On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Trenton Moss talk about how to cultivate more meaningful interactions between the people within your agency.
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On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Trenton Moss talk about how to cultivate more meaningful interactions between the people within your agency.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Galen Low talk about what agency leaders can learn about servant leadership from their digital project managers.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Rhodes Perry discuss how each agency leader can transform their culture into one of belonging and inclusion over time.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and LaTonya Wilkins discuss how to lead by building psychologically safe relationships within your agency.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Massimo Backus discuss emotional awareness in order to mindfully ride the waves of high-highs and low-lows in agency leadership.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Dorie Clark discuss the power in saying no to things that don’t make sense for you, and how to strategically position yourself as a long game thinker for the benefit of your agency.
Episode 119: Are You Playing the Long Game? with Dorie Clark
Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource, the only podcast for creative, media, and technology leaders who are ready to dive deeper into conscious leadership and agency growth. I'm your host, Kelly Campbell. Thrive is brought to you by accessiBe, the leading web accessibility solutions provider. Join thousands of agencies that are already incorporating web inclusivity into their service offerings, visit accessiBe.com today. So welcome back to Thrive. Last time, I was talking with Melanie Chandruang about the future of agency operations. I hope you enjoyed that episode. And today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Dorie Clark, renowned consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author of now four books, the newest one being The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World. Hope you can see that if you're watching. Dorie is also represented by consciousness leaders, and I'm really excited to have her in that collective. She was actually named one of the top 50 thinkers in the world. And you're about to find out why. So, Dorie, thank you so much for being on the show tonight. I'm really, really grateful to spend some time with you.
Dorie: Hey, Kelly, thank you. Great to be here.
Kelly: So, I love this book. I hope everybody who's listening or watching goes out and grabs a copy. Early on in the book, you talk about this concept of whitespace. And obviously in the creative realm, we all understand the importance of whitespace. But in this context, you're talking about saying yes to everything means being average at everything, which I think is a really insightful way to think about that. And I think what I'm hearing in the book is that you're suggesting that a lot of people just don't have a checklist or a filter by which they gauge what to say yes or to what to say no to. So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. And then maybe the correlation with our perpetual calendar cramming that we all suffer from?
Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. So, part of what inspired this line of thinking was actually a book I read about a decade ago, by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss called Uncommon Service. And it was really interesting. It was a book about service industry businesses, so everything from airlines to banks, and they were really trying to explore the question of why is it that most businesses are just so mad? I mean, it's pretty rare that there's anybody that's like, oh, I'm so excited about my airline, let me tell you about them, right. Like, that just doesn't really happen. And so, why is it that despite, clearly every business would love to be exemplary; they would love to have viral chatter about them, but it just doesn't really happen. And what they realized at a very fundamental level, is that companies, and I will argue this is true for individuals as well. But in this case, companies are just so reluctant to make choices, to make strategic choices, that they just try to do everything, but it does not work out well. They have this fantasy in their head that like, oh, we're going to choose to be great at this. And then we'll just be average and everything else. But this is where we'll be great. And what they said, which I think is very true is no, it doesn't work. That way, you have a finite amount of energy. If you're going to be great at something, you have to choose to be bad at something else. And the strength is in understanding what to be bad at. So, we do have to really plow down and make the choices. And so that inspired me a lot as I was thinking about us as individuals in our own careers. What are we going to choose to be bad at? We have so many things clogging our inboxes and we get our attention grabbed and waylaid and we need to become a little more ruthless about prioritizing.
Kelly: Yeah. And so, I think that as this correlate for me, and obviously what you said in the book about the idea of jampacking our calendars saying yes to everything, right? It's not just saying yesterday, we're going to offer all these different services, although that's clearly part of this as well. But it's even on that kind of more microlevel on the day-to-day level, where we just cram and cram, say yes, say yes. And there is really very little filter. Part of me thinks that it comes from a trauma response of people pleasing and not wanting to hurt someone's feelings. And maybe your argument in the book is that, saying yes to everything, maybe there's an element of like, fear of missing out, or fear of losing some opportunity. But there's got to be a checklist. There's got to be a filter, right?
Dorie: Sure. I mean, ultimately, it's all of those things, right? I mean, nobody wants to be a bad guy. Nobody wants to miss that out on anything. You don't want to leave money on the table. There are a million reasons why we might justify saying yes. But ultimately what I've come to discover and part of what is so powerful to me, honestly, when I think about strategy and just the concept of strategic planning, I mean, it might sound kind of like nerdy or arcane, but ultimately, it strikes me is really, almost a modern place where we actually have the ability to show courage, because it is about making decisions and cutting off options, just saying no, this is the plan. This is the way that we're going to do this. This is the hypothesis. I am going to test it. And, we all know ultimately that, not deciding is a form of decision. But frankly, it's a weak form of decision. It's just, oh, well, let's see what happens. There is strength in making a call and being willing to accept the consequences of that call. And I admire that in people.
Kelly: Right. It's interesting because as you're saying that, I'm thinking about one of the practices that I have, and I've talked about this on the show before is, I have these five post it notes that I tried to write one thing on each day, and each post it note stack has a different question on it. And one of the questions is, what did I say no to. And I would need to write something on that every single day. And the other day, I was asked to be on a board, like a local nonprofit board. And this is the second year that I've been asked, and I was like, you know what, at this point, it's not about timing, it's just not a good fit. And the response that I got back was, we’re so disappointed, and I was like, that's not about me, like this is a very clear choice. I feel good about it. And it is courageous. And I like that I used that word. It's courageous, because it does take courage and strength to say, this might be a great opportunity for someone else.
Dorie: Or it might have been a great opportunity for you five years ago, but not now. And I think sometimes there's a lag in how we think of ourselves or how we understand ourselves. And so sometimes we're kind of drawn back to like, oh, but this would have been so good. I wanted this so much. But now we're in a different place. And we have to recognize that we're in a different place.
Kelly: Right. So, there's another concept that I love in the book, and you call it thinking in waves; it's kind of this four-part—learning, creating, connecting and reaping. So, let's dive into that a little bit as a framework, because I think it's actually pretty hard to argue against, like, it's philosophy at the core. So, I'd love to talk about that.
Dorie: Yes, definitely. So ultimately, kind of similar to what we were talking about before the fact that we can't do all the things, this isn't, in some ways, a kind of refinement of that, which is that we have the things we're choosing to do. We have to also recognize we can't do all the facets at one time. We have to understand that there are phases, I call it, think of them or call them waves, where we're in a different place in the cycle of whatever it is that we're doing. And it becomes really helpful, I think, because for a lot of people, there's a tendency to beat ourselves up, that we're not doing more things, that we're not doing them faster, that it's not happening faster. But the truth is like, you can't plant a tree, and then just be so mad, like, why did he grow a foot. It's like, you know what, it will grow a foot, just like you have to wait a little bit. And similarly, for all of us, there's really kind of four stages that we're in, in almost any skill that we're learning in almost any business that we're cultivating. And they are as I identify them, learning, creating, connecting, and reaping. And briefly, I mean, the learning phase, in some ways is kind of self-evident, which is that before you start doing your own thing, it is really useful to kind of know what sphere you're operating and how does this work? Who are the people? How do they fit together? What's the culture here? What have other people done before? These are really important things for you to know before you start mucking around. But then, once you do, and this is a transition that many people actually fail to make. You need to start creating yourself. You need to start raising your hand and sharing your ideas, contributing in some capacity, whether it's writing articles or just speaking up, but oh, well, what about this? What about that? It's very easy for a lot of people, just continue to be the wallflower that takes it all in, but you're not adding much value at that point. So you start creating, adding your own genetic quoi to the mix, and then at a certain point, you get to connecting because no matter what you're doing if you're the only one speaking up, if you're the only one that knows what your ideas are, they're inherently not going to travel very far. It's not going to be very useful. You need to amplify that. And you can do that by building your network, getting even more and better ideas by connecting with other folks. And then finally, once the wheels are turning on all this, you get to reaping mode, which is the great part where you're feeling successful, you're making a contribution, you're making a difference. But this is also a potential trap as well, that we have to be mindful of, because sometimes people just get into reading mode and are like, well, this is great, I'll just stay here. But if you do that too long, you eventually wear out, you're welcome. The world changes, the industry changes. And all of a sudden, it's like, no, sorry, we don't want you in your blast faxes anymore. It can become very disrupted and disruptive. So we need to be thoughtful about how to move into the new wave. We go back in to learning so we don't become obsolete.
Kelly: So, it's cyclic, essentially.
Dorie: Yes, exactly.
Kelly: I love that. And I think it's true that some people can go through the first three waves. They get to reaping and then they become like, that guy in the networking event who's just like not connecting with anyone on a personal level, handing out the business card saying the spiel. And then looking at the room as like what's in it for me, as opposed to how can I add value here? Yeah, nobody wants to be that guy.
Dorie: Totally. Okay, no, that makes sense. I like it.
Kelly: And so I would imagine also, like, as you're in this process of thinking in waves, and maybe you're going from learning, you're transitioning into creating and connecting, I think maybe between and you can see if this is true, or not between connecting and reaping. Could there be a moment or months or years where you're like, it's not happening fast enough? Like I should be somewhere else at this point? Like, what about that point? I mean, I know that it kind of, it fits in between that transition, but is that where what you call strategic patience kind of sits into the chronology?
Dorie: Well, the main thing Kelly is it never happens fast enough. I mean, like, literally all of us at every stage. I mean, I, in part, was inspired to write the long game, because I work with so many clients, where almost all of our sessions would basically start with him just venting and being so frustrated because I did this, and I did this, and I did this, and then then Ted isn't calling yet. Right? It's like, okay, I get it. I totally get it. And it’s just this process where we, unfortunately, typically have to keep plowing the fields far longer than we thought or wanted or expected. So that is a big piece of it. But yes, you're exactly right. In the long game, I talk about a concept called strategic patience, which is basically it's sort of my version; it's my way of helping to make peace with this for myself, for my clients. Because so often, I come up with my own name for it, because regular patients, I think, it often has the connotation, which I don't love of passivity, right? Like, I remember, like, as a kid, whenever I sort of wanted to do something or whatever, my mom would be like, just be patient. And basically, that's kind of code for like, please shut up. Please stop asking about this. And it's so frustrating, like, nobody wants to be told that we want to be forward moving. And so strategic patience is kind of my way of navigating this because the truth is, I mean, there's certain things you just can't speed up, like there's only so much control we have in the universe. So yes, we do kind of have to be patient, but it also doesn't mean that we just have to sit back and do nothing and kind of wish and hope because that's not good either. You want to have a kind of active patience, strategic patience, where you're trying things, you're testing things. You have a hypothesis. You say, okay, well, I think this might work. I think this might show some progress. Let's see, let's investigate. If you're at least doing something positive to move toward your goals, rather than just sitting back and creating your vision board or whatever. I'm curious how do you think about this in your own life Kelly?
Kelly: Well, it's interesting, because the way, so after I sold my agency in 2016, I was like, well, we were working with nonprofits and foundations and corporate social responsibility initiatives and things like that. So I thought, oh, well, naturally, I'll just go and be like a nonprofit consultant from a marketing perspective. And that, I think, was not getting so much traction. Probably mostly because I wasn't really wanting to do that. It was just the thing that naturally felt like, well, this is the thing I should be doing because this is my expertise. And then, when I felt like and, I had the opportunity to work on some great projects, one for NASA. So it's not like it didn't work. It just my heart wasn't in it. And then I thought about, probably what you're talking about cutting out everything else. And looking at well, what are the things that I'm really passionate about, like, essentially developing, using myself as a client or a test case for really strong positioning? And so, when I started with messaging and understanding what fellow agency owners wanted and needed, and were looking for, and what their challenges and pain points were, I would start putting creating. So creating content from the place of like, I've been in your shoes, here's how I could potentially help. And I think it took a little while for that content to catch on. And then it took me a little bit longer to start talking differently than some of the other agency growth consultants out there who were just about scalability, profitability. Bottom line, I was like, no, it's actually about the people. Why is no one talking about that? So yeah, but it took a while for that flywheel of content to catch on. And so strategic patience definitely came in at that point. And now, I’m definitely in that whole circle or cycle that you're talking about.
