How to Scale Your Digital Agency By Near Shoring Your Team
Michael Begg began as an Amazon seller and quickly saw an opportunity in e-commerce marketing. He figured how to successfully sell products online. That led to the idea of creating their own agency, AMZ Advisers, full-service, e-commerce, and digital marketing consultancy partnering with brands to evaluate and develop their e-commerce strategy. Today he joins us to talk about how he started scaling his agency, how he used third-party platforms to get his first clients, and how he stays on top of his niche. He also shares tips on how has had great success near shoring his team.
3 Golden Nuggets
- Play to your strengths. After establishing an agency and getting your first clients, you are probably thinking about scaling. Agency owners should always play to their strengths by figuring out the high-value and low-value tasks. Hire people that can start taking care of the low-value tasks.
- The importance of the first 100 days. You got a new client, great! Celebrate, but also make sure to have a plan for the first 100 days to ensure retention. Joey Coleman speaks about the importance of the first 100 days when onboarding a client. In Michael’s case, his agency has set up an internal structure where the first 90 days are dedicated to the basics. That will give them enough information about the next steps and will give the client the first results to decide if they would like to continue the relationship.
- Staying on top of your game. Platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are constantly changing and if you take a step back from the implementation, you’ll fall behind, which will negatively affect your ability to train other people. Michael’s agency avoids this by selling products on Amazon themselves. This allows them to use their company as a guinea pig to learn things that they can apply to clients.
Sponsors and Resources
SweetProcess: Today’s episode is sponsored by SweetProcess. If you’re looking for a way to speed up processes in your agency, SweetProcess will provide the systemization you need to scale and grow your business. Check out sweetprocess.com/smartagency and get your productivity up.
How Near Shoring Your Agency Team Helps Scale
Jason: [00:00:00] I have a great guest today and we talk about how he’s grown his Amazon agency. And really he moved down to Mexico, created a team down there, and is really scaling it very fast. Really interesting episode. I hope you enjoy it.
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All right, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Michael: [00:01:42] I’m good, Jason. Thank you for having me here.
Jason: [00:01:44] Yeah, I’m excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?
Michael: [00:01:48] Sure. My name is Mike Begg. I’m one of the co-founders of AMZ Advisers and we’re an agency that specializes in the Amazon marketplaces. We help brands increase their sales, manage their advertising, and just maximize their visibility on the Amazon platform.
Jason: [00:02:04] That’s awesome. So how did you get started? And then tell me kind of the origin story about how did you transition to Amazon.
Michael: [00:02:11] Yeah, so we actually started as, uh, myself and my two partners, we actually all started as Amazon sellers ourselves. Before that, I was actually working in retail. I was working at Sears in retail real estate development.
And this was in like 2014, 2015. So it was a very interesting time for the business because a lot of things were, you know, the stores were really struggling, trying to figure out ways to make money. And at the same time, we kind of saw what was happening in e-commerce and saw an opportunity there. So originally we just started selling products for ourselves to make some money on the side.
And we found out we were really good at doing that. And we realized that a lot of other companies, a lot of big brands, were really bad at it. So that kind of led to the idea of creating the agency, AMZ Advisers, and yeah, from there, we just went out and got our first clients. And it’s been six years now and we just keep going forward.
Jason: [00:03:03] So that’s great. And so walk us through kind of, how did you start getting your first clients? Did you just go, hey, I see your position in Amazon. It sucks. Like, do you want our help or what?
Michael: [00:03:15] Yeah. So the original way we started getting clients was, well, two different things. The first, I guess, sales meeting that we went on, uh, was with a distributor in Long Island. I’m originally from Connecticut.
And I think we saw his, uh, job post on like Indeed for like an Amazon expert. And we just like reached out to him and we were like, look, you’re not going to be able to hire anyone for this position. Uh, and then we kinda got the first meeting that way. But beyond that, platforms like Upwork, FreeUp, ODesk used to be, I think was part of, it was a part of Upwork, now freelancer.com.
