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Digital Marketing Agency Growth with Brent Weaver

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Brent Weaver of uGurus discusses the techniques he teaches to help digital marketing agencies grow and scale their businesses.

Up next…

Check out the four sales fundamentals every top performer masters, how to use value-based selling to increase your leverage, and how to improve your remote selling skills as the world becomes more virtual. 

Mentioned in this episode:

Brent Weaver and uGurus
60-Day Sales Plan
Got a question? Leave a voicemail and Liston will answer it on the podcast.

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.


Digital Marketing Agency Growth with Brent Weaver:

Full Transcript

Liston Witherill:
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host Liston Witherill and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Liston Witherill:
Welcome to yet another episode of the Liston.io show. I’m Liston Witherill and I want to help you build a better consulting business. I want you to improve your marketing, your selling, your fulfillment, and be able to scale the business exactly the way you want it. Not to make $1 billion, but to live the life that you want, to really build a thriving business. Today I have a very special guest. His name is Brent Weaver from UGURUS, that’s U-G-U-R-U-S .com. Brent leads the vision for UGURUS, which is a business school for digital agencies.

Liston Witherill:
I was recently on his podcast and I wanted to have him here because he creates educational programs that help agency owners specifically work on their business to drive additional revenue, increase profits, and create freedom in their life. He built his first website at 15. I built my first computer at 12 so he’s a little bit of a slacker, but we’ll let him slide. He created his first web design business at 17 and he beat me by a long shot there. That company grew into a successful 14 person web agency that was acquired in 2012 and since then, Brent has helped thousands of other digital agencies work on their business skills and improve their own businesses.

Liston Witherill:
Now, one thing I want to point you to is a resource that I have going right now. It’s called 60daysalesplan.com, that’s six zero day sales plan .com, 60daysalesplan.com, and it will walk you through how to start to build your sales process, how to really get specific about who you’re working with, about what you’re saying to them and about how to close and win more of your dream clients. It’s there, it’s totally free. It’s a prerecorded seminar so you can go watch it now. Once again, that’s www.60daysalesplan.com.

Liston Witherill:
Before we get into the interview with Brent, I want to thank you for being here and I’d love to ask for your help and that is in order to get this podcast to millions of other people, which is my goal, I want to help tons and tons of people and I really need your help. What I’d love it if you did is left a review on this podcast, shared it, and if you haven’t already, hit that subscribe button so that you get each additional episode and you never miss anything because I want to be here for you. Your help is appreciated in advance. Thank you so much for listening. Once again, my name is Liston and I am excited to bring you my interview with Brent Weaver. Brent, how are you today?

Brent Weaver:
I’m doing excellent. Thank you, Liston.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah, thanks for being here. I’m really excited to have you. Now, you help lots and lots of people grow their agencies and you do that in several different ways. But what I wanted to talk to you about today, Brent, is this idea of taking proactive control over your business and being able to attract more clients and not just more clients but more of the right clients. So if someone, and I know a lot of people are in this position where they’ve survived exclusively on their network, on word of mouth, and they’re not able to actually magnetically attract anyone to them. If they wanted to get started doing that, what is your advice on how to get started? What would be the most important building block or building blocks to put into place?

Brent Weaver:
I think finding what a lot of people call niche or customer segment. I like to use the word customer segment or market because sometimes I feel like people mistake a niche for vertical like doctors or dentists or lawyers or whatever. Really I’m just trying to get somebody to choose a pond to fish from and then go get yourself over to that pond, right? Start having activities and an investment of time and money to put yourself in front of that audience and choose a good awareness channel and talk about the problems that that audience has. Usually from there, the rest kind of takes care of itself.

Brent Weaver:
Choosing a pond to fish from is a difficult problem for most people to solve because they feel like it’s a really big choice. So it’s probably one of the hardest things I see small businesses faced with. Of many kinds, not just agencies and consultants, but trying to find that niche, that thing that they want to do better than anybody else.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. So I know that before doing UGURUS, you had your own web design company that you ended up selling. How did you solve for that problem in your company?

Brent Weaver:
We tried some things and wanted to figure out kind of what would stick. So one of the very first markets that we decided to target was nonprofits. Turns out there’s a million of them that are active in the United States at some level, from tiny little charities up to pretty much billion dollar organizations. One day we woke up and said, “Oh, let’s do nonprofits.” So we went into our web design platform of the day and we changed our homepage. Instead of saying “We make great websites,” we said, “We make great websites for nonprofits.” And then we just sat back and we were like, “All right, now all these nonprofits are going to call us.” And I’m sure you can imagine that reality didn’t really work out.

