How to Create Work-Life Balance With Anti-Hustle Culture at Your Agency
What do you think about hustle culture? Do you have a healthy work-life balance with your agency? Does your team? As the owner, you set the tone for the agency’s culture. And what is important to you by extension becomes important to the team. Today’s guest owns a boutique agency she started after quitting her job in the tech space after feeling exhausted from 80-hour work weeks. She started fresh in Belize with a new mindset about the type of work-life balance she wanted and the culture she’d create for her agency.
Jeanna Barrett is the founder and Chief Remote Officer of First Page Strategy, an award-winning remote growth marketing agency. She has 17 years of inbound marketing experience working with venture startups, digital agencies, and fortune 500 companies.
Six years ago, Jeanna left the US and built a business in Belize. What started as freelancing grew into a full inbound marketing agency with 40+ experts across the globe. Beyond the success of her agency, she’s most proud of the culture she was created with her remote team. Jeanna encourages different passions outside of work and promotes a healthy work-life balance. She shares her journey of creating an anti-hustle culture for her agency.
In this episode, we’ll discuss:
- Recovery from the hustle culture and burnout.
- Prioritizing boundaries to create healthy agency culture.
- Embracing your team’s passions and hobbies.
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Sponsors and Resources
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Get to know your Smart Agency Guest Host: John Corcoran is the co-founder of Rise25, an agency that helps companies launch and run podcasts profitably. He followed Jason’s podcast and eventually joined the mastermind and has been a guest on the podcast before. Today, he’s helping Jason bring something new to the Smart Agency podcast audience by interviewing a special guest and bringing a new perspective to the show.
Recovering from the Hustle Culture and the Burnout it Causes
In 2016, Jeanna was living in San Francisco and felt burned out by the non-stop work hustle and grind culture. She realized the “dream offices” popular in the tech world, with free lunch, snack bars, entertainment, and laundry service exist only to justify 80-hour work weeks. Jeanna was ready to leave the perks behind.
She was eager to live a life where she didn’t have to work all the time. She wanted time and freedom to focus on the things that make her happy.
Building a business in Belize may not be what she originally intended, but it is exactly what she needed to have a work-life balance. It is an opportunity to create a work culture valuing and encouraging different passions and pursuits outside of work. Her agency focuses on employee performance based on tasks completed and not on the amount of time spent in front of a computer.
A Lesson on the Benefits of Doing Content Marketing Right
Fortunately, after 15+ years of working in marketing, Jeanna had a network she could tap into. She was looking to work as a freelancer and started by calling old clients and colleagues. Eventually, her freelance business evolved into an accidental agency.
Getting her first big client was a lesson in content marketing. At one point, Jeanna wrote an article about how she left her career and moved to the Caribbean. It offered advice for people looking to do something similar and work remotely. In the article, she mentioned the company she used to establish her business as an LLC. Ironically the company had fired their SEO partner and contacted her to take over the role. She had not yet formed an agency but decided to give it a try.
She started with a small entry-level contract, so she just hired two consultants to work on SEO content. After that, they scaled every year, based on the services and the needs they cover. By year two, she added another three people to work on that account, and year three added another three employees.
At first, they worked exclusively on content creation but as the relationship developed they slowly added other services like email marketing and lead generation.
Prioritizing Boundaries to Create a Healthy Agency Culture
Since the beginning, Jeanna had a certain culture in mind for her agency. It was always one of the most important pieces of what she was trying to build. To avoid going back to old habits that ultimately burn people out, she focused on building a culture where the work would not leave employees feeling exhausted or stressed. No one is happy working under those conditions. Instead, she created a work environment that encourages a work-life balance. You are more efficient when you’re not constantly replacing people and everyone is noticeably happier.
It would’ve been easy to go back to old habits, which is why Jeanna is obsessive about boundaries. For instance, she follows certain routines like blocking her calendar to ensure she schedules time to exercise and have lunch at a certain time. It’s more about making sure she takes care of her health. This is what works for her; however, it varies person to person. This is a conversation she has with all employees. It’s important for them to know which boundaries will help keep them delivering great work while remaining healthy and happy.
Boundaries with clients. If you’re going to respect boundaries within the agency, they should be established with clients as well. As a boutique agency, they only take on the business they can handle. They talk about their boundaries as a team and are very strict about adhering to them – even with clients. Ultimately, it’s about setting and managing expectations.
Should Your Agency Invest More in PPC or SEO?
One of the biggest objections to inbound and content creation is it takes too long to see results. Clients likely have to wait 6-8 months to see results. It is more of a long-term strategy when you’re using PPC ads to pull people in.
Clients tend to fall into the trap of overly investing in PPC and under-investing in SEO and inbound. PPC is an expensive but powerful engine. Some spend $50+ for one click, and even then, how many clicks does it take to convert a customer?
It is very competitive out there and if your competition is using PPC then so should you. However, Jeanna feels clients could be investing more evenly in what they put into PPC and the long-term strategy. Investing in a long-term strategy will get their business to the first page and ultimately reduce their PPC spending.
As an expert in SEO and inbound marketing, she says no brand has ever regretted investing in quality content marketing.
Changing Your Mindset to Retain a Happy and Fulfilled Team
You may really love your digital agency but there’s probably a lot you’re passionate about outside of work. This is true for every single team member and it’s something Jeanna tries to find out during the interview process. She has discovered one employee has cookbook, others are runners or had a band. It’s a great way to realize the different types of people within the agency and presents the opportunity to highlight or celebrate these passions. It’s important to encourage these outside hobbies because happy and fulfilled people are better workers.
A change in culture requires a change of mindset. If you’re under-investing in building your agency’s culture, the first thing to change is your mindset. Putting a number on how much you should spend makes no difference if you don’t believe in its importance.
Important Investments in Your Agency’s Growth
Ultimately, the first significant change is hiring a leadership team. It’s one of the most important steps in realizing you don’t need to micromanage people so they produce good work. It’s also a way to get yourself out of daily operations and focused on scaling your agency.
Another investmest important for growth is an amazing project management system. All your agency work goes through this system and it’s worth the investment, especially if you have a remote team. With a remote agency the PM software is the central system that sort of becomes your “office space” and should be prioritized as such.
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