In this episode, Christina interviewed EJ Saunders. He grew his agency to the point that I know many businesses look forward to and hired his first account manager. He was able to successfully shift his first client accounts over to them and focus his time on growing the company even more.
Let’s look at how he did it.
Questions and Answers
- 0:35 Tell us about you and what your agency does
- 2:15 When did you first realize that you needed to look for an account manager?
- 4:45 Did you do anything differently in the way you manage clients to get prepared?
- 10:06 How did you go about finding something you could trust in this role?
- 11:25 Did you have to do any internal training when you’re bringing on interns?
- 17:26 How is this change impacting the rest of your team?
- 22:47 What advice would you give to someone that’s trying to scale their agency or business?
Links and Resources
- EJ’s LinkedIn Profile — https://www.linkedin.com/in/ej-saunders-a94a7012/
- Blaze Digital Solutions’ Website — https://blazedigitalsolutions.com/
- Blaze Digital Solutions’ Facebook Page — https://www.facebook.com/blazedigitalsolutions
[00:00:00] Christina Hooper: Hey, busy business people. I'm here today with another entrepreneur taking action, EJ Saunders. He managed to do something that I know many of you aspire to. He recently hired an account manager and has officially shifted his first couple of clients over to them.
[00:00:27] I know this is a big step to trust someone else to manage your clients at that same high level that you would, of course. Can you start off by telling our audience a little bit about you, and a little bit about what you do so that we can understand this process you went through?
[00:00:42] EJ Saunders: So. I own a company called Blaze Digital Solutions.
[00:00:47] And we do marketing, right. We cloud ourselves, as you know, we're not an agency, we're your bolt on marketing team. And so, that's kind of a little history. So we run ads. We do digital marketing strategy, marketing strategy in general. We do email campaigns, the whole, all the tactile tactical stuff that you could do with marketing.
[00:01:12] So that's essentially what we do. And so knowing, like, I don't know, kind of growing is it's been kind of a pain. That's a reason why they call it growing pains for sure. Um, you know, but yeah, getting an account manager was kind of a big deal. It's a big step because yeah, absolutely. It was hard for me to let go of that vine, so to speak.
[00:01:38] It's like, you know, your baby and you know, the first time you hold, you know, you give your baby off to somebody else to hold it's it's a very stressful time. So.
[00:01:50] Christina Hooper: I definitely understand, especially as a marketing agency, it's like I own an agency and I own a company that works with agencies. So I know like there's a lot of moving parts.
[00:01:59] It's like, when you say you do marketing, like that's a lot, you know, you're really having to understand your clients on a deep, deep level. You're having to understand their goals on a deep, deep level. And then you've got a lot of things you're tactically having to execute, and that's a lot for an account manager.
[00:02:14] Um, so like when did you first realize that you needed to look at hiring an account manager like that needed to be your next person? When was the light bulb moment?
[00:02:23] EJ Saunders: So it was when I, I couldn't do anything else to grow. Like I had to stop taking on client. And it was, um, all I was doing was account managing.
[00:02:34] At that point, I had brought on somebody to help run ads and somebody to kind of help do more of the technical and the SEO and like stuff like that. And so I had those pieces taken off my plate, but then I found myself to where I wasn't able to expand and grow the clientele base. Um, I was solely just focusing on making sure clients are happy.
[00:02:55] Clients were contacting me and it was just, that's what I was doing. I was literally the account manager. So I realized at that point, like if I was going to grow the business and if I was going to get myself out of the business, that that was the next step that had to happen. You know, cause once I get out of the account management, I envisioned myself, okay, now I can actually grow the business, bring on more clientele, make sure the staff is all full and happy and stuff like that.
[00:03:24] And then I can bring in a sales guy that not only can help a little bit with account management, but can really take on the role of sales and growing the business per se. And so I was almost thinking of, you know, as a contractor, if you're building a house, you know you're going to subcontract, you're going to get somebody to do the landscaping or get somebody to do the framing.
[00:03:46] You're going to somebody to put on the roof and stuff like that. Right. And so one of my mentors kind of taught me that principle a little bit. And so before starting, I already kind of had a vision of like, okay, these are the pieces that I kind of need to get me out of the business. And so that was just the piece that I'd run into.
[00:04:08] It was like very apparent, um, because of the other roles I had already filled, it was like, okay, this is it. I got to bring on somebody to handle these. And I got to pray that they care as much as I do. So.
[00:04:21] Christina Hooper: And that's something, that little nugget right there, guys that are listening, he planned ahead.
