Understanding the Importance of Creating a Solid Team for Your Agency 

Dec 09, 2021

 

An agency is only as strong as the team that keeps it running. As an agency owner, you are not a one-person show. The ability to juggle all the tasks of your agency is a struggle and your clients will surely feel the pain of an owner who is spread too thin. It’s incredibly important to build a team of support for your agency. 

On this episode of the Amplified Agency podcast, we will delve into:

  • Overcoming the Superhero Complex
  • Building your Team
  • Creating Support from your Network 

Chris LaFay, the CEO of Classic City Consulting, shares his perspectives and how necessary it is for agency owners to build a solid team around them. Learn more about balancing the desire to do it all with the necessity to build relationships and to let competent people assist you whenever possible. 

Overcoming the Superhero Complex

You are not a superhero. You may be incredibly skilled and talented, but you just can’t do it all. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s a real thing. 

Agency owners tend to take on the mindset that their agency is their “baby,” and in order to protect it and help it grow, they must do everything! In reality, by thinking this way, some of the tasks and needs of your agency can fall by the wayside while your focus is on something else. 

Chris says he’d noticed a trend in his own experiences where his focus would be on design and development for his agency, but his sales would then begin to plummet. When he’d focus on sales, the design aspects would falter. Nothing about his agency was ever completely efficient at the same time. 

He came to the realization that he could not do it all, especially not all at once. When he developed a strong team to pick up the slack and take on some of the needs that would keep his agency thriving, he was able to slowly free up some time to focus on what needed his attention at the time. 

Delegating to qualified people who can represent your agency and work in a manner that fits your needs can help you overcome the superhero complex and build success for your agency. 

Building your Team

Sometimes, as an agency owner, you are not fully prepared for everything that is in store for you. Running a business can be hard work, and short of experience, there are very few ways to prepare for every situation. Hiring an executive advisor, someone who can provide a fresh pair of eyes to assess the strengths and downfalls of your agency objectively is a perfect way to add to your team and bring value to your agency. 

Chris discusses the importance of your advisor being a solid balance between being a sounding board and someone who will hold you accountable. That is a must. It’s great to have a cheerleader and a listening ear, but agency owners also need someone to keep them in check. 

Your team should also consist of intelligent people who understand the direction and mission of your agency. Their varied skillsets should close any gaps in your agency, as well as compensate for the attributes you may have but can’t always put into use within your agency. If you’re needed elsewhere, can your team members take care of the needs of your agency the way you would? Armed with a team that can, you’re bound for success. 

Creating Support from your Network 

Knowing your agency's capabilities opens up opportunities for you to evaluate the needs of a potential client, whether your agency can help them, and hopefully, you can refer them to someone else if it’s not a good fit. 

By referring to other agencies, reciprocity works in your favor. An agency will likely refer a potential client to you if they don’t mesh well with them. We've found that podcasting has been a great way to create mutual support within our network. If podcasting has been on your mind, check out How to Use Podcasts to Scale and Amplify Your Agency.

There is plenty of business to go around. In reality, you don’t have to be in competition with your competition. Instead, you can work together, support each other. Communicating and creating a partnership with other agencies helps you develop a team outside of your agency. Any way to develop support is great for you. 

Most agencies specialize in some way, so knowing what one agency’s focuses are, and yours can help benefit everyone and drive traffic to both agencies. 

Be sure to check out this episode of the Amplified Agency podcast to learn more about how your agency may only be as good as the team and support you create. 

If you want to join us for more helpful conversations with other successful agency owners, subscribe to The Amplified Agency podcast to get updates when new episodes are available.


TRANSCRIPT:

 

Natalie Shahmiri
So I'll hit record, you'll get the prompt. Okay. Chris, welcome to the Amplified Agency podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Chris LaFay
Thank you for having me. It is a pleasure.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, I'm really excited about this one. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your agency?

