Are you wanting to offer more services than just SEO within your Marketing Agency?
In this episode, Ben Maden talks about the sales and management systems he has in place that helped him scale a full-package marketing agency to 11 people.
If you’re wanting to expand beyond specialisation and offer more services, this is a must-watch.
- 5:20 – Specialisation versus full-package marketing
- 7:34 – In-house teams versus VAs, freelancers & contractors
- 12:40 – How Ben creates and uses systems for his business
- 25:17 – Using Google Hangouts for proposal calls
- 36:42 – Getting your prospects to visualize working with you in the future
Daryl Rosser: Hey guys, Daryl Rosser here. Welcome back to another episode of the Lion Zeal show. In this episode we’ll talk abut how to go out there and scale up your agency. You’ve built up an 11 person team now?
Ben Maden: Yep.
Daryl Rosser: We’re going to talk about how you built that up and what you’re doing today in terms of the systems and how you’re managing all of that. What are the benefits of having an agency and all sorts of stuff. Sales as well, let’s get into it I hope you guys enjoy.
Hey man, thank you for joining me today, it’s awesome to have you on the show.
Ben Maden: Thanks, Daryl.
Daryl Rosser: So for anyone that doesn’t know who you are, do you want to introduce yourself and what it is you do?
Ben Maden: Yeah, sure. I’m Ben from Matter Solutions, we’re an SEO and ‘some-more’ agency in Brisbane. We do a bit of word press stuff, quite a bit of AdWords management. Those are kind of interesting add-ons that really bring the SEO clients in. Just the main things are a rounded business but yeah it’s all about the clients.
Daryl Rosser: Do you call yourself an SEO agency to your clients or … ?
Ben Maden: Digital Marketing Agency.
We’re trying to make sure the clients are thinking about the whole package rather than just SEO.
Daryl Rosser: Are you getting clients where they come to you and you sell them everything at once, or is it like they come to you and you sell them some Word Press stuff and you up-sell SEO after?
Ben Maden: The ideal is obviously they come to us and say “Fix all our problems.” Then we put them through a strategy session and work out all the different bits that they need. I’ve got a few ways of trying to sell that. Quiet often your right, they just come in and say “I need this.” and they just buy maybe a bit of AdWords management, or they buy a bit of SEO. Then we up-sell them and encourage them to think about things a bit bigger.
Daryl Rosser: How old’s the agency then?
Ben Maden: Oh man, It started as a web design agency in April 2000, so pretty old. See I got some gray hairs right? I was 24 …
Daryl Rosser: That’s my age now.
Ben Maden: So basically started up around about the dot com boom. Things were getting quite interesting, thought a few nice websites.
Daryl Rosser: I good time to web design. I guess.
Ben Maden: It was very good until about September 2001 and the load of my clients in the tourism space completely shut down. That was pretty painful kind of experience. Mostly bigger things going on back then. We did a bit of SEO here and there a few years after that, I moved from London to Australia in 2006 and the business only really kind of started really taking off in it’s current form about 2010. So we’ve been kind of ad agency doing digital marketing in Brisbane for seven, eight, seven years.
Daryl Rosser: Awesome. How did you shift from web design … are you a web designer?
Ben Maden: Yep, coding.
Daryl Rosser: I can tell. How did you shift from being a web designer to SEO?
Ben Maden: Well, I was always really terrible at design, still am. I have an eye for what is good or bad design, I’m not a designer. I’ve always had to hire people to do that sort of thing. I’ve always been like the guy who can make things work, either technically or realize on a marketing angle, what do we got to make happen here to do things.
Technical SEO was something I kinda fell into. Just fixing, all the little shitty things that go wrong with a website, and get them right. When people started talking about SEO in terms of link building, well I have to go and learn something new now, but with the idea of getting the result for the client that was pretty easy and quite interesting, really. 2004, 2005, started looking something like that.
Daryl Rosser: That’s what I was going to ask next. When did you start taking SEO seriously and start really pushing it to your clients?
Ben Maden: Really seriously? Probably more like 2010. We did a bit in 2008, 2009, but it really got kind of interesting and started looking at clients face to face and working out what they needed. Just going hell for leather in about 2010, so you know kinda on the wrong side of Penguin.
Daryl Rosser: That’s what I was just about to ask next. SEO’s changed a lot from 2017 to 2010. Did that ever impact what happened to your clients?
Ben Maden: Really big, so we had a couple of sites that were just gold, in terms of exact match domains. We had some awesome, kind of lead gen based on you know a whole bunch of interesting link building and then a certain thing happened April 25, 2012. Red letter date in the world of SEO. Things changed big but obviously what we’re doing now is very different to all of that. We’ve moved to a lot of outreach, a lot of other kind of guest posting kinda stuff. Still very heavy on the technical side.