All of those, uh, we just started putting our profiles and our company on there and started taking jobs, even if they were low costs. Just to, to start moving up the ranks. And yeah, that’s really how we started building and getting those initial clients.
Jason: [00:04:04] You know, we had a mastermind member talk about how he generated like over a hundred thousand in monthly recurring revenue from Upwork. And I was like, there’s no way, because I just always looked at it as like a platform like Fiverr, like find cheap labor. He’s like, no, no, no. And he walked us through a strategy. I’m like, wow, that is really pretty clever. I was like, if that existed, I was like, I would have done that. Like, that was great.
Michael: [00:04:29] Yeah, no, it was awesome. I mean, for growing a business, it was perfect to get started because we didn’t really understand exactly what companies we were going after or what companies really needed this service. So it was kind of a way for us to learn and figure things out. And yeah, I mean that, it just kind of developed into building out a real sales and marketing strategy from there.
Jason: [00:04:49] Yeah. Let’s talk about a little bit about how have you been able to start scaling, you know, the agency, you know, I look at, you know, the first part. It’s just really getting started, you know, going after the clients, knowing where you’re going, getting that, you know, that direction. So as you’re in that building phase, and then you get to that systems phase. So talk about a little bit about how have you guys been able to scale.
Michael: [00:05:13] Yeah, I think you bring up a really good point there. And in that initial phase where you’re kind of just getting those clients, it’s really important to play to your strengths and what you’re good at, what you’re not good at. So the great thing about having partners in the agency business is that, you know, we each compliment each other.
So like, I’m very good at marketing and advertising. I have a partner who was very good at sales. I have another partner that’s very good at project management. So between all of that, that really helped us execute initially to get to the point where we could start figuring out the processes to go forward.
So that’s always important, I think when you’re in that initial phase, and then when we’re looking at that next level of building the processes, it’s okay. Which way do we approach it. What are our high-value tasks? What are our low-value tasks? And can we start by getting rid of some of these low-value tasks to other people?
So the way we started with that, at least from my perspective on the marketing side was, you know, blog writing. I started outsourcing blog writing instead of doing it myself, content marketing, coordination. So doing the outreach to other people, you know, I started outsourcing that to a VA. SEO link-building like started outsourcing that to a VA.
So it started with those low-value tasks that really allowed me to focus on the higher value items. And then from there it’s more of right now, how do I train someone to take over some of this higher value stuff? Because I mean, I think a VA is great for that low-value stuff, but getting them to execute on the high value is definitely harder.
Jason: [00:06:43] Yeah. It’s really challenging. So, you know, I like kind of the process that you went through of going like, hey, how do I get rid of a lot of the stuff? So what were some of, outside of just VA is like, let’s talk about kind of the management level. What was kind of that first person like you guys are around 30 people now, so you got some structure in place.
And a lot of times people look at it going, man, I would never want 30 people. Because there are kind of that process of like five employees and they’re already maxed out and then they think all 30 are going to report to you. Which is, obviously that’s a mistake. Like that’s a bad, that’s a bad structure to have with 30 people. So talk a little bit about the structure that you guys put in place and then how has it evolved?
Michael: [00:07:26] Yeah, so I think originally the first people that we brought in that, you know, weren’t ourselves to help where, I guess I call them Amazon experts, the people that understood the platform and how to sell on it. And you know, that allowed us to start taking on more clients because now we can leverage their bandwidth to help with.
Then we got to a certain point where we realized, well, we need someone to kind of oversee a lot of what they’re doing to make sure it’s consistent between what each of them are doing because everyone has different levels of knowledge within Amazon. And I mean, just with anything, you know, some people that are more experienced are going to have more knowledge than others.
So we called them the Director of Account Management, uh, was the one that really helped oversee everything. That was our initial kind of manager position. And that handled the, the client-facing side of the business and it worked for a while. And then we figured out it didn’t work. We had to kind of evolve a little bit more.
