DiscoverSmart Agency Masterclass with Jason Swenk: Podcast for Digital Marketing Agencies
Smart Agency Masterclass with Jason Swenk: Podcast for Digital Marketing Agencies
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Smart Agency Masterclass with Jason Swenk: Podcast for Digital Marketing Agencies

Author: Jason Swenk

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Growing an agency is very difficult, and you might feel unclear what to do next in order to grow and scale your agency. The Smart Agency Masterclass is a weekly podcast for agencies that are wanting to grow faster. We interview amazing guests from all over the world that have the experience of running successful businesses, and will provide you the insights you need. Our podcast is just over 3 years old, and have reached more than a half million listeners in 42 countries.
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Have you ever stopped to really think about what is really driving growth? What inspires you to keep doing what you do? Do you know your agency's purpose?  Are you driven by something more than just profit? Research shows businesses with a purpose often fair better than those that don't.  In today's episode, we'll cover: How to determine your agency's purpose.  The value of authenticity.  2 tips to become a trusted partner. Today I talked with Brian Powell, managing partner at Matchfire, a brand design and digital agency. Matchfire focuses on purpose-driven marketing and helping brands embrace who they are. Brian's here today to discuss why all agencies should have a purpose and how your agency can find its own.  How to Determine Your Agency's Purpose Open up a book or turn on the TV and chances are, you'll find something about purpose. There's a growing movement to do everything with intention and create with meaning. From an agency standpoint, having a purpose doesn't just help your clients understand who you are, it helps you and your team be better at what you do. When you understand the why, it's easier to come up with the how.  For me, my purpose to create a resource I wish I had when I was running an agency. If you don't know your agency's purpose, consider these questions: Why do you want to make money? Why do you want to create your product or provide your service? What makes you different?  What kind of void would there be if your product didn't exist? Talk to your partners and stakeholders and really dig deep. Why do you do what you do? When you can answer this, a whole new world will open up. The Value of Authenticity For some, the word authentic may come across as hippy-dippy as the word purpose. But trust me, consumers can spot phony a mile away. When you choose your agency's purpose, it has to be authentic. Authentic, purpose-driven marketing can drive business and social impact.  Along the lines of authenticity, it's important to know what you're good at. When you know your areas of strength, you can specialize and be the best at one thing. Specializing doesn't have to mean exclusivity but allows you the ability to say no. You can't be all things to all people.  When you take a step back and say, "This isn't where I excel," or "Let me recommend you to someone who can help," referrals, goodwill, and word of mouth will come back to you tenfold. Don't try to pretend you're something you're not just to win over a client. When you're honest, you'll earn the client's trust and they'll be more likely to call you when something else comes up. 2 Tips to Become a Trusted Partner As an agency, the worst thing you can be is an order taker. You don't want to be treated like a commodity. The ultimate goal is for clients to view you as a trusted authority and an expert in your field. Purpose and authenticity will take you a long way in earning a client's trust, but there are two things to really focus on if you want to be a go-to resource: Have an opinion: There's a misconception that marketing is the business of ideas. When in fact, what we do is give people our opinions. Clients want to hear what they should do and why they should do it based on your experience and market knowledge.  Ask questions: What is your client's purpose? Why do they do what they do? From the very beginning you need to ask your client questions like: what do you want to do, what do you want to accomplish, and what are the challenges getting in the way? Finally, end with: how can I help you get there? What is it that separates you from everyone else? Why should clients see you as more than just a "me too" agency? Answer these questions and be true to who you are and both you and your clients will reap the benefits. 
Agency life has always been very dynamic but now more than ever. Today's agency employees have different needs in order to have a work-life balance. Many don't want or need traditional office hours and prefer to work as contractors. Have you ever wondered how to adapt your agency to fit those changing needs? Are you interested in strategies to transform your team? A team full of contractors is a great way to decrease overhead and increase your profits. In this episode, we'll cover: What is the "upside-down" approach to recruiting agency talent? Can an agency be successful with a team full of contractors? How you can keep your employees focused. Today I chatted with Scott Gillum, the founder of Carbon Design, a marketing services organization. He is also its sole employee. Carbon Design has adapted its agency's services to meet the changing needs of today's economy and today's professionals in a way that provides them with efficiency and positive growth. He's here to share the way his employment strategy reduces overhead, improves function, and leads to greater degrees of team loyalty. What is the "Upside Down" Approach to Recruiting Agency Talent? Scott is proud of the "upside-down" approach he has had for finding potential employees. He started by looking for the top talent and hiring them, then built his agency and service offering around their skillset. Instead of filling a specific role at the agency, he hired the right person and then created the job for them. He when he started, he wasn't just looking for traditional employees. When Scott's wife was looking to re-enter the workforce, they discovered major challenges--and she wasn't the only one struggling. Today, many people are eager to be stay-at-home workers. They're freelancers. They're people with small children or people working as caregivers for elderly parents. These employees want and need a place to work, but they can't work in a traditional setting. Carbon Design makes it possible for them to have it all. By providing flexibility, the agency also provides purpose and meaning, allowing people to live their lives while still maintaining a fulfilling career. They set their hours. They choose the projects they can accept. And it works. Can an Agency Be Successful Without Permanent Employees? Scott is the only full-time employee at Carbon Design. He has team members. He has a person who runs his operations and two individuals who are taking over specific lines of business. Those team members are responsible for pricing, delivering, and putting teams together. However, all those roles are filled by contractors. This strategy offers several advantages. First and foremost, the agency carries little overhead. Scott doesn't have countless employees he needs to keep busy. A traditional agency has to "make it up somewhere" when business is slow. Eventually, that means a client will take on some of those costs. At Carbon Design, however, that's not the case. Instead, the team gets paid based on the work they complete: a solid, deliverable model. The average tenure of people on the Carbon Design team is around 15 years. They're trusted partners. They deliver on time, know the client's business, and have earned the right to represent the company. They're team members--and more importantly, they want to be there. How You Can Keep Employees Focused When dealing with contractors, it's important to keep them focused on the agency.  "I worry about it every day," says Scott. He knows his contractors are definitely working with other organizations. Keeping mindshare and building culture is incredibly important. They want to work with the agency, not for them. As a result, it's critical to keep people engaged. What he's doing, however, works. "You're more likely to not have the same people there when you're dealing with an agency than you are dealing with our people," he shares. His team doesn't want to go back to a full-time agency unless they have to. "Our people don't leave because this is the lifestyle they want," Scott points out. At Carbon Design, they offer mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Reinforcing those factors for the team is critical. They are also well-compensated for the effort they put in. On average, if these contractors were working as full-time employees, they'd be making an average of $200K. They also don't have to feel as though they are in competition with each other. Carbon Design builds projects and teams: the teams who have the right skills to complete the projects and deliver on the clients' expectations. It's a unique model--but it's also one that is becoming increasingly common. Can your agency grow with this model? There is an increasing number of employees going remote or looking for ways to connect with the office without returning to a traditional work environment. Looking for a Content Creation Solution? Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out Verblio.com/smartagency for 50% off your first month of content.
