On this podcast, I talk to Gray MacKenzie of GuavaBox and DoInbound. Gray has expertise in one of the most important aspects of running a successful agency: developing processes.

For most small agency owners, everything they do lives in their heads. This means that when you write a blog post, you do it one way, but when you have a contractor do it, it gets done a completely different way. There is no consistency, making it hard to grow while maintaining quality (and your sanity).

Developing solid processes is crucial to growing an agency beyond yourself Click To Tweet

Processes aren’t glamorous, but if you want to grow your agency beyond yourself, or you’re constantly putting out fires, then you need processes. Gray tells us exactly how to get started so you can streamline and scale your agency.

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

Key Takeaways

Where to get started [7:00 – 13:00]

Start by prioritizing your tasks. What are the things you’re doing most consistently? Where are the inconsistencies in delivery? What’s the impact that it’s going to have? Also consider what are the activities that you’re repeatedly doing that you don’t want to anymore, or that a business owner shouldn’t be handling?

At his agency, Gray offered a maintenance package for his web design clients, and while one site may only take 30 minutes a month to maintain, when you have 80 or 90 clients (or even 10) that adds up really quickly. Additionally, it is something that doesn’t take a high level of skill to do. So he documented a process that made sure the WordPress core and plugins were updated and included the three most common problems and how to solve them.

Ger started by breaking down each step of the process to clarify what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, and who needs to do it. For a blog post, How does it get planned in the first place? Who writes it? Who edits it? What are we looking for? Who makes sure that it’s optimized for search? Who publishes it? Who’s in charge of promotion on the back end?

This may seem tedious, and it is, but it only takes an hour or two to document and then a few hours to refine going forward. After, you can hand it off to a contractor and focus on high-value tasks, like sales. Even if your goal isn’t to build a huge agency, having efficient processes in places frees up your time to focus on whatever it is you want to do. Isn’t that worth the investment?

How to document your processes [13:00 – 23:00]

If you’ve spent any time working in a large corporation, when you think of processes, you probably think of big binders of standard operating procedures that gather dust in the supply closet and never get used. The best process does you no good if they don’t get followed.

In many cases, Google Docs has become the binder tucked away on a shelf. We create processes because we know we should, but we never open them again and we never improve them.

To avoid this, promote a culture where processes are valued, and there is a level of accountability for following them.

More than anything else, your agency needs to have a culture of continuous improvement. Getting your processes documented is the first step, but you can’t stop there.

Giving you the time to grow your agency [26:30 – 31:30]

Simply put, most marketing agencies do a horrible job at marketing themselves. They may publish a blog post here or there when they have time, but for the most part, their marketing takes a back seat to client work. This is similar to the fairytale of the cobbler’s children, who have no shoes because they are so busy delivering services for clients, they can’t deliver those services for themselves.

The first step to solving this is getting the everyday tasks under control with strong processes. When Gray got this under control at GuavaBox, they were able to consistently execute on their marketing plan and grow their blog from 600 visitors to more than 15,000 visitors a month, generating 300 to 400 leads monthly.

That was the turning point for GuavaBox. It went from three guys trying to survive and feed themselves to substantially growing the team, the client base, and now worrying about how they were going to keep up with the growth versus how they were going to grow enough to make this agency thing happen.

You can resist process all you want, but unless your team is producing consistent results and you are able to execute on your own marketing plan, you are doing yourself and your employees a disservice because you are holding your growth back.

Here’s the full transcript of the episode:

Andy Baldacci:All right, Gray, thanks for coming on the show.
Gray MacKenzie:Thanks for having me on, Andy. I’ve been excited. I’ve been listening now. I think I’ve caught all but maybe I’ve got two more episodes to go in the backlog to catch up.
Andy Baldacci:That’s impressive.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah, I’ve been loving the podcast. Real glad that you guys are doing it and excited to be on now.
Andy Baldacci:Awesome. I’m excited to have you. You have expertise in what I think is one of the most important aspects of running a successful agency, but it’s also one that nobody really enjoys that much. Processes. Before we get too far into the details of why that matters so much, can you share a quick 60 second backstory for our listeners who aren’t familiar with you?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:01:00]

Yeah, sure. Myself, my partner, Andrew Dimsky we started up an agency called Guava Box. I guess the very beginning of 2011 while we were still in school together. It was our senior year in college together. Went through a lot of the pains that probably a ton of listeners have gone through as we had no idea what we were doing at first, then started to get more of an idea, but we couldn’t pass along our knowledge to other people and bring on contractors or team members to help us out.
Our road to growth was very bumpy and went through an awful lot of struggles early on until we really started to document and systematize our business. That was the turning point for us. We wanted to share that with a lot of other agencies and Do Inbound came out of the pain that we had trying to grow Guava Box and has developed from there into basically a software, plus processes, plus training for other marketing agencies who were trying to figure out how to get this whole growth thing down.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:02:00]

