Episode 79

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Aaron Agius is one of the world’s leading digital marketers according to Forbes. He is CEO of Louder Online, one of the world’s leading digital agencies with a global reach.

Louder Online is an inbound marketing agency, working globally with clients such as Salesforce, IBM, Coca-Cola, Intel and scores of leading brands, showing them how to technically optimize their sites, perform influencer outreach and link acquisition and produce and distribute content that drives significant lead generation and ROI.

Aaron is a highly sought speaker at Search, Content Marketing and Growth Hacking and many other conferences around the globe including the U.S, U.K, Brazil, London and Australia. His passion to help businesses is driven from his own experience. Aaron was at the cutting edge of the emerging digital marketing field over 10 years ago. He uses that lived experience and now translates it into revenue for clients.

He is also a regular contributor to some of the world’s largest editorial publications, including Entrepreneur.com, Hubspot.com and many more, with thought leadership on marketing and business growth.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

    • Why you absolutely must work on and invest in the business (no excuses!)
    • How Aaron established himself as a thought leader through guest blogging and what he would recommend doing today
    • Why you need high-quality proposal documents
    • Why you need to be cooperative rather than competitive with agencies that you share a client with
    • Why Aaron has created smaller sister agencies in other countries instead of using freelancers
    • Aaron’s genius strategy for leveraging LinkedIn
    • How to prove the ROI of your work to a client
    • Why it’s the CEO’s job to stay on top of what’s coming next
    • Resources that Aaron himself uses to stay current
    • How continually writing blogs, being on podcasts, hosting webinars, etc. helps you keep the clients you have

Why you have to write for readers, not search engines

 

The Golden Nugget:

“As the CEO, it’s your priority to stay on top of what’s coming next.” – @IAmAaronAgius Share on X

 

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Speaker 1:

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 McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today we’re going to talk about evolving your agency, and I’ve got a guest that I know is going to have lots of great stories that are going to inspire you to take your agency to the next level. So let me tell you a little bit about him.

So Aaron Agius is one of the world’s leading digital marketers, according to Forbes. He is the CEO of louder online, which you probably have heard about. They are one of the world’s leading digital age agencies. They have quite the global reach. Offices in Sydney, LA and New York. And they’re an inbound marketing agency. They work globally with clients like Salesforce, IBM, Coca-Cola, Target, Ford, LG. But they didn’t start out that way. And so one of the things I want to talk to Aaron about today is how he’s evolved his agency, and he also has some interesting strategies around using LinkedIn and some other things that we’re going to delve into. So without further ado, Aaron, welcome to the podcast.

Aaron Agius:

Thank you for having me and thank you for the intro.

Drew McClellan:

You bet. I’m excited to have you tell us a little bit about your evolution. So as I was saying to you offline before we hit the record button, you’ve had an interesting run in your career, and in an interesting role in how your agency has evolved. So I read an article where you talked about the fact that your first client was a buddy of yours who owned a plumbing business, and now you’re working with the likes of Target and Salesforce, so help us understand the evolution of your business and how you made that happen.

Aaron Agius:

Yeah, it’s been a journey and we have changed a bit. I guess [inaudible 00:02:16] that we weren’t even a consulting agency to begin with. We started off in affiliate marketing, and just doing whatever we could to try and earn money. And we started off driving traffic to hotel and accommodation websites. I think the first day we made money we made 40 cents online, and then turned that into $400 the next day. And then that actually into, yeah, friends and other people noticing that we’re able to drive traffic and saying, “Why don’t you …” So our agency was sort of developed from there.

And yet that is still a big leap from going from there to the large companies that I’m with at the moment. And I think probably one of the biggest things is that we built a lot of the credibility indicators around ourselves that are needed in order to be considered to work with some of those companies. So we made sure that we were doing things like being published in certain places, and being members of certain places. We made sure that we were doing networking and getting speakings. And it was really a combination of working a lot of different areas to make sure those credibility into caters were ticked. And then it came down to confidence in what we were doing, and our approach to clients once that was happening. It’s a matter of people that people seeing us at those events, inbound leads coming through, people contacting us through content that we’re creating on Forbes or entrepreneur or other places like that. And yeah, we saw larger and larger clients from there.

