Do Your Clients a Favor and Require Paid Discovery

I recently shared my move to a paid discovery model and got responses from people who do discovery after the project starts (or not at all) and are interested in a paid discovery model, but afraid they’ll get pushback trying to charge for it up-front.

Here’s how I see it….

The first thing a client wants is a price.

You cannot accurately quote a project without knowing the full scope of work.

To have a proper scope of work you need to know the following:

  • Overall project goals and objectives.
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success.
  • Understanding of the target audience and user personas.
  • Competitive analysis, including what the competition is doing and how to differentiate.
  • Legal requirements, compliance standards, and data protection considerations.
  • Integration with other marketing efforts and how the website fits into the broader marketing strategy.
  • Ongoing digital strategy post-launch, including content, SEO, and social media plans.
  • Required technology stack and software tools.
  • Website functionalities needed to meet objectives.
  • Content management system (CMS) preferences.
  • Third-party integrations (e.g., CRM, e-commerce platforms, social media feeds).
  • Accessibility standards and inclusivity considerations.
  • Security measures and protocols to be implemented.
  • Inventory of existing digital assets and their quality assessment.
  • Content that needs to be tweaked or updated.
  • New assets to be created from scratch and responsibility for creation (e.g., text content, images, videos, infographics).
  • Content strategy, including voice, tone, and messaging guidelines.
  • Site structure, navigation, and user flow planning.
  • Design and User Experience (UX)
  • Brand guidelines and visual identity (colors, fonts, logos).
  • Wireframes and design mockups to visualize the site layout.
  • User experience (UX) design considerations and principles.
  • User interface (UI) design specifics for interactive elements.
  • Front-end and back-end development requirements.
  • Database architecture and management.
  • Performance optimization and loading speed targets.
  • SEO best practices and strategies for implementation.
  • Quality assurance and testing phases (e.g., functional, compatibility, performance tests).
  • Feedback and revision cycles planned.
  • Hosting requirements and deployment plans.
  • Training for clients or team members on CMS or website management.
  • Maintenance, support, and update strategy.
  • Post-launch analytics and performance monitoring.
  • Project timeline, milestones, and delivery deadlines.
  • Budget constraints and billing arrangements.
  • Communication plan and project management tools.
  • Risk management and contingency planning.

I’ve yet to have a client walk in my door with all of that information already completely mapped out and organized on a silver platter.

So — someone’s gotta figure it out.

On a simple site you may be able to do that in 4 hours. On a big project it could take 40+ hours.

No reasonable prospect would expect you to do 4 to 40 hours of work for free for them before they ever hire you. Some irrational ones might, but that’s a great way to filter out the people you’d never want to work with.

Of course, we don’t have to do discovery… A lot of agencies send a quote after a simple sales call.

With your experience you’ll be able to assume some things correctly, but thinking you’ll guess right on everything is a gamble that’s either arrogant or ignorant.

The consequences are both all too common and catastrophic for projects (and relationships):

  1. Scope Creep & Cost Overruns: Discovering mid-project that you made an incorrect assumption means that you need to go back to your client asking for more money. Think the pushback on discovery is bad? How about when they’re already thousands in and you need more money now — they’ll feel like you’re holding them at ransom.

    That’s really uncomfortable, so many agencies will just eat the costs of the overruns, which isn’t a great way to build your business.

    The result is that either your client spends more and resents you or you lose money on the project and resent your client.

  2. Delays & Revisions: Ever had a project where you were in a cycle of endless revisions or waiting weeks (or months!) on content? That’s what happens when a detailed, clear, and agreed-upon plan wasn’t put in place before the project ever begins.

    The result is an extended timeline that frustrates both you and your client (which costs both of you more money).

  3. Fail to Meet Needs: In an effort of self-preservation, you may choose to just build the site you originally quoted (the “guess”) and ignore any of the incorrect assumptions you made — even when they’re evident. The result will be a website facade that is unlikely to achieve the goals your client came to you with.

    If you’ve been doing this job for any length of time, you’ve had a client come to you with a relatively new site that needs to be completely redone — this is how that happens.

Sure, clients don’t want to pay for discovery when their options are pay or don’t pay — but that’s not the choice they are making. What they are deciding is whether they want to roll the dice or stack the deck.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 

Abraham Lincoln

Explaining the necessity and value of the discovery phase in these terms usually resonates well with prospects — especially those who are serious about their business. Discovery isn’t some ‘thing’ we do to try and upsell the client, it’s literally the foundation of every project.

Drip, drip, drip

It’s only natural for us to gravitate towards the tasks we excel at (and enjoy!), and push aside any of the things we find challenging.

And, yes, “playing to our strengths” is a great way to leverage our skills — but everything else doesn’t magically disappear if we run away from it.

As business owners, we have to juggle dozens of roles — from visionary to vacuum technician — and it’s unrealistic to think every hat we wear is going to fit us perfectly.

But that doesn’t mean each hat isn’t important.

Ignoring your weaknesses is like ignoring a leak in your home… even a small one will do significant damage if it’s left unaddressed long enough.

But the opposite is true too; addressing these weaknesses — and solving for them — can feel like shedding a 100 pound weight that makes everything you do that much easier.

From what I’ve found, there are three ways we can do this:

  1. Hire out. Maybe your yin just needs a yang. If you’re a “big picture” person, maybe what you need is a right hand who loves logistics, todo lists, and spreadsheets. Whatever your proclivity, the exact opposite is out there.
  2. Build processes. I really hate doing sales, so I’ve meticulously mapped out the sales process so all I need to do is “follow the steps”. The process itself can act as your failsafe.
  3. Pivot. One of the great things about owning your own business is that you get to set the terms. If you, for example, hate dealing with clients, you could focus on white-label work or freelance for a handful of agencies.

Closing the cabinet door to hide the dripping pipe might be easier today — but letting it go long enough will lead to structural damage that will be difficult to repair and impossible to ignore.

What small drip in your business can you start fixing today before it becomes a flood?

Using your website to increase customer & employee loyalty

In this week’s newsletter, I’d like to talk to you about the power of gated content…

Hey, 

In a conversation with some fellow web developers this week, we started talking about the kinds of projects we’re working on lately and what we’ve seen change in our industry.

One thing I mentioned is noticing an increased need to create “gated content”. This is either entire pages or parts of pages that hidden behind a login and not visible to public visitors.

There are two primary uses for gating content:

  1. Premium Content: Whether it’s saved for only your existing clients or for paid subscribers, a lot of businesses are creating exclusive content.
  2. Internal Use: As companies have become more distributed (especially post-COVID), having a online portal to access documents, store training materials, or offer resources makes it more convenient than having to email things back and forth over and over again.

These types of websites used to be fairly complicated (and expensive) to set up due to the complexity of restricting user access. But, thanks to the demand and advancement of technology, even small (and really small) businesses can afford and manage these types of systems.

Here are a few use cases to consider:

  • Internal Company Hub: Centralize company documents, policies, and training resources, empowering employees to self-manage and access what they need, thus reducing administrative overhead.
  • Exclusive Client Resources: Enhance client engagement with premium content, from articles and videos to early product releases, fostering a sense of exclusivity and loyalty.
  • Learning and Development: Offer specialized workshops, webinars, and online courses to both employees and customers, supporting continuous growth and development.
  • Rewards and Loyalty: Develop customer loyalty programs that offer tangible rewards, further cementing your relationship with your clientele.

Creating an online portal for your employees not only streamlines access to essential resources and information but also empowers them to self-manage and locate what they need independently. This can significantly reduce administrative burden and encourage a more self-sufficient workforce.

By transforming your website into an exclusive resource hub for clients, you not only enrich their experience with valuable, members-only content but also significantly enhance your brand’s “stickiness”—increasing customer retention and loyalty as they become more invested in your ecosystem, making it less likely for them to seek alternatives.

As we continue to be up against more and more competition — not just for customers, but also for talent — I think these types of systems can be a powerful way to separate ourselves from the competition.

Have you ever had the need for something like this in your business?

We’re cursed!

Do you find yourself dealing with clients who have unrealistic expectations? How about clients who ask questions that just don’t make sense? Or worse, prospects who ghost you?

Those are all signs and symptoms of one of the worst plagues you can have as a business owner or marketer; The Curse of Knowledge.

Seems like having knowledge would never be a curse — because knowledge is power — but it’s nothing to brag about.

See, you think about your business on an expert level, because you are an expert. That makes it really easy (and natural) to talk about your business on an expert level too.

But chances are, your customers aren’t experts, or they wouldn’t be hiring you.

Talking over your clients head can lead to a lot of problems…

  • They have unrealistic expectations
  • They feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask what’s really on their mind
  • They focus only on price, because it’s easiest to understand & compare

When it comes to marketing, it’s important to remember this: if you confuse, you lose.

Unless you’re a unicorn, chances are your prospects have a lot of options besides going with you.

Sure, they’d like to compare things like price, timeline, deliverables, guarantees, etc., but in the end, they’re going to go with the option that they feel most comfortable and confident in because they don’t want to be fooled or waste money.

That’s never be the one that’s the most complex and confusing.

So now that we know what we’re fighting (our own expertise), how do we combat it?

Here are a few tips:

  • Emphasize Simplicity: Don’t get too deep in the details too early. There will be plenty of time later to talk specifics, but early on in your sales process you just need to cover the basics. Think “point a to point b” or “easy as 1-2-3”.
  • Use Plain-Language: Avoid confusing industry terms, acronyms, or anything that wouldn’t be obvious to someone with no prior knowledge of your industry. A good rule of thumb is to imagine speaking to a 9th grader.
  • Get Outside Feedback: Consider getting feedback from outside of your bubble (your most brutally honest friends and family work well). Ask them to explain what you do in their words — I think you’ll be surprised. Their words are going to be much more in line with how your clients think than yours will be!
  • Use Analogies and Metaphors: Take inventory of the most difficult things you have to explain repeatedly and come up with a great analogy. This will help your clients understand more complex ideas by connecting them with something they already know.

Most importantly; listen.

Customers and prospects will tell you what they don’t understand by the assumptions they make and questions they ask. These things are golden opportunities to clarify your messaging.

🤔 Did you know? Not only does clarifying your messaging make it easier for prospects to do business with you, it can also improve your website’s accessibility and ranking in search engines. Try putting some of your key website copy through this readability checker to see how well you’re doing.

Operating like a Motel 6

If I asked you to tell me where the delays happened in your last few projects, I bet I could guess with near perfect accuracy:

Waiting on the client for copy…

Waiting on the client to provide feedback…

Waiting on the client to send me x, y, or z…

Notice the common denominator here? Obviously, that’s not a shock — we’ve been blaming our clients for delays as long as we’ve been debating the best hosting company.

But if this problem is nearly universal — affecting a good 90%+ of our projects — could it be that the problem isn’t the client, but, perhaps, us?

This week we were talking about our onboarding processes in a TABLE call and I realized what I’ve been doing to help avoid these delays & roadblocks…

I’ve been asking a lot less of my clients.

Surprisingly enough, when I ask less of them, I experience fewer delays, I get less frustrated, and the project turns out better.

If you think about it, our clients probably aren’t the best people to provide copy, give design feedback, or track down a bunch of technical credentials.

But here we are asking them for all of that (and more) and getting frustrated when it doesn’t go as planned.

Our clients hate it too. They’re not dragging their feet because they want to drive us crazy (though I have often wondered if I’m being punked), they’re stuck because they don’t have the experience (or knowledge, or time, or desire) to do what we’re asking of them.

If it’s not working for either of us, maybe it’s time to do something different…

Imagine how a 5-star luxury resort might handle a website project…

What would it look like if your goal was to ask as little of your clients as possible while we take care of everything for them?

The ultimate white-glove experience.

Sure, you might need to adjust your pricing… But weigh that against all you’d save in time and frustration you’d save and what you’d gain in reputation and client satisfaction.

Budget and luxury hotels attract completely different clients… We’ll never attract Four Seasons clients operating like a Motel 6.

Are you creating content for your website?

Creating content for my website has been, without a doubt, one of the most valuable things I’ve done to market my business. 

Today, nearly all of my clients find me through content I’ve produced and published on the internet. 

The beauty of content marketing is that you can spend the time to create something once and it can be out there making introductions and helping people around the clock — even while you sleep.

I encourage most of my clients to add a blog to their website — but it’s one thing to have content and it’s another for that content to be effective. 

Over time I’ve noticed a few beginner mistakes that most people make when they start their content marketing journey… From poor planning to improper formatting, there are some little — but crucial — things you need to get right if you want to succeed.

Based on my personal experience and the clients I’ve helped coach to create better content, I’ve put together a new guide on how to write better posts.

Read the article here.

I’m confident that the suggestions in this article will instantly and drastically improve your articles.

They don’t know they don’t know

It’s in the early days, but I think this new addition to my proposal is already making a huge difference. It’s only been in my last handful, but its resulted in better feedback and closed deals.

All of us start with the basics… Asking clients about their challenges and goals. And we’ve been taught to make sure we use our clients language as we echo those things in our proposals (which is why I try to get them in writing).

But lately I’ve been try to go beyond that and leverage what they don’t know they don’t know. The hidden gotchas, the unforeseen hurdles, the common pitfalls.

Clients are walking in the dark here, but this is all familiar territory to us. So in the proposal, I’m just trying to shine a little light.

Not as a scare tactic, but as solutions to future problems that I can help them completely avoid if we take the right steps now. Things like:

  • A custom library of pre-designed patterns: To ensure your brand’s consistent and save you future headaches (and costs) when expanding your website.
  • Submitting your sitemap to Google: A small but critical step to introduce your website to Google and speed up your rankings and visibility.
  • 30-Day post-launch warranty: A safety net, ensuring any overlooked details or last-minute tweaks are covered without extra costs.

These are things that I already do (you probably do too), but the difference is in highlighting them as solutions to problems they’ll never have to face… The things they don’t know they don’t know.

By helping our clients see into the future, we show them we’ve done this before, we’ve got their back, and we’re doing some critical thinking (not just regurgitating their inquiry).

This immediately adds value, instills confidence, and can differentiate your proposal from all the rest who are just giving the client exactly what they asked form

I just finished up a project and now that the client and I are pretty close, I asked him why he chose me (knowing he had multiple quotes). He told me that despite my proposal being “significantly higher” than the rest, everyone felt more confident in mine. He went on to cite two of the “hidden problem solutions” as the things that pushed them over the edge.

Of course, delivering on your client’s expectations in the proposal is non-negotiable, but including solutions to the problems they haven’t even thought of yet could be the difference.

Holding out on ’em 

I had a great call with a long-time client this week. Towards the end they told me all about how I was their favorite vendor and then asked me “What else do you do that you might be able to help us with?”.

Here I was riding a bit of a high from all the compliments when I realized the utter failure I’ve had if one of my best clients doesn’t know what services I offer.

It’s like having a bag of money with your name on it, but no one knows where to deliver it.

Like most of you, I didn’t get into this business with a passion for sales. In fact, sales is one of my least favorite parts about this business… The thought of it always conjures up a mental image of a used car salesman running you down across the parking lot.

No one wants to be like that, so we hold back. We put something on our website (and maybe post about it once on socials) and just assume everyone will know.

We’ve convinced ourselves any more would just be pushy and we don’t want to be sleazy.

But what we sometimes forget is our clients are business owners just like us. Every day, they wake up looking for solutions and opportunities to improve their business.

If we have a solution that could help them turn a buck into a buck-fifty or automate something that wastes 30 minutes of their day and we’re not beating down their door to tell them, then we’re not polite — we’re jerks.

Offering ways to help our clients achieve their goals is not a nuisance — it’s being proactive… It’s literally what they keep us around for.

We’ve already done the hard work of gaining our clients trust, we at risk of breaking that trust by holding out on them.

When was the last time you proactively reached out to a client with a solution you think could them?

If we genuinely want to be helpful, then we need to make sure our clients have every opportunity to benefit from the value we bring to the table.

Are your answers obvious?

Do you record your sales calls?

I know, I know… No one wants to hear themselves (and yes, it’s cringy for all of us!). But, like it or not, there is untapped gold in those recordings.

This week I put myself through the torture of listening to my last 10 sales calls — but this time I was on a mission to uncover the specific questions my prospects were asking.

This year I’m working on rebranding my agency and completely redoing my website. If I’m going to go to all that trouble, I figure I ought to try to do it right.

Guided by the book ‘They Ask, You Answer’, I went through all the calls and wrote down every question my prospects asked. My purpose in this was to see if my website was already addressing all these questions.

Despite being a champion of this book for years, my site is completely falling short.

Embarrassing? Absolutely. But, I’m not alone. I went on to go through a couple dozen agency websites and realized that we’re all burying crucial answers in blog posts, footnotes, and gated behind lead magnets.

Do we seriously expect our prospects to go on a digital scavenger hunt?

Here’s my working hypothesis: The agency that straightforwardly answers the most common questions will win the job 9 times out of 10. Why? Because clients hate surprises — especially when their hard-earned money is involved.

By making this information clear up-front, we set a foundation of trust and comfort.

So, what are these top 5 questions, you wonder?

  1. What is it, and what’s included? A clear winner. Prospects want to know exactly what they’re signing up for.
  2. Who’s it for, and is it right for me? They may not phrase it like this, but they’re essentially trying to gauge if they fit the bill.
  3. How much does it cost? The age-old question that’s tricky but not impossible to answer transparently.
  4. How long will it take? Expectations vary wildly here – from a week to a year!
  5. Can you show me examples? Portfolio items, case studies, and testimonials are your best friends here.

Nothing revolutionary, right? Yet, most of us are missing the mark.

While we’ve been busy trying to outdo each other with witty copy and intricate designs, our potential clients are still searching for straightforward answers to the most basic of questions.

Take a few minutes today and glance over your service pages — are the answers to these 5 questions obvious?

Looking for Shakespeare’s quill

I recently shared some screenshots of a project I’ve been working on for the past few months, and one of the comments I got threw me for a loop. Someone asked what software I used to manage the project.

I chuckled at first knowing the project management tool I used had little to do with the designs I was showing off.

Now, I’ll assume they just had project management on the brain and weren’t thinking my PM tool gave me the ability to create the design — but that thinking actually does happen pretty often.

A lot of us believe that if we just had the right tool, everything else would click into place.

For me, this didn’t start with web design… I remember being the kid who begged for $200 shoes, convinced they’d somehow make me a better basketball player. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. And as an adult, I still catch myself wondering what tools others use to achieve the results I’m after.

Whether it’s project management software, design tools, or coding environments, we’re often chasing this idea that the “perfect tool” is our golden ticket to success.

But let’s be real — it’s almost never about the tool.

Imagine thinking that if you could write with Shakespeare’s quill, you could pen the next Hamlet. It sounds absurd, right? Yet, that’s the kind of logic that has turned AppSumo into a multi-million-dollar success story.

Most of the time we’re shopping their aisles, we’re just looking for Shakespeare’s quill.

But to be better at basketball, I should have been out there every night practicing shot after shot. To write a compelling story, it starts with writing dozens of not-so-good ones first.

The same goes for design, project management, sales — you name it. There’s no substitute for experience and repetition.

Give me someone with tons of hands-on experience and basic tools over a novice with the fanciest gear any day of the week.

There are very few tools that could ever outperform what you gain from putting in the reps.

Is it even worth your attention?

In 2023, TABLE mastermind members accomplished an astonishing 157 long-term goals — which averages out to about 4 each. And that’s not even counting our weekly goals, which outnumber long-term goals by a factor of 10:1.

But from my unique perspective leading these groups, I’ve been trying to understand a key question: Why do some goals (no matter how difficult) get met, while others (no matter how simple) keep getting pushed down the calendar?

Sure, S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) are a big help. They provide clarity and measurability.

Accountability plays a big role too — ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.

And oftentimes you get the sense if a goal is going to be met by how quickly someone takes the first step towards it (which is always the hardest).

But there’s one crucial aspect that eclipses all others: purpose.

Consider this: A common goal among agency owners is to rebuild their website. Yet, this often gets perpetually postponed. Why is that?

When I ask why they want to rebuild their website, the usually response is some variation of “I’m just sick of it.” Compare this to a member who set the goal to “totally detach from project management in the business.” You can feel the weighty purpose behind this goal — even without context — can’t you?

Goals embedded in deep, meaningful purpose attract our attention, effort, and resources more than those that just sound good.

Compare these and ask yourself which one you would bet money on getting done:

Person A: “I want to rebuild my website because I’m sick of it.”

Person B: “I want to rebuild my website so that it truly reflects the value I provide.”

The difference is all in the why that transforms a mundane task into a mission.

If your why doesn’t sound like something you’d run through a brick wall to get, is it even worth your attention?

A year of intention or action

Since starting the TABLE mastermind groups back in May of 2021, I’ve conducted over 600 meetings. And while that’s not quite the 10,000 hours Malcom Gladwell says it takes to have true expertise — one truth has made itself glaringly evident:

Regardless of size or experience, the biggest difference between the companies who flourish and those who falter is those who take action — even when it’s imperfect (and almost always is).

Think of it like this… You could do all your research picking out the perfect gym, hiring the best personal trainer, and planning out every step that will help you achieve all your fitness goals — but unless you leave your sweat on that gym floor, none of that is going to do you any good.

The same applies to your business.

