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Are you looking to build a successful agency and establish long-term partnerships with your clients?
In this episode of the Conquer Local Podcast, Jeff Tomlin chats with David Reske, the founder and CEO of Nowspeed Marketing, about building a successful agency and establishing long-term partnerships with clients. They delve into the importance of team-building, packaging services and managing risk in the agency world.
David, with a background in sales and website design, has successfully led his company to expand its services and acquire other digital marketing firms. He brings a unique perspective to the field and has shared his knowledge through his book “Digital Marketing in the Zone” and his podcast “In the Now.” As an Adjunct Professor at Boston College, he also teaches a course on business planning.
Listen as David shares his insights on hiring the right people, creating scalable service packages, and leveraging AI to create world-class content.
Tune in to learn how to build long-term relationships with clients and take your agency to the next level!
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Building a Successful Agency and Establishing Long-Term Client Partnerships
Jeff Tomlin: David Reske, welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast. Thanks so much for taking some of your very valuable time out of your day to spend with us on the podcast.
David Reske: Jeff, it’s great to be here with you.
Jeff Tomlin: Well, one thing that I wanted to jump in and talk about, as a guy that’s started a number of companies and exited companies and grown a very, very successful agency at scale. One of the things that’s on top of my mind right now is we’re doing a lot of team-building and leadership work. And one of the things that we talk about often here at Vendasta is how important the team is and having the right people around you. And so maybe just from your perspective in growing your businesses over the years, maybe talk to me a little bit about how you see the value of a team and getting the right people around you as you build a successful company.
David Reske: Yeah. Well, it’s so important to build the right team. I think of that as one of the core functions of the CEO or founder is really building the team. So that’s so important. But I’ve been running this agency, I started it over 20 years ago, and I’ve made so many mistakes in that regard. And I hope none of the people who I’ve made mistakes on are listening to this now.
But hiring is very difficult, and I’ve learned early that I’m just not the best at it in our company. I tend to be very optimistic with people. I tend to believe everything they say. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to give everybody a chance. So if it was up to me, I’d give the 22-year-old new college graduate responsibility for our largest client and our biggest campaign, and my team would shoot me in the back of the head. So what I learned many years ago was I need to delegate hiring to a team of experts who are really responsible for delivering great services to our clients. And then the people who are going to be working with the people that we’ll be hiring are the best people to evaluate them. So we’ve created a very detailed hiring process. Starts with recruiting, bringing in the right candidates, and then taking them through a series of interviews with the people they’d be working with. And then ultimately having a team of people evaluate and judge them and score them, giving them some tests along the way.
So I’m not the best at it, but I think our team has really developed a really good process around it.
Prioritize processes, learn from mistakes and avoid fatal errors for growth.
Jeff Tomlin: I think that’s so important, the idea of having a process. And so many companies that don’t build out formal processes. Because it seems like it can be a fairly straightforward thing, you have a certain workflow perhaps for hiring people. But really having a system is important in order to get the right people aligned on your team, the people with the right values, the right skill sets, the people that are going to mesh. We use and have been using the WHO framework from the famous book, and it’s put a lot of structure to our hiring process, which isn’t the most attractive for some people. But it sure puts a lot of rigour in place and it leads to great results when you have those systems in place.
David Reske: Yeah. You absolutely have to do that. In an agency or any business, once you get past those early days of figuring out what people will pay you to do and creating your initial product and services and focus, creating systems and processes is the only way to scale it and grow it with keeping any sanity. So that’s something we’ve done a lot of and it’s really worked well for us.
Jeff Tomlin: By the way, I chuckled a little bit when you started, because you talked about that you made a lot of mistakes throughout your days and learned from. It’s a recurring theme. I can’t tell you how many of my recent guests that I’ve had on, we’ve talked about that topic. You really do learn a lot more from the mistakes that you’ve made over your years than the successes which you like to reminisce about the takeaways from those too. But it’s a process. And it’s good for new entrepreneurs to really internalize that too. Hey, you’re going to make mistakes. Just make sure you learn from them and continue on.
