What Benefits Await Your Agency Beyond the Seven-Figure Mark?

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Are you struggling to get your agency beyond the million-mark? What benefits await beyond seven figures? Erik Olson merged companies with his current partner four years ago and they started Array Digital, an agency that, in its beginnings, focused on website development and mobile application services. They introduced digital marketing services as a smaller branch and then realized it became more popular than expected. In his conversation with Jason, Erik spoke about making the decision to niche down and why reaching the seven-figure mark made such a difference. He also talks about his book about the journey to a million dollars.

3 Golden Nuggets
  1. Why seven figures? It took Erik 11 years to break a million dollars in revenue but he really saw a difference after that point. Why seven figures? “It’s a nice round number,” he says. It’s not random at all, only 4% of businesses reach the million-dollar mark, so reaching that number meant, to him, that he crossed the threshold of success. Once he did it, he realized that running the business became a bit easier. He finally had extra money to invest in their own marketing, getting clients gifts, a mastermind, and things that were unaffordable in the beginning.
  2. Invest in your people. A huge component of any business is its people and Erik knew this was another area that could see significant investment once the agency started growing. “When I hired my first employee, the only benefit that I had was paid time off,” he recalls. As time went on, they were able to offer more benefits like dental, medical insurance, and even retirement matching. He’s giving his staff what they need to be whole when it comes to their finances and the work itself.
  3. What he would do differently. If he had to start over from having a 300,000k business trying to get to one million, Erik says he would quickly focus on the ideal prospect. This is something that took him a long time but now he says he would 100% niche down at that point. “First and foremost, I would certainly identify very clearly who it is I'm talking to or want as a client. And then I would be pretty rapidly going towards niching.”
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What Are The Benefits Beyond the Seven-Figure Mark & How You Can Invest in Your Team

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] What's up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here, and I'm excited. I have another amazing episode. I have one of my mastermind members who runs a really successful agency. His partner has actually been on, so I thought I would bring him on as well. And we're going to talk about scaling to seven figures. I know a lot of you watching or listening are constantly trying to battle and you're really trying to get there. And it took me a number of different years to get there and he's going to talk about it as well.

So let's go ahead. Get into it.

Hey, Eric. Welcome to the show.

Erik: [00:00:37] What's up, Jason? Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:38] Yeah. I just realized too. I've had Drew and Darren on and, and Kevin and you. Now you're the fourth person on the intro that you can see the drone, the drone flying out from experience. I see them, I see them, I could see the shining head off the edge.

Erik: [00:00:57] Hey! Why’d you have to go there, man? Now that was awesome. As a matter of fact, uh, one of the pictures from the experiences my Twitter profile, picture up on the mountain, it was like the, I guess it's the first full day we hiked up Swenk mountain. Yeah, that was amazing, man.

Jason: [00:01:14] It was fun, yeah, at sunset. So yeah, it was fun. And then obviously the ones we did on the ATVs, since you guys were the suckers in the back, you guys got dusted, but…

Erik: [00:01:25] Yeah, I definitely should've brought goggles to that trip, that's for sure.

Jason: [00:01:28] Exactly. Well, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Erik: [00:01:31] Sure I’m Erik. Online I go by Erik J. Olson. I am the CEO of a digital marketing agency in Chesapeake, Virginia named Array Law. We have been in business for about four years.

We, um, we've gone through a bunch of different iterations and I've run several previous companies. And so about four years ago, my business partner, Kevin Daisy, who was also on your show recently and also a mastermind member, we merged companies. And at that point, we decided that we were going to rebrand as Array Digital.

And at the time we were focused on website and mobile applications, and we did this little thing called digital marketing off to the side. We had one person that we were just like, just go take care of that extra value-added service. And one day I sat down and I looked at all of our financials and I saw that we were making pretty good money.

It just wasn't a lot of it, very high percentage. So high percentage, but low dollar amounts. I'm like, what don’t we focus on this a little bit more? And I had been focusing on it and like, you know, my research and whatnot for the last year. It took about six months before we started to get some real recurring revenue from that.

That was really nice to see recurring revenue in an area that we really enjoyed working in.

Jason: [00:02:51] Yeah. I think, you know, for many years, or some people take even longer, it's you do the things that just keep coming to you rather than really go and really look at what are the things that give me a lot of energy or which are the ones that like take energy away?

