How to Manage Your Growing Agency

Episode 72 March 17, 2023 00:48:39
How to Manage Your Growing Agency
The Agency Hour
How to Manage Your Growing Agency

Mar 17 2023 | 00:48:39


Hosted By

Troy Dean Johnny Flash

Show Notes

This week on The Agency Hour Podcast, Troy Dean hosts Mike Bal from Automattic. Mike has experience in various fields, including social media marketing, web development, platform builds, technical SEO/analytics, and project management. In this episode, they discuss the business model of an agency post-COVID, managing a larger team, embracing rapid changes with AI, and the value of personal experience.


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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Something people forget about is a project, regardless of how many people exist within a company, can only be so big. Speaker 2 00:00:10 Welcome to the Agency Hour podcast. This week we are joined by my good friend Mike Ball from Automatic. Mike spent most of his career in the agency world, and in fact, I was a client of his when he used to run ads for us at Single Grain. He's moved from social media marketing to web development, to big platform builds, to technical SEO analytics, and now focuses on leading big complex [email protected]. In this episode, we discussed the business model of an agency post Covid, what happens as your agency grows, and how to manage a larger team. We also touch on why you should embrace the rapid change that we are seeing with AI and chat G p t as well as the value of your battle scars. I'm Troy Dean. Stay with us. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the agency. I'm a good friend from Automatic Mike Ball. Hey Mike. How you doing? Hey. Speaker 0 00:01:00 Ooh, how's it going, Troy? Speaker 2 00:01:02 I'm good. Now, we were just talking off, uh, off camera about your role at Automatic and you are basically like head of everything there at the moment, right? <laugh>? Speaker 0 00:01:12 I'm not officially, no, I'm a, I'm essentially driving product strategy. Uh, I would on paper it would say for, but I've been working with, uh, the Tumblr team. I've been working with the Wu team and kind of helping connect the different business units and, and figure out those big complicated projects that have, um, you know, lots of moving pieces and lots of different teams that, that need to work together. Cuz we don't, by default, the different business units don't always work together or don't work together. So, so sometimes crossing those lines gets a little messy and confusing for everybody. So I do a little bit of everything, product management, product strategy, marketing, um, whatever needs, whatever needs done. Speaker 2 00:01:52 And for those that don't know, let's just, let's just spell out the distinction between automatic,, WordPress Foundation, how does it all fit in and what, where, where does automatic, because a lot of people think, well, automatic own WordPress, but that's not entirely true, right? Speaker 0 00:02:07 Yeah, no, not at all. So, WordPress is nonprofit, it's open source software. It's, it's the WordPress core software that you run on your website essentially. Um, and it's open license. You can work on it, you can change it, you can do whatever you want to it that goes out there. And it's comprised of contributions from thousands of people all over the world. So that's the base software, right? The, the foundation is actually focused on education and helping people learn and kind of develop their skills and familiar familiarity and things like that. So a lot of programming things like Word camps where people can connect and grow the community, um, and a lot of like the resources and things. And then is part of Automatic, which is a business, um, that is founded and owned by the co-founder of WordPress. Matt Mullenweg Automatic owns a lot of different companies that are in the WordPress space. is essentially like optimized hosting for WordPress. Um, that gets people kind of into the ecosystem with simplified versions and free sites and things like that. It's kind of the SaaS version and it has the hosting kind of included in all those different things. So, um, it has different plans from people who just wanna start a blog and don't wanna mess with it all the way up to people who wanna be building complex, like mid-market to enterprise level sites, honestly. Speaker 2 00:03:24 And so for a long time has been, um, in, in my experience, and I know the experience of a lot of people in my world is like the doit do-it-yourself blogging platform, right? It's kind of where you go to start a blog, but it's changed a lot over the last few years. And now my understanding is that if you're a freelancer or an agency, you can go to and you can actually build client websites. It's essentially like the best hosting WordPress hosting platform on the planet because it's owned by Automatic and it's run by a lot of engineers who also work on the core software, right? Speaker 0 00:04:00 Yeah, yeah. So the, the platform for the hosting, so once you get, we have, we have kind of two different versions that you get. Basically there's simplified, optimized like sites for content creators, and we have things for podcasters, we have things for kind of video streamers. We have, you know, classic blogging since that's where we got our roots. And we've been working on kind of smooth experiences to help people create those types of sites. Um, that's kind of like the lower end of the plans. People who aren't comfortable paying, you know, 20, 30, 40 bucks a month or whatever for hosting, um, people who are looking to spend a little bit less or maybe nothing at all, just to get their their feet wet and get a taste of what WordPress is. Then we have actual hosting for business level, kind of like larger organizations and, and e-commerce stores. Speaker 0 00:04:46 And that under the hood, um, is truly optimized to run WordPress. And there's some, some benchmarks and things that are run, I can shoot you a link later you can share on it. But in terms of like handling WordPress at scale, optimize for delivering WordPress globally and things like that, that's where kind of the experience and having a bunch of people who contribute to Core comes in because we know, it's not like we're building a cloud platform to host any software, like a lot of hosting companies do. Or like you would get on AWS or Google, like, we built a cloud cloud platform to run WordPress. So it's optimized for both front end and backend experiences and, and it has a lot of like really cool stuff under the hood. Speaker 2 00:05:24 And traditionally, like back in the day,, you couldn't install certain plugins or you, in fact, you couldn't install any plugins. You basically had to use the kind of closed platform, but now it's a lot more open, right? Speaker 0 00:05:36 Yeah. Yeah. So once you get up to um, kind of those other top two plans, the e-commerce, so the business plans, what they're called right now, essentially it's, it's just like spinning up WordPress anywhere else. You have plugins, um, you can upload themes, you have SFTP access, you can use ssh. And actually we rolled out GitHub integration just recently. So it's just like hosting anywhere else, but you get the benefit of all the