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How Long Does it Take You to Convert a Lead?

How long does it take for a new lead that comes into your agency to be converted into a client? 

This is such an important number to know (yet few do) so in this episode, I'm going to explain why understanding this time to conversion is so important and what you should do once you know this number.

I think that you're going to be really surprised at how long the typical sales cycle is so I'm going to give you a tool to help you work this number out for your agency.

So, in today’s episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I will answer one of the most important questions to know: How long does it take to convert a lead to a loyal customer? And what are the tools, techniques and marketing strategies that you can implement to help move people through your sales funnel?

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[2:08] 

The most common marketing mistake for agency owners

[3:18] 

Why you need to nurture and educate your leads

[4:01] 

The importance of knowing your time to conversion number

[4:59] 

Using your marketing to stay front of the mind with your target audience 

[6:54] 

Three stages in developing a relationship with your leads

[8:09] 

Why building your email list is important in reducing your time to conversion

[8:57] 

Rob’s advice to his younger self

[9:37] 

What is education-based marketing?

[10:41] 

Tips to focus and add value in your content

[12:29] 

How to come up with ‘killer content’ for your agency

[13:39] 

The real reasons why clients come to you

Quotations

“You need to have a way of consistently being in front of your target customers so that when they have a need, they know that you're the person to talk to because they understand who you are.” - Rob Da Costa

“80% of your content should be all about providing value. And, of course, to do that you need to really understand exactly who your ideal target customer is” - Rob Da Costa

Rate, Review, & Subscribe on Apple Podcasts

“I enjoy listening to The Agency Accelerator Podcast. I always learn something from every episode.” If that sounds like you, please consider rating and reviewing my show! This helps me support more people — just like you — move towards a Self-Running Agency.

Scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars, and select “Write a Review.” Then be sure to let me know what you loved most about the episode!

Also, if you haven’t done so already, subscribe to the podcast. I’m adding a bunch of bonus episodes to the feed and, if you’re not subscribed, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out. Subscribe now!

 Full Episode Transcription

How long does it take for a new lead that comes into your agency to convert into a client? That's the topic of today's conversation, and I'm going to explain to you why understanding this length is so important.  And I also think that you're going to be really surprised how long the typical cell cycle is. I'm going to give you a tool to help you figure this out. 

So that's what we're talking about in today's episode. How long does it take to convert? And what are the tools, techniques and marketing strategies that you can implement to help move people through your sales funnel? So another action-packed episode. Grab your pen and let's get on with today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. 

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

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. 

One of the mistakes I see so many agencies making when it comes to their marketing is that they focus really hard on building new contacts into the top of their sales funnel, and then they sort of expect those people to convert at some point, and they really don't think about the activities they need to focus on in the middle of the funnel. So let me kind of explain what I mean by that. And then I want to talk about working out how long it takes you to convert your leads, and I'm going to share with you at all that I usually give my paying clients to help you work out what the time conversion is. 

So many agencies are good at doing their own marketing. Well, of course, you'd hope they would be right. But what they tend to be good at is generating new leads. So they're good at their social media. They are good at putting content out there on their blogs, SEO PPC, and all that kind of stuff, and that brings new leads into their business. Then they sort of hope that those new leads will automatically convert themselves. And of course, some of them will, because maybe one in 100 have absolutely the need that you can solve there and then so they will reach out to you. But what you are doing for the other 99 new leads that have come into your business to nurture them. 

As I said, what I think a lot of agencies are good at is generating new leads at the top of their funnel. Then they're good at the bottom part, which is the prospect meeting and the conversions of writing proposals having those initial meetings. But what they're not good at is that middle portion of the sales funnel, which is what I call education-based marketing. And this is where you're building your no like and trust with your audience. You're building credibility with them through providing more detailed marketing support with things like e-books and guides and tools and templates. And then you get them into the prospect meeting or the phone call, which is where you can move them further down the sales funnel. So we really need to get better at doing that middle part. 

Now, one of the ways that I highlight to my customers is the importance of this is to help them work out what is the time to convert. So what I mean by that is when a new contact learns about your agency, how long does it take from that point to them becoming a customer, and I think you will be surprised at how long it takes. Like I've done this analysis for myself, and it can typically take up to 12 months. That's 12 months from someone learning who Rob Da Costa is to them actually becoming a paying customer, either through their private coaching with me or through one of my online coaching programmes. 

So if it's going to take 12 months, I better have some great marketing to stay front of mind with those people during that 12 month period. Because I always feel like every time you engage with a potential contact someone who knows about you but hasn't bought from you, you are refilling the sand timer. And if you don't engage with them again before that sand timer runs out, then they forget about you and they'll end up buying your product or service from somebody else.

So it's super important that you have a bunch of ongoing marketing activities that keep you front of mind with your prospective clients, so this could be through weekly emailing. It could be through the content you post on your blog or social media posts or videos that you post on your YouTube channel or other kinds of outreach. But you need to have a way of consistently being in front of your target customers so that when they have a need, they know that you're the person to talk to because they understand who you are. They know like and trust you. You build empathy and credibility with them, and they also understand what you do. And you're going to achieve that through the middle of the final activities through that education-based marketing. 

It's really useful for all of us to know what the typical time to conversion is, and I'm going to share with you at all in the show notes that you can use to simply capture how long it takes and all you need to do is look at your customers, hopefully in your CRM system or in your email marketing system or some other database. You will have a date of when those people first came into your world, and then you need to also put in the date they converted into a customer, and this will automatically work out what the average is over time. So make sure you grab that tool in the show notes and you can start working out your time to conversion. 

I think you will be surprised, as most people are when they do this piece of work, how long it takes. Either they didn't have a clue beforehand or they thought the cell cycle was much shorter than it actually was. As I said, mine can be 11 or 12 months. So that means I need to have great marketing content to nurture these people, to stay front of mind so that the sand timer doesn't run out, and I'm there when they're ready to buy. 

Another way to think about this is that there are three stages that someone can be in when they come into your world when they first get to know about you and your agency further. So the first stage is ‘I didn't know you before, now I know who you are, and I'm interested in what you've got to say.’

The second stage is ‘I know who you are and I'm interested in what you've got to say. and one day I will buy from you, but I'm not ready right now.’ And then the third stage is ‘I know who you are and I like what you say and I'm ready to buy from you now.’ And we need to make sure that we are nurturing our contacts through each of those three stages, and not just assuming that when a new contact comes into a world, they're immediately in that third box of I know who you are and I'm ready to buy.

This is a mistake that I see so many agencies and people generally who do marketing missing out. I would really encourage you to go and look at the time conversion tool that I've put in the show notes. Do some analysis, maybe over the last two years of your clients and work out what your time to conversion is and then start thinking about, “Well, OK, if it's six months or its nine months or it's a year, what marketing can I put in place to nurture these people?”

And of course, this goes hand in hand with building your email list, because email marketing is one of the best ways of staying front of mind with your prospects. 

Now, I've spoken a lot about email marketing in the past, and if you go back to Episode 5, you can learn about the introduction to email, marketing and email automation. And if you go to Episode 79 I talk about how you can use a lead magnet to get new subscribers onto your email list. Then, I don't need to dig too much into email marketing today. But certainly, for me, email marketing is one of the best ways of staying front of mind with my audience. 

I am nurturing them and providing value, and I'm there when they're ready to buy. And I get a lot of my clients through that approach. So everything I teach I do for myself, so I know it works. I'd really encourage you to do the same thing. And it's interesting. Many of you know that when I have a guest on this podcast, I asked them what advice they would give their younger self.

