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245: How to Build a Successful Agency (Without Burning Yourself Out)

Posted by Austin Brawner on March 31, 2020

Every business has its unique set of growth challenges.

Zach Stuck spent several years working for a digital agency before deciding to go out and start an agency of his own, Homestead Studio.

Now he’s in the process of building his agency business. He’s on the front lines of trying to help clients grow their ecommerce brands.

Today we’re covering a range of topics with Zach. We dive into some specific paid social tactics and what’s working right now for Zach’s clients, and we talk about the onboarding process Zach uses for his clients to ensure both his clients, and his agency, can be successful.

Enjoy!

Episode Highlights

  • 5:58 How Zach went from working at an agency to starting his own.
  • 8:07 Changes in Zach’s role from agency employee to agency owner.
  • 9:52 Resources Zach used to help a client grow from zero to a million in their first year.
  • 11:26 Common paid social misconceptions Zach hears from his clients.
  • 14:33 What’s working in paid social right now and how to successfully approach dynamic creative testing.
  • 17:33 Value-based lookalike audiences and how to easily start using them.
  • 19:07 The state of social proof in 2020 – does it really matter?
  • 23:37 If you don’t have a large customer audience to run social proofing to, what can you do?
  • 24:31 A little known fact about 1% lookalike audiences.
  • 27:07 Crucial steps for successfully onboarding new clients and building a strong ongoing relationship.
  • 32:00 What’s keeping Zach up at night.
  • 34:20 You can’t outsource your growth.
  • 37:16 The challenges with growing an agency and how finding clients who are the right fit is key to success.
  • 43:20 How Zach’s avoiding the churn and burn that happens so often to agencies.
  • 44:57 What Zach’s eating, is he working out, and what his daily life looks like.

Links And Resources

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Transcript

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell and we have a really awesome interview with you today from an agency owner and someone who has really started to grow their agency pretty significantly in the last few years and is a great practitioner of paid social among many other things so I'm excited.

Austin Brawner: I'm excited as well. We're here in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a Wisconsinite and the chain of events to get him to the podcast are pretty cool. I mean it's a digital connection that became an in-real-life connection and is now a podcast connection and he is a client of both of ours. We work with him I believe. Maybe some advising, he's definitely been in the Coalition for a while.

And the interview today is going to be a really, really interesting interview if you are a listener who's on the front lines trying to figure out how to grow your direct to consumer e-commerce business. We get tactical.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, we do get tactic... get pretty nerdy talking about social proofing, talking about dynamic creative testing, a lot of other things and talking about client onboarding too so if you're an agency owner or a work in an agency I think you'll definitely find this episode incredibly helpful.

Austin Brawner: I took notes, I was sitting here writing. I'm looking down at my notes right now and I'm like, I've got audience suggestions. I've got budget testing suggestions, things that I can kind of take out that are 100% tangible. I hope you guys really, really enjoy it. Without any further ado, let's dive in and welcome Zach Stuck to the show.

Zach Stuck: Hey guys. Yeah, stoked to be here. Definitely been listening to the podcast for a couple of years now so I'm grateful to be here.

Austin Brawner: Awesome. I'm interested to hear how you guys met, because I know you guys have a little bit of history. How did you guys initially get connected?

Zach Stuck: I was actually listening to the podcast and I created a Twitter account about two years ago with the sole intention to ask Andrew some questions because I was like, "Hey, I am a younger guy trying to figure this out, trying to bootstrap my way in the world and what's the best way to ask people questions without having to necessarily pay them for their time. Maybe Twitter's that option." Reached out to Andrew and that's kind of where things got kicked off and soon realized that he was actually based in Wisconsin, which was pretty cool.

Andrew Foxwell: It's rare.

Zach Stuck: Yeah, right.

Andrew Foxwell: It's rare I would say if you meet somebody that is from Wisconsin. Yeah, and I mean I think one of the reasons that we wanted to bring you on, and we'll have you kind of introduce yourself and what your agency is up to now, but is, there are agencies and business owners that listen to this podcast and I think having more agencies on is a good thing to give people an idea of where we're at in terms of the expectations and the alignment and the things we're thinking about to serve our clients better. That's really kind of one of the main ways and your agency's grown really quickly.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, the types of things that you guys do and what's happened in the last let's say two years?

Zach Stuck: Sure. Yeah, my name is Zach Stuck. I run a small boutique agency called Homestead Studio. We're based in Appleton, Wisconsin. We work with only e-commerce, direct to consumer brands. The main key services that we offer are Facebook advertising, SEM, email automation, and kind of what led me to starting Homestead was just having some great conversations with people in the industry.

I actually came from another agency based in Wisconsin called Optimal Digital Marketing and had the opportunity to work with some really great businesses there. My mentor, who's the owner, Brandon, really gave me the opportunity to just learn as much as I wanted and work with any client that came in the door.