managed aspects of it too. Speaker 2 00:06:02 And, uh, there's one thing also that you guys do that no one knows about, which kind of blew my mind is if I host one of the big problems with agencies is you put a lot of clients on a platform like WordPress and all of a sudden they start logging in, they start messing about, and they start asking you questions. And then you've got, essentially you've got this like tier of support that you need to offer your clients who are managing WordPress websites. Cuz the learning curve is, you know, a thing. How does fit, fit into that support level for clients sites? Speaker 0 00:06:34 Yeah, so essentially, and there's right now, there's actually not like a formal gateway or handoff from like agency to client, but I just talked to an agency this morning that was telling us why they use it essentially. Cuz they're not infrastructure experts and they're not, they don't want all the overhead that comes with that. They wanna focus on their projects and their skills and where their roots are. But they said their client said, make our life easier. Find us a solution. So on, you get, you get the support from our happiness engineers who will do, like, literally, and this is what most people don't know and I'm always hesitant to tell 'em, but they wish more people would tell the world. So, um, like if you get a new theme or say you activate a new theme and everything breaks and you're overwhelmed, like you can spin up a chat with happiness and they'll literally jump in and help you fix it as you go. Speaker 0 00:07:20 If they can't do it in the theme itself, they'll, they'll even put CSS in there to help fix it and achieve the kind of design things that you're going for. Um, we have, you know, we have a bunch of tools built in for restoring like jet pack backups and the activity log that like, it literally keeps, it takes a snapshot of your site every time you change something and you could just go back and rewind essentially to how it was, if you ever break it or behind the scenes. We keep that for longer periods of time in case you want to come back and restore it or, or need to activate something you can't find later too. So we do a lot of things to just make sure the customers have a good experience with a product and can get to a solution pretty quickly. Speaker 2 00:07:55 How does an, I know some people listen to this going, hang on a second. Well, I've been on, I've been on, you know, flywheel or WP Engine or kinser or Cloud Ways for years and now you're telling me I should go to How does an agent, because the pain of disconnect, the pain of switching hosts is, is kind of like, it's worse than switching banks or accountants or telephone companies, right? I mean, in fact those, these, those things these days are pretty straightforward. How does someone, how does an agency wanna overcome that fear of well, you know, I got, like, I got 70 sites on WP Engine and I don't wanna move them because what if shit breaks? How do they, how do they get started? How do they, like, what's the first step they can take to prove the concept? Speaker 0 00:08:33 I think usually you take, so depending on your volume of new projects coming in, right? And no agency is gonna, especially if a client has a strong preference for hosting something like that, no agency is gonna say, no, you can't host there. We don't do that. Right? Like, agencies essentially have a preference, or if they sell hosting or if they have like a package or something, they'll present that. But if you have a big client that comes in that says, no, we have our own infrastructure we host here, or we're not willing to move or whatever, you're gonna work around that most of the time, I would say, um, essentially the best way to kinda like dip your toes in is wait for a new client to come in who either needs a new hosting platform for a net new site. Essentially like we're starting from scratch design through launch or build and launch, right? Speaker 0 00:09:15 Or somebody who's struggling with their existing hosts. There's been plenty of those stories as well where it's like we're paying 300 bucks a month, the site is falling down four or five times, we're getting a ton of crawl errors from Google because we're getting, you know, it is not performing in search cuz we're getting all these server side errors and, and people aren't rendering, like, aren't rendering the site when they're trying to call it. So, um, when you get in that situation where you have a high expense or relatively high expense and the host isn't actually performing for you, and then you end up with additional costs, like say the host isn't giving you security and you have to pay for that on top of it, or you have to integrate your own CDN or whatever the case is, it adds up quite a bit. Speaker 0 00:09:51 And then people tend to get to a point, like, clients will be fed up and say, we need to move somewhere else now. And a lot of the time they don't necessarily have a budget to put into like a really formal migration, right? So they're looking for an easy way to move their site from point A to point B. Um, and we have, we have importers, we have, we just launched a new plugin in the last couple weeks that's just called my great, which gets a lot more, it's less reliant on kind of the, the connections outside of it and much more direct like you activated on your existing site and it ports everything over for you. Um, and then, then it's done. So it let, that does a little bit better job of making sure you get everything versus trusting some kind of like, I don't know, for me, I would always be nervous about like, okay, it says I put in my url, it says I authorize it and then it's just supposed to magically pull my content over. But having the plugin and, and a secure connection, everything makes me feel a at always better about it. Speaker 2 00:10:43 Yeah, for sure. Um, cool. All right, so for those listening, uh, they just go to Is there like an agency page they can check out to sort of learn more about this or they just go to and, and reach out to the team? Speaker 0 00:10:56 So if you want the more technical information, I think like is a new page we launched that actually dives into kind of the more technical specs that come with the hosting itself. We haven't formally launched an agency plan yet, but we we're talking about, um, plans that allow for multiple sites and discounts as you host multiple sites. Um, we're talking about reseller options as well, but really right now we're focusing on just making sure, like with any plan you put on there, it's builder friendly. So whether you're an agency, whether you're a developer in-house, whether you're kind of a freelancer, whatever, you can use your tools, you can use your workflow, you can have everything you need and expect to have available and still benefit from like all the things that we can essentially take off the plate. Speaker 2 00:11:41 Sweet. Um, we'll put some links in the show notes to all this stuff as well. So I just wanna switch gears a little bit and talk about, um, you know, uh, post covid, uh, almost post covid. What are you seeing in, there's a lot of agencies that are nervous with things like chat G P T and you know, the, the AI revolution. There's a lot of agencies that are kind of nervous