to market using Klaviyo. And now we're, we're a platinum partner. We're on the advisory board. We're connecting with their leadership, learning about email, learning about SMS.

Like it's this very like positive relationship. They send us clients, they help us with marketing. And that itself has been a huge boost, uh, in terms of sales and revenue. Um, it all started with a simple system, like I built a basic system that worked. And over time it's, it's like, whenever I bring on new employees, I'll show them, hey, here's the first original document from Worth… for Instant Email Copy of like what we use to serve clients.

And then it's like, here's what it is now. And it's like, holy shit. Like it's crazy. How much it evolved.

Jason: [00:07:24] Pretty big difference.

Dean: [00:07:26] Pretty big difference. Yeah. Um, but what's really cool about it is as like, going back to building the team, is like most of the changes to the document weren’t done by me. They were done by people on the team who started to become better at what they do or, or more experienced in, and kind of committed to that.

Which is, which has been really cool to see.

Jason: [00:07:46] Yeah. Over the past couple of years in the mastermind, I've seen you really kind of transition from the owner to the CEO. Um, and you know, I talk a lot about that to all the agencies, right? Like, because ultimately the end goal of every agency is the exit in some way. Whether it be like you selling the agency or like, you know, other members that exit their current role, right? They exit to a chairman so they can go do other things. That kind of stuff.

Um, what, and it's sometimes difficult when people actually on your team start getting better than you. And you feel really done, right? Like, and the goal I tell everybody the goal is for you to be the dumbest person in the room, um, for your team.

Did, was that a challenge for you? Um, I'm not saying you're dumb obviously. But, uh, you, you, you sold for a lot of money, so obviously laugh, laugh on me if I'm calling you dumb. But I remember going through that going, oh my God, the agency doesn't need me anymore. Because everyone else is better, that the things I used to do. Did you struggle with that at all?

Dean: [00:08:58] Yeah, I think, I think initially, you know, like I had positioned myself as like the email marketing guy, right? Like people would come to work with me. People would come, clients would call me. Like everyone would, would want to work with me, right? And I got, it just wasn't, I even built like a course or like I was like advertising email marketing, and I was the main face.

And that was great. Um, but it didn't allow other people to flourish. And so when we, when I ended up merging what happened, and this is actually feedback I got from my team was like, Dean, we feel your presence too much. Like you're in here, like throwing curve balls to like a process we're trying to build.

And it's kind of messing things up cause we feel like we have to listen to you. And I remember like taking that feedback and being like, well, this is like, like, is this like what ideas better? You know, is it better to do it this way or the way they want to do it? And there's times where it's like, I have the experience. And I kind of like, as a business owner, like, you know, I don't know if that's going to work, um, because I've tried it before versus like, hey, I think you should just do it this way.

There's like a, like a, a difference there. Uh, like a, a fine line to kind of cross where you're giving advice versus like commanding. Um, and something you don't know about. Uh, and so I always tell people, and I even tell my leadership team, like, there's a point where you go from like, becoming the email marketing expert or the XYZ expert to, like you said, the CEO or to a leader and your responsibilities and roles change.

And that's something I learned from you and from the Mastermind group, different agencies and something I'm teaching to my leadership team as they're going from like copywriters or designers or, you know, admin, even to leadership role. It's like, hey, like your main job isn’t to always do email, like you gotta grow and help build the team, just like you've grown and built. And, um, totally different skillset.

Jason: [00:10:50] Oh yeah, definitely. And some people can't do it. Um, you know, it's a, so I applaud you for being able to do that. So let's talk about, now that we've kind of talked about getting there and, and that, uh… Let's talk about what was it like when people started coming to you, offering you money for the agency?

Dean: [00:11:10] Yeah, it was, um, it was interesting. Like it was a long process and my mindset on it was I just kind of want to know what the market's like, see what's out there. And see, like, what are people purchasing for? Like who is selling? Why are they styling? Like, I, I kinda wanted to soak that knowledge up. So we actually ended up working with a broker and, uh, I think you referred him, Todd Tasky, uh, over in DC.

And, you know, when I first connected with him, we were, we were still pretty small. You know, my main fear was, hey, like, are we too early to do this? And he was like, no, like just like, get to know people, get to know what's going on. And you know, you'll kind of figure out what you want. Are you still there?

Jason: [00:11:57] Oh yeah. Yeah. I just put you on solo. I was featuring you.

Dean: [00:12:04] Featuring, ok. And, and so, you know, we started the process early and started connect with companies and, and usually it was like, hey, you guys are too young. You're less than two years old. Like, we don't feel comfortable with it. It was a lot of nos. Right. Um, but a lot of like, hey, come back to us in a year or two, because we see your growth curve. We see the potential.

E-commerce, you know, blew up during COVID. It's still blowing up. So a lot of people saw it, but we are just a little bit too early, right? But by being too early, we kind of learned, okay, what are they actually looking? Right? Because every company before they would do like a letter of intent or anything like that, they would send like a list of items they wanted to know about.

So over time I built up this list. And by that point we were ready and our EBITDA was high enough and people were more interested, uh, I had everything ready, right? And EBITDA is obviously one of the most important pieces. Um, the age of the company is important.

So that was a hurdle for us because we'd started worth in 2019. And we had to justify our experience, you know, before that was built. Um, and at that time, it was just a matter of like, okay, these guys are growing. It's very clear.

And my, my worry was still, hey, we're a little too early. Like if we wait six months, maybe we'll get a lot more. So that became kind of a part of the negotiation piece was just like, just look at the growth curve and tendency of things and, you know, we'll get to a number that makes sense.

Um, so I feel like I'm missing your original question.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:13:30] No, th that was perfect. Um, what were, what were some of the important things that people were asking for outside of EBITDA?

Dean: [00:13:39] Yeah, they, they wanted to know like our forecast and budget and model and like what that looked like.

Um, they wanted to know our, uh, like our leadership team. It's like, who's in place and who's at the helm. And like, what's their experience. That was super important. Um, they wanted to know our plans if we were going to expand in any other market sets or stay niche. Uh, so that was an interesting one.

And we started doing SMS marketing, which helped with a lot of things. Um, and they wanted to know like, was our shipping order. Like, did we have valid contracts? A big piece we learned about was like, if you have contracts with customers, are they transferable or not? Right? Because if they're not, that kind of changes the entire setup of the deal structure and takes a ton of time.

So we get to like a hundred customers or partners or clients, and it's, non-transferable like you're in for a lot of extra work. It kind of things like that. Like our employment agreements, they want to kind of look at some of those things. But the biggest one that they always focused on was EBITDA and age of the company.

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Yeah. No, it's, those are all real important. And especially, you know, like I always tell you in the mastermind members. When you signed clients and in your agreement, make sure they are transferable. Um, or because a lot of times when agencies are bought, most people don't know this is it's an asset purchase.

So they're buying your contracts. And if you, you know, I've seen some master my members in the past where they've actually had to go back to their key clients and go, hey, and they have to share their hands saying, hey, I'm about to be bought. I need you to sign this. So it allows you to transfer the agreement over to the new agency.

And then if the new, if you, if the client doesn't sign it, the deal may not be done. Like it's literally so many loops. Which if you could just throw that in the agreement saying, hey, I can transfer this clause just with written notice to you.

Dean: [00:16:52] Yeah. And to be honest, I think we just got lucky. Like we just happened to have that in the beginning and we didn't have to worry about it.

I don't think I would have ever thought about that before.

Jason: [00:17:03] No, no one does. No one does until someone tells you, so it's crazy. Well, let's talk about, um, let's say after you get the letter of intent. What was that like? What did you go through and how long was that process?

Dean: [00:17:20] Um, man. So get just getting the letter of intent was pretty, pretty tough. From like… another thing they wanted to know is like your market position and what are sort of the areas where you feel you're weak? Because they really want to know where they can add value, right? So they want to know, like they don't want to find something that's broken.

They want to find something that's working, that they could put fuel on and create a bigger fire, right? That's kind of the mentality. So they would ask these questions where I felt very exposed. And like very naked in the business. Like I, like, I don't know these things or, you know, we don't really do that much marketing. It's more outbound sales.

And so they're like, oh, we're a marketing agency. We can help there. So they're really like, they're not picking you apart, but they're trying to like identify, is this a worthwhile time investment? Because once you get the, the LOI, something comes in called schedules and it's like, it's hell.

Uh, for us, they were ready to close quick. They were ready to make a deal. So it took about 45 days or 50 days, actually. Usually take, can take anywhere from three to six months. But what schedules are is this document you get from lawyers, that's like 50 questions, right?

But it's not just 50 questions. It's like, give me every single contract you've ever signed with every client, right? And pull it up and list any that are missing. Um, give me every single employment agreement you've signed with every client, with every employee you've ever had. Give me every single complaint any employees ever made against you.

Give me any single complaint any former client has made against you. All your, your liabilities and insurance documents. Give me your financials, you know, for the last five years and all of your tax returns. Um, it's just like... It's hell.

And then they want to know your, your projected forecast, right? For the next year. So you have to build a budgeting model, which I'd never done before. Um, and I ended up hiring a CFO. Who was referred by someone in the mastermind, Matt food truck, who had built out this budgeting model.

But then every, every week they'd want an update. It's like, oh, where'd you hit this week? And you're like, Jesus, like, I don't do this till the end of the month. You want to know every single like hour? And then the lawyers get involved, right? And they're battling stuff back and forth and like, is it an asset sale or a stock sale? Where do you want to be incorporated? Are you registered in every state that you hire correctly? Which we weren't.

Um, so we had to like go back and do all this stuff. And negotiating, you know, price points. Um, you know, the LOI they give you what the, what they want the offer to be. So a lot of the cash sort of conversations happen, pre LOI. Then they give you the LOI.

And then all the legal negotiations, which I had no idea what most of it meant, right? Like what is an asset sale? I had no idea. Um, how are you going to set it up so you can get taxed, you know, like a crazy amount? Uh, and they have to battle that back and forth. So it was, it was hell it was like a second job. Um, to be honest, it really took my eye off the ball of growing the agency, um, in retrospect.

Because most of my day was focused on gathering this information. Like living a double life of like, I'm not ready to tell employees I'm not ready to tell clients. I'm stressed out of my mind and no one knows why. Uh, you know, and, uh, keeping it under wraps was, was kind of strange. But, uh, yeah, it was like, you gotta be prepared to basically work another 20 hours a week, just gathering information.

Um, and then phone calls after phone calls with your broker and your lawyer. And, uh, being ready to invest in a lawyer who's good. Who can...

Jason: [00:21:00] Yeah, you mentioned two really big things. One, don't tell anybody, right? Like, if it gets out, people jump ship. People don't like change. They’ll like change after they kind of witnessed it.

And a lot of times when you're looking for the right person to buy you as you're evaluating, you got to make sure the culture fits there. And is it right for the team as well, right? Cause you know, they're the ones that got you here. You wouldn't be here without them.

Um, the other thing is, is you mentioned is you kind of took your eye off the ball. So a lot of times what I've found is, I mean, this happened to Justin, one of our members. He took his eye off the ball, he was going through an acquisition. Uh, they pulled out the last minute and almost went under.

Because they were like, oh, I'm going to get all these millions of dollars. I don't have to do anything. It'll be your problem in six months, who gives a shit? Right? Because everything we do is a li you know, a lag of a quarter or six months out. And then the deal doesn't go through. Or, and I think too, I think when agencies go and buy other agencies, I think they do this on purpose to be like, then they can change the deal at the last minute.

And be like, I gotcha.

Dean: [00:22:22] Yeah. That was my big concern and cause right... So the deal was supposed to close on a Friday. Didn't close. There's some legal issue that the lawyers were battling about and everyone was getting deal fatigue, like on both sides. Everyone was like, fuck, I'm tired. Excuse my language.

Like, sorry, I'm tired of talking about this deal. It's been, you know, 45 days of this every day. Um, and so I always felt like at any point the deal would be done and I just wasted, you know, 45 days. At the same time, I felt like I got a masters of business, you know, in 45 days. Because, like the private equity guys…

And I think what was really nice about this deal is like the, just like you said, the culture fit was huge. Like we just got along so well that even with the deal fatigue and the stress and like the money at stake. Like we can get off, like we could have a private conversation with no lawyers, no one else present and it was like, like we were in this together.

That was a super important to me. And, uh, those guys are, are, are awesome, but they taught me all these things about accounting. For example, a lot of larger companies, they use gap accounting, uh, which I never even heard that term ever in any sort of business article I've ever read.

And, uh, and none of my bookkeepers ever told me about gap accounting. And it's a pain in the ass, like it sucks to do, and it takes a lot of time, but it's really important to see like, you know, an accrual method versus a cash method and how that affects the deal, especially when you sell.

Um, cause there's things called. Uh, deferral. Revenue deferral, right? It's like, if you get paid up front, this is another huge learning lesson for me, which is like, so hard to get around. If you get paid up front for work, in gap accounting that's not counted as revenue until you do the work, right?

So all of a sudden, you think you have all this cash in your bank, you go to sell. They're actually like, no, you actually are less. Uh, and you're like, what the hell? Like, I don't understand this at all. Uh, so the lawyers and the broker had to in the PE guys had to walk me through. Like, I'm not actually being screwed, it just feels like it. Um,

Jason: [00:24:28] Yeah, and usually, and that's a good point. I'm glad you brought that up because that happened to us as well.

Um, because I mean, hell I always tell the story on the podcast of one client that, you know, we, we changed our payment terms. And one client came to us eight years later. But we… and we're like, hey, I'm ready. But they paid up front, right? Like, you know, so, you know, we all think of agencies getting paid upfront is awesome. And it is, and you should continue to do that, um, as much as you possibly can.

But when you do go to sell, there is going to be a reckoning and you're going to be like, whoa. And that, and usually they do that right at the end. They know it's coming. The bastards know it's coming and they do it at the end and go, oh no.

And then you're like, fuck it.

Awesome. Um, well, Dean, man, I'm so happy and proud to see how, how have you've grown over the, the past couple of years. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience? If they're thinking about doing something like you've done.

Dean: [00:25:42] Yeah, I would say, definitely get a broker. You know, it feels expensive, but they get better deals and they find good fits. You know, and, and Todd, to his credit, like we probably spoke with 10 or 15 companies and most of them were not the right fit.

And, you know, he told me early on that, like, we're gonna, we're going to talk to a lot of people. It's gonna be a lot of time and you get a lot of like deal ideas. And then all of a sudden you'll be presented with the deal and your gut will tell you if it's right or not.

And that's kind of exactly what happened was, you know, there, there are always companies I was like, this is not the right fit. I don’t like these guys. There's something off for they're too huge and I don't want to be like just a cog. And with this one, it was like, met them, got the offer, felt good, felt good to my partner and we went with it.

Um, to get a broker and get a good lawyer and a good accountant. Hopefully they're all a team together. And they've worked together. Uh, I couldn't imagine doing it without, you know, acquisitions experience.

Jason: [00:26:40] Yeah, I know having a good broker is key and all the other assets as well. And if you guys want to know more about Todd, just hit me up and I'll do an introduction for you guys.

Uh, well, Dean, I'm so happy for you, man. Um, and this has all been great. And for everyone listening, if you guys want to be in a point where you can scale your agency to a point where you have the opportunity to exit. And have a number of different agency owners, including me, you know, helping you get to there and, and advising you to get to the next level.

Hopefully, that next level is to sell for the number that you actually want. I'd love to invite all of you to go apply for the Digital Agency Elite.

Go to digitalagencyelite.com. This is the mastermind that as Dean has been in for the past couple of years and is still in, make sure you go do that now.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Would you consider having a laser focus niche in a way that you create such a demand you have a waiting list? This agency did just that and has grown more than they ever imagined. When Ryan Redding and his agency DP Marketing.Services built a website for a plumber who suggested that he should only work with other plumbers, he could have never guessed how that would change his business. Today he joins the podcast to talk about how having a laser focus agency makes everything else easier. Ryan also shares why he has felt bad about turning away business and the customer loyalty that has helped him grow his agency.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Laser focus. Once Ryan’s company found its niche thanks to a client’s suggestion that they focus solely on plumbers, they’ve only become more and more focused on this particular side of the industry. Ryan even mentions that a lot of his fellow agency owners freak out at that level of exclusivity. However, in his opinion, that very streamlined laser-focus, even with the way they do referrals, absolutely makes everything else easier.
  2. Benefits of saying no. When it comes to being niched the way this agency is, you’ll probably end up turning down companies that want to work with you but don’t fit into the model of business you’ve committed to. How to say no? Ryan explains that taking those clients at this point would break the agency’s process and momentum. He’s never found that turning away business is bad and argues that it actually gives him the clarity to maximize that momentum moving forward.
  3. Taking care of clients. Exclusivity has become a very important part of his agency’s model. The agency only works with one contractor per service area. This has created a waiting list of people wanting to work with them. In many cases, they have to reject candidates and they cite their clients’ interest as the reason. This creates a sense of respect for the way they do business and loyalty from their clients, who get notified when a competitor in their service area contacted the agency and reassured that the agency will not work with them. This has resulted in more referrals for them.

Sponsors and Resources

Ninja Cat: Today's episode is sponsored by Ninja Cat, a digital marketing performance management platform where you can unify your data, create beautiful, insightful reports and presentations that will help you grow your business. Head over to ninjacat.io/masterclass to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.

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Improve Client Loyalty With a Laser Focus Niche and Exclusivity

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up everybody? I have another amazing episode coming your way. We're going to talk about how one agency owner had a pivotal moment where a client actually told them something changed everything for him. Where, you know, he was kind of figuring out no one's opening up my emails. But now everyone's calling them, which is pretty cool. We all want that.

So let's go ahead and jump into the episode.

Hey, Ryan. How's it going?

Ryan: [00:00:33] Hey, man. It’s going good. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:35] Awesome. Well, thanks for coming on the show. So, uh, tell us who you are in. What do you do?

Ryan: [00:00:42] Dude, I am Ryan Redding. Most people probably don't know or care, uh, but I, uh, have founded and run DP Marketing.Services. We are a full service digital agency that specializes, uh, for home services companies.

Jason: [00:00:56] Awesome. And so take us back about how did you start the agency and why did you jump into running an agency?

Ryan: [00:01:04] Yeah, it was entirely not on purpose. So I, uh, I have a background working at a big boutique advertising agency in St. Louis. Did that for a while and learned a lot of experience, but kind of got out of the marketing world for almost a decade.

Um, it was just kind of out of sight, out of mind and moved on to a different life. Got more into business consulting and in the process started realizing that all these guys were like main street, small businesses. And so think of any main street USA, you know, bakers and chiropractors and whatever. They all had really crappy websites. They were like awful.

And some of them just didn't have the knowledge. Some of them didn't have the budget. So originally it was, hey, we'll just do websites that don't look crappy for a really affordable price for these guys. And so it started off doing web design, um, and trying to do like super, super low, low dollars.

And frankly, I'm embarrassed to say it out loud. Like, our, our, we still have some of these guys in the book at a hundred dollars a month to get…

Jason: [00:02:07] For, for hosting or for maintenance.

Ryan: [00:02:09] For, well, there's not really much maintenance cause these are guys are gonna like set and forget. So it essentially becomes hosting and nothing?

Um, but yeah, a hundred bucks a month and these guys got a website that didn't look awful and just really basic, but it's something for them. Um, so yeah, for a while, that's all we did.

Jason: [00:02:31] And so how did it, how'd you kind of pivot and, and start doing more and more outside of websites. You know, because, you know, that was kind of my start.

Like I started designing websites and then we started adding on other services.

Ryan: [00:02:45] Yeah. So, this is kind of crazy and it's actually, it kind of dovetails into how and why we're niched like we are. So, uh, we early on did any main street small business. So literally think about bakers and chiropractors and self-storage places, and…

We, to this day, have a lot of those guys still on our books paying a hundred bucks a month. One of the guys who picked up in this time was a plumber. There was nothing special about him. He was just another one of these guys. But in a matter of about six months, um, he went from a guy working out of his garage, making 150 a year to the first page of Google in his target market.

Um, I think right now he's got 16 trucks on the road. He spends his time golfing and on his boat with his, uh, on the lake with the boat, with his family. And he doesn't work anymore. And he, he was literally the first one to say, uh, Bro. you only need to work with people like me because we don't know what we're doing. We're comfortable paying for it.

Uh, you can obviously do what you say you're gonna do. You should totally do it. And he kind of lumped in HVAC. But the crazy part is, is as he grew, he literally started paying me more money without me asking for it. So we start off with a hundred bucks a month and then he's like, bro, I made whatever I made $80,000 off you this month here, here's 300.

And I'm like, well, crap, here's 300 bucks. What am I going to do for 300 bucks? And then it turned into here's 1,000 and it turned into here's 2,000 and just kept paying me more. Without asking for more. And so as he kind of raised his voluntary contribution for the impact it made on his business, I started having figured out ways to add value to the services that we were doing.

So then it came into like real SEO, real social, real reputation. Like all the things you think of like a full stack digital agency would. So that kind of became the way that we… Well, I started building out our services that we do now.

Jason: [00:04:57] How long did it take you to, because there's a lot of us that struggle with, well, I don't want to turn down all this other work. You know, if I'm just going to dedicate it to this particular, you know, market. Um, how long did you struggle with it and what were some of the things that allowed you to kind of make that decision and go all in?

Ryan: [00:05:20] So I, yeah, there's a couple of layers on that. Because early on when, when this plumber was like, bro, just work with plumbers… It it's not a, you know, I keep saying it, it, it wasn't sexy. It wasn't appealing. It was like, who wants to walk around being like, yeah, I do marketing for plumbers. Um, and it, it maybe took three months of me just kind of wrestling with is he crazy or is he onto something?

Um, once he, once I kind of swallowed the pillow. Okay. I think he's onto something. It was kind of all in. So we kind of rebranded. We started like building out collateral for that specific niche. Um, and then that made it where it was much easier for him to refer plumber number two.

Because when plumber number two came and visited our website, guess what? All he sees is language that he identifies with. Um, when he sees our social and our reputation, all he sees are guys like him, like sharing their own personal experiences.

And so it, it really quickly came from, and I say quickly, maybe within six months came from something where we're trying to talk to anybody who wants a website on Main Street, right? You get crappy ones and you get the weird ones and you get the crazy ones and whatever. And guys who think a hundred bucks a month is too much for their budget.To in most markets in the US we have guys on our waiting list, because we work with one contractor per service area.

So we've got guys wanting to work with us who we can't, cause we've already got someone there. And they come to us, we don't go to them. So it's, it's kind of in a really fundamental shift. But to, to answer the question about like, how do you say no?

If we, at any point would have said, hey, we're going to start taking on this chiropractor or whatever in a meaningful way to build it out. It would absolutely break our processes. It would break our, our strategy for actually attracting new clients. It would be a significant, um, it, it would disrupt the momentum that we have in a really difficult to describe way.

I've never found that turning away business is bad. In fact, I feel like it gives you the clarity to maximize that momentum moving forward.

Jason: [00:07:36] Yeah. And talk about the waiting list. What I found is when we've created waiting lists, it literally makes them want you even more. And they're constantly, always like, hey, you guys, you got any opening? Got any opening. Hey, I want in, I want in. So, and obviously it's, it's real too, right? Like you can't fake it.

You know, a lot of people are like, oh, I'll just fake that part. But, um, talk a little bit about how do you do that? How do you remember that? Because a lot of agencies will be like. Oh, yeah, who reached out to me in this particular marketthat now we have an opening?

Ryan: [00:08:13] Yeah. So it starts with like scarcity and exclusivity, right? Because we have really big competitors who will work with anybody. They don't really care. So you can pay someone $3,000 a month and you're like, man, this is amazing. And then you realize, well, they're working with the guy right across the street. And then the guy two buildings down. And it takes, it makes a lot of friction for these guys because they feel like who's getting the best efforts?

What we've learned about this particular niche is these guys are very jealous and very territorial. Um, so, okay, cool. So when we say, hey, we're going to protect their service area. We're only going to work with one contractor per service area,  that gets us a lot of loyalty from them.

When guys in their market reach out to us. We notify the guys we're already working with, hey, so-and-so reached out. Don't worry about it. We're not going to talk to them. We just want to let you know, you're getting noticed that creates a sense of loyalty with the guys we're already working with, which strangely results in more referrals to other markets and all these trade groups.

But the guys who would say, hey, we can't work with you. And they're like, well, what if he did this, this and this. Sorry, we, we really want to protect our client's interests. We hope you understand. I know it's not fun to say, but that's the reality. It absolutely creates a sense of respect and integrity with these guys coming in that everywhere, everyone else feels like second place, right?

Cause they don't really have that sort of value in the client. So we I'm, I'm a digital hoarder. So I literally track all this in just Gmail. So when someone comes in, it gets logged into our system. But when I talk to them, I note that the email record that has all the chat, the lead information, and I say, hey, waiting lists for whatever the city is.

And so I just kind of can search my Gmail archive pretty quickly to find whatever's there. It's. And it just goes back to me being a digital hoarder.

Jason: [00:10:11] Now a lot of people may be thinking to be like, well, Ryan, why don't you set up a separate brand? You know, in order to do the others, what do you say to them?

Ryan: [00:10:22] Uh, that's a good question. And it's something that we've actually are actively debating doing. Probably what we would do, uh, is not a separate brand. Just to kind of do the same model, but just with a different logo and design and whatnot. We'd probably subdivide our niche even further. So, uh, into like an enterprise level or somebody that actually is a franchise. That now we're going to have different rules because we do have to cross markets.

So we've had like alpha tests in the work of how do we actually structure it, where we can cross markets? Uh, we’d probably work without the appearance of conflict. Um, but part of it comes up to even, how do we structure our teams? Like how do we let her SEO guys be separate and not share practices or insights?How do we let our PPC guys be separate and not share insights on who's doing what?

Um, yeah, but it's, it's a legit fair question that we're trying to figure out how to do.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

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Ninja Cat is a digital marketing performance management platform that really unifies your marketing data and empowers your agency to automate insightful, beautiful client reports at scale. Now, Ninja Cat keeps your marketing performance and presentation tools in one place, freeing you up from manual data wrangling. And it really gives your team more time to focus on strategy and growing your base.

And for a limited time, my Smart Agency podcasts listeners will receive $500 ninja credit. When you go to ninjacat.io/masterclass to claim your offer and schedule a demo. That's ninjacat.io/masterclass.

You know what we talk about in the mastermind that you're part of too, that you may want to look at, or people listening in. If you get this exclusivity and you have this, this opportunity is find strategic partners that can help with these people. And so you refer them, the business, since you have exclusivity, but you also get a commission from it.

So you're not losing anything. So let's say, you know, like, uh, Chris in the mastermind, he'll refer out. He'll get 20% and he's like this is awesome. Like, and he just any refers it to, you know, let's say three people. And, you know, he always would talk about it,he'd be like, hey, we don't want to refer it just to one. Because if they have a bad experience, then it's on them because you referred them.

But if you refer to them more than one, you know, more than one, well, it's their choice. If they picked the wrong one, well, they can't really blame you because you gave them options. So I always thought that was pretty neat when some of the members were going through that strategy. You may want to, you may want to steal that too.

Ryan: [00:13:39] Yeah, we do that to a certain degree. Just not quite, uh, it's more selective. It's like the ones that we refer, we, we really believe like, hey, these are really great clients that we want the people referring to have good success with. Uh, the ones that were like, this is a problem client, like nobody wants them. We really don't pass those on.

Jason: [00:14:00] Yeah. Oh yeah. Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. I remember when, uh, when we got to a point where we couldn't take on some calls. I would always just be like, look, here's what to look for. Well, we even came up with a packet that we were like, here's all the questions to ask people that we're referring to.

So then when we would, you know, um, you know, whenever they kind of made it upscale and they would come back to us, then we would crush it. Uh, cause they were always like their goal was to get back to us.

Ryan: [00:14:30] Yeah. Interesting.

Jason: [00:14:31] Kind of like what you, what you set up because you're like you elevate them so high.

Ryan: [00:14:37] Yeah. It's, um, it really is crazy how I know a lot of other agency guys, when I talk to them, are they freak out at the exclusivity. They freak out over like being very niche into it. You know, when we say, hey, we're home service. It’s like, okay. But we go, yeah. But right now we don't do landscape. We don't do pest control.

We literally do plumbing, HVAC, we have a handful of electrical. But usually the electrical is part of plumbing. To have that sort of like very narrow, very streamlined laser-focus um, even with the way you do referrals, like it absolutely makes everything else easier.

Jason: [00:15:15] And you can charge a lot more too with exclusivity. I mean, you could charge really whatever you want. Do you find that sometimes, um, people come to you and then you're just like, oh man… Like this happened to me one time, we were doing, what was the client? I won't say the name, but they did the buses to the airport. So they would re restructure all the buses, you know, like with the TVs and all the things.

And we were working this with this one client, I think they were paying us like 5K a month. And I remember the big competitor came along and was like, hey, uh, we want to work with you. So then they were like, we'll pay you 10K and we want this. So what we did was we went to our original client, said, hey, if we can grow your account to 10K and we'll do this, this and this, we'd like to help you.

Um, but if not, we're going to have to cancel and go this way. And we were able to kind of keep elevating, you know, doing that, you know, over and over. Um, which was always a, you always had a backup, right?

Ryan: [00:16:25] Right. Yeah, and that's something that we're, we're also trying to figure out how to do. Even like, uh, like one of the weird complications too to that point is, as these companies grow, these are not literally all the time, but their service area businesses, right?

So they have a physical brick and mortar, and then they have a service area that they do their work. If we do our job well, their service area expands, right? It gets bigger and bigger. So if they're in Denver and they get bigger and bigger and they go, you know what, let's go up to Fort Collins. And they start another division of the company, or they go down to Colorado Springs.

So their territory, it keeps expanding too. And it's creating weird logistical things of guys growing into our competitors, right?Of guys we already work with, but now they're competing. Yeah, so we're trying to figure out, like, how do we even start threading that needle?

Jason: [00:17:14] It's good, it's a good problem to have.

Ryan: [00:17:17] It's a good problem.

Jason: [00:17:17] Right? Like, you know, a lot of times I find that the different stages of where people are in their agency. It's like in the very beginning, it's like, how can I work on lead gen and close as much business as possible? But then it starts switching to, you know, kind of like operations, like, how do we deliver? You know, how do you know, how do we pick and choose? How do we get selective?

And all of that, which is a, a testament of, uh, scaling and growing in the right way. Well, this has all been great, Ryan. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?

Ryan: [00:17:52] No, other than… this sounds really dumb. I'm, I'm really old school with like the value of exceptional experience with the clients. Because I would say, I think in 2020, 92% of our growth came from our clients referring us to other people. Like, so it's just kind of nuts sort of thing of… Yes, we charge a lot. Yes, we're proud of what we do. But taking care of our clients to the degree at which they feel like they want to help us in return.It's, it's pretty crazy.

Like the amount of social proof that's available for us anywhere these guys look. I mean, it's, it's a lot of fun. Um, yeah. Yeah. But I think this is a really cool opportunity for me beyond here. So thank you for the invite.

Jason: [00:18:42] Oh no, I'm thrilled you came on. Um, well, uh, what's the website people can go and check the agency out?

Ryan: [00:18:50] Yep. dpmarketing.services.

Jason: [00:18:52] Awesome. Well pretty easy. Well, everyone go there and check it out. And if you liked this episode, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to do a couple of things. I want you to take a screenshot of it, upload it to Instagram or any of your favorite social media.

And just tag us and say, what you liked about that episode is what we'll give you a shout-out back and thank you for listening. And then other thing is, is if you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners like Ryan and so many other mastermind members, I'd love for you guys to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

Request an invite. And, uh, we'll, we'll put you through the paces, make sure you're the right member that we're looking for and that we can actually help you out.

So go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Shaun Clark is the co-founder and CEO of HighLevel, a company that offers an all-in-one sales and marketing platform for agencies and marketers. HighLevel gives the tools, support and resources marketing agencies need to succeed all in one place. Today, he joins the podcast to talk about how marketing agencies can reduce churn rate by becoming an all-in-one solution. And, how the future for agencies will be to tack on software to the services they already offer.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Tack on software to what you’re already doing. If you’re an agency working with small businesses, no matter how great of a job you do, your clients will often have a problem with the price point. Working in this space, Shaun has found that there’s a massive opportunity for agencies to tack on software to they’re already doing. That way, you can add to your revenue and also reduce your churn rate. Because what if they decide to fire you? Now they have to find someone that can implement what they need using your software. So it’s incredibly sticky.
  2. Offer an all-in-one solution. Think about it. Your clients are looking for you to solve a problem and make their lives easier. Not to learn how to use their tools. As an expert, you can come in and say, I can solve your problem, and these are the tools that I use for that. What if you could say that you can offer all the services your clients need in one spot? No need to go outside your agency.
  3. The future for agencies. Our guest believes that agencies are the ones who should be offering this technology because the agency can not only provide the expertise they need on that software, but they also can provide all those other services that client truly needs. So now you can have a price point for the services and a price point for the software.

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Tack on Software to Your Solutions and Reduce Churn Rate

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up agency owners? Jason Swenk here. I have another amazing guest today, where we're going to talk about how can you add more revenue to your agency as well as improve the churn rate of your clients? Because, look, if we lose clients, you know, it's going to be harder to scale your agency. But it’s going to be a lot of fun episode. Let's go ahead and get into it.

Hey, Sean, welcome to the show.

Shaun: [00:00:34] Hey, thanks for having me, Jason. It's great to be here.

Jason: [00:00:36] Yeah, I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what you do?

Shaun: [00:00:40] Yeah, absolutely. So I'm Shaun, I'm a co-founder and CEO of a company called HighLevel. Um, so we work with over 10,000 marketing agencies and we have a software platform that's sort of a combination of marketing automation, CRM, uh, calendaring. Pretty much every, uh, sort of, if you're stitching together six or seven different apps for your agency, we kind of bring them all together into one platform.

So that's, that's kind of what we do.

Jason: [00:01:03] Nice. Awesome. Well, let's go ahead and jump into it. Let's talk about how can agencies and implove…? Implove? Did I make up a new word? I think I made up a new word. How can… It's been a long day. How can they improve their churn rate?

Shaun: [00:01:21] Yeah. So, um, I think that we've, you know, working with so many agencies now, what we've discovered is churn is often a function of, uh, of, of price point.

You know, if you're working with a lot of small businesses and you're trying to run on a retainer model, for example, and you're charging thousands of dollars, every month. What we find is no matter how great of a job you do, oftentimes the client just can't get over this perceptional problem of, hey, wait a second, two or $3,000 a month is a lot of money to us.

And so what we did at HighLevel is that we looked at all of the different companies that are out there serving the same space. And we looked at it from a software angle, cause that’s the kind of people we are. What we realized is there's this massive opportunity out there for agencies to tack on software, to what they're already doing.

What I mean by this is if you think about the types of tools that exist out there. And it could be, there's like the Podiums of the world, the Bird Eyes of the world. These are functions like reputation management, two-way text messaging, all of this stuff. Imagine that you tomorrow could add a $300 a month software-only product to what you're doing.

And you would, you would very quickly find that as an agency, you're going to be able to sell this into your existing client base. So if, and when they decide that they're no longer going to be using your services because they're, they can't get over that price point issue, you're not going to lose them as a customer. And then you're going to add a $300 a month recurring software product to your revenue stream. And the effect is really simple.

Let's say I'm running Facebook ads for you as the dentist office, and I'm running the software and I've got the Facebook ad service. And I decided, you know, those Facebook ads, I'm not sure they're kind of expensive. Let's quote unquote, pause them, right?

In the past that means like, sorry, Jason. You're a nice guy, but we're going to have to fire you. That’s what that means. But now with the software, the software is incredibly sticky. So what it turns out is that the Facebook ads still get turned off.

But then two months later that when they realize how silly they were doing that, and they watch all their leads fly out the door and vanish, they'll go. They'll just call you back up and turn it back on. Because they didn't let you go as a vendor, they don't have to feel so bad coming back to you. So it's an incredibly good way to add revenue to the agency and reduce churn kind of all in one step.

Jason: [00:03:31] What um…? When we were running our agency, we created our own CMS system. Long time ago before, uh, WordPress and all of these. And one of our selling propositions back then was, hey, you can manage your own website on our unique platform because there's no one really doing it. And it really did create such a stickiness where even if they wanted someone else to design the website, they would lose that functionality.

And it was just such a huge, like, like we would hardly lose any clients because they knew they were going to lose that functionality. And they'd have to pay thousands of dollars to some other agency to manage all the changes that they're actually doing. Um, and so it just made it really sticky. And I found, you know, over the years, too, of looking at some of our clients of our mastermind members. When they're able to find tools and software and case it into their offering, a lot of times I tell them don't like, especially if they're white labeling and I think what you guys do, I'm like…

Siri: [00:04:41] I’m not sure about that.

Jason: [00:04:44] Siri is talking to me. I don't know. It’s not, Siri. I can't say her name from Jeff Visa's company, but weird. But, uh, she actually agrees with me. But, um, what, uh, what I've found is just like, don't tell them who you're using and it just creates a really sticky and be like, hey, if you leave...

Shaun: [00:05:07] Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I really think this is the future of agencies.

So if you think about it from a practical sense, you know, if you're the dentist, the doctor, the whatever, you, you want somebody to help you market and grow your business, right? And if we're realistic about it that means that there's going to be services that need to come in and help with that. But there also needs to be technology.

And today, if you think about how this is offered, that small business owner has to kind of like go find you as an agency or you have to find them. Then they have to go off and find software and they have to try to glue it all together. It's a real pain in the neck and all this time, they're also trying to like run a business, right?

And oftentimes operate that business because they tend to be the people doing the thing, whatever that may be. So as an agency, imagine tomorrow you could walk in and say, hey, listen, we have all the services you need. We have all the technology you need all in one spot. So you don't need anything else outside of my agency, right?

And you have, you have a price point on the software side and you have a price point on the services side. I think you're going to find that those small business owners breathe a big sigh of relief and are thankful that you're there. Because now they don't have to go off and figure this all out for themselves, which what they already weren't doing very well.

And it's only getting harder every day. As we know technology on the marketing side only continues to expand and get bigger.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:06:17] Yeah. There's I mean, there's the easier that you can make it for your customer and your clients the better. Because that's what they're really coming to you for. Look, I think all clients can figure out what you're doing, right?

Like you figured it out, so they should be able to figure out. But it's just saving them time and saving them the hassle. So if you can make it really easy to be like, look, I got you covered here, here, and here. They’d be like, great. Cause a lot of agents like, like you were saying, they come in and saying, uh, you know, hey, you need this tool, this tool, this tool go here, go here, go here.

And then it, and then it's just so it's like, I'm overwhelmed, man. Like you've lost me.

Shaun: [00:06:58] Well, totally. And in fact, this is how we got started. You know, when we first started working with agencies, um, and we see this still everyday today, it's hey, what are you currently using your agency? Well, I'm using this over here for calendaring and this over here to build a funnel and this over here for my CRM and this over here for my analytics.

And it's like, okay, great. Well, what if we gave you an app that it took all of those functions and put them on one spot? So that was kind of where we got started and that's how we got to 10,000 agencies. They're like, oh my gosh, that'd be amazing. I could see it through Zapier. It's all in one spot.

And then what we realized is, wait a second. If we, if we look at the agency's customer, they have that exact same issue, right? It's like, oh, well, uh, I have, you know, I have this text messaging platform and I have the CRM platform and I have this website over here. And now you're coming in as an agency to help me. And I need you to learn all this stuff as well.

Um, and it's like, wait a second. What if the agency could come in and say, look, we have an end-to-end solution. And these are for things that every business needs, like, think about it two way, text messaging, Google my business messaging, web chat, um, you know, reputation management, text to pay. Like these are the types of technologies every small business will have.

It will be table stakes five years from now. And my position is the agency is the best person to come in and provide that solution. Not some venture-backed software startup calling, you know, calling their phone day and night, trying to get them on a demo. It should be the agency, because the agency can not only provide the expertise they need on that software, but they also can provide all those other services that the actual small business owner truly needs.

If we're talking about a 360-degree view on what they need to grow and market their business.

Jason: [00:08:26] Yeah. And the, and the more that you control the strategy and the software and the implementation, you just really surrounding that account. Um, and especially if you're going after small business. Because like, if you're going after enterprise-level like I understand like it's, it's totally different.

Or if you're going after bigger clients, totally different. But if you're going after small business, they want a very simple. They want one bill. They really want to just be like, hey, I want more leads or I want more sales. Like, can you help me with that? Like, yeah, we can do it all.

Shaun: [00:09:02] Exactly. And that, and that is the idea, you know, and you, and honestly, as an agency, you need that, right?

So like, where we got started with HighLevel is we're working all these people generating leads and they're putting them on spreadsheets. They're handing it to their customers and their customers are like, what the heck is this? These aren't, this isn't what I wanted. I wanted more business. I wanted more people buying.

Well, turns out the problem is clients don't follow up with leads. So HighLevel automated the entire lead follow-up process. And that is what really fundamentally changed the game for anybody running Facebook ads or Google ads. And so this is what your clients need, right? They need a system where they can bring it in. It does everything they need end to end.

And the great thing is that they have a problem or a question or an issue they can lean back on you as the agency, as the expert, right? Because a lot of these questions, aren't just technical. They're also strategic and you're the best person to answer those question questions. You're the best person to help them with those issues.

So I think being the one-stop-shop, you get more revenue and you, you gain a lot of expertise dominance, and they're like, oh great. Why would I ever get rid of this person? They're amazing. They provide all the tools I need and all the service I need in one spot.

Jason: [00:10:08] Yeah. That's awesome. Well, this has all been amazing, Shaun, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience for increasing their, uh, or decreasing their churn rate? We don't want to increase it.

Shaun: [00:10:22] Well, I think that just trying to find ways to create these, to put systems in place for your customers and make it really slimline and easy and scalable for you as an agency. Those are the ways that you're going to win because you don't, you don't want to be running all around all over the place, learning six or seven different tools.

Trying to learn your clients tools. You need to come in as an expert and say, hey, listen, we solve the problem you need solved. And these are the tools we do, we use on the job. Um, so that's why you're hiring us. You're not hiring us to learn your tools that you're hiring us to solve a problem. And that's what we do.

Jason: [00:10:54] Awesome. Tell us a little bit more about HighLevel. You know, briefly about, you know, how you guys take, you know, kind of an all-in-one solution and how it works for agencies and then tell us the special URL and, um…

Shaun: [00:11:08] yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, so HighLevel is awesome because we only sell to marketing agencies. That's the only people we sell to.

So as a result, it's all white label out of the get-go. So you get your own URL, you get your own, you know, all of your own branding. Um, we even have custom white-label, mobile apps. So all of a sudden, imagine tomorrow as an agency, you could be like, oh yeah. And just pull out your iPhone there and go to the app market and you can download our mobile app and you can do two-way texting with your clients and contact management and CRM.

It's a pretty powerful offering. Um, and then, so, um, and then as I wanted to put out a special offer here, if you go to gohighlevel.com/swenk. You will find that you get a special offer for signing up by listening to this podcast. Um, and so definitely go check that out. It's gohighlevel.com/swenk.

Jason: [00:11:54] Awesome. Well, everybody go check it out. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Um, but you know, it is, you know, if you can combine technology with the strategy and the limitation, it really connects that small business market to you. And it really can't go anywhere, which is always pretty nice. And that's how you can decrease your churn and really keep and grow those accounts.

And then if you ever do get to a point where you do have the opportunity to sell your agency, you can be like, hey, we don't lose that many clients. So…

Shaun: [00:12:26] And you’ll have that revenue stream that just grows every month instead of coming up, going up and down so much.

Jason: [00:12:31] Exactly. So go to a highlevel.com/swenk and until next time…

Shaun: [00:12:36] gohighlevel.com/swenk.

Jason: [00:12:39] And until next time, Have a Swenk day.

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

How can agencies prove value to their clients and eventually charge more? That's the solution Paul Deraval offers in this episode about founding NinjaCat. After entering the agency world later in his career as a software developer and finding the competition was everywhere, Paul shifted his focus. As Paul says: Who makes money in a gold rush? It's the guy selling the pickax." So he decided to offer his unique data reporting technology to agencies and created Ninja Cat in 2014. They are a digital marketing performance management platform built for agencies, media companies, and brands and help agencies create a . He joins the podcast today to talk about how agencies can prove their value to retain customers and the benefits of having automated reporting.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The crack in the fortress. Paul found that many agencies were using big black box algorithm platforms for reporting capability that was very limited in scope. Not really designed for that use. And paying a ton of money for it. He decided to focus his business on solving this problem and be the best in the world at helping agencies prove their value to clients by knocking their client reports out of the park.
  2. Deliver a story. Know your clients and know their appetite for data. More data isn’t always better. So, before delivering an 80-page report that they may not even read, ask what they would like to know and then deliver to them on a silver platter a data story that says here's what we did for you, here's the impact that had on your business. And don’t forget to be clear on the point “here’s why you should continue to do business with us.”
  3. Focus on the meaningful. What do agencies get from using Ninja Cat for their client reports? They get to focus on the meaningful instead of the monotonous. Instead of data chaos and data wrangling and client reporting they automate that process and spend more time actually optimizing campaigns and building client relationships.

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Using Data Reporting to Tell the Story of Your Agency's Value

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Got another great, amazing podcast interview coming right up. This guest has a really interesting story and we're going to talk about how can you really prove your value, prove your worth, your ROI? So you can actually charge more and hold onto your clients better. Because a lot of times, if you don't know the value your clients don't know the value and you're probably not going to hold onto them.

So let's go ahead and jump into the episode.

Hey, Paul. Welcome back to the show.

Paul: [00:00:36] Hey, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:37] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. So, uh, tell us who you are and, uh, tell us a little bit about your background.

Paul: [00:00:45] Yeah, sure. Uh, my name is Paul Deraval. Um, currently I'm the CEO and co-founder of a company called Ninja Cat. We help, uh, large scale agencies and media companies prove value to their customers through, um, automated and highly effective, um, data stories as we call it dashboards as well as, uh, automated PowerPoints and PDFs that really help you as an agency prove value to your customers.

Jason: [00:01:11] Awesome. Very cool. And so tell us, how did you come about starting this? And, you know, I know it's an interesting story.

Paul: [00:01:21] Yeah. So, long story short. Um, my background is a software entrepreneur. Prior to this, built a SAS company called uh, Easy Facility, an all-in-one platform for health and fitness clubs, like a YMCA or yoga studio. The one tool you needed to get all your different jobs done from member payments to personal trainers, scheduling, mobile apps. Everything. Very big product.

Um, was fortunate enough in, did that from 2003 to 2009, uh, when we got acquired, and that, enabled me to do some angel investing. And, uh, one of the investments I made through a, a referral from a, a family friend was, uh, to two brothers starting, um, a digital marketing agency primarily focused on auto dealers.

Uh, I'm a software entrepreneur and was looking to make software investments. I was like, ah, you know, I don't understand the agency business. Um, you know, really shouldn't invest in what you don't know, but, I'll take the meeting.

Um, but what caught my eye during the meeting was, uh, a digital marketing agency focused on auto dealers, but had their own unique selling proposition, which was two parts. One was an ad creation technology that would scrape an auto dealer’s website, find out what inventory they had in real-time. Take that 2010 Honda civic and create a Google ad for it and take it down when the, when the, um, car was removed from the site.

I thought that was pretty nifty. Um, and another component of some technology that they built to help them differentiate was, uh, some really nice reporting dashboards. Uh, that basically offered transparency to these auto dealers. Showing them exactly here's where your dollars are going and here is here's the impact it's having, right?

Here's how many map views it’s driving, how many phone calls it's driving. Um, so that got me excited to the point where I said, all right, I don't understand the agency business, but, um, I'll make a small bet. Um, from there, the agency for about two years, uh, they grew, it was a boutique agency with, with a handful of clients and just run, run by two brothers.

Um, the things that we learned in that journey of those first two years was a couple of things. Some of the challenges we faced, uh, was one the segment we were serving, um, back then around at that time that the 2011, 2012 was, you know, customer education. Working with auto dealers in the Northeast who were, you know, more traditional used to advertising in print and, uh, you know, radio and TV.

And convincing them they should be putting dollars into Google and Facebook, uh, was one thing. Then the harder problem was convincing them to do it again, right? Retain, expand, and spend more on these digital marketing channels.

So, um, we, we were making progress, and definitely, our unique technology helped us. Uh, but another challenge we faced was, um, that was pulling us back it's just how competitive, um, we, we found ourselves in the markets that we were in. And so many agencies out there, right? From, you’ve got your enterprise agencies, your mid-market. And then you have your solopreneurs out there, you know, slinging, PPC, SEO services, some very qualified and some very unqualified.

And we were battling all of them and would just go walk into a dealer or for cheaper clicks. The dealers wouldn't know what that meant. And then there was a battle to like, retain that customer. So it was okay. It just wasn't going, it didn't seem like it was on a trajectory to scale into anything, um, meaningful of an agency.

Thankfully, um, around the end of 2013, a competitive agency actually was trying to push one of our auto dealer clients. And, uh, our clients show them the dashboards that we were providing to them. Um, and that agency, uh, actually came to our team and said, hey, would you ever consider white labeling those dashboards? Um, I've seen them, you know, I'm in the business, but have you ever thought about that?

The team came to me and said Paul, what do you think? And that was really, uh, one of those true light bulb moments for me. It was like kind of everything going on at once. Like what's our challenges here, right? One of our biggest challenges is, um, that the agency space is, is so competitive, right. And we're fighting with, with everybody out there and the thought was all right, well, we have this unique technology, this reporting ad creation.

Who makes money in a gold rush, right? It's it's the gal or the guy selling the pickax. So instead of fighting with everybody, what if we became the arms dealer, right? And sold our unique technology to the agencies out there, giving them a chance to, to compete, uh, and thrive.

So, um, I got really excited about that thesis, went home, uh, executed a textbook execution of a lean market validation experiment. Created an Unbounce landing page. I just tested the reporting first, automated reporting from the ad creation. While it was cool, it really wasn't delivering on all the promises of some of that, um, you know, automated ad creation. So I wanted to test out the value prop of, you know, automating report improved value to your customers.

One week I came up with a ridiculous name. Created the Unbounce page, uh, got the leads. And then I just did a bunch of discovery calls and found out where the market was being underserved. And what I kept hearing was like, the Acquisios, the Marins, these big black box algorithm platforms helped automate. But the biggest challenge I kept hearing was they were using those platforms for the reporting capability.

You know, they weren't so much delivering on some of the promises of campaign automation optimization. But they were not… they were still paying for those tools, using it for reporting capability that was super limited in scope, not really designed for that use case. And paying a ton of money for it, like a large percentage of their media spend.

So I was like, wow, there's, there's an exciting opportunity here. There's a crack in the fortress, right? For somebody to come in here and focus on a specific problem, be the best in the world at helping agencies prove their value, uh, to, to clients by just knocking client report out of the park. And then from there, there's a grander vision of helping them take over some of the other jobs from reporting to monitoring, to contribution and such.

And we've grown since, but that's, uh, I just made a long story longer. But that's, uh, that's our founding story of Ninja Cat. So we've been at it since 2014. Uh, we pivoted, I came on as CEO. After that experiment, we, we sold off some of those customers and have been, uh, just running, running for that sense.

Jason: [00:07:37] So I, I love that story. And I do believe that, you know, proving your worth is showing your clients reports. Now, one of the challenges I've seen over in, in the past is, you know, you're… You know, we've all had these clients, like you're giving them amazing results and then they come to you and they're like, I'm switching. And you're like, what the heck?

Right? And you're like, I've been sending you reports. And they're like, well, and what I've seen is they'll check out the report for the first week and then they'll ignore the rest. So what's the best way that you've seen agencies present the reports? Or how do you, how do they, how does, how does the client understand the reports and the first off?

Cause a lot of times I've seen I've, I've seen reports from a lot of different tools and I'm like, man, I'm confused. So, what have you seen work for agencies? You know, that are using your platform for really kind of showing the client the value and then really taking it up a notch?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Paul: [00:08:46] Sure. So some general things, uh, we've seen and we've done to help our customers elevate their client reporting so that they can achieve the objective of a better proving value. So they can retain and expand within those customers. I'd say the ingredients, the key ingredients is like… First and foremost, I would say, know your audience, right? Um, know their appetite for data, right?

Uh, and then deliver it to them on a silver platter a data story that says here's what we did for you. Here's the impact that had on your business. And here's why you should not only continue doing business with us. But here's why you should do more business with us.

Look at all these opportunities. High-performing campaigns limited by budget, whatever it might be. So it is not a one size fits all solution, but I think those ingredients of like knowing your audience and their appetite for data and delivering on a silver platter.

And if I, if I break that down, what does that actually translate into from like best practices is. You know, um, everyone thinks dashboards first for client reporting because we're data geeks, right? We love dashboards. They’re sexy. They're cool. I can access them on my mobile phones, whatever. We've been doing this since 2014 and we have stunning dashboards. Like you can recreate any dashboard on our product.

One of our first finding than we thought we were screwed as a company, cause we started off dashboard-only, was like, oh my God, less than 10% of clients ever logged into these dashboards on a given month. We're screwed. We can't sell this, right? We're selling snake oil. You shouldn’t be doing reporting dashboards.

So I think that's a reality. I think even Google is this data studio blog post published something similar. Like, you know, 10% of clients or something, uh, on average, uh, ever log into dashboards, right?

So, one, it's a mix dashboards are critical and kind of table stakes. They offer a sense of comfort and transparency that I can access my data whenever I want and see where my dollars are going and you're not doing anything shady.

But the reality is while you might be able to win them with a dashboard. With the transparency and building that trust that's so essential to any client relationship. To truly then retain and expand it's that deliver on a silver platter, right? It’s push methodology versus a pull methodology. Which means a push report, some form of a PDF or PowerPoint or web presentation that is less dashboardy, right?

Dashboardy is more kind of exploratory. Like data vomit, as I call it, meters and gauges and stick your clients into that and they'll probably misinterpret that data, which I think is one of the big problems. So you give them a dashboard with meters, gauges, data vomit, leave it up to them, to interpret the data for you. To say that you're doing a good job for them. And, you know, probably at least eight times out of 10, they're going to misinterpret that data, uh, in that data vomit. And it's not doing you any, any justice.

So it's finding that balance of a dashboard that gives comfort and transparency mixed with on a silver platter, a data story that covers those bullet points. As I said earlier, here's what we did and why you should continue doing business with us and more.

And it looks different, right? As an agency, you got to figure it out. You might have different, um, sizes of clients. We have some agencies and media companies that have thousands of very small span clients. And you've got to invest the appropriate amount of time to your client reporting for that segment versus your, your high spend, you know, uh, enterprise clients, right?

And what we've seen is you need to automate on the low end, right? But make it feel high touch. If it's just a dashboard and expect them to log in, that doesn't feel as high touch as I can log into a dashboard. Oh, and I also get this beautiful weekly, monthly PDF or PowerPoint with a very digestible story.

And then at the high end, right? Walk your customers through it. Or at a bare minimum, don't just send a report. Like in Ninja Cat, and I'm sure you do this and other products, we have workflows that is either set it and forget it, fully automated. Or set up a don't forget it, where the teams can come in at the agency, look at the data and then add their insights, their recommendations, and next actions. And then send it to the client.

So those are just some of the best practices. Don't lean… My first biggest suggestion, be aware of data vomit, right? Uh, to be aware of dashboards as your primary, medium of communicating value to your customers. When statistics just over overwhelmingly show that, you know, they hired an agency because they want it to be white glove full service.

Don't make them go find the data and expect them to tell you why they should continue doing business with you. You need to be the one telling your customers why they should be continuing to do business with you.

Jason: [00:13:09] Yeah. Yeah. I love that you said you got to know your audience too, right? Like really read them and be like, is this person really analytical? Is this person visual? Does this person just be like, I just care about the results. I don't care about how you do it. Just go do it. Or like, you know, do they want to know all the details?

Like I think that's so important. A lot of people skip that. And you should really concentrate on that, on the onboarding process of your clients.

