How This Agency Got to $40 Million by Setting Clear Financial Goals

By Jason Swenk on January 19, 2022

Do you want to get your agency to the eight-figure mark and beyond? What are you doing to get to that level? Erik Huberman had started a few e-commerce companies and was unimpressed by the agencies he had worked with, so he decided to form a small team that could assist his clients. He quickly saw a positive response and created Hawke Media, an outsourced CMO and marketing team that customizes data-driven, performance solutions to help launch, scale, and invigorate businesses.

In this interview, Erik talks about how setting financial goals helped him grow his agency to over $40 million. He also shares his marketing methodology and his book, The Hawke Method.  Plus the mistake many agencies make when they start growing, and much more.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. On goal-setting. During the first year of his business, Erik saw things were going well and decided to set financial goals for the next couple of years. He met every one of them, so he believes there’s a lot to be said about setting a goal and striving to hit it, and having incremental goals to get there. This will force you to step up when you’re falling behind and keep you proactive in the market. In his case, he mainly used it as a scoreboard, as an indicator of growth. It really helped during the agency’s first years and he noticed a difference when he stopped doing it around year six.
  2. Agency mistakes. According to Erik, some agencies tend to protect themselves a little too much once they get good and do it too soon.They start throwing out long contracts, high minimums, they go upmarket, they only want to work with fortune 2000,” he says. He believes that this behavior alienates the people that got the business to that point. It is a solid way of doing business and works for many agencies, but Erik decided it wasn’t for him and went on to build his business model on challenging himself to consider can you be one of the best marketing companies out there and still work with small and medium businesses too?
  3. Understanding the purchase cycle. A lot of marketers and agencies fail to understand the idea of a sales cycle or a purchase cycle. Many times agencies advertise for clients that ask for daily performance reports. “The problem with that,” he explains, “is that what we’ve seen in e-commerce is that for a $50 average order value will be about a three-week purchase cycle and about five weeks for a hundred dollars,” so understanding the purchase cycle will be critical for the agency-client relationship and a big part of setting realistic expectations about the work.

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Getting to $40 million by setting financial goals & understanding the purchase cycle

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Jason Swenk and I got another amazing guest. And we’re going to talk with Eric of Hawke Media and how they built an almost $40 million agency, or probably by now, they’re already over 40 million and cresting the many, many commas, whatever in there.

So, excited to get the episode. Let’s jump in.

Hey, Erik. Welcome to the show.

Erik: [00:00:29] Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:30] Yeah, man. Excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Erik: [00:00:35] Sure. Uh, Erik Huberman, co-founder and CEO of Hawke Media. We’re basically an outsource CMO and marketing team to companies. So we go into brands, identify full-time marketing and spin up different experts. All à la carte month to month. So it could be a Facebook marketer, email marketer, web designer.

We’ve been around about eight years up to 70 full-time people. We run marketing for about 600 brands. And then we also have a venture fund and a financing arm as well, amongst many other things.

Jason: [00:01:01] Awesome. And so why did you guys start an agency? What got you into it?

Erik: [00:01:06] I built and sold a couple e-comm brands and through my own experience, as well as then I started advising and consulting for a lot of other brands found out that 99% of agencies out there for lack of better word are full of shit. And kept getting frustrated over and over again and went screw it I’m just going to hire my own small team to help these companies.

And so built my little SWAT team and immediately saw the benefits. Like my clients started to like what we did. They started to grow and we started to need more and more people and just started to grow from there.

Jason: [00:01:35] Awesome. So you guys have been doing it for eight years. You guys are almost 40 million or maybe over it.

Talk about some of the progression that you guys went through. Like how long did it take to get over the million mark? Was it fairly quick? Did it take long? Like what clicked? That kind of stuff.

Erik: [00:01:53] Yeah. In the first week of business, I shouldn’t say first week, I think it was like… a month in, because for the first month, I wasn’t sure… I was like I built this team. I started working on clients and I was like, maybe I’ll build my next company and then turn this team into my own team. And so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do there.

And then after a month I was like, wow, this is really working. I should double down on this.

And so I set a goal and I would put it on a thermometer. I was like, all right, the first four years we’re going to do one, two and a half, five, 10 million. That’s, that’s the goals. And we came within 1% of all four of those goals.