And then on the back end of the business, you know, we obviously have a lot going on with, you know, coordinating marketing. I have a marketing manager that handles all of that for me. Content creation, that’s a big part of our business is, you know, graphic design, SEO, copywriting. And we brought in a project manager to really help oversee that process. We promoted a designer to really lead the design and make sure designs were consistent across everything.
And those are kind of the management positions we started, we started filling start helping us manage things better. Now that Director of Account Management role has kind of faded out to the point where now we have, you know, a real client success team and we have an advertising team.
So now the account managers are responsible for managing the relationship. The client success manager is making sure that that’s responsible for working. And then we have the advertising team making sure that they’re actually getting the results. So, there’s definitely an evolution there and I’m sure there’s a lot more, that’s going to come, but from failing a lot, that’s kind of where we got to where we are now.
Jason: [00:09:19] Awesome. And then, is there a framework that you’ve developed over the years for making sure that you deliver, you know, the value to your clients that are on Amazon? Because I always find with successful agencies, there’s always kind of a methodology or a framework that they actually follow.
Michael: [00:09:39] Yeah, I agree with that. I think there kind of needs to be, we call it a playbook or, you know, just something that you can implement. That’s going to get consistent results across clients. I mean, you need to be organized in a way, especially if you’re going have people working for you. So yeah, we have implemented like, something like that.
I mean, we focus on, uh, an initial 90-day plan to get, make sure every client, we hit these things in the first 90 days from during that period, we’re collecting a lot of data and that’s going to help us formulate our strategy beyond there. But yeah, I think having an initial, uh, methodology to make sure that they’re getting the right results in the beginning with all the setup and you know, all the fundamentals. And then from there seeing where the data is taking us and then implementing the strategy then.
Jason: [00:10:21] So let’s dive a little bit more into kind of the 90-day plan. So let’s say someone goes, hey, um, I want to, you know, be a big dog on Amazon. This is what I want. Right. And, uh, like walk me through that process. Like, are you selling them a 90-day plan or are you selling them something different?
Michael: [00:10:39] Yeah, we’re selling them. I mean, we obviously want this to be a long-term partnership. We want it to last longer than 90 days, but in our opinion is that, and our view on it is that if you don’t see the value within the first 90 days, then like what’s the point of working with us.
So, you know, initially, we just got to make sure that everything is set up in the account correctly. A lot of times within Amazon, people are doing things incorrectly there, you know, it’s just costing them money or making them look not as good as it could. Uh, from there, you know, doing content, making sure everything is optimized. From there, starting advertising and like, yeah, moving down the line, but starting like really with the basics and the fundamentals.
And then we think after, you know after we do those things within the first 90 days, you’re already going to start seeing a pretty good return on the investment. And that’s like what we call the window to show the value and beyond there it’s just continuing to show value primarily through advertising and you know, other marketing strategies.
But yeah, that’s kind of the way that we approach it. We don’t sell them on the idea of a 90-day plan. It’s, you know, we just have that internally.
Jason: [00:11:39] Yeah, I love that you do that the 90 days, you know, I had a guest on, uh, Joey Coleman who will link up in the, in the show notes. If you guys go there, as well as we had him speak at our Digital Agency Experience, and he talked about why the first one hundred days is so important when you’re onboarding a client.
Like we all think of, hey, we got a new client. Yeah. Celebrate, ring the gong, ring the bell. That’s it, but it’s all about like retention, you know, like when I’m chatting with agency owners and we talk about, you know, alright great you’re good at attracting. You’re good at converting, but are you really good at streamlining the operations where, which, you know, part of that is retention and upsells to other things.
So it’s yeah, you could be like, there’s a lot of companies I know that will be nameless. I won’t call out anybody that we’re really good at sales and marketing, but they sucked at operations. And you have to kind of get all three of those together. This has all been great. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?
Michael: [00:12:37] Yeah, I mean, I think there’s something interesting when we’re talking about, you know, running a business and an agency in general, and I think this last year has made it more relevant than ever. It’s just the ability for remote work and that’s something that we really leveraged within our business. I mean, you know, virtual assistants are pretty common, but, uh, I actually moved, left the country.
