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Since 2007, Michael has pioneered the use of social media, content, and inbound marketing strategies to help agencies win new business, and he has taught those strategies to over 200 agencies in all 50 states and 21 countries
If there is one thing I hear again and again from agency owners, it’s that they simply don’t have the time to build an active content marketing strategy. Today, Michael makes the case for why it’s crucial that you find the time to make content a priority and shares his framework for how you can get started and be generating leads in 30 days.
If you’re skeptical of the value of content marketing for your agency or are worried that it will take too long to get results, this is the episode for you.
The value of inbound prospects
If clients find you through a personal blog where you position yourself as an expert, which is Michael’s preferred strategy, the client already knows everything about you. They know your values, your experience, and a little personal info about you to humanize you.
According to Michael, people want to work with experts they know and trust, so creating a place online where prospects can get to know you is simply the most efficient way of generating business. You don’t have to waste each other’s time trying to get the client on board because they already know what they need to know to choose you.
This is a godsend for businesses. Instead of chasing clients and dealing with endless skepticism and the possibility of wasting time on a client who picks a cheaper agency, now clients come organically, their decision already made.
Why your blog should have its own site
A lot of companies struggle with the decision to niche down, even though this can greatly benefit their business. They might have a given in with a certain segment of the industry, but they also don’t want to turn off other clients who might be interested. Therefore, they languish in a constant state of rebranding and redesigning and repositioning themselves because they fear narrowing their market too much.
This is why Michael focuses on his main strategy. Instead of rebranding the agency website, Michael pushes agency owners to create a personal website, targeted toward a specific niche. The personal blog achieves two things: first, the creator gets to promote themselves as an expert. Second, the website can remain more general. The idea is that people coming from the personal blog view the agency through the lens of the blog’s specific niche, but people visiting the agency website itself would never guess that the owner has this specific expertise.
The best part is that this strategy involves no risk for the parent website. Because the blog lives in its own house, so to speak, it can sink or swim on its own without affecting the agency’s greater strategy. If it doesn’t work, the agency can always try something else–but it usually works.
30 posts in 30 days
Michael doesn’t expect agencies to jump into this approach immediately. His workshops focus on giving agency owners all the tools they need. First, he helps agency owners figure out their target audience and a set of keywords, both for the tagline for the website and for every piece of content on that website.
The initial 30-day period is the most important part. It forces agency owners to find a way to create content efficiently. Even better, it makes the whole process seem less difficult. Any process that works for creating daily content will make a less intensive strategy a breeze, and so agency owners who work with Michael go off with not only a target audience and a way to reach them, but a process to ensure consistent work.
Creating an introductory offer
Michael’s other emphasis is to stop giving away advice for free. He urges agency owners to look at their process with new clients. Now that the agency no longer has to establish their position as the best choice for a client’s job, they also don’t have to waste their time writing up free proposals and giving general advice. If a client wants to pick your brain, they should have to pay for it, because your time and your expertise is valuable.
In Michael’s experience, this improves the client relationship for everyone involved. The client is more conscious of the time spent with the expert, as well as more respectful and willing to listen since, after all, they’re paying for it. And the agency doesn’t give away its most valuable asset for free.
Don’t go for the hard sell
Michael spends a lot of time pushing agencies away from adding promotional content to every post. An agency’s first instinct is to promote itself, after all. But the content on the niche blog is never supposed to be overtly promotional; the link to the owner’s agency is present and never denied, but the focus is on positioning the agency owner as an expert.
Instead of emphasizing the agency, the post should instead emphasize the author, explaining who this person is. Clients are smart. They can figure out what business you run on their own. You don’t want to risk turning them off by putting obvious shills in what is supposed to be great, useful content. In the end, the client will trust you more for it.
How to get quick results from your content
Michael doesn’t just urge agency owners to create a lot of content. He also teaches them how to promote that content. With the blog posts, he promotes them on a variety of different sites, such as Twitter and LinkedIn. He also likes to use email newsletters, which again, focus on the author of the posts instead of the agency. Michael often points agency owners toward purchasing lists of emails in the target audience, because the size of the email newsletter list determines the size of the traffic.
The idea is to get the website off the ground as fast as possible. The more people coming to your website, the easier it is to find on the web, which in turn increases content, which in turn will generate leads and increase sales.
Maintaining the strategy
The ultimate point of Michael’s strategy is to help agency owners change their mindset about social media marketing. Again, the focus on traditional marketing techniques makes social media seem like a waste of time, but Michael’s program helps agency owners see the beauty in it.
