Jason Swenk is an agency adviser and mentor that guides marketing agencies through a proven framework for growing their attention faster.
Fresh out of college, Jason was off to work for Arthur Anderson, one of the biggest consulting firms. He quickly realized that he could never work for anyone other than himself. He decided to change direction, launch a digital agency, and that quickly grew to a multi-million dollar operation, working with brands such as AT&T, Hitachi, and Lotus Cars. After twelve years of rapid growth, the agency was acquired in 2012. Now Jason leads JasonSwenk.com, a unique media company and consultancy helping marketing agencies grow and scale their agencies faster by applying the framework that he used to grow, scale, and eventually sell his agency. Jason has helped over 20,000 agencies in 42 countries meet or exceed their business goals. Jason currently hosts two shows that are available for download: The Smart Agency Master Class Podcast, dedicated to providing tactics and strategies to agency owners and decision makers that cut through the BS, focus exactly on what works and what doesn’t; and his other show, Swenk Today, a daily vlog that documents the entrepreneur journey of building another multi-million dollar business, where he shares the latest strategies and answers some of the most burning questions entrepreneurs have.
Paul Kortman: Fill in the missing details from that intro and tell us something about your personal life.
Jason Swenk: Well, that’s an awful lot. I’m a husband and a father, those are the only missing details. other than the information I put out there, the whole goal of doing everything I do is to provide a resource I wish I had, and that’s really it.
Paul Kortman: So would you consider the business that you’re running right now or are we going to focus on the previous business that you sold?
Jason Swenk: We’ll focus on the previous business, which was an agency. This business is a consultancy.
Paul Kortman: What’s the name of your previous agency?
Jason Swenk: Solar Velocity.
Paul Kortman: What was Solar Velocity’s revenue in the last two years before it was sold?
Jason Swenk: The ending revenue when we sold was $13.1 million.
Paul Kortman: What was the typical price to work with you?
Jason Swenk: We had about forty clients that last year, and I think the average was right around $400,000 revenue a year per client.
Paul Kortman: Describe your staff/team, how many do you have? What are their specialties?
Jason Swenk: We had close to a hundred and twenty towards the exit. It’s always changing, especially when you grow to that number, so we had a number of different practice areas. But we had a lot of C-level suites, chief marketing officer, financial officer, and obviously me, the CEO, and the operating officer. And then we had directors and managers. And we always made up titles as well, just so the damn recruiters couldn’t find our guys. We had mission controllers who were project managers, we had a lot of fun making up titles and screwing with recruiters.
Paul Kortman: So were these one hundred ads twenty all full-time employees?
Jason Swenk: They were all full-time employees. But if I had to do it over again, especially with all the technology and the way that the market has really changed since five years ago, I bet I could build the same thing with about thirty people.
Paul Kortman: WOuld those be contractors or full-time employees?
Jason Swenk: The thirty would be full-time employees, but the rest would be contractors.
Paul Kortman: What was the average salary of your employees?
Jason Swenk: On the low end, it was about $50,000, on the high end it was close to $120,000 to $130,000.
Paul Kortman: Did you track time, and what was your employee’s percent billable time?
Jason Swenk: We always wanted to be over 75%. Most of the time we were about 80%. If it dipped a little bit below and we were highly customizing our infrastructure, like when we were building our own project management tool when we got too big and outgrew all the other ones, obviously,t hat would change a little bit. So as long as it was over 75% we were happy.
Paul Kortman: What average markup did you have per hour?
Jason Swenk: Well, when you start making it to the other levels, yes, you set a baseline and you come up with your fully burdened rate which is taking all your expenses and dividing that by all the amount of time you could actually spend in it. Our fully burdened rate was around $90 an hour. This was not what we charged, but when we would go to a client – let’s say we were doing a website for Lotus Cars. Our pricing structure, what it cost us to do a 20-page microsite for them was around $12,000. But we were charging well over six-figures. We were charging more on value rather than hours.
Paul Kortman: Would you have a metric to be able to track that back to hours to make sure you had a percentage of profitability?
