In this episode, Jason Swenk shares some tips and tricks about what he sees agencies doing right when it comes to client acquisition that keeps them profitable even in the toughest economies. He shares the 3 main channels where agencies can find right-fit clients — hint: it’s got nothing to do with referrals — that position your agency as a must-have problem solver for prospects.
If you’re ready to find the perfect clients, get paid what you’re worth (or more), and make them feel like they can’t live without your services, this is your episode. You’ll learn some tangible tips for impressing clients and staying ahead of the curve to keep them interested.
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.
What You Will Learn in This Episode:
- What the agencies who are getting new clients are doing right
- Getting clear on the types of clients you want to go after
- Why you shouldn’t rely on referrals as your main client go-getter
- Figuring out how to solve your clients’ problems innovatively
- The 3 main channels you should be resourcing to find right-fit clients
- Why podcasting is one of the greatest inbound sales channels
- Creating an attractive offer ladder without using retainers
- What does the agency of the future look like?
- 2 of the biggest challenges agencies need to anticipate for the future
“Most agency owners are accidental. So when you're accidental, you really think the new business will always come to you.” @jswenk Click To Tweet
“The agencies that get paid the most solve the biggest problems the fastest.” @jswenk Click To Tweet
“You can make a top 50 list of the agencies you want to go after, figure out the opportunities or problems you could help them with, and then reach out in a unique way.” @jswenk Click To Tweet
“AI will keep reducing the amount of team members that you need. I don't believe AI will replace the agency, but people that use AI will.” @jswenk Click To Tweet
“You want to determine what channels are reliable and predictable and how to create that reliable and predictable revenue.” @jswenk Click To Tweet
Ways to contact Jason:
- Website: https://www.agencymastery360.com/
- LinkedIn Personal: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonswenk/
- LinkedIn Business: https://www.linkedin.com/company/agency-mastery/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/jasonswenk
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/jswenk
- Salary Survey 2023: https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/agency-tools/salary-survey-2023/
- BaBA Summit: https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/babasummit/
Hey, before we get to the show, I just wanna remind you that we have created a private Facebook group just for you, our podcast listeners. There are almost 1500 agencies, agency owners, inside that Facebook group every day talking about what’s going on inside their shop, asking for resources, gut checking decisions, talking about everything from pricing to hiring, to biz dev. All kinds of things are happening there. We’re starting conversations. You guys are starting conversations. What I love about it is the community’s coming together and sharing resources, encouraging each other, and just sort of having a safe place to talk about what it’s like to own an agency. So all you have to do is head over to Facebook, search for a Build, a Better, Agency Podcast group, or Build, a Better, Agency Podcast.
And you’ll find the group. You have to answer three questions. If, you don’t answer the questions, we can’t let you in. But they’re simple. It’s, do you own an agency or do you work at an agency? And if so, what’s the URL? What are you trying to get out of the group? And will you behave, basically? So come join us. If, you haven’t been there for a while. Come on back, If, you haven’t joined. Join into the conversation. I think you’re gonna find it really helpful. All right, let’s get to the show.
It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run, traditional digital media buying, web dev, PRR brand, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build, a Better, Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ, will expose you to the best practices that drive growth, client and employee retention and profitability. Bring his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super excited to have you back if this is a return visit for you. Really grateful for those of you that come back week after week and take a listen. I think you’ll be glad you did this week. And for those of you that are new, welcome, we are here to help to try and give you a sense that you are not doing this all by yourself, and that there are some best practices and better ways to think about the business so it can serve you and your family and your team and your clients in the way that you want it to. So we have a great guest today, somebody you’re most of you will be familiar with, and I’m looking forward to picking his brain a little bit.
But before I do that, I just wanna remind you that registration for the Build a Better Agency Summit, which is gonna be May 21st and 22nd of 24 in Denver for the first time, is open. We have great, great speakers, great content. We’re very focused on biz dev process and ai, I think are gonna be big topics. So we are going to have experts who are gonna help you figure out how to crack the nut of new business, both with existing clients, how to grow those clients, and also new clients, how to get in front of the right prospects, how to get their attention, how to earn their trust, and how to close the deal.
