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Today, on Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, you get me, Andy Baldacci. This is the final episode of the podcast, so I wanted to do things a bit differently.

In the 77 interviews I’ve done for this show, I’ve learned so much about agencies from some amazing guests and over the next hour, I’m going to share with you 6 steps to building the agency of your dreams.

I’ll give you a high-level look at 6 areas I believe are important to building a successful agency, why they are important, how you can get started, and then mention the relevant episodes you can check out for a deeper dive.

If you’re a long-time listener of this show, this won’t necessarily be new material, but I tried to package it up to be as actionable as possible by putting these steps into a real agency system. So instead of getting pulled in every direction by all the strategies and tactics you want to try, you will leave this episode with a framework you can follow to build the agency you’ve always wanted.

Whether your agency is killing it and growing faster than you can handle or you are just scraping by, I am confident that you will get something actionable out of this episode that you can apply in your agency this week to make your life better.

Key Takeaways

Develop strong positioning

Travis Northcutt on Standing Out as an Agency and Commanding Above Market Rates
How Brennan Dunn built TWO million dollar agencies and a product empire

Don’t rely on referrals

8 Strategies Alex Berman Used to Grow His Business to $2.5M

Charge what you’re worth

Alan Weiss: Value-Based Fees
Noah Fleming on 10x-ing From $7k Projects to $70k with Value-Based Fees
Brent Weaver on Closing 5- and 6-Figure Deals

Don’t pitch for free

Ben Lee on Building a Million Dollar Agency by Charging for His Pitches

Establish and improve process

Brian Casel on Scaling Your Agency with Productized Consulting
Mandi Ellefson on How to Scale to Freedom
Jason Swenk on Using Systems to Grow Your Agency

Build the agency of your dreams

Andrew Lolk on Leaving An 8-Figure Agency To Start Again From Scratch



Speaker 1: Welcome to Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage podcast, hosted by Andy Baldacci. Each week Andy interviews a successful agency owner who shares their proven strategies to help you build and grow your agency.


Andy Baldacci:



Hey everybody welcome back to episode number 78 of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage podcast. I’m your host Andy Baldacci, and today instead of bringing on other guests you are just stuck with me. I mentioned, in last week’s interview, that this is actually going to be the final episode of the Agency Advantage podcast and to commemorate that I want to do things a bit differently. In the 77 episodes that I’ve done for this show I’ve learned so much about agencies from some amazing guests and over the next hour I’m going to share with you six steps to building the agency of your dreams.





This isn’t meant to be a complete standalone guide or anything like that. Instead, I’m going to give you a high level look at six areas that I’ve identified from these interviews, which I believe are important to building a successful agency. I’ll talk about why they’re so important and how you can get started, and then I’ll mention the relevant episodes so that you can check out each of those for a deeper dive into the subjects. If you’re a long time listener of the show, there’s not necessarily going to be any new material in this episode but I tried to package it up to be as actual as possible by putting these steps into a real agency system.





So, instead of just being pulled in every direction by all of the strategies and tactics you want to try, you’re going to leave this episode with a framework that you can follow to build the agency you’ve always wanted. Whether your agency is killing it and growing faster than you can handle or you’re just scraping by, I am confident that you’ll get something actual out of this episode that you can apply in your agency this week to make your life better. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the final episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage podcast. The first step is really to build a strong foundation for your agency and to do that I think you need to build and develop strong positioning.










And what is positioning, what does that mean? It’s something I know I’ve talked about a lot on this show but this is something that I want to be a little bit clearer about what I’m actually talking about with that, so I’m going to defer to Philip Morgan, who came on the show for episode six to talk about positioning and how it can help transform your agency. So, Philip defines positioning as becoming 100% clear on who you serve, what you do for them, and how you’re different from others providing similar services. And, honestly, most agencies just aren’t really doing this, even if they think they are.









And so if you ask a lot of agencies who they serve, they’re going to say, “Well, we serve small to medium businesses.” That’s just not a thing. That’s not a real market. I mean, obviously it’s a market but it is so big that when you say you’re serving something that contains tens of millions of potential clients, you really aren’t saying anything at all. And if you ask what you do for them, a lot of agencies say, “Well, we build websites.” And again, that’s not really what you’re doing. That’s a feature, that’s something that you deliver but it’s a commodity. You need to go narrower than that and really hone in on what it is that you do for them.








And finally, on how they’re different from others providing similar services because let’s face it, there are so many agencies out there that offer similar things, so if you were to ask an agency, “How are you different from your competition?” A lot of times you’re going to hear things like, “Well, we really partner with our client. Well, we really are focused on ROI, we X, Y, and Z,” and these are things that every agency says, and they don’t really contribute to strong positioning. Well, they don’t at all, actually. What you need to do is get specific about all of those parts of the positioning definition.








And so, if you’re looking at the market you’re serving, you can go after a vertical, a horizontal, or the intersection of the two. So, you could go after dentists, you could go after … This isn’t a great example because it’s basically focused entirely on the feature, but you could focus on the WordPress technology or you could do some intersection of the two, like WordPress sites for dentists. And what I would suggest for basically anyone listening to this podcast, is to go for some intersection of the two, of a vertical and a horizontal. And the horizontal doesn’t necessarily need to be technology, or a platform, or anything like that but it has to be some specific area of focus for what you’re dealing with in the bigger industry that you’re working with.









And the reason why I say that is because people really resist positioning and feel like they’re turning away huge numbers of potential clients and while that’s technically true, people also vastly overestimate how many clients they really need to build a big agency. If you have a million dollar agency to truly support that revenue you’d probably only need a few dozen clients at most and if you feel like you need more clients than that to get to those revenue numbers it’s more important for you to really focus on being able to charge more rather than being able to find more clients.









That’s another thing that I’ll talk about in a little bit but you still are wondering, “All right, just because I don’t need a ton of clients doesn’t mean I should be voluntarily turning them away by saying, I don’t work with clients like you.” There are three main reasons why having a strong positioning as your foundation is so important. The first is that it helps you stand out from the crowd and honestly let’s just face it, there’s a very low barrier of entry to the agency space and even in small local markets, you’re often going to have multiple agencies who offer roughly the same services that you do.








