Agency Advantage 48: Dan Golden on Building a High-Performing Team with Open-Book Management

Agency Advantage 48: Dan Golden on Building a High Performing Team with Open-Book Management

In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, we talk with Dan Golden (Twitter), founder and President of the 45+ person digital marketing agency, Be Found Online.

Be Found Online was recently awarded a spot on the Inc 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in America, and if that alone isn’t impressive enough, this was the 5th straight year they’ve had that honor, so they know a thing or two about growth.

What's open-book management and how you can use it to build a high-performing team Click To Tweet

Today Dan shares how they accelerated that growth with agency partnerships, but the real focus of our talk is how he and his team use open-book management to build a high-performing team that made this growth possible.

If you could use a few fully-engaged and driven employees, then don’t go anywhere because Dan lays out exactly how to get (and keep) them.

Download a full transcript of the interview with Dan: Get it right here.

Key Takeaways

Building an agency with open-book management [15:00 – 22:00]

After spending time at a big agency, Dan realized that for most employees, the actual business results are completely disconnected from what they are doing on a daily basis. Inspired by The Great Game of Business, he set out to empower his employees to affect change and seeing how their actions impact the business metrics. To do that, you need to open up your books.

Many employees, especially at bigger agencies, have the idea that the owners are making tons of money while paying everybody else peanuts. That is very rarely the case, but when they see huge invoices going out, it’s an easy conclusion to come to. By opening up the books, not only will they understand all of the costs that go into running an agency, but everybody will be fully engaged and working towards the common goal.

The level of openness you embrace is up to you (Dan doesn’t share individual salaries, but does list salaries by department), but if you try to hide things, you’re missing the point.

Why this matters [23:00 – 39:00]

Simply put, you can’t achieve your goals without getting buy-in from your team, and if they don’t feel like they have ownership in the company, you’ll never get that buy-in.

Part of this is as simple as getting them to treat the business as something more than a piggy bank. When booking travel, you don’t want your employees going out to $50 lunches because they can just “put it on the company.” You want them to not only see how that spending impacts the business but to actually care about that impact.

The other part is that this ownership mindset gets everybody aligned with your core values so that they can be fully engaged, working towards the common goal. It may sound a bit hokey, but there truly is a difference between businesses where they employees truly care and one where they are just showing up for a paycheck. If you want to build a great agency, whether that means big profits, a great work/life balance, or both, you need to get those employees who truly care, and open-book management is a great way to do that.

How to get started [39:00 – 45:00]

Dan and the Be Found Online team practice The Great Game of Business method of open-book management, and while they’ve adapted it to suit their specific needs, there is a huge community that you can tap into for help.

To get started, Dan recommends starting with books like The Great Game or Small Giants, talking with companies who have implemented it, and then testing it out with a small pilot in your own agency. There are going to be bumps along the way, and to make open-book management work you need to make a commitment to be consistent even when it seems easier to go back to the old way of doing things.

Transcript:

Dan Golden:

[00:00:30]

[00:01:00]

In 2007, I was at Performics, and we were acquired by DoubleClick and Google. The company was being sold off to [inaudible 00:00:39]. I felt it was a good time then to jump in with both feet and start for real. I had a partner company. It was an SEO consulting agency, and I was primarily doing paid search. We worked together for a couple of years and realized we were sharing clients and people. It tells you a little something about us. We hadn’t billed each other for nine months, and decided to sit down and merge companies together. That was the first of Be Found Online back in the very beginning of 2009.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:01:30]

Nice. The one thing that sets you guys really apart, in my opinion, is that looking over all the media, all the mentions of you, you’ve been on the Inc. 5000 list. I think it’s five consecutive years? Is that right?
Dan Golden:Indeed, sustained growth.
Andy Baldacci:How have you done that?
Dan Golden:
[00:02:00]

[00:02:30]

Great question. There’s a bunch of different answers for that. As a marketing services firm, or as an agency, you don’t see sustained growth without delivering really good work. Every agency goes out and we win new deals and new clients, and that grows, but oftentimes there’s a lot of agencies that are still out there doing that but are stagnant in terms of that top-line growth because you’re losing clients at the same time you’re building new ones in. Having a focus on client retention and quality, that’s step number one. If you don’t have that figured out, then none of the other stuff is going to work. I guess I would attribute it to a couple things, one, going where the food is. We launched, this is back in 2008, and we were at a convention in Las Vegas because we found a tub client, or a manufacturer of hot tubs, and we were their choice vendor for all of their different [dealings 00:02:48].