And like, if you can match like the ones that give you energy with the ones that make you a lot of money and profit, you're like, all right, let's do more of that. But I think we get too involved in the process in, in the business that we can't even see it. So how were you able to kind of take some time and to see that and really kind of, I look at it?

Erik: [00:03:23] Yeah. So as far as like the, the pivot that we were going to make?

Jason: [00:03:26] Exactly.

Erik: [00:03:27] Yeah, well, honestly the work started to dry up a little bit. We had a whole bunch of very expensive software developers on staff and we were wrapping up some projects. We were going into the holidays. And we had about five prospects, several, like, yes, we're going to sign with you.

And we're like, oh man, we're going to need to get more office space and all this stuff. And I wouldn't say that that actually was probably like late summer that happened. And then going into the fall, the prospects didn’t close. Going into the holidays, the prospect started ghosting us.

And so our projects were wrapping up. We didn't have a lot of new projects coming and we were, honestly, quite afraid for the future. So we started having some real discussions about what are we going to do here if this doesn't work out the way that we had hoped it was going to work out?

And, you know, my background was software development. I did software development for 15 years, so this digital marketing stuff was new for me. And so I spent about a year just deep diving into, uh, getting this taking in everything I get my hands on, you know, online personalities, articles, blogs, you name it. I was just consuming, consuming and learning about it, and we were getting better as a team. But, um, I realized we had to make a pivot and actually we had a conversation that the riskiest thing that we could do was to do nothing.

We had to pivot and take that big, big risk. But, you know, from a personal standpoint, I was walking away from the thing that I knew the most about. So, it was, it was a challenge.

Jason: [00:05:00] Yeah. And I know when I'm always talking to people about niching down and really going all in on it, they're like, well, what if it doesn't work?

And then I'm like, well, what if it does? Like, that's a bigger, it's like, that's the bigger thing. It's like, I've seen it 95% of the time work. There's always those exceptions for bad implementation, but when you can kind of go all in to something that the market needs, that you have passion for forget about it. So…

Erik: [00:05:30] Yeah. And you know, we did not niche until, well, until we, honestly, we joined the mastermind and we kept hearing about it and we kept meeting and learning about the businesses of mastermind members. And what we noticed very clearly was that the members that had niched the most as far as industry or discipline seemed to be doing the best.

And so we started to kind of go down that path. But again, it's a scary thing because you're not used to it. You're used to people just coming to you from various industries for various needs, but it also gets exhausting when every time a prospect comes to you it's like a brand new problem that you may not even know how to solve. And you have to kind of be like, yeah, we could do that. And you don't really know if you can.

I'd rather do the same kind of work, frankly. As far as the work itself, over and over again, but the, uh, the creative output or process be the variable for each client. So we can still be creative. The things that we do as far as like run ads or build websites, it's the same, right? And so we get better. We get more efficient.

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Yeah, I remember cause we did a lot of custom application development and yeah, it was, there was no set playbook. I mean, it was always, always different and it was just challenging. And at that part of the business was always the one that was kind of close to breaking even, it seemed like.

It was just, we were really profitable on the creative and the digital marketing. I just wish I cut that, the development a little quicker, but back in the day when we were growing, we, that was one of the things that could actually help us to grow. But it's a little different nowadays, you know, going forward.

What are some of the other things that helped you guys get over the seven-figure mark?

Erik: [00:08:19] Yeah, great question. So it took me 11 years to break a million dollars in revenue. Uh, 11 years as a business owner. The first four years I was doing government contracting for the Navy. I, I live in the Norfolk, Virginia, uh, market, and there's a ton of Navy here. And so a lot of people get DOD work.

I started my own little company with another, with a partner and it was just a two-man crew. And right off the bat, we were making good money but it wasn't seven-figure money, but it was, it was a good income for an individual. And it was one of those situations where you don't want to walk away from it.

But I knew I had to one day and eventually I got the boot and had to golf on my own and, uh, started to, to really focus in on business and started hiring people and growing a team. You know, one of the things that really helped me a lot was when I did that, when I took that step and I, I started to take on commercial clients, I knew that I had an opportunity to get a lot of work from my network, but only if I told them what I was doing.

So I literally had to tell the world on a daily basis what I was doing. And it was, there was hesitation for me to do that. And I see this in a lot of new company founders or freelancers, where it's almost like they're hedging their bets in case they fail. It was what it seems like.

