I’m kicking off a new experiment this week.
I’m starting a new agency. And I plan on live blogging all the struggles and successes I face along the way — and making it all available right here on DoubleYourFreelancing.com.
As many of you probably know, about 6 years ago I started my first agency. I was in no way equipped to run or scale an agency at the time, as I had no experience in business or management. But it somehow… worked. We grew to 11 full-time employees and we grew into a 4500ish square foot office in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. Within just two years, our revenues were just over $2+ million a year and our client base was international.
It was a wild ride, but fate led me to exit the agency and start a software company (Planscope), which later spawned off my teaching business (this website, my courses, etc.)
Why and how I started consulting again
For the first few years after quitting my agency, I didn’t do any consulting. I focused solely on my software startup, and later on Double Your Freelancing Rate and my other courses.
But earlier this year, my family was hit with a rather sudden and shocking medical bill that drained all the savings we’d built up over the years.
I had two options: I could limp along at impulse, and rebuild our savings over time; or I could apply everything I had learned running my agency, and refined through teaching, and start consulting again — refiling the coffers at warp speed.
I went with the second option, and over the summer have been able to entirely replenish our savings.
The pay’s been fantastic. Billing myself out at between $10,000 to $20,000 a week has allowed me to financially recover in a way that would make most 9-5er’s heads spin.
(And not to toot my own horn, but that financial success has been the result of a faithful implementation of much of what I’ve been writing here for the last three years.)
But there have been two big downsides to the sort of consulting I’ve been doing:
- I’ve had to fly out to Colombia, San Francisco, Philadelphia, or wherever else for a week or two. Endless travel and time away from home were the reasons I exited my agency.
- My entire business (my newsletter and blog, Planscope, the new course I’m working on, and so on) got put on the back-burner when working with a client. If the only thing I was doing was consulting, this wouldn’t be an issue — but I’m juggling a lot of different businesses at once.
So now that I’ve escaped the pressures that come with having an empty savings account, I’m at a crossroads.
I could stop consulting yet again, and go back to what I was doing.
…But I love consulting. I love helping specific businesses with their specific problems. Building software and creating courses necessarily requires me to generalize what I’m doing, whereas consulting lets me apply what I’m good at to a particular problem that somebody has.
But there are downsides. If I were to just keep doing what I’ve been doing, it would require more travel and more putting my business on pause.
Could I conjure up a consulting model that was both valuable to my clients while also inline with what I wanted?
What kind of consulting business do I want to run?
I started to think about what this model might look like. Here’s what I came up with:
- I didn’t want to be a necessary part of the “product”. The kind of consulting I’ve been doing recently has had me doing all the work.
- I want clients to pay monthly for a specific deliverable, rather than buying my time for a week.
- I don’t want to work full-time and put my main business on hold.
Whenever you’re setting yourself up to do anything ambitious, I think it’s super important to figure out where you want to be and work backwards.
If I’m visiting family in Florida, I don’t start by getting in the car and driving in a way that I think gets me close to Florida. I first enter in the destination — Fort Lauderdale — and then fill in the blanks.
The same is true of your business. Too many freelancers (and even agencies) just drift by, fueled by their own momentum and inertia. But they don’t know where they’re going, or even why they’re going. They just… go.
Before I figured out what I’ll offer, who I’ll offer it to, what we’ll say, what the website will say, or whatever else, I first figured out where I want the business to be. From there, I could come up with the highways and backroads that would get me there.
How can my needs align with the needs of my clients?
“Sure, Brennan. You not being a dependency, getting paid monthly, and not working full-time all the while making a good income… that sounds great. But come on…”
A lot of freelancers might set goals or ideals that they want to follow, but they don’t spend enough time figuring out how to make these personal needs align with their clients needs. They don’t come up with a way that will make their clients eager to work according to the way they want to work.
After I had these three personal ideals in mind, I then had to deconstruct the style of consulting I was doing before, which clients were and are more than happy to pay for, and then reconstruct it into something inline with my goals.
I needed to ask myself a few questions:
Why have clients hired me?
In the past, I’ve been hired because I’m really good at helping people grow and scale their businesses through automated means. Technically, this usually means putting together email courses or autoresponders, writing code that helps them move people through their website’s sales funnel, and whatever else can be done to outweigh my costs.
What’s GOOD about the style of consulting I’ve been doing?
Because I’ve been working on-site, my typical engagement kicks off with a high energy meeting or two. I don’t think videoconferencing replaces huddling around a conference table and collaborating around a whiteboard. I’ve also gotten to know my clients much more intimately. We go to lunch together. We drink after work together. I meet their team. And so on.
And what’s BAD about the style of consulting I’ve been doing?
After we wrap up meetings, I get to work. I’ll usually get setup with a desk and work the hours typical of the rest of the team (and since many of my clients are startups, this is usually 9-6.)
I work from home, and am used to getting stuff done in relative quiet and solitude. I’ve found myself getting really distracted in offices. And I also have a hard time banging out email copy for 8 hours a day.