[00:03:00]

[00:03:30]

We were at a hot tub convention in Las Vegas at a diner at 3:00 in the morning, and literally on napkins, I’m not making this stuff up, in Vegas at 3:00 in the morning, we started building out a business plan of how we would go attack that market and how we would attack the local market, or the channel sales, finding more manufacturers. That was the original plan. Again, going where the food is, I had no … This all came about from a referral from my brother, who worked with … His company worked with another company that sold hot tubs, so we did some great marketing programs for them, and that got us into the vendor, and then we shifted entirely because we found another revenue stream that was much more lucrative and scalable. I would attribute our growth to finding trends or finding opportunities and jumping at them.
Andy Baldacci:What was that new revenue stream you found?
Dan Golden:Agency partnerships. I’m just filled with fun stories here, but this is a podcast, so hopefully this is making it interesting.
[00:04:00]

Andy Baldacci:

No, I’m fine with this.
Dan Golden:I was at the rooftop of a Cub’s game, seventh inning. For those of you that have been to a rooftop Cubs game, the libations, they flow freely.
Andy Baldacci:Right, they don’t shut it off in the seventh inning.
Dan Golden:
[00:04:30]
They do not. I picked up the phone. Who had called me, I made my best attempt to sound coherent, but it was someone I used to work with who saw me posting about what we were doing, and he said, “Okay, I’m at this new agency now. We don’t have any … We don’t do anything digital and we’ve got a pitch to do. We’re giving a pitch to Pep Boys tomorrow. I’ve been asked to gather some digital slides. Can you help me put some stuff together?” Of course I said, “Sure.” Missed the eighth and ninth inning, which a few years ago … I wouldn’t do that this year, but a few years ago …
Andy Baldacci:I was going to say I hope not.
[00:05:00]

Dan Golden:

[00:05:30]

… it was fine. I went by a coffee shop on the way home and stayed up all night working on a deck and analyzing their site and their web presence and putting together some recommendations. The pitch was given. I think there were a hundred or a hundred and fifty slides. The next day, we had three, three ideas that were in there. The client said, “We need to start on local search and reputation management ASAP.” I needed to figure out how to service as an agency, local search and reputation management ASAP. It started with identifying needs and building something around it versus, “I’ve got this great idea. I’ve got a product, and I want to go sell it.” It was really finding where those opportunities were.
Andy Baldacci:Right, you’re not trying to force a fit into the market. You’re saying, “This is already out there. How can I give them what they need instead of trying to get them to need what I have.”
[00:06:00]

Dan Golden:

[00:06:30]

Yeah, exactly. We shifted our model because we realized there were a ton of great agencies out there that do creative and TV. Every big agency list digital in their capabilities, but the stuff we were really good at between paid search and SCO and analytics is a gap that a lot of big agencies have. A lot of them still even to this day have a search guy. That became our model initially. Luckily for us, a lot of the contacts at larger agencies don’t say there is, as long as we’ve been lucky enough to retain our people.
Andy Baldacci:I see.
Dan Golden:

[00:07:00]

People would go to other agencies and bring us along, identifying the same type of need. Initially, the first years, that’s really what accelerated our growth, is finding partnerships. We were working on enterprise-level clients as a ten person shop, and if we had approached those clients directly as a no-name digital marketing firm, we wouldn’t get through the front door. It opened up a realm of opportunity that smaller shops don’t get directly.
Andy Baldacci:What kind of growth do you actually need to get on that Inc. 5000 list? Is it top-line? Is it employees? What do they look at?
[00:07:30]

Dan Golden:

[00:08:00]