Sure, buying the latest course, trying out new software, or brainstorming new offers feels productive… But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, those things offer us more comfort than progress.

Too often they are just procrastination and self-preservation from the exposure of putting ourselves out there and seeing if we can make it happen.

The agencies who are finding the most success aren’t necessarily the ones with the most talent, the best offer, who’ve taken the most courses, or have the shiniest tools; they’re the ones that are taking consistent action to put all they have and know into practice.

Chances are you already have and know everything you need to have all the success you’re after… and the difference will be whether you have a year of intention or a year of action.

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How to come up with unlimited content ideas

Have you been meaning to create more content for your agency?

If so, then you know that feeling when you’re staring at a blank screen — the cursor blinking mockingly back at you? Yep. Writer’s block.

It’s a real pain, and something even loud-mouths like me face (can you believe it?).

Today I want to share my favorite trick I use to start churning out dozens of ideas, no matter the context.

The problem is, it’s so simple, you’ll probably just roll your eyes. But trust me, it works.

Instead of starting out with a completely blank screen — where any idea is a possibility — you need to narrow your focus.

I like to do this with “categories” (these can be just like the categories in your blog posts that organize articles by similar topics).

For your agency it could be things like “Getting Started”, Website Myths”, “Performance Optimization” — you get the gist.

Having these categories gives your brain a starting place and a set of boundaries to work within.

Instead of having zero ideas when anything was a possibility, you’ll find yourself with dozens of them by giving yourself a space to operate within…

For “Getting Started”, you could create a guide on best practices for buying a domain, share ways to save money on domains, or explain what a domain registrar is and how to choose one.

Under “Performance Optimization” you could write about image optimization, share your favorite performance testing tools, or connect the dots between performance and SEO.

See what I mean? The ideas just start snowballing once you have a direction.

It’s why designers start by gathering inspiration or chefs start a recipe with a key ingredient… Giving yourself structure to operate within isn’t a limitation — it’s what gives your brain the jumpstart it needs to be creative.

If it’s helpful, here are the categories of content I like to create for my agency: Case Studies, Continued Success, Getting Started, Marketing, Optimizations, Our Philosophy, & Tutorials.

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Your agency report card

As we close out another whirlwind year, it’s a great opportunity for a little introspection and reflection on how the year went for your agency.

And I’ve got just the thing to help you with that — and don’t worry, it’s 100% free!

I’m calling it “The Agency Report Card”, and it’s a unique self-assessment tool I’ve developed. It’s designed to give you a comprehensive look at your agency’s performance across key areas (more on that in a moment). Think of it as your end-of-year-checkup — without the cold stethoscope!

Why a report card?

Just like in school, a report card gives you a clear picture of where you excel and where there’s room for improvement. But now you get to grade yourself (boy, that would have come in handy when I was in school).

So, what’s covered?

The report card covers 9 critical areas (or ‘subjects’) for running a successful agency:

  1. Client Satisfaction
  2. Financial Health
  3. Innovation
  4. Work-Life Balance
  5. Team Management (if applicable)
  6. Marketing & Outreach
  7. Professional Development
  8. Customer Support
  9. Strategic Planning

Each subject has 4 unique questions that will help you think deeper about how you’re performing.

What do you get?

Once you’ve taken your assessment, you’ll receive:

  • Your agency’s Overall Grade: This gives you an overall snapshot of your performance.
  • Individual ‘Subject’ Grades: Dive into each area to see where you excel and what needs attention.
  • Personalized Feedback: Depending on your scores, you’ll get personalized advice. Scored high? Awesome, let’s see how you can leverage that success! Need improvement? No worries, I’ve got tips and resources to help you level up.

You’ll be able to see your full results immediately, without any opt-in, when you submit the form.

Ready to get started?

Click here to start your assessment and get your report card!

Remember, this isn’t just about patting yourself on the back or dwelling on what went wrong… It’s about taking a clear-eyed look at your business — celebrating wins, learning from mistakes, and setting the stage to make huge strides in 2024!

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Are your builds “Case Study Ready”?

Case studies have been pound-for-pound the most valuable content I’ve created for my agency. They’re not just fancy posts on my website; they’re assets I lean on in sales calls, highlight in proposals, and make for some of the better social posts. One case study can get you a lot of milage.

But, if I’m honest — they’re usually an afterthought.

You know the drill: project wraps up and there you are, scrambling to gather assets, scratching your head to recall specifics, and chasing the client down for a few good quotes.

It’s a hustle — but not the good kind.

This week I just-so-happened to be starting a project right at the time I was publishing a case study for my last project, and I had an ‘aha’ (or ‘duh’) moment: Why not build the case study as I’m working on the project?

So, with my latest build, I’ve been doing things like:

  • Gathering up all the initial inquiries, meeting notes, and other assets and communication in one central location.
  • Saving those little nuggets of client feedback as they come in (simple things, like these, that may come in handy).
  • Taking ‘before’ screenshots of their old site (did you know Screaming Frog can automate this? Huge time-saver!), along with Lighthouse and GTMetrix reports.
  • Keeping a timeline so I’m not guessing how long things took or how many meetings we had.
  • Jotting down challenges and their solutions as I find them.

Sure, it adds a little extra work now — but I’m banking on it being a huge time-saver later. Plus, my case study has got to be better with all these contemporaneous notes.

But that’s not the best part…

This intentional approach is making me more intentional about everything. I’m not taking shortcuts, I’m not deviating from my processes, and I’m ensuring that the client is thrilled at every turn.

Why? Knowing that today’s work is going to be showcased in a future case study has added a layer of accountability that’s pushing me to deliver my absolute best work.

I’m eager to see how this first case study turns out and figure out ways to incorporate this “case-study-as-I-go” approach into my processes.

The goal is to make every project “case study ready” right at launch.

What do you think? Would you give this method a shot? I’m just getting started, but I’m pretty excited about the potential!

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Outsell what you could save

And just like that, welcome to December 2023 🤯

It’s that time of year when most of us start pulling out spreadsheets and calculators to crunch the year’s numbers. If you think there’s room for improvement (there always is!), then you first knee-jerk reaction might be to grab ahold of your expenses and start slashing.

It’s a natural place to start, right? It’s easy to do, and the math seems simple: cut costs, boost profit.

But is that really going to make the biggest difference for your business going in 2024?

There’s no reason to be out there wasting money — and keeping expenses in check is important — but it’s really not the biggest lever you can pull to increase profitability. You can only cut so far before you start hitting bone — and then what?

Your time might be better spent looking at the other side of the equation — generating more revenue. Sure, it’s a little more daunting than canceling a few subscriptions, but it’s more likely to make a much bigger difference in the long run.

Here are 3 things to chew on…

  1. Raise your prices. Yeah, it’s scary, but why? You’ve gained new skills, improved your services, and had to deal with inflation hitting your business too, right? Not raising your prices might actually mean you’re taking a pay cut.
  2. Find upsell opportunities. You probably have more than a handful of clients that absolutely love you — and it’s a whole lot easier to sell to them than it would be to try and convince someone new who doesn’t know you. Are you leaving opportunities on the table?
  3. Narrow your focus. Increasing profits doesn’t have to mean doing more or working harder — sometimes it could be a matter of trimming the fat. Don’t just analyze your profitability company wide — take time to see which services best suit your business.

If I had to place a bet on the agency that will be most successful next year, my money would be on the agency focusing on any of the 3 strategies above over the one that’s focused pinching pennies.

Imagine you sign up to run in a race and you really want to beat your time from last year. But, instead of getting out and putting in the miles to get yourself in better shape, you decide you’ll just wear less clothes.

Sure, being a little lighter could improve your time — but it’s not going to take you from worst to first.

Cutting your expenses to make yourself more profitable is similar… It may save you a fraction here or there — but it’s not going to transform your business.

With a little bit of focus, I promise you can outsell more than you could ever save.

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Nature of our nerdom

It starts out innocently enough… A straightforward objective in need of a solution. But before you know it, you’re knee-deep in articles and debates about “best practice” and the “ultimate solutions”.

Whether it’s the underlying code from your page builder of choice, setting up an internal process, or choosing the right project management tool, it feels like we always end up in this same dilemma.

Social media makes it even harder — as we feel pressure to conform to other people’s standards, letting others convince us that the “best” solution is the most thorough and complex.

But is that always practical?

Yes, I could spend 4 days hand-coding a solution that makes a page unbreakable, perfectly accessible to anyones unique needs, and uses the fewest lines of code humanly possible… But is that necessary to archive your objective? Or might a quick template give you the same results?

The temptation to over-engineer solutions is an easy one to give into — but are you measuring its cost?

I’ve found that too often it’s not any more effective, efficient, or cost-effective.

So how do we avoid this trap that draws us in by the nature of our nerdom?

Here are a few questions I like to ask myself…

  • What’s the simplest solution? Often the simplest answer is the best, but be sure to consider its drawbacks too (everything is a compromise!)
  • What are the benefits of adding complexity? And, are they worth the cost?
  • Am I addressing a real need or a perceived one? There’s often requirements and “nice-to-haves” — but make sure you know which are which.
  • What is the appropriate budget to solve this problem? Think not only in terms of money, but in time and energy.

Quality isn’t a binary thing. Just because you’re not willing to go to any length to solve a problem doesn’t mean you’re not offering something of quality and value. By asking yourself these questions, you can determine where on that spectrum each challenge falls and develop an appropriate solution.

Sometimes the “best” solution is the practical one that gets the job done efficiently and effectively.

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Don’t hesitate to say ‘Pickle!’

I don’t know if this is something my kids made up, or standard practice across all cars with kids in America — but my 3 play a game called “Pickle”.

The objective is simple: When you see a green car, you need to be the first one to point at it and scream “pickle!” to earn a pickle point.

Now, if you’ve not had the pleasure of 3 kids playing this game in your tightly enclosed vehicle, you might be surprised at just how many green cars are out there. It’s shockingly evident when three kids and screaming and arguing about who saw it first (or if it’s really green) about every 2.3 seconds as your drive down the road.

At this point I’m convinced all green car owners are just following me around town to help drive me insane 😅

They’re not, of course. It’s simple a result of the ‘frequency bias’. The frequency bias is a cognitive bias that makes us notice something more often once it’s on our radar.

Call me crazy, but I think this phenomenon can be a superpower.

Every day we’re swimming through a sea of opportunity. But, if we’re not looking for it, it might pass us by without notice.

But just like green cars, if you’re actively looking for opportunities, you’d be surprised at how you can spot them everywhere.

The secret is getting specific about what you’re looking for…

  • What kinds of opportunities are you looking for? Maybe it’s new networking avenues, potential partnerships, or digital product ideas.
  • What will they look like? They can manifest as a complaint, a cry for help, or even as a funny joke.
  • Where are opportunities most likely to occur? Online communities, local business meetups, or even within your existing client base.
  • Who can help you identify these opportunities? Mentors, colleagues, or even friends & family and help offer fresh perspectives.
  • How can you be prepared to seize these opportunities? Be ready to take action, don’t hesitate to jump in and ask questions, or keep a pen and pad next to your shower (which we all know is where most of our brilliant thoughts happen!).

On its own, the frequency bias as just a boring explanation of how my kids are determined to turn my hair gray. But by actively looking for specific opportunities — and using it to your advantage — your brain is much more likely to spot them when they pass by.

Next time you spot an opportunity, don’t hesitate to say “Pickle!” (yes, out loud!). It might sound silly, and it is. In fact, it’s so strange that it will stick out in your mind and help you tune your senses to new possibilities. The more you practice, the more ‘pickles’ you’ll find even in mundane, uneventful situations.

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It’s a compass, not a map

Are you the kind of person who thrives on goals?

For me, goal setting has always been really helpful. They provide with a game to win and a high score to beat. As a competitive person, goals work great for me.

But goals don’t click for everyone and they’re not without their issues…

Goals, especially annual ones, ask you to predict the future. As business owners we often don’t know where the day will take us when we wake up, let alone 365 of them. Too often these goals end up irrelevant by the time we hit June.

And the pass/fail nature of goals doesn’t always tell the whole story. Coming up a hair short means you’ve ‘failed’, even if you’ve made tremendous progress — which can be discouraging.

I don’t think this means we should go into the new year directionless — so let me share an alternative if goals aren’t your thing…

Instead of setting goals for 2024, what if you set a theme?

Let’s imagine your theme for the new year is “Connection”. Every week you carve out time for meaningful conversations with past clients, you immerse yourself in community events, and you revamp your social media strategy to focus on building community.

Each decision, from choosing new tools to revamping old processes, is filtered through the question “How can I change this to deepen my connections?”.

A theme isn’t a rigid goal; it’s a lens to see your business through. It’s a compass — not a map — that allows you to pivot and adjust as you make your way forward. It’s doesn’t just transform what you do, but how you do it.

A year from now, instead of measuring whether you made or missed your goal, you can reflect on how your theme shaped your business.

Of course, you’re not limited to the “connection” theme… there are all kinds of ideas, like simplicity, growth, innovation, balance, organization, creativity, or education that might resonate better with you.

Whether you go with goals or set a theme (I may do both!), remember, that’s just the start. They’re not self-fulfilling prophecies; both need your commitment, attention, focus, and — most importantly — actions to actually move your business forward.

As of now we got more than a month to decide how we want to tackle 2024, but the new year will be here before you know it, so let’s get started!

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The algorithms and the Joneses

We’re closing in on two years now since I got more serious and consistent about posting on YouTube.

When I decided to do that, the goal was simple; help people in the community by sharing the things I’ve learned, and (hopefully) attract new, amazing people to the community.

It didn’t take long for me to start hitting those goals. I knew because I was getting wonderful comments on every video and people asking to join the group saying they found it on YouTube.

Beyond that, unintentionally, YouTube became my biggest source of leads for my agency even though I never — not once — solicited my agency on the channel (that goes to show you how much of a cheat code content marketing is for building recognition and trust — but I digress).

With it being successful beyond my expectations, I’ve continued a 1-ish video per week pace for nearly two years now. But recently something shifted…

Over the past few months I’ve noticed myself checking my YouTube Studio dashboard more frequently… carefully counting the number of views, the watch time, the likes, and the subscribers. Sadly those numbers haven’t grown as fast as I would have liked and it’s bothered me enough its started to discourage me from even posting.

But here’s the thing… Those metrics — the ones YouTube cares about — were never really part of my mission. YouTube might care about likes and watch time, but those things aren’t what motivated me to create videos, nor are they what gives me fulfillment.

This realization — measuring what matters — has hit me hard. It’s made me start looking around at other areas of my business and questioning why I’m measuring what I’m measuring.

Social media makes it easy to get caught up in playing someone else’s game. Sometimes that’s comparing ourselves and our success to others — but too often, it’s measuring ourselves against an algorithm purpose-built to keep us creating free content to feed their machine.

But are those the things that actually fulfill us?

As we wind down 2023 and gear up for 2024, will we measure our success by keeping up with the algorithms and Joneses? Or will we hone in on the metrics that really matter? The things that make a real, tangible difference in our lives and the lives of our family…

I’d be willing to bet that our success is somewhere down the path we carve for ourselves, not in the footsteps we’re told to follow.

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Bursting with potential, but free from responsibility

Picture yourself walking down the halls of an art gallery, walking by countless pieces of abstract art. It’s beautiful, of course, but some of it is shockingly simple. Naturally, your inner monologue says “I could have painted that” (that is, of course, if your kids don’t scream it out first 🙄 They have zero filter).

And, yes, while that might be true… The reality is, you didn’t. The artist did.

The artist made a critical move that most of us rarely seem to muster the nerve to do… They moved from “I can” to “I will”. It was this move that, crucially, got them to “I did”.

I think this is where too many people fail to reach their potential…

The “I can” zone is seductive. It’s comfortable. It’s one-size-fits-all.

But while it’s bursting with potential, it’s free from responsibility.

“I can” asks nothing of us but to dream. No commitment, no risks — just the illusions of success.

“I will” Is different. “I will” turns potential into promise, dreams begin to demand action, and it holds us accountable to our commitments.

Don’t believe me? Compare these two sentences:

  • I can close 2 new projects before the end of the year
  • I will close 2 new projects before the end of the year

This one word completely transforms the spirit of the sentence — and very likely the results that follow. “I will” is the bridge from “I can” to “I did”.

It’s easy to see things and assure ourselves “I can do that”…

But will you?

How many opportunities have you let slip? How many projects have you left half-finished? How many goals remain just out of reach?

They’re all just waiting for your will.

So here’s my challenge: For the next week, be hyper-aware of every “I can” thought. Stop and ask yourself if you can or if you will.

The mediocre 5-star BLT

This past weekend we decided to chase the changing leaves west and spend a weekend in the mountains. The drive was a few hours, and if you too have 3 kids you know that can’t possibly done without stopping (several times).

Before we got to our first destination, we decided to make one final pit stop to get some food. The only question was whether we’d play it safe and go for the chain place we were familiar with or roll the dice on a mom-and-pop joint.

My wife found a little independent sandwich shop just outside the park gates and we pulled in.

The menu was lacking, and despite ordering sandwiches, they took an eternity to arrive. Even then, they came out one by one with 5 minutes between each delivery. And the food itself? Unremarkable.

Yet, before we pulled out of their parking lot, I left them a glowing 5-star Google review.

Why?

From the moment we walked in until they held the door open for us wishing us safe travels we were treated like family. When I got back to the car, I had already forgotten about the food — but here we are days later and I’m writing an email to 7,000+ people about the experience.

This, of course, has me thinking about my own business. I spend a lot of time obsessing over things like code quality and color theory. Yet, most of my clients couldn’t tell the difference between what’s taken me years to master and what their nephew could do in an hour with a template in Wix.

We should strive to provide a great product, but that might not be the most important thing. Just as the restaurant turned a mediocre BLT into a 5-star experience with great service — poor service can destroy your reputation and relationships no matter how great you are at building websites.

Imagine what our businesses could become if we dedicated as much energy to the client experience and relationships as we did to hunting down the latest deals or newest trends…

At the end of the day, most people won’t remember all the specifics of what you did for them — but they will never forget how you made them feel.

I’ll try to save you a couple hundred dollars

Be honest… how many subscriptions do you have that you haven’t touched in the last 6 months? Most of us will wildly underestimate this number — from both forgetfulness and to avoid the shame.

That, of course, is why subscriptions are so popular. It’s really easy to sign up — after all, it’s just $8/mo! — and even easier to forget about.

Now, I’m not one to pinch pennies when it comes to running my business. It takes money to make money, and I’m not going to trip over dollars to pick up dimes.

But there’s a difference between being cheap and spending wisely.

Thankfully, I’ve pretty much avoided spending money on any unused subscriptions through a simple database and about an hour of work over the course of a year.

In this database I add anything I sign up for (plugins, SaaS, etc.), the cost, whether it’s revenue generating or not, and if it’s a necessity or luxury.

It takes a bit to get in the habit of adding (and removing!) items from the database — but I have a reminder setup every quarter to do a full audit (this sounds intimidating, but it’s just a quick scan through my bank statements and takes less than 15 minutes).

They say what gets measured gets managed and since the database shows me all the tools I’m paying for — and how much I’m spending monthly and annually for them — I’m a lot more conscious about where my money is going.

It’s hard to know what this has saved me over the years, but when I say “thousands”, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration. It’s not uncommon for my quarterly reviews to end in cutting $50 – $100 a month in expenses. It doesn’t take long to add up.

It’s nothing extravagant — simple is best if you ask me — but if you’d like a copy of my database (Airtable) then you can grab one here (click “copy base” at the top left of the database).

I’d be willing to bet that this could put a few hundred dollars back into your pocket instantly if you spent an hour setting this up.

Here you are — now — with the decision

Have you ever caught yourself sinking hours into something and wondered “Why am I doing this?!?!”?

I have… more times than I’m comfortable admitting. In fact, just the other day I spent about 4 hours trying to find the perfect font for a project. When I noticed it had gotten dark outside, I narrowed it down to my final two; Roboto and Inter. Yep, the same two fonts I use on just about every project.

Talk about a waste of time.

This got me thinking about the 80/20 rule; roughly 80% of results come from 20% of actions. In essence, a massive chunk of our time ends up going into tasks that don’t profoundly affect the results.

Sometimes it’s because the distraction is just more fun (like browsing through fonts)… But oftentimes, if I’m honest, I’m just avoiding the difficult stuff (probably, also the fonts).

Distractions are everywhere, aren’t they?

We just turned our calendars over to October last weekend. Not only does that mean the best season of the year (at least here where I live), NFL football, and my favorite holiday (Thanksgiving) are all here, or just around the corner — it means that 2023 will be over in a blink.

We’ve got just one quarter left to help us determine whether this year was a success or a failure.

So — here’s my question to you…

What’s the one thing you could focus on in Q4 that will make the biggest impact on how you measure your business’ success in 2023?

What you do over the next 3 months could very well determine whether 2023 was a step forward for your business, or a step backwards. But here you are — now — with the decision on your doorstep… Do float through the end of the year? Or do you buckle down and focus on what will really move the needle?

Maybe it’s getting your care plan prices raised… Maybe it’s finally launching that product that was on your goals list back in 2022… Or maybe, like me, you’re going to spend the rest of this year trimming all the fat to make your business more lean going into 2024.

Wasting away in the 80% of things that won’t make a difference is an easy trap to fall into — and the default position if you’re not intentional.

