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The Podcast for Agency Leaders

Join Kelly Campbell twice a month as she goes deep into what it means to lead a creative agency, with interviews discussing leadership, culture, mindset, and more.

Episode 100: The Power of Slowing Down, with Mo Gawdat

   
On this landmark episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Mo Gawdat discuss how and why slowing down actually allows you to get further in both your life and agency.
 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 100: The Power of Slowing Down, with Mo Gawdat

Duration: 31:43

 

 

Kelly: I'm excited to celebrate this hallmark episode with a very, very special guest. Some of you may remember Mo Gawdat as the Chief Business Officer at Google X. And others might know him as the author of Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy. Either way, he's also the host of the new podcast Slo Mo. So be sure to check that out if you're feel inspired by this conversation today. I actually met Mo at the World Happiness summit a few years ago. I don't know if he remembers it. But he signed a book for a client of mine. And I was blown away by his presentations. So a warm welcome to you. I'm glad that you're here. I'm glad that we've reconnected and thank you so much for being my special guest on episode 100.

 

Mo: It's so special to feel, 100 is a very special number. I'm honored. And yes, I remember. And I remember the word Happiness Summit. I remember before they locked us down. And the first time I went to the World Happiness Summit, I was like, “There are summits about happiness?” Isn't it all about profitability and connectivity and technology? It was one of the most incredible experiences. I probably think you would agree.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I had a few clients who said, Wait, you're going to a World Happiness Summit. So what do you do? You walk around and like smoke pot all day? I don't understand.

 

Mo: I don't. Actually the first World Happiness Summit was when I was publishing my book Solve for Happy. I actually published it there in Miami. And, it was a very emotional time for me because of the reasons of the book and so on. And I have never received more hugs in one day than I did that day in 17th Of March 2017. Basically people were so wonderful. Everyone there is saying, Look, there are two sides to life. Yes, you do need to contribute and succeed, and make a difference. But you also want to find your happiness. And so it was just a group of likeminded people that are looking for something very special and wonderful.

 

Kelly: Yeah. So let's talk about that a little bit, just as an entry point. So you actually researched the topic of happiness for well over a decade, which I actually don't think that I realized. What gave you the idea, to design an algorithm to try to reach this state of uninterrupted happiness in one's life?

 

Mo: A brain defect, if you want to believe it, Kelly. Engineers were weird. And at the time, I was a very serious geek, like real. I still am quite geeky, but not as much. To my mind, I was very happy until I was 24, 25. When I had nothing, life was difficult. And I became totally miserable by age 29 when I had everything. I was very successful, rich, by lots of measures, had the ability to print money in the stock market. I was doing very well. And, in my mind, I thought, like a geek, something went wrong with the code. So this piece of software that was in my head worked well until 24, and something went wrong. So let me debug this machine. And I did it literally. We debug software. I really started to list down all of the instances that made me happy or unhappy and try to find commonalities between them and try to make sense of it all, independent of spirituality, independent of practice, basically, like a lab scientist, if you want. And that paid off because happiness is highly predictable. It follows a very predictable pattern that can be summarized in an equation and to my brain when I figured that out, the rest was engineering, the rest was just hard work. But the discovery was there.

 

Kelly: And so why did you feel compelled to kind of bring this message to 1 billion people around this idea that this is like your personal mission in life?

 

Mo: Yeah, I don't wish that it was triggered because of the events that it was triggered. 12 years into my research, I was probably close to world champion on happiness. You couldn't dent my happiness. There wasn't much you could do because it was very clear and logical in my mind. As a matter of fact, in one of my future books, which is publishing in spring, next year, I talk about something that is called the happiness flow chart. It can follow a flow chart. And, when that happened, I started to share it with my family, my close friends. And the model worked. At the time, I think 2011 was the time when I decided probably I should write this down. And, make it a book, but I was busy. I was running around like all of us, executive at Google at the time, then moved to Google X and was Chief Business Officer and was very busy. And I think life nudged me, 2014, when life said, you really have to do this, and basically, sadly triggered me to go on that path through the loss of my son.                                                         So Ali was not just my son. Ali was everything. He was my son. He was my best friend. He was my coach in many, many, many ways. And he was 21 and half at the time. He was tall and handsome and wise and kind and had the best hug on the planet. Like, I can't tell you. I swear to you. And I'm this big old man who is a senior executive who just fall in Ali's hug, who just want to stay there. And he unfortunately, had a simple surgery, an appendix inflammation, and it went wrong. And so four hours later, Ali left our world and my response to it was more around, I can't bring him back. So what can I do now that he left?                                                                                                                                                                              And the only thing that came to my mind at the time was maybe if I share what he taught me, I mean, we worked on my happiness discovery together. I was the brain. And Ali was just that instinctive heart. And so, I said, Maybe if I wrote it down, and I share it with the world and somehow they found part of it in them, then it wouldn't be for nothing that he left.” My whole ambition was to deliver on his dream. A couple of weeks before he died, he spoke to his sister that he had a dream. And he said, “My dream was that I was everywhere and part of everyone.” I always feel emotional whenever I talk about him.

 

Kelly: Yeah, of course.

 

Mo: And Aya came to me four days after Ali died. And she said he had that dream. And she said, “It was so wonderful that he didn't want to be back in his body.” And, of course, immediately, I felt that he was giving me a target. If you know how a businessman's mind works, I sort of felt Ali was saying, Papa, it's now your job to make me everywhere and part of everyone. I promise you, Aya will tell you, I basically sat down on the sofa, held my face, and then raised my head and said, “Okay, habibi. Consider it done.”                                                                                                                                                                              These were my exact words. Google executive at the time, I was responsible for emerging markets for years. I knew how to reach billions. And, I said, consider it done. And that's where it all started. Was it my life purpose? Did I find my life purpose? I don't know. I think my purpose found me.

 

Kelly: Yeah, you're making me tear up. It's never easy.

 

Mo: I mean, it's seven years ago now Kelly. I promise you, my heart is filled with everyone who lost a child, it just doesn't go away.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I can imagine.

 

Mo: But let me tell you this. I mean, we're now 10s of millions in. If you imagine Ali, Ali was that wonderful being in every way. And I promise you, I think about it. And I sometimes ask myself, if I had went to Ali, if I'd gone to Ali before he went into that operating room, and I said, Ali, would you give your life for 47 million people to be happier? My belief is he would have said, Yes.

 

Kelly: He would have said yes. Yeah.

 

Mo: Yeah. And if you understand that’s the way I understand it. I don't think that's a very bad deal. Sooner or later, I'll hug him and say, “Hey, it worked.” And maybe it's worthwhile.

 

Kelly: Yeah. Amazing. Thank you for sharing that, by the way.

 

Mo: Oh, my God. Yes. I love to talk about him.

 

Kelly: I think it's also really kind of like a beautiful wraparound that you had. You sort of released that book publicly and we're given all of these hugs on that same day, when you had this special relationship with his hugs. Yeah.

 

Mo: Yeah. If you don't believe in karma, I am the absolute example. I mean, right before lockdowns I was in an event called Wisdom 2.0, Wisdom in Business, and the host is a friend, Martin and he made me cry on the stage because somehow he asked me a question where I suddenly realized that I lost the love of Ali. But I had the love of every single person in those audience. There must have been like 10,000 people out there. And the amount of love that can came flooding on me, of course, Ali’s love is special, but can't complain, to be honest. It's amazing how what you give out, what you put out in the world comes back to you. Maybe giving is probably, now in my mind I know it sounds like a strange statement. Maybe giving is the most selfish thing you can ever do.

 

Kelly: I like that. I like that reframe.

 So let's transition a little bit and talk about what we kind of wanted to talk about today for the majority of the time, which is this idea that there's so much power in slowing down. So slowing down is difficult. We’re wired, especially here in America, to speed up and we're wired to crush it. And we're wired to do all of these things, to put our emotions aside and just like focus on these goals and power through, which I'm definitely guilty of. Slowing down is antithetical, especially when you think about the last 16 months. When we've been forced to slow down, arm wrestled to slow down, we didn't do it voluntarily. So the natural inclination is to as things open up again, the natural inclination is to speed up. But let's dive into the power of slowing down. And actually, what does it mean for your life? And what does it mean for all aspects of the way that you want to live the rest of your life?

 

Mo: Well, I think it's a myth that slowing down slows you down. The truth is almost the exact opposite. Life is a mixture of being and doing. And, if you look at how we've turned it into our modern societies, we're just about doing. We forgot about being. Now we've become so efficient at doing that we do what we put our heads to, and the problem is, without being most of the time, we do the wrong things. And we waste so many cycles. And so in a very interesting way, slowing down are those moments of being that allow you to actually recognize what it is you're supposed to do. And if you do, you do it much more efficiently. You do it much more quickly, and you just get it done. So by slowing down, you literally are going faster. I remember one of my best friends, 43 years friends, and we started together in IBM. And his name is Waeil and so I'm saying his name because he will laugh when he listens to this. And the difference between Waeil, was at the time when we were there, I was an 8088, which was one of the early Intel processors that was my speed. And we used to call him Pentium at the time because he was so fast. He was so fast. I would be sitting in my cubicle and he sitting next to me in the other cubicle and you couldn't hear from how quickly he was typing on the keyboard, like unbelievable. But then eventually you would look at on his screen and there are only three lines written. And I go like what's going on? Well, then he says, Yeah, I keep typing and then erase and then type and erase and then type and erase and then type and erase.” And that was how fast he was going. And wouldn't it be much, I'm like the other guy, tick, tock, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and I write faster than most authors. I write at a speed that actually my publishers are unable to catch up with. Not because I type fast but because I slow down. I actually look at my idea. I write it on a piece of paper. I reflect on it. I waited a day or two. I research it a little, and I don't write a single letter. And then one morning, I wake up and poof, literally, I spit out the chapter. And, that's the power of slowing down. The big myth when you think about it is that we think that we are designed as humans to actually go fast. Not at all. If you remember the times of cavemen and women, we would go hunting one day of the week. That would feed the tribe for the whole week. And then we would stay back in safety and reflection. As a matter of fact, our natural state is a state of, your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, and your default mode network is completely relaxed, and you're really not thinking. You’re just there to digest your food, reflect, but rebuild your muscle, close your eyes and sleep. This actually is what humans are about. So I'm not saying we should be lazy, but we have to recognize that if you want to be productive, that one of the most productive ways of doing that is to actually slow down.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I was just thinking like, even if you're using like the caveman example, if you think about it, when we needed to run away from a lion or to run to hunt something. It was the sprint, and the sprint is very short. And you're saying it's once a week for a really finite amount of time. That's when we go fast. And then everything else is the slowing down. But somehow we have inverse this entire thing, where we're sprinting and sprinting seven days a week, and or six days a week, and maybe potentially maybe slowing down a little bit on Sundays.

 

Mo: Not really actually. And I think the trick is this. The trick is not because we're slower than the cavemen and women. We're actually quite a lot faster. It's because we fill our life with so much more. And so, when we were chatting before Kelly, I was telling you, I'm the CEO of a prominent startup, a very, very advanced tech startup. And I tell myself, of course, it doesn't happen every week. But I tell myself, that I would run this business four hours a day, four to five days a week. And many weeks, that's all it takes, not because I'm lazy. And not because there isn't enough to do. There is a ton to do. But we have to be very selective. For example, I do not subscribe to email updates. I do not subscribe. I don't follow many people on social media unless I find something very useful coming from them. There are many things that we can take out of our life to allow for that time to slow down. Last year, on my Instagram account, I had a series that was called Half Monk. And Half Monk was an attempt to say, being and doing. Remember being is to actually just be, not doing anything, reflecting connecting to your body, connecting to yourself, connecting to being around you, and maybe meditate, maybe you just sit there and do nothing, whatever you want.  Monks do that for a lifetime. I interviewed one of my favorite monks on the planet and our good friend Matthieu Ricard on Slo Mo, and Matthieu has 65,000 hours of lifetime meditation. That's how far he goes into being. Now, we, on the other hand, if you calculate your life, 60 years of productive life, most of us will have 65,000 hours of doing, rushing from here to here. And the difference between them is there must be something in the middle and Half Monk was the attempt to say, Can I spend 50% of my life being and 50% of my life doing?

 

Kelly: I love that.

 

Mo: And believe it or not, yes, one of my posts at the time was the 10 things you can do to find enoughtime to become a monk. And yes, you can remove swiping and typing. You can remove subscriptions. You can remove notifications. You can remove friends that are annoying. You can remove obligations that you don't feel are important part of your life. You can remove binge watching stuff on Netflix. There is so much time.

 

Kelly: I’m laughing because it's exactly where I'm at right now. I'm doing some of these.

 

Mo: Yeah, totally. You know that show on Netflix that is called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. It's just this she's this wonderful Japanese woman that talks to you about how you can tidy your home. And her idea is that we live in so much clutter. Only very little of it gives you joy. And that's also true about your activities, that very little of what we engage in life gives you joy or make you productive. So you sit down and deliberately. Take them off one after the other. At the end of my podcast, at the end of every episode, I tell people openly, I say, I know you have a very busy agenda. But remember, there is always some time to slow down. And that's the truth. If you choose slowing down as another activity for the day, you're bound to find two, three hours for it every day.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And so slowing down, like obviously, there's so much power in that. And you've given some fantastic examples. I'll probably post in the show notes a link to the blog post that you mentioned. But all of this is not just to live monk like. It's so that we can sort of restore ourselves to a state of health where we don't feel so stressed out and so burned out and so much overwhelm and just so much. So can you talk a little bit about that? Because I know you have a fourth book that you're working on that talks a little bit more about that. And I'd love to go there.

 

Mo: Yeah. So I met actually, she was a guest on my podcast, a wonderful stress management expert, a lady called Alice Law. And Alice and I just immediately said, maybe we should write this book. And the book, we think it's going to be called Stressed? And my part of it is to understand the mechanics of it as an engineer. And stress is really not that complicated. You can easily understand that from physics. Stress is not the forces applied to you. It's the forces applied to you divided by the area that can carry it. This is the definition of stress in physics, and the reality is, the stress that we feel as humans is it's not just the result of the external pressures, or factors or challenges that we face, it's also a question of our ability to handle them. And, our ability to handle them is truly a question of, how much time do we give them? How much attention do we give them? And how much skill do we invest to learn about those things? Now, the stress in physics is actually not the scary bits. The scary bit in physics is known as fatigue. And fatigue is when you apply enough stress to an object that it breaks. In humans, we call that burn out. We call that depression. Sometimes we call it whatever. It's that point where you fail to manage the stresses anymore. And the idea is very straightforward. It's the pressures of life minus your abilities to handle them, then burnout and fatigue and break down is basically taking that equation and multiplying it by the time of application of that stress. A bit of stress is wonderful for you. If you suddenly get a tiny bit, a bit grainy, but yeah, a tiny bit because that tiny bit gets your system to work in a very interesting way. It engages your sympathetic and nervous system. It changes your hormonal makeup. You basically tell your adrenal gland to give you that amazing hormonecortisol that basically gets you to become superhuman. But you rightly said in the cavemen and women years, that was intended to make you superhuman for seven minutes. So that you run away from the tiger or fight the tiger. And that's it. After seven minutes, you're supposed to slow down, you're supposed to relax, you're supposed to regain your strength during those seven minutes, just so that you understand, you're flooded with adrenaline, you're flooded with other hormones that are basically telling your digestive system to stop working. They're telling your muscles to burn to literally cut themselves out into little proteins so that they can burn into energy. They're telling your brain to consume all of the blood sugar in your blood. It's a very sustainable state. And, we apply that kind of stress, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, sometimes for years. You can be stressed at a job and you just get on with it. You can be stressed in a relationship and you keep waking up next to that person day after day after day. And basically that means you eventually end up in fatigue. You break down. So what's the answer? The answer is, we have to find a way as humans to just get that entire cycle back to seven minutes, or maybe seven hours; if you have a deadline for delivering a project tomorrow, that's fine. But we have to find a way to shrink that. There are many ways. The most important of them in my view, we say Alice's work in the book is focused on the types of stress. You can be mentally stressed. You can be physically stressed. You can be emotionally stressed, and you can be spiritually stressed. And the whole idea is to follow the cycle that we're actually designed to go back to our parasympathetic nervous system engaged to that mode, where we can reset and relax, and actually rebuild. So how do you do that? By planning it, by making it a very, very religious part of your agenda.

I never start my mornings before 10 am. There is nothing called breakfast meeting for me, which is very well known for CEOs with high paced agenda. I never end my day by going into bed. Right after work, or right after dinner, I have two hours of winding down, reflecting on the day, meditating, watching the comedy. These are things that are part of my agenda, and just like meeting with another CEO, if someone comes to me and says, “Oh, can we meet at 12?” And I'm meeting with the CEO of one of my clients? I'll say, No, I can't do 12. Can we do 1?” Similarly, when people try to intrude into my peaceful time, my mo time as I call it, my mo time is mine. And you can't take it out of my agenda. And it has to be part of your daily ritual and practice.

 

Kelly: Yeah, what I'm hearing you saying, though, is it is absolutely a choice. It is a discipline. And it's designed with intention. So there are a lot of people probably listening saying, “This sounds great Mo. I'm glad you can do that. You're like X, Google guy. You're doing all these things. I can't start my day at 10 o'clock. I can't work only four days a week.”

 

Mo: Of course you can.

 

Kelly: Exactly. And this is what I want to pinpoint. Because it's not just the fact that you've gotten to a certain point in life where you can feasibly do this. Or I've gotten to a certain point in life where I start my day at 10:30. And I only work three days a week, or whatever the situation is. It's because it was intentionally designed that way. Like, this is the choice. This is the discipline. So what's important to you? And so that's kind of where I'd love to wrap up, like this idea.

 

Mo: And Kelly, it's not the number 10. If you have to start your day at 8, wake up at 6. And accordingly, sleep at 10. I mean, plan your day in a way where you have a choice. By the way, I'm the CEO, but if you're reporting to someone, and he is telling you, but I need you to work more, show them your agenda and say, I'm working on those six projects, you're adding one more, which one do you want me to drop? Because at the end of the day, I will be working eight hours, maybe nine hours. But I can't do more than that. But you have to be intentional in terms of telling yourself upfront, I can't be doing more than that.

 

Kelly: And that's also self-advocacy, what you're talking about. Like it's okay for you to say to your superior, to your boss, to your employer, yes, I can do this. Of course, I will take this on. But tell me where you want to re-prioritize some of the other things on my schedule? That's okay. Yeah, this is a really, really poignant and interesting conversation. Because at the beginning of this year, after all of 2020, before I even knew that you were going to be on the show, I think it was, I'm not into New Year's resolutions, but I created a mantra for the year. And my mantra was even slower.

 

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Episode 99: Selling Creative Services with Confidence, with Charlotte Ellis Maldari

   
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Charlotte Ellis Maldari discuss how creative agencies can demonstrate to prospects that they are the best choice, as opposed to being held back by peer comparison.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 99: Selling Creative Services with Confidence, with Charlotte Ellis Maldari

Duration: 22:14

 

 

Kelly: So welcome to Thrive your agency resource. Joining me today from London is the founder of Kaffeen Club, Charlotte Ellis Maldari. She specializes in revenue growth for design businesses, actually ambitious design businesses. We'll be talking about selling creative services with confidence, which is where that ambition comes from. Charlotte, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.

 

Charlotte: Thank you very much for having me.

 

Kelly: So you work predominantly with creative leaders just like I do. And you have a whole understanding about the self-limiting beliefs that a lot of creative leaders have, because they are typically practitioners that come from larger agencies, and they're now out on their own. What are some of the things that you've noticed in terms of where those fears come from, and what the self-limiting beliefs and fears are actually all about versus what they think they might be about?

 

Charlotte: So I work with founders, partners, and directors within design, predominantly design businesses and predominately between 2 and 10. There's a number of clients who are a lot bigger than that. But that's the typical kind of range. And generally, what happens is they're founded by a creative who's broken away from a bigger agency or a more established agency. They've been very used to being highly protected with inside a design environment, having very little client exposure sometimes, not even damage exposure to the account management team, as we call in the UK, in client services, and then they go off on their own, and they think they're going to have more time to spend on design. And actually, they end up being the rainmaker, the HR person, the operations person. And sometimes that can lead to a lack of confidence about what the creative output of the studio is. The other common thing that I see a lot is particularly when an agency has emerged as a break away from another agency is this kind of sense of really caring about what their peers think when valuing that way more than they would care what their prospects think, which is when we get into danger territory. For me, because revenue growth does not come from pleasing your peers. It comes from demonstrating to your prospects that you can deliver a return on investment for them, and you're the right support to be using that business.