Chris LaFay
Yeah, so my name is Chris LaFay, and I run a marketing agency called Classic City Consulting. And our whole goal and mission as a business is to help conduct connection for our clients to their customers, where relationships are just at the core of everything that we do from our internal team, to how we work with our clients. And for us to be able to figure out unique ways to help our customers connect well with their clients, that's when everybody wins. And so that's really the core and base of what we do as a business. And we do a lot of that through web development, marketing, copy, brand messaging, SEO work, etc. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a good ride.

Natalie Shahmiri
So the client connection piece, this is something I'm always really interested in, because a lot of agency owners approach this in different ways. Was that something you were doing when you started the agency? Or was it something you learned along the way of putting the client at the center of all that you do?

Chris LaFay
Oh, no, definitely not something I did at the beginning. At the very beginning, I actually started in the whole web development and design field when I was in middle school. So when I was just getting things started, it was more just get like, let whatever come in, come in. Can I do it? Yes. If I can't, I'll figure it out. And so over time has just been this, you know, this learning curve process of how to move from a freelancer that has done this pretty much his entire life, to actually running an agency with a team working with multiple clients all in tandem, and figuring out how to convert, not convert, but just shift that model over time. And once I realized that, at my core, I'm a conductor. I like to make, I like to make things happen for people, no matter whether that's in the web sphere, or other spheres that we have expertise in. Once I learned that about myself personally, that really just kind of unlocked the foundation of what we are, as a business, and has really given us the opportunity to, you know, grow into that next phase.

Natalie Shahmiri
I love that analogy of a conductor. I think that's really beautiful. I've never heard it put that way. That's really, really nice.

Chris LaFay
I play a lot of music. And so, a year or two ago, I was doing some branding work internally for myself, not even for my business, just to figure out, to dig into who I was. And I was working with a guy named Rich and did a fantastic job. Lovely. Love the guy to death. Name's Rich Keller. And I was going through his process, and his whole thing is defining what your one word is. And I think that's really critical. As a agency owner, or business owner in general, knowing who you are at your core. And I was going through this process that just seemed so completely random and off the wall, the questions he was asking were just from business, to personal to hobbies to everything. And he was like, "So what did you derive your one word to be?" I'm like, "I have no idea." He's like, "It's clear as day you're a conductor, you're a musician, you like seeing how everything just kind of connects, and how everything works well together, you build relationships with people. That's that's how it works." And I'm like, that light bulb went off. And that really just shifted. That was like it was a huge paradigm shift, for me. It was wonderful.

Natalie Shahmiri
That's amazing. I think one of the interesting things is an agency owner myself, but I've seen with so many agency owners, is we do hit this, you know, kind of threshold of "who am I within this process," especially as our agencies grow over time, you know, when we first start out, it's just like, "well, I'm just an entrepreneur. And I'm digging in and figuring it out." You know, the total, fake it till you make it, even when you know the basics, how many of us, one, it's either we're really good at running businesses, but don't know about agency life, or we're really good at building websites and branding, but don't know how to run a business. So, I would love to hear more about what made you go into that process of really understanding that about yourself and going into that journey.

Chris LaFay
So I am very thankful, over the years, I have been able to surround myself with very smart people. And that's not just something that happens overnight. I totally get that. And so after really there was a connection point where one of our partners was like, "Hey, Chris, we've been working with this guy, you should go talk with him." I'm like, "okay, cool, whatever." So I reached out to him, we chatted for a little while, and it took a little bit of convincing because I'm not used to investing myself in that kind of way. Like, that's just it, there's no tangible ROI to that process. It's all those soft skill pieces or things that you could categorize as soft. No, this isn't the right word, but I think you know what I'm going for it. And so I finally bit the bullet and said, "You know what, worst case scenario, this doesn't work, it's done, I don't have to think about it anymore." But picking the right group or picking the right person that is external from your organization that's not inside the weeds of everything. Really what makes that difference, and that's part of the reason why we do the whole brand messaging stuff for our clients is, so many of our clients know what they are, and who they're about. But they just don't get how to kind of draw that out of them. And it's hard to do that when you're just in the weeds. And so, it's just, it's a lot of fun, the process was great. And really through that, it helps shift my mindset to really after I was done with that process, realizing I needed an executive on my team to help advise me to kind of bring the business to the next level. And that's what this year has been all about is investment, and answering the questions I didn't even know that I had as an agency owner on how to take those next steps.

