If you’re planning to offer online courses or memberships and you’re looking for an agency to help you, or if you’re a WordPress agency or service provider, this LMScast with Chris Badgett of codeBOX discusses how to work with WordPress and service agencies with Matt Medeiros of Slocum Studio in Boston.
Matt focuses on WordPress development for mid-tier businesses and universities using WordPress products, themes and plugins, and he hosts the Matt Report and PluggedIn Radio. Today Chris and Matt pool their experience to give you some pro tips and advice for choosing or running an agency.
WordPress is accessible enough that anybody can use it to get a website working for a product or service. Still, it might be wiser to hire a professional to help you, because getting your site up and available to customers will take longer if you don’t, especially if you’re new to WordPress. Either way, finding professional help will be a top consideration, even if that’s reading articles or watching YouTube video tutorials.
Next you’ll need to get WordPress, a good LMS like the LifterLMS platform, and a solid theme. Know your capabilities for doing design, development, and content, and be clear on your goals for what you build. You need to drill down to the minimum viable product (MVP) for your first offering and stay focused on that until it’s done. You can expand from there, especially once you see what’s working and what needs to happen next.
Launching your website is not the end of the process. You have to continue doing marketing, support, and improvements, and hiring a professional may be your best solution. The best agencies will perform a discovery process to help them understand your goals, business problems, and expectations to design your website conceptually before you ever get into technology. This process needs to be a paying engagement so the incentives are right for all parties.
Chris continues discussion around how to work with WordPress and service agencies, with Matt Medeiros offering advice on communication, pricing and billing, setting boundaries, establishing trust, and managing expectations.
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Chris B: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today I am joined by Matt Medeiros. How are you doing, Matt?
Matt M: I’m doing well, Chris, thanks for having me.
Chris B: Good deal. Matt, he runs a WordPress agency called Slocum Studios. They have some products over there as well as themes and plugins and a very similar business to what I operate in terms of client work and software products in the WordPress space.
Matt and I have recently connected and because we are in a very similar situation, there’s a lot of knowledge between us that would be great to get out there to all of you who are maybe new to WordPress. You can leverage our many, many years and long history with it. Also, if you are wanting to get into pulling courses or memberships for other people as a business, we have some pro tips for you, just some hard won truth, life experience, work experience, some success stories, some flaming to the ground failures and you can learn from that.
Also if you are in the market looking for a WordPress agency, I think this episode will shed little light on all of that so thank you Matt for coming on the show. Can you tell us just a little bit about where you are, about Slocum Studios, where you came from and what you guys specialize in?
Matt M: We are a family-owned boutique agency. We are an hour south of Boston. Our background and history in the community is we come from three generations of car sales. My grandfather started one of the very first Mazda dealerships in the country back in the 70s. That has transitioned over the years a couple of decades after that into a General Motors franchise, Chevy, Cadillac, Oldsmobile at the time. Then we got out of the GM side of it about four years before the financial crisis and before General Motors went bankrupt and at the time I was working …
When you are in a family-owned business, you can never get out of that business. I had a full-time job at an ISP, but I was still doing things at the dealership over the years. When we got out that, four years before GM went bankrupt I was, again working at this ISP. My father had always been into pro photography and one of the things at the time he was randomly just shooting a photo shoot for a small business and they were like, “Hey, can you build us a website, too?” So I knew how to do that and that was the genesis of the studio. I helped out doing this one small site and then he got another customer and they said it.
At that point, which was the end of 2006, full on 2007, the agency really got formed in 2008, but that whole year in 2007 dabbling with “okay, there is a need here. We have roots in the community that span 30, 40 years that come to us for business stuff,” and especially with all the contacts my father had and I had, we said let’s make a go at it and we formed the studio back then. Lots and lots of burning failures later like you said along the way that we learned, but here we are going into 2017 and we are still doing it almost eight, nine, ten years later.
Fun stuff and that has sort of evolved into being much more focused on WordPress development and at the higher level with his some mid tier businesses and universities and higher education and then also got us now into WordPress products, themes, plug-ins and that kind of thing. It’s really been a fun ride, but I have plenty of stuff I can say about it.
Chris B: Another similarity between Matt and myself is just that we both operate podcasts. Tell us about your podcast or podcasts.
Matt M: Sure, I have two of them. I have the Mattreport.com, which is WordPress entrepreneurs, so if you’re interested in the business side of WordPress I have been doing that for about three years and that’s Mattreport.com in Season 4 of that.
