How to Grow Your Agency By Filling Your Sales Pipeline
After working on his own using his experience in the agency world, Chris Overlay started specializing in the project management side of the business. Eventually, he decided to form Genius Digital Marketing with a partner and they have been growing ever since. Now, they work with growth-focused companies to accelerate their digital marketing strategies by operating results-driven campaigns. He talks a bit about how to make the jump from being a freelancer to having his own agency, how breaking sales and breaking operations is a normal part of growth, and how sales fix everything.
3 Golden Nuggets
- Making the jump. Like so many agency owners, Chris worked in the agency world for a while before deciding that he could do the job on his own. After working together on some projects, he and his partner decided to “make it legit” and he went from freelancer to agency owner. By this point, he knew that his expertise was on the project management side of the equation and was clear about what he was bringing to the table and how his partner complemented that, which made the transition a logical next step.
- Sales fix everything. You never want to talk about losing a client. But if you can just get more sales, then you can afford more people and you can afford to potentially lose something. It’s about being confident in trying new things while you grow. Sales will fix everything while you solve your next bubble of growth.
- Don’t be afraid to increase prices. Sales will fix everything, yes. But don’t forget to raise your prices. Bringing on more sales, you’re going to have to bring on more levels, more people. And if you do that and don’t raise prices, you may find out at the end of the year that you worked a lot more and still earned less.
Sponsors and Resources
Agency Dad: Today’s episode is sponsored by Agency Dad. Agency Dad is an accounting solution focused on helping marketing agencies make better decisions based on their financials. Check out agencydad.money/freeaudit to get a phone call with Nate to assess your agency’s financial needs and how he can help you.
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Keep Growing While Sales Bring New Opportunities
Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, everybody? Jason Swenk here and I got another exciting episode about how an agency owner went from freelancer to bringing on a partner to a thriving agency. So it’s a really good episode and I hope you enjoy it.
Hey Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris: [00:00:26] Hey, Jason. How’s it going, man?
Jason: [00:00:27] Yeah, man. Excited to have you on, um, and, uh, talk about, you know, your journey as a freelancer to agency owner, to, you know, successful agency owner. So tell us a little bit about who you are and what do you do?
Chris: [00:00:41] Yeah, sure. So, uh, my name’s Chris. I work out of, uh, our office here in, uh, the Dallas area.
And, uh, I didn’t always live here, actually. I just moved here six months ago. And the reason I moved here was, is for this business and for this partnership. I had been living in Las Vegas before that it’s kind of where I’m from and where I grew up. But, uh, Aaron and I, Aaron’s my business partner, we formed an agency about a year and a half ago. And have been working on the agency this whole time, you know, kind of forming the partnership, getting all the business stuff going, and earning clients and new business.
And, uh, eventually it got to the point where we were like, hey, you know, let’s actually own a building. Actually, we bought a building and let’s run our, our office out of the Dallas area. That’s where he lives, where his family’s at. And I moved down here. So, um, yeah, that was about, you know, like I said, about six months ago and you know, we’ve been, we’ve been doing pretty good work since then.
So it’s exciting times, you know, moving around doing different stuff and trying to grow the agency and, and deal with all those hurdles and, and having fun while doing it.
Jason: [00:01:46] Yep. What, uh…? Kind of take us back kind of… what made you think about transitioning? Cause there’s, you know, we have, uh, quite a bit of probably, I would guess, you know, freelancers that listen to the show that want to go into creating an agency one day.
Um, where were you at? Like in like going well, let’s, let’s make this legit. Let’s, you know, let’s kind of like, let’s start hiring people. It’s like bring on a partner. Where were you at?
Chris: [00:02:18] Yeah, sure. Great, great question. Um, you know, we were… Well, I was, recently out of the agency world. I had worked for a couple of different marketing agencies, a few different people. And realized that, you know, I could do all this stuff on my own and, you know, get to keep all the money as opposed to splitting it with somebody else or only getting paid a commission or something like that.
So I, I did, I did freelance for a couple of years after, uh, my agency world. You know, it got to the point where you kind of start to feel like you’ve niched up a little bit. You have a few little bits of expertise and mine was kind of the project management side of the equation.
I was really good at coordinating efforts. I was really good at finding, you know, subcontractors to do certain bits of work. Uh, Aaron had actually been one of those people. So I had a client that needed, you know, really expert level paid search management. And that was not me. Um, I’ve gotten better as a result of working with Aaron, but, uh, that was not me.
So I actually contracted him and he does a fantastic job. And I was like hey, man, I have other projects that I need help with. You should totally check these out. And we, uh, kind of just kept working together. And he did the same for me. So it was like, hey, you know, I have a few projects where coordination is really needed. Uh, you know, why don’t you hop over here?
And we started communicating with each other’s clients. It kind of happened, you know, by osmosis. But the problem we were running into is scale. You can only do so much as an individual and you want to try to make more money and you want to try and scale and have more freedoms and the more and more we talked, you know, our answer to that scale problem was hey, why don’t we work together?
