Digital Marketing Strategy: Chris Handy on How He Built a $400K 2-person Agency in 24 months

chris handy 4in x 6in x 300dpi x FC

If you’re a marketing agency owner who’s struggling to get traction, how would you like to hear from an agency owner who was very successful early along? Chris Handy built a $400,000 two-person agency in just 24 months, and he has generously agreed to share what worked with the BrightIdeas audience. (For more agency Bright Ideas, check out our other posts that are especially relevant to marketing agencies.)

Chris has excellent strategies for lead generation, LinkedIn and other social promotion, lead nurturing and more. In addition to the ThinkHandy digital marketing strategy, Chris shares ideas on how to select a profitable niche.

Listen now and you’ll also hear Chris and I talk about:

  • (5:00) Introductions
  • (8:50) His background with eBay
  • (12:30) How his exposure to process has molded his thinking
  • (14:50) Overview of #1 lead generation
  • (15:30) Overview of how he’s using LinkedIn
  • (19:50) Overview of how they are blogging for leads
  • (24:20) Criteria for selecting a profitable niche
  • (26:30) Overview of lead nurturing
  • (31:00) Overview of retained income and how assessments lead to it
  • (40:00) Overview of how they systematize the deliverables
  • (43:30) How they are using client interviews to create blog posts
  • (45:00) Overview of deliverables given for retainer
  • (51:00) Overview of social promotion strategy
  • (56:00) Advice on how to get started at content marketing
  • (58:20) His biggest mistake and lessons learned

Resources Mentioned

More About This Episode

The Bright Ideas podcast is the podcast for business owners and marketers who want to discover how to use online marketing and sales automation tactics to massively grow their business.

It’s designed to help marketing agencies and small business owners discover which online marketing strategies are working most effectively today – all from the mouths of expert entrepreneurs who are already making it big.