After writing 30 blog posts in 30 days, generating traffic, and finding a niche market, the company is all set to focus on inbound leads instead of outbound without pain or lost business. Now agency owners don’t have to ask themselves where to start because they already know, and they’ve already stress tested the system and figured out how to make it work, and all they have to do is keep doing what they’re doing and let the business come to them.
|Andy Baldacci:||Michael, thanks so much for coming on the show today.|
|Michael Gass:||Good to be with you, Andy.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Let’s just jump right into things. Why is content such a valuable strategy to help agencies drum up new business?|
|What I found that prospective clients, they’re looking for expertise. The average Fortune 500 company has 17 agency relationships. The agency of record is pretty much dissipated, because what they’re really looking for is expertise. Full service just doesn’t mean what it used to.|
|Andy Baldacci:||When it comes to content, do you see that as a way for them to establish that expertise?|
|It is because the commonality among experts is that experts write. It’s very conducive for a lot of importance being placed now on content marketing. We had so many that jumped on the content marketing bandwagon in 2015, it’s almost a gluttony of content. So much of it is nonspecific. It doesn’t have a particular target audience, so it’s very, very generic. This is a way to establish a positioning of expertise to a particular target group, and to be able to do that quickly.|
I think you hit on something there when you said a lot of the content out there is generic. Because not only does it speak to nobody really, it’s just something that’s out there. It’ll be like five marketing tips for business owners. Who cares? But the other part of it is that a lot of the content is written by people who don’t actually have expertise in the field that they’re writing about. Even if it is specific, it’s not really giving insights that truly show expertise, because the people writing it aren’t experts. Have found that to be the case as well?
|I found that to be the case, but you can pick a particular focus and really get up to speed quickly as far as developing a very strong reading program, and then in the execution in developing the content. I had an agency that their niche, one of their niches is millennial marketing. They actually own the millennialmarketing.com. Jeff Fromme, who’s over business development for the agency whose father started the agency said, “You know, I really don’t know anything about millennial marketing other than I have three of my own.” Three millennials in his family.|
|It was amazing at how quickly Jeff got up to speed, because it’s almost like it’s your personalized professional enrichment tool. I’ve got two master level degrees. When I went at this, I viewed it almost like a grant program. When I get up every morning, I know exactly what I need to read. I’ve got my assignments. It just does so much to get you to where you need to be.|
|I’m fully on board with this movement and with doing content marketing right, especially as a way to drum up new business for agencies. I know a lot of people still are getting it wrong. How do you think agencies need to think about content marketing to actually do it right and to actually see results?|
|Most agencies really didn’t get involved in social media until about 2010. When they jumped in, they literally just jumped in. It was almost like a checklist. We now have an agency blog check. We’ve got an agency Twitter account. We’ve got a Facebook fan page. We’ve got a LinkedIn company account. They wonder why they’re not generating any business. They forget that social media is all about people connecting with people. What they’re trying to do is lead with brick and mortar.|
|When they create an agency blog, they usually do a team blog approach, because nobody likes to write. If I don’t have to write a post but every two or three months, I’ll do that. Few commit the time, and it’s a fruitless exercise. A lot of agencies tend to let the blog go away because they’re just not generating much from it. Again, they’re either creating content about themselves, a promotional type content, or content that is generic and not specific to a particular target and to their marketing challenges.|
Yeah, it was funny. I was talking with someone who is a solo consultant right now, but they previously were a developer at an agency. We were talking about content marketing. They were saying that when they were at the agency, they had to write one blog post a quarter. Everyone on their team did, and when they split it up that way, it would be one blog post a week. They were like, “All right, this system’s going to be great.” He said even when it was that infrequent, he just couldn’t find the time to do it. He hated writing, he hated doing all of that.
|You see that a lot in the agencies when they try to spread out the responsibility amongst the entire team. Because a lot of the team members, they don’t see it is their job. This isn’t something they want to do. It’s just so hard to overcome. But the agency owners, the principals often feel like they don’t have the time to do it all themselves. How do you find that balance of having someone truly take ownership of this while balancing all of their other responsibilities?|
You have to really show them the benefits. One of the benefits for me is I’ve been in business development my whole ad career. I’m a cold caller from way back. I did 45 to 75 cold calls a day. I’ve been in consulting now for 10 years. I’ve been able to build an international consulting group without a single cold call. Over those 10 years, I have never made any kind of cold call for any new business. The business comes and what is the magnet that creates the appeal is the content. If I can spend the time to do the things that enrich me especially and help me to really understand my prospect’s challenges, and then to clearly articulate not only the challenges but coming up with the solutions, it just does so much for me that it’s worth the time. The fuel for new business is absolutely incredible.
