236 episodes

Growing an agency is very difficult, and you might feel unclear what to do next in order to grow and scale your agency. The Smart Agency Masterclass is a weekly podcast for agencies that are wanting to grow faster. We interview amazing guests from all over the world that have the experience of running successful businesses, and will provide you the insights you need. Our podcast is just over 3 years old, and have reached more than a half million listeners in 42 countries.

Smart Agency Masterclass with Jason Swenk: Podcast for Digital Marketing Agencies Jason Swenk

    • Management

Growing an agency is very difficult, and you might feel unclear what to do next in order to grow and scale your agency. The Smart Agency Masterclass is a weekly podcast for agencies that are wanting to grow faster. We interview amazing guests from all over the world that have the experience of running successful businesses, and will provide you the insights you need. Our podcast is just over 3 years old, and have reached more than a half million listeners in 42 countries.

    How Important is it to Declare a Niche for your Agency?

    How Important is it to Declare a Niche for your Agency?

    Trying to decide whether your agency really needs to declare a niche? Can a generalist approach equate to more clients? In the marketing agency space, it's all about standing out from the crowd. Whether you can find success as a generalist may depend more on your process than your expertise. 
    In this episode, we'll cover:
    #1 Thing to remember whether you're a generalist agency or declare a niche.  3 Ways to stand out as a generalist.  3 Reasons you're better off choosing a niche.  Today I had the opportunity to talk to Ted Birkhahn, president and part-owner of Hot Paper Lantern. Hot Paper Lantern is an integrative marketing communication agency that focuses on analytics, redefining how clients are targeting their audiences, and improve experiences. With over 19 years in the agency, Ted was able to take an existing customer base and turn it into a successful generalist agency. Find out whether it's really possible to find success as an agency without choosing a niche. 
    #1 Thing to Remember Whether You're a Generalist or a Niche Agency If you have been in the agency world for any period of time, you know there's one thing that holds true — nothing lasts forever. Ted says this is the number one thing he learned over the course of his career. As such, you always need to have a plan for when times get rough. What does this look like?
    Evaluate your client base. It's never a good idea to put all your focus in one area. As a generalist, don't invest too much in a specific industry. As a niche agency, never saturate too much of your interest in one client or one area.  Grow in smart ways. As an agency owner, the goal is growth. But you have to do it right. If you grow too fast, you may have difficulty keeping up which can make you vulnerable in times of instability.  3 Ways to Stand Out as a Generalist You've decided to be a generalist — great. The good news is, this means you have a wider reach, you can relate to a larger range of customers. The bad news is, there's nothing to separate you from all the other "me too" agencies who don't have a specific niche. So how do you stand out without having a niche?
    Don't pretend to be all things to all people. Even as a generalist, there will be clients who just aren't the right fit. Clients who require a niche level of expertise or have specific needs may not be right for you.  Know what makes you different. For Hot Paper Lantern, they set themselves apart from the rest by bringing in specialists from different industries. By providing marketing and consulting services they provide value many similar agencies don't. Even if you don't have a specific area of expertise, you can still be unique. Leverage your experience. One thing Ted has that many agency owners don't is experience. Ted has two decades in the agency world and has surrounded himself with a team of similar expertise. Experience is an asset. OWN IT.  3 Reasons You're Better Off Choosing a Niche  It's important to find out what makes your agency stand out from the crowd. Some agencies are able to do this without choosing a niche. But for many agencies, defining a niche is how they stand out. So how do you know if you're better off choosing a niche?
    You don't have an established client base. Ted was lucky. He started his agency with several established clients. This isn't the case for most agency owners. If you don't have an established customer base, you're going to have to find a way to bring in clients. As a generalist, it's going to be hard to stand out. When you niche down, you are able to dedicate your marketing toward a specific client base. You don't have a lot of revenue. Even if you don't have an established customer base, you can still stand out by bringing in resources or hiring great talent. Without appropriate funds, this will be very hard to do.  You're just starting out. This one g

    • 25 min
    Why One Digital Agency Started With 50% of the Team Dedicated to Sales

