How to start a marketing agency? My guest today is David Baker, author of The Business of Expertise and speaker, who has worked with 750+ firms and in house departments and is an expert on our topic today. David will share with us a practical, no bullshit guide to starting a marketing agency and wisely choosing your target market. He brings so many different ideas and approaches to this discussion that you will not want to miss it and his remarkable advice.
listen to this episode
- Why agencies are bad at marketing
- How to start a marketing agency from scratch, a step-by-step guide
- Communicating your strengths and weaknesses
- Choosing a viable target market
- Finding your first clients
- Starting an agency while keeping your day job
- David’s recommended resources
Louis: David, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for your time. Today, we’re going to answer a question that every marketer has asked themselves but they were really able to find the answer to. Why are marketing agencies so bad at doing marketing? But before you answer, we’re going to really go through in this episode about this problem in particular, it seems like an oddity that so many marketing agencies struggle with their marketing, but in this episode we’re going to go through a step by step process to help agencies stand out or actually think about one if you are thinking of starting one, how to go about it.
David, why are marketing agencies so bad at marketing?
David: They are really, really bad. I wonder if they are worse at doing what they do for a living… When you look at somebody who shine shoes, are their shoes a mess? I think they probably are worse. I would say the first reason is because they hate to be pigeon holed. When you’re putting a statement out about yourself, you have to say something and they’re afraid when they say something about themselves from a positioning standpoint, they are going to limit their opportunity and they won’t have a chance to go out and do this cool thing because they’ve said, “I don’t do that.” I think that’s the primary reason they’re so bad at it. There’s lots of reasons.
Louis: Let’s go into this one. I had an agency, a consulting business but I didn’t like to call myself an agency, maybe for these reasons. What happened was at the very start, we were focusing on everything conversion optimization, every type of business, we will help them to convert their traffic, from leads to sales, to registration, to whatever. And then after a while we discovered that there are certain type of businesses we were working better with and then we started to go about narrowing it down our audience. Every single time we were doing this exercise, what if we miss out on opportunities, what if we go too small? How would you answer those objections?
David: If you’re really good at what you do, it’s hard to imagine limiting opportunities so much that you starve in this world because after the world’s been Googlelized 20 years ago, the world is really your oyster. You’re not just looking at opportunity locally, if you were, it be another question. You can work all around the world. I picture myself sometimes asking this question, I get to a later point in my life and I’m looking back and I say, “Darn, I wish I’d been more effective in my life.”
Will that occur to me because I didn’t have enough opportunity or because I didn’t focus? Always, it’s because I didn’t focus. If you get to the end of your life and you look back on it and say you didn’t have enough opportunity, you were either just starting out or you were just flat incompetent. I just don’t understand this concept about limiting opportunity. Besides, if you look at every one of the other areas of professional services, every one of them chooses something. We’re the only segment of professional services that is hell bent on doing anything for everybody. If we were a plastic surgeon, we’d hang up a sign that says, “I’m a plastic surgeon, but if somebody comes in here and wants a heart transplant, listen, I’m willing to do that because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” It’s crazy. It’s good thing I’m not a doctor, right?
Louis: That’s a very good advantage, I like it. You wouldn’t ask your plastic surgeon to get into your brain literally or to operate on your heart. Why is it, you think, that marketing agencies would prevent themselves from doing so, would prevent themselves from specializing besides the reason we gave already?
David: We can summarize what we’ve just said, they’re genetically predisposed to not limit opportunity. Another thing is that if they make the courageous decision to specialize and to be focused, then they’re faced with how do I do it, here they enter this arena that I think everybody suffers from and that’s inside their own jar and they can’t read the label on the outside of it. They do positioning for a living, that’s what’s so crazy to think about. They know how to do positioning because that’s what they do for their clients, day in and day out, but they struggle to do it for themselves, even if they agreed they’re going to do it, they struggle to do it for themselves because they just can’t see themselves very well. They don’t know what to do. I often think agencies hire each other to do positioning for themselves, because they just can’t do it for themselves.