Yeah. Later on in the show, I want to definitely dive into exactly how you meld everything together into Do Inbound, but let’s back up and let’s focus on the early growth that you said you struggled with a bit. Why was writing this stuff down and documenting, and systematizing everything. Why did that help?
Gray MacKenzie:I have a couple different answers to this because I think there are a lot of different reason why it helps. One of the underrated aspects of actually systematizing things is the work that goes into actually doing it. When you sit down and write something out, you realize a lot of the inefficiencies and broken ways that you’re doing things right now.
Where this was really hindering us was we were producing very inconsistent deliverables for our clients. All our processes, everything that we did pretty much just lived in our heads. That meant when I would go to write blog post for a client it would be done one way. When we’d have contractor do it, it’d be completely different.
[00:03:00]When Andrew did it, it’d be completely different. There was no consistency there and I think as everyone understands any time you’ve got inconsistent inputs or those inconsistent deliverables, you’re going to wind up getting inconsistent results.
The results we were trying to drive for our clients preaching, “Hey, inbound marketing, we’re trying to help you build a predictable growth engine here.” Then the results we generated were just really inconsistent. The fact also that we didn’t have our process documented or detailed out. That hurt us in the sales process.
Andy Baldacci:How so?
Gray MacKenzie:Well, I think in two ways. One) we didn’t have a process. When a client asks, “Okay, here’s the vision that you’re trying to sell me on, but how do we actually get there?” When we have a methodology, but not a specific here’s step by step how we’re going to get you there. I think that hurts you, but I think underlining that probably hurts you more.
[00:04:00]At least for us and I think me specifically was the lack of confidence. Not knowing 100% especially as we started to have more clients and we needed to bring contractors on and we didn’t have everything documented for what our contractors were going to be doing specifically.
The amount of confidence I’ve had in our process and in the service that we were delivering wasn’t as high as it would have been had we had everything in order and our house put together. I know that was underlying the whole more visible reasons.
Andy Baldacci:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Was there an aha moment where you’re like, “This really should be written down?” Was it a slow process? How did you come to the realization that you needed to start documenting all of this?
Gray MacKenzie:I think we had right at the very beginning of Guava Box, Andrew and I both read a book called The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. A super well-known book. We always had this goal of, “Hey, we’re trying to build a business here.”
[00:05:00]We don’t want to build a lifestyle business in the sense that it’s just us working in it, but we do want to build a business that allows us that builds itself around our lifestyle so we have some freedom. What that’s going to mean is that we can’t be the only ones who are doing the work on a daily basis. We always had this vision of bringing other people in and having a well-oiled machine and a consistent way that we do things to be able to onboard people quickly and scale somewhat sustainably and smoothly.
That was our background and then as we got into it more and more and realized, “Hey, if we’re going to be the experts in what we’re trying to do here, deliver business results, through inbound marketing for manufacturers, and for technology companies, we really need to have our system put together so that we can bring on the right people who can take the stuff that we’ve learned the hard lessons that we’ve learned over the last couple of years of trying to do this and share it out.”
[00:06:00]There’s a lot of internal recognition with the book and every agency we looked at who was successful just seemed to have so much stuff systematized and documented, and they had a culture of continuously improving that. That was, “Okay, we really need to get our act together.”
Andy Baldacci:Were there any agencies specifically that you looked at like, “Alright, we got to do it like these guys,” or where did you get that exposure to how other agencies were doing things?
Gray MacKenzie:Where we came across a bunch of what other agencies were doing, at Guava Box we were a hub spot partner, so we looked at agencies like Impact Branding and Design, Square 2 Marketing, and some of the other early big names in the HubSpot Partner Program Paul Roetzer of PR 20/20 and all of them were preaching the same thing and were sharing their same growth story.
[00:07:00]Most of the processes that we came up with, those weren’t directly, “Hey, we just need to go copy their model,” and much as the philosophy that’s behind even though they’re delivering services in different ways, they all have it documented out and they have confidence in what they’re doing.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah, and I think one of the questions I know in reservations I think a lot of especially creative agency owners have is that it seems like a lot of people get into freelancing and get into the agency world to avoid the over-corporatization of business. I feel like a lot of people are going to feel like having all these processed you have to follow for every little thing that it could just end up slowing you down. Did you find that to be the case at all?
Gray MacKenzie:I think that’s the number one objection is, “I don’t want to do this. It’s going to take more time to build the processes.” Aside from the fact that we’re doing digital marketing, we’re in a super fast evolving space and so these processes that I build, they aren’t even going to be good in a year from now.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly.
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:08:00]

Those are all valid concerns to have. I think that how it actually those can all be how valid those concerns are all depend on the way that you document stuff and how you do it, but I think there’s no way around it. The easy answer is to say, “No, it only helps,” but that’s not true. It obviously takes time and it takes resources that you could be doing something else so I think it does slow you down initially.
It definitely slowed us down initially when we started to do it, but it was a very quick turn around to start reaping the rewards of having that and we can get into a bunch of examples of specifically where do we take time? How much time did it take? Then what was the benefit from that? It definitely did pay off.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:09:00]