And so, if you’re just going after anybody and everybody you’re also going to be competing with any and every agency, so the more specialized you can get, the less you have to compete with everyone else and the more you’re going to stand out from the crowd. The second thing is a benefit that comes out of standing out from the crowd and that’s you’re no longer competing on price. If you just build generic websites for anybody and everyone, anyone who has an open check book, you’re competing with so many other people and you’re ultimately just selling a commodity. You’re selling a website and when you do that, when you sell a commodity, people can price shop because they’re no longer comparing you, they’re comparing the cost of delivering a website.





And while there might be so many other things that can differentiate you from your competition, the client won’t always see it that way. But when you are able to say that you offer services geared specifically towards that potential client and it is something that no one else offers, they can’t compare you on price because your competition doesn’t offer the same thing. And the last one is that you’re able to get better clients. And there’s a few reasons for this. First, you’re able to get better clients because you’re the one that’s picking your positioning, so look back over your client roster and figure out what are the types of clients, what are the types of projects that I truly enjoy doing and that the clients that fall into those categories are clients that I enjoy working with?









So, first is you’re just able to select for that segment of the market that you find has the best clients. But second of all, you are partnering with clients who are willing to pay a premium rate for your specific service. You’re not partnering with people, you’re not working with people who are trying to just find bottom shelf prices anymore. And just by doing that, just by eliminating those very price sensitive clients, you’re eliminating the clients that are going to cause you the most headaches. So, when you’re able to stand out from the crowd, when you’re able to stop competing on price, you’re able to really get better clients and all of this comes from having that strong positioning.







In a minute or so I’m going to give you some resources that will go much deeper into how you actually pick that positioning, how to flush it all out and how to really apply this to your agency but I just want to wrap things up on my end by sharing a few tips on how to really get started with this, and so if you are small, if you are at that sub-million and definitely sub-500K range, I would strongly recommend going all in on this and really trying to build a brand entirely around your target niche. And even though I did mention turning away clients outside of that I don’t think you literally have to do that.






Your marketing should speak very closely to the exact type of client you want to serve and explain how you want to help them but you don’t need to say no if other prospects come into your funnel, start talking to you, and want your help. Just make sure you’re not taking on bad clients, but if there are clients that you can help and are willing to pay fair rates, take them on. I get it, I know what it’s like when you’re running a small agency. Don’t worry about actually turning away the clients. As you get larger what you can do though, is you don’t necessarily need to have that laser focused homepage, that laser focused site that only speaks to the one market.











Instead, you can do what Brennan Dunn recommends and view positioning more as a marketing tactic, and with this you can set up landing pages for the different niches that you’re targeting for the different services that you offer. And this let’s you still speak to the different audiences that you can serve and show how you can provide unique value to them, but it also let’s your homepage stand on its own so that when people are coming in from outside those segments they aren’t worried about, “Oh, well will this agency work with me?” And so, hopefully that eases your fears a little bit and that even though I recommend that you do really embody this, that isn’t a yes or no, all in or nothing sort of situation.









And so, to get that deeper dive on positioning definitely start out with episode six of this show, with Philip Morgan, where he talks about commanding premium rates with focused positioning, he truly is one of the thought leaders in the space on positioning for freelancers and agencies, so check that out. For another examples, episode eight, with Travis Northcutt, he’s someone that started a generalist agency working primarily on WordPress sites but positioned himself into a much more narrowly focused agency and his growth skyrocketed after doing it.








And the last episode I want to mention for this is episode number nine with Brennan Dunn, who talks about how he’s build two million dollar agencies using these lessons and how he generally views positioning, like I said, as a marketing tactic rather than something that is all in. Positioning is definitely a hard pill to swallow for most agency owners and this next one honestly isn’t much easier for these owners to really accept. And it is the fact that to grow a real agency you can’t rely on referrals exclusively. And so, let me just explain a little bit because first I want to make it clear, word-of-mouth referrals are great.







These are some of the easiest to close deals you are ever going to get but the trouble is, it’s really difficult to build a sustainable business on it because if work dries up what do you do? I mean, I know what a lot of agency owners do is when that happens they’ll call up their past clients and they’ll say, “Hey, do you have any other projects that we could help you with?” But really that just doesn’t work that often because what you’re hoping for is first that, that client knows exactly what they need and what they need is your service at this moment. Second, it’s just not going to pay that well because if they already know what they need, if they know, “It’s about time for a new website design,” or, “Oh, yeah. We have this project that we’re looking at. We’ve been thinking about it for a while, we know what we want.”










If they’re at that point they have a very clear idea of what they want, and so it’s going to be much more of a commoditized service that you’re going to be offering to them because things are roughly specked out in their heads and obviously you can dig deeper and find some ways to add additional value but you’re not coming to them with the solution, they’re coming to you and that’s just not a great position to be in when you’re trying to charge fair rates. So, what you need to do is to be deliberate about how you’re generating leads and this is why it is hard for a lot of agency owners and a lot of business owners in general to wrap their heads around this is because a lot of us got into this business because we don’t like sales. We like delivering our product, we like working, we like whether it’s design, programming, whatever, we like doing that.





We don’t want to be out there constantly hustling, constantly making phone calls, constantly trying to close a deal. We just want to get out work done and when I talk about generating leads a lot of times people say, “Okay, yeah. I get that. I mean, we’ve had some great months from referrals but then when things do dry up it’s really hard to get things going again. So, yeah, I understand what you’re saying, so we should probably just hire a salesperson, right?” And the answer is no, because if you haven’t done the sales process yourself it is going to be nearly impossible for you to hire a salesperson who can come in and be successful at their job. First, you’re just not going to know how to evaluate if they’re good or not.









But second, they’re not going to understand the business like you do which is going to mean that there’s going to be a lot of time getting them up to speed on things and even then it’s going to be questionable whether or not they will be able to effectively sell the services. And so, this is going to cost a lot of money, it’s going to take a lot of time before you even know if it’s working or not. And having talked to many agency owners have tried to do this, maybe you’ve tried to do this before, the likelihood of it actually working out is very low until you have someone internal, which probably should be you, who has already done this consistently. So, what I recommend though, is that even though you may hate the idea of doing sales yourself, you’re going to have to do it.