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Transcript

Trent: Hey there, bright idea hunters. Welcome to the Bright Ideas
Podcast. I am your host Trent Dyrsmid and this is the podcast
for marketing agencies, marketing consultants and entrepreneurs
who want to discover how to use content marketing and marketing
automation to massively boost their business without massively
boosting the number of hours that you have to work every week.
As a matter of fact, the goal is to help you reduce the number
of hours you have to work every week. The way that we do that is
we bring proven experts onto the show to share with us what’s
working for them. When I say a proven expert I don’t mean a guru
or a theorist, I mean someone who’s actually using this stuff in
their business and they’re getting significant results by doing
so.My guest on the show today is a guy by the name of Chris Handy,
and he is the Founder of a marketing agency by the name of
ThinkHandy.com. He and his wife are actually the two people that
are behind that agency. He launched that in the beginning of
2011 and here we are just not even two years later he’s at
$20,000 a month in recurring revenue from retainer business.
They’re on track to do $400,000 in revenue this year and as you
can imagine with no overhead and only he and his wife as being
the two key employees that also translates into a very
profitable business venture.In this interview I get Chris to share all sorts of stuff with
us in great detail. For example, I want him to, or get him,
rather, to explain how he’s using LinkedIn to generate leads and
he does something that’s very unique and interesting. It’s
different than what I do and I’ll go so far as to say it’s
smarter and better than what I am doing so of course I need to
adjust my action as a result. You’re going to hear that at
roughly the seven to nine-minute mark and then after that we
start talking about his criteria for selecting which niches that
he pursues and that is a real key part of his business strategy
is choosing those niches correctly because as he points out not
all niches are created equal. Some are going to be a whole lot
more profitable for you than others.Then we walk through his four-step process for taking a lead
that goes through the funnel and requests an assessment then
there’s four steps that he does to convert them to a client and
it was very interesting as he shared the details on that because
the one thing that he doesn’t do is he doesn’t ever go and meet
them face to face. The really wonderful thing about this is no
matter what town you’re in or where you live you can get clients
that are anywhere if you listen to this interview and you
replicate the process that Chris explains.His background involved a lot of work with process improvement
and process automation and that really shines through in the
systems that he’s using to run his agency. We talk about that as
well. When a client says yes, how efficient you are or aren’t in
delivering the work that you’ve promised to them is going to
make all the difference between whether you build an agency with
lots of revenue and no profit or you build an agency with lots
of revenue and lots of profit. You really need to get good at
this whole systematizing and process management and in this
interview Chris shares a whole lot about that.Finally, towards the end of the interview he shares one of the
biggest mistakes that he made early on and the lessons that he
learned as a result of that. Do make sure that you stay tuned to
the very end and check that out.We’re going to welcome Chris to the show in just a second, but
before we get to that I want to very briefly tell you about a
new book that I’m working on and how you can get an advance look
at it, some free chapters and a discount when it comes out if
you go to BrightIdeas.co/book all of the information will be
there and this is going to be a book that covers extensively
everything that I’ve ever learned plus everything I’ve learned
from all the guests that have been on the show about two really
important topics, content marketing and marketing automation.Why are those topics so important? Because in this day and age
that’s the magic sauce that gets you all the business and all
the clients and the growth and the profits. I didn’t really have
a name for the book yet but if you go to BrightIdeas.co/book
you’ll see there a landing page that I created and you’ll be
able to opt in and get all the things that the landing page
says. With that said, please join me in welcoming Chris to the
show. Hey Chris. Welcome to the show.Chris: Thank you, Trent. Great to be here.Trent: It is a thrill to have you on. Just from what we were talking
about before we hit the record button we have a very good
interview coming your way so for the listeners who have not
heard of you please take a moment, introduce yourself, who you
are and what you do.Chris: Sure. My name is Chris Handy. I’m in Fort Worth, Texas, and I
operate a company called Think Handy and we’ve really decided
against putting anything as a definer on the end of that name
because we were kind of in marketing sales and operations and
we’re a consultancy in helping people streamline those and get
more out of their marketing dollars, but also integrating sales
and service into that.Trent: In the last, so you started this firm at the beginning of 2000,
and we’re going to get into your background and everything in a
minute, but I want people to know the results that you’ve
achieved in a pretty short period of time. You started in the
beginning of 2011, correct?Chris: Yes.Trent: Here we are, 2013 now. Middle, I guess fall and in the last, so
you started off from zero. Nothing. Right?Chris: Started off from zero. I took a few freelance web design
projects in 2010 and really proof of concept is, we were just
trying to see if we could get clients and found out that we
could so in 2011 went ahead and took the plunge and got started
and it was a slow ramp up. We’ve grown quite a bit in revenue
and in recurring revenue specifically so this year we are on
track to do about, hopefully about 400,000 by the end of the
year.Trent: In the last six months you said, off air you said you’d done
200.Chris: That’s correct.Trent: That’s pretty good. Your recurring revenue is at how much per
month now?Chris: We’re at about $20,000 in retainer relationships for each
month.Trent: That’s pretty fantastic. It makes, when you run a lean business
like you do with virtually no overhead, then 20,000 a month
coming in on the first day of every month makes for not a whole
lot of stress of, ‘Hey, where’s our next meal coming from.’Chris: It’s definitely improved our quality of life a little bit. Not
having to worry but we’re investing a lot back into the business
and in our marketing. Really we’ve spent a lot of time figuring
out where we go. We can obviously grow now so which way do we
grow? That’s very important to me. I want to make sure that when
we do make that next hire, who’s it going to be? What’s that
role going to be for and how can we make the most of our future?Trent: I have a lot of people who listen to my show based upon the
emails and so forth that I get that are solopreneurs. A lot of
marketing consultants, [freelance] web designers and I think I
speak for the when I say they all want to grow up. They want to
get, they want to make their firms bigger. They want to get more
recurring revenue. They want to be able to hire some more
employees and they want to use some more resources. They want to
grow like every other entrepreneur on the planet.I really want to make this episode for them so let’s, I want, I
really want to walk through kind of how you made that transition
from that first freelance client and I know there’s a lot of
people who listen to my show as well who maybe aren’t even in
business yet and you talked earlier how you kind of did a little
project with some freelance work to see if you could even get
clients. I want to talk about that.Before we get into both of those things I want you to tell a
little bit about your background because you have this rather
unusual background, this eBay consignment thing. You want to
talk a little bit about that so we have context?Chris: Sure. A lot of people bring up the 40 year old virgin when I
bring that up because you’ve seen that movie. The girl that
Steve Carell was going after, she managed an eBay store and what
an eBay store is is where you walk in and you hand the item to
the person at the counter and say, ‘I’d like to see this on
eBay.’ What they do is they take the item back and list it on
eBay or another online sales channel and basically sell it on
consignment so they’re going to take a commission and give you
the rest. Email you a link to the auction so you can see
everything that’s going. I was in that business which was
definitely interesting and that business has kind of, that whole
industry’s changed a lot in the last few years obviously.Started off in a small shop and then was recruited to the big
boys of the eBay consignment world, and I found myself managing
a distribution center that we routed trucks and went out and
picked up items from different people’s homes. We had five
stores in the Dallas Fort Worth area, that’s where we’re located
so all over the Metroplex. It’s a really large area so we had a
lot of ground to cover.I found myself routing all these trucks, managing the creative
team. Working on marketing these items. Actually getting them
listed onto eBay, working with software, working with people.
Managing a lot of people, customer service. Really just
everything that you could possibly think of with that business.
I was the operations director but that just included all these
different things. I learned a lot from the upper management
there. A lot of the people that were in management there were
former executives at Radio Shack and they had some great
processes. That was one of the things I really picked up during
that, what I called boot camp for sales and marketing and
operations.I was taught there that you don’t have to manage people as long
as you can manage the process and that was the most important
thing that I learned. We would create detailed process books for
everything. Now when I say everything I mean this is what you
say when you answer the phone. Scripts are easy to identify but
we encourage people to riff on those, obviously but also this is
what happens when an item comes in. Let’s say we get an item
from a person who wants us to sell something for them. This is
exactly where it goes, this is the process here, here, here.All the steps are detailed on an online document that everyone
can see. What we found was if ever there was a situation where
the, where something went wrong, rather than saying, ‘How, why
did you mess up or how did this happen,’ you simply say, ‘Well
did you follow the process?’ Either yes or no. If they did
follow the process, well, then you change the process. You don’t
have to do anything with the person because it’s not their
problem. That if they follow the, or if they didn’t follow the
process then it becomes a situation where, ‘Hey, here’s our
process book.’ You point to the book and you don’t have to
really do any disciplining of any kind. It’s just letting the
process manage the business for you so manage your team.Trent: Now being a guy that runs a marketing agency, how did all that
exposure to the importance of processes, how has that influenced
how you’re building and running your business, right, the way
from, and we’re going to go into detail on all these things but
just kind of at the high level right the way from lead
generation all the way to delivering your service. How has that
influenced you?Chris: Well it’s kept me, kept my eye on the prize of duplicating
myself and making sure that I don’t have to be the one pushing
all the buttons and following all these processes. If I work to
build these processes as we grow our agency then it won’t be
very difficult at all to manage people and every agency owner
wants to grow. Every agency owner wants to have a team of X
number of people. We have our own growth goals and I want to
make sure that we’re ready when we get there and that we have
detailed processes in place.We use a lot of online tools to get there so you have to kind of
come up with a process before you build the tool. That’s been
really important in our marketing process and then everything
that we do as far as client service.Trent: Where do you store all these processes?Chris: Well we use a project management system called Podio, but many
of them can do similar things. I found that this one works for
us because we can customize certain things with regards to
marketing campaigns specifically we can trigger actions based on
creating an item. We have a very detailed process on how we run
campaigns so if we have a client we know that we need to create
a downloadable offer for that client and we know we need to
create some blog posts to promote those downloadable offers.Every time we come up with a marketing persona to market to we
know we need at least one marketing offer and at least eight
blog posts to promote that marketing offer. As soon as we create
that persona, all these other tasks are created automatically so
it helps manage me. I’m extremely ADD. I don’t know what’s going
on.Trent: Join the club.Chris: If I don’t have it written down or if I don’t have somebody
bugging me to do it then I’m going to forget. There’s no
question. I built the software and built it on top of the
software basically just to keep me in line.Trent: My wife does that for me along with software. Let’s go back to
the thing, I want to talk about lead generation here because I
think a lot of people really struggle with it. Can you tell us
what you’re doing? What’s your number one method of generating
leads?Chris: Number one method of generating leads has got to be creating
content. I’ve had the website for two or three years now and so
I’ve done a lot of, before I really got into inbound marketing I
did a lot of SEO work, so I spent time making sure I was getting
found for some local stuff here in Fort Worth. That really
doesn’t bring me any business to be honest.Now our focus has been to get global and to not worry about
local because our best clients are not anywhere close to us so
we got away from that and really started getting active in
social networks. I think LinkedIn is the best place to promote
our content that we’re creating. [inaudible 15:45]Trent: How do you promote your content on LinkedIn? I want to see if
it’s similar to what I do.Chris: Gotcha. We’re writing blog posts that promote offers. That are
behind a form so that we’re gathering leads that way. I’ll look
for conversations where information we’ve written about is
applicable. I’ll go and I’ll say, ‘Hey we wrote this. Maybe this
can help you out.’ I’m a member of a lot of different groups. We
do have some verticals that we target and we’re always looking
to figure out what the best verticals are going to be for us to
go after. We’re still defining that.We’ve done a lot of construction marketing and home contractor
marketing which is interesting. It just kind of found us. We’re
testing out a new market right now and I’m involved in some of
those groups and I’m starting to kind of get in on those
conversations and help people. I think that’s the number one way
is helping people. Eventually they’re going to either need your
help or need more of your professional help or they’re going to
refer you to someone who does.Trent: How much of your time do you spend going into, how many groups,
first of all how many groups are you a member of?Chris: I think I’m a member of 45 right now. I had to delete myself
from some groups that I just wasn’t all that active in in order
to pursue some other ones in the verticals I want to see.Trent: Define specifically your activity in these groups. When you
produce a blog post on your blog, like when we do, we can put a
check mark in every group and say Add to group and it puts a
link to your post and your little intro. It’s not really like
one on one discussions. How do you do it?Chris: Sure. We use HubSpot for marketing automation. It does the same
thing and I think that’s the number one mistake people make when
they go in and they see this fancy social media tool, and they
can just check all the group boxes and then they end up spamming
everyone in their LinkedIn feed. That’s not good for anyone
because everyone sees that you just posted in 15 different
groups and that really doesn’t add any personal value.I really do spend time watching the groups and figuring out who
the influencers are there. Then when a conversation is heating
up and someone actually has something that I can add to, so
there’s a question about marketing in that particular instance
and I have something that’s of value to them I’ll add it into
the conversation manually. I will go ahead and automate some of
the posts, like when I do a new post on the blog. We’ll put that
out there to everyone on LinkedIn but I’m not spamming it into
groups. I really do consider it spam if you just add it to
everyone’s group. That’s how we do it. Even though it’s
marketing automation I think you really need a very human touch.Trent: I agree. I don’t think the way that we’ve been doing it is
ideal. It was, I had a past guest on the show was a LinkedIn
expert author of a book and that’s what she told us to do and so
we’ve been doing it since.Chris: That’s how you do it. I’m sorry.

