071: Jason Swenk on starting, scaling and selling a digital agency

After growing Solar Velocity from nothing to an 8-figure agency, selling it and getting bored on the beach, Jason Swenk began helping other agency owners. He now teaches the lessons he’s learned along the way at JasonSwenk.com. 

Jason shares his incredible insights in this episode, oozing with his spunky personality. 


Highlights of this episode: 

[4:10] It all started with a NSync parody site, then he started making $500 websites, quit his job at Arthur Andersen before they destroyed the world, and in 2-3 years was making $200K websites. So thanks Justin Timberlake!

[6:00] The company really took off once he started examining what we didn’t want to do (working with clients), and put systems in place so the business could go on without him.

[7:20] He kept upgrading the offerings based on what clients needed. As your price increases, so too does the need to communicate how you are unique.

[8:40] To really scale, the Agency Owner (does everything) needs to transition to the Agency CEO (focuses on vision, strategy, coaching). The first step is hiring a project manager!

[11:50] Assume you’re project manager will screw up. If you’re scared of that, get out of business. Jason encourages (one-time) failures for learning purposes. Systems>>Talent.

[14:30] Everyone on his team took personality tests, and they tried to find people to fill in the gaps. It’s more important that a new hire shares the company’s core values, then technical know-how. Value-based hiring led to Solar Velocity’s becoming the Best Place to Work in Atlanta, which snowballed into better & better people applying.

[16:20] He replaced Quarterly Reviews with Quarterly Coaching, because employees are your #1 asset, so management’s job is not to condemn, but to help make employees better and achieve their goals. Your office environment should reflect your personality. Be yourself. He made a fun environment, and those that didn’t like it could leave.

[19:20] Growth revolved around generating the pipeline through 1) strategic partnerships (not just trading leads, but building practice areas to specialize in), 1) outbound strategy, and 2) inbound strategy (gotta capture that info!) and 3) strategic partnerships- which is not just trading leads, but actually building practice areas to specialize in. They specialized in Sitefinity.

[22:00] Partner with an up-and-coming technology (not Wordpress or Facebook). Help them out before expecting anything in return. That’s what they did with Sitefinity- when they had success with it for a client, they made a case study to help Sitefinity communicate their value better. So Sitefinity sent them Hitachi, Legalzoom, and other amazing clients.

[24:35] Successful people make money, but significant people affect other people/businesses by helping, not just taking...Helping>>Selling

[25:40] Don’t reach out to everyone. Go after a select few. Do extensive research. Think about who would need your service (ie, companies spending $10K+ on AdWords)? Provide value in the initial touch, and make a foot-in-the-door offer. DO NOT SEND A PROPOSAL!

[31:40] Chances of making money are 20X after they buy the foot-in-the-door offer, and you can qualify them. There is no bad agency client...only a bad prospect or a bad process.

[32:20] Building processes is about diving deep after a project is completed, to see what went right and what went wrong. Map it out and make adjustments. It takes a lot of f**k-ups.

[33:45] “If something were to happen to me, would this company survive?” worried Jason. Employees are like family, so it’s not just about you.

[35:15] Jason assisted with sales, just to bring in his colorful personality and make sure everyone was doing their job.

[36:10] They sold the business to a strategic partner who wanted to get into what Solar Velocity was doing. Only 0.25% of agencies get sold, so don’t feel like that is what it takes to “make it.” Money doesn’t ensure happiness.

[37:00] When considering selling, if they ask you questions, ask the same questions to them. And if people start asking to buy on the low, go through the process and learn from it. It won’t hurt, as long as you don’t give up valuable secrets.

[38:55] If you don’t like the offer, stop there or waste your time. And he explains how to tell if the buyers are serious, or they just want to steal your secret sauce. And don’t get too excited during the due diligence phase--that’s when most agencies go out of business, so assume it won’t go through.

[40:45] After selling, Jason was out in 9 months. He never got his earn out (losing millions), but he learned a valuable lesson and has made that money back by teaching other agency owners through his mistakes.

[41:40] Earnouts are based on growth rate and profit margin. Agencies between $2-10M are hard to sell. Don’t sell if you’re making bank.

[44:10] So why did Jason sell? The business outgrew his partner, and he got bored and wanted something new.

[44:40] Nowadays, he helps agency owners scale, teaching them how we started, grew and sold his agency. His goal is to be the #1 resource in the world for agency owners. Check out his podcast, video show, and the Agency Playbook (12 systems to scale and grow your agency).

[47:15] Jason doesn't read. He learns from doing & failing. Just wing it.


Resources Mentioned in this Episode: 

This episode is sponsored by Outbound Creative

Outbound Creative helps agencies and consultancies win their dream clients through eye-catching outreach campaigns. Learn more at OutboundCreative.com. 

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