My guest today made me realize that when it comes to running a digital agency efficiently, you want to be Alfred—you don’t want to be Batman, and you definitely don’t want to be Robin! Jason Swenk speaks to the pain of anyone who has run their own business and understands that there is only one you, and you don’t want to spread yourself so thin that you’re overworked and miserable. Jason has literally written the book for growing an agency from nothing to two 8-figure agencies. He is one of the most sought-out advisors to agencies in the world by showing them an 8-system framework that worked for growing his agency, working with brands like AT&T, Hitachi, and Lotus Cars.
In this episode, we get into the nitty-gritty on pitching, RFPs (he is not a fan!), pricing, and hiring. We talk about the importance of figuring out the expectation of the client, determining the value of what you’re offering, and then finding the sweet spot so you will know how to set your prices. Hold onto your seats because so much knowledge is about to come at you with this value-packed episode!
In this Episode
- [00:29] – Stephan introduces Jason Swenk, one of the most sought out advisors to agencies in the world, by showing them an eight system framework that worked for growing his agency.
- [04:34] – What are the benefits and potential downsides of business roll-ups?
- [10:02] – Jason tells us some of his business failures that turned into lessons learned.
- [15:25] – Jason explains why he does not like doing pitches and his alternative strategy.
- [20:41] – Jason shares the importance of ‘why’ in making an agency successful. He also talks about his ‘why’ and how he found it.
- [25:27] – Jason talks about how he helped his client go from 300,000 to eight figures in revenue over six years.
- [31:12] – Stephan and Jason discuss the outcome of hiring the right person and delegating tasks effectively.
- [35:03] – Jason tells the story of how he got his first big client when he started his agency.
- [39:04] – Jason shares his views and opinions about going to self-development events.
- [44:01] – Visit Jason Swenk’s website at JasonSwenk.com to learn more about him and his agency playbook.
Jason, it’s so great to have you on the show.
Hey, man, thanks for having me on.
First of all, I’d love to hear your origin story of how you got into the agency world, and then how you were able to have successful exits, and how that all came about?
Sure. It all started because one of my friends looks like Justin Timberlake. Back in 98′, he looked just like Justin from NSYNC. That’s when NSYNC used to be popular. So I created a fake band website called N’Shit, and then it got popular. It was back when we used GeoCities URLs because I’d even buy a domain name for it. But then a lot of people started reaching out, saying, “Hey, can you design a website for me?” “Can you do this?” And I was like, “Sure.” At the time, I was working for Arthur Andersen as a consultant, and that’s kind of how I started. And then we just kept growing it and getting bigger and bigger brands and eventually working with Lotus Cars, Hitachi, and LegalZoom. You name a brand; we probably worked with them over the time and then scaled that enough where I got a lot of interest, kind of probably like you, where people want it, and then we sold it.
At first, I was like, “I’ll never do an agency ever again.” And then I was like, “That’s all I ever know how to do.” And then I was waiting for my non-compete to run out. And as that happened, I had some old agency owners friends reach out and said, “Hey, how do you do this? How do you do that?” And I started helping them out for free. Then, put a podcast together called the Smart Agency Masterclass and put a site together, just putting out a resource I wish I had. That’s kind of where we are today. Then I have another agency called Republics with a number of different smart people working with us and running the show. That quickly grew from zero to a little over 20 million in a year—all by accident.
I’m sure there’s no accident involved. I think it’s kind of maybe divine intervention or coincidence. Although I don’t believe coincidences are coincidences. I do think that they are kind of divinely guided.
I guess determination, stupidity, and a little bit of luck, I guess you can do it.
You went from zero to 20 million in a year. Give me the bullets on how you were able to achieve that. That’s pretty impressive.
We started at 40 million. No, I’m just kidding. Usually, when I see those ads, that’s kind of what I want to put in the comments. But actually, we’ve been growing through acquisition. We made eight acquisitions of agencies and put them together, and just grew it up that way. Truthfully, it’s not zero to 20 million just by doing services. It’s taking all these agencies together and then rolling them up. And that’s how we were able to do it.With a lot of determination, luck, and a little bit of crazy you can do anything. Click To Tweet
Okay, that makes a lot of sense. I think that’s a great strategy. Let’s talk a little bit about roll-ups. Why would you do it? What are the benefits? What are the potential downsides?
