SUMMIT: Secrets to Scaling Your Web Design Agency (Q & A Session)

SUMMIT: Secrets to Scaling Your Web Design Agency (Q & A Session)

Q & A Table of Contents:

[Moderator] “So can you tell me a bit about your background first Chris? How did you end up coaching agencies?”

[Chris Johnson] “Sure, I started my own web design agency in 2007, and grew it until it made over one million dollars. Then I sold it and began helping other agencies. The reason I’m so passionate about this is because I really struggled at first. I mean I didn’t know the first thing about generating leads or trying to keep clients happy. Things were difficult, and I struggled to make enough time for my family. Eventually I ran into a wall with my agency. Basically I was getting exhausted. I was over budget on projects, had no time for anyone including my family, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage. Eventually this lead to me losing my wife, kids and home. That was the turning point for me. I realized that if I wanted to succeed with my agency, I needed to learn from mentors who were ahead of me. I wanted to learn from others who were succeeding with their business. I started to learn how to generate leads, and streamline my agency. There came a point when I realized that it was getting very easy for me to start and scale agencies. For example started a second agency from scratch, and it grew very rapidly. Then I helped Jeremy R. from C. M. start his business and within 3.5 months he was already making over $40k per month. Then I helped Clark, an agency owner in Vancouver, BC increase his leads by a factor of 14. I realized that coaching other agencies came naturally for me, and so I started helping other agencies grow and succeed. Now I have a Facebook group of over 3000 web design agencies, and I coach around 40 agencies in my mastermind group. We meet each week to make sure each agency is moving forward, bringing in enough leads, increasing their revenue and reaching their goals.”

[moderator] “That’s great, thanks for the intro Chris. So what are web design agency owners typically struggling with?”

[Chris Johnson] “Typically they don’t know where to focus their efforts, or what to do next. They feel like know what to do, but deep down things really aren’t working. They want more money, but they just don’t have the resources to get to the next level. So what I do is show them how to generate inbound web design clients right away. This gives them clients who are at the bottom of the funnel, ready to buy right away. So this increases their sales and confidence right off the bat. Then we reduce the complexity in their agency and save them time by streamlining their services. I often help them with niching down and narrowing their focus to they can streamline their processes and scale more easily.”

[moderator] “Ok great, and what’s the secret to generating inbound leads for web design agencies?”

[Chris Johnson] “Well, the secret is simple. The best way to bring in web design clients is through inbound methods. I teach some outbound strategies as well, but for web design agency owners, they are loving the simplicity of talking with clients who are already aware of them, and who are basically 100% ready to buy right away. With outbound (like cold email or cold calling), there’s too much time wasted prospecting and chasing down clients. So that’s why I love inbound advertising, social media marketing and content marketing. When new agencies start my coaching program, we start off with inbound advertising just because the results are so fast, but then we move to social media marketing, content marketing, channel partners and other strategies to scale into their niche.”

[moderator] “Ok great, so how can web design agency owners find the time to do more advertising, content marketing or social media marketing?”

[Chris Johnson] “For content marketing, I coach agency owners on 4 principles: First I show them that they already have the content. It’s hiding in their email inbox or inside their CRM, so we use that to start. Second, I show them how they can outsource or delegate the non creative part of the content creation. This saves them a lot of time. Third we look at their personal skills and what they’re good at, because it’s much easier if they use their natural strengths to build their own brand. For example if I’m good at writing and I’m an expert in conversion optimization, then I could easily write articles about landing pages, etc. Then I could capture leads on those content pages to drive sales for my agency. Then finally we look at their resources: time, money and people. If they have these resources available then we can leverage them to scale up the process faster.”

[moderator] “That makes sense. What’s the ROI of this in terms of time and money?”

[Chris Johnson] “It’s not cheap, my clients pay me between $1900 – $5800 for the coaching program, but they get a lot of support and accountability. We meet together every week for 6 months to make sure they’re growing and implementing. I usually recommend putting in at least 2 hours per week into these new activities, but of course the more time you spend on it, the faster your transformation will be. My clients are typically generating inbound leads right away for $3 to $8. So with a decent close rate that turns into an ROI over over 3000%.”

[moderator] “So that’s 30X? Not 3X?”

[Chris Johnson] “Right, it’s pretty incredible really. It’s almost too good to be true, but it works because we’ve optimized this for generating web design clients who are reaching out to you and are ready to buy, so there’s very little convincing involved.”

[moderator] “Wow that’s great, it sounds like you’re giving a lot of value to your clients. So are the web design agencies you work with fairly happy then?”

