414: Finding Success Through the Pandemic, with Mitchell Slater

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How does a marketing agency find success through the pandemic, and how can they help their community? It’s about keeping local businesses informed and helping them succeed. If they succeed, you succeed.

We have Mitchell Slater, Founder and CEO, from Slater Strategies joining us from Alaska/Florida. Mitchell got his start at just 17 years old in print advertising and quickly realized he had to make the shift to the digital space. He found early success by attending conferences and learning from others’ mistakes who have tried and failed. As many agencies went through the same problem, finding success through the pandemic, he knew he needed to figure out how to adapt and help local businesses. Through the challenges that 2020 brought, Mitchell had his most successful year to date. He did this by educating the local businesses around him, finding his niche, and utilizing his network. A key piece to Mitchell’s success was no longer being bound by geography because the entire world went remote.

Join the conversation in the Conquer Local Community and keep the learning going in the Conquer Local Academy.


George: It’s another edition of the Conquer Local podcast. This week, we get to do something that I really enjoy doing. We have this event and we may not have it for a while or maybe we’ll have it virtually, but it was called Conquer Local. It was an amazing conference. First time we did, it was in Austin, Texas. Then we did it in Banff, then we did it in San Diego. And I’ll never forget this next guest, Mitchell Slater. I met him in Banff, Alberta. And Mitchell is a solo-preneur. He has, he’s a channel partner. I consider him a friend. He has an organization in Florida that is his business and he runs this business solving the marketing challenges of his clientele. And I learned a lot from Mitchell. And he has continued to grow his business. And producer, Colleen, has done a great job of getting him to come on the show today. And I’m looking forward to hearing about the journey of Mitchell Slater from selling a coupon book in the basement of his parents’ house in Alaska to now running a digital marketing agency in Florida. We’re gonna get the whole story, the ins and outs and how he has grown that business in a few moments right here on this week’s edition of the Conquer Local podcast.

While joining me on the call today and on this episode, a gentlemen, that I met seven years ago, Mr. Mitchell Slater, coming to us all the way from beautiful Florida. And Mitchell, great to have you on the show and very good to see you again, my friend.

Mitchell: Stoked to finally be on the show, George.

George: A little passive aggressive there, but that’s okay. Mitchell, please tell the folks about yourself and your journey. I’d love to hear about your company a little bit. And we’ve got to put the Alaska thing in there. So I’ll let you tell the story of Mitchell Slater to all of the conquerors out there.

Launching the Company

Mitchell: Sure thing. So, yeah, my name is Mitchell Slater. I started my company when I was 17. I’ve lived in Alaska at the time. And I always wanted to start a business. So I thought, what better thing to do then get into advertising and marketing, ’cause I didn’t have a ton of money and I could do it from home. So I launched my company, the original name, which I had no idea what I was doing back then, was Alaska’s Affordable Advertising. I thought like, “I’ll be the next triple A is what I wanted to be in.” I launched it and I actually got into print. I think you’ll be so impressed with George, the 17 year old, who was born in the nineties launched a print company to start. And I actually, I made a booklet, eight pages. I went and sold ads around my local town, little town of Wasilla, Alaska, only about 7,000 people there. And I went door to door, sold ads, and I filled it, I printed it locally, I distributed it around local businesses and I added up my profits at the end of the first month, and I made total of $30 profit. I was so, man, there were so many emotions, ’cause I worked so hard and I was like, I only made $30. Cause my printing costs was well over a thousand dollars. And for me as a junior, I was a junior in high school, I was like, “All right, a thousand bucks, that’ll be nice to have in my pocket back then.” And I kept doing it for another couple months and man, totally, I made like $60 total. I just really wasn’t making anything with the business. So I changed multiple times. And the long story short is, fell on digital marketing. Found Vendasta about seven years ago or so and been with you guys ever since. And it’s been awesome.

