Episode 354

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As agency owners, we’re often dedicated to the niche we’ve carved out for ourselves and can get very comfortable serving our clients within those parameters. It’s easy to become highly committed, and stubbornly so, to that one niche. When it stops working for us the way we want it to, deciding to pivot can be difficult.

Today, the CEO of PredictiveROI, Stephen Woessner, came on the podcast to share his experience with this exact situation. His agency had been working in a niche for many years as a podcast shop that helped clients produce content. After some time, it started to become clear to the team that there was a better way they could be approaching business. Thus, a new agency niche was born, which began their great pivot to becoming the authority in teaching clients how to be the authority of their industries.

Stephen shares with us what led to the decision to pivot, the decisions he and his team made during the shifting process, and how they re-established their cornerstone content to align with their new niche.

If you take nothing else away from this very transparent and open discussion today, you should at least know that you have permission to think differently about how you want to position your agency to potential clients and that it’s okay for your agency niche to not be permanent. Sometimes, to build better, you need to pivot.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Niche

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why choosing your agency niche doesn’t have to be a permanent decision
  • How Stephen Woessner of PredictiveROI knew it was time to pivot to a new niche
  • Why sometimes throwing out the playbook and rebuilding in a different direction is a better move for your agency, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first
  • What pushed Stephen and his team to rethink their agency niche and the value they were providing to their clients
  • How to know which types of clients you’re already serving the best (this could be your new niche)
  • What is cornerstone content, and why is it so important to establish?
  • The importance of building a community of people wanting to learn from you and others to make more effortless sales
  • You have permission to think differently about your agency and how you want to position it in your industry

“We want to be seen as the authority on how to become the authority.” @stephenwoessner Click To Tweet“I hadn't quite come to the realization yet that by stepping further into the helpfulness around this niche that it does not diminish the work that our team has done.” @stephenwoessner Click To Tweet“One night, we had a really candid conversation about being a one-trick pony. And, honestly, at that point, PredictiveROI was.” @stephenwoessner Click To Tweet“You do help them be better and then plant your flag of authority, but you don't do that in such a way of like, ‘Here I am, the authority.’” @stephenwoessner Click To Tweet“We had kind of a safe harbor and we knew that if we were going to continue this next level of growth for Predictive, we needed to get back out into the quasi rough waters, but making different decisions and changing the business.” @stephenwoessner Click To Tweet

Ways to Contact Stephen Woessner:

Resources:

 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode. This episode, I’m bringing back a guest to talk about how they went down a path after the Sell with Authority book and then how they ended up pivoting to a different niche and the thought process behind that. So, I’ll tell you more about that in a second. Before I get into who the guest is in the conversation, I want to remind you that registration is open for Money Matters. Money Matters is a workshop we teach every year. We teach it in December. It’s down in Orlando, on Disney property, which automatically makes it awesome. It’s probably my favorite workshop to teach.

It is the workshop where agency owners come up to me and say, “I’ve owned my agency for 20 years. Why didn’t I know these things? Why didn’t I understand how to take full advantage of the tax code? Why didn’t I understand how to price better? Why didn’t I understand the financial metrics that in an instant will tell me whether or not my agency is healthy?” I love teaching this content because it’s not anywhere else. And it just gives me great joy to arm agency owners with the knowledge they need to run the business better, to make more money and keep more of the money they make. So, that workshop is December 5th and 6th in Orlando, Florida. We would love for you to join us.

You can go to the website and register and soak up all of that content and hang out with a lot of really awesome agency owners and probably go into an after-hours event with us, where I will lead a parade of agency owners through the magic kingdom. And I promise in three or four hours, we will hit every ride. So, that’s a little bonus. If they have an after-hours event, we always like to host that. So, not the reason you should come to the workshop, by the way, but a cherry on top of the Sunday, for sure. All right. Let me tell you about this episode, because I’m excited about it.