So we’re gonna be talking about a lot of that. We’re gonna be talking about best practices that agencies are employing with ai, and we’re gonna be talking about building our teams and all kinds of other great topics. So as you know at the conference, the tickets don’t get less expensive as we get closer to the event. So If, you know, you’re gonna be with us in Denver, May 21st and 22nd. Grab your ticket now. Grab your hotel room now and you’ll be all set for next year. I know it seems far away, but honestly, it’s only about five months away. And so we’re gonna be there in a heartbeat. So join us at the Build a Better Agency Summit. Super excited to see all of you there.
So lemme tell you a little bit about our guest. Many of you’re familiar with Jason. Swank, he has owned agencies. He has bought and sold agencies, and now he serves as an agency consultant to digital shops, big and small. And we’re gonna talk a little bit about a book he’s got coming out, but also just some of the things he’s seeing on the landscape right now with his clients and kind of align them with what we’re seeing as well. So I’m excited to kind of have feels like Office Hours with a colleague. So I’m looking forward to the conversation and I think you’ll find it insightful as well. So let’s welcome him to the show. Jason, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Yeah, thanks for having me back. Drew,
I think everybody probably knows who you are and what you do, but just in case there’s somebody on the planet who’s not familiar with you, just give everybody a little bit of sort of your backstory and how you came to be doing the work you’re doing with agencies today.
Yeah, so in 1999, I had a friend that looked like Justin Timberlake from NSYNC and created a fake band, fake website called In. Shit. Nice. It got popular. And then people started asking me to design websites. And so I was an accidental agency owner. And then eventually a couple years later, we started doing websites for like Hitachi at and t, LegalZoom, just to name a few. And then in 2011, we were fortunate enough to grow it over eight figures and sell it. And then for a couple years, like most agency owners, you’re like, oh, I’m never doing this agency thing again. Right, right, right. I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go design an app. Right? ’cause I thought the grass is greener on that side.
Hated it. Because I was just lucky enough that some of my old competitors in the agency space reached out and was like, Hey, how’d you, how’d you sell? How’d you do this? And I started putting a podcast together, helping them out. And I’ve been, you know, running a mastermind for agency owners for the past decade now. Yeah. I can’t believe it. We’re old, right?
We, we are a little old. Yeah. I, I don’t like to think of it that way. I like to think of it as seasoned, but Yeah.
Wiser. Yeah, wiser, right? We got the gray hair, right?
That’s right. That’s right. I’ll, I’ll take that. Yeah. So I know you are working on a new book that’ll be out probably within a month of this hearing, but the focus is on how to attract what we call it, our, in our world. And I think you do too, right? fit clients. And so, you know, 2023 has been sort of a boy, it’s been a brutal year for most agencies, as you and I both know in terms of new business. And yet there are some agencies who are knocking it out of the park, who are still getting those inbound inquiries from the clients that are really in their sweet spot. So I wanna talk today about what they’re doing that’s different.
So as agencies are going into planning for 2024, they can stop being so victimized by the economy and all the other things and really put some things into play so that they don’t have to wait or they don’t have to chase, but they actually can get knocks on their door from people who are really the right fit for them. So let’s talk a little bit about sort of your perspective on the agencies that are doing it differently and better and are sort of leapfrogging over some of the challenges most agencies had in 23.
Yeah. The, the ones that are struggling are the ones that are being reactive, or they were, you know, most agency owners are accidental. Right? Right. Kind of goes back to my origin story. So when you’re accidental, you really think all the business is always gonna come to you. Right. And then their businesses
Based referrals and word of mouth and Yep.
Yeah. Right. And, and most cases referrals just aren’t scalable or Right. If, you break down how referrals work is they’re constantly referring their friends that are at the same level Yeah. Or the same part, right? So you’re never kind of moving upstream. Yeah. And that’s like when I started doing $500 websites and then doing million dollar websites, there was a big delta.