Last week someone turned their tables on me and said, Well, Rob, what advice would you give your younger self just starting out in business?” And although it's very pragmatic, the piece of advice I would say, is Rob start building your mailing list because I probably only really started focusing on a mailing list maybe 7 years ago. But I've been in business for a while. I've been running this business for 15 years, and I've been in business for a lot longer than that since the early nineties. So that's the piece of advice I would give myself, which shows how important I think building your email list is.

So I'm talking about education-based marketing here. But what exactly do I mean? This is the middle of the funnel activity. When someone has decided that they want to be in your world. They found some of the things that you say interesting, and now they're in your email list or in your community. What does education-based marketing mean? Well, it means providing more in-depth value to them, to demonstrate that you're credible and that you can help your potential client or your contact solve some of the problems and pains that keep them awake at night.

This might be a more detailed ebook. It might be some kind of guide. It might be sort of a top 10 tip. It might be some video training or webinar or even some kind of quiz. So there are a whole bunch of things that education marketing can be. But you really need to think about what it is that you can put in place to keep nurturing your contacts through the journey from them, becoming a contact to a hot prospect to a customer and then a loyal repeat customer.

Now a really important balance here is to make sure that when you're creating this content, you're focusing on providing value. So 80% of your content should be all about providing value. And, of course, that means you need to really understand who your ideal target customer is, and I'll put a link into my customer avatar workbook. If you haven't done that already, that guides you through defining exactly who your target customer is, and then 20% needs to be selling. So that balance of 80 value 20 selling is really important. And let's just take a moment to explore why?

Well, if all you ever do is provide value, then people will see you as a fantastic resource, but they will never think about you as someone that they would buy from and of course, if all you did was sell, sell, sell in your outbound calls, then people are gonna get fed up and they are going to leave your community unsubscribed from your list and stop following you. Then, we want to get this balance right of 80% of the time. We're providing value through our education-based marketing and 20% of our time we are selling now.

One thing it's worth saying because I think a lot of my clients suffer from this is that they realise that they need to produce this content. They keep putting it off because they think it needs to be a really detailed 20-30 page document, and they think that they need to produce lots of these pieces. 

So I just want to bust a couple of myths here. First of all, which does not have to be 20 pages. No one is judging this on the quantity. In fact, most of your clients are going to be really busy, and they won't have time to watch it. Then, literally could be a one-page cheat sheet or a one page top 10 tips, or it could be a five-minute video. It does not have to belong, so that's the first myth I want to bust. 

Then the second myth again. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self this because I know better now is you don't need tonnes and tonnes of these education-based marketing tools. In fact, what you need to do is just produce one piece of what I call killer content. Then, what's that one document that's going to be really, really valuable to your target audience? Those contacts in your world who were not yet customers? What's that one thing that is genuinely going to provide some value to them that is going to demonstrate? You know what the hell you're talking about and that you understand your clients and it's going to help them, and that's the piece of content you need to produce. 

Like I say, if you're going to my website, you'll find lots of examples of this content, this education-based marketing which I produced over the years and it's still useful. But if I were starting again, I would just focus on one thing. 

So I hope those two pieces of advice kind of remove some blockages that you might have to produce this content reminder. It doesn't need to belong, and you only need one piece of content to start promoting. And, of course, you need to understand who your ideal target customer is so that you understand the pain points that keep them awake at night so that your killer content addresses some of those pain points. 

Now, if you're thinking well, Rob, if I do this and I give it away for free, aren't I giving away all my value? The answer is “No,” because clients come to you because they want you to solve the problem and they want their hands held through you supporting them, not because they can learn about this somewhere else. 

I mean, let's face it. If you listen to every single one of the last 80 old podcasts I've recorded, you're going to learn a lot about running your agency. But do you really have time to untangle that and then make notes and actually implement it? Or do you want a coach who's supporting you through that?

So I never worry about giving too much value away because I realised the reason people come to me is that they want my support, they want my accountability and they want my experience to support them through the journey that they were on. And so it doesn't matter whether I give away a lot of content. And for me, that's one of the reasons why I do this podcast because I really enjoy recording podcasts, and I know I can provide value to you guys, whether you become a customer of mine or not. But one day you might become a customer, or you might refer me to someone else who has a need that you know I can help with because you've listened to a podcast on that particular topic. 

So let's just summarise the actions from today's podcast because this is an actionable episode, so you need to go into the show notes. You need to click on the file, make a copy of the link that I'm sharing for the time to conversion calculator. You then need to spend maybe an hour filling this in by looking in your CRM system or your database to see when people came into your world and at what point they bought from you and then you will see a hard number that tells you how many months it typically takes.

Then, once you understand that, you then need to think about producing some content that's going to nurture them through your sales funnel and use some education-based marketing to really help build no like and trust to show that you're credible and you understand your audience. Those are your kind of two actions from today's episode. 

And as I said, you need to understand your audience really well in order to do this. So going. Also, grab a copy of my customer persona workbook, which takes you through the steps and gives you a template to fill in so that you can start to find exactly who your ideal target customer is, and the pain points that they have to keep them awake at night.

So I hope that was useful as ever. Please make sure you've hit, subscribe and please share this with your colleagues. And also I really love you to leave a review on Apple Podcast because that helps my podcast to reach more people like you, which means I can help more people. 

But other than that have a great weekend. Go and work out your time to conversion. And I will see you next week on the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.

Using Video Testimonials To Win New Business With Adam O’Leary

How powerful are customer video testimonials in helping win new clients?

In today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I'm joined by Adam O'Leary from TrustScout. We talked about both his entrepreneurial journey and also the value of getting video testimonials from existing customers to help you win new customers. 

Adam shares some of his experiences and key learnings as he has grown his agencies, including what he believes every entrepreneur should focus on and how to get rid of all that other stuff that can be just a distraction!

We also talked about video testimonials: how to get video testimonials from your customer, when you should ask your customer and why video testimonials are such a powerful way to quickly build trust and credibility.

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[3:38] 

Adam’s journey in the entrepreneurial world

[5:11] 

The importance of testimonials videos in the buyer’s journey

[6:03] 

The difference between written testimonials and video testimonials

[7:19] 

The best time to ask your client for a video testimonial

[8:59] 

Tips on what kind of questions to ask in video testimonials

[10:22] 

How to maximise the use of video testimonials in your marketing

[11:59] 

How to make video testimonials authentic

[13:07] 

How you can use TrustScout software in your agency

[16:23] 

The good and bad of running an agency

[19:29] 

How Adam finds the balance in running two businesses

[22:01] 

The importance of fully automating as much of your business processes as possible

[24:17] 

Tips in running an agency

[27:51] 

Adam O'Leary’s advice to his younger self

Quotations

“ I think what puts people off is they think they have to create highly produced videos. But sometimes the rawer, the more real it looks and therefore people are more likely to believe it.” - Rob Da Costa

“ There are really only two things in your business that you should focus on:  traffic or sales.” - Adam O'Leary

“..try fast and fail fast” - Adam O'Leary

Rate, Review, & Subscribe on Apple Podcasts

“I enjoy listening to The Agency Accelerator Podcast. I always learn something from every episode.” If that sounds like you, please consider rating and reviewing my show! This helps me support more people — just like you — move towards a Self-Running Agency.

Scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars, and select “Write a Review.” Then be sure to let me know what you loved most about the episode!

Also, if you haven’t done so already, subscribe to the podcast. I’m adding a bunch of bonus episodes to the feed and, if you’re not subscribed, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out. Subscribe now!

 Full Episode Transcription

In today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I'm joined by Adam O'Leary from TrustScout. Now we are talking about both his entrepreneurial journey and also the value of getting video testimonials from existing customers to help you win new customers. 

