Rob Cairns talks to Ryan Waterbury about how to grow your agency business.
- How to grow your business.
- What steps you need to do to scale your business,
- What types of marketing help in scaling your agency.
- The biggest issue is business owners trying to do to much
Hey, everybody, Rob, Cairns. And in today’s podcast, have my good friend Ryan Waterbury with me today. How are you, Ryan?
I’m doing well. How are you doing?
Oh, not too bad. Just coming off a little mini vacation. So you know that does wonders to the brain and everything else that goes with it. So today I thought you and I, in our kind of monthly segment, we threw the idea your you through the idea out there that we should talk about growing your agency? And depending on who you talk to, there’s good ways and bad ways. There’s some things that work for some people and don’t work for others. So what’s your thoughts on that?
You know, you’re absolutely correct. There’s not a right. Well, there are plenty of wrong ways to do it. I’ll put that out there, but there’s not. There’s not a single right answer when you look at growing or expanding your agency. A lot of it, a lot of it has come down for me in the past to timing and some sometimes you get past the point of. Oh shoot, I should have done this six months ago, and I think that’s where a lot of agency owners get to where? They’re overlooked. They’re overworked, overloaded, and realize I need help after it’s. Too late and. And you know that’s never. That’s never the place that you want to be in. But I think that’s a a place that a lot of solopreneurs or people that have been a company of one or the small agency individuals have. Come to find themselves in. And you know. Over the past couple of years, I don’t think that’s been the case with the shipping business. In it. But I’ve been seeing that my customer base and my niches that I’m in are starting to realize that it’s it’s time to grow and that. I’m seeing more. Leads flowing through my funnels than I have in a long time. Is great. But I’m at the point where I was three years ago and I had a couple of good contractors, developer, a designer and a data specialist for CRM integrations. And one of them was consistently logging over 20 around 30. Hours a week. For me, and it was at that point where I said. I need to lock this in because he’s a fantastic employee, even though he was only working contract and that’s the first route that you know, I kind of found myself in, was reaching out for independent contractors to fill holes for very specific needs.
Yeah, I would. I would agree with that. I mean, because you’re not going to expand your agency by staying with the company on one because. You just have so much finite time. Time is not an open-ended concept unfortunately. And the other problem is a lot of people who go through the agency space like you and I have, they face burnout, all expense. We’ll just work hard. And the problem with that is something gives, especially if you’re in a relationship, especially if you’re married and especially if you have kids. And then it becomes. We’ll just work more well. Then what suffers your work or your family? And that’s the problem too, because I don’t believe in. Living the work I believe and working to with. If you get what I’m saying so I know like with me. I go dormant on the weekends unless it’s a dire emergency or I’ve got something to play catch up on. I probably don’t work most weekends and. That has taken me a long time to get to. Where I’ve just said forget it and I’ve told my clients I got text messages from clients at 10:00 o’clock on Saturday nights and. They haven’t figured out that they’re not going to be responded to till Monday morning.
And I I think that downtime and I learned the hard way by catching up from a a disaster in December and and just some overhanging products projects and being overbooked and found myself with some health issues that it you just can’t come back from. Working extra hours isn’t an option and. Taking that extra time on on weekends and I say extra time taking the time. That you should. To give yourself a break, to recharge and spend quality time with friends and family, it it’s important and I don’t think enough enough of us in the small agency realm. Do that. And so, you know, we talked about time being a limiting factor. As far as growth and that’s absolutely true. When we talk about, you know, another way to grow, some people will tell you to find a particular niche and systematize it to the point that it’s very easily reproducible in a shorter amount of time. And I I certainly, you know, have seen a lot of others. I have really good success doing that. Unfortunately, I find that sometimes that gets boring after a while. I like a little variety and so. Earlier last year, actually I made the stance to say we’re not going to do. Every service for every client. And rather than pick a vertical knee. I decided to move horizontally and trim down what we were doing down to specifically web design, web development, SEO and Managed WordPress. And by limiting services, I could focus in on just those services and do better and build more per hour for the services. So that was one you know, Ave. that I’ve gotten to. But you still hit that wall that you’re especially in a company of one that you only have so many hours in the day. So what comes next? And that’s and that’s where everybody gets to you. Contractors I know I mentioned are one. Strategic partnerships with other agencies or other small company of 1 type agencies are another route to go and had a really successful project with the round in the garden at Fat Dog creatives this fall and finding that. Collaboration is another route to go and that you can pool your resources and work on the different parts of the project that you’re good at and find somebody that’s complementary to work with.
No, I I would agree with that. I mean, one of the things I do is I actually do. Maintenance lines for other agencies. So they don’t like doing them and I don’t mind doing them. So like the security side of it, the update side of it and things like that. And you just gotta kind of. Look at what you need. So over the years in my agency a I’ve scaled down the number of services ioffer. So that kind of helps that niches it down a little bit and trying to do everything I think is a recipe for disaster. The second thing I’ve done is. I do have a VA now for a while that works with me, so when I need to offload all that administrative stuff, and by the way, they’re local, they’re not in the middle of nowhere, which kind of helps the trust level a little bit, so that’s good. And then I just kind of. I I kind of frame it the right way and it’s just not easy and you know we talk about services, but the question too is if you want to expand this, how do you get those clients right? That’s the real secret question, right?