[00:04:25] Like he looked at what his org chart was going to be. And he planned for getting himself out of the business. Like I see a lot of people, they don't really do that. You know, they get so focused on just making the business work. That they don't think about like, well, what about when I don't want to work in it all the time anymore, they don't plan ahead for that.
[00:04:41] And that process can take, you know, years, you know, to get there. Um, so like, did you do anything differently or change the way you manage clients to prepare for hiring this person?
[00:04:53] EJ Saunders: So. No, I, what I had done is I just been, I would just normally working with the clients. And then I, once I found the person that was going to take the role, um, I started integrating them into the clients.
[00:05:07] That's when I actually went to the clients and I introduced them to the account manager and I'm like, Hey, I'm still here. And I did get some feedback from, you know, some other mentors and stuff like Dave Albano and some others to kind of help me and coach me in the transition of that. Um, But that's, you know, essentially what I did.
[00:05:29] And then once I started transitioning them to a couple of clients and they kind of, I had them actually write their own SOP as well. Um, cause this is the first time that anybody's ever done this. And I'm like, I can tell you all the stuff that I do, but you're not even going to be able to do half of what I'm going to be able to do, because like I have like 10 years worth of experience in this field, kind of doing these tasks.
[00:05:52] Like I've been a web developer. I've been the media buyer. I've been the SEO expert. I've been an account manager. I've filled every single one of the roles. So there's no way I'm going to be able to teach that to somebody that's just kind of getting into the game, so to speak. Um, and so that's one thing that I had to realize.
[00:06:13] And so what I did, um, long story short here, um, once I started introducing them to the clients, um, I just told the clients that I'm still here, but this is going to be your main point of contact. And if you needed anything, get with Bailey and then she will get with, you know, whoever needs to, uh, to fulfill or get the job done.
[00:06:36] Right. And so that kind of. Um, applied to them to like, Hey, I'm still here in the background. I'm still in the emails. I'm still being CC'd. I'm still in the loop on what's going on. If I need to jump in, I'll jump in, but I'm going to let her kind of take the reigns from here so that I can go and do other things that I need to do to make the business more efficient and stuff.
[00:06:56] The business owners and everybody was like, oh cool. They were actually excited. It was, it was kind of a unique thing. I thought, cause then I thought it's all, lot of people would be like, oh my gosh, you know, this is going to be interesting and stuff, but they're actually excited for me to be like, wow, you're growing.
[00:07:12] Like this is crazy. This is kind of cool. And so they kind of got into the story a little bit and that maybe that's a good thing that, you know. I'm kind of, I'm like an open book when it comes to clients and stuff. I'm probably one of the most transparent out there as far as like what's going on in the business, what's going on and, you know, life in general, I just kind of have that relationship and I try to establish that personal relationship.
[00:07:37] Um, but yeah, so as that transition happen, It was seamless.
[00:07:43] Christina Hooper: And that speaks volumes to you as an agency to that any of your clients have utter faith in the people that you're putting in your place and excitement for you that you're moving up in that level. Like you get that when you've built relationships.
[00:07:57] So you've invested in building relationships with your clients and that makes it even harder to put somebody else in your shoes, but really cool at the same time
[00:08:04] EJ Saunders: It was man. I was a stressed and I, it took me a minute. Like I gave her a couple of accounts and I was like, ah, I don't know, you know, these other bigger accounts, you know, some of these accounts are spending a lot of money, you know, with us every single month.
[00:08:18] And so it's like, you know, something bad happens. This could be bad. Like they could leave us and you know, I'm going through all the what ifs and all that kind of stuff, which enabled me to like, it disabled me to, to fully transition, you know? And so it took me a few weeks and I think it was like three, three or four weeks before my project manager, who was my first hire, Rachel, she was like, okay, you have to freaking give her everything and let her sink or swim. And so that's when I was like, you know what? It just rang true to me. You know what it is like now. You're a hundred percent. Right. And so that's what I did. I was like, okay, Bailey, here's a client.
[00:09:01] Let me know if you CC me and everything, you know? Um, but you know,
[00:09:07] Christina Hooper: It sounds like you really went through the steps to set her up for success too, though. I mean, you went through the effort of making SOPs. You went through the effort of understanding that she's not fully replacing you, that there's only pieces she could do to start with, introducing her to the clients, introducing her to the team like.
[00:09:23] It sounds like you really took a lot of steps to make sure that, you know, you weren't just throwing her in to sink or swim without a life raft.
[00:09:29] EJ Saunders: Right? Yeah. It's a good way to look at it for sure. Um, although my perspective, I did feel that way.
