[02:51] So let’s start off with a little bit about you, Brent. Who are you and what do you do?
- Yeah. So thanks, Trent, for having me on the program. Really excited to be sharing my entrepreneurial lessons with your audience—the good, and the bad, and challenges, and all the stuff in between. I run a company called Ugurus. We are a business training and coaching program for digital agency owners and digital agency entrepreneurs. Doing that for the last eight years now. We founded this company in 2012, after I exited and sold my successful web agency that I ran for 13 years serving over 300 active clients. Clients like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Dish Network, tons of small businesses. And you know, now I share that experience and much more with our agency clients.
[03:40] Very cool. So with the experience that you have, what would you say is one of the biggest threats facing agency owners today?
- I mean, with everything’s been going on with COVID, and with kind of the reboot of a lot of the economy out there—I think there are—one of the biggest challenges that agencies have found themselves in is relying too much on referrals and word of mouth. I think that when everything kind of got shaken up, and even before that, because we’ve been on this kind of mantra for a long time. But a lot of service businesses, if they’re serving some kind of clients, which agencies are type of professional services—when you’re relying purely on referrals or word of mouth. You’re so busy doing the work with your clients that you don’t actually have time to work on your business, that it can create some challenges. And I think everything that happened with COVID-19, and the pandemic, and businesses shutting down—maybe pausing projects or delaying projects. All of a sudden a lot of people were kind of caught, maybe with their pants down, right? The tide went out and people were like, they didn’t have those strong lead gen and marketing engines.
[04:51] Yeah, I would agree. I see a lot of that. You think that I was doing a webinar yesterday and I was talking about Michael Gerber’s book, The E Myth, which was written way back in 2004. And the number of reviews that that book has, and the number of reviews that it continues to generate is astounding. And it’s largely because I think almost every small business owner suffers from what you just described. They’re so busy working in the business that they’re not spending enough time working on the business and developing systems and strategies to cause growth to happen. So, with that in mind, presumably the folks listening are looking for, “Hey, well. How do I–how do I solve this problem? Help me to make my business more successful and make my life more enjoyable.” So let’s start to unpack what your answer and your explanation for that is. So let’s start with the niche. There’s a lot of people talk about, you know, focusing on a niche’s important. And I think there’s a breakdown between the theory and the actual implementation because so many agencies that I’ve seen, and businesses in general, they’re scared of picking a niche. They’re scared of making it their focus. So why do you believe it’s important? And what would you say to those folks who haven’t yet made the decision to do that?
- Yeah, and that’s definitely a big topic. I think that, as a prior agency owner—maybe a recovering agency owner, there’s this moment you have where you get a lead. Somebody wants to hire you for something. And I used to have the saying of, I’d work with anybody that had a check—a checkbook, right? And I think that’s kind of the generalist motto that you—you have maybe a skill set. You have a bunch of things that you can do. Your team also has skill sets, lots of things they can do. And so you get in this habit of saying yes to everything. And I think a lot of people when it comes to niching down or finding your specialization, you think that all of a sudden, I have to say no to these people. That if I choose a specialization, that means that the next person that comes into my office, I’m gonna have to say no to them and turn them away. And right now, you might need that business, and you can’t do that. So I think that’s a big—the number one—challenge around choosing a specialization and really niching down is that fear of having to turn down business, having to walk away from things. Which I think people that have product-driven businesses, it’s a little bit…a little bit different, right? You can’t just say yes to everything.
Whereas a service-driven business, if somebody’s literally in your office saying, “Hey, Trent. I’m going to give you a $10,000 check, or a $50,000 check, if you can build me this thing.” I think a lot of people have a hard time with that. I don’t think that really that moment is what specialization is about. It’s not about saying “no” in that moment, but rather, it’s about saying, hey, what could we be known for over the next 6…12…36 months. What do we really want to be experts in? What do we want people to come to us for? And starting to plant some of those seeds to become that expert. And not just to say, “Hey, I’ve chosen this niche, which a lot of people did.” I mean, one of the early stories for me about niching was, we decided to focus on non-profit market and so we just went to our website homepage. And instead of saying we make great websites, we change it to we make great websites for non-profits. And we didn’t do anything else. We just thought that that was enough and that all of a sudden the world was going to respond to us and start sending us all these non-profit leads. And the reality was, is we lost, like 60 to 70% of our lead gen because we didn’t do anything else. And all of a sudden these people that were coming to us yesterday from B2B companies, e-commerce, whatever. All of a sudden saw that masthead and said, oh, these guys just build websites for non-profits. So we actually, our first experiment and niching fail miserably because we ended up actually really hurting our business because we didn’t change anything but our homepage.
