If you find yourself saying "I'm not a writer", just wash your mouth out and go & have a go.

28:23          |          2021          |          Episode 24

A More Human Agency
With Chris McLean

If you find yourself saying "I'm not a writer", just wash your mouth out and go & have a go.

36:44          |          2020          |          Episode 177

Playing with Perspective
with Darren Saul

If you find yourself saying "I'm not a writer", just wash your mouth out and go & have a go.

36:44          |          2020          |          Episode 177

Playing with Perspective
with Darren Saul


Introduction & background

Chris: Hi there folks, Chris McLean, peak performance and transformation coach, back yet again with another episode of the Peak Performance and Predictable Growth Show, the peak performance show for creative agency founders, owners, and leaders, where we explore the agency journey from the unique perspective of those at the coalface of the industry. My guests help unlock and dissect strategies, tools, and tactics from the trenches, that are working right now to help you deliver better results for your clients, and help you scale and grow your business to six and seven figures and beyond. And my guest in the studio today is Jo McKee from McKee Creative. They help reduce their client's mental load by ensuring every aspect of their digital marketing is operating perfectly. Love that. Sounds like a great reason for people to come and work with you, Jo. Thanks for dropping by. Lovely to have you here.

Jo: Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

Chris: Pleasure. Pleasure. So take us through, obviously Jo McKee and McKee Creative. Did you start off as a one woman shop and now you've grown out? How did you get started with your business?

Jo: Yeah. Okay. Well, I had been a book editor previously and actually had a few businesses, film distribution company, tourism businesses, mobile communications back when it was new. Showing my age there. Basically my partner and I were running a couple of racing yachts in the Whitsundays and massive cyclone crashed everything into a heap. I had wanted to work online and wasn't sure how, and that's when I really fell into the digital marketing seriously, about three years ago, coming up to four years. Quite immersed in some pretty in the trenches training, I suppose, for quite a few months there just to really get started, but do it thoroughly. And that included agency systems as well as the techniques. So I did my first training really under Cat Howell, which was fantastic because it helped us learn how to bring clients, but also how to deliver, and how to deal with the problems that happen once the unexpected comes up in any campaign, as it does.

Jo: So it was a good way to find my feet. Yeah. And then I would start with freelancers, as I was saying to you just earlier, just because I really like people being free to grow their own business and dreams and not feel stifled. I feel like people running their own business will check detail more because they need to, or as their business falls apart, if they don't produce good work. So there's also that aspect as well. And that worked really well. Partly because my partner and I think we might like to go sailing and I wasn't sure if I'd want an office and all that sort of thing. It's a big world, we want to see it. It's a bit of a flexible plan. Life happens, but that's okay. So there were a couple of years there where I was just running it like that. Then I actually went to do ops management for Cat Howell, running her agency to help her. She'd done so well on the training.


The origins of McKee Creative

Jo: She's helped over 700 other agencies grow, that her own agency was... Just what you focus on expands, I suppose. So needed some attention put back into just strengthening it again. And they'd had some staff turnover, people moving away, just for travel and fun. So just to help her rebuild that team and get the systems up and running again. And then that meant a rebuild of my agency again, when that was done. So it's just really picked up momentum in the last 18 months again, but because I've done it for a longer period now, I'm more comfortable in what I can deliver for clients. And we're growing a really solid team. And we're at a point now where we work with clients that we really like. Obviously as marketers, we can sell anything online and you do what you've got to do when you start your agency, is take the job, do it. But it's really nice to be in a position where you can say, how does this serve our audience? How does it change people's lives? Do we want to work for them? And that's really good.

Chris: Yeah. Love that. I love that. The ideal place to get to, when you're running any business, is to actually get to pick and choose the clients that you want to work with and not just have to work with someone because the money looks good. Right?

Jo: Yeah. I mean, there are always going to be challenges on an account because, as you know, things are changing every day. So there's so many variables in every campaign, but at least, if it's for a purpose that you like, that certainly helps. So we've got clients who are starting their fourth year with us and it's just because they're a good fit. They're building something worthwhile and we've built a good rapport and works really well.

Chris: Yeah. Amazing. So take us through what services do you offer when you get those dream clients coming in? How do you help them? Do you lean towards any particular platforms or particular services, or do you see yourself more as a full service suite in the digital domain?