If you are more inclined to say,”I don’t really care about how people run their businesses with WordPress, I just want to learn how to use plug-ins in the WordPress space for my business,” the show that Chris joined us is Plug In Radio. You can get that at Plugintut.com or YouTube.com/plugintut and that’s all the baseline “here’s how you use a plug-in. Here’s how you use these things in WordPress,” and then I invite on other WordPress plug-in developers or company owners like Chris. He teaches how to use Lifter LMS and all kinds of other folks join us there. That’s again, YouTube.com/plugintut. Those two different podcasts, but both in the WordPress space.
Chris B: That’s awesome. Well yeah, I started back in WordPress I think it was around 2007-2008 as a hobby for a side project. Actually, I think my first one was actually on Drupal. In the beginning for me, I started to teach myself WordPress just by watching YouTube videos. That’s how I learned WordPress. Nobody showed me how to do it. I installed it. I just started messing with it. I started building websites, started writing blog posts.
At the time I was managing a helicopter-supported sled dog tour business on a glacier in Alaska and WordPress was just a hobby for me. I built a site for people that were into the outdoor lifestyle like I was. I know I’m a technologist and these days as the online course guy or learning management system guy with WordPress and technology type things, but I actually came into technology from not being a technology guy at all. I am the guy you want if you are out in a remote wilderness area. I was a wilderness guide and outdoor leadership.
I say that and I bring that up because WordPress, even for me as a dog sled musher and a guy who has spent a lot of his adult life camping out, was approachable for me. I could build websites in WordPress and blogs and things became a very interesting vehicle for expression in solving business problems. My point is if I can do it, anybody can do it. I have ridden that and done so much with it, like I just stayed with it. If all you want to do is get up a website and marketing site for your product or your service or whatever it is, it is approachable and that’s the goal.
But I have definitely seen a lot of people struggle with it, too. I think maybe what we could do here in this first segment is if we could take all our experiences, about a decade of experience each here, and boil it down to three top recommendations for somebody who is brand-new to WordPress, like what do they need to pay attention to? How can we save them tons of time? How should they approach it? Go ahead. We’ll go one and one. We will go back and forth.
Matt M: One thing I just wanted to say about your experience with being in the wilderness and being a guide out in the wilderness and maybe even that bleeds over, I’m sure it does into survival if something were to happen and you are stuck out there, WordPress is no different in the sense where if I told you, “Hey Chris, I went to the LL Beans store. I bought the best boots. I bought the best sleeping bag. I bought an awesome walking stick. I bought this GPS thing. I am the man. I am going to be out there surviving because I just bought the best stuff …”
Chris B: Of the gear.
Matt M: Right or the best gear and then all of a sudden there’s an avalanche and I lose power and I have lost all my gear. Now I am totally screwed, right? Which is no different in any of this stuff, so people can go and they can buy their themes, they can buy their plug-ins, they can do all that stuff.
But if they do not understand the fundamentals, they are in trouble. They could be in trouble or they will get the bumps and the bruises along the way and learn it. It’s just going to take a lot longer versus if they hire a professional to come and do something for them. If they hire the wilderness guide to tell them, “Here’s the part of the mountain that you stay in. The black bears and brown bears are over here, so don’t go that way.”
It’s no different and that would be my first real piece of advice. If somebody is sitting down, especially with their LMS, which could be building a very fruitful business for themselves, especially in the way of today’s digital age where we are talking about membership plug-ins, online learning, you are accepting a transaction, somebody is coming to buy knowledge from you, if you are really making a true go at this like somebody who sits down and says, “I want to make a business. I will make a six-figure business doing this.”Heck, even if I wanted to sit down and get out of my career and make whatever the number is, $40,000, $50,000, whatever that is and you are really focused on that how to find some professional help first.
Get the gear you need. You need WordPress. You need the LMS. You need a good solid theme, maybe some other stuff in there. Find someone to learn the fundamentals from if you can. You can do that by watching a show like this. You can do it by watching a couple videos I produced. Again, it’s not to just sit here and say, “Hey, watch our stuff,” but I think that’s the way people learn. Like you said you self-taught, you did the research.
That’s one of the greatest things about WordPress because the good and bad about WordPress is there is no one place to just go learn WordPress. There’s a whole variety of personalities and web properties out there that you can learn from and finding the one that best suits you is more accessible than ever.
That would be my first step is you can buy all the gear or you can get all that stuff, but if you don’t know how to do this at a fundamental level, business, website, marketing, course creation, invest in some good solid advice or professional help out of the gate so you have a clear, concise plan. That would be my first piece of advice.
Chris B: Yes that’s really started. That’s really awesome. In a lot of ways I see a lot of people make it harder for themselves than it needs to be because they are either not asking for help soon enough or they just jump right in and try to do it themselves without just taking a moment and whether it’s going and watching the WP-101, WordPress 101 course or just getting started on YouTube, watch somebody build a website in a couple hours.