[00:08:30]

Sure. It’s a very calculation, and I can speak to both sides of it. It’s a three year growth rate, so you have to have a minimum revenue threshold. I’m not sure exactly what. I think it’s a couple million bucks, and the ranking is really determined based on top-line growth over a three year period. In a sense, you can make that list with top-line growth and not be making any money. It’s certainly something we’re proud and a great honor to be included along with a ton of great fast-growing companies on that list. Something that we’ve actually shifted over the last year is being less focused on having to hit specific top-line growth numbers and focusing a little bit more on profitability and net revenue, which is more important to a business. Now, if you’ve raised capital, and there’s certainly a number of reasons why companies target top-line growth, and we do that concurrently, but yeah, the Inc. list is really just around growth and certainly sustained growth, because they look over a three year period.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:10:00]

Looking over the Inc. 5000 list, you see companies, a lot of them that have raised monies, so their motivators really are that top-line growth. Growth, growth above everything else. For you, though, do you have full ownership? Are there external investors, or is there anything else driving that growth externally for you?
Dan Golden:

[00:10:30]

[00:11:00]

Sure. We’ve never taken on an investment. I think the business models for a marketing services firm versus a technology are very different. Technology, SAAS platforms are really built for scale, and that’s how they make money over time. With a marketing services firm … Now, we are still planning to grow. Actually 2016 has been our biggest year yet, but if I get more profitable next year and we don’t gain any more revenue, I’m happy and our team is happy. I think there’s a lot of companies that need investment. With a marketing services firm, our investment is our human capital. Our growth curve is a lot more linear in terms of adding revenue and adding people, versus …
Andy Baldacci:I see.
Dan Golden:

[00:11:30]

[00:12:00]

… building a technology platform where you have to add a lot of people in order to build something that can drive revenue. A lot of those models only work at scale, which is why you seek investment to build and to scale. There’s a bright side. That’s how a lot of these billion dollar companies came out of nowhere, but it also puts added pressure on otherwise really good companies that are … You take on capital based on a … Every founder wants to get the highest valuation possible, but with those higher valuations comes growth targets and revenue targets. You force yourself into that cycle, and when things hit, when you’re a unicorn, that’s great. That works great for everybody. The founders, the investors are happy.

[00:12:30]

The flip side of that is a lot of companies that raise capital based on those aggressive growth expectations, when you fall short of that or if the market is shifting, a lot of those companies disappear that otherwise have a really great product that could service a segment of the market and continue to grow. We’re happy about where we’re at in terms of controlling our own destiny and focusing on profitability. In the agency world, an exit through an acquisition or investment, profitability, EBITDA is what drives a lot of the agency valuations. That is not necessarily the case, or definitely not the case for a lot of other types of business.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:13:00]

No, not at all, just like a WhatsApp or any of those huge mega exits. It’s funny because talking to you more about this, it seems almost like getting on the Inc. 5000 list five consecutive years, that’s great, but that was also a byproduct of the good work that you were doing. It wasn’t really the goal. That was something where it happened because you were going quickly, but you weren’t inherently just trying to grow quickly so you could get these accolades. Is that accurate?
Dan Golden:
[00:13:30]

[00:14:00]

[00:14:30]

[00:15:00]

Mostly accurate. I will say, though, that … And we’ve shifted this semi-recently. This might bridge the conversation around our open-book management approach, which is we would start the year and we would have top-line growth goals. To me, we’re growing … There’s a purpose behind it, which is not just to get bigger and make more money, although getting bigger and making more money is nice, too. With the type of agency that we are and the number of products … We grew up from being just a search shop, and now we’re a full-service digital agency. To build the infrastructure to service enterprise clients and to have strong departments in analytics, paid search, SCO, content marketing, social, we need to grow to build more of an infrastructure, so we’re less reliant on an individual person and more reliant on departments. We do have growth goals that I think align with a good positioning on the Inc. list, but I would say the accolades are really a side product. As we’ve grown and built out a management team and more infrastructure and processes, I still think we have significant room to grow. That is definitely not the only goal, and we certainly … What’s most important to me with growth and all of this stuff is to not suck as we get bigger.
Andy Baldacci:Right, to maintain that standard.
Dan Golden:

[00:15:30]

Maintains the standards, maintain the culture, more important than anything, because there’s many a tale of great digital agencies that got big and were no longer great. That’s, I think, the most important thing in all of this, is maintaining our culture and our standards, as well as staying profitable as we grow, much more important than any top-line number.
Andy Baldacci:We talked via email before this interview, and a lot of the stuff you talked about was how you invest in your people and the approach you take to management to make sure that, one, the big picture’s the openness, but two, to make sure you maintain those standards in everything else. Can you speak a little bit to that management approach that you attribute so much of your success to?
[00:16:00]

Dan Golden:

[00:16:30]

[00:17:00]

Sure. It ties in with culture and all of that. There’s a few, I guess … We’re big readers, so we’ve got the whole team reading Traction and the EOS system. The Great Game of Business has been a big inspiration, as well as Small Giants, a book by Bo Burlingham. There’s a Small Giants community, which is a group of values-driven companies, a lot of different industries that are trying to do things right. I’m going to the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit next week. We get inspiration from a lot of different places. I think if there’s a common theme that could tie all of that together is we want to do things right. Our investment is our people. If our people leave, not our investment, but the value of our organization and everything we’ve built is the people.
Andy Baldacci:They’re your asset.
Dan Golden:

[00:17:30]

Yeah, they’re the asset. I know how hard everybody works, and I know how much time we spend at work. I want this to be a place where people can thrive. Working hard and playing hard don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I don’t want everybody here living for the weekends and living for 6:00pm. That’s, I guess, what’s behind all of this, is wanting to do things right and giving people a stake in the outcomes. This isn’t all just fluffy, lovey-dovey stuff. There’s tangible business benefits we get from that.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:18:00]
That was one of the questions that I asked in the beginning over email. A lot of agencies say these things. A lot of them practice this. What about it make these not be just cliches? Everyone wants their employees to feel empowered and to do all this. What do you think you do to actually live up to those ideals?
Dan Golden:

[00:18:30]

[00:19:00]

Sure. It starts with information. There’s a lot of … I was at a big agency, and we would have quarterly meetings. They would talk about our EBITDA the last month or the last quarter and how we’re doing overall, but it was so disconnected from anything I did on a daily basis. I think the premise behind The Great Game of Business and how we approach it is to empower employees to affect change and affect those critical numbers as opposed to just, “Here’s how we did last … ” It was a good quarter or it was a bad quarter. I’m more concerned with getting our people thinking about, “What can I do to make this quarter awesome,” as opposed to, “How was last quarter?” The difference between … There’s a lot of different business philosophies. We’ve taken a lot of things from The Great Game of Business, and we’ve learned from a lot of other companies, and there isn’t one prescribed right way to do this. You’ve got to feel out your organization.

[00:19:30]

[00:20:00]

Frankly, we hit a lot of speed bumps trying to implement this. There’s a lot of learning involved. To me, it’s around empowering employees that they actually have an effect on those critical numbers. When I was an account director at a large agency, I had no idea what the company spent on health insurance. I think the assumption, without looking at the numbers, for a lot of people is that the agency owners and VPs are making tons of money and screwing everybody else. I remember looking at my book of business and how much revenue I was driving for the company and wondering why I wasn’t getting paid ten times as much. I think if they had taken me through the financials and explained, “Well, we’ve got to fund the sales team. That doesn’t drive ongoing revenues,” and the infrastructure and then the technology.

