How to Increase Your Agency's Revenue By Niching Down and Saying No

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Are you afraid to niche for your digital agency because you think it means saying no? Are you scared niching down will pigeonhole your agency and limit its potential? Think again! There are so many benefits when you choose to focus your agency services on a specific market. Joe Giovannoli worked for a full-service agency right out of college and decided to replicate that model when it came to building his own business. Like many agency owners, he was hesitant to focus on a specific market. But once his agency, 9Sail decided to niche down to just SEO for law firms and construction, they started to grow quickly. Joe is on the show sharing about niching down twice, life after learning to say no, and the most exciting deal his agency has landed.

3 Golden Nuggets
  1. Niching down twice. There is a lot of fear associated with niching down and making the switch to only go after a specific market or provide a specific service. Joe did this twice, once to change their service offering from a full-service agency to an SEO & SEM agency. Then again to focus on two specific industries with law and construction. Both times it was a scary step and he found himself relieved at the results. “We started getting more referrals. We've started getting more qualified leads, and we actually started to establish a name for ourselves in those spaces,” he says.
  2. Clients that take you with them. When asked about the most exciting deals they’ve gotten as an agency, Joe thinks back to the times they get referred by past clients. This is a testament to their work as an agency. Some of former clients have worked at several different companies over the years and each time they get to a new company they call 9Sail to work with them again. “That’s the really exciting stuff,” he assures “the deals that we get referred in from a past client, or we get referred in from somebody that's happy.”
  3. Life after learning to say no. What is life after learning to say no to being the agency that does everything and choosing a niche where you can be an authority? “The word relaxed comes to mind,” Joe told Jason. For starters, the team feels comfortable learning the space and knowing they're going to use this knowledge time and time. Rather than always needing to learn the nuisances of different industries. Also, niching gives them an opportunity to build their pipeline where they chose the clients that are the right fit for the agency. This results in a more predictable means for growth.
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Saying No to Trying to Be Everything to Clients & Finding Success After Niching Down Twice

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

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, Joe, welcome to the show. I'm excited to have you on.

Joe: [00:00:05] Yeah. Thanks. Excited to be here.

Jason: [00:00:07] Tell us who you are and what do you do?

Joe: [00:00:11] Uh, yeah, so, uh, my name's Joe Giovannoli. I am the founder and CEO of 9Sail. We are a search marketing company for law firms and construction companies. So we work on both the SEO organic side, as well as the paid search side of a marketing strategy that a law firm or construction company might have.

Our goal is basically lead generation for those, those companies.

Jason: [00:00:35] Awesome. And, uh, tell me a little bit about you and how you got started in the agency.

Joe: [00:00:40] Yeah. So I actually, uh, had started a company while I was in college. Uh, that was a social media marketing agency. And then coming out of college, I decided to work for a full-service marketing firm, you know, really just to get more experience.

I did sales and, you know, moved from there to another agency and realize that, you know, I love this agency world. I love the pace of it. I loved working with different clients and speaking with different business owners and, and marketing leaders. And I decided to start my own thing. So kind of fell into the industries that we are, that we're in now, you know, law firms and construction companies were just two really interesting spaces for us to be in.

And we identified some opportunity in the market so we went for it.

Jason: [00:01:24] Awesome.

Joe: [00:01:25] Yeah. We didn't set out to be just an SEO and SEM company. We were a full-service agency cause that's what I, only thing I knew and frankly, I didn't know that I could break off services at the time when I started the company. So we've been an SEO and SEM company for the last five years.

Jason: [00:01:43] What made you kind of drill down? Like what was the turning point or what was the aha moment?

Joe: [00:01:50] Yeah, there was a lot to that. I mean, really being a full-service agency, unless you have, you know, teams of people specializing in each thing, it's very difficult to be an expert. So we had one of those situations and I always refer to the book by John Warrillow 'Built to Sell'.

We had one of those moments where, you know, we had what we call fires all over the place. We had, you know, projects that were behind because a client was behind or, you know, somebody wasn't happy with the design or they had approved a design and then somebody, you know, told them, oh, you should try this. And then they want to changes.

And, uh, meanwhile, some of our SEO clients are just reaching out on a weekly basis saying, hey, we just closed this great deal or, hey, we, you know, we settled the case that made us, you know, $50,000, you know, this is great, thanks so much. And we realized, you know, what? Light bulb. We need to specialize because we're really good at this and we can only get better with, with time and with practice and with process.

So we said, you know what, let's cut the bait and really focus on what we know.

Jason: [00:02:47] Yeah, you know, it takes a while to get there. You know, I was talking to, um, a mastermind member this week and when they joined, they were around the 500,000 mark and now they're around the 2 million mark.

