Gerard Doyle, of Fractal, loves working with startups as he can influence the positioning of a client’s product or service… even the design.
He also says the most effective way to get the best clients is to go after a limited number of them. He explains how this strategy actually starts making clients come to you. It’s quite counterintuitive.
We also discuss…
- Software tools that help you track leads and land clients almost automatically
- The first employee you should hire
- The personal appointment you should always have on your schedule no matter how busy you are
- An unusual – but easy – way to get referrals
- And more
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn about how they build successful businesses and their personal branding. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today, I’m happy to welcome Gerard Doyle. Gerard is the founder of Fractal, a Brisbane, Australia-based agency that works predominantly with startups. He is a three-time startup founder and has worked for different agencies in senior management positions. Gerard and I actually know each other quite well. Back in the days of London, we worked for the same company, where he run the operations or was the CEO of Reprise Media UK and myself worked on the mirror side of that business. Gerard, great to have you on the show.
Gerard Doyle: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Steffen Horst: Gerard, I want to start off with finding out how did you start in marketing? How did your career start in marketing? Did you from university straight right into the marketing or is there another route you took?
Gerard Doyle: University, yeah. So, that makes … I think I started the marketing in about 1997, so that makes me about as old as it gets with search and digital marketing. My experience, I had a computer at home, but it was the computer labs at the University of Queensland here in Australia, and I kept trying to … I kept seeing these things, the opportunities, and I discovered that you could list businesses easy, websites relatively easy on Yahoo, and then you start to discover things like, “Hey, if I name all my websites starting with A,” a bit like the Yellow Pages’ authorization, “You’d be the top of Yahoo and people would come to your website.” When they came to your website, you could make them do things and make money, and I think I was bitten by the bug and decided, “I kind of like this.” I, from that point, started and really focused on a, really, search engine marketing as my first love, I guess.
Steffen Horst: You have done that for quite a long time, search engine marketing.
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. Well, I like to say that I’ve been doing it for longer than Google has been Google. So, for many people listening, they won’t remember a time before Google and some people listening might not have even been born before Google came around. But yeah, I remember the good old days of crazy search engines. We had LookSmart, Altavista, Excite, obviously there was Yahoo, and then a plethora of small ones that just never existed in any great way, shape, or form, but as a search engine marketer back in the late ’90s, you used to optimize for six or seven different search engines at the same time. So, if anyone listening to this does search engine marketing now and they complain about Google, just imagine if you had 20 search engines. That was how tough it was for us back in the good old days.
Steffen Horst: It was definitely much more complex. It took a lot more time. Although, it was a little bit like a gold rush back then because CPCs were cheap and competition was not that strong, so you could achieve a lot for little.
Gerard Doyle: Yeah, it was. It was unbelievably easy. You could still find so many keywords where, for example, if you’re doing a paid search, no one was bidding. I remember, sometimes, you couldn’t even be bothered rolling out some search engines. In, say, early 2000s in Europe, I was advertising on Yahoo, or which was Overture at the time, and then you had Google for a while who came in, and then, of course, you had FindWhat and E-Spotting and Morago, and some of these search engines still had quite good volumes, but you were buying clicks for a penny each. Then, you just realized … You wish you could wind the clock back and buy all that traffic now for one penny or one cent a click. It was amazing.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. Moving forward in time, now you’re running this company, Fractal. What are you doing at Fractal? Can you talk about this a little bit?
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. So, I guess I’m trying to consolidate my two career paths. So, as you said in the introduction, I’ve built and run a number of agencies over the years, and at the same time, I’ve built and run a couple of startups, and so, for me, the convergence of those two career paths is to run an agency that just focuses on startups. So, what I do is I help businesses or founders of startup companies discover their first customers and then, hopefully, build a scalable marketing engine. So, what I’m not doing is I’m not doing live-scale, paid search campaigns or Facebook campaigns. What I’m doing is trying to find out if there are customers that will bite and try these products out. Sometimes, it doesn’t always work out.
When you take a big, corporate client on, you know you can sell cars, you know you can sell soft drink or clothes, or whatever the big brand happens to be, but for a lot of my startup founders, there’s absolutely no proof that anyone’s going to buy their product. So, I like to say that my work has become difficult rather than hard. Running a big agency’s often hard, as you know. You work really long hours, clients push you really hard to extract that one and two percent performance uptick whereas my work, I describe as being more difficult in the sense that no one actually knows if it’s going to work at all. So, that’s the way I tell myself I’m working now, a little bit differently.