Dorie: It's great. It's such a good example. Thanks for sharing that.
Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. So for viewers and listeners who are kind of like, okay, well, I get the idea of strategic patience. I really liked that it's active. I also would imagine there are some questions that they might be able to ask themselves, just to kind of take that away, and maybe implement that pretty immediately. What are some of those questions?
Dorie: Yeah, well, I think one useful thing to keep in mind, first and foremost, is we often, I think, this is a human tendency. And I see it in a lot of my clients, we often are so afraid that we're going to be the sucker, that we're going to be the laughingstock that is holding on too tightly to a thing that's not working. We tend to veer to the opposite extreme. And instead, we give up too quickly on a thing that actually might work and might have potential, but we have not given it enough room to run and enough room to actually develop into what it could. And so, I certainly understand, no one wants to be victim to the sunk cost fallacy or what have you. But it the tendency really is for people so often the opposite. And so I think what is useful to keep in mind is a few things. The first is to the extent possible at the outset. It's really useful to develop hypotheses about what are the metrics of growth that we should be looking at, because presumably, it's going to take a while for something to reach full fruition, but there may be certain signs that we can be looking for. So, okay, maybe we don't have signed contracts yet. But maybe, we're tracking the number of leads, we're tracking the number of click throughs, we're tracking the number of calls and meetings we've had or whatever. But what are these intermediate metrics? And are we showing signs of positive growth there? I think another thing that's really important, and I talked about this, in the long game, is doing sufficient research so that we actually have a sense of what's realistic. Now, it's not impossible, that your results will be wildly different than other people's. They might be, but more likely, statistically, it will probably be in line with what other people have done. Right? And so if something has taken somebody 10 years to build, you're probably not going to build it in a year. You might build it in eight years or something like that. But we just have to scope it out. And it's actually crazy to me the extent to which we often are flying blind and don't even realize we are. There's a story that Jeff Bezos tells in a 2018 Amazon shareholder letter, where he talks about some friend of his who hired a handstand coach for yoga. And the handstand coach tells the story and says that the average person if you ask them, hey, how long do you think it'll take to do a yoga handstand. They think it takes about two weeks of practice; it actually takes six months of practice. And so, this is not like being off by 10 or 20%. This is being off by 12x. And so often, we are making those mistakes ourselves. So doing the research upfront, and then tracking those intermediate metrics, I think can be incredibly helpful and prevent a lot of heartache.
Kelly: Yeah. Handstand coach, okay.
Dorie: Yeah, right. I mean, I hired a musical theater coach. So I feel like there's a coach for everything.
Kelly: There is a coach for everything. I have a shadow work coach. I have a Buddhist psychology coach. I've hired a stylist coach at some point
Dorie: Wait, did you say, a shadow coach? Is this like some union thing?
Kelly: Yeah. Shadow work.
Kelly: We'll talk about that another time. That's a whole another show Dorie.
Dorie: Oh, I bet.
Kelly: So yeah. So just finding that support, that you're looking for maybe, that you're not looking for that could be kind of unexpected. I mean, it's why people hire all different types of coaches and things like that. But I want to actually kind of wrap up the conversation, talking a little bit about what I think is really important, and what I really appreciated about how you ended the long game, which was this kind of overarching idea of celebrating the wins. And you call it savoring the success, which is just as nice. And you told a little bit of a personal story about being invited back to the college where you did your freshman and sophomore year undergrad. Can you kind of reshare that story for the audience, just because I think it's a good corollary for how we might look at some of the ways in which success takes a long time. And celebrating that is super important.
Dorie: Yeah, thank you. So what you're alluding to is, in the long game, I shared a story about how kind of unexpectedly I got an email back in early 2019 from my alma mater, Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, I did my first two years at Mary Baldwin as part of kind of early college entrance program that they had. And I had not been particularly active at all in terms of alumni things. I really didn't even think they knew who I was, or that I was on their radar. But they reached out and asked me if I would be willing to be their commencement speaker for that year, which was really exciting and kind of an honor, of course, but it was, especially satisfying, because I think for anybody, if you're able to find a way to kind of come full circle in your own life, it has a lot more meaning. It would be nice if any college invited me to be a commencement speaker, like, that's a great thing in general. But when it has that kind of personal salience, it means a lot more, and it's kind of that personal sign of success. And I think that for me, what I take from it is a few things. I mean, one is that success really does look different for all of us. And we need to get clear about what we want, what is special for us as compared to the so called, societal version of success. Some people are super into boating, and they want to spend their money on boats, and some people want a vacation home or whatever. These are great things, but it's not one size fits all, for me, taking the time to be able to speak at the school, which, it's this little school in this little town, but it was extremely meaningful to me because of my personal connection there, and just the sort of message in my own life of like, oh, wow, okay, now we're coming full circle. I have made enough progress that I am, essentially doing my teenage self proud, which is kind of a nice thing for any of us to be able to do. But it is very true that as we think about the long game, I think mistake, sort of systematic mistake that many of us make is on one hand. Of course, there's the mistake of just not devoting enough time to strategic or long-term thinking in general because we're so overwhelmed. We're so busy with the day to day which is kind what we were talking about earlier about the need to create more whitespace. But there's a second mistake, which is for the people who do the long-term thinking, their thinking is so long term; they create the narrative of like, we'll all be happy when, and it's always like this sort of super final state. I'll be happy when I have the Lamborghini, or I'll be happy when I get to be the keynote speaker at South by Southwest or whatever. And I mean, these are like, super long-term goals. It's like, okay, if you're gonna, like, hold off on your happiness for 25 years, that's really a long time. Like you don't have to wait until you're the keynote speaker. Getting to be a workshop presenter, you should celebrate that, frankly, getting your email returned by the conference organizer that celebrate that, because that doesn't always happen, either. So it's understanding that there are milestones and that we can and we should be tracking them. And at every point along the way, we can say, you know what, good job, because what the me of five years ago, would have been happy even for that day new, right? But now it keeps getting better and better. And if we can appreciate that and recognize that I think it leads to a lot more overall life satisfaction.
Kelly: 100% I agree with that. And I think it also leads to or is a reflection of how present we are. Right? Because if you're always thinking about well, that's fine, like great that that happened. Let me kind of shove that to the side. And what's the next thing, clearly you're not maintaining that presence, which is so important for satisfaction and purpose and fulfillment and all of those things. So, great point to end on. Everybody, go pick up a copy of this book, The Long Game. You will thank me, you will love it. Dorie, thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate you.
Dorie: Great to speak with you, Kelly. Thanks for having me on.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Melanie Chandruang discuss both the connection and distinction between the people within our agency and our operational strategy.
Episode 118: The Future of Agency Ops, with Melanie Chandruang
Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource, the only podcast for creative media and technology leaders who are ready to dive deeper into conscious leadership and agency growth. I'm your host, Kelly Campbell. Thrive is brought to you by accessiBe, the leading web accessibility solutions provider. Join thousands of agencies that are already incorporating web inclusivity into their service offerings. Visit accessiBe.com today. So welcome back to Thrive. I'm really excited to talk today about the future of agency operations and what that actually means versus what we might think it means, with my good friend, Melanie Chandruang. She's the founder of WeConsult. It focuses really on helping agencies across the country to streamline their systems and get productivity humming at agencies. Melanie, welcome to the show. I'm so excited that we finally got to connect.
Melanie: Thank you. I'm excited too. I'm excited for all these interesting conversations that are about to unfold.
Kelly: Absolutely. So we were chatting a little bit earlier about this idea that agencies have a little bit of a tough time, kind of grasping what operations really means and what it is. Why do you think that is? Let's kind of start there.
Melanie: Yeah, I think operations is such a broad term. And even the title operations manager or director of operations is such a broad title. Within every industry, if you type in, Operations Manager, you're gonna come up with an operations person that works at an agency, or it could be someone that works in a production, focused company where they have like a tangible product that they are manufacturing and selling. And so I think that's the start of it. It’s just operation is very vague.
Kelly: And so with clients, I imagine you have this conversation all the time, especially at the onset of the relationship. What are kind of the top, let's call them, operational challenges that agencies have been facing over the last two years? Obviously, the pandemic threw everything for loop. And I'm imagining that maybe the challenges have been a little bit different for the last two years than they were prior.
Melanie: Yeah. I mean, the biggest one that is top of mind right now, I think is hiring in our industry. Yeah, it's just so challenging to find quality people. And that, I mean, they're all being competed for. And right now those people are creatives and developers and project managers, and they're all highly coveted roles, within not only agencies, but other industries as well. And so these, say it's a designer, for example, they could go work in house at a product company, and quite frankly, they could make more money than they would at an agency. And so agencies are finding it really difficult to compete. And so, my solution is always make sure your operations infrastructure is really solid, and that you have some well-crafted HR strategies to really recruit those people and also keep them satisfied at your organization.
Kelly: So it's interesting, where you go from operational challenges is immediately into recruitment, candidates HR strategy. And I think that in and of itself is kind of interesting, because I think it rubs up against the understanding or the maybe the misconception that agencies have over operations being this kind of bucket and not necessarily touching the people. They think about it more like the systems and I know that you do focus on financial systems and project management systems and things like that. But it's almost like those are the tools of the trade. But the actual, like, what makes it all work are the people right? So have you ever have situations? I'm just curious about this, where you're having maybe a prospective client call and you go to like, HR strategy, when they're talking about their challenges, and they're like, wait, why are you bringing up HR? This is an operations call. Like, do you ever have things like that?
Melanie: I mean, I try to do a pretty good job of addressing my area of expertise in the beginning and one of those areas is going to be the people aspect of operations. And like we talked about just now, the operations is so broad. And so really, it's just making sure that things are running efficiently across an organization. And so I mean, for us in this industry, the output is the service and the service is provided by the people. And so for me, I need to make sure that the systems are in place for the people to make sure that they're empowered and set up for success. And that, they're going to want to stay at the agency for a long, long time, because hiring is really, really difficult. And then turnover is very, very expensive, right? So yeah.
Kelly: Do you find also that a lot of agencies get the correlation between focusing so much on the people, making sure like you said they're supported, they're set up for success, totally speaking, my love languages, and how that correlates to retention, and lack of attrition and all the things that we're kind of talking about. Do you see that they make those correlations? Or is that something you have to actually educate on?
Melanie: I have to educate quite a bit. And sometimes I'm not able to really get through, and they really just want the metrics to be improved upon, right? They say, okay, I want these metrics. And they don't really understand sometimes that in order to address metrics, you have to address any people problems. And for me, those are the types of clients that aren't a great fit for me. I need to make sure that they value the metrics aspect of operations as much as they do. The people side. They go hand in hand from my perspective.
Kelly: Yeah. This is why I am always happy to make a referral to a client who's looking for operations, consulting, because we're very much aligned in that way. Yeah. So let's go back to this, like the concept of the people are the product, right? I've been saying that a long time. You've been saying that a long time. And that those people are actually the what? What comprises a system? Right? So here, we're not talking about tools. We're talking about the people who are actually helping all of those gears turn in the right ways. Right? Can you talk a little bit about why you in particular are so passionate about this? Because you could have gone in lots of different directions from an operational standpoint, but you chose to focus, really zero in on the people. And I'm curious about that.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the first agencies that I worked at, I was in house at agencies for a long time. I was really lucky that I got to learn the value of process at that organization. I mean, it was a little bit overkill. They had process for everything. And so in that aspect, it did stifle creativity of it, but from my kind of admin operations mindset, I was like, oh, my God, this is music to my ears. This is amazing. But where the agency didn't shine was managing people. And that was a really, really difficult experience, part of my career kind of trauma, if you will. There was the owner of the business was really, not that he wasn't a great manager. He wasn't great at managing people. And I was, unfortunately, one of the people that were his direct reports. And so I think, part of me, it kind of fights for the people. When I do work with an agency, I have this passion that burns inside that I need to make sure that the people of that agency are taken care of, and that leadership, view it as an important aspect as well. And so, yeah, it's something that I can talk all day about, making sure people are taken care of. And so, that is really what kind of seared it in for me, and I've talked about this before that I almost feel like I'm kind of doing the work to kind of heal my past self a little bit. And so, yeah, it was really something that's just seared into my memory forever. And that kind of made me who I am today.