David Reske: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things you learn is some mistakes are fatal mistakes. Try not to make those. I’ve made those, and those are bad. And other mistakes are not fatal. But you have to pick yourself off of each mistake and keep coming back. And things happen to you that are not the result of mistakes too, so you have to understand that as well. But there is a way to avoid mistakes as well. I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I didn’t have to make in hindsight if I had gotten better advice, hired better people, hired better consultants, done more planning. There are a lot of mistakes that you don’t have to make. So it’s not just a badge of honour that, hey, you make mistakes, you’re fine.
Jeff Tomlin: Try to avoid them.
David Reske: But we’ll be – so get over it and keep going, right?
Package services for agencies, and the importance of defining and limiting offerings.
Jeff Tomlin: Yeah, there you go. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the agency world. And obviously, you’ve been tremendously successful in your endeavors. There’s a lot of competition out there and the landscape’s changing a lot. Maybe talk a little bit about how you think agencies can effectively go about packaging the services that they offer in order to stand out in today’s day and world.
David Reske: Yeah. So packaging your services is so important for any services business. If you’re a plumber, if you’re an HVAC person, if you are an agency. So in any services industry, you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do, how much you’re going to charge for it, or you’ll just lose your shirt through the whole process. So I think it’s very important as an agency to make choices about the service that you’re going to deliver and what it takes to deliver that service. So I think of it as really productizing the service.So you can just show up and say, “Hey, hire me as a consultant and pay me per hour and I’ll do whatever you want.” That’s certainly a legitimate business model. That kind of relies on hiring great experts, letting them go, and then just letting them work for clients. It’s really an alternative to them hiring people. So that’s one way to go. Most agencies though move in the direction of packaging the services. That is to say, define the service offering. You get a 15-page website for this much money, it’s going to take us this long to build it, here’s our methodology, here’s the steps in the process. The great thing about that is it gives the client confidence that you know what you’re doing. They know what they’re buying. They’re not just hiring some people who are going to work for as long as it takes to do something. They’re going to buy, it’s in this case example a website, it’s this big, this complicated. Here’s what it includes, here’s what it does include. It’s more like, I use the analogy of building a house. So if you go to build a house, you could just say to the builder, “Hey, just send some guys over and build and we’ll figure it out as we go. And bring some material and then we’ll get some new material later.” And you can definitely build a house that way, it’s just going to be very expensive, and you’ll be very frustrated at the end of the day. So better to define what you’re going to build, what it’s going to take, what’s included, what’s not included. It takes work, but you’re going to be better off as an agency once you get that done.
Jeff Tomlin: Let me ask you about some of the most common services. Some of the most important pieces in different agency packages are sometimes not always the easiest to scale from an agency point of view, specifically paid advertising, inbound organic search, social media work. Sometimes they can be challenging to execute and to do it at scale. Maybe talk a little bit about how you incorporate those into the productized packages that you offer and can do it in a scalable way?
David Reske: So those are core services. So digital advertising in Google, Facebook, Instagram, all the major channels, SEO, as well as social media, content marketing. And we also on a project basis, we do things like website design and development. So those marketing services, let’s say, demand generation services, we’ve been doing them for a long time. So we started doing PPC in 2003, added SEO the next year, and been doing social media since probably 2010. So the things that really kept us sane and do a good job with that is defining the service offering. And I actually wrote a book called Digital Marketing Zone, so I laid out the steps in the methodology of the book and on our website as well. But defining what the client gets. So an example, in paid search, the challenge in that is there’s an infinite number of things you can do in paid search to be successful. So you can create an infinite number of ads, you can create an infinite number of landing pages, you can create an infinite number of offers, you can use dozens of channels, you can run infinite number of keywords. So the challenge is you’ve got to limit those. And once you have experience and know what to do, the best opportunities are no longer infinite. You know that this is the most likely set of things that are going to be successful, and that’s what you include in the service offering. So instead of saying we’re going to do an infinite number of ads, you say, well, in a typical campaign we’re going to set up 10 ad groups in four campaign sets. And you kind of limit it to what from your experience is going to be successful. And maybe sometimes you’ll give the client some grace and some flexibility, but you limit it to the work that you think is going to be necessary to achieve the client’s goal. And that’s very helpful.
