In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, I’m talking with Rich Brooks of the web design and internet marketing agency flyte new media.

In addition to running his agency, Rich runs the annual Agents of Change conference in the great state of Maine, and also hosts the Agents of Change podcast.

Today we talk about his decision to create the conference and then the podcast, his challenges along the way, and how these side projects have helped fuel his agency and the unusual way it helped him improve his margins.

How building a brand can help you build your agency Click To Tweet

If you’ve ever thought about putting on a live event of any scale, or are curious how something like a podcast could help your agency, then this is the podcast for you.

So without further ado, here’s Rich…

Download a full transcript of the interview with Rich: Get it right here.
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Key Takeaways

Why you need a platform [Conferences 8:00 – 14:00][Podcasts 14:00 – 29:30]

Rich originally set out to build a marketing conference that he would want to go to, and the result was the Agents of Change Conference on search, social, and mobile marketing. Over the years he also launched a podcast and the Agents of Change platform has grown into something much bigger than he expected.

Flyte new media benefits from this platform in two ways:

First, if you want to learn, you can listen to the Agents of Change podcast or go to their conference. If you want somebody to do this stuff for you, then you want to talk with flyte new media. This drives significant business to Rich’s agency.

Second, Agents of Change also helps Rich and his company become influencers themselves by getting on stage with other influencers and proving they belong. In addition to being recognized as experts themselves, they also have built a powerful network of other thought leaders.

This pays dividends when it comes to referrals, but having a platform makes it easy for an agency to learn from the best. if there is a subject you want to learn more about, you can reach out to the expert on the subject and learn directly from them.

Whether you use your platform to directly lead to more work, to build your brand, or to build a network, the power of platforms cannot be overstated.

Don’t launch a podcast for sponsorship money [29:30 – 34:00]

For a conference, you can have sponsorships that pay significant rates and don’t disrupt the experience for the attendees, but the same can’t be said for podcasts. According to the numbers put out by podcast extraordinaire John Lee Dumas, if your show gets 2,000 listens an episode and you have 2 ads per episode, you are going to make a whopping $86 an episode. If that even has the chance of turning away a potential client, then you are lighting money on fire.

Simply put, when your clients are worth thousands of dollars (hopefully tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime) you shouldn’t be concerned about finding sponsors who will pay you hundreds of dollars while potentially turning away even one prospect.

As an agency, you need to focus on the long game. Rich set out to use his podcast to establish credibility, establish trust, and provide his listeners with valuable content from experts in the field. By sticking to this plan, he has built a real brand that has driven tens of thousands of dollars worth of business to his agency, but if he had been focused on monetizing through ads, he would have quit long ago because the numbers just didn’t add up.

Whatever your platform is, realize that you don’t need to have an audience of thousands to make it worthwhile. Sometimes getting 10 people into a room is all it takes to turn around a business, you just need to make sure they are the right 10 people.

Bonus: You need to know your numbers [34:00 – 43:00]

This wasn’t the focus of the show, but it was so good that I knew I needed to include it in the notes

I’m always shocked by how many agency owners have very little insight into the profitability of their own agency. It isn’t that I think this stuff is easy, because it isn’t, it’s that I know how much of an impact this lack of insight has on the agency owner’s life.

When you don’t know how much it costs you to deliver a service and have no clue how long each part of the process takes, or you don’t even have a defined process, it is nearly impossible to troubleshoot your business when things take a turn for the worse. It can feel like things are going great, and then all of a sudden they aren’t but you don’t know what went wrong.

That’s downright scary.

By making it a priority to get his numbers in order, Rich now has an early warning system that can tell him ahead of time how his pipeline looks, where they are doing well, and where they need to improve. Instead of anxiously waiting for something to go wrong (and it always does, doesn’t it?) and trying to put out the fire, now he can proactively work to prevent the fire from starting in the first place.

Transcript:

Andy Baldacci:Rich, thanks for coming on the show today.
Rich Brooks:I’m glad to be here.
Andy Baldacci:Rich, I’ve got to ask, how do you go from selling medical supplies to nursing facilities to starting a marketing agency, running an industry conference and hosting a podcast among many other things?
Rich Brooks:

[00:00:30]

[00:01:00]

That is a long journey my friend. Let me see where I can start. I was as you say, working in a medical supply company. I was a traveling salesperson and I was reading articles in the paper, the physical paper that used to be delivered to my door about the internet. I was so bummed because I used to be so into computers and the fact that these reporters knew more about computers and the internet than I did I just felt out of touch. I went out and I bought an Apple Performa computer and I sat down and I got online with AOL and a few of the others. There were a number of different services back then that competed with AOL. Got on all of them and discovered the web and then from the web I started doing some reading on how to put together a website. I put together my first website. I always need a purpose to create something. I said, I’ll create one for the company that I work for.
[00:01:30]I did that and I came in that after the weekend, I said, look what I put together for you guys. My boss was like, that’s great. He immediately took me off the road and put me in the office where there was a woman there who I couldn’t stand and I knew right then that I got to get out of there. I loved building the website but I really didn’t like being the inside person in the office. A few months after that I quit my job. I created this cross country website that still exists. Basically it was a prototypical blog where everyday as often as I could, I’d get online, I’d create new posts and I’d update it. There was no blogging software.
[00:02:00]I just had to use whatever was available and I did this cross country trip and I picked up a couple of clients during that period and then I was off to the races and basically started building websites for small businesses and over time I started learning about search engine optimization and then blogging and then email marketing and ultimately social media and webinars. That basically was the agency route that I took where I continued to hire people. I assumed that after a while programmers would learn to design or designers would learn to program. I’d be out of a job. What I didn’t know back then is you can hire people better than you and run a business, which is what I ended up doing. Then the whole, which I’m sure we’ll get into, putting on conferences then stemmed from my days at flyte new media.
[00:02:30]