My big tip would be to think about something you already are somewhat aware of and for a lot of people they know at least the basics of the house. They know there’s a foundation. There’s a roof. There’s the plumbing system, the electrical system, but you have to have a metaphor and have to admit that you don’t know it all and there comes a time to hire a contractor or a specialist who do certain pieces.
There’s four pieces that are coming to mind for me right now that I would recommend you are just aware of and know you are either strong at, weak at or willing to learn at which is design. We know good design when we see it, but you may need a really good theme to get design or have one custom designed for you to get really good design.
In terms of functionality that what you want the website to do that’s development. Then there’s the actual content itself. You can have a great design, a nice functionality, but if you don’t have any good content or copy or you are asking your web designer, you might falsely make the assumption that they are also going to write everything for you and everything like that. You need to get clear on the pieces of what makes the house together.
Like you mentioned also in marketing that’s really important and just having that business mind of what’s the goal? What’s the business goal of this website? Is this a hobby? Is this a lead generation thing? Is this something to educate my customers? Is the website itself the product? You need to get crystal-clear on those things and then start looking at how WordPress can support you on that. What’s another one for you, Matt?
Matt M: I am almost going to piggyback off of that and I would say get that clarity and get that focus, but also I think a lot of people to start when they hear all of this stuff now we are like, “Oh, I have to have this plan. I have to have the tools in place. I have to know where my business is going. I have these projected revenue goals.” I was like, “Man, this is overwhelming.”
I think a lot of people just need to really drill down their first offering to the most simplistic core value they can put out. A lot of people sort of love to introduce an online university. There’s all these courses and tracks and chapters and materials they can download, but it gets so overwhelming to the potential customer. It gets overwhelming to you because you are thinking about all this stuff I can do. It’s the whole chasing the shiny object syndrome.
I would really say getting as focused on your first offering is going to make this leaps and bounds easier, I hate that word for this, but we can make it a little bit easier in the short term to launch, to promote because all of this stuff takes a lot of time and effort to produce this stuff, specifically talking about creating a course or a membership site or that kind of training material. There’s all the structural stuff, putting the site in place. All the way from getting the site, getting the theme, possibly hiring a professional, doing some payment gateway stuff and getting all of that configured.
Then it’s like, “Okay, I have to make the course.” That’s a bazillion hours depending on what you do and then it’s the marketing and promotion side of it, which is again another bazillion hours that people are not ready for. Then there is, “Hey, you have actually made sales,” which is a good thing but now you have to support people and answer some questions, answer some pre-sales questions, forum questions, which is another thing that a lot of people sort of under-value.
It’s underrated in the beginning where they are like, “I will get it. I will sell it. I am selling it and I am done.” No, now people are going to start asking you questions, asking you to change things to iterate on your product and that kind of thing. I would say really focusing down on making that minimal viable product that Word has been throwing around for years now.
Just the other day I had a client call, a pre-sales call. I literally talked the woman out of doing business with me because I just thought … She was very organized. She was actually just like the scenario that you and I are talking about right now. It was she had a great plan. She came from the real estate industry and she just wanted to get into this content marketing, online magazine thing, had a membership site component, had an e-commerce component, had all these things. But that was the problem. It had all these things.
She was very organized, very detailed, but she had like, “Okay, I need this. I need a theme for this part of the site. I need a different theme for this part of the site and I am going to use this plug-in over here. I’m going to use that plug-in over there.” I was like, “Wow, there is a lot of stuff here. Very well organized and it looks like it could be very well executed, but from a business standpoint how are you going to start getting people to buy stuff in this e-commerce store and at the same time you want people to post real estate listings on this other section of the site? There’s so much there.”
By the end of the phone call she was like, “You know what? You are absolutely right. I am not ready to take on this project because how am I really going to get all this stuff to market?” She is just a solopreneur. She is the only one here. Aspiration is to hire other people. Aspiration is to get all this other stuff going, but you have to get that one nugget to get you out of the gate so that you can get that on repeat and getting that thing promoted and people are just picking up on it with no problem and then you launch all your other verticals.
Anyway, that’s a long way of saying really focusing down and getting that offering as concise and as easy for somebody to understand as possible, which again comes from years of failure and promoting my own products and services and people are like, “What is that? I don’t really understand.” I’m like, “What do you mean you don’t understand? The button is right there, a big red button. It says what this is. It says buy. Why can’t you see that?” That is something that just takes time to learn.
A lot of people here this advice and they are like, “Yeah but …” and it’s always they had this other thing and, “Well, I am going to do it differently,” or “But my thing is …” No, no, guess what? Once you get out into the real world that’s when you will start to learn if people get it or not and keeping it simple as possible in the beginning is the best thing you can do for yourself and for your potential customers.
