Robert Glazer is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global marketing agency that specializes in partner or affiliate marketing. Initially, I planned on spending our time debunking the myths around affiliate marketing space (which we still covered), but our conversation took an interesting turn and instead we focused on Acceleration Partners’ growth journey. Robert described the transformation of his agency from five employees to several hundred in multiple countries – all in less than a decade. As you might imagine, it was not without some difficult crossroads.
Robert is the author of the new Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller, Elevate on how to build capacity while setting and achieving agency goals while helping the individual team members do the same. On top of sharing an agency leader’s perspective of the story behind Acceleration Partners’ growth, Robert discusses the inspiration behind his written content and what it means to him.
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:
- Robert’s role as the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners
- Robert’s view of affiliate marketing in the agency world
- How Robert took his agency of five FTEs and grew it multifold
- How agency culture played a role in the immense growth of Acceleration Partners
- How Robert holds his team accountable for maintaining Acceleration Partners’ culture
The Golden Nugget:“It is not a competency unless you have five to ten people doing the same thing.” @robert_glazer Click To Tweet “If you don’t know what you want, how are you supposed to find the right people to help you get it?” @robert_glazer Click To Tweet “To me, “world-class” means it scales, and it’s high quality.” @robert_glazer Click To Tweet “As soon as we made the decision to shut down everything but partner marketing, our growth rate doubled in 6-9 months.” @robert_glazer Click To Tweet “When we are specialists, we can command a premium price, and we have a depth of expertise that garners the attention of the types of clients we want to serve.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
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Ways to Contact Robert Glazer:
- Website: https://www.robertglazer.com
- Books: https://www.robertglazer.com/book/
- Podcast: https://www.robertglazer.com/elevate-podcasts/
- Twitter: @robert_glazer
- Instagram: @robertglazer_
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/glazer/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RobertSGlazer
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.
Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today’s interview was one that I thought was going to go in one direction, and the guest was so interesting in a completely different direction that we changed course right in the middle of a conversation. And so, like always, I have my agency on our hat on when we have these conversations. And I just went in the direction that I thought you would find most interesting and valuable, and I thought it was pretty fascinating.
So, I’ll tell you a little bit about our guest in a minute. But first, I want to give you a couple reminders. Number one, I will be a little sad if we don’t see you at the Build a Better Agency Summit. We are about 50% sold out. We can’t add more tickets after we sell out. The fire department says no. So, if you are inclined to join us or bring your team, please head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and check out the summit. We’ve got amazing speakers.
Here’s my goal with this conference, is I want to create a conference where you are there to connect with other people who do what you do every day in a very collaborative, friendly, non-competitive way. I want you to both teach and to learn. So, we have environments where you’re going to be sharing what you know and also where you’re going to be learning from some of the world’s smartest and best people in their areas of expertise. We are going to focus on the business of your business.
So, we’re going to talk about the things that matter to you in terms of profitability, in terms of growth, in terms of sales, in terms of getting the barriers out of your way, whether they’re legal challenges or imposter syndrome. So, it’s really going to be a great two days. And if you are an AMI member, remember that you can join us for the optional half day on Monday the 18th. So, the conference is the 19th and 20th, but you are an AMI member, either an associate member of the Gold Level or above or you’re in one of our peer groups, you can join us for a member-only day where we are going to do some more learning and sharing.
And then we’re actually going to have dinner together the night before the conference starts. So, please head over. Check the amazing speakers, the amazing opportunities to learn and to connect with other people. And I hope you join us. All right. So, today’s guest is an agency owner. About less than 10 years ago, his agency had five or six employees. Today, they are over several hundred employees in four different countries, and their specialty is in partner or affiliate marketing.
And so, the agency is called Acceleration Partners, and they are based out of Maryland, but also all over the world now, today. And they are a global performance marketing agency. So, they are working in partner and affiliate marketing with big, big brands. The CEO is named Bob Glazer. And so originally, I invited Bob to come on the show. He’s written a book called Performance Partnerships: The Checkered Past, Changing Present and Exciting Future of Affiliate Marketing.
And really, I was going to dive deep into the affiliate marketing discussion. And we did get into that a little bit, but what we really ended up talking about was how he went from five to several hundred in multiple countries. The decisions he had to make, the choices, the consequences of those choices and some of the learnings that he has had as a leader. One of the other interesting things about Bob is that he produces an e-newsletter. It’s not really a newsletter. It’s really more of a weekly inspirational tip or story called Friday Forward.
And it started as something he just wanted to send internally to his team. And pretty soon, he found out that they were forwarding it on to family and friends, and it really resonated with a lot of people. And today, Bob’s Friday Forward has over a hundred thousand readers. And so, I want to talk a little bit about how that all came to be and why that matters to his agency and to him personally. So, let’s dive into the conversation, because I know you’re going to want to get as much of Bob as you possibly can. Without further ado, Bob, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks Drew. I appreciate you having me on today.