[00:09:41] Christina Hooper: Yeah. It's hard. I've done that myself, even when you bring on like your first project managers and they start overseeing stuff and you have to just trust that they've got it. And it's hard bringing on those first hires and letting that go. It's like it's right up there with when my, I gave my teenager the keys and let her drive the car for the first time without me in it.
[00:10:02] It's a really similar feeling. Oh man. So like, how did you go about finding this person? We've talked about how pivotal of a role this is, like, how did you find someone that you're even confident bringing on?
[00:10:15] EJ Saunders: So, um, in where I live, there's, it's a smaller town, you know, St. George, Utah. So I have a college that just became a university a few years ago.
[00:10:27] Um, and I've actually developed a relationship with some of the professors and the you know, some of the deans over the school houses and stuff over there. And so every semester I actually go over there and give a presentation as far as just a cool thing that we're doing in the agency and the real world for marketing.
[00:10:46] And so just developing those relationships, I go to them. I've been able to go to them and be like, Hey, I'm looking for this particular role. Would you recommend anybody? You know, that you've had experience with that you'd feel comfortable that they would do a good job. So that's been like a huge thing for me as far as finding people.
[00:11:07] Everybody that I've gotten through that process, has been amazing. They've ended up being like amazing at and stuff. And so, um, like my media buyer and stuff like that. I'm just truly blessed that I'm able to find awesome people.
[00:11:25] Christina Hooper: Do you have to do any internal training when you get them that way?
[00:11:27] Cause I know, I've talked to people that get people from universities and it's been a mixed bag. Now, some of them aren't doing like what you do, they're not cultivating relationships at the university. So they're just going and saying, Hey, do you have anybody? And sometimes they get a lot of people that think they know what they're doing, but don't really know what they're doing, especially in the marketing world.
[00:11:45] And they kind of have to untrain them before they can train them. Like, what's your experience been with that?
[00:11:50] EJ Saunders: So before I bring anybody on and actually start paying them, um, I require that they go through, depending on their role, they'll, they'll go through two or three of the courses through digital marketer.
[00:12:04] Um, so if they're a media buyer, I'll have them go through the conversion funnel mastery course, and then the paid traffic course. And then if they're going to run emails, obviously it would be the same. Conversion funnel, but then you're going to be in the direct response, copywriting and stuff. So it just depends on the role and stuff, but that's kind of, essentially everybody has to go through at least one, between one and three trainings before I even start paying them.
[00:12:32] And so it's a matter of, that's kind of the, some of the hoops I make them go through, um, to make sure that they are open-minded, they can learn, they can, you know, they're motivated that they want to actually do this. You know, because digital marketing - marketing in general is hard. Like it's probably one of the most difficult things in my mind.
[00:12:54] Um, and everything revolves. It's like everything in business seems to revolve around it. Um, you know, you know, everybody touts that like, oh, nothing happens until a sale is made. And I, I agree, you know, my two people that are doing the tactical stuff. They wouldn't be doing anything if, if sales weren't made - right?
[00:13:16] But what enables sales to happen? Well, it's marketing. And so that sets up the conversation for the sale to happen. And so I think that a lot of people don't realize that. And when it comes to, you know, I'm a certified partner with Digital Marketer and, um, since becoming a partner, like I've learned the broader aspect of the, uh, the customer journey when we were talking like, But literally like, as I'm working with clients and more in that process and developing their customer journey and doing all of that, there's a lot of internal things that we actually change in order for the marketing and the sales to occur, which is kind of a unique thing I think.
[00:14:00] And a lot of people don't think of it that way. And so, you know, we come up with this awesome offer in this awesome experience that needs to happen after they make that purchase. And it's like the last client I I'd taken through. Um, like this process, like we ended up having to completely change packaging.
[00:14:19] We had to completely change. Um, the way that, you know, they're reaching out to clients, their shipping process changed. The way they ship stuff changed because, because of the way we had to do marketing, like, or that, you know, the, the strategy that we put together for the marketing. So it's, it's, it's an interesting thing that a lot of people don't, I don't think realize that.
[00:14:40] And as I, more and more, I talk about this stuff to business owners and people that we're just helping in general. It's like, you know what, you know, that's crazy. You know, they don't think about it. Yeah. They just think that sales is, you know, where it's at and you know, and I just, yesterday I had a discovery session with somebody yesterday.
[00:15:05] That was, um, an eyeopening thing for me. Cause he, he literally has been in business for 20 years and he couldn't tell me the difference between, you know, he didn't know what the difference between marketing and sales. He thought they were just all the same and it's different. And I'm like, well, if we get into this, like there's a possibility you know, a lot of your internal processes are going to change. We're going to likely change the way some of your departments work as a whole in order for what strategy we put together for it to work. And he was like, he was, it was, it was mind blowing to him and been like, I don't get, he didn't understand it.