George: Well there’s so many great things in that story, because you learned about cost of goods and profit and loss very early along in your career, which happens to all of us. It also was interesting to me that you were born to be an entrepreneur. We’ve talked about this and when we’ve spent time face to face. And the other thing that I thought was interesting in your opener there was, Wasilla, Alaska, isn’t that where Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds were in the movie, “The Proposal?” Remember that movie?

Mitchell: Sitka.

George: Oh right, which was actually they filmed it in a place in New Hampshire or something or Massachusetts. Anyways, I just love the Alaska reference. And then you move to Florida. And you’re living North of Miami now.

And we’re gonna talk a little bit about your business today and what I’d love to understand from you for all of the folks that are listening is the journey that you’ve been on. Because I remember when we spent time in Banff, Alberta, Canada at a Conquer Local. And then we spent time in San Diego and it was interesting in just that one year, the growth that you had had as a business person and in your learnings of the space and the way that you were delivering to customers. So can we rewind back to those early days? And what I’d love to understand is the trial and error that are in those early days, and then if we could talk about Banff and then eventually we’ll talk about what the business looked like at the San Diego time, and then we’ll talk about today. So let’s first off talk as you really started to dig into that digital marketing. What are some of the things that stick out in your mind when it comes to wins and losses?

The Early Days of Digital Marketing

Mitchell: So I think most importantly, I was pulled in a lot of different directions when I first started out. So I actually became a youth pastor right out of high school. I was 18 years old. I was working part-time at a church. And then I was doing my business. I was also trying to go to college locally, ended up just dropping that and doing the business and doing ministry and had a blast with that.

So I was doing the business, youth ministry, which I absolutely loved. And then when my wife moved, my family moved from Alaska to Florida, I stopped doing the ministry side of things for like as an actual paid position. And then just did the business and continued just to learn and grow and going to those conferences. The biggest thing I always tell people if they are a Vendasta partner wanting to grow is go to the conferences ’cause the confidence that I built up in myself, going to these conferences, was just priceless.

We’re meeting, being you and me in the leadership, and also other agencies who had the same struggles and shortcomings that I had that I could hear how they were going through them or how they could get better. That was huge. So every conference that I’ve gone to, which it’s only been two, I missed out on it last year, of course, with COVID. And that was huge. So I would always tell people to go to the conferences, because you’re gonna be able to grow from there. ‘Cause my confidence was bigger and I was always able to then call people directly from Vendasta and be like, “Hey, we met at the conference. I have this issue I’m trying to solve. Can you help me solve it?” That was huge and priceless as well.

George: Right, I was interested to see you in San Diego. And I remember he had breakfast on that beautiful lawn at the Del Coronado and it was cloudy, but it didn’t matter, it was still awesome. With the helicopters, Black Hawk helicopters from the Navy Seal Base, it is such an amazing place. And you were telling me about your customer, the growth that you had had since Banff, and it was a 12 month period, let’s be clear. It was one year difference. And I noticed the difference in your level of confidence. Talking to our audience, how long do you think it takes for you to really understand how to deliver the value proposition? Understand what’s gonna happen when you press the buttons and turn stuff on for your customer, and then also understand that customer? It wasn’t a one-year journey, I don’t think.

Growing the Digital Business

Mitchell: No, and it’s not over. I’m still learning every day, every week, but it took probably three months after that first conference to really build up, I guess, the knowledge that I needed to get to that next level. And then it was kind of just kicking butt the next nine, I guess I would say for that, but it doesn’t happen overnight. I that’s never been the case for me, it’s never happened overnight.

George: You made a promise to me at that table and I appreciate you keeping the promise because you said you were gonna really kick some butt in the next 12 months. And now here we are almost 24 months later and we’ve got good news. And the good news is that 2020 was the biggest year that you’ve ever had. Why do you think that is?

Mitchell: Man, it was an awesome year. It was crazier as everybody experienced. And when March, April came around I had multiple clients pause, multiple clients cancel. And I was like, “Oh boy, here we go. Like, what do we have in store?” And obviously a pause client way better than a canceled client. And come about July, August is when I kind of saw the shift where people were like, “All right, it is what it is. It’s not going anywhere. We needed to continue to market our company, when you continue to grow with everything going on.” And that was when people started, I got calls from people wanting to market, clients were saying we need a boost budget to market more. That was just a crazy shift come approaching that fall season, July, August, September that everything started to kind of grow. And so my last quarter was like one of my best quarters ever of 2020.