So, give everybody a sense of your background, how you came into this crazy business and what you do day in and day out.
Wow, that could be a long answer. My background was, I was always working with early stage companies, growth-stage companies, and I was very fascinated by the energy around that. I came to having worked on the strategy consulting side, then on venture side, and then on the operational side. One of the things I to understand about consumer businesses was that ultimately, success or failure was how you acquired customers cost effectively. And that led us to focus more on customer acquisition and growth, and eventually on partner marketing.
So, that’s how we got into the space. We’ve built Acceleration Partners from … Think eight years ago, it was … Maybe seven, eight years ago, five or six people to almost 200-person now, global organization in four countries, really diving into the fast growing industry of partner marketing and affiliate marketing. We’ve been doing the same thing for a while, but I think the world finally woke up to the really interesting opportunity on this channel. And that’s always been the same as other things come in and out for hype.
As we built the company, I really became passionate around culture and innovating and doing things in a different way. Marketing agencies probably use it as a poster child for high turnover, bad culture, not investing in their people. We’ve tried to have a totally different playbook in terms of how we build the business. So, I spend most of my time on the business, how we do what we do and on the people. I have a great team on the operational and product front lines, but I’ve had to fire myself from a lot of jobs as we’ve grown.
Affiliate marketing has a nasty taste. I think there’s all kinds of perceptions around what it is and what it isn’t. So, talk a little bit about your view of partner marketing and affiliate marketing and how it is a viable service for agencies to offer.
Yeah. So, I own this in my book, Performance Partnerships. The whole first third was, I’m the self-deprecating affiliate marketer. I think people like the self-deprecating lawyers, so I hope that strategy works. But I owned, in the first third of that book, all the bad stuff that the industry had done. But at its core premise, affiliate or now being called partner marketing, is a very simple thing. It is an outcome-based relationship where two people partner.
They use technology to track and the publisher or the person with the content takes some risks and they get paid when they perform. And for the company, they get to pay their marketing after they get the sales. So, people are always looking for a simple example of that. And let’s say Amazon’s got one of the biggest affiliate programs in the world. You post my podcast on your site. You put in the show notes, “Bob has two books. You click here, you can join and become a partner of Amazon and probably get 5% of each of those book sales that you drove to Amazon.”
So what I’ve found is, most marketing is win-lose, particularly in our auction world. So, something is effective. Everyone crowds into it. Rates quadruple. This is what happened with influencers. And then suddenly everyone’s losing money. Affiliate marketing is almost less of a channel than a methodology that says, “Hey.” It’s like business development needs marketing tracked with technology. We agree to the outcome. We agree to what it’s worth for us, and then there’s no budget. You can have as much money as you can deliver the outcomes that we’re seeking.
So, with a lot of the privacy stuff going on in California and GDPR, and publishers losing a lot of display ad revenue, we’re finding people are running into this industry. And from the brand side, they love paying for their marketing after they get the sale. And for the publisher side, they realized, “Hey, if I have a defined audience,” and rather than just throwing an ADNOC of what it is, you’ve seen CNN and Forbes and Buzzfeed and everyone building entire content sites and review stuff based on them doing the merchandising and picking where they want to send.
When they write about a product, they write a mattress reviews sending you to two or three mattress sites. So, that’s really what it is. It’s not an agency service like a lot of agencies love to … I always look for, do they have more services than people? Because to me, it’s not a competency, unless you have five to 10 people doing the same thing. It’s not a great add-on. You need a fair amount of knowledge of different platforms. You need some technology. There’s some other things you need. You really don’t want someone on your team approving affiliate applications every day and doing high-level pitches.
So, when we think of people who are really doing this, it’s they have a practice of five to 10 people. There’s certainly a lot of agencies that throw someone … Call them an affiliate manager, because they’re so afraid to say that they don’t do something, and they want to win that multi-channel proposal. But we’ve seen some pretty bad outcomes. It’s like Disney is running a brand licensing operation with a pretty crappy lawyer. You end up with the Disney brand on some products that you wouldn’t want them to be on.
And that’s very similar if you don’t run your partner program in a strong way, because you’re creating almost licensing and business development partnerships for the brand. So, one of our key … Brands trust us with their brand. And that’s why we work with a lot of the large global brands on these programs.
So, what are some of the mistakes you see agencies making either when they step into the space or, as you say, they bolted on as an add-on? What are some of the things to avoid if you’re going to venture down this road?
I bumped that up a question and answer level. The number one mistakes that agencies make and that we made is a lack of focus. So, if anyone out there has a less than $10 million revenue agency, I would tell you, go build your agency to 10 million revenue on a thing that you’re known for. Call Drew and his agency, because they’re the X people, or they’re the Y people. And we had these other services. We started offering search. We started offering these things, and we realized we could get it for smaller clients.
