Agency Advantage 56: Samuel Thimothy on Launching a Product by Scratching Your Own Itch

Header image for Agency Advantage podcast with Samuel Thimothy

In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, I’m talking with Samuel Thimothy of OneIMS who shares how his agency launched a successful product business.

Samuel and his brother Solomon founded the marketing agency back in 2006. Since then they have grown tremendously while generating remarkable returns for their clients. Their company has taken some clients from obscurity to authority, eventually leading to a successful acquisition.

Like many digital agencies, it took a lot of tools for OneIMS to get their job done. They tried to simplify their process as much as they could, but still found themselves using multiple disjointed tools, creating reports, and connecting all of the dots.

To scratch their own itch, they developed a platform internally to replace all of these various tools and streamline their efforts. The team knew they were onto something and spun the platform out as a stand-alone product, ClickX.

Today Samuel is here to talk about how getting rid of the third party tools transformed relationships with clients, how they managed to launch a SaaS company while growing their service business, and the challenges they faced along the way.

If you spend almost as much time piecing together reports from dozens of tools, or you want to launch a product of your own, this is the episode for you.

Get a full transcript of the interview with Samuel.

Key Takeaways

Scratch your own itch (7:00 – 13:30)

Like many digital agencies, it took a lot of tools for OneIMS to get their job done. They tried to simplify their process as much as they could, but still found themselves using multiple disjointed tools, creating reports, and connecting all of the dots. Paying for all of these tools wasn’t cheap, and combining those costs with the inefficiencies of the reporting process was having a significant effect on their profitability.

They knew something needed to change, but after trying dozens of other “solutions,” they found that nothing worked the way they needed. So they built a tool that truly solved the problem they (and other agencies) faced. Since they were scratching their own itch, they knew how to make things more efficient for agencies while easily giving clients the data they wanted.

By already having proven processes and a systematic methodology for doing the work, they were able to create a great product. If you’re building a tool for a market that you aren’t in, you simply won’t have that advantage. And trust me, if you’re thinking about creating a product yourself, you want every advantage you can get.

Building better relationships with their clients (18:30 – 20:30)

When you scratch your own itch, not only are you increasing the chance of solving a problem that other people have, but by solving your own problem, you are actively building a stronger business.

At OneIMS, they saw three main improvements:

First, this saved them hours of work every single week, which allowed them to spend more time on ROI generating tasks for their clients while increasing their own profitability.

Second, clients now had all of the data they could want at their fingertips, which let them easily see the progress OneIMS was making.

Third, because clients already have all the data, in their monthly meetings, Samuel and his team could jump right into strategy discussions and focus on what they should be changing and how it’s impacting the business. The more you can talk with your client about how to grow their business, the happier they will be, so this was a big win for OneIMS and their clients.

If you want to grow, you can’t treat it like a side project (23:00 – 29:30)

In the beginning, if you are just building a tool for internal use, it may not make sense to set aside dedicated resources to tackle the project. If you decide that you’re onto something and want to turn your tool into a stand-alone product, then it’s time to stop treating it like a side project and give it the resources it needs to grow.

Since the tool made OneIMS more operationally efficient, Samuel’s co-founder was able to step away from the agency and focus exclusively on growing the product, ClickX. By creating separate roles for the two founders, they are able to give both sides of the business the attention they need to grow.

Since OneIMS had healthy cash flow, they were able to do all of this without seeking external investment. If your agency is struggling, that may not be an option. If that’s the case for you, you can consider external funding, but I would strongly recommend against trying to grow your agency while also building a product. Instead, focus on improving the efficiency of your agency so that you can get your cash flows where they need to be to truly support a dedicated effort to launch a product.

Transcript:

Andy Baldacci: Samuel, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it.
Samuel Timothy: Well, thanks for having me, Andy. I appreciate the opportunity.
Andy Baldacci: We were talking before. and OneIMS, your agency, has a really interesting story. You originally started out as a creative agency, you’ve transitioned into an inbound agency, and you also now have started offering a SaaS product. So let’s start from the beginning. How did you make that first transition from the creative side to the digital marketing, inbound marketing side?
[00:00:30]

Samuel Timothy:

[00:01:00]

Certainly. I mean, it’s a story of evolution for sure. We started as you had described, as a creative agency. We were making beautiful websites for clients, and they were very happy, and then later on, they’d keep coming back to us and say, “Well, Samuel, you guys did a great job in getting us a website, but that just doesn’t do any good for us. It doesn’t generate business, so what do we do with this?” So we kind of quickly had to evolve into becoming an online marketing agency, and so we brought on technical experts who are specialized in SEO and paid search and then brought that expertise in-house and started offering online marketing as a service to our clients.
So from just offering websites and creative design work, we went on to becoming more of a marketing agency that offered quality inbound marketing services. So that’s essentially how we kinda transitioned into that inbound agency.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:01:30][00:02:00]
That’s interesting because I’ve talked to a lot of agency owners who ran into similar problems where they would deliver whatever service it was the client came to them for, but at the end of the day, if the client wasn’t making more money, if the client’s business sells on the success, they weren’t gonna be a client for long. One of the good examples I used was Johnathan Dane. He runs a PPC agency, and he’s saying so many of these pay-per-click shops, they’ll drive a ton of traffic and then they just leave you alone, but if the end client can’t convert those leads to business, it doesn’t really matter, and it seems like the same thing. You can build the most beautiful website, the fastest loading response of everything in there, but if it doesn’t help their business, then they’re not gonna stick around for that long.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:02:30]

