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

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

Podcast Takeover!!

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

 

Recovering from the Hustle Culture and the Burnout it Causes

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

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

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

A Lesson on the Benefits of Doing Content Marketing Right

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

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

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

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

Prioritizing Boundaries to Create a Healthy Agency Culture

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Should Your Agency Invest More in PPC or SEO?

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

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

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

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

Changing Your Mindset to Retain a Happy and Fulfilled Team

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

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

Important Investments in Your Agency's Growth

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_to_Create_Work-Life_Balance_With_Anti-Hustle_Culture.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

 

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

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

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

How Culture Misfits Can Cost Your Agency Big Opportunities

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

How to Raise Prices and Charge What You're Worth

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

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

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

A Non-Traditional Approach to Partnering with Clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.


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

Ryan Sargent is the Director of Content Marketing at Verblio, the world’s friendliest content creation platform. Verblio builds content marketing for other marketers at scale by pairing specialized, niche writers with marketing agencies and marketing professionals. Verblio is a preferred partner of the show and Ryan is a repeat guest who brings amazing insight.

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

Subscribe

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Sponsors and Resources

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

Links to other episodes featuring Ryan Sargent:
https://jasonswenk.com/creating-content-for-clients/
https://jasonswenk.com/content-creation-team/

How Agencies Can Make More Money by Integrating AI Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Aren't More Agencies Using AI for Content?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (Attract, Convert, Scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

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

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

In this episode, we'll discuss:

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

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

 

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Sponsors and Resources

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

Podcast Takeover!!

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

Episode transcript:

John Corcoran  0:00  

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

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

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

 

Christy Pretzinger  1:55  

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

John Corcoran  3:42  

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

Christy Pretzinger  4:14  

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

John Corcoran  7:06  

That was not a hard Yes.

Christy Pretzinger  7:10  

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

John Corcoran  7:20  

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

Christy Pretzinger  7:37  

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

Strategies for Maintaining Client and Employee Relationships

John Corcoran  9:41  

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

Christy Pretzinger  10:17  

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

John Corcoran  12:10  

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

Christy Pretzinger  12:22  

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

Growing an Agency During Uncertain Economic Times

John Corcoran  13:29  

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

Christy Pretzinger  13:48  

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

John Corcoran  15:03  

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

Why It's Important to Build Relationships When Seeking Opportunities

Christy Pretzinger  15:26  

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

John Corcoran  16:38  

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

Christy Pretzinger  17:03  

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

John Corcoran  18:53  

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

Christy Pretzinger  19:26  

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

John Corcoran  22:10  

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

Christy Pretzinger  22:43  

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

John Corcoran  24:18  

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

Christy Pretzinger  24:29  

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

John Corcoran  24:41  

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

Christy Pretzinger  24:48  

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

John Corcoran  25:57  

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

Christy Pretzinger  26:07  

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

John Corcoran  26:54  

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

Christy Pretzinger  27:26  

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

John Corcoran  29:27  

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

Christy Pretzinger  29:39  

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

John Corcoran  31:23  

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

Christy Pretzinger  31:29  

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

John Corcoran  31:59  

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

Christy Pretzinger  32:07  

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

John Corcoran  32:58  

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

Christy Pretzinger  33:02  

Thank you, John. Appreciate it.

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

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

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

The Biggest Mistake in Agency Finances

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

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

Pay Attention to These Key Metrics

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

Why You Need to Pay Attention to Gross Margin

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What Works for Agencies When it Comes to Increasing Margins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Project Your Agency’s Future Investments

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

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

How much should you have in cash reserve?

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

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

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

Selling a Digital Agency In an Unrepresented Market

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

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

How Long Does It Take to Sell Your Agency?

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

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

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

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

How to Realistically Determine Your Agency Valuation 

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

EBITDA = Earnings Before Interest Tax Depreciation Amoritization

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Agency Owners Need Executing a Profitable Acquisition Process

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

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

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

When to Bring an Accountant or Lawyer into the Acquisition Process

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

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

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

2 Common Questions About Digital Agency Mergers & Acquisitions

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

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Pressured to Sell

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

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

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

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to Agency Mastery 360.  Our agency growth program helps you take a 360-degree view of your agency and gain mastery of the 3 pillar systems (attract, convert, scale) so you can create predictability, wealth, and freedom.

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

 

 

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

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

3 Things To Increase Agency Lead Generation in 30 Days

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why You Need an Outrageous Offer to Attract Leads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 3_Things_To_Increase_Agency_Lead_Generation_in_30_Days.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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

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

In this episode, we’ll cover:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

Why Your Superhero Syndrome Is Your Agency's Bottleneck

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

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

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

How to Set Yourself Up as the Super Visionary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating an Agency that Runs Without You 

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

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Extending the Four-Week Vacation on All Levels

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

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

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

2 Steps to Empower Your Team 

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

What's the Most Important Function at Your Agency?

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_to_Be_the_Super_Visionary_in_an_Agency_That_Runs_Without_You.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am EST

Would you like your agency to be more profitable? Have you analyzed which of your clients are profitable and which engagements are losing money? You may feel you're doing everything right but still aren't profitable. However, it could be just a case of learning how to assess each client's profitability and raising prices on legacy clients. Today’s guest shares ways you can learn about agency profitability and increase your profit margin.

Russell Benaroya is the owner of Stride Services, a digital agency that provides outsourcing, bookkeeping, accounting, and CFO services for digital agencies. They provide timely, accurate, and actionable data so business owners can make decisions based on hard facts. In this episode, he shares some steps to assess whether a client is profitable, why you should look at your service as a product, and much more.

In this interview, we’ll cover:

  • How to make smart, profitable decisions to grow your agency.
  • 3 Questions to determine why an account is not profitable.
  • 2 Steps to evaluate if a client is profitable.
  • Raising prices for legacy clients.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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How to Smart, Profitable Decisions About Prospective Clients

For Russell, the agency space is at an interesting point where agency owners are starting to learn more about the type(s) of clients they serve. It’s important they understand each engagement and the level of profitability it brings to the agency. It is a moment of opportunity and transition where agency owners must be informed and armed to make smart decisions.

How can you make smart decisions for your agency's profitability?

Financial information isn’t particularly telling for many agency owners. It doesn’t tell them anything about how to act around a particular engagement. Russell believes you have to keep peeling back the layers to get to the information that really matters. Basically, you need data on how much revenue you’re making for a client but also what costs, time, and direct expenses are you putting into the client?

With this information, you can assess whether or not they are profitable for the agency. If the answer is no, then why and what can be done about it? This investigation leads to taking action at the client level.

2 Steps to Assess a Client’s Profitability

Russell’s agency uses these two techniques to help agencies that need to assess whether or not a client is profitable:

  1. Viewing financial and time data in one place. Let’s say you’re using Harvest for time tracking and have some direct expenses sitting on Quickbooks online. Russell and his team bring that into a unified environment and quantify the value of the time put into an account. Once they put that information together, it becomes easier to see the client or engagement's profitability.
  2. Understanding the shadow bill rate. This is especially relevant for agencies on retainer-based agreements or monthly recurring revenue (MRR) subscriptions. The shadow bill rate is a fairly easy calculation that takes into account the monthly recurring revenue and what you would be billing if you charged hourly a rate equal to the resources needed for that client. That ratio is what Russell calls the “win for all” and it’s an indication of whether or not your MRR is sufficient for a level of profitability.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

3 Important Questions to Measure Agency Profitability

If you had to track just one metric in an agency, Russell recommends it’s the golden metric: the “win for all” ratio. He feels it is the single most important metric that forces you to ask yourself:

  1. Did we price this client incorrectly?
  2. Do we have process issues affecting our efficiency?
  3. Are there issues on the client side keeping us from being effective?

This is the biggest driver for assessing profitability and becoming self-aware of what's standing in the way.

How to Increase Prices to Legacy Clients

There are many reasons your "win for all" ratio may be low; pricing is just one of them. If that is the case, it’s time to ask yourself how many clients you have on legacy pricing. It’s common for agencies to have more than a few clients at almost half under current prices. There’s a huge opportunity cost there.

As humans, we avoid conflict which makes it hard to increase prices. Instead, most people start to over-service clients to make sure they’re very happy and then increase prices. However, this is not the right way to go about it and involves spending more resources on that client.

Russell says agency owners need to have a “state of the relationship" discussion. This allows the opportunity to understand how the client views the work and then explain it’s time to increase prices.

What’s the best way to approach a client and make the account profitable?

It is particularly hard to support a client who is out of scope if you don’t have the data. Once you start the conversation, clarify there’s a difference between what you originally agreed upon and what you're doing now. That means you’re operating out of scope. Going forward, try to look at your agency services as a product... And a product has standards. When you articulate those standards and the tasks associated to create that product it will be easier to evaluate if your actions are within the scope of that product or not. It’s an objective way to be unemotional about the work.

Measuring Profit Margin of a Healthy Digital Agency

If you’re an agency owner interested in measuring your clients’ profitability, you can start by measuring the gross margin. Gross margin is revenue minus direct costs associated with serving that customer. Typically, you want gross margin to be between 50% and 55%.

If you’re in an investment year that number is lower. However, growth investments are very important for the future of your agency,  so keep that in mind before freaking out over your income statement. It is a variable that is dependent upon if and when you want to sell your agency.

One mistake Russell sees agency owners make is not taking a good salary for themselves in order to increase their margin. This isn't a good idea and becomes just an artificial achievement.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Happy clients grow your business. So what is the secret to happier clients? Is your agency making a good first impression? Building a rapport with them on a human level? How are your setting your agency apart from the competition?  We talked to one agency owner who always prefers to go for a true connection by building the relationship first. When it comes to employees and clients, he prefers creating genuine bonds that lead to a better agency and an overall better work environment.

Tom Jauncey is the owner of UK-based agency Nautilus Marketing, a full-service digital agency specializing in WordPress and Wix. His agency works with clients on SEO and social media strategies to deliver a wide range of digital solutions on a worldwide scale. In the journey to growing his agency, Tom has relied on the value of human connection for his team, clients, and partners. Today he'll share how he makes a good impression on the first call with a client and what he has learned about hiring for culture.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Why the first call is about the client.
  • Building a rapport with clients to gain trust.
  • How to make a good first impression.
  • Forming a team and building a sense of culture.

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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Why the First Call Should Be All About the Client

As another accidental agency owner, starting an agency was never part of Tom’s plan. He went to drama school and had been on TV shows and movies. He started working in content creation as a freelancer while going on casting calls. He did social media for a couple of small and medium businesses. With time, clients kept asking if he could also do graphic design and other agency work. He found freelancers to help him with those new tasks and over time built an agency with a team of 17.

Tom doesn’t see himself fitting in with the typical agency model. He loves to surround himself with “fellow nerds” and prefers to get to know clients well. In fact, prospective clients typically say they are different than other agencies in the UK. He describes himself as a people person and hates agencies that see their clients as cash cows.

Client onboarding a client at his agency starts by asking them about their problems. What are they worried about? What do they think they need? Most agencies follow a set process for each client on the first call. However, at his agency, the first call is more about building a rapport with the client. According to Tom, if you have a good strategy ready but don’t work on having a good rapport with your client, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The first call with your client is all about them. One good way to ensure you’ll have a meaningful conversation is to send a video clearing up the most common questions before the call. This way, you’re getting that out of the way and can focus on getting to know them.

Making a Good First Impression and Starting Off a Positive Relationship

For Tom, focusing on the human connection is the key to standing out among so competitor agencies that treat all clients the same. Another important differentiator is the follow-up. After every call, he likes to set aside a few minutes to prepare the proposal. This way, not even twenty minutes after the call the client gets an email linking to the proposal. Clients appreciate having this level of dedication and it’s a good way to kick off things.

Bad first impressions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a bad first impression is trying to sell something without first building a rapport. Maybe you’ve received the kind of LinkedIn message where someone goes straight into sales mode claiming you’re in the same industry. It’s not a good look and an awful way to make a first impression. This type of tactic tends to be a massive turn-off. It has made many move off LinkedIn because they feel constantly bombarded with sales pitches. By starting a conversation and building a relationship where you’re not immediately asking someone to buy something you’re much more likely to get them on your side.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Going Beyond Skill When Hiring Your Agency Team

In the five years since he started the agency, Tom has really learned to value his team. He believes in hiring people smarter than him because it has been key to his agency’s success. Having the right people in the right seats means less micromanaging. He trusts after he makes the sale, his team will deliver exactly what the client expects. It also means someone has his back when the client is asking for something outside of his expertise. Having a reliable team has been the most important piece in scaling his agency to where it is now.

How he finds the right people. At first, he just started hiring people who had the skills needed. There was no real criteria beyond ability at that point. However, as the team began forming the people who didn’t fit in stuck out, whether not agreeing with their ethos or not getting along with other team members.

As they started to need additional team members, he refined the hiring process. While years ago it might have been just about doing the work, now he likes finding out more about the person. What did they enjoy? Did they like to learn? This has helped him get a better sense of whether a candidate or a potential client will work well with his agency.

Knowing and defining your culture helps you stop being a yes-man. It prevents red flags when bringing in new hires and new clients.

Why You Shouldn’t Underestimate the Value of Strategic Partners

In order to maintain a pipeline, you need three different lead generation channels: inbound, outbound, and partnerships.

Don’t underestimate the value of having strategic partners. Building relationships is a great way to scale, especially when you’re starting out. Tom has a few referral partners he calls whenever his agency is not able to take on a client.

His agency is also a Google partner and Wix partner, who also provide leads as part of their agreement. Tom’s message for agency owners who are just starting out or looking to grow is to go for those connections that can prove to be very valuable.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Does your agency align with a purpose or cause? Are you hiring diversly to bring in different viewpoints? Today’s guest has a lot of experience working with non-profits, which is how she's become an expert on purpose-driven marketing and recruiting, as well as avoiding natural bias in business. She shares some of the ways she implemented purposeful branding and diverse hiring in her agency to bring positive changes and grow her agency.

Lyn Wineman is a marketing veteran with over 30 years of experience with award-winning work. Her agency Kid Glov has been recognized as one of the best places to work in Lincoln, Nebraska. They are a marketing, branding, and advertising boutique agency with about 25 employees that helps clients create exceptional brand experiences. Their name goes back to taking great care of their clients, their brands, and the people within their culture.

In this interview, we'll discuss:

  • Where to start and how to execute a rebrand.
  • Removing bias and diversifying your team.
  • Taking on clients that align with your agency.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Podcast Takeover!!

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

 

How to Rebrand and Get More Attention for Your Brand

In 12 years, Lyn’s agency has helped over 100 non-profits with their brand messaging and strategy. In some cases, this entails tightening up their tagline and message, while in others it goes all the way to their logo and name. Overall, non-profits with great branding tend to do better, get more recognition, and are generally easier to find.

When it comes to rebranding your business, Lyn reminds clients that no one will ever create something that is universally loved. “It’s better to be the pistachio-flavored ice cream than the vanilla ice cream that no one loves”. You can accomplish more with something a small percentage likes than something 100% of people are willing to ignore.

Where to Start When Doing a Rebrand for Your Client or Your Agency

Since they work with non-profits, Lyn and her team knew their process needs to be focused and affordable. They start with a discovery session with key leaders of the non-profit. There, they talk about what makes their brand and where they see themselves in the future. This is followed by an online survey and a competitive review. Finally, they do a brand archetype profile and create a brand strategy and positioning statement.

Next they strategize the launch plan including who they need to talk to and how. To this end, they help clients plan meetings, presentations, and parties to present this new identity to their employees, the board, top donors, partners, and finally the public. They also help with their website and anything else to ensure their name and new image are well received.

Because the process of rebranding many times includes a new name for the organization, Lyn warns clients they will get comments about how it was unnecessary to do this. People are usually comfortable with the familiar and react negatively to change. However, changes to their client’s image and branding are done as the result of a lot of studies. It’s all about thinking outside of the box and garnering attention.

How Purpose and Implied Bias Play a Role in Branding

Data shows that >70% of people nowadays want to align with brands making a positive impact in the world. This percentage is even higher when it comes to younger generations who want to work with brands that make a difference. Lyn’s agency has always had a strong focus on non-profit. With these new trends, they’re getting more and more companies come to them to create purpose-driven messaging and social impact campaigns.

Part of the challenge creating a campaign is identifying implicit biases in a message. We all have biases we may not even notice. In these cases, the first step is awareness. It requires willingness to look within and identify some of their own biases as an agency as well as the customers’ biases.

Often these beliefs are not rooted in bad faith and are just the result of our surroundings. Making an effort to improve this is not just the right thing to do. Data shows how increasing diversity and inclusion in advertising translates to more conversion and sales. It is an excellent way to build trust and relationships with your clients.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Opening the Door to Speaking to Different Audiences

Seeing the growing interest in purpose-driven marketing, Lyn’s team now receives bias training. They also include a questionnaire as part of their onboarding to open the door to bias discussions. As for their internal operations, they have started focusing on what they can do to give back as part of their discovery process. This simple question helps identify potential causes to aligned with.

Almost every single member of her team felt they didn’t have an implicit bias, which is how people usually feel. Going through the bias training helped them realize we all have biases. Being aware of this helps open the door to positive change.

In marketing, we’re all taught to zero in on our primary audience and speak mainly to them. Bias training has helped Lyn and her team ask themselves how they can think about the audience differently and ensure they’re not just zeroing in on a 1-person audience. Instead, they focus on opening up and accepting that audiences are changing and whoever your buyer persona is today may not be so in the future.

Removing Bias and Diversifying Your Team

All this talk about biases and implementing diversity into your work with clients is meaningless unless you also make it part of your agency. Diversity in among your team leads to different points of view and often to better work. We all have different learned experiences we bring to every situation. A diverse team will certainly give you different results which is good for your agency.

For Lyn, it hasn’t been easy to achieve, but it starts with the hiring process. They changed their job descriptions and set new interviewing and hiring policies to help open these doors. For instance, instead of requiring a specific level of experience they now offer a training runway to bring in people without the experience but are otherwise a good fit. Furthermore, they’re creating an agency advisory panel with members of different cultural competencies.

Taking On Causes That Align With Your Agency Values

When you take on a cause, ask yourself is this in line with our agency's values? Do we have something of value to add to the conversation? Will most of our clients be in agreement?

Of course, not all clients will be passionate about the same causes. However, if you’re attracting clients that are a good fit for your agency, most of them will be supportive of the cause you choose.

Three Pillars to Cultural Success

Lyn’s agency has lost just one employee over the last year. It is quite the accomplishment in the midst of “the great resignation”. It has a lot to do with how she takes care of her agency employees as her primary job. Their "Creative Nirvana Project” is focused on creating the best environment for doing creative and strategic work.

The project started with three sessions for her creative team.

  • Session 1: In the zone - is focused on questions like “what does it feel like when things are great and feels like you can’t fail?” They then analyze how that situation looks for each employee.
  • Session 2: Bummer - is not as positive but equally important. Here they ask the team to describe what it looks like when things suck. They focus on what makes a situation not great.
  • Session 3, The path - the last session focused on drawing a path asking "how do we get from where we are to where we need to be?" And "what are some quick wins and big things we can do?"

It is like such a simple principle, yet it has helped them get great feedback and be on the list of the best places to work in their state. Moving forward, they realize creative Nirvana needs to be a pillar of the whole agency and include all teams (not just creative).

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you have an agency business partner? Are you considering bringing on a partner? Or experiencing challenges with your partner? Many people are afraid to start an agency with a partner because they think it will end badly. And it's true, striking the right balance with a partner is no easy feat. However, finding a partner that compensates for your shortcomings makes it all worthwhile. Today’s guests have had a successful agency partnership for over a decade. As expected, they have faced challenges along the way and found success by inserting their own style into their agency formula.

Alexis Krisay and Melissa DiGianfilippo are the owners and partners of Serendipit Consulting, a full-service marketing and creative agency in Phoenix, Arizona. They’ve been partners at their digital agency for almost 15 years. It seems like a long time to work alongside a co-owner. However, with backgrounds in PR and marketing, they found they complement each other very well over the years. Recently, they started a podcast together called Will it Stick that covers bold marketing campaigns and PR stunts.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • The secret to a successful agency partnership.
  • Why key differences can lead to synchrony.
  • How a mastermind can help you get intentional about your business.

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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The Learning Curve After Starting a Digital Agency

Alexis grew up being familiar with the agency world. Her father owned a digital effects agency in LA and she visited the studio all the time. She loved the relaxed and fun environment and aspired to create something as cool. However, she never actually thought she would have an agency. She met Melissa working together for a real estate developer. That’s when they discovered they made a really good team and thought it would be cool to have a project together. After securing a few freelance clients, they knew it was time to leave their jobs and officially start their agency.

There was a learning curve, of course. They charged their first client $8,000, which seemed like a pretty good deal at the time. However, they quickly learned to take the project scope into account. They were doing everything for this client and the amount of travel warranted a much higher price.

The Secret to a Successful Agency Partnership

As Jason says, when it comes to partnerships, “you either know the bad partner or you are the bad partner”. That’s not necessarily the case here. Sometimes a partnership lasts a couple of years and then one partner gets bored with the business and wants to do something else. Maybe the agency outgrows one of the partners and they are no longer relevant. Working with agency owners from all over the world Jason has known many successful partnerships. How do some agency owners make it work?

Alexis and Melissa have encountered challenges, of course, but their partnership has continued to work. Most of all, they credit the immense respect they have for each other. They respect each other’s passions, opinions, and expertise and work hard to each stay in their separate lanes. According to them, this respect makes it so they’re not afraid to “fight productively”. These arguments are productive because leave the conversation with a full agreement on both sides. There’s no “I told you so” when you reach a compromise.

This synchrony certainly didn’t happen overnight, but with practice they’ve come to know each other really well. What works especially well for them is they each compensate for the other one’s shortcomings. Each has her own area of expertise and respects the other. If a situation requires one of them to cover for the other, they’ll of course do it. However, when in doubt, it’s better to pause and say “this is my partner's expertise. I better call her to be sure”.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Aligning Goals in Agency Business and in Life 

Making sure your goals for the agency align is one thing, but your overall goals must also align. If you and your partner are at different points in life then you might want different things from the business. If one of the partners is much older, then they may be looking at exiting sooner. However, there is room for some differences to improve the relationship. If you look at each of their profiles, Alexis and Melissa are very different from one another.

This works really well for the agency because one of them is the visionary while the other is the planner. Why does this matter? In the end, your partnership affects far more than just the agency. It affects your entire life, so make sure to enter that “business marriage” with someone that complements you.

Get Intentional About Your Agency With the Help of a Mastermind

About five years into the business, Alexis and Melissa joined an entrepreneurial organization. Joining this group helped them get intentional about building their business. Up to that point, they treated the agency as a way to work while taking care of their families.

Getting to the million-dollar mark helped them realize they had the resources and employees to do something really special. The organization helped them get serious about treating the agency like a real business instead of a hobby or lifestyle choice. With this new perspective, they focused on growing and scaling the agency.

Once they got clear about their goals, the agency started growing fast. In fact, they reached $2 million in just two years. With the help of advisors, they were exposed to different proven systems like EOS. In the end, they adopted a mismatch of different systems and found a formula that worked for them.

Finding their own version of a system was part of their journey to define themselves as a unique agency that doesn’t necessarily work as any other agency out there. Alexis and Melissa don’t want to be like the agencies they worked for in the past. They find that trying to do things the traditional agency way leads to stagnation. On the other hand, going back and following their own path has led to success.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Have you ever asked your team what they don't want to do anymore? What would your employees eliminate, if they could? One agency owner started asking these important questions and unlocked rapid growth by implementing their ideas and truly innovating processes. For his agency, niching down and adopting innovation as an agency value made all the difference. He discusses how he implemented those changes and the 5 big questions you need to ask your team.

Josh Webber is the co-founder of Big Red Jelly, an agency focused on digital branding, web design, and development. His team helps businesses focus on all the steps a business should complete before working on advertising and marketing.

Although his agency is five years old, Josh has been in the agency world since graduating college, working at several agencies around the country. As is often the case, his agency started as a full-service digital marketing agency. The decision to niche down came after the pandemic. This marked a point where his team started to focus on what they did best: branding. The decision led to exponential growth for his agency. He now shares how focusing on innovation and making the jump to niche down changed everything.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • How to make innovation a top value at your agency.
  • Why innovation can also mean simplifying processes.
  • How to get a fresh perspective to bring new ideas.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Overcoming Hard Times By Niching Down

For Josh's agency, the two years leading up to the pandemic were years of slow and organic growth. Once Covid hit, more than a third of their clients had to close shop and were unable to pay invoices. It seemed as good a time as any to do something they’ve been discussing for a while and niche down. Josh had been listening to several experts talk about the importance of niching down and owning your niche. Ultimately, they pulled the trigger and it was the best decision they have ever made. In fact, their finances started to improve almost immediately.

If anything, Josh only regrets waiting so long to do it. Luckily, he was able to turn the regret into creating a culture of innovation within the agency. Innovation is probably at the heart of most agencies' mission and vision. What’s actually hard is clearly defining it with actions.

There is a gap between how many agencies place innovation as one of their top values and how it’s actually one of the lowest when it comes to seeing this investment take place. Most agency owners want to be innovative but fail at “how”.

How Can You Find and Implement Innovation Within Your Agency?

In the agency world, you’re either moving forward or going backward. What can you do to make sure you’re always moving forward? Josh and his team organized a vision meeting where they defined innovation for their agency.  They started by “abolishing” some terms like “that’s just the way it is” and “this is how it’s always been”. By doing this, they started recreating their culture.

The concept of innovation in the agency space is usually attached to creative roles, which is a mistake. Anyone can innovate and it’s the youngest people on the team who usually bring a completely unique perspective. So, step one for Josh's team was deciding that innovation would be a huge part of the agency moving forward. Secondly, they focused on meetings, processes, and implementing tactics to ensure this.

Making huge changes in the agency is never easy and some team members may not be on board. In Josh’s case, about 30% of the team weren't accepting of the changes. It was his opportunity to see who was willing to be part of an agency transformation. There will always be people who don’t like change. However, in the digital marketing space you have to be innovating and changing or you will be left behind.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

5 Questions to Kickoff Innovation in Your Agency

After defining innovation and bringing ideas to implement it, the team next focused on what they could remove from their processes. The idea was to get employees talking about things they were tired of doing and it was a big success. You can become so inflated with processes and SOPs the question “what can we remove?” brings a lot of suggestions. This helped Josh see innovation doesn’t have to be adding more and more. It can also be about removing what no longer serves a purpose for the agency.

In advance of the meeting, Josh sent his team some questions to get them thinking about what should be eliminated:

  1. What would you like to do more of?
  2. What would you like to do less of?
  3. Is there something that has always confused you?
  4. Is there something that you have always disagreed with?
  5. What do you think could be removed that would lead to better results?

The exercise led to a lot of ideas which, Josh admits, were spot on. It can be hard to hear because some of the things your team wants to eliminate might be things you put into place. But that is what innovation is all about -- change and growth.

Next, they focused on questions about the leadership and the founders. Does X do something that distracts you? You’ll need to have thick skin to listen to what your team has to say, but it’s a great exercise.

How Masterminds Can Help Get a Fresh Perspective on Your Agency

Those meetings were such a success they turned into an annual event for his agency. Every year they organized meetings to tackle: how can we renew? What can we change? What can we add? And the second half focuses on what they can remove and simplify. The big takeaway has been simplicity. These meetings have helped his agency build its culture of innovation and allow its team to bring their own perspective.

More recently, they are focused on the importance of getting external motivation outside of the agency. It’s about maybe finding a peer group or mastermind and learning from someone with a new perspective. Oftentimes, it’s the agency owner who gets to experience these things, but they are trying to come up with ways for employees to also have these experiences.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you trapped working 24/7 in your agency? Do you know who to hire and how to empower them to make the right decisions? How do you build the culture for a growing team? Discover how one agency owner built and scaled a successful agency with multifaceted hires who wear many hats. She is currently working on her building her second agency and shares some of the lessons she’s bringing to round two.

Gina Michnowicz is the CEO and CCO of The Craftsman Agency, an agency specializing in experiences and creating magical moments. They work with clients that want to do something innovative across the digital space and also in-person events. They started their journey working with big clients like Disney and Cisco, although they also work with some small and medium brands as well.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Finding your first employees who can wear many hats.
  • Creating the right culture and empowering your team.
  • How to avoid burnout as an agency owner.

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Sponsors and Resources

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

 

Starting an Agency with Big Clients Right Off the Bat

For Gina, ending up as an agency owner was the moment her career came full circle. Right out of college she interviewed at an advertising agency. However, they didn’t have any open positions at that moment so she ended up working in HR. She then worked at a management consulting company running part of the digital practice. The idea of starting her own agency came from others who enjoyed working with her and offered to be her first clients. This is how Gina's agency started with two big clients, Cisco and VMWare --  a big break for a young agency!

While most agencies work for many years to earn big clients it can also be quite challenging considering they can be very complex and political. Big brands tend to be siloed, which can make things difficult.

Luckily, Gina is very good at picking the right clients and was able to handle it as a new agency.

Hiring Multifaceted Talent to Get Your Agency Off the Ground

Gina started working by herself but reached the breaking point very quickly, during the first quarter. She was lucky to have someone from her old job who wanted to work with her. It turns out this was a very multifaceted person who could wear many hats. Finding this type of talent is super helpful when you’re starting out and don’t have a lot of resources.

More recently, she continues to rely on more traditional ways to look for new talent for her agency. She is very active on LinkedIn, where she built a large network she can rely on when it comes to looking for new talent. She also uses ads, although they tend to bring in more unqualified candidates.

Gina's agency is in the process of creating an intern program to receive candidates from some great schools. She finds this is a great place to start recruiting because today, young adults graduate with fantastic instincts and insight.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Creating Culture By Getting to Know Your Team 

Your team members need to feel empowered to make decisions. Admittedly, it’s hard to let go of control. Gina sometimes catches herself wanting to intervene and take control of a situation. In these cases, she reminds herself the leadership team can handle it.  It's not only okay to step back, it's important to do so.

It's also important to make sure the leadership team is very connected. If you are disconnected at the top, this feeds into the rest of the team. As leaders, we have to show up as our best selves. If we’re not, permeates the rest of the organization.

It also comes down to relationships. Are you working on building relationships with your team? Do you know them as people beyond their agency role? Get to know the person, not just project manager. Talk to your team about what they are passionate about, and what they like doing. It’s important to create opportunities and spaces where these conversations happen naturally by encouraging team activities.

How to Avoid the Burnout Point

Having trusted key employees who became her right and left hand helped Gina avoid the trap of overworking. She delegates important tasks to them and keeps a healthy work balance.

Unfortunately, one of those key employees had an unexpected leave during the pandemic. In order to stay profitable, Gina and her other trusted employee took on those tasks and worked non-stop during the pandemic. As a result, the agency had a phenomenal 2021 but they were both burned out by the end.

To reclaim her time, she made herself a new routine that includes time to meditate and walk each morning and small workouts throughout the day. Blocking time to rest has also worked. Now, she now tries not to pack her entire day with meetings if she can avoid it. You have to create rules for yourself and be strict about following them to have the time to focus on yourself. Finally, it’s all about knowing when to take time off, which she now does and encourages in her employees.

Why Engagement is the Key to a Successful Remote Model

If you’re managing a fully remote agency, Gina advises you to be really engaged and ensure your employees are also engaged. Engagement is a big factor in seeing whether or not someone is happy and passionate in their current role. Lack of engagement stems from a variety of factors. As a leader, it’s your job to try to understand what can be done to help someone be comfortable with their role in the agency.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Want to make better hires? Looking to improve your agency's employee retention? Many times, a high turnover rate is a consequence of a flawed hiring process. You need to understand what you're looking for and how each person will contribute not only to the agency's effectiveness but also to its culture. Today's guest has developed a system that took his agency's employee retention from 30% to 80% by just adjusting the way they assess new hire candidates.

Shannon Hansen is the owner of Lightfoot Media, a full-service agency focused on helping companies maximize their ROI. He started his first business at age 21 and learned lessons as some of those ended in bankruptcy. In 2012 he ended up in the digital industry figuring out how to make money online with mortgage lead generation. Over the years, the business expanded as he figured things out. He has experienced both great successes and great failures that led him to regroup.

For Shannon, being on such a good path and then having everything go south was an opportunity to stop and wonder: what happened? He learned lessons and figured out how to move forward after picking up the pieces and starting over once again. Starting over led him to what he describes as the most fulfilling stage he has ever reached in business. He hopes it can help others too.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • What are you doing wrong in your agency's hiring process?
  • The six-step framework to transform your agency hiring process.
  • Understanding what drives your agency employees.

Sponsors and Resources

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

Subscribe

Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

Podcast Takeover!!

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

 

What Are You Doing Wrong in Your Agency Hiring Process?

CPRMPPS is the roadmap Shannon now uses in many business areas. However, this winning formula actually started with his staff. In a span of six months, his agency lost four senior-level employees. It was a big blow for his agency and he admits they were not equipped to fill these positions internally. Shannon and his partner didn't understand how they ended up in the position; they weren't all bad apples. After much reflection, it all came back to the hiring and employee selection process.

So how could they improve their hiring process? What should they do to avoid similar situations in the future? This is how they came up with a system consisting of 6 steps (abbreviated CPRMPS) to their new hiring process. Basically, these steps serve as a guide to quickly tell whether a person is a good fit for the agency or not.

According to Shannon, hiring individuals that fit with this model has increased their employee retention rate from 30% to 80%. It really marks a before and after in terms of the agency’s culture. As a team, they are now much more effective and the atmosphere is incredibly positive.

With this process, Shannon and his team score candidates in each of the following categories from 1 to 10. No person who scores lower than 7 in any of these areas is considered to be a good fit for his agency.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

6-Step System to Transform Agency Employee Retention Rates

  1. Coachable: There are two main things you should be looking for in this area while interviewing: 1.) Do they ask questions? 2.) Do they take feedback? It’s pretty straightforward, yet very few people ask questions even if they’re encouraged to. This can typically indicate they’re not coachable. Of course, it could also mean the person is shy about asking questions, but this can also be tested in the next step.
  2. Problem-solving: The team tests candidates on the skillset needed for their role. The team takes this opportunity to test the person with a particularly difficult problem to solve. They are once again encouraged to ask questions. If they are not willing to ask questions when facing something very difficult, then they’re definitely not coachable. It’s safe to assume that, if hired, they would face very difficult situations on the job. It’s a bad sign if they’re not capable of asking for help.
  3. Reliable: When looking at a candidate’s resume, Shannon considers 3+ years at a particular job as a sign of reliability. It’s not necessarily a game-changer, especially if they’re really young. However, they also test reliability based on when they show up for the interview. Early or on time is great, however late by 15 minutes or more, is an instant deal breaker.
  4. Motivation: This is the central piece of this hiring system. What drives a person to do what they do? It’s normal for people to have more than one motive but the primary is what you’re looking for. Identifying the candidate's motivation is key because it can either be really great for the agency or really distracting. Some common motives include helping, creativity, and growth. There are also no-go ones like power and control, which are red flags for poor candidates.
  5. Personability: This step is all about considering how much time would you be willing to spend with this person. Will they vibe with your team on a personal level? Would you ask them for dinner at your house? It’s really important for culture and the team members judging this usually give very similar scores.
  6. Superpowers: This final step is optional but consider, what are they really best at and is it something your team is missing. There are plenty of people on Shannon’s team who don’t have a superpower and are great team members. However, there are people who can make a huge difference with their potential to drive the agency forward in one particular area. This will influence the person’s future role in the agency.

Understanding What Really Drives Your Employees

For Shannon, learning to discern motivation was by far the hardest part of mastering the hiring system. It's not as straightforward as just asking them. It requires practice and intentional listening to discern their true motivation.

Like anything - with time, the team learned about different motives or drivers and why some are good fits for the agency and others aren’t. Some are not adequate for different reasons, whether they go against the agency's core values or simply don't fit within the culture. Ultimately, understanding them helps Shannon see how the wrong hire could damage the agency’s growth.

Once you really understand a candidate's true motivation and how they change the way you can work with a person, you also start thinking about how people with different motives can work together. You get the best work out of a person once you understand what drives them.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Would you like to build authority with a speaking career? Want to generate new agency business from a stage, unsure how to get speaking engagements? As an agency owner, speaking can be lucrative when you’re speaking at the right events and to the right audience. However, there are some things you should be clear on before you begin. Today’s guest has been a public speaker for over a decade and now prepares others for the speaking life. He shares a few tips on how to start your journey to build a successful speaking career.

Grant Baldwin has been in the speaking industry for most of his career. He now runs a speaker coaching company called Speaker Lab, where he teaches people how to find and book paid speaking engagements. After being a full-time speaker for ten years, he was frequently asked what it takes to make it as a speaker. So he decided to start teaching the ins and outs of finding and booking speaking gigs.

In this episode, we'll discuss:

  • The five steps to building a speaking career.
  • Knowing where to find your audience.
  • Strategies to get noticed by event planners.
  • Money is not the only way to get your value back.

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5-Step Roadmap to Build a Successful Speaking Career

Booking speaking engagements is a great way to build your personal brand. It's also a great way to build your agency’s brand and attract more clients. Grant teaches the Speaker Success Roadmap which goes through the five S.P.E.A.K steps to help you build your speaking career:

S - select a problem to solve: This is a good first step for any type of future speaker. You should be able to answer: Who do I speak to? What problem am I solving for that audience? Many agency owners make the mistake of wanting to cast the net as far and wide as possible. People who do this tend to say they speak to “people” and have a message for everyone. The more clear and focused you are, the easier it is to find and book gigs.

It may seem counterintuitive but focus on being really good at one thing. Doing this makes it easier to book gigs on a consistent basis. You may think that big agency personalities like Gary Vaynerchuck tend to speak to everyone, but it hasn’t always been like that. Gary actually started off talking to wine people. That’s how he started building his brand. Once you get start building your brand, you can branch out to broader audiences.

P- prepare your talk: This step is about being very clear about the solution you’re providing to the audience’s needs. What are you doing to provide this solution? Will it be through webinars, seminars, or maybe keynotes? They all work; it’s just about being clear on the means of delivery that works best in your case, for your audience.

E - establish yourself as the expert: Two key marketing assets all speakers need are a website and a demo video. Your demo video is like a movie trailer, a short video (2-3 minutes) that sparks people’s interest. This video helps event planners get a sense of your style and whether or not you’ll fit with their audience.

A - acquire paid speaking gigs: This is the part you want to fast-forward to. A common mistake speakers make at this point is doing nothing. They have the first three steps so they figure now they just sit and wait. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that. You need to have a system and a process in place to actively reach out to at least five events and generate momentum.

K - know when to scale: A lot of people interested in speaking are also interested in writing or consulting. Of course, it is possible to do all these things, but Grant argues not all at once. It is up to each person to figure out how speaking fits into their overall plans and goals.

Building Your Speaking Brand by Knowing Where to Find Your Audience

In his case, Grant has a website for his agency and a different one to promote his speaking brand. Both websites point to each other and serve two different purposes. If a potential client wants to learn how to get more speaking gigs, they’re directed to Speak Lab. If they want to hire Grant as a speaker, they’re directed to his personal page.

However, once you know who your audience is and have a website, you can’t just post the link on social media and wait for clients to come. When you’re clear about who you’re speaking to, it’s easier to find events where you could potentially speak.

Where does your audience gather? If you’re running a digital agency, you probably already have an idea of the types of events, gatherings, and associations they are attending. Once that’s clear, it’s a matter of reaching out to the event planner and conferences and starting a conversation about why you’re a good fit for their audience. It’s not about convincing them to hire a speaker; they were already going to do that. It’s more about presenting yourself as the best option.

Like with agency clients, you may reach out and find the planner is not hiring at the moment. Nonetheless, reaching out and starting a conversation is a good strategy and requires discipline and commitment.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

How to Make Contact and Standout from Other Speakers

According to Grant, you can focus on events you’ve personally attended before. In this case, you may already know the event planner or can get an introduction if you know another speaker at the event. Speaking is very much a momentum business; the more you speak the more gigs you’ll continue to book. Initially, it may feel like you’re pushing a boulder uphill. But if you plant enough seeds, you’ll see some results.

Simple strategies like sending an email can be perfectly effective too. Grant has booked many events by cold emailing people. However, if you’re sending a 90-paragraph email about how awesome you are, no one will read that. The goal of an email is to get a reply -- keep it short and simple. That is the type of email most likely to get a reply.

Of course, short and simple doesn’t mean vague. Instead of asking “are you hiring speakers?” you can ask for more detailed information. Mention you came across a conference they’re having and were curious to know when they’ll start reviewing speakers for it.

How to stand out: What if you get a reply saying the review process won’t start for another two months? Then that’s an opportunity to ask if it’s ok to reach out again in two months. They’ll say yes to that because they don’t actually expect you to do it. Very few would. So when you actually reach back, you’ll be showing them what it’s like to work with you and giving them reasons to consider you.

Why You Shouldn’t Speak for Free

Speaking for free is okay, as long as you know why we’re doing it. Some speakers may think they’re doing it from the goodness of their hearts and someday they’ll get the return. Speakers are not running a non-profit, they’re running a business and they should treat it as such. As a speaker, you are providing something of value and it’s important to receive something of value in return.

This value may or may not be in the form of a check. For example as an agency owner, speaking at the right event might land you three new clients. This is worth more than what the event would have paid you.

Grant has even offered to speak at an event for free or at a discount on the condition that the event planner introduces him to other event planners. Getting introductions that can lead to other gigs is valuable to him.

Will Speaking be an Important Part of Your Business?

Agency owners looking to build a speaking career should be clear about the role they want it to have in their lives and their agency. There are speakers who do hundreds of gigs per year and others who do three. Both are fine. Just try to figure out which one works for your lifestyle and your agency.

Speaking can be a very lucrative way to grow an agency, and it should be treated like it. Try to treat it like a serious part of your business plan if you’re expecting it to bring great results for your agency.

Are You Looking for a Mentor or Trusted Advisors? 

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 5-Step_Roadmap_to_Generating_Agency_Business_with_a_Speaking_Career.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

 

#1 Most Instrumental Decision Sparking Change in Your Agency

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

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

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

Finding the Right Salespeople with an Aggressive Commission Structure

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What to Look for in a Agency Operations Manager

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

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

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 4_Pivotal_Moves_to_Get_Your_Agency_to_the_Multi-Million_Level.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

The Road to Growing an Agency is Filled with Failures

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

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Biggest Failure Turned into a Huge Success

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

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

Lessons in Agency Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

This "failure" turned into 2 huge lessons:

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

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

In this episode, we'll discuss:

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

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How to Prepare Your Agency for a Recession

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

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

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

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

2 Tips to Keep Going During a Recession

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

Why Agencies Have a Good Chance Withstanding Hard Times

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Recession Can Be an Opportunity for Agencies

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

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

Facing Possible Layoffs Within Your Team

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

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

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

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

Be Obsessed About Freeing Up Your Time

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Podcast Takeover!!

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

 

How to Adapt to the Changing Market Needs

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

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

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

Lessons and Recovering from a Down-Turned Economy

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

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

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

What is the Future for Agencies? 

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

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

What’s next for the future of agencies?

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

Using a Merger to Achieve Your Vision and Goals

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What You Should Consider Before Starting a Merger Process

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

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

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

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

How to Structure the New Agency After a Merger

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

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

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

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

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

New Leadership Layers and Creating Accountability

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

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

#1 Key to Agency Operational Success

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

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

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

The Key to Building Agency Culture with a Remote Team

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Are You Afraid of the Word “Agency”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Transitioning from Owner and Strategist to Agency CEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Looking for a Mentor or Trusted Advisors? 

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_to_Set_Up_Systems_and_Work_10-12_Hours_per_Week_on_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

 

Where to Start Building Your Content Creation Team

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

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

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

Why Your Should Develop a Process Early

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

Creating the Content In-House or Outsourcing?

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Should the Content Manager Read Every Piece of Content?

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

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

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

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

Asking the Right Questions to Find the Right Talent

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

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

 

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Do You Need a Break from Hustle Culture?

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

How to Start Slow With Flexible Time Off

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

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

3 Common Concerns When Moving to a Shorter Workweek

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

How to Be Better Leader and Prioritize Self Care

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Podcast Takeover!!

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

When it Comes to Agency Growth, Either Adapt or Die

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

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

Roadmapping Growth By Updating Client Technology Systems

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Benefits of Taking an Agile Approach to Project Management

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

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

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

2 Big Mistakes in Your Agency Clients' Onboarding Experiences

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

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

Developing Ways to Attract Great Talent

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Helping Build an Agency Before Becoming an Owner Agency

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

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

Figuring Out How to Build a Lead Gen System

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

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

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

Using Twitter to Make Real Connections

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

2 Strategies That Helped Build the Agency’s Brand

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

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

The Positive Effect Podcasts Have SEO for Your Agency

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

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

Lessons in Agency Growth

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

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you spend too much time in endless meetings? Do you have the right systems in order to be efficient with your time? Are you ready to reclaim your time and focus on working on the business? Today’s guest helps his clients use technology to implement automations and SOPs to build an ideal future for them. In this interview, he shares his personal experience learning to reclaim his time to strategize, plus ways he makes more time to work on the business and how you can do it too.

Marquis Murray is the CEO and founder of Ditto, a systems improvement consultancy helping customers get the most out of technology by improving how they work, aligning their teams, and helping them understand the current state of their business. They help clients work toward a future where they can set aside time to focus on their goals.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • First steps to implementing the systems to reclaim your time.
  • Benefits of communication with clients and employees.
  • Setting aside blocks of time to work on the business.

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Sponsors and Resources

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

How to Stop Wearing All the Hats as an Agency Owner

Marquis started his career as a digital marketing manager for another agency. He left this job because he wanted to start his own business, be the boss, and make his own hours. Unfortunately, as agency owners know, that’s not always how it plays out. However, he is thankful he had some of those lessons early on.

As he started gaining clients and growing his team, he quickly found he was no longer able to wear all the hats. He was spending a lot of time in HR and onboarding. He didn't have any systems in place so his team kept coming to him with the same questions. Out of frustration, Marquis started building systems and visually documenting how he did things to send to his team when they had a question. In time, this evolved into the standard operating procedures and work templates his agency has today.

He sees this a lot with clients building a business and realizes there’s much more involved in actually scaling the business. One of the places where business owners are commonly not spending enough time is in internal team onboarding and communications.

Now, when someone joins Ditto's team they receive what he feels is a well-thought-out overview of their responsibilities and available resources. Without those systems in place, he finds confusion and frustration. Setting up expectations from day one minimizes those feelings and everyone is more productive.

Start by Documenting Your Own Tasks

Normally, when we talk about SOPs, people can get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. A great place to begin is your own role. Whether you’re writing it down on paper or using a screen share tool like Loom, document what you do and get it out of your head. You can set apart a day or part of your day where you don’t use your phone or computer, just a pad and a pen, and write down everything.

Start by answering “What am I responsible for?” You may be responsible for sales, so document what that looks like. What does it look like when you close a sale? Record sales calls -- good and bad -- for training purposes. What do you do next? Where does the invoice get sent? How do you set up a project brief for a new client coming in? Whatever your current responsibilities, start there.

First, take a review of your days and identify what you are doing right now that you could delegate. Which meetings can you eliminate or delegate? That will free up some of your time so you can document tasks your team should be doing and get more efficient. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and know you won't be able to do it all at once.  Start small so you don't get overwhelmed and you'll eventually find the freedom you deserve.