Over the course of three years working there, I just put myself deep into the work and really put it on my back to say, "Hey, like all these clients want to come to us and grow and what can I do to make that happen?" And a lot of what that came down to is just doing continuous learning through courses, through following people on Twitter, through reaching out to people in the industry and just asking as much as I could to gather as much information as I could.

Through that kind of got to the point where I was ready to do my own thing and had some really good people around me that were encouraging me to give it a shot and started Homestead about seven months ago back in July of 2019 and we've been growing really fast ever since so it's been great.

Austin Brawner: One of the things I've known you from being a member of the Coalition and from Twitter for the last year and a half, something like that and one of the things that I've noticed is that you are an excellent executer. That you take in some training and you're like, "Okay, I can put it to use for the clients right away and get really, really good results." As you've transitioned from being in that role where you are working at an agency to now owning your own agency, growing, building and continuing to kind of like expand in that, how has your role changed over the last six, eight months as you've been able to get this thing rolling?

Zach Stuck: Yeah, I think a lot of it comes down to taking lessons that I've learned over the last few years and building just really solid processes from that. A lot of the clients that come to work with us at Homestead are primarily looking for paid social advertising as a service and one of the other key services that we've been able to do at Homestead is email automation using Klaviyo and through the Brand Growth Experts Membership I was able to learn from Austin, take his courses on there and kind of like what you're saying, just taking the courses and just implementing them straight up to the first e-commerce client that I was really working on and just giving that a shot, see how that went. Right.

Just by being able to do that as a test and just see the amount of revenue that that drove and just the amount of results that came out of that, it just really opened my mind up to saying, "Okay, what other courses, what other opportunities are out there that I can at least just go learn from, implement and see just how it works."

Andrew Foxwell: You landed in the right place first. I mean in terms of advice.

Zach Stuck: Yeah.

Andrew Foxwell: Right. Coming into the Brand Growth Experts community. It's rare because that's I think world-class in terms of the training that you get. A lot of people wander their way through other courses or things and so got the right advice right out of the gate, which is good.

Zach Stuck: Yeah so that was a lot of fun and at the previous agency we actually brought on a client that came to us and said, "Hey, we want to go from zero to a million in our first year." It was a pretty big feat. We've never been able to do that and never had that experience prior and that's what I was just like, okay, it's time to get after it. What do I need to do? Found Brand Growth Experts, the podcast here, and just kind of used either every episode, tactics that you guys would share to even just some of the courses, even Jon Loomer's courses that I know Andrew you've worked on in the past and would just implement it and just try to see what I could learn from it, and just by doing that over and over and over again over the course of two years, we've really started to figure out really solid processes and things that work.

When clients come to us at Homestead and say, "Hey, we want help growing." We already have a pretty good track record of what's worked in the past across multiple verticals from CPG to every type of e-commerce business that we... We have a really solid system in place that we can just implement right out of the gate and we know that we're going to help companies grow their revenue just from that. A lot of that comes down to email automation and just set up of the way that we structure paid advertising on social and on SEM.

A lot of my day to day really now comes down to working with new businesses, auditing what's going on in their current systems, what they're currently working on and taking that and trying to implement our new systems and see what we can do to help them grow.

Austin Brawner: Sure. What are some of the biggest misconceptions that clients come in with about paid social that you've seen recently. Start with that.

Zach Stuck: Sure. It all depends if they were either running ads already or if they're brand new to it. The biggest thing is we've had a lot of businesses come to us and expect just crazy returns, right? Right out of the gate and they'll come to us and say, "Oh, we need four, 5x return on ad spend." And I always just kind of just laugh right away and I'm just like, "do you know what that actually means to do that? Like, do you know what it's going to take for your numbers for that to make sense?"

And one thing that we do with our clients when they want to work with us and I think that this is super important is we actually have like a calculator that breaks down all the key metrics that determine like truly what their return on ad spent actually needs to be to make profits for their business.

And that's been super, super useful to kind of counter that conversation that when they come in and expect these crazy results that we're like, "Oh really, you don't need a 5x return to be profitable, maybe you only need a 2.3 return." And then we share our insights, which are getting 5x return on ad spend, that bigger spends just isn't there anymore.

I think the one thing that's kind of cool about us starting Homestead at the time that we did is that the glory days of Facebook and Instagram ads they're kind of over. You can't get $5 CPAs at $100,000 spends anymore like you could I think in the 2013, 2014 days as far as I've heard.

Andrew Foxwell: I mean, I can. It's because I'm me.

Zach Stuck: Yeah, well I'm not the Fox so there's that.

