Derek Hart on Building Up an Agency by Niching Down

podcast-61-derek-hart

Background

Today, on Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, I’m talking with Derek Hart (Twitter) of Get the Gigs who shares how to grow your agency by niching down.

Derek shares how he took his struggling web design business to new heights by narrowing his focus. Instead of building sites for anybody and everybody, today he specializes in creating awesome websites for professional speakers.

While today he has dramatically increased his rates and brought balance back into his life, the journey of niching down wasn’t always easy.

In this interview, Derek shares the struggles he had as a generalist, why niching down was the answer, his fears going into it, how he developed a true expertise, and how it has completely transformed his business.

I’ve talked to a few other guests about the benefits of niching down, but this interview is different in that you get to hear the unfiltered ups and downs of the transformation and get advice from somebody who has gone through the transformation themselves.

If you’re tired of getting beat up on price and feel like the client holds all of the power, then this is the episode for you.

Grab the transcript of my interview with Derek.

Key Takeaways

The life of a generalist

As a web designer who worked for anybody and everybody, Derek was getting beat up on price and constantly having to prove himself. He was spending so much time on proposals, getting on phone calls just to schedule more calls, and having meetings to talk about other meetings. At the end of many of those interactions, the potential client would say they were going to go with somebody else who was cheaper.

It was a waste of time and Derek was tired of it, but because he was just scraping by, he felt like he had no choice. He just had to sit back and take it, giving the client full control even though he was supposed to be the expert. He got into freelancer for freedom, but at the end of the day he wasn’t fulfilled because he was working long, stressful hours without much pay.

Why niching down was the answer

To help find a way to improve his situation, Derek started working with the business coach, Gene Hammett. From the beginning, Gene suggested he focus on a niche market, but Derek resisted.

“How am I supposed to make a living out of just one industry?” “I’ve got all these people from all different industries and they’re paying me money. Am I supposed to just tell them no?”

It felt like Gene wanted to take his entire business and flip it upside down. He would need new branding, new messaging, everything would have to change which is a scary proposition. After taking stock of the situation, Derek realized that something had to change and that he would trust the advice of his coach.

As he came around to the idea, he had a project come up for a speaker. He took the project and they referred him to another speaker, who referred him to yet another speaker. After doing a few of these projects and enjoying the clients, he decided that would be his niche.

Becoming an expert

It’s not as simple as just slapping on a label and staking your claim on a new niche. In the beginning, Derek took the transition slowly. While his new focus was on speakers, he wasn’t turning away other clients. As he continued delivering projects, he dove head first into research this new field.

In the first year, Derek estimates he read at least 50 books for speakers and started soaking up as much information as he could. If somebody had their finger on the pulse of the industry, he would listen to them.

The learning curve was steep as there was so much to learn, but as the hours of research piled up and he began delivering more and more successful projects, he became a true expert in the field.

A transformed business

Today, most of Derek’s clients come from referrals, so when they come to him, there is a reputation that precedes him. Clients view Derek as an authority, so instead of making him prove himself, prospects have already decided they want to work with him. The only question at that point is whether or not they can afford Derek.

With this new balance of power between Derek and his clients, he no longer has to spend days and weeks putting together proposals and taking calls before they even agree to a project. Now, within the first 30 minutes of talking he gets a yes or a no. If they say yes, he charges them $500 deposit for a strategy session to get the project started, rather than putting together a free proposal.

As an expert, clients are coming to Derek for help, so they fully expect him to take the lead and they understand that expertise doesn’t come cheap. In the 3+ years since specializing, Derek has increased his rates by over 300%.

Transcript:

Andy Baldacci:Derek, thanks so much for coming to the show today.

 

Derek Hart:Thanks for having me, Andy. I’m happy to be here.

 

Andy Baldacci:Today, you provided websites and branding for speakers and authors to help them get more gigs but you didn’t always have such a focus specialty. What were you doing before Get The Gigs?

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:00:30]

I was a generalist, basically. I was doing websites, graphic design for anybody who had a checkbook. I’ve done them for lawyers, real estate agents, retail, restaurants, you name it. All over the board.

 

Andy Baldacci:I know the answer to this question but I’m curious to ask this. I want to hear it from your perspective. When you’re working with so many different clients like how are you finding them because right now when you have that narrow specialty, it’s clear who you serve and how to get after them, but when you’re working with lawyers, realtors, restaurants, how are people finding you or how are you finding them?

