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Building Strong Whitelabel Partnerships with John Horn

Building strong whitelabel partnerships with John Horn

In today’s episode of the Agency Accelerator Podcast we are discussing whitelabelling: either white labelling your services or buying in services from another agency. 

This is an important topic since many agencies/freelancers want to sell their services on a white-label basis to other agencies or want to partner with other agencies to provide white label services to their own clients.

So in this episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I am joined by John Horn, the Managing Partner at StubGroup, a Premier Google Partner ranked in the top 1% of all Google Partners worldwide. 

Amongst many topics, John shares how he has built his white labelling services agency, how to structure agreements, set the pricing right, tips in maintaining client relationships, ways to avoid the common pitfalls, and more.

Many agencies and freelancers start out by whitelabelling their services, as a great channel to win business.  As they grow they may want to offer their customer’s services that are not in their specialism, so whitelabelling is a great way to do this without the risk of hiring new staff.

So get ready for this action-packed episode.

Here’s a glance at this episode…


How John landed in the world of white labelled services


What is white labelling and why would an agency want to white label their services?  


The risks in hiring people


How to price correctly and ensure that you are paid for your worth


Maintaining a strong relationship with your whitelabel partner by establishing strong lines of communication 


Brand as you or your partner?


Tips in selecting a good white label service partner


How to figure out if an agency should hire an in-house team or outsource


The importance of transparency in communicating with clients


How to maintain a balanced and equal partnership


Reasons why you should avoid ‘toxic’ partners


What are the deciding factors to consider if it’s right to transition from white label services and bring them in-house


How did John manage to teach 85,000+ students online?


John’s advice to his younger self


“..there has been so much change in the Pay Per Click World. What you did yesterday may not work today.” - John Horn

“So the ideal relationship that we're always striving and looking for in partners is where there's going to be transparency in communication.” - John Horn

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 Full Episode Transcription

Hey, everyone! Welcome to another action packed episode of The Agency Accelerator. 

Today, we are talking all things about white labelling. I know we've spoken about this before but I think it's a really important topic for many people who are just starting out in their agency life. They might be freelancing. 

White labelling for another agency is a great way of getting your clients. As you grow, you may also decide that providing white labelling to an agency is a way of getting consistent business as well as finding your own end clients.

We're going to talk about how to make sure that you find the right partners and you have this equal partner-partner relationship. We're going to talk about getting the pricing right and how to cope with scope creep. We're gonna flip it on its head and talk about, if you're an agency and you want to bring in some additional services through a white label partner, how do you go about finding them? How do you make sure you have a great partnership relationship? So, another action packed episode and let's get on with the show.

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Okay, on with today's show. 

Hello everybody and welcome to this week's Agency Accelerator Podcast. I'm really excited to talk about this topic today because it's one that we haven't spoken about before. That is white labelling your services as an agency or indeed, buying in services from another agency as white labelling.

 I'm joined by an expert on this topic, John Horn. 

John is the managing partner of Stub Group. It is a premier Google partner and ranked in the top 1% of all Google partners worldwide. He has also taught marketing to over 85,000 students online, which is pretty impressive.

John has been with the Stub Group for close to a decade, working with companies across the globe. Managing marketing for them, mainly focusing on pay per clicks.

As I said, John, that's a pretty impressive track record. Do you want to just start off by telling us a bit about your journey in the agency world? 

Absolutely! Rob, thanks so much for having me on here. I've been looking forward to the conversation and digging into white labelling in particular.That's one of the things I'm excited about, the work that we do here in Stub Group. 

Then, just to give background on what we do. We are a pay per click advertising agency. The way I got into things was back at the very beginning, we started out as two (2) co-founders of the agency. We've been in marketing for a long time. We're looking at the trends of where marketing is going and what types of services our business is going to be needing in the next 5, 10, 15 years and so forth.

At that point, pay per click, also primarily Google advertising, Microsoft Advertising, Facebook etc., was very prevalent but also in some ways nascent in that many businesses had not yet made the switch to a more digital advertising component to their marketing strategies. They still were kind of stuck in the traditional world but they were heading that direction because they're realising that the customers they needed to reach were online, so, they would need to be online to reach them.

Then, we started a Stub Group at that point, wanting to both capture the existing business that existed in the marketplace as well as grow along with the growth of pay per click, search engines and Facebook. 

All that's happened in the last close to a decade here. That's how we kind of started things out. I came on board as the first employee with the co-founders, and really, we just bootstrapped it and figured out how to do things. Figured out how to be successful for our clients. How to get those clients on board, and then grow our team along with our client base. Eventually reach things like Premier Google partner status.

You mentioned Facebook marketing partner status so forth to be able to have those relationships and credibility with the platforms we're using for our clients to help our clients best succeed.

Yeah, fantastic. You must have seen so much change in the pay per click world. It's really changing by the month, isn’t it? Like, Apple that keeps changing their latest operating system. I think it makes it even harder for tracking and so on. I guess there's a big effort to stay up to date with what's going on in that world.

It is very much an adventure. It's kind of the curse and blessing of our field in that. Yes, there's always something new to learn. What you did yesterday may not work today but at the same time, that's why we have work to do and that's what we're being paid. To keep on top of those things and to be able to leverage these insights for our clients who just want to run their businesses. They don't want to spend their days reading Google announcements and testing Facebook campaigns and so forth.

Absolutely. Then, let's move on to talk about white labelling. Let's just start with a couple of fundamental questions. 

You and I obviously know what we mean by that, but just give us a quick definition of what we mean by white labelling. Also, why would an agency consider white labelling their services?

White labelling typically means when you have a service provider, let's say an example, an SEO Agency. They do SEO for clients and they want to provide a service to those clients but they don't have the in-house capacity to do that service. In that scenario, they might go to another service provider such as Stub Group, who specialized in that service and say: “Hey, we want you to do this work, execute this work on behalf of our client but we don't want to just send the client over to you. We want to retain that client relationship. We want to maintain a cohesive point of contact for our client, and also we want to profit from providing this service to our clients.”

The agency, in this example SEO agency, will sell PPC as a service to their client and they'll take that money. Then, they will come and hire Stub Group to provide that service and obviously, they'll be margin there. They'll profit from the work that they're putting into coordinating things, for finding that solution and just providing that solution to their client.

Yeah, and I always tell my clients that there's two key times to outsource services, will that be freelancer or white labelling.

One of those times when you have capacity issues. The other time is when you have a service to provide but you don't have the skills in-house or, you don't want to have the skills. In your example, there may be an SEO Agency that really wants to focus on SEO but they've got a few clients asking them to do some PPC work, and so they think, “Okay, we'll bring in a partner to do it”. 

One thing that we see there often in terms, that thought process on the agency side is, “Do I really want to go through all that work of hiring a new employee?” Betting them on trying to figure out if they know what they're talking about, when I don't know what they're talking about as saying, SEO Expert.” 

How do I really vet somebody on the PPC side and then invest that risk into bringing on multiple employees. Hoping that I'm going to get the business and will be able to meet payroll every month as opposed to the project based. Go find a partner, a client comes in and pays you. Cool! We've got money to pay them and you're just passing that risk on. 

Also, if it doesn't fit in your core wheelhouse of what you do as an agency, then there's quite a big risk to start hiring staff immediately without the certainty that you're going to have a consistent amount of projects or retained work coming in to pay for it.

Talking about paying, there are lots of minefields, tips and tricks and things that we need to explore with the whole white labelling thing. One of them is pricing. How do you white label your services through another agency? How do you get the price right? And, how do you make sure that the agency isn't bashing you down on price? Because obviously they want to add their margin on top of that.

I know I'm sort of sharing some of these. A lot of the questions today are questions that have come from my clients, who have white labelled in some form or another. So, I'm kind of just passing them on to you to get your view on it.

Absolutely. The way that we have approached that historically is definitely looking at each situation. Each partner who is reaching out and saying, “Hey, we want a white label and customising pricing in a way that's a win win for each side.” Like you said, you don't want to get bashed down by your partner.

You don't want to just say, “Hey, let's make pennies on the dollar.” It's not going to be a good long term scenario. Also at the same time, you want to create a scenario where the partner who is hiring you to do white label services is incentivised to do that. Incentivised to go out and bring on new clients because they're also making a great margin. It's usually a process of negotiations. I'm talking with that partner to figure out what's realistic here in terms of what they're looking to charge their clients.