So, my co-author in Sell with Authority, Stephen Woessner owns an agency called Predictive ROI. And interestingly, you would think as the authors of this book, we have it all figured out. And I mean, we wrote the book. We should be the authority on it and no doubt we are, but on the other hand, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep learning and we don’t keep making adjustments and enhancing what we’ve learned since we wrote the book. And so, Stephen’s agency has gone through this really interesting metamorphosis of shifting from one niche to another and serving a completely different audience in completely different ways.

And so, I asked him to come on this show and talk with transparency and candor, which he always does, about the decisions they made, why they made them, how it’s working, because I think a lot of you worry about picking a niche and then feeling like you can’t ever change your decision and you feel locked into something forever. And that just isn’t the case. And so, I thought hearing the story direct from him, from one of the authors would be super helpful to you. And so, that’s what we’re going to do. So, let’s get started.

Stephen, welcome back to the podcast. It’s been a while.

Stephen Woessner:

It has been a while, and as always, thanks very much for the invitation. You know I always love being able to spend time with you and your community. So, thank you very much.

Drew McLellan:

So, when you and I were talking about you coming back on the show, one of the things we were talking about is in the book, in our book, Sell with Authority, we talk a lot about niching down and not trying to be everything to everybody and really understanding who your community and your audience is and then serving them well.

Your agency, Predictive ROI, was rocking that. I mean, we certainly used your model as an example in the book. And we talked about how you had built a huge community around the Onward Nation Podcast and that you guys were very niched and focused in the beginning on being a podcast shop and being a podcast producer for clients and helping them create that cornerstone content that they needed to really kick off their position of authority. But over the years, you’ve done some pivots.

So, one of the things I want to talk about today in the show, because I think I get this resistance, I’m curious if you do too, and people talk to you about the book and they admit what they’re afraid of doing or why they’re not following our advice in the book or why niching scares them is that it’s the permanence of it for them that they feel so obligated to make the right decision because it’s forever. So, do you get that as well from your side?

Stephen Woessner:

Yeah. I think the resistance is absolutely similar. So, not only the permanency, but then also, because you and I have talked about this, this has happened in the workshops that you and I teach. And that is the, “Well, if I make this decision today, Thursday, does that mean that I need to go and meet with my team on Monday and by Tuesday at noon, we fire all of our clients and we start over?”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. The ones that aren’t in the niche, right?

Stephen Woessner:

Right, which of course is not what we’re talking about. That is a progression. And I think the way that you’ve answered that of it’s a two- to three-year thing makes a lot of sense. The reality is the biggest pushback that we get is yes, permanency. Yes, this needs to happen tomorrow, which of course, it doesn’t. And that all of a sudden, I’m going to step into scarcity instead of abundance. Actually, the reverse of all of those is actually the truth.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. I think a lot of people think when they niche down, they have to say no to everybody. And what it really does is it opens the door to say yes to more people who are in that narrow lane.

Stephen Woessner:

Okay. That reminds me of something that you actually talked about at the March workshop in Chicago, because somebody asked you a question about that like, “Okay, let’s say that I niche and then said client comes along. We can do good work for them. It’s aligned with where we can be helpful. Should we still take that back of money?” You answered it great. So, that would be helpful for this conversation if you wouldn’t mind sharing.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. What they were saying is, “But they aren’t in my niche,” right? So, I made this decision, I’ve chosen to only serve butchers and they’re a bank. So, should I take the money? And of course, our answer is, “Absolutely, you should take the money in the beginning. If you can do great work for them and you can be of service and you’re early in the niche development, just like always, you would take clients that you know you can help and you can make money helping.” But there is a moment in time as you evolve into the niche and you drill down deeper where you actually say no to the bank, because there are so many butchers coming to you that you don’t have to step out of the niche.

The longer you’re niched, what you find is you’re so good at that work because you do it all the time and you have such depth of knowledge that you actually can make more money and it’s so much easier to keep serving people in the niche and it’s harder work to do people who aren’t in the niche to take care of them. So, you and I both often say, “It’s not a revolution. It’s an evolution and you have to be patient with it.” But all of that said, you are well on your path to being very niched. You had written a book about podcasting. You were serving a lot of clients in the podcast space.