Kelly: So interesting, and I love kind of hearing those backstories. Because we all have those stories as to like how we got into what we're doing now. Mine is very similar to that. But I love the fact that your realization around kind of healing this traumatic experience is like, oh, this is maybe part of my purpose in the world, is to get in from the operational consulting standpoint, and then kind of advocate for the people, by way of the people comprise the systems, and it leads to better output, more innovation, more collaboration, the whole thing. It does kind of, if I would say disappoint me, or makes me a little sad or wish things are different, though, there has to be so much education around this. Because for you or for me, many of the people listening, it just makes sense. Right? I think this is obviously on the show. I talk about conscious leadership all the time. This is the basis of conscious leadership, right? Especially in the services industry. Whether it's creative services or other. So yeah, just fascinating. So thank you for sharing that story.
Melanie: Yeah, of course.
Kelly: So I would imagine that there are some conversations that you have, where I know, this is the case for me. There are agency leaders, agency owners, founders who come to you and say, we screwed things up, like things are broken, we have no idea either it was like we grew too fast, or we just never set up things properly, or people are leaving, like there's lots of kind of symptoms of our broken agency. What do you typically recommend when leaders kind of say, does this make sense for us to engage? When is the right time? Is now the right time? What should we be thinking about? What are the criteria? I mean, there's a lot to that question, but I think it's kind of important because it may be on the minds of the people who are listening or watching.
Melanie: Well, I think the first thing that I like to dig into is how ready are they for change? Because when there are those types of symptoms that you listed, that it's pretty clear, what's the word I'm searching?
Melanie: Indication. Yeah, that something needs to be fixed. And so my responsibility coming in and engaging with an agency is to fix those things. But it can be disruptive for an agency. And so really just having those conversations really early to gauge, are they ready for that type of disruption? Are they ready for that type of change within an organization? And how is the team going to respond as well? I like to gauge, are there any, do you think how's the team going to respond if we rolled out a whole new process for, X, or Y, or Z, and then I like to, also when I come in, I do interviews with someone from every team, just to make sure that all the information is there, I'm getting every aspect from every department. And so yeah, that's one of the first things I like to do is, are they ready for change?
Kelly: Yeah. I've had, and I start my process the same way. I typically work with agencies that are 50 people or fewer. And so as part of my first phase, I'm interviewing, in many cases, almost everybody at the agency, but if it makes an agency of 50 or more. I'm going to probably interview half of them, send out a survey for the rest, that kind of thing. Yeah. I'm curious about if you've ever gotten any pushback, because that's one of my initial questions is like, this is how I start my process. It's really important to get that holistic perspective of how everyone views what's working, what's not working. Where are their opportunities for improvement from their perspective, especially because they're the ones doing the work? Have you ever gotten pushback to say, wait, why do you want to talk to all of these people? It's really the leadership team who has all of the insights that you're going to need. Have you ever gotten that?
Melanie: I have. Yeah.
Kelly: Fascinating to me. To me, that's a red flag. I don't work with an agency that way.
Melanie: Exactly. I have that same criteria. Yeah, I've had owners and leadership come to me and they say, well, we already know what all the issues are. We just need to execute. And that really doesn't give us credit for our expertise and what we can provide. Because I think, and I don't know, I'm making this assumption that part of our kind of superpower is to really get down to the nitty-gritty of what is going on. Yeah. And like I said, I'm kind of trying to heal this past self of mine. And I like to make sure that it's clear that I'm advocating for them, and also looking out for what's best for the agency at the same time. So having that kind of conversation with people. They usually do open up quite a bit. And it's almost like, oh, finally, I have someone to talk to that really understands and can do something to help.
Kelly: Yeah, I have the exact same experience. We've had other conversations, we've never had this particular conversation, and I find it so fascinating that your experience is exactly the same. And with those discussions with the employees, they feel so seen, so heard, like you said, it's maybe the first time that they've even been asked some of these questions. Yeah, I've had employees from agencies just end up in tears in conversations with me. It sounds like you have to get your head nod. And I take that, like, it's a sense of responsibility, I guess, in a way to say, yeah, I'm going to hear you. And I'm going to kind of bring this into the consideration for recommendations that I might make, because something is clearly wrong. If you are to the point where you are breaking down emotionally because of your job, right? Super fascinating. This is not the direction I thought this conversation was gonna go in. But I love it even more.
Melanie: Yeah, I know. Also, that aspect of it gives us a little bit of skin in the game too, right? You're connecting with the people that are on the ground floor, doing the work, and this is their livelihood. They're providing for themselves and sometimes their families. And so that just gives us more motivation to do our job well. And so yeah, hopefully, that if anyone's listening, and you're hesitant to do it, just have us do the stakeholder interviews.
Kelly: Super important. So we were setting out to talk about the future of agency operations. And I'm wondering if what we're actually coming around to, is, the future of agency operations is not about systems in terms of tools, right? So much as it's the future of agency operations is your people. Right? And that's not kind of a way to back out of getting to oh, what does the future look like? I think the whole economy is changing so much. And so employees are literally just not going to stand for certain ways in which they were treated before or having leadership that doesn't support them, that doesn't care about them, and sees them as expendable, sees them as only metrics and not as humans. And so I kind of like this idea of where we've arrived as like the future of agency operations as people. Yeah, it's always been people, but you actually don't have a choice anymore. Because you used to be able to replace people really easily. And you no longer have that option.
Melanie: Yeah, which is great. I think it's kind of forced agencies to really take a good look at themselves, and to analyze how they can treat their people better. I've seen agencies where it's like, that's the name of the game is to just burn and churn. And they go through employees, and they say, oh, well, there's another person waiting in the wings, and we're just going to pull them in when that other person burns out. And it's just so unfortunate, sure their agency can be profitable and successful in many ways. But my indication of success is also just how employees experience a company when they're at it, so important as well.
Kelly: Yeah, how they experience it, and to come back to your story, so that they're not feeling like going forward in their lives that they have to like, heal from this experience, right? You want to create, I think, I imagine I hope you want to create positive experiences for people who are under your leadership, under your stewardship. And I think that actually has to be part of the metrics conversation, right?
Kelly: Yeah. Melanie, I love this conversation. I could talk to you for three more hours about it. Let's leave it there. Maybe at some point we'll do a part two. But thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really, really appreciate you.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBle — Kelly and Michael Anthony discuss how it is both imperative and paradoxical to unravel past coping mechanisms in order to be good leaders.
Episode 117: Our Trauma, Our Agency and Our Values with Michael Anthony
Kelly: Welcome to Thrive your agency resource, the only podcast for creative, media, and technology leaders who are ready to dive deeper into conscious leadership and agency growth. I'm your host, Kelly Campbell. Thrive is brought to you by accessiBe, the leading web accessibility solutions provider. Join thousands of agencies that are already incorporating web inclusivity into their service offerings. Visit accessiBe.com today.
So welcome back to Thrive. Always happy to have you tune in to another episode. And I really hope if you loved the episode with Rachel Roberts Mattox. You're gonna love this episode. Today, I'm joined by Michael Anthony, who is the founder of Think Unbroken. He's a speaker. He's a podcast host. And he's also author of the book by the same name, Think Unbroken: Understanding and Overcoming Childhood Trauma. Michael, welcome to the show, my friend. So good to see you again.
Michael: I'm super bummed to be here with you, Kelly. Thank you so much.
Kelly: So you've said, before we hit record, context is everything. So why don't you go ahead and just give us a little flavor for your story, as much or as little as you want to get into, and then I'm sure I'm gonna have a ton of questions.
Michael: Yeah, for sure. Um, so I grew up in Indianapolis. My mother was a drug addict and alcoholic. And in fact, when I was four years old, she cut off my right index finger. And people always be like, how can your mom do that? Well, it was a continuation of abuse. Right? You always hear this old adage, hurt people hurt people. Then she married my stepfather when I was six, and he was super abusive. Kick the shit out of my brothers and put me in the hospital. The kind of guy you pray is never your stepfather. I mean, imagine a guy six foot four, beating up a child, spent a lot of time living with different families. We were deeply in poverty, often homeless. And by the time I was 12, we live with 30 different families. And that would be from the church, from the community, friends, strangers, sometimes a van or a car, like I never knew I was going to sleep most nights. And I never met my real father, which is actually kind of a godsend because of I lay in bed at night and I prayed, like, why won't you send me my real dad to rescue me God. And I learned at a very young age, nobody's coming. And that hindered me for a while and then actually empowered me. We'll talk about that. At 12, after living in an abandoned house for about two months by myself, my grandmother found out and came and adopted me and like great, end of that trauma. Here we go. Life’s gonna be great. Well, I'm biracial, black and white. My grandmother is an old racist, white lady from a town in Tennessee you never heard of. We had a copy of Mein Kampf, Hitler's autobiography on our living room table. And at 12, I got high for the first time, drunk at 13. And by 15, I was expelled from school for selling drugs, was breaking into houses, running from the cops, getting shot at hurting people, stealing cars, like it was the whole nine. And luckily, I got put into a last chance program. But I still did not graduate high school on time. And in summer school that year, basically, the teacher looked at me, he goes, we just want you the hell out of here. Here's your diploma. Good luck. And I remember thinking like, okay, hold on a second. What is the solution for all this? What is the solution for poverty, for homelessness, for abuse, for trauma for all of it? I was like, oh, it's money. It's gotta be money, like, what else would it be? And so I made a declaration myself, that I would make $100,000 a year legally by the time that I was 21. Now, the legal part was super important because I have family in prison for life. I've been in handcuffs, many, many times. And as of today, my three childhood best friends have been murdered. Like I knew what was gonna happen. I knew where I was going. And so I landed a job working for a fast food restaurant and at 18 years old, I had 52 people under me, like I was reading P&Ls as a baby, you know what I mean?
And then I started getting skills because skills have utility, and fast forward a little bit, I landed a job with a Fortune 10 company, no high school diploma, no college education. And I hit my goal of making six figures. And then that thing happens to people, that happens when they've never had money before. And it destroyed my life. And I found myself at 25 heading into 26. I was 350 pounds, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, drinking myself to sleep, cheating on my girlfriend, and that's when I put a gun in my mouth. I was done. I was like, I thought money was supposed to fix this. It didn't. And the next day I'm laying in bed.
Now keep in mind, I'm 350 pounds, it's 11 o'clock in the morning, I'm smoking a joint, eating chocolate cake, and watching the CrossFit Games. Like, if that's not rock bottom, I don't know what it is. And, I got up and for whatever reason, I went to the bathroom and I looked at myself in the mirror. And I remember being eight years old, and the water company came and turned our water off. Now people were always turning our things off our water, electricity, our heat, we're getting evicted. But on this particular day, I went in the backyard, it's blistering hot, Indiana, August, summer day. And I take this little blue bucket, walk across the street to our neighbor's house. And for the first time I stole water. And I remember being like when I'm a grown up, this will not be my life. And it wasn't financially. But in every other way, I was still that hurt last little boy. And as I looked in the mirror, remembering that moment, knowing I had let myself down, I asked myself, what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have? And the answer was no excuses, just results.
And from that moment, I dedicated myself to getting the hell out of my own way to ultimately be the hero of my own story. And 11 years later, here, I am talking to you. Now that process has been a tremendous amount of work, therapy, group therapy, men's group therapy, trauma therapy, CBT, EMDR, ABC, all the acronyms. I was getting a coach, going to personal development, getting education in trauma where I have over 30 trauma informed certifications. It was putting myself in a position to be successful by investing in myself, by learning, by asking difficult questions, and by ultimately showing up every single day. And today, we think I'm broken, my mission is very simple. I want to end generational trauma in my lifetime through education and information. So another kid never has a story like what I just told you.
