Episode 222:

One of the challenges of agency life is that typically everything we sell is a custom job. It’s tough to build in efficiencies or systemize our production when we never make the same deliverable twice. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Back in Episode 100, we discussed the idea of structuring your agency as a wonder bread factory vs. an artisanal bakery and there are different pros and cons for each.

WebsiteByTonight’s Jared Gold successfully transformed his agency from an artisanal bakery into a wonder bread factory for web development. And in this episode of Build A Better Agency, Jared joins us to share the lessons he learned throughout the process so you can apply them in your own agency.

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: https://www.whitelabeliq.com/ami/

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • Jared’s journey from artisanal bakery to wonder bread factory with WebsiteByTonight
  • The benefits and drawbacks of productizing your agency’s service line
  • The lessons and insights Jared learned while switching from custom to standardized
    deliverables
  • How to determine what parts of your agency can actually be productized
  • Creating firm boundaries around your productized offerings so that you can always
    meet expectations
  • How Jared’s target audience changed when he introduced the productized service line
    with WebsiteByTonight

The Golden Nugget:

“A lot of agency owners want to be artisanal bakers, but there is a lot more cost in doing custom work than in cranking out the Wonder Bread.” Jared Gold Click To Tweet “Clients are more concerned with budget and timeframe than the level of customization.” Jared Gold Click To Tweet “A productized offering automates the sales process and makes selling much easier.” Jared Gold Click To Tweet “Agency owners love problem-solving; productizing is just another form of problem-solving.” Jared Gold Click To Tweet “One of the biggest complaints from agency owners is that they can’t get out of the day-to-day because what they are selling is so sophisticated.” Jared Gold Click To Tweet

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Additional Resources:

Jared Gold:

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 size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market.

Bringing his 25 plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Happy to have you with us. If you’re listening to this in real time, happy 2020. Hope you have big plans for making it an amazing year. I’m hoping that you used our agency one page one plan, business plan and our owner’s life goals plan to map out what you’d like 2020 to look like. If you are not familiar with those tools, head over to agency managementinstitute.com/herecomes2020 and you can download both of those tools and listen to a little podcast about how to use them.

So welcome to have you do that. Today’s topic is a topic that’s sort of near and dear to my heart because many agency owners want to have this conversation. And it’s not an easy conversation to have. So way, way back in Episode 100, I did an episode called, Is Your Agency a Wonder Bread Factory, or an Artisanal bakery? And it’s probably the episode of the podcast that gets the most commentary when I meet people out in the real world, they will say that they enjoy the podcast and talk about it. And if they reference a specific episode, or if they quote me in a workshop or something like that, it is all around this idea of wonder break factory versus the artisanal bakery, which is my analogy for, do you want to be an agency that does everything custom and everything is unique to each client? Or do you want to be an agency that does a smaller sub set of deliverables, but does them in a very defined way.

And sort of has productized the agency offering to increase efficiency, profitability, all of those sort of things. And so today’s guest is going to talk to us about his experience in moving from more of that artisanal bakery into a wonder break factory. And how he went about experimenting with this idea of productizing his agency’s offerings.

Before we get into that, I want to remind all of you that we are happy to give away once a month, we do a drawing and we give away either a seat in one of our live workshops, or access to one of our on-demand workshops. Both of those retail for about a little shy of $2,000. And all you have to do to get in the drawing is to leave us a ratings or reviews, wherever it is that you listen to the podcast.

And so, super happy to offer you that opportunity. Just take a screenshot, send it to me and we will put you in the drawing. Also want to remind all of you that we have a limited number of seats at the Build a Better Agency Summit, which is the conference coming up in May. And I think it’s going to be a spectacular experience.

If you go and you don’t like it, as with everything that we do, whether it’s our workshops, or anything we do, where we charge money, if you feel like you didn’t get value out of attending that event or participating in that online course or whatever it is, we’re happy to cut you a cheque back. We are happy to refund your money. I’ve never had to do it, but I would be more than happy to do it if you really felt like you didn’t get your money’s worth. And that is certainly true of this conference. I think it’s going to be a killer conference and I think between the keynote speakers, the breakout speakers and all the stuff you’re going to learn from the other attendees, I think you’re going to walk away with a notebook full of ideas and things to do and things to stop doing. Resources.

I’m excited about it and I really want you to experience it. So, grab a ticket while the tickets are still available, and come hang out with us. May, 19th and 20th in Chicago, Illinois. All right?

All right. So let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So Jared Gold now today, owns a company called Website By Tonight. He started out building out custom websites and then shifted over time to really having a more of a wonder bread factory kind of an agency and I wanted to explore with him how he took that journey and some lessons that he’s learned along the way.

Because I think it’ll be helpful for you as you think about are there a subset of products and services that you do inside your agency that you could productize or standardize, or do you want to do that to your entire agency. And there’s different schools of thought about that. And we’ll get into all of that in a minute. So let’s jump into the conversation.

So without further ado, Jared, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Jared Gold:

Thanks so much for having me.

Drew McLellan:

So give everybody a little sense of your background. As I said in the introduction, what we’re really going to focus on in our conversation, is this idea of for a business or an industry that is all about creating custom everything for everyone, that sound agencies have found great success in productizing some of the things that they do. And I know that that’s an area of expertize that you have. So tell us a little bit about how you came to have that expertize.