We talk about some of the experiences that he has had as he has grown his agencies and some of those key learnings, including what he believes every entrepreneur should focus on and how to get rid of all that other stuff that can be just a distraction. 

Then we talk about video testimonials and how to get those video testimonials from your customer when you should ask your customer for that testimonial and why video testimonials can be such a powerful way to build trust and credibility really quickly with that prospect. So another action-packed episode and let's get on with today's show.

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

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 Your Sales Pipeline With High Quality Leads in The Next 90-Days or Less!” 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 teaching 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.dacosta.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. 

So welcome to today's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. I'm really excited to have with me today, Adam O'Leary, who is the co-founder of the software company TrustScout that helps agencies capture video testimonials. And we're going to talk a little bit more about that later on. He is also the founder of his own agency, UpsideBuilders helping SaaS companies convert more leads and it was interesting when I was preparing for this that I saw that you said that SaaS companies typically only convert 5% of their leads. Adams companies helping convert more of that 95% that are, I guess, just being left by the wayside. 

So thanks so much for joining us today, and is there anything else you wanted to add to my garbled introduction? No, that's perfect. I'm really excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me on. Fantastic. 

So today we're going to talk about two areas. I was really interested to explore Adams Journey as an entrepreneur and talk about what that road map has looked like. And some of the kind of tips that you can share with our listeners and some of the good, bad and ugly of how you have grown over the years. We're also going to spend some time talking about how important it is to get really good video testimonials for you to help you win and convert more clients. So, why don't you just kick off by telling us a bit about your journey in the entrepreneurial world? 

Yeah, sure thing. So I run an agency for multiple years. I was going ahead and working with different types of software clients and working even with local businesses as well, really, Just trying to go out and figure out where my niche was in the world. And the more that we started working with different clients, we started to realise that as we were writing copy for those clients, that a lot of the time that you had to have, some sort of proof to go along with it in order for us to convert more of that traffic. Unfortunately, most of our clients didn't have a lot of proof, or they would have customers coming in, but they would never actually get anybody to say good things about them in public. So once we started kind of understanding that we started diving really deeply into getting video testimonials to improve for our clients right off the bat like the first time that was the first chance that we could. And once we started doing that, we started saying, Okay, is there a way to actually automate this process for our clients?

So we're not manually going out and chasing down each of these video testimonials one by one. Once we went ahead and we made the kind of that that reach into the video world. We created software that allowed us to do it and completely manage the entire process for our clients on autopilots, which was a fun little experience. Fantastic. 

So while we're talking about the video testimonials tell, why do you think that's so important in the kind of like the buyer's journey for agencies when they're looking at growing their customer base?

Yeah, absolutely. For agencies. I mean, it's really mission-critical, because I think the easiest way to put it is there's 10,000 SEO agencies out there. There are 10,000 design studios or agencies and stuff like that. There's 10,000 of every possible agency that's out there. And when potential clients coming to you and looking and saying is this actually a good fit for me. They're going to compare you normally with 10-20 other agencies to try to figure out who is the best, and it's really creating that trust factor right upfront. That's really critical for agencies to grow in scale. 

How do you compare, say, like a written testimonial versus a video testimonial? That's a good question when it comes to writing. I think one thing that we've seen a lot of in the news and stuff like this is, for example, in Amazon, there were tonnes of cases of fake written testimonials. You see people throw stuff up on websites and you look next to it. It looks like a stock image almost of a person. There's really that lack of trust or that lack of understanding when it comes for, written and then with video, it's almost impossible to fake, you know because you're truly seeing the person there you're seeing. If they're being honest, you see where they're at their location. Are they in even a pizza restaurant, for example? You know, like, what's their background like, And that right there is one of the cool parts when it comes to video. 

It's amazing when I see quotes on people's websites that say, You know, you're fantastic, says leading an SEO of a large financial institution. And you think to yourself There's absolutely no value in that whatsoever. And it's worse almost than not having it there at all. 

Tell me what part of the journey in the relationship with a customer would you ask for a video? Because I think sometimes people are too afraid of asking too soon. So when would you advise clients to actually go to their customers and ask for this testimony? Really? That's a great question. I always recommend the first ah-ha moment. So the first moment that somebody has experienced your product or your service is okay for your agency.

So the first time, if you're going out and you're doing Social Media Post, for example, your social media agency, then the first time that you want to ask that person to give you and like a video testimony or any testimony whatsoever is like literally that first time that they see the social media post, and they see the first results. I always recommend to people in your agency or in any business, really, you need to trying to get a customer a quick wind within that first, like literally as fast as you can. So, for an agency, is there a way that you can get an ah-ha moment down to 24 hours? You know, Is there a way to do it so quickly that the person is excited because you're starting off that relationship? That's one of the most likely to give you a good video testimonial or any testimonial because they're the most excited at that moment. Then from there, you're able to keep that relationship and help with scale and grow. 

Yeah, so much good advice. I think a lot of time I see my clients too afraid to ask that early on need to think they need to feel like they need to wait to the end of the project,  and that's often too late. Then, if the clients kind of starting to disengage from the agency and think about the next party, it might be too difficult. 

Tell me about the kind of questions that you should ask when you're doing a video testimonial. Because I guess that's another thing people aren't really sure what to ask. And therefore they avoid doing it. 

Yeah, absolutely. I guess the favourite the best way that I like to explain it is like a hero's journey. So if you can visualise even like, in the US, they have, like, the medical commercials, like for pills and things like that. There's always at the very beginning. There's, like, this sad person who's struggling. And then all of a sudden, they found the magic pill, which is, of course, your service. And then after that, it's happiness, sunshine and rainbows and things like that. I like to follow that pattern when we ask any sort of, questions. So we'll usually start off by, “What is your business about?” For example, like, “Are you a pizza shop? What was the struggle that you're facing initially?” And then bringing them in and then saying “How were you able to find such agency? Was it by referral? Where was it from? How is the experience working with this? And then would you recommend other people working?” 

Brilliant. Good advice that the hero's journey is a great one to use in all the aspects of marketing, isn't it? So okay, so we've done that. We've now got this video testament of this 30 minute, 30 seconds or two minutes. Whatever it is, video testimony, how can we use that? I mean, the obvious places to stick it on your website. But how else could we be using that to help maximise our marketing?

Yeah, my favourite way to use it is to put it into via cells or to create, like, clip montages at the very beginning of something. So even in like the beginning of your via cell or a sales video that you're making for your agency, you can even stitch in at the very beginning, like John is the best. Like this was the best experience that we've ever had. Click that in the beginning, and then you can start that mood off. Right? When that person is watching because now there it's not there. Now, in their mind, they're more engaged because now they're going to see the kind of already have some understanding of how good you do. So there, watch your videos even further and things like this. 

Then also, I love to use it and follow up situations. So, if you're trying to land, say, a $2000 a month deal, the perfect place to stick that in and be able to send it over to a potential client is to follow up with them, send over, say, “Hey, here's all of the happy customers that we've had before.” And that gives you that trust and credibility for that person to make that decision.

Yeah, I'm glad you said that because I have a page with about 12 video testimonials on it, and I always use that page with my prospects and I'm following up some doing exactly that, which is good to know. So I guess one of the other things that put people off doing this is that they worry that the client might not have the equipment or, you know, they don't know how to set it all up. So I guess your software is helping sort of automating some of this process.

Is that is that right? Yeah, absolutely. And one other thing, too. Is that we personally, for me when I see video testimonials, I never liked, I guess one great example like this. Like when speakers are on stage, and they afterwards they go and they pull people aside and like, everybody's in the same situation, the same background. It looks very staged, you know, and one of my favourite things when it comes to video testimonials is that authenticity, people actually being in a different setting, people clearly being at the place that they're giving the review. Seeing all the moving parts in the backgrounds, to me is one of the most important parts. So when somebody actually does pull out their phone, or if they pull out their computer, it gives you that, like, OK, clearly, they didn't script this testimonial out. 