Steffen Horst: So, you’re basically helping brands to discover where there is a chance to make money before they start throwing money out of the window?
Gerard Doyle: Most of the time, unfortunately, they have thrown a lot of money out the window.
Steffen Horst: They already did that?
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. They’ve invested, they’ve built a product, but often, they launch and in their mind’s eye, of course everyone’s going to love their product, but as we know and appreciate, marketing is a lot about convincing people why. So, yes, you can build a product that’s better or a service that’s better, but you have to convince somebody that it’s better for them, and that messaging is important. Then, you’ve got to discover who that messaging really appeals to and who those early adopters are going to be. So, that’s what I spend a lot of my time doing.
Then, once I’ve built a marketing engine and once it’s working, that’s when a client of mine would typically either hire someone internally or start to outsource to an agency because the work that I do isn’t highly polished, it’s usually quite random in the sense that I’m doing lots of different tests all the time. But I enjoy that and I enjoy working with the founders because … You know what I find with that founder is? They’re often very excited to find out that their wasting money because it means they can stop whereas, often, the worst news you can give to a client of a large corporation is you run a campaign and it hasn’t worked because that’s, potentially, their job. So, it’s a very different working environment. Look, it’s different and, like I said, it’s more difficult than it is hard.
Steffen Horst: It’s interesting that you have people that actually are willing to listen to what might not work and how they might have to adjust. I think we both have been in situations where you’re talking to a brand and say, “This is not going to work. This is not your audience. This is not how you should do this,” et cetera, et cetera, and they’re just not listening and still want to go with things and throw money at it, although you know it’s not going to work.
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things I enjoy most about what I do is that, because the companies I work with being startups, they’re usually only a few people big, you can influence their product decision. As a marketer, you’re often getting handed, in a big agency anyway, you’re getting handed a script and a strategy that’s been formulated months before you and lots of people have been involved in. The fact that you know it doesn’t work, they don’t want to hear that. It doesn’t really matter. You’ve got to find and do the best you can with it. With a startup company, I’m usually in the fortunate position where I get to influence the strategy really early on and, ideally even, the way the product is designed. So, we can often go back, change the actual product, actual service, and reposition it. So, I like that, and I think maybe that comes from my stubborn nature where I do want to tell brands what to do, I do want to tell them how to conduct their business. With a startup company, I guess I’m fortunate enough to be given that privilege.
Steffen Horst: Well, what you just said about building your product, building your service, and then finding the market, that … This is a great bridge over to the agency side because if someone’s thinking about founding an agency, and that’s the topic we want to talk about today, they have to go through this thought process, too. No one should just go about and say, “I’m going to found an agency today, and I name it X, and I’m doing all of this,” without knowing whether there is really a market for that service they’re offering.
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. Unfortunately, you see people do that all the time. They spend more time thinking about what they want to call their agency rather than who their customers are going to be. Look, I think all agencies start, really, as independent contractors. You need to start yourself, you need to do the work. The worst thing you could do with an agency is to go into an area that you can’t really do. So, for example, I can’t really design websites, so me launching a website design agency means straight away, I’ve got to hire some people and have some overheads before I’ve got any billable dollars coming in. So, yeah, your first goal, I think, really is to see where the demand is, to see where your interests lie, and find those first customers because if you can’t find the first customers yourself, how do you ever really imagine you’re going to be able to build an entire agency around that offering?
Steffen Horst: Yeah. How would you go about that, about identifying where your niche is? You know what you do, you know what your skillset is, but how do you identify or have the skillset and where’s the niche that can really … can apply that skillset?
Gerard Doyle: Look, there’s two ways of approaching it. I like to start with people about where their passion lies, like why do they do what they do, where’s their driving force, what makes them really enjoy what they do in their job? Then, you discover the niche beyond that. So, it might be that you really like the fine tuning, the optimization, it might be that you like the idea of the competition of it. Lots of different reasons why you might do it, and then you can usually find your niche within that. I think if you can find something that you really love and you’re really passionate about, it tends to be a lot more satisfying later on when it works.
But the other thing is, for me, finding a niche, that’s tough, but what I can suggest is always try the niche down further than you imagine is humanely possible. So, you don’t just launch an ad agency, you don’t just launch a digital agency, you don’t just launch a search agency. You’ve really got to go all the way down. So, it’s like it was a paid search, is it particular engines? Maybe you’re launching a paid search engine that specializes in non-English markets, but in the US, and maybe you do that in non-Google engines.