Daryl Rosser: Here’s a question then, some guys are very big, we interviewed Gareth Simpson, one of the speakers at the conference yesterday and he is very big on specialization where he only does outreach, nothing else. Does it have any impact on you guys? Do you think it’s a good thing, or` a bad thing that adding all these extra stuff you do like Word Press, and random technical stuff, is it more difficult to manage all that stuff versus just specializing in just the SEO?
Ben Maden: Absolutely makes, life a bit more stressful as an agency owner, I guess. You just need to have people you can trust. There has definitely been times where we’ve tried to move into a specialization. Then you just haven’t got the, strength and the person on the team, then you just feel it kinda crumble around you. You just think “Damn it, we can’t really specialize in this, we can’t really deliver this to a high enough standard.” Then in that case you know we have to do something a bit different.
I can definitely think back to times when our Word Press dev team, just weren’t really at a high enough standard. You just end up with a situation where too much work, too much stuff going on in that side of things. You just have to either pull it back or tell the clients it’s going to take longer, and focus on something else.
Obviously clients are giving us a retainer, like a nice budget, and then we have to work at how we’re going to allocate, and spend that across the campaign. Ideally we’d want to follow a plan and get them results according to some kind of pre described schedule, but if our specialization is weak or the person on the team isn’t there we have to adapt.
Daryl Rosser: How big is your team now?
Ben Maden: Full timers, it’s 11. We’ve been up as high as 15, 16 but we’re doing more business and smaller in-house, and we’ve got more VA’s, freelancers that kind of thing, got a really good mix at the moment probably better than it’s been for about three or four years.
Daryl Rosser: What’s the advantages of having contractors & freelancers versus full time and vice versa.
Ben Maden: The nicest things obviously with the staff, the trusted staff in house, I don’t have to talk to a lot of the clients. I have an account manager who takes care of all of that. Then I’ve got some specialist and analyst on the team they can really talk to the clients about specific stuff we’re doing, whether it’s technical, whether it’s link building, whether it’s outreach. They can just get in and do what they need to do direct with the client and I don’t have to get involved. I’d be a bit nervous about doing that with somebody from Vietnam, Philippines or whatever.
Daryl Rosser: Here’s a big thing that a lot of people are scared of when they get into the agency world, is that they’re going to have to be on the phone all day long speaking to their clients, managing them. Maybe sometimes, or not at all?
Ben Maden: There’s a mixture, some of the larger clients they definitely need me to step in and help out. Sometimes the client has quite a technical need and so with the development background I can come in and almost like almost consult as a developer to the account manager. I’ll be in the meeting but the problem is for me I got this prior relationship because I do a lot of the onboarding of clients. You get them in, sign them up and hand them to the account manager. The client remembers that and they’ll try and draw me into the account management. I’ve got this tension where I have to manage the account manager to make sure they keep that portion of it on their plate. That’s a coaching role for me as a team leader.
Daryl Rosser: Do you do sale or just the onboarding?
Ben Maden: Sales mostly trying not to do too much of the onboarding, but I do end up having to make sure that what I promised in the sale is actually getting delivered.
I guess when sales have ever struggled it’s only because the onboarding hasn’t been done quite right. Then down stream I’m sort of second guessing myself whether were going to be able to deliver. We’ve had some fun over the years but we’re on a really good path right now.
Daryl Rosser: What is the difference between now then when like things seemed to be going well versus … you’ve been doing this for years and at some points I assume it wasn’t going so well. What’s the difference in how it’s operating and what you’re spending your time on?
Ben Maden: The main thing is these days, I work quite a bit less than I have done in the past. The quality of work I’m doing I know is a hell of a lot better than it was. There were times when I was doing 70, 80 hour weeks and not really able to deliver the highest quality work. You kind of get into a vicious cycle where you think “If I don’t do it, then nobody else is going to do it.” and it’s hard. I was lucky I found actually sort of a coach, like a just a good old fashioned business coach, to sit me down and say, “Stop it or you’re going to really fuck up.”
Daryl Rosser: Here’s the big thing. We get in this cycle of thinking that we’re the owner, we have to do everything, we have to work our asses off. I’ve noticed the same thing over the last year or so. I can massively cut back what I do and have the right people do it and it’s gets done better than if I’d done it myself.
Ben Maden: That gets to be true very quickly. You actually might forego a little bit of money, well maybe quite a lot initially when you first do it, it might look like that, but long term it’s a hell of a lot better. Really is.
Daryl Rosser: Is there any big mistakes, like say two or three big mistakes that kind of come to mind that you’ve made in the past for years that have kind of slowed you down, held you back or anything like that?
Ben Maden: Yeah, working with my now ex-wife. I wouldn’t do that again.