Natalie Shahmiri
How did that influence your sales process, if at all?

The whole, basically, what we've done is the whole conducting connection mantra, we redesigned the website all around it. And so we launched it a few weeks ago. And the imagery surrounding that connection piece is 100% throughout how that aesthetic looks. And then in terms of from the words that we're actually using, across all of our different pages on our website, our goal is to show not just the services that we do, but how we're going to connect the dots for you, and how we're going to be able to take you possibly over here in this little silo and your customers over here, and how to get in touch with them, how to talk to them better, how to cultivate those relationships, better, how to build processes around those types of things. Rather than just saying, we build websites, great, Apple builds phones, Google builds phones, but why? And so that's where the whole difference is there. And so our sales process and methodology really changed to basically say our goal, no matter what service we offer you is to help you connect with your customers. And we have a lot of smart people on our team that know how to make those connections with various different skill sets. And with all that being said, let's take a look at what problem you're trying to solve and how you're going to build that relationship with people. And then we'll put together a team on our end that can help get you from point A to point B. And that's been the winner. Exactly, yes. And if we're able, if we're able to really bridge those gaps, it really helps. It helps us not weed out our potential clients, but it really helps us figure out if a customer is there and ready for that or not. Are they wanting just something that we can check off a few boxes on their list and they can say that they've done it? Great. Or are you looking for an actual relationship where we can actually help you build those relationships with your customers to help grow your business continually? Is it gonna take a little bit more time and a little more money? Absolutely. But in the long run, you're setting your business up for much longer term success, and that's where everybody wins.

So when you're in the sales process, and you're looking for those ideal clients, what are some of the things that you look for in them when you're having those conversations for that longer term relationship versus the red flags where it's like, oh, we could do this, but it's probably not the best use of our time?

Chris LaFay
For us, we look for people, we look for businesses that are large enough in terms of quantity of employees. And so we're looking at around you know, that 20 to 100, employee mark for the most part. And then from there, we try to figure out, does this company have a thicker marketing stack, meaning, you know, they have a CMO all the way down to like digital strategist and web people, etc, and people that have a lot of people in their marketing department are typically people that don't really need to work with an outside vendor, they've kind of do everything in house. But those companies that are of that size, that pretty much just have, you know, a handful of marketing folks in various different locations. Those are the ones that typically need some help to figure out how to connect all the dots across the board. And so that's how we look for things. But in reality, a lot of this just comes from conversation, and where you're at from understanding who you are as a business and as the people that are at the top of that food chain in the business like who they are and why they actually go and want to run that business on a day to day basis, and so getting to know those people and figure out where their hearts at and where they actually want to be going, those initial conversations really help gauge, are you in this for the long run? Are you in this just to check some boxes, at least from a marketing standpoint?

Natalie Shahmiri
So when you were scaling your agency, at what point did you feel like you could say no to clients, like potential clients who were coming in wanting to work with you?

Chris LaFay
That door has kind of been moving ever so slightly over the last three or four years. And so once we had enough people to actually create a team of people, that's when we realized that we could kind of take some of those lower ends off the table and not have to worry about them. And the great thing about it is we have had team members over the years that might just be getting started in their line of work. And so what's happened, what's been really great is when we're when we kind of shift and move up to the next level, those folks down there that actually really enjoyed those types of projects, were able to directly pass those down. So I have a problem with saying no, in general. So the answer, the real true answer to your question is never, because it's one of my flaws, and I understand it. And I'm actively trying to put people in places where I know I have problems and weaknesses, to help alleviate those problems and weaknesses. And so, as we have stepped up, we have had team members that have been interested in taking on some of those other pieces of work by themselves. And so as we go up, we basically just say, "Oh, hey, this size project, we don't want any more or this style of project, we don't want to do any more in house. Here, you can take it, run with it. " And this with people that we've worked with for years, and so we have a lot of confidence in what they can do, and actually succeed on those things that that potential customer needs to have done.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, I think having that network is so important. Because especially as a helper, you'll have people come in here like," Oh, but I see what you need. And it's not that hard. So we can just take care of it," right? Like, it doesn't always come down to the money thing. You're just like, "oh, let's, let's get you to where you need to be." At least for me, that happens all the time, where I just like feel bad for the business, especially if they've been burned by another agency. And so saying no to that, or having that network of like, you know, I don't think we're the right fit, but you could work with this agency, and they'd be able to take care of you is so important.