That's such good advice. And I think again that sort of puts people off because they think they have to have this highly produced video. But you're absolutely right. Sometimes the rawer, it looks the more real it looks and therefore people are more likely to believe it.

Just talk us through how they would use your software in this process. So when it comes to TrustScout, redesigned it to be as easy as humanly possible. For any sort of business to go out and collect these video testimonials. So when a user or when a business owner such as yourself, when you go and you use a telescope, what will happen is once you send it over the link to a person or you could put it on a QR code or whatever it is that you want to send it over or Linkedln an email. Once they click on that, it'll prompt up and ask them like it will tell them like, these are the guiding questions that we have. So if you can tell us about this situation, in this situation and then once they start recording, they recorded the video testimonial comes right into the dashboard after they leave their name and their review. And then from there, you access it inside of your dashboard, where you're able to download it and upload it to YouTube or anywhere else that you would need. 

Fantastic. I'm going to go and check this out afterwards then tell a lot of my clients that they should start using it. I think the easier we make this for ourselves and our clients, the more likely we are to do it. And it's such an important part of, like you say, building trust and credibility with your potential clients that it's something we should all be doing. 

So let's just take a few steps back here and talk about your journey as an entrepreneur and how you what you were doing before you start TrustScout, what led you to do that and what your aspirations are sort of moving into the future. Lots of questions in one there. 

Absolutely. Yeah, when it came to TrustScout, I mean, for us, it was just so important. We were initially using it for ourselves, just to be able to help out our clients. It was literally just to save time because we were spending I mean hours to go out and get video testimonials because half the time we would need to go and call up somebody and then be able to say, Okay, this is how to set it up. This is how to actually go and record. And then this is how to send the video testimonials to us. And it was not fun because half the time it would get stuck, in the email or the file was too big or they just couldn't even figure out how to send it. So we're like, okay, this isn't really an efficient way to do it. So, we had people like trying to drag and drop it into files and stuff like this, we just kept it just we had no control over any of the situations.

So when we actually designed trust, that was completely for ourselves to be able to help us and systematise the process and one of my friends, actually asked if we could or if we could share the software with them and go out and even use it for themselves and from there, That's actually when it started going into a larger scale situation where we had a lot more people than we were initially expecting. Yes. How long ago was that that you started to trust? We started TrustScout last June. So a little over a year or a little over a year now.

And then just talk us through your journey of like when you started out in business and how you got this and what your aspirations are Beyond that. Yeah, absolutely. So when I first started off, I knew I wanted to get into sales or if I wanted to get into business. I wanted something that I had control over how much I made. I remember this was back when I was young. It was with Pokemon cards. I love Pokemon cards. Once I found out that people desired one card more than other cards and that you could trade one card for two cards or one card for four cards or whatever it may have been, I fell in love with that idea of being able to have something of value in being able to help people in whichever way it was. So I started really trying to do a lot of projects. And when I was probably 15, 16 years old, I was trying to start up, like, food stands. I was trying to start up everything I could possibly try to do. And some days I would make some money and then other projects. I would make absolutely no money, and a lot of the time in a lot of my projects, very early on, they were not profitable. We would have all these ideas. We had all this type of, like, I guess, passions to try to go in and follow. But we didn't know how to go ahead and make any money like we just didn't know what to do. And from there I went, and I just said, “You know what? I think the best way for me to be able to learn how to do something, whether it's online or if it's just in a local area, is to tack onto what somebody's already doing and kind of see what somebody else is doing.” So I ended up working with a person who ran an online company, and I started working with him, and I started seeing the way that he was generating sales and the way that he was being able to bring clients and bring customers.

And from there I was able to tack on two very specific areas that I found that I was good at the inside of his business, and it allowed me to learn. And once I was able to learn those skill sets, then from there I was able to go out, and I was able to help other businesses be able to do the same thing. And I created an agency for myself, and but I wouldn't have been able to do that unless I actually was a. But unless I actually worked with that person from that initial stage.

I think a lot of people will relate to that story of having worked in an agency, having seen the good and the bad of running that agency and then deciding that they can do it better themselves. In probably as only my story I used to be a million years ago, I was the marketing manager for a software company, and we really struggled to hire a good agency that understood what we did. So I thought at the age of 23-24 I thought, I know I can go and start my own agency And, you know, that naive kind of arrogant youth was stood me in good stead because I don't think I do that now. 

So, how do you juggle running these two businesses? That's always an interesting question to ask people who have got multiple, you know, balls in the air. Yeah, absolutely. It was definitely challenging at first because when you start something, you put everything that you have into it, you know? So when I first was kind of making the switch and working with a scout, what happened is I started focusing all of my attention on that other business, which then, of course, my agency started going down, which was not fun. And it took me a couple of months to start realising like, “Oh, OK, I need to kind of figure out a balance.”

So what we ended up doing is it was actually, I guess, good, because it started to change my perspective of running a business in the first place because you kind of thing that you're supposed to put all your attention on the business. You're supposed to work eight hours a day on the business, at least. Or if you listen to some motivational people out there, they tell you to work 18 hours a day. But what happens is a lot of the time you're just working for the sake of work, you know?

And that right there it was. That's what you start to realise is because you have to start finding time and kind of start figuring out, OK, ‘where is my time best valued in a specific area?’ So what we ended up doing is we kind of said okay, you know what kind of structure? The time where it was like, OK, half a day of work on this project, and then the next day of work, 100% on this one. and I kind of had to think of it as I had to get the maximum of time for the least amount. I agree with you.

I mean, you know, I run this programme the self-running agency, and I wrote my book of the same name for all those reasons is like, you know, we want to grow our businesses, but we don't want to be completely tied into that business, working for a really difficult boss ourselves. So how do we grow it without losing control? But get that flexibility and freedom. And I always talk to people about the concept of working out what their hourly rate is.

It's like what is an hour of their time worth? And if they are doing tasks that are worth less than that, why are they doing them? Why can't they need to delegate them or to make them or do something to stop doing them and focus on tasks that are worth their hourly rate or more? And those are the usually the things that move your agency for. Those are the strategy things that you know, the things that only you can do and what's your sort of future aspirations. You're not grey and, like, I am your young So what's your sort of your translations for your businesses?

For me, I guess the biggest school in the next 4 to 5 years. That type of outlook is to be able to fully automate most of the business processes that are there. I almost kind of want to view myself as the chairman, as opposed to physically going into the business and working on it. So a lot of what I'm even doing now is I'm constantly out looking at okay, “What did somebody just do twice?” You know, somebody on my team. What does somebody just do twice? And how can I systematise that? Actually, even last year, I hired somebody to come in and basically just follow me around, you know, and be able to document everything that I was doing. And you start to realise, “How much of that stuff is something that you don't even remotely have to do?” You kind of thing that you have to do, But then you realise if you can just document processes, then you can have somebody else go out and do it for $5 an hour. And then you're able to focus on the money, how going out and getting new clients, like focusing on the things that actually increase that hourly net worth that you have. That would be my biggest thing is like trying to focus on getting all the systems up all the processes, and then being able to have both businesses running on autopilot. 

Such good advice. Personally, I've failed quite a few times in the last few years of hiring, a really good via and hiring social media person, a content person. And this time around, I got it right, because I did exactly what you just said. I spent. It was a very tedious process. But I spent a good few days documenting all of my standard operating procedures on how to do everything that I have been doing. And then when I hired the new team that I have now, they can follow the SOPS and you know, they can deliver it to the sort of level that I would hope with my minimum about my input.