Jo: Again, we started with just Facebook and Instagram. And then you start to realize that, if you're only doing that part and your client needs to go somewhere else for their email marketing or their Google or their Twitter, it's quite messy for the client. And also you're at risk of losing a client then because, I guess, they're working with another handful of agencies even. So I guess it happened naturally in that, when clients knew I was following enough and started trusting us with their website's not converting, let's help them do that. We end up hosting the websites and building them. It just evolved naturally. But then it came to a point last year where I started to go actually no, we're going to do it right or not at all. So we do have two packages that clients can choose when they start. If they're still bootstrapping for cash, there's a lower priced package where we just do their Facebook, their Instagram.


The nuts and bolts of the agency

Jo: We always do SEO. That's a non-negotiable for us just because it just needs to be built in the background. And we'll look after their abandoned cart, email flows, things like that. So that's kind of a starter package, but really it works beautifully with our clients on our full package where it is their email marketing. And we build it to that bringing in 15 to 20% of their revenue. If their site needs a bit of help, we can help with that. It's Facebook, Instagram, it's Google ads, Google shopping. We can move the budget to wherever it's performing best. And if they need, I mean, if it's a big extra project, we do have to be careful with scope because it can just turn into an octopus. If it's quick bot, we'll just build it. That's no problem. If it was a big project, we'd say, okay, we're going to have to quote you for that. So we try to keep it within reason and learning to do that better.

Jo: As you know, entrepreneurs have ideas all the time and things grow. So you have to contain that a little bit. But it's nice when you've got this system where you can just jump into their backend, check out the website's converting, jump in, see how the email revenue is going, experiment quickly. And it really does take that pressure off the client. They are much freer to just go good, that's happening. I can get on with something else. So that's nice.

Chris: Yeah. Nice. I guess that in the intro, that you're really there just to reduce their mental load. And when you can, as you say, manage everything and be across everything and have that holistic vision, then you can set a game plan. Can tinker with this bit over here to get a better conversion rate over here, instead of having to, as you say, speak to another agency, or three or four different boutiques or specialists, who are handling the email and this part and that part in the website and the Facebook ads. And so it must be nice to have that full ecosystem. As you said, it becomes easier to actually provide different and higher value to your clients as well, because you can make those tweaks on the fly. Do you tend to work quite agile, I guess, with clients and with ads and in terms of tweaking, trying different things? How do you tend to set up and run campaigns? Do you tend to work in big release campaigns or more iterative test things out, see how it flies, kind of campaign building?

Jo: Yeah, we're probably more iterative and I'm quite an impatient person, so I need to harness that. But we do test. If it's an e-comm campaign and if they have their images and videos, lifestyle images done, it can get us all the assets and they know what their offer is, we'll have their ads live within a week. That's no problem. And their emails up and running. If we need to build a funnel, usually I'll give it two weeks, depending on the size of the funnel. If it's a website, we still want it up within a month. So we're pretty fast.


Our creative team

Jo: Sometimes that puts a bit too much pressure on us and try to manage that. As far as testing, for instance, in a Facebook ad campaign. Facebook will say an ad needs 8,000 impressions to have enough data. We might flip it off after a thousand impressions. If we can look at the early stats and push the budget to the ones that are stronger. So we do test pretty fast. I have to always be patient with the Google side, that takes longer, but then starts to come together and build them into it. So yeah, it's a good exercise for me to just sit tight while that happens.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess that's where it's important to have expertise in those platforms.

Jo: Yes. It really is.

Chris: Understand I can switch that off a bit early, because you can predict where it's going to go rather than just blowing budget for the sake of what Facebook recommends?

Jo: Yeah. And I can run a Facebook campaign quite well and get results quite quickly. I'm trained in Google as well, but I haven't put the practicing myself and I certainly don't pretend to be the expert on everything either. Amit's wonderful. He's worked with Microsoft and Boeing and bigger brands and he knows how to do it. So it's good having good people on the campaign. I can't pretend to be all things to all people, that would just be ridiculous. And we also have a really nice network of agencies through the training I did with Cat, particularly through AdSkills and the Bird group. Hundreds of agencies. If we need somebody with a particular skill, probably within about 10 minutes we've found somebody and we're good to go.

Jo: We're working with Rutger, who's known as the Botfather, Rutger Thole. He's building a bot for e-comm system at the moment that's fantastic. He's put so much work into it for the past year. And I actually didn't have time to implement myself, but being able to connect with Anna from his group and she's going to do the grunt work for me because we're going to put it in a client's campaign and test it out. But it's a fabulous project. I'm really excited about it.