Exactly. I mean, a beautiful website just operating as a brochure doesn’t do any good these days. I mean, I think it did work in the beginning, and when people were kind of getting used to having a website, it was kind of like a thing to check off on their marketing to-do list and that was about it, but I think once everyone started seeing people are actually using Google to find businesses and to do business with, then they realized, “Well, we have to use our website as a marketing engine, as a sales engine, to drive new business.” So that’s essentially how we aligned our business to support our client’s request, and I think that was a good move on our part at the time.
Andy Baldacci: Right. So when you make this move and you bring in new help, when you expand your staff and you start offering all these new services, how do things change internally? What is it like now managing so many different sides to your business?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:03:00]

[00:03:30]

Oh, man. It definitely was a good move but we didn’t realize how complicated of an offering is online marketing. I mean, if you think about, it’s pretty easy. Oh, okay, “We offer SEO, paid search, and social,” right? I mean, it sounds pretty simple, but there’s a lot of intricacy to every component of that. I mean, almost each of those service can be turned into a business of its own. Then on top of that, you add the complexity of how fast this market is changing with all the algorithm changes that Google has and how rapidly all the online marketing industry is evolving. You kind of have to keep pace with all that industry change as well. So it was a big challenge. That’s exactly the reason why we wanted to bring the top talent, because we knew we weren’t gonna be that expert to do the job, so we brought on that experts to help us to accelerate our growth.
Andy Baldacci: How long ago was it that you made this change into becoming kind of a full digital agency?
Samuel Timothy: Around 2007, 2008 is when we actually started heavily focusing on online marketing as our primary service offering.
[00:04:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Mm-hmm. Once you made that change, you said it was a big adjustment getting used to having all these different services under your belt, and as you get more comfortable with that, as you start delivering all of these different services to the client, did you hit any bottlenecks? Were there any early struggles where you said, “Wow, this a lot harder than we expected?”
Samuel Timothy:

[00:04:30]

We did. We did. I think the biggest thing is, especially with online marketing, it’s not just a creative service, right? I mean, there’s creativity, and then there’s also analytics, and you have a lot of things that you have to put together to make an effective online marketing strategy for clients. So we were doing a ton of research. We were doing an analysis of data that’s being collected, and we were also having to report on these information, and then we have all these different variety of clients in different industries, and we’re having to learn their industry to be able to produce content for them and then also understand what their buyers and buyer personas are actually looking for, and then aligning our strategy to meet that persona.
[00:05:00] So there’s a whole lot of stuff going on that we didn’t really see initially going into it, so we were essentially becoming an extension of our client’s marketing department, so we’re having to adapt to their business, understand their business, and then actually work as if we’re actually their internal team. So it was a great experience, but nonetheless, I think it taught us a lot in terms of what we have to do in terms of our business to become more efficient and operationally efficient.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:05:30]

Right. I mean, when there’s so many different services going on, and when there’s so many different stakeholders, then, like you’ve said, you’re almost an extension of their marketing team, or you’re almost an extension of their marketing department. It does bring in a lot of not to say uncertainty, but there’s a lot of processes competing with each other and there’s a lot of things you need to figure out, and one of the things we have talked about before this call was about just the difficulties of reporting on what was going on because, like you said, the clients ultimately want results.
Samuel Timothy: Correct.
Andy Baldacci: So what was it like reporting on the results for all of these different services?
[00:06:00]

Samuel Timothy:

Exactly. I think if we are to break it up into two aspects, right? So when we bring on a client, there is that research stage and the campaign management stage, and then the other side of it is the performance monitoring and reporting. So when you do any kind of marketing most of the time, when people, whether they’re buying traditional media or they’re doing some direct mail campaign or something, there are some tangible things that they get, right?
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:06:30]

So with the digital marketing, a lot of what we do is behind the scenes, behind a computer, that the clients really don’t get to see, and then they get very antsy, right? They get very anxious as to what are these guys-
Andy Baldacci: Yeah, are they working? What are they working on? What are they doing?
Samuel Timothy: Exactly.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah.
Samuel Timothy: Exactly. So we were spending way too much in the initial phase of onboarding a client and researching, determining exactly what the course of action was to make this client the industry leader in that market space. So we do all this research, and it’s all behind the doors, and the client doesn’t necessarily have any access into it, so that actually created some tension between us and the client, and especially just trying to build that trust.
[00:07:00]

[00:07:30]

Then, from an ongoing marketing campaign management standpoint, there was also a lot of time being spent on just trying to report on numbers as opposed to making the numbers. So we were actually just draining a lot of hours of our retainer just running customer reports, grading customer presentation, meeting with the clients, and sharing these things on a call, whether it be face to face or web meetings and things like that. So that also was taking away a lot of our efficiency that we needed to have in our business to be more profitable and things like that. So those were some challenges that we ran into in our early days of building this business.
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm. At the end of the day, when you are reporting on these services to the client, what are the numbers that they’re really caring about? Like, what are the types of reports you’re running? Are these the backlinks of your rank? It’s, like, what are the kind of nitty-gritty tools that you’re using and balancing in all of this?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:08:00]

Yeah. So I think there are Lag measures and Lead measures, right? So at the end of the day, the clients don’t really care about the backlinks or they don’t care about keywords or any of those things. They really care about, “Did my phone ring, and was that a quality call? Did I make a sale?”
[00:08:30] That’s essentially what they’re looking for, but we, especially as we’re building up this machine, this inbound marketing machine, we have to show some progress. So that progress is where we can show that, “Hey, what we’re doing is working toward the right direction. We’re going in the right direction, but it may not be impacting the business today, but we know that the progress report that we’re seeing is a good report, right?”
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:09:00]