Any other tips that you could share about running your business? I'm putting you on the spot here a bit, but any tips on running your business that you can share with anybody else, any things that you've seen good or bad? You know, when you've been running your business or when you've seen other people running. Absolutely, I would say this was probably one of the better pieces of advice that somebody told me, and it was that there are really only two things in your business that you can never focus on and its traffic or its sales.

Those are really the only two things that happen in your business. And I asked I said, like, “Why is that?” You know, and if you start thinking about it, if you're doing the delivery, if you personally are going out and doing the delivery, and then what ends up happening is you're basically just working a job at that point because you're just doing the service that somebody else who actually has benefits, who gets dental, you know, like that they could be paying you if you were just working like for them in the company.

So if you're doing the delivery, especially as an agency owner, you really have to check yourself and say, “OK, wait a minute. How can I step out of the delivery 100% and only focus on traffic and sales?” Because those are the two things that will actually put money in your pocket? 

Yeah, such good advice. I've not heard it like that before. I think my experience with a lot of entrepreneurial business owners is that they have to change their mindset as well because they do believe that clients, want them. And if I don't work on the client account, the client will haters and levers. And of course, that's not true. And they get stuck on what I call the client service hamster Wheel of Doom. So they're just constantly servicing clients. They've got no time to focus on traffic or sales. They've got no time to focus on the future direction of their agency. And there's a big iceberg up ahead that they aren't seeing because they're so entrenched in client delivery. So sometimes you've got to change your mindset, first of all, to think no, there are other people that can deliver as well or better than me, and I need to hire those people, and I need to train my clients so that they don't want to expect me on the account because I need to do the thing only I can do. And the thing that a lot of business owners do very well is traffic or sales. 

It's also interesting that I see some agencies trying to outsource that problem. So trying to outsource that, like hiring a new business agency or hiring a business development manager and almost nine times out of 10 that fails because sometimes people say it's a difficult problem, but they don't realise that they're the best person to solve it.

100% So if people wanted to find out more about you, Adam and more about TrustScout, where would they go? Yeah, they can go to trustscout.io. And then they'll be able to, really see how you can collect video testimonials for your agency or if you want even doing it for your clients as well. We can walk you through all that. 

Fantastic, Okay, so I'll put a link to that in the show notes. And if people wanted to reach you directly, should they don't have a LinkedIn or via the website or your email? Yeah, You can reach me on LinkedIn. Definitely. Okay, if you just reach out and malaria, we'll put you in conjunction as well. 

So, as you know, the one question I ask all my guests before I let them go is if you could go back in time and give your younger self just starting out in business, one piece of advice. What would it be? Yeah, what I would definitely say is try fast and fail fast for me. That that has become one of the I guess main building blocks of my business is because if I go ahead and when I first started off in business, I would work on projects for six months at a time or nine months, even if it wasn't profitable. Thinking that like, oh, it takes so much effort to go out and start a business that it makes sense to kind of work for free for six months or 12 months. The reality behind it is that if you can just get it in front of enough people, and then see what the conversion rates are and how much you're making from it, in 24 hours, you're gonna be way better off because you're going to have all those misses, and then you'll be able to find those couple of winners. That will allow you to scale at that kind of exponential rate. 

Yeah, great advice. Of course, the danger of sitting there working on something for six months that you think your market wants is that you might find out that no one is actually interested in. I always talk about companies that sell vitamin pills instead of painkillers. You know, a customer in pain and they want their pain solving. And what they want is a painkiller bit of where if we are producing a product that's a vitamin pill that we know would be really good for our clients. But they've got a splitting headache. They don't want the vitamin pills. So, you know, I really like that. I haven't heard that term Try fast, fail fast. But that is a good piece of advice. 

And as I always say too, I guess we haven't had anybody say anything like that before. So that is where nearly 100 episodes now, and with no one's ever said that before. So I'm and one day I may be for Episode 100 I'm going to go back and collect all of the advice and put them into one episode. I think that would be a really good one. 

Adam, I really appreciate your time, especially since it's really early in the morning for you in the U.S. But I really appreciate your time and sharing your experience and your wisdom with our listeners. And thanks so much for joining me today. Absolutely. Thank you so much. It was awesome being on.

6 Tips To Quickly Qualify New Enquiries

I was sitting with a client last month and we were discussing business development. They are in the fortunate position to be generating between 20 and 30 new inquiries each month because they've really worked on making their website generate new leads. 

However, whilst some of these inquiries looked promising at the start, they seem to follow a similar pattern that results in the client working long hours to get the proposals written and then the prospect disappears! 

So this week's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast focuses on the topic of qualifying leads BEFORE you spend a ton of time on them. This means that you're investing your limited time on the hot prospects and rooting out those enquiries that are just information gatherers. 

Also, you will learn six (6) tips and strategies that you can start applying immediately in your agency to implement a faster lead qualification process.

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[2:54] 

Funnel marketing activities

[3:18] 

The consequence of focusing your time on the wrong prospects

[6:45] 

#1 You must get a sense of a prospect’s budget and if they won’t give you that, then it’s a good indication that it’s early in their buying process and they might just be on a fact-finding expedition!

[7:35] 

#2 There are some techniques you can use to ‘encourage’ them to give you a budget or at least an idea of their budget range (this is something I teach my Self-Running Agency Implementation Group Members how to do)

[9:04] 

#3 How to know if it's time to walk away from a prospect 

[10:35] 

#4 For most of us, time is our most valuable commodity, so you want to invest as little time as possible in early discussions with prospects – use pre-written email templates to quickly follow-up leads to filter them ‘in’ or ‘out’

[10:44] 

#5 The further down the sales funnel the prospects go, the more time you should be willing to invest

[11:54] 

#6 Once you agree to a meeting and then agree to write a proposal, get a date in the diary (during that meeting) for the follow-up conversation.  This gives you the best chance of keeping momentum once you’ve sent the proposal

Quotations

“If your prospect won't give you a budget or won't give you a sense of what a range of their budgets my advice to you is to walk away because you will never be able to give them a proper quote, and it is a big red flag to say that it's too early in the process, and they’re probably just in information-gathering mode.” - Rob Da Costa

“..there's nothing wrong with people who are in information-gathering mode, and they may well one day become your perfect client, and they're not ready now. But you should not be using your time to educate them.” - Rob Da  Costa

“..the secret here is to identify the hot prospects that you're going to invest your time in and get rid of those others as quickly as possible..” - Rob Da Costa

“This is why having these pre-written email templates is a great idea because they may not be a fit for you today, but they may be the right kind of client for you in the future..”- Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

I was sitting with a client last month and we were discussing business development. Now they are in the fortunate position to be generating between 20 and 30 new inquiries each month because they've really worked on their website to generate new leads and are clearly working. However, while some of these inquiries look promising at the start, they seem to follow a similar pattern that results in the client busting a gut to get the proposal written and then the prospect disappearing. 

So in this week's episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast, I want to talk all about qualifying leads so that you're investing your limited time in the hot prospects and rooting out those inquiries that are just information gatherers.

Now I'm going to share with you six tips and strategies that you can start applying immediately in your agency. So grab your pen and paper for another action-packed episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. 

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 today's 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 teaching 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.

Although I want to keep my business predominantly online, and I've proven over the last 18 months that I can run my business and be as useful to my clients working via Zoom. There are still times where it makes more sense to meet a client face to face, one such client. I spend a whole day every month working on their agencies strategy, and that can be pretty intense work, so it's much better-done face to face.