You’re going to have to get started but what I recommend is don’t try to do everything at once. Don’t say, “All right, let’s launch that blog. Let’s put up some Facebook ads, hit the phone, let’s send some cold emails. Let’s just see what works and then we’ll go with there,” because that approach, that scout or shot approach, usually doesn’t work because sales channels, while we might want them to be easy, while we might want it to simply be, “We’ll write a check to Facebook for a thousand dollars a month and we’ll get a few thousand dollars back in new work,” it’s just not that simple. It takes a lot of time to perfect these and to really get a channel performing. And so, when you’re trying to do so many things at once you just don’t have the resources necessary and the focus necessary to make things work, so find a channel that suits you and really try to perfect it.








If you hate getting on the phone, I do have a little bit of bad news for you because you’re at some point going to have to, but if you really don’t want to do cold calls, that’s okay. Find some channel that works for you but understand that you will have to talk to some people and I know a lot of people, not just in the agency world, but in the startup space as well, who don’t want to get on the phone so they just immediately say, “All right, let’s really tackle cold email,” and they’ll start sending a thousand templated emails a day and wondering why they’re not getting great results. So, even if you’re not actually talking to people, you still do need to be personable. You still do need to put in the effort to create a targeted message to the prospect that you’re trying to reach.












Don’t take the easy road out and just send out templates and form emails because you’re not going to get results. So find something that fits your personality, that you have seen other agencies actually get results with, that’s going to be an important one as well, and really try to perfect is because you’re not going to hit a home run on that first pitch. This is going to be a process of testing, reviewing your results, and improving, and repeating it over and over again. And you really do have to execute this consistently because otherwise you’re going to find yourself in that same old feast or famine cycle where when things are good, when you have the clients coming in you stop prospecting, you stop doing the sales that got those clients in to begin with and focus on those clients.








And yeah, you don’t want to ignore them but if you stop, if you shut off the engine that brought those clients in, when those projects dry up you’re not going to have the pipeline ready to come in with more new clients, so keep this going in good times and bad so your pipeline is full and so that when projects finish up you have other clients lined up to come on board. One of the common … I don’t even know if I would call it an objection, but one of the common things I hear from agency owners who are pushing back on this consistent sales process is that they don’t want to have to say no. They say, “Well, what if I get … What if this is so successful, I have so many clients coming to me and I can’t service them all?”






And I sort of laugh because this is the definition of a first world problem but beyond that it’s not actually a problem because you’re in control. There is no legal obligation or other obligation for you to work with anybody and everyone who asks you to work with them. And so, if you have more clients coming in than you can handle, first I would consider expanding. Obviously do it slowly and do it smartly but that’s a good place to be in but beyond that, you’re able to talk to these prospects. Think about if they are a good fit or not and if they are you can just say, “Okay, so after talking with you it’s clear how we can help and how there’s a good fit there,” and explain, obviously, why you think that, don’t just say that.











So, you explain why you think there’s a good fit and then you can just say, “Unfortunately right now we are booked for the next two months. If you put a deposit down on the project today I can guarantee you a slot at this date. Does that work for you?” If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but honestly, most of the time it’s going to work because when clients find an agency that they can trust they’re going to be okay waiting a little bit to get it done. And if they don’t want to put the deposit down today mostly likely what they’re going to do is go out there talk to a few other agencies and when they find out that, “Eh, I don’t really like these other agencies,” they’re going to come back to you and say, “All right. How can we get started?” And it is okay to have that waiting list.








In fact, it’s desirable to because when you have that waiting list, when you know that the work is there for months and months, it gives you the confidence that you need to be able to raise your rates, to be able to try some of these other experiments because you know that things aren’t just going to dry up over night. And so, to go deeper on this there are two episodes that I want to recommend. First is episode 58 with Alex Berman, and in this episode he shares eight strategies that he used to grow his agency to 2.5 million dollars very quickly. The second one I want to share is episode 73 with Andrew Dymski on how to build your agency’s sales system. And again, there is a lot of talk out there about how to do this. What I would say and what I was going to emphasize is don’t try to do it all at once but find something that you can execute on, be consistent about, and really work to improve.









I mentioned this a little bit earlier but really, in my opinion, the biggest thing holding small agencies back is that they simply aren’t charging enough money. Obviously, having a strong sales process, having great positioning is huge and I wouldn’t recommend anyone focus just on charging more but most agencies that I talk to, most smaller agencies do have some leads coming in, even without that strong positioning, even without a clear sales process. And the trouble is, is that if they’re not charging enough it is just so hard to grow and to grow comfortably to really do too much. And so, one of the things I want to do is just quickly run through something called value based fees and this is a topic that, Alan Weiss, in my opinion, is really the king on and it’s something that you’re going to see or hear talked a lot about in the traditional consulting world.











So, not necessarily in the agency space but more in the management consulting. And so, what Alan Weiss says on value based fees in an article he wrote, which I’ll link up in the show notes, called The Case for Value Based Fees, he says, “A value based fee is a fee that is based on your contribution to the results the client achieves. Specifically, when asked about the basis for fees I reply, my fee is based on the contribution to the value you’ve stipulated you’ll be receiving providing an excellent ROI for you and equitable compensation for me because that’s how partners treat each other.” So, this is something that is just moving away from the traditional hourly rate, the traditional commoditized pricing of the market rate for a developer is PHP, is say $45.00 an hour in the US, whatever it actually is, it’s moving away from that and saying, “I’m not just giving you a PHP developer.”






“I’ve looked at your business, I’ve looked at what we’re going to be doing for you and we’re going to be contributing significant value to your organization and it’s fair that we price base on that value rather than basing that on the labor of what is going into it.” And so, Alan goes even farther and says that hourly billing not just is bad for the consultant but also that’s actually unethical because of the fact that clients are best served when things are done quickly. With or without hourly billing your client will want results as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter what they’re paying you, if it can be done faster that is much better for them. While with hourly billing on the service provider’s side, they are best served when the time involved is lengthy because you’re able to bill more.










So, if you come in and are able to fix a problem in half a day, the client is getting huge value because the fix is in place, it didn’t delay whatever they are working on, they are able to start earning based on the fix that you put in much faster. But the service provider makes very little because they just weren’t there for that long. But the biggest issue, beyond the ethical issue, is that it does reduce things to a commodity. When you have hourly billing, you are focused on selling a widget. You’re focused on selling a commoditized service of design, development, whatever it may be and making it very easy for potential prospects to compare you because you are just saying, “We’re just like everybody else.”








