Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
As I was growing my agency I didn’t really know many other running agencies or have anyone I could ask questions about various challenges I was facing.
So I decided to start the community I wish existed when I was first starting out.
ServiceBasedBusinesses.com (SBB) is a place where digital agency owners come together, connect, and where I personally help them by sharing everything I’ve learned through Q&As on sales, finances, back-office, and every other element needed to grow an agency.
There’s also a robust member resources portal where I release everything I used to run Jakt, like financial models, sales proposal templates, hiring processes and workflows, etc.
Members include marketing agencies, PR agencies, software design and development agencies and more. Members have revenues ranging from $100k/year to $2M+.
SBB currently does ~6k/month in revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started Jakt, a digital product and design agency out of NYC back in 2012. For the following 7 years, I focused on nothing but growing and scaling that business.
We crossed $1M in our second year and we reached $4M with a 50% gross margin and 20% net margin in 2018. By the end of 2018 I started transitioning away from running the day to day operations and in June of 2019 Jakt was acquired.
When I removed myself from the day to day operations I found myself in a situation I hadn’t been in for the last 7 years: with some time in my hands and space to explore new things.
I started helping some friends who ran agencies with their business - people that wanted an outside POV and could benefit from my years and experience running an agency.
Content is really powerful, but it does require patience.
I loved being able to lend a helping hand and try to help them work through problems. As I kept doing this I realized I wanted to do something a little more scalable so I could help more people.
I also wanted to provide a solution to a problem I encountered when running my agency: access to a community of other people running an agency and the ability to learn from others who had been in my shoes before.
The result is Servicebasedbusiness.com.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
SBB is really based around a very simple question:
“How can I use what I’ve learned building a multimillion-dollar agency to help founders that are on their way there?”
That’s the premise that I worked from when I started really designing how this community would look like.
I try to only speak about the things I know and go into depth on those topics. I don’t want to just be some guru speaking about things I really have no idea about just to try and make some money.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t 100% sure of what the end product would be. I don’t even think we’re fully there yet, and there are certain things we’re still working on: from our pricing to our offering.
We’re early in the process (about 8-9 months in), and we’re trying to be adaptable and learning as we go on how we can answer that original, focal question.
The initial version was a Facebook group. That didn’t work well.
The second version was a Slack group, and that ended up working quite nicely. We have channels organized by topic and it’s very easy to ask questions and have them answered.
Once we were live, the discussions started flowing and SBB continued to evolve.
Here are a few things that were added over time based on this feedback:
Based on the questions being asked, I eventually created a Member Resources section based on things members were asking for. We at Jakt had solved a lot of problems people were coming across, so I decided I’d also release a ton of the templates, processes and systems from Jakt that members could take and implement right into their business, saving them a ton of time and money.
We started getting a lot of discussion around the financial side of things. Based on this feedback, I ended up releasing a course specifically for agency owners: financeforagencies.com
Some members asked if they could jump on 1-1 video calls with me to dive into strategy questions even further, so added that as an upgrade option.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our first objective when we launched was to prove there was a need for a community like this.
And, by proof, I mean actual members paying real money, staying and actually getting value from the group.
We often forget that validating an MVP with “sure, yeah, I’d buy that” is not really a thing unless they actually hand you cash for it.
So I reached out to a few people on my network that I thought would be a good fit and got our first few signups. After this, we started creating content to market it (I will go more in-depth on this in the next question).
The first couple of months my focus was to get the first seed of members in and see if they thought the value we offered was worth it to them. I really wanted to make sure that what we were doing was valuable.
In our first month, for example, one of our very first membersasked me a question on cash flow and I worked with him to restructure his agency’s contract terms. That helped him collect an extra $10,000+ that month, and I remember it being a positive inflection point that SBB was giving a great ROI to our community and that there was really something good here.
One thing that’s clear is that SBB has matured since we launched. There’s now a team working with me so we can continue to improve the group and market to new members.
...but these are all coming after making sure the demand for it was there and we proved the offering had real value for members.