Trent: No. I don’t mind. This is how we get better, we see what other
people are doing. How much time per day do you spend on LinkedIn
monitoring these conversations? Because with 45 groups, I mean
dude, you could spend like four hours.

Chris: You have to pick your battles. I’m not active in 45 groups. I’m
a member of 45 groups right now. Some of them are professional
groups. Some of them are places we’re targeting so maybe four or
five different groups really right now I’m active in and
actually helping people, and I spend maybe an hour throughout
the day monitoring LinkedIn. It’s one of the first things I look
at when I get up in the morning just to see because I get the
emails of what was going on yesterday, the hottest
conversations, that kind of thing.

Trent: So you . . .

Chris: I just look for anything that I might be able to help add value
to.

Trent: Do you subscribe to a daily email for every group that you’re a
member of?

Chris: Some of them. Yes.

Trent: Some. You wake up in the morning and you check and see what
people are talking about and say, ‘Can I add value to that
conversation?’

Chris: Correct.

Trent: That’s a good way to do it. I should probably do that too. What
other things are you doing for lead generation?

Chris: Aside from LinkedIn, just creating content around those
personas. We do a lot of keyword research. Now we’re trying to
actively solve problems. I prescribe to the Marcus Sheridan
school of blog topics. Marcus Sheridan made his pool business
grow by answering his customers’ questions online. I know that
you’ve interviewed him before.

Very much inspired by his process. Let’s just figure out what
questions our customers are asking and each one of those is
going to be a blog post. I look for questions that have not been
answered in the industries that I’m targeting and I answer those
questions. Simple as that.

Trent: Is that working well for you yet?

Chris: It is. Absolutely. I’ve got a few blog articles that are just
machines. They’re bringing in more leads than I need. A lot of
them we have to qualify throughout with some nurturing sequences
and stuff like that because it’s bringing in more than I
probably need to but you need to kind of cast a wide net at the
top of the funnel and then figure out who’s going to be a fit.

Trent: Absolutely. What types of lead magnets do you find are working
really, because you’ve got your blog posts and people are
getting there via either LinkedIn or search? They’re reading the
article. Are you using one lead magnet across all your posts or
using ten different lead magnets? How many do you use?

Chris: We rotate them out. I’ve got a few. I’ve got one that’s Inbound
Marketing 101 that is a really nice go to for the top of the
funnel and for some of our more basic blog posts. We categorize
our blog posts by three levels, introductory, intermediate and
advanced. I try to make sure that people that are visiting see
that, ‘Hey, they’re on an intermediate article, or they’re on an
advanced article.’ I’ll have it even suggest introductory
articles to folks who found us on an advanced just in case it’s
above their heads because this is an education game.

