There’s no topic that is not more top of mind for an agency owner than growing your agency so it is stronger, more profitable and more sustainable. In a recent podcast with Trent Dyrsmid, we talked scaling your agency and managing business growth. Trent built, scaled and sold an agency and I wanted him to tell us how.
In this podcast, Trent discusses innovative techniques to managing and growing your agency: Among other things, he covers:
picking a niche for your agency giving you power in pricing and increased traction
becoming aware of your capacity as an agency – being busy doesn’t mean higher profits
why you need social media for lead generation, no matter your agency’s niche
finding the right balance in workload for your team
how to implement new systems into the agency.
Before Trent Dyrsmid started a digital agency called Groove, he founded Dyrand Systems, a managed IT service provider that was recognized twice as one of Canada’s PROFIT Magazine’s 100 fastest growing companies. In addition to overseeing Groove, Trent is also the host of the Bright Ideas podcast, where he regularly publishes interviews with some of today’s brightest entrepreneurs from around the globe.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (http://buildabetteragency.com/trent-dyrsmid/) and grab either the itunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below.
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew: Hey, everybody. Thanks for checking out this episode of Build a Better Agency. I am Drew McLellan, and I am raring to go today. This is a topic that I love to talk about, and I know that every agency owner loves to explore as well. It’s all about managing business growth in your agency and how to scale so that you can get bigger and better. Remember Build a Better Agency and this podcast are all about helping agency owners just like you, do it a little bit better so you can make a little more and worry a little less. And today’s guest is absolutely going to help us there. So, Trent Dyrsmid, I had to practice saying that a couple times. Trent, did I get it right?
Trent: Close enough.
Drew: No, no. Dyrsmid, right?
Drew: Dyrsmid. Right. Okay. Anyway, my friend, Trent, who I cannot say his last name, he started a digital agency called Groove. But prior to that was a founder of Dyrand Systems, a managed IT service provider that was twice recognized as one of Canada’s PROFIT 100 fast growing companies. During his eight years as CEO there, he was fortunate to have been recognized as one of the Top 40 under 40 Business People in Vancouver. In addition to overseeing Groove, which he still runs today, he is also the host of The Bright Ideas Podcast, where he regularly publishes interviews with today’s brightest entrepreneurs from all over the globe. You can find that podcast at BrightIdeas.com. Trent, welcome to the show and thanks for being willing to share your time with us.
Trent: Yeah, no problem, Drew. I am super stoked to be here. As I mentioned to you before we hit the record button, I actually haven’t recorded an episode in quite a while, so this is my first time back on the mic probably in about six months, and I’m super stoked to do so.
Drew: Well, welcome back.
Trent: Thank you.
Drew: So, we’re going to jump all around today because as you and I talked before we hit the record button, you’ve had an interesting career. So I would love for you to sort of help folks understand where you’ve been and where you are heading so that they can put our conversation in context.
Trent: Sure. So I started my career and I’m going to make this real short because I don’t want to bore people. Started my career as a sales guy working for other companies, was pretty good at it, sold lots of stuff, made lots of money. And in 2001, thought, “You know what, I really don’t want to do this anymore. I want to run my own show.” So tried to do a startup, got a bunch of money, about $100 grand from an investor, failed because the Dot-com Crash crashed.
And then was sitting there thinking, “Ooh, now what am I going to do?” And so I thought to myself, “Well, I’m going to start this IT professional services company,” because I knew a guy who was kind of technical in nature, and I figured I could get the customers. And because it was a professional services company, we didn’t need any startup money from investors. So I could get the doors open and off we went.
So did that and over the eight-year period, it was an amazing journey. We started off just as a break/fix shop where you charge per hour, and there’s no leverage, no scale, and no profitability in that model. And very quickly adapted our model to that of what’s called a managed service provider, which is kind of like what a marketing agency does. We collected retainers and we delivered a statement of work. So consistent service delivery, and because it was IT, we could automate a fair amount of it.
And the thing that I think I was really good at with that business, because I didn’t know any of the IT stuff, was I was good at working on the business as opposed to in the business. And I got it by the end, to the point where my business partner who was a minority shareholder in the team of technical people that we hired, pretty much were running the show every day. And so I sold the company. And he and I, after eight years, were kind of tired of each other. So he and the COO put together money and bought me out in 2008, late 2008.
