Building genuine relationships in our industry is one of the best parts of being in the business. The point is not to build transactional relationships that will end in a big “payoff” for you. When you focus on real relationships, you wind up bringing people into your life who you actually want to work with, and when you’re really fortunate, end up being good friends.
I firmly believe in this philosophy and the value of those relationships, both professionally and personally. These days, relationship-building often starts online.
James Carbary has raised LinkedIn updates and interactions to an art form. I wanted to explore his strategy and the benefits he’d seen in this episode. James generously shared some great tips on how to create good content that gets noticed and builds both engagement and relationships online. His LinkedIn prowess grows out of his larger interest in fostering genuine relationships.
One of the more fascinating projects James has going on are the B2B Growth Dinners he has launched. It may be coming to a city near you and if so – be sure to participate. James’ idea was to create an opportunity for six strangers who all worked in tangential fields to have dinner and get to know one another. No agenda, no 30-second elevator pitch. He owns/runs an agency, but James’ passion and gift is as a relationship builder. So, we had a lot to talk about!
James Carbary is the founder of Sweet Fish Media, a podcast agency for B2B brands. He’s a contributor to the Huffington Post and Business Insider, and he also co-hosts the B2B Growth Show, a daily podcast dedicated to helping B2B marketers achieve explosive growth.
What You Will Learn About in This Episode:
- The power genuine relationships have to enrich your life and build your agency
- Repurposing content to fit the platform you are presenting it on
- How to create a community of people
- Working with engagement groups on LinkedIn
- How to post on LinkedIn for maximum organic views and engagement
- Why to have conversations over a meal
- Using LinkedIn to define your brand and attract clients you want to work with
- How podcasts help you build a relationship first, add value, and find ideal clients
The Golden Nuggets:“I've always been a relationship guy. Podcasting has been a phenomenal way to create relationships with people I may end up doing business with some day.” – @jamescarbary Click To Tweet “I think people can feel it when you're being genuine and not just trying to convert them into a new piece of business.” – @jamescarbary Click To Tweet “Being vulnerable in sharing your story and what makes you uniquely you – and how that shapes how you do business – leads to more and deeper engagement with your audience.” – @jamescarbary Click To Tweet “Spending a few seconds putting articles with clickbait headlines into your Buffer queue is not engagement. The amount of effort that you put into it is directly correlated to the results that you're going to see.” – @jamescarbary Click To Tweet “I developed b2bgrowthdinners.com to answer the question, ‘How do you create a genuine community with people who are in the foxhole with one another and want one another to succeed?” – @jamescarbary Click To Tweet
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If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute, Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll 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 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. I’m excited about this conversation because I think it’s going to bring you some new tools and some technique around LinkedIn that I think is interesting and fresh, and actually can really change the amount of exposure that you get on LinkedIn. So let me tell you a little bit about how all of this came to be.
So our guest today is a guy named James Carbary. And I met James probably about a year ago, maybe even a year a half ago when he invited me to be on his podcast. And we had a great conversation. We actually talked about podcasting and the power that it can have for a business. And after that we connected on LinkedIn, but we didn’t really have much interaction after that. And I noticed that he was showing up on my LinkedIn feed all the time and not only was he showing up, but his status updates or his posts were getting thousands of views and hundreds of likes.
And I was like, “What is this guy doing?” And so at the same time that I was pondering that question, I was teaching a workshop in Orlando, which happens to be where he lives. So I reached out and invited him to grab some coffee, which was awesome because I love when I meet somebody online or in our sort of digital world, and I can actually translate that and hang out with them in person. So we met and had coffee and get to know each other a little bit. And he’s had a fascinating life and some crazy jobs, which I am definitely going to ask him about. But we get started talking about the LinkedIn strategy and he was very generous in describing to me exactly how he got those kinds of results. And I knew I needed to get him on the podcast because I wanted to talk about that.