And I told them when you're going through this process, things will change. And a lot of times as things change, you have to make things simpler. And I was talking to a member and telling them how they had needed to drill down and say no to more things and really start eliminating some of the stuff that's not profitable or some of the stuff that's not streamlined that they do really well.

And, um, I'm excited to see where they, they can go cause when agency owners figure that out, that's when they have substantial growth and then they run into all new issues.

Joe: [00:03:38] Yeah. Honestly, that's like the launchpad, right? Is, you know, as soon as we recognize that and listen, we turn down more work than we take on a regular basis. And I have a couple of SEO agency partners that I have just grown to like and build relationships with.

I say to a prospect, hey, it's not for me, but here's two names that I recommend that you reach out to. I can make personal intros for you if you'd like, but we know what our wheelhouse is. And the second that we start to stray from it we're not doing our people any favors internally because they can't see themselves as experts anymore because they're working on 20 different industries. And you know, we're not doing our clients any favors because we're in a way trying to reinvent the wheel over and over again, learning things that maybe another agency could do better than, than we can.

Jason: [00:04:24] Yeah. What's the biggest deal or the most exciting deal that you guys have won?

Joe: [00:04:31] That's an interesting question. So for us, we get just as excited over the small boutique law firms that we work with as we do when we get a big law firm. So one of our clients who was a very, I would say older law it was much older law firm in New Jersey, they just rebranded because one of the partners became a named partner. And so we are helping them through the transition of changing the name online from one to another.

And, uh, you know, that has been super exciting. We've been fortunate to work with the chief culture officer there. She's now the chief culture officer. She's been at a couple of different law firms and, uh, we've had the opportunity to work with her pretty much everywhere she's went for the last five years. And, uh, that was really exciting.

The deals that we get referred in from a past client, or we get referred in from somebody that's happy. That's the exciting stuff that we, we love working on.

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Yeah. You know, that just tells you, you do good work when, uh, you know, I used to, we would work with some of the biggest brands and then we would get, I remember this one time we got in bed with Aflac and we were real excited. We were like, we can do all kinds of really cool things with this duck. And the CMO got fired.

And I was like, no! Like we were so close, but then that CMO got hired at another big firm or a big company and then they brought us in. It's always exciting when you get referrals or they take you along on the journey. I'm curious, what's been one of the biggest challenges that you guys overcame in the past couple years, that really made a difference for you guys?

Joe: [00:07:30] Yeah, you know. You kind of touched on it earlier and it goes back to saying no. I had a real challenge ahead of me when I realized that we did have to say no to things, because for me revenue and dollars where ways to grow the company and kind of grow the talent on the team and, and add to the team. And so I really struggled for a long time to say no.

And we had somebody come to us that knew of us and had been referred to us and essentially said, hey guys, we're willing to offer you pretty much three times what any of one client would typically pay us to kind of take over our search presence and know online presence. And it was so not a fit for anything that we had ever done and some back and forth conversation happened and we said, no.

And that was a big thing for me because I am a helper. I like to help people. I like to be the guy to not say no. And I learned, and I realized that I could say no, but I could offer them a solution, right? And, and I think that, that for me was the way that, that we got over that. But I think that that's been the biggest thing that we've overcome.

We have challenges today that we still face that we're still working through. And those will probably be the answer to that question in the future when we can solve them. But, you know, I think all in all our biggest thing was saying no. And I think we do that really well now.

Jason: [00:08:56] Yeah. One of our mastermind members, Chris, when he learned to say no and he did something very similar to you. He had a bunch of strategic partners that were in the same space and he really scaled his digital agency by going to those partners and saying, hey, here's a perfect lead for you. Because he had such a high criteria for his clients, and they were still really good leads, but they would pass them to other people that do the exact same thing.

And then they would replicate back and forth and really what became one relationship became a many relationships. It was when they started doing that, their digital agency scaled really quick and they really grew their agency fast.

So what's life like now that you've learned to say no? Like what does your daily routine look like?

Joe: [00:09:51] So we have our team kind of siloed out, you know, they work on, you know, I have, uh, somebody that's, their entire workload is law firms. I have actually two people that are in that way. I have one person that's just specifically focused on the contractors and construction companies.

So it's been a lot calmer and what I've found too and, and we've been seeing a lot of success with this is that, you know, our clients don't compete with one another. That's another thing is we don't take clients on that directly compete in the same market. So we will get a, a backlink opportunity and we'll be able to leverage that relationship for a couple of different clients over the course of time, because a different, you know, it may be a good place for a blog article, like a guest blog or something of that nature.