Chris B: Yes. The Lean Methodology or The Lean Startup, The Minimum Viable Product, The Lean Startup is a great book to read. Lean in terms of even plug-ins you install on your site. That’s a classic beginner mistake I see is open up a website and there’s 40, 50 plug-ins going and there’s a conflict. It’s like of course, there’s a conflict. You have way too many softwares going at once that were not designed by the same person. There is a conflict.
Being a little bit minimalist and iterative and pivoting your offer, pre-selling, all these things you learn in The Lean Startup, the agile way of doing things is really the way to go because the last thing you want to do with that client you mentioned is spend a ton of money and time and realize your market wants something completely different or only wants 25% of it. Or you could avoid the whole thing and pre-sell the thing in advance before you even build a single thing. There’s so many different ways to approach that so it’s important to iterate and launch early and often.
One of the biggest misconceptions I see when people come to building a WordPress website, whether it’s just information or a product is they look at the launch of that website as like the end, but in my mind it’s like the beginning. We have our MVP up. Let’s iterate, let’s improve it, let’s look at what’s working, what’s not, let’s improve conversions to opt-ins or sales or whatever we are going for. We can add new products, we can double down on what we have and invest on marketing. There are so many different ways you can go that a launch is not the finish line. It’s the starting line the way I see it because this world evolves fast.
Matt M: That’s for sure. Here’s one other story that comes to mind which was again, I had this phone call this morning. The lesson here is the expectations, what are the expectations that you have for your launch, your overall business model, what are the expectations you have for your site?
I had an organization we had been supporting for years now and they were just trying to upsell. We built their site for them five years ago, so I don’t think it’s even responsive. In fact, it’s not responsive. They are using a mobile theme layover.
They still don’t want to reinvest in doing a full redesign, so their marketing person, she came to me. She’s like, “We are going to try to do it all ourselves,” all this stuff. “So we can’t afford your package redesign rate. Can you just do something by the hour kind of thing and just help us out?” “Fine, I will do that. You have been a customer for literally 5 years.”
They built it all themselves and she’s a power user. She knows this stuff. She knows her way around WordPress for sure, but she went in and she installed a theme that I have never really used before and I really don’t have any experience with. She used a whole bunch of other plug-ins to do a variety of things on the website, some that overlapped each other. Things you could do with the other plug-ins that she did know but again, the expectation was she doesn’t want to spend a lot of money. She just wants to do it with all herself and that’s fine.
We launch the site or we go to launch the site today. She has finished putting all the content in. She’s ready to go and she says, “You know something, Matt? The website is running a little slow for me.” I said, “Okay, let me just take a peek under the hood. Part of the deal was we will do a quick audit to make sure you did everything okay and then we will go from there.”
I said, “Look, you did not want to go the customer route. You wanted to pull in these things and do it yourself. The expectation is you were just going to do it and you were going to save money,” and guess what? The good thing is, what she realized is,”Hey, my expectations were I didn’t want to spend a lot of money,” and with software you can always iterate.
Her thing is, “We will relaunch now. We will get everybody happy on the board. We will see if we can get some more sign-ups and then we will reinvest in drilling down and making this site perform the way it should be.” That’s one good thing and you mentioned that before is you can iterate on this stuff.
Even in the beginning if you do throw a whole bunch of plug-ins at the walls is the only thing that’s break. I know it’s a little bit of taboo to say this stuff, but even if you throw all the plug-ins at it for now and you prove the model, you get the model working, then you iterate on it, then you reinvest. That’s a perfectly acceptable thing but just have those expectations of what’s actually going to happen when you do all this stuff.
Chris B: Absolutely, that’s a really good point and that reminds me of like building a house. You could build your own house, and we are going to segue this call into if you are really ready to work with a professional and if you are a professional service provider who could offer these types of services to people, we are going to lay down some tips and wisdom here.
If you were to come in and want the $100,000 kitchen, but you have a $20,000 or $10,000 budget and you expect to install it all yourself, it’s just pipes and things you screw together, right? It’s you would not do that on a jobsite per se, but maybe if in the beginning maybe you do do that and that’s when you learn, “Oh wait, maybe I should hire somebody? Maybe I should not try to work on my own car or build my own house if I don’t have all this training?”
One of the cool things about WordPress is it’s so approachable and you can do it, but you just have to, like you said, manage the expectations and the results you may get from that kind of effort. You can get there, make no mistake about it, but it may not be the mansion or the Tesla sports car you had in mind. That’s just something to keep in mind.
If you get to that point and you are like, “Wait a second. I am going to hire a professional mechanic. I want to hire a professional, somebody to build this house.” Before you build the house, one of the things that’s really important to do is to do what we call a discovery process, which would be you would hire an architect to actually design the house conceptually before you go start buying hammers and nails and lumber and spending up $30,000 projects with subcontractors and all these things.