Like, because I had a, we have our digital agency experience, which is at our house in Durango where our mastermind members come in. And I had, um, a keynote speaker come in, Joey Coleman and he talks about how the first hundred days is the most important if you're going to keep this client for a long time or not.

And if you could put that in your onboarding process and really figure out that, like, do you want to know all the intimate details that we're doing? Do you just want to know the results? Like how do you want me to show you that we're working for you? And I think if you just do that, then you could use a cool tool, like Ninja Cat, where. You know, if they want just a basic report, automate the crap out of it, or if they want to meet every week. Okay. Do that. You know, whatever it is.

I think that's so important that I think too many of us miss. We have a huge tool.

Paul: [00:14:29] One hundred percent. Yeah. That's that's, it's like a report should have, yeah, layers to it, like an executive layer, more strategic layer than a more tactical. And if you're excited about that tactical, but your, your audience isn't, you show up to a meeting and you start overwhelming them with the details. You know, and, and they are like CML or somebody that's high level that doesn't care. They're not actually paying attention to the thing they cared about the most.

Why did I spend time on that executive-level first page thing when I should have spent time on the first page? Did I sell more cars? Yes or no? Uh, should I continue doing this? Yes or no. Don't spend an hour talking about negative keywords with me if I don't care about that, right?

So, uh, more data isn't always better, and it really…  Just ask the customer, what is the best way? What, what level of detail do you want? Uh, and then just, you know, deliver that to them.

Jason: [00:15:13] Yeah. Well, I think we covered a lot of the mistakes. Did we miss any mistakes that agencies do with reporting and upselling and growing those accounts or keeping them?

Paul: [00:15:25] No, and just… you know, aggregation. Um, it's a really important thing, right? Is, uh, looking at things, making sure you aggregate. I know it's hard, uh, when you have so many different channels. But making sure you really nail that, um, executive layer of a report, that should be the, the answer to the question that they're, they're seeking. The so what. And then backed up by the, the details under it.

But, um, we've seen that too common and it's like, wait, you're giving your client this 80-page report?

Jason: [00:15:49] Oh, my God. Oh, that hurts my head just thinking about it.

Paul: [00:15:52] Really, really. I, I, no. We, we've had a hundred plus, uh, and some of our clients today still do it. But you know what? They're actually, to your earlier point, my earlier point, there are some audiences that need and want the hundred-plus page report, right?

Because they need to see the data broken out. Hospital system by department, by all these different things. If that's what they need, that's what you should deliver to them. So it's not a don't ever give a hundred page report. It's, it's know your audience, but, uh, tell that holistic the holistic story, right?

I think when you, you can't fill in the blanks and you show up to a call. And you can't connect, you know how all these different channels are impacting other channels. It's not as good as if you can, clearly. So do your best, find tools, solutions that can really allow you to tell that holistic story and show how every channel impacts, um, each other, even channels that you might not manage, right?

Like, why am I ads not performing? Well, look at your reviews, like your reviews on Google. If people saw your reviews, they people probably aren't clicking on your ads. So what impact are your reviews having on your, on your adwords performance?

Jason: [00:16:50] That's awesome. Well, Paul, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience before we tell them about where to go?

Paul: [00:17:00] Uh, geez. Good question. Um, that you didn't ask. No, I mean, that's… I think that's, uh, uh, I think we covered at least what we're most used to helping agencies, right? There's lots of jobs to be done. But, you know, the thing where we've focused on being the best in the world that is helping prove value through your client report.

And I think we hit a, at least the, the cliff notes and hopefully there's a couple of actionable takeaways that everyone got out of this.

Jason: [00:17:27] Awesome. Uh, where can people go to learn more about Ninja Cat?

Paul: [00:17:32] Yeah. So, uh, we have a dedicated landing page for, for this podcast. Uh, you can go to ninjacat.io/masterclass.

Jason: [00:17:42] Awesome. And, uh, and tell us, what's the number one thing agencies love once they switch over to you guys?

Paul: [00:17:52] Uh, that they can focus on the meaningful instead of the monotonous, right? So, instead of data chaos and data wrangling and client reporting. When you can automate that at an effective level then that's meaningful. Really, let's spend more time actually optimizing campaigns and building client relationships.

But when you don't have automated reporting and you spend 60 to 70% of your time, which we've seen is common, right? On client reporting because you need to do it. Well, what if you can automate that? What then will you do with that time shifted from, from the monotonous to the meaningful and, and see what impact that has?

Jason: [00:18:32] Awesome. Well, Paul, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. We really do enjoy. And, uh, for all of you guys that want to really improve the value that you're doing and really streamline the reporting and just be able to run a better agency. I want you guys to all go to ninjacat.io/masterclass. Go do that now.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Vasa Martinez is the founder and CEO of Growthbuster, a remote marketing agency that has helped food and beverage brands reach new heights with community, creative, and innovation. After years of CPG experience working with many brands, Vasa started building his own company focused on the outsourced marketing department. Today he joins us to talk about his experience with brands, how he positioned his agency as the solution clients need, and why you need to follow your north star.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Bet on yourself. A lot of times a company might be really attached to “vanity metrics” and turn to buying followers. This is a really ineffective measure, as they usually find out when they hire an expert. Trying to steer clients away from shady practices like bots or buying clients, this company started making bets that they would grow their social media in four months. Trusting their methods has helped them win many of those bets.
  2. Follow your North Star. As a rule, Vasa and his team make it a point to work with companies that are solving a problem in the world. This aligns with their core value of “human first, business second”. That has led to saying no to brands that could bring in a lot of revenue but don’t really fit with the agency's values. For his part, Vasa says their north star is not growth if it comes at the cost of his values or his team’s mental health.
  3. Don’t compromise your team’s mental health. This is a very demanding industry but running a solvent business, working with some really cool brands, and scaling your agency shouldn’t come at the cost of your team’s mental health. Respect people’s rest time. As agency owners, we sometimes end up working weird hours but don’t expect everyone on your team to do the same.

Follow Your North Star and Position Your Agency as a Solution

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up everybody? Jason Swenk here, and I'm excited to have another really good episode, a really amazing guest. He's going to talk about how did they position their agency as an outside marketing solution for companies coming in.

So let's go ahead and jump into the show.

All right, Vasa. What's going on, man?

Vasa: [00:00:25] What's up. What's up? How are you?

Jason: [00:00:27] I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?

Vasa: [00:00:30] My name it's Vasa Martinez. I'm the founder and CEO of Growthbuster, an outsourced marketing department. I'm also the CMO of Outer Aisle, which is a food brand that creates cauliflower sandwiches and pizza crust.

Jason: [00:00:43] Very cool. And so with the agency, how'd you get your start? Why did you guys jump into this world?

Vasa: [00:00:48] Well, I found that I had some ideas that I wanted to see brought to life, and working as an employee wasn't the best way to do that. So in the back half of 2017, I started consulting rather than being a full-time employee.

And that turns into, uh, you know. At the beginning of 2018, I incorporated what became Growthbuster and started building from there.

Jason: [00:01:06] Awesome. And talk about kind of, why did you choose to kind of position? Or why are you guys going after the outsource marketing department?

Vasa: [00:01:17] For me, it's, it's nice to have a group of specialists and a group of generalists all on the same team when we work with different brands.

I’m typically running point on, on the account. So we never pass it off to an account manager that's just out of college or anything like that. So having that team behind you, that support, is the most helpful. You know, having the graphic designer or having, you know, an email marketer or a copywriter, uh, rather than just focusing on being a paid agency or a social media marketing agency.

It just wasn't enough for me and part of it was, you know, I treat GB as a CPG company. We work mostly with CPG companies, food and beverage, and I was listening to a lot of our potential clients, what they wanted. And wherever we could, we solely tacked on, you know, those, those resources.

Jason: [00:02:00] So, how do you position yourself different than all the other agencies out there?

Vasa: [00:02:04] Well, I don't really look at too many other agencies, to be honest. I, I focus on what we do and what we do best. Um, you know what my background is at Quest Nutrition and creative and community was one of our main focuses in the marketing department. We also, you know, as my first stint in marketing, I left a previous industry. Really enjoyed it, and we had our own creative department as well.

So we never worked with any agencies. So I've kind of learned like the project management systems, you know, all the copywriting, everything as a generalist at first. And I went into content marketing for one of the arms. That's kind of why we went in that direction, is simply because it's what I started with. It was nice to have and I love it.

Jason: [00:02:40] Very cool. And so what are some things that really you guys do really well that you've figured out over the past couple of years of running the agency?

Vasa: [00:02:50] So we've always been known for our creative. Uh, we work with a couple awesome brands like Magic Spoon.

In the past, we've worked with just some of the coolest CPG challenger brands out there. So we're definitely known for our creative. But early on we used to be known for how quickly we can escalate social growth. We don't buy followers, we don't use bots. We don't do anything shady like that. So we would literally have bets with new clients that we would double their social within the first four months, one month onboarding three-month execution.

And we won a lot of bets that way. Since then, you know, everything's always changing on IG and Facebook. So we've really made adjustments and evolved along the way. So, um, back then, community and creative, 100% we were known for, we still are, but since the pandemic, we really dove into our innovation department.

What that is, is basically acquisition and retention with an emphasis on SMS.

Jason: [00:03:37] So when you would go to your clients and you would bet them, hey, we can double this. What were some of the things that you did that would help get more engagement, double their, you know, numbers and all that?

Vasa: [00:03:50] I can think of one good example. And we're still currently with them three years later and that's Outer Aisle. They have 18,000 followers when we first started and 93% of them were in Rio de Janeiro. Interesting part there, is that Outer Aisle doesn’t ship to Rio de Janeiro. And we really had to displace those followers that cannot be buyers and bring in a lot of folks who could be buyers.

So what we did was run our playbook on the content marketing, identifying what the RTBs are, our reasons to believe. For Outer Aisle that’s low-carb, gluten-free, grain-free bread that's delicious. And easy. So, and it's virtually of pretty much anything.

So the goal of ours was trial. Our influencer funnel, we work on just constant trial. We call it targeted trial. And from there, we bring them down the funnel to five different ways to win. That's, you know, sentiment. What do they think about the product? They hate it. Hey, thanks. We'll see you later. They love it. Well, what else can we do together? Can we send you more? Um, do you want to be an affiliate? You want to be activated for our next paid campaign and retail rollout? Uh, do you want to be an ambassador?

Things like that. So the trial, like product in mouth, was 100% a main focus for us. Um, really honing in on what the messaging was at that time. It was a little bit different. We did a rebrand in 2019 and the messaging at that point, was always focused on low carb, grain-free gluten-free. That's what people care about.

And we focus our influencer efforts there. People started seeing it. We started attracting the social proof using that on the back end, using that in ads.

The other component of that was, um, brand partnerships. We worked with a lot of different low carb keto brands, grain-free brands. And what we did was by, I think it was, was actually like two months that we doubled out their following from 18 to 36K. And when we looked at the displacement where the original was 93%. It was now closer to 40, 50%. And at this point today it's 93% US for the 142,000 followers.

Jason: [00:05:38] Oh, wow. Yeah. You know, not too long ago or maybe, maybe this? I don't know. I keep losing track of time.

Two years ago, I had Facebook reach out and was like, hey, we're reaching out to influencers in this space that we want to grow your account. I was like, sure, you can grow it. And the next thing I knew, I had like 40,000 more whatever likes on Facebook. And then I started looking at the names and I'm like, what is going on?

It was all like, I couldn't even pronounce the names and I couldn't believe Facebook would do something like that. And so, yeah, that kind of perked me. I really like your, your strategy of how, uh, how you've grown it.

Vasa: [00:06:18] Yeah. The tough part about that too, is what stakeholders don't realize. And we don't work with brands that buy followers or have bought followers.

We've done it in the past. We've literally switched their accounts and started fresh. What they don't realize is that what to them is a vanity metric like, oh, investors need to see a hundred thousand followers or my peers need to see a hundred thousand followers and know I'm legit. When you start passing your accounts off to a paid agency and they, they believe that these are real. There's not much for them to work with.

But on top of that, let's just say that they’re, they make it look like audience for engagers and you just bought engagement. They're making it look like audience of people that are ghosts that just don't exist. So, um, that's one thing that people don't realize when you, when you tell them, hey, you're wasting money and this is why then they're like, oh, buying followers isn’t that cool.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:07:05] Oh, yeah, definitely. Well, I'm still trying to, I'm so complexed at what Facebook did. I'm sure they probably outsourced it to someone to do that, but I kind of laugh. I kind of leave it because everybody kind of uses me as the lookalike audience. I'm like, oh, you're going to target to the wrong people, suckers!

Vasa: [00:07:22] Yeah. That's very true.

Jason: [00:07:25] Awesome. Well, what's your guys' North Star? Like what, what really kind of drives the agency for, uh, you know, getting to the next step?

Vasa: [00:07:33] Yeah. So our north star is being human first business, business second. Always has been, always will be.

There's a lot of times in my history where my career, where ethics, weren't the number one thing that I've come across. So for me, I learned a lot about how to be from learning and watching people and seeing how I don't want to be. So that's how I run the agency.

What our north star is, it's not necessarily growth. Yeah. Growth is nice, you know, to be a $10 million agency instead of one half for 2 million. Yeah. That's great. But at what cost? You know, employee, um, mental health is important to me. Like we worked 40 hour weeks. I never had hit people up on the weekends. My, my signature literally says, hey, I work weird hours. If you see this at the time, when you're not working, just reach out to me when you are working, don't think about responding to it.

So for me, the north star is running a solvent business, working with some really cool brands and not sacrificing employee's health as a result, I can tell you this, I didn't look like this when I first started GB. So I I'm like the first-hand experience of what I don't want my employees to feel like or turn into.

But at the end of the day, you know, another, another north star of ours is, uh, we don't work with brands that don't solve a problem. We've said no to a lot of brands that, yeah, we could have done so much more in revenue. But we love working with brands that are solving a problem for people.

And that really starts, again, going back to my experience at Quest Nutrition, we solved the problem there. Not me personally, but it was solved before I got there. And that was creating a bar that was actually good for you. And we've turned down lucrative offers with brands where they just weren't as… we'll say, just their north start was a bit skewed, you know, there's ingredients in there that, that weren't very good.

So that's our second north star is working with brands, helping brands grow that are really solving a food problem.

Jason: [00:09:18] Did you start off that way? Because a lot of times it's hard to, you know, especially when you're getting, getting started of go or really kind of figure out who you actually want to go after, right? To gain that clarity.

So what were some things that did you just take your past experiences at sound like, and be like, I don't want to do this, this, this, and kind of process of elimination, to figure out the north star?

Vasa: [00:09:40] Well, yeah, so I working with, with a low carb company and… My last role at that company was senior influencer marketing manager. So I had a lot of relationships that influenced the world, brands that were reaching out or, you know. Once I left, um, you know, there was another, vegan low-carb protein bar that reached out. Consulted for them for a little bit, a low-carb vegan chip reached out.

So having the experience with the product, but also the influencers I would reach out to. Couple that with being a one-man show then. And also having just a really focused laser precision on I'll help run, you know, like social and I'll run an influencer, I'll put the content calendar together, um, and we'll grow your social.

Those are the really like the box that I put myself in as a consultant. As we've grown and as I've grown, I'm working more as like the outsourced CMO, whereas my team serves as the department. So, um, how I worked with those brands is just... Again, I, I picked and choose. There was, I think my first two brands were those, no carb, but they were called Dee's naturals back then, K Shake, which is a keto shake. And they were all very second nature to me because I was just working on all of those products at the time I was there.

Jason: [00:10:47] Very cool. And when you started, you know, obviously when you were, when you started, it was just you, so how'd, you decide who to hire as you were growing?

Vasa: [00:10:59] Yeah. So I worked with a couple of freelancers at the time I brought on one of my other closest friends. He was freelancing and just helped me out with influencer, what we call influencer partnerships. Organizing the influencer calendar. His name's Simon.

But the first, first hire hire was my friend, Danny, who I brought on his VP of growth. And he helped Halo Top really hit that next level as a unicorn. And that was a really intentional choice because I needed another me in the field.

He was previously an engineer before he got into marketing. So he has that engineer mind where he can really set the structure of things. And that was important to me because it was very complimentary. But we also had similar skill because we literally sat next to each other at quest. So that was the first hire.

Once that happened, you know, the next thing I brought on was a creative director. Maybe it was a bit early, but we quickly started hiring in 2018. We brought on a, a retail marketing manager in 2019, which is different for an agency, you don't typically see those. But when we start working in our innovations, um, tactics, you know, manufacturing, coupons, digital coupons, those sorts of things that all helps.

So bringing on that one, anchor that could support me was the priority.

Jason: [00:12:06] Yeah. I always tell, uh, all the people I'm coaching of like, hey, well, you got to kind of hire based on the things that you're currently doing now that you don't want to do anymore, rather than hire though things that you have no clue about.

I'm like, no, no, no, you'll do that later on. But in the very beginning, you need to replace yourself. Not your exact twin, but you need to replace kind of those smaller things that you're doing, that we all have to do when we're first starting out.

Vasa: [00:12:37] Yeah, a good place for me to be eventually that I'm working towards is really focusing on the finances personnel, some, some higher-level strategy for similar brands, but fully cognizant.

Eventually, I shouldn't be the, the reason that the business kind of runs and stays afloat, you know?

Jason: [00:12:53] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I always tell people, you know, as you're building the business, you're in it. And then, uh, and you're going like the what and the how, and I'm like, no, no, no, no. All you have to do is be like, this is where we're going. And this is the who who's actually going to go do this. Who do I need to hire?

And then that kind of transitions to, you know, working on the business, which then you have that freedom to do what you want. Because I can promise you this, um, we're not all about hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle.

It's like, hustle, have fun hustle, have fun, right? So, uh, and a little bit more in between. So is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit audience?

Vasa: [00:13:36] Not that I can think of.

Jason: [00:13:38] Perfect. Well, what's a website people can go and check you out?

Vasa: [00:13:41] That’s growthbuster.com, www.growthbuster.com. There's no S at the end. Dan Akroyd and all those guys, aren't part of the team.

Um, so that's Growth Buster, singular one word, .com.

Jason: [00:13:56] Well, I was going to be like, hey, we need to create a really good theme song, you know. Because while I was in the agency I wanted to create an app that eventually turned into an iPhone app called Goldberg. The first name was called Chubby Busters. And we used to, we had a theme song that I would sing.

We'd be like, when you're feeling fat and your pants don't fit. Who are you going to call? Chubby Busters. But then we were like, no, one's ever going to say we're going to be with Chubby Busters.

Vasa: [00:14:22] Yeah. That sounds like, that sounds like an agency I would own right now, too.

Jason: [00:14:27] Awesome. Well, go check out the website and, uh, if you guys liked this episode, so, and you want to hear more of it and make sure you actually subscribe so you don't ever miss out on a new episode that we're pumping out all the time for you guys. So you guys can scale faster.

And also, make sure you guys leave us comments or review the podcast that will help us reach more people. And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we're constantly talking about what's the strategies working.

So you can scale your agency faster and not work all the time and have that freedom that you really want. Make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com. That is our exclusive mastermind go there now.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Jason Yormark realized the job stability he always hoped to find behind a desk was waiting for him as an entrepreneur. That's when he decided to take the risk and founded Socialistics, a B2B social media agency. Three and a half years later his agency, based in Seattle, helps tell businesses stories in ways that not only drive audience and engagement; but more importantly, real business results. Today, he joins the podcast to talk about how you should treat your agency, the benefits of long vs. short-term contracts, and more.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Don’t be afraid to disrupt. When Jason started thinking of ways to disrupt and help get his new agency noticed, he thought about offering clients an option that would get rid of something that they typically hate. Long-term contracts came up as something that clients don’t usually love about their experience with marketing agencies, and so he started offering monthly contracts and got good results. In time, many of his clients have opted to change from a monthly contract to a long-term contract.
  2. Treat yourself like a client. A lot of agencies don’t dedicate enough time to building their brand. They get so busy with business development and clients and that it is the first thing to get pushed aside. Building your brand takes time and consistency when it comes to putting out new content, blog posts, social media, etc. Jason’s advice is to make sure that somebody in your team is responsible for treating your business as a client.
  3. You can still outsource if you're doing the content. Are you a good writer, or maybe a natural in front of a mike when it comes to recording a podcast? Great! However, that doesn’t mean that you have to take care of every step of the process. Get an SEO editor or a video editor that will take on the heavy lifting. This way, you can focus on your expertise and putting that content out there.

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Don't Forget to Build Your Brand and Treat Yourself Like a Client

Jason Swenk: [00:00:00] What's up everybody? I have another amazing guest coming for you in just a second. We're going to talk about why you should treat your agency as the number one client. As well as we're going to talk about long-term or short-term contracts, the benefits, the disadvantages. We're going to argue back and forth.

This is going to be a really good episode. Now, before we get into chatting with Jason, our guest, I want you to do something. I want you to take a screenshot off your phone of listening to the podcast and upload that to Instagram and tag us because I want to thank you for listening to the show and do a big shout-out to you.

So let's go ahead and get into the episode.

All right, Jason. Welcome to the show.

Jason Yormark: [00:00:44] Thank you for having me.

Jason Swenk: [00:00:45] Yeah, man. I'm excited. So let's start fighting. No, I'm just kidding. No, tell us who you are and what do you do.

Jason Yormark: [00:00:53] My name is Jason Yormark. I'm the owner and founder of Socialistics. We are a B2B social media agency.

Jason Swenk: [00:01:01] That's awesome. And so how did you get started? How'd you fall into this crazy-ass world?

Jason Yormark: [00:01:06] Well, I thought, I mean, I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit my entire life. But, uh, I was always searching for stability in my life professionally, and I always thought that that was, you know, a nine to five or sitting behind a desk with my paycheck and my benefits. All that good stuff.

But, uh, marketing is a pretty volatile career path, I learned. And once I started to kind of see other folks experiencing the same thing I wasn't. So I didn't feel so bad about myself, you know, jumping around job to job, whether by choice or not. So that's stability I was always looking for was right in front of me all the time. Which was doing my own thing, controlling my own fate.

And I just reached a point in my life. You know, I was a little bit later for me, where I could make that leap, take that risk. And get it right. And that happened about, uh, three and a half years ago.

Jason Swenk: [00:01:52] Awesome. I love it. Well, let's talk about long-term contracts and short-term contracts. Tell us kind of how you started, where you're at now and what have you seen work?

Because, you know, I have my own point of view and we'll see is we come together. If not, that's good. That's probably… that builds interests.

Jason Yormark: [00:02:10] I've always been hesitant to admitting this to my other agency, friends. But, and this is going to be a little bit cringy, but, uh, we predominantly up to this point, we've done month to month contracts.

And for me, it was a couple of things out of the gate. Number one, everybody's got a different agency story in terms of how they start and what they have to work with. I, you know, I had nothing, you know, I had to. And a lot of folks, I'm not the only one, a lot of folks, you know, start with nothing. You have to scrap and you have to get, you know, some clients up in the beginning and kind of make some decisions that maybe you otherwise wouldn't later on. But, you know, I just wanted to disrupt, I was always fascinated by companies like Uber, who just disrupted transportation. All they did was create this awesome piece of technology to connect drivers and, and people that need rides.

And all, you know, I can imagine them sitting in a room and thinking like, what, what are the things that people hate about this? And I thought about that from an agency perspective. Like, what do clients really dislike about what they experience with agencies? And I thought, you know, long-term contracts and I knew this would be a way to disrupt.

And I knew it would wait to create some momentum. I knew there'd be some risks with it. You know, the value of an agency is obviously can be dictated by that. But at the time I was like, I didn't care about that point. I just wanted to create something that would allow me to never sit in a car for two and a half hours, three hours every day and sitting behind a desk.

I just wanted to create something with some momentum. So we launched with month to month, and it definitely created some instant momentum for us. We were able to maybe win some, some projects that we otherwise maybe wouldn't get. And my theory, my philosophy with it has always been a couple of things.

Number one, if you do great work, if you treat clients well, if you deliver results, they're going to stick with you. And if they can't, it's going to be for reasons out of your control. And the pandemic was a perfect example, right? Some clients, look, I don't want to be the reason why an agency has to let go of some of their employees.

Like, if they have to press pause on something, then I'm okay with that. So it really worked for us out of the gate to kind of create the momentum that we needed to build a foundation to stick. And to be able to have a business that I could have for the rest of my life. So it worked in the beginning.

Jason Swenk: [00:04:11] I see that point and I really do agree with it because at the end of the day, like, think about it this way. Selling agency services is very different than like coaching someone, right?

So a lot of times when I'm actually going to someone and saying like, well, you got pretty big goals, right? Like over the next year, it's going to take us awhile in order to accomplish that. Because I'm always looking, like I want to be what I call the chasee or the, I want to be the one getting chased, right?

Rather than pushing sales, I want them to be pulling me towards you. And a lot of times what I'll do, and agencies can do this as well. Going, all right, well, we want to make sure you're the right fit for us. And for what you need to do, we believe it's going to take a long time to do, a year. We want to see your commitment level in order to do it.

And so that's why I've always talked about doing longer term, and then it's more predictable, right? But I also agree with you. You know, it's easier to sell something that's out. Because it's less risky, right? You can make a decision. All right, I blow a month, two months here. Okay. But like you were saying, if you deliver amazing work, they're not going to want to leave.

And then if they get in a situation like we just went through with COVID, right? Let's say you're going after the restaurant industry. The whole industry was shut down for months. Are you really going to stick it to them because you have a contract? No, you're going to let them out.

At the end of the day, it's kind of like. You're just trying to figure out, do you really have that commitment level to me? Because I have a commitment level to you and I need to know that. That's the biggest thing I look for.

Jason Yormark: [00:05:54] Yeah. And for us, I just feel like. We're growing, you know what? Even at the time, it's like, look, if somebody doesn't want to pay you, they're not going to pay you.

Like, even, even the best contract language in the world doesn't mean you're going to see that money. And like, you know, in the beginning, especially the first year, like where are we really in a position where we're going to hire somebody, a lawyer and go to court? I’m like, no. If somebody doesn't want to pay you, they're not going to pay you.

And I think in the entire history of our business, one client didn't pay, uh, an invoice. I, you know, I tried going after it and it, we didn't get it. So at the end of the day, it's not, it's just semantics almost. Because, again, if you do great work, they're going to stick with you. And if they can't, then they're probably, they weren't a good fit to begin with.

We've had plenty of clients that would come into a relationship with us and I vetted them out the best I could. I think they've got good potential, but they get in and either they treat my team like crap or they weren't ready. And we didn't know that. And there w it wasn't a good fit. I'd rather grow a scalable business with the clients that makes sense for us then just trying to trap people into long-term contracts. Because even if they do sign a long-term contract and they're not a good fit, I'm just the kind of guy that's going to be like, look, this isn't working and we're going to go our separate ways anyway.

So it really hasn't impacted our agency not having that. And certainly, you know, it's evolved for us, you know. Now we, my, it was funny, an interesting story. My, my team came to me and they were a little bit frustrated because some clients left because they weren't a good fit. And they said, well, what if we, you know, we think maybe we need to reconsider this.

We kind of had a back and forth with the team. And ultimately what we decided is why don't we just create options, right? Let's give them the option of, okay, here's, here's your month-to-month price. And here's a long-term contract price discounted.

It's your choice. We give the client the choice. What do you care about most? And a lot of what's happening a lot is some of them will take us up on the month, a month. And then after a couple of months, oh, these guys are awesome, actually deliver results. I like these guys. Hey, could we switch to a long-term contract? And then we kind of move into that.

So we give them the option. So that has really actually worked really well for us. And now our balance of clients is shifting. Whereas like, you know, a hundred percent of them are month to month. Now that those numbers are changing. It's becoming like 70/30. I expect it to be half and half, which is good for us because, you know, I want an exit strategy.

I'm not ready yet. I'm a couple of years away, but I know by the time I'm ready for that. I think that a good percentage of our clients will be long-term contracts.

Jason Swenk: [00:08:18] We’ll get you there quicker than you think. Or so you have the option. I mean, it's, it's kind of hard to interview, cause I know so much already I'm being in the mastermind.

But that's a great point, Jason, too, of what you were saying about we give the option. Because at the end of the day, you got to think about how can I remove friction from them, making a decision? And then whatever, if, if they're like, hey, I still don't trust you yet. That's kind of why, you know, like in the mastermind and the playbook, we always talk about the offering ladder. Do the foot in the door, then a project.

Show them value, and then they're going to want that retainer, but I like how you have, hey, if you want short-term contract. It's kind of like a SAS model, if you think about it, like on a technology, it's like, it's this, if you pay month to month, it's this. If you pay, you know, if you commit to a year… And I like to hear that a lot of clients are going to that, because that was going to be my next question for you.

For people listening, going well, do you have an exit strategy? Because I know as a buyer of agencies, that's one of the things we look at. Because we need that predictability.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason Yormark: [00:09:31] Well, plus, I mean, for me it was, I felt like, well, if they look at the history, if they see. Because honestly I could go back to a good percentage of our clients right now and say, hey, you know, I want, uh, for the, you know, I want to kind of solidify our agency a bit, build the valuation up. You've been on month to month for a year or two. You okay with just sliding into a year-long contract? Most of them are going to say yes.

So I think that it's just building those foundational clients over time. I'm not worried whatsoever that when I start thinking seriously about an exit strategy, that I'll be able to transition a good percentage of the ones that we have. And this new approach that we're taking, you know, we'll get there. But as a, as a young hungry… If you're just starting out and you don't have anything, that's a great way to disrupt because it eliminates a lot of the barriers to saying yes.

And what's interesting is it's almost kind of like a foot-in-the-door offer by itself. Because the whole idea of in my opinion, the foot-in-the-door is to get them to say yes, more easily. Like the commitment’s lower, they get a taste of who you are.

And that month a month approach… I mean the first month is strategy. So they're in essence getting a foot-in-the-door offer in some capacity. But ultimately I'm just trying to get them to yes more easily and more quickly.

Jason Swenk: [00:10:39] Yeah, I love it. Well, I love that strategy and there's so much to take away. So if you guys are listening, we'd love to know your comments on that. You know, because I think all of you should do that offer if, uh, if you're charging month to month now. See about giving them the option at a, I wouldn't say at a discount, I would just say, we're going to charge you more if you're on month a month, right?

Jason Yormark: [00:11:00] Exactly.

Jason Swenk: [00:11:01] Let's change, focus a little. Because I feel a lot of agencies don't dedicate enough time to building their own brand, their own marketing, treating themselves as a client. So what have you found working for yourself?

Jason Yormark: [00:11:14] Yeah. So I, you know, it was interesting. Every agency it starts out and like, you're just, you're so busy with like business development and selling and getting clients.

It's, the first thing to get pushed to the side is your own stuff. And it's very easy to do and most do that. And we did, to a certain extent, we didn't take it serious. We just kind of dabbled, oh we'll put a blog post out. Then, you know, a month later, oh, we probably need to put another blog post out. And it just doesn't work.

I found that. You know, we were… as a startup, I didn't have a tremendous amount of money to just throw out stuff. And I knew I had the luxury of creating a runway. I created the brand when I had another job. You know, I, I knew that it was going to take a couple of years for the name and our website to permeate on the web and kind of start to get some organic reach.

That takes time, you know, it just takes a long time for that to happen. And I just consistently made a commitment to putting know blog posts out and putting content out and putting social media content out. And it gets frustrating because it's like, it's the sum of all that effort over time that really eventually gets you to a good place.

Then, now we're three and a half years in or so, and we're getting about 20 to 30, you know, inbound, organic leads. Just from people searching. And that doesn't happen overnight. You have to treat yourself like a client. You have to prioritize. And the, the minute that we realized that, you know.

I just, you know, I got someone on my team, Socialistics is their client just like anybody else. The accountabilities are there, the expectations are there. We don't let it slide no matter how busy that we get. We do not, you know, we just don't move away from what we need to commit to.

And now that consists of, you know, weekly blog posts, right now, bi-weekly podcast episodes. Certainly social media every day. But it's just, it's just the sum and the consistency of that. Or, I mean, yes, it's got to be strategic and you need to pick keywords and phrases and work that in and, and be smart. But it's just that consistency that you have to kind of stick with it.

And the best advice I can give is, you know, if it's just you, then it's gotta be you. But when you start to build a team, make sure that somebody is responsible and accountability is around your business, as a client.

That's the best thing that you can do if you're serious about, you know, building a pipeline for yourself that doesn't require you shoveling money on paid ads all of the time.

Jason Swenk: [00:13:34] Yeah, I look at it as if it's just you or you're going all right, Jason and Jason. Which, uh, we'll call it the J&J show, I guess. Then we’ll be like, all right, that's all good, but I'm already too damn busy or anything.

And I always go back to my motto. If you're saying you're too busy, you're not charging enough. It's the leading indicator for most challenges. If you can charge enough, then you can start hiring the right people. And most of the time we hire the wrong people. I want you guys to start thinking about you in the center and thinking about all the stuff you do, right now.

The $10 tasks, the $100 tasks, the really cheap tasks. And think about who can you hire to do that stuff, to get some stuff off. And do only like, you know, Jason's talking about like he's doing content development. He can only create that if he's doing the podcast, right?

That's what he should be doing and that's what I want all of you to focus on. Because it has to be like three pillars, inbound, outbound, strategic partnership for building a sales system or a lead generation system for your agency. So hopefully you guys get that.

Jason, this has all been amazing. And I actually agree with you. I was hoping we would disagree. So I guess I hooked people in on the intro, but, um, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Jason Yormark: [00:14:58] You know, just based on what we talked about and you kind of touched on it just now. You know, just because when you're doing the content, that doesn't mean that you can't outsource, whether it's somebody internally or whether you hire somebody.

And a perfect example of that is like the podcast, which I love doing podcasts. It's easy. It's easier to me, right? You’re just getting in front of a microphone and blab for 20 to 30 minutes with somebody. Not to mention it's awesome to just to meet other people in that way.

But I don't do the editing. Like I don't do the editing. I don't, you know, I don't want to do any of that technical stuff. I did it at first just to kind of get a feel for it. But you know, a couple hundred bucks a month. There's plenty of resources out there that'll take on all the heavy lifting. So literally all you have to do is put the microphone in front of your face. Talk for 20 minutes, send it to somebody else they'll edit it. They'll publish it.

It's fantastic. You know, it's a really low investment in time. The same thing with blogs. Like if you're a great writer, then write it, then send it to somebody to edit and SEO optimize it and publish it on your website. Like don't spend your time doing all of those extra things that make it feel too heavy.

Like you can outsource a lot of that and really just focus on your expertise and putting it out there. And the minute that we kind of got those systems in place, it becomes a repeatable process and we're able to make it work. Every day, every week.

And it's worked really well.

Jason Swenk: [00:16:07] What's a website people can go check the agency out? And what's the podcast name that they can search to go, uh, listen?

Jason Yormark: [00:16:13] Yeah. Well, our name's unique, so just search for Socialistics. But you can find us at socialistics.com. The podcast is called Socialistics, social media agency stories. And, uh, you know, just type in the name, you'll find us.

Jason Swenk: [00:16:26] Awesome. Well, go check that out. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, I would love for you to do me a favor.

We haven't asked for going to iTunes or whatever platform you have and review it. And then also, if you want to be surrounded by other amazing people, I want to invite you guys to go to our free Facebook group called the Digital Agency Owner Insiders. You can go to jasonswenk.com/insider. So that should direct you right there as you a couple of questions and only agency owners are in there.

So go do that. And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Mike Poznansky was still in college when he started working at Red Bull's college marketing division. Since then, he realized the need for agencies that understand students and deliver at the scale and quality necessary to keep up with large consumer brands. That's why Mike founded Neato and now works alongside the world’s best brands to design and run creative marketing programs that bring new value to both brands and students. He's here to talk about pre-qualifying leads so you can separate the good ones from the ones who are just fishing.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Separate the fishers from the rest. Sometimes clients come in and say “give us ideas” and you may have to if you’re a beginner and want to earn their respect. But there will come a point when you need to consider how much work that entails and come up with other options. Mike recommends telling potential clients the agency will interview the target audience and put together a scope. This research involves a payment to make sure that it's at least worth their while. It’s a way to separate the fishers from the ones who will actually pay for your services.
  2. Involve the client in the process. The times of coming up with an entire concept and presenting that to the client are over. It’s better to involve the clients in the process. This way, you can understand their reasoning when they reject something and have a better chance at getting them to believe in your vision. You also have better insight on important things not reflected on a brief.
  3. Have real human conversations. This goes for both your audience and your clients. Take the time to regularly speak with your audience to really understand what they need. Also, talk to the people on the brand side, on the client-side. Try to figure out what they're challenged with, because it could be something that they haven't even considered.

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How to Qualify Leads and Stop Wasting Time on the Wrong Ones

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up, everybody? Welcome to another great show. The smart agency masterclass. I have a really good episode today coming up with Mike, who's built a really amazing agency and we'll get into that in a second.

Now, before we jump in, I want you guys to take a screenshot of the show. And then I want you to post on Instagram and tag us so then we can give you a shout-out for being a loyal listener.

So let's go ahead and jump into the episode.

Hey Mike, welcome to the show.

Mike: [00:00:33] Hey! Thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:35] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Mike: [00:00:39] Yeah, my name is Mike Poznansky. I'm the founder and managing director over at Neato. We're a full-service marketing agency that helps brands connect with young audiences with a focus on gen Z and college students.

Jason: [00:00:51] Awesome. And so how did you get started in doing this and how did you connect to that particular niche?

Mike: [00:00:59] Yeah, I actually was pre-law. When I was in college, I had the, I had every intention of going to law school. I was thinking about being a sports agent or maybe working in intelligence.

And through a strange set of circumstances, I connected with Red Bull. My passion work was in the action sports world and a company I was working with partnered with Red Bull on an event. And the employees over at Red Bull said, we have a job for college students that we think would be perfect for you. So, I was a senior, I became a student brand manager for Red Bull.

At the time, I wasn't a big fan of marketing. I just saw it to be as something that was too disruptive or annoying, you know, kind of pestering. And through my work with Red Bull, even as a student, I discovered that it could be something that actually doesn't take away from your experience, but adds value to your day or to your life.

And I ended up continuing with Red Bull and working for them full time. I spent, uh, over a decade there and eventually was running their college marketing program for North America. While I was at Red Bull, we were one of the first brands to invest in marketing to college students.

We had a, a really large program that was very scaled. It was a well-oiled machine. So a couple of things happened that inspired me to get in the agency space. One, we started saying, how could we utilize this program to not only build the brand, but build the business? We had over 300 really capable well-connected students across the country. So we started experimenting with ways we could utilize them.

And some of the programs we add to drive traffic into retail or pull product off the shelf or support our business in the on-premise. We were really blown away by the results. And then as we scaled, we needed some external help. And just, I realized that there weren't any agencies out there who were focused on the space that understood our business and that had high standards of quality.

So just realized there was this void that I set out to fill with Neato.

Jason: [00:02:56] Yeah, I see that so much where people are looking for something and they have no agency experience. And there was just like, let me just go into it, let me just create it. And a lot of times you don't take that bad baggage with you from some of the bigger agencies.

What has it been like over the years of growing it and scaling it? You know, when it comes to your team or like, have you moved upmarket with your audience? Because agencies are always going through different cycles.

Mike: [00:03:25] Yeah. Yeah, it's tricky because I think we started solely focused on college marketing and it's a very core part of what we do today.

But one of the challenges we found with college marketing, in particular, was that it's very tactical. So a lot of the briefs you would get, there's an existing strategy. There may be even an existing campaign and they're just looking for someone to really execute. And it may be something that you don't think necessarily works for the brand, or even worse, works for the audience.

And one of the big differentiators for us is saying the needs of young people and the needs of brand's ambition don't need to be mutually exclusive. So we believe young people are happy, happy being marketed to as long as it adds value to their lives.

So sometimes when we get these really tactical briefs, we feel like they weren't a great fit for the audience. Or they weren't a good fit for the brand. And we found ourselves in a tricky position. And, of course, then you would naturally say, well, share your point of view and that works. But if you, if you have a tactical brief, and sometimes if you're working with some of the folks at that stage who are just there to execute the program. They aren’t the one setting the strategy.

And they're not the ones who may necessarily be part of those discussions and all that. So for us, I'd say the biggest challenge has been working ourselves, I guess, as you say, kind of upstream a little bit to be a more part of those strategic discussions. And to change some of the perceptions of what college marketing or youth marketing or field marketing could look like.

Jason: [00:05:00] So what are some things that you've done that you've seen work to fix that? Because I saw that a lot and I think a lot of agencies do, where they get this tactical thing in and they need to really move upstream to really talk about strategy. You know, I remember we were working, um, I can't say the name of the brand.

But I can say it's a large beverage company in Atlanta with a red logo. And, uh, so we were doing a campaign for a young urban market. Well, the guy that was making all the decisions was a fat white guy. Old white guy. And he was like, I don't get the campaign. And we're like, we know you're not going to get the campaign.

Like you're not even, you're not, you're so far removed from even relating to them. So what are some strategies that have worked for you in order to going from tactical to more strategic?

Mike: [00:05:51] Yeah. For us, it's tricky because if someone comes to you with this baked brief and strategy, and they aren't even hiring you to be a strategic partner, you're not really in a position to credibly say, we don't believe in this or this won't work.

I mean, most likely, the outcome of that would be you just won't get the business, right? They find someone else who's onboard, especially if it's a new relationship and you don't have that existing credibility. So what has helped us in the past? First of all, saying… look, we have a ton of experience in this space, but I'll call BS on anyone who says I am a, I am an expert in youth culture. I'm an expert on young people.

Because the more you do it, the more you realize it's always evolving. So the first thing we'll always do is we'll talk to the audience. Have conversations with young people about the category, about the initiative, about maybe even the strategy and the campaign.

And then I'm not sitting there in a position going up to anyone on the client-side and just saying, look, this doesn't work. We don't like it. We're saying, hey, you know, we talked to a bunch of young people about what you're setting out to do and here are some of the things we learned along the way. So it's much more credible and it's puts you in a position to be a little bit more of a, of a partner. And someone who's collaborating with them than someone who just has a big ego and a strong point of view that's different from theirs.

So everything we do is really driven by insights and we fundamentally believe that that's a critical part of our process.

Jason: [00:07:24] Yeah. And I also see it as a lot of times, I would walk away from business that if they were just so driven by that. I would actually take it a step further. You know, I interviewed, um, one of the Harmon brothers who does all the funny viral videos or ads on the internet.

And they only take on the ones that they actually believe in the product. So they've done like Squatty Potty. And I was like, you believe in that? They're like we do, right? Like we saw the science, and tested it out. I was like, oh, that's kind of interesting. But they were like, we only do work of products that we know we believe in that we actually can go do and prove, and actually have results.

And I think that's a big departure from a lot of agencies out there that just say, oh, you got a check? Oh, you need to find someone? I remember many times where we would actually walk away from an RFP and be like, look, this is not our process, we're not going to do it that way.

And them coming back and being like, why would this one company, this small company pull out versus, you know, Tribal and DDP and Grey? And all these big agencies are giving us free work. It would make them think in order to, I really get to the next level.

Mike: [00:08:38] Right. Yeah. It could be a little bit more provocative, right? But if it's grounded in truth, I think it works. And it's something we've, I would say, wrestled with a little bit is just how honest and straightforward you are and the initial part of that conversation, right?

Because you have a strong point of view, but it's tricky because you have this incentive. Look, you want to work with them and not just because they're going to pay you. But for us, we could say this is a powerful brand. Like they have some really cool resources and assets, and we think they could bring a lot of value to young people's lives. We think they could have a really positive impact.

So for us, it's just saying, you know what, let's go through a little bit of a journey and figure out if they can and are willing to get there.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:09:25] Yup. Now, do you do that through a small paid engagement or are you doing that on your own dime?

Mike: [00:09:32] That was the first thing that came to my mind, right? Because that's hard work and it's a lot of work. I mean, even if you want to find people, interview them, synthesize those insights, share them. Ideally, we'll do that and we're getting paid. Usually, what happens? This happened recently with an organic foods brand.

We came in, they came to us and they said, listen, we want to market to students. Here's what we're trying to do. Give us ideas, best ideas win and win the program. And, you know, give us the best ideas and you'll become our agency partner. And I said, listen, I could pull a bunch of stuff out of a hat, but I haven't talked to young people about organic foods. I haven't talked to them about your brand. I’ve been having a ton of conversations with them lately, but not about this subject.

So what I would propose is that we go and do that and then we'll put together a scope and we'll get paid to make sure that it's at least worth our while. And it, it helps the client too, because we could say at the end of this all at the very least you will have these insights and you'll have something you could work with, whether it's something you do on your own or something you do with another partner.

So ideally we're, we're getting paid. Earlier on, when someone was coming up with us, uh, to us with a tactical brief, we had to do it for free because we didn't earn their trust and respect yet.

Jason: [00:10:44] Yeah. Yeah. I was talking to a couple agencies a little while ago and literally, I was like, if you're just starting out, you're going to have to do the grunt work.

You're going to have to take it on the chin and do some of the free work. But once you start getting a little bit momentum, then you can actually be more selective and say, no, I'm not going to take it on the chin. We're going to do it this way. Then I'd always tell people, like, treat it this way and say, look, you're going to pay us to develop you a really good strategy.

Here's three outcomes. You'll love the plan and you'll go execute it yourself, which you were just talking about. You'll love the plan you want to work with us, which is the most common. Or third, you don't like the plan. I'll give you your money back. So you really have nothing to lose. And then it literally takes them from like, are they really a qualified prospect or are they really just effing you up, right? Like just trying to get free work.

And I found that by doing that, that separates the fishers or the, uh, the people just fishing from the real buyers. Because I look at it too like, I think it was Dean Jackson that said, uh, you know, 50% of the people will never buy from you, but the other 50% will.

But you have to figure out when. Like, there's a small percentage that will buy right now, which are like 15%. And then the other 35 is like maybe 90 to two years down the road. And you have to kind of figure that out. So like I'm trying to eliminate the non-buyers right away. I love that you get, you're getting paid for it too.

Mike: [00:12:14] Yeah. And I think one of the things that's helped us in that process too, is that I'm not a big fan of, um, you send us a brief, we go away for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, whatever it is. We come back and do this whole dog and pony show with a bunch of ideas. And then in that process, we learn that there's a bunch of other things that have happened since then. Or a bunch of things that were maybe missing from the brief or there's other decision-makers in or departments who weren't a part of writing the brief.

So what we like to do is co-create with our clients and have a bit of a collaborative process and creative development. Because in real-time you're getting that input and that feedback. And like I said, it just, it's, it's impossible for them to capture all that on paper. In that process, you could see what they're really up for, right?

Because we'll have a client that will come to us say we want big ideas “we want huge disruptive ideas.” And we… this happened to us very early on and they came to us and they said, these ideas are too big. Well, you wanted big ideas. That's what you asked for, right? So I think bringing them along in that process, in the creative development process, and turning it into a conversation instead of everybody working in silos could help you feel that out too.

Jason: [00:13:27] Well, they don't want big ideas. They want results, the smart ones. And so I totally agree that you have to do it with them. Yeah. The, the time of what is it like Bewitched? Was it? The show Bewitched, when Darren would pitch the work for Larry, which was his boss, right? Like those days are over, like literally if you're not building with them, because then they have more skin in the game. And you can ask them, be like, what do you think if we did X, Y, and Z?

And if they say no, I think it's a dumb idea. You find out why is it a dumb idea for in their head, especially if you believe in this. And then you get them to a point where they’re like, oh yeah, I like that idea. So then when you present the ideas, they were all there. Like they feel like it was all theirs. And then they're like, man, I really feel like we're connecting.

We're like, well yeah. Like we just did this, this engagement together. And then, you know, we found that they're 20 times more likely to engage with you if they have a good engagement or the first, rather than just going, oh, let me give you a bunch of ideas. Like, oh, I hated that. We got away from that very quick.

Mike: [00:14:32] Yeah, it's full of assumptions, right? I mean, you just, it's a tricky process. And then sometimes you could spend a week or two going down a path. And if you would just learn this one thing, that path may not be viable for them. Or it may be a trigger point for someone who is the decision-maker there because of a bad experience that you just, you don't know those things.

Yeah. And on results, I agree with you. I mean, one of the things we like to do, especially with the people who are paying for it, or running the departments that are part of this program or experience or process. Is just say, okay, let's pretend it's December or it's the middle of the year. We're all sitting in a room and we're looking back on this program and we're celebrating.

What would we be celebrating? What do we really want to get out of this? Because sometimes you'll find that people will bake in all these goals and KPIs and objectives that don't align with the needs and wants of decision-makers.

Jason: [00:15:25] Yeah. I always looked at when a client comes to you, like if you think of kind of the past, the present, the future, when they come to you, it's because they're stuck.

And then, right? That's in the past, they're stuck, they've tried a bunch of things. Then in the present you think about, well, they have a problem. And the future is, they just don't know what they need to do. And so we have to do, as agencies is we really have to kind of look and go, how can we switch their state?

Like get them to a resourceful state rather than a stuck state, right? The past. And then in the present, we really need to pinpoint what is the real issue. Like we need to be urgency detectives. Because the clients like they, sometimes they don't know and they, they're like, they don't really know the problem.

And so really we need to identify what's the actual issue. We need to kind of paint that picture. Then, in the future, it's just. Let's just shrink the scope and let's just make it really simple for them to understand. And when we do all that, now we can take that prospect to, you know, someone actually believing us. Rather than just saying here's all these big ideas, but that's what we've seen work really, really well.

Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Mike: [00:16:41] Yeah, it's a good question. The only thing I would say is just how you identify those problems. I think has been a little bit of a learning for me and I, you know, I've just getting ahead of it.

I've just found that the most effective way to do that is through real human conversations with the people on the, on the brand side, on the client-side, to really figure out what they're challenged with. Because it could be something that they haven't even considered.

You know, I think a lot of people can get almost in a little bit of this like automated mindset where they're just they're writing briefs around specific campaigns. Or they have, they have a line item in their budget they're trying to fulfill. And then through conversations with them, you could identify things that they're really struggling with, that you could potentially help on.

And maybe it's not a good fit and you could pass it on to someone else or whatever it may be. But I think, I think those real human natural touchpoints are really important to understand what the needs are of your clients and figuring out if there are ways that you could support them in navigating those issues.

Jason: [00:17:42] Awesome. What's the website that people can go and check you guys out?

Mike: [00:17:47] Yeah. We're at neato.agency, n-e-a-t-o.agency.

Jason: [00:17:51] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, I want to make sure you guys subscribe. It's just so you are always notified when we have an episode.

And then if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners, where we get together on an ongoing basis to really work on the business, rather than in the business. And really be able to create that freedom where you can pick and choose and do the things you want to do in your agency, so you can eventually get to a point where you can actually sell it or exit the stuff that you don't like to do anymore.

I want to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com. That is our exclusive mastermind. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Kevin Daisey works hard to stay on top of changing trends in digital marketing. He is the founder & CMO of Array Digital, a digital marketing agency specializing in search engine optimization, social media, and digital advertising; and also Rival Digital, a digital agency niched in the HVAC market. Today he joins us to chat about how to create a recurring revenue machine. And also how establishing tight processes will not make you lose clients if they’re the right clients, and how his agency benefitted from eliminating the least profitable services.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Becoming a recurring revenue machine. After his accountant asked what he was predicting for next month's revenue and he had no answer, Kevin realized they needed to get serious about the business. So, he and his partner decided to implement 12-month payment plans and started converting clients to that plan. Clients pay for 12 months, even if the project was done in four months, and they can forecast on collecting that revenue.
  2. Figure out which services are bringing in more clients. Investigating all the services that they offered and identifying which ones were recurring and which ones were not, helped our guest make some changes in his agency. A lot of agencies try to do too much and think that to double in size, they need to do double the amount of services. And that's actually very incorrect. In the end, they figured out which services they could eliminate and which ones they should go all in. That helped them grow their recurring revenue in just eight months.
  3. Have a tight process. Establish a very solid outreach and communication process to establish clear payment options for your clients. If checks are just not convenient for your business, you can establish other options, like ACH, and offer a discount to encourage customers to use that method. You can also establish penalties for delayed payments. If you clearly communicate the benefits and downsides of each payment method, there are no excuses. Kevin and his team trusted their vision and were happy to see that customers started to comply with this new process.

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Secrets to Becoming a Recurring Machine

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up everybody? Jason Swenk here and on today's episode I have an amazing guest from our mastermind who runs a really amazing agency. And we're going to talk about creating a recurring machine, but before we get into it, I want you to do me a favor, take a screenshot of listening to the podcast.

And upload it to Instagram and tag us, because we want to reach out to you and give you a shout-out. So make sure you go do that now and let's get into the episode.

Hey, Kevin. Welcome to the show.

Kevin: [00:00:36] Hey, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:38] Yeah, man. I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Kevin: [00:00:42] So my name's Kevin Daisey and I run two agencies, one called Array Digital and, Array Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency that primarily focuses on working with law firms. Also, I have another agency that we started in September of 2020, which is niched in the HVAC market. So HVAC contractors, companies around the country, uh, with websites, SEO, social media, and on, on advertising.

Jason: [00:01:12] Awesome. I love it. Well, let's go ahead and get into it. How can people listening, how can they create a recurring machine?

Kevin: [00:01:21] Well, let me, uh, I guess start with kinda what led to where we are and obviously where we are is a far cry from where we want to go. But, uh, in order to get there, we had to have recurring revenue.

And so back about a few years, my business partner, Eric J. Olson, who’s actually a member of the mastermind as well. Me and him formed Array Digital together, after both running our own agencies for quite a few years. And we both struggled with one thing, which took us a while to figure out, by the way.

We didn't have predictable recurring revenue, we had lots of projects. Now we have some small services and hosting and maybe some support to some degree. But it was never enough to actually operate the company, pay payroll and things like that. So it was really just kind of a way to supplement and maybe have recurrent customers in the future. But on a monthly basis and cash flow, we didn't really have a lot to stand on.

And so we were really focused on software and mobile apps at one time and we had a lot of software developers that had $100,000 salaries and up. And we just really saw, when we had a slowdown at one point in sales, which was Eric and I at the time, how are we going to have the payroll is massive and how are we going to pay this if we don't have projects this month?

Around the same time, we were meeting with a, an accountant who actually ended up being the worst accountant we've ever had… ever. Like we fired the guy, his, it was a terrible experience. But he did this one life-changing thing, which we sat down with him to plan.

We tried to start having a budget and we were just at a million dollars in revenue and we're like, hey, it's time to kind of get a budget and start to plan out things a little bit better. He asked a question: what are you guys predicting for next month's revenue? And then next quarter's revenue?

And we were just like blank stares. Like, how are we supposed to know that? We don't know that, we have no clue. I guess we can assume if we get these projects to this point, then we should expect to build this much and whatever. But we really had no good answer for him. That just made Eric and I think a lot about that question and how we were going to even grow and scale pay payroll.

Like we're, we're this close to going out of business. Tomorrow. So that kind of really got us thinking. We got, we got serious about it. And he proposed that if we're doing a $100,000 software project, what if we took it and extended it to a 12-month payment plan instead of, you know, $25,000 a month for the next four months? Even though the project would be done in four months, they can pay us 12 months and we collect that revenue.

So this, the concept right there was kind of like, well, how are we going to pay payroll? If we collect $7,000 a month instead of $25,000 a month or whatever. And so we had to take baby steps that ultimately led to us investigating all the services that we offered and which ones were recurring and which ones were not.

Digital marketing, which was at the time a smaller piece of our business, SEO, and website support stood out as the only ones that we had that were recurring and they were very profitable. We have the website done and we're still collecting money every month for support. SEO was an ongoing service, which is in-house. So we didn't have to, there was no cogs, really. So we looked at that and we're like, wow, it's just such a small piece of our business though.

It was like, you know, 10% of our revenue, but it was predictable revenue. So after a lot of thinking, a lot of thoughts or, I mean, a lot of thought on our services and then the challenges with sales on the software side, it ultimately led to us cutting software, cutting mobile app development. And digital marketing was the winner at the end of the day.