Also on our end, we're looking at scope of work. With white labelling, one of the big reasons why we can offer a discount, often to our partners, is because in theory we have less communication that's going to end up happening because instead of us having 50 different clients that we have separate communication with and separate relationships with, we're going to have centralised communication with our agency partner who their own team has those relationships. Then, we’re able to have significant time and labour savings by not having all of those disparate relationships going on.

Therefore we can pass that on in the forms of cost savings to our partner. However, you've got to figure out that scope of work and expectations going into things and be very clear about that because still, creep.

Also, something that happens constantly where you agree to X and say, “Yep, I can give you this discount because we're not going to be doing, let's say, installing conversion tracking.” Your partner says, “Hey, we're going to take care of making sure codes get installed.” Well, I can give a discount to a partner because I know how much time it takes for my team to generate those codes, install those codes and troubleshoot those codes.

If we're not doing that, well then, it's not time we have to give you a discount. But then, to clients down the road that partner comes to you and says, “Hey, we're not really sure what we're doing here. Can you just tap in to install these codes?” That's where things get tricky. So you need to have a process in place to identify the type of scope creep occurs. Also, kindly but firmly pushing back, having clear communication with your partner to say, “Hey, we gave you X pricing because we're giving you X services. If you want Y services, cool, we can do that but then, the price is going to change as well.” 

Yeah. This is just a good moral for any agency that's listening to this around their pricing, whether they're white labelling or not. It 's just a good strategy to get your boundaries in place and get really clear your scope of work.

I've written before about you, John, actually used exact words that you can just request from a client, an agency or a white label that they are implying that this is a really trivial thing for you to do, but often it isn't and there's dreaded, “Can you just do this?” “Can you just do that?” .

Now, when it comes to finding your scope of work, you've agreed that I don't need to get too much into the mechanics of how you do it. What's your view on how you price that? Do you price against that scope of work? Do you take a “Time and Materials” kind of approach? An hourly rate, daily rate, or even a value based pricing rate? 

What was your advice about that? 

Typically, we'll look at labour costs because that's really the primary cost to us. We are selling the time of the team that we have, as well as their expertise and access to our teams at Google and Facebook and so forth. But, really looking at that time as the main hard expense and identifying, on average, how much time does it take to work on different types of businesses. Of course, we've got so many clients and we've been in business for so long that we have a good sense for, “Okay, on average, clients may take X amount of work.”

Obviously, some clients take way more, some less. It's the 80/20 rule but you average that out. You also look at the economy of scale. If we have a partner who wants to give us three accounts, we're probably going to need to charge significantly higher per account than if the clients are giving us 50 accounts because the more work they’re giving us, the more assured income is coming in. Also, the more I'm able to say, “Ok, well, I'm dedicating X amount of time from these team members over here to this partner.”

I can justify salaries. I can justify the expense of their time based upon this somewhat assured income. Obviously, no income is assured because things change all the time, however, having a sense for how much of that work is gonna be coming in and justifying the expenses of me. Paying those employees is the primary metric that we're looking at.

What's just changing tact a bit? You kind of alluded to this in the point you made earlier. What's your view about the white label partner having any direct access to the client and having direct communications? Sometimes, obviously the agency wants to have that extra resource and have that expertise available to the client, but that obviously opens a whole kind of worms and risks as well. I don't know what your view is on that. 

We're always very open to that, if that's something a partner wants. The way we approach it, we want to be the solution that you need. Then, if that's a completely white label and the client doesn't know the work we're executing, cool. We'll make that happen. 

Some of our partners, they'll actually want to leverage the fact that we are premier Google partners. That’s a big selling credibility aspect to communicate to the client. If they're not in the PPC world, they may not know how to answer a complicated question or help set a strategy. So, they want us to contribute to that conversation. We're totally open to that. If that's the scenario that you find yourself in as an agency, again, you've got to factor that into what you're charging the client, because that relationship is going to directly translate into more time on your end.

More conversations with the client, more repetitive work, where you're saying something from the client and you're saying something from the agency partner, and more access to your team, where they have to be available to get on a call with a client within a reasonable timeframe, etc. It's totally doable. Sometimes, it can be a positive to all sides because as a white label partners have that direct access. You can avoid pitfalls that your partner might not know how to avoid because they're not the expert in PPC as an example.

Then, we can hear a question from a client but we just point them in the best direction for them. As long as you get paid for the time and effort that goes into that, then it can work well. 

In that scenario, would you be working under the brand of the client rather than your own brand? 

 It’s really all up to the client and what they want.

We have processes in place if they want a strict white label. We can operate in the accounts, we can have access to the accounts, we can send reports that don't have any kind of study logos or information on its clients and our clients. The agency partner can do what they want. Or, if we're a known entity and our partner is simply operating as that point of contact because the client doesn't want to have 10 different vendors they talk to every week.They just want to talk to one person, have that person go do the rest of the work, then, we can do that as well. 

If I'm an agency and I'm looking for a white label partner, what advice would you give me about separating the good ones from the bad ones? 

Again, this comes through the sort of experience of my clients because I've had a few clients that have actually outsourced PPC to offshore white label agencies, and they have promised a lot in the beginning and then failed to deliver.

So, what would you say the things to look out for?

Offshore is kind of the key word there that you mentioned. Most certainly, not all, but most white label partners, especially if they focus on that, they are paying very cheap labour. Let's say team members in India, the Philippines somewhere there. The work product that you're getting out of them is some respect. You're getting what you pay for. If you're going to pay somebody five bucks a month to do something, well, that's the kind of work you're going to expect to get.

When you are researching that white label partner, you have to understand these: Where is their team based? Who's gonna be working on the accounts? It doesn't mean that there aren't good resources outside of the U.S. Of course, we have some team members, let’s say in the UK, Spain or different places where “Hey, they're awesome!” 

We found them because we live in this remote world where you can find great talent anywhere and it can work fantastically. If you are researching that partner and realising that all their team members are not based in the US, that looks like they're primarily just leveraging new.

Well, I wouldn't say talent, but freelancers. You might find a fibre up work who charges 15 bucks an hour or something like that overseas. That's probably not going to be a good fit for you. That’s one thing.

Another thing, too, really ask them about their processes. What processes do they have in place for white labeling? If they have been doing white labelling for a while, they're going to have figured out how to streamline things. They're going to be able to say, “Hey, yes, when we onboard a client, here's what we do A, B and C.” Here's how we cut down on communication so that both parties spend less time and get to the core information we need.

Here's what happens when a client asks a question of you, the partner, that needs to get to us, so, they should have those answers down path. If they're sounding very like they're making up on the spot then, they might just be getting into white labelling and trying to sell a new service but figuring it out on the fly. So, that's going to take questions.

That's good advice. I think I really understand the process because obviously working with the white label partner is gonna be different to working with an in-house team.

The systems and processes that are put in place to communicate effectively to keep up to date with what's going on and to be able to see progressive projects is super important. That's good advice.

Let's just switch it around a bit and say, let's take it from the agency's perspective now. If I'm an agency, when should I consider bringing in a white label partner? I know you've alluded to this already a bit, but let's just turn it on its head and say, I'm an agency. I'm growing. I'm trying to make that decision. Do I bring in a white label partner, do I hire a team or do I do it myself? What's your thoughts? If someone was at that crossroads, what would your advice be?

I'd say, typically, you want to have a market for the service that you're looking into. Let's go back to the SEO Agency as an example. If they already have a client roster and they're seeing repeated questions, they're seeing clients, ask them, “Hey, can you guys do a PPC?” or “Hey, can you guys recommend a good PPC vendor?”

Then, that's happening consistently. That's telling me, as an SEO Agency, that I can probably sell this service to our clients because they have this need and they trust that we can help them with this need. It's going to be an easy sale or a natural sale, as opposed to your PR firm. 

All of your clients they've never asked you about doing SEO for them but you decide, “Oh, hey, I just want to make more money. Let me go to SEO, at my roster.” You can do that and maybe, you can do a great job at it, but it's going to be a harder sell because you’re trying to create interest in your clients for something new. They haven't expressed that interest to you yet. I'd say that's part of it. 

And then, deciding whether in-house versus outsourced, really, it comes down to your goals as an agency. Do you want to be a full service agency where you have team members who can do web design,who can do SEO, who can do PPC, who can do PR or whatever the case is, and you do all that in-house. Are you willing to deal with the HR headaches that come with that. Investing the time and resources into finding the candidates in those disparate fields. Vetting them and figuring out how to gauge their expertise in areas where you might not have much expertise?