When we went to the table with a Target or an Adidas or an enterprise client, we were world-class at affiliate management. We had some really good capabilities in those areas, but they weren’t scalable. So to me, world-class is it scales and it’s high quality. I think you can have high quality without scale, which is what we had, or you can have scale without quality. So, my advice would be the same for anything, which is stopped trying to do everything and be everything. Once you get to 10 million revenue, then you can merge with a company that’s got another practice or you can buy another practice.
But if you have more services than people on your website, you are lying to yourself and you’re probably not good at anything. When you have 20 people doing one thing, then you’re probably high quality and scale. So, I’ve been on the board of some agencies, and I can tell you that we chased that star. We launched these other services. They were growing quickly, but they were 5% of our business. The biggest part of our business got less attention. And there was a cost to the sales and marketing and hiring.
And as soon as we made the decision to shut down everything, but partner marketing, our business growth rate doubled within six to nine months.
Yeah. I think a lot of agency owners are afraid to narrow, because they think it means less money, when the reality is … And I think you’re a perfect example of this, that when we are specialists, we can command a premium price and we have a depth of expertise that earns us the attention of the clients we want to serve.
Yeah. And if you get to that 10 million where you really have an enterprise value, then you go buy and merge with a $3 million specialist firm in another area. Now you can look people in the eye and say, “We’re really world-class at both of these things.” But we get a lot of business from brands. Even large agencies are doing this. They sign it. They have no idea how to do it. And that causes a risk to your core business. The AOR concept I think is really blowing up. There’s a lot of other founders I’ve talked to. And it’s funny, I can always meet the same type of person, they’re an expert in something.
And when you say to them, “Hey, how can we work together?” They usually say, “We’re really good at this. We actually integrate with other agencies. We make referrals. We don’t want to be paid. We’re happy to bring a bunch of the best-in-class players.” And they’re just super comfortable about what they’re good at, what they’re not good at. They’re also not trying to set up a referral scheme and get paid. They’re just saying, “We’ll send you things that are good fit for us. You’ll send us ones that …”
I can always tell that person’s running a good company. That’s usually pretty profitable when that’s their mindset, when they say, “We know what we’re good at. We refer everything else. We have no pride about that.” Look, I’ve just seen this movie so many times now, and if you had played this for me eight years ago, I would have argued with you and said, “No, we’ve got to do these different stuff. We got to diversify.” And when we focused, our business blew through that $10 million.
Yeah. I think more and more clients are looking to agencies not only to deliver what they sell or do, but also, A, to play nice in the sandbox with other agencies, but B, to be a resource that says, “We have an amazing partner that does X, Y, Z, that we don’t do, and we’ve worked together 10 times.” Super seamless for you.
Right. We get along with them. Come on. The whole thing about writing two checks is really not that hard. And the perception that these large agencies are integrated in their work is largely not correct in some cases. So, they have these services, but those two agencies may work better together than a large integrated agency where the SEO team doesn’t talk to the affiliate team.
Right. So one of the things I think that you’ve done that has certainly earned you a lot of attention is you talked about the amazing growth that you’ve had, five to six people to 200-plus people in four countries. Part of that is building a culture where you defy agency odds and actually keep people for more than a couple of years. And I know you’ve invested a lot of time and attention into building that out. So, talk a little bit about how you came to that epiphany that that was important, number one, and then we’ll talk about some of the ways that you’ve done it.
So, there’s presentation I gave, where the sports car going around the track, and they’ve got it up in the pits and they’re changing all the tires. And somewhere along the way, when we were in this hybrid phase, I realized we had a choice. We could be that company where we would do a lap and we’d have to change out all the tires, which are people, through either turnover, burnout, or whatever. Or we could try to find the right people, grow them, build them, and do that a different way.
And build an organization that really developed people to help be what we needed. And I just decided that’d be much more fun and much more aligned with my personal values. The churn and burn, it was not the type of business I wanted to wake up and go to every day. Look, it’s profitable. Probably more profitable. It’s just not how I wanted to live my life. So, what we have found is that engaged employees deliver a great service, and it’s hard to have a great service. And there’s five core tenets, I think to me, of building a great culture that we’ve learned over the years.
Maybe it’s three and two modifiers. So, you need to have a vision. So every three years, we write a vivid vision for the next three years. We write what the company is going to look like. We share that with employees and prospects. And we just crushed the last one that we said that we were going to do over three years. We went to the countries we said we were going to win. We wrote the book. We did all that stuff. It was a very encompassing thing. Second is you need real values.
So, we have three core values. They’re talked about every day. You have to live them. Everyone could tell you what they are. It’s own it, embrace relationships and excel and improve. It’s in your check-ins. It’s in our awards. That’s what we value. We don’t hide from that. There are a lot people who say in the interview process, “Oh, own it. That’s awesome,” but they’re not own it. And we see that really quickly, when we ask them to write one of our after-action reports on mistake they made, and they blame everyone else in the universe versus their own actions.