We’ll start with the downsides. And this could happen. Let’s say you put a bunch of companies together, and the cultures don’t match, or you’re just looking at the numbers because at the end of the day, who cares about the top-line revenue. That’s what people want to hear, but it’s all about profit and how profitable you are at the end of the day. And so you could put all these people together, and then if you can’t get them in sync, then it’s worth nothing. And then you took all these good companies, and then it just blows up. So that’s kind of the disadvantage or the negative stuff that could happen.
But on the advantage, if you look at, alright, well, how long did it take us to grow our first agency to close to that? It took 12 years. You had to build it, you had to build everything that way, and it takes a lot of learning and a lot of failures to do. And then you have to fit all these pieces. Some of the advantages, you can get to this level very quickly, and then you can grow. Often, if you look at businesses, specifically agencies, because that’s the world I live in, they’re probably only getting 20% of someone’s budget that they could use. But if you could add a service or add a solution that complements what you’re doing, maybe you can get 40% or 60%. Or maybe you can get all of it, right? That’s kind of what we’re doing at Republic’s. We want all that money, all that dollar, 100% of it, and just trying to do it, and then a solution for that.
It’s not zero to 20 million just by doing services. It’s taking all these agencies together and then rolling them up.
It’s just quicker to grow that way. But you have to have more layers in there, you have to have someone good at finance, you have to have a good onboarding, you have to be coaching and mentoring all the companies that come on, and this might have happened to you. This happened to me when I sold the first agency, and you come on excited. You’re like, “Wow, this big company bought us, we have endless amounts of budget and resources at our disposal,” and then you find out the real reason why they bought you is just for the money. They don’t want you to do anything, and then you start getting demotivated, and you’re like, “This kinda sucks” So I see that happen a lot, honestly.
So I had some golden handcuffs when I sold my agency, but I negotiated hard to get only a six-month earnout, which is pretty unusual. So I was out as soon as the check cleared, essentially, after the six months.
I should have talked to you many, many years ago. We have different deal structures, like cash upfront, which we did, salary ownership, which we did, and then an earnout, which was a good portion. So we still did well, but I didn’t see any of that earnout. And I tell people, it’s usually designed for people to fail. Ours was for two years, or in the event that we sold again, which they did. But they sold right outside of the special window. So nada!
That’s so not cool. That’s quite dirty.
We still did well. And what we learned, like it’s the price of doing business, it’s just the education.
So much education there. I remember speaking of just outside the window or just short of hitting a threshold. This wasn’t for acquisition or anything, and it was a performance-based deal with a client, a big-name brand. I won’t mention the name, but a big department store chain that we’ve all heard of, and they don’t treat their vendors very well. I didn’t understand the full extent of that until later. We had an arrangement where we got some money, kind of monthly, but then there was a lot riding on hitting a certain number. And it was a 500% increase in organic traffic within this time period that we were working within, which is six months.
And yeah, we were going to hit it, and then they screwed something up in the implementation. It wasn’t our fault. It didn’t get caught for a couple of weeks; I guess it could have been something that we could have caught that they messed up the implementation, but it should have been on their end. Anyways, so this was implemented right around Thanksgiving weekend, Black Friday, and it was screwed up. So that cost us the entire bonus. They paid us nothing. We got a 450% increase in organic traffic instead of 500% and then decided to pay us none of the bonus. So we fired the client, and they were flabbergasted. Nobody dared fire this company. Like, they couldn’t believe it. Man, that was just crazy.
Yeah, I believe karma made a list, and they’re all on it.
Yeah, karma is real, for sure. Anyway, so yeah, that was a learning lesson for sure. And I’m curious what lessons you had that were painful, but in retrospect, really helpful?
Wow. I mean, I don’t know how long your show is; there are so many. I guess one of them, just at the top of my head. And I think this applies to everyone, is just being so busy, and not charging enough, always a very important lesson. I always tell people, if you feel like you’re too busy, or let’s say, and it looks like you coach people, right? So if you’re coaching someone, and they’re like, “I’m just too busy to execute on the great advice that you give.” I’m like, “Well, how can we change that?” And they’re like, “Well, I don’t have the money to bring in other people.” And that’s a telltale sign that you’re not charging enough. And then if you’re not charging enough, you don’t have that profit, and it just kind of a roller-coaster way. So I always tell people to kind of look at it, but to figure out the pricing, look at the value that you’re delivering every quarter or sometimes extends out to six months, depending on how busy we are, which, yes, we are raising our prices.