Yeah, because that’s the thing is that especially for growing agencies, there’s so much work to be done and if you’re doing a lot of the work yourself, you know how to do it roughly. There might be some inconsistencies but you know how to do it and you almost can’t even find the time to put in to get this done, but you’re right. Once you do have the processes down, then you can start looking into outsourcing more work to other freelancers. To contractors so that you’re able to free up more time. It’s a delayed payoff, but the payoff is there.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. I think that’s definitely true. The thing, the big misconception here is that documenting stuff is going to take a ton of time, but we all know the more frequently you do something the faster you get at it. The first time you ever write a blog post, it might take you four hours and be an exhausting experience, but by the time you’ve done that a hundred times, you can crank it out in an hour. You’re going to be substantially faster.
I think when you first start documenting something, it’s going to take you a while and then you realize, “Oh, this doesn’t need to take me a long time. I’ll bullet point out what are the actions that I take or I’ll just use a tool like Quick Cast, or Screencast, recording tool and just walk through as I’m doing it live.
[00:10:00]It really is not going to add that much more time and then share that with someone else. If you’re not good at documenting stuff in a way that the other people on your team want to consume it, you can always just find the method that works best for you and then have somebody else transcribe it and share it with the rest of the team.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah, and with that said, where did you guys start out? How did you figure out, “We’re going to work on this process. This is what we’re going to do first. This is how we’re going to do it. ” how did that journey begin?
Gray MacKenzie:I think that prioritizing is really important. What are the things that you’re doing most consistently? We just looked at what’s the stuff that we are doing most frequently? Where are the inconsistencies right now? What’s the impact that it’s going to have? Also what are the places, what are the activities that we’re doing on a consistent basis that we either don’t want to be doing anymore or that we as a business owners probably shouldn’t be doing anymore.
[00:11:00]Writing blog posts for all of our clients even though I personally enjoy writing, that’s probably no the best activity for me to be doing as an owner of the business. That was honestly a lot of the marketing deliverables that we were doing for clients. Those are the places that we started at the time.
We had quite a few clients and sites that we were hosting and so the monthly maintenance for one site it might take you fifteen minutes or thirty minutes total over the course of a whole month to do it, but when you add that up over 80 or 90 clients.
That obviously can suck up a lot of time, so just here’s what I do. Here’s the workflow that I go through to make sure that the WordPress core and plug-ins are updated and if I run through a problem, here’s the three most common reasons why and how to solve it, that takes an hour to document it out and then share with the contractor to do real quickly that freed up a whole lot of time off of my plate.
[00:12:00]I think just figuring out those areas and so specifically we started with how do we write a blog post? How do we design that? What’s our whole work flow when we’re producing a blog post for a client? How does it get planned in the first place? Who writes it? Who edits it? What are we looking for there? Who makes sure that it’s optimized for search? Who publishes it? Who’s in charge of promotion on the back end? What’s the process for all of those and the workflow that we go through? Then just document that all out.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah. When you went through the steps right there a lot of who touches what part of the process, who’s essential for what. Then like you said, you are going deeper and saying not just who’s responsible but at each step what is being done, right?
Gray MacKenzie:Exactly. Yeah, but when you’re writing a blog post for the first time how do you or planning it wherever this falls in and your workflow but how do you pick out the target keywords. How do you do some keyword research on the front end? When you’re writing or optimizing a post, how many internal links should you have? How many external links?
[00:13:00]Just as a guideline, as a base level, it’s not to say every single blog post needs to be exactly 400 words and follow this, but at a minimum, here’s what these should have. You should always have two external links to trustworthy sites. Whatever those baselines are, and depending on the blog format, you might always want a 400 pixel square image to be the featured image.
So you just go through and outline and what are the requirements to try and speed up the workflow for whoever needs to go through this and these are the bullet points that need to get checked off before this is complete and it’s going to be considered a consistent and well-produced deliverable.
Andy Baldacci:How did you create this? Was this just in a document? When you first started with your first process, where did that process live?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:14:00]

Yup, a document. We used Google Docs, which really that’s not a terrible solution to use. There’s a major pain point that we ran into with it, but that’s exactly what we did is we started out, we would just do a bullet point list inside of Google Docs.
We tried to host it inside of some other project management platforms, and we bounced around, and I think we hit all the project management platforms. Base Camp, Asana, Teamwork, Podio, Maven Link. Just about everything out there and the big pain point that eventually came out of that one of the driving factors for the existence of [inaudible 00:14:26] today is just the fact that we felt really strongly that your processes need to live where the work is actually being done.
If it just sits in Google Docs, you never go back to it. It doesn’t really matter that you have the process. It was helpful to go through that, through the work of creating that process for the people who were involved in that, but if you never reference it, it’s really not helping you that much.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:15:00]

Yeah, because that’s something that at Hubstaff we’re a fully remote team. There’s a lot of different parts to the business, and so we do try to have as many processes as we can for the kind of repetitive tasks that we do.
One thing I’ve found for myself is that even when I’m creating it, I’ll document it out in the beginning, and it really does help me think through all the steps like you’re saying is that just putting it down there is a huge improvement because you actually have to think through every step, but once I’ve done it a couple times, I never go back and check the document and then even for the podcast, recently I’ve been recommitting to standardizing my processes and actually make me try to follow each step, but you’re right.
[00:16:00]I don’t really live in Google Docs. I use it a lot, but you put it down on paper, well in the file, and it just sits there and … Yeah, I don’t know. I’m curious to hear more from you about how it could be different.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. Well, I think that that’s what we ran into early on. That pain point is exactly what when we have conversations with other agencies. Whether we’re talking about through DoInbound or not, that comes up so frequently. I don’t think it’s any different.
It’s just the 21st century version of what happened back a couple years after high school, I worked my summers through college at a lumber yard, and we had these standard operating procedures, and they sat in a binder on the shelf and outside of training and mandatory training sessions or new employee onboarding.
This thing’s never got touched. That’s exactly what Google Docs is now. It’s just the binder that’s on the shelf, unless you’re exceptionally disciplined and happen to make the time to go back through and walk through, “Okay, here’s what my process is.”
[00:17:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Yeah, because Brian Casel, who runs Audience Ops, which is a productized kind of content marketing service. He has, from what I remember of the interview, his setup makes a bit of sense to me where you have the process, but he will track a lot of it in Trello and it’ll have every step of the process laid out and then we’ll monitor the progress of a process through it all. I think an approach like that can work, but you’d need to have someone basically whose job is to make sure each step is being followed.
Gray MacKenzie:Right.
Andy Baldacci:I don’t know if that’s practical for everything so I’m curious to see what your take on how to actually make sure the processes are followed.
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:18:00]