Chris LaFay
I empathize with people very well. It's one of my strong suits. And just like you just said, I feel bad for some people that are in really bad situations. And it's hard to say no. And so the nice thing about where I'm at, I've been in business for 15 years, whether solo or as a company. And I know a lot of people now, and I know a lot of people across various different markets and different verticals. And so most of the time when people call us, if we can't handle it, we've known somebody for multiple years that can. And just having that network of people and constantly talking to those folks on a regular basis has been a differentiator for us internally. It's about building those internal relationships, making sure our partners know what we're up to, us knowing what they're up to, and just staying top of mind with all those people. And building those relationships takes a lot of time and effort. But it's worth it in the long run. Because just like us, where we give away some projects that we're not good at fulfilling anymore, some of our other partners pass along those same things to us. And so being in good communication with really, as much of that network as humanly possible on a regular basis, the better. And that's one of the big things that, this year, that I've been working on is staying in more close communication with those people that have typically been around kind of the edges of that network, and trying to bring them in a little bit closer to learn a little bit more about, what are you doing? How's business going? Let me know how we can help in whatever way that that looks.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, I think that's one of the things that gets overlooked a lot. Or maybe there's a hesitancy towards it, is connecting with other agency owners. And this idea of like, well, I don't want to lose business to them, when in reality, each of us has become specialized over the years. And we can be feeding work to one another. And there is enough work for all of the agencies that are out there.

Chris LaFay
Yes. And that's that's the one thing that I'm thankful I didn't have to learn that. That was one of the things that came naturally to me and that I know that's not entirely common. But I would rather have a potential customer get the exact result that they need working with the exact right vendor for them than work with us. I'd rather pass it off to somebody that I know, that I trust and say "they'll do a good job," because we get that same thing and reciprocity and reciprocation. That's not the right word, anyway. But yeah, just, I like seeing people succeed and when people can succeed, no matter what it looks like, that just makes me happy.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah. And it protects your own reputation too.

Chris LaFay
Yep. Exactly. And being in business, as long as a lot of people have, reputation's important. And so yeah, as long as you treat people with kindness and respect, goes a long way.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, that's really true. So when you were first starting your agency, how were you getting your first clients?

Chris LaFay
Sheer luck and happenstance. No, when I was younger, probably, you know, around high school or so, my brother is 10 years older than I am. And so when I was in middle school, in high school, trying to learn how to, you know, build websites in a text editor, he was off to school going and getting a marketing degree and finance degree. And he decided he wanted to come home most weekends and help me build a little business together. And so that's what we did. And eventually, by the time I graduated high school, I was able to get a full time job right out of the gate. And he started working on possibly, you know, do it, finding some clients stuff, and it started out ridiculously small enough to, you know, barely put a dent in anything. But, plus four or five years later, by the time I graduated college, the business was large enough to where he was able to quit his job and run the business full time. And throughout college, I was able to get a lot of work through the efforts that we both put into, you know, just meeting new people and going to networking events. That's really all we knew, at that point in time of how to actually go and meet new folks. And then through a few full time jobs, over the course of a few years, met a ton of developers ton of designers, and then realize I would personally rather have two or three part time things, than rely on a single employer waking up on the right side of the bed every morning for my entire livelihood. And I was like, I'd rather lose one client and 10 hours a week, then lose everything one day. And so that was timed out really well with right when I got married, so yay. And that's really when things got started, is when I was able to say, hey, no more full time job. We have enough here that kind of fills, you know, 30-40 hours a week, for the most part. Let's do it." And here I am today, you know, almost 10 years later, still able to put a roof over my head and help put food on other people's tables.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, I think that is one of the interesting things. I see some people go all in, just say, "I'm gonna quit my job, I don't necessarily have a savings," especially when people have no experience too. And they're just like, "I'm gonna figure it out," which gives me a panic attack, because that's not my personal style. And then there are the people, I did that myself, I had other jobs as I started getting the agency going. And then at a certain point, I, for me, personally, I had to step out from behind the fear of "can I do this full time? Will there be enough work? Will we be financially stable?" And it was funny, because for me, personally, I already was paying a team. So it's like, well, if I can pay them then of course. But yeah, I always find that really interesting, is at what threshold a person said this is safe enough to go do?