Louis: I feel that what’s happening in people’s head at this stage is that, “Okay, I have an agency, have a few employees, have a few clients, I definitely don’t want to piss anybody else. I definitely don’t want to make my team like they’re going to do less. More importantly, the reason why I’m not taking a strong positioning and I’m not taking any risk is because it feels weird to take risk on my own stuff, while it’s very easy for me to tell my clients, ‘Hey, you need to take this risk and position yourself this way.’” Right?
David: That’s a very true point and it’s really disingenuous on our part to say, “Listen, this advice is fine for you but it’s not fine for me.” Plus, I think you’ve highlighted an issue too in that most of these firms that we’re talking about start with the very general disposition. They’re not starting from scratch and saying, “What should my positioning be right out of the gate?” No, they already have all of these clients that fit and unposition firm, what are they going to do with them. Sometimes, they have to create the sister agency alongside because they don’t know how they’re going to switch from a generalist firm to a specialized firm and they don’t know how they’re going to find enough clients quickly enough.
Louis: They don’t want to take the risk, they are inside their own jar and can’t read the label and they don’t know what to say to genuinely distinguish themselves in the market place. I want you to say it first, but basically they start spinning…
Louis: Exactly, right? It’s not because they believe in the bullshit but because they don’t know what else to say, is that your point?
David: That’s right. If you get them slightly drunk and you ask them a question, I think they will admit that it’s bullshit and they’re not bad people, they’re not mean people. I have met a few of them but it’s very rare. They are good people that are trying to do good work but they lack the courage, they lack the knowledge. Marketing is bullshit, isn’t it? I owned an agency like you did although I called it an agency, you refuse to call it an agency, I owned an agency for six years and I’ve been doing this for 23 years. 29 years in marketing and I thought this more frequently now than way back then is that why in the world did I even get into marketing? Because I’m more of a scientist than anything and there’s so little science in marketing that I’m very disgusted with the field and I’ll probably go overboard in trying to be a lot more honest with clients than my peers probably would be. It’s probably hurt me a little bit.
Louis: What do you mean?
David: I’m not out there saying I’m the best consultant because I don’t believe that’s necessarily true, I think I maybe the best in some certain cases but I think my competition does really, really good work. I’m not making somebody’s client, maybe it endears me to some folks but I would say I come across as a little bit too academic in some circles.
Louis: Yeah. I see what you mean. On my side, what happened was we took the risk of being really honest with our clients, what happened a year or two ago was that we actually published our revenue figures.
David: I saw that on your website. Yeah, absolutely.
Louis: Hasn’t been updated for a while obviously because I’m not running the company anymore. Although it created trust for a lot of people, we had a few inbound inquiries from customers saying, “I love what you’re doing, I love your openness, I want to work with you.” We also had a few potential clients trying to mess with us by saying, “Hey, I know how much you made last year, why are you literally asking for that much money if you only made 80K last year, why are you asking for 30K because that’s almost half of the revenue last year?” Being really honest, that’s really super transparent, you don’t have to be as transparent, but I feel that marketing agencies could really do with more transparency in the way they do things, in the way they select clients, in the way they explain themselves in their pricing. I think there’s a lot of lack of transparency in this industry.
David: What motivated you to do that at the beginning? There had to have been some huge event, some desert island event for you, what motivated you to jump that far?
Louis: Because I’m a contrarian by nature. I like to take the opposite of what’s going on. I saw the beginning of what they call the transparency movement in startup, in the SaaS startup, in the tech startup industry where a few companies are starting to share their revenue online, but they are mostly tech and mostly in SaaS and mostly having recurring revenue. They were sharing it once they had enough revenue to share. I was like, “You know what, I’ve never seen an agency or consulting company sharing that. Let’s do it, let’s see what happens.” That’s basically it, right?
I took the risk and honestly, I don’t regret it, it definitely closed a few doors for us but it opened a few more. I feel at the end of the day, now that I can do a retrospective on this experience, I didn’t sell my soul to the devil. I never felt like I did something I didn’t want to do anymore or I felt like I worked with a client I didn’t want to work with, we only work with clients we wanted to and that felt good.