Yeah. I think more than anything else, although I think that the tools are important, I think more than anything else, just the way that you building a culture where people actually do employ the processes that you’ve built out and are rewarded for that, or if they’re not following it, that are held accountable to that as well. I think that sounds like the worst thing.
It just sounds life-sucking to say it like that, but I think that if you can build that in a positive way where there is clear … I think that what this all comes down to is tying the result into why you have to do that. What is the result? How is it visibly different when we follow the process than when we don’t follow the process and highlighting that on an [inaudible 18:38] basis. That’s the most powerful thing that you can do.
Andy Baldacci:When you started implementing this, what were the results? Was it immediately a runaway success or did it need some work? What when you first started implementing this, how did it look in your agency?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:19:00]

It definitely wasn’t perfect. The first things that we started doing were handing off things like the hosting maintenance handing off things. I used to do all of the as the operations guy behind the scenes at Guava Box. I used to do all of our finance work, so all of the invoices that got sent out, the invoices that needed followed up, bookkeeping, all of that work.
Those were two big areas and then a lot of the client [inaudible 00:19:19] bringing on multiple copywriters as our client base started to grow and we grew beyond what we can handle and then what one copywriter could handle. Being able to outsource that. Being able to bring in somebody else and onboard them to be able to run when we were doing web design projects, being able to run the discovery meetings.
[00:20:00]Those are all some of the practical places that this played out, but it wasn’t perfect at first. When we built the first processes, I think what happened was we were too rigid in following it that the expectation was the first blog post template that we had or how to write a blog post was I think 11 or 12 checkbox things.
It included the blog post has to be at least 400 words. It needs at least three internal links and two external links. It needs this featured image put here. You need to include the key word in the title, in the URL, and here and here. All these different steps and things about the way that you write and what happened was every single blog post turned out that way initially. Then there was …
Andy Baldacci:They were all just saying the exactly the same pretty much?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:21:00]

Exactly. The content’s different, but the form was exactly and then you quickly realize this may work today, but we need to try different things and see what’s going to work moving forward and optimize this process. The ways that once we came to that realization then there was, “Okay, this is a baseline expectation, but we want to be trying new things on top of this,” I don’t know how to document other than to just share with your team have consistent meetings and create this culture of, “We’re going to document this so that anybody coming in knows what they need to do to produce a quality piece of work,” but beyond that, everyone still has some artistic license and creative ability to take this and use that as the baseline.
[00:22:00]Those are the guidelines that help us know what we can draw and create inside of and around and then everything else that we do on top of that is what makes us different and unique. I think it was building that and then also just consistently updating the processes that we have, so implementing the concept of batch days where two hours a week, or one hour a week, or however much time that’s going to be, we’re going to all have this prioritized list of processes and we’re going to split this time up between creating new processes for repetitive activities that aren’t documented yet and also going back and just saying, “Is this the best way to do what we currently have systematized?” So constantly updating those as well and it really doesn’t take that much time. One or two hours a week you easily lose that in the catch up talk on a Monday morning and the slow Friday afternoons.
Andy Baldacci:For sure.
Gray MacKenzie:It really doesn’t take much time to create that culture of continuous improvement.
Andy Baldacci:Right, and I also like having that time set aside very week. It makes sense but it’s also more than that. It’s making a commitment that, like you said, this won’t always get you the results immediately, but it’s a process you keep needing to improve that. I think a lot of people have probably, I’ve been there. It’s where you know you need to do this. You know you need to have some where people process because you’ll just get too stressed out.
[00:23:00]You need someone else to help you out, but you can’t bring them in because you don’t know what to tell them to do and so you start putting it on paper, but then in the beginning I feel like it often can just be more overhead that you have to deal with when you’re too rigid or you’re not rigid enough, it just doesn’t work. I think when you do make that commitment to accepting that and then improving in the next week, improving again. That’s where you’re really going to see the big gains from this.
Gray MacKenzie:Yup. I think absolutely. Actually, you brought up a good point that I think is worth pointing out for people. If your goal is to run a lifestyle agency with a maximum of three members ever. I think this documentation and everything becomes far less important. It’s probably worth going through the process of documenting some of the main things that you do or that you don’t like to do that you want to outsource?
[00:24:00]I think for you own benefit there’s definitely benefits and putting down on paper what the process looks like and realizing where the inefficiencies are, but where this absolutely kills agencies is nobody thinks about documenting this stuff until they’re ready to hire. Until they’re already stressed out. Then at that point, you say, “There’s no way I could possibly onboard them because I don’t have processes.
I don’t have anything written down and I don’t have the time to teach them everything one on one. What happens so frequently is either they bring somebody on and it flops because they didn’t have the time. They’d have to drop a ball somewhere or they just postpone it even longer and they just say, “Well, I can’t possibly onboard somebody so I can’t make this hire, so I’m just going to continue to work myself into the ground.” Obviously that’s going to substantially hinder your agency’s growth.
Andy Baldacci:Right.
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:25:00]