Jared Gold:

Sure. I mean I guess I would have to unofficially plug Brian Castle, if you know of him.

Drew McLellan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup.

Jared Gold:

So, I think I was aware of this concept. I didn’t necessarily know if it was called productizing, but I’ve read plenty of business books about creating repeatable systems. And I knew that I needed something like that. I was unsure of what that looked like, or how that was going to happen. And then I decided to take Brian’s Productize course and it was super helpful and he also paired us into a small master mind group. He does that for people that go through the course. And so I think that combination of both seeing step by step ways to actually productize things in different templates from the course, combined with having this master mind sort of accountability group, if you will, really lit the spark there.

And so I’ve just continued to implement it in my own business and read up on it and that’s how I’ve come to fully drink the Koolaid so to speak.

Drew McLellan:

Well I know that you, through your business you work with a lot of agencies. Are you seeing agencies start to kick this idea around a little bit more perhaps than you have in the past?

Jared Gold:

Yeah, it’s slowly making its way into … you know Lexicon. I would say still the normal agency will have their areas of expertise, some will still say they’re a full service agency, which is very vague.

Drew McLellan:

A full service integrated marketing agency. That’s what they say.

Jared Gold:

Right. And I don’t even know what that means. I think it sounds like you don’t know what that means either.

Drew McLellan:

I hear it every day-

Jared Gold:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

… but, right.

Jared Gold:

Doesn’t mean anything. But I am slowly seeing that shift from … even if they have custom services, they’re realizing that they either could have a productized off shoot, or they’re moving towards, “Hey listen, we’d love to work with you, but these are our areas of expertise and this is our specific process.” As opposed to just necessarily closing the deal because they can and then they’re like, “Oh crap, I don’t know how to consistently do this. We don’t have a specific process, we’re just going to fly by the seat of our pants.”

But slowly, but surely, agencies are catching on.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think for many agencies it’s a, “Yes, we absolutely can do that.” And then you go back to the office and go, “Crap, how do we do that?” Right?

Jared Gold:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, especially with things changing as quickly as they are now. I think back in the day, when I started in my career, it was easy to make commitments like that to clients because the deliverables weren’t that varied, the technology was much simpler. But in today’s world everything has gotten so much more complicated that promising a client that you can create something … a virtual reality to all, or do something with augmented reality for a trade ship, all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh crap, that’s a big commitment.”

Jared Gold:

Right. Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So when you think about, if people are listening and they’re saying, “You know what, you’re right, the …” … Part of the challenge I think with agency life is that financially there’s a lot of ebbs and flows that, especially as agencies become more project driven as opposed to agency of record where they have a consistent retainer, the work flows when it flows. You don’t always know where it’s coming from, who it’s coming from. And so there is this uneven and sometimes uncomfortable ebb and flow of money in and out of an agency.

And so I think one of the reason why productizing is so appealing, and you and I were talking about this before we hit the record button, is this idea of having a second stream of income that is more consistent and reliable and that you know you can deliver against morning, noon and night because you know exactly what it is, and excercise what it takes to make the client happy, is an appealing alternative for many agency owners.

Jared Gold:

Yeah, absolutely. Would you like me to dive into for example, why it’s easier sales wise?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Let’s do that.

Jared Gold:

So previously for a while I was doing more customized Squarespace sites, and I got pretty good at doing that and selling that and everything because that’s a niche product. There’s a relative fair ceiling for what you can charge for a customized Squarespace site for the most part, and so that’s pretty boxed in.

But essentially it was still kind of this, I’m sure a lot of agencies can relate, it’s kind of an arbitrary dance of what the … It’s like, “Oh, what do I think this person can pay? Maybe I would charge this client this amount and this client this amount for the exact same work, but I think I can get a little more money, et cetera.” Right? That’s the standard. So it’s kind of a weird dance and you’re kind of going on market rate and other people set that, et cetera. And you just continue have to work the sale because there’re more variables and it gets more complicated with charging for this, charging for that, what about this scope, et cetera.

And what I really noticed making the shift to a productized offering, is that this is a set scope, this is the rate, or rate options and this is exactly what you get and there’s no real wiggle room. There’s no negotiation. I don’t do discounts. I think discounts are a bad idea. And this is generally the time frame it takes, and here’s what expected of you and it’s more of a binary answers. It’s less of a dance, a balance of making things work and puling and pushing different levers and making you be a good sales person. And more so just like, “This is exactly the problem we solve, for whom we solve it and the cost and scope of solving it, would you like to move forward?”

So it just automates, it makes anyone being able to sell it, much easier. And also because you know the exact price and scope and everything, and who your exact market is, it just makes it so much easier to sell. Right? There’s not all these variable you have to think about in the back of your mind.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think the other part of that too is that, one of the things that kills agencies, is scope creep. So every time you’re creating a custom product, or offering for a client, you’re creating a custom scope of work or project authorization. And most agencies are bad at that. They don’t put enough detail in. They don’t have the right templates, and so they end up creating this vague document that allows clients to ask for a bunch of stuff that the agency doesn’t really have good footing to say no.

And I think one of the advantages of a productized side of the business is, as say, it’s a very clearly defined, here’s exactly what you get. And if you don’t get that document right the first time, if you’re going to sell it 10 more times, every time you sell that exact same thing, you’re improving the documents and so what you’re doing is you’re reducing the ability for a client to ask for things that are out of scope and for your AEs to give away things that are out of scope.