David: Yeah. One of the things that’s really bothered me. I’m not in the agency world anymore, I worked with agencies so I’m in the consulting world is the fact that why should I listen to a consultant if they haven’t been successful following the same advice. That’s bothered me quite a bit. I also wonder about agencies, agencies will joke and they’ll say, “Oh, the cobbler’s son doesn’t have any shoes.” We’ve been so busy doing great work for clients that we don’t have a website for ourselves, that we don’t follow this advice, that we don’t constantly spend money on marketing but you, Mr. Client, should always spend money on marketing, that’s always bothered me a little bit. But I’m in such the minority that I’m not sure I’m really going to change anything there frankly. It’s like my daddy used to say it, “You get a good feeling, it’s like wetting your pants in a dark suit, you get a warm feeling but nobody notices.”
Louis: Never had this but that’s good, that’s good. I guess I’m going to come back to my own experience. It seems like a little bit of psychology session here or something on this like therapy session. The reason why we didn’t really work on our website too much, even though we try to every quarter is because we just simply didn’t have the time, the only thing we had was time for our clients and that’s actually one of the issue. In the model that most agencies use, which is being paid by hour or per day, we tie deadlines. There is literally no time to do anything but that.
David: Which is not in the client’s best interest because if you’re not charging enough, then you’re always having to work every minute and you don’t have time to put your feet up and think and just learn from the world around you which in turn is going to inform your work for clients. This transparency that you’re talking about to me doesn’t mean that you charge clients a little bit, it doesn’t have any impact on what you charge, it has impact more on just the trusted relationship that emerges from the transparency. I still think you should be charging enough money to learn constantly from other sources rather than having to bill every minute of your time.
Louis: Right. I think we framed the problem quite well. Now, I think listeners are eager to listen to your step by step methodology, your view on the right agency, the right agency model and the right way to approach it. I have a few questions lined up but I think I’m going to twist it a little bit and take it from another angle. A lot of people email me with the fact that they are freelancers or consultants and looking to get started or almost getting started, there to be a lot of people in this area, in this no man’s land of they really want to do something, they really don’t know how. I like to help them to get started by challenging you to come up with an agency model, a marketing agency model that you would start tomorrow, very much like in the Seth Godin episode, you cannot use your name because you’re quite a big deal, aren’t you? You can’t use your name, you have to go at it, bid your profile. How would you go about building a marketing agency that you feel would match with your values on what we discussed already?
David: Okay. That’s interesting. I’m going to stumble around just a little bit because I haven’t thought about that question exactly the way you framed it. In full transparency, I’ll stumble around a little bit answering that. I would say that the first approach would be everything I say has to be true but everything that’s true doesn’t have to be said. There’s a distinction there. Every statement I make about myself, I want to be true but I’m not going to tell everybody everything. There’s some level of transparency that could be comfortable for me.
Next, I’m going to think about what is it that I’m in the business of doing and however I answer that question, I want it to be possible that I make a good living even if I’m colorblind, and I don’t have arms and legs. That’s a really strange thought, right? I don’t want to be paid for doing, I want to be paid for thinking. If there are some things that I end up doing for clients, I want to make sure that those follow the thinking, it’s only an implementation of what I have consulted them with. I think there’s very little difference between an agency and a consulting firm. I really wish agencies would think of themselves as consulting firm.
Louis: Let me stop you right here. Later I’ll give you the opportunity to think of it more in the next few steps because I know it’s a challenging question. But this is a very interesting thought, you’re saying you want to get paid for thinking, not doing, and if you’re paid for doing, you want to be paid for doing what you’ve been thinking about in a sense. Applying your framework, applying your strategy, but first and foremost, thinking about strategy and maybe telling them this is the strategy you should use but I’m not here to execute it every day, I’m here to check every month that you’re doing the job that I thought you should be doing. Is that correct?
David: Right. Yup, yup.
Louis: That’s a good framework and I think you touched on something before, the very first thing you said about everything you’re going to say is true but not everything that is true, you’re going to say. What are the distinctions here, what are the examples of things you would never say to a client even if they are true?