And that was an amazing…it was two really intense emotions I experienced. One like, “Woohoo! Wow, I just sold a company, and I’ve got this bag of money.” Although it wasn’t a bag of money, it was more of a stream of payments over four years. But still, it’s pretty nice. But then I was like, “Holy crap, what am I going to do now?” Because I didn’t have enough money to just do nothing forever. I was only 38 years old at the time, so three quarters of a million dollars is not that much.
So then I kind of struggled for a few years to be honest with you. I took some time off, and smelled the roses, and grew my hair long, and learned how to surf and all that kind of stuff that you’d expect someone to do. And then I discovered this world of Internet marketing. I had met someone who was a surfer, who was making all this money doing affiliate marketing. And I kind of got sucked into the weeds of affiliate marketing for a few years, and I did pretty well at it. But then Google, as they do, they keep changing their algorithm, and it put me out of business. And so that was like a big, “Wow.”
Here I was, this supposedly super successful entrepreneur guy that just got creamed. And it didn’t feel very good. And so out of the ashes of that, I created my site, Bright Ideas, and I created the podcast, and I went on this mission to interview as many other entrepreneurs as I could. And that all sorts of amazing things started to happen when I started to do that. Of course I learned a lot because that’s a lot of great free consulting. I built a pretty big audience. The podcast became fairly popular, and it monetized reasonably well. It was a six figure a year business, but not nearly as well as what I could have done if I’d done a few things differently.
But what happened out of that, is eventually of course when you have an audience and they like you and trust you, they reach out to you and they say, “Can you help me?” And initially I resisted. I didn’t want any clients. But then I got married and my wife also is an entrepreneur, I thought, “Oh, wait. I could get her to do all the work.” So we decided to form Groove Digital Marketing, and so we’d just take the leads that we were generating from my stuff, and people would buy Infusionsoft, or they’d get us to help with a website or whatever it was.
And we did that for a while. And then a really big client, big, relative to what we were dealing with, came along again as a result of the content that we were producing. And that client, we just focused on them because it was quite a bit of money, and we just didn’t want to be distracted.
So Liz, my wife, pretty much was running that show, and that’s been about a year and change. And I had built all the systems, and we’d recruited a team of virtual assistants and writers and editors. And so we had a virtual agency because we run it out of the house. And so it’s very lean, it’s very profitable because the overhead is very, very low. And then well, so I didn’t really have anything to do because she was running it all.
So I thought to myself, “I’m going to go to this Dreamforce thing,” which Salesforce puts on. And I kind of got all excited about working for Salesforce because they’re this big company and I thought, “Oh, man, I could probably make quite a bit of money. I’m a sales guy. I can do that.” And I went to work for them for 6 months in the first part of 2015, and I absolutely hated it. And I put my Bright Ideas Podcast on hiatus at that point in time. Because I figured I could make more…I figured I could make half a million bucks a year selling Salesforce software, and I wasn’t making a half million a year running my podcast. So I thought, “Well, that’s cool. I’ll try that.”
Anyway, if you’re an entrepreneur, don’t ever go to work for anybody else. It was horrible. Even though they let me work from home, I hated it. I absolutely…
Drew: I’ve always said that I’m guessing that entrepreneurs who were bad employees before they started their business, but after you’ve been self-employed for a while, I think we would be abysmal employees.
Trent: Yeah, I had a boss, who had a boss, who had a boss, who had a boss, and the stuff they would make us do was so in conflict with my beliefs and my values about how you would go and get customers, that again, having been a boss for eight years, I pretty much told my boss, I said, “You’re on crack.” I said, “This isn’t going to work,” and eventually he didn’t want to hear that anymore.
Drew: Yeah. Isn’t that funny how when we’re the boss, we don’t want to hear from our people, but we sure want to say it when we have a boss. So, yeah. I think you were wise to come on back to the entrepreneurial side.
Trent: Indeed. And so in about June or July of this year, 2015, our big client decided they were getting ready to raise a bunch of money from venture capitalists. And they said to me, they said, “We don’t have a repeatable scalable sales system. We’re just the CEOs bringing in the bacon, but we need to build a sales team. Would you build that for us?” So I said, “Sure. I’ll give you 20 hours a week at the most,” because I wanted the other 20 hours to re-launch Bright Ideas. And so they’ve just signed a contract with us to do that, in addition to all the inbound marketing stuff that we’re doing.