Stress you out and not be a good thing for anyone in the long run. I think that if your goal is to grow and to be able to outsource some of this stuff starting early as probably the best thing that you can do to avoid the classic stairstep approach to growth where you grow real fast, then you have to hit a complete horizontal for a while on the stair as you’re trying to get things prepared. Sometimes even fall back and then try and step forward again. I think it’s really important if you want to grow an agency or grow any business to start this early.
Andy Baldacci:Right, and even though, to push back a little bit because I get what you’re saying. If you’re doing this. If you’re going to be a solo consultant or you have a couple other partners and you each do the same thing. You have your own responsibilities. There’s not much overlap.
You’re right that it’s not as crucial to do these processes and put it down to paper exactly what you’re doing because it’s just you doing it, but I think it’s still important even for just charging higher rates or getting better clients, you do still need to have consistent results.
You do still need to have a consistent sales process and make sure you know what information, what files, what data you need to get from the client to make sure the project goes off without a hitch and all of that.
[00:26:00]I think you’re right. If you don’t have this down, it’s going to be super hard to grow by hiring people. Even if you’re not planning on hiring people, I don’t think you should just write it off because it’s still going to help make your life a whole lot easier too.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. The process is as critical either way. I think the only point of difference is how critical is it to have it documented.
Andy Baldacci:Right. You can survive without it if you’re on your own, but it doesn’t mean it’ll be easy.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah, for sure. Well, you’re going to I assume if you have it, either way if you’re going to be successful, you need to have it. If it’s just you maybe you can get away with not having it written down on paper. If you want to bring people on, you absolutely need it documented somewhere. Whether that’s in writing, or in video, or in audio, or whatever the format is you need to have it down in some way to communicate it.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:27:00]

What was it like? I’m curious to dig in a bit more on the impact it had on your agency, on Guava Box. Once you started getting these down. Once you started systematizing everything and having a process for the content creation and everything that goes into the inbound process, how did that change how the agency grew, how it was like to run it. What was different?
Gray MacKenzie:I think that the biggest thing was for our own marketing, and from the agency space we’ve seen so many times that agencies who are really successful are agencies who are focusing pretty heavily on their own marketing. We’ve just been not happy-go-luck, but very much if there’s an opportunity to do marketing, and we see it, and we have some time, and we address that.
[00:28:00]That’s the way that things were in the first year of business. Probably first eighteen months of business. We write a blog post here or there, but it was all scattered. Nothing was coherent and consistent together. This is a combination. The processes were just part of dedication to actually being consistent with how we did things.
One of the biggest ways that this played out right away was we outlined exactly what the expectations were for the system. How we were going to run a marketing campaign? Then we started implementing batch days for marketing at Guava Box, so every Wednesday morning for four hours. All of us would sit down and start cranking out content following the system, following the process that we had.
We’re producing consistent content that was all generally unified voice and tone on the Guava Box plug. When we started doing that, I think that we had 600, 700, we definitely hadn’t cracked 1,000 visitors a month at that point, getting very few leads through the site. Nine months later, we cracked 15,000 visitors a month to the blog.
[00:29:00]Now obviously there’s a ton of factors that go into that. You can blog with no processes and I’m assuming that you could increase your traffic pretty substantially, but the fact that that was just a huge part of us actually starting to address something. The marketing side, that’s one of the easiest places because traffic’s such and easy think to monitor and at that point, we’re generating 300 to 400 leads a month from that traffic.
Andy Baldacci:Wow.
Gray MacKenzie:That was the turning point for Guava Box to go from three guys trying to survive and feed themselves to substantially growing the team, the client base, and now worrying about how we were going to keep up with the growth rather than how we were going to grow enough to make this agency thing happen.
Andy Baldacci:Roughly how many clients do you work with now?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:30:00]

The Guava Box side we’ve scaled it back quite a bit now as inbound has grown, now we’re continuing to move there. Right now on a consistent basis, we just have a handful of clients who are working on the retainer partnership model and then dependent on what the project’s specs look like, and what we’re going to do.
The two other things that we’re doing a decent amount of … We still do a lot of website designs. Mostly on HubSpot’s platform and then a marketing strategy. We call them inbound marketing game plans, but basically helping companies with their strategy as well.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:31:00]

I think going back a little bit, it touches on the standard problem I see especially with solo consultants, but even with agencies, it’s the cobbler’s children have no shoes situation where you’re an expert at inbound marketing and you help your clients get results to this, but you’re so busy doing that that it’s hard to do it well for your own agency. Once you are able to get these processes in place so that you can outsource some of the work, the deliverables and you don’t have to worry about consistency and all of that, you’re then able to dedicate the time to actually apply your own trade to your own business.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. For sure. I think that so many, we struggle with this hardcore, so this isn’t to try and cast guilt on anybody using agencies not doing a great job with their own marketing because I’ve lived through that. This is such a classic thing that at some point we’re not going to say the contractor’s house gets built last and the cobbler’s kids have no shoes we’re going to say the marketing agency doesn’t have marketing.
[00:32:00]It’s a very pervasive problem and I think that even that obviously we had systems in place for what the deliverables that we were producing were going to be. Even just the simple act of saying, “Listen, we’re going to commit to this process. Every Wednesday, we’re going to take four hours out of the day and we’re going to address our own marketing and it’s going to be blocked off. There was even a system to that and that’s not something. That didn’t take four hours to document what that was going to look like. It’s just a simple way bringing some consistency to what you’re doing and that always pays off.
Andy Baldacci:Absolutely. We touched on it before, but I remember you said you went from Google Docs to Base Camp, to Asana, to Maven Link, Teamwork, and Podio. You tried all of them. This led to basically building your own solution with Do Inbound. Do you want to talk a little bit about what that is?
Gray MacKenzie:Sure. I’ll just start high level. We can go as deep as you want to. People can check out Do Inbound.com to see more about what we’ve got going on, but basically Do Inbound is a mixture of software. A project management software with processes baked into it. We’re still figuring out the best way to express to people what this is because it is hard to wrap.
[00:33:00]It’s unlike any of those other platforms like a Base Camp or Teamwork in that there are processes that come baked into it so it comes pre-populated with stuff, but it also is customizable and can just be a project management tool. Basically that’s how we use it. We manage our client projects inside of the tool. We’ve got processes built in there for a bunch of deliverables so how do you create a blog post? How do you send out an email? How do you run a webinar?
Andy Baldacci:

[00:34:00]

Before we get too far, can we talk a little bit about what you mean when the processes are built in? I’m guessing when you have templates for blog posts and things like that. It’s not a mad lib where I just fill in a few words and it creates the blog post. How is the process built in? Is it just simply a place where it’s hosting the process document or is there more to it than that?
Gray MacKenzie:That’s a really good question. I’ll try and keep this brief and then just jump in and interrupt me wherever. If you have a client account, if we’re looking at the Hub Staff client account inside of the Do Inbound software, every activity that’s going to happen marketing wise is going to be baked into a campaign, so there should always be some kind of strategy.
Every marketing activity should be part of a bigger campaign. That’s our belief. One of our core beliefs that every campaign should have a start date, and an end date, and a goal that you’re shooting for. Even if it’s something as simple as this is our 2016 Q3 podcast campaign. Inside of that campaign, we try and the whole thing here is how to we break these big ideas, big goals down into achievable step by step processes and things that you can follow to achieve the big result.
[00:35:00]Inside of that campaign, you’re going to have all these different deliverables so maybe each deliverable is our podcast episodes. Those are your deliverables inside a campaigns and then the next step down from there would be all the tasks that it takes to produce that deliverable. Inside of a podcast interview for example, you’ve got to figure out who the guest is going to be and you’ve got to book them, so you’ve got a really smooth system in place for booking that podcast guest where you send an intro email.
Here’s how I found out about you. Can I be on the podcast? Then send over the scheduling link, and so on and so forth. Then obviously doing the podcast interview, editing it, getting it out there, publishing it, promoting it, all those steps. Here’s where we’re getting to the process then is inside each one of those tasks, that task of just inviting somebody.
[00:36:00]The way that you do that, you’d have a template built out where there’s a step by step process. Basically you’re checking off each step in the process to complete the task. It might be send the email, confirm that they’ve scheduled the time, once they’ve scheduled a time, sending them confirmation email and the outline.
Andy Baldacci:Right now, not to jump in too quickly, but right now in my head I’m almost seeing something similar to Trello with a checklist. Am I wrong or is that accurate?
Gray MacKenzie:That’s pretty accurate. There’s a couple more layers than Trello has, so in Trello obviously you’ve got a list and then you’ve got a card inside of that list, and then on that card, you can have the checklist.
Andy Baldacci:Right.
Gray MacKenzie:Very similar. You’ve got the checklist for the task. The task is like card in Trello. The deliverable is like the list in Trello and then the campaign sits above that so I guess that would be the Trello board I guess that it’s on.
Andy Baldacci:Right. Okay.
Gray MacKenzie:Yup.
Andy Baldacci:Okay. Yeah, keep going. Sorry.
[00:37:00]

Gray MacKenzie:

I was just going to say, basically what Do Inbound works best for and obviously you can if you want to just have one-off tasks without having a whole template for how it gets done because there is going to be work that happens like that. You can do that inside of Do Inbound as well, but what Do Inbound is best for are those repeated activities and having a pre-built process. That way to do one podcast interview, then when you want to schedule the next one. You don’t want to have to write out the whole process again. You just add it from the template, name it correctly, and then all the steps are in there ready to go.
Andy Baldacci:I see. Okay. You have the templates are like the base and then you create it once for podcast episodes or blog posts and then when you create a new one, you create it from that and it pre-populates the checklist and all those things for it.
Gray MacKenzie:Yup. Exactly.
Andy Baldacci:Okay. Interesting. When did you start working on this?
Gray MacKenzie:We first started the very end of 2013.
[00:38:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Gray MacKenzie:I guess for three years. Almost three years in now.
Andy Baldacci:Okay. When i’m looking at the site, and this is one of the questions that I sent over is that it’s not just a SaaS solution. There’s more to it. There’s training, there’s a lot else involved, so do you want to talk about what else? What would you say Do Inbound is?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:39:00]

Yup. Essentially it’s a platform for helping especially inbound marketing agencies and digital marketing agencies systematize their business and ultimately grow. Our best customers are the agencies who are struggling with a lot of the pain points that we struggled with early on. We’ve basically taken the things that we were in addition to the platform, a lot of the training in here, a lot of it is around systematizing your business and one of the things with Do Inbound there’s not a free trial for users because every account that you buy, whatever package you’re on, you’re going to get pre-packaged a bunch of the templates. The way that we have based on our experience and then our work with the hundreds of agencies who are customers, the best way to do a blog post or to do keyword research. That kind of stuff.
Andy Baldacci:To sort of customize it to the agency’s needs?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:40:00]

