When you’re trying to grow your small business, how do you know when it’s time to hire outside help?
John Doherty believes that partnering with a marketing agency can significantly increase your growth by providing you with a team of experts and freeing up your time as a founder. But finding the right agency has its challenges.
As a veteran digital marketer and founder of Credo and EditorNinja, John loves talking about building businesses and growing your mindset as an entrepreneur. He talks to us about how to hire an agency to buy back your time, the three pillars of SEO and the importance of keeping things simple.
- Buy back your time
- Use the ladder of lead generation
- Identify your best leads
- Hire based on channel experience
- Do the math
- Know the three pillars of SEO
- Keep things simple
- Balance experiments with your core business
- View your business as a water wheel
- Give yourself permission to change
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12:27 – Buy back your time
To see meaningful growth, you need to be able to hire talent that can execute deliverables, so you have time to focus on growing the business.
“What are kind of the levels of hiring and getting things done, right? Start doing it yourself. Learn what it takes to succeed. But then like that should make your business grow, and then you’ve got other things to do. And then you’re spending 5% of your time on growth. When you hire someone part-time, they’re spending, you know, they’re spending 5x that, and you’re, you know, you’re going to grow that much faster because you hired someone. Right. So many people just don’t, they’re not willing to hire, they’re not willing to use outside services and that sort of thing in order to, as Dan Martell puts it, buy back your own time. Right. I’ve been doing this. It’s no longer worth my time, but I also can’t stop doing it. Right. It’s high leverage, but I have other things that I need to do because I’m the owner, I’m the founder, I’m the salesperson, all of that. So I need to, you know, hire someone and empower someone else to, you know, to actually grow.”
28:00 – Use the ladder of lead generation
Every service-based business follows a similar structure of lead generation from warm referrals all the way up to sales leads from BDR agencies.
“I think in frameworks, and I actually have a framework for this one. To me, I call it the ladder of lead generation. So when you’re starting off an agency, a service business, any sort of service business, bottom rung is referrals. Referrals are great, right? You can, you get started there. That’s where you get your first customers. Then you have to go to your own channels. Right? So SEO content, podcasts, that sort of thing. Right? So you’re building up your name, and you’re trying to get people coming in that you don’t necessarily know. But you know, you basically learn how to sell them. You learn how to onboard them. You learn how to fulfill it, that sort of stuff. Then the next level is paid. So Google ads, Facebook ads, you know, YouTube ads, that sort of stuff. Because that’s a different level of someone. That’s a different level of qualification right there. They’re a little bit colder. They were maybe in the market, or they saw you on Facebook, or they saw you on YouTube, and they’re interested, and they contact, but they’re not quite sure. So it’s a different kind of sales process there. And then finally the accelerants, so once you kind of learn how to sell across those three referral, owned/organic and paid, then at the top is what I call the accelerants. So it’s companies like Credo. It’s these, you know, BDR agencies that you’re talking about.”
37:58 – Identify your best leads
Know the markers of your best-qualified leads. For Credo, the best leads are those who understand the value of a good marketing agency and are ready to invest in a new phase of growth.
“The best leads that come to us are the ones that they have an in-house head of marketing. Maybe they have a marketing manager who might be the head of marketing ‘cause titles are weird in the professional world. But they’ve worked with an agency before. Maybe they’ve worked with freelancers, and they’ve realized the challenge of that. Basically, you build out, you know, a team of freelancers that aren’t really invested. All of a sudden you find yourself managing seven people. And so, all right, ‘I need an agency,’ but they’re still in that freelancer, $20 an hour sort of mindset, which is not where the best agencies are. But the people that we find are best are ones that have worked with an agency that took them from say, you know — just like throw out traffic numbers — took them from 5,000 to 50,000 organic visits a month. But they’ve been stuck at that 50,000 visits a month for six to nine months. And the agency has been doing stuff, and nothing’s working. So they need to move to a new agency. So the ones that have worked in agency before, that understand what a good agency does for them, what a good agency costs, and then have outgrown the agency or the consultant or whoever that they’re currently working with and are looking for someone for their new phase of growth.”
44:37 – Hire based on channel experience
Find an agency with proven experience in the right channels, at the same stage of growth and in the same business category as you.