We’re in a very, very fortunate position where the agency is really making quite a bit of money. But I only have to work about half time, and my wife works the other half time, and between the two of us and our team of people, we kind of get it all done. And so then I thought, “I really want to re-launch my podcast,” because I’d seen some other people out there with their podcasts who were making millions per year. And I thought, “They don’t know how to do anything that I don’t know how to do.”
I just needed to get more focused, and that was the big mistake. No matter what business you’re in, big lesson right here, big mistake was not picking. When I launched Bright Ideas the first time, I did not pick a super focused target audience. Instead I was just like, “It’s for entrepreneurs.” That’s too vague. It’s too hard to really stand out if it’s just for entrepreneurs.
And so, you really have to understand who you’re going after. And so I decided I was going to hire a coach for the first time in my entire career, who was a good buddy of mine. I would say good buddy, he found me because of my podcast. I gave him some advice two years ago, and he took it and ran with it. In two years, he’d gone from…he’s an ex-agency owner, his name’s Jason Swenk. If you’re an agency owner and you need a coach, Jason’s a brilliant guy. And you can get him at jasonswenk.com. Anyway.
Drew: I did a podcast with him earlier, so the listeners will be familiar with him.
Trent: Okay. So he doesn’t publish his income, so I won’t say it, but it’s a big number. And when he told me, I was like, “You got to be kidding me. That much from your jasonswenk.com?” He said, “Yeah.” And he says, “I only work like 100 hours a month.” A month, not a week. A month. And so that was one of the reasons when our client of Groove said, “We want to hire you, Trent, to build this thing.”
I said, “Sure, but I’m only giving you 20 hours a week.” Because I wanted the other 20 hours to focus on re-launching Bright Ideas on a very focused target audience. And I’m testing this. Of course I might fail and have to pick a different one, but the target audience is entrepreneurs who have built and sold a business, like yours truly, and are looking for, “What should I do next?” Because I really struggled with that for a few years.
Drew: So, one of the things that you were doing when you were doing Bright Ideas before, is you were interviewing a lot of agency owners. And so I’m curious, as you stood back, and are sort of the observer, and you’re learning from all of them, what were they doing wrong that you were able to do differently with your own shop and that you would advise the listeners to think about differently?
Trent: I’d say there’s probably two things that really come to mind. Number one, and this is almost unanimously I saw this. They did not pick a niche.
Drew: They actually avoid it like the plague.
Trent: Yeah. The reason people don’t pick a niche is always the same. They think, “Well, if I make the home page of my website saying, ‘I am a digital marketing agency for orthodontists,’ what about all the people who aren’t orthodontists? They’re not going to do business with me.” So that’s the fear. The reality is, is if you become a digital marketing agency for orthodontists, you’re going to have pricing power. You’re going to have way more traction than you could ever imagine because chances are that’s a niche you can dominate. That’s a niche you can more than likely become the number one…
Like my podcast, I want to become the number one podcast for people who’ve built and sold a company and are looking for their next idea. I don’t know of any other podcasts that focus on that particular audience. So that’s the first mistake.
And the second one, and this is what I don’t like about professional services businesses, and this is one of the reasons why I’m not trying to grow Groove too much, and I know that sounds silly, is take too many clients and have to hire too many people. Because in a professional services business, the more people at least in my experience after 10 years of doing it, the more people I hire, the lower my profit margin goes. So…
Drew: I think there’s a point where that flips when managing business growth, but I think it’s a challenge when you’re in that small size of 5 to 10 employees to really drive a lot of profit back to the agency owner.
Trent: Yeah, and you’re right. There is a point when it flips, but out of the people that I’ve interviewed, the only ones who were successful in growing a really big agency, started off with a marquee client. They had a personal relationship from a prior career, and when they kicked the doors open, they had Target as a customer. And in this one, I can’t remember the names of the person who told me this, but he says, “Trent, I carried that around like a gold brick. Everyone that I talked to, Target is my customer.” So, you’ve got strong cash flow from the beginning, and you’re able to hire talented expensive people from the beginning. Now if you are…
Drew: And you have the cache of that client, right?