Right, right, right,
Right in there of what we had to overcome. Right. There wasn’t much difference in the website, honestly. It was just who we were going after. Yeah. And that leads me back to the people that are doing really well. It’s about the who, right? Right. It’s about who do we want to go after? Who do we need on the team, and who do we need to become in the agency? Yeah. You know, like you, you’ve seen this most of the time where an agency has grown and then they’ll plateau, right. And then they’ll be like, why the hell did we plateau? Like I thought we
Were, why am I stuck? Yeah.
Right. But it’s because of the owner, it’s grown to the pace of the owner. Yeah. So that’s why I’m like, who do you need to become in order to get to the next part? And then it’s also like If, you go back to the, the first who about like, who do we need to go after? So I always tell agencies, we need to get that clarity first. Yeah. Like, this is the foundation of who we’re going after. Where do we want to to go? Who do we need to offer? And a, a cool exercise that everyone listening can do is going, if I was gonna be paid on performance only, who would I work with and what would I do for them?
Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. Right.
And right. It’s, it’s very easy to say. And when you think about it, you’re like, hell yeah. But we do all these different things that distract us.
Right? I think one of the problems with referrals is just that, right? So not only are they potentially at the same size as the client, but now you’re not deciding who you work with. Right? The market is deciding. And so just because Bob the client is a great client, doesn’t mean that Bob’s golf buddy, who also owns a business, is gonna be a great client. And when you rely on referrals, to your point, you’re reactive. You are accepting what, you know, we talk about, you know, the bad, the the bad model of new business is you just cast out this big net and whatever swims in the net that day you eat. Right? And some days it’s salmon and some days it’s a boot.
And rather than spearfishing, which is what you’re talking about, which is, okay, I know I’m gonna swim by a bunch of fish ’cause those aren’t the ones I want, and I’m gonna go after the exact ones I want. So I think you’re absolutely right.
Yeah. And, and then what, what you want to do is once you figure out who you’re going after, what you want to do for them, then I, I like to see, think about how can I position the agency to not look like a me too agency, right? Too many agencies look like everyone else. What do they talk about? How many coffees they drink, how many dogs they have in the office? Right? How many awards they have? No one cares about that. Like If, you go to my website, you know, my personal website, Jason swank.com/about, you won’t see anything about my story until the very bottom
I ask questions because I need to put the prospect or the visitor on the pedestal. It’s about them. Right? How can I help them and what problem can I solve for them? And that’s a cool thing with ai, right? Like the agencies that they get paid the most solve the biggest problems the fastest. So then If, you use AI with it, like, oh my gosh, like, you’re gonna crush it. Right? So that’s kind of really kind of the, like the first system is clarity. The second system is really positioning. The third system is really how are you getting new business? Right? And like you mentioned it a little bit about referrals. Like referrals aren’t scalable, right?
So you need to kind of have three channels. Like when I’m looking at an agent that we’ve bought 10 agencies in the past two years, like legitimately bought them, not a BSS roll up. Okay. Right? Right. Like hand over a lot of cash to ’em. But what one of the things we’re looking at is like, do they have multiple channels and is it reliable?
And I always looked at three channels, an inbound channel, which you mentioned an outbound channel. And don’t hire one of those lead generation, you know, the outbound calling companies, they don’t work.
Oh my god. 1200 emails a day. Hey, Drew, do you have room for 50 new leads a day? No, I don’t actually. Stop. We’re good. We’re good. Yeah. Yeah.
Right. Like, if, if it worked, you wouldn’t be running this stupid ad. Right.
And then the third is strategic partnerships, and we can kind of break down those as well.
Yeah, I was gonna say, let, let’s talk about those a little bit. So for you, what are you seeing are the inbound channels that are working best for agencies right now?
Podcasts. Podcasts. Podcasts. Like everyone that knows me, get out your drink and play the drinking game because every time I say podcasts, all my mastermind members always like drink.
Because look, you’re highlighting people that probably wouldn’t talk to you. You’re highlighting clients that you probably wanna work with, right. And you’re highlighting your expertise.