The point is you get so niche that, then, someone in LA says, “Hang on. I really want to launch my shoe brand in Russia. How am I going to do that?” and it’s, “Oh, you need to speak to agency X. They specialize in Yandex in Russia and they’re based here in the US,” and you think, “Perfect. That’s the right agency for me,” because you’ve always got the chance to expand, back up. You’ve always the chance at new engines and new markets and expand, but what most agencies do is find … they try to get into the biggest market they can imagine they can compete in and then, unfortunately, find themselves competing on price. We’ve all been there. If you run an agency, you get to a pitch, and then the dreaded procurement person comes across, and it’s all about dollars and what you cost, but if you’re the only LA-based, dedicated Russian outreach, paid search agency with US-localized staff, well, it’s not about price because you’re the only show in town.
So, I think that’s probably my biggest advice is not so much how to pick the niches, start super small, just be absolutely specific at what you do. Think about who you are as a person and what you can do. So, if you can speak Russian or you can speak German or both, well, make that your advantage. If I’m … Could be anything. I could use my Australian experience, and that’s just talking about geography, but it could be anything, right? It could even be that you run an agency, a paid search agency that specializes in landing page optimization for paid search.
The point is niche is where you’re going to win, niche is where you’re able to carve out a market and build a reputation as being the best, and that’s ultimately what you want to be. What you don’t want to be is the third best in a market. Your goal is to define yourself and then, eventually, your agency as the best at one specific thing because then you’ll win. As yourself, and I’ve experienced many times, the most frustrating thing about an agency is going to a pitch and coming second because second’s the closest to first, but has exactly the same reward as last place, which is zero dollars.
Steffen Horst: Yep. That’s a good point. But let me ask this. If I go into a niche, my target pool, supply pool is very small. Am I not making it harder for me in finding my first clients by doing so?
Gerard Doyle: Look, I don’t believe so. I believe it’s a trick of mind. What happens is … People often look at an addressable. So, they get their total addressable market, or TAM, and they say to themselves, “If I can just win one percent of this market, then I’m going to have a great business,” but the problem is that theory used to work when everyone’s business was based on shop fronts on a high street and people walking past, and the idea was that some people would just fall in. But we live in a digital and global world where people can find an agency anywhere. Someone in the US could call me. Someone in Japan could call you up and work with you. So, it’s an increasingly global market that we’re participating in. So, it’s actually easier to be the best.
There’s a great study done by a guy called Zipf. It’s hard to say his name, but it’s Z-I-P-F, I think, or Z-I-F-P, one of the two. But it’s Zipf’s Law, and Zipf’s Law basically says that in any given market, the leader in that market will get, on average, twice as much business as second place or get twice as much as third and twice as much as fourth. So, what it says is you’re actually better off being the best in a small market than position 50 or 60 because that person gets such a small amount of the market, it won’t work.
For anyone and for both of us, being search engine marketers, we can see this law work perfectly in the Google SERPs because we know that position one’s going to get way more traffic than position two, which gets way more than three and four and five. By the time you come to position 11, 12, and 13, well, you may as well not even bother bidding because there’s no real traffic to be had there, and that’s the same of almost every single market. I think if you can wrap your head around that and realize how much more you win by being the best at a market than you do by being an also run, then that’s where the true success and scale comes from.
So, is it hard to find the people? Well, conceptually, yes, because you think you’re looking for less people, but the amazing thing happens is when you’re the best, people find you. When you’re the best at Russian paid search for US-based companies, people tend to find you because when they’re asking for referrals, no one ever refers a business who’s the second best.
Steffen Horst: No.
Gerard Doyle: If you come out to Brisbane, Steffen, you say, “Oh, Gerard, where’s the best schnitzel in Brisbane,” I’m not going to recommend the third best place am I?
Steffen Horst: Sure.
Gerard Doyle: I’d recommend … So, that’s the benefit of being the best in a niche. So, it’s about getting away from the mind’s eye of saying, “Oh, there’s lots of fish in the ocean.” It’s about saying, “Actually, I’m just going to catch the one fish, but it’s in this tiny, little fish bowl.” That analogy’s probably overworked, but you get the idea.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a great point. So, we’ve defined … Let’s break down where you want to be and create a niche for your work and really stand out and be the number one instead of being one of many, which leads to how do you find your first client? In your experience, having launched agencies in the past, having worked for big media agencies, and, I think, one of your positions in Brisbane for, I think it was, iProspect, you launched your office there, how would you go about finding that first client and what steps do you go through?