And so, what Alan says is the fix to this is to understand the potential value that you uniquely possess, then you help the client or prospect understand the value of meeting the objectives that the two of you are going to work to achieve. And finally, just base your fee on some equitable share of that perceived value. And Alan doesn’t usually recommend doing a true performance plan. He doesn’t say, “All right, we’re going to get paid 10% of whatever we guarantee, of whatever we generate,” I mean, and the reason for this is many fold but the biggest one is that it’s just very, very difficult to actually enforce, to actually measure, to really figure out how to calculate that percentage.











And even if you think it’s simple, that is almost never the case in reality. So, what he recommends doing, is coming to some conservative agreement of what value this will generate in charging, say 10% of that up front. That reduces your risk because there are a lot of factors outside of your control and it also makes it easy at the end of the day. So, to go deep into value based fees from that perspective, check out Alan Weiss’s book titled simply, “Value-based Fees” and also look into episode 30 of this podcast with Noah Fleming, who talks about he 10x’s fees from $7,000 projects to $70,000 projects all through value based fees. While I’m not going to say that Alan is wrong with his approach, what I will say is that his approach is just really far away from where most of us are at because when it comes down to it most agencies are structured as order takers.







Someone comes to you, they want a website, great, “Here is out quote for a website with five pages or of X, whatever you are pricing based on,” and relatively speaking we are selling commodities. And so, I hope the positioning section of this chat gave you some ideas on how to divorce yourself a bit from that mindset but even with that positioning isn’t going to completely divorce your pricing from the deliverable. So, what I want to focus on is instead of just trying to get true value pricing into your billing model, I want to focus on how to just at least charge about market rates. But I think this is a much more achievable and reasonable step to take.











And once you are at the point where you’re consistently charging about market rates without much push back from your clients, definitely dive into some of that material on value based fees to see how you can keep climbing the ladder because value based fees are going to be the easiest ways to really increase your margins and your profitably, bar none. So, what does it mean? How do we actually charge above market rates? There are three things that I really want to focus on today. First, simply don’t sell to clients that are broke. If it’s a small mom and pop shop down the street they aren’t going to have the money to pay you what you’re truly worth and while you can serve them, it’s going to be nearly impossible to build a real business on the back of those thousand dollar, two thousand dollar websites.







And it’s something where obviously those businesses have needs, they need websites too. They need help from experienced marketers, from experienced designers but it’s not your responsibility to provide that for anybody and everybody just because they have a need. And with the way technology is going, with the way WordPress is advancing, and with all the themes out there and all of this, if they truly do need the website they can get that done on their own or simply find someone else who isn’t as enlightened as you, and I say that very tongue and cheek, and is still offering websites for 500, a thousand, two thousand dollars a pop. But don’t fall into that trap yourself.











If you’re going to ignore everything I just said and you really want to work with these clients because you’ve found that they’re very low maintenance and that they are always paying on time, they never bicker about anything, which I again am very tongue and cheek, because that is almost never the case, but if, for whatever reason, you really want to work with these clients, what you need to do is productize your service so you’re able to deliver very cost-effectively with minimal oversight from highly paid team members like yourself. And to do this requires very heavy process development and lead generation so that you can get in enough new clients to make the small amounts of money you’re making on these projects actually worth it.









So, if you want to go that route more power to you but understand that to make it work there are some other trade-offs. The second thing is that you need to really be the expert if you want to command above market rates. The way most agency engagements go, the client is driving the entire thing. They come to you, tell you what you want, they pretty much interview you. You might have a few questions about what they’re looking for but, for the most part, they’re driving the car, they’re leading the show, but at the end of the day, you’re the expert. They run their business, they don’t build websites everyday. They’re not doing deep dives into Facebook ads, they’re not doing whatever it is that you do every single day.












You truly are the expert and let’s face it, the client really doesn’t know what it is that they need because they aren’t the expert, because they don’t spend all the time in the space that you do to know what is possible, to know what works and what doesn’t. And so, it’s your job to instead take the driver’s seat, lead the engagement, and show them what it is that they need, and show them that you’re the expert rather than someone who is just willing to do anything and everything to get that check from the client. And to do this you need to really understand their needs before you propose a solution. And this doesn’t mean how many pages are on their website or how many colors they want in their new logo. It means diving deep into their issue, into the business problem that exists, that brought them to you in the first place.










And so, in the next part I’m going to cover how to do this right so don’t worry about that for now. The last thing I wanted to touch on is that it’s crucial that you understand exactly what it is that the client is paying for and this touches on the last point I just made. They aren’t coming to you for that website, or that logo, or that ad campaign. They’re coming for the benefits, not the features. Maybe that current website is costing them money because they keep getting complaints about someone not being able to complete a booking, or make a reservation, or what it is that they do. Maybe they’re looking to at least partially retire and step away from the business but they don’t have enough leads coming in to actually bring on another person to take over some of their responsibilities.






Whatever the reason is, they are very rarely coming to you just because they love the idea of having a new website. There is almost always some underlying reason why a client is seeking out your services, whatever they may be. And beyond that, there are also intangibles. Even if they truly are just buying a website because they love websites and they love working with agencies, love everything about this process and they just want that website, they’re actually going to care about much more than the website itself. They’re going to care about consistency, they’re going to care about communication, they’re going to care about their deadlines, about their budget. There are so many things that any client cares about that most agencies entirely forget about.










Clients don’t want surprises and if you can show them that you are serious about how you approach your work, that you have done this before, that you have processes in place and systems in place to ensure that they are going to get the desired result that they are looking for, on time and on budget, that alone is worth a huge amount of money, especially for those bigger clients. And this is sort of a bonus tip, but this is one of the biggest things that smaller agencies forget about and struggle with when they are trying to move up market and sell to bigger companies. These bigger companies are more than willing to pay twice, three times, even 10 times as much for what is effectively the same deliverable if they know that the person and the agency that they’re working with is dependable.






So, later on in this episode I’m going to talk about how to build out some of those systems but for now if you want to deeper dive into the sales process, into how to actually charge what you’re worth, check out episode 75 with Brent Weaver, who talks about closing five and six figure deals. I was going to start out by saying that, well with this strategy this is another thing that agency owners really resist but honestly looking over the over strategies knowing I’ve already said that, I think twice but most of these things are things that people intuitively resist and there are some psychological reasons for them. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, it’s very different from what they’ve been doing.