To figure out your pricing, look at the value that you’re delivering.
We’ll look at the value that our mastermind members are getting or our one-on-one clients are getting. And we’ll take that value and average it out between the whole kit and caboodle. And then we’ll divide it by ten going we want someone to be able to get 10x, whatever. So if they give us $1, we want them to get $10 back, at least at the minimum. When I started doing that, it was easier to say a bigger number, right? So I remember one time at the agency, one of my project managers challenged me on what we were charging. At the time, we were probably doing a website for maybe $150,000, just a regular public-facing website. So nothing too complex. And she goes, “Jason, it only costs us like 11 grand to do this website. Why are you charging someone 150? How do you sleep at night?” And I’m like, “I sleep well.” And then, I had to explain to her the value that this client will get from the website that converts and all the business they’re getting, which would be over a million dollars. So I guess to answer your question, the pricing is something I lost.
And then I guess one of the failures, and this might relate to some people too in the service world. I remember having a prospect call me one time, and I remember just doing an amazing job on the sales call. Like I’m just like, “There’s no way they’re not going with me.” So they invited us to their headquarters to pitch to them, which I don’t like pitches either. That’s a whole other thing. But we pitched to them, and I remember telling him the price of a website at the time. This is very early on. I think it was like 20 grand. That would have been our biggest website to date. And I remembered that they were laughing, and then they didn’t go with us. And I remember going back to the office, and some of the employees were like, “Well, who did you chat with?” I was like, “Some kind of a hard name, like Berkshire.” And they were like, “Berkshire Hathaway?” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s it.” And then my business partner at the time was like, “Here’s their stock, like this is one of the biggest companies.” Well, we lost it because we were too low. They were expecting 300 grand and above. We pitched 20k. So that’s a really important lesson that I learned that I think a lot of people could relate to.
Yeah, I could imagine Berkshire Hathaway laughing at that 20 grand price tag. How often do you raise your prices? Is there a certain trigger that tells you like, “Okay, it’s time to raise our prices again.”?
It’s every six months, or let’s say we set a limit, right? So let’s say every 90 days, we set a goal and say, “All right, well, if we bring on ten clients at this, the 11th client, we’re gonna raise our price.” So it’s basic supply and demand. I interviewed Seth Godin on the podcast not too long, maybe about six months ago, or maybe a year ago. I don’t know; I lose track of time. And I asked him, I said, “What’s an agency you admire and respect?” He started describing this one agency. I go, “What do you respect about them?” He goes, “Well, they know they never want to be over 50 people. And if they’re at 50 people, they can’t take on more than 100 clients.” So they kept it off. I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And so like, let’s say, you’re going up to that limit, and you’re saying, “Alright, the first 20 is going to be an x,” then maybe you’re in really some supply and demand, you double the prices, see if someone to pay it if they don’t back it down a little bit, or find the right audience that will pay that as long as there’s a value there. And I always look at things going, “What’s the value and what’s the expectation?” With Berkshire Hathaway, their expectation was way above the value that we would have delivered or anybody would deliver. You have to ask the right questions to figure that all out.It takes years to grow and sell an agency. You have to build it from the ground up, and it takes a lot of learning and failures along the way. Click To Tweet
I think I missed the boat since I haven’t raised my prices in eight or nine years.
Oh, God. Yes, that boat sailed, but you can hopefully make a little dinghy to catch up to the boat.
Yeah, that’s funny. Let’s circle back and talk about pitches. What do you not like about pitches, and how do you get out of doing pitches?
Pitches are you’re giving away your best stuff for free, they’re getting the strategy, they’re getting all the intellectual property that you’ve built up over the years for free, and then they’re paying you for execution. And I think that’s wrong. What I like to do and when we started getting smart, we started thinking, “Well, how do we get out of the pitches?” So I remember one time, Lotus Cars came to us, and they said, “Hey, we got this new four-door car called the Evora coming out. And we want you to pitch us on how you can help us to do this microsite.” Every agency was leading with the pitch and all this kind of stuff. And we said, “We’re going to do this a little differently. We’re going to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to respond to your RFP; we’re not going to pitch to you. But here’s what we’re going to do, we would like to meet with you for two hours, ask you a ton of questions. Once we have the understanding of what you want, we model that together and come up with a success blueprint for launching this four-door car called the Evora.'”
Pitches are giving away your best stuff for free.
