Episode 71

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Ryan Ayres shows his clients what they can’t see, says what no-one else will say, and helps them accomplish what they don’t experience on their own. Through deep, bold, and customized coaching and consulting, he finds what they really want and helps them use their God given talents! His mission is to serve his clients so powerfully that they have life changing insights that change the trajectory of their life.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Ryan got himself out of the day-to-day and got his team to take things off his plate that he did not need to be doing
  • Why great employees will help you when you reach the point when you’re forced to sell what your business does instead of selling what you do
  • Why — if you can’t get rid of 100% of what you’re doing — that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get rid of any of it
  • Why you need to make sure everyone understands and buys into your vision and why it benefits them
  • Ryan’s employee rating matrix
  • Why people very rarely stay or leave based on money (and why this means you don’t need to give as many raises as you think)
  • How to deal with employees who get jealous of what perks you give to other employees
  • How to have tough conversations with “C Players”
  • Why you should journal your time to make sure you’re spending your time where you need to be spending it

 

The Golden Nugget:

“It’s naïve to think that you’re the best person to do ten tasks.” – @RyanAyres53 Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for joining us today. One of the challenges that many, many agency owners face, and this may sound familiar to you. If you’re listening, is the difficulty of getting out of your own way in terms of getting out of the day-to-day work for enough of your day that you can actually spend time working on the business during the business day, as opposed to doing that at night and on the weekends, like so many of you have to do. Today’s guest is really going to speak to that, and I’m super excited to have him here with us. We’re going to pick his brain for as much as we can in the time that we have with him. Ryan Ayres owns a company called Focus 53, and that company allows Ryan to coach folks and service-oriented businesses, including agencies.

In essence, he serves as sort of an operational virtual COO. What’s interesting about Ryan is that he walks the same walk you do. He owns an agency, a web design and development shop, and serves a lot of clients, but Ryan has made the shift and stepped out of the day-to-day. He helps his clients see what they can’t see, he says what no one else will say to them, and he helps them accomplish what they don’t experience on their own, and he does all of that as the coach. He does deep, bold, and customized coaching and consulting and together, they figure out what they really want, and it helps them figure out how to really use their gifts, and to do that to grow their business, to satisfy what their family needs, and really to fulfill the kind of day and work that is in their heart. His mission is to serve his clients so powerfully that they have life changing insights that literally change the trajectory of their life, and that is a worthy goal. Ryan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Ryan Ayres:

Thanks, Drew. It’s great To be here. I hope you’re doing well.

Drew McClellan:

I am doing well. Let’s start with what I know is the burning question on everyone’s mind, is… Let’s roll back time. You’re an active agency owner. A, first of all, what gave you the insight that said, “You know what? Maybe there’s a better way to do this”? Then we’ll get into how you actually did it in a minute.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. It really came down to a vision, Drew, and not like a vision like peyote-induced vision, a vision of, “What do I want to do in three years? What I want to do in five years?” and really living that model. When you think about it, or when I thought about it, I put myself in that position, I knew I didn’t want to be in the day-to-day minutia of whatever business I was in. In this case, I was in the web design and development space. Did I really want to be managing day-to-day projects? That alone started changing my mindset of where I wanted to go and how I want to do it.

Then I started running the tasks I was doing through that filter of, “If I do this task, does this get me closer to where I want to be, which is being the owner of the business and allowing really smart people that are specialized in those tasks run it, or does this get me back into the same mode of grind it out, agency owner, in the weeds fighting the fight all day?” That’s really how it started, Drew, is just taking a step back and looking at what I want to do, how I wanted to grow, what I wanted to do with my time two, three years from now.

Drew McClellan:

I think a lot of agency owners have that same thought process, but they’re still stuck in the day-to-day. Once you sort of got clarity around, “I don’t want to be in the day-to-day anymore. I don’t want clients calling me. I don’t want to be managing a web dev project,” what did you actually do, other than… I get the first part of the process is to sort of look at how you’re spending your day and make changes, but then you actually have to make the changes. How did you start that process, and what did it look like, and how long did it take you to really get out of the day-to-day weeds?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah, I guess there’s just different levels of day-to-day weeds. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t interact day to day customers, but I know that there’s a common thread there. I think this is the same way to solve the problem. When a new engagement comes on or a new customer comes on or an opportunity comes on, although I may be involved in the business development side or the sales cycle side, I quickly bring in people as soon as possible to help with that conversation. I tell them, “Jamie’s going to be your guy. He’s going to work with you. He’s going to set up the project management. He’s going to set up all of the operational workflows we have.” I actually build in this level of accountability already, right out of the gate, opening discussions, so that they’re aware that they’re not going to have quote-unquote access to me all the time, that that’s not how we operate.