 

Kelly: Yeah, and it is such a self-limiting belief, right? As soon as we start comparing ourselves to someone else in our industry, or outside of our industry, for that matter, it's a slippery slope, right? Because you're never actually going to feel “good enough”. And then that impacts your ability to develop new business. And I think a lot of people don't actually make that connection. I mean, that my audience is used to me kind of creating that through line. But I think it's one of those things that we just have to keep repeating over and over again because it's so true and it's so important. But for those people like along those lines, for those people who are running smaller design or creative or development agencies, who have this idea that they're a failure unless they have a higher employee headcount, or a high annual revenue growth number, right? If they feel like that, what are some of the things that they may not be considering? That if they were running a larger agency, they may have to be dealing with?

 

Charlotte: Well, I think there's so many silver linings in this area, and being part of a smaller agency, I say the number one, coming back to that mindset and that self-limiting belief about caring more about what your peers think than what your prospects think. I typically find when I work with clients who've started agencies more recently, say within the last 5 years, they can break those habits more easily, they can identify them and then start to break them down.

 

Kelly: A little bit more self-aware, maybe.

 

Charlotte: Yeah, more self-aware and just less stubborn about it being something that they can come back, whereas the people who've been in business for a long time and have plateaued from a revenue perspective and don't understand why because in their opinion, and actually in their prospect, in their client’s opinion, their output of their studio is amazing. And there is massive support for those brands that they're working with. So they don't understand why they can't generate more and more new business and it tends to be because they're limiting their outputs in terms of marketing a new business, because they're scared about what their peers think. And they just can't break that down. So I think coming back to that point, just being able to break out of that cycle, being aware of it and being able to break out of it sooner, that's a hugely powerful thing about being a smaller agency. But equally, agility to serve many multiple different markets in a year. I mean, one of the things that I encourage my clients to do when they're starting an outbound, new business campaign for the first time, is pick four industries that you'd like to work with,  and let's target one each quarter for a year. And don't try and do any more, but equally, don't settle for less and don't settle for less niche than choosing for specific industries per year. Because otherwise, you become a generalist, and you can't AB test what's working in terms of who you're reaching out to. And I typically find that bigger agencies really struggle with that sense of, we can double down on a particular area, see whether it's for us, they're generally more again, need to find some synonyms for the word stubborn, but they might be ingrained in that sense of, no, we could do this for anybody. But the difficult thing is trying to be everything to everyone that you risk not meaning much to anyone. And yeah, that's one of the challenges that I see with those bigger agencies too.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I would say positioning from that standpoint, positioning up to four verticals is probably like the absolute max.

 

Charlotte: Yeah. And just be really clear about that. That's for companies who've not done anything before, they really don't have any indication. So there might be a couple of years in business, they don't have any indication about any clear data to back up, who might be the right audience for them at that point, and I'm really encouraging them to test the water rather than mean very little to anybody. I think it kind of stems from that in terms of positioning as well. What I find is when smaller agencies emerge, they tend to have positioning statements, like just the mission statement that sits above the fold on the homepage of the website. That's quite how I say, maybe they are not completely articulate about what they stand for, and who they deliver that to. And actually, a nice way of doing it is what is the ambition of the client that they serve rather than what they do and for who, but smaller agencies, I find, it's easier for them to to narrow that down, when they're really pressed, they realize that what they're saying is quite fluffy. And it's challenging for the prospect to interpret that. That means they're the right agency for them. Whereas bigger agencies are less willing to be challenged on that and actually risk driving prospects away because they don't understand the right fit for them. I mean, it's as simple as that. Say, for example, you're a creative agency when actually you're a brand design agency working in the FMCG space, like being really clear about that. So the prospect who may have never commissioned an agency before, so you got to understand, they might not be up on the terminology. It's all very subjective and could be interpreted different ways, especially across different geographies. So I think that's another big advantage that smaller agencies have.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And along those lines, talking about how that translates into new business, because it is like the number one thing of how new businesses developed. And it's sort of a make or break in my mind for new business. I know new businesses are your forte, specifically around this idea of establishing really strong boundaries, especially from the point of a discovery call, for example. Can you talk a little bit about that?

 

Charlotte: Yes. So one of the challenges that I think smaller agencies have when compared to bigger agencies is confidence on initial calls with clients, because at that stage, a lot of people have a very bad pipeline in terms of new business. They can be quite afraid to turn away any prospective clients. They are at risk of trying to be everything to everyone, when somebody calls then it’s not typically what they would do that they try to shoehorn their process rather than actually be the right fit for them. So yeah, I think it's so important to set those boundaries on those initial calls. I think one of the things that I see as being really useful is having some kind of backup script. Maybe not script is the right word, that backup prompts of things that you may not have covered on the call and making sure you encompass everything on that call because really, I aim for the initial discovery conversation to be around 30 minutes max. During that time, you need to be able to elicit the complete scope of the brief. And the commercial challenge that the client is facing, above all else, and also their budget, really, really pushing until we establish, even if it's not a figure, but just a sign of comfort or discomfort with a particular number. So important, otherwise, any time is wasted after that point of pulling together a proposal. And, I'm sure the listeners can identify that putting together a proposal on a case-by-case basis is really difficult, particularly when we're trying not to exchange our time for money directly. And we're trying to price based on value rather than hours spent. And so, it's so important to be really strong during that call, and also tell people that you're not for them, that you offer them an alternative. Don't be afraid to say I'm afraid that's just not the way we were called. Or perhaps outline exactly how you work and say, does that tell them what you were expecting? Does that sound like what you want? Because we understand that it's not for everybody. And especially with startups and scaleups, in particular, where they're bootstrapping, and they're super keen in terms of how they're spending their money. That's hugely important. And then I want to divert off into the subject of return on investment, improving effectiveness. But that's an entirely different topic, also of great value during those calls in order to get the most out of those discovery calls.

 

Kelly: Right. Well, we will talk about that in a second. Because I think that's important too, especially because we're talking about creative services. And it could be a part of a difficult conversation, right? [Commercial] But I just wanted to put a pin in something that you said, when we're talking about boundaries, right? This is just I don't know why I feel like it's really, really important. When we're talking about confidence, right? Like selling your creative services with confidence, boundaries are one of the ways that it comes across that you are confident as the leader or rainmaker of your organization, right? Because the more that you say, no, we can't do this little interim project, this BandAid thing, and kind of leapfrog our process or deliver something in three weeks when it typically takes us three months. Having those boundaries is really important, because what it conveys is that you don't need the work. Right? That you are not desperate. There's no sort of what I might call an anxious attachment style around business development. It means that you're not going to acquiesce to all of their sort of unfounded questions or requirements. So once you establish that you are the one leading the process, you are the one with the expertise in guiding that client. I don't want to use the word power dynamic, but there is a power dynamic a little bit when it comes to client and agency relations. So obviously, I was just going to say the more that you get into the relationship, it becomes more collaborative. But from the onset, you do not want to be in a situation where they're demanding your process or changing and modifying your process and you're just essentially acquiescing to every single demand, I want it for cheaper, I want it faster. At that point, you don't have a sustainable business.

 

Charlotte: Completely agree. Or an enjoyable business.

 

Kelly: Right.

 

Charlotte: Because you're absolutely right, you're setting the framework from what they can expect throughout working together. And, nobody actually wants to work with a pushover like, the reality is like, even if they do from the outset, when they want a cheaper price, the best clients will want to be challenged creatively, because they know that being challenged will take them further in their journey. And you're always going to come across people who would prefer to bully or to lead and feel like they're the creative director. They acknowledge they need to employ when to actually get the work done. And I think that, not highlighting that literally, but alluding to that in that discovery call in a very polite way. And a knowledge in how you do and don't work absolutely sets the framework from what you can expect from the rest of the project. And then, it's not just about profitability, which is obviously a huge thing in this area. It's about how much you enjoy it. And ultimately, what is that relationship with the client when you finish that initial project, because we all know that organic new business is so much cheaper to develop than called new business. And so, you really want to be going into every project hoping that you can be working with that client on a long-term basis. And, at the very least being able to get a nice testimonial out of them. And some results further down the line, maintaining the relationship to the point where you feel like, yeah, they're confident and comfortable giving you that because they're proud of what you did for them. So I think it's hugely important.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's great. And I love this sort of mantra that you have that like the client engagement doesn't end when you send the final artwork.

 

Charlotte: Yeah.

 

Kelly: It's great because it's true, even if it's just project based. And if you're not on retainer with them, following up making sure that they have everything that they need, if they're finding new applications that have arisen that they need additional work for, or getting that testimonial, whatever the case may be that kind of like land and expand. Obviously, it is the lowest cost per acquisition for new business. But let's dive back into that ROI conversation for a second as we wrap up, because I think that is a potentially difficult conversation for a lot of folks who are trying to develop new business. And on the other end, if the client is asking, let's say, specifically for creative services that don't necessarily tie to a specific attribution campaign, like a brand identity or something along those lines, where there isn't necessarily a “return on investment” that can be measured easily. How do you approach conversations like that?

 

Charlotte: On Mondays are the ones that I absolutely relish, I love finding. And it's been my blessing in business. But yeah, I love it. Because it's a bit like a treasure hunt, trying to find evidence, because the reality is, and actually, this doesn't scare me at all, because when you're talking about results, the majority of my clients work in brand design across packaging, in particular for consumer products. So, it's not the internet. It's not easy to measure. Generally, they're not trying to drive down advertising prices on Facebook, or whatever. So there's no instant gratification. And then furthermore, a lot of their clients aren't even in the consumer product sector. So there might be something even more tangible, driving the commercial objective behind the brief. So it might be around internal stakeholder engagement. I mean, there's no money, dollar signs, pound signs, whatever around that. So yeah, a real challenge. But what I always encourage people to do is look at the original objectives, the brief and generally, the client brief is at a design agency. Normally, it's interpreted into our lingo, but the client brief will have some real commercial objectives around it whether they're easy to quantify or not. So I really encourage people at the end of a project to look back at what those original objectives are, and just see whether any have been achieved literally by that project. So I had one circumstance where a client had been approached to do a project for one of their prospects, that wasn't the sexiest bit of design in the world, but allowed this brand to move from independent retail into major multiples, so into a big supermarket nationally, and it was huge for that brand. By virtue of them actually doing the design and sending it to print, that brand had been listed in that particular national supermarket. And so, the agency is like we don't have any results. Firstly, we don't want to talk about this project, not the kind of project we want to win. It's like, okay, but why did you win the project? Why did you work on the project? Because this was the window, this is the door of opportunity into a much bigger relationship with this client so we wanted to explore it. So I was like, okay, do you not think that situation that they came to you is the situation that multiple clients will come to you, prospective clients will come to you in that situation? They said, yes, it has happened several times. And I was like, okay, well, you really need to explain that. That is one of the ways you work and also acknowledge that that's a huge result. You've got them into a national chain. And so even before any sales have been measured, they had a result they could put on the website. And I would say in a lot of situations, if you look at the code, there's commercial objectives you'll find you've achieved, at least one of them at the time it goes to print, or it hits live or whatever it might be.

 

Kelly: Right. And that's actually probably a great talking point when you go to follow up with them. Just as a segue to after the project has been completed, if it is project based, looking back at those objectives from the original brief, that's a great point to be able to start that conversation to say, okay, now we've done this. And obviously, you were happy with it, those things have been reached. Now what else can we potentially do together?

 

Charlotte: And I really encourage clients to completely agree. There's so many things, an evergreen list of things that you can do post-project with a client to enable that relationship to move forward. But one of the biggest things is, I always encouraged people to position things through the client’s lens, and in a generous style. So one of the things you can do is book in quarterly brand planning sessions with that client, where you allow them to vent what projects they aren't allowed to do internally, what they want to get into their brand planning next in the forthcoming year and are struggling to do that. Allow them a safe space where they can talk through it, and maybe you can help them to understand how things are more feasible and more realistic financially or, in terms of mechanics of getting something done. Plus, you've got a heads up on what projects might be on the horizon in the next quarter or half year. And actually, I tend to find that the client side, the brand side client really enjoys it, because actually they've got an external ear to kind of chat through stuff. Sometimes it's a good bit about how things are internally, or sometimes they just need to say things out loud that are in their head. I remember sometimes there's generally marketing director, marketing manager is the role that we're dealing with as prospects of my clients. And, it can be quite a lonely job. It can be quite a small firm, and a lot of KPIs around how they're performing. So it's helpful to have your brand guardian, to be supported there.

 

Kelly: Absolutely. And I actually love the idea of calling them or branding them as vent sessions or like safe options, something like that. Whoever's listening, go ahead, you can brand it. Well, Charlotte, thank you so much for being on the show today. It was a great conversation. I know everyone's going to get a ton out of it. So thanks again for joining me.

 

Charlotte: Thank you so much for having me, Kelly.

 

 

 

 

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Episode 98: Reframing the Follow-up Mindset, with Lee McKnight Jr.

   
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Lee McKnight Jr. discuss the most effective ways to interact with prospective clients in order to set you apart from your competition, make your sales process more human, and win more business.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 98: Reframing the Follow-up Mindset, with Lee McKnight Jr

Duration: 30:00

 

Kelly: Welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. When we think about following up with agency prospects during the sales process, we immediately for some reason default to those emails that start with the subject line, “Just checking in…” Right? Joining me today is Lee McKnight Jr., who is the VP of Sales for RSW/US, which most of you probably know already. And together, we're going to help you start to reframe that follow-up mindset into one that will elicit response and actually help you close a more ideal new business. Lee, thank you so much for joining me today. It's such a pleasure to have you on the show.

 

Lee: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. This is great. I'm looking forward to it.

 

Kelly: So a while ago, the reason why this whole episode came out, or was put together, was a while ago, you had shared some really great content on LinkedIn. I know that was something you had been doing for a while. But there was one particular video where you kind of did a little bit of a tear down of some follow-up emails that you had received. And I actually thought it was pretty brilliant because you not only showed the emails, obviously respectfully crossing off the names of the people you sent them.

 

Lee: Yes, I'd be nice.

 

Kelly: But you really talked about why the way that they approached you in those follow-ups was problematic. So just for some context for the audience, I'd love you to kind of give a little bit of an overview as to what were some of those things that you were encountering and why were they problematic?

 

Lee: Yeah, absolutely. And again, thanks for having me. Our company is RSW/US and then we do have a separate list building group where we sell those, and I bring that up only to say, what we're doing is working solely with agencies to help them drive more new business. So this series that we do takes a piece of agency, new business. We've tried to do that for 4 to 5 minutes, and just talk about ways to help agencies drive more of it. And in this particular video, as you said, I get these emails, and we all do. I have a good email folder and a bad email folder. And I will keep all of them because I learned from all of them. And with this particular video, as you said, we were trying to be respectful and certainly not trashing one specifically or at all just to say, look, these are things that you just…

 

Kelly: Don't do it.

 

Lee: Right? And I'll take those off, just as you said to kind of lay some context. But the first one of those three takeaways was never make your prospect do the work. Way too many emails where you are asking, or in some cases, I got one yesterday, making a prospect try to do something where you have no authority to do so yet. And no relationship whatsoever. Because at the top of the funnel, especially, you can't do it that way. So making your prospect to the work is essentially like you sending an email saying, “Hey, I'm following up. There’s no email underneath. You're not referencing anything about your company, which happens all the time.” So essentially, like, well, I'm sure you've researched me, and you're making all these assumptions to where no, make it as easy as possible, be as direct as possible with your prospects. Don't make them do that type of work at all. Right? So that was number one. The second one was you just said it and it happens all the time. I stopped checking, and it almost becomes I think, for some salespeople second nature, to where they don't even know they're doing it.

 

Kelly: I think it's actually a task list, like a task on their CRM, like check in with so and so. And it's literally like an email that's like checking in.

 

Lee: Totally. You're so right. Yeah, exactly. And they just don't even think about it. And so that's an easy fix to make where you're wasting valuable real estate that the person doesn't prospect, at that point doesn't really care, just to be blunt. So that's a pretty simple fix. And the last one was, and this doesn't come up as often, but it still does. And that's don't ask for my thoughts as a prospect. Because I'll get some emails where they kick off a box of your points in the CRM. Well, this is my fourth touch. I don't know. Here's all I do. I’ll do this. I'll respond with my email underneath and just say, “This will be nice and short.” They like that. ``Any thoughts on what I sent?” Or something along those lines? It's like talking about making a prospect do the work. No, I don't have any thoughts. I mean, I don’t even know who you are. Don't ever waste your time doing that. And culminating on that email I got yesterday, which was crazy. I’ll give you one more example of this individual. This one was really fun. Didn't put the email that he sent me that hey, following up on this. Never said what his company did, then immediately proceeded to say, “Well, so I've got Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday open. I can make myself available at any time. However, the morning really is preferable.” I'm not even making that up. It's like, wait a minute. You're telling me that I'm going to do this. But make sure it's the morning even though I'm available all the time. It's going to be better for me this morning. I'm like, oh, my God. What are you doing? So things like that. So that was the context.

 

Kelly: That's great context. And so this is what we're dealing with. And like, if you're listening or watching this, like you get this. You know exactly what's happening, right? Like this is the case, this is most people, it could even be your vendors, your partners; it could even be your own business development reps, or your own salespeople that are doing this. We'll get to that in a minute. But since this is clearly not the way to go, this is not the approach to take. This is all about me. I need the information. You can schedule some time with me on my availability, like that is not the way to go when you're trying to establish rapport, and trying to develop new business. So how can people that are in these positions really build trust, add value? Like what are some examples that you feel like would be appropriate ways to follow up?

 

Lee: Yes, I love that question. And I think taking a step back to when you think about it, you and I talked previously, why does it even happen? And to frame it out, some of that might be inexperience, that's where you certainly need to be willing to, and you'll hire any business director internally a lot of times, and they're just an island on their own. And some of those are inexperienced, that you're like, well, if they were cheap, not to make less of that person. But a lot of times that happens. And what they don't do then is train individuals, which you get what you get, if you're not going to help them.

 

Kelly: Yeah, you don't set them up for success.

 

Lee: Exactly, a better way to put it. But more often than not, it is and we talked about this, you can say lazy and that certainly maybe some of it, but it is just not willing to put forth a little bit of extra effort. But the good news there is a lot of your competition, thinking about agency leaders, whether they're doing it internally, partners are doing it, for example, with a small and midsize agency, which is where our clients, typically good portion of them are that where they have one person trying to drive at all. Ultimately, it can be hard. Sales is hard. But just to put forth a little bit of extra effort. But when you do that, you've already set yourself apart from your competition, just by trying to do a little bit of homework, which you shouldn't be doing. And you've already taken a step towards adding value. So that's the first. When you asked me that question, that's the first thing you can do automatically, probably from 80 to 90% of your competition, which is huge. But then specific things that can be helpful. So one is, I was thinking about this today. First of all, let's just think about email, because that's where there are so many posts today. That's how they're trying to drive sales. I will say, we think that's a mistake in terms of how we operate for our clients; don't just, and not to get off topic, but just sticking with one platform is not giving you all the different options that you could have.

 

Kelly: Yeah, totally agree.

 

Lee: Right. But because email still is so prevalent, one of the things you don't always sell in your emails. And for some salespeople, this can be tough, to think well, I'm a salesperson, what would I? Because I can't tell you how many emails I get on a daily basis. Kelly, I'm sure you do as well, where I almost never get anything that is value based or thought leadership driven by content that they created. And sometimes you don't have that content to be fair, but Google is your friend. We may not say that all the time, right? It's, again, maybe not easy at that exact moment. But typically, you're going to be able to find something that's noncompetitive, that someone's written, that speaks to a trend or speaks to something going on within the industry to show that prospect that, look, we understand your big picture challenges. We are experts in this space, for example, here's a POV in something we thought that you would find of interest. And there's no call to action other than that, and sometimes you can put one in there, indirectly. But to just do that. And it does need to ideally, if you can gently tie it into work you've done for a client or a past client to say this. And by the way, we've done similar things for x company. I would love to talk about it sometime. You could do that kind of indirect sale. But just to do that, you're going to stand out, and you're going to start providing that value and start to be memorable, which you have to be, to set yourself apart. And doing that in the right way. Not in that example, I gave you that email from yesterday. I actually remember that company name now. It's not a great thing. I'm not going to hold that company to task for one email from one salesperson. But you don't want to be remembered in that way. Right? So you have email. And I had two other examples. One of those is just thinking about old school mail. Because it is still effective. And granted during COVID through all this, we're not out of it yet. But we had to take a pause in terms of what we're doing for our clients, but even then, we found creative ways. And it was interesting how people were more willing, if they worked out warm or hot, we had some interaction with them; we would throw out to them. We have something we'd love to send you in the mail. It’s something a little bit different, or can even be just a letter. But more often than not, when we respectfully ask that question they were willing to give us, if they were still in the office somewhere. But even home addresses, we would say, “That's great. We will totally respect your privacy. You will never get anything else from us, but thank you.” And just, again, making yourself memorable and what you are sending, obviously, has to have some kind of value as well, but you can do whatever you're including, or even if it's just, “Hey, I'm going to follow up with an email to send more to you digitally.” It’s still another way to stand out and build some value. And lastly, I will give props. There’s an agency out of New Jersey called the DSM agency, the creative director sent me specific examples of using a platform like Vidyard.