We have three different packages right now that are customized based on what agencies would need and so the templates and the level of training that they’ll get inside of Do Inbound is going to be customized to them. On an agency to agency basis, we’re not going in and specifically saying, “Hey, this agency needs these 11 templates, so we’re going to push those to them.” We tend to just give more templates and then if there’s something that maybe isn’t a good fit, take it out. Obviously the agencies have complete ability to delete, or edit, or add, or whatever.
Andy Baldacci:Wait. Just to dig in a little bit, what about that do you think prevents you from doing the free trial?
Gray MacKenzie:A big part of the value proposition right now … That’s a good question. We can certainly do a big part. The value proposition right now is the fact that you don’t have to spend the 15 or 20 hours to go through and build out your first iteration of these processes that you can use the process that’s already pre-built. They’re both deliverable templates, which is, “Here’s how you do a podcast interview or a blog post.”
[00:41:00]The next level up is a campaign template. If you want to run a quarterly inbound campaign, here’s a pre-built template for doing that. Because that’s been a big part of our value proposition, was chosen not to do the free trial. I guess the bigger reason for not doing the free trial is just the number of free trials of software that we have signed up for and then never done anything with. The bigger belief that people value what they exchange value for. If you’re paying for it, you’re going to be a lot more serious about diving into the training and the processes, and everything.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah. It was something as involved as Do Inbound having a demo where you help walk through it all and explain that value. I think that makes sense.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. It’s worked well to this point and obviously there’s always people who want to say, “Can I just get into the free trial?” and that’s something that we’re always trying to figure out what’s the best way to help people without eating up time, what’s the best way to help them get on with their life and do the things that they needed to do with their agency while also helping them understand what Do Inbound is and can do for them.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:42:00]
Yeah. This is a little different than what I was originally planning on talking about, but I want to ask you, a lot of agencies want to get into the product space. They want to create a SaaS business. They like that they’re not selling their time. That appeals to them and so what has been different about building up the SaaS business as compared to building up the agency.
Gray MacKenzie:That’s a good question. I think that there are, just to be really candid, I think that looking at SaaS at the beginning, I think the grass is always greener. There are a ton of things about Do Inbound. This is something that we’re super passionate about. I really enjoy working on it, but it’s been a harder road than I anticipated. I think that I underestimated the fact that in any software, and you guys know this well, I’m sure but just churn.
[00:43:00]I don’t think that when we first started building this that churn was even … Obvious I knew what the concept was, but didn’t even think about it until you got through those first couple of months of users and started to realize not everybody who starts using your software wants to keep using it forever. It’s not the best fit for everybody.
I’ve definitely been challenged there. I think that it has been challenging. I guess what we really lucked into is every time that we make Do Inbound better, the platform we speed up our operations at Guava Box. We’re very incentivized to make Do Inbound awesome. Every time that we learn something new at Guava Box, that helps the way that we think about Do Inbound.
That’s something that I think not every agency’s gone and built the software has that benefit from. At the same time that that was a benefit, there’s always going to be that, “Now you’re trying to run two different things,” and it is challenging. I think for the agency owner out there who’s thinking, “I want to create my own SASS,” it is challenging. It’s definitely doable, but it is challenging to juggle both.
[00:44:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Where did you get the first customers for Do Inbound? How did those come about?
Gray MacKenzie:Yup. All through relationships. The very first few that we went to HubSpot’s annual conference. Inbound was in 2013 and that was really validating. That was when we decided to build the platform. We’d already been thinking about it and talking about it. Building something internal. We just talked to so many agencies who were really struggling through processes, and making sure that they were doing things right, and scaling out their processes to their team.
We started building it pretty much immediately after Inbound and rolled out a terrible version. A very pre-MVP probably version in November of 2013 just a couple months after starting to build it and got a ton of good feedback, but it was the same agencies who we met and connected with through HubSpot’s Partner Program and through Inbound.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:45:00]

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Then how have you been growing since then? Is it still the higher touch, relationship-based selling or are you doing more Inbound style stuff for it.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. Since then, pretty much all of our leads are coming through the site. We do a lot of marketing for Do Inbound through podcasts as well, but then all the actual sales re happening. Well, almost all of them are happening through a demo.
Andy Baldacci:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Interesting how do you balance running this SaaS startup with running a digital agency?
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:46:00]

Yeah, not very well a lot of the time. I think that for the first until about a year ago, Guava Box was the frontrunner. We had a full time developer who was dedicated on the Do Inbound side and so that was helpful to have somebody actually building up the platform and that was the fact that there was so much to be built into any software and there’s always more that you want to build in.
[00:47:00]That we weren’t tremendously aggressive in trying to go out and bring on new agencies unless they were just a perfect fit for it because of where the software was. In the past year, the focus has really shifted a lot and so for I guess 14 months now. In May of 2015, we really decided to shift focus and we were at a point where we were launching out a new version of Do Inbound. We at that point started to slowly apply the brakes on Guava Box and then we’ve been pretty aggressive there in scaling back what we’re doing. There’s very little day to day. I have no direct client contact on a day to day basis. Andrew’s in the same boat where we’ve really scaled back our hands-on on the Guava Box side of things. Now we’re spending the majority of our time on the Do Inbound side of things. Really focused on building the tool and growing the platform there.
Andy Baldacci:Will you still get involved with sales for new clients on [inaudible 00:47:16] or are you not even looking for new clients.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. We’ve been pretty selective. We’ve in some ways I guess, maybe not gone backwards, but we’re at a point where we don’t want to bring on that many new … I guess that the retainer model is not that exciting to us if we’re doing all the work so if there’s a retainer model where we’re helping a company work to implement inbound for themselves, and learn it, and we’re actively coaching them through that. That’s more exciting than we’re going to be producing all the content for them and doing everything. All done for them.
Andy Baldacci:Even though you have the processes to outsource a lot of that?
[00:48:00]