 

[00:01:00]

Derek Hart:

 

It was a lot of referrals and I also did a lot of networking like going to networking events. There was a time when I was going to three or four a week.

 

Andy Baldacci:Wow.

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:01:30]

I did PowerCore which is a competitor BNI. To be honest, I hated it. I really didn’t like it. I really don’t enjoy going to a lot of networking events. Nothing against the people there. They’re all swell people, but at the end of the day, I’d rather be hanging out at home playing guitar, having fun, enjoying the rest of my life. It was just all word of mouth referrals and out there banging away at networking events.

 

Andy Baldacci:With that, was there a tipping point where you said something has to change? I mean what was it that made you realize you needed to do things differently?

 

[00:02:00]

Derek Hart:

 

 

 

[00:02:30]

 

I think I was frustrated in my business. There was no straw that broke the camel’s back or anything. There was no one big thing, but it was just years of … I did it that way for about four years and I think the frustration came to ahead when I think I was looking at the bottom line saying, “We’re just not growing that much. We’re stagnant and I am working so much for not a lot of money.”

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

 

 

 

[00:03:00]

I’ve talked to so many agency owners who express that same exact feeling where it’s like at the end of the week, you don’t know where your time went. You’re busy the whole time. You’re stressed. You’re feeling just the pain of it. Then when you actually look at your bank at the end of the week, the month or whatever, the year, it’s not where you want it to be and that a lot of people often will shut down the agency and go find a job. What made you decide to stick with the agency?

 

Derek Hart:That’s exactly the point that I was at. I was frustrated to the point where my wife and I had a real serious conversation and we decided like, “Look, I’m getting this right or I’m shutting it down.” I got to say that if I hadn’t transitioned to being someone who specializes, I don’t know that I would still be doing this. I think I probably would have bailed on it.

 

[00:03:30]

Andy Baldacci:

 

How did you make that transition because it’s not something, somewhere you just wake up one day like, “All right. I’m going to start working a web design for speakers.” How did you make that transition?

 

Derek Hart:My first step was not necessarily to niche with speakers. My first step out of all the frustration was to hire a business coach. Gene Hammett, I guess … I don’t know if you’ve aired his episode yet but I know he’s been on your show.

 

Andy Baldacci:Yeah. He was just on a couple weeks ago.

 

[00:04:00]

Derek Hart:

 

I hired him and the reason I hired him was because he specialized in web designers. When we did our first meeting, he hit me with this idea. He was like, “Have you ever thought about having a specialty?” I was like, “What do you mean? I’m a web designer. I’m a graphic … “ That’s a specialty, right?

 

Andy Baldacci:Right.

 

Derek Hart:

[00:04:30]

He started to sell me on the idea of focusing on a niche market. At the time, I always like, “This is crazy. This is absolutely nuts. I can’t do this.”

 

Andy Baldacci:What made you think that it was crazy?

 

Derek Hart:

 

 

[00:05:00]

I think I had this same gut reaction that a lot of people have when they hear this concept is that, “How am I supposed to make a living out of all … just one industry?” I’ve got all these people from all different industries and they’re paying me money. Am I supposed to just tell them, buy? At first glance, it’s intimidating to hear that. Also the knowledge that I got to take my entire business, flip it upside down. I need new branding, I need new messaging, everything has got to change. That’s some scary stuff right there.

 

Andy Baldacci:What was it that motivated you to buy in to this idea of specializing?

 

Derek Hart:

[00:05:30]

 

 

 

 

[00:06:00]

Eventually through the coaching, Gene started to just sell me more and more on the idea. He started telling me about some success stories of other clients that he had talked into niching. It was something that … I can’t say that it was like a light bulb came on that’s like, “I’m going to niche.” I gradually had to be drugged into it. Then it was a combination of being drugged into it and being persuaded to try it out and then at the same time I was falling into it by accident because it just so happened that a project came around for a speaker.

 

 I took the project and then they referred me to a speaker. Then they referred me to a speaker and then I was like, “I guess this is my niche now. I like these people and I feel like I’m doing good work for them.” After I had done a couple of those projects, I came to Gene. I was like, “I think I found my niche. I’ve done a couple of these speaker projects and I really enjoy it.”

 

[00:06:30]

Andy Baldacci:

 

It’s almost like the niche found you at that point?

 

Derek Hart:It did. It found me at a time that I was looking for a niche.