 

Kelly: Is it Dan?

 

Lee: That’s Dan. You know Dan?

 

Kelly: I know Dan.

 

Lee: Yeah. Oh, how did we not know that? Yeah. I love Dan Enrico, and they are smart. Their whole group is smart, right? And I’m not a client, actually. But we've done some videos together, too. But yeah, so Dan, and I believe, two or three days, at least lead to close business. He got on that platform, and just did I would say just 3 minutes. So hey, great talking with you. I mentioned that we didn't have time in the first meeting, or I'm paraphrasing here. But yeah, this is just I told you, I give you a brief example, and I can’t remember exactly what they demoed at this point, but it just played so well and personalized, saying that individual’s first name and ending it with those kind of things, if we do work together you can expect from us, I'll be following up. Have a great day. And you have to be comfortable with video. So I think that's something that people might practice. But yeah, it was great. And I thought, I haven't personally tried that yet. But I'm going to. So I think there's just three examples of ways to add value that are not insurmountable. They're not hard. But it takes a little more effort. That's just good sales. Right?

 

Kelly: For sure. I mean, those are great examples. I will build on that. Because those kind of sparked some other ideas for me too.

 

Lee: Cool. Yeah, please.

 

Kelly: So like what you said, if you're not comfortable with video, and you want to use something like Vidyard or one of the other things out there, you don't necessarily have to be on camera, right? Like you can be demoing something and be doing like a Screencast.

 

Lee: Great point.

 

Kelly: So it could just be audio. That also led me to another idea of I don't think enough people use the voice memo functionality in LinkedIn messenger. So if I get a little note from someone that says, hey, this was a great call, like, obviously, we're already first connections, because they're able to message me. So great call yesterday, whatever, they're following up. It's one minute, two minute, just as if they were leaving me a voicemail on my cellphone, right? There's something different about it. So what you're trying to do is stand apart and personalize, and add value, and develop rapport. So you can use any one of these kinds of things. The thing that sparked an idea, the way that you mentioned mailing something physically, I have taken to every once in a while, if I'm having a call with a prospect, and we talk about something where it's very clear to me that there's a particular book that they should really read. I will actually ask them like, “Hey, there's this particular book by this author. I'd love to send you a copy.” I get their physical address, just ask them for it. They're like, “Wow, that'd be great. That's really generous.” Or “I'd be grateful for that.” They sent me their address. I popped into my Amazon account. I send it off with a little note, like a gift. And it's great.

 

Lee: I love that.

 

Kelly: Do you do that with everyone? No, because that's like 15-20 bucks, right?

 

Lee: Sure. You’re right.  

 

Kelly: But your cost per acquisition on an account is double digits of thousands of dollars, like yeah, you can afford a $15 to $20 buck. Right?

 

Lee: Yeah.

 

Kelly: It just shows that you're willing to go the extra mile that you actually care about them as a human. And then the last thing that I do pretty often is if I'm in the car, or I'm walking, I'm listening to a podcast or I’m digesting some piece of content, that triggers a memory of a conversation that I recently had with a prospect or even an existing client, talk about building relationship, right? And I will share that link to that podcast or that piece of content and say, “Hey, I wanted to send this to you because about halfway through the show, this person says this.” And it really reminded me of that conversation you and I had and your viewpoint on XYZ. Take a listen. Let me know what you think. So that's the one area where, let me know, your thoughts are actually totally applicable. Right?

 

Lee: Absolutely. Because you've given that context and the personalization. I mean, they're going to be wowed by that for sure.  

 

Kelly: Right. So these are all, I mean, we just had 5, 6, 7 different examples between the two of us that none of them were the checking email. So if you have that in your arsenal, if you write those things down, or maybe we'll even put that in the show notes, all of these different journals.  

 

Lee: Sure. Yeah.

 

Kelly: That's a great arsenal to work from. If you're having trouble thinking about how I am going to make sure that I develop this relationship, add value to this prospect, and try to move it, through the sales funnel.

 

Lee: Yeah. And I love the mailing. You made my example so much more concrete. I love that book and then LinkedIn. Oh, my gosh, because I've only ever gotten one of those from a salesperson. If nobody’s going to listen, I actually call them back and end up being sales.  

 

Kelly: Oh my God.

 

Lee: Yeah, you know what? And I totally hadn't thought about that. And you're so right. So that's just another tool, I think salespeople, and I wonder how maybe they don't even know they can do it. So I think that's a great point too.

 

Kelly: So I guess the big question that would probably be on the minds of some people that are in the business development realm for agencies, even probably a lot of agency leaders or owners who are doing biz dev themselves, the question might be, is it actually worth our time to build this kind of trust at the top of the funnel? I want to hear your thoughts about that.

 

Lee: That is interesting, because I think, at the top of the funnel like that, when you say trust, it almost sounds like too strong a word, right? It's like, well, I haven't even, there's no relationship yet. Almost a cart before the horse in a way. And so I love that when we have talked previously just thinking about, talking today. I love the notion of it because there are still ways to build that trust, even at that early stage. And all this has been kind of about that. But I think specifically, I think one of the things that I always like to point out is when you are prospecting, what you have a great opportunity to do number one, is to start building that trust by showing that prospect here's what it's going to be like if you do work with us. Because like that email I mentioned, not to bring that up and that poor fellow, but…

 

Kelly: I mean, he's one of the reasons why we're talking today.

 

Lee: Yes. And think about it, would you want to work with that person?

 

Kelly: No.

 

Lee: No. And by definition, or then take this step further, maybe not that company, even though that's not entirely fair. However, it starts out that way. And that's no way to start. So I think just by showing them and again, some of these examples that we just gave, you kind of are starting to build trust, even at the top of the funnel. And I think, again, thinking about that, you want to make sure that not only talking about what it would be like if we worked together, but giving them a reason to trust that I'm not wasting your time with any of these touches. And it's not going to happen in the very first one. And the sales maximum takes about six to eight touches on average is probably about right. It depends. A lot of factors go into that. But I think you're going to make an impression over time that sticks. We just had a new client that I brought on an agency, not being here, it’s my 14th year. I've been talking to them for seven years.

 

Kelly: Wow.

 

Lee: Thankfully, it doesn't always take that long.

 

Kelly: That's a long sales process.

 

Lee: It's not always that long, right? Sometimes it's like three weeks but it's one of those things where and I'm not patting myself on the back here but I am proud to say that when it does take two and three years which happens too, I will typically get a comment that, “I always appreciate the fact that you stuck with us. You were persistent.” But persistent with value in the sense of you never just tried to pile things on. You did provide us over time with, ‘Hey, we have this new report we just finished or this new episode. I remember our conversation. I actually thought a lot of these things that you brought up are kind of similar to your podcast example. Those are the types of things that I certainly take pride in as a salesperson that at the end of the day, our company was putting well. They did see what it would be like to work with us. Now, again, thank God, it doesn't always take that long. But with those types of examples, I did eventually build up trust. But to use that word build, you do it kind of block by block. And so I think a lot of salespeople will get frustrated or think that this isn't really going to work because I didn't get enough return. After that second touch, I still got nothing. Like, that's only the second touch. The ideal is you always have your own content. But that's not always true. But the examples that we gave are ways that without that content, you can still start to build that trust.

 

Kelly: For sure. And so, what we're really talking about here is like, reframing this, what I'm affectionately calling the follow-up mindset, which really synonymously is like a scarcity mindset. It's like I have this kind of feeling inside that I'm worried, right? Like, the reason why you would follow up is you're worried that this prospect is not going to close. And they can feel that on the other end. They know when you're rushing them with these checking emails, like all that does is repelled up. So now we're starting to get into a conversation about being self-aware, and being of a giving mindset and abundance mindset as opposed to the scarcity or follow-up mindset. I know this is a little off kilter for some people in terms of how I'm describing that, but like, just stay with me. So if you're kind of going more into that giving mindset, that abundance mindset, what we're really talking about there is then conscious leadership. I am always going to bring it back to that.

 

Lee: No, I love it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Episode 97: Intentional Agency Trajectory with Chip Griffin

 
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Chip Griffin discuss how intentionally building your agency leads to more personal happiness and more business growth.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 97: Intentional Agency Trajectory with Chip Griffin

Duration: 27:38

 

 

KELLY: So welcome to Thrive your agency resource, I'd like you all to meet Chip Griffin, if you don't know him already, founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance, also known as SAGA. Chip is actually a fellow coach and consultant to PR and marketing agencies, essentially around the country, and really works with the same constituency that I do, which is, small agencies that have approximately up to about 30 employees. And we recently met through a mutual connection, and I had to have him on the show. So Chip, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited that you're here.

 

CHIP: It's great to be here Kelly. We had a great pre-show conversation, and I'm really looking forward to this one.

 

KELLY: Yeah. So I know, and the audience knows how I got into this industry just from repetitive conversations with other guests. But I'm always curious to understand a little bit more about how other agency growth consultants and coaches kind of made it into this industry because we all have our own unique story. So I'd love to hear yours.

 

CHIP: Sure. So about 30 years ago, I got started in politics in Washington, DC.

 

KELLY: I’m sorry.

 

CHIP: Yes, well, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. And in any case, after I spent some time on Capitol Hill, I went to work for a very small PR agency. And so that was my first taste of agency life about 27 years ago now. And over time, I went to one job after the other and eventually got married. And like most people who, when they decide to move and have been in politics, they say, well, I'm not unemployed. I'm a consultant. So I became a consultant in the late 1990s. I was fortunate to sign a client before I left DC, and landed in New Hampshire where I had my first agency that sort of grew by accident. And since then, I've started about a half dozen different businesses, took a side tour by selling one of the businesses to a company headquartered in Dubai. So I was Chief Operating Officer for a media intelligence agency headquartered there. And so, that's sort of where I was before becoming a consultant. And then when I decided that I was done working for someone else and wanted to get back to being an entrepreneur, I realized it was the business side of agency life. That was my real passion. And so now I'm fortunate to be able to work with small agency owners around the world to help them with their various business challenges.

 

KELLY: Yeah, that's great. There's something that you said that really stuck out for me because it's really one of the things that we're going to talk about today and focus on in our conversation. You said that you sort of grew the agency by accident. And I think that that's very true for a lot of agency owners. There's very little intention setting or intentionality when an agency owner has an idea of what they want to become in terms of the leader, size of the organization. We joked around earlier when we were pre-chatting about how the idea of a headcount used to be some sort of indication as to your success, right? And, luckily, we're no longer in that place for lots of different reasons. But what do you see a lot of agency owners are doing with regard to all of the information that's out there? Some of it is quite disparate, podcasts and articles and coaches and consultants and everything. What are you seeing in general that a lot of agency owners are doing?

 

 

CHIP: So most agencies started for one of two reasons. The one might be that they were unemployed like I was either by choice or because they've gotten laid off from somewhere. And so, they started doing a little bit of freelancing, and all of a sudden, they had more business than they could handle. So they started contracting work out to others and grew their agency that way. A second way is that maybe they were within an agency, and they were working for a big client, and they said, hey, I could do better if I took this agency out on my own, and somehow, they made it work without violating their employment agreement. And so, in either case, they're not really intentionally building the business. They're just starting with a little bit of revenue and growing from there. Unfortunately, most of them then decide that they just need to focus on continuing to grow. And when they say growth, they just mean revenue. More clients, more money, increase the retainers, and they never stop and pause and say, what am I trying to build as a business? What do I want as the agency owner? And that's a huge mistake. I mean, I always tell my clients and anyone else who listens. There's no reason to take on the risk and the stress of running your own business if it's not accomplishing what you want from it.

 

KELLY: Right. And I would imagine. And you know that what each individual agency owner wants from their business, what they want to get out of their organization and sort of being at the helm of that organization is very different.

 

CHIP: Absolutely.

 

KELLY: And there's nothing wrong with that. That's great, right? Like, as my dad says, that's why we have chocolate and vanilla ice cream. It's whatever those intentions, and whatever the driving forces, whatever your passions are, whatever the things are that get you excited and get you up every morning about that business. They're all fine. And I think what I'm starting to see is a very acute shift in the mindset. We're talking about intention today. But it's also a mindset around what I'm going to do with this business, making me as an individual happier? Am I also contributing to the, I guess I would call it the fulfillment of my team? Right? Do they feel seen, heard, understood, valued on a daily basis? People are starting to really make this shift toward people over profit. And, personally, I've been really waiting for this shift to happen. And it's been happening slowly but surely. But now, it's like, all anyone's talking about. So that's exciting. Are you seeing some of the same with your clients?

 

CHIP: Oh, absolutely. I mean, 2020 changed a lot for many people, but particularly in the agency space, and how they look at things. And I think that's a very good thing. Because before there was tremendous pressure to keep up with the Joneses. And, there was tremendous embarrassment for a lot of agency owners to say, yeah, I'm trying to build a lifestyle agency where I only have to work four days a week. I can have long weekends in the winter to snowboard, in the summer to go surfing, or whatever. And I think that a lot of that has not gone away. I mean, it's still there, for sure. But it is not the same way that it was a few years ago. And that's healthy. Because you may have a business that you want to just work as little as you can and still make the kind of money that you need to have the lifestyle you want, maybe you are looking to build something really big, because that's personally satisfying. Both are fine options. You need to figure out what's right for you. And by the way, that may change over the course of your life. Just because you're 30, and you really want to charge ahead and build this giant thing. Maybe you're 45 and you want to ease off. Or maybe it's the other way around, you're 30, you've got a family, so you can't push as hard. And now as you get older, you have the time. So go with what works for you and build the business around that.

 

KELLY: Yeah, I couldn't agree with that more. [Commercial] It's funny, I'm curious to know, if there's a single question or something, some kind of indication that potential clients give to you to let you know that they're an ideal client to work with you.

 

CHIP: So really, I'm looking for clients who are curious, I guess that's probably the best word. So they want to learn more. They're not coming to me saying I need this. And this is, if you can just give me this piece of, this nugget of knowledge, I'll be all set. I don't want someone who's coming to me looking for some magic formula that says, this is how you build a successful agency, follow these seven steps and you will become a millionaire. What I really want is someone who wants to learn and understand what works and what doesn't, how they can apply some principles to their business, but still build their own business out of that. So if I had to boil it down to that one word, curiosity would be the one I would focus on.

 

KELLY: Yeah, that's great. I love that one. For me, it's vulnerability. I literally ask, if you are coming to me and you want to become a more conscious agency owner, a more conscious business leader, how willing are you to be vulnerable to say to your team, you know what, I don't have all the answers, I actually need you to help me run this business. I've made mistakes, on and on and on, like vulnerability, vulnerability, vulnerability, and if that prospective client is all in from that standpoint, I'm like great, that's all I need to know. Because there's something really interesting in what you said before, which is, there has been a lot of stigma, and a lot of embarrassment around this idea that I don't necessarily want to build the biggest agency, right? I don't need to have 50 employees. I don't need to be a $10, $20, $30, $50 million agency. I just want to make enough where I'm making an impact with the clients, we're working with really ideal clients, those clients are making my team happy, because they're respectful and the work is good. That's the kind of business I want. And maybe, for me, that means that I get to spend more time with my family. I get to take some more vacations. I don't have to be in control all of the time. Like, I hear more and more and more people saying that and setting these intentions for, maybe I mean, maybe at the beginning of the year, they start to set these intentions, or maybe they say, these are my intentions over the next three to five years. It's refreshing. I guess that's the word that I will use. It is refreshing to see that that shift is really happening. I agree with you that it's not 100% better yet. It's not. It's very far away from 100%. But yeah, if you could speak to that a little bit, in terms of the conversations that you have with clients, that would be really interesting to me.

 

CHIP: Yeah. And I think you've really hit on something there by talking about vulnerability and being willing to be vulnerable with you with their teams. And, fundamentally, you learn more from failure than you do from success. And so, failure is something that I enjoy talking about. I've been on many number of panels with other entrepreneurs talking about some of the things we fail, and I find those conversations fascinating because success can be an accident success, can be just dumb luck, right place, right time. And certainly, some failures are the result of bad luck. But you can still learn things from it. You can learn how to be nimble and flexible coming out of any kind of challenge that you have. As I always tell people, half of my time is spent telling you what doesn't work, because I've done it. Over the course of 30 years, I've tried a lot of stuff, and I can just tell you, it doesn't work, or this is the thing to watch out for so that you don't do it the same way that I did and have the same problem.

 

KELLY: And a lot of that is your inherent value because I feel the same way. I'm like, I ran my agency for 14 years. I made a lot of mistakes, right? And sometimes I made them more than once. Like, don't do that. Learn from that.

 

CHIP: Right. And then look at I mean, sometimes, someone still has to stick their finger in the outlet. And as coaches and advisors, we can't stop them. We can tell them when we did that. It was not a comfortable feeling. But sometimes just like kids, they have to do it. And that's fine. But at least they have the opportunity to know about it in advance. And, it's their conscious decision to do that. And I think we talked about intentionality. I talked with my clients all the time about the importance of making conscious decisions, and not just allowing inertia to take you somewhere. Because so many of us just allow an inertia to pull us forward in both our personal and professional lives. And, it's so helpful to just pause and step back and say, is this the path I really want to be on? And if not, how do I move to a different path?

 

KELLY: Yeah. So is there a particular framework or a set of questions or something that you give to clients to say, hey, when you are thinking about setting your intentions, for what you want out of this business? As an individual, as the leader, is there some kind of framework or anything that you kind of utilize with them? Or is it just a conversation? Or how do you do that?

 

CHIP: So I mean, most of what I do is conversational. I do have questionnaires that I use sort of as a starting point when I'm first working with a client, but really, I mean, I've created what I call the AIM GET framework that I use with my clients. And so that's ambition, identity and management, growth, execution and talent. And so, again, ambition, identity management, so that's sort of the vision planning portion of the business, and then growth, execution and talent. So that's the more tactical, the day to day, how am I building and operating the business? And so, I always start with that ambition piece and try to understand where do you want to be in a year, five years? What's your thinking as far as, are you going to work until you die? Are you going to retire in the next five years? What are you trying to accomplish? Because that then helps give me that framework for the advice that I'm going to give and for the exercises we'll go through as we work through our relationship.

 

KELLY: Right. I think about that also as like, sort of reverse engineering from a future state. So if you could take this client, and you sit them in a seat 10 years down the road, what does their agency look like? What does their life look like? Where is their family? What is the whole picture? What does the whole landscape look like in their ideal future state world? And then reverse engineer that back t, okay, well, where are we today? And what needs to happen in that gap between today and the 10-year future state? I think sometimes giving people a couple of different ways or frameworks to think about these things helps to really narrow them, because I have found that if you say, what are you passionate about? What do you want out of this agency? A lot of people have a really hard time figuring out the answer to that question. Why do you think that is? Why do you think it's so hard for people to really set those intentions and have clarity around what they want?

 

CHIP: I think it's a couple of things. I think the first is that it's hard for people to be honest with themselves. I think that it starts from, what we were talking about a little while ago in this conversation, that people feel like there's a set of expectations that they're supposed to live up to, that they're supposed to be working towards. And, it's often hard for people to admit that maybe that's not their ambition, maybe that's not where they want to take things.

 

KELLY: So the societal pressure, you're saying, or like?

 

CHIP: Societal, family, and look, we all have it to one degree or another. And, sometimes it's important to have those. Otherwise, you might have chaos. So there is some value in having those overall guardrails to our lives. But we have to be willing to challenge them too. And we have to say, I mean, because, look, there are decisions that I make today with a wife and kids that I wouldn't make probably, if I didn't have a wife and kids, right? I mean, and that's okay. You have to be realistic about what you've got going on. And, the level of risk tolerance that you have, particularly as a business owner, and things like that. But that doesn't mean that you still can't try to enunciate the dream of where you would like to go. I think that the longer the horizon, the harder it gets. So when I sit down with an owner, and I say, okay, what do you want your business to look like at the end of the year? Or the end of next year? That's a lot easier than 5 or 10 years down the road. And I look, you can't get hung up on what your plan is for 10 years. You have to have a general vision. But if I look back 10 years, I would not say I was doing what I was doing today, but that's okay. Because you have to adjust based on the circumstances on the ground.