People need to understand when we’re talking about marketing
automation or even sales process improvement they need to
understand a little bit more about how we work so we’ll always
suggest a previous post to try to educate them along the way.
To answer your question I’ve got probably 15 different offers
that we’ve got and we use five or six of them more than all the
others. We kind of refined those fringe ones every once in a
while and repost it every once in a while.

Trent: What would you say is your number one lead magnet for top of
the funnel?

Chris: I’ve done this really interesting thing. If you’re familiar
with Facebook marketing you’ll have a cover photo at the top of
your Facebook page. I found myself always going and Googling the
dimensions to create a custom Facebook cover photo for my
clients and for me. We create a new one all the time. I found
there wasn’t any great place to find it, so what I did is I
created a Facebook page that is called Facebook Cover Photo Size
Helper.

In fact, if you Google Facebook Cover Photo Size it’s like
second or third result. What it does, it puts the actual cover
photo shows all the pixels on it so you can see exactly how to
build a perfect cover photo for you. Then I link to, I
constantly post some of our articles, and I link to a landing
page where you can download an even bigger guide on how to build
Facebook cover photos.

Trent: What’s the, I just did that search criteria. What is the URL
for your particular?

Chris: It’s Facebook.com/coverphotosize.

Trent: Yeah, okay, number two.

Chris: Right behind Facebook’s Help article.

Trent: Smart, smart, smart. Look at that, 9,643 likes.

Chris: And growing.

Trent: That’s a smart idea. I might even have to call that one a gold
nugget.

Chris: Sure. It brings us 15, 20 leads every single day.

Trent: How many of those, because not every lead, not all leads are
created equally of course. Do you, how many of those leads are
converting to customers?

Chris: I’d say we’ve gotten two or three referrals off of that.

Trent: You mentioned earlier that you are targeting a few different
niches. Can you talk a little bit about the criteria that you
use to analyze the viability of a niche?

Chris: Sure, Trent. I think that, especially when you’re talking about
a retainer relationship, now we really shy away from projects
but every once in a while we’ll take a project, if it’s a
referral that we think is going to help an existing relationship
we’ll do a project. That is different criteria but if we’re
going to go after someone that we think can be a pretty sizable
monthly retainer with a multi-year agreement or 12-month
agreement, we’re looking for something that is a large decision
purchase so it’s a business that has to do a lot of education
before a sale can be made. Maybe something that has really long
sales cycles.

I would not go, we found ourselves doing some construction
marketing and home contractor marketing. That’s just kind of how
we grew. That’s some of the first projects I took on so I keep
getting them, but I would not, today target those industries
because they are kind of one time and the need for recurring
services is not there. I want something like a big software
purchase or a managed IT company, something like that that
targets maybe huge facilities. Just an example of something that
is really a big decision and they need to have a lot of
expertise in any particular field.

Trent: Interesting that you mention managed IT. That was the industry
that I was in before and I’d never want to deal with those guys.
Once you get your leads into the funnel I’d like you to talk
about how you are segmenting them and if you’re using mid-funnel
lead magnets. Because where I’m going here is, as I said before,
not all leads are created equal. There are, and even if they
have the same need they’re at different phases in the buying
cycle. Some people are early. Some people are ready to buy. How
do you handle all of that using automation?

Chris: Sure. Everyone that signs up for any one of our offers is
automatically subscribed to our blog. I’ve had people give me
different feelings on that, whether or not you should just put
everyone on your blog but I find that it really works because we
get a lot of social shares. That’s something that immediately,
they’ll see everything that comes in every week. [inaudible
27:10]

Trent: I’m sorry to interrupt you. Do they get an email for every post
that you publish?

Chris: I choose to have it go out once a week.

Trent: A weekly summary?

Chris: Sure. Weekly summary. We’ll do three or four or five blog posts
every week. In a perfect world we’d have one for every day or
two but right now we’re producing about three or four every
week.

Trent: They get those on Sunday morning.

Chris: Mm-hmm. I find we get the best open rate then. I’m sure once
this thing goes live if you have enough listers that now
everyone’s going to be coming through on Sunday morning and
we’ll need to change it to another day. There’s no hard and fast
rule I’ve found. People will tell you it’s Tuesday at noon.
Well, it really is just when your audience is getting up. I find
early in the morning is great for me. No matter which day.

Trent: What type of, what are some, how are you segmenting? Just kind
of walk us through that. I opt into your funnel. What happens?

Chris: Now you’re signed up for the blog and if you click on any of
the links in those blogs I can identify that you’re somewhat
interested. That’s the only criteria I have to go into an
automated list. I’ve segmented that list off then I will segment
off the agencies because there are a lot of other agencies that
read our content. Then I narrow it down further and I look and
see where people came from. I’ve got some other smart lists that
tell me where they came from. If someone came from that Facebook
cover photo size helper and they’re not an agency then I send
them more introductory content on basic marketing and I look at
that as a way to get more social shares, more cheerleaders out
there because not everyone that comes through there is going to
be a fit for large scale retainer services.

Once I kind of siphoned off all of those other folks, I look at
everyone by industry and I’ll try and send something very
specific. We’ll create new landing pages all the time with
webinars because I can write a webinar. If I see that I’ve got
five different, for instance, managed IT companies that have
come in and filled out forms I might decide to try out a
webinar. I’ll say, ‘We’re going to do a sales and marketing
alignment webinar specifically for the managed IT companies.’
I’ll send them all an email and if somebody signs up, I do the
webinar. If somebody doesn’t sign up, I don’t.

It’s just something else out there a lot of times that we do, we
do end up getting that. I’ve got a real quick process on
launching new targeted landing pages and so we do that all the
time.

Trent: Define all the time. How often would you say you do it?

Chris: Once every week. Probably creating a new vertical just checking
it out seeing what comes up and then it’s another page out there
on Google to be found. Especially, we do have a field on all of
our forms that’s biggest marketing challenge. I think I saw that
on several different marketing automation software original
forms and so I started doing it. It’s kind of my gauge on what
questions to ask folks.