 

Andy Baldacci:Exactly. Do you remember how Gene overcame some of those hesitations you had with specializing because you said he sold you on it and dragged you into it a little bit, but do you remember what some of those arguments he made to help persuade you, were?

 

[00:07:00]

Derek Hart:

 

 

 

 

[00:07:30]

 

Yeah. A lot of it was just we do a lot of spit balling. It’s like, “Why don’t you try this in your business and offer this service and why don’t you try packaging it this way?” The more we started the talk, it just seemed to be a reoccurring theme that he would say is like, “Look, if you were niching, you could take this package and you could focus it in this way or you could rebrand yourself in this way.” The ideas just started to come together in a way that they were all around this idea of niching.

 

Andy Baldacci:It’s funny because in the beginning you said one of the reasons why you worked with Gene was because of his niche, because he worked with other web designers so that way in it all, you took a step back and said, “Hey, this worked for Gene. I could do this too.”

 

[00:08:00]

Derek Hart:

 

Yeah. I don’t know if I’d call it Ironic, but that point certainly was never lost on me.

 

Andy Baldacci:What was it that you saw in your own words as the benefit of niching down because I’ve had other guests talk about it and a lot of times, it was almost taken for granted that specializing is the answer. Specializing will make things easier. In your mind, what were those actual benefits? Why was niching down the answer for your problems?

 

[00:08:30]

Derek Hart:

 

The biggest benefit for me was escaping this zone of kind of being commoditized because I don’t think that there’s a surface provider out there who wants to be picked because they were the cheapest. That’s a love feeling actually. I entered out of college at early 2000’s when they were just plucking up designers and developers left and right. If you knew how to code or design, they had a job for you.

 

[00:09:00]

 

 

 

[00:09:30]

Then I jumped into out of my job, out of my own at a very different time in which there was a lot of competitions for designers and jobs were very hard to come by. In this span of just the eight years that I was in the job market, I started to really see how crowded the field had become and by then people were starting … The overseas work was starting to happen. If you want to talk about competing on price, you can’t compete with those folks. You just can’t.

 

Andy Baldacci:No, you can’t at all. Like you said, if your title is you’re a web developer, web designer, anything like that, that’s a skill. If you talked to anyone who has done … Mess around with outsourcing going overseas without much experience, it doesn’t usually work well, but it is moving towards more and more of a commoditized field.

 

[00:10:00]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:10:30]

Like you said, you don’t want to do that because if you’re going to the store to buy, say, any other commodity, if you’re going to buy … Just think of the normal commodities like corn. If you’re going to buy any … Like potatoes. If you’re going to buy a bolt at a hardware store, for the most part, you’re just looking for a bolt, you’re just looking for a web design. You think that they can just solve it and when that is the mindset, the rates are going to be how you differentiate yourself and that’s not a good slot to be.

 

Derek Hart:

 

 

 

 

[00:11:00]

No, it’s not. I was very tired at the time of getting beat up on price and I was very tired of this kind of … Another huge thing about this, I’ve never noticed how much time I spent proving myself to perspective clients before this. The proposals, we’re going to have a phone call, to schedule a phone call, to schedule a meeting about a meeting. I hate all that crap. I don’t know anybody who likes that stuff. I would spend all this time doing proposals, signing up phone calls, meetings and then it turns out, I was like, “Well, we found someone who’s doing it for a thousand bucks cheaper.”

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

[00:11:30]

I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right, in the traditional way of responding to RFPs or even just when someone is shopping around for a consultant, they’re nickeling-and-diming you. They’re trying to ask all these questions. You are selling yourself to them, but when you do have an expertise things shift because they’re coming to you for help. I’m guessing when you went to Gene for help, you weren’t interviewing a handful of business coaches, you went to Gene for a reason. Is that accurate?

 

Derek Hart:Yeah, that’s absolutely accurate. I would not have hired a business coach had there not been one who is specializing in web designers.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:12:00]

You’re thinking about solving a business problem and that’s why you go to a business coach. It would almost be crazy to hire whoever has the lowest bid. Obviously, you’re going to have some consciousness of price, but what you’re really concern about is value and at the end of the day that’s not the way you get that isn’t just by finding the cheapest provider out there.

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:12:30]

Right. Now, the shift that has happened is that when people come to me, it’s yes, we talked about the price quickly, but that’s not the mitigating factor. The mitigating factor is like, “I’ve heard you specialized in speakers.” The proposals, the RFPs, the meetings that drag way too long before you get paid, I hadn’t done anything of those at all since I’ve been focusing on speakers.