I think that allows us to come in and be a lot more realistic and transparent about what those numbers need to be and I think that's one thing that we have a lot of conversations about with new businesses and our clients.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I mean, and that's misconception. It's a classic one and that's really tough and I think people have gone to realize that or come to realize that more. You're noticing the kind of conversation turning a little bit in that regard and clients becoming more aware or potential clients becoming more aware of that, I think because of people like us and others and you talking about it basically.

Austin Brawner: And being more transparent versus being more aspirational.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. Absolutely.

Austin Brawner: And when I say aspirational, that's a nice way of saying the way people typically display their results, right. There's a lot of stuff that's blending the lines between fiction and reality in terms of results that people are getting and the truth is, yeah, it's more challenging. It is more challenging, but also it's more stable.

It seems like one of the big changes of the last couple of years, it's like you may not get the same as high of result, like as cheap of results, but there's a lot of stability in terms of what you can do over time as the AI platform is developed.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah so let's talk about... just going into paid social a little bit more. Right now obviously to speak about tactics I think the things that we're kind of thinking a lot about is consolidation is a big topic, right, in terms of consolidating ad sets and audiences, spending more money on fewer things, not splitting out placements as much. What's your take? What's working?

Zach Stuck: Sure.

Andrew Foxwell: I mean combining with user-generated content, things like that. What are you seeing?

Zach Stuck: A big thing, especially over Black Friday, Cyber Monday, that we put a lot of budget behind those dynamic creative tests, so DCTs that we talk about. One thing there that we've seen do really well is when we'll build out a campaign using campaign budget optimization, so CBO, and just have one ad set, which I know that we've talked about a little bit on Twitter, on what we're going to call those and then using one ad set and then using value-based lookalikes to then run dynamic creative tests.

Andrew Foxwell: And a dynamic creative test for those people that haven't done it, you basically are uploading multiple headlines, multiple texts, multiple images. Do you use one as a control or how do you see that?

Zach Stuck: So the way that we normally run these is we'll run either a creative test or a copy test. We will run five to six different pieces of creative. Normally we'll just do photos separate from videos. Sometimes we've try to combine them and we just get skewed results so we'd normally like to run just images so we'll run five to six images. One headline, one text, one description.

And from that we've really found some solid winner, creative... winning creative that then we take that winning creative from these dynamic creative tests and then go take that winning creative and then move that over to like a 1% lookalike audience of purchasers.

Andrew Foxwell: You recreate that, the winners. Yeah.

Zach Stuck: Or recreate as a single ad and then run that just because we know that we have a winning audience that's already been running that pulls pretty decent returns and it's just a solid base to go off of.

And that's really been working for us a lot and we've done more and more dynamic creative testing and I think the cool thing about dynamic creative test too that we've even found is just like finding copy that works. I feel like I didn't really have a great way to find copy that works besides just... I mean when we'd run ads with like the same image and five different texts, it just, I don't know... just the way to build that out just seemed to take so much time. Even as buyers like it seems to make us more effective.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I would say a couple of things to comment on that. One is dynamic creative testing is really interesting because it does seem to be, if you have a decent amount of spend, you're maybe spending $100 a day or more or something like that. It makes it really efficient in terms of testing. That's a nice thing about it.

You do kind of lose that social proofing piece, but creating that combo winner, then recreating it off of the results of that test is really nice and then I just do want to clarify a value based like is a lookalike off of your pixel and the value that's flowed through your pixel if you're an e-commerce store. That's a really cool tactic that in a lot of cases value-based lookalikes work really, really well too.

Zach Stuck: Yeah. When you're normally running, and I'm sure that if you were to look into your ad account and do this if you're running like a 180 day, 1% purchase lookalike, what's nice now is if you look into the ad set level, there's actually just a checkbox that you need to check that will actually move that over to a value-based lookalike. It's actually pretty easy to at least test and try out and we've found those value-based lookalikes to do really well.

Another thing that's worked really well even just off of that is we'll take value-based lookalikes for example, like a 3% value-based lookalike and will do add to cart, initiate checkout and purchase all under one ad set so we kind of, we call them clusters internally. We'll do one ad set with all three of those value-based lookalikes, all the same percentage and we've seen really solid results from that.

The one thing that I feel like the reason why that seems to work is by using those other events like add to cart, initiate checkout, most likely, and I would just have to assume this, that you're having more of those events happen so Facebook has more data on those events and then when it starts to tie those events to value, it's really combining the most data that you have plus the value. It just seems to be really a unique way to run those ads.

Austin Brawner: Sure. I'm interested. What is your guys' take both of you guys on social proofing in 2020. What has changed? What has stayed the same? What does it look like?

Zach Stuck: Sure. This is really interesting to me actually because I feel like I've had a lot of conversations with other agency owners and just people on Twitter about if this is even important or not. Right. A colleague of mine, and actually our rep at Facebook has shared with me that there's some studies that they've put out that the social proof doesn't matter as much and I always push back against that. I always feel like as a consumer even the chance of someone looking at an ad and seeing people talking, previous customers talking about why they love your product so much, like there's no way that that doesn't have some push or sway on things.

