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Recovering After Losing 50% of Revenue in 30 Days


– Hi folks, my name is Kevin Dunn and welcome to Agency Unfiltered. A bi-weekly web series and podcast that interviews agency owners around agency operations,
growth, and scale. Nobody knows how to scale agencies better than those that are already doing it, and they’re happy to
share an unfiltered look into what has worked and what hasn’t. Joining us today is Tyler Pigott, Principal and Chief Growth
Officer of Lone Fir Creative. In 2017, his team was
seeing tremendous success, growing 10x with growth in
team size, revenue, and profit, but in early 2019 they
lost half of their revenue in a 30-day period. Tyler talks to us about
the lessons learned and the actions he took
to recover his agency in this time of crisis around his sales process, his tech staff, and his hiring process. Agency Unfiltered starts right now. (upbeat music) Tyler, welcome to Agency Unfiltered, we’re psyched to have you here. – Yeah, thanks for having me. – I think this is gonna
be a great episode, at your expense cause you’ve had a ton of different learnings and a unique struggle that you had to overcome and so, excited to unpack that, but before I get to my question-asking just, for everyone, just set the table. What happened with Lone
Fir and kinda what, you know, set the stage for us. – Totally, well we, I
would say kinda early on, so we grew too fast, like we brought in clients too fast I should say. – [Kevin] Okay – And so, we kind of, we
essentially we like 10xed from January 2016, no, January
2017 to January 2018. As far as like bottom-line books, revenue, we 10xed what we were at, which is great. We started small, so
numbers weren’t massive for where we were at but, we had to figure out like hey man, how are we
gonna keep up with this? How are we gonna execute these services. And so yeah, I mean that kind
of got us to January 2018 and then really, probably from lets see, beginning of February ’til
beginning, middle of March we lost half of our agency revenue. So it was like all the retainer clients. We still had stuff coming in, but it was like five
phone calls from clients within a 30 day period. They were like hey, we’re
either we got acquired, so they don’t use anymore. We’re not gonna renew our contract, we want to break our contract,
we hire someone internally. So wasn’t all stuff that was
like, hey, you guys suck, you guys are really bad at this. – [Kevin] It wasn’t like
performance based necessarily. – Yeah not all of it, some of them yeah. It was like man we could
have done a better job and obviously you can always improve stuff and so that was a 30
day window of oh crap. Can I say crap? I did say crap on the air. – Only crap. That’s where we draw the
line on Agency Unfiltered. – Yeah, totally. So anyway, I was like oh
man, what are we gonna do? This is a little bit a disaster because at that point we were, and I’ll get into some of this I’m sure, but at that point we
were subcontracting out a lot of services, we had
one other employee, myself, and a host, or a pool of 1099 contractors. They’re executing it. Some of that was easier
to kind of phase out of and not because you weren’t
on the hook for a huge payroll or anything which was great
and saved us honestly, but was also some of our pitfall. So that’s kind of a disaster
of the beginning of 2018, which at this recording time
was not that long ago now. – Right, yeah, honestly not that– – I remember it pretty well.
– Yeah. I still wake up in cold
sweats thinking about it. – Yeah, I lost a lot of
sleep for that season. – I can imagine. So okay, 30 day window,
everything comes crashing down, half of your revenue,
what’s the attack plan? – It was important to not
just think about it a lot and kind of go okay, what we do now? Which was a lot more of like a, more that I would, reflecting
on it with a lot more of like, okay let’s hit the drawing board like how are we gonna do this again? And what do we do to change that and what did we learn
from that and what did we, where are the red flags that popped up that I can talk to now
after we’ve kind of digested and processed it, but in that
moment, I wouldn’t have known. So a lot of it was like,
okay so maybe those clients weren’t the right fit in the first place? And so you know what does that attach to? Probably your sales process, that cycle and prospecting and finding
new clients and stuff and where does that fit? So that was part one
of where does that work and then the second aspect of that is the execution of the services. How are we doing those and
where are we doing those the most efficiently or effectively for us and how we work with clients? Looking back on it now, we weren’t. – [Kevin] Interesting. – And how we could have fixed that. – So let’s focus on the sales piece first. So I don’t want to say Black Monday. Black January is that what it was or whatever the 30 day?