Brent Weaver:
So we kept on trying, kept on experimenting with ways of marketing and in ways getting into different markets. I’m currently on my 13th iteration of the things that we have learned how to do. So we’ve, over the years have targeted 13 different markets. Digital agencies are my most current. So along the way, we did some stuff with … had a lot of restaurants as clients, had almost 50 restaurants as clients and under retainer for digital marketing and website services. We worked with educational consultants. We worked with web designers on a platform called Business Catalyst, so we’ve had a lot of niches along the way. Some of the stuff that we’ve learned how to do is just from that practice.

Liston Witherill:
If I were listening to this … Well, I guess I am because I’m sitting here listening to everything you’re saying. But if I were the listener of this podcast, I think the next question I would want to know is you have all these different markets, why do you move on from one market to another and just completely change your market rather than changing your product line or your offering? I mean, have you completely exhausted your revenue possibilities in that market or is it other reasons that you’ve moved on?

Brent Weaver:
Well, when it comes to the agency, we got the business to a certain point and we had an offer on the table to get acquired. We had experimented with the market of web designers while we were running our agency. We started to blog and talk about what we were doing inside of our agencies. So kind of packaging that exhaust as the guys from 37 signals say. We packaged that exhaust and we started to sell that information. So what ended up happening over the course of about three years was that that actually was actually almost equal to the business that we had created with our 14 person agency. So we had to look at it and say, “Okay, this is something,” it’s like a side project. We were spending one day a week on it, but it was actually more successful than the agency business.

Brent Weaver:
The agency business was successful, but I had to kind of look at it from a different perspective. And I used, I don’t know if you know Jim Collins, the hedgehog concept of trying to find that thing that you are passionate about, that you can be best in the world at. There also is a an economic engine, right? So we had the economic engine, we had the passion for it, I loved helping other entrepreneurs and digital agency owners grow their businesses. Then we finally had to say, “Okay, well, if we want to be best in the world at this, we actually have to go all in.” So we sold the agency and went all in with the digital agency market.

Liston Witherill:
So you recommend people choose a niche, which I call it an ideal client. Same thing. We’re going to target all of our marketing and information to a particular type of buyer.

Brent Weaver:
I mean, there is a little nuance there. I mean, I think you can have an ideal client, then you can have a market, right? So I think having a market and then an ideal customer within that market, I think those are similar, similar tools, but slightly different.

Liston Witherill:
Okay. What’s the difference?

Brent Weaver:
Well, I mean, a market is like web designers is a market. Whereas if I go, “Okay, well what’s my ideal customer in that market?” So for example, if your ideal customer happens to be a web designer, when you’re going out there and trying to find places to get in front of that customer, there’s probably not a publisher that lines up exactly with your ideal customer. There’s probably not a conference that’s called like, The Web Design Conference for Web Designers Making Between $100,000 and $500,000 a Year with Three Employees. No, there’s like MozCon, right? That is an SEO conference that happens to also attract web designers. So when we think about things, that pond that you’re fishing from, that’s conceptually your niche and then within that pond you have fish, right? So when we think about our niche, I think it’s good to think about those as two different concepts.

Liston Witherill:
So I have my niche and I also have my ideal customer. What is the next thing that you recommend people do after they have that?

Brent Weaver:
So depending on where you’re at in that stage, we kind of have three stages that we take you through. The first is traction, the next is authority, and finally is scale. The mistake I think a lot of people make is they start to do scale activities, they start to set up CRMs and email automation and marketing automation and maybe going to Facebook and paying for ads and things like that. And they’re skipping a few steps. So the first thing that we do is we try to help people gain traction in their niche. There’s a few things they should be thinking about in that space.

Brent Weaver:
So first is getting an inventory of what exists in the market. We call that a market map, taking a market inventory. So do you have a prospect list? Do you have a potential customer wishlist, like your top 30 customers? Do you know who the publishers are in the market? Do you know who the associations are? Do you know what all events happen in the market? Do you have a list of strategic partners, of potential competitors, complimentary service providers? So really just taking a full inventory of that market. That’s a really important step.

Brent Weaver:
The next thing that we usually have people do is some deep customer development. So if you’re active in a market and you already have clients, that’s great because you can go to those clients and you can have conversations with them, interview them about their top pains and problems and start to understand, kind of go from the thinking of what are the issues that this one customer has to what are the common patterns that exist within this larger scope of clients? Because when it comes to building authority or building scale in a market, you can’t just talk to the problem of the one customer. You have to start seeing those patterns that exist across the entire market. That’s going to be where you start to build authority.