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4 Ways to Categorize Your Responsibilities 

Marquis suggests sorting your tasks and responsibilities into these categories:

  1. Do - urgent and can't be done by anyone else
  2. Defer - can be completed later, when time allows
  3. Delegate - something that is able to be completed by others
  4. Delete - unimportant or won't drive the business forward

There’s no silver bullet for everyone, the idea is to get started and implement what works for you.

Benefits of Constant Communication with Agency Team and Clients

The worst mistake you can make with your team or clients is to assume communication has happened. We tend to believe just because we communicated something once everyone has received the message and understands it. In reality, you can never communicate enough. If you’ve only shared it once, you should probably repeat it at least three more times.

When it comes to internal communications, you can try different communication methods like documenting something in video and writing it down different learning styles can retain that information.

Frequency is another big point in communication. Doing it once is not enough. For instance, as part of their sales process, Marquis’ agency details what a customer can expect signing on with them from onboarding to the first few weeks. This is reiterated in the proposal and also in the kickoff meeting. It is repeated over and over again. That information will always be available for them in their Slack channels and in an email sent by the agency.

This was all implemented because they got feedback that clients felt in the dark about many things. There’s so much you can improve if you for feedback and are willing to listen to your clients. As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure it is taken seriously and implement steps to make sure that future clients don’t run into the same issues.

Set Non-Negotiable Blocks to Reclaim Your Time

Marquis is a big fan of time blocking and getting time in the business to focus on what you need to do and what the business needs you to do to continue to grow effectively. He has non-negotiable blocks in his calendar to work on sales calls and set expectations for the next day.

It is very important you respect the time you block off. You set that time apart to grow your business and work on things that you otherwise wouldn’t. As an agency owner, you can find sometimes you’ve scheduled back-to-back meetings all day. That is the time you’re giving away for free to everyone else. This is how you get burned out, overwhelmed, and frustrated. You wake up one day and find you hate the job you've created for yourself. This is why your priority should be setting up systems to work on yourself and your goals with the agency.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you have 1-2 big clients making up most of your revenue? Is the majority of your agency's livelihood tied to just one major account? Riding the wave of a super client can be nice while it lasts but when the client leaves you will be forced to make some difficult decisions, just like today's guest. The choices are to shut down the agency or rebuild and hope for the best. Learn what he did to get through this predicament twice and how he protects his agency from it ever happening again.

Andrew Greenstein is the co-founder and Co-CEO of SF AppWorks a digital agency dedicated to exploring and harnessing new technology. With 10 years in the business with his current agency, Andrew recalls a few instances where they’d been on the precipice looking down and have managed to rebuild. In this episode, Andrew talks about ways to avoid this happening to your agency and the systems he has in place to avoid it happening to him agency again.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Falling into the trap of having a “Super Client.”
  • Buying your agency more time to work things out.
  • Proactively preventing the super client trap.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Falling into the Super Client Trap

In 2008, Andrew’s first company created a music platform that grew and got to partner with MySpace before having to shut down and start over. The plan was to assemble a team of developers and designers build websites and apps for other companies. The idea was to use funds from that company to build another startup. That never happened and over ten years later that agency turned out to be their most successful startup.

In their first few years with the agency, they needed a foundational client to get things going. They that client by helping one of his friends build a marathon training app. Of course, they had other clients and made several other websites but this client accounted for most of their revenue. Once the marathon app failed to secure another round of funding and shut the project down, they were left desperately looking for a client that could replace them.

Riding the Wave and Forgetting to Develop Your Sales and Marketing

Andrew and his partner decided to go back to their day jobs and kept working on the agency in their free time. They did eventually get other clients about a year later and one of them became their next super client. They poured everything into working with this client while working alongside a larger agency. Over the next four years, they grew their team from two developers to thirty. They had enough cash flow to invest in the agency, grow their team, grow their services, and explore new areas. Life was good and they felt everything was falling into place.

However, they were growing on the back of one super client and, therefore, were not developing their own sales and marketing. Once that client shut down the project, they were left without a stable income.

When you’re riding the wave, everything is exciting and it seems like nothing can go wrong. We see this type of thing happen all the time. Maybe the agency owner is just too busy with all the growth and doesn’t consider “maybe we have too much revenue tied to this client”.

Like Andrew, you may be aware your agency is too reliant on a client but there’s just no sense of urgency to remedy the situation. However, when the moment came, he wondered why he didn’t prepare more aggressively. In the battle between urgent and important work, they had spent all their time working on the urgent and not enough on the critical task of diversifying.

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Buying Yourself Time So Things Can Work Themselves Out

History repeated itself and the first decision they needed to make was what to do with a decent-sized amount of money they had in the bank. Should they just shut down the agency and walk away with the profit? Or take that money, reinvest it, and hope it worked out?

Because they loved their team, they decided to try to figure it out and came up with two strategies to keep the agency alive:

  1. First, they really needed to work on marketing and sales to attract and convert new clients as quickly as possible. They hired an agency to help them with sales outreach.
  2. They also decided to use their human resources to build an internal startup to go the investor route after six months.

Neither of these plans worked.

In retrospect, Andrew sees that sales outreach is a mixed bag and an aggressive way to get clients. If you happen to get some clients with the right message at the right time, it can work. One introduction can lead to a long relationship, especially in the software business. However, it takes a time to build it.

In the end, what did work was a hybrid of both plans. They needed to buy time to let things happen. The longer you can stay alive, the longer you give yourself the opportunity for something to happen.

For example, people that left the super client's failed project ended up in new jobs and started calling on them. Indirectly one failed super client led them to four or five new clients. Since they had kept the team on standby, they had the resources ready and could reengage to build new relationships.

Should You Let People Go When Cash Flow is Tight?

Andrew says logically, the right call in a super client trap is laying off part of your team. Keeping his staff on standby waiting for something else to come up was definitely a coin flip. Fortunately, it happened to work out. However, he advises anyone in the same position to reduce their team.

It’s hard, but it’s usually better for your team in the long run so they don’t lose other opportunities. He learned this the hard way when he waited too long to make the right decision and let some people go. The experience has helped him reshape his values of communication and transparency.

Proactively Preventing the Super Client Trap

Today SF Appworks is more proactive about preventing the super client trap. They look at their clients, revenue, and expected contract end dates every week and strategize around it. They meet and focused on risks, biggest client that is most likely to end their contract, and the second largest client that may grow.

When they do lose a client they immediately consider how many more clients they can afford to lose and become proactive in figuring out solutions.

Admid growth, like everyone the pandemic caused more strain on the agency. They ended up waiting it out and eventually began to grow again.

Their approach now is to consider: “Can we buy ourselves more time?”
"What do I need to prepare for next?”
“Are we giving enough time to the problem?”

Their philosophy revolves around being patient and allowing enough time to figure out the situation at hand.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you have issues with employee retention? Are wondering what you can do to make your agency a more attractive place to work so you stop losing employees to the competition? Today’s guest has made retention a huge focus in the development of his agency. So much so that he’s only lost two employees to the competition in the past three years. He now shares how he realized it's all about focusing on the right things. He's sharing some of the most important areas you should be working to improve employee retention.

Rob Gaedtke is the president and CEO of KPS3, a digital agency that builds brands and creates technology that moves people to action. They are now about 64 full-time employees with roughly $9 million in revenue and continually work on ways to take care of their most valuable resource, their employees. In this conversation, Rob shares some of the important questions you should be asking to reduce yourself in order to employee turnover.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • 4 steps to help you stop losing employees.
  • Keeping track of employee progress and being open to change.
  • How to empower employees and encourage their growth.

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Sponsors and Resources

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

Learning to Value Your Most Valuable Asset

As an agency, your employees are your most valuable resource. After all, we are in the service industry and people are our bread and butter. So much so that keeping that talent could be even more important than keeping clients. If you manage to keep the right employees, they’ll keep the clients. Likewise, if your employees are happy, your clients will also be happy.

Rob and his team have been focusing on this as the agency grows. What they found is that if you’re focusing on the right things you have a better chance of retaining your staff.

For instance, are you losing employees to other agencies or to different passions? Are you filling the ranks with your own team or are you having to look outside the agency? These are important questions that could lead to why you keep losing talent.

4 Steps to Help You Stop Losing Employees to Other Agencies

Making big statements like "employees are our most valuable asset" sound like an empty platitude unless you’re making the right moves to show this appreciation.

At Rob’s agency, they took these 4 steps to stop losing employees:

  1. Be in it for the right reason. Your goal really has to be the development of the employee as a person, even if it comes to losing them.
  2. Have financial transparency. Everybody can see the agency’s full financial statement. They know how what it costs to run the agency and how much profit goes back to the owners and employees.
  3. Have an open door policy. There’s this idea that it's bad when someone leaves you to go do something. Rob believes we need to break that connotation. When an employee leaves, they’re not doing it to hurt you. They’re doing it because it’s what's best for them. It’s easy to take it personally, but if you step back it opens the door to part on good terms and to have them even returning at some point if it makes sense.
  4. Encourage personal growth. A lot of employees may leave a job because they want a promotion. But growth opportunities should be available for them within your agency. Rob also believes if somebody wants to grow in an area where your agency doesn’t have business in, you could give them the opportunity to develop those skills. Even if it’s half-price or at a loss. If you put it in the education bucket, it’s benefitting an employee. The same goes for a different industry that the agency doesn’t normally work in.Online Training for Digital Agencies

Keeping Track of Employee Progress and Being Open to Change

Rob’s agency has strategic growth initiatives to get employees off on the right foot. They have mandatory reviews that occur after someone's first 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days. After that, the review meetings happen at the six-month mark and eventually become annual. The idea is to get a fruitful discussion going beginning the first month and then get more in-depth as time passes and more goals are met.

On top of that, everybody is encouraged to have weekly one-on-one discussions. A lot of the discussions are focused on what each employee needs and what the agency can do to support their goals.

Also, the agency is open-minded to employees changing departments if they are not enjoying the work. A department change is very important and something you can only ever address if your manager is tracking your progress.

Encouraging and Empowering Agency Leaders

When an agency is growing, you have to make sure the leaders grow with it. Every worker needs to feel challenged, respected and empowered. You can have a fun agency where everyone is having a great time -- but smart people also want to be pushed and challenged. If you’re micromanaging and they don’t feel empowered, you’ll lose them.

At Rob’s agency, they give people the opportunity to grow and manage people. If someone expresses an interest in growing support that by including them in their management and leadership training. Rob also encourages people to talk about their goals and where they want to be.

You need to promote it on one side and on the other make sure it’s actually available and allow people the opportunity to grow.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see what you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 4_Steps_to_Stop_Losing_Agency_Employees_to_the_Competition.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Are you tracking your agency’s gross margin? How about the EBITDA? KPIs are super important and something every agency owner should be aware of. But which KPIs you track depends on the priorities you set for the agency. Do you want to grow fast? Are you planning to sell soon? Having a clear vision and goals makes a difference when it comes to what you're measuring. Today’s guest shares the most important KPIs he believes all agencies should be keeping track of and what you can do if some of them dip below where they should be.

Jon Morris is the CEO of Ramsay Innovations, a company dedicated to helping agencies get greater insights out of their finances so they can grow at a faster rate. In his area of specialty, Jon is used to advising companies on ways to improve their finances and now shares some of that useful insight.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • The most important KPIs for agencies.
  • What to spend on sales and marketing.
  • Revenue as a percentage of client base.
  • Dos and Don’ts of using a line of credit.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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How a Minority Investment Can Help Growth

Jon started working from his home in 2004 in an agency called Rise Interactive. Several years later, he took a minority investment and grew it into one of the largest independent digital agencies, managing about $250 million in media before he sold it.

When he took the minority investment, his agency’s fees were around $20 million. At the time, he wanted to invest more in sales and marketing. Their mission as an agency was to be the leader in leveraging data to help brands make smarter marketing decisions. However, the reality is that if you line up 50 agencies they would all say that they are data-driven. They had to answer why they were more data-driven than the rest.

$20 million in fees may seem like quite a lot. However, the cost of building technology and putting together a sizeable team is a major investment. Looking back, he knows taking the minority investment was the best move because back then he just didn’t have the capital for the technological investments.

When you build technology you need a fully dedicated team that eats, sleeps, and dreams the product. Every agency has a very standard leadership structure, with a client service team, a sales a marketing team, and operations and finance teams.

In their case, they added another pillar that was product development and strategy, which included:

  • UX developers
  • Engineers
  • Product developers
  • Development Operators
  • Quality Assurance

The Most Important KPIs for a Digital Agency

For Jon, the most important KPI for an agency is gross margin, which is different from adjusted gross income. The first thing you need to do to get to your gross margin is to know your revenue. He breaks revenue into two categories: gross revenue and net revenue.

Having worked with many agencies by now, Jon knows it’s not very easy getting these numbers. Often times it’s a matter of getting the data clean to figure out net revenue vs. gross revenue. A lot of agencies are very focused on payroll divided by revenue as a ratio. However, payroll generally includes everything from sales and marketing to operations.

What you want to do is get to your costs of service. To do that, you need to go through every single line item to determine whether or not it is dedicated to client work. If you have an employee that is dedicated to a client’s paid search campaign, then that’s going to be a cost of service. On the contrary, an employee dedicated to HR is not a cost of service.

On average, his clients are at a 40% gross margin when they start working with his agency and their goal is to get them to 50%.

Why Cost of Service is the Most Important KPI?

If you are selling something for $1 million and you get $500,000 in fees and $500,000 in gross margin, then you now have $500,000 to put back into your business or in your pocket.

However, if that same $1 million is costing you $800,000, you only have $200,000 to invest in your business.

Therefore, you can have two agencies doing the exact same thing both around $5 million in net revenue. In the end, one made a profit of $1.5 million and one lost a few hundred thousand dollars. The difference is their gross margin.

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Percentage of Revenue Spent on Sales and Marketing

The next metric you should be focusing on is what percentage of net revenue you’re spending on sales and marketing. Again, divide your payroll to group sales and marketing people into "sales and marketing costs". In theory, if you spend on sales and marketing you have a better chance of growing than if you don't.

What you're willing to spend on sales and marketing directly impacts your growth:

  • Spend 0 and 5% of revenue on sales and marketing says you’re not that serious about growth.
  • If you’re between 5% to 10% spending, you’re where everyone else is in terms of the importance of growth.
  • Spending more than 10% means you’re very serious about growth.

Of course, it’s fine if your focus right now is not on growth. For instance, one of Jon’s clients is focused on increasing their revenue per employee and is interested in growing moderately. It will depend on your priorities. Some agency owners may just want to optimize their gross revenue to maintain their lifestyle business.

On the other hand, some of Jon’s clients don't spend anything on sales or marketing. To him, it was unbelievable that an agency could believe so little in marketing.

Where Should Your EBITDA Be?

The golden rule for agencies is to have 20% topline growth and 20% EBITDA. If you’re planning to sell to a holding company, they’ll expect you to have 20% EBITDA.

However, Jon has a different philosophy. If you can make a positive investment in your agency it’s okay for you to have a lower EBITDA.

If you hire a salesperson who brings in a client that ends up being a retained relationship, that’s fine, as long as you measure the percentages and outcome you’re looking to make. Keep in mind, if you want to build a big agency without outside capital, lowering your EBITDA target will give you more money to invest in the business.

Bottom line, your business is the best investment you can make.

How Much Cash Flow Should Your Agency Have?

Jon believes everyone should have two bank accounts at minimum, three if you manage media.

  • Operating Account: this is the one you’ll use to pay your employees, taxes, and bills. You should always have 1 month of payroll and 35% of your quarterly profits in this account. It should be enough to pay your bills at any given moment in time.
  • Savings Account: Here you should have your monthly overhead. Double the sum of all your expenses (like payroll, sales and marketing, traveling, and entertainment x 2). Rule of thumb for savings is two months and could be up to six months if 1-2 clients make up most of your revenue or if you are project-based.
  • Media Account: This is not your money. You have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that money is completely separated and you’re not using it for anything other than the client ad spend.

Looking at Your Revenue in Terms of Percentage of Each Client

How much of your revenue do your top five clients represent? For instance, one of Jon’s clients has 123 clients, and the top 18 account for half their revenue. It's important to understand your agency's client concentration and strategize to reduce it.

Whenever Jon won a big account that became a large percentage of their evenue, he increased his sales and marketing to go win the next big account. He was really, understandably, scared of being dependent on any single customer.

Dos and Don’ts of Credit Lines

Jon and Jason agree if you have a positive 12-month trailing EBITDA, you should get a line of credit. However, you shouldn’t use it to use it fuel the growth of your business but rather for cash management purposes.

If you have a big account like Procter and Gamble – known to pay in a net 120 days – you may want to use a line of credit to make payroll. It may be an account you really want but you can’t negotiate better payment terms and that’s fine. Having a line of credit is important in those scenarios. Where you shouldn’t use it is to invest to grow your business.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you struggle with educating clients on relevant messaging? Great messaging addresses the audience's emotional connection with an issue and sometimes that means it's not all about the product. Educating clients on looking beyond their product can be tricky. However, once they understand it they'll see significant growth. Today’s guest increased his client's topline revenue from $35 million to $230 million in just 18 months by understanding who their message was aimed at. For his second podcast appearance, he discusses how he fell in love with helping challenger brands and how he helps them rise above the plateau to success. He also shares 2 mistakes you might be making that are costing you money.

Bill Harper is the founder of WM Harper, a strategic branding agency focused on brands in need of transformation. His team helps companies that have hit a plateau. These are challenger brands that haven’t quite hit their potential goal and need help figuring out how to get to the next level.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why clients need to understand it's not always about the product.
  • Building an agency machine that runs itself.
  • 2 Mistakes are a big waste of time and money.

 

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Podcast Takeover!!

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

 

Helping Brands Understand Relevant Messaging

Bill has worked with many exciting companies in his career but BMB&B is probably where he learned the most. There, he got to work with big-name brands and got inspired to start his own agency. He has built several businesses from being a consultant to running an agency. However, as he puts it, once you’ve been bitten by the ownership bug it’s practically impossible to go back.

Working with a company like Blockbuster, Bill realized sometimes the agency does not have a lot of influence to change big brands. Typically, this type of company is very focused on maintaining its position in the market. That is what keeps them up at night. However, Bill fell in love with helping brands with billion-dollar potential but stuck in a multimillion-dollar universe.

These brands just need a push to go from an awkward stage to center stage. Most of the time, they have similar strategies to the bigger players but they haven’t figured out how to implement them yet. If the client is willing to embrace a change in the way that they think about relevant messaging, they help them create a path forward that makes sense and helps them scale.

How to Get 3X Top Line Revenue in 18 Months for Your Client

Part of Bill’s journey with clients is getting them to understand what they want is people’s attention. Sometimes is not really about the product, which can be hard for clients to accept. It’s not about listing the new features and talking about the tech. That is what everyone else is doing. When you’re doing research, look for the thing people engage with emotionally.

For instance, his agency once made an ad for Delsey luggage where they removed all the technical details about the product and focused on being lightweight. The emotional connection was in the audience’s frustration with travel. It had changed from being something exciting into being inconvenient. The idea was to address this existing frustration by focusing on how the product leaves the consumer in a better emotional state. Once you find what consumers are either striving toward or moving away from then you have something to play with. Few brands have logged into that insight, but once they do, their growth is significant.

Another great success came when his agency helped the Breast Cancer Index achieve sixfold growth of its top-line revenue. The client originally asked them to increase their top-line revenue from $35 million to $250 million within 3 years. They exceeded expectations mainly by understanding who they needed to address. In the case of this hyper-specific test, the way to get oncologists’ attention was by giving patients the information they need to begin the conversation. With a combined strategy of influencer marketing, digital marketing, trade shows, and event marketing, they were able to reach $230 million in just 18 months.

Building an Agency Machine That Can Run Itself

What Bill recalls from his first few experiences as an agency owner is valuing the work when he should have been thinking about the value of the agency itself. With time, he learned ultimately it is about making sure the owner is NOT involved in every aspect of the business. You need to build an agency machine that can run independently from you. This requires a solid understanding of who you’re working with and a solid process for hiring the right people. That transition, which of course did not happen overnight, made the biggest change.

Learning how other people view the agency’s value was instrumental. Bill realized the most important things to him were not necessarily important to everybody. For instance, in the early stages, he did not realize the importance of not being involved in the business.

When you start an agency, you wear all the hats. And if you do it well, by some point you give them all away. So many leaders feel the need to be involved, as though the agency will go off the rails without them. However, this is indicative of someone who is just trying to protect a lifestyle rather than grow a business.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Hiring for Values to Build a Great Agency Culture

Bill used to hire almost exclusively based on talent but was struck by how hard it was to create agency culture. Most recently, he shifted to hiring for personal values. Of course, talent is not disregarded, but values are the deciding factor. He no longer expects people to find joy in his dream. He prefers to hire someone who is chasing their own dream, as long the agency fits into it.

Furthermore, he watches out for people who are running from something and looks for the ones who are running toward something. It’s more about their goals than about their history at other companies. He understands if someone wants to use their time at his agency to learn and someday have an agency of their own. Knowing this gives him an understanding of how they value their time there.

Another change he introduced is letting employees write their own development plans for the year. He used to do it himself but this way they get to define the things that excite them the most. In doing that, he finds out what’s important to each employee and what they dislike about their job.

Now that he focuses on bringing in people who value the same things, building a great culture is no longer a hard task, even in these times of virtual workplaces.

2 Common Mistakes That Are a Waste of Money

  1. Buying growth - There is a misconception that you can continuously buy growth. People have become so fixated on buying their way to success but there's no rationale behind it. Trackability gives people a false sense of security, which has manifested in everyone's lack of patience. We all want immediate results. However, trying to AB test your way to success will most likely lead you to unnecessary spending.
  2. Adopting new tech - Entrepreneurs commonly race for the newest thing whether or not it makes sense for your brand. The truth is you don’t have to be on every single social media platform. You just need to be present where your audience congregates most. If you build a following on just two platforms where your audience is, you’re already ahead of the competition!

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the metrics of the company. Once you take the eye off that ball because you’re fixated on the idea of buying more, you may as well be burning your money. Bill’s advice is “don’t be dazzled by the movement, be dazzled by the achievement”.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Do you live by your agency’s core values? Have you spent time defining those values? Do you communicate them with your team? Many accidental agency owners haven't however it is a critical component of growing your business. For some, it's a one-time exercise that is just as quickly forgotten. Your values are the guiding principles leading the way your agency team operates. Today’s guest shares how he built a value-based agency, how these 5 core values affect everything his team does, and the biggest challenges he has faced while scaling his agency.

Will Roberts is the founder WebBox, a digital marketing and web design agency that collaborates with clients to create unforgettable experiences and campaigns. His agency strives to provide a relentlessly responsive service, which is one of its core values. Will shares why each of those values is an important pillar of how the agency operates and how he has chosen to celebrate his team’s small victories.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Building an agency based on 5 core values.
  • How to solve your recruitment woes.
  • Learning to celebrate small victories.

Sponsors and Resources

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

 

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Being the Change You Want to See in the Agency World

Like many agency owners, Will started doing some freelance work for some friends and family to gain experience. He got paid £75 for his first website – which he laughs about now. He quickly learned working for friends and family was not the best strategy, but thankfully he started getting calls from local businesses wanting his services. It was the first step toward growth.

He was still halfway through university in 2008 when, after a few interactions with agencies, he became interested in the industry. One of the big problems he saw was that agencies didn’t really care about their clients. Regardless, he knew there was potential for someone willing to raise the game by introducing some changes.

Building a Digital Agency Guided By Core Values

Plastering your values on your meeting room wall and actually living those values are very different things. Will had the opportunity to see how some agencies worked back when he was in college. He saw many things that could be improved and decided to build something different. He noticed a lack of direction resulting in poor client service. Employees were often not really aware of or held accountable to the company’s core values.

For his part, Will has worked to build a value-based agency. It is an important part of who they are as an agency. His team is even encouraged to bring up if they ever feel the agency is doing something that is contrary to these values. Everything they do goes through five core values that were part of creating an agency that was focused on users and clients.

5 Core Values that Steer Agency Growth

  1. Collaboratively Creative. They try to not go into meetings with an attitude of “it’s our way of the highway”. Instead, they open the conversation with their intent to collaborate. Mutual respect is key - clients know their niche really well and his team knows UX. Bringing those two together ensures better results.
  2. BrutallyTransparent. As an agency, you have information that can make or break a client’s website or online presence. Some agencies may choose to withhold that information. However, WebBox chooses to be transparent. Many times what a client wants is not necessarily what they need. Getting them to understand this leads to difficult conversations. This transparency also goes through to their accounts. They share timesheets with clients so they know how their resources are being spent.
  3. Seriously Skilled. WebBox brings on highly skilled specialists only. This is true for both clients and team members, who are actively encouraged to set time to train and get better at what they do.
  4. Proactively Ambitious. As an agency, they want to be ambitious and keep growing, but they are also ambitious for their clients. Client growth is also their victory as an agency.
  5. Relentlessly Responsive. It is not unusual to wait days and even a week to get a response from an agency. Will decided his agency would make it a priority to get back to clients quickly, within the hour. They believe if they’re going to partner with clients, then they’re going to be there when they need them.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Challenges He Has Managed to Overcome While Growing His Business

  1. Keeping their sales pipeline full. An important part of scaling your agency is putting systems in place to keep your pipeline full. If your agency is still 100% project-based, remember your pipeline can be a risk. This was the case at Will’s agency, so six years ago they introduced retainers and also added PPC management to their services. This way, they have balanced their income to a point where 60% comes from project-based and 40% from recurring revenue. This move has really helped them grow their team and also provided a solid base.
  2. Finding the right people to join the team. His agency has struggled with recruitment as they grew and the team couldn’t keep up with the demand. Since then he has built a recruitment funnel, a very important step in any agency’s journey. After you build a sales system, it’s time to put together the right team to continue to scale your agency. The search for this team is a continuous effort, so you should always be recruiting.
  3. Finding time to work on the business. Will has been able to carve out some time each day to work on the agency rather than in it. Most agency owners will have a hard time getting to this point. You may think your responsibility is being the hardest working member of the team. However, being the first to get to the office and the last one to leave will only result in one thing: burnout. Will now sets apart half an hour in the morning where he focuses solely on strategies for the business. It’s all about figuring out time rules to create to keep yourself accountable.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you struggling with client acquisition? Do you offer a ton of services but still can't scale? Wonder what else you could be doing to get the attention of the right clients? In today’s episode, we’ll learn how an agency went from getting most of its business from cold emails to evolving its acquisition model. Our guest also shares the mistakes he made in his first two agencies which led to massive success the third time around and a merger deal which led to more growth.

Chase Dimond is a partner at Structured Agency, a highly-collaborative eCommerce marketing agency. With three agencies under his belt, Chase now reflects on past mistakes and shares how he grew this agency to a team of 100 people working from 6 countries working with brands doing 7-9 figures online.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Mistakes and learning what not to do with your agency.
  • 3 challenges of an agency merger.
  • 3 ways to acquire new agency business.
  • Tips for growing a following on Twitter.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Learning Hard Lessons on What Not to Do to Grow a Digital Agency

Chase formed his first agency as a side gig hustle from his full-time job out of college. As a kid who, he admits, thought he knew more than he actually did. He didn’t have case studies but he was lucky to purchase a dating website for Bernie Sanders supporters that ended up going viral. It was the best way to attract clients and he learned a lot from the experience. They quickly scaled that agency to $30K per month on the side of their full-time jobs, but offering 8 different services as a side gig wasn't sustainable. The partners disbanded the agency and focused on their full-time jobs.

A couple of years later, he gave it another try at creating an agency with some friends. Admittedly the lessons learned the first time didn't stick. This time, they got it to about $80K/month but went their separate ways after a falling out.

From that experience, he knew he wanted to start an agency with a singular focus. Email had been at the core of everything since Chase's first business, so in 2018 he started an email marketing agency for eCommerce brands. They later merged with a paid social agency in 2020 servicing similar clients so now they can offer both customer retention and acquisition to their clients.

Looking back, he can see that in the first two agencies he made the mistake of trying to offer too many services right away. It was impossible to staff and predict demand for each offering. This time around he's been successful because they focused on doing one service well and then merged with another agency offering a tangential service.

3 Challenges with a Digital Agency Merger

Recently, his agency merged with another agency that had been a close referral partner for many years. They actually helped his agency early on with getting their first clients. They were already familiar with each other and offer complimentary services which naturally went together. They realized with more agencies specializing, brands have 8-12 agencies. They decided it would be best to bring together two core services under one roof and one P&L to keep servicing the same clients.

There are still a few things lingering even though it's been 2 years since the merger:

  1. Establishing a united brand. They haven’t figured out how to unite under one name. Clients know and refer to them by their separate names, making it difficult to establish a united identity. However, they might not have to. In Jason's experience, he prefers keeping the agency’s name and identity so clients don’t get confused.
  2. Cross-selling services is harder than expected. They used to sell people on an email campaign, which is a very simple service to explain. But now they have to sell clients on paid ads as well, which is more complex and has a lot of moving parts. Figuring out how to cross-sell and educate clients is really important. Without it, the agency loses opportunities because your clients don’t know or understand the services.
  3. Realizing shared costs and infrastructure. They still have operations on each side and haven’t really crossed the chasm of understanding the other person’s business model, how to offer their services, and how they differ.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

3 Strategies to Acquiring New Agency Business 

1. Building the Founders' Personal Brand

In 2018, a lot of their business came from cold emails. Now they have evolved into content marketing, strategic partners, and developing the founders' personal brands. In this way they are focused on podcasts interviews, speaking at events, and creating out content to attract clients.

2. White Labeling

One of the things they did early on is become a white-label partner for big agencies. Big agencies not specialized in email marketing would bring them in as a partner agency. Many are not willing to be a white-label partner for other businesses, but it has been a really great way to build case studies.

3. Strategic Partnerships

Another big source of business are partnerships, which came in three shapes: tech partners, influencers, and other agencies. Tech partners, like Klaviyo, work best when partnering with a fast-growing tech brand. Another way to gain authority is by partnering with other personal brands or influencers within your client niche. Lastly, is other agencies. The easiest way to build your agency in the very beginning is to get in bed with other agencies and have them white label you. The key is finding the right partner who accepts your agency and its processes without .

Tips for Growing Your Following on Twitter

Chase now focuses on developing his brand on Twitter, LinkedIn, and short-form video. He has between 70K-80K followers on Twitter and is getting about 3 million impressions every single month on his content. For him, growing on Twitter is all about:

  • Consistency: tweeting about four times a day.
  • Threads: they take a lot of time to plan and you really have to know how to make them hook audiences and keep people interested. But they work wonderfully once you do.
  • Distribution: getting the right people to comment, like, and retweet your content.

Once he had that in place, Chase also started to run ads targeted at his followers with relevant content he wanted them to see, like his threads. So he’ll use ads to retarget his own content to people. He’s also started to build a network of specific pages. For example, he has “email of the day” thread, where he shares screenshots of emails he likes.

Because Twitter is his biggest platform, any content that works there gets repurposed for other platforms. For example, if one of his tweets is a hit, it will go on his IG and LI. For the most shared tweets, he’ll do a video later on.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 3_Key_Strategies_to_Help_You_Acquire_Tons_New_Agency_Business.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Have you considered creating a course to attract clients? How about having so much business you need to start a waitlist? Creating a course is one way to pour your knowledge and experience into content that gains interest in your agency services. Today’s show guest started making courses and offering mentorship which eventually led to a mastermind, where clients and potential clients share ideas and experiences. She's sharing how this positive for her agency led to having a waitlist of clients wanting to work with them.

Katie Wight is the founder and CEO of KWContent, a social media marketing agency specializing in growing audiences, engaging consumers, and amplifying clients’ impact through their best-in-class content and social media strategy. Recently, Katie decided to offer courses where brands get access to her agency’s frameworks and methodologies. Today, she shares the success this move turned out to be for her agency.

In this interview, we’ll talk about:

  • Toxic leadership that holds back the team.
  • Generating so many leads you can pick and choose clients.
  • Developing your own client community or mastermind.
  • The biggest lie about agency growth.

 

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Toxic Leadership That Holds Back the Team

After a great experience in her first job, Katie worked for several months at a company where the toxic work environment fostered by the leadership led to very high turnover rates. At first, she was very excited to work with them. However, she slowly realized they didn’t necessarily live their external company values and mission. This was an immediate turnoff for someone who really values company culture. Additionally, she went from having flexible work hours to having to adhere to a strict work schedule.

Lack of alignment and a roadmap makes it really hard to delegate tasks. It eventually became an obstacle when Katie was setting up the company’s content strategy and growing the brand on social media. Unfortunately, this had been previously handled by the founder, who did not provide proper direction. It was a situation where the company leader was not ready to delegate control of the company’s social media. Without this support, she just couldn’t do her job properly.

As agency owner, most of us aren't prepared to be good leaders from the start. It's not something that comes instinctively to most, however, stepping down from certain tasks is a necessary part of your agency’s growth. In cases like this, failing to do so turned the owner into the problem. Why are so many amazing brands terrible places to work? It all comes back to leadership.

Following this experience, Katie did the math on how what it would take replace her income. And suddenly, she had started an agency.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Generating So Many Leads You Can Pick and Choose Clients

Back in 2019, Katie’s agency reached $500K in revenue and she started delegating some of her work. She knew she needed to systemize everything so she spent time and resources building that out. If you’ve gone through this process with your agency, you know that systemizing your creative process is no easy feat but it was just what needed done at that point.

By the time the pandemic hit in 2020, she had a very small team and no "essential brands" as clients that could keep functioning during the lockdowns. It was a scary time but it became clear she had to lean into the educational component as a pivot for her agency. After spending so much time systemizing her process, she was ready. It was perfect timing since a lot of smaller brands were trying to figure out how to pivot online.

The agency's first course offering was a very comprehensive view of the purpose of social media marketing: what it’s meant to do, how to systemize it, and align it to your goals.

It helped a lot of clients understand what they needed to focus on and what work they could stop doing. Some of them finished the course and asked for more or even mentorships in specific areas. Yet others wanted to hire the agency for their services.

This was game-changing for Katie's agency because it brought a lot of business to the agency.  While they used to pay for leads, now they have a waitlist for calls and scan the list of companies to pick and choose who they want to work.

Offering Mentorship and a Client Mastermind for Additional Growth

The first year of the course went really well and it impacted their sales, conversion rates, and overall business. Everything seemed to be working and attendees were asking for more. They also learned a lot about who they were capable to advise and the kind of work they most enjoyed doing.

It was clear, following the course people wanted to work with KW Content. And they were being asked for more than just social media. A lot of people on her team had worked for big brands that had gotten to the level where their clients wanted to go. This experience established authority within her team and they were confident that they could advise clients on growth. The next natural step was forming a mastermind.

A mastermind is an opportunity for your clients to talk to each other and share what’s working for them. If you can get them together as an added bonus of working with you, it can be beneficial for all. Also, by just connecting people you are almost ensuring your clients recommend your services to others.

The Biggest Lie about Agency Business Growth

For the first couple of years of the course, Katie and her team just tried to deliver everything clients wanted. Because of this, they ended up burnt out. After working themselves to exhaustion and needing a break, Katie learned the importance of measuring happiness as an important KPI.

The biggest lie about business growth is the more you do the faster you’ll grow. It used to be "hustle harder, " right?  Instead, Katie realized her agency has continued growing without being IN everything. What she recommends for agency owners feeling burned out right now is to never bite off more than they can chew. It may sound like a crazy thing to say to entrepreneurs, but the best advice for her is to find something you do very well and stay focused on that.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you too involved in your agency’s operations? Too stuck working IN the business to work ON the business? It's time to fire yourself from some of operations tasks and increase agency valuation. Removing yourself from daily operations is a great way to prepare your agency for an eventual sale and increase its valuation when the time comes. Start by identifying tasks you don't like as well as the ones someone else could do much better.

Tom Foster is the founder of Foster Web Marketing, a digital agency that helps doctors and lawyers get in front of their ideal customers. Clients usually come to them to build their websites, but many choose to also have them handle aspects like website optimization and content creation. After transforming to a fully virtual model, it took an acquisition offer for Tom to realize he needed to change some things in order to increase its value.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Preparing your agency for a future sale.
  • The different approaches to sale.
  • Firing yourself from your agency tasks.

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.

What's your agency's valuation? Get the formula here.

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Podcast Takeover!!

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

Are You the One Bringing Down Your Agency's Valuation?

Tom originally entered the world of technology to focus on sales and marketing in 1991 after serving a six-year tour in the Marines. Right after the Marines, he went to work in software sales doing cold calls, fax blasts, and selling translation software. He ended up being very successful early on and got into the software business in the floppy disc era.

After forming his own agency, Foster Web Marketing, Tom started working on an all-in-one solution SaaS for website building. Creating his own software was a big undertaking, but there weren’t as many options back then. The platform, called DSS, continues to be part of his agency’s main offering. The platform offers CMS, CRM, lead management system and SEO tool, social media tools. Everything you’ll need for DIY digital marketing.

Recently, he received an offer to sell his agency. Although it was very flattering the time just wasn’t right. However, it helped him realize he needed to fix some things to increase the agency’s value to where he knew it could be. The most noticeable problem was that Tom was involved in everything. As the agency’s visionary, he knew he needed to fire himself that were not the most effective ways to spend his time.

Try a Different Approaches to Grow Agency Sales

For Tom, constant communication is the most important aspect of training someone in a new task in your agency. Of course, he also likes to hire people who bring their own experience. He recently hired someone with a lot of experience in a different area of sales. There are different types of sales people and different approaches to the sale:

  • Hunters find prospects and generate interest
  • Trappers close the sale

Tom used to exclusively hire trappers but now he wants a more well-rounded sales team. Rather than just continuing what he has done over the years,  he's looking for a new or different approach. He understand what he's been doing has gotten the agency where it is. However, in order to grow it's important to hire someone to get them to the next level. Online Training for Digital Agencies

Fire Yourself From Agency Operations

When he first started the agency, Tom coded, designed, wrote copy -- all the things! Recently, he has been delegating most of those tasks, or as he calls it, firing himself from his many jobs. He trusts his team to do a much better job. It wasn't easy at first, but he started by delegating any task he didn’t like and things he knew someone else could do better. He has a great agency team who he trusts and feels comfortable leaving the job to them.

You might be the person holding back your agency growth. Consider all the tasks you're doing. Which ones can be delegated? Which don't you like or aren't good at? Lean on your team and delegate outcomes. There are probably tasks you really enjoy doing and don’t want to let go of, and that’s fine. Tom still jumps into sales and marketing once in a while but acknowledges those can't be his focus while also focusing growing the agency.

Creating a Strong Agency Culture While Being Fully Virtual

When the pandemic started, Tom's office had a staff of 30. Like many businesses in the light of Covid-19, they swiftly moved to a remote team overnight and got stuck paying rent for an empty office for two years. In the end, it worked out well because going virtual allowed them to become more efficient and effective. As a fully remote agency, Tom sources talent from different parts of the country. Expanding beyond geographic limits has allowed him to hire amazing talent. It has also allowed him to keep talent that decided to move away from the DC area after the pandemic.

That said, company culture is a very important element of any successful agency and Tom admits it’s really hard to do over Zoom. How do you inspire a remote team and maintain culture? Keep your staff content by creating a good work environment. It’s not just about giving them a raise, it's about treating them with respect and protecting them from abusive clients.

Tom also believes in creating bonding moments in a virtual environment. He encourages game nights and morning meetings with the entire staff, where managers go over the most important things that happened the day before and the agenda for the day. This is a way to keep the entire staff in the loop when it comes to what’s happening in the company.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

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How to Make the Big Decisions and Grow Your Agency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Agency Mistakes: Trying to Do Everything for Everyone

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

Decision 3: What are your agency's strengths?

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

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

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

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

Decision 5: What can you learn from the past?

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

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

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

Why Agency Leaders Need to Trust Their Gut

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

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

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

Entrepreneurs and Visionaries Should Not Fear Boredom

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

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Sponsors and Resources

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

Tough Lessons About Working with an Agency Business Partner

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

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

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

Is Choosing a Niche Enough to Help You Stand Out?

The answer is: not necessarily.

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Other Agencies Are Potential Allies Instead of Just Competitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Why_Niching_Down_Isnt_Enough_and_4_Tips_to_Build_Client_Trust.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Podcast Takeover!!

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Starting a Digital Agency Based on Consumer Behavior

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

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

Finding the Right Influencers for a Product Launch

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Working With Brands To Do Targeted Product Sampling

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

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

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

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

Acquiring Another Agency to Grow Faster

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Podcast Takeover!!

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

From Starting Small to Getting Their Dream Client

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

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

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

Helping Clients Transition from Traditional to Digital Marketing

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Diving into the World of NFTs

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

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

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

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

Creating an NFT Project With a Charitable Component

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

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

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

 

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Treat Your Agency SEO As Important As Your Clients' SEO

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

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

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

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

Common Struggles the Early Years of Running an Agency

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The True Game Changer to Increase Your Agency’s Profitability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Feel Guilty About Your Hard Earned Freedom

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

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Agencies Must Be Intentional About Marketing Their Brands

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

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

Why Storytelling is an Important Marketing Tool

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

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

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

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

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

You Don't Have to be Big on Every Platform

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

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

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

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

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

Your Agency's Branding Should Not be an Afterthought

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Building Your Agency Team Around Your Needs

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

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

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

2 Mistakes that Sabotage Your Agency Sales Pipeline

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

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

Work on Your Branding to Differentiate Your Agency

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Short and Long-Term Strategies to Build a Sustainable Pipeline

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

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

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

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

 4 Key Hires to Build Your Dedicated Marketing Team

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

  • Marketing Coordinator
  • Copywriter
  • Designer
  • SEO Specialist

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


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

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

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

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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

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Filling a Key Agency Role Starts With Your Personal Network

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

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

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

Do More Sales Equal Faster Agency Growth?

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

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

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

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

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Hiring an Outsider to Run Your Digital Agency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you tired of waiting for clients to provide content? Is your agency thinking of offering content creation as a service? The demand for content is on the rise and research shows content creation is profitable for agencies. However, many agencies are not using content creation to its full potential because they don't understand the value of content marketing in 2022.

Ryan Sargent is the Director of Content Marketing at Verblio, the world’s friendliest content creation platform. Verblio builds content marketing for other marketers at scale by pairing specialized, niche writers with advertising agencies and marketing professionals. The team at Verblio are the experts at content creation and he's sharing secrets on ways agencies can make better use offering content creation and strategy for their clients.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • 5 ways agencies use content marketing in 2022
  • The disconnect between agency and in-house client content strategy.
  • Why is it harder for your content to rank?

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Sponsors and Resources

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

 

5 Ways Agencies Use Content Marketing in 2022

To continually keep the pulse on how audiences consume content, Verblio does an annual 'State of Digital Content' survey gathering information from the market. In its third edition, received data from 450+ marketers with a focus on digital agencies. The results were segmented based on the size of the agency. They got some fascinating takeaways from it, including:

  1. Content creation is profitable: At least 75% of participants expressed that content is very profitable at their agencies. This presents a really clear sign that content is something people pay attention to and that agencies will continue to offer. Creating content for your clients not only increases productivity (you're not waiting for them to provide it), it also increases profitability. Win-win!
  2. It's all or nothing: Agencies are either "all in" on content or not; and the numbers show it. According to the results, bigger agencies recognize the power of content. They report that 75% of their revenue comes from content creation. By contrast, smaller agencies reported < 50% of their revenue comes from content. Ryan believes this indicates some smaller agencies are discounting content while bigger ones recognize it as a money maker and a core part of their service.
  3. Content creation is on the rise: Increasing from the past, more agencies are producing 10 or more pieces of content per client. In past surveys, most agencies reported producing 5 pieces of content per client. The demand is there -- is your agency helping service the demand?
  4. Core content is still king: Agencies are still focused on the bread and butter of core content, like blog posts and landing pages. Most are not diversifying in other forms like podcasts, for instance, which are far more time-consuming. Content marketing is vast, but core content is still king (even in a changing economy).
  5. In-house content creation: Most agencies surveyed produce content in-house. When they outsource content creation, they usually do so through freelancers.

Disconnects Between Agency Content vs Client Content

One thing Ryan finds particularly interesting is that in-house marketers look at conversion stats as a measure of success. Meanwhile, agencies are more likely to look at engagement stats. If agencies look more at conversion stats they would find this resonates more with clients because that’s what the in-house teams are focusing on.

Also, in-house teams are far less likely to find content refreshes compelling. Agencies see the value of refreshing existing content and consider it low-hanging fruit. In-house client teams don’t see value in refreshes and therefore don't prioritize it. The roles reverse when it comes to ebooks and white papers, which in-house marketing teams see as powerful tools, but agencies don’t focus as much on.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Is it Getting Harder to Create Successful Content?

A generalized feeling is that it’s getting harder to create successful content. So if you feel like it’s harder to rank or get social engagement, you're right!

Demand for content is growing. However, the increase in demand is also the reason it's getting harder to see those conversions. Readers are getting pickier and there’s a lot of mediocre content out there.

We’ve entered an age of content in which the audience knows to ignore the banner ad. Because of this, your content must accurately show intent and provide value.

A Happy Medium Between Education and Entertainment Content

What is the right balance between content that informs and educates versus content that entertains? Getting it right depends on how well you know your audience and understand the purpose of the content.

For example, if you’re a B2B company very focused on education and all of the sudden decide to create an entertaining ad, you shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn't work. People are not coming to you for that type of content. So you either need to work on showing them you do both, or you need to bake entertainment into your brand. If they expect entertainment aspects in your voice and tone, then there’s a logical way to incorporate that into your content.

It comes down to knowing your audience and managing expectations.

Related: Building a successful agency by putting people first.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you offer too many agency services? Are you trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, making you the master of none? Does your broad service offering dilute your team's focus? Today's guest is an e-commerce expert whose agency works exclusively with one e-commerce platform he believes is better than the rest. In this interview, he talks about what's next in e-commerce and what you should look to improve in your website.

Guillaume Le Tual is the Founder and CEO of MageMontreal, an agency committed to building powerful e-commerce websites to increase clients' sales. They work exclusively with the Magento platform. Why? According to Guillaume, the agency tried working with other platforms and found Magento is the best open source e-commerce platform on the market.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Narrowing your agency's service offering.
  • Hiring for culture fit and values.
  • Niching down to avoid diluting your team's focus.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Podcast Takeover!!

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

Narrowing Your Service Offering and Focusing on a Horizontal Niche

Guillaume started his career as a visual artist building background art for clients like The National Bank of Canada and Warner Bros. He gained experience in web design, digital marketing, and e-commerce and eventually decided to start his agency, MageMontreal.

According to Guillaume, he and his team tried dozens of other e-commerce platforms before settling on working exclusively as a Magento agency.  They offer complete e-commerce website design and development, maintenance, and integration of Magento with third-party software.

Now, they are one of very few Magento-certified agencies in Canada and can see the best decision for their business was focusing on one very specific niche and cutting down on their service offering to be the very best at just one. Remember, a niche can be a specific market (vertical niche) or a specific skillset (horizontal niche).

What’s Next in E-Commerce?

Guillaume says we’re still a long way from truly developing AI to what we’ve seen in movies. Most companies are not at a point where they are truly using AI. However, it is used in for things like product recommendations. Using Adobe Sensei, for example, users can get product recommendations based on shopper behavior, popular trends, and product similarity. If a suggestion does not convert into a sale, next time it will make a different suggestion, which indicates that the machine is learning. That would be the low-hanging fruit available right now. It can also be used to improve the search bar, for example, to get more relevant search results.