Then also, to me, it’s like, I’d be stepping on Jamie’s toes now that that I said that. I Told him this is his job and his function and his work. That comes down to two ways for me. One is when the original conversations happen, be very clear, very direct, and be responsible for that. Then second, you have to just do it. You have to be self-aware to know this is something someone else should be doing. I know personally that that is the hardest part. Oftentimes, it’s easier just to do it yourself or be involved, or you want to have that control, but that’s where you just have to let go and let the team you put in place take care of it or manage it, or else you will just get stuck in this cycle of never getting out of your business. You’ll be in the hamster wheel of operations.

Drew McClellan:

As I have these conversations with agency owners, one of the things I hear all the time is, “Pick a task. It doesn’t matter what it is,” and then in air quotes, “I’m the only one who can do this,” or “I don’t have anyone on my team who’s good at this.” In the beginning, were there elements of the work that you did that you believed you did better, different, whatever, and how did you evolve your company so that you were confident when you handed the ball to Jamie that you knew how Jamie was going to do it and that you were going to be happy with the result?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. I did say that, and you’re just lying to yourself. This is where I transition into sort of coaching mode, self-coaching myself. I would be naive to think that I am the best person to do one of 10 tasks. I’m really good at probably two of those 10 tasks. I think it really boils down to fear, and that’s fear of giving up control, fear of hiring or firing people, or confidence. I think those are the real root causes of that dialogue that happens in your head, but we just lie to ourselves and say, “Yeah, we are really the best.” How you overcome this is actually taking action and acknowledging the fact that you do need someone to help you with that, and that becomes into hiring great people.

Whether your agency has full-time employees or you use a contractor model, the process is really the same. You have to hire great people who are on board with your vision and mission and your core values and that you can work with and build a relationship with. The quick, immediate short answer is find the things that you hate and suck at and build that confidence of giving those to people that can take care of them and build from there and sort of keep plodding along. But I told myself that lie, if you will, and it’s a big, giant trap. It’s a big, giant trap we get ourselves into. It’s a dangerous one because that is literally the mechanism that keeps us stuck in the same spot forever and ever, or burning down and burning out

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I also find sometimes as I’m working with agency owners that even as they start down that path, and maybe they’re starting to delegate some things, as their comfort level shifts… One of the reasons why they do all the day-to-day stuff is because they’ve done it forever and it’s so easy for them, and they are good at it. It’s satisfying to be good at your work. As we step them away from that day-to-day client work and into actually running the business, and often that includes mentoring, having tough conversations with employees, biz dev, that kind of stuff, A, that’s unsure footing for them. That’s not comfortable. A lot of times, they’ll retreat back in into what they know because it feels safer, and B, they have so much more confidence. It really does take some courage to step out into actually running your business because it’s not probably how you spent your whole career, and it’s new skills that you need to develop and new muscles that you need to work. Right?

Ryan Ayres:

That’s right. This really highlights how and why I moved to Focus 53, the more the coaching and consulting model, is I see this with every type of business and really, especially with service-based businesses. Whether it’s a fly-fishing customer that I have or an HVAC customer or an electrician or a golf coach, they all have this thing they think that they can do it better, and sometimes for the very specific craft or skill, they can. But then when you ask them, “Hey, what do you want to be doing in a couple years?” most all of them say, “I don’t want to just have a job doing this. I want it to be a business.” When you go from having a job to building a business, you have to take these types of steps. There’s no argument that these are the types of things you need to do.

That’s why I started Focus 53, frankly, is because I know it’s hard, I know a lot of people can’t do it on their own, and someone needs to help guide them, give them the confidence, be a crutch, their support to say, “Hey, this person, you got to let go,” or, “This task, you got to let go.” A quick story about that, I work with a guy that makes motorcycle sunglasses, and they’re a great product. He’s an awesome salesperson, a wonderful product development person. I called him up one day. I’m like, “Hey man, what’s going on? What are you up to?” He’s like, “My fingers are killing me.” I’m like, “Really? What happened? You hurt yourself? He’s like, “No, I’ve been assembling my sunglasses for the last four days straight.”

Drew McClellan:

Wow.

Ryan Ayres:

I’m like, “Dude, that’s something you could pay someone eight bucks an hour to do. That’s 32 hours of putting together sunglasses. Why are you doing that?” People just get stuck in this loop of taking care of the small things. That clearly is something someone else could have done, but he was still doing it. I suggest and believe that there are a lot of opportunities, me included, where we’re doing things we shouldn’t, and having someone tell you, “Hey man, I don’t think necessarily that that’s what you should be doing,” is a healthy conversation to have.

Drew McClellan:

Well, I also think one of the reasons why especially… That’s a great example of, “I didn’t want to ask someone else to do it because it’s this tiny, little task,” or, “I didn’t ask my high-level person… I don’t want to ask them to do this menial task, so I’m going to do it,” as opposed to understanding that your team is there for a reason. They’re there to support you. Just because it’s not a sexy task doesn’t mean that they can’t and shouldn’t do it.