Andy Baldacci:

I’m curious. How would you describe the services that flyte new media offers today?
Rich Brooks:

[00:03:00]

Sure. These days we describe ourselves as a digital agency because that tends to be the shorthand for what we do. About half of our business is on the design and development end. We are a WordPress agency. Everything we build is on WordPress. We do mostly lead gen sites. We do some ecommerce as well. We don’t shy away from it. We just tend to get more lead gen sites. Then the other half of the business is the marketing. That’s the search engine optimization, social media, email marketing, blogging, content creation. That seems to be the growing part of the business right now for us.
Andy Baldacci:Interesting. You started out doing the websites and really you expand out, you start hiring, you grow this team around you. You start doing the marketing. You start doing all of that. At what point did you say, I should start a conference? How did that whole thing come about?
Rich Brooks:

[00:03:30]

That’s a great question. It wasn’t like all of a sudden the switch was flipped. It was a while ago and I had been asked a couple times to speak on different topics. This was, oh my God, probably ten twelve years ago at this point. Maybe more. Me and a friend just decided that we were going to put something on at the chamber. We decided we’d charge money for it. Why not? We had a room with thirty people and we got paid for it. That was nice. I talked about, I want to say search engine optimization, she talked about general marketing and I really enjoyed it.
[00:04:00]I was terrible. I knew how bad I was but I knew that this was a good platform for me or something I’d grow into and also when you’re up on stage you own the room. Obviously you could also lose the room but you have that opportunity to establish yourself as an expert, to get immediate feedback from people in the room. It doesn’t have to be a big room either. I love speaking to large audiences but I’m just as content speaking to ten to twelve people as long as they’re the right ten to twelve people.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly.
[00:04:30]

Rich Brooks:

[00:05:00]

From that very small thing that I put on myself I decided to start to look to get other speaking gigs. Then, it was actually just a series of speaking gigs in a row where I started talking about social media. It was just bubbling up to the surface. Facebook had just become something that the general public could use and I had done two or three in a row and I had met another local woman who was doing them too and one of the things that I noticed is that every presentation that I did on social media was completely sold out. Standing room only. This was I knew not because of me because I had been doing similar presentations on SEO and email marketing and such for years and never got that kind of response.
[00:05:30]She I and another women who spoke on social media got together and we decided to form a half day conference called social media FTW. FTW stands for a lot of things but in this case it stood for For The Win which was a popular social media phrase at the time. We just decided to put on a half day conference here in Portland, Maine and we charged ninety-nine bucks for it and we sold out. We sold like, I want to say three or four hundred tickets. It was amazing. Especially, I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with Maine but our entire state population is like a million people. We only need one area code for the entire state. To get three to four hundred people into one place for a day or a half day is pretty impressive.
Andy Baldacci:Especially now. Portland’s changed a ton in the past five years or so but it’s not really known for tech or marketing either really.
[00:06:00]

Rich Brooks:

[00:06:30]

[00:07:00]

It wasn’t. We have a very vibrant creative community but this was definitely something where we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. These two women, one was working for another company. The other was doing the consulting thing. I definitely saw the benefit from it for flyte because a lot of people couldn’t tell the difference social media FTW and flyte. It was just, they were both Rich Brook’s things, which was great for me. That’s when I started to see the power of doing live events. One of the things, and I don’t know how deep we want to get into is, after three years the band broke up. I had just basically had enough. I walked out of the third event, I’m like, never again will I put on an event. This is so much work, totally not worth it, really burnt out and by chance that night there was a social media breakfast, that happened to be at night, the night after our event. It was about local beer companies. For those people who don’t know the beer situation in Portland, Maine is just beyond the pale. Unbelievable.
Andy Baldacci:It’s insane.
Rich Brooks:

[00:07:30]

[00:08:00]

Yeah, and it’s only gotten better. Anyway, it was like, what local breweries were doing for social media. By chance Chris Brogan who grew up in Maine was the moderator. I was a big Chris Brogan fan. Still am. Walked over to him and as I always do, I said, hey Chris. Rich Brooks. He’s like, Rich we’ve met like twenty times. Stop introducing yourself. He asked me about the event and I told him about it. I didn’t even know he knew I had an event. That was awesome. He basically said that he wanted to get involved in the next one I did. From that moment I went from I will never put on another event to how quickly can I schedule this. I did. I created basically a very similar footprint event which we call the Agents of Change digital marketing conference. I booked Chris Brogan and then I created an event based on what I wanted to get out of a conference going forward. That was four years ago now and we’ve had now five of these Agents of Change digital marketing conferences.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious. You said what you hope to get out of the event. It seems like from when you launched the first event to when you were like, I’m going to launch AOC, and we’re going to do this as more my show this time. What was it actually that you were really hoping to get out of it in terms of not necessarily concrete metrics or anything, but bigger picture? What did you want? What would’ve made you say, this was a success?
[00:08:30]

Rich Brooks:

[00:09:00]

I guess I can answer that from a few different perspectives. When I said that a few minutes ago I was thinking about, if somebody else were going to put on an event near me what kind of event would I want to attend? That was part of it. I wanted to create the event that I would want to go to. One thing was obviously social media had been very good to me up until this point. I certainly knew I wanted to make it about social media but I had felt that so many small businesses had started focusing entirely on social media, forgetting about search. In my mind I’m like you cannot forget about search. It’s so critically important, in terms of driving new visits and reading all these blog posts by social media gurus about how SEO is dead. I’m like, you guys are totally wrong on this. I knew I wanted to have search. I knew I wanted to have social.
[00:09:30]

[00:10:00]