And we said, “We’re going to do it, we’re going to lose money on it. But we’re going to do it for $2500.” And I said, “Look, and this is guaranteed, this is the only guarantee I would ever give outside of another guarantee”–that we’ll talk about in a second. I said, “Look, you’ll either love the plan, you’re going to execute it yourself. You’ll love the plan, you want our help, which is the most common, or you’ll hate the plan, we’ll give your money back. So there’s nothing for you to lose.” Well, they were like, “Heck yeah.” Like there’s no long decision, there’s no risk for them. So like immediately we can start working with them, and we’re getting paid. So we immediately elevated ourselves to that advisor role, right?
The thing of like, in a movie like Batman, right? There’s Batman. We all want to be Batman, but there can only be one Batman. So if I make myself Batman, that makes the client Robin, don’t dress us up as Robin. But what you need to do is you need to position yourself as Alfred. He controls Batman. And so we were able to elevate ourselves to Alfred. And then from that, they liked the plan. And what we realized was when someone would pay you, they’re 20 times more likely to pay you again if they have a good experience. So from that, we were able to do that and then even get them what that project looked like to build the whole plan before everybody else could pitch or get them the proposals or any of that. So we learned that lesson very quickly. So if you can think about how you can slice off part of your offer into what I call the foot in the door offer, just help them out. You can get away from giving pitches away for free and get paid to make your proposal.
Gotcha. Do you like or dislike receiving RFPs?
Do you know the two winners of every RFP? Do you know what that is?
Okay. The one that wins it, and the first one out. RFPs stands for Request For Punishment, Real effing Problem. There’s a number of different meanings to RFPs. Whenever people come to me for an RFP, I would always say, “Look, thank you for coming to us, but we’re going to decline. But if you’d like our help, and then I would pitch the foot in the door. Now, what would happen?” They’d be like, “What? Like you fire that client? What?” And then initially, they’ll say, “Okay.” and then their boss will be like, “No, no, you need to get those guys to come in. Why are they turning it down?” And I’d be like, “Exactly, why are people doing it for free? Why are we charging for it?” The only time when we did make exceptions is if we could write the RFP. I mean, that’s who usually wins it.
Gotcha. How do you get into the place of writing the RFP?
You have to be the authority and build relationships. And that stems from what I found is niching down and being that authority in your space. You have to understand your space; you can’t just say, “I’ll help anybody that lives and breathes and will give me money.” And it takes time and consistency. Like for my business now. We’ve built a huge moat around ourselves for helping agency owners to the ones that we want, from doing the podcast. Like, we have 2000 pieces of macro content out in the world, versus most people, you see on the Facebook ads have a landing page, “Here’s the silver bullet to do X, Y, and Z.” So it’s about consistency, showing up, creating that content for an audience that you understand. That they can resonate with you and that you can empathize with, you can show a little bit of authority with. And then you could say, “Look, I know you want this, but you’re probably here, and you’re feeling this way.” So you can connect with them in a way that they’re not going to connect with other people.
You need to position yourself as Alfred. He controls Batman.
If you could advise an agency who’s charging, let’s say, in a way that’s not effective, or highly profitable, whatever that model is, whether it’s hourly, or it’s a set monthly retainer, it’s performance-based, whatever it is, and you want to overhaul their pricing model, how would you do that?
You first start looking at what’s the value that they deliver. Kind of like what I told you about because you need to know kind of the baseline. And then you need to figure out something like, “What do I want to make personally?” I like to start kind of personally because that’s the “why.” If you just want to build an eight-figure agency, I think that’s kind of stupid.
Okay, why is that?
Well, but if you start there, if you have a good reason, if you say I want to build an eight-figure agency, so I can make over a million dollars a year and then have the option to sell it for 40 million, right? You have a number in your head, and you tie that back to your personal goals, then I say go for it. But most people, if they go, I want to create an eight-figure agency just to ring that bell. They don’t understand all the things that they have to go through. Like you’re going to get bloody like you have to have passion behind it, there has to be a reason, or you’re going to quit. Or you get to a point where you’re like, “Screw it, I’m just gonna sell it,” or “Screw it. I’ll just close it up.” or “I’ll fire everybody.” I just got off an interview where the agency owner just came in one day and fired everybody just because he could. But they were at a breaking point because they didn’t have that why behind them.