So we had to have system-end processing in place and even tools in place to be able to show that we’re making the right progress. So that’s the kind of report that we are producing, so this would be keyword position report. We will show an engagement report on the content that we’re producing. We will show you the social shares, and also the one you refer to as the backlink, that’s also something we refer to as, “Hey, there is people consuming your content and they’re willing to share this content,” and that’s also an indication that what we’re doing is working, so all those kind of things, and ultimately we’re gonna show traffic and leads and conversion and if they are open to sharing whether those calls turned into business, then we have that insight as well.
[00:09:30] So there’s a whole lot of intelligence available. I think the best thing about online marketing: there’s so much numbers that you can collect, but then it’s just overwhelming, right? What’s actionable numbers? I mean, you can have information about visits and leads and conversions, but if you can’t really act on that information, it’s useless. So we wanted to make sure that the information that we’re gathering is actionable and that it’s providing us intelligence on how to make our campaigns more effective, and at the same time, giving our clients the peace of mind that, “Hey, this is working.” So that’s essentially where we were trying to do.
Andy Baldacci: Was there a certain point where you stopped and you were like, “Wait. Why are we spending so much time reporting on the data rather than actually delivering better results?” Or “Why are we spending so much time reporting on the campaign than actually improving the campaign?”
[00:10:00]

Samuel Timothy:

[00:10:30]

Yeah, so I think it did cross our minds, and also, in terms of even our actual building out the campaign, too, we were spending way too much time and we had way too many tools. I mean, just to give you an idea, if you were just talking about search engine optimization, for an example, you have to have a keyword research tool to really find out what are the right keywords that you should be targeting. Then you need to do a competitive analysis. You need to know, “Who are the competitors in the market space that we’re competing against,  what are the keywords that they’re using?” Then you need a backlink analysis tool to see,”Hey, where can we get good mentions of this client’s branch and where are the competitors getting mentions?” You also need to track the keyword progress, and you need to monitor the reviews and reputation for that brand. You need to manage the business listings. I mean, there’s already probably five or six tools that you need just to do just organic search.
[00:11:00] Now if I’m talking about call tracking and performance reporting, and then if I wanted to also do social publishing, and if I’m managing paid search, so there’s a whole lot of tools that you have. All these disjointed tools are all producing data, but then you somehow have to make sense of this data and then also have to act on that information and then report it to the  client and say, “Hey, all this stuff that we’re collecting is helping us do do your campaign a lot better and this is what the insight is,” right? “Here’s all the information that we have.” So that was a big challenge that we had, and I don’t know if that really answered your question.
[00:11:30]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:12:00]

No, and I think that’s something where most agency owners, especially just who are doing a bit of everything, they see that as normal. They’ve almost come to accept that that’s just the way things are because all of these tools make their jobs better, but when they take a step back and actually really look at it, while these do solve bits and pieces, there’s a lot of overhead to using all of those tools, and so you guys were a bit different in that, obviously. You had all those tools, but at one point, you realized there has to be a better way, and you started working to solve this problem. Can you talk to that?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:12:30]

Certainly, yeah. I mean, from the one sense, obviously we were spending way too much money on the separate tools, so that was definitely a problem, and then from another sense, we saw that we had some operational inefficiencies because we needed a systematic way to onboard a client, and we needed a systematic way to manage those clients and campaigns, we needed a way to report on these campaign performance, and we also wanted to have some transparency into exactly what we’re doing and how that’s impacting our client’s business, right?
[00:13:00] So we tested every possible tool in the marketplace. There was not a single tool that actually solved it for all the different problems that we had, so it came down to this. We would have to build this. There’s no other tools. So we were trying to stitch it together, a bunch of different tools, to make something come out of it. Even that didn’t work, so I ended up actually writing it from scratch. So we built our own technology that helped us be more efficient at what we do and then also give a lot of insight into the campaign performance to our clients, and then that made a big difference in terms of how we were doing business, also the relationship that we started to have with our client base.
Andy Baldacci: So this was something you guys just did originally internally? This was an internal tool that was going to make it easier, cheaper, and more efficient to run your own business?
Samuel Timothy: Mm-hmm, exactly.
[00:13:30]

Andy Baldacci:

How long did it take you to actually build the first version of this tool?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:14:00]

We started working on this tool, like, in 2009, but it was kind of like a sidekick. It wasn’t something that we invested heavily into, but then by 2011, 2012, we started seeing,”Hey, this is a viable tool,” like, “We don’t need to be spending money on all these external tools that we were purchasing. Let’s make this to be our core product that we use for running our operation.” So that’s kinda how we started investing heavily into building our software.
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm. I want to talk a bit about the differences you saw with interacting with your own clients once you developed this tool, once it really is the one platform that is kind of king of all of them? When you’ve got your clients on board on this new tool, what was the difference? How did it change the relationship with the clients?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:14:30]

First and foremost, it just made our life a lot easier, so we were able to do a lot more for the clients, and we were able to see the exact areas where the client needed the most help, and so we could act on those things. Then, from a reporting standpoint, we’re given instant access into the client’s campaign. So they’re getting instant information, where their campaigns are running, where they’re getting the most amount of clicks, what are their top performing keywords, when do they get a phone call, even the call recording, all that information is right there available to them at their fingertips.
Andy Baldacci: So they have a login?
[00:15:00]

Samuel Timothy:

Oh, yeah. They get access to it 24/7. So anytime, they can log in and see, “Where are our keywords ranking? How much in traffic are we generating? Who are our top competitors? Where are they spending money?” I mean, there’s so much information. Even the reviews that they’re getting, we’re crawling the web and finding that and just compiling all of it into one dashboard, so they don’t have to go to multiple different websites to go and see how are they doing, and then whether or not they’re getting any reviews or anything like that.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:15:30]

Right, because before, when you have all these different tools. This is somewhere where, like, I haven’t been really in the nitty-gritty day-to-day of the agency, so I’m curious, like, would you give your client, like, a dozen different logins? How would you handle that problem, if they wanted to ask about the performance or status of different things?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:16:00]

