How Relationships & Collaborative Culture Help Agencies Scale Faster

By Jason Swenk on November 3, 2021

Do you spend time building relationships to help your agency scale faster? Brian Cosgrove was doing well at a big agency but felt it kept him from doing what he really wanted to do, which was start his own business and bring innovation to the way the industry. Once he founded BrainDo, they started scaling fast. Within a year, the agency had already grown from two to eight employees. In this conversation with Jason, he talked about the important role that building relationships & collaborative culture played in getting his agency off the ground, why he was always confident that they could run a big program, and what bringing value to his clients really means for him and why it is one of the guiding principles for everyone working at his agency.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. What contributed to their growth. Once he and his partner hired their first employee, figuring out how to get benefits for their staff, how to do payroll, and making everything official with the agency made it a lot easier. They ended up going after a big contract, and that led to them getting at least 8 more workers, which allowed them to build out a lot of different services. What contributed to their faster growth? Brian credits the importance he places on maintaining good relationships with past clients, team members, and employers. He left his position at a big agency in good terms and, thanks to this, they still wanted to contract him afterward. Also, they were always confident that they could run a big program and positioned themselves to be ready for it.
  2. Building relationships & collaborative culture. Other agencies started reaching out to partner with them because their expertise. This helped them start to build relationships with local agencies that could refer clients. Also, former clients that were working at different companies started calling them. So Brian highlights the importance of these connections to get his agency off the ground. The importance of building the type of network where everyone is willing to help one another and believe they can all rise together. Of course, good work is a big part of it. “Because of that relationship, I don’t want to leave the client in a worse place,” he says, “I refuse to do it.”
  3. The chain of value. After signing a contract, the agency will usually deal with the company’s manager on a day-to-day basis. One of the guiding principles at Brian’s agency is to make sure that that manager is benefitted from this relationship with them. They want to see that person get promoted and fully engaged. They should love what they’re doing and help break down barriers within the organization to provide value. “The way I see it,” Brian says, “is I need everybody on my team to say everything that we do has provided value.” The principle is to make sure that what they do brings value to the customer, but also helps them help their team, their whole company and organization. And make sure all of that ends up helping their end customer.

Sponsors and Resources

Wix: Today’s episode is sponsored by the Wix Partner Program. Being a Wix Partner is ideal for freelancers and digital agencies that design and develop websites for their clients. Check out to learn more and become a member of the community for free.


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Building Relationships that Will Help You Scale & The Guiding Principle of Providing Value

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Jason Swank here and I have another amazing guest for the podcast so you can grow your agency faster. We’re going to talk about building relationships and creating a collaborative culture within your agency so you can scale faster. So let’s go ahead and get into the show.

Hey Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:00:25] Hey, how are you?

Jason: [00:00:26] I’m excited to have you on. So this is your first podcast. I’m honored you picked me to be your first podcast. But, uh, for the people that have not heard of you yet, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Brian: [00:00:39] Yes. I’m Brian Cosgrove. I’m the owner of BrainDo Interactive Consulting, and we do a lot of work across the board, uh, focusing in analytics development and different areas of digital marketing.

Jason: [00:00:53] Great. And so how did you get started?

Brian: [00:00:55] Interesting story. I was in aerospace engineering and I was looking for as some side money during the holiday season and I applied for warehouse job. And found out I wasn’t the best at doing packing boxes, but I was a bit overqualified. And the owner of the company asked if I could help out with some things related to their SEO program.

So I read a bunch of like white papers. I read a bunch of like academic papers on people that were actually developing these engines. I tried to figure out, okay, who’s the talent? Like how they did it? And then figure out what we should do and came up with a plan. And implemented it and started ranking top.

In my other career I was like, okay, I can see where I’m going to be at in 10 years. And that’s cool. But this is like amazing growth and I’m able to have a huge impact and I’m still in my early twenties. So I got into that and that kinda got me to crossover into this digital marketing thing. Worked in that space for a little while, went to my first agency Razorfish and started off in SEO. And then I had to fix analytics.

Was there for about three years and then went into another company another comp company to help them build out their digital practice when they were doing all kind of like direct mail TV, pretty much all traditional marketing. I went there with some, you know, one of my colleagues from Razorfish.

And then that went really well and kind of grew that. And then struck out with a good friend of mine on our own in 2013.

Jason: [00:02:38] What made you want to leave? Since the one agency was going really well and you were leading that. What was that itch?

Brian: [00:02:44] I already knew, like, I kinda knew since I was young, that I wanted to kinda like start my own thing or make my own thing.

I always kind of had a sense of, you know, we could do things a little bit differently. We could innovate a bit in how these services are provided or culture. So for me, it was kind of like I liked doing what I was doing. But it was almost like a trap because it was keeping me away from what I really wanted to do, which was kind of start something fresh.

Jason: [00:03:10] Gotcha. Awesome. And when you started the agency, how long did it take you to really kind of start bringing on and building a team?