Right? Like, how
Powerful has your podcast been for your business? I mean, mine has been on belief
Huge. Yeah, it’s huge. It is. It is probably the number one by far production and platform for, you know, I, I will at a conference, whether it’s our summit or, or somebody else’s, if I’m speaking or at a workshop, probably 80% of the people walk up and go, I’ve been listening to you for x for however long that is. And they’ll reference an episode or two that was meaningful to them. And
If, you don’t ever remember. Right?
Some of them I do, but some of ’em I’m like, oh yeah, what was that guest? But I think what I love about podcasts, and I’m curious if it’s for you too, is it’s a pretty intimate medium. I mean, they, they really feel like they know you. And so the, the whole, you know, know, like trust model, you’re way into the trust part of that, by the time they actually have an, a real interaction with you through email or at an event or whatever, but they really, they feel like they know you, they like you, otherwise they wouldn’t keep listening and you’ve provided great content and so they trust you. And so you’re much further along the sales cycle.
Yeah. I mean, there’s no selling,
And, and it weeds out people, right? Like, I mean, look at me, I’m, I’m not very corporate, right? Like Right. If someone’s in their agency and they’re really corporate, there’s certain people that they can go to, right. If they like my style perfect. Like, you’re gonna like the mastermind, you’re gonna like working with us. So, you know, it, it really kind of self-selects.
But it’s un it’s unbelievable. People don’t give it time.
Right. Well, I, I read a statistic that most podcasts never get to episode seven.
That’s crazy. Yeah.
Launch a podcast. So what, they have less than two months. Right. We tell people, look, you gotta have 10 in the can before you even go live. Right, exactly. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, I mean, like, you’ve been doing it, what you were 10 years for
The podcast. Yeah. Almost. Yep.
Yep. So we probably started the podcast probably
Same time, February or March is 10 years.
Yep. Well, and I don’t know about you, but I, I started it as a, huh. This is kind of a cool new thing. I just wanna play around with it for a little bit and see what it is and we’ll, you know, we’ll try it for three months and see if it gets traction. And, and If you would’ve told me then you’ll still be doing it every week, a decade later, I probably would’ve said, Hmm, I don’t think so. But you know, here, here we both are, right?
Yeah. I we haven’t missed the week in nine and a half years.
Yeah, right. Let’s do I we we don’t miss, yeah. Yep.
Yeah. And now we do two shows a week, which is, which is crazy. Now that’s
Brutal. Yeah. I don’t think I could do that, but Yeah. But nonetheless, it, it is absolutely a powerful track. So when you’re talking to agencies about starting a podcast, what are the mistakes they make? Or what are the, what are the guardrails you help them sort of define so that it is a sales tool for them?
Well, they, the, the, the one thing is, is they, they freak out on the technology, right? Like these are technologists, right? And they think the technology needs to be a Joe Rogan style, right? I’m like, look, we’re do, we’re recording right now on Zoom, right? I mean, it is bare bones or Right. The microphone you get now is like 50 bucks from Amazon, right?
Guys like, stop over the technology or some, some people get held up because I tell them, I go, why wouldn’t you invite your best prospects on? They’re like, well, that, that seems slimy. I said, well, how long have you been listening to our show? And they’ll be like, five years, four years. Right? I’m like, I invite all my perfect prospects on the show, but my intent is to create amazing content first.
And the second secondary is if they wanna talk to us about helping out, great. If not, no problem. Right. But they’ll start listening to the show from it, and then they’ll come around. Right. In most cases. So,
Yeah. And a subset of them will never be clients, and that’s okay.
Because they still help you create content that does attract other prospects.
Exactly. Yeah. And I always tell them, you’re gonna suck in the very beginning. Right. It’s gonna be horrible. Right. But you just wanna constantly, just like Mr. Beast says in his videos, how can I get an inch better?
And then, you know, then, then you’re good. So
Yeah, I, I don’t know that I’d wanna go back and listen to my first five episodes. Now
I remember verbatim my first four episodes, like, I remember my fourth episode, I interviewed Dale Ross of IHG International Hotel Group, and I asked him, which is a perfect lead in, I’m, I’m lead, I’m teeing you up for the out outbound. Perfect. I said, how can, how can agents, small agencies get into bed with bigger clients? Yeah. And he was like, here’s how, how to do it.