|I think you hit it right on the head, because so many agency owners, business owners, people in general who are getting into content marketing view it as a checklist and they view it as a cost center. They say, “All right, if we want to stay with the times, we need to have a blog. We need to have an active social presence. We need to do this, we need to do that.” They’re not looking at the why. They’re not trying to understand why those things are important. They’re just trying to check the boxes to say that they’ve done it.|
|When you have that attitude about it, it is hard to find the time. When you actually understand the power of content and the power of social media to amplify that content to build relationships and how that can bring new business back to your agency, then it’s not even really a question of how do you find the time, because you’re going to make the time, because this is what really drives the agency.|
|Most agency owners, when I conduct these workshops and I’ve done over 260 of these ad agencies, and they’re telling me, “Please don’t ask me to do anything else, my plate is full.” I tell them, “It’s not a question of adding something to your plate. It’s just changing the way you’ve done this in the past.” There is a paradigm that has taken place, a paradigm shift in the way we generate new business. Instead of chasing new business, it’s all about being found. There’s a strong strategy that goes with this that helps your prospects to develop awareness for you quickly.|
|I only worked in two markets my whole ad career. When I got in consulting, I knew that that was going to be a problem. How am I going to build awareness beyond those two markets where I had zero awareness? When I start creating content, one of the first things that I started to do is developing my blog fuel lines, feeling ad agency new business, and my fourth client is on the West Coast in Costa Mesa, California. I’m in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama called Alabaster. I was so afraid of even putting Alabaster, Alabama on a business card that anybody would even take me seriously. I’m sitting on the West Coast in February and this is my fourth client.|
|I thought, what would it have taken using traditional marketing methods to generate this kind of opportunity? That’s when I was all in. It’s just cause and effect. You create that content and you start building your online community. I preach community development comes before business development. You build that online community. If you do those things right and you have the right calls to action, then you start generating leads. It’s consistent.|
|Andy Baldacci:||When you say community development comes before business development, what exactly do you mean by that?|
|You’ve got to build an online community of prospects. You’ve got to be very proactive in doing that. There’s a number of tactics that you can utilize. Like Twitter, between two Twitter accounts, fuel lines, and then Michael gass, we’ve got 104,000 Twitter followers. That generates a significant amount of traffic to the site. As people click on those links reading my content that I’m sharing, that just accelerates my SEO. I own the number one position for ad agency new business and organic search, and I’ve been able to maintain that for 10 years. It’s just building that online community and fueling that.|
|There’s ways like even with LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s got a feature called people you may know. If you click on those recommendations, those recommended persons to connect with, and some of them you don’t even know. If they’re a part of your target, there’s a built-in algorithm in LinkedIn that makes that stronger and stronger. You see more of your target popping up in those suggestions. You just take the time on a daily basis to click those. A good percentage of those are going to connect with you, whether they know you or not. You use a tool like with Twitter, ManageFlitter is what I recommend. I can build a Twitter following based on maybe a Twitter account of an association that my prospective clients are affiliated with, like the forays, RSW, Catapult, New Business, some of those. You can even build a Twitter following off of your competitors using the tool.|
|Wow. I can see the power with that. I like when you said that when you first got that West Coast client, you were thinking to yourself, how can I have possibly replicated this with more traditional techniques? If you were cold calling, I can’t even imagine the process that would have take for you to work your way over that far and even get them to listen to you. That makes me think of another question, is that how is that relationship different when prospects are coming to you rather than when you’re reaching out to them? When they find you online, when they see the content you’re putting out there, when they decide, hey, I want to work with this guy. How does that change your relationship?|
|You skip the dating process and move right to the altar. It’s amazing. It’s one of the other additional benefits of using social media for new business. Because when a prospective client initiates the call, they’re ready for business. We skip all the other stuff. They don’t have to get to know me, they know me. They talk to me as if this is our 30th conversation, when it’s our initial conversation. They know my pets, my hobbies, my family, my travels, my business. There is a strong emotional connection.|
|It goes back to my premise even when getting into social media back in 2007, is that people want to work with other people that they know, trust, and like. This is a tremendous way to be able to build that, and that you can do it from any place. We love to spend time on our boat. We’ve got a houseboat and go there a lot of times on weekends. Sometimes I’ll spend weeks at a time there. Because anywhere that I’ve got an Internet connection, I can be doing business development. It’s just so much easier. You have to help them to understand the efficiencies and the effectiveness of it, and that it makes new business actually easier, not harder.|
|When you’re developing that kind of relationship, and this is like a new businessperson has died and gone to heaven. This is what new business heaven, the right prospect at the right time initiates the call and it’s a right fit because you’ve already been vetted. Chemistry is a big part of business development. Looking back over the years, I have never had a bad client relationship.|
|I think the reason for that is the chemistry that’s involved. Those that I don’t resonate with, and it’s hard for us to take. Some people just aren’t going to like you. They don’t ever call. I don’t waste time with the wrong prospects and I’m developing relationships with the right prospects that we have some points of appeal. We share some same value or some similar culture, or even a hobby or something. We’ve got more of a personal connection. That conversation is so far down the road, I preach this to my clients. Don’t make that initial contact. If you do this program right, your prospective client is going to call you when they’re ready. Don’t pick that too green. I really, the dynamic of that relationship is so different when they initiate the call. If you make the call, you’re chasing business. If they’re calling you, they’re chasing you. That’s the position you want to be in.|
Right. When you talk to most agency owners who have been in the business for a while, hopefully a lot of them have figured out processes, whether it’s qualification, whether it’s whatever that help eliminate a lot of the problem clients. I like when you said that if you show them who you are through your content, if they understand your personality, understand you, they might not all like you, but those ones that don’t like you and who you might not like, they’re not going to be reaching out. The ones that have decided, hey, this is someone I want to work with. This is someone I want to partner with.