Now, part of the strategy discussion always revolves around marketing and business development. Now, this client has done a brilliant job at the top of the funnel marketing activities, which means they've been getting lots of people joining their email list and a consistent flow of between 20 and 30 new inquiries every month. This sounds brilliant, right, however, when we dig a bit deeper into the numbers to look at how many of these inquiries over the last quarter are moving down the sales funnel and becoming warm prospects and then, ultimately, customers. We established that a lot of the inquiry seems to follow a similar pattern that results in them having in-depth conversations with the prospect.

Now, these conversations usually result in the prospect asking for a written proposal, and they often give them really short deadlines to do this. So the client works long hours to get the proposal written by their deadline. Sends it off, tries to follow up with the prospect, but they just can't get hold of them. And the prospect disappears. So there seems to be the typical steps that happen in this pattern and see if you can relate to this. So an inquiry comes in and they either request to call or they book a call, depending on what the setup is.

The client has a look at them, and they deemed them to be a suitable lead, so they let that call happen now. By suitable lead, I mean that they match their ideal target customer or their customer avatar. And if you haven't done the work on defining your customer avatar or ideal target customer, I'll put a link in the show notes of one of my free guides that show you exactly how to define your ideal target customer or customer avatar. So they deemed them appropriate. 

So they booked the call in and on the call, the prospect first is always hesitant about sharing any kind of budget but requests the proposal nonetheless and, as I said, they often give them very short time scales, which is all very crazy when you say it out loud. But this is the pattern that seems to happen to this client and a lot of other agencies as well. 

So the client works hard late into the night to get the proposal written to meet the prospect short deadline and then fast forward a few days or a week. And my client is struggling to get hold of the prospect, and despite chasing several times, they give up in the end and hope that maybe the prospect will get back to them when they're ready.

But they really do so if you can relate to this, raise your hand and you could see me right now you would see that I am raising my hand as I say this because this has happened to me a number of times in the past, and it's a familiar story that I hear happening to this client and other clients and no doubt you as well, because, let's face it, we have all been there. But there are a few red flags in the story that I've just shared with you that should have halted the process sooner.

So let's pull it apart a bit and let me share with you six-piece of advice or six strategies that will help you philtre out the time-wasters or the information gatherers so you can focus your time on those hot prospects and do a really good job. 

Now we're all really time-poor. So there is a double negative whammy if you're inundated with leads and you're pursuing lots of those leads because you're investing your time in leads that maybe don't go anywhere. And second of all, that means you're limiting your time on focusing on those hot prospects. Which could mean that you're not doing as good a job. Which, of course in itself means that you give yourself less chance of actually winning that hot prospect client. 

So you want to get this right so that you're investing your limited time in the hot prospects because they're the ones that are most likely to convert now. And they're also the ones that are best suited for your business. And, you know, you can do a great job for so as I said, here are six tips if we sort of play that scenario back of things that you should do, and this is the advice that I gave my client in our coaching day.

So first of all, you have to get a sense of your prospect’s budget. And if they won't give you that, then it's a good indication that they are really early on in the buying process. And perhaps they are just on a fact-finding expedition to get a sense of what agencies could do for them and how much it might cost. 

So there are some techniques that you can use to encourage them to give you a budget or at least give you an idea of the range of their budget. This is something that I teach him myself, running an agency implementation group on exactly how to do this. But at least give your client a range of prices and have them tell you where they sit if they won't give you a budget. Now, if you've done all of that and they are still unable or reluctant to give you a budget, then my advice would be to walk away. 

Let's just imagine that you are at home and you've got an architect who's come around your house to discuss having an extension to your home, and you're refusing to give the architect any sense of the budget. So how on earth could they quote? Are they quoting for like a single-story lean-to? Or are they quoting for a three-storey extension with a massive master bedroom on the top floor along with a suite bathroom? They just can't quote and imagine how crazy it would be to sit with an architect and say, ‘’Well, actually, I'm not going to give you a budget. I don't know what it is.” So exactly the same is true for you. If your prospect won't give you a budget or won't give you a sense of what a range of their budgets my advice to you is to walk away because you will never be able to give them a proper quote, and it is a big red flag to say that it's too early in the process, and they’re probably just in information-gathering mode. 

Now there's nothing wrong with people who are in information-gathering mode, and they may well one day become your perfect client, and they're not ready now. But you should not be using your time to educate. These people have content, download freebies, videos, guides or whatever on your website that they can download that will help educate them. So you keep them in your world, but you're not using your time to educate them. 

And often I don't quite know the psychology of this. But often, if you're the person that's helping someone set their budget and define their brief for a project, they'll often end up going somewhere else to get that piece of work actually fulfilled. So you don't want to be that person. So my advice, tip #3, really is that if you've tried to get a budget out of the prospect and they won't give you one, then walk away because it makes no sense. Actually, you know what, share that architect story with them because everyone can relate to that idea of having an extension on their home and how crazy it would be not to give them an idea of your budget.

So for most of us, time is our most valuable commodity, as I've been saying, you want to invest as little time as possible in those early discussions with prospects. Do things like use pre-written email templates to quickly follow up leads to philtre them in or out. Then, think about what other pre-prepared content you can create that you just need to tailor slightly to send off to those prospects that you think are not well enough qualified and bear in mind that the further down the sales funnel they go, the more time you should invest.

If you think of a sales funnel is like a triangle with the wide part of the triangle at the top and the narrow part of the bottom, your time needs to be the complete inverse of that. So if you through another triangle next to it the other way up with the point at the top, that's your time. So at the top of the sales funnel, where you've got people coming in your world, but they're cold leads, you do not want to be spending a tonne of time, so your email marketing, your website, your freebies, your content, your blogs and videos, podcasts and so on can be the content that helps drive people into your funnel and move them down the funnel.

And as they get towards the bottom, you spend more time with them. And, of course, the secret here is to identify the hot prospects that you're going to invest your time in and get rid of those others as quickly as possible, which is obviously what we're talking about today. 

Now my next tip, which I think is a really good one. The one that I use all the time is that once you agree to a meeting and then you agree to write a proposal. When you're on that phone call, Zoom call, meeting with that prospect. Get a date in the diary during the meeting for a follow-up conversation. You actually want them to literally get their diary out. Say, look, I'll get you this proposal by Friday and let's give you a week to review it, and let's put a date for the following Friday at 10 AM to have a chat. Now, of course, that doesn't mean that they won't cancel that meeting, but you've already kind of created an expectation with them that you are going to be following up and let's get a specific date, and it also creates a sense of timeline and urgency for client needs to review your proposal and then have some feedback for you. 

Because isn't it crazy and frustrating how prospects will often testers by saying, “We've got really short time scale and then if you do get hold of them,” say a week afterwards, they say, “I haven't even had a chance to look at it yet.” And you're thinking it worked late into the night or the weekend to get this done to your crazy short time scale and you haven't even looked at it. So that was my sixth tip, which is when you're in that initial prospect meeting or that conversation and you are agreeing to write a proposal. You want to get a day in their diary for a follow up so that you have set that kind of expectation that you will be following up. 

So these are six tips that I shared with my client on that coaching day, and we worked through all of this. We also looked at some other methods for speeding up the process, such as, as I've said, creating a set of pre-written email templates that can be used and tailored for different responses to like, “Thanks but no thanks.” or “Thanks, but I need more information.” They're not writing these from scratch every time. But they are having a starting point that isn't zero, but it's maybe, like 70 and then they just tailor it slightly to get it to 100%. Because the goal of this is to philtre in the hot prospects, where you going to spend your time and philtre out just those fact finders or those people that may not be a right fit, but that doesn't mean you should ignore them. This is why having these pre-written email templates is a great idea because they may not be a fit for you today, but they may be the right kind of client for you in the future, so you do want to follow them up in a political way possible, but it isn't always going to be by spending lots of time on the phone with them.