Chris: Yeah. I'd like to talk more on that whole collaborative network nature. Maybe it was just back in my time, but there can be a bit of this protection around my client and my jobs in the creative community. So I really like how you're talking about having that network and collaboration of people that support your business, that are doing specialized things that you don't do. Obviously, if you've found a lot of that, as you're saying, through Cat Howell's stuff. And I'm trying to get her on the program. So if you do know her, flick her an email.

Jo: Even when you're running her agency.

Chris: Right. Got no chance then? Take us through that collaborative approach. From what you were saying earlier, it sounds like that's quite important to you in your hiring policies, as well as finding really good network and collaborating with really good people. So take us through how do you build that network? How do you maintain that network? How do you make sure that there's always win-win and everyone gets to support each other rather than feeling like they're in competition?


The importance of solid training

Jo: I think when you go to places where there is good quality, as far as training goes. So Tim Bird, Justin Brooks with AdSkills, Cat, Depesh Mandalia. I shouldn't mispronounce his last name, he'll slap me. When you find people who are well trained in what they do, they know they produce good results, they're not so anxious about losing business because they know their stuff. For instance, we have a part of our agency's a little ugly funnel that seems to work. It's just an order platform for Done For You Copy. It's called Your Ads on Demand. And we have 70 agencies at the moment who just come to us for ad copy or emails or sales pages or whatever they need. And we just turn that around generally within three business days, unless it's a full website job. They just pay, put their brief in, done.

Jo: And a lot of them are people I know through Cat's agency's training and then word of mouth or other training we've done elsewhere. So we've never advertised that. But again, it's collaborative because their agencies... A lot of agencies obviously are small operations and everybody's trying to do everything in a hurry. But if, for instance, copywriting's not their strength and yet we do that easily. They can just pop it in, get it done and relax. And then also Marco, who I've known, again, through Cat's training. Marco Hernandez, he's built a great little site called fixmyshit.online and it's website fixes. And the agencies love it because they can just go in and order a CSS fix for a hundred bucks and it's done. There's lots of really good projects that have come out of it. And Rutger, the Botfather, that's from one of Cat's retreats a few years ago.

Jo: And he's since worked with ManyChat and others in their training. Just really good skills popping up everywhere. And everybody's pretty relaxed because they know what they do. There's no time to be fussing and stealing clients. And if you did, it'd be pretty ugly pretty quickly. So it just doesn't happen.

Chris: Pretty small world.

Jo: It is, it is. But I do find that when people don't really know what they're doing and they're nervous, that's when they really worry about losing clients and understandably. And that's when they get quite protective. So my answer to that would be just go invest in good training so that you can relax and know that you're doing a good job, and you can breathe a little easier.


The human side of it all

Chris: Yeah. And is that where you see the industry to be really general moving, that you've got many more smaller experts and specialists coming together into individual projects, or being pulled into other people's individual projects rather than massive mammoth agencies with thousands of people working in them? Those seen in the past with big incumbents and that style of agency. Are you seeing that shift to more collaborations, smaller networks of people coming together for project work?

Jo: Look, I haven't worked in the big brand agency world myself, but I do have a colleague who runs her own agency, who does white label for a lot of them. So even over the past three years, I know that they've been outsourcing themselves to some degree. It's attention, isn't it? Sometimes you just would give anything to be in the same room with someone and just ask them a quick question, rather than having to put it on Slack. And even if we're on cycle day as a team, you're still going to wait a month for them to see the message and make sure you word it for them to understand it and all that stuff. Sometimes face to face is just such a relief. Every day I wonder if I should be building a team with an office space.

Jo: I'm always wondering about it. But I think, especially with the COVID, the bigger brands and bigger companies, it's become so much more acceptable to work from home, that people are much more open to just finding the right person for the job as well now. So it probably comes down to you as an agency with how do you work most comfortably with people? Do you need stuff done right now? Or are you able to collaborate and say, "Hey, can you fit this into your workflow next week or whatever?" And do you trust your freelancers or the people you're working with enough to just know that they will get the job done and it will be done well? So all that human side of it, isn't it? Which really probably is a personality thing.