There was this conversation that was brewing at the time about mobile marketing and I just knew from having an iPhone that mobile was going to become more important. I won’t say I’m some brilliant guy it was one of the times where I was like, this is going to change everything. Everybody loves their phone and this was when iPhones were still fairly new but I’m like, I know this is big. For me, I wanted to put on a conference about search, social, and mobile marketing and then basically I had bought a domain name. I’m sorry. I hadn’t bought a domain name. I had this idea that social media and these other tools were accelerants. Your marketing was good or bad but social media just made things go faster. I thought about coming up with a brand name that was built around the word accelerant but they all stunk. Like, accelerant world, accelerant expo. It’s just terrible. I went to the thesaurus, found the word catalyst, I’m like, that’s strong.
[00:10:30]Nice hard c. Still, none of those really resonated with me. I went back and I used the thesaurus to look up catalyst and the first result was Agents of Change. I’m like, oh my God, that’s perfect. I’m a huge comic book fan. I could already see the graphics that we would make for the event and I called up my friend Josh Fisher who actually does a lot of work for Baxter Brewing and also Chris Brogan among others. I always loved his stuff. He and I actually did a fun website called zombieipsum.com if any you designers out there do Lorem ipsum and you need a Halloween themed one, we just created zombie ipsum. You’ve got to check out the artwork that Josh did. It’s brilliant stuff.
Andy Baldacci:Did he do the artwork for Agents of Change?
Rich Brooks:Yes, he did.
Andy Baldacci:That’s really cool.
[00:11:00]

Rich Brooks:

[00:11:30]

This was a piece of advice that Mike Stelzner gave me is if you’re going to go all in, spend a lot of time effort and money on the branding because that’s what separates you. It’s so inexpensive to start a lot of these things, especially in social media. By creating a recognizable brand you’re already far away along. Yeah, basically that was how we got started with the branding for Agents of Change. What I wanted to get out of this was partially I wanted a speaking gig. I won’t lie. I’ve got a big ego and it needs to be fed. I love presenting. I love getting in front of a big audience and I knew that if I put on a conference that I could guarantee myself a quote unquote keynote there. That was good. I also knew I could leverage some of the relationships that I had made with people like Chris Brogan. The first year I had Amy Porterfield speak and Derek Halpern speak.
[00:12:00]Obviously very big names. It’s interesting because Derek and Amy do very few live presentations any more but at the time they were interested and I got them to come out and do it. Part of it was positioning myself as an industry expert and being able to stand up on stage quote unquote next to those people elevated my personal brand. There is definitely that kind of thing behind it. Also although we didn’t do as good a job in the first year we’re doing a better job and we’re getting much more serious about saying Agents of Change powered by flyte new media.
[00:12:30]Now we’ve got this great brand that’s out there. We’ve built up an audience, we’ve built up interest in it and then we’re tying it back to our. If you want to learn Agents of Change is great for you. If you want to have somebody help you do this stuff then you want to talk with flyte new media. That way we can capture some of those people who come to the conference, feel overwhelmed, want some training, want some consulting. Then, we do get work from the conference who would’ve never heard of us any other way, feeds into flyte new media’s production calendar.
[00:13:00]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:13:30]

Interesting. That’s the thing is that having that platform, to me it’s similar to a podcast although it’s on a different scale, but having a podcast can give you access to experts in your field and almost just by association you can be associated as an expert. Especially for a conference where you are literally giving the keynote. You’re able to prove that you’re actually worth standing on stage next to the other people because you do have that expertise. It is almost a shortcut to getting some that more recognition of your authority. Would you agree with that?
Rich Brooks:Absolutely. Whenever you’re poised next to somebody who’s well known and influence or whatever you want to call it, that definitely can bring up your own visibility. As long as you don’t completely punt the ball bearer it can definitely help. It helped with my personal brand and then it also helped with flyte new media as well.
Andy Baldacci:At what point did you say, this conference is going great, where can I take it next, let’s do the podcast? Was it as fluid as that? How did that come about?
[00:14:00]

Rich Brooks:

[00:14:30]

I wish it was as fluid as that. I had already decided to do a podcast. It was interesting. Blog world was around and we saw almost the demise of the podcast it seemed, and then all of a sudden a year later the complete resurrection. I know this has happened a hundred times. Nothing seems to die and come back to life as often as podcasting. It was right around the time my friend John Lee Dumas started getting into podcasting as well, entrepreneur on fire and I like interviewing people. I tried to podcast way back in the day and just hated it because what I ended up doing is I was spending six hours to create a ten to fifteen minute podcast and it was just too much work. When I started hearing some of these interview based podcasts like the kind you’re doing, I’m like, oh my God, that’s so easy. All the work is on the interviewee, which isn’t exactly true, but like you’ve probably discovered, it’s easy to interview people.
Andy Baldacci:Yes.
[00:15:00]

Rich Brooks:

You come up with some questions and then there’s the benefits of like you mentioned, it’s a great way of connecting with influencers and the other thing is sometimes it’s like, if I don’t know something I go out and I find the expert and then I get to interview them and then I’m that much smarter.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly. If you’re a curious person it’s like the best thing ever.
Rich Brooks:

[00:15:30]

[00:16:00]

