38:3 How to run a lean agency - Lee Matthew Jackson
38:3 How to run a lean agency - Lee Matthew Jackson

38:3 How to run a lean agency

The last 12 months have forced business owners around the world to find new ways of delivering their products and services. For many this has lead to significant savings leaning on technology to help build leaner more efficient business models.

Lee Matthew Jackson
Lee Matthew Jackson

The last 12 months have forced business owners around the world to find new ways of delivering their products and services. For many this has lead to significant savings leaning on technology to help build leaner more efficient business models.

Lee Matthew Jackson - Trailblazer FM ™


Lee Matthew Jackson

Trailblazer FM ™

In this episode I break down the key areas you should review in your business in order to build a lean, profitable and enjoyable business.

Here are the key stages along with some of our supporting content:

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Welcome to the Agency Trailblazer Podcast. This is your host Lee and on today’s show let’s discuss how to run a lean agency. That doesn’t mean you’re all going to be thin, although you could save tons of money on eating and that would help, but I don’t recommend that. We’re talking about running an agency that does not cost the earth, that maximizes profits, does not stress out the agency owner, and is good for you, good for the economy and good for Britain. Sorry, that last little bit was me just channeling the prime minister.

Before we carry on, I would like to thank our wonderful sponsor, Cloudways. You can find out more about them over on trailblazer.fm/cloudways. We love there managed hosting platform and we can use multiple cloud providers knowing that Cloudways are looking after the support, they’re looking after the security and they are looking after the updates. And in the vein of running a lean agency, you may consider going for unmanaged because it looks cheaper in our experience however, knowing that Cloudways are looking after the integrity of our service on behalf of our clients, we know we are getting the best bang for our buck. We are not investing in other employees. We are not wasting our own personal time in updates and support and stressing ourselves out with the maintenance of an unmanaged server. So that’s trailblazer.fm/cloudways. Thank you very much for sponsoring us. You legend’s!

Right, let’s get stuck in. So the last 12 months has likely forced you as a business owner to find new ways of delivering your products and services. And this will likely have led to some significant savings, those savings being things like travel, for example, or employees or the cost that you have to spend on your employees, because perhaps they’re working from home and you no longer have that physical office anymore. Or perhaps you are leaning on technology. And this all helps you to build a leaner business model and much more efficient business model.

We’ve done the same thing for many, many years. We’ve had a physical office. In fact, I have run two agencies for many years and I’ve had two physical offices for the two different teams that I have. And we’ve all traveled into the office. So we’ve had our travel costs and expenses. We’ve had meetings around the UK for all sorts of different sized projects. So again, we’re often travelling. One or two of us are out of the office for a full day down in London, meeting with potential clients or with existing clients and we’re getting nothing else done during that.

That’s kind of been the model that we’ve adopted for years since the early 2000s. And yet these last 12 months of covid, of lockdown, of social distancing, of health and safety, all of this has forced us really to stay home, which is not necessarily great. And I don’t recommend that forever, obviously. But it has forced us to find ways to do business that is far more efficient, much quicker, much less costly. And it gets us to thinking, doesn’t it? What can we do to increase the efficiency of our business? What can we do to dramatically save costs? What can we do to increase our profitability? And all of that will lead to what can we do to alleviate the stress of running our agency?

So today I want to explore some of the key aspects that we need to look at, in our agencies in order to improve all of the above. How can you run a lean agency? And our first point is knowing your market and knowing their needs. If you understand your market, you will understand what their problems are. That means you will have a range of products or services that will solve those problems.

That also allows you to stand out as an agency in a vast plethora global world of other agency owners out there, all competing for the eyeballs of your potential clients. So if you’re going out there speaking the language of your potential client, highlighting the problem of your potential client, then you are much more attractive than the person who is a generalist and much more vague. And we have a blog and a video that we linked to in the show notes of episode number 301 over on trailblazer.fm. So go ahead and check out those show notes that will help you understand how to find your niche. I also share how I discovered my own niches.

It’s really important that we do understand our market and their needs, the problems that they have as we can focus in on the solutions that we provide them. That means rather than trying to be an agency that offers all services to all people, which is a very costly way to do business, we can instead specialise on some really clear products and services, which is our next point.