|They are far and away going to be good fits who, one, they know you, who you are, what you stand for, and they agree with it. Two, they’re going to see you as an expert. They’re going to defer to you on many things rather than have that typical adversarial relationship between agency and client where the client is trying to push everyone around and the agency is trying to do its best, and it doesn’t work out. This seems like a great way to avoid all of that. Once you have that buy-in from your clients, from people in your workshops, from all of that, once an agency owner has raised their hand and said, “All right, I’m ready to do this.” What is the process you take them through to actually get a content marketing system up and running?|
|When I work with clients, we always do a workshop at the agency where I give them an around the ranch view of the strategies, tactics, and tools that we’re going to utilize so that everybody’s on the same page. Then we’ll do in the afternoon a positioning exercise that the take away from that is everything that’s needed to be able to create what I call a niche blog and a blog that lives off-site that’s usually built around the agency owner or owners. Because in practicality, they’re the least likely persons to leave. The agency, it’s their value, their culture that’s an extension of them.|
|What I found over time as I started doing this, most agencies are in a perpetual state of rebranding. They can never quite get over that hump. They’re in a perpetual state of redesigning the website. This was so problematic in the beginning that we started to create this niche blog off-site for practical reasons, but then we found this is just so much more effective because we get away from the agency. We’re not leading with the agency, we’re not hiding the fact that there’s a connection, but it’s deeper in the profile page. Then the agency website is all about the agency. It’s their online brochure. It’s the place for credentials, capabilities, and case studies. It’s all about you.|
|The focus on the niche blog living off-site, it’s all about the prospect. None of that self-promotional content should be there. It should be good, helpful information, even when you’re writing information for your calls to action. It should be the kind of calls to action that speak to the take away from the prospect and how it’s going to benefit them. The emphasis is so different, and I like the clear distinction, and that you can have it live off-site. I use a fishing analogy. We’re going to fish for specific fish with a particular bait. We’re going to get the bait away from the boat so we don’t scare off the fish. Because it’s a fishing expedition, you don’t have to have buy-in with the whole agency.|
|Agencies, the really have no positioning. They look and sound just like. Even though they think they’re different, they’re not. They’re afraid of positioning because all they can think about is missed opportunities. If I was trying to help them with their positioning that they’ve battled years and still not willing to do what’s necessary to make the hard business decisions, when we do this positioning exercise in the afternoon, they start sweating bullets. How in two to two and a half hours can we resolve the positioning when we’ve never been able to do that before? THen I carry them through this outline for creating the niche blog. It’s never failed, I meant seriously in doing this over 260 times. We have never failed to get the positioning where it needed to be.|
|Then they’re amazed. How could we do this? I tell them, “You have no risk. This thing could be a total flop and you could have no risk.” It doesn’t have to impact anything that you’re doing on the website. It creates no confusion because it doesn’t live there. It lives apart. It’s its own focus group. It helps me to help them to drill down a much more specific target than they’ve ever dreamed possible.|
|When I heard you talk about that concept of having the niche blog live off-site, that was immediately when I was like, all right, I really need to reach out and talk to Michael about this. Because speaking with so many agency owners, freelancers, whatever, anyone in the creative space, they hate the idea of niching down. While they might intellectually understand it, it’s just a really hard pill to swallow. Because like you said, a lot of times, they’re worried about what they have to turn away and they’re worried about, all right, what if I want to change it down the road? There’s so many fears that are well-founded, and I understand them. In having the niche blog live off-site, it was just like, the magic pill in my opinion because it really just makes all of those go away.|
|For this particular target that we address, that is the gateway that you want them. When they go to the website, after they learn more of who you are, they want to look under the hood. They’re going to do their due diligence. They’ll make that connection. Then they see the credentials, capabilities, and case studies, that’s when they’re ready to view those things. When they look deeper to see if their perception of who you are matches up with reality.|
|Andy Baldacci:||How narrow do you suggest agencies go when they’re setting up this niche blog?|
|If you can’t go to a list broker and easily create a list, you’re not niched enough. You’ve got to have a very specific target. I’ve got an agency in Norfolk, Virginia that, Artillery Marketing is the name of the agency. The agency owner is a VMI graduate. His father was a general in the Army. We get through this positioning exercise. He’s in the back door of Washington DC. He’s done a lot of work with defense contractors. It’s like, duh. You don’t get it. Artillery Marketing, you ought to be focused on defense contractors.|
|His first thought was, what about the community bank? What about our local college? He’s thinking immediately about missed opportunities. When I explain how to do this, then he starts creating this niche blog addressing defense contractors where there was no content specific to them when we started. Now he’s known globally in that niche. He’s not missing any opportunities because it’s not reflected in the website.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right, the website isn’t turning away people outside of that. If you just go to the website, you don’t even realize the other side exists. But if you find the niche first, you’re going to go to the website and see it through those colored glasses by knowing, all right, these are the guys that have this expertise.|