So, we see pretty quickly. And in the interview process, be like, “Look, this is what it means. This is what “own it” means. We’re a fast growing place. You own it. You make decisions. You’re comfortable making decisions on your own. This is what embrace relationship look like. This is what excel and improve looks like.” We are always trying to get better and improve. If you’re someone in the phase of your life, looking for a chill, middle lane job, not the right choice. So, we try to be really transparent about what we value.
And then the third is the systems and processes that bring those together. So, we use a bunch of operating management systems where everyone’s quarterly goals are clear, their weekly objectives are clear. It all ties to that three-year vision. Everyone has a scorecard. It’s fully public, including mine. So, everyone understands how we’re marching towards that vision in support of our values with full accountability. And then the two modifiers, I think, for organizations are consistency and clarity.
So, the vision’s consistent. The values are consistent. The scoreboard’s consistent, and those things are all clear too. I think the frustration … A lot of those systems are also designed to insulate the entrepreneur from the company. So, when we commit to our goals, they’re written in stone. They’re put out for the quarter. I can’t go round everyone’s desk and be like, “Drop what you’re doing and do that,” which founders like to do. So, we have a discipline around that.
I have this belief though. I don’t think there’s any universal definition of a great culture. I think that there are some things that we think are great about cultures, which I would agree with, like treating people well and paying people well, but a truly great culture is aligned to one that you want and who you are and what your values are. So, I have a friend at another agency. They’re a great place to work there. He wears orange suits. They’re all practical jokers. I would not like working at their company.
They’re a great culture, but they have a different culture. And so, their job is to fly their flag and get the people who like that stuff. And our job is to fly our flag and get the people who would do well in our environment.
I think you’re right. Certainly, there is no recipe for, “This is how an agency should behave to be successful.” But I think just like in personal relationships, there’s the right fit. There’s somebody out there for everybody, but everybody isn’t the right fit for you. Right?
It’s like a college, right? They’re all city, big, small. I always tell people, if you’re an A-hole and a competitive athlete, and you just want a culture that’s based on competition, whatever, just tell people that. You’ll get people like that. You’ll get all the former athletes who understand that if they’re not in the top 50%, they’re gone. But just don’t say on your wall, “We value harmony and community,” and all that stuff, and then have a bonus plan where 80% of the bonus goes to 10% of the people.
That’s what drives people crazy is the inconsistency between what leadership says and what it does. What we have found is that when we are absolutely consistent, people will come to us and say, “We appreciate the game you’re playing. I don’t want to play that game. I picked the wrong team. I’m sorry. I’m going to go find …” They realize it’s not the right place for the right reasons. Not it’s not the right place, because we told them it was one thing and another.
As I said, we actually go out of our way in the interview process and our employees even do our Glassdoor to try to scare away the archetype of someone who we know doesn’t work out here. We really don’t even want them to come here. We know how that story end.
So, you mentioned Glassdoor. And one of the things I found interesting in your bio is that you’ve been recognized by Glassdoor as a good place to work, but as a good CEO, most agency owners despise Glassdoor. It sounds like you embrace it and use it to tell your story.
Yeah. Look, I think it keeps you on honest. I think if you do a thing to someone these days, that’s the first place they’re going to go. So, if you think about performance and feedback and measurement systems, that’s a very public one. So, you can be pretty sure that if you treat someone like crap, they’re going to go and let the world know about that. So, I think it makes you … Some people need that force function to think about making sure that things end well and people who leave feel respected.
Look, you can’t make everyone happy. It’s funny, there was some article I wrote on something. Oh, how to avoid a toxic company before you join it, I wrote for Inc. And I put it up on LinkedIn as well. And one of the things was, patterns to look for in Glassdoor reviews. The types of things you should ignore, like the guy who is just disgruntled. Snack machine versus the systemic things that people would say about leadership that you should be worried about.
So one guy posts on LinkedIn and he says, “Glassdoor’s just a bunch of angry people.” So, I look, he’s a CEO of a company. So, what do I do? Of course, I go look up his Glassdoor. And everyone was saying the same thing. And it was the emperor has no clothes. So, look, there was someone who posted a really unflattering thing about me years ago. And I thought I knew who it was, so I reached out to her. And I realized it was a real misunderstanding and perception around an issue. And we actually had a nice discussion around it. And we stayed, we stayed in touch since then.
And they actually said that they were just going through a difficult time and were lashing out and had felt bad about it. But people want to be heard. So, I think that that is a point of accountability for CEOs. And if you don’t pretend that it exists these days, you’re going to make … People, the first thing they’re going to do when they go to look at your company. But yeah, I just thought that story of the CEO, because the comments were exactly the type of ones that I told … They were all consistent.