Drew McClellan:

But you didn’t even have an agency background though, right? If I remember right, you were an IT guy, right?

Aaron Agius:

Yeah. Correct. I was in IT. My co-founder was in marketing for IBM. Head of sales and marketing for Australasia, and when we decided that we were going to try to figure out how people were making money online, we tried to combine our skills and, that led us down the path that we fell into. I was also a full time firefighter at one stage. So yeah, I’ve had a diverse background.

Drew McClellan:

So as you were … First of all, one of the points I want to make, because this is something I talk to agencies about all the time, is you immediately invested in yourself and your agency, as opposed to the cobbler’s children have no shoes, we can’t market ourselves because we’re so busy helping the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker. You made your own creating a profile for yourself and a name for yourself a priority.

Aaron Agius:

Yeah, we did after a certain period. So when we started off, the only thing that we wanted was make money online, be a digital nomad, travel the world, and be happy with that. Eventually it started becoming more than that and we started wanting more, and so when we decided, “Hey, we’re going to make this agency a proper agency and make it work, then yeah. We spent a lot of time working on the business, not just in the business.” And so yeah, we didn’t have those same excuses that you just mentioned being too busy working on clients.

Drew McClellan:

Right. So at what point did you say to yourself, “Okay …” Because at one point you were living in Thailand, and you’re in essence, working from home doing this, and now all of a sudden … Was it when you started adding staff? When all of a sudden did it feel like for you, “Okay, this is getting,” in air quotes, “Serious,” or, “Permanent,” as opposed to, “We’re going to be nomads, just making money while we travel.”

Aaron Agius:

Yeah, it’s a good question. For me, I felt it came down to [inaudible 00:06:17] thing around confidence level. Because what was happening was … My co-founder said from the beginning, we need to be doing these price companies. And I was saying, “Yeah, look, we haven’t stuck it together enough yet. We haven’t got credibility indicators. We’re not there yet.” And it took me a long time to build the confidence. And then what was happening was, naturally, I was on interviews such as this, or I was getting featured in different expert round ups, or networking with people, and that stuff was happening naturally. And I was thinking, a lot of these places, people I’m talking to, the things I’m listening to, I’m not learning much anymore. I’m providing a lot value than I’m taking from other people.” And that started giving me the confidence that, “Yeah, we actually do know a whole lot more than [inaudible 00:07:08], and we should have started doing this self investing and growth of the agency a long time ago because we could have done it.” There’s a lot of people out there that are doing the …

Drew McClellan:

So that gets to an interesting point of thought leadership. So a lot of agency owners covet being asked to serve on a speakers panel, or speak at a conference, or be interviewed. How did you begin to get on other people’s radar screens so that you became the expert that was sought after?

Aaron Agius:

It started with written content for us, it started with doing guest posting, and then regular contributions. The whole trading up the chain idea in guest posting for some of the lower value sites, using that as a reference point for some of the higher value ones, getting all the way up to some of the best editorial sites in the world like Entrepreneur and Search Engine Journal, Huffington Post, all those sorts of places. And [inaudible 00:08:07] that that was done, those were credibility indicators that we could use in order to leverage positions, speaking positions. So I then used that, moved over to speaking positions, and started doing well on that circuit and [inaudible 00:08:22] as well.

Drew McClellan:

And do you think that that is still as viable a tactic today, the whole guest blogging and working your way up the food chain? Or is there so much content and there’s so much noise out there that that’s been diminished?