Jason Swenk: There are two ways we would do it. When you’re dealing with monster companies, you always have to lead with pricing that they expect based on their budget. I learned this the hard way. Berkshire-Hathaway called us one year. I didn’t know who they were when they called us. So I went into their meeting, and it was horrible. I pitched a $15,000 website when they were expecting a $300,000 or $400,000 website. Obviously, I lost that deal due to their expectations. They were like, Jason, we liked everything, but obviously, you’re a hundred times lower than everybody else. So when you’re working with big companies like we were, you have to lead with expectations. They don’t care how long it actually takes. So that was the first thing. The other way we would do our pricing to make sure we were always over a 50% profit margin, and the bigger we got the more our profit margin grew. So we would look at the average time it would take to do a project. let’s use a hundred hours. This project is going to take a hundred hours, so let’s market at 25% for profitability.
Paul Kortman: How many clients did Solar Velocity have over the years?
Jason Swenk: Over the 12 years, I never even really counted. We had about 40 a year, toward the end, but in the very beginning years, we had a lot more because we were undercharging so we needed a lot more clients. But when we started getting a lot smarter and maintaining, we had around 40.
Paul Kortman: What verticals or industries were your clients in?
Jason Swenk: A couple. The specialization that we had was more around technology. Our clients were coming to us with sharepoint user experience needs or content managing or e-commerce. They were all across different industries, but then when we really started drilling down, we had a lot of higher education, a lot of automotive companies. We stayed away from a lot of consumer goods, for some reason. They were all across the board, but if I could go back, I would highly tell you, whenever you feel like you hit that ceiling, please specialize into a vertical. It will make all the difference in order to position your agency as ‘the’ choice, rather than ‘a’ choice.
Paul Kortman: Even though you didn’t and successfully had an exit from your agency, you would advise people not to do what you did?
Jason Swenk: Yeah, if you want to do it quicker. it took me 12 years. If you want to do it in 6 years or quicker, specialize into a vertical. it’s all about speed. Everyone will eventually figure it out, but it’s all about how fast and how much crap you want to actually go through.
Paul Kortman: What services did you offer?
Jason Swenk: Well, let me specify this. We did do an awful lot, and I don’t want to confuse some agency owners that are not as big as we were because you can’t have a huge offering. You don’t have specialists. Towards the end, we did everything around digital, social CRM, user interface and creative. We did a lot of development, like app development and custom web development. We did not do a lot of social, outside of managing social media, but we would take and do a lot of business intelligence around social, in order to give our clients better decision making on social when it was just coming out. We did a lot of Adwords and SEO. But when we first started, it was really focused on web design. That’s how I fell into it, by accident. I did a website making fun of one of my friends that looked like Justin Timberlake and NSYNC. So I started a website business, and it just quickly started adapting into SEO and pay-per-click. But as we started building other offerings, I started putting teams together for that, rather than having one person in charge of everything, because you can’t be the master of everything.
Paul Kortman: Who was your agency’s ideal client?
Jason Swenk: Any client that worked with an agency, had a marketing team, a marketing budget, was over a hundred million dollars in revenue, and considered themselves innovators. They wanted to make change. We didn’t go after the clients that said, “It’s always been this way, ” or clients that just didn’t know how to put a value on some of the work that we actually did. If they couldn’t say how much a lead was worth, or how much a visit to their website was worth, and they didn’t know that kind of KPIs, then they were bad clients.
Paul Kortman: Can you describe one of your worst clients?
Jason Swenk: It was a guy with a lot of money. He came to us with an idea, and just assumed that we could read his mind. He never could communicate very well. And that’s a telltale sign. if they can’t communicate well, and they can’t follow your process, run. I have a motto: “There’s no such thing as a bad agency client. There’s only a bad prospect or a bad process.” This one was a bad prospect that we let in, that became a bad client. but they could never get us the information that we needed on time. So I sold the agency in 2012, and we engaged with this client in 2007. They reached out to me in 2014 or 2015, saying they had all the stuff ready for the website. I told them that the ship had sailed, and to go after the public company we sold to.