Gerard Doyle: Yeah, I did launch iProspect in Brisbane, and yeah, it was hard because … I remember saying to the national CEO and he said, “Hang on. But where are you going to start? How are you going to find a customer? How you’re going to find your first client?” and it really became a case of me just networking. There’s no other work for it than “Hustle,” just getting out there, meeting people, speaking to people. What I started to do was just pay it forward. So, I started to give the best advice I could out to lots of different people and network as hard as I could and just wait for that opportunity to speak to an agency … Sorry … speak to a potential client and get that first chance to pitch. So, it was pretty difficult.
The other thing I did that, I think, worked well was I looked for partnerships as quickly as possible. So, walking into independent design agencies, brand agencies, buying agencies, billboards, whatever happened out of home, and just finding them and helping them work with their clients and giving advice. So, I think I just committed a lot of time to doing a lot of, I won’t say free work because it was network-building, but I tried to do as much as possible to go as far as possible. Actually, the little area that I found worked well was … What I actually did was I started giving out basic SCO and paid search advice to design agencies. So, I started providing search services for design agencies for them specifically, and so they were naturally inclined after. They went, “Oh, that was great,” and, “That worked really well for me. You should come in and speak to my client as well.”
I think if I was going to give one trick, it would be not that I walked into a design agency and said, “Hey, would you like to sell my services?” I walked into a design agency and said, “Hey, here’s a whole bunch of tips to improve your SCO and your local SCO,” and, “Here’s some paid search,” and, “I’ve made some recommendations here on audience retargeting,” and what happened was the founders of those agencies and their managing directors were so happy that I was giving them advice, I naturally became their preferred partner. If you want one clear takeaway, that idea of finding partnerships and giving them the service, not their clients, so just not quite going straight for what you really want, that tended to be the best way.
The introductions were brilliant. The introductions that they made to their clients weren’t, “Oh, you should work with Gerard. He’s really good,” they would say, “You should work with Gerard. He did the work on our business and have done really well,” and that was a totally different way to get a referral.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. That makes sense. In addition to that, obviously, someone should also look into the old network, obviously, right? That’s another good starting point to see whether there is business opportunities to grow an agency.
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. I must say my LinkedIn profile became one of the most important things that I had because there wasn’t too much else to work with. So, yeah, using your own contacts and chatting to people about what you are trying to do … I’m not sure it’s necessarily built into everyone’s natural psyche or personality because you’re not hitting up your friends and family for work, you’re just letting everybody know that you’re out there. It’s funny, but people don’t assume that you’re looking for work. People don’t assume you need contacts. So, you just have to get really good at saying … People say, “What do you do?” and you’ve got to say who you’re looking to work with because people are intrinsically inclined to help you out. I just found the more I said what I was trying to do and the more type of people I wanted to work with, sure enough, you have people say, “Oh, you should chat to X, Y, or Z.”
One of the strange first clients I got was actually an investor in my previous startup business. He lost his money investing in my startup business, but I still contacted him, and he said, “Hey, I’ve got another company over here. Come on in and have a chat with that company,” and they were actually my first client I signed up. So, I would like to say, much as he lost him money, I did everything right. Obviously, he still trusted me, but that’s the nature investing in a startup. But yeah, it was those kind of contacts. You realize, “Yeah, you never know where the leads are going to come from,” but for me, it all falls under that umbrella of, “You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to get out there. If you think you can throw a website up …” Think of it like you’d advise your clients. You can’t just throw a website up and wait for people to come. You’ve got to get out there and network and meet people and explain to people what you’re trying to achieve.
Steffen Horst: I think when you do that, then there’s this niche focuses becomes, again … it’s very important because if you can pinpoint what exactly you can do, how you can help someone, it’s much better than saying, “I do digital marketing. I do paid search,” and this and that and this, which a lot of companies do, which does not make you stand out in a conversation.
Gerard Doyle: Exactly. Look, what I would say, too, is, if you’re launching a company or launching an agency, is you can still do work that doesn’t fall into your niche. So, when I’m starting out and someone says, “Oh, what do you want to do?” “Yes, I want to work … purely do marketing for startups.” Now, if I’m just starting out and I’ve got to pay the bills and I’ve got a family and someone comes along and says, “Hey, can you do this corporate work,” or, “Can you do this white label work,” whatever it might be, well, of course you do that. You don’t say, “No.” You take whatever work you can do. Even if that might be driving an Uber. Who knows, right? You do what you can do to pay the bills, but you don’t change your positioning, and that’s probably the key thing.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. We talked about value prop and how to find a niche, we talked about how to find the first clients and get that on board. So, you’re taking off … When an agency starts to take off, how do you go about hiring the first people? The way you talked earlier, you talked about you don’t necessarily need a co-founder. You start as a freelancer, contractor and build it up from there. Is there a situation where you would say, “Hey, know what? You should really look for a co-founder,” and that’s allowing you to take off some workload and who should that co-founder be? Should that be someone that is complimentary to your skills, should have the same skills? What is your view on that?