But as I got to know him better, I also realized that he’s done a lot of pivoting in his life in terms of changing careers and all of that before you launched his current agency. And I want to make sure we talk about that as well. And one of the other things that I really appreciate about James is he’s a great connector and he delves into relationship and finds great value in them. And so I want to talk about that as well, in terms of business outcomes, not just that it’s a nice thing to do, although it is a nice thing to do. But I want to talk about it terms of how that translates to business. So we have a lot to talk about, so let’s quickly turn the mic over to him and welcome him to the show. So without further ado, I want to welcome James Carbary to the podcast. James, welcome.
Thank you so much, Drew. I’m really excited to be here, man.
So I am super excited to introduce my audience to you and to talk about some of the things you’re doing, because I think you are looking at the business world in a really fresh and interesting way. But before we get into that, I want you to tell everybody a little bit about your background. Like how did you get to the point where you’re running the agency that you’re running today?
Yeah. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share that Drew. So I had a bit of a weird career up to this point. I got out of college, had no clue what I wanted to do. Worked for a couple of big corporate jobs, oil and gas company in Oklahoma City, big insurance company in Oklahoma City. And through a very strange series of events ended up doing helicopter logistics for NASCAR with a company based here in Orlando where I am now.
It’s really interesting, so many agency owners have a helicopter logistics background. So common among you people, I wonder why that is.
So common. So after putting guys like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart on helicopters every week I did that for about three years and it was a smaller business. And was just very grateful for the opportunity, but ultimately wanted to move on and move into either doing my own thing or a company that had a little bit more growth opportunity. So tried my hand at building a software company, failed miserably in that. And I thought, okay, I’m going to go back. I worked for a nonprofit for a bit and worked for another tech company and said you know what? I had just gotten engaged when I got let go from a tech company that I was doing business development at, and I thought, man, I just got engaged.
I got let go from this job. Like if I had been dancing around this doing entrepreneurship for long enough, I was like you know what? If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now before I get married, because I know this is going to be a lot of eating dirt and a lot of crappy days.
And so earlier I can get started in that the better. And so very, very grateful that I did that. I started our agency really is just a blog writing service and outsource blog writing service for the first, probably 10 months. And then pivoted into what we’ve become now, which is a podcast agencies focused specifically on producing shows for B2B companies. And so that’s a little bit of the journey.
So talk a little bit about the pivot. So you were basically creating content.
Mostly written content. Well, what was the writing on the wall or what was the sign to you that you needed to A, pivot and B, from what I understand kind of abandoned the original model.
Yeah. So I think for me I had no clue what I was doing. I had never read an agency. I didn’t know how to price what we were doing. I had never worked in an agency. So really just coming in super blind. And as it turns out, I was pricing ourselves just way too low and-
You and everybody else.
Yeah. So I get about 10 months in to the business and I just realized, man, I’m barely making ends meet. We’ve got, I think at that point we had 30 or 40 clients but they were all paying next to nothing. And so I was like, I got to figure out something here.
And so I started looking at the clients that we had had the best results with, that we enjoyed working with the most. And one of them was a nonprofit based in Houston. It was actually a church plant in Houston. It’s a newer church and we were producing really great content for them that was locally focused. And so things like seven date night spots in Rosenberg, Texas. Well, content like that will go viral in Rosenberg, Texas, because there is only 40,000 people there. And they all care about where the best dates spots are. So I was like, okay, if we could do this for every church, we could do this for a church in every part of the country. We could stack up a bunch of clients that we really enjoy working with. And so I thought, okay, how do I reverse engineer relationships with churches that would be interested in doing this?
And so I was like, okay, I had done a podcast before. And every person that I ever asked to be a guest on our show always said, yes. And so I was like, okay, if I want to build relationships with church planters because I want to ultimately do business with them, first, I need a relationship with them. So I’m going to start a show called Plant Better, which was all about how to plant a church successfully. And I’m going to reach out to successful church planters and ask them to be a guest. And I did that. And 80% of them said, yeah, I’d love to be a guest. And I thought, well, that was a really easy way to do business. So I scheduled all the interviews, had all the conversations. Lo and behold again, in my ignorance didn’t realize that most church plants would not have the budget for content marketing.