|A good example of how this works, in my opinion, this allows small to midsized agencies go after some really big fish. I’ve got an agency in Louisville, Kentucky that is primarily a media agency with about 43 people in the media department, only three in creative. They’ve got an 800 pound gorilla client that they’ve had for 20+ years. If that client goes away, it is a detriment, a severe detriment to the agency. They’re in a precarious position, as many agencies are.|
|How do we utilize this and develop this niche blog based on that kind of background? We found that working with their primary media client, which was Kroger, they helped Kroger start a lot of stores. That came out in our discussion. We came up with the store starters. It was marketing resources for great grand openings as the tag. We built it around the agency owners, the president, Scott Kuhn, Dave Carter who serves as the creative director. They had been trolling, I meant bottom feeding for any kind of project work to help build their portfolio. Through that positioning of expertise, that these are the two store starting gurus, Burlington Coat Factory, a national brand calls. Without an RFP and that a pitch, they ask them to help start 22 new stores.|
|Andy Baldacci:||That’s huge.|
|Michael Gass:||That’s the way it works when it done correctly. It’s amazing at how little time you can establish that positioning of expertise when it’s that focused.|
|When you’re working in the workshop, when you’re working directly with clients and you’re helping them set this up and you get them to come to terms with their positioning, you get them to set up the blog separately, you get all of that. What happens next? How quickly are they able to really plant their flag and say that they’re an expert? Do they just start blogging on day one? What do you do with them next from there?|
|We follow the outline to get all the necessary information to be able to create the niche blog. We start out with a target audience and we clearly identify the target. Then we come up with a tagline. In the exercise, we do some wordsmithing. What are the words we know need to be in that tag? Then we start wordsmithing around that. It’s got to be plainspoken, very direct of the purpose and intent of the blog. Then we come up with something a little more clever. I had my very first client, the only female creative director at the time in Birmingham. Then we found that 97% of all creative directors in the country are male. Only 3% female. We looked at that as being kind of a niche. She worked primarily with male advertisers because she didn’t like working with women.|
|We’re trying to come up with some kind of a niche here. We came up with She-conomy, a guy’s guide to marketing to women. We learned that women made most of the brand purchases. They made more purchases at Home Depot and Lowe’s than men did. They bought more consumer electronics from places like Radio Shack than men. Women even bought more NFL and NBA apparel over men, because they’re the purchasing agent for the family. This put the small agency on the map. In a short period of time, Porsche calls and hires the agency president to come in and consult and help to develop a marketing campaign to women. They’ve never had those kind of opportunities until they created this positioning of expertise.|
|Writing is the hardest part. Once you nail down this outlying on the target, the tag, the title, key words to incorporate in every post title that connect the audience to the content, and then the categories, you have a blog that’s very, very focused. The hardest part in the implementation is creating content. You have to help each agency to develop their own customized content creation program. I had them write 30 posts in 30 days. I really press to get it done in that period of time, because anything and everything, it’s an agency. It’s going to come up. We work through those things. When we find ourselves at a point where we’re not consistent, we find solutions, if we need to add a member to the writing team, if we need to get an outside source, or what have you. Once we’re through those 30 posts, we have a system of content creation.|
|Andy Baldacci:||It’s a most like a stress test. Right off the bat, you’re going to push whatever system or lack of a system that they have to the limit, see where it breaks, fix it, and then when you come out of that, you know that you’re going to be able to handle whatever comes down to the road.|
Right. There is a way to write content. Copywriters struggle to write online content. They forget about the searchability. They’re more accustomed to writing for print. They don’t understand that most people online don’t read the way they read off-line. They don’t read word for word. They scan. The post has to be scannable. You’ve got to get to the point quickly. I actually had them to develop a subtitle that answers the question, what is my benefit or takeaway as a reader if I commit the time to read your post? Answer that in a single sentence. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve taken the last sentence in the post and moved it up to the top. Then that gives direction and clarity to the reader.
|You need to understand, it’s more like a way a reporter would write for a newspaper in that it’s an inverted pyramid style of writing. The most important content is at the top. They’re learning that process as well, as well as getting everybody in place that can help with this effort. Maybe the face of the blog, that agency owner is not writing all of the content they are adding their tonality. We structure it a way, even in the editing process, to simplify how we’re going to create content. Because most agencies need new business now. They can’t wait.|
|Once we’re done, we’ve got the 30 posts. We’ve developed our calls to action, like I would add consulting as a service line. What is the first that that you usually take with a new client that you’re probably not getting paid for? Let’s carve that out and make an initial step for a prospect that they pay for?|
Right, like an audit or something like that.
|Michael Gass:||Right, so a market audit, brand audit, whatever that is going to help you get your head around their challenges. My feeling is agencies give their thinking away too much for free. Any time you give a prescription to a problem to a prospect, it ought to be a paid engagement. I even added pick my brain as one of my services just for phone calls.|
How many emails do you get asking, people just asking to pick your brain? When you put that up as a service, you’re making it clear, if you want to pick my brain, there’s value in that, so I’m going to charge.