De-risking strategies by taking small bets and incremental changes to optimize campaigns for growth.
Jeff Tomlin: I guess sticking to the things that really well is one way of de-risking things too. And in your book you talk about controlling your spending in order to de-risk your digital marketing. Something that we think about a lot in the software world, we talk about agile methodologies. And really at the core, the whole agile philosophy is all about de-risking and doing things in iterative approaches to de-risk the projects that you’re working on and to validate assumptions that you’re making in order to de-risk them. So maybe talk a little bit about your approach to manage risk.
David Reske: Yeah, absolutely. And so in advertising, we like to take the same approach. And the beauty of digital advertising is you can really make small bets and see them pay off and then test different things and invest in really what works. And it’s often a mistake that sometimes clients have too much money and they want to start too big before they really know what’s going on. We had a client a couple of years ago with a B2C product, and they wanted to start out spending $100,000 a month. And it was Christmas season and they were concerned they were going to miss the season, so they increased the budget from there. And we kind of said, look, we haven’t broken the code yet. We are not in a positive role as we’re seeing these campaigns work, these campaigns are not working. But we’re not at a point where we can really scale the spending and produce positive results. And they said it doesn’t matter. Keep spending, keep spending, keep spending. And then at the end of the day, they were not happy, surprisingly, it didn’t work. So you have to get to a place where you can make small bets. Sometimes you know what works and we know in certain industries what’s going to work based on our experience. We know that these types of offers, these types of landing pages, these types of keywords, these ad sets, when you get this cost per click, this conversion rate, this conversion to MQL, this is going to work. But some markets you don’t know it’s going to work. So make small bets, incremental changes. Get one channel working, one campaign working, whether it’s Google, PPC, get that working, maybe then add Google display, then add LinkedIn, then add another campaign set. Expand from one product to another product and take incremental steps. If you can afford the time to do that. Now, if you have infinite money and budget’s not an issue, do it all and then you’ll know faster what works. But if you don’t have infinite money and you are accountable for the money, take small steps, make small bets, find out what works, and then expand it. And that works every time because we’re always going to find something that works.
Jeff Tomlin: Your story reminds me of a fellow Bostonian, a Mark Roberge, a former CRO from HubSpot. And he’s, in a talk that he’s been doing recently, talks about potholes in growing, and growing as a SaaS company, in his case. And I remember in one part of his talk, he said, So you’ve just raised some money now. Please tell me you’re not going to go out and hire two dozen salespeople right off the hop and throw al l that money into it.” And one of the things he talked about was sort of an iterative approach. Okay, you’ve started out with some ad spend and you’ve got X number of salespeople and it’s working. Okay, add another salesperson, increment your spend, add another one, see if it breaks, add another one, see if it breaks. So anyways, it reminded me of your story exactly.
David Reske: Yeah, absolutely. So bigger companies that have the model figured out, and they almost by definition have to have it figured out if they’ve gotten big. So they have a successful brand, they have happy customers, they’ve got a product that works. Those are all great advantages. A lot of smaller companies or startups, they don’t have an established brand. They don’t have the product quite working. They might have the minimal viable product, but they don’t have a product that everybody wants. They don’t know maybe what the pricing is. There’s a lot of unknowns, and in that environment, you’ve got to start small, incremental, and grow.
Now, if you have all of that figured out, great brand, sales people ready to convert leads to sales, website that’s converting, offers and content that really works, then it’s a matter of optimizing the campaigns and channels to grow it rapidly. But if you don’t, you’ve got to take some steps to kind of get there. So it’s when you have that omnichannel and all those figured out that you can really scale it and be successful. But you got to do the hard work and get there.