 

Andy Baldacci:Wow.

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:13:00]

I’ve had one person and all the speakers I’ve talked to is like, “What are you going to do, a proposal?” “I’m not going to do a proposal. I don’t see the need in it.” It’s having a conversation that starts from a standpoint of authority as opposed to, “Well, you proved to me that you’re the right person for this job and then we’ll talk.”

 

Andy Baldacci:Backing up a little bit because right now, I mean, when did you make the switch? When did Get The Gigs launched?

 

Derek Hart:It was around 2014.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:13:30]

You’ve had a few years of this. You’ve grown your expertise, your reputation and you’ve clearly figured something out, but when you first made the transition you said you had pretty much just started working with speakers, you enjoyed them, but you hadn’t had dozens of them. You hadn’t had a huge portfolio of just speakers. Were you concerned at all like maybe this isn’t the right path?

 

Derek Hart:

[00:14:00]

It’s always in the back of your head when you’re trying out something new. I felt good enough about it that I was able to silence just put those thoughts aside and the way I overcame that was by doing a ton of research about it. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read probably in that first year alone, I probably read 50 books written by speakers, written for speakers.

 

 

 

[00:14:30]

I read stuff by Jane Atkinson who’s a client and a terrific speaker coach. I read books by Michael Port, you name it. If they had their finger on that pulse of the industry, I was reading it, podcast. I just consumed as much as I could to try and learn about this industry that I was green to.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

[00:15:00]

I think there’s two sides. There’s first with a lot of agency owners and even freelancers that I work with. You always hear the fear of just picking the wrong niche when you can change it, when it’s not a permanent thing, but the other thing is that once you do settle on a niche, at least the time being, you then need to build that expertise.

 

 It’s not as simple as just slapping on a label and say, “Hey, I’m the guy you go to if you need to work on your website and branding and you’re a speaker. In the beginning that’s what it’s like, but you need to actually back that up with some expertise. You said you just pour through a bunch of books, did all the research you could, but what else was that like? What was that ramp up period where you’re truly developing this expertise? What was that like?

 

[00:15:30]

Derek Hart:

 

I mean, it’s like throwing a dry sponge into water because I was getting hit with so much information and I was learning so much. It’s like if you do anything, but that learning curve is like, “Wow, I’m learning so much, but then you start to get to a point where it gets harder and harder to learn new stuff. That’s the way it was. It would be like learning any other skill.

 

[00:16:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

Nowadays, I’m guessing the way you approach a project with your clients today is pretty different than how you’ve took those first few speaking clients. What is different about working with speakers than a traditional web design client than working with, say, a restaurant?

 

Derek Hart:As in what are some of the unique needs for a speaker as opposed to whatever else, sneakers or something like that?

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:16:30]

Yeah. Why does that matter to the speakers? What if they just want a “website” and they don’t really care about all this. How can your expertise actually help them?

 

Derek Hart:What I’ve learned is that speakers have to … They have to present themselves as an expert who is ready for the stage. I’ve heard a lot of the speakers that I’ve talked to on my podcast they say that no one wants to hire a speaker anymore, they want to hire an expert who happens to speak.

 

Andy Baldacci:Interesting.

 

[00:17:00]

Derek Hart:

 

 

 

[00:17:30]

 

Everything that I’ve done has gone back to packaging speakers in that way. Let’s say I’m putting together a website, I’m always going to be thinking, “Okay. How can we position you as the expert? How can we position as an expert who’s ready for the stage? How can we position you as someone who goes out on a stage? All the people can tell from this website that you look like you cost 20 grand.

 

 They got to look like they’re getting a tremendous value for putting this speaker on the stage like the speaker is going to come in and solves some real problems be it an organization or a nonprofit or whoever is bringing this speaker in.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:18:00]

When a client does come to work with you now, how do you … They’ve obviously heard that you work with speakers. That’s your reputation. A lot of them, I’m guessing, are from referrals. Is there some way that you onboard them to share this expertise with them and explain why this is so valuable? Why these things do matter?

 

Derek Hart:

[00:18:30]

Yeah. I have leads that I nurture, that come in through email marketing, social media, my podcast, referrals. One of the things I did early in niching and I think that it’s one of the best moves I made was that I made some really key allies in the business and I made quick friends with some folks that are influential that have a big name in the speaking industry who were willing to say, “Look, Derek is your guy when you need a website.”