Kelly: Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that story. I know that you've shared it on many stages, and I've heard it before in different variations. And it never loses impact, right? Because this is very true to who you were and how you grew up and what you experienced. And so the people who are listening or watching may not have the exact, I mean, definitely they're not gonna have the exact same experience. But maybe there are pieces of your story that resonate with them. Maybe even if it's just the eight year old stealing water, maybe if that's the only piece, right? Or maybe if it's more. So I'm really curious. This whole idea of looking in the mirror, right? I think that is something that all of us have done at certain points of our lives, and how long we stand in front of that mirror; what we actually see, what we allow ourselves to see. I'm curious, like, what happened in that moment for you? Like, when you kind of asked yourself, like, what are you willing to do? What was the experience of that? If you can kind of just like dive into that a little bit more?
Michael: Yeah, it was me very much. I mean, I'd never actually looked at myself before. To that moment, I cannot recall one time where I ever actually looked in my own eyes. I mean, there was so much shame, so much guilt, so much of the embedment and ingrained moment of you're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you're not capable enough. I had no self-esteem, I had no self-belief. I was a ghost effectively just kind of navigating the world as I thought I was supposed to be by placating, by bending myself, by being plastic to the needs of other people.
One of the things about trauma that I don't think people fully understand that I've wrapped my head around, especially recently, trauma is actually the theft of identity. It's not the experiences that we have, like I got the scars, like I have the finger of my mom cut off like that. That's with me. But the thing that is taken from you stripped is your ability to be you. And you think about this, the most dangerous thing I could do as a kid was have an opinion. The fastest way for me to get my head slammed into a wall was to say I need something. And so you learn how to turn that off. Why?
Because it becomes autonomic. It's a survival mechanism. Your brain serves one purpose, Kelly. It's very simple, survival. It doesn't give a shit about your dreams. It doesn't care about the color of shirt you have on. None of those things only want you to survive. And so it's adaptive. And you're put in these situations, and you have to be able to navigate them. So you learn to stop being you because every time that you're you, they're suffering. Every time that you're you, there's pain, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, something happens. And the more that it happens, the more your brain goes, oh, shit, man, don't do that. Don't do it. Don't you dare ask for that thing you need?
Don't you dare have an opinion. Don't you dare show up. Be silent, be hidden, be in the back, be quiet. And that serves you. That's what's so messed up about it. It is for a period of time it serves you. Your'e 4, 7, 12, 15 years old. And then it doesn't any longer. But you're still operating through this scope of not understanding who you are. Because you've only ever been what other people needed you to be so that you could be safe. And then you're 25, 37, 50 to 80 years old. And you're like, I don't know how to say yes. And I don't know how to say no.
And in that moment, really what it is, it's you don't have agency, you've never been allotted the ability to be you without massive suffering. And so now you're in this weird juxtaposition of measuring the dichotomy of all this stuff that led you here, looking at the top to bottom, the ups and downs and being like, holy crap, I have no idea who I am. And at 25 years old, looking in that mirror, that's what I recognized and understood. I never ever was me. Yeah, your favorite band was my favorite band. Your favorite food was my favorite food. The way that people treat each other I did based on how I thought I needed to be so that I could be a part of the community.
Kelly: Belonging. Right?
Michael: Yeah. 100%. Right. It's I mean, for me, when I was a kid and running around with the kids that I did, that was brotherhood, right? And in my 20s, it was the same thing. But it was so toxic, it was partying and women and drugs and money and cars. And, we rent limousines and go down to this club, and people be doing cocaine all night. And they'd be like, I've never done cocaine in my life. I never wanted those things, but I'd be in the room. Right? And be in the room just so I could be seen. And eventually, I found myself though the weirdest moment of my life, probably even this fucking day. It's crazy. Like my friends like, do you want to go to this country music concert?
Yo, I hate country music so much. It's not even funny. And I was like, absolutely I do. I can't wait to go. This is like my favorite thing ever. And in that moment, sitting here looking at all these people. I'm like, I'm not supposed to be here right now. I'm only here because they want me to be here. And in the mirror. And looking at that moment, it was recognizing the truth. And when people understand what I'm about to say, it will change your life forever. And the people who don't understand they're going to judge me and call me narcissistic. But the people that understand this is going to hit home. Healing trauma, being the person you're capable being is about this. I only do what I want to do. And I never do what I don't want to do. And that's agency. And that's the thing that I discovered in that mirror.
Kelly: Yeah, thank you. It's funny. I love the word agency. When I started creating all my social media handles, I chose agency scaler not just for the obvious reason that part of what I do for a living is helping creative and technology agencies to scale but it was about scaling or augmenting personal agency, human agency. And so I love that you kind of bring it back to that. [Commercial] It's funny. One of the things that you said that resonates so deeply with me is like the things that we use, survival mechanisms as coping strategies as those numbing agents even if you know what, let's not even go to numbing agents, let's just focus on like the coping strategies that kept us safe, right?
Those things were brilliantly designed back then. Like our bodies and our minds are so brilliant in the way that they showed up for us, right? And what I find fascinating is that as we develop into adulthood, and even become leaders, those are the exact things that we have to undo, unlearn, unravel, in order to move forward. I mean, it's like, such an interesting paradox, right? So I'm curious, I mean, you're a leader now in many, many senses of the word, but even when you were in that Fortune 10 company, right? Even if you were kind of low man on the totem pole if you will, you still worked at a Fortune 10 company. I'm wondering about that experience and your leadership experience now? And how you kind of see the unpacking related to that.
Michael: Yeah, one of the really fascinating things, I read this book, if someone knows the name of this book, please email it to me, because I cannot remember. I've read like 700 books in my life. And this always sits with me. There's a line in the book where the guy was talking, he says, people often become their nickname. And I thought that was really fascinating when I read that, because when I was a kid, people used to make fun of me calling me coach. Because I always wanted other people, wanted us to be successful. I wanted us to rise, and it wasn't like this thing where I did it just for fun. Like I did it because I want to see success. And people I love it, right? And people used to make fun of me, all these kids were assholes about it. And I'm like, well, that's really interesting, because that's what I do now. And like I never connect those dots. So if you know the name of that book, please tell me.
Kelly: I don't know the name of the book. But what does it say about me that my nickname was hot sauce?
Michael: Yeah, I don't know. We got to sit down.
Kelly: That's a whole another conversation.
Michael: So you know what happened is, I've always been in some sense, a leader in 18. Having all these people under me, it was really weird, because I made every mistake. What do you think an 18 year old boy is doing when he's hanging out eight year old girls out of a fast food restaurant all day, right? Being an idiot. And all the employees were either younger than me or dramatically older than me. So not only I’m leading kids, but also I’m leading adults who are in their 40s and 50s. Some even in their 60s, where this is like their full time job. And I learned so oh my god, I mean, Kelly, I made every mistake you could make. But I also broke every record you could break working for this company at the time.
And it was, I mean, we were doing 10 G's a day and burgers and fries. Like when I mean like nonstop, like you learn how to move and pivot and go really quick and do all the things. And that served me for a while because I was learning but the hours were gnarly. Like I wouldn't get home till four o'clock in the morning. I'd have a day off. And I'd have to be back the next day at four o'clock in the morning. Like it was really intense. And so I definitely learned what I didn't want to do. And so I bounced around for a little bit between that trying to figure out where I wanted to land. I work for a shoe company and I worked for a hardware store. And I was just like this, ain't it? None of these things are gonna get me 200,000 a year.
And I'm going somewhere to answer this. One day my friend calls me. We're on MySpace, excuse me. He didn't call me. We're on MySpace. We're messaging. He just got a brand new tile. I was like, bro, you went to my high school. You grew up next to me. how did you get a Tahoe? What are you doing? He's like, I got a job with an insurance company. And I was like, oh, my God, like I didn't know that was possible. Only thing I knew was Buy Here Pay Here, unemployment lines, WIC vouchers. I didn't know you could do. I didn't know how he figured it out. And I was like, okay, cool. That's how I do it. Now, obviously, I won't say the name of the company. But I end up landing with this company.
And in that, one of the really cool things that happened is they actually took us through training. Like we had to learn, we had to be studious to work for this company. Like we went through Franklin Covey stuff, we went through sigma six stuff, we went through stuff that they just made up, that was pointless, but we were always learning. And what I discovered was that to be an effective leader, you have to continually learn. And that's kind of what started to kind of spark my interest in IT. Because I always really enjoyed being in the room and I would look at these, I would look at the CEO, or I'd look at the SVP, and I'd be like, but you guys went to college, I'm never going to be successful. I had such an incredible limiting belief.
Think about this. I'm never going to be successful making $125,000 a year, right? That's my thought pattern at the time. But I would look at these guys. And sometimes I get to go and sit with them for a minute and have a conversation. And I was just like, oh, you can have this kind of growth. You can build this, but I hate being told what to do. So it didn't work very well for me. And so I was always getting in trouble. I would get kicked out of meetings. Can you imagine that? Like you get kicked out because I'm like, the thing that you're talking about is asinine. It doesn't make sense. Why would we do it that way when honestly this is the way that makes sense.
Not recognizing whether that's true or not, but just feeling like I got to speak my mind in the moment. And what happened was, I was sitting one day, talking on the back porch with a friend. And he was like, I'm quitting my job tomorrow. I was like, oh, cool. I'm gonna actually quit mine too, because I had started a photography business. And I was doing that as my side hustle. But that was starting to take over. And I was like, okay, cool. I'm gonna go over here and do this. And so many of those skills became transferable: sales skills, conversational skills, follow up skills, doing things legally and by the book, right?
Because, I mean, all I did was illegal stuff as a kid. And so, I learned so much, but the number one thing that I took away from leadership in corporate, was that there's no nice way to put this, they only care about money. They only care about money. And I took that away, and I knew what kind of leader I didn't want to be. And then as I've built and cultivated my own businesses, my own brands in the last 12 years kind of just doing my own thing. It's been really about understanding that leadership is first about vulnerability, probably more so than anything. Because your team if you sit here and you tell them bullshit, they're gonna see through it. We're not stupid. If you're talking about, oh, numbers are great, and things are amazing. But your P&L is garbage, and you're not paying yourself because you can't afford to, because you're not making any revenue. They're gonna know because we can sense that energy. Right?
Kelly: It's a great point.
Michael: Authenticity is the number one energy producing element on planet Earth, right? I'm taking that from my friend, Gary Brecker. He told me that is incredible. And it's so true. Because think about what you want when you connect with people, authenticity. And so the greatest leadership skill that I learned in corporate was that those dudes are never authentic, right? They got PR to come clean up. When was the last time some dude in corporate was like, yeah, yo, I really fucked up, I'm so sorry, guys. Not going to happen again. Never. Everybody's in running everything. And then over here, when you're on your own, if you do that, you're going to lose people, you're going to lose money, you're going to lose credibility, you're going to lose everything.
One of the reasons why most people are not successful in their businesses, in their endeavors, and everything that they do is because they're always bullshit. They're not keeping it real. Like I'm willing, and this is my superpower. I'm willing to be publicly embarrassed, because I don't care. I really don't. I'm like, great, I learned something if it happens, and so my team knows, you can call bullshit on me in the middle of the team meeting with all 37 people on the phone. And let's figure out why. Right? Because if you're going to be an effective leader, it's got to be more than about the money. It’s got to be about the impact. It's got to be about the brand values and the mission, which are not the same thing. It's got to be about where you're going. Your team needs to be in alignment with that they need to understand, their purpose.
You need to be on the same page about their goals. How do you help them? It's amazing to me how many people will stop working for me, because of the next thing that they're able to go to. And I love when I get to keep people. I have some people under me, have been with me for 6, 7, 8 years, right? But I have people who are with me for like 18 months, and they're like, yo, I just got a promotion, double the salary to go into a leadership role because of the things you taught me. I'm like, great, bye. Help me replace you. Good luck. I'm always here for you. Right? And that's what I want. And there are people who are so afraid of that, when I interview people, and they come to my team. Like there's multiple processes before I'll even sit down with you. But I'll be like, where do you want to go? What do you want? I don't want to keep you here, if you don't want to be here. If this is a stepping stone, keep it 100.