Have you ever wondered what steps you should take to keep your finger on the pulse of your agency? Are you concerned with finding employees who can help fill open roles and keep your agency running smoothly, all while adapting? Finding, hiring, and retaining agency employees doesn't have to be as hard it as it may seem. In this episode, we'll cover: Characteristics to look for when growing your agency team. How to motivate your agency employees with more than money. How to measure the pulse of the agency. Melissa Shaw is one of the three partners at ARC Media, which has a very niche market in communications and legislative relations for electric utilities, specifically in rural America. A military spouse herself, she has been through multiple military moves, added three children, and even adopted another dog while helping to grow and scale the ARC Media organization. Characteristics to Look For When Growing Your Agency Team The ARC Media headquarters is located in a small town in rural America: a less-than-ideal location for recruiting team members who have the skills and talent needed to help grow and scale the organization. The three partners found themselves wondering how they could find the top talent they needed to fill those vital roles in the business. They wanted employees who were content to relocate to small-town America and who were willing to go the extra mile with the team. The answer? Military spouses. Melissa herself is an active duty military spouse. She had just moved back to the United States after being stationed in Germany, and noticed it was difficult to find clients. As a result, she was very aware of that need, and she knew military spouses would help fill those roles. Employing military spouses offers a number of advantages to the organization. When you're trying to grow an agency, you need people who are able to adapt to change. They need to be self-starters, to be able to juggle all those tasks. They can handle the challenges at home and get work done at the same time. Military spouses are the ideal solution. They know change. They're used to functioning in a range of conditions. Their spouse may deploy or have to go on training, but they have to keep going, even when it's not ideal. In a growing agency, you're constantly changing and restructuring. It may look like changing the way teams work or developing new and more competitive products. You're always sharpening your sword. That means you may need to modify positions over time and find ways to use their skillsets differently. Military spouses are ideally positioned to adapt and grow. For ARC Media, this is one of the keys to success: hiring employees who already have those vital adaptive skills. How to Motivate Your Agency Employees with More than Money Retaining employees is a challenge for any organization. One big question many employers have: If we can't offer them more money, what can we offer them? Whether it's a new experience or advancing their skill set, these priceless opportunities often mean more than a raise or a bonus. You have to identify what your employees are looking for and what's important to them. One key strategy for identifying those needs? Keeping your finger on the pulse of the agency. How Do You Measure the Pulse of the Agency? Communication is critical. Agency life is often very fast-paced. It's easy, Melissa says, to decide it's not worth the time to jump on the phone and have a conversation. Those little things, however, can make a big difference. She also uses Google Hangouts to routinely connect with her employees. They have weekly meetings set up, broken down by the two key subgroups at ARC Media. One key? Team members don't have to dress up. Baseball cap and a hoodie? Cool. Got you sick kid at home? It's fine, as long as you're getting your work done. The hour a week taken to meet with each team, however, can make a big difference. She also encourages employees to work together and communicate through their regular platforms to address any problems they might have. Finally, she has a digital open-door policy. "I always invite employees to connect with me one-on-one and schedule those meetings whenever they need to. I keep my calendar open and visible to them," Melissa shares. A combination of these strategies--hiring the right employees, listening to them, and offering solutions that work for them are the best way to grow your digital agency. Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster? If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency. For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at Morphio.ai/Swenk and get 25% for a limited time.
Think skillsets are all that matter? Need help building a team aligned around your mission? Skills and experience are important, but it's your culture that will really make or break your agency. It's that culture and your attention to healthy cash flow that can make or break your agency's growth. In this episode we'll cover: Why your digital agency's culture is so important. What to consider when hiring new team members. How to create a healthy cash flow for your digital agency. Today I had the chance to talk with Jim Flint of Local Search Group, a Houston-based marketing agency in the automotive industry. Jim began his career working with agencies from the corporate side at brands like Nike and Toyota, before ultimately deciding he wanted to help clients through an agency of his own. He shared what he's learned along the way so you can create a successful agency culture and increase your cash flow. Why Your Digital Agency's Culture is So Important Before Jim realized the value of culture, he was hiring smart and capable people who weren't necessarily aligned with him in important areas. This created challenges within his agency, and he quickly learned the importance of building a team of people who are on the same page and headed in the same direction. "It's not about the company and the person—it's about the company and the person and the client and the job," Jim says. If the fit doesn't go both ways, and if an employee isn't passionate about the purpose of the agency, you'll end up holding each other back. Poor fits can lead to toxicity, which can take longer to undo than it takes to start. When toxicity takes hold at a company, the good employees will end up leaving, making it even harder to turn the ship around. What to Consider When Hiring Agency Talent Creating culture starts with your team, and your team starts with the hiring process. Instead of only looking at a resume, try to learn who the candidate is as a person. Learn what they do outside of work and get a sense of where they are in life. Does it align with where your agency is headed? Another consideration is whether a candidate has a side-hustle. Side-hustles used to be considered a red flag. However, Jim views them as indicators of ambition and initiative. They also tell you what a candidate is truly passionate about—and, if it's an area related to your marketing agency, it's a good sign they may be a great fit. How to Create a Healthy Cash Flow While culture may be the more overlooked aspect of agency success, it's not the only piece of the puzzle. Another important component of digital agency growth? Capital. Your cash flow is the lifeblood of your agency, and when it's running low your forward momentum can grind to a halt. What are a few ways to boost your agency's cash flow? Change payment terms, so clients pay you pre-month instead of post-month. Beware of "scope creep" on your deliverables. Make sure you're charging enough for what you're providing. Be diligent about getting paid on time. Another way to benefit your cash flow is to get rid of the high-maintenance clients. They cost you more than you know — and beware of bringing on those clients from the outset. "A high-maintenance skinny deal is a really poor vanity play," Jim says, "and it hurts the company in ways you don't really understand until you come to actually experience it." By cutting those clients loose, you'll free up your resources for more of the clients that are actually helping your agency turn a profit. Looking for a Content Creation Solution? Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out Verblio.com/smartagency for 50% off your first month of content.
Want an 8-figure agency? Tired of the hassle and cost of managing employees? Want an entirely new, innovative business model? The answer for one agency owner was in the cloud. In today's episode, we'll cover: What is the no-employee model? Why not freelancers? A unique way to compensate your team Today I talked with Julian Stubbs, co-founder and CEO of Up There, Everywhere. Since our last conversation in 2015, the cloud-based marketing agency has continued to grow and is now approaching 8 figures in revenue. What is the No-Employee Model? The problem Julian had with the traditional agency business model is that you can never downsize or upsize as quickly as you need, so you are either missing opportunities or wasting resources. Combined with the high overhead of offices and employees, he knew there had to be a better way. He and his business partner decided to take advantage of cloud-based tools to build a truly global agency. Instead of employees, they now have a network of members in 20 countries around the world. Members work on projects remotely for clients, and all their work is backed up online. Why Not Freelancers? Often, when an agency chooses to go lean, they have a slate of freelancers they work with instead. As Julian says, though, freelancers don't scale and they aren't a long-term solution. Up There, Everywhere needs professionals who work consistently, which is why they opt for the member model. To make sure it's a good match for both sides, potential members go through a series of interviews before joining the agency and learning how to work with their particular tools and clients. Because it's such a unique model, the agency isn't for everyone—and members need to be able to deliver. Members don't pay to be a part of the agency, but they do donate their time to the community based on their skills, such as writing for the agency's blog. In addition to the pay they get from projects, members also have a reward system based on their earnings, their engagement, and other charitable endeavors the agency encourages. As with employees, keeping members engaged and motivated is crucial for the agency's success. While they are free to pursue other work as well, Julian works hard to make sure the agency's projects are the most interesting—preferring members to choose their work rather than forcing it on them. A Unique Way to Compensate Your Agency Team One of the most applicable takeaways from Up There, Everywhere's model is its fixed-rate structure. Instead of billing hourly and paying its members per hour of work, it has fixed rates for its clients and its members. Julian points out that when people are working on their own time, they're much more productive—a lesson for any agency owner. Consider how you can structure your team's pay around deliverables rather than time spent. Other stats from the cloud-based agency's continued success? Networking accounts for approximately 50% of sales, while content marketing brings in the other 50% Churn rate among members is under 5%, while at Julian's previous traditional agency that number was between 10-15% As in any agency, having a plan and direction is paramount. The various teams get together on a weekly call to talk about clients, members, and the agency. Think about your own agency and what you can do regularly to check-in across your team and make sure you stay aligned on the same goals, whether you're in the same office or fully remote. Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster? If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency. For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at Morphio.ai/Swenk and get 25% for a limited time.