And so I figured that out pretty early on, but the truth still remained that, oh my gosh, I was just able to connect with the exact people that I wanted to connect with very, very quickly all by having a podcast that allowed me to do so, and kind of ask them to be a part of, and really adding value first by saying, hey, I want to share my platform with you and collaborate with you to create content that highlights your story. And so it’s very flattering obviously. And I still have a lot of those relationships from that show today. And so I’ve always been a relationship guy. I love genuine relationships with people. And to me podcasting has just been a phenomenal way to create those with people that I maybe I end up doing business with someday because I branded the show around the niche that I’m focused on. But for me, it’s more about the relationship.
And so that’s how we ended up getting into what we did. And that was kind of a little light bulb moment. I remember being on a flight from San Diego going, oh my gosh, this is it. Like it did work with church planters, but every B2B company has an ideal client. And if we could produce a show for them that allows them to connect with that ideal client, we could actually have a pretty nice business doing that. And so that’s where we’re at today.
Yeah. I love that methodology, Steven Wesner coined the term Trojan horses sales, and that’s what podcasting, or really any sort of cornerstone content where you invite your prospects to be a part of content, where you’re putting the spotlight on them.
And I think it’s brilliant.
Yep. It’s content, people ask me all the time, though James how long do you think this is going to work? The mediums are going to change. And if I do a good enough job advocating for this model a lot of people are going to do it. And if you and I both know, Drew, marketers ruin everything. And so we will eventually ruin this strategy as well. But I don’t think the concept of content collaboration is going to go away anytime soon. The idea of collaborating with your ideal clients with strategic partners to create content with them, that paints them in a good light. And so then the game really becomes if you can build a legitimate audience and have something of value to offer, then it’s going to get harder and harder for people to tell you no because you’ve got an audience of people that they want to reach.
And so that idea of adding value first, I think, is so powerful. And if you can figure out your way of doing that, how can you add value to your prospects for forever trying to extract from them at all then you’re going to be in business for a really long time.
Well, I think the whole idea of thinking of yourself as a media channel, or as a meeting company, gather an audience, and that then is pretty easy to attract other people who want to talk to that same audience. And so now all of a sudden you have something to offer them that is not about sales, and it’s not… So as you say, it allows you to create a relationship. And then from there you get a sense of A, is this somebody I would want to work with?
And B, is this somebody that we could actually help in some subset of your desks, from what I’m hearing you say. The answer is, yes, I’d like to work with them and yes, I can help them. And so now I’m going to approach that in that way, which feels a whole lot better than cold calling or sending a bunch of emails or doing whatever. Now, I’m saying to someone I know in like, yeah, I think I can help you.
Yep, exactly. And just to give some real tangible numbers to prove that it works. So with our own show, our show is called B2B Growth. And we feature CEOs and senior level marketers of B2B companies. In the last 18 months, I think we’ve done $167,000 in revenue, directly from guests that we featured on the show. And one of our clients is a character development company. And so they partner with athletic departments in high schools and middle schools. And so their buyer is an athletic director or a head coach, and they’ve done $120,000 in revenue directly from guests in the last nine months. And so the whole build a relationship first and add value upfront it just works.
Yeah. And the other part of it which people don’t usually talk about is it’s a great screening mechanism too. If you spend an hour with somebody and you spend some time prepping, you spend some time on the post end of, again, whether you’re interviewing them for a blog or a video or a podcast, whatever it is, you get a pretty good sense. At least you get the spidey tingle of ew, this is not somebody I’d want to work with, or you know what? I could have talked to him or her for another hour. I love that conversation. I would like to lean in a little bit and see if maybe there’s a chance for us-
Some synergy here. Yeah. You’re exactly right. I don’t even know that I’ve necessarily processor or thought about that, but you’re spot on there that I do get that spidey sense when I’m interviewing someone.