Aaron Agius:

I think just, like anything that used to work better and was new, it doesn’t work as well as it did. But if I [inaudible 00:08:47] again, I would certainly do the same thing. I would just take a few shortcuts in getting there. And I do think it’s valuable, because there’s so many reasons for doing content in these places. There’s a lot of people that are doing it thinking, “I’m going to get referral traffic or links from these places,” or whatever else. But for me it was definitely the branding aspect of it, the thought leadership aspect. The fact that I get loads of emails from people saying, “Hey, can I get your comment on this? Can I include in this expert Roundup,” and just lots of opportunities that only show themselves once I was seen places.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. And I know you do this kind of work for your clients as well. Did you employ certain strategies in terms of … Was your attitude, “I will write for anyone anywhere, or were you more targeted,” and I know as it grew and as your reputation grew I’m sure you were more targeted, but in the beginning for agency owners who aren’t doing this, what was your initial strategy to get on people’s radar screens?

Aaron Agius:

The strategy was start on your own website, or our own website so that we had proof that we could write. Then from there, it was reaching out to industry relevant publications, and I always wanted … They just took a while to get into. So what was successful for us was looking for introductions from other people who already contributed. And so once we did that, we were doing some of the best places in our industry, and then the strategy was also, “I wanted to do some of the best editorial publications globally [crosstalk 00:10:26].

Drew McClellan:

Sure, that were broader.

Aaron Agius:

Industry and I covered marketing and things, not just in search and content marketing.

Drew McClellan:

All right, so you’re starting to get published, you’re starting to get invited this speak, you’re starting to build a brand and a name for the agency and for yourself. For many of the listeners, I suspect that’s still a huge leap from doing that, to sitting in a conference room pitching target or Salesforce. So walk us through, because it’s got to be more than confidence. You have to have opportunity. You have to have the right things to say, how did you build all of that from … At that point, did you have multiple offices? Were you just working out of one office, and what was the breaking point for you where you got a client where you were like, “Okay, this is a name client that is going to open the door to other name clients for us.”

Aaron Agius:

Yeah, look, we’re still a completely distributed team. We have a presence in a lot of different countries around the world, but we still operate distributed. In terms of how we got to that point, we still had … The confidence made a big deal of difference because you could talk …

Drew McClellan:

Sure.

Aaron Agius:

That was a big thing for us. One of the other things was seeing that speaking to some people, other people that we knew in agencies that were successful, and seeing that really their pitch documents and proposal documents had the exact same data that ours did, except that they spent $1000, $1,500 on a nice design for it, custom designs that are nice and fluffy and bright and all sorts of things. And so what I tell people about proposals nowadays, especially to agencies that are wanting to grow and attract these bigger customers, is spend the time managing an effort in getting some properly designed, high quality proposal documents together. It just makes a much bigger impact in terms of your agency is and what you stand for. And I found that surprising, because I even found that some of our data that we used to provide was better than these other big agencies, and yet their designs were a whole lot better, and they were closing customers because of that, often.

So that was another area that we focused on. And then in terms of how we were getting the leads, it’s pretty much how we get to them today. 95% of our leads come through inbound markets, and come through the fact that we are featured in these places, and that we do contribute to a publication. It sort of feeds itself, doing it for branding, and then you using the credibility indicators to be able to speak to these big agencies who are then finding you because you’re featured in these places, and that’s sort of self perpetuating.

Drew McClellan:

And do you now today, do you have different criteria for the clients that you work with? Are you structured in a way that you can still work with smaller brands that maybe are not, obviously the budget level or the brand level, that some of your big name clients are, or are you really now moving to mostly working with big global brands?

Aaron Agius:

We only work … At the smallest end we work with funded startups, and then through to enterprise. We decided pretty early on that small business was just not for us. There’s a lot of agencies out there that … I’m not saying that all of the agencies that do small business are doing this, but there’s a lot of agencies that are happy to just operate on the auction and loan where they’re bringing on small business, taking a few hundred dollars from them, not doing anything that they should be. Losing [inaudible 00:14:09] few months and going again. And it just wasn’t ethically right for us to do that. I find that if you haven’t got a budget to spend, it’s really hard to be successful in SEO and content marketing if you’re trying to pay an agency to do it. So yeah.