[08:44] So what was the solution to that problem then?
- So I mean, I’d say for us, the one of the big ahas — I’m on my 13th niche market. And I think a lot of people think that they’re going to get it right on the first try, that they’re going to find their specialization, or they’re going to find their market kind of on the first go. And in being on my 13th, probably one of the biggest things that I could say that we’ve now done differently—and it’s a framework that I teach—is not just defining who you’re going to serve, but also really figuring out where those people hang out.
And then—this is the hard part, Trent—is then going out there to those places where those people hang out, right? Where your target customer hangs out, and creating awareness for your business. And that’s probably the thing that I do really well now. But way back then, I didn’t do very well. I just thought I could change my website homepage and that was that, right? The idea of going in, speaking on a stage to a non-profit conference, or blogging, or publishing, or putting content out there on existing channels was a whole lot of fear around that. Like imposter syndrome, feeling like I wouldn’t—it wasn’t good enough, that I was gonna get rejected, and didn’t really know how to do that.
[09:56] So another strategy that I’ve had other guests explained to me—and I’m interested in your feedback on this. So there’s this fear of changing the homepage. They don’t want to do that. There’s no harm in putting up landing pages though, that are niche-specific, and running ad campaigns that are niche-specific, and then directing the traffic from those ad campaigns to the landing pages. And in theory, by doing that, you could test two, three, four niches at one time to see what your cost—your click costs look like, what your conversions look like, how the conversations go. I mean, is there anything wrong with doing that?
- Uh, no. I mean, that’s a fantastic way to test ideas and see kind of what works. I’d say the one challenge with that, in starting with that—which I love ads—we spend a massive amount of our marketing budget on ads. I think to date, I’ve spent somewhere around $700,000 or more with Facebook in particular, so I’m a big fan of ads. The one caveat of that is that if you don’t really know your market very well, and you start with an advertising platform, it’s kind of like playing a guessing game. You don’t yet know the language that your market responds to. You might not really know what they’re—what’s going on in their heads. And so if we just go to an ad platform and start testing ads, every market is different, right? Every niche is different. They have their own.
Now, one of my mentors once said 95% of businesses are all the same. But it’s that 5%, that is vastly different from one business to the next. And if you get that 5% wrong, you can come across, like, not in the right way. And so that’s one of the challenges, I think with starting with a platform like advertising. I think advertising is a great scale platform when you’re ready to scale in your market. I think you can, advertising can put you in front of—especially digital advertising and social media advertising—put you in front of massive amounts of people in your market. I think we’ve been in front of—our ads have been displayed—in front of over five million people in my market, right? Whether they’re 100% of my market or not, like over five million people. Like that’s insane. Like I can’t, no other channel can give me that kind of access. But I think there’s other things you should do earlier on to kind of figure out and master your market. Before, maybe ads is a good strategy for most people. If you’re flush with cash though, and you have plenty of money to test, you can test it definitely. Then it might be a good place to start.
[12:25] So what are some of those other things?
- There’s a saying in the military, right? Go slow, go smooth, so you can go fast. So for me, a lot of the things that have worked great for myself and my clients early on is really finding some inroads with people in that target market to do some customer development interviews—really get to know the market, find some internal champions. Whether it’s associations, trade groups, people that are already embedded in the market that have trust and credibility—using those people as kind of initial inroads. And it feels like you’re moving really slow at first because you’re trying to find people to have conversations with, you’re spending a lot of time really learning the markets. And then from there, I think you can, you can start to create more interesting marketing opportunities. Like getting published in your niche, having what publish your content, or publish your webinars, and then using ads—once you really have that messaging dialed-in—using ads as kind of an amplification and leverage tool in the marketplace.