They were all very specific about his leadership style and that, “Hey, you all work for me and if you don’t …” And then he’s surprised why no one like that form of management, I guess.
He needed to be more clear in his values, apparently.
Yeah. Look, I think it’s very hard to run a company today. Whether you’re an enlightened leader or you just want to come to this conclusion because of market realities, but in our gig economy and all the different things you can do. And talk to a lot of 20-year-olds who don’t have jobs, they have three projects they work on. You’re not going to get a lot of people to come to your company really motivated to just make you rich and do work and not be part of anything bigger. It’s just not what people are looking for these days.
Yeah. So, I want to talk a little bit about the scorecard. So, I think one of the challenges for many agency owners is that they want to be liked by their people. And so, they translate that to, if I’m a hard ass or I hold people accountable, then I’m going to be perceived as mean or rigid or whatever. And I’m not going to be a popular person in the agency. So, did you have scorecards from the very beginning or what prompted you to add that into the mix?
When we started adopting the Traction program early on … Which if you’re running a business, you have more than 10 people and you’re not doing Traction or Gazelles, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. They’re both similar types of systems that set up all the-
… alignment across the company. There’s some other ones too, but those are the two most popular with small, medium businesses. What’s amazing about scorecards is just makes accountability public. No one likes to … Like I said, so the scorecard is, how do we get to our vision? So, if you want to know why we have these numbers, well, you just signed up, because you were really excited. And we told you we were going to build this company. This is what we want to build.
This is the plan we need to get there. And it will always be done in support of our values. But I always tell people, the amazing thing about scorecards and having them public is the accountability stops you from having those difficult conversations. Every week on our management call, you go on there and you see that Drew’s been red for four quarters in a row. Everyone’s looking at Drew. Drew knows that he can’t do that. So, we’re clear, part of our values, that we will support you. We will invest in you otherwise, but we are also performance-oriented.
So, when you’re going to have a problem, you’re going to be two types of conversations. One is, “Drew, it doesn’t seem like you’re a fit for our core values.” And for us, that’s a non-negotiable. So, that’s going move towards a conversation of helping you find the next job. But also like if you’re on the sales team and you’re read four quarters in a row, I’ll like Drew, “We’re not hitting the goals.” It also removes ambiguity. There are so many people … People always tell me they want to hire a sales and marketing person.
And I’m like, “Good luck with that. Let me know how that goes.” Which one is it? The salespeople are going to want sales and the marketing people are going to want marketing. It makes it really clear. Even on our our job applications, we have like, “This is what success looks like in six months.” So we said that this is what success looks like in the role. Here are the metrics. It’s not a surprise. We’re all on the same page. And then when people know what they have to do and they can’t do it, they also tend to opt out or have that conversation or say, “This isn’t right for me.”
You don’t have to sit down and tell them they’re not doing their job if they’re read publicly to the company on all their scorecards.
Right. Right. So, in an environment like that, I would assume now there’s also a balance to that, which is, “Jeez, it feels like you’re not hitting your goals.” So, how do you surround them with support, education, tools to actually get from red to green?
Yeah. So, in those cases it would be like, “Drew’s a fit for the core values. Okay.” So, it’s really about job performance. Like, “Drew, do you know what you have to do? Do you need what you have to do? Do you like or want to do this?” And you’d be like, No, I really don’t want to be in sales.” Then we’d say, “Well, do we have anything else that could be a good fit based on your strengths, or again, should we help you find a job elsewhere?” We have a pretty open transition program or we’ll let people work here once we’ve had that discussion and made that decision.
But we’ve got to understand the why. And the other thing is that I always say one of the … I believe tremendously in investing in people, but I also think you have limited resources. And if I’m investing in you and your sales training quarter after quarter, and your peers are just crushing you, and I’m investing in you trying to get you to average, it’s probably not a good use of your time and my time and resources. So, one of our mantras is we don’t train to average. We train to invest in people and they really believe that they can do well.
We actually have the fortune of about 80 to 90% of our positions are fundamentally the same. Different level, but they’re like account managers. Client service delivery. We know how to recruit our training programs the same. We tend to book people up, hire them at the same time. So, when we hire six, and one’s really struggling to do exactly what we hired them for, and the five are crushing it after the same hiring, the same training, the process, look, we might have made the mistake.
The person might have been this day. But I think what people don’t do is … And this is my view on stoicism. We are where we are. It’s important for us to understand the mistakes, but we are where we are. You’re six weeks in. You’re really struggling. You’re making a lot of mistakes. The other people are all doing great. Now you’ve lost the trust of your people. Our data says that these don’t end well. Our data really clear. And we might just start a discussion after six weeks. Say Drew, “We can put you through the training. We can put you on the performance plan.”