I feel like there's going to be less of it unless people pushing for it but I still think, especially on like the retargeting side of things, if you can create an ad and retargeting and before you run into your retargeting audience, run it to previous purchasers, build up that social proof from previous purchasers on that ad, essentially like a-

Austin Brawner: Landing page.

Zach Stuck: Like a small landing page. Right and then roll that out to a remarketing audience. Someone that not necessarily has converted yet but came to your site, maybe added to cart or something that seems to definitely have some sway.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. A couple of different things to say on that. I think going back to the landing page strategy that's something that we talked about in the Intensive three years ago.

Austin Brawner: Still happening.

Andrew Foxwell: It's still happening, right? Where that's a tactic in terms of you take that to the previous customers and that's still I think an incredible strategy. I think Facebook's indicated that they are going to make social proofing a continued part of the product to be honest, because they do have the checkbox when you're creating the ad that says keep existing proof on this even on DCT.

Facebook knows, I've spoken to the product managers actually about this. They know that with DCT social proofing is something they have to fix. They also know that the reporting is a problem because you have to report on each of the winning variables off of a dynamic creative test. This is really getting nerdy here. You're reporting an individual-

Austin Brawner: I think it's good because these are the questions that people have, right?

Andrew Foxwell: Oh, absolutely.

Austin Brawner: When you're diving into the ads manager, you're trying to figure things out. If you spend, let's say one month without looking at the ads manager, it's evolved.

Andrew Foxwell: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, and that's honestly... that's a big part of what I have continued to try to bring to the industry is talking to everybody in different parts of the world all the time. Basically trying to find out what's working. What does it look like for you? Because... I mean, Florian in Germany,  Florian Litterst of adsventure.de, that guy has stuff I've never seen like all the time. And then you have things like Jon Loomer who still doesn't have value ROAS bidding, which is like comical and so there's stuff like that that's like all over the place, gives you an idea but I think back to the social proofing thing, this social proofing will continue to be a big part of the strategy.

I think that there's basically two schools of thought on this, or two kind of camps. One is, you know what? I want to... we're big on DCT. We're going to push DCT more. I hear it more from bigger agencies, right? And then I think there's people like us, Zach that are like, we're pushing more social proofing. Like we want to lean towards that because if you look at any ad account, I audited 15.2 million in spend over the year. Audit anything around in the world. You inevitably will look and what it is, it's like social proof ads that have reviews on them.

Zach Stuck: It's crazy.

Andrew Foxwell: It's like... the formula is so funny. It's like usually some sort of like closeup product shot, maybe a UGC that has like the product benefits listed by pair. Like one sentence, hard return, one sentence, hard return, usually maybe a Bitly link, maybe not. Used to have the star emojis, can't have those anymore and then it has a review and then in the comments there's like usually 50 to 100 comments that continue to build, and that's incredibly powerful.

Facebook knows it. Facebook can say probably that like, oh we don't know but like honestly they're not going to take that away because if you have ad that's social proof it's consistently going to be a nine and 10 on a quality score and there's no way another or new ad, even if it's DCT is going to beat that in my opinion.

Austin Brawner: If somebody doesn't have a lot of customers, like previous customers to review. If you don't have a large customer audience to run your social proofing to, how do you guys go about it?

Andrew Foxwell: You can't do it. You just have to start social proofing so that the aggregation of the social proof on the posts from the beginning is there. Whatever kind of feedback you're getting on it, it's on those original two or three posts that you're aggregating and so if you don't... then you build it from there. You build customers and then you can do this like the customer proofing strategy first as like another one.

We used to run those for page post engagement. That's not the case anymore necessarily. You'd run them right now for conversion probably to previous customers. Another way people do this just to mention if you've heard this is, Molly and Ezra, Molly Pittman and Ezra Firestone, they actually don't do a lot of exclusions at the ad set level of previous customers, because little known fact - in a 1% lookalike, generally there's always going to be at least 20% of that lookalike, that's previous customers or previous engagers, and so if you don't utilize exclusion on a 1% lookalike, you're hitting a decent amount of the previous customers and Facebook's excuse for this is, well, it helps to get the lookalike and the algorithm working really well to get the conversions through the door to get you out of learning phase faster.

Austin Brawner: So they're getting their customers to post and write things based on that because they're not using exclusions. Their customers are seeing the ads.

Andrew Foxwell: Their customers are seeing the ad that hypothetically could be a prospecting ad.

Austin Brawner: Sure.

Andrew Foxwell: Again, that's a strategy they're using it. I believe more in exclusions, but that's the way that they do it and it works well for them.

Austin Brawner: Sure. I have this vision of you... you talk about talking to people all over the world, like Raymond Tusk of House of Cards. You've just got like 10 phones and you're just picking up phone calls from China, Indonesia, what's working? Okay, hang up.