Trent: Yeah, but if you don’t have Target, if you’re just doing it onesie-twosies, again speaking from experience, you’re going to do a lot of activity. You’re going to be really busy and revenue will be okay, but your profits aren’t going to be that great until you decide to be super choosy about who you take. Like at Groove, if you’re not going to pay us at least a hundred grand a year on retainer, you’re not going to become a client. And that’s why we get lots of inquiries. But most of the time I just say no, and I refer them to somebody else because I just don’t.
I know that a $30,000 a year client, I just know I’m not going to make that much money. We’ve got such a great lifestyle now, I’m not interested in having to work a whole bunch more to make a little bit more money.
Drew: Right. So the niching is part of the challenge when managing business growth. And I think one of the other challenges is the whole idea of how do you scale? So thoughts about that based on your observations, and your interviews, and your own experience with Groove?
Trent: Yeah. Scaling can come from a variety of ways. So how do you scale? I guess if you’ve got that marquee client, you could potentially scale from…And there’s two aspects of scaling. There’s driving the revenue, aka getting the clients, and then there’s the system. So let’s talk about the revenue first. Obviously referrals a great source of scaling if you can make it happen.
If that’s not happening for you, you do need to build a repeatable lead generation system. That’s where most people really struggle is lead generation. And if they get a good lead, they can talk them into becoming a client, but they’re not getting the good leads. And that’s social media and content marketing. And this is exactly what I’m doing with Bright Ideas right now. So, you need to come up with a lead magnet. You need to come up with a landing page. You need to come up with a marketing campaign that is going to nurture those leads to the point where they’re what I call sales ready.
And then you can do one of two things or both. Create content that solves problems for that particular target market and publish it like mad and/or advertise on Facebook. Advertising on Facebook of course costs…Well, they both cost money, but at least you can get the traffic faster, especially when you’re testing your niche to begin with. I would just put up the lead magnet and the campaign and then drive very targeted Facebook traffic to it and see how it converts.
And for every lead that you capture, talk to them, own them. If you’re selling information products, people say, “I don’t want to talk to them. I just want them to click the buy button.” No, phone them. Talk to them all. So that’s the first part on how you scale revenue.
Drew: So I’m going to stay there for a minute.
Drew: So a lot of your listeners are going say, “I’m a B2B agency, can’t use Facebook, blah, blah.” What do you say to those folks?
Trent: I say you’re ill informed. There is a heavy…I’ll just use this one example. I don’t remember the name of the manufacturer, but they make heavy duty equipment, like CAT equipment. And they had a dealer network around the United States, and they had all this used equipment. And I saw a case study on this, and I wish I could remember where, so please bear with me, but by far, the way they sold most of their used equipment was Facebook advertising. Because that’s how they would get the leads, that would go to the dealers, that would then close the sale for this used equipment.
Everybody is on Facebook, and you can target. If you have never logged in, or you haven’t logged in recently to the audience builder, it’s freaky the amount of data that Facebook is collecting on all of us. And that data is available to marketers to target your audience. Go check it out is all I would suggest that you do before you form your opinion that maybe Facebook’s not the right platform for you.
Drew: Yeah, it’s amazing what they know about us.
Drew: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So now we’ve talked about the whole idea of attracting the leads. Let’s talk about the managing business growth system because that’s where I think a lot of agencies really bang their hand against a brick wall.
Trent: Yeah, and not just agencies, any professional services company. And this was something that we did really well at Dyrand, my old company, and it’s one of the reasons why I was able to sell it for the amount that it was, because I was able to make myself redundant. And it all started off with reading “The E-Myth,” by Michael Gerber. I consider that to be the playbook of building your systems.
And what you have to understand as a CEO is your job is to build a strategy of course, but to build the systems and attract the people to run those systems to actually make the widgets. If you’re the CEO and you’re still knee-deep in client execution, and client meetings, and sales and all this stuff, you are your biggest bottleneck. You’re your own worst enemy.
And I know that there’s a lot of CEOs out there who think, “Well, I’m the important person. I’m the one of the most experience blah blah blah blah blah.” Again, if that is the case, and in your defense as a professional services business, unless you have the marquee client or some meaningful revenue, it’s pretty hard to hire other talented people. But if you are the most talented person at website or graphic design, or copywriting, or working with a client, I think that you’re kind of failing as a CEO. And so the way around that is to create systems. So I would use…we have a membership site where we have all this documentation.