    Why One Digital Agency Started With 50% of the Team Dedicated to Sales

    Do you want to grow faster while also staying nimble like a small agency? Growing your agency means growing your team. One agency actually did it by dedicating half of its team to sales. Sometimes it just takes a simple change of focus or a deeper look at the effectiveness of your processes to find meaningful success.
    In today's episode we'll cover:
    3 keys to landing the right agency prospects. Is it time to break apart your agency teams? How to build on successful sales and continue to grow. Today I talked to Michael Weinhouse, founder and co-CEO of Logical Position. Logical Position is a digital marketing agency based out of Portland, Oregon, who in just 10 years has grown to over 700 employees. Find out how a focus on sales led to tremendous agency growth.
    3 Keys to Landing the Right Agency Prospects In the beginning, clients don't just come to you. Gaining clients and growing your agency takes a lot of hard work. For Michael, he found the number one way to scale his agency fast was sales. This focus on sales led to partnerships with Google and Microsoft which contributed to the agency's rapid growth.
    In the early years, this meant a lot of cold calling. For several years, the team was primarily composed of salespeople. Even after the agency began to see success, the number one focus was still sales, to the point that 50% of the employees were sales!
    But if you are going to narrow-in on sales, you have to do it right. For Logical Position, it was all about making sure each call provided value. So how do you do this?
    Do your homework. You don't want to waste a potential client's time. Find out what your client wants and don't be afraid to give little nuggets of value or tips, even if the prospect doesn't sign on. Total transparency. Michael's agency uses a quality assurance team to make sure every client they sign-on is the right fit. By being transparent and letting a client know, "Hey, this isn't a good fit," they are able to truly help the clients they do sign on without setting unrealistic expectations. Not everything has to be perfect. Be open to feedback. Take the criticism you get and implement it into your processes. Is It Time to Break Apart Your Agency Teams? A lot of agencies divide work between several teams within the agency. While this approach may work for some agencies, it's not the way Logical Position does things. There are a couple of reasons for this. Michael says he always found sticking to one sector is a quick path to burnout — not good when you're trying to grow your team. When you allow your team to work with people in different verticals they can use conversations from one area to find best practices that work with another.
    But while there are no teams, this certainly doesn't mean there is no structure. Logistical Position uses a tiered system to incentivize employees and keep things organized. Once you have mastered one skill set and met your goals, you have the opportunity to move further up in the agency. Michael says there is a natural level of competition among his sales team, which definitely helps convert leads.
    How to Build on Successful Sales and Continue to Grow You may be thinking: "You can't run an agency simply on sales," and you're right. Michael says the tipping point came about three years ago when the sales team had been so successful the operations team had to expand to keep up with the growth. Presently, the sales force makes up just over a quarter of the agency team, instead of the 50% share they had previously held.
    As for acquisitions, Logical Position acquired its first agency at around the $20 or $30 million mark. They chose an agency they had previously worked with and whom they had built a lot of trust. They have since acquired yet a third agency. From here, Logical Position really began to grow. As a co-CEO, Michael has found his team was at the