George: And we all know that there are certain businesses that really profited from this, and there’s nothing good about COVID, but there are some businesses that really profited from the change in lifestyle, the change in the way that we conduct ourselves. Do you see specific categories of businesses? Because that was one thing that you and I talked about in Banff was rather than going horizontally, calling on everybody and seeing, like really finding a niche where you have a customer, you’ve got a playbook, you know how to work with that customer in that vertical, and then maybe find other customers in that space. What are you seeing when it comes to the clients that you’re really able to gain traction with and help them?

Mitchell: The ones that have done really well for us are the trades. So people are stuck at home. They wanted to remodel their house, they needed a new roof, a deck, a pool. Those all took off really well ’cause people wanted to be able to enjoy their house since they were stuck in there all the time. So those ones just went crazy when COVID was going on. So those are, those specifically.

George: I do know that you are, I’m gonna use the word ferocious. You were a ferocious adopter of new technology and we’ve rolled out a lot of new technology in the last 12 months. What I’m wondering is, when it comes to collecting payments with the platform and utilizing the e-commerce that we offer to you to use it, the Slater Strategies, are you finding that that is a benefit to you or the business owner just puts their credit card in and they’re able to pay right within the platform?

Ecommerce Platform

Mitchell: It is. It’s come a long way. When I first launched, I wasn’t ready to make that shift over yet ’cause I knew it had some bugs to get worked out but it’s gotten way better since the launch where it’s been very handy to have it just in the platform, especially for anybody on the team that needs to go in there and edit anything. I don’t have to give them the QuickBooks log in and here’s what you need to do in there. Everything can be done inside. So that’s been really handy.

George: What I’m wondering Mitchell is, that what you were just referring to the QuickBooks log in or building an invoice and saying to a customer, and all those things, it really does take time. And it’s not something that you really think about, the amount of time, until you don’t have to worry about it. That’s the thing that I noticed, there’s some people that have found that by having the end to end, it really has saved them some time.

What, we’ve talked about the businesses that you were seeing grow, what are some of the businesses that you’re seeing struggle in your market, in just North of Miami there?

Mitchell: Oh boy, I don’t really mess with the restaurant side of things, but we’ve been pretty open in Florida since everything. And our governors kept the doors open which I know hasn’t been the case for the rest of the country or obviously internationally. But I haven’t really seen anything specific struggle besides places where I needed the foot traffic, because people haven’t been venturing out as much. Like my wife and I, we have an 18 month old now, so we kind of just stay close to home and just hung around outside, enjoy the weather. So I haven’t really, I don’t really have much to add to that when I actually, ’cause I don’t know, besides foot traffic businesses.

The Need for Digital

George: No, it makes sense. And it is that physical, where you need to conduct physical business. The one thing I wanted to understand, and I know that one of the core solutions that you sell to your customer is, you really believe in the listing syndication and make sure the listing data is right. Of the clients that you serve, how many of them have been adopting the ability to post that they have curbside pickup? Or that they have delivery or contactless payments, or things like that. Are you seeing an uptick in that?

Mitchell: So, I don’t work with the restaurant and those types of things specifically. So don’t have that for clients, but I have had some that wanted to update their Google My Business with all the new features that Google My Business offered them. So yes, but not specifically like restaurants.

George: It’s interesting that you mentioned that. So is that something that you offered, or was that something that the business person understood was something they needed to do? Like I don’t get a chance to talk to as many folks like you that are dealing directly with the business person. And I do have some businesses that I deal with. What I’m trying to interrogate is, do you feel that business owners are really starting to understand the ecosystem more? ‘Cause in the early days, when we first met, you really had to explain everything. “This is why you need to be here. This is why this is important.” Are you seeing an uptick when you call on those trades work where they’re like, “Okay, I need to tell customers that I have contactless delivery.”