 

KELLY: Yeah, it's a great point. I mean, I laughed because if someone had told me, honestly, even seven years ago, that I would be doing leadership coaching for other agency owners, I would have laughed hysterically, like a belly laugh. There's no way that that’s what I'm going to be doing, and here I am. And then we have things like anomalies like 2020 where we could have had intentions set, we could have had plans and goals and all of those things. And then through no fault of our own, or nothing that we can control, those things fall apart, or something happens, where it's out of our control, and we just have to get back on the track, or change the trajectory of the track.

 

CHIP: And I don't know any agency that maintained their trajectory that they were in, in March of 2020. I mean, some for better, some for worse, but everybody had to make an adjustment. I mean, if you were a digital agency, and now you were going gangbusters, because everybody was trying to go from brick and mortar to digital. And so, most of the digital agencies I know just got swamped with work at that point. So it was good for them, but they still had to make adjustments to their operations, absolutely figure out how to do things. If you were in the travel industry, that was a tough sector for an agency to be serving at that time. And so, they had to make adjustments. And so, I think that at the end of the day, that's healthy, right? I mean, it's painful at the moment, trust me. And it was painful for my business because I was doing largely on-site engagements in March of 2020. Needless to say, nobody really wanted to meet with me on site, and I didn't want to go on site at that point. And so, you have to make adjustments, but that creates all sorts of new opportunities if you allow yourself to be open to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Episode 96: How Healing Impacts Leadership, with Barbara Mutedzi

   

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Barbara Mutedzi discuss where to begin on the journey toward self-awareness, and how healing allows you to become a more effective leader.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 96: How Healing Impacts Leadership with Barbara Mutedzi

Duration: 25:24

 

Kelly: Welcome to Thrive your agency resource. I am so excited because we are talking about a topic that I love, How Healing Impacts Leadership. And joining me is someone who I am extremely, extremely thankful to have on the show today. Joining me all the way from Zimbabwe is Barbara Mutedzi. She self describes as a human catalyst and she's essentially a conscious leadership coach for the last 12 years. She's also a member of the new collective that I launched called Consciousness Leaders. But Barbara, welcome to the show. I am so excited to talk to you today.

 

Barbara: Thank you so much, Kelly. I'm so excited as well. We have so many things to share and stories that are just parallel. So this is an exciting time. Thanks so much.

 

Kelly: Yeah. So we chatted a little bit earlier. And I think where we came out is really this idea that healing has not really been talked about in the leadership space, because historically, as business owners, as creative agency leaders, we're focused mostly on business growth, right?

 

Barbara: Yeah.

 

Kelly: So let's start out with what does healing have to do with leadership?

 

Barbara: I know, that's a big question.

 

Kelly: That is a big question.

 

Barbara: I feel that scares people away as well. Because it's not something that's typically talked about in business growth and in leadership. But where I'd like to start is that we can never lead others or build a business beyond where we psychologically are. And that says a lot. I know that. But one of the things that we have as people is blind spots, and sometimes we project them out without us, actually realizing that we're doing that. And even when you talk about projections, don't think too much about that word. Think about any mistake that you've ever done in the past that you regret, whatever it was that you did, whether in your business or in leadership. When you did that, it probably felt like the right thing at that time. As we mature, when you look back, it probably wasn't. But in that time, you weren't so aware of that. So it was a blind spot. And so healing for me, it's not so much about, we need to sit down and put bandages around and things like that, because I know that visual picture comes up. But it's more about increased self-awareness because we've got wounding from our past. And again, wounding is a big word. And we'll try and just break that down. But we've got some habits that we've picked up along the way that may or may not be so great for the decisions that we're making. Now, the reason why we talk about decisions as well here is because the decisions we make every day are coming from us as human beings and those decisions are impacting our businesses and the people we're working with to build those businesses. So I'll give you an example because I know that's kind of all over the place. But my parents died when I was quite young. And when I was young, we never really understand what death was or is. And for me, I felt like they abandoned me, like they decided to die. That's how I experienced it. Because as a kid that makes sense, and they didn't ask for my permission, and they left me as a child. And those are the only people I knew who showed me love. And so I carried that wound throughout all my friendships, my relationships, my business decisions, I would always become a people pleaser, because I didn't want people to leave me. So  that's a psychological wound that I've carried from my parents death. When I was young, my dad died when I was 6. So that's like 34 years ago, three decades ago. My mom when I was 16, about two decades ago, and I've carried that out throughout. So when it comes to making business decisions, or signing a contract, or working with someone, I always undercut myself, because I didn't want them to leave me. Now, obviously, I didn't say that out loud. And I myself didn't realize that that's what I was doing because it was a word I wasn't aware of because culturally, we don't talk about psychological wounds. Because outside, I am healthy. Everything is fine. I'm running a business. Everything is okay. It looks okay on the outside. But actually, when we want to run a business and grow a business, it's not so much about you as an individual. It is the value that you're also bringing with that individuality. So your individuality also impacts on all the decisions that you're making. So who you are as a person is so, so important. At the moment, we talk a lot in the business space around emotional intelligence, that's the buzzword at the moment. And I see emotional intelligence as knowledge. We were told, growing up with that knowledge is power. But knowledge is not power. Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power when you do something constructive and positive moving with it.

 

Kelly: Right. If you’re conscious. If you use the power in a conscious context.

 

Barbara: Absolutely, because you can also use it negatively. So it's always the positive and moving forward as a collective view, your business and the people that you work with, the people you're in partnership with. It always has to be a win-win scenario. So that's the knowledge we're talking about. And that's where emotional intelligence is. So I see emotional intelligence as just knowledge, but we are not doing anything about it at the moment, from what I'm seeing. It's okay now that I know that when I do something, or when I say something, or when I'm interacting with someone, these are the emotions that are coming up. But I now don't know what to do with these emotions, this knowledge that I have. Moving forward with that it's okay now that you realize what's happening inside your body, whether it's someone you're wanting to work with, or an area of your business that you want to grow; how do you move forward, knowing that this emotion holds you back, whether it's something that you're scared of or afraid of. And, emotional intelligence comes from self-awareness, deep self-awareness, because emotional intelligence is the result of self-awareness. It's not like in go and get emotional intelligence. That's where the difference between knowledge and emotional intelligence is. You can go and get knowledge, but you can never go and get self emotional intelligence. You have to go on a journey of truly understanding who you are before any of the titles that you have, whether you're a parent, a partner, a business owner, a leader, whatever that is, before that, who are you really, because when you saw all that , it becomes easier for you to have clarity on the direction that you're going. And then when you start doing the work of psychologically understanding why you do the things you do, it becomes easier for you to make decisions that are fruitful for your business growth. So that's where you can start perhaps in terms of healing, if we could use that word, to ask yourself each time you do something, why do I do this? Where does this come from? Is it something that I really want? When did I start feeling this way? And maybe with that, you start seeing your own patterns, and you probably start seeing where that started. And because what you're trying to do is to get to the root of the reason why you do what you do, whether it's undercutting yourself, whether it's pushing forward very fast, without sort of getting all the information you need, whether it's leading other people, so it's all of those things.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I love how you framed that because I think this work and, even just this concept, forget about the work yet, but like just the concept of healing and leadership, these things that, historically have had nothing to deal with one another for lots of different reasons, societal, cultural, all of these things, like there was a stigma around anything that was psychological or mental. We automatically assume that, or associate mental illness with with these things. But the reality is, we all had trauma, we all had wounding. We all were imprinted and programmed in a certain manner. Because that's just how humans develop from 0 to 7. Some people say 0 to 12, right? No one had a perfect childhood. And we're not blaming mom and dad for everything. But the reality is, there are certain needs that needed to get met, and no parents were perfect. So it's okay, right, like these wounds are totally normal and natural. But what I encapsulate all of that to say, what I like about what you said, for the latter part of that, is you're giving people a tool to say, okay, I'll buy into what you're saying, where do I start? And your answer to that is, just get curious. Just start asking questions of yourself, just start noticing, why am I thinking this way? Or why did I just say that to this person? Or why did I just make that decision? Right? So if you start getting inquisitive with yourself, that's the perfect way to start because that is literally the gateway to self-awareness. Right? It's perfect. And I also want to put a little pin and reiterate in something that you said that I absolutely love. It's it's a great soundbite, but it also I think, is very necessary, especially today. Everyone is so focused on emotional intelligence. It's sort of like the hot topic. Take the buzzword, everyone wants to have high emotional intelligence. But you said emotional intelligence is the result of self-awareness. Yeah, that is the most true thing that I have heard in a very long time. So, thank you for that.

 

Barbara: And there's no way that you can go and get emotional intelligence. It's a result.

 

Kelly: It's not available on Amazon people.

 

Barbara: No. If only.

 

Kelly: Jeff Bezos doesn't need any more money. [Commercial] When we were chatting a little bit earlier, you also were sharing a little bit with me about how some of your own journey has impacted you and some of the things that you've learned and are taking away. And one of the things that I've resonated with a lot is that you said that you're trusting your intuition more. So, as a benefit of doing this deep work and being very self-aware, not that people need to become a conscious leadership coach, but to become more conscious leaders, trusting your intuition as a benefit to this work. Can you talk a little bit about what that actually means and how that shows up?

 

Barbara: Yeah. I'm going to use an example around the education system in general, if I could start there, because you talked about indoctrination. And with that, with the education system, if you think about it, so I started grade school when I was 5 or 6. So you go to school, and as long as you're a good memorizer of the textbooks, you call this banking, by a Brazilian educator called Paulo Freire. He talks about the banking method. And I always think of a little cartoon, you go to school, you open your little head, the teacher puts information in you, memorize all the textbooks. And even when you study, you study past exam papers, then you close your brain, you go to the exam room, and you just regurgitate the same information. So you actually haven't learned how to think for yourself, as long as you can memorize things that society and culture who by the way, are other people who have also gone through the same process, you will be okay, but you find that a lot of people go through quarterlife crisis or midlife crisis because something in them is telling them this is not right. But to fit into society, or to fit into some sort of business or to fit into you as a man or a woman or what society or culture or the business space has told you to be. You have to do these things, but your soul and your spirit, and you can name that whatever it is, it's not about religion. It's just that inner voice within you. Sometimes it's a niggling feeling that says, okay, this does not feel right. But I'll just do it because that's the status quo. And what I've done is, when I started the journey of asking myself, why do I do the things that I do? And especially when they don't feel right, that's why I start like, why did this not feel right? Was there an indication before I went into that, that didn't feel okay? And why do it anyway? And half the time it was because I'm falling back on the memorization of how I should behave in certain scenarios, even though it doesn't feel okay. So that stops you. There's a German term term called blitzscaling, which is growing your business very fast, but intelligently. And you can't do that if you've got this psychological blocks that keep you falling back on other people's plans. It doesn't allow you to open up to whatever it is inside of you that knows why you're here. So I'm going to digress a little bit and talk about purpose. And for business owners, you might understand purpose. Let's take a business scenario. You have a business strategy. The purpose of your business, the vision, which is what are your goals in the next 5 to 10 years, your mission, which is your vision, goals broken down and your values and your implementation plan that goes back on your life as well because I do believe that we are all managers and directors of our own lives, whether we choose to believe it or not as adults because every day we make some sort decision. So let's take that business template and put it on an individual template. So as an individual, we all have a purpose, whether we know how to clarify it or not. And earlier, you talked about the intuition and the purpose and the inclination to move towards something that's right. And you talked about curiosities. That's the word. I'm looking for curiosities. So when someone comes to me and says, “Well, Barbara, I don't know what my life purpose is.My answer is, always your soul. And your spirit knows why it's here. Your intuition knows why it's here. And we just need to increase the dial on your intuition and reduce the volume of what other people have told you along with what you need to do. And the way to increase that volume on your intuition is to follow the things that you're curious about, whatever you're curious about, go research it, even if it does not align with what you've done in your entire life. There's something there that's pulling you in that direction. Do the things that bring you joy. Do those things more often. So you'll have business owners when I say that who will say, “Well, we're so busy Barbara. We don't have time to follow curiosities, and do the things that bring me joy. So then I say, Okay, let's start with your diary. So again, when I coach, I recommend that everyone has a diary. And I then say at the beginning, write down a list of every single thing that you do every day from Monday to Sunday. And now let's look at this list. In this list, can someone else do the stuff? Can you delegate to someone else? Do you enjoy doing this stuff? Can someone else do it? Can you automate some of these things? And when you start sort of delegating and teaching other people to do especially the duties that you don't enjoy doing, you find that you start creating the space, that you can go back and start doing the things that you do enjoy, the things that you're curious about. Because here's the beautiful thing about that, as a business owner, it sparks your creativity, and you need that to grow your business. Whatever it is that pushed you into that business, it's still there that spark, that's your intuition. So we need to increase that volume of that intuition, that inner guide, whatever you call it, whether it's your angel, whatever it is. It's got nothing to do with religion, but we always have that inner voice. That is a smaller voice. Because unfortunately, because we always listen to news. We're always on social media. We're always online. We're engaging, and moving away from that intuition. The volume of it has gone down. So the way to increase it, that purpose is follow the things that feel right. I mean, the reason why I'm on this podcast as well is because speaking to you, Kelly, for me, it was, oh, I like this person, and I want to speak to this person more. And that felt right. So this conversation feels right. I didn't have to think, whoa, do I really want to speak to this person? And that has happened in the past where I knew that this person is not at the same thinking level as I am. And that could be either they were ahead or behind. It doesn't matter. But we are not in the same space at that time. And this is not to say there's anything wrong with you or with them at that specific time. You're not just speaking the same language. And that's okay. The time come for that if it's meant to happen, but for right now, you need to increase that volume of your intuition. Because here's the thing, when we talk about healing, your intuition at times will tell you, okay, we might need to go back and rethink this thing that we did, because it didn't feel okay. But we shut it down and push it down because we just move forward. And unfortunately, the more you push things down, the more they do come up and half the time it's in scenarios when you don't want them to come up.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I definitely resonate with that. Having been someone who has historically repressed so much emotion, literally from as long as I can remember, up until the point where I was running an agency, and all the way through even when after I sold it, like it's work. And I say this often on the show, whenever we talk about this kind of deep work, this inner work, this healing work, whatever we want to term it, it is not for the faint of heart. There's a reason why you have the society and everything else that we're dealing with out in the world today. And you have a small subset of people who are already conscious leaders, who are conscious leadership coaches, for example. They have gone through something that, if you are a newly awakening leader, or newly awakened leader, where you're just at the precipice of this, like, hey, I'm running this agency or this creative or technology business, and it's going okay, but something inside of me is telling me that I'm not exactly happy. I think that there's some kind of block, but I can't see it. That's your intuition telling you that you're ready to actually go in, and start to ask these questions and dial up that curiosity. We could also say that dialing up that curiosity is akin to unlearning, right? Because the more that we get curious about the things that we don't know, that we haven't explored, we're also unlearning or deprogramming the things that have been poured into our head to use your visual from earlier. So as we start to wrap up, when we think about all of this holistically, because this is a big conversation, it's not necessarily a heavy conversation, but it's a big concept, right? The purpose of this conversation is really just to ignite that curiosity. But when we think about all of this holistically, how does what we're talking about on the end of the business owner, the business leader on their end, how does it help in terms of the impact to their team members. That's what I would like to wrap up with.

 

Barbara: That's a big one. So you know how we start. And I love that you wrap up with that, because it takes us back full circle to the beginning when we say that we can only lead others to the level to which we are psychologically. And so if you have this fear that's brewing that's stopping you from moving forward, and you're not so sure what it is, and you haven't done the work, or asked yourself this question, that means you're also holding your team back, because your team can never grow beyond you. If they grow beyond you, that means they've gone to another business, or they've opened their own business, and you don't want to lose people who are great at their job, who are bringing in value to your organization, so you can grow. So the more you do the work, the more you'll be able to provide a conducive environment for your team members to actually step in and also do the same work, which means you all grow together, that means you can also guide them because you've gone through the process, and you're able to listen more. And then that's one of the biggest thing that any leader or business owner should have. It's listening to your teammates because you hire them for a reason. You hire them for the skill set that they have. So you want to be able to cultivate that skill set. And the best way to do that is by listening to them. And the more you go through this journey, the more compassionate you are with yourself, and the more you know that compassion is so important in any space, the more you'll be able to gain that conducive environment, be compassionate with your teammates, which increases trust. Because when we trust you as the business owner and the leadership team, we are able to do anything for you because we know it's a win-win situation, because we know you've got our back because you listen to us, and you're compassionate with us. And trust, just to deviate just for a second. Because of my neuroscience-based coaching, when we talk about the brain, trust releases the good feel hormones, which means the more we feel great, the more creative we are as a team, the more we bring value, the more we work together in collaboration, and who doesn't want that in their business, right? So healing work is so important. It's difficult. It's a difficult process if you're just starting out. But once you're in there, it's so revealing of the strength and the power that you might have left behind when that wound was inflicted. And so it's only about healing, it's also about just regaining all that power that we have left behind so you can harness it moving forward with strength for yourself and the people around you.

 

Kelly: Yeah, really well said. Thank you. I will put links to your website, and your profile on consciousness leaders into the show notes. But Barbara, thank you so much. Obviously, we could extend this podcast for about three hours, I'm sure and get in to shadow work and all sorts of other fun conversations, but we'll leave it here. And thank you so much for joining me today. I really love this conversation.

 

Barbara: My pleasure, Kelly. Thank you so much.

 

 

 

 

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Episode 95: Trust Your Team and Relinquish Control, with Ty Fujimara

     

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Ty Fujimara, Founder of Cantilever, discuss breaking out of your own mental model to relinquish control and start trusting your team.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 95: Trust Your Team and Relinquish Control, with Ty Fujimara

Duration: 25:33

 

 

Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're talking about trusting your team and the benefits of relinquishing control. I know super, super scary stuff. Ty Fujimura, CEO and Founder of Cantilever Web Design and Development, is my guest. He's based in northern New Jersey, and I'm really, really excited to have this conversation. And I'm super excited that you're game to have it. Thanks so much for joining me Ty.

 

Ty: Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor. I really like the show. And, it's great to be on and talk with you anytime.

 

Kelly: So you say that the persistence of relinquishing control in your agency is like one of the hardest things in the universe. Why is that?

 

Ty: Well, I think anybody who's been through the experience of building a business will understand that to a degree. Agencies are particularly difficult, because I think, typically, they start because of one person or a group of people who are very passionate about doing a certain type of work. And so, as you're building a team, it's very difficult to break that model and to break the expectation that the founders are the experts, and that they're the brand. I think it's totally valid if you have an agency where that's always the case. There are many great agencies out there, and a lot of different industries where they bear the name of the founders, maybe it's a small team that's around the founders. And that's okay. That's a great vehicle for them to get their work out there. For me, that was where I was at for a long time. So probably for the first six or seven years of Cantilever, we were at most five people, I think, and we really didn't consciously make a decision to grow until a few years ago. And the impetus for that was just realizing that it was harder for us to have the influence on the world that we are trying to have. And our mission is, first of all, we want to do great work for our clients. We have a particular philosophy of how we build our sites, which is called Digital Hospitality. And so we want to bring that to as many people as we can. But the second part is that we want to be a larger part of the general movement of both our industry and the rest of the world towards these new ways of working remotely, working asynchronously, upholding people's humanity a little bit more.

 

Kelly: Personal fulfillment, would you say?

 

Ty: Personal fulfillment. Absolutely. Work-life balance is the typical term that I think of a little differently. So anyway, we made this decision to grow. And when you do that, you have to start reckoning with how we will continue to do the same great work that we've done, but with new people, and that's the magic. And the reason that I say it's so difficult is because it requires a very careful balance. If you bring people in, and you don't give them the tools, you don't equip them with the resources, the understanding, the training, that they need, it's going to be very, very difficult for them to replace or improve on what you've already been doing. On the other hand, if you give people too much, and you overburden them with all sorts of rules, and regulations, and procedures, and all that stuff, it can be too much as well. It can be stifling for them. And it can drive really great people away. Great people want to be able to chart their own course. So you need to find that balance where people have the resources that they need, but they're still able to find their own path and their own solutions to problems. And I certainly haven't figured that out. So I'm not speaking from an expert perspective, but I'm certainly a veteran of these decisions. And, it's something I have learned to findvery fulfilling that art. It's almost its own form of design, figuring out how we can strike that balance.

 

Kelly: Yeah, so what I hear you saying, and we chatted a little bit about this before the show, that trusting the team is actually a very worthy endeavor and correspondingly very difficult because of all the reasons that you stated. But you actually had somewhat of a realization recently, which I thought was really interesting about the reality of the gap between your own ideas and your own thoughts and feelings and emotions around running the agency and those who you idealize or who you idolize. Talk a little bit about that, because that gap seemed a lot larger in your mind than it was in reality.