Your podcast was really well received and had built quite a community around it and was doing all the things we talk about in the book in terms of having prospects be guests on the show and then getting to know them and creating a relationship which opened the door to sales opportunities. All of those things were aligned beautifully with the book and then you and your team decided that that wasn’t the right niche for you anymore. So, I think one of the things when people read our book or talk to us or attend our workshops, the sense that their decision is so heavy because it’s permanent. It reminds me of the conversation I had with Kelsey when she was trying to decide what college to go to many moons ago. She was feeling such pressure to make the decision.

And I said, “Help me understand why this is creating so much anxiety for you.” And she was like, “Well, because I’m going to be there forever and it’s going to influence my career.” And I said, “Kelsey, you can go your freshman year and decide it’s not for you and pick a different college. It’s not permanent,” which relieved a lot of the pressure for her, I think. So, I think that same sense of this is this huge decision that is going to influence me for a really long time and maybe not.

So, one of the authors of the book who’s teaching all of this stuff decides, “The niche that we picked isn’t the right niche and I’m going to pivot,” I think that’s worthy of some conversations. So, let’s talk a little bit about what led up to you shifting from being a podcast shop to doing what you’re doing now. So, let’s, A, talk about what you’re doing now, but B, let’s talk about the shift.

Stephen Woessner:

The path was an interesting one, and the cool thing about this conversation is that you were walking alongside us on that path every step of the way. And so, I think it’s really valuable, incredibly valuable, because I don’t know that we would’ve had the courage to make that decision. And I say courage, because I’ll share some numbers here in a second, but I say courage because you were a great thinking partner, a great strategic partner for us, a confidant, somebody who we knew had our best interests at heart and also could be unbiased.

Even though we have this depth of relationship, obviously, and we’ve been in the AMI Community for 10 plus years, even that, you could separate yourself from any personal connection and say, “Wait a minute, guys,” and ask us some really difficult questions. That was immensely valuable through the process.

But as you know, we launched Onward Nation in 2015 candidly and I wrote about this out of desperation, because we were looking for that next business development thing. You helped us develop the Trojan Horse of Sales. Things were clicking along. After a year or so, the podcast Onward Nation had listeners in 141 countries. To your point, we built a cool community. We had an email list of 28,000 people. On the surface and looking at those numbers, we felt good about it, but also, I got some personal satisfaction out of that.

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Of course.

Stephen Woessner:

Right. I’m not saying that that is a good thing, but I started feeling a little bit prideful about that. I don’t think I’m egocentric, but maybe that was getting a little bit stroke too. And so, we talked about this actually during our Q&A yesterday.

Drew McLellan:

Well, honestly, endorphins are released when you help other people, right? I mean, when you serve a community and you are helpful to clients and you’re helping them move the needle, I think one of the coolest parts about our work is that we do get to be helpful and we do get to change the trajectory for clients, which maybe feels egocentric, but really, it’s just satisfaction in doing your work well and being of value to someone and we should feel good about that. So, A, I don’t think you’re unique in, as you say, feeling prideful when it’s working and the business is going well and you’re serving clients well, but I also don’t think it’s really ego in a bad way. I think it’s ego in a great way. It’s knowing that you’re doing good work for good people, which should feel good.

Stephen Woessner:

Thank you for that. But even through that, we started noticing this clustering, right? And we were having all these conversations in our quarterly leadership team meetings that you were leading for us and we started seeing this clustering, just like the sweet spot client filter that you advise people on. It’s like, “Well, wait a minute, 30% of our clients are agencies. We’re spending a lot of time with agencies.” Drew and I are now batting around this book, which is obviously designed for agencies. Where this started was actually instead of deciding, “Okay, we’re going to go all in with agencies, coaches, consultants,” where this started was us getting really aligned from a service perspective with the book.

Because we wrote the book, released the book, and then I came to you, and I said, “Even though this is our book, I don’t feel like Predictive ROI is 100% fully aligned with the book from a service delivery model and we need to adjust that.” And then through that process, we had even deeper conversations about, “Well, what would it look like if we were fully aligned from a niche content perspective and so forth?”