Let’s finish 2023 with intention!

*This* is expensive

Have you ever tried baking bread from scratch? I love to cook — so I figured it couldn’t be that difficult. Unfortunately, what I produced didn’t fit the legal definition of “bread”. The kids — my biggest critics — called it “a brick” 😅.

Yet, for someone who’s baked hundreds of loaves, they could produce perfection with their eyes closed and their hands tied behind their back.

Same ingredients, same kitchen, same recipe; completely different outcomes.

The gap between my results and theirs? Knowledge.

Gaining expertise is an expensive venture, no matter how you slice it.

Some spend money on a formal education. Others might spend years in apprenticeship. And many, like I’m sure you have, know the cost of learning things the hard way through trial and error.

The things you know might feel like common knowledge to you. But to others without your experience? It’s practically witchcraft.

But are you accounting for that when you price your services?

You have the receipts in the form of every mistake you’ve made, every course you’ve taken, and every challenge you’ve overcome. These things have made you valuable far beyond the hours of labor you provide on any given project.

You’re not just selling a service; you’re lending out all of the knowledge you’ve earned along the way — and your prices are a reflection of that.

It’s great to get out a calculator and draw up numbers based on time, materials, and expenses… but that calculator doesn’t factor in the scars — many of them costly — your clients will avoid by having you lead the way.

Think back to the baker… the true value isn’t just in the ingredients they use or the oven it’s baked in — it’s in the hands that crafted it.

Same goes for you.

Claim back a little of your time

Nothing will start my day off on the wrong foot like opening up my calendar to realize I’ve got a day full of back-to-back-to-back meetings.

It’s like PTSD from the dozens of times I’ve gotten sucked into a meeting when everything could have been handled without a call. Or sessions that drag on endlessly, eating up more and more of the little time I have in the day. And who can forget the meetings that dart from one subject to another without any resolutions or concrete steps to move forward.

Feeling anxious yet? 😅

Just like invasive weeds in your garden, meetings — though essential for sealing deals and keeping clients content — can overrun your work day if you don’t put boundaries in place and constantly keep them in check.

Over time I’ve developed (and stolen) a few strategies to combat the worst offenders, and I though I’d share those you today in hopes you can claim back a little of your time…

  1. Does this need to be a meeting? It’s frustrating to realize you’re in a “meeting that should have been an email” — but some people just like to hear themselves talk 😅. To deter unnecessary calls, I’ve limited my meeting slots to no more than 2 per day (and some days have 0), and every call (save for emergencies) have a two-day booking notice. Not only does this provide me with the space I need in my schedule, but it nudges clients towards asynchronous communication (which will typically solve their issues quicker). If it really needs to be a meeting, then it’s worth waiting for.
  2. “I have another call after this”. I can’t remember who I picked this one up from, but it’s been a lifesaver. At the beginning of each call, I’ll let attendees know I have another call scheduled a the conclusion of our meeting. It’s a subtle nudge but it reminds guests that we’ll have to end on time and gives me the perfect segue to wrap things up when we’re approaching the end of the call (without coming off like a jerk).
  3. Ask to take control. I’ll admit, the first time I did this felt really awkward… but it worked so well, I fought through it and it’s become my secret weapon for keeping meetings on track. After we exchange pleasantries, I’ll say “Do you mind if I set the agenda for the meeting?”. No one has ever objected, and it gives me the freedom to steer the conversation and keep us on track. By asking to lead (rather than jockeying for position) it becomes more about stewardship than control, which I’ve found to be a great provider-client dynamic.

Now, I won’t pretend those three strategies have magically cured all my meeting woes — but they’ve most certainly helped. And I’ve noticed when meetings go wrong, it’s usually because I’ve let one of those things slip.

Time is such a valuable resource (especially as a business owner, husband, and father) that I’ve decided it’s worth fighting for every second you can get.

What about you? What kind of meeting-hacks or insights have helped you? Hit reply — I’d love to hear them!

Building our defenses

When you see a post in the group about burnout, does it feel like a familiar stab? Like someone is narrating a page from your life story? Happens to me every single time — and we had another one of those posts this week.

It got me to thinking… Why is it that burnout almost feels like a rite of passage for entrepreneurs? It’s as if burnout is the price we have to pay for the freedom owning your own business affords you.

And burnout isn’t something to easily dismiss… It’s not just a case of “feeling a little tired”; it can be just as serious (and lead to) chronic depression. I’m not a therapist — so I do my best to avoid telling people how to work their way through burnout (other than I would highly encourage you to seek professional help (you’re worth it!)). However, I do think there is power in recognizing what causes burnout in the first place so we can build our defenses.

  1. Boundary Buster. Ever notice how “office hours” tend to creep further into dinner time? Or how the first thing you do when you open your eyes is brace yourself as you open your email on your phone? If you’re nodding along, you get it. Over time, work stops being something we do and starts being something we are. It’s a terrible plot twist you didn’t expect when you opened shop.
  2. The Pressure Cooker. While the pressure of needing to compete exists across all professions, the web industry is flooded with talented people which can make it feel like an uphill battle to carve out your own niche. That will often compel people to push themselves to be *the ***best. But that’s an unrealistic expectation that can often leave you feeling like you’re coming up short. But striving to be your best? Now that’s a goal worth chasing.
  3. Running on Empty. We’ve all done it… Skipping a meal to take a call. Trading an hour of sleep for an hour of email. Forgetting how our standing desk even works. But trading self-care for work isn’t just bad for our health; it tanks our productivity too. We’re most productive when we’re at our best, and to get there we have to take care of ourselves (physically and mentally).
  4. Lone Wolf Syndrome. Even if you work around other people, being “the boss” puts you on an island — but humans are pack animals. We thrive on connection and community — which is something we can lose moving from coworkers to subordinates. Isolation can be a symptom that’s hard to diagnose (because you can be both around people and feel alone at the same time) — but it can have devastating effects.

If you’re someone who knows me well, then I can just hear you screaming “LOOK WHO’S TALKING!”. Yep, I’m either guilty or have been guilty of every damn thing on this list. This isn’t just an email — it’s a confession of sorts.

But here’s the thing… Identifying the pitfalls is the first step in building guardrails around them.

Every time you decide to enforce a work boundary, take a genuine break, practice self-care or reach out to a friend, you’re not just avoiding burnout — you’re doing things to proactively make your business stronger and more resilient.

It’s harder to burn out when you’re keeping your batteries charged.

Business MRI

This week I was faced with a challenge: create a list of 27 things that have helped my business get to where it is today.

If you’re anything like me, you’re immediately asking “why 27?”. It does seem like an odd number (literally) but it’s enough to dig deep without overthinking.

The first handful — let’s say 5 or 10 — are obvious. After that? You gotta start digging into the nooks and crannies of your past experiences. And let me tell you… That’s where the gold is buried.

Now, my original idea was to share my list of 27 things with you this week — in hopes that it could help. But the whole reason I got any value from this exercise wasn’t because I copied someone else’s list — it was because I had to make my own.

So, instead, I’m going to extend this challenge to you:

Step 1: Grab a notepad and head somewhere quiet.

Away from the notifications, glowing light, and comfort of your keyboard — find a place where you can have some quiet thoughts.

Step 2: Start with the easy wins.

What are the first 5 or 10 things that jump out at you? Imagine if someone new to this business was casually asking for advice.

Step 3: Dig deep

Here’s where the fun begins! What are the more subtle, less-obvious things that have impacted you? Think about the hardships, the late nights, and the “aha!” moments.

Step 4: Reflect and re-read

Once you get to 27, go through your list again. Anything surprising? Start putting a star next to the ones that really stand out.

Step 5: Take action

In a world where we’re always searching for the ‘next big thing’, what about what’s already working? How can you double down on the things that you’ve already proven to be successful?

I know there will only be a small percentage of you who will find this an interesting challenge… And only a fraction of those who will actually put pen to paper.

But I’m telling you, this was like giving my business an MRI. It helped me see more than the obvious strong points or glaring omissions — it shined a light on the more subtle aspects that are easy to overlook.

And, I’ll admit, when I was hit with this I questioned whether or not I’ve done enough to qualify as an accomplishment. And, even if it were, was it anything more than luck that got me there?

Impostor syndrome is omnipresent — but just trust me and fight through it.

Sometimes you gotta really dig deep to find out what’s driving you — or, in some cases, holding you back.

This could be your reality check, revealing the underutilized strategies and missed opportunities right under your nose.

dare double-dog dare you to try and find out for yourself.

If you do, hit reply and share with with me, and I’ll send you mine. 

The shadow of opportunity

Picture this… You’ve just landed your best client ever — the unicorn of clients. Their projects are interesting, they’re easy to work with, and let’s not kid ourselves; they pay well. Very well.

Months roll on, and you’re moving into a bigger office and getting ready for the vacation of a lifetime when a notification pops up on your screen…

“We’ve decided to go another direction”.

It’s not only a gut punch — it immediately sends your reality crumbling. That big office and bucket-list vacation? Forget about it. You’re in instant survival mode wondering how you can even pay your bills.

You’ve been so complacent, you’ve stopped filling a pipeline and the rest of your clients have been left mostly ignored.

While this story is fictitious, it’s so rooted in reality that it could be the biography for many agencies. I’ve watched it happen — and to some degree, had it happen myself.

It’s what we call the “whale client” — the huge account that your agency is entirely dependent on. It’s an easy trap to fall in — because who doesn’t want a giant account?

Listen, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with landing a whale client. They can be the thing that gets your business off the ground. But — and this is a big but — you’ve got to be smart about it. Recognize it for what it is: both an opportunity and a risk.

If you feel like you might have a whale on the line, here are a few of my suggestions:

  1. Always Continue Building Relationships. No matter how good you have it, or how busy you are, you have to keep the pipeline flowing. You have to keep fishing.
  2. Set Boundaries. Your business isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet — no matter how much your client pays you. You’re not anyone’s employee, so you can’t act like one.
  3. Rainy Day Fund. It’s easy to inflate your lifestyle alongside your income… But instead of cashing all of the checks, set up a percentage from your whale to set aside for a rainy day.

And while there’s no hard and fast rules (that I’ve seen), here’s some ranges you can use to measure your reliance on a client:

0-5%: Healthy diversification.
5-15%:
 On the radar, but not alarming.
15-20%:
 You might have a whale — proceed with caution! 
20-50%: 
Dangerous condition, implement contingencies.
50%+: 
Red alert, immediate action required.

Do yourself a favor: run the numbers. Risk likes to hide in the shadow of opportunity.

The unsung hero

I’ll admit it… I’m a sucker for those nail-biting, overly-dramatized sports movies and documentaries. With the NFL season rolling in, it’s given me an excuse to binge on the marathons they are running (and eat my bodyweight in nachos).

Picture this one: A team is down by 28 points. The kind of lead that makes you wonder if there’s any coming back. In the midst of what seemed like a foregone conclusion, the quarterback yells at his teammates on the sidelines: “You can’t score 28 points in one play”.

It seems pretty basic, right? But with the pressure of the game, his teammates were all trying to make that ‘Hail Mary’ moment every snap.

I never was much of a football player — but I definitely related to this in my business.

When faced with a big challenge or lofty goal, I’ll catch myself scouting for that one thing — the Hail Mary — that will get me from where I am across the chasm.

It’s that one new piece of software, that one new offer, or that one big sale… That’s what I think I need…

But, in reality, that’s a bit like trying to score 28 points in one play.

In my experience, rarely is it a single thing that makes all the difference. The biggest successes I’ve had in my business have come from prolonged, consistent effort.

It’s the same in football as in business; persistence is the unsung hero behind nearly every success story.

But, unlike elite athletes, many people in our industry don’t have the stomach for the fight.

They write a couple blog posts, publish a handful of videos, and fire off a half-a-dozen emails before declaring “none of it works”.

The truth is, all of those things can work; but only if you’re willing to do them consistently.

Most scoring drives aren’t the results of some miracle… but small and moderate gains — even losses — before marching across the goal line.

The lesson here is simple: Just keep putting points on the board. With consistency and enough time, you’ll be surprised at how you can change the game.

Horizons of possibility

Picture yourself looking out of an airplane window down at a field below. The patchwork of land intersected by streams, roads, and highways.

Now, picture standing in the middle that field with both feet on the ground. You can feel the air, smell the crops, and hear the birds.

Same field — two completely different experiences.

But here’s the catch: You won’t naturally consider how the view might look from 30,000 ft. while standing on the ground. It requires an active shift in mindset.

I’ve found that this can be a huge detriment to running a business. Each day we make decisions, face challenges, and are presented with opportunities. We’re comfortable with our default perspective, and it’s easy to forget that’s not the only one.

I’m convinced that this “fixed lens” has led to many of my failures, poor decisions, and missed opportunities.

Actively perspective shifting isn’t something most of us do naturally. But each vantage point holds a piece of the puzzle — and it’s foolish to work with only a fraction of the information.

Here are a few ways you can overcome the default state:

  1. Zoom in. Dive deep. As deep as you can go. Think about the minute details that most people wouldn’t ever notice. In terms of time, only think about the immediate impact.
  2. Zoom out. Look at it from that airplane window. See how it fits into everything else in context. Imagine the impact in a month, a year, or even a decade.
  3. Do a 360. Don’t just look at it head-on, think about what it looks like from the back? The sides? What might be completely invisible from one side can be glaringly obvious from other. 

By actively seeking out new perspectives, you’re not just a better problem solver — you’re broadening the horizons of possibility.

Tuning into the right frequencies

Have you ever imagined what the internet would be like if it were a physical space? Imagine walking down its streets being constantly bombarded with bells, whistles, shouting, lights, explosions, and total chaos.

Everywhere you turn is a street performer doing everything their power to grab the world’s most valuable resource; your attention.

It sounds like a hellscape — but that’s what we open our laptop to find each and every day.

I’m guessing, like me, you constantly find it hard to focus, don’t you? And without focus, that to-do list just keeps growing longer.

The reality is, if we’re not explicitly intentional with where we put our focus, then there are plenty of people who would will gladly do it for us.

For me, I feel like this just continued to get worse over the years — at some points thinking I couldn’t wrestle control back in my own hands. And while it’s still a daily battle (there are so many shiny objects out there!), there have been a few little tricks I’ve picked up along the way that have really helped.

  1. Embrace routine. As ‘creative’ people, most of us don’t even like the thought of a routine — but having these guardrails keeps the chaos out. For me this starts with a “day start” routine, and a “day end” routine that, if nothing else, bookends my day with some intentionality.
  2. Daily top 3. A big hat tip to Noah Britton for this one, as part of my routine I list out the 3 things that are most important to accomplish for the day. Sure, the ideal list is 10 times as long — but 3 is a manageable number that strikes a balance between progress and practicality while helping me build momentum. We’ve started doing this as a group inside the Barfly Slack, and the public accountability makes it even better.
  3. Time Blocking. Just like we wouldn’t drop every element into a web page without the structure and grouping of sections, containers, and divs, going through the day without a schedule leads to a lot of waisted energy and invites in the distractions.

It’s not about silencing the noise emanating from the streets of the internet — the chaos is part of the appeal — it’s about tuning into the right frequencies.

All of us have the same amount of time and attention to spend in a day. We can invest it, or we can squander it.

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The fastest path to irrelevancy

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”.

Of course he was talking about evolution — but I think the same thing is true in business. Maybe even more so in a technology-focused industry like ours.

I don’t know about you, but the last 6 or 12 months have felt like being strapped to a rocket ship with how much technology has changed.

If Darwin’s quote holds true in business — then being stagnant is the fastest path to irrelevancy.

It’s, of course, a balancing act. As much as you can’t be stagnant, we know what happens when you just jump from trend to trend chasing the “next big thing”.

Today I thought I’d share my notes on 4 ways I plan on adapting intentionally…

1. Be a Curious Learner

It might not feel like you’re being productive if you stop doing client work to attend a webinar, sit back and read a chapter of a book, or even browse some of the latests post in the group… But those things can be opportunities to learn something new that can help you and your clients be even more successful. Keep looking for opportunities to expand your knowledge.

2. Lean In

It’s human nature to feel threatened or scared of something new. But as you look throughout history, you find that the most successful people are the ones that leaned in to new technologies or opportunities to take advantage of how they could help them succeed. It doesn’t mean everything is worth pursuing (we’ll touch on that next), but look for opportunities instead of shying away from threats.

3. Experiment, Evaluate, and Iterate

Not every new idea is going to be a home run — but while we’re on the sports analogy, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. As you experiment with new ideas, tools, and concepts, it’s important to measure and evaluate their impact so you can continue it iterate to find the gems and discard the waste.

4. Don’t Fear Failure

Some of the best lessons to learn are the ones that teach us what not to do. When we don’t take action out of fear of failure, then we rob ourselves of some of our best learning experiences. Despite what your brain might trick you into thinking, no one is standing around waiting to laugh at you. In fact, most people are envious of the courage you had to go out on our own and are actively rooting for you.

Times of rapid change, like these, are challenging, but they also present us with the most opportunity. It’s our responsibility — to our business, ourselves, and those we support — to find the opportunities and embrace them.

I shared the 4 strategies I’m using to take a proactive approach — but what about you?

Hit reply and let me know.

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More pickles than I can count

Have you ever found yourself torn between a reluctant ‘yes’ standing our ground with a potential relationship-straining ‘no’?

Who said running a business was easy?

Thankfully, I’ve found a two-word phrase that has gotten me out of more pickles than I can count;

Company Policy.

Now, you may be thinking, “Policies? Isn’t that for some corporation?”. But hear me out… Company policies — no matter the size of your agency — have two huge advantages you might not be considering:

  1. They establish boundaries. Telling a client ‘no’ is hard — especially for people-pleasers. But policies? They act as your buffer, prevent you from becoming a ‘Yes Man’ and easing the sting of a denied request. They allow you to professionally and tactfully decline requests without it being personal.
  2. They eliminate decision fatigue. As business owners, our days are filled with countless decisions. Each ‘yes’ or ‘no’ we wrestle with chips away at our focus, energy, and productivity. Policies streamline these decisions, and save your mental energy for things that really matter.

If I’ve convinced you that policies are important, then your next question is probably “How?”. Like with most things, I’ve found the simple approach the best:

  1. Identify the situations that cause you stress. List the situations that cause you the most stress. Late payments, last-minute changes, clients texting you on the weekend — all of these great starting points.
  2. Envision the idea outcome. For each situation, visualize the ideal outcome. What process would make things smoother? What outcome would instantly relieve your anxiety?
  3. Turn those outcomes into your policies. Convert these ideal scenarios into your company policies. Keep them clear, concise, and leave no room for imagination.

Here’s an example of how I convey a policy to my client:

“My company policy prevents me from purchasing domains for clients. This ensures you always remain the rightful owner of your online presence. If you’d like, I can provide you with a list of our recommended vendors along with instructions on how to purchase the domain on your own”.

Notice the shift? No disappointment, no added responsibility. Just a professional response that honors both your time and your client’s request.

You don’t have to write the entire company policy manual in a day, either. Just take the extra few minutes to tackle your next decision by crafting a policy instead of a one-off response.

Future-you is gonna love it.

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Not *the* best; *our* best

In a recent TABLE call, a question was tossed into the discussion that really caught my attention. It wasn’t about the usual suspects — client acquisition, pricing & profitability, or juggling work-life balance — it was more introspective:

“What’s the biggest challenge for you to overcome in your business?”

It went on to evolve to, ‘What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve created for yourself?’

The question struck a chord with me because it didn’t point fingers at external factors (like we often do), but instead turned the spotlight on ourselves.

That might sound intimidating — and it is — but if we’re the problem, we can also be the solution.

For me, the biggest hurdle hasn’t been mastering new technologies, finding enough work, or even handling nightmare clients… It’s been wresting with comparing myself (and my progress and status) to others.

I suppose it’s a type of impostor syndrome — but one that manifests with jealousy that doesn’t just say “You’re not good”, but “You’re not as good as them”.

It’s not surprising, to be honest… Thanks to social media we see the highlight reel of everyone else’s success and stack it against our blooper reel of challenges and setbacks.

Does that resonate with you?

Here’s the truth though… There will always be someone more successful, knowledgeable, more ‘something’ than we perceive ourselves to be. And that’s okay. The only comparison that really matters is the one with our past selves.

I try to remind myself of this when those feelings creep in… Have I grown since last year, last month, or last week? Am I continually learning, improving, and pushing my boundaries?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then it’s cased closed.

We don’t need to be the best, we need to be our best.

Now, it’s your turn.

I’ve shared my struggles and how I’ve been trying to tackle it — but what about you?

What are you struggling to overcome in your business? And, more importantly, what are you going to do to beat it?

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What gets measured gets managed

The saying goes “What gets measured gets managed”, and I know I’ve seen the most significant changes/growth in my agency when I was actively measuring the success of my efforts.

Not only does it help us understand what is working (and what isn’t), but measuring can help uncover all kinds of opportunities we might not have otherwise seen if we weren’t looking so closely.