Yeah. I will sometimes take a podcast into exactly where I need it to be. It’s like, how do I get more people to like the Agents of Change conference or whatever it might be. I got Sue Zimmerman on my show. My audience actually asked me a couple of times, talk about Instagram when Instagram was just starting to emerge as a marketing platform. Then I got Sue’s name and we connected and we’ve done a lot of things since. Again, that’s a great opportunity where I was able to connect with an influencer. At the time she was an up and coming influencer. Now she’s a huge deal. That completely worked out for me. Also just to get knowledge. That’s another big thing is I had a client who had some reputation management issues and I’m not an expert. I got on the phone and I got on Skype with an expert in reputation management.
[00:16:30]I was able to basically create the show which I thought would be valuable to a lot of people and then I just sent that link over to my client. I could’ve white labeled it and presented that I knew that stuff all along but I just figured that she would enjoy listening to the whole interview anyway. Yeah. Like having speakers at your event having the podcast is very beneficial. What I unfortunately was I decided to create a third brand beyond flyte and Agents of Change called the marketing agents. It was going to be a podcast, a Youtube channel and a blog. This was going to be my third job and it was a terrible idea. First my work suffered and then my marriage, not my marriage, but my home life suffered because I was up at all hours of the night doing all this work.
[00:17:00]After a hundred episodes of the marketing agents I realized that literally it was the same message as Agents of Change. I said, you know what? I’m just going to fold it all into Agents of Change. We keep the old website up for the marketing agents. All hundred episodes are up there but we’ve got a popup window that directs people. That old site still gets five thousand or six thousand visitors a month. I’m not doing anything with it. I don’t see any reason to change anything right now. If it all of a sudden plummets maybe I’ll think about moving those shows over to AOC but that’s what happened. Basically, I created the podcast almost as a third side hustle and then decided that I would just bring it out under the umbrella of Agents of Change.
[00:17:30]

Andy Baldacci:

I’m curious. This is going to be jumping around a little bit but what would be preventing you from folding flyte new media into the Agents of Change brand?
Rich Brooks:

[00:18:00]

Nothing really. There’s probably more name recognition at least locally with flyte new media. I’d hate to leave it behind. I’ve built up so much energy behind it, but I was just thinking about that as you asked me that. If there are people out there listening going, I should create a second brand. I don’t know that you should. If I could go back in time I might’ve created a brand called flyte school which would’ve been branded with flyte and just done everything under there. I inherited flyte new media as a name. When I came to town, I don’t have any design skills. I don’t have any branding skills. I really don’t know what I’m doing here. This was back in the days. I started my business out of Jamaica Plain in Boston. Then I moved up here to Maine. When I moved up here I didn’t know anybody except for my now wife. I grabbed the yellow pages. We used to have yellow pages
[00:18:30]

[00:19:00]

This is 1999 and I opened it up and I went to the graphic design section and I literally just called up all the people in that section and I had a little thing that I’d said to them when I got them on the phone which is, you’re a designer, I build websites. I’m a terrible designer. You’re probably starting to get calls for websites. Why don’t you tell them you do them and then just give me the work and I’ll do it underneath you? From that I developed a number of relationships in town and one of them was with a design firm that wanted me to build a website they would design and they said, we’ll design your website for you. I said, great. They hated the name that I had at the time and understandably so. I was called B one communications back then. It didn’t even have any meaning.
Andy Baldacci:I was going to ask.
Rich Brooks:It meant nothing, really. I don’t even know how I came up with it. Then, they gave me flyte new media which I’m pretty sure was a rejected idea from another client but it didn’t matter. I decided to go with it and it just grew from there. That’s where flyte new media came from and I forget what your question was.
[00:19:30]

Andy Baldacci:

No, it was about rolling that into the Agents of Change brand. There is clearly a lot of heft behind the flyte new media brand. You’ve put a lot of work into building that up.
Rich Brooks:

[00:20:00]

It’s tough to leave a brand behind to be honest because people do know it. When I started Agents of Change and I thought everybody knew that I had started Agents of Change, one of my friends when he saw the Agents of Change and that it was going to be on the same day from the previous year that social media FTW was he was ready to go fight somebody. He’s like, I’m going to go kill this person. I’m like, dude, chill. It’s me. I’m the guy doing this. Anyway.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:20:30]

That’s funny. Certain types of people I don’t know how to describe it, I’m one of those people where I’ll have so many different ideas and it’s really hard to reign it in and not pursue them but when you have all of these different brands from even just domain and landing pages it can get really hard to unify them all. I appreciate the lesson you taught. It was manageable. I don’t know if I would do it again that way but I did it. The three, just too much.
Rich Brooks:

[00:21:00]

Too much. Absolutely. That being said, I am starting a third brand because like you I’m entrepreneurial. I have ADHD. We were joking the other day as grownups in the United States our choices are ADHD or depression and I’ll choose ADHD everyday. I’m starting a marketing for wedding professionals brand with a friend of mine. We’re entrepreneurs. We’re creators. It’s hard for me to start something new all the time but this is a very separate brand. It’s a similar message but to a very narrow audience. I’m intrigued by that. I’ve never had that opportunity before and I feel like it’s just a version of the Agents of Change conference. In fact I jokingly called it the Agents of Matrimony and my partner’s like, not in a million years is it going to be called that.
Andy Baldacci:It’s funny, because I don’t know if you’re familiar with Brennan Dunn at all.
Rich Brooks:Yeah. I had him on my show.
[00:21:30]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:22:00]

Brandon’s great but a lot of his message comes down to taking, what a lot of people would call a narrow positioning. Not necessarily niche but working for very specific people on specific problems and a lot of us, creatives, they hate that, just because of the idea of being bundled into this one little thing is the opposite of what they want. It’s almost claustrophobic to them but when you have something like you’re saying where there is overlap with what you’re already doing but it’s not taking away from it, then it can be easier to experiment it in broadening your reach and going after, I’m saying another brand, but almost an extension of your current one. That’s where I found that it can work. Not to say it’s easy and I think you’re fully aware of that as well.
Rich Brooks:
[00:22:30]
Yeah, there are definitely challenges. This also goes to my whole thing about I love putting on events and I love the experience of putting on events. The more I can do the better I get at them and the better I can then teach that. A lot of what I do with the conferences, with my blog, with my podcast, is all about educating and teaching and as well establishing myself as an expert. I just gave my first manuscript, I’ve been trying to write a book since 2010. I finally set down to actually do it. Just gave my manuscript off to my editor and now as soon as that’s done I can start working on my second book which is really what I wanted to write in the first place which is all about how to put on events for entrepreneurs.
[00:23:00]