That was a beautiful segway. I’m really, really proud of that. Know your market and their needs and create a clear range of products and services. What does your agency do best? What are your strengths? What are you utterly phenomenal at doing? What can you do with confidence that you have a clear mandate, as it were? I’m getting political again.

If you have a range of products and services that deal with the core problems of your target market, again, you are an extremely attractive supplier to work with. And it means you can build a business that is focused just around those key products and services. You’ll all know the story of me many years ago, running a huge agency, we had up to 15 members of staff around the world. We had an office in Bedford, we had an office in London. They cost us an absolute fortune. We had no real niche. We were a quote unquote, all service agency, again, offering all things to all people and that was a very expensive business model. So despite turning over half a million, there was not much profit in there at all because of all the costs.

The moment that we reset our agency and started focusing in on a clear market, i.e. the events industry with some clear problems we knew they had and producing some clear services that would solve those problems. Once we started doing, that allowed us to dramatically decrease our costs and actually create an efficient business that was able to outwork those products and services regularly at high quality, we could charge a decent amount of money for those. They would be profitable. They would serve the clients that they were serving and they would enjoy them. And that’s actually continued to this day in what has been birthed into two companies that deliver amazing value in that industry.

Both of those companies are able to run in a lean model, focusing in on what they do best without any distractions, which is great for the marketing message, but it’s also incredibly good for cost saving. Making sure that you’re not staffing up because you’re trying to provide all things to all people.

In the show notes, you can check out a video on how to attract people to your product and service. You should check that out, I’m chatting away on that it’s over on YouTube and click the link that will take you. And there’s another one on how to productize your services. That’s a podcast episode so be sure to check out the show notes and go and watch/listen to those old favorites.

Next, we want to understand and review our processes. If we understand our market, if we understand the problems they have and the solutions that we are providing for them, that means we now have a clear product and service list. We now need to understand and review the processes that we use to deliver those products and those services. Are we being as efficient as we can? You’ll remember again, I said we ran a full service agency. We had all these members of staff, and then we shifted to focus on an industry and two core products and services.

We, however, for a while retained our old fashioned clunky processes and our large team. That meant we relied on too many people. There were too many points of failure. Things took too long. Still, it wasn’t great. So we realized and recognized we needed to improve our processes. We need to start to document what we do and then question what we do and ask why do we do that? And is there a better way to do that?

To highlight, I share an episode in the show notes again, this feels a little bit like one of those episodes where I’m going to make you go and listen to a whole lot of extra stuff, only listen to the stuff you need to. But I share back. Oh, wow. I don’t know when this was. This was a long time ago. Maybe 2015/2016. I share in episode number 51 what our WordPress build process was all those years ago and funnily enough, it pretty much has not changed to this day. We nailed it all those years ago and it’s something that we can rinse and repeat so many times. So it’s very high level, but it just gives you the idea of the way we go through delivering WordPress websites.

Things have evolved as our products and services have evolved. But having that process, having something that you can test and that you can improve upon over the years is absolutely essential. It will help you understand where you are being inefficient. You can create more efficient processes, you can be more efficient with costs, etc.. We were clearly overstaffed back then and we did need to make some very difficult decisions and reassigned people’s roles and responsibilities. But once we had done that, we were a much leaner business. We were far more efficient. We could produce better work, we could produce more work, and the quality of our work was significantly increased. Therefore, we could charge more.

Speaking of costs and charging, our next step is to review those costs. If we’ve understood and reviewed our processes, if we’ve highlighted where we could improve and what some of those costs or those impacts may be, it’s also worth looking at the bigger picture. Where else are we hemorrhaging costs as a business.

I’ve mentioned, didn’t I that we had two offices back in the day when we were still one business. That was a lot of money and we eventually decided to close the London office and just have a service space, which was so much cheaper than having two leases that we had two leases on two buildings, one in Bedford, one in London. We actually moved down the road in Bedford to the one office space, which was a managed office. We still had our own space within that. But there was there was no long term lease. There was not all the extra costs of electricity and everything else that we were going to have on top of that.