So I think there’s a lot to be said about setting a goal and then really driving to hit it and having incremental goals to get there so you know how you’re tracking against that goal. Because it forces you when you’re falling behind to step up. If it’s too easy of a goal, you actually end up, well you will hit that goal is still. Like it’s, I don’t think when you set a goal, you ended up blowing past it, you manage accordingly.

So setting those goals really helped the first four years. And frankly, we didn’t set goals for years five and six. And I saw the downside of that. I saw us not grow as fast, not do as well and not really know which direction we’re going. But also, at that point we were big enough that it felt weird to just set another financial goal.

It’s like, yeah, but what are we really trying to do? And it took a couple of years to develop that, but now we’re pretty clear.

Jason: [00:03:07] And you listed out financial goals. Were there any other goals? And not talking about the incremental goals, I want to get to those in a second. But was it just revenue goals? And then, hey, what are the little ones that we need to do to get there?

Erik: [00:03:19] Yeah, frankly, it was because that was the best scoreboard we had it. It wasn’t any… It was intrinsic in the sense of like the goal was a goal cause it was the goal. It wasn’t because then we could afford this or if you could do that. It was more of just an indicator of growth. And we assume that if we’re hitting those numbers, we’re also growing in the ways we need to be growing.

And so we knew what the levers that we needed to pull were between bringing in new business, retaining our business, retaining our people, all sorts of specific metrics that helped us hit those goals. That became a factor of it. But it was, that was the end scoreboard. That was sort of the result that we were looking for.

Jason: [00:03:50] So let’s talk about the incremental goals at the stage to get to the million in the first year. And then let’s talk about the incremental goals after that for the two and a half to five. I think that’d be interesting.

Erik: [00:04:01] Sure. Yeah, we just knew basically, and this is a rough number, we actually got, every year, we got better and better at this in terms of like, where do we need to be this month, next month? How do we need to be tracking?

But I also knew where were we six months in needed to be basically the run rate, assuming we went from zero to, you know, like the run rate for a million bucks is what? 80?

Jason: [00:04:19] 82, 50. I think.

Erik: [00:04:21] A month. Is that right? Yeah.

Jason: [00:04:23] Don’t make me do math on the podcast.

Erik: [00:04:26] There we go. 82,500 a month. So anyways, we, I knew around 80 grand and so I was like, okay, so we need to be there within six months because then we need to make up for not being there the first six months. So we need to balance it out and assume that if we’re going growing steadily, that’ll be where we can do it.

Now, in marketing Q4 is usually a little better, so we ended up going up. But, yeah, I mean, first year we did $1.01 million. Like, literally just beat it. And it was surprising, but we did it and it was all around uh, yeah, just aiming for it.

So like when we, and again, I don’t remember, it’s been seven and a half years, but I, you know, assuming there were months where we were falling behind a little bit, that’s where we ramp it up and be like we got to bring in more business, we got to retain, what are we going to do to make sure we hit these numbers?

And so we would, it would light a fire under our ass to hit it because also those were ambitious goals to grow that fast. And to grow 150% next year and a hundred percent the next year and a hundred percent the next year we had to do a lot. So anytime we were off track, it just kicked us into gear that we have to hit that.

Jason: [00:05:27] And I like that, you know, too many people set out a goal, but then they don’t have an action plan in order to hit it or a place where they can measure it. And they just look, oh, January came, oh, we didn’t hit it. Well, no shit. Like you, you were reactive to the market. You weren’t proactive. You didn’t try new things. You just kind of sat back.

Erik: [00:05:47] Yeah. The term I hear from the best operators out there is leading indicators. What are the actual controllable leading indicators and get to that result?

And in the first year we had no idea because like, I don’t know how many people I have to talk to you to how many leads we get to… Like, we didn’t have a funnel built. But I did know when we weren’t hitting it the levers to pull. So I didn’t have it down to a science yet. Now we do. Now my forecaster can give us our revenue within 1% and its forecast to the entire year accurately based on what the inputs are.

And then it’s just a function of manage, you know, being disciplined about the inputs is how you scale a business at this size. And even earlier, but statistics play out the bigger you get too.