In fact, I think you and I were walking through EPCOT one day and you said, “Help me understand the infamous introduction to the difficult question from Drew. Help me understand,” and then we talked about Onward and how the content was aligned. But yet for as much as it was lined, it was also misaligned. And then what would it look like if you had a podcast with a different name and it was more appropriate aligned? But even still, as you know, that was a two-year evolution for us.

Drew McLellan:

Well, again, it’s working, so why rock the boat? Interestingly, your original niche, we talk about niche doesn’t have to be an industry. You don’t have to serve an audience. You can be an industry. It can be you have a depth of expertise in an audience like millennial moms. It can be a line delivery like you’re a PPC shop, or in your case, you’re a podcast shop.

I think one of the interesting parts about your pivot is that you went from the service line niche and recognized that you were attracting people who had alignment in their profession and made the move eventually over to serving a certain group of people, but then you layered it with, I think, a twist on the service line with this whole idea of, “Look, we’re going to help agencies, coaches, and consultants sell with authority.”

And so, you align both an industry and you can argue that agencies, coaches, and consultants, there’s a thread that ties those together for sure. So, you then shifted to an industry and then layered on top of it a methodology that you and I obviously believe in. That was how you were going to serve that industry. And so, you got super specific in two of the categories and said, “If people can check both boxes, then we can be super helpful to them.” So, an interesting pivot there, I think.

Stephen Woessner:

Yeah. I think you really hit the nail right on the head when you said super helpful. Because as you know, because we talked about this during our planning process, we’re certainly not there yet, but we are moving toward our goal. And I don’t know that this goal ever is accomplished, because there’s always room for improvement, but we want to be seen as the authority on how to become the authority. That takes a whole lot of helpfulness. If you’re going to do that, that’s difficult to do when you’re spread out and your content is not as focused as it could and should be.

And so, part of living that out and being of greatest service as possible, you cited the Edelman Trust Barometer in, I think, chapter one or chapter two of our book. You talked about the two biggest things or two biggest attributes, if you will, that really develop trust and empathy with an audience, according to Edelman and their worldwide study of surveying 30,000 people on an annual basis and they’ve been doing it for 20 years, is that industry expertise like you just talked about. Second is someone who looks like me, not literally, of course, but someone who shares attributes, experiences, those types of things.

And so, when you put those two together, that is pretty powerful when we think about niche, because it gives you an opportunity to be helpful at a completely different level and earn and develop trust, empathy, rapport, all of that. And that just makes the business development process easier, but you can be of greater service.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt. So, talk a little bit about some of the conversations that you and Eric, your business partner, had as you were considering making this move, because this was not a small pivot. This was a huge pivot and it was walking away from a lot of things that were really working that had already gained you guys some notoriety and was already attracting good clients to you. So, this wasn’t a move out of desperation. This wasn’t what we’re doing now isn’t working decision. It was really I’m ready to walk away from something that’s working and then we can go from there.

Stephen Woessner:

I have to give a lot of credit too to Katherine Baessler, who I know that you know really well, because she was on our team for eight years, member of our leadership team. So, this again started several years ago when I thought the niche was B2B professional services firms, which of course is not very narrow.

Drew McLellan:

In our workshop, if somebody said, “If somebody’s in B2B service, there are our clients,” you and I would have both gone, “No, that is not a niche. That’s an entire world of industries.”

Stephen Woessner:

Just like healthcare.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right?

Stephen Woessner:

Just like healthcare is not a niche. So, I thought that that would pacify the conversations. To her credit and just like you, you guys were dogs with a bone and not in a bad way, in a way of like, “Are you sure? Are you sure? Could it go a little bit?” And so, this is where that progression was. Again, I was resistant, because I felt like at that time, which was not the reality, but I thought at the time, it was blowing up everything and starting over. Not the case.

Drew McLellan:

Well, in some ways, it was blowing up everything and starting over. You just were starting from a different starting point.

Stephen Woessner:

That’s fair.

Drew McLellan:

You had walked all far away on the path. You had built a reputation. You guys had built a lot of systems and processes to serve people. The book had been written. So, you had been on this journey, but at a certain point in time, what you decided was rather than continuing to walk straight, I’m going to take a left here.

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