But a lot of it is just, it is so different than the way most agencies operate and this makes it really hard to make these changes because when you feel like there’s a lot of pressure to just conform to do everything the same as every other agency, it’s difficult to go on a limb and do something different. But I also think this is why there’s so much opportunity here and that’s because all the other agencies aren’t doing these things well. So, just by simply executing on these relatively straight forward strategies you are going to stand out and truly can build a great agency. So, that aside, what this next strategy is, is don’t pitch for free. Right now, in my opinion, the pitch process is broken for the vast majority of agencies out there because most agencies are just giving away their time and expertise for free.














But beyond that, proposals in their current form just aren’t valuable. Most are sent without learning enough to actually do it right. And so, that means a few things. It means the agency who is, maybe they’re responding in RFP or whatever it actually is, but typically what you’ll see is that agencies will low ball their offer and pay for it later by accepting a scopes creep or by pissing off the client and forcing them to put in a lot of change orders and get things done that were out of scope because the scope was unnecessarily narrow because the agency wanted to put in a low offer and get selected. The other side of that is it could build in a buffer and overcharge. But regardless of the price that they offer, neither options, neither strategies, if you even want to call it that, actually is giving the client what they need because they didn’t take the time to truly understand what that is.








So, go the extra mile and actually turn your proposal into a valuable deliverable in its own right. And this process is what I refer and my guest refer to often as roadmapping. And what roadmapping means is doing the due diligence up front so you can figure out exactly what your client needs, how much it will cost, and what it will look like. This creates a true roadmap for success for their project. And again, success doesn’t mean a new logo, it means figuring out ultimately what the client is trying to achieve and the exact steps you can take to help them get there. When you do this right, the roadmap has real value to the client, and so you should charge for it. And there are five reasons that it has value. The first is that it reduces risk. By doing the due diligence up front you’re able to give accurate estimate of time and budget so there are fewer surprises and fewer risks for the client down the road.











The second thing is it adds transparency to the process because you make it clear exactly what needs to be done and when. And this means that they also could take it to another agency and say, “All right, we have this roadmap, we have this plan of what needs to be done. How much would it cost you to implement this?” They could do that but in the vast majority of cases they aren’t going to. In fact it’s very rare that you ever see that happen and when it does happen, almost every single time, the client comes back and says, “Hey, we tried it with someone else, it didn’t work. Let’s get it done with you.” Even though they know it’s going to cost more. This transparency gives them a clear look into how you work and clients love that. Third, it helps you establish expertise because building on that last point, they’re going to see that you have a framework, you work within.






They’re going to see that you’ve done this before and frankly that you act like a professional, and this alone puts you miles ahead of your competition who often seem like they’re just winging it. Fourth, it helps you build trust. Most agencies are so over eager to get started that they’re going to get the proposal out the door right away and immediately get their team started so that they can cash the check but clients are going to appreciate when you pump the brakes and make sure that things are in place and that you’ve figured everything out so you can make sure you’re building with the right thing rather than just building anything to get their money. And you’re going to keep that trust in the long run when you actually speak to the budget and deadline that you laid out in the roadmap.










But finally, and this is what I think is one of the most important aspects of this, is that it just makes it a much easier sale because your client is able to test the waters of working with you for a fraction of the cost of the full project. Instead of trying to sell a 10,000, 20,000, $30,000 project right out the gate with someone who you barely know, you’re able to charge 500 bucks, a thousand bucks, however much it is, you’re able to charge a much more palatable amount to get things started, and then they’re going to see how you work so that by the time the roadmap wraps up they know we want to work with this agency because they get it, they’re on top of things and we can’t imagine working with anybody else.








And so, not only does it make the original sale easier but your conversion rate from the roadmap to the full project is going to be massive because they love the way you work and if you follow all of the strategies I lay out today, they will love the way you work. To go deep on this check out who I view as the king of roadmapping, Ben Lee, he was on this show on episode number 20, and he talks about how his agency, Neon Roots, does over a million dollars a year just in roadmaps and it’s pretty crazy. And while I mentioned charging 500 bucks or a thousand bucks for a roadmap just a little bit ago, Ben actually charges, I believe, it’s between 15 and $30,000 for the roadmaps and obviously there’s a lot more that goes along with the process than just a simple discovery session but there are many ways to skin a cat and his way is pretty damn good.










So, definitely check that out and see how he has done that but also check out episode number 62 by Blair Enns, who literally wrote the book on pitching, titled “Win Without Pitching”. And in episode 62 he shares his five rules for digital agency growth and dives into a lot of the tactics on how to really position this roadmapping session, this paid discovery session, whatever you want to call it so your clients aren’t just okay with it but so that they’re actually excited by this and more than happy to pay for the privilege of this discovery session. So, let’s do a little thought experiment with this one. What would happen is tomorrow, or even just now, what would happen if you went home, went on vacation with no phone or internet for a week. Obviously, you’ll let your team know but you are off the grid, what would really happen?












Would your agency be standing when you came back? For most agency owners that caused a ton of stress just even imagining that because so much of their time is spent putting out fires and just feeling like they are holding everything together through grit, determination, and long sleepness nights because how much of your time right now is spent putting out fires? How often do you have to follow up a month into a project and ask your client for something you probably should have had on day one but one of your team members forgot to get? When these things happen, when you’re not able to step away from your agency, ultimately, it means that your processes are broken. And process is something that is not sexy, it’s not necessarily exciting to talk about, it’s pretty boring and it also seems to be almost the antithesis of why so many of us got into the agency world to begin with.







It seems like that overly buttoned up corporate environment where there’s no creativity, where this is just endless, mindless process that instead of actually helping things get done, it makes sure that nothing gets done because there are so many rules and it is so hard to keep track of it all. And I want to just make it clear right now that, that is not what I’m talking about. It is very easy in the corporate world for a process to get out of control but in my opinion it is a worse problem to have no process at all because when you don’t have process it all comes down to you. You are the glue that has to hold everything together because without you there is nothing else to fall back on.












Not only is this nothing for your team to fall back on but there also isn’t anything for your team to actually learn from, from their experience because everyone, when they’re just keeping process in their head, when they’re not even really thinking about it, when they just are kind of taking every task at face value and just going with it and doing what they think is best, you’re not really building a shared knowledge base. You’re not really learning from each other’s experience and that’s going to lead to inconsistent results, it’s going to lead to inefficient work because you’re not sharing the best way of doing something. You’re not creating standards, you’re not creating all of this, so you’re going to be spending more time doing the things that have to get done every single day.