Andrew Foxwell: No, it's honestly a lot like that.

Austin Brawner: Nigeria. What's working.

Andrew Foxwell: It's like very regularly. I'm talking to like South America, all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, like seriously, it's really funny, Japan, because I think that that's one thing that uniquely is out there and there are people that are U.S. based primarily ad buyers like Zach that are in the weeds in the United States every day, which I am too in a lot of the auctions of the ads that we're doing, but I think he's doing it in different verticals and bringing that together. Twitter's a good place for that and that's where a lot of us live to be able to share that information.

Zach Stuck: It is. I just want to make a comment on that. One thing that... just going back to the point about running ads that have worked in the past and ones that have a ton of social proof. Ryan Kovach is another media buyer that I really respect and he's just a really smart guy in general. He was just sharing that ads that he was running back in October are working now again in January so that he ran prior to BFCM just rebooted him back up. Same ad set, same creative and right back at it.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, social proofed ads are hilarious. I mean if they've worked you can bring them back. We talked about that actually a little bit yesterday as well but I think that's true.

Let's jump back and talk a little bit more about your agency and talk about the onboarding process because I think this is where a lot of agencies and clients get stuck. I mean stuck and they also... like there's frustration, you go through this process of vetting an agency and then you hire them and it becomes a challenge.

What in your onboarding process or what in a best practice onboarding process from a client side and the agency side needs to be part of it?

Zach Stuck: Sure. I'll just start kind of from the beginning from even when clients businesses reach out to us and just kind of take it from there. The process that we take when a business reaches out to us is we'll set up a call and do a deep dive into their business and it's usually a two, three hour call where we just ask a lot of questions. Learn about products that have been selling, learn about future products, learn about their margins.

In the next step that we take, which I think this is just really crucial. I know that we did this at the previous agency that I was at, but the process that we go about it now we just go even deeper is just a full audit of their business.

What we do with the audit is we dive into paid social, we figure out what they've been doing for the last two, three years. We figure out what's worked, what creative has worked. We dive into Klaviyo. What flows they're running, what email promotions are running, why some work better than others. Was it subject lines that that worked better? What emails in the flows seemed to be working.

We do a website audit to figure out, we look at Google Analytics and Shopify to determine what their percentage with add to cart to initiate checkout to purchase ratios are and after being able to do this for quite a few years now we have a pretty good understanding of what those numbers should be at so we can have a pretty good reference point to when we audit clients that are lower than the normal percentages, like even for that add to cart or returns from paid social we can give a really good perspective on the things that we'd want to change.

With that audit, essentially it's just a word document. It's nothing crazy. We then have another follow-up call with these clients or these businesses and just run them through this full audit and I can't tell you how many of these businesses have just overly thanked us for that audit and how deep we go because a lot of them don't even take the time to figure out some of the things that we figure out and a few of those things that we figure out for them or just, what are their margins per product? What is their average order value? How many products are people buying on average? To determine all of these simple metrics, which are really important to us as buyers and as marketers to figure out, to know if they're even going to be a good fit for us.

Because we've had clients that we've audited and we look at the numbers and we're like, we just don't see a way that paid social is going to work because you're asking for an $8 CPA on $100 product. It just might not work. That whole process has been... it's a lot of fun too because we get to really dive deep with the businesses and ask tough questions, which I feel like a lot of them haven't even asked themselves really just because they're so busy in the day to day and coming up with products and focusing on just the overall strategy of what they're trying to do.

That whole process then leads into onboarding and once we figure out all of those details, the next three to six months go pretty smoothly for us because we have a game plan. We essentially take the audit and what we find in improvements that we want to make and then just set a game plan for the next three to six months of when we're going to roll those out.

I think the biggest thing there is that we do to make sure that everyone's on the same page and I know you mentioned communication being one of those big barriers is we do weekly meetings with all of our clients. It's a 15 minute to sometimes an hour check-in once a week and I think by doing those weekly meetings, we really get ahead of either future problems that are coming up or we determine what's working really well and can share that.

In those weekly meetings we get to share what creative worked this week, what creative didn't work this week if it comes to paid social side of things. On the email side, we can share, "hey, this flow seems to be doing better with this updated subject lines." Like it's a weekly check in and that really allows them to feel like they know what's going on. Like have a better pulse of their business

And I think the other thing that as far as onboarding goes, and this is something that my friend David Herman, who we know through Twitter pretty well, really recommended is just over-communicating and just really figuring out the level of communication each business really needs to feel comfortable.

Most of the time that's just a daily check in. We just let him know, hey, yesterday didn't go well. This is what we're seeing, this is what we're going to do about it. And that alone during that onboarding kind of just like we're figuring things out, the company's figuring things out, how to work better with us just seems to make things go really smoothly.

