Web Development, SEO and Agency Insights

Do the Woo - A Podcast for WooCommerce Builders
Do the Woo - A Podcast for WooCommerce Builders
Web Development, SEO and Agency Insights

Our guest John Doherty unpacks a lot in this conversation. Starting as a developer, moving into SEO and then having built GetCredo.com, his wealth of knowledge around agencies and service companies is something you will not want to miss.

He has a unique story of moving into the world of SEO and, later, finding his love for connecting people. Having worked with a lot of agencies, he brings insights and knowledge that is worth the listen.

And yes, he has been working with WordPress since 2010 and John knows how to Do the Woo.

Highlights of the Conversation with John

  • When and why WordPress came into play for John [01:30]
  • Trained as a developer [02:30]
  • Making the decision on WooCommerce [03:55]
  • The WordPress a-ha moment [06:10]
  • Making a career move to SEO living in a dairy village on the side of the Alps [07:32]
  • The decision on Credo [10:00]
  • What is Credo? [13:30]
  • Moving from consultancy to building a platform [14:22]
  • Single Geared comes into the picture [16:10]
  • The perspective on WooCommerce through the lens of Credo [18:30]
  • The average agency is going to follow the money [23:40]
  • The positioning side of things for the agencies that do really well [26:10]
  • Characteristics of an agency that’s going to do well [30:16]
  • Industry know-how or learn as you go [33:06]
  • Predictors of an agency success [38:57]
  • The difference between confidence and certainty applied to agency sales [41:30]

Connect with John

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Jonathan: Welcome to Do The Woo episode 158. I'm Jonathan Wold and joining me as my co-host for the day, Anna Maria Radu. How are you, Anna?

Anna: Hello. Nice to hear you again.

Jonathan: Always. And Anna, we have a fantastic guest today. Would you mind introducing him?

Anna: Today here with us is the most handsome man in Denver, Colorado. His name is John Doherty, and I would like to ask him to introduce himself. Hello, John.

John: Hello, Anna. Hello, Jonathan. Thank you for having me. That's hilarious that you introduced me that way. It is true, if you Google, most handsome man in Denver, Colorado, my photo, my face is in Google Search results. So, yeah, happy to talk about that one. But I'm John Doherty, I'm the founder and CEO at a company called Credo, where we help companies connect with pre-vetted digital marketing agencies.

I'm a veteran digital marketer, search engine optimization expert, been doing that for about 12 years, worked for a couple agencies, worked in house for a few years, and then been on my own as an entrepreneur for about six years. So, we're a team of six at Credo, mostly based in Denver, Colorado. Yeah, I'm married. I have a wife, I have a daughter, we have a big dog, 100-pound black Lab Great Dane mix named Butter Bean. And yeah, I'm happy to be here. I'm super stoked to talk about Woo and e-commerce and WordPress and whatever else y'all have on deck.

When and why WordPress came into play for John [01:30]

Jonathan: So, we tend to do a lot of focus on the product side of things. And I love with your background that you know the service space really well, because we have a lot of folks who do WooCommerce service, they're helping clients get started. Before we get to that though, I'd love to just hear a bit more about your background and where did WordPress first come into the picture? Where did WooCommerce come into the picture for you?

John: Yeah. So, WordPress came into the picture for me actually in about 2010. So, my background actually, I've been blogging on the internet now for at least 20 years. My first blog was in 2000-2001, something like that. I believe it was built on either Xanga or Blogspot, one of those. So, I've just been writing for a really long time, I actually consider myself a writer before I was anything else, before I was a front-end developer, before I was a marketer, before I was an entrepreneur. Writing has just always been my thing from a really young age.

Trained as a developer [02:30]

So, I was trained as a web developer, front-end web developer in college. I was actually a technical writing major, so learned to write software documentation and that sort of thing. But my concentration within my major at James Madison University in Virginia was what they called online publications, front-end web development is what it was.

So, I learned basic HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, that sort of thing. So I'm a halfway dangerous front-end developer still. I still do a lot of our front-end stuff at Credo, on our marketing site, which is built on WordPress. But I built my first site on WordPress in 2010, my personal blog, which is still on WordPress and still going, obviously had been through some redesigns and moving of hosts and that sort of stuff over the years. But basically, I went from using like cloud-hosted Blogspot, Xanga, whatever, to Joomla was the next thing that I started building stuff out on. Then, the next iteration from there was WordPress.

So, I've basically been exclusively building on WordPress since about 2010, blogging, building different sites, different businesses now. So, WordPress is my jam. We've actually built out our full proprietary technology at Credo on WordPress. So, not just our marketing site, but we have a whole app that we've built out leveraging WordPress as well. So, we're like full on in the ecosystem.