Jason: [00:06:23] Yeah. What are some of the, now that you guys have figured it out up till this point what are some of the leading indicators that are really important for getting over the eight-figure mark?

Erik: [00:06:34] Yeah. So I would say having a really good handle on your average retention of a client is number one. How much… those clients once you have the retention. But it depends on your agency. We run an agency with that’s a different type of scale. We have 600 active clients. So if you’re running more of a traditional like creative agency, or if you have bigger clients, but smaller amount, the statistics get a little harder. But for us, because of the scale averages play out. And so we know our average lifetime value of a customer, we consistently try to improve that, but we know where it is and we measure against it constantly so that we can improve it, know that we’re doing things that improve it.

And then what’s your cost to acquire a customer and what your pipeline looks like and what are your conversions on the pipeline? So from lead to qualified lead to, for us proposal, to service agreement, to verbal commitment, to assign the commitment, what is the breakage at each of those stages? And then we know based on the pipeline we have, how much business is going to come in the next month or two.

And then we can also then know what does it cost us to get a lead? How much are we investing in marketing? Which ways are we going to drive those leads? So how many leads about can we assume? And then you get that waterfall when you can start to anticipate how many leads do you need, and then you manage against that.

Okay. So we’re going to need… whatever it is, a thousand leads this month to hit the numbers we want to hit next month. Let’s go make sure we get a thousand needs. What are the ways to do that? Well, we have outbound marketing. We also have outbound sales. We have partnerships, we have every type of inbound marketing, advertising, etcetera.

These are all things we can… leverages we can pull to make sure we hit the lead count we need to. And then frankly, at this stage all leads are not created equal. So we actually measure different leads at different values.

Jason: [00:08:08] I love it. I love that you look at the leading indicators because then you can make the adjustment rather than wait, wait to the very end.

Let’s kind of switch focus, or maybe not switch focus too much, but let’s talk about the Hawke Method. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Erik: [00:08:23] Yeah. So it’s been, you know, basically our marketing methodology that I’ve leveraged right now. It’s been how I look at marketing for a dozen of years, but pop media has the entire time.

I’ve spoken about this hundreds of times at different conferences and we decided to put a book together called “The Hawke Method” that we just pre-launched that’s coming out in Q1 that basically kind of digest… In a really easy-to-digest way everything we think of when we’re looking at a company and their marketing. So how do we look at their strategy? How do we assess what they’re doing? And how do we know where to invest? Where to pull back? What channels to use?

And so it goes from like the very high level, we call it “awareness, nurturing, and trust” the three pillars of marketing. And so we look at, are they covering those three pillars? Where are they not covering? And then we dive into and that awareness breaks down into advertising and PR and word of mouth and a few other things.

And then even in advertising, where do you advertise? Is it Google? Is it Facebook? Is it Tik ToK, Snapchat, etcetera. And so we break down into how to look at all these different things in a way that we try to make it replicable as things change, meaning like it’s a thesis and a methodology. It’s not a tactic that works right now and won’t work a year from now.

And so, yeah, we basically put that together in a 200-page book and are putting it out there. And working on selling 20,000 copies and making it a New York Times bestseller, and we’ve already had several universities picked it up, like we’re really making traction on getting it out there as a new way of looking at marketing.

Jason: [00:09:50] What are, I mean, obviously you’ve seen a ton of agencies and you guys have acquired a bunch from what I’ve heard. What do you think a marketing front agencies do wrong for themselves?

Erik: [00:10:04] Interesting. I… So this is my, a very controversial statement, but I think that they protect themselves too much when they get good.

I think that the, what I see happen with agencies that I don’t agree with that has worked for plenty of people, so I’m not saying that never do this, I’m just saying this is my own view. Every agency that gets good and gets a good reputation, starts to be seen well in a, you know, sort of in the ecosystem, they start protecting themselves.

They start throwing out long contracts, high minimums, they go up market. They only want to work with fortune 2000. They do all these things that yes, they created, that’s a solid way of doing business. I get it. But it alienates all the people that got you there. So I’m always kind of turned sideways to that. Why can’t you build a business model and now thankfully we have, but this was our thesis, but why can’t you build a business model of still being one of the best marketing companies out there, but still working with small and medium businesses too?