Key trend is AI enables rapid, and strategic content creation for marketing.
Jeff Tomlin: 100%. We have the luxury and we’ve had a pretty good track record of getting an awful lot of wisdom joining us on the show here. And this space really is moving quickly. Things change quickly and the trends evolve and you’ve got to stay on top of them. So I always like to ask my guests, what are the most important trends that you’re paying attention to right now? And any particular technologies that you think are going to play a really big role over the next little while that marketers and agencies really need to think hard about?
David Reske: Well, AI is the obvious trend. So we’re all watching what’s happening with products like ChatGPT and Bard to see how they’re changing things. And there was some fear maybe when these products first came out that they would just replace marketers. So, hey, do you really need a marketing department when you’ve got AI? It can do the whole thing for you.
And what we’re really realizing is AI, at least in our business, is just an important enabler that lets us create content rapidly and effectively to cover all the content the client really needs.
So one of the challenges in my world is often you’d start campaigns or you’d be doing SEO or building out the website, and creating content is expensive, and it was always expensive. Because in an ideal world, you’d want, let’s say three or four dimensional content, but you’d want content for all your products and services, for all market segments, across all phases of the buyer’s journey, in every form possible. Case studies, white papers, guides, website content, testimonials, all of that. So that’s a big matrix of stuff. And AI lets you start building and getting to the place where you do that. Now, if you just let AI create random stuff, it’s going to be meaningless to somebody or your website. You’d just say, “Hey, it could create all that in an afternoon.” But really it takes a lot of strategy and thought to think about really what type of content is appropriate for every step in the buyer’s journey for that product, for that segment. So that strategic thinking, and then SEO optimizing that, is really an important step. So it’s kind of marrying this new technology that makes it cheaper and more effective to create that content with strategic thinking around campaigns, you’re going to actually produce results.
So that’s a huge trend that we’re thinking about. So we could talk about that one all day. There’s more. But any thoughts on that? Have you seen the same thing?
Jeff Tomlin: Yeah, I’ve seen the same thing. And I’ll just bolt onto your thoughts on one thing that people, like you said, they’ve been hesitant to jump on and use AI. And in the SEO community there’s challenges that, hey, well, AI-generated content doesn’t necessarily rank as well as stuff written by humans. But I think it’s about using the prompts. Rand Fishkin of SEO Moz fame, I remember him talking in one of his little whiteboard sessions about the value of writing content, and I think it still holds. For your content marketing to be effective, you have to write content that’s 10 times better than anything else that’s out there right now. But doing that, it takes a lot of work. Whether it’s your own proprietary research or it’s looking at things a different way, coming at problems from different angles. And it’s about the medium too.
But if you think about it and you think about the application of AI, it can help you create amazing content, but you have to drive that. And it can really help scale the development of world-class content that gets attention.
David Reske: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m personally thinking of it right now, and I’m sure this is a very imperfect analogy, imagine you had a new college grad that was really smart, you get the Harvard-educated grad, she’s in your office, ready to do something, and eager and excited and can write anything as brilliant and can research anything, but doesn’t really know much about the world and how the pieces fit together and the strategy you’re doing. But if you work with that assistant and just go through research steps and gather more information. And ChatGPT is like that, but allows you to iterate much faster than even a brilliant person could do.
And so engaging with that tool and iterating your thoughts and asking new questions and getting more research, it lets people who have experience leverage that experience much faster than we could in the past. So we get not only one new college grad researcher, we get an infinite number because we can leverage that so much faster at a ridiculously low cost. So it’s an amazing tool for all of us.
Build long-term client relationships, and embrace collaboration for mutual success in agencies.
Jeff Tomlin: And that type of application and process is what I’m seeing people that are doing it the best in the world, that’s the way that they’re approaching it, 100%. David, if you had a couple of takeaways for the audience, the things that you want to stick in their head and want them to remember, what do you think they’d be?