So we significantly reduced our costs just in that area alone. So take a look at your costs again to help you instead of me teaching you it all now. Go ahead and check out there’s two episodes that we highlight in the show notes on trailblazer.fm. One is called Managing Your Personal Finances, that was episode number 261 of the Agency Trailblazer podcast and the other one was managing your agency finances, which is Episode 255. I recommend you listen to both of those. The reason why we share the personal one is because your personal spending decisions actually affect your business. If you are making bad spending decisions at home, then that’s probably impacting the amount of money you need to draw down from your business as well. And your happiness at home is just as important as your happiness in the agency. So I recommend you go ahead and check out those two episodes.

As we continue, we look at those efficiencies and we embrace technology, which is our next point. What technology can you embrace to help you as a business? For example, automation. We use Zapier for so much. If I rewind back again to the 2000s and the early teens, I think it would be the tens. I don’t know how you are meant to say that, but we were doing so much manually. There were so many spreadsheets. I am a V lookup legend, but that’s not for a good reason. That means that we had multiple spreadsheets with lots of different data sets and I was having to do with lookups and merge data sheets and then pass them all over to our accountant.

There were so many things that we were not doing because we thought we were saving money by not spending on the tech. We thought we were saving money by not investing in a CRM that was connected to our accounts program. And that kind of sounds dumb because in hindsight, that 200 pounds a month that we could have been spending back then would have saved us countless hours as a company, we should have actually embraced the technology that would have allowed us to integrate all of those points together and pushed all of the data to our accountant who was already being paid to do a whole load of that stuff is funny how we don’t value our time enough.

In fact, we think that us doing things is more cost effective. We think that as doing things will save the company money and we don’t recognize the value of our own time. So embrace technology where you can what will make you more efficient? We had an episode a long time ago with John Perez. I think it was like really early episode back in the number one’s, two’s, three’s kind of thing. And he mentioned using the technology to deliver the results and not worrying about what that is. And he was talking about page builders and saying, look, come on, don’t be a snob about a page builder. If it allows you to deliver what the client needs, then it does not matter how you built it. And that’s a really, really valid point.

It does not matter how you build things, how you deliver things, as long as you are confident in what you have delivered, as long as you have applied your skills, and as long as the output of what you are delivering is what your client needs and is in their best interests. If it ticks all of those boxes, then how you deliver it is not the important thing. You do not have to go and code an entire website in notepad because that’s the way it’s always been done.

So embrace technology. What can you automate? What can you make more efficient? What tools can you utilize that will save you time and still allow you to deliver amazing value to your clients? And that kind of segways again, these segways are so good. It’s like I wrote it and I did. So that’s why it’s so good. It’s outsourcing. I talked today about valuing our time and how we think it’s cheaper for us to do things, and there is a blog that we’ve linked to in the show notes called The Real Cost of Outsourcing. You really need to read that. It’s only short. You’ll only take you a few minutes to read. But it will it will make you aware of how much it really costs for you to be doing some of these things yourself versus spending a few tens of dollars or even a few hundreds of dollars, having other people who are really good at doing whatever it is, do it for you and freeing up your time to focus on the business.

I’m pretty sure this is a message so many of you have heard on this show many times before on my live streams. You’ll have heard it from other people as well. But we so often ignore it still. We still think us doing it is going to be cheaper. So go ahead, check out the real cost of outsourcing blog and if you are considering outsourcing, there is a video there for you as well. Five mistakes to avoid when outsourcing so go ahead and check that out and throughout all of this, if you could do us a solid and subscribe to our YouTube channel, give us some thumbs up on there and some comments. That would be awesome, because that allows us to get these sorts of messages out to other agency owners, many of whom really need to hear this sort of stuff.

Then finally, coming in to land our final step is to build what you want. That you know, sounds obvious, but build what you want, build the agency that you want rather than the agency that you feel you should have, we’ve had so many guests who say something similar. We’ve had both Bob Gentle and Brent Weaver saying something very similar. Build a business that works for you, build a business that you want. We always say here, build a business that you love. So you don’t have to have a physical office. I think right now covid in 2020 and the events of the last year or so have really taught us that we do not need a physical office if we don’t want one or if we can’t have one.