Andy Baldacci:

I was about to ask, I was going to say, do you teach how to put on these events?
Rich Brooks:

[00:23:30]

I’ve done a few presentations on the topic and I did do a beta version of a master class a couple years ago and it was interesting and enjoyable but at the time the timing was wrong for me right then. I needed to get some things in line with my own business. I needed to fix some stuff within flyte so that I could focus on some of my side hustles. I feel like I’ve gotten to that point. Now I can give attention to things like agents and streamline marketing and these books that I want to write.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:24:00]

I remember, when you first talked about putting on that event for your local chamber immediately I thought of Brennan because that’s how he drummed up a lot of business and that’s how he built his first million dollar agency was giving small presentations to his local chamber of commerce. His would be free and it would be almost an in person webinar rather than a full conference or anything like that but events in general can have a huge impact on drumming up business. Like you said, you’re at center stage. You’re the expert. Even if they don’t know who you are before the event when they come in there you’re the guy they’re listening to. That alone gives a lot of authority to you.
Rich Brooks:

[00:24:30]

Absolutely. It positions you as the leader, the expert for sure and then just being in the same room with somebody. Webinars are great but there’s no way you’re getting the same level of connection with a webinar that you are in real life. Some of the things I do are very scalable like a podcast and then some of the things I do are not so scalable but can be very effective. I think it depends on the kind of business you’re going for. My agency might be small in comparison to some agencies elsewhere but we’re probably one of the higher up agencies in Maine at least when it comes to digital agencies. We’re only going to take on so many clients. I don’t need a thousand clients a year to succeed.
[00:25:00]

[00:25:30]

I need about ten to fifteen new clients a year to succeed and to be honest the direction we’re heading with more ongoing work I think that that number could even be reduced. A lot of it depends on how much business you need, what type of business, is it recurring work which is what I’m not striving for versus one offs. If you’re listening now and all you’re doing is building websites and there’s not a lot of stuff you can do after the website that’s a very difficult business to be in. I would be looking at different ways. What kind of care plans can we put together? What maintenance plans can we put together? What kind of marketing can we do month in and month out to help our clients succeed and so that they’ll feel confident continuing to work with us and give us money every single month?
Andy Baldacci:

[00:26:00]

[00:26:30]

Right. On that point one of the issues, recurring revenue for agencies is the holy grail because when you get that up to a certain point you don’t have to have all the stresses about payroll. You don’t have to worry about overhead as much because you’re not worried about when’s the next client going to come. When you know you have enough regularly coming in to keep things going, to keep the lights on, but I’ve seen so many agencies fall into the trap of just taking up all of these maintenance and support contracts that don’t pay them that much. That’s why I think especially on the marketing side where you really producing consistently high value activities for them, that’s where, in my mind at least, is where I would shoot for. Some of the maintenance things they’re fine. If you can find a way to do it without getting taken advantage of and without burning out, go for it, because that’ll keep them, like you said, keep the client happy with you so that when there is a bigger project they’ll come back. It can be a slippery slope with getting too far down that road.
Rich Brooks:Yeah. Every success has some pitfalls for sure.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly.
Rich Brooks:

[00:27:00]

I like to keep a balance anyways. Certainly I could go with an all marketing agency and not do any web design but to be honest I love the web design part of it and in my mind the website is the hub of all your digital activity so I want to be involved in that part too. We’re big fans of building up email lists and conversion rates. You can’t really do that unless you’re also focused on designing amazing results driven websites.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:27:30]

Right. It’s not going to operate just in the vacuum. You need to have all those pieces in place but like you said, it’s just being aware of what those pitfalls are. I want to ask though, is we talked in broad terms about why you’ve done the conference, what it’s been like since but I want to get more of the specifics. What kind of impact has the podcast, has the conference had inside and outside of your agency?
Rich Brooks:

[00:28:00]

That’s a great question. Those are some thing that we are still trying to come to terms with. I’m giving you a snapshot of where we are today. The answer actually would’ve very different just a few weeks ago and if you call me next week it might be different but I’ll tell you where we are today with this. This is a convoluted answer but I’m going to do the best I can. Us defining Agents of Change of a portion of flyte is a fairly new thing, like treating it as a year long project, because it used to be just the conference and we’d basically spike up and then drop down afterwards but now with the podcast and doing local workshops and we’re trying to get back into monthly webinars it is a year round event. It’s something that flyte creates and we could look at it as just marketing and lead gen. That way we could take a lose on it and still feel good about it but I don’t like to do that.
[00:28:30][00:29:00]I want to be making money year round on this. I have to think about what can we do under the AOC banner. The podcast was one thing. Taking the podcast first. It’s not super expensive to run a podcast. There’s the opportunity cost for what you’re doing. You could be doing something else, sales proposal, or whatever but it doesn’t take that much time. That might be time you wouldn’t be doing anything else and there’s so many benefits from it. As we discussed before we got on there’s the time it takes my team to edit the show and I’m looking at possibly outsourcing that to a third party who I know can just crank it out every month and I know exactly what I’ll have to pay. Then, for my podcast, the Agents of Change podcast we have a transcriptionist who we use and she writes up a full transcription of the podcast with great notes and all these benefits and bells and whistles as well which I feel helps us with search engine optimization too because they have all those words in there.
[00:29:30]That’s not all that expensive either. There’s an expense but it’s not super expensive. I started looking into sponsorships. Getting back to John Lee Dumas he set the price point on what sponsorships costs for each show. When I looked at the numbers that he put out there and then almost were adopted by the industry. Maybe somebody came out with them first but John was the first person I saw with them out there. I realized that based on my number …
Andy Baldacci:Roughly what are the numbers that he put out there?
Rich Brooks:

[00:30:00]

[00:30:30]