It’s really a step-by-step process to integrate this technology into your company. It requires prior steps like cleaning up your data and standardizing your processes to be able to implement this. After implementing marketing automation at every step of your email process and onboarding process, the next level would be using AI to help you run that.

There’s also some interesting work done with progressive web apps (PWA). Basically, this is a hybrid between a native app and a website so you get the benefits of both. So even though it’s a website, in terms of maintenance you don’t have to constantly download the latest version of the app. It’s a website, so you always have the latest content. It also has some limited offline capabilities. And it includes push notifications for marketing like you would have with a native app.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Hiring For Values and Resourcefulness

When it comes to his hiring process, Guillaume prioritizes the agency’s values. He recommends not overcomplicating it and having a list of three or four things the candidates must comply with. “Do not compromise when it comes to your values,” he advises. Whether it’s sales or HR, if the candidate does not meet these requirements, they’re not the right fit for your agency. Also, take your time with the process if you have to because rushing leads to mistakes.

Above all, he prioritizes a strong work ethic and desire to provide the best possible service. He asks candidates to provide examples of times they feel they provided excellent customer service. He also looks for resourcefulness. Sometimes it can be an issue when an employee comes from a big company to work at a smaller agency. They might be accustomed to having more resources, and it’s important to Guillaume the employees show they can figure out creative solutions without those resources.

Replacing Yourself in the Daily Agency Operations

He recently hired a Head of Project Management, an operations role not yet running without him. Originally, he was going to hire from within but was surprised to find an outside person who fit this role.

After making sure it was a good fit for the agency, he delegated tasks and immediately saw a difference. It was a game changer between when he organized everything a having a person with operational expertise. With someone in charge of organizing the pile of things to do and delivering on all of it, he completely removed himself from the client services process.

Stop Diluting Your Team's Focus and Be an Expert

Do you offer a very wide set of services? Looking back, that was MageMontreal. They handled everything from website building and design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, IT support. At one point, Guillaume checked Apple’s website and realized he offered more services than Apple.

He decided at that point this needed to change because doing too much was diluting his team’s time and focus. You can successfully offer such a wide variety of services, but you need a staff of hundreds in order to do it properly. So, he decided to cut down his offering and focused on just their expertise. Overall, his agency helps clients with website building and some consulting. However, for other services like marketing and hosting they usually refer clients to their partner agencies.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you having a hard time finding the right candidates to fill roles on your team? Does your hiring process take culture fit into account? A solid hiring process is key to agency growth. Today’s guest has worn many hats in her career in the agency world and has learned to always keep the recruitment pipeline full at all times. How can you manage to do this? It’s a combination of various steps.

Amy Pyles is the president of Saxum, an integrated digital agency that works with brands balancing purpose with profit. In her role overseeing the inner workings of the agency, Amy relies on her leadership team to create the type of culture where they set up people for success and keep the agency steering towards its goals.

In this interview, we’ll discuss:

  • Building agency culture and constantly recruiting.
  • Keep your recruitment pipeline full at all times.
  • How to grow your agency team talent.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Cultivating an Agency President from Within

Amy is not the owner of Saxum but does operate the business. Her agency career started right after finishing her master’s degree. She started as employee number 25 at an agency that was just starting its growth journey. It was 2008 and Twitter had just come out, Apple was about to launch the new iPod, Facebook was just opening up to work as a marketing platform for brands, and everybody was building custom websites and apps. With so much happening, it was definitively the right place and right time to enter the digital marketing space. She left the agency 8 years later as a business with 250 employees, offices across the country, and working with brands like Walmart.

She started working with Saxum right away to lead their digital practice. Over the years, she led some departments, was promoted to Chief Operating Officer, and now has the role of President.

Creating Agency Culture That Supports Constant Recruiting

Many agencies have a hard time bringing in talent and building up the team to keep up with demand. Amy finds one of the most important elements when recruiting is having a clear purpose for your agency. Being able to connect with purpose on the talent side has been an important piece of how they recruit. Her team leverages culture as a key operational element in growing the agency. Thanks to their culture partner, Giant Worldwide, they also have a framework to manage culture and talent development. And, they take several steps to ensure their talent pipeline is always full.

Remember: You should always be hiring! Sometimes agency owners will say they’re having a hard time finding talent but if you go to their website there's for recruiting. This should be clear as soon as a user enters your website that you are hiring. Set up the right systems to create your recruitment pipeline and be consistent in keeping it active.

At Amy's agency, everyone knows that “what gets measured, gets managed”. As you focus on operations, think about what you’re measuring (and don’t measure too much!). That’s what will get managed. It’s been pivotal in the way her team builds competency and builds the discipline needed in operations.

6 Steps to Keep Your Recruitment Pipeline Full at All Times

At her agency, senior leaders are responsible for filling the pipeline for their departments. Basically, they should always have in mind at least two positions they should fill next and ensure these steps are covered:

  1. Developing relationships: Each team leader should think about where they could be developing relationships with possible recruits. This could mean keeping an eye on other agencies in case they want to “poach”.
  2. LinkedIn: Their LinkedIn is always running and Amy says they get great input from there.
  3. Paid ads: A part of any serious recruiting effort.
  4. Referrals: This is a piece people tend to lose sight of. However, the best source of freelance talent and full-time talent is from existing employees. So they try to incentivize that and hire from within their network.
  5. Internship program: They have a robust intern program that has worked great for them. Ideally, they’ll have up to ten interns to grads working at the agency at any given time. Keep in mind that bringing in interns to your agency won’t save you any time. In fact, it is a long-term strategy and requires a lot of time and planning to do it well.
  6. Quarterly meeting: Finally, they have a quarterly meeting where every department head goes through the pipeline.

As to the question of hiring junior or more experienced staff, her agency does prefer to hire junior staff and train them. Of course, you will need to hire more experienced talent sooner or later. Keep in mind this will be the most difficult task when it comes to recruiting and integrating them, but it is a necessary step.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

A System to Improve Interactions as an Agency Leader

Working with Giant Worldwide, Amy’s agency has learned to work with its Five Voices Framework to build liberated leaders. This framework helps employees understand themselves better, understand others, and identify their blind spots. As a leader, it helps figure out how to better communicate with others and greatly improve interactions.

At Amy's agency, the conversation about voice starts in the interview process. This way, interviewees understand how they will fit into a role and how they would interact within the team dynamics.

Investing in Development and Promoting Your Agency Team

Amy’s team implements all the typical tools and growth guides managers use to encourage growth among employees. They are also big believers in real-time feedback and maintain that 1,000 small conversations lead to more growth than one big conversation. As a strategy to help people set goals and keep an eye on skill gaps, employees get an annual stipend to spend on personal development. Of course, the agency also offers training for the team.

When it comes to promoting people to team leaders, Amy doesn’t believe tenure necessarily dictates capability. For her, it’s more about having had the right exposure to perform at the next level. It also depends on what each employee wants. Not everyone is interested in managing people. There’s a place and a need in every agency for managers that lead people and for experts that make sure to deliver a great service.

Transitioning Roles from Agency COO to Agency President

Amy has worn several hats at Saxum, including leading their digital department, COO and more recently as the company’s President. As COO, she oversaw HR admin operations, project management, and she retained the leadership of their digital practice. Most of her time was spent on project management and workflow to get all of those pieces to work together and produce for the agency.

Now as President, she also oversees the creative department and client service. All services now report to her from a quality perspective and she relies heavily on each of those department leaders. Amy has worked in different roles in her past agency experiences, leading client service, project management, digital strategy, etc., and she realizes now the importance it all had to prepare her for the role of COO.

It's difficult to hire someone outside who starts working as the agency COO. If you’re looking to fill the position of COO, you want someone who understands the different nuances of working in your agency while bringing a systemized approach in efficiency and effectiveness.

Jason has coached agency owner clients who bring in a COO from the outside by first bringing them in as a consultant. They try this for a few months until they understand how the agency operates. It's a low-commitment way of testing things out before making it official. He feels Bringing someone new in with a heavy title before they get to know and earn the trust of the team is setting them up for failure.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

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Are you an accidental agency owner trying to grow fast? Rapid agency growth isn't necessarily the best way to grow. When you're going through the ups and downs you want to get to the other side quickly. But slow and steady wins the race and for one agency, hitting the one million dollar mark changed everything. He went from running a “mom and pop shop" to growing a 10-person agency. He shares how he recovered from rapid growth by getting focused and his lessons on the importance of branding while growing his agency.

Robert Giovanni is the CEO and co-founder of IronPlane, an agency dedicated to designing, building, and optimizing exceptional eCommerce experiences. Robert says he's made mistakes and learned a lot in the process of growing his agency. He experienced the awkward stage of an agency’s growth of being in no man's land. He now offers a perspective on how to get your agency past that awkward growth stage with lessons he's learned over the years.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Getting over $1 million in revenue.
  • Choosing ideal clients and firing ones that aren't.
  • Getting comfortable hiring in advance of need.
  • Branding your agency and your team.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Discovering the Opportunities in eCommerce

Robert discovered opportunities in selling online back in 1988 when he sold a chess set. He built a website to sell this set purchased in Russia and sold it for around $8,000. He quickly started to buy and sell products online, which eventually led to requests to build websites for other people's product sales. And with that, an accidental agency was born.

Step by step they started to build a relationship with clients, many of which he retained for several years. Before he knew it, he was operating a digital agency that started to grow. Robert's perspective always focuses on helping clients figure out what they wanted for their business (drive revenue, improve their bottom line.) By 2012, he knew it was time to get serious with its branding to further it's his agency's growth.

Getting Over the Million Dollar Mark

According to Robert, reaching that milestone took about three to four years. In the beginning, he had about two big clients and, as he describes it, he was a "glorified consultant." He hired another person to help him with daily tasks when the agency was near one million and felt content. This was until one of his clients decided to end their contract abruptly. It was a big blow for the agency and Robert knew in order to prevent something similar from ever happening again he needed to make things more official.

He worked on defining the agency’s purpose and branding. He hired more people and really prioritized getting out of operations so the agency was not a one-man show. It took another three years, but after these changes, the agency finally got past one million.

Choosing Your Ideal Clients and Firing Clients That Don't Fit

After getting past the point of being a “mom and pop” agency with only 2-3 big clients, there was still much to learn. At the start, the agency was taking any client that came their way. They were trying to grow and it seemed foolish to turn away any client at that point.

This is a normal part of any agency’s growth process. You feel afraid of turning down any business opportunity; even if you know a client is not a good fit. However, it's important to recognize the importance of choosing clients that are a good fit for your agency so you can wasting time on the ones that aren't.

For Robert, it was when the agency had grown to about 10 employees. He was no longer part of every sales call and had a number of good clients. There was a particular client that was never a good fit and the team knew it from day one. However, it was a big project and they signed the contract anyway. What proceeded was weeks of Saturday calls and nightmare meetings until Robert decided to end the relationship. It was the first client he had to fire and it turned out to be the point where he sat down with his team to talk about being pickier with potential clients.

From this moment on, they worked to better define the agency’s values and make sure they were clearly stated on their website. He knew his agency could bring tremendous value to any client. But the client's values needed to match the agency's  or they just wouldn’t be a good culture fit.

Failing to define these values will leave you directionless in your agency journey.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Rapid Agency Growth and Losing the Human Touch

In early 2020, Robert felt the agency was really hitting it when it came to marketing and bringing in new clients. However, the team was failing in terms of building relationships with clients and understanding their needs. One of Robert's top priorities is building solid client relationships and offering more than just mechanics. By that time, their churn rate started to increase and Robert got worried.

Robert believes the agency should always continue to have a human touch as one of its core values. When a client did not renew their contract and the team could not pinpoint the reason, it indicated a disconnect between client and agency. It was time to re-assess and re-evaluate their client relationships.

Should Your Agency Hire Talent Before There Is A Need?

Robert’s agency has a longer sales cycle, which makes it easier to predict resource needs a few months in advance. Because of this, he is comfortable hiring today for what they will need a few months down the road. When it comes to their clients, they do a review that gives them a pretty good idea of whether that project will turn into a long-term contract. Their shortest contracts are generally about a year.

This is not the case for every agency. Having a long sales cycle provides confidence and a sense of certainty. It's really all about your sales cycle and forecasting the need of bringing in-house talent versus whitelabeling.

On the flipside, hiring before bringing on clients, you may feel pressured to take on clients that are not a good fit just to pay the bills. This is a sure way to end up with clients that abuse your team and disregard your value.

Branding the Agency or Branding Your Team?

Robert's agency has a brand voice and clear values to help attract the right clients. And by the time they got branding down, he started thinking about his team. Many of the people on his team have been with the agency for a long time and are all-stars in their area of expertise. So, they launched YouTube videos and podcasts showcasing team members talking about what they know best. Doing this has done more for the agency’s credibility and authority than anything else they had previously done.

If you’re thinking about taking similar steps, know that you can go even further. Highlighting your team is great of course, but what about starting a podcast (it's easier than you think!) and highlighting your ideal clients?

#1 Lesson in Agency Growth 

The most important thing Robert has learned over the years has been to stay focused. It can be hard when you’re starting out and you want to try everything. You don't want to miss an opportunity to be ahead of the curve. However, he recalls that the agency was really at its best once they got focused and avoided distractions. He’s also not afraid to give away expertise. He’s gotten more traction from talking with prospects and giving them the advice more than anything else.

Remember people want to see that you really understand their needs and are an authority in your field. This is what establishing yourself as a trusted advisor is all about. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you know or give away too much information. At the end of the day, they won’t be able to get better results with that information, they’ll still need you to execute.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

What are your goals for agency growth? Would you like to grow your agency to 7- or 8-figures? That is exactly what this agency owner did when he built a highly successful $50 million-dollar agency with a team of 400 people. He did it by staying ahead of the curve with technology and building leaders who evolve with the growing agency.

Robert Henderson is the co-founder and CEO of JumpCrew, an agency that generates demand for 2B2 customers by building a qualified pipeline through fully dedicated sales teams. Robert has built a successful agency by growing in the direction of the market, staying ahead of the curve, and building strong leadership.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • The future of marketing in the metaverse.
  • Staying ahead of the curve with technology.
  • Building a leadership that evolves with your agency.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Building a $50 Million Dollar Agency

Many agency owners starting out are interested in “tricks” to get ahead and grow their agency as fast as possible. They seem so interested in growth they don’t stop to think about the value they should be providing. When he started out, Robert saw many businesses shied away from learning how to acquire new clients. Communicating value is something he really leans into with each new client.

He doesn’t sell a one-size-fits-all solution because it's specific enough or aligned with what the client needs. Instead, his team focuses on how to deliver value in a way that aligns with the client’s goals. Also, they are self-aware enough to turn away clients when they feel that they can’t deliver this value. Whatever the reason, they try to be really candid about good and bad fits.

The most important piece of building a successful agency is aligning with the right people. Every business is ultimately about people and when you create an environment where each team member is an expert in their area you don’t need to know everything. Partnering with people who really know about their particular area will you set your agency up for success. The secret is having people that are really good at executing what they know.

The Effect of New Technologies and the Metaverse on the Future of Marketing

Robert and his team learned the power of content marketing while automating content for local businesses. They learned what the market needed by being in the mix. They grew in that direction by adding new products and services based on the feedback from clients.

Robert is a believer in new and emerging tech tools and giving platforms the credit they deserve as they develop. Sometimes we can’t imagine the progress a new technology will represent in our particular space. For instance, 10 years ago no one was interested in being a guest on a podcast and now they have become a very popular marketing vehicle.

Looking ahead, Robert believes in ten years from now the meetings we’re having on video today will all happen on the metaverse. People from all over the world will gather in a space that feels very realistic. The adoption of mediums like the metaverse will come with the technology and infrastructures to support them. At this point, adopting this new technology will maybe shape the way the supporting technologies start to develop.

He believes the possibilities are endless as we still can’t imagine the many ways that we’ll use it. The development of paid search started with the rate of adoption of social media platforms. Similarly, the development of the metaverse as the possible future of paid ads will depend on how people start to adopt this new technology.

These tools are bound to change the way agencies work and advertise and, of course, being the first to adopt them successfully would be a great advantage. We need to continue to study and educate ourselves to be able to see where it is heading.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Staying Ahead of the Curve with Technology

Staying ahead of the curve is mostly about educating yourself and trying to understand what the opportunities look like to capitalize on them as they come. We’re in a learning phase for technologies like the metaverse. We know it will be a part of the future but we don’t know exactly how that will look. Right now it’s about trying to create more connectivity between your team in what is set to be a more sophisticated environment. Robert believes this is the low-hanging fruit available right now for all until we can figure out how to get our partners and clients into it.

However, the technology is still in the very early stages. For instance, no one wants to work 6 to 7 hours with the VR goggles on. There’s still a long way to go before it is adapted to everyday use and usage is what will help shape that.

Evolving Team Member Roles as the Agency Grows

One of the most difficult phases for his agency was at a point when a lot of things were working great but they couldn’t figure out why some others were not working at all. In hindsight, they just didn’t have the right infrastructure and didn’t have all the right people in the right seats.

It’s really fun to be part of so much growth but it can also be a struggle to remain motivated and challenge yourself every single day, month, and year. Robert's leadership team has been with the agency since they were just ten people. This team has helped grow the agency to over 400 people. How did they do it?

First of all, they’ve had to continue growing themselves. Their role in the agency business has changed and they’ve reinvented themselves several times. Being open to the idea of constantly evolving in order to be able to grow has really helped them support the agency’s growth. Each employee remains flexible and open to change for their own growth as well as that of the agency.

Building Leaders Who Help Grow a Strong Agency

Robert built the leadership team in such a way that they've basically been with him since the very beginning. Of course, they were not all prepared for a leadership role from the beginning. Building an agency as a team of just 10 people helped a lot when it came to building camaraderie. They had different titles but were very much equals and shared the same values. It also helped build a level of communication not often seen in a team where they are able to have hard conversations and be very honest with each other.

Robert also encouraged an environment for taking risks. He feels it is important to challenge leaders to take risks without the fear of making mistakes. This doesn’t mean they make mistakes all the time, but in order to go for innovation, the team needs to know that it’s ok if something doesn’t work out as they’d hoped.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: How_One_Agency_Grew_to_50_Million_By_Constantly_Evolving.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Would you like to attract more clients with outbound sales? Do you need to build a successful sales team that gets results? Today’s guest is a sales expert who helps agency owners get out of sales and build a successful sales team. It’s all about building consistency and using your network to create relationships that will help you grow your agency.

Dan Englander is the CEO and founder of Sales Schema, a B2B agency that secures ideal prospect relationships. His team goes out to the market and helps clients get meetings and focus on new business. Earlier in his career, he led new business for a creative services company and helped them get to seven figures. After starting his agency in 2014, he has learned a lot about how companies go after new business. More recently, he shares his perspective on sales and how to improve at it in his new book, Relationship Sales at Scale.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How agencies can do better at outbound sales.
  • Using your network to get to your ideal clients.
  • What works when it comes to finding and training salespeople.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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When is the Right Time to Transition Out of Sales?

Transitioning out of sales requires two main steps, according to Dan: who's doing what and developing consistencies in the sales process.

We all fall into the trap of dedicating too much time and energy to clients and none to your agency. Once you stop focusing on sales you’ll be on another level to focus on growing your agency.

If you’re an agency owner and the salesperson, think about spending half your time on sales. Eventually, get yourself to the point where you can just focus on the top of the funnel and have someone help set meetings. Clear the other half of your time to focus on your agency.  Do this with the mindset of gradually getting out of sales altogether.

Agency owners commonly try to hang on to sales because they feel clients only want to talk to them. That’s a misconception, considering how many owners have managed to grow their agencies to massive proportions by getting out of sales. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but once you have a repeatable sales process it becomes easier to get someone else in that seat.

Where do some agency owners go wrong with this transition? They jump to it too early before figuring out the repeatable process. They just throw a salesperson into it the mix and expect them to figure it out. That sets them up for failure and, once they do, it is easy to convince yourself that you’re the only one that can handle sales successfully.

How to Create a Repeatable Sales Process

Agency owners struggle, sometimes for years, to find the right salesperson and this has a lot to do with having the right systems in place. Dan likes to break it down into a process where you start at the very top of the funnel.

  • Think about how you’re getting meetings.
  • Break down your conversion process from the first appointment to the proposal.
  • Follow that with breaking down the process from proposal to close.

Of course, this may vary depending on how complex your sales process is -- documenting everything is key in order to set up your salesperson for success.

When it comes to how to get meetings, Dan and his team find outbound is a really good way to do it. Whatever you’re selling it stands to reason that your market will be relatively small. Your target audience is not everyone in the world so you don’t have to build a massive inbound funnel. There are really a finite number of relationships you can build in your area. With outbound, you can start building those relationships before the client actually has a need. Then you are top of mind when the need is there.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Building Relationships With Outbound Sales

One of the things Dan's agency does for clients is referral-driven campaigns where they make a list of ideal clients and identify who could introduce them to those clients. Basically, they identify friends of friends, narrow them down to contacts in the first degree and ask for an introduction to someone in their network. A lot of people have no problem making that connection once you’re upfront about what you want.

They usually start with an accounts-based list of thousands of companies. Instead of trying to find the golden company that you may want to work with but have no meaningful connection to, find a number of companies you’re actually connected with. The connection you make as a result might not get you a campaign that lasts very long, but it will help you get that level of trust in order to get you a referral.

What Works When it Comes to Finding Salespeople?

This is something Dan still struggles with to this day. Being a sales hirer is part of your job as an agency owner and part of getting out of sales. You have to dedicate part of your time to finding the right salesperson and training them because you’re essentially investing in someone that’s going to help your agency grow.

Dan's agency gives the hiring funnel as much importance as the sales funnel.

Also, to weed out candidates that are ultimately not a right fit Dan usually asks for video interviews. It’s a way to see how invested the candidate is and avoid wasting time on long interviews in-person interviews. Once he’s made that hire, he invests in sales training every week. New team members do role-playing exercises and listen to sales calls every day to get ready. It is a lot of work, he admits, but it is worth it.

Another good tip is to not assume the person is perfect for the job after a good interview. Ask the candidate to make a 90-day plan and see if what they present truly aligns with what you need.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of not just hiring the right person for the job. It's equally important to put together the right framework for your salesperson to model, evaluate, and make new recommendations on.

How to Face Client’s Skepticism

The hardest part of sales is getting someone to agree to take your call. Once you’ve done that, they are now investing time. They would not be spending time in that conversation if they didn’t have a specific need. Just make sure the conversation flows in a way the client is comfortable and feels heard. Spend more time listening than talking. Give space to ask questions and don't make the prospect feel interrogated.

Don’t underestimate the importance of asking the right questions to pull the client in. A lot of salespeople tend to push a lot and makes people feel they have to push back. It’s a completely different thing to present yourself as the trusted advisor through the right questions.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Have you clearly identified your place in the market? Have you selected a core leadership team to help you take the agency to the next level? Do you unknowingly have a principle-agent problem?

After 10 years in the business, one successful agency owner shares the steps he followed to skyrocket growth. He covers everything from the importance of having a top-notch leadership team to communicating the goals and vision and solving the principal-agent problem.

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

In their growth process, Manish has had to learn to manage big teams of over 100 people, as well as create a culture that prioritizes employees and identifies leaders within the organization.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Finding your agency's place in the market
  • Tips for managing a large team of over 100 employees.
  • Identifying the principle-agent problem and how to solve it.

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Finding Your Agency's Unique Proposition and Providing Value

According to Manish, understanding his agency's unique sales proposition was a key factor in its success. He was clear early on that his core expertise was more about sales, branding, and customer service. He knew that is what he needed to offer clients in order to provide value. And, he never stopped learning about leadership. Like most agency owners, Manish didn’t know anything about hiring and training a team when he first started. Now he manages a team of nearly 150 people.

Another key aspect of E2M's growth was understanding what the market needed and how to serve those needs. Manish understood India is one of the countries with the highest number of English-speaking young people. This makes it a great place to outsource services. The resources and opportunities were there to create a company very competitive in this space. It just took having great systems in place and a really professional, prepared team.

It’s about having the self-awareness to identify how you fit into the industry. What are your strengths? How does your expertise fit what clients need from you? Manish saw a gap in the agency space where agency owners didn't have time to invest in hiring and training a team. That’s where his team comes in to white label when agencies need them most.

Finding and Managing Your Core Leadership Team

A lot of agency owners struggle with operations and growing a team as the agency scales and needs to expand its staff. They may go from having a team of five to a team of 20 and feel overwhelmed. Manish now manages a team of nearly 150 and his management philosophy is to have a core leadership team. He usually works closely with his 6-7 leaders and makes sure they know who is responsible for what.

It’s important your team leaders understand and communicate the agency’s culture, vision, and goals. Failing to do this leads to a disconnect between the employees and the overall agency’s goals.

Where can you find top talent to lead and manage your agency team? Manish believes in building leaders within the company rather than hiring outside talent. He believes there is always someone out there who would love to do a job you hate doing. Instead of holding on to tasks you don’t like for fear no one else can do it, find someone you trust that can take it over. He is also against micromanaging and believes that if you chose someone to be part of your leadership team is because they’ve proven themselves and you trust their judgment.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Principal-Agent Problem and Why You Need to Solve it

Manish recently learned about the theory of the principle-agent problem. Fortunately, he had been taking the right steps to face it. It is the root of most problems related to employee and client dissatisfaction. It is basically a conflict between the priorities of a person you’ve chosen to represent you vs. the priorities of the client. The root begins when the incentives of the agent and the principal do not match.

Manish uses the example of Uber and how their main customer dissatisfaction problem begins when the incentives for the principle (the client) – getting to their destination and enjoying a good service – do not align with the incentives of the agents (the drivers) – completing as many rides per day as possible.

As an agency owner, you are essentially hiring people to provide a service that satisfies the clients’ needs. However, you should always make sure to put the right incentives in place so those employees are also satisfied. Remember your employees are your most valuable asset, so if they’re not happy something definitely must change.

3-Step Framework to Getting the Right People in the Right Seats

Once he found his place in the market, Manish focused on having the right people in the right seats. In short, he attributes his success to implementing this framework:

  1. Identify the core leadership. These are employees with key abilities that could be utilized to relieve you of unwanted tasks. If you put the right people in the right seats, you’ll never have to worry about motivating them.
  2. Address any principle-agent problems. Incentivize your team that is a win for them as well as for the client in order to produce a successful customer experience.
  3. Create a culture where the team feels valued. Help your employees rally around the common goal where they can feel their contribution matter to the overall agency's goals.

Setting Goals to Continue the Agency’s Growth

Manish sets three main goals for each quarter. They also clearly communicate how each team member will contribute to achieving those goals. Sharing the agency’s goals helps every team member feel they share in and are a part of those goals.

Give your employees goals rather than just tasks to do and they’ll feel included, valued, and a part of something. This also help them understand their impact on the organization. Of course, one way to recognize their work is monetary compensation but it can’t be all about money or you’ll end up losing your team.

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How can you propel agency growth while removing yourself from operations? How can you manage a fully remote team while keeping an active, fun work culture? What is it like to work with big tech brands? Today’s guest saw a huge jump in her agency's growth during the pandemic and discovered the benefits of growing a remote team. Now she is figuring out what an agency office like looks like for her team in a post-pandemic world.

Lisa Larson-Kelley is the founder and CEO of Quantious, a premier marketing agency specializing in emerging technology. She’s grown the agency from a 2 person operation to a team of over 15 people working with the biggest names in tech, like Meta (formerly Facebook) and Shopify to name a couple. Her agency growth started to really take off just as the pandemic hit and she found many benefits in working remotely.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Creating an agency that becomes a trusted partner for big brand clients.
  • The benefits and opportunities of working remotely.
  • The most important decision for massive agency growth.

Podcast Takeover!!

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

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Building an Agency as a Trusted Advisor in the Tech Sector

Lisa started her career in design back when working in tech didn’t seem like an option. She was passionate about tech and coding and eventually became part of a group of developers that worked at Flash Media. Joining Flash was the perfect jumping point to get back into coding and on the development side. Her work in app development opened the door to attend conferences as an expert and continue to learn about tech. For years she was immersed in emerging technologies, first as a developer herself, and then as a trainer and marketer.

As a marketer, she knows how to tell complicated stories in a simple manner and built a team of like-minded people. Her agency has become a trusted partner working with the biggest names in tech like Meta and Shopify. Working as a secret weapon for these companies, they work on things like back-office operations and augmented reality experiences. With Meta, they worked on ways to show the many possibilities of using their collaboration software for businesses, Workplace, which they had struggled to market.

Typically, her agency is called to assist a company that is adjusting to its growth process. They need support from an experienced team that can help them with onboarding, documentation, and processes. Their mission is to make their client look good and don't really feel a need to have the spotlight.

Finding Success in a Transition to a Fully Remote Team

Lisa was just thinking about investing in a bigger space to accommodate new team members when the pandemic started and she was forced to make the drastic shift to going fully remote. They were about 10% remote before, with some of the team working from home at least once a week. However, it was still a big adjustment to make overnight.

We all remember how uncertain those first few weeks of the pandemic felt and the struggle to get used to the new reality. Thankfully, they got settled into the new situation quickly and Lisa realized it was actually going really well. The work didn’t stop for her agency, as more and more companies were interested in the tech they needed to go fully remote. The work grew and so she needed to hire more talent. She realized she wasn’t necessarily limited to hiring in New York area any longer and started recruiting all over the US. It was a shift that really enriched the quality of their work as an agency. Instead of investing in a bigger office space, she figured out how to manage people across different states.

Now they focus on keeping everyone connected with daily meetings, Slack, and some creative solutions like work games. They have “Teaser Tuesdays”, where everyone competes in games like Wordle as a way to connect and have fun. All in all, they make sure to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, invest in professional development, and show their appreciation to keep the team motivated and creative.

What is the Future of Remote Working?

Lisa sees a lot of push and pull over staying remote or going back to the office in the tech world. On one hand, a home office is now very ingrained in the younger generations. On the other, many insist going back to normal should include going back to the office. Each has its own set of pros/cons, of course. There is a beauty to working in person and seeing your co-workers at the office. However, putting effort into providing remote opportunities is also very important.

Furthermore, not everyone wants to go back to the awful open-floor offices that were so popular before the pandemic. It is a complex issue that can’t be solved by just ordering everyone back into the office but rather requires reimagining how that would look in a post-pandemic world.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Benefits of Having a Remote Agency

Working remotely has actually helped Lisa’s agency in many ways. For example, diversity of time zones within the team has been a major benefit. There are team members in different time zones working closely with clients in different areas. There’s also the flexibility of working a schedule to accommodate to your activities. This allows everyone to work during the time of day when they are the most productive.

If you have an open mind, you can also see the benefits of having different points of view on something. Lisa is in New York and someone from New Mexico or Florida will have different points of view and have different ideas.

#1 Most Important Decision to Propel Agency Growth

Hiring a VP of Operations was a crucial move that really impacted Lisa's agency’s growth. For a long time, she was sitting in two seats. Letting go of operations and starting to think bigger was a total game changer! It’s a huge decision because you want someone who will maintain the same level of detail in the decisions they make.

In short, her process included:

  • A year documenting all the things she was doing.
  • Listing the tasks she was ready to delegate to someone else.
  • Developing a job description based on all that information.
  • Working with a recruiter specializing in filling the integrator position.

It still took a while, but she eventually found the perfect person for the job. They connected and she understood the agency right away.

Best Agency Advice: Hire Slow, Fire Fast

The most impactful advice she’s gotten, which goes back to her biggest struggle, is to let people go when it’s time. Don’t hold on and give them three or four chances to improve. You’re holding them back and holding your agency back from what it could be accomplishing. Since Quantious grew from such a small team, it was especially hard for Lisa to recognize when moving on would be best for the agency. In her opinion, the sooner you can do it the better -- or as they say, hire slow and fire fast.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Would you like to get out of your agency’s daily operations? Do you want more time to work on the business rather than in it? Have you set up boundaries and the right systems to make that happen? Have you made the key hires to help you do it smoothly? One agency owner found a way to force herself to exit from day-to-day operations in order to create more work-life balance.

Jessie Healy is the founder and CEO of Webtopia, a digital agency focused on e-commerce growth for sustainable and purpose-driven product brands. She started to build her agency around her freelance business and quickly grew it into a successful remote agency. However, she found herself basically chained to her desk and made a few key decisions to correct that.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How your values can help you select a niche.
  • Force your own exit from day-to-day operations.
  • A hiring system that eliminates 90% of bad matches.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Transitioning from Freelancer to Agency Owner

Jessie was 7½ months pregnant when she lost her job and turned to freelancing. It’s something she was already considering but had delayed because she was unsure how to start. She wondered: How do freelancers get business? Where do they find clients? Thankfully, it was not as difficult as she thought. She posted her skillset on a forum and started getting work right away.

Jessie started her agency as a freelancer and first-time mom who wanted a flexible schedule. As she grew her business, she first hired other female freelancers looking for the same type of flexibility. However, the workload increased and she found herself in management hell. She was chasing people down to make deadlines and attend meetings. In the end, she realized if she wanted any sort of work-life balance and growth for her agency she needed an in-house team. They continued to be a fully remote agency but as employees now, every team member is committed to the agency and committed to the process. She no longer had to chase after her team because they were online when she needed them to be. It was a key turning point for her agency.

Building an Agency as a Trusted Partner For Clients

As the amount of work grew, Jessie realized there was an opportunity to fill a gap in the market. She had worked on the client side and found that, even with a good budget and hiring experienced agencies, she could not make them show up to calls. She felt there was a gap in the market for agencies that would work as a partner for clients.

So from the get-go, her agency started to work with small e-commerce companies as their marketing department.  They focused on the creative side of storytelling as well as the science of media buying. According to Jessie, most agencies were focusing just on the media buying aspect but her agency stood out for focusing on both. They also focused on strategy, which she felt from her experience on the client side that agencies were really lacking.

How Your Personal Values Can Help You Niche Down

Jessie admits that in the very beginning she was willing to do any sort of agency work for £50/hour. She would even take on menial or boring tasks like paid search. That is until she learned about the benefits of niching down.

Ecommerce became the obvious choice for her, since she had always been focused on consumer marketing.  Additionally, sustainability has always been the most important value for her so she brought that to her agency work.

When you have strong values for your agency, eventually you'll find yourself working with brands that share those same values. As time went on, she noticed they were working with a lot of female founders and a lot of sustainable brands. Jessie figured they were repelling brands that did not share those values and attracting the ones who did. She took to LinkedIn and started posting about sustainability. Eventually, she started working with charities and participating in tree planting activities and slowly built a clientele that resonates with her values.

Now the agency is approached more and more by sustainable brands that share her passion. As When you find your agency's unique identifiers, implement the change you want to see in your agency and you’ll attract people with the same values.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

4 Key Agency Hires to Exit Yourself From Daily Agency Operations

When she moved to New Zealand, it put a lot of distance and time difference between Jessie, the team, and clients. She spent a year planning the move during a time when she felt she was constantly chained to her desk. She felts she was always either answering emails or jumping into meetings. Moving gave her some freedom but she knew she needed to make some key hires first.

Never be shy about hiring senior staff who have the experience to take over without the need for extensive preparation. Jessie hired four key roles to ensure everything would run smoothly without her:

  1. Head of Operations
  2. Director of Paid Social Strategy
  3. Director of Google Ad Strategy
  4. Commercial Director

With others dedicated to specific parts of the business, this freed Jessie up to focus on the 5 roles of an agency owner. Some clients still request Jessie or want face time with her so she makes time twice a week for those meetings. However, she is very strict about how much time a week she will devote to this.

It’s a change any agency owner can implement by having clear boundaries. Jessie moved to a different country, but even if she hadn’t she believes she would have eventually gone in this same direction because the way she had been overworking was not sustainable.

Setting Up a Hiring Process That Eliminates 90% of Bad Matches

Those four key roles were a critical part of her plan to exit day-to-day operations. So how did she find the best talent to hire? Two of them were promotions from within the agency, which is why you shouldn’t forget to empower your team’s growth. For the other two, her agency tested several sites but generally found LinkedIn was the best source.

They typically post the job in remote workgroups and do cold outreach, where they send messages with the job description. After that when a candidate looks promising, they have a cleverly built funnel setup. The funnel uses marketing language and leads to a series of tasks that includes written tests and videos to make sure the candidates expresses themselves correctly. This process ends with a series of interviews to evaluate both technical skills and culture fit. It is a carefully constructed process that eliminates 90% of bad matches.

Remember you must hire the right culture fit. Skills can be taught and learned, but culture cannot.

You probably won’t set up the perfect hiring system for your agency on the first try. However, it is a way to ensure that you won’t lose a ton of time in interviews with people that ultimately don’t have what it takes to be successful on your team.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 4_Key_Agency_Hires_to_Get_You_Out_of_Daily_Operations.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

When was the last time you raised your prices? Do you know your profitability on each of your clients? If you haven’t raised your prices for legacy clients in a while, you’re probably losing thousands of dollars of revenue. Fear of increasing prices is a very common issue for agency owners. However, overcoming that fear might be easier than you think once you get out of your own head.

As Agency Scale Specialist on our team, Darby Copenhaver talks with hundreds of agency owners and finds that one of the most common fears is raising prices. It is a hard conversation that you should have with yourself and your clients. If you are transparent and communicate your value it will never come as a surprise.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Agency owners’ fears around raising their prices.
  • Understanding and communicating your agency’s value.
  • Good systems to raise your prices and be more profitable.

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2 Most Common Fears Around Raising Agency Prices

Darby spends a lot of time helping agency owners get to the next level and says many of them are scared to raise their prices. For the most part, they seem to be fine with raising prices for new clients but stop themselves from increasing for existing clients. They will typically justify the decision by saying those clients helped them get to where they are now. However, that is like not taking credit for all the work you’ve done to grow the agency.

  1. Loyalty to Legacy Clients - As an agency owner, you may feel a certain sense of loyalty to your oldest clients. They’ve probably been with the agency for years and it’s logical that you want to continue that relationship. You may also believe in order to raise prices, you need to provide additional value. However, if you’ve been working with a client for five years you should consider that you are most likely much better at what you do after five years of experience. Those clients are now getting a better quality of services and strategy for what they were paying five years ago. This is not how it works in any other industry.
  2. Balancing Capacity and Pricing - Another big challenge agencies face is bandwidth. They find it hard to keep up with fulfillment and delivery as the agency grows. By not raising your prices, you’re handcuffing yourself to a client at a discounted rate. Meanwhile, you’re bringing in new clients at higher prices. It will take you the same amount of time, effort, and energy to complete the tasks for the legacy clients as for a new client. Basically, you won’t have the time and bandwidth to bring on more new clients paying the right price. In this sense, your loyalty is getting in the way of your growth.

Understand and Communicate Your Agency’s Value

Darby usually asks agency owners if they are effectively measuring and communicating client success frequently enough. It is commonly a question that takes agency owners a few minutes to answer and very few have a good answer.

Communicating client success can be a challenge depending on the type of agency. To start, focus on asking the right questions. You should really know what the client cares about from your onboarding process. This way, you can know what to measure for success.

If you’re doing that part correctly and getting it right from the beginning then you’re setting yourself up for success. You’ll be able to relate back to them the results that you’re getting in a matter that they know, understand, and care about.

Communicating the value you’re providing to clients is also crucial when it comes to the team. Your team should understand the value of their work for each client and why you charge what you charge. If you’re not communicating value efficiently to your team then you’re probably not communicating it to your client either.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

3 Good Systems For Raising Agency Prices

  • Have a healthy sales pipeline. You have to have predictability so you can be selective. If you’re raising prices for new clients coming in, you should have new opportunities lining up right behind them in case you need to rethink your pricing strategy. At the end of the day, it’s an experiment, so make sure you have a plethora of opportunities so you’re not just relying on the few you have in front of you.
  • Include price as part of your success conversations. Part of the success conversations you should be having with clients needs to be laying the ground for upcoming price increases. Talk about what you’re investing in new technology, talent, training, etc. In short, all the things the "behind the scenes" things they don’t see but are contributing toward getting them more effective results.
  • Start with the right mindset and expectations. Be prepared to lose clients as a trade off for more profitable ones. Expect that you may lose a few legacy clients and set the new pricing in a way that you'll be OK when that happens. Digital Agency Elite Mastermind members have said after getting the courage to double their prices and preparing to lose a few clients they ended up not losing any because their clients actually expected the price increase.

Training Agency Clients to Expect Price Increases

This is something that Jason and Darby discuss with mastermind members all the time. It’s part of building a relationship with your clients. You don’t go for the long-term, hard sell right away before you gain their trust. It’s a lot to ask someone to enter a long-term commitment, like a retainer, solely based on case studies and past successes. Instead, start with a foot-in-the-door offering.  Build a relationship, show some results and some wins which naturally lead to talking about a long-term commitment like a larger project or retainer work.

By doing that, you’re already building a relationship and trust where you’re no longer competing for price. You’ve proven you can get the results you promised and the price won’t matter. It also won’t be difficult to justify because there is now a foundation and an understanding of the value you bring to their company.

Other than that, once there is a relationship you should train your clients to expect a price increase at least once a year. If there are big gaps of time between raises then you're training them to see it as a rare occurrence.

By contrast, if each year you raise a percentage based on inflation and upgrades and you’ve already established communication with them where they understand the results you’ve gotten for them, they won’t question it.

Check out a Foot In the Door Framework with 90% Close Rate:  https://jasonswenk.com/foot-in-the-door

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Want more brilliant Agency Scaling Advice from Darby?

Check out one of his other interviews  or book a blueprint call with him and get a plan specific to your agency's scaling needs.

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

Has your agency struggled through tough times? Could you pivot quickly if necessary? Back in 2020 many businesses, including digital agencies, were scrambling to adapt during the covid pandemic. Today’s guest got her agency to the other side and almost back at pre-pandemic revenue. To do that, she put together a series of guiding principles her agency team sticks by as they search for ways to carry on. She shares lessons on why building leaders and leveling up leads to amazing agency growth.

Robin Blanchette is the founder and CEO of Norton Creative, an agency that specializes in the restaurant industry. With a niche like restaurant hospitality, her clients were particularly affected by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Many in her situation tried different approached and found what worked for them. For her, it was 50% about diversifying and 50% digging deeper into her niche.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How the pandemic affected her business.
  • The principles that kept her team afloat.
  • The importance of building leaders.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Choosing an Agency Niche Based on Experience and Passion

Robin was not an agency person by nature. She worked for an agency once in her 20s and never wanted to do it again. She had a background on the client side so as CMO and Media Director got to work on all the pieces of running marketing for restaurants and developed a real love for that industry.

Although she really enjoyed this work, she was also a single mother of small children. She was looking for something that would allow her to be more present in her kids’ lives. She naïvely thought running her own company would allow her that time and the agency was born from the idea.

Choosing a niche was a no-brainer because Robin already had a background in the restaurant industry. That’s where her heart is and what she is drawn to. Could she sell other things if necessary? Yes, but that’s where her expertise is and where she shines. Since then, they’ve worked with about 150 restaurant brands whether for projects or partnerships.

Adapting Your Agency Model In a Downturned Economy

In early 2020, most of Robin's clients were in the restaurant business and were closing due to the lockdowns. She had the worst week of her career as many clients couldn’t pay. Many were laying off staff and even she had to let go of some employees. It was a tough time, but one of the things she remembers is everyone's level of compassion and understanding. Even laid-off employees understood the decision and Robin really felt a sense of community in those moments.

Thankfully, not every client had to shut down; many changed their model to drive through and delivery and kept going. A lot of people used creative measures and figured out how to stay in business during those months. This helped Robin and her team stay afloat and keep fighting as well.

Some may think the pandemic proves that choosing a niche could be a negative. And back in 2020, Jason advised mastermind members to dedicate 50% of their efforts to continue to support their industries and 50% of their resources to explore new industries that were thriving with the new events.

For her part, Robin decided to go even deeper into the restaurant industry. They did a lot of pro bono work and provided support to their clients. They also did a ton of branding work for digital businesses, which they now continue to do for bigger brands. All in all, they did some work outside of their niche while also digging even deeper into their industry kept them afloat in these difficult times.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

4 Guiding Principles for Getting the Agency Team Through Tough Times

The pandemic was certainly a hard time for many businesses. Agency owners had to get creative and look for new opportunities to get their agency past these difficulties. Like many, Robin did think of shutting down at some point. After all, she didn’t have to answer to shareholders. However, her team was looking to her for leadership. Inspired by them, she decided to not give up and figure out what was next for the agency.

Everyone had to be focused and working, so she created these 4 guiding principles:

  1. Focus on what you can control. Don't waste time or energy on things you can't control. Instead of worrying about the unknowns, what do you know to be true and how can you use it to your benefit?
  2. Get comfortable getting uncomfortable. Every member of the team needs to be flexible and take on new tasks and truly be a team player, even when something is a little outside their comfort zone.
  3. Assume positive intent. The uncertainty of a health crisis and changing economy is unsettling but international positivity is the only way to get through it.
  4. Don’t waste the crisis. Think about how to leverage the forced changes into ways of leveling up or renewing the business.

Leveling Up & Building Leadership

Robin’s principles for the pandemic are values any agency owner can implement at any time. You don’t need a global crisis for your team to understand the agency’s mission, vision, and values. When you have guiding principles, your team feels empowered to make decisions that meet the guidelines you've established.

Robin believes the measure of success for her guiding principles is the fact that the agency made it through and returned to their pre-pandemic revenue. Those principles helped not only to grow the agency but also to build leaders in the organization.

Coming out of the pandemic also helped her commit to leveling up in every way. It’s something her agency is applying to talent, and partners. She took this opportunity to turn into the best version of herself, which it’s really something we should always strive to do.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Would you like to create more freedom in your agency? How can you spend less time making decisions? How can you make the right decisions to grow your agency without too much emotion or personal bias? It's time to improve your decision-making skills and spend less time on small agency tasks. Today’s expert uses science to explain how you can greatly improve your decision-making skills in order to create the role you really want within your agency. All you need is discipline and the right framework to keep yourself accountable.

Dr. Frederic Bahnson is a surgeon who found a new career path in coaching. Initially, he needed information on how to make a career decision and found valuable resources that helped him not only with his career but with other aspects of his life. He decided to share those tools and created his own framework, which he now shares in his book Better Than Destiny.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why struggles with decision-making could start with your ego.
  • 3-step framework for making better decisions
  • How to know when it's time to replace yourself in daily agency operations.

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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The Process and Skill of Decision-Making

As much as we theorize about decisions, we can all fall into these same mistakes again. Decision-making is a skill and as such, you’ll get better with practice. You develop a framework, evaluate how you’re doing with it, get feedback, and observe the results about why something might have gone wrong. Sometimes you can attribute a bad outcome to bad luck.

You can’t control everything, but always make sure to assess the results you get from implementing the decision-making process. Pay attention to how you go about making important decisions and see if it’s effective, and if not, go back and revise. The important thing is to have a process.

Being Honest and Self Aware Making Decisions for Your Agency

You can approach decision-making from many angles. Dr. Bahnson encourages us to remember we all have biases and blind spots. You may have tendencies to go for things that will be beneficial in the short term but not so much in the long term. There are systematic ways in which we make decisions that are not in our best interest or fail to follow through with the decisions we’ve made.

We find ways to justify this to ourselves but if we were honest we could identify the patterns of how we consistently fail to make the best decision or double down on a bad decision. We fool ourselves into thinking we can’t give up on a project because we’ve already invested so much in it. You may think giving up is admitting the resources you poured into something are really lost. That leads to you digging and digging deeper into a hole, ultimately not where you want to be.

Is Your Ego Playing a Role in Making the Right Decision?