You know, we’ll both kind of champion these different sides of the business. And, you know, if we need to subcontract that more, we will. But then, you know, we have a brand we can put behind, it will look more official. We’ll have a couple of people, maybe we’ll spin up a website and we’ll earn more business that way just by kind of pretending to be an agency, so to speak.
And then it became, hey, this is actually working. You know, if people are buying into what we’re doing, hey, we need to hire someone. Let’s do that. And then when you start hiring people, you actually have to legit, you have to file with the state and, and all that stuff. So, uh, we went down that road and, um, it’s been working. So it’s just been kind of a road of, hey, if it keeps working, let’s keep doing it.
Jason: [00:04:31] What’s been like, if you could look back at last year, right? Like as you guys were getting going and that kind of stuff, what was the main focus of starting the agency that you felt like you had to kind of get over?
Chris: [00:04:49] Um, I mean the main focus, you know, big thing we’ve had hurdles with is like delegation. You know, feeling that you don’t have to do everything and, you know, trying to be okay with that.
So, you know, getting tasks out, trusting that, you know, there’s somebody else that can do some of that stuff. Uh, really operational, you know, internal things are challenging. Because you have a relationship with a client.
And if you come from the freelance world, you’re everything to that person. You’re the relationship. You’re the fulfillment, you know, you’re the invoicing person, you know, you’re, you’re everything with that. And it’s almost like your, your children or your pets or something like that and dealing with. So, trying to step away from that and focus on like, you know, what your true expertise is inside of the team is, is a challenging bit.
I think it’s, it’s oftentimes overlooked a little bit. But once you break through that, then, you know, scale comes a lot more easy because now you’re doing your thing and other team members are doing other things. And, uh, that was a big part of it.
Also, you know, earning business was, uh, was a tricky thing too. Um, because you know, we’re lean, right? So you don’t have a ton of money to be advertising and, uh, you have to try to really leverage your relationships and try to make that stuff work. I mean, I can’t tell you how many Upwork, uh, you know, proposals I’ve put out in my lifetime. It’s, it’s an ungodly amount and same with Aaron that you grind up, you earn new business, you earn your relationships and then those roll into other relationships.
Then you, you know, be part of cool groups like, you know, uh, the one we’re a part of where you learn even more tricks and tactics and strategies, which is cool.
Jason: [00:06:32] As an agency owner, it’s hard to know when you have to make those big decisions. And I remember needing advice for thinking like hiring or firing or reinvesting. And, you know, when can I take distributions without hurting the agency? You know, we’re excellent marketers, but when it comes to agency finances like bookkeeping, forecasting, or really organizing, you know, our financials data, most of us are really kind of a little lost.
And that’s why my friend Nate created Agency Dad specifically to solve these exact problems. You know, at Agency Dad, they help agency owners handle the financial part of their agency so they can focus on what they’re really good at.
Nate has spent years learning the ins and outs of agency business. He understands everything from how to structure your books, to improving the billing process and really managing your financial efficiencies. Agency Dad will show you how to use your financial data to make the key decisions. You know, from making your agency more successful and most importantly, more profitable.
If you want to know how your agency finances stack up to the rest of the industry, Agency Dad can tell you, you know, how to do that. A lot of my listeners have already gotten their free audit from Agency Dad. And if you haven’t yet, go to agencydad.money/freeaudit before August 30th and get your free financial metrics audit.
Also, just for smart agency listeners, find out how to get your first month of bookkeeping or dashboarding and consulting for free. It’s time to clean up your agency, finances and listen to dad.
Go to agencydad.money/freeaudit. That’s agencydad.money/freeaudit.
Yeah, I look at it as kind of, as you’re starting the agency, that really the main focal point is. Because you have to get to a point where you can actually afford people a lot of times. And I look at it as you need to focus entirely on lead gen and converting sales. Then I look at, you know, then, then you get to a point where… and, and tell me if you guys have gone through this, where now marketing and the lead gen or the, I like to kind of say, especially in the very beginning, you’re creating this automated lead generation, right? You have this pipeline coming to you.
And then you have to start going, man, I can’t handle all these sales calls. I can’t handle, you know, the follow-up. You know, like literally marketing’s breaking sales. And, and I, I find like, as you kind of keep going up, you know… marketing’s job is to break sales. And then sales’ jobs is to break operations. Then your job as like the owner is really to kind of fix the stuff that the teams are breaking constantly.
And it’s a constant like, boom, boom, boom, boom. Because as you just keep going up and up, you know, what got you, there is not going to, you know, get you to, to the next part. Have you guys found that yet?
Chris: [00:09:39] Yeah. So, you know, it’s something we, we deal with constantly, you know. You have to have the pipe running and you have to have, uh, new opportunities coming through.
And, you know, I was in sales for a long time and sales really do fix everything. It’s kind of the motto is if you can just get more sales then you can afford more people and you can afford to potentially lose something. And you never really want to talk about losing a client. But, you know, it’s always a fact of, uh, running an agency and being in the industry is that, you know, you, you lose clients and it hurts when you don’t have a pipe coming, you know, feeding new opportunity. It hurts worse.