|Yeah. I’ll point them to that page if they ask that question, like in an email or what have you. Just prior to this interview, I have received another pick my brain session request. It’s amazing at how they value the time when they’re paying for it. They are more conscientious of the clock than I am. They’re very respectful of the time. You get so much more accomplished. They value that. If they’re not willing to pay for even the pick my brain session, they’re not a viable prospect. Because so many prospective clients will meet with you. They’re like a sponge. They want to get all they can for free. They have no intentions of working with you. That’s so disrespectful.|
Right, most agencies don’t have a way, a process set up to discourage that or make it so that that’s not an option. It’s funny because I recently talking with Blair Enns whose entire manifesto, whose entire almost purpose of existence in terms of the business side of things is about discouraging agencies from giving away their most valuable assets, their strategy, and all of that for free. I think you hit the nail on the head.
|Having one of these initial audits, having a road mapping session, whatever you want to call it is a huge way to set up some barriers and set the tone, but at the same time too, it gives prospects a way to test the waters when working with you. That’s a much smaller price point than a large engagement. They get to see what it’s like to work with you. They get to make the decision. Is this who I want to partner with? That’s a much easier decision to make when it’s in the hundreds to maybe a few thousand dollars rather than the ten thousands of dollars for a full project.|
|Think about the efficiencies of it. Again, you’re not chasing business. They’re pursuing you, so the dynamic again has changed. That’s why you can add pick my brain or consulting as initial steps with a prospective client. A lot of times they don’t want to be all-in initially. They want to take some smaller steps. That’s fine as long as you’re getting paid for your time. I want for my clients that first face to face meeting with a prospect to be a paid engagement.|
|Andy Baldacci:||How do you get people from the content on the niche site, how did you get them to pay for the audit? Is it just truly a call to action that says, “Want to learn more, click here, give me your information and we’ll set something up.” Like a payment form, or how does that actually work?|
It’s more, again, leading with benefits. I like the process because it helps us to start thinking more like the prospect instead of like the agency. We’re so accustomed to our credentials and selling ourself. We need to step back. What does engagement look like from the perspective of the prospect? What’s their takeaway going to be? What’s their benefit? When you explain it that way, you’ll find, to make this program better I encourage a one page new business report to be done at the end of each month. Even a standup meeting with the team to review, and you’re going to get information there in that one pager that’s going to help you to review and revise.
|One of the things that is always evolving into things based on our personal engagement with the prospects is getting better at creating that kind of content. Those stronger calls to action. What I find, if it’s written from their perspective, that’s so much stronger than you simply presenting, again, your credentials. Because you’ve already established the positioning of expertise. You don’t need that any longer. You just need to tell them more how this benefits them. What’s their benefit going to be if you conduct a workshop as an initial step? What’s the deliverable? How is a market audit going to make their challenges better? Just doing it in that way.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Of those first 30 posts, do they all have a call to action that leads to some sort of audit, or are there different Cts that you use?|
|No, we don’t put the call to action on the post. Let it reside on the blog site as separate pages. They’re smart people. When they want to go a little further, they’ll do that. There have been studies done on promotional content. That negativity from that, when I’m working with agencies, I have to help them purge this out of their system. Because they can’t help it. At the end of the post, it’s like, “If you have a need, call me.” It’s like, no, no. Or they’ll want to write the initial post as how to choose an ad agency. I tell them, “That’s just veiled some promotion. Your audience is smarter than that.”|
Right. When they get to the point in the article, at the end of the article, even if they’ve been nodding their head in agreement the entire time they’ve been reading it, once they see that pitch directly in the article at the end, they’re going to immediately discredit everything you’ve said because they’re like, “Oh, Okay, this guy is just trying to sell me.”
|What I would do is include the author profile. It’s amazing. One study that I had read just a couple weeks ago, it’s like 85% of the content that’s read online, they can’t connect it with a particular author. That’s a problem, even the team blog approach. A lot of people like Mashable. I’ll say, “All right, identify a single author. Name me a single author from the content you’ve read from Mashable.” They can’t do it. We want to reinforce the authorship of the post. We’ll include an author box at the bottom to be sure that there’s that connection being made, but it’s not promotional content.|
Right, interesting. Once you have, they have the idea of the structure. The understand all of it that goes into it. They’ve got those 30 blog posts written. Do those 30 posts go up immediately? Is it one a day for those 30 days as they’re written?