Some of it is ego and some of it is just your ego tripping you up into thinking you’re being objective. You think you understand yourself well enough not to worry about biases. Recognizing your own biases when you’re calm does not mean they won’t be a problem for you. That perspective disappears once you’re in the heat of the moment. You start to make decisions based on your emotional reaction or the status quo and not consider that you’re being affected by your blind spots. This is something that we can much sooner recognize in another person than in ourselves, which is where our ego comes into play.

Should we completely remove emotion from the equation when making an important decision?

No, Dr. Bahnson does not recommend that. Understanding how we feel about something is an important part of the decision-making process. The idea is to use emotion as a piece of information but it shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat when we’re making a decision. One way to do that is to have a process you can implement as a series of steps to making a sound decision.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

3 Step Framework to Making Better Decisions

  1. Decide how much time, effort, and resources are worth spending on a particular decision. Don’t fall into the trap of small decisions when you’re building your agency. Otherwise, you may end up spending too much time on things like what color to paint the walls. It’s not that the details don’t matter, just not so much if you’re doing it at the expense of strategy.
  2. Think about what’s important to you when it comes to a particular decision. People approach different decisions in different ways depending on their priorities. What are your priorities and how much of a role do they play in the decision you're making?
  3. Consider your options and narrow them down to a few viable ones. If you determine the decision is in fact important and you need to spend time on it, figure out how to thin out your options by identifying a top few that you’ll spend time researching. It becomes less overwhelming when you have a few concrete options to consider.

Deciding When to Step Out of Daily Agency Operations

A common decision agency owners face at some point is when to step out of daily operations. It is one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make for your agency to start empowering your team and grow. You need to be clear on the direction you want to take your agency and which skills you personally bring to the table. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll be able to identify tasks someone else could be doing much more efficiently so you can focus on agency growth.

As he details in his framework, Dr. Bahnson suggests that you start by recognizing all the little things that you’re spending time on, like making follow-up customer calls. Whatever it is, if it’s taking up more time than building your strategy then you should ask yourself if you’re better off paying someone to do that. That person would at least be able to put 100% of their attention on those tasks. You shouldn’t spend more time on the day-to-day operations than on the big initiatives for your agency. Instead, try to focus on things that will matter two or three years down the road.

Why Do People Struggle So Much With Delegating?

It requires a certain level of humility to recognize you might like how you do something but someone else could do a much better job. It can be hard to admit for an agency owner who built their business from scratch. However, it is very likely someone who doesn’t do it exactly your way could actually get better results doing it their way.

When is it time to start looking to replace yourself in some agency tasks? When you assess how you’re spending your time and realize you’re focusing too much and spending too much time on small tasks. If you’re spending more time on a three-day framework than you are on three-year planning and strategy, it’s time for a change.

Decision-Making for Agency Owners

Similar to Dr. Bahnson’s framework, Jason advises mastermind members to consider two things when they are making a decision:

  • Is it going to save you time?
  • Is it going to give you freedom?

If you want your time and freedom to be a priority when it comes to agency decisions, then it could be useful to create rules and make decisions based on the rules. Giving yourself rules around decision-making is a good way to keep yourself accountable. If it’s well thought out, these rules will be easy to follow and something you can evaluate and update.

Giving yourself a goal with rules will force you to focus on what truly matters. You just need to be honest about the amount of time and energy a decision is worth. Dr. Bahnson says a good rule of thumb is asking yourself -- how much will that decision matter in three days, three months, and three years from now?

Growing an agency, you need to focus on the three-year term. You shouldn’t be focusing on the three-day horizon. You won’t have the energy to focus on both and do it well.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 3-Steps_To_Improve_Decision-Making_and_Create_Freedom_In_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

What is the life cycle of a video marketing agency? How can you transition from accidental agency owner to something else in order to fulfill your goals? What does life look like after you sell your video marketing agency? Today’s guest hadn’t seriously considered selling until he stepped back to realize the bigger picture. He remembered his original goals and realized there were other projects he wanted to focus on. This guest shares the way he started and grew his agency into something a team member actually wanted to buy. He also shares how he created a smooth transition for the buyer and decided what is next in his entrepreneurial journey.

Doug Dibert is the founder and creator of Magnfi, a video software platform, and also the founder of Crossing River, the video marketing agency he recently sold. Like most agency owners, he fell into the business by accident when he started making wedding videos and soon turned that into a business. However, as Doug grew his agency he started thinking about selling and pursuing his filmmaking passion.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to differentiate your video marketing agency.
  • Knowing how and when to sell your agency.
  • Finding the right buyer for your agency might be easier than you think.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Starting a Video Marketing Agency

Doug went to film school and actually started using the school’s equipment to do paid jobs. He mostly worked filming weddings and got inspiration from a class on documentaries to try to apply those techniques to his wedding videos. So he took the material he filmed at one of those weddings and made a small trailer video. He posted it to social media and went to sleep. The next morning, he had thousands of views, shares, and messages from brides asking if he could do the same for their wedding. After a while, he also started getting requests from businesses that wanted to invest in video marketing.

This is how the agency was born. They produced videos for businesses all over the world and focused on small to medium-sized businesses. Then the '08 recession hit and the agency lost all its marketing clients. Thankfully, the wedding video business stayed strong so the agency stayed afloat and also started to do videos for social media.

Video is such an important tool and every company should utilize it. Back then, Doug had a hard time standing out among big video production companies. He thought about how to differentiate himself and concluded that instead of being a video production company they would focus on video marketing strategy. Their services went beyond creating video content. It included helping clients optimize their YouTube channels and animate their logos. They especially focused on creating content around the client’s strategic goals. The word got out and they became the go-to video marketing agency for businesses.

Creating a Platform to Systematize Video Content Creation

Back in 2015, Doug rejected a few clients who wanted to film videos on their phones and send them to the agency to be turned into professional-looking video content. He didn’t see the potential at the time. Later Doug realized 90% of his clients wanted videos shot and edited the same way. He got the idea to create a platform to systematize video content creation.

Simple videos like testimonials, “about me” videos and expert tips are the core of what every business needs to see some real growth. With this in mind, Doug set out to create this platform for low-cost video content creation. His goal was to satisfy 90% of clients' needs and, in case they wanted something more personalized, they would pay an extra fee for those services.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Seeing the Bigger Picture and Deciding to Sell Your Agency

Doug’s big goal when he started was to make movies. The opportunities to create videos for companies came by chance and the agency started to grow. He had people willing to invest in him as an entrepreneur who wanted to see if he was able to grow a business, so he focused on that.

The shift in his mentality came from having a business coach who helped him see the bigger picture. He learned you have to continuously open your mind to new possibilities or you will remain stagnant. When his coach realized he wanted to make movies, she asked “why not next year?” He had been thinking about growing the agency more and delaying selling a bit longer. However, thanks to his coach he started thinking --  “why not next year?”

Back then he was stuck being the hands-on agency owner who wanted to do everything. This shift encouraged him to start hiring people to replace himself and focus on what he did really well. He hired amazing talent, built a great team, and started to focus on the business aspect of the agency instead of the creative aspect.

Finding the Right Buyer Might Be Easier Than You Think

In his case, Doug had no strategic team or advisors come in and help him prepare to sell. It was actually one of his editors who expressed interest in buying the agency. After looking into the agency’s recurring revenue, clients, assets, etc, the editor decided to buy. They also paid cash, so there was no finance clause or several payments over a period of time. In the end, the entire process from the conversation to selling the agency took about 3 months.

Doug also mentioned he was building a video editing platform and agreed to refer video production clients to the agency. In the end, he ended up staying at the agency for another year. He presented the new owner as his new partner so he could start building relationships with the clients.

Continuing his work at the agency and having other projects also helped Doug find purpose and fulfillment. Overall, the transition after selling your agency can be hard. You may expect to feel euphoric and end up thinking “what do I do now?” This is why you should always dedicate time to think about your life after the sale. Do you want to travel and rest? Maybe start another business? Or just focus on other projects? Whatever it is, knowing that there’s something else will help you avoid the emotional fallout that comes right after selling your agency.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Is your agency purpose-driven? A shared purpose is something your employees will rally around and identify with. It is critical to create a sense of belonging and have their buy-in. Today’s guest built a successful agency with a great culture his employees really appreciated. When he exited the agency, he felt so inspired by the outpour of messages from those impacted by its culture that he decided to write a book on creating an agency with a purpose and a soul.

Ralf Specht is an author and business leader dedicated to making soulless companies a thing of the past. As the CEO of a global digital agency, he focused on building a culture focused on connecting the different teams. Years later, he received many messages thanking him for the agency culture he had created.

In this episode we’ll discuss:

  • His proven framework for building culture.
  • Why you should have a purpose if you want a successful agency.
  • How he made culture a hard fact.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Building a Global Agency

When Ralf accepted the challenge of creating a global agency, it started with offices in four countries and 80 people. It was certainly a challenge but he remembers it as the highlight of his career. He focused on creating a sense of belonging and a culture that really motivates employees.

All companies should have a purpose and a soul and that should come before any revenue goal you may have. You should also have core values that speak to the behavior you want to see in your agency. This will be the way to establish yourself and really start growing.

By the time he left years later, Ralf had grown the agency to 19 offices and 1200 people. When he retired, he received many messages thanking him for the culture he had created for the agency. He felt this message was too valuable to keep it to himself, so he was inspired to write Building Corporate Soul and Beyond The Startup.

3-Step Framework for Building a Great Agency Culture

Hiring based on beliefs, attitudes, and soft skills are buzzwords that get thrown around a lot these days. In their beginnings, Ralf and his partners sat down to think about the culture and values they wanted to see in their agency. At first, they set out to write a list of the behaviors they wanted to see in the agency. This proved to be difficult so they changed their approach to list the behaviors they did NOT want to see. It was easy starting from there and it also helped them shape an idea of who they wanted to become.

This exercise eventually led them to figure out their purpose. It’s an exercise he recommends to all agency owners because answering the question “why are you here?” will be crucial to implementing this framework:

  1. Shared Purpose (Being): We’ve been discussing purpose in the agency world for years. However, Ralf believes that if the end game of a purpose conversation is a great PowerPoint deck, then you achieve nothing. He prefers to talk about shared purpose, which has to be a.) shared by the company’s leadership and b.) shared with all stakeholders.
  2. Shared Understanding (Believing): This includes all strategic elements like the mission, vision, and values plus an often overlooked fourth element “spirit.” For Ralf, spirit speaks to the intended company culture. As the agency leader, what sort of culture do you want to see in the organization?
  3. Shared Behaviors (Belonging): Studies show that the number one reason why employees are now leaving their workplaces in spades is that they don’t have a sense of belonging. The real work will start after you have shared purpose and shared understanding defined on paper. Up to that point, it is all about strategic thinking. Now you have to actually make sure that the behaviors in your agency reflect what you wrote to establish shared behaviors.

Agencies are not any different than any other company in the sense that they very much need to implement these principles as much as they would recommend their clients to do so.

Creating Consistent Culture Across Different Agency Offices

Ralf’s agency started as a global agency, which posed the challenge of building a culture where the different teams felt part of a whole. To address this, he and his partners enforced a single P&L mindset and a mantra of better, faster, cheaper, with an emphasis on better always being #1. With that, everything within the organization was set up to support collaboration rather than competition between offices. They also designed complementary roles across the four offices. Therefore, the offices had to work together or they would not be able to deliver on the various client briefs.

As to the belonging element, Ralf believes if a CEO tells you his agency has a soul, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. If you want to know whether or not a company has a soul and a great culture you don’t need to ask the CEO. You should ask the employees  - they are the soul of the organization.

This is why he implemented a formal evaluation structure four times a year. Under this structure, every manager talked to their team to understand what mattered to them. This evaluation included which parts of the company worked for them and which didn’t. Those evaluations included a score and financial benefit depending on the score and worked very well for them.

Finally, they implemented exchange programs to encourage better communication between the different offices. This way, employees had the opportunity to make connections and understand other work cultures.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

A Great Culture Gets You Through Difficult Times

In his book, Ralf studies cases of companies that do culture right. There’s so much to learn from companies like Airbnb and Salesforce that place belonging at the center of their operations. As we know, culture really shows when things get difficult. It’s always easy when things are going well and everybody feels good. However, not every company has a culture that can get them through the bad days.

Airbnb gave a great example during the pandemic when the hospitality industry went through some really difficult times. You may not know that this company had to let go of 25% of its workforce. This is because they did it the right way. We all learned of similar cases where the companies, unfortunately, did everything wrong (like firing hundreds of employees via a Zoom call) and the whole world knew within a few hours.

Airbnb had been honest with its staff since the beginning of the pandemic. It was unknown territory for everyone, after all. They sent several memos throughout the year with updates and finally sent a written communication notifying them of their decision and detailing their reasons.

The main reasons this was such a great example in protecting culture through difficult times is:

  1. The company made sure the people who had to leave didn’t leave with a trauma.
  2. Those who stayed understood those who were leaving were a critical part of the company’s success thus far.
  3. The people who had to leave received a lot of support from the company.

All in all, it was a master class in ensuring that your company’s soul remained intact after such a difficult time.

Why Internal Culture is #1 in an Agency's Reputation

When we talk about culture, there is this perception we’re talking about an airy and soft thing. Ralf made it a hard fact. This is why his book contains real-life examples of companies with souls. Employee votes really matter more than anything else when it comes to the companies’ soul index. When it comes to agencies, they are companies like any others and should strive to have strong cultures.

However, it is common to see an agency’s value propositions do not match its external value propositions, which are usually about what they do for their clients. In fact, very often there is no internal value proposition. There should be one and it should be in sync with the company’s external value proposition. Studies indicate that internal culture is one of the most important factors of a company’s reputation. You can’t fake it. It has to be real and it starts with a shared purpose.

To create a sense of belonging:

  • Ask yourself, what does it feel like to belong in your agency?
  • How can you create belonging and help others feel like they belong there?

Some people want to build a $100 million agency and have no purpose beyond that. As someone who’s run a very successful 8-figure agency, Ralf says you don’t get to that level of success without a purpose. Remember without a purpose and something they can get behind employees will not feel identified with the company or feel empowered to make decisions. This way, the company will never run without you, which should eventually be one of your goals.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you want to scale your agency but fear growing too fast? Today’s guest was part of the exponential growth of a big-name agency and never thought he want to work in the agency business as a result. However, he took the lessons learned from that experience and grew his own agency making sure to work on what he loves and build a team around what he doesn’t.

Hernan Vazquez is the co-founder of Scale Driven, a digital agency that helps clients develop high-level marketing strategies that generate revenue at scale. He was part of the success of Frank Kern's agency and its eventual failure when they grew too much, too fast. . He later took those lessons to start implementing the benefits of developing your own brand to grow your agency faster.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why you should do what you like and hire for what you don't.
  • Why it's normal to question owning an agency.
  • Lesson learned from fast, exponential growth.

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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Hernan has been in the digital agency business for the past 14 years. Throughout his career, he always did media buying, SEO, and paid media work for a few clients. He was also the marketing director on the client side for several brands.

At one point, when he was feeling burned out from all the work, Hernan sat down and wrote out the amount of time spent on each job, the revenue per hour it brought him, and the fulfillment he got from each. In the end, agency work was the most profitable and fulfilling. So he decided to go all-in and the agency went from being an afterthought to being his sole focus.

Do What You Like and Build a Team Around What You Don’t

Hernan has built several teams for agencies and he has always been involved in every aspect, from operations to marketing. However, those experiences have helped him realize he does not enjoy the operations portion of the business as much. If he were to start over, he would hire leaders faster.

Oftentimes, agency owners are a bit cautious when it comes to starting to fill roles in the agency. This is commonly out of fear they won’t sustain the business enough to make payroll. This was certainly the case for Hernan, but now he realizes there are creative ways to compensate and motivate employees independent of revenue and cash flow.

For instance, he later hired someone in charge of recruiting and developing new talent. He offered that person a percentage of revenue and they accepted. He is now building a sales team and the sales director was offered a similar deal. As he has learned, you don’t necessarily need cash flow to afford those salaries; you just need the right people who share your vision and can maintain mutual trust for building the agency.

Hiring people who excel in areas where you don't allow you more time to focus on the things you truly enjoy. Being self-aware of what you like and are good at is the key to knowing what pieces you can delegate, eliminate or hire for.

It's Normal to Question Owning an Agency

Agency owners can get to a point where they are working on things they don’t like and feel exhausted. Many feel like prisoners to the agency they've built and this is typically when they start looking for a way out.

For Hernan, he was working as Frank Kern’s main ad guy and then transitioned into the role of CMO. He ran ads for 30+ clients and also did some coaching for Frank's students. When the agency started to grow, he also had to hire media buyers and train them. However, when Frank partnered with Grant Cardone and the agency saw exponential growth, going from 30+ clients to 220+ clients in eight months was a huge adjustment.

The team went from a handful of people to a staff of more than 60. They were also getting a lot of different types of clients, which is not what they were used to. The problem with explosive growth was, that although the revenue and demand were there and they were hiring people to keep up with the demand, they just couldn’t catch up to the demand operationally.

Hernan was stuck hiring and training a lot more media buyers and handling the ads for many more clients while also running the marketing for his own agency. He understandably ended up burned out and wanting an exit from the agency world.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Lessons Learned From Fast, Exponential Growth

After a year of feeling burnt out, Hernan observed other agency owners who really enjoyed the work. “What are they doing differently?” he thought. The difference was they were operating in their area of expertise.

Hernan is a marketing guy who really enjoyed that aspect of the business but got stuck deep in operations. That’s why he no longer enjoyed the work. He thought if he could just rebuild that concept of the agency on his own terms and without compromising on the things that he didn’t like to do, it would work.

One of the things he learned was it’s not about having an endless supply of clients but about having the right clients. They were at one point taking anyone and everyone and servicing all types of companies from webinar funnels to car dealerships. He knows now, it's better to grow slow, find what you're best at and be an expert in one area.

If you build a system, it will get you enough potential clients so that you can pick and choose, you’d guarantee that

  1. You’ll only do the work that you can deliver on.
  2. You can charge the right amount.
  3. It won’t take too much time.

Some agency owners fixate on building a big agency they're willing to sacrifice anything for it. They’ll end up 60  years old,  realizing life passed them by and they didn’t enjoy it.

The Importance of Creating a Personal Brand

For agency owners, creating your own brand is as important as growing your agency's brand. It is the best way to turn on the faucet and bring in the people you need. Of course, the goal isn't bringing in more clients than your team can handle but rather being able to pick and choose the clients you want to work with.

Hernan and his team have been working on rebuilding his personal brand. After being on both sides of the equation, he sees having benefit of hiring for a role that puts a lot of value and brings in clients. Now he’s starting to apply this and it is impacting the business on many levels. As expected, they get a lot more people wanting to work with them, but they are also very motivated from the start and they stay longer.

His message for agency owners is doubling down on content and putting advertising dollars behind that content for your ideal demographic. This is the #1 strategy that has a long-lasting impact on your business.

For the 3 Golden Rules on Scaling and more on scaling your agency, click here to be redirected to Hernan's page.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you setting up the processes you’ll need to sell your agency one day? How would you go about weeding out the red flags to identify the right buyer? Today’s guest started his agency at 25 and didn’t think he’d ever want to sell. The pandemic made him reconsider, but he needed to find the right buyer. Someone that would benefit his clients, his team, and allow him to still be a part of his agency's future.

Aaron Levenstadt was working at Google when he started offering SEO consultancy services to referred clients. When some of them asked for on-going support, he started Pedestal Search. His agency focuses on helping businesses drive more productive traffic from search engines to their websites or stores. Now, years later, he found the right buyer and continues to be a part of his agency’s growth.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How he decided to sell.
  • Red flags in possible buyers.
  • How to identify the right buyer for your agency.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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A Lesson on Accelerating Agency Growth Early-On

Aaron started his agency charging $6K a month for SEO and analytics services, which was great for a new business. He believed rushing to scale too fast could affect his ability to provide a good service. It took him 6-7 years to get over the $1 million mark.

There were many lessons involved over the years of that agency growth process. One big lesson was learning how to explain what they do as an agency. Part of niching and finding your audience involves learning to clearly explain what you can and cannot do for clients. Once they nailed that part and had the processes to support it, growth accelerated. He also chose this time to start raising prices now that the agency had found an audience that resonated with its message.

Getting Serious After Hitting The $1 Million Dollar Mark

Getting to the $1 Million mark was the moment when Aaron actually started to get more serious about the agency’s future. He and his team laid out a blueprint of how the company should run and got to work. It was a good moment for him to start replacing himself in several tasks and move to more of a strategy-based role.

Basically, they developed an organizational chart where they could look at ratios of account strategists to see how many clients each could handle comfortably. The result was 4 to 9 clients per strategist depending on the size of the account.  They then added an execution and delivery layer to the chart and started filling those roles, which freed Aaron to focus on more strategic and directional level thinking for the agency.

Two Major Red Flags in Vetting Potential Buyers for Your Agency

Selling the agency was not the goal from the start. Aaron saw himself working in the agency until the end of his career and saw no need to sell it. This is where having guidance like the Digital Agency Elite Mastermind is really helpful. Aaron didn’t really consider acquisition seriously until some of his mentors started to ask questions about his future and legacy. Questions like “where do you see the agency going in the future?”, and “are you planning to grow your staff of 25 employees, or to 50 employees?” got him thinking

Around that time, he started to get emails from companies interested in buying his agency. It was the start of the pandemic and he got regular inquiries. However, he still wasn’t sure.

In dealing with potential buyers, Aaron found a few red flags he shared:

  1. Why are they interested in your agency in specific? If they cannot articulate a reason then they are just shopping around and are not serious.
  2. What is their reason for acquiring an agency? Are they buying to grow in a niche? Do they want to expand in a specific service area? Are they buying you for your team and processes? If they are not anchored to a why then aren't legitimate.

If you’re going down the path of deciding to sell, you need to understand where a buyer is coming from and where they are going. In Aaron's experience, buyers back then were only thinking about the low-interest rates and didn't have a real plan. A serious acquirer needs a full plan to cover different key factors like the culture fit which is so important for the possible success of a merger.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Identify the Right Buyer With a Commitment to Your Agency Vision

Aaron finally found the structure and vision he was looking for when he started talking to a buyer with a very clear vision from the beginning and showed a sort of confidence in what they could do together. Of course, there were difficult points where Aaron was not sure if he wanted to go through with the acquisition. He had built this agency working by himself with his laptop and meetings clients at a Starbucks or a restaurant. It was his baby.

However, throughout the entire process, this buyer proved to be the sort of person that does what they say they’re going to do. A reliable buyer provides a sense of relief because an acquisition is commonly a time-consuming and stressful undertaking. Aaron was able to visualize himself working with the new, merged company and that the acquisition would benefit his clients and his team.

Additionally, this buyer’s ability to work with his agency leaders really helped drive value for his clients and provided valuable opportunities for his team to learn and grow.

Things He Would Change That Could Have Boosted His Growth

Things turned out pretty good for his agency, but if Aaron could go back to when he was starting out in the industry he would be much more intentional about defining his ideal client sooner. His advice is to focus on finding your niche and audience early on. This empowers you and your team to say no to everything else and has a big impact on your growth.

He would also hire an operations manager a lot sooner. As an agency owner, it’s a commitment to start hiring for key roles, but having someone that can be responsible for running operations is incredibly helpful. Thinking back, Aaron now sees with a team of about 10, is the ideal time to hire someone to ensure operations run smoothly.

Agency owners are mostly visionaries and are not particularly good with management. You need the “how” people that take care of the logistics to implement your ideas and get you where you need to be. This is the first step in setting up the systems to eventually sell one day.

If the owner is doing everything, the valuation and the opportunities to sell will go down rapidly. An operations manager will help you both have more free time and focus on the vision for your agency.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Would you like the confidence to raise prices and triple your agency’s growth? Are you ready to empower your team and transition to a true Agency CEO? That's exactly what today’s guest has been able to do over the past couple of years. She is on the show talking about overcoming her two biggest challenges: removing herself from sales and the fear of raising prices. What she realizes now is that she was standing in her own way and letting go has actually led to amazing agency growth. Taking a leap of faith and reinventing her role was what her agency needed to reach its full potential.

Audra Brehm is the founder of Brehm Media, a social media agency that focuses on the fashion and beauty world. As she grew her agency, she doubted whether clients would see their value and agree to pay once she raised her prices. As CEO, she realizes the right client will see the agency’s value even when you don’t.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Raising prices to affirm your agency's value.
  • Determining which clients are a good fit for your agency.
  • Empowering your agency team and removing yourself from agency sales.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Why Raising Prices Affirms Your Agency’s Value

Audra was looking for a new job in Denver when an interviewer asked her why she hadn't opened her own agency. She really couldn’t come up with a reason and thought "why not?"

That company ended up being her first client and, as she’s embarrassed to admit, she started charging $800 a month for social media and marketing services. She was just excited to be starting her own business. Entrepreneurs commonly become a "yes man" in their early stages and figure they’ll eventually get other clients and raise their prices.

Audra admits she hasn’t always had a good idea of her agency’s value, but listening to their clients talk about the agency was an excellent way to understand their worth. If the client could see her agency as its marketing arm and an extended family, then she knows they are positioning themselves as a valuable partner.

As someone who loves to learn, she strives to always be ahead of the curve. If they can do that as an agency, then she knows they are providing value. So then, why wouldn’t people pay what they charge?

The thought of raising her agency's prices used to be terrifying. Every time they increased, Audra worried she would lose clients. If she could go back, she would tell herself not to be so afraid. It’s ok if clients decide to leave after you raise your prices. The ones who stay are the right clients.

In retrospect, Audra thought the agency would be ruined with a reputation of being too expensive. Now she realizes her agency’s value and knows the importance of raising prices. The reputation isn't about being too expensive, it's about being receiving the elite value Brehm Media provides.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Transitioning Out of Agency Sales and Empowering the Team

As the agency has grown, Audra had a really hard time taking a step back from sales. She doesn’t like to feel out of control, however, empowering the sales team meant putting control in other people’s hands. Getting out of day-to-day operations was the first time that she actually questioned what she was doing in the agency.

In time, she found a new way to continue participating in the sales cycle by handling the final sales calls with new clients. She found that relationship-building before taking on a client is actually her favorite part of the sales process. So instead of taking herself completely out of sales, she gets to engage and learn more about clients while still letting go of some control and empowering her team. Plus, she feels clients appreciate the fact that the entire agency has their back, including the owner.

It can be hard for many digital agency owners to transition out of day-to-day operations, but finding ways to still be part of your agency will help you with that transition. Later on, you may even find that you don’t need that small role anymore.

Audra has embraced her role as CEO and realizes the team won’t need her as much. Now she can really live the work-life balance agency owners strive for. Last year was the first time she went on a family vacation and didn’t take any business calls or check emails for two weeks. She had confidence that her team could handle anything that came up.

Finding Ideal Clients That Are The Right Fit For The Agency

It’s good to be self-aware enough to recognize when your agency can't deliver the results clients expect. For instance, if a client expects a 10x return in a month and you know you can’t deliver, then tell them. Are there agencies out there that could get them there? Yes, but it’s better not to promise a deliverable you know you probably can’t reach.

For Audra, this is the first step of avoiding the wrong clients that are not a good fit for her agency. Other common red flags a prospect won’t make a good client include asking to split monthly payments into multiple charges. This clearly shows they cannot afford you. They have a cash flow issue and are banking on your agency's results in order to pay moving forward. Another issue is clients who think that they know more than the agency does. This fosters a very toxic environment where the client does not treat the agency as a partner but expects more of an order taker.

To qualify a prospect, Audra's team asks what a prospect's monthly revenue is just to be sure that they can afford her agency. They also want to see what else they're spending on other marketing efforts. This helps the Brehm team learn whether the client is diversifying their marketing budget on other vehicles.

Audra says to run the other way if you encounter a company that cannot explain who they are and its future vision. If they can’t answer where they hope to be in 6 months, 1 year, and 10 years, it's a massive warning sign.

Getting Through the Rough Patches in Your Agency Journey

Audra feels a lot of people don’t believe in what’s possible for themselves and only see the obstacles. You need to have clear goals for your business. That’s something you should look for in clients and that you should have for your agency.

Having an agency is a rollercoaster but the highs should outweigh the lows. And if they don’t, then maybe you should reconsider if this is what you want to be doing. In the end, you should be proud of what you built, the business, the lifestyle, and your team.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

 

Check out Audra's previous interview:  https://jasonswenk.com/digital-agency-ceo/

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

Are you trying to improve your client retention rate? How often do you communicate with your clients? Building a good relationship with your clients starts immediately after they sign on to work with your agency. Today’s guest takes us through his process of creating a level of trust with clients that make them want to stay. With clear goals set from the start and constant communication, they’ve only lost one client in ten years!

Jeff Barnes is Chairman of Barnes Health, the strategic healthcare marketing, and public relations agency be started in 2003. He began his career in the healthcare marketing and public relations space on the client side 34 years ago. Being able to look at things from the client’s perspective has been a plus for him as he has really focused on building good relationships with them. He sets clear goals and always makes them feel like they are the priority.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Keeping client churn rates at a minimum.
  • Why constant communication and a clear process are the key.
  • Why you should strive to find clients that really fit with your agency.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Jumping From the Client-Side to Agency-Side

Jeff had been working in healthcare marketing and public relations for 15 years before joining “the dark side” of the agency world. Basically, he wanted the freedom and more flexible hours of being an agency owner. Back then, there weren’t many marketing firms in the healthcare niche, so he saw a good opportunity.

Barnes Health started with one client and the agency has grown significantly since. He still has that first client and, actually, a total of four legacy clients that have worked with the agency for 20 years.

Jeff has always preferred to work with a retainer pricing model. Some agencies may feel clients take advantage of working under a retainer expecting too many services under the retainer umbrella. However, the most important advantage for Jeff is having a guaranteed revenue, which helps him sleep at night. Nowadays, retainer clients account for about 95% of the agency’s revenue.

How to Keep Agency Client Turnover Rate At a Minimum

The average agency turnover is 25% for a variety of reasons. With these statistics, Jeff usually gets bewildered looks when he says he’s only lost 1 client in 10 years.

What’s his secret? Well, he’s learned from speaking with his clients most agencies are exceptionally good at the front end. They sell their services with a dynamic attitude and promise that gets clients excited for working with them. However, client success is an important KPI and many agencies fail when it comes to customer service.

There are two components to an agency 1) client acquisition and 2) client service.

It is a lot easier to retain an existing client than to get a new one, so Jeff focuses on providing great customer service to keep the turnover rate at a minimum. He has trained his team to communicate with clients on a regular basis and have a quick response time for any questions they may have. Each client, big or small, should feel like they’re the #1 most important client.

Remember if you neglect clients, they’ll probably start wondering why they’re working with you and start looking for other opportunities. Answer the unasked questions -- and if you don't communicate it, they don't know it happened.

Setting Clear Goals to Get Clients On Board With Your Strategy

The moment a client agrees to work with your agency, you should quit promoting yourself and immediately transition to learning as much as you can about that client. Focus especially on their goals, objectives, and the criteria under which your work will be measured for success.

The more educated and informed you are about every aspect of their operations, the more valuable you can be to your clients. Jeff’s team typically gets clients to sign off on the strategic plan that they build together. They list the goals and objectives with clarity on who is responsible, the timeframe, and how success is to be measured.

The overall strategy is documented and everyone on the team and the client is familiar with each step. It may be revised from time to time, but the client should always have access to the documents.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Maintaining A Good Relationship With Clients

Jeff favors constant communication with clients on a regular basis, even daily at times. In his opinion, this shows the agency is a very valuable resource for them. If there is no communication for three or four days, his team reaches out to make sure everything is in order - follow up on an email or run an idea by them.

He also emphasizes how important it is to do this with both smaller and bigger clients. The amount of attention should not vary based on size or a client's portion to topline revenue.

Moreover, this way of working helps you be more selective with your clients. If you don’t feel like communicating constantly with your clients, then there’s probably an issue there. Don’t take in clients that you don’t want to communicate with. You’ll start resenting them and feel burnt out.

Adapting Your Agency To a Changing Market

The one constant in life changes, and in the agency world, you better be ready to adapt to a changing market. Jeff has had a long career and in those years he has learned to adapt to the internet, websites, and social media. New things are coming now with novelties like the Metaverse and NFTs which he says he will leave to his team to understand and educate him.

To adapt to changing times, he likes to hire young professionals who understand and are using the newest technologies. It’s so important to stay ahead of  new trends because a lot of the work marketing firms do has to do with consultation. Staying on top of emerging technology, educating and informing clients about new tools is the best way to present new ideas to your clients.

However, Jeff says he is careful to not portray his team as being good at everything. It’s better to actually be great at one thing than to pretend to be good at everything. As a client, he always asked agencies what they were great at. If they answered everything, he knew they weren't a good fit.

Your Goals Should Reflect the People You Want to Work With

It's important to have clear goals of what you want to accomplish in your agency. Your goals should go beyond a revenue level. Go deeper with your goals and really create a future vision. What type of lifestyle and freedom do you hope to have? What do you need in order to really love your work and your business? Do you know what sort of people you want to work with?

For his part, Jeff credits his love for the business a being selective with which clients his agency takes on. In 20 years, he has been fortunate to never have felt like quitting. Regular communication with clients does not frustrate him because he actually likes the people he's working with and doesn't have any “nightmare clients.”

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you planning to sell your agency at some point in the future? How are you preparing to make the process easier for yourself and your team? Our guest for this episode created a lifestyle business that allowed her to lead the life she wanted. When she decided to sell, she realized the business was already set up to work without her, which made for a pretty seamless selling process when the time for an acquisition came along

Jodie Cook is an entrepreneur, writer, and athlete who started as a freelance social media manager. She created and successfully ran her social media agency, JC Social Media, for ten years -- even growing it during the pandemic. She's sharing the story of how she grew her agency and sold it, without an earnout, in 2021.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why she decided to sell her lifestyle business.
  • How she prepared for the selling process.
  • Why you should hire a broker.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Building and Growing Her Agency

As often happens with agency owners, Jodie started as a freelancer and went on to create her agency once she had too much work to handle on her own. To promote services, she went to networking events telling people she was a social media manager until she got a few clients. After a while, she got to a point where she had a full-time job worth of work for herself and could choose between continuing as a freelancer or building a team.

As for hiring, Jodie says she stuck to hiring other social media managers. It was a role she knew and could evaluate and train for and as a result, she developed a successful training process.

However, she also sees her agency could only ever grow as far as her own knowledge would allow. And in hindsight, it would've made sense to scale by hiring for roles that are not her strength.

Setting Up a Lifestyle Business

Agency owners get into the business for various reasons but at some point, we can all expect to have some degree of freedom. Jodie found herself as the owner of a big agency where everything relied on her and didn’t feel happy. This is when she did something that would change her life and her agency. She created a document with four columns where each column represented a step for how the business would start to change to a lifestyle business that could run without her.

This was a very important exercise that would later allow her to be better prepared for a sale later on. The four columns contained:

  1. Every single process that happened at the agency
  2. Who was in charge of every task (at that moment, it was pretty much all her)
  3. Who would be in charge in the future (either by getting promoted or looking for a new hire)
  4. Her plan (actions she needed to take and even dates)

Growing the Agency Through the Pandemic and Beyond

Back in March 2020, just as the world changed with the pandemic, Jodie had been running her agency as a lifestyle business. She usually traveled for a couple of months of the year and the business ran very well. She was no longer needed there all the time for things to work correctly.

This all came crashing down with the start of the pandemic. Clients in the hospitality and travel sectors were suddenly out of business and the agency shrunk by about 25% in one week. The shift meant Jodie got back to being very much involved in the business.

Initially, she tried to figure out how to make a shift in the changing economy. This included a decision on whether or not to lay off part of her 16-member team. After a team meeting, they decided to carry on, secure the clients they still had, and work to look for new clients.

The agency offered online webinars, replacing all their in-person events, and started to build the business back up. They not only managed to get back to where the business was before March 2020, they actually grew past it.

Preparing to Sell a Social Media Agency

With the agency back on track, Jodie asked herself what was next. She could easily go back to having a lifestyle business, but she really didn’t want to be pulled back by another emergency like this one. So she made the decision to sell in August 2020.

Once she got intentional about an acquisition, Jodie started to reach out to people that knew more about the subject and could point her in the right direction. The key is not discussing an agency sale with your team and just having a small group of trusted people who can help you navigate the process. Keeping it quiet until you have signed agreements saves you from hearsay and speculation by your clients and team.

She eventually started working with a broker who clarified how to prepare for the sale process. Basically, it entailed setting up processes, a second tear management team, and documentation. Jodie was relieved to see most of this was already in place because of how she set up the agency to begin with.

This gave her the opportunity to sell faster and be comfortable meeting with potential acquirers. She wasn’t selling in a desperate moment, loved her team, and actually raved about them so it was genuinely easy to convince buyers how great her agency was. Furthermore, this helped her feel more like she was interviewing the buyers instead of them interviewing her.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Successful Interviews with Potential Buyers

When discussing either a sale like this or even interviewing prospective clients, you want to feel in control. The person who is more eager to speak and prove themselves has lost control of the meeting. A possible buyer might even think you have something to hide if you seem too anxious.

As Jason advises, you want them to speak first because whoever speaks last is now in control of the meeting. Also, this way you can listen to them talk about their agencies and their plans for the future. Jodie listened to potential buyers first and then offered relevant information about the agency. If she had spoken first, she would probably go on tangents that didn’t really matter to them, which could ruin the meeting entirely.

Letting the potential acquirer speak first also gives you time to evaluate them to see if their agency is a good fit with yours. Remember, culture fit is one of the most important aspects of a successful acquisition.

Selling Your Agency Without an Earnout

All in all, the purchase process took six months, which is pretty quick for this type of transaction. There were two months of meetings with potential buyers. This was followed by two months of heads of terms with three of them, and then two more months of due diligence.

Initially, the three offers they got included an earnout and tied the purchase of the business to Jodie's role in earnout period. Basically, they wanted her to take care of the team and sales which would get her more involved in the business rather than stepping away, which was the goal.

Ultimately, she was able to convince the buyers against the earnout. Clients tend to grow attached to agency owners in the sales process and they only want to deal with them. They agreed to have no earnout and the handover process took two weeks.

It takes a lot of confidence to get the deal you feel is best for you. Don’t be scared into accepting the first offer-- have a number in mind before negotiations begin and be prepared to wait for it.

Is it Important to Get an M&A Broker?

Jodie did consider handling the sale by herself. If you commit to learning everything you need to learn for this process, it may be the best course for you and your agency. However, looking at the hours she would have to invest into this each day (at least 10 or 12) she decided labor would be best put into continuing to grow her agency. She opted to look for and hire a broker.

If you’re working with a broker, remember they are incentivized to get you a sale but not necessarily to get you the best possible deal. Sometimes brokers won’t educate you on whether you could be making a better deal, so remember to learn as much as you can about the process. Have the confidence to say no and wait for a better offer. It will save you a lot of regrets.

When looking to hire a broker, Jodie discovered many don't charge based on the completion of the sale. They charge a monthly fee and hence they may not necessarily be as invested in selling your agency. Because of this, she made sure to ask for completion rates and chose someone with a very high completion rate.

Jason also recommends using a broker that charges an upfront fee, another fee once you get to the LOI, and a percentage of the exit. No recurring fee. This means they have more skin in the game are more invested in selling your agency.

Life After Selling Your Agency

Life after your agency’s sale could be more difficult to adapt to than you imagine. A lot of agency owners feel depressed and purposeless after selling their life’s work, and it’s understandable. Your "why" for selling should be very clear from the beginning. Additionally, you should start planning for your post-sale life and have other projects in mind so you can find your new purpose.

Jodie visualized the sale and had in mind the exact amount she wanted from the sale. She also had plans to travel and start a new stage of her life. It looked slightly different than she had planned, as it was still the middle of the COVID restriction. However, she took the time to figure things out and even wrote a book, Ten Year Career.

Niching Down to Be a  Successful Social Media Agency

When she first started her agency in 2011 she says it was still possible to be a general social media agency. That is something she would change if starting an agency today. “I don’t believe you can be a general social media agency. I believe you have to have a niche,” she says. She would choose a vertical and horizontal niche. Then her agency would be experts in a specific space like Instagram for restaurants or TikTok for dentists.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Does your agency's branding stand out from the competition? Is your offering and positioning unique? Does it establish your agency's authority in your niche? Today’s guest explains how he turned his speaking career into a thriving agency thanks to smart branding.

Travis Brown is the founder and CEO of Mojo Up Marketing+Media, an agency focused on building unstoppable personal and company brands. Travis has been building his brand since long before stepping into the agency world. Now, with his diverse and talented marketers, he helps others figure out and grow their brands.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Getting started with public speaking
  • Leveraging speaking engagements to grow the agency
  • What works with branding.

Sponsors and Resources

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

Subscribe

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Taking the First Steps in the Public Speaking Space

Before ever thinking about starting his agency, Travis began a successful career as a motivational speaker. One of the most valuable lessons he learned was that the hardest part wasn't the speaking itself, it was getting people to pay him to get on their stage and speak.

He hired a coach early on who taught him to invest time in figuring out his brand and unique positioning. Once he learned to do that for himself, it led to more than 2,500 paid talks over 10 years.

Travis started out speaking about leadership, management conflict, and corporate training and eventually turned to youth speaking. Later on, he got a creative position as America’s anti-bullying coach, where he could use his experience while also having a big impact. This new role was an opportunity to get to another level as he toured the country and had interviews on national TV. In hindsight, this taught Travis the power of creating unique positioning in the market where, instead of competing with anybody else, he was complimenting them.

After many years in that industry and working as VP of marketing in a bank, he decided to start his own agency to help other people build their brands.

How Can You Start a Speaking Career?

It is a powerful feeling to get up on a stage. It’s the sort of experience which changes how people see you. In fact, Travis now rejects invitations to tradeshows without a speaking engagement. He recognizes the moment you step on a stage people will look at you as an expert, which is a game-changer for elevating your brand.

Try to link speaking engagements to your area of expertise and your core beliefs so you really come off as an expert. Travis always takes the topic he’s asked to develop and links it back to his branding, which is his specialty.

How can you start? He recommends starting local. If you have a niche, look for an opportunity to do a breakout session. For example, if you specialize in marketing for dentists, reach out to the local dentist association. Once you do find an opportunity, build the presentation thinking like a marketer:

  • Have video and engaging content.
  • Offer valuable nuggets of info.
  • Have a free offer to get them into the funnel.

Following that, focus on leveraging the first speaking engagement into another and then another. Before you know it, you’ll be on a big stage with an audience filled with your ideal customer avatar. Being on stage will put you in the position of being the expert who can help them. They’ll get in line to hire you and your agency.

Turning Speaking Career Into a Thriving Agency

Travis says he has done it both the right and the wrong way. When he started his agency, he had accumulated a lot of experience in elevating himself and his brand. However, he didn’t know how to grow an agency. He got out there and got a lot of business for the agency with his brand. He soon learned it couldn’t be all about him. It had to be about the team and the focus really needed to shift to showcase their abilities.

His first attempt to do this didn’t go as well as expected. It was done too quickly and it didn’t make sense to remove him so fast when his personal brand was driving all the revenue. He had to start over and get to a point where he transfers the knowledge and credibility over to the agency.        

A perfect example of how to do this right is Gary Vaynerchuck and Vayner Media. Gary is the brand, but clients never expect to work directly with Gary himself. Travis has started to introduce his audience to his team, instead of just making it the Gary show. This is how Travis is rethinking his model.

Building your personal brand can be the fastest way to bring in revenue for the agency. You just need to know how to do it correctly so the agency can shine as well.

What Has Worked for His Agency’s Branding

Right now Travis and his team are leaning into the “diverse and talented” core of the agency. They realized they have a very diverse team, which is not common at all. The team of 15 people includes black men and women, Asian women, and Hispanic and white women. That diversity led to opportunities with companies that are looking to:

  1. Work with a diverse agency, and
  2. Trying to figure out how to get a similarly diverse team.

Now they are focusing on helping clients tell a story and develop an impactful brand through the lens of diversity. This way, they can help tell diversity stories by actually being one. They recognize that the diversity within the team helps them be that much better at telling diversity stories.

A lot of agencies may say they are diverse but can’t actually back it up. Credibility is so important nowadays and people are able to tell if you’re claiming you can do something but not actually doing it yourself. For his agency, diversity has become an important part of who they are and it also works as a unique identifier, which all agencies need.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What Are Your Agency’s Unique Identifiers?

Travis believes your agency should have its own “three uniques,” which are three things that identify and differentiate your agency. Some other agencies maybe have one or even two similar differentiators, but no other company should have those exact three since they are true to your specific DNA.

These identifiers will help you create your own unique persona as an agency. Those are your core values and how you will get very different types of people in your team to all work towards one single goal.

Moreover, being clear about your brand and core values will help you find like-minded individuals to join your team. For Travis, diversity is part of the agency’s culture and what he is building. He is passionate about building a brand and telling a story to help his client make the most impact and he wants a team that is equally passionate about that.

2 Tips on Hiring and Client Success

Travis likes to make sure that whoever his hiring is really passionate about doing the thing they’re hired to do. A lot of times in an agency you’re trying to fill some roles quickly. You end up hiring someone who is good but is not necessarily passionate about their role. In hindsight, he would really slow down and make sure people convince him that they want to be in their position within his company.

He also wishes he had spent more time understanding how to create a better client experience. His agency's end product is always good, but the process was sometimes a bumpy ride for clients. Now he really wants to focus on making the entire experience exceptional from start to finish.

Improving Customer Experience

Remember that you may be celebrating every time to make a sale, but the client is probably thinking “did I make the right decision?” A good way to ease their anxiety is to immediately communicate with them after the sale. Jason likes to send quick personalized videos where he welcomes the new client and offers a few pointers. People are usually surprised to learn his videos are not automated. This is why it’s worth it to think about ways to make each client feel appreciated. That extra effort will definitely separate you from everyone else.

Travis has learned there’s a difference between having a talented team and having a successful process. A successful process leads to a great experience. You need to map out every single instance within the client journey where you can impact and connect with them.

As the lead strategist in his agency, he has also learned once clients get to a stage where they’ll be communicating directly with the team, they feel abandoned by him. He empowers his team and lets them do what they do best. However, he is working on finding a way this in a way clients still feel taken care of.

As an agency owner, you need to position yourself as a thought leader and make it clear at some point clients will be working with the team.  Build up the team and make sure they know they will get better results than if you took care of every single aspect. Also, map out the process so they’ll know who they can turn to at each stage of the process.

Should We Look for Mentors in The Agency World?

After years of building his business from scratch, Travis admits he would’ve liked having someone to turn to. Nothing like that existed when he or Jason were building their agencies, but it is the entire reason behind the mastermind. Jason's goal is to be the resource he wished he had when he was starting out.

Think about how many times you’ve given advice to your team or partners. You probably can’t seem to do that with yourself and it’s because you are too attached to your business and your way of doing things to see other possible ways to approach a solution to your problems.

If you learn to ditch the competition mindset and look at it more as a community that understands and supports your most difficult challenges, then you won’t need a mentor.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Is it time to pick another niche for your digital agency? There are tons of benefits of niching down. However, there are a lot of concerns about making big changes and focusing on a specific industry. The good news is there are ways to test out a new niche instead of going all-in.

Alano Vasquez is the founder and CEO of Cyberwhyze, an agency that helps cyber security companies become brands that scale. Although he found success and even more room for opportunity in this space, he has had other failed attempts at niching down and understands it can be scary to choose a new market and fail. However remember, failures are just lessons to help you move closer to success!