Paul Kortman: What was the worst part of your job, and why?
Jason Swenk: Toward the end, I got rid of a lot of the stuff I didn’t like. So to preface that, I got to a point of almost wanting to throw in the towel. We’re losing clients, some of our employees are not the right fit, I was dealing with the wrong employees. I was unhappy. My wife was like, dude, you look miserable, you need to change something. Why don’t you go work for someone? So I got to that point, just because I didn’t like anything about the job at that time, or so I thought. I literally started a conversation with NASCAR, and I was going to apply to be the CMO. They had been going through some questions, and the questions were “What do you love doing?”, and “What do you not ever want to do?” When I started answering that question, I thought, I could do this in my own company, I don’t have to go work for someone. So I literally made a list of stuff I never want to do ever again. Part of that was dealing with clients. I think that was one of the worst parts. I like adding color to the relationship, but when clients kept coming to me when little things or stupid things would happen, I couldn’t do it. I’m horrible at customer service. I need to put the right people in place, because I don’t have any patience. I couldn’t deal with people’s stupid questions. So I just made a list, and when I did that, the agency just turned around, and it was fun again. So I would tell everyone to make a ‘no’ list of all the things that you don’t want to do. don’t worry about how to overcome it, that will come over time. But you have to identify it first. You have to look a the problem rather than running away from the problem. Before I applied to that position, I was running away from the problems. I was running away from dealing with clients and that was affecting other things. When I started identifying it, I could actually report it, fix it, and put the right people in place.
Paul Kortman: How did you find good staff?
Jason Swenk: It really started with the core culture and setting the vision. What was the north star of where the agency was going to go? When I made that no-list, I also made a list of everything I want in the future. So when I did that, I knew where the ship was going. Based on my core values, I started communicating that to other people. I only got people that believed in what we believed in. So we credit this great atmosphere and this great culture, and we started communicating that on our website and in everything that we did, and then we started attracting the right people. We got the best place to work in Atlanta for small businesses, and that attracted a lot of amazing talent to us. But the easiest thing that you can do that a lot of agencies are not doing, is to have a careers page. Always be recruiting. A lot of people tell me they can never find the right talent. I ask, are you always recruiting? Do you have a careers page? They say they don’t. If you put ‘we’re hiring’ by your logo like we did, and that goes to your careers page, it tells people you’re hiring but it also tells people you’re growing, so it has a good effect both ways. So at the end of the day, make sure you know where you’re going because people are going to want to join you based on where you’re going. And the culture is all based on your beliefs. So if you can share similar beliefs with the people that you’re hiring and you make decisions that way, you’ll create an amazing team, and then it starts spreading.
Paul Kortman: How would you staff a project?
Jason Swenk: It really goes back to our VP of operations as well as our practice directors. So the practice director led the division, and they would lead that project. They weren’t the project managers, but the practice director would have a couple people on there, depending on the services that we were actually doing for them. So if we were doing a web project with paid placement, they would have the creative director on there and also the paid director or the client acquisition director. And then they would have project managers under them, getting all the work. There was a lot of people, and at that time, I didn’t even worry about how it was getting staffed. I just gave orders to the VP of operations and the practice director, saying we must maintain this profitability and this kind of satisfaction and results for our clients, go figure it out.
Paul Kortman: Did you offer continued training to your staff, and if so, what did that look like?
Jason Swenk: That was part of our core values. We always told them, every 90 days, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. You’re never stagnant. So we want you to go out and find programs, training, or live events. Most of the time we were sending them to conferences and we would tell them, we’ll pay for everything, but when you come back, you have to teach your team what you learned, so the whole team benefits from it.
Paul Kortman: What would it look like when a team member failed at their job?
Jason Swenk: That would always happen, but we wanted to make sure they only failed once and they learned. We celebrated failures because we knew exactly what not to do again. We would just say, you failed at this. What did we learn from it and how do we make the things to prevent this from happening in the future, both for yourself and other team members. So we would document that.