So that also, I suspect means, that the profit margin on productized services, is healthier because you have less margin for error.

Jared Gold:

Yeah, I would definitely say that and I think … so not only is it easier to sell, but it’s just so much more predictable. So like what you’re saying is, you eluded to it before was kind of the feast or famine mindset. You know you’re selling these great custom projects, you close a big deal and then you’re like, “Oh, I’m rich.” And then you realize, “Oh, I’m too busy to work on all these strange custom things and reinvent the wheel every time. I can’t go out and sell and work these complex deals.” So you’re kind of always in this feast or famine cycle.

And I think most people that have been in this industry are familiar with it. Myself included, I’m sure you’ve gone through it.

Drew McLellan:

Yup.

Jared Gold:

And so the thing about, not only is this easier to sell, but it’s so much easier to just deliver, passing it, teeing it up and passing it to your team to execute and you just maybe gently check in here and there. But you can keep actually growing the business. Working on the business as a unit instead being in the day to day.

And just in general, the profit margins are so much more predictable because you know, “Hey listen, I’m going to pay these people roughly …” you have the unit of economics figured out. So, “Hey, I know to deliver this scope, I have to pay out this amount.” And therefore, it just makes it so much easier to work backwards and to … hitting the numbers you need to hit. And just making it super transparent.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the challenges for agencies is … Well, I think a couple things. Number one, I think part of the reason why we got into the agency space is that we love doing the custom stuff. We love doing the creative stuff and so for some agencies, it’s difficult. I did a podcast, that I mentioned in the intro where I talk about, do you want to be a wonder bread factory, or do you want to be an artisanal bakery, right?

And I think a lot of agency people want to be the artisanal baker, but now you’re doing very custom things. There’s a lot more cost in making that as opposed to cranking out the wonder break. So part of it I think is a mental shift. But I think the other part of it is, and I’m curious how you got to this point, of what do I productize? What part of my business can I make in sort of this uniform factory way, as opposed to custom building it every time?

So what’s the thought process? So let’s say somebody listening says, “Yes, I would like a more reliable income stream. Yes, I am willing to figure out how to productize some aspects of my business so that I can have that consistency that my custom side of the business lacks.” What’s the step of figuring out what it is that you actually productize?

Jared Gold:

That’s a great question, I think the way I would start thinking is just, firstly I’m assuming most agency owners are always looking for additional revenue streams? Right? So they’re thinking, “Okay, I know I need an additional revenue stream to balance out this inevitable feast or famine [inaudible 00:16:13] of these big custom projects. So I know that. So I should probably offer a new service.” And then it goes to your point of, okay, well what service do I offer? What do I productize?

And so I think the way I would start looking at it, would be firstly, what are the leads that have been coming in, or that I’ve come across that are warm and I’ve turned away? And so that’s really where I got from, from my own experience, landing on Website by Tonight for my initial agency.

So for example, I would get all these leads, they were warm leads, they were probably going to be easy clients to work with. And they were all these really small websites. They were usually solo practitioners, they perhaps had a budget of like $1,000 or $1,500. And usually at that time … I was really looking for projects in maybe the three to 7k range, and so I think a lot people, a lot of agencies, kind of in the back of their head are like, “I’m too good for this lead. Whatever.” Right? And say, “I’m sorry I can’t help you.”

Drew McLellan:

I can’t make money, I’m going to lose money on a project that small, or … again, because of scope creep and other things, right?

Jared Gold:

Yeah. Like you want to sell someone this … You want to use your full creative and technical abilities, and it’s just overkill for this small lead. Right? Like you know you could help them, but yeah, you would just lose money on it.

And so before I would turn them away, and then I actually had a friend of mine, and I’m sure you’ve had a lot of friends come to you when they know that you’re in this industry and say, “Oh, you do websites, I need a website.” And it’s too annoying to have that conversation [inaudible 00:17:46],” but anyway, I’m just like, “Sure, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you answer some of these questions here.” I just whipped up a Google doc, say, “Hey, fill this out, answers some of these questions, add your content, I’ll just come over, we’ll do it person.” Right?

And it was really easy for me to help this guy and launch his website in a few hours. I didn’t think it was hard at all. This is really elementary, but to him, it was a huge problem I was solving. And so I realized that … you know a light bulb went off in my head, where I was thinking, perhaps I could charge for this as another revenue stream to even out these bigger projects.

And so, when I would come across these smaller leads, that were already … they would not be a fit for my normal offering of the three to 7k, multiple rounds, revisions, all of that, that’s just not good for them. Right? And so I just would say, “Hey, you know what? I actually have this new offering I’m piloting, here’s the layout, do you want to give it a shot?” And they would be ecstatic. That they had this offering because they were a previously underserved market.

Solo practitioners, independent consultant, they don’t really have places to go to get a nice website done. It’s more like DIY or roll the dice on the Upwork. And neither that great unless you’re tech savvy and you can build it yourself, then that’s great.

So essentially I … and then it just went from there. So I realized these are these leads that I’m turning away. They just need a simplified version of my expertize. I know that they’re motivated and they’re ready to buy now. They’re not going to be a pain, and because they’re motivated, they’re already going to do some of this legwork up front because they know that they’re getting and expert at a really reasonable rate compared to what other people are quoting them.