Mitchell: I would say it’s 50-50. There were some clients we sat down with and I was saying, “Hey, this is what’s coming with Google My Business.” Obviously Google shut down reviews for a while and then turned it back on. Explaining to them the process of what Google was doing with that. And then we had some clients that were like, “I heard this from a friend that I can do this.” And I was like, “Yeah.” Or, “I heard this on, I saw an ad for this.” Whatever it was and then explaining to them what exactly is going on.

George: Well that was my point. And thank you for validating what I’d thought. And I’ve heard this from others is that it seems to be that we don’t have to have as much of a heavy left as to what is possible. There’s more people starting to understand that they need to be involved in that, which is interesting, right? Because in those early days you really had to understand the deliverables, explain it to them, paint the picture, but now more and more, it’s more of a push than a pull where they’re coming forward. The other thing that I wanna talk about is when you decide to go into a new category, or a new vertical. So you said schools and roofers, those are not two things that I would put together as a vertical. So how did you arrive there? What was the strategy behind, “I’m gonna sell the schools and roofers?”

Mitchell: Sure. So it kinda got plopped in my lap a little bit. So the school, so a little bit background on me. So obviously don’t have a college education, college degree. I was homeschooled my entire life. So I wanted to help some of these other homeschool organizations that were across the country to grow their enrollment and help them educate more students. So that was my heart specifically, and I had a couple of connections in that space since I was homeschooled my whole life and reached out to some of these schools and was able to help them grow. So we were able to help one of the schools double their enrollment when COVID, right before COVID started we helped help them double their enrollment in a year, which was awesome. And obviously the school world got flipped on it’s edge a year ago as well. And then roofing, we just have had amazing success with roof. I don’t know the roofing world really well, but we’ve had great success with helping them grow and get more leads using Google ads and SEO.

George: And the reason I wanted to ask that question is, what we’ve found, and you and I did have this conversation in Banff, is you find a customer that you’re able to solve the problem for and then go find other customers that look like it and run that play over again. And you become the expert in that niche. And this niche approach is quite powerful. I did remember something when I was prepping for the episode we’re sitting in Banff, you and I were had just met for the first time, you were asking me how you could find leads or where do I go to sell this thing? And I had said to you in your circle of influence. And I really believe this to be true. When we’re working with a channel partner, and we’re talking, and I worked with them all over the place and they say, “Okay, where should I go to sell?” And I’m like, “Well, who do you know?” Because the one thing about selling digital marketing services, you remember the pitch that I gave you was, you’re not bound by geography, you can sell it anywhere. You could do it the way we’re doing it right now remote on a Zoom meeting, you don’t really need to be face-to-face. So who is in your ecosystem? And that’s where the school thing came from, because you knew those people and you were able to get the warm intro and go and have the conversation. Who else were you able to sell from that, that was in that space? You got any uncles that own businesses, or aunts, your family members that, is that something that you were able to accomplish outside of the the school thing, which you knew how to help them?

Mitchell: I think the one that worked really well for me and not using this in a negative way at all, like church. So I knew a ton of people just from going to church and being around people there where they would, you’d find out what they do. They’d find out what you do and the conversation would start. And if you meet me I’m not a pushy salesman or whatever. I know George would be like, “Whoa, you need to be more pushy, Mitchell.” I’m really just not that type of person. So if they want what I offer, I’ll give it to them if it’s a good fit. But being able to be in church, you know a ton of people. And then those people also know a ton of people. So maybe they’re not actually gonna be a client, but they say, “Oh, my brother owns this roofing company.” Or that, “My cousin owns this restaurant. You should reach out to them.” And then when you have that introduction, that warm introduction, oh it’s so much easier to talk to them, and possibly sell them on something because, hey, you have a middle ground connection, which is really nice.