And so we put all our focus on that. We up the ante, and we made sure to secure the other services like social media and advertising, which is something we didn't do. We did websites and SEO. So we started hiring in that department. We actually had to let go or our software people, we made sure they got other jobs and had other positions.

And then we started hiring and learning digital marketing more than ever. We grew from… our overall revenue did not change in the year. So we were a million dollars. But we went from, I think, 17% recurring revenue to a 100% in eight months. So where we were having a hundred plus thousand per month on contract that we could predict every single month for services that we were rendering.

So that was kind of the major change. And then any questions about that, but then I can go on to kind of now how we refined and fine-tuned to become more of a machine and a process. That continues to allow us to grow.

Jason: [00:06:34] Well, I love, I mean, there's so many agencies that are in that similar boat, right? And they're, they want that predictability or that peace of mind. Because I remember going through the same thing, you know.

Our out for more predictability was just building a pipeline, but we never even thought back then, because 80% of our business was projects, and it was extremely profitable. But we just created a huge master pipeline, so that was our main focus.

But I like the approach that you guys took because there's a lot of people that are going, I want some predictability. And I'm glad that you had a really good experience with a bad CPA to make you guys change that focus. And I also like, and I don't want to skip over it, because a lot of agencies try to do too much. I like how you audited, what are the most profitable pieces, you know, in your agency? What should we eliminate? What should we actually go all in?

Because too many people just try to do everything. And they think, well, if we want to double in size, we need to do double the amount of services or double amount of the things. And that's actually very incorrect. Like a lot of times in the mastermind we talk about, look, if you can focus, you're going to be so much more successful in that one thing.

So I love that. Now, let's talk about, you talked about how we got there right on the recurring. What did you learn from that? And like, what's changed since then to now?

Kevin: [00:08:10] Sure. Absolutely. I think so that's a big part of it. So, getting there was at first going to our existing clients and trying to convert them into a, more of a monthly plan, um, upselling them on the other services that we did offer and focusing on that.

So we had to convert a lot of clients and of course we signed on new clients with new offerings, so there was a sales effort as well, but we did it pretty quickly and pretty easily. And we didn't expect it to work that fast.

But then we started to look at how do we collect the money? How long does it take to collect the money? What's our expenses out and how do we refine this, this whole process to be very focused? And then, you know, with the least amount of, I guess, manpower as possible. So we're really sort of looking at efficiency. At first, we were mostly paid by check and so we started to realize, okay, well man, 30 days.

Jason: [00:09:05] Checks in the mail! Checks in the mail! Uh, hated to hear that.

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Kevin: [00:09:11] Yeah. So, okay. If you have recurrent revenue, that's great. But if you're not collecting it in a timely fashion, it doesn't matter. So next thing you know, your payrolls are on top of each other. You're, you're coming out of pocket for, uh, expenses. So basically you're, you're floating the bill for your clients and you're, you're paying for your staff and all these other things, and then you're expecting them to hopefully pay you back.

So there's another, uh… your mastermind I'm pretty sure is where we got this from is getting that money in the door faster and how important that is. And so, at first, it was like, well, we, you can't build people… expecting to pay in 14 days, but we did it and we tried it and it worked.

And then we had some people saying, well, try that in seven. Well, that's insane. No, one's going to pay net seven. And so what we did is the extreme. We started offering a discount for ACH, or a penalty if you pay another way. We also put in a net seven terms with a late fee if you were later than seven days. If you want to pay by check, that's fine, but here's our rules.

And we have a very swift process for turning clients off, which was never fun to do. It’s not something we want to do. But say, if we have a website for you and you're three weeks late, so the 30 days is not even reached yet, your site goes off, your servers are stopped. Uh, we have a very strict process.

And then when the client calls and says, I can't believe you guys would do this. We have a really solid outreach and communication process for they know, many times over that they're going to be. You know, get late fees or get turned off. And so then we always say, hey, we offer ACH. That's how we run our business. If you don't decide to go that route, you know, you can choose these other methods. But they have their downside.

So how about we get you on ACH? So we avoid this problem completely and, you know, we have predictable invoicing too. Our bill is the same every month. We have what we call all-inclusive service, where we never charge a dollar more, and whether or not, we make more ads or we, we talk to you more or whatever, it's just built into our costs.

So we say, hey, it's ACH, same bill every single month. And then we can continue working for you. We have the ad funds we need all that stuff and we don't have to worry about it.

Jason: [00:11:37] I love it. You know, it's um, you never know what people are going to say until you actually do it. I, I remember many years ago a client, one of our first clients, I think this is probably in like 2000 and they didn't pay their invoice and they just kept giving me the run-around.

And I took down everything and I just literally put unpaid bill, you know, and then I put their contact info. Because what I didn’t want to have happen was that client going well, you took down my whole business. People couldn't reach me, even though the internet was websites were fairly new. But as, as like unpaid bill to your designer, but you can contact them here. So when we actually did, when he did try to, when I did take them to court, they were like, oh, you take down my business. I was like, no, no, all the contact info is right here.

So I don't suggest doing that, but that's what I did when I was a young punk shit. I just didn't care. I was like, well, you can sue me for it, I don't have any money back then.

Kevin: [00:12:42] Oh no. It's, I've been in some situations before. And I think, you know, all those, those moments that you remember make it easier to do some of the things we do now.

But we love our clients. We want to give them the best service possible, and to do so we need to be funded by what they agreed on. Which is in contract in a timely manner, so that nothing goes down, nothing stops. And so it's very easy to say, hey, listen, we love working with you guys, we want to perform for you guys. If this bill is not paid, the performance and results are affected.

So ACH, we give you a discount, we encourage it and it helps us perform better for you. So we have 80 some clients. And it's funny because some of my sales members will be like, we can't do this. Like, this is absurd that we could give them no net terms and that they have to pay upfront for a service like agencies don't do that.

Well, we do. And we have 80 clients that have no problem with it. We rarely have a problem. And if we do have a problem, it's because we signed on the wrong client.

Jason: [00:13:50] You nailed it on the head. Uh, and it's also, it really starts from, I feel, the very beginning. Like traditionally you think of an agency or the salesperson for an agency is they're the chaser, right?

They're chasing that prospect, the chasee. But what you have to do is you have to kind of flip it where you want them to be chasing you. And the only way to do that is by flipping the conversation, asking the right questions and kind of pulling them versus push. Like, I always tell people if I start pushing on you, like, I literally come up to you, Kevin, I start pushing you. What are you going to do? You're going to push back.

And that's what salespeople do versus, you know, if you think about like telling a story of a client that you've had for a lawyer, right. And then, or let's… I only relate to agencies because that's the world I live in. So I was like, I'm not going to make up a lawyer thing and there's no lawyers listening anyway.

Kevin: [00:14:48] That’s right. And if you are, call me.

Jason: [00:14:51] But, uh, like if I was exactly, I hit, hit Array Digital up for him. But, um, if I'm talking to an agency, I'll be like, hey, you know, one of my, um… I was talking to agency the other day and they are basing their whole business on word of mouth and referrals, which just isn't scalable. That's what they told me.

And I'll be like, well, what we do is we show you the exact framework that's working for my agency, other agencies, like with that, and then I ask a question, this is what pulls them in. Does that resonate with you? Does that make sense? Do you have any questions on that? Like I'm pulling them closer rather than pushing, being like, well, let me talk about my service.

And I'm taking breaks between like me throwing up on them. I think too many salespeople do that. Like they don't take those breaks. And when you do then, uh, you can be the chase, you know, or they're chasing you.

Kevin: [00:15:44] No, I love that. It's where we want to be. We don't want to be the cheap option. And we don't want to be the ones that, uh, well, you can pay us whenever you want and don't have any process.

We want them to realize that we have a tight process. We have a plan, we're focused on the results. And in order to do that, this is how we operate. If you want to work with a company like us, that charges maybe more. We have what we call professional services, which is basically an extra fee that weeds out a lot of potential customers or clients and whoever questions that line item, “well, why do I have to pay for this?”

They're probably not going to be a fit and we don't need to jump through hoops on telling them why they need to pay for that every time. So it's clearly stated in that line and that it's really. You want superior service? Communication, unlimited, uh, responses and all the help you're looking for? That's what that line is for.

So yeah, it costs extra to work with us. And we want the client that says, that's what I want. I want a Mercedes, not a Kia. There's a different service level when you, you buy a car like that, that a dealership. So we're not for everybody, but. My biggest fear is honestly signing a lot of little clients at a small amount per month that are, you know, we have some, you know, client can come in for a pretty low amount of with us.

We don't have any kind of like crazy tiers because a lot of them lead to larger business over time. But at the end of the day, my concern is a lot of small clients that, you know, really break operations.

Jason: [00:17:16] Exactly. Well, I love how simple this is to create a recurring machine because a lot of us just try to over-complicate things like it. Literally, the simplicity of it is going, look, we're only going to be in recurring and you have to pay us on these terms.

And if we do this, we're going to have more predictability and we can grow and we can scale and, and, and all of that. So that's fantastic. Is there anything I didn't ask you, Kevin, that you think would benefit the audience?

Kevin: [00:17:45] Yeah. I really think being part of the mastermind. The Digital Agency Elite is, is really allowed us to test these things, ask questions and, uh, being part of a mastermind has been a huge thing for us.

So a lot of these questions and things that we've done, you know, we haven't done them in just. It's like we have someone, a sounding board, hey, we're going to do this. What do you guys think? We might still do it if it's I want to do that, but we at least got some opinions and we can share our thoughts and insight with them.

And it's a great way to get where do you want to go faster. So just think, maybe you have a process for billing and have a process for onboarding, uh, have some rules in place for your clients. And again, if they're the right clients, they're going to have no problems with it.

Jason: [00:18:32] Awesome. And where can people reach out to you guys? What's a website address where people can check both agencies out?

Kevin: [00:18:38] Yeah. So you can check out Array at, arraylaw.com. And then Rival Digital is the HVAC company that we operate is a rivaldigital.com.

Jason: [00:18:48] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Kevin, for coming on and, uh, giving us a really simple strategy that can be a real game-changer.

Because if we have that predictability in our agency, we can bring in the right people, we can have the confidence, we're not making decisions from a scared point of view. And, uh, it's just a, really a great strategy.

And if you guys want to be around other amazing people like Kevin and his partner, where you can have them act as your sounding board and see the things you're not able to see, I want to invite all of you guys to go check out the digitalagencyelite.com.

Now this is not for everyone. So go check it out and until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Anna Shcherbyna is the CEO of Remotivate. And, leveraging her decade of experience in Business Operations and International Recruitment, Anna's recruitment agency helps online businesses hire remote staff worldwide. They handle all the due diligence relating to candidate communication, arranging interviews, discussing salary expectations, and conducting reference checks. Today, she joins us to talk about how to find and attract your agency's dream team. She shares why some job search platforms are better than people may think, why it’s better to invite candidates to apply for your agency, and why you should never hire for the fire.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Create a process. After going through profiles in some of the job search platforms (our guest recommends a few good ones) instead of going straight to interviewing the candidates, try to have a process in place. Identify 5 requirements for success in the position. You can incorporate that into a questionnaire, a skill test. This weeds out candidates who don’t care enough. Finally, ask them to create a video. This will answer so much, from their motivations to what do they say in the video and how they say it.
  2. Be in control of the narrative. Something that can really help you be in control of the type of candidates that will go through your hiring process and subsequent interviews is to not just post and wait for candidates to apply. Instead, after searching through some profiles, you can invite some candidates to apply for the position. This way, you’ll have much more control over the type of candidate you’ll be interviewing and filter out the ones who maybe have the wrong motivations or are just not good quality candidates.
  3. Don’t hire for the fire. Take the time to truly understand the position you’re hiring for. Try to have a clear idea of what success looks like in that position. What kind of background are you looking for? What level of experience would you prefer candidates to have? This will help filter candidates and speed up the process. Anna’s advice is “don’t hire for the fire, hire for the long term.”

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Jason: [00:00:00] What's up everybody? Jason Swenk here and I have another amazing episode for you where we talk about re, remote recruitment. If I can actually get that out, I don't know why that's so hard. But we're going to talk about how to find the right senior-level managers and hiring them remotely, as well as how can we evaluate and make sure that the right one.

So, it's a really good episode. Let's go ahead and get into it.

Hey Anna, welcome to the show.

Anna: [00:00:32] Thanks so much for having me, Jason. It's a pleasure to be here.

Jason: [00:00:36] Yeah, I’m excited. I almost wasn't able to say remote recruitment. I don't know why it's such a tongue twister this morning for me. But for the people that don't know who you are, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Anna: [00:00:48] Yeah, absolutely. So my name's Anna Shcherbyna. I'm actually originally from Ukraine and I help online businesses all over the world, help them hire remote staff internationally. Uh, it's been an incredible journey and the experience to work with companies that have all kinds of needs. And I believe, as you mentioned, we do focus on managerial and leadership positions, but we've always get some fun roles and fund requirements.

So it's kind of the, uh, the new age of headhunting, so to speak, uh, at times that's what it really comes down to.

Jason: [00:01:17] Awesome. Well, let's go ahead and dive into it. Let's talk about where can we find these people, right? So, you know, we're, I'm an agency owner. I'm looking to get some more help, so I don't have to make all the decisions. I need, like I already, I'm maxed out at managing these people. I want to build my team up. I think a lot of times people just default to going to LinkedIn or Craigslist or wherever. So what is your recommendation for people listening of how can they find some of these amazing talents?

Anna: [00:01:46] Yeah, absolutely. I do think that a lot of people, when they're transitioning, especially into hiring remote staff, that's where the challenge comes in because they still go back to the old websites.

As you mentioned, LinkedIn is very popular Craigslist, things like that. And it just doesn't work for remote stuff. You want people who know what they're doing and really have the right skills and abilities and understanding of the remote space. They're not going to be there. I mean, you can find amazing people on LinkedIn, don't get me wrong, but in terms of what we love to do, Upwork is actually one that surprises everyone.

I'll say this because a lot of the times people assume that Upwork is for projects, just for projects for short term. But actually if someone's new to the platform, they haven't really realized how it works properly, and so you can find some incredible people who are just looking for that opportunity.

And a lot of them are looking for more consistency. So Upwork is an amazing one. Um, AngelList has been incredible for us. We've loved that. And also with AngelList, you kind of upgrade, there is an upgrade on there where you're able to get access to their database, which is awesome. And then be able to go out and invite candidates.

We use Indeed, it's actually been a lot better for remote hiring as well. Most recently, they've really done a lot of growth in that sense. So Indeed has been quite good. I'd say those are our top three, though we’re, we're constantly experimenting.

So right now we're trying out Dynamite Jobs, we're trying out We Work Remotely. And I just say like, it's really good to experiment. I've heard great. Like We Work Remotely is one that I've heard, works wonders, but not for all positions.

Those three that I mentioned is just, those have worked the best for us for the type of positions, like the managerial leadership type positions that we're normally hiring for.

Jason: [00:03:25] So I thought AngelLists was really more for, and maybe they've, they've changed it. Or was it Angie's list? Or am I thinking of the right? The same one.

Anna: [00:03:36] You definitely are. The same angel.co like I think before it was very much for startups like tech world, all of that. You have the right idea in mind. They definitely have evolved to now where you can find professionals of all kinds. They're very remote-focused because, again, a lot of companies are going remote. And so it's definitely an amazing, amazing website for finding great candidates.

Jason: [00:04:00] So let's say we go on Upwork because, you know, I've, I've found really good designers on Upwork and, and stuff like that or people actually doing the work.

But if we're looking like I know a lot of people listening in, they're thinking, well, I need a manager. I don't need someone to actually do the work. So like, how do I post something on Upwork going I need a Director of Ops or a Manager of Operations to come in.

So do I post something like that on Upwork? Because usually, it's like, hey, I need this for what I understand. Like, I need someone to do, you know, this landing page or this logo or whatever it is.

Anna: [00:04:33] Yeah. I mean, here's the thing, again, Upwork has incredible potential because it's all about the mindset. When you go to LinkedIn, you're trying to get people away from potentially those that already have jobs, whereas upward people are going on there already with the mindset of, hey, I need a job.

And as I mentioned, a lot of them, they are getting in there and they don't really know how to break through, they don't want to deal with the hassle of all these different clients.

And so something we do and something I always recommend is, it's all about how you filter. So filter for the ones that don't have a lot of success on Upwork, which is counterintuitive because most people are looking for the ones that have earned the most, have the best reputation… But those people are already successful, why would they go from client work back to full time? It's, you know, they're making a ton of money, they've made it on the platform. It doesn't make sense for them.

So we'll go ahead and post those types of high-level positions, head of ops and all of that. But the ones that are going to be inviting are usually the candidates who have limited experience on the platform. They are hungry for an opportunity and they are much more likely to take on that opportunity.

Jason: [00:05:36] Oh, that's clever. That's clever. And so let's say we're hiring a director of ops. What would you post on Upwork to in order to attract them to click on?

Anna: [00:05:47] So, okay. Two things here I want to say. So first of all, in the job description. I'd say definitely make it very personable. We get a lot of feedback that the more personable a job description is the better candidates react to it.

But I want to say that the trick that we have found really works isn't about just posting and waiting for candidates to apply. We actually go out and invite candidates because then we take control of the narrative. Who's applying the type of candidates, the quality, and also a lot of candidates are not checking every single day what's, you know, what's live.

And so you're actually missing out on a ton of opportunity. So if you go out and that's why I love, we love AngelList network, you can actually invite those candidates to apply and get so much better results rather than waiting around and getting candidates who maybe have the wrong motivations or just not good quality candidates, because they're just, they're applying because they need a job and they're just clicking on everything.

Whereas when you're inviting, there's, you know, there's a quality control there. So sometimes we even put a job post as private and so people won't be able to actually apply unless we invite them.

Jason: [00:06:50] Oh, I like that. And so when you go into the search on Upwork or AngelList, is there other than, are you new? And like, you know, it's actually a really good point of like, I don't have much experience on the platform. They're new. What else are you looking for?

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Anna: [00:07:07] Uh, requirements. It always comes down to the requirements. And I'll be very honest, I think a lot of business owners don't take the time to truly understand who they need and what will make those people successful.

When you have a clear understanding of what success looks like, like, okay, I'm going to need someone who has at least three years of experience in operations. They have, um, a background in recruitment, they have experience with running a SAS business or being an operation specialist in SAS, and you, if you're looking through applicants and applications, you'll be able to see those things.

So figuring out your requirements of what success looks like, and then really searching for those among the applications is going to make a huge difference.

Jason: [00:07:46] Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of us, and I've done this in the past, or I might be doing this right now. Who knows? I probably am. Thank you for beating me up because there, there's a lot of us that we probably go, we just need a marketing associate.

But we really haven't thought about what… we just want them just a marketing associate. We'll just put them in, but really hasn't identified what success looks like for that marketing associate and like, what do they have to have? I think that's really very crucial that a lot of people actually skip over.

All right. So, so now that we've come up with the requirements, like, as we've done our homework, so you don't yell at us, we don't want you to yell at us.

And then we've gotten creative by using Upwork and AngelList and Indeed, and we're starting to invite people to apply, which I, I've never thought about. Like, that's brilliant. So, when people start applying, is there any special thing that I always try to bury something in the middle. Like, hey, you got to do this weird thing or put this to the subject titles, see if they actually read it.

Is there anything that you do like that? Or how do you evaluate to make sure that they're not just padding their resume?

Anna: [00:08:58] Absolutely. Absolutely. So I always say create a process. And again, start at the beginning, right? Because let's say you identify your top five kind of things for success, right? Your top five requirements for success. You can then translate that to, like, for example, for us, we do a questionnaire, a skill test, a video, you know, you can put steps in place that test for those initial requirements.

And that's going to be so important to really identifying, not only do they have what it takes to be a great team member or a part of your team and really solve your problem, but it's going to be able to also identify their motivations.

So being able to see that they're going to jump through quite a few hoops before even having an interview. And a lot of people don't want to do that. They're like, yeah, thanks, I'm interested in this role, yeah, when can we chat? And we're like, well, right after you go through our process. Apply here. And that actually filters through a lot of people who don't really care too much.

I would say I'm not the biggest fan of adding like those little trick questions in job descriptions. Because people who are looking for jobs, they're not as consistent in reading the job description, I would say. So definitely having the, the steps is a lot more of a thorough process to see, not only do they qualify, but they are really interested in the position and they're going through and following through on the different steps.

Jason: [00:10:16] So walk us through the steps that you would take someone.

Anna: [00:10:18] Yeah, absolutely. So the, what we do is we have a questionnaire. So for example, let's say you need five years of experience in Facebook, running Facebook ads. So we'll ask: How many years of experience do you have in Facebook ads? What's the budget that you have handled per month?

Uh, we’ll ask about what types of businesses have you done Facebook ads for? And there'll be like a dropdown or check the boxes of which industries you've done.

So we we’ll add the requirements in the questionnaire, because that way, even if they didn't read it, which sometimes happens, we'll be able to filter through that. Because candidates say, hey, I actually don't have this. Or I only have three years of experience.

So the questionnaire and yeah, like the questionnaire really helps assess that. Now we have a small skill test that we've created that tests for the hard and soft skills. We have done this internally and we've created what works for us.

But I talk about this all the time. Like I do a webinar now and again, and I talk about how there's so many tests out there, like personality tests, hard skill tasks, like let's say you even need to test somebody's abilities with Facebook ads. There's so many different tests out there. Do a bit of research, find what works for you and incorporate that in the process.

So having some sort of questionnaire looking into there, the requirements, if they meet them, having some sort of soft and hard skill test. It doesn't have to be crazy long. Just a few questions here and there to understand and better filter those candidates. Then we have a video, which again, we're asking a few questions.

We're asking for a two minute video, super easy and straightforward. But again, we're looking at, can they follow directions? Right? Can they actually respond at like, what are they saying? How are they saying it? What what's the attitude that we're getting? Is this something that they just put together, walking your dog on the street.

Which actually happens like we've either had like a girl in a farm. She's walking around in her, like near her farm. She's showing the farm. She's like, hey, this is where I am. Absolutely not. But walking the dogs, driving in the car to work, I mean, we've got some crazy videos. Oh, a guy eating sushi. I think that was one of my favorites. He's like, I'm going to wing this. So I just ordered some sushi, but it helps stand the mindset of candidates, how they work, like who they are as human beings, and really understand if that's going to be a culture fit.

And it just says so much, their video say so much. And so, that really helps us understand. And it not only does it kind of test for their personalities and interests and things like that. We're also looking at their English abilities. So we're seeing, I mean, we're hiring internationally and so we don't want to waste time having an interview. If we don't like it, they might be great at writing but then when it comes to speaking, they might not be able to, don't have the abilities.

So that video really ticks a lot of boxes and a candidate usually doesn't always, like they don't really anticipate it, I would say, in terms of what's really being expected.

But that's what we're looking out for, great communication skills and interest for the position, honest responses, a great environment. And then we'll do the interviews and move into that phase. First interviews, client interviews, and then towards the end, we'll do reference checks. So it's quite a thorough process and it helps really collect all the information you need for a successful hire.

Jason: [00:13:27] Yeah, that's crazy about the videos. You know, we, we ask for that as well. And I remember there was this one guy that we got a video I was getting so dizzy because he's walking around his pool, like holding this and I'm like, h my God, and the shaking like, oh, stop.

Anna: [00:13:46] Yeah. Make it stop. Stop. Absolutely.

Jason: [00:13:50] That's funny. Well, this has all been great, Anna, is there anything that I didn't ask you that you think would help out the audience with their remote recruitment?

Anna: [00:14:00] Yeah, absolutely. Twister tongue twister of the day. I would just say that start from the very beginning and put the time to truly understand research the position you're looking to hire for. Don't hire for just a fire like that.

And we do all have fires. I have fires. We all have fires in the business that we need to take care of, but don't hire for the fire. Okay. That's not, I got a rhyme in there. Don't hire for the fire, hire for the long term.

Jason: [00:14:25] It was like a Billy Joel. A Billy Joel song.

Anna: [00:14:28] Yeah. So definitely take the time to understand who you're hiring for, what are the requirements, and what will they do once they have, you know, taken care of that fire. What's that long-term plan? And when you have that, everything becomes so clear. So start from the beginning and best of your time from the very start to have a successful hire at the end.

Jason: [00:14:49] I love it. What's a website people can go and check you out?

Anna: [00:14:52] Absolutely. So it's, letsremotivate.com.

Jason: [00:14:56] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, I want you guys to do something. Take a screenshot, go on Instagram and tag us and say, hey, I liked the show. And then we'll give you a shout back.

Also, if you guys want to be around other agency owners, we have an amazing Facebook community. It's free. It's totally free. Just go to jasonswenk.com/insiders and request access into it. We asked a couple of questions just to make sure you’re an agency owner, and you have a team.

That's the requirement in order to get into there so you can ask the relevant questions and protect the community. So go to jasonswenk.com/insiders and you'll go to that page. And until next time I have a Swenk day.

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

As co-founder and creative visionary at Harmon Brothers, Daniel Harmon uses storytelling and humor to create ads that convert. Since 2014, he has helped create videos that changed the way we do advertising today, and that at the time were confused with funny sketch videos that had to assure audiences "Yes, this is real. This is a real ad." Now, he joins us to talk about how the Harmon Brothers found their comedy niche, how they find the right creative thinkers to write their unique ads, and how the company teaches their entire system through the Harmon Brothers University.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Hiring unique thinkers. The Harmon Brothers have developed a very unique style of advertising that stands out for its comedy. To build this style, Daniel says they have focused on getting very creative people with comedy backgrounds in the writing room. You’re going to be much better off teaching a comedian to be a marketer than a marketer to be a comedian.
  2. Creating ads that convert. When it comes to creating great ads that convert, the starting point will always be finding a product or service that you’re passionate about, that is offering real value, solving a real problem and on which you’re already sold as a customer. That way, you’ll me much more effective at communicating the benefits of that product, as opposed to doing it just because that’s your job.
  3. Stop copying the big agencies. Smaller and medium-sized agencies look at bigger companies and decide that they have to do what they’re doing, which is a mistake. Depending on the stage of the company, there's different ways to focus your advertising. Try to model how someone actually got there rather than looking at where they're at now and try to duplicate that, because you may end up looking silly.

Sponsors and Resources

SweetProcess: Today's episode is sponsored by SweetProcess. If you're looking for a way to speed up processes in your agency, SweetProcess will provide the systemization you need to scale and grow your business. Check out sweetprocess.com/smartagency and get your productivity up.

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How to Create Amazing Ads that Convert More Clients

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up everybody? Jason Swenk here and I have an amazing guest on the show. One of the Harmon brothers who is going to talk about how you can turn your poop into gold. Literally. Their videos are so funny and their ads reach so many people. And I'm happy to have them on. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

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All right, what's going on? Welcome to the show.

Daniel: [00:01:49] Thanks for having me, Jason. Glad to be on.

Jason: [00:01:51] Yeah, man. So for the people that have been kind of hiding under a rock a little bit, tell us who you are and what you do.

Daniel: [00:01:57] I'm Daniel Harmon. I'm Chief Creative Officer at Harmon Brothers, and we're known for ad campaigns like Squatty Potty, Purple, Chatbooks, Poo-Pourri, FiberFix Lumē, Kodiak Cakes, Camp Chef, all these different campaigns that have, um, helped companies generate over 1.5 billion views and over $400 million in sales. And anyway, that's, that's kind of what we're known for is mixing some elements of sort of direct response advertising stuff that gets people to act and buy immediately with really traditional branding elements of storytelling. And that's kind of our sweet spot.

Jason: [00:02:36] Yeah. And I love that. How did you guys kind of fall into that sweet spot? Because a lot of agencies, they start off and it takes them forever. So how did you guys progress through that?

Daniel: [00:02:49] Sure, for us it started a little bit with a company called Orabrush. My brothers were co-founders of Orabrush, Orabrush is a tongue cleaner that, um, helps remove the gunk off of your tongue. And that's where 90% of bad breath comes from is the, uh, is the gunk out of your tongue. So in trying to market the Orabrush, they weren't having any kind of retail success at all. And the co-founder, the inventor of the Orabrush. Dr. Bob approached my brother about, um, being able to sell, um, online.

Then with the Orabrush, they made a video that not only educated about how the Orabrush was cool and how it worked, but it also entertained at the same time. And a lot of the elements that we use in our videos are drawn from just classical sales principles, right? Things that you would use in a door-to-door scenario, things that you would use in telesales, email marketing, it's all very kind of problem/solution-based advertising.

And, um, that was the case with Orabrush, where it was all based on the fact that people have a problem of bad breath. They don't want to breathe that onto other people. It's embarrassing. And then the Orabrush provided a solution where it would clean the gunk off of your tongue.

And most people didn't know that good oral hygiene would include your tongue and not just your teeth, right? Most people know to brush their tongues, but the toothbrush wasn't really designed for brushing your tongue and this product was. And so it was educating about that, but then, um, adding the twist of the entertainment value and kind of a personality and character with it and some, and some branding really.

I think that is a lot of what was missing traditionally through the years on things like food commercials, right. That they all kind of felt a little bit cookie-cutterish, but they all were in sort of a, such a similar pattern that they, they were mostly distinguished by how different the products themselves were rather than by the personality that was pitching it or the story that was being told around it.

So with the success of Orabrush they ended up getting distribution in places like Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Boots, I mean, international stuff all over the place. The company ended up actually being sold to a company called DenTek and, um, that's kind of where that started. I actually was an employee of Orabrush as an art director there, where we created, uh, over a hundred videos over the course of a little over two years.

And so kind of learned the craft of that. Then later on, when we resigned from Orabrush, we, um, the first campaign we did was, um, with Poo-Pourri. And that one people know for the girl, that's the British girl sitting on the toilet saying all those terrible candid things about her bowel movements and how much they stink and that kind of thing.

But that's kind of where that formula for us started to solidify. And then later on it was Squatty Potty. It became much more so, and then Purple and so on. But yeah, hopefully, that answers the question.

Jason: [00:05:55] Yeah, definitely. I want to know more about the blooper reel. Like you guys have to have the best blooper reel out there for Squatty Potty and the Poo-Pourri

Daniel: [00:06:04] When we were filming Poo-Pourri and we were listening to the lines that she was saying, of course, this is 2013. And so most of us, our perception of what can kind of be done in the advertising space in this way has changed a lot. I mean, obviously, Harmon Brothers has done a lot to change that perception, right? In how you can kind of joke your ways through certain taboo subjects. If you're writing the right line, you don't want to get super offensive it anything.

But as I was listening to the lines that she was saying, as we were filming them, I was, as I was saying to myself, no, one's going to believe this is a real ad. They're, they're going to think this is a College Humor sketch. They're going to think this as an SNL thing. No one's going to think this as an actual ad.

And so my brother Jeffrey was like, well, okay, think of a solution. What do we do? And I was like, well, I think we have to tell them.

Jason: [00:06:57] “This is an ad”

Daniel: [00:06:59] Well, we didn't do it exactly in that way. While we were on set, um, I came up with the line that, yes, this is a real product. And yes, it really works. And it became kind of a catchphrase in our advertising to some degree where people, we see them use it all over the place. We don't use it as much ourselves anymore because we think it kind of sets the viewer off a little bit or can even be distracting.

But to some degree, we feel like that's a good space to be living in is if you kind of have to remind people “no, we're not just joking around.” This is, this is real what's going on right now. And it was very effective.

Um, I can't remember how many people told me that when they were watching the ad right up until that moment when we said, yes, this is a real product. And yes, this really works. They had actually believed that they were watching some sort of like a spoof or sketch or some sort of just comedy gig of some kind.

Jason: [00:07:48] Yeah. Walk us, um, because a lot of people want to understand kind of the framework of how. Because we all want to create including myself, so all of my audiences, agency owners, and I always like to say we exist to provide a resource. We wish we had, so we can scale faster, right?

And 90% of our content is educational, but 10% is supposed to be funny, you know, like humor, like we talk about what is an RFP means, Real Fucking Problem, Request for Punishment. Like all these different things we try to put in there. And a lot of people struggle with, you know, finding a way to stand out and you guys have really have a formula or a framework.

Walk us through a little bit of that. So the people listening can have an idea and be like, okay, this is how I can start. This is how I can kind of morph it and see if it actually works.

Daniel: [00:08:40] Yeah, for us standing out has a lot to do with just asking ourselves, have we seen this before in the way that we're doing this? I am not one to, admittedly, I'm not one to really follow a whole lot of what's going on in the advertising industry. Meaning there's a lot of advertisers that are really into things like the award shows and…

Jason: [00:09:05] oh, don't get me started on that.

Daniel: [00:09:07] I just think you end up advertising to advertisers. You ended up trying to please your peers. Rather than actually speak and relate to customers. And so, um, I don't really go down that road and I, I ask myself more as we're doing the content, have I seen, have I seen something like this or are we doing something fresh enough as we approach this, that it's going to make them stand out?

And it's not necessarily that it's always, that the character is always something that's just never been done before. I'm sure there's been a prince used in advertising before in some way, right? Um, in the way that like we have the Squatty Potty, we have the unicorn, there's never a pooping unicorn, I don't think, prior to that point in advertising. But using a prince I think had been done before, but in the way that we used it maybe it was a little bit different, right?

Or the girl on the stall talking directly from a toilet perched on a toilet. That was something that was very, very different. Or Goldilocks releasing some eggs that fall down on a bed. Those were all kind of things that we felt like, um, hadn't really necessarily been seen before. A French woman singing, um, kind of in a Broadway style, uh, play-type environment for Lumē.

All these things we felt like were just different than anything we'd seen before. And so for us, the basis of coming up with a lot of those ideas is really coming, um, is involving really creative thinkers into the writing process. And, and, um, a lot of that is for us centralized on comedians. So we're looking not as much for people that are extremely experienced in advertising and marketing.

We're looking for people that have a lot of reps and a lot of skill developed in the areas of stand-up, improve, and sketch comedy. And then we feel like we can better guide the marketing and advertising language around that. That it's going to we're, we're going to be much better off teaching a comedian to be a marketer than a marketer to be a comedian.

And that gets us some very different thinking because their jobs are like on a day-to-day basis are like, okay, what kind of cool thing can we come up within in the sketch? Or what kind of thing can we make fun of? Or what's some observational thing that I've seen that I can use in my standup that I have never heard anyone say before.

That's kind of just second nature to them. And then that's kind of our, our starting point for being able to stand out. I'd say.

Jason: [00:11:32] I love that. And so for the people listening, I guess, do they need to go and find their funny friends that are doing standup?

Daniel: [00:11:43] Short answer? Yes, that's what I mean in Harmon brothers university in our courses, that's one of the things we teach is the idea that a community it's easier to turn a comedian into a marketer than a marketer to a comedian.

And so we do recommend following funny people on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, that kind of stuff. Wherever you get your stuff. Facebook, I don't, I don't care. And then kind of looking at the patterns of what they use in their humor and things, but even maybe reaching out to some of these people and seeing if they'd be available to get involved, or maybe going to your local standup club or improv group or whatever it is.

There's usually somewhere nearby in your state or your, or your area that, um, some sort of a culture or a community that you can tap into of people that are already in that world. And, um, I think using them as a resource is, is really good. And it's not always easy. There are, there are comedians that approach it very much from the standpoint of like, well, this is art and I'm doing art. So don't tell me what to do with your advertising stuff.

Well, at the end of the day, it still has to sell, right? It has to move the product, it has to brand. It has to do all those things. Then it can't just be funny and it can't be tangental all the time for the messaging. Um, there's, there's ways that you can kind of channel that creative energy to be more productive for what you're doing. But yeah, I think it's a really good idea to go. Go involve people that are already funny rather than trying to teach yourself to be funny in order to get it done.

Jason: [00:13:14] Oh, yeah, that would be horrendous. That would be, that would be really bad for a lot of people.

Daniel: [00:13:20] Yeah. Like for myself, I'm, I'm not even like the funniest person around. I do have a good sense of humor, I have good comedic timing and mine more applies in the way that I go about filming and editing and enhancing what's there in, in writing. I mean, I can write jokes and that kind of thing, but like, I might be able to write one joke in the time that it takes some of these other guys and gals that we get involved. Um, like they can write 10 in the time that I write one.

It's just not as efficient. And I'm pretty darn good at making that stuff that they write be funny in the end product. But as far as like originating that on paper, that's not going to be. There's going to be other people that, that have more superpower in that area.

Whereas it would be a lot of toiling for me to do that. I can help out a ton in the advertising language and the sales persuasion and all that kind of stuff. And I'll all writing zingers here and there. But as far as like that really creative stuff that's needed. Yeah. We're always looking to outsiders to help with that.

Jason: [00:14:18] I’m going to guess, you know, I'm in Atlanta today and there's obviously tons of improv and all kinds of places all over. And I bet if you went to some of those and you went up to someone and be like, hey, do you want to be involved in this? I bet they'd be like, heck yeah, I want to be involved in this.

Daniel: [00:14:35] Yeah, they'd probably in most cases be over the moon excited because what you'll find is that most comedians aren't actually making a living being a comedian.

They are developing it as a skill set on the side and they're passionate about it and they'd love to make a living with it. But as far as it's their full-time living. Ooh, it's, it's a small subset of that community that is actually making, making money and not waiting tables somewhere or, or not working in some sort of a warehouse job or in a kitchen or whatever it is.

Like, most comedians are very happy for the opportunity to write something funny and be paid for it. Like that's probably going to be really exciting to them.

Jason: [00:15:19] Oh yeah. After we find the talent or the creatives to help you with the idea. What's really kind of the next thing that we'll, will shape what we do to get these ads to convert or get people's attention.

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Daniel: [00:15:32] Yeah. I mean, I'm kind of going backward here, but the starting point for us is finding a product or service that we're passionate about. That if you can speak from the perspective of the customer, meaning that you've been sold on the product yourself, you've kind of had that aha moment of you as you've used it.

Then you will be much more effective at communicating that to other people because you’re sold, right. You're not just selling people because it's your job. I really feel like, and I repeat this around here all the time that nothing sells better than the truth. And so if you get to that authenticity, that's a much better starting point.

So for us, we're very choosy about what kind of clients we partner with, especially on our big campaigns. Because we want to really ensure that we have passion for it, that we have someone that has actually has belief in it. That's heading up the project that are whatever creative directors on it is really, you know, wants to, to sell this thing rather than just I'll has to, because it's part of their job.

And so that's for us as a good starting point is finding a product or service that's offering real value, solving a real problem for people and is genuinely making the world a better place in some way.

Jason: [00:16:45] Yeah. I remember, um, we were talking in the pre-show about Daryl Eaves, your producer for Squatty Potty. And I remember him telling me he was he how he was trying it out before. He would actually do it and he's like, it actually works. And it was pretty funny.

Daniel: [00:17:01] That's essential to it. We have people that are mailing us their products, um. You know, fairly regularly we see new stuff come through the door and just so we can get our hands on it and start experimenting with it and start falling in love with it, or just being like, you know what, this isn’t for us.

I remember a food product that came through the door the other day. And I, I, it was several different flavors of this particular kind of, uh, it was a, it was a snack cookie or something like that. And I, I tried one and another, another one and I was just like, nah, I just can't get behind this. I just am not, I'm not liking this. I'm not seeing how, how we can sell this because this doesn't taste great to me. And anyway, that's kind of the process we go through.

Jason: [00:17:41] Very cool. So now that we have passion behind the product, we've hired the creative team, what are the things that you've seen that will make, make something sell, make an ad actually work.

Daniel: [00:17:54] Yeah. So some of them are to relate with the customer in their pain. If you can dive into the problem that they're experiencing and you can effectively capture in video what that pain looks and feels like, then, um, you're relating with them and then they're perfectly set up to the solution, which is what your product or service that you're, um, that you're selling is going to be providing.

So I think in the case of, for example, let's just take FiberFix, for example, when we did our ad for FiberFix FiberFix is a fiberglass a wrap or tape that essentially can fix almost anything. And it's in its a hundred times stronger than duct tape. And it's, um, it's stronger than steel by the time it all sets and hardens.

We go through this scenario of a guy on a Saturday that has a broken sink underneath, like something leaking underneath the sink. So he goes to get the part to the hardware store and he comes back and realize it doesn't, it doesn't work. So he goes back to the hardware store and he misses all this time with, uh, where he could be watching football.

As opposed to, if he would've just had the fix there with FiberFix where he could have just immediately taken care of that on the spot, then he would have been in really good shape. And so that made the pain very relatable to the situation that people that people face. So I think that's one of the best ways to speak to people is the specificity of what the customer goes through in the way of the problem that they face on how the solution of the product relates to them.

Jason: [00:19:27] Yeah. You know, that's one of the things that we always ask when people engage with us. Or whenever we chat with them or in any of our Facebook groups is like, what's the things that are keeping you up at night? Or one of the things we did in one of our communities is like, what's the dumbest request you've ever gotten from a client?

And then they'll just, oh, I mean, it's literally, you're reading some of these and you're like, yep, checkmark, checkmark, checkmark. So I guess my next question from you, and don't obviously don't name the client, but what's the dumbest thing someone's ever asked you for as a client.

Daniel: [00:20:00] Oh, gosh, I try to erase those moments from my brain. Oh, the dumbest request. I think sometimes some of the dumber requests come when they try to force. It's and it's never actually, I don't think happened in our case, but when they try to say, oh, you should really cast this person as the lead in a role.

And specifically, they're thinking of like a celebrity and we're like A, that is nowhere near your budget so you can't go there. B, whether or not they'd even want to be involved that's a whole other question. And C, they're probably not even right for the part, even though they, you think they are kind of a thing. So I'd say that's one of the funnier things that sometimes happens is that when the client's like, oh, we should, you know, if you really got, um, Tina Fey.

Jason: [00:20:52] Or Tom Cruise.

Daniel: [00:20:55] Well, yeah. That’d be awesome if you can do that. You know, maybe we should ask American Express how they pulled that off. Oh wait. They had billions of dollars. That's how they pulled it off. So that's kind of one of the funnier requests that comes through. And sometimes I'd say. I'd say the bigger mistake that we sometimes see clients make is just focusing on the wrong things.

And by that, I mean a feature or an aspect of their product or service that's really important to them and they think is really cool. But when you actually listen to the customer base of what's the most important to them, what's the problem is solving, might be almost a little bit distracting. It's might maybe not even something that needs to be brought up and they're just like, oh, we really want this to be a part of it because you know, doing this long form ad and we're, we're, we're going on record two or three minutes so surely you can find a way to fit this in.

It's like, it doesn't matter about the length. You still got to keep things focused, right? And so that's, that's another thing that happens sometimes is people just want me to stuck everything possible into it.

Jason: [00:21:56] So, and that happens to all of us creatives, right? The client thinks they actually know better than us.

Daniel: [00:22:04] Yeah. Sometimes they do.

Jason: [00:22:06] Sometimes, but I remember we were doing a campaign for Pro-Line Boats and this was in 2003 when Flash was really popular, but we still had dial-up and they wanted to put a four-minute video of us chasing their boats on a helicopter on the homepage. And I was like, you gotta be kidding me. Like, how long is this like going to spin? If you remember the spinner, right? So how do you get around when clients do ask for something that you know is way off? How do you reel them back in?

Daniel: [00:22:43] Primarily, I usually try to explain it in terms of data. So if we have any data from prior campaigns, that can point to the fact that they're going down a direction that's not going to be good for them.

Then we can illustrate that with stuff we've done in the past. And then that kind of takes some of the subjectivity out of it. It makes it a little bit more objective. So if you have data to rely on to show the client, okay, that's not quite right. And the other one is sometimes it is on a gut level and you just kind of know, like, no, that's, that's not going to work out.

And I think it's worth having those discussions and falling on the sword on behalf of your client to some degree, because they're hiring you to do something that they can't do themselves. That's the reason they're hiring you in the first place is because they know that they, they only have a certain level that they can get to and they need you to take them to the next level.

And you essentially bend over or just kind of tower to every request that they have because they're the client, I think you're actually doing them a disservice. So what I ask myself, when we have those moments is. Am I falling on the sword just because on the creative and this is my art and that's, that's what I want? Or am I doing this because I think the client is genuinely going to hurt themselves? And if it's that I really feel, or especially if I have the data to show that the client is going to hurt themselves, then I'm going to fight that battle.

If it's more of a preference kind of thing, then there might be areas where you can compromise. And like I said, sometimes the clients are even right. Sometimes they'll have an insight of something legally that you can't do, and they know about that and they can kind of steer you right in that way. Or some other aspect of things that will be more factual or whatever it is.

And you need to be able to listen to those moments. But I'd say more so the real question to ask yourself is, am I doing this because I'm on my high horse a little bit, because I'm the creative and they're not? Or am I doing it because I genuinely want to protect this campaign? I want to protect their brand for them. If that's the case, then it's, it's a battle worth fighting.

Jason: [00:24:50] Yeah. I love it. Well, this has all been great. Daniel, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit, you know, the agency owners listening?

Daniel: [00:24:58] Um, yeah. So one thing is for us where we do so much of the direct sales and direct response style of advertising, and then the branding. I would say when it comes to branding and comedy and being funny and storytelling that you want to go further and further and further down that road and have maybe less and less direct response elements, the bigger you get as a company and the more competitors you have. When you're early stage, and you're very differentiated in your market, then you need to be a lot more clear and a lot more direct.

In a way, um, I mean, you can be funny at the same time and stuff, but you need to be really focused on that sale when you're kind of in that startup phase, because you're just educating people on something that's brand new. You're maybe telling them about a product or service that they've never heard of before.

And you need to kind of gain that trust initially with communicating clearly about how you solve a problem for them. But as you get further up into the market and you, and you have more competitors, if you think of someone like Nike, or, um, Ford or Apple doing a redirect response out of some kind, they would feel really out of place, right? Or red bull.

Like it doesn't make a lot of sense at that place. You need to be just telling really great stories and you need to be relating with people emotionally and just highlighting a benefit in a clever way. But, um, you can't be going through and be like, I know it can't be the exact same format then because you're in a different place at a different time.

And so I would say depending on the stage of the company, there's different ways to focus your advertising on that spectrum of, from direct response, clear, over here to branding. You want to be careful of not getting ahead of yourself in trying to be too clever and too funny and too, too many bells and whistles too soon, as opposed to kind of focusing in on the message that really matters.

Jason: [00:26:55] Yeah, I totally get that because you know, a lot, what happens in the agency world is we look at the biggest agencies in the world. And then the little guy, or even the medium-sized guy, we go, well, we got to do what they do. You know, perfect example is looking at their websites.

If you look at a big agency's website it is the ugliest. It is the worst thing. There is no conversion point. You can't figure out how to have a conversation with anybody. Like. We need a big H on our homepage. I'm not talking about Harmon Brothers.

Daniel: [00:27:29] No, I got the dig it's okay. Right. Yeah.

Jason: [00:27:32] Right. Got it. You got it. You got the punchline, but we need to model, like you were saying model how someone actually got there rather than looking at where they're at now and try to duplicate that because, yeah, you're going to look kind of silly.

Daniel: [00:27:47] There's a time and a place. And you've got to kind of move along that path as the brand grows.

Jason: [00:27:53] Yep. Tell us a little bit about your, you guys' amazing course where people can go.

Daniel: [00:27:59] Yeah, so essentially we've developed an entire internal train that we use for our writers, for our editors, for our creative directors, for everybody to be able to create the kind of advertising that we do, brand the way that we do, sell the way that we do.

And it's all on harmonbrothersuniversity.com. And it's our entire playbook. We don't hold anything back. We, we've put it all on there. The exact same internal training that we give here is what we put out on there. And so for anyone that wants to learn how to do this themselves, as opposed to hire it done, they can go to harmonbrothersuniversity.com, and they can sign up for the courses that are there.

There's things like the 14-day script challenge, which is basically two weeks to get you from a blank page, all the way to a script that's ready to film. Um, which is a really cool course. And there's other things like the easy ads that sell course, which kind of gets you into a bunch of different little forms of ad formats that you can put out there on, on Facebook, Instagram, and so forth.

Anyway, it's just been a tremendous resource for people where, um, literally the, our students have driven millions and millions of dollars by following the principles and learning from these courses. And, yeah, I, I would for sure say, uh, for people to check it out and they might even dive in and learn enough to be like, you know what? I just want to hire you guys instead.

And that's fine too. It works both ways, but anyway, that's, that's our entire playbook there for people to learn from, if anyone wants to do this and hopefully it can help some companies out.

Jason: [00:29:28] Awesome. And, uh, and yeah, they're not sponsoring me, but I just think what they do is really pretty amazing. So go check it out. I do have one last question, because I think that this, especially of what you guys have done with Harmon Brothers University. So a lot of people are like, well, why would you put your whole thing out? A lot of agencies think about the same thing. I look at it of going, I think it's a smart decision because everyone wants to know how, but a lot of people don't want to know how to do or to actually do it.

And then the second part, I think. And hopefully, I'm not answering your, taking your thunder from this. The other part is, I bet you probably could pick like the people go through it and you're like, man, this guy is really good or this gal's really good. Let me just hire this person. Has any of that happened?

Daniel: [00:30:14] Yeah, both those things we knew, we knew when we were seeing the success that we were, that people were going to copy us either way. And so we just said, why not just put it out there? And educate people on how to do it, right. That eventually some of them will come back to us and we've seen that for their own campaigns.

And then I just have a little bit of the altruistic attitude and I think we, we do here internally of, you know, kind of you reap what you sell, right? If we put things out there that it'll come back to us in some positive way, even if it's not always measurable. And so I would say we haven't regretted that in the least in going that direction.

Jason: [00:30:47] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. Lots of great takeaways and a lot of fun, making fun of each other back and forth. And if you guys enjoy this episode and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we're making fun of each other, we're seeing the shit that you're doing wrong, and we can actually point you in the right direction.

And you want to have a therapy group. I think a lot of it it's that so that we could feel sane and we can actually scale a little bit faster rather than have the shit between our ears, and you know, block our growth. I want you guys to go to digitalagencyelite.com. Check it out if it's right for you, do the application and maybe we'll chat and then maybe we'll see you on the inside.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Create_Amazing_Ads_that_Convert_More_Clients.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00pm EDT

Duncan Alney made the decision to focus his agency on social media back in the late 2000s when MySpace was still a thing. Now he's running a 7-figure agency and is has niched it down even further. As founder and CEO of Firebelly, Duncan juggles the roles of catalyst, program overseer, problem solver, and strategist within the organization. Today he joins us to talk about how he accelerated his social media agency, the benefits of letting go of your fears, and why you have to let go of your ego to reach the next level.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Letting go of your fear. When Duncan made the decision to focus his agency on social media, he started rejecting other types of work. It was a scary moment, but he had a “burn the boat” mentality. They would succeed in this new space or they would go down trying. In the end, they committed to following their own compass. Shortly after, they started winning awards by having a clear point of view and claiming their spot in the industry.
  2. The phases of running an agency. If you look at running an agency in stages, the first stage will be building. After that’s done, the next phase is all about direction, in terms of the values that you will set up for your business and will guide you in the decisions you make in the future. Once you established your direction, you will need to put some systems in place. Many people like to skip this part, and they will regret it. The combination of the direction and the systems is what will help you scale and get to the next phase of delegating.
  3. Get past your ego. A lot of agency owners want to be needed, and that can be a problem. Remember that your clients go to you to solve a problem. They are not necessarily reaching out to you because they like you or feel you’re the only one that could solve that problem. Learn to delegate. A sustainable business has to be able to run without you. Even Apple was able to continue its mission and vision without Steve Jobs.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit/ to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Getting Past Your Ego and Put Clients in the Middle

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up everybody? Jason Swenk here, and I am excited to bring to you an amazing agency owner who's going to talk about how he accelerated his social media marketing agency. He's in the mastermind. He's always a bundle of joy and always makes me laugh when I chat with him. So welcome, Duncan. So, for the people that have not experienced the Duncan effect, tell us a little bit about who you are and what do you do.

Duncan: [00:00:28] I am Duncan. Much like Prince or Madonna or, you know, with this Duncan nothing else is needed. I'm the founder of Firebelly, and, um, we were a social media marketing agency. I'm also a dad and a husband/partner and a son. And yeah, I have a lot of joy in my life, so I try to bring it to everyone else around me.

Jason: [00:00:51] Awesome. And so talk about how did you get started with your, uh, social media agency?

Duncan: [00:00:57] So we started doing social media marketing in the late 2000s, really like 2007, because we were a branding agency and there wasn't any real differentiation. And I already had noticed at that point that SEO was moving very quickly. You know, websites were becoming more and more technical and I really wanted Firebelly to own a space.

And so we decided, hey, this social media thing is new, let's, let's jump into it. So that's how we got into it initially and then over the years, you know, my business has, has really gone from being a lifestyle with some employees to being a real business in the last really two to three years has been, you know, with profit incentives and a social impact and thinking about ourselves seriously as a business, as opposed to, hey, get some people in here to do some work.

Jason: [00:01:50] So let's kind of dive into that a little bit. So what were you going through at the time when you said, hey, I want to make a switch? And then what did you do?

Duncan: [00:01:59] At the time, the company was sort of an extension of myself. You know, I had been like a lot of people a solo player with a bunch of freelancers and contractors. And what I was really good at at the time was actually doing the work.

And so I did some exceptional work for brands. You know, whether it was tactics or strategy, well, probably mostly tactics, but you know, if someone wanted PR done for a launch or a trade show, or they needed a video made or email marketing campaign or a website like I was the guy I brought the right people to the table.

But what I realized is, with all of that there's a reliability issue when you're working with freelancers and contractors. I mean, I don't care who they are. They're not your employees. So I was looking at employees mainly because I also wanted to start sleeping. Cause I was working with the development team in India and I didn't know how to say no.

And so there were no boundaries and really, like, getting started in social media was sort of like saying, okay, we just kind of picked something, actually. It was in the MySpace days and we did a launch for a restaurant and I did the PR launch with the local media. And my colleague who we've been working together for 14 years, Chad, said let's use My Space and we'll geotarget the people that are within a 10-mile radius. So those people, you know, 10 miles is not far to drive to a pub for a good shepherd's pie and some, and some Guinness and the PR got on all the TV stations, but the social media created, and I'm not kidding a line of 300 people when they opened.

And so we thought, hmm, I remember sitting in our tiny conference room and I, and I said to Chad, I said, we should just do this all the time. He looked at me like I was nuts. Like, he looks at me like that a lot. And that was it. That's the story. We… at the time there was no category, right. Nobody was really doing social.

So we couldn't get anybody to talk to us. So the first few years, you know, if we wanted work, we bought the work. I mean, meaning, like we said, we'll do it. You know, cover some expenses and we'll just do it. Cause we were trying to build case studies and build, I guess, experience and expertise in the space.

And so we did that and, uh, we were humble about it. You know, we, we acted like we knew what we were doing, but that we were figuring a lot of things out, which was kind of the situation in social at the time.

Jason: [00:04:24] That's how we all are in everything.

Duncan: [00:04:28] And then, uh, you know, then we found that, I mean, that we got a, you know it was a slow news day in Indianapolis and I got on the cover of the business section and Tony Dungy, who was the coach of the Colts at the time, had a photo on there that was one fifth, the size of mine. And it talked about, you know, us doing social and a couple of alums from my college called me and one thing led to another. We were doing crazy good work for a little restaurant chain and they hired us to do work for Qdoba.

And next thing you know, we went from one brand to another and we were working for the blue chip nonprofits. And I think at the end of the day, those days of social media have come and gone. There was a lot more hype in those days and we probably got caught up with some of the hype as well, but these days it's, you know, it's definitely very different.

It's all moving the needle, you know, and actually creating some outcomes. But there were years where we had, you know, what a lot of agencies do that say they’re social media marketing agencies. They can't really make a goal for that social media marketing, because either they don't have the focus or the expertise or they, they can't make the commitment, right?

And so they fund all that work with some behind-the-scenes email, or they're doing websites or they're doing other stuff, but they're hanging their hat on social. We decided it was probably like five or six years, six years ago, like, you know, screw it. We don't care if we go broke, which we nearly did go broke. We're only going to do social. We're going to turn any other work away.

