Episode 173

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Maybe things run smooth as silk at your agency. I know that’s what I hope for in mine. It’s more likely to happen on a Saturday or Sunday! One of the ways that we all try to evoke that sense of efficiency and calm is by creating processes that systemize and manage work flow.

Not that many agencies do this (if anything, we are system adverse, not system advocates) you can take it too far. There’s a fine line between creativity and process. But if things can run more smoothly and free you and your team up to do more interesting things like coming up with bigger, more valuable solutions for your clients, then the payoff is worth the challenge of getting it in place.

If you remember my solocast where we talked about being a wonder bread factory versus an artesian baker, that’s part of what I talked about. How much uniformity and what kinds of boundaries do you want to put around your business?

There’s no right or wrong answer – just a right or wrong answer for you.

That’s what I wanted to talk to Michael Koral about, because he’s lived it. Michael started out with a more traditional agency that was primarily a web dev shop with some ancillary services. Their work was very labor and people-intensive. He and his partners decided to make an interesting pivot. They decided to leverage the power of artificial intelligence, data and numbers around advertising on Facebook and Instagram – to get people the best results possible and now they run a very different kind of agency.

Michael is an operations guy, with some fantastic ideas on process and automation –he naturally knows how to get more done, more simply. His company, Needls, helps businesses advertise effectively on Facebook and Instagram, so I am going to pick his brain about what they’ve learned in that arena as well.



What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How the right processes and automation can help you scale your business
  • There are lots of right ways to do things
  • Why taking time to document and develop processes makes for a better agency
  • What to know about Facebook advertising post-Cambridge Analytica
  • Click vs. Reach – what you should optimize for
  • Why you NEED to optimize for mobile
  • Best ways to capture attention with video
  • Between Facebook and Instagram, where people are watching longer video content
  • Why you should put closed captioning on videos
  • How and why to track your ads

The Golden Nuggets:

“You can’t do everything yourself. If you want to scale your business, you have to start trusting people.” – @michael_needls Share on X “As long as you have a place to house all these processes, you can iterate on them. And if your team knows where to go and to follow the process, then it makes change a lot easier to manage.” – @michael_needls Share on X

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Ways to Contact Michael Koral:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast. Now, on our third year of brand new insights on how small to midsized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market, we’ll show you how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. With 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Excited to have you back with us today if this is a repeat event for you. Welcome to the show and to our learnings if this is new to you. Today’s topic is going to be really fascinating. Actually, we’re going to split our focus. Today’s guest has several different interesting topics that I can poke at. So, I’m going to try and do my best to get to all of them. So, when I think about the business today that we are all in, it’s very different from when I started in my career 30 years ago. So, back then, particularly around media, it was pretty straightforward. Television and radio and print and outdoor, those didn’t change that much. The rules didn’t change. How to be effective, using those channels didn’t change.

But today, with all of the digital channels, especially with Google and Facebook and some of the other big players constantly tweaking algorithms and changing the rules about what we can and can’t do, it’s a much more complicated world that we live in and that we’re buying and placing media for. So, my guest today is a guy named Michael Koral. Michael started out, like many of us did, with a more traditional agency. He started with basically a web dev shop. So, very labor intensive, very people intensive. And then he and his partners decided to make a really interesting shift.

That shift was they wanted to really leverage the power of artificial intelligence and data and numbers and find a way to calculate some of the variables, especially around Facebook and Instagram, in a much faster, more accurate way than we humans can do by leveraging, again, artificial intelligence. So, what they’ve done now is they’ve really shifted their agency to more of a media buying agency, specifically around Facebook and Instagram, but much of the work is done through artificial intelligence and through automation, rather than human beings making assumptions or calculations. They certainly have people behind the scenes doing a lot of other work, but much of the data crunching and decision making is being made in a very interesting new way.

So, I want to talk to Michael about everything from, “How do you make the decision to shift from a very labor intensive, people intensive delivery system to something that is more automated and less humanized, if you will?” And then I also want to pick his brain, because they spend millions of dollars on Facebook on a regular basis. So, they’re seeing trends and patterns and best practices that perhaps those of us that are not placing that kind of volume don’t get a chance to see. So, I want to ask them about some best practices, too. So, as you can imagine, I have a lot of questions and we don’t have much time to get to all of them. So, without further ado, let’s jump into the conversation.

All right. Let’s welcome Michael Koral to the show. Michael, welcome to Build a Better Agency. Thanks for joining us.

Michael Koral:

Thank you. Great to be here. Can’t wait to dive in.

Drew McLellan:

So, before we dig in, I did a little bit in the intro, but tell everybody the path that you went to to create what you call the first ever RoboAgency. Define that for us. Walk us through your career path of how you got there.