Growing your Business

George: Great. Thank you for bringing that up. I find that it’s really interesting. So you get somebody they phone in and they wanna run a successful agency and they’re like, “Hey, how do I get leads?” Okay, “Who do you know?” Okay, “Well, I belong to this business group.” Okay, have you done a mixer there? And all of those are happening remote right now. So it’s your sphere of influence and then find the niche and then go find other customers. The one question that I have is, so you have this community that you belong to, happens to be a church, and you’re using that network, which is brilliant, because that’s what sales is all about is referrals. And really that’s the Holy Grail, if we get to a point where people are giving us leads, because they know we do a great job. By the way, you don’t get leads if you do a bad job. So you deliver value and you do it, you deliver on your promises and you’re trusted. But I guess the question I have is, do you still deploy marketing against those networks? Is it still something that you’re running a marketing, you’ve heard me call it air cover, where you’re talking about the brand and you’re maybe running some emails or maybe you’ve done some retargeting on your website. Are you still doing marketing to that community?

Mitchell: Yeah, that’s actually something we’re just about to launch. We’ve been building it for a couple months internally for my company. So we’ve built out a case study for the school we were able to help. We’ve also created a video for roofers and it’s all for Legion. So we have those two separate pages on the website. And we’re gonna run ads targeting like principals and leaders of schools to go download the case study. If they download the case study, they’re gonna be followed by a series of emails that we’ve created to sell them on us and what we’re able to offer them and help them with, same with the roofing side. They download, see the video, they’re gonna be followed with a sequence of separate emails, talking to roofers and speaking in their language to sell them on some of the roofing services we offer. So we’re actually just about to launch that internally which we’re really stoked about.

George: Working with an HVAC company that deals in the B2B space and their sales team. Recently, we were working on some email campaigns and it was really interesting to me. Working with that team, they were reluctant to get specific. And, I was saying, “Well, if you’re willing to run an email campaign and your customer base are hotels, and they do very well in the hotel space, you better speak to the specific challenges that hotels have.” That talk track for the hotel is different than if you are selling to a shopping mall, by the way, which is another vertical that they do well in. And I think that it’s great that you highlighted that you have a separate email cadence for school customer, and you then have a different email campaign for the roofer, speaking to their specific use case.

Success Through the Pandemic

George: Where do you see the next 12 months going? What do you, if you were to give any advice to the folks that do what you do every day, maybe they have not been doing it for seven years, maybe they’re finding this podcast for the first time. What advice would you give them from Mitchell Slater who has been learning this business for the last seven years?

Mitchell: Biggest thing would be, be okay with being virtual. I’ve had, I’ve worked from home for over 10 years with what I’ve been doing. I’ve never had an office that I’ve gone to. I mean, I’m in my home office right now, and I love that. ‘Cause I don’t have to go to this office, ’cause people are thinking I’m gonna be there at eight to five to be able to show up and have a meeting with me. I just work from home, and we’re able to travel and go wherever we want. So don’t feel like you have to have an office, that’s an added expense. It’s an added thing that you have to go, be in charge of and manage. So be okay with virtual.

What’s been really cool is when I first started the business when people were like, this is back when I was a junior in high school of course, people are like, “Where’s your office?” I’m like, “Oh, it’s in my bedroom, at my mom and dad’s house.” Like, I was really awkward to talk about and explain to people. And it was weird back then, it was 2010. And so it was, people didn’t really work from home then I felt like, so now when I say I work from home, people are like, that’s really cool, pretty much the whole country works from home at some point now. So it’s been really easy. So don’t feel like you have to get an office. It would be the biggest thing.

The second one would be diversify. Don’t have all your eggs in one basket. As I think that’s taught a lot of people and people have learned that here in 2020, is if that one basket goes away because of a pandemic or whatever reason, you’re in big trouble if you don’t have that basket. So, and having separate streams of income, whether it’s other businesses, you have a piece in or something, diversify as well.