Have you ever wondered if the grass is greener for big agencies? Or is it easier to be a small agency that is more nimble? Are you struggling with prioritizing growth strategies? Does size matter when it comes to growth trajectory? It all comes down to perspective. Size only matters in relation to your vision of growing your agency. In this episode, we'll cover: What are the big agencies missing? Hurdles to overcome when growing an agency. 3 ways a small agency can grow faster. I talked to Steve McCall, a partner in a branded digital strategy agency called Carbon. Formerly, Steve was the general manager of a large agency in Boston. However, as he explains, life happened a few years ago. The death of a loved one gave him clarity on his career goals. So Steve took a risk by partnering with two former colleagues who had already begun Carbon. Steve is here to share the differences between big agencies and small agencies and how Carbon provides the best client experience, best product, and best work-life balance. What Are the Big Agencies Missing? "There is a lot to like about big agencies," Steve explains, adding that the benefits of a big agency include: The high level of brands that look to large agencies to deliver their services. The ability to grow your skillsets across different client categories and disciplines. However, Steve and his partners realized something was missing from their experiences with big agencies. Focus is placed on making sure the client experience is equal to the output, even if it cuts into profitability. "We are not always profit-focused," he says. "It's more about ensuring a great product and developing a relationship with the client. In a larger holding company model, that is challenging to do." Hurdles to Overcome When Growing An Agency Growing an agency that offers a work-life balance and is devoted to delivering quality products and client experiences isn't easy. The primary challenge was finding out where their product and level of service needed to be in order to be successful. Other challenges included: Profitability without sacrificing service. "There are a lot of investments you have to make when you start an agency." Even while the agency was determining what products to offer and how to satisfy clients, they also had to learn how to be profitable. Creating forward momentum. Growth takes momentum and it's easy to become complacent or get bogged down in the trenches. Carbon built momentum through providing as many in-house services as possible. 3 Ways a Small Agency Can Grow Faster Carbon places emphasis well-roundedness and Steve attributes their rapid growth to these 3 tactics: Cross-train. Steve said the ability to provide multiple services in-house with a small team requires each member of the team to have a base level skill set on as many tools as possible. This eliminates the bottleneck when only one person has the ability to perform a certain task. Use your client's data. Data will not only manage expectations but also help identify additional services to meet specific needs the client might not even know they have. This provides new revenue opportunities for you but also new business opportunities for them. Keep exploring what is possible. Just as you analyze your client's data, analyze your own data. Develop a grounded path forward in the firm understanding of where you are now as well as what it will take to get where you want to be. Looking for a Content Creation Solution? Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendor we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out Verblio.com/smartagency for 50% off your first month of content.
Are you feeling overwhelmed by client demands? Struggling to choose the ideal clients who are right for your agency? Have you lost a major client and you don't understand why? There are a lot of factors involved in growing your digital agency. But the most important factor is how well you serve your clients. In this episode, we'll cover: Why determining and communicating agency focus is important. Setting goals and making sure your agency is on the right track. 3 ways to use communication as a catalyst for growing your agency. On this episode, I talked to Tyler Dolph, the President, and Partner at the Wisconsin-based digital advertising and marketing agency, Rocket Clicks. Tyler joined the agency in a business development role about 6 years ago, after a chance meeting with the agency owner on an airplane flight. Shortly after joining the team there, the President of the agency resigned and Tyler stepped into the role. Since then, the agency has grown from a team of 12 to 39, and the client list has grown from about 15 to 85. Tyler is here to offer some insights about the emphasis his agency places on client services, and how it has helped them grow. Why Determining and Communicating Agency Focus is Important "We're not a full-service agency, we're not everything to everyone," Tyler says of Rocket Clicks. Once the agency was financially stable, they discovered it was OK not to take on every client. Instead, they learned to focus the agency's service offering and narrow down to what they're best at. Another important part of this process is determining who the right client is. The best way to accomplish this is identifying your ideal clients' service needs and the necessary budget. By establishing these parameters, you can target potential clients and quickly detect the ones that aren't right for you. Developing the agency's focus is only part of the challenge, however. The other part was in letting everyone -- including the clients and the team -- know what that focus is. Tyler compared this to navigating a boat. When you communicate the focus it allows others to decide if they want to stay in the boat, jump off, or alter the course of the boat just a little bit and still reach the destination. Setting Goals and Making Sure Your Agency Is on the Right Track Once you've developed the focus of your agency and distilled your offerings down to a few specialties that you do really well, it is important to set goals to ensure you are keeping focus. This isn't a one-shot deal. Goals should be set and revisited on a frequent basis. Each goal needs to be measurable. Rocket Clicks uses software that enables the process of setting these goals and gathering data needed to measure progress efficiently and with little effort required. 3 Ways to Use Communication as a Catalyst for Growing Your Agency The key is communication in order to provide superior client service. Tyler recommends the following steps in using communication as a catalyst for agency growth: Avoid FOMO, fear of missing out. Many agency owners are honestly afraid of saying no to a client because they don't want to miss out on the opportunity and the profit the client has to offer. Unfortunately, this often provides the hard lesson of taking on a client you can't handle and subsequently losing that client. By clearly communicating with potential clients what services you are able to offer rather than approaching the relationship thinking about what you can get from the client, you build stronger relationships. Remember clients are people too. "At the end of the day, clients just want to feel like they matter. They want to know they're being taken care of." Rocket Clicks enforces this realization by eliminating the client services management role. Instead, the team member doing the work are the ones to communicate with the client. Empower your team from day one. Tyler prefers hiring new employees from other agencies. Every new hire undergoes a two-month training period. During this time they learn the Rocket Clicks way. However, right from the start, they're encouraged to question everything. Feedback on processes and suggesting new methods are encouraged. This not only allows team members to play an important role but it gives the whole agency an opportunity to learn and grow from their experience. Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster? If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency. For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at Morphio.ai/Swenk and get 25% for a limited time.
Are you searching for more ways to attract new agency clients? Have you considered starting a podcast for your agency? Are you searching for new ways to spread the word about the services you offer? Are you wondering how to encourage your own team to be thought leaders? Now more than every, content creation options are endless. Take advantage of them all by asking for help so you can focus on growing your agency. In this episode, we'll cover: How content marketing is changing with the times. When should content be written vs spoken? 3 things to turn your team into thought leaders. I talked with Steve Pockross, the CEO of the content creation marketplace, Verblio. Verblio currently has 3,000 writers who create 70,000 pieces of unique content each year, with a focus on delivering content to more than 500 digital agencies who count on the company to supply content for their clients. Steve is here to talk about how content creation is changing with the times and how agencies can keep up with these changes. Today, Verblio's writers need to go beyond writing simple blog posts to transforming audio and video content into written work and refreshing old content into something new. How Content Marketing Is Changing With the Times At the beginning of 2020, Steve noted the trend in content creation was long-form content creation. Clients were seeking content that was 1,000 words long or more. Additionally, clients were beginning to ask for written content created from video. However, when the pandemic hit in March, the requests for content changed again. "Since the pandemic, we have seen a move toward instant impact content," Steve says. "We are getting requests for content refreshers. We are re-purposing audio content as written content." Additionally, Steve adds, there is a micro content trend in which larger pieces of content are broken up into smaller pieces that provide a quick, easy read for the client's audience. With all of the changes experienced through technological advances and world events, one thing Steve has noticed is clients are going bigger. Verblio has experienced a 25% increase in content requests since April. When Should Content Be Written vs Spoken? Digital agencies are looking for a way to reach their clients in a world that offers many different channels and platforms. Steve says to use them all. "Podcasts are a DVR for audio," he says. "They're so accessible, you can listen anytime you want." He adds that there is a natural viral aspect to podcasts: they're interactive, they're engaging, and they are a way to build your audience. On the flip side, though, Steve stresses making a podcast involves preparation. You can't ask every guest the same questions, and with 800,000 podcasts available, it's important to know what you're trying to create and who you're trying to reach. As effective as a podcast can be in reaching your clients, "many people still love to read," Steve said. Providing your podcast content in written form is a more complete way to present the content and reach different listeners as well as readers. Writing is time-consuming and not everyone is confident in their ability to do it. Steve encourages agency owners to perform the work they're strong in seek help from outside sources or others on your team in order to provide content in other formats to reach a larger audience. 3 Things to Turn Your Team Into Thought Leaders Being a thought leader is difficult to manage when you still have a day job, Steve notes. This is one of the reasons that encouraging your team to be thought leaders can provide you with advantages. Some of the things you can do to encourage this thought leadership in your team include: If you do a podcast, include your team. One way to start this process is to ask team members what questions they are repeatedly asked by clients. Then create a podcast around those commonly asked questions. This extends to everyone from operations to creatives to the account team. Getting the team involved not only takes the burden off of you in creating all of your agency's content but also opens the doors to their own ideas on how to create fresh content. "Great content isn't written, it's assembled," Steve says. Commit to the process. If you want to offer a company blog, commit to a schedule that allows you to create blog posts. If you aren't a writer, commit to finding a writer who will work with you. Instead of stressing about creating 100% of the content for your agency, have someone else create 80%. Be clear with your expectations. Commit to sharing your thoughts about content creation and getting feedback in return. Remember, your thoughts are not going to telepathically transfer to your team or to your outside content creator. They have to be clearly communicated. Looking for a Content Creation Solution? Verblio has been a long time supporter of the Smart Agency Masterclass and a trusted vendors we've been using for over two years. They are an amazing content creation solution designed specifically for agencies; their writers can help with all your content creation needs across a variety of industries. If you're interested in trying Verblio for yourself check out Verblio.com/smartagency for 50% off your first month of content. AND... if you want to provide input about what works and what doesn't take a minute to participate in Verblio's agency survey.