Now, if you're listening to this and thinking that the client I was with is really lucky because they're generating that many new inquiries per month and your challenge might be that you need more leads at the top of your funnel in the first place, and you're actually not getting anywhere near 20 to 30 inquiries a month. You may not be getting one or two or not even that. Then my recommendation is to go back and listen to my mini-podcast series on business development, which is episodes 41, 43, and 44. And again, I'll put links to those episodes in the show notes.

So I hope this gives you some food for thought because once you're at the stage of generating a consistent flow of inquiries, you really quickly need to separate the info gatherers from the genuine hot prospects and invest your time in the latter rather than getting sidetracked and distracted by following up every lead that often takes you down a blind alley in a dead end. 

As I mentioned, there are some useful links connected to today's podcast in the show notes. And as ever, if you found the episode useful, please make sure that you hit the subscribe button and also consider leaving a review on apple podcasts. Since it really helps the algorithms show the podcast to more agency owners just like you, which in turn helps me help more people just like you. Other than that, have a great rest of your week and I'll be back with you next week for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.

The Time-Travelling Agency Owner – Lessons From the Past to Change Your Future – The final chapter

business growth

Welcome back to the final article in this four-part series, detailing the biggest mistakes I made as an agency owner – and how you can avoid doing the same.

This week, we’re going to discuss the final error I made as an agency owner, one that potentially cost me hundreds of thousands of pounds: not being in the right frame of mind when I was selling the business.

Even if you’re not currently thinking about selling your agency (or in the process of doing so), you’ll still find valuable lessons to be learned here.

After that, I am going to recap the four biggest mistakes I made as an agency owner, giving you an easy reference for this material in the future.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: first things first…

Setting The Scene

I remember it like it was yesterday. December 2002. As another year drew to a close, I was sitting in my office, reflecting on all that had happened over the preceding 12 months – and even further than that, right back to the beginning.

Since starting my agency in 1991, I had grown the business from a two-man show to an agency with over 25 staff, seven-figure revenues, and a healthy client book to boot. The dotcom crash had passed our UK-based business by, and we were well poised to succeed and grow moving forward.

The future was bright, but there was one problem: I didn’t really love the work anymore.

Sure, I still showed up every day, met with clients, worked on putting deals together, mentored my staff, made decisions, and “took care of business”…

But the passion that had driven me to set up my own agency in the first place had dwindled. I seemed to spend all day dealing with other people’s problems and that wasn’t why I set up my own business in the first place! So initial talks of moving to a new office space (one that could accommodate our expansion plans) were nothing but a headache. Losing a key client (responsible for ~30% of our revenue) didn’t help matters.

The fire was gone. And I didn’t know how I was going to get it back.

As I sat there in my office at the year’s end, I knew that something had to change. I wasn’t motivated to keep moving in the same direction I’d been heading in. My work-life balance had taken a hit, and I desperately needed a break.

It’s from this position that I decided to sell my agency. This wasn’t an impulsive move by any means (it’s not as if a buyer walked in off the street and made a great offer the next morning), but it all started here from this place of tiredness.

Looking back now, I know that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to sell my business. I was looking for a way out, and that made me vulnerable. And potential buyers could sense that.

So in this first part of the story, the lesson is clear: when you’re selling your agency, don’t negotiate from a position of tiredness. You’ll end up getting a worse deal than you could. If you need to, consider bringing in some outside help – hire a specialist to assist with negotiations and broker a great deal. They often pay for themselves, especially if they’re skilled.

And the second part of the story? That’s the tale of what happened to me once the sale finally went through.

Freedom

Almost overnight, I was free as a bird…

With no idea where I wanted to fly.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of selling the agency, I had failed to create a concrete plan of what I’d do once it was sold. I was so focused on selling the business (the process actually took about 9-months) that I spent no time answering the question ‘what next?’.  I knew I didn’t want to retire (a. I was only 39 and b. I didn’t sell for nearly enough to enable me to retire)

It’s easy to feel lost when you lose something that’s been driving you for a long time. When I no longer had to show up at the office every day to put out fires and make big decisions, I was directionless for a time. But thankfully, this confusion didn’t last too long. To get clarity, I did one simple thing:

I sat down and remembered all the things I had wanted to do before running the agency had dominated my life, taken my time & energy, and drained the fight from me.

Some of the things were easy. I wanted to travel more. Spend more time with family. Contribute to charity more often. All the things I could do – but not things that would give me all the direction I was looking for.

I racked my brains further. As I reflected on those times when I had felt most engaged with my work… I realised that I loved helping people overcome obstacles and solve problems. Whether it was delivering great work to clients (the kind that they were delighted with) or mentoring a promising employee through a particular situation, I loved coaching (I just didn’t know that was what it was called at that time!)

So that’s what I decided to do. I would become a full-time business coach and work with other agency owners, helping them to avoid the traps I had fallen into in my business. I knew that – if nothing else – my fresh pair of eyes could give a much-needed perspective on a situation. My vision was clearer than it had been in a long time now that I knew what I wanted again.

It seems like a quick process when it’s written down like that, but in reality, it took me several months – close to a year, even – before I decided to get into coaching. Looking back, I realise that I could have avoided getting caught in limbo like this if I had just put a proper plan in place before selling the agency.

Taking the time to sit down with a coach/mentor or trusted advisor, and plan out my next moves – would have been a smart decision – but sadly, it wasn’t one I even considered or was aware was even an option!

So that’s the second lesson you can take from my story. If you’re thinking about succession planning then make sure you know what your next steps are going to be. Think a little further ahead than lying on a beach somewhere and ask yourself:

  • What do I want to do with the rest of my career?
  • What will help me feel fulfilled in life?
  • What value do I want to create in the world?

If you’re struggling to answer these questions by yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone else for guidance. Personally, I know it would have made my transition much easier, and I’ve helped many agency owners answer similar questions in the past. The quality of your answers to these powerful questions will determine your future: don’t take them lightly.

Conclusion

When I began writing these articles, I envisioned they would be much different to how they are now. So I suppose the first lesson we can reflect on is that our visions change over time, based on how the real world interacts with them.  

As for the worst mistakes I made as an agency owner? They went like this:

When I was running the business, I didn’t have a clear vision of where I wanted it to go. While I had a general sense of its direction, I had no idea of the milestones I’d need to hit each week, month, quarter and year to make that dream a reality.

If this sounds like you, then get clear! Figure out what kind of business you want to build, and start building it. Chunk that end goal down into small milestones you can hit along the way, so you’ll know when you’re on track (and when you’re off).

The second mistake I made was being in constant fire-fighting mode instead of taking a strategic approach to the business. I loved being the key man in my agency, solving problems left and right… but this held us back, as I frequently didn’t have time to make the big moves that would have the biggest impact on the agency.

If this sounds like you, then you need to focus on building a great team. Once you’ve found talented professionals that do great work, you’ll feel comfortable handing off responsibility to them. Secondly, you need to get clear on your vision (sound familiar?) – once you’re accountable to a bigger goal, you’ll find you don’t have time to waste on the small stuff. Bigger problems will demand your attention.

The third mistake I made as an agency owner was trying to go it alone, instead of just learning from the experiences of others. After quickly scaling the agency to around 10 employees, I hit a sticking point. The decisions I was faced with got bigger and more complex, and I (being as stubborn as I was) ploughed ahead. Little did I know that this “trial and error” approach to difficult decisions was not the right move.