So I think that’s the way I would approach it. Just, what leads are you already getting? And what legwork could they do upfront so that you and your team can just execute and not have to deal with the white glove, hand holding what have you that a lot of the agencies have to go through. Which is really exhausting. No one like to do that. Ushering along that process. So it’s really about making sure the … getting the clients to get their ducks in a row and just sending it right off to you to T it up to make it easy.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think the other part that made that successful for you, is that you had very defined boundaries of what they could and could not have. So part of that exploration is, where are all the places this could go off the rails and how do I build a firm wall around that so that they understand, “Look, you can strawberry, vanilla or chocolate. We don’t do Oreo, we don’t do mudslide, we don’t …” it’s like, those are your three choices. If you don’t want one of those three, then, no.

So you had to go through the process I’m sure of defining the flavors that they could have. And what they weren’t allow to have for your defined price, right?

Jared Gold:

Exactly. And to be honest these people were underserved so they were extremely grateful to even have the strawberry, vanilla or chocolate. They didn’t need the mudslide. That would just be overkill or not even appealing to them. I think a lot of agencies just think, “Oh, I can do this, so of course the client must want it. They must want the most custom, fancy solution.” But a lot of clients prefer to value, “Hey, is this a good use of my budget?” And then also, “Is this effective for my time?” They may not want the super custom thing because it takes so much involvement on their part that it’s just not worth it.

So I think that’s another to think about, is just because you can throw in the kitchen sink, doesn’t mean the client actually wants that. And that could actually just screw up the deal for you anyway, or the engagement. So definitely the boundaries are extremely important. And I think the thing to note is that those … for agencies that are scared that, “Oh, won’t this smaller offering carbolize my business? Why wouldn’t someone buy the bigger package?”

The thing is, is those are two entirely different customer segments. The type of client that would want the bespoke, white glove, bells and whistle service, is not going to be interested in your super simple budget, still good, but it’s not the super hand holding they’re looking for in customization. Those are two entirely different customer sets. So it’s not going to cheapen your brand to offer one or the other. You can offer the cheaper one … You can pick and choose to whom you offer what.

But those are two entirely different customers segments. So you’re not going to carbolize your business. It’s not a real fear. I just wanted to throw that in as well because I think that comes up a lot.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. So we have an agency in one of our networks that does a lot of web dev work, kind of like you do. And what they did, was they in essence, built a couple templates and then they did exactly what you did, which was … until we have all of this information, we don’t start. When we get all of the information, all of the assets, all the copy, all the photographs, all the fill in the blanks, whatever, 48 hours later, you’ll have a finished website.

But they looked at it as, an opportunity to train some of their younger employees. So it wasn’t just an additional revenue stream, but for them it was also a way to create a nimble workforce that was used to … What makes our work difficult, is when we don’t have all the parts and pieces. So if you have all the parts and pieces, then in their mind it was easier for some of their younger employees, too cut their teeth on some of these smaller, simpler websites. So it was also a training tool for them.

Jared Gold:

That’s a great idea. Yeah, that’s a really, really good idea because chances are they’ve found talented people, but obviously they still want to make sure that they’re up to snuff, and so this is a perfect way to just confirm that. I think that’s a genius idea. I really like that.

Drew McLellan:

So I want to take a quick break, but when we come back, I want to talk about, from your perspective, how do these two offerings live in the same house if you will? Or, have you seen people build separate companies that offer … So you’ve got an umbrella company that is the agency, and they have sort of a custom wing and they have sort of a wonder bread factory wing. So I want to ask you a little bit more about both of those things when we come, but first let’s take a quick break.

Hey there, sorry for the interruption, but I wanted to just remind you that we’ve got a killer workshop coming up in March. If you want to join one of our peer groups, one of our live agency peer groups, this is one of the two workshops that serves as a prerequisite for that. So if you’re interested in a peer group, this would be a good time to go to this workshop. So this workshop is called the Run Your Agency for Growth and Profit, and it is in March, 24th and 25th, in Chicago. And at this workshop, we’re going to talk about all of the back end parts oof running the business of your business. Making your agency more profitable, run more seamlessly that operation go better, that bus dev is better. That you are growing and nurturing your team in a stronger way. That you have all the systems and processes you need.

So what we’ve done is we’ve collected all of the best practices of the agencies that we serve and the agencies that we work with, on whether they’re in a peer group or we just see them at workshops, and just our 25 years of experience, and we’re going to teach you all of those best practices so that you can indeed grow your business and run it more profitably.

So we would love to see you at that workshop in March. You can sign up by going to the AMI website, agencymanagementinstitute.com and under the training tab, you will see a workshop list and you can sign up there. So we’d love to have you. Let’s get back to the show.

All right, we are back and we’re chatting with Jared about productzing some of the offerings that you make in your agency, and it’s what he’s done in his agency. So, before the break I was asking about you started the conversation in my head, you said, a lot of agencies worry about that this will cannibalize their customers and everyone will opt for the cheap version versus the custom version.

And I think you’re exactly right, I think the customers are very different. So, I like your idea of could you create a product that would allow you to not say no when somebody comes knocking on your door, that doesn’t have the budget, or the appetite, or the need really for what you do day in and day out for your customer clients, but maybe needs something that is a little more straight forward, or down and dirty on the more product side.