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:19:00]

How did that change the relationship when people are now coming to you and you’re the guy because before I remember you said in emails, before we set up this interview, that sometimes it felt like you were fighting tooth and nail to get low paying jobs from clients who just want the cheapest, fastest solutions? Today, what is it like when a client comes to work with you?

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:19:30]

When our client comes to work with me, it‘s given that they’ve come to one of those sources of lead nurturing or a referral, there’s a reputation that precedes me and the tone of the conversation like I was talking about before is much different because we’ve already jump past that point of proving myself of being the right person. They come to me an authority to say, “Okay, look. I’ve got this problem. How can you help me out with this?”

 

 

[00:20:00]

Instead of asking those questions of are you the right fit for this job, it’s more like … They come to me pretty sure that I’m the right fit and so it’s a matter of, “Can they afford me? Can we get on a schedule to work together? Do I have packages that fit their needs?” When a client comes on board, typically within a matter of a 30-minute phone call, it’s a yes or a no.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:20:30]

Interesting. You’re no longer setting up phone calls, to set up phone calls, to set up meetings, they see the value, they want to work with you. They’re almost selling themselves to you so that when it comes time to closing the deal and moving forward, it seems like it’s much, much easier now than it was before.

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:21:00]

Another thing I did and this was another … I mean this is probably one of the best moves I’ve made in my business is that instead of any kind of proposals or having an onboarding meeting or that kind of thing, after we do our phone call to get to know each other, I schedule a strategy session with them that we spend anywhere between two and four hours. I charge them $500 for that. Then what we do is I say, “Okay. You got two choices what you can do. You can take what I’ve given you here and you can be on your merry way or you can use it as a down payment on your project.”

 

[00:21:30]Nine out of 10 times they’re ready to go with the project. I’m still using that time to get them good solid information and help them with their problems, but we’re putting a lot of strategy into it up front that’s only going to make the web project that much smoother.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

[00:22:00]

I’ve had the other guests come on to talk about that exact strategy and a lot of times it’s referred to as road mapping where instead of just giving a blanket proposal to someone, it’s a much more interactive collaborative session where they don’t need to go with you but you’re going to lay out everything that you want to do for them and at the end, you give them a choice of saying, “Hey, you can take this. You can shop around. You can do whatever or you can just stick with me. Let me run with this. We’ll get it through.”

 

 

 

[00:22:30]

I’ve seen different ways of doing it somewhere. The payment for the road mapping session, it doesn’t apply towards the project. How did you first come up with this idea? Was this something from Gene, from somewhere else or did you just come up with it on your own?

 

Derek Hart:It was something that Gene and I had talked about and I had also heard it from other sources. Given how much my hatred for proposals, it just seem like a smart solution. It takes, I think some guts to do it that first couple of times, but then when you put it out there and someone bites, there’s no turning back.

 

[00:23:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

That’s a huge shift from the proposal mindset. Instead of proving yourself and just giving away everything you have for free, you’re now saying, “Hey, this strategy is valuable and I’m going to charge for it.” What was that like that first time where you actually did charge for it?

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:23:30]

The first time I put it out there, I was like probably pretty timid about it. It’s like, “Well, we can do a strategy.” In my mind, I’m probably sweating bullets not knowing if they’re going to say yes or not. I’m pretty sure the first one I put out there, they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s get on a strategy session.” After you get that first one, it’s easy. It becomes second nature. Now, I do it and it’s so ingrained into how I onboard a customer that it’s just part of my day as waking up and having a cup of coffee in the morning.

 

[00:24:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:24:30]

 

It’s funny because with so many freelancers and agencies when a client comes to them they’re chopping at the bits to just get started right away. With this strategy session, the difference is that you’re saying. “Let’s slow down and make sure we know what’s necessary before we get into this.” Using expertise and saying, “Hey, this is the way I work. This is the way I’m going to get you the best results. I’m going to need to ask you some questions up front. We’re going to need to figure out your goals. We’re going to need to go all through this so that when we get the project complete, it is what you want it to be.” That is just such a huge mindset change from basically working with anybody who has an open checkbook.

 

Derek Hart:I think it’s something that’s come with experience for me and that I’ve done a project. I think we all have done projects where you just get a bunch of files and it’s like go.

 

Andy Baldacci:Exactly.