For example, before I had clarity at our agency, or even in this particular business, coaching business, I didn’t have clarity. I just was like, “Alright, get over seven figures.” “Why do I want to do that? That doesn’t help anybody else outside of me. Who cares about it?” And this one of the things when I sold Solar, I lost that significance. I was depressed when I sold because I didn’t have that sense of contribution or community or significance out there. I said, “You know what my ‘why is this time is really to be a resource I wish I had and to be able to show people how they can set up the right systems to create that freedom. So they can pick and choose, so they can take off in the summer if they want, or they can take off a weekend, a month, or whatever it is, whatever their goals are to achieve.” Because then that’s the real power to grow it. Start with yourself, and then start with, what does the agency need to do for you to get that? And then all the other stuff kind of just steamrolling from there.The price of running a business is so much education. You learn every step of the way from your successes and mistakes. Click To Tweet
So I’m curious, what is your “why,” and how did you find that out?
It just takes time. As I said, our “why” is creating a resource I wish I had when running the first agency.
Before we go any further on that, I want to dig a little deeper because I think there’s a why behind that “why.” What do you think that might be?
Being significant, contributing what I’ve learned, taking the pain and all the crap, and turning it into good. I get great rewards from seeing our clients who kind of graduate. Like I had to work with this one client for six years, and he’s at a point now where they’re transitioning to Chairman, and he doesn’t have to do anything in his agency anymore. He literally can walk away, and he just keeps getting a really big paycheck. And then he can do the other ventures that he wants, creating other businesses because we are always going to be working. The real people always need to build stuff; there’s never any retirement.
Okay. You got depressed and lost your significance; you found your way back; what was it that woke you up to the fact that you had depression?
I just was sitting around, and all your friends are working, your kids are at school. Back then, I used to relate myself just to work. I relate myself now as first a father, a husband, and that kind of stuff rather than “yeah. I have a couple of businesses.” And then on the businessman line, that’s kind of secondary. The family is the “why.” We moved out to Colorado, so we could go out there for the summer and take off. It’s like all these other things just contributed to that.
Our “why” is creating a resource I wish I had when running the first agency.
Do you have a kind of a case study example of an agency you worked with, and you took them from x to y in a certain time period, and they implemented certain strategies and tactics you laid out for them? And maybe they hit some bumps in the road on the way.
Yeah. One that I’m thinking about now is, I remember him coming to me. And I remember very vividly, he goes, “I don’t know if I have enough money to pay you. I’m at around 400,000 in revenue. And we’re just kind of squeaking by.” And I never say this anymore just because I don’t ever want to push anybody into it, but I said, “Look, whatever money you give to me, I promise you, we’ll turn it around, you’ll make 10x without a doubt.” And he goes, “Okay.” I don’t know what compelled me to say that because usually, I’m not selling. I’m just like, “Do you want help? Here’s kind of what I’m thinking.” And that’s it. But for some reason, I pushed him. In that six months, we were just kind of going through and building the right systems and looking at the gaps they could not see. And I said, “Look; if you want to lead this agency, there are five roles that you need to kind of become. Because right now, you’re the owner, you’re the doer; you’re the executor, you’re not delegating anything. Everything’s going through you. You’re the tollbooth.”
I said, “The goal is to get you to five roles. I want you to set the vision and communicate it to your team. And that will give them the power for them to decide without going through you. Now you have a little bit more time. The other is you have to coach and mentor your team to make them better, both personally and both in the business. The third is being the face of the organization; you have to get out there, you got to build the relationships, you got to do the videos, webinars, or speaking on stage, whatever makes you comfortable to reach your audience. Others understand financials. And the last is assist sales.” And I said, “Like we’re thinking, as we’re building, we have to do everything ourselves, we have to set up a system, we have to do everything. But you get to a point where you can start scaling, right? I look at it as, like, four stages, like the first stage, right? You’re just existing. And you’re the driver, right? Think about it like a car. You’re in a race team, so you’re the driver; you’re just existing. But really, what you need is you need that clarity. So you can give that to other people. And then the next stage is, you’re in survival. You start hiring people. And growth can only be achieved through direction. Like, what’s the direction we’re going? What are the different systems that we need to set up?”