So for you, was it your intention that that would be this side hustle thing that you did, that allowed you to keep doing your custom websites, and then when people came and they wanted … they had a smaller budget or a faster turnaround time, or whatever, you could offer them the productized service. So was it just for when people came knocking on the door, or did you then decide to go out and seek people with these smaller budgets and this more defined need?

Jared Gold:

Yeah, so I think it goes in phases. So, I would say, these leads were already coming to me and so I would just say, “Hey …” I would get an inbound lead form for example, or an inbound referral and I would say in full transparency … Well, okay, the first thing is I would schedule an intro call with them, right? Just a quick discovery call. And then I would hear what they’re looking for and then I’d ask them their budget if they had it, or maybe they were like, “I don’t know what this even goes for, et cetera.”

And I would just be upfront and say, “Hey, to be honest, our usual website is this kind of price. And I actually am piloting a new service that I think caters to someone like yourself, that is more cost effective and smaller in scope that I think you’re going to be much happier with overall, if you want to give it a try?”

And then I would lay that out for them and if it’s a good fit for what they’re looking for in terms of the budget, the scope, timing, whatever, then they’re going to be really, really ectatic. I mean that’s going to be a great hole to check in general. If they say, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and they don’t sound very excited about it, well then it’s not the right market, or whatever. It doesn’t even mean that the service offering is a failure.

But I would soft test it on those discovery calls. And then see if those deals close and how they execute. And then the next phase would be, let’s say that’s going well and you want to create a stand alone offering. I think I would consider … Let’s say things are going well for a while. I would consider … you have a few options. You could create a stand alone website on a different URL that can maybe say, “Hey, this is done by this team,” maybe it’s totally incognito and no one knows either way. Or you could build a separate page on your own website.

I actually like the idea of building a new website on a new domain because that way it doesn’t confuse anyone. And you can fully test it out and say, “Hey listen, in full transparency, I don’t think you’re necessarily a fit for our full custom agency process, but we’ve been having some success with people like yourself delivering on this service.” And you stem that link and talk about it and see what they think. And then you can go from there.

I think they’re two stand alone businesses and I think it makes the most sense to avoid confusion especially because you’re going after two different customer segments, that they just live on two separate websites. So would be how I’d phase it.

Drew McLellan:

So do you envision, and I’ve certainly seen some agencies that have done this, where the pendulum has swung all the way around and what they’re finding is the productized options are so much more predictable, profitable, consistent. As you were saying earlier in our conversation, the sales cycle is much shorter because it’s sort of a, “Look, here’s the menu, pick something or don’t eat here.” That they actually abandoned their custom side of their business and went whole hog in to the productized side.

Jared Gold:

Oh yeah. And that’s what I did, right? I enjoyed doing the custom work, but I think … Have you read … what is it? The E Myth?

Drew McLellan:

Yup.

Jared Gold:

And have you read Built to Sell?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Jared Gold:

So yeah, we both love those books and I think those say it perfectly. Is when you’re an agency and you’re doing the work yourself, you are the practitioner. And there’s nothing wrong with being the practitioner, that’s great. But I think it was The E Myth that says, there’s a practitioner … There’s three roles. There’s the practitioner, the manger and the business owner. And ultimately, I wanted to elevate myself to the business owner. And so the way to do that was to, instead of being in the day to day and doing the work myself, I had to promote myself to being the business owner and bring in other people to execute the work.

I was making good money doing the custom websites myself, but I am my own bottleneck and it’s hard to bring on good talented people. So it would be like a, let’s say a freelance capacity and let’s say they’re not available, but I closed this project, now what do I do? I’m in this mad dash. Or I do the work myself. So I looked at the scalability and where I wanted to be with being the one man custom Squarespace shop, and also the competitive nature of that. Because there’s lots of good custom square space designers offering possibly better work at the sames rates or maybe a little less.

So I either better be getting better at my craft, and really becoming like a super awesome front end person or I’m going to have a real problem, or I’m going to have to learn new services or whatever to offer. So essentially I realized to actually grow, it made the most sense because I wanted to grow a real business, to actually just only do the productized offering. And that’s been my full focus. And that really … Anyone who evaluates businesses and values them and things like that, they’re going to find way much more value in the productized business than the custom services business because there you’re building a real asset. And so there’s just so much more inherent value in building that machine, and it’s much easier to grow that machine. And then if you ever want to exit, you can actually sell it as a whole business unit that someone else can pick up and operate.

so you’re not only building a machine, but that machine has inherent value that you can then sell if you ever want to do something else.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s interesting because as I hang out with agency owners, one of their biggest complaints is that they can’t get out of the day to day. And part of that is because what they sell is so sophisticated that they’re the only person, even in a 50 person agency, maybe that can drive the strategy meeting with that level of client, that’s going to result in a cascading lists of projects and work. And so I think it’s a heart-head thing sometimes for agency owners, that they love the challenge of the custom work, they love the getting their hands dirty, but they’re also frustrated that they can’t get out of the day-to-day to elevate … to Michael Gerber’s language to, even the manager, let alone the business owner.