 

Ty: Yeah, I don't know. I've been on a kick of trying to understand some people that I really admire. And one of the books I read recently was Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. And it's really useful in that it's a compendium of hundreds of different, really amazing people who've accomplished a lot of cool things. And it kind of distills down some of their collected wisdom. So you can see a lot of the trends. And one of the things that are really apparent when you go deep on exploring the way that these people lead their lives is that they're probably not all that different from you, the way that they think about things, the doubts they have. They’re staying up late at night thinking about the problems that they're facing. But I think that we all have a certain mental model of like, what's possible for us, and what we're allowed to want, and what we're allowed to have, that is very powerful. And that manifests itself when it comes to the types of clients who you ask to work with you, the amount of money that you're charging the level of people who you try to bring into your organization, and the amount of control that you relinquish because if you have a mental barrier, I've been in many places where I've thought, I'm really the only person who can do this. But that's patently not true, right? Because there are thousands of different agencies that fill this function somehow without me with other people. So as a founder, it's very easy to fall into that trap of limitation that says, “I have to do this. We can't charge that much. We probably can't do that project. We’ll probably lose that. They won't say yes. And, if you're not getting a healthy amount of no’s, you're probably not trying hard enough to get a yes.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I agree with that. I want to put a pin in something that you just said, because I do hear it over and over and over again, even with my own clients. As the agency leader owner, I am the only one who can do X. I've tried to find other people, it's not possible. They’re not out there. So therefore, I have to stay in the weeds to do this one particular job. I have to interface with the client and I have to stay in this role because nobody else can do that. And all I hear when that comes out of their mouths is literally you don't trust your team. You have an issue with relinquishing control. So I wanted to put a pin in it, because I think there's a lot that hinges on that statement, which is really just a mindset. Right?

 

Ty: Of course. Yeah. And to give you the deeper version of that, I learned over time that I was subconsciously deliberately putting people into difficult situations, knowing that it wouldn't work out because it would prove that fallacy.

 

Kelly: Confirmation bias.

 

Ty: So yeah, I would like to sort of thrust people into certain situations where I hadn't necessarily prepared them to succeed or given them the resources that they would need. And I had no idea that I was doing it. I only knew in hindsight that I was doing it.

 

Kelly: I was going to say, in retrospect, you weren't doing that consciously. I want to make that clear.

 

Ty: Exactly. And I realized that what that was is, me expecting the process to fail. And so therefore, sort of molding reality, such that that would happen. So I obviously feel terrible about that, because I think there were a lot of opportunities that we had for people to do better work, that I ended up sort of stepping in at the last minute and fixing everything, and that just further reinforces that myth. So I say that I'm being very honest because I think there's a lot of agency founders who might be going through that exact same thing. And, I think I have by far from figuring this out by any means. But I think if you're consistently struggling to get past that, like three person, four person, size of organization, where you really actually have to stop making all the decisions, you might want to consider how your own actions may be sabotaging that process and really be honest with yourself about the effect that you're having. I think it's also very easy to see the mistakes that other people make. And it's very hard to see the mistakes that you make. So it's very easy to excuse yourself for being late on something or making a mistake on a certain thing. But if someone who you're working with makes that same mistake, it really stands out to you and if you're already inclined to doubt the process, then you're especially going to read into issues that, oh, this is just proof that this was a bad idea the whole time.

 

Kelly: Ty, that is such a profound statement. It's such a profound realization. I think it's obviously very true. And I do see it happen all the time with agency leaders. I'm positive that I did that myself.

 

Ty: Yeah, I think the thing that's hardest for me is like I am so dedicated to our clients. And I don't say that in like an advertising kind of way. It's an obsession to do our total best for clients.

 

Kelly: I understand.

 

Ty: So anytime I start to feel like that is jeopardized, it freaks me out. Now, I have to realize a lot of the time that actually that's not really happening. It often can be more the case that it's something that I'm thinking is necessary that might not actually be necessary. So that's another thing, I'm just realizing, as a method of understanding this. Talk to your clients. Figure out what their pain points are in different situations. So talk to them when you're more involved and talk to them when you're not as involved and find out if they've noticed changes, if they're having any issues. I think having an open dialogue with your clients is really powerful and important because you will encounter situations where yes, something is going wrong, and you need to fix it, if you're dedicated to your client’s success, which we all should be. But you'll also find out there are situations where you kind of thought there was a problem, but to your client it doesn't seem material to them. And that's a big lesson as well.

 

Kelly: I think it's great advice to talk to your clients. I wonder if the reality though, is that most agency leaders, and this just goes for most humans, there's some kind of inherent fear that's operating underneath the surface that would actually prevent you from having that conversation in the times when you're more involved and when you're less involved for fear that they are going to notice, for fear that you are going to be right. And so what do you do? You avoid the conversation.

 

Ty: Of course.

 

Kelly: And then that creates this whole sort of bubble of very little communication during those periods, and then something could happen. But I think that all of this really speaks to this idea that there's a connection between the ethos of an agency, like being rooted in the founder himself or herself. And not remaining stuck in your own patterns, like you talked about this with the example of a barrier to pricing at some point at your agency. You can talk a little bit about that and maybe there are some other examples, but I just want to highlight that it shows up, like our own fears and different things that have happened to us in our lives. And like the things that have made us who we are, they pop up when we own an agency because there's so many opportunities for them to surface.

 

Ty: Totally. Yeah. So yeah, when it comes to pricing, in particular, we've had certain key rate levels that we've always been resistant to charging because we always perceived it as too much. And then we realized, in a lot of cases that were actually way under charging relative to what some of our competition were charging, and that we were delivering a tremendous amount of value. And especially when we've worked with some of the largest organizations in the world. We've given them products that have made many, many times what they invested in them in return for these organizations. So we are experts. We provide value and we should be charging accordingly. But it's just so hard to get out of your mental model of what you should be making, and I've had that mental model.

 

Kelly: Or what you’re worth.

 

Ty: Yeah, what you're worth.

 

Kelly: Just to say it a little bit differently.

 

Ty: Yeah, that's a better way to put it because you shouldn't be charging based on your own sense of what you need. You shouldn't be charging what you need. You should be charging what you're worth. And, that's the barrier that I think is very difficult, but I have kind of a corollary in my own life, which is like, I have a certain level of income that I remember my mom when I was like 12, she told me that that's what we made as a family. So I always thought, well, that's more than enough money. If I'm making that, I'm good. And we luckily had plenty growing up and I always felt like yeah, if I'm doing that, then I'm successful. But inflation happened and I'm in a different circumstance in my life. And it turns out that that level of income is much less than I really am worth in the market. So that's been very difficult for me to get over, to think well, actually, if I'm in a position where I'm going to be making more, I like to almost find a way to use the money so that I don't make more, like a latent guilt. So that's very hard to get over. I think everybody has this idea of what's fair, what they should be earning, what the company should be charging. And a lot of the time that's false. It's based on some ingrained prior narrative, maybe from when you're very young. And if you can break through that and just try immersion therapy, just say out loud the rate that you think you might be worth, or a prospect comes in and just try to charge them what you really think you're worth. Maybe they say no, but again, if you're not getting no’s, you're probably not charging enough.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I think that that's really true. So you talk a lot about breaking out of your own mental models, which obviously, I love. And I think 2020 forced us all to kind of reprioritize every single, little tiny, dark corner of our lives, right? No one was really immune to that. So that actually in some serendipitous way forced you to trust your team more than you had been historically. And as a benefit of doing so, there's this thing that you shared with me, this visual, or this feeling of kind of taking off in a plane and that split moment where you feel like the weightlessness underneath you, like you're just gliding. Talk a little bit about what happened last year that kind of led to that, and give us a little bit of those good feelings, because I really want people to understand, like trusting your team, yes, it's scary, but there is really this beautiful thing that happens.

 

Ty: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I would say like in a lot of things, 2020 was like five years of progress in one year. We went into the year probably at, I don't know. I don't even know how to quantify it, but like making a lot of progress in terms of the relinquishing control aspect. And, it's not just about relinquishing control. It's about improving the level of service and quality that we can give to clients. That's something that I was thinking about, when you were talking about having those conversations with clients earlier. The goal is not, I need to remove myself, so I can make more money. The goal is that I need to remove myself so that we can do better for you. We're bringing in people who are more talented in whatever their realm is than I ever was. And we're equipping them with proven procedures so that they can do an amazing job for you. And so, we've been making a lot of progress in that regard. But because of the circumstances, first of all, leading an agency in the beginnings of that pandemic, it forces you to make more, big picture strategic choices because there is no business as usual. So a lot of my day all of a sudden just had to be more strategic. And I was thinking a lot about finances planning, business development, and marketing. In March and April, we ramped into our marketing, because our normal sales pipelines are totally gone. So what are we going to do to make sure that we at least have something? And so we put a bet basically, in that some of our marketing would work, which eventually did happen. And that was pivotal. So if I had been just focusing on delivering our work, I wouldn't have had the head space to make sure that we had worked in two months. But then, as the pandemic continued, I started to have much more personal responsibility because all the things that I used to be able to delegate in some fashion in my personal life, I could no longer do. So I have many, many hours a week, even just personal chores that I need to take care of personally that I didn't need to do before and then the big one is childcare because we haven't been able to have consistent childcare for the longest time, and it forced me to go, “Wait a second. Actually, my whole life as long as I've had kids, I've said my kids are my priority.” But how true has that been? When I've always been willing to do a work trip or spend a night away, just because I think it'll make a client, it'll improve a client’s experience, or it'll give us all, it'll allow me to make a little more money or something like that. So the pandemic has forced me to be much more present in my children's lives, which has forced me to realize that actually, I should have been doing that the whole time. And the only way that I can do that is by trusting my people. So if I trust my people, and I train them, and I equip them well to do a great job, everybody wins. Our clients will get better service more consistently. They can ramp up better because I'm not a bottleneck, nobody's relying on me. But everybody has learned from me, the lessons that I've learned. My children benefit, because I could spend more time with them. And I benefit because I have that feeling like you said, of things I can’t step away. I can be hiking around on a Tuesday morning with my kids, and I know that things are being handled to even a higher standard that I could have achieved on my own.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And what do you think are the benefits to the individual team members?

 

Ty: Yeah, so I think individual team members benefit greatly because they have the authority and the respect within the organization to make the decisions that they think are right. And when you remove yourself as a bottleneck, it allows people to thrive, to choose a word to come into themselves as creatives and I think do their best work a lot of the time. Again, it's such a balance. It's very challenging because when you have people in the team, they need to understand what the goals are. And if you don't give people clear goals, if you don't ask them what their barriers are, if you don't address concerns, or make sure things are smooth early on in the process, you're going to run into problems. So it's not easy. I think the process of delegation and growing your team is made very trite and trivial by some treatments of it. When you can add into phrases, it totally diminishes the difficulty. But the true difficulty is how can you build an organization that can do your thing better than you could? That's a really, really hard thing.

 

Kelly: And on top of that, to build on that, how does that land with you? Because if you were this really egoic person, you might do things that tend to sabotage.

 

Ty: Exactly. Yeah. And I think the majority of people who start companies are egoic and think of themselves very highly. And I think that's true of myself and to my peril. It’s easy for me to fall into those traps because I have that flaw. And so, I guess that's also part of what makes it hard, that we all happen to be, people who are crazy, and sort of egotistical enough to think that starting a new company is the right idea when there are all these companies out there. They're probably the ones who are the least likely to want to do that process. And so it's like a particular challenge for your audience and your clients and myself. But that's what makes it special. I think life's not worth doing if it's not challenging. And if we're not overcoming something, I think we should be finding taller mountains. So I'm all for it, even though it keeps me up at night and it's a big challenge of my career. But I know that every time we reach a new level of success, it's so fulfilling that it keeps me going to find the next level.

 

Kelly: Yeah. I mean, that's really well said. And I also want to just kind of highlight that it takes a lot of courage to be this vulnerable and to say, hey, I definitely don't have all the answers. This is something that I'm currently struggling with, like as of right now. Yes, I've been doing it for a while, but I haven't figured it out necessarily. But being willing to even share that story, like what Brené Brown says, integrity is choosing courage over comfort. I think that you've certainly done that here today. So thank you very much.

 

Ty: I appreciate that. I apologize to anyone I offended. Hi YouTube. I think we should reach a higher level of vulnerability in the agency world because it's very difficult for people to understand that these are challenges that everybody goes through and it's the challenges, the reason that it's worth it. It's not a reason to quit.

 

Kelly: That's right. Thanks Ty. Have a great day.

 

Ty: Thank you.

 

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Episode 94: Why One Size Doesn't Fit All Agencies, with Maggie Patterson

     

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Maggie Patterson, founder of Scoop Studios, discuss the myths that exist around running an agency and how to trust your instincts as a leader.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 94: Why One Size Doesn't Fit All Agencies, with Maggie Patterson

Duration: 18:38

 

 

Kelly: So welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. There are certainly a lot of perceptions and assumptions out there as to what an agency should be. So today we're talking about why one size doesn't fit all agencies. And my guest is Maggie Patterson, who is the owner and editorial director of Scoop Studios in Ottawa. Maggie, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited to talk with you.

 

Maggie: Thank you so much for having me Kelly. I cannot wait for this conversation because I know what's coming.

 

Kelly: Well, you told me that when you started your agency about six years ago, you and your business partner actually lived in different countries. So you had to figure it out, you had to essentially look at a different way than all of the other agencies that you had seen around you. Can you talk a little bit about that and the emerging start of the business?

 

Maggie: Yeah, so we had been in this collaborative relationship for quite some time where I would do work for her, she would do work for me. And one day, we were having this conversation and I was like, “I am going to start an agency.” And she looked at me and said, “Me too. And we had such a great working relationship that we literally spent a full year planning out what it would look like to come together. So it wasn't like a hasty decision because there's a lot of complexity. We have cross border issues. We also had team members that we were already working with that were distributed. So we're like, okay, how are we going to make this work? She's in Indiana. I'm in Ontario. It’s very messy. So we had to do a lot of planning. But we had a very interesting experience in that a lot of people were like, wait, you can't do that? Or how does that work? But once people kind of got over that and we’re like, oh, look at us, we're blazing a new path for something that people don't typically do. And, we had a really strong working relationship for two and a half years and some personal circumstances resulted in her exiting the business, but it was the most amicable business breakup in all time, which is another thing. We often see the co-founders of an agency having a big creative difference. And we're still really, really good friends. We talk almost every day. So there's so many different ways we can do this, whether that be cross border, or how we're exiting our co-owner relationship.

 

Kelly: Yeah, it sounds like a conscious uncoupling to me.

 

Maggie: Yes, I mean, I'll be honest, I was a little angry for about two days. And then I was like, okay, I can see this isn't the best thing for you. And I as your friend, I'm going to put that relationship first and support you. And I will figure out what we're going to do next with the agency now with you exiting.

 

Kelly: Yeah. So that brings us to this next idea of figuring out what to do with the agency. Right? You and I sort of both have this rub around, do it yourself boot camps. And we see these ads coming up on Facebook, and an Instagram and all these different things for these sort of what we might even call fear based, even exploitative profit over people, courses, and these ads, and these things that are out there are really focusing on the idea that an agency leader or an agency owner is a practitioner first, and doesn't actually know how to run the business. So let's start to dispel some of those myths about why those actually don't work for most agencies, let alone trying to make them work for all agencies.

 

Maggie: Yeah, I love this question. And it's something that is actually a big reason I personally started mentoring agency owners, because I was working with a lot of freelancers, a lot of people who are pressing and they kept coming to me saying, should I do this boot camp, but I was like, no, don't do this boot camp. And, the reasons I had when we would have those conversations for don't do this boot camp was, do you understand that this is just the kind of get rich quick scheme that's being hustled by the bro marketers and online business people. Maybe we've exhausted the extent of the course market so now we're going to start going after agency owners and the blueprint they are pitching is very like you said, exploitative. It's about making as much money as possible. It's about getting you to your seven figures while you sleep kind of mentality. And it's tapping into the worst parts of us as agency owners. So many of us start our businesses, as agency owners, as you said, like practitioners. I'm a copywriter. I'm a content marketer. I didn't necessarily have all the skills to start an agency. Now I will say I did have a leg up because I did work in an agency for a long time. I did have a partner with many agencies as a freelancer. So I had a really good idea of all the things I didn't want to do when I started my own agency. And I think that's part of the reason I was just kind of like rulebook there, and knowing that those blueprints weren't there, but I think, I don't know, you've really got to watch for those signs of like, does this sound too good to be true? How does this make me feel? Do I trust this person? And what kind of business model are they personally running? If you can look at them and their agency and be like, hey, they're actually hiring $3 hour, people on their team in the Philippines, if that's not the type of business model I want to run because most of us are doing this in a place where it's not just about us acquiring wealth. It’s about really having a team that benefits from the collective efforts of the agency as the entire company, not just you as the owner. So there's so much to unpack there Kelly.

 

Kelly: I know. We could spend an hour just on that alone. But I want to actually build on something that you said, because I think it's important. You were talking about do I trust this person? When you're looking at those things as a way to vet it. I think it's do I trust this person? And then also, do I trust my own intuition? Because that then sort of leads to this idea that, as agency owners, and you mentor agency owners as well so you know this, we can give them permission to create the agency that they want, not necessarily following a blueprint of what everyone else is doing. Clearly COVID has made that more true than ever before, right? Because now we had to be remote teams for the last year, probably another six months at least. But yeah, it's like trusting that you have the ability to do whatever you want. You can create literally the agency that you want in terms of the type of team, where they're located, the service offerings; we'll get into that in a minute. But talk a little bit about more of this. And, one of the reasons why more clients from what you're saying are actually more open to working with these micro agencies as we're calling them.

 

Maggie: Yeah, personally, I could not be more excited about this, because I was like, oh, things are changing. I've been waiting. And the changes we're seeing. Obviously COVID has changed everything in terms of remote teams. And I know you've talked about that a ton already on the podcast. But the other things that are happening are companies are a little more budget conscious. So they're willing to look at alternatives to where they are paying for extra layers and layers of management and complication in these big agencies. I mean, I come from a big agency, I know exactly what that looks like. They're looking for ways to have people that are very involved in the account team, not these big teams, where they're training the juniors. They're looking for people who are the best at their craft, not necessarily the biggest, or the flashiest agency that's going to send them the really fancy Christmas gift. I think there's a greater willingness and understanding to embrace that. And I think, I'm seeing with some of my clients that own agencies, it's like opportunities that I literally two years ago, could never have imagined would be on the table. And I know, we've seen that, for us, our team to like, I'm always, is this really happening? Like the quality and the caliber of the companies that will come to us, and a lot of things have just been stripped away, that would have been a barrier attempt. They don't need to come to our office. They’re okay with us being distributed. They’re okay with us specializing in one specific thing. A lot of those rules have just been like, literally burnt down. And that really works for us, as small or micro agency owners.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I'm actually seeing the same thing with my agency clients. So that all checks out. [Commercial] To that end though, can you actually share an example of how sort of giving permission to a client really led  to a substantial impact for them?

 

Maggie: So one of my clients I mentor, I always think of her because she runs a very similar agency to what I do. She does content marketing, and she was struggling with something I had struggled with years before, was that I have to do everything and the perfect example was, she had these clients who wanted video production. And she's no interest. She's a writer. She's just like, I can write your scripts, but she got embroiled in managing independent contractors and video shoots on location and illustrators doing animations. And she came to me and she's like, Maggie, I can't do this anymore. It's like, so dope, right? I was like, wrap up the contracts you have, and you no longer offer the service. And the second she did that, you could see the weight was lifted. We've all been there as agency owners, the thing that's like, kind of tethering us down, the weight was lifted. And she discovered that those services were not profitable. They were draining so much of her time that she didn't have time to run the business. And then from there, a lot of things were able to open up for her. And she, after that, started cutting out different things. And I'm always forever encouraging people to be like, do you really like that service? Because every time you talk about it, you get this look on your face.

 

Kelly: And so just to turn that back on you for a second, you actually did that in your own agency, right? I mean, I know I did it when I had my agency. We cut social media marketing and management. I was like, it's not profitable, four quarters in a row, like we hate doing it. Done. But what did you do in your agency?

 

Maggie: Yeah, so it's been a wild adventure. But one of the things we did is we started off full service, like I think so many of us do, because we think, no one's going to hire me if I don't offer all the things.

 

Kelly: Oh, can you pause and say that again? So it really lands with people because this is a myth.