Valuing seeing people exactly where they're at

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Really finding that balance of what do you actually need? What are your timelines? There's a lot of considerations in that. But certainly seeing that fragmentation of the workforce, that's come out of last year, has changed the game in just about every industry. Where they say most people are living in, in Slack and Zoom and online and virtually. How have you found that? Because as we sort of mentioned earlier, you are running essentially virtual teams. Working face-to-face with your employees and the people that you work with. How do you keep people connected? How do you keep the human aspect, that cultural aspect of your business? Building, growing, expanding, making sure people get the vibe, the energy of who you are and what the business is about? Is that-

Jo: It's less about tools I've discovered. A few years ago, I edited a book for a lady called Soozey Johnstone, who's an Australian. It's a double O-Z-E-Y, Soozey. She coaches some pretty high level executives in Australia, it's big companies. And she was going to call the book, Am I the Problem? And my partner, Michael, who's lovely and direct said. "No. When we're a man, we just want to know exactly what the problem is and how to solve it. Call it I am the Problem." So she did. The book sold very well. Now in the book, it was basically, to put it bluntly, shit flows downhill. It's what are the qualities of the leader and their values and their communication style? And how do they value their team? And she really went into getting to know your team, their own aspirations as people. Seeing them. It just comes down to people and whether you see them and care about them or not.

Jo: So somebody on your team might relate really well to just efficiency and getting the job done and spitting out the projects. And they're happy to go and do that and go for a surf or whatever they need to do. That's great. That's their motivation. I have one team member, who's just fabulous at really connecting with the heart of a client's campaign. And so we've actually... She's taken a couple of them on where she really focuses on that and just building their brand. And she does a brilliant job of it across the ad copy and email and watching the status of the campaign. And it means there's that lovely overall feel of somebody really shepherding that brand, that growth. And I think for her to feel connected to the mission of the brand just really motivates her really well.

Jo: And so that is a great driver. And then I put someone else on some of the e-comm brands and all that, just let's flip it out, let's get that ad copy out. How's the data going? Where are the bottlenecks? Let's just get it. It's more of a mechanical mindset, even though that e-comm brand might have a great ethos behind it, they're just looking at the machine to make sure that that's effective. So it really depends on your staff, on your team, who they are, what gets them out of bed in the morning. Somebody might be saving to renovate their house because the roof fell in. Or somebody might just like to buy a certain pair of shoes or whatever it is. But if you can help your team reach their goals, whether they're freelancers or in-house, then they feel like their life's moving in the right direction. That's probably the cleanest way to put that. Instead of just stuck in a rut, doing a job. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants that at all.


The shift towards individual autonomy

Chris: Yeah. We all want autonomy, right? It comes down to just having that sense of autonomy. And I am in control of my destiny, right? I'm in control of my business. I'm in control of my days. I get to pick and choose how my days show up, when I work, when I don't work, and mapping that, exactly as you saying, mapping that to what's that individual's goal driver? What is their motivation? What's their particular passion, purpose, vision, mission? What are they trying to accomplish? I think it's easy to, in organizations, to homogenize all of that into you're all just workers and you'll follow our vision, right? Our company vision and the way we do things.

Jo: Yes.

Chris: I'm hopeful that tends to be there's more of that shift now to resonating with the individual and understanding individual tendencies. Some people might like to work super early. Some people might like to work super late. Some might like to take a break and go surfing, but they're super effective in the morning. They get all their work done. So how do you work in terms of tracking time and in terms of projects? Are you tracking time? Are you tracking output? Where's the focus of that around? Are you happy if the job just gets done? Obviously some things have to get done within time limits and with milestones and all of that, but you're happy for your people just to deliver work and not specifically have to do a certain amount of time? How you manage that aspect?

Jo: It's probably not the most businesslike approach that I have, but I remember trying to set timers for myself, even when I worked alone. To cost out what I was charging. I'd forget to turn the damn thing off. 38 tabs open, you're checking messages in between, you can't look at how much time was allocated to that quick response to somebody when you're writing this. I wondered if it was just me and then I'd be talking to other agencies owner, and they'd say, we tried this and this and this. And I actually just went, nah, forget it. But I did have a guy doing a trial yesterday. I said, look, just note the start time and the finish time so I have a rough idea, even though you're learning and it would take longer. Because obviously it does. I've done enough of the jobs myself, enough times, to know roughly how long they take.


Achieving that elusive sense of balance

Jo: So if I've got stuff on the Trello board for the team, I can tell pretty well they're still guiding it, still refining it, but whether I'm overloading them or whether they can take on more. We also have a board for, if someone's got time, grab it, take that one. Let's go. I need to probably refine more. I do keep a spreadsheet actually, which is probably quite an antiquated way to do it, of each client and our costs and our time spent. I'm estimating that though. There's no way I'm putting that down to the minute. And I'm continually looking at it in a refresh way, just trying to see if I can improve that. So as far as keeping an eye on my team, when I Ev came on full-time I said, "Look, I want someone full-time because I need to say, let's do this now." So yes, we do work business hours, but it's still pretty human.