Gerard Doyle: There’s a few things there. So, working backwards on the questions, I don’t think they should have the same skills because then you suffer group think because you go, “We both think the same thing,” so all your decisions are made. You actually want someone who’s quite different to you, so different approach. If you’re strong at marketing, maybe they’re better at sales. If they’re better at client services, maybe you’re better at strategy, what it happens to be. But you want different types of people.
I guess the benefit with a co-founder is that you’ve got somebody else who’s maybe willing to work and not get paid for one month because the first thing you said, there was, “How do you hire your first staff member?” Look, I haven’t met someone’s who’s founded an agency and hired their first full-time employee and didn’t have to basically forgo money themselves. Every single time they do that, not long after they onboard them, they get them going, they’re getting up to speed, they look at their receivables for the month and go, “Uh-oh. I have a whole less money than I thought. Well, I can’t not pay the employees. I’m going to not pay myself.”
That, unfortunately, I think, is a story that almost every founder of an agency will tell you is there’s just those weeks and months where they’ve got no money coming in for themselves and they’re paying their staff and the staff member comes in and asks for a pay rise and they’re thinking, “You want a pay rise? I just want to get paid,” and you hide your perception about … You don’t want to tell them, “Oh, I didn’t pay myself last month,” because you want to keep that startup that you do really well.
Steffen Horst: You don’t want to freak them out.
Gerard Doyle: No. Exactly. Look, I, as much as possible and wherever possible, collaborations with people who were doing … are also independent freelancers can work, you can hire a remote team, a contract team, these days. That’s nowhere near as daunting as it used to be. I think that tends to work well with a co-founder because then you can … you’ve got that backup person. I guess the one thing about just being by yourself is there is nobody to hand over to, nobody to pick up an email, nobody to support you in what you might be doing, no one to fly the ship while you’re on holidays or having a baby or whatever might be going wrong. I guess try to delay it. But those first few employees are probably the most scary because it’s just that cost. You pay the salary every week or every fortnight, and it is going to hurt. It really, really hurts.
In terms of who those first employees are, it varies, but I think, typically speaking, you’re going to be hiring a fairly junior staff member, and that’s simply because you’re looking to create that efficiency that happens in an agency, and the efficiency is that ability to pay you, in theory, for the high-level strategy and then someone cheaper to do the doing. The bigger that gap in salary or billable hours, the more efficiency you can find by shuffling hours back and forth between the two of you. So, the most efficiency you’ll get is that first hire because all of a sudden, you might be billing yourself out of $200 an hour and the new hire might be $50 an hour. Well, the difference, that delta in between, is the efficiency you can pick up by moving work back and forth, and that’s what you’ve got to really focus on is keeping that efficiency, I guess, as high as possible.
Every single time you employ a new person, you get another opportunity to find another level of efficiency, and that’s ultimately the game. So, for most agencies, you are going to be looking to be hiring somebody who you can grow up in your mind’s eye, and hopefully, they’re willing to work the appropriate levels of agency hours that you’re going to require because you’re probably going to be a very demanding boss given that it’s your agency.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. I got to ask you. So, you just said, “You probably hire a cheaper, junior person.” Isn’t there a danger with doing that? Probably is less experience, which means there’s more time required for you to oversee things, to correct things. Wouldn’t it be better to hire maybe a more expensive senior person?
Gerard Doyle: Well, I guess there’s arguments on both sides. I guess, for me, it’s about the efficiency. The only problem with hiring a senior person is, then, you get a lot of people who both prefer to do the strategy and the top-hand work. So, if you’re running a consultancy where it’s all high-end strategy work, I think that makes sense, but your first hires … I feel like most agency founders and owners are going to micromanage their first staff anyway. They’re going to sit next to them. You’re going to spend a lot of time with them anyway. So, you’re going to be spending so many contact hours with your first hire, making sure that that painful weekly and fortnightly salary you’re paying out, you’re getting the best value you can for it. You may as well do that with someone who’s a little bit cheaper. I feel like if you’d want a senior hire, I’d fall back to where you were before and, more likely, bring someone in on an equity basis who’s more likely to be willing, I guess, to have those late pay packets arrive because they’ve got an equity slice.