I also, didn’t like being … With small business, typically the only marketing spend that they have goes onto SEO. And so they’re calling you frequently saying, “Where’s our rankings, where’s our leads?” And the reality is they need to wait six, 12 months often before the results come in. And then because you’re the only marketing spend, they’re not doing any PR, they’re not doing additional content, any other brand awareness. It’s not an environment where the SEO and rankings can really thrive. So we decided to get out of small business pretty fast.

Drew McClellan:

So when you serve a client, are you typically working in conjunction with other agencies, or are you the only agency in the mix?

Aaron Agius:

Sometimes it’ll be PR agencies. Sometimes there are design agencies. We don’t do any design and development, and any PR that we do is really sort of online PR, which is from a link acquisition perspective anyway. Or a brand growth perspective.

Drew McClellan:

And so that’s an ongoing challenge for agencies today. More and more often, they’re finding they’re not the only fox in the henhouse. They’re not the only agency in the mix. How do you make that work with other agencies? How do you collaborate in an environment where it’s so competitive and people are always trying to steal chunks of business from each other? How do you make that work effectively for you and for the client?

Aaron Agius:

We start off making sure that the partners, or the partner agencies that are involved, that they know that a priority for us is making them successful, just like making the client successful. And showing them that we want to be on the same team and want to help promote what they’re doing. And so we haven’t found, personally, that we’ve had anyone encroaching on our business that’s been a partner agency in any way. So maybe we’ve been fortunate, but I think focusing on making sure everyone’s successful that’s involved is pretty critical from the onset.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. I think a cooperation attitude rather than a competitive attitude is almost required. But I think for many agencies, that’s a difficult corner to turn.

Aaron Agius:

It is. But the other thing is, and I’ve come back to the statement on confidence a couple of times, is our confidence level in our services and knowing that there’s not many people to compete with, means that we’re comfortable in those sorts of positions. Because if there’s another agency involved that’s a design and development agency, that their specialty, if they’re going to say that they do SEO and content world, then they’re not going to be as good as we are, because they’re doing multiple different services. So that key confidence that everyone’s focusing on their specialty.

Drew McClellan:

This is great. I have so many more questions I want to ask you, but I want to take a quick second and pause, because lots of the podcast listeners have been asking me about other resources that AMI can offer them or introduce them to, extend are learning beyond the podcast. So I want to give them that information, and then we will get right back into the questions I have for you.

I hope you’re finding this content really helpful. I just wanted to take a quick pause and remind you that on top of the podcast, we also do a lot of live workshops for agency owners, agency leaders, and account service staff. If you’re interested in the schedule, check it out at agencymanagementinstitute.com/live. Let’s get back to the show.

So you talked earlier about being a distributed team. Are you finding challenges? Lots of traditional agencies are struggling to great talent. To find and keep great talent. Is that an issue for your agency, or have you cracked that nut?

Aaron Agius:

It’s a challenge for us … The place where it’s important in our business to have the best talent is client facing. Our back of house … There’s so many people that can do of house stuff. That can run data, can run tools, that can [inaudible 00:18:33] information on different websites. It’s what happens with that data, how it’s packaged, the story that’s told, the analysis, and the delivery to the client that makes the biggest impact for us. And so yeah, those people are [inaudible 00:18:47] in our business, and they’re hard to find, and with good reason. But yeah, that’s the only struggle that we have. But typically, we don’t need to find them too often. Most of our front of house staff have been around for greater than five years, six years.

Drew McClellan:

So retention is a challenge in a lot of agencies. It sounds like you are not having that issue. Why do you think that is? What have you created in your culture and the way you work with clients and the way you work with each other that makes you guys sticky as an employer?