Of course, when you first read this question you might go right to revenue and profits — and while that’s important, we’re probably all keeping an eye on that, so I think we can explore a little bit deeper…

Here are a few more things you might consider measuring in your agency:

  • Client Satisfaction Surveys
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Task Completion Rate
  • Billable Hours
  • Client Acquisition Cost (CAC)
  • Project ROI (Return on Investment)
  • Gross Profit Margin
  • Lead to Client Conversion Rate
  • Retention Rate
  • Churn Rate
  • Resource Utilization Rate
  • Process Efficiency Ratio (PER)
  • Lifetime Value of a Client (LTV)
  • Referral Rate
  • Employee Turnover Rate

Of course, it would be totally overwhelming to try to do all of these things, all the time, all at once — but there’s probably something from this list that speaks to you.

What are of your agency is struggling the most? Maybe simply measuring it could be the key to figuring out how to improve it.

Hit reply and let me know something you’re measuring (besides money) that’s made a difference in your business.

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Perfection, practicality, & profitability

I’ve often thought of a website designer/developer as a type of craftsman. It’s part art and part science, where aesthetics and utility come together in some sort of balance.

But where that balance lies can be really difficult to find.

A website is never perfect… It could always be faster, better optimized for conversions, more accessible, prettier, or well written (don’t believe me? Post some of your work online and let the piranhas point out everywhere you’ve fallen short). You could spend the rest of your life on just one website and never truly “finish”.

But, of course, we can’t sink that much time and attention into every client project that comes our way. We have to be practical.

And at the end of the day, we are also doing this to run a profitable business.

So, how do we strike that balance? How do we ensure that we provide the best possible product while keeping an eye on our bottom line?

It’s a question I struggle with personally — and have gone above and beyond more time than I could count (even when the client had no idea) — but I’ve come up with a few things to remind myself of that seems to help.

  1. Define the scope clearly. The more precise and granular you can be about the scope of the project, the easier it will be to know when your job is done.
  2. Prioritize the essentials. Ever heard the saying “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze”? I use this one a lot… There are just some things that, even though they may help, wouldn’t probably be worth the time and resources to pursue.
  3. Break Projects into Phases. Tackling an entire project at once can be overwhelming and sometimes impractical. Instead, consider breaking the project into phases. This phased approach not only makes the project more manageable but also ensures that you meet the client’s immediate needs quickly, while leaving room for creativity and continuous improvement.
  4. Set a time budget. None of us like to trade our money for time, but in the end we are trading our time (time we could otherwise be spending with our loved ones or doing something that gives us fulfillment). Having some sort of time budget can help from going overboard.
  5. Don’t reinvent the wheel.Though the artisan side of us would love for everything we do to be unique, the truth is a lot of things we do we’ve already done hundreds of times. Make use of templates, process, systems, and past work to get results quicker. There’s a reason there are “standards”.

If you’re recognizing yourself and some of your own struggles in today’s email, then I want to remind you that you’re not alone.

As creators, we are naturally inclined to lose ourselves in the possibilities of what could be done… The dedication we have to our craft is what makes us exceptional at what we do. But we have to marry that dedication with a pragmatic approach that ensures we’re around for the long haul.

The balance is about finding ways to produce incredible work and nurture a business that supports you and your family.

The key, I think, is acknowledging the natural tension between these two things and being intentional about how we navigate it.

How about you? How have you tried to strike the balance between perfection, practicality, and profitability in your own projects?

Hit reply and let me know — I’d love to hear about it!

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Still not batting 1.000

With all the extra headaches that come with owning my own business, the last thing I want to be is miserable working in it.

A big part of that, for me at least, is working on projects I enjoy.

When a project (and customer) is a great fit — it doesn’t even feel like work.

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting good projects (and the bad ones too!), but I’m still not batting 1.000.

One way to accelerate the process is to get really clear about what a “good project” is to you. And I don’t mean having an “idea” of what a good project looks like — I mean a detailed spec of exactly what you’re looking for.

It doesn’t mean that a project has to meet every bit of the criteria, but the more, the better.

So how do you get that granularly clear about your ideal projects? One way is to go through a questionnaire — like this one I made for you (with a little help from AI).

By answering all of these questions, you’ll have a highly detailed outline of the types of projects that are best suited for your needs.

I’ve found that not only does this give you the clarity that necessary, but knowing exactly what you’re looking for seems to make more of those opportunities appear out of thin air.

Maybe you don’t think that’s true — but what’s it going to hurt to try?

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It finally dawned on me

 I used to get really frustrated by the other agencies in my town…

They built inferior websites, charged twice as much as me, and still had 10 times more customers than I did.

For years I just couldn’t understand it. Why would people be paying these guys more for a worse product?

But I read a quote the other day that finally explained it:

“It’s not the best product that wins, but the best-known one that wins”

— Jaiden Vu

These other agencies were on the board at the Chamber of Commerce, they attended every event, they held functions, they sponsored little league teams, they ran ads on Facebook, and one even had giant billboards all over town.

They weren’t successful because they were the best — they were successful because they were the best-known.

While it’s great to hone your skills — and we should all be getting better and better at our job — it’s not the nuances of semantic HTML, or the best CSS class naming conventions that will put your business in the black… It’s getting your business in front of people that will.

We have to do both.

How many hours have you spent in the last year enrolled in courses or watching YouTube videos to sharpen your skills? And how many have you spent making sure everyone knows who your business is and what it can do?

If we’re looking for the best ROI possible, then most of us (myself included) are spending our time the wrong way.

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Going on offense

In the website industry we’ve always had a pretty poor reputation for customer service. Many of us entered this field because of a passion for technology, not necessarily for human connection or business acumen.

And because of the demand for our services, that’s been good enough. We didn’t have to have the social or customer relationship skills, because our technical skills were out of reach for most people.

But as AI creeps into every corner, we’re faced with a new reality. Automated systems can now replicate and even surpass most of our technical skills — and they’re only getting better.

So, you’ve probably gone on defense and been asking yourself “How do I compete?

When this question hits right, it’s kind of intimidating. How do we compete with something that can spit out in seconds what it took us years to master?

Businesses are handing over their customer service to machines to maximize efficiency in the name of “convenience”. But, let’s be honest — as a consumer, how often do these interactions leave us satisfied and feeling genuinely heard?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had to deal with a half-a-dozen service providers, and the one that answered the phone, showed up on time, answered my questions, and delivered what he said he would stood out like a peacock in a group of pigeons.

In honesty, what he did has been considered the bare minimum for businesses for decades — but as automation has taken over, what’s old is new again.

And it was genuinely refreshing.

We’re never going to out-computer the computer, so I think the answer lies in embracing our humanity…

Our inherent qualities like emotion, empathy, creativity, intuition, ethics, adaptability, humor, self-awareness, and social intelligence are often taken for granted — but are noticeably lacking from our increasingly automated world.

We have the opportunity to go on offense here… How can we infuse human qualities into every aspect of our business? It’s likely that these could be the cornerstone of our competitive advantage going forward.

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When you do the math

In a TABLE meeting this week we got on the subject of pricing and profitability. I asked the question “do you know how much it costs you to operate on an hourly basis?”.

This was something that was obsessed over in my former life. The boss would always be like “It costs us $XXX every hour to just to have the lights on!”.

While, as an employee, I found this annoying — I took this lesson into my own business and it’s been invaluable.

Even if you don’t charge hourly, understanding your hourly operating costs is crucial for making informed decisions, managing resources, and ensuring the financial health of your business.

After the conversation, it dawned on me that there might not be a lot of people doing this in their business, so I thought I’d share how I go about this.

Before we dive into the math, I just want to encourage you not to get hung-up on things if you don’t know the exact figures down to the penny. This is more “scientific estimating” than it is exact figures — and that’s okay. An estimate is going to be a lot better than having no clue!

So… Here’s what you need:

  • Your monthly fixed costs: These are things like rent, insurance, salaries (including your own!), software, etc. The things that have the same cost every month. Don’t forget about annual costs, which you can divide by 12 to get the monthly cost.
  • Your monthly variable costs: This could include things like cost of goods, utilities, hourly wages, commissions, etc. Because these change from month-to-month, it’s good to look over longer periods and get a decent “average” to work off of.
  • Working hours per month: Estimate how many hours you business is operation per month. For example, if you work 9-5 M-F, then you should be at 160 hours.

With these numbers, you’re ready to go.

Add together all you fixed and variable costs per month and then divide it by the number of total operating hours.

For example: If you’re fixed costs are $4,100, your variable costs average out to $500, and you operate 160 hours per month, here’s what you’d do:

  1. Add $4,100 + $500 (which totals $4,600)
  2. Divide the total ($4,600) by 160.

In this example, the hourly overhead costs would be $28.75.

Keep in mind, that number does not account for your business actually making a profit — that’s just your break-even costs. You’ll want to make a profit, account for taxes, etc.

When you do this math, you might realize your hourly rate needs a bit of a bump (at least, that’s the realization I always come to)!

If you’re not paying yourself a regular salary, then there are some ways to tweak this to help set some goals on what you should charge in order to make your desired income. If that’s something you’d like to learn more about, hit reply and let me know.

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Who’s who? 

There are a lot of web agencies out there. A lot.

Thankfully, there’s also enough work to go around that most of us can stay busy (I’m very much of the “abundance mindset”). But with clients having that many options to choose from, it can be hard to figure out how to stand out from everyone else.

I noticed this while house-hunting recently. All of them had bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, and a yard. But there were little unique things about each of the homes that helped me remember them specifically.

I’d say to my wife “the one with the big tree in the front yard” or “the one with the half-bath off the kitchen” — and she’d know which one I was talking about. There needed to be something unique about each house in order for it to burn into my memory.

Besides looking at houses (which, thankfully, I’m done with!), I look at a lot of agency websites (as part of running TAB and just out of personal interest) and I’ve noticed how many (including my own) are very “me too”.

Replace the colors and logo — and it would be almost impossible to tell many of them apart and know who is who.

And clients probably aren’t going to remember your exact shade of purple or be able to draw your logo from memory — so as they are browsing through agency websites there has to be something more to help them remember you.

Do you know what that is for you and your agency?

I’m the worst at looking introspectively, and I often feel like there’s nothing special about me. But the truth is, we all have a unique combination of characteristics and traits that make our agencies different… We’re just lousy at calling them out.

Here’s a list of questions I’ve come up with to try and pinpoint the things that make me different:

  • What tools & technology am I best with?
  • What kind of industries am I knowledgable about?
  • What other jobs/fields have I worked in previously?
  • What are my personal interests?
  • What are some of my past projects that have been successful?
  • What kind of soft skills do I excel at (communication, leadership, problem solving)?
  • What are my own personal values/principles?
  • Who is in my personal network? Professional network?
  • What is my style?

If you were to write out answers to all these questions, sure, each one on its own might be really similar to a thousand other agencies…

But as you combine all these questions you end up with something that is uniquely you.

By identifying and genuinely celebrating our unique traits, we can be more memorable and more easily attract the types of clients who recognize and appreciate what sets us apart.

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I keep needing a refresher

The longer I’ve been in this business the more I realize that having a process for something is really the key to succeeding (I know I’ve talked about this a million times before — but I don’t know about you, I keep needing a refresher).

There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. It makes it repeatable. Anything that is repeatable can be optimized and improved with each use.
  2. It relieves decision fatigue. I don’t want to know how many hours I’ve spent just trying to figure out what to do without making any progress.
  3. It makes things less daunting. Having bite-sized steps to take makes undertaking a big project more manageable.
  4. It gives you the ability to outsource. Every time I’ve failed to outsource something, it’s because I had no map of how it should be done.

One of my goals for this quarter is to create more case studies, and rework the ones I’ve done in the past (they are a bit… messy).

This week I decided to get started on my first one and after writing and deleting everything I came up with for about an hour, I was just about ready to cross this off my list of goals and give up on he whole idea.

Later that night it dawned on me… I just needed some kind of process for creating the case study. This way I would have a formula to follow, I wouldn’t be wasting time making decisions, and, if need-be, I could send this over to Abby to write for me if I could at least give her the details.

So, instead of writing a case study, I decided to write a process for a case study.

I thought I’d share it with you today, as it’s not a step-by-step process, really… It’s more of a framework of what needs to go in every case study. This structure allows me to answer simple questions about the project, and turn those answers into a more cohesive story (with a beginning, middle, and end).

Inside this framework are a list of the questions I want to answer along with notes on the strategy behind answering that question and tips on what will make my answers most impactful.

After that, there is a list of elements that I can incorporate into the story to make it more engaging and impactful (screenshots, images, testimonials, etc.).

All of this was made even easier with a little help from ChatGPT who supplemented my ideas with some examples, and descriptions based on what I was trying to achieve (I’ve found CGPT much more useful for these sort of things than publish-ready content).

Here’s what I came up with — I hope it’s helpful.

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All client acquisition strategies aren’t created equal

How do you get your clients?

According to the data we collected in this year’s survey, most of us are getting the bulk of our new work from referrals.

Getting referrals is great — and generally a sign that you’re doing something right… but because it’s mostly passive, it makes controlling the flow of new business difficult. 

But every client acquisition strategy has it’s pros and cons… It’s costs, difficulties, and skills required to be successful.

And not all of them will yield results in the same amount of time, either. 

Like with anything, there’s always some kind of tradeoff to make. 

This week I went down the rabbit hole of different client acquisition strategies trying to map out their cost, difficulty, lead time for results, pros, cons, and the skills required in order to be successful.

Here are the results of that effort.

Keep in mind, these are not hard facts, but more general assessments of each of these tactics. 

My hope is that seeing them mapped out this way helps you identify which strategies might suit you best.

Got plenty of time, but not much cash? Content marketing might be the way to go.

Got plenty of cash and need to see results immediately? PPC might be your best option.

In my experience, keeping the pipeline full requires at least 2-3 of these methods working in unison and there are some that are just a better “fit” for you than others.

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I’m glad I was wrong

Last Friday I ended up getting my entire day’s to-do list done in just under two hours.

While I don’t enjoy being wrong (though I should be used to it by now 😅), I’ll gladly admit that thinking this idea was going to be a waste of time turned out to be a severely misguided assumption.

This idea came up in a TABLE meeting a while back when a member mentioned attending some “virtual co-working” sessions.

If you’ve not done this before, essentially, everyone gets on a Zoom call and works silently on their own projects.

I honestly couldn’t see how this would be anything other than a distraction. To say I was skeptical would be putting it mildly.

But there were enough people in the group interested in the idea, that I scheduled a session for last Friday.

We ended up doing two 1-hour sessions (with a small break in-between), and by the end of it, I had knocked out everything on my to-do list for the entire day in just two hours!

And I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a fluke, or something that only worked for me… because after it was over, I got some great feedback from the other people who participated…

“I know I would have allowed all kinds of distractions derail me and this would have taken the better part of the day but I’m so relieved to be on the end of it all and it’s still morning.”

“I’m sure it’s all mindset but setting aside that time to work on my goals really helped me to get them done. Could I set aside that time by myself? Sure. But there’s something about the accountability that was super-helpful and it forced me to keep the appointment with myself.”

“I will use these in the future to do the things I don’t like to do, or have been putting off.”

It’s not like anyone could see what everyone else was actually working on (so we could have just been goofing off), but there was something about being “around” other people that kept us on-task, focused, and working diligently.

And now that I’ve experienced it — it makes a lot of sense. In a “traditional” work environment, you have a little bit of social pressure to work hard because co-workers (and the boss!) could pop by at any minute.

But for those of us working alone — we’re left completely to our own devices.

Had you asked me before, I would have told you that I do a great job of staying on task… but this co-working session proved to me that I probably don’t do as good of a job as I think I do.

If the opportunity presents itself, I would highly recommend giving this a shot — especially if you’re as skeptical as I was. I don’t think you need a big group… Just grab a couple friends (maybe some folks from the group) and schedule an hour.

There’s not a lot of risk in that, and if your experience is anything like ours, you’ll be glad you were wrong too!

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Getting comfortable doing sales

This will be the last week in the series where I’m taking you through my current sales process and sharing what’s been working for me.

The last two bits I want to cover are my proposal and my all-time favorite resource for getting comfortable with sales…

I’ve gone through a lot of different proposals over time, but no matter what I used I always hated writing proposals. I just want to get started with the fun project!

So a year or so back, I decided to make a “fill in the blank” style template I could use for my proposals that did all the heavy lifting for me.

Instead of staring at a blank screen and a blinking cursor, I could just go in and answer a few questions about the project and be done.

This template has not only made me hate the process less (yeah, I still don’t love it), but I can now get proposals done in 15-30 minutes consistently.

If you’re looking for a template like that, mine is for sale — but I think this is something you could easily create on your own. 

It drastically cuts down on all the time you spend “thinking” when writing proposals and immediately puts you into action mode. For me, that’s been super helpful.

And, lastly, for my all-time favorite sales resource…

Doing “sales” has always felt a bit gross to me.

I’ve never considered myself terrible at it — but I was rarely confident going into a situation where I needed to “sell” someone on anything.

When I think about selling, I think about sitting across from someone at a table, trying to convince them that they should open up their wallet and give me money.

But Nick Gulic’s course, Sell by Helping, completely flipped that notion on its head. 

As it says on the tin, Sell by Helping teaches you how to sell something — not by becoming a used car salesman, but simply by helping your prospects with advice and guidance.

I’ve found taking this position a lot more conducive to not only making sales, but building better relationships with clients. 

That mindset shift has made all the difference for me —  especially when it comes to confidence going into sales meetings. Honestly, I’ve found ii’s the confidence that really helped me turn the corner.

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I don’t always pitch discovery

As I’ve been chronicling my sales process over the past few issues, we’re to the point now where I’ve qualified the lead and had an initial call with them. Now, I gotta decide how we’re going to move forward. 

In the “do you charge for discovery?” question, my answer is an emphatic yes. It’s a lot of work, and for me to take the time to do it properly, I feel like I gotta be compensated for that.

However, I don’t require discovery on every project.

Some are so straightforward it seems unnecessary (I’ve done a lot of website “conversions” lately where I’m just swapping out their techstack), and some jobs that are just so dead-simple and obvious that I believe I can do a good job without it.

So, after that “get to know you” meeting, I have to make that decision; discovery or no discovery?

If there’s no discovery required, I go straight into the proposal and send it off. 

If discovery is necessary, then I send them an email explaining what discovery is, why we need to do it, and how much it costs.

There are a lot of different ways to charge for discovery, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ve landed on charging a flat $650.

For that, we hop on a discovery call where I walk them through a bevy of questions (Cliff at My Web Audit has a great set of these questions). 

Here’s a bit of how I explain what they’ll get to my clients:

  • Determine the exact functionalities, software, and integrations
  • Map out the site structure and what content you’ll need
  • Understand any legal requirements
  • Identify your goals and key performance indicators

This allows the client and I to plot the fastest, most effective, and least-risky path forward to complete the project.

I do make discovery “optional” at this point — the client can decide — but I explain to them that without discovery we’re likely to have multiple rounds of scope changes (which increases the cost), we’ll have to redo work due to misunderstandings (which extends the timeline) and we’ll have a less cohesive results (which is less likely to help them achieve their goals).

With that in mind, I’ve not had anyone decide not to do discovery. 

Next week I’ll tell you a little bit more about how I go about making the proposal and my all-time favorite resource for learning how to do sales in a way that is super comfortable (because I am NOT a salesperson!), and we’ll wrap this little mini-series up.

I hope it’s been helpful thus far!

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Get to know you

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been breaking down my sales process. So far, we’ve got the prospect through the project inquiry form, logged all the data in our CRM, and evaluated if the lead is a good fit or not. 

If they are, then the next step is to jump on a Zoom call with them and get to know them a bit.

These calls, for me, are pretty free-flowing. I don’t have an exact script to follow, I don’t typically take too many notes, and I try to keep things as informal as possible.

More than anything, this is a “vibe check” to see if this feels like someone I could work with, if the project is interesting, if they are ready to get started, and if they are serious about moving forward. 

I want to do as little talking during this meeting as possible. 

In order to achieve that, I tend to ask really open ended questions, like:

  • Why are you looking for a new website?
  • What problems are you trying to over come?
  • What opportunities are you currently missing out on?
  • What functionality is important for the website?
  • What’s your experience working with developers in the past?
  • What does the perfect outcome look like?

I’m not directly asking the questions I’m looking for answers to (like “how serious are you about getting started?”), but you can get a good feeling for those things by how they answer some of these other questions.

Meetings are typically light-hearted, casual, and always 30-minutes or less.

Tip: One way I ensure these meetings don’t go over is by telling them right when we start the call that I have another call directly after theirs. This helps me wrap things up without offending them.

While the call is taking place I’m doing a little bit of mental calculations, because before the call is over I want to give them a rough ballpark of what I’d expect this project’s invoice to be.

It doesn’t have to be exact, and I leave myself some wiggle room by saying “based on what I understand and my experience with similar projects, I’d expect a project like this to cost between $10,000 – $15,000. Is that within your budget?”

And after that question, I shut up and wait.

You can tell a lot about how likely this project is to close between the next few second of awkward silence and their response. 

If they say yes, then I just let them know I’ll be emailing them with some more details and the next steps (but I don’t tell them exactly what they are).

If they throw out a lower budget, and it’s within reason, I let them know that they may not be able to get everything they want, but we might be able to break the project up into phases.

If they have total sticker shock (and you can tell they thought a website would be $500), then I let them know that I wouldn’t be able to help, but I can send them some recommendations (which is often Upwork, Fivver, etc.).

If I can tell from my “vibe check” that this just isn’t a project I want to take on or someone I want to work with, then I let them know I’ll email them with my recommendations (which ends up being a referral elsewhere).