[13:32] So if someone listening is a little bit flushed with cash. Flushed with cash and they’re in a hurry, is there any harm in running—because we do this: data acquisition campaigns. So we knew that we wanted to build what’s called a quiz funnel—it’s this new thing we’re doing. And we needed to test hooks on what language is going to resonate and what should we build the questions in this funnel around for this, for my software company. And so I just told my VP of Marketing, I said, “Look, go and spend 500 bucks and run a bunch of different tests. And let’s see which hook resonated the most with who we already know our target audience to be.” And so within just a couple of days—we will be able to get—we were able to buy for 500 bucks, some valuable data that would have taken us a lot longer to get if we were doing it in the more manual way. And I’m not trying to discount anything of what you said because I think it’s hugely valuable, but it takes time. And sometimes I’d rather just spend money to get to speed the process up. So is there any flaw in the thinking there?
- Yeah. I think if you’re a business—you mentioned one key component, which is you know who your target audience is. And it sounds like you already know a good deal about who that audience is and where you can find them. So for example, if my niche was—I’m just going to pick a kind of a random niche that’s a little bit older school—but let’s say I was going after building websites, or doing digital marketing, or branding for the oil industry. I think it’s questionable whether my target customer is even on Facebook.
So if I were to go to Facebook and trying to build an audience of petroleum engineer or petroleum CEOs, whether or not I could find them on LinkedIn, or Facebook, it might be challenging, right? Versus, talking to people in that space and asking them, “Where do you hang out? Where do you spend time?” And I think if you already know that about your market, then and you know they’re on social media, you know they’re on—they’re doing a lot of Google searching, things like that. Then, I think testing with those platforms, while it costs them upfront money, can definitely save you a massive amount of time. And I think in most business, right, time is definitely money.
I run a lot of tests, like you’re talking about today, right? And we try to spend more money faster with our advertising test to learn what works and what doesn’t. So that we’re not spending three, four months trying to find out like, oh, is this new hook gonna work or not? Because if you’re a business out there doing a million dollars a year, or multiple millions, waiting two or three months to find an answer might be really difficult. But if you haven’t yet found your audience, and you don’t know you can reach them on these types of channels, then I think going out there and really talking to your customers is a good place to start. Famous entrepreneur says get out of the building, right? Leave the comfort of your home office, and actually go talk to these people and do that early on in your niche work. And I think that can start to give you some really good insights to strategies later on when you do take up things like advertising.
[16:45] I would agree. I do think that talking to your customers is absolutely critical. And so maybe the hybrid approach is your ads are driving traffic to a landing page with an opt-in form that has a link to your calendar so that you can see. So what we did was we ran ads on three different platforms: Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn. Then we tested all these hooks. And the one thing we didn’t do—because I’ve done some of this before but I think would be maybe a good idea—is the people who are clicking on those ads, trying to get them to book a call with me—which is not a scalable way to grow—but it is a great way to get those conversations that you’re talking about that are so incredibly important.
- You know, and this is a really good conversation we’re having for folks. When we first launched Ugurus, we did most of our list building through organic means. And we had started to run some advertising, and we’ve sold like thousands of copies of some of our self-paced courses. And I had talked to my customers before, but not really, like it could have been very informal. And so we wanted to hear from them—how they were using our products, how they were using our services, how we could market our products better. And so I actually emailed out my list that we’ve grown through ads organic, and had people book calls with me. And I think I did 76 30-minute conversations with clients in one week. And it was intense, and I wouldn’t advise this, right? But what happened next was incredible because those conversations allowed me to really understand what was going on in the psyche of my client. And while I was out there, I was really talking a lot about a lot of tactics in our content, about how we’re helping agencies. And what I realized was, our ideal customer was while they were thinking about stuff that we cared about, they were also thinking about a lot of other stuff.
And so all of a sudden, we went from having this really focused—kind of we were talking about one kind of benefit—to all of a sudden having this like really amazing kind of 360-degree view of what was going on in our customers’ world. And we did our biggest launch ever immediately after that, right? And it was the first time we had done as a business—a single six-figure launch in one kind of two-week long campaign. And it was very eye-opening for us, right? And that was one of the things that we now teach is, “Hey, how do you go out there within your market?” Once you know who your market is, once you know where they hang out, how do you actually attract the right people to your message as an agency? And this also applies to other businesses. How do you talk about the things they care about and connect your product or service to those finished story benefits that really matter to your clients?