 

Maggie: Yeah, we think that people are not going to hire us if we don't do all the things, that we have to be good at all the things when really, you can't be good at all the things. So we started off with websites. I don't like website projects. They’re long. They go over budget. I don't like them. But we are doing them because we thought we had to. And we did a lot of websites, and I hated every one of them. We were doing a lot of text setup, a lot of email marketing management, a lot of integrations on things. And I was just like, this is not for us. So we basically exited an entire half of our business, anything to do with tech and web. We were like, bye. So we only do content marketing now. And specifically, not just content marketing, but content production, focusing on blogs, because I like it. I don't want to do social media management. It’s not profitable. We are writers. And that's what we do best. So we can come up with your strategy and help you execute that strategy. And a lot of times, this means we don't go into certain opportunities. Like I had an amazing RFP for a company I'm like, just cannot wait to work with. But I was like, hey, it's not a fit, maybe later. Director of content, I had a great chat. And I know there'll be an opportunity in the future because I was honest with her versus kind of contorting us to get to meet the requirements of the RFP because I like them so much.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's a great point too. I think we recently talked about the RFP process and all the inherent issues with that. But one of the things that came out of that conversation with Sophia Story was really around this idea of advocating for yourself, and again, this is in line with one size doesn't fit all four agencies, we could say that about RFP is too. And that's inherently why that process is broken, because you're trying to have people bid on something where there's very little creativity. It’s very self-prescriptive. There's an allocated budget, all of these different things. But what I hear you saying is that you advocated for yourself, you stood up for your company, and you did not have the fear of, hey, we probably are not going to get this client if we don't say that we can do everything. And so what that does is it tells you or tells your team that you trust them. It does so many things for the agency. And at the end of the day, that director that you talked to respected you for it, and will absolutely come back and say, okay, now we understand that when we need your particular services, we will come back for that service. So yeah, let's start to wrap up around that idea because I think that's really important here.

 

Maggie: So I think this goes back to as we were talking about a few minutes ago with trust and self-trust, and I talked about this a ton, in every aspect of my life, not just in business. But how do we say, hey, you know what, this isn't the best opportunity, and just knowing that there will be another opportunity. And I think one of the funniest lessons for me of 2020 was, I had the initial like COVID client drop off where it was like three clients freaked out and they were like, oh, our budgets. But guess what? They all came back. But through 2020, I was just like, you know what? We have a choice as a team and we talked about it at length. It was like we can start to chase opportunities that are not a fit, or we can have faith that this will work out, because it always has worked out. So trusting in the skills you and your team have, trusting your team to collaborate with you on decisions, and then trusting your own instincts as a business owner and as an agency owner. You just have to constantly build that muscle because we don't just show up fully formed and go, hey, you know what, I'm really good at making every single decision. And some of the decisions are going to feel hard at the time. But Kelly, I've never looked back and been like, oh, I regret doing that. Whenever I just lean into trusting myself, trusting my team, it always does work out.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I think that's great. But for me, it sounds like you called it faith. I think I would call it a healthy detachment from the idea of meeting the business. Right? I think that's a really hard thing for agency owners to really embody because it does take courage. It does take bravery to say, hey, we're not the right fit for you. Or, man, there's a ton of money on the table. But like, it's just not the right fit for our vertical or our team or our skill set, or our core strengths, whatever it might be years ago. I don't know if I've actually even shared the story on the show before, but years ago, we had Johnson and Johnson come to us when I had the agency, and they wanted us to build something for their pharmaceutical sales reps. And literally, the woman said to me, on the phone, “We want you to build this tablet application, iPad application for the sales reps so that they feel like they are selling something that is going to be good, that is going to be beneficial.” And the way that she said it, just stuck with me. And I was like it was a ton of money. I mean, it was an enormous amount of money, probably one of the top three largest projects that had come into the agency as a lead. And I remember saying, Hey, can I take the weekend to think about it?” And I came in on Monday. And it was very clear. It was very clear, right? If it's not a definite yes, that's a definite no. And we passed on the project. And she's very similar to your story about the director. She said, I really respect your decision. And by the way, you're like the fifth agency to give me that same response. So it just goes to show that you really stick with the integrity and core values of your agency, and you will always make the right decision.

 

Maggie: Yeah. And I mean, you're also probably going to make some not so great decisions along the way that will remind you.

 

Kelly: Sure.

 

Maggie: Like we've all had those situations of the money is there, we could use the money, would help us meet our goal or whatever it is, the motivator for that, and then we do it. And then we have deep, deep regret. I have definitely done that. And it will never happen again because I just can't. I don't have it in me. My mental health, the sanity of my team, the hard boundaries there just, no, no. And I've learned that the hard way.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I would love to end with that note in terms of boundaries, because I think the better ourboundaries are, the more successful we are as leaders and as agencies. So Maggie, thank you so much for joining me on the show. I really, really love this conversation.

 

Maggie: Thank you so much for having me.

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Episode 93: Can a Company Have a Calling?, with Madeline Pratt

 

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Madeline Pratt discuss how we, as business owners and leaders, can create a company that is aligned with our greater purpose and the equity we want to see in the world.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 93: Can a Company Have a Calling?

Duration: 28:10

 

Kelly: So welcome to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're talking about greater purpose and equity. My guest is the incomparable Madeline Pratt, Founder & CEO at Fearless Foundry, which is a creative consultancy for entrepreneurs who believe that the purpose of their work in the world is to rebuild it for the better. Madeline, thank you so much for joining me. I’m super excited to have you here.

 

Madeline: I’m super excited too Kelly. It's a great way to start my day.

 

Kelly: Absolutely. Tattoos and everything. So we're talking a little bit about, the theme here, like can a company have a calling? I know you and I would answer that as yes. There are a lot of people for whom this would be a new theme or a new topic of conversation so just curious--how did you personally discover your calling for your company?

 

Madeline: So it was an interesting kind of recurring pattern that happened in my life. Prior to starting my company, I was in the world of FinTech and I was doing a lot of global business development work, traveling a lot, and my joke is that like I would be in all these different situations. I would be in a spa sauna. I would be waiting in line at Starbucks. I would be just anywhere around and doing my life. And a woman I completely didn't know would walk up to me and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about starting a business. Do you know anything about that?” And then she would just like pitch me on the spot and it was the weirdest thing that would continue to happen. I had a lot of friends at the same time who were kind of starting to approach the idea of building their own businesses and I was constantly being pulled into these conversations of, “Hey, I’m thinking about setting up a website. Do you know how to use Squarespace?” Or “I want to be able to do appointment booking on Instagram. Do you know how to integrate that?” And what I recognized was there was this consistent confidence gap as women were venturing into entrepreneurship particularly around marketing and branding and tech. And although I love my work in the business development world, I was like finding myself all day just kind of dreaming about what would it be like to build a business around helping entrepreneurs build companies of their own. And so, I spent about a year and a half like sketching out these ideas in a notebook and slowly realized over time, “Wow, there's something really valuable here.” And it's all I can think about. So about two years after this conversation started, I rolled into starting the Foundry.

 

Kelly: Amazing. And there's something that you say that really, right now is the right time for business owners to kind of bring forth their true brand. What do you mean by that?

 

Madeline: So what I think happens a lot when we approach the idea of starting a company is we consider, what is the safest plate we can make. We think that in order to be accepted in the business world we have to kind of fit into a really narrow box. I see this a lot because I have a background like I said in FinTech in accounting and so there'll be people who will just follow the model of what they've seen other businesses do. It's going to be so and so and so and so. And they're not going to embrace the brand identity that really speaks to who they are or who they want to serve because they feel like I’ve got to just be open to whatever comes my way so that I can pay my bills. And what I think happens in that instance is you start saying yes to everybody and you really lose sight of why you got into business in the first place. And so, it's really important for event brands and businesses and leaders to look at who are the people that I’m really here to serve and how can I build a brand that speaks directly to those humans. And the thing that we see because we work so much in this space is that when people step boldly forward and put themselves out there with a brand identity that really speaks to their ideal client, suddenly all of that noise falls away and you're able to have a conversation really directly and call in the people that you're meant to work with rather than wasting your time on people who are ill-aligned or don't really value what you do in the first place.

 

Kelly: Yeah. I think that that's extremely true and it's not that different from when we talk about like positioning messaging and making sure that you're focusing on who your ideal clients are and what you actually do in the world and not making it so generalist that it says everything to no one. But what you're talking about is actually deeper from the brand identity standpoint. You're talking about actually like making your mark in a way that's very differentiated from everyone else in the space and doing that from a place of authenticity, right?

 

Madeline: Yeah. And I think the thing that we're all scared of is showing our true selves and this is what this process is about. And one of the things that has been such a delight in our business and in the work that we do is helping people uncover that true identity and then embrace it in a much bigger way. I think business gives us an opportunity to really step into the qualities or attributes that maybe we're even diminished or we were told like for myself I grew up being told you're too bossy and you need to just sit in your place. Even in the corporate world, I was a little bit of a rule-breaker because I had all these tattoos and like I spent all this time hiding who I was because I was told by like the traditional powers that you can't be this way in business. And what I found in stepping into that role myself is I’m able to work with people that I love, every single day I’m able to attract clients that are curious and excited about those sides of who I am. I’m able to run a great team because I do have a clear vision and direction of where I’m going. And so I love being able to be that self all day long and I love being able to help other founders embrace it in their work.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And I think it's important because what you're touching on is like the fact that you and I have talked about this before that you're not actually siloing yourself. You're not saying like here's who I am at home and the audience is used to me saying this, but here's who I am at home and I put different clothes on and therefore I’m like this other persona in my business or professional world. I think that there's so much fear still around being able to do that, to take that step. So what you're talking about is like being on the other side of it as I am as well, just owning who you are, being unapologetic about who you are, what you're actually doing for your company, for your team, for your clients, is essentially like putting a sign out there that says this is who we really are, if you believe what we believe come on board. And so, there's no time or effort or energy spent on anything other than authenticity and by extension you work with the people who get you excited every day, not people who are just their like paying your bills.

 

Madeline: And you build stronger relationships too, like this is the thing that excites me most is like I genuinely say to clients, coaching clients like love you, take care of yourself, or just the teams that we get to work with and some of our client organizations. We have these great rapports because there's no pretense. There's no façade. We're not like I say putting on your business pants and pretending to be somebody else and particularly right now during kind of this COVID climate I think that that's really transformational for people. I remember this moment early on in the pandemic I was collaborating with one of our clients team members and he has five kids at home. They're all running around and he was visibly flustered during a call we were having and I could just see that disconnect where he was still trying to be like, okay I’m my business self here, I’ve got to be professional, and all hell is breaking loose in the background. And I was just able to say, hey man, just take a second. And that's always what we say. We're like just take your moment, like take a breath, go handle those children, like if anything they're a delight to all of us, we're smiling but like don't stress yourself out even more. Just handle what you need to handle and then get back and we can get back to work. And it was really interesting to just watch the psychology shift from like suddenly his shoulders dropped and he was able to take a deep breath and it was this realization of I don't have to worry when I’m in an interaction with you like this is not upsetting you and I think that that has continued to evolve over the pandemic. But still for a lot of us, there's this pretense that that we're playing for zoom and so I hope that that by showing up in the way that I do every day that I can kind of help other leaders start modeling that behavior so that people can just learn to kind of embrace a little bit more of who they are every single day.

 

Kelly: Yeah. One of the other things that you say that I really love is that entrepreneurship is the true path to equity but entrepreneurship has also been extremely glamorized so I want to talk a little bit about that because I think that that's an important topic to cover as well.

 

Madeline: Yeah. So I mean I think that this comes out of the world of Instagram and maybe like a small dose of shark tank but it was like something happened post 2010 where everybody was talking about like oh my gosh I’m an entrepreneur as I called it, like entrepreneur because unless you're actually making revenue it's not really business. But there is this idea that being an entrepreneur is the most amazing thing in the world and in many ways it is but I also don't believe that everybody is cut out for it. There is a lot of stress. There is a lot of burden. It is a proverbial roller coaster every single day and without mental toughness and the ability to dedicate time to your own personal development as a leader, you're not going to survive. And we see this like many small businesses fail and so what I believe is that we really have to look at ourselves prior to going into business and say am I cut out for this, do I just have a great idea or do I have the wherewithal to really build a business around it. And for me the thing that I want to see shift in our world is innovative business models that are designed to do something differently, solve a big major problem, systemic inequalities, take action toward social justice and those are all amazing causes that we can each    individually care about. But unless we have longevity and business models behind them, it's not going to make an impact and the biggest lesson for me this past year really was seeing the way that traditional business has been built doesn't really work for a lot of us. And so for me and particularly identifying as a woman, watching so many women have left the workplace like it has been such an indicator that the traditional model of business is broken and so if we want to get to a more equitable world, we need to step out of those corporate environments and start new companies that allow for us to reshape. And even in my own business, it's things like offering flexible leave offering. We do something around flex holidays so that if you practice a particular religion or have a spiritual belief that requires you to take different days off than the traditional 12 holidays, we have something built into our business model around it and what I see is it's going to take a lot of time for government and large corporations to create those different systems in business. But in entrepreneurship, we have the opportunity to write the roadblock so we can come in and say no, this is how we do things and build business models that are better for everybody in the long term.

 

Kelly: I love that, and the holidays are a great example of how you've actually taken that to heart and really imparted that in Fearless Foundry. What are some of the other ways that you've kind of like really embodied that in your culture?

 

Madeline: It's been interesting because everything has been in a process of disruption because it started when we were building our first employee contracts and I did what anybody would do, you go out on the internet.

 

Kelly: Search for free templates.

 

Madeline: Yeah, here's the template for a hiring agreement and you download it and you look at it and you go, well, I don't agree with that and I don't agree with that. And so one of the first glaring ones was developing maternity leave policy. We had several employees who are younger women who plan to have family someday and that was a really key part of the negotiation process and like half the templates we looked at didn't even have that and then the ones that did had language where it was clearly written by a human who's never encountered children and it was all based of government paradigm. So like you get six weeks of unpaid leave and then it's up to us, to do what we want with your job. And having been through that construct myself, had a baby in a corporate environment and just feeling completely screwed over by the system, I was like this is not the way we're going to do things. And so, it was an opportunity for me to reflect as a leader and shape a policy that I think is actually supportive and encouraging of our team to grow their families and also to be excited to come back to work after six months of paid leave. So that was one example. The other one we've been navigating more recently which has been super interesting is 401k. I’m a really big believer in investment and empowering women in conversations around money and 401k is a great vehicle to kind of get people to do some early investing, particularly when I was young I was part of a corporate environment that just like really pushed me to co-opt in and now I have this nice little reserve of money I never would have had if it wasn't for that. But when we started researching 401ks, it was like total old paradigm. It was like we've got this provider, they're gonna pick your mutual funds, take it or leave it kind of thing and so we had to do all of this hunting to find a provider that would come up with plans that match our values because so much of our company ethos is around sustainability, it's around gender pay equity, it's about being supportive of the LGBTQI community. And so we knew that if we created a policy and a plan that didn't reflect those values, nobody in our team would opt into them, and so it's been harder for me as a leader. I haven't been able to just like click a box on our payroll company but I also being able to like proactively seek out those resources, that we now have a complete green retirement plan that reflects our values, and that all of our employees are excited about participating in because they know their money isn't going somewhere that they don't agree with.

 

Kelly: Right. Zooming out for a second, I almost like can hear people in the audience saying like, this sounds great Madeline. I would love to put all of these things in place. It sounds great. How do you balance that with turning a profit? And how do you sort of like, in your mind, make the mental shift? Because that's actually what it is, the mindset shift that these are not opposing things on a spectrum, right?

 

Madeline: Yeah. So I'm gonna say something slightly controversial. But what I don't believe the purpose of a business is to just make money. I think the purpose of a business is to be a vehicle for growth for the individuals inside of it. And so as long as our company is able to pay everyone a great living wage, as long as it's able to continue to grow me as a leader and support clients that we love, as long as I can pay my team really well, like those are the things that matter most to me. And I think that when we get into business, the mindset is, grow the revenue, grow the revenue, grow the profit, grow the profit, but it doesn't look at, is the system inside of this business healthy. And one of the things that I think about all the time, and I can't remember if it was you who shared this with me or someone else, but is this fact that businesses today, the average lifespan is like 15 to 17 years, where previously, it used to be like 60 to 70 years. And I think it's because they're unsustainable on the inside. And so if you take a system, and it's getting sicker and sicker over time, it's going to die. And so I think that the most important thing inside my organization is the people with it. And so in order for my business to grow, I know that I need to invest in them. And I've been a part of organizations that didn't do it, and watch how that turnover and just disrupted culture and destroyed people and caused infighting. And it's like, that is the opposite of what I'm looking to build here. And so it is a huge mental shift, but I see the people inside my company as the most important piece. And so investing in them just has to be a priority.

 

Kelly: Yeah, no, I love that. And obviously, I couldn't agree more. I think that there are a lot of agency leaders who have that belief. And also, they have their own individualistic desires, right? Like they want to be able to retire, they want to be able to maybe exit the company at some point. And in their minds, the only way to do that is to like, yes, take care of the people almost secondarily. Yes, it's important to them, but ultimately, it's about growing the profit and the revenue. So this is a great conversation, because what you're saying is like you're starting to change, I mean, it's like a giant wheel, turning, going up a hill, as kind of like the visual that I have. But it's starting to change that mindset and that frame around, these are not competing things. What we have to do is actually really deconstruct the entire system that we're playing in and decide whether we want to play that game or create our own, and essentially you've created your own. All the little pieces inside of your company are a differentiation from the way that business is done in at least in this country. So I appreciate that so much. I really, really do. I commend it.

Madeline: Yeah, and I mean, it's not easy. I think one of the other contracts we're still really up against in the agency or consultancy environment is that the historic trend to underpay creatives. Like I didn't even plan to build out like an agency style model. Originally, I was consulting on my own primarily, but then I was also getting into all this execution work. And then I was hiring contractors to help me with that, because the work just started to grow and grow and grow. And what I saw was like this pervasive problem where creatives were just being completely underpaid for their work. And the interesting thing is, multiple members of our team now have been a part of other agency environments. And they've also contracted and it wasn't any better in that agency environment. They still felt super exploited. They still felt like they weren't really valued for their time or their work. And so for me, creating that different model is really important because it means that I'm going to be able to attract a different type of talent. And, maybe this is wildly ambitious, but my hope is to transform the way that people see creatives because I think that there's been a lot of mythology around the starving artists’ sort of thing and even as we've stepped into the digital world, people don't believe in the value of our work and our worth. And so by putting our model in place the way we haven't, and we talk about it pretty openly too. We blog about it. And I talked like this some podcast about it. But again, we're attracting a higher caliber of business that's willing to pay more for our work because they understand the way that we operate as an entity, and know that the team that we have is really well taken care of. And from a work product perspective, it's a better experience, because it's not like, oh, yeah, we had that contractor you were working with, but now they're not here anymore, because we were paying minimum wage, and they decided to move on. And so again, it goes back to that relationship building piece, we're able to be closer with our clients because our team is so well solidified.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And you're speaking to something that I talked about a lot, which is like the money follows value, right? Where you're taking care of the team, they're essentially taking care of you, taking care of the clients, they stay longer, the clients stay longer, the work is better. And, I think, again, this kind of goes to that, the gears turning in people's mind, like, oh my God, if we take care of the team at the top of this, then the profit margin, and all the other things will just naturally flow as part of all of that. And I think we're starting to see some shift around that, which is really exciting to me. And I think, you doing what you're doing in the world right now and the fact that there is such demand for what you're doing is a really, really good sign that this is where everything is going so. So as we start to wrap up, I would love to talk for hours. But will you actually share a little bit about the story of your rebrand, because I think that's something that a lot of agency leaders can have some takeaways around, specifically within this context of equity and getting the team involved. How all of that happened for you?

 

Madeline: Yeah. So this was such a fascinating process. And I think it's something that a lot of agencies struggle with, rebranding themselves, because it's like this huge dose of your own medicine, particularly if you claim expertise in this space. And for me, the desire for the rebrand came about because we had grown tremendously. So we went from like a team of like two and a half to now we have about 10 people who work for us. And in that transition, we were still kind of clinging to an old identity that was basically built when it was just me. And so we needed to embrace something that professed our unified calling to the world, and also was something that the whole team felt like they were a part of shaping. And what was really transformational about the rebrand was the way that we went about it. So rather than just me as the leader sitting in a silo coming up with a new name and a new construct, we got the whole team involved in the process. And it was a realization that we couldn't do it alone. So we actually sourced in a team, which we brought in Emily and Justin from Root and River to lead a series of conversations with us to help unify the identity of what we were doing. And it was a maturation of a lot of the stuff that I had started out with in terms of core values, just kind of some growing up, that we had done as a brand kind of came through with the team. But the result that I didn't quite expect, but was blown away by, it was how much it strengthened our culture. Suddenly, we all knew who we were as a business. Suddenly we all knew what our core values were. Suddenly, we all had the same language to talk about our brand. Suddenly, that website copy we'd been trying to write just came out like magic. And we were like, yes, this is it. And it was because we got everybody involved in the process. And so for me, it really changed the way that we think about brand building now. Because if you do have a team, if you want them to be a part of that shift and not feel left behind by it, you have to get them involved. And so we've really started to encourage the leaders that we work with, if they have a team that they can come bring on board to do it, because it's such an amazing culture building exercise. And it allows for everybody to come on board and be a part of the new brand rather than feeling like, wait, what's going on? Why are we changing? And so, it was a really fantastic process. And it took time. I think that's the other reason leaders resist. You've already got enough client work on your plate, but to take the time was really worth it for us. Because now we've got a team that feels so much stronger in the new era.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I love that. And that's a direct reflection of my experience with agencies. Because when I'm brought in, there's not necessarily like a rebranding, from a brand identity standpoint, but certainly there's some positioning messaging that needs to be sort of iterated and I always say that I won't take the engagement on unless we're doing intake sessions with everyone on the team from the CEO down to the summer intern because everybody's voice matters, everybody has something to contribute. And then making that process really collaborative is so important because I think that you're right, a lot of agency leaders have this idea that they are the ones with the vision, it's their charge to make these decisions sort of in a vacuum, and then just communicate to the team. Oh, by the way, we have a new name, or we have a new positioning statement, or oh, we have a new website. And it's just the wrong way to do it because they're left with feeling so disconnected. Right? Whereas if you just bring them in, this goes back to everything that we're talking about here. You bring them in, you show them that they're valued; you have a stronger result at the end of it. So whether it's client work, or your internal marketing and branding, it doesn't actually matter. It is the strength of an organization, especially in the creative services field. It is the strength of everyone's voice as part of that.

