In this interview you will discover how Brandon Middleton the CEO of SmartMarketers was able to Systematize His Marketing Agency and get better results for his clients!
OWEN: My guest today is Brandon Middleton and he is the founder and CEO of Smart Marketers. Brandon, welcome to the show.BRANDON: Thank you, thanks for having me.OWEN: This interview is all about having our guest come on here and talk about how they’ve been able to successfully systematized their business so it runs successfully without you having to be there. Let’s talk about what are some mind-blowing results that you now experience in your business as a result of automating and systematizing your business.BRANDON: Mind blowing results, that’s a tall order. I’d say probably the first would be certainly the testimony from our clients. As the company grows, that’s great, we make more money, and we get results for our clients. But when our clients recognize the results that we’ve… almost a lifestyle we’ve allowed them to have because in a sense we are the system behind their business. So getting testimonies from our clients is huge. And the other mind-blowing result is probably just the fact that now that we have the systems in place and the right people in place I technically only have to work in the business about 12-15 hours a week.
OWEN: That’s awesome. How would you say your company has been transformed as a result of systematizing it?
BRANDON: Certainly, the quality of the service we provide, without going into exactly what we do just now. Our company is basically an entire marketing department for other… So we’re like an outsource marketing agency and we provide like an entire department for less than the price of one employee. So that’s obviously a lot to manage. It’s a lot that needs to be systematized, there’s a lot of quality assurance that needs to be tracked and accounted for. And so being able to provide a higher quality service is awesome. Our standards are higher…
OWEN: During the pre-interview you also mentioned how you’re now working more on the business and actually being able to design your own funnel which is what you do for customers. We’ll talk about that, but talk about this for instance as well.
BRANDON: Being able to work on the business, that’s why I separated. I work 12-15 hours in the business. So I have weekly calls with our clients and I have weekly meetings with different team members in different departments. But then the rest of the time I spend focused on our own marketing campaigns. Like I said I put together our own automated webinar that kind of helps us generate leads and sort through those leads. We put together our own product, so we finally have our own digital products that we sell and train products as well. We’re growing our list and our database. Prior to systematizing we didn’t have time. It was like the typical shoemaker’s son story. We had all the resources to build the business. A digital marketing business and a funnel, but we rely strictly on word of mouth. Now we don’t rely on that word of mouth because we can generate our own leads and we added a whole another revenue stream as well. Sometimes every other Friday I get to work solely on big picture stuff, and obviously if we’ve done enough throughout the week Friday’s become more of a day off. My wife is the co-founder of the company. We work very closely on the big picture stuff. And so, being able to just basically take Friday off and every week, kind of checking where we’re at with the business and growing the business is pretty cool.
OWEN: Awesome. How would you say your personal life now has been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
BRANDON: The example I used before is we were able to be unplugged for 10 days, 5 of which were completely unplugged, on a cruise. So no internet, no phone, no checking in at all. We came back and everything was still there. So that was nice. We’re looking forward to actually 2015 scheduling that, actually planning on purpose every quarter. We’re going to review the quarter, make the next quarter plans, and at least take 7 to 10 days every single quarter. Because now we’re in a position that we can do that.
OWEN: You also mentioned something about how before you get to your business to the point where it’s systematized and it can run without you. How was your daily inbox like, managing your inbox?
BRANDON: Oh my gosh. We didn’t have systems by default. We had a system and it was called Gmail. That was our to-do list, that was our task manager, that was everything. My inbox, I was very reactionary. I’d be putting out fire all day as opposed to being proactive like we are now. I went from 60-100 of the important emails a day to now my inbox is basically kept empty throughout the day. I can check my emails a couple of times a day. Sometimes I just check them while I’m at line ordering lunch. On the phone I get emails taken care of. It’s very much proactive, it’s very different tone.
OWEN: Since your business now runs without you, what will you say has been the longest time you’ve been away from it, I’m just curious.
BRANDON: I’ve been away from email?
OWEN: No, just away from having to be involved with the business, yes.
BRANDON: Ten days.
OWEN: That’s not bad. Just so the listener has some context as to what your business does. What exactly does your company do and what big pain do you solve for your customers?