I don’t remember. You have to look. If you Google entrepreneur on fire and podcast advertising rates I’m sure it’s the top result. When I did the math based on my two thousand or so downloads per episode, which was healthy but nothing compared to some of the numbers in the industry, I was going to have to do a thirty second, sixty second, and thirty second ad, every single podcast to get basically a hundred and fifty dollars to two hundred dollars a month. I’m just like, I’m really taking advantage of my audience. It’s very disruptive, because I’ve never done it before. I know that a lot of people do it and I’m certainly not looking down on sponsorships at all. Sponsorships are a huge part of the Agents of Change conference and to a lesser degree the podcast. I occasionally will mention somebody who’s helping me out, but I didn’t feel good about that for the return that I’d get.
[00:31:00]

[00:31:30]

If I was getting two thousand dollars a month I might’ve been like, maybe this is worth it. I didn’t feel great about it and then by chance this guy who apparently listened to all my shows tweeted out my most recent episode about conversion rates along with some messages that we really need help with this. I tweeted him back. I’m like, do you want to talk? We tweeted a couple more times and we DM’ed and then we emailed and then we got on the phone and he ended up signing a contract with us and that contract has been about fifty thousand dollars worth of business so far for my company over many months. It’s a monthly contract. We’re doing a minimum of three thousand dollars a month for him and it’s been great. It’s been a great experience and then more recently another person who was listening to this show says, I’ve been listening for months. I keep on hiring people and stitching together everything you say and it’s just not working. Can I just hire you to do it? I’m like, how do you not know that I can do it?
Andy Baldacci:Like, of course you can.
Rich Brooks:
[00:32:00]
Now actually I am a little bit clearer about it at the end of each show, like by the way you can hire me to do this for you. He ended hiring us and it was a fifteen thousand dollar contract which is fantastic and then we just went from ten hours a month to twenty hours a month with him because he had so much work we couldn’t get it done. We increased the budget and he was like, yeah. Okay. Let’s do that. In just those two jobs that I can directly say it wouldn’t have happened if not for the podcast because those people never would’ve heard of flyte new media.
[00:32:30]That’s like, I forget the math, but sixty-five, seventy thousand dollars worth of business in less than a year and a half just from that podcast. For an agency like mine, that advertising, that sponsorship doesn’t make any sense but establishing credibility, establishing trust, showing that we understand it and that we’ll bring the experts to the field, that definitely makes a difference. What’s interesting is we’ve sometimes brought in some of the experts that we’ve had on the show to consult with some of the people we’ve worked with. There’s that benefit as well too.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:33:00]

[00:33:30]

Yeah. It gives you a network of people you can tap into as needed. I like when you broke down the numbers like that because when you are an agency that’s dealing with contracts that are regularly well into the five figures, even just around five figures you have a good amount of leeway in the rest of the things you can do to generate qualified leads. Like you were saying back at the beginning of the show, you don’t always need to be talking to a packed auditorium of people. You can be talking to a small audience of ten people as long as those are ten of the right people who could buy from you. That’s where I think these events are just so powerful. Whether it’s a podcast, whether it’s any type of thing that is showing your expertise in helping people. If it just touches one person and gets them to raise their hand and say, hey, please help me it’ll pay for dozens more of those to go out there again.
Rich Brooks:Absolutely.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:34:00]
The question I’m sure a lot of listeners have at this point is, I see a lot of value in this but one, launching conference you’ll attest is a ton of work but for more on the podcast side, for all of this, how do you manage to balance keeping all of these activities going while still running a successful agency?
Rich Brooks:

[00:34:30]

[00:35:00]

It’s a challenge. There’s no two ways about it. It’s interesting because like I said, where in a place of transition right now in terms of how we’re looking at our billable time and all of this other stuff. I have gotten really frustrated lately with flyte, my company and the fact that we have not been consistent with our blogging. I used to blog two to three times a week and never think anything about it. I was just cranking out content. We were good generating leads and then I just got overwhelmed and lazy and I realized at one point that in a solid year the only blog post I had put are I’m the tech guru at a local TV station, the NBC affiliates up here. I just did a segment on spooky internet Halloween sites. Stupid stuff like that and that would be my blog post for three months. That would be it. Then I remembered that I am putting this podcast together on a weekly basis. I am creating content. I think that agencies should be creating content.
[00:35:30]That’s one of the way that we get business. The balancing act is I think you need to block out time for content creation. It doesn’t have to be you as the owner but somebody on your team probably should be doing it. I feel much better now that I’m tracking my time and tracking the benefits like these jobs in terms of lead generation. I feel good about the time that I’m doing it. I haven’t run all the numbers I should. I hate numbers. I’m just starting to get better at them now. My wife was my partner for years. She’s recently moved on to a new job which has forced me to actually pay attention to my business, which is a good thing. Painful but good. One of the things that I’ve recently done is sat down with my new bookkeeper and said, I want to understand exactly what it costs us to build out a website. It actually came from Agents of Change.
[00:36:00]

[00:36:30]