Chris LaFay
And one thing you mentioned was, you know, "I'm paying a team, of course, I can go and survive on my own." One of the hardest things for me to learn as a freelance web designer and developer for almost really a decade of doing it, for the most part, by myself, there's air quotes around that. But once we started getting some momentum and getting more clients that had larger budgets and building a team, you know, I hit this ceiling that I just could not get over in terms of just revenue and total clients. And I realized what was happening was I would go into develop and design mode, and I would do all the work of the business. So sales would plummet. And I would do all the work. And then once all the work was done, I'd realize, "oh, no, what's next," and I go into sales mode and go talk to more people. And then I spend the next few months doing all the work. And so I part partially, I envy those people where they decided to build a business to where they know, they cannot do the day to day laboring of the business to make it successful. Because it is probably taking me the better part of five years to really figure out the financial side of how to grow the business to slowly take my hands off the wheel. I can't do it all at once. But that slow process of delegating one thing off and then replacing that with a couple hours of business development and sales, then slowly taking another thing off, and then replacing that with some more business development and sales. And so I was going all in or all out, and it wasn't a slow release. And if I could have learned that about five years faster, I wish I could have because that would have been great. But, here we are today and things are going very well. But that was probably one of the most, the longest and most painful learning processes that I've had to go through, through the entire just business growth process.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, that's really tricky as an entrepreneur, especially when you're starting out solo, or maybe with one business partner, is stepping out from it being a job, like you've created a job for yourself to actually being a business owner.

Chris LaFay
And that was part of what changed at the beginning of this year, when I hired an executive advisor was, I realized I've been hitting this plateau for the last three years. And I just didn't know what I didn't know, it's cliche, don't get me wrong. But we had finally reached a place where we had enough in savings from like, okay, if any year is going to be the year, this is going to be the year but I don't know what to do. I don't know how to get over that. And so I brought on somebody in January of this year. And the ideas and the advice and the structures are simple. But if you don't know them, then you just don't know them. And so that's one of really one of my biggest challenges for people is, once you have reached a level to where you feel like you're hitting that ceiling, go external, go find somebody that knows more than you do. And just have them sit there to be a sounding board and to educate you. And one of the things that I was kind of balancing when trying to decide who to bring on for that role in that position was a lot of people that wanted that were more just a sounding board. And then on the flip side, you have other people that just wanted to take you through webinars every single week. But there's this balance to strike. You need somebody that knows things to teach you and tools for you to run with, but can also be a sounding board, and in that middle ground of education and sounding board, that was the biggest win for me throughout this entire year was to have that person that I knew I could go to with questions, but would also hold me accountable to every single small thing I said I would do that next week. And when I went to him, I'm like, "look, look, I got an A on the paper," basically. And then he would say, "good job, but you failed in these three other areas this week. So you need to go work on these three next week and get better at those." And so somebody that holds you accountable to all those things and doesn't just get excited with you, for excitedness sake. And that's hard to find.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, I think that accountability part is probably the hardest part to find with a coach or a mentor or bringing somebody in because there are so many people who will say, "okay, what are you gonna do?" And you work through that, and then it disappears in, you know, next quarter, it's like, "did you do those things?" No.