Making the decision on WooCommerce [03:55]

Jonathan: I'm curious, people have different reasons for picking WordPress. You have that background 2010, for you to kind of go in deep, because once you make that decision, it opens up a lot of other decisions, WooCommerce, et cetera. Why, for you? What was the main reason?

John: At first, it was simply that I felt like Joomla and those were just so complicated and they didn't really make a ton of sense for me. And everyone had talked about WordPress and I was like, "Well, let's give it a shot. Let's see what it's got." And I was coming across a lot of companies that were looking for SEO consulting, and that kind of thing that were built on top of WordPress. I met the Yoast crew and some other people and was like, "This seems like the future. It seems like it's getting a lot of traction, so I should probably know it."

Jonathan: So, you saw the momentum? Yeah.

John: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So, it's been 11 years now and it's only continued to accelerate. And on the e-commerce side, I've worked on Magento sites. I've worked on Shopify sites. I've subscribed to Shopify a few times for different like business ventures that never went anywhere. A few years ago, started building out a side project website, and was like, "Let's see what WooCommerce kind of has? Let's install it and configure it and see what I can do with it."

And I've known Adii for a long time and was like, "Yeah, let's investigate this, because if it's built on top of WordPress and I had built a full marketplace on top of WordPress using Gravity Forms, GravityView, and Paid Memberships Pro." So, I'm like, "This thing's really powerful. It's kind of a no-code, low-code platform. And if Woo is kind of a similar sort of setup, it could make a lot of sense, just because I know WordPress so well, if I want to do things, try to sell physical things online." So, that's kind of why I launched the Woo store and just gone from there.

The WordPress a-ha moment [06:10]

Anna: If you would have to make a pick, what would you say that it was your a-ha moment when it came to learning how to play around with WordPress? Because you weren't just using services and products. You also did some of your own things, like building technologies for Credo and so on. What would that be? Can you pick one? Is it hard?

John: Yeah, I think the a-ha moment really came, because until 2016, I had basically been using it just for blogging. And that's what everyone thought about WordPress as for such a long time. I think we've seen a big shift in that over the last, whatever, four, five, six, seven years, something like that, y'all would know better. Jonathan, you would especially know better the meta view. But that's what I've seen from my perspective, that it's not just a blogging platform, but it's a full business platform, running business sites, that kind of thing.

For me, on it really was 2016 when I was ready to take Credo to the next level, built out the first subscription iteration and was like, "Wow, I can take payments through here just using a plugin that cost me $200 for the year, or $300 for the year, something like that. I buy that and all of a sudden I'm able to accept payments. I'm able to do logged-in, logged-out stuff." That just kind of blew my mind, and I built a multiple six-figure business off the back of basically $600 in premium plugins.

I was like, "Holy crap. That is not possible to do anywhere else. I would not be able to build out anything like that." Especially five years ago, there was nowhere else that I could do that for that amount of money and that easily without being a backend developer at all. So, that was the real unlock for me.

Making a career move to SEO living in a dairy village on the side of the Alps [07:32]

Jonathan:I want to talk about Credo in a moment, but before that, so SEO is this thing that is like, for some, it makes a lot of sense, for others, it's like this dark magic thing. It's like, "Okay, what does this mean?" Where did SEO first come into the picture for you? Because you have this background in technical writing, where did it first become clear to you that, "Oh, I have something here. I could turn this into a career."

John: So, I first became familiar with SEO in like 2008-2009, something like that. I was working for a software company in the Northern Virginia, Washington DC area, and I was doing high-level tech support and customer account stuff, but also was their webmaster, back when we called it webmaster, and we were built on top of Joomla. There was the concept of search engine-friendly URLs. I'm like, "What is this? What does this mean? How do search engines even work?"

Then, actually, one of the maybe more interesting parts of my story is 2009, I quit my job and I moved back to a hippie community I had lived in, in Switzerland, for a year previously. So, I moved back there, partnered up with a man that lived there in the village, like 150-person dairy village on the side of the Swiss Alps.

He was running a book publishing company from there. So, we kind of partnered up. Basically, long story short, I found myself helping to run a book publishing company from French-speaking Switzerland, publishing English language books, no budget to travel to book fairs and that sort of thing. Was like, "How the heck do I get people to buy these things?"

So, I was like, "Well, I guess I have to use the internet." So, I started getting familiar with Google Ads and all of that. But really what grabbed my attention was, with SEO, it's kind of all three of the main parts. There was the technical part, which I could do, because I was a decent web developer. There was the content side, which I could do, because I was a blogger. And then, there was the outreach side, the link side, which I knew that I could do, because I had built audiences for old blogs as well.