– Yeah, sure, sure. – The 30 day window or whatever was. – February 25th to March 26th. – That’s what it was, gotcha. (laughs) Like I know the dates, the
hours, the minutes, yeah. (laughs) So coming out of that, what specifically did you look back on in
regards to your sales process, the way you identified
clients, good fit, bad fit, like what specifically
has changed since then? – Yeah, no that’s a great question. As far as the specific
things that have changed, I went through the boot
camp with David O’Hanis and the entire, awesome stuff. But it’s not really that
awesome unless you actually do what the boot camp
trains you to do, right? And if you don’t do
that, it’s not gonna be– – Follow the steps. Yeah, so we kind of tweaked
that into our own style, but really we didn’t have
a great sales process to be completely honest
and transparent about, like we just didn’t have one. We’d get on the phone with a client, we would dive through
connect call, discovery call, all this stuff down the strategy and then they’d ask for a proposal. It’s honestly probably pretty standard for a lot of agencies, but
that doesn’t leave any time for really vetting out and
almost the two-way interview of like, hey are you gonna
be the right fit for us and did they make enough
money to even pay us, are they gonna bail
because they’re a startup and we didn’t really understand that, or whatever the situation is? So we had to kind of like,
okay what is our process and how are we gonna follow it? And I wish I could say,
a year and a half later, that we’ve totally figured it out, but man we’re a lot further along in that and so we started developing
playbooks and actual specific, I like to talk and I like
to learn about clients and I like to strategize
and so my mind wants like, dive into that on call one, so it’s been a discipline for me. I was handing over a sale, totally. – Yeah, pullback. – Yeah, pullback and stick to the script. Not robotic, but stick to
the script enough to where, hey we got a natural lead
into that next call is and then next call next call. – It’s interesting, right, ’cause the way you’ve kind of outline
it, okay you prospect, then you connect, then you
discover dive in strategy, whatever it is, I would say
for the majority of agencies that might be considered a sales process, but you’re saying well we actually didn’t have a defined sales process. So, my question I guess
is what’s the distinction? Is it having steps or to your point, is it just making sure you
attach scripts to steps in sticking to those scripts? Is there any additional
distinction that you would say? – Yeah I think it’s like
a combination, right? It’s like the scripts and
questions you’re going to ask in each of the different
phases and so ours, great this is a HubSpot deal
where we’ve got deal stages that are mapped out
that are in correlation with each of our steps
and we’ve got playbooks that get attached to each of
’em, we have specific questions that kind of lead to next
thing and the next thing. And so I would say is like a combination of sticking to those steps and
sticking to those questions and so that we will make sure that we’re checking those boxes next to each of those different
sets of questions for each of the different phases and we’re not, if a client
wants to jump to the end and give enough information, great. We’re not gonna run five phone calls, we’re gonna run two or whatever. But for the most part,
yeah we’re trying to stick to those kind of scripts and playbooks and those questions that
are naturally leading from one thing to the next
and that’s been really a big deal for us because
it’s helped us also stay really organized. Most of the time, oh yeah
we got a sales process. Okay cool, there’s prospect three or four or whatever that name of them is. Well where are they at? Oh they’re somewhere in the middle. Oh, that’s not helpful. – If there’s gray areas that