I have videos and screenshots and literally how to do everything that we do is all broken down and documented. And then when we hire people, we don’t have to spend an ungodly amount of time training them by hand. We simply say, “Go read the manual, go watch the videos and do the task.” And if they still screw up it up, then of course they’re not qualified for the job and we get somebody else. But having that standard operational procedure manual, and just make it in digital format, is absolutely critical. And if you ever want to sell your business one day, hugely valuable, because the buyer is going to take much, much more comfort knowing that you’re not packing all the knowledge just between your ears.
Drew: Yeah, right. That there’s a recipe book in the back of the kitchen so anybody can make the food. It’s not that you, the chef, are the only one that can whip it up.
Trent: Correct. It’s like treat your business like it’s a franchise. You want to buy Subways. People who buy Subways, they don’t generally go to work. And then look, I’ve got a friend of mine, he owns 40 of the things. He doesn’t work in any of the stores, and he’s got operational, and Subway obviously creates training manuals and then they layer their own stuff on top of that. But that’s how you need to think about a professional services business because otherwise, how do you ensure a consistent delivery of your service?
It would vary from person, to person, to person, and then customers are going to, as account managers change, or graphic designers change, or people change, your clients are going to go, “It’s not as good as when Warren was doing it. I don’t like the way Wendy does it.” That’s why the systems are so important.
Drew: Yeah. Well, and I think the big thing for a lot of agency owners when managing growth, and I’m talking about this all the time to the AMI agency owners, you diminish the value of your agency if you ever think you’re going to sell it if you’re integral to the agency. I want to buy something that doesn’t need you because I know the whole reason you’re selling it is because you want to go away.
Trent: Yeah, yeah. And for agency owners, I think the book to read is “Built to Sell,” by…and I’m sure you know, is it Jack Warrillow who does it?
Drew: I think so, it’s a brilliant book. But it’s also a wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat book after you’ve read it because you’re going to see yourself in it and go, “Holy buckets.”
Drew: Yeah, yeah, it’s a great book, I agree. So when you were building your growth management systems, it sounds great to have the videos and the book and all that, but how did you do it?
Trent: One step at a time. There’s no rocket science to managing business growth. You just have to, first of all, you have to decide to do it, and then you just think, “What’s my biggest struggle?” or, “What’s on my desk that I want to get off of my desk?” Well, it’s content creation, or it’s lead generation, or it’s on-boarding a new client, or it’s an account review, anything. Just pick something.
There is no perfect way to do this, and if you just pick something and start, then you’ll get something completed, and then that’ll feel good. And you’ll be like, “Wow, that wasn’t so bad. Okay. Well, let’s go with the next task.” And just keep on creating. And I know that people will say, “Oh, I don’t feel like I have time.” But if you don’t take the time, you’ll never have the time. I know that sounds a bit silly, but if you think it through, it’s true.
Drew: Yeah, right. If you invest the time once, you actually free up your time.
Drew: Yeah. And then once you had a system, how did you introduce it inside your organization, and how did you get compliance? Because one of the other things I hear often is, “Well, we tried to do that, but nobody would do the time sheets or do the fill in the blank, whatever it is. So we didn’t.” So part of it is on the owner for not enforcing obviously. But how did you encourage your team to adopt whatever system you created? Was there a process or an on boarding to systems?
Trent: No, I’m probably, because ours is a relatively small agency on purpose, it was easy. I just said, “This is the way you’re going to do it. And if you don’t do it this way, I’ll replace you with another person that will do it this way.” So I know that sounds a little harsh, but there was no pushback. I think people like to receive a set of instructions that shows them, “This is what you’re supposed to deliver.” Keep in mind the vast majority of the people that are on the team for us are virtual assistants. They’re working overseas and so those…
Drew: They want a process for managing business growth, right?
Trent: They want a process, so that was easy. Where you might get pushback is from someone who they consider themselves like…and John, in the book, “Built to Sell,” this is covered. I’m a creative person, I’m a graphic artist, I have to have creative freedom. Yeah, Okay. That’s fine. We’re not talking about taking away your creative freedom. We’re talking but giving a structure to how you get the most out of your creative talents, and you’re going to go through that process and work with the client.