Austin Brawner: I'd love to hear kind of your take on this. What you guys are doing is inherently challenging, right? Like driving sales through Facebook and doing email. It's a very challenging thing that comes with a lot of ups and downs.

What are some of the things that keep you up at night as you're building this business and growing and managing client relationships?

Zach Stuck: Sure. We're super fortunate that we've only lost one client since we started the business and the biggest reason, and this is really... when this happened I actually had the chance to talk to Andrew and talked to a few other people that are mentors just in this space about the situation and the biggest thing that the reason that we lost them is there just wasn't a great product-market fit and when we have clients that come to us that don't have that product-market fit, it's very easy to say yes because some numbers might look great and there's opportunity there but we've had a lot of clients come to us or businesses come to us that we've had to turn down because they don't have that.

And I think the biggest thing that does keep me up at night was just really, if we're in the spot to help these companies find product-market fit, it puts a lot of pressure on us, right? Because we're not only trying to figure out do people like this, but we're spending their money to try and figure that. That can be an uphill battle, which is why the audit process that we do at the very beginning, like I said, it's just super helpful for us to determine, hey, does this make sense? Are there enough previous buyers? Are there enough... Are there a ton of reviews on these products? Do people truly love this product to the point that we're willing to partner up with them and really get after the growth side of things?

Austin Brawner: Andrew and I talk about this a lot like from a business owner perspective, because I tried to put myself in the perspective of a business owner 100% of the time. What you talk about is putting too much of a challenge on your agency, right? If you don't have the product... the fit and if you haven't figured out how to sell it, you're not going to be a good fit to work with an agency. You're just not.

It's going to be... basically what you're doing is you're outsourcing your growth and if you're outsourcing your growth, you're putting way too much in the hands of... you're letting somebody else run your business and that's not, unless this company is taking like 50% of the revenue and they're a true partner, it's not a good fit.

I think that's not talked about enough because what's often sold is the idea that you can outsource growth because this is what people want, but you really can't, and it only... the best relationships with agencies happen once the business has figured out how to sell and the agency can amplify, at least in my experience.

Zach Stuck: Yeah. I 100% agree with that. I think we've had the opportunity to... our first client at Homestead had a great product and they had a decent wholesale business and just didn't know how to do the DTC side of things. They tried some Facebook ads, didn't really know what they were doing, kind of wasted couple thousand dollars there and they actually had a great product-market fit and just didn't know how to get that in front of more people.

That was one of these clients that came to us and right out of the gate we started running ads for them and we're pulling really solid returns. 3x out of the gate and were like, okay, there's something here and that's the type of client that we love working with because then it's just building blocks. Then it's just, okay, how do we scale the spend to still stay profitable? What can we do next? Okay, can we implement more Klaviyo flows? Can we implement how do we do better promotional emails? How do we do... then how do we get after increasing the conversion rate.

Once a client has that or business has that product-market fit and then they come to an agency, then that relationship always goes really, really well because then you're just putting the grill side of things on people that just know that sector, know that portion of what you're trying to do.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I completely agree. I think it's tough. I think people do. They outsource too quickly in a lot of cases to an agency. As you said, outsourcing the growth. I think they do it-

Austin Brawner: If they're not comfortable.

Andrew Foxwell: They do too early.

Austin Brawner: I think that has to do with the founder. If the founder is more of like a operational founder, they have the tendency to want to outsource because they're like, I'm comfortable here building the product. I'm comfortable with this. I'm not comfortable with the customer acquisition side.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I mean I think that's true and I think the other thing that you have that's really common is you unfortunately have, or we have had in our industry as agencies and consultants on particularly paid social, a large percentage or the loudest in the industry that are out there and they're selling people sort of a false bill of goods.

That has created unrealistic expectations. It's created a lot of challenges in communication and so when you come in as an agency owner and you say, "Here's the auditing process, here's the hard numbers we're going through, here's what we believe about your business and here's where we believe we can take you."

That is in itself a major differentiation because nobody has done that, right, up until this point. The model has been that a lot of bigger DR social agencies have salespeople that are incentivized on closing 5K a month deals in fees than locking people into three to six month contracts and everybody feels like they got screwed.

Austin Brawner: Let's dive into that because I think that is... I'm interested to hear your take on where you want to go, but I think that's inherently the challenge in growing an agency-

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, absolutely.

Austin Brawner: Because you're a victim of your own success, right? You get really successful, then you have to remove yourself. If you go down the path of building a large agency, you start removing yourself from the sales process and you put in a professional salesperson who no longer has the nuance that somebody who's actually in the trenches has.