means there’s not process yeah. – And so we’ve tried really
hard to kind of figure that out and again we’re constantly learning and evolving and figuring it out, but yeah that’s kind of our mix as far as kind of the process we run. – What would you say is the most impactful or important question that
you ask now to clients that you didn’t ask in the
old processless sales process? – Yeah, that’s a great
question, a single question. Honestly I feel like it’s
just sticking to a question like theme and maybe asking it Like– – Like piece of information
that you’re trying to attract? – Yeah, it’s like that
piece of information and it’s like, what is the
problem you’re trying to solve? Like what as a client,
that’s coming to us, what are you actually trying to solve for? ‘Cause sometimes it’s oh I’m
ready to run an email campaign, I need a new website
redesigned or new or whatever, it’s like, no, but really
know what is the problem that you’re trying to figure out and it’s different everybody,
but so we push really hard to figure that out because then we know that we’ve got something
to connect back to even six months into the agreement or 60 days into the agreement, whatever. And so we push for that a
lot harder than we used to. I think we used to just kind
of go, oh they came to us for a reason, awesome let’s do it. – [Kevin] Oh we do that. – Yeah, totally, and
sure there’s some clients that that’s really the extent of it, but there’s others that it’s like, we’re talking to one right now where they want lead
generation, and we’re like, well okay, so what does that mean to you? What kind of leads, how many leads? It’s just like you’re diving
in further into that topic, show that you understand how
to build a strategy around it rather than have connect
points back to it. – Sounds like you’re just trying
to tie whatever activities they’re looking for you to do
to like a business objective – Yeah.
– That’s meaningful, right? – Exactly.
– Is that fair to say? – Yeah yeah, so I mean it is a lot more around business objectives and a lot less around marketing activities and tactics and campaigns and kind of stuff and a lot of that’s
because the business owner or the marketer or the salesperson,
whoever we’re talking to in the organization, they
get the business objective because that’s usually
coming down from high above, their supervisors or it’s
something they come up with. They don’t necessarily know
the best way to execute it. – [Kevin] Sure. – Because they’re not doing it everyday. – [Kevin] Yeah, right. – Day in, day out, hour in, hour out. And so that’s where
it’s like super helpful to reverse engineer kind of hey, what’s the actual problem trying to solve and then let us help you figure out what the tactic is to get there, which is kind of I would
say we focus on that a ton, and then we stick to
like, everybody asked, hey what’s your budget? And then I pry pretty hard for that. It’s like, well we don’t
have or we’re trying to figure it out, I go, great. So, if I came to you and said it’s gonna be you know $10,000 a month like what would your reaction to that be? Oh my gosh, that’s too
high or yeah that’s– – So you do have a budget? – You do have a budget,
yeah and then I go ahead and go down the route I’m really, I’m pretty stiff, you can obviously tell, but I’m really soft about it
as far as just trying to like, I’m just fishing a
little bit to kind of go, hey what is the reality of
what they’re willing to pay for and it’s not so I can go top of the budget and get more money from them,
but it has to kind of go they’re expecting a website
redesign for 500 bucks and I’m great– – It’s part of the qualification process. There has to be line minimum of the cost and the value of the– – Right, whereas in the old
day we would have just gone, hey what’s your budget? We don’t really have one. Oh okay, cool. – I mean that was it, yeah. – Which is not helpful.