BRANDON: We are a digital marketing agency. We build online sales funnels specifically for speakers, authors, and experts. We work with a lot of the multi-millionaire gurus in the real estate niche and the personal development niche, and the health and wellness niches. A lot of these companies are smaller. And when I say small they’re under 10 million. Some of them are just barely at a million a year. So they don’t really have the extra resources to hire an in-house team nor do they want to deal with hiring, firing, payroll, taxes, overhead, all that. So they hire a company like us to basically manage their entire campaign for them. And because we all work under one roof it works out really well.
OWEN: That’s awesome. How many full-time employees do you have?
OWEN: You say you have five and two strategic partners, what do you mean by that?
BRANDON: There’s two things that we will outsource and one of them is traffic, media virus, so all the Facebook pay-per-click ads, Google pay-per-click. It hasn’t been something that makes sense for us to have on payroll yet. There’s not as much profit quite frankly in that service for us. We outsource that. And then we also, a lot of times, copywriting. Depending on the client, we have in-house copy but we will bring in other copywriters who are good at writing, and maybe the financial niche, or they have experience in the health niche.
OWEN: Yeah. Is the company profitable and what was last year’s annual revenue and what do you hope to generate this year?
BRANDON: Absolutely. We run about 40%-50% margins.
OWEN: That’s awesome.
BRANDON: Yeah. So we did 350,000 in 2013. We didn’t have as much growth as I would’ve liked in 2014 financially, but we made a lot of changes to our system. We work on the business a lot, improved our processes. So the lifestyle has certainly changed, the stress has certainly changed. But we just broke 400,000 in 2014.
BRANDON: Thank you.
OWEN: We’ve shared with the listener that your business right now is systematized. You shared some of the cool things that you actually enjoy as a result of that. But I want to take them back to that point when it wasn’t systematized. So take us back to when your business was not systematized and automated like it is now, and what was wrong with it at that point?
BRANDON: When the business wasn’t systematized, the simplest way I can put is we were very much reactionary versus being proactive. Every day was just a matter of putting out fires. We didn’t know our numbers. I was actually pretty surprised we’d have 7-figure clients that were spending tens of thousands of dollars on traffic and all these different services but they didn’t actually know what was working and what wasn’t.
OWEN: I think the issue then on the client side was tracking and reporting the client side or what you were doing for them. They didn’t really know… Talk about that.
BRANDON: Our clients didn’t know what was working and what wasn’t working. Therefore, we were very much putting a position like we were just outsources, they would go to a mastermind or they would read a new strategy, tactic, or find a new software and it was all about just implement, implement, implement without any real plan. They were very much driving the ship before. But once we got conversion tracking in place we’re able to show the clients here’s what actually happened, here’s where the traffic’s coming from, here’s the data, here’s what’s working and what’s not. And now we can make decisions on what changes to make in their business and in our marketing.
OWEN: Another issue that you mentioned too was having issues with tracking and reporting for your own business.
BRANDON: Yeah. Like I said before, our inbox was pretty much the whole system of the business. Emails came in from a dozen different clients and their employees for different tasks. The communication was all done through email, so the systems, there really weren’t any. In our business, just being a service based business, the only thing that we are really selling is our time. The first thing we knew how to do is have a way of tracking our time, what clients are we spending the most time on because they don’t all pay the same retainers. So we had to make sure that we were spreading the love so to speak. And which employees are spending more time on which tasks. So once we had a way to measure where our time was being spent based on which projects and which employees are spending their time in different places. We were able to get a handle on evening out our time. We found out that basically three of our clients were taking up 80% of our resources. So we actually cut ties with those three clients and it allowed us to take on that many more projects.
OWEN: Do you remember what was the lowest point in the business that time and describe how bad it got.
BRANDON: I don’t know if you’re looking for a specific day or story.
OWEN: Okay. Maybe describe what would you say was probably the breaking point when you realized that your business had to change and you had to systematize and automate how things happen. What happened at that point? I want to get back to the very point when you realize that you had to systematize the business?