Do you feel like you've made so many mistakes at your agency you may never be successful? Do you find yourself trying to be someone else for your clients? Are you willing to accept any client and any project out of desperation for cash flow? Truth is, you can learn from your mistakes and grow your agency because of those experiences. In this episode, we'll cover: Why bigger clients aren't always better clients. How relationship-building helps retain clients. 3 tips for healthy agency growth. I talked to Theo Fanning, the Executive Creative Director and President of Traction, a digital marketing agency in San Francisco. Traction was started in the ruins of the dot com bomb of 2001. At that time, faced with few opportunities, Theo and three friends decided to start an agency of their own. "It was blind fury," he recalls. "We had no idea what we were doing. Many of us had not had management or operational roles. We just assumed everything would come our way and we made a lot of mistakes. We are an agency built on failure, but we're always failing up." Theo shares some of those mistakes and lessons learned so he could grow his agency to a team of 50. Why Bigger Clients Aren't Always Better Clients Traction was built on a freelance-based model, "because we had a lot of friends who were freelancers," Theo explained. However, this business model led to some of the agency's earliest mistakes: "Freelancers are flaky and you can't build a business off the backs of friends." What followed were several years of a truly organic agency experience that began without operational tools and timesheets. Along the way, however, the agency managed to break even and the team began to grow. In 2005, after having just relocated to new office space and with a team of 12-15, Traction lucked into the opportunity to pitch Apple. "We sort of jumped into it with no true strategy," Theo explained. "All we had was grit and good nature, and some good relationships that we had built." Theo points out that landing this first big client taught the team something very important. "When you're the smallest agency working for the largest client, you really don't get to run your business the way you'd like." He said the experience with Apple helped them learn to focus on clients of all sizes. Traction still works with Apple 15 years later but has a greater appreciation for fostering relationships with decision-makers of all-sized clients. How Relationship-Building Helps Retain Clients One of the most important things an agency can do is build relationships. Traction's relationships with the business owners they work with has taught the team to better articulate their value. Gaining the trust of the client through the relationship opens the door to offering additional services to help the client succeed. Traction prides itself on being able to show clients "new ways to do old things," -- which can include the adoption of new technologies as well as new ways to look at their business. Theo says the relationships you build with your team also go a long way. The agency started by friends focused on doing quality work and providing the ability for staff to have a good quality of life, as well. What they got in return was a team that is both strong as well as loyal. 3 Tips for Healthy Agency Growth Theo embraces the learning process that comes from making mistakes. Some of the tips he offers to other agencies who are struggling to find their place in a competitive industry include: Stop trying to be what you're not. In the beginning, Theo notes, Traction tried to position itself as a full-service agency. "We wanted to play with the big kids," he says. What happened instead was the team couldn't compete. While they looked like they were able to provide the same level of service as larger agencies, they did not have the resources to back it up. Let go of the fluff. Standard agency models offer a lot of unnecessary things, such as customer journey maps and the development of an overall strategy for every potential client. A better way to operate is to distill your offerings into something the client can actually use. Use being small to your advantage. One of the benefits of being a small agency is the opportunity to develop relationships with your clients. This establishes trust and authority as well as nurtures forgiveness for the mistakes you make along the way.
What will it take for your agency to be successful? Do you think it's landing one big, game-changing client? Are you impatiently waiting for your big-break that's going to put your agency on the map? It's hard to be patient, but understanding the importance of planning and focusing on the basics lead to success. In today's episode, we'll cover: What's the key to longevity for your agency? Does your agency have a business plan for success? 3 basic industry principles you need. I talked to Tom Sullivan, the president and co-owner of Lead Marketing Agency. Tom and his partner started Lead about twelve years ago. At the time, they were both working for another agency, and they were the two guys who were a bit more data and media-oriented than the rest of the agency. So they decided to start their own agency, originally focused on certain aspects of the business. Twelve years later, they have a full-service agency that employs a team of 20 people. Tom is on the show to talk about the importance of being patient while growing your agency. What's the Key to Longevity for Your Agency? You likely share the dream of nearly every agency owner: landing the big deal which allows you the freedom to do whatever you want with your agency. However -- while it is entirely possible you will do that -- Tom says there is an importance to being patient. "Everyone wants to hurry up and get there," he tells me. "We are so impatient as a society. Be patient. Owning a business sounds cool, but there is going to be failure. Impatience makes it difficult to get through the hard times." These days, Facebook gives us everyone's highlight reel of their best moments. It's easy to compare your success to someone else's, but it isn't fair to you. It's easy to get caught up in these advertisements for marketers, promising to show you the secret to earning six-figures in ten days. Those offerings are not rooted in the reality of the industry though. The reality, as Tom explains, is time gives you the opportunity to focus on the fundamentals of your business, hire a team, and learn enough to know you don't know everything. There is always more to learn. Does Your Agency Have a Business Plan? Another thing patience buys you is the opportunity to create a business plan, and to develop actionable goals to help you enact that plan. Additionally, Tom encourages, you should develop ways to measure yourself in order to determine if you're following the path you've set for yourself. Then you can decide how you need to adjust your plan to fit your vision. "Understand the percentage you want and why you picked that percentage," Tom says. Figure out how many inquiries it will take to generate the leads that will convert to sales and enable you to accomplish your goal. Tom warns, however, to watch out for the pitfalls of working in a service-related industry. A lot of times, marketing agencies get so caught up in taking orders and servicing people it gets wrapped up in the business plan. This causes the agency to become order-takers and blurs the line between serving and succeeding. 3 Basic Agency Business Principles You Need While you're being patient and learning more about the industry, Tom encourages new digital agency owners to also remember the basics of business: Work hard, and do what you can to improve a little bit each day. Some of the suggestions he offers include: Hire the right people. Lead Marketing Agency is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan -- a place that Tom describes as less than a Mecca of creative talent. However, when it came time to hire a team, Tom and his partner looked for people who had experience from marketing agencies in big cities such as New York. They wanted people to bring to the agency experiences that they, themselves, did not have. Don't represent yourself to clients as bigger than you are. Remember there are things many clients prefer about working for a smaller agency. If your digital agency is small, use it to your advantage rather than blindly pursuing clients whose needs are larger than your ability. Keep learning and keep focusing on your own path, which is unlikely to be exactly like anyone else's. And it's okay to be different. The agency world is filled with niches and specialties and there is no one true path to reaching success. There's only hard work, time, and the ability to trust your skillset. Tom and his team have a motto that keeps them focused and inspired: "Be good, don't suck. Every day." Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster? If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency. For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at Morphio.ai/Swenk and get 25% for a limited time.