about the model at the moment, the business model of an agency. What I, and we haven't talked about this. I'm so I'm, it's not like I'm teeing you up here, like this is news to you. You, you didn't expect this question, uh, but I just thought of it then I'm like, you obviously get to see inside a lot of agencies and you're kind of across that ecosystem and your exag agency as well. Full transparency. The first time I met Mike, you were actually running ads for us when you were working at Single Grain, uh, and then, uh, then you ended up working at TenUp for a while. Yeah. You Speaker 0 00:12:30 Have a, you helped me get the interview at TenUp actually, right? Speaker 2 00:12:33 I, cause I founded You should Speaker 0 00:12:34 Interview with Jake. Yeah, I heard Jake on your podcast and then, then I got the interview from mayor. Speaker 2 00:12:39 Yeah. Awesome. <laugh> glad to be of service. Um, uh, but so what are you seeing in the, like, I guess the question is, there are a lot of people are going, well, maybe now's not a good time to be in this web design, digital marketing agency space. Like maybe I should be doing something else. What do you, what's your observation around that? Speaker 0 00:12:55 Yeah, do not hesitate that, that's probably the worst thing you can do right now with how, how quickly things are moving. Um, so you have a number of different technologies popping up, right? You have all these different pieces that people are interested in. Um, us for example, I think we had hired 700 people last year or something like that. And, and right now it's like how can we get more efficient, right? How do we use those 700 people to do what 900 people could do or a thousand people could do? And we're even integrating it into our internal tools like, uh, slack, like using chat G B T to summarize a long slack thread. Like just that efficiency that comes from some of those things, right? Or like helping communicate across different languages or, you know, if English is in your first language or whatever the case is. Speaker 0 00:13:39 There's a lot of different like productive focused activities and things where AI will have a huge business impact that actually opens up revenue in a lot of ways. Um, the other thing to always remember too is I think agencies operate under the assumption, especially smaller agencies who haven't worked with as many big companies yet, that it's that big companies would rather hire everything and give it to their existing teams. That's not, not true in many cases because their existing teams are supposed to be focused on specific things, right? So you have like a product engineering team, you don't necessarily assume that then that engineering team is gonna go do website work. Um, you would assume that like, oh yeah, Facebook has engineers or whatever, but like they're hiring out work for basic websites for doc sites. They're doing this cuz that's not what their team does and that's not what they want their team to focus on, right? Speaker 0 00:14:29 Like even us, there's certain things where it's like our team is working on new pieces of product, they're fixing things, they're working on customer flows, they're working on, you know, design assets to make things better for the end customer. Our MarTech team is backed up, people are on sabbatical, whatever. Like if we need to get some things out the door, we might look for a quick agency to turn something around to, right? Like, or we might look for a partner who can do something on an ongoing basis because we don't want more bodies in-house. We just want to be able to flux up and down depending on what we're trying to ship and how, how much or how quickly we're trying to ship it, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> somebody like me who jumps around and does a lot, like if the marketing team is booked or busy and I can't get help from, um, from them for something that I'm trying to push out the door on short notice or like a big launch that's coming up, I might have to hire help out. Speaker 0 00:15:14 You never know what it could be. It's like, uh, companies are, if they're, if they're growing and if they're good companies, people are generally pretty busy, right? So mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, there's a mix of like, do we have the expertise in house maybe, is that what they should be doing or is that the best use of their time? Probably not <laugh> or if it is like, if that is a good use of the time, is it more important than everything else that needs to get done? Because big agencies or big companies, I guess I say is like every, everyone I've ever talked to, everyone I've ever seen has like, this is important and this is important and this is important and yes, we need to do all of them. Like that's kind of the place they're in and everybody does the best they can. But, um, that's where contractors and agencies come in really handy a lot of the time is being able to scale up and, and attack from multiple angles. Speaker 2 00:16:01 We've seen the AI thing happen, uh, I've seen it happen, you know, where technology in general, not just the ai, but I saw, you know, custom post types kind of revolutionized WordPress, right? Then I saw the plugin repository and, and people were like, oh my God, if you can just go download these free plugins, then I'm a developer and I'm out of a job. And then we saw page builders happen and web designers were like, oh my God, if the clients can do it so easily themselves, then I'm out of a job. And now we're seeing it with chat G P T and everyone's freaking out going, well if you can gen I generated a blog post the other day in about three seconds and I read it and I was like, holy shit, that's really good. Right? It was like, it was the best AI blog post I I'd ever read. Speaker 2 00:16:43 And it took about three seconds and one prompt, like one good prompt. And so it, it's, it's super fast. It's getting better. Um, a lot of people are freeing out going, this is gonna put me out of a job. We know this is not gonna happen. Right? But I heard someone say the other day, like, automation didn't put accountants out of a job. Accountants that embraced automation put accountants who rejected automation out of a job. And I think a similar thing is gonna happen with something like chat G P t is that if you embrace chat g P T, you're just gonna move faster. It's just gonna give you more efficiencies. And if you ignore it, you might get left behind. But chat G P T in and of itself is not gonna replace you, right? Speaker 0 00:17:25 Right. The volume. So there's, there's different ways to think about content's a good example cuz that's essentially where AI is decent right now. Like image generation I'll say is rough. I've done a few experiments where I ended up spending much more time than I should have trying to get an end result that shouldn't have been that hard to pull. Um, and maybe, maybe, uh, uh, GT four or something will solve for some of this by, by having a lot more sources, um, and inputs to it. But for right now, let's say content, now in your case, if you spun up a really great blog post in in your first prompt, in your first try, my guess is that that content already exists and has been written mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So