Tell me, great, I will give you everything I can as long as you show up and you produce every single day. And so many people who own businesses are scared to do that. Because they're like, I'll never be able to find that person. Yes, you will. And there's more of them. Because people are incredible. And there's so many people who can bring value to your business. But you're afraid to give them the tools that you've learned which is actually hindering your whole business, which is making you an ineffective leader. I mean, I'm sorry, I'm on a rant right now. I can keep going if you want me to.
Kelly: Please keep going.
Michael: Well, look, I mean, it's really gonna sit back. You sit here and you look at this idea like okay, I want to build this company. I want to build this brand. I want to build this business. Well, if you don't know your values, personally, first and foremost, how are you going to integrate somebody into believing that in your business? Like when I sit down with people, the two most important questions that I ask them is what are your values? If you cannot answer them, I'm not hiring you. Even if you're like, my values are like this, these nonsensical things that I would never consider value and be like great if you have no, because that to me is level one of do you know who you are?
And if you cannot work for my company because you have not yet done what you need to do to get to that place. And number two, and I took this from my mentor, Tom Bill, which has dramatically changed the way I hire people. He goes, ask them the last time they were offended. And I've always loved that question because if you want to work for me, you're gonna have to be willing to take massive criticism in a good way and publicly because I'm willing to do that. So I lead the same way I want people to follow. And that means that when we're in team meetings, and you don't come through, I'm gonna like talk to me exactly what happened.
You cannot cower and run away. Like, we've got to find the root of what happened here. Because like, honestly, Kelly, I probably fucked up as the leader. It's like, I've come to find 99.9% of the time when there's mistake downstream. It is my fault, 99% of the time, because I didn't show up effectively, because I wasn't clear on directions. Because in the SOP that I wrote, I missed a step, because of whatever it was somewhere along the line, that mistake happen. But I can only get to that when we are in this setting, whether it's publicly or privately, and I go, why did you mess up? Tell me what happened. And they go, oh, well, that thing that I thought you gave me wasn't there or complete, and I go, okay, great.
And then the other side of it, like they just might not have been paying attention and doing the job. And so when you're in a leadership role, you've got to be willing to fall on your sword for everything. I take no credit for the accomplishments. And I take all the credit for all the failures, right. And that's one of the things that has helped us grow businesses to multimillion dollars over the years. In COVID in 2020, in my retail business, because I run multiple companies, we increased revenue by 77%, over 2019. We did it again in 2022 at 74%. We're talking millions of dollars. Because when everybody else tell and ran, I said, let's walk into the fire. Let's see what happens. Let's go for it. Let's be the most aggressive we've ever been.
Let's show up. Lets build community. Let's make sure. And look, this was hard. We had to remove people from one of the companies that just were not producing; they weren't showing up. That's the worst part about leadership. You got to hire slow and fire fast. And you really do. And you've got to be willing to look, you can only give people so many chances. And there's companies right now somebody listen to this, you have somebody on your team you should have fired on day one.
Because you knew they weren't the right culture fit. Because they're toxic, they're a complainer. They're always right. They're the people who don't show up. They're the people who they leave early, and they show up late. And they always have an excuse, and, and this and that. And like, I want to take care of my people. I want to. Like everyone who works for me knows that they're getting taken care of. Because that's how I think about it. But you've got to show up to and if you got people on your team who are not showing up, get rid of them, because you're not going to be successful with them on your team.
Kelly: It's also going to just stay in your mind, like this nagging thing that you constantly have to deal with.
Michael: Well, yeah, and look. Yeah, 100%. Look when it comes down to this, right? If it's keeping you awake at night, yo, you know what to do. But you're like, there's such a great coder. And? So as Rose in the Philippines, and go find them. Stop making excuses. Right? Some of you are in boards that you shouldn't be in, some of you are doing all these things that are taking away from productivity, some of you just aren't showing up. And so I think the greatest thing about leadership I've discovered is just been through the massive number of failures. I've been leading teams. I've been leading teams. I was 18 years old. I've hired over 500 people. I've consulted with major Fortune 500 companies, I've done all these things. And so it's like, I promise you as much as I know the sun's gonna come up tomorrow, that two things are gonna happen. One, I'm going to look at my phone. I'm gonna have to solve a problem as soon as we're done with this interview. And two, somebody is gonna f*** something up.
Kelly: That's the reality.
Michael: And that's the truth about it. But when you're willing to step into and acknowledge that and not run from it, instead be solution-oriented. I don't look for problems. I look for solutions. And when you are willing to be solution-oriented, there is always a way to, it's really funny people on my team will come to me and be like, I don't think we can do that. I'll be like, why? And they'll go through and I'll be like, why? And they'll go through. I'll be like why. Will go through and I'll be like why? I'm like okay, cool. Great. So you gave me all the reasons why you can't, now tell me the same number of reasons why we can.
Kelly: Yeah, I love spinning that around. Absolutely. But I've never heard it where you had to create the same like the equal number of why you can't. So that's actually good. I'm going to use that.
Michael: You should. Well so many people are always looking for the reason why they can't. I'm only looking for the reason why I can. I'm only looking for the reason why I can. I've already been at rock bottom. I already have all the cans. I've already had as low as you can go. I've already had massive failure. And so what I think about is what do you need to do to be successful? Now that comes back to that question I asked myself, yeah, the answer is no excuses. Just results. Figure it out.
Kelly: Yeah. It's very interesting. Because what you're talking about in the context of dealing with an employee who only brings you problems, or only gives you the reasons why you can't do something, you're almost stepping into really a very traditional kind of like, trauma informed coaching container. What I mean by that is, you're empowering them to say, okay, I hear all of these things that are true for you. And that may be, has been the case, have been your history. Your experience with whatever you're trying to solve here. Now, where do you want to go with it? And as opposed to solving it for them, you're empowering them to say, oh, I actually have the answer to this. And then that helps them to show up differently. Fascinating. Yeah. I love that.
Michael: And, there's two rules that everyone knows when they work under me. One, I'm not replying to your email. Like, for real. I'm not. Email is the death of all entrepreneurship.
Kelly: That's why we may need to text you.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. You have my real phone number, right? I'm not replying to your email. I get 10,000 a day, I don't know. What am I supposed to do with that? And two, everyone knows, you are not allowed to pick my brain or ask me a quick question. I'll make it higher, 98% of the thing that you're about to bring to me, you could Google. Right?
Kelly: Or ask a colleague or whatever.
Michael: Yeah. Or find the answer. Here’s what I love. Train your team to do this. “Hey, Kelly, I recognize when I was going through our CRM, that there's a tagging issue. And I think the thing that can be the solution for this when we're sending out our outbound emails is that we could go and put this into Google Analytics that on the backside of this two-step process. Is it okay if I go ahead and do that?” Yeah, bye. “Not, hey, there's a problem with the tagging system. What do we do, Kelly?” Right? I hired you to solve a problem. I didn't hire you to bring me more. I got plenty.
Kelly: Right. So honestly, Michael, what I hear you saying a lot is like, accountability. And also, I will absolutely support you in every way that you need. Right? So as a leader, I'm going to hold you accountable. I'm going to call you out in meetings because that is the culture and style that I've created. And you also know that I have your back no matter what.
Michael: Well, and you know what? So I'm going to go deeper than what you just saw because you're not in my brain. That is a byproduct of something very simple. My values, honesty, kindness, leadership, self-actualization, no excuses. Everything that happens in all of my businesses, in all my relationships, and all my communication, always filters through my value system. So it comes back to what I said a few minutes ago, if you are a leader without values, you're screwed. You've got to figure it out. It's the same reason I asked employees when I'm going through the hiring process, tell me your values. I cannot have the time when you come into my company to teach you what your values are.
Kelly: Right. It’s not your job.
Michael: Yeah. Exactly. 100%. And so if you don't know your values as a leader, and somebody that you're sitting with, you're not going to be able to have understand whether or not that juxtaposition of where they're at and where you're at is positive or negative. Because when I come and I sit down with somebody, and you hear the language I use and the words I speak in the way that I show up, that's honesty and self-actualization all through and through. Before we recorded, you're like, you love me because I'm this way and that says who I am all the time.
Like, I'm not going to not be me. And so when you're in this position, as a leader, and you want to create a culture of authenticity, of vulnerability, of truth, of the ability for people to come and have accountability, and accountability, someone I love said this the other day, and it struck me so hard. He goes, “Accountability should be encouraging.” And you cannot have a couraging accountability when everything is facetious, when everything is on the backside of bullshit, because as a leader you're afraid to be honest and keep it real.
Kelly: Yeah. Man, well, everybody who's watching and listening now you know exactly why I wanted to invite my friend Michael onto the show. Michael, thank you so much. I appreciate your time. I know you're really busy. Thank you for coming on and sharing all of that. I mean, total mic drop. So thank you.
Michael: Well, it's my pleasure. And thank you for allowing me the space because of you. Now you're a part of my mission and my goals and that means the world to me. So thank you.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Manish Dudharejia discuss the continuous need for additional agency resources and the benefits of a white label partnership solution.
Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource, the only podcast for creative media and technology leaders who are ready to dive deeper into conscious leadership and agency growth. I'm your host, Kelly Campbell. Thrive is brought to you by accessiBe, the leading web accessibility solutions provider. Join thousands of agencies that are already incorporating web inclusivity into their service offerings. Visit accessiBe.com today.
Welcome back to this episode of Thrive. What I've heard from clients over the last five or six years prior to the pandemic, is this continuous need for additional resources to either fill specialized gaps or to handle overflow work that they have. So today I'm actually talking with Manish Dudharejia who's the CEO and founder of E2M Solutions. It's essentially a white label agency for agencies. So if you need website design, development, ecommerce solutions, SEO content, marketing, things along those lines, this is exactly what they do as a white label solution. So Manish, I am so excited to talk to you about this because it is such a pervasive issue with so many agencies, including my own when I had it many years ago. So let's talk about these like bandwidth solutions for agencies because there's so many out there.
Manish: Sure. Thank you Kelly. First of all, thank you for having me on the show. Really appreciate it. And likewise, I'm also equally excited to speak about this specific issue and how are we solving that. And, hopefully, the listeners will get a thing or two to learn from this.
Kelly: Yeah, of course. So I'm really curious when you started E2M, why did you go in the direction of being a service provider for agencies? What was that sort of maybe a light bulb moment for you, where you realize that this was necessary?
Manish: Yeah, you know what? When I started this agency nine years back in 2012, before I started, I was doing a lot of research. And I obviously have had two options where I could have gone to the direct clients or I could have gone to the agencies as a client. So we have a headquarter over here in India. And my core expertise is hiring and training people and creating a great culture over here. And then I was like, okay, what if someone is filling up a shoe of doing sales and business development. So there is someone who is really interested in doing sales, branding, strategy, marketing, and like that, but they really don't want to be into a position to hire people, train them, creating a great culture, and like that.
So I thought there was a huge gap where there are a lot of agency owners, they are really good at like sales, business development strategy side. They really do not want to get into the operation side. Right? And specifically, the delivery side, because it has its own pains. And, obviously, cost is one thing, but there are a lot of things other than the cost. So that's where I thought, okay, how about, if I just focus on one area, which is kind of like, solving the bandwidth issues, and not solving two problems, where I really don't focus on, doing sales and marketing and like convincing clients that this is the good technology for you. And like discovery phase, and like that. Instead, we kind of decided to be part of an ecosystem where someone is focusing on one side, which is kind of sales and business development, bringing clients on board. And then we come into the picture, we become kind of like solve the bandwidth issue, and become a part of the team and help them deliver what they commit to their client. So that was the first reason. Second thing, absolutely, agencies is a competitive space, right? Agencies would like to close more business.
And specifically, if you're catering to small to midsize businesses, your prices have to be competitive, right? And that's where, we thought, okay, we would be indirectly helping small to midsize businesses by offering a competitive price to our agency partners so they can lower their prices as well, where they can be still competitive. They can be still profitable, but competitive as well, while using white label team in the backend where they do not have any additional overhead expenses. So kind of like, the idea was that, where do we want to fit in this ecosystem? And secondly, how can we help small and midsize businesses to have cost-effective solution to go online and succeed online?