I’ll share something that’s a little scary. My goal with Agents of Change is to be in the black at the end of it. We had our most successful year. We sold the most tickets ever. Great on every level of success in my opinion and I walk in the next day and my project manager said, we lost thirteen hundred dollars. I’m like, are you kidding? How is that even possible? She said, I looked at our numbers and our biggest expense is our team’s time in putting on this event. I said, let me see these numbers and she showed me how many hours and it’s grown since then but it was like four hundred and fifty hours. Probably it’s about four-eighty when all was said and done and we billed out at a hundred dollars an hour for project work. I’m like, we’re not billing ourselves at our project rates. We have to know what, we ran our numbers at what we would consider our break even point and at that point we made eleven thousand dollars.
[00:37:00][00:37:30]I’m like, did we lose thirteen hundred or did we make eleven thousand? Long story short is I said I want to find out exactly what it costs us per employee hour and obviously different employees are going to be billed at different rates. She sat down, because I only tell her what I wanted and she actually does the math and we figured out exactly, through a very complicated algorithm, I don’t know if you want to deal with it, but basically it was, what does the employee cost us directly in terms of salary and benefits, insurance, taxes, and then a portion of the rest of our expenses which is our fixed and variable overhead. I decided that I was going to throw my bookkeeper and myself into the overhead because I don’t really do a good job of tracking my time and I often consider myself to be more on the bis dev side and brand ambassador so to speak.
[00:38:00][00:38:30]When I ran those numbers, I added my salary and all these other expenses onto each employee and spread that out, then I knew exactly what it costs us and the numbers shot up in terms of what we actually made as a profit for the event. That was a big changing point for me and the only thing I’d say is if your listeners want to think about it that way, if I do any billable work or if I get paid for a speaking gig that’s just bonus money for us. Right now the way I look at it is, I’m now free. It was the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. I know how much business I need to bring in to keep all of my employees busy enough that we make all of our costs at least and then everything else over that is going to be profit. It also frees me up to do whatever I need to do.
[00:39:00]If I need to pitch in extra time on a project because the client needs a little extra hand holding or they want to speak to the owner, I don’t have to worry about that. If I want to spend more time doing a podcast or do the side hustle with the streamlined marketing workshop thing that I’m doing which flyte is going to get clients from in the end, or if I want to write my book during the workday that’s all okay as long as it’s leading towards our growth because the exercise I did actually created a lot of freedom in my own day for myself.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:39:30]

Honestly, you’re making me kick myself right now because I would love to just dig in to this exercise because when I talk to so many agency owners both through the podcast, through my job at Hubstaff it’s crazy how little insight they often have into the profitability of their business. They know if they have more money coming in than going out but if you were to ask them, how much does it cost you to build a website a lot of them would just shrug their shoulders. About this. If you were to ask them, bet on it, like are you really that sure about that? No, they’re probably not. Having those types of insights like you’re talking about let you actually act on them.
Rich Brooks:

[00:40:00]

This is new for me. I’m not saying I’ve been doing this for nineteen years. This is still fairly new. I was doing really well and then all of a sudden we weren’t. We hired a local firm to work with us on it and some of their advice was good and some of it I threw out but the bottom line is they ended up bringing on a consultant who I really clicked with and when I brought in these numbers to him this week he said, first of all, this is great Rich. Your numbers are spot on. Secondly, as your business consultant I almost feel like tears of joy right now and third, what kind of pod did you come out of and where is the real Rich Brooks?
Andy Baldacci:
[00:40:30]
No, that’s thing. This is something that just intuitively most people don’t get. I don’t get this. I can’t just naturally come up with these things but the level of clarity, just hearing you talk about this is amazing because everything you’re saying is exactly right. It lets you finally know, breathe with a breath of fresh of air and understand, I know what it takes to keep things going and I don’t need to worry as much about doing these extra things because we’re good.
Rich Brooks:
[00:41:00][00:41:30]
It’s the most freeing thing ever. I get anxious. I’m like, oh my God, we haven’t landed a new client in a while or whatever it might be but then if I look at the numbers i might see, actually you’re doing really well. Or I might have just cashed a bunch of checks because we just finished a bunch of jobs and I’m feeling like, bonuses for everybody. Let’s party, and then I look at our pipeline and I realize we’ve had no new leads in the last month or two and our proposal numbers are down fifty percent compared to last year. That’s like holy cow, I need to really buckle down. I need to start doing more speaking. I can tell now like an early warning system, how much more work, how much more gas I need to put, how much more of the peddle I need to push down on. Those kind of things, I used to hate them but now I realize how freeing those constructs are to me being able to focus on the stuff that’s most important to the business.
Andy Baldacci:It lets you stop being reactive.
Rich Brooks:

[00:42:00]

[00:42:30]

Absolutely. After a while you continuously improve on these numbers. There are some numbers. There are some numbers that were really important to us at the beginning but once we realized that they never changed we said forget about that. That’s not a KPI anymore, key performance indicator, and we focus on other things instead. That’s really helped us. We were in the red for a couple of years and now we are soundly in the black and year over year we’ve really been trending in the right direction and I also now as we fix things, other problems start to surface that were always there but you couldn’t see, almost like you’re on a lake and you can’t see the rocks underneath the lake but they can still do damage to the bottom of the boat. We’ve seen that. As I fix certain problems other things that were lurking down below have suddenly emerged. We’re like, that’s the next thing we need to tackle. At one point it was systems.
[00:43:00]We didn’t really have great systems in place so we were doing a lot of the same work in every single project and it should’ve been automated. We were basically creating everything from scratch on every single website and that’s pointless. It may make your creative director really happy but that’s not the way to be profitable and if you want to have a job then we need to be profitable. These were some of the things that, I’m getting better at this. I wish somebody had sat me down in year one to have this conversation rather than year nineteen but somehow I survived in all these years and now actually I’m sitting there going, how do I actually do this is a way so I can have all my dreams as an agency owner?
Andy Baldacci:Have you had an podcast where you just talked more about this?
Rich Brooks:
[00:43:30]
No. This is funny because I know that we were going to talk mostly about the conference and stuff and obviously we’ve gone off in a different direction. Just in part because everything’s not interconnected. I’m having this coming out party to you right now, but the things haven’t solidified. I said to my wife the other day, I’m like, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop on these numbers. First I was waiting for my consultant to say Rich all your numbers are upside down and you’re actually under water. He’s like no, in fact if anything your estimates are fairly conservative. I think you made more money than that.
[00:44:00]I’m waiting. I want things to settle down and get in this trend and then I can turn around and teach people, this is what I did and this is what made a difference and maybe this will make a difference in your own business. Most of my business growth has been by mistake and then it turned out it worked really well or by me experimenting with something and seeing if it works, or who doesn’t work. I think there’s a certain amount to that in every single business, but no I haven’t set down and said, here’s how you run a successful agency. My podcast listeners are not necessarily agency owners anyway, although I’m sure I have some in there.
[00:44:30]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:45:00]

