Non Profit to Multi Million Digital Agency

How A Non Profit Program Organizer Built A Multi Million Dollar Agency

Stuart Trier Sales Techniques Leave a Comment

Stuart Trier: Hey guys, welcome to Marketing Cheat Guides. I have a very special guest that I met down in Denver at a recent talk I was doing with Duct Tape Marketing. His name is Will Watrous. He is the CEO and Founder of StructureM and he’s agreed to come here and talk to us. He’s running a multimillion dollar marketing company. He has a unique spin on marketing. Looking forward to interviewing him and sharing his story with you guys. Will, thanks a lot for joining us here on the show today.

Will Watrous: Awesome. Thanks Stuart. Glad to be here.

Stuart Trier: Perfect. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you got into marketing.

Will Watrous: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of a funny story actually. I was working at a nonprofit in the DC area, and we were at a meeting and the CEO at the time said “Guys, I cannot handle marketing anymore, is there anybody that help me out a little bit with this?” And so I was so dumb enough to raise my hand. He said “Great, come down to my office after the meeting.” I followed him, and walked into his office, he proceeded to walk over to the bookshelf, grabbed three three-inch three ring binders, I remember it was like a stack like this big, handed them to me and said “Really appreciate it, thanks so much. You can give me a call if you have any questions.”

That’s how I jumped into it, and wound up figuring it out by doing it. That included a pretty good size budget, but also a pretty broad scope. We were doing email marketing, we were doing reputation management, social media, website development, search engine optimization, digital advertising. All of these things were pretty healthy broad scope marketing plan. Through the scope of time just figured out how to do it more and be more effective, and thankfully was able to help that organization grow.

Stuart Trier: Fantastic. What were you doing before you took on this marketing portfolio?

Will Watrous: Right, it was actually a children’s program. I was helping program children’s programs, or develop children’s programs, specifically, well teenagers really. I was working really closely with a large group of leaders who were leading groups of teenagers.

Stuart Trier: Definitely a bit of a shift.

Will Watrous: Absolutely. The funny thing is my college degree is music performance. I’m a trumpet player by trade. I still play all the time. I love trumpet, but you would think you know what a matchup to go from that to marketing.

Stuart Trier: That’s awesome. You obviously took over this portfolio. How long did you end up staying in that role kind of looking after their portfolio for them?

Will Watrous: My goodness, quite a few years actually. At one point I realized that what I was doing I could do from anywhere. At the same time my wife wanted to go to a college here in Oklahoma, so I just said well let’s go and do it. So we just picked up and moved, and came here to where we are here in Oklahoma. My wife went to school and graduated, and I continued to manage the marketing remotely. That’s kind of how I actually got into doing it on my own. I was doing it here … I don’t know if you want to jump into that story, but yeah. I was doing some marketing and a friend of a friend had a local, actually an auto repair shop, and he was struggling with his marketing. I just said well hey I do some marketing. I didn’t really consider myself and expert by any means, or be any authority really, but I knew I could help him with some basic needs and so I started.

The funny thing is he had an auto repair shop and I had a truck. I said well I tell you what, let me just help you out here and if my truck breaks you can just fix it. He’s a really smart business man and he said no I want to pay you because if I want you to do something, I want you to do have to do it. So I said fine pay me. I think he started paying me like $500 a month to manage his marketing. It wound up that this gentleman, who’s a great man and a great person, was what I call a hub meaning that he knew everybody and everybody knew him. He as a small business owner was connected and networked with dozens and dozens of other small business owners across the city. What happened was, I believe really this gentleman, he and his shop, they do great work, they have a great reputation. He already had something really good going, which I think is important when you’re working with a business. I think it’s important that they’re actually delivering great value.

He was doing that, and by nature of that and a combination of some marketing projects he really started growing rapidly. His friends and buddies and other business owners started saying, “Hey, you know what are you doing? You’ve grown like crazy.” This guy is so funny and gracious and kind. He said, “Well I got this guy named Will.” He would tell these business owners, he said, “Sometimes I have to call Will and tell him to tone it down a little bit because I’m too busy.” So these other business owners were like oh my gosh, give me his number. So I started getting these phone calls from other business owners saying, “Hey, what you’re doing for this guy, will you do the same thing for us?” So that’s how it all kind of kicked off.