David: If I’m having a fight with a client, so it’s true that I’m having a fight with a client, I haven’t really sorted it out yet, I don’t know what part I owned, what part they own, I don’t think that dirty laundry needs to be aired. That would be an example of something that’s true that I wouldn’t have to share with the client. If I were starting over, I would probably share my financials like you have though, that’s an example of something that’s true that I think I should be transparent about. I am a believer in open book management. To a degree, I don’t think it’s useful for people to know what other people make from a salary standpoint but I think everything else is fair game.
Louis: Okay. How would you deal with the example I gave you where we shared our revenue and some potential clients were using it against us?
David: Then those clients are not clients I probably want to work with. And I would be fine with that. The older I get, and I’m a lot older than you are, you look like you’re in your upper 30s. How old are you?
Louis: Oh, that’s bad. I’m 28.
David: Oh, really? Okay. I just blew that.
Louis: Let’s do it again.
David: Let’s do it again. I’m 57. The older I get, I feel like I don’t want to think too much about consequences anymore. I just want to do what’s right even if sometimes, it’s not necessarily the smartest thing to do, I just want to do what’s right. I see too many principles of agencies, thinking too carefully about the consensus of the decisions that they really should make. Like how it’s going to hurt somebody’s feelings, how it’s going to piss off a client, whatever it is. Anyway, that would be part of all of this too. I will just do what’s right, not worry too much about the consequences.
Louis: I guess that’s a good lesson in life in general, right? It’s clear, it’s easy to say from our point of view, but from my experience I can say that the things you usually worry about never happen and that is a very liberating feeling to do what you feel is right instead of doing what you feel other people think you should do. Like what we are doing right now, this podcast started by me thinking fucking hell, I need to do something about it. I firmly believe in the fact that most marketing is bullshit and we need to fight against it and we need to show the way to most people, to do it the right way. If I had listened to people telling me, “Nyeh,” I would have never started it. It’s really about trusting your guts at the end of the day, and it’s tough to do. You need to start small, go step by step but at the end, it’s such a liberating feeling, isn’t it?
David: Right, it is. It doesn’t have to emerge from anger. I think anger can really pollute that. You’re being honest, it’s better if it doesn’t come from anger, if it’s just really driven by desire for honesty. Here’s a statement to answer your question further, I came across this the other day, I was researching something and I came across this agency’s website and it was a big box too. What’s in the statement that was hidden, it was a big rectangular box across the statement, it said, “We’d never met a problem we couldn’t solve.” That is bullshit. I would never say something like that. My reaction to myself when I read that is, “Oh my God, you have not met many serious problems or you don’t understand what solving them means.” I would be a lot more honest about what I’m good at solving for clients and what I’m not good at solving for clients. In the process, I would have no hesitation to send people to my competitors if I thought they were a good fit. I’ve done that all my career, and it’s been really good for me. It’s not bit me at all.
Louis: Let’s take an example here. Let’s take your example, your profile, you are lucky because you do have experience in the field and you know your skills. Let’s say people who are starting in the game, they had a few corporate jobs and now they want to go on their own, they don’t necessarily know themselves that well. Would you say that one of the steps is actually to go through this introspection of saying, “Okay, what am I good at, what do I like to do, and what am I bad at, and what I don’t like to do?”
David: Yes, for sure. Whatever age, if you’re in your late teens and older, the people around you know you much better than you know yourself. There’s an exercise called the Unique Ability exercise that Strategic Coach does where you send out an email request to about 20 or 30 of your friends, colleagues, bosses and so on, ask them without conferring with each other what your unique ability is. The most surprising thing about that exercise is how uniform the answers are, they come back to you. I did that early on at somebody else’s suggestion. It has been very helpful to me. I know there are certain clients I am not going to do a good job with.
For instance, I am a terrible coach. I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the kindness, I’m a better liberating force, not an occupying force. So when I have a client who needs that sort of thing, I used to try and twist myself into a pretzel to serve their needs and it didn’t do me any good, definitely didn’t do them any good. That’s an example of how we could be more honest with each other.
Louis: You had to twist yourself into a pretzel, is that what you said?
David: Yeah, right.
Louis: Okay. Where is that coming from, this saying? Is it from Tennessee, I’ve never heard that before as well.