How do you find your ideal clients that are a good fit for your agency? How do you avoid taking on clients who aren't a good fit? Often times we take on the wrong clients because we're too eager for the work or because we didn't screen them thoroughly enough. Learn how to avoid these mistakes and the questions you need to ask before you even begin working with a new client. In today's episode, we'll cover: How do you keep your agency the right size for you? 3 questions to ask prospective agency clients. How do you deal with clients who just don't fit? On today's show, I talked to Erin Bailey, partner at the digital marketing agency, Matrixx. Erin has spent the past eleven years at Matrixx, first as part of the team and later as a partner. She has seen the agency evolve from a team of three people designing MySpace pages for clients to one that works with common household brands such as Coleman, Zest, and Hefty. While other agencies have a vision of becoming the biggest and most well-known, the Matrixx partners choose to stay the size they are. Erin is here to share why and how they made this decision. How Do You Keep Your Agency the Right Size for You? Erin says, in order to keep your agency at its current size, you have to be selective about who you choose to work with. Some agencies want to grow and add to their team. But if you're happy where you're at you need to know your team's bandwidth and then be more selective about what clients you choose to work with. "Everyone makes mistakes," she explains, and usually one of the biggest is taking on the wrong clients out of desperation. When you have a clear vision for your agency and you understand what clients want from you, you'll find the right balance between size and success. The best way to accomplish this is: Be honesty with yourself about the capacity you and your team have to take on new work. Have a clear understanding from the clients about the type and amount of work they need. Honesty with yourself about your ability to meet the client's expectations. Erin encourages agencies not to rush into large contracts with new clients. Instead, agree to work on a specific project for the client. This gives you and the client the opportunity to each evaluate the fit before entering into a contract for additional services. "There is a fine line between making sure you keep the business healthy and spreading yourself too thin," she says. 3 Questions to Ask Prospective Agency Clients So, if you are being selective about the clients you take, what are the questions you should ask them? These questions are an important part of the qualification process at Matrixx: What's your goal? This is the first question to ask, as the client may be seeking services beyond your normal scope of business. What's your timing? Does the client have a deadline that will pull your team away from the work for other clients? Is it feasible with your current workload? What's your budget? Erin says this is often the most difficult question for clients to answer. If the client claims they don't have a budget, usually providing a range will get them thinking. You can also try this tactic for getting the client's budget in order to make sure they can afford the solutions you offer. How Do You Deal with Clients Who Just Don't Fit? As Erin says, mistakes happen when selecting clients. Sometimes it's overeagerness, and sometimes it's being afraid to say no. And yet, in other cases, the person you were working with leaves the company, and their replacement doesn't have the same vision. "Don't be afraid to say no to a client," she says. "There are other companies out there that you can work with." If you find yourself in a contract with a client that isn't a good fit, Erin suggests: Ride out the contract, but don't pitch a new contract. The loss initial loss of revenue might be hit but reframe your thinking and remember the loss also frees you up to work with more of the right clients. It's OK to fire a client -- it can be very freeing. Continue being honest and transparent; and encourage the same from your clients. Erin explains when the fit isn't good, usually, both parties know. If you're communicating often and identify it early on it's easier to work through. Use your time and energy wisely. Don't target small businesses with the notion that smaller clients mean less work. A lot of times the small clients with small budgets often have big expectations and demands. Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster? If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency. For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at Morphio.ai/Swenk and get 25% for a limited time.
Uncertain on choosing a niche for your agency? Have you ever considered specializing in multicultural marketing? Are your clients losing customers by omitting multicultural messaging? Multicultural marketing is rapidly becoming an important growth strategy for businesses. It might be time you consider specializing in this marketing area in order to grow your agency. In this episode, we'll cover: The importance of multicultural marketing. How can you learn more about your clients' audiences? Are your agency clients drowning in data? I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Diaz and Natasha Pongonis, partners at Nativa. Their agency specializes in multicultural digital marketing agency and works with brands like Charmin, Castrol Motor Oil, and Arizona State University. Several years ago, Eric and Natasha noticed a lack of ads targeted to Hispanic audiences. Realizing these advertisers were missing out on a substantial demographic, they set out to not only help clients expand their reach but to help make the world of marketing a more inclusive one, as well. How Important is Multicultural Marketing? According to Eric and Natasha, the growth of the Hispanic population is just one example of the importance of multicultural marketing. In addition to Hispanic and Asian consumers in the U.S., multicultural marketing targets other growing demographics, like African-Americans, Native Americans, and others who fall outside of the mainstream marketing reach, including the LGBTQ community. Natasha also points out, as the country becomes more diverse, the numbers of individuals in the Millennial and Gen Z generations who identify with more than one ethnicity are also increasing. We have growing numbers of young consumers in this country whose buyer preferences are impacted by more than one culture. Failing to reach this growing group of consumers means leaving their money and their business on the table for one of the bigger companies to grab. How Can You Learn More About Your Clients' Audiences? How do agencies know what a certain demographic will want? The answers are in the data, Eric explains. Determining the data to identify potential consumers by cultural identity takes some digging, however. Many years ago Nativa developed a website that gathered data in a spreadsheet on what Hispanic buying habits, trends, and attitudes. Unfortunately, the data they gained only identified Hispanics based on whether they spoke Spanish. Thing is, many Hispanics don't speak Spanish fluently but still consider themselves of Hispanic descent. The team had to discover new ways of learning about Hispanic consumers by studying their profiles for information to indicate a Hispanic ethnicity. They looked at names, the commonality of products the purchased, and geographic information. Eventually, Nativa turned this site in a more valuable and all-encompassing SaaS tool that helps their prospects and clients learn more about all their multicultural consumers. This solution has proved to be invaluable to prospects and clients alike. Are Your Agency Clients Drowning In Data? Most brands have the data, but what sets Nativa apart is how they analyze and interpret the data. How can a company organically reach multicultural audiences by being part of their conversations? The best way is to just be quiet and listen. Learn what is driving those conversations, where are they taking place, and what are is the ethnicity of the users. Watch strategic partnerships of competitors and learn how different ethnicity's use different products. Our society is overwhelmed with data. We are drowning in data, but we're starving in knowledge. If you can interpret the data that is a superpower. And today, with machine learning Nativa is even testing out AI usage to predict behaviors of multicultural audiences. Eric made reference to Walmart and their 25-year relationship with their multicultural agency. The multicultural niche isn't going anywhere in fact, it's evergreen as the market continues to evolve. Natasha says it's not necessarily about the native language anymore. It's more about cultural awareness. It's about communicating in a very cultural and appropriate way to the demographic you're trying to reach, whether Hispanic, Asian, African-American, or others. Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency? Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you're a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits, and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out Gusto.com/agency for 3-months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.