Let’s slow down a second and actually have our first engagement be talking about what we are going to build. If you are the agency you want to make sure you understand the business problems you are solving. You need to make sure you advise the client one way or the other if you see them heading … Yes is not necessarily always the correct answer because you could save them tons of money.
The other big mistake I see people who are offering services make is they should be charging for that process in the same way you get charged by an architect for doing the blueprints and the designs. The incentives need to be right. You can have sales calls and talk about it and get comfortable and build trust with each other but in my opinion in my experience if you are going to build a big project, it’s important to do that discovery first and to make it a paying engagement so the incentives are right for all parties.
Matt M: Yes, I totally agree. In terms of the way the agency business model, at least from my perspective in the world that I live in is the way it’s changing little bit is tools are getting better, WordPress is getting better, even though the purists might argue that. Regardless tools are getting better. There are more and more site builders out there, though at a much more simplistic level. Project management tools, drafting tools, all of this stuff to really help you build this online presence are getting better and faster and less expensive.
There are a lot of folks coming to us, like my example with that organization, they say, “Well, I’m capable enough to get it this far and this far might be good enough for us right now.” If you are an agency out there and you are consulting other folks, it’s always been one of those things like, “How do you sell the discovery? How do you sell that first level engagement with people?” This is chatter I’ve been hearing for years now.
Now it’s even easier because a lot of people are coming to us with a pre-built model and they are just like, “Hey, I sort of started building this or we started building this and we need help now.” Those people who have already been dabbling in it themselves, they could see the value in buying that time from you and buying that discovery or investing in your agency to do that work for them. It’s a little bit easier to do that now, which is a good thing.
The bad thing is it’s still the expectations are, “Well, once you get that done it’s going to be easy to just build this stuff out superfast. We did all that planning, let’s just do it.” That is still a bit of a challenge in the agency-client model. The discovery process, understanding who your customer’s customer is is the most important part out of all this stuff.
I don’t know about you or anybody listening to this, a lot of our business owners come to us and they are like, “There is a color blue that I like. I like this font and I like the layout from Amazon.com mixed with the way that the Verge does it. Can you just combine all that stuff to make it really good looking for me?” It’s like, “Hold up. First of all, we are taking all your design cues and throwing this all together in a bucket and hoping it spits something out. Let’s stop and look at who your customer is.” We first engineer it that way.
Again, the reality of that part is if you are in agency, a lot of people don’t want to go through that. I should not say a lot, but there is a bunch of people out there who are like, “Just give me the website. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to have to sit through this hour-long or multiple day long discovery process,” and that’s something that it takes some finesse. It takes some finesse to get somebody to agree to something like that. It takes a little bit of years of practice to sell the importance of that and that’s on the agency owner to do that if it fits within their workflow.
But definitely one of the most important things is getting that discovery down, understanding who the avatar is for the website and hopefully, tying that into something that has a good ROI. Are you creating sales? Are you generating leads? Are people picking up and calling you or emailing you about your product or service or subscribing to your site? Just being able to track it to that, drill it down to that is also very important in this whole part of the project.
Chris B: Absolutely, yeah that’s brilliant. Let’s get into some things just to be careful about and just to watch out for for both sides of the transaction from an agency and for a person looking for a service provider. One of the areas I caution people about is just the always-on nature of the Internet. You need to manage expectations.
If you are launching a website and the website is the business, whether it’s a membership site or online courses or e-commerce store, up time is very important to you. But we are still human beings living on earth using technology that need to sleep and eat and have families and go on vacations and have dates and things like that.
It’s really important whether you are on the buying side or on the service providing side to keep the humanity in everything, but that takes good communication and boundaries and managing expectations, office hours, using the team. If you are going to promise around the clock, you need to find people around the world or swing shifts to make it work if you are doing a really big engagement.
That always-on nature of the Internet it’s just one of those areas where rookies, especially in the service providers, can really burn out and just go down in flames because they get an email at 11:00 at night on Friday. Now they stayed up all night fixing something or trying to keep a project on track. Just be careful with that one.
If you are looking for that, I would say when you are shopping around and somebody has boundaries, somebody is using a calendar and schedules and they are doing paid discovery and things like that, these are signs of maturity that learning how to work in this digital space there’s a lot of experience there. The second thing … Go ahead, Matt.
Matt M: I was going to say I have a lot to say about that, but I will just try to condense the response. Again, this goes from an email I received. It was last night or the night before. Here’s the thing. I grew up in the car industry and a lot of my customer service and sales process is face-to-face. 99.999% of it was somebody coming to the car lot and I am shaking their hands. I am looking at their body language. I am hearing their voice. I am seeing the way their facial expressions are. All of that stuff is wrapped up into the sale.