[Chris Johnson] “Well, actually their success rate is over 90%, and the web design agency owners that are meeting with me every week are very happy. I have a fairly small group of agencies that I work with, and a lot of them have already seen enough growth that they’ve made testimonial videos for me already. They’re sharing their experiences working with me and my coaching program (Upscale Method).”

[moderator] “Ok great, before we wrap up, is it ok if we take questions from the audience?”

[Chris Johnson] “Sure, I’d love to help answer any questions.”

[moderator] “Ok so here’s a question from a web design agency owner in Nebraska.”

[Sebastian] “I think I need help, but I’m a little put off about the idea that I need to hire a coach I guess. I just don’t like the idea of reaching out, or relying on someone else … How can I get comfortable with it?”

[Chris Johnson] “That’s a good question, so are you worried that hiring a coach means becoming vulnerable, giving up too much control or losing your self respect?” Chris asks.

[Sebastian] “Well I suppose it’s all of those things, but the first one is probably biggest for me. As the owner it’s my company I like to be in charge, and I don’t like to admit it when I need help.”

[Chris Johnson] “Well, I can certainly understand that. As your coach, my job is not to take anything away from what you’re doing. I see you as an expert. And as an expert, I know it’s scary to ask for help. We’re taught to “man up” and we try to “prove ourselves” all the time, but it’s BS. The truth is, we all need help from time to time, and it’s way smarter to gain leverage from a coach than to waste 10 years of your life stuck in the same spot. I’m just here to help you achieve your goals in the shortest time possible. So the real question is: are your goals aligned with the value I can bring to you? Are you looking to remove bottlenecks, bring in more leads, scale your agency, and build a long term brand?”

[Sebastian] “Well sort of, I mean I suppose I want to build a lasting company, but I’m not sure I’m good at the marketing side of things. I’m more of an engineer.”

[Chris Johnson] “So you feel marketing is not really your expertise, and so you’re not sure if you can generate consistent leads and scale your web design agency?”

[Sebastian] “Yeah, that about covers it.”

[Chris] “Well if that’s the case, maybe we can chat afterwards. I think you’d get a lot of benefit from hiring a consultant to help you with your lead generation. Or you could just try hiring a virtual assistant from the Philippines to help with some of the daily marketing tasks? It sounds like you’re already spending some money on advertising or lead generation activities right? So you may as well get some help with it. It would make a big difference. I’ve helped a lot of web design agencies implement high ROI marketing strategies. Is this something that would benefit you?”

[Sebastian] “Yes, thanks, I’ll definitely think about it. Maybe we can chat after.

[moderator] “Well here’s another question from one of our audience members. A web agency owner from California is asking: Are you a former web designer?”

[Chris Johnson] “Yes I started my career as a web designer, and then started my first web design agency in 2007. Is there anything else you would you like to know?”

[Nigel] “Well, I’m just wondering how you went from being a web designer to becoming a coach for other web designers. I find that very interesting.”

[Chris Johnson] “Great question, so for me, as I scaled and managed my agency, I realized that my passion and skills aligned better with coaching, and so I started coaching a few web agencies, and then it took off.”

[moderator] “Ok here’s another question from an audience member, a web design and SEO agency owner named Rick is asking: How can I scale and increase my profit margins?”

[Chris Johnson] “That’s an important question, since most companies fail because they don’t have the profit margins to scale their business. So you have to ask yourself what’s keeping you from scaling, and how can you overcome those obstacles. To increase your profits you need to have the right people and processes in place. For example, if you’re having a hard time fulfilling the work then you can outsource the repetitive tasks to a virtual assistant in the Philippines or India. Some of them are quite specialized in technical areas, and some can even help you find clients for your niche. Or if you have a process that’s already working well for you, then you can hand over your process to them so you can scale. You could also use tools, like a project management tool or CRM, to organize projects and keep track of your clients. That way you can scale your processes and sales to focus on the important things, like building your business. Does that help?”

[Rick] “Yes, it does. As a matter of fact, I’ve been looking for a good VA company, so that’s helpful to know, maybe you could help me with that.”

[Chris Johnson] “Yes a lot of agencies team up with an agency in India or the Philippines to help with fulfillment and other services. Another way to improve your profit margins is to focus on a specific niche and solve a specific problem in that niche. That way you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel for each client. Does that help?”

[Rick] “Yes that’s helpful too, niching down is something I’m looking into. Thanks for the advice.”

[moderator] “Well here’s a question from the next web design agency owner here: How do I find trustworthy and competent employees?