So I think that if you can help your staff to understand that it’s going to make their lives easier, that will help. And if you are of the mind to share profits with your team and you can help them to understand that’s going to make the place more profitable, that will probably help. There’s a book by the name of “A Stake in the Outcome,” by Jack Stack, fantastic book to read if you’re into open book management.
Drew: Cool. All right. We will make sure that we have that link, folks, in the show notes as well. So if you didn’t jot it down, we will have it for you in the show notes. So one of the things you and I were talking about is idea of agency owners are very entrepreneurial by nature. And so one of the things that I know your new venture is going around is the idea of you want to talk to people who have actually sold a business and are now looking for sort of their next career. But I think it’s also possible for people to build a twist in their career inside their agencies.
So a lot of the agency owners I work with are in their mid to late 40s or 50s or even older, and they’ve been doing the agency thing for a long time. And hopefully for a lot of them, they have a great number two in place who is really running the agency day to day. And the agency owner is getting, I wouldn’t say bored, but they want a new challenge or they want something…they’ve written a million strategic plans. They’ve been in a million new business meetings, and they’re looking for something to augment what they’re doing.
But they don’t want to walk away from their agency and they still want to have an active role in it. Given your new tweak, can an agency owner leverage their knowledge in a different way beyond serving clients?
Trent: Oh, absolutely they can. And it’s not my new tweaks as much as my old tweak. Bright Ideas is actually older than Groove. It’s just a…
Drew: Well, your new focus of it, right?
Trent: Yeah, a more focused version of Bright Ideas. So, if you are that agency owner and you’re craving learning new things, and a new challenge, and of course another stream of income, the first thing you need to do is create the systems in your agency so that it’s not so dependent on you on a day to day basis. And if you’re already there, pat yourself on the back, “Well done.” You have some time.
So what would you do with that time? So that’s the business model of Bright Ideas. So I have expertise as an entrepreneur, as a guy that’s built and sold a business, as a guy that’s created a lot of content and built an audience, so are there other people who would like to have that knowledge? Yeah, definitely there is.
So as an agency owner, you have this body of knowledge. Are there other people who’d like to have that knowledge? Sure. If you could teach people, you could create a mastermind group for other agency owners. You could create a blog that is for marketing consultants and freelancers who’d like to be able to build an agency. You’ve already done that. So I think it’s an excellent business.
So you create all this content, you could do interviews like this podcast. It’s really easy to create content this way, it’s very engaging for your audience. And then you’d have to figure out what I call your product offerings. So what is it that you’re going to offer? And all of your products for the most part, the way that you would generate revenue is a couple of different ways.
If you have a popular podcast, you can have sponsors. So there’s no service delivery involved in generating that revenue. You’d have digital products. Again, there’s no service delivery involved. You get to create the product one time, but then you can sell it over, and over, and over, and over again. And the money that comes in is 100% profit because there’s basically no expenses. And it’s an absolutely phenomenal business model, if you are the type of person who enjoys the content creation process, who enjoys being seen as an expert, who enjoys answering questions for other people.
And in my case in addition to all of those things, I also happen to really enjoy creating videos. And I really enjoy learning about the technology and the lighting, and I really enjoy the marketing automation software and figuring out the campaign flow. Because for me there’s nothing more exciting than passive income, money that just comes in. And that’s exactly what this business can be. Because if you are attracting traffic to your site from a combination of the free content that you’re publishing and promoting, as well as your paid advertising campaigns on Facebook, and then you have really well-crafted marketing funnels, the sales will just happen. It’s simply the byproduct of the traffic. And the traffic is just the byproduct of the content and the advertising.
It’s an amazing business model because again you can make sales 24 hours a day from people all around the world, which I have done. I have customers in every English speaking country around the world because they’ve got their own set of problems. You understand what those problems are. You’ve created content that helps them solve those problems, then you’ve made relevant sales offers for relevant products at the right point in the engagement process. And of course, this is all automated in the backend, and they click the buy button, and they buy whatever it is that you’re selling. And the money just comes in your bank account.
If you do a really great job of that, eventually you won’t need your agency anymore. And then you can decide, “Well, I’m going to fire myself completely,” or, “I’m going to sell it,” or, “I’m just going to let my number two run it,” and whatever, then you’ve got options. The goal for me is to get Bright Ideas to the point here in version number two, where we don’t even need the agency. Because ideally the perfect number of clients is none.