Next week we’ll discuss how I follow up with prospects after this initial call and pitch paid discovery (when necessary).

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Evaluating prospects

Last week I shared my project inquiry form, which is the first step in the process anyone has to take to work with me.

But between that and our first call (which I’ll discuss next week) there are quite a few little things I think are extremely important.

Now, I’m not someone who’s all-in on automating the bejesus out of everything — but of any of the parts of my business, the sales process has the most automations.

This is mostly due to the fact that I want to track every lead I get, where it came from, and how many of them close. This helps me focus on the strategies that work, and tweak (or dump) the rest.

Thanks to a modified version of Noah’s Agency X-Ray, the tracking systems are all in place — but I found I am just terrible at manually entering any of this data, and if that’s the only option, I fall off the wagon pretty quickly.

People who fill in my form get added into my Airtable base (with every bit of information they submit), and I get a task in my todo list to fill in the bits that need to be done manually.

On top of that, my modifications have implemented the gamification / points system from my Prospect Pipeline Challenge so I can easily see how my pipeline is being maintained.

While all that happens in the background, I do need to manually assess the lead and figure out if it’s someone I want to pursue or not.

If the project seems interesting, they have good answers to my questions, and I could see myself working on this project, then I’ll send them my “Get to Know You Invite” email (which I have saved inside a TextExpander snippet.

This email, essentially, thanks the prospect for reaching out and invites them to book a time in my calendar so we can discuss their project in a little more detail and get to know each other.

But if the project doesn’t look like a good fit for me, then I send them one of two additional scrips I have prepared.

The first is an email that lets them know I’m not a good fit, but gives them a list of people they might reach out to instead. Inside our TABLE groups, we have a directory of all the members, their skills, tech stack, and ideal clients — and I can quickly grab the details of a few members from that list to send as a referral. Having a short list of folks to refer out to is super handy!

The other is just a kind “thanks, but no thanks” email that lets them know I won’t be able to help with this project. This is the email I send out if the client seems like a nightmare or the project looks like a mess (the kind of thing I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy).

Here’s a copy of all three of the emails.

The key with this process, to me anyway, is having all of these emails already written and ready to go. I’m not agonizing over the decision for hours — I’m taking a quick look, making a decision and rapidly firing off a pre-written reply.

Not only does this help me get through the process faster (cause writing those emails from scratch each time is a total pain in the arse!), but it provides a consistent process that I can track and measure in my Airtable base.

I’ve found the sooner you can get this email out, the better. I’ve heard from a lot of business owners that they have been waiting days or even weeks to hear anything back — and being quick to respond can go a long way in building some trust immediately.

Next week I’ll run you through how I conduct the get to know you meeting, including the agenda, questions I ask, and what I say to end the call that helps me insure I don’t waste one more second on a prospect that isn’t all but guaranteed to close. And, this is all done in less than 30 minutes.

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It starts with a project inquiry form

In last week’s newsletter I talked about how my sales process has really been clicking lately, and asked if anyone was interested in a breakdown. I got quite a few responses, so here we go.

For me, it all starts with a Project Inquiry form.

Although my first point of contact may be an email, a DM on Twitter, a ping on Messenger, or (God forbid) a phone call — I try to keep those interactions as short as possible and get people to my inquiry form right away.

The inquiry form sets a standard baseline for how all my projects start and kicks off some automation work — so, for me, the inquiry form is non-negotiable.

Besides, if someone can’t be bothered to fill out a quick form — imagine what it’s going to be like trying to get content from them 🙄

I’ve toyed with my inquiry form a dozen times over the years, but I’ve been running this current one consistently since sometime in 2021 (I only know that because the form’s name is “intake 2021” in the back-end of my site 😅).

It’s simple, but I’ve created some conditional logic in the form so I can get more information when I need it, but keep the questions to a minimum.

You can see a visual flow of how the form is structured here.

You might be wondering “what about asking them their budget?” — and that, along with a lot of other questions I’ve tried, I’ve found clients are really bad at answering.

Either they honestly don’t know, or they pretend its something its not to play some kind of little negotiation game that just ends up wasting time. Besides, I’ve had people with no budget end up spending $10K+ and people with a healthy budget waste my time being cheapskates.

I’ve put my minimum price, as well as my average project price on my website and I’m just assuming if they are really interested in hiring me that they’ve seen it.

Most of these questions are pretty basic and don’t require any explanation, but there are a couple that I skip to read immediately — they tend to tell me most of what I need to know…

In all fairness, I’m sure that I’ve picked all these questions up from other places, but I don’t remember where so I’m not sure who to credit.

  • “Why is now the right time to get started” – This question produces some great answers about their urgency and seriousness. People will knowingly go years with a busted website… So having an idea of what’s motivating them now makes for some great insight. This question also produces a lot of indication as to what’s important to them.
  • “Is there any reason you reached out to me/us specifically?” – This one is my favorite question of all time. If they don’t have a good reason to reach out to me (specifically), then there’s a good chance they’re price shopping or likely to base their decision on dollars. Here is where prospects will tell you how they found you, and their answers can give you a pretty good indication on how warm they are. If they don’t have any specific reason on why they chose my form to fill in (over the thousands of other web agencies), then I’ve found the chance of he inquiry turning into a project drops dramatically.

Next week we’ll dive further into how I process these leads to make determinations on who to move forward with, what I do with the leads that aren’t a great fit, and the automations I run off of this form.

Suspiciously smoothly

My last 3 proposals have gone really smoothly — suspiciously smoothly.

In fact, in my latest one, I met with the client for the first time yesterday and by noon today I had a 50% deposit in hand.

Maybe it’s a fluke, and just me saying this aloud will will be enough to jinx me into filling in an application at McDonald’s by the end of the year… But I’ve been putting a ton into my sales process lately (probably my weakest role as a business owner), and I’m starting to feel like it just might be starting to work the way I had hoped it would.

I actually sat down to write down everything that happened with these last three proposals so I could try to pinpoint what was making things work so well… but I figured that while I’m writing it down anyway, I might as well share my experience in case it’s helpful to anyone else.

Here’s the big things I think have lead to such an uptick in conversions.

A clear offer – All three of these projects have came in with a very specific problem — one that I’m advertising I can solve in all facets of my marketing. Because I know exactly what their problem was, and how I’ve solved it dozens of times in the past — it allowed me to be very confident in my communication. Not only about the service, but the fee as well.

Giving a ballpark face-to-face (on Zoom) – The last thing I want to do is write a proposal for no good reason… And one good way to know how likely they are to sign on the dotted line is to see their reaction when you give them a range. I think I picked up this tip from Mike Killen, but my approach has been to say the range and then STFU. Body language alone seem like enough to know if it’s worth moving forward or not.

A touch of scarcity – Now I didn’t do this as a sales tactic — it just so happens my plate has been pretty full — but I’ve told all these prospects that I’m booked out for a few weeks and I couldn’t get them on my schedule until I have a deposit. I wouldn’t want to lie about this… but I can’t help but feel like that has helped motivate them to move things along quickly.

Less is more proposal – I’m still using my Easy-Peasy Proposal template — but I’ve cut down my typical word count by about 50% (not including the “contract” portion). A few short sentences in each section that explains what I’m doing in as few words as possible. I’m not saying that a well-crafted marketing message in a proposal won’t work… but I do think there is something to keeping things simple and easy to digest.

A guarantee & warranty – Ryan Golgosky posted about guarantees in the group a while back, and while I don’t feel like mine is quite compelling enough yet, I think having something guaranteed and a warranty on my work help put some of the fears clients have about hiring us to rest.

Now, I’m not trying to say I’ve “uncovered the secret” or “found the magic formula” — chances are I’ll run into a string of bad luck in the future — and my process is authentic to me, and may not be a good fit to anyone else…

But it’s been super helpful to go back and analyze these interactions to try to see what’s working and what could still be improved.

As a business owner we’re often in a constant state of “moving on to the next thing” or “putting out fires”. The universe has probably tried to teach us 1,000 lessons we were to busy to receive. For me, it’s been worth the time to just sit back and reflect.

If you’d like me to break down my sales process and show you what I’m doing — hit reply and let me know. Maybe I can do that over the next couple of newsletters. 

What’s the worst part of your website?

We all have things we’d like to improve on our website… but that long list of things feels so daunting that we keep putting it off because we never have the time to do all of it.

One way to overcome this is instead of trying to tackle the whole thing, find the thing you like the very least about your website (It could be a certain section, an image, your form styling, etc.) and just improve that. 

Once you’ve made the changes, that part is no longer the worst part — and now something else takes that distinction (which you can tackle next time). 

This small, incremental approach is a way you can continually improve your website without feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to update.

In fact, you could just set this up as a recurring task in your project management tool of choice to do once a week (or once a month if that feels overwhelming). 

It won’t be long and all your “least favorite” parts about your website will be gone.

We actually did this an exercise in TABLE recently (as part of a week-long challenge), and I thought it might be fun to share the challenge here and see if people would post their results in the group…

INSTRUCTIONS

Quickly scan your website and identify the section (not an entire page) you feel is the weakest on the page.

Next, come up with a new design (or new copy if you’re not a designer) for that section to improve on the things you don’t like about it.

As an example, this could be a call-to-action section, a related posts section, a sidebar, etc. Keep it limited to something small.

Take a screenshot before you make the changes, and another screenshot after they’re complete and post them here in the group.

I don’t think that’s coincidence

As professionals that tend to eat, sleep, and breathe websites, it’s easy for us to get inflicted with the “curse of knowledge”.

If you’re unfamiliar with that term, is a cognitive bias when you unknowingly assume that others will have the knowledge to understand something like you do (when they probably don’t).

I think this is reflected in a lot of our marketing and copy (including mine).

But most of our clients don’t understand the first thing about websites, which is why they are hiring us in the first place.

A conversation in one of our TABLE meetings had us talking about this and how the big DIY type website builders combat this by using simple language anyone can understand.

Here’s a few of the headings from the likes of SquareSpace, Wix, Shopify, and GoDaddy:

  • Sell to every buyer, everywhere
  • The best-converting checkout on the planet
  • Grow your business here
  • Create a website without limits
  • One platform, infinite possibilities
  • Build more than a website
  • Create it your way
  • A website foundation engineered for growth
  • Take your business where it needs to go
  • Grow your business online
  • eCommerce made easy
  • Sell anything online
  • Everything you need to thrive online
  • Grow your brand with key marketing tools

Now, we know this is all marketing B.S. — but that just might be our curse of knowledge talking.

Chances are these multi-million dollar companies have done the market research, A/B testing, and focus groups that lead them to these more “simple” headlines.

There’s a fine line between educating your clients and overwhelming them — and if you confuse, you lose.

Some of the most successful people I know in this industry are the ones that also happen to have the most simple offer… And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

A huge enlightenment 

Have you spent any time mapping out any of your processes? 

I’m a visual person, and using Figma’s “FigJam” files to create process flow diagrams has been a huge enlightenment for me.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid having to write out detailed instructions — but having a companion visual aid has really helped me get more comprehensive plans in place.

Here are a few reasons why I think this kind of visual is so helpful:

1. It’s easier to think of alternate scenarios. When mapped out visually, it’s easier to follow along the path and consider different decisions at each stage. When I was just using text, all of my choices were binary (yes or no), but with visualization, I can see other, alternative paths.

2. It’s so much easier to explain to someone else. I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone hand you their process, but that giant wall of text can be intimidating. But the visual process makes it easier to give someone a high-level overview before they have to get into the details.

3. Easier to reference. Processes are something I find myself referring back to over and over again — and a visual makes it easier to jump right to the spot you’re looking for (especially when things are color-coded).

I tried a few different tools for this (spending a lot of time with Miro), but, honestly, Figma’s FigJam files do everything you need in a completely intuitive interface.

Drop in shapes, drag arrows from one box to the next, add in your text, and link to your detailed documents or resources.

Plus, it’s free — so you can’t beat the price. If you haven’t, give it a try.  

Bonus: If you use Notion, you can embed read-only FigJam files right in your Notion docs 🙌 

I put myself in their shoes

My family and I are planning on moving this summer, and because of that we’ve had to interview and hire a lot of different people… Realtors, contractors, movers, etc.

It’s not often I do this, so it’s easy for me to forget what that process is like — but I’m trying to take this as on opportunity to see things from the other side, because this is how clients probably feel when they are looking for a web agency like us.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about how I’m feeling…

  • Overwhelmed by the number of choices of companies/people to hire
  • Unsure of how the process works, how things are priced, when I should get started
  • Weighing the pros and cons of just doing some of this myself

Some of these are big decisions, that have real consequences — and every bit of it feels expensive to me. So what I think I’m really looking for is the vendor that will put my mind at ease.

But, to be honest a lot of them are failing at that.

They’ve made me question if their a good choice or not when they:

  • Don’t send me info or call when they say they will
  • Leave out some of the details I specifically asked about
  • Seem to be making things up as they go or on the fly

Like most people, I’m not just looking for the cheapest option. I’m honestly willing to pay a premium if:

  1. I know exactly what to expect
  2. The vendor is reliable (even by just following up when they say they will)
  3. I have a clear understanding of how things will work from start to finish
  4. I feel like my concerns are being addressed

I’ve found these things to be really interesting observations. Even though they are in completely different industries than ours, I can imagine our customers feeling the same way.

So, how to we put our clients minds at ease and make ourselves the best choice?

I have a few initial ideas:

  1. I need to finally get a “welcome/intro packet” together. This is something a lot of folks in TABLE have done and had success with. I think if any of these vendors would have sent me over a little PDF that gave me a broad overview of how the process works, I would have felt a lot more comfortable.
  2. I need to take notes or record conversations. It’s impossible to remember every little detail a client mentions on a call, but you never know which one of those little things is really important to them. I think vendors can easily forget to address these things as they seem obvious to us — but they are key to showing your client you’re listening.
  3. Being over communicative is better than the alternative. I feel like I’ve been reasonable, and as a business owner I know that things “come up” and throw schedules out of wack. But if I’m not going to be able to provide something when I said I would, then I need to communicate that and provide a new timeline.
  4. Show them I’ve been there before. One vendor used a story of a client they worked with that was in a similar situation to me, and explained how things turned out. This was super powerful. I know we all have these kinds of stories we can share (and this makes a great argument for case studies!).

I don’t think it really comes down to who has the best product or price — it’s who can identify what’s important to a person, communicate clearly, and prove that you’re reliable.

I think if I paid half as much attention to these things as I do playing with tech & tools, I’d have twice the business I have now.

Is the price right?

You’ve heard this before, but how you price something tells people a lot about it — even if it’s subconscious. 

I’ve seen this for myself…

When we first launched The Website Owner’s Manual, it was just a free opt-in. Matt and I were super excited about it, as we had been testing it in our own agencies and seeing success. 

But the response was pretty weak… After a month we had gotten less than a hundred downloads.

A couple of months later, we decided to try out making it a “product” by slapping a price on it. At the time it was just $15, but just 30 days after making it a paid product we had sold over 1,000 copies. 

I honestly believe the only difference was the perceived value. 

When it was free, it seemed like it was worth less than when it was $15.

Whether we realize it or not, clients are making the same kinds of judgments about our services. 

I’m not suggesting you should start artificially inflating your prices — but I do think it’s worth considering what end of the market you want to serve.

There are people who will always buy “whatever is cheapest” — usually the people who don’t place much value on something or are new to the market and don’t know the difference between cheap and quality.

And others who would never buy the cheapest option — usually people who have been burnt before, or place more importance on the product/service.

Are you set up for volume, like Walmart? Where you can have smaller margins but serve more customers to make up the difference?

Or are you focused on giving a smaller number of people a premium service that the deep-discount alternatives could never compete with?

Neither way is wrong — but I do think knowing where you are in the spectrum can help answer a lot of the questions you have about your strategy moving forward. 

It doesn’t guarantee it 

It’s that time of year again — when we all look at the big number in the date flipping over and consider it a fresh start.

I wasn’t always much of a goal setter, but since I’ve started my business I’ve become one — and it really has helped.

Throwing out goals isn’t hard… but where most people get stuck is coming up with an action plan to achieve those goals (which is actually the important bit).

So, in today’s newsletter, I thought I’d share how I ideate to help turn my goals into actionable steps. Of course, I’m not saying this is the only way to do it (or the right way!), but it’s what’s worked for me — hopefully, it helps you.

Just to have an example, let’s say my goal is to get to 10,000 YouTube subscribers this year (coincidentally, that is one of my goals — so consider subscribing 😂)

First, let’s assess the gap between where we are now, and where our goal is…

Currently, we set at 3,461 — which means we’ll need to gain 6,539.

Next, let’s break that down into some milestones (because measuring over a year is too broad)…

To achieve that goal, I’ll need to gain 1,635 new subscribers each quarter (or 545 per month).

After that, let’s brainstorm ideas and things we’ve done in the past…

  • Post a new video every week (consistency has not only helped the algorithm, but it’s also make the process easier and helped me improve)
  • Interview “bigger name” guests (the video this year that brought in the most subscribers was interviewing Kevin Powell)
  • Promote the channel across different platforms (I can look back and see when I share the video it gets more views than when I don’t (pretty simple!))
  • Spend more time on the thumbnail and title (I don’t always spend time on these, but when I do the video always end up performing better)
  • Being a guest on someone else’s channel (this helps introduce me to someone else’s audience)

Finally, let’s take some of those ideas and put them into plans to move forward…

  1. I need to be posting videos weekly, at minimum.
  2. I need to book a “big name” guest once per quarter, at minimum.
  3. I need to promote each video across 4 different platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Email, Website).
  4. For each video I need to come up with at least 3 different title and thumbnail combinations and get feedback.
  5. I need to make a guest appearance on at least 5 different channels.

With these action steps in place, I can start setting up some systems to help me stay on track, like: recurring tasks to produce a video each week, writing down a post-publish process for sharing content, create a spreadsheet to track subscription growth each month (what gets measured, gets managed!), start a list of potential guests and try to book one per quarter, etc.

All of this, of course, doesn’t guarantee I will hit my goal — but having each of these action items makes it a lot more likely that I will than if I just said “10K YouTube subs” with no plan on how to take steps towards it.

My little nest egg

I was listening to one of the latest episodes of Trailblazer.fm, where Lee and his guest were talking about “Pricing in a weak economy”.

Aside: I’m still on the fence of this whole “we’re on the verge of a global recession” thing — but I’m no economist and a glass-half-full kinda guy in general.

The podcast was a great listen nonetheless — and it got me to thinking about my business savings account and how much peace of mind it affords me.

It’s something I didn’t start until year 3 or 4 of my business (which I fully regret) — especially with how simple it’s been and how quickly its grown.

Do you have a business savings account?

If not, here’s what I’ve done — maybe it helps…

Open yourself up a separate savings account, and at the end of each month toss 5% of your sales in it.

It doesn’t have to be 5% (mine is 8.5%), but a figure that’s low enough that the chances are you’ll never notice it’s gone. But if your profits are too slim to even handle 5%, consider adding 5% to your prices and have your customers fund it for you.

The deposit each month probably won’t be a lot — but in a couple of years time, it can add up to a pretty significant chunk of change.

I’ve only had to dip into it twice (when my monthly profit wasn’t quite what I needed to pay my salary), and now I’m sitting on a pile of cash that could carry me several months if every one of my clients conspired and decided to quit paying me.

Or, in the more likely scenario; an economic downturn.

A nice little nest egg makes you a lot less fearful of what could go wrong and gives you the ability to operate at full force while others might be cutting back.

Could we “borrow” this idea?

Each year, Spotify does their year-in-review “wrapped” promotion where they push out personalized lists of your most listened to songs and artists for the year.

They’ve, of course, made all of this really easy to share on social media — making each year’s wrapped event an instant viral success where their customers do all their marketing for them.

It’s pretty genius — so it got me thinking… could we “borrow” this idea?

Essentially all they’ve done is take analytics data they have on their customers and presented it in an exciting, visual, & sharable way.

With minimal effort, and a free Figma or Canva account, I bet you could come up with a simple template that shows your customers all their website stats for the year…

  • Number of visitors
  • Form completions
  • Most popular page(s)
  • A map with all the countries their website got visits from
  • etc.

You could size the template appropriately to share on social media and even drop your company’s branding tastefully in the bottom corner.

Sure, we probably all already make analytics data available to our clients, but making it into a fun event coinciding with the end of the year just might be the thing that actually gets them to pay attention!

Perhaps you could even send it to them with a booking link to hop on a call and make plans to improve their stats in the coming new year (Cliff at My Web Audit has a great tutorial on how to turn calls like this into new paying projects).

Because of its persistence

We all have big dreams of where we’d like our agencies to be…

Maybe it’s to hit $100,000 (or $1,000,000) in revenue… Or hire your first employee… Or hire enough employees that you don’t have to work “in” the business at all…

These things can feel like daunting, monumental tasks — too much to take on all at once. Because of that, they collect dust until the next new year rolls around.

As we’re approaching the end of the year, I was reviewing some of our TABLE records for a bit of a “year in review”.

Each week everyone puts down goals of things they want to accomplish in the next week. Most of these are focused around “on the business” type things rather than “in the business”.

Taking one of the groups as an example, they have 335 accomplished goals since January 1st.

Based on the group roster, they’re sitting right at 1 goal accomplished per week, per member.