Additionally, having more process in place means that you can prevent those fires from starting in the first place because so much of an agency owner’s time is dealing with whatever catastrophe came up that day that for whatever reason wasn’t predicted, for whatever reason wasn’t stopped from happening to begin with. And when you can identify these events, these fires that come up and start looking at what caused them, and start adjusting your processes to prevent them from happening again, you’re able to regain so much control of things because you’re not spending your days running around dealing with whatever happened to come up that day. You also just show your clients that you know what you’re doing, that you’ve learned from the experience, that you’ve figured out the best way to do things, and you consistently do it.





And, for me, and I think for many of you, the last benefit of process is that it lets you delegate. It makes it so that you don’t have to step in to do everything when things go wrong. It lets you work with your team to figure out the best way to do something or even if you don’t have much of a team now, it let’s you figure out the best way to do something. Document it, improve it, really refine this process, and then when you bring someone else on the team, or when you’re training a team member for a different role, you have the exact steps that they need to follow to get it done to your standards so that you don’t have to worry about it anymore.










Because without the simple act of delegation you’re frankly never going to be able to grow your agency into a large business and even if you don’t necessarily want a multi-million dollar agency with 30%, 40% margins that is just printing cash, without process, without being able to delegate, without being able to have other people on your team handle different responsibilities, you’re never going to be able to step away from the business. You are going to create, basically, a job for as long as you want the agency to run. So, if you have dreams of someday taking a vacation, not a big dream, but something for a lot of agency owners, they haven’t done in quite some time. You need to delegate to be order to achieve that and process is the best way of doing that, of allowing you to do that consistently.







So, all right, where do you actually get started with the process? In my opinion, what you want to do is, I would love … And I kind of geek out on this stuff, so I would love to have a process for absolutely everything that goes on in an agency, from hiring employees, from onboarding clients, from delivering the projects, there should be a process. For a lot of you listening, that probably sounds like a living [inaudible 00:42:03], so don’t worry I’m not going to say you need to go and build out a process for everything. But what will say is, start by just finding the bottlenecks. Find the bottlenecks in your agency, what’s holding you back? Where do you see problems regularly occurring?











What are tasks that you’re doing all the time? Once you find where the problems regularly occur, focus on those, focus on those things, so that you can stop the fires from starting to begin with and gain back a little time every week to further put into improving your business rather than just trying to keep the business afloat. If you don’t have that many random fires coming up, if you don’t have many problems randomly occurring, first, make sure you’re being honest with yourself because most businesses do have these issues but once you’re beyond that then just look at the tasks that you’re doing all the time. What are the tasks that you spend so much time on that a few small improvements to efficiency of these tasks will have dramatic output and sort of just the 80/20 principle.








Then, once you’ve found where you want to get started on or what you want to work on now, just document what you currently do. You absolutely cannot keep this in your head and it may seem silly, especially when you’re looking at some of the very basic things but it is so hard to improve something that is not down on paper and beyond that you simply won’t be able to share it without having it written down, without having process on paper and Google Docs, wherever it is, you’re not going to get the vast majority of the benefits that come from process. So, get out of your head, and chart down every single step that you take, and be clear about these steps. Don’t just try to lump things together because you need the deep insight into your process so you’re able to diagnose what’s going wrong so you can fix it.










Then, once you have it down, once you’ve written it out, brainstorm how you could change a process to avoid those problems. And so, say you’re working on client onboarding and you and your team regularly have to follow up weeks or a month into the project to get something from the client that you probably should have had right from the beginning, put it into your onboarding process that things don’t begin until you actually get that from the client. It could be as simple as getting the logins up front so that when you’re ready to change the DNS on their domain, when you’re ready to say upload the site, when you’re ready to just do whatever, you have all the information you need to hit the ground running, this not only keeps things simple for you, it lets your team keep working, but it lets you stay on deadlines and that is huge to the clients.












Then, update the process and have your team go to work and follow it. Then, just repeat this, when the low hanging fruit is gone, when you have refined your processes to a very strong point and any changes from this point really don’t have a major impact, and they’re all being followed, and all of that, then it’s time to just move on to the next process. And again, this is something where you can be as detailed and anal about this as you want. I definitely fall towards the side of being a bit Type A about this. What ultimately matters is that you have something to track what your team is doing, make sure they’re doing the right thing, and make sure they’re doing it efficiently and effectively so that things can run smoothly without constant micro-management.









To go really deep on this, and there’s a few episodes I’m going to recommend, the first is with Brian Casel, and that is episode number three, and that’s definitely one of the most popular episodes of this show, and in that episode Brian talks about scaling your agency with productized consulting, and a huge component of doing that is creating strong processes so that you’re able to outsource a lot of the work involved. The next one is episode 36, with Mandi Ellefson, on how to scale to freedom, and she really talks about how doing this, how instituting these processes is going to help you get your time back so that you can work on further improving the business and ultimately remove yourself from the business as much as you want to.













The last one is episode 76, with Jason Swenk, on how to use systems to grow your agency. And I like this episode a lot because Jason isn’t anywhere near as anal as I am about the process. The framework itself is something he supports and he talks a lot about how to apply this and what systems he sees as being the most important for your agency but he gives a more toned down version of how to get started with this and where to look for tips. In this last episode I just want to take a few minutes to better explain why agencies are so important to Hubstaff and why so many agencies are using our software. If you’ve listened to this show before and you’ve been tuning out the ads I’m not going to blame you for that. I’m not going to get mad or anything like that but please just give me a couple of minutes because I really do think that Hubstaff can help most agencies out there.









Simply put, Hubstaff creates time tracking software and it’s often used by remote teams. It doesn’t sound too revolutionary or anything like that. Our most common agency customer is one that uses Hubstaff to manage and pay their remote team and freelancers that they work with to deliver projects for their clients, but when I came onboard as a marketing director in August of 2015 and started digging deeper into who our customers really were and how they’re using our software, I realized that there was a subset of those agency owners who were using it a bit more like Google Analytics for their business and they were getting some amazing results. And so, let me just ask you, can you answer these questions? Who are my most and least profitable clients? What are my most and least profitable services? And who are my most and least efficient employees?