Versus,  do you want to give up? Maybe some margin by going outsourced but also moving that risk away from your in-house team, where you are responsible for payroll every month. Regardless of whether your clients are hiring you or paying you, whether how many clients you bring on board etc.

It's really a risk, a big part of it. You're excusing what your goals are as an agency and which direction you want to grow into. 

I think that's good advice.The niche specialist agency is almost always going to win out against the generalists. Especially the smaller to mid sized agencies. Sometimes it can be very tempting to feel like the other man's grass is green because it's hard where I am.Then, I go in and try to sell all these other services to my clients, and that very rarely is the solution.

I think hanging on to what you're good at and your specialty is where you want to really be building. Like you say, have a clear plan. Have a clear vision so that the decisions I'm making, it takes me on steps towards delivering that vision as opposed to just seeing a shiny new object and getting distracted by it. 

Also, let's just talk a little bit about when things go wrong. So sorry to be negative, but I think, again, I've sort of had client experiences where things haven't worked out as they hoped. That’s why, I feel like good due diligence should touch upon that topic. 

What's the typical causes of why relationships might go a bit sour in the sort of white label agency relationship? 

I don't know. I've never had that happen. I'm kidding. Yes, relationships will go sour. There will always be fires and things you have to deal with. Well, the reality is, if you have a lot of clients with an agency partner, again, the 80/20 rule, there's going to be problems with some of those clients.

That can flavour the entire relationship. If client A over here, if that particular account went sour, maybe a mistake was made by a team member or whatever the case may be, then that can flavour the other nine accounts that are doing well because it's the same point of context of the same relationships. 

The ideal relationship that we're always striving for and looking foreign partners reaching out to us is just, where there's going to be transparency, communication. If one of the other sides messes up, apologise. 

Here's what we're doing to make sure we don't make this mistake again. Own up to it,  move on and not get into this tit for tat where, we made this mistake over here, then,  you made this mistake, that equals out. We're bitter about this. That’s just a terrible scenario for both parties.

Being transparent in communication and recognising that our partner who’s hired us, they're counting on us and we've got to do well for them. Sometimes that means, I've been on the phone on Thanksgiving Day or different times, saying, “Hey, there's a problem here. The fire. We're going to figure it out. We're going to get it solved for you.” 

Showing that level of commitment and care to your partner goes a long way. Having confidence that you're the right partner for them. I think that's important. 

Also, not letting your partner step on you. That's important as well because your partner, everybody, likes to pass blame. That's just natural and human. Your partner is going to always be incentivized and say, “Hey, things aren't working well for this account because your team did X or Y” and you've got to really dig in and say, “You know what, maybe we made a mistake here or maybe not. Here's what's actually going on and we don't have the information that we need, maybe from you, to do well for this client” or “Hey, the client, they stopped answering their phones, which we know because we're doing call tracking, and that's why they're not selling. So, this is not our fault.”

You need to have a conversation with your client about how they're handling the sales process. It's having that level of true partnership of viewing yourselves as in business together and working together.

Sometimes, if you have a toxic partner, you've got to cut them. We've had scenarios where we came to believe that our partners are not being straight with us, not doing right by us, kind of trying to manipulate us to accomplish their ends, kind of blaming us for things that weren't really our problem and trying to get stuff out of us. We had to go to them to say, “This isn't working out. We need to have transparency and trust with our partners and best wishes to you but we're no longer the right partner for you.” 

You gotta be willing to take that step and take the short term pain that comes from that in order to not have your life a living hell.

Yeah, exactly. I think the key message there is the partner-partner relationship, as opposed to the kind of customer-supplier where the customer is beating up the supplier. If you're a way level partner, then, you're sort of two steps further down, removed from the customers. That’s why, there's a danger that can happen even more.

Let me just ask you, I want to ask you a couple of other questions for you to wrap up for three more questions. Is there a scenario where the agency would say, look, we've been working with this white label partner for a long time. We've got this consistent amount of revenue coming in for this service. We need to bring it in-house now. If that happens, how do you manage that?

Great question. Actually, we have not had to deal with that scenario ourselves,  thankfully. I'm sure that scenario does happen. 

The first thing, if one of our partners came to us and said that the question is so kind of helped them thinking through the numbers, because often, there's an alert of yes, they can make so much more money by bringing this in-house. However, what they don't really get is how much work goes into things. What the benefits are even of leveraging. Let’s say, a partnership with Google, like we have a premier Google partnership. The access that gives us the things that we're doing behind the things are behind the scenes for their clients. 

It's making sure they really understand how much work, how much value we are providing, and they're taking that into account. Also helping them understand how hard it is to find good talent in this workforce and just how much work they're gonna have to put into finding those people in the house. Keeping them happy and entertained because that's not easy. That's what I spent a lot of my time on, in solving that problem.

Yeah, I don't know how it is in the U.S. but I tell you, it is a constant conversation over here at the moment. I had my group coaching call this morning and recruitment came up again. Someone was saying, I just thought I got the right team and I've had two people resign, and so I think, it always seems to be an employee's marketplace but it seems to be even more the case at the moment. Kind of as we come out of the pandemic and when we're recording this. Then, I guess that's probably true in the States as well. 

Yes, absolutely. I'd say, don't burn those bridges. If a partner makes that decision and brings things in-house. Again, the reality is they may not like that decision two months from now. Once they're dealing with the realities of actually handling that team next to in the work. You wanna maintain those bridges and say, “Okay, you want to take some of the work on? Hey, maybe start with 10 accounts.Take them on. See how you like it will keep working with these and we'll be your scaling arm. So, when you need help and you don't have those internal resources we're still here for you. We’ll help you scale”

You can even make great hybrid relationship where they bring some business in-house but they keep some business with you. Or, they use you to leverage in those crunch times when they bring in a bunch of clients and they can't handle them internally. There's still a lot of ways you can provide and make value. I think, from those relationships, even if they start to bring that in-house. 

Yeah, that's good advice. My second to last question, I said that you've taught digital marketing to 85,000 plus people. That's a lot of people. How do you do that through online stuff or how have you reached that number? 

Some online training, so I put together, really focused on Google ads. It's really oriented towards small businesses who are getting into Google ads and trying to figure out what to do. Trying to help them avoid some of those pitfalls that new businesses have, such as, they've read Google stuff, “I think this is going to be amazing. Let's do what Google says.” Then, put a budget in here and they wake up the next day, realise that I spent a lot of money and didn't get anything for it. It's trying to help them avoid some of those pitfalls, and I think It’s just to do well. 

I can concur that if you think you can do some of these things yourself that are not in your kind of wheelhouse, then you are on a quick road to spending a lot of time and throwing a lot of money down the drain.I've certainly been there myself, a  bit with Google, but mostly with Facebook ads. 

John, where I'm conscious of our time and keeping the podcast about 30 minutes. I just wanted to ask you the question that I ask all of my guests, which is, if you go back in time and give your younger self just starting out in business, a piece of advice. What would it be? 

That's a great question. I would say be a little more confident. What I mean by that is, when you're just starting out in business, as I'm sure you know, It's so easy to have that imposter syndrome.

I have no idea what I'm doing. All of my competitors, they have it all figured out. They're doing a fantastic job and how do I get into this space? Just realising that everybody is figuring it out everyday. The market is always changing. People look like they got it together but we're all we're all figuring it out. If you invest that time, that energy and that intelligence into what you're doing. If you're truly meeting a market need, caring for the businesses you're working with and the clients are serving then, go forth, do it and things are gonna work out. 

Good advice. I think you're right that we have that imposter syndrome and we have to live with it our whole lives, right? Every day we've got this voice. 

Can you know when you're gonna be found out? But, it's good advice. Whether your younger self would listen to that or not, I don't know. Whether my younger self would listen to that, I don't know. But, a really good bit of advice.

We're coming up to episode 100 of the podcast. My plan, I'm saying this publicly now, so I'm gonna have to do it. My plan is to take all of the bits of advice that my guests have given me over 50 episodes and put them into one episode to celebrate our hundreds. 

That's really interesting. One of the reasons I want to do that is because I don't think people have ever said the same thing about the advice they give themselves. I don't think anyone said what you just said, which is really great. I think there must be a lot of wisdom in that.

John, I really appreciate your time. I've really enjoyed the chats. If people want to reach out to you and contact you, what would be the best way for them to do that? 

LinkedIn, search my name on there. Always looking for DMs on there. If you want to reach out to our company and learn more about our white labelling services, stubgroup.com. Reach out through there with your case studies, video reviews, all that good stuff, and I’d love to chat. 