I kind of stepped down from that nonprofit director position and just started taking on small local businesses here in the area, and have just grown from there.

Stuart Trier: This was back in 2010?

Will Watrous: Yeah, like right around 2009, 2010.

Stuart Trier: Wow. Okay. Let’s look at the evolution. You started at the $500 a month working for these guys. Were you doing the whole spectrum of digital marketing, or were you working specifically on an SEO or a PPC, or …

Will Watrous: Right. Yeah well it started initially with a website design. This is the funny thing is I had never designed a website. I mean this is … There were not the tools available that we have today.

Stuart Trier: Sure.

Will Watrous: Although there were some. I think that Homestead by Intuit was one, and I think that’s where I actually started. I had never built a website before, but for some silly reason I decided I could help him build a website from scratch. I literally prayed and Googled how do you build a website. That’s where it literally started. I wound up building a website that looked pretty decent, and at the same time I decided to invest in Hub Spot training at the time. Back in the day they would do this onboarding training package. It was big dollars for me. I think I paid like $1,500, or $3,000, or something like that, but it was a 6 or 12 week thing. I would meet with this gentleman every week and we would just, he basically just taught me a lot about SEO and everything. Again, I was not coming from that kind of background, so I really cut my teeth on building websites and doing SEO. That’s where it started.

From there, I quickly started to realize that while this is great and important, there’s a lot of other factors that go into a successful marketing program, or plan, or system, or business plan even. By nature, we started to get into things like reputation, and client retention, how many clients were they getting back into the shop, let’s say of the auto repair shop, which had to then do with email marketing, social media, all of these other things. After probably maybe a year or so, we started adding a bunch of things. Eventually I was just kind of entirely managing all of his marketing, even direct mail pieces, things like that.

Stuart Trier: Wow. Okay. Is that something that you brought from the auto shop to the friends that he had referred to you? Did you start to build out the same kind of methodology for them where you almost became their marketing, outsourced marketing department?

Will Watrous: Yeah exactly. What I started seeing was that most of these small local businesses had the same set of needs. It had to do with website, SEO, email marketing, a social media presence, online reputation, digital advertising, ad words primarily at the time and now Facebook ads a lot. But I started seeing that they all had these same set of needs, so I just basically rinsed and repeated this systematic approach to all of their marketing needs, and it worked again and again.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. What were some of the early challenges that you had when you went out on your own? I mean the music background thrown into the marketing mix.

Had some success in terms of found the hub, as you called him, started referring clients. What kind of challenges did you face as you went to grow the business?

Will Watrous: My goodness. It reads probably like an E-myth novel, if you’re familiar with the E-myth Michael Gerber. A technician now needing to become a manager, but lacking entrepreneurial and business skills. The challenges early on were just that while I was wonderful and right and good to want to help people, to see a need and want to reach out and do something about it, it has to be paired with some business acumen. It has to have for instance scalability, management, all of the financial controls that need to be in place. There’s a lot to it. Owning and running a business is a lot more than just having a skill in a particular area. Even if it’s marketing, even if you’re a marketing consultant let’s say, there’s so much more to I think growing a successful company than just having those skills.

So, those early challenges revolved around me being able to balance, and really grow in a weak area I would say, which is that business skill side of things, being able to read and study and implement all of the business side of things, alongside of all of the marketing. There’s two worlds kind of converging there, so that was a lot of struggle.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. All right, as you got those skills in place … I mean obviously that was a journey that’s happened over the last seven, eight years. I’m sure you continue to progress. When you were bringing in new clients, a lot of people watching this are probably earlier on in their journey as I mentioned to you prior to us jumping on, what were some of the ways that you went out to grab business in terms of scaling up your business along that path?