“People do weigh like overweight that industry experience, but that’s usually because they don’t really understand what it takes to succeed in that channel. They don’t understand that it’s a process. And what really matters is working with an agency or consultant or whatever who has experience working with your type of business. So like, if you’re a SaaS business, don’t go hire freaking, you know, eCommerce marketing agency, right? They’re used to working with eCommerce businesses and driving, you know, average cart orders of $89. They’re not going to help you, you know, they’re not going to generate leads for you that you’re selling to the enterprise. And you have a total like customer pool of 1500 potentials, right. They’re not going to be the right ones for you. So you want someone that has experience in the channel, deep experience in the channel, provable experience in the channel via testimonials, case studies, that kind of thing for the kind of business that you are in the stage that you are.”
58:11 – Do the math
If you’re not doing the math to calculate how much you have to invest to see the results you want, you’re not ready to invest.
“So I’m spending, you know, 350 bucks a link, right? How many links do I need in order to become competitive for this keyword? Right. If I have three linking room domains to this services page, and my next closest competitor has 50. Okay. To even start being competitive, I’m probably, if I’m doing better on-page SEO and all that, I’m probably going to need about 25 good linking route domains to this page. So that’s 22. So that’s, I mean, here I used to be good at math in my head, but 22 times, I said 350, right? That’s $7,700. How long is it going to take me? And that’s just to get on the first page, right, not even to start driving traffic. So, let’s say I have to spend $25,000 in order to get into the top three to actually driving any traffic and driving any conversions. What’s my average conversion? How much is that? Right. So basically you start doing the, in SaaS, we call it the CAP payback, right? Your cost of acquisition payback time. And so if you’re under three months in SaaS, you’re doing awesome, you’re printing money. Right. You’re basically financing that with your credit cards. If you’re, you know, six months is good, 12 months is like, okay, anything longer than 12 months, unless you’re in, you know, a enterprise space and you’re doing five-year contracts, anything longer than 12 months, you’re going to struggle. But think the same way about, you know, about marketing, about backlinks, about content, that sort of stuff. How much do we have to invest in order to, you know, get to this point to drive X traffic based off of current conversion rates that converts at Y percent and pays Z dollars? What does that math look like? If you’re not doing that math, you’re not ready to invest.”
01:03:34 – Know the three pillars of SEO
The foundational elements of SEO are essential to ranking in search results and a baseline for executing more advanced techniques.
“It blows people’s minds when they come in, and you know, I’m talking to them about SEO or whatever, and I’m like, hang on. Let’s talk about the base of SEO. They come in, they’re talking about backlinks and private blog networks and this and that and the other and ask me these like super tactical but like irrelevant questions. And I’m like, wait. What are the three core pillars of SEO? And they’re like, ‘Uh, huh?’ And I’m like: technical, content, links. Do you have a website? ‘Well, we’re building it.’ Okay. Why the hell are we talking about private blog networks? Like, build a site on a CMS that is proven that you can optimize, right. Content, do you have content that’s going to rank? Bottom of funnel, middle funnel, you know, top of funnel. Do you have that? Do you have that strategy? Okay. And links. Why are people going to talk about you? Like that is SEO right there. And yes, there are a ton of, you know, strategies and tactics, you know, within that, in order that some are going to work better or not as well for your specific company, for the team that you have and all of that for your stage. But if you don’t get those three core things right, you’re not going to rank.”
01:05:19 – Keep things simple
As a small startup, you don’t need fancy workflows and automation to drive revenue. In fact, those often complicate your operations and only make marginal differences. Instead, keep your operations simple.