Drew: I’m sure there are a lot of agency owner nodding their head. I think another way to think about that too, is if you were brave enough to niche, that creating all of this content around the expertise you have in a particular vertical does two things. One, for the clients that are too small or not quite the right fit, you can sell them digital products and all of that. So there’s income there but it also is a huge lead generation opportunity for you. So now it’s a double win for your agency.
For those of you that don’t want to get down to a client list of zero, you can balance the ups and downs of the agency finance with this passive income by helping guys that are too small for you to ever take on as a client. But you can still be really helpful and useful to them. And some of them may grow to be big enough to hire your agency, and you will also attract the bigger fish in that category who may go, “Holy buckets, these guys really know their stuff. I’m going to pick up a phone and call them.”
Trent: That is exactly true. And when you are an authority, which is when you publish thought leadership, and you do a podcast, and you write blog posts over time, you become an authority in your niche, people are going to find you. And some of them are going to reach out. I’ve had people become clients of Groove, of course, because they just listen to the podcast. They didn’t go to my marketing funnel, nothing. They just called me up and said, “That interview you did with so and so, do you know how to do that? Yeah, you do. Great, do that for us. Thanks very much.” It’s a very short cycle.
Drew: Absolutely. So we have jumped all over the board which I knew we would and I wanted to. All around the idea of looking at your business as an entity and sort of stepping out of it to recognize that it’s an asset for you to grow. But if you’re inside it, it’s hard to grow beyond yourself. And the importance of managing business growth and scaling and… First of all, the importance of niching and really defining your audience in a way that you can kind of own that category which I preach on a regular basis as I know you do as well. And then the idea of figuring out how would the business, if I got abducted by aliens today, is the business set up in a way that they could just keep chugging along? Are the systems in place? Are the processes in place? If not, making that happen over time.
And then all of a sudden we’ve hopped around to the idea of this sort of twist and tweak of selling your knowledge either to walk or be able to walk away from your agency or to enhance your agency’s bottom line. So, if agency owners are listening to all of this and going, “Yep, yep, yep, I want more of that. I want to do more of that,” what are some things that they could do on their own right off the bat today when they get done listening to the podcast, what are some things in each of those categories? So let’s take niching, let’s take scaling, and then let’s take this whole idea of leveraging your knowledge. Give them one or two things in each of those buckets that they could do to move themselves along that path.
Trent: Well, if you want to do it the “free way,” I would just go to Google and use phrases like, “How to pick a target market,” “How to test a niche,” and you’re going to get all sorts of stuff. I have a book of course called “The Digital Marketing Handbook,” that I talk a lot about this in. So as far as the niche, that would be my advice there. As far as scaling, we’ve mentioned a couple of books already, “Built to Sell” and gosh, “E-myths.” That’ll get you started for sure.
Drew: Well, and I think the big key to that is just you have to decide to do it, and what is that expression? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You have to just sort of chunk it up and get it done.
Trent: Yep, and I’d also be listening to podcasts. Obviously yours, mine, there’s lots of podcasts out there. I’ve interviewed, gosh, I don’t know, 35 or 40 agency owners, and we’ve talked about scalability plenty of times on those shows. And then the last thing, leveraging your knowledge. I’m going to give a URL here for a start. If you go to BrightIdeas.co/whats-next. So W-H-A-T-S and then a little dash and the word next, you can put your name and email in there, and you’ll start to receive a series of free training material that explains the business model of Bright Ideas and how I do it.
And I actually have some videos on creating buyer personas, and there’s videos on inbound marketing. There’s a whole bunch of free stuff. Whether you never buy anything from me, you’ll get a ton of value from the videos, and the posts, and the podcasts that I will send your way after you opt in for that. As far as other ways, gosh, there’s a million copy bloggers, a fantastic blog. I’ve actually done an interview with Brian Clark which you can get to at brightideas.co/145. Pretty sure that’s what it is.
Well, and he talks about thinking and acting like a media company. And again, the Internet is just absolutely full, and I realize that’s probably pretty crappy advice, you need something more specific. So let me think if there’s any other blogs that really come to mind. Obviously your podcast, a mutual friend of ours, Jason Swenk, has a great show. That’s all that’s coming to my mind right now. I’m sorry that I’m drawing a blank.