Michael Koral:

Sure. Well, I’ll define a RoboAgency after I go through the path. It’s been myself and my two co-founders, Jeremy and Justin. We’ve actually known each other since we were in grade school. We actually met at a summer camp out in Halifax, Nova Scotia when we were 14 years old. So, we’ve been friends for quite a while. Needls is actually our third or fourth business that we’re actually running together. The first couple one was a web development company called All You Can Eat Internet. So, just doing basic web development, ecommerce, things like that. The second one was WeSellYourSite.com, which was a full service web brokerage firm, selling high-end web businesses.

So, we had those two businesses from, I’d say, 2007 up to 2013, 2014, or so. We created Needls out of a need for those two businesses. We want to find a way to generate more leads for those two companies. We knew that Facebook at the time, they were just starting out with their ad platform. We want to be able to capture leads from Facebook for our own businesses. So, what we actually did was we created a little script on our Facebook pages that monitor conversations in real time that talk about needs for those businesses.

So, as an example, someone’s saying on Facebook that they need a new website developed or they’re just starting a new business, I need a website done. We would have that lead sent to us directly and then we’d reach out to them to actually close the deal. We closed hundreds of thousands of dollars of business through that method. So, we knew we had something there. After building that script, we turned the idea of finding leads on social media into a full advertising platform that is Needls that basically creates that, which is that RoboAgency. To describe what that Robo agency is, it’s what every typical agency would do, but all automated.

So, in a few simple questions, we’re able to create target and optimize ads on Facebook and Instagram using data science and machine learning. So, essentially, instead of having a business owner pay an agency a couple grand a month for the service or doing it themselves or using another platform that really is meant to automate their own knowledge, we do understand to target the people that really don’t know how to advertise properly on Facebook and giving them a tool to do that super simple. So, that’s what that RoboAgency is. It gives people a very easy way to create, target, and optimize ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, for those of you guys listening, if you are in one of our peer networks, if you are an AMI member in any way, then you know that you have access to what we call the AMI Marketplace, where companies like Needls put together special offers for our members. So, this is not just for direct clients. Your tool, I’m assuming since you’re in the Marketplace, is a tool that agencies can also use to automate a very labor intensive process that for many agencies, they struggle to charge enough money, because clients don’t perceive the value of how meticulously you have to go through all the data and set everything up in the campaigns.

So, in a lot of cases, I’m guessing that your clients are agencies who are using this to deliver better results with Facebook and Instagram ads at a fraction of the cost and most importantly at a fraction of the time investment.

Michael Koral:

Oh, absolutely. We have hundreds of different agencies that are leveraging Needls for their clients, right? The biggest challenge is that, like you’re saying, Facebook advertising is hard. Agencies that aren’t necessarily focused on Facebook ads, maybe it’s a web development agency, maybe it’s a design agency, things like that. They want to just add more value to their client base, but they just don’t know how to do Facebook ads well.

They can leverage our platform to automatically create these campaigns for their clients and increase the revenue per user, which is huge. There’s like white labeled reports, which are fantastic. So, you can just download a PDF report with their logo on it. It just makes the whole process much simpler. You don’t now have to charge $2,000, $3,000 a month for these clients. You can charge, let’s say, 500 bucks a month and still give them a ton of value.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, or you can charge them $2,000 and actually have margin, as opposed to this being a loss lead that you’re trying to get other work through.

Michael Koral:

Exactly. We actually have agencies doing $5,000 or $10,000 a month, because they’re offering more than just Facebook ads. They’re doing the design. They’re doing the creative. They’re just consulting. They have a phone call a week to just help these business owners and nurture them and just coach them throughout their business, because a lot of them need that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely. So, really what you went from is you went from a traditional agency model, where regardless of how you package that, you were selling time and material when you were building websites and things like that, and then you got thrown into the web and domain brokerage space. Now, you’re at this RoboAgency. What had to change in terms of how your business is structured?

Michael Koral:

Yeah. So, it’s actually funny. When we built those two other businesses, it was really just myself and my two co-founders. We didn’t have really any employees. It was just us managing it. We just used contractors to fulfill the work on the web development side. On the brokerage side, we were just the broker. So, we weren’t actually managing anybody in our own ways, right? When we moved over to the RoboAgency, it was really all about changing the mindset from the doing things yourself to actually getting processes done and creating processes that are repeatable and scalable, right?

So, it’s going from, “Okay, I have to do all this stuff myself” to “Let’s figure out the right processes and automate those. If we need human capital to do that, let’s fill those spots with the right people to do that job and oversee those processes,” right? So, it was more from thinking about, “What do I have to do today?” to “What can I do today to help automate and scale my agency?” With a RoboAgency, we’re able to do that. Everything that we do is very much so automated and process driven.