Look, for a job sanity point of view, absolutely, I’d much rather hire senior people with more experience so I don’t have to teach them everything about what it is to be at an agency. I’ve also never really found anyone, especially for that first hire, who can build up so much billable work, they can afford to take on an expensive hire, pay that salary, and still keep their head above water because that’s ultimately what happens. Usually, what you do is usually work yourself …
So, you’re doing if not 40 hours, not 50, maybe, like, 60 hours of billable a week, something where you’re almost about to burn out, and that’s when you take your first hire because you’re trying to almost build two salaries, which is almost impossible to do. So, you’re more likely to reach that point of comfort where you say, “I can probably pay someone $45,000 a year plus tax, plus whatever else obligations are needed, plus insurance.” You’re more likely to take that job as a founder, I think, just out of practice. I know that’s where I’ve always found myself, but I guess it’s horses for courses, depends on exactly what you want.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. Yeah. So, with bringing new people in and then having a vision for your agency and having thoughts about how things should be done, whether that’s from a work perspective, how clients are treated, you name it. Processes obviously are quite important. Are there certain processes you feel that a new agency should have in place to make sure, although you bring someone on board, there’s no chaos on the ship?
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. Well, I think … Look, I think early on, you don’t have to have too many processes when you’ve only got a couple of staff members. I think you can over-engineer it. I think there’s some fundamental things you’ve got to get right. So, getting people in the idea of billable hours, if that’s how you’re working, time-tracking, getting those sheets, getting those systems set up early, that makes a bit of sense, and that’s a discipline that you probably want to impose upon yourself when you just start. So, tracking your hours. When I do that now, right? So, even doing this podcast, I’m tracking these hours.
The reason why I do that is because we can have this chat for half an hour and then I look at the end of the day and think to myself, “Oh, I’ve already done seven hours’ work.” Well, yes, but this counts as work as well. So, it’s seven and a half hours. So, that’s one. But generally speaking, I think it’s more important that you really have a clear vision and mission for your agency because you can spend a lot of time trying to create rules to micromanage to get things working, but what you really want it to try to create an autonomous team that are capable of making their own decisions based on the general direction. So, I’m paraphrasing here some advice that some US Military generals have been putting out recently, which is to say, “The best laid plans …” Actually, I better quite use Muhammad Ali, which is, “Everyone’s got a plan …” Was it Mike Tyson? I’m misquoting everybody.
Steffen Horst: One of the boxers did it.
Gerard Doyle: It’s a boxer. Yeah. He said, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the nose.” That’s the thing. You can have all these details, all this structure in place, but when things start to go wrong, they’re going to fall apart, but if you’ve got some underlying principles, if you’ve got a vision and mission that’s clear about how you want to conduct yourself, how the agency’s going to succeed, and you empower your staff to just try to deliver on that, well, then you’ve got a better chance of making stuff work. So, I think, one, you have to find that niche, sort of defining the culture and how you want your agency to work becomes absolutely crucial.
Look, I’ve worked for lots of agencies where they talk about, “This is our mission,” or, “This is our vision,” and it’s always client first, but it never is. There’s always that other reason why not to do something or a different way to chase something. So, if you get that right and people truly understand that and they’re empowered to make their own decisions based on that, then stuff will tend to work out for you.
Steffen Horst: I think that’s a great advice. When it comes to software solutions to make things easier or to organize things, are there any software solution that come from your experience you used or still use to run things smoother or to organize things better?
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. Okay. Well, I mentioned time-tracking. So, I use Harvest, which is a nice app that runs on my phone, runs on my desktop that tracks my hours. What I like about Harvest is it’s part of the API community or economy, which means it plugs into lots of other tools. So, then, when I’m using a CRM, I use Pipedrive, and Pipedrive and Harvest talk really nicely to each other so that when you get a lead in, you put it into Pipedrive and you work them through Pipedrive, and it sounds very methodical, but you keep a CRM system, but by using Pipedrive, I know it works well with Harvest. I also know that Harvest works well with another app called Proposify, and Proposify allows you to throw proposals out to potential clients, contracts out to them, and that’s got the e-signature built in to it. What I like about all of those things is Harvest and Proposify both connect into Stripe, and so you can actually get people paying you upfront or even receiving those payments.