Instead, I should have looked outside for guidance: a coach, a mentor, people in my network, seminars or even books. These were all viable sources of knowledge… but I didn’t use them as much as I should have. Don’t do what I did – learn from the experiences of others where you can. Personal experience is valuable in decision-making, but you don’t have to go it alone.

The fourth mistake I made as an agency owner was selling my business from a place of exhaustion. Completely burnt out, I was eager to get the deal done.  And once I was out, I lacked a clear plan of action. What did I want to do? Who did I want to be?

I could have avoided both of these situations if I had been more strategic. I could have hired a skilled negotiator to assist with brokering a better deal for my agency. I could have taken the time to work with a coach to clarify my vision for life after the sale. But I didn’t do either of these things. While everything still worked out fine, I know things could have worked out better. So if you’re selling your agency, learn from my mistakes – call on the strength and experience of others if you need to. You won’t regret it.

The purpose of this article series is to help you avoid the mistakes I made as an agency owner. I can’t go back in time and change what happened (and even if I could, would I want to?), but there’s still time for you. The lessons of the past shape our future. They shape the actions we take, the moves we make… and the words I write to you today. It’s up to you whether these lessons help or hinder you.

I hope you’ve gotten something from these articles. And remember: I’m always happy to help other agency owners through whatever they’re dealing with. Odds are I’ve encountered your situation before in my coaching practice. So if you’re currently struggling with something in your business, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can email me anytime at [email protected].

The Time-Travelling Agency Owner – Lessons From the Past to Change Your Future (Part 3)

business growth

Welcome back to the third article in this four-part series, detailing the biggest mistakes I made as an agency owner – and how you can avoid doing the same.

This week, we’re going to discuss something you’ve probably experienced before. It’s a costly error I made early on in my agency career: taking the trial and error route instead of learning from the experience of others.

Thankfully, my business lived to tell the tale (despite some poor choices along the way), but I know my path to 25 staff, seven figures in revenue and an eventual sale would have been much smoother if I had just taken a smarter approach.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the start of the story, and see why this lesson matters.

Trial and Error – Not Always The Best Approach

I started my agency back in 1993. Having already spent a number of years in industry, I had youthful confidence on my side that running my own agency would work.  In a few short years we were able to grow the business to 10 employees (with a decent client base to boot).

Guiding the business in these early days was exciting. Every decision brought with it the opportunity to learn something new. And when our agency was still small, I could afford to go with my gut and make the choice I felt was best: worst-case scenario, I learned a valuable lesson moving forward and avoided making that same mistake in the future.

It’s all well and good going with your gut when you’re leading a small team. But I found that as the agency got larger, the situations facing me were getting more and more complicated. I couldn’t readily apply my previous experience in industry to what lay before me. Hiring my first few employees worked out great, but adding further members to our team was a challenge. I ended up making some errors in judgement, taking on staff that weren’t right for the company. Not delegating enough (sound familiar?).  Not focusing on the right things to move the Agency forward. This resulted in a much bumpier road to growth that it needed to be,

My old approach – based on trial and error and going with my gut – was no longer appropriate for the kinds of decisions I was making. With employees and clients depending on me to make smart moves, I needed guidance. I needed someone to advise me on these critical matters. I needed training and support so I could learn to manage my staff better (rather than just winging it).

As you can probably guess, I kicked that particular can down the road for a long time. I didn’t think I had the money to spare for training or coaching. I thought we could figure it out ourselves if we gave it enough time (and tbh, coaching wasn’t that well known in the early 2000s).

While it was possible we could figure it out by ourselves, the reality was that it was costing us more money in missed opportunities than we saved by skimping out in this area.

But I digress. Let’s refocus here and get back to what matters.

The Purpose of This Article Series

When it comes down to it, I’m creating this article series with one main goal in mind:

To help you avoid making the kinds of mistakes that I and so many other business owners have made in the past. The kinds of mistakes that cost you time, money and valuable opportunities. The kinds of mistakes that hurt your business badly without giving anything of value in return.

Simply by reading materials like this, you’re already further ahead than I was back when I was mired in my “trial and error” approach to business. By learning from the experiences of others, we can discover what works & what doesn’t work faster than we could on our own.

I’m not disparaging the value of trial and error and listening to your gut instincts, in helping you make better decisions. In fact, I believe that experience is a crucial part of effective decision-making – but it should be combined with learning from other people’s experience too – especially those who have ‘been there and done it.’

Taking a trial and error approach to making an important decision is like desperately tearing into a haystack with your bare hands in search of the needle inside. Learning from the experience of others, on the other hand, is like using a powerful electromagnet to pull that needle to you, saving a boatload of time and energy in the process.

How To Learn From The Experiences Of Others

So you’re sold on the value of learning from others… but for whatever reason, you’re not in a position to seek out a formal coach at this time. If that’s you, don’t fret. You can benefit tremendously from the experiences of others in many different ways, including:

  • Read blogs, newspapers, and industry publications. LinkedIn is a great place to find compelling, well-written content that can help you take your business to the next level.
  • Read the biographies of successful business people to get an insight into how they made decisions. Contemporary or historical, there’s a lot to be learned from the lives of others. Don’t worry if they’re in different industries to you: the principles of sound decision-making are the same, regardless of the space you find yourself in.
  • Listen to podcasts and interviews with business owners you respect. (I love Amy Porterfield’s weekly podcasts)
  • Network with other business owners – either in your local area or via social platforms like LinkedIn. Having friends you can informally bounce things off of can be a great help when you’re faced with a tough decision.
  • Invest in high-value training courses (either in-person or online) for you and your team. Anything that will save or give you more time and money is worth looking into.

Conclusion

There’s a time and place for learning through your own experience. I’ve seen this in my coaching practice: while clients often rely on me for advice, the final decision rests with them, but they value the fact that I have ‘walked in their shoes’. Experience is vital in making better choices, and simple “trial and error” is one way to accumulate this experience.

However, relying on your gut – to the detriment of learning from the experiences of others – is a fools’ game. Learning from others could take the form of reading their content, listening to their interviews, investing in their training or simply talking to them. No matter how you do it, getting outside perspective is valuable.

Don’t make the mistake I and so many other business owners have made in the past. Learning from the experiences of others will allow you to shortcut your learning curve, and this will enable you to build your business faster and easier than ever before.

In the next article, we’ll talk about the fourth (and final) mistake I made as an agency owner, and recap everything we’ve covered in this series. Stay tuned!

The innocence of youth

entreprenuer

I have had the pleasure last week of spending time with students and entrepreneurs in their late teens/early twenties (guest lecturing at the University of Brighton and supporting a client as a potential investor in a new business).  What struck me was how much energy and enthusiasm they had and how they are yet to become jaded by knock backs and the politics of the working environment.  They all want to change the world and I suspect some of them just might!

I like to think that I am up to speed with most new ideas, marketing channels and technologies but meeting these young adults made me feel old! (ok I am only in my early 50s but….) because their business ideas are making use of newer technologies and distribution channels – some that I am not that familiar with – and also because of their boundless energy!

It got me thinking about how and whether industry is really focused on recruiting these young adults into their business, identifying and meeting their specific needs and giving them the bandwidth to spread their wings.  Given that recruitment and retention still remains at the top of most business’ agenda, you would hope so.  You would also hope that this entrepreneurial thinking is not stifled by process and systems.  What this generation lacks in experience they make up for in ideas and enthusiasm.

Generation Z is the connected generation and their business ideas seem to really exploit this approach.  Social media isn’t a relatively new idea to them (like it is to me) but something they were born with and a natural part of their lives.  So social media is also an intrinsic part of their business ideas and how to engage with their target audiences.

If the students I met at the University of Brighton are anything to go by, Britain will continue its reputation as a nation of entrepreneurs but how will business utilise this resource?

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