like from a strategic value standpoint, that your client's paying you to write great content that's gonna help them, that is probably not the great content that's gonna help them. Speaker 0 00:18:11 It might serve the purpose on the page that you need or covering a topic that you want, or if you want a link to your own content instead of something else, to just show that you have that, that volume there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think it's useful. Like, but again, why would you spend the time trying to write something from scratch if it's already been done a hundred times and essentially a hundred ways, right? Like, people have said it any possible way they could at this point. And the AI has said like, yeah, that's easy. I can write this because I, I have a bunch of examples I can pull from and make it kind of unique, but cover the main points. They get the validation where the opportunity is for the agency is where the AI doesn't do a good job. So like, if I can't go spin up an easy post on AI about a specific kind of topic, then I have a problem, right? Like, then I have to write it from scratch or I have to have somebody who can write it from scratch. Speaker 2 00:18:59 I, I also think the opportunity exists in, like, I punched into chat g p t the other day. I, I don't wanna go too far into this rabbit hole, but I think it's just worth exploring this for a second. I punched into chat g p t the other day. Uh, can you help me write a YouTube strategy for a new YouTube channel? And it started asking me questions, clarifying questions about the new YouTube channel. I'm like, wow, I didn't expect that. And so eventually I gave it what it needed and it wrote me an incredible strategy for a new YouTube channel. I'm like, that's really impressive. Where I think the challenge is, is when you start to implement that strategy and things go wrong, cuz they always do or something happens unexpected, you can't go back to chat GP and ask it for insights around this specific thing, right? And I think time on the wall, as, as max our producer always says, and just having those, those battle scars of doing this in the past and knowing what works and knowing what doesn't, I think that's something that chat g p t can't replace. And also I think the empathy of genuinely caring about your client's success is something that chat GP will never be able to replicate. Am am I, am I wrong? Speaker 0 00:20:08 No. Yeah. Yeah. It, I mean it doesn't care, right? And it, everything you look at will say like, by the way, this could be inaccurate or it could be totally wrong. Like just cuz it reads well doesn't mean it's something you should use, right? So there's a human element just in verifying the information it gives you. And then there's also from like, is this, if you're gonna use it for a strategy, is this good? Will this actually work? And the, if the person is genuinely asking it, like for something to use, that person is not the person who should decide if it's good, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> like you playing with it to see what kind of output you can get from it and whether or not it's good and if it can fill in some gaps or even save you some time that makes sense. Speaker 0 00:20:44 Like you can mm-hmm. <affirmative> you can use that and validate it and run with it and see if, if it even comes up with anything new, somebody who's in a role where they're trying to do all the marketing or something like that and they haven't done a YouTube strategy before and they're trying to get a shortcut, right? Like, hey, gimme a YouTube strategy for this. Maybe it's better than nothing, but if the business is actually gonna invest in content, right? Like video content publishing, consistently building the audience, somebody who knows what's gonna work and what isn't should take a look at it and probably refine it. Cuz it's probably not gonna be a hundred percent thorough anyway. Yeah. Um, I mean I think that agencies should be using these tools to find efficiencies where they can. And I think there's other opportunities. Like it doesn't have to be a anything, right? Speaker 0 00:21:26 I'd like a use it for anything kind of situation. Like you can use that technology, ai chat, G B T whatever to make client experiences better too. I was just looking, um, at an example from a colleague today and they created like a clipy essentially for their developer documentation that uses chat G B T, but like, just as focused on their documentation. So when somebody goes there and says, how do I do this instead of having to go to this doc and then look at this doc and then look, look at this doc. Like, it'll look at what they want to achieve and pull those pieces together for them. It's like, that's a much better experience. I don't like, I've had to use docs like that for debugging analytics and, and I'm not even a developer, right? Like, everybody has probably had to go through documentation to figure out how something actually should get done. Cuz no doc ever answers the exact use. Dude, Speaker 2 00:22:12 I'm trying to do, dude, I'm, I'm, I'm doing it right now with some tracking links and the new Facebook pixel. Uh, and so y in fact yesterday I tried to set up a new Facebook pixel for a new website and I'm like, just an internal thing that we're doing and I'm like, what the, hang on, like the, like the setting up the conversion API versus a megapixel, all of a sudden I was like an hour and a half into a rabbit hole going, fuck, this used to be easy. Like this shouldn't be that hard. I went to chat G P T and said, how do I set up a new Facebook pixel for a new website? And it gave me the bullet points, but I then got stuck in the same loop where like I ended up over on Google Cloud platform trying to spin up my own API server. Speaker 2 00:22:45 I'm like, whoa, hang on a second, why this is above my pay scale? Yeah. Right. I just want the meta picks all to put on the site, um, eventually solved and I won't boy you with the details, but, um, what I, what happened is I was bouncing around from documentation on this website to documentation on the tracking link company website to documentation on what I wanted was someone to pull all that documentation together and just give me the, the bullet points, like do this in order step by step, right? Uh, and documentation is usually scattered because documentation usually solves one specific thing and it's not workflow documentation, it's task orientated. Um, I wanna talk about, you mentioned before about using chat chip PT to kind of help automate things and communicate in Slack. I wanna talk about larger organizations. You've had experience at larger agencies and now working in automatic where there's, you know, 8 million people working across the organization. Speaker 2 00:23:36 H how, how, like for for our audience who are, who are predominantly, you know, small to medium agency owners who deal with small business, what happens when you start dealing with, first of all, there's, I guess there's two parts of this. What happens as your agency grows? How do you keep people on the same, in the same direction? Like how do you, how do you get, you know, if you've, if you are six or seven or eight people, it's fairly easy to keep everyone moving