I’ll go and create content around that and make sure it’s in the
weekly email coming up. Even if it’s not a direct, ‘Hey,’ I’m
targeting this person,’ it is something that I can answer and
I’ll find that, let’s say managed IT, I’ve got ‘How do I build a
workflow for marketing automation with a managed IT company?
I’ll build that blog article. I’ll make sure it’s in the next
week’s weekly RSS email that gets sent out. Oftentimes those
folks click on those and then they go straight to an assessment.
Our bottom of the funnel’s always that request a free
assessment.

Trent: That was going to be my next question. What’s the main call to
action? You mentioned that you’ve been particularly successful
to the tune of $20,000 a month in generating clients that pay
your retainer. How long did it take you to get from zero to
20,000 a month?

Chris: Actually only about four months. We had all the pieces of the
puzzle we just hadn’t put it together really until early this
year. I read a book called the, god. Is it “The Agency
Manifesto”? I think it’s, “The Marketing Agency Manifesto.” I’ll
make sure that you can have a link to this but it’s basically a
quick read but it has 12 proclamations. Unfortunately, I’m
unable to think of the author’s name right name but basically
one of them is, ‘We will specialize.’ One of them is, ‘We will
charge for our services.’ I just really was inspired by that and
a lot of different things that is said in there is how can we
charge more for our expertise?

We really don’t accept projects anymore unless, like I said
earlier it was a referral or it’s something that we think will
further our business. We’re just very steadfast on that. I’m not
sending out proposals. I will flat out tell you I’m not in the
proposal writing business because I don’t want to spend my days
writing proposals. We are right now a two man shop and we can’t
do that. We really want to do business. Make the verbal
agreement that we’re going to go forward at that time a contract
will be signed and we’ve eliminated the proposal process
entirely. I think that’s allowed us to spend most of our sales
time on getting quality clients and then weeding out those that
must present a proposal to a board and all those extraneous
steps that end up getting in the way.

Trent: What is the average size of your retainer right now?

Chris: Right now it’s about $5,000, $6,000.

Trent: You’re talking roughly four clients that you have on retainer.
Do these clients all go through your funnel and do the call to
action for the assessment that’s at the bottom of your funnel?

Chris: They all filled out the assessment. Some of them were referred
straight to the website and one of them just called me actually
but in equality I guess he requested an assessment. But two of
them came all the way through the top of the funnel.

Trent: When you do this assessment, so I want to make sure that we,
the listeners and myself understand what this assessment is. Is
that them filling out a form on the website with lots of
questions or is that you on Skype with them asking them a bunch
of questions? What is the assessment?

Chris: Sure. I’m really just wanting their information with that form
and then it’s a 20 to 30 minute conversation. We run a
consultative sales process. It’s very defined. I’ve got four
steps basically in the process. Starts with the assessment. I’m
going to identify what your goals are, ask questions. That’s
really a question and answer session. Sometimes if we need to do
a little coaxing to actually do the assessment once we get on
the phone after they fill out the form we’ll set an appointment
for this assessment. The way it’s positioned is that we’re going
to give you some tips on things you can do online, things you
can do in your sales process to improve. No obligation.

It’s just an opportunity for me to give them a few things that
they could change right now and either get more visits to the
website or drastically improve things and it’s an opportunity
for me to really interview the client and understand if it’s the
right fit. Start to identify some of the questions I’ll ask in
the next call.

Trent: All of this stuff is done on the call? You don’t get face to
face with your clients to do this?

Chris: I try not to, even here in town because what it does is it
takes another hour out of my day to go and drive across town and
get in front of someone and it’s just a big waste of everyone’s
time especially with that first call. I really refuse to even
have people out to my office for that first call because I just
want to get a feel for what they’re after. If the first question
they ask is how much does it cost, I know that that’s going to
be a big factor in the whole relationship and it might not work.

Trent: Do you do these calls with video like you and I are doing right
now where you can see each other?

Chris: Typically, what we’ll do is we’ll use Go to Meeting, and I’ll
have their website or lack thereof up on the screen and we’ll do
a screen share.

Trent: If that’s step one. What’s step two?

Chris: Step two, after we have an assessment we’ve identified their
goals, we’ve identified that there is a need and they’ve
identified that they would like to continue talking with us. We
go to a goal setting call where I send them homework beforehand.
They’re going to fill out a lot of different questions. Here’s
where they fill out a lot of questions and it’s basically just a
spreadsheet that asks them the frequency of marketing and
different channels. How often are they blogging? How often are
they performing these X marketing activities and it’s designed
to do a few things to give us an end result of an arbitrary
score, sort of holistic score based on their entries.

Also the process of that prospect filling out this form and
saying, ‘No, I’m not doing any of this stuff,’ it’s a
psychological trigger and it’s sort of an “aha” moment. ‘Oh my
gosh, I’m not doing any of this.’ That’s been really effective.

Trent: Is there any chance that you would share that spreadsheet that
we can make as a downloadable from this episode?

Chris: I can give you a PDF copy of it, yes.

Trent: That would be wonderful. Thank you. For my show notes, what am
I going to call that?

Chris: Let’s call that an assessment questionnaire. This will be
homework between my assessment call and my goal setting call.

Trent: Very helpful. Thank you for that. That’s very generous of you.
What’s number three after that goal call?

Chris: After the goal setting call we get on the phone and we’ve
identified, ‘Hey, we want to increase revenue by $1 million next
year and it’s going to take us three big projects to do it.’
We’ve kind of gone through the process of, ‘Well how many visits
do you have to your website right now? How many more are you
going to need to get? How many leads are being generated by your
website?’ We can reverse engineer a number of visitors that we
need to bring to the website so we’ll have to put together a
plan. That plan will vary based on how effective their website
is right now, how many calls to action we need to add. Are they
doing anything or do they have any offers? Do we need to create
some? That will all kind of go into the last call [inaudible
38:03:]

Trent: What do you call this third call?