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Failures that become lessons learned when niching down.
  • Testing out a new niche, rather than going all-in right away.
  • Having the right team in place to give your freedom in your agency.

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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First Steps and Lessons Learned When Niching Down

Alano was working in sales at a tech startup right out of college. He was laid off, unfortunately, but when another startup hired him, he soon realized they had no marketing. He decided to use what he had learned and focused on becoming a full-staff marketer.

After learning the tech industry and creating his own agency, Alano started working by with any client in the B2B space. He worked with education, healthcare, and fintech companies trying to offer as many services as he could. Within 3 or 4 years, the agency hit a ceiling of about $1.5 million in revenue.

In trying to work out a solution, Alano noticed a lot of density with the agency’s cyber security clients. However, at the time he actually decided they would focus on the tradeshow space. It seemed like the right choice at that moment. Unfortunately, this happened right before the 2020 pandemic and the end of all in-person events for quite a while. They had spent time and resources on experiential and interactive marketing when everything went virtual because of Covid.

How to Identify a New Niche for Your Agency

After his first failed attempt, Alano and his team went back to the basics and turned to the opportunity in the security space he had noticed before. They focused on branding and content creation for cyber security companies.

Before you pick a niche you pretty much start working with everyone so you can start to see what you like and do really well. You can see where you have success and start weeding out the things that you don’t like or do well. To his surprise, Alano quickly realized this new market presented a big runway of opportunities and was dealing. His agency Cyberwhyze started working with big brands sooner than he thought. He has rushed to create the capabilities in order to keep up with what the clients wanted from his agency. Now sees a possibility to double down on this niche.

You Can Test Out a New Niche Instead of Going All In

In hindsight, his agency would have niched down much sooner had he followed the advice he now gives to his clients. Some of his clients have a few verticals and try to put out a lot of broad-stroke marketing, trying to make it a one-size-fits-all. He finds clients tend to do this to avoid going through the process of creating an entire website for each vertical. Instead, Alano suggests creating a funnel with positioning that speaks to each specific persona.

Agencies can also apply this same principle. There’s no need to build an entire website for a new niche, just build a funnel, test it out on LinkedIn and run some Google ads. It serves as insurance to make sure you’re not going down the wrong path and it might help you feel more at ease when you eventually decide to go all-in.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Value of The Cheat Sheet as a Lead Magnet

Coming from sales, Alano and his partner knew very early on they did not want to give away strategy for free. They found a way to productize strategy and sell it as a core component of their work.

A good way to attract new clients to your strategy is a cheat sheet. CMOs love them and even bigger brands use them. Cheat sheets come in many forms and you can use them as an opportunity to offer something really valuable while capturing data to continue marketing to your prospects.

Cyberwhyze offers a cheat sheet paired with a video webinar that explains how companies can use it to their advantage. This has helped them build trust and led many people to their website. Even some big brands have contacted him based on their cheat sheet, so the agency didn’t have to jump through hoops to get their attention. It’s all about realizing there’s really no reason to offer strategy for free and later feeling remorse for it.

Having The Right Team to Provide You Freedom in Your Agency

Agency growth is also about continuing to refine strategy and making sure the right people are in the right seats. Agency owners are normally the think tank of the business and the ones coming up with all the client strategies. This could be because it is expensive to replace yourself in that role early on. In fact, most agencies don’t seek to do this until they hit the $5 million mark. For Alano, you have two options when it comes to replacing yourself in the strategy role:

  1. Do it anyway and maybe offer a profit share if you feel you can’t quite afford it yet.
  2. Keep trying to do all the strategy but become a bottleneck for your own business.

For Alano, it made sense to do this early on, even before hitting $1 million. It was the best decision for his agency. His clients have come to really like the person he hired for this role. The benefit for Alano is peace of mind and freedom. He is able  to take a vacation and only work until 5 PM knowing the agency is taken care of by his head of strategy.

The idea of replacing yourself might be uncomfortable. However, the sooner you can replace yourself as the head of strategy the better if you’re going after bigger projects. Remember, you probably started this business to eventually have more freedom.

This resistance could also stem from the fact that they don’t know the steps they need to take to make sure that this new hire will work. Agency owners are usually visionaries and many struggle with execution or hiring for execution. You need clarity of where you’re going and who you’re going after from the beginning. This way, your team will feel empowered to make decisions without you. Once you have this, you can hire the right person to replace you.

Staying True to Your Why as Your Agency Grows

Alano had to figure out his agency’s growth before getting to this point. He went back to the basics to figure out his individual why and his agency’s why. But don’t forget, figuring out your why should be followed by communicating it to your team and revisiting it from time to time to keep everything cohesive.

In this new stage, he is thinking beyond bootstrapping. He will now look at acquisitions, as he continues to explore his niche market.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you measuring your client retention rates? Do you trust your team will build good relationships with your clients? A lot of agency owners focus on making the sale but neglect customer service. Today’s guest will talk about why you may be losing clients and why it's important to have someone dedicated to client success.

Khushbu Doshi is a customer service specialist with a passion for strategizing, making realistic actions plans, and following up on their implementation to get real results for agencies. She leads the customer service and sales division at E2M Solutions, a full-service white label partner that helps agencies scale their business.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • What works when it comes to improving your retention rates.
  • Effective agency-client communication.
  • How you should structure your customer service.

Closing the Gap Between Sales Promises And Customer Service Reality

Agency owners commonly focus on signing the deal and ringing the bell when they finally get that client. As important that is, you definitely don’t want to drop the ball when it comes to following through in customer service. If you do, you’ll end up losing clients and wondering why you have a high turnover rate.

Why is this so common? As a customer service specialist, Khushbu believes many agencies rely too much on the newest tools and miss the human-oriented approach. In a world of modernization, we all lean on technology to do things for us. This can be great for freeing up more time to focus on the things you do best. However, when it comes to customer service, it can lead to paying less attention to new customers and turning your attention to getting new sales.

It’s common to see a discrepancy between the possibilities that agencies present to customers during the sales process and what actually ends up happening. To begin bridging the gap, we should focus on the fact that the values you show on that first call with the client should be consistent in their journey with your agency. This is the only way to really earn their trust.

Managing Client Expectations After the Sale is Made

We’re not saying you shouldn’t try to improve sales or use new technological tools available to improve operations. However, once the deal is closed and you have a new client, make sure all the promises made during the sale are actually met. If you promise the client they’ll have tons of communication and feedback calls and then you don’t really do that, you’re already starting on the wrong foot.

Clients may be very skeptical at the start of the relationship and may even start to question the decision to work together. They need to feel reassured that you're a trusted partner who looks out for them and their interests.

Think of it this way, if you don't communicate it -- as far as the client is concerned, it didn't happen. Take immediate action whenever is required and immediately act once the client expresses concern or raises a red flag. Make sure that their journey with your team is seamless.

Structure the different stages of your agency sales process. Once a client gets to a new stage, introduce them to the team members they are going to be working with, rather than just having a salesperson just disappear. That same salesperson can be the one to explain from now on, they will be working and communicating with a different team. Also, as part of the onboarding process, define the process and roles within the agency. Let clients know who on the team is responsible for each part of the process so they know who to turn to when they have a question.

How Often Should We Communicate With Clients?

This will obviously change depending on the stage of the client’s process with your agency. In the beginning, clients need more frequent communication until they trust your methods and see results. Khushbu says her clients start with weekly meetings with the customer service team to ensure a seamless journey.

This allows her team to meet clients’ expectations and learn about their concerns as they move through the first stages. Apart from the weekly calls, she underscores the importance of letting clients know exactly what the team is doing. They should know the research they are doing, the number of team members working on it, something new added to the pipeline, and the time dedicated to these details.

Additionally, try to personalize communication with each client by offering alternatives and asking what they prefer (email, Slack, etc.). Remember sometimes a phone call is the best way to let your client know you are invested in the work you do for them. Nothing replaces a personal touch.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Communicating to Clients in a Monthly Newsletter

Khushbu suggests creating a monthly newsletter for clients detailing what the team has been working on that month. Rather than being skeptical about your work, they will start to trust that you know what you are doing and will be glad to have all details about the next moves.

In fact, many agency owners who started to use the monthly newsletter come back to Khushbu to tell her it has helped increase retention rates.

It’s all about attention to detail and customized communication with clients. Instead of spamming their inbox, prepare something that speaks to the specific plan and the results the team has been getting from the campaigns. They want real data and real information. When they get that, they know you are the one to trust.

Plan for Success: It’s important that you are constantly planning new things for your client and showing them what you’re planning to do. As mastermind member Deacon likes to say, “if you don’t have a plan for your client, they’re going to give you their plan, and it’ll never work.” You’ll be forced to follow their plan and then have to take the blame once it doesn’t work.

Should Agencies Have a Particular Role Around Client Success or Customer Service?

There’s certainly a need for roles focused on making the customer service experience the best it can be. We see agencies with poor retention rates that have not realized the huge gap between the picture they presented in the sales call and what they continue to present to clients afterward. A client success manager role is a must since there’s a thin line between salespeople and customer service. This is why these teams need to work closely to make sure that the experience is consistent with the client from the onboarding to the customer service and deployment.

These issues tend to create an internal battle. You may be very good at sales, but if you don’t believe that your team can deliver on what you’re promising then you’ll never get your client’s trust. You may be confident enough to sell but if you’re not confident about what will be delivered, clients will see right through that. Working on your customer service will bridge the gap between client expectations and the reality they get.

Using automation is helpful for some things and frees your time up to focus on other things. Don't focus too much on a particular template or tool when the way to take your customer service to the next level is great, personalized attention.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you a proactive or reactive agency owner? It's common to come into the business not having a full understanding of what it takes to grow your agency or the type of issues you could face. Today’s guest tells us about the process of growing his agency, ditching the competition mentality, and how he wants to help agency owners prepare to grow their businesses.

Bear Newman founded his agency Bear Fox Marketing with the belief that running a digital marketing agency specializing in SEO wouldn’t be as difficult as it actually was. Years later, he says it was one of the best things he ever did but admits he wasn’t quite prepared for some of the challenges. He has overcome a lot of obstacles, including losing clients that accounted for more than 50% of revenue. Now, with a full staff of employees and as he starts to step away from day-to-day operations, he crafted The Bear Fox Principle, a book to help prepare agency owners for what they should expect in the path of growing their business.

In this episode, we'll discuss:

  • Running an agency is more than just knowing how to do the work.
  • Why one client shouldn't be more than 20% of total revenue.
  • Why winning doesn't mean crushing every other 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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Running an Agency Is More Than Just Doing the Work

Bear was doing SEO work as a freelancer when he decided to open his own agency. “I may not have fully thought through that career move,” he jokes. At the time, his reasoning was just, why not? How difficult can it be? He soon realized there’s a lot more to running an agency than just being able to do the work.

For starters, he had no idea what he should charge clients in order to run a successful business. For his first SEO account, he planned to bill $750 a month. That has definitely changed by now.

He also had to figure out every side of the business, from sales to servicing and marketing. Now his agency has great client reviews and is the #1 rated agency in Idaho. He has employees that are much better at selling the agency’s products and work on marketing, ads, and creative content to keep the pipeline full.

There's a Lesson in Every Experience While Growing Your Agency

A lot of agency owners live by the words “if you fail to plan you plan to fail.” Bear does believe in the importance of planning, but he also knows that you can’t plan for everything and tries to figure it out whenever he can’t. For example, he once got a meeting to pitch for the largest pest control company in the Valley. The marketing director quickly let him know he was just meeting with him as a courtesy because he was never getting that account.

Instead of feeling bad, he decided the experience of pitching the project would be enough. With that in mind, he went ahead with the pitch, trusting it would at the very least help him improve. In the end, he ended up winning the account.

Once he did get the account, however, he had no idea what to charge. Some people may say he should have anticipated that, but for him, the beauty of the agency world is also having the confidence to say “whatever comes at me, I’ll figure it out.”

Stages of Starting to Build Your Digital Agency Team

For Bear, his search for an agency team really began when he realized he was unable to keep up with the workload. He wanted to maintain the quality of work and didn’t want to be everything to everybody.

Like many agency owners, he focused on specific challenges. Bear knew needed a team of specialists who were really good at what they did so he could start to delegate tasks.

When he started his search for employees, the most important quality for him was having the right attitude towards hard work and never choosing to do the minimum.

Candidates were offered a client brief and the opportunity to create 2-3 Facebook ads and landing pages. If they only did two, he knew it wasn’t a right fit for him. It was important to find people who always strive to do everything above and beyond for clients and the agency.

The Worst Thing His Agency Overcame

The first year of Covid was the hardest for his agency. Two of his clients were making the transition to handling their marketing in-house and they accounted for about 53% of his total revenue. It was a really hard time, but he had to come up with a solution. He could either downsize and prepare for the loss in revenue or he could face the problem head-on.

He decided to hire a sales team to get that revenue replaced. Of course, the team was going to need time to set in and build the funnel. Bear made the bold move of hiring two salespeople, just in case one of them failed. If this didn’t work, he would lose the cost of both of them, but it proved to be the right decision. By the end of the year, they grew by 70% and now one of those salespeople is his VP of Operations.

Lesson learned: As Jason tells his Mastermind members, having one client account for 50% or even 20% of your revenue is definitely too risky and just not smart. Bear realized this and was already thinking about the options by the time the clients pulled out. However, he learned he needed to be more proactive than reactive in these types of situations.

Agency Owner Transitioning Out of Day-To-Day Operations

After hiring the right team to keep the agency’s momentum going, Bear is trying to extricate himself from day-to-day operations. At some point, every owner reaches a point where they need to spend more time working on the business rather than in it.

Bear now oversees staff training and overall tries to keep an eye on their metrics, clients, and set the course for the future of the agency.

With the right systems in place, the agency is getting all the pieces together to really accelerate its growth. For Bear, it’s like building an engine. The more expertise you have the better engine you can build, which will be your foundation to really move forward to the next stage of your growth.

Why You Need to Ditch the Competition Mentality

After all the ups and downs experienced with his agency, it was really important for Bear to create a guide for agency owners who are just starting in the industry. The Bear Fox Principle is a book about what it takes to build a successful digital marketing agency.

A lot of agency owners don’t know what they need to understand in order to grow their business. The book goes over the metrics you should know and what you need to understand to make a campaign successful. It also touches on integrity and how you can do what’s best for your client as well as your company. Both parties have to win and not because you win somebody else has to lose.

The “crushing your competition” mentality is a pervasive attitude in the agency world. Even Jason used to think that making it in his market meant crushing every other agency. That’s not true. You can learn a lot from people in your industry if you open up your mind.

Remember that success is created, not taken from someone else. Even if you don’t get a particular account, that doesn’t mean you won’t get another one. You just have to be resourceful.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you thinking about buying an agency? What about just buying one department of agency to compliment your service offering? There are many reasons to consider acquiring another agency, like client lists or intellectual property. However, buying one for its resources made the most sense for this podcast guest. When a few red flags made him take a step back, he found he could structure a deal in the form of buying just the department he was most interested in rather than acquiring the whole agency. It takes the right circumstances and aligned interests, but it worked for both agencies involved.

Like many agency owners, Antoine Gagne started his agency, J7 Media, by accident. He hosted events that drove a lot of people in and realized he was good with social media. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram were still sort of new in Canada, so he started off selling social media management packages. He saw a lot of success in this market and eventually niched down to specialize in Facebook advertising. More recently, he has ventured to buy other agencies to expand his services.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Niching down to grow the agency.
  • When to raise agency prices.
  • Buying an agency department for the resources.

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 to the First Million in Revenue and Beyond

In his beginnings, Antoine started an agency that offered social media management and content creation services. He eventually decided to focus on an area that was most profitable and where the agency really shined. As a Facebook ads agency, they were so specialized it was easy for clients to refer them to people looking for these exact services, which led to a stable sales cycle. Antoine really recommends figuring out one service that you’re good at and you’re able to sell repeatedly.

Once you settle on this, the key is to not give up, he assures. Keep going until it becomes easy for you to get more and more clients. At this rate, you will get to your first million in revenue. For Antoine, once you figure out how to keep it simple and go all-in on one service you do really well, you find that getting to the second million is actually easier.

When To Raise Your Agency Prices

Failing to recognize when it’s time to raise prices is a common problem for agency owners. Additionally, most fear this move will make them lose out on prospective clients.

To be clear, the point where you find a service you can sell repeatedly while improving and consistently getting better clients should also be the point where you get ready to raise your prices and think about your profit.

If you have an agency and you’re not focused on profit then you may be in the wrong business. The sooner you realize agency owners should not be looking primarily at just top-line revenue the better. In Antoine's case, the shift began with looking at the different parts of the agency and using this information to structure its prices. He figured out how much the agency was making from each department and then decided he wanted to make 40% net revenue from those parts of the business.

Next, he needed to decide what the agency should charge and how many clients it would take to meet the goal. It basically took some backward math to figure out how the pricing.

As to the fear of losing clients, all new clients agreed to the new price without further pushback. For their part, existing clients were gradually moved to this new price point at a different pace.

Why You Have to Focus on Net Margin Instead of Revenue

Getting J7 Media on the path to growth required a clear vision of the net margin Antoine was hoping for and adjusting the prices around it. A lot of people tend to start with the revenue in mind and plan around that. The problem comes when they don’t make any profit. This is a much more advisable way to go about it, especially if you plan to sell someday because your agency is valued on EBITDA.

It’s normal to start out with the revenue in mind and slowly get to the point where you realize you should be focusing on net profit. It’ll change the way you look at your business and the way you approach your agency growth. This mindset prompted Antoine to create new services to improve the profit margin instead of thinking about revenue. It was the starting point to grow into a healthier financial situation.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Why Buy an Agency Department, Not the Whole Agency

There are various reasons to acquire a company, like their client list or intellectual property. For Antoine and his agency, it was about resources. On one hand, they noticed their clients needed more from them. On the other hand, a lot of things had changed with Facebook and it no longer made sense being positioned only as a Facebook ad agency. Clients were now looking for a one-stop shop that could do all the media buying for them.

They looked into adding Google ads services, seeing this was the number one service clients needed at the time. However, they couldn’t just jump into this market 15 years later and become experts while still trying to figure out the Facebook changes. They ultimately decided to shop for an agency that could cover this new need.

Antoine met with a few agencies and ultimately decided to buy not an entire agency but just a department. They didn’t need all the different departments, so they structured a deal where they could acquire only the specific employees from this department and the transaction was good for both sides.

Structuring the Acquisition of an Agency Department

Some people have never even considered buying just an agency department but it could be the perfect solution in some cases. Keep in mind a lot of agencies have more than they can handle and would gladly sell just part of their operations.

Antoine was looking for a profitable Google ads department and in the negotiating process with this agency, he found out that employees in this particular department were not in love with that company anymore. The owner knew this and he knew it was a matter of time before he would lose these employees. In this way, the deal was beneficial for both parties.

He encourages agency owners to do this when possible and try to craft the best possible deal. Remember not everyone wants to keep their agencies. Many people have other interests or goals and want to try different things. If you come at the right time with the right offer, most of the time you’ll find interest and will be able to complete this transaction.

How Much Time Does It Take To Complete a Deal?

How much time will it typically pass between the moment you’re interested in a company and the time you conclude the transaction? It will depend on the size of that deal. Small transactions like purchasing a department for under $1 Million take just a few months to complete. However, other bigger transactions take more time. If you dedicate 5-7 hours a week reaching out to companies of interest, the meetings will come.

Antoine currently dedicates 5 to 10 hours a week to look at companies he would be interested in acquiring. At first, it can be overwhelming but he assures, that it’s not as hard as it seems and you could even end up wanting more.

Open Your Eyes To New Opportunities

We’re in a time of changes in the media buying space. A lot of things are changing and when things change many people quit. If you choose to be one of the ones who stay, then remember to open your eyes to the opportunities to buy agencies that are leaving a certain space.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you know how good branding establishes your agency as an authority? As a result, you will grow your agency faster. The fact is, being relatable and establishing yourself as a trusted advisor to prospective clients gains their willingness to let you help them solve their challenges and achieve their goals. Our guest today shares how branding helps establish authority and how she turned her agency from a side hustle to a full-time priority.

Annie Scranton had worked at several media companies when she founded her own PR agency, Pace Public Relations, focused on getting their clients media attention and placement to highlight their work.

After losing her job as a producer at CNBC, Annie sent an email to her network and got an answer asking if she could help get media for a client. It came natural to her. She got that person an interview and knew this was the path for her future career helping actors, CEOs, and authors get access to media.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Turning a side hustle into a full-time opportunity.
  • Branding yourself vs. branding your agency.
  • The importance of a solid pitch.

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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Turning an Agency From a Side Job to Full-Time Priority

Annie’s PR venture began as a side job that wasn’t really her number one priority at the time. After years of working in several media outlets, she knew many influential producers and reporters. This was her currency to take the business off the ground and allowed her to offer clients access to the media. Nevertheless, she admits she undercharged for many years, a common issue for startups.

This may have slowed her growth a bit, but eventually, Annie's pricing model evolved to monthly retainers. She finally made the decision to focusing on her business full-time once she had enough of a safety net to take the risk. Twelve years later, her monthly retainers are now up to 10K and she has offices around the world.

First Steps to Growing an Agency

Annie was lucky to have a big network of people answering her questions about the first steps she needed to take with her business. Since PR is a service industry, she didn’t have to manufacture a product or answer to investors. Once she made the decision to fully focus on building her agency, she hired a web designer to put together a website, opened a corporate email, and was ready to start growing her business. She quickly learned the importance of hiring a good accountant, since she hadn’t realized how much money she need to put away for taxes. It was a rough reality check.

As soon as she couldn’t handle the amount of work on her own, she started looking for her first employee. She started by delegating the low-level admin work to dedicate more time to getting new business. For this, she decided it would be best to hire and train someone who already had a background in media. Ultimately, overcoming the anxieties that come with being responsible for payroll was one of the best decisions she could make for her business.

The Difference Between Marketing Yourself vs Building Your Brand

Annie is a big believer in the power of building your own brand. In the debate between branding yourself or branding your agency, she thinks we should all do both. However, it is also a matter of your needs and your particular industry. For her business in PR, it really is all about the image she presents of herself as someone that can get you access to the media. Therefore, her branding is about 75% focused on her.

Your prospective clients want to work with you and your team, not your "company". People want to work with people that are relatable and that share their values. It can be aspirational in a way. You want to follow their journey, career path, and success. Remember that this is why it is so important to brand yourself. It attracts people in a way that just branding your business won’t do.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

No, Branding Yourself Doesn’t Mean You’ll Do Everything

It’s true that creating a situation where clients strongly identify your agency with your personal image may lead them to expect to work directly with you. However, Annie says it is true to a much lesser extent than people may imagine. At the startup phase, the owner is doing pretty much everything, which is why you should really love what you do. However, if you hire really smart people that you train well then you won’t have to do everything. It’s natural to grow and evolve within your agency to the point of being focused on growth and your vision for the agency.

When it comes to building your brand, Annie recommends posting and interacting on LinkedIn. It’s a very powerful tool if you use it well and it’s where she has gotten tons of new business leads. Building your brand like this is more than just posting about a new client you have. It’s more about taking new stories that people are discussing and writing a related post where you position yourself as a subject matter expert. It’s a good way to be consistent about putting your personal branding and message out there. Similarly, she attends webinars, seminars, and speaking engagements where she talks about personal branding.

Can You Describe What You Do in 20 Seconds?

If you have a business, you will eventually have to learn about personal branding. It will provide you with useful tools to interact with your audience or people in the same industry. You have to learn to draw people in with your elevator pitch. As a rule of thumb, if it takes you longer than 20 seconds to describe who you are and what you do you should really sit down and figure out your elevator pitch.

To put together a successful pitch, make sure to include how you can benefit the other person. No one wants to listen to you ramble on and on about your business, but if you can summarize it in “here’s what I do and here’s how I can help you” then you have their attention. Always think about the ROI for the person you’re talking to.

How NOT to Pitch Your Business

Annie once received a pitch about a Tequila testing for a client that was actually a recovering alcoholic. She wrote back to the person explaining how that pitch was so wrong on so many levels and how it would have taken a quick Google search to find out why. It really discredited that person for her.

You have to know who you’re pitching. It is unbelievable how many times people don’t do their research ahead of time when it’s actually easier thanks to social media nowadays.

Also, remember that it doesn’t always have to be transactional. Think about reaching out to people in the spirit of collaboration to develop a relationship. Maybe email them just to mention you really enjoyed their last article or conference. If you do that, they’ll remember you when your agency can help.

The Beauty of In-Person Collaboration

Annie’s agency has offices all over the world. Why not go virtual when so many people are making this move nowadays? They were virtual for the last two years, obviously, but PR is a collaborative industry and there are ideas that spark in an office that cannot be replicated in a Zoom meeting. “My job is to communicate,” she says, so she really prefers in-person interaction.

This is especially relevant when we consider how difficult hiring and retaining talent has become. Not being able to build a relationship with them makes it all that much harder, so, when possible, she prefers to have the kind of bonding moments that only in-person interaction can provide.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you doing your own bookkeeping? Are you paying too much for someone else to do it? You might be wasting valuable resources that could be focused on growing your agency and your profitability. In most cases, it’s not an agency owner's area of expertise and CPA's charge a ton for this service. It's worth it to hire someone who understands the scope of what you do and how to keep your books. Today’s guest is an expert in accounting for agencies and his company, Agency Dad, helps agency owners forecast their finances and establish a strong fiscal foundation for their future.

Nate Jenson is a certified management accountant, internal auditor, and fraud examiner who founded Agency Dad, an accounting company that focuses on profitability for agencies. He offers bookkeeping services for agencies but their main focus is helping agencies understand financials and what’s driving profitability. Nate has been on the show before talking about the financial benchmarks and KPI’s that can help you plan for the future of your agency.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why you shouldn’t do your own bookkeeping.
  • The high cost of bookkeeping mistakes.
  • How tracking time will help you improve profitability.

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Why You Probably Should Not Be Doing Your Agency's Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping is not the sexiest topic and most creatives are not interested in it. However, a lot of agency owners do their own bookkeeping, even when it typically isn’t their area of expertise. Nate advises against this for several reasons, although he admits there’s a point in your startup when it’s OK.

There is a situation where handling your own bookkeeping makes sense. If you’re just starting, have only a few clients, one invoice a month, and no employees, then it’s perfectly fine. It can also be the best for you as you try to scale your agency and need to keep costs low.

Once you start growing, the complexity of the data grows exponentially. You get to a point where maybe you just hired your first employee, have several clients, and diversify your service offering. Then tracking that data becomes more important and more difficult. And, knowing the data leads to making better decisions for future growth.

Finally, you should also consider opportunity cost. If you started an agency, maybe you’re an expert on SEO or getting clients. Imagine how much money you could be making if you focused on what you’re good at instead of bookkeeping, which is most likely not your greatest strength.

2 Reasons Not to Use Your CPA For Bookkeeping

A lot of people use their CPA for bookkeeping because they lump all the "financial stuff" in the same category. But a CPA and a bookkeeper are drastically different. And, Jason and Nate agree this does not provide the best results for your agency. This solution keeps your books clean and reconciled but Nate says there are several reasons he does not recommend it:

  1. It is the more expensive option. Most likely, you will overpay to have your accountant do your bookkeeping. However, more importantly --
  2. CPAs usually keep books based on their tax knowledge. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, however, on the backend, it doesn't help you make good decisions for running your business or to move forward.It all starts with the data entry and your vision for the agency.

If you want to make smart growth decisions you need a good bookkeeper to help you with the data. What do you need to know from the data to make good decisions? Can you hire a new employee? How much should you charge? Can you give your team a raise?

Imagine you want to sell your agency soon, you would probably have very specific questions about valuation and how the decisions you’re making right now will affect your business. When would you like to sell? In one year? Five years? In terms of the data, you have to know what you’re putting in and why so you can answer those questions in the backend.

If you are planning to sell and do not know this information it could be a red flag to potential buyers. You should know the financial outlook of your agency at any time. If you want to have an opportunity to sell you should have everything in order. And if you want to sell in the future, you want to know what you can do as of now to maximize your value.

The High Cost of Making Bookkeeping Mistakes

According to Nate, 96% of data analysis happens at your data entry. This means that if you don’t know how to properly enter the data you will run into trouble.

Overall, you want to do everything right in your bookkeeping from the beginning. Nate has been hired to “clean up books” and fix years of improperly kept data which sometimes takes months. If it’s too complex, he even prefers starting from scratch and rebuilding everything.

Having the right systems and the right processes in place can even help save money you're already spending in bookkeeping. In one of the worst cases he’s ever seen, Nate rebuilt his client’s entire system and set up everything in a way so they were able to replace two full-time bookkeeping employees and replace their roles with one part-time employee.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Importance of Tracking Time for Profitability

Based on experience, Nate says most agency owners are not tracking time with the data they measure. Usually, he gets some pushback when he mentioned it. However, most do admit they should be doing it, but their employees don’t want to.

An agency's biggest overhead cost is your team’s time. If you don’t understand where people are spending the most time, you won’t be able to identify which client relationships are not profitable. Tracking time is a data entry task so if you have the systems in place where you can run payroll and track time, you can easily run reports that specify profitability per client. This way, you can identify which clients are using up most of your time.

Rarely does Nate find an agency that isn't losing money on their engagements. What they need to do after they find this out is adjust and find out where they can raise prices or what things they need to stop doing. Sometimes you can even increase profits when you cut a service offering or stop making a specific product. Do less and make more money!

How To Handle The Shift to Tracking Time 

It’s common for your employees to pushback when you start tracking time. Jason recommends being very honest with your team and clearly explaining the agency will suffer unless some things change. It’s also important to reassure that you will not be tracking the employees themselves, but rather collecting necessary information for the business to keep growing.

Make it mandatory, not optional and be ready to make non-compliance a reason for dismissal. Oftentimes, the employees who complain the most about necessary changes like these are not a good culture fit for the agency you’re trying to build. It will be the same with some clients and it’s ok if you decide to cut ties.

How to Find The Right Person for Your Agency Bookkeeping

Someone who is doing their own bookkeeping is also typically someone who is already overwhelmed. They have so much to do and they feel they can’t afford to hire someone else to help. With this mindset, it becomes difficult for them to see the benefits of making a change.

A good bookkeeper knows your industry, understands data analysis, and can put those numbers in front of you to help make decisions. They will be able to show where you are losing money and what can happen if you make some changes.

Of course, you also have to be careful. You can’t just hire anyone to do your bookkeeping. Some people ask their support staff, like a receptionist to do it. You may be freeing some time for yourself, but it will probably create problems further down the road.

Mistakes like incorrect invoicing can cost your agency thousands of dollars, so make sure to put in the effort and choose the right person for the job. It doesn’t have the most expensive solution, but it's important to  really understand the role and the difference between someone who understands accounting and someone who knows how to use Quickbooks.

Pro Tip:  Nate's suggests a quick test to determine if someone really knows about accounting is to ask them this quick question. “Does the debit increase or decrease my assets?” If they say increase right away, you’re good. If they hesitate, they’re not thinking like an accountant.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

 

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.

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

Do you have a clear agency vision? If so, have you shared it with your team and have their full buy-in? It takes courage to make changes that will help you scale faster. You need clarity to define your vision for the agency and a team that shares that vision. It may rock the boat a bit too much for some in your team. However, when you surround yourself with people that believe in your vision you'll see results so much faster than working with those who resist it.

Arti Sharma is a marketing and business leader who had worked for 15 years contributing to the growth and success of several start-ups and Fortune 500 companies when she created Measure Marketing Results Inc. As a marketer, she felt a lot of people were talking about marketing but no one was measuring it. She saw the opportunity and started reaching out to some old clients offering to build a campaign for them. Her business has changed a lot since then, but the most significant change came about five years ago when she redefined the agency’s goals and created a vision script.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Why finding clarity is the first step toward change.
  • Your mission statement and vision script.
  • The importance of surrounding yourself with the right people.

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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How To Find Clarity for Your Agency

Digital agencies nowadays find themselves in a very crowded space. In order to stand out, agency owners must answer the question “how do I differentiate myself from everyone else?” Usually, agencies go to Jason with a variety of problems that are standing in the way of their growth. The majority of those problems stem from a lack of clarity which affects the agency owners' ability to focus on niche, services, pricing, and even leadership.

Five years ago, Arti ran a successful company that had changed between building websites and offering SEO and SEM services. She started to question what she was building and whether it aligned with her personal and business goals. In essence, the agency’s mission statement “influence, inspire and impact” had not changed. However, she realized her clarity was lost somewhere along the way.

As agency owners know, sometimes this can happen as you worry about all sorts of issues like building a team, getting new clients, and maintaining sales.

Holding Your Agency Team Accountable to the Mission

The real change began in January 2020, when the team met to discuss the mission statement and create a complete vision script establishing how they would operate based on that mission. From then on, they made the commitment to hold themselves accountable to the mission by measuring operations, serving customers, hiring, and sales and marketing. Turns out it was perfect timing.

The company navigated the pandemic by serving its customers and building a niche based on the new commitment. Looking back, those were uncertain times for any business, but their new commitment was the push they needed to think outside the box and actually live their mission in daily actions.

Arti's team is still working on their changes, but so far they’ve become Hubspot partners and changed their offering to be more of an account-based marketing and sales enablement company. They’ve even built another business, an agency for agencies that wish to outsource some of their services.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Importance of Creating Your Agency’s Vision Script

Measure Marketing Results' mission statement remains the same and continues being true to its goals. The next step Arti took was redefining the vision statement in accordance with its goals and creating a script.

To do this, they got really specific and identified, among other things, who their ideal clients are, where they would find them, what sort of impact would they have on their business and growth. They broke that vision down as much as they could and this provided much-needed clarity for the agency.

Creating this vision script ultimately impacted their systems, sales scripts, thinking about where they would find clients and partnerships. It became clear that the agency would need to align itself with companies like Hubspot and leverage its tools to expedite the agency’s go-to marketing strategy in the world of inbound marketing.

Crafting your Value Script entails:

  • Defining your core values.
  • Having a vision of where you want to be in 2 years, 4 years, and 10 years.
  • Big action items for each year to move toward your goal.

The Vision Can’t Stop with the Leadership Team

Defining your agency’s vision is another important step, but you need your team’s commitment to make it a reality. The problem many agencies have is the vision stops at the top management tier. The CEO and leaders are committed to the core values and goals but what about the rest of the team?

Arti’s team held a two-hour meeting with all their staff when they crafted the vision script. They explained the vision, answered questions, gave examples of who the customer was. They also explained how these changes would affect them as service delivery or client management team. Team members needed to understand how implementing these principles correctly would impact the agency.

It was important for them to have everyone on the same page and have the newly defined vision for the company align with the staff’s vision.

Don’t Let Your Clear Vision Get Distorted

Not everyone will be on board with the changes, but those are the ones that will probably end up going in a different direction. You can’t let your vision get distorted by other peoples' opinions of the vision. Go over your vision and if they don’t get it, then maybe they aren't the right people to help the vision become reality.

Changing the trajectory of your company takes time and work. Having the right people on your team is essential for that.

Investing In Your Agency Team

Arti doesn’t take all the credit for knowing what steps to take to lead her agency in the right direction. She heavily invested in finding her mentors and surrounded herself with the type of people that would advise her on the next steps for her agency. Additionally, she completed a leadership program, read business books, listened to Jason’s podcast (always a wise decision:) brainstormed, tested, tried, failed, and finally succeeded.

She believes in the impact of having a team that shares your vision for the future of the business. With the guidance of her mentors, she identified key people in the team that would be ready to take the risk with her and started to invest in them. They have now wrapped up a leadership program and are working on building a management team.

For her, it’s about investing back in your people, in your processes, in your systems. If you do this, the sales will come through and you’ll be able to retain customers.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

Do you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency? Then go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: Do_You_Have_a_Clear_Vision_and_Does_Your_Team_Support_It_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:40am EST

Do you want to start charging for strategy instead of just execution? A lot of agencies out there are getting paid for execution and giving away strategy for free. They end up being viewed as a commodity instead of for the value and expertise they bring their clients. It’s mostly about learning how to cross that bridge. Our guest today specializes in helping business owners make this transition. It involves a lot of trial and error, trusting your experience, and learning to listen to clients.

Stephen Houraghan is a brand strategist who helps businesses amplify their brands and teaches designers and brand builders how to specialize in this area with his Brand Master Academy. He started his career working in finance and stockbroking and eventually left that world to start his own agency offering web design services. With the rise of freelancer platforms, Stephen saw clients wanted more value, so he tapped into strategy, which in time opened the doors to a different type of business and relationship with clients.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Stop giving away strategy for free.
  • The thought and process of selling strategy.
  • Listen to clients to create authority.

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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Figuring Out How to Charge for Strategy

When Stephen started working as a freelance designer he tapped into his professional network and was getting lots of referrals. He was doing what he loved and money wasn’t a worry. However, this started to change with the rise of freelancer platforms. Clients were pushing back on his prices and he realized he needed to offer more value to retain customers.

He started his agency and thought about how to compete with freelancers. Being more competitive would require solving the right problems for clients and offering more. He turned to branding, something he really loved to do. Eventually, that led to piecing together the puzzle of brand strategy.

Brand strategy is the key to making competitors irrelevant. Offering all the pieces of building a brand to clients put Stephen on another level, no longer competing with freelancers who just offered a logo or website. It took years of developing and improving his process but now clients do not compare based on logos and brochures but rather based on long-term success based on the strategy behind these items.

How to Test Your System for Selling Strategy

No matter how you fell into the agency world, there comes a point where you have to turn what you’ve learned into something which proves value to your clients. The bridge you need to cross to get to that point is experience. You need to realize you already have the building blocks to shift to this model. No one jumps into a creative project and just drags pixels around. It takes thought and a process. This process may be more or less detailed and, for some, it involves research and building a brand persona. Begin by documenting it and you will slowly develop it from there.

Usually, freelancers and new agencies will not charge for the labor involved in the process. Taking this step will really make a difference in your growth because there’s no ceiling to what you can charge when you sell strategy.

For his part, Stephen started by splitting up his services. He increased his design prices but made sure to sell them as the product of a comprehensive process. At first, he included the strategy for free as he slowly transitioned to taking his clients through his system. With time, his system became much more comprehensive as he tested and refined it.

A big part of doing this was pushing the impostor syndrome away. Of course, you have to be very careful to not just slap a title on yourself as you start to sell brand strategy but trust your experience. It is about building the system, but it is also about building confidence in yourself, your system, and knowing that clients need that system whether they know it or not.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What are the Elements of Brand Strategy?

Knowing the concept of brand strategy is a start but you need to understand its elements and how to tie them together to create more value for clients. Stephen identified a lot of common elements, including buyer persona, competitive analysis, positioning, storytelling, brand personality, brand mission, etc. The challenge was to figure out if every single one of these elements applies to every business, in what order, and how he could go about developing them.

Asking these questions was the start of putting together a system to build a brand. It all starts with the customer, naturally, but it goes beyond the persona. You have to dig into their journey and understand each of the challenges in that journey. From there, it’s about looking out into the market and understanding all the players in that market. Look for gaps where you can go in and offer something different, new, and fresh. Your messaging, what you say, and the buttons you push within your message is your most influential tool as a brand.

That is the value of brand strategy. All these elements in the right order will help you resonate with your audience in a way that a logo or a website alone can’t replicate and will give you the ability to sell your thinking instead of giving it away for free.

Learn To Listen to Clients and Ask The Right Questions

The trial and error to figure out your process will most likely result in some mistakes. For Stephen, the most obvious mistake was taking the position of “I’m the brand strategist and you don’t know what you’re talking about”. He would tell clients that they didn’t need a logo and try to push them in a certain direction. “9 times out of 10 that conversation did not end well,” he acknowledges.

Both Jason and Stephen agree that selling on strategy is about asking the right questions in order to help them determine the direction they need to follow. It doesn’t work unless you ask the right questions, listen, and walk them through the plan. With this framework, they never lost a deal over price.

Remember that no one likes to be told that they’re wrong. You can’t just tell clients they need something they don’t think they need because they most likely won’t listen. It's about showing and demonstrating the need to create the desire.

Stephen learned about negotiations and started to structure conversations with clients. He asked more questions and really tried to understand what they wanted and get them excited about the brand they wanted to build.

The Right and Wrong Way to Create Authority

Many people think building authority takes a lot of talking and flexing your muscles. Actually, questions are a really powerful tool when it comes to building authority. The more you are talking the less your clients are talking. It is so important that clients feel you are interested in their business and helping them build their brand.

With the right questions, you can get clients to consider that there’s maybe another path they haven’t considered. You can get them to dream about different possibilities that will help build a relationship and build authority. Remember, you always want to position yourself as a trusted advisor, and listening to your clients is a great way to do that as well as separate your agency from the competition.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Do you feel that your agency has hit a plateau? Are you wondering what steps you could take to reignite your growth? Maybe it’s time to get out of your comfort zone. Maybe you're not making your agency's needs a priority. Maybe you're just too close to your business and can't see the forest for the trees.

In this week's podcast episode, our Agency Scale Specialist Darby Copenhaver shares the common challenges he's hearing from agencies. In his role, Darby speaks with agency owners who are looking for a leg up, whether that means working with Jason or not, to identify their issues and create a game plan for overcoming them so they can achieve their growth goals.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Overcoming the most common issues for agency owners.
  • How to get more clarity so you can scale.
  • Branding yourself vs. branding the agency.
  • Why the fear of missing out (FOMO) is holding you back.

The Most Common Reasons Agency Growth Reaches a Plateau

As agency owners, we put so much energy into our clients’ success and strategies and we forget to do the same when it comes to our own marketing and growth strategies. Because of this, many of the agency owners that come to us frequently feel stuck. They’ve plateaued and can’t figure out what comes next. In Darby’s opinion, this is rooted in a lack of prioritization.

We tend to put ourselves last because we want to do the best we can for our clients. This is very common, but we need to make time for the things that we want to accomplish in our businesses. Remember there’s a difference between making time and having time. There’s always time where you make it. You may not think you have time, but you must make the time to overcome the plateau you're on.

How Clarity Will Help Overcome the Plateau You're On

We’ve talked about the importance of niching down and the benefits it can bring for your business. However, it is still a very common fear, and understandably so. Agency owners feel they’re missing out on something or going in a certain direction will mean leaving many opportunities behind. This kind of thinking pulls you in many different directions at once. A clear vision of the goals you have for your agency will make all the difference.

Improving yourself and your agency will take dedication and intent. Reaching your goals is just as important as reaching the goals of the people you work with. This is something that we often discuss in the Digital Agency Elite mastermind when we advise members to say no to some things and delegate tasks to free their time for focus on what they really want to do.

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The Understanding That Comes With More Clarity

Once we start to cover some of the things that may be slowing their growth, agency owners start to recognize some small changes that could make a big difference for their agencies. One of the most common ones is capitalizing on their existing relationships. They realize they haven’t taken the time to recognize opportunities with existing clients and grow revenue from there. There’s so much low-hanging fruit there that they don’t realize. With the help of the mastermind team, they realize they need to go after those opportunities and empower their team to do so as well.

Many of them also overlook the importance of creating content and building authority. Having clarity about who you are as an agency, who you audience is and what you offer can lead to building content of value around that. This can only improve your business because providing value-driven content instead of generalized marketing tips will lead to better opportunities.

Should You Brand Yourself or Brand Your Agency?

Sharing your personal branding helps you align with the right clients. Remember that people buy from people and tend to not trust companies and corporations. Personalizing things will help you establish yourself as someone clients can trust. You can see bigger companies commonly offer a personification of the business (like the Geico gecko) people can relate to.  And in Jason’s social media, you’ll see posts about his adventures on the mountain, which personifies his brand and attracts the type of people that share his love of adventure.

Many agency owners believe that branding themselves will mean that they’ll be expected to do everything themselves. It’s a misconception that people need to get past because it’s just not realistic. If you buy a Tesla, you don’t expect to deal directly with Elon Musk in the purchase process, but that’s the personality that probably attracted you to that company and that product in the first place. It’s about investing in the leader and having the confidence that their team will work in consonance with what those figures represent.

Some mastermind members that took the step to do their own content on Youtube or their own podcast find that many times clients and employees approach the agency because they wanted to work with them. They are attracted by the personality and the values that they represent and now this content has become their main source of leads.

Lose The Fear of Missing Out & Start Taking Risks

The clarity that you need to continue your growth will come with losing the fear of saying no, niching down, and putting yourself out there. Mastermind members feel encouraged to make these changes and lose that fear because they can see it works for other agency owners. Once they see it works, they want to reach that same level of success.

As Darby says, anything in life involves some degree of risk. Every time you say yes to something you’ll be saying no to other things. Just take into consideration what you are really giving up and what are you gaining.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Do you have a clear vision of your agency’s future and your role in it? Would you like to sell your agency or just transition out of the role of CEO, maybe to Chairman? We all have to confront these questions at some point as we consider our agency's growth trajectory and what's next. Today’s guest may help you start to think about how to structure your agency for your eventual exit.

Zach Williams is an entrepreneur and longtime mastermind member who founded Venveo, a digital agency that focuses on the building construction space. He’s been on the podcast before talking about the 2 strategies that grew his digital agency’s revenue by 4X. After many years in the business and growing his agency from just four people to over 65 employees, Zach started thinking about the best way to continue moving the business forward. He concluded it was time for him to step away as CEO, while continuing to contribute to the agency’s vision.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How he made the decision to become a Chairman instead of CEO.
  • How he structured the agency to be able to get to that point.
  • What support Zach needed in order to get through the difficult times.

Redefining Success and Gaining Clarity In Your Agency

A lot of agency owners get into the business because they love the work and then end up hating it. For Zach, it was important that he built something that he loved while trying to keep a clear idea of his role in it and what he brought to the table. Once the company saw real growth, he started to redefine his idea of success. He started by clearly setting out his goals for the business and his personal goals. He found that what he brought to the business as an individual no longer served the goals for the business and it became clear then that he needed to exit for both the business and himself to thrive.

Zach was always very focused on business growth and getting the agency to be self-sustaining. He never wanted to be the type of entrepreneur that focuses solely on EBITDA. His goal was to create a business that could grow beyond him. Making the decision to really focus on that changed the way he and his team structured the company, the people he brought to work on the business, and even the clients they took, which made for a really smooth transition process when the time came.

How to Make a Smooth Transition Away from Agency CEO

Other than having a clear vision of what type of business he wanted to build, Zach credits these as the most important steps he took to grow his agency:

  1. Picking a niche. This is probably the most important thing you can do. You need to understand who you are targeting, what’s the value that you’re bringing them, and how are you going after them. Understanding this made all the difference for a company that business remained a small-scale operation with four employees for many years until they knew who to target and how to get better at sales.
  2. Improving sales. Looking back, Zach recognizes that he initially didn’t really like sales, which affected his agency’s growth. He knew he needed to improve a lot in that area and finally did so following Jason’s advice. He saw results right away, landing his biggest deal shortly after starting to implement Jason’s advice.
  3. Hiring a Director of Operations. Once he started filling the sales pipeline, and his confidence grew as a result, he started to build into infrastructure operations. He hired a Director of Operations and a counterpart to oversee the client strategy and continued to grow 20%-30% year-on-year. The turning point was understanding that filling your sales pipeline will lead to a waterfall effect where having more opportunities will get you to a point where you can increase your prices, which will lead to hiring the right people. This will all allow you to follow your vision.