I live in Mexico now and, you know, what’s helped us build our agency is by building a team down here. So, you know, now I’m leveraging not only the cost savings but the ability to scale faster by hiring more people. And, you know, I’m hiring. Like I talked, like I talked about the range of low value, high value, again, you know, the great opportunity is now that I’m here with them and I can train them on the high-value tasks.
So, having the ability to hire a team like that, international, that’s not virtual assistants that are on the other side of the world is definitely been very important for us. It’s really allowed us to improve the product quality as well, because I think a lot of agencies generally go that independent contractor route where you definitely don’t have as much control versus actually having an employee.
Jason: [00:13:39] And let’s talk about this a little bit, because we actually bought a company on our agency in Costa Rica that did the very easy development work. You know, it was only one time zone away. We were on the east coast at the time and in Atlanta and they were, you know, on central time. So it was really easy, but we always had a struggle with giving them more qualified or thinking tasks.
And you just mentioned like you live in Mexico, which is great. I’m sure the weather’s a lot better from Connecticut. I grew up in Long Island, so I know how bad the weather gets up there. So Mexico is like, yes. So if someone was hearing this and going, man, I’d love to get a lower-cost labor, but really good. Does it require them having to move there or what have you found is the musts?
Michael: [00:14:31] I don’t think it requires them having to move there. But I think a lot of times, and this is a big challenge where I think a lot of agencies struggle and I know we struggled with it, is transitioning from I’m hiring someone where I think I know what they’re doing to transitioning to I’m hiring someone that I need to train to do what I want.
And, you know, that can, all it can be done virtually. I mean, a lot of companies succeed like that one example, you know, we, I have another company down here that’s a US-based company. And what they do is they have literally a live camera in the office. So it’s like in a TV screen. So it’s just like, two-way communication live.
If someone has a question, they answer it there. It’s almost like being in the physical office. So I think there’s a lot of ways to tackle that problem. But if you don’t, aren’t in that position to really train them, if you don’t have, I always say documentation, good SLPs build on how to do things, it’s going to be that much harder for them.
And I think that’s really where a lot of people will probably fail with that. You know, for us being here in the office was great initially, because, you know, we were able to hire people. I mean, when it comes to thinking of people that can think critically. Yeah, we’ve hired some engineers. We’ve hired MBAs, uh, people that have really helped us scale in that sense because they have more business experience.
But yeah, if we weren’t there supporting them, we weren’t training them. Like we were, we probably would’ve just set them up for failure. And then, you know, we wouldn’t have seen the return on it. So, and now, again, being remote with COVID, I’m the only one in my office, out of all my employees. So it’s definitely still possible to do it.
You know, we, we’ve trained over the past year. We’ve trained another five people completely remotely up to the point where they’re able to, you know, take clients. Uh, handle everything, you know, understand all the strategies. So it’s doable, but obviously, that training piece is the key to it.
Jason: [00:16:17] like what you said about the TV and the two-way. I just keep picturing the Wizard of Oz. Right? Like the guy, you know, the guy always watches me. Like, I’m watching you, like, you got a question? You’re not working? That’s pretty funny. That’s when you mentioned that, I was like, oh my gosh.
Michael: [00:16:35] It’s definitely like strange in a sense that it’s kind of like big brother watching you, but at the same time, it actually, I think it’s really an interesting idea if you’re collaborating between your team and a different country.
So like for example, a good example of this is let’s say you’re the marketing head. You’re the CMO. And you hire everyone down here. So you have your entire marketing team here, but you’re based in the US so you hire a CMO to have a team down here. That’s a great way to collaborate. I mean, yeah, I kind of, it still has that big brother vibe to it, but now you can literally direct them in the office and be like, all right, just have this call. This is what I figured out. This is what we need to do.