That was a major, a major transformation. So that was like, what eight years in? And we decided, you know, we basically, I should have put a referral agency in place or talk to Chris Dryer about an incubator agency or something like that, and, you know, send all. We just gave up most of the work and, uh, we started off and, um, I think the experience and the expertise was definitely tested because now you got to do it all the time. And that's all we did. We focused in and we started doing ads and extended into influencers.

We were ahead with a lot of that stuff. Actually, we were doing influencer work in 2012, and we've done it the hard way. You know, we've built frameworks and we build winning relationships for brands and their audiences and the influencer. And so I think that that kind of like commitment and focus isn't easy, but that's what it takes to win.

Jason: [00:06:51] Yeah. What are some things that you attribute to the growth? That looking back you're like, that was a pivotal point for really kind of catapulting us to where we are now and where we're going.

Duncan: [00:07:05] That's a great question, Jason and I, and I think that there are a few things that come to mind. I think the pivotal moment, if there, if there was a pivotal moment was losing the fear and saying, okay, we're… I think there's a quote about burn the boat, so you can't leave. It's like basically, we said, okay, we're either going to succeed or we're going to go down trying.

And so I think losing the fear in terms of doing other work and also losing the fear of taking all business. You know, understanding that all businesses not good business, those things were critical. And I also think like we switched from doing, we've never, I've never been good… our company has never been good at following, you know, blind best practices.

So we've always just followed our own compass and like saying we're not going to be afraid of doing what we want to do, and we're going to follow our compass on what we think the right way to do it has been. And it's a learning experience. The learning has not stopped.

Even today we're constantly learning new things, but I think that embracing fear… as we're going to be afraid but we're not going to be afraid to do it.

Jason: [00:08:15] I love it. There's so many agencies that they're so crippled by what they don't know that they can't push through and make that next step that's so needed.

And I love that quote, I think that was from Tony Robbins about, you know, if you want to take the island then burn the boats, because then there's only one path forward. Because if you have a backup plan, well, you're not going to go at a hundred percent and then you're actually going at it as kind of half ass of going well, I succeed, I succeed if I don't that's okay. Like it's like, no, you live or die by succeeding.

Duncan: [00:08:49] And I think part of it has been, at least we have a small team. Even now with massive growth we still have a small team. And I think part of that has been to lead from the front and not only lead from the front, but you know, this is where our stories start converging.

Where when I first met you, you know, we read you a playbook, we read your book and we thought core values? Hmm. You know, we have a vision to be very good at what we do, and what are our core values? And so having core values really changed the way we saw the world and the way the world saw us. Suddenly, like. we had a framework for employees, well for colleagues, for partners, you know, for clients.

And I've been several occasions where we have said no to clients based on our values. So… I lost the original question, so you’ll have to remind me.

Jason: [00:09:40] Oh, I lost it too. I love hearing your answers. No, we were, we were talking about what was the thing that really kind of catapulted you to the next, the next level.

Duncan: [00:09:51] So I think that looking at the values and looking at where we wanted to be was really great. I think also like finding a community of agency owners has changed the game for me. So, you know, I wasn't going to the best HR person. I was going to the best HR person for agencies, I was going to the best finance person for agencies.

I was talking to agencies that had gone from 300,000 to 600,000, you know, or from 600,000 to a million. And I was surrounded by people that had walked my path before. And, you know, I think that community of, from a leadership standpoint, for me, that was a huge change.

I think for the company seeing me confident about the future and seeing me say that there is no question about whether we're going to succeed. We're going to succeed or we're going to go down trying. I think that made a big difference.

But then I think also a place where people started to find out about our successes. I think we won an award. In late 2018, uh, we won Sprout, which is sort of the defacto social media management system, in my opinion. And, uh, we want to Sprout award and suddenly like people were looking at us differently and we were applying for awards and winning them, and we won so many awards and then getting ranked by so many different organizations as being a serious contender.

I think those were all moments when suddenly we went from toiling and basically in an invisible place to being very visible and, and, you know, that has given us a voice. And I think using the voice has been really important, like, you know, to help other agencies to help people that are looking I'm very active in Sprout channels and I think, you know, teaming up with other agencies, talking to them about the role of social and helping them and them helping us.

Those are the things. So I think maybe it's like claiming knowing our point of view, knowing where we want to be and where we are then claiming our space in the world have been sort of like, I think critical components of like all of that, but I think the key piece was saying, okay, I don't care what we're doing. I can't give people as a leader. I can't give people a dependable, safe place to work if I don't operate from a value standpoint and protect them and enable them to do a great job with definition and clarity, but also running a profitable enterprise.

Because at the end of the day, and maybe crass to say that, but we have to balance people's lives and people giving people the environment they need to succeed with making money.

Jason: [00:12:29] Yeah. I mean, I love that you said that when you had more confidence your team, and especially, I noticed that over the years of building the first agency is whenever I would come in negative or whenever I would come in worried that would portray through the whole company.

But when I would come in excited, vibrant, like this is what we're going to do, like just, you know, anxious, it would inspire everybody and then it would take the emotions or add the right emotions to the company. And when I look at running an agency or building an agency, I look at it in kind of four phases.

I look at it as the first phase is really kind of building. So let's say we're building a race team, right? We got to build the car, but the only way to build that car and get to being able to drive it is you have to know what kind of car do I want? I have to have that direction. And you talked about that a little bit of like once I had that direction and like the direction of these are the values that I want to surround people with, this is what I actually want.

Then you started catapulting you to the next level, which is kind of driving the car. And then I look at kind of driving the car is the only way to get to the next level is through systems. And putting the right systems in place for your team. So now you can take that car and go to the racetrack.

A lot of people try to skip levels and I've raced against them and they wound up very on fire or hurt. And they've just tried to jump to the racing level too quick and they don't have the right systems in place or they don't have the right crew members in place. Then, the only way to get to the next one is through delegation.

And over the past couple of years I’ve seen how you've progressed through the levels of building, setting that direction, setting up those systems, learning how to delegate. That's hard for a lot of agency owners or any, any entrepreneur, honestly, to delegate something that you're like, ah, let me just do it. And then once you have all that, you have alignment, your team's winning races and you're onto the next level.

Duncan: [00:14:38] I subscribe to that thinking. Or did you call them phases?

Jason: [00:14:41] Phases.

Duncan: [00:14:42] Yeah, I mean, I think that how I interpret that for our world is you live dominantly in one phase, but it's very good for you to be in all the other three phases at the same time. So, you know, in our case where I'm looking for new service areas. And in that situation, you know, going back to one, and then when you have a new service area going into two, and then the agency as a whole, you know, we're going through a ton of systems work and I'm beginning the delegation work, you know?

So there's lots of things I don't know, which is a win. And for example, like going from 12 one-on-one meetings to three one-on-one meetings, you know, things like that. And also, like, I think people want to be challenged. They want clarity and metrics, but they also want a challenge and say, hey, can you do this? I, I believe you can, but can you?

And I think that that has been, you know, I mean, it's interesting. I know it's a tough economy and you know, everyone's getting a lot of applications, but we've had jobs that are requiring five and six and eight years of work experience and literally, we're getting 500 applicants and just going through the freaking applicants, is heavy lift.

But I candidly like losing a lot of the rules, like, oh, you know, we have to have an office. Well, do we? We have to have employees in one place. No, with the pandemic we just threw that rule book out that playbook out. And now we have employees in Miami and Tampa and New York and Michigan and LA, you know, with more to come.

And I think that people see that and they see like, hey, I can be a part of this. Not that people are everything, but they are a major component. Right? I mean, people need processes and protocols, and infrastructure. So, but I think that that's what has attracted people.

And going back to the phases, I definitely think we're in phase three. I hope we're going to get through phase three soon.

Jason: [00:16:46] As an agency owner, it's hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or reinvesting. And when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we're excellent marketers, but when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing our financial data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

And that's why my friend Nate created Agency Dad, specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad, they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they're really good at. Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business. He understands everything from how to structure your books, to improving the billing process and really managing your financial efficiencies.

Agency Dad will show you how to use your financial data to make the key decisions from making your agency more successful and most importantly, more profitable. If you want to know how your agency finances stack up to the rest of the industry, Agency Dad can tell you how to do that. A lot of my listeners have already gotten their free audit from Agency Dad.

And if you haven't yet, go to agencydad.money/freeaudit before August 30th and get your free financial metrics audit. Also just for smart agency listeners, find out how to get your first month of bookkeeping or dashboarding and consulting for free. It's time to clean up your agency finances and listen to dad. Go to agencydad.money/freeaudit.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:18:31] Oh yeah, you definitely will. And then the only thing that I feel that keeps the successful companies and the winning stage is alignment. Everything has to be aligned. But like you were saying, you're constantly, always resetting on different things. Like I tried it this weekend. So, this weekend I played a game, one of the strategy games, Clash of Clans or whatever, some strategy game.

And I was telling my son that I used to play this game, Age of Empires. Clash of Clans it's just too many damn options. Like I was like, I can't, I'm frustrated. I'm not playing anymore. Let's go play football or basketball, but they did empires. It was pretty basic. And it was just like, get more wood gold and food.

And as you get more, you progress from the Stone Age to the next stage, the next phase, the next phase, right? I was like, that's just simple. And that's kind of how I look at as you progress up. That's why I always tell everybody, look, when you get the agency playbook, you gotta keep going through it every year, because you're going to have to, self-assess where you're at.

And there's going to be different areas that you might be like, oh, I'm good there now. But next year you have to kind of go back and go pull that lever in order to really kind of scale.

Duncan: [00:19:43] Agreed. Agreed. I mean, it's interesting. I'm about to start reading it again and I'm looking forward to that. Um, it's also interesting to see one of the things that I think a lot of people think is that bullshit get rich quick gospel that's out there.

You can read that gospel and it will take you wherever you are qualified to go. It is not a silver bullet. It is not any system that those get rich quick people. You know, those epistles are not sincere and authentic. And I think that there's a lot of people that think, yeah, you know, anybody can start a social media agency. Sure, anybody can do anything.

I mean, I think, I mean, we live in America and it's the land of second opportunities and you can have a second opportunity for the 60th time and you can post a picture with your beachfront property with a boat, and then you can like ask everyone in the community for help and you can't spell words properly, and you're basically, you have no model.

And so I think that that thinking is out there. But I think that the thinking that wins is when you have a community around you, of people that are going to tell you when you're wrong and tell you when you're right. And you know, you need to have processes and protocols and alignment and mean you need to have a plan, you know?

So I think that, starting a social media agency. Anybody can start a social media agency, but I think being a player in any space comes with time and experience and expertise. And in fact, even we are now saying, even if someone's a great lead for us, you know, I got a meeting set up with the defense contractor and that's not good business for us.

You know, we are now wanting to work with food and beverage brands and beauty brands. Do we have a drawer of miscellaneous clients we're passionate about? Certainly. But for the most part… so that's another step forward, you know, which, you know, part of my journey.

That's a very difficult step to make, you know, saying, okay, I'm only going to do this, but it also comes with. No, it does liberate you because suddenly you're on a, I'm on a call. You know, I still handle all the business development and I'll be on a call and I'm like… learning the space is going to be so challenging. We're not going to make any money for one year. You know, whereas if we work with the CPG food brand or a wine brand, it's like, we're going to kill it in month two.

And so that I think is another piece about like accelerating your agency. It's like our common friend, Jonathan Jacobs. He is the undisputed king of thoughtful social for authors and for books, you know, and for kind of like literary things. That's a very specific niche. And he does some other things, but that's what he's known for.

So I think that that is almost like the next step, right? It's you can't dominate unless you know what it is you're going to dominate on.

Jason: [00:22:39] Yeah, I must, I must break it up into kind of three things or actually three major things. And then each major thing has three things.

So if you want to get to a point where you can exit the business from the day-to-day operations or exit from selling it, right? That's usually what I see a lot of agencies that they chat with me about, or they joined the mastermind for. And if you look at it as kind of three things, how am I attracting people to my agency? And then out of those three things, it's kind of like, do we have a specialization?

Are we building authority? And do we have a lead generation system coming to us from outside of, you know, word of mouth? And then I look at, you know, on the other side, you have to have kind of convert. Do you have a sales team? That's the next thing we're going to work for you, Duncan, right? So you're not doing all the sales.

Are we having a high converting quick offer, right? That we talk about with the foot in the door and then are we selling on value? Right? Like you do an amazing job at selling on value. That's why you're so profitable. And then on the other side, the scale part. Because there's so many agencies that can actually attract, like, do amazing job at marketing and sell, but then they really drop the ball at the delivery one.

Like, can they set up, you know, is the agency running without them? You know, are they profitable? Are they growing accounts? And so when you get those nine things all working together, that's really where you get to the point where you have that freedom, that predictability you're making the money that you actually want.

And a lot of times people just have to do a self-assessment and go, okay, well, let's just work on this one part. Then it kind of stems to the next part, the next part. And then you just move up stages.

Duncan: [00:24:29] I really do think, I mean, I think you can live in different parts, but if you're trying to get to a place where you have, I was having this conversation with someone a couple of days ago and they were talking about that business and I said, hey, isn't it just, you?

And she said, yeah, I said, I didn't say this to her, but I talked to myself, well, it's not really a business. It's like a job you do at home, right? And so if you want to get to a place where you grow your business and your vision is basically capable of working without you, I think that's, that's one of the first signs that you really got something that works.

You know, whether it's you leave for two weeks and no one needs you or whether it runs all year without you with limited input. I think that that is a difficult place to get to, and it is really, you have to get past your ego. And a lot of us agency owners have an ego where we want to be needed. You know, we want to think that we're the only one that can solve this problem.

Well, they're not going to talk to you, they want me. And it's like, it's not true. They just want the problem solved and they want the outcomes. And at the end of the day, they may like you, but if they don't like you they're going to work with someone else anyway. So I think so I think there is letting go and, and saying like, what is, and it doesn't matter if you're at the agency world or any world, right.

It's like a sustainable business has to be able to run without you. Like, look at Apple. So many people thought, even with Apple’s scale, that Apple could never continue without Steve jobs. Tim cook didn't have the vision. Tim cook didn't have the operations handle. And obviously, that's not true. Again, how, it's been almost 10 years since Steve jobs died a little bit less, I guess.

But I think that that's the piece that you advise people really well on. And that's what people need to do to accelerate is you have to actually decelerate as an agency owner for the agency to accelerate.

Jason: [00:26:30] Yeah, you have to decentralize like you cannot be this, you're not the center of everybody's universe.

You kind of have to kind of step outside and put your clients in the middle. And if you could put your clients in the middle and then build everything around them that's when you can truly create something amazing. And even if you're listening and you're a one-man person, and that's what you want and you're happy with it. Perfect.

Don't let us lead you down a path of hiring a team and all that kind of stuff. But, but if you're at a place where you have team members and you feel like you're at a place where you're kind of just stuck and you're like, oh, I can never add double the employees because there'd be double the headaches.

That's the incorrect interpretation of what's going to go. Because if you hire the right people, it can actually give you that freedom that you've always wanted. And I love what you pointed out, Duncan, about the ego, right? Like I'm actually going through this right now. I'm about to hire a salesperson and a lot of times when I get on a call, people are kind of sometimes surprised that I'm on the call and they're like, well, I don't want to be like those other people, but like, you just literally made me think going, man, I got a big ego.

Literally, it's like, no, like you said it, they want their problem solved. They want to be able to scale their agency faster, regardless if I'm on the call or not. And I think if that resonates with everybody, like, that's a huge takeaway. If you guys are listening.

Duncan: [00:28:00] I mean, and I, and I think it's fine for the ones that don't want to do that.

They either don't have the vision to see the path ahead of them, or they don't want to be on that path. And I think that's fine. I think that you have to be realistic about where you are and whether or not that's what you want to be or not. And so if you want to be the practitioner that works on it every day, and you know, you're the copywriter who runs the business and it's like you’re also the main copywriter, that's totally fine.

But I think it's also a risky place to be, because if something happened to you, you know, what happens to all your employees? What happens to those people? Those are all lives that are reliant on you as a leader, and also what happens to your clients? And I don't want to seem like old thinking, but I mean, it's like you have like a responsibility and you have a, like a responsibility to those people and those groups, and also to your own legacy, like, you don't want to leave people in the lurch.

So those are not easy things to think about. Just like writing a will isn't an easy thing to do, but it's like, almost like you have to say, what's my obituary for myself going to be? And what's my obituary for my business going to be? Like, if Firebelly died today, what will people write about?

Thinking about that though, I will say, does raise some uncomfortable questions. It's like what you set out to do? And if not, what are you going to do about it? Right?

Jason: [00:29:19] I mean, it goes back to like what, also too, what regrets would you have for not taking action quick enough? Well, great insight, man. Duncan, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in to really help them scale faster?

Duncan: [00:29:35] You know, I recently launched my Firebelly podcast.

Jason: [00:29:43] Yes, finally! I should find the applause button on this software.

Duncan: [00:29:47] Yeah. And I think it's interesting because, you know, we had what I thought was a very clever name and I told you the name and you said to me, I don't know what that means. It was so nice and I was like, what do you mean?

He goes, you said, I think it's a shit name. You know, you need to communicate who you are. And so we said, well, we are Firebelly and we're social media. So maybe we'll just call it the Firebelly Social Show. And it's focused on mission-driven brands in the food and beverage space. But I think that if anyone has an idea on a great… my son is here to say hello.

Jason: [00:30:24] I know, hello! I saw him peeking in.

Duncan: [00:30:29] That’s the famous Jason Swenk that I always talk about. If I say Jason, he'll actually say Jason Swenk? So, who are you?

I think that, you know, as we're trying to make our way in this world of like being a leader, one thing that you have to do as a leader, whether you're a, uh, one-person show or whether you're an 80-person show. I think that people want to hear from you when it comes to stories. You know, the leader. Um, honey, it’s a podcast.

Jason: [00:30:58] Gotta love the pandemic.

Duncan: [00:31:05] On stories, and I think the reason you got to keep going on the stories is when you stop telling the stories, it's like, you don't exist anymore. And so regardless of your scale, you know, you gotta be somewhere present in those stories. So I think that's, that's a piece that I've been talking about a lot. Where do we stand?

Whether you're Francisco Serrano running a nine-figure agency or you’re someone else running, you know, a six-figure agency. It doesn't matter. It's like as a leader, you have to really tell the stories.

Jason: [00:31:37] Yeah. I love it. Well, what's the website people can go and check that agency out? And then also tell us where we can check out the podcast as well.

Duncan: [00:31:44] So the Firebelly Social Show is everywhere. It's on YouTube, it's on Spotify and Stickler and Google Play and everything like the Apple music. So the Firebelly Social Show, if you have some ideas of who should be on the show, I'd love to hear them. And then we are firebellymarketing.com and DuncanAlney.com is soon to be launched.

Jason: [00:32:06] Awesome. Well, so exciting for you on that, and thanks so much for coming on. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, which I know I did, and you want to be surrounded by other amazing people like Duncan. And Duncan is always usually the first one to greet every mastermind member that comes in. So I appreciate you so much for doing that.

And you want to be in a mastermind where people really have a lot of fun. They care about your success. They want to share the wins, you know, share the lessons that we have because it's not always sunshine and rainbows. We'd love to have you fill out an application because we want to make sure it's right for you and you're right for the group.

So go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Should_You_Burn_the_Boat_To_Achieve_Agency_Success_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT

Stephan Spencer made himself too essential in his agency, resulting in working to exhaustion. After a much-needed break, he was able to gain clarity on the best way to scale his agency. In the 1990s he founded the SEO agency Netconcepts and in 2010 it was acquired by Covario. Stephan invented an automated pay-for-performance SEO technology called GravityStream. He is co-author of "The Art of SEO", co-author of "Social eCommerce", and author of "Google Power Search." Today, he joins us to talk about how he scaled his agency to the point he could take a sabbatical. Learn how he intentionally worked himself out of a job by building a leadership team that could take over the thought leadership role.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Figure out what can be automated. We’ve talked about the importance of getting rid of the more tedious tasks to focus on what you really want to do. One way you could do that is by figuring out what can be automated or scaled with some artificial intelligence technology. For example, GPT-3 is a game-changer that you can incorporate into your product to have a real competitive edge.
  2. Don’t work yourself to exhaustion. It’s important to work yourself out of a job. By being indispensable, you become the biggest roadblock to the growth of the agency. Stephan wanted to be the visionary, not the integrator or the implementer, so he brought on a COO, VPs, CFO, CEO, and built his team to make sure he no longer was the company’s only thought leader.
  3. Establish authority in a powerful way. You can make a huge impact and put yourself on the map if you can find a niche where you can author a book. Another thing that can make a big impact and get you your first big clients is find a big company and offer your services in exchange for testimonials and the use of their logo on your website. It communicates to other clients that you are preapproved by this larger company and more clients are sure to follow.

Sponsors and Resources

SweetProcess: Today's episode is sponsored by SweetProcess. If you're looking for a way to speed up processes in your agency, SweetProcess will provide the systemization you need to scale and grow your business. Check out sweetprocess.com/smartagency and get your productivity up.

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Avoid Becoming Indispensable and Working Yourself to Death

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up everybody? I have an amazing show coming your way. If you want to know how one agency owner built an SEO agency over $6 million and sold it. And even before that got to a point where they could actually go on a sabbatical and the agency keep running without them. Which is total freedom. And, and to come back. This is the episode for you.

So let's go ahead and get into it.

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All right, welcome to the show, Stefan. How's it going?

Stephan: [00:01:52] It’s going great. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:01:54] Yeah, man. So, uh, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Stephan: [00:01:58] Yeah, well, I've been doing SEO since, uh, the nineties. If you can believe it. Even before Google existed, I dropped out of a PhD.

Jason: [00:02:07] Yeah. That was probably back when we could, uh, put all the keywords in the background and put it the same color.

Stephan: [00:02:15] Yeah. You know, I never did that. I always thought that was a little sketchy, but yeah. That did work kind of for a little while, uh, back in those days. But the idea of having eight or 10 different search engines that you had to optimize for was a little nerve-wracking back then, if you recall, there is Infoseek and…

Jason: [00:02:35] Lycos.

Stephan: [00:02:36] Lycos, AltaVista Dogpile, MetaCrawler, Web Crawler, Excite. Yeah. It was just…

Jason: [00:02:43] I remember all of them. Yeah, it was crazy.

Stephan: [00:02:46] Yeah. That was an interesting time, but then Google changed everything and became the 800 pound gorilla. And I knew that I needed to reverse engineer that algorithm and figure it out. So I did, and our agency went from being more of a web agency, interactive agency to being a specialist SEO agency.

And we really made a name for ourselves. Even I developed a technology platform for, uh, doing an end run around all the technical, uh, roadblocks that most SEOs face with regards to things like, uh, implementing URL rewrites and, and, uh, fixing architectural issues and so forth. I used a reverse proxy technology and created this software as a service.

We had clients like Zappos and Nordstrom using it, and we charged on a cost-per-click basis, which was brilliant. Because we could go head to head with pay-per-click, you know, like, oh, well you're paying 50 cents a click on average or a dollar per click? We only charge 15 cents a click. So you should buy as much traffic as you can from us and if we don't deliver, you don't get the traffic, you don't have to pay. So it was a no brainer.

Jason: [00:04:01] I love it. Now, was that part of the agency when you actually sold it or was this a spinoff?

Stephan: [00:04:06] It was.

Jason: [00:04:07] Very cool.

Stephan: [00:04:08] It was. Yeah. So that technology was really the main reason why our company was valued at what it was valued at and, and we, we got, uh, the nice exit. In fact, I don't even know if we were just a traditional agency, like everybody else. If we would even have been approached, I have a feeling we wouldn't have been.

Jason: [00:04:28] Now, do you feel that having that, and I've been talking to a lot of agency owners, you know, in the mastermind and over the years about, you know, if you can build that little black box that only you have.

Because I saw part of that as well as our agency, we were one of the first to build our own CMS system because we started in 99, so a little behind you. And we built the e-commerce system, email marketing system. Now we probably weren't as smart as you and a lot of other people that are like WordPress and all these, because we didn't turn it into a SAS product.

We installed it every time and we were always working on our clients. But do you feel that more agencies, especially the specialized agencies. If they could try to figure out how to build a technology that makes them unique. Does that really separate them?

Stephan: [00:05:18] It does. It does. And I think figuring out what can be automated or scaled with some artificial intelligence technology and to not have to kind of, you know, brute force it.

Because there's some really incredible AI tech out there already. Like for example, GPT-3 is a game-changer and you could sign up for their, their beta and start using it and incorporate it into your product and have a real competitive edge.

Jason: [00:05:49] Fantastic. I have not heard of that, but I'm not in that realm. Uh, so everybody go check that out or tell us a little bit more about that. So people know.

Stephan: [00:05:58] Yeah. Yeah. So there's a company called Open AI, openai.com and their flagship product is GPT-3. And GPT-3 stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer… three. In case you're curious.

But the idea of it is that it can take your input. Let's say you, you ask for a GPT three to write you a poem. Write me a poem about Elon Musk and make it like a Dr. Seuss poem and lo and behold, it actually does it. It's, it's amazing. You could ask it to catalog and sort images based on the kind of animal it is. You can just ask it questions and it will answer those questions. It's phenomenal.

So somebody who asked GPT-3 to write a poem about Elon Musk, like Dr. Seuss would write it. This is really hilarious. Uh, you can, you can Google it or you can drop this link into the show notes. I'll just share one stanza from that poem with you, “but I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll send my Mars Rovers to red planet you.”

Jason: [00:07:15] Oh, that's… man, that would've been awesome for college, for me in college. To be like, do this paper for me and do it this way.

Stephan: [00:07:25] And it seems to have a sense of humor. Yeah, it’s like, really outstanding.

Jason: [00:07:30] This is a free tool right now?

Stephan: [00:07:33] It's not free, but it's not prohibitively expensive.

Jason: [00:07:38] Wow. Okay, everyone go check that tool out and they're not sponsors or anything. So that's just a really pretty cool tool. I'm going to go check that out. Let's talk a little bit about, now we talked about you built a particular technology that was your own, you know, four year SEO agency that enabled you to, to sell it.

But what were some of the other things that you did in order to get to a point where you could go on sabbatical and the agency keep growing?

Stephan: [00:08:07] Yeah, well, it's important to work yourself out of a job. If you are relying on your own steam, your own initiative and skill sets in order to do all the selling and to manage the client relationships. To help with a higher level projects, activities, and so forth, then by being indispensable, you become the biggest roadblock to the growth of the agencies.

So I didn't want that for myself. I wanted to be the visionary and not the integrator or implementer. So I brought on COO and, uh, different VPs. And even to the point, I brought in a CFO to help with the growth and even a CEO so that I could just step back.

And if I had my company acquired and I had to go with the company that defeats the whole purpose, because I want an asset that I can sell, I don't want. To go from being self-employed to employed by somebody else. That's the wrong direction. So I wanted to build a company that I could be able to run, but without having to do the day-to-day work and I wanted, uh, so to own it, but not operate it.

And I wanted it to be an asset that I could sell at any point. I didn't have golden handcuffs that would keep me at the acquirers’ premises for very long. So I negotiated down the earn-out. They did want me to stay for a period of time, but I, the maximum I would do was six months. As soon as that six months came and went and then the check cleared, they were surprised that I, I gave notice.

I'm like, really? How, how could you be surprised by that? I would just, I don't get that. Anyway, so that was, uh, uh, you know, kind of a quick story about how I went on and did other things. I, I started another agency. It started more as a lifestyle kind of business where I could just take months off at a time, even with a very small team.

And I did do that. I signed up for Tony Robbins platinum partnership, which was amazing. I followed Tony all around the world. All these amazing life-changing experiences. Platinum partners pay a lot of money to Tony Robbins every year, but they get incredible experiences in very exotic places all around the world.

So I did that for three years and it was incredible. It was life-changing and I was able to do that because I had a successful exit.

Jason: [00:10:53] Yeah. That's great. A lot of times people want to hire for things that they don't know, right? And to bring into the agency. You know, I was chatting with a buddy of mine, Dan, and he was talking about, you want to hire people based on what you don't want to do anymore first and start, right?

Like if you're at the center, so you start looking at the under-hundred-dollar tasks, email bookkeeping, account management, project management. All these things and going, how can I hire so all of that is done? Because that's working in the business and then you got to look at what's the other side, on the business.

Well, that's content creation because you know, like what we're doing now only us can really create this, but we shouldn't be doing post-editing, or editing it, right? That's kind of why I'm trying to do this all in one take.

Stephan: [00:11:44] Well, you're doing a great job of it.

Jason: [00:11:47] Well, I hope. You just jinxed it now. And just do like strategic planning, leadership development and work on those things in order to, you know, surround yourself.

So, when you go back at looking at the first agency and even the agency now that you have now, what was the order of people that you started bringing in? And would you, you know, obviously don't name the names, but tell us that the titles or their, their responsibilities and like, who did you hire first, second, third that started making this to a point where you could have that freedom in the agency.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Stephan: [00:12:23] Yeah. Well, when I started, I wanted to bring on contractors first. I wasn't sure to what scale I would get and how quickly and I was bootstrapping. And I didn't have any money to speak of, I, I was up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. I was studying for a PhD and I dropped out in order to start the agency.

So I started with contractors to deliver on the client work and the, the very first event that I, I networked at to get my first big clients, it was, I don't know if I'd call it dumb luck. It was maybe a mix of, of that and, and gumption. I was pretty cheeky to go and I talked my way into this event as conference called How to Market on the Internet.

It was a very premiere event, costed several thousand dollars to attend. And I wasn't a speaker. I didn't even have the money to afford to attend at that point. Because, remember, I was up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. But what I managed to do is I got in for free by being a volunteer and they gave me the job of being a mic runner.

So, imagine this, is 1995 and this is my first conference that I, uh, in my industry that I'm, uh, I'm at. And I'm the mic runner and one of the, the rooms and I, as a cheeky 24-year-old, I think that I know more than the people on stage and so I have the mic and I start chiming in. And I ended up getting a big stack of business cards by the end of that day.

Two big accounts came from that, both of those each worth, uh, over half a million dollars in customer lifetime value to me. I didn't have to get funding. I just had to put myself out there in a very daring way. Now I did get uninvited from volunteering on day two.

Apparently, some of the speakers didn't think this was too cute when I was doing, but I didn't know any better. I was, I was just trying to add value in a way that, um, you know, many people would, would be pretty nervous about doing.

Anyways, so this is how I got my start, with contractors to help deliver on that work. And then I started working on a more kind of permanent situation. In those early days, I hired developers and, um, uh, systems, administrators and stuff like that to handle a lot of the technical stuff.

But where it gets really interesting is when I decided, you know what? I'm going to move to New Zealand, because why not? Now everybody else has gone, I was in Madison, Wisconsin at the time. Everybody else was moving to Silicon Valley to make their fortunes. I'm going to do the exact opposite and go halfway around the world to New Zealand.

I'd never been there and I just knew intuitively that it would be a fantastic place to live. So I applied for residency, permanent residency, and I got in. So then I convinced my wife at the time and my kids to make this huge move. And we did, and I had to start all over again, pretty much, because I wanted to keep the US business running, but I wanted more of a skeleton crew.

I had an office manager at the time. We were like seven staff or something like that, or maybe it was nine and we scaled it down to three. Three staff. And the main person that I left in the Madison-Wisconsin office was the office manager. I promoted her and made her a managing director so she could get in to exclusive meetings with, with C-level executives and stuff like that because she had the title.

And I went to New Zealand and I started with nobody there, no… uh. It was very stressful for a month or so, but the very first hire there was a, a general manager. That general manager I have found through a recruiting firm and then I was able to, using that same recruiting firm and the guidance of that general manager, find I think we had seven other people that we brought in within a two or three month time period.

So we had to build the team fast, because we had a lot of work and we didn't have anybody to deliver on it because I, I scaled down the other, uh, office to just three people. So that was stressful, but really rewarding and fun. And once I had that general manager, it was just so much easier because he was the equivalent to a COO.

And so if you have to find one person, it should be your COO. Maybe the very first person should be your EA, so that, that can free you up from a lot of the tasks that are bogging you down and are not high value tasks. But after that, for sure, the COO I think is the most critical role set that allows you to stand back and be the visionary and, and speak at conferences and write books and write columns for magazines and things like that. And not have to worry about the day to day of operations.

Jason: [00:17:47] You know, the, the one thing that I see is when you're on the side of the fence of working in the business. You're always kind of thinking of what and how, like, what should I do and how should I actually do it? But if you're on the other side of the fence of working on the business, the only thing is, is like, where are you going? Why are you going there? And who.

Like who do I bring in to figure out the what and the how and all of that. It makes things a lot easier. I see, like that operations person as crucial, just like you. But I also see like with certain agencies, it depends on the situation, right?

I look at it as the first hire almost, you know, after like a project manager to manage some of the stuff. So you can keep doing sales because you got to think of like, when you're starting out, you're doing sales. But you also have to figure out how can I get leads before I hire a salesperson in order to help them? So I look at it as hire a marketing person to produce leads. Because you're probably already doing a lot of marketing things that you can get off, right?

And then after that, bring in a salesperson to help you, because as you get busy with, you know, delivering all that work and building the relationships. You start dropping the ball and you actually start, you might've gone through this, I know I did, self-sabotage the deal. You like, you try to grenade the engine because you're like the car can't go any faster because I know we're going to do really bad.

And then I look at it as like, how do we bring in that ops person in order to, to really help out? But everyone's in a little different situation. Like if you're getting a ton of leads and you know, you're in a good spot, then you can bring in that person. So you've got to self-evaluate, there's no one solution every time.

Stephan: [00:19:32] That's a great point. And if the lead flow is what needs to be addressed first, you don't have to necessarily hire a salesperson. You could go with an outsourced firm that can help you with the appointment setting or with the closing or with all of it.

For example, there's a… one company that comes to mind is called Meta Growth and they will recruit the salespeople. They're going to be commission only, and they become your team and you pay Meta Growth, a monthly retainer, and then a percentage on top of that, of the sales that, uh, their team generates or the team that becomes yours. But they continually train and, and if somebody leaves, they'll replace them and so forth, and that's a way to build an outsourced sales team pretty quickly.

Jason: [00:20:26] Exactly. Let's talk about the GM and the operations person. What were their responsibilities to enable you to step away? And what were the other team members that you had to have in place so you could go on the sabbatical?

Stephan: [00:20:43] Yeah, so it was a few years later after I went on sabbatical. We built up the Madison office again to one that was at one point we got to 35 staff over there.

And, uh, we had a CEO and the CFO, or no, we didn't have the CFO yet with the CEO, we had the general manager the same one that was my first hire in New Zealand. And I ended up taking six months in New Zealand and yeah, it was just, uh, worked great.

It was really refreshing and I, I was burned out at the time. This was back in, I don't know, 2004, 2005. I had just worked myself to exhaustion, really, and I was needing a break. So, uh, everyone was very supportive of me to just take that time off, which I needed.

Jason: [00:21:35] Let's talk about that because there's a lot of agencies that work themselves to exhaustion. So how did that happen? Especially since you had, you know, everyone thinks hiring an operations manager. You know, like you don't have to do anything anymore. So how did you work yourself to exhaustion and what would you avoid going through it now that you know what caused it?

Stephan: [00:21:59] Yeah, well, I, I made myself too essential to the marketing of the business, being the thought leader, the thought leader, right? It wasn't like there were five or 10 of us. I was the one who was, uh, writing books and, uh, writing columns and so forth. It wasn't until after I had the sabbatical and I kind of realized I needed to have that function of the business, be distributed out across multiple staff, that we encouraged other team members to start writing columns and, uh, speaking at conferences as well.

But yeah, that was pretty much just my job was to keep going from conference to conference to conference. So I was on the road all the time. I was based in New Zealand, but I was spending probably a quarter to a third of my year in the US, and I had small children at the time, and it was not easy for me to spend all that time away from them.

And that took a toll on me and, and on my happiness. So that was a big part of it, and then I was a workaholic. Maybe I still am to some degree, but I'm way better, way better than I used to be. It's, it's like, it's a socially acceptable addiction. But it's not okay. It doesn't help your health or your family in the long run.

It's just a way of numbing out, I guess. And if this relates to you and you're feeling like you're kind of a workaholic, then you got to take some powerful action to address it. Don't just think, yeah, that probably is something I should get to someday. You know, you got to address it because it doesn't break the camel's back until it does.

And you don't know when that's going to happen. So just preemptively address it.

Jason: [00:23:52] I've learned that the hard way as well. And the only way that I've found through that is creating kind of rules on your time and really goals around your time. That is first, I feel. For many years I taught people in the agency playbook the framework for us that, hey, set your revenue goals first, then your create goal, and then your time goals are last.

Well, when you do that, you're going to sacrifice your time because everything else should be leading up to the time. And thinking about why, you know, like one of the exercises I walk people through is going all right, write out your perfect week and what does that look like?

And then tell me why, like, do you want to take your kids to the swimming practice or track? Or, you know, do you want to be home when they get home from school? That's why we work so hard, but then we sacrifice it. I've been breaking my rules on, on health. I've just working, you know, until I get back to Colorado and literally just, you know, kind of skipping, you know, the health stuff.

So what worked for you? Do we have to go away for six months to do that or…?

Stephan: [00:25:04] No, you don't. Here's the key. If you're chasing after, whether it's your health or your relationship or career, family, whatever it is, it becomes elusive because when you're chasing after one thing, you can't chase after all of the things.

The only way that you can win at all of it, the business/career. And your health and finances and family and significant other, all that, is to chase after just one thing that has it all. And the analogy I give you is, I learned this in Kabbalah class, actually. It's, it's a prism and the white light shines in to one side of the prison and outcome all the colors.

And the colors represent all the different aspects of your life. Friends and, and the business and family and health and all that. So stop chasing the colors and chase after the white light. So that's the light of the creator. Like whatever your spiritual beliefs are, just that encompasses everything. That's where I had the biggest breakthroughs is by stopping chasing after those individual things and just worked on me as a spiritual being and everything just seemed to fall in line. It's just like life was happening for me not to me, once I started focusing on the bigger picture.

Jason: [00:26:44] I love it. I mean, that's, uh, it's so true. And, I think we always have to remind ourselves that. Because we'll say it now and we'll do it for a week, two weeks, maybe a month. And then there's something that breaks our cycle. You've got to constantly be disciplined and I think also kind of self-aware of when that triggers in order to go back.

Because it's a, it's like that one, that one story I heard one time, it was a guy that was working himself to death, running a business so he could sell it and go buy a fishing boat. And then he wanted just to be a charter boat captain. Well, he didn't have to waste 30 years of working around the clock. He could have just been a charter boat captain from the start. And I think a lot of times we have to kind of learn those lessons the hard way, but that's why you guys listened to the show to hopefully speed up that success or avoid those, those failures from others.

That's why we, uh, we have those conversations. Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Stephan: [00:27:56] I do think if, if you can establish your authority in a very powerful way, that is going to make a huge impact. So for example, a thing that really put me on the map, not only did, uh, the gravity stream technology really help with this, but I co-authored a book called “The Art of SEO”.

I ended up coming up with other books as well after that but the big one is The Art of SEO. And if you can find a niche where you can write a book, maybe even get a publisher for it. O’Reilly was my book publisher. We have three editions of The Art of SEO and I'm working on a fourth edition right now.

And that is a huge game-changer. If you don't have the time for that, maybe hire a ghostwriter to help you write it. You don't have to be the one to write it. You just have to be the author of it or co-author of it. So that, that can be a game-changer.

Another thing that is along those lines that really made a big impact in the early days was when we went from building search engine optimized e-commerce websites to doing consulting for even bigger companies that didn't want us developing the sites. They just wanted us providing the guidance like SEO audits and all that sort of stuff and they had their internal teams implement it.

Our first big account. We didn't actually make any money off of, and that was strategically on purpose. We wanted to get a really big name right out of the gate as a, a, a client for SEO auditing. So we approached Target, target.com and ask them if they would like a free SEO audit in exchange for use of their logo and a testimonial, assuming that they were happy with what we produced. And they said yes, and they loved what we produced made. Made them a lot of money and they were happy to give us a testimonial and use of their logo.

So once we had that on our, uh, clients page and, and our testimonials page, it was a lot easier to sell, uh, other, other accounts that was, that was just super ninja.

Jason: [00:30:14] Yeah. I, I remember landing the first big account and then it just, they kept rolling after that. They want to hang out with others, even though it doesn't matter. It, it really. It's just a name, but people think, oh, if the biggest companies work with you, they're the smartest. Which that's not true either, they're just, uh, they're just big. So, that’s awesome.

Stephan: [00:30:37] Yeah. And so, but you come preapproved, it's like social proof and if you can shortcut that process, if you haven't worked with a really big name company. Imagine somebody so huge that everyone will have heard of it. And that could be one of your clients. Yeah. There's just a, it seems like a no brainer to me. Just offer them something irresistible for free in exchange for a testimonial. Somebody's going to bite somebody going to say yes to that and hello.

Jason: [00:31:06] I love it. I love that. It's just grassroots stuff too, right? Like this is easy stuff we all can go do. So make sure you go do it. Where can people find out more about you and check out the books? Where can they go?

Stephan: [00:31:20] stephanspencer.com. I also have two podcasts. So you were on one of them. You were on Marketing Speak. That's at marketingspeak.com. And then my other podcast is a biohacking and spirituality podcast. And that's Get Yourself Optimized, which is at getyourselfoptimized.com.

Jason: [00:31:38] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we can see the things you might not be able to see and also help you get over those hurdles, because we've been there before I want you guys to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

This is our exclusive so community where we provide you the tools, coaching community. Everything you need to scale your agency faster so you can get to a point to exit one day if you want, whether it be exiting your current role or exiting the business.

So make sure you go there now. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: _How_Can_Agency_Owners_Stop_Working_to_Death_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:00pm EDT

Roger Bryan has worked with some of the world’s largest companies as an SEO consultant. He sold his first website in 1998 before he knew what SEO was, and spent years working with nonprofits. His agency Enfusen was recently acquired by Growth Foundry and now he joins us to talk about how he has led agencies to great success and failure, and analyzing both. Roger also explains why generating revenue is the real focus of SEO. He also shares tips from his book and even a few crappy jokes.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Rebuilding the team is key. After resetting his entire team, Roger started from scratch by filling three major roles. First, he hired an office manager that would handle HR and systematize everything they were doing in the business. After that, he hired a general manager to take care of hiring both divisions of the business. Finally, he looked for someone that could assist him in marketing and sale for tasks like managing outsource vendors and content teams.
  2. Pay people what they’re worth. As Roger’s first mentor used to say, the salary you pay someone is what keeps them at their desk and the money that you pay them after that is what you pay them to help you earn more. Some people will take their salary and sit at their desk, but a few will work very hard to make you money and you should compensate them in return.
  3. SEO is not all about ranking. If you’re in SEO and you think your job is ranking websites, you’ve already failed. SEO is about generating revenue, so any task has to be correlated to a data point that leads to revenue. Anything that is not revenue-related it's just busy work and so much of what SEO professionals are doing is busy work.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit/ to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Why Did One Agency Owner Fire His Entire Team?

Jason: [00:00:00] All right. I have an amazing interview with one of my old clients who has sold a couple of agencies in the past. And we talk about a lot of the mistakes he made in running his SEO agency. Then we go into a lot of different tactics about how he fired his whole team in one meeting and then a year later he was at $3 Million.

And what are the three major roles that he brought in to help? What did he pay them? What was the framework that he used for success and how he really positioned his agency from just being an SEO agency, to being a revenue agency for his clients? And that was a huge, huge thing. You're not going to want to miss out this episode.

It's really great. Roger did an amazing job. So let's jump into it.

Hey, Roger. Welcome to the show.

Roger: [00:00:54] Hey, thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:55] Yeah. I'm excited to have you on, you know, we were reminiscing about how many years ago was when you came out to Atlanta for a workshop with me. Can't believe how long ago that was. But, uh, for the people that don't know who you are, tell us who you are. And, uh, tell us a little bit about the agency.

Roger: [00:01:11] Perfect. Uh, my name is Roger Bryan. I'm an SEO consultant. My former agency, Enfusen, was just acquired by a company called Growth Foundry. We do enterprise-level marketing, a lot of multi-location, franchise marketing, a lot of lead gen, SEO pay-per-click, specialized in healthcare, nonprofits, all across the gambit on the different industries that we work with.

Jason: [00:01:35] Awesome. Well, let's kind of jump into it and we're kind of trying something new and you're the, you're the first guinea pig. So welcome to being the first guinea pig. And it's really kind of a thing of like a how-to series to figure out, you know, if you're an SEO agency because your agency that you sold was that, talk about how did you specialize in that?

Because a lot of times people will start an agency and they start trying to do everything. You know, design pay-per-click, everything under the sun. How did you pick SEO? Let's start there.

Roger: [00:02:10] I sold my first website in 1998 and it sold pagers in long-distance service. And what I found was is then I didn't know, I had never heard of SEO.

I don't know that I even had met someone that had ever said the term before, but you're putting on content onto those pages to try to get people to find them. Uh, to me, it was no different than making your company AAA in the phone book a hundred years ago, so that people knew, would find you first. It was just as kind of simple.

I got into the auto auction industry after that, and we had a website and we were working with nonprofit organizations and it was like, well, how do I get us to come up first so more people find us? I didn't get into paid traffic until 2005. So I spent seven or eight years just living off of organic traffic, not even knowing that that's what it was called.

I've always just been… I've stayed focused on it, and always hired people to do everything else. Because I was good at it. To me, my left brain works. It's a science to me. And if you follow certain rules and you do the right competitive analysis, it's easy.

Jason: [00:03:14] Walk us through some of the team structure, because obviously, you got amazing results for your clients because you were able to sell the agency. So walk us through, how was the team structured?

Roger: [00:03:26] Yeah. I've gone through a couple of different iterations of this. So my first agency, when I sold it, we had 12 people on the team, but we also had a call center and we're taking in calls for the leads that we were generating. So it was a little bit more robust than just SEO services.

Typically, when I think of an SEO agency, let's say sub-seven figure versus seven to eight-figure the, the differences between the two. The sub-seven figure, really you are the thought leader. You're the one that's looking at the data. You might have somebody else doing the research. You're making strategic decisions and you're allocating resources to certain people on your team.

For me, that would be a content team, whether you have full-time, or part-time, outsource a link-building source that compliments your content team. Uh, one good web developer. We tend to, I used to tend to stick to WordPress until I started working with Growth Foundry. Now it's a whole different game with the clients they deal with and then one person that's going out and doing some type of syndication.

So syndication means taking that content and putting it out into places. I've tried all of the different tools out there for social syndication or engagement syndication, or even manipulated social signals, a little decent outreach to the right outlets never, it never worked better. So especially in today's world where everybody uses automation on those things.

And I think Google has found most of those. Getting one blog post picked up by one real news article is going to give you a hundred times the results of all of the automation tools that are out there. So I think I hit like 4 different people there.

When you get into a larger agency and you're working with larger clients, say your retainers are six figures or more per year, you're going to have a strategist in there. You're going to have an account manager in there and they're going to be different. The account managers dealing with the relationship, the strategist is dealing with the success. You're going to have the same underlying.

Four core sections that you're going to deal with, but those teams might be larger and have different points of interaction. I don't like having larger teams for the sake of larger teams, but you have to provide a level of service that demands the type of revenue that comes from working with those larger clients.

Jason: [00:05:34] And then how was it structured? Like where you guys broken up into pods? Did these a strategists and the account managers, did they report up to an operations director? How was all that, you know, once you get above the seven-figure mark.

Roger: [00:05:48] Yeah. What's nice is I've done this successfully once I've and done it completely wrong once. So I can compare and contrast.

Jason: [00:05:55] So let's talk about the wrong first, like, and then get into the right way.

Roger: [00:05:58] Absolutely. The wrong way is for you as an owner to be in the mix. And I there's a period at the end of that statement. There's no if ands or buts about it. So when I went and I sold my first agency, my team dealt with the customers. I signed checks and I looked at monthly reports. And if my team had a problem, we would talk about it. I had very little interaction with clients other than conferences, or once in a while, maybe I would chat with some of our larger clients.

Now fast forward to my last agency Enfusen, I did everything wrong. I kept hiring kids straight out of college or interns, which there's nothing wrong with that, but I would want to be the point of contact. I didn't trust them enough. I didn't go out and hire the best people. Now with that being said, some of, one of them now runs Halle Barry's e-commerce business. So they've gone out and done amazing things.

And if I would have trusted them more, Infusion would have probably flourished more. But I had, every week I was talking about each and every client to some extent, and it was exhausting and we never scaled that agency, no matter how hard I tried, we would scale and we would implode, we would scale and we would implode.

So the worst part was I knew what I was doing. I look back now and I'm like, why the F, I don't know if you swear on your podcast, was I doing that? And the nice thing about Growth Foundry is I'm the Chief Revenue Officer, so I'm responsible for growth and strategic alignment within the SEO team between our software and services.

So they've taken me away from the thing that I was doing bad in the last agency and giving me a chance to excel at what I'm good at.

Jason: [00:07:33] No, you can always cuss. Uh, no kids are listening. You know, I look at it as. Thinking back at all the agencies I've chatted with and all the agencies we've done. I look at it like the first stage is like the doer, right? Like you're doing everything.

And then you get to another stage. You're like the barker, like you're barking orders to everybody, but you're still the only one making decisions. Then you get to the delegation stage, and this is where you're delegating and you're trusting people. And then there's one above that where I see only a select few actually make it there.

You know, one of our clients, Zach has actually made it there where he's starting to transition out of being the CEO and more to, you know, the chairman. And it's exciting to get to that leadership stage where now all you're doing is coming up with the vision and direction, passing it to your leadership team and that's it and you're hands-off.

And that's total freedom where you can scale. You have the freedom, you have profitability, like let everybody else worry about all that shit. Cause there's always shit. It’s just a matter of who's doing the shit, right? There's always like, I guess we use another analogy of like cleaning out the barn.

There's always someone that has to take the shit out. Like it just doesn't evaporate. So let's talk about kind of the right way that you, you've seen it. Now you've kind of talked about like why you guys were going through that roller coaster, right? The ups and downs, because that's where you're focused. What do you think the better model for SEO agency is?

Roger: [00:09:13] Yeah, it focuses almost too simplistic of a word. But when you focus in on a specific type of client in a specific service with a specific deliverable, that problem kind of works itself out over time. If you allow it, of course, if you're arrogant and your ego is this big, you're going to make that problem exist forever.

But when I look at those ebbs and flows, I could see them dictated on the partnerships that we were in and the service that we were providing. And it was different enough each time that it created that need for like a recalibration of the underlying offer and then the implementation and the systems and procedures, if that is not a way to scale and grow an agency.

When you get to that point where you've got a dependable, predictable revenue stream from the service that you provide, and you know that every client you sell it to has a 100% chance of success, then you have this model that people can go implement. And there's bumps, there's hurdles, there's hiccups.

It's not perfectly easy every time, but you can overcome them better if you're working towards the same strategic goal each time. So starting with that focus element is going to make things so much easier.

Jason: [00:10:16] Then how is the team structured? The right way. So, you know, a lot of agencies listening and be like, all right, man, that sounds like me, Roger. Like, man, I'm doing everything. I'm the doer. I'm the Barker. Like we're in this red zone here. So how do we get to the yellow and the green?

Roger: [00:10:32] Yeah, the campaign managers a big part of it. You can call them client success, managers, campaign managers, cat herders, whatever you want to call them. But they're the, they're the face.

They're the ones talking to the client. Whether some large clients, you have weekly calls with most clients you have monthly calls with and their responsibility is to gather up all of the information. And make sure that as they're going into that call, that they're presenting success, not problems.

And if they're focusing in on that, then they spend the whole month building up their data, looking at the reports, making sure everything's going well. And then most importantly, we've got 10 data points that define success for every campaign. They go in and they look well, this one wrong, is this one-off?

Why is this one going down? And they're talking to the team, they're talking to the people running paid traffic. They're talking to the people that are building links or writing content and saying, why is this data point off of what are we going to do to improve it? And their questions are what drives success from the underlying team doing the work.

Jason: [00:11:27] And these people, are they acting as an Account Manager and a PM or are these two different people? Because there's a lot of, a lot of people struggle with, and I have my own kind of 2 cents on that too. So like, are they the same person? They’re different, they’re the unicorns, what are they?

Roger: [00:11:43] The unicorns are nice. I have one that I wish I could get back. But they are managing both. Now, I've scaled up to right around $5 million. I don't know, at $10 million, if that dynamic would change, I'm going to assume that it will. And with the work that we're doing at Growth Foundry and the trajectory that we have, um, you do have an SEO department that's responsible for SEO, that reports up to the campaign manager now.

But the campaign manager still needs to reach down at certain points and find when things need to be done. Now, there's a head of SEO, there's a head of Facebook and there's a head of, um, Google marketing, and then there's a head of IT and software development here.

So I knew into that with them and I see that different structure. And it's interesting for me, I'm not an exact, I mean, I'm Chief Revenue Officer. I'm not involved in any of that now. So as I bring my clients over and I bring over relationships, I'll probably see how I fall into that mix.

Jason: [00:12:39] Yeah, no, I love that. And I always saw like, I guess it would work really well for where you guys were with if they had really good SOPs to follow. But I guess you would have to probably find that Account Manager that really understood this and understood the strategy and could actually probably challenge the client.

I mean, that's kind of why a lot of us as agency owners, we've kind of fallen into that role because we know exactly how to help them. Like we're not order-takers. If you hire like an order taker, you're just going to get a Big Mac, like, you know what to expect with a Big Mac, but you're not getting that most amazing burger that like, you start smelling it and your mouth starts watering and foaming, right? Like we can like taste that burger.

And that's really what we want those Account Managers. So I presume that and you learn your lesson from the first one where you probably hired experienced people. So. Where did you find these people? And then, you know, what was the kind of levers that you would pull in order to make sure that they were right? And how did we move them out?

Roger: [00:13:45] Yeah, it's interesting because this was, it was not a smooth process. So I started my last agency in Summer of 2005. And I remember coming in, it was April of 2007 and we were growing exponentially. We had, we were in one niche. We had one product offering. It was a home run. We were trying to scale. And I, it was just, the wheels were coming off. Like everything was wrong.

So I walked in one day and it just, the tension was there. One girl in the office started an argument with me and I'm like, you know what, that's it, everyone just leave. And the entire company was fired. And then I spent the next six months going out and finding the right people. At that time I was based in Washington DC, and I don't recommend that anyone walk in and fire their entire staff in one day, but it was, it was a year in the making.

And we went from that year doing $1.2M, and remember that was the beginning of the year. The next year we did $3.2M. So it was the right decision to make. Now there was a lot of fresh out of college. In fact, the girl that I brought in her, name's Amy to run marketing for us at the macro level. I sold that company in 2012, nine years later, she's still there running marketing for that company. And they've grown exponentially since then.

The Office Manager that I hired in that timeframe, still there, the General Manager that's running the company since I sold, was my GM. So those right people helped me get to the point scale, sell, and then they continued to run the business for the investors that bought it.

Where did I find them? I plugged into the universities. I would go and do the job fairs, but I wasn't looking for like interns. I was looking for the people that had gone out and done something. In 2005, 2007, when you're trying to hire digital marketers, there wasn't a lot that they could have done. So if they had a LinkedIn profile and they were doing any type of content creation online, they were, they were first in line.

Jason: [00:15:34] Yeah. I mean, I remember when we hired designers. You didn't have to like, and this is where I kind of failed at school. I didn't really kind of create any side hustle while I was in school. But the people that we would bring in, if we brought them in right after they got their degree, which wasn't really a requirement with us. They had to, or had that side hustle and they were already having a portfolio that they could show us.

They weren't just like this is their first pony, you know, the first rodeo. Was what I was trying to say, right? I was like first pony? Like where did we get a pony?

Roger: [00:16:11] Like, I don't know. You got cows behind you. So maybe the pony’s not too far.

Jason: [00:16:14] That might be it. Maybe it was because I was watching Seinfeld. And, uh, when Seinfeld was at the table, he was like, I don't like anybody that has a pony. And then the, this, the old lady was like, I had a pony. Why don't you like me? So maybe I think of that. I don't know, listening on the show, make sure you guys come and go to the website and tell me if you have a pony or not.