Chris LaFay
And that's the, that's the nice thing about it is just having somebody there that you can talk to ask questions and really dig in deep. And we went, we've walked through the entire gamut of things. We've talked about, we talked through finances, staffing for the business, how to do prospecting and sales, how to work with our current clients, and making sure that we're understanding everything that they need. The whole gambit of business, we have covered in the span of the last 12 months or so. And really, without that thorough look at everything, you're gonna miss stuff. And so finding somebody with expertise across the board, that's one of those critical components that I would look through is making sure that there are plans, plans of attack for all those different elements of being a business owner, that you have to keep tabs on because if you forget one of them, it's going to go bad at some point.

Natalie Shahmiri
And so as you are searching for somebody, did you look for somebody who had expertise in agencies are more just in running a business?

Chris LaFay
A little bit of both. And so I actually, well, it worked out wonderfully because I went to one of my longtime friends who has run multiple businesses, and has done well with them. And I know he knows a lot of people out in Georgia, so he knows a lot of Georgia bass folks. And so I wondered, I actually went to him and said, "Hey, do you know anybody that fits this description?" And so he went to go look, he spent a few days on it came back to me, talked to me for an hour the next day and decided that he himself wanted to take it on, which is kind of like getting, I'm a baseball fan, so getting yourn like, all star shortstop and getting the hometown discount almost. It was what it felt like. And so I was very happy, needless to say when that happened. And so I, really at that point, stopped looking. I didn't go into it expecting that to happen. That really wasn't my goal. It wasn't even a thought of mine. But when it happened, I was like, "Yes, please, thank you. Let's do this." So I was looking for somebody that understood, that has had success in business growth. I wanted to find somebody, even if they had a full time job, I wanted to see somebody that has worked with multiple successful businesses in technology. Didn't necessarily have to be within consulting, per se. But just understanding the general lingo and the processes that we go through. That's pretty much the only business or, I should say, tangible resume thing I was looking for. Everything else was more," have you had higher level statuses across the board at multiple companies and have seen success? And if so, let's see what that personality fit is like."

Natalie Shahmiri
That's amazing. Yeah, I think being able to bring people into your team, or having a coach or a mentor can be so transformational. And at what point people bring that in, I think, really varies based on your own experience. If, for some people, I say do it out the gate, like, get that help, as soon as you possibly can. And then I think for others, it does come a little bit later on, when you hit those walls. And I think if people can be open to having that throughout their agency experience, it really is just transformational.

Chris LaFay
And my whole goal is to always have somebody in that type of position. Now that I've had that, and still currently do, my goal is to always have somebody in that role. Because you just need to have an external person that isn't a part of the day to day, circling back to the whole messaging piece of this, right? Getting somebody external that doesn't know all of the things happening on a regular basis, getting that outside look to where they also don't have skin in the game in terms of whether the business goes up or down. I mean, obviously, they'll get paid. But somebody that's not in those weeds, to be able to look at things purely from just a numbers perspective, just the simple looking at the financial statements together and saying "that number was higher than it was last month. Explain why." And not accidentally glazing over some things because you have some general idea already of what's happening. But since you don't, being able to pinpoint those problems as they come up, and be able to dress them really quickly. And so getting that external look, is invaluable, and is going to be a long term process or long term part of our business going forward.

Natalie Shahmiri
So you touched a bit on this idea that as an owner now, you're not vacillating between sales and fulfillment as much. And then also as your role in the conductor, you found ways to really retain clients. So you're starting to find a balance, but in terms of bringing in new clients, how are you doing that now?

Chris LaFay
So a lot of our business is still word of mouth. We normally just get a lot of leads through our partners that we've been able to grow and develop over the years. And one of our primary sources of cold leads, which I've recently found out that not as many people in agency life that I'm connected to at least know about is Clutch. It's a review website, where the Clutch representative actually calls your client, and they go through a standard five to seven questions survey. They actually talk to the client, they record everything, they transcribe it, and then they publish it as basically long form content on their website as a review. And that has been one of our, honestly, it has been our largest driver of cold leads that, basically just anything that's not a referral. Whenever we dig into it and we ask people, they don't necessarily remember Clutch, but they're like, "Yeah, we found to this review site." And it's been Clutch. And so their, Clutch's SEO rankings are through the roof, with their domain authorities and whatnot. So they populate very high on any search result relating to, at least our industry and web design and consulting. And so we probably have put effort into that since probably 2016 or 17. And that has paid dividends over the years and we don't pay anything for that service. There's ways to sponsor things and pay for higher rankings and blah, blah, blah, but we don't invest a single dime to it outside of our time. And that has been one of the biggest drivers of new business for us.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, I think that's Clutch.io Is that the URL?