I know how anxious they are. I know how excited they are about a car. I can realize they don’t even want to be here. They are not going to buy from me in the beginning. In the digital age, it’s an email. It’s a couple lines and text or paragraphs of text. You have to decipher that.
Like you said, this email I received the other night was through my plug-in tut channel. Here’s a person who said, “I watched your video on moving from DIVI to Studio Press or something like that.” Already right there I know what kind of customer this is. I know what kind of person this is. Then they say, “It should be easy,” red flag. “It should be easy,” so here’s the customer telling me that it should already be easy.
“It should be easy to move our site to this theme. We will just need a little bit of help,” red flag. “A little bit of help to get me into the site. How much does it cost?” Red flag again. It’s just somebody thinks it’s going to be easy and they think it’s going to be a set price to just go and approach this.
Now this person is a videographer, which we used to do videography in the beginning, and you could make a 30 second commercial, it could cost $10,000 depending on how much editing you did into it. It wasn’t because it was 30 seconds. It was free. It was 30 seconds and a lot of editing. It was $10,000.
I reverse engineer that. I look at their site. I look at what kind of person is. I even look at their social profiles and I understand who this person is before I generate my response. My response is to him was, “Look, there’s a base fee for me to just set up a theme or my team to set up a theme for you.” Again the team is letting him know that the person you see in the video is not the one doing the work. I am not a freelancer in my basement punching away at these numbers for you. I have a team of people that I onboard this to, ergo there’s going to be a little bit more of the cost involved because I have mouths to feed.
I relate to that whole thing to “depending on how much editing we are doing, just like you do in videography, it’s going to dictate our custom fee of $5000 and up. If these two packages make sense to you I think we should probably have a conversation.”
10 minutes later and this was 10:30 at night but he was West Coast so he is Seattle and he said, “What’s your phone number and what’s your time zone? I want to have just a quick call about it.” Again red flag right there. Like you said, there’s this immediacy to everything and people just like boom, boom, boom, let’s just get this stuff done.
My tactic in that is I always tell people that I am booked for the next two days. It’s always the next two days, unless I look at your email and you are from Microsoft and you want to do this massive six-figure project with me right away, then I will be more inclined to talk to you. But if you are a regular consumer to me, it’s always 48 hours away for both of us. Some buffer in between, a little bit of margin in between when we are going to have this meeting and let’s make sure we have all key points outlined before we get on to that phone call.
Chris B: This is not unusual for a doctors office or a massage therapist or a chiropractor.
Matt M: Anywhere, can you imagine calling up … Let’s say the only thing you buy is pizza. Can you imagine calling the pizza place down the street, “Hey, do you guys have the fresh peppers today? Okay, I will call you back. I will call you back when you get fresh peppers.” You call back, “You got the fresh peppers? Oh, what about that cheese? How old is that cheese? Where did you get that from? Did you get that cheese from over there? Okay, nevermind, I’m not going to do business …” At one point, at some point, the pizza place is going to be like, “Hey man, we are done.”
But in our industry, like you said, because he could have not liked my response for 40 hours and he hasn’t even responded yet so maybe he didn’t like my response. He just went to somebody else. It’s that easy in this business. You can’t do that with somebody building a house or building your kitchen. You have this radius you work with and maybe 20 or 30 miles and that’s it because anywhere else no one is going to travel from 50 miles away. So we are definitely living in an interesting space with this on demand, everyone has access, everyone is a professional kind of thing but really shaping that and corralling that is up to you as the agency owner.
Chris B: Absolutely and just piggybacking on that, the trick to all of it is just good communication and navigating expectations. I think if I have one talent it’s building that digital bridge and slowing down, educating people where they are at. Like you said, you start to recognize, “Okay, this is somebody asking me this kind of question. That means these learning things are already here. This person knows this. They may not know this. Let me test that.”
“Let me make sure I really understand the underlying problem here, so we’re not just talking about technology and tools. What’s the end goal? What’s our starting point? Is this client a startup with very limited resources? Is this somebody with a $100,000 business, $500,000 business looking to get to a million and scale up and they are trying to use technology to help make that happen?” Just knowing that and then being able to adapt to that type of person is really helpful.
Just to tie-in the power of communication, you also have to be able to build that bridge to your team. As an agency owner or if you are more on the sales and marketing side of the agency, you also need to have that respect of the developers, the designers. You are connecting all this to deliver a good result for your customer.