Jo: Yesterday that march for women was on and I said to the girls, "If you want to go and you can get the copy jobs done that are due today. Then you go." I don't want them to feel like they can't. If there needs to be some time off, we keep it human, basically. I don't want to get too tight about this hour or that hour. So I'm trying to, I guess, become more businesslike and look at profitability better, but I don't want it to feel like a stranglehold around anybody.

Chris: I think that's an important, yeah, it comes down to that balance. You got to get shit done. This thing has to get delivered. Here's the timeframe for it. But yeah, mapping that to how people prefer to work. If someone can get it done in a couple of hours, someone might take five hours, but if they're both within the same, if they both get the work done and they can get it done in their own, within... If the results are the same, is it. Yeah.

Jo: Sort of. Yeah. I've seen agencies really burn people out and I think it's a massive problem. And it's not just my observation, but even Adweek articles that are anonymous where they talk to people in different agencies, it's quite toxic. And I'm really conscious of-

Chris: There's 70 plus percent in a lot of the big agencies?

Jo: Disgusting. And I just think that needs to change. So I'm really conscious of it as I have more people and I'm just making sure that, shut the laptop, go have a beer, it's five o'clock, just go. If I choose to wait longer, I don't think I should expect my team to work the hours I do. It's my business. Of course I'm going to be the one who cares about it the most. That's natural. They're pretty invested so there's no problem. But I think the other key is hiring people who are good at what they do. If you're hiring someone who's not good at it and it takes too long, then you've got a problem because there is a certain amount of output that has to happen. And it's pretty fast-paced.


Setting people up to build expertise and gather momentum

Jo: I guess it's just sensing that keeping an eye on people as far as I've used our intern at the moment. I'm just saying keep an eye on how long this takes you, as you learn, and then as you get better at it. And that just helps me know what to put on the sheet. It's like navigating, isn't it? You're always adjusting a little bit.

Chris: Yeah. These days people build expertise. You can get stuff done much quicker in terms of a timeframe, once you've done it a thousand times, it's easier to do. So time becomes less of a concern.

Jo: Yeah. If you hire people that are good at what they do, it's going to be efficient. You're going to be pretty right. It works.

Chris: Yeah. Awesome. I really love the approach. I'm always refreshed to hear agency owners like yourself that have more of that human to human perspective on how to run a business and how to really look after your staff, look after people, and give them that sense of autonomy. That ability to do them. Do their own thing. And within the confines of you still got to get stuff done. You still got to get stuff delivered on time, but also having that go grab a beer, go have a surf. If that's going to help you refresh and come back better and be more effective when you come back, I think that's important to bake in.

Jo: Yeah. It's working pretty well. I know I can always improve my systems, but working on that everyday too, so that's okay.

Chris: There's always time. Fabulous, Jo. Thanks for dropping by. If people are interested to learn more about what you do and who you are, there's a couple of ways they can contact you up on the screen. What's the best place for them to come and find you, connect with you?

Jo: I mean, if it's as an agency client, there's a form on our site to fill out, which gives us a bit of info to run with for a first call. If it's for copywriting to be done, we've got Your Ads on Demand. So probably just message me and I send the link. That's easy. If they need some copywriting training, we have a course for that as well, copywriting for profit. So where we really just teach people, in other agencies, how to do it in-house without taking too long, making sure it's effective. I guess message me is the easiest way and we'll sort it out.

Chris: Yep. Awesome. Awesome. Thanks very much. That was a really interesting conversation. So I'm always happy to hear new perspectives and see the industry evolving towards more heart-centered, more human-driven perspective.

Jo: I hope so.

Chris: So I appreciate your time and appreciate what you're doing. Keep it up. It sounds like 2021 is going to be a great year for you.

Jo: Yeah. I think I'm even beyond saying great year or not. We just really enjoy what we do and we appreciate it, but yeah, definitely. Thank you.

Chris: Awesome. Thank you for your time. Thanks everyone at home for tuning in and stopping by and spending some time with us here today. Always appreciated. And that's us for this episode. We'll catch you on the next one. Jo, thanks for your time and-

Jo: Thanks, Chris.

Chris: ... Catch you around. Thanks everyone.

Jo: Bye.

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