Brian: [00:03:20] So it was just myself and my partner for, I guess, February to November. And then we hired our first employee in November. And at that point we figured out how to get benefits for them. We figured out how to do payroll. We figured it out, we made everything official and we got all that squared away and that made it a lot easier.

And then we went after a kind of big contract to kind of do all many different digital channels in, you know, a year two and ended up hiring eight more people that year.

That kind of allowed us to build out a lot of different services that we needed someone to run point on. So I’d say within a year and a half, we were at 10 from, you know, two.

Jason: [00:04:05] That’s great. So what do you think contributed to that growth? Like how did you have that fast growth? Because a lot of people for a couple years, they’re just kinda, it’s kinda them, their business partner, maybe a couple of contractors.

Brian: [00:04:18] It’s an interesting thing. So while I was still working, before I even started, I really cared about the relationships with my clients, with my colleagues, with my management, with team members, with vendors. So I had a pretty big network at that point. And it was… You know, there’s an interesting thing that happens when you kind of let people know like, okay, I’m going out to do this on my own, you know. People that you’ve built relationships with that care about you they kind of want to figure out how to work with you.

So it helped out tremendously just to kind of lean into that. As soon as we left the place that we were working on asked if we could do some contracting with them. And I was like, we can, but you know, it’s gotta be at our contracting rate. You know, it will give you somewhat of a discount for a period of time, but this is how we have to work for our business.

And we were able to end up converting our former employer into our client, which was based on the fact that it maintained good relationships. We also took a lot of care in transitional work. Backfilled our roles sort of before we left. We left them in a good place to be like, okay, they’re good.

All of our big retainers are renewed. Our team they’re fully staffed. They can run without us. And then they still wanted to contract with us afterward. Other agencies reached out, they wanted to partner with us because they knew that just individually, myself and my business partner had some expertise in certain areas. And they said, hey, we need help there. Can you guys help us out?

So we ended up building relationships with other agencies that were in the area, you know. And then it was like someone who was a former client, you know, went to another agency, brought us in. I’d say a lot of it was kind of just relationships that got us off the ground. I think a big thing for us is we’re kind of confident we could run a big program, like an enterprise program.

And so, while we took on some smaller clients, we kind of just always positioned ourselves to be ready for that. Like we always kind of really played that role that we’re ready to do enterprise work at a moment’s notice. And we knew that that would get us a six-figure contract or something like that from a client, which again is sort of like a game-changer when it comes to hiring employees and say, I already kind of have your salary on contract.

Like I can afford to pay you in the future without worrying about that.

Jason: [00:06:37] Yeah, I think so many lessons in there that I want to make sure people don’t skip over. It’s you know, the one is you gotta be really good at what you do. Like a lot of people are like, how do you, how do you create a successful agency that’s growing?

And I’m like, well, you have to know how to do something better than most. And to actually get people results. That’s rule number one. But I also liked that you talked about building relationships and really not just going, you know, what’s in it for me, you know, like a lot of our mastermind members, they do this amazing… where they’re like, look, I don’t have any problem today, I just wanted to show up and help. Like help other members, right?

And then when they do need help, everyone will… Here, here’s the shirt off my back. Here it is. And it’s not like I’ll do this for you, if you do this. Like we get, you know, all those slimy emails that you get? Like, oh, you have my audience, can you just blast this out?

Brian: [00:07:43] Yeah, there’s a lot of that going on. Honestly, it’s, it’s building a tighter circle with people that you don’t have to… You know, there’s no fakeness to it. There’s a lot less agenda. It’s sort of like let’s all rise together, to me has always been important.

Jason: [00:07:59] Yeah, iron sharpens iron, right?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Brian: [00:08:04] And I also really care about doing good work. So that point, and so I think that was another thing was that we were kind of committed to making sure we did great work no matter what. It wasn’t like, uh, maybe we’ll do well, maybe we won’t. It was like, we’re going to do great work no matter what, because of that relationship. I don’t want to leave the client in a worse place.

I refuse to do that. And that, and that was just sort of a… an important lesson, I think

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And I think a lot of people forget that, you know, we kind of ring the bell. Or the gong, you know, ring the gong when you sell a deal and you’re like, yeah, that’s good for you. But you know, the client is already thinking, like having buyer’s remorse, like you should be thinking about… Like, I was chatting with Darby, our agency scale specialist yesterday, and he’s been bringing on a lot of really amazing members. And he’s like, look, I’m so invested because I want them to have the best experience because it’s, it’s my word of what they went on.

And I’m like, that’s why we get along so well, we will do anything to move people along rather than like yeah. You gave us money. Yeah. Good luck.

Brian: [00:10:10] Yeah, exactly. I mean, the way that I’ve seen it. So usually when we take on a contract, there’s occasionally if it’s smaller company, we might be dealing with the owner or upper executives. But usually when it comes to day-to-day, we’re dealing with the manager that they have on their end. That’s managing the relationship with us.