Gray MacKenzie:

[00:49:00]

Yeah. We still have some legacy clients where we’re doing that, but yeah, I think that it’s just not something that I guess our belief is ultimately the best that we can do for a company is to help them eventually build their own branch who can handle this inbound. We would rather be the in-between when you are either you have a team already and we’ll come alongside him and they coach him through it or if we can be that in-between branch where you would like to get to that point where you have an in-house team handling the bulk of your inbound activity, but you need people to be able to provide service in between. That’s where we’re providing services for companies right now. Yeah, even though we have a lot of the processed built for it. We’ve really scaled back and allowed those processes. We’re sharing with the clients who want to do this in-house and there’s certainly a great business to be had there. It’s just not what we’re super excited about and with Do Inbound right now and it’s just taking a lot of the attention.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah. I think that’s a great point. Now that you have shifted more attention towards Do Inbound, what are you looking to accomplish in the next month.
Gray MacKenzie:

[00:50:00]

Yeah. The big thing right now is we’re rolling out a pretty substantial new set of features and updates into the platform. Right now, there’s not a ton of from an admin level, there’s not a lot of transparency in the platform to see what team members have what on their plate. There’s not a lot. It’s a very helpful tool. The feedback that we’ve gotten most frequently is it’s a great tool for planning out the work and quickly deploying campaigns or deliverables. It’s a great tool for thinking about processes and it’s a good tool if you’re the one doing the work, so going through and checking through the process to complete tasks. If you’re the one trying to manage and make decisions about who can take on this thing that came up or this other thing. There’s not a lot in there, so that’s kind of a all hands on deck right now as we are just in the final alpha testing right now about to roll out into a beta group of customers right now. A bunch of new features all around that.
Andy Baldacci:Nice. Once you have that, not out of the way, because I’m sure it’s always a thing with software. There’s always new features. There’s always new updates that have to go out. What is more of the longer-term plans for where you see things going with Do Inbound?
Gray MacKenzie:
[00:51:00]
I think long-term plans, hopefully in a couple of years like you guys are, we’re a remote team trying to build a business that not only everyone who’s on the team here, but customers are proud of and excited about being a part of. I think continuing to build out the community around this and produced more resources for agencies to grill, I think eventually building out. One of our goals is to build out some story of simple marketplace where agencies can share a lot of the knowledge that they had with each other.
Whether they can sell their deliverable templates for how the do something to other agencies and there’s some financial incentive in there. I think that that’s building out the agency community, being the Hub, a hub at least, for agencies who are serious about growth and also serious about systematizing the businesses that they have. That’s our big mission here.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:52:00]
That’s great and you guys already have a ton … I’m looking right now. You have a ton of good resources on running an email an agency, but you also get into the details of specific processes. You have a lot of interviews. No, you already are well on your way to getting in that in place. I’m excited to see where you go with that.
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah, thank you. It’s definitely been a journey so far. We’re enjoying it and excited about the future.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah. I’m going to make sure to link up a ton of the big resources from your site, but if people want to go and learn more about what you’re up to, what are your thoughts, and just the kind of state of things at Do Inbound. Where is the best single place for them to go?
Gray MacKenzie:Yeah. I’ll give you three different things depending on what they want. One is obviously just go to Do Inbound.com if you’re interested in the platform where that’s just the home base. If you’re interested, if you’re a digital-agency interested in the processes that other agencies are doing and the journeys that other agencies are on.
[00:53:00]Our flagship podcast is called Inbound agency journey and if you go to Do Inbound.com/podcast, you can find and sort through all the cold episodes and there’s a lot of good content from agency owners on there. The third place I’d send people if you’re interested in seeing an example of now this is just in Google Docs format.
Obviously we’d be happy to show you guys the demo, but if you’ve go to Do Inbound.com/blogpost, it doesn’t matter whether it’s hyphenated or not, you guys can check out, download what our Google Docs version of what a template looks like for us. For a blog post that we put people through what is that checklist in process look like. That’ll give you an idea of what the format for our processes and stuff looks like .
Andy Baldacci:

[00:54:00]

No, that’s great. Looking through this, the stuff is really awesome and so I’m going to make sure to link it all up, but guys, I’m telling you, please do check it out. I think everything that Gray was saying about processes is hugely important. The tools that exist right now aren’t built to do this usually, so I’d strongly suggest checking out doing Inbound, but if you don’t have any interest in that. At least check out these resources because the are really well done.
Gray MacKenzie:Thanks Andy. I appreciate the good words.
Andy Baldacci:Of course. Gray, I wanted to say thanks again for coming on the shoe. It was a lot of fun talking to you.
Gray MacKenzie:Absolutely. I appreciate it and thank you for having me on.

Want to learn more?

Documenting your processes is the first step, but you need to make sure the processes are actually followed if you want results. Start by developing a culture that values those processes, but beyond that, make sure you are using the right tools.

To make that part of the equation easier, Gray and his team have launched DoInbound. DoInbound is a platform for helping digital marketing agencies systematize their business and grow. If you want to see how they do that, just head over to DoInbound.com.

And finally, if you want to see what one of these processes actually looks like, you can get GuavaBox’s Blog Post Process Template for free.

Resources mentioned

GuavaBox
Impact Branding and Design
Square 2 Marketing
PR 20/20
Brian Casel on Scaling Your Agency with Productized Consulting
The E-Myth by Michael Gerber

Thanks for listening!

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