 

Madeline: Yeah, and the other thing that I learned in the process where I'm maybe I'm a little critical of myself, but if I could go back and do one thing better in the rebrand process, it would be to think about the way that the rebrand would be experienced by our existing clients. So it was one thing to rebrand and get our team on board. We thought a lot about what will the message be to new clients, who do we want to attract now, but that transformation has a ripple effect on the clients you're already serving. And so that's one of the things that I think we could have done a better job with, to also take into account there's an energetic shift that happens when you change your brand identity. Our new identity was a lot stronger, a lot more progressive. And we needed to reach out to our clients and say, we're changing, and we want you to be a part of that. We didn't lose anybody in the process, but we did kind of feel a little bit of shifts of like, oh, wait, how does this going to work? Or people being like, are fees going to double now coz you look a lot better. And so that's one of the things that I learned throughout the process. We got to look at how this is going to ripple effect. Everybody, we're involved with our team, our existing clients, and then also the humans that we want to see that we serve in the future.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's a great takeaway, and something that I think a lot of agencies if they do go through a rebranding or repositioning process, they don't necessarily think about. So super, super valuable. Well, you can find out more about Maddie at fearlessfoundry.com and thank you so much again for joining me. This has been a great conversation. I wish we had another two hours.

 

Madeline: Me too. Thank you so much, Kelly.

 

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Ep 92: The Serve Don't Sell Approach, with Liston Witherill

 

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Liston Witherill discuss how agency leaders can serve their prospective and existing clients with a diverse content mix that’s rooted in relevance and integrity.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 92: The Serve Don't Sell Approach

Duration: 30:21

 

Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. I'd like you all to meet Liston Witherill, a sales trainer and consultant who helps service-based companies to serve not sell to the ideal clients that they want to be working with. He's also the host of the Modern Sales Podcast. And he was kind enough to have me keynote client con, one of the days back in October of 2020. Liston, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really, really excited to have this conversation with you.

 

Liston: Thanks for having me. It's my pleasure.

 

Kelly: So we were connected a little bit before the show. And we were joking around a little bit, because we're both in some ways consulting on business development, and pipeline and all of that. And you said something really funny. Most people don't think that they have a sales problem. They think that it's like an issue with their pipeline. And I would love for you to start out by kind of expanding upon that.

 

Liston: Yeah. So well, where should I start? So I think that if you kind of trace the trajectory of the average agency owner, often they either worked in house somewhere and they had a great client or three, and they left and those clients weren't with them. Or maybe they were working in house at a company, they left that company, and that became their first client. They kind of had a fast track to be an agency of record. There was a network effect built into what they were doing.

 

Kelly: That's right.

 

Liston: And that, for a lot of people, for most people, the majority, will not sustain a business. And certainly you have very little control over what's going to happen in terms of referrals and word of mouth. And so if you want to build your business in a more intentional way, you need other sources. So I think that's one of the first places where people say, I've got a pipeline problem, if I just had more opportunities. Now, I was actually talking to someone the other day, and he was sort of bragging about the fact that he closed over 50% of the deals that came to him. And to that I always respond, you don't have enough opportunities then. And he was sort of taken aback. And he's like, well, what do you mean? And I said, well, if you're closing that many opportunities, it's probably a sign that you're not taking enough risk in your marketing and your sales.

 

Kelly: That's interesting.

 

Liston: Because you're basically only addressing people who you think for sure will close. And so I think that's kind of the first thing, is a lot of agencies don't see themselves as being in sales or having even a sales function. They use euphemisms for it. So we just have conversations with potential partners, something like that. And I always say, well walk me through how that works. Well, we meet. I ask them some questions to see if we can help them. Then we put together a proposal and we review it together. And then there's a small negotiation. And I'm like, so that's not sales. And they're like, oh, no, no, no, no.

 

Kelly: We’re not salespeople, please.

 

Liston: Right. Yeah, if I don't have sales in my title, I can't be doing sales. I think it’s kind of the prevailing feeling. And as a result of that, they always think, well, if I just had more pipeline, that would be the answer to all of my revenue problems. But I think, I guess, there can be a semantic question here of like, what sales and what's marketing? But certainly what I find is a lot of people who get opportunities that they quickly disqualify have no process to nurture them to the point of being a mature opportunity that once again, they can start that sales process all over again. So that may be a little bit of a complicated answer. But that's what I see is from founding to the self-identity, part of like, I'm not in sales. I just have conversations. That's why a lot of people think that I have pipeline problems.

 

Kelly: Yeah, it's so interesting. And I would say that the vast majority of agencies that I work with all fall into that same, I don't know, sandpit, I guess, you could call it up, like we are 100% or 99% reliant on referrals. The networks of the leaders of this organization, we are tapping them, we're tapping their agencies, or clients that they used to work with, or their personal networks or what have you. And at some point, there is capacity to that, like a network can be very expensive, but there's a capacity to that. So you have to do other things. But just sticking with the idea of networking for a second, you have I think some great things to talk about in terms of habit formation, when we're talking about networking and how it relates to business development. So I'd love to kind of pop over there in the conversation.

 

Liston: So for anybody listening to this, what I'd like you to do right now is take stock of what habits or regular activities you have that are building your network. And you can think about that on several dimensions. So the obvious one is reaching out to potential clients that you can help. But I also mean, industry thought leaders, potential partners, or vendors that you could be working with, event planners or coordinators, maybe even doing your own events, or even dare I say, a podcast, all of these little things add up over time. And that's what really makes your network grow in an intentional way. And so, I challenge you to think about what are those activities that you're executing regularly. And what I find is a lot of people say, almost none. I post on LinkedIn every quarter something like that or I send a newsletter every now and again. But that doesn't count. And when I think about habit formation, there's this great book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which is now pretty old; I think, eight or nine years old. But it builds on the work of B.J. Fogg who talks all about habit formation. And really, it's trigger, routine, reward. That's what they call the habit loop. And so building in a trigger is really important if you want to create a networking habit. And that trigger can be at 4pm every day I reach out to at least two people for various reasons. That could be your trigger. Another trigger could be, I produce a podcast every week. And so, I need to interview someone. Another trigger could be, every month I want to attend an event or plan an event, a webinar, or something like that. Building something like that in and having accountability at the level of your revenue growth plan, I think is really important in order to start to build that habit. And then you can look at, did I achieve it or not? Most measures say that it takes about 60 days, depending on who you believe the research is, not definitive on this topic. But it takes about 60 days to build a habit. And so in terms of work days, that's 12 weeks, 5 work days every week, assuming you're not working 80 hours, listening to Kelly more if you are. But assuming you're working a regular workweek, that's going to take about 12 weeks to do that. And so that fits nicely into having a quarterly plan that you can start to execute and making this more of a routine thing, where you're doing it in little bursts, 5, 10, 20 minutes a day, rather than sitting down and go, I'm gonna spend all day building my network and then not touch it again, which is how much most people approach diet and exercise.

 

Kelly: That's right. I mean, that's such a great point. And really, what we're talking about here is, like you're talking about it from the standpoint of habit formation. But we're also talking about it from the standpoint of like diversifying your business development mix, which is something that a lot of people just don't. They don't do it. They don't really invest in it. So when we say diversifying the business development mix, it's like, when are you speaking? When are you getting on keynoting client con for a day? Or when are you doing a webinar? Are you doing any outbound account based marketing? How is your SEO looking on your own website? I mean, that is the redheaded stepchild of the agency world, like all of their own sites are just pretty poor. I mean, even ones that focus on search engine optimization. And the list goes on. Podcasts, we talked about that a little bit, which we'll get into in a minute. There are so many ways in order to amplify your visibility, and add to the top of that funnel. So I want to talk a little bit about that, because that to me is sort of the antidote to this idea that relying on referrals as your predominant business development source is just not sustainable back to what you said before.

Liston: Yeah. And I think about the marketing mix as a two by two because every great topic in business needs a two by two. And so, I think about push and pull, right? So push would be outbound cold or warm email, depending on your preferred way of thinking about it, or you're choosing who you want to contact. And then after you do this for two, three months, you should be able to determine, hey, when I put in this amount of effort, I get this many conversations.

 

Kelly: Or when I use this language, I get this many conversations.

 

Liston: Yeah. Okay. All right, you’re keeping me honest. Just let the record reflect. I think the way you message and especially the way you approach people and how much research you put into it is critically important. But I was just sort of assuming people knew that.

 

Kelly: I wish that they did. I maybe out of business, but I wish that they did.

 

Liston: And then so push, pull, right? So that sort of outbound would be the classic example of pushing and pulling would be SEO. People are searching for something online. If you rank in the results of something that's relevant to their search, they come to your website, and they go, oh, this is interesting, I should learn more about them. So that's the difference between push and pull. And then there's mechanical versus organic. So organic, again, SEO would be the classic pull organic channel. But mechanical is also pretty important. So by mechanical, I mean, paid advertising. We talked in the pre-show about account based marketing where, if you only like to work with giant companies, we're gonna prioritize 100 or 200 accounts for the entire year, and all of our marketing and sales budget will go into that. That would be one way of doing a mechanical push, but having something where you have more control than the typical business development plan for an agency, which is just do great work, and great things will happen to us. And while that does work for some people, it's not a great business strategy, because you have so little control over it.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And I want to highlight that for those who are lucky enough to have that work for them, it's not luck. It's not luck at all, because they probably had a previous relationship. Or if you actually look under the hood at their agency, one account might be representing 80% of their revenue. And they're just landing and expanding and growing business inside of one large account. Whereas you can see the obvious issues with, what happened if that account were to leave or if they were to pull back budget. So there's some sustainability issues with that as well. 

 

Liston: Well, you've now touched on something that I think may merit a separate podcast recording. Maybe I'll have you on to talk about the role of luck and how much we can attribute to luck. But what I find is the sort of standard line of do great work and good things will follow. There's a survivorship bias in there, or confirmation bias, where the people who that works for will tell you, this is the best strategy, just do this because it worked for me, just like anything else you see online. Everybody who has an opinion about what you should do is typically selling something related to that, or it's worked for them. That doesn't mean you'll be able to replicate it. And, when we talk about marketing mix, I think about diversifying your stock portfolio. You wouldn't put all of your money into one single company. You'd put a little bit into index funds and a little bit into dividend paying stocks, and maybe place a few individual bets on companies that you think are really going to grow or have an advantage. But you wouldn't put it all into one single place that's dependent on movement in one area. And that's sort of the equivalent of the do great work and great things will follow kind of business strategy.

 

Kelly: And just to touch back on what we were talking about before with regard to podcasts. So podcasts obviously, I think that's one of the most relevant things that we can talk about from a business development standpoint. Some agency owners are starting to understand that getting booked on podcasts can amplify their visibility that can add to and create some thought leadership content that they can then extend into their social media channels and all these different things. What should people keep in mind, in your opinion, as they're thinking about trying to get booked on podcast or even potentially creating a podcast for their own company, for their own agency?

 

Liston: So those are very different things. So I think the advantage of being a guest on a podcast is you get access to an audience someone else has already put the painstaking work into building. You also get their conveying credibility through the transitive property. Their listeners go to them and think that they have great taste in people and guests. And so when you show up in that feed, de facto, you get a level of trust that's assigned to you based on their perception of the host. So all of that is conveyed as a guest. And overall, it's much less work to be a guest than to produce your own show. I can tell you from experience. So I have a popular podcast that now I think we're up to about 150 episodes. I've been doing it for around three years. And it's a lot of work if you want to do it well. So I would hold off on making that commitment unless you really are committed to doing at least a season, 12 to 20 episodes to see if it works for you. So being a guest allows you to, as you said Kelly, amplify your message. But it also allows you to skip a lot of the work that goes into the production, the promotion, putting it up on a website. The host does all of that. So that's great. What a lot of people will get wrong is they think, well, if I just show up on a show, and I'm somewhat interesting, then people will reach out to me. And that has not been my experience. Maybe yours is different. But my experience is if I show up with a short message, and I have a call to action that's associated with what I talked about, that's going to produce much more interest in what I'm doing. And that will, from a sort of getting the word out, kind of missionary style approach, that's going to be the most effective. So would it make sense to talk about why you should start your own podcast?

 

Kelly: Yeah. I mean, we could talk about that, because I think that that really fits into this idea of additional business development channels. I think you started your podcast, probably for the same reason I started my podcast two and a half years ago, which was, I wanted to have conversations with agency owners. And so for me, it was two-fold. I did it initially as a business development tool. And then once I attracted a sponsor for that, I looked at it differently. I looked at it more as creating value add content for people who may never be my clients. But please, yeah, talk a little bit about that. Because I think that with the surge of podcasts now, probably even greater, during the pandemic, people are listening more and more and more. You see a ton of companies that are coming out as podcast production and management firms. So they're realizing that this is pretty swelling industry. But yeah, what would you advise if an agency was thinking about having their own podcasts? I'm seeing it pop up all over the place now.

 

Liston: So the first thing I would say is get clear about what your goals are. So most people I talked to who, individually absent in any conversation with me or thinking about starting a podcast, have these visions of building a loyal audience who hangs on every word and shows up to hear what they have to say. And my feedback on that is don't start a podcast if you want to develop a giant audience. Now, podcasting still has a lot of growth to go in terms of listenership, in terms of how many shows will be available. So there's already an oversupply. But that's going to get worse. So it's actually still a pretty good time to start a podcast. But generally, for agency owners, what I would say is, the main advantage is you get to interview people who otherwise may be inaccessible to you. And so, as you said, Kelly, it's great to have your ideal clients on the show, and talk to them about what they're going through. So if you're an SEO firm, and you work with, of course, SaaS companies don't do that. First of all, change your positioning, if you're doing that. But let's say you're an SEO company, working with SaaS firms, you would want to have on marketers and SaaS firm owners who talk about where they're getting traffic, what are some of the problems with that, what are their growth plans, and kind of start to build a picture of where you can fit in. But that can also lead to a discovery call where afterwards you can say, hey, by the way, I can help you address some of these things you talked about. Would you like to talk about that separately? I'm not a big fan of like this has been done to me and I personally hate it. We're exchanging notes about things we hate in terms of marketing and sales beforehand. And one of the things I hate is when someone says, oh, yeah, come on to my podcast, and then I show up, and it's just a thinly veiled sales pitch for their program, whatever it is. And I'm like, why did you do that? Like, you should do that separately?

 

Kelly: Yeah, I had a really, really terrible experience that I just want to highlight just in case this happens to anyone else. I was approached on LinkedIn to be interviewed, to be quoted in a book. And the book was like, very relevant to my industry, and whatever. So I get on the call. The call was not with the same person that had originally reached out to me on LinkedIn. And it was literally the most egregious sales pitch. It was a very funny thing what happened in the actual content of the conversation. I got the guy to admit, essentially, that it was a sales pitch. And he just was very upset, that this was his life. But anyway, I digress. If you are going to do this, be in an integrity about it. So I think that's kind of what I hear you saying underneath.

 

Liston: Yeah, and I like the word integrity better than authenticity. This is another thing I could go on a rant about. But yeah, have integrity. So if you're going to start a podcast, you actually have to make the podcast and have the intention of producing it, and having a conversation related to whatever the topic of the podcast is. But if you start one, let's just do some simple math. You can have 52 conversations throughout the year. I'm guessing I could be totally wrong. But your average listener on the show right now probably is not having 52 conversations with people who are in their target market. So that can be huge. I mean, you can also invite potential referral partners. You can also invite vendors to learn about what's interesting or trending. You can invite event planners who may later ask you to come speak. You can invite other podcasters whose show you can be on later. So I think there are lots of benefits to it. But I would flip on its head, the sort of main way people think of podcasting, which is I'm going to develop a giant audience. And, again, we should trade notes on this, if you want to do that, my experience has been time is a core ingredient of developing a bigger audience. Do a lot of good stuff over time. There’s a chance that you'll start to see some organic growth. But if you really want to change the trajectory of your show, you have to do ads, and you have to be on a lot of other shows. That's the only way. I've tried a lot of things. I have a list of, I think 37 tactics that I've used to try to grow the show. And those two things seem to do the most. I'm a big fan of podcasting because also it's so intimate. So let's go back to this idea of outreach in habit formation. So think about the difference in the proposition where you reach out to someone and say, hey, we do X, Y, and Z, we help SaaS companies with their SEO. Here’s some results that we've given other companies that seem relevant to you. Would you like a few tips on how we can help or what you could do? That's version A. Version B is, hey, I see you're a fast growing SaaS company that just raised your series B. I have a podcast about that. I'd love to interview about how you're thinking about the next phase of your business. Way different. And what I find is when I reach out to people for the podcast, the chance of them saying yes, is over 80% versus any sort of outbound sort of approach with the express intent of showing a company how you can help them or maybe giving them some free content that could help them whether they work with you or not. That’s going to be less than 10% guest rate. So big, big, big difference. And the other thing I love about podcasting, and then I'll shut up is the overhead to produce it is for most people way lower than writing articles or making videos. And so that is super helpful as well.

 

Kelly: Yeah. It's definitely low risk, low cost. I mean, I have a podcast production and management company now and they're very affordable. They do a great job. It allows me to do other things and use my time in a way that's a little bit more appropriate for me. But yeah, I mean, like I said before, there are a lot of companies out there that are willing to help, but I think what you're really saying is be an integrity about it. Figure out what you actually want to do with this. And it's really got to be something that you and or your leadership team, come to the table and brainstorm like, what are my goals and objectives for this? How is this going to help our agency? What are we actually looking to do with this? I think it's about being intentional with it. And, just being really conscious about why you're doing it, as opposed to, hey, there's this new shiny thing out there called podcasting. Let's just launch one and see what happens. Like don't do that.

 

Liston: Right. Exactly. Or like, in the old days, people would say, what's this Facebook thing? We need a Facebook strategy. And you're like, well, what will that do for you? And they're like, I don't know, don't I need it? So for podcasting, I know people who focus on interviewing ideal target market clients, and just starting a relationship, knowing that it may take 6 or 12 months for that to happen.

 

Kelly: Yeah. This is a long game, for sure.

 

Liston: Exactly. But I've talked to other people who say we'll use the podcast as a way to attract great speakers because we do live events for our clients. And that's like the main engine of our business development. And the podcast can be an easy way to get great people to speak for free and then maybe come out to our events. So there's lots of different ways to approach it. But yeah, you're right, intentionality, and just committing to a one page plan. What is this about? Who is it for? What am I trying to do? How often will it be? What's the show format? That's all you really need, and then start moving forward on it.

 

Kelly: And I also didn't mean, like this entire episode or half of the episode to be focusing on podcast, but I think that it's super relevant when we're talking about business development, because the whole landscape has changed when it comes to business development. We all get those emails, or the spam emails, or the LinkedIn connection requests from people that are just trying to sell us things. And clearly that doesn't work. So we have to be more creative about how we diversify that business development. I think podcasting is right now just a great topic to talk about, because it's super effective. But as we start to wrap up, what I love to ask sort of like, what is your big takeaway, or your greatest piece of advice? And in this case, being a sales trainer and a consultant, what would you say to agency leaders who fit into what we talked about at the top of the show, which is the ones who don't think that they have a sales problem and believe that they have a pipeline problem? What do you say to them?