Paul Kortman: How did you find good clients?
Jason Swenk: You have to know who you’re going after. You have to have that niche in order to understand where they’re hanging out. If you want to go after whales you better not go to the lake. You better not be throwing out a minnow when you should be throwing out quail. So it has to start with knowing what that good client actually looks like. Once we know that, then it goes down to three different channels: You have an outbound channel, a strategy of how I can call this person, introduce them, or introduce ourselves and actually help them and position yourself as the trusted advisor. the next part was strategic partnerships. We were the number one partner in the world for Sitefinity, which was a big content managing system back in the day. So they started feeding us amazing accounts. We did the same thing with Microsoft around sharepoint and their CRM tools. So we started leveraging them and making them look good, then they started sending business to us. And then on the last part, we didn’t do that well of a job. With my consultancy, the reason why I put out helpful content all the time, is to help people before they even decide to work with me and having an inbound channel. But the deal about the inbound channel is, you can’t just rely on that. You have to have all three channels because some will go up, some will go down, you never know.
Paul Kortman: What made Solar Velocity different from your competitors?
Jason Swenk: It was probably our communications, our system, and our process. I truly believe that having the right systems is the difference between our agency growing and scaling versus a lot of the competitors that were struggling and being reactive. I’m not talking about technology systems, I’m talking more about having the right foundation. We knew where we were going. We knew who our clients who. We knew how to position our agency and how to position ourselves as the trusted advisor versus always talking about ourselves. We had the right offering, the right prospecting tools, the right sales operations, we knew how to deliver, we knew where we were going, so just putting those systems together was really what separated us from every other agency out there.
Paul Kortman: How soon in the 12 years of making that business did you have those systems in place?
Jason Swenk: Well, they’re always building over time. But I really felt that we really started locking in the eight systems that I truly believe start growing agencies probably at year 9 or 10. That’s when we had exponential growth, where we started going from a couple million to eventually the 13.1 we saw it grow to.
Paul Kortman: Why would someone use Solar Velocity over an agency like Ogilvy?
Jason Swenk: Well, it was always kind of a big joke. The partner will sell the deal, and then the school bus will drop off the children that have no clue. When I worked for Arthur Andersen, I had no idea what to do. They literally sent me to a job at boot camp, and they said, you know how to program, go work on the biggest clients in the world. We didn’t even have bosses. We just had a manager for the project. So it was crazy, and I feel like a lot of those companies are like that. We never hired employees from bigger companies because they’re used to doing one job and having this huge support staff. And their communication is all backward. I don’t know the inner-workings of Ogilvy or any of those, but they were just not on the cutting edge anymore. They weren’t hungry. They reached the top of this mountain, and they were like, we’re at the top of this mountain, but they didn’t realize there were more mountains out there to climb.
Paul Kortman: Why would someone use Solar Velocity over a small agency?
Jason Swenk: We always dealt with this. I think at the end of the day, it really comes down to time. If you’re working for a client, they could eventually figure out what you’re doing. But if they go with you, they’re hoping to save time and get the results that they want. If they’re looking at price as the biggest option, I would always go to the client and say, you certainly can go with a smaller agency that’s going to charge half or one-fourth of what we’re charging. But what do you value more? Do you value money or time? What’s going to happen is, you go to the smaller agency, they’re learning on your own dime. They haven’t done this over and over again. They haven’t asked you the right questions. They don’t have the right systems. So eventually, you’ll hopefully get the same product, but it might take you 10 times longer. So you’re going to put a lot more time into this product or into this engagement. So do you want to spend money and get these results faster? Our closing rate was over 85% when we were chatting with the qualified, right prospect.
Paul Kortman: Did you offer a service or package that no one else was offering at the time?