You know one of the. One interesting thing that I saw in statement from another marketer. Was he had a really interesting take in philosophy to growth and has been able to grow and once you get past. Adding people in to do the things that you don’t want to do. I have an accountant. That was one of the first things that I had done. I understand keeping my books and and cash flow and did my own bookkeeping for. A long time. But at a certain point I realized that my time was spent better elsewhere. So first you want first you want to outsource some of the things that you don’t like doing or. Even if you’re capable of doing them, it’s going to take time away from things that you could actually go on Bill, and do client billing for. So once you get past that. And you’ve kind of hit your wall on outsourcing things like that. You know, whether it’s a VA to handle some Advent tasks or, you know, accounting or some other services that someone else can do better for you. You get to the point and you have to be comfortable with. Finding someone to do the things that you’re good at that you like doing, and it’s really hard to let go of some of those things for, for myself, and I know a lot of other small agency owners want to keep things small. But there comes a point when you want to expand that, and this is what the this other market had said. You need to be comfortable at higher hiring someone to do something. That you’re good at. Otherwise, you’re never going to grow, and I’ve never heard anyone put it quite like that until very recently, and it just kind of clicked and made a lot a lot of sense. When I sat down and thought about it.
Yeah, I would agree with you and that’s one good way to expand. And the other good way to expand is. I’m kind of of the point of view that. You have to do some social you’re not spend all your time on social cause we all got work to do. But doing some social media is part of your business, right? That’s where a lot of people go. I’m not for one, that is jump to ship to Mastodon away from Twitter because I don’t believe my client base is on master none, so I haven’t gone that road. It’s just one more thing I don’t want in my toolbox. Another way to do it is to kind of help people so you know when people ask questions. Be that helpful resource. 3rd way to build an agency, I would argue and say, write a book. I’ve started one, so that’s a good thing. And then the. Other good way, even more so is to do what we’re doing now and start a podcast. And I think I’ve actually built my agency off of my podcast very much so in the last three years. Thoughts on that one?
Yeah, I think those are all good ways of inbound marketing. But you know and and and certainly I’m seeing work come in from funnels that I’ve built and have had for years. Networking was one that you know I touched on briefly, I think that. One’s a great one. And I agree that Twitter has been an absolute gold mine. When I started using my professional account. Be a little more personal and engage with other agency owners, developers and offering good advice just out into the community. I agree Mastodon is not something that my clients are on and I I think you know as far as growing new clients. In new business. UM. You have to understand and and be active where your clients are at, not where do you want to be at. So that’s just one of the the you know normal marketing things. But once you have that new business that’s, that’s where where it gets tricky. And what do you do after that fact?
And and how do you move forward with it and how do you keep everybody happy and how you don’t just come? To the pressure that you wanted yesterday that the client wants it yesterday, which we all run into, right, unfortunately.
And we’re seeing that more and more mainly because, you know, as generations, new generations. Become more active and older and more positioned to make business decisions. They’ve been used to the instant gratification and in the early 2000s, when I was still in print and traveling, you know, nationwide visiting clients and building technical solutions. One of my colleagues said, Yep, this is probably the end of, you know, doing business. The good old boys way that we’re doing now. The PlayStation generation is what he dubbed them. We, you know, late millennials, Gen. They’re used to being able to sit down at a computer or any electronic device, not necessarily a computer, but an iPad or phone and get information instantly. So the customer base is and expectations are changing quite a bit from you know even ten years ago. I think the expectations and attitudes of of clients has changed a little bit to. That instant gratification feeling that they expect things a little quicker these days.
Now that that is so true and it’s just a. Fact of the. Life of where we’re. At do you think paid ads have any value into building your agency?
Oh, absolutely. That actually I have turned off again my. Paid ads that direct to landing pages on my site and have been building just through organic traffic. Because I I had too many leads and I, you know, done successfully PPC campaigns. Are still absolutely necessary if you really want to grow and you know the trick is. Is finding a budget that you’re comfortable with that can bring you in quality leads. And here again, if you’re not, if you’re not a PC specific agency where you don’t have that experience. And you want to scale and grow, go find an agency to help you. Like if you’re a web dev shop. Man, I have seen some horrible marketing and just wasteful spending from some, you know, other small agencies because they wanted to do things internally. You know, there are specific niche, you know and that’s when I talk about the horizontal niche where. There are PPC specific agencies to help and. You know, they’re useful in growing and growing business. Paid ads. Yeah, absolutely. If you want to bring in new clients. Hands down, that would be my first thing to do. Sell at the start at the same time, if you haven’t done it.
And where do you what we haven’t talked about and you and I both do is your newsletter. So where do you where do you? Send on that one.