So for us, I think the word relaxed would come to mind because I think that the team can feel comfortable, you know, learning a space and, and knowing that they're going to use this time and time again, rather than kind of playing ping pong between different industries. But, you know, for myself personally, it's been great because growth is kind of predictable, right?

Is if I say, you know, hey, I really want to add two new clients a month and you know, I want to grow at that scale for the next year and we want to make sure that we're getting the right size clients. For me to say no to a bunch of things isn't a big deal because I know that I'm building a pipeline and I'm referring things out to people, but I'm getting the people that I want, right?

And in a way, now we're interviewing prospects to see if they're a fit for us, rather than, you know, scraping to grab everything and every dollar that comes our way.

Jason: [00:11:23] I love it. Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Joe: [00:11:29] No, not really. Other than I would say, you know, again, we talked a lot about, you know, our niche and our niche and, or however you want to say it. And, uh, I think that it really is something that people fear. I've talked to so many entrepreneurs that they fear that switch, right? That change of like, oh, well, we're going to only go after this or we're only going to provide this specific service.

And we did that twice. We did that with the service, changing our service offering, and then we did it again by picking a specific set of clients. And both times it was the most nerve-wracking yet rewarding thing in literally six months.

Like it went from being like a, oh my God, I can't believe we did this to and like, are we doing the right thing? To wow. We opened the flood gates. We told people, this is what we specialize in. We started getting more referrals. We've started getting more qualified leads, and we actually started to establish a name for ourselves in those spaces.

And we are no longer trying to be everything to everybody. We're just trying to be everything to somebody, right? And we are trying to be that go-to person for search marketing in these two spaces. Especially in the legal space, in and around the New Jersey, New York market people know our name, they, we are part of that conference,

Jason: [00:12:40] Yeah. I love that when I see digital agencies really do that, then they can say, well, it really steamrolls a whole, whole thing in order to scale the agency, because now you can be selective of who you take on, you can raise your prices to whatever you want, based on the value and their expectations.

You know, we were talking about this in the mastermind. I was asking people like, well, when do you guys raise your pricing? And some people are like, well, once a year, but we only do that for new people coming in and we were talking about strategy. We were like, look, you should all set up tiers and saying, the next five clients are at this price. The next five clients is this price.

And then once we get to this level, then we're going to go back to all our existing ones and raise it. And just little small changes like that can grow profitability because everyone focuses on top-line revenue and that's, I think bullshit.

I think it's all-around profitability because when we come in and we buy an agency, we're looking at profitability. I don't care if you're a 10 million, $20 million agency. If you don't have any profit, you're not worth anything.

Joe: [00:13:47] Right. Yeah. Well, it's funny you say that. So we operate a little differently than that model, but I think in the same vein. So we have set three, five, and 10-year targets as to what our average client is going to be worth. And again, to your point, we look at both top-line revenue, but a profit, right?

So we have it worked out where we know if they're at a top-line revenue at this all of our expenses are completely baked out. We know what our profit's going to be. So we've set those targets and essentially we know now that very similar to how, cause we also run traction, very similar to how you set quarterly rocks. We set quarterly expectations as to what our clients need to be paying at that point in order to make sure that the average of all of the clients that we have equals out to that number.

So, you know, we're really excited for that. And it is something that the entire team kind of grabs onto because they also know that the higher the dollar figure that the client is paying, the less clients that they're managing and the more detailed they can get with their clients, right?

So, and we try to explain this to our small law firms all the time is that, you know, you're taking the right step by doing the work that we're doing and working with us. But the reality is if you were paying four times this, right? You're going to have somebody that pretty much read a 50% of their time is going to be dedicated to just your stuff and think about all of the things that they could accomplish for your brand if they were solely focused on you.

Jason: [00:15:09] I love it.

Joe: [00:15:09] It's selling that vision.

Jason: [00:15:11] Yeah. Tell us what's the website people go and check you guys out.

Joe: [00:15:15] Yeah. So, uh, our company is 9sail.com. So it's the number nine, sail, like a sailboat, S A I L. Check us out. We're in the process of redoing that site again, you know, we're going to be expanding some of our SEO services to granularize some of the things that we do really well.

Digital PR is a, is on the horizon for us, something that we're going to be breaking down because it is pretty much the same thing as the backlinking that we do just, you know, on a, on a larger scale. So we are super, super excited about it, but yeah, check us out at 9sail.com.

Jason: [00:15:46] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. You rocked it. Everyone go check out their website, reach out to them if you need it. And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where you can scale your digital agency faster and see what's working and really have 60 plus trusted advisors to really help you out. I'd love to invite you all to go to digitalagencyelite.com.

And go check it out, and if it's right, we'll have a conversation and let you know. So go to digitalagencyelite.com and until next time have a Swenk day.

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