Drew McLellan:

Was that a challenging mind shift for you? Because for a lot of agency owners, they’re so caught up in the day to day, because really what you did was you moved from being a doer to a manager or a director. How did you make that mental shift? I think one of the things for many agency owners, they struggle with making that shift, with not serving the clients, with not doing as much client work, because then it feels like they’re not adding value to the company. They’re so used to defining their value by either billable hours or by being super busy doing stuff for clients that I think it’s a difficult change to make.

Michael Koral:

It was at the time, because previously, we want to have control over the whole process and actually do all those things ourselves. So, being able to take a step back and say, “Okay, I’m going to let technology and my team handle things that I used to handle.” You have to switch. We were able to document what we were doing and take what’s in our head, put it down on paper or on a Google Sheet or whoever you’re using for that to make sure that we can actually transfer that knowledge. So, you have to think about, “Okay, what can somebody else do that I was doing previously?” Maybe not 100% the way I was doing it, but even if it’s 95%, that’s still very, very good.

It allows you to help scale your business because you can’t do everything at an agency. You really can’t. You want to, but you really can’t. Especially if you want to scale, you have to start trusting people. The biggest thing is before, we didn’t need to trust anybody but ourselves and we trusted ourselves. Now, we’re really trusting technology and people.

So, the hardest things for us was finding the best people. That’s a whole other beast, going through interview processes and things like that, which it’s something that we really were thinking about doing. It actually worked out well. It took some time. We interviewed a bunch of different people. And then we went through that whole process, but we documented it. Now, we know how to interview people properly and know what to look for for the right roles.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s interesting what you said. I think many agencies owners struggle with, “I’m the only one who can do this” or “I’m the only one who can do that.” The translation of that often is no one else does it the same way that I do it. I think one of the aha moments that we have to all get to when we start delegating work and we realize that we can’t keep it on our plate is that there are lots of right ways to do it. Your way is certainly one of the right ways to do it, but you have to let go of the idea that everything has to be done the way you would do it. For some people, that’s an easier transition than others.

Michael Koral:

Yeah, absolutely. Initially, we really struggled with that. We knew how to do something well and we just weren’t sure if our team would do the same job. It takes training. It takes coaching, right? You do that all the time with customers. You coach them and train them on how to run their businesses. Depending on the agents that you have, you can do the same thing with your team. It may take a month or two months or three months to get them up to speed, but you’ll be really thanking yourself by going through that process, because then you’re going to have more time to find more clients versus actually being in the weeds with your clients.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think the word that that you’ve used several times, the idea of creating a process or a system around it. So, I think one of the challenges for agency folks is a lot of times, we do that through tribal knowledge transfer. I’m walking by you in the hallway and I say, “Hey, don’t forget it’s Tuesday and you have to call the client at 4:00.” But there’s no documentation of that. So, if you get hit by a bus or you quit or whatever, now I have to have the same conversation with the new version of you over and over.

So, I know that it is challenging to document processes and I know that most agency owners, that’s not what we love to do. We don’t love to get in the weeds and get into the detail. By the way, you don’t have to do it all. Your team can be super helpful in this, but by actually creating process documents that say, “Here’s how we do this thing.” So, there is consistency, because that’s the other thing. As you start to scale, you start to see inconsistencies between the way Bob does it versus Mary versus Beth.

By having, “This is my agency’s way of doing it,” then you can bring everybody back together. I think a lot of agencies, especially when they get to 18, 20, 25 people, you can’t let everybody do it their own way anymore. It’s just too scattered. There’s too many balls that get dropped and all of that. So, if you want to keep scaling your business, like you did, sooner or later, you have to embrace the idea that there’s got to be some systemization that happens.

Michael Koral:

Absolutely. When we started Needls, it was just myself, my two co-founders, and one developer. That was it, right? When we started that back in 2014, one of the first things that we did was open up a Google Doc and literally outlined every single thing that we need done in the business on a day-to-day basis and just like bullet points. This is what we need done, right? And then we went through that and we said, “Okay, which of these things can be automated through technology and which of these things actually need a human to do?” We went through step by step and process by process and just started writing things out and putting the right technology into the right places in order to do that, right? That’s really where you have to start.

If you have an agency with 10, 20 employees already and you don’t have the processes there, then that’s okay. You can still open up that Google Doc and write out everything that you do in the business and figure out where the holes are, what doesn’t have a process yet, and then put the right people in place to start doing those processes. We’re still doing that today. We have 25 people on staff. We’re still building up processes, because processes change, too. We have to adapt to that as well. So, as long as you have a place that has all these processes in there, you can iterate on that. If your team knows where to go and to follow that, then it makes change a lot easier to manage.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s a good point. Defining and refining process is a never ending chore inside a business. By the way, this is not just agencies. It’s any business. I also, by the way, don’t think you have to have 97,000 processes. As Michael is saying, I think you identify the key ones that get repeated over and over and over and are critical points of success, either internally or with clients. Those are the ones that you document with great detail. And then you put them on a rotation so that every process is reviewed once a year.