|They go up as soon as their written. If we have two in a day, we’ll spread those out. We want it to start being indexed by Google and search. Nobody’s going to get to the site unless they have the link, because it’s new. We go through the content creation phase, and then the second phase is we up the traffic. There’s two ways in upping the traffic. Again, we’ve been doing the community building as they’ve been creating content. We have a larger following that’s more targeted in Twitter and across LinkedIn. These are personal accounts too. They’re not the agency accounts. I get some pushback on using Facebook. That is such a strong emotional connector with an audience that you don’t want to negate any of those. You’ve got to go through some community building tactics so that you’re ready.|
|We’ll use Twitter, we’ll use LinkedIn. There’s tools that we’ll use to propagate that, those posts at a frequency that is acceptable to each platform. One post an hour in Twitter is not overload for most audiences. Doing that in Facebook will get you killed. You’ve got to learn the right frequency across those. Then we start promoting that content by sharing the post title in that URL. We’ll also send out an email newsletter that’s reflective of the blog template that’s not coming from the agency. It’s coming from the person. It’s, again, very personal. It’ll have their photo, their image, but we’ll purchase, most of the time we’ll purchase a list. Resources like the list out of Atlanta that a lot of agencies use. There are other sources for doing that. We’ll even purchase a list because we’ve got a strong target.|
|Some are apprehensive in doing that. If it’s done the right way, it follows the CAN-SPAM Act and is not in violation there. We send it out not saying this is the first news letter. Everything has the appearance of age. The blog looks like it’s been there for a long time. Nothing to indicate that it’s only a month old. We’ll do the newsletter the same way. I say this because this is a practice that even all of the email service providers do. Because I’ve kept track, all of the email major email service providers have sent me a newsletter at some. point I’ve never signed up for any of it. They’re going to ask you not once, twice, but three times usually, is this an opt-in list? You should treat it as such.|
|I’ve got an article website written by Dave Curry, president of the list, that goes into detail about that. The size of that list is going to help determine the initial traffic to the site. You can’t wait 9 or 12 months to do all of these things to build your opt in. You’ve to be able to hit the ground running and get that initial traffic there. As that traffic is clicking on those links, again, the searchability of your content is going to greatly accelerate.|
|It’s amazing to me, I even work with SEO agencies. I remember the first one in Boston. They’ve been doing SEO since 1998. All I know about searchability is I believe Google wants you to be able to find what you’re searching for. The blog is themed to that. The way that we use keywords in the post title works as well for Twitter as it does for search. I put ad agency new business in almost every post title to the point that I’ll usually get called out on it by a copywriter every month or so. See, again, they forget the tactic and how well that it’s used.|
|When I did that initial workshop for the SEO agency, they were dumbfounded. It’s like, how could we have missed the impact that social is having on search? I’ll even have agencies use Google Plus. Everybody’s written Google Plus off. Who owns Google Plus? It’s for the searchability. They’ll enhance the searchability of your post if it’s posted in Google Plus. I’ve seen that through experience.|
Hearing you talk about the depth of launching to the list and working with all those different angles is really impressive to me, because I think that’s one of the major complaints a lot of people have when it comes to content marketing is the length of time it takes to start getting results. I think when you compare that up to marketing to a narrowly targeted and well defined list, you’re able to get some of those benefits of just more immediate traffic while you wait for Google to catch up, and also at the same time that immediate traffic like you said will help get them there a little quicker.
|Michael Gass:||You’re in a position really in 30 days to start developing leads.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right, and that’s something that almost no one is saying typically when it comes to content marketing. Once things are out there, once you’ve had this big push in the very beginning, what does it typically look like going forward for these agencies to keep this blog going?|
|I use the KISS principle when I’ve developed the program. Understanding the agency cultures, I do. I view everything as what can we sustain when we’re at our busiest? Once we do the 30 posts in 30 days, I get them on a more realistic writing schedule of a post a week. That’s doable no matter how busy you are. They know it’s doable because they now have a system in place. It’s a breeze to knock out one post when they’ve been knocking out seven a week. It really does help them to learn these efficiencies and time management skills so that the person who leads the process, who takes my place when I’m no longer in the picture, it takes them an hour to an a half hour and a half per day to do what’s necessary to get the program running. You’ve got to have somebody that’s going to be the rudder of the ship.|
|An hour and a half of a business development director’s time is not too much to ask when it’s this focused. They move in a transition from, I’m not saying don’t do outbound. I’m just saying 90% of what we’re doing right now in most agencies is outbound related and only maybe 10% inbound. That needs to be reversed. When people zig, you ought to zag. Still do some outbound, but the greater emphasis is on inbound. You’re in a position to make that transition very quickly from one emphasis to the next when you got this program in place.|
|Yeah. I can see the power of it the way you’ve laid it out. Hearing you talk about it before and seeing the pieces, it was like, all right. I can understand how this works, but talking to you today where you spelled it all out is such a powerful program. I am excited to see what some listeners are able to do with it. I’m excited to see what some of your clients have done with that. Once they have this in place, once they’ve dealt with it, once they’ve switched away from the 30 posts in 30 days and once they’re on a more sustainable schedule, is this something that they typically do sustain indefinitely, is there a point where they …|