Chris: Sort of just a deal presentation or a solution presentation. I
won’t write up a 20-page document but what I will do is, I have
a PowerPoint presentation that has some of this stuff in it
already. I will just manipulate that to show what our plan might
look like. It’ll detail out the services that we would perform
on an ongoing basis and it’s really a visual meeting so we’re
screen sharing that and we’re talking about, ‘Hey, this is the
plan that we’ve put together. Based on the things you told me
this is what we think we can do and this is how long it’s going
to take us to get there and here’s the cost.’ Only after they’ve
said, ‘All right, let’s do it’ will I go and actually draw up a
contract.

Trent: That’s the fourth call?

Chris: Yes. That would be the fourth step.

Trent: You just review the contract, get them to sign it and send it
back to you?

Chris: That’s right.

Trent: How do you collect payment for retainer? Credit card or direct
debit?

Chris: I require a credit card, recurring payment. I found that when
we did not do that they’d come in late, they’d come in early,
they weren’t as reliable. I don’t mind taking a hit on the fee
because it’s peace of mind. There’s no question it’s going to
come in.

Trent: Absolutely. That’s been very interesting and so now you’ve got
to the point, and I promised early in this conversation, at
least I think I did, that we were going to talk about process
automation and how it’s fitting into your business because I
know that having run a service business myself in the past and
now launching another one how efficient you are or aren’t in
your service delivery can make the difference between being
wildly profitable and making no profit whatsoever.

I think a lot of people especially the solopreneurs or even
people who haven’t started yet maybe haven’t had that experience
and they just assume that if I get more revenue I’ll naturally
have more profit. Doesn’t always happen. Can you describe to us
and let’s stay on the thread of a retainer client, so you’ve got
this spreadsheet, you’ve got a solution, you’re going to need to
do all these things, how do you then systematize the delivery of
the deliverables so as to maintain your efficiency?

Chris: During the process of the sales process we’ve already detailed
out exactly what we’re going to do. Typically that’s going to be
creating offers, promoting those offers and then working on lead
generation. I’ve got in my project management system, which they
have access to, I’ve got built in templates for all these things
so once I launch the new marketing persona that we’re going to
craft for this client, let’s say they are managed IT and they’re
performing managed IT services to let’s see, theme parks, right?
You have to solve very specific problems for that theme park IT
manager.

We want to create a construct of that person so I said all that
to say once we create that persona we know we need to deliver an
offer for that persona to download on the website. We work
backwards. I don’t start with the blog posts. I start with the
offers; I start with the personas then the offers, the promoting
blog posts.

I’ve built my project management system the same way. When a
persona is created we know an offer needs to be created. When an
offer is created we know a blog post needs to be written, in
fact eight to ten. It’s automatically going to create all those
tasks for me. This helps me keep in line because I’m prone to
forget things and I have to have a system that allows me to go
back and make sure we’re on track.

The number one thing we’ve done is make all this open to our
clients so we have complete visibility. The clients can see what
we’re doing all the time. As we create these offers they can
comment, like. They can add files; they can contribute as we’re
working. This makes our meetings so much more productive because
we’re not having to recap, ‘Hey here’s everything we did this
week.’ They know what we’ve done this week. That’s already been
established. Let’s just talk about our strategy for next week.
Let’s talk about the results so that we don’t have to spend so
much time educating them on what we’re doing.

Trent: You’re using Podio to make all this happen?

Chris: That’s correct.

Trent: Do you speak to your retainer clients? Is there a weekly
meeting with them just as though you’re their director of
marketing?

Chris: Yes. Weekly or bi-weekly. That’s how often we meet and we
structure our meetings based on the week number so we’ll have a
different style of meeting at the beginning of the month than
from the end of the month. Then during the middle of the month
we’ll have what we call interviews so we are talking about
topics that we’ve identified are going to be good keywords for
them to target. We’ll put an outline out there and just have
them talk about it and we’ll record the session on Go to
Meeting, come back and use that interview content to actually
build the blog post so that each blog post will be in the voice
of that particular business owner or marketing director.

Trent: That is an excellent idea. Did you think that one up or did you
learn that from Marcus?

Chris: Marcus definitely talked about that and we had already been
doing it for a while when I heard him say something about that
and it’s been a great thing. Once I heard him giving it I said,
‘We’re on the right track.’ We implemented processes around
that. Now it makes our meetings a lot more fun, we don’t have to
spend as much time digging up, ‘Oh god, what are we going to
talk about this week’ because I know a lot of agency owners that
have to speak to clients on a regular basis.

You might find yourself struggling to come up with, ‘What are we
going to talk about?’ That was genuinely a problem I used to
have. Not much has changed. We’ve gone up a little bit. This is
really where we thought we were going to be as far as visits,
leads and sales but we have this meeting on the books. Now we
have something to talk about for these meetings and it’s way
more productive and way more fun honestly because people love to
talk about what they do. It makes them happy.

Trent: Let me feed this back because I want to make sure that myself
and the audience has understood this. In these meetings you come
into the meeting with an agenda of keywords that could be
targeted, correct?

Chris: Yes. They’re framed in the form of a question.

Trent: Like give me an example.

Chris: I have a client that is an HVA, commercial HVAC contractor.
People have questions about how to better cool a commercial data
center. ‘How do I keep my data center cool?’ We’ll just come in
with that and have that business owner share their expertise.

Trent: Your team knew that that was a keyword that you should target?
You then do this meeting with them and you ask them that
question, you record the answer so now you have it in his voice.
You transcribe it and edit it and turn it into a post.

Chris: That’s correct.

Trent: For these clients that are paying you the $4,000 to $5,000 per
month, how many posts per month, like what is the deliverable
that they’re getting for the $5,000 a month?

Chris: It depends on the level of retainer, but we don’t suggest
having any less than ten blog posts every month. There are some
graphs that I’ve got in my presentations that show when you get
to 30 blog posts a month, which we’re not even at, but when you
get to that point the leads start coming in like crazy. It’s
just all about having more content out there on Google but we’ll
have anywhere from ten to 20, in some cases 25, blog posts per
month.

Trent: That’s a lot of posts.