[19:23] And so what you’re saying is, if you hadn’t had all those conversations, that would have been quite a bit more difficult for you to do because there would have been a lot more guesswork in it?
- Well, one of the things we tell our clients is just sell your clients their vision back to them. And I think up until that point, we were just talking about the things that we cared about. And what we started doing differently in our marketing was really selling what our clients were telling us. We literally used language we heard from them on calls—we kind of hear these quotes or phrases over and over again. And then we started using that in our ads. We started using that in our content. And I started getting clients emailing me and being like, “Hey, Brent, do you have a camera in my home? Because the things you’re talking about, literally, we were just sitting around the dinner table having this discussion, or I was just talking to my business partner about this, and I get your email literally sounds like you’re listening into our conversations.” And I mean, the reality is, we were, right? Because we were having all of these conversations with these agencies, and they were spoonfeeding us exactly what was going through their mind. And so we were able to connect with them, I think a lot more—a lot deeper level, which I think is key if you are out there trying to get more customers and overcome that dependency on referrals, word of mouth.
[20:41] I would agree. So before we move off the idea of focusing on a single niche, some people out there are going to be, “Well, yeah, but there’s companies like Trello, or Basecamp, or name your other generic-ish application that appear to be marketing themselves to everyone, and they’ve been super successful. So why should I bother with niching down to a single niche?” What would you say to that?
- Well, I think that there are definitely companies that on the surface, or at least today, it seems like they are serving broad audiences. But I think if you go back into their history, you find all of them started very, very niche. With Trello, I mean, it was very much a tool built by developers for developers to manage agile development workflows, right? So managing their sprint backlogs having lists of their product backlogs, what are they working on, what are they—what are we waiting on other people for, what’s already finished, right? So if you look at any development team out there, whether it’s in Trello, or another app that mimics the Kanban board, Trello started with a very, very niche audience and then started to expand out from there. I mean, Basecamp, 37signals, same kind of story. A lot of web designers were kind of their target market. And they were kind of web designers, and they built the product for themselves.
Another great example that people see out there all the time is Facebook, right? I mean, everybody on the planet, uses Facebook. But if you go back to their roots, Facebook started at Harvard, and it was a tool just for that school. And then it opened up to other Ivy League schools, and then it opened up to universities, and then it opened up to other anybody that was kind of in the education system, and then it opened up to anybody that had an email address to kind of sign up for that platform. And so, and they figured out what really their value proposition was when they were hyper niche. So I think there’s a lot of companies that have done well staying specialized in their market. But also, it’s really hard to start as a broad generalist because you have to find that unfair advantage in the marketplace. I mean, Facebook knows their unfair advantage. But they discovered that by working within smaller segments, and then figuring out kind of how to open up in a very controlled way. I think, though, that most service businesses, for the most part, don’t have that scalability edge of those large social media platforms or even software. So I see service companies, once they really go specialized a niche, they tend to stay kind of within their domain and become even more experts in their space. But even then they might have—they might find their specialty is UX, UI, or e-commerce, right? And they might start with Shopify, and then become a more company that supports more than one platform. But specialization, I think provides a better path to generalization than generalization does to specialization.
[23:41] So in a minute, we’re going to come back, and we’re going to talk a little bit about your book. And you’re talking about these things called the five A’s. Before we get that just to get to that rather quick word—another sponsor message.
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All right, Brent. In your book, you talk about these things, the five A’s. First of all, what’s the name of the book? And then please tell us what are the five A’s?