Is working full-time really best for my clients?
Clients hire me to work the typical hours of an in-house employee of theirs. But much of what I do requires time, sometimes lots of it, to really figure out whether it was the right move or not. Let’s say we’re working on getting more visitors to buy something. All the meetings and speculation in the world are only going to give us hunches; it’s not until we actually have a lot of visitors engage with what we’ve done that we can figure out whether it was the right move to make, or if we need to tweak anything.
Does the chef always do the prep work?
Peek into the kitchen of just about any fine dining restaurant, and you’ll see a hierarchy. There’s the chef, who determines the menu, organizes the chaos, and might work on some of their best known dishes. But then you have the sous chefs who prepare the ingredients, a pastry chef who specializes in deserts, and so on.
People might dine at a restaurant because they’ve heard of a particular chef and his or her amazing dishes, but most diners know that it’s a team effort.
There are some things that I specialize in. I know how to outline and structure an email course to make it print money, but I’m not the only person qualified to actually write the words of the course. Likewise, while I’m being hired to ultimately directionally steer my clients using aggregated data, I’m not the best person to collect and crunch that data.
Do diners care about what happens in the kitchen?
Let’s extend this chef metaphor a bit.
If I’m waiting for a filet, I don’t really care about what’s happening behind the scenes. How’s the kitchen staff working together to make my steak? What sort of ingredients and equipment are they using? I don’t care about any of this.
I just want my medium-rare filet mignon.
Do my clients really care all that much about how much time I’m spending writing email courses or analyzing their metrics? They don’t.
What they care about is what they’re getting from me and what it will do for their business, and if I’m selling them a chef (me!) but not a steak dinner, then they’re more likely to naturally want to micromanage and dictate.
So if I’m going to reconstruct my offering into something palatable for my clients, I need to stop selling myself as a marketing/developer unicorn who can be applied to any and all business problems. I need to get specific. I need to sell the steak, not the chef.
Announcing: My new, yet-to-be-named agency
So here’s the steak I’m going to be selling; the productized consulting offering that centers less on me and my skills, and more on what’s being delivered.
Most businesses, including many of my past clients’ businesses, operate on the following assumption:
Step 1: Setup blog
Step 2: Write content
Step 3: …
Step 4: Profit!
What they often ignore is that third step. Conventional wisdom says all you need to do is produce content, and sales or leads will follow. And this just isn’t true.
I make a living primarily through this blog and my newsletter. I have an exceedingly refined funnel that moves the right people to specific products that I offer. And last year this digital, automated conveyor belt has yielded a little over $300k in sales — this might not sound like all that much for a business, but when it’s a business-of-one it’s pretty decent!
This has put me on the radars of a few companies, a few of which have become clients of mine. But I’ve always been hired under an arrangement of: “we can’t easily find people like you, come work with us to do X for a week.”
But for the reasons I’ve outlined above, these arrangements haven’t always been ideal — for both me and my clients.
So the product we’ll be offering is a 4-6 month program that takes a business, looks at its sales funnels and how their website and blog fit into that funnel, and discovers, implements, tests, and responds to a new-and-improved funnel.
In practical terms, this means more visitors become subscribers, more subscribers become customers, and more of their customers become more valuable customers.
In technical terms, we’ll be creating content, integrating their website with their CRM/ESP, setting up advanced level tracking and analytics (e.g. “what percentage of our customers — not just visitors — who come across this page on our site end up buying?”), personalized call-to-actions and opt-ins, creating dynamic email courses and autoresponders, and all the glue that ties it all together.
We’re aiming for a $5,000 a month price point, which means the average deal would be around $25,000.
My goal for a year from today (November of 2015) is 20 active clients and $100,000 a month in revenue. This will be similar to the revenue my first agency had, but I’m aiming for much higher profitability (e.g. this will be an entirely virtual operation.)
Why I’m telling you about this…
As a reader of my blog, you know that I try to be as transparent as possible about everything that I do.
I want you to be a part of this new agency. Maybe you’re not formally a member of the company (though if you’re a freelance blogger and/or conversion expert, let’s talk), but I want you to be a fly-on-the-wall. I want you to experience all the ups and downs, and all the major takeaways that I learn as I embark on this experience again.
Because back when I first started my agency, I was clueless. I didn’t really have anyone to emulate. All the agencies and successful freelance consultants that I looked up to were pretty detached and opaque… the most I could usually get out of them was whatever their marketing site told me.
It wasn’t until I made the decision to join a monthly roundtable with other local entrepreneurs that I realized that I wasn’t the only business owner who sometimes hated getting up in the morning. That business wasn’t always as straightforward and clearcut as things seemed on the surface. That — and pardon my French — “this shit is hard work.”
So stick around, and I look forward to giving you a detailed look at the inner workings on this new chapter of my business.
(And in case you’re wondering… this agency won’t detract or replace anything else I’m doing. I’m still running Planscope, working on my new course on lead generation, managing my podcast, this blog, my newsletter, and more!)