If it needs some tweaking or some updating, then that’s when you do that in terms of the written documentation and then you test it to make sure that that’s how you want to evolve the process. After that, it just becomes this easy rotation where you might be looking at a new process every month, but everything is constantly being updated and reviewed.

Michael Koral:

Yeah, you got it exactly right. We couldn’t live without process right now. It’s huge to our business from support to sales to development. They obviously all have different processes, but they’re actually housed in one spot. Just one simple example, we use Confluence. It’s an Atlassian product. It’s a super simple way to just have different workspaces for each of our departments. There’s different processes laid out within each of those workspaces, right?

So, it’s just like a hub where people go to to understand how to do certain things. If you want to change things, you can easily do that too. You can actually follow different change logs of the processing. Two years ago, we’re doing it this way. Now, we’ve graduated to doing the process this way. It’s much more streamlined and more effective. So, you can actually see how you go.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, or there’s a tool in place today that didn’t exist back then or whatever it may be.

Michael Koral:

Exactly, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

All right. I want to shift our focus a little bit, because you guys are obviously placing bazillions of dollars of ads on Facebook and Instagram. So, I want to pick your brain about some best practices around that. Let’s first talk about obviously, Facebook has gone through some significant changes recently in 2018, especially around some of the ad opportunities and requirements. So, can you just comment on those changes and how that has changed the way we all have to approach these channels?

Michael Koral:

Yeah. So, I mean, when that thing came out with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook goes under hot water or stock going down, all that fun stuff, everyone was scared in not knowing what’s going to happen with Facebook and with advertising. That was actually a huge positive for us, especially with agency owners and SMBs alike, because they were too nervous to go directly to Facebook to create an ad. They want to go ahead and trust somebody that’s been doing it before, right? So that helped us a lot, because they’re just like, “Oh, I’ve been doing this myself, but I just don’t know what’s happening with Facebook right now. I go to somebody that I trust.”

To be frank, all the changes that they’re making on their platform, we understood what was happening slightly before the public. So, we’re able to iterate on those changes prior to the public really knowing about that. So, we’re ahead of the game that way. But with all the different privacy concerns and things like that, we know that the Facebook platform is not going away anytime soon.

You just have to be smarter about the types of ads and who you’re targeting. You have to be just a little bit smarter about creating those things. That’s something that we do well. That’s why people come to us, but if you’re not going to us, there’s tons of documentation online as to, “What is new with Facebook? What’s going away?” So just educate yourself on that. If you want to go at it, go at it of yourself.

Drew McLellan:

So, if somebody was going to self-serve, what are one or two things that they need to be very aware of? What are the best practices based on the changes? So, I think everyone’s familiar with the changes. I think the place where they perhaps can use some tutelage from you is, “Great, now how do I still use the platform effectively?”

Michael Koral:

Sure. So, one very, very simple thing and this is when Facebook started out with advertising is the best way to advertise back in 2012 on Facebook was to create a campaign that was driving link clicks and traffic to your website, right? You create a campaign. You optimize it for link clicks and then send it to your site, right? People to this day still assume that that’s the best way to do something. Let’s just drive someone to your site. But if you go to the Facebook platform, there’s now about 14 different options for a campaign creation, right? So, the simplest way to do it is actually creating a reach campaign versus a click campaign, okay?

The reason being is if you create a click campaign, you’re really optimizing for people who are very click happy and not necessarily someone who actually wants to work with your agency or your business, right? You can have, let’s say, your mother going ahead and going through your newsfeed and just clicking on everything that they see, because they just like seeing ads and clicking on them. You can get a very cheap cost per click, but the intent really isn’t there whatsoever. So, the idea is to create a reach campaign to reach a lot more people that could be interested in your product and not focusing the optimization directly on a click to your website, right? So, that’s the first thing.

Second, if you’re creating a campaign on Facebook and you’re not thinking about mobile, then you’re really doing it wrong. 80% of the delivery on Facebook is coming from mobile, right? So, if you’re looking at your business now, you look at your website, open on your phone and check out to see, “Does my mobile website… Does it look good?” If you’re shaking your head, saying, “No, I have some work to do,” then I’d say pause, don’t even do Facebook ads yet. Make sure your mobile site is highly optimized, because otherwise, you’re going to be missing out on literally 80% of the traffic. It’s not going to convert nearly as well. So, that’s the second thing.

The third thing is with video. Video is an incredible tool to use. It doesn’t have to be very much scripted. It can be very casual. You can look at your smartphone and just record yourself talking about