It’s pretty brutal, there was some real ups and downs. Basically the last couple of years the agency’s gone kind of sideways because I had my eye very much off the ball. Been looking after the business and making sure everybody’s happy and looked after and whatever. Part of me removing myself like being this crazy 70 hour a week nut job was definitely because I had other things to kind of look after and fight for.
Coming back now, I’ve got all that kind of behind me and looking at the business and say what can I do with my time. Instead of throwing myself into 70 hours a week of interfering with all the clients, I got this cracking business, cracking team doing what needs to be done. Now as a coder I can systemize and I can sell, and I can leverage what they’re already doing. That’s basically what I’ve been doing over the last few months. It was six months before I got all that sorted.
Six months since I got that sorted.
Daryl Rosser: Systemize, that’s an interesting topic. A lot of guys I’ve been speaking to hear are at a point where they’re in the process of systemizing or the mind set is “Holy shit I need to systemized because this is not going to work out doing everything myself.” How of you create systems and what sort of set up do you have for managing your clients and doing that stuff.
Ben Maden: We have a full on project management system, we use JIRA, which is like the daddy of this project management. We’ve used Trello in the past, we still use Trello for all the copywriters that we’ve got on the team. The actual time tracking, all the team, all the stuff, all the activities, we run them as month long sprints in JIRA. You basically start the clock and you set, okay this clients going to get 15 hours, this month and we’re going to spend this much off shore and all the shits going to happen and we can just track everything through this one system. Systems wise we’ve had that in place for a couple of year now, but now we’re really cooking on gas with it.
Then when we come across an API, which is pretty cool and we want to pull data in and out, use to be the outgoing code, some horrid shit really and it would take a couple of weeks to turn around. I’m still even now busy doing sales. These days, I found this awesome script for, importing JSON data straight into Google Sheets. Not that maybe you want to use Google Sheets for everything. Basically, a lot of the mock-up like work flows that we’ve got, you can do that in Google Sheets and you pull in all this cool data filter, sort, even write little scripts and stuff just like macros in Excel but in Google Sheets and you can push that data out to other Google Sheets. Then you end up with excellent sort of list for VA’s to go through or the team to go and look at. Then I guess my next project is going to pull some of that data and push it into Pitchbox or something like that.
Daryl Rosser: Do you have any step by step, like trainers for the team or is there anything where your just like; here’s like how to do step by step how to do the out reach, here’s how to do whatever else?
Ben Maden: We have like the content marketing process. You know everybody’s out, a lot of our agency competition, they’re always yapping on about, content marketing. They’re just doing it for noise. Sometimes they talk about the uplog they’ve gotta deal with whose got like a big subscriber base and you check it out and 50% of it’s fake. Our clients spending decent money on pitching content to these people, $1000 a blog post to, you know … Why? Give us the thousand bucks will get you a handful of links. Let’s get on with it.
From a content marketing point of view, we have a six step process, it’s basically like, idea generation, idea ratification, just checking that it’s going to make some sense. Then even maybe doing some initial pitches, to some of the people that we know, or some people that we’d like to work with. First you gotta have some credibility on the client blog before you go and do that. Then trying to take that and use it to check whether the ideas got any legs. It’s going to work and then once you’ve done that. Obviously, go and create some content, and make bloody good. That’s the hard thing is to get the designer involved get the writer to make it look good and as a team, they gotta make it look bloody awesome. Then go and get it posted, get it back there.
Really that whole kind of process, idea checking, outreach like that first prospect, outreach and then you’ve got this content creation, like just the writing. Then I split that up into just, like from writing to content optimization, so it has to go to somebody else to make it look good. Between the two of them, they’re responsible for this piece of content that’s going out and has that responsibility. Then you end up with okay now do we get the link, do we get something else out of it.
We also use the same kind of process for creating content for the client. So that when we put something on their website, we want it to be linkable, link worthy.
That’s what we’re after.
Daryl Rosser: Do these processes ever change?
Ben Maden: Yeah, well there’s kind of like the ideal that it would meet these things. Sometimes you kind of find where … We’re SEOs right, we’re … even a copywriter that’s working at an SEO agency, they learn how to game systems. I can remember years ago, I had a really good chat with an SEO guy. We were talking about how we like to go through traffic faster than everybody else, in Australia you should always go into the slow lane because it’s always the fastest one cause everybody want to be … You know you get the idea that everybody want to game systems.
We’ve got a system of six steps to create any awesome content, well as a copywriter you’re probably going to find a way to game the system and get through and get your content out. So you just have to have a good management process in place to make sure that what we’re measuring is links and shares. Their mind is on that not getting the thing out the door. In terms of out processes it’s evolved to the point, where we’re thinking about those metrics.
I mean for want of a better, we are actually thinking about, DA on the quality of those links but it’s a bullshit metric so. It is what it is.