[Chris Johnson] “Great question, there are 4 parts to that. First off, the most competent employees are previous employees. So if you have someone that works for you that is really good, don’t be afraid to promote them or give them more responsibility and raise their pay. Also, if someone isn’t doing a good job, don’t be afraid to let them go. Second, Facebook groups, LinkedIn and online forums are a great place to find talent. Just put up a post saying something like “Looking for a Web Designer specialized in XYZ …”. Third, if you’re in a larger city like LA or New York City, you can attend the creative meetups or networking events. Finally, if you want high quality people working for you, then create a list of specific criteria for the position before hiring anyone. These items can be turned into qualification questions that you can ask potential candidates in order to narrow down your choices. Does that help?”

[…] “Yes, all of that is helpful.”

[moderator] “Here’s another web design agency owner with a question. Dave is asking: I’ve found it very difficult to retain good remote workers for more than 6-12 months. A lot of freelancers are very unreliable. So what’s the best way to hire and keep good remote workers in my agency without them defecting on me all the time?”

[Chris Johnson] “Great question, so there are 5 keys to working with remote freelancers. First off, you have to be very precise when it comes to reviewing their work. You need to review their work on a weekly basis. It helps to have good time logging systems in place as well like Hubstaff. Second, you have to talk with them weekly. Schedule a time to talk with them at the start of the week so that you can go over their goals for the week. Third, make sure that you’re very considerate of their time zone differences. Don’t schedule calls or meetings with them at inconvenient times, or you’ll drive them away. Fourth, trust your employees. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them a second chance. And fifth, don’t be afraid to let go of unloyal or under-performing employees. Does that help?”

[Dave] “Yes, thank you. Is there a certain type of personality I should hire for when hiring freelancers? What traits should I be looking for that would predict reliability and loyalty?”

[Chris Johnson] “Great question, so what I do is I look for 8 traits trying to hire a reliable, loyal remote worker. These are: 1) The ability to work independently 2) The ability to manage their daily tasks and deadlines 3) Alignment between their long term career goals and your company’s long term needs. 4) The desire to proactively communicate and update management on a regular basis. 5) The ability to prioritize and track their own performance against KPIs. 6) The desire to uphold group standards, and follow protocol 7) The ability and willingness to take criticism and feedback constructively 8) The ability to learn from past mistakes and apply that knowledge to future projects. Does that help?”

[Dave] “Yes it does, thanks.”

[Chris Johnson] “Great, you’ll also need to improve your own employee onboarding process. The best way to onboard remote workers for long term loyalty is to ensure that your company’s culture is strong. That means as a group, you need to value the traits that I listed (or whatever your company’s values are). Talk about your company’s values on a regular basis. You can even share inspiring stories and legends around the heroes that uphold your company’s values. And when you add new remote workers to the company, make sure you welcome them with enthusiasm so they feel important. Introduce them to the rest of the team so they feel a part of the culture, and show them the ropes. Does that help?”

[Dave] “Yes, thanks.”

[moderator] “Cool, here’s a question from a graphic designer: How can I improve my workflow to get my work done if I start working remotely? I’m trying to become a freelancer and I’m scared I won’t be able to stay on top of my workload if I work from home.”

[Chris Johnson] “To stay on top of your workload, you’ll need to learn how to prioritize tasks effectively, execute them consistently, and manage yourself. The fastest way to get there is to have an accountability coach. You’ll want to build a strong mindset. We get into this in my coaching program. But essentially you’ll want to build up a very consistent daily routine, so you can rely on yourself to get the work done. This means you need to build up your self discipline over time. Start by managing your time more carefully. I would recommend using a time management tool, I use a daily planner on paper, and it works wonders for me. Does that help?”

[Trish] “Yes, thanks.”

[moderator] “Here’s another question from the audience: Luke is asking what’s the fastest way to generate more leads and clients for my web design business?”

[Chris Johnson] “Great question, so the fastest way to gain more business is to reach out to previous leads and clients. They are more likely to trust you, so they are the lowest hanging fruit. Then you’ll want to bring in fresh new leads consistently, so I would start running a proven inbound ad strategy. That’s what I teach here at Upscale Method. But there are other ways to improve your online brand visibility as well. For starters you can get yourself on Google My Business, and add all your important business information like your address, phone numbers, hours of operation, etc. Next, you’ll want to add, what’s called your NAP, on all of your online profiles. This includes things like your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter profile, your Facebook business page, etc. NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone Number. This will help people find you on GMB and contact you. Next, find facebook groups and online forums in your niche, join the conversation, and add value. Answer questions when you can. This will help you build your online presence, and over time, you’ll start to see more clients come in. Lastly, make sure your social media profiles are filled out. Upload a professional profile picture to all of them. Make sure you look presentable, like someone that you’d hire to build you a website or run a campaign for you. Make sure your profiles are clear about exactly how you add value to your niche, so that you attract more of your ideal clients. Does that help?”