Oh, even if you gave them access, they wouldn’t do it. So all they would do is, “Hey, can you tell me how am I doing in my keywords? How much, in traffic, did I get?” all that information, and when we call and say, “Hey, did you get any calls this month?” Or any of that information, they don’t have any insight into that, so we’re constantly in the dark in terms of some of those activities that we’re doing, whether or not that’s impacting their business. So, at the end of the day, we were going to Google AdWords or Google Analytics or other third party tools that we were using to take screenshots, create custom PowerPoint slides, and then present it to them every month, and it was taking just way too much time to do that.
Andy Baldacci: Mm-hmm. Yeah, because that’s the thing, is, like, even if you somehow were able to give them all the logins, they’re gonna forget which tool is for what, and I mean, I don’t blame them. They don’t live in that world. That’s not their job.
Samuel Timothy: Correct.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:16:30]

So it’s like, “All right, here’s another five logins. This is what each does. Figure out, using this flowchart, which you want to log in,” and it’s like, “No, I’m just gonna send the account manager an email and ask him to do it for me.”
Samuel Timothy: Exactly.
Andy Baldacci: I mean, that’s distracting as an agency. Those types of requests are very common, but that’s not what you’re actually getting paid for. You’re not providing a real benefit, a real value, by just answering those requests.
Samuel Timothy:
[00:17:00]
Exactly. The ad hoc reporting was taking way too much because especially the clients. One of the things about online marketing is it’s not tangible. When you’re doing SEO, and it sometimes takes three months, six months, nine months before they can start to see any traction for the money they’re investing into it, and so when they’re waiting that long and they’re getting anxious, right?
[00:17:30] They’re getting anxious and they want to know. “I’m paying these guys a ton of cash, but I don’t see it’s coming back, so I need to see whether this is working,” so they’re going to pick up the phone and call all the time. “What’s going on? Show me the traffic. Show me the keywords. How do I know this is working?” So we’re having to answer the same question all the time for different clients. So this is where this tool really solved it. We can show them, “Hey, look. When we started, you had no keyword index anywhere on Google. Look, now we’re in three months into it. We have 40 keywords already on page seven and we’re showing green arrows, showing that we’re going in the right direction. Now we have about four of our top keywords on page three or page one, whatever that might be, and look at that increase in traffic.”
[00:18:00] Now we’re also tracking goals in Google Analytics, so we can show them the form submissions. We can give them the phone calls that they’re getting from the paid search. All that information is available to them, so instead of spending that five minutes writing that email, they can just quickly go to the dashboard, and see, “Hey, well, am I getting calls,” and even solve their own operational problems. We have clients that found out that they were not answering phone calls as quick as they should be and also putting people on hold for a lot longer than they should be, so all of those kind of issues that they had, instead of pointing their fingers at us, they were quickly internally solving the problems that they never knew existed.
[00:18:30]

Andy Baldacci:

That’s really interesting, and I’m guessing that you’re still obviously communicating with the clients during this period of time, but how has that communication changed? Instead of just giving them these long PowerPoint presentations and handing all those other ad hoc requests, what are your communications like now that there’s all this better reporting for them?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:19:00]

Yeah, now the conversation is more strategic because the client already has the insight in front of them, so we’re not talking about the numbers anymore. We’re talking about, “Okay, last month we were doing this, and we had this many new, leads and we think is the way we should go. This is the kind of campaign that we have to do. We should spend more money on these type of keywords, or we need another version of this landing page to drive better conversions. Maybe we have to change our call to actions.” So we’re not talking about the tactics that we are doing and reporting on the tactics and how that is performing in numbers. We’re having a lot more strategic conversations around what we should be changing and how that’s impacting the business. So it’s a lot better conversation now, so, and now increased the overall joy of working with that client.
[00:19:30]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:20:00]

Hm, because you’re actually focusing on what matters to each of you. You don’t want to deal with the reporting. They don’t care about that exclusively. They care about their business, and that’s the stuff that you want to work on, is you want to work on strategies and developing ways to help grow their business, and when you can get the reporting out of the way, it lets you spend a lot more time doing that. I’m curious, at what point … We’re not here just to let you brag about this great tool that you have for yourself. You now offer this tool to other agencies, so at what point did you make the decision? It’s like, “All right, we’re onto something here. I think other agencies could benefit.”
Samuel Timothy: Yeah, so I think in terms of agencies and more than agencies, our clients that are coming to us directly and buying the tool. So what we’ve seen as a trend was when we realized that there is a product, and we turned it into a business of its own, and then we made a brand around it, and then basically just using inbound marketing, we started driving a lot of traffic.
[00:20:30] Now what we’ve done also is that we’ve created our own little website grader tool, so when people come to that website, they will run a grader, and they will find out some of the issues that are pertaining to their website, and then they become a lead, and then once they start to realize, “Okay, this tool can help me do marketing better,” and then they would inquire about having a demo or a trial. So that’s kinda how the product kinda took off as a standalone business. So more than agencies in which we had a relationship with, that we’re kind of building up, we have a lot more direct clients that are coming to us that just want the tool because they have the internal team that are doing a lot of this.
[00:21:00] So we’re not just a reporting engine. We add a layer of intelligence. So for example, if you plug in your competitor, we’ll crawl the web and tell you exactly all the keywords that they’re ranking for. We’ll tell you where they are getting their backlinks from. We’ll tell you where they’re getting their reviews from. We’ll tell you where they’re spending their AdWords money on. So that information, it’s an important insight for our clients or our clients of our tool need to have to make their campaigns even better.
[00:21:30]

[00:22:00]