That might not sound like much — but think about it… How much further along would your business be if you made 52 steps toward your dream over the next 12 months?

We’ve had members launch products, build a following on YouTube, create courses, double their team, buy houses, double profits, and win awards — not because of one thing they did, but because they broke things down into small, bite-sized, weekly tasks that they can actually manage to accomplish amidst the chaos of working with clients.

It would be great if we could sit down for long stretches of time working on our business — but that’s rarely the reality.

We can, however, carve out an hour or two here and there to take small (but deliberate) action.

As you start to peer into 2023, I’d encourage you to keep that in mind. Think about one small thing you can do each week to help you get one step closer to your goals. I think you’ll be pretty shocked at how far you can get with small, consistent, deliberate action.

“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence” — Jim Watkins

Fake blood and fart spray

Back when I was in a death metal band (yes, really), we went into the studio and cut a small demo.

Thinking we needed something to get attention from the record labels, we decided to send our demo in with a note that looked like we had coughed blood all over it and then filled in the inside of the envelope with fart spray.

It was absolutely disgusting — and we were sure whoever opened it would have to put the CD in and find out just how brutal we were!

Surprisingly enough, even though we sent out a couple dozen of these packages, we never heard anything back.

We (obviously) didn’t understand our audience.

Sure, as death metal fans, we love the gory, disgusting, & brutal things (think of it like the horror movie genre of music)… But the people opening these packages weren’t fans moshing at a concert, they were people in suits in a corporate high-rise.

And although you’ve probably never tried covering your product in fart spray (🤦‍♂️) — we’re all guilty of this same marketing mistake.

We’re consumed in the world of websites… thinking about the tech, tools, and gadgets that made us fall in love with this industry and forgetting that our clients (most of them, anyway) don’t care about (or understand) those things.

Our websites mention things like SEO, PPC, ROI, CPC, and Core Web Vitals — all of which mean little or nothing to most of our clients.

Simplifying our messaging so that anyone (picture your grandma) could understand and appreciate isn’t an easy thing to do — especially for technology-loving geeks like us.

But littering your website with all this jargon is not much different than covering it in fart spray — and it has a similar effect; it pushes people away.

For $20 I bet you could find someone outside of our industry to take a quick glance at one of your pages to share their takeaways and explain (in their own words) what it is you do.

In fact, that might be the best $20 you could invest in your marketing.

We’re not “competition”

When my buddy Matt and I connected (not long after I started my business and while it was still a side hustle), both of our agencies took on a new trajectory.

Within months we were both charging higher prices, rapidly building our recurring revenue, and closing more deals.

After we started The Admin Bar, there was another boost in our growth.

And every week in our TABLE meetings, I see agency owners help one another see opportunities (and risks!) that we are blind to.

A lot of industries look at others in the same line of work as “competition” and everything they do as top-secret. Thankfully, in our WordPress circles — it doesn’t seem to be like that.

It makes a lot of sense why WordPress dominates the market share.

If left to yourself, you’d have to figure out every little question, challenge, and struggle the hard way; through trial and error.

Yes, of course, you’d progress… but it would be one project at a time.

Instead, we have a group of people all trying to achieve, relatively, the same thing.

Each member of the group shares what works and what failed, helping others avoid the traps and get on a successful path much quicker.

It’s impossible to measure what the trajectory of our businesses would be without community, but I can’t imagine any of us would be anywhere near where we are today (though we might have less shelfware 😂).

I can’t tell you how grateful I am to all the people in the community, like you, who have shared their experiences, advice, feedback, and struggles. You might not realize it, but all those posts and comments are helping elevate our entire industry… Pushing all of us to do better, get paid what we’re worth, and not have to make the same mistakes.

I hope that TAB means as much to you as it does to me, and if we’ve earned your vote for The Best WordPress Community, then when all the votes are tallied — we’ll hoist the trophy together. 

At a scale no human network could ever match

If you poll people in our industry, you’re almost certain to find that “referrals” are the number one lead source for most agencies.

But I don’t think that’s because we’re all really good at referrals.

Most of us just kinda sit back while referrals happen to us.

It’s an unpredictable and stressful rollercoaster to be on — wondering when the next opportunity will fall into our lap.

The reason referrals are so great is that we have instant credibility and trust with the prospect thanks to our mutual connection.

But our network only stretches so far — and often it’s not with the right people (like me, I’m sure you’ve had well-intentioned friends or relatives give you the worst of leads!)

So, if you dig a little deeper, the problem isn’t needing more referrals or a bigger network — the problem is building credibility and trust.

If you could do that another way, outside of referrals, you wouldn’t have to be reliant on someone feeding you prospects.

Outside of one-on-one interaction, there’s no better way to get to know someone than by seeing them on video.

We’ve all experienced this our entire lives with celebrities we feel like we know, even though they are total strangers.

I’ve seen enough Jon Stewart shows, interviews, and clips to know that he and I would be good friends — but I’ve never met him!

Video gives people the opportunity to get to know you, your personality, your mannerisms, and your character in a way that the copy on your website could never compete with.

And the algorithms in YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Google are programmed to refer you at a scale no human network could ever match.

I’m becoming convinced that the best marketing for folks in our industry is video — and I’ve seen it work for myself.

With one recording you can:

  • Target specific people who are interested in what you have to say
  • Reach people across the globe instantly (they literally carry you around in their pocket)
  • Be available on-demand anytime someone wants to watch
  • Let people get to know you, your character, skills, approach, and systems
  • Have people feel like they “know you” without ever speaking with them directly

Not that you have to become some kind of internet celebrity — but by publishing videos you’re able to build the same type of relationship we’ve built with celebrities for decades.

When it comes down to it, people trust someone they’ve seen more than someone they haven’t.

The 90% that makes us unique

No matter which fast food burger joint you go to, about 90% of their operations are the same across the industry.

Which one you choose comes down to just your personal preference.

But the web design industry is a lot different. 

When we poll folks in the group, we typically find that 90% of people are all doing things differently with very little overlap from one agency to the next.

Some are one-person shows that just focus on builds, others are large teams that offer full-service digital marketing.

Some use tools to get the most performance out of a website, while others choose tools that make it the easiest for a client to manage.

Some make complex sites with tons of custom functionality, while others stick to simple brochure-style setups.

Every agency is different.

But, from a buyer’s perspective — that might be difficult to discover… 

Despite our businesses being so different, a lot of our websites and marketing aren’t.

We tend to focus on the more generic things: “we build websites”, “we offer care plans”, and “we provide SEO”.

We talk a lot about the 10% overlap and little about the 90% of what makes us unique.

My guess is that we do this to try and cover our bases and make sure we attract as many people as possible. 

Unfortunately, I don’t think it works this way. Being generic doesn’t make us more attractive, it makes us more forgettable.

The uniqueness is what makes you stand out. The uniqueness is what makes you memorable. The uniqueness is what helps people decide to pick you over any of your competitors. 

Sure, your quirks might turn some people off — but that’s okay, they wouldn’t be a good fit anyway.

What makes you different? What’s important to you when building websites? What are the types of problems you love tackling? Who are the people you get a thrill out of helping?

And more importantly — is that obvious to anyone who visits your website? 

Any old sparkly thing

It’s incredible how easy it is to catch shiny object syndrome.

We’re always on the lookout for the next best thing, and it’s hard to resist some fantastic new piece of technology.

I’ve purchased and completely forgotten about software only to be reminded when I attempt to purchase it again and they tell me I already have an account 😅

I’m ashamed when I think about how many hours, days, and weeks I’ve wasted down the rabbit hole.

It’s not hard to come up with 100 great ideas — whether it’s a new tool, a new service, or a new side hustle — but it’s impossible to execute on all of those things (especially if you want to see them through).

The real challenge is recognizing the small handful of things that are really going to move the needle and focusing on them like a laser beam.

If you’re unsure of exactly what it is that you’re trying to accomplish — then any old sparkly thing feels like it could be the answer.

But when you have a north star, it gives you something to weigh each decision against.

For example, if your goal is to sign 10 new care plan clients in the next 12 weeks, then that design course (no matter how good it may be) isn’t going to help get you there — it only serves as a distraction.

The next time you’re feeling the temptation, ask yourself this: “Will X get me closer to Y?” (“X” being the shiny object, “Y” being your goal).

If the answer is yes, then feel free to proceed. But if the answer is no (or you’re unsure) then it’s your sign to walk away.

I think we could all get a lot more done by attempting less.

Less stress and more satisfaction

I can’t tell you how many days (and sometimes entire weeks!) I’ve had where I felt like I worked my ass off, but can’t think of a single thing I got done.

As business owners (and tech-nerds), we’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions — both by new ideas and shiny objects.

My favorite WordCamp speaker (and personal hero), Nathan Ingram, recently joined our TABLE groups to host a private webinar and he spoke on this in the context of goal setting.

What he shared with us was some research by Franklin Covey Co. that helped illustrate the law of diminishing returns.

The research showed that people who set 2-3 goals would (on average) complete 2-3 goals.

But those who set 4-10 goals would only accomplish 1-2.

Even worse, those who set 11-20 goals — they accomplish zero.

It’s an eye-opening fact that really shouldn’t come as a surprise… The more we pile on our plate, the less likely we are to accomplish anything.

We are constantly stretching ourselves way too thin.

A couple of our TABLE members have started a new habit to help combat this, and based on their success with it, I think it’s worth trying.

It’s brilliantly simple, and perfectly adheres to the law of diminishing returns…

Each day, instead of staring at their never-ending to-do list trying to formulate a plan on how to get to everything, they grab a notepad and write down their top 3 priorities for the day. 

Three things from their list that are the most important to accomplish.

And because their list is more focused, they are a lot more likely to succeed (and the statistics Nathan shared are proof).

In fact, in doing this myself, I’m finding that not only are those three things actually getting done but they’re often done before noon — giving me plenty of time to get even further than I had hoped.

I’m getting further ahead with less stress and more satisfaction 🙌 

If you feel like you’re stuck in the hamster wheel, then I’d encourage you to give this a shot. I’m keeping my list in a little Fields Notes book with a page dedicated to each day of the week. Seeing the “wins” (no matter how small) pile up each and every day is remarkably motivating.

Stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime

I’ve found there’s a lot less back-and-forth on design revisions when I request approval on small things incrementally throughout the design process.

First, the colors and typography. Followed by components like buttons, links, and images, etc.

But I’ve typically done all this asynchronously — sending off the assets and waiting to hear back from them.

After lots of folks in the group suggested meeting with clients to go over the design, I’ve been adopting that lately, and it’s made a world of difference.

When laying out a website, there are hundreds or possibly even thousands of decisions to be made. Some of these you make subconsciously, some you do by intuition from your years of experience, and some you may work through a bunch of variations trying to find the right balance.

You make all these decisions based on your expertise.

But, I’m starting to believe not bringing your client in on these decisions is a mistake.

As an example, I recently did a “first look” type meeting with a new client to go over the Home page and blog post template.

As I shared my screen and walked him through each section, I found myself pointing out a lot of the decisions I made…

Instead of the rich black (#000) he had been using for backgrounds, I went with a more charcoal grey color — and showed him the difference side-by-side.

I made the container width on his blog a lot more narrow and showed him how much easier it is to read when the lines didn’t exceed 65ch units.

I pointed out where I had incorporated some elements from his logo into other components on the website.

As I explained what went into each one of these decisions, I could literally see the buy-in happening in real-time.

The client was thrilled with what I had come up with.

It’s impossible to say what his reaction would have been had I just sent him a screenshot and asked him what he thought — but based on my experience in doing that for years now, clients always come back with some requests.

I’ve avoided these real-time walkthroughs because I didn’t want to take the time. Who wants another meeting?

But this 30-minute call likely saved me an hour or two of making revisions or explaining why his suggestions might not be the best way forward.

How long have I been stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime?

Not only was I able to get full approval right then and there, but I feel like I also gained a lot of trust moving forward through the rest of the project.

If you’ve not been meeting with your client to go over deliverables — I’d suggest giving it a shot… And don’t be afraid to share your decision-making process as you take them through.

5 Proposal Tips

Having a conversation with by buddy Adam Wright inspired me to jot down a few of the things I’ve learned about writing proposals — hopefully, they are helpful to you!

1. Send as quickly as possible.
According to data collected by BetterProposals, proposals sent within 24 hours of talking to the client convert 23% better.

When you schedule your last meeting with the client before the proposal, add another hour in your calendar to write the proposal as soon as the call is over. Increasing your chances by 23% is not insignificant!

2. Don’t let the price be a surprise
If your prospect has no idea what to expect when it comes to the price, then you’re playing a dangerous guessing game (and likely wasting time writing proposals that will never get signed).

I try to give my prospects a wide range on our first interaction (just to weed out the tire kickers) and then give them a number to expect in the proposal (usually a very tight range or exact number) just before I send them the proposal.

3. Avoid sending a proposal on Friday
Going back to sending the proposal as quickly as possible, you also want them to sign it right away. Sending a proposal on Friday means they might just briefly glance at it before leaving the office and they’ll have all weekend to think of reasons to NOT spend the money.

4. Include a case study
If you use something like BetterProposals, having a page with a case study on it is a great way to show your expertise. You can put together just 3 or 4 case studies as examples and send whichever one is most appropriate.

By seeing that you’ve achieved results for others, people are going to be a lot more confident you can do the same for them.

5. Paint a picture of success
I’ve changed out my cover letter to follow a simple formula: Problem, Solution, Success.

In the first paragraph, I explain the problems the client is facing (really make them feel it!). In the second paragraph, I briefly explain what kind of solution I’ll provide to solve the problem. And I finish it up with a paragraph about what life will be like once the project is completed.

This doesn’t have to be long (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be), but this little formula helps break you of writer’s block and paints a picture of success for the customer to envision themselves in.

Bonus tip: You can ask these questions in your project inquiry form (eg. “What problems are you facing?”, “What are you looking to accomplish?”, “What will success look like?”), then repurpose their answers for your proposal. The client literally writes this for you!

What went right, what went wrong

I don’t know about you, but when the process of getting a project over the finish line is complete — I’m exhausted.

Delays, revisions, meetings, problems, conflicts… We endure a lot trying to get a project from concept to completion. By launch day, long gone are the days of excitement… Hell, sometimes I’m happy if I can at least feel relief 😅.

Along the way I often catch myself muttering under my breath (if not shouting from the rooftops) “I’m never making _this_ mistake again!”.

Fast-forward 6 months, and you’ll find me making that same mistake, again.

Why? Because as soon as one project is over, it’s on to the next!
If we don’t take the time to learn from these mistakes, then we’re bound to repeat them.

But how can we ensure the lesson really sinks in? How do we objectively recognize the signs of a project going off the rails?

One way I’ve found to be extremely helpful is a Post-Project Assessment (also known as a “retro”).

So, what is it? And more importantly, how does it help?

A retro gives you the opportunity to record what went right, what went wrong, and what improvements you want to make in the next project.

And although it may just sound like another administrative task to take care of — a retro can be an extremely valuable tool for you, your team, and your contractors (you should get all of your internal stakeholders involved!).

By recording these things, you can start to see trends. You can see exactly where your weaknesses are and more easily spot red flags in clients.

You can make better, more specific plans for avoiding issues in the future.

You can measure and track your progress in a way that gives you something tangible to evaluate.

I’m sure you’ll agree that avoiding mistakes is great — but where I’ve found these particularly valuable is in helping me see what things I excel at, what types of projects are a good fit, and what kinds of customers I should be pursuing (which I’ve historically been terrible at recognizing in myself).

What’s great about the assessment is that you can step outside of the project and look at it more objectively instead of relying on your instinct. And because you’ve taken the time to physically record it, you’re a lot less likely to make the same mistake twice.

Here’s a copy of a simple Google Doc you can use as the basis for your retros. I’d recommend keeping all your retros in one document (just copy and paste the setup each time) so you can have them all in one place to review.

Or, if you’re the Airtable type, here’s a link to my Post-Project Assessment base which goes into a little more detail (just hit the “Copy base” link across the top).

Double your failure rate

You could spend 10,000 hours watching basketball, but if you’ve never shot hoops before, none of that studying is going to help you put the ball through the net.

The only thing that will make you a better shooter is practicing shooting.

You’d actually make more progress in 10 minutes of practice than you would in 10,000 hours of studying.

Experience is the ultimate teacher, and there is no substitute.

Yet, we tend to spend twice as much time thinking, analyzing, planning, and studying than we do actually getting out and doing whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Want to be a better writer? Write!

Want to be a better designer? Design!

Want to be a better developer? Develop!

Want to make better videos? Make videos!

Sure, studying these things will help — and it’s not to say you should not prepare yourself at all — but at some point it’s just procrastination.

We all have a fear of failure that holds us back, but those who continue to try and fail will always end up much further ahead of those who never try at all.

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate”
– Thomas Watson Jr, Former IMB CEO

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Marketing mambo-jumbo

I’m planning a big overhaul on my agency website — specifically the copy.

In auditing what I have now, I find a lot of things like this (this specific example is a section talking about care plans):

“In order to operate a successful website, you need a plan for keeping content fresh, security tight, and software up-to-date — we can take that off your plate and give you complete peace of mind.”

Is it true? Yes.

Does it sound cool? Yes (IMO).

Are those the words that would come out of my mouth if a client asked me about care plans? Not even close! I would feel like a pompous asshole if I said that outloud (I just tried, it was gross)!

But there it is… plain as day on my website.

Why?

No one is going to spend the time decoding “marketing speak” to figure out what that really means for them.

In fact, today I had a client ask about my care plan options and instead of calling them by the names that are on my website (‘The Basics’, ‘Business Class’, and ‘Mission Critical’) I called them “Small”, “Medium”, and “Large”.

And guess what? The client understood exactly what I was saying!

I did this “translation” instinctively, and (to be honest) because even I don’t remember the name of the damn packages! 😅

I look at a lot of agency websites (and a lot of websites in general) and most people are guilty of this marketing mambo-jumbo — but I don’t think it’s doing us any favors.

I can’t help but wonder how much more people would get out of looking at my website if I just wrote things exactly like I would say them?

I’m beginning to realize that these linguistic flexes are doing no more than stroking my ego — not fulfilling the objective they were written for: to sell more websites.

That checks a lot of boxes…

Have you ever put together a case study for your agency?

I had done a couple of pretty half-assed ones in the past, but over the past month or two I’ve been working on a couple for newer projects that are really starting to take shape.

I’m excited to get these wrapped up and published, because I think a case study makes for an extremely powerful marketing tool.

Its real power lies in being able to “paint the picture” for a future client and let them get a clear understanding of how you (and your agency) can take someone from point a to point b.

With a big enough collection of case studies (each that may focus on a different set of problems and results), you have the perfect piece of content to send along to any prospect as soon as you know what they are trying to achieve.

Put a few good testimonials from the client inside, and this one piece of content can boost your authority, prove your expertise, provide incredible social proof, and reduce the anxiety clients have about hiring you.

That check’s a lot of boxes.

So what do you put in a case study?

Honestly, I think you can keep it really simple and it still be extremely effective.

  • Who is the client you are doing the case study for?
  • What problems was the client facing before they came to you?
  • What solutions did you put in place to solve those problems?
  • What was the end result?

If your audience isn’t super-techie, then the case study doesn’t have to be either (which makes it even easier to write). Make sure to take some before & after screenshots so you can point out the differences and make the content engaging.

Of course, if you want to take it to the next level, you can interview your client and get some of those answers in their words — which are much more likely to resonate with your prospects anyway and make for great quotes to sprinkle throughout the case study.

I visit a lot of agency websites and not many of them have case studies… Which makes this a great opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd.

If it doesn’t exist, you can’t make it better

From writing out an entire process for my sales pipeline, to automating most of it in Airtable — the past week or so I’ve been swimming in the concept of processes.

The thing I’ve noticed most beneficial about having processes is eliminating so many of the micro-decisions we make every day.

There’s a reason that computers and machines can be so much more efficient than humans — they don’t have to make any decisions. They are programmed to know what to do next.

Of all the things the brain does, making decisions has to be one of the most taxing.

Without a process, my sales process is a lot messier…

  • Should I add this to my to do list? Or just do it now?
  • Should I follow up?
  • Should I give the client a ballpark to see if we’re a fit?
  • Should I pitch discovery?
  • Okay, it’s been 5 days — now should I follow up?

Stopping down every time to weigh options and make a decision not only takes up time (which I know you said you don’t have enough of, right?) but it also uses a lot of energy.

That’s where I think I’ve seen the best results from having a strict process in place — I don’t have to decide on anything… I simply move to the next step.

This not only gives me a little more time in the day, but it:

  • Reserves more energy for my brain to work on the creative things I enjoy
  • Helps ensure I’m not dropping the ball
  • Makes it so that I could bring in someone to help if need be
  • It helps me measure what’s working and what’s not
  • Less backtracking to sift through notes and see what I’ve already done and what’s left to do
  • Makes clients more confident in me because things are like clockwork

It really doesn’t have to be complicated — in fact, it shouldn’t be.

Grab a sheet of paper, a Google doc, or a stack of sticky notes and just write down a general outline of everything that happens in whatever process you’re trying to nail down.

The first draft will be messy, and that’s totally fine. It should be messy.

The only way you’re going to have a good process is to have some sort of process in the first place. You can’t make something better if it doesn’t even exist.