Daryl Rosser: True. The reason I ask is because I was speaking to someone recently, and they’re at a stage where they desperate to hire the first person for their agency. They’re kind of scared about doing it and they’re thinking right now “I’m going to create all these systems and all these processes first and hire someone to follow it.” My personal belief, I don’t know what you believe is that, that’s the wrong way of doing it, they should hire someone, train them up and have them create the systems and the process.
Ben Maden: What you want to do is find somebody who’s really well organized, depends on what that persons like. Sounds like they would be kind of reluctant to getting really organized. A good mirror a good reflection of them would be somebody who is really organized, do that. If I think about the guy that I hire March 2010, that basically took us from an ICO plan here or there and mostly websites to being an SEO agency. Basically the guy was like a link building demon and he was absolutely obsessed by a book called Getting Things Done. GTD.
Daryl Rosser: GTD, yeah cool book.
Ben Maden: He basically started doing everything on paper and I was like “What the hell are you doing?” He taught me a lot and I learned a lot from that guy.
Daryl Rosser: Was that your first hire?
Ben Maden: No I’ve had a lot of web developers and things but that was my first dedicated SEO hire.
Daryl Rosser: Any advice for the guys here are trying to hire like an SEO demon? How do they go out there and get one of those?
Ben Maden: If it’s your first hire for the whole business, they’re got to have some good SEO skills. You want to sit there with that guy. I remember sitting in a coffee shop and him showing me charts from Google Analytics and he’s like “Yep, look this is where I started the SEO and woosh.” “This is where I started the SEO woosh” that’s what you want to see. You want to see somebody bloody excited by that and getting the opportunity to sit in front of you and do that.
As far as like the other stuff, you want somebody with some passion, some organization skills. You should definitely ask about that stuff but I really believe giving people a go, like the ‘Ozzie give ’em a go’. Let you show me, just show me what you can do. I don’t expect people to work 70 hours a week, quite happy to pay pretty well. It’s just a case of do what you say you’re going to do. That’s it. That’s all I expect of people. Basically what you gotta do is find people, who can say and do … it’s hard, kiss a few frogs. You gotta make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, ’cause if they don’t quite make it you don’t want them to take you out, basically.
Daryl Rosser: I’d there anything else that you think is fundamental to getting to the stage you’re at today?
Ben Maden: Sales.
Daryl Rosser: Sales, big fan.
Ben Maden: I had a sales coach, I’ve had two over the years. So the first guy took me from being like … There’s a good book called Sales Dogs, from the Rich Dad, Poor Sad series and it’s like a reflection of other books from many many years ago. It’s basically like, if you talk to your client the way that they want to be talked to, it works really well. Like if they bring in their technical person, the analogy in the book is that’s a chihuahua, right. Then if you bring in your chihuahua in they’re just going to yap at each other, for ages. Really what you want to be doing is heading for a sale and the classic kind of analogy of a sales person is the pit bull, go and get them by the throat, get all the money our of them. That’s the last thing that you want as well.
I found by reading that book that I was a Labrador. The client would throw a stick and I’d go and do some stuff, come back and they’d throw me another stick. The horrible thing about that is I would never get paid. I’d be doing that even precontract, right. There’s going to be loads of people that do that and they don’t even know they’re bloody doing it, right. What you need to do is realize that when the stick goes, you stand there and look at it.
You want me to go and get that? Alright, well what’s in it for me? Come on then, let’s have a proper conversation about it. You need to be a mongrel, right, you need to be halfway. You need to be able to talk a bit technical, you need to be able to, run off and please them, but you need to be able to get a sale. So I had one guy help me realize that I was the Labrador. I had another guy come and refine, what I was doing so that instead of my conversion rate being, about 50% up to more like 60, 70 and a big part of that is qualification. So we just don’t deal with people who don’t have any money
Daryl Rosser: That makes sense.
What’s your sales processing, can you walk us through like, what happens to say the lead comes in and what happens to them becoming a client?
Ben Maden: At the moment it’s changing because we got a BDN guy. Let’s say three, four, months ago when it was still just me. The lead comes in, initial call, very quickly, I usually try to call them the same day, just to kinda qualify them, make sure they’ve got some money or that they’ve got some big plans. I will ball park, what kind of cost they’re looking at. Like what you’re talking about there is fifteen grand over six months or can spend five grand up front. I look at your website, looks like it’s got some major problems. I give them some idea of the cost. You can kind of get a sense of it, but if you’re really listening, you can here them like sharply take a breath, freak out at the cost. Then you know, it’s probably not going to be a good client.
You can have a really nice conversation with somebody that can’t afford you and you can still be really nice to them. You can say. “Look, there are probably SEOs around that’s going to take two grand off of you and say they’re going to deliver results.” For me my team, everything that we can do for you, I couldn’t do a good job for you for two grand. I want ten then we can do a bloody good job and you’ll be really happy with the result. If you can’t afford ten, then you probably should save your two.