Will Watrous: Yeah. It’s been a funny thing in that way because I’ve seen that the number one driver of our growth has been the quality of the work that we’ve performed for our current clients. Of course this loops back to referrals, but that is in fact the number one way that we’ve been growing is referrals. I think that the driver again is that we’ve been really focused on doing things right. When we were first getting into this, you don’t know what you don’t know. We can read articles and listen to podcasts, and all of these things, and we would go to MozCon in Seattle, and things like that. Anyways, what we found is when we would get around other agencies and companies, we would realize wow we really are doing a good job at this. We’re doing it the right way. That was really encouraging because you don’t know when you’re on your own is this legit, am I missing some big piece.

I think that it’s been a big deal to meet up with other groups, be part of discussion groups. Like Marketing Cheat Guides I think is brilliant. Of course we’ve been, as you mentioned, members of Duct Tape Marketing. We’re with some other associations now like Story Brand, which is Donald Miller’s group. Story Brand, [inaudible 00:11:58] highly recommended that. Of course we’ve been involved with Moz for a really long time from the beginning. Follow Hub Spot, those sorts of things. Some of these authorities have really helped us feel more confident. I’m getting off track from your question there, but-

Stuart Trier: It’s great.

Will Watrous: -it’s been a big deal for us.

Stuart Trier: All right. You joined Duct Tape Marketing. How long have you been a part of Duct Tape Marketing?

Will Watrous: Man for probably like four years now.

Stuart Trier: This is … I mean I read Duct Tape Marketing, the original book, a long time ago, so it was full circle to speak at the event, which I thought was awesome, but I’m curious to hear from you all of the tools and IP that that kind of brought to your business. Four years ago puts you at what 2013, so you were already well on your way developing your business, but you obviously invested in that. Was that a pivotal point for you in terms of seeing systematization, or you already dialed that in and it just kind of helped take it to a new level?

Will Watrous: Yeah. What happened was we just started getting overloaded work. You had asked about bringing on new clients and I had mentioned that we were focused on doing really high quality work. What that was causing was great results for our clients, who then couldn’t help but tell other people about the great job that we were doing, which then caused other people to come to us. Well when that growth came we had of course an influx of work. I have now a six year old and a nine year old. Go back three or four years, of course they’re young children, and I was working a lot. Working really hard, and really stressed out honestly just because of the workload. It was too much, and it was, my wife was suffering, my kids were suffering from the results of that. I realized I need to figure this out because I’m not willing to do this any longer.

I started researching just the idea of systematization. I realized that systems were the path to freedom. I knew that if we could just simply develop linear sequences that delivered consistent results over time, then I could basically have another person, whether it was a staff member or even an outsourced VA for example, follow those same steps and get the same results that I would have if I did it. I really dived headlong into systematization. I think the book that opened the door for me was a book called Work the System by Sam Carpenter. It is a brilliant, he is a brilliant man. It is so philosophical, but at the same time extremely practical. It just lays out systematization so well. I started following him very closely, and as a byproduct started looking for marketing systems of course. I Googled literally small business marketing systems, and who pops up, John Jantsch. John Jantsch pops up with his Duct Tape Marketing system. That’s how we kind of connected, and I instantly saw the value.

I think what happened there was I saw that John had done so much work already and developed so many systems. The idea is why do you reinvent the wheel. We have some good things going here. I had been thinking about systematization, but let’s just accelerate it. Let’s just plug and play with what he has going on. That was how we kind of initially got connected. Then since then, a big part of it has been the network itself in terms of the other people. Just like on Marketing Cheat Guides, there’s so many people. You’re leading the way, but there’s dialogue and questions being answered, and so much feedback. That community aspect is a big deal.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. How big is your team today?

Will Watrous: I have nine, ten including me.

Stuart Trier: Nice. Okay. Now that you’ve kind of come full circle and you are where you are today, what do you spend your time on leading a team? I mean you’ve created systems so that other people can repeat what you were doing earlier on at scale now right? You’ve given them the map, they’re able to follow the map and get that predictable result, which is obviously delivering value for your clients. How do you spend your time today in terms of leading your team and driving that vision forward?