Can you manifest it?

I seem to go through phases that swing from super-organized to semi-controlled-chaos (and everywhere in-between).

I’ve noticed that when business is slower, I get really lazy about making sure I put everything in my project management system or carefully organizing emails… But as soon as I’m busy again I instantly regret those decisions when I can’t find anything I need!

A few weeks back I realized my leads and pipeline was getting ignored, and cracked down on myself to focus and track every opportunity and interaction I have with potential clients.

And since then (about 3 weeks ago) I’ve never had more prospects in my pipeline at once.

This isn’t the first time this has happened either… and it reminds me that when you’re actively looking for opportunities a lot more seem to just appear.

I don’t get too frou-frou in most cases, but I can’t help but feel like you can manifest things if your focus, attention, and beliefs all align.

It doesn’t mean you can just “hope” something happens — you’ve got to take action.

Whatever you focus on can become your reality.

If you spend your day fearful (for example) that the economic downturn could spell doom for your business… well, it just might.

But if you focus on the opportunities it could create, then you’re going to be much more likely to spot them.

If you’re feeling stuck, try looking at the problem from a different angle. There are two sides to every coin!

1,334 goals accomplished

With client work, there’s a built-in accountability system. You do what you said you will do, or the client doesn’t pay you.

That kind of relationship works well for both sides of the arrangement.

Working in your business gets all the attention because there are natural consequences if you don’t.

But what about that long list of things you’d like to get done for your business?

  • Finding referral partners
  • Writing blogs or making videos
  • Organizing your expenses
  • Updating your website
  • Attending events
  • Continuing your education
  • Etc.

For most of us, there’s no real accountability to get those things done — no matter how desperately they may need your attention.

Constantly trying to tread water is exhausting, and this ends up being the reason a lot of people burn out — they just can’t seem to make their business work the way they’d hoped. But, that shouldn’t come as a surprise if they’re unable to spend any time working on their business to help it succeed.

In an airplane, the flight attendants remind you that you have to put your oxygen mask on first — otherwise you won’t be able to help anyone else.

The same is true for your business.

If you’re not nurturing the growth and stability of your business, eventually you’ll fail your clients too.

For me, the best part about TABLE (our private mastermind groups) has been the accountability. Of the 35-40 active members at any given time, most are making goals each week to do something working on their business instead of just in it.

And the results are pretty incredible…

Since the start of the program, members have accomplished 1,334 individual goals (yes, we track them!) — many of which would have died on the backburner without the accountability, support, and encouragement from their fellow TABLE members.

From raising prices, to producing content, finishing their agency website, launching new products & services, taking time off, firing bad clients… the list goes on.

Accomplishment is contagious, and being around people who are making huge strides in their business has a direct impact on everyone else’s motivation to do the same.

If you’re interested in joining, we do have a couple of spots opening up in August and applications are open.

If nothing else, I’d like to encourage you to write down one thing you need to get done for your business, and make it a priority this week. Put it at the top of your to-do list, add it to your project management system, and tell a partner, spouse, or friend about your intentions to get it done.

The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!

What you’re willing to do

I heard a quote recently that has stuck with me and I just can’t seem to shake it…

“It’s not about what you’re capable of, it’s about what you’re willing to do.”

-Mike Tomlin

In context this quote was about football from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin — but this is applicable in almost any situation where you are trying to grow and succeed.

You’re capable of raising your rates… But are you willing to put in the work to find the right clients, present your value more clearly, and say that “big number” out loud with confidence?

You’re capable of producing better work… But are you willing to do the training, learn new skills, and push yourself to do something you haven’t done before?

You’re capable of hitting your sales goals… But are you willing to make the calls, knock on doors, write blog posts, make videos, and take on more work?

There are plenty of folks out there with less talent, experience, resources, and connections than you — yet they’re having the kind of success we want for ourselves. Not because of their capabilities, but because of their will.

The next time you say the words “I can’t…”, try replacing it with “I’m not willing to…” and see how it makes you feel.

For me, it’s been a quick exercise that cuts through the B.S. and has helped expose the excuses I’m making without even realizing it.

What’s best for you

Since the dawn of WordPress Facebook groups, the question has remained the same: “What X should I use?”.

From hosting companies to page builders, this question has been beaten to death.

Those posts are filled with dozens of answers bursting with conviction, so you’d think it would be settled by now — but it only seems to get worse with every new shiny object that hits the shelves.

The anxiety around builders seems to be at an all-time high right now… With the emergence of blocks becoming viable coupled with the Oxygen debacle — a lot of people are wondering what to do.

We spend a lot of time arguing over features when I think what we should be doing is asking “What’s important to me?” and “Where am I willing to compromise?”. All of these tools are totally capable — but they all come with a compromise.

Here are some overly simplified examples with the tools I’ve used…

  • Elementor makes everything easy and includes a lot of functionality, but in exchange for that ease, you may have to give up some performance.
  • Oxygen can give you the ultimate in flexibility and produces fast websites, but that comes with a steep learning curve and can be a bit buggy.
  • GenerateBlocks are easy and highly performant, but they can be limited in functionality and flexibility.

I’ve landed on GenerateBlocks because performance is so important to me — important enough that I’ll give up some of the functionality in exchange.

But that’s not a compromise that makes sense for everyone. If you’re building a lot of complex Woo sites (for example), then GenerateBlocks may not be a great choice for you.

A Porsche 911 might be a great car, unless you’re trying to haul around your 5 kids.

Crocs might be the most comfortable footwear, unless you’re running track.

Books are the ultimate education tool, unless you don’t know how to read.

Context is really important — but it’s often lost in these kinds of threads… and that’s why I’m so excited about my upcoming conversation with Dave Foy.

Dave is making his way back to WordPress after a few years away, and evaluating all the tools on the market.

In this call, we’ll have the ability to take a deeper dive into all the benefits and drawbacks as Dave interviews me about why I rebuilt The Admin Bar website with GenerateBlocks, how it all works, and what kinds of compromises I had to make when leaving Oxygen.

If GenerateBlocks is something you’ve been interested in, I think this conversation will be really helpful in either attracting you to it, or eliminating it from contention.

Either way, I won’t be trying to convince you my way is better — only why it was the best choice for me.

And that’s all that really matters — what’s best for you.

It’s only halftime

At halftime of a football game (no matter if you’re picturing a round ball or an oblong one, this works the same) all of the players retreat off the field.

At halftime players rest, treat minor injuries and strategize for what they should do in the second half of the game.

Of course, both sides came into the game with a plan — but chances are it’s working much better for one of them than it is for the other.

But whether or not you’re ahead or behind, only half of the story has been told.

No matter the point difference, there’s just as much time for that to be reversed going forward as there has been to get to this point.

If you’re behind, then you have to change the game plan. You’re going to have to look at what the opposing team has done and make adjustments to counteract it in order to catch back up.

But the team that’s ahead knows there will be adjustments, and they too will need to plan for how they maintain their momentum knowing their opponents are going to come out of the locker room with a few new looks.

No matter how much planning either side did before the game starts, you have to evaluate and adjust at halftime or you’re dead in the water.

This concept is pretty easy to understand whether you’re a sports fan or not — and if you’d take a moment to look down at the calendar you’ll notice that today is July 1st: otherwise known as halftime of 2022.

You had some big plans for this year… How are they going?

Now is the time to take an assessment of all those goals you made going into the year:

  • How many things have you already accomplished?
  • How many things have been abandoned?
  • How many things have been forgotten?
  • How have things changed?

Whether you’re having the best or worst year of your career, it’s only halftime.

As quickly as it fell apart, it can be put back together. As easily as it at all happened, it can be taken away.

The rest of the story of 2022 hasn’t been written yet — but you have the pen.

  • Do you need to change course, or double-down?
  • Do you need to put in a few more hours, or enjoy a little bit of time off?
  • Do you need to strategize or get in and get your hands dirty?

What are you going to have to do to make sure that 2022 is a success for your business?

There’s still plenty of time to make it happen — but you’re going to have to be deliberate.

Treat this weekend as your halftime. Rest. Attend to your injuries. Make adjustments.

The second half starts Monday. 💪

An expert or a crazy person

I’ve found content creation to be one of the best returns on investment in my agency.

But it’s not always about bringing in new leads — a lot of its power lies in nurturing prospects and helping them see your ability and knowledge.

Businesses don’t want to go on an endless search to find the right developer — they just want confidence that you can do what they need.

When you send someone to one of your “resources” (aka blog posts), and they see how much writing you’ve done, without even reading it they are going to assume you know what you’re doing.

I’m going to butcher the quote here, but Mike Killen one said something like “Only an expert or a crazy person would create this much content about a specific subject”.

Content instills confidence.

One of the common excuses I see out there (in both meetings and in threads in the group) is that “there’s already a million blog posts about X out there”.

And that’s true. Our market, as much as any other market out there, is saturated with blog posts about every topic under the sun.

But that shouldn’t stop you from giving any (or all) of them your own spin.

Here’s why…

1. You have a unique perspective

There are a million ways to WordPress, and your unique combination of skills, tools, processes, experience, and even your personality mean that you have a completely unique perspective on any topic.

2. Your prospects aren’t reading a lot of blogs

Yeah, you may know that this topic has been covered to death — but chances are, your prospects haven’t seen any of them. Most people don’t go around reading web developer’s blogs all day, so introducing your content very well could be their first exposure. Wouldn’t you like to be the one that shapes their opinion?

3. No one knows what you know

One of the huge benefits to having content (even “generic” content) on your website is that it helps instill confidence in your business. If you’ve taken the time to publish an article on the topic, then people are going to assume you (a) have experience, and (b) know what you’re doing. If you aren’t addressing these topics, they may assume you know nothing about them!

Having these pieces of content is a huge time-saver in the long run too.

For example, I wrote an article giving step by step instructions on how to purchase a domain. Sure, there are a million pieces of content out there for that, but when a prospect asks me about a domain, I can send them my guide on how to do it.

This means I don’t have to re-explain this for the thousandth time, they do it the exact way I want (which makes my life easier), and they don’t have to go do all the research on their own (which, believe me, they’ll appreciate).

If you’re not sure what topics to tackle, the community put together a big list of “Agency FAQ’s” a while back. If you had a blog post for each of these questions on your website, you’d have a treasure trove of valuable information for your prospects and clients.

Also, keep an eye out for any questions your prospects or customers have (shout out to ‘They Ask You Answer’ — one of my all-time favorite books). These questions are always great topics for blog articles — because if they are asking about it, a million other people are thinking about it and haven’t asked yet.

Sacrificing yourself to satisfy your clients

As an agency owner or freelancer, there’s never enough time to work on your own business.

If you’re like me, then for years you’ve built an endless list of ideas for blog posts, videos, outreach, collaborations, referral programs, and processes you’d like to get done (or at least started!).

Yet, when it comes to client work — we’re Johnny-on-the-spot.

Why is that?

Your clients provide you with a natural accountability system.

If you don’t do what you say, you’ll end up with a mad client, bad reviews, or invoices that never get paid.

For most business owners, there’s no repercussions for putting off that blog post another week (again).

We keep telling ourselves “When I get caught up, I gotta get to that” — but that day rarely comes. And even when it does, they are few and far between.

But the truth is, fueling your business is just as important (if not moreseo) than fulfilling your clients’ needs.

You might get away with it for a few months, or even a few years, but if you put your business on the backburner for too long, it’s going to catch up to you.

It typically manifests itself as burnout — which can take on many forms and range in severity — and it’s not where you want to be.

Not only will it make your job miserable, but those clients you’ve been bending over backwards for won’t get you doing your best work either. You can hide that temporarily, but believe me — they’ll notice eventually.

The irony is that in sacrificing yourself to satisfy your clients, you’ll end up failing them and yourself.

It’s the same reason why they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first on a plane — you have to put yourself in the right condition in order to be able to help someone else.

And it’s the same for your business.

Businesses die every day from this condition — and it’s completely preventable.

If you’re neglecting your business, here are 3 things you can do to avoid suffocating it:

  1. Set goals. The act of simply writing down what you want to accomplish (in place of “mental list”) can make you more likely to do it. Put your goals somewhere where you have to see them regularly, or set up email reminders (I use Follow Up Then) as check-ins on your progress monthly or quarterly.
  2. Make yourself a client. Open up your project management tool and add a new customer: your business. Put all the things you want to do for your business in there as a task just like you would for a client.
  3. Find accountability. This could be a friend, your spouse, or a buddy from the group — tell them about the tasks you’re working on for your business and ask them to follow up with you weekly or monthly on your progress (this works good if it’s reciprocal).

That’s a good place to be

This week I celebrate the 5th anniversary of running my agency full time.

On one hand it feels like I’m just getting started, and on the other I can hardly remember what life was like before running my own business.

There have been ups and downs for sure — but anniversaries like this are a good time for reflection.

I’ve thought back on some of the bad choices I’ve made…

  • Being too available. In the beginning, the only advantage I had over any other agency was my customer service. Since I didn’t have much going on, I could be available at any time. It’s an impossible thing to keep up with as I grew, and all I had done was set expectations for my clients that I couldn’t live up to.
  • Saying yes when I knew better. We all gotta eat, right? I said yes to a lot of projects I shouldn’t have because I felt like I needed the work. I can’t find a single example of those (and there are a lot!) where I actually made money — they always turned out to be more work than they were worth.
  • Searching for the “perfect” solution. I spent a lot of time buying tools and creating systems because I felt like what I had wasn’t perfect. After trying everything on the planet, I’ve realized that nothing is perfect. I’m much better off getting something that’s good enough and learning to leverage it to the best of my ability.

But, a few things went right too..

  • Making connections. I’ve found it’s almost impossible to waste time if you’re spending it making connections — especially genuine ones (not “superficial” or “manufactured” networking).
  • Keeping a schedule. My schedule is strange (I get up around 4am), but for 5 years I’ve kept a pretty consistent schedule that means I don’t miss dinner with my family during the week, and spend my weekends without client work.
  • Watching my numbers. I’ve always tracked my income, expenses, MRR, and any other financials I could. It’s been a great “early warning detection system” for avoiding issues and keeping my income as consistent as possible.

My business is far from perfect — I’m sure you feel the same too.

But if I had to put an assessment on it, I’d say I’m ahead of where I thought I’d be and far from where I’d like to go…

And that’s a pretty good place to be in.

It’s easy to feel like your momentum comes and goes — even to a point where you might feel completely burnt out… But I’ve always found it handy to “zoom out” and look at how far you’ve come.

You’ve come a long way, haven’t you?!

Read the full newsletter here.

Smack dab in the middle of an ebb

Agency life has its ebbs and flows, ammiright?

With a couple of crazy-busy months, I think I’m smack dab in the middle of an ebb.

Not that it’s necessarily bad, it’s just been (really) busy.

When the todo list stacks up longer than I’m comfortable with, I find myself coming back to the Eisenhower Matrix.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s pretty simple… You put all your tasks into 1 of 4 categories:

Q1: Important & Urgent (Do First)

Q2: Important & Not Urgent (Schedule)

Q3: Not Important & Urgent (Delegate)

Q4: Not Important & Not-Urgent (Don’t Do)

“Urgent” is in my original understanding of this concept, but I often think of it as time-sensitive.

What I really like about this is it makes me think about what I’m working on and if it’s really the best use of my time.

Q1 items are emergencies that either came out of nowhere, or we’re former Q2 items that are now due.

Q2 is where your time is best spent— scheduled & important tasks. This is where you’ll get your most important work done without your hair on fire.

Q3 items will quickly eat away at your time, leaving you nothing to show for it.

Q4 items should generally be ignored.

What I’ve found is when I go and classify all my tasks, I find that I’m spending way too much time in quadrant 4 — where even one minute spent is too much.

Just the decision making process of “what should I do next” can be overwhelming (and probably leads me to more procrastination than I’d like to admit), but this Matrix helps take some of the decision making out of your hands. With all of your tasks tucked nicely into their quadrant, you don’t have to use brain power on deciding what to do, you know exactly what needs to be done first. 

Even with the same amount of work on my plate, separating the tasks this way gives me a better perspective that eases the stress.

4 or 5 whys deep

The “Go Wide, Go Deep” technique you likely heard of from Troy Dean is a really interesting way to drill down on your clients desires and discover what they really need.

I guess my 3 year old has been listening to Troy when I’m not around, because she’s been asking me “why?” to everything too.

Even though this can be really frustrating at times, I like to play along and see how long I can keep answering the question.

Yesterday, unbeknownst to her, she showed me just how eye opening this technique can be.

We had finished running some errands and I told her we needed to get home.

“Why?” she asks.

“Because I need to get back to work” I say.

“Why?”

“Because I have a lot of things to get done today”. “Why?”

“Because I need to make money”. “Why?”

“So I can take time off and spend it with you”.

I was struck by how this 3-letter question made me realize I was hurrying to go away from her to work, but I work so I can spend more time with her — which I was already doing.

It’s really easy to get inside the hamster wheel and stay constantly busy without going anywhere — or lose track of what you’re doing all this for.

The Go Wide, Go Deep technique is great for client discovery meetings — but it’s not bad for self-reflection either.

It may be buying some new software, adding a new service, adding to your team, or putting in extra hours instead of being home with your family… Have you stopped to ask yourself why?

One answer isn’t sufficient — 4 or 5 whys deep is where the gold is.

Maybe *too* many

It’s not often that the best product becomes the most popular, and it’s not the best agencies that have a waiting list full of customers.

The companies that get the most traction are the ones that aren’t afraid to take action — even imperfect action. They are not afraid of failing, because they know that each failure gets them closer to unlocking success.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the “secret” is to getting what we want… But the secret always seems to be just putting in the work.

There is no substitute for experience, and the only way to gain it is to take action.

There are plenty of great ideas out there. Maybe too many.

What there isn’t enough of is consistent, disciplined execution on those ideas.

20 of 1.6 Billion

There tends to be a lot of grumbling about how saturated the web designer/developer market is — and that’s true… There are a lot of us.

The tools have made it easier, more people are tech savvy now, and the cost of starting a web agency (or becoming a freelancer) is next to nothing.

But that could be said about a lot of industries in today’s world.

As we’ve become more connected and have access to 2-day shipping on almost anything you want, everyone has more competitors than they used to.

And while that might give you cause for concern, it also is an amazing opportunity.

With so many available choices, buyers can find the exact product or service that will meet their needs — no matter how niche.

To me, this is great news. I don’t need to pretend to be anything I’m not, I don’t have to become a jack of all trades, and I don’t have to spend my days miserably slogging through projects that bring me zero fulfillment.

There are over 1.6 billion websites online — a number that’s growing exponentially — and if you’re like most agencies you probably don’t need more than 20 or 30 projects per year (and some get by with significantly less).

The slice of the pie you need for yourself is so miniscule you’d never even be able to see it on a chart that shows 20 of 1.6 billion.

Maybe you’re the creative type with just enough technical skills to get by and a passion for non profits who help children in poverty.

Perhaps you can code in 12 different languages and find a missing semicolon with ease, even though you couldn’t design a stickman.

You might have the heart of a teacher and want to empower people to get over their fear of getting their business online and help them succeed.

People tend to talk about a niche as a specific industry they work with — but your unique combination of skills, experience, and passion is its own “natural niche”… And statistically speaking, there’s likely already a market for it.

You’re not the best fit for most people — and that’s a good thing! I mean, you don’t want to write 1.6 billion proposals anyway.

Slight Changes, Spectacular Results

This week I spent some time catching up on podcast episodes in my subscription feed, and I just have to share what Lee over at Trailblazer.fm is doing…

Season 43 is all about “Slight Changes, Spectacular Results” where he’s sharing some really small changes you can make to yield big results over time.

Episode 1 is about writing down every idea.  I started doing this a few months back with a single document (I call it “Captains Log” 🤣) where I write every random idea I have down. Just the act of writing it down has kept me from forgetting some gems.

Episode 2 is about using screen recording software to train your clients and your team. This has been a huge improvement in my client communications. Not only does it help clients understand things better, but it has helped me dramatically speed up projects.

Episode 3 is about disabling notifications. A few months back I setup my phone to go on “Do Not Disturb” at 5pm every day. I don’t even realize when it happens, but my evenings are much more relaxed without getting pings every 5 minutes.

Episode 4 is about canceling a subscription. It took me a long time to do it, but I now keep a spreadsheet of all my subscriptions, their function, price, and renewal date. This gets audited every month (just takes a moment) and seeing how much I’m spending has helped me cut out the fat.

Episode 5 is about outsourcing one small task. Even though I plan on purposefully keeping my agency small, finding the time-sucking activities that I can contract out has enabled me to not only get more done, but stay sane in the process.

Kudos to Lee for this absolutely fantastic series! They are all really short episodes (around 5 minutes each) and I would encourage you to check them out.

We tend to focus on the BIG ideas we have for our agency, but in my experience (and I assume Lee’s too) it’s often the small (but intentional) things that end up making the biggest difference.

The project lottery

The longer you’re in this business (and any business, I suppose) the more you start to figure out what things are in your sweet spot, and what types of things you should avoid.

Those “red flags” for bad-fit projects are something that my spidey-senses are well attuned to… but this week I spent some time trying to figure out what the perfect project would look like — the “dream project”.