We think that this just feels like it’s been really hard. The worst thing would be to do all this, and then in six months tell you it’s not working out. If you want to go pretend that you never worked here, this might be a good time to do that. And I just wrote an article for HBR on this, too. I think we tend to point to the exceptions too often in business and not the data. The data tells us really clearly that people who start poorly here, doesn’t go well.
Now, there’s been some exceptions to that, but I would be better off as a leader accepting a rule saying, “If it starts poorly, let’s just end it.” Because if that’s been the case 90% of the time, I should pay the 90% odds and not the 10% odds.
Yeah. So, I want to talk a little bit more about that, but first let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come right back. 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 on our 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 backend parts of running the business of your business, of making your agency more profitable, run more seamlessly, that operations go better, that biz 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, 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’ll 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, welcome back. Bob and I were just talking about performance of the team and scorecards. So in your scorecard, do you use a specific tool to … You said it’s public, so is there a tool that you use that allows everyone to look at scorecards, including yours?
Yeah. It’s called Metronome is the one that we use. It’s a managerial dashboard tool. And for each quarterly objective, I’ve even broken it down in the weekly tasks, and they’re green or red. And mine are as public as anyone else’s.
So, who holds you accountable?
So, my management team. So, we go through everyone’s every week. And we go through a group. And I think that act … And I think one of the things that Traction had in the L10 Meeting that’s great is when you go through the metrics, the red, green, or yellow, you can say done, on track or off track. No other explanation. And if it’s off track, someone will say, “Is that an issue?” And if they say yes, then we put it onto the issues to be discussed later. They’ll say, “Oh, it’s off track, but I know what the problem is.”
So, we’re not letting people dance around it and beat around it. And then after two weeks in a row, they’d be like, “That’s been red for three weeks. That’s an issue.” So, if you have a high performance team, they will hold each other accountable.
So, one of the challenges I think for a lot of agency owners is they say they want their leadership team to hold them accountable, but either they really don’t or they don’t react well when they get held accountable. So, how did you get comfortable or how did you get your … So, let me finish that thought. So the leadership team is trained by behavior that they get lip service that they should hold them accountable, but they really shouldn’t. So, how did you get to the point where your team actually holds you accountable?
If someone gives you feedback and you chew them up, you’re not going to get feedback again. So, I think I made it clear that I want to be better. I’m focused on the outcomes. This is not a monarchy. We’re a democracy. And so, I’m a player on the team just like everyone else is. And I show that for your behavior. I was doing a speech yesterday and said, if anyone gives you feedback, no matter what you think, or you want to punch him in the face, the first thing you say is, “Thank you for sharing that” even if you have to force yourself to say it.
Otherwise, next time, they’re not going to tell you that you don’t have any pants on, and you’re going to walk into the meeting without any pants on. And the worst thing is that everyone’s talking about something that you don’t know. But for me, that was just the type of business that I wanted to build. And look, people hit an existential moment. Every person who runs an agency, especially smaller ones, should read The E Myth, that book. And what I’ve seen consistently is you can get your agency to 20 or 30, playing all the roles, being a key account manager, doing all that stuff.
And you hit an inflection point there where you need to commit to building a business and not be the person who’s the key account manager and all that stuff. And having the infrastructure and doing that stuff. And people either hit that ceiling and go through it. Don’t change anything and they crash, or they hit it and they bounce back. But by the time you’re at 30 people, either you’re committing to be an agency owner, or you’re committing to be an expert who’s running an agency. And those are very different paths.
Yeah. Well, there’s nothing wrong if you want to choose-
… to stay in the day to day, but then you have to acknowledge that’s what you’re doing, and that there is a ceiling to your growth.
Look, don’t grow above 30, double your prices. You’ll probably make more money than I make a year. It is not a right or wrong. It’s just what you want. I wanted to build a really great, big thing to change an industry. That’s actually what I wanted and brought people in under. I think people take venture money, because they feel pressure. Look, you could be running a three million revenue business and netting a million dollars, and no one should call that a lifestyle business. That’s a great business.
But I think it is that clarity of vision of what you want. But what you gotta ask yourself is if you told all the employees, “Hey, that’s where you want to … Okay. So, there are agencies like this. We are not going to be bigger than 30. We are going to take the best clients. We’re going to do this,” and whatever. Great. That’s awesome if you recruit people and that’s what they wanted. But if you sold them on something else, then that’s not going to be what they wanted.
So, this is where that clarity is important, of bringing people in and letting them know, are you bringing them in because they wanted to build a hundred person agency and that’s not what you want, or they want to be same thing? They want this boutique agency. They don’t want a lot of bureaucracy and layers, and they want to be the best. It is just a matter of being aligned and consistent.
Yeah. It is about knowing what you want and being clear in how you define it. Absolutely.
If you don’t know what you want, I don’t know how you can get the right people to help you do that. If you bring in the ambitious person who wants to grow and you don’t … That 30 is a magical number. I’ve seen it in our industry over and over again. It’s just where you have an existential choice. And I would say it’s not a right or a wrong, but I think you’ve got to do it for the right reasons.