BRANDON: It was probably about a year ago. Sometimes you just wake up in the morning, too many days in the row you wake up and you’re like, “What am I doing? Time to make the donuts. I’m doing the same thing.” No matter how much extra time I put in I just don’t feel like I can get ahead. And that was probably about a year ago. We’ve been focused on trying to build a big business and scale. We’re going after a certain type of clientele. Once I realize that we wanted to be small on purpose and we wanted to provide the service but we want to do it in the way that was not completely automated but was more systematized for us so that we could control our lifestyle. Just because a client could afford our services, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the right fit, that they fit in to our systems. Just too many days in a row of not feeling like I could get ahead and seeing that inbox overwhelming, and never having enough time to catch up. I started to look inside the business and look at our team members and I realized that one of our team members is really good at being organized. He not only was technical and could speak to the technical team but he will also could just speak in layman terms to me. We are promoted within and made him a project manager and gave him these tools, these systems, and worked with him to help bring these processes to life. I think that was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made.
OWEN: So that was the starting point where you started getting the business systematized. Besides that I want to understand, what was the very first step you took to solve the problem you mentioned earlier?
BRANDON: So the first step was moving to a better project management software. So again like I said, what we’re really selling is our time so there’s a lot of project management software’s out there that will let you create tasks and projects, and upload files and all that jazz. But they don’t give you a good way to log time on task, and more importantly be able to report on that time. So I needed every week to very clearly pull reports and see who is working on what. Here’s an example. We’d be working on 2 or 3 projects for one client. But I knew that there’s only 1 or 2 of those projects that were actually making them money. The others are more like, I don’t want to say busy work but basically that, right? It’s, “Oh, by the way, can you also work on this?” That could turn into this big resource suck and next thing you know we’re spending time on the thing that’s not making money and that’s what they’re hiring as far to help them, what their marketing and to make more money. So when I could pull a report and quickly say, half the time we’re spending on something that doesn’t even help really grow their business. Let’s step back from that and we can always keep our priorities in order.
OWEN: So you said you made use of a tool from Mindjet’s. Talk about that tool that you used for project management and logging your time. What was it called?
BRANDON: Yeah. That’s an old one that we used. We use BaseCamp, we used Cohuman which was from Mindjet, the mind mapping software. But we upgraded to Teamwork. So Teamwork.com was and still is our project management tool. The tools are great but more importantly we created our own ways of using it. It’s like any other software. There’s a lot of bells and whistles but it’s more about how do you just customize a software to fit your business’ needs.
OWEN: Yeah. But at that point you decided that you had to make use of a project management tool. I was trying to figure out specifically what you did back then with the tool.
BRANDON: Yeah. In the past, Mindjet, we got into a routine and it’s just basically a task. It allowed us to create tasks and manage different projects. But it didn’t allow us to record time. It didn’t give us any reporting. It didn’t tell us which team members were spending time on which project.
OWEN: And so from there you now move from Cohuman. What was the next tool you now moved to?
BRANDON: That was the last one before Teamwork.
OWEN: Okay. So now you currently use Teamwork. We’ll talk about that later on. Back then what was the second step you did to kind of solve the problems. You mentioned something about the tracking software?
BRANDON: Yeah. In marketing you have to know your numbers, right? We have to know how much traffic is coming to a site, we need to know how long are on the page, we need to know how much we’re paying for leads, how well those leads are converting to customers. How many of those customers are coming back and buying more. And if we don’t know those numbers then we’re basically building websites and sales funnels, and creating all these campaigns kind of blind.
BRANDON: A lot of people use Google or some of the other software’s out there. And the problem is they’re too robust. They have way too much data, way too much information. So obviously we had to get a hold of our tracking so know where to focus our time. Once we got that under control we needed to find accurate conversion tracking. So we found Improvely, and we kind of modified Improvely with our shopping cart. Infusionsoft and we have probably some of the best analytics in the industry. So we know exactly how many people visit our campaign, how much it cost them to get there, and how much return on investment we’re getting, how much return on investment we’re getting. How much of those leads turning into customers.
OWEN: Before you even started using… I guess based on the fact that your business is to help your customers create sales funnel so that when someone comes in as a lead they go through that series of steps in the funnel, and then become transformed into a customer, hence, the need for you to get a tool that will actually be able to track what you are doing for your customers. Before you got that too I was going to get some insight as to what you guys were doing to track results before then.