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. Those are easy arguments to… their time is less valuable than yours. Right?

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Ryan Ayres:

It’s a really simple, logical thing. If you can get into logic on those, it’s really simple. Their time is less valuable than yours, and they may not like it for a second, but to me, that’s where you got to start looking at people and process to put around those types of tasks.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I think that’s a spot where many agency owners air on the, “I want to be well-liked,” as opposed to, “I want to run my business well.” It’s not that everybody doesn’t want to be liked and respected as a business owner. We do, and we should. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be the one who’s always emptying the waste baskets because we don’t don’t want to ask anyone else to do it

Ryan Ayres:

Agree. I think it’s a core personality type. Some people just like to be liked, and they don’t like conflict. They view these types of action as a form of conflict. They would just rather be liked and be a good boss than to do these things. That’s not to be said that a boss that does ask those is a bad boss or someone that the employee doesn’t like. We just get tied in our head about what you believe the other person will think about you. We will hold it in. I am very much, Drew, this person. I was very much an avoid-conflict, people person, “I want my employees to love me,” and I was the one doing these things. I had to learn the hard way from it, and the hard way was being stuck in the day-to-day minutia all the time when that wasn’t in alignment with my vision and goal.

Drew McClellan:

Given that you’re wired that way, how did you get over that? How did you get past that so that you could more appropriately assign tasks off your plate and onto other people’s plates, even if they were menial or not glamorous or tedious or fill in the blank, but they weren’t something anybody was going to go, “I’m psyched to do this”? How’d you get over that hump?

Ryan Ayres:

It was hard. I’d struggle with it every day. The way that I felt best-equipped to handle these types of things was really distilling down the best use of my time and just being organized on the things I’m working on, so having my top things for the day I need to work on, and they aren’t assembling sunglasses or whatever that parallel is in the agency world. It isn’t updating someone’s WordPress site. That’s not what my vision is for what I want to do. Being really true and honest to myself, the things that I needed to get done today aren’t those items. I played a little college football, so I’m a big accountability guy once the coach says what to do type thing. Once I create that list of my top three or four things to do for the day, I made sure that it wasn’t anything that had to do with doing day-to-day stuff.

Then the next question is, “Well, what happened to it?” Well, to be honest with you, some of it just didn’t get done, and it actually was okay. Nothing got hurt at all. Then the second part of that is assigning it to people that already worked for me and were already doing work, and they were totally fine with it. The little, menial tasks that you do typically aren’t rocket science. Anyone could do it. You just have to train them and show them how and spend a couple minutes, and it’s off your plate. That was really how I did it, Drew, was really establishing a clear and decisive tasks or to-do list for myself for the week and the day, ensuring that those weren’t the things that were on there, and the things that did seem that they shouldn’t be on there that still needed to be done, having one of my people do it for me.

Drew McClellan:

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. For a lot of owners, there’s something in their business, like the strategic planning or something that is a higher-level skill, that they believe they’re the only one that can do it, and as of today, that may be the case. But to your point, if they don’t teach someone else how to do it, they’re always going to be the one doing it. Were there tasks inside your web-dev shop that really were sort of higher-level tasks that you had to transfer knowledge to someone else? If so, how did you do that?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. For me, that’s still along the selling and biz-dev side of the house. I’m a big believer that people like to do business with people. When I’m in the room, working with executives and pitching or talking to them about their technology or web development needs, they’re really buying into Ryan Ayres the person first and or most because I’m the one communicating the message. I’m just the vessel for which I try to communicate our experience, our product and service, our people. I still struggle with this, to be very honest with you, Drew, is, “How do I put someone in that place that is me?” That’s creepy a little bit, for starters.

Drew McClellan:

Right, like a little mini-me.

Ryan Ayres:

Exactly. “How do I get a mini-me, and how are they going to be exactly the same as me? What if they don’t do as good a job?” Again, these are just sort of lies that we tell ourselves, and the reality is they aren’t you, but your goal is to find a better version of you, someone that’s better at it and different at it and unique at it and making sure that that person represents your organization’s core values, your vision, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Then there’s just training. You have to bring that person along and grow them up.

But for me, I struggled with business development and sales because I knew that people were hiring me because of me, which was great. I was very successful in that mold, but I couldn’t be on every sales call, and I couldn’t be at every business development meeting. That’s a tough thing to get over because you are literally, at that point, replacing you, not the task, and that’s very different, but it’s a struggle. The best way to do it is to get great employees with you in your organization to help with that and train them.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. I think it’s a couple other things too, I find, at least in my work with agency owners. One is that it’s work that they love to do. Not only do they believe they’re the best at it, but they kind of don’t want to let it go. Right?