the same direction. Once you get to 25, 30 things get a bit weird once you get over a hundred. It's just chaos, right? How do you keep, how does that work? And then also on the flip side of that is how do you manage clients who are larger in terms of the expectations and all the different stakeholders that that bring something to the table? Speaker 0 00:24:24 Yeah, so starting with organizations, right? I think something people forget about is a project, regardless of how many people exist within a company, can only be so big. Like you can, you can, I've executed some really large projects with really large teams that took long time and lots of hours and things, right? But there gets to be a point where you lose efficiency there. It's kinda like the, I think it was Amazon, so I don't really like mentioning this, but like the two pieces rule for how big a team should be and how big that the incremental, so like that applies to how much work people can ship consistently with the quality you expect, right? Like teams are small, projects are small generally, and, and sometimes they'll scale up and down. The bigger ones is not where you wanna look from an agency perspective because like my job, right? Speaker 0 00:25:11 Like my last year at Automatic, um, has been helping figure out how we do the complicated things internally. And there's no way an agency would ever be helpful in a lot of those cases because it's, this team handles this piece and it needs to deploy this piece. The code needs to be reviewed by this team. Like this is, I didn't factor in this weird, um, use case that exists on the hosting platform or whatever. That that's not a place you would even want to dip your toes into, um, even if somebody would let you in. But, but all those other little things like this team is shipping this or we need to ship this feature and our teams are booked, or we need marketing pages or marketing projects, or we have an initiative that is a branch of our business that we wanna invest in and we don't have the people to put behind it. Speaker 0 00:25:52 We can put like one person behind the entire thing on our end, but we need the website built, we need the strategy done, right? So like, um, on the Google side, some of the work that we were working on was with Google News Initiative specifically and even within Google News initiative, they had like multiple agency partners for different projects they were working on and different labs they were working on and, and things like that. Um, so that's like a small, lesser known piece of Google that has plenty of big projects and opportunities to grow. Um, TenUp worked on the site kit project, which I think is pretty cool in the WordPress space, but like out of all the Google things, not very many people know about it, right? Like it's a pretty small piece. Um, so when you think about it like that, like, um, it is a, it is really about just making some connections there because almost every branch of every business unit will have some work at some point in time that they can't handle that they need to get done. Speaker 0 00:26:48 Mm-hmm. It always happens. There's always more that needs to get done than can get done. And it's really about like finding the right opportunity to get a chance to show them you can jump in and do something like that and then they keep you in their pocket essentially. It's like, oh, I have an option to solve this problem now instead of not just not getting it done. I can call on, you know, whoever over here and we can, we can ship this or they would be perfect for this. Um, and most leaders, so right, you have like your business units and you have different teams and things like that, um, that upper level leadership within organizations, um, or even like team leads or product leads or whatever are going to need to have some of those connections anyway. Um, they'll desperately be looking for them if they don't when they need them and then they'll need them. Now the better place for the agency to be in is to find those people and have those conversations and kind of learn about that and get in top of mind early. Speaker 2 00:27:39 Yeah, definitely. I remember we did a very small microsite for Intuit around QuickBooks at one point. It was like a, they wanted a blog just targeting small business and it was a WordPress blog was a fairly straightforward and the reason we got the job was because they didn't have the capacity to do it in-house. Uh, cuz it, that, that was my first kind of introduction to that whole model was like, oh, we, they're outsourcing it, they're delegating it to us because their team just would, they just couldn't get to it. It was like, you know, we need it done now. Someone said it needs to happen in the next three months. There's no way our team can do this. Um, highly profitable. They work really, you know, for us at the time it was highly profitable. They were super organized. Um, they knew exactly they gave us everything we needed on time. Speaker 2 00:28:20 It was, it was, it was, you know, it was a great project. Shane Pearlman from Modern Tribe I remember said to me once, um, you know, you don't remember, you don't land Microsoft as a client. Uh, your client is Kelly who works on the MarTech team who needs this done. And she just happens to be employed by Microsoft. So your relationship is with the individual who's got an outcome and an objective and works on a small team. And you are, you are, uh, an augmentation of her team to help her get that done. She just happens to be employed by Microsoft. Don't think that, don't think about pitching Microsoft. Think about building a relationship with Kelly, right? Right. Speaker 0 00:28:57 And, and your job is make Kelly look good, right? Because then a hundred Speaker 2 00:29:00 Percent Speaker 0 00:29:01 That is the, that is the key to unlocking the doors there, right? Because I've heard all these nightmare stories. You get blacklisted at, uh, I think Android, somebody, I was at a conference and somebody from Android was talking about like, yeah, if you kind of get a project and you bomb it like you're blacklisted, they're probably not gonna give you another shot. Yeah. And everybody was stressing about that, but it's like start simple, start small, pull through like under promise, over deliver, right? Like make Kelly look good mm-hmm. <affirmative> and think about everything, not just the end product, but the experience, the communication. Like she's gotta report up to somebody. They're gonna be asking questions, what are they expecting? Right? Like, know what Kelly's stressing about and get ahead of that. Like that is the best way. And that's when I was a project manager, or even when I was working like client projects, like knowing what the expectations were for not for me, but for my stakeholder. Speaker 0 00:29:49 My main person knowing what they were gonna have to do when they had to report what their bosses were worried about, what kind of things like, you know, where the anxiety is like that made every report I gave them much better. It made every task update. We shipped them much better. Like we were able to focus on the important things and push some of the other things back. Right? Like it makes everything better. And then once you do that, like uh, at Google, a