Liston Witherill:
So when you say you can’t just talk to the problems of that one customer, are you specifically saying an individual or are you saying your ideal customer? I guess I’m unclear on that.

Brent Weaver:
So say for instance, when I first started working with digital agency owners. I was coaching with like one client, right? And that client has some issues, right? Maybe their number one problem is they can’t manage their time. Right? And then I go talk to another digital agency owner and turns out they don’t really have that problem. Their number one problem is attracting clients. Right? So are you able to start seeing patterns over many potential customers that represent that market?

Liston Witherill:
Cool. And I know that we’ve just covered a lot in 10 minutes and these are not easy things to solve for. There’s obviously a process that you can recommend. Where do you see people getting tripped up on these initial stages of starting to get to the place where people are coming to them on a regular basis who are complete strangers?

Brent Weaver:
I think probably when you’re talking about like an independent consultant or early stage agency, one of the most difficult challenges that I see people have in this space, I mean there’s probably two. One is getting to the point of being confident enough in making a choice in the market that you want to invest time and resources in. That decision is something that I see people really get tripped up on. They think they are … If I go out and tell people that I’m going to be working with restaurants that I’m marrying that niche. That that means for the next 30 years, I’m stuck with restaurants. So I think that’s one of the places that we see people get tripped up.

Brent Weaver:
Then the second is not having some kind of basic allocation for marketing activities. A lot of people think that their marketing’s not working or something or that they don’t have the best tactic or the best strategy for marketing their business. But then when I actually dig into how much time they’re spending on marketing their business or trying to attract customers outside of referral and word of mouth, it’s just really not a whole lot of time. They’re spending a couple of hours a month on it. I personally don’t think that’s really enough energy to start building momentum within a market. They probably need to be spending at a minimum 60 to 90 minutes a day or one full day a week on trying to build some marketing systems and marketing momentum in their business.

Brent Weaver:
So if we don’t see that, we don’t see that type of a resource in play, then that’s a deeper kind of entrepreneurial habit problem we have to fix. So that’s something that even with the best LinkedIn tactics in the world or the best Facebook tactics in the world, if somebody is not investing the time or money into building marketing momentum, they’re not going to find that kind of success.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. I have a lot of questions related to that one, but I wanted to relay to you a comment I got from someone on LinkedIn. I’m very active on LinkedIn, I invest a lot into growing the size of my network and my following and generating leads there. Someone messaged me and asked me, “What is the ROI of me spending time on LinkedIn?” Not me, Liston, but me, the person asking. I said, “Well, how in the world can I know that?” Right? What is a client worth to you? How soon do you land them? There’s all these other questions. I’ve found, you’ve talked about patterns, I found a lot of people who aren’t heavily invested in marketing themselves now or marketing their companies now, they have this on their mind. They want to be able to pin down a specific return within a specific timeframe. How do you respond to that question? What’s your advice for someone who’s looking for that level of certainty?

Brent Weaver:
When we look at that, that to me is, I mentioned those three stages of markets, attraction, authority, and scale. Asking about my ROI, customer acquisition costs, right, basically is what they’re saying. I’m going to invest a certain amount of time, what’s my ROI going to be? And I think it’s fair to want to know that. I mean, I typically recommend customer acquisition cost should be somewhere between 10 and 30% of the revenue you get from a client I think in the first year. This is a rule of thumb, not some kind of law of the universe, but it’s something that I track in my business, right? But that’s also I think something that you should become more diligent about when you’re at the scale stage in a market, when that kind of thing really matters. Whereas when you’re in the traction or authority stage in a market, I think measuring ROI is to some level a waste of time.

Brent Weaver:
If I’m doing a customer interview, for example, and I spend 90 minutes with a customer talking to them about their pains and problems in their business and it turns out they’re not a good fit for me. If I’m still trying to develop my offering, I’m still trying to develop my products and services. I’m not getting a direct ROI on that conversation, but now if that conversation goes into me taking my consulting product and eventually six months down the road turning that into a seven figure product, then can I go back and be like, “Oh, that customer development interview was worth X to me”? No, it’s like, I have to just realize that I’m in that traction stage before I really have product or service market fit. ROI on your time or ROI on your marketing spend, the numbers will never look good.