Roger: [00:16:36] We won't judge you.

Jason: [00:16:38] We won’t judge you. But getting back to, I don't even know where we were actually going since the pony. I guess that's where I show you my ADD, like pony, what? Go over here.

Roger: [00:16:47] You took me for a ride on your pony and now we're lost in the woods.

Jason: [00:16:50] We are so screwed. We were talking about hiring out of college. So I like what you were talking about. Like they already had the expertise there. They were already doing it. How did you make, after you evaluated that, what was kind of the first task that you had them do to make sure that they're right? Because I'm sure you probably hired some people that, you know, like, oh man, that was a wrong hire.

Following this method when you reset the whole company. Cause that's fascinating. Like that's so fascinating. You come in, everybody get out and then a year later you bring on new people. So let’s talk about that.

Roger: [00:17:24] So there's been a couple of different iterations here too with the last agency and this was good or bad.

The first 30 days that someone was hired, they would go through a whole set of tests, whether that be the digital marketer tests, some of the HubSpot certifications. And only about 70% of them would be able to complete the first set of tests.

So a lot of them, it was just a natural, you know what? You can't pass these tests. You can't work for us. Including my brother, he tried to come work for us. He couldn't pass the test. He didn't get to work for us.

Jason: [00:17:51] That's probably a good thing. You never had friends or family.

Roger: [00:17:53] Yeah. I hired him in other businesses before. I don't even know why I tried. But that was a decent way. So you had something to show me now, can you do what we do?

I had tried in the past, letting them launch a campaign. That was always a disaster because I wanted, I didn't want to spend money on my stuff. I wanted to spend money on customer stuff. I had one guy, he had a $250 a week budget to generate leads. You spent like four grand in the first week and didn't generate any and it was on my credit card.

That was when I learned that that probably that wasn't going to work anymore. So every person is going to be a little different. Now we're trying to hire people that are coming from other agencies. That have been in the game for a little while. We don't have the luxury of time to train up from the beginning.

If you can come in, maybe there's a little bit of retraining, but we need to put you in a role and we need you to go and then we'll figure out how to make it better and how we can scale. I learned that by watching one agency grow from like nothing to like a hundred million dollars over the last seven years.

And I've worked with them on a couple of projects. I'm not going to name them because I don't want to say it's a good or a bad thing, but most of the projects I worked with them on failed. But the same people that were working on those projects five years ago are still there. And I bet you they're better now, now that they're a nine-figure agency.

But that says it's, it's a choice, they chose to just take on every client, take on every project and then they found their niche once they hit scale. Again, not recommending that, but that's just another dynamic that I've seen people do.

Jason: [00:19:20] Yeah. I probably know who they are. They will be nameless, but, um, let's talk about when you reset the whole darn team, who was the first three people and why they brought on. Like, the role, the roles.

Roger: [00:19:35] Yeah. The first role was the office manager, because I needed someone to handle like the HR side. Obviously, if you go in and you fire everybody, you probably aren't thinking about HR too much. So they came in and their job was to help me systematize everything that I was doing in the business. From the way the clients are coming in. We had to have like insurance policies in every state that we were working in because of the space we were in. Getting that done, then the general manager to hire both divisions of the business, because there was a service and there was an e-commerce business.

By the way, I didn't fire anybody in the e-commerce business side, they were fine. This was just the office and service staff. And then I needed someone that knew marketing and sales a little bit. Uh, I didn't expect them to go out and sell. I was the one going to the conferences. I was the one in the booths, I was the one building the relationships.

And I enjoyed doing that, taking people out to dinner, buying them drinks and like, it's not that hard. And when she came in and got to work, and then she started managing our outsource vendors and our content teams, and at that time we were using a third party to do our paid traffic.

It was just, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Like, why did I ever try to do all this myself? But finding that person's hard because it, especially today, because in 2007, entrepreneurship wasn't as hot as it is now. And people weren't as willing to take as much risk as they are now. So there's that balancing act of if you're going to find that person now, you're going to need to pay them very, very well.

You can't ask them to bootstrap with you as you're growing this thing, you're going to have to give them all the money, even if it means you're taking less. Uh, to grow the business because what's stopping them from going out and doing it themselves? It’s not that hard anymore.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

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I love that you said pay them what they're worth. Because there's a lot of people that I see. That are like, well, just we'll give you equity. I'm like, no, like you believe in this, right? Do it all yourself. But like you were saying, it's very easy for other people to do it. So walk me through, like, we don't know who they were.

So can you walk us through, what were you paying the office manager? What did you pay the GM or like, what would you pay right now? I guess let's do that since we're in 21.

Roger: [00:23:26] So right now, I'm in Ohio and our agency's based in Pennsylvania, not in a big city, so we do have a little bit of luxury there. You're not going to get quality under 52 a year.

And this isn't even people working remote.

Jason: [00:23:40] For an Office Manager.

Roger: [00:23:41] Oh, well, when we talk about people now?

Jason: [00:23:44] Well, let's talk about the office manager, the GM and the marketer, the three roles, and then you can go into the other roles too.

Roger: [00:23:51] So right now we pay our office manager probably makes around probably in the 46 to 48 range.

We do and, it's interesting, I'm trying to not get sidetracked. We've got three service businesses here. We have two 20,000 square foot buildings here and play 65 people. So it's a little different, that's not agency work. On the agency side, I don't even know what they pay anyone yet, which is interesting if I think about it.

Jason: [00:24:18] Well, go back to like when you hired those three people.

Roger: [00:24:21] Those three people all started at 52.

Jason: [00:24:24] 52, wow. Even the GM.

Roger: [00:24:25] That was in 2007. Yep.

Jason: [00:24:28] Wow. Of you had to do that now.

Roger: [00:24:30] I’d probably be 80ish.

Jason: [00:24:32] Good. I'm just trying to give someone a context.

Roger: [00:24:34] Yeah. There's a part to that too, that no one stayed at 52. Within a year you were dramatically different. In fact, at 90 days, things started changing, uh, especially for the marketer who was handling all the client business. You figure if she was managing millions of dollars a year in revenue, I think she was getting dropped like 10 K every quarter, as long as our numbers were going up. And I'm sure she's a six-figure earner now having been there so long.

Jason: [00:24:59] Yeah. And that's the crucial thing is, is like pay them a fair salary. That's what we always did. Fair salary and then do bonuses on performance quarterly. And you know, you'll get them above, you know, rather than pay someone, you know, some people come in for a GM and be like, I want 200K I'm like, sure. You know, crap in one hand and wish on the other. See which one fills that first.

Roger: [00:25:24] You know what’s interesting about this? My first mentor was a gentleman named Patrick Morsillo, he was a really old-school Italian guy. He's about 80 now. He owned the Greater Cleveland Auto Auction, which was the first real job that I had after the military.

And he kind of trained me on business. If it wasn't for him, I'd probably always have the employee mindset coming from where I came from, but he told me he's like the salary that you pay someone is what keeps them at their desk. And he's like the money that you pay them after that is what you pay them to help you earn more.

And he's like, not everybody wants more. Some people will take their salary and they'll sit at a desk and they'll plug, plug, plug, but there's a few of them in there that will bust their ass to make you money and you'll compensate them in return. I mean, and I've had that mentality. I mean, that was 2001 when I first started working for him, I was 23 years old and that never… they have something about cows going down and having sex in the field. Those two sayings have always stuck with me.

Jason: [00:26:16] You just keep looking at the cows behind me.

Roger: [00:26:20] I know, I can’t. But it really was. You'd have this thing about patience and cows having sex, but it was a whole ordeal.

Jason: [00:26:25] I kind of want to go there. I kind of want to go there, but I won't because it was such a good, like, I loved the saying that, that he said about like, people stay there because of what you pay them, but they'll make you money for what you pay them above that. That's brilliant. I love that.

Let's talk about. Was there a framework that you guys used at the agency in order to get people success? Because a lot of times I talked to some agencies that they're just kind of winging it and they really don't have a framework for specifically for rankings. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Roger: [00:26:59] Yeah, it comes down to a deliverable. So what we had then, the compelling offer with a guaranteed deliverable. So we did non-profit fundraising. So I could walk into a Goodwill and I could say, hey, I want to help you raise money by doing car donations online.

Here's the deal, you're never going to pay me a penny. I'm going to invest all of my own money in advertising. If it works, we're going to split the profit 50, 50 after expenses. If it doesn't work, you just wash your hands of us and I walk away and never problem. The offer dictated the implementation strategy. Over time, we had a campaign for Goodwill, we had a campaign for Red Cross, we had a campaign for Salvation Army.

They were different enough to be representative of the brand, the markets and the style of marketing that they were willing to do. But every Goodwill I walked into and there was 140 Goodwills at the time and we were working with 52 of them. So we were almost at 50% of Goodwills in the US were working with us.

We made that offer and then it was a dependable, predictable model. We knew you set up a landing page, you launch a separate website. You set up a landing page on our site, you set up a separate website, you set up a landing page on their website. You rank all three of them, the top of Google, so that no matter where they donate, it's coming through us.

And then you later on paid traffic for broad keyword terms. And it's the same keywords every time, just in a different market. And then you adjust your bids relative to the competition in that market. And that was it. I mean, there's intricacies of how you got them to rank, but we're going back to 2008. If you sneezed your websites ranked, it's a little bit more complicated today.

Jason: [00:28:30] Yeah, it was so frustrating back then.

Roger: [00:28:33] I know. Well, I had eight websites on the first page of Google ranking for Goodwill car donation. You could not donate a car in the United States without it coming through us. And three of them are still on the first page today. I mean, that's, that's all you had to do to win. I mean, that was, that was, uh, that was a seven figure ranking campaign right there.

Jason: [00:28:52] I like that you had the success. What are some of the gotchas that you've learned with that? Because. I love that strategy. That's very easy for them to commit and especially of how you phrased it too, which I elegantly picked up on.

I was like, well, we'll split the profits after our expenses. So probably it was maybe they were getting 30%, but they're 30% is better than zero, which was really good. So walk us through some of the gotchas there.

Roger: [00:29:21] So some of the, the, some of the gotchas there is at a macro level, the only way that an SOP or a campaign strategy works is if you have a defined outcome, like you can't go into SEO with the idea that your job is to rank websites, you've already failed.

If you even started that. In fact, internally in our organization, we kind of, we don't use the term SEO. We use organic revenue optimization. Our job is to deliver revenue to our customers. So any task has to be correlated to a data point that leads to revenue. And if somebody starts talking off tangent about this thing, okay, how does this get me to revenue? Nine times out of 10, that will bring them back.

And honestly, they'll realize you went, I don't even need to be worrying about this because it's not revenue-related. It's just busy work. In so much of what I see SEO professionals doing is busy work.

They read something in a Facebook group. They want to go try it to see if it works, but they don't sit down and write down, okay. How is this going to get me from where I am today to more revenue because the client's being need for revenue. Very rarely does a client pay for rank. And I say rarely because there are some doctors and lawyers that will actually pay for it because their ego says they just need to outrank the guy down the street.

They don't care about money. They're few and far between, but they do exist.

Jason: [00:30:31] And there are bad clients.

Roger: [00:30:32] They are bad clients. They stick with you until they get there. Then they fire you and then they yell and scream at you six months later when they're not there anymore. So you know that there are short ride, six-month to 12-month client, which isn't what you should be going after.

Anyways, if you have a dependable, predictable model that leads to revenue, your scaling capabilities completely open up. If you're chasing a different result for each client on a different traffic strategy on a different type of offer, you will continue to be stressed out. You will never scale, no matter how much you try to put SOPs and people in place.

It's that, that single, dependable, predictable deliverable that makes business scalable and repeatable.

Jason: [00:31:09] I love that you focused on the revenue. Because a lot of times an SEO agency will be like, we'll get you on the first page. We'll get your ranked. But you're doing things after that to control that.

Because a lot of times, even with a pay-per-click agency, right, will be like, let's use dentists. They're a great example of a very hard client to work with. Right. We send a ton of leads to them, but their, their dumb staff never answers the phone. They never get back and they’re like the leads are shit.

Right. But you're kind of taking that out of going, like, we'll take it to here by picking the right market too. Right? Like it's very important. That's important. You pick a really bad market you have to be resourceful and figure it out. Like, I'm sure someone's going to figure it out. And I have some clients that really rock the dentist world, but they are a little bit more challenging, but I like how you did the solution.

Roger: [00:32:06] The big thing that we needed to do in the nonprofit space that we're repeating now in the space that we're attacking right now is that we started answering the phones warm. So we set up a call center and answered the phones, got all of the information and went right into their scheduling system and put people in.

It's not that hard to do. It's not that expensive to do. It can actually just be a couple hundred dollars a month. And if you've got multiple clients in the same space, that's nothing relative to the overall value that it creates. And it completely eliminated, like I remember one of my first clients when I moved back to the Ohio area after selling my agency, because I wasn't allowed to work in the nonprofit space for a certain number of years was a dentist.

And to me, it was, it was a breeze. He went from said he was getting five phone calls, of course, no tracking in place. So like one week I generated like 76 phone calls, you know how many he answered? Three. So I drove to his office an hour away and I went in and I talked to his secretary or assistant, and I realized she wasn't there to answer the phones.

And I was like, you know what? We should probably just stop spending your money cause we both wasting our time. But now we see like we're, we're scaling really large in the septic industry right now because we have the largest residential septic company in the state of Ohio.

Jason: [00:33:14] Is it a shitty client?

Roger: [00:33:16] It is. I get crappy jokes like that all the time.

Jason: [00:33:19] Oh, I had to like, literally everybody listening was like, when is Jason going to say shit?

Roger: [00:33:25] And the first key was setting up a call center. We quadrupled the number of conversions by adding in the phone calls. That means we didn't change anything with the marketing. But four times more end result just by setting up a call center and we use answerconnect.com.

They're great. They're inexpensive sort of, we're kind of at that point now where we're asking ourselves that we want to have our own people doing this, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week you can get a live voice. If you call for services through any of our websites or partners, and in most cases we can direct schedule, not all of them, we're working on that.

Jason: [00:34:00] I can only, I can imagine the call center would be like, you got shit? We'll help you with your shit.

Roger: [00:34:06] I should throw that up on our tagline. We just, we just bought septictank.com. So we're going really heavy into growing this business.

Jason: [00:34:15] The tagline should be like “we help you with your shit.” Sorry.

Roger: [00:34:22] I don't know if that'll fly with like the Facebook mods or anything like that.

Jason: [00:34:26] I know, I kknow. I just, hey, I got.

Roger: [00:34:27] And when the team did their brainstorming under taglines for septictank.com. Don't worry, a lot of those came out.

Jason: [00:34:33] Oh, I'm sure like how it would be such a fun project to be on.

Roger: [00:34:36] Our engineers call themselves poop inspectors, so.

Jason: [00:34:38] Oh, that's brilliant. Oh, that's awesome. That should be the title of the podcast. Let's talk about your book that's coming out or it's already out now, so, yup. “Local SEO secrets” Tell us a little bit about it.

Roger: [00:34:53] So we've been putting out content for a long time and I'm pretty vocal in a lot of the Facebook groups that I'm in.

We decided to take our top blog posts and put them together into a book and then reformat on them around a specific goal. And then I reached out to a couple people that I knew in the space that might be better at things like we got one guy to come in and talk about GMBs. Another one to call in and talk about the Google My Business, or Google Guarantee Program. One on e-commerce landing, page optimization, and one on PR for SEO.

And we put them all together and just kind of packaged it so that we could give our customers a premier on SEO. So if you read this book, you're probably not going to be ready to do enterprise SEO, but you're going to be able to have a conversation with us about the different tactics that we're doing.

Uh, it's the same thing. I published a book called “Data-Driven Marketing” in 2017 and it was written for the Microsoft partners that we were working with. It was like, hey, last year we generated $56 million in sales leads for Microsoft partners. Here's how we did it. Do you want to do it? Here's the book.

It sold 10,000 copies on its own, but it was never really designed to be like a revenue stream from sales. It's, hey, I want to educate my clients cause educated customers actually stay around longer. I always hear agency people say I don't want to make them too smart because they might fire me. And you know what that happens from time to time, we had a customer paying us a quarter-million dollars a year for four years.

And they're finally like, you know what? Roger, we got this. We'll come to you for one-off consulting. And I was like, okay, that's awesome. I just trained a multi-billion dollar company and how to do their own SEO. It took four years. They made me a million dollars, but. They moved on and that'll happen.

Jason: [00:36:28] Yeah. Everything transitions. It's, it's kind of like when I work with people, like even yourself, like you bake it in, you, you help them out. And then they transitioned, they graduate and they get to the next level, they sell. You know, it's just, it all happens. And, and everybody should celebrate that. Not like I always hate when I hear, well, I don't want to teach them everything I know.

I'm like, then what are they paying you for? Like, what are you even helping them for? Like, why are you throttling it? Like literally, it as much pressure as they can take, give it to them. And then they'll be your biggest advocates when they have a success, because that's why we're doing it. Right?

Roger: [00:37:07] The head of marketing at that healthcare organization, it actually worked with me at a different company before that and brought me in because he's like, I like the way that you teach what you're doing, you don't just do it. And you know what. He left there and went to another company and guess what they hired me to.

And another person from that health care company texted me over the weekend. He's was like, hey, I'm at a new organization. These are the problems I have. Can you come in and help consult? You actually get more business by training your customers to fire you. Then you do less.

Jason: [00:37:34] Exactly. Give us one really killer thing in the book. And then we'll tell everybody where they can get the book.

Roger: [00:37:40] Perfect. If there's one killer thing from the overall strategy in here, it's like flip it upside down. Don't try to read it upside down, you'll get a headache. But SEO, isn't about ranking websites. It's about generating revenue. So the one strategy that I tell everyone before you even start SEO is implement call tracking.

Now, again, this is local SEO. So we're usually talking about a conversion path that is calls. I probably wouldn’t work with the pizza shop. I can't track the revenue that comes in from that. Implement call tracking and figure out where you are before you do anything else. It only takes 30 days.

If your customer is telling you, they're getting 50 phone calls a week, you implement call tracking. They're probably getting five and you're going to have a real benchmark set now you're also going to listen to do they answer their calls. If they get a hundred calls and answer five, you've got to fix that.

There's so many things you have to fix in order to make SEO successful. And we charge, we charge maybe 1500 or $2,500 a month for our additional audit roadmap and data capture.

But after that, you will know for certain, if you can help that person and what agencies chase money. Most of them do and it's why their lives are so stressful and so miserable. Because they'll take money from anyone. Be willing to say no. If the data doesn't tell you, you can make them successful.

Uh, Travis Saga has a great thing. He's like you only take on someone if he's willing, and this goes back to poop, to give them a bucket of poop that they can dump on his head if he, if he doesn't make them successful. And knowing that he only works with a certain number of people and the ones that work with him and brag about working with them.

But pretend there's a bucket of poop sitting next to you. Don't take that customer on if they're going to dump that bucket on your head.

Jason: [00:39:15] I love it. I love that there's so many different things to break down, but I love how you were like, just do one thing to see if they're going to beat an amazing client and do that in early on, rather than invest all your time and you getting paid a great deal from them.

And then you're like, this is miserable. You're gonna lose your team. Right that you're going to get bad clients and it's just a constant rollercoaster ride. But if you do it and you reset it and you think, how can I make sure? And even going to the prospect, I want to make sure you're good for us. You know, it goes back to an interview I did with Seth Godin, where he was like, look, there's this one agency that only want, doesn't want to hire over 50 people.

And if they only have 50 people, there's only so many clients they can take on and they tell the clients, if you ever do anything, if you dump a pile of poop on us, we're firing you. Talking about shit the whole episode.

Roger: [00:40:11] Going back to poop.

Jason: [00:40:13] You like how I came back to the poop. That's what I did. That's what I do. Where can the audience go check out the book?

Roger: [00:40:17] I mean, I'll give you a link. They can go to rcbryan.com/localseobook. And I'll just leave it up for a limited amount of time, but they can actually get the digital copy for free. So we took the whole book. We turned it into like a course format on teachable.

And what's nice is we're actually there's conversations going on in there. There's been tweaks. There's been additions. Some chapters have been dropped to the bottom because people didn't find them useful. Some chapters have been moved up, we've redone some of the intro stuff, things that you can't do once you have a hard copy, but there's a great community building around it of SEO professionals and amateurs, just learning and trading, uh, skill sets and, uh, swapping ideas in order to create the best strategies for people.

Jason: [00:40:56] Awesome. Well, this has been amazing. Everybody go to that URL, go to it now and go check it out. And, uh, is there anything Roger, I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Roger: [00:41:09] No, but I think we did 3 million, no, 300 billion cubic feet of poop last year. You forgot to ask me about that.

Jason: [00:41:19] All right. Well, if, if all you listening, if you enjoyed this episode and you want to stay away from getting the bag of poop thrown on you, you need to be surrounded by amazing agency owners. And we're only looking for five agency owners that are over 500,000 and under 20 million. If, if that is you and you guys want to add multiple millions on, we want to invite you to go check out the Agency Mastermind.

This is where we share the strategies that people are crushing it on and you'll be able to see the bags of poop that you can throw away. So make sure you go to, you guys can tell it's not a script cause I'm putting poop in there. But make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com and request the invite, put in your application.

And if I feel that we can help you out and you'll be amazing for the mastermind, we'll invite you to come on and uh, so you can stay away from the shit. All right, until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_One_Agency_Hit_3_Million_By_Firing_the_Entire_Team.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT

Michael Begg began as an Amazon seller and quickly saw an opportunity in e-commerce marketing. He figured how to successfully sell products online. That led to the idea of creating their own agency, AMZ Advisers, full-service, e-commerce, and digital marketing consultancy partnering with brands to evaluate and develop their e-commerce strategy. Today he joins us to talk about how he started scaling his agency, how he used third-party platforms to get his first clients, and how he stays on top of his niche. He also shares tips on how has had great success near shoring his team.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Play to your strengths. After establishing an agency and getting your first clients, you are probably thinking about scaling. Agency owners should always play to their strengths by figuring out the high-value and low-value tasks. Hire people that can start taking care of the low-value tasks.
  2. The importance of the first 100 days.  You got a new client, great! Celebrate, but also make sure to have a plan for the first 100 days to ensure retention. Joey Coleman speaks about the importance of the first 100 days when onboarding a client. In Michael’s case, his agency has set up an internal structure where the first 90 days are dedicated to the basics. That will give them enough information about the next steps and will give the client the first results to decide if they would like to continue the relationship.
  3.  Staying on top of your game. Platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are constantly changing and if you take a step back from the implementation, you’ll fall behind, which will negatively affect your ability to train other people. Michael’s agency avoids this by selling products on Amazon themselves. This allows them to use their company as a guinea pig to learn things that they can apply to clients.

Sponsors and Resources

SweetProcess: Today's episode is sponsored by SweetProcess. If you're looking for a way to speed up processes in your agency, SweetProcess will provide the systemization you need to scale and grow your business. Check out sweetprocess.com/smartagency and get your productivity up.

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How Near Shoring Your Agency Team Helps Scale

Jason: [00:00:00] I have a great guest today and we talk about how he's grown his Amazon agency. And really he moved down to Mexico, created a team down there, and is really scaling it very fast. Really interesting episode. I hope you enjoy it.

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All right, welcome to the show. How are you doing?

Michael: [00:01:42] I'm good, Jason. Thank you for having me here.

Jason: [00:01:44] Yeah, I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?

Michael: [00:01:48] Sure. My name is Mike Begg. I'm one of the co-founders of AMZ Advisers and we're an agency that specializes in the Amazon marketplaces. We help brands increase their sales, manage their advertising, and just maximize their visibility on the Amazon platform.

Jason: [00:02:04] That's awesome. So how did you get started? And then tell me kind of the origin story about how did you transition to Amazon.

Michael: [00:02:11] Yeah, so we actually started as, uh, myself and my two partners, we actually all started as Amazon sellers ourselves. Before that, I was actually working in retail. I was working at Sears in retail real estate development.

And this was in like 2014, 2015. So it was a very interesting time for the business because a lot of things were, you know, the stores were really struggling, trying to figure out ways to make money. And at the same time, we kind of saw what was happening in e-commerce and saw an opportunity there. So originally we just started selling products for ourselves to make some money on the side.

And we found out we were really good at doing that. And we realized that a lot of other companies, a lot of big brands, were really bad at it. So that kind of led to the idea of creating the agency, AMZ Advisers, and yeah, from there, we just went out and got our first clients. And it's been six years now and we just keep going forward.

Jason: [00:03:03] So that's great. And so walk us through kind of, how did you start getting your first clients? Did you just go, hey, I see your position in Amazon. It sucks. Like, do you want our help or what?

Michael: [00:03:15] Yeah. So the original way we started getting clients was, well, two different things. The first, I guess, sales meeting that we went on, uh, was with a distributor in Long Island. I'm originally from Connecticut.

And I think we saw his, uh, job post on like Indeed for like an Amazon expert. And we just like reached out to him and we were like, look, you're not going to be able to hire anyone for this position. Uh, and then we kinda got the first meeting that way. But beyond that, platforms like Upwork, FreeUp, ODesk used to be, I think was part of, it was a part of Upwork, now freelancer.com.

All of those, uh, we just started putting our profiles and our company on there and started taking jobs, even if they were low costs. Just to, to start moving up the ranks. And yeah, that's really how we started building and getting those initial clients.

Jason: [00:04:04] You know, we had a mastermind member talk about how he generated like over a hundred thousand in monthly recurring revenue from Upwork. And I was like, there's no way, because I just always looked at it as like a platform like Fiverr, like find cheap labor. He's like, no, no, no. And he walked us through a strategy. I'm like, wow, that is really pretty clever. I was like, if that existed, I was like, I would have done that. Like, that was great.

Michael: [00:04:29] Yeah, no, it was awesome. I mean, for growing a business, it was perfect to get started because we didn't really understand exactly what companies we were going after or what companies really needed this service. So it was kind of a way for us to learn and figure things out. And yeah, I mean that, it just kind of developed into building out a real sales and marketing strategy from there.

Jason: [00:04:49] Yeah. Let's talk about a little bit about how have you been able to start scaling, you know, the agency, you know, I look at, you know, the first part. It's just really getting started, you know, going after the clients, knowing where you're going, getting that, you know, that direction. So as you're in that building phase, and then you get to that systems phase. So talk about a little bit about how have you guys been able to scale.

Michael: [00:05:13] Yeah, I think you bring up a really good point there. And in that initial phase where you're kind of just getting those clients, it's really important to play to your strengths and what you're good at, what you're not good at. So the great thing about having partners in the agency business is that, you know, we each compliment each other.

So like, I'm very good at marketing and advertising. I have a partner who was very good at sales. I have another partner that's very good at project management. So between all of that, that really helped us execute initially to get to the point where we could start figuring out the processes to go forward.

So that's always important, I think when you're in that initial phase, and then when we're looking at that next level of building the processes, it's okay. Which way do we approach it. What are our high-value tasks? What are our low-value tasks? And can we start by getting rid of some of these low-value tasks to other people?

So the way we started with that, at least from my perspective on the marketing side was, you know, blog writing. I started outsourcing blog writing instead of doing it myself, content marketing, coordination. So doing the outreach to other people, you know, I started outsourcing that to a VA. SEO link-building like started outsourcing that to a VA.

So it started with those low-value tasks that really allowed me to focus on the higher value items. And then from there it's more of right now, how do I train someone to take over some of this higher value stuff? Because I mean, I think a VA is great for that low-value stuff, but getting them to execute on the high value is definitely harder.

Jason: [00:06:43] Yeah. It's really challenging. So, you know, I like kind of the process that you went through of going like, hey, how do I get rid of a lot of the stuff? So what were some of, outside of just VA is like, let's talk about kind of the management level. What was kind of that first person like you guys are around 30 people now, so you got some structure in place.

And a lot of times people look at it going, man, I would never want 30 people. Because there are kind of that process of like five employees and they're already maxed out and then they think all 30 are going to report to you. Which is, obviously that's a mistake. Like that's a bad, that's a bad structure to have with 30 people. So talk a little bit about the structure that you guys put in place and then how has it evolved?

Michael: [00:07:26] Yeah, so I think originally the first people that we brought in that, you know, weren’t ourselves to help where, I guess I call them Amazon experts, the people that understood the platform and how to sell on it. And you know, that allowed us to start taking on more clients because now we can leverage their bandwidth to help with.

Then we got to a certain point where we realized, well, we need someone to kind of oversee a lot of what they're doing to make sure it's consistent between what each of them are doing because everyone has different levels of knowledge within Amazon. And I mean, just with anything, you know, some people that are more experienced are going to have more knowledge than others.

So we called them the Director of Account Management, uh, was the one that really helped oversee everything. That was our initial kind of manager position. And that handled the, the client-facing side of the business and it worked for a while. And then we figured out it didn't work. We had to kind of evolve a little bit more.

And then on the back end of the business, you know, we obviously have a lot going on with, you know, coordinating marketing. I have a marketing manager that handles all of that for me. Content creation, that's a big part of our business is, you know, graphic design, SEO, copywriting. And we brought in a project manager to really help oversee that process. We promoted a designer to really lead the design and make sure designs were consistent across everything.

And those are kind of the management positions we started, we started filling start helping us manage things better. Now that Director of Account Management role has kind of faded out to the point where now we have, you know, a real client success team and we have an advertising team.

So now the account managers are responsible for managing the relationship. The client success manager is making sure that that's responsible for working. And then we have the advertising team making sure that they're actually getting the results. So, there's definitely an evolution there and I'm sure there's a lot more, that's going to come, but from failing a lot, that's kind of where we got to where we are now.

Jason: [00:09:19] Awesome. And then, is there a framework that you've developed over the years for making sure that you deliver, you know, the value to your clients that are on Amazon? Because I always find with successful agencies, there's always kind of a methodology or a framework that they actually follow.

Michael: [00:09:39] Yeah, I agree with that. I think there kind of needs to be, we call it a playbook or, you know, just something that you can implement. That's going to get consistent results across clients. I mean, you need to be organized in a way, especially if you're going have people working for you. So yeah, we have implemented like, something like that.

I mean, we focus on, uh, an initial 90-day plan to get, make sure every client, we hit these things in the first 90 days from during that period, we're collecting a lot of data and that's going to help us formulate our strategy beyond there. But yeah, I think having an initial, uh, methodology to make sure that they're getting the right results in the beginning with all the setup and you know, all the fundamentals. And then from there seeing where the data is taking us and then implementing the strategy then.

Jason: [00:10:21] So let's dive a little bit more into kind of the 90-day plan. So let's say someone goes, hey, um, I want to, you know, be a big dog on Amazon. This is what I want. Right. And, uh, like walk me through that process. Like, are you selling them a 90-day plan or are you selling them something different?

Michael: [00:10:39] Yeah, we're selling them. I mean, we obviously want this to be a long-term partnership. We want it to last longer than 90 days, but in our opinion is that, and our view on it is that if you don't see the value within the first 90 days, then like what's the point of working with us.

So, you know, initially, we just got to make sure that everything is set up in the account correctly. A lot of times within Amazon, people are doing things incorrectly there, you know, it's just costing them money or making them look not as good as it could. Uh, from there, you know, doing content, making sure everything is optimized. From there, starting advertising and like, yeah, moving down the line, but starting like really with the basics and the fundamentals.

And then we think after, you know after we do those things within the first 90 days, you're already going to start seeing a pretty good return on the investment. And that's like what we call the window to show the value and beyond there it's just continuing to show value primarily through advertising and you know, other marketing strategies.

But yeah, that's kind of the way that we approach it. We don't sell them on the idea of a 90-day plan. It's, you know, we just have that internally.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:11:39] Yeah, I love that you do that the 90 days, you know, I had a guest on, uh, Joey Coleman who will link up in the, in the show notes. If you guys go there, as well as we had him speak at our Digital Agency Experience, and he talked about why the first one hundred days is so important when you're onboarding a client.

Like we all think of, hey, we got a new client. Yeah. Celebrate, ring the gong, ring the bell. That's it, but it's all about like retention, you know, like when I'm chatting with agency owners and we talk about, you know, alright great you're good at attracting. You're good at converting, but are you really good at streamlining the operations where, which, you know, part of that is retention and upsells to other things.

So it's yeah, you could be like, there's a lot of companies I know that will be nameless. I won't call out anybody that we're really good at sales and marketing, but they sucked at operations. And you have to kind of get all three of those together. This has all been great. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Michael: [00:12:37] Yeah, I mean, I think there's something interesting when we're talking about, you know, running a business and an agency in general, and I think this last year has made it more relevant than ever. It's just the ability for remote work and that's something that we really leveraged within our business. I mean, you know, virtual assistants are pretty common, but, uh, I actually moved, left the country.

I live in Mexico now and, you know, what's helped us build our agency is by building a team down here. So, you know, now I'm leveraging not only the cost savings but the ability to scale faster by hiring more people. And, you know, I'm hiring. Like I talked, like I talked about the range of low value, high value, again, you know, the great opportunity is now that I'm here with them and I can train them on the high-value tasks.

So, having the ability to hire a team like that, international, that's not virtual assistants that are on the other side of the world is definitely been very important for us. It's really allowed us to improve the product quality as well, because I think a lot of agencies generally go that independent contractor route where you definitely don't have as much control versus actually having an employee.

Jason: [00:13:39] And let's talk about this a little bit, because we actually bought a company on our agency in Costa Rica that did the very easy development work. You know, it was only one time zone away. We were on the east coast at the time and in Atlanta and they were, you know, on central time. So it was really easy, but we always had a struggle with giving them more qualified or thinking tasks.

And you just mentioned like you live in Mexico, which is great. I'm sure the weather's a lot better from Connecticut. I grew up in Long Island, so I know how bad the weather gets up there. So Mexico is like, yes. So if someone was hearing this and going, man, I'd love to get a lower-cost labor, but really good. Does it require them having to move there or what have you found is the musts?

Michael: [00:14:31] I don't think it requires them having to move there. But I think a lot of times, and this is a big challenge where I think a lot of agencies struggle and I know we struggled with it, is transitioning from I'm hiring someone where I think I know what they're doing to transitioning to I'm hiring someone that I need to train to do what I want.

And, you know, that can, all it can be done virtually. I mean, a lot of companies succeed like that one example, you know, we, I have another company down here that's a US-based company. And what they do is they have literally a live camera in the office. So it's like in a TV screen. So it's just like, two-way communication live.

If someone has a question, they answer it there. It's almost like being in the physical office. So I think there's a lot of ways to tackle that problem. But if you don't, aren't in that position to really train them, if you don't have, I always say documentation, good SLPs build on how to do things, it's going to be that much harder for them.

And I think that's really where a lot of people will probably fail with that. You know, for us being here in the office was great initially, because, you know, we were able to hire people. I mean, when it comes to thinking of people that can think critically. Yeah, we've hired some engineers. We've hired MBAs, uh, people that have really helped us scale in that sense because they have more business experience.

But yeah, if we weren't there supporting them, we weren't training them. Like we were, we probably would've just set them up for failure. And then, you know, we wouldn't have seen the return on it. So, and now, again, being remote with COVID, I'm the only one in my office, out of all my employees. So it's definitely still possible to do it.

You know, we, we've trained over the past year. We've trained another five people completely remotely up to the point where they're able to, you know, take clients. Uh, handle everything, you know, understand all the strategies. So it's doable, but obviously, that training piece is the key to it.

Jason: [00:16:17] like what you said about the TV and the two-way. I just keep picturing the Wizard of Oz. Right? Like the guy, you know, the guy always watches me. Like, I'm watching you, like, you got a question? You're not working? That's pretty funny. That's when you mentioned that, I was like, oh my gosh.

Michael: [00:16:35] It's definitely like strange in a sense that it's kind of like big brother watching you, but at the same time, it actually, I think it's really an interesting idea if you're collaborating between your team and a different country.

So like for example, a good example of this is let's say you're the marketing head. You're the CMO. And you hire everyone down here. So you have your entire marketing team here, but you're based in the US so you hire a CMO to have a team down here. That's a great way to collaborate. I mean, yeah, I kind of, it still has that big brother vibe to it, but now you can literally direct them in the office and be like, all right, just have this call. This is what I figured out. This is what we need to do.

Whatever it is in real-time, instead of dealing with time zone differences, you know, outsourcing stuff to Asia. I mean, you already know from Costa Rica, but yeah. Central time zone for us is huge too.

Jason: [00:17:24] And let's talk about the people and then we'll wrap it up. Are you bringing on people that already have the experience or are you training them from the ground up?

Michael: [00:17:36] It's very tough to find people that have Amazon experience. Luckily we have a mix of some that do some that don't, we've found some employees that are Amazon sellers themselves down here that sell primarily on Amazon Mexico, that we've been training to, uh, you know, do better.

I mean, they understand how the platform works, but they're not massively successful on it. And that's kind of what we've been able to. That's a, that's a much shorter training timeline than it is for other people. We've also hired engineers. Uh, engineers have been very good mainly because their, their problem solving, you know, if there's an issue, they can kind of figure it out when it comes to learning how the platform works. That's something that's very interesting to them.

And we've also hired, uh, people with digital marketing experience, even though if it's not, even though it might not be related to Amazon specifically. So, uh, we've hired a couple of employees that had backgrounds in, uh, SEM, uh, other paid ad types, social media, uh, and they've been able to understand the advertising concepts very well and pick that up very quickly.

So yeah, I mean, it's very hard to find exactly what we're looking for in our niche, because Amazon is fairly new and there's not a lot of talent out there. And the people that do know what they're doing usually are creating their own agencies or. Or doing consulting themselves. So yeah, that training piece is just massive.

Jason: [00:18:51] And then I guess I lied. I have one more question, especially with, you know, something rather new or, or just staying on top of your game. Like, I feel a lot of agencies, you know, they knew how to do something cool. They got into this by accident, but they're not able to stay on the top of their game and, and, and get it to a point where they can actually train others.

So, what are some things that you guys have done to stay on top of your game that enables you to train someone that has no knowledge in it? Because I feel that if all the agencies could really understand that and then do that, their work would be so much better.

Michael: [00:19:29] Yeah. It's definitely a tough one because once you take a step back from the actual implementation and doing things yourselves, you know, things are constantly changing, whatever, whether you're using Google, whether you're using Amazon or Facebook, whatever platform you are on, if you're not constantly doing it, I think that's going to definitely have a negative effect on your ability to train other people, or you need someone that is doing it to have that knowledge to train other people.

So. The way that we've kind of, I guess, avoided that problem is that, you know, and we're still selling products ourselves. So we have an entire separate business that, uh, is selling our own brands online on the Amazon platform and on other platforms. So we're constantly testing and trying new things within that account first to see how it works.

And then, you know, we're, we're the Guinea pig and then we're implementing it to all of our clients. So. I think that's one really good way that we're kind of staying on top of what's happening on the platform. I mean, it's definitely getting more and more competitive, but by continuing to do it ourselves we're making sure that we're not falling behind.

Jason: [00:20:29] I love it. I see that all the time. And I love using the agency as kind of an incubator or having other, or other companies as an incubator to test out and to really kind of, because a lot of times clients don't want you to test out stuff, but some do like if you go after the right ones, they do. But I like that.

So awesome. This has all been great. What's a, what's an agency website that people can go and check you guys out.

Michael: [00:20:53] Yeah, sure. So, uh, the best place to check us out is our website, amzadvisors.com. If you or any of your clients are looking for help where we're always going to help, or if you just want to email me directly, you can get me at my email mike@amzadvisors.com.

Jason: [00:21:08] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by other amazing agency owners that can see the things that you might not be able to see and really work on attracting the ideal clients, work on converting them at a high rate and also work on streamlining your operations, where.

You're constantly building that talent where not everything has to flow through you, which is pretty frustrating. I would like to invite all of you to go check out the digital agency elite. This is only for experienced agency owners that want to grow and scale fast. I mean like double in the next year, go there, go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

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

With around three decades of experience running professional services firms, Don Scales understands first-hand how to make them successful. He is currently the Global CEO of Investis Digital, a global digital communications company that helps world-class businesses manage their corporate brands. Today this industry veteran joins us to talk about his experience in the business, the reasons behind failed mergers and acquisitions, and share some funny stories.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. If you continue to have to do it all, you’ll never scale. So many agency owners are at the million-dollar mark and wanting to get to the eight-figure mark. Don’s advice is to learn to delegate. Find people who are great at what they do and then get out of their way. You may make some mistakes if you do, but you’ll move on from that.
  2. Building a team with staying power. Consistency is the key when it comes to leadership. Your employees won’t want to come to work every day if they don’t know which version of you they might encounter. Be consistent with your leadership style and make your decision-making process transparent, so they will learn to make decisions in that way as well.
  3. Why do some mergers fail? If you look at what people really examine when they look at potentially buying a company, you’ll find that they don't spend a whole lot of time looking at the value set of these companies that they're looking to buy. So many times when a merger or acquisition ends up failing you find out afterward that the cultures were off. You need to spend some time analyzing whether there is compatibility and if the values align.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit/ to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Avoid a Failed Merger by Staying True to Your Agency's Values

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners, Jason Swenk here, and I'm excited to have an amazing guest. Now, this guest has been in the agency world for a very long time. He started when he was one and he's grown several agencies and the current agency that he's, a global CEO has over 500 employees. They're approaching $90 million in revenue and they've done over 40 acquisitions over the, his lifetime.

And I'm really excited to get into it. So let's jump into the episode.

Hey, Don. Welcome to the show.

Don: [00:00:39] Hey, good to see you. Glad to be here.

Jason: [00:00:42] Awesome. Well, I'm excited to chat with you and learn from you because you've been in it for a long time and you have a lot of experience. So for the ones that have not heard of you yet, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Don: [00:00:54] My name's Don Scales. I am the global CEO of a company called Investis Digital, which is a UK-based company. It’s private equity-owned by Investcorp. Uh, we just recently exited from, uh, a six-year relationship with the company called ECI out of London. Uh, so we're very excited about our Invest Corp relation.

Then prior to that, I was CEO of a company, I'm sure you heard of, called iCrossing, iCrossing, we managed to take that to, um, some $140 million, exited several years back. So I was there for a good eight years, nine years. And then prior to that, I was CEO of a company called Agency.com, which is a pioneer in the web development space. And it's one of the, if you will, one of the founding companies of web development.

So that takes me back all the way to 1999 in the digital age, that's kind of like dog years. So I've been around a long time.

Jason: [00:02:00] I started our agency in 99 and yeah, I used to love those days. It was kind of like no one knew what websites were, and I could literally go through the yellow pages and go, oh, you don't have a website here, so.

Don: [00:02:10] And in fact you'll, you'll get a kick out of this. Back in the day, people would send us RFPs and we, we'd send them an invoice for 50 grand just to read their RFP.

Jason: [00:02:25] I love it.

Don: [00:24:10] And that was good business.

Jason: [00:02:25] I love it  Well, I think we're going to get along well, because I always looked at RFP as, um, you know, stands for a couple of things, Request for Punishment as one of them. Other ones, I probably won't name on this show right now. I don't know if I can talk to you that way. But, uh, let's jump into that because that's interesting.

Why would you send an invoice for 50 grand to respond to their RFP?

Don: [00:02:47] Because, like you said, you could go to the yellow pages. It was just such a demand, and we had very limited resources of people who could do those kinds of work. And so we had to make sure that, uh, every, every minute of every day was, uh, paid for in some way, shape or form. And so if the market would take it, and they did, and they'd pay, it would, we'll invoice.

Jason: [00:03:12] That's the biggest foot in the door I've ever seen. So I always believe in like, charging something as a slice off of your core offer, you know, in order to kind of see if they're serious and also kind of prove like the relationship back and forth, but you guys have the win right now of the highest foot in the door yet.

And, and you guys said you converted too. That's awesome.

Don: [00:03:34] Yeah, we did. And then, you know, then, then everything changed in 2000 and now it was like, it was. Just, the whole market would be evaporated on me.

Jason: [00:03:47] Well, that’s what helped us little guys back then when the market crashed, I was like, all these big guys going down, here's our opportunity. You know, let's get on what I call the strategy line, where everybody else is kind of cringing and kind of like they're on that roller coaster. And that's what allowed us to really grow.

Don: [00:04:05] You know, it was one of those times when there was so many bigger companies. Yeah. The biggest thing that hit people back down was when it got bigger, they all invested in real estate.

And then after that, you had all these fixed commitments and real estate, then the market just evaporates and they're stuck there with all that office space.

Jason: [00:04:23] So, what's the key…? You've seen so many agencies go from a certain size and just blow it up. And a lot of people listening, you know, they're in the million mark, they're trying to get to the eight-figure mark.

Some of the eight-figure guys are trying to get to the nine-figure and tens and so on. And you've gone through many, many levels. So what are some things that if you're right in the middle of like, let's say a $5 million agency, what do you need to do in order to really kind of, to accelerate your growth that you've seen.

Don: [00:05:00] Yeah. So I think there's an evolution. So when there, when you get to the $5 million mark, and then when you're a very small agency and you're a founder, the biggest thing you have to learn in order to get to the next level is you have to learn to delegate. And so if you can find the right people and if you have, if you continue to have to do it all yourself, then you'll never scale.

But if you can find the right people and you, and you're willing to delegate and you may make some mistakes and, uh, if you do, but you, you can still move on from those mistakes and you'll have a chance to delegate. And then beyond that, as you continue on, you have to bring in more discipline in your organization's structure.

They, you know, there's a lot of research that shows that most agencies sort of tap out either, one, right there where the owner has to start delegating, that's, that's one key point. And then there seems to be another flex point, right around 75 to a hundred employees.

For some reason, that’s when the organization becomes, uh, not as flat and it gets a little bit more widespread. And so you have different players involved. And that seems to be a place where organizations have hard times as well. Once you get past a hundred employees, I think you can scale up for, you know, you can do a pretty good job of getting scaled.

Cause you have the, if you manage to get the structure, you have the discipline and you have the management team in there and you've got a lot of the right parts.

Jason: [00:06:31] I always look at, in our agency mastermind, especially with the guys that are close to that, we're always talking about recruiting and really, how can we make our leaders better leaders. Like, that's our major focus rather than how do we make ourselves better. Right. Because we're literally kind of replacing ourselves.

So what have you seen working well, or what's worked for you in the past to make your leaders better? Like you brought them in at a certain level. How did you keep getting them up to the next?

Don: [00:07:04] First of all, you have to be willing to let them grow with you. So, like you have to give them something that maybe, that you know is not necessarily in their sweet spot, but it's, it's a growth opportunity and you have to be willing to let people might make a mistake if they're going to make a mistake.

If you're not the type who can deal with the issues of making a mistake or a client failure of some sort, then it's going to be difficult because then you have to take these people, dust them off, tell them what they did wrong, pat them on the rear end and send them off and go do it again.

Eventually, they start building up a real good experience, basically, they can do this stuff on their own. And that's how, that's how you build a team. And then once you build that team, you stay with it. Now, I’ve found that the best way to build a team and hang onto the team is, I'm a firm believer that as an executive you have to be very consistent in your leadership style.

And so if you go to work every day and one day, you're just, just a normal guy. And the next day you're ranting and raving and you want to shoot anybody that walks in the door, nobody's going to work for you. But if you're, if people can say I know, I know Don, he's always this way, you know, consistent and you're, and you're consistent in your thinking and you make decisions so that it's almost transparent to these people, how you're making your decisions.

Then they're going to learn how to make decisions very much akin to how you make decisions. And that's how you get a team that sort of has staying power.

Jason: [00:08:42] Yeah. I looked at it too of going, uh, someone shared with me many years ago, it's called the one, three, one method, or I think it's called that. But whenever your team would come to you and think about as you're building an agency, your team's always coming to you because, especially in the beginning, you're like the toll booth everything's flowing through you.

Whenever they would say, you know, hey, here's the challenge? What do you think we need to do? Like they would ask me and I'm like, no, no, no. What are three options that you think we need to do? And then what's your recommendation. If they do that enough, then they're just going to stop coming to you for these things and they'll start solving it.

And then they'll do that with their team. Because I looked at our whole goal was. My job is to coach and mentor my leadership team. And then they should, it should trickle down. I love that you said consistency too, because I was talking to an agency the other day. I'm like, man, you're all over the place. Like one day you're up here, another day you're a tyrant here and it's just.

Don: [00:09:46] As an employee, you come to work and you don't know who you don't know which boss is going to show up today. That's not the kind of place you'd probably want to work at for the long run.

Jason: [00:09:55] Yeah, exactly. Well, let's kind of switch focus a little bit and talk about why do you think, you’ve obviously you've gone through, you know, over 40 acquisitions. Why do you think a high percentage of mergers or acquisitions actually fail?

Don: [00:10:13] Uh, it's a great question. And it's probably on page one or two of my new book coming out. I believe if you look at the diligence process that people go through and you start looking at what people really examine when they look at potentially buying a company. What you find is that they don't spend a whole lot of time looking at the value set of these companies that they're looking to buy.

So you don't really have a good keen understanding of whether or not the value set of the people you're buying is in alignment with the value set that your company has.

So I talk about in my, in the book, this whole thing called value compatibility profile. And what kind of alignments you see in these values, and then when these companies fail and if you go read in the press, you're reading the literature, the first thing people say, well, you know the values weren't in alignment, the cultures were off.

Well, It shouldn't be a big surprise to anybody that, uh, these things failed. If you didn't spend enough time on the front end that if, when they do fail, these are the cause on the backend. So my belief is that we spend too much time on the hard stuff, like the financial stuff, and we don't spend enough time on the values, compatibility and the alignment of values, because that is going to dictate much of how these two companies come together.

Jason: [00:11:36] Yeah, I always tell everybody, and I did this when we were acquired. I wanted to sit in their office for a couple of days, like a fly on the wall. And I wanted to see, you know, are these people happy? Do they joke around? Like, I'm obviously not a corporate type. So if we were going to be acquired by someone, very corporate. It would've just been a complete, utter disaster.

Don: [00:11:59] Well, I had this good story I tell that back in the day, uh, when I was at iCrossing, there's this amazing agency, AKQA that, uh, and Tom Bedecarré who used, you know, it was a CEO there for years. And at one point GA, who own them, and then, we had gone with some other people that they had this idea that we were going to possibly merge the two and it would create this really powerhouse in the marketplace, a creative powerhouse, like AKQA, and then a performance media powerhouse like iCrossing, you could bring that together.

And I think it would have reshaped some of the agency business. Well, so they were talking about merging it. And the first thing you have to do is you have to look at it and say, well, you know, can people get along and the CEOs even get along. So, uh, you know, uh, Tom and I get together and the board calls us up and says, look, we want to know if you guys can make this work.

We want you guys to, uh, take a weekend and go to go to Sonoma County or Napa Valley for a weekend, have some wine, just sit around and talk. So that's what we did. We went up there and spent the entire weekend up there just to see if we even liked each other. I found out about his kids. He finds about my life.

At the end of the day, you know, I found out what was important to him. He got to know what was important to me and we, and we figured out a way to stay to the word. Now, but the deal fell apart for other reasons. But that part of I would I think would have worked its way through. And that's just because we put in the time upfront.

Jason: [00:13:32] Yeah. Yeah. I totally agree. Now, outside of values and matching the culture, what are the numbers like when you were acquiring agencies? What are the numbers that really matter to you to make sure or what's a good acquisition for you?

Don: [00:13:50] Well, experience has shown me that if… you're going to get what you paid for, right? And, and so like, if you, if you're looking to get something on the cheap, then chances are, you're going to get something cheap, right. You're going to be spending a lot of time fixing it. And so if you’re into reclamation projects, that's a whole different world.

If you really want to grow. You don't want to spend all your life fixing what you just bought. So I'm, you know, I'm a firm believer that you pay a fair price and you gotta be willing to walk away. So for me, it's understanding what, what the true… and, I'm not into, since we're talking about services businesses, it really has to be more EBITDA-based then it's going to be revenue-based as opposed to a lot of these technology businesses that we see, but, uh, so on that base, you know, I know what multiples are to be in play.

So, you know, if, if people are willing, then what you, what you really find, and you know this because you've seen it, as many times as I have is that most of these owners think they're the unicorn out there and they have, they want the one-off multiple that nobody's ever seen before, and that's just not going to happen.

So you have to get people to get, take a dose of reality, and come down to earth. And if they get real. Then you have the basis to starting at the discussion about getting something done.

Jason: [00:15:29] As an agency owner, it's hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or reinvesting. And when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we're excellent marketers, but when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing our financial data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.

And that's why my friend Nate created Agency Dad specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad, they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they're really good at. Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business. He understands everything from how to structure your books, to improving the billing process and really managing your financial efficiencies.

Agency Dad will show you how to use your financial data to make the key decisions, from making your agency more successful and most importantly, more profitable. If you want to know how your agency finances stack up to the rest of the industry Agency Dad can tell you how to do that. A lot of my listeners have already gotten their free audit from Agency Dad.

And if you haven't yet, go to agencydad.money/freeaudit before August 30th and get your free financial metrics audit. Also, just for smart agency listeners, find out how to get your first month of bookkeeping or dashboarding and consulting for free. It's time to clean up your agency finances and listen to dad, go to agencydad.money/free audit.

Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned EBITDA because that's how we've always based it on. And I always used to love when people would say. Oh, we're a $10 million agency. We're a $20 million agency. And I'm like, well, what's the profit? And they're like, oh, we're like a 5% margin. I'm like, oh, that's horrible.

And I also agree with you too. A lot of times when we actually we at Republics, we started buying agencies. Like we don't buy anybody under a million and EBITDA. There's the same amount of work. A lot of people are like, especially when the pandemic happened, they're like, oh, we're going to grab up all these people that are struggling.

I'm like, I rather grab the people that are growing.

Don: [00:17:52] Yeah, you know, I'll tell you a really, a really funny story was, uh, when I was at Agency.com and I was sitting in there talking to John Wren, who’s the head of Omnicom, and he's bought more companies than anybody I know. And he's, uh, so he was telling me one day he said, uh.

He said: Scales, let me give you a piece of advice on how to deal with acquisitions. He says until a company gets over a million dollars in EBITDA, he says, you just fly over, fly over the top and you wave to the airplane. Don't ever go visit until get over a million dollars, then you'll stop.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:18:36] That's awesome. Oh, definitely so. Right, because I feel that businesses can hit a couple of million by accident, but to get to a million in EBITDA, it's a little bit more challenging.

Don: [00:18:47] and they can lose a couple million by accident too. They can go both ways by accident, too.

Jason: [00:18:55] Exactly. What are the multiples that you're seeing for, let's say, one to about 3 million in EBITDA.

Don: [00:19:01] Uh, you know, I wouldn't pay it from one to 3 million. I meant, like you said, some of that could be by accident. But I'd say probably it's, it's still single digits from me. Uh, you know, I'm not going to be paying at, I'd probably pay six to eight, maybe somewhere in there, but not much more. I can't see much more than that.

Jason: [00:19:23] Yeah. When does it really start jumping up to the double digits?

Don: [00:19:27] I think one, when you get a little bit of scale to it. So, you know, once you get to a point where there's not 50 other people that look just like you. So, I mean, if you get a, I can recall when we hit, uh, at iCrossing. And we actually merged with Proxycom and that got that, that took us over a hundred million dollars in revenue.

We were at, I forget, like 20 some odd percent on EBITDA. That put us into some rarefied air in the agency business. First of all, you don't see that many agencies go over a hundred million and then you don't see that many agencies making that kind of EBITDA. That got us, you know, we ended up making in the high teens.

And so it's really the scarcity factor that drives it. So if you are a three or $5 million agency, Then you better have a real unique proposition is going to be able to get something in the marketplace is going to be differentiable because there's, there's a lot of those out there.

Jason: [00:20:34] Yeah. Do you look at specialization as something that separates agencies rather than saying know the typical we're a full service “me-too” agency.

Don: [00:20:43] Well, there are two things that... One is, we're a full service and two is, yeah, we deserve it because we have such great people. We have unique people. Everybody says that. So when I hear that, I'm thinking they don’t even.