And I think, oh my gosh, I would have a lot of fun working with these folks. And I think people can feel that when you’re coming at it from that genuine place and not just trying to convert somebody into a new piece of business. And that will ultimately prevail. As buzzwordy as it is, the more authentic and genuine you can be the more success you’re going to experience, especially with a strategy like this. And that’s one of those things that’s really hard to fake. And so the folks that are really doing it from a good place, I think will end up seeing a lot of success with it. And the folks that aren’t necessarily after the relationship, they’re just trying to get a quick win and looking for a hack. They’re going to end up doing things where other people can see that and they’re going to see right through it and it’s not going to be nearly as effective for them.
Yeah. I agree. So one of the other things that I think you’ve done that’s been really interesting is that you’ve been playing around with how to add extra value to your podcast guests, and other people in your circle. And using LinkedIn in a really interesting way. Can you talk to us a little bit about a strategy behind that [crosstalk 00:15:07]?
Yeah, so we’re obviously with B2B growth being a daily show, we’re producing a ton of content in that medium. But there’s still a lot of people that don’t listen to podcasts. Obviously, nobody listens to this-
Isn’t that camp. But a lot of folks that are not consuming podcasts. And so I started thinking about where can I repurpose our content from the show into platforms where more people are hanging out and just started seeing this resurgence of people on LinkedIn. Seems like probably in the past eight or nine months, just a lot of content creators, creating content native for the LinkedIn platform. And I thought, what if I could take the content from our show and put it into long form status updates that I saw performing so well on LinkedIn in a way that-
I just want to interrupt. The other thing I’m noticing on Linkedin, and I’m curious if you’re noticing it too. I’m noticing people are actually engaging more on LinkedIn. It feels a little more Facebooky.
Than it has in the past. In the past it was just people would just post article after article after article, but there was no conversation. And now all of a sudden I’m seeing a lot more conversation.
I think the reason for that drew is because when you just post an article, you’re expecting someone to click the link, go out of LinkedIn, look at the content and then make their way back to that status update to actually comment on it. But that’s way too cumbersome. And people just aren’t willing to do that. So instead, if you can take that same article or what I’ve done with a podcast interview, and I don’t tease it out. I don’t force you to consume the entire piece of content to be able to engage with it.
So what we do, what we’ve trained our writing team to do is to say, hey, listen to this episode, take three or four key takeaways from it. Roll that into a LinkedIn status update. So there is real value tangibly as someone who’s scrolling through their feed. So it’s not like, oh, we’re going to tease this episode, click the link to listen to it. And in our context with podcasting people just aren’t going to do that, they’re walking from meeting to meeting. They don’t have 15 minutes to listen to an audio episode, but if you can truncate that into three or four tangible pieces of quality takeaways that they can consume right there, and you can do that in 1300 characters or less, which is the cap on LinkedIn status updates, then people are going to go, oh man, that was really, really good. I’m going to comment, I’m going to like this, or I’m going to engage with it because I actually got something from it.
And in the back of their they’re going, man, I need to subscribe to that show because there’s really some good content that’s being shared there. And so I think that take on content creation and creating it native inside the platform, as opposed to linking outside. Plus obviously LinkedIn wants people to stay on their platform longer. And so they’re going to, I say penalize, but they’re going to restrict the reach of your posts that link to external content. So even when we’re linking to our podcast, I’m putting it in the first comment of the post. I’m not putting it in the post itself. I’m spacing my posts one or two sentence paragraphs, which a lot of people harp on, but the reality is it just makes it easier to read on mobile, which is where most people are consuming LinkedIn. So there’s all these different factors that go into creating content on LinkedIn that I think when you start to embrace those, you’ll start to see immediate uptick in the engagement, like you said. And then there’s some other things that we’ve been doing to boost engagement as well.
Yeah. And that’s where I want to get to next. But first let’s take a quick break and then we’ll talk about what you’re doing with some of your guests.