– And we’ll just come to the table with a proposal. – Exactly and then you
spent however many hours on that process and they just say, well we’re expecting to spend $500 and you just did a $15,000. – Right, and you wasted all that time. – Totally. And so we’re trying to kind
of go through that connect call process and I ask
those questions early on and I think it’s fair to ask ’em and most people appreciate
it when you do kind of spell it out a little
more and some people bail because it’s too high at the end even though they said
it was at the beginning. You can’t control that. – So you mentioned one
of the key issues right of that month, February to
March, I don’t remember, but, okay we’re probably working
with the wrong fit client. So once you put more work
and shape and like adherence to a sales process, what
percentage of clients that were navigating
through or the total amount, like what are the intentional,
turn away or transition out, like how did that increase,
was a large percent, large amount of clients? Like how many people did
you actually begin filtering out of your sales process with kind of these new guardrails in place? – Honestly, I bet it’s
probably like 40 to 50% over the last year and I think
a lot of it’s just because we just asked different questions up front and it’s not necessarily, I guess I shouldn’t say
different questions, it’s more like we’re just
digging a little bit further and so then they give
us their actual answer and we’re gonna tell ya if
you’re not the right fit and we’re not gonna discount our services because that’s just a real rough way to start retainer with a client. And so it’s like we’ll
try, we’ll subtract things, well we really want that, well, okay well it’s gonna cost as much. Well we can’t pay that much. Okay well, we might not be the right fit to move forward with. You just kind of have those conversation. So I think we are more sensitive
to like gut-feeling too. We do everything as our
agencies are 100% remote. So we everything with video meetings. So if a prospect wants to
be a long-term engagement and they will not show
themselves on video, that might not be the right
fit so that’s like a red flag that we’ve got on our kind
of filter of red flags that we probably don’t
want to work with you. That’s like a little thing,
but the same time like, that’s just how we function and so if you’re not
gonna function that way and you don’t fit with us, then we’re probably not
the right partnership– – It’s not good or bad.
– Yeah. – It’s just that’s just
how it’s gonna work. – Right, yeah so we have
a list of those things that we try to go through. So I’d say yeah, 40 to 50%
of people that kind of, we turn away, the other
percentage we’re gonna let go down the road a
little bit or all the way depending on how we go. – Just to level set, who
owns, or how many people are involved in sales for for your agency? – Yeah, so I do all of our sales right now and we’re kind of shifting
really over the last two months, shifting into bringing
strategist into that process, bringing designers into that process, just as we’ve gone through a connect call, part of thee discovery scenario, and then we’re bringing people
in and a lot of it honestly has been to give the clients, obviously they get a better
understanding of what we do and ask better questions but
a lot of it’s to get clients hey it’s not just the Tyler show. That’s the only guy you see and you see these other people
on the website which is great but there’s more people in
the mix and there’s gonna be a lot better people that I
am a designer, development, or whatever in the mix and so we’re trying to start bringing in more like, I’m not gonna call it team
sales, but it’s more like– – [Kevin] Fresh perspectives. – Yeah, totally. And then makes the job for my cycle easier because I’ve got more brains around like, how are we strategizing this,
what do we do, got any ideas? – It sounds early in that
process, but have there been any lessons learned? Okay, stick to the script,
stick to the sales process, holding yourself accountable,
but now you’re gonna have to hold a team accountable. Any lessons learned so far in
training them on the process and training them to stick to the process? – I would say at this point
I still tee everybody up, so I’m still owning
that whole relationship with the client on top of it. We’ve been working a couple clients in the last month and a half and right now we’re kind of doing I’m
selling and then a strategist comes in or team member comes
in, and then that person will stick with the client
for like the first 90 days, as well as like a strategist
or like project manager that they’re gonna like
run with for a long time. So it’s like a lot
smoother of a transition. We didn’t have the best
process for that transition ironed out on day one as
far as this is what happens, this is the expectation that we have from an agency perspective as
well as what the client have. So I’d say the first one,
the first couple that we did weren’t crashes burns, like
we’re still working with it. There’s a lot we learned from it though. – Yeah there’s some
friction you can remove from the, got it. – Yeah yeah, so all that being said, we have gone a lot more into building a process for everything so it’s not just shoot from the hip, and this client has this size of a retainer