|Yeah, you want to do community building tactics on a daily basis. That can be assigned to even an intern. There are certain tools that I go through like ManageFlitter, SocialOomph, Hootsuite Pro, and show them why we’re using this tool in this specific way. Because some of the tools have some of the same features, but not quite doing it the same way. Going through those tutorials, you can teach those to anybody. It takes 20 minutes to get somebody up and going like in ManageFlitter. If you’ve got a turnover, it’s easy to replace those who are doing some of the grunt work of the program.|
|You don’t want your business development director doing all of those tactics. You can have them oversee, you can even have it outsourced and somebody doing it remotely. You want it to be consistent. If they’re not doing community building tactics using the various tools on a daily basis, you’re missing out. You want to continue to grow that online audience. Consistently putting out the newsletter every other week, reviewing your analytics, it’s going to tell you so much. What content is most appealing? What content is the least appealing? And help your writing team to focus more and more on the content that creates appeal.|
|Right. This is an iterative process where you’re feeling around, you’re getting results, you’re seeing what works, and then doing more of what works. It’s clear from talking to you that this system on the whole has gone to the process itself, and what you’ve laid out really does work and has a lot of power. I want to thank you Michael so much for sharing that. Before we wrap up, I like to ask all of our guests just a few quick rapid fire questions. You don’t need to think of them too much. I’m not going to try to trick you or anything like that. The first one is just, what do you spend too much time doing?|
If you don’t have a focus, you’ll waste a ton of time trying to come up with the ideas for creating content. Reading fuels the writing. One of the best time management tools to help the writer is a RSS reader called Feedly, Feedly.com. You want all of that content coming in to one location that you can read it without having to go to all of these different sites. Because one thing I’ve learned online, everybody has ADD. When you start a search, how many times has an hour, hour and a half gone by, and you can’t even remember what you first started to search for? There’s so many shiny objects out there that if you’ll have the discipline to add industry publications, competitor content, thought leaders, all coming into that one location, it really does help fuel the writing.
|You want to share content that’s not just yours. You want to round out what you’re sharing say via Twitter. It should be a mixture of your content, content resources, and then you can’t help but be sure to add the personal to make that emotional connection. Just as you had already seen, I’d sent out a tweet out about our interview, and then just took a snapshot and included that as well. That shows that he’s busy, and then it facilitates other opportunities.|
|Andy Baldacci:||I think that’s brilliant. Honestly, I need to take a few pages out of your book on social marketing, because that’s something that I struggle with. I appreciate those tips. Then just a couple quick questions. In general, in your business, what are you hoping to accomplish in the next quarter?|
We’re moving more and more to online training. We’ve already got our first course up on a site called Teachable. We’re having good success with that. I really enjoy that. It’s amazing at how we’ve turned written content into courses. I had a videographer from Nashville to come down and we spent a day and a half. I think we shot 37 videos for the course. Looking forward to doing a lot of that, doing more webinars this year. Just did a webinar yesterday. We’ve done some regional workshops. We did a two day conference in Nashville that we’re going to replicate very soon. I just enjoy the training aspects. It’s amazing that someone who’s a Boomer, when you’re working with a class of 20 year olds and teaching them how to use Twitter for new business, I’m relevant.
|Andy Baldacci:||That’s pretty cool. What do you see as the potential biggest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome to go all in on this online training? What has been a challenge in moving from primarily in-person workshops to digital?|
I don’t know if it’s been that much of a challenge. When you’ve got people that can assist in doing the technical stuff, that’s always my biggest challenge. I just don’t like to do that. I had a videographer that just really encouraged me to use a teleprompter, and I didn’t want to do that. He said, “I’m telling you, it just turns out so much better. The content is smoother.” We took blog posts and actually revised those for their speakability. It was incredible at the amount of content that we were able to use for that course and putting the dots together and laying out the program.
|That’s really interesting. It’s something where when you can repurpose content like that and find different ways to use it, you’re really building up a true, almost a library of content that you can then access throughout different projects that you’re working on. Michael, before we say goodbye, where can listeners go if they’re curious to hear more about setting up niche blogs, if they’re curious just to hear more in general from you, where’s the best place for them to go?|
|Everything’s on my website. It’s the center hub of my new business strategy. It would be for any agency that I work with is creating that niche blog. Mine is FuelingNewBusiness.com, or they can get there through MichaelGass.com.|
|Andy Baldacci:||I remember you had mentioned before about a seven steps guide to putting it all together. Is that something that listeners will be able to find online?|
|It’s not available online but they can email me at MichaelGass.com, and I’ll be glad to send a PDF. It’ll include links to a number of examples that usually really helps to get more of an understanding of how it all comes together and works.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Awesome. I’m going to make sure to get all that linked up in the show notes. If you’ve been listening and would like a little bit more help on this and want to see something in front of you to walk through the steps, check out the show notes. Also, send Michael an email to get that guide, because I know that will be a big help. I know that these things will have a huge impact on your agency. Michael, thank you so much for the time today. It was a lot of fun chatting with you.|
|Good to talk with you Andy, thanks for having me.|
Want to learn more?
Check out Michael’s website, FuelingNewBusiness.com, for a treasure trove of advice on how to grow your agency. Michael is also offering a free 7-step guide on how to create your niche blog, all you have to do is email him (he shares his email at the end of the show), but if you are looking for more thorough help, check out his Teachable course, A New Approach to New Business.