Chris: It’s a lot of posts. That’s what it’s all about though is
creating content that is going to get found.

Trent: You’re doing these, so in one of these calls then, if you’re
doing this once per week you must have to have four different
blog posts in mind that you’re interviewing them for, and so
four questions and they’re giving you the answer to those four
questions and those four questions become four different blog
posts.

Chris: That’s right.

Trent: Tell me what the process that goes from recorded answers
through to finished blog posts and are subcontractors playing a
role in any of this anywhere?

Chris: In some cases yes, we use a content marketplace to fill out
questions, if we didn’t have a chance to do interviews and we
look for experts. For instance I have a client that is in the
hockey space and we found a contractor who is awesome at writing
about hockey and he just knows hockey better than I do. We’re in
Texas. I don’t know anything about hockey. It may be different
from up north but we’re Cowboys football, Rangers baseball down
here. We have the Starts, but it’s just not as big of a deal so
we really struggle in that area but we’ve been very successful
with the content we’ve been able to create because we found an
expert to help us. We do have a few contractors in different
verticals.

Trent: Going back to the first part of that question, you’ve got the
recorded answer. You’re not going to use a contractor so do you
then pay a transcription service to transcribe it and then you
or your wife edit that into a post?

Chris: We don’t pay any transcription services. I take a lot of notes
during so I’m bulleting things out and I do this in Podio where
the client can see so as I’m typing they can see all this stuff
go down. Then we have the transcription so that by the end of it
we’ve got a nice bulleted list of maybe 15, 20 bullets of things
that they hit on during the conversation and then we also have
the recording to fall back on. We can go in pretty soon after
that meeting, we like to go ahead and just type it all out. Get
it ready; get it into a finished format.

We might go over one or two passes as an editorial pass and just
clean it up. Make sure we’re matching it up with the right offer
but we’ve typically come up with that offer and matched it up
well before the interview even takes place.

Trent: How long are these posts typically?

Chris: Six hundred to 800 words is our normal rule of thumb.

Trent: If you’re doing, you said ten of these a month or 20 a month
per client?

Chris: Depending on the client it would be minimum ten. I don’t think
we’re doing only ten for anyone but 15 to 25.

Trent: Let’s just use a number of 15. You’ve got, say five clients
doing this. That’s 75 posts per month?

Chris: Yes.

Trent: Written by just you and/or, well not written, edited, crafted
because it’s already there in the transcription.

Chris: Correct.

Trent: That just seems like a boatload of work.

Chris: It’s a lot of work. We’re putting together a growth plan right
now. We don’t envision us doing that forever.

Trent: I was going to say because that doesn’t scale very well is my
thinking.

Chris: Not for the business owner or the agency owner, for sure, but
what it does it doubles as service. You spend this time client
facing, they’re talking about something they love to talk about.
They’re seeing their ideas realized. They’re seeing the results
they’re getting based on that content. It’s a very positive
experience so that client time spent is actually helping us
produce the content so we’re overlapping a little bit there.
Client service.

With our software being so open they can see everything we’re
doing. We minimize the time on the other side of constantly
struggling to prove your worth. I know that a lot of agency
owners are constantly trying to prove their worth so I’ve tried
to eliminate that step by making everything as transparent as
possible.

Trent: I think that’s very smart. That was a big challenge that we had
back when we ran the IT company because if the computer network
didn’t break, why am I paying you $10,000 this month? Well,
because it didn’t break but it was challenging at times. Where
do I want to go next? Yes, so what strategies do you do to
promote all of this content that you’re creating for clients? Is
it purely an SEO strategy or are you going to town on social
networks?

Chris: We go to town on social networks. I’ve got very specific
numbers of posts for each client that we’re going to make on
each day. For instance our own, we treat ourselves as a client
so the exact same processes you’ll see for our clients are being
used for us. I’ll interview with my wife. My wife and I co-own
the agency together, we work together so we’ll have interviews
together just to kind of extract this content. We find it’s the
best way but for our business, our Twitter account, we post 20
to 25 times a day. Almost every hour and I found that when we
did that we increased now, month over month, 20 percent every
single month in followers. That same growth in my retweet reach,
so our reach is growing at the same pace. If we drop down to 15,
that growth lessens quite a bit. I found that’s optimal for our
business.

Trent: What tool do you use to schedule Twitter posts and get
analytics?

Chris: We use HubSpot for pretty much all of our marketing automation.
That’ll be different for each client. Sometimes the client
preference is simply, ‘I don’t want to have that many posts go
out on my Twitter account.’ That’s understandable. We can show
them, ‘Hey, this is how you get results,’ but we can’t always
convince 100 percent.

Now Facebook’s a different story. We found three to five
different posts every day is appropriate for some and then in
some cases it’s only one.

Trent: Are you sharing other people’s content like in your own Twitter
account, are you only tweeting out your own stuff or do you
share other people’s stuff as well?

Chris: We do both and there are a lot of different schools of thought
on this. A lot of people will say, ‘Share 80 percent of other
people’s content and only 20 percent of yours.’ I found honestly
that’s not the way to go. We’ll schedule out 18 to 20 posts of
our 24, of our own content. We’ll spend time interacting with
other people as sort of an alternate to that plan of sharing
everyone’s content. We’ll retweet. We’ll reply to people’s
tweets. We will generally share the love online but tweeting out
other agencies content, we’re not doing that. I generally don’t
want, I’d rather get the leads. I don’t believe that’s selfish.

If somebody writes a really good article that I used, I found,
‘Hey, how do we use this marketing automation tool in this way?’
If I found value in that, absolutely I’m going to retweet that
because I found personal value but typically we’re going to
write about things as we discover them and that’s the content we
want to promote.

Trent: You guys are doing a lot of writing.

Chris: You have to. It’s content marketing, right Trent?

Trent: Absolutely. You know what? Writing’s better than cold calling.

Chris: That’s true.