 

[00:25:00]

Derek Hart:

 

They always find a way to fail, to me. Now, I refuse to be put in that position. I’ve worked long enough in this business and I’ve built up enough experience that I can say, I refuse to be kind of just thrown something and have to work with materials that might be 60% there.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:25:30]

You’re the expert so you dictate, not necessarily the terms, but you dictate the way things are going to go because that’s your job. The client is coming to you to help them and if you are the expert, you should know the best way to help them instead of just letting the client takeover and just following anything and everything that they say.

 

Derek Hart:Right. When I was a generalist, that’s what was happening because you would get a client and they would say, “All right. Well, look. I need the website by so and so. It has to has this, this and this. Now, it’s more like the cause is, “What do we do? What do we do now?”

 

[00:26:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

With that mindset changed, how have your rates changed from your days of a generalist to where they are today?

 

Derek Hart:

 

 

[00:26:30]

They’re up. They’re up by a lot. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but when I was as short as just maybe four, five years ago, I was doing websites for 1,500 bucks. Even saying that out loud, I just cringe at the thought of it because that was just too cheap to be doing websites. Now, they’re at a price point of around $5,000, generally.

 

Andy Baldacci:Go ahead, sorry.

 

Derek Hart:I was going to say, I had to do a pretty good amount of adjusting my prices to make it fit in a speaker’s budget. For the most part, I’m charging now what a medium speaker would charge for a speech.

 

[00:27:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

Interesting. Do you do anything to anchor that price point in their mind? Do you compare it to how much they will make from the speech and that if they go with you and you get them even just one extra speech, it’ll pay for itself. Do you say anything like that?

 

Derek Hart:

 

 

[00:27:30]

No. I never really had to. Usually, I tell them the price and they say, “Okay.” Then a couple of them have said, “Well, I can’t afford that at all,” and that’s that. There’s only two ways you can answer when someone tells you what the price is like, “Well, I’m going to pay that or I’m not.”

 

Andy Baldacci:Before that wasn’t how things went, I’m sure, when you gave your clients the price because now this is what you charge. The question is does this fit in your budget because they’ve already said they want to work with you is now a question of if they can afford you, whereas before if they bought, I’m sure you would go back and you would change your price or maybe you would work on the scope or just work on it because you needed those jobs more.

 

[00:28:00]

Derek Hart:

 

Yeah. I mean, what choice do you have when you’re scraping by? It’s not a great position to be in professionally, but sure. Sometimes you get the living crap beat out of you on pricing and you just have to sit back and take it.

 

Andy Baldacci:Now, that you have this several experience as working with speakers almost exclusively how are those speakers finding you? Is it primarily from referrals? Are there other channels coming in? Where are they coming to you?

 

[00:28:30]

Derek Hart:

 

It’s mostly referrals. The folks that are more influential on the business, they’ve done a fantastic job of referring me. I also make a point to be active where they go for their meetings which is another kind of key point I would bring up as far as having a niche is you’re going to want to try to get invitations to the club house at some point and go to where they are.

 

Andy Baldacci:Interesting.

 

[00:29:00]

Derek Hart:

 

Ingratiate yourself to the community. In my case, I go to NSA which is National Speakers Association, not the people who frisk you at the airports. I’ve had a good run being a part of their community and they’ve accepted me as if I were a speaker.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:29:30]

How do you cultivate those relationships? How do you go to these events without making seem like you’re just there to land more clients? How do you actually genuinely build relationships like that?

 

Derek Hart:

 

 

 

[00:30:00]

I just go there and talk to people. I go there and I talk. I don’t force what I do on anybody. If they want to ask me what I do, I’m happy to tell them. That’s usually about all it takes. If they’re in the need of website, they’ll call me or maybe they’ll be in need down the road which is fine by me as well. I just go in and I just talk to people. Just put my hand out there and say, “Hey, I’m Derek. How’s it going?” Just let conversation take care of the rest.

 

Andy Baldacci:At this point, I’m guessing you’re not going to those three or four networking events every single week handing up business cards every chance you get are you?

 

Derek Hart:No. I would not go to one of those. It sounds cocky to say, I guess, but I wouldn’t get to a networking event unless there was a room full of prime candidates to work with me.

 

[00:30:30]

Andy Baldacci:

 

That’s the thing is that if you don’t have a specialty, if you don’t have a niche, it’s really hard to find a room full of people that you serve because you don’t even know where to look. You can look at the more generalist networking events where you have businesses from all over the place. You can look at chamber of commerce that type of thing, but is really hard for your message to resonate when it’s just so generic.