Jason Swenk: It was around social CRM. So with Lotus Cars, we said, we’re going to use our business intelligence tool and our social CRM tool, and we’re going to import all the social data, all the mentions of everything out there that your audience is talking about. And we’re going to look at what they’re talking about with Lamborghini and Porsche. What we found with Lotus, they started talking about handling. but what we found with all the conversations on Twitter and all the different social media tools back then, was that everybody was associating that to Porsche. And the telltale marketing no-no is if somebody is associating a certain term to a certain brand, if you mention that, they’re going to immediately think of Porsche. If you’ve ever walked into a Microsoft store, they’ve completely ripped off Apple. So when you walk into a Microsoft store, you think of Apple, which is good for Apple but bad for Microsoft. And then, we were one of the first to develop a content management system. I just wished we made it SAS-based, rather than per install. Same thing with a demo marketing tool. Before Constant Contact, we had a software we developed which would send out mass emails. It didn’t have the cool tools and automation like a lot of the cool things did. If only I could go back in time and tweak some thing. Some things I do now too. If you miss by one millimeter, you’re not going to get that golf ball. You’re not going to win that championship. That’s how small a margin from success and not achieving what you want is.
Paul Kortman: So now the Elevator pitch. You have 30 seconds, you’ve identified me as an ideal client, now convince me.
Jason Swenk: Well it all comes down to their problems. Let’s say with Lotus Cars, we would say we’ve done a lot of work in the automotive space, and we understand that you want to help your dealers out and really drive foot traffic. If you want to save time and generate more foot traffic and generate more exposure, we can show you the right systems and solutions in order to do that. We have a proven formula and a proven system to help you with that. It really comes down to leading with what they want and then showing them or telling them that there’s a plan. That’s the difference of how to position your agency.
Paul Kortman: What do you personally do for fun?
Jason Swenk: A lot. When I was running my agency, I use to race cars until I had my second son. We’d go all over the country and race sports cars, and that was so much fun. But now I ride mountain bikes and see how fast I can go over and how fast I can crash. I guess I’m in the woods a lot, so I do rock crawling in my Jeep now. It’s kind of funny how I went from going really fast to really slow.
Paul Kortman: So what type of cars did you race? What series were you in?
Jason Swenk: I raced with NASA in the Vintage series, and also in the Durant series. So I raced a number of different cars, but my primary car was a 1966 Mustang. We modernized it so it could beat a lot of the newer Mustangs, like the Mustang challenge cars and a lot of Porsches and Corvettes. It was a lot of fun. We won the championship one year and became runner-up another year.
Paul Kortman: Have you considered owning other race car teams or do you just want to be behind the wheel?
Jason Swenk: I wanted to be behind the wheel. Whenever I go to watch my buddies now, I have to leave early because I just want to be behind the wheel. Then we raced M3s, Lotuses, Porsches, Corvettes, all kinds of cars. But the ’66 Mustang was the most fun. Then I just got into virtual reality, and I built a racing simulator in my basement for a client of mine that showed me, and it is so realistic. I go back to the track, it has the turn markers, the skid marks where I used to say this is my brake point or my turning point. Everything’s realistic. So now I don’t have to worry about dying, I guess, right?
Paul Kortman: I was going to say, once you had your second son, then the wife said no more racing at high speeds?
Jason Swenk: Dream squasher. That’s what I call my wife.
Paul Kortman: You could still kill yourself rock-climbing though.
Jason Swenk: Yeah, but it’s a little slower death, and at least I got a roll cage.
Paul Kortman: So, back in the day, what would you have your staff or your agency do for fun? Did you have a chief fun officer?
Jason Swenk: I guess that would be me. We had one client that did this lounge chair, and they wanted us to do this photoshoot. So these lounge chairs they shipped from China to us had packing popcorn. So they sent us like eight boxes of this packing popcorn, and it got all over the office. And at the time we had this hallway that didn’t really lead anywhere, so I said, let’s put all the packing popcorn over here and we’ll throw in away one day. then I looked at it and was like, this is an opportunity. So I started doing flips into it. So whenever we would get stressed, we would jump into this packing popcorn. People would lose their jackets or hats for years, and it was so fun. But the thing is, when you jump in, all the static electricity keeps the popcorn on you. So our cleaning crew had to think we were nuts or were messing with us because we looked like the marshmallow man. You would see this packing popcorn all around the office. But then one time, our VP of operations and this car with a sunroof. So we took the packing popcorn and filled this whole car up. What we did for fun were pranks. Another time we rigged the horn to a brake of one of our employee’s cars, so every time he hit the brake the horn would go off. So he would be sitting at the light with this horn going off. I would always be pranking people.