Ryan Ayres:

Yep.

Drew McClellan:

It’s the fun part of the work. Let’s face it. I think a lot of agency owners, and I talk about this all the time, are accidental agency owners. They didn’t really intend to own a business. In some cases, they did. It was very intentional. But for many of them, they went out on their own, they got a little busy, they had to hire a person or two, and now they’re running a shop of 12 people and going, “Holy crap, I’m running a business.” Right?

Ryan Ayres:

That’s right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. What they love is the design or the writing or the working with clients or the strategy part of it, and it’s hard to let go of that and do accounting or whatever else out there requires their attention.

Ryan Ayres:

Totally. My model at the Focus 53 in helping an agency or other businesses is to really let a business owner… The very first step is to let this business owner do [inaudible 00:19:32] inside of their zone of genius, to let them harness their given talents, and maybe it is business development. Maybe they’re okay with that and they need someone like me or people I would bring in to do the accounting, maybe to do their marketing, to do their bookkeeping, customer service, all these other things that you need around a successful business. They don’t hire the person to replace them in this place that they love. They can work in the place that they love. You can still build a pretty kick-butt business that way. If that’s part of their vision, that’s what I’m there to help them with.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Yeah. We are doing the same thing. We’re helping them identify, “Where’s my sweet spot? How do I spend my time?” I think there are some things that agency owners have to do. I think there’s mentorship of your key leaders and some other things that the agency owner has to have their mitts in, but I think there’s a lot of things where, for example, “You know what? If you’re just really lousy at math, we can figure out some dashboards for you to look at so you’re never blind about your business, but it doesn’t mean you plug everything into the Excel spreadsheet yourself.”

Ryan Ayres:

That’s right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Ryan Ayres:

Another big one’s project management, right?

Drew McClellan:

They’re horrible at it.

Ryan Ayres:

Horrible at it.

Drew McClellan:

Horrible. Yeah.

Ryan Ayres:

It’s not their personality. It’s the one thing that’s a drain-your-life-out-of-you exercise for people that aren’t project managers. That’s another big one that you just really have to look at.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, absolutely. As you transitioned out of the day-to-day to your business enough that you could focus, no pun intended, on Focus 53, how did you handle that transition with your employees? Did they ask questions about it? Did they feel like you were, again, air quotes, kind of abandoning the business? Did you have conversations with them so they understood what your vision was and that everything was going to be just fine?

Ryan Ayres:

Yeah. Drew, totally. Very transparent about the vision of what I wanted to do, what the organization needed to do, and where it is going. By the time I was ready to transition off, it wasn’t a line in the sand, all of a sudden, I’m gone type thing. It was a slow progress that… It was really the next logical step and evolution of how I spend my time. The team really runs things basically from start to finish now. I may do some sales things. I may have some legacy customers that I still interact with or I have a great relationship… I’ve worked with the same people for 12 years, right?

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Ryan Ayres:

Their first website for their multimillion dollar business was with me, and I’ve been with them ever since, so I still have great relationships with me. Their friends, basically. They are people that I spend time with outside of, quote, unquote, work. Aside from those people, I handed it off, and it just became the next logical step. It’s not the last step in transitioning from being an operator in your business to being the owner in the business. It’s the first few steps to getting the momentum of building it so that it just becomes a natural progression as your A players take over more work and as you grow your team in alignment with your core values and your vision and mission. That part was actually quite easy. It’s the startup of that process, it’s the getting that movement and that action in place that was hard, not the actual day that I said, “All right, you guys got it. Call me if you need anything.”

Drew McClellan:

Right. You make such a great point that it… I think a lot of agency owners approach this as it’s an all or none, like, “I can never talk to clients,” or, “I can never do this.” Really, it’s about kind of thinning down. Of course, you’re always going to still be involved in some aspect of the business. Of course, to your point, there may be a legacy client or two that is so firmly wrapped around your leg that they’re not going anywhere, but getting rid of 85% of what you shouldn’t be doing is the goal, not just staying stuck in place.

Ryan Ayres:

Totally. A lot of us, and I’m this guy totally as well… It’s sort of an all or nothing mentality. “If I can’t get rid all of them, I might as well just keep doing it.” That is just…

Drew McClellan:

It’s a trap.

Ryan Ayres:

… such a trap, yeah…

Drew McClellan:

Yeah.

Ryan Ayres:

… like you said. If you got rid of 85% of them, do you know how much time you just freed up? You freed up a ton of time to do some really cool stuff, to do things you love, and not manage projects. Yeah, totally.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right. I think agency owners are often surprised. One of the conversations I will have with an agency owner is, “Look, if you want your team to help you get somewhere, you have to show them the map. They have to know where they’re going. They have to know why they’re going there. Then in most cases, they will gladly hop in the car with you and go, but you can’t expect them to hone their skills, to tak