so these are things that, yeah let’s just do that. Well, six months into the retainer, you’re not doing that anymore,
you’re barely touching it ’cause you’re only working
on the stuff that’s moving or that you’re paying
attention to that’s up front. So we’ve worked a lot on
just developing process, documenting everything. – Got it. Hard pivot from sales. Now I think the other half of
kind of your battle plan right the recovery plan was service
delivery and I think changing the way you delivered services,
driven results your clients. So, what are the big takeaways? What did you focus on,
what were the big boulders that you had to fix or crack through? – Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean honestly it was a team dynamic and who was servicing it. That was the biggest
challenge and I think that a lot of people have gone the
like 1099 or contractor route or subbing out to other
agencies and stuff. I think that the pitfall or
the error that we made was advocating that authority. So it’s like, it’s like we are advocating the ownership of it. It’s like we were giving
it away to another agency, but expecting them to have
that same level of ownership that we did with the client. Ain’t gonna happen. It just doesn’t work that
way and so then like, level of attention to the client and they weren’t interacting
with a clients necessarily, but they were not aware of the urgency of getting something
done or hours required or the expectation of excellent we wanted. – It was their timeline not yours? – Absolutely, and then a
lot of times we’re using their project manager tool or something and so we were just all spread around and so we now don’t, if
you’re gonna work with us, you’re working in our project management, our whole environment and
ecosystem, you’re working in that or you’re not working with us. Whether you’re a partner that
we’re having that’s helping us do some development or
something or your contractor or you’re an employee, you have
to work in that environment or it doesn’t work. So I’d say like that piece
was a huge learning lesson as far as just advocating, not really pay attention
to, but just passing off that responsibility and so we can’t pass that off any longer obviously. So that was a big piece and
then we’ve pivoted from that. – What does the partnerships
with contractors, other agencies, like what
does it look like now, now that you require them
to come into your systems? – Yeah, we don’t do a lot where we sub out to other agencies any longer. We used to do that a fair amount and some people do, it works great. We have we haven’t had a
great track record with it. It’s probably our fault, not theirs. I’d say as far as just
what it looks like now, our expectations with work
with other contractors, we’re covering most of the contractors into full-time employees
and so they’re 100% working on our business, our clients,
our books of business, and really their books in
business that they’re managing. That has been the biggest
pivot over the last six to eight months has just
been bringing people on board and not relying nearly as
heavily on contractors. So example, we used to farm
out all of our development, and now we’ve got
contractor that’s managing a lot of the development and then they are working with outside
resources and we’re trying to hire them right now, trying
to bring them on full-time and that’s just because we
want somebody internally that’s handling, that’s owning that. It makes our team better, the
delivery’s gonna be better, the client’s gonna be more satisfied. So it’s all a huge win
across the board for that. – What’s the biggest difference
between hiring a contractor that you’ve worked with
previously, trying to convince them to come full-time versus
a candidate that you found that you’re bringing in first time from just a completely organization, what’s the biggest difference? – Totally. I would say, comfort level
around, I mean if I’ve done five projects with you
already, we already understand how each other work. – [Kevin] Speed of delivery, working– – Yeah and I know what
you’re quality work is, there’s no guessing. Even though in some of our
interview and hiring process we’ve got tests involved,
situational stuff that they’re running through,
but it’s not the same because I haven’t worked with them. So I’d say that’s the
biggest differences is it’s easier to bring
somebody on that’s done a couple projects with you
in the contractor role. It doesn’t mean that
that’s what we do entirely, but that’s easier, probably because– – I mean you already
qualified their level of work, their ability, their– – They’re already on the inner circle. Their part of thee family. – We’ve talked about your
systems a couple times. Do you wanna give a plug to
your project management tool? What tools seem to work
really well for you? What’s systems do you
lean on pretty heavily? Anything in particular? – Yeah so our kind of top foundation– – HubSpot Academy. – Well clearly, yeah right. HubSpot obviously, the
HubSpot CRM, Google Suites, we use all their tools, Slack, Asana, and all those tend to talk together. That’s kind of our battle sweet I suppose. – Sweet.