lot of the people we were working with, and I don't know if I, we can claim credit for this, but like a lot of the people that were on one of the first projects we worked on got promoted within months. Like I was like, I don't know if it was cuz this turned out well or if it's just like we're Lucky charms or what. But sometimes all it takes is a good project going well and delivering like on time with great results, right? Like and then somebody that's the proof they need internally and they get boosted and it's like, okay cool, we pulled through, we did good. And, and there's more work to follow right. Than they trust us. So Speaker 2 00:30:42 Yeah. And that's right. It's all about the trust because why spend time vetting vendors that we don't know when we've got someone on the bench that we already trust. Uh, flipping to kind of client side, um, the, the size that automatic is now, do you guys have, do you guys do like the traditional, like, you know, town hall meetings or like vision alignment meetings, like this is what we are doing this quarter and making sure everyone's moving in the right direction? Or is it, is it looser than that? Because I know like what I've read over the years, it's been quite loose. I just wonder if as the team's grown, if there's been extra infrastructure and kind of parameters needed to be put into place to make sure everyone's moving in the right direction and people don't go rogue, which I'm sure happens all the time. I'm sure people go rogue all the time. People go rogue In our organization we're about 20 strong. Speaker 0 00:31:33 Yeah, there's, I was just watching a video where you were talking about going to rogue on the, the group strategy and posting in the group or something like that. And so it was you going to rogue, not, not the rest of Yeah, exactly. That's right. Um, so we have a monthly company-wide town hall. It's always recorded, it's always at different time so people can make it live and everything and it's always shared out and usually if it's something, a really important metal flag it or something and say, Hey everybody, please make sure you watch this one, you know, in the next two weeks or whatever. Each business unit also has a town hall and then we have some specialty town halls too, like, um, happiness teams with each, the support is what we call happiness engineers. Um, they'll have product focused down halls when something new is coming out the door or whatever too. Speaker 0 00:32:15 So we don't do a lot of calls by default. We really rely on async overall. But we do have alignment and I think we've gotten better at trying to get the details from the vision cuz we still, like, we don't have a lot of layers of leadership like for how many people exist within automatic and, and specifically, right? Like we have some team leads and we have some group leads, um, which are more director levels, but we don't have a formal structure for that. Um, and we don't have as many as you would expect there to be, but the accountability at the individual team level is there. And so the leadership is working on ironing out what that alignment looks like and what the details look like and not just, I think what used to happen, and probably what happens in a lot of places is everybody thinks they know exactly what the high level vision means and they don't iron it out and they don't always communicate and they just start delivering on it. Speaker 0 00:33:09 And so like, there's a lot of questions that come up on the way and I think maybe those teams would get too confident answering the question themselves without any kind of validation because it's, it's, you know, the start and stop is disruptive. I think the secret is thinking about those questions ahead of time and getting alignment like, hey, when we run into this, what do you think we should do? Or how have you thought about this yet? Because sometimes that person passing the vision has thought about it very specifically and they'll have an answer for you, but a lot of times they haven't thought that far. And the best thing you can do is to show them that you're thinking that far and thinking about the things they hadn't thought about yet. And that'll unlock the trust for you to make that decision. But at least they'll consciously know you don't have that retroactive, that's not decision I would've made. Right? You have that kind of, oh, they talked to me about this, they were thinking about this. That's a decision they made. They might chime in on it, but it's a less like, harsh reaction. Like, no, no, no, don't do that. This is totally me wrong. It's like, oh, okay, well like that's fine for now, but maybe we should think about this later. So it's a little bit more fluid. Speaker 2 00:34:08 And how do you manage, like I imagine they're a different teams that want completely different outcomes and that might be contradicting each other or have different objectives or different motivations. How do you sit in that and try and keep everyone happy? I mean, cuz that also happens as an agency when needling with a client, whether there are lots of different stakeholders and someone from this department wants something on the homepage and someone from this department wants something else and you, you know, you kind of end up being a little bit of a counselor in that respect. Speaker 0 00:34:37 Yeah, I think when I was on the agency side and when those conversations came around, and I probably still do this even, um, it's about results, right? Like what's the most important outcome period and then confidently, okay, so if the most important outcome is conversions, we need to go with this direction, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, if the most important outcome is brand perception, we can go in this direction, but understand what that, what that means after we launch this in terms of your numbers, right? Like that conversation is just kind of a very, cuz it's, it's not, that is not a conversation that requires debate, right? If they knew their, their priorities, if they knew the outcomes they were going for and what the expectations were, and again, like how they're gonna be judged when this thing goes live, like what's gonna make them look good, then at the end of the day, like, it's a pretty easy discussion to just move along. Speaker 0 00:35:27 You just have to bring them back to that and say like, okay, so if you tell your boss we're choosing X and branding's the priority, are they gonna be happy with that? Like if we give them a report that shows them 20% less conversions, but we show brand perception changing in a follow up study, are they gonna be happy? And if they say, yeah, that's what they want verbatim, then fine. Right? Like move on discussion's over mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, internally we don't have, so we have the vision and we have projects that are happening and we kind of have, like, we're in phase one, we moved to phase two and iterations and things that we're already implementing, and then we have a lot of touch points on the way through design and kind of like the experience that comes up after. There's not a lot of like weird things that come out in terms of like, wow, we totally, totally missed the bucket on that because of all the touch points