BRANDON: We called it massaging the data. In the past we would pull reports from 2, 3, or 4 different places. So we’d pull a report from our shopping cart, Infusionsoft, we’d pull a report from Google Analytics. We might pull a report from some other tracking software, or the traffic source itself. So if we’re buying ads on Facebook, we would pull a report there. And we’d look at all three of these reports and none of them matched up. So we would have to take all three of them and kind of cross reference. This would literally sometimes take an entire day. We would have to just reserve a day for one client and say, “Okay, this client is asking for these numbers. They’d been advertising here for the last month, they’ve made some changes and they want to know if those changed worked. It would take a whole day to pull the numbers. Whereas now I can literally pull up the numbers on my iPhone for any of the 12 or 15 campaigns that we’re managing. And get all those same numbers in minutes from my iPhone.
OWEN: That’s awesome. I get how in order to track your time since you are basically selling time to your customers you have to find a good project management tool that could allow you to assign task and track your time. And in order to justify the work you use for your customers you have to figure out a good tool to track down analytics so you could show how much you’re spending and the return on income that they generate as a result of using your services to create marketing funnels for them. I’m curious, at that time was there any other steps that you took to kind of solve the problem that you guys were going through at that time. Anything comes to mind?
BRANDON: Nothing comes to mind immediately.
OWEN: So when you were making those changes then I’m curious, how did you prioritize the order of what step to take. How did you decide which systems to create first and what processes to create first in your business?
BRANDON: Before we were working in the same office. I flew into my office. We have 5 giant whiteboards and we just sat down for a week and we put up basically our biggest pain points. What were our problems. So the web developer would express, here I’m having challenges with this. I had a lot of concerns or requests from clients so I would put those up there. I had my own things that I was spending my time on that I just knew I didn’t need to be but I didn’t have any processes in place. So we just kind of put this all up on one giant whiteboard. And then over the course of a week we prioritized the ones that were the most important and created a best practice and SOP’s for each of them.
OWEN: Awesome. At that point where you were doing this how did you document the procedures and processes for your business, what tools did you use then?
BRANDON: We used Google Apps. So we put everything in Google Drive.
OWEN: That’s good. At that time when you were trying to systematize and automate the business did you have any books or mentors that had influenced the direction you took. Mention them and what kind of influence they had.
BRANDON: The only book that really comes to mind is the book, it’s Sam something. It’s called…
OWEN: Sam Carpenter?
BRANDON: Yeah, Sam Carpenter, Work the System. That book was just an eye opener to me of what’s possible. It’s the first book I read from a business owner who shared a story that I could really relate to.
OWEN: Why was it an eye opener for you then, I’m curious.
BRANDON: Because prior to reading that book I just thought that this is the way that it’s supposed to be when you create a service based business like we have where we’re basically multiple businesses are outsourcing to us. There’s a lot of people that we have to manage, there’s a lot of task we have to manage. That’s just the way that it is. I don’t know I just…
OWEN: Assume that that chaos was no more.
BRANDON: Yeah. I just figured that that’s just way it was. When I read his book I definitely was… Once you know that something else is possible you start taking actions…
OWEN: You also mentioned during the pre-interview how you’re big into personal development and some experts also help you back then as well. Can you talk about those?
BRANDON: Yeah, I’m huge into personal development, Anthony Robbins, Eric Thomas, Jim Rohn, Les Brown. I listen to personal development when I work out every morning, I listen to personal development when I’m getting ready. It may sound simple but having that programming and having those messages they’re like simple life concepts that, let’s face it, our business is for most of us, 80%-90% of our life. So take these principles that I’ve learned. It’s simple principles and implementing them into business. The way that I communicate with my team, I think one think I didn’t touch on was just communication. It’s obviously a huge part of any system. You can document everything but there’s a certain amount of face-to-face that you need to have with your team. I believe that because I have gone through so much personal development myself I’m very good at communicating with my team and keeping them on board with the vision. And showing them that I understand that we’re all a part of the team and every system, every process that we place is all meant to make their job that much easier.
OWEN: Back then when you were trying to systematize the business and put tools together to automate some of the things you did, can you remember what was the single biggest challenge that you actually experienced then and how did you even solve it?
BRANDON: The single biggest challenge with…
OWEN: The whole process of trying to systematize and automate the business.