David: We need to learn from each other’s phrases. I don’t know. Teach me some stuff from France or Ireland, right?
Louis: I can’t force it. I don’t know if I can find anything on the spot right now. But anyway, let’s go back to the step by step because it’s really saying some very, very interesting things here. You would choose what true things you would say. You would choose what true things you won’t say but one of the step is really to decide, okay, I’m going to say openly what I’m not good at as well as what I’m good at. Would you actually put that on your website?
David: Absolutely, absolutely. I would do that. In fact, my website is uniquely dangerous, I would say. My website says, “No, I’m not going to give you references. Here’s why.” Give you four reasons why I’m not going to give you references. I’m going to list all of my competitors on my website. Here are their names, you should talk with them. I take a lot of risk on the website and one of them is definitely telling people what I’m not good at.
Louis: Why would you mention your competitor’s name on the website?
David: Because I am so interested in finding a good fit for my clients. It’s partly because I want what’s best for them but a lot of it is driven just selfishly in that I hate disappointing people, I have a very thin skin and when I disappoint people, I just cower and I hate it and I try to avoid that disappointing people so much that I want them to come to me only if I’m going to be able to solve their need well.
Louis: But this is where I’m going to challenge you. I don’t think you are mentioning your competitors or at least not your direct competitors. You are mentioning competitors who are doing things better than you do and when clients get in touch with you to do something you know you are probably the best at, you would definitely not mention competitors in this instance, right?
David: No. I do mention my competitors. If I feel like I’ll say, “Who else are you talking with?” And they’ll tell me most of the time they’re only talking with me, and I sense any hesitation on their part about working together, I’ll say, “Oh, listen, you really ought to talk with Tim Williams, he’s a great competitor of mine who’s better at some things than me. Blair Enns is another one. You really ought to talk with them because I feel like if they talk with them, and they still come back to me, that’s going to set me up as the best choice to solve their need.
Louis: That’s a fantastic tip. I love it. I never had that before and that’s exactly fantastic. Because yes, if they don’t come back then you know if I had them as a client, they wouldn’t have been happy, they would have left early. But if they do come back, it means that they compare me with the competition and they figured out on their own, they compare me and they figured out that I was probably the best person to help them.
David: Right. We shouldn’t be afraid of the truth. If we’re not afraid of the truth, that’s part a, part b is let’s find the truth as soon as possible so we don’t waste time.
Louis: I love it. It’s a brilliant tip, I have to say. Now we know what we are good at, we ask our friends using this service you mentioned which is pretty good, ask all your friends or colleagues. We are openly saying that on our website and we are also listing, maybe making a list of competitors that we can refer to should clients or potential clients reach out to us. What is the next step then? What would you do next to setup this agency?
David: I would setup plan that isn’t forever. More and more I feel like we ought to start things only with an end date in mind. Never start something unless you have an end in mind as well. You don’t just start an agency and don’t think about how it’s going to end, you say, no, I’m going to start an agency. I’m going to run it for 3 years or 10 years or whatever that date is, you can always extend it if you get to that point. We’re so much better at starting things than we are at ending things. We have this stigma of failure, somehow when we change our minds and go somewhere else it’s failure and I’m seeing some really healthy things happen in the market place there. I would pick a number of years that I’m going to do this, I would throw myself into it and then I would seriously consider doing something else. That would be the next step.
Louis: That’s interesting. Why would you do that? What’s the benefit of doing that?
David: Because otherwise we’re just doing something because we don’t have the courage or the discipline to think of something else. We’re just letting momentum carry us. You don’t get on a bus without knowing where you’re going to get off, only crazy people stay on the bus all day.
Louis: You are blowing my mind.
David: That’s good.
Louis: Yeah, yeah. I like that simple idea, that really challenged the way you think and you said one five minute ago, you’re saying another one. I can’t wait to hear you for another while. You decide on an end date because you want to challenge yourself to potentially think of something else, you don’t want to be on the bus and staying there all day. That’s really good.