Are you a new digital agency wondering how to attract the best agency talent? Or an established agency afraid your amazing team might fall apart? The best way to keep your team engaged and happy is to embrace who they are outside of the workplace. In today's episode, we'll cover: Why millennial side-hustles can work in your favor. 6 ways to keep your team engaged and happy. I had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Au, Co-founder and President of Intercept Group, the marketing agency that he and his wife started 13 years ago. Andrew had started his marketing career at Pepsi, but quickly learned that he was on the wrong side of the business. Today, he has an agency team of 30 and is earning over 8-figures while working with clients such as Microsoft, FedEx, and Intuit. Andrew is here to share the ways he keeps his team engaged and happy as they continue to produce amazing, creative work. Why Millennial Side-Hustles Can Work In Your Favor If you're building a team, in all likelihood you will be interviewing and hiring Millennials between the ages of 19 and 39. "Millennials are the largest single cohort in the workplace and they're driving a lot of change," Andrew says. But there is something else you should know about the millennial generation: They're entrepreneurial. Around 40% of Millennials who are working have a "side-hustle". While many marketing agency owners would discourage side-hustles, Andrew says he actually looks for employees with a business on the side.  "It gives them a maturity that you can't get from school or from working in another place," Andrew explains. He says employees are going to be pursuing these side-ventures whether you know about them or not, so "find ways to bring it into the business." Also, when your team feels like you support their outside endeavors they're likely to share with others. And in my experience, being an awesome place to work is the kind of reputation you want in order to keep attracting more amazing talent. 6 Ways to Keep Your Team Engaged and Happy Encouraging and supporting your team's individual side hustles is one way to invest in your employees and to keep them engaged and happy. Here are 6 more ways to help retain your agency team: Incentivize the team to learn things outside of work. Andrew's digital agency has a learning fund that provides $500 for each full-time employee to use learning something new. The catch: the money must be spent on learning something that is not work-related. Create perks that extend beyond the workplace. Andrew bought a cottage outside the city as a place where his team can clear their minds and be creatively inspired. He also provides smaller perks like free car washes and other things they would not buy themselves.  Andrew says, most perks are just nice things the team wouldn't necessarily spend their own money on, but would happily take advantage of when provided by the agency. Don't skip the one-on-ones. You should be meeting personally with each member of your team at least on a quarterly basis. Standardizing that process and making the time to ensure it happens is crucial. Celebrate behaviors, not outcomes. Your team could be working hard and still the project could lose money or the client could walk away. It is important to learn from any mistakes and take time to celebrate all the things your team did right. Be transparent with your team. Communicate the agency's goals and plans to meet those goals. Employees who feel they are part of the plan will be more engaged. And employees who are more engaged are more creative. Prioritize your team. Always remember that your clients come second. Your team comes first. In a race to win talent, the right culture is more important than any productivity-boosting tool you can buy. If you treat employees right, they will do right by your clients. Want to Help Your Team Be More Efficient and Scale Agency Faster? If you want to help your team work smarter and scale your agency faster you need to check out the artificial intelligence software created by our friends at Morphio. It instantly alerts your team about digital marketing errors before they become problems, saving a huge amount of time. Their AI manages and analyzes data, so you can focus on growing your agency. For a limited time, Morphio is offering Smart Agency podcast listeners a special deal to get you started. Sign up at Morphio.ai/Swenk and get 25% for a limited time.
Does your agency location determine its growth potential? How important is the location of your digital marketing agency? Do location and culture impact the talent you're trying to attract for your team? Can your clients expect better service if you're "local"? In today's episode, we'll cover: Why clients like a local agency. Why culture matters to your agency team. Tips for relocating your agency. The explosion of digital options has clearly changed the world, taking in everything from how you get your news to where you buy your products. However, in spite of all of the changes from digitizing the world, some things remain the same. One of those things is the old adage about location, location, location. I sat down to talk to Kaushal Kakadia, Partner and CTO of Birmingham-based marketing agency, SociallyIn, about the importance of your agency's location, for your clients as well as your team. 3 Reasons Why Clients Like Having a Local Agency SociallyIn started in a small Mississippi town, Kaushal explained. However, they decided moving to a larger area still in the same geographical region helped attract better clients. Some of the additional benefits clients receive from having a local agency include: Focus on the local market. We live in an era where brands can choose to work with agencies anywhere in the world, but in some cases, the local digital agency is going to better understand the local market and how to reach it. Building a network with local talent and vendors. One thing SociallyIn did once they relocated to Birmingham was to begin an annual conference called the Southern Social Summit. The conference attracts local talent and builds a network between marketing agencies and creative freelancers. It also provides networking for others involved in the equation, such as advertisers and vendors.  Avoiding time zone issues. There are times where a client needs to contact its marketing agency immediately and needs a quick response. This can be difficult if their agency is several time zones away. Why Culture Matters to Your Agency Team Culture is real and it is important, particularly if you're growing an in-person team. Providing a positive work culture for your team not only keeps your team members happy but inspires them to work harder. While there are many virtual agencies with fully remote teams, if you want to create an office-based team, it's important to establish roots in a location where you can find amazing agency talent. In addition to culture, Kaushal says there are other benefits to having an in-person team versus having a remote team, such as: Faster communication. Time zone communication doesn't only affect clients. It is generally easier to reach your team if they're in the same space than if they're in a different state or country. Reducing burnout. Work-from-home employees are at higher risk of "over-working" since there isn't a start and stop time. In an office, there are established hours and break times that keep creative minds fresh and allow them the ability to step away. This helps your team be more productive during their work time. Increased flexibility. Office workers can go remote easier than a remote team can go to an office. Your in-office team will consider it a benefit to have the option to work from home on an as-needed basis. Tips for Relocating Your Agency So, if you're planning to set down roots for your agency in a new city, what are some considerations that need to be made? Kaushal offers a few tips: Be transparent with your team, particularly if your relocation is going to result in the need for them to move themselves and their family. Plan the move in phases so that everyone has the time to make arrangements necessary for a smooth transition. If you're looking to grow your team in your new location, be sure to take the time to learn about the local creative talent pool. Once you get to your desired location, be careful not to scale too quickly. It is OK to say no to a prospective client who needs more than you are able to give. Scaling slow and steady is better than going too fast and falling on your face. Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency? Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you're a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits, and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out Gusto.com/agency for 3-months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.
Are you questioning whether you should choose a niche? Do you know your why and your passion? Have you gotten some great agency advice but rather go with your gut? Sometimes you just have to disregard the advice in front of you and answer to your true purpose in order to succeed. Even if it means ignoring your agency advisor. In this episode, we'll cover: How can an agency survive an owner's personal tragedy? When is ignoring your agency advisor OK to do? Is it time for an agency rebrand? Does your agency have Clark Griswold complex? This week, I had the opportunity to chat with Brantley Payne, Partner/Creative Director at Uncommon a rebranded version of the agency where he started his career in 1999. Over time and a series of life-altering events, Brantley’s role at the agency evolved from art director to copywriter to creative director and eventually owner. He’s on the show to share what he’s learned about finding the agency’s North Star and why he chose to totally ignore his agency advisor’s advice. (Don’t worry, the advisor wasn’t me!) How Can an Agency Survive an Owner's Personal Tragedy? In 2010, after 11 years at the (then) Glass Agency, Brantley was doing well in his creative positions but then thrown into something completely different and unique. The agency owner was diagnosed with a terminal illness and part of his legacy plans. Do you have a plan in place for serious injury, illness, or death? At the onset of his illness, the owner set a plan in motion for the agency to put into a trust and become an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan). The heads of Media, Accounts, and Creative (that’s Brantley) were to lead the daily operations of the agency. So they had all the responsibility, but just equal share of the rewards. How did the agency survive and thrive during this time? Preserve what’s already in place. Brantley said their first goal was simply not letting the agency collapse. This meant continuing the same quality of work and meeting with all their clients to explain the situation and assure them of their future. Their first goal was to stabilize and maintain. Define what the future looks like. What will they stand for? What do they believe in? How will they grow? What does the growth trajectory look like? Above and beyond maintaining, they needed to think about how to achieve next-level growth. After 5 years running the agency as an ESOP, Brantley and his now partners decided to start buying out the employee ownership. Brantley and his two partners haven’t looked back. When Is Ignoring Your Agency Advisor OK? After making the agency their own, Brantley and his partners hired an agency advisor to help them grow their business. Nope - it wasn’t me but I won’t hold it against him :) Ultimately, the main piece of advice they received -- one I don’t disagree -- is to choose a niche. How many times have you heard me say it, right? But ultimately, Brantley and his partners decided to ignore it. That was 4 years ago and Uncommon is killing it everything from retail to safety to transit and more. What they learned was their niche wasn’t a specific industry, it’s simply the underdogs who need their help. But, the real lesson was the exercise of going through the process. They learned who they are and who they aren’t. They discovered their passion -- and having passion is the only way to succeed. Now when taking on new clients, they asked themselves these questions: Is this something we want? Can we actually help? Will we treated as partners by this client? Are we passionate about this? Is It Time for an Agency Rebrand? Agencies are great at helping their clients with rebrands. But when it comes to helping ourselves with one it’s really hard! In 2016 Brantley and partners decided it was time for a fresh start for the agency in order to reflect their passion. They changed the business name to Uncommon and created a video to explain what they’re about and what drives them forward. It inspires their work, their team, and even their clients. A rebrand can be really hard to do for yourself. In fact, all inward reflection can be, right? It’s like my analogy with the frozen chicken and NASA. Sometimes you’re just too close to see what is holding you back. However, when you take a step back and look through a different lens you will make some amazing discoveries. Does Your Agency Have Clark Griswold Complex? I love this last piece of advice from Brantley. He referenced the scene in the movie Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase’s character Clark Griswold has high expectations for his light display with a drumroll only to be disappointed when the lights don’t work and deflated when his family isn’t impressed by his hard work (watch the scene here). Brantley says that’s what agencies tend to do with their clients. And we let ourselves get disappointed or deflated when the client isn’t as excited or impressed. (Like Clark’s family when the lights aren’t impressive.) Instead, agencies need to do “reverse Christmas.” Don’t try to surprise and impress your clients. Have conversations and involve them all the way through. While some of your presentation can have an element of surprise, it should not be a total shock to them. You’ll get better buy-in when they feel they’ve been part of the process from start to finish. Remember, it’s not about you and your creative genius. It’s about them, the client. Ease their pain points, solve their problem, bring them customers and they’ll love you forever. They don’t care about your massive Christmas light display.