So, that all just came together. I'm like, "This is really interesting. It actually aligns with all of my skillsets, and it turns out I'm pretty good at it." So, came back to the States in 2010 and got a job at an agency building links for $30,000 a year. And just kind of fell in love with it, got obsessed with it for a few years.

The decision on Credo [10:00]

Jonathan: So, what's really interesting, at least from my outside perspective with Credo, you could have gone down this path of just building a good business for yourself. You've got the expertise, you were earlier to the game, and people have done really well in this space. And it continues to be a high-value space. You chose to do something different though. Tell us about GetCredo. What was the genesis for that? What is it? Why did you decide to do that versus just doing your own thing?

John: Yeah. So, it's half joking and also makes me cry on the inside a little bit. If I had wanted to make a lot more money a lot quicker, I would've started an agency. But I've worked at agencies before, I've hired agencies when I was in house, obviously agencies are my main customer right now, but I didn't want to build an agency myself, mostly because I found myself getting bored with just doing SEO, and just talking about SEO.

And I was finding, my own evolution as a professional was not just talking about, as I like to say, backlinks and canonicals, which is like, the SEO industry tends to get super nitty-gritty on these things, but they don't actually talk about how's this actually affecting business? How's this actually driving business? How's it driving market share? That kind of thing. That's where I really started getting interested.

I didn't just want to sell people SEO services. I did a lot of SEO consulting after I went out on my own in 2015 to self-fund the business, but I kind of slowly phased that out. I think I phased that out around the beginning of 2019 is when I really phased that out, because Credo had become self-sustaining. So, I stopped doing retained SEO consulting that I had done before. And I was consulting for big brands on SEO. Some of the biggest brands in the world were my clients, but I was just bored with it honestly, and wanted to build something different, but also in a space that I knew.

So, I know the digital marketing space well, the SEO space well, as well as paid acquisition and PPC and Facebook Ads and that sort of thing, which is where a lot of the budgets are these days anyways, still, and I believe continuing on forward.

But yeah, I was just bored with the services thing, and dealing with clients and just talking about the same stuff. Yeah. So, I just set out to build something different and saw this need, I started Credo out of my own apartment in Brooklyn, New York in 2013, because I'd stopped consulting and my clients at the time were like, "Well, who should I work with?" So, I started connecting them up with people. In the span of about two months, I had three friends that had hired bad SEO firms and had lost a lot of their traffic.

One of them got banned from Google basically, because they hired an overseas firm for cheap and they got banned from Google and 70% of their business came from Google. So, guess what? They lost 70% of their revenue over night. And I was like, "This is terrible." A, I can connect people. People are coming to me looking for help. And these people that have gotten hurt, they're looking for good firms. And I also know who's good, so I can basically connect the two. So, I started doing that in 2013, went in house for a couple of years, and then started working on it September 2015, yeah, when I went on my own. I lost my job and was like, "Let's do this.”

What is Credo? [13:30]

Jonathan: So, Credo has grown a lot since then. How do you explain it to someone who, like if you're talking to someone today and explaining it for the first time, they have no context, how do you introduce it?

John: I use the perfect intro from Clay Hebert and I say, we help great growing companies find and hire the right pre-vetted digital marketing agency. And they're like, "Wait, what does that mean?" Kind of the purpose of your perfect intro is for people to ask like, "Wait, what does that mean? How do you do that?" Then, I explain that, "We have a network of agencies that we vetted out that we know do great work. Here's our three-step, 28-point vetting process that we put them through. And basically we take a high touch approach to connecting you up with agencies."

And people are like, "Oh, that's interesting. You're not an agency." I'm like, "No, we're a matchmaker." So, in the past I've called us like the match.com, or people have called us the match.com of digital marketing. It's a decent corollary, but yeah, we're different than that. We're not just a directory. We take a different high-signal approach to helping companies.

Moving from consultancy to building a platform [14:22]

Anna: Was it hard for you to make the switch from being a polymath, like doing also consultancy work and SEO and maybe web development here and there, and then turning to entrepreneurship and building a SaaS company, if you want to call it this way? You're building a platform, you've built it.

John: Yeah. I mean, we're a productized service is what I would call us. We're not a true like SaaS company, because it's just kind of a high touch. This is what we do and this is how we do it. And it's not like people just signing up and paying us to be able to do things like a true SaaS business. Was it hard to make the shift? Honestly, it was kind of an evolution. It was easy for me to pick up consulting from the start. It was hard for me to learn basically building a productized service and we'd gone through different iterations of really being more of a product business, being like a lead distribution system, subscription lead distribution system, if I can call it that, to kind of where we've arrived now with a high-touch approach and high dollar value for agencies, that kind of thing.