So if you can have sales coming in and the potential loss, because maybe something wasn’t fully optimized, somebody didn’t have the time to move to something or, you know, you know, something, the relationship just didn’t work out. Or you have a toxic relationship that you’ve been hanging on to because you need it.
Now you have the confidence to say, well, you know, I don’t have to spend my time there. I can, I have confidence in the pipe. And, uh, that’s like really the key. So we’re actively in that process right now and trying to optimize the funnel. A lot of our growth has been because of our relationships and our ability to kind of grow those clients and do more work in those areas or get referrals.
Uh, you know, so the pipe now. Like a lot of my focus actually is on that right now. So we have things we’re going to try to bring those in and it’s working, you know, and sales will fix everything and then we’ll solve our, our next big bubble of, of growth.
Jason: [00:11:07] Yeah. Yeah. The, and the, the big thing I find is pricing. And so a lot of times you go, well, let’s just do more sales. But we don’t think about raising the prices and increasing the pricing and looking at going, well, if we bring on more sales, we’re going to have to bring on more levels, more people. And so they bring on more people, but they didn’t raise their price.
And then at the end of the year, you look back and you’re like, holy cow, I made less than I did last year. And we actually were.
Chris: [00:11:40] You did more work.
Jason: [00:11:42] Yeah. We were bigger, we did more work. Like… I’m so confused. And it really comes, you know, to the pricing and, and that’s one of the easiest things. I find that when agencies really can kind of get from one level to the next level.
I look at it as kind of like climbing a mountain, right? Like you got base camp, and then you get like the climbing level, and then you get to the crux, and then you get to the crust. And then the summit. You know, most people kind of, as they’re building and climbing, they’re not laying the right foundation or putting kind of the safety nets on, in order to hold you up because, you know.
It just like, I remember I went through this many times and maybe you’re going through this now. It seems like, were like, you’ll self-sabotage yourself in sales because, you know, uh, and this is why you need to bring on a salesperson. Because they don’t care about operations. They just they’re like, I just want to sell.
But you’re, psychologically as the owner of the agencies actually selling you’re going, holy cow, I don’t know, like I don’t want to break operations. But it’s a natural progression. You’ve got like when you’re working out, you’re constantly breaking down the muscle in order for it to rebuild. And you know, in the very beginning, I look at turnover as a good thing because your original clients are not going to be your, you know, probably the clients for you in the next couple years. Do you see that as well?
Chris: [00:13:08] Yeah, you kind of have to run before you walk in a sense, you know, bring people on and break operations. I think that’s a great way to put it, uh, cause you, you have to force yourself into that position. Even though, you know, it’s not going to be comfortable. And it goes back to the pipe too, is having confidence that there’s going to be another opportunity.
And I think that relates to the sales thing as well is, is that you can be confident in the pricing and the higher pricing you need to be charged. Even if that person says, no, you’re confident you have another opportunity. That’s going to happen soon so that you can afford to be picky and say, look, but this is what we charge.
And by the way, when you have more team members in your, your, you know, having a more robust team, you’re doing better work, you’re providing a better service. So you should charge more for that service. It’s not just you individually. And hopefully, by this point, you’ve learned a lot and you’ve become, you know, an expert in your field. You should be charging more for that because it’s, it’s value.
And that’s one of the, that’s another really big hurdle we’ve faced over our start here is pricing. What we were charging a year ago for services is not even close to what we’re charging now. I mean, we joke about all the time. If you remember, when we used to just be happy for like 500 bucks a month? You know, for a client now, it’s like no way we would even, we wouldn’t even be in the room to talk to that person for that much.
It’s, you know, it’s, it’s not really an ego thing as much of it as like a recognizing that you really do have value and you really do provide a great service. And having confidence in that.
Jason: [00:14:36] That’s awesome. This has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?
Chris: [00:14:44] Um, no. I would just say, you know, keep at it, you know. If you are one of those freelancers that’s trying to grind up, you know. There is light at the end of the tunnel and there are plenty of niches out there for you to find something to work on. There’s lots of problems to solve. So keep at it. Uh, keep listening to Jason because he’s full of great info.
Jason: [00:15:01] Aww, thanks so much for coming on the show. What’s the website people can go and check the agency out?
Chris: [00:15:07] Yeah. So we’re Genius Digital Marketing. The website is geniusdm.com.
Jason: [00:15:13] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. You guys, uh, you provided tons of value to, uh, you know, our listeners. If you guys enjoyed this episode and you really want to kind of step up your game in your agency and really understand what exactly you need to focus on, what are the systems in place? Or what are the systems that you need to actually build in your agency to actually get to the next level and to get underway where the whole business is not depending on you.
My whole goal is for you not to be, you know, in the business. I want you to work on the business and if that’s the case, I want you guys to check out the agency playbook.
So go to jasonswenk.com/playbook. Request the invite to it and we’ll break down the eight systems for you to go check out. And until next time have a Swenk day.