Why You Must Trust Your Team and Empower Them Make Decisions

Agency owners can have a hard time giving up control, even when they say they completely trust their team and are convinced they have the right people in the right positions. You can’t really grow unless you give people the autonomy they need. This will not only give you more time to focus on what you really want to do, it will be good for the business and your team will grow more confident from that trust and the knowledge that you have their back. They are going to make mistakes and that’s ok. If your team doesn’t think they can take risks, then that’s on you as a leader. It will even help you get rid of team members who resist change and want to stay in a box.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

The Process to Getting a New Agency CEO Ready

For Zach, when it came time to select and start to train a new CEO it was a no-brainer to go for someone inside the organization. This person was already a team leader who had worked in the company for years and really knew the business, was a culture fit, and had a good rapport with team members and clients. As to the transition, he mapped out daily tasks that he could start to exit. He identified parts of the business where he was really involved and that would require either a new hire or delegating it to someone who was ready. This gave him more time to really think about how he wanted to position his new CEO and executive team for that transition. When it came time to announce it, the team was ready and saw it as a natural next step.

What's Next After You Transition Away From CEO?

After a successful transition, Zach now has two main roles in the company:

  • He continues to be involved in the marketing part of the business (attending events and appearing on podcasts).
  • He is still focused on finding new things the agency can build to offer new value to clients.

This will really depend on how each agency owner sees their life after transitioning out of the role of CEO. Some may want to have nothing to do with the business and focus on new projects or hobbies. That’s fine too. Zach really likes the process of building something and getting it off the ground. He found he really shines when it comes to creating things that can help the agency be more successful with clients.

In the end, selling the business is not for him. He loves his team and his business and can still play a part in helping the agency grow.

Remember that Jason always identifies 3 reasons why an owner should really consider selling their business:

  1. You need the money.
  2. You don’t like the business anymore.
  3. You’ve reached your max and you want someone else’s help.

In addition, transitioning away from CEO has created time for Zach to pursue new ways to create. He is working on a new project called The Untold. A podcast where he uncovers obscure stories about businesses we all know. If you like business, you really need to check this out to learn really cool stories that will entertain you and change the way you think.

“Words tell you something, fonts make you feel something” ~ Zach Williams, Font connoisseur

Why You Need the Support of Like-Minded Entrepreneurs

We’ve said it before but it’s always worth highlighting the benefits of having a group of people that you trust and who can offer valuable advice. Being an entrepreneur and trying to build and grow a business will be difficult and isolating. Very few manage to do it successfully, which is why you need the support of people who will understand and ins and outs of growing a business. Zach had the support of Jason and the mastermind, who offered their expertise to help him get through the tough times and keep him accountable for his goals for the business.

If You Avoid Discomfort, You're In Your Own Way

If he could go back and do something that could help his business grow faster, he would push himself to go in a direction that seems uncomfortable but that would ultimately help the agency. In his case, it would be sales. He didn’t like sales and subconsciously avoided it but it was the key element to grow his business.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you starting to grow your agency and feel the need to keep adding services and saying yes to every potential client? Getting out of that startup mindset is difficult. However, you will be glad you did it when you start seeing better results for your agency by just learning to avoid complexity and focusing on the right things.

Kait Le Donne worked in marketing in her 20s and started to do brand consulting for small businesses on the side. She came up with a plan to help a client become a known entity and get more speaking engagements in their field by writing a book. The strategy was so successful she found a new career path and founded Brandwise Media, a niche agency specializing in helping business owners build audiences excited to buy their books and using those books as a vehicle to drive up brand awareness for themselves.

In this episode, we'll discuss:

  • Getting out of the startup mode.
  • Narrowing down services.
  • Why you need to raise your prices.

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 Would You Simplify Process If You Could Start Over?

Raise your hand if you can relate. When you start to scale and people want to work with you, you start to add more. You have more revenue, so you add more people and keep adding services. It becomes about asking yourself, what more can we do? What more can we add?

Two years after starting her agency and with other seasoned entrepreneurs around her, Kait realized the reality of growing broke. Her top-line revenue was increasing and expenses were increasing in correlation. In short, growth costs. At some point, you really have to ask yourself if you had to rebuild your business, would you do it in the same way? For Kait, the answer was no.

She realized she had fallen into the trap of thinking that the more she offered clients quantity-wise the better her agency would be. In reality, creating value is not a matter of more is more. It can come with pulling back and going back to what you do really well and establishing profitability there.  Then you decide if you want to grow that and how.

She started to question “do we really need these complex processes?” “Do we really need this many clients? Or do we just need less clients at the right price point?” She encourages any agency owner that has started growing their business to ask themselves these questions. The bigger the better is a truism that many entrepreneurs fall for.

When you’re in startup mode, it’s normal that you just throw a lot of stuff to the wall to see what sticks. With experience and growth, there will come a point when you start figuring out your path.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

What Can You Do To Start Narrowing Down Services?

There are many ways to go about it, but Kait identifies three main aspects that really helped her get on the right path for her agency:

  1. Start prioritizing the right clients. Letting go of clients that are just not the right fit for your agency may sound frightening, and you may expect it to be a really difficult conversation. However, most likely it won’t be as bad as you imagine. At the end of the day, anybody in a service business will respect it if you tell them “This is what we need to do to continue working together. And if we can’t, then that’s fine.” You can go your separate ways on good terms.
  2. Simplify the process. Kait and her team came up with what they call the Brand Turbo Charger Process, which in short contains the five or six parts of the process from the moment the client enters the door to the moment they leave. “There is a time and a place for a complex web of SOPs,” she acknowledges. “But this has been very illuminating for our business.”
  3. Figuring out the time to bring full-time employees. Not only the right time to bring in a new team member but also having the right employees in the right positions. When does it make sense to take this step vs. when your staff is largely compiled of contractors, which a lot of us do as agency owners, and there is a time and a place for it.

It may sound overly simple, but it is all about gaining clarity of where you want to take your business.

Lose the Fear of Raising Agency Prices

Once you have a clear vision of the future of your business and start prioritizing the right clients, it’s time for another difficult step. Ask yourself what was the last time you raised your prices? Raising prices may sound like a risky way to lose a lot of clients, but it is the next logical step for a growing business. You can double or triple your business just by making some simple changes instead of adding services. Kait let her clients know her prices would go up by 10% at the start of 2022. All the right clients already expected this move.

You may think that clients will walk out when you decide to raise your prices, but you have to trust that the right ones know your value. And if some do leave, then now you have space for the next right one. Kait even did this with her online course. Once she doubled the price, more clients showed up because now the pricing said “this is not like every other online course out there.”

What She Wishes She Had Known

As an entrepreneur, you will always have to exist in duality. You’re focused on operations and suddenly you have to focus on sales. There always seems to be a fire to put out. Maybe you ask yourself am I over managing? Am I undermanaging?

The sooner you accept that as an entrepreneur you actually thrive in duality instead of fighting it, the better. Never get comfortable. That’s when you start doing the same thing over and over again. And you probably chose this business because you like uncertainty and you are comfortable with the fact that there will always be an issue to fix and a puzzle to put together.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you looking for ways to improve your customer service? Have you implemented a customer success strategy in your organization? Nils Vinje is an author and leadership coach who founded the first-ever customer success firm, Glide Consulting, to help organizations improve their leadership skills and teaches the tools you may be lacking to implement a proper customer success strategy, which he details in his new book 30 Day Leadership.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • 5 keys to improving your clients' success.
  • Tracking where you stand with your agency's clients.
  • 4 Pillars to becoming a better leader.

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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We’ve all had a bad customer experience some time in our lives. Maybe we feel exasperated by a customer service team and has failed to solve a problem several times or is slow to provide answers. As agency owners, we need to be aware of the consequences of inefficient customer service and how it will affect brand loyalty. It often boils down to lack of onboarding and a clear, no real-time assistance, and mostly the absence of a clear strategy. So how are you getting success for your clients? How can you improve your customer service?

5 Keys to a Great Customer Success Strategy

According to Nils, it is very common for organizations to lump customer service with other areas like sales. It takes a village to serve a customer and there must be a team responsible for this task. “You have a product strategy,” he tells owners, “you have a sales strategy, what’s your customer strategy?” He often gets blank stares. Because of this, he prepared his own 5-Step framework for customer success:

  1. Being Prescriptive
    Let’s say you ask for lawyer referrals to do some kind of business deal. You get two referrals, one that confirms his experience in the area and asks you what he should include in the contract and one that gives you a list of things you should cover, a series of recommendations, offers a perspective of the best scenario for you and finally asks how you would like to proceed. You should strive to be like the second lawyer. Clients are not paying you to be asked what they want to do. Be the trusted advisor right from the beginning.
  2. Transformation
    Clients are usually expecting some kind of transformation from buying a service. They are at point A and want to get to point B. It is up to you to define what is the absolute best transformation for your clients before they ever go through your process. Ask yourself how you could provide the best possible value for them. That is the destination because then they will very likely renew and expand their relationship with your agency.
  3. A Fresh Start.
    This is the moment right after your client signs up to work with you. Their openness, willingness, enthusiasm, and ability to get things done will never be higher than at that point so this is the moment to set expectations regarding how you will continuously drive value to that customer over time.
  4. Engaging Middle.
    There is a sense that all the intense part of the process happens at the beginning and then we get into a rinse and repeat the cycle. This rhythm is important. However, we must not miss the opportunity to continue to add value to our clients and come to the table with recommendations on what to improve and what to change.
  5. Crushing the Milestones.
    According to Nils, businesses need to architect the right milestones for their customer strategy and build stepping stones to get there. This way, you can understand whether you are on track or off track with a customer.

If you answer each of these steps in a very detailed manner, then you now have a customer’s strategy.

Keeping Track of Where You Stand With Clients

Client churn is going to happen, and that’s ok. It will be an opportunity for you to upgrade. The key is to know when it’s going to happen because it’s the surprise that kills you. When you have a strategy in place for your customers, you can know how on track or off track they are, and that can give you a very good indicator of how likely they are to renew.

If your client retention rate is not as good as you hoped, what are you doing to fix this? Jason likes to recommend a system of monitoring client satisfaction with a stoplight approach: red, yellow, and green.  Everyone starts out at yellow and hopefully moves to green once they start seeing results. Clients in the red are the ones in danger that need intervention because they're at risk. How can you communicate better with your red and yellow clients? How can you help them more? Or is there something they're not telling you? Intervention is the key.

Improving your customer retention rate by 5% would probably double your business and achieving that will require working on your communication with clients. It’s better to over-communicate with your clients than to under-communicate. As soon as there is a vacuum of information where there is not an answer to an issue, your customer will likely be thinking negatively and assume you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

4 Pillars of Becoming a Better Leader 

A lot of agencies start by accident and you suddenly find yourself leading several teams that rely on you to point out how they can improve at their jobs. When thinking about the complex world of leadership, we can’t just pick some random tips and expect to get a better result. We have to take a long-term view and apply it to develop our leadership skills.

As a first step, Nils came up with four fundamental pillars to become a better leader:

  1. Leading yourself. All about you and your psychology;
  2. Leading others. The interactions with your team;
  3. Leading with communication. The tools and techniques to communicate and send your message to the people that you work with and your clients as well;
  4. Leading with metrics, which is all about how we measure our progress to identify how we can improve.

The Most Important Leadership Tool

If you really want to improve your leadership skills, Nils suggest you focus on Feedback. Learning how to give negative feedback in a way that will help people get better at their jobs will be one of your most important qualities as a leader. However, giving negative feedback is something that most people try to avoid because it is uncomfortable and they don’t have a system to do so. Here’s a 3-step process that you can implement:

  • Here’s what I observe. Start with these words and follow up with an objective and very specific instance. This is not the place for generalities but rather for a specific event or behavior you witnessed.
  • The impact that had. Your interpretation of the impact of that behavior you observed.
  • Help me understand what’s going on. Invite them to share their point of view. We never know where someone else is coming from. But, if you choose to just share your observations and the impact they had and then ask them to explain what is happening, you will get them to share their side of the story, which you would never get on your own.

This is a fairly simple framework that anybody could start using today. “I guarantee your employees want that feedback” Nils assures. It will improve their lives, their jobs, and your relationship with them and you can even implement it with clients too. For more insight on the tools to becoming a better leader, go get Nils’ new book 30 Day Leadership.

Want the Support of Amazing Digital Agency Owners?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

Direct download: 5_Keys_To_a_Great_Customer_Success_Strategy_to_Retain_More_Clients.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Build It and Maybe They Will Come?

Unless You Get Different and Stand Out from the Crowd

Do you want your digital agency to stand out from your competition? Putting together a compelling message for your audience is not enough to really make an impression. Differentiating your agency is an important part of getting your audience’s attention and getting your message across among the slew of marketing messages they get every day.

Mike Michalowicz is a small business author and entrepreneur who has devoted himself to making entrepreneurship simple and answering the question What makes entrepreneurship successful? He is the mind behind many great books like 'Profit First', a favorite among mastermind members, and his latest 'Get Different'. Mike has also been on the podcast before to discuss how to grow your business without constantly working in it.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • How to stand out from the competition.
  • Ideas that break the norm and introduce an unexpected element.
  • Ripping off other industries.

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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How Can You Stand Out From Your Competition?

Ask yourself “are you better than the competition?” You have to have a definitive answer, and no, it does not mean better in all capacities, but there must be an area where you shine. If the answer is yes, then you have a responsibility to market yourself appropriately. You MUST be noticed. If you don’t, then clients will end up choosing a lesser offering and it will be your fault. Every business has the opportunity to be the best in its category. If you’re not, you may have some fine-tuning to do, but the opportunity is there.

Worst Marketing Examples

We tend to think bad marketing is marketing that doesn’t speak to us, that we don’t like or is offensive. But the fact you noticed it means that it was better than 99% of the marketing out there. There’s marketing all around us every day that we don’t even bother to notice. That’s the worst marketing. Being seen is the first hurdle.

The second hurdle is getting the audience’s attention for the right reasons. Don’t try to emulate something that isn’t true to your brand or the attention you get will be becoming a ridicule and an example of bad marketing.

How to Market Your Agency

For Mike, the way to be noticed is to be different, to break through the common noise that is always circulating in every market. Look at your competition and notice the same four or five things that everyone is doing over and over again. Those are the four or five things you should never do because they are easy to ignore. Why?

This is the result of Habituation, which is the action which our brains see something that is not relevant, qualify it as such, and ignore it from then on. Mike goes back to the “Hey, friend!” message. The first time he received that email he was curious, but as soon as he noticed it was just a cheesy marketing technique, he began ignoring it.

You never want to be the common “hey, friend” in your marketing, and the way to avoid it is to introduce something unexpected in your messaging.

Steps To Stand Out and Not Be a “Me Too” Agency

In the agency world, when you’re just starting out you may look at your bigger competitor and try to copy everything they’re doing. It makes sense because they have achieved the success you want, but this creates sameness in the industry. Instead, consider identifying whatever the common approach is and thinking, how can I flip it?

For example, Mike knew sending email blasts was a common practice in his industry and took a look at a couple to see the most common features. The look was almost always white background and black text. He thought, “how could I change this?” and came up with the invisible ink email blast, with a black background and black text and directions to highlight the email to reveal the message. The clickthrough rate was double that any other email he had ever sent, all because he did something different.

He also recommends doing a simple R&D (aka: "rip off and duplicate") by looking outside of your industry. Take a look at what people are doing in vastly different industries and find out what you could replicate in your own content.

Be Bold

“The reptilian mind tells you that doing different equals death,” Mike says, but in modern society, it is the way to get noticed. Also, “different” has an expiration date. It will last until too many people start replicating it, so milk it while you can and start working on your next approach. But don’t worry; it will take time before others dare to replicate it.

It’s also important to clarify different doesn’t have to be completely outside of who you are. It doesn’t mean a complete 180-degree change; it can be subtle. The trick is to dismiss ideas that don’t resonate with you and adapt the ones that do. It’s about amplifying who you are.

Remember, no one will have any idea about you or your digital agency until they do business with you. Until then, they will only know your marketing, so it has to be absolutely congruent with your brand. If there’s any incongruence, there’s mistrust.

How Can You Hold Your Audience’s Attention?

Speak their language. Show them you really understand their particular industry. Use language specific to that industry and use relevant data to get their attention. Using their language will instantly get you noticed above all the white noise.

“Marketing is the ultimate act of kindness. It is a necessity to be of service. The world is starving for good things. So if you’re doing good things, the world is starving for you.” ~ Mike Michaelowicz

Want more?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.

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

Are you having trouble selling yourself and getting prospects to see the value you can provide for them? In this episode, James Muir joins Jason to talk about closing more sales and his book, The Perfect Close. James shares the process leading up to it, 4 high leverage areas in sales, how to prepare messaging that works to get a high close rate, and the two questions that can improve your closing percentage without ever sounding pushy or manipulative.

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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4 High Leverage Areas in Sales

The truth is there’s no messaging that will suddenly overwhelm people with persuasion and approval. You have to do your research and make your that you’re delivering the right message to the right audience and using the correct medium. James breaks down this process into four high leverage areas in sales that will you to improve your closing rate:

  • Market. The single best thing you can do to improve sales is sell only to ideal clients. Targeting the right customer will be pivotal because everything else falls below that in your funnel. If you get that wrong, everything you’re doing in sales will fall on deaf ears.
  • Message. Now that you figured out who you want to target, what is the message you want to send? It’s a very narrow window to get your message across once you have their attention, so you have to make sure that you’re delivering a high-impact message.
  • Medium. Now that you know who you’re talking to and what you’re going to say ask yourself where do these people hang out? Remember to meet the customer where they are (social media, trade shows, etc).
  • Motivation. This is about personal motivation, what gets you out of bed in the morning? Getting all these elements just right will require a lot of work and the right motivation will help you get through it.

Are You Talking to the Right Prospects?

For his part, Jason recommends thinking of N.B.A.T. before engaging in any new project conversation. These steps will help you save time and energy on the wrong prospects.

 Need:

Ask what the specific needs are and what specific end results they’re expecting. Ask how this project fits in with the overall company vision. If they need to pull in another person to answer that question, hold onto that nugget of information.

B – Budget:

Ask for the budget. More often than not, you won’t get an actual number so act like a reverse auctioneer… Start with a ridiculously high number saying, “Is your budget $500,000, or $400,000, maybe $300,000…?” They either give you a more realistic range or the name of someone who knows. Hold onto that nugget of information, too!

A – Authority:

Were they able to answer the questions about need and budget? If not, and they gave you another name or two, then you know who you really need to be talking to.

T – Timing:

Only you know what you can do and how long it takes. You might really want or even need this project but, if the timing has unrealistic parameters you are setting yourself up for failure.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Messaging to Increase Your Agency's Close Rate

There’s really great research available on how to create effective messaging and identifying the different elements you should consider when crafting a sales pitch. Some of these elements include determining the Issues or problems the customer has, as well as the goal they’re trying to achieve.

Then there’s the Trigger event, which are occurrences that lead to a sales opportunity and will indicate the best time to sell your product or service.

The most challenging part will be the Insight or unconsidered needs, where you get your prospect to see a compelling enough reason to buy by tapping into their unconsidered needs, which are shortcomings, challenges, or missed opportunities that they haven’t considered yet. This will help you create a value proposal of how you can produce some results for them.

The natural outcome of this will be Skepticism, which is the perfect moment for you to reveal your mechanism of action, the thing you do for the customer that produces the desired results.

For this, you will need Proof. There are many types of proof you can present, but you can get the best results with third-party validation because it is the hardest to fake.

You don’t necessarily have to follow this order, but this is the mechanism that will get buyers to make a decision now and not wait.

Related: Overcoming the Top 5 Agency Sales Objections

2 Questions To Improve Your Closing Percentage

Before you go into any meeting, you should have an idea of what you want the outcome of this meeting to be. You should have an idea advance and a couple of alternate advances. If you have that prepared, then you’re ready for the two questions, which are designed to be non-confrontational or pushy:

  1. Does it make sense for us to X? (where X is your sales advance).
  2. What do you think is a good next step?

It’s all about really considering the possible results before you walk into the meeting. Think about, what’s the best thing that could happen for the client? And what other things you can do keep the ball rolling?

By doing this, you’re pacing the sale at exactly the rate that the client is ready to move. It’s when you try to move a customer faster than they’re comfortable with when it can feel pushy or manipulative.

Want the Support of Like-Minded Agency Owners to Help You Grow?

If you want to be around amazing agency owners that can see you may not be able to see and help you grow your agency, go to the Digital Agency Elite to learn all about our exclusive mastermind.


Have you made these common mistakes that hold back your agency? Our guest, Sandy Smith is the President of Smith Publicity, has grown her agency for over 25 years and she shares lessons learned from 2 common mistakes she made over the years. Sandy's agency is focused on book marketing and author promotion services publicity. At first, a one-person shop they have grown to more than 30 employees with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Canada. Sandy and her Senior VP, Marissa Eigenbrood, are on the show sharing how their expansion process led them to open an office in London that ultimately brought more problems than business. They also share why you should act fast when an employee just doesn't fit with the company and why you need to find someone you trust so you can transition from owner to agency CEO.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Identifying the source of customer service problems. Although the agency is US-based, it used to have a London office. Susan later identified this as the source of 95% of their customer service problems. London was an important market for the agency and held 10% of its business. However, it took too much work to get their UK clients to understand how the business worked in the US and get them to a place where they saw the value in the agency’s work. In the end, these clients just weren’t the right fit for the agency, and closing the London office was an important step to move forward.
  2. Waiting too long to do what’s best for the team. Hanging on for a little too long after seeing someone just isn’t working out in their role is a common problem for small business owners who try to avoid these decisions. Sometimes the person is not a good culture fit for the agency; you never want someone to mess culture up, even if they’re great at what they do. For Sandy and Marissa, it was actually the opposite, someone was a great culture fit but who kept making the same mistakes in his job. After spending time and resources in retraining, they had to accept it wasn’t working out and make the necessary change..
  3. Transitioning from Agency Owner to CEO. With the help of Marissa, Sandy is in the process of doing something we know can be a difficult process -- transitioning to the role of CEO. We know by now that this transition is more of a marathon than a sprint. For Sandy, it has been about finding the right person to take over the tasks she no longer wants to handle and focus on the ones that she enjoys. “It's having trust and sharing, opening up our books, opening up our real thoughts,” Sandy says. “And it's not an overnight process. It's many years of trusting and slow steps of giving control and giving insights and allowing, and this is the hardest part, for difference of opinion.”

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.

Subscribe

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Avoid These Common Mistakes in your Agency

Building Trust to Help You Transition from Agency Owner to Agency CEO

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, all! How's it going?

Marissa: [00:00:04] Hi, Jason, how are you?

Jason: [00:00:07] Doing good. So I haven't done two people on the podcast in a long time. So we're on these little boxes. I apologize for these little boxes, but for the people listening and watching, tell us who you guys are and what do you guys do?

Marissa: [00:00:23] Oh, well, thank you. I am Marissa Eigenbrood. I'm the senior vice-president at Smith Publicity. We are a book publicity and marketing agency celebrating 25 years in business this year in 2022. We focus on working with, with authors and experts and publishers on building awareness around their launches and beyond. That's a quick summary there.

Sandy, pass the baton.

Sandy: [00:00:47] Yeah, I’m Sandy Smith, Sandy Poirier Smith, but no one can pronounce that, but Sandy Smith. And I'm the president here and co-owner of Smith Publicity. And we started off as like a one-person shop and now we have 31 of us, 32, Marissa? And we've grown pretty much every year.

We've learned a lot. We've made a lot of mistakes and we've done some really great things. So we're excited, Jason, to talk with you and, um, pick our brains and see if we can help some of the people here.

Jason: [00:01:19] Awesome. So, well, let's, let's jump into it. What's the biggest mistake you guys made?

Marissa: [00:01:28] Love that. Wow.

Sandy: [00:01:29] One I would say is, as we were growing, we expanded our offices. We are based in the US but we had a Toronto office, a Los Angeles office, a New York city office, and a London office. And this is back in the day where… while we have always been hybrid, believe it or not even 20 years ago we were hybrid, having that kind of a brick and mortar office kind of made sense. And people expected that.

And our London office gave us this great, like worldwide, you know, kind of brand appeal, which was fantastic. However, our London-based our English-based caused, because they probably were maybe 10% of our total clients, but they caused 95% of our customer service problems. And the reason for that is the education that took to get them to understand what we do in the US market was just so much work.

And one example of that is an author said “I want to be on Oprah.” Well, okay, that's great, and can't she just schedule me in that type of thing. They just didn't understand that the vastness. Even geography, there was one author who said I want to pop a new office for a meeting. I will be in a meeting in… I'm going to a wedding in San Francisco, can I drive over to see you in New Jersey this afternoon?

It just… like some people just didn't have the scope of the US market. So even though it looked good and they did, you know, 10% of business, we decided not to continue having a London-based office just because those clients were not the right fit for us.

We spent so much time trying to educate and get them to a place where they saw value in what we do.

Jason: [00:03:28] That's awesome. Yeah, I know I'm figuring out the perfect clients for you is, uh, I always tell everybody it's kind of like a Vegas buffet. Like you gotta kind of try everything and then you're like, oh, that thing made me sick. I'm not going to eat that anymore. So…

Sandy: [00:03:44] Yeah, Marissa, another mistake that you want to talk about, unless you have another idea is, um, our evolution of the longer projects rather than the shorter but more quick projects that were evolving to.

Marissa: [00:04:00] Yeah. I mean, I think this is, this has definitely been an evolution. And also, um, again, it was not necessarily a giant mistake cause it worked really well for us for a long time, but kind of having that moment of realization and I did I had to really connect to that as well, is they're having times over the years where we've tried to incorporate other types of services that haven't been the real meat and potatoes, the publicity that we, that we focus on and we're, we're, we're really great at.

We for a few years added in social media services and, you know, we, we dabbled in other areas too. And I think it's really kind of realizing when it's time to say goodbye. And sometimes you hold onto those, those things for a little too long and we were doing that with shorter-term campaigns. I think, uh, we had previously six-week-long campaigns, or maybe even four-week campaigns… We actually had three-week campaigns, which in today's world of publicity sounds absolutely insane to do just three weeks of work with someone and have it be impactful.

But, you know, it's been part of the changing landscape of the media that we've had to react to as well. The time things are taking, the delays. The publishing industry is phase two, so there's so many factors that have influenced those decisions, but, um, really giving our, our publicists, our authors, the time that they need and, and really kind of building that awareness of, of how much time is really needed to be impactful is something that has evolved.

And we've really learned and grown from over the last few years in particular and so at this time, you know, we've, we've eliminated everything that's six weeks and less, pretty much. And you know, two months is not far behind it, I think too.

Sandy: [00:05:41] And that’s hard too because we made money from that. It was a great place but it just wasn't in the clients are our best interest to continue with that based on the changes we saw. So that was interesting.

The other one, um, and I don't want to just harp on mistakes. I think it's all small businesses is when someone is not working out in their role. I think sometimes we hang on a little longer than we would because our emotions get involved. We like these people. We want it to work. And I'm thinking of someone, Marissa, who was in our business development coordinator and years, and years and years ago. This person was fantastic individual. And we just kept changing the job description and kept changing his focus. And it wasn't working and we probably should have, in hindsight, let them go a lot sooner.

It just wasn't the right fit. But as a small business, we get probably a little more connected to our team and that's probably a mistake. And fortunately, we don't have to do this very often. We have hopefully better hiring and onboarding and vetting before we get to that stage.

But that's something that we struggled with as a small business. I don't think it's unusual, but I know that that since reading, cause we read a lot of books here, you're supposed to hire slow and fire quickly in small businesses.

Jason: [00:07:03] Was it that this person was not a cultural fit?

Marissa: [00:07:07] I think it was actually the opposite. It really was the, I mean, he really got along so well with everyone, you know, really was a nice fit with so many, but the skills were hard to really build in the direction that we needed them to go. Um, Sandy, would you agree with that?

Sandy: [00:07:25] I do. And again, because we read a lot of business books, I know that 80% of people are let go because of soft skills, the culture, and 20% it can do the job, but they just don't fit in. But I think in this case, it was the, exactly what Marissa said, culturally, he showed up, was great, people liked him…

He was all in, just kept making the same mistakes over and over and over again. And we probably gave him too much grace and too much training, like retraining and retraining before we just said square peg round hole.

Marissa: [00:07:59] Yeah. I mean, we've, we face it the other way around too. I mean, just fairly recently, we had someone and I learned from another great industry partner recently that, uh, she started at Shake Shack. They have this phrase where they say there's no, skunking, there's no skunking of the culture.

So even if you're amazing at your job and you, you're just one of the best in terms of the skills, if you are skunking up the culture and you're creating negativity there. You know, you're not a right fit and they're looking at an exit plan and that was, you know, we've had to have those conversations recently.

And I think that, you know, that's just as hard to deal with, as, in terms of letting someone go or figure out an exit plan as it is for someone who does, you know, who has that connection from the emotional side, from that cultural side, because you're like, wow, this person's great at their job. They're great at the tasks.

It's just that on the other side it’s…

Sandy: [00:08:54] Person. Yeah, it's just not a team player.

Jason: [00:08:58] I have a question because you guys have achieved something a lot of people listening are wanting where the owners can kind of start transitioning a little bit out, right? Like have a life again and find someone to, you know, run operations and really just kind of take the baton and run.

So going back 13 years and knowing what you know now, how can people listening do that? Because I find that's a big struggle. They, they, they don't want to relinquish control. Was that tough for you guys?

Sandy: [00:09:35] No. Oh, it's really hard and it's hard for it for two reasons. One is the company is our baby. It's our livelihood. That's, what's going to be funding our kids college and our retirement and all that. So that's, that's important to us.

It's also too, and I've learned this from many of our authors. People will sell a company or they turn over control to the next generation. Three years later, they're bored and then they write a book because they want to connect back to what made them feel good and what kind of got them out of bed every day.

So while, and I'm just being very transparent. I am not necessarily looking to step out of the business fully. What I'd like to do, Jason, is pick and choose more of the things that get me excited rather than the things that I don't want to do anymore.

My husband on the other end, as we speak he's outside with our chickens.

Jason: [00:10:27] He is he's chasing chickens? Should that be the title? Can you send me a picture of him chasing the chicken? And that’ll be the thumbnail.

Sandy: [00:10:39] If you flip through my phone, for everybody at home, is the picture of him, which of course, like it's not coming up because the, our Google call is on here, but here he is sitting on his tractor this way, yes, sitting on a tractor in the backyard.

But he's excited. He's a few years older than me, but not that older, but he's excited to really dive into other passions outside of the work. And I am still like, oh, I want to do this, but I'd never had time sometimes to really dive into some of these other opportunities for us. I think the hardest thing is to, to trust in someone.

Um, and what made it easier is Marissa because she is, not to get her head big, but she is….

Jason: [00:11:23] Be closer to the screen.

Marissa: [00:11:25] Right, here I come.

Sandy: [00:11:44] And she’s tall. She’s super tall too. What are you, 6’3, Marissa?

Marissa: [00:11:33] 6’3, yes.

Sandy: [00:11:34] 6’3 and she wears heals. So she’s got a beautiful confidence. But…

Marissa: [00:11:39] I just intimidate people into letting me run their company. That's all it is.

Sandy: [00:11:44] Exactly. It's having trust and sharing, like opening up our books, opening up our, um, our, our real thoughts. And it's not an overnight process. It's many years and trusting and slow steps of, of giving control and giving insights and allowing, and this is the hardest part, is allowing for difference of opinion. Mistakes allowing for those mistakes and saying, I'm going to, I'm going to let, not just Marissa, but our team, they have a different view than I do… weekly updates, but I'm trusting the team and say, okay, you feel strongly about this. Let's go.

And that's worked for us. And, and we might talk about this in the future, but we're getting to that stage of size, where we need a lot more expertise than we have from running the day-to-day business than we have now.

We don't need a human resource person sitting in an office or a cubicle all day. But we need human resource expertise, the same thing for IT, the same thing for all the other functionalities, a CFO. And having someone like Marissa it's just so great because I don't feel like I'm in a vacuum doing it alone.

And that's something that for people who are looking to do this in the future is to find that internal person or someone new who, whoever to accompany, someone that you trust. But I’m just as excited to grow the business and a sounding board for the headaches and the challenges. So it's actually freeing because we're not alone.

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Yeah, you know, I, I always tell our mastermind. You know, once you figure out as an owner or leader where the ship is going, then you can bring the right people on and delegate the outcomes rather than delegate the tasks because many people will do them very differently. And the reason why I've always liked to get a number of different, really smart people together is because you see things differently.

And I like how you probably did it in stages of, you know, this was not a quick fix. Whenever I tell anybody when you want to get to a point where you have the option to sell or the option to pick and choose to do what you want the agency, that's really when your agency scales, because now you've transitioned from owner to more of a, a leader because the owner does everything. Like, you can't chase chickens as an owner. Uh, well, I mean, I guess you, you chase different kinds of chickens, the pay you collect the checks.

Marissa: [00:15:59] I was just going to add in too, I think the fact that even as a small, smaller company and a smaller agency here, you know, having the 30 some people, but even in the years prior, if we were closer to 20, there's always been layers and having that in place with  Dan as CEO, Sandy, as president. We've had other vice presidents as well in there.

So there's, there is we're leadership-heavy, but in, in the right way, is that it feels like it's not an agency where you have the CEO and you just have somebody who's replacing that person. And there's no kind of other people around to support that.

So I think, you know, for me and I listen, I've again, 13 years, I've been here. It's my entire career. I started at Smith a year after college and it's intimidating at times to even think about running a business when I didn't work really anywhere else before, and this is all I've known.

And so it's just, it's so great to know that as I learn more things or take on new responsibilities and, and grow over time that I have others around me who are, who have a lot of them who have been through it just as long or longer than I have, but who are just there to support. And just especially when Sandy's role in having Sandy as a partner, so many things that we do together all the time, it's just doesn't feel as daunting of a thing that potentially take on whatever that looks like in the future when Dan wants to fully, fully go off the pasture and, and, uh, and seeing what's next from there.

But it's, it's knowing that you have these true, like partners that you're doing this with, you're not making the decisions solely on your own, and you've got these different opinions and ideas to loop into it. And I mean, that's always been something that we've, we've really just kind of stood by at Smith is that everybody has a voice at the table.

So we're always looking at, it's not just the leadership team, but new people who are joining. And what ideas do you have? How can we grow? What, what, what are you bringing in from wherever you worked before? Some of our best ideas and, and most profitable growth opportunities have come from the ideas that have come from those who are newer to the team too.

So it's just knowing you're not alone through all of it, makes it a little less daunting.

Jason: [00:18:10] Yeah. And I think, you know, I go back to, you know, Sandy, what you said too about now that I don't have to do everything, but I still want to be a part of it, and like how you were saying like a lot of owners that sell or whatever.

I was like that. When I sold my agency, for like two weeks I was like, yes, I can go chase my chickens or whatever, right? Um, I can't get this out of my head. This needs to be in the thumbnail. How you can chase chickens and grow your agency. But I was depressed after I sold because I didn't feel like I had that significance.

And then I also went through a depression in my agency when I was running it when I actually transitioned from the owner to the CEO, the person really leading the ship. Because I didn't have to do all the other little stuff. I only had to do like five different roles, which were like, you know, setting the vision for the agency, coaching and mentoring leadership team, blah, blah, blah, right?

And I always tell my mastermind members and the people that I work with and all the people listening on. I'm like, look, when you get to this point where you can pick and choose the things you want to do, you'll go through a depression. And then you have to realize, you go your role switched and like, you need to hand over the reigns and trust the people that you put in place.

And then once you do that, then it's very freeing. But in the very beginning, when you go into a meeting and you're like, hey, can I help? And they're like, no, Jason, I got this. And then you go to the next meeting. They do the same thing and you're like, I'm a piece of shit

Sandy: [00:19:47] No, we don’t. And that's the goal, but it's when you've been needed and you'd feel at the end of the day, like, wow, I helped, I did this. I need that taken away. That's a big shift for sure.

Jason: [00:19:57] Oh yeah. What's the biggest, most important thing you've learned in the business to date that you both have learned? And I'll let you go first, Marissa.

Marissa: [00:20:09] Wow. I mean, I really think it's and I'll shout out to, uh, Diane Eichenberg, that’s my mom because growing up, she’d always told me to be true to myself.

And I almost got a tattoo on myself at one point and did not do that. And she was very happy that I didn't do that, but it sounds so basic and cliche and, but I really, it, over my years, I learned that. I actually, I went through kind of a big personal transition about like seven years ago, six or seven years ago now.

And it was this moment where I personally had this like kind of moment where I'm like, I've got to just be true to myself. That was the time that I found that I could really come forward and encourage more transparency and just honesty and open communication about things and sharing my ideas more fluidly.

I think that was just such a big, big jump. And then it's, I feel like so much of the company has even changed, not just because of me that way, but I'm saying this as a whole, we've all just moved into this culture of transparency and we definitely had earlier years where there was a lot of walking on eggshells or trying to like kind of scoot around having to have tough conversations sometimes because of people's feelings.

I just feel like we are in such a great place now of all of this, knowing that if we're honest with each other, we have those open conversations. We state how we're really feeling about something. It's really making our work easier. It's making everything more productive and more efficient in a lot of ways too.

And that's just been kind of, like I said, it sounds so cliche in some ways, but it really has been such a big moment for, or it's a big transition for me and then understanding the company moving that way as well.

Sandy: [00:21:50] I agree with you everything Marissa is saying, and I'll take a different turn here and kind of a client service perspective. Something is to just pay attention to the details of what’s working and try to replicate that. And what I mean by that is many years ago, when I was working closely with Dan and he was working his 18 hour days, seven days a week, as new agencies owners kind of do, is to really pay attention to the nuggets of what's working and to try to replicate that.

And when you read something that Dan wrote about an author, you just want to read this book. It's like, damn, this is really good. It could have been the worst book or not the worst book, but a book that would be not appealing to me in the slightest, but he could write in a way that it's like, wow, I want to see that.

Well, how do you capture that spirit and duplicate, replicate that on all our projects? And the same thing for even onboard or communication. And when I first really got into working with Dan, what was exciting for me was finding his brilliance and what he was doing, and then making it happen more consistently across all our clients.

You know, for example, we have an author questionnaire that people have to fill out before they start working with us. We have, that wasn't standard when we first started and now we do what we've expanded it. And now our publicist and our team get the right information at the beginning and we don't stop.

And the same thing with our communication delivery, where we used to have monthly reports, and then we started having cumulative reports and then we started having standard calls and more sophisticated reporting. Just figuring out what makes one client happy, what makes one publicist efficient, taking that nugget and then replicating that, where it makes sense. I think that is something that we do well.

We never rest on our laurels that we, that we're as good as we can be. We want to keep learning and listening to our clients, listening to our publicist, because we want to be ahead of the service that we provide rather than trying to catch up with the trends. And I think that's one way is really listening and then picking out those golden service deliverables and trying to make it standard across where it makes sense.

Jason: [00:24:14] I like it. Yeah. You know, I, I think too many of us forget about the things that are working and we are constantly focused on new stuff rather than just going back to the basics. You know, I always joke with people when I was playing tennis in college, like if I was doing bad, my coach would yell out, go back to the basics. You're thinking too hard.

Marissa: [00:24:36] Yeah. I mean, we've definitely had, in our industry, there's always something new popping up. Whether it's, you know, Substack and Clubhouse and TikTok and new media. I remember when podcasts first showed up. I mean, that wasn't that long ago when they were really something that was worth paying attention to and adding in for our work.

And we're like, oh, what are these podcasts has gotten their basements, you know, doing their podcasts and is this going to be a thing? And, and it was something that we really had to, you know, we have to always kind of pay attention to what are those things that are starting to bubble under the surface and get some attention and how maybe impactful… but not kind of throwing everything resources, time, energy into, oh my God, how do we figure out how to have Clubhouse as part of our campaigns and make sure it's a staple in there and, and, you know, it's okay, well, we can dabble in it a little bit.

That's always kind of been, our approach was not running full force into whatever the next trend is, but really settling back into it. We'll say, hey well, traditional media is, is dying in a lot of ways. Certainly certain areas of it are not doing as well as they should when I started 13 years ago here, but there's a lot of other spaces that have, that have been booming with blogging and podcasts and video casts and whatever else it is.

So that's always has been something that we, we really tried to not let the trends dictate our, our decisions and our, the direction of our campaigns too much over, over time.

Jason: [00:26:01] Love it. And wrapping up, if there was a billboard, what would you guys put on the billboard? And it doesn't have to be work-related whatever it was, what would be on your guys' billboard?

Marissa: [00:26:14] Oh, I love that. Well, it's funny. I feel like, I feel like Dan would say we do good things for authors if Dan was on this with us, because that's always been the tagline for so long of Smith.

It sounds so basic, but we always say we do good things for authors since there's so many bits around that, but, um, I'll have to go back to my previous one and say, you know, be, be true to yourself, which Diane will get some credit there again.

Sandy: [00:26:39] I'll agree with Marissa. You know, one thing we say on our clients service, I think the answer to almost every question we get is it depends. And it's kind of a standard joke because for what we do, there's no one right answer. Whether it's a timeline, the length of service, how much you should be doing. So from a company perspective, I would say it depends because it really depends on you. So that's something from, from the service.

But I do want, Jason to, um, chasing chickens and running an agency. I think we might have to do something with that.

Jason: [00:27:15] Oh, yeah, you definitely should. Awesome. Well, um, what's the agency website people go and check you guys out.

Marissa: [00:27:24] It is smithpublicity.com. Tried to keep it pretty easy.

Jason: [00:27:28] Awesome. Well, I think everybody appreciates the easiness because a lot of times people make it very complex and misspell everything because they couldn't figure out the right domain. So we all appreciate the easy names, but, uh, thanks so much everybody for coming on. Uh, it was a lot of fun. I wish you guys tremendous success.

And if you guys want to be around other amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we can help you be able to figure out if you want to chase chickens or not, and really focus on the things that you wanted to be doing, I'd love to invite all of you to go check out the Digital Agency Elite.

This is our exclusive mastermind for agency owners and agency leaders that really want to get better and be surrounded by amazing people. So you guys can grow your digital agencies faster.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: 2_Common_Mistakes_to_Avoid_While_Growing_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Are you afraid to niche for your digital agency because you think it means saying no? Are you scared niching down will pigeonhole your agency and limit its potential? Think again! There are so many benefits when you choose to focus your agency services on a specific market. Joe Giovannoli worked for a full-service agency right out of college and decided to replicate that model when it came to building his own business. Like many agency owners, he was hesitant to focus on a specific market. But once his agency, 9Sail decided to niche down to just SEO for law firms and construction, they started to grow quickly. Joe is on the show sharing about niching down twice, life after learning to say no, and the most exciting deal his agency has landed.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Niching down twice. There is a lot of fear associated with niching down and making the switch to only go after a specific market or provide a specific service. Joe did this twice, once to change their service offering from a full-service agency to an SEO & SEM agency. Then again to focus on two specific industries with law and construction. Both times it was a scary step and he found himself relieved at the results. “We started getting more referrals. We've started getting more qualified leads, and we actually started to establish a name for ourselves in those spaces,” he says.
  2. Clients that take you with them. When asked about the most exciting deals they’ve gotten as an agency, Joe thinks back to the times they get referred by past clients. This is a testament to their work as an agency. Some of former clients have worked at several different companies over the years and each time they get to a new company they call 9Sail to work with them again. “That’s the really exciting stuff,” he assures “the deals that we get referred in from a past client, or we get referred in from somebody that's happy.”
  3. Life after learning to say no. What is life after learning to say no to being the agency that does everything and choosing a niche where you can be an authority? “The word relaxed comes to mind,” Joe told Jason. For starters, the team feels comfortable learning the space and knowing they're going to use this knowledge time and time. Rather than always needing to learn the nuisances of different industries. Also, niching gives them an opportunity to build their pipeline where they chose the clients that are the right fit for the agency. This results in a more predictable means for growth.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Saying No to Trying to Be Everything to Clients & Finding Success After Niching Down Twice

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Joe, welcome to the show. I'm excited to have you on.

Joe: [00:00:05] Yeah. Thanks. Excited to be here.

Jason: [00:00:07] Tell us who you are and what do you do?

Joe: [00:00:11] Uh, yeah, so, uh, my name's Joe Giovannoli. I am the founder and CEO of 9Sail. We are a search marketing company for law firms and construction companies. So we work on both the SEO organic side, as well as the paid search side of a marketing strategy that a law firm or construction company might have.

Our goal is basically lead generation for those, those companies.

Jason: [00:00:35] Awesome. And, uh, tell me a little bit about you and how you got started in the agency.

Joe: [00:00:40] Yeah. So I actually, uh, had started a company while I was in college. Uh, that was a social media marketing agency. And then coming out of college, I decided to work for a full-service marketing firm, you know, really just to get more experience.

I did sales and, you know, moved from there to another agency and realize that, you know, I love this agency world. I love the pace of it. I loved working with different clients and speaking with different business owners and, and marketing leaders. And I decided to start my own thing. So kind of fell into the industries that we are, that we're in now, you know, law firms and construction companies were just two really interesting spaces for us to be in.

And we identified some opportunity in the market so we went for it.

Jason: [00:01:24] Awesome.

Joe: [00:01:25] Yeah. We didn't set out to be just an SEO and SEM company. We were a full-service agency cause that's what I, only thing I knew and frankly, I didn't know that I could break off services at the time when I started the company. So we've been an SEO and SEM company for the last five years.

Jason: [00:01:43] What made you kind of drill down? Like what was the turning point or what was the aha moment?

Joe: [00:01:50] Yeah, there was a lot to that. I mean, really being a full-service agency, unless you have, you know, teams of people specializing in each thing, it's very difficult to be an expert. So we had one of those situations and I always refer to the book by John Warrillow 'Built to Sell'.

We had one of those moments where, you know, we had what we call fires all over the place. We had, you know, projects that were behind because a client was behind or, you know, somebody wasn't happy with the design or they had approved a design and then somebody, you know, told them, oh, you should try this. And then they want to changes.

And, uh, meanwhile, some of our SEO clients are just reaching out on a weekly basis saying, hey, we just closed this great deal or, hey, we, you know, we settled the case that made us, you know, $50,000, you know, this is great, thanks so much. And we realized, you know, what? Light bulb. We need to specialize because we're really good at this and we can only get better with, with time and with practice and with process.

So we said, you know what, let's cut the bait and really focus on what we know.

Jason: [00:02:47] Yeah, you know, it takes a while to get there. You know, I was talking to, um, a mastermind member this week and when they joined, they were around the 500,000 mark and now they're around the 2 million mark.

And I told them when you're going through this process, things will change. And a lot of times as things change, you have to make things simpler. And I was talking to a member and telling them how they had needed to drill down and say no to more things and really start eliminating some of the stuff that's not profitable or some of the stuff that's not streamlined that they do really well.

And, um, I'm excited to see where they, they can go cause when agency owners figure that out, that's when they have substantial growth and then they run into all new issues.

Joe: [00:03:38] Yeah. Honestly, that's like the launchpad, right? Is, you know, as soon as we recognize that and listen, we turn down more work than we take on a regular basis. And I have a couple of SEO agency partners that I have just grown to like and build relationships with.

I say to a prospect, hey, it's not for me, but here's two names that I recommend that you reach out to. I can make personal intros for you if you'd like, but we know what our wheelhouse is. And the second that we start to stray from it we're not doing our people any favors internally because they can't see themselves as experts anymore because they're working on 20 different industries. And you know, we're not doing our clients any favors because we're in a way trying to reinvent the wheel over and over again, learning things that maybe another agency could do better than, than we can.