And so you're looking at a large agency and like you mentioned, they're incentivized for closing sales. They're not incentivized... I mean you want them to be able to find the right fit, but when someone's paycheck relies on them doing something that often doesn't inherently align with finding the right fit, that can be the challenge, right? You can say, we'll bring you in, we're going to kick ass, it's going to be a perfect fit and then the next transition is moving over to somebody who's actually in the trenches doing it and that's where the disconnect is.

Andrew Foxwell: I think that is important to talk about because I think transparently that is something we've talked about. I think I told you that a couple of days ago that big part... many of you who listen to the podcast know of what we do now is referral network and we have a network of agencies around the world that we refer business to.

One of them is Zach's agency and you signed a lot of business recently and kudos to you. You're a closer, and the thing that's I think important to mention though is that I worry about that growth.

How do you think about that? Like how do you... because inevitably what we've seen and you've seen probably too is it gets bigger and then next thing you know you have junior AM's that are doing onboarding calls and the clients no better off.

Zach Stuck: Yeah. I mean, my intention with this business is to stay small. I love having deeper relationships with our clients. I've got a few clients that I'll text with, talk about random stuff like working out or what are you eating or just random stuff like that and just build great relationships with them but-

Austin Brawner: I like both those examples. Are you working out?

Zach Stuck: Yeah.

Austin Brawner: What are you eating?

Zach Stuck: What are you eating? Yeah.

I think the thing there is, I mean... you brought up a lot. Where do we want to take it? I mean we do want to stay small. We want to work with brands that we feel like have longevity to them. A lot of the brands that we have onboarded recently are brands that have been in this space for eight to 10 years, which is really unique, right?

I mean in this direct to consumer space, there's all these venture-backed companies that I've been around for nine months or 24 months. Right, and to be able to work with these companies now that have been in this for, like I said quite a few years they come at it with a little bit different approach, and I think that those companies really fit well with us and I'll kind of break that down.

One of the companies that works with us, I mean they drive all of their sales through organic social in Google organic, they do zero paid and to think that they're doing zero paid in 2019, 2020 it's just kind of crazy, right? They're an e-commerce business. A lot of people know of them, but they just don't do it.

I think those are the companies that truly understand their numbers because they've had to make their business profitable and long-lasting off of solutions that just can't cause hypergrowth, right, and I think those are the types of businesses that we want to work with because they have a track record that can offset the ebbs and flows of paid social.

And I think that's one thing that has really been helpful for us where this last October I know a lot of media buyers struggled and a lot of our clients that we work with when we choose to work with them, a big part of that is having a lot of organic sales already coming through.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, there's something. That's a steadying factor. They have a community that's a steadying factor. They have organic social, they have Facebook group.

Austin Brawner: They know how to sell.

Andrew Foxwell: They know how to say it. They've already established that and that makes our lives so much easier.

Zach Stuck: It does. Sure.

Andrew Foxwell: Because all we then can... the first thing we can come and do is just set up a... sorry, come in and do is we can set up a remarketing flow. Right, because it's like you already... People have forgot about you and they'd probably just want to be reminded.

Zach Stuck: Yep. I mean we just started working with a brand, this the same brand and we just launched remarketing and it's 5x right out of the gate. It's just like okay, this is great, right. The client's super happy. They're like, "How come we can never figure this before."

And I think that's where when you find a right fit partner that does know this direct response paid side of things very deeply and then you have a business that's already been established and already been vetted, then that's where those partnerships can be a really good fit.

Andrew Foxwell: We talk about that in a recent scaling series episode. We talked about making... it is easier and I think better if the person that is the owner is the expert on a channel, probably Facebook or Instagram or email or they're that channel expert and they're the one that's driving the growth. I'm making a steering wheel motion right now. I think that helps because then you can have more legitimate conversations with them.

Zach Stuck: Yeah, definitely. I think finding right fit clients has been our key to growth and I think having great referral partners obviously like you Andrew and a few others that have a good understanding of when is it going to be right fit client based on a few of those things that I've already mentioned like previous record, do they have product-market fit already has really helped us to onboard a little bit quicker

And I think even to your point on just like how do we handle that as we grow, right? I think my role in the company, I still want that to be on the front end, which is the sales process and auditing clients because I think that's where a lot of these bigger agencies start to move over to that churn and burn model. Right?

I mean they're putting in sales reps, they're bringing on people that just don't truly know what they're saying. Yeah. We can get you 5x return on ad spend. Yeah, we can do that at a hundred thousand per month spend. Just like unrealistic things to close deals where I'm going to come in and be very transparent and realistic and tell you what your real numbers are and I plan to keep doing that because I feel like that helps build the relationship and put it in a good spot right out of the gate. It's just being real about those numbers.

Austin Brawner: I don't think it's malicious. It's just a product of the fact that you mentioned it. You bring somebody in and they get 5x retargeting return ad spend. It's like a game of telephone. Oh look, we got 5x return ad spend and that goes to the salesperson who's like, oh sweet, they got 5x return ad spend, who then tells the client, "Oh yeah, we can get 5x return on ad spend."