And that's how I was feeling like, well, if I tell everybody, if I tell my mom, my dad, my aunts, all my friends from high school, every, everybody that I know, if I tell everybody, and then it doesn't work out, I'm going to be embarrassed.

But I knew that that, that was it. There was one plan for me, it was the plan that had to work. And so I had to activate that network. So that was a big, big thing for me, was telling everybody what I was doing and making sure everybody knew what I was doing.

And it continues today because you know, all companies kind of pivot a little bit and tweak their offering and whatnot, or, or they niche, or, and so we, we have to continue to tell people what we're doing so that if someone knows me from years ago, or we just met, I want them to know that Erik is the guy that does X, Y, or Z.

Even if they're not a prospect, they can carry the message on. So that was a big part for me.

Jason: [00:10:40] Why the seven figures?

Erik: [00:10:42] So yeah, you know, why million dollars a year in revenue? Why is that pertinent? Number one, it's a nice round number and it's something that our culture kind of throws around a lot, you know, millionaire's kind of a big thing.

Not that if you make seven figures that your agency, if you're a millionaire, not by a long shot. You may actually be losing money in reality. So it's something that's recognizable, but also I learned a couple of years ago that only 4% of businesses reach the million-dollar mark.

Jason: [00:11:12] Really. Oh, wow.

Erik: [00:11:13] And to me… yeah. To me that meant that 96% of businesses either are mom and pops or they struggle to get there or do they just die trying.

And so it's enough of the challenge where I knew I wanted that. But once I crossed that threshold, what I didn't realize until afterwards was that the business just got a little bit easier to run. So we finally had a little bit of extra money that we could put into things like our own marketing and getting clients gifts and a mastermind and some of these extra kind of like things that were unaffordable in the beginning. Nice to haves later.

And now we could actually start investing back in the business and we can hire people, the right kinds of people. So it just got easier as a business owner once we cross that threshold. Now, the number of self is it's just a number. There's nothing magical about it, but right around that point for me in my personal experience is when things started to really change.

Jason: [00:12:20] Yeah. Yeah. I agree with you on there. I remember… It took us a couple of years to get through to the million dollar mark just on the top line. And then I realized, you know, after that I was like, well, okay, that's top line. Well, how do we get it to, you know, the profit? Like, make that the profit, like literally I just got off an interview a little while ago, not sure uh, when that show will go live, but it's with Don scales.

And we were talking about, he's done 40 acquisitions and he's a CEO for a huge global agency of over 500 people. We were talking about like, which are the ones that he looks for. And he, uh, I remember him telling a story about, he was talking to the Omnicom CEO. He goes, hey, I'm going to go look at this one agency. And he's like, well, where are they at? And he's like, well, they're a million in revenue. He goes a million in EBITDA? He goes, no a million in revenue. And he goes, if I were you and I was flying to them, I would fly by and wave. He goes, I wouldn't talk to anybody for that under a million and EBITDA.

And I didn't realize that for many years to come as well of going… Cause we all have that, that mental hurdle we want to get to that million and then you get to a million, then you're like, you go to the next. And I totally agree with you, you know, Erik on it does get simpler because you can afford to, you're really starting to focus on building your team.

Like, you know, like what we talked about in the mastermind a lot with your guys' success group is around recruiting and building leaders and that kind of stuff. And when you can invest into that, it takes, um, all the weight off your shoulders. Have you found that as well?

Erik: [00:14:07] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And, and people, that's a huge component of any business, but certainly in, in agency life, you, you have to invest in your folks.

And, you know, in the beginning, when I, when I hired my first employee, the only benefit that I had was paid time off and that was pretty cheap. So it was like, you know, two weeks of paid time off and we kept hours and all that stuff. And, but as time went on and we made a little bit more money, I was able to offer more benefits.

So when we offered dental, we offered a vision, we offered a medical, of course. And then, you know, one of the most recent ones was retirement matching, which that's a big deal. I mean, that costs us a lot of money, every pay period to put money into someone else's retirement account, but we're giving our staff what they need to be whole when it comes to their finances and hopefully with the work itself as well.

But all that costs money. You need tools as well, right. So it's easy to say, oh, you need to do great work. But if you don't give them the tools, if you can't afford the tools, they need to do great work, then you're asking for something that's unreasonable. So yeah. You need the money to invest in your people. Now that's probably the biggest component, right?