Chris LaFay
Clutch.co, yes.

Natalie Shahmiri
Clutch.co. Okay. And, yeah, they're really, really incredible. And I've known quite a few agencies that have leveraged that and it drives traffic. It definitely drives traffic.

Chris LaFay
It's crazy to think. Like I initially went into it with the idea of just putting a couple people on there, a couple of clients on there, friends of people that I've worked with, I'm like, "Hey, can you gonna spare me 15 minutes and drop me one of these and just see what happens?" And then once I realized that those reviews were basically popping up on the first page of Google when you searched for really basic, simple terms that are hard to rank for, that's what I decided I'm like, Alright, let's go ahead and turn. You know, let's crank this up a little bit. And let's actually try. And we've actually had some pretty sizable customers come through, not just, you know, solely small mom and pop shops that don't really have any budget of anything. And so it's been, it was a very welcome surprise, needless to say,

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, I think it's one of those things that we tend to overlook is referrals. Whether that's a company that we're working with asking them directly, "do you know anybody else that would be good to work with?" Or having that go through something like Clutch, because I think it's funny because we're telling our clients all the time, like get reviews, get reviews, get reviews, and then we're just not that great at it as agencies. I don't know why I know myself, I'm terrible at it.

Chris LaFay
Me, too. We're actually tryingm one of the things, I'm doing a lot of our next year planning right now, and so one of the things that I want our team to start doing is documenting a lot of our processes that are currently undocumented. And so one of those things is the closing up of a project. And so what do we need to do at the end of every project? We need to get them to leave us a Google review. If they're a client of a certain size, we need them to leave a Clutch review for us. We need to schedule monthly quarterly reach out to them, making sure that we're solving any problems for them after their website launches, etc, etc. And so getting a lot of those processes documented, I think is going to help us a lot in the long run, because then if we have a literal checklist to go through. The project is done, it's a flat price project, there's nothing retained or recurring after that. If we know what our schedule is going to be on paper somewhere, then that means we're going to actually do it. And so that's really one of our challenges for next year is getting a lot of that stuff written down, systematized. And then empowering people to basically just take the reins and do it.

Natalie Shahmiri
And do you ask your clients for direct referrals to other companies they know to help with the sales process?

Chris LaFay
We're, I'm really bad about that. And so I need to get better. And that's part of what's on our internal reviews that we do on a quarterly basis with our current customers, is asking about referrals and what's happening in the coming months and coming quarters. And so it's a part of our process that we actually need to hone in on more and the times that we do it, we've been very successful with it. And so again, it's about the relationship, it's about conversation. The worst thing they can say is "No, not right now." Nobody's gonna get offended by a question of, "hey, do you know anybody that we could work with?" Somebody asked me, that I wouldn't care be great. I would love to refer you two people. So yeah, it's just a matter of actually, you know, doing it like you say you're going to.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, that follow through is the hardest part. I think, especially when you have an agency or any business that's client facing. I know, for me, it's been like, "Well, should I save it? We want that," like, it's this weird mental game of like, well, we're busy. We could always use more, but what will the client think? If we say, "Do you have anybody else?" And it's just in my head, and I've spoken to other agency owners who have said, Yeah, I kind of feel the same way. Like, should I say, "do you have anybody who would refer to us" versus like, "would you mind leaving us a review," and it's just this weird mental blocker.