Paul Kortman: That’s one of those things where you wish you had a GoPro to see his reaction, but you couldn’t see it as he was driving home.
Jason Swenk: I’ll tell you another one I just thought of. We had this glass conference room that looked outside the hallway, outside of the other offices. So you know all those fake plants people put in the hallways? One time we got this remote-controlled fart machine, so we would hide it in the plants and we’d wait for two people walking by in opposite directions and then we’d hit it, so each person would think it was the other person dropping bombs. It was the funniest thing.
Paul Kortman: They’d never look in the glass and see you guys busting up?
Jason Swenk: No, they were so embarrassed. They’d think this guy or girl just cropped. That’s the one perverted thing we did.
Paul Kortman: So how did you incorporate fun or pranks into client relationships? Or was that a don’t touch that?
Jason Swenk: We would do that too. It goes back to their personalities. Soe clients wouldn’t come to the office. Some clients would come to our office and they’d jump in the pit too. We’d mess with them, we’d lower their chairs way down so they felt inferior to us, and we’d lock it, so they’d try to make it go up and be like, what’s going on?
Paul Kortman: So what’s the most fun you’ve had working for a client or doing your job.
Jason Swenk: That would be with Lotus. Obviously, I raced cars, and that was a whole brand built upon the racing industry so that was just an amazing brand to work with. We did all their websites for them back in the day until the UK took it back over.
Paul Kortman: What are your goals for your agency? 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?
Jason Swenk: Over the last two years we had massive growth. Our whole goal was to grow at least thirty percent, year after year, and just keep growing. But the last couple of years, we went from a couple million to 13.1 in like two years. Part of that growth was through acquiring people and that kind of stuff, so that helped, but we never really had ten-year-goals. When I first started, the agency was like, yeah I want to sell it. Because we started in ’99, the dot com era. All the people were getting bought. Then 9/11 happened, the dot bomb happened, and we were like, hey, we like this, and we started growing because all the big, stupid guys went out of business. We started getting bigger. So I said, I like this, I like what I’m doing, I like the role that I have. I guess we all had a vision of possibly selling it one day, but it was just the right offer at the right time. So we never had a long-term vision. We said, we just want to enjoy what we’re doing, we don’t want to do the stuff that we don’t want to do, and that was really our goal. And we understood if some years we weren’t growing at the rate we wanted, we realized that when you’re climbing a mountain, sometimes you have to go down to get back up. You just can’t grow year after year, sometimes you hit a plateau and you’ll walk that way, but you’ll realize in the long-term strategy, the macro strategy, you’ll actually get back up to the top.
Paul Kortman: How far out were you able to predict your revenue?
Jason Swenk: We were looking more at cash flow. Cash flow is your blood to your agency’s survival. So when I got to that point we were literally two weeks away from not making payroll. So we judged money by looking at our bank account. We didn’t have the right system in place. So when we really started projecting out there was when we were going to run into cash flow issues. So we would look at our accounts, our receivable, our reoccurring, our average, projects that we would bring in, what our expenses were, and any big expenses that were coming up. So we could project out what was our cash flow going to be down to the day. And we could do that to about a year out. Then we could have a lot of time, more time than two weeks, to try and figure out what we needed to do and how to make better decisions. I wish we took more time and looked further out because then I probably could have developed the marketing automation tool. A lot of times you get into your little hole, and you just can’t see through the trees. If I could go back, I would hire an advisor.
Paul Kortman: How do you find new clients?