Kelly: Right. I love that you describe it as an ecosystem because I think that that's really just like a very apropos term here. And on the flip side of that, I would imagine that, there is some skepticism on the part of the agencies themselves, right? I could imagine as a host of different sort of misconceptions and common questions that you're probably answering day in and day out, as you're talking with agency owners and leaders. So can you talk a little bit about kind of some of those things that you have to address when you're engaging with an agency?
Manish: Yeah, absolutely. No, this is kind of common questions we get every now and then, very often. So I think, initially, when we started, we were just having a local presence over here. And gradually, I realized that if I really want to understand the US market, we have to have a company established there. I have to be there. So five years back, I decided to incorporate our company in the US. So we have a sequel register in California. We have an office in San Diego. I lived there for one and a half year. I traveled a lot. I met our clients in person. I traveled literally like 30 plus states in the US, and 40 plus cities in the US as well. So I kind of like tried to understood the gap. So, generally, agencies always have a skepticism that, okay, when we work with an offshore team, or white label team, they do not understand what we commit to our clients, what is the value of turnaround time, what is the value of quality, and what do we commit to our clients?
Would it be delivered with absolutely same commitment, right? So I kind of fill that gap over here, where I understood I have studied the US market, specifically. I met so many clients. I kind of understood their pain points to work with a team. And that's exactly I have trained a team over here. So we are close to 150 people working at E2M. So, we have created our leadership team, where we have trained in a way, not what our organization needs, but what our clients need, and what are the pain points we can solve doing that. So having a local presence there, kind of like helps them to build a trust that technically they are dealing with a local company.
And also, what we do is, we have defined processes in a way which goes hand in hand which are kind of aligned with them. So, usually, what happens is that agencies work with us, they always think like, okay, when we do an outsourcing, we sometimes have to train the team. We have to explain them the process, and we don't want to work with a vendor, but we want to work with a partner who can understand what we are committed to our client, and they exactly delivers the same. So, I have tried to do it over here where I have defined and designed the processes where we really do not deliver what we want, right?
We absolutely deliver what actually their clients want. So first thing we always ask them that okay, what have you committed to your client. We always work as a team, where we decide mutually what are going to be the deliverables and what are the turnaround time and what is the expertise. We do not recommend clients to commit to something which we do not have an expertise or we cannot commit if we cannot deliver basically. So, I think yeah, that's the common question we get. The other thing is obviously, outsourcing is kind of like cheap and quality issues, and like that. So, I personally believe quality is the most important thing, quality is something we are obsessed about.
So, we are 10 dedicated QA engineers, who just work on a quality site, making sure that we delivered so we have defined great SOPs, great checklist when it comes to building the websites, delivering, launching websites, and doing QA like that. So generally they face an issue where agencies do not have their own standards, checklist, SOPs. And in an ideal world, when you are working with a freelancer or just an agency, would just have an approach of getting things done. They do not have all these things, processes, SOPs, standards, checklists, and like that, and they kind of have like one person for everything. So, we're here.
We have a different process, generally what happens in outsourcing, communication is the major challenge and barrier. So, because of the language barrier, what we have done here is we do not lead developers to communicate to clients, our agency partners. We help process where they will have always a single point of contact, whoever, like fluent communication skills, they absolutely communicate very clearly. So there are no language barriers, which kind of make their life much, much easier, because now, when they would like to engage with us for different kind of services, they have to talk to multiple point of contacts, multiple people, and they have to always juggle between different people.
They have to explain the same thing to multiple people. So all the time, I have kind of analyze the pain points. And sometimes they are bad because they're outsourcing in terms of they have committed, I think the most important thing I have observed is transparency. Okay, so usually, they always feel that, they are kept in dark. The white label partner or outsourcing partner, they do not communicate things clearly. So transparency is something we have in our foundation, where we kind of like make sure that we do a very transparent communication. So there are these kinds of challenges we get to hear literally, every now and then. And we have no specific solution for that. [Commercial]
Kelly: So it sounds like collaboration is a big piece of this. It sounds like being process-driven is a big piece of this. The transparency and communication, and just communication in general. So yeah, that's great. And I also was really impressed with speaking about all of these kind of like, questions and misconceptions and things. I was really impressed with the FAQs list that you had on your website. As I was going through that I was like, wow, they really have covered almost every single thing that I would have wanted to know. So good job there.
So yeah, we're talking about some of those pain points or some of the skeptical nature of the agencies that could engage with you. Let's talk a little bit about the benefits, because I think that that's really important to talk about as well. When you're working with a white label team that you trust, and I did this with my agency as well for some specialized services. There are so many benefits, right? Whether they're offshored, nearshored, it doesn't really matter. There are really a tremendous amount of benefits. Now that you've worked with over 100 different agencies in the US and Canada and Australia, what would you say are the top three biggest benefits that you see your agency clients realizing through the process?
Manish: Yeah, that's a great question. I think, first I would obviously put as a cost because what is happening is that we are kind of a full service white label agency. So, having partnership with agencies like us, will kind of put agency owners in a situation where they do not have to hire different people for different kinds of skill set. So let's say, if there is a full service agency, then they are doing like websites, they are doing ecommerce stores, they are doing SEO and copywriting and like that. So having like, a one-stop shop for everything which kind of gives them a peace of mind where they are not juggling with different people for different things. They have a single point of contact. So that is the first benefit and cost.
When you hire like multiple people for the same thing, while instead they can hire, they don't have how to hire different people, right. And specifically, if I talk about the full project, so full project unit is designed, you need a developer, you need a QA guy, you need server people, right? You might need an SEO consultant as well. So you are kind of hiring five people, but here you are hiring like one person who is doing everything. So that saves a lot of cost. And obviously, the currency conversion, and like that, that kind of gives them a huge benefit. So usually our cost is 1/3 of the work cost in the United States, and what agencies charge over there. So that's where the cost helps them to increase their profitability. That's the clear benefit.
And there are no overhead costs, and we'll talk about our business model, but we have a very flexible pricing model where there are no any hidden costs, no overhead costs, no retainer fee, no long term contracts. So that kind of sales, they are only paying for the services they use. So that gives them a lot of cost benefits. So I would definitely put cost as the first benefit. The second most important thing is the flexibility to scale and down. So, I designed this business model in an agency, our agency in a way, we never force our partners to work to lock into a contract. It's purely month to month, right? So I understand, code specifically has taught all of us that things could change at any point of time. Right? Not every day is the same, right?
Kelly: And they will continue to do that.
Manish: Yeah, absolutely. Regardless of COVID. I think we live in a world where it's very fast, evolving, and growing. So what the market is, right now, it could change a year from now, right? So agencies need change, specifically, if we talk about regardless of the size, whether it's like solo agency owner might have just one project, but they might have 10 projects down the road. A small to mid-sized agency, they have a really great volume, but specifically holiday’s time, they do not have a great volume, and they do not want to pay continuously on the same although they are not using the services.
So the flexibility and scalability is the most important thing where they can decide, like however, resources, however, they want to work at whatever capacity they want to work, and scalability. So, if they have a project tomorrow, they will scale up; if they do not have a volume tomorrow, next month, they will scale down. So the flexibility and scalability, it gives them peace of mind that, okay, I do not have just my monthly cost, where if I don't have a volume, if I don't have a projects work, I'll just simply scale down. And whenever I have a work, I can scale up. So the flexibility and scalability is the most important thing. And the third thing I would say is, having multi-tech step, right?
So, in a traditional world, if you hire a WordPress developer, they are just going to do WordPress things, for an example, right? But here now when they hire a dedicated developer, they are getting like WordPress, Shopify design expertise, SEO expertise and copywriting expertise, like that, because they are hiring a team over here, not just one expertise. They are hiring kind of a white label team. So that's the third most important benefit I would put is like, having an access to multi-tech stack partner, because it's constantly evolving. Now imagine, I mean, you have run an agency.
So you had a client tomorrow, they will need a custom web application. A day after tomorrow, you will have a client who will need like robust Shopify Ecommerce store which needs to build on solid because that's a need of a project. You cannot just like have a WordPress expertise and keep selling WordPress thing, right? Because you have to understand your clients requirements. And accordingly you have to propose the technology solution. So, that's the third benefit, I would put is like, having an access to team where they have an expertise on multiple technologies.
Kelly: And so, in that process, are you also engaging with the agency either directly with the client in like discovery calls or maybe even after a discovery call to kind of brainstorm with them? What technology solution might be best for a particular project are you getting involved or is your team getting involved that early on?
Manish: Yes, we do, maybe even a normal thing. Generally, for agencies, they already decide the technology by themselves and they do the discovery phase. And once the project is in, then we get into the picture. But a lot of agencies, partners, we help them during their pre-sales process as well, with no obligation where they kind of share the requirement with us. We recommend them, okay, this is the technology best for, this is what they know, proposal cost looks like timeline deliverables, and they use it our proposal and put it as a white label and share with the client.
So yeah, we definitely get involved. We help. So we do not work in a fashion where we just like take the project and get it done. We have a very consultative approach. So we let our partners use our resources as well, our checklist, our standards, our processes, and like that, right? Even sometimes agency owners use our portfolio in the offline word. And we never let them ask to put it publicly. But yeah, we let them use our resources, we educate them, we help them during the pre-sales process, we help them with that.
Kelly: So what I hear you saying it's sort of like the through line for this whole conversation is that white label, even though it could have had a negative stigma years ago, really it has elasticity built into it, if you find the right partner. And so, what I hear you saying a lot is about collaborative partnership, right? This isn't just a vendor relationship, right? This is really a collaborative partnership where you're being very transparent, not from a communication standpoint only, but also in like, hey, these are the processes that are working for us.
If you don't have those in your agency, please take ours if that can help build your agency, and then we can handle the projects on the backend for you. That's great. It feels very reciprocal, which is kind of what I like about it. Yeah, I just wanted to say that because it was coming up for me, as you were talking, I felt like this through line of the collaborative partnership. And I think that is your business model to your point before, because I do want to touch on that even your business model feels very collaborative to me in the way.
It's not locking people into a yearlong contract, or just the ability to have that, again, flexibility or elasticity in terms of, if I need to be on this subscription plan this month, because of my project or workload, but in a month or two from now, if that needs to kind of drop, even down to zero for a period of time, and then back up. And I think just that flexibility feels very inviting. It's very invitational. So can you talk a little bit about how agencies will typically determine how they might engage with a white label service provider like yours? Like, how did they enter into the ecosystem as you call it?
Manish: No, absolutely. So before I go there, and I'll touch base on the point you mentioned earlier, I think when we work with over the course of last nine years, we have worked with hundreds of agency owners at present, currently, we have 110 active agency partnerships. So, agencies, you like to say, we do not act like a vendor, we take some time to educate our partners that okay, this is something working really well for other agencies that can work really well for you as well.
In fact, we are in the process of building a very practical and actionable guide on how to use your white label team effectively. So how to get the most out of it. So we are in the process of putting that actionable guide, which will be out in like a week or two. So, yeah, that's definitely there in terms of business model. So what I did, in an ideal world, ideal white label ecosystem, there are three pricing model. One is kind of like, a fixed cost model. The second is like ad hoc, or time and resources material model. And third is a dedicated model where the resources agencies hire on a dedicated model.
I found a problem with all these three models. The fix cost, it's kind of like every time agency owners have to come to white label partners and ask for the code and then, they add their markup and with ad hoc, kind of like, it's an hourly basis where they sometimes, white label they have to deliver to their clients depending on the availability of their white label partners. And in a classic dedicated model, if they hire a WordPress developer, they just get WordPress expertise. If they had a Shopify development, they just get Shopify expertise, right? So, three years back, I decided to change our business model completely back in 2019.