BRANDON: I guess the biggest challenge is we didn’t know what we didn’t know. So there was a lot of trial and error, there is a lot over thinking things. We would say, we need to start documenting, we need to start putting some SOPs in place. And then we would put an SOP in for everything. We would create an SOP for like the simplest thing. That obviously was turned into kind of a waste of time. And so, I guess making the decisions on what was really important and what we were okay with being just kind of stuck in our head or being common knowledge. We weren’t trying to write the handbook for a new employee with our processes we were just trying to, the 80/20 rule. We’re trying to systematize and document that 20% that…
OWEN: That really matter, yeah.
BRANDON: 80%, right
OWEN: Okay. Besides that what will you say was the second biggest challenge and how did you solve that?
BRANDON: Not seeing the return on all that time invested right away. It took time, it’s like a compound effect. We make one change, we make another change. One of the biggest changes was just moving to weekly calls as needed and handle everything through basically through email. But once we move to just having one 1 hour meeting a week with our clients we can pretty much handle everything. I don’t care if you’re a $10 million company or just starting out, that 1 hour controls a whole lot of the workflow. We made all these little changes and it’s not like overnight we got to see the justification that it’s paid off. It probably took a good 6 months to a year before we start stepping back. My project manager and I have days where we’re like, “Is everything okay? It’s quiet.” We’re just not used to being quiet. Are we overlooking something? And now we’re almost like a little paranoid. This is just too good to be true,
OWEN: I totally understand. Given all the challenges that you mentioned back then when you were trying to systematize and automate the business, why did you stay committed to the goal of systematizing the business given all the challengers?
BRANDON: Quite simply, failure wasn’t an option. I grew up like a lot of people. I can from humble beginnings. My family didn’t have anything, we grew up poor. I grew up with a single mom who raised me and my brother and struggled and eventually she passed away when I was just 19.
OWEN: Sorry to hear that.
BRANDON: I just saw that as a, if I didn’t take control over my lifestyle through a business then that was a sure way to burn myself out and follow in their footsteps. It’s just never been an option. I wanted to create a lifestyle for my family that I didn’t have but one that allowed me to really live and make a good income, not just… I’ve worked with a lot of people who make a lot of money but don’t have the lifestyle to show for it.
OWEN: We’ve shared some of the things you did to turn things around. At what point in this story so far did you realize that the business itself was systematized and it could actually run without you?
BRANDON: Certainly stepping away for those 10 days and not coming back to a huge fire. That was one point for sure. Every week I see it more and more in our big rocks meeting that we have internally. When things are quiet or when we get an email or I’m on a weekly call and our clients are just elated and happy that’s when I know I guess.
OWEN: You said during the pre-interview about hiring a manager. How did that play a role in making you realize that the business can run without you? This is when you said something about hiring a project manager, I’m curious.
BRANDON: The question is at what point, right?
BRANDON: At what point in time was I able to systematize?
OWEN: No, at what point in time that you realized the business itself was systematized and it can run without you. And during the pre-interview you mentioned something having to do with hiring… how a project manager played a role in that. I want to clarify that here.
BRANDON: One of the first things that I needed to get off of my plate was the project management, right? Creating the tasks, assigning the tasks to the different team members, and just managing all that communication that used to just come in through my inbox. And now it comes through mainly through our weekly phone calls and our Evernote notes. Realizing I work many different hats, I’m the CEO, I’m the project manager, I’m the account manager, I’m the marketing strategists. When I hired this project manager it was important that I wasn’t just giving that to anybody. I needed to know that I had a project manager that I could trust that cared about the clients business as if it was their own just like I do. And holds the same high standards that I do. So bringing him in, having him work literally side by side, not just 10 feet from me, being on every phone call, has been a huge part of systematizing.
OWEN: I like to get an idea of the different parts of your business and what’s working behind the scenes. Imagine if you have a customer who has issues with having… They want to build a sales phone that is predictable where a certain amount of people come into that sales form and on the other end they become customers, right? So they don’t have that yet, and that’s the problem they had, they want to build that. On one side of the conveyor belt is that person with that issue. On the other end of the conveyor belt is that person, they now have a sales funnel that does what it’s supposed to do and you guys built it for them. They’re out there raving to everybody about how great you guys are at creating sales funnels. But behind the scenes there’s parts and systems behind your business making that transformation happen. And I want you to walk us behind the scenes as to what’s happening. How is that customer being transformed and the different parts of your business that makes that happen.