One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach. I love to spend two days immersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners, or AEs in our AE boot camps. But most of all, I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies from 30 years in the business and all the best practices that we teach. If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything from money matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency to best management practices of agency owners, to new business, to a bootcamps, and a plethora of other topics. Go check out the list and the schedule at agencymanagementinstitute.com/livetraining. Okay, let’s get back to the show.
All right. I am back with James and we are talking about podcasting and creating content and creating relationships before you pitch a sale. And now right before the break, we were talking about LinkedIn and how it seems to have a resurgence of not only a volume, but more engagement. And James was sharing his strategy for doing that. So you’ve loaned that out beyond your own sort of status updates. And I know you’re doing something where you’re gathering groups of people together to try and help them merchandise and maximize the value of LinkedIn. Can you walk us through that?
Yeah. So we started doing these things called LinkedIn engagement groups, and this isn’t… I definitely didn’t make it up myself, but it’s been happening for a long time.
And I think with the resurgence of the type of content that’s being shared, I started seeing more and more people talk about these engagement groups. And I thought, okay, there’s something happening here because I keep seeing the same in my feed. They have hundreds and hundreds of likes and comments on their stuff. Like what is happening here? The content is good, but what on earth are they doing? They don’t have massive followings. And come to find out, oh, they’re in an engagement group. And essentially what it is it’s a group of like-minded folks where you post links to your status updates in a LinkedIn message thread and other people in the group commit to engaging with that content if they think it’s helpful. And by doing so, it shows up in their connection’s feed.
So if they like or comment on something, it’ll pull up in all of their first degree connections feeds, giving more reach to that original post. And then the upside to them is that when they go to post the link to their status update, everybody in the group agrees to engage with it. And so I was a part of one that had a lot of people in it, and I just noticed that it was very noisy. I wasn’t able to keep up with everybody’s content. Not all the content was really aligned with what I am all about and what I talk about. And so I thought you know what? All this is a LinkedIn message group. I’m just going to start my own. And so I went to some folks that I am very aligned with and 12 to 15 folks and just said, hey, would you want to be a part of this thing I’m putting together, some former guests on the show and just the community that I’ve started to build.
And we’ll engage with each other’s content when we think it’s helpful and hopefully it’ll give everybody a boost. And so did that with one group, it went really well. Tried doing it with a couple other groups where it didn’t actually go so well. And I think there’s some value in the lessons learned there, where if you do decide as an agency on our listening to this. I want try to start putting these engagement groups together, make sure you’re targeting folks that are already active on LinkedIn. So I was going back to a lot of our former guests that just aren’t that active on LinkedIn for, I mean, there’s a lot of reasons why folks aren’t that active there. And by doing that it was like me and two other people that were frequently every day putting links to their status updates, but nobody else was creating content that regularly.
So they weren’t getting a whole lot of value from it, so they weren’t engaging. So it ended up just being a very dead group. And so I learned from that and said, okay, now every group that I create, you’ve got to be creating content that aligns with the type of message that I’m putting out as well. And you’ve got to be creating regular content. At least one to two days a week you’re putting out content on LinkedIn. And since I kind of shifted and made that, your refocused those groups, they’ve been tremendously beneficial for me. They’ve I think over a 90 window last year, I had like 1.4 million views on my content. But at the end of the day, drew, if your content’s not good and it doesn’t engage people, there’s no number of engagement groups that’s going to fix that.
They give you kind of an initial boost. They’re not a cure all for bad content, but they are a match that can light good content and put it on fire. And the way the LinkedIn algorithm is working right now, they are rewarding content that gets early engagement. And so I don’t know how long LinkedIn and all social platforms are notorious for changing their algorithms. But as of right now, if you can get 10 to 15 likes within the first hour of your post going live and some comments on there then LinkedIn sees that and goes, oh, we want more people on LinkedIn to see this because clearly it’s getting good engagement and then it starts to expand. And so being a part of these groups and doing this kind of stuff it always draws out a certain level of groups of folks.