that happen along the way. Speaker 0 00:36:13 I don't think we always get to the right iterations. Um, and sometimes we move on to something that's more important, right? Like maybe the I too was supposed to have the stuff that would really bring some idea home, like some experience for say like, we haven't built this yet, but we'll just say like, some experience for podcasters, right? Like maybe it's the distribution piece, like if you could upload your podcast and distribution was just handled instead of having to pay somebody else mm-hmm. <affirmative> like that would be ideal. That's a big complicated thing we haven't even talked about building yet. But, um, so like, okay, if you want to actually be a home for podcasters, like for their website and their content, like that's something we need to have down. Maybe we get to that, but a lot of times we won't get to that. Speaker 0 00:36:52 We'll launch with something else, we'll do kind of okay, and then we won't get to like a V2 or we won't look at that specific feature because it's so big. And then somebody will look at the numbers and say, eh, there's not enough potential. We're not gonna do that. Where it's like, so it's understanding like if you wanted the numbers, you needed that, like if you wanted the, this outcome, like that's, and that's where like the strategy comes in, right? Like that's where I run around telling people like, okay dude, were your expectations actually aligned to reality in the market and what users are expecting? Or were they just like a gut, a gut kind of feeling, right? Like, yeah, Speaker 2 00:37:25 Yeah, Speaker 0 00:37:26 But we don't really have a lot of clashing, honestly. It's usually pretty straightforward stuff. Speaker 2 00:37:31 Um, I got two, two questions here. Um, what is the vision for, for automatic and, and I mean, it, it, it, it, I grew up in the kind of WordPress ecosystem going, we are here to democratize publishing and then it was to democratize development. What is the vision at the moment? Speaker 0 00:37:50 So I mean, for automatic in general, it's still just like work towards an open web and the, with technology changing like that looks so different now. Even I was looking at, uh, I don't know if you heard of Blue Sky, but like Mastodon or the idea of like federated social, right? Like, um, this idea that you can essentially own your social presence. You can pick it up and move if you decide you don't like the platform you're on, right? Like your connections, your content, your information, everything. Like you control that and you can even hack on the your own algorithms and your own experiences for the content that you're seeing. Like not just like you train, you train it, you do six months training your Facebook feed to show you things you actually wanna see or whatever the case is. You've Speaker 2 00:38:31 Been writing, you've been writing my post. I saw Speaker 0 00:38:32 That the other day. I, that's what I told my wife, she hated Facebook. And I was like, you gotta stop looking at the things you look at. That's not how if keep looking at 'em, it's gonna get worse. I was like, you have to do it this way. I was like, look, comics, puppies, yeah. Memories. Like I have it, I have it trained perfectly, but yeah, that's, but that's the exact thing, right? Is um, the idea of that is like so different than, than anything that exists right now. But it's still like generally for an open web where people in their presence and control their information, like have some investment in it. I think that's the direction that automatic as a whole goes. Each business has different pieces of that and different ways to get there, I think. And, and some of 'em are, are like, um, bigger pieces than other ones. Speaker 0 00:39:15 But, you know, really like hosting, I mean like you shouldn't have to worry about hosting as much as you have to worry about hosting, period. That, that's like my simple way to put it. Like everybody needs a website at this point in time. Like kids in elementary school, I think at least high school are building websites in class now. Um, we were doing it in college when I graduated. So it's getting to the point of just comment like, you need a presence on the web, you need a footprint, you need a, if you want to control your story, your information, you want to be able to communicate your ideas like you do need a presence on the web. Um, I think as a, as a is just trying to make sure we make it easy for people to do that regardless of like how complex that presence needs to be. Right. Speaker 2 00:40:01 And then within such a large organization, with all of the information coming down or through or sideways or up or whatever, how do you triage as, as, as, as a productive part of that system? How do you personally triage, okay, well this is information that I need to be across and this is information I don't need to be across, and how do you avoid just getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff and conversations going on? Speaker 0 00:40:32 So ADHD is my superpower in this case. <laugh>. So I can look at something pretty quickly and say, eh, it's not worth my time, or eh, this is pretty significant. And I can also make connections that most people aren't gonna make off the top of their head because I have that high level, like, I did see this over here, this is going on over here, this team is working on this thing. And because I'm in so many cross projects, like, hey, please don't do that because I'm already doing that work right now. Like just, you know, like, um, somebody was talking about landing pages just for migrations or whatever and like, just put them on the pages that I'm building for competitors or whatever. It's a perfect scenario. We'll start with that. We don't have to build more pages, it's fine. Um, things where, where I can catch that and connect the dots is like where people like me who, who are a little bit more scattered in adhd actually come in really handy mm-hmm. Speaker 0 00:41:19 <affirmative> to catch those things so that you don't end up building the same thing in parallel and not knowing about it or building things that conflict at the end of it. Um, otherwise leadership and leads to a good job are kinda like, I think the higher up you are, the more breadth of knowledge you have of what's going on. Um, and by default because people are focused on different pieces, they tend to have knowledge of things that are even outside your own business unit. So like I'm working on the w commerce stuff right now, um, whereas somebody else who's, uh, at the leadership level might be working more on the ad side of it or somebody on the marketing team might be working with a certain business unit on something. And it tends to, the way that we work async and the way that the information flows, it tends to get caught pretty quickly. Speaker 0 00:42:02 I don't think I've ever seen, and I'm on two years now, I don't think I've seen something that was a total miss. It's like totally off the wall, missed something that was happening. Usually it's caught within the first like week or so of it being an idea. Um, and that, and that's fine. Like we move slower, right? Like we're not expecting to post an idea and approve it the same day and then have a team building it the