[00:20:30]

[00:21:00]

[00:21:30]

If I understood all that, I think I would’ve been less entitled as a young employee. It’s getting everybody thinking like a business owner and ideally giving targets. We have bonus incentives every quarter, and we talk every week about how we’re doing towards those goals. A great example, a year or two ago, we had a $20,000 gap to hit the next bonus tier in a given quarter. We went through every line [at it 00:20:46]. We’re like, “What can we do about driving new revenue?” People are throwing out ideas, and then we look at our COGS. For us, COGS are cost of goods sold, our technology platforms, and vendors, and our use of external resources for stuff. We had someone on our team, a junior analyst, who’s like, “We’re spending twelve thousand a year on XYZ platform, and I could pull those reports and just create a macro in Excel that can do 80% of that. Why don’t we cut that expense and put that back to the bottom line?” By getting people to think that way, that line in Office Space, “Is this good for the company,” that doesn’t work if that’s just a statement.
Andy Baldacci:If you don’t have the context in everything else around it.
Dan Golden:
[00:22:00]
Right. If you provide the context and show metrics of, “Well, actually that got us 60% to giving everybody a $1,000 bonus in the company.” That’s real. That’s a very tangible incentive, and it aligns with action.
[00:23:00]

Andy Baldacci:

All right. What we had originally talked about was The Great Game of Business, but it seems like you draw inspiration from a lot of different areas, and I’m curious to take a step back. Is your management style … Are you able to get this ownership from employees, treat them all like CEOs by just opening up the books and that’s it? It seems like there has to be more to it than that. Can you talk a little bit about ground-level, getting the buy-in, getting this on board? What do you need to do to get this ownership from the employees?
[00:23:30]

Dan Golden:

[00:24:00]

Sure. One thing I would say is consistency, and this is a … If you’re an agency owner or a business owner listening to this, it’s a big commitment because once you open up the books, once you start aligning bonus structures with company performance and all of that, it’s a lot of work. You’ve got to know that ahead of time. It’s scary to give that level of insight to everybody, especially the people who are going to be asking for raises next quarter.
Andy Baldacci:When you say you open the books, do they know how much you make? Do they know … How open are these books?
Dan Golden:
[00:24:30]

[00:25:00]

[00:25:30]

The one thing that we are … Salaries are not … We have a line item for salaries and benefits, but that’s the one thing … We look at it by department because we look at the profitability of our different products and departments. We’ve had a couple of single-person departments where it gets … Let’s just say you could draw the lines together. That’s the one thing that we don’t dive into, and there’s good reason for that. In terms of breaking down all of the costs, expenses, travel expenses, basically everything that rolls up to a line item, we’re very transparent about all that. I think we were going through our healthcare renewal, and we’re lucky. We’ve got an insanely great healthcare plan and only a minimal … I think it’s 6% increase over the next year, which is great. When we show people, “This is how much the company is spending on your health care,” people appreciate that more. It’s less of a … They’re like, “Oh, okay. That’s why we need to drive profitable engagements more so than … ” That’s why we need to hit certain numbers so we can keep funding all of this stuff.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:26:00]

Building on that, though, why is the transparency so important? It seems like that’s really the big driving factor. We touched on it here and there about giving context to decisions and all that, but I want to hear a little more why you think the transparency itself is so crucial to making this work.
Dan Golden:

[00:26:30]

[00:27:00]

None of the things that we’re trying to accomplish are going to work if people aren’t bought in, if they don’t feel like they have ownership in the company. I think one of the … In the engagement surveys that we do, we want people to feel like this is their company. Our people really care. When we’ve vendors that are trying to up-charge us, people get heated about it because they care. I’ve heard from dozens of our employees in different situations, when they’re negotiating with clients or whatever it is, I think there’s a lot of companies out there where it’s like, “Alright. I’m traveling. Just put it on the company.” We have that same approach with traveling. People who are traveling, they know what our expense budget. If we want more people to be able to travel, you don’t have to go to … We’ve got per diems guidelines, but we’re also like, “Go eat lunch like you would go have lunch. Do go have a $50 lunch because you can put it on the company.”
Andy Baldacci:Exactly.
Dan Golden:
[00:27:30]

[00:28:00]

That’s works on the flip side. We encourage people to … If we’re booking travel, and they’ve got a meeting in New York on Friday, and they want to stay the weekend, and we’ll fly them back Monday instead of Friday, it’s a two-way street. Because the company looks out for people like that, then they have more buy-in to look out for the company. It’s a give and give, not just a give and take. I think that getting that kind of buy-in and that approach is really hard to do because there’s a lot of different areas where you have to act that way. Again, it pays dividends to the bottom line, even if it doesn’t seem like it directly.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:28:30]