That’s one where I just health wise and some other things just being overbooked and busy that I’ve I’ve struggled with consistency and I had intended to do it biweekly and I I think the consistency factor is is where a lot of agencies fall down where you know and over the holidays. Things got got busy. That’s just with family and and things. Where I kind of slipped down to the once a month, but I want to get back to twice a month and you know, be able to provide some value for clients. Every time I’ve sent out a newsletter. I’ve had at least one lead in the cycle get an extra ping and they found value in in what I’ve written in the newsletter and they come back and and ask for work and it’s just another touch point in the the sales cycle and the funnel journey. That I think is really important and you know, I know our friend Todd with main WP had done the agency. And several years in a row, every time you know the content and the newsletter question comes up. There are so few web agencies that use that tactic to keep in contact with their their current customers. Their leads both. In the nurture cycle or future that it’s a missed opportunity, in my opinion.
Yeah, I think the one spot that agencies don’t do generally is a newsletters really well, most of them and B1, I’ve already talked about is podcasting. I don’t think many agencies are doing podcasting to move their agency along, and I think that’s a mix, a missed opportunity. Personally, because you can take your. Your podcast, and you can listen to it while you’re on the go while you’re out for a walk while you’re out doing anything, and I think you’re you’re just dropping the whole ball. On that one person.
Yeah, I think content production, you know whatever Ave. that that you want to start with producing content and it’s not just blogs. I mean you you phone great success with your podcast. I’ve found successful with my newsletter, but you know the newsletter is also a distribution channel, so it’s it’s a multipurpose piece. That’s the other part of it I’ve I’ve seen. I’ve stumbled. On some really great blogs out there, they’re loaded with information. And only when I’ve searched for a specific problem and then I start looking at the other articles and I’m like wow, this guy’s written a lot of really good content. Why have I not heard of it? And that’s what a lot of, you know. And I’m I’m picking on the web designers and developers. They’re terrible marketers. I’m going to. Be honest. They just. Kind of fall down when it comes to distribution of that content and they might write a great article, but you know, nobody sees it. If you know Google, you don’t have that perfect query to, you know, hit that on Google. Pop that blog in a newsletter and then make a social media post. And don’t do the same on for every platform. Each platform has a different set of audiences, both age and how they consume content. Yeah, that’s it’s just. For for web agencies, you know I’ve definitely seen that differentiation to marketing agencies that the marketing agencies are really great at distributing content, getting stuff out there where you know that comes back to the complementary agency piece where. You know, some of their web stuff isn’t real great, and they could definitely use some help there, both for design and development, but.
It’s just after, as we came on to this. Podcast I was reading a tweet by Mike McAllister over at WP engine. He said one thing Web developers need to do is improve their non web development skills and that included communications that included time management and that included digital marketing. What a shock on that one. You know, because what’s the point of having a website if you don’t get traffic to that website and getting traffic there is part of the marketing funnel, not part of the web design cycle as far as I’m concerned.
Yeah, everything’s so interconnected these days and. There are some agencies, even small company and one agencies that do the whole package really well, but then they get capped on time. Because every. Once you start layering things on top of each other, you run out of time to do things, and then you have to look at you service smaller number of clients for a higher billing rate or you get into that very specific niche where. You can recycle some of the skills and tactics you know into that niche for many clients. And those are the really successful super small agencies, the ones that have figured that out. But a lot of them. You know our. Like and for myself, I talked about a variety. You know, I like working in, you know that certain range when I say small business. You know that that doesn’t mean a lot, but I mean, you know, we’re looking at companies that are 1,000,000 to 50 million a year in revenue that I like to work with. And you know, I like to work with those specific things and, you know Web dev design and SEO. Because I take SEO from the ground up when we’re looking at web projects. But that’s where I kind of cut it off if. Somebody wants to do PPC. I’m probably going to. I refer them out to other agencies now. I don’t take it on myself because I want to work on the stuff that I want to work on and be successful.
No, I I agree with you 100%. Do you have? Any last tips for any agencies you think they should do to help themselves grow?
You know. One of the best things I think that I’ve seen is. Finding good agency partnerships, you know, the one of the last thing you know, you brought up that comment about web design agencies need to grow their marketing skill. Find some marketing agencies and I know you do the security white labeled for other agencies. Fill in a hole for another agency and share some work because I get leads now that don’t fit me. And I know other people in my network. Have just what they’re looking for SO1. Build your network. You know, there’s competition out there, but those are also cooperation, and that’s why I’ve enjoyed Twitter. I found a lot of people to cooperate with, so that’s my biggest tip is growing your network. And work with other agencies that are complementary.
No, I would agree with you. 100% If somebody wants to get a hold of you, Ryan, how’s the best quit.
You know, on every major social media platform, not Mastodon. You can find me at one dog solutions. You can find my website one dog dot solutions and if you want to e-mail me directly at Ryan dot Waterbury at one dog dot.
And while you’re emailing Ryan, make sure you ask him about his two deadbeat office managers, because they don’t seem to be doing anything once again. And the more things change, the more those two stay the same, right, Ryan?
You have a wonderful day, my friend. We will talk soon. I am sure. Have a great. Day. Bye bye bye bye.
You as well.