We have productized our white label services. So, think like that. We have designed different plans considering the agencies would have, on a given day, they would not have a higher volume, where they can sign up, like for a small plan, and always scale from there, where we do not limit ourselves to just one expertise. And also, it's kind of like, well, they can get it done anything. So we have designed a model, where they can get like unlimited projects done for unlimited number of their clients where they hiring a team, where they have a ready team. They don't have to train.
And we kind of have a process where we ask them, in the first month we understand their processes, their project collaboration tool, like that. So it's a business model where there is a flat monthly rate, no hidden cost, no retainer fee, and there is the list of expertise, and the number of hours, there is a range of number of hours. So it's very 100% crystal clear model, and it's purely month to month. We do not lock them on the plan for a long period of time. We can change the plan at any point of time, literally at any point of time. They can downgrade at any point of time, upgrade at any point of time.
So, that kind of business model gives a very peace of mind. So whenever we speak with agency owners, they kind of like, okay, this is something we never heard of. So now they know, we have a trained team. They know their monthly costs. They know the expertise they have access to, and they have peace of mind. And we have like, a very good process where we kind of educate our partners, agency partners that okay, which plan is the best for you. Sometimes they sign up for the wrong plan, and they do not utilize the hours, then we educate them, no, this is not good for you. Because you do not have a volume. Right?
So you better downgrade to this plan or upgrade to this plan. And also, like with scalability, there are a lot of agencies we work with. There are tons of volumes, and then we give them like good offer, where they sign up for our services for a long period of time. They get over the discounts as well. So we kind of like have a very consulting and customized approach. So although we have productized our white label services, where we have plans to choose from, a flat monthly rate, very transparent pricing model, but still we get on the call, we understand their needs. And help them choose the best plan.
So here now, they do not have to ask, they do not have to come to us every now and then that, hey, I got a client, what will be the cost, because in the backend, they already know this is what my cost is in a monthly basis. And what happens, now they have a small help they need, maintenance need, right? Now, imagine you are going to your white label partner and ask them, okay, what is going to cost, like their partner will get back to them within 24 hours, then they will reply too. So here in that process, literally, they will lose two to three days. But here, they know they have a team. They will just send the request and it's getting it done. Right?
So it's kind of this unlimited thing where we do not limit as long as they have projects and work related to technologies expertise we have. They can just literally send anything for any one of the advantages. We identified agency owners’ louder collaboration tools, louder project management tool. And when you work with freelancers, if not bigger agencies, what happens, they are not adaptive to be part of agencies collaboration tool. So we have designed our plan where we actually let our project managers become part of their collaboration tool. So now, they have everything under one thing. So if they use Asana, for example, then they have their clients on Asana. They have the renounced team. They have the project managers, and they have our development team also part of their Asana.
So I think we have designed over the nine years I have learned a lot and decided, okay, that let's design something which solves all the problems rather than following the traditional models. So we still do a fixed price model, but that says 20% of our business, we have like 70 plus agencies who are signed up on either of these plans right now. And they are loving it. A lot of agency owners, we speak with them, and they are like, okay, this is something, we did not know, until we speak with you right now. So, I think this business model we have, where we are also solving the problem, it's not just about the cost, right?
It's about like how we help them at every step to help them focus on growing their agency and scaling the agency, rather than spending unnecessary time and communication to like get a quote, and add your marker and then share with your agencies, share with your clients, and like that. The other thing I always faced is like when you work with like project to project, your point of contact keeps changing with your white label partner. Here we give decide one point of contact, they learn everything about agency processes, standards, so we make sure to adopt that. And we have a guaranteed respond back of 12 to 24 hours max. So under any of our plans, this is the major problem I saw that like, turnaround time where the agency partners do not hear from their partner in like, for two days or three days. So we kind of like have a guarantee 12 to 24 hours of time in terms of turnaround time, wherever it's like responding to clients’ acknowledgement or getting the task done.
Kelly: Yeah, and I like the flexibility and the adaptability, rather, that you talked about with utilizing the agencies project management software, whether it's Asana, or Basecamp, or Trello, or whatever, they're using task project management software, or task management software, whatever it may be. So I think there's so much efficiency kind of built into that as well.
Manish: Yes. And then that also like solves the bandwidth issues, right? Because sometimes, they need more bandwidth. And they’re just like unlocking more bandwidth. It's just an email, becomes an email away, or, like downscaling the bandwidth also just becomes an email. So the flexibility is the most important thing because I believe that ethics is the most important thing to run the business. So, I think if you are not creating a win-win situation in any anything, be it like business relationship, any kind of relationship, it's not going to work out for a longer period of time. So we have kind of tried to come up with a business model, which creates a lot of premium for all the parties.
Kelly: So, I know that you've created a very generous offer for the listeners and viewers of Thrive, which I greatly appreciate and I know that they will, too. So if you head over to e2msolutions.com/thrive. Manish is actually offering 20% off your first month of subscription service, so you can get additional information there if you want to try out the service. I definitely recommend that you give it a go. And again, I'll put that link into the show notes. Manish, thank you so much. Such a generous offer. And also just really enjoyed this conversation with you today.
Manish: Thank you Kelly. Thank you for having me also. Thank you so much.
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Rachel Roberts Mattox discuss how an agency leader’s self-development work can significantly change culture and business trajectory.
Episode 115: What 'Doing the Work' Does For Your Agency, with Rachel Roberts Mattox
Kelly: Alright, so welcome back to Thrive everyone. The last episode with Gina Hayden was a great entrance into what we call effective leadership. Some people call it conscious leadership. And today I'm actually talking with Rachel Roberts Mattox who is the founder and CEO of Oyl + Water. It's a brand development and go-to market agency for beauty brands. And full disclosure, Rachel has actually been a client of mine for about a year. Today, we're diving into something that very few people want to talk about, but we want to talk about it. And hopefully you want to listen to it. So we're going to talk about how our emotional history actually can hold us back in terms of leading our agencies. So I'm really excited to finally record this episode with her. Welcome, Rachel. It’s so good to talk to you.
Rachel: Thank you so much, Kelly. It's awesome to be here. And I love that people get to listen into this conversation. I've gotten a lot out of it with you in the last year. So I'm excited to bring it out in the world.
Kelly: Yeah, let's bring it on. So, let's start with where you were with the agency with Oyl + Water a year to three years ago, whatever it was when you initially reached out to me?
Rachel: Yeah, well, right, if I reached out to you in like, 2019, and then we've worked together, starting in 2021, so we've been around for nine years, and we've been growing every year, incrementally. When I reached out to you in 2019, it was actually our biggest year today that year. And I had some team members actually who I loved and respected saying to me, hey, I think you're thinking too small. I think you're kind of holding yourself back. You're holding the agency backwards a little bit with the way you're thinking and I think at that time, it was around things like were we charging enough and were we kind of getting out of our box. And if I was very clear on like the services that we were offering. But I think that my team was seeing that there was more than we can offer. And I remember at that time, being a little bit kind of ticked off that they were saying that to me. I was like, you don't understand what it's like to run an agency and to have to keep clients happy and keep money coming in and keep paying all my people. And, I kind of felt like they just didn't get it. And it really did. And we talked about it I remember in 2019. And that wasn't the right year for me to engage. And then 2020 happened. And I think 2020, we survived it. But it was a really hard year, of course. And I think that coming out of 2020 I had the aha there. I was like, okay, if that didn't kill us, then we've got something. But I've got to go bigger bubble. I've got to figure out some way to really come out in 2021 in a really powerful way and shifted pivot. And I realized two years later that what my team had been telling me was true, that I was holding myself back somehow. And I didn't know quite how. And so I called you and I reminded you who I was. And I said I think I'm ready. And luckily you were able to take me on as a client and now a year later, oh my gosh, I can see so much more clearly now, how I was holding myself back. But I think when I called you, I just knew that something was holding me back. I wasn't sure what it was and I needed some outside help.
Kelly: Yeah. So over the last kind of year or so, what are some of the realizations that you started to come to on your own as you were kind of becoming a little bit more self-aware?
Rachel: Well, I think the big sort of meta-idea that was coming to me and it still is, the veil is always sort of being lifted. But I think that one of the big ahas was that I couldn't disassociate myself as a leader from my real self. There was no like real Rachel in the real world and in my relationships that was separate from the Rachel that showed up to work every day, and the Rachel that was hiring and bleeding and, signing on clients and trying to make them happy, like, there was just this one self. And I think for a very long time, I thought that I could hide out in my work, and in my role, like if things weren't quite okay, in my personal life or in relationships, or, I was having my own sort of reality over here, that I could just drown myself in work, which I did for many, many, many years before even the agency started. I found a lot of comfort in that I found a lot of sort of identity in that. And I do feel like I thought that I could sort of like now I can see it very clearly or more clearly that I felt like I was almost like hiding out. But the truth is, is that all of the stuff that was going on sort of in the background, and this sort of inner world, was showing up in the way that I was leading, in the way that I was growing the business. And the people I was hiring that were a big aha, like, I could start looking at the people I had hired in the past and say, oh, they're a reflection of my mindset. They were an embodiment of the things that I was thinking and fearing and all of that. So I started to really see that there was no separation, and that I was bringing it all to work, whether or not I was conscious of it.
Kelly: Yeah. It's interesting, because what you're talking about in terms of hiding out in the work is really, it's distraction. Some people could call it that, as a socially acceptable thing. That's a trauma response, right? So if we don't want to face something, and again, I say this all the time, but trauma, big T, little T, it doesn't actually matter. Right?
Kelly: It's a response to, like, I can't cope, there's something else going on. So I'm just going to distract myself and not actually face whatever is actually going on underneath the surface. So some people throw themselves into work. Most agency leaders throw themselves into work, because that is socially acceptable. And other people, not that agency leaders don't also do this, but it could also look like, drinking or lots of other like, “addictions”
Kelly: So this is natural. It's kind of like a coping mechanism.
Rachel: It absolutely is. And I can really now see it. I mean, it started probably in my, well, it started probably in my early use, but I really started to see work becoming a coping mechanism in my 20s. And it's a very sneaky coping mechanism, because it's also attached to achievement.
Kelly: That, because you get reward for it.
Rachel: Exactly. And you get rewarded financially, you get rewarded from bosses, who you're hoping to impress. You get rewarded from the family, who may be where this is, where it came from, and you're just hoping that they see you finally, as like the star that you are. So I think that, like the achievement, addiction is a really powerful, and a very long lasting, and sort of like, it's sneaky. And it really, I think I could have had my whole career sort of operating from that place. But ultimately, I think, I came to a place where I was like, what is the next rung on the ladder that I'm trying to achieve that I think is going to bring me some sort of peace of mind or some inner peace or reduce this level of anxiety that I have? And I think that it was that level of sort of anxiety, I'm feeling like, and I mean, as agency owners, we know this, that we're, I say this all the time, where we kind of eat what we kill. We're really only as good as our project pipeline. And when you're a founder, and you're running the agency, you're looking at that pipeline all the time and saying, is this healthy as a substantial? Is this going to sustain us? That's just an o ongoing sort of chronic level of anxiety, right? And so, that reality, which is like nobody can really escape, if you have an achievement mindset, and you're also coming from sort of maybe a scarcity mentality, of always feeling like you're not, it's not quite enough and you need more. And, you start saying yes, to kind of everything in anything and trying to figure out how to make this happen. I was very stuck in that for most of the nine years. And, it's funny now, but to look back, we didn't really even have like a project management system. We didn't really have like a production schedule. We would sort of glance at the calendar and go, I think we can say yes to this, or they can fit it in. And these two days, it doesn't work like that, like you have to allow for buffer. You have to allow for the reality of what projects really take to complete when you start squeezing projects in between projects, just to kind of pad and support your bottom line. I mean, it's a recipe for chaos and burnout.
Kelly: Hundred percent.
Rachel: So these were things that were just sort of the natural state of the day to day inner workings of the agency for so long until I started to wake up to some of this deeper stuff.
Kelly: Yeah, it's interesting, because as you're talking and kind of like, describing that experience, I'm like, well, yeah, I absolutely went through that, for the majority of the time that I own my agency, and I'm assuming that every agency owner or leader that's listening to this is like nodding, even if they don't admit that that's been the case, or that that is currently the case. Like there's definitely I could feel the head nod from the collective right now.