Jason: [00:04:24] Yeah. What's the biggest deal or the most exciting deal that you guys have won?

Joe: [00:04:31] That's an interesting question. So for us, we get just as excited over the small boutique law firms that we work with as we do when we get a big law firm. So one of our clients who was a very, I would say older law it was much older law firm in New Jersey, they just rebranded because one of the partners became a named partner. And so we are helping them through the transition of changing the name online from one to another.

And, uh, you know, that has been super exciting. We've been fortunate to work with the chief culture officer there. She's now the chief culture officer. She's been at a couple of different law firms and, uh, we've had the opportunity to work with her pretty much everywhere she's went for the last five years. And, uh, that was really exciting.

The deals that we get referred in from a past client, or we get referred in from somebody that's happy. That's the exciting stuff that we, we love working on.Online Training for Digital Agencies

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Yeah. You know, that just tells you, you do good work when, uh, you know, I used to, we would work with some of the biggest brands and then we would get, I remember this one time we got in bed with Aflac and we were real excited. We were like, we can do all kinds of really cool things with this duck. And the CMO got fired.

And I was like, no! Like we were so close, but then that CMO got hired at another big firm or a big company and then they brought us in. It's always exciting when you get referrals or they take you along on the journey. I'm curious, what's been one of the biggest challenges that you guys overcame in the past couple years, that really made a difference for you guys?

Joe: [00:07:30] Yeah, you know. You kind of touched on it earlier and it goes back to saying no. I had a real challenge ahead of me when I realized that we did have to say no to things, because for me revenue and dollars where ways to grow the company and kind of grow the talent on the team and, and add to the team. And so I really struggled for a long time to say no.

And we had somebody come to us that knew of us and had been referred to us and essentially said, hey guys, we're willing to offer you pretty much three times what any of one client would typically pay us to kind of take over our search presence and know online presence. And it was so not a fit for anything that we had ever done and some back and forth conversation happened and we said, no.

And that was a big thing for me because I am a helper. I like to help people. I like to be the guy to not say no. And I learned, and I realized that I could say no, but I could offer them a solution, right? And, and I think that, that for me was the way that, that we got over that. But I think that that's been the biggest thing that we've overcome.

We have challenges today that we still face that we're still working through. And those will probably be the answer to that question in the future when we can solve them. But, you know, I think all in all our biggest thing was saying no. And I think we do that really well now.

Jason: [00:08:56] Yeah. One of our mastermind members, Chris, when he learned to say no and he did something very similar to you. He had a bunch of strategic partners that were in the same space and he really scaled his digital agency by going to those partners and saying, hey, here's a perfect lead for you. Because he had such a high criteria for his clients, and they were still really good leads, but they would pass them to other people that do the exact same thing.

And then they would replicate back and forth and really what became one relationship became a many relationships. It was when they started doing that, their digital agency scaled really quick and they really grew their agency fast.

So what's life like now that you've learned to say no? Like what does your daily routine look like?

Joe: [00:09:51] So we have our team kind of siloed out, you know, they work on, you know, I have, uh, somebody that's, their entire workload is law firms. I have actually two people that are in that way. I have one person that's just specifically focused on the contractors and construction companies.

So it's been a lot calmer and what I've found too and, and we've been seeing a lot of success with this is that, you know, our clients don't compete with one another. That's another thing is we don't take clients on that directly compete in the same market. So we will get a, a backlink opportunity and we'll be able to leverage that relationship for a couple of different clients over the course of time, because a different, you know, it may be a good place for a blog article, like a guest blog or something of that nature.

So for us, I think the word relaxed would come to mind because I think that the team can feel comfortable, you know, learning a space and, and knowing that they're going to use this time and time again, rather than kind of playing ping pong between different industries. But, you know, for myself personally, it's been great because growth is kind of predictable, right?

Is if I say, you know, hey, I really want to add two new clients a month and you know, I want to grow at that scale for the next year and we want to make sure that we're getting the right size clients. For me to say no to a bunch of things isn't a big deal because I know that I'm building a pipeline and I'm referring things out to people, but I'm getting the people that I want, right?

And in a way, now we're interviewing prospects to see if they're a fit for us, rather than, you know, scraping to grab everything and every dollar that comes our way.

Jason: [00:11:23] I love it. Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Joe: [00:11:29] No, not really. Other than I would say, you know, again, we talked a lot about, you know, our niche and our niche and, or however you want to say it. And, uh, I think that it really is something that people fear. I've talked to so many entrepreneurs that they fear that switch, right? That change of like, oh, well, we're going to only go after this or we're only going to provide this specific service.

And we did that twice. We did that with the service, changing our service offering, and then we did it again by picking a specific set of clients. And both times it was the most nerve-wracking yet rewarding thing in literally six months.

Like it went from being like a, oh my God, I can't believe we did this to and like, are we doing the right thing? To wow. We opened the flood gates. We told people, this is what we specialize in. We started getting more referrals. We've started getting more qualified leads, and we actually started to establish a name for ourselves in those spaces.

And we are no longer trying to be everything to everybody. We're just trying to be everything to somebody, right? And we are trying to be that go-to person for search marketing in these two spaces. Especially in the legal space, in and around the New Jersey, New York market people know our name, they, we are part of that conference,

Jason: [00:12:40] Yeah. I love that when I see digital agencies really do that, then they can say, well, it really steamrolls a whole, whole thing in order to scale the agency, because now you can be selective of who you take on, you can raise your prices to whatever you want, based on the value and their expectations.

You know, we were talking about this in the mastermind. I was asking people like, well, when do you guys raise your pricing? And some people are like, well, once a year, but we only do that for new people coming in and we were talking about strategy. We were like, look, you should all set up tiers and saying, the next five clients are at this price. The next five clients is this price.

And then once we get to this level, then we're going to go back to all our existing ones and raise it. And just little small changes like that can grow profitability because everyone focuses on top-line revenue and that's, I think bullshit.

I think it's all-around profitability because when we come in and we buy an agency, we're looking at profitability. I don't care if you're a 10 million, $20 million agency. If you don't have any profit, you're not worth anything.

Joe: [00:13:47] Right. Yeah. Well, it's funny you say that. So we operate a little differently than that model, but I think in the same vein. So we have set three, five, and 10-year targets as to what our average client is going to be worth. And again, to your point, we look at both top-line revenue, but a profit, right?

So we have it worked out where we know if they're at a top-line revenue at this all of our expenses are completely baked out. We know what our profit's going to be. So we've set those targets and essentially we know now that very similar to how, cause we also run traction, very similar to how you set quarterly rocks. We set quarterly expectations as to what our clients need to be paying at that point in order to make sure that the average of all of the clients that we have equals out to that number.

So, you know, we're really excited for that. And it is something that the entire team kind of grabs onto because they also know that the higher the dollar figure that the client is paying, the less clients that they're managing and the more detailed they can get with their clients, right?

So, and we try to explain this to our small law firms all the time is that, you know, you're taking the right step by doing the work that we're doing and working with us. But the reality is if you were paying four times this, right? You're going to have somebody that pretty much read a 50% of their time is going to be dedicated to just your stuff and think about all of the things that they could accomplish for your brand if they were solely focused on you.

Jason: [00:15:09] I love it.

Joe: [00:15:09] It's selling that vision.

Jason: [00:15:11] Yeah. Tell us what's the website people go and check you guys out.

Joe: [00:15:15] Yeah. So, uh, our company is 9sail.com. So it's the number nine, sail, like a sailboat, S A I L. Check us out. We're in the process of redoing that site again, you know, we're going to be expanding some of our SEO services to granularize some of the things that we do really well.

Digital PR is a, is on the horizon for us, something that we're going to be breaking down because it is pretty much the same thing as the backlinking that we do just, you know, on a, on a larger scale. So we are super, super excited about it, but yeah, check us out at 9sail.com.

Jason: [00:15:46] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. You rocked it. Everyone go check out their website, reach out to them if you need it. And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where you can scale your digital agency faster and see what's working and really have 60 plus trusted advisors to really help you out. I'd love to invite you all to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And go check it out, and if it's right, we'll have a conversation and let you know. So go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Do you struggle to embrace automation in your agency's operations? Jordan Bell was already an ads expert that taught the ins and outs of creating successful ads when he started his agency Agency Bell, where he applied his knowledge to offer direct response ad mastery with AI-powered automation and retainer-level audience insights for law firms. In his interview with Jason, he talks about why it was difficult to embrace automation which ultimately became a game-changer for his agency. He also chats about the importance of really understanding what you're doing and not fully relying on technology as the ultimate solution, and why it takes a solid structure, more than just new technology, to get your agency through difficult times.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Embracing automation. Jordan was the guy when it came to ads. He could calculate the exact bid that we would need at a common conversion rate in like a specific keyword or targeting group. It was all manual. This is why it was very hard for him to embrace automation. In the end, it wasn’t about getting into machine automation, but actually turning it into a competitive advantage for them, which became a massive milestone for his agency.
  2. Can you find your way through a problem? We all need to get back to the basics at some point to remember what’s important. As Jordan puts it, you should learn to fly a plane before turning on automated navigation. “There’s so much technology available to us that it often becomes the solution in people's minds,” he says. They forget that, in order to be reliable, efficient and successful you should be able to understand what you’re doing in the context of what we're trying to achieve or the larger vision and goals. At the end of the day, regardless of what task management program you use, can you write down what outcomes you need to be able to achieve when you know, you've got like 20 or 30 tasks due that week?
  3. A solid structure to get you through. These have been difficult times where many have had to learn to adapt to new circumstances. There are solid frameworks that protect any kind of business and Jordan has learned that it’s not about getting to the new tech. It’s more about the management side of running a business, being in charge of the outcomes, having a vision for the future of the business, designing the lifestyle. These years taught him to really consider what work he should be doing versus not doing in the business as an agency owner.

Sponsors and Resources

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Using Automation as a Competitive Advantage & Really Understand the Context of What You're Trying to Achieve

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Jordan, welcome to the show.

Jordan: [00:00:04] Hey, thank you.

Jason: [00:00:05] You know, the funny thing is, is whenever we record these shows, it's like we have chatted before, which we've been chatting for like 10 minutes, but I guess we have to do that for you listeners out here, making it believe this is the first time we're chatting. But, um, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Jordan: [00:00:20] Yeah. So my name is Jordan Bell. I run a digital ad agency called Agency Bell. I've been doing it for about five years, but my experience in advertising and agency-type services is about over a decade or so. I'm a builder type of agency owner. I kind of classify them as like, kind of like the builders and engineers, the service people, the sales focus ones. I'm a true builder and a service type of person.

So I built the agency really from a service perspective as a guy who was cutting his teeth in Google ads on large accounts for a long time. And getting really involved in the technology side of it and really enjoying the customized integrations.

And so, you know, I ran an agency or I helped run an agency as a junior partner for a little while after my last corporate role, seven years ago or something and, um, after that I was teaching digital marketing courses, advertising courses at coding academies and stuff, and a couple of colleges and a while also consulting and taking on like really not really like, um, you know, corporate, not a lot of corporate projects. I had a couple like Fortune 500 ones, but, um, a lot of like, uh, hit the hammer, strike the from hammer to anvil, get the outcome type of in the trenches types of roles.

I always enjoyed that. And, um, the consulting gigs came from teaching adults in CMOs. Good to go digital, stuff like that. And then eventually the consultancy, it just kind of became more and more until it became time to start an agency again. I'm an individual agency owner, right? My wife and I work on it together, but I'm a primary principal on it and we haven't had done it before. We'd like, you know, partners or multiple people, which is, uh, its own a wild ride of challenges and volatility in the past.

But today, after working on a lot of different industries, we're currently focused primarily on large-scale law firm projects. So, um, think like, you know, multimillion-dollar annual budgets for plaintiff driven. So you've got your mass like product liability, lemon law, um, motor vehicle accidents, those kinds of things. We work with a lot of investors, so we're usually like one of the three or four people at partner like, uh, companies at the table.

You've got the large-scale investment companies that are investing in plaintiff operations for law firms. And then the law firms who are the subject matter experts and sometimes they're have their own large scale budgets. And through that, it's sort of given us a nice corner where we can really build out larger-scale programs that are really fully integrated into their CRMs.

So the way I like to think about it is that there's a lot of lead generators out there, and we like to train the ad systems to optimize towards people who are more likely to take the desired final action, which with your thinking about e-commerce it's like optimizing to the conversion pixel, right? But in the lead generation world, you're optimizing to a person who is more likely to sign a contract retainer, or like, if it was like a car dealership, it'd be like a person who's likely to buy the car at the end.

So that created a big, a massive burden of technology because you have to protect data pipelines because if you don't have perfect data flowing between a firmer, a company, that's actually, um, doing things inside their CRM, it can destroy the campaigns quickly. So it created a data requirement for ad data and CRM data, and automation where power's out to your users and a bunch of other fun technology because people contact our clients through chat and form and phone, and there's different levels of engagement in the pipeline.

So it really encompasses all of like, what I know from my background is an MBA, business modeling with them and their own operations as companies, as clients. And so it goes far beyond like the advertising stuff and it lets us stay up to date on the new tech that's, that's out and really weaponizing that.

So it's a massively difficult thing to do, and it takes a while to onboard people in our team, but it's a lot of fun and I enjoy it. I'm where I want to be. So…

Jason: [00:04:08] That's awesome. Tell us about what's a big milestone that you've achieved since starting the agency that you're really proud of with running your digital agency?

Jordan: [00:04:21] Yeah, it used to be like I was for a while the guy that somebody knew that was really good at ads and it didn't involve automated bidding inside like Google ads, Bing, Facebook. It involved a lot of manual work. I used to like calculate the exact bid that we would need at a common conversion rate in like a specific keyword or a targeting group, and like be able to pinpoint and say, okay, I needed a negative 20% bid modifier.

It was all manual. I mean, it was good. We'd calculate it. But I was teaching people to really go in there and move all the levers and switching over to automation and machine learning was, I was extremely stubborn about like, not wanting to like take my hands off the levers. It'd be like, I don't want the computer to fly the plane. I want to fly it myself. You've got to feel it differently, right?

And that journey, I'm a risk-taker in some ways, but risk-averse and others and trusting automation systems to think big picture strategically like a person who's looking at many different factors, not just the ad system, which itself is a rocket ship, but looking at many different factors before making a decision inside an ad program, when you're dealing with multi-million dollar budgets. That is one extremely hard to teach in collectively with, um, as we bring on team people internally, and we have a small team for that because of this.

But also it's like what logic rules inside ad systems are going to account for that. They don't make the technology that is designed specifically to solve the kinds of problems that we're trying to solve that would make it like we could not set it and forget it, but there's so much ad tech out there that is like, oh, you won't have to do as much. It'll tell you exactly what to do.

And yet no program was able to give us those exact winning solutions or even close. And so learning, not whether to go into machine learning and automation, but actually how to make it our competitive advantage the way we used it was a massive milestone for us. The reason, the way that we had to do that was we had to think about how to make sure that all the data that we wanted from disparate sources were not available from these static reports that would take hours to put together.

I used to hand-piece together all these like reports, but they had to be available in seconds, completely dynamic, so I could, we could change date ranges and filters and stuff. Google systems didn't even have, like, not all the views that are possible are actually available. And their own tools aren't even flexible enough for it.

So we had to be able to recreate things like dynamic reports that are based in sheets that pull data from APIs. We had to create audit systems and the audit systems are like, cause we use this thing called offline conversions where, where a CRM action happens and then a person has a unique click in the URL. And then we follow that, we connect it to the person and it, and it kind of, um, in updates, Google. That person, they get, I call it a superhero Cape when one of 20 leads gets a superhero cape, and that's the person you want more of. And then you have to immediately send that to Google. But that data pipeline is extremely fragile because there's so many things that can break that connection.

And so learning how to audit that in workflow, we're dealing with thousands of leads per week, it could become doing it manually is, is an impossible job. I was up to like three or four in the morning, every night, just trying to manually like hand stitch these things together, and then eventually learning how to build operational workflows like that was a massive challenge.

But when we finally like wrapped our heads around it and got through like these 40 step, like Zap(ier) automations, that was a huge milestone. In the biggest account that we have we finally just did a workflow where we had to treat it like an e-commerce setup and where like multiple conversions could come from one lead, like multiple cases.

And that was extremely difficult because if, if not to go too into the weeds, but if you mess that up, you can't undo the damage to the account. And so building that entire thing to protect that meant that as soon as we committed to the machine learning aspect of our agency, it put a huge burden of things that we had to accomplish in order just to be successful. When you raise the bar that high, you have to be able to get over it, or you have to go back and lower the bar.

And so that was really big for us.

Jason: [00:08:28] Yeah. So, I mean, that's amazing how you're, you're trusting machine learning and AI in order to do things that used to do manually. So what's life like now that you've turned over that stuff, like, what are you able to focus on now?

Jordan: [00:08:45] Building the system better. We couldn't focus on things before. Like we couldn't take like this satellite image view in seconds of anything in the campaign we want to see you. So if I want to look at the income, like income or age range inside a particular ad group or geographic location and instantly get statistically significant data on a specific, customized low conversion action, like assigned retainer up to the minute basically that they're doing it. We didn't have that ability before.

To be able to say in 10 seconds we can get to that information and get a stat that's relevant. It changed the way that we could optimize campaigns with the level of granularity that we could get to so that rather than 10 different decisions that could be made, we can isolate down to the two or three where at least two of them are highly likely to work.

We're creating the science in the advertising world, where there were so much more of the, there is a, there's a data science obviously to advertising that a lot of people don't realize until they really get into it and look at the data. But our decisions are far more likely to deliver the expected outcome.

And when we're dealing with return on investment for like large scale investors that becomes a competitive advantage for us because we become the company and they don't want to work with anybody else. So our retention is incredible at that point. We're talking about years not months when with our retention.

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Now, how did you guys go about finding the right solution? You know, because there's lots of tools out there that say they do machine learning and AI. And there's always a fuzzy thing between each and then people were like, well, if you do this, then why can't the customer or the client go directly there and just bypass the agency? So talk a little bit about that.

Jordan: [00:11:34] Yeah, great question. When I used to teach one of the first lessons that we did in the marketing course was about how I would call it like the ninja digital marketer will have a set of skills. Like they'll be a creative thinker, they'll be kind of like a data and analytical thinker, and then they'll be a strategist as well.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

And all the kind of technology and the programs that we're using and the way that we bring them together, which is always cool, people are often surprised that I don't make a decision on technology and workflows until far later in the game than most others will.

And the reason is because we're trying to pick a decision that's not, that we're not going to have to iterate on and change a bunch of stuff the next day or the next week. We're trying to make a decision that accounts for all the factors or as many of them as we can reasonably do while allowing for variability afterwards and allowing us to have the flexibility.

So when we do things like pulling data from like the tracking URL, we pull everything because we don't know that we're whether we're going to need it yet. And oftentimes that's how we're able to like sort of save the day on scenarios because we pulled it, not knowing when we'd need it, but having it anyway.

And so one of the reasons why it's difficult for companies to execute on this is because in order for them to do this properly, they, well properly in the sense of like what we're trying to achieve here, they have to be able to tap into a series of strategic decisions that come from first off knowledge of the market and what you can do to understanding how machine learning is working in how the system is looking at signals and having outcomes from that.

We have to be able to predict based on experience and like vast amounts of data. The difference between asking a single qualifying question that's slightly different in its wording and what the user experience of the person is going to be like who's just did a search, which there's search psychology in there.

And then following that process through what kind of data does it produce and how did the ad systems learn from it as the law firm or any other is changing things in their CRM? There's a long pattern of factors before you can make really effective decisions. And it's, unfortunately, it creates kind of a tight rope because digital can be pretty unforgiving in a lot of ways, but it's what makes the work interesting because you can no longer just look at ad data and say, oh yeah, just make this next move. You know, it doesn't work that way. It's a, it's a worthy challenge.

But I also like to make it accessible though, you know, we get on a call, like, do you want to teach the firms how to think about this stuff because there'll be a better partner. They'll appreciate the fact that we're confident that nothing that we're doing yet or how we packaged it as proprietary. It's just really difficult to do and it's really great for big outcomes and sustainable.

So like we have $200 click keywords in some accounts and that usually produces high click fraud rate, and we have one of the lowest click fraud rates I've ever seen on that on our most expensive account, because we've trained Google to avoid lawyer and marketer clicks that destroys budgets.

So you, it's very hard without all the pieces together you actually can't really do it very easily on your own. And that's why it's fun, but it's also, there's also, it's pretty high stakes at that point.

Jason: [00:14:34] I remember back in the day when I was first advertising on Overture, so this was before Google and yeah, there's a bunch of click fraud because I know people, you just see the competitor and you'd go back and forth and be like, ooh, I charged this guy a dollar.

Jordan: [00:14:51] Yeah, we have click fraud software but it doesn't really, it eats like it's a whack-a-mole game, right? And the bigger, the ratio of people you don't want clicking to the ones you do it can really mess up campaigns. It's hard. We won't even start some kinds of campaigns without a runway budget and without like certain factors in their tech and their operations being okay because that's our story.

If there are things that we can't reasonably control and they're not the right fit, then that becomes our story at that point. And most of the business was built off like our and my reputation because we drive to success, you know, we aim for that outcome. And that was a level of commitment that it's very exhausting at times, but you know how it is.

And you don't always know if it's a click, it's like, how does one person who types in the same keyword, how do you know the difference? You know, what's happening. You just don't know where it is.

Jason: [00:15:39] Let's switch focus a little bit, because a little while ago, we were talking about some things that you were doing that's really helping you guys out and kind of going back to the basics. Talk a little bit about that, cause I know your agency is doing really well. You guys are growing and scaling the agency fast, but why would you go back to the basics? Because a lot of people were like, oh, you're advanced. And we're talking about very advanced stuff right now that machine learning all that.

So why go back to the base?

Jordan: [00:16:09] Yeah. I've heard some good things from people that better explain it than I do. So I'm going to borrow one from a person who said this to me recently, is that show me, you can do long division before you get a calculator, right? Or I've always described it as like, show me, you can fly the plane before you get your like computer navigation, like on, you know, within like a 747 or a fighter jet.

Like what are the stories that are, that are amazing about crash landings with planes? Is that the pilot was able to land the plane in a river, right? And what computer is going to do that at that point? Is, is a team's ability it can fail fast when the plug is bolt, can you get a candle in the dark and find your way through a problem, or like have a get out of the woods with the stars, right?

And I've found that that is so important, especially in like comprehension of the material, because it's so much technology that's available to us that it often becomes the solution in people's minds. And they forget that in order to be the most successful, the most efficient, the most reliable and achieve results when we set the bar high is we have to be able to understand what we're doing in the context of what we're trying to achieve or our larger vision and goals.

You know, to talk about it as if you don't need the technology, but you can operate faster with it and you can be more efficient with it and get to better places, because then you're talking about, then you're living it. It's authentic.

You know, I'm not a great salesperson on the phone. I'm really not, I don't say all the right things, but I close the deals because for me it's authentic. I believe in it. I understand how it works and that interestingly in the success and challenges of the, of the agency that we've had in, in my own. When we won it was because we understood it without technology and process and in any kind of, and you know, frameworks have been awesome, but like we've been looking at a lot of things like whether like agile adaptive would help us, you know, like EOS, OKRs all those kinds of things are, are, are really coming to the forefront now.

At the end of the day, can you, regardless of what task management program that you have, can you throw things off the desk and then write down what outcomes you need to be able to achieve when you know, you've got like 20 or 30 tasks due that week? Can you say, this is why they're important, what they're going to achieve, its current place within the scope of the work, because then no matter what you have, you can prioritize, you can do what matters and that every time we get away from that we struggle.

So I make the technology decisions and the operational policies and the workflows, all that kind of stuff is one of the last things that we do to get it right. But we have to have that comprehension in the beginning and the ability to operate in the dark with a candle in a piece of paper.

Jason: [00:18:46] Yeah. That's awesome. Yeah. I always tell everybody every quarter you should look at going back to the basics. You know, I always use the story when, when I was playing college tennis and I was losing to a guy I should not have been losing to. And my tennis coach go back to the basics, Swenk! Go back to the basics dummy! And as soon as I stopped overthinking about my backswing or my follow through, I was like, all right, I'm gonna just look at the ball and hit it. And it started working.

Jordan: [00:19:16] Yeah, that's great. I mean, I'm a, I'm a musician so this is kind of like someone playing, doing their scales or doing the rudiments on a, on a drum or something like that, right? Like there's a reason those are important because it's got, those have to be second nature to build things on top of it.

And it's why, you know, whether it's in an ad campaign, right? We, we’re looking at all like the data and the tech and like all the suggestions that has, but we're lost. Why are we lost? At the end of the day what do we have to do? We have to say, what is the business problem we're solving? Who are we reaching? Well, how would we describe them? Demographically, behaviorally, like when something is stopping in their newsfeed.

Like, what would we say to them that would make them go, yeah, oh, I'm going to stop doing this thing that I really want to do to, to look at an ad that I didn't ask for. What's in it for me? Why do I care? Like, and there's going into user experiences on at that point. User experience, design and copywriting, and really good targeting theory is timeless. It really is.

It's the same skills we use to decide whether what we should write on a direct mail piece and where we should send it and what kind of things to put on billboards. That skill is so still important. The best copywriting books are ancient, and yet we apply them differently today just based on the technology.

And I'm a big believer in the, in the traditional foundations there. If someone can, she can talk me through that strategy. I can teach him how to use it. That's no problem. But teaching the basics and teaching the foundations, that's the challenge.

Jason: [00:20:40] Yeah. Many years ago, when, when I started helping agency owners and I was developing the playbook, I really thought about that of like, what are the foundational systems that you need that will stand the test of time that are the basics that you go back and forth.

Like we were talking, pre-show like, you know, how do we make sure we have that clarity? And then we get the positioning and then the offering, and then we can start prospecting and doing sales. Like there's systematic things that you need to do that will always stand the test of time and you just got to think about what is that for your business and constantly going, are we making it simple? Are we on the right plan? And then, you know, adjust rather than just see the shiny red object and where the cat trying to swat it down.

Jordan this all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Jordan: [00:21:35] The one thing I've been thinking a lot about is how like the systems, right? So like the agency playbook kind of systems, right? Like one of the things that has really kind of helped and, and maybe kind of almost like saved us from like the peaks and valley, like the, the days of where it's like, can we, is this gonna work tomorrow? Did we set our sights too high, right?

You know, I got married last year, we had a child, I started law school, like I was back to the 16 hour day. Like it was hard, like life was coming and also were, we were both work from home parents. So that whole psychological challenge that happens, like there's research about how people are getting like really beaten up their mental health is hard, is tough right now.

And one of the things that really has stood out to me is that it wasn't about getting to the new tech. And it wasn't even about something that would like, it would just be for agencies for anyone that's kind of like manager, running a business, you know, major responsibilities like that, who is in charge of outcomes.

It was really focusing on the vision, the designing the lifestyle, like what work I should be doing versus not doing, and then backing up from those outcomes, which I, I used to talk about all the time, but I wasn't taking those daily steps.

I worked with a CEO coach and I found that some of those just involved setting the vision for myself as an agency owner. Now, it's now as we're kind of running the agency together as, uh, you know, with a child at home is that we, we have to look at our life and our daily schedules and our vision and how that contributes and how we work together as a team.

And so everyone's got their own version of this in the pandemic era where then maybe they're in an office or not, maybe, you know, but everything is a little bit more difficult these days and it's changing constantly.

And the thing you just talked about with the going back to basics, there are solid frameworks that protect any kind of business. And it doesn't mean that you have to use, like, I've always finally, it doesn't mean you have to use one specific method. It doesn't, no one method solves everything. It's the application of it.

And I could not see it more clearly now how there were things that we did not have in place in every department like that. Uh, you know, just the planning element, the vision and mission, the OKR style, like KPIs, like the qualitative and quantitative outcome, and making sure that we are locking onto that.

I mean, we've had times where people, we had people working two jobs and we didn't know about it until like two full-time jobs, because that's what happened in advertising in the pandemic air, right? And engineering and stuff like that.

And so we had, like, we learned a lot of hard lessons that way, but if we started with those things and then build operational structures in which the outcome was still those things and we held accountability systems in place to that, that's the only thing that we feel now stands the test of time. Because everything else is just which workflow we're using, which project management system it's, I'm, I'm agnostic to those things. They're all, they all kind of work the same way.

But I've only really become safe and scalable from those basics and those frameworks and the things that we found worked for us. And then we, we made those, our bottom line. Like those are non-negotiables. And from there, honestly, like I feel like even still, I'm getting back to waves of peace, again, knowing that there's a big uphill battle to achieve the goals, but it's not scary anymore.

That's really the biggest thing that I, that I think even just from going into the new year that, that we found.

Jason: [00:24:57] That's awesome. Well, it's been great to have you on the show. It's been also great to get to know you over the past years of being in the mastermind and watching your guys grow. And watching you constantly take one tackle and then get up and then tackle the next one because running an agency's tough and you're always going to get beat down, but it's about like moving forward and moving forward in the right way and be able to just kind of sidetrack some of the things coming at ya.

What's the agency website, people go and check you guys out?

Jordan: [00:25:32] Sure, agencybell.com

Jason: [00:25:34] Really hard. Very easy. If you guys can't remember that you guys got issues, but uh, check out Jordan's, uh, agency website and, uh, thanks so much Jordan for coming on the show.

And if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe comment and if you want to be around other amazing agency owners like Jordan, where you can ask us any questions that you're struggling with. And we might be able to see the things a little bit differently so you guys can grow and scale your digital agency faster, go to digitalagencyelite.com and apply.

And until next time have a Swenk day.


Do you want to sell your agency in the future? What strategic relationships can help you grow and possibly sell your agency? Roy Chong was working in the music industry for many years before deciding to make a drastic change and start over in digital marketing. Now with Noodle Wave Media he helps companies in the healthcare space thrive by developing meaningful strategies and tactics that move their marketing efforts towards success. In this interview with Jason, Roy discusses the most important decisions he made for his business, how he always envisioned a strategic partnership for the future of his agency, and why you should always take your passion wherever you go.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The most important decisions for his business. Roy never really saw a reason to rent an office space he could not afford at the time, so very early on he invested in having a remote working model with a team that could work from anywhere in the country. It shaped the way his agency works and its culture because he acknowledges that not everyone likes or can work remotely. Finding those types of people that shared this vision really helped build their culture. The second biggest decision was niching down to focus on the healthcare vertical, where the agency really found its footing and scaled to the point where he could sell the agency.
  2. Making the decision to sell. Roy always envisioned a strategic partnership for his agency. He knew it was in his future but just needed to figure out how it would work and what would be the right time to pursue it. Jason helped him by pointing out some things he needed to work on, which provided some time to add another layer of value for clients. He also had time to consider what he didn’t want to lose with the deal, and the type of relationship he expected from this partnership. All of this ultimately led him back to Jason and to the partnership that would enable him to still be in charge of day-to-day operations.
  3. Taking your passion wherever you go. If you ever have to start again from scratch remember to take your passion with you. Passion is commonly depicted as what we do, “that isn’t necessarily true,” Roy says, “It’s who you are.” At one point in his career, he made the transition from the music industry to digital marketing. There is seemingly no correlation between both, but Roy argues what made the difference and helped him succeed in a new industry was taking a passion for helping people with him.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Finding a Strategic Relationship That Fits Your Agency Growth Goals

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Roy, welcome to the show.

Roy: [00:00:04] Hey! Thanks, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:06] I'm excited to have you on the show. So, uh, for the ones that have not heard of you yet, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Roy: [00:00:13] Yeah, so I'm the CEO and founder of Noodle Wave Media. We're a full-stack digital marketing agency focused on the healthcare vertical. I've been doing that for 11 years. Prior to that, I was in the music industry as a music producer, and I've got kind of that entrepreneurial spirit so I flipped a couple of the businesses along the way. Father of two amazing boys and a passionate creative and marketer.

Jason: [00:00:44] And how did you get started and how long ago did you start your agency?

Roy: [00:00:49] Yeah, so I started it probably in 2000, around 2010. I had just kind of rotated out of the music industry and I'd spent 10 years there writing music for artists and I got signed to a production deal in New York and I was running the artists for my idols, and then I did a stint in Korea.

And then I decided, you know what, I'm kind of done with this it's time to start something new. And I realized at that time I’d been in the content game for 10 years. I thought, boy, combine that with using ability to create content and find a thread that resonates with people and tie that to helping small businesses, cause I had a marketing education and experience already, that could be something.

And so I started that 10 years ago with that exact premise of leveraging content to help brand build brand equity for clients. But at that time, like, and you'll know this, Jason, like that wasn't a thing, really. Large brands we're doing that, leveraging YouTube and all kinds of other platforms, but the small business owner didn't really have access cause they just didn't know how to do it.

So I started it at that time with that premise in mind. And I just remember people thought, yeah, but like who's going to search for a content marketing agency like that just seems offbeat and really way off the normal path, because you know, their traditional brick and mortar agency was the way to go. I don't know, but I think it's going to be something.

And of course, we all know that content marketing became the thing and we've been on a steady increase in incline from there, leveraging that idea that kind of the small to medium-sized business owner doesn't realize that the biggest piece of equity that they have is the knowledge in between their ears and the experience that they have.

So we just provided them the platform and support to do that. And here we are 2021 and... 22 geez 22. I lost the year. I think we all lost a couple of years there.

Jason: [00:02:43] We all did lose a couple of years. What was the biggest deal that happened to your agency or what's the most exciting thing to you and why when you were growing your agency?

Roy: [00:02:56] I definitely would have to say that I built the agency on the remote working model or distributed model, however you want to call it. And I did it really out of just trying to solve problems. You know, I couldn't afford office space. Like I just didn't have the cashflow, but then also at the same time, I was like, does it really even make sense for me to have an office? Because it's just going to eat into my margins.

This is just the way that I thought at that time that well why can't I just hire a bunch of people who live wherever, but are super talented and have them work on these projects with me.

It ended up of course, being very prescient and not until COVID hit that everybody else got it. But of course, leading up to that, that trend was already there, right? So COVID obviously the big pull ahead, but I would be championing this whole remote working lifestyle and people just didn't get it.

Like it was another thing that people thought I was crazy. Like, well, you need an office, right? Cause you need to have clients come and see you. I was like, I don't think so. I don't think I need that.

And for us, that ended up probably being the single most important decision that we made as an agency, just to keep that. And my vision was always, can I scale this? Could it be like from one man band man show to like 10 staff, then how about 20? How about 30 then? How about a hundred? How about 300? Keep going from there.

And that's just kind of, what's continued to happen today. And of course, when COVID hit people are like, oh, okay. I get it. That makes total sense. And now at a global scale where we're doing this thing.

Jason: [00:04:22] I love the remote thing because you know, you can recruit way out far, you know, all over the world rather than just driving distance. And then also too your team works a hell of a lot harder because they're not in a commute. I remember when I had an agency in Atlanta, I had some people that were in a car for two hours a day that could have been doing other things, having fun, relaxing, working on the business, maybe.

Roy: [00:04:50] Yeah, totally. Yeah. And that was the real value proposition. And actually, I don't know if a lot of people realize this though, maybe now they do, but at that time have... being in a remote working model, only certain people would thrive under that environment.

Like you and I would probably both know like people that just, they need to be around people. They need to be in an office. And that works for certain people and that doesn't work for other people. So, um, it ended up becoming a pretty cool automatic filter for developing a culture of people who worked the same way, who thought the same way who had the same kind of time management skills and critical thinking skills.

So just again, like when I say that that was the single most important decision, not only from an operational standpoint but like from a culture standpoint, from a productivity standpoint, like you mentioned, it had a lot of trickle-down effects, you know, making that choice.

Jason: [00:05:41] Other than, you know, doing the remote, working and figuring that out. What's the most important thing that you learned running your agency the past years?

Roy: [00:05:50] Uh, for sure. The other thing would be probably niching down in this specific vertical that's super key. I always knew that at some point that I would want to either exit the business or develop a strategic partnership.

I knew we didn't have the, necessarily the resources or the kind of client base to be a bigger agency. And our, my strategy was always to be part of a bigger agency. So I just thought about like, what would make us attractive to an agency that already has, and does everything? And for us that would just be to let's find a specialty, let's niche down. And it kind of just organically happened.

Like I didn't set out to build a company that like provided marketing services to the oral health care space. It's not something that you like set out to do necessarily. It was just through relationships. And as I kind of saw that continuing to grow in our reputation as, okay, we've got to double down on this vertical.

So by niching down two things happened. One, yes, we prepared ourselves for an eventual exit where we gained domain expertise in this one vertical. But it also, from an implementation standpoint, when we ran campaigns, it was just so much easier. Like there was no learning curve.

Over the years, we developed expertise in orthodontic, dental care, pediatric dentistry. All these different verticals. So we knew that our target audience. We knew what the client did. We knew what the value propositions were in general at all we had to kind of do was hunt for the nuance of that specific client in that specific geographic area. We compress the discovery process time to really short period of time because we know the industry, right?

So that was the other kind of key thing for us.

Jason: [00:07:32] Awesome. And eventually, you sold the agency. So why did you decide to sell? And kind of walk us through that process as well.

Roy: [00:07:41] Well, it's funny because my own personal journey was thinking about, you know, when is it time to kick in the strategic partnership that I always envisioned would need to happen? What time does that look like and when does that need to happen?

And as I was going through that journey of searching, I found you through that journey, which was so funny. And, uh, you know, kudos to you and your funnels and your content and having stuff out there that allowed other agency owners to discover that.

And I learned a lot just from reading some of your content about what I needed to do to prepare but also engaged you in a conversation at that time. You were gracious enough to entertain just a quick chat and let me know that there's some things that maybe I need to work on. And so, I think for me personally it was just knowing that it was time for me to add another layer of value to the clients. But also being real with myself in terms of what I wanted out of my lifestyle.

There's kind of a, like, I could easily say I could grow this business and then exit, you know, in the next five years if I wanted to, but what’s the cost, right? Like what am I giving up in terms of my lifestyle in order to do that?

I think when we get into leadership conferences or we talk with other entrepreneurs, we talk about the KPIs and the metrics and the sales figures and all that stuff. But oftentimes we don't talk necessarily about what's the livestock cost. What is the other side of that coin? And I think for me, it just wasn't worth it to do it alone.

And that was the point when I said, okay, it's time to find a strategic partnership. And that's what sent me on that journey. And it's funny because it didn't happen for two years, right? Like I started it and I thought about it and I marinated on it. I think at the time you were like, Hey, there's some things you work on.

And then two years later, I was like, hey, I worked on these things. What do you think? And then the conversation continued from there.

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Jason: Yeah, I always, I tell agencies the ones that have visions for possibly selling because too, like if you get to a certain point and you may not want to sell. It's not right for everyone. And sometimes Thomas and everybody at Republix gets mad at me cause I'll talk people out of it sometimes. But like you shouldn't sell, you got everything you want.

And then sometimes the other people were like, no, I want to take chips off the table. I want to sell, I want to do other things. I want to have a life after selling the agency. And I'm like, okay, cool. And I'm glad that you came back because I always tell people, start relationships with the people now that you think could buy you later on.

And right? Like we talked two years prior and then we were able to, you know, strike up a deal, and I'm so excited that we were able to do that. And too many people think about, well, I'll sell when things are bad. I'm like, no, no, no. You're not going to get what you want. You're not going to be happy afterward. Cause it has to work for both parties.

Sell when things are really good.

Roy: [00:11:42] Yeah, totally. Yeah. And it was interesting, I liked what you said about relationships because I did explore, you know, going the broker route and people had approached me over the years with that, uh, let me just entertain some of these conversations, but there wasn't that like relationship aspect, it was very transactional in a sense.

And at that point, I was like, wait a second. I got to reach back to Jason. Cause we had a conversation about this before. Like I actually kinda forgot because I, you know, there's all these other opportunities coming down the pipeline and then it just so happened that it was the relationship-based connection that ended up working out, right?

Jason: [00:12:16] Yeah. I mean, that's what I tell everybody is like your net worth is what your network is. You know, and the people that you know, and you hang out that you trust and they trust you. I mean, that's why we've been doing the mastermind for so long. It's about getting the right people around so you can create those relationships over time.

What surprised you going through the acquisition? Was there anything that surprised you?

Roy: [00:12:43] Oh, for sure. Yeah. It was a lot more challenging than I thought it was going to be, right? Like, I know you had prepared me with a couple of kind of points about this is going to be a lot of cows. And of course, Thomas and the team at Republix, they've been through it a million times and so they knew what was going to happen.

Like they're preparing me, like it's going to get busy, but it's very challenging to switch the hat between all of these corporate finance and other aspects of your business that perhaps, I mean, some industry leaders and agency owners might know that stuff really well, some don't and they leave it to their bookkeeping and accounting team.

I think it's wise to have a breadth of knowledge across all of those disciplines, right? But to the extent of like doing the deal, managing lawyers, managing accountants, and then in a very active way, more so than you would normally running your business. And then on top of that, running your business, right? It became pretty challenging. So it was, I knew that it was going to be weighty, I mean, it's such a deeply personal decision that you make.

So there's that, that's the other component like there's this emotional attachment to going through this process and then you're like doubting yourself or like is this the right time? Should I be doing this and that? And then there's negotiating aspects.

This is all these emotions that are happening, right?

Jason: [00:14:05] It's my baby. How can I sell my baby?

Roy: [00:14:09] It’s my baby, how can I…? And then you have people saying you shouldn't sell this and other people be like, oh, you should totally do it, that's amazing, right? So I think what I wasn't prepared for was the emotional rollercoaster that I was going to go through with that.

But in the end, what happened was, you know, luckily that it was a, I could see it through like this, this, this storm and on the other side of this storm is the breakthrough and the completion, and then it kind of winds down. So I think for any agency owner, that's thinking about selling, there is that storm you're going to, it's going to get tougher. It's going to get busy. You're going to go through the storm and then you will eventually come out that other side.

Even if you don't sell the business, you learn a ton of about your business along the way.

Jason: [00:14:48] Why tell people…? Cause there's lots of people that reach out and be like, oh, we want to buy you. And then they right they’re, they're scumbags. But I say like for legit people, you should go through the process because like you said, Roy, you're going to learn a ton. And then you're going to really know, because I went through it a couple times before we actually sold in order to learn more about like, what do they need?

So then when we finally did go through it for real, we had everything like, here it is, here it is. Boom, boom, boom. There is still that emotional roller coaster. I think I flipped a coin to decide if I was going to do it or not. Like, literally it was like 50, 50. It all worked out really well.

What was the turning point for you? Because you know, you're going ups and down. Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no. What was the turning point for you when you were like, all right, I'll do it? And how close was it to the close? Was it like the night before?

Roy: [00:15:44] Yeah. Like if you talk to Thomas, he'll say, yeah, this is one of the, the more messy negotiations that we had gone through because there was just so much back and forth and, you know, I was really fighting to have peace with the deal.

So I was fighting for things that I wasn't necessarily happy with upfront, but, you know, I prayed through it. I'm a man of faith and that was one thing that Thomas and I really connected on was, you know, that spiritual component, but praying through it a lot was really important for me. But I think at the same time, the turning point was some of the things that were happening in the periphery of my life at that time.

And in the periphery, like the business metrics made sense, everything lined up. I love the guys at Republix. I was really connecting with them. All of those things lined up and I have kind of like a laundry list of things that I think any person that's selling their business should check off in doing any deal.

But the real pivot for me was things that were happening around me. Like, my son, more of it, but a good friend and his brother passed suddenly, you know, like that was huge. Like, again, I'll go back to the things like cost, and this is just my own experience around, like, what was the cost? What is the cost? Cause everything has a cost. There's a, there's an upside, but there's a cost to getting that.

And so for me, it was really like those periphery things that had me say, okay, you know what? I think life is pointing me in this direction to do this because I want to free up myself to be more present as a father, more present as a husband, kickstart some things that I, uh, ventures that I've wanted to do just haven't had time to do.

So all those like soft lifestyle components really had an impact. I think it's just important to consider that iike for me anyways, it was one of the biggest transactions I'd ever have to do from a business perspective. It's not just about the money, you know? It's what are you gaining from this?

And if it's equitable on both sides, then it makes sense. It should make sense, right? Because if you just think about the money part of it, you might make a decision that you regret later, right? You have to really be happy with the deal at the end of the day. And I think for people that are chasing the money, they might be unhappy because they'll sacrifice like working with a buyer who you don't really like, but they gave you the best offer.

And that's not always the best decision to make when you're doing the deal. You got to really like the people you're going to work with because you're going to continue, hopefully, to work with them. So it's just those kinds of factors that kept it in my decision-making process.

Jason: [00:18:07] What's life like now?

Roy: [00:18:09] You know what? Nothing's really changed other than I just feel more at peace with everything. You can relate to this, like being in leadership, being an owner of a business and in leadership position is a pretty isolating lonely place because, I mean, even your spouse may not be able to understand truly what you're going through unless they were, uh, agency leader or owner before.

And so I think for me, I needed that sense of community and I needed a team of people to bounce these agency's specific leadership, specific ideas off of, and being a part of our Republix has provided that.

I still run the business on a day-to-day. That was really key, I think, for our communication to clients and the staff that I still be at the helm, and that's still part of the plan. So at least from a day-to-day, it hasn't really changed, but the weightiness of full ownership has lifted. And that's actually freed me up to be more open and be more inspired.

And you think even bigger than before, you know, like we're now joint, doing joint pitches with other agencies to bigger clients that we didn't have access to before, on one hand. And even clients that we did have access to do have access to, we can pitch better ideas.

So that's, for me, such a huge accomplishment, not only in building a business from nothing to where it is today, where, like you say, most businesses think about selling when they're on the downspout and then they go bankrupt, right? Like 80% of businesses fail. So we're in that small margin of businesses that have been successful.

So that's a huge accomplishment for me. And I'm kind of walking around with a little extra pep in my step, having achieved that and now scaling the team and growing the business in a way that I feel really confident that we can set it up for the next 10 years of growth.

Jason: [00:20:03] Yeah. And when you have that pressure off, you're not really worrying about money anymore. You can make decisions based on just what you feel rather than, oh, I need to take this deal.

And what people don't realize is when you actually start making that switch… If you did that in the very beginning, you would have grown five times as fast, and everybody always thinks they're were like, you guys have money. So it's easy for you guys to say that, but you know, looking back, if I could tell myself again on that, I'd be like, dude, start with that from day one.

And you know, in the very beginning it might be a little tougher, but later on, it'd be that much.

Roy: [00:20:45] Yeah. You know, like, I, I, at least for us, like we have pre, we have pretty good margins for the last 10 years. Like w like, as a corporation, we'd never had real money issues, like we didn't have debt. We operated in, you know, with a 45, 50% margin.

So decision making around money for the business was never an issue. I think for me personally as well, it wasn't necessarily the money that makes me, cause you know, when you get a liquidity event like that, you have all kinds of other problems after that, right? Like, so…

Jason: [00:21:14] Lots of cousins coming out of the woodworks.

Roy: [00:21:16] Yeah, right? Yeah. Yeah. Ray Ray from way back in the day who you haven't talked to in 20 years or, you know, like, or just managing it at all, it poses other situations. But I think it's, you know, there's something unique about calling yourself, the singular owner, where every decision comes down to you. And again, nothing's changed. I'm still making every decision.

Like Republic's is really great that way in the sense that they really want you to work autonomously, but at the same time have be part of this bigger vision. So I'm still managing the business, but there's just this underlying weight of that's been lifted because you feel like you have support, right?

There's other people who have been through this a million times that know what you're going through, as opposed to like, boy, I feel like I'm really just kind of going through this on my own and no one really understands. And so that part of it was really huge for me.