[Luke] “Yup, thanks.”

[moderator] “Here’s another question from a Web Designer in Dallas: How can we improve our workflow when we’re working remotely. We would like to be more productive and remain highly efficient.”

[Chris Johnson] “If your team is working remotely already, then the best way to improve your workflow is to focus first on individual productivity. This means single-tasking, and setting up a consistent work environment that’s free of daily distractions. Then build your routine around your most and least productive hours. I also recommend creating checklists, so that the routine becomes more like a ritual, this way you can flow right into it, and continue working without having to stop and think. As you develop your niche services, your checklists will enable you to do a number of things. First, it will document your procedures so that you can more easily delegate them. Second, as you perform the work for clients, you will inevitably get feedback. This feedback will give you the information you need to improve your checklists (procedures) and over time your efficiency will go up. You’ll free up more time in your life and in your agency. Third, your checklist is your bible for making sure nothing is missed. Before you leave for the day, you’ll run through your checklist to make sure things are up-to-date and you haven’t missed anything. Does that help? Did anyone else have a question?”

[moderator] “Yes, Rachel is asking how do we avoid getting our client’s sites hacked?”

[Chris Johnson] “Great question. I’m not a security specialist, but I did hosting for our agency for a while and l found there are a few ways you can protect your client’s sites. The first thing you can do is to use a hosting company that specializes in security for the CMS you’re using. I’m assuming you’re using WordPress right? WordPress has a few good security plugins available to make it harder for people to hack your site. The second thing you can do is to carefully choose the plugins that you use on your site, because this is the most common way sites are hacked. Third, you can make sure the site is always kept up-to-date so that there is a lower chance that a hacker can find a hole in security. The fourth thing you can do is to back up your site and your files regularly. The fifth thing you can do is to hire a professional to secure your site for you. Does that help?”

[Rachel] “Yes, thanks.”

[moderator] “Here’s another question from a web design agency in New York: How can we improve our SEO? Is good design more important than good SEO?”

[Chris Johnson] “Ha ha, is this is a trick question? I don’t think it’s a matter of good design or good SEO. I think it’s a matter of good marketing. You need great design AND great SEO. Is there anything specific you’d like to ask about this?”

[…] “Yes, I have a lot of websites I maintain for small businesses in the area. Many of these businesses sell products that compete with one another. For example, I have a landscaping company, a fencing company, two handyman companies, and a tree nursery. All of these have products and services that are very similar and all of them are trying to make more sales online. Does improving their SEO actually help in a situation like this, or would it be better to just focus on helping clients in one industry that are not all in the same location?”

[Chris Johnson] “Good question, there are two ways to approach this. First, you can diversify your clients strategically. Some people like the variety, so they get a couple in different industries. Second, you can try to target a specific market using SEO. The advantage to staying in one niche for an SEO company is that you hone your skills in one particular area, which makes your content production and link building much more efficient. The problem with this is that your competition can get ruthless. You may see them jump in from a different angle on a keyword phrase that you’re working on, and take away traffic and potential clients from you. They can also be doing the same thing you are and trying to rank for the same keyword. So you have to stay on your toes.

But you probably want to beat your competitors right? Well, the best way to outperform the average SEO companies in your niche is to prioritize these 5 areas of your SEO agency:

1) Think longer term than your competition. Most companies are trying to make quick wins, but if you have a long-term outlook, you can beat your competitors because if all your competitors are building good quality content, but they don’t persist with it, then they’re not going to push the quality and credibility of their content to the limits. But imagine if you started working on a specific keyword set 5 years ago and kept improving it until it finally starts to become nearly unstoppable. How would your average SEO agency compete with that?

2) Link acquisition. Most of your competitors are probably reaching out to get guest posts, or they’re paying for advertorials. That’s understandable. What most of them aren’t doing is reaching out to niche specific industry blogs and news sources to offer content collaborations together. This can be mutually beneficial because you’re providing most of the content for them that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and in exchange, they’re providing a quality backlink to your client’s site. This is a mutually beneficial strategy, but your average SEO company isn’t going to do it because they’re going after quantity instead of quality. I like to do a deep dive into all of the big and small websites that are relevant to the niche. Then just reach out to all of them. Sounds easy, right? Well it’s a lot harder than it sounds. First, you need to create a list of all the websites that are relevant to your industry. Then you need to find out who the right person is to contact at each of those websites. Then you need to find out their contact information. Then you need to create a pitch that’s personalized to each website owner, and each website owner is going to be different. This is why your competition is probably not going after these high quality link building opportunities.