BRANDON: All right, you have to simplify that for me just a little bit more. There’s a lot that happens. Can you simplify the question just a little bit.
OWEN: You have somebody on one part of the conveyor belt has the problem that you guys solve. And then the other part of that conveyor belt is that person has been transformed. You’ve given the solution that they asked for and they’re raving about you guys. We’re trying to understand behind the scenes what’s happening to make that transformation happen like a conveyor belt.
OWEN: Go ahead.
BRANDON: Our business works in 4 phases. The first phase, obviously the client comes to us. They’ve been in business 10, 20 years. There’s a lot for us to catch up on, there’s a lot we don’t know. That is our first phase, our discovery phase. It couples with our strategy phase. This where we do all of our research. We learn, we get access to all the client’s products, all their content. We go through their blog, we do market research, we do competitive research. And then we put together a strategy. We look at all the offers that they have, we look at all the value, their whole business and we say, “Look, here are the offers that we think are the ones that are converting the best. But maybe they’re not in the right order.” Or you have great products, great offers but you’re missing these two pieces to kind of link everything together. Once we’ve done that discovery we’d put together like a blueprint, a roadmap basically. At the end of that first phase have all signed off on the campaign, this blueprint that we’re going to execute over the next 60 days. We give them an idea of what their lead magnet’s going to be to attract leads to grow their list. We give them an idea of what the front-end offer’s going to be all the way through to the up sells and down sells that are in their funnel. The second phase is the creative phase. Now that we’re all in agreement on what the campaign looks like, what the hook is, what the strategy is, now we need to craft the story and the message, and create the video sales letters, the sales letters, all content that’s go on. Literally, every single page. There could be 15 different pages in the funnel and they all have to have some amount of content sales message on them. And it’s important that that’s all congruent. If you land on the landing page and you opt-in you need to carry that same message, same story, it needs to be consistent from on offer to the next. So we spend all of phase two either hiring out the copy or working with client to get that copy crafted and created and all the videos recorded. And then our third phase is the build phase. That’s when we basically plug everything together. We get all the WebPages coded up, we get all the tracking and analytic put in place. We connect everything to the shopping cart and put all the automation in place. And then we launch. And we usually launch to their internal house list first because that’s the best kind of quality traffic that have the best relationship with them. Phase four is just all about growth. We’ve launched this product internally, we’ve sold $10,000, $50,000, $100,000 worth in the first week. And then now what our clients usually want to do is find other traffic sources. So Facebook pay per click, or Google retargeting, that’s when the tracking analytics become so important because phase four on is all about how do we find traffic sources at the right price. How do we make sure that we’re getting a positive return on our investment for that media buy. And at the same time we’re split testing different offers. We’re constantly trying to make the funnel convert higher and higher so that we can afford to spend more and more on ads, and have more and more profit for the campaign.
OWEN: I’m glad you took us through the different phases of the business and how you work your customers through it, and end up delivering solutions with them. We’ve talked about that but I’m also curious as to currently now, what systems do you have in place that enable the employees to know what exactly they need to do. I think you mentioned now you use Teamwork as the project management tool. So talk about how that works for you guys.
BRANDON: If I gave you kind of the anatomy of the project everything starts with the phone call.
BRANDON: We have a call. On that call I have Teamwork open, I have a notebook for each client and their projects. In that note my project manager and I are on the call and we have a certain process for taking notes. Some that are just notes for notes sake. Some that are notes that turn into tasks. So we put those notes very loosely into Evernote because it needs to be quick. We can’t be creating tasks in our project management tool on phone it would take way too long. That’s where everything starts, the phone call and the notes from the phone call. Then when the project manager, once we got off of the call, he takes those and expands, maybe the task needs more examples, maybe the task needs some additional detail. He gets that assigned to the right member of the team in Teamwork. He puts an appropriate due date on it and assigns it out. And then the person who gets it assigned puts an estimate so we know is this a 30-minute task or is this a 2-hour task. Once he has his estimates he’s able to assign the tasks with a due date. Like our web developers come in everyday and they basically only look at their today view. So they may have 100 tasks on their list but they only need to look at the 4 or 5 that have been put on account for about an 8-hour day with a little bit of flex. My project manager knows what to do every day when he comes in. Basically, what calls are on the calendar and what notes need to be put in the project management tool. And then the developers and everyone knows… Very simply they just log in and they click today view which is one of the views in Teamwork. And they just have a checklist of only those handful of task to work on for the day.