It was an evolution over the years. I enjoyed the consulting that I was doing, that was easy to sign, but then I found that Credo was growing and I needed to put more time into that. So, I had less time to do consulting and I didn't need it as much. So, yeah, it's just been an evolution over the years. And at this point, I'm more of an entrepreneur and business builder than I am a marketer or an SEO professional. SEO is still my core, but it's also so 10% of what I do.

Anna: Do you still do it for Credo?

John: Yep. Yep. I still do all the SEO for credo. I don't have nearly as much time to do it as I wish I had and as I need to put into it. But yeah, I'm still doing all of it.

Single Geared comes into the picture [16:10]

Anna: So when did Single Geared come into picture? How long after you started Credo? Actually, if there is a timeline correlation in here.

John: Yeah. So, basically long story short, Single Geared actually started before Credo out of an interest of mine in, bicycle culture in New York City, when I was living there. Realized that wasn't a passion of mine. The site just sat out there on the internet for a couple of years. And then I moved to Colorado and do a lot of stuff outdoors, that's part of the reason why we moved here, rock climbing, skiing, that sort of stuff. And had an interest in building basically an affiliate business. I was like, "Let's see if this is something that I really enjoy doing."

So, started writing reviews of new gear that I was getting, obviously, I have an SEO background, so I could rank for that kind of thing. I could drive some revenue through there. And then, I was like, "Okay, how do I take this to the next level?" So, that's why I installed WooCommerce and automated a lot of that stuff.

Jonathan: So, when you're buying all this gear, does that mean you can treat them as business expenses?

John: Yeah. It does. It does. I actually also get a lot of it for free too, by reaching out to companies, because they were like, "Yeah, we'll send you gear." One company I tweeted about and someone asked me a question. I was like, "Yeah, it's good stuff. But I kind of see it as being like city outdoor gear and not really like mountain outdoor gear." And they DM-ed and they're like, "What's your address? We'd like to send you some stuff." They sent me like $1,500 worth of jackets and fly fishing gear and that kind of thing. So, it's been fun.

Jonathan: I love it. And there's a clear value exchange to give them authentic feedback on something. Yeah. I love it.

John:Totally. And I always say, if they send it to me for free or how we got it or whatever that is. So, yeah, it's just a fun little side project. I don't do a ton with it these days. I tend to do more with it in the winter, when I'm skiing and such. So, I'll probably start doing a little bit more with it coming up.

Anna: And using the gear.

John: Yeah, exactly.

Anna: Do you have a team around Single Geared? Or do you work on it alone?

John: No, it's just me. My business partner in Credo will help me out sometimes on, he's my CTO, he'll help me out sometimes on some of the more technical stuff, but it's all built with plugins and that kind of thing. So, I can do that stuff myself.

The perspective on WooCommerce through the lens of Credo [18:30]

Jonathan: Excellent. So, with Credo, you have this advantage now, because you've been doing it for quite a few years. You've seen a lot kind of go through it. So, you have this advantage of, whether you're conscious of it or not, aggregate insights, you see trends and you see things kind of happening across the space. How do you, through that lens and all the agencies that you work with, how do you think about WooCommerce? What have you noticed? What are some of the trends, if anything? What's your perspective on WooCommerce through that lens of Credo?

John: Yeah. So, I mean, remembering that most of the projects coming through credo are, excuse me, focused around digital marketing, focused around SEO, Facebook, that kind of thing. What we usually see is people that are earlier on, so people that just launched their e-commerce, just looking to get it going. So, they tend to have smaller marketing budgets. They tend to launch on Shopify, because it's cheaper, it's easier to get going, that sort of thing. Then once they've scaled, then often what we hear is like, "Well, we've been on Shopify, but we don't like X, Y, and Z, and we need to move to something more scalable. So, we're investigating a new platform." A lot of them will mention Magento. And then we've also heard quite a few of them mention WooCommerce.

If they don't mention WooCommerce, we ask them why like, "Have you considered it?" That's kind of what we hear from the consumer side, if they start investigating it then.

Jonathan: What do you hear on the agency side?

John: On the agency side? A lot of them still build on Shopify, because they're taken on smaller people. People that are actually building e-commerce sites, usually it's for a smaller business, and Shopify is still quite good for them. There's still a lot of upkeep and such with WooCommerce. It's super configurable, which is great, but you have to have a team in place that kind of wants that. It kind of feels like there's still a fair bit of noise. And it's just a lot of customization in the Woo space. So, agencies tend to keep away from that, because Shopify is just like all in one. I'm not saying that's the right reason. It's just what I hear people doing.