So we started going through, “Alright, how are we attracting clients? How are we converting? How are we delivering it to them? How are we streamlining operations so that we can have scale?” And then you get to this next stage is, “Alright, we’re ready to race. We have a driver, we have a car, and now we have an engine.” But I used to race cars, and whenever we’re going down the straightaway, we need to check our gauges, which like you’re looking at, how hot is the oil temperature? Do we have gas? I’ve run out of gas on the racetrack before, too. I was stupid, I forgot to put gas in it, and I didn’t check the gauges. And obviously, I lost that race. But like when you’re in this ready-to-race phase, growth can be achieved through delegation. So you’re looking at all this. And then the last part is like your pit crew, right? You’re in this winning stage, where everything is lining up. So you have that alignment between your team, you have the right A-players, you have the right core values, you had the right management, you have the right accountability in place. And now, you can scale as fast as you want. And so we’ve done that for a number of different agencies, the one I’m thinking about, he went from 300,000 in revenue, and then today, he’s well over the eight-figure mark. He as well is about to step out of his agency. But we’ve had other ones that have sold for more money than they have ever thought about because they’ve set up the right systems and hire the right team so that they can make sure they have the right race team.
Yeah. So this guy went from 300,000 to eight figures in revenue, and over what timeframe?
Okay. What was the fastest run-up from a small agency to a big one or an exit?
Probably, well, Ralph, he still has it. I think it was about a year and a half. I went from a little over a little under a million to, I think today, there may be 15 million in revenue. That’s another thing that we’ve worked with so many people over the years; I have a team, which probably would help everybody out as well, especially when you’re pricing. A buddy of mine showed me this about three weeks ago, and we did a retreat in the mountains. And he goes, “You need to build an arsenal of all the stories of success.” I said, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Well, Jason, you’ve probably forgotten so many that you’ve done about where they were, what it was like, all that kind of stuff.” And I said, “You are exactly right.” So we have one person on our marketing team right now going through and building an arsenal of all our success stories. So then we can look back, and we can recall them. And they just tell their story as people relate to stories rather than kind of telling you.
Real people always need to build stuff; there’s never any retirement.
Yeah, as they say, facts tell, but stories sell.
And so you talked about delegation being an important piece of the scaling model that you have. I’ll give an example. It’s very close to me because it is me. I’m my own bottleneck in the sales department. I’m the only one selling, so I’m curious what would you advise somebody like myself to get out of that bottleneck and to be able to delegate more and not just to end up losing a lot of opportunity in the process as well?
Well, why haven’t you hired someone already?
Well, I’m very good at it. And I have just hired a COO, and so that was a big load off. I don’t know that I’m ready to onboard a VP of sales so quickly after just hiring a COO, and also last month, I hired an EA, executive assistant. So yeah, I don’t know. I guess I could, but I’m thinking I should probably successfully onboard my COO and make sure everything is kind of stable and the dust is settled before hiring anybody else.
Well, I think what’s messing you up is that the thing between your ears. Honestly, like, we all think we’re going to be the best. No one can do it better than us. And that’s just plain wrong. Like I always prided myself in our company of being the dumbest person. That’s my goal. Like I don’t want to be the smartest person, then I’m leading a bunch of idiots. But I think if you put maybe a process in place, maybe to delegate just them doing like the first call, just the qualification call, and setting that up to the next part. Because look, if you’re doing the sales for everything right now, think about this analogy that my buddy uses. Let’s say you go to the doctor, and you get to park your car, and the valet is there, and it’s the doctor. And he goes to park your car. Then he opens the door for you, he walks you in, he gets you the paperwork, he takes in your health stuff, he sets your next appointment. And then he checks your oil, he checks your bloodwork, all that kind of stuff, and then he tells you what you need to do. Like it’s all one. You’re going to be like, “Dude, why are you doing everything?”Never spread yourself so thin. Growth can be achieved through delegation. Click To Tweet
Versus having the valet, the valet, having the nurse, the nurse, the office manager, the office managers. There’s a different perception where you’re going to have much more authority coming to this person with the prescription versus them doing everything. And so people start realizing that, then they go, “Oh, I want to build more authority. I can’t be doing all this.” You have to kind of start separating yourself. And that’s kind of what we’re starting to do in ours. I’m at the same point. But I put people through so many different forms, and to get to me, most of the time, when I show up, it helps, but a lot of times, I like to kind of say, let’s put some layers so then when you chat with that person, it’s such great authority. Because you have the bat phone doesn’t mean you’re going to reach Batman, you’re probably going to reach someone else. You’re going to reach Batman’s secretary. But when you have the ability to chat with Batman, you’re going to take that more seriously, which you’re going to make your sales go up, which will also give you more time, right? Like, do you want to talk to everyone and try to qualify them yourself? Like, wouldn’t you like to have the perfect leads all set up, and then you just come in? That’s what we did at our agency. I would just add color. I would just be like, “Yeah, it looks good.” That’s how I look at it.