Brent Weaver:
Now, if you’re talking about scaling up a LinkedIn campaign or scaling up a Facebook campaign, I mean, we’re sometimes spending 50, $60,000 a month on Facebook. You can be pretty well certain that we’re looking at that spend under a microscope. We are looking at ROI on that. We have all sorts of tracking codes and funnels that we’ve created because we do want to look at that ROI. But if you’re talking about building up authority in a market, like being on podcasts or writing blog posts and getting the market to become kind of aware of you and have third parties vouch for you. I mean, measuring that ROI is I think a dead end game.

Liston Witherill:
So one thing you mentioned is you, as a rule of thumb, you’re targeting 10 to 30% of your first year revenue with a client should go to acquisition costs. Are you including the amount of time you’re spending or is that just on dollars spent?

Brent Weaver:
It’s all in. We do a lot of advertising. So for me it’s really easy to say because most of our customer acquisition cost is wrapped up in ad fees. But if you were to be like you, if you’re super active on social, like LinkedIn for example, and you’re putting your time into that, I would on a napkin measure your time and your opportunity costs. So if you’re out there billing 250 an hour and you’re the one that’s active on LinkedIn, you can invest 10 hours on LinkedIn and that turns into a $25,000 engagement. Then I would go, “Okay, cool.” Like that’s around where I’d want to be. $2,500 bucks to acquire that customer.

Brent Weaver:
In the early stages, I think if you spent 20 hours or even up to 30 hours while you’re kind of building that traction and authority in a market, that still would feel pretty good for me. Then when I start to take that process maybe that you’re using on LinkedIn and if I can prove it and I can systematize it and start to hand that off to somebody else on my team, then I would move away from opportunity costs. Because if I’m hiring somebody that’s working in the Philippines for 15 bucks an hour, then I have a completely different cost model. So sometimes it’s a matter of just proving that you can do something and then working to scale that activity and delegate that away from you and then the cost pretty much, if they can even get half the results that you can, they cost a 10th as much as you, then you can move away from opportunity costs and actually look at the hard cost of what it costs to pay that person.

Liston Witherill:
I really like that. That’s a great answer and I think that when I heard the question, the thing that was frustrating to me, to hear the nature of that question is this person hadn’t developed any traction or authority and there’s just no way to know how that’s going to pay off until you start to get there. Which brings me to my next question, my final question for you is whether or not I have traction I think is fairly obvious, right? Are people starting to respond to my messages? Am I seeing excitement from this market? Are there tangible, at least leading indicators that my marketing is starting to work? But how do I know when I’ve established enough authority to move on to the scaling stage?

Brent Weaver:
So in terms of traction, I view that as have I been able to get at least one, what I call champion customer, somebody that’s willing to kind of be your ideal customer, but also to connect you with others in the market. So it’s usually an influencer, a top 5% of the market, a super connector in that market. I usually use some kind of give-get with them, where we’ll do some free services and in exchange they will basically champion us in a market. So I think that’s a really key step and we use that champion to secure early adopter clients. So what we find is when you’re going into a market and going into a pond to fish from, businesses often act like a kind of herd mentality. They want to see proof that you’ve done this. So I try to figure out whatever we can do to grease the wheels to get through that traction stage. So traction to me is those first five or six clients.

Brent Weaver:
Within the market authority stage, comes down to third party endorsements and having your message go out there. I usually want to look at somebody, have somewhere between six and 12 third party endorsements on their brand before I would start moving into scale. What we usually see, I’ll take LinkedIn for example, is if somebody does not yet have that authority, doesn’t have those third party endorsements, and they started investing a whole lot of time in something like LinkedIn, what happens? People go and they click on your profile, they go to your website and when they don’t see those endorsements, they don’t see that expertise, when they don’t hear you talking about problems as if you’re inside of their head, right, which are all parts of building authority in a market, they just don’t trust you and they don’t engage with you. They delete your message, they mark you as spam or whatever. Right?

Brent Weaver:
So when we look at that, we say, “Okay, look, we have to build up a body of authority.” I think somewhere in the ballpark of six to 12 endorsements works. You combine that with the champion and early adopter customers and you have a really powerful presentation that you know what you’re talking about, that’s when scale makes a lot of sense. When going out there and dumping money into Facebook ads or some systems around high volume LinkedIn outreach or outbound cold calling or all those other types of great ideas of growth hacking and marketing and scale. If you don’t have that kind of proven experience in the market, then those dollars and that time just sometimes aren’t as worthwhile.

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