That’s okay, just be careful were you put your two. That’s all. They’re kind of brutal conversations but it’s kind of our style really.
Daryl Rosser: That’s like a short ten minute conversation?
Ben Maden: Just five, ten minutes just a quick conversation work out. If they’ve got some kind of idea about what they want and what money they can afford to pay, then will certainly have the first meeting, I’ll try and do that within a couple of days.
Daryl Rosser: That’s in person?
Ben Maden: Australia’s quite big, so we get leads and stuff from Sydney, Melbourne, like a thousand kilometers away, will do like a, I kinda like using hangouts actually because you can of a screen share. And it’s like, totally painless.
Daryl Rosser: You can see each other.
Ben Maden: You sort of see each other, you don’t necessarily want my ugly mug on the screen. You can go and have a nice chat with them, show them some spreadsheets. I usually make Google Doc for them, I put a bit of review in and I’ll make notes as we’re talking about what they’re after. I’ll put two columns in it, what they’re after versus what my thoughts are on what they’re asking for. Then afterward I’ll go and do a bit of review and maybe get them on the phone again, quick, have a look at that Google Doc`, I’ve updated it, it’s got your prices in, what do you reckon?
If they’re up for it, then we’ll do an order form and boom sale. We try and get that done very quickly
Daryl Rosser: Isn’t like a big fantasy proposal or anything like that?
Ben Maden: Sometimes it is. If they got at that point, send me a proposal, I got to send it to my boss. We’ll know whether they’re the decision maker or not. I usually like dealing with proper entrepreneurs. Direct just get it done really but sometimes clients have obviously they’ve got a board or they’ve got a partner or something they’ve got to propose it to. We’ll go and make a proposal and send it off. Usually, what you can do is you can just take that Google Doc and add a cover page and a blurb and then the order form and it’s done, right.
Daryl Rosser: So what’s the process – they say, this is cool we want to go ahead, do you give them like the order form they have to sign like an agreement or something
Ben Maden: Yep, two page document. I did a bit of work for a web design company and they were a bloody nightmare really. They cheated me out of a lot of commission, it was horrible. I worked out from them pretty much always when I’m giving out a proposal put an order form on it. Even if they’re not ready to sign they can see what the contract looks like. They can check out what the terms are like and they can see how they would need-
Daryl Rosser: Can’t sign it if you can’t see it
Ben Maden: … Exactly, you’d be surprised, sometimes they’re just like, sign it, boom, yep. Fred says get on with it here you go. It just appears in your inbox. That’s another twenty grand a year, thanks very much.
Daryl Rosser: And after the order form, I presume there’s no payment in that?
Ben Maden: What we do is charge a set up fee and then we charge the first month. We only, cause we do these monthly sprints, we’ll start from the month in the following calendar month. If you’re talking the tenth of the month, we charge a set up fee on the tenth, the day we get the order form, Then they’ll get the first month will go out like the 20th, so we get it in the bank in time to start on the first of the following month.
Daryl Rosser: So you’re pre-billing them for the next month, that’s super important and some people don’t do it.
Ben Maden: Always. Most businesses are pretty trustworthy, a lot of clients I’m talking to face to face, I know, you trust them. I’ve only ever had problems with clients who you know in terms of payment, I’ve only every had problems with client who balk at that. They’re like “No, I don’t want to pay in advance,” then you end up doing the work and then they’re like a month behind two months behind. Then you’re like come on, you’re supposed to be paying in advance, I gotta pay my staff as the work is done. Indeed some of the work, a good deal of it you’re paying for in advance for them. Pay your bill, we can just get some other client, spend the time on someone else.
Daryl Rosser: I heard someone say before that, the difference between how we do it is we sound like a service versus consulting almost. With consulting usually do hours then you bill them at the end of the hours for how much it is, which sound like specific services. Is that right?
Ben Maden: Clients say to us how many hours does this get me. If we do a good job it’s none of your business, if we do a really bad job, it’s kinda none of your business, you’re paying us for an outcome. I gotta pay Australian wages, which is if you believe the research, is some of the highest in the world for SEOs. That’s alright as long as the clients are paying me enough money. Then I can pay them and as long as I got them to a skill level where they can do what they need to do in five hours, then it makes sense.
If the client wants to get funny about it I just point them to the research and say “Look SEOs are most expensive here, if you really want to just pay the cheapest go and hire them in some other country.” You’re not going to get me and your not going to get advice and you’re not going to get somebody steering you through minefields, basically.
Daryl Rosser: How do you price your services? You said you give them that number on the first call, how do you come up with that price?
Ben Maden: Experience. Some of that experience is some scars. You do a deal for somebody and you think “oh we can do that for about two grand a month.” You get down the road and they’re just not ranking and like “oh shit we really gotta dig deep.” You end up not making any money on of it or you may make a loss.