Trent: I gave a talk here in Boise just last week. I was given zero
notice. Guy calls me up the night before. He had broken his
tooth and he was supposed to speak and I had lunch with him that
day, just met him. He said, ‘Can you go talk for me?’ There was
like 80 small business owners that were in the room, mostly I’m
going to say three person companies and fewer. A lot of
solopreneurs in there.

The beginning of my talk I asked, I said, ‘How many people here
know what content marketing is?’ What would you guess, let’s
just say there was about, about 70 people in the room. How many
hands do you think went up?

Chris: I’m going to say not many, right?

Trent: Like six. Then I said, ‘How many people here are cold calling?’
Three quarters of the room put their hands in the air. I said,
‘How many people here receive cold calls?’ About half of the
room’s hands went up. I said, ‘How many people who receive them
like getting them?’ Nobody’s hands went up. Then I said, ‘Of
those of you who are making them, how many are getting results?’
Nobody’s hands went up. I’m like, ‘Stop. You’re just pissing
people off and you’re not getting results.’

Chris: Exactly. You’ve got to make warm calls, right?

Trent: Absolutely. So much more I could talk about that, but I’m going
to make a blog post actually about that, that talk that I gave.
Folks will be able to get that at BrightIdeas.co. Let me look at
my questions here and see where I want to go with this.

For the folks who are listening to this and they’re thinking,
‘This is content marketing and marketing automation thing seems
like it’s a pretty good idea, but man oh man does it ever seem
overwhelming. There’s like so much stuff to do.’ A lot of times
people get overwhelmed, they don’t do anything. What advice
would you give, Chris to someone who wants to get started? Who’s
the cold caller and they want to stop being the cold caller and
become a content marketer.

Chris: Start answering folks’ questions online. I will not shy away
from spreading Marcus Sheridan’s advice there. That’s the big
thing because it solves a few problems, well, it solves your
customer’s problems, right? It also solves the problem of what
do I write about? That’s the biggest challenge that I had at the
beginning. I’d write about what my customers are asking me and
you should do the same. Start writing. Don’t worry about what
domain name you’re going to use. Don’t worry about getting a
logo. Don’t worry about getting business cards. If you’re trying
to start a business don’t let any of that get in your way and
just pick something. Just put something out there. Don’t worry
about the design because Google doesn’t care about the design.
[inaudible 57:16]

Trent: You can host it on yourname.com.

Chris: Sure. Anything. That, ultimately it doesn’t matter because
that’s not what people are going to be typing into Google. If
you’re truly going to attack content marketing you’re going to
be attacking questions people type into Google or phrases people
type into Google. They’re not going to be Googling for your
website address, at least that’s not going to be the effect
content marketing has for you, so start writing. Start answering
questions and pick a vertical. Pick an industry that you want to
target because there are a ton of content marketing agencies, if
we’re talking to agency owners, there are a lot of content
marketing agencies, inbound marketing agencies. It’s becoming a
saturated market. It’s not a differentiator anymore so pick a
vertical.

Trent: Absolutely. Is there anything that you thought we should have
talked about in this interview which I’ve neglected to ask you
about? Anything that has worked exceptionally well for you or a
big mistake that you made that you learned a lot from? Anything
at all that we’ve missed that you think we should talk about
before we close out?

Chris: Sure. I think that the biggest mistake I made at the very
beginning was relying on marketing automation and not
remembering that each piece of automated action and all that
stuff really requires a human touch. That’s why I spend so much
time on LinkedIn personally answering questions. You can’t just
set it and forget it. A lot of material online would lead you to
believe that. Remember that each person that you’re trying to
get as a lead is also a real person and they’ve got their own
challenges, their own problems that need to be solved. Start
identifying with them.

Speak with these folks, even if they’re someone who’s not
qualified pick up the phone every once in a while and ask them,
‘Hey, how’d you find us? What did you find valuable in the
content that you read and that you downloaded?’ I do some of
that. I like to spend time just speaking with people even if I
know it’s not a good fit, just understand what challenges they
have and really work with them to better understand. That helps
me build out better lead nurturing sequences, helps me send
better emails. It helps me identify better prospects and that’s
what you have to do over time to improve your efficiency is to
spend time with the folks who are going to be a better fit for
you.

Trent: Absolutely. Those are your biggest cheerleaders and with the
80, 20 rule they’re also going to be responsible for 80 percent
of your revenue.

Chris: That’s right.

Trent: Chris, thank you so much for making this time to be on the
Bright Ideas Podcast. It has been a good time to interview you,
rather a lot of fun to interview you. Download [sounds like],
the episode number of this but I’m just going to pull it up and
so I can rattle that off. Actually I’ll put it in the, I’ll do a
recording here just after you and I are finished so again,
thanks so much for being on the show.

Chris: Cool. Thanks man. I really appreciate your time.

Trent: All right, so that wraps it up for this episode. To get to the
show notes where you can download all of the things that Chris
and I talked about, go to BrightIdeas.co/80. It’s just the
number 80. Then the other thing that if you could do is go to
BrightIdeas.co/love, there you will find a prepopulated tweet
and you’ll also find a link that will take you to the iTunes
store where you can leave some feedback for the show.

I would really appreciate it if you take a moment and do that
because the more feedback that the show gets, of course the
higher it goes in the iTunes store and the more exposure that it
gets and the more entrepreneurs that we can help to massively
boost their businesses with all the bright ideas that are shared
by my guests here on the show.

That’s it for this episode. I am your host Trent Dyrsmid. Thank
you so much for being a listener. I’ll see you or hear you or
we’ll see you again in another episode very soon. Take care.

About Chris Handy

ChrisHandyChris Handy is the Founder & CEO of Thinkhandy, a sales and marketing alignment consultancy in Fort Worth, TX.

Clients working with Thinkhandy find a helpful partner dedicated to shortening their sales cycle and generating more qualified leads.

We create a much more efficient business development environment with an aligned marketing and sales strategy.

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  • Jeremy Dawes

    This was a quite instructive interview. The section about how the interview process and blogging interacts was excellent thank you.

  • Thanks Trent and Chris. Great value here, that is a power of work that they are getting through to market both themselves and their clients.