So if I’m getting started with my SEO strategy and if I already know there’s three guys in my marketplace that do very well in terms of their SEO or paid search, I just need to plug their domain in, and I can get a ton of insight into what keywords they’re spending money on, all that. So I don’t need to do a lot of that legwork, and I can actually start my campaign immediately. I can plug those keywords right into my keyword tracker and then build a strategy around that, and I can actually start creating content or whatever else that I need to do to really catch up to the competitor. So there’s a layer of insight that we bring that you don’t find in many of the tools that just does tracking and reporting.
Andy Baldacci: I see. I see, because that’s the thing. It’s like you said before, is that the numbers themselves ultimately don’t mean a lot. Some of them don’t mean a lot on their own.
Samuel Timothy: Correct.
Andy Baldacci: It’s the insights that you can get from those. A lot of metrics just aren’t actionable, but when you have some of these insights that actually can point you in the right direction, that is what makes it a lot easier to drive real results.
[00:22:30]

Samuel Timothy:

[00:23:00]

Exactly. Even some of the tools that are freely available, like Google Analytics, it doesn’t tell you which keyword drove traffic, and especially Google has kind of hidden that information from users, so we will pull some of that information from Google search console. We will bring that, and we’ll also tell you the top landing page that drove the traffic, where that traffic went to, and we can know, “Hey, what keyword is that page ranking for?” So then we know, “Okay, that’s the keyword that’s getting the most amount of traction. So how can we create more content around that keyword?” Or if we know that there is a poor performing page, then we can quickly focus on that page, as opposed to just spreading ourselves too thin and working on so many things that may or may not produce ROI.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:23:30]

Right. So I want to get into the weeds a little bit actually, because ClickX is the platform you’ve been talking about, but I want to talk a little bit about how you’ve actually been able to develop that while still running a very successful agency, because in the beginning you said it was sort of a side project. How did you handle dedicating resources to this side project? How did you make this happen while still servicing your clients?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:24:00]

So once we actually kind of were able to build a business that can sustain and run on its own and had the technology to kind of power it, he was able to free himself up to focus on the product side of the business. So that’s how we were kind of able to separate our job roles, and he’s focused heavily on building that software and then also marketing it, whereas I am more so on the service side of the business and focused on building and managing that side of the business.
Andy Baldacci: All right, I see. Is your co-founder technical? Like, was he doing a lot of the code or just managing the project, or how did that work?
[00:24:30]

Samuel Timothy:

Not at all. I think he’s a visionary. He has the insight into how the tool needed to be, and that’s essentially what driving that product development, but we’re using external resources for building that platform.
Andy Baldacci: Okay, so you’re using resources outside of OneIMS?
Samuel Timothy: Correct, yeah.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:25:00]

I guess, so the big question is … I’ve talked to a lot of agency owners and it seems like every agency has some product, or they want to get into products because they see it as a way to stop selling their time for money, and I get it, but I’ve also seen that fail so many times, whether it’s not knowing how to budget correctly for it, not knowing all these different aspects. So when you’re using external resources, how do you make the decision on how much you’re willing to invest? Is it just like, “We’re going all on in this, we’re gonna do what it takes,” or what was your approach?
Samuel Timothy:
[00:25:30]
Yeah, so originally we built it as an internal tool, right? So it wasn’t created with, “Okay, how would someone come onboard? How would they automatically be able to create their own account, add their competitors, put their keywords, link their AdWords,” all that stuff, right? So we were able to do some of those things on our own because the tool was designed for our internal use.
[00:26:00] So when we started to kind of see that there’s a product here, we had to completely rework some of the code that we had to make it as a standalone software, right? So fortunately for us, we had a profitable agency that we were running, and we had a very healthy cash flow, so we were able to fund this product without having to seek any investment from external sources, and then once we saw that there was a product, then we just kept on infusing cash and then built a product.
[00:26:30] I don’t know if there was ever a time like, “Oh, this is how much we’re willing to invest,” and especially with a tool like an online marketing tool, right? The industry is rapidly changing. The technology and platform and different channels are coming every day, so you have to have a product that you can continue to innovate, right? So we knew going into it, this isn’t gonna be a product that you made it once and then just sell it a million times. It’s gotta be a product that continues to evolve, so we knew that this was a project that’s never gonna be completed, so we knew that this is gonna require a heavy capital investment upfront, and then also right now that we have a good user base that we built on on its own, so a little bit of that cash is actually coming in, and then we’ll still continue to fund it from our agency.
[00:27:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Mm-hmm. I’m curious, what about for the marketing side for that? Do you treat ClickX as a client, or how do you approach that?
Samuel Timothy: So we’re treating that a completely independent brand, and it has its own marketing team, and we’re producing a ton of content, and so it primarily has grown through inbound marketing. So we do kind of practice what we preach to our clients.
Andy Baldacci: What made you decide to completely separate the two?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:27:30]

I think it is kind of required. I think that’s kind of similar to what you’ve just asked earlier. I mean, if you really are trying to build a product right, you need to have its own team, and you need to have its own focus. You can’t kind of be meddling in too many things. It won’t grow. So I’m there as part of supporting the sales team, but in terms of the product development and marketing side of it, my brother is the one that’s just the key leader in that.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:28:00]
Interesting. because that’s the thing, is I was talking with Chris Lema who’s big in the WordPress space, but he was a former agency person. He’s had so many agencies that if they try to do a product, they try to do it really as a side project and they’d put a few hours here, they’d put a few hours there, even as it gets big, or maybe they have one person full-time on it, but it’s just really hard to make something grow unless you’re focusing on that entirely, and so it seems like that makes a lot of sense, that you guys separated the two. Was it from day one, that separate of an entity? I know you had the outside agency developing it, but at what point did you say like, “All right, we can now invest in a marketing team and we can start to grow this?”
[00:28:30]

Samuel Timothy:

[00:29:00]

I think as we got some traction, so when we went live with the website and we started having visitors coming to it and running graders and requesting for demos and trials, we knew that this has got to have its own resources. I mean, even when we just launched the website, we already were publishing content, and we were writing blogs and all that stuff, so we knew we had to market it, but we just didn’t realize how fast we’d have to go to market because the window of opportunity was probably small, too, because there’s definitely so many other tools in the marketplace that are marketing stacks.
So if we’re gonna go into it, we have to go all in, right? So we couldn’t wait around and figure out, “Oh, okay, we’re just gonna do this part-time on the side.” That’s not the route that we wanted to do, so we just went all in and had the resources to be able to market and promote it.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:29:30]
And how much easier was it using the product yourself? Obviously the organizations are distinct, but you’re still gonna share what you’re learning and if you’re having any issues. Was that a big advantage in the beginning that you were actually using the platform every day in OneIMS?
Samuel Timothy: Oh, it certainly is, because I think we knew all the things that you needed, not just from a agency management standpoint, but from a campaign standpoint. For our client, what are the things that if you’re going to try to do SEO for yourself, as a company, what are the things that you need, and if you’re managing a paid search, what are the things that you need, and if you’re trying to track offline conversions, like phone calls, what do you need, right?
[00:30:00]

[00:30:30]

So we knew those things, and so that really made the product even better because we weren’t making it. Like, it’s not somebody just randomly created a software, right? Because we were in the trenches, we were doing the work, and so we knew what’s gonna make the campaigns more effective, because we already had a proven process and a systematic methodology for doing SEO and paid search for clients. We were doing it already, but what we wanted, it was a tool that’s made us more efficient and also giving us the right insight on what button should you press. So that’s the kind of stuff that we were building.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah, because that’s one mistake I often see, is that if you’re not the target market for your tool, your piece of software, whatever it is, while you can make it work, you have a big uphill battle, but if you’re the one in the trenches, as you said, using it every day, it’s a lot not necessarily easy because it’s never gonna be easy, but you have the insights you need to really know what needs to go in the tool and how to prioritize things. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
Samuel Timothy: Definitely.
[00:31:00]

Andy Baldacci:

I’m curious, in the beginning, it seems like, from your story, it was gradual, and like you said, your story’s one of evolution, things are always changing, improving, growing. Were there ever any points where you really were questioning whether or not you were on the right path with separating the two, with kind of making a big push for ClickX?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:31:30]

[00:32:00]

I mean, like I was saying, I think building a product business, especially a software business, is nothing like building a service business. I think what I’m really referring to is the actual cost of acquisition of a client, so when we were selling digital marketing services, and our average client is about $60,000 or more per year. So going from that to selling a product that’s about $3600 a year, right? So we didn’t really realize how much work effort it’s gonna take to drive the traffic and then how much it’s gonna take in terms of turning that visitor into a lead and from there, all the energy that’s gonna be required from the sales side to sell it, and then the onboarding part of it.
[00:32:30] I think that was the one thing that we didn’t really know. We knew how to go build a product and market it because we’ve helped other SaaS companies, we’ve helped other companies. We know how to do marketing, but we just didn’t realize from an economical standpoint, like, “Wow, it’s more than that.” It’s more than just driving traffic and getting visitors to actually get people to entrust in your product and then buy it, right? So that cost of acquisition is something we didn’t really account for, and especially when you price the product as low as $300 a month.
Andy Baldacci: Right. What they pay in a year is about 1/20th of what an average engagement is with OneIMS. I’m sure you’re thinking like, “All right, this might be tough, but it’s gotta be a lot easier than on the service side,” and you found out that it wasn’t as straightforward as you were expecting.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:33:00]

It’s not, yeah, and I feel for people who are selling software at, like, $30 a month. I have no idea how they do it.
Andy Baldacci: That’s the exact thing as Jason Cohen, who founded a few startups … His most recent was WP Engine, and one of his big presentations was basically on what things to consider when starting a startup, and one of his biggest things is, like, if you’re pricing it below $100 a month, don’t. The numbers just aren’t going to work out. It’s just so hard because it’s never going to be a completely hands off sale.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:33:30]

No, you have to hit a critical mass to even make business sense, right? I mean, if you only have a couple hundred users, what’s the point? Also, I think in terms of the tool, it’s a pretty complex tool, so we have an onboarding fee that we charge just because for us to have full adoption of the tool, we have to help this client get on board. We have to help them make sure that they put all the stuff in it because it just doesn’t do anything for you unless you kind of made the tool do certain things.
[00:34:00] I mean, it’s like buying an accounting software. That doesn’t mean it’s going to do your accounting, right? So it’s kind of like that. That’s essentially where we realized we have to have an onboarding fee, because we were already draining money just by bringing them on, and if we were also going to do free work for the first 30 days of them being on board, we might as well have to charge to make sure we’re breaking even here.
[00:34:30] Also, we’re not like the typical software companies. We’re not making these people sign 12-month contracts. It’s just month-to-month because we know that if they’re already using the tool and they start to get the best out of it, they’re not gonna wanna cancel it, because if they’re seeing their competitors’ information, they are tracking their historical data, why would you cancel it three months into it because you are losing that historical information? So for that reason, we wanted to take that out of that equation. I want to give them that option of canceling, so that shouldn’t be a problem for them to sign up.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:35:00]
Mm-hmm. I want to switch things back over to the service side because I know a lot of our listeners, maybe they’re doing regularly 10000+ projects, but they’re really having some struggle getting to those bigger projects and selling those, and so I wanted to see if we could talk for a few minutes just about your process and what it looks like to regularly close a 60k+ long-term deal.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:35:30]

[00:36:00]