Like you mentioned earlier Matt, the most important person is not necessarily the customer. It’s the customer’s customer. It’s the end user. It’s what they want to see from a design perspective. That’s what I like to say is, “Let’s just really focused on the end user here.” I use that to steer our conversation. If I need to pull in metaphors about building houses or working with another type of professional to help, I don’t hold it against a client if they have been allured a little bit by the immediacy of the Internet or they outsource your life.
I get it. It’s hard. A computer screen on a laptop is 12″ x 10″. If you are looking at a million dollar mansion, it’s obviously not a trailer. But on the web, in the Internet to the untrained professional, they may not be able to tell the difference. I look at it as part of the job if you are on the sales and marketing side to help communicate that effectively.
Part of that in doing good marketing, in doing good communication, the big thing you really need to get clear of, too, is what you want to do and what you are capable of doing from a budget perspective and also getting that information from the client as soon as you can. You need to earn trust, but there’s a big difference and I have sold it at all levels from a $500 website or even a free like, “Hey bro, can you help me out? I will trade you some whatever for a website?” I have done that. I have done the $5000 website, the $10,000 website, the $30,000 website, with a $60,000 WordPress-based web application on and up a little bit from there.
Those are all very different people. If you are going to do this for a living or if you are coming at it as a potential shopper of services, be honest and upfront about what you can afford and what your resources are to invest in your project. If you are the provider, what kind of work are you capable of delivering?
Matt M: That’s great, everything you said there. There’s a little bit or a lot of bit of some gamesmanship and some sportsmanship in this stuff and it’s really why I like doing agency stuff, but it also can be a burden at the sometime. What do I mean by that? People who are looking to hire an agency and setting expectations have to be fair to the agency. Like you mentioned, you have to be fair to the developer. You can’t just be calling them up at 1 in the morning, asking them these questions.
I have a client who has been with us for quite some time. They do multi-site stuff, multiple sites, multiple locations. They are always launching new locations, but they are also always making this web app better at the same time. They are constantly coming up with these new ideas. They will not sign a dedicated retainer contract with me. They won’t do it. They are just like, “Okay well …”
Part of it is my fault because I am not pressing too hard but that is because when I get on the phone I tell them, “It’s going to be whatever. This piece here is going to be eight hours, a full day’s worth of work to do, with testing, deployment and all that stuff.” “Okay fine, no problem.”
Every time I get on the phone with them I say, “You know I am just racking up the hours here, right?” I’m like, “Every time you send a request through, you are telling me you need it immediately. You are telling me that you don’t care about the time it takes, but you also won’t set a discounted retainer contract with me because you just don’t want to be locked into this contract. That’s fine. It’s even better for me because I am going to bill you a full rate every time you come back to me and if you are cool with that man, let’s keep doing business together. That’s fine.”
It’s like the sports agent kind of thing where they realize if I just locked in, yeah, maybe if I lock in I can save some money. But they are also afraid of locking in at the same time, but they realize when they come to me with this urgency that they are going to pay for it because I am going to get it done and we are going to move things around to get it done.
There are also times when they come to us and say, “Hey, can you get this done this week?” I said, “No, I have other clients that we have already scheduled in.” Then he goes, “Okay, can we get this rushed? Can you get another developer?” and I charge them more because it’s just the nature of the game.
I think there are some customers out there who are willing to spend money because they realize that this team is going to get some stuff done and you, as the agency owner that’s when you can really capitalize on it. It’s not a bad thing. I have seen so many developers just narrow down to 15 minute increments. I’m like, “What are you doing? Why? Why do that? You think your customer is going to care one hour and 15 minutes versus charging them three hours and you got it done?”
Just do it because you know there are going to be questions and answers after that. There’s going to be some other thing they are going to come at you with on that same feature. Go with the half a day. That’s how we bill. It’s either half a day or a full day and half a day at a minimum. You are going to send me one little edit, it’s going to be half a day or send me a couple edits and we will do it in half a day. It’s just the way it has to be because we can’t be shifting the pipeline around all the time for people.
Chris B: That makes a lot of sense. Just to close out, Matt and in the spirit of keeping the end user in mind and in this case we are talking about somebody who has realized they want to hire a service agency, one of the things I come across, I’m sure you do, too, is the service provider is starting off in from a position of mistrust. The potential client has been burned before. They tried to outsource some work before. They had a really bad experience. The people they worked with before in the worst situations went dark, which means whoever they hired before disappeared either completely with their money or with the project half finished or in some big blowup about who owes who want in terms of work for money.
A lot of times by the time they have gotten to a company like ours, sometimes they have just had some bad experiences and they want to really make sure they are in good hands and they are taken care of and that that doesn’t happen again. If you are looking to provide that kind of service or if you are looking to hire a trusted company, my best advice to you is to not go to the bottom. There’s a sweet spot. If you pay too little, you are rolling the dice. You may get lucky. You may get some good work done fast. You may have a really poor experience.