David Reske: Well, one of the things I’m thinking a lot about right now as an agency is building long-term relationships with our clients, because that’s just the key to any agency’s success. And so what I want to do is I want to make sure that we are a long-term partner with our clients. I think there’s some companies that see working as an agency as like, it’s an evil thing, it’s a necessary evil. I got to do it. I’ll do it for a few weeks, a month, as long as I have to, but then I’m going to hire somebody as soon as I can to get rid of that evil agency, because they’re ripping me off or they’re trying to do something. And I hate that. I just hate that whole approach. Because we want to be long-term partners with our clients. With our best clients, we’ve been with them longer than any of their employees have been with them. We’re not an outsourced partner, we’re part of the team. We’re an just extension of their company just like their employees are. In the remote world, we don’t even feel any different. Yeah, we might have a different email address, but we’re part of that team. And so that’s where my head’s at right now. So using our tools, use our expertise to build those long-term relationships, not adversarial. It’s almost a cliche in our industry. The new CMO comes in, “Fire the agency. Bring in the next guy.” What’s the point? Figure out how to work with the team you got. We’ve got enough people, if you don’t like the way that Bob’s dressing, work with Susan. So we have lots of people. Build a collaborative relationship where you can really leverage the strengths of that team. There may be a reason to change. I’m not saying no one is ever going to change agencies ever. But figure out how to build a long-term partnership with your agency for mutual success. That’s what I really want to do.
Jeff Tomlin: I love that takeaway. They say it’s about three times more expensive to acquire a brand new customer than it is to keep and work and expand the ones that you have. And it makes a lot of sense, by the way, your approach, to me. You started out talking about the value of team and getting the right people on the bus. Because there’s a saying that I love to quote, probably quote it too often, but it’s your customers are never going to be happier than your employees. And when you’ve got a great team around you, it sounds like you’re pretty well positioned to be successful in your quest to build long-term relationships with those clients.
David Reske: We’re doing our best. So every day we wake up and figure out how to help our clients be successful. So we’re always trying to make a difference. So we want clients who can be collaborative and engage with us and enjoy the experience of working with. And if something’s not working, there’s going to be problems and issues, we want to be collaborative and work together to solve those and get them to a place where they can be successful.
Getting in touch with David Reske
Jeff Tomlin: David, it’s been a privilege spending a few minutes to chat with you, and thanks for the wisdom that you’re sharing. If people wanted to continue the conversation with you, reach out to you, how do they contact you?
David Reske: Well, you can easily find me on LinkedIn. Just search for David Reske, it’s a pretty unique name. Or go to our website, nowspeed.com.
Jeff Tomlin: David, I wish you all the best and hope you can come back and do this again sometime in the future.
David Reske: Great. Jeff, thanks for having me. I really appreciate the conversation.
Jeff Tomlin: Wow! There you have it, I hope you’ve enjoyed our conversation with David as much as I did. A main takeaway from our chat is Building Long-Term Partnerships. David mentioned the importance of establishing long-term collaborative relationships with clients. I appreciate how he suggests viewing the agency not as a necessary evil or a temporary solution but as an extension of the client’s company. Leveraging tools and experience, according to David, fosters mutual success, to establish the agency as a long-term partner.
Another key takeaway there is around risk management. David said the significance of defining and packaging services strategically by clearly outlining methodologies and processes gives clients the confidence that you as an agency will be able to deliver. He also advised a cautious approach to budget allocation, especially in digital advertising. Rather than kicking it off with large campaigns, David suggests taking small, incremental steps to manage risks effectively and scale based on proven success. I like what he said about, “taking small bets” to see what’s working, and that just makes sense.
If you’ve enjoyed David’s episode discussing Growing and selling agencies, keep the conversation going and revisit some of our older episodes from the archives: Check out Episode 639: Key Steps and Strategies to Prepare Your Agency for Sale with Richard Parker Or Episode 618: Mastering Partnerships and Go-To-Market Success with Barrett King.
Until next time, I’m Jeff Tomlin. Get out there and be awesome!