Jason: [00:20:58] Or what is it? The three Ps: Process, Portfolio, and People.

Don: [00:21:02] Okay. But so when you start hearing that, then you wonder what their strategy and what their story is.

But if they cannot in a minute, if they have that 32nd elevator speech cold, and they can tell you exactly who their market is and what they're trying to accomplish, then you pay attention.

Jason: [00:21:20] Yeah. So when you guys merged and you took. Your guys' revenue, you guys became a hundred million and 20 million in EBITDA, right? How long did you guys have to stay merged together before you exited?

Because I found, and what we're finding too is like, just putting all these companies together, you have to make it work for some time for a buyer to treat you seriously.

Don: [00:21:43] Yeah, I think what you, what you have is typically have, you know, right after something like that you're going to take at least a year to get all the kinks out.

So you're going to have turnover. You're going to have this, you're going to have that. You're going to lose some clients. You've got all these kinds of issues you have to work your way through. And then you've probably got after that, you've probably got another year of sort of demonstrating that you can manage it and run it right. So you're looking at, probably at least two years, uh, before you can really do something with something like that.

Jason: [00:22:16] Yeah. And let's talk about kind of margins. Because a lot of people, especially on, on the lower end, the people that you're flying over and waving to. I love that the flyover.

Don: [00:22:30] I love it. That is a great story, and he said it was such a straight face too.

Jason: [00:22:34] And he was a part of, uh, the CEO of Omnicom. Was that right?

Don: [00:22:38] Omnicom, Omnicom is, he's probably done… He's probably done past some acquisitions. I don't even know.

Jason: [00:22:47] That’s hilarious. I love it. So the people that were flying over a lot of times, you know, their margins are at 10, 15% and they're like, oh, that's good. Or even 20%. And I look at that going that's I feel that's below average. So what do you think average is for profit margins?

Don: [00:23:06] Yeah. Since I, I spent enough time and Omnicom I'll quote John Wren one more time I met John Wren used to say, if you really want to be an exceptional agency, then your overhead’s 20%, your direct cost is at 60% of your margins are 20. He said, then that's what, it's a very simple business, Don.

He said, you make 20% every year, he says, I'll never, you'll never hear from me. I'm happy and I will never bother you. So I mean, that’s kind of the way I looked at it, it was it's. Uh, and you have to, you have to take that, but there's so many CEOs that just don't have that kind of. That makeup to focus on that number and be focused on that 20% or better.

And now, you know, over the years, because we've gone more from services and now it's sort of this mix of technology and services. And now when 20 years ago, we didn't hear about recurring revenue and now there's all this talk about how much your business is recurring versus repeat versus, all of this.

It’s all the same, you know, now you have to be a little bit more focused and you do have the opportunity to get higher margins as a result of all this, but yeah, pure services business, you ought to be shooting for at least 20%.

Jason: [00:24:27] Yeah, I love it. And you kind of alluded a little bit to, you know, the reoccurring model, because when I did the first agency, about 85% was just project-based.

Like we would go into Lotus Cars and we'd go into Tochi and right. And just exactly, but we had a machine for our pipeline. Like it was predictable for us. Now going around it's kind of a little different. I actually kind of love reoccurring cause it's predictable, especially when we're buying someone. So what's your thoughts on that?

Don: [00:24:59] Right, and that's where you're gonna get margin. That's where you're going to get margin. So nobody's going to pay you for project-based businesses. Now, even if you have, like you said, even if you have a machine that can crank out new opportunities. Nobody's going to pay you because they, they can't look forward. They can't see it beyond a certain amount of time.

So what you're going to have, what your business is, no matter how… you could have five years of great project-based business results. But because they can't see more than three or four months in the future, they're not going to pay you the higher multiple, but as you get more recurring, and a word we call repeat, which is meaning that, you know, you're not necessarily going from contract to contract your own more or less 12 months kind of contracts.

They may be on auto-renewals, those kinds of things, where you're not having to go out and renegotiate something every three months. Uh, then you can start, people are, you know, then people respect your business a little bit more than they value visible more highly.

Jason: [00:26:00] Yeah. And you know what I've always seen, especially when we're going in and doing valuation of going well, you might get your valuation, but most of it's going to be tied into an earn-out because there's no predictability.

Don: [00:26:13] Yeah, exactly. No, that's exactly right. And then depends on what the, if you're a fan of or not, but.

Jason: [00:26:23] I was screwed by that one, I wish I read your book.

Don: [00:26:27] I've been screwed on both sides of that one.

Jason: [00:26:29] I know. I've been on both sides and, you know, especially what we're doing it now is like, we've always structured the earn-out now to make it fair. And we're like, we're not going to base it on time. We'll base it on when you hit this.

So like, if an agency comes to us and says, well, I'll hold off, Jason. And you can buy us next year because I feel we're going to be double. And we’ll be like, okay, well, if you feel that, why don't we put an earn-out on that? So when you hit the double, we'll give it to you. There's no set time so we can screw you. Like it has to… like, it can be a win-win I'm tired of people taking advantage.

Don: [00:27:07] And generally takes them twice as long to get to double, right?

Jason: [00:27:13] Exactly. They're just, I think they're trying to buff up. And then they also where they tell us, they go, well, we want to stay on for long haul. I'm like, no, you probably be the worst employee. I know I was the worst employee ever.

Don: [00:27:26] I man, especially it's really hard to you get a successful entrepreneur who started an agency, or started two or three agencies, uh, yeah, they make the, they're not the best employees and the guy, the guy I had the most respect for. Started with that iCrossing and he could work for anybody else.

Jason: [00:27:46] Yeah, that's, that's me. Last question I have for you, Don is as a global CEO of one of the big agencies. What are your roles? Like, what do you look at as your role in the agency? Like if you had to pick like three or four roles.

Don: [00:28:15] Uh, I think really my role is to provide two things. One is depending on what the, you know, you have to articulate what the strategy is, and in some cases that's a little easier than other cases. But I have to articulate what the strategy is and then I have to provide a culture and environment by which people can go accomplish, you know, accomplish those goals.

But you have to get people, you have to show them the direction. You have to give them the tools by which they can go do it. And you got to get out of their way and let them do it. And, those, those are the keys.

Jason: [00:28:41] Yeah. That's, that's kind of what I looked at when, when I started getting up in a little, the gray hair, as I started figuring out that part of like getting out of people's way. And it's more of…

Don: [00:28:52] Uh, and the good ones, you know, I have some people who've been with me here Investis Digital I've had people who've been with me for 20 years. This is their third company we worked at together and they're, and they're some of the best people in the world. And that's the reason is because I'm smart enough to know when to get out of their way.

Jason: [00:29:13] Yeah. I always said I wanted to be the dumbest person in the room, at the company, and that was not hard for me.

Don: [00:29:22] I think Reagan said that too. One time. He said you want to be the dumbest guy in the room one time when it was, he said something like that.

Jason: [00:29:30] Oh, that's funny. Well, Don, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you before we tell people where they can get the book?

Don: [00:29:38] I think, uh, you know, I probably. You know, I thought maybe you might ask me, like, give me one funny story that came out of doing one of these acquisitions I had one before I was going to tell you. Yeah. So the first acquisition that I ever did at iCrossing was a company called NewGate Internet, it was in Sausalito, California.

And we had spent all this time and effort getting this right. We had dotted all the I's and cross T's and we wanted to make sure that the board was really standing behind this and. So we got all excited. We got this deal done. So, uh, we went out there, uh, myself and the CEO of iCrossing at the time we went out there and went to Sausalito.

And so we meet, we meet the CEO of NewGate Internet at the front door. We're talking to him and I said, okay, is everybody ready? Yeah. I got the whole team together and we're going to introduce you guys is going to be great. So we walk in and the. And the CEO stands up in front of his group, which is probably about 50 to 75 people.

And he says, well, uh, he says, uh, I have some news for you guys. He said, you don't know this, but for the last six months I've been, uh, trying to sell the company and he says I've actually been successful at doing so. And so, uh, your new owners here, Jeff and Don they're from a company called iCrossing. They're going to be your new bosses. And today's my last day.

Uh, I'll be leaving as soon as I finished speaking here, it's been great working with you for the last six years, and I hope to see you guys soon. And they literally picked up and walked out the fire escape and never came back. And Jeff and I are looking at each other like, holy cow, what are we going to do now?

So we had to figure this out on the fly in front of 75 people who didn't even know they were being sold and we made it work this way through, but there was a, oh my God moment there where it was like, my gosh, what are we going to do next? Oh, wow. That was our first deals at iCrossing.

Jason: [00:31:51] It's awesome. I mean, literally he got the mic, he dropped it and then just bounced and walked right out the fire escape too. Was he afraid that you guys would go to stop the elevator?

Don: [00:32:05] I think he was, I think he was so embarrassed about just pulling a fast one there. He just didn't even want to wait to go out to the front door. He didn't want to say goodbye to anybody, he just left.

Jason: [00:32:16] Wow. So was it a good acquisition or did you find a lot of skeletons?

Don: [00:32:21] Yeah, it turned out really good. I mean, they, they were really, uh, experts in paid media. Uh, and they really set the tone for iCrossing for years in paid media. And we got some really fantastic people out of that, but it was, it has bumps in the early days, that’s for sure.

Jason: [00:32:37] That's crazy. I mean, literally like.

Don: [00:32:43] It was pretty funny.

Jason: [00:32:43] I can only imagine, like, I'm picturing, I know what you're talking about a fire escape, but I, I see like the New York fire escapes, like him sliding down. With the ladder.

Don: [00:32:53] With the ladder and everything. They don't have those in Sausalito.

Jason: [00:32:58] I know, but that would be. You should embellish that a little bit. Like be like, yeah, he just slid down like was James Bond.

Don: [00:33:08] I need to build this up a little bit more.

Jason: [00:33:10] Yeah, definitely. Well, you got to sell it, like your, sell it a little bit more.

Don: [00:33:14] Exactly. It is in the book though. You can read about it in the book.

Jason: [00:33:19] Cool, what's the name of the book? And obviously, we probably can get it anywhere, right?

Don: [00:33:23] It's from Forbes books. It’s out Amazon for pre-sale right now. It comes out June 6th and it's called the M&A Solution.

Jason: [00:33:30] Awesome, well, everyone go check it out. And then, uh, what's the agency URL so people can go and check out the agency as well.

Don: [00:33:38] The agency that I’m at right now. It’s called Investis Digital, and like I said it's London-based and we just got bought by Investcorp, so yeah, check us out.

Jason: [00:33:50] Awesome. Well, Don, thanks so much for coming on the show. It was a lot of fun hearing some of the old stories. Make sure all of you go check out the book. Check out the agency as well. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners that are sharing what's working now, so you guys can scale faster and really know that you're doing it in the right way.

I'd love to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com. Check it out, apply if you're right for us, we'll have a conversation. And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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

Todd Taskey has over twenty years of experience as a founding investor, board member, and management team of several business ventures. Now, as M&A at Potomac Business Capital, he helps CEO's and entrepreneurs develop a successful exit strategy by understanding the mid-market investment banking process. Today he joins us to talk about roll-up strategy, the mergers and acquisitions red flags you should avoid, and what you should be offering as an agency if you're thinking of selling.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Thinking about selling? A lot of agency owners are thinking of selling at some point in the future. How can they be sure to get the most value? Our guest agrees that you should pay a lot of attention to your EBITDA. A lot of times, buyers won’t even consider you unless you have $1 million in EBITDA.
  2. Specialization is the key. If you own a small agency and are looking at roll-up mergers as a possible strategy for the future ask yourself “am I providing a really specific piece?” “Am I really, really good at providing that to folks?” There are lots of opportunities out there and, if you’re smaller, it’s easier if you can solve a specific issue.
  3. Red flags you should avoid. The most important aspect that sometimes determines the failure of a merger is culture fit. You should always have that in mind. Another mistake is to think of it not just as two identical companies coming together. If they're smaller, they should add certain capabilities.

Sponsors and Resources

SweetProcess: Today's episode is sponsored by SweetProcess. If you're looking for a way to speed up processes in your agency, SweetProcess will provide the systemization you need to scale and grow your business. Check out sweetprocess.com/smartagency and get your productivity up.

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Secrets to Implementing a Successful Roll-Up Strategy for Your Agency

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up everybody. Jason Swenk here and I have an amazing guest today. A repeat guest, Todd, where we're going to talk about a roll-up strategy because there's a lot of things out there right now that are going on and this market is growing very quickly with, uh, mergers and acquisitions and, Todd is going to provide a lot of value to you.

So let's get into the episode.

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Hey Todd, welcome to the show.

Todd: [00:01:50] Happy to be here, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:01:52] Yeah. So for the ones that have not checked out our other interview, which we'll actually link in the show notes, make sure you guys all check that out, but, uh, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Todd: [00:02:04] Yes. My name is Todd Taskey, T-A-S-K-E-Y. You can find me on LinkedIn. I'm happy to connect Potomac Business Capital is our group and we do, uh, investment banking primarily in the digital marketing and digital transformation space.

Jason: [00:02:18] Awesome. Well, let's kind of jump right into it. You know, there's a lot of crazy things going on at this moment with, you know, different deal structures.

What are you guys seeing since you're in the mix of it with a lot of digital agencies?

Todd: [00:02:32] Yeah. You know, it's interesting. We've got one client. I'll give you just a couple of anecdotal pieces. I've got a client right now that is small, you know, they're actually under a million dollars of EBITDA, which is usually an important cutoff, but these guys are very focused in terms of the work that they do.

They provide email marketing in a very specific vertical. And that becomes a, a really good bite-size piece for an acquirer. And in fact, both of, we expect two LOIs this week for them, and both of those are very sizable companies, but I think they viewed this opportunity as, like I said, a bite-sized piece that they can build out a practice from and then cross sell across to their other brands.

We've also got, you know, we closed the deal right at the end of the year where our client is about 2 million of EBITDA. They're a partner in the HubSpot space, has long time been there. And we were able to put them together with the business, very similar to theirs, probably about twice the size. And that now becomes one of the larger premier players in the HubSpot space.

We've got another client now that’s in the video intelligence space, again, they're a little bit under a million dollars of EBITDA. But because they're so specific in their, in their offering, it becomes easier for us to find, uh, a very specific or curated fit for them really, you know, from the, almost from the network that we already have.

Jason: [00:04:15] And so what should people know about the possible roll-up? Because there's a lot of people listening in that their intent is to have option to sell. And let's say they're to a point where they do want to sell, but they might not be over the certain threshold in order to see the real money that they really want.

Like you and me. We always discuss kind of the million in EBITDA is kind of the, the starter, right? Like you got to get to that level in order to really start to entertain some healthy offers. And so talk a little bit about how can the people listen and get a little bit creative.

Todd: [00:04:53] So, two things I would say. Don't think of it as a roll-up, think of it as an arc of services. And so when people put together, when larger buyers put things together, they don't want an SEO shop and another SEO and another SEO so that they can become a bigger shop. What they want to do is become a destination, a one-stop-shop if you will, for their clients. So what a lot of, for example, there was a lot of news.

People want to check in Tinuiti, which was a, a Mountaingate Capital company that was acquired in January by new mountain capital. And it's very, very, uh, nice data point for the space, but they had spent the last four years building an arc of services. So for an example, they acquired a company four years ago called Elite SEM they added paid media, they added social, they added content, they added analytics, a delivery system and a platform and everything else, and had a wonderful exit from that.

So, one question for your listeners is, am I providing a, a really specific piece? Right, to that arc of services. And am I really, really good at providing that to folks? So that would be one. And then I think, you know that the second thing, when you look to be acquired, private equity is driving a lot of the activity in our space today.

And so for private equity to get the returns that their investors want, they always will have some debt in their structure. To be able to borrow from an institution they need $2 million of EBITDA. For most lenders, that is the minimum that they'll do. So from that standpoint, I'll give you an example, we've got a bunch of private equity relationships.

The transaction that we did with HubSpot, I reached out to three of the groups that we work with and that we know pretty well. And I said, hey, you know, if you don't know about HubSpot, you should, it's a fragmented industry. There's a lot of smaller providers in that space. And it's a great software for inbound lead creation.

So two of the groups said to me, Jesus, you know, if you can find me, uh, you know, an a million and a million or a million and a half. You know, any pieces that you can put two together so that we can become a diamond or an elite partner, and we can, we can lend against it. Then we would be excited to do that. So that's a project that we're working on now where I've got actually two kind of in the early stage companies that are both, uh, around a million that will get us to that amount that private equity can, you know, can sponsor.

So there's lots of opportunity that's out there for, and it's a little bit easier if you're smaller to solve a very specific issue, if you will.

Jason: [00:07:58] So if you're putting two kinds of agencies together, right? Like you're taking one plus one equals two. How long do they have to be together before you can kind of go to someone and be like, yeah, it's a proven model, right?

Like, like what you were talking about is looking at like, all right, it's not just adding services to add services. It's adding services to come up with a full solution for getting the max results. So I just want everyone to be clear on, on that, but how long do you feel like if you do take, like, let's use an example in our mastermind, we have tons of agencies and some specialize in one particular service and that's it. And same thing with another one.

Now, if they come together and they're like, Hey, we're both going after this industry, we put these two together. Wow. We'll make it over the threshold, but how long do they have to be together? Because I know with Republics we're putting, you know, last year we bought eight agencies and I still look at it going, look, we still need to make sure everything fits together before we talk about exit and all that. So what are your thoughts there?

Todd: [00:09:08] So couple of great questions. The first is when you were putting agencies together. Here's what I find, that without cash, the deal oftentimes will break. So for example, Jason, you and I are roughly equals. We're going to put our business together. Let's say we have about a million bucks of EBITDA.

A million bucks is, you know what it means. I have a very good life. You have a very good life. Now I'm going to give that up and I'm not going to be in control of my agency anymore. And, and who's going to be in charge. Who's going to make the decision to, you know, a whole bunch of questions that make it difficult.

So, real-world example, when we did that transaction at the end of the year with two HubSpot agencies, we, one company had the larger company of three owners and my guy was a single owner. We put them together. Now they all have roughly 25% of the business. To make that work, my guy got roughly $3 million.

The acquiring company wrote a check. They had it on their balance sheet and they wrote a check for that amount of cash. So now, that happened December 31st, our expectation is that we'll spend most of the year doing integration, picking up efficiencies. And then we will get credit for that. So the combined businesses, about 6 million, we would expect at the year-end, it would be about seven and a half million of EBITDA.

And then beginning of next year, we'll take that to the marketplace, right? With the other project I mentioned where we're bringing those $2 million businesses together. That's going to work because we're going to bring a private equity group together at that time.

So each of those owners will get cash at close. Probably somewhere in the two to $4 million each in cash. And then they'll also have somewhere between 20 and 35% equity in the new company, the larger company, and all of these things need to be worked out. The private equity group is going to get a little bit better value on that business because it's not as valuable because it's smaller and because they haven't harvested the efficiency yet.

So in, in that deal, it, when we start, it will be agency one agency, two and private equity all coming together at the same time. Whereas the other deal that I mentioned, those guys are going to just do it themselves because they were strong enough and they had enough cash to be able to do that. So that we'll have a little bit of an impact on the answer from that standpoint.

But I would think. You would want to be able to show a full financial year cycle to prove to somebody this is real. And it takes that long, right? For things to be humming along that everybody's familiar with the system and move on from there.

Jason: [00:11:55] What are the things to look out for that you see as big mistakes when. Because there's a lot of people, you know, I see a lot of people go into my mastermind members and clients are like, hey, let's roll-up. Let's roll-up. Like, what are some of the gotchas to be like, or the red flags for people to avoid?

Todd: [00:12:13] Yeah. You know, uh, giving an example, Mountaingate Capital has had tremendous exits so far with Olsen and Sierra and just recently with Tinuiti and, and the, the guys that drive that private equity group say that the number one most important criteria for them is culture fit. Secondly, is culture fit, and I think third is also culture fit. So they also established leadership because there was somebody who writes a check, right?

Whoever writes a check is in charge and what I see oftentimes. Uh, in, in kind of failed combinations is that nobody writes a check nobody's really in charge. Everybody's kind of given up their autonomy and aren't completely comfortable and they do it almost without a lot of forethought. So that would be one.

I think the second thing is the notion of two companies coming together. If they're smaller, they should add certain capabilities. So for example, in, in a transaction that we just closed at the beginning of the month, that hasn't announced yet. These guys both do digital marketing focused on the SMB space.

My guys had really good technology, but not a lot of sales infrastructure. The buyer had great sales capability. They didn't have technology and to add the technology to their sales process should have a tremendous impact. And that will, that will cover both sides. So from that perspective, it shouldn't be just, you know, two companies that are identical and feel like they belong together. There should be something that you add to each other.

Jason: [00:14:05] Love it. Well, this has all been amazing. Todd, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience.

Todd: [00:14:10] Um, no, not from a question standpoint. I just think it's interesting when I have conversations, which I do pretty regularly. People are surprised at the type of opportunity that's out there because oftentimes they think, well, I got to sell my business, I guess some cash, I get an earn-out and then I become an employee.

And there are so many more exciting opportunities than something like that. That extent, that A gets liquidity, B hopefully a better upside and gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to focus on just the things that they are best at that they enjoy the most.

So, so maybe it's just opening up their aperture a little bit to consider what they would like to do. Because I, I believe that we'll see a really strong next two or three or four years in this space where good companies will get strong valuations and have the opportunity to do, you know, what gets them excited.

Jason: [00:15:12] For the ones that are interested in chatting with you. They're, they're over the million in EBITDA or close to it. They're wanting to really kind of exit or have a bigger opportunity to take some chips off the table. Where can they reach out to you?

Todd: [00:15:26] Yeah. So find me on LinkedIn is the easiest way to do that and just reach out there. But one last thing that I would say, which I think is interesting. You see, I have lots of conversations with clients or prospects, that they do not want to go through this process of putting a deck together, getting their financials right, going out to the market and let's see if somebody will buy us.

But I have a lot of them that say, listen, this is how I'm thinking about the future. Here's where I see our strengths and weaknesses. This would be a really great fit for me. And, and so for example, I've got two deals under LOI now. The video intelligence company was exactly like that. When I sold to my client, Arie, he said here's, this is what would help accelerate us and the people that would benefit most from our capability set.

And he's been on my board here for a while. One day I had a conversation about a completely different opportunity. And turned out that potential buyer is a great fit for him. So I'm always interested to talk with people that are doing interesting work that want to explore what might be out there for them.

Whether that's something that they want to do in the Spring of 2021, or just to be exposed to ideas that are interesting as they come along. So I'm always happy to do that. Uh, our website is potomacbusinesscapital.com and you can find me on LinkedIn. I'm pretty easy to get to.

Jason: [00:16:55] Man this new software, I'm waiting for the little keyboard, but, uh, make sure you, uh, tell him, uh, you heard of, uh, him from the smart agency master class and they'll hook you up.

And, uh, if you guys enjoyed this episode and you guys want to be around amazing agency yeah. Owners to really help you scale faster, create that predictability, that, that growth, and really achieve the money that you really want in your business. I want to invite all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com and check out our exclusive masters.

Todd: [00:17:26] I will tell you some of the, a few of the guys that I've spoken with have been thrilled, maybe a little bit surprised at how much they have ramped up their agency as being part of the mastermind group. Not just the stuff that they've learned from you, but being around other people is forcing you to think bigger and to do bigger and you know, all those exciting things. So keep up the good work.

Jason: [00:17:46] Oh, yeah, we, we love it. You know, if we can, uh, speed up people's, uh, sales process and get them to where they want to go faster, that's our whole goal. So thanks Todd for coming on, everybody go reach out and, uh, until next time have a Swenk day.

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

As a Certified Management Accountant, a Certified Internal Auditor, and certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis, Naten Jenson, co-founder of Agency Dad, is certainly the best person to help you establish a strong business and drive your agency's profitability. Today, he joins us to talk about scope creep, a topic that many agency owners struggle with but should definitely learn more about. Remember that if we can get a hold of scope creep, we're going to increase our profit.

3 Little Nuggets

  1. What gets measured gets managed. Many agency owners get so focused on that next client that they forget to measure and they are not managing the profitability of existing clients. First mistake, because you cannot identify a problem when you fail to measure. If you don’t have the data, there’s nothing to analyze.
  2. How to get those numbers. There are three numbers that you need to know. The first one is your bill rate. The second thing you need to know is your gross profit on a client, and finally, you need the number of hours that you spent on a client. The formula you will need is: gross profit ÷ bill rate. So let's say your gross profit on a client in a month is $1,200. If your bill rate is $120 an hour, you get an answer of 10. Now, what if we had 10 hours budgeted and we use 17 on a client? Well, we've now measured our scope creep. It was 7 hours, and 120 x 7 is $840 of revenue that you’ve lost.
  3. Is the problem coming from the client or the agency? Before doubling your rates, you could look at the origin of the problem. If you do this scope creep analysis over three months and clients are consistently using too many hours, then it’s time to look internally first and see if the problem is with the agency. Do I have an employee who actually doesn't know what they're doing? Do they need more training? Is it the wrong fit? Are some questions you can ask yourself before taking this to the client.

Sponsors and Resources

Agency Dad: Today's episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit/ to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency's financial needs and how he can help you.

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Understanding Scope Creep Will Help Drive Profitability

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what's up agency owners, Jason Swenk here. And I'm excited, I have a repeat guest and a repeat guest where we're going to talk about scope creep. Right? You should hear that tun-tun-tun on scope creep, because a lot of us, we struggle with this and if we can get a hold of scope creep we're going to increase our profit. And we'll be able to afford those people to really come in and do the things we don't want to do anymore.

So this is a really important episode and let's get into it.

Hey, Nate. Welcome back.

Nate: [00:00:34] Thanks Jason. Glad to be back with you again.

Jason: [00:00:37] Awesome. Well, uh, for the people that have not checked out the first episode, tell us who you are and what do you do.

Nate: [00:00:43] My name's Nate Jensen. Uh I'm with Agency Dad, our website is agencydad.money. And we are an outsource CFO firm, bookkeeping firm, accounting firm.

And our focus is really helping agencies to drive their profitability. We do that by good accounting where we can actually measure profitability, measure what's going on and those metrics drive action, drive decision-making that leads to greater profitability.

Jason: [00:01:08] Awesome. Well, let's go ahead and talk about scope creep and how to identify this, because I know there's a lot of agency owners. We're busy at bringing in new business and we really kind of take our eye off the ball a little bit. And there's a lot of, uh, what I call profit leaks in scope creep. So tell us how can we identify these?

Nate: [00:01:33] Yeah, no, you're absolutely right. What I, what I see is when, when someone's in growth mode, they're, they're so focused on that next client, that next client. That they're not measuring and they're not managing the profitability of existing clients. Peter Drucker is famous for saying what gets measured, gets managed. So identifying scope creep, the first thing you've got to do is measure it, where's it happening with clients is that happening with? And, and how bad is the problem?

And so I want to talk today a little bit about how do we measure it? What are the numbers that we need to know? And, uh, after we go through that, we'll get to, what can we then do about it?

Jason: [00:02:09] Cool. So, yeah, let's get into how do we measure it?

Nate: [00:02:12] Ok, First, how do you measure it? There's three numbers that you need to know. And most accounting systems you should be able to pull at least one of these numbers out of there. You need to know your bill rates, which is, hey, if we think we're going to spend 10 hours on a client project, we're going to bill them, let's say, $120 an hour. So we're billing $1,200. The $120, that's your bill rate.

Second thing you need is your gross profit on a client. This is the one that you should be able to pull out of QuickBooks or whatever accounting software you're in. And your gross profit is what you build a client minus any direct costs. So if you're, if you're spending money on ads for your clients, it's going to be what you bill the client minus what you spent for those ads. That's your what's left is your gross profit.

And then the last thing, the third number that you need is how many hours. In a given month, did you actually spend on that client? So the way you measure scope creep, I'm going to give you three formulas there. They're simple formulas. If you're driving don't, you know, don't stop and try and do the math.

Jason: [00:02:09] We'll put them in the show notes for you guys.

Nate: [00:02:12] But the first thing all you're going to do is you can take that gross profit by clients in whatever month you're looking at and divide it by your bill rate. So let's say your gross profit on a client in a month is $1,200. If your bill rates $120 an hour, you get an answer of 10, right.

1200 divided by your, your bill rates, 10 hours. And that 10 hours. That's how many hours you have available for that client. You've said based on my bill rate, you've got 10 hours. So one of those other numbers that you need is how many hours you actually used. So if you look at that client and you say, h, okay. Out of 10 hours, we only used, let's say six.

Well, I have four extra hours, so there's no scope creep. I had 10 hours budgeted. I only use six. I have four leftover. Great. Now what if we had 10 hours and we use 17? Well, we've now measured our scope creep. We have in that month, we have seven hours scope creep, which is, you know, if you've only budgeted 10, that'd be pretty significant.

And then the final thing you want to look at here is what did that cost you? Okay. So if we know we're seven hours over and our bill rate is $120. 7 hours x $120. We've actually lost out on $840 of revenue. Does that makes sense? I know it's a lot of math. It's a lot.

Jason: [00:04:34] yeah, it definitely does. You know, what we always did and what I've always told everybody is, is you should be tracking all of your hours for everything that you do.

And so how we had it in our software, we use a really cool project management software back in the day called My Intervals, but it works like ClickUp or Teamwork or any of those and what we would do after we had a baseline of projects or engagements. We'd be like, okay, well we know this normally takes a hundred hours to go do, and then we would break it up into segments or phases.

And then we would actually get a visualization of each of the deliverables and each deliverable had allocated hours to it. So then, then on a weekly basis, our project manager, or on daily basis if they wanted, they could look at it and then it would show green. If they're under, you know, yellow, if we're getting close red, if we're over.

And so then we could go, all right, well, why are we going over? Or why, why are we getting close? And then we can make our adjustments.

Nate: [00:05:35] Yeah. Well, one of the things that I tell people and I, I've totally made this statistic up, but I use it anyways is I say 95% of your data analysis is new data entry. The number of clients that we work with when we start working with them, who don't actually track their time to clients, uh, it continues to surprise me. I'm like, if you're not tracking the data, if you don't have the data, there's nothing to analyze. And, well, it's no wonder you've, you've spent a year growing your business and you're working twice as hard and you're making just a little bit more money.

Jason: [00:06:05] Actually. They're making less. That's what I see a lot of times.

Nate: [00:06:09] They are making less, I was giving the benefit of the doubt. But, yeah, that's why you've got to track the data. You got to track the time. And so if you, if you have the numbers. And again, throw them into these simple formulas. It's really easy to see, Oh, I've got this client, this client, and this client, they're each using, you know, seven hours per month too many.

And it's really easy to see where you, like, what you call the profit leaks, right. Where it’s easy to see where those leaks are.

Jason: [00:06:35] I find scope creep actually starts before you even actually sign up the client. I find it happens in the sales conversation. It's about setting the expectation with the client and not trying to oversell them.

I think a lot of, especially if you're an agency owner and you're doing the sales, which that should stop immediately, right? You should find a salesperson, but a lot of times you try to go like this is what we're going to do. And we're going to do this, this, this, and you're just piling all this stuff that, you think in order to close the deal, or if you have a really bad salesperson, you do that. And it really starts there. And, but I totally agree with you on data entry too.

Nate: [00:07:15] Well, no, you're absolutely correct. Because whether you bid the job wrong, you know, in the beginning or whether the client has just taken a little more time, a little more time, a little more time, the problem ends up being the same. It is you're not, you're not billing for the amount of time you're spending on it.

And so regardless of what caused it, you're still able to measure it and identify where is this happening? So it's amazing. Let's say, let's say you have 20 clients and you find that three of them are using seven hours per month too many. Well, that's only 21 hours per month, but what you bill, times your $120 hour bill rate, and you're losing $2,500 per month in revenue. You should be charging, somebody should be charging, whether it's this client or if they're not using it to pick up a new client, and then you have that bandwidth to take care of them.

Jason: [00:08:04] Yeah. One of the things that we found that pointed it out to me, because yeah, like, like you said, you’re like, oh, it was only three hours here, or it's only an hour here, but if you do this one thing and I can promise you you'll change your idea about, because when the client comes to you and go, Oh, can you do this? And you always say yes.

You should implement a $0 change order. I talk about this and the agency playbook all the time and we actually give you guys a template for it, but it's really when they come to you for something very small, I want you to print them out a change order. That shows the original price that you would actually charge for it.

So if it's a hundred dollars an hour, let's just say easy math, put that down and then cross it out and have them sign it and send it back to you. So you're training them that this is additional. So when they actually come to you for the big items, then you can actually go, oh no, no, no. My digital agency can't do this. Again, we already gave you this free stuff over here.

And then the client is programmed to go, oh yeah, it's it's additional. And when you start acting, like, I literally started adding up all the change orders and I was like, oh my gosh, like I gave away $10,000 last month.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Nate: [00:09:19] Right. Yeah. It's great if you've taken the time to train your clients that way. And anybody that's not, they should get started.

Right. But if you were to do this analysis and say, oh my heck, I'm giving away three grand a month in free services. We need to talk about, okay, what can I do right now? Okay. It's great. I'm going to start changing my process with my clients, but what can we do right now? The first thing I would say is I would not go to a client after one month of analysis and say, hey, we're going to charge more money because that month may be an outlier, right?

That month. Maybe you're doing a lot of prep work that's going to pay you over the next several months. But if you do this analysis over, let's say three months, and clients are consistently using too many hours. Then I would go and I'd look internally first and I would say is the problem with me? Okay.

Do I have an employee who actually doesn't know what they're doing? Do they need more training? Is it the wrong fit? Etcetera. So what's, what's kind of generating it. If my employee who's done this work, if I asked them, what, what are they spending their time on? And they say, every time he put up their Facebook ads within two hours, there's a phone call. They want the copy change. They want the image changed.

Then we know the problem is more with the client than with us. But even then, it's not necessarily that we go to the client and say, hey, look, we're changing the contract. You've got to pay us more money. It might just be a trust issue, right. It might be that they don't really believe that we're the experts. And if they don't put themselves into the process, we're not going to do it, right.

So it might just be a conversation of helping them to actually trust that we can do the work. And so we're in, instead of charging them more money, we're helping them to take less of our time. And then again, that frees up our bandwidth and we can then. With those additional hours, we go pick up a new client and build that client instead of giving those hours away for free.

Jason: [00:11:06] Yeah. I always, I like how you said kind of look back at your internal process first before you kind of blame the client. Because a lot of times the clients, they'll just, they don't know they're ignorant. They've never gone through this process and they don't know what's in scope or out of scope.

When I would talk about scope creep, I would always kind of default back to when I was building my house. Like, I didn't know. The process of building a house. I was like, oh, can I make my room bigger after they do framing?

And they're like, you could, but we have to kind of tear down these walls and like all this other stuff. And they were like, well, that would be additional. Or you want a waterfall? Okay. We can do like, like I was just like, it's not included? I thought you said you'd built my dream.

Nate: [00:11:51] Yeah. And like, I think it's a good point you brought up earlier is. It is it maybe in the, in the bidding process. And if you're, if you're looking at this on a regular basis and you can… It's gonna, it's going to help you identify that problem, right? If, if you're saying, if you're seeing client after client, where simply their expectations were not in line with what the reality was going to be as an agency owner, that that may be on you and that's, that's fine, right?

If you, if you learn that fantastic and let's fix it going forward, but if you're not measuring it and you're just saying, hey, new business, new revenue is going to make me profitable. It's not always going to do it.

Jason: [00:12:28] Yeah, I can promise you all of you listening now, before I actually started tracking all of this and actually measuring our time and looking at scope creep, we were losing money on 60% of our engagements, 60%.

That's probably what you, Nate, lot of times when you guys probably get an under the covers of a lot of agencies, you probably realize, wow, you're losing a ton of money on these clients. Like, why are you still doing this?

Nate: [00:12:54] Right. And I would say sixty maybe high. 60% is, is a high percentage of clients to actually be losing money on. But, but almost guaranteed. There are very few agencies that I do this kind of analysis for that aren't losing money on at least a few clients. And keep in mind, it's not just about, is the client actually profitable or unprofitable, you know. One of the questions you should be asking is, is the client profitable enough?

So we may have a profitable client, but because of the scope creep. We're spending so much time that they're, they're just barely profitable. When really if we're going to run a, a good, solid, profitable agency we need to have those boundaries. We need to be able to say, you know, our, our bill rate is 120 an hour that finds you this many hours.

And if we're consistently spending too much time, we've got to change that. We've got to fix it.

Jason: [00:13:42] That's another good point about like how profitable are they? We had a mastermind member not too long ago. Uh, had a bunch of legacy clients. We showed them a bunch of systems in the mastermind where they really kind of quadrupled their sales, but then they had all of these existing legacy clients and we started looking at it and they were, some of them, all of them were profitable.

But just like you were saying, they were barely profitable. And we went to them and we're like, well, how can we get them up to par? And the only way we can actually get the mastermind member in order to do this was to have them calculate the opportunity cost. Like, what was the difference between the new clients coming in?

Like how much money were they making there and the old ones. And that actually forced them, like, as they started looking at the data, he was like, holy cow. Well, like if I could just double the rates, and we're like double those rates, and even if half those clients go away, the other ones will make up the difference.

But you want to know what happened, Nate? Every one of them said yes. And he made 60,000 extra every month. By not having to sell anything more or deliver anything more just by literally going, hey, we need to be more profitable.

Nate: [00:14:56] I'm glad you brought up opportunity costs because some people would say, hey, let's take an example of we're spending seven extra hours on this client every month.

And what I said earlier is you're losing $840. Cause it's those hours times your bill rate. And some people would argue, well, no, cause I'm really only losing what I'm paying my employees. I'm not losing the whole bill rate. I'm like, yes, you are because you should be invoicing that. Right. You're spending that whatever it is, 40 bucks or 30 bucks an hour on your employee, regardless of where it's spent or not being used on a client at all, you've got to look at the opportunity cost.

It's that's really what, you're what you're losing. It's not just money out of pocket. So yeah. Perfect point.

Jason: [00:15:36] Well, this has been awesome. Nate, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in? Before we go over to the, the cool thing I want to, I want you to tell everybody about right.

Nate: [00:15:48] Really, it really comes down to just taking the time to measure this stuff is so easy. Like you said, if you are, if you're an agency owner and you're doing your own sales system, if you're an agency owner and you're doing your own bookkeeping, your own financial reporting, which means you're probably not doing any financial reporting.

You should stop, right? You've got to look at this and you've got to look at it consistently. If you're not measuring it, it's going to get out of hand. There's, there's no question. So I don't think so. I think we've pretty much covered it and I'll make sure that you've got the formulas and you can disseminate those out to your listeners, however makes the most sense.

Jason: [00:16:23] Great. Yeah. I mean, if, if you guys are not measuring and if you guys are doing this, then you're not doing the other things that only you could be doing, which, you know, it makes me very worrisome. If that's a word, I don't know. I mean, maybe making up words now. But, uh, Nate, tell us about kind of the special offer where you can, uh, you know, help identify this, you know, for them.

Yeah. So we do, we do a free audit on some, some various metrics for agencies, just to, just to have a phone call, just to get to know you and see if there's maybe a fit for us to work together. And so we, we offer a free audit of, of your, your profitability and different metrics. And so for this summer, we're actually offering a free first month, if you do want to do some business with us.

Nate: [00:17:06] So, there'll be a link. It's that fact, it's the agencydad.money/freeaudit. And there'll be a link there to have a phone call with me and we can, we can talk to see what your needs are.

Jason: [00:17:16] Awesome. Uh, repeat the URL one more time for everybody.

Nate: [00:17:20] That's agencydad.money/freeaudit.

Awesome. All right, well, everyone, uh, go do that now. You know, I really do appreciate Nate coming back on the show. Make sure you guys go get your free audit, because if you can identify that scope creeps are happening, then you actually have an action plan of what you actually need to go do in order to fix it.

So make sure you go there. They're incredible. We've said a lot of mastermind members and a lot of listeners over there. And they've all had amazing things to say about Nate and all their crew. So go do that now and until next time, have a Swenk day.


After deciding to leave the mean streets of LA, where he worked as a police officer for 13 years, Jason Smith started working at the leading Facebook and Instagram advertising agency Tier 11. He eventually moved to create his own company Spotlight Social Media Consulting in 2016. Today, he joins us to talk about the key factors that have helped him grow his team and making the decision to bring a VP of Operations.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Having a good foundation to grow your agency. For Jason, an integral part of growing an agency is having a great team that have your back and know what they’re doing and are team players. People you can trust with the tasks that you’re delegating and also, why not, people that you like.
  2. On hiring a VP of Operations. Many people are afraid of this step because of the cost it entails. But Jason has seen his agency really evolve since hiring his VP of Ops. Now his agency has SOPs, there are clear steps to bringing new employees and clients onboard, and a new project management system. Definitely worth it.
  3. The right Facebook ads agency will be a great partner. Make sure you ask the right questions when looking for a Facebook ads company because the right one will help you triple and quadruple your business and become a great asset to your brand.

Sponsors and Resources

Oribi: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency

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How Hiring a VP of Operations can be the Best Call to Grow Your Agency

Jason Swenk: [00:00:00] On this show. I talk with an agency owner who talks about how he has grown his team, how he's grown his agency. And when is the right time to bring in a VP of Operations and how did he do it? So let's sit back and check out the episode.

Hey, Jason. Welcome to the show.

Jason Smith: [00:00:24] Hey, how are you doing? Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

Jason Swenk: [00:00:27] Yeah, man, I'm excited to have you on, I've gotten to know you over the past couple of years, but for the people that have not heard of you yet tell us who you are and what do you do?

Jason Smith: [00:00:35] Yeah, my name is Jason Smith, owner and CEO of Spotlight Social Media Consulting. We're a, uh, Facebook and Instagram only, I say only because we're not an all-in-one, we're Facebook and Instagram only ad agency. So we do paid media for Facebook and Instagram.

Jason Swenk: [00:00:52] Awesome. Now you have a quite interesting story of how you became an agency or really even what you were doing beforehand. So, yeah, I think it's interesting just to tell people kind of where you came from.

Jason Smith: [00:01:05] Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Crazy story, actually. When I tell it, people take a 360-degree turn and they're like, wait, what? So I was a, a policeman for the Los Angeles Police Department for, gosh, just about 14 years before I became an agency owner. And the reason why it's kind of crazy is because I went from getting shot at, chasing gang members, getting into shootings, all this stuff, and the mean streets of LA.

And literally, I mean that literally, I mean, we're talking about 250 homicides in six square miles in a year, and very violent places in, in Los Angeles. And, uh, went from that to, you know, the thing that kinda drove me to look for something else was number one, I was never home, was in court all the time. My days off were filled with court and overtime and it was just, you know, I never get to spend time with my family and I just, it was getting old, real fast.

And it sounds cool when you're up on the stand testifying as a gang expert or weapons expert and all this stuff. But in hindsight, personally, it's not that fun. So, and you know, I've been involved in tons of, and literally tons of stressful situations. I've been in shootings and been shot at and all that stuff.

And, man, for making $80,000 a year doing that. I just wanted to start looking for something else. And I stumbled across an opportunity where, you know, running Facebook ads was a core part of one of my friend's businesses originally, like with a supplement company. And he just kind of asked me buddy to buddy, like, hey dude, do you want to help me do these Facebook ads?

I'm like, yeah, I don't, I'm a dumb policeman. I don't know how to do this, but let's try it out, you know. So I ended up getting some good results and then I did a little bit more research and ended up finding a certification course. And gosh, the rest is history. And next thing you know, I have, I had 10 clients, not even a year later and making, you know, 30,000 a month, which I never thought possible from home. And yeah, it was pretty cool.

Jason Swenk: [00:03:05] So which is more stressful running an agency or getting shot at?

Jason Smith: [00:03:09] Man, I don't know. I’m just kidding. Well, it's funny because people will. You know how clients are sometimes. They'll try to intimidate you or something or say something to you. I'm like, dude, relax. Okay. It's not that doesn't work on me, okay.

So, and when I, when I shoot back stuff to them, they're like, Oh wow. This guy is not going to take my usual agency fluff here, right. You know, so it's pretty funny.

Jason Swenk: [00:03:33] I interviewed an ex-Navy Seal and he was basically was like, look, we just went over so much of training when we get in situations. Like, we weren't stressed.

And I was like, that's a great principle to apply, like in your agency, like go over this scenarios is over and over again. And it shouldn't be that stressful.

Jason Smith: [00:03:52] Right. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don't get stressed too much. Even my wife tells me like, man, you don't stress over anything. And I'm like, well, you know, after being shot at and being all these stressful situations, not, not much more in life is going to stress me out, you know?

So. Pretty funny. Even the guys on my team, stress out about stuff. I'm like, guys don't, don't stress out about that stuff. Just everything will work out, so.

Jason Swenk: [00:04:16] How has your agency grown in the past couple years? Like, what are some things that have worked for you that you wish you knew back when you were just getting started messing around with Facebook?

Jason Smith: [00:04:29] Yeah. Well, I mean, number one, I think having great people behind you and supporting you. That's probably the number one thing. I mean, you know, I'll never forget how I found you was through Ralph at Tier 11, but it was funny because the first time I applied to work with you, you denied me because I wasn't big enough, right?

But that was great motivation. No, no. And Hey, I mean, that's, and that's why you have an elite mastermind that you do because you get to pick and choose the people in it. And that's very important. And, um, I mean, I think number one, support and people behind you, I mean, Ralph and Deacon, those guys at Tier 11 have, you know, and still helped me today.

I mean, those guys have been an integral part of why I've grown and there's no, like, even though we're the same, we do the same thing. There's plenty of business to go around. They're just cool guys. They've helped me a ton. Um, I could call Ralph right now and say, hey, you know, what do you think about this? And he would, you know, he would tell me and we could talk about it.

So, that's I think probably the number one thing that's helped me the most and then being a part of, you know, probably your mastermind and the group and the support there. I can go to you or anybody else. And I mean, gosh, I just went to you recently, right? About some stuff and was, and you helped me out.

So that probably for me is the number one thing. And number two is having a great team, you know, having a great team of people who you can, you know, like, and trust. And not get bogged down with people you can't trust or waste your time or whatever. Those are probably the two things that helped me the most grow the agency and where I'm at today.

And I mean, I literally started from nothing. Like I had no clients, you know, and I tell the story on my podcast and Deacon from Tier 11 is the one that gave me, like my first two clients. And then it just kind of went from there. So, having that support structure and those people in your life. And I say your life, because it's not just all about business and you know, you and I could go out and have a drink or something.

And we're good friends. I think outside of the business world, you know, we also like the same things, right. You used to ride motocross, you're a big Jeep guy. So that's very important, so.

Jason Swenk: [00:06:34] Yeah, we'll party this summer.

Jason Smith: [00:06:37] Can't wait.

Jason Swenk: [00:06:38] I know. Talk about your team because a lot of people listening, they may be trying to scale their team, trying to grow their team. Where did you find them? How did you find them? How'd you evaluate them? You know, because, you know, that's an integral part.

Jason Smith: [00:06:53] Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I mean, most of my team came from recommendations from the mastermind, um, your mastermind and, um, Ralph actually helped me out. Ralph and Deacon over there at Tier 11 helped me on how to kind of screen people, give them a little bit of a test, have them record a loom video. You know, you can tell a lot about a person when they record a quick video. And of course, they're going to be nervous and I think I'm a pretty fair guy. Like I can kind of read through the bs and the nervousness and stuff like that.

But when it comes down to the core values of who they are as a person, you can tell a lot by just a five-minute video and it's, we send them basically a little test and say, hey, I want, give me a five-minute overview of this test. And it's not so much of a test. It's really just like an aptitude test of how much they know about Facebook because I. We all do it on resumes.

We all overcompensate for all this stuff, right. And, um, for them going through this competency test just shows me how much they know. And then what I do is send them over to my VP of operations. And actually my VP of operations came from a referral from a friend of mine. He used to be a professional skateboarder was, was in the upper ups of Ogio. You know, the company, Ogio, big company.

He used to work for them because he was a pro skateboarder. And then when he hurt himself, he went to work for Ogio and loved the operation side. So I got to know him. And just a cool dude, you know, and that's really what comes down to it in my opinion. And yes, they have to have a good work ethic, but if they're going to be part of your team, like, you gotta like them, right?

You really do, you know, and people say, oh, well, keep your personal side out of it. Well, I mean, I tend to think there has to be a personal side in it to make a team really solid, a good culture and a team that you can trust. So that's kind of how we evaluate stuff and really it's me talking to them or interviewing them. I have a pretty good, from my background and experience as a policeman, I have a pretty good idea of a person, right. When I talk to them.

Jason Swenk: [00:08:50] When they're lying or not.

Jason Smith: [00:08:52] Yeah. Just slap them around a little bit, you know?

Jason Swenk: [00:08:55] So, are you the good guy or the bad cop or good cop? Who would you play?

Jason Smith: [00:09:00] You know, it's funny. A couple of people that I've met, like clients have said, oh man, you're, you're such a nice guy, but then when I saw you in person, I was like, oh man, like this dude, could do some damage.

I mean, I'm not the tallest guy, but I, you know, whatever it is, what it is, I'm all tatted down. And I don't, I definitely don't look like the normal marketer. And I do talk about that in my podcast, how I went into this Facebook ad agency world and I don't look like your normal agency owner, and it's pretty funny. But I try to be the good guy, unless the bad guy has to come rear its ugly head. And if it does, you better watch out cause you may get pistol-whipped or something, you know.

Jason Swenk: [00:09:36] I love what you said about, yeah, you have to like them. I think it's… and you have to have that similar belief in the values that you share as an individual, because I used to hire the wrong way where I would try to hire my identical twin because I'm hiring someone to pick up the clack for the stuff I suck at.

And then if I hire my twin. Well, now we're going to have two people that suck at this one thing. It makes it a really big challenge. So a lot of times you have to figure out what do we personally believe in. Like, do we believe in resourcefulness, do we believe in failure and success and all this kind of stuff. And then, and it's not just about quizzing them and saying.

Jason Smith: [00:10:23] Right, right. Yeah, exactly.

Jason Swenk: [00:10:25] Coming up with scenarios that you can have them describe that a little bit with that.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason Smith: [00:10:32] Well, and too, I actually made the mistake one time of hiring somebody who is too entrepreneurial. If you know what I mean? Like when you're an owner of a company and you're trying to hire like exactly what you said, you can't hire your identical twin because that twin is then going to want to take over and be too entrepreneurial and almost do his own thing, you know. Which, you got to follow the systems, you got to follow the policies we have, right.

And an entrepreneur will not follow that. They need to be out doing their own thing. Um, and so I look for that as well. Like especially being a team player. And that's one of the, my biggest red flags is they say anything about me, me, me, then I'm like, then I kind of, have to side-eye them a little bit and say, I don't think this is going to be the right fit. So.

Jason Swenk: [00:11:19] If you're like many agency owners, it's very hard to show results and show value to your clients for the hard work that you've done. And up until now, you've probably been using Google Analytics, which is really kind of clunky and hard to use and just been around a long time. And there really hasn't been an alternative until now.

And I want to tell you a little bit about Oribi. Now I've checked out this tool and it's really pretty cool. It doesn't require any code for you to track interactions and conversions. There's no more jumping from different platforms. You can track your social and paid media really all in one place. And it really allows you to build smart funnels and get tons of insights. I mean, literally, I've even set it up where I could say I want this visitor to get to this particular page and it will tell me what's the likely chance that they're actually get to this page and what pages are actually coming from.

It's really pretty cool. So if you want to really kind of get away from Google analytics, I want you to check them out, go to Oribi. oribi.io/smartagency. And just for my listeners, you're going to get 20% off for the first three months using coupon code smart agency.

Let's talk about your VP of Ops of when you were looking to bring them on. Like, walk me through that scenario because a lot of times people don't know when to bring on that person. So what was the scenario of like, what was lifelike like in the agency and then we'll talk about the next.

Jason Smith: [00:12:58] Yeah, well, actually I had come to you about that probably what a year and a half ago, and was like, hey, I had a couple account managers that were managing accounts. And what I noticed really quickly was that there was all this information in my head and things that I was trying to disseminate to them and balls were being dropped. You know, client communication wasn't the best. And they were coming back to me often saying, hey, Jason, I don't really know what to do here.

And I'm like, what do you mean you don't know what to do? But it was in my head. It wasn't on paper, in an SOP, in any operations was not in the agency. And that's what I needed at the time. And you're like, Jason, you're just going to have to drop the money because I was worried about, do we make enough as an agency?

Like how much does one of these guys costs? I mean, all the things you don't really know about. And then when I finally found Eric and it was almost, it was a referral, I didn't really know he was good at operations. I kind of hired him to be a video editor because he's a high level video guy. And then he's like, oh, by the way, I'm also really good at operations. And I'm like, oh shoot, really? Awesome.

And then he's like, hey, I've been looking at all this stuff at the company. And I could really come in and help out with SLPs. And, you know, we didn't have a project management system at the time. Like we didn't have Trello or. Uh, I mean, we had Slack, but Slack is not a project management system. It's a communication tool, right?

And we kind of talked about it and he came in and all of a sudden, next thing, you know, six months later, we actually have things documented and hey, this is what you do to like reach out to Facebook and, and appealing an ad account that's been disabled and everything started coming down in writing, and it was really cool to see that process evolve.

And it's still evolving today. But it makes it easier for when we bring on somebody new. Hey, okay, review these videos. This is the kind of first step here. And, uh, yeah, we've evolved a lot as an agency since then. It's been pretty cool.

Jason Swenk: [00:14:50] And walk me through when you actually started onboarding him or when he started, did you just kind of give him like, here's what we need to do, go do, and then he'd just go execute. Or did he start coming up with all the, you know, hey, getting off Slack as a project management tool and that kind of stuff.

Jason Smith: [00:15:05] Yeah, no, he was great. I mean, he, he had the experience from Ogio to be able to come in and say, okay, these are the top-level things that we need to integrate, which is SOPs and what happens in this scenario and, you know, Facebook's pretty complicated.

So there was a lot of things and we kind of sat down one day for half the day and he just went through and picked my brain on everything and just kind of wrote it down. What are the most important things when we onboard a client, like we need to have a system for this stuff. So, you know, the account managers, when they onboard somebody, they can just check the boxes, which is really cool.

And I mean, honestly, he's been probably one of my biggest assets in the, in the company and the growth right now. And he went in and went in lucid chart and like mapped out, okay, you guys, we're going to have 10 account managers by this date and we're going to be doing these things. And. It's really cool, you know, to have somebody like that. And, um, at first I thought, man, I gotta pay him all this money, but look how much money we're making now. It's pretty awesome.

Jason Swenk: [00:16:03] Yeah. I mean a lot of people, they go, well, I don't know if I can fill up this person full time, because I think the holdup in their mind or their, their mindset is I need to come up with everything that they need to go do.

Which I think is a mistake, and a lot of people don't really.

Jason Smith: [00:16:18] Right. Well, not really, but yeah.

Jason Swenk: [00:16:20] Yeah. It's just like, I have to detail everything I want you to go do, rather than just saying here's where the agency's going. Now you're the how person. I'm the where and why you're the how, right. And you just go execute it. And like you said, you hired the right person. It's going to be amazing.

Jason Smith: [00:16:38] Yeah. And you may not hire the right person the first time, you know, I mean, and don't get me wrong. We've had our ups and downs and we've had our disagreements and, but that's just, I mean, that's life in general, you know, and you just gotta get through it.

He's a great guy, great person, very organized. He's an operations dude. That's exactly what I needed. You know, cause I am not an operations guy and I do not know how to go into Trello and build boards and cards and all that. Like, I hate doing that stuff. So I'd rather be talking to somebody about our agency and how good we are at Facebook ads and, and running high-quality Facebook ads. That's what I'm good at.

Jason Swenk: [00:17:14] Awesome. Well, this has all been amazing. Jason, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the listeners?

Jason Smith: [00:17:20] No, I just, uh, the only thing I do want to add is, is when you're ready to hire an agency for your Facebook ads, make sure you interview them. You have some great questions for them.