Jonathan: Yeah. I've got a hypothesis I'm curious for your thoughts on. So, I have an agency background, I've worked, I did small stuff, freelancing in Medium, and then worked in enterprise for quite a few years. And I know a lot of agency folks. My hypothesis, so for WordPress in the enterprise, like WordPress has grown. Because a lot of people didn't expect WordPress to grow in the enterprise. They're like, you have Adobe's, they have all these other major platforms.

The reason, in my experience, that WordPress grew in the enterprise was the focus on the end user and being easy to use. And enterprise decision-makers began to say, "Why can't we just have WordPress?" And there was this degree to which the agencies came kicking and screaming. That was my overall experience with WordPress. I see similar patterns from my perspective with WooCommerce, where Shopify does a fantastic job of bringing in the agencies.

Jonathan: They tend to have strong agency program, there's aligned incentives, where you have the commissions. And I've talked to folks, I've talked to a lot of agency folks on the Woo side and on Shopify. If an agency's really good at what they do, they tend, and many of them are, they want the best solution for their customer. Like Shopify's got the marketing budget. So they have the visibility. They also are a source of leads.

The average agency is going to follow the money [23:40]

Jonathan: It's not until that mid market to enterprise, where the concepts of ownership and the flexibility and just the overall community begin to matter more, that what I've at least noticed on my end is that agencies who position themselves well start to outsell the other platforms on the Woo space. Even if they don't, what's starting to happen is that the customers are beginning to ask a bit more about WooCommerce. Then, the agency, at the end of the day, the average agency is going to follow the money. I'm curious. Does that make sense to you? What are your thoughts on that?

John: Yeah, it does. It does. I think there's definitely something to that, because earlier on, on the buyer side, there's not a lot of need for customization. Or you just don't want to have to think about, it's just all right here. There's an email part, there's an SMS part, there's a product management part, there's an inventory, there's a billing part. There's all that stuff. Versus, once you get more complex, you have more people in place, maybe you have a team that's administrating it, that sort of thing. Those guardrails just become too limiting.

So, that's when, as you said, like medium to enterprise, that's when people started investigating the more customizable options, and they're okay with having to figure out hosting and all that sort of stuff, having to figure out configurations and all that. They actually want to do that, because it's better for their business.

So yeah. It makes sense. So, I see Shopify builds for a couple grand, because it's easy, it's pretty easy to do, especially if an agency hasn't scaled out, they have their themes that they use, and easy to customize and that kind of thing. Woo builds are quite a bit more expensive, simply because it's a lot more custom, there's a lot more moving parts. So, someone new isn't going to be able to afford a $50,000 build.

Jonathan: Well, and it's interesting too, at least in my experience, ownership tends to be the key component for a business. Back when I worked at woo, we would have these super high-end businesses that would come in. They're on Shopify now, they're feeling some pains. And the overall thread was that of ownership. It's like, "We're building our business. We don't feel comfortable with using a platform that we're renting." And for any number of different reasons, whether it's the flexibility reason, but at the end of the day, it ended at this idea of ownership.

The positioning side of things for the agencies that do really well [26:10]

It's interesting then to think about, for the agency, how do they position themselves. I like this idea that I'm hearing from you of there's like a life cycle component to it. Some of the ownership values may not be as strong for someone, hey, they just need it to work, they get it up and running. What are you noticing on the positioning side of things for the agencies that do really well? How do they tend to position themselves? Do they take an approach where they're like, "We'll work with whatever," or do they tend to be more opinionated?

John: It's definitely the second. It's definitely more opinionated. What I see in the agency world is people starting out will often... They'll do anything. Yeah, you want to build on Shopify, great, we'll build on a Shopify. You want to build on Woo, great, we'll build on Woo. Want to build on Magento, we'll figure it out. But once you actually move... But they're often targeting a lower customer value, higher volume sort of stuff, versus, once you kind of move up market from that, because of that high-volume, low-value stuff is super hard, it's super hard to scale. It's just a mess.

But once you move up, once you move up market, it's really, agencies definitely specialize. You want to build on Woo, great, we got you. This is what we do. We've built 150 stores. This is how our process works. These are the plugins that we use. These are the systems that we want you to subscribe to. That sort of thing.

But if you want to build on one of these other platforms, we're not the right fit for you. And they're able to do that simply because they've been able to establish that process for building out for the right type of company and making it work for everybody from a pricing perspective.

So, they definitely focus. And that's so much easier to sell, Jonathan. That's the thing here. Let's talk about my experience, from selling SEO services, for example, I sold half a million dollars of SEO consulting in about two and a half years. Not because I was like, "Yeah, sure. Startup just getting started. Let's do this." They couldn't afford me. I was focused on, I like to say, when I was doing SEO specifically, I solve hard SEO problems for very large websites. And my very large websites, I mean, websites with a million plus pages in Google's index. That was my sweet spot there. Because I had been working for a number of years on very large websites.