Yeah. In terms of how our product’s selling, we don’t talk heavily about tactics and all that stuff. We focus heavily on the ROI conversations. We’re gonna wanna know, “What is their cost of acquisition today? How much is their average order size? What’s their lifetime value per client? How long is their typical sales cycle?” So get to know all about their business and know a little more about their sales and their sales challenge, and then we wanna know, “Okay, what’s your revenue growth projection? What percentage of that do you expect to generate from your inbound strategy?” Then we want to know, “What’s the plan of action in place to achieve that?” And more often than not, they’re gonna say, “Well, we have great projections in terms of where we want to be revenue-wise, but we don’t know how much we can generate from online,” and then we ask them, “What’s your plan?” They have no real plan, so they’re gonna keep doing more of what they have done and expect a better result.
[00:36:30] So then that’s where we have that conversation. “Well, you don’t have a system and you don’t have a plan, but you need a predictable way to generate new business, and the only way we can help you is to drive quality traffic. We know that if we focused on the right keywords and attract the right persona to come to your website and we offered them the right kind of messaging and use the right call to actions, we can convert a percentage of those people into contacts, and if we can do that and we can do that consistently and systematically, and if your sales team does a good job in terms of following up, we know for a fact that you should be able to get a good percentage of those people to close the business.”
[00:37:00] So that’s the conversation that we have and if anybody with a good business acumen, they can understand that conversation. So that’s where we go in there and then in terms of our pricing, we typically are having conversation around, “What is it costing you to acquire a new client?” So if they tell me they do four trade shows that are $10,000, and they generate two deals out of it, and then I tell them, “If I can do four new customers for you and it’s gonna cost you less than what you spent on the trade show, whatever that might be,” essentially, they can kind of put the two together and figure out, “Okay, I’m already wasting way too much money than I thought I am and I’m only getting two clients, but my average order size is $100000, so I think it’s not a gamble here.”
[00:37:30]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:38:00]

No, and I think it’s one thing where I think a lot of times smaller agency owners don’t underestimate the scale that a lot of businesses are spending on things where they’re not getting like any return at all, and so while, to an agency owner, spending mid to high five figures, even getting to six figures on marketing, they might be like, “That’s a huge number.” When they’re doing these trade shows, when they’re doing all this travel, when they’re doing all these other things, it’s not always this big of a number, and when you do draw it back in, too, like you said, when you look at the customer acquisition cost, when you look at their numbers, and instead of focusing on the features of what you’re doing, instead of getting specifics, when you can bring it all back into an ROI, then, like you said, any person with business acumen can understand that conversation and the numbers make a lot more sense, and there’s not the sticker shock, where if you just look at 60k for inbound, that’s a lot of money, but if you look at the actual investment and the ROI, it makes sense.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:38:30]

[00:39:00]

Yeah, and oftentimes, we actually ask people plus programs. When you said trade shows, the trade show, they gladly say, “Oh, $10,000 for the booth,” but they forgot that they had four people fly out there and stay there $300 a night for three nights and that opportunity cost, them being away from work for three days, there’s so much that was invested into just going to that trade show, and they come back with 100 business cards that have cold prospects that just came there for the freebies. They didn’t come to buy something from them, but when, in fact, if I can drive quality traffic that are proactive people, that are going to Google looking for the product or services that you offer, how better of a quality lead that is.
[00:39:30] Oftentimes we hear, “Oh, yeah. Every time we had an inbound lead, they were very, very qualified.” We tell them, “Well, would you want to see more of those leads coming to you?” It’s that conversation, I think, and if they don’t get that, if they cannot understand that number and how this system can help them, I don’t think it’s a good prospect to even talk to because you don’t want to be the one teaching them because they’re not going to believe it. You’re selling them something that they don’t buy into, so they’re probably not going to … Especially with SEO and all these different things that we’re talking about … it’s gonna take time to see results and if they cannot wait and be patient with them and trust the process, they’re probably going to cancel anyway.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:40:00]
Yeah. I talked to Marcus Sheridan recently, and that was his big thing, is that if he doesn’t get client buy-in, they’re not a client. Like, that’s the number one thing is that, and I think that’s another thing that smaller agency owners struggle with, is that there are such things as clients that just aren’t a good fit for you, and if they push back on a lot of these things, okay, move onto the next one, and it’s easier said than done, especially when you have cash flow problems, especially when there’s other considerations, but I think what you’ve described is sort of the point in a business that most agency owners need to get to. They need to strive to get to that, where they’re able to turn away those bad fit prospects.
[00:40:30]

Samuel Timothy:

[00:41:00]

Correct, yeah. I mean, we’re still learning. I mean, it’s easier said than done, but yeah, I mean, I think we still get leads, and oftentimes we go through that exercise and only to find out at the very end, “Oh, maybe this isn’t a good fit.” So it’s something that you have to be very disciplined to say no. You have to be able to qualify very early on and say, “This is not a good fit,” and I think if you know your ideal customer profile, you can say no very, very early on. For example, I think there are certain type of businesses that we don’t want to do business with. We just know that this is not gonna work.
Andy Baldacci: What is your ideal customer profile?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:41:30]

Our typical customers are primarily B2B companies in the manufacturing or professional services or technology space. So they are typically around 10 million or more in revenue, and they have an internal marketing manager or a marketing personnel, but they don’t have the necessary resources to execute it on the inbound marketing strategy. That’s typically our customer profile because we need to have that person internally that we can work very closely with, and then we can execute on the things that they need done.
Andy Baldacci: I see.
Samuel Timothy: So that’s kind of where our customer base is, and then typically they have a very high ticket item that they’re selling and a pretty lengthy sales process for them.
Andy Baldacci: Interesting. Then that’s the thing is that once you have that, it’s like all right, if they’re in this subsection of the market, there’s a very good chance they’re a fit. If they’re not in it, it’s not that they’re never going to be a fit, but it’s that you need to probably ask a few more questions and really make sure.
Samuel Timothy:

[00:42:00]

Yeah, and I think also from a fulfillment side, I don’t want to have to go learn about something different, and if I already know my ideal customers and their typical challenges and their problems, it doesn’t matter to me if they’re selling widget a or widget b because I know how to solve for that problem that they have. So that’s also from a fulfillment side. That’s exactly why we were trying to stay away from companies that are doing e-commerce and things like that, because that’s not where our forte is.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:42:30]

From the very beginning, did you have that insight to know you kind of need to pick a clear ideal customer segment and plant your flag there, or were you more generalist at that point?
Samuel Timothy:

[00:43:00]

No, because there was no Agency Advantage Podcast. No, seriously, I think if we had known, we would have been way ahead of where we are today. We kind of learned it the hard way, just making a lot of mistakes and just bringing on any kind of client, and we learned, “Okay, that’s not the way to do it,” because not only is it bad for your business, it’s also kind of bad for the morale because the employees also kind of don’t like the different type of clients that are bringing all kinds of baggage with them.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:43:30]

Mm-hmm. No, that’s a good point. I will always think of it from the standpoint of if you haven’t defined who your buyer is, it’s a lot harder to find them because you’re trying to cast a net and you don’t even know what you’re trying to catch, but I hadn’t thought about it from the employee standpoint, and you’re right. If you’re doing a bunch of different things and some of these clients have different requirements for just how much handholding they need and all of that, that’s gonna wear on them, and that can lead to burnout, and those are things that, as you grow, you really need to be concerned about. You need to be looking after your team.
Samuel Timothy: Exactly. They’re the ones at the end of the day that need to deal with these clients, right?
Andy Baldacci:

[00:44:00]

Mm-hmm. That’s very true. Samuel, we’ve talked about a ton today. I think this has been a really fun chat. I have a few quick questions before we say goodbye, so what we’re gonna do is just jump into these ones real fast. As much time as you want to give to respond to them, but if you want to just jump right through them, we can, too. The first one is just what do you spend too much time doing?
Samuel Timothy: Oh, my. Oh, my. I think I have to say it’s emails.
Andy Baldacci: That is probably the most common one I get, and then I always feel really bad about emailing [crosstalk 00:44:09]. The next one, though, is on the other side of that. What do you not spend enough time doing?
Samuel Timothy:
[00:44:30]
I think I’d love to be more involved in the strategic marketing side of things. I love marketing. I help our clients with their marketing strategy and things like that, but I kind of take a backseat for our own marketing, but I enjoy that, so if I can give more time, that’s where I would invest more of it.
Andy Baldacci: Okay. We’re at the end of the year pretty much here, so what I’ll do is I’ll change this one around a little bit. What are your goals for next quarter, the first quarter of 2017?
Samuel Timothy: Personal goals or business goals?
Andy Baldacci: We’ll do personal goals. We’ll mix it up.
Samuel Timothy:
[00:45:00][00:45:30]
I actually would love to have more time with my kids. I have two little ones. I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, so having more time with my family would be one of the personal goals, and obviously for the business, figure out ways to be more valuable to our clients, so looking for ways, and I think we’re thinking of … I don’t know if you’ve heard the term account-based marketing, which is becoming a very big topic in the marketing space, so investing a lot of time researching about what that is and how we might be able to kind of offer that kind of service offering to our clients because especially the clients we’re going after, they’re very well suited for those kind of services, so looking into,ow can we be more valuable to our existing clients and our future clients?”
Andy Baldacci: Interesting. Yeah, that’s the thing, is, like, as an outsider, as not someone in the enterprise sales game, I do keep hearing about account-based marketing, and so I’m probably going to have to Google that a little bit to get brushed up on it after this one, but the last question I wanted to ask, though, is what are the long-term visions for OneIMS and for ClickX?
[00:46:00]

Samuel Timothy:

OneIMS is definitely one of our passions, so I think in terms of the long-term, we don’t have any exit strategies in the horizon, but we continue to grow this business because obviously it has given us good cash flow to build a product like ClickX, so in terms of long-term goals, continue to grow the business. That’s about the only thing that I can think of.
[00:46:30]

Andy Baldacci:

What about ClickX? Just continuing with growth? Five years from now, what would need to have happened for you to say, “We are where I wanted us to be?”
Samuel Timothy:

[00:47:00]

So we’re looking at what we refer to as a one-to-many model, so our product, even though it’s designed with a SMB who is doing marketing internally, but our product is well-suited for a multi-location kind of a business, so we’re looking at opportunities where we might be able to sell to franchises and things of that nature, where they can use this tool and manage and monitor their marketing across multiple locations. So that’s, as I’m sure, where we’re seeing our opportunity with the ClickX platform.
Andy Baldacci: Interesting. The last thing, where can listeners go … if they want to hear from you, if they want to learn more about your products, where are the best places for them to go?
Samuel Timothy: Obviously our websites would be the easiest. OneIMS.com. That’s OneIMS.com, and then ClickX is ClickX.io, ClickX.io.
Andy Baldacci: Perfect, and I’m gonna make sure to get all of that linked up in the show notes, and Sam, I just want to say thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciated it.
Samuel Timothy: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Want to learn more?

To see what Samuel and his team are up to at OneIMS, check out their marketing blog. And if you think having a unified platform to manage campaigns and handle reporting would help your agency, head to Clickx.io and request a demo.

Resources mentioned

Chris Lema on How to Build (and Keep) High-Performing Teams

Jason Cohen on Designing the Ideal Bootstrapped Business

Marcus Sheridan on The #1 Reason Agencies Fail With Clients