Are you worried you can't grow a successful agency without a large team? Are you looking for a way to provide a better, more efficient experience for your clients? When it comes to running an agency, bigger isn't always better. In today's episode, we'll cover: Does agency team size matter? How to grow profits without growing your team. Why project-based agencies shouldn't take retainers. Today I sat down with Jon Paley, owner of The Vault, an ad agency/production company based out of New York City. Jon's agency runs off a fairly small team (10 people), yet manages to bring in 8-figures. He's here to discuss why he chooses to keep a smaller team and how he has used it to his advantage. Does Agency Team Size Matter? When I talk to agency owners, there are usually two metrics they use to measure success — profits and the number of people on their team. There's a common misconception that as you grow, you need to increase the size of your team. But if you've been listening to me for a while, you've probably heard me talk about the way a small team can work to your advantage. When Jon created his agency, he had one thing in mind, to remove the typical agency bureaucracy. With larger agencies, it often feels like you have to go through layer after layer just to talk to the right person. Jon knew if he hired the right people, his agency could do a lot more with less. Without all the layers and red tape, Jon can quickly determine if a client is a good fit, and if his team has what it takes to take a project on. In the end, the team is more productive, the clients are happier, and Jon can be confident his agency delivers what the client expects. How to Grow Profits without Growing Your Team I hear you, "but what if my client needs something my team can't do?" This is when it makes sense to work with freelancers. In most cases, the quality of work is great and you aren't stuck with the overhead of a permanent employee. So how can you make freelancers work for you? Determine who's essential on your team. Your account managers and team executives should be full-time employees. These are the people who know your brand, understand your vision, and help you build important client relationships. Build a database of preferred freelancers. Just because a person's not on your payroll, doesn't mean you can't work with them frequently. Create a database of freelancers who consistently knock it out of the park so you'll know where to turn first when you have a specific need. Why Project-Based Agencies Shouldn't Take Retainers Jon says he's noticed some agencies claim they are a project-based firm but structure their relationships based on a retainer. When you do this, you're not operating from a place of success. These relationships have very different demands. Many agencies move to a retainer structure because they want more predictability. But if you focus on building the pipeline full of projects, you'll find you can have the same type of success. Plus, you'll find many of your clients are referrals from previous project clients. You don't always need to focus on building a bigger team to find continued growth. Much of the time, it's not about how many people are on your team, but rather who is on your team. When you focus on quality instead of quantity, everything else will fall into place. Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency? Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you're a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits, and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out Gusto.com/agency for 3-months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.  
Do you know what brands want from an agency? What do they look for when deciding to work with an agency? Are you looking for a way to stand out in a world of "me too" agencies? Often, the best way to get noticed is to embrace who you are. In today's episode, we'll cover: The biggest disconnect between brands and agencies. #1 reason brands prefer working with niche agencies. 3 ways your agency can stand out. Today I sat down for an enlightening conversation with Robby Berthume, CEO of Bull & Beard, an agency collective based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Robby works with agencies and brands to help them come together to find the perfect fit. He's here to discuss what brands are looking for in an agency, and what you can do to win brand contracts. The Biggest Disconnect Between Brands and Agencies There's a lot of disconnect between brands and agencies. While the end game is the same, typically, there is a lot of disagreement about how to get there. Robby says, one of the biggest disconnects he sees is in the area of pricing. When a brand comes in with a set budget, agencies tend to just accept it as is. If we push back and say we need a little more or the budget is unrealistic, the brand may choose to go somewhere else. But what if you look at it from a different vantage point? Robby says pricing can help you gain credibility and earn a brand's respect. Sure you can tell a client you can come in at a certain price point, but you're not doing yourself any favors. When you're straightforward about the cost of a project and what your services are worth, you'll earn the client's trust. #1 Reason Brands Prefer Working With Niche Agencies We've talked about declaring a niche endlessly. I'm a strong believer in declaring a niche in order to separate your agency from generalists. And Robby says has found the clients agree. Yes, there are some brands that like to work with full-service agencies, but Robby says the split is about 80-20 in favor of niche agencies. Think about it this way. When you hire someone, you want to know they are the best at their job. You don't want a jack of all trades. When you build a home, you want a contractor, not a handyman. Brands invest a lot into agencies. That's why they prefer to choose experts over generalists. 3 Ways to Your Agency Can Stand Out There's no getting around it — brands have a lot of choices. If you're not careful, you can become just another "me too" agency. So what can you do to make sure you get noticed? Put in the work: If you're lazy, it's going to show. Before you talk to a client, do your research. Audit their website, look at their pain points, and be prepared with a plan. Let your personality show: By reviewing Bull & Beard's website you'll notice is it doesn't look like your typical agency website. From the colors to the typeface and even word choice, everything about the site lets you know who Bull & Beard is. When you let your personality show, clients are more likely to remember you when it comes time to choose an agency. Become a trusted advisor: Let's be honest, there are a lot of agencies out there that offer the same services you do. That's why you don't want to sell yourself as just a doer, you want to be the expert resource. Ask questions, figure out the client's problem, and provide a strategy for resolving it. This is your number one differentiator. The ultimate goal is to pick and choose who you work with. But often, we work with clients who aren't a good fit when we feel we have no other choice. When you put in the work to separate yourself and gain trust as an agency, that's when you'll discover you have true creative freedom.
Do you have a plan to protect your agency and team in the event of illness, injury, or death?? What would you do if your partner died? What if you were hurt or sick and unable to work? How much of your agency is dependent upon you for the day-to-day operations? As agency owners, we often think about our exit plan, but it's also important to plan for the unexpected. In today's episode, we'll cover: 2 things to protect your agency from the unexpected. The key to protecting your agency's acquisition. Today I sat down for an interesting chat with Eric Meyers, former CEO of a $40 million digital marketing agency. Back then, Eric found himself trying to navigate a pending merger as well as a transfer of ownership after the sudden death of his agency's founder. He's here to talk about what he learned through the process and what you can do to protect your agency from the unexpected. 2 Things to Protect Your Agency from the Unexpected Take a minute to think about what your agency's future looks like. Where do you want to be in 5, 10, or 20 years? Is that future still possible in the event of a sudden illness or injury of an agency leader? What about the death of your business partner? These things aren't fun to think about, but the truth is when you own a business you have to consider and plan for the unexpected. When Eric took the role of CEO at an agency, he never expected the founder would be involved in a tragic accident after only three months on the job, but that's what happened. As a result, the owner's family took control of the agency. From there, a pending merger fell apart and the agency went up for sale within six months. So how can you protect your agency from unforeseen changes? Create a Buy/Sell Agreement. If you have a partner, a solid Buy/Sell Agreement is critical. It protects both partners' interests and keeps things simple during times of uncertainty. You signed up to work with your business partner, not his or her family. A Buy/Sell Agreement helps ensure you have the funds to buy out your partner's family so you retain control over your agency. Purchase disability insurance. Would your agency survive if you had to take a sudden leave of absence due to an injury? Would you be able to pay your own bills? This one may seem obvious but it's often overlooked. It's a low-cost way to protect your business and your family. The Key to Protecting Your Agency's Acquisition One of the major problems at Eric's agency is the acquisition fell through at the last minute. This could have been prevented by a rock-solid Letter of Intent. A Letter of Intent helps all parties understand what they are getting out of the purchase of the agency. Eric says you shouldn't assume you can do it on your own. You need someone guiding the process and helping you navigate the unknown. It's even a good idea to make sure you have legal representation to look over paperwork and contracts. Another way to protect yourself is to set up an escrow account with the Letter of Intent. The amount in escrow depends on the amount of the sale. Then, if everything before the Letter of Intent turns out to be true and one of the parties backs out, the other party receives financial compensation. Don't forget, an agency sale is not the time to slow down. You need to keep your foot on the gas. You need to excel servicing existing clients and continue to fill your pipeline. That way, in the event the sale falls through, your agency is in a good position to thrive. Nobody likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but as a business owner, you have no choice. When you take the time to make sure you have the necessary precautions in place, you're investing in your agency's future. Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency? Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you're a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits, and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out Gusto.com/agency for 3-months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.