Let’s say we have a pretty good positioning, actually no, we haven’t touched on that. We said this is what I’m good at, this is what I’m bad at but it doesn’t mean much more than your own strength. How do you pick a market then because the world is big, do you target tech companies, do you target tech companies in Tennessee? How would you go about it?
David: Usually, most people don’t just start from scratch. If they did, then they would just do an honest assessment of the marketplace to see where the demand is, but usually that doesn’t occur to them until a little bit later. They’ve already got some successes under their belt. Most positioning in almost every case, positioning emerges from something you’ve already done. You look at the work you’ve done and you say, “Which of these projects have I been effective on behalf of the client, and have I actually made money, and hopefully, have I really enjoyed the process?” Pick three or four of those, you only need three, even two sometimes, and say, “Okay, now let’s test it with some other truce around positioning. Does this give me enough opportunity? Does it give me too much opportunity?”
There are some really specific things about how we can frame that. You want to have some competitors, you don’t want to have more than a couple hundred competitors. You want to have a focus where you can buy a list. It doesn’t matter if you buy a list, it just means can you buy a list because if you can buy a list, then the common needs that these people are facing are addressable by your positioning and so on. You come up with a positioning, there’s lots of little ins and outs around that but it usually revolves around that. Make sure there are competitors but not too many and so on.
Louis: Alright. I like your answer on because I think this is where people are really eager to learn more. You said a few things that are already really helpful. First of all, you said between 100 and 200 competitors, let’s say for the sake of the argument that we are starting an agency in Tennessee, are you talking about 100-200 competitors within the Tennessee area, are we talking about the world, what are we talking about here?
David: I’m talking about in my case, it would be the English speaking world because there simply are not sufficient qualified client in Tennessee, and besides, people don’t respect agencies who only do local work. Because the world has been Googlelized, we can work anywhere. To tighten that range up a little bit, I would be looking for between 10 and 200 competitors around the world for the work I’m going to be doing. Overlaying that, you would look for at least 2000-10,000 prospective clients around the world that need what it is that I’m describing. Those two things work together and that points to your positioning typically.
Louis: If there are too many of them, let’s say you find 250,000 potential customer, you would say your positioning is too wide.
David: That’s right. It’s too wide because that means that these prospective clients are going to have too many choices and you won’t be able to use your positioning to generate a pricing premium because your work is too interchangeable with other agencies.
Louis: I love it. You have those people and you said buying a list. Even though you won’t necessarily buy the list but you seem to be using that as a way to know pretty fast whether your market is big enough or too small. You’d go and try to buy a list for the sake of the example, paper company that prints only those handmade paper, envelopes, and stuff like this, you’d only focus on paper companies. I don’t know how many there are left in the world. You would try to buy a list of them and see if they are 200 or actually 500,000. Right?
David: Yeah, exactly. It has to be between 2000 and 10,000 of those prospective clients, we don’t even need to look that one up, we know there’s not enough, that means there’s not enough opportunity. Then we move on to the next option because there just isn’t enough opportunity for us to explore, we would starve essentially.
Louis: Right. Let’s say for the sake of the argument, I let you pick a target market right now that we can just agree on for the next few minutes, just something.
Louis: Alright, dentists. How do you find them? That’s probably the first question. Those consultants, those freelancers, those people wanting to start an agency or even having an agency, they probably struggle with that. How do they find a scalable way to get new clients in?
David: Right. The world has really turned more to an inbound world. We’re not picking up the phone and dialling these people like we used to in the past, beating the bushes, trying to stirrup opportunity, we are going to generate insight that will draw them to us. Usually organically mixed with maybe spending some money on an outbound way.
Back to this notion of why the list must exist, we’re targeting our agency to some people, some prospects who share some common pain, this pain is keeping them up at night. If that pain is significant enough, then somebody has already figured out how to make money off of that pain so they’ve created a list. They’re going to have a conference that all these dentists are going to go to, there’s going to be a blog that somebody’s going to write, there’s going to be a book that somebody’s going to direct to these people. If no list exists to gather these people who are sharing this common pain, then it’s not a viable positioning. That’s why we focus on the list even if you never buy the list.