Will Watrous: Right, yeah great question. Systemizing the marketing side is what happened first, the actual marketing activity that needs to happen. Now I’m in the process of systemizing all of the business side of things. What that means is creating workflows, procedures, all of that sort of stuff, and then training and teaching other team members how to work that. So that’s where I’m at. We’ve grown to where we are and I’m really thankful for that, but we’re by no means there. I’m still working. I have to show up. I’m not in a passive ownership position yet. What I’m doing now is really focusing on things like finance, on investing in the team, developing the team, some people would call it HR, but it’s ongoing. It’s learning, ongoing learning, life skills even. We read books like Getting Things Done by David Allen, which is really practical. We’ve read Scale by David Finkel, who you met I think in Denver.

Anyway, investing in the team is what I do. So how do I spend my time? I would say probably 70% of my time is what I call on the business work. I’ve got the on the business and in the business, so 30% of my time at this point is in the business. That’s actively taking care of client situations, or things like that. 70% of it has to do with financial systems, strategic networking, reporting. We use quarterly action plans, all of those kinds of activities.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. All right, so now I’m going to flip over and pick your brain for our audience. I think you’re an invaluable resource to people that are earlier in the journey. I’m really curious if you could go back in time to an earlier, younger version of yourself eight years ago, what are some things that you would want to know? Some wisdom that you’ve learned along the way that you can kind of impart with people that are just starting their journey in terms of trying to scale up their business, trying to learn, like you said, how to run a business, how to manage a technical kind of skill if they’re coming from a technical skill background, how to leverage that and ultimately build a business around them where they’re not just working for five different companies as a consultant, but they’re actually managing a business?

Will Watrous: Yeah great question. A couple of thoughts come to mind. One is that systemize early. Everything that you do … The funny thing is me and my personality is I love creating and designing systems. I do not like following them. I just am not like a line upon line detail check box type of person. I just like to find a problem, create a solution, and then show other people how to use the solution, and then move on. I’m on to-

Stuart Trier: That’s the entrepreneurial way.

Will Watrous: Right.

Stuart Trier: You draw the map, other people follow it. That’s why the employees like maps that you’re going to build.

Will Watrous: Yeah. I would say systemize early. Be really intentional about designing procedures, tasks, checklists, tools … Oh and the reason I got off on that was that you even follow yourself. I would find myself designing a great system, and I’m still the one that needs to work that system, but the next time I come across it I wouldn’t pull out that checklist and just follow it again. I would just wing it again. So design systems, but then use your own systems. Eat your own cooking, and make sure that it’s on point and accurate because when it comes time to bring someone else on, or even hire out or use a third party, you’re going to want to get the same consistent results, so you’ll want to be able to spell that out for them.

I would say, number two I would say be really conscious of your work life balance. Don’t go crazy. I know some people they work really hard, and I understand that to a degree, but I think a common issue in our culture today, and sort of our society today, is that the answer is just to work longer, harder. That somehow shows, that proves your commitment and that proves your value is by putting in 100 hours a week. Somehow that makes you, demonstrates your willingness to sacrifice. I question that because I think that it is completely plausible for us to be able to have times of rest, and restoration, and relaxation, and other activities, and enjoy life, and enjoy our families and our relationships, and still work really hard, but just work smarter. I would encourage people to draw really healthy boundaries with how much they work so that they don’t sacrifice the big picture for the immediate goal.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. All right. In terms of going out and getting business now for people that are just doing it, what are some tactical things you would recommend for people that are trying to land their first, second, or third clients? How they should approach that lead gen kind of process?