I led marketing at HotPads.com and Trulia Rentals. HotPads had 17 million URLs in the index. Trulia had nine figures, Zillow had nine figures, we were a part of the Zillow Group. So, I was doing some stuff with zillow.com, interacting with their team, wasn't directly working on that site. But you get the point.

So, I focus. So, someone would come to me wanting blog posts or link building done, sorry, that's not what I do. But someone comes to me and they're a very large website needing SEO, needing an SEO leader to fix their traffic and build out their team and hire someone to lead their SEO initiative, I'm your guy. And I knew that I could charge very good rates for that.

And it was just like, basically if a site like that came and I had the bandwidth and I wanted to pitch them, I was going to close them. So, it became a very easy close, as opposed to people out there pounding it out for $1,000 a month here or there, I was charging five figures a month often from multiple clients simply because I could, because I was specialized.

So, it goes the same way, no matter what kind of service you're offering, if you can niche down and you focus on the right type, it makes it very easy to say no to the wrong type of leads. And if you're smart, you're going to figure out how to refer them to somebody else and take a cut. And then, the ones that come that you're like, "Yep, that's me, I got that." And you know that you can charge industry leading rates. It's just going to be a much better, more sane business.

Characteristics of an agency that's going to do well [30:16]

Jonathan: So, earlier on, you mentioned with Credo, so at this point you're more in this like elite matchmaking space, right?

John: Yep.

Jonathan: So, you mentioned the checklists, you have these like different points. So, at a high level, for the agency folks listening, I would posit that there's probably a correlation to folks that you would consider to have the high signals, they're going to be agencies that tend to do well. So, you get a sense of seeing which are the agencies that are performing well in the space. So, what are some of the characteristics of an agency that's going to do well? Specialization is one we've been talking about a bit. What else? What are the things, the signals that you see that's like, "These guys are going to be doing well."

John: Yeah. So, it's a couple of things. Number one is definitely specialization. I kind of think about specialization as a T. There's this idea in the marketing space of a T-shaped marketer. So, like a good marketer is kind of going to understand one channel really deep. So, for me, it's SEO. But they're also going to understand how it works across the top and with all the other marketing channels. Email, paid content, PR, offline.

So, the agencies I see doing the best, they kind of specialize in one area, or at least signing the most work, they specialize in one area or a couple of areas. They do a lot of SaaS, for example. But, they've also done e-commerce and that sort of thing, they can sign it. But most of their messaging goes towards one specific.

But what I see work the best, honestly, Jonathan, is if they say like, "Yes, we do. We work primarily with e-commerce businesses doing website builds, but we can also configure email setup. We can configure SMS setup." Like that kind of thing. So, they've kind of gone a bit horizontal in terms of the services that they offer. So, they do build, so deep there, and then horizontal.

Jonathan: And is my guess that are those usually services they offer for those e-commerce clients?

John: Exactly.

Jonathan: So, it's like, basically, "All right, we focus on e-commerce clients and we got you, we're going to take care of your e-commerce and if you need the SMS stuff, we can do that bundle of things adjacent to it as well."

John: Yeah. And we think about it as like primary and secondary services. So, we have a lot of agencies on Credo, for example, they do copywriting, but only copywriting for companies they're managing their Facebook Ads for. So, they're not going to go and do copywriting for sales pages for info products, but they'll write the copy for ads. So yeah, so that like primary, yes, we'll take on that dedicated project versus it's an add-on that we know is a value add to people that are paying us for this primary thing.

Industry know-how or learn as you go [33:06]

Anna: Is industry know-how also that important? Or can it be maybe something that you learn on the way or something that you adjust with the help of the client or the client company?

John: I'm glad you asked about that, because it's something that we get asked for fairly often. We've had some crazy requests over the years, people being like, "I need someone that does these five... I need these five marketing channels, but I only want a consultant that does all five and they need to be specialized in cybersecurity," or something like that. There's like four people in the world that do that. I'm like, "Honestly, you should just go do that research yourself, and contact those people yourself." Exactly, exactly.

So, what we usually tell people is like the levels of decision-making for who to hire, it's, "Do they do the thing that you need, so the marketing channel that you need, or do they build out e-commerce websites? Can they show you that they have that deep experience?" And the industry thing, it's kind of a nice to have, except for in a few specific areas, where there's regulations around it.

So, like healthcare is an example, or medical, or pharma. I mean, all of that's in medical, all of that is... Or even like dentists and anything having to do with patients, anything medical related, those are the ones where it does make sense to find a company that has that deep experience. Especially, if they're building out an e-commerce website for someone in the healthcare world, they need to think about this sort of stuff. So, they need to be familiar with all of that, otherwise, you could get yourself into legal trouble and that kind of thing.