I’m curious. Why do you think it is that this open-book style of management, open-book style of running a business is so rare? I like when you said that … Obviously, you treat your employees very well, so when you show them how much you’re spending on healthcare, they see it. When they see what the office space costs, all of these sort of things cost, they realize what all these costs are and why just because you’re billing a big arm out to this client it doesn’t mean that everyone’s rich. A lot of other business may be doing similar things. Why aren’t they sharing this, too? Why is there that disconnect in other businesses? Obviously you don’t need to generalize, but I’m sure you’ve thought about it a little bit.
Dan Golden:Yeah. That’s a great … A lot of these …
[00:29:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Did you have any reservations before you went fully open-book? Was there anything that you like … I’m just curious why others don’t do it and if there are any reasons why you were hesitant to go this route.
Dan Golden:
[00:29:30]

[00:30:00]

I was just hesitant based on the … It wasn’t the sharing aspect. It was just the amount of work it took us to build these dashboards and to have … We’re a marketing services firm, so our hours and resources are our asset, so we’ve got a half and hour meeting every week with the full team. A half an hour, fifty people, fifty weeks a year, there’s big investment in doing this, a big resource investment. I’ve talked to other business owners, agency owners, and I feel like there’s a lot more … When I’ve talked to owners that’s don’t do this, they don’t think it’s a bad idea. It’s just it hasn’t been prioritized.

[00:30:30]

[00:31:00]

I get a lot of ahas and a lot of, “Man, I would love to do this.” I’m fine sharing the books if people ask, but it has to be a method of running your company. That, I really, I think … I’ve heard from a couple of very profitable companies, and I will quote, “I don’t want people knowing how much money we’re making.” I’ve heard that, too. I wish I had that problem. I think there’s a lot of different reasons. For a lot of agency owners, if it’s not a … There’s so many projects and priorities in an organization. If this isn’t perceived as a problem that needs fixing, very easy for that not to be prioritized. I guess what we’ve found is that this is the method by which we fix a lot of our problems and issues and opportunities.
Andy Baldacci:I want to dig into that a little bit because you talk about the problem it fixes, and I want to dig into that a bit for listeners who are tuning in and trying to figure out, “Is this something I need to do?” What problems do you see this open style of management fixing or at least preventing?
[00:31:30]

Dan Golden:

[00:32:00]

[00:32:30]

There’s a lot of stats out there on employee engagement and how very unengaged the workforce is and the loss in … There is money that every company on earth is losing because their employees don’t give a shit or aren’t engaged. There’s a lot of ways to define engagement, but there’s a huge amount of underutilized resources because if someone can zone out on lunch, take a two hour lunch because they can get away with it versus have an employee that cares, that wants to take that extra hour to work on a blog post for your company or something, there’s such a tough to measure but a very tangible benefit to organizations from having an engaged workforce. The problems in any company or organization, there’s a multitude, and certainly you could say, “All right, if people are wasting time,” then there’s obviously great platforms out there to track that. I’m giving you an opportunity to pitch here.
Dan Golden:
[00:33:00]
What we’re trying to do is give that level of buy-in, so I guess not trying to address one problem directly. It’s a, I guess, an indirect way to do that. Learning from … There’s the laws of threes and tens that we’ve talked to a lot of growing companies about, which is that every multiple, not multiple of three and ten, everything you’ve done bricks. When you’re a three-person consultancy and you start adding a few people and suddenly you’re a ten-person agency, everything that you were doing that worked really well when you were three breaks. When you grow and you hit thirty, everything that worked when you were a ten-person company, and we’ve felt this …
[00:33:30]When we were a ten-person agency, we would have an all hands on deck meeting, and we would run through all accounts. If we try and do that today, it’s … We did that. We were doing that, and then it was like a day and a half of meetings that all of us were in. The things that worked at ten don’t work at thirty. The things that work at a thirty-person company don’t work when you hit a hundred. I’m convinced, because we’re between thirty and a hundred right now, that there are other breaking points. The threes and tens isn’t necessarily absolute.
[00:34:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Right, that’s not the only one, yeah.
Dan Golden:

[00:34:30]

[00:35:00]

That’s part of it, is trying to address those things before stuff breaks. To build and maintain culture, we got to work at it. It’s not just going to happen. It’s not just going to happen because we have posters on the wall or we have happy hours on Friday or all the fun perks that we … We’ve got a lot of fun perks, by the way, but all that stuff helps. It’s something that you have to work really hard on, because that employee engagement is everything. If you’ve got folks that are burnt out and not bought-in, that makes recruiting harder. It makes your client retention lower. People waste more hours. I think every problem that an agency has could probably find its way back to that engagement. We’re trying to go after the source as opposed to fixing every little problem. Of course, we have to do a little bit of both.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:35:30]

I like how you phrase that. It reminds me a lot of … I spoke with Bob Ruffolo of Impact Branding and Design a couple months back, and his big thing I show company culture is talked about so much, but so rarely is it actually embodied in the way that businesses run. Like you said, you might have these nice posters on. You might have these random events and require everyone to go and this and that, and that’s not what it’s about, in that if you want to have a high-performing team of people who genuinely care about each other and the business, you need to build principles into the business that embody that and actually encourage that. It seems like a lot of what you’ve done does that, and having this culture where it truly is something more than just … You’re not just paying lip service to it.
[00:36:00]

Dan Golden:

Yeah. This is an exercise that we’re going through right now because it’s really easy to measure the health of the business from a revenue standpoint, but we’re currently brainstorming ways that we can measure the other things that really matter to us in terms of culture and engagement and employee happiness, really.
Dan Golden:

[00:37:00]

[00:37:30]

There’s a lot of different things that we look at, because it’s a really tough thing to quantify. There’s great platforms like Tiny Pulse to get a pulse on your employees. There’s employee engagement platforms we’re looking at. There’s general surveys. We’ve done a lot of … We’ve been on the Best and Brightest Companies to work for list, and there’s actually a number of those awards applications that actually give us a very good read from employee surveys.
Dan Golden:

[00:38:00]

[00:38:30]

Agency owners love to get awards and shiny objects and all of that. It is a metric on employee engagement. That’s one thing that I think businesses need to focus on, is measuring this stuff. We’ve talked in a lot of our meetings when we’re brainstorming what to do to make our people happy, how can we make things better for everybody, and oftentimes there are opinions that someone on our leadership team will express, and really that’s just feedback they heard from one person over coffee last week, and to get real data on what people care about and how they’re feeling about the direction of the company and how we operate, and what we can get better at.

[00:39:00]

The Great Game of Business, Jack Stack was built for a manufacturing company, where they wanted the line workers, the people that were … Instead of just management making suggestions, they wanted people that are getting their hands dirty and doing the work to be thinking about the company and what are the innovative ideas that they have. That’s really what’s behind it all, is we want input and ideas from anyone and everywhere.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:39:30]

It seems like you clearly have a system in place. I know you said there were a ton of road bumps, speed bumps along the way. You had some issues, but you figured it out, and you’re clearly evolving as you go on. It seems like you have the culture, the mentality that helps encourage that sort of employee ownership that allows you to do this. I’m curious. To slowly start wrapping things up a little bit, how can … Agency owners are listening to this, and they want to get started with this. They want to get these employees who really do care, who have that buy-in. Do they just open up their books and say, “Let’s do it?” How would you recommend them to ease into a system like this?
Dan Golden:
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[00:40:30]

[00:41:00]