It's often a multi-touchpoint process that makes someone convert. They might find me on Twitter, read an article, then listen to a podcast, and the newsletter ends up converting them.
Something that I didn’t expect was just how much the sense of community has formed, just as how much people’s businesses have been positively affected because of discussions in the group. We had someone recently close a 250k deal with the help of some feedback in the group, which was awesome to hear.
What started as just a Slack group has transitioned into something bigger. We have people referring business to each other, taking relationships from online to offline and having phone calls or video chat, meeting 1-1 when they travel to a city where an SBB member lives...
It’s pretty cool to see.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Unlike Jakt, where most marketing and content came from the POV of the business and looked to build the company brand, this time I’ve used my personal brand to attract customers.
By working with a team, I’ve been able to create content at scale while keeping my voice and thoughts at its core.
Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve done:
- Daily Tweets (10+)
- 2-3 Linkedinposts per week.
- Weekly Instagram content.
- Bi-monthly podcast sessions.
- Bi-monthly articles.
- 3-4 newsletters to my email list per week (you can join the list here)
We’re now also starting to run paid ads on Facebook and Instagram too.
As you can see, we created a lot of content and tested multiple platforms - but not all of them worked equally well.
Twitter and email list have been our best channels to convert people. It might be different for other people and businesses, but that’s what worked best for us.
Something to add here is that, while these two have been great, it’s often a multi-touchpoint process that makes someone convert.
They might find me on Twitter, read an article, then listen to a podcast, and the newsletter ends up converting them - but they just needed to consume those other pieces of content first.
And another thing: when creating content, we try to go as much in-depth as possible to differentiate me from other people. Our goal is to show my experience and expertise by saying the things that you’d only know if you’d been there.
So that’s to attract, and retain, well, I focus on giving so much value that it’d make no sense for them to leave.
Since it’s a monthly recurring community, keeping our members engaged and helping them as much as I possibly can is my #1 priority. That’s why my goal is to provide at least 10x the value of a yearly membership to someone in the first month they have joined.
Between the Slack community, the Q&A, the member resources, and some new things we have coming out, I think we are able to achieve this. We know we have achieved it so far, based on the many stories our members have shared on how the group has helped their business, which I love hearing.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our current goal is to keep on growing our community and helping agency owners grow and scale their business. I’d love to get to 100 members within the next 6 months.
Between the SBB membership and the course we are at ~$6k/month. Costs are about $1K per month right now, but those will increase up to about $2K per month as we start running ads.
Even though we are very focused on growing our community, the end goal is not just to make a lot of money from it. I’d be lying if I said the new stream of income isn’t nice, but since I made a good amount of money from running my agency, I can just focus on really providing value to the community and helping others without having the pressure to grow revenue or profit as much.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
SBB isn’t my first business so the lessons I learned over the last year from it aren’t the same as I did from Jakt.
But through building my personal brand and creating this community, a few things have been really top-of-mind lately:
1) Content works (it just takes time)
We consistently put out a large amount of quality content every single day. Just like I did with Jakt, I’ve created a system that doesn’t need my constant time and effort to work 24/7.
Now, did we see big results on our first week? Of course not. But, over time, we’ve kept on learning what our audience wants and what are the best ways to reach them. And we keep on tweaking things to improve our system as we go.
Content is really powerful, but it does require patience. We’re less than a year in and we’ve already seen solid progress. It also compounds over time so I’m excited to see how it will look like years from today.
Also, one piece of content is almost always not enough. Someone has to see multiple pieces of content to really start trusting you and potentially convert over.
2) To build a community, give value for free first
Following the point above, I’ve found that putting out content that gives value and doesn’t ask for anything in return is, counterintuitively, a great marketing strategy.
Through my podcast, articles, and even Twitter threads, I try to be as honest and go as much in-depth as I can on my experiences running an agency. My hope is that it then helps other agency owners so much that they want more personalized work with me -- by either joining the SBB community, buying the course or through 1-1 advisory.
So far, it seems to be working.
3) In an unauthentic world, authenticity wins
The truth is, I’m not an expert in social media or in building communities or anything like that. I’m an entrepreneur that has achieved certain things and is now sharing what he’s learned along the way.