If you have a resource that you can reach out to, to ask if, hey, if this agency is good or whatever, don't blame the current agency coming in for all the stuff that happened before, because chances are, you know, if you hire the right agency, they can be a good partner.

And I want to stress the word partner because a lot of times. Business owners don't think a Facebook agency is necessarily a partner, but we're helping you grow your business triple and quadruple your business. And that's what we've done for companies. And that's why they'll never leave us is because we've grown them so much. And we're such an asset to their brand. They'll never, they'll never leave. So it's pretty cool.

Jason Swenk: [00:18:06] That’s awesome. And where can people reach out to you if they want to chat more about Facebook and I highly recommend they do an amazing job. So where can they go and check it out?

Jason Smith: [00:18:15] Yeah, they can go to, um, spotlightsocialadvertising.com or reach out to me. Jason at spotlightsocialllc.com.

Jason Swenk: [00:18:23] Awesome. Everyone, go check them out. Reach out to Jason. They do an amazing job. And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners, like Jason and many others, and just really be able to have that sounding board, that board of advisors to show you or see the things you might not be able to see and just have a lot of fun doing it.

Make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com. That's digitalagencyelite.com apply and maybe we'll have a conversation and then maybe you get to hang out with Jason and I and a bunch of other really cool people. All right. Till next time, have a Swenk day.


True to his gambler style when it comes to making business decisions, entrepreneur Eric Siu bought a failing marketing agency for $2 back in 2014. By refocusing the agency's vision from an SEO agency to a full-service digital marketing agency, Single Grain has grown into a full team of expert marketers who share Eric's vision and passion for constant growth. Now he joins us today to talk about how you can use a game mentality to grow your agency by constantly leveling up.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Lack of vision leads to making mistakes. Eric talks about the time when he almost lost everything. He says that, at the time, he had no notion of culture and no vision, and it almost cost him everything. Luckily, he was able to turn it around.
  2. The game of life. The philosophy he shares in his book and has implemented in his agency is to look at it as a game. You need to be constantly leveling up. There are always new challenges and, if you’re not where you wanted to be yet is because you haven’t beat the current level. It’s a game of resources, he says, you decide how you want to use your resources.
  3. Going back to the basics. Sometimes we need to go back to the basics. Some of the smartest agency owners are really good at SEO and use these tools to find websites in their niche that's ranking for all the keywords they want, buy it, and then have that advantage. And let’s not forget that these tools can also help grow your agency on a small budget.

 

 

 

Sponsors and Resources

Wix: Today's episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out Wix.com/Partners to learn more and become a member of the community for free.

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How to Grow Your Agency By Constantly Leveling Up

Jason: [00:00:00] On this show, I bring on a past client where we talk about how he's grown his agency and he has a great book called “Leveling Up” and going through the stages and talks about e-sports, and we talk about sports and how you can use this in order to really grow your agency. We talked about Clubhouse, all kinds of stuff.

It's a really cool episode. We jump all around and we talk about a $75,000 Pokemon card. Crazy stuff. So, you're going to love this episode. Let's get into it.

Hey Eric. Welcome to the show.

Eric: [00:00:36] Good to see you, Jason. It's been a while.

Jason: [00:00:38] Yeah, man. It's been a while since we worked together. So tell us, uh, for the people that haven't heard of, you tell us who you are and what do you do?

Eric: [00:00:45] Yeah, thanks. So my name's Eric Siu. I helped level up the world through marketing. I have a couple of marketing businesses. I have an agency called Single Grain, a software company called Click Flow. And then, uh, we got a whole, you know, marketing education stuff and marketing school and the events tied to it.

So a bunch of stuff. And I also invest in different MarTech SAS companies, which is my background. And then, um, other than that, I have a podcast called Leveling Up. I have a book called Leveling Up right here, coming out, and then I have a podcast called Marketing School and that's basically it.

Jason: [00:01:12] Very cool. And so how'd, you get started in all this? You haven't been in the agency world too long. And so how did you kind of jump into it?

Eric: [00:01:21] Yeah, so it's pretty unconventional. So the agency that I took over and, you know, the story already, I bought the company for $2 out of pocket because it was a failing SEO agency at the time, because the Google algorithm updates basically made the business model invalid overnight.

And I was brought in as a number two to help save the company. Because I'd previously had helped turn another company around, which is a startup. And so this was a different challenge, you know, different service, like the plane's going down, right? Like, can you put the plane back together while flying it?

I was like, okay, this will be an interesting challenge. About six months into it, the four other co-founders said they wanted out. And Neil Patel was my podcast co-host he was like, hey Eric, you should get out as a friend. There's no brand equity. There's nothing here.

And I was like, okay, why don't we do this? I'll give it a shot. I'll buy it. I'll pay $1 for 10% of your shares and another dollar for another 10% of another partner's shares. The rest through the profits of the company, with contingency that the company failed and owned nothing. So asymmetric bet, you know, I'd have unlimited upside with my downside would be it's basically an MBA, right?

And so fortunately it worked out, but I almost lost everything. I'm happy to go in that direction, but that's how I got started. First year, had no idea what I was doing dropped all the way down to one employee.

Jason: [00:02:28] And so, you know, a lot of people are listening. They're like, what was the point where you almost lost everything? Let's go to that story a little bit.

Eric: [00:02:36] Yeah. So two thousand... what was it? Thirteen or so, something like that. New year, I'm like, okay, look at me. I'm the CEO. Now I own a hundred percent of the company. Look at me. And I ended up reading this book called “Let My People Go Surfing” from the Patagonia co-founder. And I was like, yeah, let my people go surfing.

Nobody wants to be micromanaged, whatever, stop showing up to the office. So I'm like, you know, I hired some senior people I'm like, yeah, let them do their thing. Whole thing implodes. And then I have people calling me saying, you know, people are showing up to the office and like just wearing like, almost like pajamas and eating like chips while watching Family Guy. Whole thing is just blowing up in front of me.

And then my outside accounting firm calls me and they're just like, hey, it might be time to shut it down. Basically I went from bad to worse just because I didn't build a rapport with anybody. I let them do their thing. I had no vision. I had no sense of what culture meant and the whole thing just fell apart.

And I almost took another job. So I was at a crossroads. I had said yes. And then I basically, the next day I was like, I can't do it. And I continued on with Single Grain.

Jason: [00:03:31] And so that's the all-time low and your accounting firm says, you know, let's throw in the towel, Eric, what did you do to turn it around?

Eric: [00:03:40] Yeah, when I first started at Single Grain, because my background's in SEO, we were getting about 4,000 visits a month, which is okay for a blog. I had started to focus on a lot of guest blog posting, a lot of, um, you know, building more relationships. And we started publishing a lot more content. We had good domain authority on our website, which is just how strong our website is.

And throughout that first year it started to increase rapidly. So we went from about 4,000 to about 50,000 visits a month. And then we got that number one ranking for the agency keyword that you know about digital marketing agency, right. I have nothing to hide. And so that's how we started getting all these leads, and unfortunately I couldn't fulfill the leads anymore.

So what we started to do was we started to refer the leads out and I would take 25 to 30% commission for the lifetime of the customer. That kept us afloat. And then I realized that these other agencies were, they couldn't retain the client. And so from that point on, I was like, okay, let's take on some contractors. We have some more money to play with.

We took on some contractors and then from there we're like, okay, the contractors are good, but they're not, they're mercenaries throughout fully embedded with the culture. So then we started hiring full-time people. It really started to take off again, once we hired that integrator and I'm sure people have talked about it on this podcast, visionary integrator concept, rocket fuel.

And that's when things started to blow up. And my thesis has always been with the agency. If I were able to make it work, the services business is not super interesting to me, but the cash flows to be able to take that and go reinvest in more exponential or durable sources of income. That's more interesting.

And fortunately, that worked out and then now, you know, combined with everything, we’re at about eight-figures. We’re over eight-figures. Yeah.

Jason: [00:05:08] And so what's kind of the percentage that you would reinvest and did that number go down over time? Like, you know, in the very beginning sometimes, or did it go up over time, but everybody's probably listening are like, well, how much should I reinvest in the company? Or should I rate the company?

Eric: [00:05:26] Yeah, that's a great question. I would put an asterisk by this because I come from a gambling background. So all in, you know, if I'm betting on myself, best investment ever, right? Warren Buffet. I don't recommend this for everyone because your mileage may vary. You might have a mortgage, you might have a family to take care of. Who knows? Like there's a lot of other commitments.

I was fortunate enough where I didn't have any of that to worry about at the time. So I continued to press every single year. I put everything back into the business. I think it's fine to pay taxes. Absolutely. But if you have a good sense of what you can do with the business and you can create more jobs from it and you don't have a lot of other overhead to worry about, then, you know, for me, I kept pressing.

And so for me, it was a hundred percent and I didn't necessarily want to raise money because, you know, I've seen that game before. Right. And there's nothing wrong with that. And in some cases I might raise money for other stuff and we have, but at the time I just wanted to bootstrap my way up to, to prove that I could do it before, you know, thinking about anything else.

Jason: [00:06:17] So let's talk about, you know, Leveling Up. Why did you write it?

Eric: [00:06:21] Yeah, that's a good question. Uh, I remember on another podcast, this guy, uh, Anthony Pompliano was asking me, why are you doing a book? Nobody reads books. And I'm like, well, I read books. So I started writing this book, and I don't recommend this, while I was trying to save the agency. Stupid.

And people are like, yeah, it's going to take you probably five to six years to do it. It took me six years, probably seven drafts. I was like, it probably will probably take me two. Took me seven. And so, I come from an e-sports background. All I was really good at growing up was games. And you know, there's a stigma towards games, right?

Parents always looked down on me, friends, maybe didn't respect it. And then it was just like, I wasn't seen, and now you see e-sports taking off, but you have 3 billion people in the world that are playing games and then feel like they have a stigma. They feel unseen, but in sports and I'm sure you've played sports. Right.

But just understanding that look, sports foster teamwork, communication, resilience, all that, all that I got from games. And my point is, you know, I think business is the ultimate game. Life is a game and I wake up every day and it's the same feeling I've had growing up. It's fun. Right. I'm just going to keep playing until I die, which is why I have a fundamental kind of buy and hold model where I just want to go buy other businesses.

And so. That's what it is. I just do this, have fun. I've treat life as a game there's level-ups, right? In the book I talk about, you know, one of the chapters is thievery. If you think about Apple, you know, Apple, as an example, by the way they stole this from Xerox, this mouse, they stole from Xerox, Steve Jobs himself said everything in life is a remix.

And so if we think about Elon Musk, the rockets, they look fundamentally the same, you know, you just add on the 10 to 20%, that's unique. They come back to earth. And so I think encouraging people that like. That chapter talks about where I ethically learned to steal, right? And people have a there's cognitive dissonance there because we all like to think that we're original.

And so the book is about treating life as a game and going out throughout life and collecting power-ups and from a business perspective, just understanding that there's levels to the game. Right? So, Jason used an example, you had the agency, you sold it and you started doing the training. And then now you're back in the agency game, but you're buying other businesses you're investing.

And so you’re consistently leveling up and that's what it is. And you don't have to get to the next level. But if you want to get to it and you don't get to it, it's just because you didn't beat the current one.

Jason: [00:08:23] Have you ever played the game Age Of Empires?

Eric: [00:08:25] I haven't, but I played a lot of StarCraft and Warcraft.

Jason: [00:08:29] Okay. So there was a game in college that I would play with a bunch of my buddies where the kind of start off in the stone age and you have to acquire wood, gold, and I think food, and as you acquire so much, you actually start moving up to the next stage and then your weapons get better. Your houses get better. Your technology gets better.

And that's kind of how I have always looked at, and that's one of the reasons why we created the agency playbook and that framework of kind of like you're talking about you're going, all right, once you get to the next level, you have to kind of reset a lot of, you know, the gold, the water, the food, and you have to kind of almost start over.

Is that kind of what you're talking about with leveling up?

Eric: [00:09:10] It's exactly that. So StarCraft, Command and Conquer, you know, Warcraft and I'm not familiar with Age Of Empires. It's, it's a strategy game, right? We're all, what we're playing is it's a resource game, right? You decide how you want to use your resources and you can go get more resources than those that do the best job they get the most.

Right. And that's not saying, we, you need to go get the most necessarily, but that's how you do it. That's how the game is played.

Jason: [00:09:29] So, you talk about is the first level kind of a, I don't like to use steal. I like to kind of like reenergize it, like you were saying, you know, Apple wasn't the first that came out with MP3 player, they were the ones that made it better.

Right? They kind of took something, you know, and the mouse you just showed me, I'm surprised he's still using a mouse. Like, who are you? Like he's still using them.

But they made it out of like a soap thing if, uh, from the story that I heard, uh, which is kind of cool. So is that the first level of the 15 that you're talking about is kind of like.

Eric: [00:10:04] No, it's not, I mean, you know, it starts out with, uh, you know, newbie mindset, right? So whether you want to call it newbie mindset or beginner mindset, understanding that let's say you, Jason, you're continually learning, you're getting better and you have an open mindset.

I think, as you become more and more successful as you, you gain levels. Sometimes it's easy to get cocky and let your ego get in the way. And so, you know, there's just those types of concepts. And again, if you compare it to a game, if you get a sword, for example, you keep using it, you're gonna lose durability. Some, some you have to keep sharpening, right?

So on the spot, just because you wrote yesterday, it doesn't mean you don't have to write again. It's to keep training your mind, you know, your physical body. All that stuff. And your life is like just going around, collecting power-ups to make you more efficient as a person.

And, you know, it might be a very kind of, you know, neurotic way of looking at it. But at the end of the day, life is just a lot of, “if this, then that” statements. So we're, we're in essence robots.

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Yeah. I'd see a lot of people trying to over-complicate things, you know, like when I work with someone or when they come into the mastermind, they're trying to think so far ahead. And I'm like, you sometimes just got to go back to the basics. I grew up playing tennis and I played in college. I remember one time, and I tell this story I think a couple of times on the show, where I was getting crushed by this one kid that I was so much better.

And my coaches yelled at me go back to the basic stupid like I was trying to overthink this complicated thing of going. I was like, ah, just, hit the ball over the net and wound up beating them. And I think we do a lot of that in business. We just overcomplicate it. And if we just went back to the basics.

That's kind of why, you know, with technology and you see this all the time, it's a great responsibility and we have all this power. But you can really send people away. If you don't just kind of go back. And I think what Gary Vaynerchuk talks about, you know, the Jetsons going back to the Flintstones and then you can separate yourself from everybody else.

Eric: [00:12:54] Totally. Yeah. That's well said.

Jason: [00:12:56] What are some other levels in the book that you talk about?

Eric: [00:12:59] Yeah. So one of them is about thinking long-term. So I'm just looking at this Pokemon card. You just mentioned Gary V. So one of the guys that used to work for me is now on his brand team. He actually just told me this Pokemon card over here. So it's like, okay, I'm looking at this piece of cardboard. I paid, there's like $75,000 Charizard cards. I paid like two grand for this one.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:13:16] What? So wait, wait, wait. There's a $75,000 Pokemon card.

Eric: [00:13:21] Yeah. So I'll tell you how this all relates. Right? So you're in business. I mean, you can definitely, you know, take a look at trends. What's trending, but also thinking about the long term. So when I, when I buy this thing, if I think about the markets a little bit, if I think about what's going on in the world.  Where should I be putting my money?

Okay. I'm not trying to get a return on this immediately. I'm just going to store it. Right. You know, this thinking about art, think about collectibles, so A I'm looking at trends, but also I'm thinking long-term like, I'm totally okay with losing money on this. So. What type of long-term decisions can you make? Right?

So for example, you mentioned profit a little earlier. Can I defer profits for as long as possible so I can build enterprise value in my company, right? And this applies directly to agencies as well. Can I think long term where, you know, maybe I want to work with people. Can I build the right culture?

Cause a lot of agencies that you might talk to, maybe you don't wanna work with these people because they're too short term focused and there's a lot of ego and they just want to make money, right? That's not long-term thinking. So that applies directly into life, and in business in general, you want to work with long-term people and play long-term games with them.

Jason: [00:14:19] Love it. What else? So I'm still blown away by, uh, you know, I look back at all the baseball cards I collected over the years. I mean, I have, Hank Aaron, Mark McGwire, all these amazing ones. I don't think there was anything close to that.

Eric: [00:14:32] One just sold, that's the record, 5.2 million bucks baseball card. A couple, I think a couple of weeks ago.

Jason: [00:14:37] Babe Ruth?

Eric: [00:14:38] I don't think it was a Babe Ruth. I think there was a Mike Trout card that sold for like over a million.

Jason: [00:14:42] Who's Mike Trout

Eric: [00:14:44] You, you, Angels Slugger.

Jason: [00:14:47] Oh, I've been out of the baseball card games since '91.

Eric: [00:14:52] Yeah. Well, but let's see, like now it's like, okay. Maybe it makes sense to get that hooked. The Rock has a U of Miami card. It's worth 45 grand right now. When he, when he was playing in college, right.

Jason: [00:15:02] It's crazy. Well, I'm Florida State. I would burn it even though I do like The Rock. I still like you, Dwayne, but I would burn anything with Miami on it. Yeah. I was listening to something with Gary Vaynerchuk and he was talking about collecting business cards as baseball cards.

Of going, if you could get the original Steve Jobs business card or Jeff Bezos card, that would be interesting, right. And thinking about that. So we're totally off track. I just got so screwed up by the $75,000 Pokemon card, but that's my ADD, what are some other levels that you talk about in the book?

Eric: [00:15:41] Yeah. So, you know, one thing I want to touch upon is the concept of the wealth ladder. And this actually comes from the CEO of ConvertKit, Nathan Barry. And so, you know, when you start out in life, you go to school and then you try to build great habits, right? Whether it's playing sports or games or whatever, and then it's like, you go get a job.

And then the next level after that is maybe you start freelancing on the side, right? Maybe you kind of hold the job to kind of keep you safe a little bit. And then it starts going well, maybe you start the agency, right? Or you can start with dropshipping first. It's not the best e-commerce business model, but then it starts going while you start to hold inventory.

So you're constantly leveling up in your career. And the next thing is maybe have productized services for your agency who knows, right? Or maybe you do go on a pay-for-performance model. You can do that too. It scales really well. Right. Revenue per employee, is super high. Then it's like, Oh, you know what? I got out all this extra cash now.

Why don't I go build a network of X business, right? Or why don't I go build like a platform business? Or why don't I go build less space X? Or why don't I just become an investor. And not all of these are mutually exclusive, but you can see there's levels to everything. And so that's what we were talking about earlier about, that's the concept of the wealth ladder.

So I think those that are listening right now that maybe might be starting out, or maybe doing a couple million bucks a year, just understanding that there's levels to everything. And, you know, I think Jason, I can both attest to this stuff takes a lot of time. So that's another concept.

Jason: [00:16:54] When do you know you've reached the top of the level that you should be? Because I see sometimes people get to a certain level and then they go. Man, I liked it back in the day with like the typical situation with a lot of people, like they're an accidental agency owner. They got kind of thrown into this because they knew how to do something well. They were like a freelancer and then they were like, well, I don't want to do everything myself. So let me hire people.

They hire people. And then they realized that the business is making more money, but they're making less. And they're like, I just want to go back to where it was. And so some people go back to freelancing, which is perfectly fine, and it's just, you've reached that level of where you want to be, or you go find a different level or some people implement the right systems and then they can kind of break through and figure out what's the next step.

So how do you know when you're at the right level or. Should we move?

Eric: [00:17:51] Totally. Yeah. So I think there's two things. There's contentment. And then there's congruency. I think when you're waking up in the morning consistently, maybe three days in a row, and then you're realizing that Holy crap, this agency behemoth that I built, that's maybe doing 20 to 30 million bucks a year.

And maybe I'm not making as much as before. Maybe this is a pain in the butt and this is not congruent, but you still keep finding yourself doing it consistently. So there's no congruency there. Right. So asking yourself, okay, there's something off there. But then also asking yourself to like, am I content?

Forget about the future. Forget about the past. Like, am I happy right now? Am I content with what I have right now? Right. So we're getting philosophical here, but ultimately that's what matters right? In life. Like your operating system up here. If it's not content, then why are you doing what you're doing? So I think taking the time to reflect, I used to just work the entire time, seven days a week.

Now I block out my Fridays and those Fridays are typically just reserved for thinking. I might have conversations with a couple of friends or whatever, but. Block out that time, like, what should I start doing? Stop doing, keep doing what, what really pisses me off right now. And it's just constantly like, you know, kind of updating my operating system, my brain, you know, that's at least what so.

Jason: [00:18:56] Very cool. Let's talk about what are some key strategies that every agency owner needs to know about?

Eric: [00:19:03] You know, I, I think still, like we want to talk about mergers and acquisitions. I think unfair advantage agency owners have, you know, people are like, oh, SEO's dying, whatever, but like, okay, Google, YouTube, hello. Like, they're still one of the biggest companies in the world. As long as there’s search, there'll be SEO.

And, um, the fact that some of the smartest founders I know are really, really good at SEO because it's the compounding effect is so strong. So, let's say you don't really understand SEO right now. That's fine. Can you go use a tool like Ubersuggest or Ahrefs these SEO tools, go find a website in your niche that's ranking for all the keywords you want. Go buy it, right?

And then all of a sudden you have the advantage. You're going to collect all these leads and you can retarget all these people hitting your website. And you can buy these websites for, you know, I wouldn't say pennies on the dollar, maybe dimes on the dollar, but a lot of these websites are, are under-monetized, right?.

So I just think it's people going back to long-term thinking again, if you start with SEO, it forces you into long-term thinking because all the short-term stuff I tried in the beginning, it gets torn up, but the hit, the long-term stuff, it just keeps compounding and it forces you to think like an investor.

So how can you take the MMA mindset that maybe Jason's been talking about on this podcast or in his mastermind, and then using it from a marketing perspective? That's one thing.

Jason: [00:20:13] Yeah. You know, I, I love that you brought that up cause, uh, a mastermind member we've been talking about that quite a bit about buying certain assets that rank really well, and he's been crushing it, you know, on it.

So it's, uh, it's not necessarily just buying the whole company it's buying, you know, assets in order to fit into, you know, those things that you're missing out on, rather than just trying to build it up from scratch.

Eric: [00:20:44] Well, by the way, like, I think that's what you and I are. We're kind of nerding out on before. It's not now it's just buy versus bill and there's a book called “Buy Then Build”, right. And there's another one called “Buying a Small Business”. It's a lot more complicated than it seems. And not saying it's easy, but it's, um. Look, I think if I can do it at least I think anybody can do it. So.

Jason: [00:21:02] I agree with that. No, I'm just kidding.

Eric: [00:21:05] But the other thing too, by the way, I don't know if you've been hanging out, hanging out in the Clubhouse. I've been spending quite a bit of time there. So I I'm investing 20 hours of my time a week in it, but like I'm meeting like two or three amazing people every single day.

So I just think the organic reach on that is super strong. And, um, you know, obviously with these social channels, the bigger they get, the less organic reach there is. So.

Jason: [00:21:26] On Clubhouse, I have been, I like it. You know, my thing is I'm at this stage of my life right now, where I don't have 20 hours a week to invest, or I don't want to invest 20 hours a week in it.

And you don't have to invest that much, but like Eric's saying is you can get that much more back. So how are you utilizing it? Are you just utilizing it to build, you know, relationships? That's what I've been seeing on Clubhouse. What are some strategies around that?

Eric: [00:21:56] So, for those that haven't tried it, I mean, you know, audio-based social network. So for me, it's networking at scale. It's building relationships at scale right now. We're not able to kind of, you know, meet in person as of this recording, but that's what it is. And so you see a lot of these people, like let's use Grant Cardone or Ty Lopez love them or hate them, they're spending a lot, a lot, probably more time than I am on these apps.

Like there's one guy that I'm friends with, um, he was part of this rap group called Pretty Ricky. You know, he's on the app all the time, but it's some of these people, I were, I was just like acquaintances, what's in the past, but we've interacted quite a bit and we start interacting afterward.

So it's reinforcing or building new relationships. Like I never interacted with Grant Cardone before the app, uh, Ty Lopez, same thing. Now I do, right? And then a lot of other influential people. But what I'll say is this too, what kind of came full circle for me was when I was about 24, 25 years old, I reached out to this guy, Dave Capernaum, he runs this agency called Likeable.

And, um, yesterday he was in room. And he introduced himself and I just came. I tried to and I said, hey, like, you know, you actually got on the phone with me when I was 25 for 30 minutes. And you'd talked about this organization, entrepreneurs organization. And I, I owe that all to you because you brought it up and, you know, thank you for that, right?.

And then all of a sudden he's like, oh, by the way, like with your upcoming book, I have 700,000 followers on LinkedIn. Let's do a Live. Okay. And let's also get you an article on ink as well. But that just came from me, like talking about him for like 15 seconds. So it's a lot of serendipity and it's a lot of relationships at scale. You get what you put in.

Jason: [00:23:16] Totally agree. Yeah. I mean, I, uh, I love obviously the audio and I love that it's not recorded and you have to attend live. What I find working really well on Clubhouse is getting in a room with a bunch of people. I mean, if it's just two people talking, not good, might as well listen to a podcast.

I mean, if you can get a ton of people and they're just having a conversation, it's kind of like it amplifies it where it's like you're listening in to someone's dinner conversation around something you're really interested in whether it be growing an agency or whatever it is.

Eric: [00:23:51] Some these conversations like, you know, legit people would be paying 10 to 20, $30,000 for a mastermind to learn. And I hate using that word because it's become kind of this, not saying yours is, but it's dirty and in a lot of different ways, but, um, you know, it's.

So let's say, peer group. Right. But being able to listen to this advice and some of the stuff I listen to, I'm like, oh crap. You know, I'm going to try it. So I have gotten some really good stuff on it, by the way, like the peer group that I do with, you know, Neil, my podcast co-host, we had a live event.

And through Clubhouse, I learned about this thing called a shuttered venue type of grant coming out as part of the coronavirus relief. I didn't know about that. But some guy talked to about, he's like, yeah, you can get this. And like, yeah, we had a shut to our event last year. It's going to come back. But you know, that's what it is. So just little micro-moments like that.

Jason: [00:24:31] Very cool. Awesome. Where can people go and get the book?

Eric: [00:24:35] Yeah, you can go to levelingup.com or you can just go to your favorite online retailer. It's Leveling Up Eric Siu and you'll find it. And yeah, that's basically it.

Jason: [00:24:43] Awesome. Well, everyone go check out the book.

Uh, Eric's a really cool guy. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where. We have a ton of fun. We're able to see the shit that you're not able to see right in front of you. And a lot of times we'll talk about strategies that we don't talk about anywhere else. And it's pretty amazing.

So if you want to scale your agency faster, be surrounded by amazing people and have a lot of fun doing it. Make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Grow_Your_Agency_By_Constantly_Leveling_Up.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT

With just a little over two years as the CEO and co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory, Alessandro Bogliari and his team have built an amazing global influencer marketing agency. They help brands and companies launch influencer marketing campaigns on TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube. Alessandro joins us today to talk about how to identify trends and what to do in order to really separate your agency from everybody else.

3 Golden Nuggets

1. Starting on a budget. Growing his company from just two workers to 20 in a short amount of time, Alessandro highlights the importance of being able to grow your agency on a budget. You can still get amazing results on a budget rather than spending money you don’t have.

2. Don’t just hop on a trend. Every time you create content for social media you should always take into account the specific medium, demographics, and type of user experience. Don’t just hop on the new hot thing before you understand it.   

3. Be curious. Dedicate some time to research, listen, and read about what’s trending right now. Engage with the new generations and given let them show you how they use social media. You have to keep up. Don’t just read about the new thing in the newspaper, because by the time it gets there, it’s already been happening for a month and it's old news.

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Oribi: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency

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Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I talk with an amazing agency owner who's grown his agency to really big and in a very short time for really looking at the trends. And so we go through, how can you identify the trends and what do you actually need to do in order to do that major land grab and really separate your agency from everybody else?

It's a really cool story. I hope enjoy it.

Hey Alessandro, how are you doing? Welcome to the show.

Alessandro: [00:00:30] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:32] Yes. I'm excited to have you on and tell your story. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Alessandro: [00:00:39] Sure I am the CEO and co-founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory. We are a global influencer marketing agency. We specialize mostly in TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Um, we are based in the States, but we also have people in Europe I'm from Italy originally. So I understand the importance of having people both in the US and Europe.

And we mostly help the brands and companies from Fortune 100 up to, you know, direct to consumer stuff of companies, get in front and engage with gen Z and millennials on like major social media. So that's what we do. We help them from the beginning of the like, understanding the KPIs up to reporting and digital analysis.

Jason: [00:01:17] That's awesome. Now, how did you get started?

Alessandro: [00:01:20] Uh, I started a couple of years ago. So the agency is like, you know, fairly new. Uh, started no funding, no VC, just a couple of people. Uh, both Italian and because we started that as a new journey and we understood before I'd say anyone else I think is like, you know, one of the few agencies that understood the potential of TikTok, back in late 2020, early 2019.

Although other agencies and companies were still thinking that like, you know, TikToK was a kids app. It was just something for lip-sync and dancing, but I was a big fan of Vine and it was discontinued, but I was so love with it. When I saw TikTok and I was watching so many videos on YouTube about TikTok compilations, it was a different environment.

It was a little bit more cringy, let's say that, you know, with furries and gamers and everything, but I saw the potential. I was seeing Instagram going down in terms of organic creation. And TikTok was giving the opportunity in a really democratic way to give like in a meritocratic way for everyone to get the spotlight that they did deserve.

And so we said, let's really focus on that and invest on that. And we, we, we have done that. We started growing, we started getting amazing clients on like Sony Music, Universal, Warner Music Group. And then we got Google and some others. And these friends.

And yeah, from two people now we're 20. Again, between Europe and the States. And, uh, so again, it started like, you know, uh, just totally like organic and we're actually growing in that way. And I'm so proud of what we have achieved so far.

Jason: [00:02:51] Tell me a lot of people listening want to understand, because there's always new shiny red objects out there. Okay. And so kind of what you described is going after the shiny red object and it actually working, which is amazing.

And there's always, you know, new apps coming out like clubhouse is out and everyone's talking about it and you know, saying, oh, that's the next big thing and all that kind of stuff. So tell me the, kind of the, the story about. How did you go, all right, let's go all in on this and not just get distracted by all those other things.

And then how did that turn into landing the Fortune 100 companies that you're talking about. Cause a lot of people are going well, how do you land some of these big brands? Like I remember that's how, you know, my agency brain worked many years ago going, man, how does this one company get, you know, to work with Coke and how does this one company get to work with Home Depot and that kind of stuff.

And then, so tell that story a little bit.

Alessandro: [00:03:51] Yeah, of course. I have to say that I have to mention that I've done many years as a growth hacker and a growth marketer, as you want to call it. So it's a lot of like out of the box marketing ideas, it's a lot of like data scraping, SEO, both like white and black and gray, you know.

It's understanding how you can be on a budget. And still get amazing results also without adding maybe millions in your pockets. Because when we started, you know, we, we started at zero in terms of investments. So you have to think about like, okay, what is the typical way we don't have the money to do that. How can you start in a little way? And so, to be honest, like I spent a lot time doing SEO since day one and, um, thanks to that, we got the majority, like we get 95% of our clients, maybe now 90 because of a lot of it it's retention and word of mouth.

But we've got those thanks to SEO, good positioning, referrals, the position we’re on listed. I mean, now just today we are fourth on Google for in terms of marketing agency. And, again, we started two years ago. If you look for TikTok, like, marketing agency, we are second in the US.

So what we have done is that, while we saw for that opportunity especially for TikTok, we created a landing page. And we started doing some backlinking and the competition was zero, right? Like no one had anything about TikToK. And we went all in. We had nothing to lose. We were not like in, in this for two-three years, we were starting from a few weeks. So we said, you know, why go, yeah I mean, we were doing Instagram and YouTube of course, but it was so competitive.

So we said how we can get like an advantage on that and getting in on SEO where no one is dealing there. That was TikTok, we thought. We did that, we did our landing page, easy one. We created some really good backlinks. I've been also working a lot with journalist that we'd did a lot of for free. That's why we have been featured on a lot of publications. Writers, Wallstreet Journal. I personally write on Forbes and many others. We got on ID week and so on.

So, you know, those really good backlinks at Google understands that they are valuable and you start getting the right positioning. And what happened is that managers at these big companies, they, what did they do, they, our people hopped on a ride, so they go on Google and they look for a solution and they find you.

And then after that to start creating case studies, you build up your credibility, your awareness of your branding, your positioning, and after that. If Sony is doing something, Universal Music and Warner Music Group, are going to look at that and say, hey, they are doing this, can we do that? They do some digging and then they found out about the company or the agency behind that, and we start growing.

So it's, step-by-step, it's super long. It's super like, you know, sometimes probably it takes a lot of energy, but again, you can start for some action. I think the SEO is an amazing way to start, especially if you think about budget.

Jason: [00:06:54] If you're like many agency owners, it's very hard to show results and show value to your clients for the hard work that you've done. And up until now, you've probably been using Google Analytics, which is really kind of clunky and hard to use and just been around a long time. And there really hasn't been an alternative until now.

And I want to tell you a little bit about, Oribi now I've checked out this tool and it's really pretty cool. It doesn't require any code for you to track interactions and conversions. There's no more jumping from different platforms. You can track your social and paid media really all in one place.

And it really allows you to build smart funnels and get tons of insights. I mean, literally I've even set it up where I could say, I want this visitor to get to this particular page and it will tell me what's the likely chance that they actually get to this page and what pages are actually coming from.

It's really pretty cool. So, if you want to really kind of get away from Google analytics, I want you to check them out, go to Oribi oribi.io/smartagency. And just for my listeners, you're going to get 20% off the, for the first three months using coupon code smart agency.

I think it's really, really smart. Like you said, there's nothing for you to lose. Like let's just go after TikTok, there's no one doing it. And especially if a big company comes to you for TikTok, they're going to want Instagram and all the other ones out there. So it's just a really smart strategy. And I like how you systematically went through it.

Let's kind of switch focus a little bit, and let's talk about Instagram Reels and TikToK, and let's have some fun about how agencies could use it, because I see a lot of agencies using it very poorly. So let's talk, what's working, you know, when it comes to developing that kind of content or content strategy around it.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Alessandro: [00:09:01] Definitely. Yeah. Good question. I can see a lot of companies that are trying to understand the differences. We just released one week ago, uh, an infographic about basically Reels versus TikTok. We have scrapped and analyzed the 60 active influencers on both platforms that, that, you know, like uploaded at least many videos.

And what we noticed is that in terms of the average views it's pretty the same, like the same in terms of like, you know, of course, like, you know, there are some people getting 50 million, others are getting less, but on average we saw the same. Instagram Reels, Instagram is definitely pushing a lot Instagram Reels, but just because they want to be like, you know, still they're the cool kids, right? They want still to be in a way understanding, especially gen Z.

But what we noticed is that this is that, this is what I say all the time. Instagram Reels is still, in my opinion, even if it's pushing, Instagram, it is still network-oriented, you know? So you follow your, your friends and friends of friends, but at the end of the day, it's mostly about like the people that you start following. While on TikTok, it's a sort of an inverse funnel. No matter what we're following, you're going to see all the time, new content, amazing content from people that you do not follow. Based on the content that you liked. So it's more content-oriented.

That means that, um, what we see is that we can see on TikToK, a better engagement into sub-community. Whenever you go to a TikTok video and there is a trend, or there is a meme on that video, you're going to find tons of people commenting on that and making references to maybe a sub-Reddit that they saw like, you know, some time ago. Or they are talking about now, like, you know, the Game Stop, everything that happened there.

While, um, Instagram it's, a bit more still on the likes, but the comments are more like, you know, I  want to say didascalic, but, um, they have less engagement and community, like no type of things. So again, they are pushing a lot on that. But TikTok, the big difference is the strong community.

So brands, I think that they should understand that, that difference. What I say all the time is that you, if you're a brand, you cannot expect to take it on YouTube video, cut it, putting it vertical and put it on TikTok. It's a different medium, different demographics, different type of user experience.

You should shoot all the time a video thinking about the type of medium is going to go. The same also goes for Instagram reels and TikTok. Just one week ago Instagram said, if you're going to put videos with TikTok watermark on it, we're going to show it to less people, right? They want to have original content on that.

So I think that a lot of brands sometimes fail it because they make cringey media started to jump on trends, but they have the opposite effect. They try to be cool, but actually they don't understand what happens. That's why I think that only few brands, whenever they give the opportunity to gen Z employees in the company to jump on that and actually really like make content, in that way they kill it because it's not trying to recreate something that is cool, but actually it's sending someone that understands their own generation and make that type of content.

So long story short, make a content all the time for the right type of audience, the right type of medium, and try not to repurpose the same on different social media, because the majority of times it's just not going to work.

Jason: [00:12:17] Yeah, it's kind of like doing a commercial for CNN and then running that same commercial on the Cartoon Network.

Alessandro: [00:12:23] Yeah. Exactly.

Jason: [00:12:24] Or Nickelodeon, I would be like, people are going to be like, what, what is this?

Alessandro: [00:12:29] Yeah, exactly.

Jason: [00:12:31] Awesome. Well, this has all been great, Alessandro. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the agency owners listening in?

Alessandro: [00:12:40] I'd say, try all the time to understand what is trending. Like not only of course reading the different newspapers out there. Whenever you read the news, it means that it's already been happening for a month, you know, in the communities. Go on, uh, different apps go on the app store, like, and see what apps are trending. What is going to be the future of things.

Whenever possible, talk with gen Z and millennials to understand what is really happening in the background, you know, behind the scenes, because they're gonna go and look for the next app. Right now it's TikTok, what is it going to be next.

Personally, I'm watching a lot closely what is happening in China for such a commerce. And I'm pretty sure that we all know what is happening there. Uh, like, it started already two years ago. It's going to be now in the US and after in the, in Europe and then after Latin America. So instead of just watching what is happening on, in the US and only closely, like, reading the newspaper, try to get like really in the work in progress. Talk with people that are creating the next trends.

And if you jump on those and you're going to be, as we have done in the past, that the agencies that are going to not just understanding those. But understand a blue ocean market getting there before the others and you're going to have a super competitive advantage. So yeah, listen, read a lot that talk with people, do surveys, getting the game there because at the time that you see that in the newspaper, it's already old.

Jason: [00:14:03] I love it. I love it, man. And, uh, what's the website people can go and check you guys out.

Alessandro: [00:14:08] Sure, uh, they can check on influencermarketingfactory.com. It's our website. They're going to find, find the case studies. We also trying to keep up like it with different blog posts about of course, like, you know, TikTok, but also now more and more on social commerce, we're going to also work now in our reports.

So yes, that is the best way to do that. And I need to want also just to connect with me. Uh, you know, they can find me on Instagram with @alexeidos, that is my username, if they want to. And I'm always open to like, you know, get, if they have any questions super epic to like, you know, help anyone that wants maybe to start agency or some young people that want to understand more about what does it mean to be an entrepreneur.

Jason: [00:14:44] Awesome man. Well, thanks so much to go check out those resources. And if you want to be surrounded by amazing people that can see the things you might not be able to see that understand the agency world, and you want to be in the know and really see those trends. I would like to invite all of you to go check out the Digital Agency Elite.

This is our exclusive agency owner mastermind, where we're constantly scaling faster. We're growing and having a lot of fun. So make sure you guys go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Keep_Your_Agency_Relevant_By_Staying_On_Trend.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT

When Ben Childs founded Digital Reach in 2011, his mission was to create an agency that operated with integrity, honesty, and skill. Over the years, he has grown to become a leader in the B2B digital marketing space throughout the country, leading a team of 38 people. Today he's here to talk about the things he wishes he knew in order to scale his agency faster.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Raising prices is terrifying, but necessary. Ben recalls a time when he thought that raising prices was a risky move. But when a new Director of Sales doubled the company's prices, he found that clients would take them more seriously and expected a higher value service.
  2. A little outside perspective makes all the difference. Having a network of other agency owners, like the mastermind, can help you get some perspective. Sometimes the answer you're looking for is right in front of you but you're too close to see it. Sometimes you did not do your due diligence and need to be held accountable.
  3.  Competition and differentiating yourself. Ben has never considered himself to have competitors. If he's going against others that are too similar to him, then he tries to be different. He asks himself if they are doing what he's doing, how are they different?

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AUDIO LINK

Sponsors and Resources

Wix: Today's episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out Wix.com/Partners to learn more and become a member of the community for free.

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How Does Ben Solve Big Agency Problems?

Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I chat with one of my mastermind members that has grown a really nice size agency. And we talk about culture. We talk about some of the things that he wished he knew about in order to scale his agency, to close to 40 people, and really still enjoy it and create that freedom that he wants, rather than that prison.

So. Let's get into the episode. I think you'll enjoy.

Hey Ben, welcome to the show.

Ben: [00:00:32] Good to be here, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:33] I'm excited to have you on. We've known each other a while, you've been in the mastermind. So tell us who you are and how did you get into this crazy agency life?

Ben: [00:00:42] Yeah. So my name is Ben Childs. I'm the president of Digital Reach Agency. We're a revenue-focused B2B digital marketing agency focused on SAS, tech, startups and enterprise, search, marketing automation, design development, and Account-based Marketing.

How I got into it is not too dissimilar than I think most people. I had a job at an agency that was pretty crappy. I kind of woke up one day and realized they were pretty churn and burn. So I moved up to San Francisco with a lot of my buddies and I got a job, this is dating myself, at a Daily Deal startup back when those were a thing and they ran out of money and didn't have a lot of prospects.

So I took the, uh, computer. That was my severance package from that job, went to RadioShack next door and got a Magic Jack. And just started calling people from my grandma's dresser that I used as a standing desk saying that I could do their digital marketing.

I had sold it before, but I had never done it, so just, I knew the holes in the market and just said, "Hey, I'll be doing the work. I'm going to undercut everybody on price. And you can trust me because I need the money for rent." Sold my first few people without a website, cause they were like, yeah, I love it. Let's do it. And that was nine and a half years ago.

And now we're 38 people and. Doing bigger stuff than that.

Jason: [00:02:00] I love it. I always tell everybody when they come to me about starting an agency and they're like, what do we need? I'm like, you need to know how to do something really well.

Ben: [00:02:09] Yeah. One of the things I like about the podcast is there's no real like service kind of education, because if you're not good at what you do, there's not a lot that you can learn from an operations or client management standpoint.

And so I think that's something that, you know, when I talk to people about starting businesses, I'm like, well, are you like good at it? And they're like, yeah, I guess it's like, well, maybe you should. Look, I learned on the fly and I was up at 12:00 AM, blowing up Adwords accounts, learning on the fly.

And I, you know, I wished I had known better, but the fact is, is you're going to learn some hard lessons along the way, either way.

Jason: [00:02:44] Yeah. Well, yeah, I mean, you never do it perfect. And especially too, when we look back and we go, oh man, I wish I knew this before I hit the million mark or before I hit the 2 million mark.

So, what did you wish you knew back then that you know now.

Ben: [00:03:02] I wish I knew that I can raise my prices. Raising prices still is terrifying, but I hired a Director of Sales from a bigger agency. Gosh, like five years ago. And the first thing he did is just like doubled my prices. And I was like, that's scary. You can't do that. And he just goes, just shut up, Ben, just watch this.

And honestly, people took us more seriously. We started getting more kind of rarefied clients and got taken seriously at the table. And we've just found that raising our prices, you don't want to make it too necessary due to expense creep, but just kind of the more we charge, the more seriously people take us.

And you get to the clients who expect that and expect to get longer contracts and expect to have a more gentlemanly relationship than, um, a lot of the riffraff that you're going to get undercutting everyone's prices.

Jason: [00:03:54] Well, yeah, I mean, I was kinda like you in the very beginning. It's like I was on a race that I didn't want to win, a race to the bottom.

I'll be like, oh, I'll like he said, I'll undercut anybody just to make rent. But I feel that a lot of times you have to do that in the very beginning in order to really kind of cut your teeth to figure out. It's kind of like, I always use it as like a buffet. Like you got to try out all this stuff, but it's almost like figuring out which buffet to try.

Like, you remember when you're in college or really young, you go to like the $5, all you can eat buffet and then like you would leave feeling really, really bad.

Ben: [00:04:34] Yeah. It's, um, but you don't know how to do it. And I know you had someone on a while ago who I think they were doing PR.

I remember that person who like. Bought a warehouse to like ship a bunch of stuff and it was insane and she knew what she was doing. And she was like, I started off boutique and I started off charging huge prices because we are good. And I started off like many people kind of owning a job being like, I guess I'm doing this now. And I was 23, 24, whatever it was.

So it's been a ride. It's amazing. Looking back.

Jason: [00:05:06] Yeah. And now with a team of almost 40 people, you know, a lot of times probably looking back too, and some people listening are like, man, that just seems like. A lot of headaches. And I remember kind of thinking back because I looked at it in phases. Right. And you probably look at it in phases as well.

Like, you have five people and they're all reporting to you, you know, it's overwhelming. And then you start getting up to 10 and they're still all reporting to you. And you're like, how do people do it with more people than this? So, did you go through that situation?

Ben: [00:05:38] You know, what happened was, is about a year and a half on, I brought on a couple buddies who were just kind of looking for either. One of them had gotten cut from minor league baseball. One of them, uh, was a professional poker player looking for an additional revenue stream. They're both geniuses and we've been friends since we were kids. They're geniuses. And I brought them on and, um, we ended up kind of doing it together. And so I had a pretty good team from day one in terms of people that could handle stuff.

So I would say that the issue for me is they do still handle stuff, and this gets into culture, but talking to the 37th or 38th person here, I just can't handle their problems. And I'm such a people person, and I just radically validate people, which I think comes across to clients and it comes across to employees too.

But you get to 38 people and you kind of have to focus what your time is on and be okay delegating to other people. And I know there was a person who was afraid of us hiring someone over him. And normally I would have been on like a two-hour call with them, you know, saying it's all going to be okay. But you know, you're at 38 people and I told you earlier, our biggest client raised their spend to a lot of money with us. And I can't spend two hours on the phone with this person talking about their job. They're either going to leave or they're not.

And that seems cold, but it's not because I have people that deal with that and I need to delegate to them. And they're very good at their job and they're better at that than I am. But choosing where to spend your time just becomes more and more imperative because I just love talking to everybody. It just makes me feel good and doesn't make me any money.

Jason: [00:07:15] Yeah. There's like a mind shift that I feel you go through when you really truly start scaling where you go. Well, I could do it this way. And I could do it myself and save money, but then you're like, well, all my time is in this. Versus just outsourcing it or bringing on someone to go do that where you might make a little less profit, but you know, at the end of the day, you're trapped.

Ben: [00:07:40] Yeah. I think of the book "Built to Sell." Where he talks about owning a job. And he talks about almost like a cause that's about the difference between an entrepreneur and someone who has an entrepreneurial seizure. A lot of people that start agencies have an entrepreneurial seizure where they're just like, I'm going to do my own thing. And then you end up owning a job.

And the fact is, is he says, it's better if you don't know how to do the thing you're doing. I have that benefit. This world passed me by, I'm a caged lion who forgot how to hunt. My partner, who's a genius, is deep in a lot of this stuff with clients. And that's something that I've worked on because he needs to work on other stuff, but he keeps getting pulled back in because as our clients go up and he just gets better and better at this, you know, we need to take a step back and work on processing and scaling.

And it can be difficult because it's always easier to just say, I'll do more myself. Great. I'll do it. And it's a tough mindset. And also you just have to make that decision over and over again. It doesn't just happen once.

Jason: [00:08:44] So when did you start realizing the role that you needed to kind of transform into in order to really scale the agency?

Ben: [00:08:53] Probably, uh, just recently it took me a very long time to get out of, um. Well, I'm still very involved in sales, but it took me a very long time to get out of every fine detail of sales. And that was a process. I think you remember you posted to the group, Marty chiding me in his legendary.

Jason: [00:09:14] Oh, I remember that day. I was like, oh wow.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Ben: [00:08:53] I, um, Again, I just love to love if you're listening to this. So, I interviewed a salesperson who I just loved and we had a great time at like an arcade in Seattle and it was great. And I was telling the group, I was so excited and, I just did not do my due diligence. And Marty from Bad Rhino just, just gave a 15 minute. Just tongue lashing. And I just sat there and took it because he was right.

 

Jason: [00:09:44] It was out of love too.

Ben: [00:09:46] It was, it was honestly, he was like apologizing. I was like, no, this is great. This is why I'm talking to others.

Jason: [00:09:48] He called me, like, after he was like, man, I kind of feel bad. I was like, no, no, no. I was like, that's why we're all in the mastermind to hear the honest truth. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

Ben: [00:09:58] Well, and Jason, I think, you know, I'm super transparent and super honest. So I'm not there defending myself saying that what I did is amazing. Cause I have an ego. It was very educational. But to that point, I ended up, uh, having another Sales Director come in, that was at a different agency.

I actually think it's valuable that they weren't sales-focused before. I like to see my sales team as almost more like project managers, kind of, that are just like very consultative and then getting our subject matter experts involved. That can end up being a little bit more expensive, but you just show people that you're the real deal.

And so that's only recently happened. And so if you're talking about what role I fill, I'm kind of learning that every day. Being an entrepreneur, you can wake up in the morning and just stare into the abyss and you could do anything, which is kind of awesome, but kind of terrifying.

So I'm learning more about culture. I'm learning more about process. I'm learning more about integrating the 39th and 40th person. I'm learning more about finances. You could be at a premium and lose money. You can be dirt cheap and make money. What happens on the backend matters. So I'm learning more about that. I'm trying to shed my kind of fun character that I play when I'm just ignorant of the day-to-day business and just here for fun.

Because, you know, if you're down 10% at a million. Yeah, it's a little bit. If you're down 10% at 4 million, that's a lot. And if you're up 10% at a million, it's a little bit. And if you're up 30% at 4 million a heck of a lot.

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Love it. Well, let's talk about the benefits of niching down and not niching down. Because we see this a lot and I always chat about it. What are your thoughts on this?

Ben: [00:12:38] It's easier at the beginning to not niche and it's, you just need the money. You take everything, all money is good money, and you just kind of need to learn your lessons along the way.

If you start niched, that's great, but it can be difficult to find the right opportunities. For us, we went hard B2B like five years ago, but like, if an e-commerce company wanted to pay us money, like, okay, super top secretly, I'll take it and not tell anybody. So we niche down to a persona. Really. There's usually niching verticals and there's niching services. We've just decided to niche down to a persona.

So, in our industry, B2B SAS in tech, the director of demand gen and the CMO, we just want to like wake up in the morning and know what they're thinking. And any service we provide, we need it to be, you know, we, we do a great job at marketing automation and it's in direct response to enough of our clients saying, we will pay you for marketing automation, because no one does it good.

Just being like, okay, let's do it good. And then we can here with them. They tell us what's wrong, what needs to happen. And we build and build, and now like you present it to someone and they're like, holy crap. Like, I didn't know, an agency could do that for me.

That has its own downsides. You know, the Chris from Rankings.io, we always joke that he does SEO for personal injury lawyers that are 40, that have two kids that live in this specific zip code, and he charges a heck of a lot of money. And he probably doesn't have to worry about the utilization rate of different people and stuff like that. But there's benefits to some niching. As we've seen, it's a differentiator.

So we're not entirely a me-too agency. And there's benefits to doing a lot because you can fulfill needs. And, you know, I mentioned the client that's spending a lot of money. I can pivot a lot of different ways to make sure that they're getting value. So last year our churn rate was positive just because of upsells and various people getting involved.

But. You have to, this is one of the reasons why I'm trying to get a better handle on the backend and the finances. It's you run a little thinner, you know, we're awesome at chat, but it's like, okay, do I capitalize that department to basically get ready to go out of the gate? Do I make it run on its own revenue?

All of a sudden you have several little digital agencies that you need to be an entrepreneur on.

Jason: [00:14:58] Yeah. It's, I always tell everybody in the very beginning, you got to kind of try out everything. Unless you really know what you're meant to do. And then even as you do it for years and years, and you see a lot of the bigger agencies doing this, they become the masters for that vertical or that horizontal niche. And then they start creating other practice areas.

Ben: [00:15:20] Yeah. Yeah.

Jason: [00:15:21] And they can actually grow. And I always tell everybody too is like, look, when you pick a niche, you still can take on work outside of it as long as it fits it. It's just, you're just marketing to that. And it's weird. When you market to a particular niche like a lot of us have seen, we'll have people from outside that they were like, we've heard your stuff. We want you to help with this.

And we're like, you came off the website? Like most of this. So I just want to kind of get rid of a lot of people's worry because so many people fight it for so long. Or don't fight it. Like just keep going after all of them, but it just, when you can get a little focused, it makes things a little bit easier in order to, uh, to grow.

Ben: [00:16:03] Yeah. And it makes sales easier. I mean, if you're doing one service on one vertical teaching someone to sell it and be able to speak words that the other person just jumps at is real easy. You know, for what we do, I need someone to come in with a little bit more experience who's done it. And that costs money.

But, you know, the idea is that makes money, but things get a little simpler when you niche down and we're continually niching down on who we work with and what we do.

Jason: [00:16:32] That's awesome. And tell us some of the benefits, because I always joke that when I ran the first agency, I was in search to kill mode. Like I would have never talked to any other agency owners.

I would have just like searched and destroyed. And I always joke, like I would have never let myself into my own mastermind, which is the wrong mentality. And I've learned that over the years. And I want everybody regardless if it's our best run or whoever's mastermind, or you guys create your own, what's the benefit that you get from chatting with other owners?

Ben: [00:17:04] Yeah. I've never considered myself to have competitors. Even people that we go up with. If I do, like, I should just be more different. I should just look at what I'm doing and make it different than they are, because if they're doing what I'm doing. Like from the prospect, why are we different? I think there's a major benefit because it just frees you up.

And this is just from an entrepreneurial perspective, it helps justify some of your decisions and make you more confident. I was giving the example, like we were having trouble getting paid from a client and I brought it up to the mastermind and you gave a great, great answer, which was like, yeah, you can do whatever you want. Why don't you like send them flowers?

And I was like, I didn't know. I could do whatever I want. And that seems like a silly thing to say, but you get into your routine of day-to-day. And honestly, like, that's a lot of my job now, now that you mentioned it, as president, is I talk to people on the team and they have this problem. And I say, well, why don't you just stop doing that?

And they're like, I can? And it's like, yeah. And I don't expect them to wake up in the morning and stop working on a client just because they want to, but I have the opportunity to say, why don't you just not work on them and let's fire them. And that's the benefit of talking to a mastermind group is they're able to just be like, Hey, why don't you just not do that? I'm like I thought I had to.

Jason: [00:18:28] Yeah, I know. It's just getting that outside perspective. You're so close to it. And I think a lot of times we're so emotional. Mostly connected to it where we just can't see the solution that's really apparent. Like you talk about something and like literally the other 10 people are looking at you going, you know exactly what to do, and then you hear it and you're like, Oh duh, that's so easy.

Ben: [00:18:52] And, and that gets to the other benefit for me is I just realized I had something to offer. There's just been several questions where I go, oh, I absolutely know this answer. I did it. The prospect said this, it went great. Or just people have different personalities. So I can open up someone to be a little bit more direct, a little bit more transparent or something like that.

But to your point, yeah, I mean, we're talking and someone in the group was like that wasn't the first time I blew 30 grand. And I was like, oh, that guy has his stuff together. And he makes mistakes too.

Jason: [00:19:24] A lot of times what I've found too. Uh, even when I'm leading it or been in other masterminds myself, I'll give someone advice and then I'll have to ask the question. Do I do that?

Ben: [00:19:38] Yeah. You almost like put on a brave face and you're like, why don't you tell the client this? And then it's like, you get on a call and it's like, whatever you want, Mrs. Client. How high?

Jason: [00:19:48] Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Well, awesome. Well, Ben, this has been amazing. Thanks so much for coming on. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Ben: [00:19:57] Yeah. I just want to say, as you scale culture becomes more and more important, and that is like such an amorphous word. I'm a big football fan and culture is just being used over and over again to where it's overused, but really it's, if you're listening to this podcast, you probably started an agency and the agency is really you.