Are you looking for an efficient way to attract more leads? Do you want to get to a place where you can pick and choose your clients? Content is a great way to generate leads with your ideal clients. When you generate the right content you will find the perfect prospects seek you out. In today's episode, we'll cover: #1 way to increase organic traffic. How to get over your content creation fears. How to create more content right now. Today I sat down for a really fun chat with Jason Sirotin, co-founder of Brain Bytes Creative, a digital marketing agency. Jason spends a lot of his time creating fun, highly-opinionated content. He's here to discuss the value of content for digital agencies and how you can use content to see results right away. #1 Way to Increase Organic Traffic As agency owners, we all hope to get to a point where we can pick and choose who we work with. Work becomes more enjoyable when you do what you love for the people and brands you actually want to work with. But often, we limit ourselves to take on projects and clients that aren't necessarily a good fit because we need to make payroll or pay rent. What if you had more options? Content is a quick and easy way to increase organic traffic and generate more leads. Plus it helps establish you as a thought leader and trusted authority. It doesn't matter what type of content you create. You can write blog posts, start a podcast, or create videos on YouTube. The number one thing you need to do is let go of your fear of failure. Sometimes your content will resonate, sometimes it won't. The key is to just produce. How to Get Over Your Content Creation Fears One of the reasons people hesitate to put out content is their fear of judgment by the audience. But Jason says you need to forget about the haters. In fact, he relishes in the negative comments because they promote more conversation. Think of it this way, each comment counts as fresh content. This keeps your page relevant which is good for SEO. So don't turn off the comments and don't be afraid to put your opinion out there. Your words and wisdom will resonate with the right clients. How to Create More Right Now Sure, there is such a thing as bad content. But we all have to start somewhere. The more you put out there, the better you will get. The number one goal is progress. Jason says, right now, it's all about speed. You have to be reactive. If there is a current trend or a popular news topic, get your content out there and provide guidance or an opinion. So what if someone doesn't agree with what you have to say, maybe they'll learn something new or see things from a different perspective. When you create agency content, don't forget about SEO, but more importantly, don't forget to think (and write) like a human. Google is designed to give users the best results for their queries. You can help users (i.e. your potential prospects) make a decision by showing them you're an expert in what you do. And when you find the keyword that resonates with your audience, you'll see the leads come flooding in. There is no way to overstate the importance of content, especially in today's climate. The more you put out there, the more your audience will have the opportunity to view you as an authority. Let down your guard, brush aside the fear, and start creating. Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency? Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you're a small business. Gusto is making payroll, benefits, and HR easy for small businesses. You no longer have to be a big company to get great technology, great benefits, and great service to take care of your team. For a limited time, Gusto is offering a deal to Smart Agency Master Class listeners. Check out Gusto.com/agency for 3-months FREE once you run your first payroll with them.
Looking for a creative way to rapidly grow your agency? Wondering how to structure an agency acquisition without getting screwed on the other side? Whether you want to grow your agency through acquisition or are considering selling to lessen your risk liability, acquisition is one of the best strategies. And that’s exactly how one agency soared to $15 Million in under one year. In this episode, we’ll cover: 3 myths about agency acquisition. What motivates an agency owner to sell? 7 criteria of a good agency acquisition. How to avoid getting burned on an earnout. How to structure the best agency acquisition. On today’s show, you’ll get to hear from one of my business partners, Thomas LeMaguer CEO of Republics which is the agency we started about 10 months ago. The goal of the agency is to be the leading platform for growth as a service. In that short time, we’ve worked to rapidly grow the agency to $15 million through acquisition. He’s here to talk about how you can grow your agency through acquisitions, or set yourself up for a fair and profitable sale of your own agency. 3 Myths About Agency Acquisitions 1. You Need a Ton of Cash to Buy Another Agency Nope! Thomas says you don’t need money in order to buy another business, you just need some creativity. Also, banks are more willing to loan money to agencies that are in the $1 Million to $5 Million EBITDA range. Bigger agencies with higher EBITDA are a riskier investment for them because often those businesses are too reliant on their owner. 2. Small Agencies Cannot Afford to Buy a Bigger Agency Not true! As Thomas put it, a minnow can swallow the whale. The whale is easier because it’s stronger. Again, this is where creativity comes into play. The smaller agency is actually more nimble and can adapt to the processes and systems of the bigger one. 3. The Best Acquisition is a Failing Agency That You Can Turn Around Wrong again! You don’t need (nor should you want) to buy a failing business and try to fix it. That usually turns into way more work and headaches. The way we grew our agency was by acquiring profitable agencies with monthly recurring revenue, solid profit, and strong leadership. What Motivates an Agency Owner to Sell? Usually, the owners of solid, profitable agencies want to sell for one of two reasons. Either they no longer enjoy what they’re doing and feel like their only way to eliminate what they hate is by getting out of the business entirely. Or, they want to reduce their personal risk and feel like a more secure, stable “job” is better than the liability of ownership. Thomas says in either case, true wealth is built by a series of transactions. An acquisition can alleviate agency owner risk and help them get back to just doing what they love. 7 Criteria of a Good Agency Acquisition First and foremost, the only way for an acquisition to work is if both agencies are aligned core values. If the foundation is there, then we look at 7 specific criteria: Does the agency offer complementary services that we can scale? Are they at $1 Million+ in EBITDA? Is there a strong leadership team that will remain in place? Are they physically located in an area we would like to be? Does the agency have good financial controls? Is there 60% in monthly recurring revenue? Are they motivated and ready to sell? How to Avoid Getting Burned on an Earnout I used to advise agencies to avoid an earnout as part of their acquisition structure. But, I’ve learned an earnout isn't bad as long as it’s structured in a way benefits both buyer and seller. Thomas and I agree the best agency acquisition is one where everybody wins. A fair and honest deal beneficial to both parties is the best way to work an acquisition. And, it’s the way we’ve structured five acquisitions in ten months in order to grow from $0 to $15 Million. Learn from my mistake. When I sold my agency, I got burned on my earnout. It was tied to profitability within a specific time period. When time ran out (and the agency sold a second time) I got screwed out of the earnout. That’s why we don’t like to structure earnouts the same way. Instead, the earnout is theirs to gain at their own pace. When the agency hits its goals, we both win. The seller with their earnout and us with a more profitable agency. Of course, they’re motivated to earn it sooner rather than later which is great. Win-win! How to Structure the Best Agency Acquisition Deal If you’re considering selling -- or considering buying one -- but you feel the agency’s value is going to be greater in the future, you can still sell now without screwing your future self. There’s a smart way to structure your acquisition -- here’s how we’ve been doing it: The initial payout is half cash upfront and the owner stays on with us. They hold 20-30% of their own stock for future payout. Over the course of time, we grow the business together and they cash out their stock in the future at a 10X return. For example, if you have a $2 Million agency, you’re getting $1 Million in cash in the present and pull $10 Million in the future. We help each other grow and fulfill the agency’s full potential. As Thomas quoted an old proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Are You Considering Selling Your Agency? If you’re interested in learning more about the acquisition process and/or interested in possibly selling your agency check out: JasonSwenk.com/sellagency
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