OWEN: Another thing you mentioned during the pre-interview is a weekly whiteboard meeting. Talk about how that that plays a role.
BRANDON: Yes, we call it our big rocks meeting, it’s meant to only focus on… We spend 5-20 minutes on each client, only focusing on their big rocks. So what are their main couple of priorities, high priority projects they’re working on. So every Thursday at the end of the day we’ve had all of our calls for the week so my project manager and I, and my wife sit down and we go through each client. It’s kind of like a checks and balance to make sure that we’re on track with what’s important to them and their overall success for the campaign. We also get an update on where they’re at as far as how many hours we’ve used for the billing cycle, how many hours the team invested. So that helps us know whether they’re going over or not. Also, we log unbillable time. So if someone makes a mistake, whether the client realizes it or not, a project manager if she catches a mistake we log that as unbillable time. So if a page had to go back and get re-coded or something, double work, this meeting allows us to see, “Okay, there was 2 hours spent”, the client doesn’t pay for that but we pay for that. And we get an explanation of why did that happen. So that helps us with our checks and balances. That meeting is really my finger on the pulse every week for sure.
OWEN: How do you make use of slack.com for day-to-day quick task. How does that play a role?
BRANDON: Yeah, Slack is basically like Skype without the phone calls, and it’s an internal instant messenger. I say quick task, usually someone on the team needs a little bit more detail or has a question about something. Or if I just have a task, I don’t have time to write an email or to meet with my project manager, I’ll just put something very quickly in an insta message in Slack. So that’s just meant for our… I think the biggest thing that Slack did was it took the distractions of Skype away. Because everybody had our Skype contact. So we would just constantly get interrupted. Now we don’t use Skype at all and we just use Slack and we communicate within the team. And if anyone else needs something from us they would either have to call us, email us, or if it’s a client they usually don’t feel the need to they just wait for our weekly meeting and we discuss whatever needs to be discussed then.
OWEN: How do you track and verify the results being delivered by your employees?
BRANDON: Teamwork. So there’s two work things. Teamwork let’s us know what our employees are spending their time on and how much time they’re spending. We have a certain quota per se that we check weekly in that big rocks meeting. That unbillable time, seeing that every week in our white board meeting tells me, when I see that there’s a lot of unbillable time then I know that the team is having challenges and we need to get to the root of them and fix them. But usually we don’t. Maybe one client a week has an hour here or there that was unbillable time. Does that answer your question?
OWEN: You make use of the billable time to kind of track how many hours they’re working on. I think you also mentioned how the big rocks meetings that you do every Thursday kind of gives you a pulse as to what’s going on. You also mentioned something about how the ultimate gauge is your client’s testimonies, talk about that.
BRANDON: One thing I like about our weekly calls is I get a weekly update on where the client’s at, whether they’re happy with us or whether something needs to be improved. When I get a testimony from a client that’s giving one of the team members a testimony that they were working on a Sunday or something. We don’t work weekends but I guess sometimes we do. Getting those testimonials is great and hearing that someone stepped up especially when I was away for those 10 days someone stepped up. There was a project that needed to be rushed and they worked after hours, on the phone with the client for 3 hours. So here are the testimony from the client side of things is great.
OWEN: Now that you have all these free time, which areas of the business do you focus on and why?
BRANDON: I certainly focus on marketing. So constantly thinking of new campaigns, new strategies for us to implement to generate our own leads and our own customers. I also get to do more research, I get to be more of a student and study different training products that come out, new software’s that come out for our niche which keeps us kind of ahead of the curve I guess on the cutting edge. Our clients pay us for a lot of the technical stuff but ultimately they’re paying us for our marketing expertise. So if I’m in the business constantly then I don’t have time to sharpen that skill and always look for new partners to bring to the table, new tools and strategies to bring to the table.
OWEN: What will you say is the next stage of growth for your business, and what do you plan to achieve next, and why?
BRANDON: The next stage is continuing to stay small on purpose.