 

Derek Hart:

[00:31:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:31:30]

I think that if you’re doing any kind of service where you’re selling intellectual property and that’s what we do as agency hunters. We’re selling IP. If you do any kind of service like that, I think the world is getting to a place where you have to have a focus. If you’re an author, unless you’re Stephen King or somebody who can just write this amazing and most of us aren’t that person, I think you have to have a very narrow focus. I think if you’re any kind of coach, you have to have a kind of a narrow focus and I think that’s just where the information age has taken us.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

 

 

[00:32:00]

It’s interesting because you said that way when you first came out of school and you first were entering the job market, it was a time where designers, developers were getting hired all over the place. It was easy. Then things changed. I mean still in the development side of things if you’re in specific markets, if you’re on Silicon Valley, if you’re in New York, if you’re in some of those major markets, a generalist development shop can get clients without specializing but that’s not to say that by being a generalist, they’re maximizing their earnings because it still is a commodity. That commodity just has a high price right now.

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:32:30]

Right, or if you were someone who got in earlier, been around for years and if you built up that kind of capital that every Fortune 500 company wants to work with you, then more power to you, but it’s the same thing as not all authors can be Stephen King. That’s definitely the exception of the rule.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

 

[00:33:00]

It’s not repeatable so if you’re in that place, great. Congratulations, but if you’re not, that advice won’t help someone get there because it’s all about right place at the right time sort of thing. For people who aren’t in that place or even for people who are doing okay right now, but want to do better, want to increase their rates, it really seems like specializing is a good way of doing it. I’m curious, what is your advice to some of those generalists who are currently struggling to get clients, they’re struggling with being nickeled-and-dimed at every chance. How would you suggest them to get their feet wet with niching down?

 

Derek Hart:

[00:33:30]

I would say really try to hone in on where you’re doing meaningful work. When I started to try to do this, I wrote a Venn diagram in which one circle was I enjoy working with these people. One circle was these folks have the money to pay me. The other circle was I’m capable of doing good work providing good solutions for these folks.

 

 

[00:34:00]

Where they meet for me that was my niche. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of work involved, but I would say really zero in on where you’ve done the most meaningful work. Go back and look at these projects were meaningful. They went well. The budget was good and think about where you want to do more of those.

 

Andy Baldacci:For you, did you just right away put up a new website, change your brand and all of this or what was that transition like? I know you said you read every book you get your hands on, but what was the more public facing side of the business? Did you right away change that as well?

 

[00:34:30]

Derek Hart:

 

I did. Once I had made up mind that I was going to focus on speakers, I think I probably had the website in a logo up in a weekend.

 

Andy Baldacci:Wow.

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:35:00]

I just did it. I sat down and I was like, “Get The Gigs. It sounds cool.” I can’t say that I … I did put a ton of thought. It sounds bad to say that, but I mean it was one of the things that just came to me. I really hustled in and put it together quickly on a weekend, I think.

 

Andy Baldacci:Once that came up, did you … How quickly were you putting out content? How quickly were you trying to really establish yourself in your expertise in that field?

 

Derek Hart:

[00:35:30]

I would say fairly quickly. I should note that one of the reasons that I put that together [inaudible 00:35:28] I had to. I had a speech. I was giving a speech for an NSA chapter. I was like, “Well, I better have it together and have materials that I can leave with them in a website that they can go to.” That’s when I started generating materials.

 

 

[00:36:00]

I’m lucky and that my wife is great with social medias. She’s great with blogs, blog ideas and so she would come up with a list like here’s 10 things of blog topics for you to write on. I did start cranking out content pretty quickly I would say.

 

Andy Baldacci:At that point were you turning away non-speaker clients?

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:36:30]

Not really. That’s another thing that I would point out is that if you’re the one calling the shots, you don’t have to say no to anybody you don’t want to say no to. If you still want to work with people that are outside of your niche, there’s nobody stopping you. I wouldn’t say that I just basically called everybody who wasn’t a speaker and is like, “All right. We’re done here.” I phase them out for the most part.

 

 

 

 

[00:37:00]

Some of them left through attrition and then some of them I did have conversations with and just say, “Look, I’m not your guy anymore.” Then some of them I said, “All right. I’m going to do this for another two or three months while you find the right solution.” Then a couple of them I kept because they were good clients and they paid well and they paid the bills on time. Especially starting out in this new niche, there’s no reason for me to get rid of something that was paying the rent.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

[00:37:30]

I think that’s one of the biggest fears a lot of agency owners have when they niche down is that like you said, “I’m serving all of these different markets I can’t just no to everybody.” While you’re changing your marketing, you’re the one making rules. You don’t actually have to say no to them. Your goal should be to phase out the clients that don’t pay well, don’t treat you well that aren’t fun to work with, but if you have a great client, is paying their bills on time, you’re happy with their rates, you don’t need to let them go.