I’m not saying don’t work with Nike and the big guys, but you can work with small guys too. And so that’s really what built it. I think that a lot of times is interesting. I watched a lot of agencies struggle to get up to the eight-figure mark, because they get a little pretentious and they in too early.

There’s agencies that are doing eight figures that I know that get pretentious and do just fine with it cause they can be. I’d say WPromote, you know, in the market they’re constantly trying to go up market and stop working with small and medium businesses.

They, you know, got, I think it was Gartner to rate them as one of the best digital agencies, like few years ago. And like, so they started getting a bunch of Fortune 500 interest and leveraged that. I don’t know how it’s gone for them in the past couple of years because actually those agencies hurt really bad in COVID.

But I think that, you know, there’s reasons to do it later, but a lot of companies jumped the gun and then they’re like, oh, well, you know… One of my favorite things is like, we’re staying small and boutique because we can serve our clients better. And I always go, okay, so you’re telling me that I should hire you to scale my business and you don’t know how to scale your own. Like, explain that one to me.

Now, if it’s a creative agency, different story, but I’m talking about like the growth and performance agencies that say they’re staying boutique, like then you’re not good because you don’t know what you don’t understand growing a business.

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Well, I think what happens is they hit, like, I look at it as like six stages of scaling an agency and they get to a point where their business doesn’t have the right systems in place. Everything relies on them, they haven’t shared the vision with their leadership team. They don’t have a leadership team, right?

They’ve gotten to this point by accident. And I think you can get over the couple of million by accident. Getting to the eight-figure mark is not by accident, but to stay there is true skill.

Erik: [00:13:41] Yeah, you brought up this point earlier that I actually think relates to that. So I drove, uh, 85% of our business up until we were about a 7 million runway.

And then it was the most ridiculous story, so I’m gonna skim over it. But I was hanging out in Monaco during the Grand Prix and saying the most, the richest people in the world, living their lives and went, yeah, I’m never going to be that in the way I’m operating right now.

And not that that’s actually my goal. It’s not really a monetary goal, but it’s more like I want the option. And so I immediately objected out of sales completely. It was scary as shit. Like I had a few sales guys. I was like from now on all my leads go to you. At this, I was keeping my better leads because I could close them better, but I’m like, but if I give them the sales, like they’re still going to close a lot of them, right? Hopefully.

Took that leap of faith. Thankfully had a good small group of guys that, uh, ended up doing really well with those leads. But we did dip. We went, that was June, July and August were down months for us and a little scary. And then we recovered and started scaling again. So, that was what got us into eight figure range, because that was the last piece.

I never, on the execution side, I immediately brought on a partner that’s my co-founder that did a great job of, as he put it, I’d made promises and he’d deliver on them and…

Jason: [00:14:52] You deliver broken promises without him?

Erik: [00:14:56] Yeah, exactly. You got to know your strengths, but, uh, he, he definitely did a great job on that side. And so we were able to scale that side from the beginning pretty well.

So delivery wasn’t as much of an issue. Cause I also, because I was the one driving sales, I did a lot of things that helped us sell. So I productized our offerings. I made things really easy to sell and really easy to put together and then build a team around that. So when I built a sales team, it was teed up for them in a way that was great too, which now we have one of the more higher producing sales teams in the industry period, or, you know, bringing on 80 new clients a month.

So that was built because of that, but it took that leap to be like, all right, I’m done. I can’t do this. And I continue to do that. And that was three and a half years in. And that became a good lesson, that over and over again, when I find myself, you know, diving into something, that’s taking a lot of my time, if I can out eject, eject, whatever that is, and continue to hone in more.

Like my focus more today is like a third strategic and working with our executives online, bigger initiatives to grow the business. A third growth, what expansion can we do? Whether it’s M&A, whether it’s launching a fund, what else can we do to build off this business? And a third promotional being on podcasts, you know, writing a book, that kind of thing.

And that becomes more and more my focus. When I find things now pulling me out of that, I look for who else could have that.

Jason: [00:16:08] Yeah. I always tell everybody your goal is to transform from the owner to the CEO. And like you said, it’s kind of like four or five roles set the vision of the agency…

Erik: [00:16:19] I went to a program two weeks ago that actually said the exact opposite.

Jason: [00:16:22] Oh, really?