    • 32 min
    How to Get the Best Deal When Selling Your Agency

    How to Get the Best Deal When Selling Your Agency

    Thinking about selling your agency -- someday? Is a merger or acquisition a good fit? Whether you are hoping to move on to a new adventure or stay on as an employee, it's always important to make sure your agency is in a position to maximize a merger or acquisition opportunity.
    In today's episode we'll cover:
    Why it's important to tell your agency's story. #1 Way to get multiple buyers when selling your agency. 2 Simple ways to know a merger is the right fit. Today I talked to Todd Taskey, the CEO of Potomac Business Capital. Todd's agency does a lot of merger and acquisition work, dealing with sellers to maximize their profits and find a good fit. He shares what agencies need to do to get buyers interested and how to get the best offers.
    Why It's Important to Tell Your Agency's Story When buyers are looking to acquire or merge with your agency, they want to know where your agency is heading. This is a good way for buyers to determine your agency's value. But the biggest mistake most agency owners make is not thinking about where they are going. The best way to increase your agency's value is to tell a story. What does this mean?
    How long have you had your clients? Buyers like to see longevity. If you have a bunch of new clients, a buyer will worry this revenue can easily slip away. How much do your clients like you? Yes, this is important. Likeability and trust go a long way. If your clients don't feel a sense of loyalty, they're going to use this transition as a good opportunity to jump ship. What is your recurring revenue? Those big projects are nice. But your potential acquirers want to see long term stability. Todd says he is able to get buyers to feel more comfortable with agencies that have long term retainer contracts. #1 Way to Get Multiple Buyers for Your Agency We all hope when we go to sell our agency there will be multiple buyers fighting over us. But many times you put feelers out there and then suddenly one of them sends you a letter of interest asking you to stop shopping your agency around. So how do you avoid this and get the best selling price? The simple answer is HARD WORK.
    Todd says he puts together a list of about 100 prospects and then goes and talks to each one. He then finds the three most serious buyers and works from there.
    When you find the right agency, it's all about negotiating. When a buyer thinks they are getting a great value they are more tolerant when bumps inevitability come up down the road. If you work the buyer in the beginning, it provides leverage when it comes to negotiating things like working power and non-solicitation agreements.
    2 Simple Ways to Know a Merger is the Right Fit When you sell your agency, you want to know it's the right deal. Everyone's a Monday morning quarterback and will always find something they could have done better. So how do you prevent that? How can you feel comfortable with the choice you make? Todd says it comes down to a couple of things.
    Is it a lot of money? Funny but true, right? You don't want to walk away feeling like you got the short end of the stick. If a buyer is offering you a lot of money, it's hard to feel bad about that. Have a dollar amount in mind before you entertain any negotiations and don't settle for less (as long as you're realistic). Does the buyer share or complement your vision? If you plan on staying on with the agency, your vision is important. You need to make sure that you are comfortable with where the agency is heading. If you don't see that with the seller, it might not be a good fit. Selling your agency is a good way to make a change or take things to the next level. But you have to do it right. Take time to prepare your agency and don't settle until you find that right fit.
    Looking for a Payroll and HR Solution for your Agency? Payroll and benefits are hard. Especially when you’re a small bu

    • 33 min
    How an 8-Figure Agency Created a Successful Referral Program

    How an 8-Figure Agency Created a Successful Referral Program

    Are you looking for a way to grow your agency but don't know where to start? Does it feel like your current marketing approach is failing to bring in enough referrals to help your agency grow? Referral programs and agency events are a great way to bring in new clients and engage with the ones you already have. The good news is, you don't have to be a big agency to see big growth.
    In today's episode we'll cover:
    3 keys to rapid agency growth. 3 keys to create a successful referral program. Why even small agencies should host events. Today I got to talk to Michael Mogill, a good friend and former client. Michael is the owner of Crisp Video, a digital agency who works exclusively with law firms to help them differentiate their firm and attract high-value clients. In just a few short years, Michael took a $500 investment and turned it into a $20 million agency. Discover how big risks, radical ideas, and hard work has paid off big for him.
    3 Keys to Rapid Agency Growth It's not often someone is able to create a multi-million dollar agency out of basically nothing in just a few short years. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. Since founding Crisp Video in 2012, Michael has been able to double the agency's size and value every single year. So just how did he do it? Michael says there are three key things that led to his agency's rapid growth.
    Have a clear focus: We've heard it before — discovering your niche is one of the best ways to grow your agency. When you have a clear focus and can excel at what you do, clients will begin to see you as the go-to agency in the industry. Be prepared to place big bets: Taking chances is hard, especially when you're starting out and don't have a lot of funds. But the best way to see a big payoff is to make a big investment. Don't be afraid to take chances and invest in yourself. People are more prone to invest in high-risk assets like real estate and stocks but are more hesitant when it comes to investing in something they can actually control — themselves. So what's holding you back? Hard work pays off:  At the end of the day, you won't be able to grow your agency if you don't put in the work. 3 Keys to Create a Successful Referral Program Michael earned a lot of attention when he announced Crisp Video would be giving away a Tesla as part of their referral program. Sure he could have given away an Amazon gift card, but that doesn't really get people's attention. It all comes back to being prepared to make big bets. With such a big promotion, Michael learned a few things along the way.
    Have one person dedicated to the promotion full-time. Referral programs take a lot of work. Clients won't usually just give up their time to send you referrals, they need a little guidance. For Crisp Video, this meant reaching out to clients, drafting referral emails, and developing a comprehensive campaign. Make sure you have a big enough client base. You need to consider your client value and how many potential participants you have. You won't see a return on investment if you offer a $77,000 Tesla to 20 clients. The first time around, Michael saw a one in three participation rate. Take big chances but make smart choices. There's more investment than just the grand prize. When you consider how much you are willing to spend on a referral program, you have to think about the actual cost. The cost of the Tesla was only $77,000, but with marketing and tiered prizes, Crisp Video spent about $100,000 on the promotion. Why Even Small Agencies Should Host Events When it comes down to it, you just have to get started. When Michael hosted his first agency event, he didn't know what he would say or what he would do. He set a date and sold tickets. The rest came later. It doesn't matter if you have 500 clients or 50. If you can't get on someone else's stage build your own. Soon, you'll discover,