 

Liston: Actually there are two things I'd say to you. One, start dissecting where the waste happens in your whole funnel from first introduction to closing a new client and starting work with them, like where are they dropping off? And that will help you identify, is it within the sales process? Do we truly have a pipeline problem and we need more opportunities? That would be the first thing. The second thing I would tell you is, rather than thinking about what are ways you can get the word out about your service. Think about ways that you can address and help your target clients, whether they do business with you or not, in a way that also positions you and in a way that eventually could lead to your service. So your marketing doesn't have to be about your service. It always should be about something that will help your clients be better at what they're doing. It doesn't have to be directly related to your service. Start there. And you will start to see better results.

 

Kelly: Yeah, that's great. I mean, that's really what this all comes down to. And that's why you call it the serve don't sell approach. It's about giving an adding value over and over and over again until that prospect believes that, wow, I really understand what the intention is at this company, like they really do care. You want to really I think, like, make it land with them, that you care about their success, whether as you said. they become a client or not. So I'm 100% invested in that same philosophy and that mentality and it is extremely effective. Counter to what people may believe.

 

Liston: We're on the same page.

 

Kelly: As usual. Well Liston, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it and I will put links to all of your sites and all of your contact info in the show notes.

 

Liston: Thank you so much.

 

 

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EP 91: Dismantling Toxic Workplaces, with Rachel Renock

 

On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Rachel Renock, CEO and Co-Founder of Wethos, discuss strategic ways that creative leaders can work to dismantle toxicity within their organizations.

 

TRANSCRIPT

EP 91: Dismantling Toxic Workplaces

Duration: 28:09

 

Kelly: So we've got an important episode for you today. I'm joined by Rachel Renock, CEO and co-founder of Wethos, a platform that helps people build magical virtual studios. We'll hear a little bit about that. But we're really going to focus our conversation today on something that we are both incredibly passionate about, which is dismantling toxic workplaces. Welcome to the show my friend. It is so good to see you again.

 

Rachel: Yeah, it's great to see you. Thanks for having me.

 

Kelly: So your story is actually one that I think a lot of entrepreneurs tell. You work for the big firms. You want to create something different, better, more disruptive in the industry. That's kind of how the first iteration of Wethos was born. Do you want to say a little bit more about that? And talk a little bit how it's transitioned from then?

 

Rachel: Yeah, sure. So we always say like, the first virtual studio was our own. Basically, like, I used to be an art director. So I used to shoot commercials and do a lot of social and digital campaigns. I worked on big brands like CoverGirl, and Hershey's. And I worked at a few large agencies in New York City. Back in 2016, I was highly engaged with the Black Lives Matter movement. I was really involved politically. And it got to the point, I think, where I was working at a big agency where I really was seeking more meaningful work, I guess. I met my co-founder, Claire at that agency. And ultimately, we left to start our own studio in pursuit of more meaningful work. Through the journey of working with a lot of nonprofit organizations, we realized that there was this key around teams, both because the organizations we were working with really required different myriad of teams based on the policies or the initiatives they were doing. And on the side of, a lot of independence, that we are working with a lot of our friends who really wanted access to those bigger projects, and the more meaningful work that they used to get from an agency perspective in terms of like these big problems that they want to solve, like these freelancers are pigeonholed into like, make a few logos and call it a day. And when you come from an agency, that's not really what you want to be doing. So there was this sort of magic that happened there. And basically, as Claire and I started to scale our own studio, we realized how challenging it is to scale a creative business, from the business revenue model to resourcing to like all of the things basically. That when you're at a big agency, you don't really have to think about it.

 

Kelly: I don't know what you're talking about.

 

Rachel: It's exhausting. So we went out, and we raised a bunch of venture capital money, and we ended up building internal software for ourselves that helped us facilitate and we actually ultimately grew our own studio to like 1.4 million in revenue in about 18 months. And we essentially took that technology and consumerized it for other owners, independent owners of different studios, collectives, boutiques. So that's where the evolution is, like we ran our own studio through it for a long time. So we know that it's powerful. And really, our vision is to put more money into small businesses and independence pockets. And so, we do that through teams, and through making teaming up easier and more accessible to a wider audience.

 

Kelly: Yeah, it's such a powerful platform. I've definitely had the opportunity to demo it myself. So if you haven't, check it out.

 

Rachel: I showed it to my mom and she was like, “This is great, but like, I have no idea how much of what you just showed me is like prototype.” I was like, “No mom, it's real. We built it. Like people pay for it.”

 

Kelly: I think your greatest critic is definitely like your parent. Right?

 

Rachel: Always.

 

Kelly: It's funny. I have a story of funny parents’ story. My dad used to say like, “I don't really know what you do for a living. I know you're really good at it. I know you make money at it. I just tell people that you like built the internet.” And I was like, “Please stop telling people that I built the internet.”

 

Rachel: And then you go over to their house and they're like, oh, could you fix our Wi-Fi? No, I didn’t signed up for that.

 

Kelly: Exactly. So what were the things that you saw? Because this is like, again, every entrepreneur story or most of them anyway. What were the things that you were seeing in corporate America that kind of fueled this passion to dismantle the toxicity that we have all encountered in our prior workplaces? What were some of those stories? I mean, I know we could go on forever but…

 

Rachel: I mean, honestly, like the way that I look at this now that I reflect back on it is through the lens of my own personal response ability, I guess, in both participating and perpetuating certain things that I definitely at my core didn't or don't agree with. But when you're within a system, sometimes you lose sight of that. And I think, in that the biggest sort of spark for me was recognizing that I was becoming someone I didn't want to be. And the reason for that is because it turned into this very sort of competitive kind of nasty sort of environment where at a big agency, they're pinning creative teams against each other to pitch, whether it's new business, existing business, whatever. And they're putting, a lot of times like ridiculous deadlines on things, unrealistic timelines. And, frankly, my co-founder for better, for worse saw how much they were charging the client versus how much money was actually going into people's hourlies or salaries. And it's like a devastating thing to look at. I mean, it's like, 5, 600%, more is being charged to the client, than what you're actually taking home. And so all these things sort of combined is what ultimately drove me to the decision. But between the sexism that I experienced, the racism that I saw, and was slapped on the wrist for calling out, very much perpetuated by both the agency and the client side, a lot of us have been in the situation where we’re trying to cast a TV commercial, you put an interracial couple on the table, and there's a lot of hemming and hawing. And oh, they don't quite look like we want them to look. And like this sort of like coded beat around the bush kind of language. And at that point, Eric Garner had just died by the hands of police. I looked out the window, my agency in New York, and I saw a huge movement of people coming down the street that I ultimately ran out the door and joined. And when you're at these two different realities where people are truly like begging you for their lives. And then you're inside of an agency, trying to make a commercial that reaches millions of Americans where you can't even get somebody to say like, yeah, an interracial couple. That that sounds good to me. You just lose. I felt like I lost my purpose. I felt like I lost who I wanted to be. And I wasn't on the path to becoming who I wanted to be. And so that's what ultimately made us or made me leave. And I think that was a big thing that pushed me over the edge. But I also will say that I worked with a lot of really incredible people. And again, I believe that the system itself is broken. And I believe that it's too deeply entrenched in this toxicity to be able to change it from within. And that's what ultimately led me to leaving and trying to build a new system outside of it.

 

Kelly: Yeah. It's so interesting. And I do want to kind of like put a pin in your experience because I think what you said is really powerful, and I think resonates with a lot of people. You didn't like who you were becoming as part of the mechanism inside of that system. I think that's ultimately what we're saying about the story that a lot of entrepreneurs tell like we were a part of this big machine, it didn't feel right. But what you said is actually more to the core of what's happening. It's not that it just didn't feel right. It's that it actually impacted you on a personal soul level, to realize and to wake up one day and say, yes, this is impacting me, let's start there. And I don't like who I'm becoming because of it. And I want to change it. So that might mean for some people who are in those organizations leaving and starting their own thing. It might mean leaving and joining another organization that does align with your values. I mean, it could mean a lot of different things. What about the people who are already running their own shops already doing their own thing? And are having the realization that whoa, I actually may be contributing or perpetuating this same problem inside my organization knowingly, unknowingly. That's like a slippery slope. But I hand that over to you.

 

Rachel: Yeah, I mean, look, it's really hard I think in my experience. I've gotten to the point where I think the biggest teams I have ever been was maybe 20, 25. I think that the hardest thing about gaining power is recognizing that you have it, especially when you come from a place where like, I quit my job when I was 25. So I was like a mid-level junior kind of art director. And so my whole life trajectory was about climbing a ladder, getting that power, getting to the top and then I'll change things and they'll do whatever, blah, blah, blah. Suddenly, I was. I left and now I'm in the seat where I have access to capital, where I am at the top of the organization where I set the tone, rise up the culture regardless of whether we are 4 people or 25 people or 100. Like the tone and what happens at the top is what ultimately sets the culture. And so I think, for me, it's a lot about reflecting on what is the power that I have, when are the moments when I'm not recognized in that power I've found in the past that I'm an idealistic person. I love to throw ideas. I do that. But as a CEO, people take that and they're like, we need to go make this idea happen. And you don't necessarily realize that you're causing a lot of anxiety with little things like that and little actions every day because you're not recognizing the influence that you have within the organization. So I think the first step, for me and for everybody really is just acknowledging and recognizing that you have power and that you also have the choice to wield that power in a positive way. And to, I think, continue to remember, because I'll never forget what it feels like to be that junior employee, and to feel like you're not seen, you're not appreciated, you're not treated well. You're not paid fairly, or all those things, or much worse. Yes, of course. And really just thinking about, what are the policies? And what are the things that we can do from day one that put some safeguards in place because we're all human and we all make mistakes, and we all have moments. I've had plenty. But I think understanding and recognizing that and not just brushing it under the rug is one of the most important parts of that.

 

Kelly: Yeah. I think that's true. I think that's definitely true. My own experience was like, I definitely encountered a lot of sexism, especially because of my sexual orientation, being queer identified and encountering the types of leadership that I encountered, I mean, it was really like, I don't know, I mean, I kind of joke around about it, like I was riding my motorcycle to work listening to Anita Franco. And they were like, we don't know what to do with you. And that would have been fine. If they kind of like embraced it, like oh, it's like the art director is just being expressive or whatever. And it's embraced and it's tolerated, like in that culture, that would have been baseline. But it wasn't that at all. I mean, it was like so egregious. And, it's funny, and looking back at it, I think that there was definitely some trauma around it that I didn't process until many, many years later. And like you, I was really young. When I left that whole environment, I was only like, 22. So it was like my first entrance into “corporate America”, like small business. Corporate America was like wealthy, white, cisgender, male lead, top down fear based. And I was like, oh, this is like so repulsive to me. And I was like I could probably do this better. And, you don't know any better at the time. So I didn't come from the big firms. I just came from a super toxic work environment.

 

Rachel: Yeah, I think it's interesting to be on the agency side too, because you're not only interacting with your coworkers every day in the agency itself, but then you also have this whole other thing that is the client. And like, each account inside of an agency has its own little business, it's own little thing, and its own little people run it, and it has its own budget. And, you could jump accounts inside of the agency and have a totally different culture shock, go into a different account, led by different creative directors, whatever. And so, I think that definitely experienced sexism. I mean, for everything from like overt, about, like, we know, you came up with this idea for this men's sex product, but you're not a man. So we're going to have the male ACD pitch your idea to the client. Telling me that in the car on the way there, like you're going to be quiet, and he's going to pitch it and I'm like, men have been selling women's products for years. I do not understand. And like that kind of overt sexism to, the death by 1000 paper cuts to your point, like being told, I'm aggressive, like the gambit of things and I have the privilege of fortunately unfortunately presenting or people think I'm straight cisgender woman even though I am queer, and so like I can “hide it” or it's not in people's faces. And like, there's privilege to that, honestly. And I think, being in those spaces, I had a lot of moments people didn't know I was gay and were saying shit in the room. And I was just like, yeah, so this isn't gonna fly. And it's really frustrating. And I think the problem that I see a lot in people starting their own businesses after leaving that environment is not doing the work of reflecting on what they learned and what they don't think is right. And then applying that to their new business and whether or not they're conscious of it, or perpetuating the things that they've learned and have been ingrained in them. Because they've never seen any other way. And that's something that's a big challenge for sure.

 

Kelly: And I want to also highlight that, when we say toxic workplace and dismantling a toxic workplace, it doesn't necessarily have to be something egregious like that. It doesn't have to be something where there are racist comments being thrown around, or overt sexism, like there are things that are much more nuanced that are just as impactful to the people on that team.

 

Rachel: Yeah, a hundred percent.

 

Kelly: Can you share a couple of examples because I really want to drive this home because I think that a lot of small business owners, like their heart is in the right place, they really start these small agencies, they're trying so hard to grow them to be good leaders even if they've never seen what effective conscious leadership actually looks like. I just want to have a couple of like concrete examples, so that they can potentially see where they might be falling into those same traps that are more than once.

 

Rachel: So for me, like the number one thing is, it's all about the money, underpaying people, and consciously doing that, which a lot of owners do. And a lot of them are putting in top positions, because the client doesn't want to pay what they're worth. And, there's this race to the bottom that happens like, oh, well, if you won't do it, I'll find somebody, I'll outsource, I'll find somebody who will. And it's really tough. And I think like, a lot of the source of I think toxicity and stress and pain as a small business owner is around money. And when you're running out of money, or when your client won't pay enough, ultimately, that impacts you. But then you turn around and you impact others with that. So like one of the biggest things that I see is just people who are dramatically underpaid for what they're doing. Like it used to blow my mind, even the big agency where like, you have account managers who are literally holding the business together. I am a creative and I love account managers. They are the best like amazing account managers. It’s life-changing. They put their whole business together. They're coming out of college for a 35K salary in New York. And it's crazy when you turn around and you say, this is a Hershey’s account, they're billing the client millions of dollars. With a small business, there isn't as much cushion to play with. So you don't have the stability of having a huge account, and being able to put people on salary and stuff. But a lot of this comes down to valuing people and valuing their time and valuing them for what they're worth and telling them, showing them that they're worth what they're worth through money, because you can say it all day, but you're dramatically underpaying people. Ultimately, that toxicity is going to seep into your relationship, and there's going to be resentment, and they will ultimately be able to really turn people quickly. So that's a big thing that I see that people don't realize how toxic that can become when it comes down to it.

 

Kelly: Yeah. And I think what you're saying also sort of like the way that I connect those dots is that really comes down to a positioning issue, right? Like if you're agreeing to take on work where the client is not valuing you, and it has that race to the bottom mentality, where they're saying, oh, if you're not going to do this for 2000, I'll find somebody who will. That is not an ideal client. Like get better clients. Because we talk about this money following value idea. If you value the people who are essentially when you're talking about a creative or media or technology services company, your people are your product. I say that all the time.

 

Rachel: 100%.

 

Kelly: If you value your people, they will stay longer, they will be very productive, very dedicated, very loyal, more fulfilled, which is actually what you should care about. But you have to get the type of work. So this comes down actually to positioning, how well-positioned are you to attract those more ideal clients in whatever niche or verticals you're serving. So yeah, I mean, all of these things are so intertwined. It's very hard but I think you have to zoom out a little bit and really look at the big picture, valuing your people and paying them what they're worth is not separate and apart from the type of work that you bring in. I think there's this idea. Maybe it's just because people don't really know as much, or there's no manual for this, like there's no like here's how to run an agency. There is no manual, but like, the more information that you gather, you start to see that this cycle is very real and intrinsically connects a lot of different things.

 

Rachel: Yeah. And that kind of toxicity that leads into things like being overworked, especially with the remote environment that we've got going on where there's been a lot of conversation online about like Microsoft Teams and the productivity metrics and how they're basically like tracking your every move and measuring your every calendar invite, and all this other stuff. And, we've been remote for three years, like, we don't subscribe to any of those things. Like we don't have set working hours where you have to be online, you have to sit at your desk, like your employees are adults. They’re people. They need to be trusted. And trust is at the core of everything. And I think you can't trust someone, you can't give somebody a goal and an end date and agree on like, what's feasible, what's possible and say, like, okay, call me if you need me. Let's regroup on Friday. And you can't feel comfortable taking a step back and saying, like you don't need to like check in, you don't need to have that header, like the little Slack icon that's green or whatever, what people do in every other different way. Like, I don't care. You could do your work at 2 in the morning from the moon. I don't care. But if we are hitting our deadlines, we're hitting our goals. I'm good, I'm chill. And I think in doing that, and giving them trust, you also trust them to fail. And that's really, you're trying to take bigger risks, right? Like you have to build that trust, because ultimately, everybody is gonna fuck up honestly. And like, there's always gonna be that one that do it all the time. Failing is okay. It's required. It's how we respond to that failure that really matters. And I think it's those moments that really start to set the tone of where is this place that I work, and what is it really about. How you deal with those moments is really important.

 

Kelly: Yeah, this is like such a great conversation. I wish we could go for like another hour. But as we're kind of wrapping up for those who are listening or watching and kind of self-aware enough to just to go back to what we said a little bit earlier to see the ways in which they might be, I won't say part of the problem, but certainly could be part of the solution especially as the leader, what would you impart on them? What would your kind of like big takeaway be from all the experiences that you've had and where you are now?

 

Rachel: Yeah, I mean, look to zoom like way out for a second. If you look at the agency market today, 70% of agency revenue is owned by one of the four holding companies, WPP, Interpublic, Omnicom, Publicists; they own 70% of the market, which is $19 billion in revenue. The remaining 30% is made up of small businesses and independent owners. We, as that 30% have the power to change things. And now is the moment to do that. And I say that, because 2020 just showed us that all this work, agencies big and small, can be done remotely. That puts these big, big, big companies at a big disadvantage; it puts them in a place of being very vulnerable. And I think, in seeing the trends that we've all seen, we all started small businesses, for some reason, in seeing the trends and the direction in which the market has been already moving, this only exacerbated clients waking up to the fact that they're overpaying for these big firms,  waking up to the fact that they're looking for better more agile solutions, like the time to be an independent owner is now and with that opportunity, I think comes responsibility. Because if we have this moment, we have the opportunity to sort of rebuild the system to redistribute some of that wealth, not only into our pockets as owners, but into the pockets of the people that we work with, then we need to think and reflect a bit more deeply on what is the future that we actually really want and what is the future that we want to build together because one of my favorite quotes of all time, it's like, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. And with 40% of brands saying that they're looking for new agencies this year, there's a massive opportunity to win that business to redistribute that wealth and to really create cultures and environments in which people can thrive and the next generation can really thrive. And I think, we've talked about this before we hopped on, like I came up through the agency world, you did not, you came up through more like in house at the brand and then starting your own thing very early on. For folks like you who just was like, nope, I'm doing my own thing, I could do this better, it's hard to have that for professional growth, that professional trajectory of like, what's next? And how does this work? And you don't, you're still manual work to this point. And everything I've learned to this point, everything that you Google in terms of HR policies are kind of toxic in and of themselves. And so you're left there wondering like, well, what am I going to do? Reinvent the wheel? Like what am I going to do? The answer is, yes. And I know that that sounds daunting. But there are resources out there. We have a lot of resources. And really, what we want to do is encourage small business owners, because the change starts with them. And it starts with you and whatever power you have in your circle of 5 or 25, or 100. And if you can focus in on what is behavior that I'm exhibiting or what are the things, what are the moments maybe in the past year or two that I haven't been proud of, what's the stuff that keeps me up at night, what's the kind of business we want to become, what's the kind of leader I want to become, then you take that, and you can take it into a more actionable place because we can't start talking about solutions unless we agree that there's a problem. And the problem is really with all of us who have learned these things over decades and decades of basically like this patriarchal way of doing things. So I tend to believe that the future is much more collaborative than it is competitive. And I think as agency owners, and especially small businesses, banding together on this, developing these policies, talking about these things, talking about being paid fairly, paying people fairly, it does start with us. We do own 30% of that market. And the more and more we can continue to grow that and perpetuate that and redistribute some of that wealth, the better the future is going to become for the next generation that's up and coming. And I really do think that we can change the way that we've done things so far. And I think that we can dismantle a lot of this toxicity and, frankly, move into a better situation, a better world for all of us, healthier makes me happier, less stressed as an owner.

 

Kelly: Yeah, for sure. Well said, I just want to take that entire couple of minutes that you're talking and make that into one soundbite.

 

Rachel: We’re coming for you on the com. We're coming.

 

Kelly: Yeah, I mean, it's great. And, I do think that there's a lot of power. And I sometimes think that we forget that as small agency owners or leaders, that we wield that power. And to your point, this is definitely not about competition anymore. This is about collaboration. This is a whole new era of leadership. And it really starts with self-awareness, which is really what you're saying. So I love it.

 

Rachel: Yeah, totally.

 

Kelly: Rachel, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been an incredible conversation and keep up the good work.

 

Rachel: Thanks. Thanks so much for having me. Appreciate it.

 

 

 

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