next cuz there's so many things going on. But, um, I think it works pretty well for all, for all the, all the, the bad pieces that come with moving slowly and that go against migraine. Uh, there's some benefits to it sometimes. Speaker 2 00:42:37 And from a technical point of view, how does stuff get managed? I mean, I know you use, you said you use Slack internally. Do you still use P two as an internal blog? Speaker 0 00:42:45 Uh, we use P two. Yeah. Every team has one, every group has one and then there's like kind of different ones that you follow for specific topics and that, that actually works pretty well because the notification settings on that for subscribing to it and mentioning and like decision making processes a little bit easier to manage and it keeps information organized nicely. Um, like even just simple things like you have a project thread and then you post a comment with your update for the week and like we have systems that know you posted your update for the week and that is the most recent update and you can flag it or whatever. Um, we have reminders in Slack that'll like remind you if you didn't post your update for the week. So mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we have a lot of integrated systems that make it work. Uh, we even have like high level roadmap views based on which projects are, are active at any point in time. So it pulls all those things together and makes it pretty easy and useful. Speaker 2 00:43:33 And then what about the actual to-do the task list? Do you all kind of use the same project management system or do each individual team have their own thing? Speaker 0 00:43:41 Most teams are, um, so we're mostly an engineering org, uh, especially Um, so a lot of tasks end up getting broken down into GitHub, either as PRS directly, um, or sometimes as issues that get broken up a lot. Uh, several teams have a good system using like project boards and, and things like that to pull things together and to kind of plan ahead and keep their backlog updated and everything like that. But, um, by design, you know, each team can run things however they wanna run things. So some of them are using like our internal code tools to push things through and some of 'em are using GitHub boards and some of 'em are using who knows what else. Um, but most of like important information about what's happening and where and who's owning it ends up in P two. And then the task deliverables end up, you know, just depending on where the code's written and, and where the people are working, they just get linked to reference in the P two posts. Speaker 2 00:44:36 Hmm, got it. Interesting. Fascinating. Um, what are you most excited about over the next 90 [email protected] and automatic? Speaker 0 00:44:45 I, for me right now, the two things I think I'm, I'm really excited about are WooCommerce is they actually launched it already soft launched. Um, so maybe I shouldn't have said anything but soft launched, uh, a free trial, which we haven't never done, and it's basically hosted W Commerce. So instead of having to get the plugin, the free plugin or install it, so you have to go find hosting, get your instant set up, then install Woo, and then configure everything else that you need to. It's like a package w that includes like $400 worth of extensions that have been polished, the UI has been cleaned up for merchants, so it's organized better and it starts with a 14 day free trial so you can just test it out right away. Um, and you get there from e-commerce dot com. So that experience overall, I think, um, the idea of reorganizing the admin for, for the person who's using it, right, like for the use case mm-hmm. Speaker 0 00:45:36 I think we're getting even hammered down on that more, but it's, it's such a better experience than what it would be if you were to just install a bunch of plugins and WordPress on its own and have to dig through and find them. Um, there's a lot of subtle things, but I feel like that's gonna feel a lot better for more merchants and a lot more relevant to people who are looking for something like Shopify. Plus the free trial brings a lot of opportunities as some of our like other plans and things that people don't has. So once we test 'em out and stuff, we can use 'em in other places. Um, that is a big thing. And then I think we're about to launch, um, we've been working on some different developer tools for a while and nobody really thinks as a a developer friendly place cuz they think it's limited and you can't plug in this stuff. Speaker 0 00:46:21 We've had, we've had full WordPress plans and, and available for years now. Um, just not a lot of people knew about 'em. And then we're catching up to essentially what tools you would need to be able to build however you want in that space. So we've got another feature launch coming up in a little bit and I'm, I'm heading kind of our approach for building a developer community, which will be a new thing, but, um, I think people are gonna be really impressed with that and what runs under the hood and kind of the general experience they have with it. Cuz at the end of the day, everybody's working on the core software, which is fine, right? Um, but the site where the site goes up and, and whether or not it works and stays up consistently and whether or not it's secure and stuff ends up with the host. Speaker 0 00:47:02 And that's always, like, for me, that was always frustrating when you ship a project, right? Like you work on something, you have it ready and you're pushing it and then like the host falls down, the admin's slow. Things that you can't necessarily control but like are on the host side and you're trying not to throw 'em under the bus. Like that was always something I hated. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Um, but the cost, like the cost of having DevOps and having infrastructure that you manage on your own, everything are also a nightmare. So, um, it's, it's a genuinely, like, I didn't know as much about it when I started and I think like comparing it to enterprise level hosting configurations that I've had to deal with and build with teams and things like that, like it's a, it's a really nice option. Um, I think developers are really gonna like it. Speaker 2 00:47:42 Cool. Well, as I said, we're gonna link everything in the show notes here that we've spoken about. Uh, Mike Ball, thank you so much for coming on and spending some time with us here on the agency hour and looking forward to keeping in touch and, uh, seeing how it, how it all unfolds. Yeah, Speaker 0 00:47:53 Always. Thanks for having me. Speaker 2 00:47:56 Thanks for listening to the Agency Hour podcast and a massive thanks to Mike. Always love catching up with your brother and can't wait to hear what you do [email protected]. There you go folks, don't forget to subscribe and please share this with anyone who you think may need to hear it. At Agent Agency Maverick, we help agencies get paid to close. So if you aren't getting paid to close right now, we are guaranteeing you can get paid to close eight new clients in the next 30 days. If you'd like to chat with our team about how you can get paid to close, click the link beneath this episode and let's get to work.

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