They’re just gaming the system or they’re just hacking this or there’s negative Nancys everywhere, I think. But if you’re putting out content that you really believe in and you think is helping people, you want that to get in front of as many people as you can. And I just feel like engagement groups are a channel that allows you to do that. And if your content is not good, the market’s going to tell you that it’s not good and nobody’s going engage with it. So that’s kind of how I think about engaging groups and some of the benefits that we’ve seen from doing them.
It’s interesting. It goes back to sort of your content strategy in general. If you’re just creating content to create noise, to create activity, then the results you get are going to be sort of akin to what you deserve in that stance. And when you are actually creating content to be helpful, to be intentionally useful then a marketplace, regardless of what platform to your point, I think engages in that. And it’s interesting. So you and I talked about this when we met in Orlando.
And so after we talked, I gathered up 12 agency outlets. We’re all pretty active on LinkedIn, and we decided to give that a try.
So for example, just to put some numbers on this for the listeners. So I shared a text only status update that was maybe 600, 700 words. So meatier then, I had ice cream a lot. And shared it. So again, guys, here’s the recipe for this. You create a LinkedIn message and you invite everyone. So you create a group message for everybody. So I emailed, everybody said, hey, I want to try this experiment. Do you want to participate with me? Everybody said, yes. So I put them on a message group. So I wrote the status update.
I shared a link to the status update in the message group. And then those 10 or 11 people all went and either liked it or commented on whatever. So prior to this experiment, my average number of views on a post would have been about a couple hundred? Right. That post alone was almost 5,000 views.
And by the way, most of the views were second circles. So they were not people inside my circle. They weren’t inside somebody else’s circle that was connected to me. And while the engagement group, certainly that the spark that sort of put a post in front of everybody. As soon as that happened and other people who are not inside that message group started also engaging in the conversation, liking it, commenting on it, which just obviously exponentially expanded-
The reach of it.
So then we did another experiment where I included a link to a podcast episode outside of LinkedIn. And that only got about less than a thousand view. So to your point, LinkedIn is paying attention to whether or not we’re keeping folks inside the platform or sending them out. And then I did one where I put the link in the comment per your suggestion, and that was somewhere in the 3000 view reach. So clearly the status only where you’re just talking and you’re not linking seems to be what they liked the best.
If you link to something inside like an article that you’ve written, that’s on LinkedIn, that does better. And then if you actually put the link in the body of the status and take somebody off LinkedIn that doesn’t perform as well, which you know what? 1,000 views of a podcast episode is still awesome. So the point of this is not to get as many views as possible with no intentionality around it. What are you trying to do and understand that you have these choices. And so you can maximize your reach, however you choose to, it starts with what are you trying to give the audience? And what are you trying to get the audience to give you in return?
You’re spot on. I love that you’ve done some experimenting with it. I’ve heard several stories similar to that. That’s my story and in a lot of ways, I was getting a couple of hundred views per post, just linking. I was really just kind of phoning it in, using buffer, curating articles that I thought were interesting. And if I’m honest articles that I thought had sexy headlines, and I would throw those into my buffer queue. I was getting anywhere from 50 to 200 views. And as soon as I started, it’s funny how this works too, because it’s the amount of effort that you put into it is directly correlated to the results that you’re going to see on the back end of it. Right? It was very easy for me to scroll through buffer, add a few articles to my queue and kind of set and forget my social media content strategy for weeks and weeks.
Whereas now it takes me 15 to 20 minutes every day to thoughtfully think about like, okay, what am I going to write about today? But the results are absolutely worth that 15 to 20 minutes. Two of our biggest clients closed in January of this year that were directly… That pointed to LinkedIn, hey, I just kept seeing your stuff show up in my LinkedIn feed. And this isn’t just a random collection of people. Like these are your investors. These are customers. These are prospects. These are your team, your internal team. Like this is a network that you have crafted over your 10, 15, 20, 30 year career. And this content that you’re putting out is getting directly in front of them. Some people have done a better job of building an email l