So, when I sent recurring invoices out to clients, I also, for most of them, put in a Stripe credit card payment. Now, because I’ve got startup clients, they often run right to the end and the reminders go out, and so having that credit card option means they can often just plug their personal credit card and pay that outstanding invoice. So, my big thing is to use software that talk to each other. At the back end, for my accounting, I use Xero, which is a New Zealand-based accounting software. Not as big as QuickBooks, I think it’s in the US, but Xero is an amazing bit of software, and all of the things I’m talking about there all connect into Xero. So, when I give it to my bookkeeper, everything’s been tracked, all my hours are in there, and I’ve managed that for myself.
Then, on top of that, I just a Google Suite. So, I use Gmail as the powerhouse for all my documents and email. So, by using that, connecting it to Pipedrive, connecting that to Proposify, connecting that to Harvest, I get an overall tour and view of where I’m at. Yes, each one of these is another $15 or $20 a month software as a service subscription, and so that bill becomes a little bit of an overhead, but it’s pretty manageable, and there are months where I don’t send anything out from Proposify, but I’m not going to drop it in a hurry.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. I think, as you said, you’ve got a nifty setup there, but that also makes things easier. You have to draft a proposal in Word, for example, and then the client has to scan it in in order to sign it. You make things easy for your client, but you also make things easy for yourself by having systems that talk to each other and that work with each other and allows you to push information from one system to the next system to the next system to next system.
Gerard Doyle: Yeah, because you don’t want to be double entering things. That’s not what you’re there to do. You want it to happen for you. So, you’ve got one or two areas of input and you try to automate that process as much as possible. So, for me, with Pipedrive, if I’m going to send an email, I’ve got a button in my Gmail, I click it, and it automatically BCCs Pipedrive or if I think this is a potential new lead, and then that throws it in. So, the only thing I have to remember to start using Pipedrive is to BCC my Pipedrive email address and the system kicks off and everything starts to run from there.
The other thing I’d say is … Look, I really like to be on clients’ internal Slack channels. I like to be on Slack because it means that you can pick up on things quickly, you can always be in contact with them, and instead of having to craft those perfectly worded emails where you’ve got all the right niceties in the top and the bottom and the sign up and it’s spell-checked, I like just being able to flick stuff back and forth quickly with Slack and get much better value for money.
Then, of course, that depends on the relationship and how you’re going to work with clients, but I find it’s much harder to lose a client if you feel like a part of the team whereas if you’re a completely outsource service provider, it’s much easier for a client to cut you off and say, “Hey, we’re just going to lose Gerard’s agency. We don’t need them anymore.” When I’m on the Slack channel, I can just … You can be enfolded in the jokes, the memes, the things you can engage with that. You just build a different relationship.
So, if you can use Slack, and even if you can use … if you’ve got a paid Slack and you can integrate into one of their channels, you can integrate your whole agency Slack account into one channel, which allows everyone to use it. That’s a fantastic feature, and that way, it’s easy to collaborate, and then you patch into their workflow. So, if you’re a marketing agency and you patch into the client’s marketing channel, your whole agency can then access just their marketing channel.
All the noise and all the different team members you’ve got on your side working on their account makes a massive difference because now they can see the work that you’re doing and they can see the quick back and forth rather than what I think most people fall into the trap of, which is go away for a couple weeks and come back and say, “Here’s my presentation. Here’s my research. Here’s my strategy.” They can’t really see all the work you’ve put into it whereas if you’re on Slack and you’re pinging back and forth, the work you produce becomes collaborative, and you’ve got a lot lower chance of producing something and the client going, “Yeah, I don’t like that. That’s wrong. Try it again.” You’ve touched base every day. When you actually produce it, it’s not a surprise, but they’re going to be happy with the end result.
Steffen Horst: Yeah. Just full disclosure, we’re not getting any referral fees for this or have you negotiated that prior to our call?
Gerard Doyle: What’s that? With-
Steffen Horst: For mentioning all those companies.
Gerard Doyle: No. No. We should sign up. I think Harvest … I think they all do have referral fees.
Steffen Horst: The reason I’m saying it is, obviously, there are other solutions that do the same thing. These are just solutions that Gerard and some of them, we, here at Symphonic Digital, use ourselves. But there are a number of software solutions out there that do similar things than what we just talked about. I think, at the end of the day, it’s about making sure that you work smart, not hard. Think about how you can create an environment and structure that takes work off your desk and not adds onto it.