And so, one of the things to consider and you obviously were at this crux, one of the things to consider is, do I love doing the work? Do I really want to create a career around doing the work? Because if so, that’s a fine choice. And I’m going to keep doing these complicated, sophisticated custom projects. Or do I want to create a sustainable business where I could exit some day and the business would be able to go on successfully without me, which was sort of the point of Built to Sell, right? Was the idea of rather than the owner being in all of the client meetings and driving everything, he wanted to offer things through his agency, that allowed him to step out of the day-to-day.

And so I think it’s a very personal choice, but I think it’s one of the places where agency owners get caught up, is that they look at the productized work as less interesting, less challenging, less fun to do because it’s systemized and it’s wrote. The same thing over and over. So how did you battle that beast and figure out which side of it you wanted to land on?

Jared Gold:

Yeah, and I think you articulated that crux really well, is, do I want to create a job for myself, which there’s nothing wrong with, especially if you have a very valuable skill, that can be very lucrative as well. But it’s, do I want to continue honing this craft and doing the work itself? Or do I want to be a business owner and build the machine? And I think you have to pick one or the other. I don’t think you can be a business owner and then just jump into client work whenever you want because you’re not going to have the mental bandwidth or time to grow the business. And there’s going to be confusion on your team if it’s like, “Oh we got to wait for the CEO to jump in and he or she is on sales meetings,” or whatever.

So, when I asked myself that question, as much as I liked doing the custom Squarespace sites, and I think I got to a point where I was pretty good at it, I knew that wasn’t my calling. I knew I didn’t really want to double down and commit to learning that for years and years. I knew I wanted to be the business owner, be the entrepreneur. And so that’s what I committed to and I’m really happy with it. And so I think that’s important to think about it, is that path.

And then even though the everyday client work, could be a little bit mundane, I understand that, I think a lot of agency owners and creatives and all of that, they’re ultimately, they just like solving problems. And so instead of going from the problem of individually solving that one thing for that one client that you’re used to, you’re solving a different problem set. How do I actually build this machine into a real business? How do I craft and refine these processes and set up software tools to allow efficient execution decision delegate it? And SOPs and document what’s in my head? And getting it out and then bringing people in. And all that.

So it’s just a new kind of problem solving. But I think it’s actually, not only is it less stressful, but I think it’s more fun in a lot of ways. I understand if you’re a creative and you love moving pixels or executive effective digital campaigns or whatever, but I think it’s still really cool to work that side of your brain of thinking, Hey, I’m going from being in the day-to-day, to actually being a business owner, what do I have to learn to do this effectively and how do I put the pieces of the puzzle together. So I think it’s just solving a different creative challenge that is a lot fun and so I’ve really enjoyed it and I feel way less stressed. And I also feel less burnt out. Because you can only do so much artistic creative work or whatever. You only have so much bandwidth. So it’s really easy to get burned out and not do your best work. Whereas, when you’re the business owner, I think you have a little bit more flexibility. It’s less trading time for money.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, and again, I think it is about I want to run the business, as opposed to, I want to do the work that my business does. And I think at the end of the day, that’s the decision that every business owner, every agency owner needs to make, is, where do I … Because, you own the shop. So you have the privilege of making that decision. And I’m not suggesting that one decision is better than the other, I think it’s a very personal decision that you have to make and as long as you’ve made it with intension and with purpose, then I think you’ve made the right decision regardless of where you land.

But I think most people who own agencies, they started them sort of accidentally, and they’ve just sort of been in the wheel running as fast as they can as their agency grows, and as they add people and clients. And most agency owners probably haven’t stopped to have the conversation with themselves that you had, which is, “Okay, I need to choose one side or the other. Which one do I choose?” That to me is the important part of this conversation is, that you actually ask yourself that question and decide what kind of a business you want to build.

Jared Gold:

Yeah, that’s a great point is … And I felt that way too, is being that hamster in that wheel of just, hey, I just need to execute on this project or close this deal. I’m not going to think about my business as a separate thing. This is the work I’m doing and this is me earning and income. Right? And I like how you’re thinking … I think it’s important that everyone asks themselves that question, and if you are the one doing the work, that’s okay. A concept I’ve really been fond of lately, and I’m going to keep sticking with it, is the zone of genius, if you’ve heard of that? Your zone of genius.

And so some people, their zone of genius pushing pixels or digital strategy or whatever. And other people are a little more like, “Hey, I like to build system and hire and close deals and things like that.” And so I think, what is this work that feels so fun to me, and I’m energized to do it? And it feels like I’m meant to do it, it’s not a drain. This is the work I should be spending the majority of my time on.

And let’s say for the next three years or something. Not just like, “Oh yeah, I enjoy client work right now, let’s see where I’m at in three months.” And so I think just knowing where your zone of genius is, and really what you do best will allow you to see, “Hey, I want to keep doing the client work, and I’ll bring on other people to actually run the business as a unit, or lead the sales, or whatever.” Versus, “You know what? I like doing the creative work, but it’s a struggle for me and I think I would be better running the ship because I also have the subject matter expertize. It’s time to really reposition things.”

Drew McLellan:

So it sounds like your mind is sort of systematic. So it was easy for you to productize what you used to customize. Right? But that also sounds like you are someone who seeks out resources to continue to learn. So you mentioned Brian Castle’s course and you’ve mentioned a couple other books. Are there other things that were really useful tools for you as you moved from a custom business to this productized model?