“I’ve become really about, how do we make things as simple as possible? I was talking to Justin Jackson from Transistor. He said something about, you know, he used to build all these crazy complicated funnels and automations. And if it tagged with this or we’re moving from this and do that and send this email and all that. And he’s like, ‘Man, I just quit doing all of that.’ He’s like, ‘With Transistor, I just deleted it all because it didn’t drive any more business. And what I need to do is I need to focus on providing more value to the podcasting space and building a better product than what is currently out there. That is what drives the business, not these frigging automations that might drive a 0.2% improvement in blah, blah, blah.’ He’s like, ‘We’re not at a scale that that’s going to make a difference, right?’ Like you’re talking about, right. Like an Adobe, 0.2% is probably going to make a good difference in their business. Right? For a, you know, frigging bootstrapped, indie, SaaS doing 40k a month with whatever 10,000 visits a month, it’s 20, maybe. It may even be less than that. It’s a tiny, tiny number. That’s just the effort you put. And once again, it’s the effort you put into it. You spend three hours building this funnel and it takes you like three years to recoup that time. Could you have invested that same time into something that that’s going to, you know, you’re going to recoup that cost? Because your time is a cost, you better believe it. Put it into something that’s going to pay it back a lot faster, you know? And worry about the big, you know, automations and all those complicated funnels and all that crap, like worry about that later or never.”
01:07:46 – Balance experiments with your core business
Experimenting on the side is a great way to discover other potential projects, revenue streams and activities that excite you, but you need to balance those extra activities with the time you spend on your core business.
“There is something to be said, I think for, you know, experimenting and trying new things like that. As entrepreneurs, I get bored. I have ADHD. I’m all over the place. And so going and working on something that my energy is going into, yeah, it might never see the light of day, but it’s going to, you know, it’s going to spur something else. It’s going to trigger something else that then I can go and apply to my business. But your point is spot on that that should be like 2% of your time, 5% of your time. If that’s like 50% of your time, you’re abandoning your business. Or you’re hamstringing your business because you’re not actually putting time into building your core company that allows you to do those other things. Now, if you’re so busy that you don’t have any time to take a step back and think, then that’s another problem, right? And you probably need to hire. You need to fix your mindset around hiring and how you do that well. Once again, it’s a balance, right? We’re all about nuance here. I think that that kind of thing, that experimentation is super important, but you have to keep it in check, and really get down to what are the core principles of this business?”
01:10:53 – View your business as a water wheel
A water wheel is a helpful metaphor to visualize how you need to provide a steady stream of energy into your business, and occasionally fix and replace broken parts as needed.
“I think about it like a flywheel or a water wheel is probably the better way to think about it. So I spend a lot of time, I live in Denver, but spend a lot of time in the mountains near Breckenridge and driving back on I-70 as you go through Idaho Springs, there’s literally an old water wheel sitting there along I-70. And so I think about it as like, okay, you know, my business is going a small trickle of water is going to gather in one of these things. And then the thing is slowly going to turn, right. How do you make it turn faster? You pour more water into it. Right. In business, it’s like more of the right water, but with a water wheel, any water’s going to do. Not ice ‘cause ice is going to break it. But, point is, you pour more water into it, and the more water you pour into it, and the faster that velocity is, the faster this thing is going to spin. Right. But over time, you know, slats are going to break and that kind of thing. So you may actually have to pause a little bit. You may have to dam up the water a little bit — to continue the metaphor — so you can repair this thing. So that then the, you know, when you turn the water back on, then it’s going to, you know, spin just as fast.”
01:23:21 – Give yourself permission to change
The most empowering piece of building your own business is the fact that you’re in charge and can always change directions or move on if it’s not serving you anymore.
“I crush myself during the week. I do. I work Monday through Thursday, and I usually work about a half day on Friday, but then I’m heading up to my house in the mountains or heading on a trip. I’m going skiing. I’m mountain biking. I’m recharging. But when I am in, like when I’m in Denver, I am focused. I am working hard. I do not have time for these, you know, senseless debates in the SEO world. I have things to do, you know, I am busy purposefully because I’m trying to hit these big goals. But that all comes from starting to change that mindset around your prioritization, around being mindful about what you’re working on. Why am I working on this thing? What is it getting me? And if it’s not getting you what you want, then you change. Right. You can change that up. We always have agency to change this stuff up. No one is forcing you to keep meditating, right? And if it starts affecting you negatively, you can stop. You know, same thing. You start building your business and it takes off and you’re at $5 million a year and you’re not having fun. A) Don’t make long-term decisions off of, you know, short-term feelings. But there are so many ways out of that, right? Hire a coach that helps you build out a team, and level up your mindset around hiring, level up your team, and all that. If you still hate it, you can still walk away.”