Give me a call. Seriously, though, we’ve had other businesses and companies and partners to sit in on our Thursday Great Game of Business company meeting. There’s other great mentors and implementers out there that can help provide some guidance in consulting. It’s tough to figure it all out for yourself. I would say do some reading, The Great Game of Business book, tons of great books out there. Just talk to other companies that are in it. We’ve certainly taken our lumps along the way in learning what works and what doesn’t and how to message things within our groups, but we also got some great guidance early on that scared us away from doing some stuff that probably wasn’t the best idea. Test it out with a small pilot, because that’s … Agency owners, I’m sure you get the financial statements from your accounting team or from your CFO, and try and build a dashboard that … Frankly, the stuff you build to show the company is also really helpful for me as a business owner to keep a pulse on the business.
Andy Baldacci:What are the metrics that you have in that dashboard?
Dan Golden:

[00:41:30]

[00:42:00]

We look at … It’s really evolved, so we look everything. Originally it was just how are we tracking to in terms of top-line growth and overall profitability for the quarter. We’ve added a ton to it, so we looked based on different product lines, how is paid search versus SCO versus content, how are the different products performing. We’ve got a sales dashboard in there so the team can start getting visibility into who’s in the pipeline and what’s coming next. We’ve got marketing, talking about leads and what we’re doing. It’s turned into almost an overall business update. The piece I think we’re missing that we’re trying to address for next year is also looking at other metrics that define success, and this is where I think Conscious Capitalism comes in in that we’re not just about driving shareholder value, because I’m one of two shareholders here, is not the sole purpose of this organization.
[00:42:30]I say that as a capitalist who likes making money and wants to make more money, sure, but that can’t be the only goal of this organization. We want to kick ass and do great work for our clients. We want our people to be happy. We want them to grow. We offer volunteer days off. We’re closing on election day to get everybody out to vote. We want to do all these things, and you need to hold yourself accountable and measure yourself and your team against the things that you find important.
[00:43:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Honestly, that’s amazing advice. To wrap things up, you’ve talked a lot about your vision in bits and pieces, but I’m curious, what is your long-term goal for Be Found Online? Where do you see yourself in five, ten years? What would make you say, “Alright, this has been a success?”
Dan Golden:
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[00:44:00]

[00:44:30]

Sure. Our vision statement is building a better agency with serious integrity, which I think wraps in everything we’re trying to do. We’ve got the three and five year plan. We’ve gotten rid of top line numbers, so we’re focused on driving levels of profitability over time. I think we have room to grow within our existing structure. I think our hope is as we grow to continue being the best at what we do. I don’t know. This is nebulous. There isn’t a magic number. That being said, we’re not shooting for scale. I think we’d be very happy in five years building a sustainable agency that’s got a hundred or a hundred and fifty people and great book of happy clients. That to me would be a success. We’re well on our way towards that, talking about those employee surveys and metrics that we care about along the way. We’re obviously on our way to being a much bigger agency. I want to make sure we don’t suck and stay … Quoting Joe Maddon as a Cub’s agency.
Andy Baldacci:There you go. I’m a Boston guy, so I’m still reeling a little bit from the way the Red Sox went out, but I think for the rest of the season, I’m cheering for the Cubs, though, at least.
Dan Golden:All right. I will tell you, listen, we got Theo. He lives down the street from BFO actually.
[00:45:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Nice. Dan, you shared so much great stuff with us. If listeners do want to reach out to you or if they want to just follow along and see what you’re agency’s up to, where should they go for that?
Dan Golden:All right, thank you for the opportunity to plug and pitch. BeFoundOnline.com. We’ve got a blog. I’m actively writing on there. You can find me on the Twitter at @TheGoldenDan. My email is very complicated. It’s Dan@BeFoundOnline.com.
[00:45:30]

Andy Baldacci:

D-A-N?
Dan Golden:D-A-N, there we go. I’m very accessible, happy to answer any questions or point anybody in the right direction, and always happy to make connections and meet great folks.
Andy Baldacci:Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Dan Golden:Thank you. Have a great rest of your Thursday.

Want to learn more?

If you want to hear more from Dan, he actively writers on the Be Found Online blog, you can follow him on Twitter, or you can listen to the episode where he shares his email address.

Resources mentioned:

The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack
Small Giants by Bo Burlingham
Conscious Capitalism
Entrepreneurial Operating System
AAP: Bob Ruffolo on Why Team Culture Matters for the Bottom Line