Imagine if you could scope out the entire thing:

  • What kind of business/organization would it be for?
  • Who would I be working with?
  • What challenges would I be solving?
  • Would I be pushing myself or in my comfort zone?
  • What deliverables would be required?
  • What parts of the project would I be responsible for or farm out to my team/contractors?
  • How long would the project take?
  • How would I measure success?
  • How much would I charge?
  • What gratification would I get?
  • How would it change my business going forward?

It’s kind of like asking yourself the “lottery” question (“What would I do if I won the lottery?”) — which is always something fun to dream about. The problem with the lottery question is that thinking about it doesn’t get you any closer to it becoming a reality…

But scoping out your dream project could.

Before doing this exercise I had an idea of what I was looking for, but it was all a bit abstract. The problem with that is you don’t have clarity on all of the aspects to be able to quickly identify them like you might with all your red flags.

Opportunities for your dream project are out there — at least ones that tick most of the boxes — but in order to find them, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. When you know what “it” is, it becomes a lot easier to spot it in the wild.

Thinking about this is a great start, but writing it down makes all the difference — so…

I’ve created a dedicated thread in the group for this topic, and I’d like to invite you to come and answer these questions (and any others that would help you define your dream project) inside the group.

👉 Here’s the thread

Not only do I believe that answering these questions (in writing!) will help give you some clarity, seeing what others find valuable is a great way to figure out what makes you different.

Zoom out

This week I’m working on a project where I have to create a bunch of “section templates” rather than an entire website (the customer basically wants a bunch of Lego pieces they can plug and play).

I spent several hours meticulously working on these designs making sure they are pixel perfect at every breakpoint. 

A few of them I must have tinkered with for (what felt like) hours and for some reason they just weren’t working.

That’s when I remembered a trick that always seems to help — zooming out.

By taking a screenshot of an entire page (with several of these sections together), and being able to see them all at once (instead of only what fits in your viewport) you get a completely different perspective.

Immediately I could see where my grid was off, or where there wasn’t enough padding, or where some sections needed a graphic element or some more color.

That change of perspective (from zoomed in to one section to seeing everything all in context) can make you see things completely different — It’s a fantastic trick, and I would encourage you to try it the next time you’re designing and something just doesn’t feel quite right.

But what struck me is that this same principle is pretty universal…

It’s easy to get consumed with the daily challenges of your business and it feel like you’re trying to climb a mountain.

But if you step back and look at your business over the past 6-months, a year, or even a decade you see a completely different picture.

It reminds me of a Wayne Dyer quote: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.

Whatever challenge you’re facing, try looking at it from a different perspective — it’s amazing how much it can change your perception. 

You are novel

I’ve heard a lot of people with really great ideas talk themselves out of them because “someone else is already doing it”. It may be writing a blog post, posting a video, creating a course, or adding a new service.

Honestly, I think that’s a poor excuse.

Imagine if the Beatles never picked up their instruments because there were already musicians.

Or Michael Jordan never picked up a basketball because Kareem had already done it.

What if my favorite taco truck never opened because we already have Taco Bell 😱

In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the author
(Stephen Covey) says that when you live in a world of scarcity, you
compete for available resources, even when there is an abundance of them.

There are very few truly novel ideas — but that doesn’t mean we don’t need your voice and perspective on ones that already exist. You bring a unique combination of skills, experience, perspective, and outlook that no one else does.

What you create is going to end up being the perfect solution for someone out there, and if you don’t do it, you’re depriving them from that opportunity.

Every idea you come up with might not be novel, but you are.

Good thing you have impostor syndrome

This week I was looking something up about a big local-government organization here in my town. When I got to their website, I realized it was completely new.

Of course, I did what any web developer does and started quickly auditing things to see how well it was built.

Come to find out the site has been up since around Christmas and was built by the “big” local agency.

The fact that it took nearly 20 seconds to load, is an accessibility nightmare, and lacked even the most basic meta information is one thing — seeing that the entire site was still set to “no-index” is what really blew my mind.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve never forgot to uncheck that box myself — I think we’ve all been there — but knowing what this company charges for their work and the size and importance of this organization for the community, it seems like a pretty major oversight 4+ months post-launch.

The funny thing is, back in 2020, I was asked to bid on this project and I turned it down.

I thought being a “solo” agency, I didn’t have the staff and resources to take it on. I was afraid that I’d be out of my depths with the complexity. I wasn’t sure I had been doing this long enough to take on a project of this size, scope, and importance.

Impostor syndrome is a funny thing… Particularly how actual impostors don’t seem to suffer from it 🤷

If you’re feeling like a fraud, chances are you’re actually doing a pretty good job — it means you hold yourself to a higher standard, and that you actually care.

That’s something worth remembering the next time you have a flare-up. 

This question saved my 🍑

I picked up a really killer sales question from the book “How to Become a Rainmaker” a while back, and after months of it kicking around in my head I finally remembered to use it this week on two different sales calls.

On both occasions this brought up topics for discussion that I had completely failed to explore (or didn’t know to explore) during our conversation.

In the first instance the prospect asked me about being able to use the website from their phone — something that I assumed was so obvious I failed to mention it. However, the last person they spoke with did, and since I hadn’t they had some doubts about what I was going to build them.

The second instance was a little bit more involved as the client began to explain what I realized was a system of custom post types and custom taxonomies — something that would have really effected the scope (and price!) further down the road.

So, what’s the question? It’s simple…

“Have I touched on everything that’s important to you?”

This simple question made me realize I was making assumptions that a prospect knew their website would be mobile responsive — and failing to mention it could have cost me the sale. Thankfully, we were able to clear that up.

It also saved me from an awkward conversation and huge change order down the line when the customer wasn’t seeing the functionality they were expecting.

It’s important to take charge of sales meetings and lead the conversation — we are the experts after all — but having the confidence to ask “what am I not asking?” is something we shouldn’t let our pride get in the way of.

Education over sales

I’ve never felt very confident when it came time to “sell” anything.

There are endless videos, webinars, podcasts, and trainings on the topic of selling, but 9 times out of 10, the tactics taught feel unnatural or even just a bit gross.

While I don’t much care for selling, I do like making money and keeping my business afloat — so it’s kind of necessary.

In our industry, where our prospective buyers don’t know a lot about what we do, people usually end up talking to us with a little bit of hesitation. Unsure if what we’re selling is actually what they need, and no way to really judge if we are the right people to deliver it to them.

Back in 2018, Google introduced the acronym “E-A-T” (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) into the Search Quality Rater Guidelines as part of the “medic” update — and it’s been an important way to build up your SEO ever since.

But E-A-T works in the real world too. If a client is going to hire someone and spend thousands of dollars with them, they are going to favor hiring a trusted expert in the field.

And you know who oozes E-A-T? Teachers.

A teacher demonstrates their expertise by explaining how things work and what solution(s) you need to solve your problem(s).

By simply assuming the role of “teacher” (rather than salesman or button-pusher), a person gains authority. If you’re the teacher, then whoever you are talking to is the student, which create a natural hierarchy of authority.

And who would you trust — a salesman or a teacher? A teacher is transparent, confident, and helpful, which puts people at ease and builds trust even over short interactions.

This is why I favor education over sales. If you do a good job teaching someone, they’ll have more confidence in what they are buying, and they’ll naturally want it from the expert who they got their information from. They’re often willing to pay even more to get it from the person they now trust.

If you struggle with sales (like I do), then consider re-framing your role from “salesman” to “teacher”. Not only do I think you’ll find the process much easier — chances are, you’ll see much better results.

Chance favors the prepared mind

We spend a lot of time strategizing and planning to get to where we want to be — and that’s a good thing to do.

But the longer I’m in business (and honestly, in regular life too) the more I realize it’s less about having a “perfect plan” and more about being able to react.

When the pandemic first hit, my favorite local restaurant didn’t offer delivery or have a good system for carry out, so they decided to just shut the doors for a few weeks and let it pass.

One of my customers who runs a BBQ joint, on the other hand, took a different approach…

Within a week they had set up a mini grocery store selling staples like toilet paper and condiments through their drive-thru (which they were still able to get through their commercial supply chain which actually had a surplus with so many restaurants closing down).

The BBQ place not only survived the pandemic (unlike my favorite local place, who shut their doors permanently 2 months in) — but they had record months and were able to continue paying their staff.

Neither one of these places had planned for the pandemic — none of us had — but one was able to quickly adapt to the situation they found themselves in and made it work.

Whatever the situation is now, the only thing guaranteed is that it will eventually change. Often slowly over time, but sometimes with a sudden cosmic shift.

It’s impossible to foresee all the scenarios, but you can do yourself a favor by recognizing that nothing will last forever.

How will our industry change in the next 5 years? How will our clients change? What advancements in technology pose a threat to our business? And what kind of opportunities could those same advancements present?

We’ve spent a lot of time in our TABLE groups discussing things like this — and I’m not going to pretend we’ve found the answers… But I’m sure that the folks contemplating these things are going to be much better prepared than those who haven’t simply through exploring different possibilities and how they might be able to react.

As Louis Pasteur said “Chance favors the prepared mind”.

If you’re interested in joining small groups of fellow agency owners and freelancers discussing things like this (and a whole lot more!), we have a couple openings in TABLE in April. You can apply here.

2022 TAB Survey

This week I thought we’d do something a little different…

I’ve put together a short, anonymous survey for the group to get a sense of where everyone is at in their agency.

Most of the questions are multiple choice, so it shouldn’t take you more than a few moments to fill in, and after you submit you’ll be able to see the results. You can refresh the results page at any time to see the live data.

I’m sure this will spark some discussion in the group, and we may publish these results on our blog (just saying that for transparency).

👉 Take The Survey & See The Results

This survey is specifically for web agencies, so if you do some other kind of work you may not find the questions applicable.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to fill in the survey!

Planting seeds of doubt

A lot of times when I’m writing content for my agency website I’m not really thinking about SEO — I’m thinking about a specific customer or prospect and how I can educate them.

Let me give you an example…

A few days back, Matt wrote to me telling me how a prospect came back to him saying that he was the highest bid on a logo project, but the client thought he would also do the best job. The client wanted to know if Matt would come down on his prices so they could move forward.

Not able to go any lower, Matt politely declined.

I told them that this would actually make for a great blog post he could have sent along with his reply explaining why he charges what he does (and giving the client a lot more to think about that they had probably never considered).

In the post, he could explain things like:

  • It’s important to have your logo in the right formats
  • The logo has to work at scale (even teeny-tiny!)
  • The colors should pass accessibility standards
  • There needs to be versions that work horizontally, vertically, and in a square
  • They would have to make sure they are using fonts they have license to
  • They will need some kind of brand standards set so the logo can be used consistently going forward
  • Etc.

All these things are extremely important when a company has a logo developed — but most business owners don’t know all these things… They just want a logo.

Suddenly, and without being pushy, paying a higher price makes a lot more sense. It’s not “just a logo”, there are a lot of things that need to be considered. Without saying it, it plants a seed of doubt in the “cheaper options”. Are they offering all this? Are they cutting corners? Do they have the experience?

Posts like this win jobs, and they can be used over and over again.

We run into situations like this constantly… And as you develop more and more of these types of articles you have an entire fleet to support you.

As Lyndsay and Martin put it in their book Content Fortress, “People don’t care what you say, they care what you publish”.

By having articles like this, not only are you able to educate your clients, you prove that you have been there before and know what you’re doing — or else, why would you write and publish an entire article on the subject?

And chances are, your competitors haven’t.

No one likes a perfect person

As business owners we put a lot of pressure on ourselves…

Oftentimes, so much pressure that it paralyzes us from taking action.

I’m sure there are things that you’ve been wanting to publish, promote, or put out into the world — but haven’t. Not because they’re not great ideas, but because they aren’t “perfect” yet.

So the idea sits on a shelf collecting dust.

Today I just want to remind you that you (like the rest of us) are human. We are flawed, and we will never be perfect. Therefore, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever create something that lives up to the standard of perfection.

It’s a foolish standard to try to hold ourselves to anyway… If you were somehow able to achieve it, I think you’d be disappointed because no one likes a perfect person.

It’s the mistakes, the re-do’s, and the second chances that teach us the most important lessons and help us become better at anything we’re trying to accomplish.

It’s perseverance that is admired, not perfection — and you’re denying yourself the opportunity to persevere if you never try.

In his career, Kobe Bryant (the NBA’s 4th all-time leading scorer) missed a league record 14,481 shots. In fact, he missed more shots than he made (finishing his career 44.7% from the field). But that’s not how anyone remembers Kobe — they remember the comebacks, the buzzer-beaters, and the championships… None of which came from perfection, but from perseverance.

The fear of failure is real — I have that voice of doubt in my head constantly too — but at some point you have to “feel the fear and do it anyway”.

Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.

Take imperfect action.

Two ways to expand

If you’re getting overwhelmed with work, and needing to expand capacity, there are two routes most agencies take; hiring direct or hiring a white label partner.

Both have their pros and cons, and it depends what you’re after.

If you hire someone directly, you’re likely going to end up with a much more advantageous price (since there’s no middleman to pay). They are also more likely to adapt to your systems and processes making things a more seamless transition. Folks that are working directly for you are more likely to be invested in your success and feel like a part of the team.

However, you might have to go through 2 or 3 (or a dozen!) before you find someone that’s a good fit. This can be an extensive and exhausting process. And even when you do find the one, there’s nothing holding them to you — they could quit or disappear at any moment, leaving you to the frantic search once again. This is especially hard after you’ve spent weeks and months training them and getting them acclimated to the way you want them to work.

The other option is to hire a white label agency (like GoWP’s Dedicated Developer or The Content Lab). Because their employees are backed by the company, you don’t have to worry about them missing time or disappearing, as the company can stick someone else in their place. You also have the advantage of getting workers who have already been vetted and trained, making it a lot quicker to get up and running.

Of course, for all these benefits, there’s an added cost. Hiring a white label agency is generally going to be more expensive. You might also find the person assigned to work with you doesn’t feel as integrated, as they don’t work directly for you, they work for their company (and might be servicing other accounts too). Most white label agencies have their own systems and processes, so you might have to adapt more than you’d like in order to make everything work.

It’s hard to know which option might be right for you, and I’ve struggled with this myself.

But what I’ve found is the biggest determining factor being your vision for the future.

If you’re looking at the big picture, and thinking of this in the long term, then hiring someone directly is probably a better solution. You’re going to have to invest a lot more time and energy up front, but once you find the right person and they are all trained, it’s a lot more cost effective and gives you the benefits of having a real “team” inside your agency.

However, if you’re needing to expand now to try and get things off your plate as quickly as possible, then paying for a while label service will likely work best. They can hop in and get to work immediately, starting day one, to help alleviate your workload almost instantly (and likely months before you find the right person and get them trained).

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule (and other ways to go about it, like hiring people on a one-off project basis), but from my experience I’ve been able to lump things into one of these two categories.

If you’re in a position where you need to start thinking about these things, then it’s worth exploring both and seeing what is the best fit for the way you work.

How do you do it?

During a TABLE call this week, we got off on the topic of creating a “our process” type page for our agency website… And the more I’ve thought about it, the more convinced I am that a page like this has tons of value.

I thought I’d share a few of the reasons I’m going to be adding this to my site…

Clients don’t know what they don’t know. When you’re out shopping for something you’re not very familiar with (like most clients are when they are buying a website), you have a lot of questions. But worse, you’re not even sure what questions you should be asking.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

A process page that covers “what to expect” could get in front of a lot of those potential issues (like payment schedules, content, maintenance, and more).

Overcome objections. I mentioned this last week, but our industry isn’t held in the highest regard. Other developers (who disappear, don’t deliver, or are unprofessional) have given us a bad reputation.

By showing you have a process, and that you know how to take a project from concept to completion instills confidence. You can drop subtle hints that show how your process will prevent the project from going south with guardrails built in for both you and the client’s benefit.

Puts you in the driver’s seat. A lot of the people we deal with (since we’re often B2B) are use to being in charge. They’re often the owner, but if not, usually some type of manager or “boss”.

Nothing wrong with that, but those kinds of people are used to taking the lead and will probably take that posture by default. Of course, you don’t want them dictating how you run your projects, right?

Having a documented process of how things will go down helps put you in the driver’s seat and establishes that you will be leading how things go — because you are the expert!

Helps you stand out. Strip out the colors and logo, and a lot of our agency websites are pretty similar — and probably indistinguishable for many clients who don’t recognize the nuance.

But your unique process is something that has a good chance of sticking in your prospects mind.

Imagine they are comparing two companies, yours leaves their imagination to fill in the gaps while your competitor walks them step-by-step through the process from beginning to end. Which one do you think they will be more comfortable with?

Justify your price. We’ve all had the prospect who experienced massive sticker shock when you threw out a price (even a low one!). Since a lot of people have no idea what goes into building a website, they might assume it’s simple (aka “cheap”).

And websites can be built quickly for cheap — but that’s probably not what we’re trying to promote.

Showing what all goes into your process to deliver an excellent product is a great way to justify the price you charge and help reconcile that in your client’s mind.

They’re asking for referrals

If you’ve ever worried that a disproportionate number of your leads come from referrals, then you’re not alone. I think most agencies feel this way.

Of course, it’s always a good thing when you can diversify your lead sources. If you’re getting referrals, and organic traffic, and you have a paid ads system that gets results, and you’re regularly networking, and you feel comfortable doing outbound sales — well, that’s going to go a long way in making sure your agency is stable.

If you have 5 good sources of leads, and one drops off, you still have 4 good sources of leads!

But if referrals is your only source (or the one that brings in the vast majority of leads), and it dies off — then what?

It’s a scary thing to think about and I understand why it gives agency owners like us anxiety.

But the truth is, most people who are having a website built are asking for referrals — so it would make sense that most of our leads come from that source.

The fact is, our industry isn’t held in the highest regard. There’s no barrier of entry and no qualifications needed — which means anyone can open up a web shop. Those who have no business doing so (and end up screwing customers) have severely damaged the industry’s reputation.

One way the market deals with an industry like this is to rely heavily on their friends, family, and connections to give them a good recommendation.

It’s the same reason when someone new to my neighborhood moves in, they always post in our neighborhood Facebook group “Who does everyone here use for internet?”. ISP’s don’t have the best reputation either — so it’s a lot safer to just ask (even if you’re asking complete strangers).

Referrals are gold, but often underutilized — as most people kind of let referrals happen, and aren’t taking a proactive approach. This means you probably have room to strengthen your referral game and bring in even more!

Here are a few things to think about:

  1. Get really clear on what you do and who you serve. It’s a lot easier for people to refer you if they know exactly who to send your way (it also helps with organic leads!).
  2. Encourage people to make referrals to you. One good way is to build in an email to our client offboarding (when a project is complete) to let your clients know you are happy to take good care of their friends and family too.
  3. Network, network, network. Referrals can be a bit of a numbers game — the more people you know (and who know what you do) increase the odds you’ll get referrals.
  4. Be known as genuinely helpful. I’m not suggesting you work for free, but being the kind of person that always is willing to help also makes you the kind of person people like referring to.
  5. Feature your reviews and clients. Some referrals are silent — an organic lead can see they have a mutual connection through one of your clients and instantly feel a sense of trust (this is one of the main reasons people are successful with LinkedIn — it’s easy to see all those connections).

Yes, more sources is better — but it’s worth putting a little extra effort into the sources you already know work. My guess is there is still a lot of juice left in that squeeze for all of us.

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My trick to avoiding overwhelm

I get overwhelmed pretty easily — especially at work.

It’s always been this way for me… Probably a combination of my high-strung personality and pedigree of anxiety issues.

At one of my last real jobs I worked off of physical tickets. When I’d come in the morning, I’d have a box overflowing with tickets, and it was always way more than I could finish in a day.

That would instantly start my day off on the wrong foot, knowing that no matter how hard I worked, I would never see the finish line and whatever was left would just end up piled on top of tomorrow’s equally impossible list.

Knowing my list was unlikely to get finished actually gave me paralysis on getting anything done (and some days I would just sit and stare at it). What is the point in trying if I know I won’t succeed? 

When I transitioned into my agency, and things started to take off, I saw that same pattern emerging.

To avoid the same burnout in my agency that I had at all my previous “real” jobs, I knew I had to handle this differently.

My project management system (based on an Airtable board similar to this) prioritizes tasks according to their due date; “today”, “tomorrow”, “future”.

Before I leave for the day, I get the next two day’s slate of work lined up — and the key (for me anyway) is making it something achievable.

I know myself, and I know I will quickly become discouraged if I don’t get some “wins”, so I purposefully don’t schedule in more than I know I can finish.

Assigning myself work that I know I can’t get done seems foolish… If I know it’s impossible, then why would I burden myself with it?

Instead, I try to schedule my days to be busy, but not unattainable.

What I’ve found is that in the end, it actually makes me more productive.

As the feeling of accomplishment builds, so does the momentum. Most days I end up working on “tomorrows” list as well (and some days I even completely finish “tomorrow”), but feeling like I’m working ahead is a lot less stressful than working from behind.

A lot of this is just psychological — I know that — but it’s made a world of difference.

You may not have the same anxiety and paralysis when it comes to a huge pile of work — but there’s no doubt you have things that are a constant source of stress. What are the conditions that cause that stress, and how can you avoid it?

The great thing about owning your own business is that you get to make the rules. How can you change the rules to set yourself up for success? Maybe it’s as simple as “tricking” yourself like I do.

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