3) On-page optimization. Most of your competition is going to focus on this, but they’re going to do it in a very simple way like we talked about before. They’re going to throw a few keywords here and a few keywords there. They’re not going to do anything fancy. They’re going to use the keyword density checker, and they’re going to follow all the other outdated advice. They’re going to do all this because it’s simple and it works most of the time. But your company can take the next step. Your company can plan out exactly what you want the website to be indexed for. For example, let’s say I wanted to optimize this page for the term “SEO agency.” If I just add that to the page, then it’s going to get indexed for it, but it’s not going to be very convincing to Google. Google wants to help searchers with their intent, not just their keywords. So what I can do instead is add a few more keywords that people often search for along with “SEO agency” to make sure those words with similar intent show up on the page too. The words I add might be “best,” “local,” or “agency,” for example. By combining specific keywords with very common ones, I can be sure that this content will rank for a wide variety of searches related to an SEO company. Now, the downside to this is that it takes a bit more time and expertise than just spamming your page with keywords. But it’s worth it in the long run.

4) Internal Site Structure. Not many SEO agencies focus on the internal linking structure, but I’ve seen companies double their traffic by structuring their internal links correctly. Basically, it’s important because it helps Google understand how much authority you’ve earned within your own website. When you develop a new page on your site, it’s important to organize it based on priority. How much ‘link juice’ authority do you want this page to get from other pages on your site? How much do you want to give to other pages on your site. If you’re just trying to build up the authority of a certain page on your site, then link to it. I like to link to at least 3 other pages on my own site from that new page. But make sure the links aren’t spammy. They need to feel like a natural part of the content, and give a good user experience. In most cases, I like to link to the parent category of the new page, the old version of that page (if there was one), and a related category page.

Now the fifth area to focus on is probably the most important. Not many SEO agencies focus on this, but it’s the best way to beat your competition:

5) Influencing Real People. In the early days, SEO was about building mechanical links to pages. But the internet is becoming more about building real relationships with real people. Google will favor you for having good relationships with your customers, community, employees, partners, etc.

How does this work?

Building higher quality relationships with real people will:

a) Drive more word of mouth mentions in real life, social media, emails and text messages
b) Increase the odds of a larger influencer giving you a shout out to a large audience
c) Increase brand exposure and brand trust
d) Increase search demand
e) Increase the CTR in the search engine results
f) Increase the number of quality reviews
g) Generates higher quality organic backlinks from real people.

This all gives Google a strong signal to increase your SEO rankings. Does this help?”

[…] “Yes, that helps a lot.”

[Chris Johnson] “Great. If anything else comes to mind, just let me know. Do you have any other questions for me?”

[…] “Not at this time.”

[Chris Johnson] “Great. Anyone else have questions about growing your web design agency?”

[Charles] “Yes, how do you get your Google search ads working? My ROI is horrible right now, and It’s very stressful trying to explain myself to my clients.”

[Chris Johnson] “Charles I’ve been getting this question a lot lately. It’s a good question. Without looking at your ad account I can guess that your ROI is probably low because there is a mismatch between the keywords and ad copy, or between the ad copy and landing page. The ad copy needs to be on point, and offer a compelling reason to click through. The landing page needs to be very clear, specific, credible and provide a competitive offer. Also I highly recommend building a retargeting campaign if you really want to survive on Google SEM these days. Basically everyone else in your area is bidding up the same keywords as you, and you need to be ultra competitive to survive. What keywords are you targeting?”

[Charles] “I target design, web design, and web development”

[Chris Johnson] “Ok those sound fairly broad. Are you using any local or long-tail keywords?”

[Charles] “I have a few, but I’m very limited with my budget”

[Chris Johnson] “Ok, well, I would prioritize local keywords because you’ll be more relevant to your local audience and get a much higher conversion rate. Also, you can write much more effective ads when you target more specific long tail keywords. If your ads are all in one ad group, I highly recommend breaking them out so that you’ve got one keyword per ad group. This way you can create much more relevant copy which will drive higher click through rates and lower your cost per click. Now I’m going to challenge you to make some changes to your account and let me know how it goes, ok?”

[Charles] “Sure, I’ll give it a try. Thanks Chris, I really appreciate it.”

If you want to generate your own “ready to buy” inbound web design leads that are 10X easier to close, then check out my upcoming workshop.

In this week’s workshop, you’ll learn my simple 4 step process to generating 50 “ready to buy” web design leads per month, without wasting time on cold outreach, SEO or complex funnels.

It’s FREE, so register here before it’s booked up:

To your success!

Chris Johnson,
Upscale Method,
Agency Growth Mentor

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