Erik: [00:16:23] Yeah. Cause they said your goal is to transform from a CEO to an owner, meaning your business should be working for you, not you running the business. And I think the problem is what do people, you know, the CEO of your own one person company. But when you’re an owner and you’re just, you’re, you know, you treat yourself as a chairman or an investor, the way you operate is different.

And we’re getting there. Like that’s been, that was the goal for this year was to get our executive team in a place where I didn’t have to do a lot of what they do. And we’re there and we have a great executive team. We brought in COO two months ago. And so he’s now stepping up and the goal was for him to run the day-to-day of Hawke Media so my focus can be on doing a better job for our clients, expanding the business.

So again, strategic and growth, not managing the data that like, whereas our accounts receivable.

Jason: [00:17:09] Yeah. And I remember I was chatting with one of my clients for many, many years. He started out around 300,000 now he’s well over, they figure mark.

And I remember telling him when you transform from the owner to the CEO, congratulations, you’re going to be depressed. And I remember going through this, like I would go into a meeting and they go, Jason, I don’t need you. And then I go to the next one, Jason, I don’t need you. And I’m like, shit, the business doesn’t need me. Like, what the hell do I need to do?

And then someone’s smart that run another agency was like, no, look, set the vision, communicate it often. Be the face of the organization. Coach your leadership team, you know, assist sales when you need to like add color, right? That’s, that’s all I’m good at if you want me to do follow up and that shit like, nope, like…

Erik: [00:17:53] You were probably really good at it at one point.

Jason: [00:17:55] Oh yeah, well, when you had to be, right? But then, then when you start tasting that really fancy champagne, I don’t drink champagne, but I guess when some people drink fancy champagne or what is it Don Perignon or I don’t know. I drink the Coca-Cola’s I guess, right? I drink about a thousand of those a day.

Erik: [00:18:15] There’s gotta be something unhealthy about that, but I don’t know.

Jason: [00:18:18] Someone told me it rots your teeth eventually. I’m like, I don’t care. The Coke I used to clean my race car engine, so I might as well stop drinking that.

Erik: [00:18:15] Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.

Jason: [00:18:18] Awesome. Well, Erik, this has been great. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Erik: [00:18:35] Yeah, I would say the one big thing that every, or not every, but most marketers miss that is just a huge one for agencies too is the idea of a sales cycle or a purchase cycle or consideration period where… When you advertise for a client, they’re looking for daily reports on the performance. Yet what we’ve seen in e-commerce specifically is for a $50 average order value it’s about a three-week purchase cycle. For a hundred dollars it’s about five weeks. For $200 it’s about six weeks.

And then it goes between two and three months from there. The issue there is like, if, so, if I raised your budgets today, you’re not going to see the performance on it for months potentially.

And so understanding that purchase cycle so that you report against it is critical in the agency-client relationship, as well as just clients understanding the market. And we see this, we get into this fight a lot where it’s like our ROAS this it’s like that’s a seven-day fucking window. You have a $400 product. What are you talking about? So…

Jason: [00:19:26] Well, it’s about too knowing the right clients to bring on. Cause, you know, I always say there’s no such thing as a bad agency client, there’s only a bad prospect or a bad process, and you’ve got to kind of figure it out and be like, hey, if this is a bad prospect, let’s not let them in.

And like, I’m like, dude, if you’re at zero ROAS, eventually you’re going to be so far in the green, who cares? You’re getting free advertising.

Erik: [00:19:55] A hundred percent.

Jason: [00:19:56] So one last question I had, I lied, I guess… I remember maybe sometime back and maybe you’ve changed this. Do you guys still not have any contracts or long-term contracts?

Erik: [00:20:06] Yeah. We prefer month-to-month.

Jason: [00:20:08] Why is that…? Obviously, it’s working well for you. I’ve seen some people struggle with it. I’ve seen some people love it, so…

Erik: [00:20:16] Yeah. It’s not easy. I was on the other side and everyone was asking me to get married before they ever went on a date with me. Just felt screwed up. I’m not here to protect my vendors is kind of how I felt about it.

And I, sorry to use a derogatory term in our space, but if I’m running a brand and I’m hiring you to do my marketing, I don’t give a shit if you want a long-term contract, I’m not signing it. And we still stand true to that. When people try to give us longer contracts we just say no, and if you don’t want our business, that’s fine.