But for most, it doesn't really make that big of a difference. What I say is it matters if they have, especially for SEO, for example, it doesn't really matter if they have experience in your specific space, if they're doing technical SEO for your Woo install. Doesn't really matter, but if they're creating content, yes, then it does, it makes a difference. Or if they have a good process for recruiting writers that have experience in your industry. So, it can matter. But for me, usually, it's a nice to have, not a have to have.

One of the things I'm curious about, so business model is interesting in the agency space, there's a lot of different ways you can do things, you do hourly, you do retainers. In your experience, for the agency folks who are listening, do you see any business models that are predictors of success, that seem more aligned with value? Any just thoughts on how agencies, in your experience, who are going to do well, approach pricing and that value exchange?

Yeah. Man, pricing is such an interesting one. And this is something I've thought about a lot over the years, there's multiple levels of pricing, obviously. I basically think about four. There's billing hourly, there is billing by the project, there's billing by as a retainer, and then there's value-based pricing. And actually, flip that. So, it starts at the bottom, hourly, project, retainer, value, in the amounts that you're able to charge. If you've productized down quite a bit, so if you're building out WooCommerce stores, putting in the work up front to first productizing your offering that we do X, Y, and Z, we use these systems, you have that process, and you can charge for it. It's kind of a package that they pay X and they know what they're getting. You charge $30,000 and they know they're getting all of these things. So, they're basically buying a product.

If it's ongoing development work, I like to think that you can just put them on a retainer and just use that. You never know what's going to happen. They're going to come back with change requests and that sort of thing. So, if you just quote them one price, but then you allow for any sort of customization, then it just becomes a mess and you have to go back and renegotiate and blah, blah, blah. It's just kind of a pain.

I, for the most part, don't like hourly billing, especially in digital marketing. I don't like hourly billing. I actually tell agencies, counsel agencies to sell like chunks of hours.

Jonathan: Yep. If you're going to do that. Yeah.

John: So, you can bill hourly, but have a minimum number of hours. Like, "We charge $100 an hour for minimum 10 hours a month. If you don't use those whole 10 hours, you're still being billed for it." So, it's basically a retainer. And then, you're still tracking your time, and anything above that, you're billing them $100 an hour. Don't discount for overage, by the way.

I see agencies do this all the time, do not discount for overage, because they should actually, if anything, they should pay more per hour, because they're taking more of your time that which may cause you to work more, you're taking away from other clients, that sort of thing. It makes capacity planning really hard. So, I actually say, "Charge for chunks of hours and then charge your regular hourly rate over that."

So yeah, that's kind of my take on pricing. I also say like, it's good to benchmark where you sit in the industry, to know industry averages and that sort of thing. But if you're just charging industry averages, averages tend to shift down over time, because the space becomes more commoditized. So, know where your floor is, but then add on additional things that are higher value, so you can actually end up charging more, so you're not competing just on price. There's always going to be someone that's going to come in cheaper than you. And if you're trying to play that game, it's just a race to the bottom. Versus adding on additional things, expertise, other services, that kind of thing, that enables you to charge more. So then you avoid becoming commoditized. And that's where you want to be as a service provider.

Predictors of an agency success [38:57]

Jonathan: So, if I'm thinking about predictors of success, there's how specialized is the service provider? And that can mean a lot of different things. I like this concept of the T shape, where it's not like, "Oh, we only do one thing." In general, it's like, "Hey, we focus on a particular vertical, or we focus on a particular type of problem to solve?" Which could span verticals.

Then you have business model, and those four make a lot of sense. My guess is that you'd agree, in general, the further up you are, the more aligned. You don't want to be just charging straight hourly, projects could be one thing, but it's like somewhere just continuing to move up to be more aligned with value is probably a good predictor of the quality of the agency. Is there anything else that you see like good predictors of an agency succeeding?

John: Yeah. So, the other one is like, it's actually not related to delivering services at all. It's actually on the front-end, most agencies are really bad at selling work.

So, actually having a defined sales process, I actually teach for service businesses, I have a framework. It doesn't have a sexy name, I call it my D.S.S.P. Framework. It's a four-step sales process, discovery call, strategy call, scope, email, and then proposal. So, not sending or not getting ahead of yourself and sending a proposal after a call or something like that. Actually having two calls, getting them to buy in with the scope that you proposed them, after that, 90 minutes of calls, and then sending the proposal, which is just a formality.

Agencies that don't have a defined sales process, that either let the client or the prospect lead the sales process, or they're just like, "I'm going to do a 20-minute call. I'm going to send you a proposal," that doesn't work. Super low close rates versus if you have, either the founder has a sales background or has invested in learning about sales, or they have a sales person internally, that's able to run the process, that right there is a single biggest predictor.