Whatever it is in real-time, instead of dealing with time zone differences, you know, outsourcing stuff to Asia. I mean, you already know from Costa Rica, but yeah. Central time zone for us is huge too.
Jason: [00:17:24] And let’s talk about the people and then we’ll wrap it up. Are you bringing on people that already have the experience or are you training them from the ground up?
Michael: [00:17:36] It’s very tough to find people that have Amazon experience. Luckily we have a mix of some that do some that don’t, we’ve found some employees that are Amazon sellers themselves down here that sell primarily on Amazon Mexico, that we’ve been training to, uh, you know, do better.
I mean, they understand how the platform works, but they’re not massively successful on it. And that’s kind of what we’ve been able to. That’s a, that’s a much shorter training timeline than it is for other people. We’ve also hired engineers. Uh, engineers have been very good mainly because their, their problem solving, you know, if there’s an issue, they can kind of figure it out when it comes to learning how the platform works. That’s something that’s very interesting to them.
And we’ve also hired, uh, people with digital marketing experience, even though if it’s not, even though it might not be related to Amazon specifically. So, uh, we’ve hired a couple of employees that had backgrounds in, uh, SEM, uh, other paid ad types, social media, uh, and they’ve been able to understand the advertising concepts very well and pick that up very quickly.
So yeah, I mean, it’s very hard to find exactly what we’re looking for in our niche, because Amazon is fairly new and there’s not a lot of talent out there. And the people that do know what they’re doing usually are creating their own agencies or. Or doing consulting themselves. So yeah, that training piece is just massive.
Jason: [00:18:51] And then I guess I lied. I have one more question, especially with, you know, something rather new or, or just staying on top of your game. Like, I feel a lot of agencies, you know, they knew how to do something cool. They got into this by accident, but they’re not able to stay on the top of their game and, and, and get it to a point where they can actually train others.
So, what are some things that you guys have done to stay on top of your game that enables you to train someone that has no knowledge in it? Because I feel that if all the agencies could really understand that and then do that, their work would be so much better.
Michael: [00:19:29] Yeah. It’s definitely a tough one because once you take a step back from the actual implementation and doing things yourselves, you know, things are constantly changing, whatever, whether you’re using Google, whether you’re using Amazon or Facebook, whatever platform you are on, if you’re not constantly doing it, I think that’s going to definitely have a negative effect on your ability to train other people, or you need someone that is doing it to have that knowledge to train other people.
So. The way that we’ve kind of, I guess, avoided that problem is that, you know, and we’re still selling products ourselves. So we have an entire separate business that, uh, is selling our own brands online on the Amazon platform and on other platforms. So we’re constantly testing and trying new things within that account first to see how it works.
And then, you know, we’re, we’re the Guinea pig and then we’re implementing it to all of our clients. So. I think that’s one really good way that we’re kind of staying on top of what’s happening on the platform. I mean, it’s definitely getting more and more competitive, but by continuing to do it ourselves we’re making sure that we’re not falling behind.
Jason: [00:20:29] I love it. I see that all the time. And I love using the agency as kind of an incubator or having other, or other companies as an incubator to test out and to really kind of, because a lot of times clients don’t want you to test out stuff, but some do like if you go after the right ones, they do. But I like that.
So awesome. This has all been great. What’s a, what’s an agency website that people can go and check you guys out.
Michael: [00:20:53] Yeah, sure. So, uh, the best place to check us out is our website, amzadvisors.com. If you or any of your clients are looking for help where we’re always going to help, or if you just want to email me directly, you can get me at my email [email protected]
Jason: [00:21:08] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by other amazing agency owners that can see the things that you might not be able to see and really work on attracting the ideal clients, work on converting them at a high rate and also work on streamlining your operations, where.
You’re constantly building that talent where not everything has to flow through you, which is pretty frustrating. I would like to invite all of you to go check out the digital agency elite. This is only for experienced agency owners that want to grow and scale fast. I mean like double in the next year, go there, go to digitalagencyelite.com.
And until next time have a Swenk day.