Okay, good. So how did you get your first big client when you got started?
The first big one was by accident, if I think about it. I think I knew someone and they came to us. I’ve coached people who are doing what we’re doing is one of the best things to get clients, honestly. So invite them on your podcast. So if I was going after, say, a particular niche, hospitality space. And I had a hospitality podcast, and I’ve had this person on my show. He used to work for IHG International Hotel Group, Dell Ross. He doesn’t work there anymore, guys, so don’t call him. But I would go, “Hey, Dale, I have this hospitality podcast. And we feature expert leaders in the industry. Would you like to come on and tell your story?” “Hell, yeah. Of course.” So you come on, you have a conversation, you talk about stories, and then at the end, they’re probably going to be like, “Hey, tell me more about this.” Like on our podcast, at the very end, I always go, “Hey, thanks so much, Stephan, for coming on the podcast. If you enjoyed this, and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners consistently, make sure you go to blah blah blah,” right?
What happens whenever I wrap up, and I hit end recording, we have a little chat afterward. I never take the interview up to the max. And they’re like, “Hey, tell me more about the mastermind you have for agencies.” Like “Oh, cool.” Right? Here it is, here’s what I got. And they usually become a member. So you can do that, that’s a really easy way. I remember, “If you go to JasonSwenk.com/4, this is Dell Ross’ interview.” I said, “How many agencies are calling you?” He’s like, “Oh, it’s overwhelming. They just want to take me to lunch or dinner or golf.” “What works for a small company to get in with IHG?” He goes, “Just call me up with something new. Like, ‘Hey, have you heard of X for your industry? Do you have five minutes? I’ll tell you about it.'” They had at the time, I think, $80,000 of play money that they would test out little agencies. It’s about that foot in the door, get your foot in the door, and then just walk up the ladder for all your other services to get those bigger brands.
Gotcha. Okay. Have you ever done a project for free to get a testimonial from one of the bigger brands?
Okay. That was how we got started when we switched from just doing web development with SEO baked into doing SEO consulting for some bigger companies that didn’t want websites developed. They already had an in-house team. So we did a free SEO audit for Target.com in exchange for a testimonial. That was quite a successful strategy.
Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, you just have to be careful. It comes down to the qualification. Like can they make a decision afterward? We just always stepped away from it, but as I said, I tell everybody, there are millions of strategies out there, and you just have to find the right one for you.
Yeah. And I think you alluded to this earlier that it’s really about a mindset, like what’s between your two ears, that’s the make or break sort of thing in your business and your life, and the strategies and the tactics. They’re helpful, but if you don’t have your mindset right, nothing will work.
Correct. It’s amazing how you self-sabotage. I remember getting to a point where we were getting tons of business, and I didn’t feel at the time we could support it. So I would like to sabotage it. Like I’d sabotage the sales just because I didn’t feel that all the pieces were correct. It was kind of like in Days of Thunder, Cole Trickle’s nervous in the car, and he needs to get out of the car. And he just pegs the accelerator, and the engine blows up because he couldn’t wait to get another car. I feel that a lot of us have done that in the past.
Okay. I’m curious, did you work on your mindset by going to some motivational speaker like Tony Robbins or something? Or did you read a book, or how did you make big breakthroughs in mindset?Writing a book always helps with building your authority. But I think you can be more and do more when you create a podcast. Click To Tweet
It’s funny that you asked. I always followed Tony Robbins. I was one of the ones that got his CDs back in the mid-90s. And then I remember after I sold the agency, I went to one of those firewalk things that they do. Like they do on the first day. And they walked on fire, and I was like, “This is bullsh*t,” and then I walked across. Like a couple of months later, I remember on the news, like people got burned by walking on fire. I was like, “Holy sh*t, that’s real.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” But after I sold the agency, I went to his event, and I learned the seven basic traits he teaches that we all need, but we give ranking to two of them, which is different for everybody. And mine was significance, and that’s kind of when I was like, “Oh, let’s kind of go into this business.” But at most, like I was telling you, in the very beginning, a lot of it was accidental, with really everything, but it was just being consistent, hard-working, a little bit of arrogance because you don’t know like you’re young. And I still feel like I’m young, even though I think I’m 39 for the fifth time.