    • 27 min
    How to Brand Your Agency and Differentiate from the Competition

    How to Brand Your Agency and Differentiate from the Competition

    Are you struggling to make your agency stand out? It could be a branding issue. Knowing your brand and owning it can make a big difference when it comes to getting your prospects' attention. In a world saturated by digital marketing agencies, the last thing you want to be is another "me too" agency. So here's advice on the best ways to differentiate your agency from the competition.
    In today's episode we'll cover:
    2 reasons it's important to find your agency's niche. How to understand what it means to brand your agency. #1 Way to differentiate your agency from everyone else. Today I sat down with Scott Markman, Founder and President of Monogram Group. Monogram Group is a branding agency, dealing almost exclusively with private equity clients. As a branding agency, Scott has spent the past 30 years finding his niche, developing a brand, and becoming an expert in his field. But recently, Scott's firm hired a digital agency to help with their own brand. In this episode, we'll talk about why you have to know your agency's brand and how defining a niche can get you there.
    2 Reasons It's Important to Find Your Agency's Niche Lately, it seems like anyone who knows anything about a computer can start an agency. Because there are so many agencies, it's tempting to offer everything to everyone. The logic is, the more I offer, the more clients have to choose from. But agencies who take this approach quickly find out being a generalist isn't really the best approach. Why? Because clients want someone who knows the nuances of their specific industry.
    Scott started his agency as a generalist -- part out of boredom, part out of a desire to learn something new. But while the work was challenging, he quickly learned private equity was where he needed to be. There are two main reasons why finding your niche is important:
    Being a generalist will quickly eat away at profits. Sure it's fun to challenge yourself and learn new things, but doing so every time you bring on a new client takes time. You'll learn you're investing too much time learning about the product when should be focusing on what you can deliver. Do this too much and you will end up losing more than what you are making. When you have a niche, you save time because you don't have to take the extra step of researching the product or the market. Clients want someone who knows what they are talking about. Scott says he is able to close 65-75% of all the proposals he pitches. Why? Because clients are confident that he knows what he is talking about. Think about it. When you speak the industry language, understand the challenges and pain points of your clients' clients you are more valuable than someone who has to research those things. How to Determine Your Agency's Brand Many agency owners think they know their brand, but really they have no idea. When we talk about branding, we're talking about the feeling clients get or associate with your agency. When you are developing your brand, there are a few questions you want to be able to answer:
    Why do I exist? What can I provide to potential clients? Where can I play strong? What's the market for my services? How can I make clients feel they wish they had found me sooner? Scott says 85% of what you say is going to be the same as everyone else. The key is to not stop there. The other 15% is your brand. Recognize what makes you valuable, carve out a space for yourself and own it.
    #1 Way to Differentiate Your Agency from the Others Back to the question we started with at the beginning: "How do I stand out from the crowd?" The answer is brand, brand, brand. What is it that runs in your DNA? What are you passionate about? What do you know better than anyone else? The number one way to separate your agency from "me too" agencies is to know your brand and make it approachable to a variety of audiences. Remember, your niche is who