BRANDON: Because we don’t want to build a giant company. We’re profitable, we can do a very good business for all the team members. We have a profit share, every quarter we give out bonuses depending on the goals that we meet. Being small on purpose just lets us give that level of quality and attention. If we get too big then I have to find too many people. I don’t know. I can’t imagine the company having the same quality of service with 100 clients. I don’t know what that would look like but I can imagine that I wouldn’t be able to work from home, I wouldn’t be able to take Fridays off, I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things. I may have more money, but you don’t need that much more in my opinion. So staying small on purpose means always maintaining about 12, maybe 15 clients at a time max. But my goal is to always be elevating the quality of those clients. Two years ago the clients that we had were very different than the clients we have now. We had a lot of small start-up businesses before, now we have some celebrity clients, right? That allows us to do a lot more exciting things, work on bigger projects, and allows us to make a bigger impact. Those clients have more resources, they have more products, they’re giving more value to the marketplace. Indirectly we’re a part of that bigger picture. So staying small on purpose, elevating the quality of our clients. The next stage is probably a mastermind where I can bring our clients into one room and just work on our businesses together, share ideas. And 2015 we changed our pricing our models to include more revenue shares. We’ve helped our clients make millions of dollars over the last 7 years, but we only see a very small piece of it, which is fine. That was a good business. But if we can be incentivized as well and have more skin in the game that means we can be that much more profitable, and we can continue to reinvest in our clients and in our team as well.
OWEN: If you can summarize the steps you’ve taken so far to transform the business so that it’s systematized and can run without you, what would summary be, just for the listener?
BRANDON: Systematizing our business or if they wanted to systematize specifically their marketing?
OWEN: No, systematizing your business. If you wanted to summarize the steps you took, what would that be for the listener?
BRANDON: Getting a good project manager that had the right character. You probably heard it before, hire on character because you can always train skill. Finding someone, like I said, that I could trust, that I was willing to invest my time and to train them on that position was huge. Then setting up Teamwork. Teamwork will work for any business I think. So having a good project management tool, getting your team used to logging their time. We had to let our team members know in the beginning, we’re not trying to make sure that you’re clocking 40 hours, we just want to make sure that you’re spending your time on the right thing. So that was a little bit of a habit for everyone to get into. And now I don’t do anything without logging the time. So project manager, Teamwork project management software, knowing your numbers. No matter what business you’re in you have to have marketing. Having a good tracking and reporting in place.
OWEN: Awesome. So what will you say is the next step that if the person who’s listening to this call right now wants to take to get started towards that journey of systematizing their business. What do you think is the very next step they should take?
BRANDON: I don’t know. I want to say sign-up for Teamwork, but I guess if they don’t have the processes outlined it’ll be probably hard for them to get that…
OWEN: Let’s start from the very point of them trying to create an outline of what they need to do in terms of processes. What would you say was the very first step you took when you were trying to outline your processes?
BRANDON: That’s a good point. Get all of your team or the managers in one room, maybe make a retreat out of it, get a whiteboard or the flipchart paper and just go one-by-one each of your team members and discuss the different challenges in each of those departments. Once you’ve gotten that all out on paper then work with the team to dig deeper into each of those issues. I think you’ll find that there’s a lot of things that are connected, that if you solve one problem in one department it actually winds up solving that same system kind of carries through to 2 or 3 other departments.
OWEN: Is there a question that you’re wishing I’d ask you during this interview that I did not ask you, and if so, post the question and the answer.
BRANDON: No, those were a lot of questions. I think we’ve covered all of them.
OWEN: What is the best way for the listener to connect with you and thank you for doing the interview.
BRANDON: Just visit our site smartsimplesystems.com and you can reach out to us there or on Facebook.
OWEN: Awesome. Talking to you the listener right now. If you’ve enjoyed this interview, I want you do something. I want you to go into iTunes if you’re using an iPhone to review the podcast. To do that you go to sweetprocess.com/iTunes. If you’re using an Android phone you could access to the podcast by going to sweetprocess.com/Stitcher. If you know another entrepreneur who might benefit from this interview please feel free to share the interview with them. Finally, if you are at that stage in your business where you’re tired of being the bottleneck and you want to literally get things out of your head and document procedures and processes for what you do so your employees know what you know, sign-up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Brandon, thanks for doing the interview.
BRANDON: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.