Aaron Agius:

Well, we … I only am very worried about our front of house staff, as I mentioned. Our back of house staff, what we’ve done is, because we use distributed [inaudible 00:19:30], we’ve actually helped create smaller agencies in other countries where we’ve said, “We are going to teach you exactly what we do, we’re going to give our processes and systems and allow you to use them to set up and look after your own clients locally. We are your number one priority, and we have login arrangements with them.” So we’ve essentially enabled them to be able to earn and create a business themselves, while supporting us. And that’s exactly what we need as a priority. And that’s really worked for us. And it’s meant that automatically we’ve put management levels in place without even meaning it. So we’re not just using freelancers and contractors everywhere. We’ve got proper management levels in place, that means that we don’t even know if one of the the lower level staff has moved on, because our managers take care of that.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. It’s a great model. I have a couple other agencies inside the AMI networks that have done the exact same thing, that they’ve built, in essence, mirror companies that deliver a subset of skills they need that also allow them to go on and earn income inside their own country.

So what about the front of the house? It sounds like you’re able to keep those folks, and obviously I’m sure they’re in high demand and they’re very talented. So what have you done culturally to make working for you guys the right choice and a long term choice for your employees? Because lots of agencies are really struggling with that, especially as you say, in the client facing or account service roles.

Aaron Agius:

Yeah. So we’ve paid them well, firstly. I don’t mind paying these guys [inaudible 00:21:08] to keep [inaudible 00:21:08]. I know how valuable they are. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is, given that we are a distributed team, there’s plenty of flexibility for them to be working in whatever they want to wear in front of their computer. There’s no travel time. They can do it in comfortable, a very comfortable room. They can travel where they want. They can then go and be in Thailand and move to Thailand and do it from over there for periods of time, as long as they’re sticking with their video calls and meetings with the clients. So that flexibility and high pay is what has made people stick around, I believe. Plus I’d like to think that we’re nice.

Drew McClellan:

Of course. So one of the things that you’ve talked about in several interviews that I wanted to dig into is you have an interesting LinkedIn strategy in terms of your biz dev model. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about how you leverage LinkedIn, and what your strategy is around that?

Aaron Agius:

I can. There’s a few ways that I leverage LinkedIn. And one of them was that long time ago when I first started this, I created a group on LinkedIn called The Marketing Leaders of Australia Group. And what I then did was went out and invited all of the marketers … Pretty much our target clients. All the digital marketers, national marketers, CMOs, and all of those people into the group. And what happened then is they felt that they were considered a marketing leader because they’re being invited to the group, and then I put myself in a position of authority because I was inviting them to a group that I was leader of.

Then what I would do is distribute content, just curated content to the group, and invite them to curate that as well. What that would do was it would … When you’re a member of a group on LinkedIn, you get weekly digest of the content that’s shared in the group and it goes straight into your email inbox. So essentially what I was doing there was building up an email list of our target clients that I could get content to their inbox once a week. And that worked really well. Plus if you’re a member of a group, you can direct message the members of the group, do group broadcasts. So it was a great way of sharing content, positioning myself in the way that I wanted, and also running direct message campaigns to drive leads.

Drew McClellan:

And so as you were driving direct message campaigns, were you doing that ,in a mass way or were you sending individual … Would you send a note specifically to me, Drew, about something you thought was relevant to just me, Drew?

Aaron Agius:

A mixture of all of them. I wouldn’t say that we just ran one campaign over the years. We’ve run many. Account based marketing through to hire volume that was, “Hey, check out this content,” “Hey, I’d love to share more content with you. Love what you’re doing,” and I would comment on things that they’re involved in their profile, that they are liking or sharing in terms of content. So try to build a relationship that way, and then third or fourth message somewhere down the path would be, “Look, I think we’re going love to get on a call. Is that something you’re interested in?”

Drew McClellan:

And the success rate of that sounds like that worked well for you, and are you still doing it today?

Aaron Agius:

Within the very first month that I started doing that, I closed a client that was above $5,000 a month in revenue, and they’re still with us tod