It’s like hiring somebody on Fiverr five dollars to design a logo for you or hiring a multi-thousand dollar branding engagement. It’s a totally different thing. But if you’re looking for somebody under $10 an hour or you could find somebody who is really good at $100 an hour or more, it’s a thousand times as good and faster than the $10 an hour person. There is not always a direct correlation between the hourly rate. The work may take infinitely longer with a cheap, unexperienced, solo freelancer or inexperienced agency.
That would be my big piece of advice if you are shopping around is don’t go for the best deal. Talk to people, be open and honest about your bad experience and ask the hard questions up front to make sure you are dealing with a good agency that has your back and will help keep you going in the right direction.
Matt M: That’s where I was going with the whole sportsmanship, gamesmanship thing and the negotiation and the tact of a client-agency relationship is like you said, more often than not unfortunately, the projects kickoff with, “I don’t know if we really trust that agency? We have been burned before, but geez, let’s hope this goes okay.”
The best thing you can do is have those discussions up front. Hopefully, you will learn that in the pre-sales process. Somebody emails to you and they say, “We started this project and it’s still not finished yet.” Again, red flags. You dive into that. You find out why. Who worked on their site before? Do you have access to them? Was it an amicable breakup or is somebody holding the keys to the DNS records and you don’t know about it? There’s all of that stuff.
Coming from the car sales world, everyone hated me. No one walked on the lot was like, “Oh great, a salesperson. I can’t wait to talk to you,” never. That sort of thing it is sort of already instilled in me. The point is in the beginning you have these discussions. As the agency you negotiate a price. The customer negotiates the price they are comparable with.
The one thing I would say from the agency perspective is never just discount the price. I know this sounds obvious, but I see a lot of people still do this where somebody goes, “Oh geez, $5000? I can’t do it. Here’s our feature list,” and you say it’s $5000. “Oh, can you do it for $3500?” Then some people go, “Okay, no problem. I will do that.” No, you have to take away something. You have to take away some feature, some of value-add that they were looking for because you shouldn’t just discount your price just for the heck of it.
Once you do get that person in that’s when that relationship starts and that’s when you start to earn your trust. Maybe that’s how you approach a project. Very often what we will do is we will look at somebody’s RFP, their Request for Proposal, even though I hate that, the requirement list, and we will say, “Look, you want a lot of stuff,” like my first example in this discussion. “You want so much stuff. Can we get it down to an MVP? I want you to spend a little bit less for this idea right now. I don’t think you should spend everything in the kitchen sink on this now.”
“But certainly charge you and that’s totally fine. I’ll give you that option, but I can build it faster, cheaper without all this extra stuff on it. Are you willing to do something like that and let’s see if we can prove this together?” That really starts to show I am saving them a whole bunch of money, which they already appreciate, and secondly it shows them that I care about getting this to market for them or whatever the case might be.
Then from there, trust hopefully is established, then as an agency you can go back on top of that and charge for version 2, more iterations. As an agency you are making more money. If somebody is listening to this they go, “Oh my God, this is what an agency is doing to me?” Well, at the same time we should be providing value to you. Whatever that second iteration is, you shouldn’t feel like you don’t want to give us money because we are going to help you get to that next level. A good agency should be doing that and that’s the hope that good agencies are doing that.
Now, of course, there are plenty bad agencies and like you said, a lot of them come to us because of that. Having that conversation really aligning with the customers that you want to work with, don’t say yes to everything if you can. I know people have to eat and pay the bills, but if you have the opportunity to say no to a project, take it, the same thing for a client.
I will always ask a client would you rather do business with somebody locally, depending on what I can tell from the project and the people. If you care to do some business with somebody locally, you should find somebody locally because they are going to be in your office helping you. We are not. If we are in Boston and you are in Seattle, we are not going out there. You can pay us to fly out there, but chances are you’re not going to. If these things align with you better and you want to have somebody on the site, then get somebody on site.
If you are comfortable working remotely through GoToMeetings or Zoom, like things like this, then do that. Both sides of the fence, finding trust, a little bit of sportsmanship in the beginning but once you get there you establish that trust and hopefully, it becomes a long-term engagement for both people moving forward.
Chris B: Well said, thank you for checking out this episode of LMScast. I hope you got some value and we have saved you some kind of hard luck, hard won experience with WordPress or if you are looking to hire an agency or if you are an agency. Thank you for coming on the show Matt. If people want to connect with you where can we find out more about you?
Matt M: They can go to mattreport.com, the best place to find out more.
Chris B: Sounds great, thanks for coming on the show and we are going to have to do this again sometime.