Great. I will include your LinkedIn profile and also your Stub Group's website as well in the show notes. 

Again, thanks so much for joining us today. I know listeners are going to find this topic useful because they'll be somewhere on their journey of being white label or working with the white label partners. So, there’s some good nuggets of advice in there. Thanks so much for joining us today. 

Thank you, Rob. 

I hope you found today's episode useful. As ever, I try to make the episodes as action packed and actionable for you guys as possible.

I hope you took something away from that, which will help you manage or find white label partners. 

If you enjoyed the episode, please make sure that you leave a review because that really helps the algorithms show me two more people and help more people just like you. And of course, please share the episode with your colleagues as well. Other than that, I will see you next Thursday for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.

Building Communities with Anthony Burke

Building Communities with Anthony Burke

How can building online communities help your agency’s marketing strategy? 

In this episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I am joined by Anthony Burke, the Owner of “Brits in Dubai”, as he shares his journey building and monetising online communities as well as his story of living in Dubai and what inspired him to start  his community.

Brits in Dubai is a private Facebook Group that originated in 2014 and is dedicated to helping British expats settle and thrive in the UAE. A great place to get advice, support and network. 

Since then, the group has grown into the number one British expat group with more than 25,000 members and over half a million posts in the last six months alone! 

How can you apply what Anthony has learned and achieved in your agency business?  That is what we set out to explore in this episode.

Here’s a glance at this episode…


Anthony’s journey to building a number 1 Facebook community 


Tips on how to build momentum in your group


How much time is needed to invest in managing an online community?


Why delivering great value is important in monetising a Facebook Group


What is the best and cost-effective way to build professional partnerships


Why you should ‘go unique’


Building landing pages and searching the best keywords


How to find the balance in delivering the value and selling your products/ services


The importance of building your email list


Tips in marketing your products/services to the members of the group


The impact of Covid in business decision making


Living the ‘digital nomad lifestyle’


What is Anthony’s advice to his younger self 


“The thing that I always tell my audience is that when you are creating outbound communications, whether it be through a Facebook group, email marketing, social media, videos or whatever, you need to get this balance of 80% providing value and only 20% selling. ” - Rob Da Costa

“It's about being human, and it's about being real and authentic. If you have a community, listen to what your community needs, then you make sure you produce products and services that they want as opposed to thinking about what's better for them, and you're going to create something that nobody ever buys because they don't actually need it.” - Rob Da Costa

“I'd always say, ‘go with your gut. If it works fantastic, if it doesn't, there are more options.’” - Anthony Burke

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Useful links mentioned in this episode: 

 Full Episode Transcription

Accelerate your agency's profitable growth with tools, tips and value-added interviews with your host agency owner and coach, Rob DaCosta. 

Welcome everybody to today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast I am really excited to have with me today, my latest guest, Anthony Burke.

Anthony Burke runs a business called Brits in Dubai. Way back in 2014, Anthony created a Facebook group to help Brits settling into Dubai. A place to get advice, support and network. Since then, the group has grown into the number one British expat group with over half a million posts just in the last six months and about 25,000 members. So I thought it would be really great to have Anthony on the podcast today to share his experience of growing a community like that and then also how to start monetising that community. 

So, Anthony, welcome to the podcast. Is there anything else you want to add to my introduction about where you are and what you do? You've actually done quite well there, Rob. 

Hi. How are you? Are you Well, I'm really good. Thank you. Yeah. Good. Because he has been shining, so that always helps isn't it. It always helps too.

Just kind of elaborate on the group. As you rightly said, this was purely when I'll go back a couple of steps. I was in the UK and I on coffee shops had three coffee shops myself on my now wife, who was the governor of the time again, a little bit stalled. We wanted a new challenge, wants to do something completely different and shall decide I'm going to the device. And I went, why? In my mind, no culture, no history, no anything like that. Basically, I didn't know anything about it. 

So the idea was to go over for weeks. We've enjoyed it and if so kind of look at option thereafter. Then, we went for a week. I didn't come back basically. Gemma did some finalising. She went off and she joined me. Probably six weeks, it makes 22 months later, and I was basically working for a publication called Construction Magazines. Obviously, Dubai is just building and building and building. It was a good place to be.

Then, I've actually done some work on that previously, probably about 20 years ago, and I knew the owner, so I decided to jump in with them. So they'll be there for a year, just see what I wanted to do. And in social media, which was very, very lucky in the back at that particular time. They haven't really caught on. It's usually about 10, 12, 5, 10 years behind. I would say the Western World. It's got a massive now, as you can imagine, But at that time in 2000 and I think he was 14. With that,  I thought that this is my market. This is what I'm going to go after. Let's sit back and develop them. So I built a company called Stepping Social, which is still today and when I first moved by this to use Google, but it just wasn't the tools for really specific questions like,  ‘Where can you live? Where's the best place to come and meet like-minded people and all this kind of stuff?’ So I thought Facebook Group before they were popular with that will be good things soon.

I invited a few friends, people can ask questions. I can just give myself some guidance and what’s not. So it starts with a handful of friends. They are friends, obviously, and they started blooming and blossoming before it, a few 1000 when it's 10,000, and from 10,000 is now 25,000. It just keeps escalating. It's people who recommend the group just because of the help. Readily, the information is that it's very active. People are genuinely very good at giving advice. It's worked out quite well.

So basically, if you want to debate that is the group to join. It’s gonna give you all the information that you need. I'm quite proud of that and I think. 

Sorry to interrupt you. It's interesting that I was doing a bit of research prior to our interview today, and so I was looking at other kinds of groups like that, and any other groups that have fought are way lower in terms of the numbers. So your group has obviously become the number one kind of place for expats to go and learn the network and ask questions and so on.

Right, it's I mean, there's about three or four. I would say that I've seen what I've done to try to mirror that to a degree, not quite successful, but usually disgruntled members from the group that I've tried to have their own thing, and that's fine. If there's a market for others, enough paper and well. Good but ideas to make sure it was all-inclusive, as in there's no such thing as a silly question. There was no such thing as troubling or anything like that and were heavily monitored.

What I would say is because it is a niche group were very keen not to be the latest or anything like that. But we want to say, right, if you are a Brit and you are living and working, but I mean, this is a group for you, we get many other nationalities, wants you to join, but chances are they're wanting to join to sell goods and services. We’re very strict, and we have one person that looks after basically admitting people, and so we do background checks on literally everybody that comes through. 

Just on Facebook, we want to know if there are provisions from the U. K. They are living and working in the boat, and they're not just going to come to the group to sell, because if it becomes just a sail fest and it will absolutely kill your group, that is for sure. The way we've done is, we've been quite creative, and we've been very strong and the management of who actually gets to partner with us within the group.

We'll probably talk about how we monetise up. Throughout this year, I'm interested to ask you this is kind of for a personal reason because I've been really unsuccessful. If I'm honest about growing my own Facebook group, which I've tried on and off over the years and kind of put it parked it really? How did you start from scratch? And I know you said like you invited a few friends and colleagues, but how did it kind of build momentum from that point onwards? Because I guess at the size you're at now, it's sort of easy to organically grow it because so many people are seeing it and sharing it. But when you just got 10 or 20 or 100 members, how do you get from that point to the next sort of next level? 

Well, the other thing is, it's been crazily active within the group, not just leaving it up to other members. Start by building conversations again. People actually talking once you get to talk and the people kind of join them out with the algorithm out to Facebook. Its lots of conversations are going on here, and then they start. You've been to be seen in kind of search engines and whatnot. That's when Britain to buy where I think that the top when it comes to anything, British experts and advice. We were quite elderly people who just joined the group with that based on the number of conversations, but I would say you've got to lead it. You've got to drive it. You've got touch some conversation there that people are going to kind of enjoy doing with us because it's a nation because it is the Brits group.

Then, we started doing events. We get together and got to a venue to meet like-minded people. We even a single night which is strangely enough, because a lot of people just moved to the by there on their own. It's a big, wide world if you like. They tend to be on the younger and the biggest if you like demographic is probably 21 to 35. These people kind of fresh out of uni and whatnot and that they're just trying their feet elsewhere, and it's a great way to do it with.

So having these get-togethers has really helped, and obviously, they start talking. We're going to this event during this group because they would say, and invite your friends. So then they would get other people to join the group. I would do webinars, seminars, and some people that fragment tax seminars. 