George: Well you always inspire me when I speak to you, because number one, you’re super authentic. “My office is in my bedroom at my parents’ house.” And that is why people love working with you, I’m sure, because you have an enormous amount of integrity. You’re just gonna call it the way it is. And that is, I will tell you, it’s not being a pushy salesperson, it’s being persistent is my story. But I do, never, never lose the authenticity, my friend, because that is something that a real true sales professionals need to have. And it’s never been more important than it is today. And from those days in Banff when we first got to meet face-to-face to today, it’s been inspiring to watch your growth. And I think the other thing that I would love to hear from you right from your mouth is, this hasn’t been easy, right?

Mitchell: Definitely not, definitely.

George: So the expectation that it’s not just gonna be a bed of roses and that it’s gonna be this straight line to success and dollars, and you’re making tons of money and everything’s going great, there are always gonna be challenges. I’m not talking about COVID, I’m just talking about day to day. That expectation that there are going to be challenges, people like Mitchell Slater, they rise to that. And I found that over the years as we got to know each other you actually love the challenges and solving them. And that’s something that true entrepreneurs, a lot of people don’t get it if they’re not an entrepreneur. That’s what we wake up for everyday is to solve those challenges. So congratulations, congratulations on that beautiful baby, and your fabulous wife and everything that you folks have going on. And we wish you all the best. And thank you for your partnership and friendship over the years. It is just a true pleasure to see you succeeding.

Mitchell: Thanks George. Can’t wait to see you at the next conference.

George: Thanks buddy. Really appreciate it.

What a great guy. Mitchell is one of those individuals that you meet and you just know you’re dealing with an honest person with a lot of integrity and a lot of drive. And I was really excited to have him on the show today, because he is living this every single day. And from the moment that I met him face to face in Banff, Alberta, I was like, “This guy just calls it the way that he sees it and is not afraid to ask the questions.” And it’s really cool to see the way that he has grown his business. And that’s why I asked that last question to him. It’s not been easy. And that was the other thing that I found, he was so authentic in describing some of the challenges that he was having with the software, or the way that he was messaging the customer. You can see that he doesn’t wanna be a salesperson, or a pushy salesperson or come across as a pushy salesperson. But what he does wanna do is take care of his customers. And I’m sure that if we got that school or maybe some of those roofing clients that he has on the phone they wouldn’t call him Mitchell Slater, they’d go my buddy Mitch, because he’s just a great guy. And he really cares about his customers. And he has an amazing lifestyle, because he’s able to have the family unit there with that young child and be a part of the kid’s life. And with his wife raising that child and then also working with his customers. And you can tell that he really cares about his customers.

So there you go, another old print person. But he was 17 when he started selling print in his parents’ house, in his bedroom in the basement. Just a serial entrepreneur that has been through the PhD of the school of hard knocks. And here he is, after all this time, he found a partner that he could work with and learn from. And I will tell you, Mitchell is not afraid to reach out to people and ask for advice and look for coaching and maybe sometimes to challenge and say, “Well, why do you do things this way?” And I’ve been on the receiving end of a number of those conversations. But to see him grow and we were just talking pre-episode, we need to get more Mitchell Slaters on this broadcast so that you folks that are out there can hear from some of his learnings and his challenges. And maybe sometimes we’ll have a guest where you’re like, “I’m just not gonna do it that way.” And that’s a learning too. But when you hear Mitchell talk about the challenges and the fact that he really had to figure out where he was gonna get his leads from and how he was gonna deploy against those leads, it’s really cool to hear that. And then the Google My Business piece, something as simple, and by the way, it’s not simple to the business owner, because they don’t deal with it every day. But something as simple as really understanding the nuances of Google My Business, because roofers, they need to be there and they need to be manipulating that technology for their benefit and explaining that in a way that the client can understand and deploy is super important, and you heard it right there for Mitchell something that he’s doing every day.

It is the Conquer Local podcast, and those episodes and speaking to those folks that I’ve known for a while and watching their growth as they learn and deploy the lessons and the episodes, ’cause I know he listens all the time and you heard him. He’s like, “Finally, I get to be on the show.” It’s just great speaking to those folks, conquering on a day-to-day basis and helping their customers those schools and roofers, helping those folks conquer too in this time. My name is George Leith. Thanks for joining us this week. I’ll see you when I see.