Drew: Well, I think at the end of the day it’s also about having a plan for managing business growth. And none of this stuff happens by accident. And none of this stuff happens if you are putting out fires all day, and you are trying to herd feral cats. So part of this is about recognizing that your role as an agency owner, whether it is about niching, or scaling, or leveraging your vertical knowledge that you’ve built over time is you sort of have to make that your job. That that’s your responsibility to get that done, which means you have to step out of the day to day client work, and you have to stop being the head firefighter. And you need to surround yourself with other folks to do that, or you need to do a better job of grading your clients, and get rid of the…one of the things I teach is the whole idea of you got to grade your clients every month and every quarter. And if somebody is a C or below, you need to fire them.
Trent: Yeah. That’s great advice, and it’s also really, really difficult for people to do because it’s probably, in your coaching other business owners, is probably the hardest thing to get them to do. Get them to fire clients and pick a niche. By far two hardest things to do. But the two most valuable if you can believe it. Like I said earlier in the show, there’s a reason why we don’t accept small clients at Groove. And there’s a reason why we stick to our knitting so closely. So the other piece of advice that I would give is don’t try and do it all overnight, break it down into seasons.
Think, “Okay, for the next 90 days, all I’m going to do is try and create documented systems, or videos, or whatever, for these four or five tasks that are consuming the bulk of my time but are the lower value of my activities as CEO of this agency.” Keep the stuff that you feel is absolutely critical to you, but figure out a way to get the other stuff off your desk. So okay, that’s my goal for the first 90 days.
Then maybe my goal for the next 90 days is, if you’re going to do a podcast, figure out how to do it and create a certain amount of interviews, or write a certain amount of blog posts, or heck, even just test a niche. Actually I think that’d be a better idea. Just saying, “Okay, what’s a niche I’m going to go after? What would be a lead magnet that they would want? What would be this free thing that I could give?” Create that and don’t write some 25-page e-book. Worst idea in the world.
Make a short video or a list of tools or something that you can literally create in less than one day. Put up a landing page, create a nurture sequence behind that landing page, drive some Facebook traffic to it, and test it to see if that niche is worth going after. That could be your next 90 days. And if it is, then next 90 days, “Okay. Well, what is my content roadmap going to look like, and what do I need to do to start growing this business?”
Drew: Yeah. It sounds simple, but it is complicated, and it is difficult. And the hardest part of managing business growth is just carving out the time and the commitment to do it.
Trent: And hire a coach. Definitely a coach. Like I said, I’ve been a coach to many other people, but never, ironically, never hired one for myself. And I’m absolutely loving it because I’ve got someone who…
Drew: Holding you accountable.
Trent: That I want to do, who I can bounce ideas off of, and I can look at my campaigns. And we can talk about this stuff that I used to have to like figure out in a vacuum before, and he’s like, “Oh, I had that same problem, and here’s how I solved it.”
Drew: Yep, yep. I agree. Yep, absolutely. Hey, Trent, we could keep talking for I’m sure a couple hours, but I want to be respectful of your time and the listeners’ time. So kind of wrapping up, if folks…we’ve stated a couple times, but BrightIdeas.co is probably the best way to track you down, right?
Drew: Okay. Thank you very much for your time. Thanks for sort of sharing your journey and your story with everybody. I’m sure a lot of people could see themselves in different parts of the path that you have walked. And I know they were probably frantically taking notes as we chatted. So I am very grateful for your time and your generous sharing of all that you’ve learned along the way. And I personally am very glad you’re going to be back to podcasting. I’ve missed it. And I’m looking forward to the resurgence of it.
Trent: Well, that makes two of us. And again thank you very much for having me on your show, and thank you to the audience for, if you’re still around this far into the episode, for listening this far. And if you have questions, please send them my way, I’m happy to answer them.
Drew: Awesome. Thanks, everybody, for joining us for another episode of Build a Better Agency. Next week, we will be back with another guest who’s going to share as generously as Trent did, so come on back. As always, if you’re finding the content helpful, make sure that you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. And we are always grateful for reviews and ratings. And if you have any questions or thoughts that you want to reach out to me, remember I’m at Drew@agencymanagementinstitute.com. I will see you next week. Thanks.
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