A couple of years, but did I was completely tax-free. And a little while ago, they decide that they're gonna start introducing some. Sometimes it's very small, but people need to know. So we started doing seminars and webinars based around that and that you've got very popular.  Again it just drives people and without necessarily wanting to sell, because I think it's probably sailed in a group. It's a big fat turn off. It's all about giving massive value. And that's what we did in the initial stages today. 

Yes, it's interesting because the thing that I always tell my audience is that when you are creating outbound communications, whether it be through a Facebook group, email marketing, social media, videos or whatever, you need to get this balance of 80% providing value and only 20% selling. And because you've got to build that know like and trust with people before they're ever going to buy from you.  So you're sort of singing off the same hymn sheet as me of really focusing on providing value. 

Let's just talk about I know that most agency owners and probably most business owners are super short on time, so they might be thinking about building a community. But how much time do you have to invest like in those early days? Now, if you make a comparison, how much time are you spending actually monitoring, answering questions and marketing the group?

We're more in the initial stages. I'll be honest. It was a lot of hours, and it's not a 9-5 thing. Now, people asking questions all sorts of times. I think if you're really active and you do give these people the good advice as much as you possibly can in the initial stages, then that's a good thing. Eventually, you get your own champions within the group and people with the skill sets. So when somebody's asking about tax kind of questions, that’s going to help them instantly. If someone is looking for property in the marina, right and say, someone, 's gonna tell him where's a good place while our good towers please avoid this tower and whatnot. 

Then, you start eventually, just get me on champions. But yet in the initial stages, it is a lot of work. But it just evens out now, like they were 25,000 adult posts nearly as much as conversational because it’s held on there for me. Lots of people are asking the right questions. I guess the building is ill but I think it's fairly niche as well. 

I think that's key to make sure you're looking at a niche market rather than a generic one, because so many other groups, I absolutely demand is huge. 78 to 200,000 members and then I joined a couple just to see how well they were doing. And there's just no interaction. It's basically people going on there just trying to sell anything and everything. It's a big turn off. People just do not want to go in there to be sold to on on on a regular basis. So it's how you even monetise that and how you kind of manage it. I think that's the key. 

Yes, I think that's perhaps where I could have done better with my group because I was just targeting agency owners but I could have probably notched it down a bit more, so I think that's a really good piece of advice for me and anybody else that's thinking of creating a community is to be as niche as you can, invest lots of time upfront and then make sure you're adding value to the members and getting them to engage. 

One of the reasons why our listeners might be thinking about creating a group is because they think that's the way of building an audience that they can ultimately monetise. This is a silly question for someone who's built an audience of 25,000, but just talk a bit through the value of building that community and in terms of how it supported you, earning revenue and doing business development. 

Okay, Again I'll put some background and I was in Dubai for seven years, and then we moved back to the UK. So everything I'm doing right now is in the UK. We came back to our first child. We haven’t managed to get anything about,  such as life, Covid came around and it's kind of lost. A lot of things were not going to be out there, but it's irrelevant now, to the digital world that we live in.

Anyway, sorry to interrupt you again, and I want to touch upon that whole digital nomad thing at the end. We'll definitely come back to that because I got a shared interest there, Yes, I think the point I was probably alluding to is I'm kind of trying to start now.

We were talking about monetising the value of building that community and how you can use it as a business development platform. Right, we lived up to the UK and I was going to be doing photography that that's why I was getting to then has a full diary full because I was going to be doing wedding photography because that's kind of my past as well. I had a social media company in The Bible, and we did a lot of hotels, restaurants. I use photography from that. So it was a skill set I was using, and I thought I can easily get back into the UK and develop that now that collapsed. There are no weddings going when I had a year full of weddings gone instantly and some other than I'd start thinking, right. ‘How am I going to get myself out of this? This mess that we're potentially in? The circumstances in it?’ And I thought I am spending so much time on this group and my wife, we have somebody else working in that.

We've got about five men knowing the group. Spending a lot of time and I'm talking initially 12-14 hours share between us on a daily basis. It’s nowhere near as much like that now. But the fact is, we needed to get something from this rather than just being these nice people upset this group, and I didn't want to inundate it. So we started working with partnerships. 

Now, what I mean by that is I wanted to work with one specialist that works in any one particular area. If I can say a property developer and themselves and rent houses and wanted that I wanted one specialist, I wanted him to be our champion. Anybody talked about properties where to live, they can give some good, solid advice and that's worked out well. We work with some specialists that do use cars, expert motors, and they do 60% of their business through our group. It's huge, and that's because we give them value out. They talk to people they explain about how they can get finance, that they can sell cars all the registration because it's much different to what is in the U. K. So it's value out. 

And that's what we were saying to people. ‘Look, you are champions. I want you to start speaking to our group, really explain what is you can do for them.” I can make their life a little bit easier. I've gone down this route, and we have one eye care specialist. Basically, with people, I want some money back to the U.K. It was the best way to do it. We must cost of works. The best cost-effective way of doing it through the banks is the same expensive, using an eye FX broker because of some money to and grow so that that helps. That helps our members massively. Because I've got now somebody that goes to and then accountable because they're in the group. So, we know that these people are gonna give good side device and really help out.

So I would say me working with just a specialist in any particular area has worked massively with baggage people sending baggage home. We've got one specialist. I do that now. How we've actually done that is rather than just leaving it to chance and putting on an advert, because if you've been in the group you'll see there's a post it's gonna drop down and we use, like, the feature posts. But we do multiple pulses about that. We do video interviews very similar to what we're doing, asking a business and then they are where they come from, and it's more conversational. Like how they started in the by the weather came from what their background is. 

It's on a personal level. That's what I tried to get through, for our champions of speaking, I do call them champions because, the other people are the best of what they do, and I'm like, I'm heavily focused on looking for those right people, and we don't just let anybody do it. So let's have systematically start looking right. ‘What do you want to our members’ needs? Where do they need to help on a regular basis?’ I mean hotels and restaurants, the 10,000 of them in Dubai, so we can look at lower the different venues for that. But when it comes to specialist advice, I always say, ‘Go unique, go with one person and, let's see how they can help the members.’ So that's how we've done that. And I basically look at people and say, I want to work with you for three years. his is how much is going to cost, and this is what we're gonna do for you.

So that's probably the next thing that we do. Not just a case of post and on the group. And as I know, you're a massive fan of build a list as far as an email list. Yes, absolutely crucial, massively crucial. What we do is build a landing page for any particular business. Anybody wants to talk about any particular product or service, I want them to speak to them directly, but we collect the data. 

Then, it is initial and right. Okay, ‘X Y is asking for properties in the Marina, can you help them out?’  Well, then steer them. Obviously, we've got the data, and we can then talk to them about properties further down the line. Do some added work for the clients. And we also use keywords. The keywords are fantastic in the group. So if anybody is saying I want to again, I'm just gonna use property for now. But anybody who wants to move to the Marina or downtown or to wherever in the city. 

As soon as I mentioned I get pain, and then I put a link straight through. You need to be speaking to such and such is linked to some more information. It can be a brief synopsis of who they are and whatnot. They know who they're speaking to do some debt collection of the phone number. Well, it's usually an email and the name, and now and again, we get a phone number for, like, mortgages. People want to speak to them very quickly. So we collect this information for my list is building all the time. You don't have to give me your email just really joined the group. But people are very willing to give you an email address because it's something that they want. We don't spam them, that's ever so important. We understand the information that's pertinent to what the original query was. It's building up that you've got far more of an open right if you do that as well. 

Yes, there's so much in there that I just want to pick apart a bit. It sort of reinforces the 80-20 rule that 80% add value. But then there is a way of selling as well. It's interesting that I have a client that has been really successful at building a Facebook community, and it's growing, and it's very niche. I won't say who it is because I don't think they're listening. I don't want to know who I'm talking about. Then one day they're a marketing agency and then one day, someone in that community because I'm part of it as well, said. ‘Can anyone recommend a marketing agency that can help us do this thing, which my client could?’ And then someone else went on and said, ‘Oh yeah, go talk to this company,’ which wasn't my client. 

So here's my client running a community with someone asking for their services and someone else recommending another. That is because they were just focused completely on adding value and never letting people know who they are and what they can do. And that's a good example of only, like focusing 100% on adding value but never the 20% on selling. So you've got that balance right. 

I really like the point that you made. It's about being human, and it's about being real and authentic and all that stuff. And I also think one of the great things about community, which again you alluded to, which I think is so important for listeners. If you have a community in whatever way it is, whether that be an email list or Facebook group or something else, and you listen to what your community needs, then you make sure you produce products and services that they want as opposed to thinking about what's better for them, and you're going to create something that nobody ever buys because they don't actually need it.