- Yeah, thanks, Trent. The book is called Get Rich In The Deep End. And as the name implies, I think that the—both my own story and also my clients stories, when we kind of go all in the deep end within a market, or within a specialization. That’s usually where we see companies really thrive, and succeed, and create a lot more scalability, and a lot more freedom. And a lot of people want to know, how do I do that? How do I niche down? How do I find my specialization? And so the five A’s in the book, I’ll kind of walk you through that and it’s pretty simple framework. I like things that you could draw on a napkin and kind of figure out. I think my old business partner and I, we have a lot of meetings at restaurants and stuff. But I feel like our best strategy is always things that we can have a Sharpie on a napkin. And so the five A’s are audience, awareness, attract, authority, and acquire. We’ve talked about a couple of them already, kind of choosing your audience, finding out kind of who you want to serve. Awareness is really about finding those channels to reach them, whether it’s ads or content or partnerships. And then attract is kind of that thing we were mentioning about getting inside of your customers head and really talking about the things they care about versus the things you care about. And for years, as a web pro, I went around and talked about websites, and responsive design, and content management systems. I spent a lot of time shouting about things that I was really passionate about. And I struggled to get those clients when I started to talk more about the things that my market cares about, the things that are going on in their world. I got to—I didn’t have to shout anymore. I kind of whisper the right things in the right places. And those last two days, authority is just about building yourself as an authority in your market through case studies, proof points, third party endorsements. And then acquire is having systems and processes to create conversations. If you are an agency or service professional, sales happen in conversations, not necessarily through like opt-in forms. So I’ve seen a lot of people out there when they have an agency that have like a lead magnet, and they’re accumulating all these email addresses, right? But they don’t have any clients and they’re not having sales appointments, right? So making sure that you always have that path to a conversation.
[26:39] So let’s dive into—I’m gonna go in. We don’t have a whole bunch of time but I want to dive a little deeper into step two: awareness. So awareness, in our pre-interview, we talked about how it was created through ads, content, and partners. And so do you have some specific examples of proven tactics that you can speak to for those?
- Yeah, sure. So I mean, for our company, one of the early things that we did was using guest publishing as a way to reach our market. And this is one of the mistakes that I see a lot of agency owners make is they think, oh, I need to be publishing content. And so they publish blog posts on their own websites, or they post to their own Facebook fan page. Just the other day, I was working with a business and they’ve been posting content consistently. They were doing all the things right for their business. But when I opened up that social media page, they had less than a dozen followers on that page. Their content was amazing. It was so thoughtful. It was like they were saying all the right things. The problem is, there was just nobody else that was listening. And I think a lot of people, whether even whether they’re easy business or not, fall into that trap. I call it the garage band trap—you’re kind of you got a band, and you’re not taking the big risks, right? You’re not going out to the talent show, or the pubs, or the venues. You’re not trying to pit yourself, right? Because a lot of rejection of that. And so they play in their garage and it feels good. It feels like we’re playing together, right? But it’s not really how you get famous. It’s not how you get successful. Compare that to the Beatles, who gig in Liverpool and Manchester, seven nights a week. Sometimes three shows in one night, in every bar, venue, club they could get their hands on, and they had to refine their sound. AWhen they came the United States, it was an overnight success, right? Years in the making hundreds of hours, thousands of hours, in front of an audience refining their sound building up that fan base. And so when it comes to content, if you’re new within your market with your new units, you don’t have that audience built up. You got to find those channels to publish your stuff in.
I would avoid as much as you can publishing on your own channels. And really find the existing places that people already exist. I mean, these days on Instagram, and there’s people out there with hundreds of thousands of followers already. And if you forge relationships with them, they can put your content in front of massive groups of people. So we, instead of publishing our own blog—we found probably—we built a huge list of publishers in our market. And we started publishing for other people. And within like six months, we built an email list of over 10,000 people from being no names in our niche to have over having over 10,000 people on our email list purely through posting really good content on places that already had traffic. So that’s one tactic you can use that doesn’t cost ad money, right? And I know channels have changed a little bit, right? You have, there are still a lot of blogs out there. But there’s also a lot of other ways you can get in front of clients.
[29:47] So if you’re posting on somebody else’s channel, I don’t imagine they’re letting you put an opt-in form that’s going to build your email list on their blog, or what have you. So how were you—it’s obvious—they’ve got a popular channel, so they’re seeing the content that you’re publishing there. But how do you pull them back and get them on your email list?