 

 

 

 

[00:38:00]

Speaking to your other point about putting up the site right away, I’ve also spoken with other agency owners who have made the transition a bit more slowly and I’ve just tossed up a simple landing page while figuring things out and while testing the waters to make sure something was there and done the transition from their core business slowly over to the specialized business as more and more clients come in.

 

 I think whatever works for you is fine, but at the end of the day, I really do think you hit it on the head is that you’re the one making the rules so don’t let some of these fears stop you from trying these things out because if it doesn’t work, you can go back to what you’re already doing but if you’re not happy with what you’re doing right now, you should probably try something else.

 

[00:38:30]

Derek Hart:

 

Right. To me that whole experimenting inside your business is what makes it fun to get up and hit work every day. Why would you ever want to stop experimenting and trying new things within your business? To me that would get really boring and you’d end up really hating your job or at least I would I think.

 

[00:39:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

I mean, so many of us get into the creative services industry to get away from the traditional job, but then we look down a couple of years later and we have a job that often doesn’t even pay that well. You owe it to yourself to experiment, to try to build a better agency for yourself.

 

Derek Hart:

[00:39:30]

Look, I kicked around other niches and they weren’t good ideas. I let them down the vine and then I think that’s the way you got to approach making this kind of transition is do some experimenting. Try things out. Try a bunch out here and there. You wouldn’t just go on a date with somebody and then marry him. You date a couple of people and find the one who’s the right choice for you.

 

Andy Baldacci:Exactly. It doesn’t have to be forever right away. Make sure it works before really committing to it.

 

Derek Hart:Absolutely.

 

[00:40:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

Before we wrap up, I like to ask all of my guest a few just rapid fire questions. The questions will be quick, but your responses don’t have to be. Don’t worry about over thinking them, anything like that.

 

Derek Hart:All right.

 

Andy Baldacci:The first one is just what do you spend too much time doing?

 

Derek Hart:

 

[00:40:30]

I spend too much time, believe it or not designing and developing. I think I’m at my best when I’m doing strategy work for clients and so one of my big goals in 2017 is to find a developer that I can work with who’s way better than me and find a designer who’s way better than me and put their talents to good use.

 

Andy Baldacci:Interesting. If you had all that time back, what would you spend it on? What are you currently not spending enough time on?

 

Derek Hart:I probably hike and play guitar more and not being in front of a computer and also do things to promote the business.

 

[00:41:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

Do the higher value task that don’t necessarily take a lot of time, but they let you leverage your most valuable assets?

 

Derek Hart:Right.

 

Andy Baldacci:That also ties in pretty well to my last question is what are the long term plans for Get The Gigs?

 

Derek Hart:

[00:41:30]

My long term plans are to completely dominate the market for speakers, for websites, for speakers. Eventually, I’d like to get to a point to where in a month, every quarter whenever it happens, I enroll six to 10 people at one time and I put them through a website boot camp. Then a couple of days, they walk away with a website using framework that I built and getting help from designers that are on my team.

 

Andy Baldacci:How far down the road do you think that is?

 

Derek Hart:I have very high hopes for doing one in 2017.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:42:00]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:42:30]

Awesome. If you do, let me know. I’ll get a link up there for everyone if they want to check that out, but I want to say just thanks so much for sharing everything with us today, Derek. I want to say we covered a lot. This is something that I’m pretty passionate about because I’ve seen how much of a difference in can make just in making it easier to find clients and also in finding good clients that you actually want to work with because at the end of the day, like you said, the rest of your life is important is not all work and if that can’t be enjoyable then you should probably reevaluate things. I think specializing is a good way to do that. Before we do say goodbye, if listeners want to follow your journey or just learn more about you, where is the best place for them to go?

 

Derek Hart:They can go to getthegigs.com and I have a podcast on there. I’m active on Twitter. Fairly active, I guess. That’s where they can find me.

 

Andy Baldacci:Awesome. We’ll make sure you get all of that linked up in the show notes. I just want to say thanks again, Derek for joining us today.

 

Derek Hart:Thanks for having me, Andy.

 

Resources mentioned