So I think it's really smarter for you to listen to your audience and then bring in partners that can solve some of the problems and challenges that they have. And of course, the building of an email list.  As you said, I'm a big fan of that. The listeners will know that because I talk about it all the time. But a really good example is like I think building a community online like this is a brilliant strategy. But it's also smart to try and get those people to come to your email list. Because, as I know Donald Trump gave me the best example as he had 20 million Twitter followers, and overnight he lost them. Of course, that's very extreme. 

But these social media platforms can change their teas and sees, and that can have a big impact on you. A good example of that is that a few years ago it was very easy to export your LinkedIn connections and get their email addresses. Then LinkedIn changed their terms and conditions so you can no longer get their email addresses. So encouraging people to move into your list in whatever way is a smart thing to do. 

If you think about your social media agency in creating a community to support the growth of your social media agency or to win more clients, which is obviously what a lot of the listeners would think about, what advice would you give those people? Like it for me, if I was going a group to support my business, and I wanted to turn to find a way of actually turning some of those members eventually into my customers, which is a bit different to what you're doing, what have you got? I know I'm putting you on the spot here. Have you got any advice for anybody that's thinking about embarking on that journey? 

Well, I would not say I must have kind of going so that the community groups, rather than I mean niche is great, but it's quite difficult to target these people to get into a certain group because we're all busy kind of professionals, aren't we? It's spending a lot of time in groups can be a bit counterproductive. So, it's having that fine balance.

Most people are just basically looking to get clients, aren't they? It is tough because I say everything I've done. I've not gone down that route. I've always talked to the community groups. I do think there's a tonne of value, a tonne of business within, so maybe not the right person to spend give advice about lights of the newsgroups supporting agency. 

So you've not thought about doing that for your social media business, then? No. I mean, what I thought about doing is doing more community groups what I've done now looking down at the regional, or, whether the damage that route again in different parts of the world, because they have proved very useful.

Why don't you get the numbers and the people as opposed? But now I just thought about it. I could in reality if, at the time, the crowd, the manpower, these people are coming to me now. Now, my clients, I could potentially outreach them and do their social media, the PR, and maybe you can build a business out of that. I haven't touched that. That could quite easily do that. So, building opportunity groups where people have come in and they've fragments. 

I get this a lot. The drawing, a tonne of groups and all I've done is ever put a post on there. And its hepatitis has been taken down. We've been asked to move away, or it's just not the same kind of impact. That's down to again, down to the age of 20 things. So if you could potentially build up these quality niche groups, as far as the community groups that mentioned in, these groups say there is a business I can get through there because people just don't understand the power of social media, whether or not going to be selling adverse, they're doing PR doing marketing coming to you and chance that they want to advertise in the group is just because they haven't really got much of a clue outside of the group.

So there is a market there. I haven't touched it because I have another partner who basically does web creation and social media presence. which comes to me for that I have set up. I'm quite busy doing what I do that I don't necessarily need to do the other side. But I would do. I build up the community groups because you're going to get people who want to advertise, and if they're doing that, chances are you don't really know what they're doing. Then, you can be their guiding light. I would say, 

Well, that's the thing I guess it’s like any way you can build your tribe, whether it be through these community groups or email this or anything else gives you an audience that you can demonstrate your credibility to build that no like and trust so eventually you're there when they're going help. I get this, but I haven't got time to do it myself. ‘I need some help’ and you're like, ‘Hello, I'm here that I would have?’

Yes, and I think I've seen some really successful business groups you can call in communities the same thing, really, where they've built their tribe using a Facebook group. And then they've been able to really market to that when they're focused on that 20% of the selling. Of course, those people already know, like and trust you, so they're much more likely to buy. 

I'm just going to say that there is one thing that I could have possibly added to that a little while. But again, like a pre covid, basically put out questions saying to businesses, ‘Look, there's a lot of business owners in here. Do you want a networked group?” It is where we can read regularly, almost like a, b and I just for our members and that 400 people sign up a lot. So, if I was that way inclined that could have been a really nice platform for me to say, right? ‘No, I can help you on the X, Y and Z.’ And hindsight, maybe I should have done that and it’s not. I can't do it now. But I think building up that group, you're going to get these natural people coming in anyway. Then you can touch that. I’m not saying. Then you can say you want to set up your own kind of network professional within that. You've got low hanging fruit potentially and it's not a big leap, isn’t it? From having the community to then saying ‘OK, well, now we're creating a networking group and you're going to pay £20 a month or whatever for that.’

That's great. Now you touched upon this early earlier that you're now back in the U. K. and just for listeners Anthony, any sort of achieving the digital nomad status of currently travelling around the UK while his son is still young enough to be able to do it in there in their motor home and having lots of adventures but still being able to work. So just tell us a bit about that decision. Obviously, Covid had some impact on it, but tell us about that decision and, what it's like, right?

Okay, well, against me being me, if I have an idea, I kind of go with it. Paul, Jim, I should just go. We're gonna have coffee shops, Okay? We're going to go to want to live in a different country, okay? We'll come back. And then he said, Well, ‘I'm getting stalled.’ We've all been locked up for such a long time. I've lived in the UK for numerous years. Obviously, I spent seven years in the divine. We came back and I said, I've been literally everywhere in this country, and I cannot tell you anything about it, because wouldn't it be nice to just go from one town to another town and really kind of enjoy and explore and just trundle around?

So we said, ‘Right, let's get a motor home, and do a two-year trip,’ which is what we're on now. Been doing it since April. Well, so far we've been as far as Carlisle all were done to then to Cornwall, which is amazing. Unfortunately, we caught Covid and, in the common wheel, myself and my wife, isolated in a van with a two-year-old. Yes, through its challenges that was quite difficult when we eventually could. We weren't contagious. We managed to get back to our base in Cheshire. That's good. Yes, well, so we came back out again a couple of weeks ago.

But the idea was one just enjoys the kind of digital nomad lifestyle to up to two years old. I'm an older dad. I'm 50 now and I wanted to spend as much time with him. This is why I love the digital kind of frame. Why you don't need to be anywhere. 

So he's going off, and he's having the best time of his life. He's seen so many cool things were going so many nice places. I can work from the van. I'm gonna set to help. I've got a WiFi setup pack of solar panels so I can just work here. We also built, but we've got these pop-up areas. So when it's raining, he's got play areas to play outside can still work. We bring our car with us as well. Then, Gemma can just go off for the day. I do my work, do whatever I need to do.

And then, we've got family time, and it's not just a case of coming home and just watching TV, we've got a new backyard every other night, and it is such a nice way to live. It really is. I'm going to have this helps out it down. They're trying to go from a four-bedroom detached house to basically a small box. It's quite difficult, but we're managing it, and we're doing well because of it. It's just open up your eyes and you meet so many nice people and you get to see so many beautiful places that you probably passed through and not giving it a second top. And to be able to do the exploring to be able to work, just live which everybody's dream life. To be fair, we're living it. It's quite nice, but I think it's because we thought a few years ago about this digital world, and to be fair, it wasn't covid. I probably wouldn't have done this out of setting up an office that I just kind of developed, and I don't think we would have developed as quick as what we have done.

Because of Covid, everything's going online. My Zoom meetings. I have three or four of these days sometimes, and it's opened it up for me. I'm paying so much you used to do in the Zoom something so you don't need to do. You don't need to jump in. You can go to a meeting two hours away for a half-hour, 45 minutes and then do another two hours drive. You are much more effective doing the way you're doing now in digital, well again, doing it in a space I just love, and I like to have a new backyard every other day. It's just a really nice way. 

So I'm sure lots of listeners will be listening with envy. But it's completely possible, and I think we put a lot of our own roadblocks in our way that keep us in a comfort zone and stoppers doing these things. It's completely possible, and as you say, if there's anything positive to be taken out of the coronavirus situation. It's meant a lot of us have had to move online and proved that we can work remotely and also proved that travelling is not a very effective way of running the business.

Last Friday, I had to go to London. It was the first long sort of trip that I've done. And so I was in London for a two-hour meeting and it probably took me six hours in total. I drive there, have the meeting and come home. I mean, it was a necessary meeting because I needed to meet this person face to face. But it does remind you that it's just not efficient. At that same time, I could have done a 32-hour meeting. 

So if anybody is listening to this with envy about what Anthony is done, then just remember that it's completely possible. You just have to get out of your own way and make those decisions. 