Rachel: My team is nodding their head, and they're, ah, yeah, we're not quite out of that. Are we? I mean, it is the reality to have, like you've got to make the numbers work. And you've got to make your month and you've got to make your quarter. And so I mean, I'm deeply compassionate about this issue. But I think that there are not only systems to put in place to support that, but the work that we're doing, and I think the big aha is that or kind of coming to me more regularly, are about why am I operating like this? Why am I planning from this place?
Kelly: Well, let’s go to into that. It's good, because my curiosity is around how has unpacking some of your own emotional history just directly impacted the business? That’s what we’re here.
Rachel: Yeah. Well, I'll talk about the thing that I think nobody really wants to talk about, including me, but I think it's really important. Because I think we all have it, to some extent, most likely is the scarcity mentality. Right? And it can show up in so many ways, but the idea that, are we enough? Do we have enough? Are we good enough? And I think that are we good enough kind of correlates to the imposter syndrome, which is its own sort of emotional territory. But I think that the scarcity mentality, I imagine that every agency owner has had times where that's been very up for them, like, is it all enough? And I think that, as we just said, that can lead to some making some really poor decisions, and making what I would call sort of blind decisions. And Kelly, we've talked about this so much. I'm not going to look at it. I'm just going to say yes, and we're going to figure out how to make it happen. I think that the hard work that we're doing, but that I think we should all be doing if we want to just get better at being sort of an awake human, not to mention a leader is having the courage to look and to really start unraveling, where does that come from? So I think for me, certainly, family upbringing, and sort of family issues around money. I was raised by an entrepreneur. My father was an entrepreneur. Seeing him throughout my whole life thriving and also struggling at times, that's just sometimes the reality of being a business owner. And being really sensitive to that as a child, I just was just very attuned to it as a child. I really sort of like picked up on that energy. And then coming out of college and getting into my career, and really just having unbelief that like, I had to do this on my own. I wasn't sort of wired to just sort of like, coast. I wasn't wired to get married and settle down and not work. I was wired to like, go and get out there and shred and I really wanted to experience life and I loved business. But there was definitely this sort of unconscious tape that was playing in my mind that was like, you have to hustle, to make it always. There is no rest. The hustle is what keeps you fed. The hustle is what keeps it all going. The moment that you start to sort of lay off the gas pedal, it's gonna all crumble like the axes. Right? And that I mean, that phrase is a phrase that we've used throughout my life in my family like the shoe is gonna drop. So I just came into this world and was born into an amazing family but a family that these were the issues for us. So I carried this into my adulthood and into my career and, the veneer of achievement and the veneer of hustle and like, I may not have been the smartest person in the room, I was definitely not the most like educated person in the room. I was setting with Harvard MBAs at many tables, but I would outwork anybody, like that was my thing. I was going to show up first. I was going to leave last. And that was the badge of honor I've worked for a really long time. And I think that, it got the agency up and running. But launching an agency and running and scaling an agency are two different things.
Kelly: Right, because exactly what you're just talking about that like hustle mentality where like, I have to do it all on my own. This like, I'm gonna outwork everybody else, it ends up alienating our own employees, like your city mindset means that we say yes to non-ideal clients, it means that we don't price our services appropriately. So literally, like what gets you to this point of owning an agency is the literal thing that holds you back from scaling, growing, etc., right?
Rachel: You just said it exactly perfectly. Like, I don't regret the things that it took to get here. Just like I don't regret the hustle and the sort of achievement oriented mentality that I had in my 20s. Like, it got me here. I've got to love that woman and that girl, and I love that the agency got to this place. But I'm definitely aware now that like, you're absolutely right. Like, my team was looking at me, like, first of all, this is totally unsustainable, what you're doing and then what you're asking me to do, , and it wasn't this is the big thing for me. It was like, it wasn't producing the best work, right? Like my team was burning out. They were losing creative energy and vitality. They were definitely not stoked. Just like, they were doing what they were doing, you're showing up and luckily, like, I've got an incredible loyal team, like they've stuck with me through a lot of it. But yeah, it wasn't sustainable. And I think seeing being able to really remove the veil and see that like, it's not just me. I'm impacting now all of these other humans that are showing up every day working for Oyl + Water. So it’s self-awareness, but it's also like, collective, like, what is my impact? How is it impacting my community? And that's a huge aha.
Kelly: Yeah. So where are you sitting right now? Not that you're on the other side of it, but you're certainly on the other side of it, if that makes sense.
Rachel: Yeah. I mean, definitely. Yeah, we're definitely in the work. What I mean by that is, the lessons over the last year in working with you, and just how I've been actively sort of implementing these things in the agency have led me to a few really key realizations. One is that I'm working on this conscious leadership. The concept of conscious leadership or effective leadership really on like three layers. There's the self, of course, that's where it begins. And that's the only place that we can really have the truest like impact is being willing to work on the self. See where the triggers are coming from. I'm always working on like, you will always work on that. Yeah, at least and responding consciously instead of just reacting, taking those pauses before making decisions. Really knowing that like my first response may not always err, my first reaction may not be the healthiest. Sometimes that first reaction is an old tape, right? The conscious reaction or response is the one that you go wait, stop the, like what's going to be like the downstream effect of this of this decision that I'm about to make? Like just pausing and thinking. I know it sounds simple, but boy is it when you're in the moment and making bad decisions, like having that practice is really key. So self-mastery. Mastery is a very strong word, just working on myself. And then, practicing conscious leadership with the team. And I've got a small team, and they're tight. We're remote, but we're tight. I'm really encouraging them to work on this in their own way, working on themselves, their own self-awareness, their own sort of self-care. This is a really big thing for us at the agency. We're obviously in the beauty and health and wellness space. So we talk a lot about self-care. How are you nurturing your creative health? This is a conversation that we have to start every Monday meeting. Let's see, I want to be really real like this, it's just a conversation. Sometimes people don't have anything to say. Some people are like, I'm not nurturing it this week, like we're just in the practice, but at least there's a space and a container where we can talk about it, and share ideas, and some of the ideas that have come up have just been so beautiful. Yes. It's like, getting into nature, taking time in the middle of your day to do a quick meditation. I mean, these things, they sound so trite or simple, but they really do change the course of the day. So culture, and then the third one is, of course, clients, like how is this effective leadership and conscious leadership practiced internally, for us, as a company, impacting our clients? And how can we share it with our clients? This is actually like, to me the most exciting territory because we're marketers, and we're branders and we're helping to build brands. And yes, a lot of it is marketing, and messaging and design and what you see and what you hold, but really, at the end of the day, it's like, what company are you building? And are you living your values? Are you really like practicing what you're preaching in your own company? So there is sort of a dotted line or like a string that connects what the work we're doing with our culture, and possibly the company that they're building. And that feels really good. It feels like we're gonna have maybe a bigger impact with this work. So, yeah, I would say we're sitting on, what I'm sitting with now, is these three layers, and how am I working on them every day.
Kelly: It's interesting, the way that you just described that because I almost see that third layer of like, what is the impact that I can have on the clients, on their businesses, maybe on their employees, as well as your own, of course, and then like, the larger impact of like, their customers, right? So like, they embodying conscious leadership, and I almost see this, like, third layer of leadership that you're working on, as almost like an undercover service offering. It's like, consciously, right?
Kelly: You're thinking that we're just gonna build your brand, and maybe give you a go-to market strategy and a content strategy. But at the end of the day, we're also kind of like consulting, as to like, how to live your values. They're not just things that sit on a website or on the packaging, right? It's like, how are you actually embodying that and then conveying that to the world to the customers who may also be impacted by it. So like, the ripple effect is kind of incredible.
Rachel: It's, well, the ripple effect is one of our, we have six sort of creative commitments. And the ripple effect is the sixth one that I added later, because I was because of this exact thing where I thought. I've always been passionate about mindful marketing and marketing the truth of the product, or the formula, or the brand, or the company. And what that requires from us is to really get into the truth of it. Like, what are the underpinnings, what really is driving you to do this, and to put this out in the world? And I think when we can tell that story really authentically; these values start to just sort of naturally kind of come out in the context and what we're creating, right? So yes, absolutely. Like if we're doing our jobs well, and the client is really open to it, and they're on the path of making the world better with their brand or their company, then it's really about just communicating through the company and through the brand and through the product, these really important values that can make us all a little bit better. So it's aspirational, but that's what we want to be up to. So you definitely nailed that.
Kelly: Yeah, it's interesting also, because the way that I was thinking about that, as you were talking is, there's been so much focus on like the why, right? Like, if you're building a brand, everything comes down to the why. But what you're saying is yes, the why is incredibly important. And that's how we're going to get to actually have a brand, have a company. But then this thing that I call like lighting the way, you call the ripple effect, but in my forthcoming book, I call lighting the way, like one of the prerequisites of conscious leadership. And for me, it almost seems like the why but beyond ourselves. Right?
Rachel: Yeah, for sure.
Kelly: And then, what's next?
Rachel: That's it. And I think, the emergence of conscious leaders is, I think, it's a requirement for our planet. I mean, to just speak boldly, like, I think we have to be moving in this direction. But it's not just for the benefit of the leaders doing their work and all of that. It's really so that they can lead and we can lead bigger companies and make this impact on a bigger scale. Because it really, I believe, is like, these big companies, and maybe hopefully one day governments that are awake enough to create this big change into like, the way. We need these pillars, these examples, these like lighthouses in the world, and it begins with this work on a very individual internal level.
Kelly: So that's a good segue to kind of like wrap up here. What's the biggest takeaway that you would impart on other agency leaders, regardless of what vertical they serve? Agency leaders who are maybe a bit skeptical about this correlation between like healing our past or unpacking that stuff and becoming a more effective leader. Like, yeah, what guidance would you give?
Rachel: I think the, the simplest thing I can say is that we, I think, growth and success, like connecting success, your success as a professional to your success as a human and being such a successful human is, I believe, like, really having the courage to look at yourself really, really closely. And to say, like, what are the things that might be getting in my way, from having a really fulfilling peaceful things, less anxiety, kind of like existence, and a lot of that stuff that stands in our way professionally, that stands in our way, in relationships, that stands in our way between us having really great relationships, even with our employees and our colleagues like that stuff is often just like past stuff that we haven't dealt with. And again, you can call it a lot of things. You can call it trauma. You can say that you need to heal old wounds, whatever you call it, that sounds sort of therapeutic. The bottom line is that we are one human walking around in all of these different capacities and all these different roles, and the same human that's in the relationship, or that has unfinished business with a partner or a parent or whatever, is the same person that's showing up to this role as a leader. And it's informing the decisions that we're making and hiring and who we're saying yes to, and how we're actually operating and acting. So I would say that, like, the big takeaway is having the courage to kind of look at that stuff and work with someone if you need that help, so that you can be the most successful, the most sort of vibrant and alive and vital. And it's really not scary. It's actually deeply empowering because you start to really see like, oh, man, this was just something I could let go of. And it's opened up this huge, like, new way of looking at things. So I guess the big thing is, is that it's all connected. We can't silo ourselves off. We're all connected. And we have to lead with that awareness.
Kelly: Yeah, beautifully said. And I heard you say empowerment, I would also have build on that to say, freedom. There's a lot of like, emotional liberation and other forms of liberation that are really on the other side of that and it's not scary, as you said. I know a lot of people don't want to talk about this stuff. But I feel like we're kind of in a place in this world in this life, like wherever you're at, where there's not really another option so like, let's just go, right?
Rachel: Exactly true. There's no hiding. There's no hiding in work. There's no hiding. We're here. Let's fully embody all of it and wake up to all of it. Yeah, that's the one thing I would leave for any agency owner who's a little skeptical of all of this work. It's the work.
Kelly: It's the work.
Kelly: Rachel, thank you so much. I love that we were able to get together on the show. I know I've been wanting to do this for a long time. So I appreciate you.
Rachel: Thank you. I appreciate it too, Kelly. Thanks.