So after experience you work out if you … To be brutally honest, you’re looking at roughly how many root domains, how much length of order we got to get moving on this but even that things have moved. That’s why we still have a Word Press team. If a client’s got a decent website built by us or one of the agencies that we work with, like web dev ones that are really trustworthy and really good, we know the websites going to be fast and the user experience is going to be good. It can be bit better on price if we know the website is good. If we know the websites a bit of a pig’s ear, we might have to add some extra cost up front or ongoing.
It’s hard, but it comes down to the number of links and the amount of effort we gotta put in. Most people are aware of like a delay or three to six months to see a good outcome. Obviously, if you went like hell for leather you can get them ranking faster but you’ll cause other problems.
Daryl Rosser: How do you handle that then? Some clients freak out when you’re like “It’s going to take me three to six months to start seeing some real results.
Ben Maden: Pretty much all my competition in Brisbane does no contracts so they can just drop any time. I hold all my clients to six months. I say to the client, you’re going to have to pay for six months and they say, “Is this a standard part of the sales process.” They say something like “Well, so and so agency, they let me come and go.” That’s alright, go with them then.
They like, obviously, why? Why is that good? Why is that bad? Even with me doing the best I can bloody well do, you are going to have a sinkhole at four months. You’re going to have spent three months of money and you’re not really going to see a good return yet. At that point you’re going to want to leave. I’m not going to let you, because it’s shit for me and it’s really shit for you.
You’re going to start again with someone else and they’re not going to know what we’ve been working on. They might cause some really problems if they take over your SEO and whatever. You’re better off sticking with us for six months, give us a good shot at it. If we don’t hit the mark at six months, give us a flick, that hasn’t happened yet. Do you want to talk to another client, and then usually at that point I’m trying to talk to them about speaking to another referral, a client who can vouch for us.
Daryl Rosser: I like that, I heard someone call it a take away sale, I don’t know if that’s a proper term or anything like that, you’re not like pushing yourself on them, you’re just like steeping back a little bit …
Ben Maden: It’s not quite the take away close, take away close would be like just sign it all. But, it is a bit brutal.
Daryl Rosser: I think it’s good. How are you managing you got eleven people, is that including you?
Ben Maden: Yep.
Daryl Rosser: How you managing that team or yourself, because you my not talk to every single person every day.
Ben Maden: There’s a leader of the SEO team. The AdWords team, there’s a very senior guy there as well. We have a guy who looks after the web team. Web team is basically me doing some of the back end stuff, and a front end design developer, and you know some offshore stuff, but really between the different facets of the business, there’s a day to day manager that isn’t me.
If I need to get involved or if I need to move things forward and I’ll sit in and be part of the reviews and be part of the coaching. That’s more like for projects, right. So for the long term stuff that we’re doing, I’ll get involved and work with team members about that.
Daryl Rosser: Two questions on this, what do you enjoy working on the agency, and then the opposite, what don’t you like what do you hate about it?
Ben Maden: I love it all really. I really like working with clients. I like the fact that we can get bloody good results. Sometimes it’s a bit annoying when the clients aren’t ready to trust you and you’re kind of trying to work out a way you can show them that they can trust you. That’s where the client referrals are good, but also I love to just stick my headphones on and code.
I quite like writing but I haven’t really written stuff for quite a while. I like messing about with Word Press in particular. The weird kind of rewrites and all that weird stuff, trying to get the content mapped. We end up with these, we call them cross pages, where you’ve got services and locations. You end up with this myriad of pages between them. Some of the ways of handling that in word Press is a bit of a pain … it’s a pain in the ass. That’s working pretty well, so we’re getting some quite good results with that but in a few places, you have to do some custom, you can tell I like coding, getting carried away.
Daryl Rosser: What is your drive then to run an agency versus just develop stuff all day and be a full time developer?
Ben Maden: Well I love being with clients as well. So I like actually, like those initial meetings where you’re making commitments about what you can’t do. Then they’re telling you, you know much kind of like the bullshit they heard down the road. They can do this and we’re like “okay what’s the budget?” And they’re like ‘this’ and if anybody can do it for that budget you should do that because that’s bloody awesome because I’ve tried that and I can’t do it for that.
I like that a lot. Those a real honest conversation, this is what we can and this is what we can’t do. I really love digging through somebody’s profile, their history, there plans. There’s a whole bit in my sales training thing I did with this guy, it’s all about gesturing like the past the present and the future and really trying to get clients to think about the future and what they’re going to achieve.
How you can take a look at their analytics, their AdWords, their web master tools, all that data and you can pull it together into some kind of adhesive plan and you see them just go … Ah, shit I wish we’d have done this before. You see them itching for it, you see them itching to get heard. I love that too.