Okay, so before we wrap up, I just wanted to ask you the question that I ask all of my guests, which is if you could go back in time and give your younger self a bit of business advice when you're just starting out, what would it be? 

I've tried a couple of different things, and I'm quite pleased that I have. I'd always say, ‘Go with your girl if it works, if it works fantastic, if it doesn't, there are more options.’ I think that the younger me would have. Maybe I did a lot of self-doubts. I mean, eventually, I've done things, but I think I would have done it a lot easier a lot earlier. I would say, ‘Just go with your gut feeling if it works from tough, if it doesn't, there's always other options.’ And I think you're a longtime dead as well, so you kind of got to live your life, because the possibilities now are endless. I wish we had the opportunity. 

Now you know me at 50, what I had when I first started doing my own thing because I've worked in various different industries, and my first business was 20 years ago. It's still alive and well today. Sometimes I wish it stayed within that. Yes, I just think it's nice to have choices and a good feeling is a massive one. If you think it's a good idea and get the right advice. Speak to the right people don't just maybe go hang out with them.

I just get a good bit of advice. I think I always say to people, back in ‘92 when I started my first business, and it was my young, arrogant, naive, innocence that probably enabled me to do it because I didn't know anything else, whereas now I'm old grey and cynical. So I think listening to your got such a good bit of advice, I think it's an I've got instinct. That flight or fight is a thing that keeps us safe. And there are so many scenarios, including that one where we need to listen to our gap.

Anyways Anthony, I really appreciate your time today. If people want to get in touch with you or learn more about Brits in Dubai and so on, where would they go? That's something usually two but I'm assuming Mafia readers are not in Dubai or of any interest in going there. But if they want to reach out to me personally, I'm more than happy to do that so they can send an email or they can follow me on Facebook, it's Anthony Berg. The email is [email protected], and I'm happy to field any questions. 

I'm even thinking about creating a training package to show people how to develop a good straight-faced constructive and talk about other things more in-depth than what we have done today and build out can build it as a business. So I'm in the process of thinking of doing that. If there's enough interest and also a great idea. 

We'll include will include the links in the show notes, including the Brits in Dubai, because people might want to just have a look at what you're doing. And if anyone wants to reach out to Anthony and have a chat with him about building your community, then he's just giving you that office, please do. 

But other than that, I want to say a big. Thank you for giving up your time today. I know you're in that. I think you're in the Lake District at the moment, so there's probably lots of beautiful things to see, but you're sitting here with me instead. 

So sad. I've got 11 o'clock and 12 o'clock meetings. I'm not seeing much of Kendall at all today, but yes, I'm in the Lake District is beautiful. I don't work Fridays. Friday is the weekend. That isn't Saturday for me, it’s my complete two days off. Yes, we're going to win the man that kind of thing, but brilliant, Rob. Absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me today. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

How to Achieve Flexibility and Freedom in Your Agency, Without Losing Control

Let's face it, many of us started our own business because we're control freaks - we want to be in control! 

We may have worked for a business before where we didn't like the way they ran things or thought we could do it better. And that's often the catalyst to start our own business. 

But what happens when control comes at the expense of the flexibility and freedom that we hoped we would get when we started out on our own? 

In today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I share my thoughts about achieving flexibility, freedom AND control, why creating a plan is so important and some of my own personal successes and failures in my entrepreneurial journey.

Also, I talk about the importance of efficiency in how you use your time, my future aspirations to work a 4-day work week, and how I am achieving this by hiring the right team.

Here’s a glance at this episode…


Early struggles and challenges in my marketing career


How to be in control of your own destiny


What’s my belief about success and failure? 


Tips in achieving flexibility, control, and freedom as an agency owner


The importance of creating a plan


Why you should start hiring (the right) people


Three (3) ways on how you can spend your time


The importance of having solid foundations in place


How to focus on your marketing strategy


Why I believe creating a succession plan is important


What are my future aspirations


How to work a 4-day quality work 


How the pandemic removes roadblocks from our plans and stories


Importance of delegation and having the right team


Why you should always keep going back to the reason you started your business


“I still believe that my successes are my successes, and my failures are my failures, and that's one of the reasons why I love running my own business.” - Rob Da Costa

“..If you're very intentional about your direction, you have much more chance of retaining control but also getting the flexibility and freedom in place as well.” - Rob Da Costa

“You have to put the infrastructure of the foundations in place to grow to the next level and then put the next set of foundations to grow to the next level again.” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

Let's face it, many of us started our own business because we're control freaks. We want to be in control. We may have worked for a business before where we didn't like the way they ran things or thought we could do it better. And that's often the catalyst to start our own business. 

But what happens when we start losing all the flexibility and freedom that we hoped we would get when we start our own business? Because we wanted to retain control? 

That's the topic of today's podcast. So another action-packed episode and let's get on with the show.

Accelerate your agency's profitable growth with tools, tips, and value-added interviews with your host agency owner and coach, Rob Da Costa.

Before we jump into the phase episode of the podcast, I want to really quickly tell you about some free value pack training I'm going to be delivering in September. This training is entitled ‘How to easily fill yourselves pipeline with high-quality leads in the next 90 days.’ 

Now, this is a 60-minute training, where I'll be talking about why referral based clients are actually setting your agency up to fail, the importance of niche in your agency and how to go about the niche in that to discover your zone of genius, and how to create compelling marketing messages that instantly build credibility with your target audience. I'll be talking about the importance of building your mailing list and making sure that your agency is aligned across the market, product, service and price. 

So this is a real action-packed 60-minute training with some exclusive bonuses, and all you need to do is head over to training.dacostacoaching.co.uk/salespipelinewebinar and you can save your seat. I'll put a link to this in the show notes, but let's get on with today's show. 

I remember in my early twenties when I was the marketing manager for a small software company and we really struggled to find a good PR agency that understood the tech that we sold, and therefore I found myself rewriting most of what they did and felt like they were just a glorified admin resource. 

So that was a kind of catalyst for me to leave and start my own agency, and that's what I did. I thought I could do it better, and I had young arrogance, naivety on my side because little did I know what the next 11 years were going to bring for me.

One of my thought was that I can do it better and I can be in control of my own destiny because if I'm honest, the company I was working for was kind of going nowhere but downhill and I had little ability to infect that direction. 

So leaving and starting my own agency, I thought, are being controlled. My successes are my successes, and my failures are my failures, and I can do it better than what's out there now. There is a lot of arrogant youth in that thinking.

But actually, I still believe today my successes are my successes, and my failures are my failures, and that's one of the reasons why I love running my own business. 

If we are not careful, we can end up working for a much tougher boss than the one we've just left because we are so demanding on ourselves and we may lose sight really quickly that the reasons we started our business are yes, to be in control, but also to have more flexibility and freedom. So flexibility in what we work on, how many hours we work, the kind of prices we charge and freedom to maybe have some time to focus on other things and certainly get good work, life boundaries. But of course, we all know that that can really quickly go out the window. 

So it's kind of the premise of what I teach my paying clients these days is how to retain flexibility and freedom without losing control. It's kind of the premise of what most people aspire to but really struggled to achieve. 

One of the first things that we need to have in place is a sense of travel. You can call that what you like a plan or a vision or mission statement, but it just needs to say Where are you headed?

And I always like in this to a journey. Do I want to go to the south of France or do I want to go to Scotland? Because of the way I am going to get there, the strategy and then the detail of how I'm going to get there, which is the plan. Look very different, depending on where I want to be heading. So you just need a sense of travel about where you want your business to be over, say, the next five years. And then you want to break that down into a three-year plan, a one year plan and then turned that plan into a strategy.

So this is how we're going to get to the south of France. We're going to take a ferry. Then we're gonna take a train, and we're going to hire a car, and then you need your monthly plan, which is specific. ‘What do I need to do? Which ferry do I need to catch? Where are we staying overnight? Where do I buy the ticket for the train journey? And which car company are we going to rent?’ That's still the plan. That's your monthly plan. And if you have this and you're very intentional about that sense of direction, you have much more chance of retaining control but also getting the flexibility and freedom in place as well.

The next thing you need to do is start hiring great people. One of the common issues I see with so many growing agencies is that they have an amazing leader and then a big gap between them and the next tier of staff. This is often because the only people who can afford to hire when you start out are more junior people. And if you're not careful, you end up having a big gap, and that means you, the owner, is totally entrenched in all the client work. All the clients want you on their account. Everybody's looking at you to solve problems. And again, if you're not careful, you can end up being tied to the business more than ever. 