Chris LaFay
What has helped me is this year, we've started doing, I've mentioned it a few times already, but these internal client reviews, and it was the weirdest thing to start because we go to all of our clients either on a monthly or quarterly basis, just depending on our cadence and our workflows with them. And we asked them, "how would you rate us on a scale of one to 10 on our communication, the quality of our product that we've been delivering to you, and the timeliness of how quick we've been able to get things done, and how organized and unscheduled that we are." I don't know if you've done that before. But that's a very humbling thing to ask. And what's nuts is most people are legitimately happy. But still even asking people that you know, already are very thrilled with the results that are coming in from the work that you're doing, just asking them directly, looking them in the eye and saying, "how would you rate us," it's so hard to do. But what we have found is A, people's numbers are subjective. So if you decide to start doing it, which I highly recommend, don't get sad if somebody says you're a six, but you did a good job. I found this out the very hard way when I looked at our averages. I'm like, why are they so low? Because those numbers are so subjective. But one thing that I found is somebody will say, "Oh, hey, yeah, it's an eight this month. And here's the one little problem that we had." But it's one little problem. But if we didn't have that conversation that month, and it happened again next month, that person wouldn't have brought it up if we didn't say anything about it. And it could just be that an email got caught and drafts or something and didn't get sent for a couple of days, or it got caught or an email got caught in spam or something silly that happened. But you stopped that avalanche from happening. You catch it right there when its a small snowball, you mentioned it to the team and say, "Hey, this was a problem, they're not upset. But let's just keep our eyes out for this next time." And then now you don't have these small little tiny things, growing into what then becomes this huge thing that you can no longer control, and the project is completely out of your hands at that point, and there's nothing you can do to save the relationship. So it's been a new thing this year for us. It's been hard, but highly recommended, because it has solved so many problems, and in reality, this entire calendar year, we have had zero unhappy clients.

Natalie Shahmiri
That's how we really make money sales can be expensive.

Chris LaFay
Yes, we can. It takes time it takes time to build good relationships. And yes, it is very expensive.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, easier to upsell an existing client and get a new one.

Chris LaFay
Yes, yes.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, well, this is amazing. You have had this incredible journey from when you were in middle school to today and have found all these things. I love that you have been working with somebody that isn't stuck in the day to day so that you can really start to break through that next wall, because, I think, regardless of the size of your agency, you will hit a point where you're like, "I'm not moving forward anymore as a person, as a business owner. How do I get to that next level." But then also really realizing your innate strength and what you bring to the table as an entrepreneur and really, then seeding that into how the business operates. Because I think that's an important thing, you can see that you're really good at something, but then how do you make that the strength of the overall business is really, really brilliant. I love that.

Chris LaFay
Once, this year especially, I have been able to identify a lot of my weaknesses that I haven't been able to find people for yet. It's been easy to find other designers or developers or technical people. But the hard part and what, at least for me, what has been hard to find are people that that have some of those other skills that are a little bit less tangible in terms of the building relationships part, interested in going out and meeting new folks and talking to people, and just building that good rapport and understanding how to manage a team well and build relationships internally and externally well. And one of the big turning points of this year was A, understanding that was a weakness of mine, and also finding somebody that complimented that weakness. So now our organization is stronger, because now we're not just relying on my strengths. But now, we have other people with complementary strengths, where we were initially at a zero over 100, because I was the only one with the skill and I was a zero on it. And so now we actually are all boosted up because of that. And so finding out what your weaknesses are and understanding it and being okay with it being a weakness, and then as time grows, being able to identify, okay, now is the time I can fill this void with a person that has a skill set with this. And so a lot of times those initial hires are people that can do tasks really quickly, but then as you start growing and getting to that next that next phase, kind of more, okay, what are the weaknesses in those soft skill areas where we can really promote and build the business up with people that are good in those areas that will really help kind of unlock that next phase of, yeah, business growth, not just solo entrepreneur growth.

Natalie Shahmiri
Yeah, definitely being more strategic in what the company is doing overall.

Chris LaFay
Exactly. Yes.

Natalie Shahmiri
I love that. Well, Chris, thank you so much. This has been so insightful and you have just been a joy to talk to you.

Chris LaFay
Thank you so much for having me. I really do appreciate it.

Natalie Shahmiri
Thank you.