How does that work?
You’re just determined not to turn 40.
So funny. And do you do other Tony Robbins events, or did you join his Platinum Partnership?
No, I love Tony, but I didn’t like the event. Just because of the hugginess. I left after a day and a half. It just wasn’t for me. But I liked his message and all that kind of stuff. The first day was really powerful. I suggest everybody go at least the first day because you can kind of map out where you want your life to be and start with your time goal. And then the time goal is the rule. Like you don’t break that. Like I take off in the summers. I don’t work on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. I don’t work after three. So those are rules that I never break. And that’s a goal I have every quarter. And then you create the revenue goal, but you have to figure out why. Why do you want that going back, right? And then you have a great goal, like, what do you need to create to achieve that?
Very cool. I’ve done a lot of Tony Robbins events myself, changed my life. I am unrecognizable from the previous version of myself before doing the firewalk. I did that in 2009. And I’ll show somebody a photo from before 2009, and they’ll say, “Oh my god, you look older there than you do now by a longshot.” I’m like, “Yep, I know.”
Yeah. But then the spiritual breakthroughs and awakenings that I got from being a Platinum Partner were life-changing. And then, of course, I met my wife through Tony Robbins as well, Date with Destiny.
So I got one more question for you. Do you recommend that an agency owner create some sort of information product or maybe write a book as a way to either give back or to build their authority positioning?
I mean, books always help with authority. But I think it’s more about creating a podcast. Honestly, I think that has more reads than anything else that you can do. Books kind of come and go, and they die, for most, right? But a podcast lives on, and you constantly keep adapting it. Like I think that’s the easiest way to build authority. Honestly, it checks every single box out there.
And a book is a lot of work and keeping it updated. I know from experience.
Yeah, and yours. Like, you have to update that all the time. Because SEO changes all the time. Right? What’s nice about our book, Accelerating Your Agency, like it’s foundational systems that will stand the test of time. So we never have to update it, which is nice because I hate reading a book or writing a book or any of that. I just remember someone’s like, you need to build more authority, write a book. I think that it was a mistake to think that because I can reach people a lot longer with videos and podcasting and that kind of stuff, but some people are better at writing. So a book is perfect for them. I’m not the best writer like I’m bilingual. I have good English and bad English.
Got it. Okay, cool. How do our listeners reach you, work with you, learn from you? Where would you send them to?
The best way to get in contact with us or just check out the 2000 pieces of free content out there is just go to JasonSwenk.com. Go there, check it out, say hello, and reach out to us. Click on Contact, and you’ll go through and chat with our little Don Draper bot, and then it actually goes to me after two questions, and then just say, “Hey, I checked you out on this podcast and enjoyed it.” That’s all we want.
Awesome. All right. Well, thank you, Jason.
Thanks for having me.
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Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Start with building myself up before I build my business. Starting a company doesn’t mean I need to be 100% ready, but if my mind is in the right place, I can tackle all the challenges better.
It doesn’t matter how or where I start, I just have to start. Don’t wait until I feel like I’m a hundred percent ready. Start small and work my way up from there.
Create an outstanding business website that contains vital information about my services. Let it be a portal that provides the best resources to my target audience.
Stay determined and crazy enough to go above my limits. Running a business at the beginning has more lows than highs. Never give up, be wise in every decision, and just keep going.
Make sure the business is profitable. At the end of the day, it matters a lot that whatever I’m doing is feasible, and I keep the light on for myself and my employees.
Be brave and willing to fail and be rejected again and again. It’s part of the journey.
Be an authority on my niche. To gain trust and credibility, I must keep improving my social proof. Getting badges from media outlets and earning authentic testimonials from reliable clients will boost my image.
Establish direction, systems, and analytics to scale. Keep my business intact with vital data gathering to show where I am and what I need to do to keep growing.
Delegate tasks to qualified and highly competitive individuals. A strong team is composed of key people who are better and smarter than me.
Grab a copy of Jason Swenk’s book, Accelerating Your Agency: An 8 Systems Playbook For Growing Your Agency Faster.
About Jason Swenk
Jason has literally written the book for growing an agency from nothing to two 8 figure agencies. He is one of the most sought out advisors to agencies in the World, by showing them an 8 system framework that worked for growing his agency, working with brands like AT&T, Hitachi, Lotus Cars, and eventually lead to selling his agency.
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