[00:15:43] Yeah. And so, which is. I don't know, it's just an education, you know, it's a process of education that we have to cut and go through piece by piece, you know, as we put the pieces together, it makes more sense. Right. But, um, but that's where it's like, yeah, marketing is difficult because it's all encompassing, everything revolves around it.
[00:16:04] The way you sell stuff will revolve around what you do for marketing, like, or vice versa. However, I said that, but like your internal processes. You know, kind of coincide with, with, with marketing that you're doing and how you're positioning yourself as a company. Yeah. Like it's, it's crazy.
[00:16:23] Christina Hooper: So that puts an even bigger burden on your account manager right, too. Cause like they've gotta be able to talk through that or the client. And then when the client's starting to be like, well, I don't, I don't know about changing all this. They've gotta be able to keep their confidence up over the course of just the day-to-day things. And that's why I've seen a lot of agencies switch more out of, you know, and then we've had like marketing we've had sales and then for a while there was the smarketing terminology.
[00:16:47] But a lot of people are switching more into the rev ops model, like revenue operations, where you're combining sales, marketing, and customer service. And we stop making siloed departments. They all work together with the goal of generating revenue, which fits exactly into what you were saying. You know, when you're so focused on just making sales, you forget about like the whole journey you've got to walk someone through before they're willing to make a sell. And then after buying, how are you getting testimonials? How are you turning them into raving fans? Like almost everybody's missing those pieces. Yeah. I mean, I've even seen marketing agencies do it and it's like, you're helping other people do it, but you haven't done it for yourself yet.
[00:17:21] You see that happen a lot. Like how is this impacting the rest of your team? I mean, I know, I think it's been over a month since you made this change now. Like how's it going?
[00:17:34] EJ Saunders: The teams, like they. They love it. And it's actually given them, I think more confidence in me as like the leader, so to speak that I'm able to, to make decisions for the company growth.
[00:17:49] That enables them to be like, okay, like I have a secure job.
[00:17:53] Christina Hooper: I just thought about it from that perspective. I liked that job security.
[00:18:00] EJ Saunders: Yeah. I mean, it's, you know, from growing, growing the team and, um, um, you know, everybody kind of has their own role, so to speak. The agency I used to work for, I was the media buyer was the SEO guy.
[00:18:15] I was, I was one of the programmers. I was an account manager. I was putting together proposals, you know, for, um, you know, for the sales to happen. I was actually in, I was actively in sales conversations. It. Um, you know, my boss, so to speak, couldn't speak at the level that I, that I could about certain tactical things like with digital marketing, you know, with running ads, for example, like what's the strategy.
[00:18:40] Like he didn't, he couldn't explain that. So I didn't go in and actually explain it, which sold the client on, on the process. Um, and it was one thing that just burned me out fast. You know, and I'm like, why am I doing this? And only getting like salary, or it could be building my own business, you know? And I could be still doing all this stuff.
[00:19:05] And I'm actually building an asset for myself instead of building someone else, an asset that was like something that I walked through. But, you know, if I was, you know, versus working for a company, that's like, Hey, all you're going to do is you're going to do digital ads. You're going to help run email campaigns so they can focus in and perfect that process. Right.
[00:19:24] They can get really, really good at those few things. Um, and then, you know, they coincide with like, okay, this is the account manager, and they're only going to do account management. Um, but they, you know, work together and the communicate and stuff, and then the more I can kind of step out, that's what gives them confidence that, you know, it's like job security for them.
[00:19:44] And, and it's really, you know, cause they're in on the whole process anyways, like, you know, the clients, the stuff I take clients to, I'm taking my own business through. And so it just gives them more and more confidence and excitement of like, yes, we're hitting our goals. Yes. We're like, we're moving forward.
[00:20:00] We're actually, you know, We're going to make this happen, you know, it's, it's like a team effort to do it. And so that's kind of, you know, cause it is a team effort, you know, and I want everybody as much as possible, you know, involved in that process and have input and into, um, to build, to do it because you know, all the ideas, the ideas that I come up with are generally somebody else's idea anyway.
[00:20:26] And so I'm just, you know, regurgitating it. But if the whole team collectively can come up with some really cool idea, like that's where, you know, good things can happen.
[00:20:39] No. Well, not like what you said there too, that, you know, once you put someone into a role and they become the specialist of that role, they kind of build and grow it.
[00:20:47] Christina Hooper: And I know that's one thing I've seen myself whenever I've put somebody in a role and instead of trying to take it all on, on my own, like they tend to do it better than I did it. Take some time. But ultimately, because that's the only thing they do instead of being distracted by 50 other things. Like I am all day long, they ended up doing a better job with it than I did when I was trying to hold onto it.