I feel it’s taking data, and it’s taking logic basically, and it’s building a plan for the future. I see that very much like programming. In terms of programming all I’m doing is taking input and outputs, and I’m trying to take all the things I need, and shove the thing on the screen I have to. I see it the same way.
Daryl Rosser: So programming helps with how you run your agency?
Ben Maden: Probably more in the systematization and also in the idea of the way we run strategy work is that you just gather all the stuff you need and put it through a massive filter to generate a report for them and make recommendations.
Daryl Rosser: What is the difference between how you run your agency versus a lot of the other agencies that are competing with you, anywhere, just other agencies.
Ben Maden: I guess … Good question. I guess from a marketing point of view, some of the competition, did do different things. They do stuff that is a bit annoying and I can out maneuver them in terms of face to face with a client. We have an AdWords competitor that doesn’t really do a lot AdWords work. When they win the business, they do a lot of good work, it is good, and they just let it cruise and they keep collecting the money. I just like the fact that we can out maneuver them. Basically, you just ask the client to go look at their audit history and boom, you got them. Right you just win the client.
What am I doing differently? I guess when I got to the conference and I go out and learn things, I want to implement as soon as I can. I want to find out what it is that we’re missing, what piece of the puzzle is missing. I want to put somebody on it or I want to get into it myself, like off the back of this, I kind of got this the Diggity Chiang Man SEO, it’s that … Gareth’s tool. Gareth Simpson, talking about using Pitchbox and outreach at scale. We need to do that. I actually had like a small class training session with Russ Jones, and he keeps on talking about Russ Jones at Moz Con, a few months ago. Very high on my list. It wasn’t quite top of the list, was get on it, get on link building scale and through out reach, and I haven’t got to that yet.
Watching Gareth talk, it was great but it was very uncomfortable for me, because it’s like that was the thing that I really wanted to get on. For me, it’s also why I’m not working somewhere else just coding. I’m I guess a natural entrepreneur, and I’m uncomfortable unless I’m working on that new thing. Unless I’m trying to move the needle on something special, on something better. I can’t sit there and … I can’t be happy.
Daryl Rosser: Likewise, that’s cool. I think that’s big, so you’re constantly going to conferences, and speaking to different people and learning new things and changing things, right?
Ben Maden: I guess the great thing about, I’ve been to Moz Con a few time, mixed feelings about the speakers and stuff but the networking, is absolutely awesome. Hanging out with in house SEOs or even guys who are running, they’re operating like agencies, but they’re part of entrepreneur demand generation businesses. There’s some exciting shit going on. Talking to them about what there up too and seeing what they’re doing. That always inspires me and makes me come home and think right we gotta get on this. It’s a bit hard on my team because I just go, who wants this project.
Daryl Rosser: Alright, we go to do all this, have fun.
Ben Maden: I do know when to let people just get on with what they’re working on. I have about ten projects in my pipeline now, before actively moving ahead. So This is like things that we’re going to work on over the next six to nine months before actively moving ahead. I’ve got about another six that I’d really like to get into but.
Daryl Rosser: That’s awesome and you gotta build that team up. So you have to do like so many projects, a lot people see that they’re trying to do so much and they can’t do it because it’s just them, you got to build up that team
Ben Maden: And also you gotta be realistic. So you know we’ve open sourced a bunch of stuff, like Word Press theme framework and man, this thing is flipping complicated, right. It’s got Sass and Grunt and all sorts of stuff in it to just automate various bits and we released it and nobody’s using it because it’s bloody hard to use. Realizing that, I just thought well there’s more too this. We can actually use this to do something else. We’re working on a product to do that. I’d like to have the product released in January, February. Look, if it’s not done until of June next year, that’s alright. We got client money, we’re making money, everybody’s happy. Let’s keep moving.
Daryl Rosser: It’s interesting because I see some the agency guys a lot they built up a theme for the agency then you leverage that team to create Sass products and different tools without you doing the same sort of thing?
Ben Maden: We are, it’s sort of like this Word Press product, we were looking at hiring some people in Vietnam to build sites to their standard. When we looked at the cost of hiring with Sass and Grunt skills, like that high level Word Press developer, it actually turned out that it was quite a lot of money, even off shore like that. So programmer I had on, worked on the inputs and outputs and we’ve automated a good deal of that so we don’t need to hire anybody now. We’re thinking about leveraging that into a product. Effectively, you give us your logo, your colors, you basically do it yourself and then you pay a fee and you get a theme zip download.
Daryl Rosser: Cool.
Ben Maden: We’ve been working on that for a while and the front end is all done, there’s some back end that needs to be done. If I can knock that out over Christmas, great. If I don’t alright, but you know people are sort of interested when we talk about that. Obviously other people can come along and do something similar but I think we’ve got quite a good angle in terms of design and dev. If we can get in front of some of their clients who are spending $50 on junk on Theme Forest. I think we can make some money.