Gerard Doyle: Yeah. The one thing about time-tracking and CRM systems is they also give you a view about where you’re spending your time and what you’re not doing right. So, sometimes you can fall into the trap of doing too much on promotion or BD work and you can look at the end of the day and, like I said … Today might be seven hours of billable work and half an hour of business development work, and all that’s great, but those days where you do six hours of business development, you realize, “Oh, okay.” So, you can start to analyze yourself and being a bit true about yourself.
So, the two things that I like about tracking my time is making sure that I’m still doing work that I’m going to get paid for and, also, making sure I provide value for clients as well because there is a trick … there’s a trap that people who run agencies fall into, and it’s that one client who doesn’t complain and you probably don’t give him the full hours you need to, and eventually, they leave and then you realize they were your profitable client. The ones that are bugging you all the time and you’re doing six hours when you should be doing four, well, they’re the unprofitable clients.
So, by tracking your own time, even if you’re just an agency of one when you start, it helps you realize who the clients are that you really want to maintain, the clients that you want to look after because the worst thing is when you lost your profitable client, everything else falls down around it. You can often be spending all your time on unprofitable clients trying to keep them happy. If you’ve got that mix wrong, and it’s a trap that we fall into all the time on the agency side, is … Yeah … your whole business comes down around your ears. The flip side of that, of course, is if you lose the unprofitable client, sometimes you’ll only realize how unprofitable they were after you leave, and you go, “Wow. I’ve got all this time and I’ve only lost a small amount of my fee.” It’s like, “Ah, I knew I didn’t like that client for a reason.”
Steffen Horst: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a good point. Well, it looks like we’re coming towards the end in regards to time. I have one more question for you, Gerard. What’s a single piece of advice you would give someone contemplating to launching their own agency?
Gerard Doyle: Oh. Single piece of advice would be … Look, if you’re in charge of your own time, which you will be, and you’re responsible for it, I’m going to assume you’re going to be successful, which means you’re going to work a lot of hours, make sure you carve some time out for you and do something specific that says, “I’m in control of my own hours now and this is what I’m going to do.” I’ll give you an example. I coach my son’s soccer team, the Wombats, the under seven Wombats soccer team. We haven’t been defeated this season.
Steffen Horst: Yeah.
Gerard Doyle: What I’m able to do is every Wednesday afternoon, you can’t get me at 3:00 on a Wednesday afternoon because at 3:00 on a Wednesday, I’m coaching the Wombats down at a soccer field. I put that time aside so that I could say to myself, “I work for myself, and there are times when it’s hard, there are times when it’s tough and you think, ‘Oh, I’m not going to get paid,'” but what I’m never going to look back on on my deathbed, to be that morbid about it, I’m not going to look back and go, “Gee, I wish I’d kept that client.” I’m going to look back and go, “Those days coaching my son’s soccer team, that’s the important thing.”
So, when you become the gatekeeper of your own time and your own destiny, block out some time to do something, whether it be get fit, learn to cook, learn a language, spend time with your wife, your partner, helping your parents out, whatever it might be, coaching a soccer team, do something that you can look back and say, “That’s the benefit of working for yourself because otherwise running an agency, it will swallow all of your time.” If you leave that time free in your diary, it will get chewed up. So, that’s my big bit of advice. That’s not about being successful in an agency. I guess that’s about being successful in life. So, maybe not exactly what you meant, but that’s my one bit of advice.
Steffen Horst: I think that’s a good piece of advice because otherwise you will burn out quickly and you’ll ask yourself, “What did I do?” and, “Where did the fun go?” This has been a pleasure having you on the podcast. I really enjoyed our conversation. If people, and I don’t know if you work with companies in US, but if people in Australia want to reach out to you, want to find out more about you or what Fractal and what you do and if you might be able to help them, how can they find you?
Gerard Doyle: LinkedIn is my social media of choice. So, I’m just Gerard Doyle, so, G-E-R-A-R-D D-O-Y-L-E, on LinkedIn, and from there, you can find everything else about me. I think I’ve got one client in the US at the moment. I tend to do really short bursts of work for people. So, I just help them get in the right direction. But also, if anyone pings me, I’m always happy to give a little bit of advice over email as well. So, you find me on LinkedIn, you’ll find all my other social handles from that one point.
Steffen Horst: Sounds great. We’ll put it in the description as well. Well, thanks, everyone, for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes of your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at SymphonicDigital.com or follow us on Twitter at SymphonicHQ. Thanks again, and see you next time.