[00:21:05] Like that surprised me the first few times that happened. And it was like, wow. Now I'm like, let's do that more. The less I do myself, the better, everything works better.
[00:21:15] EJ Saunders: That was kind of an epiphany for me too, because when I had my media buyer start to do, and she's starting to run all the accounts and stuff like that.
[00:21:24] Yeah, I was doing that. And then I was trying to do everything. I was trying to grow a business, you know? And I'm like all over the place. It's like, you're saying, well, she got in and she was like, Hey, you know, she sent an email to the, to the client. It was, it was funny because I was like, why didn't I catch this?
[00:21:41] She was like, Hey, I noticed that. You know, you wanted to run this promotion or whatever, but you have these other products in place and you have the price completely wrong. Um, on that and me, I would just be like, Hey, throwing up the ads because I got a hundred other things I gotta do. Um, and, but she caught those little things.
[00:21:59] You know, it was like, oh, you know? And so the client was like, holy crap, thanks for catching that. Like, yes, we got to change that real quick. So, you know, put it don't start the ads yet. Let's change that. And then we can roll with it. Um, so that was kind of cool to see that and actually be like, okay, like, I feel like I'm on the right path.
[00:22:17] I'm doing the right things. I would have never caught that in the position I am right now.
[00:22:22] Christina Hooper: No, I know a lot of people I've talked to, they're so afraid of that cost of hiring somebody, but almost every time, once they do it, they end up growing and it's mostly because it frees up your time, you know how to sell, you know, how to go find people, you know, how to grow your business, you know how to do it all.
[00:22:38] You know, the more of that you can do instead of being in the weeds, doing actual work, the faster you grow, but a lot of people don't get that. Um, so now we're kind of wrapping up our time here. Like what advice would you have for somebody that's looking at, you know, hiring, adding on people and looking at actually trying to scale their agency or scale their business in general?
[00:22:58] Like what, what nuggets of wisdom would you have for them?
[00:23:04] EJ Saunders: I would say to jump off the ledge and do it for one, you know, don't go too fast, but at the same time, like, um, goes fast as you can, you know, hire as many people as you can to offload the work, um, and then have hoops that they have to jump through.
[00:23:24] I think that's like a cool principle. Um, because everybody that I've brought on, they've had to jump through these hoops and stuff, but jumping through those hoops actually enabled them to get on the same page as far as language and stuff goes, which has made us way more efficient when they actually, when I am starting to pay him.
[00:23:41] So, um, knowing that and giving them little challenges and stuff like that, you know, there's a bunch of different ways that you can, you can do that, but that's kind of the advice I would have is hire, hire quick. And if you need to get rid of somebody, like get rid of them quick, I can just rip the bandaid off and be like, Hey, you know, this isn't working out.
[00:24:02] I've had to do that. Um, I've had to do that once. Um, and I, you know, gave them bunch of leeway, give them a bunch of time to be able to recoop and being like, Hey, we got to get you going. We get, you know, this has got to happen. Things didn't happen. So it's like, okay, you know, this ain't working out for me.
[00:24:20] And it didn't seem like it was working out for you either. So, you know, let's, let's just cut ties and kind of go separate ways. So to speak
[00:24:28] Christina Hooper: a lot of times, they're not surprised either. Like I've had to do that quite a few times. Um, I manage a pretty big team, especially at Content Ninjas. We've got over 37 different writers on staff over there.
[00:24:39] So it's like some of them get it. Some of them don't, some of them will learn what it is to write, you know, story-based copy some of them won't so yeah, we do have to let people go a little quicker than I do with like W2's and like, usually those would keep for a little bit longer, but yeah, I've seen people that their whole business is almost went under because they were afraid to fire someone.
[00:24:58] They're afraid to let them go.
[00:25:01] EJ Saunders: So, yup. That's the old agency I used to work for. They never fired anyone. And it was like, you guys have gotta be kidding me.
[00:25:10] Christina Hooper: It's like, unfortunately you kind of have to do that. Sometimes. It's probably one of the more kind of sucky parts of running a business. But typically whenever I've done that, whenever I've let someone go that didn't really fit, didn't belong there.
[00:25:21] Wasn't putting the same effort in, I mean, it just. The whole team got better. Like the team got happier. Like they usually have a toxic energy going on with that person. Um, so there's a lot of different components to it that can be holding your business back. So that's definitely good advice. Um, well EJ, thank you so much for sharing your journey and inspiring our listeners and you know, for doing this with us today.
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