So do we need that physical office? Do we want the responsibility of 15 members of staff? Or would it be better to have a smaller team working on something far more focused? Do we really need to be at such and such a show just because other companies are at such and such a show with massive exhibits, et cetera?

There’s all sorts of things that happen in all sorts of industries where we all feel like we need to copy or to emulate what other companies are doing so that we can either be perceived as successful or we can feel like we are successful. Let’s go back in that time machine again. We did the exact same thing in our old agency all those years ago. Back in the noughties, in the early teens, we would go to all of these big events. We would try and make our stands look amazing to try and kind of show the competition, what we were made of. We bled ourselves really, to do all of these things that we thought an agency should do that we thought our clients would perceive us as a good agency to go with as long as we were like all of the other agencies. And actually we learned the hard way sod that be you. Do what you want, build a business that you want to build, doing the things that you want to do for the people that you want to serve in the style that you want to do it, because you will then end up attracting really nice people that really like you, like the style you do things and you’ll enjoy working with them. They’ll enjoy working with you and everyone is a winner.

I’ve talked to think a few times now in the podcast of how I used to show up in a suit and tie with a special type of language trying to be that guy, that professional agency owner that would attract other professional agency owners. And in fact, I just attracted people that were actually not really very nice and I didn’t really like working for them. And I built a business that I did not enjoy being a part of. The moment I grew my beard and just started chilling out and, you know, being me, even on this podcast, just being me, that’s where we start to attract those people that feel aligned with who we are. And we get to work with some phenomenal people all around the world.

Folks, let’s do a quick recap. Number one, know your market, know their needs number two have a clear products and services. Number three, understand and review your processes, then go on to review your costs, embrace the technology, outsource those weaknesses and build what you want.

You are absolutely awesome and I would love to connect with you. We’re doing something a little bit different. Go and check out trailblazer.social. What I want to do is build a social platform using decentralized social media. So we’ve set up a Mastodon account. There will be a link in the show notes for a little bit more information as to what that is. And we want to be able to connect with people on a decentralized social media basis.

I’m finding that some of these big centralized social media is a little bit stressful. I’m finding them negative for my own personal mental health. I’m connected with far too many people. It’s quite tiring and going onto some form of decentralized platform allows me to connect with a smaller group of like minded individuals around particular topics with some particular rules. And we can kind of hang out in one area, but I can also connect with other people separately outside of that bubble. I can kind of control what’s going on, what I see, I can look after my mental health. It’s well, so far it’s been such a nice experience.

So I’ve set up my own instance here on trailblazer.social of Mastadon. I’ve set up my own instance on of Mastodon. However, if you are already on Mastodon, you can go ahead and kind of come and follow me over there with your Mastodon on account, on whichever instance you are on. If you are not a member, you don’t have to join my instance, but you can still connect and be a part of it. However, if you want to, you are more than welcome to also sign up to my instance on trailblazer.social, and if you have no idea what I’ve just talked about, again, there’ll be a link to Mastodon. You can go ahead and check that out.

Let’s just go and work out what’s happening in a decentralized world rather than kind of those big spaces where people are shouting and arguing with each other, which I really don’t like.

Anyway, have a wonderful day. If I don’t see you over on trailblazer.social, feel free to come hang out with us in the Facebook group. I’m not there as much, but I certainly do come and check in now and again. That’s trailblazer.fm/group, that’s our Facebook group and also our YouTube channel: trailblazer.fm/youtube.

Finally, please do go thank our sponsors over on social media. You can find them on @cloudways across everywhere. They are freaking awesome. Go ahead and check those out.

If we don’t see you in Mastodon, if we don’t see you in the Facebook group. If we don’t see you in the comments on trailblazer.fm. If I don’t see you, see you physically because that’s probably unlikely in 2021, then let’s see you in next week’s episode.


PodcastSeason 38

Lee Matthew Jackson

Content creator, speaker & event organiser. #MyLifesAMusical #EventProfs