Where the nuance is lost in everything and there's a huge difference between prospecting, between retargeting, between demand capture, demand generation. All these things that don't get talked about that often unless you're deep in it on the front lines doing stuff and actually spending money and learning.

I'm going to ask you a question, which is, are you working out? What are you eating?

Zach Stuck: So it's funny. My wife Veda and I... so my wife went to culinary school, which is very helpful in our household because it makes cooking a lot easier mostly. 99% on her but I try and help. I'll dice onions and stuff like that, sometimes it's not good enough even there so I just kind of back off.

No selfishly... yeah so we do Whole 30 every January, which is kind of fun. Change it up to the no sugar, no alcohol thing, and brings a lot of clarity. I love it. I would love to do this all year round. It's essentially the paleo diet. That's kind of cool. We do that in January and we actually just joined a bootcamp. It's like a HIIT, high-intensity interval training boot camp.

Austin Brawner: Nice.

Zach Stuck: And so my legs are in a little bit of rough shape today because we had a strength day.

Andrew Foxwell: You kicked some ass yesterday.

Zach Stuck: Well, hey, I don't know. I don't know about that though.

Andrew Foxwell: I mean, use your legs.

Austin Brawner: Yeah. What is the day in the life of Zach Stuck look like?

Zach Stuck: Sure. It's a good question. It usually starts with me waking up looking at my phone and checking Twitter. I think that's usually like the go to because I'm like-

Austin Brawner: What time?

Zach Stuck: Oh man, it's all over the board. I would say 7:00 AM is the normal time that I'm up, but that can fluctuate till 9:00. I really enjoy sleeping and sleep is super important to me. I found that if I can get nine hours of sleep, I can just crush the day and feel on top of the world and if I don't, if I'm down to five, I just feel terrible. Like I feel like I have the flu. I don't know if it's just me or if it's just-

Austin Brawner: It's not just you.

Zach Stuck: Yeah. Open up the phone, check Twitter. Usually I'll take a look at... so I've got the Shopify app on my phone, so I'll check some of our accounts and kind of see how the previous day went and see if there's anything that's taken off and then I just get right into the office and start jamming on accounts in the morning.

So we've got our other lead media buyer, Tim, who's a close friend of mine now and him and I just kind of cranked through stuff in the morning, review accounts, kind of see where the paid stuff is at and then the meetings kickoff for the day and that's where we get to meet with our clients, talk about what's working, what's not and really dig in.

Austin Brawner: What's one blog, book, podcast or informational resource you've read in the last three months, it's changed your life or changed your business.

Zach Stuck: Sure. I read Essentialism, which is a great book and the other book that I... all my friends make fun of me a lot for this because I talk about the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, a ton. Like way too... I talk about that book way too much, but that book changed my perspective on focus and just like truly what can happen if you spend three hours of focus time on one project in a day.

And I think that's where talking... going back to you mentioning taking things from tactics and being a practitioner. To be a practitioner, you need to do that to yourself. You need to force yourself to have the time to do deep work and actually do really concentrated work and I think that by reading that book, that's really changed my perspective on like if I really need to get after something and make an impact for one of our clients or my own business. I got to set three, four hours, turn my phone off, turn Slack off, and just get after it so that book has been a big impact on me.

Andrew Foxwell: Thank you very much man. I really appreciate you coming to record with us and be with us today. If people have questions, they can check out Homestead Studio or email you at, what's your email?

Zach Stuck: You can check me out on Twitter. Love to talk to you there. I do respond to 99% of my DMS besides the just "Heys." Andrew and I talked about that

Andrew Foxwell: Your handle is @sexyZach, right?

Zach Stuck: Yep. That's what it is @sexyZach? No, it's actually my name. Zach, Z-A-C-H with an H and then the letter M and then Stuck S-T-U-C-K which is my last name. You can check me out on Twitter. Otherwise you can check out our company Homestead Studio at homesteadstudio.co. Hit me up on Twitter.

Andrew Foxwell: Awesome. Thank you so much man. Really appreciate it.

Zach Stuck: Yeah, it's been a lot of fun. Thanks guys. 

Austin Brawner: Hey guys. It's Austin and if you've been loving the podcast, you've got to go check out brandgrowthexperts.com. That's where I work one on one with my clients to help them build faster growing more profitable online stores. I've got coaching programs and workshops that we host all over the world. Would love to have you come check it out.

If you are a fast growing e-commerce business or you want to be a fast growing e-commerce business, you got to check it out. That's the spot for you. We go more in depth than we do in the podcast with comprehensive trainings and coaching to help you scale up.

Check it out, brandgrowthexperts.com see you there.

Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell and we have a really awesome interview with you today from an agency owner and someone who has really started to grow their agency pretty s...

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