Will Watrous: My goodness, start. I have this firm belief that anything you need is in arm’s reach. There is nothing that’s being kept back from any of us. It is, there’s so many funnel systems. I mean there’s so many platforms. There’s so many tools. Even in Marketing Cheat Guides, you’ve laid it all out. It’s just a matter of grabbing it and start doing something, just start. I know that’s kind of a broad answer to your specific question, but I would start there by just saying start. Grab Stuart’s systems, sign up for your class you’ve got … Right, you’ve got the courses all laid out? Just plug in and start doing it, and then you’ll find your rhythm, you’ll find your groove, and you’ll find your niche as you start moving forward, but I think I would say just start somewhere.

Now to get more specific, our experience has relied heavily on referrals and networking as well. I mentioned that my first client as an entrepreneur started sending me other clients, but the reason was that we did, I did really good quality work for him, and he got great results. That opened up the door to so much more business because now I could say to this gentleman, “Hey do you know anyone else you feel like is struggling?” Or “Hey if you meet someone else that you feel like we’d be a good fit for, you see what we’re doing here, let me know about them, I’d love to help them.” Because that warm referral lead is my goodness, is so easy. Even today, most of our business is referral business. I tease other business owners by saying I don’t sell, we don’t sell, we just sign people up. People call and we sign them up, and that’s it. There’s no selling involved because they’re already sold by the time they get to us. I think networking and referrals is a really nice path to get started on out the door.

Beyond that, you’ve got so many resources out there, whether it’s finding a pain point with reputation, or finding a pain point with social media presence and engagement. There’s a lot of paths to take, but I would just say pick one and get started.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. You mentioned some, you mentioned Story Brand. You mentioned Moz, Hub Spot. Gave us a couple of books in terms of Work the System and Scale. Any other resources you think some people should be looking at? Obviously they should go check those out, but anything else that you want to mention in terms of things that you follow that others may want to take a look at?

Will Watrous: Right. I’m shift, in my particular place, there’s a company called The Great Game of Business. So, I’m moving in that direction where we’re at because I want the entire team, there’s so much more brain power in the entire team than I have in my little head to figure everything out. I want to engage everybody and all of our resources, and invest in everybody. I’m fine if someone on the team leaves in a year and starts their own business, that’s a huge compliment to me. Because of the way we’ve architected the business, someone else can step in and start, with a similar skillset, and start producing, so I’m not scared of that. But as a beginner starting out, man I don’t think I could overstate the idea of systematization. Systematization and niching, or niching, however you’d like to say it, those two things are very powerful, and I think they work hand in hand because obviously if you have a niche you can repeat. You know the industry, you know the client, you know their pain points, and so it makes it so much more efficient to scale it. I would study resources along those two lines, systematization and finding pain points within a niche.

Stuart Trier: Perfect. On a softer note, what’s something you spent, let’s say between $100 and $500 on in the last month that you’re enjoying? A good purchase? Doesn’t have to be marketing related.

Will Watrous: Oh man. We have been flying R/C airplanes. I’ve got a six year old daughter and a nine year old boy. Technology has come to the point for now for like $169 you can buy an R/C airplane that has a GPS built into it. You literally, you set this thing on the ground, and there’s beginner, intermediate, and advanced mode. You put it in beginner mode, you put it on the ground, you literally hit the throttle and it just goes up into the air. It has a geo fence, so when it gets more than 400 feet away from you it just turns around and comes back and starts circling at like 65 feet above your head. And there’s a panic button, so if like you start, and I did this the other day like three times, like literally feet from the ground, it was totally a nose dive. I hit the panic button and it instantly levels out and climbs back up and starts circling. It’s been so much great time with my family. The kids, my six year old daughter can land this thing, land an R/C airplane, so that’s been a lot of fun for us.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. I’ve never heard of that. That’s cool.

Will Watrous: Yeah, it’s been great.

Stuart Trier: Awesome. Well I really appreciate you taking the time. Guys, I hope you got something from this video. If you did, definitely hit the subscribe button, give us a thumbs up. If you have any questions for either of us, drop them below. We’ll make sure to circle back and answer any questions you have. Will, thanks a lot for taking the time and joining us today on the show.

Will Watrous: Awesome. Love it Stuart. Keep it up.

Stuart Trier: Perfect. Thanks.

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