And the goal of culture is to just scale that out to where people make decisions you would make. They act in ways that are congruent with how you would act, even if it's not exactly how it's to where, you know, the 39th and 40th person can come into a, oh, this is how this works. And it's different than my previous agency.

And it gets to everything in your agency from employee experience perspective that clients can tell that you have a great culture and your client wants to be there. So, that's something that I'm really working on and I've just found it more and more important because when you do that, all of a sudden employees give you the benefit of the doubt. All of a sudden employees buy in and want to help you throw out a goal and people use their creativity to help you.

And it's not an adversarial relationship. They're part of something. So that's, um, it's something that I'm working on and I've seen the value of. And, maybe next time we talk, I'll give you an answer as to how I found it.

Jason: [00:21:14] That's awesome. Well, I mean, it's always accidental and I always tell everybody, as, as you're building your culture, it's what you believe in. And you have to figure out and let everyone on the team know, you know, where you're going and why. And that gives them the power in order to make those decisions. And it's, it's great to see you figuring that out.

And that's why you've come so far along. It's like, you know what to focus on now and you've been focusing on it and that's great.

Ben: [00:21:40] You also have to pay attention to your habits, you know, how you live your days it's how you live your life. And so for me, I've had to really guard because scaling, you can just like, oh, just work more. Or, oh, sorry, you're going to have to work the weekend. And then you start building those habits and that just quickly becomes how things are done. And expectations. And so you really have to be on guard for getting in front of the right habits and taking a stand and be willing to lose a client or be willing to give someone a break for screwing up. And you learn it when you learn it.

Jason: [00:22:15] Exactly. Well, awesome, well, thanks so much Ben for coming on. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we can see the sh*t that you can't see. And we can, uh, help you along. And so you can scale a little bit faster and have a lot of fun doing it.

I want to invite all of you to go check out digitalagencyelite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind where it's only for experienced agency owners. So go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Double_Your_Digital_Agency_Prices_Without_Losing_Clients.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT

Chris Dreyer is the founder and CEO of Rankings.io which is an agency specializing in SEO for personal injury law firms. Chris believes in being super niched in order to be successful for his clients. He says it takes extreme focus to deliver great SEO results and therefore his agency does not offer any other services or work with clients outside the legal industry. Chris is on the show to talk about how he's grown his agency beyond the first million and is now looking at an 8-figure revenue.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. What got you to 7-figures won't get you to 8-figures. Referrals aren't scalable. Realizing this, Chris focuseds on marketing and has an employee dedicated to marketing for the agency, rather than just relying on referrals.
  2. Revenue doesn't mean anything if you're not profitable. As the agency revenue grew, so did expenses netting the same profit. Chris implemented the principles of Profit First and the agency's profitability has improved because of it.
  3. Get and keep the right people in the right seats. Whatever work is being done in-house, constantly evaluate whether those team members are actually contributing to the bottom line or causing a financial leakage.

Sponsors and Resources

Oribi: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency

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How Did One Digital Agency Grow to 8-Figures?

Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I bring back a repeat guest, friend, member, client on the Masterclass, and we're going to talk about how he went from a million in revenue all the way up to eight figures in the past couple of years. And we go over all kinds of really amazing stuff. So I think you're really going to love this episode and let's get into it.

Hey Chris, welcome back on the show.

Chris: [00:00:30] Yeah, thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:31] Yeah. I'm excited to have you back on. It's been a while since you've been on the podcast. Obviously, we chat all the time in the mastermind and back and forth about Star Wars and all goofy stuff. But for the people that haven't listened to the first episode, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Chris: [00:00:49] Yeah, my name's Chris Dreyer. I am the CEO of Rankings.io. We own a personal injury law firm SEO agency. So very hyper niche, both horizontally and vertically, and yeah, just excited to be here and happy to discuss it.

Jason: [00:01:05] Yeah. So last time you were on, you were just kind of cresting the million in revenue, and now you're a much further, so kind of take us through that journey a little bit about where you're at now and what are some key things that kind of looking back of going I wish I knew this time and I could have even gotten to your level now faster.

Chris: [00:01:30] That's a great question. That's also a really loaded question. Jason, still try to talk about all the areas. I feel like I had my white belt and then I put on, I don't know the jujitsu levels, but I felt like I had my white belt and then you kind of get your brown or whatever the next level is at a million.

And I think, you know, we're, we're approaching that. I don't even know that I would say black belt, but. Yeah, we're probably on target for our goal. This year is $9 million, stretch 10. And so it's, it's been a huge change across the entire company. I feel like we have a real business now. I think the difference is when you go to that million mark.

The owner can wear a whole bunch of hats and really hustle and get to that million mark and just fill, you know, use their, their sphere of influence and kind of depend upon referrals and get there. But I think that you actually have to do marketing, have to generate your own brand, your own inbound leads to really transition towards that, that eight-figure mark.

There are, if you think about the main components of a business, so you've got finance, you've got marketing, you've got sales and you've got operations. Finance wise. We implemented Profit First because I found out the hard way. I took my licks. The first three or four years of my business, we kept growing a hundred percent, but my revenue wasn't increasing now, it was investing back in the business.

But for me, it was becoming more stressful in those times. I'm like, well, why do I need a $2 million business when I'm making the exact same? So I had to learn how to be financially healthy. And as we grew, also, our profitability would grow. That was a big one. It took some time. Anyone that's read the book Profit First, it's this lean mentality of working off of less and considering profit.

And when you're don't have any profit to create those percentages, it takes a lot of work. So I would say that was a big learning lesson. The second on marketing again, we were depending upon referrals, our entire staff. I think I had one marketing individual and. Which is funny. We still have one marketing individual, but our marketing spend's way higher because we used strategic partners, but everyone was centered around operations and doing great work.

And that helped us get referrals from our clients and helped us build to that seven-figure mark. But continuing off of that, it's feast or famine on referrals, which I know you've talked about.

Jason: [00:04:02] But I like the way that you do referrals. And I love that, you know, at the experience you were like, I want to call you out, Jason, about referrals.

Cause you know, I always joke with people. And I'm serious about referrals aren't scalable if you're waiting for them. But the way that you do referrals is you're not waiting for them. You're giving ammo and you're building strategic partnerships where that is scalable and you've built an amazing business from that.

Chris: [00:04:31] Right, right. But yeah, we kind of joke back and forth. You and I, and. Basically is anytime you put attention towards something and you're intentional, it can create something and activates it. So we, after reading Chet Holmes book, the Ultimate Sales Machine, where he talks about his dream 100 clientele list.

I'm like, well, what if we did our dream 100 referral partners and were because we were so niched that there were a lot of services that our clients needed though, that we didn't provide. So I went and sought out individuals that we were trying to find and identify the best Facebook ads individual, the best pay-per-click the best, everything, video production, the services that our clients needed and really develop those intentional relationships.

So that, that really was very powerful. I think a lot of people have a scarcity mindset when it comes to competition in air quotes. When in reality, there's a lot of abundances. There's a lot of opportunity and you can actually have this rising tide type of effect, where we refer a PPC company, PPC leads, and maybe they don't do SEO and they can refer us SEO leads.

So it's, there's some mutual benefits there.

Jason: [00:05:43] Yeah, I love that. I mean, yeah, that's something I wish I did better at the first agency because I was just trying to murder everyone. If you had agency in your title, like, you know, you were my enemy and I felt like you were trying to take from me. But I liked how, you know, after I sold, I realized seeing a lot of what you do and what other members do and all that. About how that's has helped you and just also seeing how much work is actually out there and only taking on that perfect work that you look for is really big.

In switching focus a little bit. I think too, one of the main things that really changed a lot for you. I remember lots of conversations around this, was pricing, figuring out charging the right amount.

Because I feel a lot of people are way undercharging and you've kind of take it up a notch even above that.

Chris: [00:06:41] Yeah. It's a great question about pricing and. I think one of the benefits of niching, particularly as niche as we are with just personal injury firms, you can really understand the market and understand the levels of competition.

I know the SEO specialists with giant egos listening are probably thinking, Oh, I can just go to  Moz or SEMrush and do a competition analysis and know exactly what I should charge. No, that's probably not the case. There are, there are intangibles that play into competition, and really understanding those intangibles and what it takes to create leverage to rank a particular industry is different.

And that's the thing that we started understanding is, by working with just personal injury law firms, we could model the individuals that were successful and apply that to the other firms. Because the legal vertical is a very fractured environment. They're geography, they're there in all different places around the country, around the world.

They have different practice areas. It's a very fractured type of environment. So the competition in Los Angeles is entirely different than St. Louis. And in some cases, Atlanta and the, uh, Orlando could be more competitive than a Los Angeles or Chicago, it's because of who's there. And who's investing in their marketing. Several years ago, Louisiana from a digital standpoint, had no competition.

Now you've got Morris Bart. You have Gordon McKernan, and you've got these individuals Labrador Earl's investing a lot in their marketing. So the dynamic has shifted, but that was a very long-winded way of saying it really helps to understand your market. But we started, I think in our first conversation, we talked about that foot in the door, the audit.

It basically allows us to set strategic targets and really understand who our client is, what their assets are, what their unique selling proposition is and what their competition truly is on a deeper level. And a lot of our competitors, they kind of try to play that against us. They'll say, Oh, well, we do an audit for free and other people charge $5,000 - $7,500 bucks.

Well, guess what? Your audit sucks because if it's free, you're not putting a lot of staff and time, and effort into that audit. It's automated by some tool. And it's garbage. So that's the difference. And the discoveries really helped us determine what we needed to do to get results from clients.

Jason: [00:09:16] Yeah, I love it. And the last thing I want to chat about, that I, I feel that you've done really well is kind of the structure and the different levels that you've created within the agency. Because a lot of people are like at the million, I feel that anybody can get to the million mark and a lot of people can maintain the million mark, but getting to the next level like you are, it's very challenging.

And a lot of times we go, well, who do we need to hire in order to get further along and really scale the agency rather than just kind of hit that glass ceiling? So what were some of the roles or what was the mindset that you had a couple of years ago in order to make that transition and really start scaling?

Chris: [00:10:05] It's a great question. And I obsess about operations and the right people in the right seats, more than any other thing. I think it's the most important aspect of running a business, particularly in having the ability to scale and scale with quality. The things that we've done is we've created, there's this big controversy, right?

You've had the pod people on and let's do the nomenclature really quick. So a pod is a cross-functional unit. That is cohesive. They're self-governing. Each individual has their own function in the pod that contributes towards a goal. And then you have, what's more traditional; the traditional hierarchy and the teams where a team has individuals all in one function.

So you have all the developers together, all the account managers together. And there are pros and cons to each. The pros of a pod is communication, collaboration. It's, they're self-governing, they can operate in their own P&L. That's kind of the pro. The con is they're harder to start up. You have individuals who don't have soft skills.

It's harder to, uh there are a lot of challenges and those situations, um, then with the team. The pro and I'm kind of getting long-winded here, but the team is you have a deeper level of expertise, but there's challenges in those communication silos. So, we really embraced after a lot of time and energy and reading about the biggest organizations, whether it's GE or a Ford motor company or Toyota, or  Apple, we really embraced teams. Functional teams.

Because even though there's the downside of communication silos, you have extreme levels of expertise, deep level of expertise. Which by the way,  Apple who is gigantic, that's how they operate is, they have teams, not pods and they have this deep level of expertise and they talk about their challenges.

There's a great article on Harvard business review that talks about their organizational structure that I really encourage individuals to read.

Jason: [00:12:16] Love it. Well, this has all been amazing, Chris, and I appreciate you taking the time for coming on the podcast and everything you do to help out the mastermind.

Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?

Chris: [00:12:29] Geez, I think the most important thing is to, you know, think about your operations. Right people, right seats. And then also one thing that's not talked about as much as to eliminate waste, where are you leaking money?

What tools should you not be using? What individuals aren't truly driving an impact for your organization? You need to evaluate those situations too.

Jason: [00:12:50] What, uh, I guess the last question, since I lied. In figuring out how to eliminate the waste, what's the best way to figure out where you're wasting money?

Chris: [00:13:00] Yeah on the tool and software aspect as an owner, or if you have a CFO or Director of Finances to do consistent reviews of your P&L and your vendor expenses. That's a big one that you can bring your leadership team. Uh, from a utilization standpoint, it depends on if you're using vendors or if you have in-house labor.

If you have in-house labor and you're doing almost everything in-house, you need to track it to see if individuals are really contributing for utilization. If you're using vendors, you're paying for a unit. So it's a little bit easier to track that.

And, um, it's having a scorecard or jumbotron, whatever you want to call it, to have this top-level view of your metrics, to understand where there are leakages because you can see on the scorecard where they exist.

Jason: [00:13:46] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Chris, for coming on, everybody, go check out Rankings.io and follow Chris and what they're doing, they do an amazing job. And it's been an honor to see how far you've progressed year over year. That's why we do what we do.

And if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing owners like Chris, and figure out the things that you might not be able to see in front of you because you're just too close to it I want you guys to go to DigitalAgencyElite.com.

This is our exclusive mastermind for really experienced agency owners wanting to scale faster, do really cool things, and be surrounded by even more amazing people. So go to DigitalAgencyElite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: How_to_Grow_Your_Digital_Agency_to_an_8-Figure_Revenue.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT

Brent Weaver is the CEO and founder of uGurus. He leads the vision for the company and creates educational programs that help agency owners work on their business to drive additional revenues, increase profits, and create freedom in their life. Brent is here to share his insight on referrals and the importance of choosing a niche for your agency.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Niching helps you fish in the right pond. Figuring out a niche where you can be profitable and deliver the best results is "fishing in the right pond" according to Brent. The key is testing out different ponds in order to find the best fit for your agency.
  2. Pareto Principle: 80% of outcomes are from 20% of input. Is worthwhile and valuable to determine if you're spinning your wheels on small clients that aren't helping contribute to your revenue. Going through this exercise is key to being more profitable.
  3. There are 3 marketing engines agencies need. These are:  content, partnerships, and paid ads. Relying on referrals is not scalable. It's like sitting on a one-legged stool. You must add these 3 marketing engines into the mix.

 

Sponsors and Resources

Wix: Today's episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out Wix.com/Partners to learn more and become a member of the community for free.

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Is Your Digital Agency Fishing in the Right Pond?

Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I talk with Brent Weaver about why referrals just aren't scalable and why it's so important to pick a niche. I hope you enjoy this episode. Hey, Brent, welcome to the show.

Brent: [00:00:13] Good to be here. Yeah, I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and, uh, a little bit about the agency that you're in and what you do now.

Yeah. So, uh, my name is Brent Weaver, CEO, and founder of uGurus. We are a business school for digital agency owners. We primarily work with agencies that are kind of 1 to 10 person range, really helping them to track more leads, win more deals, delivering delight for their clients. They can profitably scale their agency and achieve some freedom in their business in life.

Before, uh, we're coming on into the ninth year doing this business. But before that I ran HotPress Web, which is a digital agency based in Denver, Colorado for about, I guess, about 13 years. And, uh, grew that from, uh, my business partner and I from, uh, us in our bedrooms and high school to a 14 person thriving agency in downtown Denver, uh, serving over 300 clients.

And, uh, we had clients like Dish Network and Anheuser Busch Inbev and all sorts of, uh, smaller and medium-sized businesses across the board.

Jason: [00:01:17] Awesome!. Did you sell the agency? Did you were like, Oh, we don't want to do this anymore? What's the what'd you do?

Brent: [00:01:23] Yeah. So we did the business did get acquired by another shop in Denver.

We had probably about two years before we sold the business. I started to blog and build some training programs for agency owners, and we had done some deals with Adobe. And so we, um, Kind of started kind of riding two horses at the same time we had the agency business, which was growing really well. And then we had this thing that, uh, myself and my business partner would do, you know, a day or two a week.

We'd go and, you know, create videos, we'd go do our own thing. And, uh, and so we kind of felt like we were starting to run two businesses at the same time, but also I think just as I'm sure, you know, right. The impact that we had on. Other agency owners that were like following our processes and our methods, like we were getting all of these, thank you letters in all the time for people that we'd really helped them transform their life and their income and their freedom.

And after a while, it was kinda like, Hey, we really enjoyed doing this. And we wanted our agency to go and be in a good place. So we had some really great opportunities to get that business acquired. And so we pursued one of them and it turned out really well.

Jason: [00:02:24] Awesome. Let's talk about after high school, um, and do an agency, right?

Because I think I know how, how it goes in high school. It's like, dude, I can, I can get some money for a year.

Brent: [00:02:37] I was basically working uh minimum wage $6.25 I think an hour, at the time, at a fabric store and somebody paid me $500 to build them an order form for a candy store out of Michigan. And it took me about a day and I was like, cool.

When I went to my boss at the fabric store and said, I'm going to go ahead and do this other thing. Cause I basically made like, you know, two months wages in a day. So, so that was that.

Jason: [00:03:03] That's awesome. And so if you could go back to when you were starting, what would you have done differently? How would you grow the business?

Brent: [00:03:14] I think for me, it's, you know, finding that audience, a high-value audience that you can leverage your skills to get really great results. For, as I mentioned, our first project was a candy store in Michigan. The only reason we got that client was because my business partner's dad would go hunting in Michigan and, you know, he'd go buy at this candy store and he'd pick up, you know, they'd order stuff.

But then they'd grab these order forms, uh, to order stuff. When they came back to Dallas and they would have to fax the order form in, and Shernis, uh, the woman that owned the store would always, you know, have to call it. Well, I can't read your handwriting, you know, there's this like whole thing, a community that supported this business.

And we just happened to kind of be a solution for that business. Right. But this tiny little candy store in Michigan, right. I mean, she wasn't making massive money. And so yeah, we built this thing, but the value of it right. Was great for her, but like, you know, it wasn't like it was worth $50,000 or $500,000, right.

Or something like that. But I think that we could've, our same skills could have easily fetched us a lot more money sooner, but because we were fishing from this pond, that was kind of like the local neighborhood pond. Right. Like we only had the network that we had access to. I was making a lot more money than I would at the fabric store.

Uh, I think there were other high-value ponds out there. And I think that's the thing that. Um, when we eventually figured that out, right, let's go hang around businesses that are, you know, making millions of dollars or tens of millions of dollars or like Dish, you know, billions of dollars. And it's just a totally different way to do business.

Right. I mean, I remember when we got Dish Network as a client, I mean, they'd come in with these like last-minute deadlines, but they'd basically give us a blank check. They'd be like, Hey, as much as you guys can work over the next two weeks like we'll take all of your team's hours for the two weeks, and we'll pay you a premium on that time because, you know, we have some big deadline or whatever, right.

And so it was just fundamentally a different type of client to work with versus where your, your skills might not be as valued. So I think that the audience component is something that we eventually learned. And once we started hanging out with businesses who, you know, in the millions of revenue, like budget became not like inconsequential, but it became a much less deciding factor in terms of like who you were, you know, what kind of work you were doing.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Jason: [00:05:36] Yeah. I always found that when you first start out and I started out doing websites for 500 bucks too, I don't know why it's always, you know, 500 bucks, but you always think, well, that's the max someone will pay. Or if I charge them twice the amount, I have to do twice the amount of work versus figuring out that audience, like, you know, Dish Network. Like our first one, I think our first big client was like Wter.com.

And they were a billion-dollar water brand, like Crystal Springs, Hinckley Springs, Belmont Springs, all these different Springs. And it kind of changed our mindset of going, Oh, there are these bigger companies that will pay for value rather than pay you for the amount of hours that you actually work.

Brent: [00:06:20] Like a lot of people, I got convinced that your prospects sometimes start to dictate your mindset a little bit.

And when we first opened our office in Denver, we were trying to, you know, we're in a conference room, we were thinking about, hey, where should we get new clients? And we thought, hey, maybe the chamber of commerce, right. Or something like that. And they were running these classes for brand new businesses.

We thought that was a prime audience, right? People are like, ah, you know, all these new businesses, they all need websites. Right. But the problem was, they weren't established. They were $0 revenue. They were sole proprietorships. You know, these businesses that maybe had 10, 20, $50,000 a year in annual revenue, which is, there's a lot of businesses out there.

There's like, almost 20 million businesses in the United States that are making $50,000 or less per year. So there's a lot of them out there, which is why Wix and Squarespace and GoDaddy and all these major brands are going on volume. Like they focus on that market, but for us as a small services shop, not a huge market like that.

And so I was going and teaching these classes and I'd have all these people come up to me and say, oh yeah, maybe you can help me build a website. And so we'd go through the proposal process or I'd go through even qualifying and they'd say, well, yeah, well, we only have $500. We only have $1,000 dollars.

And while we had done some projects for $20 or $30K, I started to convince myself that that was the market now for websites that like getting $1,500 for a website was like becoming really, really difficult. And, and I started thinking, okay, well, we should build our business based on volume or this or that.

Like we were trying to solve the problem. And the only issue at the time really was. I was fishing in the wrong pond, right? Like, no matter how many cool sales methodologies I could use, no matter how much, you know, value-based language, right? Like if the pond that I'm fishing from literally has businesses that are, you know, $50K a year in revenue, like, you know, selling a $10,000, $20,000 website to them, it doesn't really make sense.

Jason: [00:08:13] Very cool. And so how did you figure out the pond that you wanted to the fish after? And like, how would you do that over again? Cause I find that a lot of people struggle with that. And like you were saying, you kind of go to the chamber of commerce, you get a couple of clients and then those referrals actually dictate how your next couple of years are going to go because it's always the same or lower.

Brent: [00:08:35] So I think once we sat down in a room and said, okay, this is not working. Right. So we looked at, you know, where was all of our money coming from, which I think is a really good exercise. There's this concept of the pareto principle where 80% of your yield or revenue comes from 20% of your inputs or originally it was like somebody looking at, uh, land ownership.

Right. But this concept is, has played really well in business. So somebody had kind of taught us that we looked at our client base and we looked at who you're making the most money from. And yes, we did have a lot of clients that were small potatoes and they were taking up all of our time, but they weren't really getting us the results.

So we looked at all of our clients instead of, hey, who's actually driving results for us. And it was, by and large, it was organizations that had, you know, had been established for five or more years. Had over a million dollars in revenue. Uh, for the most part, they had dozens of employees, whether it was a nonprofit or whether it was a business, you know, some of our clients had tons of employees.

So we started looking at this and saying, look, let's just at least start saying no to anybody that hasn't been established for more than five years, it's less than a million dollars in revenue. And, um, you know, that has less than, let's say, 30 employees. So that was step one was at least identifying, Hey, here are some qualities, some constraints that this audience has that is actually driving revenue for us.

And let's start saying no to all those other things. So which created some capacity for us to look at other types of businesses. The second question to that though is we started asking ourselves well, okay. So these are the clients that are driving all of our money. We know who is helping us make more money.

We want more of those clients. So the second question is where do they hang out? Where do million-dollar businesses hang out? Right at that time, I really wasn't super educated on like verticals or really this idea of niching. To me, it was like a foreign concept. And if anything, it evoked a little bit of like resentment or disgust like, Oh, I could never niche. Right? Um, but we at least started asking ourselves that basic question, right? Where do these million-dollar businesses hangouts? And we start identifying organizations, there's organizations like EO. YPO in the Denver area, there were organizations like it was called Diner. It was like Denver Independent Network of Restaurant, uh, something.

Right. And we started identifying these groups that these businesses hung out. And so for example, I went and gave a talk at the Diner Organization, which was basically this group of about a hundred Denver-based restaurants that were all roughly over a million dollars a year in revenue, right. There were the most successful restaurants in Denver that were independent.

So I wouldn't give a talk at this group about how to leverage their website and social media to get more butts in seats. And there was like the same number of people that were in my old Chamber of Commerce classes. You know, there's about 15 restaurants, right? Except in this instance, I gave this talk, and then, you know, half a dozen restaurant owners came up to me and said, Hey, I love what you're doing.

We don't have anybody that can do this. It's great that you're teaching me this, but can you just come in and do it for us? And every single one of those clients turned into a 10 to $20,000 initial project with ongoing, you know, 10, 15, 20K a year in work. So like one talk in the right audience. And it was a fundamentally different conversation afterward.

And so that was where a real light bulb I think happened for us, was like, Oh wow. We can go in. Share do the same thing, right? The dynamics are the same, go teach stuff, share stuff, give tons of value. And if the pond is just a fundamentally better pond than, you know, we're going to have different results.

Jason: [00:12:02] Yeah. I love to teach how to do it because there are so many agencies that think if they do that well, you're giving away the secret sauce. And at the end of the day, there's no secret sauce, but people will actually decide to work with you if they actually understand the plan. Like, I always tell everybody when I used to race cars and I would teach people how to go through a corner at a hundred miles per hour, like a 90-degree turn.

And they'd be like, there's no way. But if I could actually communicate and show them, there is a plan for them not to die and then actually demonstrate it to them. Then they're going to always. Be able to like, Oh, I can do that. And then like, I'd always laugh with my other buddies and be like, oh, now they're faster than me.

I was like, crap. I need to tell him, be like, hit the brakes harder there.

Brent: [00:12:54] Well, I think that the fundamental, like, I mean the classic agency business model of staff augmentation, where at the time we had, let's say a dozen people working at our agency for a company, even an established company to go up there and hire a team full-time to be a part of their organization is a lot of money, right?

I mean, if you're going to go hire three people to be part of a digital department, I mean, that's $50K in salaries a month, plus all the other stuff that comes with having a team. Right. Whereas you can pay an agency, you know, maybe even, it sounds like $50,000 is a lot of money, but when you put it in the context of the alternative for most businesses, or maybe they hire a, a jack-of-all-trades person that has 19 responsibilities within the business, and one of them happens to be maintain a website.

Right. And they don't have the experience to, you know, really do like hardcore SEO or pay-per-click or build funnels. Right. Uh, so I think at the core, right, like agencies. Want to showcase their skills, uh, almost like a job interview, right? I mean, it doesn't make sense for most businesses to go out there and hire an entire team.

Right. That's why agencies exist. Cause you can snap in those skillsets for a fraction of the cost. I think going out there and teaching what you do showing the results, uh, also is a big part of that showing your potential clients, Hey, this is what you can get with this kind of, to your point, right?

Demo-ing, I think is a big part of that pre-sales process.

Jason: [00:14:14] When you actually start doing this and you're, you're growing your agency, what's the mistake that you see a lot of agency owners make, or a mistake that you guys made with, you know, in terms of referrals.

Brent: [00:14:27] I mean, look, referrals are, referrals are great.

I mean, who doesn't love a referral, right? Uh, when, when somebody sends you an email and says, Hey, you got me great results. And here's my friend. You know, Joe and Joe need your results and you should, you guys should talk. Right? Cause then you get that a little bit of that credibility passes on. Right. And so referrals are, are great.

Uh, the problem is they're not really predictable. Uh, they're not really scalable. Now I've published content. We've published blueprints about how to create systems around referrals, but even that right is kind of dictated based on the size of your network. Right? How many clients do you have? If you have 10 clients, you probably can't go to all 10 of them every day and be like, Hey.

Can you give me another referral, right? Whereas, you know, with something like Facebook ads, right. I can go to Facebook every day and they will take my money and they will put my ads and in front of audiences. Right. So I think that referrals as a strategy, I call it kind of a non-strategy. Uh, it's hope marketing.

It's, you know, referrals are table stakes. You should be out there doing good work and that should create referrals for you. And that will be like one leg of marketing, you know, game plan. Right. But you're, you can't really sit on a one-legged stool, right. It's not super comfortable. So we need to have a couple of other legs on that stool.

And so I call those marketing engines, right. We want to have a couple of additional marketing engines outside of referrals. To help, uh, your business get those consistent leads that are predictable, repeatable, and scalable. Those are kind of three qualities that we want to see out of them. When I, when I say marketing engine, we should be able to put in a fixed amount of money, money, or time and get a predictable result on the backend of that.

So the biggest mistake kind of back to your original question is that I think agencies, a lot of times they're so busy doing the work. And building stuff with their clients that they forgot to go out there and build awareness for themselves because they're so comfortable. With referrals because referrals are so easy.

Like it's like the difficulty from relying on referrals, actually building marketing engines, uh, for the first time is actually a pretty big jump because referrals require you just to focus on your clients, which is what a lot of people are used to. Right. But going out there and proactively building a marketing engine feels like a lot of work.

And so they don't do it. And I think that that was the biggest shift for us, right. Where we went from being passive, passively engaged in our marketing to going, Hey, you know what we need to actually. Really invest in this. We need to put somebody in the business. That's in charge of this, of the marketing component of the business.

A lot of agencies out there treat themselves as they're, you know, they try to treat themselves as their own best client, uh, which is just, I mean, it's a recipe for disaster, right? I mean, we know that, that just doesn't work typically. And so we started this to shift resources, right? Both hiring internal staff members, dedicated to marketing the agency and then also hiring other agencies.

To help us market our agency.

Jason: [00:17:14] Very cool. And so what's one example of a marketing engine that you see really working well.

Brent: [00:17:21] So I think there are three kinds of categories of engines. One is content. I mean, you're definitely awesome at this, right? You publish a ton of content. You're super consistent. You've got the great frequency of it.

Another engine kind of category is partnerships. So finding other people that have your ideal client, either as their own clients or on a list. And then the final one is a paid advertising. So I kind of focus mostly on a track-based strategy where we're putting out. You know, the information we're putting out messaging and then the right people are coming to us.

I'm not a huge fan personally of operating outbound and no, it's a great strategy out there. But I think for, if you're trying to get into a position of authority with your clients, I think that publishing becoming an influencer in your niche is the way you create raving fans. Right? It's really hard to create a raving fan through, uh, through outbound connection where somebody has never heard of you before.

So in those three categories, I mean, one example of a content-based strategy. One of my clients does is they, um, they speak on stages. So it's pretty simple calculus day. Every time they go and speak on a stage where they're virtual or physical. Right now, right now, the physical is not really happening. So they've moved a lot of their stuff to virtual.

They get anywhere between five and 15 qualified leads. These are longer sales cycles. But they have found that if they get about 20 to 30 qualified leads a month, that gives them enough energy to like to keep their sales pipeline like over full, right. They always have plenty of opportunities for them.

Their marketing engine is really simple. Get on two stages a month and that's a solved problem for them. So their only marketing activities are really. Booking out those stages. So at any given time, they might have four to six months of stages booked sometimes even more now, before COVID hit, I think they were up to like 12 months of stages.

And then all of a sudden, a lot of it evaporated and they did have to kind of rebuild that in the virtual space, but you know, that's a marketing engine, right. They know that if they go put their hour or two hours a week into outreach to, you know, other associations or organizations in their niche, that they're going to get that next stage book.

Right. And they just keep kind of putting some time into that engine. No, they're not out there doing Facebook ads. They're not out there trying to publish blog posts. They're not out there on social media. Like their whole engine is just getting those stages, uh, booked onto their calendars. And then they're, they're just done.

Right? So that's an example of content, right? Where you're out there, gigging in your market.

Jason: [00:19:50] Awesome. Very cool. Well, this has all been great. Brent, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Brent: [00:19:58] You know, I think that I mean, just on that last point of gigging, I think that this is kind of back to that.

The core of what agencies can be doing for them. It's probably one of the one areas that I spend the most time coaching, which is. Helping people get out there into their market and building that confidence to share their content, share their expertise, start running ads, those types of things. And, um, I think that's probably one of the areas that I think people could always spend more time on or, or spend more money.

Right. I've got clients who, before they came to us were like a Facebook ads agency. That's not spending any of their own money on Facebook ads. Right. And so, so trying to figure out how to fuel your engines and being confident that if you do that, You know, you're going to get results. I once had a client that before we started working together, you know, they're trying to attract $50,000 clients and they were scared to spend $500 in advertising.

And that's one thing that I think. You have to think about it in the context of your client's value is like, if you're going out there trying to attract $50,000 clients or a hundred thousand dollar clients, right. The amount of effort that you need to put into that engine is probably at least somewhat proportional to, uh, to the output.

So that's something to think about as you're starting to build your marketing engines

Awesome. And, uh, you have a book out that everybody can go check out on Amazon. Or tell us a little bit about the book.

Jason: [00:21:16] Yeah. So the book is called, Get Rich in the Deep End. And, uh, the basic premise is how to overcome that dependency on referrals and word of mouth as a digital agency owner, uh, how to identify your audience, build those awareness channels, attract the right clients, establish yourself as an authority in your niche, and then build systems and processes to acquire.

Those prospects and leads. So we walk you through basically those five A's of audience awareness, attract authority and acquire. And the book is a little bit different in that we follow an agency on our story. This is kind of an amalgamation of a bunch of different clients that we kind of created a narrative in the story.

So it makes it really easy to read.  It's a pretty simple concept. And, um, yeah, we'd love for you guys to support that it's called get rich in the deep end. I think your viewers would love to read that book. Awesome. Well, everybody go check it out. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want, and to be surrounded by amazing agency owners that can, you know, really see the stuff that you might not be able to see, and really know what it's like in order to grow above the eight-figure Mark or beyond.

I want you all to go to a DigitalAgencyElite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind where we're always looking for the right. Agency owner that can have fun that can share that'd be transparent. And that really wants to scale very quickly. So go to a DigitalAgencyElite.com, and until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Is_Your_Digital_Agency_Fishing_in_the_Right_Pond_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00pm EDT

Fran Biederman-Gross has grown her firm Advantages from a local printing business to a global end-to-end communications agency. As the CEO and founder an Inc. 500 company, she leads her clients on an invaluable journey of brand discovery that reveals their 3 keys: Purpose, Values, and Story. She joins the Smart Agency podcast to get really deep with understanding your purpose and communicating it in a way that gets your team and clients behind it.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The quickest way to become profitable to attach it to your why. There is an overarching commonality in everything that you do. Understanding it and harnessing it for your business is where profitability becomes possible.
  2. Company core values don't exist. Values are very individual. They can be shared within an organization or community but not dictated. You want to align yourself with a team that shares your values and can contribute in a way that supports them.
  3. Knowing your why will win more agency business. As Simon Sinek puts it, "people don't buy what you do. They buy why. you do it." Don't take the easy way out. When you're identifying your why, go five levels deep and get to the real core of it.

Sponsors and Resources

Oribi: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Oribi. Check out Oribi.io/smartagency for a free trial. Plus when you sign up for Oribi get 20% off the first three months with promo code: Smart Agency

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How to Unlock the 3 Keys of a Values-Based Agency

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey on this episode, I talk with an agency owner friend who talks about the real importance of having that North star, that why. And what are some of the things that you can do in order to figure your why out. Or make sure that your North star is the real deal. And then you have that complete clarity to make the right decisions that your team has the right decision.

So I hope you enjoy. Hey Fran, welcome to the show.

Fran: [00:00:32] Thank you Jason so much for having me today. What a fun time we're gonna have.

Jason: [00:00:36] So, uh, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Fran: [00:00:40] My name is Fran Biederman-Gross. And I am the CEO of an agency called Advantages. I'm a co-author of How to Lead a Values-Based Professional Services Firm, wife, mother, all those other titles that go in there.

But most proud of my professional work on the Three Keys and the agency that we have that in this demand generation bringing ROI to close the gap between marketing and sales.

Jason: [00:01:07] Awesome. Well, the mother is the hardest job. Uh, that's what I've learned. And, uh, the thankless job.

Fran: [00:01:17] You know, it gets better as they get older. I'm going to say not easier. Just better.

Jason: [00:01:21] Yeah. Well, I'm still waiting for the easy part.

Fran: [00:01:26] Yeah. I don't know when that comes.

Jason: [00:01:28] Exactly. So tell us, how did you get started in the agency life?

Fran: [00:01:32] Oh, in short, my late husband and I started a printing company pretty much out of college. It actually started as like a stationary business of taking overruns and pedaling, if you will, all over the streets of Manhattan and Queens, because there was a stationary corner virtually in every store, you know. There was a store on every couple of corners, if you will. And in the back, there was a printing company where you could order stuff that you need.

And then in the early nineties, I'm going to say that Staples opened up and really revolutionized how we bought things and then the internet exploded and how we bought things. So there wasn't really that need, but we really evolved into this incredible agency because I asked a lot of questions.

Like, why do you think you need that? Or why do you want that print quote? Or what are you going to do with that? So that whole curiosity of why really resonated, especially when I met Simon Sinek back in 2004 or five. And really, and pretty much as an innovator of taking the golden circle and bringing it to life. And that's how the agency, of course, I bought one and took that apart and created this really phenomenal Inc 500 agency in New York. That's very, purpose-driven.

Jason: [00:02:48] Let's talk about why did you buy an agency?  You already had a business because you know, I'm always very curious on why people buy when it's pretty easy entry to get in. But I'm also on the flip side, like the agency that we're running now is like, that's all we do through growth is buy.

Fran: [00:03:04] So it's, you know, it's actually a really great question and I'm going to say that.

If you just isolate my life experience just as a matter of fact, not to get emotional in any way, but my late husband passed in 2001 and he was the debonair, very suave, very emotional, very friendly salesperson, and he would walk all the buildings. We went through 5,000 business cards, literally in every three months and he passed his card out and was so personable and was so memorable that we helped people all the time.

Not only in stationery and supplies and print, but we began to solve problems. And when he passed as you know, his voice still rings very clear in my head. You're such a waist behind a desk. I had to get out there and figure it out.

But what really resonated with me was the, problem-solving it wasn't what form do you need, or what brochure do you need or what trade show are you going to and how do I help you? But like, how do I really solve that problem? And what do people care about? And I needed, um, it was a very expensive education.

That's really why I bought the agency so I could actually dismantle it, which is what I did.

Jason: [00:04:18] Yeah, I see. So many times people will buy their first agency and then they just shred it apart. But it's just, it's a process like anything, and it's exciting to see and see where people have, uh, you know, taken it.

Let's talk about like, I love Simon Sinek. Like I haven't read any as books, but I love the Ted talk. I don't read any books. So.

Fran: [00:04:40] Hey, listen. As long as we're open and honest, I read my book probably more than any other book out there as I was writing it, but I'm not a big fan or a love of, you know, just reading.

I don't think I get so much still time either. So I'm right there with you. Ted talks are amazing.

Jason: [00:04:56] Yeah. I love them. So people always struggle with figuring out their why, and it sometimes takes them a very, very, very long time. And they always think like, well, let me like, just jot something on a piece of paper and that's my why. And I checked the box.

What was the process that you went through legal? I feel it's so important. You know, as I talked to thousands of agencies over the years, A lot of us were accidental kind of like you, right? Like you open up this printing shop, stationary shop, and then you start asking questions.

Right. And it was an expensive education for a lot of us, rather than coming from the agency world and knowing exactly what not to do from the big firms. Right. And going to go do it. And we never spend time figuring out that why or getting that clarity. Until five years later or sometimes, or how long did it take you to figure out that why?

Fran: [00:05:56] Well, I was in a unique situation. I was married to a very dynamic best friend who was very clear that he just loved when other people would get attention and they would stand out for all intents purposes, get noticed. Right. As our tagline still states to this day. And while that attention is really important, the question is how do you manage through the clutter of it?

But it was very clear to him and I, as we founded the company, you know, that's really what we love to do. When you really can connect with that, and I'm going to be honest with you, sitting down to do a wide diagnostic is a slog. That's the best four-letter word I can use to describe it. And until you surrender to it, you're just not going to do the deep work that it requires.

And what's amazing is when an entrepreneur does it and goes through that slog doesn't matter what business they own. It doesn't matter what industry it's in. There is an overarching thread and commonality between everything that they do. And this has really been my life's work because you know, the book is all about the three keys on how to unlock purpose and profit.

How do you get to profitability? Well, the quickest way is to do what you say we're going to do attach the dream. Cause that's where you know, all of your emotion and your drive really comes from, cause it's what excites you. So when you can articulate that really simple statement, that has a cause and an impact. And sometimes "so that" in the middle of it, it guides everything.

And it, look through the pandemic, it's made us almost infamous on mergers and acquisitions and how we can get people to come together. And how we can get people to pivot. And what's the next thing they should do. It's such an unlock, right?

So you have to discover it. You have to unlock it and then figure out a way to infuse it. Everything we do is always in those that three-step process discover, unlock, and fuse. But honestly, Jason, you gotta surrender to the slog.

Jason: [00:08:02] Yeah. When I start working with agencies, I tell them like, look, this could be a long process of figuring this out.

We'll keep doing other things, but it's very hard to figure out what's the next move when you don't have this. I was working, uh, I was telling you in the pre-show, started working this one agency that goes after nonprofits. And I was like, why do you do this? And they just kept repeating the typical BS that agencies... we want to make a major difference in the world.

And I was like, no, that's not it. That's not, it. It has to be that North star, which gives the ability to your team to get excited, to make a decision behind it. And then he was just mentioning, he was like, well, I would love in the next five years to help nonprofits raise a hundred million dollars.

I'm like, You're getting closer. It's measurable. People can get behind it. And then I was starting to tell them about ours. I was like, look, I just wanted to be like our whole why, our North star has to be a resource we wish we had when we were running the first agency. And then enabled our whole team to be like, what do we need to do?

They don't have to come to me as the toll booth and everything flowing through me, which is, this is just stressful shit.

Fran: [00:09:21] Here's a really good news. Jason, we have synthesized this so succinctly that you can pick up a copy of the book and read the appendix and it'll give you the whole outline and the theory and the things that you need to go through if you want to DIY it.

Or inside of pretty much, I'm going to say between six and eight hours, we get really clear. And you know, for us, when we, when we take on any client, we have to really identify these three keys that we talk about, right? Your purpose, your values, and your story. Now, a story there's a million books written and how everybody can tell a great story.

But the bottom line is it has to be memorable and you can't be the hero in it. Right? That's the big takeaway from story. And values to me, you start with that because you can actually separate the things that you value, that are wired to you as an individual. And that we can almost have another session on values, but when you just talk about purpose, like that's right, that the two, the fragment of the two sections of the equation of what this formula looks like, you're talking about the contribution and the impact.

And once we can identify what those two things are and not confuse them with the things that we, that we truly treasure and, and value, then you really get somewhere. And that will help any agency owner really get very clear on where the organization is going and how to rally the teams around them.

Like you said, it's really important to do that.

Jason: [00:10:52] So for the people listening that don't really have their North star, maybe they have a North star, but it's really it's like the East star. They're not there. Right? Where can they start? Like, what are some of the steps?

You know, the actively people listening, they'd be like, all right, let me get the sheet of paper. What do we need to do?

Fran: [00:11:09] So the first thing is you need, you need your mindset. There's one famous exercise that I'm really infamous for is, you know, on a sheet of paper, write 1 through 28, and just tell me what motivates you to get out of bed every day? And just keep going down.

And for some, it's funny, why 28? Because that's the page that we designed that had enough space between the lines, it was just an arbitrary number. The point is, is to get to the place where it's actually hard because people.

You know, we'll start with the easy things or like, Oh, I got a bed 'cause my alarm clock rang or I have to go to work today. And I have to brush my teeth and I get out, I get out of bed because, you know, I want to make the world a better place for my kids. And then you start getting to the hard stuff and the stuff that you don't, they can't really articulate.

And there's a good reason for it. Right? So this is science. This is biology. You know, your brain has a has a section. That doesn't have the ability to speak and you have to actually force the feeling to articulate the feelings, right? Like as, as agency owners, as marketers and branders, our job is to articulate how other people feel, if we're purpose-based anyway.

So if you think about it, we have to do it for ourselves. So the way that I want to make people feel, how can I articulate that? Even though I don't have the words. So that's one of the reasons why it's such a slog.

Now, being an outsider. Right. I've done thousands of these. And it's really easy for me to see viscerally, emotionally, where somebody's going, what's hard, help them through this slog to kind of like, I wouldn't say babysitter handhold, but just make it easier. Because you know what happens. Right?

We get stuck on something. We struggle. We procrastinate. And like, yeah, we'll pick that up later. Yep. It's going to take a long time. So I'll give myself permission to do that. But if you really want to get a headstart, you will sit down. And you will work through the hard stuff and you will really well slog through it and you will get to a place that it's in the ballpark.

Might be not wordsmith might need, you know, you would get the essence and the essence is really all you need. Cause that will manifest differently depending on what you're doing. The essence never changes.

Jason: [00:13:22] So after you write down these 28 line items and really like, really spend some time on it. And I love that you have, you know, go past the easy part because people are like, cause I want to make a difference. Like, yeah yeah. Well, and then tell me more about that. Right. It's kind of like the Larry King, like tell me more, tell me more, tell me more and then tell me that again.

And then you really kind of drill down into it. What's the next thing that the listeners need to do?

Fran: [00:13:48] So it's the same thing, but instead of telling me more, it's just why. You got to go five deep probably. Right? Because one, two is probably surface. You know, if you're really self-aware, you're gonna, you're gonna nail it and you're going to get clear or you can answer in less than five.

But the fuzzier you are, the more it takes and there's no right or wrong. There's no judgment on how many times I have to ask you that question. It's just about getting you to think and ponder to tap into the emotion of what feels right.

And then what I like to say is we have to pressure test it. Okay, great. So there's just, again, a series of other questions that I would think about, but what you're looking for is the secret sauce of looking through the patterns of your life, on anything that comes to mind. There's no right or wrong. So it's like, if I ask you to do this right now, like Jason, if I said to you, I'm going to ask you, tell me three different points in your life grade school, high school, college, you know, the most memorable event.

You could tell me something different today and something different in a week from now. And it wouldn't matter because I'm looking for the pattern. Trying to understand why, what were you doing? Were you so excited about something you accomplished? Somebody else, you know, you attributed somebody else to accomplish it?

We're just looking to identify those patterns. And once we can really articulate those patterns, we can decipher. And that's a very important word, right? Is it the way you do it? Or what you believe in. So deciphering that, and that's where a lot of people get really super fuzzy going through core values.

Like I was, I hate the word "core values". I believe that values are individual to a person or shared to a team organization or a community. So help me understand how I contribute and align to the organizational values as opposed to, what I call pin the tail on the visceral verb, right? How are you feeling today?

Because if I had a really crappy day or somebody, something really traumatically impacted me the way I go into that exercise with my team would suck and would totally influence it. And this is why people, you know, redo their values every few years. And this is why they put them on walls to remind them, but they don't live them because they don't...

Jason: [00:16:01] Yeah. I hate the exercise that people do around core values, because it is like total BS, like, you know, as we're recording this, you know, over the weekend, Tony Hsieh from Zappos passed away, which is horrible. But he was a big believer in really living the values. And I had a number of different people from Zappos on, and we talked about how those values actually go throughout the whole company.

And it all is like you were saying, it's you mentioned the key word believe. Right. And I think even Simon Sinek talks about it in his Ted talk is like, people don't follow you because it's you. They follow you because of what you believe in or something. I might've butchered it or something.

Fran: [00:16:45] I'll give you the quote, cause I say it a lot. "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." So when there is an emotional connection Between people, there's a commonality, chances are and something they align that they believe in, even if they can't articulate it. Right. You feel it, you feel it with your best customers, you feel it with your best clients, you feel it with your best employees, you feel it. Right?

It's this unspoken feeling again, going back to the biology of it.  We can articulate it. The famous the Groundhog Day. What gives you the most energy? That's definitely a tip and trick to, to pressure test. Like, did I get it right? And I want people to be complete when they build a why statement, you know, you talked earlier about your own. Right?

Creating a place I wish I had for myself and that's mission-driven. But what's the impact on the other side? Right? So that these agency owners can have the life that you had or could have the life they want.

Jason: [00:17:45] Yeah. And so, yeah, we always talk about like, so they have the freedom to pick and choose and do the things that they love.

Fran: [00:17:50] Exactly. So that's a complete statement. See, I knew you had it. I just didn't get it earlier, but I, you know, when you remain focused, you know, the clarity that brings. Every program you do every, whatever it is podcast episode, everything is anchored to will this serve that or not? And that's when you have a permanent North star.

And when you get clear on that really early on. The exponential hockey stick growth, you can get to profitability really clearly.

Jason: [00:18:18] And so after now do the 28 things we asked the why, right? Like we have real core values, which I believe they're just your core values because you surround people that believe in those not that are your identical twins. So then what's next after that?

Fran: [00:18:33] So, I mean, there, you have it right now. How are you going to tell that to other people? So breaking it down a little bit on the three keys, purpose inside purpose is your why. This is exactly Simon's point. Everybody has one. You only have one. I don't care how many businesses you have.

I could debate that with anyone and show you the common thread. And you also have your vision. So you were very mission and vision-based inside that permanent North star.

Jason: [00:18:59] Describe the difference between vision and mission. I think that's important.

Fran: [00:19:03] So a lot of people get this really confused. Right? So tell me the dream that you have and tell me what you're going to commit to doing or dedicating yourself to doing every single day to achieve it.

So it's easy to look at a nonprofit that says I want to eliminate hunger, right? That's the vision, that's the dream. And what is this nonprofit going to do to actually contribute to that? You know, move the needle effort. Are they going to open a soup kitchen? Are they going to raise money to feed starving children?

There's all of these different missions that strive for that bigger vision. And by the way, we might have one organization dedicated to that vision and we might have different divisions that activate it in different ways. So common vision, differentiated mission. Right.

Someone's physically feeding children. Someone's physically taking care of vaccination. Someone's, you know, there's water, right. You can get so, so detail-oriented on what that vision could be.

That's another reason why people partner together, right? We both want, we have common vision, but we go about it differently.

And then you go into the vision into the values. So like you said, right, everybody has our own individual values and this is really why I try so hard not to use the word core. Yes, they are core to each of us as an individual. But when you look at an organization, we have to share them.

We might go about them differently. We might believe there are different aspects to them, but again, we'll go back to essence. The essence is the same. So when you can discover what these values are as an organization, you can really unlock them. We've built a really great framework, which is also easily identifiable in the book. Right?

Very simple path. They can't be aspirational. They have to be actionable. And you will use them as a decision-making filter for everything you do. And when you can empower your team and align them on what I call the underpinning of your brand foundation, which are these three keys, which is the verbal side of your brand. You will empower your entire team to mobilize further, faster with greater efficiency, hence the result of profitability.

So the way that you do that is the third key is through story, again. You know, starting with the emotional, why is this important? Like I've rewritten the way that a case study should be rewritten. Why, how, what -very simple Simon Sinek golden circle rule. Start with why this is important because nobody cares.

What's the opportunity, or I wouldn't say the problem, but what's the risk? What's in it for me? How can I identify to the problem that you were having and what was the result? Right. Because we all want the results. Nobody really cares about how we did this. Oh, we built this website and did it with... no one cares about that.

We just want the result of whatever it was that achieved this common opportunity or problem?

Jason: [00:22:04] My really good buddy. Ian Garlic, AKA Sasquatch, he calls me his little friend and I'm 6'3". He's bigger than me, but, uh, he calls them case stories and I hated case studies. But you know, how he taught me over the years is like you were talking about, is start with the results.

Do you want to know how one person did X, Y, and Z? Yes. And, really go into it and tell a story around it about around, like you were saying, you know, the emotions. Cause that's why people really buy or engage with you is to fix something that they feel or to get something that makes them feel good or something.

Fran: [00:22:41] Achievement is very fulfilling. And when someone can call me and say, wow, I had the same problem that this guy did on your, in the cases of, you know, that I see, or I heard about this, or someone told me about that. It's like a double brand validation because they're coming to me to solve that same problem. And they understand that we understand how to solve it.

I mean, that's the work of a case study, case story. And I love that word. We also call them, you know, like story sharing, story, doing story, being so almost to take case stories to a 2.0. How does the brand play out the story that they tell, right? How does their culture, how are they being, how are they doing?

What are they doing in the world? And what are the story that they're telling? So it's, um, it keeps going and going and giving and giving if you will.

Jason: [00:23:35] Yeah. Well, Fran, this has been awesome. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Fran: [00:23:40] I would just look at the pandemic as a really interesting opportunity.

As I sat down, like most of everyone else in the shock and awe of what the world was starting to experience thinking like this wasn't real. And then it was, and then for some businesses, it was much more impacting than others, but it's like follow the money and follow the opportunity.

We talk about results-driven and performance-driven, but the money is now from the government side is really going to be repairing these small businesses.

So how can you activate, you know, a grant in the marketing space, in the branding space to upgrade your team's skills so that you can actively participate? And we've really stumbled and proven a number of times now in the last few months, how well that's working. And for the smaller companies and I mean $25 million and under, a quarter-million dollars of budget and under, there is local and state grants that we have triangularly figured out how to actually help you. So as an agency, you can unconventionally figure out other programs where you can add other lines of business that you can expand on your own. Like we have.

Jason: [00:24:52] Yeah. I love being resourceful. You know, I always, when people come to me, they're like, I've tried everything.

I'm like really tried everything? Tell them to start listing. And then I tell them, make a list. And it was like two things I'm like really? That's it? And then they start laughing. I'm like, got to keep going, man. There's a solution out there. Somehow.

Fran: [00:25:13] There always is. It's like Jason, if I had more time to just, you know, go down my own list, I would, I'm sure I could learn a few things myself, because I don't know. I guess resiliency, I've been through a lot in my own life and we've come up from the ashes a number of times before 2008 to 2010, there was a whole revolution in what's needed. And 9/11, you know, took out a fair amount of manufacturing and businesses that we were very involved in.

And we've been there, done that. So this time the belief and the historical understanding, knowing that there is opportunity out there. I just had to find it.

Jason: [00:25:51] Oh yeah. Yeah. I always tell everybody I'm like, this is the perfect time to really kind of grow. Like I know everybody freaked out in March 2020. And then I think like a month later, then it was just like, you know, everything just kind of just kept skyrocketing in agency space. You know, because everybody started realizing how important agencies are to them and how digital and online and all of that. And there's, there's always opportunities.

So, and, uh, when I look back at, you know, when we started in '99 or 2001, or like you said, '08 and even, you know, I guarantee you're looking back in five years from now at this point, right now. It's a golden opportunity, even though there's lots of people hurting right now, you know, medically and that kind of stuff, but economically there's huge opportunity.

So hopefully all of you figure out your why, your value, you guys tell the right story and you guys can get there. What's the title of the book and where can people go buy it?

So the title of the book is how to lead a values-based professional services firm. The three keys to unlock, purpose and profit.

Fran: [00:27:02] They can go to 3KeysBook.com and explore a download the intro, et cetera. See some videos why we wrote the book. You can also find it on Amazon and pretty much every other book reseller. And I would say, check it out.

Jason: [00:27:02]Awesome. Great. Well, everybody go do that. And if you guys enjoy this episode and you guys want to be surrounded with amazing agency owners that share the same values that you do share, probably the same why about growing their agency and scaling agency.

I want you guys to go to DigitalAgencyElite.com. This is our exclusive mastermind for experienced agency owners, where we're sharing what's currently working, we're the support group, we're are the ones that you can share the wins and we'd actually get it right?

Like if you fired that awful client, you can't really tell your spouse - they'll be like, okay, good. But everyone else can celebrate with you and just have a lot of fun with it. Go to DigitalAgencyElite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day .

Direct download: Unlocking_the_3_Keys_of_a_Values-Based_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00am EDT

Mark Sullivan is an agency owner who has also spent over 22 years in public safety. He has seen people in the best and worst of times. When he’s not working as a firefighter, he is the founder and creative director of the 7-figure agency he started in 2014. Mark is on the show to talk about the similarities between fighting fires and running an agency. He’s also sharing the #1 lesson he wishes he had known much sooner.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Running an agency can be like fighting fires. Your clients are trusting your agency with their livelihood, the same way firefighters rely on each other to get out of a fire. Everyone has to have trust in order to be successful.
  2. Trust your gut when a client doesn't feel right. One thing Mark wishes he had known sooner is that it's OK to walk away from a client that is a bad fit. You don't have to take on every prospect. It's better to take a chance at offending them than add stress to yourself and your team.
  3. Empower your team to make decisions. Stand behind your team on the decisions they make. When they feel supported and appreciated, they will make smart decisions that support your agency vision.

Sponsor & Resources

Wix: Today's episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out Wix.com/Partners to learn more and become a member of the community for free.

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