You probably have a hunch, probably think you can answer this but would you actually bet on that? Unless you have great data in place I’m willing to bet that those hunches aren’t that accurate. And even if your hunch is relatively accurate it simply doesn’t give you enough data to act on because you don’t know how much more you make from your best clients compared to your worst ones. And you don’t even know if you’re actually making money on those worst clients or how much you can afford to spend to acquire more of those best clients. And what are your margins on your most profitable services, and what are they on your least profitable services? What are those services, do you know? And how much slower is Tim than Jane? Is he slower on every task?










Are there any tasks he’s faster on that we can have him focus on, and actually maybe even train the rest of the team on or who can we work with to help him get up to speed on those tasks that he is slower on? Without better data you’re simply not going to be able to answer these questions. Hubstaff can help give you that data because how much easier would it be for you to fire that client that is an absolute pain if you knew that they were actually costing you money every month? How would you change your sales and marketing efforts if you realized you made four times as much, on average, on a specific service? Seriously, how much better would your margins look if you could answer those questions and then act on it? Better margins means that you could finally hire some help so you could actually find the time to focus more on your overall business strategy.






And you wouldn’t have to stress over payroll, month after month. Ultimately, it means more money in your pocket without needing an increase in revenue. To answer those three questions, drum roll please, your team needs to track their time. I know I’m not the first person who told you to track their time but if you can’t answer those questions then you’re holding your business back by not doing it. And, I’ll admit it, your staff probably isn’t going to see it that way, right away, because if there is one universal truth in agency life it is that everyone hates tracking time. However, it’s your job to make it easy for everyone and make it clear why this matters to the business and to them because, simply put, it matters because time tracking is how you make sure you make money on jobs.










If you don’t make money on jobs, you’re not going to stay in business and you won’t be able to keep paying them. It’s simple but it’s true. And Hubstaff is the easiest way for your team members to track their time and you can get started today for 30% off your first year by just heading over to try.hubstaff.com/podcast, and signing up for a free 14 day trial, no credit card required. If you work with a global team and just want to better keep track of what they’re doing, Hubstaff can help. But if your priority is getting these types of insights so you can build a better agency, then it’s easy to completely turn off those screenshots and URL tracking and still get the data you need.








We have a 14 day, completely free, no credit card required trial and if you sign up after the trial you’re going to get 30% off your first year. If you know your processes are fully optimized ane everyone is performing at their highest level, then maybe Hubstaff is not for you but for everyone else, in reality, I’d recommend giving Hubstaff a try. Just head to try.hubstaff, H-U-B-S-T-A-F-F.com/podcast. All right, now let’s get back to the last step in building the agency of your dreams. One thing I know I talk a lot about with my guests is what I call the accidental agency owner. And this is a situation I think a lot of listeners really can relate to, and it’s when you start out as a designer, a developer, or whatever skill you have, and you’re freelancing because you want to get out of the corporate world, you wanted to really feel like you had some freedom.











And so, you’re freelancing, and you’re getting some clients, you’re really hustling, doing good work, and from that you get a lot of word-of-mouth, and you have more clients coming to you than you can handle, so you bring on a buddy to help deal with that, and then to help fulfill the work that you have coming towards you, and a few years later you look up and you have a team of three, or five people, or whatever, but you’re working 60 plus hours a week to hold it all together and you’re not actually making that much more money than when you started. And I don’t say this to be negative or to make you feel bad if this is your situation but this the reality for a lot of agency owners and what I hope is that some of these lessons can help you break out of that accidental agency owner mindset.







Because regardless of why you got into this space, and most of you probably didn’t get into this space because you wanted to run a business, you enjoy you craft, you want freedom, whatever it is, regardless of why you got into this, even if you don’t want to have anything to do with running a real business, you have to. If you run an agency you are a business owner and the sooner you can at least adapt a part of that mindset, the better you’re going to be. And I laid out some earlier tips that really give you a process to start working towards that mindset and start figuring out how you can apply that to your agency to turn things around or even if they’re going well right now, how to make them even better. But what I really want to stress is that never forget that you are ultimately in charge.










You get to decide what sort of business you are building. So many times we feel like we’re just kind of along for the ride and it’s easy to do when you are spending all of your time holding everything together, dealing with clients, dealing with staff, making sure things are going out on deadline, in budget, all of that. When you’re doing so much stuff, week in, week out, it is really hard to take a step back and ask yourself, “Am I building a business that I actually want to run?” And so, what I’m saying right now is take that step back. Even if things are crazy right now, think about what you want to get out of your agency. What business are you trying to build? And maybe you want to ultimately build an agency that doesn’t require you at all, where you can just sit back on the beach, sip a margarita, and collect a check.











That’s definitely possible but it’s much easier said than done because to really achieve this, to keep the agency afloat for more than a couple years, to ensure that you are going to have this cash flow asset for the long-term, you need someone who is driving the strategy to stay ahead of the curve and to keep growing and you also need someone who is driving sales to make sure that new clients are coming in. Those are rules that typically are reserved for founders but if you don’t want to have this role, if you just want to be a strict silent owner, you’re going to have to find people for those roles and those people are expensive, but it is possible. An alternative that I think is something more within the realm of shorter term probability or possibility is building an agency that requires minimal oversight.








And by that I mean you have a team of management, or even just a manager, who’s able to keep everything running smoothly. They’re able to handle the client communications when necessary, they’re able to make sure your staff are following the processes, and they’re able to work with them to improve things, and you have those processes in place to really help keep the employees efficient and effective. And you really are only stepping in when things absolutely go off their rails and when you do that your goal is to improve the process so it doesn’t come up again. And over time things will improve so that you have to step in fewer and fewer but you also are stepping in to help out with sales and to help out with the overall strategy of staying ahead.












And this is something that I think, if you follow these steps that I’ve laid out earlier, if you really take this to heart and make these improvements you can get to this relatively quickly. And by quickly I don’t mean overnight, I don’t mean within a few weeks, I don’t even mean within a few months, but within six months, within a year, you are going to start seeing real progress of growing a more profitable agency and an agency that requires less of you. And I think that’s what we all want on some level. And it doesn’t mean if you achieve that, that you have to walk away entirely and go to that proverbial beach where you can sip margaritas. You can do what you want to do. And for some people, if you got into this business because you really like to do the client work, you can keep doing that.