Jason: [00:22:09] Awesome. Last question, if you had a billboard and you could put anything on it, what would it be? What would it say?

Roy: [00:22:18] Oh, that's great. That's great. I love that question. Uh, it would be this: Take your passions with you.

Jason: [00:22:25] I like that.

Roy: [00:22:26] What I mean by that is a lot of people get caught up in thinking, I gotta find my passion, I gotta find my passion. And passion often gets related to what do you do? Which isn't necessarily what your passion is. It's who you are.

And that thing can be taken with you to whatever it is you're doing in the moment. Whether that's, you're a problem solver, whether that's your, you want to make a human connection, whether you want to give to people, whether you want to build people up, whether you want to, it doesn't matter what it is. Just know that you can take it with you wherever you go.

I took what I do in the music industry to digital marketing to help orthodontists and dentists, you know, like it's just, there's nothing correlated other than what my passion is to solve problems. And that was my billboard. That's what it would it be.

Jason: [00:23:18] I love it. I love it. What's the website people go and check out the agency outside of Republix?

Roy: [00:23:24] Sure. Yeah. It's noodlewavemedia.com. Noodle like as a bowl of noodles, wave, wave media.com. I would say that.

Jason: [00:23:32] Awesome, man. Well, Roy, thanks so much for coming on the show.

And if you guys enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe, make sure you comment. And, uh, if you want to be around other amazing agency owners where we can see the things that you might not be able to see, because just like Roy was saying, like it's very isolating making your own decisions and maybe you wanted some help with that. I'd love to invite all of you to go check out digitalagencyelite.com.

This is our exclusive mastermind for very experienced agency owners. Go there now, and until next time have a Swenk day.


Quinn Zeda had been running an agency for six years when she decided to start from scratch and focus on conversion rate optimization with Conversion Crimes. She and her team help clients identify mistakes in their website’s design, messaging, and navigation that is stealing revenue from under their nose. Quinn is really big on user-testing and customer research. In her interview with Jason, she explained the roadmap strategy she implemented to get the type of projects she could execute the way she wanted to, how this strategy helped her slowly educate customers on why they needed much more than just a website, and how she learned to appreciate the importance of systems and operations.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The roadmap strategy. When she first started her agency, Quinn was charging $1,000 for a website. One of her frustrations was with those $1,000 - $2,000 projects was that she could never execute them in the way that she wanted to. To be able to deliver the results that she knew she could, without scaring clients off with a $180K budget, she started with a 10K retainer presented as a roadmap of things she could accomplish for the company. After a couple of months, clients were seeing some really incredible results and excited to go on to phase two.
  2. More than a website. Creating her roadmap strategy was a great way for clients to understand that they were not paying $250,000 for a website. It may be what they thought they needed, but going step by step and getting them to approve a foot in the door project Quinn was able to educate her clients to see that they needed much more. They would gather information on who their most profitable customer was and who was draining their teams of resources and, with those insights, create a plan of action for the branding, the marketing, and the strategy.
  3. The importance of SOPs. Once you start bringing in more customers you need to make sure operations run smoothly, especially with the new hires you will probably need. Quinn acknowledges she didn’t really see the importance of systems, processes, and SOPs and the value they brought to the business when she first started her agency. It was only after her team started documenting some of these processes, even if it was in a very basic way at the beginning, and gradually became more detailed that she saw it was really a game-changer that saved them a lot of time.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Raising Prices With a Roadmap Strategy and Why SOPs Are a Game-changer

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Quinn. Welcome to the show.

Quinn: [00:00:04] Hey, thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:06] Yeah. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and, uh, tell us a little bit about the agency that you started.

Quinn: [00:00:12] Yeah, so my name is Quinn Zeda. I started freelancing right out of college, which then turned into too much work than I could handle. I started hiring more freelancers, which then kind of morphed into an agency where I started then kind of hiring my first full-time employees that were like really dedicated to me.

And after running the agency for a few years, maybe five or six years on, then I shut it down and now I run a startup, um, Conversion Crimes, which is like a user testing SaaS.

And yeah, when I ran the agency, we were doing user experience, conversion rate optimization really focused on helping basically businesses around the one to 5 million mark scale. You know, people kind of get a business to a certain point. They reach a glass ceiling and they kind of duct-taped everything together. They found product-market fit. They started making their money and they're like, yeah, but now like what we built doesn't represent who we are anymore. So we come in and kind of restructure that. So…

Jason: [00:01:15] Very cool. And what was the biggest accomplishment that you had at the agency before you closed it down and why?

Quinn: [00:01:25] Yeah, the biggest accomplishment, I think, was kind of really getting with the value-based pricing that we went on. So when I first started, I was charging like a thousand dollars for a website and I ended at a quarter of a million for a website.

So originally, like when I started that, it was like, this client is like a thousand. The next one was 2,000. The next one was 4,000. Then at 8,000, I just kept doubling it every time I would send a proposal out. Granted, the deliverables definitely changed from each one of those jumps and kind of gave me more resources to get more clarity on the kind of projects that we wanted to do. And then I went from like 20K to like 180K and jumped.

So I'm super proud of being able to pull that off and then also getting an alignment with what I actually wanted from the business and the work that I really wanted to do. So one of my like biggest frustrations and like these like thousand or $2,000 projects was that I could never really execute them in the way that I wanted to.

Like, I would see all these things I wanted to do, but of course their budget is 2K. So I'm not going to do like months of work for like 2K and really getting that in alignment with what I wanted to actually deliver and add value and to have pulled that off. So it was like super, super stoked about that.

Jason: [00:02:57] What was the changing point or what made you change from, I think you were saying it was like 20,000 to 180. So that was a big jump. So, what happened?

Quinn: [00:03:08] Yeah. So the first one kind of ended up a little bit kind of in my lap, right? So I didn't really kind of go out and pitch that I'm going to sell that for 180 or what have you. It started out as a retainer where we, I like had this roadmap of things I wanted to accomplish for this business, and I couldn't really sell them on that yet. One, I hadn't proven myself yet. I couldn't really articulate the value. And it was also like out of their price range, right?

So what I did was it was like, okay, I'm going to do this first project for these like couple of months for this much retainer each month. I think it was like $10K or something like that, and then I'm going to get a result that's going to pay for the next phase. And this is the next phase that we're going to do of this project. And in that, I was able to get some really incredible results for the clients. So then they were like, okay, let's do the next phase.

And then when I got that one, I was like, okay, let’s do the next phase. And then it ended up being my end goal, right? So yeah, it was a really cool kind of process. Then after that I kind of figured out like, okay, if I did it this way, how can I repeat that was like kind of giving them the end result?

So that's when I kind of implemented this roadmapping strategy. Where instead of selling them on like this $200K project or whatever, sold them on a 10K roadmap of which I would just outline the project that I was going to do. Here's the thing, and this is the price. So that's kind of how that transitioned.

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Online Training for Digital AgenciesJason: Yeah, I like it. You know, it follows a methodology that I teach a lot of agencies have going sell them a foot in the door, which is basically a strategy, right? Of like, here's everything that we're going to do, and then figure out how long it takes in order for them to start seeing some results. And then it can transition to a monster, you know, engagement, you know, after. And a lot of people just don't figure that out.

You know, when I went from the $20,000 websites to the $80,000 websites and beyond it wasn't as graceful as that. It was more about this asshole, literally, I didn't want to say no to this asshole. And I literally was like $80,000, thinking he would just go away. And he said, yes.

And then I realized psychologically... Yeah. I was like, shit. Psychologically, I realized I was like, well, other people, this idiot would say it let's find some really good people that we can do really good work with, but I like your story better.

 

Quinn: [00:06:49] Yeah. And it's, I kind of had like the same thing as well. It's like, oh, I saw one person one time. Like, there's gotta be another person out there that would do this because we had a very unique kind of product that we were doing that was different than other agencies. We did a complete transformation because we were really experts in a lot of those different things.

We were able to cohesively pull it together where I think a lot of agencies can't and I also sold them on, like, you're getting our full attention. We only get, we're only doing one major project at a time. So you're getting our team's focus because the kind of work that went into that was like, really this deep work and you can't manage like five clients at the same time. At least I couldn’t.

Jason: [00:07:33] Yeah, exactly. So what were some of the details that go into it? Cause some people are like holy cow, $250,000 for a website. It's not just a website, right? Like it's strategy, it's research, like talk a little bit about everything that goes into it.

Quinn: [00:07:47] Yeah. So, um, I'm really big on customer research and stuff like that. So a lot of these businesses, they just kind of found product market fit through whatever reason, but then they didn't know who their most profitable customer was. They didn't know like who was like draining their teams of resources and stuff.

So we would actually go in, we would interview their team. We would interview all their different customer segments. We would go through their analytics, we would do user testing and we would kind of come up with a… we'd spend, like the projects were in general were like eight months long.

And so we'd spend like the first three months just going through all of that, getting all the data, making these like reports on them kind of putting all this stuff together and then kind of looking at all of it and being like, okay, this is your most profitable customer, but we're not even speaking to them on the website or we'd find out that people were coming in to the website, but then they were losing them on their backend operations. So they would get a lead in, but then it would take a week to get like their first like class scheduled or something like that, right?

And so it was like, okay. And we would also go into operations and help them. Um, cause that's part of, like you say, website conversion rate optimization, right? But it's also, you have to be able to deliver on the back end.

So sometimes we help them kind of restructure a little with their team. And then we would take all these insights and we create a plan of action and we would make outlines for sales copy, what kind of things are needed, and then kind of turn it into a final product.

So that's like the branding, the marketing, the strategy, kind of really a whole business overhaul. But how I got that lead in was a website. They're like, oh, we need a website. And it's like, well, no, you more than the website. You need to understand where you're taking the business if you want to grow your business. That's like the underlying goal here, right? It's not just about a pretty website with a cool logo.

Jason: [00:09:50] Yeah. You know, we always use the website as the end because people would be like, oh, I need a website. Well, why do you need a website? Oh, my competitor just redesigned theirs. Well, no. And yeah, if, if that's all you need go to a particular, you know, template ID site and you can get. Uh, website, you know, just pick a theme and you can do that versus if you really want results, then we can look at it a different way.

And I, I liked your process and analysis of everything that you went through. Cause I bet when you're explaining that to the prospect, they're like, oh yeah. And it separates you from everyone else. Did you find that?

Quinn: [00:10:33] Yeah. Yeah. And that's a big reason why we started with the roadmap because if I was going to like tell them those things or try to sell them on those things, they didn't believe me really at first, but if I can sell them on a roadmap for the website, and like kind of put those things in there and didn't tell them about it and they're like, oh yeah, that makes total sense. We can't just increase the leads on our website because we're losing them here.

So it would make no sense to invest there and not invest here. And nobody else really would point that out to them. So I had to kind of like weasel it in. If that makes sense.

Jason: [00:11:06] Yeah, no, exactly. Well, you know, what you're doing is you're educating them. You know, they came to you for a particular, something that they thought they wanted and you educated them. And then like, well, this is the process and it just, there was literally no, probably other choice that they had, you know, after you explained that. So that's, that's amazing.

Is there anything else? I mean, this has all been amazing and I always like to keep these short, like I was telling you just so people can really hear it and go, oh man, I need to make this simple if I'm just designing websites or if I'm just doing SEO or pay-per-click or whatever your particular services, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think if you were listening this show back when you were, you know, getting going that you would want to know?

Quinn: [00:11:53] I think in the beginning, I didn't really understand the importance of systems and processes and SOPs and stuff like that and how valuable they were to the business. So as like an agency owner, there are tons of processes that happen and even though what we were doing this like huge project that was very custom-tailored to the client, there is still a repeatable creative process in that.

And so every time we had someone do something, I had them like document it and start to make these SOPs. And they started out like really primitive, like, here's the 10 steps I'm going to do. I'm going to analyze analytics. Then I'm going to like put that data in a spreadsheet and then I'm going to like something super simple like that.

But the next time it's like, oh, I'm adding screenshots. I'm adding the step-by-step about what that means to add the data to the Excel sheet or what have you. And this has like saved me so much time when I'm, I never really created and SOP in my life, but my team has created though. And it's like, when someone else comes in or something, it's like, now I'm just like, oh, here's the SOP. Boom.

And I didn't really understand the importance of creating those in the in the beginning, but they've been game-changing for my business overall.

Jason: [00:13:17] I love it. I love it. What's the website, what's the SAS website people can go and check you guys out?

Quinn: [00:13:23] Yeah. So my SAS website is conversioncrimes.com. If you want to check out the old agency site it’s zedalabs.com Z E D.

Aand uh, let's see, like Twitter it’s just my name Quinn Zeda. I think I'm like the only one. So that's pretty easy.

Jason: [00:13:38] That is easy. Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and, uh, I wish you the best of luck. And for everyone that listened, if you want to be around other agency owners that can share the things that are working for them and be able to, hopefully, be able to see the things you might not be able to see. I'd love to invite all of you to go to the digitalagencyelite.com.

Apply and if we think you're right for the mastermind and we can help you out, we'll have a conversation. So go do that now and until next time have a Swenk day.

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

Are you thinking of adding funny videos to your sales strategy? This eight-step framework may be just what you need to create successful sales videos. Joseph Wilkins has been creating sales videos since the half-hour infomercials that appear on TV. When his clients stopped getting the results they used to, he knew it was time to change spaces and switched to making videos for social media with his agency FunnySalesVideos.com. In his interview with Jason, he explains his eight-step framework to making successful sales videos, the process to make a solid video script, why you want professional comedians and actors involved in the process, and why you should never prioritize the comedy over the sale.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Eight steps to making funny sales videos. Joseph has been producing funny videos that sell for many years and has developed a list of eight steps that have worked for him and that will surely serve as a very good framework for anyone that wants to create these types of videos. These steps take you from really understanding who your audience is before even starting to think about ideas for the videos, getting in the habit of writing down at least 50 bad ideas before thinking about the ones that could actually work, the process of making a script that works and adding the comedy punch, hiring the rights talent, and more. And that’s just 50% of the process.
  2. You’re not trying to make the funniest videos. When it comes to videos like these, and as Daniel Harmon when he spoke with Jason about video ads, remember that you’re not trying to create a video that is just funny. You're looking to create a video that creates sales. The comedy has to support the sale. If it doesn’t, if it distracts from your main objective, then you should cut it out. “Some of the funniest jokes never end up in the video,” Joseph confirms. This is why the creative director will always have to push to get a video that is different and new for the brand, while also being laser-focused on the sales aspect.
  3. On agency owners appearing in these videos. “Don’t do it!” Joseph puts a lot of emphasis on this point. This kind of video is a top of funnel first impression video. You want to give it a good chance of grabbing the audience's attention and keeping it and getting them to click into your funnel. It’s not completely out of the question for the company CEO to appear on a video at a later point in time, but always keep in mind they should not be the comic relief. Comedy takes true skill and Joseph prefers to leave it to the pros.

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Leave The Comedy To The Pros & Follow These 8 Steps Funny Sales Videos

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here and I have another amazing episode and guest where we're going to talk about how to create funny sales videos that don't seem salesy that really get people's attention and convert. So let's go ahead and jump into the show.

Hey, Joseph. Welcome to the show.

Joseph: [00:00:24] Thanks, Jason, it's good to be here.

Jason: [00:00:25] Yeah. I'm excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and tell us a little bit about your agency.

Joseph: [00:00:30] Sure. So I own FunnySalesVideos.com, which is kind of a recent breaker or rebrand to my original agency, which was Procreative.

For 20 years we've produced videos that sell, and I'll give you a quick background. We started primarily in television. So back in the day, our very first project, we were focusing on infomercials. So, you know, those huge 30 minute long infomercials that people would find in the middle of the night flipping through their channels.

Our very first project did over $200 million in sales and that kind of got us hooked and for the next 15 years that was our main focus, was television. But as you and I well know the way that people watch television, if they even do anymore, has dramatically changed in the past decade or two.

And so about five years ago after producing, you know, tons and tons and tons of TV commercials, infomercials and web videos and we'd work for, you know, some of the biggest brands on the planet, Google, LinkedIn, Chevrolet, McDonald's, um, we're a very small boutique agency, but we like to pretend to be clients that we're not so that we can compete with the best of them.

But anyway, after about 15 years, our clients basically said we're not getting the results that we used to, you know, we're spending the same amount of money running the creative we're spending sometimes even more for the media buying because it wasn't getting any cheaper, but the results just weren't there because the eyeballs weren't there anymore.

And so our clients started saying, what can we do to get back to the results that we used to get? You know, the return on broadcast ad spend that we used to, to see. And about the same time is when the Harmon Brothers, uh, launched their mentorship program.

For many years we had kind of watched them and they're actually just down the road from us here in Utah. And, uh, you know, I watched everything that they had been doing with the Squatty Potty, with, uh, Poo-Pourri, Purple Mattress, Chatbooks, Fiber Fix. And, uh, right when they launched their mentorship program, it was kind of a perfect time for us to pivot and really decide is this the new vehicle, that's going to get us the returns that we used to get?

And I'll just give you a couple of quick case studies and then we can talk about something else. But before we launched Funny Sales Videos, you know, when clients would call us and say, hey, we saw this really funny video. We want to do a viral video. We would say, sorry, we don´t do that.

Whenever people asked for that elusive thing that they think is just push a button and you'll get a viral video. But we don't do funny because frankly, the worst thing that you can do is try to be funny and end up looking silly if you don't have the right people in the bus, as far as the scripting, as far as the acting, as far as the editing, you know, comedic timing, and we can talk about all of those in a minute.

But we don't want to do something unless we can do it fully a hundred percent. And that's kind of the missing piece that the Harmon Brothers helped test to figure out with their courses. And I, you know, I, I'm not an affiliate, but I always plug harmonbrothersuniversity.com to anyone that's looking to up their marketing skills, whether it's funny or not.

And so our very first video, when we launched finally sales videos with this new information that we had got, got over 7 million views, and more importantly, over a half a million dollars in subscriptions to a SAS service that was a very, very niche audience. And so we knew were on to something.

Fast forward to today, our biggest campaign is, I think, I got a chat with the client, I think we've hit a hundred million views and just millions of millions of dollars in revenue. So we kind of feel like we've come full circle back to our original days of just killing it on television, that there it's a whole new playbook to work online and also to use humor to essentially trick people into watching a video.

Jason: [00:04:51] Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. I've had the Harmon Brothers on the show and, and had a lot of fun chatting with them. And I even worked with people in the past that have been on those Squatty Potties and that kind of stuff… not in the videos. In producing the videos not, not using the Squatty Potty. I don't think anybody would admit that.

I remember one of my buddies was like, well, before I get behind any video, I need to try it. And then he was like it works! So it was funny.

Let's go ahead and jump into it. Let's talk about kind of the eight steps that you found that really works for your framework. What's the first one for someone creating a really good sales video?

Joseph: [00:05:37] Yeah. So we, uh, this is the ebook that anyone can download from our website funnysalesvideos.com. We basically just put it together because a lot of the time we’ll have clients that want to do a video and we only take on kind of two or three clients at a time.

So the very first step is, you know, it's marketing 101, it's understanding who your audience is, what their pain points are, creating as detailed customer avatar as possible. And again, your audience is more savvy than most, but a lot of people I tell them you never write a letter and then walk to the mailbox and decide before you put it in the mailbox who to address it to, but that's what a lot of people do when they sit down and they write these scripts, they just think about the product and they think about why did I start this company? Or why did I invent this product?

And unless you really do the homework to figure out who is your customer and what they already saying about your product? We get too caught up in drinking our own Kool-Aid and, and an exercise that the Harmon Brothers taught us that everybody should do is go out and spend a good chunk of time reading through dozens and dozens and dozens of customer reviews.

Find out, what are people saying about your product? What do they like? What do they not like? What could you improve upon? Or what do you need to address in your marketing that will overcome the objections? You know, whether it's price, so you have to build a value proposition that, you know, yours is more valuable in the long run, or whatever it is, but really spend the time to identify the key selling points that cold traffic…

And these videos are top of funnel videos, right? So they're not that they're intended to convert cold traffic into clicks to your sales funnel. And so you've got to get them very quickly with the top-selling points. And then, if necessary, if there are objections that you've got to overcome, you know unanswered concerns never lead to a sale, so you've got to figure out what are your key selling points? What are any objections you need to overcome?

And then these kinds of videos when we launched them on number one comment that we look for, and frankly that we get very often, is I loved watching that video because that person just felt like me, or it felt like a friend or it felt, I want to be friends with that person.

Well that's because that person is you. We've stolen lines that you've written in your customer reviews and we've created a character that is so close to the customer avatar that it connects on a much, much deeper level.

And just a final thought, you know, some businesses will say, well, what if I don't have a hundred reviews to read through? Well, go and steal from competitors. Go read what other company’s clients are saying. If their products are close to yours, it's the same market.

So number one is just do your homework. Don't set pen to paper until you have a really solid understanding.

Jason: [00:08:41] Yeah. You know, I always tell agency owners that they have to have a real clear understanding of who their audience is and really in your marketing, it should be going after a specific audience.

And I really like what you were talking about overcoming objections, because that's a really good one. Like if you think about, when you're talking to your sales team and thinking of like, here are the objections. And like literally if you called them out and you were like, here are the objections and then like on the video, you're going to get their attention. So what’s number two?

Joseph: [00:09:10] Exactly. Okay, so number two is kind of the fun one that is harder to quantify, but it's the brainstorming. And what I always like to tell people is before you get scared, you know, thinking about a blank sheet of paper or an empty whiteboard or an empty Word document, I tell people your goal… And so this kind of video, we're looking for two things in the brainstorming phase, we're looking for number one, who's the character, the main character that this video is about?

And number two, what is the big problem that they are going to present in the video? And obviously your product or solution has to overcome and solve that problem. But you're got to get really creative and come up with crazy fun, irrelevant ideas.

I tell people come up with 50 bad ideas. Don't judge them. Don't filter them, get as many people into your brain, share as possible as you're brainstorming this. But you're looking for answer the two questions 50 times. Now people will say, that's, that's crazy. And I say, yes, it is. And that's part of the, the method is that bad ideas will lead to good ideas.

And if you don't put any judgment on it, it takes away the fear. And so we will literally sit down in, in my agency we'll do it virtually. We do it, we throw up a shared document and my writers will get into a document and it'll normally take us about a couple of weeks between four or five of us to just throw bad idea of the bad idea.

And then once you've got your 50 bad ideas, now you put on your, your serious thinking cap and you look at okay, which of these speaks to me? Which of these has the flavor of a fun story? And that's what you're looking for. Forget selling. Right now all you're interested in is hooking people's attention and getting them to watch past the first few seconds.

And so the more fun that character can be, the more bizarre that situation while still being intellectually relevant. It doesn't have to be literally relevant. I mean, there's no relevance in a magical unicorn that craps out ice cream, but it's relatable to the Squatty Potty because you can draw a parallel.

And so don't, you know, sometimes our videos are very, very, the customer avatar is the hero of the video. And sometimes it's a completely fictitious character that is still relatable to that customer avatar, but you really have to do the brainstorming to be able to arrive at what are the best ideas? And then as an agency owner, what I do is I present my best five ideas to the client.

So as an agency that's, that's what I would recommend. Don't give them the 50 bad ideas because they’ll think you're a terrible agency. Give them the five best ideas and sometimes the worst ideas on the paper to begin with will spark somebody else to say, well, that's bad, but actually what if we flipped that and come up, you know, you can get great ideas by going off on tangents.

So step two is brainstorming as many ideas as possible only worrying about those two things. Who's the character? And what’s the big problem?

Jason: [00:12:33] I really liked that, the brainstorming. And I liked that you said present, you know, the five best ideas that you have. Now, one of the things that I learned early on is don't tell people, be like, hey, we have incredible ideas for you. These are the best ideas we've ever come up with.

Because if the clients hate it, then they're going to be like, you're an idiot. And they're going to think you're a real bad agency going forward. So just always preface as, hey, we've got some from five ideas to go by. Don't get really Gung-ho for them because if they do shoot you down, that's fine. Then you can go off to the next one.

Joseph: [00:13:09] Yeah. So before I go on to three, just another power tip, you know, since your audience are agency owners primarily. Uh, along the lines of what you just said, what we do is when we present those five ideas to the client, we tell them here they are, they're not in any particular order. We're not going to show you all hand of which ones we like best until we get feedback from you.

And so you basically, you're trying to get the client to get ownership, right? If they pick the best idea… now, if there are five ideas and there's one that clearly you feel like is going to have the best success as an agency you're obliged to then share well, you had, that was good, but, you know, have you thought about, you know, this, this and this?

So yes. Yeah. There's politics when you dealing with clients as always. So anyway, step three is scripting. This is where the rubber meets the road. You're going to actually develop your script. Now, the first thing you do is go back to step one and look at your key selling points that you identified.

And most of the time, these videos are three to four minutes long for the long version. We do shorter versions, but the hero version, which incidentally, typically tests out the best when you're on a platform that allows longer versions, you can probably communicate three to five key selling points in that video, in that amount of time.

Now your most mentioned reason why people buy should be, you know, hit over the head multiple times in that video. So it's a prioritized list, but you take your key selling points. You take any objections, that becomes your marketing framework for the script. Then you take your character and the problem and you bring in a creative writer to create the story arc.

Now in my world, I use many many freelance creative writers and people would say, well, what if I don't have a really good writer that understands this kind of comedy? Well this step it's not funny. It's just a creative storyteller that you want to do this part of the scripting. We actually have 6, 7, 8 writers on every project that we produce.

And I'll talk more about that in a minute. So you basically take the story writer, the creative writer that takes the elements and build the story. And I always used Donald Miller’s story, is it StoryBrand? As a framework for how a good story should be written. So you got somebody who has a problem who meets a guide who shows them the solution, and then has the transformation that then shows how their world or their life is better because of that solution.

So that's the arc that we're trying to get. And we're also trying to call them to action. Now, once you've got your story, you also need to make sure that you spend a lot of time writing your big hook. That's the first five seconds of your video.

Nothing past that first five seconds matters if you don't create something that's attention-grabbing and the also works with the sound off, because 80% of people watching aren’t going to have the sound on. And we going to have to create visuals and titles and literally design in subtitles so that visually you're telling all of the story without the sound on.

And then, you know, the goal of that is to get people, to turn the sound on and peak their curiosity enough. So that's step three is writing the basic script. It's not funny, but it's fun, right? It's an entertaining story. And then step four, I bring in on every project, at least five professional comedy writers.

Now this is the difference between what I said earlier about how I used to say, I won't do a sales video because we don't have the talent to do that in-house. And so I spent a lot of time looking for good professional comedians. Now, how do your agency owners do that if they don't have any connections? Well, there are a lot of online freelance sites like Fiverr and Upwork and other places where good comedy writers in their spare time write for other people, you know, freelances.

I also watch a lot of standup comedy and I'll reach out to people. I'll send them an email or I'll go to the website and talk to their agent and you'd be surprised at how affordable some, I, I won't tell you the names, but some people that you would recognize from big sitcoms, the lead writers. They apparently don't get paid enough because they still want to do freelance work on the side.

I also have guys that worked for me that work on cruise ships as comedians.

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Joseph: [00:19:17] Now you're asking to me to give away all of my secrets. I would say a decent rate is like a hundred bucks an hour. And… really, oh yeah. Yeah, well, maybe not to the, some of the higher-end ones. I paid a thousand dollars to the guy that I was mentioning that they worked for a bigger show. But you got to understand, you're not looking for them to write a script.

All I'm asking them to do is review a sprit that already exists. Comedians aren't good at writing. They're good at creating jokes, right? They're not good at writing stories. They're good at bits, right? Fragments. Punch up, that’s the technical term. When I reach out to a comedian, I say, hey, I've got a script it's fully written, I just need someone to punch it up with some jokes, add in some witty comedy, a word here, a word there, a line here, a line there. That's all you're looking for.

And normally, you know, an hour or two for comedian. And then when you do that with five different comedians and everyone's kind of in the virtual writer's room, seeing everyone else's comments, it's kind of like Saturday night live. That's how they do it. They lock everyone in a writer's room and the riff off each other. So I do that in a virtual environment. Does that make sense?

Jason: [00:20:31] I really like that. And I like how they're all going off and building on each other's work rather than going, oh, we have five comedians. They all submitted it. Which one do you like? And then you're trying to make it better.

I really liked that. That's my favorite part.

Joseph: [00:20:46] That could be difficult sometimes because, I'll just be honest, It's kind of serendipitous how the script evolves depending on which writer put their comments in first because everyone's building off the previous one and there's no real stretcher for that, but the chaos just kind of seems to work.

I don't know if that makes sense, but it's a front part of the process. Probably the most fun.

Jason: [00:21:09] Yeah. I think that would be a lot of fun. So what's the next step after this?

Joseph: [00:21:12] Okay. So just one more point on comedy. You're not looking to create a funny video. You're looking to create a video that creates sales. And so, because of that, some of the funniest jokes never end up in the video.

The comedy has to support the sale. If it's distracting from the sale, if it goes off on a tangent that doesn't advance the sale, if it's too edgy, too offensive, obviously it's going to get flagged on Facebook or, you know, Instagram. There are certain rules that you have to follow.

So, but the hard part of as a creative director, and that's what I do, I, I kind of am the one that reviews everyone's comments and decides which ones make the cut. My job is to protect the brand while still pushing it to be different than, than anything that they're done before. Cause that's why they're coming to us in the first place, but also number on my, I need to be laser-focused on the sale.

So just keep that in mind. You're not just looking for the funniest jokes, you're looking for things that will advance, the story. Number one, get them to stay watching. And then number two, get them to advance, to click through to your sales funnel.

Number five is production. Now you would think as a guy who has spent literally 20 years running a video production studio… I mean, if we were to go in the other room, I could show this huge studio with, you know, million dollars of crap, man, you would think that I would say the most important part production is getting the best cameras and the best lights and the right crew. Not true.

The number one thing about production is casting. Finding the right actor to be your hero, to guide them through this journey. The two most important parts of your video success are the script and the actor. Everything else you can literally shoot with your iPhone and get better results than me taking a million dollars and having a bad script and a bad actor.

And in today's world, the democratize video, you know, this 4k camera here. I would have died for this 20 years ago. So if there's no excuses anymore, people can produce great content. Now, how do I find the right actor? Well, you might be surprised to hear that for every actor, and I'm talking to hero actor. There are supporting actors and other extras in our videos, but there's really only one hero actor. I will look at over a hundred candidates before I select my actor.

Now some agency owners may not know this, but the process of casting and getting actors to audition cost you nothing but your time. Here’s how I do it. I'll go to two or three good acting agencies here in my town, depending on where you live, you'll have more or less.

I will go to those agencies and I'll give them a portion of the script. You don't want to give them the whole thing. it'll overwhelm an actor. Just give them a good chunk of the script, maybe three or four paragraphs. But also before I do that, I'll look at the demo reel. I'll look at their pictures and I'll pick out of those hundred. I'll probably pick 20 of them to send the script and ask the urgency to have them do self-taped auditions.

In the world of COVID, everyone has a setup right now. With the zoom recording, whether it's the foreign that laptop, just like we're doing right now. And so I'll get back about 20 videos that are prerecorded auditions from these actors.

Then I'm going to select my top three to five and I'm going to invite my client to a joint zoom session. A lot of the times I'll have the actor come into my studio, or sometimes I'll just have them stay at home and do it. But what I'm doing there is I'm looking to see how directable, how coachable are they? Can they do this line faster? Can they slow it down here? Can they put the emphasis on this word?

I'm looking for how do they respond to me as a director because anyone can do a really good audition with no pressure and do 20 takes and send the best one, but can they perform on the day? The other thing that I'm looking for is what do they add to the script that I haven't written? What spontaneity do they bring out while we're filming? Because during the production, your script should get better if you picked the right actor.

And I love to cast actors that have experience in comedy specifically improv so that they can add things and riff off of what I've written or what my team has written.

And so acting, I could spend hours just talking about that one subject, but the final thing I'll say about production is backing up to what I said earlier. Yes, everyone has an iPhone, but guess what? Every single other video on someone's Facebook feed or Instagram feed or on YouTube, every other video has been shot with their iPhone or with their, whatever smartphone. So if you want to stand out and be disruptive, you should hire the professionals.

And so having both the right script, the right actor and a team of really good film production company that really knows how to shoot things, that's just going to increase your results.

So that's step five, production. And again, I go into way more detail in my ebook on each of these things.

Jason: [00:26:48] Awesome. I love it. And one of the things I want to ask you, because a lot of times, especially with agencies, you know, I tell them you need to position yourself as that trusted advisor, right? The Yoda, the Obi-wan, right? Rather than the Luke Skywalker.

And in doing that, and if you're creating a video and then you hire an actor and they're like, oh, that was an actor that wasn't us. So what are your thoughts on an agency doing their own video and having one of them being in the video? Because you know, one of the things…

Joseph: [00:27:25] No. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.

Jason: [00:27:28] Don’t do it?

Joseph: [00:27:29] No, for this… I have very strong opinions on this matter, so feel free to disregard, but these are my opinions. Marketing is like a salad. You should have all kinds of different ingredients. This kind of video that I'm talking about is a top-of-funnel first impression video. You want to give your very best chance of grabbing their attention and keeping their attention and getting them to click into your funnel.

Once they're in your funnel, by all means, throw at them other kinds of videos. CEO videos, customer testimonials, be in more videos for sure. But unless like the Dollar Shave Club guy, which a lot of people don't realize this, unless you are a trained comedian and have experience with acting, don't try to be funny because you'll end up looking silly.

That's what I've seen. Now I've seen this, the rules broken a couple of times well, but I can't tell you in the 20 years that I've been doing this, how many times I've had a CEO that says, I think I can act, we get into the studio and they suck.

Jason: [00:28:41] I get that. I get that.

Joseph: [00:28:43] So it's a very specific kind of skill. Comedy is the hardest thing for me.

Jason: [00:28:48] Yes. And I'm glad you preface that because I know a lot of people listening are thinking about, well, I want people to recognize me, but this is just to get their attention and then you can get them later on because you know, one of the things I always worried about, and I think they think about with putting all this together is…

You know, I think about with, um, what was the T-Mobile guy? Or let's say there's like, um, Fey, uh, Progressive Insurance. Let let's say she's like, you know, she's in all their videos and then let's say they don't like her anymore. Well, everyone associates progressive to Fey. And now they have to find a new spokesman and then it just gets harder.

But I'm glad you explained that. Cause I actually agree with that as well, because I've seen some really bad videos. Hell, people have tried to mock some of our videos that we've done and I'm like, that was really, really bad. Don't do that again.

Joseph: [00:29:43] Yes, yes. Now there is one place that I'll, I'll make an exception. If during this video you want to bring in someone, you know, very short clip that basically says, here's the dude who invented it.

And I've actually seen the Harmon Brothers do this pretty well with Lumē, their deodorant. They had some scientists expert who was somehow involved with the clinical trial and they burnt him in just as a start, like a second, you know, I'm the guy that's going to make some credibility here, but then they actually make fun of him in the video.

There's a way that you can do it if you really want the CEO to be in the video, but don't make them the comic relief in the sense that they're trying to be funny.

Jason: [00:30:31] Yup. Got it. What's the next step? What number are we on? Um, I've lost track of the numbers.

Joseph: [00:30:36] This is number six and the two after are a pretty quick. So we'll go quick cases. For step six, you've always heard the phrase comedy is about timing and when it comes to step six, which is editing, nothing could be more truthful. The difference between an editor who understands timing, especially comedic timing, and somebody that just knows how to edit is very different.

And so I'll give you an example, you know, we'll do film shoots and we'll do a line and the actor, and it's very well written and it's very well acted. But when we get into the edit, something’s just not working. The line doesn't hit the way that in our brains we thought it would and a good editor can simply put a cut here and punch from a wide shot to a close-up or take out a pause or overlap two sentences, or bring somebody else in quicker or even rearrange the entire sequence. And all of a sudden it works.

It's all about timing and it's also, you know, not a people back to the point I made earlier. A lot of people are surprised to hear our videos are three to four minutes long. They say people don't have the attention to watch those kinds of videos. And I say, uh, have you heard of Netflix?

They still put out two hour long videos and people are watching them. People don't stop watching the videos because they're long. They stop watching cause they suck. They stop watching because they're boring. They start watching because they're irrelevant.

And so, if your goal is to not make your video boring, you got to speed it up. It's got to be action packed from beginning to end. Our videos, the script feel more like five minutes when we read them. But when we filmed them and edit them so tight with taking out breaths, with speeding things up with, you know, literally over cutting people's sentences talking over each other. So that at no point in that video can you say, oh, that feels long, or that feels boring.

You still gonna get most people that don't watch it through to the end. In fact, the Harmon Brothers have said that only 5% of people that watch their videos make it through to the end. But 5% of a hundred million people is a whole lot of qualified people ready to click into your sales funnel.

So you've got an editor who knows how to keep it snappy and fast, people won't get bored. The other thing that we do is for most of our clients, depending on what package they go with, we deliver 32 different versions of the same video. Because what we're doing is we're giving them a whole bunch of data to test. You know, you've heard of AB split testing, well we do A through Z split testing.

We're going to create three totally different opening hooks. We're going to test which one gets watched through the most. We're going to create three different calls to action. We're going to test which one gets clicked on the most. We're going to do the long version. We're going to do the short versions. We're going to do the square versions for mobile. We're going to do the wide-screen versions for YouTube and for desktop.

So all of these variables so that it's not leaving things to chance. In our early days, it's kind of embarrassing to admit this, but even to this day our most successful video, then now has over 50 million views on one video. We didn't do this to, we just guessed and we were right. But guess what? We're seldom right every time.

And so what we like to do now is give our clients every single opportunity to test so that it's not gambling on one version, we're doing the split testing. So a good editor knows how to create all of those different versions. So that's step six.

Step seven we've already briefly touched on it, but it's the testing. And this might be the time to reveal the dirty secret that none of our videos organically went viral. That's not what it's about. This is about creating a video that where you spend a dollar on advertising, you get 2, 3, 4, or $5 in return. I explained it like a vending machine that's full of a hundred dollar bills and it costs $20 to use. How many times are you going to want to use that machine?

So understand that once you've produced this video, that's only 50% of the work. You've now got to build a dynamite sales funnel, and you've got to have a dynamite media buyer who understands how to buy Facebook, YouTube, you know, hopefully in step one, we've already identified who is your customer and where are they viewing online so that, you know, where you're most likely going to end up.

But having said that most of our videos they're fairly platform agnostic. We test them on YouTube. We test on Facebook. Test them on Instagram. So knowing that this is a conversion video, not a organically viral video.

Now organic views will come, maybe five to 10% of all views are organic because people love to share them and comment on them. And, you know, engagement is just through the roof on these kinds of videos. So we do get kind of a cherry on the top of the cake, but the cake is paid ads. So know that and plan for it. And budget for it.

Final step, I've already said it, it's don't think that this is going to be something that you going to put her or this work into a video, and then you’re just going to go famous overnight. That's no business model that I could predict, control, repeat. And we've heard about people that win the lottery and go broke, kind of liken it to companies that, you know, sometimes get a whole bunch of seed money and don't really know what to do with it.

In the world of video hits there are so many examples of companies that did have videos that went viral back in the old days, but where are they now? You want a repeatable controllable business that you can count on. And, you know, we have clients that have done 7, 8, 9 of these videos because every single time it's worked, it's given them that return.

It's not a flash in the pan and going through the steps is the best way to ensure that it will predictably bring those returns that your company needs or your clients need.

So those are my eight steps.

Jason: [00:37:13] I love it. I love the eight steps and they're so simple, and I'm glad you clarified on a lot of them because I can't tell you how many times I hear agencies I was like, we need to get more attention and we need to create a viral video. Or, and they're just, I'm like, there's so many different things that go into creating a successful video.

And I totally agree with you on all the steps. I mean, they're very well laid out and I'm glad you've built upon other people's framework for, from, you know, Donald's to the Harmon Brothers. Because when I look at growing our agency and growing the mastermind and seeing other agency owners, it's no one ever invents everything. It's always like, especially with your creative process, it's always just building on that.

And I really do appreciate that and that's why you guys are really successful.

Tell us, um, if people want to know more where can they go?

Joseph: [00:38:06] Real simple, funnysalesvideos.com. Take a look at some of the examples videos there, there's some case studies there, but most importantly, that's where you can download the free ebook that will give you that. And I should just add if, if you're looking to follow these steps to do it right, we won't take on a client until they understand this is going to take at least four months.

To go through all of these steps you got to take the time to do it right. Just want to make sure people understand this isn't the kind of thing that you don't want your clients calling up saying, hey, we need a video in a week. What kinds of videos can you produce? Hey, I've just heard this podcast. Maybe we'll try that. No, it's gotta be, it's got to take the time to get the results.

Jason: [00:38:49] Awesome. Well, I love it. And thanks so much for coming on the show. Make sure everyone to go to their website and check them out.

And if you guys want to be around other amazing agency owners, where you can build on what they've learned over their years of scaling and growing their agency faster, so you can do the same and really do it the right way and avoid some of the pain. You'll never avoid all the pain, but I'd love to invite all of you to go check out digital agency elite and, um, see a band, just check out the stories from the other mastermind members there of their growth and their success and what their life looks like now, rather than working around the clock and not enjoying what they're doing.

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

Direct download: 8_Steps_to_Create_Funny_Sales_Videos_For_Your_Agency.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:00am EST

Are you struggling to retain employees? Do you know how to keep scaling without burning through talent? When Robert Glazer started Acceleration Partners, he always had a vision of working with an international team. Now, his agency, which is focused on managing partnership and affiliate programs for high-growth brands, has 300 employees in eight different countries. Robert joined Jason in this episode to talk about how he avoids burning through talent, how he trains his employees to ask why, and what he invested in to get beyond the referral stage.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Beyond the referral stage. Robert ran a referral-based agency for about 15 years. Of course, it couldn’t last forever and eventually, they started focusing more on sales and marketing so he and his partner would be less overwhelmed by the sales aspect. It’s a stage every agency will go through and they faced it by investing in leadership, having great marketing, and great delivery. In the end, they have exponential revenue growth from the time they started scaling the sales and marketing team and hired a fully integrated sales and marketing team.
  2. On not burning through talent. With an agency that has been in Glassdoor's best places to work, what have they focused on when building their culture? Robert says they always had a vision of working remotely with employees from different countries. They have also focused on offering a work environment where employees can grow professionally, which is one of the main reasons people leave their jobs. In the end, agency life is not for everyone, some will love its unpredictable nature and others won’t, but Robert made sure to create a culture that does not reward overworking employees unnecessarily and offers flexible hours.
  3. Asking why. On the subject of them not rewarding working extra hours with little results, Robert explains they have resorted to training employees to ask why. Why does the client need this data by tomorrow? Could this be solved any other way? Do they really need everything they think they need? “Don’t assume, because they're asking for something that it's the right thing or you can't explain to them the trade-off or explain the consequences,” he says.

Sponsors and Resources

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

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Scaling Your Agency Faster Without Burning Through Talent

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here and I have another great episode where we're going to talk about how you can scale your agency rapidly without burning through a ton of talent, because all of us have been going through and going, how do we keep employees and how do we find the right talent?

And on today's episode, I have a guest that's going to talk exactly about that, that's done this. So let's go ahead and jump into the episode.

Hey, Robert, welcome to the show.

Robert: [00:00:32] Thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:33] Yeah. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Robert: [00:00:36] Uh, yeah, I'm Bob Glazer. I'm the founder and the chairman of the board of Acceleration Partners. Acceleration Partners is the largest global independent agency focused on managing partnership and affiliate programs for well-known and high-growth brands.

Uh, we have almost 200 clients and, uh, I think, uh, getting close to 300 employees across eight countries and we manage programs across 25 different countries.

Jason: [00:01:02] Very cool. And so how did you start the agency? What made you fall into this?

Robert: [00:01:08] Uh, like most agency owners… No, I don't know anyone who started the agency intentionally. I just, you know, I started doing some work in the affiliate space.

I found a lot of problems with it. I started helping a company fix its program. Uh, that company ended up being a huge success. It was called Tiny Prints. Sold them to Shutterfly for $300 million.

People then spread out from that and start saying, hey, can we do that thing that you helped us with there? And then I couldn't do enough of those. So I hired some people, so, and sort of the rest was history from there. So we were very, for years, just all referral-based, uh, word of mouth, you know, 15 years. It's really in the last five years that we've had kind of sales and marketing a little bit before.

Jason: [00:01:47] So, what were some of the stages that you went through, you know, in order, like, obviously go through the referral stage, right? And you only can get to a certain plateau. And I feel a lot of people listening to the show right now, you know, are at that level, right. They're kind of plateaued, you know, it could be at 5 million, 10 million, whatever it is, they're plateaued, but you have to do something different.

What were the things that you guys did different?

Robert: [00:02:10] We invested a lot in thought leadership, content marketing. We wrote a book that was the first in our industry called Performance Partnerships. So we really focused on having great… someone sent me the barbell strategy, having great marketing, having great delivery, which drove the word of mouth.

Eventually, though, you know, we were like, look, we don't want to sell or need to sell. Eventually, myself and Matt who is now CEO who is the VP of client services, we're just handling sales calls all day. So even if they were inbound, right, then you had to talk to these people. And we were, you know, the people that called us, we answered the phone, but we weren't following up with them and checking in and the things that you need to do to keep, uh, a sales pipeline moving.

So eventually we started to acquiesce. It was like, look, even if we don't want to be cold calling people like this is a lot of, I find, to manage. But from the time we started scaling the sales and marketing team and now with a fully integrated sales and marketing team, I mean, we will, we will sell more this year revenue than we did in our for… Our revenue growth this year will be more than our first 10 years, right? Combined.

So it takes a while to get those pieces working. You can go either way. Again, it depends on the type of business you want to build. I wanted to establish our marketing before our sales, like, get the demand going, but, you know, I've seen the opposite approach work too where you get account development and people calling and doing that.

We had a really good referral pipeline and we thought that that thought leadership would also help on the conversion of, you know, the people who are examining us.

Jason: [00:03:39] Gotcha. So what have you seen work to allow you to scale rapidly without burning through talent?

Robert: [00:03:45] Yeah, look, it's hard in this business. Paradoxically, I would say, you know, we, we started by sort of in the premise, you know, five or 10 years ago that people aren't gonna stay here forever and turning that into sort of an open conversation and, you know, having a productive alumni group. But we've, we've actually always been remote. We focused on having sort of a world-class, uh, culture.

We spent a lot of time and energy on our culture have been in Glassdoor's best places to work a few years. And look, agency life is not for everyone, but what's interesting is people who come here from other agencies really say to us, this is really different.

Some people are a lot of people, realize agency is not right for them. Maybe that's not the work that they want. So we've done a lot to really screen the type of person who likes that fast growth, high pace. You are serving clients. If you don't like client service, probably not a great role, but they like the kind of unpredictability and working on something new and different.

I think that the biggest thing that keeps your talent around is investing in your talent and helping them grow and develop. That's one of the reasons we are a growth firm and that growth has allowed for, you know, I think we've had 87 seven promotions last year or something like that, you know, across our team.

So for people to see that, oh, that person started associate and manager and now they are a director or VP. And that, that path is available to them. I think these days people leave for two reasons. They don't, they don't like their manager, maybe three reasons, they don't like what they're doing or they just don't, they're not growing or don't see a path for them.

I don't think anyone here is blocked. I mean, that's one of the nice things. If you go up 30% a year for a while, as we have, there's just new roles available every year. No, no one is blocked on their development path.

Jason: [00:05:31] So when someone joins from another agency, what do they say it's different?