Louis: This is another tip we got from Philip Morgan, who’s an expert in positioning. I mentioned that many times in many episodes. If there is a conference for it, an event organized for this particular audience, then there is an audience for it, probably big enough.
David: Yes, for sure.
Louis: There is this example of this handmade soap maker conference that is actually going on next year I don’t remember where in the US but there are more than 700-800 people attending it, that’s normally proof that there is a good market for you to go after.
David: If you don’t mind working with weird people, and if 700-800 people making soap, handmade, but that’s big enough but I don’t know if that’s my market, but yes.
Louis: That’s part of it. You need to use a list and the number but also to use what we said before, what you like doing, what you don’t like doing. You don’t have to choose this because the number says. It’s also based on the affinity with the market, right?
David: Right, exactly.
Louis: How do we find those people in an actionable manner, what’s the next step that you would use?
David: Google is our best friend. I started this agency, this consulting firm before Google even existed two years before, but now that Google exists, it’s beautiful because I can put insight on my website or I can do a webinar with you and people are going to find me, they’re just going to draw people in. That’s the slowest but surest and least threatening way to do it. If we need to speed up the process, then we might actually have to buy that list that we’re talking about.
Here is one of the best, quickest ways to find those prospective clients and that’s to offer to do a webinar that’s sponsored by the association that gathers all these prospects together. These associations are typically hungry for content, and you host it but they do all the marketing for it and you’re doing a webinar that’s 300-500 people, you’re getting all the email addresses and then without abusing them, you can send them information that’s very helpful to them. And then one or two of them will hire you. There’s no magic. Business development is easier now than it ever has been in history.
Louis: It sounds like a long process, we all know it’s the right one because inbound inquiries are usually the best ever. If they ever heard from you in the past, they thought about you for a while and then they started contacting you, it’s much easier than cold calling somebody who has never heard from your brand or you ever before. However, I’m picturing those people who are starting out, they would say, “It’s all well and good but how do I find clients next week?” I kind of know the answer to what you’re going to say but what if they are in this situation?
David: Finding work as a freelancer is easier because you can work for intermediaries, you can work for other agencies and you are going to have this fairly vast assortment of contact from your previous jobs, from people you know, I would go to LinkedIn for sure, you can even buy ads on LinkedIn that have much better specificity than Google AdWords and they cost virtually nothing and it’s a quick, very inexpensive way to do it. But if you’re a freelancer starting out like that, it’s not that difficult. If we’re talking about starting an agency from scratch, now we’re talking having to find clients that are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, then that’s a much more difficult proposition.
Louis: That means you possibly need to start before you start, meaning that in your current job, in your current position in your current project, you have to start that on the side to build up your brand, right?
David: Goodness, I wish I thought of that early because I still believe in that. Are you serious enough about your business that while you still have your day job, you’re going to spend the evenings preparing all your marketing materials, building your website so you can flip a switch and it’s live that certain day, or you’re going to wait until you quit your job? Are you going to put money aside so that you have some cushion because the enemy of pure great client is the panic you feel and that’s what forces you to take on client work that is not a good fit for you? Running your business well, with enough cash cushion, is your best friend.
Louis: This is one of the biggest mistake I have don’t in my life, is that when I left my job to start my own consulting company, I had no clients, no reputation, no trust, no credibility in the market, the only thing I had was around 20 grand in savings. It was a struggle. If I had to do it again, I would not do it, I would wait patiently for a few years, build up my list of contacts, build up my skills and then as you said, get prepared and launch when I felt that I already had clients to work with.
David: Yeah, absolutely. There are somethings you could have done that would not have been a threat to your current employer. You could have done this podcast back then, you could be writing a blog so that you’re not starting from scratch or hitting the ground running.
Louis: Exactly. You don’t have to start a competitive business, you can build content, you can create content around what you are learning day to day. If you’re taking it easy, if you think that it’s going to take you a while and you don’t really know when but it’s going to happen, I feel that you’ll lessen the pressure to deliver result. You’ll do it for the pleasure of it, not for the pressure of getting clients. You write blog posts every week or every month and you’re looking forward to it and you’re fine with that, you have your day job, you’re being paid, you don’t have to rush into it.