You’re the boss, remember, so if things can keep running without you having to hold it all together, you’re able to work on the projects that you want to, you’re able to do the things that you want to. Whether that means doing the client work or it means walking away entirely and just collecting the check, you have those options. And you have what a lot of us got into the agency world to get, you have the fulfillment from doing what you want to do. You have the freedom from being in charge and from having ownership, not just in terms of profits but in terms of destiny, in terms of what you’re actually working on. And, if you follow all of these things you’re going to have pretty great margins, so you will have some very nice profits.






To get a better idea of what this process looks like in practice, check out episode 77, with Andrew Lolk, on leaving an eight figure agency behind to start again from scratch. This is a story of someone who ran, and co-founded, and grew an agency to eight figures a year. It had well over a hundred employees, they were doing great, they were profitable, they had never taken outside investment, things were looking very good but he realized this wasn’t what he wanted. He liked doing the client work. He knew that there were some sides of the agency, there was some business work that needed to be done to be profitable obviously but at the end of the day he really wanted to structure something where he was still able to keep working with the clients, so he walked away from an eight figure business and started again from scratch.









And so, in this episode he dives into what made him make that decision and how he made sure that this time around he’s going to truly build the agency of his dreams. Now, I’m not going to pretend that this is easy and it really may seem unrationable to you with the way things are at right now but you can do this. Every agency owner that is out there listening to this has something they can improve in their agency this week that will make a positive impact on their life. Maybe that is just being a little bit stricter about what clients are working with. Maybe that’s tightening up your onboarding process so that you make sure you get everything up front from the client that you need on day one. But whatever it is there are things you can do in your agency that aren’t that hard and will be a first step towards truly building that agency of your dreams, where whatever it ultimately is that you’re trying to get out of the business you’re able to get.










Because I just don’t want you to accept that running an agency has to mean late night calls from clients or team members, 60 or 80 hour weeks filled with stress, and never being able to actually take a real vacation, all for relatively low profits. The steps you need to take to build this agency of your dreams are straight forward but they are going to push your comfort zone a bit and that’s okay. And the steps are first, develop a strong positioning statement. Second, make sure you have a sales channel in place so that you’re not relying on referrals. Third, charge what you’re worth. Fourth, don’t pitch for free. Fifth, establish and improve your processes. And sixth, take true ownership to build the agency of your dreams.







If you started this agency because you wanted freedom but just found you created a more stressful job then you owe it to yourself to at least take that first step and figure out what it is that you can do, what it is that you can put into practice this week to start changing the momentum. If you push back against positioning, or charging for roadmaps, or whatever other objections you may have, just ask yourself if you’re happy with how things are right now in your agency. Not just if you’re content but if you’re truly happy. If every year for the rest of the time you spend in your agency was like this last year would that be okay with you? Would that be wonderful? Would that be a dream? If so, that’s amazing, but don’t settle. Work through these strategies so that next year can be even better.











And if that sounds more like a nightmare than a dream, then what do you have to lose by trying some of these things. Take ownership of your agency and start working to build the business of your dreams. You have all of the tools that you need. I’ve been wanting to put together these lessons for quite some time and once we decided this would be the last episode of the podcast I knew that this was the best way to wrap things up. I’ve talked to 77 agency experts on this show and dozens more through my work at Hubstaff and while I don’t try to claim to be an expert myself, or anything like that, I still hope that these lessons I’ve shared with you, not just today but throughout the course of this podcast, have really helped you build the agency of your dreams or at least just get on a better path to realizing your goals.








I don’t want this to turn into some Academy Awards speech. I’m not going to try to pretend that I made some huge lasting impact on the world or anything like that, but I do want to give a few thanks to everyone that made this show possible. First, to Dave and Jared, the co-founders of Hubstaff, for taking a chance on this and really supporting it fully, even through the hiccups along the way. Without Hubstaff there would be no Agency Advantage podcast. Then, I want to thank all 77 guests of this show because, like I said, I’m not an expert. And while I’ve learned a ton in my time on this show, it’s their expertise that keeps the listeners coming back. There isn’t a single guest that I regret interviewing and many of them are people who I now consider to be great friends. Thank you so much.













But most importantly, I want to thank you, the listener. Over the nearly two years that I’ve been doing this show I’ve heard from a lot of you about the impact the Agency Advantage podcast has had on your agency and hearing that kind of feedback made this the most enjoyable part of my job at Hubstaff. It’s time for me to move on to other pursuits but I just want to stress how thankful I am to have your support along the way. This show wouldn’t have made it this long without you and I really can’t express how grateful I am to have had this opportunity. While I’m moving on from Hubstaff, I don’t want to close the door completely on the agency world, so if you have any agency questions, are looking for feedback, or just want to say hi, you can always reach out to me at [email protected] That’s [email protected]








I really do owe a lot to you so please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can also find the show notes for this episode by heading to blog.hubstaff.com. There you’re going to find an overview of everything I covered today, links to all the episodes I mentioned, and all the other resources I talked about, as well as a full transcript. And don’t worry, The Agency Advantage podcast will live on at iTunes and the Hubstaff blog, and I know that the content team over at Hubstaff is going to be working on doing some really cool stuff to package up some of his lessons into other easy to consume formats, so make sure to stay on top of all that by checking out the blog at blog.hubstaff.com. That’s H-U-B-S-T-A-F-F.





And finally, if you haven’t signed up for Hubstaff yet I want to strongly urge you to check it out. If you have a team of remote contractors, this is the easiest way to manage and pay them, even if your team is all in the same office, Hubstaff makes it easy to see how they’re spending their time, so that you can better identify and fix bottlenecks, so they can spend that time doing what really matters. Hubstaff works on Windows, Macintosh, and even Linux. And if you don’t want screenshot tracking, that’s fine, you can simply disable it and still get all of the other benefits that you get from having those deep insights into how your team is spending their time.




We have a 30% discount exclusively for Agency Advantage listeners which you can find at try.hubstaff.com/podcast. And I can’t promise this offer is going to be up forever, so if you’re on the fence just head over to try.hubstaff.com/podcast to take advantage of the discount and start your free 14 day trial today. Again, thank you all so, so much. This podcast has been an amazing experience for me and I truly hope it has been valuable and enjoyable for you as well. I’ll talk to you soon.


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