Okay. So we’ve now talked about inbound. What was his answer?
This was stop calling and doing the same thing everyone else is doing. Yeah. Like, stop inviting me to lunch, stop sending me gifts. Stop trying to ask me to play golf. You gotta do something different. Right? So his answer, this was when, you know, Facebook really kind of came out and ads and stuff like that. I think when we’re talking, and I think I said, well,
And by the way, if people didn’t think we were old before now, when Facebook came out, when it was a new thing,
Well, I’ll even date myself. My first client asked me to send him an invoice at the agency. I didn’t know what an invoice was and Google wasn’t around for me to Google it.
Okay. So I see your walker behind you.
Exactly. Yeah. But yeah, I’m still hiking mountains, climbing mountains and all that kind of stuff. But, so I said, if I called you up and I said there’s a new thing called the Power Editor in Facebook, and it allows us to really re-target the people that going to your website, but may have not booked. I’d love to see if there’s a chance for me to just show you how it works. He would always have test projects and test money available. Interesting. So then you can get your foot in the door. Right. Right. And so like, so I’ll give you another example. What I always believe, and this is what agencies don’t do, they wait for business to come to them.
Yeah. And these are the ones that are struggling. If, you have a specific, like If, you can make a top 50 hit list of the agencies you want to go after. Make it figure out who is that contact and then figure out what are the opportunities that you could help them with or the problems that they may have. And then reach out to them in a unique way. So for example, if I was going after someone that did, you know, I just had this person on a podcast, I can’t remember their name, but they sold, obviously I don’t use it like skincare or skincare cream for men.
And I was like, really? Men do that? Like, I was like, okay. I was like, I don’t, right. My skin’s all rough from the Colorado sun, but I go, would this get your attention? I said, if I bought your product, and I applied it on a video and I said, Hey Drew, man, I really love this cream. It’s really made my, my skin a lot softer now, when I bought it, I never got like any kind of videos with it or any kind of onboarding about how to use it or how often I should actually use it. I have some ideas for you on a marketing front. I’d love five minutes of your time. Let me know. He’s like, I would take that call all day long.
Yeah, right. Because I hear I’m here, I’m here to help. Right.
Exactly. Yeah. And they could look it up and he goes, first thing I would do is make sure I look up your name and see If you bought it. Interesting. So make sure you don’t have your assistant buy it. Make sure you buy it.
Interesting. Okay. So for you, outbound is again, not a system or process where everybody gets the same thing at the same time. But it’s, I want to talk to Jason. I know enough about Jason’s business that I can demonstrate that I understand his product or service, and I actually have an idea of something to talk to him about.
You’re pro you’re providing value, right? Rather than,
And are you recommended to your clients that you, they, I know this is a novel concept, but they pick up the phone and call them. Are they sending an email? Are they sending snail mail? Right. What, you know, are they, how, how are you seeing clients actually get a conversation?
They’re hitting ’em up on whatever channels that they’re on. So if they find ’em on Instagram, they’ll send that video. Okay. If they’re on LinkedIn, it’s a little harder, right. Because there’s so much crap going past on LinkedIn. Yeah. A written note is amazing. Right. A phone call is a lot harder just because a lot of people are working from home now and everyone has a cell phone. And honestly, I don’t want to be like, I always market how I wanna market, or I wanna sell how I wanna be sold to. If someone calls me on my cell phone, the chances of me picking up is very unlikely. And if I pick up, I’m there gonna mess with you. Right. I’m be like, hello. Right. You know, I want you to mess with.
So you gotta do something a little different and it’s not a, it’s very targeted, you know, you know, campaign.