Yeah. I think it is a right or wrong. It’s just a very individual right or wrong.
Right? Yeah, absolutely. So, I think one of the things that you are known for is your Friday Forward emails. How did that start?
Yeah. It actually just started as a note I sent to my team on Fridays. I had been to a pretty intensive leadership program that was very formative for me and helping me figure out what I wanted, what my values are. And there’s big focus on the morning routine and, getting up exercising, journaling, reading something positive. Some of the positive stuff they gave us to read was more of the Chicken Soup for the Soul or the quotes that were a little too rainbow and unicorn for me. So, I decided I liked that though.
And so I picked Friday, and I was going to write a note to my team, and it was going to be a story or something about personal development, challenge, otherwise. And yeah, I sent it to everyone. I didn’t think anyone was reading it. A couple of weeks, I’d hear back, “I love this. I did that. I shared it with my husband. Sent it to my dad. He shared it with his company.” It was clearly going outside of our company. I was at an EO event with a bunch of other CEOs. And I was telling them that actually this email that I wrote to the team every week was a really good exercise for me, and it seemed to develop good connection.
And a bunch of them said, “Oh, that’s interesting. Send it to us.” So, I sent it the next week.” And one started his own and has done it to this day. And the other two or three said, “These are great. We’ll just send this to our company or put it in our Slack channel, like a good entrepreneur would do.” So that point, I thought, “Maybe this has value outside the company.” I was having a hard time managing on BCC. So, I just set it up in a newsletter system where people could sign up, but I made it look like a regular email.
I created an archive. I decided to call it Friday Forward, since people were forwarding it. I think I changed the name five times. I called it Friday Inspiration or Friday Food For Thought or something like that. And a couple months later, someone in Inc. wrote an article about it. That was was the only newsletter we ever read. And then I saw 2,000 people sign up, and it just kept spreading. And a couple years later on a Friday like today, I’ll open it up, and it’s a hundred thousand people across 60 countries who are reading the note.
What is worthy for you of putting in that note? What makes you go, “Oh, I should write about that on Friday?”
To me, the formula for Friday Forward, the goal is to make an impact and help people make positive changes in their lives. I wrote this in my book, Elevate, but someone who works with friend of mine Dr. Malik Mohammed, who works with troubled youth, had shared with a group that the formula for change is connection plus challenge. And when I saw that, I realized, oh, that’s what I had been doing in Friday Forward. They’re not rainbow and unicorn.
Some of them are intended to make people a little uncomfortable, but they present some human connection and a challenge. And usually, there’s some story that happen that I try to connect to some principle that I think is important. I keep a pretty long list of ideas, but nine times out of 10, something happens that week. This week, Kobe Bryant and Clayton Christensen both passed away. And this HBR article that Clayton Christensen had written about nine years ago on how you’ll define your life was floating around. And that just came together perfectly for a note around that.
One of the things I know that you focus on too, with your team, which probably shows up in the content as well, is this idea that you’re not only interested in helping your people grow professionally. But that you’re pretty invested in them experiencing the best of their life in all aspects of their life. And so, that’s woven into the culture of your agency. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah. So, we’ve been messing in our people holistically. I had realized that if we just help them be better, we help them be better with time management and their health and prioritization and understanding their values, that we would get the business benefit of that and they would get the personal benefit of that. And it was the ultimate win-win. And we had been doing a bunch of different stuff. I had been improving my life, and these messages have been resonating with people that I didn’t know.
And when I sat down and really looked at it, all I realized it was all the same thing. It was this concept of capacity building, and it was these four elements. And that the Friday Forwards, it actually followed the pattern of these four elements and usually talked about one or more of those concepts. And that’s something that I share with a lot of leaders, because I think it … Again, to me, I hate the word win-win. It seems trite.
But focusing on making people better means that they will show up to work with more energy, higher performance, but then they also go home and they’re better spouses and parents and brothers and sisters. And they attribute those opportunities back to your organization. So, we do a lot of things that don’t seem direct tie to business, but they’re really about increasing that capacity overall.
At our recent all company retreat, we had someone come in and facilitate something called One Last Talk, where four people, in front of 175 people at the time, gave TED speeches of the talk that they really needed to give if it was their last day on earth, and what was the core thing that they had not shared or wanted people to know? And these were deeply personal stories, but the sharing that went on and the human connection afterwards and understanding of that person and where they came from, you show up as a whole person in work.
And when you get to know people personally … And I’ve gone through a lot of these deep leadership things, and you get into childhood issues and a bunch of this stuff, you see how that shows up every day for them in work. It’s connected. And I think we’re headed towards a future where people aren’t going to be encouraged to just show up and be your work self and leave everything else out of it that basically makes you you. So, I’m not sure how you can be an authentic leader. And I think authentic leaders are the best leaders and highest performance leaders if you’re asked to completely cut out a whole part of your life and leave it at home.