Jared Gold:

That’s a good question. So obviously the course and like we talked about. Built to Sell and E Myth, I recommend those books to everyone.

Drew McLellan:

Me too.

Jared Gold:

Whether you’re a services business or you’re looking to start a technology company or whatever, just being aware that a business is its own entity. And it’s not just like the key man or woman, because then that’s not a real business. You’re just like a freelancer in a job. And there’s perceived freedom. I think a lot of people now, not to go on [inaudible 00:41:58], but I think a lot of people now are like, “Oh, I want to work for myself.” But they don’t realize that, let’s say you take a freelancing position, well not only do you have to do the work, but you have to go sell the work, and you still answer to your clients. It’s not like you don’t answer to anyone. Or customers.

But yeah, back on the subject, sorry. I would say those two books and the course are really good. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else. I know there’s a productized startups Facebook group. I don’t know the owner but he seems to be getting a lot of traction with it and there’s some really good questions in there.

I would say in general it’s really important to discuss the concepts with other people in general. So like Brian Castle’s Mastermind or his Facebook group. I think that’s really important. And when you’re talking to other people about these concepts, you realize what it means to be a business owner and an entrepreneur. As opposed to thinking like a practitioner. Hey, does this look good? Or, what do you think of these traffic metrics from this campaign? Versus, Hey, how do I hire here? How do I evaluate performance here? How do I generate more sales here? It’s just a different way of thinking. But those would be the resources I’d say.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think that’s one of the things, you know we have these peer groups of agency owners and I think that’s one of the great functions of those peer groups. So it is like a Mastermind group, but they’re physically together-

Jared Gold:

Oh okay.

Drew McLellan:

… twice a year for two and a half days and we have virtual ones where they’re together every month. But the idea of surrounding yourself by other people that elevate your thinking to looking more down on the business, and working on the business again, Michael Gerber’s phrase, out of E Myth, as opposed to working in the business. So I think you’re right, wherever you can find like-minded people who will force you to think bigger, and ask hard questions, and are a good sounding board for you, a safe place for you to vet some of this stuff, is a great way to start.

Jared Gold:

Yeah, I would say the Mastermind group I’m in, it’s me and three other people. We all took Brian’s course. And that’s been probably the single biggest thing, is if everyone else is … everyone kind of pushes each other and so if one person is slacking, well you kind of like the real idiot if you’re not following through on your commitments, or hey, why is your business not growing? It’s not that it has to grow exponentially, but the point is, there’s kind of this built in accountability when you’re talking to these other people with these ideas.

And you don’t want to be the person to let them down because they’re rooting for you. And I’m sure it’s the same case in your agency groups that you have. And there’s kind of that-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, the accountability is huge. Absolutely.

Jared Gold:

Yeah, even if it’s not overt. It’s probably unsaid accountability. But it’s-

Drew McLellan:

Hm, sometimes it’s pretty overt.

Jared Gold:

Oh okay.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Jared Gold:

Right. And so it’s more of, humans are social creatures and we want to belong with our peers and therefore we should all elevate ourselves together so to speak.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I agree. So, you’ve now been through this experiment, you’re on the other side. You’ve really walked away from the custom side of your business to this more productized model. As you look back, are there things, mistakes you’ve made, choices you made that you think, “Oh, that’s something that other people could avoid if they knew about it. I wish I had known not to do, or I had know to do certain things,” that you tripped over in the process?

Jared Gold:

Sure, I mean it’s maybe like the standard agency cliches or be really specific about who your customer is and what exactly you do. Like we talked about at the beginning of the show, don’t just say, “Hey, I’m an agency. Oh sure, I can do that, I can figure that out, whatever.” Because then you’re not memorable to anyone. It’s just so vague, you don’t appeal to anyone. And you’re just always scrambling. So I think being clear about who your ideal customer is and who you serve et cetera.

I would say another thing also is in the agency business, I have not had any luck with local networking groups. I would say as much as I like the people when going to these network events, and met a lot of great people, they’re not good sources … I mean maybe if you’re in a little bit more of an obvious business like you’re a mortgage broker or an insurance agent, or realtor. Then those networking groups are fantastic. You should definitely invest in them. But I really wasted a lot of time and some money as … though I loved meeting the people, they were just a terrible ROI thing.

Drew McLellan:

I think that’s true for most agency owners. Unless you’re a local agency, that really services people inside a geography-

Jared Gold:

That’s a great point, yeah. That’s a good point. And then also I would say, I wish … I mean I read a lot of business books early on, which is good, but I really wish I’d committed to following the productization, The E Myth, the Built to Sell mentality and just thinking about what prospective customers am I drawing? I wish I’d made the switch sooner. But it doesn’t eat me up at night. I can still sleep soundly, it’s not too bad. And I wish I was more, like you said, intentional about, “Hey, in my heart, am I an expert designer, or am I an aspiring business owner?” Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I would think one of the other things that helps you sleep better at night is … one of the other advantages which we haven’t talked about, about productizing is, typically you have more clients and a smaller price point. So no one client loss puts you at huge risk.

Jared Gold:

Yeah. I think that’s a great point. The way my business is set up now, there is a little bit more risk than if it was just one offs because now I focus on the agency white label partnerships and that’s really the direction of Website by Tonight, and I just brought on a sales person and I have a marketing person, et cetera. So really committing to that. But in general, yes, there’s really a lot less of that key client … I think it was in Built to Sell, where the allegory was firing the client that was 80% of their revenue. And that’s probably not that abnormal for agencies to have that one client that’s 50% or more of revenue.