I try to only speak about the things I know and go into depth on those topics. For me, that’s starting an agency and building it to multiple 7 figures a year in revenue with a very healthy profit. I don’t want to just be some guru speaking about things I really have no idea about just to try and make some money.
I also push myself to openly talk about things that we don’t normally see: mental health, partnership breakups, tough business times, even how much money Jakt made.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Slack that’s our community’s headquarters. Here’s where we do the Q&A, where members can access all the open-sourced resources, and where the conversations happen.
Launchpass builds on top of Slack and helps us manage the community and its members, accept payments, etc.
Convertkit is our email software of choice. From there, we send my regular newsletters and the automation sequences we’ve built in for new subscribers and different stages in the funnel.
Baremetrics gives us advances data on how the community is performing: LTV, MRR, ARR, etc.
Zapier we have different Zaps running for when new members join, if someone cancels, etc.
Zoom for when we do live Q&As with myself or other agency owner experts I bring in to collaborate with our members.
Asana to manage tasks with our internal team.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One book that follows the philosophy behind SBB is Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant. The argument that this book offers is that helping others ends up paying off both in life and in business.
That’s how I grew my first and main business --by trying to add value to other companies-- and how I also see SBB.
At the same time, you could say my own coach has also been an influential figure for me to take this step.
Hiring her back in 2016-7 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and she really helped us grow Jakt from $1.7M to $4M/year. She helped me really develop as a leader and a person, which I think made as much (or more) of an impact on our growth.
With her, I saw the power and benefits that coaching can have on entrepreneurs, and part of the motivation behind SBB is for me to take on that role with others as she helped me.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
This isn’t advice, because that’s not my place, but here are a few things I think are important:
- 1. Sell first, then worry about the rest
I’ve touched on this throughout this interview but I just think it’s so crucial and often overlooked.
There are many entrepreneurs out there investing time, effort and money on starting a business with no proof that people are willing to pay for that.
Before really starting Jakt, I already had signed a client that covered my living expenses. And before spending a bunch of money and time on SBB, we had our first few customers.
Once you have people handing you cash for your service, then focus on the small details. Until then, go out and sell.
- 2. Build the right systems and keep on firing yourself
There’s no way that I could create so much content on a daily basis by myself. Can you imagine posting on Twitter every couple hours, then LinkedIn, then writing newsletters, then editing my podcast, and then…?
It’d be a 60-hour week job!
Instead, I built a system that only asks of me 1-2h/week and helps me scale my content production. It involves other people and economic investment, but 1) I'm buying my time back, and 2) the ROI is there so far.
- 3. Your business will change over time
As I said, SBB has changed over the last few months - and I expect it to keep on evolving as the community grows. And that’s fine!
We just have to adapt and keep on tweaking things so we can provide the best experience possible to our members.
- 4. Focus on giving rather than taking
As I touched when it comes to Adam Grant’s book, focusing on adding value to others has always proven to work really well for me.
When I was growing Jakt, my agency, I really subscribed to the idea that connecting with others and trying to help them would eventually come back to us.
And yes, I know that it “doesn’t scale” and that it’s not automated but, then again, some things don’t have to be. Besides, it got us to $4M/year so there has to be something to it, no?
With SBB, the strategy is the same: give, give, give.
That’s why I put out high-value free content. That’s why I respond (often with video) to every DM asking for help with their agency.
Because 1) I’m helping people, which feels great, and 2) some of them go on to join my paid-only, more exclusive offers.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not at the moment, but we obviously welcome agency owners as new members who are doing at least $100k in revenue.
If you run an agency doing $5M+, we’d love to have you on as a guest speaker.
Either way, you can reach out to me via our SBB website, email or Twitter - I’ll link the info below.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Read my articles
- Listen to my podcast
- Join my newsletter and get the 5 lessons I wish I’d known that would’ve saved me $100,000+
- Let’s talk on Twitter
- Run an agency and want to join SBB? We’d love to have you.
Join the SBB community of agency owners here!
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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