And I’ve always told my team and, and this is kind of been a guiding principle… I want to see that person be in a position to get promoted. Just for working with us, they’re doing so well, but they’re now getting promoted. They’re fully engaged. They love what they’re doing and they’re helping break down barriers within the organization to provide value.

On top of that, the way that I see it, especially in the bigger organizations is I need everybody on my team to say everything that we do has provided value. Obviously, like it provides value to the brand that we’re doing this work for… We’re, we’re billing for it. And that works out and ultimately it should be contributing to our culture.

But after that, the client, that first person, that first line of contact or the person on the front lines, make sure that we’re doing everything we can to help them. Make sure that what we’re doing not only helps them, but helps them help their team. Make sure what we’re doing not only helps them and helps their team, but helps their whole company and organization. And make sure all of that ends up helping their end customer.

Because like, if you can follow that, that thread all the way through, and there’s no conflict anywhere along the way, let’s proceed. Let’s move forward with this project and give it everything you’ve got. If there’s a conflict on the way, maybe that’s project we don’t want to take on. Maybe there’s a different reason that we, you know, maybe we want to propose something else.

But if you can’t follow that all the way along the way, then you can’t have confidence that what you’re doing is going to provide value. Another thing, I think that was important for us is… And this came up after working in other agencies was, you know, I remember a gentleman said to me said, look, I want to be able to be proud of who I see when I look in the mirror. I want to be able to be proud to tell my kids, the clients and the projects that I work on.

And so another thing that we took on very early on was like to be picky. And so it’s picky not just on the clients and the projects we work on. We want to do things that provide value to the world, but we also care about kind of like… Are we providing value to that organization? And so the how is just as important as like specifically what we’re doing.

And I would say, I want to add too, that team members put a lot more energy into it.

Jason: [00:12:26] Oh, yeah. I think a big part of why you’ve gotten to grown so fast too, is you have belief in your team and you. And you said that we knew right away we could take on enterprise clients, right? There’s so many of us that didn’t start that way, right?

We didn’t start with at a big agency, like a Razorfish or go to… Like me, I was accidental. I remember I joke with people. I’m like, my first client asked me for an invoice. I didn’t even know what an invoice was. I didn’t know all these terminologies. And so for many years I had kind of that, um, imposter syndrome.

That I could do a website, but I can’t do anything else. And I see a lot of people that way. So I just want everybody listening, even if you have that… Look, I even feel like the imposter syndrome too. And I’ve been in the agency space since 98. And so you got to kind of go look, I’m really good at this and I can dominate this part and go do it.

And build relationships like Brian has talked about… Correct me if I’m wrong, if you make all your managers and all those people rockstars, they get promoted and where do they go? Other companies, and then they bring you along. Don’t they?

Brian: [00:13:43] Yes, exactly. And so, in fact, I just received an MSA for a sneaker brand I’m super into, you know, like huge brands that I liked already loved are now like our client base.

And I feel like… This morning, just from work, doing, working hard with some people while they worked in other companies before that. And so the way that I say it is just, that should almost be the end goal. That should be the expectation. Like we’re all kind of in our careers together. We are all sort of like at certain points in certain stages.

Our clients should be going to other companies, and when they do, they should want to come into work with us. And we should be sort of a secret tool that they bring to the table. Is that it bring that success along with them.

Jason: [00:14:26] Exactly. Yeah. Cool. Awesome. Well, this has all been amazing. Brian, is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience listening in?

Brian: [00:14:34] I just want to touch briefly on the collaboration part. One thing that helped out was that a lot of our brainstorming sessions early on, and what helped us grow is that we, you know, this person was a graphic designer. This person is doing SEO. This person is an analytics and that person’s doing paid media.

We would do a lot of like collaborative work early on to say, you know, kind of all hands on deck. Like how do we solve this client’s paid search need? And get ideas from a lot of different people and made sure that everybody on our team knew Google analytics, knew kind of some of the mechanics of how the other channels worked.

And that went a long way to them building relationships, them doing sort of cross-channel collaboration. And then being able to offer solutions to clients that were kind of like a bit more thought through. A bit more holistic or integrated, and a bit more defensible, maybe from different angles. So I would just say like, if you have a few different disciplines, like make sure to figure out how those two go together to be better than if you only worked on just one discipline alone.

Jason: [00:15:38] I love it. I love it. What’s the website people go and check your agency out?

Brian: [00:15:43] Uh,

Jason: [00:15:44] Awesome. Well, everyone go check that out. Thanks so much, Brian, for coming on the show. Lots of amazing stuff.

And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners and you believe that iron sharpens iron, where other agencies are sharing the strategies that are working for them, and they’re able to see the things you might not be able to see.

I want to personally invite you all to go to This is our exclusive mastermind just for experienced agency owners. We only take a few every couple of months. So go there now, fill out an application and maybe we’ll chat if we feel it’s right for you.

So go to and until next time have a Swenk day.

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