What if they bring that function in house, or choose someone else, or whatever?

Drew McLellan:

Many agencies are in a precarious position because of a gorilla client for sure.

Jared Gold:

Yeah, and so it’s like these deals, yeah, they’re smaller and yeah, you need more volume, but they close so much faster. I accept payment … We only accept payment in full upfront because … II mean these are smaller projects. 8.99 or 12.99 flat. But it’s like, you are never chases down invoices. I give every project the go-ahead even though I have a design team. I don’t do the work myself, but I personally confirm that every payment is in and all the materials look good. And then I pass it on.

And so just having all that cash upfront, cash flow as you know is just huge in a business. And can mean the difference between life or death. And so the deals closing faster, the cash flow never being an issue, and you’re not relying on a single client, you just have so much of a healthier business. If something goes south, you’ll be okay. And also with … I think there’s a lot less risk, let’s say if you have to abandon the project. That’s never happened with us because our projects are pretty straight forward. But let’s say you ever have to abandon a project, you’re probably not losing much money at all. So you can just say, “Hey, listen this isn’t working out,” and part ways, and still be okay.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think the stabilizers of multiple clients and no client being a big piece of your business certainly would contribute to the ability to sleep at night and the lack of risk. Which again, if you want to sell your business, is a factor that a buyer is going to look at is, if you have a big gorilla client, the value of your business is automatically reduced because of that.

Jared Gold:

Yeah. Great point.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, lots of good reasons to think about this. Jared, if folks want to learn more about you, you mentioned an agency white label product that you have, how do folks track you down and learn more about the work that you’re doing?

Jared Gold:

Yeah, absolutely. So they just go to websitebytonight.com all phonetic. And then just click on the four agency’s tab and that’s our white label program. Do you mind if I just give a tiny blurb about it, is that okay?

Drew McLellan:

Sure yeah, go ahead.

Jared Gold:

So, essentially the way it works is, we want to work with small or mid size agencies that, chances are you have the need, or clients are going to ask you for really simple websites, and it’s just not a good use of your time to do it in-house or it’s too expensive to bring on an outside developer or whatever, so you can just spin up a project with us anytime. So you just fill out our project brief and content document, and submit the payment and submit that through our new project form.

We’ll review everything, match you with one of our design team members, and you’ll build the website over two separate design session. And a lot of that is with screen share, or at least part of it. So it’s a super collaborative process. And then in between the sessions, you can have a draft link of the website to consolidate all revisions and feedback et cetera with your client.

We finish that up for you in the second design session, launch on your domain, and you’re on your way. And Squarespace is really the perfect platform for these really simple websites that just need … they don’t have super complex requirements and they just need to be spun up and you don’t have to keep installing maintenance or plug-in … doing maintenance or plug-in installation or what have you.

So it’s just a really efficient way to get your simple client website’s done for 8.99 or 12.99 flat. And so, websitebytonight.com and that for agency’s tab is where you can learn more.

And then there is one thing that you may like Drew, that I just launched and I’m not sure if I told you about it yet, is turnkeyagencies.com, and so it’s a directory of the best productized agency services that I’ve seen. So it’s all different kinds of stuff. And so that’s a project from Website By Tonight if people want to check that out.

And then I also just started this unofficial, free agency to agency Slack referral community. So, if you go to turnkeyagencies.com there’s a quick form to request to join that.

And then it’s structured in a way where there’s … different channels are for different kinds of projects and you just copy the project template and fill it out. And ideally there’s other good agencies that can reply, that either partner with you, or can take on the project you’re referring, or whatever.

So those are the other two things we have cooking. Those kind of side projects on Website By Tonight.

Drew McLellan:

Cool. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. Thanks for helping us explore this idea of taking a very custom business and perhaps looking at from a different perspective and maybe simplifying it, and making it a little more predictable because those are not two words that we often use when it comes to agencies. So I appreciate your time and sharing your expertise and your experience.

Jared Gold:

Yeah, thanks so much for having me on, it was fun.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks so much for being with us. Couple of quick reminders. Remember that we do drawings for podcast listeners. So if you go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway, all you have to do is fill out a simple form.

And a lot of our guests are authors or have courses or do things like that and they give us these items to give away to you. And so every week we do a drawing for someone to win something and we’re sending books and stuff all over the world. So if you’ve signed up, you don’t ever have to sign up again, so you can completely disregard what I just said, but if you haven’t done it yet, if you’re a new listener, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway and leave us your name and e-mail address and if you win, we will send you a book or an item donated by one of our guests.

We also sometimes give away some of our courses and some of the other things that we produce as well. Big shout out to our friends at white label IQ, thank you so much for being our presenting sponsor of the podcast. If you guys are looking for someone to do white label PPC design web dev, they have some great options for you. Head over to whitelabeliq.com/ami and you will see that they have a special deal, just for you as a podcast listener.

I will be back next week with another guest. In the meantime you can always track me down at the website. Always happy to chat by e-mail. Otherwise, I will talk to you next week. Thanks for listening.

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages and all the other ways we serve agencies, just like yours. Thanks for listening.