I’m going to check back in a few months and if you haven’t put anything out I’m going to force you to come back on so we can really dive deep into that. Honestly, hearing it come out of your mind, so many agency owners they need that. Once they realize that it’s freeing and just hearing in your voice there’s no way to deny how freeing that feeling is to finally understand how the business actually looks at any given time, to be able to predict before it happens, before the check bounces to know when you need to get out there and get some more leads. All of those things just lift a ton of weight off of an agency owner’s shoulders.
Rich Brooks:

[00:45:30]

Absolutely. One other thing that I’ll say that I do and I wish I had done from the beginning is and I wish I had did this more with more people but I have a competitor in town, a friendly competitor. We go after the same projects. We bid on a lot of the same projects. I have complete respect for her and her company. She kicks ass and we get together every three to six months and we just sit there and talk about our businesses. There’s certain things we obviously don’t share. There’s certain things I know I don’t share with her, but there are other things where we work together. It’s like, how do you handle lunches? Are they paid? How do you handle hourly employees versus salary employees? How do you do contractors? What’s your policy on this? What’s your policy on that? We’re not giving away advantages that the other one could use against us but we are learning how to run our businesses better based on what’s working and not working for the other person. That’s something that I would recommend that people get out there and do more often.
Andy Baldacci:Absolutely. It’s almost like an informal mastermind.
Rich Brooks:Exactly.
[00:46:00]

Andy Baldacci:

As much as I would love to just go down the rabbit hole with this I want to respect your time and just not put out a three hour episode. What we’ll do is we’ll wrap things up with a few rapid fire questions.
Rich Brooks:Let’s do it.
Andy Baldacci:I’ll rattle them off. You don’t need to be too rapid fire with the answer. Don’t worry about it and don’t read too deep into them. The first one is, what do you spend too much time on?
[00:46:30]

Rich Brooks:

What do I spend too much time on? These are excellent questions and I know you sent them to me but I purposely didn’t read them. That’s why I sound like an idiot now. What do I spend too much time one? I would say that I spend too much time on doing things that I should be delegating out. I know that’s a vague answer. I’m trying to get better at giving more things to my team rather than doing them myself and focusing on what I do best. I think we’re all suited to do certain things well and other things poorly. That’s really what I’m trying to do.
[00:47:00]Even the things I’ve had to take back like some of the financials and stuff like that, again, I’m not doing the math. I’m just saying, it would be helpful for me to know these things and then somebody else is going off and doing them. I still struggle with that. I decided today because my developer couldn’t do it that I needed to figure out why we’re getting a 404 error on a thank you page. I shouldn’t be doing that. I should just put up with it for two days and have somebody work on it but I could stand that it had been out there for already who knows how long. I went to work on it. I need to stop doing those jobs.
[00:47:30]

Andy Baldacci:

On the other side of the coin, what do you not spend enough time doing?
Rich Brooks:These days, I would say creating content. Despite my weekly podcast for Agents of Change we’re just not doing a good enough job as an agency creating content for flyte new media. We’ve tried to get back into that. I’ve got a great new director of business development who’s kicking me in the ass over it but that’s something that I personally enjoy, that I’m good at, and I just need to be spending more time doing it.
[00:48:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Awesome. I’m curious. What are your long term plans for Agents of Change and flyte new media?
Rich Brooks:

[00:48:30]

Agents of Change I want to continue having the annual conference here in Portland, Maine in September. I just love doing it and I love bringing all these experts to Maine but I would like to play around with expanding it into some maybe smaller workshops in other parts of New England. I have had some requests to put on a version of it in Vermont and New Hampshire and I definitely want to look into doing those kind of things and then seeing if there’s interest in having those kind of events for sure.
[00:49:00]Then, for flyte new media, after a while of being happy at about eight employees I’ve decided that it’s a dangerous number for us to be at. It’s too small for us to be deep in any one category. We’re looking for ways to expand and maybe get up to twelve to fifteen employees. Maybe that’s your contractors and maybe that’s your full time employees. Not for the sake of taking on employees. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good goal to have but just in terms of the amount of ongoing work that I want to be doing for small to medium sized businesses across the U.S.
Andy Baldacci:That’s really interesting. Rich, as much as I would love to keep chatting, to wrap things up I want to ask, where can listeners go to learn more about Agents of Change, about flyte new media, and even just to hear some of your thoughts?
Rich Brooks:

[00:49:30]

Sure. You guys obviously all love podcasts. Why don’t you go check out my podcast. It’s all about digital marketing stuff, search, social, and mobile marketing, how to reach your ideal customer. The easiest way to get there if probably just go to theagentsofchange.com. My agency website if you want to check that out is takeflyte.com and then I’m most active these days on Twitter. I am therichbrooks on Twitter. I’m therichbrooks anywhere if anybody wants to reach out and chat with me.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:50:00]

Awesome. I’ll make sure to get all of that linked up in the show notes and I just want to say, thanks so much for coming on. I really had a lot of fun talking to you today.
Rich Brooks:Me too, Andy. Appreciate the opportunity.

Want to learn more?

If you want to hear the latest news from the biggest names in digital marketing, check out Rich’s podcast at The Agents of Change. You can also head to the flyte new media website to see what Rich and his team are up to there, or follow Rich on Twitter.

Resources mentioned:

Podcast Sponsorships: The Ultimate Guide
How Brennan Dunn built TWO million dollar agencies and a product empire
Sue Zimmerman
Amy Porterfield
Derek Halpern
Chris Brogan
Zombie Ipsum

Thanks for listening!