Daryl Rosser: Fair enough, how are you generating leads for your agency?
Ben Maden: A few ways, we’ve got a few web design companies who send us their SEO. I guess one of them is quite big they call themselves a digital agency but they don’t do any SEO. They like digital branding stuff, they’re awesome guys and they build some mighty big awesome websites.
Daryl Rosser: You send leads to them as well?
Ben Maden: Pretty much none of my clients need websites at their scale, but if they did. Actually there was a big non-profit in the city not far from us. They needed a straight forward Word Press website they said. I went in and they had this massive spectral, this complicated stuff. I just no, we’re not for you I would hire these guys. As I came out of the meeting they were there. I bumped into them and they got the gig.
Not because of my say so but because they’re the best guys in town to do it.
Daryl Rosser: I like that. You think some people don’t know when it’s too much for them and they try to take on everything, and the term ‘scope-creep’ comes out where they get given so much shit that they can’t do it all. How do you know when you should take it on? How do you know when it’s too much and you should just refer it to someone else?
Ben Maden: I guess it’s like a kid playing with matches. You got to do it one time and get yourself burned. We take on e-commerce things for clients, we think, oh yeah let’s charge like thirty grand for this, let’s do it. Then fifty grand worth of work later you think, when the hell is this going to be finished?
At that point you change, your’re lucky to survive something like that. You get a really demanding client you know big figure project and then they’ve got a proposal that a bit like scope creep hell. You just gotta kinda get yourself out of it. You just got to try to not make those mistakes.
I would encourage anybody to just make sure that your project is clear on what you are and aren’t doing. I guess that comes back to the order forms. When somebody orders a website from us, we always put whether or not we’re doing copyrighting on the order form. We even add it as a line item, so you got website and copyrighting. If they don’t take the copyrighting, we still leave it there and it’s not ticked and it’s all strikethrough.
Daryl Rosser: Nice, so they know exactly what they’re getting.
Ben Maden: So they sign and later on they go “I thought you had done the copyrighting”
We always put that in strike through, cause we do it. That’s good just to be upfront with the clients and really.
Daryl Rosser: How else do you generate leads? You said you got referrals form other agencies.
Ben Maden: They’re the best and so other sort of business coach like people, they’re really good as well, getting around town, accountants are good, dealing with people who are helping people start up business or trying to grow their business, so I know they’ve got a few accountants, the CPA association, Charter Public Accountants, they’re good. Our ranking’s interesting, we’re trying, like I said Penguin and various other things.
We do rank for some stuff. We need to get some of our own inbound leads. We use PVC a bit as well, not a huge amount.
Daryl Rosser: Mostly their relationships, going to the right people and building relationships and they refer their clients to you.
I love that it’s cool.
Ben Maden: In terms of outbound stuff. We tried your stuff but seeing you speak the other day, I see a massive hole in what we’re doing, massive. The fact that we get referrals and I can usually pick up the phone and speak to somebody and, you know, like if you get a referral I can call them and they know who’s calling.
Daryl Rosser: That’s very easy compared to the cold outreach.
Ben Maden: Brisbane is a small city, it’s not London or whatever where, who the hell are you. Probably the people who would not know who I am they would be able to look up and find somebody who sort or knows me. I think what we’re going to do where going to try exactly what you’re doing and we would, we’d be using me as the outreach.
So I’d be the one, and probably put some effort and linking it them off to my LinkedIn or showing them who they know that we know.
Daryl Rosser: That would be effect. Any final thoughts for agency owners, that are trying to scale up?
Ben Maden: Sales training, absolutely.
Even like the brutal, kind of go out and talk to the kind of sales trainers who would have been teaching people how to sell yellow pages. You don’t have to turn into a pit bull, you don’t have to be that painful kind of salesman to deal with. You can just be upfront with people and tell them, I can’t do a good job for that.
We were talking in the cab on the way here about … there’s a couple of different analogies. I talked about a cab ride, you’ve been out you’ve had a few beers, you want to get home at two o’clock in the morning. You’ve only got, say a twenty-pound note in your pocket, a cab ride home is forty pound. What are you going to do? Are you going to get a cab and hope that he takes you? No, are you going to go and only go halfway? Are you going to wait for the night bus? You’ve got options at that point, but if you can’t afford to do it, you gotta think about the fact that you can’t afford to do it. That kind of idea, that I would really warn agencies, people trying to upscale, be careful about the clients you take on. If you’re a cab driver and you take somebody who’s only got enough money to get halfway home. They’re going to start bitching and whining, as soon as you try to kick them out of the cab half way home, you’re going to have a bloody fight on your hands.
Daryl Rosser: It’s very true. Appreciate you joining me man, it’s been awesome.
Ben Maden: Yeah thanks, cheers.
Daryl Rosser: Hope you guys enjoy it, I’ll see you next episode.