We've worked with a fair few digital marketing agencies over the years that I know deliver great work, their founder has been the industry for a long time, they're an industry-recognized name, et cetera. And their sales team can't close work to save their life. We can land awesome digital marketing projects on their calendar all day. But if they can't close, they're just not going to succeed.

So yeah, I think that established sales process is actually the thing that a lot of agencies don't think about, because they're so in the weeds, they're talking about these individuals tools and that sort of thing, you actually need to look at it from the bigger business perspective and that's how you sell good work and get people bought in.

The difference between confidence and certainty applied to agency sales [41:30]

Jonathan: So, last, the thing from my perspective, so you wrote this piece, I think it was on LinkedIn yesterday, the five mindset shifts that made a difference in your life. And with sales, I want to talk about, I think it was your third one, certainty versus confidence. And in the sales process, what are your thoughts on that? In your own journey, what you've experienced? Where does confidence play a factor? How do you think about that difference between confidence and certainty applied to agency sales?

John: Yeah. So, my overall perspective on it is there are very few guarantees in life. I mean, the joke is death and taxes, you're going to die someday and you're going to have to pay taxes. But when people are on the buyer side, or looking to buy services, they often go in like... The reason why we to get these requests of like, "I want someone that has industry experience," or, "I want someone that's worked with this company before," or something like that, is because they basically feel like it's going to guarantee that they're going to get the thing that they're trying to accomplish.

So, from the agency sales side, really what you need to do is you need to understand what are they... Like, they're making these requests, but what are they actually getting at? What are their skepticisms? That sort of thing. So, that helps you zone in on what you need to push on. Your experience, your specific clients, or the technology that you build on, or whatever that is, depending on who you're talking to.

Really, what you're trying to do is move them to feeling confident that you have the experience to get them the ultimate outcome that they're looking for. Anyone can go and find a WooCommerce developer. But just because that person has experience working with WooCommerce doesn't mean that they're going to build out a platform that's going to enable them to do all the things that they want to do to build their company.

So, basically, you need to show them that like, "We have experience doing the thing that you need for the kind of company that you are, and we've done it a lot of times, and this is our process." That makes it really easy for them to buy, as opposed to the like, "We'll figure it out."

Jonathan: Well, and it's interesting tension too, what if you're just starting? How do you develop that? And I think you said something key there, which is this focusing on the outcome, because at the end of the day, most people it's like, they're not just wanting to pay money to have WooCommerce configured, they have an outcome that they're after, a new business that they're launching, a transition that they're wanting to make. They have reasons for making that, if they're moving from Shopify to Woo, there's reasons for that.

At least, in my experience, and I imagine you found the same, for the service provider. There's a higher likelihood of success if they stay focused on that outcome, even if they don't have a big track record. If they do have a big track record, sometimes that track record can get in the way of the outcome. Like they didn't hear what the client really wanted. And if they don't, just by focusing on that outcome, and sometimes that confidence could just be focused on your ability to figure it out, to understand their outcome and figure out what needs to get done to get there.

John: Totally. Totally. Yeah. And it's definitely a balance, and if you're just starting out, "Well, what if I don't have experience?" Well, you have to get that experience, you have to find people that are going to kind of take a bit of a chance on you, and you're not going to be able to charge industry leading rates. That's just being honest about it.

But as you get more experience over time, then you really discover like, "What kind of sites am I good at building? What kind of people do I like working with? What types of organizations do I like working with? What does the sales process look like?" And over time, you get better and you're able to raise your prices over time.

Yeah. And then, once you get further in, then it becomes a matter of not getting complacent and not just doing the thing that worked six, seven years ago, because it worked six, seven years ago and what's you know, but actually staying on the leading edge, investigating new service tools and what have you, but not to the detriment of providing a good business-focused service.

Jonathan: I love it.

Anna: Is there a place where people can learn more about the work that you do, John?

John: Yes. So, there's two places, three places actually. Number one is my personal blog is johnfdoherty.com, D-O-H-E-R-T-Y.com. Just Google John Doherty, it's the first Google result. The second search result is going to be my Twitter account, @dohertyjf. I'm on Twitter a lot. I love interacting with people there. Then, the third is getcredo.com. If you're looking for a digital marketing provider, or if you're a digital marketing provider looking to get more clients, we've got multiple offerings for you there. So, those are the best places to find me.

Jonathan: Fantastic. John, that was a lot of fun. Thanks so much for joining us, for sharing your insights and perspective, and see you again.

John: Thanks, this was a good time. Thanks for having me.