- So, yes, some publishers get a little bit—have some rules and have some standards for how they, what they allow you to do. And this kind of comes into play with our fifth A of “acquire”. So we want to have with any awareness activity in our market, we want to make sure there’s a clear path to some type of conversion. Whether it’s an opt-in, and helping you build your list whether it’s a scheduled conversation. But even these days, I mean, even if you just get a click, and you can pixel that person, now we can use things like advertising to stay in front of that person for three or four months and get them to engage an ad a second time. And then all of a sudden, we get another three or four months in front of them. So I think there are a lot of ways, even if a publisher says you can’t include a link back to an opt-in page where you can’t make a direct call to action. I think there are lots of other tactics that you can use to still capture the lead, even if it’s just they visited your website and now they’ve been pixeled, and now the game begins of how do we convert a pixel into something more meaningful.
But that being said, I would say, so many publishers are overwhelmed. They’re kind of like going on, right? I mean, publishers are trying to make a buck too. So a lot of them are totally fine with you having strong call to action. I’d say it’s 50-50. Some of them have really strict standards. And some of them don’t really care. Maybe because they haven’t thought about it. Maybe because they’ve got 50 other priorities, whether you can do opt-in from within the article, or within your by-line having some kind of path to a meaningful next action.
[31:43] Alright, somehow I just clicked the wrong thing and made our little nice perimeter go away. How did I manage to do that? Let me see if I can fix it.
- The live stream version seems like we’re a little bit less socially distanced. Now, we’re right next to each other, which is all good.
[31:59] No, I made this beautiful little graphic that had frames around us. And somehow, I managed to just turn the darn thing off. So for folks in the audience, I’m using some new software for doing my podcasts. So this is the first recording on the new software, and I inadvertently dragged my finger over something, which made my nice little picture frame go away. So I’m not going to figure out how to try and get it back right at the moment. Well, actually maybe…maybe…maybe…maybe…nope, it’s gone. Okay. So the thing that I want to ask you next is—the five A’s, is it important that they’re followed sequentially? Or can they be done in any order?
- I think there is definitely a sequence to them. I tell people that—let’s take one of our A’s, we haven’t really talked about much “authority”. So if you just go out and with each of your pieces of content that you’re already publishing for your business, or even how you’re advertising your services, even your homepage. If you just inject a little bit of authority into your business—that could be having logos from companies that have featured you, or endorsed you, or published your content. It could be clients or case studies. It could be other influencers or people that your market knows. And this happened to us all the time as an agency, right? We had all these we had logo soup on our website. But half the logos, or more of them—like nobody really knew who they were, right? They were random small businesses in Denver, Colorado. So having some authority injected into your brand, or taking proof points on your next piece of content that you publish, and injecting a little proof into how you talk about your business, right?
Give people a reason to listen to you. Tell them that you have some accolades or accomplishments. Not to brag, but to tell them why to listen to you. So if you just did that, with all of your content moving forward, my belief is you would attract more clients. You would attract better clients. You would, maybe, be able to sell your products or services for more money. So I think there is benefit to using each of these, as independently, but I think I’ve stacked them in the book in a sequential order on purpose because how you build authority in your market, obviously, depends on what market you serve. So if I’m going after small mom and pop restaurants, and on my website, I have a third party endorsement from IBM, then obviously, that’s not going to connect as well as if I had the top ten small restaurants in the Denver Metro area. So we were actually serving that market. And so a lot of the logos and things like that that we use on our restaurant brand site were specific logos that matter to our market. Not Dish Network, right? We’ve used in that, maybe right, but even that is kind of a stretch. Whereas a bunch of brands, we had endorsements from Vesta Dipping Grills, Steuben’s, Strings—I mean, outside of Denver, nobody cares about these markets. But in our little microcosm, those brands mean a lot. So I definitely have them stacked in the book strategically of things to think about in that order. But at the end of the day, if you just use one of them in your business, I think you’re gonna come out better off than you were before.
[35:18] Before we wrap up, if people would like, anyone listening, wants to get in touch with you, maybe they want to work with you. If you could just rattle off the single easiest way to get in touch. And as well, where they can grab your book? That would be wonderful.
- Absolutely. So you can check out the book is called Get Rich In The Deep End, you can check it on Amazon. Or you can go to ownyourmarket.com, which is the website we have set up dedicated to that book. So if you go to ownyourmarket.com, you can get links out to places to buy that or just search for it on Amazon: Get Rich In The Deep End.