Jason: [00:15:26] Yeah, exactly. Well, if you had to do one thing over again, you know, so it took you a couple of years in order to get to the million mark if you were starting over today and you're around 300,000. What's, what's the one thing, if you had one thing that you could do in order to get you over a million, what would it be?

Erik: [00:15:47] Oh, man, great question. If I was at 300,000 and I wanted to get to a million as quickly as possible, I do think that I would very quickly focus in on the ideal prospect. It took me a long, long time to get to that point. So I don't know if that's, if I would a hundred percent niche at that point, but I would certainly know who I'm speaking to.

I think niching is very, very powerful, but one of the main reasons is powerful is that even though you may be doing almost the same kind of work in one niche as the other, you can speak directly to your prospect. So before we did any niching, our messaging as a marketing agency was something along the lines of, we do great SEO, websites, fill-in the discipline. We do great digital marketing. But we can never say for who.

And so the moment that we started to niche in, and when we have two agencies now, I'll go with the newer second one, which is HPAC contractors, these are people that put AC units into homes. We can say we do amazing digital marketing for HPAC owners and we can talk about the different kinds of manufacturers that they interface with and the pros and cons of each and what their customers want out of them. And so we can get very, very specific in the messaging that we provide to our ideal prospects.

So back to the question, what would I do? First and foremost, I would certainly identify very clearly who it is I'm talking to or a want as a client. And then I would be pretty rapidly going towards niching.

Jason: [00:17:32] I agree with that because then you can charge and raise your prices to whatever you want it to be. Like, I always tell people I want to print the t-shirt like “Raise your prices, stupid.” Literally, just because so many agencies are hardly charging anything.

And if you can charge more, you make more. If you make more, you can hire the right people. But in order to do that, you have to separate yourself from everyone else out there, all the me-too digital agencies out there. So make sure if you're a digital agency and you're want to get over the million mark, look at your agency pricing, look at who you're actually going after. And I look at that as… that's how you get over it. And then once you get over it, now it's about, you know, kind of keep scaling it.

I see a lot of times people get over it and then they're like, I kind of liked it when it was in the fun stage. And I kind of go back down the mountain, like at base camp, it's easier to breathe at base camp. And I'm like, but the view's not as good.

Erik: [00:18:35] Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned raising prices and I've heard you say that many, many times, and it's a scary thing, right? And especially when you're a young company, because you haven't figured everything out. And so you know that there's a lot of opportunity for improvement in your offering and your customer service and you're afraid… you know, I think a lot of times people are afraid of raising the price on existing customers. So they're fearful of raising the price for new prospects. And I think those two things should be separated. You can handle how much you charge existing customers separate from how much you quote new customers.

When we started to raise our prices, it was pretty shocking to everybody that people were saying yes. That happens.

Jason: [00:19:23] Oh, they'll, they'll say yes really quick. And then you're like, oh man, I should have said more. But I'm glad you brought that up, it's like, you really want to start with raising your prices on the prospects coming in.

And then once you get enough, if you want, you can go back to your clients because there's an opportunity cost there on agencies, right? You know, you'd be like, oh, well I’m making 20,000 more a month on this one client then some of the old ones. Well, you need to have a conversation like a Dean in the mastermind. We had a conversation and, uh, he had a bunch of legacy clients. Literally we thought he would lose about half of his clients, but the other half would say yes, because he doubled his price.

Every one of them said yes. And he made it another 60,000 in monthly recurring revenue just by going to his old clients, not even including raising the pricing on the prospecting. So it's huge, huge thing that everyone can do.

Eric, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Erik: [00:20:23] Sure. If you don't mind, I did write a book about my journey to the million-dollar mark and it's called Million Dollar Journey. And it is up on Amazon and got a little bit of a shine here, but yeah Million Dollar Journey by me, Eric J. Olson. And it's just the whole story of everything that I did. So the stuff that we talked about today, uh, but then a lot more things went into it and the merger on the pivot and whatnot.

Jason: [00:20:47] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show, Eric. And everyone go check out their book, Eric's book on scaling over the seven-figure mark.

And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you guys want to be around amazing agency owners and have a good time and scale and have those people that actually understand what you're going through and that are all digital agency owners. I'd love for you guys to go check out the digital agency elite mastermind, go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

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