Yeah. You know, one thing I, one thing I think agency owners miss is I, I think they think of biz dev as a volume game. No. And the reality is, if you’re targeting the right size client, you know, and you want to grow 20% year over year and you know, you get much more than 20 or 25%, especially If, you factor in attrition. You know, you’re gonna break every sys, every system you have. I mean, that kind of growth year over, it’s super easy when you’re two people, it’s really hard when you’re 25 people to do that year over year. So the reality is, if you’re targeting somebody who’s five to 10% of your AGI, you only need a couple wins. Right. It’s not a volume game, it’s the, it’s about getting the right clients who are gonna stick around for more than a year that you can grow once you get them into the fold.
Yeah, exactly. So what you’re describing sounds onerous if you’re trying to win a hundred clients, but it sounds very doable if you’re hoping to win three.
Exactly. And it’s also about the offer, right? Right. Most agency owners and agencies have the wrong offer, or the owner is doing the offer and the sales, which is very unattractive for someone wanting to buy your agency. Or very honestly, very, it devalue devalues you to the prospect because you’re like, the owner’s actually reaching out. Like they don’t have a team. Like, am I gonna be, is the owner gonna be doing the delivery and all this kind of stuff. Right. So it devalues. So I always tell people, you need to have like an offering ladder and you need to make it.
So let’s hang on, let’s, let’s, let’s make a meaningful pause right here, and we’re gonna take a quick break and then when we will we come back, we will talk about the offer ladder so that everybody sticks with us for the whole episode. So, all right, we’ll be right back guys. Hey, I know you wanna get right back to the show, but I wanna remind you that the 20 23, 24 salary survey, salary and benefit survey actually is out now with brand new data from over a thousand agencies of how they’re paying their team members, what kind of benefits they’re including in their packages. And you can find that on the a AMI website under resources and it’s just 99 bucks.
So if that’s helpful to you, go grab it and use it in your planning, in your conversations with team members as you’re building out career paths and things like that is super helpful to sort of see what everybody else is doing, what everybody else is paying. It’s broken down by geography and also by agency size. So hopefully that would be super helpful to you. All right, let’s get back to the show. All right. We are here with Jason Swank and we are talking about biz dev. And what he’s seeing is working in 2023, which for most of you has been kind of a head banging on a brick wall sort of years. So right before the break we were talking about having an offer and actually having an offer ladder.
So go ahead Jason, explain sort of what you mean by that and what you’re seeing as working.
Yeah, so If, you look at most agencies or the traditional way is to pitch them a retainer and the core service, right? Right. Which is If, you look at it, it’s a hard decision for the prospect because it’s risky, right? And a lot of agencies want it for a long-term commitment, which makes it even harder. But then what most agencies do is they’ll actually go, okay, it’s a month. A month, or you can cancel a 30 day clause. So now you have no predictability,
Which is like shooting yourself in the foot. So what I always like to do is how can I meet with that prospect? How can I turn them into a client in like a day or two days? How could I increase my winning percentage to like 90%? It’s kind of like the what, what’s that? The anchorman when he is like, it works 60% all the time, you know, the sex panther, whatever, right? So it’s kinda like this, but what you wanna do is it, I’ve developed kind of what I call the foot in the door offer. And what it is, is like, Hey Drew, what I’d like to do with you based on your challenge that you told me around lead generation, what I’d like to do is let’s meet for an hour to two hours.
Now I do charge for this. Yep.
You’re gonna get a lot of value from it. And here’s the three possible outcomes. You’ll love the plan, you go execute it yourself. That’s the case. I wish you luck. Number two, you’ll love the plan and you’ll wanna work with us, which we can talk about. And that’s actually the most common, or number three, you don’t like the plan, I give your money back. So there’s nothing for you to lose. But on this agency blueprint that I’m gonna do for you, we’re gonna map out what you’re doing and what currently can do and we’re gonna do it together. So most comp, so there’s a lot of agencies that are doing something like a service before their big offer, but what they’re doing is they’re going back and doing it without the prospect.
And so then the prospect doesn’t trust it because they didn’t build it,
Or they’re not creating relationship along with the work. Right?
Exactly. And so when you can build it with them, it’s kind of like that you remember that show Colombo that that investigator Yep. And he’d always, like, he always knew the answer, but he would always ask the questions to lead them.
It’s kind of the thing. Righ