If that rings true for you, well, you're certainly not alone. And a lot of people come to me because they're frustrated that they're sort of stuck on what I call the client service hamster wheel of doom and that they wish people would step up. But they don't know how to. 

So one of the things you need to do is make sure you're hiring the most senior people you can, and when you're able to hire people that are better at doing delivery work than you because that will free you up to do the thing that you the owner can do best, and that is working on the strategy for your business.

So let's just take a step back here, and I've spoken about this many times before, but there are three ways you can spend your time. There are three pots that anyone can spend their time in. You can spend it on revenue. This is doing client work and revenue is simply defined as money this month. So it's all projects that you have on the books you are currently delivering. Then you can spend time in strategy and strategy is simply how we are earning money in the future. This is marketing. This is sales. This is business development, and this is planning. So that's creating that plan to the south of France. 

Also, you are the best person to do that. If you don't do it, nobody else is going to be doing it. So you need to make sure you have enough time to spend in that second part, which is strategy, and then the third part is admin, and this is everything you do to run your business, and it's usually a cost to your business. These things like HR and finance and systems and processes and things that give you that infrastructure on that platform to grow your business. That might be really boring as the agency owner but are nevertheless vital just to use another analogy. 

If you want to build an extension to your house, you have to put solid foundations in place. First of all, otherwise, that extension will fall over, and the same is true for your business as well. You have to put the infrastructure of the foundations in place to grow to the next level and then put the next set of foundations to grow to the next level again. 

If you think of a typical diagram that you'll see about a growing business, they'll show you a curve. But the reality is that any business grows in a stepped way where the horizontal part is the infrastructure, and then the vertical part is growth. 

So you need to be hiring a team to delegate as much of the revenue and the admin to as possible, freeing you up to focus on strategy. And if you're not able to spend at least 20 to 35% of your time in that strategy space, then, ‘Hey, guys, there's a big iceberg up ahead and you're not seeing it. And your business is just going to kind of go round in circles at best or hit that iceberg at worst.’

Again if you want to put succession planning in place or if you want to work on side projects, you have to be really intentional about this, about putting the plans in place and putting in the people in place to deliver that. 

I just wanted to share with you a little bit about what I'm doing myself, because I need to make sure, of course, that I practise what I preach, that I'm not just telling you and my clients a bunch of theories that I actually don't implement myself, or I don't even know if it works.

So I'm 56 years old, yet I know I don't sound anything like 56 but I'm 56 years old and I want to work into my early sixties, I'm starting to think about a succession plan now. One of the things that I always tell my clients who want to have a succession plan. Whether that be, sell their agency or have a management buyout or just be less involved in the day to day is that they need to know what they are doing next.

For me, my goal is to next year work four days a week, and I think I can be just as productive and do just as much work, if not even more work in four really focused days, then I perhaps can do in five where sometimes I'm not so focused.

With that, I'm planning to stop working on a Friday. But of course, in order to make that happen, I need to have an interest because otherwise, I can really see myself just kind of thinking, Well, I haven't got much to do and what as well work. Certainly, I had that mindset during the pandemic and I ended up working long hours and weekends because there was nothing else to do and I realised that that just isn't healthy for so many reasons, and I'm sure some of you can relate to that.

We recently bought a camper van, and whilst this has been something that we've been talking about doing for a number of years. The whole decision was expedited because we were so frustrated at the number of foreign holidays that we couldn't go on and waiting and waiting and waiting to see if and when we'll be able to travel and even when other countries will let us in. So we decided to bite the bullet and buy the camper van. 

Now, a second reason for me personally doing this is because I've always dreamt about becoming more of a digital nomad and some of you know who follow me that when I've been allowed every year from mid-January to mid-February. I've spent a month abroad, usually in Cape Town, because it's the middle of their summer and I love it out there and I've been able to do my vacation but then also work just as efficiently as I can back home. It's sort of dabbled my toe in becoming a digital nomad.

Then, we've got the camper van. We've been able to put WiFi into the van and on a number of occasions already. I've been able to work from the van and be based wherever, so it's sort of proving that concept.

And now, on my Fridays off, I am planning to share my story with a whole new audience of camper van campus and motorhome enthusiasts. I know that sounds a bit nerdy, but, hey, there's a whole world. But I've discovered and I want to share my story with them. So we are creating a new website. We're also launching a new channel. It's going to be called ‘On The Road Again,’ and I am going to be documenting our journey of choosing the van, of buying the van, of getting the van, of going to sites, and working as a digital nomad and hopefully sharing our stories as we go around Europe as well. So that's what I'm gonna be using my Fridays for.

Actually, I can plan what videos to shoot, blogs that I want to write on that Friday, By having that day filled with these activities of interest that I'm really passionate about, then I know that I will make sure I focus my four days on delivering my coaching business and having the Friday free to focus on ‘The Camper Van Project’ whilst not feeling like I've forgotten to do something in my coaching business.

Now, don't worry. I've got no plans to stop doing my coaching. I really want to focus on the two key things that I do, which is my private one-on-one coaching and my group coaching programme, The Self-Running Agency. 

So there will be lots more new content coming out on that. But as I say, I really convinced that I can deliver the same amount of quality work in four days. Then I am currently doing in five days without working longer hours in those four days and certainly without working weekends. And by having this knowledge of what I'm going to do with that fifth day, then I'm pretty sure that it's going to happen.

It's funny. Having the camper van is a fairly small thing, but it just reminds you that there are many adventures to be had now, and it also reminds you about living in the present a lot more rather than constantly planning for the future. 

Our goal, we hope, is to still go do foreign vacations is to go on one big trip a year in the winter, but also to be able to take the van into Europe as much as we are allowed to or when we're allowed to. And as I said, I've managed to get WiFi in there I've actually done a few calls from there already, and I know that I can work from there just as efficiently as I can from my desk in my office.

I guess it's funny in a way that the pandemic has kind of removed some roadblocks to expediting some of our plans and actually removed some roadblocks into the stories. We tell ourselves that stop us from doing these things because I guess, if anything, the pandemic has also taught us that we never know what's around the corner. 

There's a number of morals in this story. It's not just about me trying to sort of tell you my story or brag about what I'm doing, which is not my intent at all but is to say it's so important to have a plan so that you can retain the reasons why you started your agency and you can have that flexibility and freedom if that's what you wish.

Having a plan gives you a sense of direction and also thinking about getting a team around you that you can delegate more work to. I want to give a shout out to my VA Team of Cess because they have been fantastic and they do so much of my work. Like I record obviously this podcast. But I just hand it over to them, to edit, to create show notes, to create the social media, the graphics and so on. And it's been a revelation for me in that it means I can focus on what I'm good at doing or enjoy doing, like recording these podcasts, but I don't have to spend five times longer editing and creating show notes and so on, which isn't so much fun. 

So even though I'm a one-person business, I still have a really good team. I have, like a project manager, and then she manages a number of other specialists who have video editing or audio editing skills or social media skills or graphic design skills and so on. 

And so I really encourage you to do that so that you can delegate down as much as you can, and again that gives you the ability to retain control of what you like doing and what you're good at doing and making sure that you allocate enough time to that strategy. Remember, you want to be spending sort of 20 to 35% of your time in that strategy space. 

So I guess the purpose of today's podcast and recording this topic is perhaps to remind some of you guys to remember why you started your business to make sure you stay connected to that, to get good boundaries in place. So that you are not to start permanently on the client service hamster wheel of doom with no way of getting off of it and with no light at the end of the tunnel. 

Make sure that you are creating a plan. Make sure that you are building a really strong team. Make sure you're training your clients to expect that team to be their main contact and not you. And make sure you're focusing on your superpower, which is usually in that strategy space, focusing on what's next. If you have some thoughts around succession planning and what you want to do in the future, then make sure you know what you're going to do with that one back time. 

So I hope that has been useful for you today. If you're interested to work out how you're spending your time between those three pots between admin strategy and revenue, then connected to this podcast you'll see in the show note links a link to a tool that I use, which helps you analyse how you spend your time in those three pots over a two week period so that you can then say, ‘OK, I'm really stuck in the revenue space. But I know I need to allocate more time to strategy,’ and then you can start to work out how you can move that. 

I think you'll be surprised if you use this tool to work out how you're currently spending your time. Most of the time I use it with my clients. They're always surprised that they thought it was but it turns out to be. So go and grab a copy of that tour. It's really simple to use and, you know, get back in touch with me if you've got some surprises when you've analysed it.

But other than that, I hope that the brilliant week I hope you stay in control and I'll see you next week for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.