    • 30 min
    Why Transparency and Culture Are Important to Your Agency's Success

    Why Transparency and Culture Are Important to Your Agency's Success

    Are you struggling to figure out what your agency really stands for? Do you find yourself developing a new process every time you start a new project? In the fast-paced agency world, knowing who you are and what strategies work for your agency are key to finding success as a team and as an agency.
    In this episode we'll cover:
     Why developing processes means increased productivity. #1 tip to help your agency survive the tough times.  3 benefits transparency in agency leadership. Today I got to talk to J.P. Holecka. J.P. is the owner of Power Shifter, a digital agency whose goal is to make things simpler. His agency works with start-ups and big brands, including some notable companies like FitBit and Energizer. With a background in film production, J.P. quickly realized how important process and culture are to an agency's success. In today's episode, J.P. discusses how culture helped his agency survive the loss of its biggest client.
    Why Developing Processes Means Increased Productivity Does it feel like your team is constantly running around in circles? Does your environment feel like it is constantly filled with chaos? If so, it might be because you haven't developed a process. What does it look like to develop a process? When you have a process in place everything is repeatable. Rather than figuring out how you are going to approach a project from scratch every single time, you can simply follow the process, saving you and your team time, money, and stress.
    Developing a process will look different for everyone. For J.P., he brought in a couple of coaches to help his agency get organized. These coaches focused on the operational side of the house as well as the ad job and helped J.P. develop a system that worked.
    #1 Tip to Help Your Agency Survive the Tough Times Let's face it — business isn't always going to be easy. There will be times where your agency is tested or suffers a loss. For J.P., this moment came when his agency lost its biggest client last year. But rather than destroying the company and putting them out of business, the loss actually made Power Shifter stronger than ever.
    The number one thing that helped J.P. and his team make it through this loss was culture. When you have an established culture and know what your company stands for, you'll be equipped to handle times of adversity.
    To develop a strong culture, it's important to be clear with your values. What do you stand for and what do you want to achieve? Then, surround yourself with people who have the same beliefs and want the same things.
    3 Benefits of Transparency in Agency Leadership So many times, agency owners are afraid to be open and transparent with their team. Whether it's the fear of sharing too much or losing members of their team, owners have a tendency to hold things closer to the chest. But J.P. says he's seen the benefits of being transparent and plans to develop an open-book management style in the near future. Being transparent with your team can derive many benefits.
    Transparency helps make sure everyone is on the same page. Your team can't get behind you if they don't know where you're going. Don't be afraid to share your goals, your strategies, and even some financials so everyone knows where the agency stands. You'd be surprised how much clarity is gained by being open and honest. Transparency helps develop culture. We already know how important culture is to your agency's success. When you're transparent with your team, the ones who want to stay will have your back and the ones who don't will likely leave. Transparency promotes teamwork. When you're honest with your team, they're more likely to be honest with you. They'll be apt to share their ideas, offer opinions, and say something when something's not right. You'll find it difficult to find success as an agency if you and your employees are two separate entities

    • 23 min

Customer Reviews

Buddhaa22 ,

Valuable For Agency Owners

Jason brings great topics and value to owners. Definitely worth your time to grow your agency.

Tony Pec ,

BEST podcast for agency owners

This is by far the most detailed & value packed podcast for an agency owner just wow ! Constantly mind blown by the information he delivers every single episode ! I love a few podcasts but if Jason were to stop his - it would be the only one I truly missed because it delivers me real value to implement in my agency that is just starting !

Autumn Shultz ,

A must listen for Digital Marketing Agencies

If you haven't yet listened to this podcast, do it now. You won't be disappointed. Instead, you'll be delighted by the incredible tips and insights Jason and his guests offer in each episode. 10/10 would recommend.

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