Absolutely. So, how does that manifest itself in the agency? So, what would that look like? So, you talked about the retreat. What does it look like on a daily basis?
Well, I’ll give you an example. It’s interesting, because when I first started writing the Friday Forward, spending time, money, and having our team copy-edit it and built the website, they’re like, “Why are we doing this? This isn’t about marketing. Why are you doing this?” And I’d said, “Look, this is creating value for people. I just believe focus on creating value.” “Should we put a link to the company? Should we put a marketing mess?” I was like, “No.”
But what’s fascinating is I’m in a conference last week, and one of our key partners, I meet with them and they say, “My dad got on your list. And he tells me how much it … Love it every week.” Another person is looking to deal with us that, “I read your book and it was really impactful.” And I don’t have anyone walking up to me and saying, “I really loved that checklist of the five things on affiliate marketing that you put out last week.” But I have five people come up and mention Friday Forwards that had been impactful for them.
So, particularly in professional services, people are buying our culture, they’re buying our belief set. They’re making decisions about the types of people they want to work with. And we’re also looking to attract great people. And we’ve had probably 10 people we’ve hired through some aspect of Friday Forwards, how they found out about the company or their parents told them this is a company they should go work at after reading one of them. So, it’s interesting.
I was just at a conference this week, and they were talking about how important, to the next … All of these retail companies and stuff, it’s really … Millennials are making the decision to buy the company for its value and its brand, and they will turn on it in a second, if it acts badly. And I think we’ve benefited by a lot of that in the marketplace.
Yeah. Yeah. So, as we wrap this up, you said that you just crushed your three-year goals. So, what’s the next three years look like for your company?
Well, we rolled out the next three-year vision. So, there’s a document that’s been shared with the company and eventually shared publicly. And it says, “It’s January 21st, 2023. We’re at our annual event. Here’s what we’re celebrating that we’ve accomplished. Here’s what Acceleration Partners looks like.” And it’s our next big plan for these three years. And now what we’re doing as a leadership team is building out those scorecards and capacities and plans and everything for how it is that we want to get there.
One of the things that we’re focusing on in that, which is something to me, is I think about what we want to be known for and legacy is becoming the equivalent of a teaching hospital where we do things so well that people will want to come learn from us. And we’re happy to share that, and they want to come understand how we run these events and how we do our onboarding. Because I think it’s the ultimate. If you could teach something, you learn from teaching, but if it’s good enough that other people want to learn from it, then that’s the type of standard that we want to have.
I’ve always been super impressed with a Zingerman’s Deli or there’s this hot dog stand in Arizona, or these businesses where other large fortune 500 companies go make the mecca to learn, how does this company do what it did? And I think that’s a really cool ambition for us.
That’d be fun to watch you do it.
Hope so. Won’t be easy. It’s a grind. Look, let’s be honest, as we joked before we started, the agency is a life that we choose or it chooses us. But it’s a lot of people in relationships. People often ask me from the questions that I ask them outside of work, everything, if I’m a psychologist. And I was like, “No,” but I everything I deal with is people. The product’s people, the clients are people, the partners are people. So, I just feel like that is a muscle that I’ve had to build around how to ask the right questions, how to get to the heart of it. Maybe I’ll go back and get my master’s in psychology.
I do think that’s a core element of what we do, absolutely, is creating connections. And you can’t create connections if you don’t understand the people you’re trying to connect to.
If you don’t like people, go build an app. You’re in the wrong business.
Yeah. Yeah. Bob, if folks want to subscribe to Friday Forward, learn more about what you’re doing, track how you’re doing on your three-year goal, what’s the best way for them to find you?
On the work side, you could find a lot about us in the company at accelerationpartners.com, or you can Google it. It’s much easier to try and type it and spell it in. On the other side, I have my podcast, Friday Forward, books, all that stuff in one place now. So, that’s at robertglazer, G-L-A-Z-E-R.com. And you could sign up for Friday Forward right there as well.
Awesome. Thank you very much for being with us and sharing your insights and thoughts about the business. And I appreciate it very much.
Thanks Drew. Thanks for having me.
You bet. Thanks everybody. This wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. A couple of reminders for you. Remember that we’ve got our Build a Better Agency Summit coming up May 19th and 20th. We are about 50% sold out, so grab your tickets now while they are still available. And also, a big shout out to our friends at White Label IQ for being our presenting sponsor. If you want to check them out, if you’re looking for partners to White Label dev design or PPC, go to whitelabeliq.com/ami, and you can check out the special deal they have for you.
I’ll be back next week with another guest. And in the meantime, you can track me down at [email protected] Sorry, that’s a long one, and forethought, should have thought about that differently. I’ll see 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.