David: Yes, exactly.
Louis: Before we end up this step by step, apart from getting clients, how would you keep them because it’s always difficult to keep them on a retainer for example. How do you keep delivering value over time?
David: I would not focus on a retainer. I’m definitely going to be in the minority there. I think this big emphasis on retainers is a selfish movement that’s really driven by our own desire to have predictable cash flow. Clients do not prefer retainers. When a relationship goes bad, it goes bad so much more quickly when there’s a retainer involved, it’s a lightning rod for client dissatisfaction. I would start client relationships without trying to make them last forever because I do believe that as time passes, your value to the client drops, it doesn’t get higher. I would aim for client relationships that lasts anywhere from a year and a half to four years, something like that, and I would have some built in, some planned obsolescence along the way, which means that I’m going to have to work at finding new clients constantly but I think I’ll be refreshing my client base with clients that love me because I’m starting from scratch and we’re not this occupying force that I talked about earlier.
Louis: That’s an interesting take. I wasn’t expecting you to mention this. I like that. I think especially when you work with smaller businesses, the likelihood that it will churn, the likelihood that it would close down or that switch to another competitor that’s cheaper is quite high if you compare that to the higher end of the market, the 14,500 and the likes, right?
David: Right, exactly, yeah.
Louis: David, you’ve been amazing and this step by step. I like to get to know you a little bit better. There’s something that really picked up my curiosity.
David: Did you see some pictures of me somewhere?
Louis: No, not this time. Just to summarize what you do, you help entrepreneurial experts to build stronger, creative businesses. You’ve worked with more than 750 firms which is kind of crazy, and more than 100,000 orders that have been through your webinars or the speaking engagement you’ve done. It’s quite amazing. On your LinkedIn profile though, it says that you speak English, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, K’anjobal, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish. The question is, are you full of shit?
David: I am full of shit but not about that. My graduate work was in language. I grew up overseas speaking English, Spanish and K’anjobal which is a Mayan language and then the rest of the languages I learned in graduate school.
Louis: Pretty good. That’s the good link with the next thing that I actually wanted to know is that you lived in Guatemala with a tribe of Mayan Indians until you were 18.
Louis: After which you moved to the United States. I’ve never heard anybody going through this experience. If you have to pick one story that summarizes your experience there, what would it be?
David: The one that comes to mind is my experience when I came to the US. So much I didn’t know, I remember flying into New Orleans Airport, that was the gateway to Latin America at the time, now it’s Miami. Back then going to the men’s restroom and I’m looking at the urinals and it’s like, wow this is amazing, this has big long stainless steel trough, this is an amazing urinal, so cool. I’m standing there peeing in this thing and then I looked around and I see these guys walk up next to me, washing their hands in the urinal and I realized I had not been peeing in the urinal, I’ve been peeing in the sink. I had a lot of those experiences. My parents were medical missionaries so that’s why we lived overseas and then I came to the US when I was 18.
Louis: That’s the type of story I was expecting you to come up with. We talked in this episode to consult on freelancers or agency or people who want to get their agency to the next level. What do you think they should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years or 50 years even?
David: I think be honest about what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and don’t be afraid of that honesty, that would be the primary message for me. Closely aligned with that is just to really be good at something, to spend the time to really know what you’re talking about and don’t worry about all the things you don’t know about as long as you’re honest about it, but be really good at something and make that your specialization.
Louis: What are the top three resources you would recommend to agencies in particular?
David: I would say they should consider sales positioning and sales training at winwithoutpitching.com, that would be a big recommendation. He’s a competitor of mine, Blair Enns. Another would be to get all of the free stuff on my website without paying me a dime. And then I would say read everything that Tim Williams writes as well. I think his Ignition Consulting, I think his work is really good. Those will be the three great sources I think.
Louis: What’s the name of your website, what’s the address?
David: recourses.com but in the next few months, it’s going to be davidcbaker.com.
Louis: How can listeners connect with you, ask you questions?
David: Probably my email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louis: David, you’ve been amazing. Thank you so much for your time once again.
David: Thank you very much for having me.