We walked away from a few software companies who were like, we have never used your software so like if you want to give us a three month trial we’ll do. Because as they said, it’s not enough time to ramp up in a month. I’m like, if you want to give us a three-month trial we’ll do it, but I’m not signing a three-year contract. You’re out of your fucking mind.

Like, that’s just doesn’t make sense to me and so we just stuck to that. And then right now, or like our mission statement is accessibility to great marketing. The idea is we want to be nimble, flexible, accessible, and built that way and be the best at what we do. So by being month to month it forces us to be able to be flexible and nimble. We’re just used to it. Our business has to function that way.

Jason: [00:21:16] Yeah. And then going back to, you know, your leading indicators and knowing your lifetime value of a client like you can calculate, like, when I look at, you know, our mastermind average member is in their 24 month. And like when you know that that’s predictability, because I always tell people, you know, when we go to buy an agency, a lot of times, you know, when you acquire agency, you want to know predictability.

The longer-term contracts, a lot of times you’ll get a higher valuation because of the predictability is there. But if you can show a track record of having your clients stay this long, that will act the same way.

Erik: [00:21:51] And I will say, cause we’ve dealt with all those conversations. Like if you’re looking for an investor to value or a buyer, get a smart one that understands your business.

Don’t go with someone that’s using a cookie-cutter approach to buying the business because you’re not going to get a good valuation. And my wife’s a senior executive private equity. We have a venture fund. I look at those numbers all the time and it’s like, I’ve had all those stupid conversations. I had… You know where it’s like either you’re stupid or you think I’m stupid because this, what you’re saying is not actually how it works in this world.

And that’s another good piece of advice I got a long time ago is have your pulse on, if your plan is to sell, which thankfully is not ours, but I get it for a lot of people. Have your pulse on the industry, know what it is to do M&A in your industry.

Talk to a banker once a quarter, talk to people, keep your information so you know what the multiples are, you know, what’s happening, you know, who the buyers are having a relationship with them. And if again, your goal is to sell, call the people that would buy you and ask them what they would want to buy and just build that. It becomes really easy.

Jason: [00:22:45] And I love that. I’m like, yeah, if you know, like make a target list now of the people you have love to buy you and start forming a relationship with them now.

Erik: [00:22:54] Yep. It makes it so much easier to get a deal done. And then, you know, you can trust them. They can trust you. Like that part is so important and yeah, I mean, there’s no reason for them not to tell you exactly what they want to buy. You just make it easy for them.

Jason: [00:23:05] Unless they don’t know what they want to buy. And there’s a ton of people out there like that.

Erik: [00:23:10] Yeah, then don’t sell to them cause you don’t want that type of buyer. You want someone that’s very confident and knows what they’re doing so that you can able, depending on what your outcome is too. The only thing I’d say the caveat is if you’re really looking at just straight exit debt out and it doesn’t matter as much who the buyer is, but that’s a hard thing to do with an agency. And you’re probably going to do a lot of headaches with an uneducated buyer.

Jason: [00:23:29] Well, yeah, and you’re not going to get the valuation or the money that you want. If you want straight out buyers like us, we’ll be like, all right, what’s wrong? Like, what are you not telling us?

Erik: [00:23:40] Yep. We’ve looked at those deals. We actually, funny enough, we just passed on one. We look at those deals, but we offer less. We’re like, key, like if you’re not there, you’re, there’s a loss in value.

Jason: [00:23:51] Yeah, exactly. And that should make you feel good.

Erik: [00:23:53] The fact, especially if you’re a sub eight-figure agency, like you can’t tell me that you’re not driving the boat.

Jason: [00:24:00] Yeah, exactly. What’s the title of the book and where can people get it?

Erik: [00:24:03] You can get it at,

Jason: [00:24:07] Awesome. Well, everyone go check that out. Erik, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys want to be around amazing agency owners that have been to where you want to go and be able to see the things that you might not be able to see and just have a lot of fun and share the strategies. I want you to all, to go to  This is our exclusive mastermind for experienced seven and eight-figure agencies and beyond.

So make sure you go there now, go to and until next time have a Swenk day.

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