– Yeah. – So, I have one final question for you, but before we even get there is there anything else, lessons learned? We talked a little bit about
sales, we talked a little bit about service, as you kind of navigated and made the recovery plan,
any other lessons learned that I wasn’t able to
articulate in a question? – Yeah, no that’s good, a good one. A lot of lessons. One of the other things
that I’ve hit on when I talk to other people about this
in our kind of recovery was software and so every
agency you talked to for the most part has a fairly significant budget toward software. So they’re demoing new products,
they’re trying new things, they’ve been talked into buying stuff that they shouldn’t have
bought, whatever it is, and so they’ll spend
thousands of dollars a month, 10s of thousand dollars a
month on software tools and, but what we’ve learned,
so did that and we, I would say waste a lot of
money and expected tools to kind of solve our problems, and so, we’ve kind of changed too,
we don’t bring a whole, we don’t really bring any tools on that we don’t have a process
we’re trying to solve for or an existing tool in place that this one maybe better than. So we brainstorm and figure
out how do we become better or become more efficient so we can go out and hire that softwarer to
make us better at that process or that system that we’re
trying to implement. I just feel like there’s a
lot of money that’s wasted in software and that’s– – Were you on the wrong side
of that coin at the beginning? – Yeah yeah, we wasted a lot of money on a project management tool
that we kind of expected to like, oh this is gonna
make us so much better. No, it’s not ’cause it didn’t come with, there’s no project manager it comes with that has this process.
– Right. – And so, that’s a good
example, product management’s a great example because so
many project management tools out there and they all
have their different tint and their different style
and like some people with Scrum and Agile, well great. There’s a specific tool
set that’s great for that. Other people are points-based. Well there’s are specific tools for that. Other people are somewhere
between ours, whatever. And so it’s great to
know what your process or your system is or your management style or your project management
style and then find the tool that fits for that versus, oh
like just great, let’s do it! Well it sucks if you’re
not running Agile Scrum. It’s clunky and doesn’t work that great. But if you’re running
that type of business, then it’s awesome and so
it’s kind of, again back to you figuring out what’s your style process you’re trying to solve and then
hiring that software to do. – Yeah so, develop process
first, be intentional about which offer is gonna
unlock or enable that process, don’t just chase the shiny objects. – Yeah ’cause most agencies
that are wasting money on tools are buying the software
and then they’re having to allocate hours, man hours
and resource to figure out how to use the software and then okay now how do we integrate this– – And it might not even be
the right tool to begin with. – Yeah they would have no idea. – Final question for you. Ask this to every guest. What’s the weirdest part of agency life? – The weirdest?
– Absolute weirdest. Some people go like weird
anecdote, some people have like a, just the aspect of the life in general. – Honestly, I feel like
the weirdest part’s customer conversations and
some are just hilarious. Some you get off the phone
and you’re just like, what did they just ask me to do? Everybody’s different and
it’s the people component that’s always the weirdest. The questions you get,
the people that think that their business is so
unique, but you’re like dude I’ve talked to three
people in the last hour that are the exact same really. Maybe there’s a different
word for the same. I think it’s the people
component, the client component. I think the people put on
our team, I’ve got a designer on our team and I asked her
hey what do you want to do in like three years or something? You have no idea where that question goes even the interview process
or whatever and she’s like, I really have had this dream
of opening a tattoo parlor and I’m like, hm, that’s awesome. I did not have any expectation
you would say that. Like I have no idea you’re gonna say, but that’s like so far left field. So I feel like the people
aspect is like the weirdest and that’s probably
like the dumbest answer. – No that fits the bill. – I feel like it’s just weird. – Just of the range of
personality types and people that you get to interact
with and come across is just, it’s just unlike any other. – Yeah.
– Awesome. Well that’s it, that’s all I have for it. So I really appreciate you
coming on, and that’s it. That’s been Agency Unfiltered. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Agency Unfiltered. If you liked what you saw, heard, or read, make sure to subscribe to
our playlist on YouTube our podcast on Spotify or Apple
Podcasts, or our newsletter on agencyunfiltered.com. Alongside episode launch notifications, the newsletter also comes
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content from yours truly, and if you want to keep
the conversation going, or provide a counterpoint to
this episode’s discussion, tweet me at @Kevin_Dunn. I’ll see you again in two weeks, but in the meantime, keep it
unfiltered, and let’s all grow. (upbeat music)

Stephen Childs

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