Jason Swenk: You develop your own hit list. You basically develop the perfect clients that you want. Who are the perfect, ideal clients you would love to work with? Then make a list, then you have to determine the strategy. When you start creating your hit list, don’t let figuring out the strategy affect that. So if you want to work with Pepsi or Coke, don’t worry about how you’re going to do it. Just write it down. Then you’ll start developing the strategy. Going back to the mountain analogy, if you want to climb Mt. Everest, that’s your goal. So you have to determine a strategy based on the goal. So you come up with a number of different strategies for that, and then what you’ll start doing is breaking the strategies down into tactics. So once I determine I want UPS to be a client, what are the strategies? Well, I can do a little bit of research. I can look at what they’re doing. I can look at the opportunities that they have. And then the tactics could be developing a recorded video for them, letting them know of an opportunity they have with a call to action. So that’s how we reached out, as well as having the right strategic partners. Not referral partners, with the typical BS of you give me a lead, I’ll give you a lead. But if you can align yourself with the right technology and the right people that are going after the same clients you want, then you actually complement each other.
Paul Kortman: Tell us some shame, or gossip in your local market.
Jason Swenk: The funny thing is, I don’t know much going around in Atlanta now, because a lot of the time I in my house, or flying out West to where I really like, and my clients are all over the world. So I don’t know much of the gossip, but I can tell you the gossip going around in the agency world. And that is, let’s look at the bigger agencies and model what they’re what doing. And that’s a huge mistake. Here’s why: You look at their crappy-ass website and you’re doing it all wrong. And I know that a lot of people that run the bigger agencies are building and getting their big websites based on the reputation that they already have. But their websites are horrific, and all they talk about is themselves. It’s the same way when you go to a conference, and you have Ogilvy come up to you and say, ‘We are the best agency in the world, we have the best people, we’ve done amazing work, we’ve won all these stupid ADDY Awards and you should give us money.’ I’m like, you’re an idiot, and I’m running away. A good example of what you should be doing is asking questions. When you ask questions, it totally turns the conversation on them and makes them the star in their own story. If you do what I just said, and I’m not beating up anybody, and they’re a great agency, I’m sure. But I can look at their website, and it’s horrible. it just shows a crappy portfolio. You would never know what they were if they didn’t have that big brand. So these little guys are modeling that, and it’s hurting them rather than looking different. So I think the taboo is to stop looking at the big guys, stop looking at your competitors, going ‘they just got a new website, let me do it.’ Worse than that is using the BS excuse of ‘We’re too busy with our clients and we can’t redo our website.’ If you’re too busy, you’re not charging enough, raise your price.
Paul Kortman: What were the biggest challenges to working with Solar Velocity?
Jason Swenk: Getting us the information we needed. If we were doing a website, getting us the content, because they thought we would be the best at it. Or they would be struggling with not following our process. They would make an approval on the comps, we would go and build it, and they would want a major change. And we would be like, no, we’re not moving our process. We’re not going to lose money because of your mistake. They were not really clearly listening to us. That was the biggest struggle with clients working with our agency. We always viewed ourselves in the right, because we created a process. That might e wrong or correct, I don’t know. Looking back, it was extremely profitable for us. If I was the client, I would have been like, you’ve got to give us some leeway. We would say, no, we told you this. We can’t fix stupid. I mean, they were really smart, I’m just joking now. But they were somewhat stupid.
Paul Kortman: What are the biggest professional mistakes you have personally made?
Jason Swenk: Well, it’s hard to think of one, because there’s so many of them. I remember, there was a sales guy I hired. He was really good, he could get into anything. he understood marketing, he could actually help, but something about rubbed me the wrong way and we got rid of him. And this was kind of early on in the career, and I think we laughed about it afterward. I look back at that, and that showed my crappy character. I still cringe when I think about it. We got rid of this poor guy that had a family, who could have been amazing. And I called him back up years later and apologized to him. I kind of laughed to his face, but then after he left I kind of joked around with my managers about it, and that just showed shitty character on my part. That’s probably the one mistake I wish I could go back and change.
Paul Kortman: Did he go on to achieve success?
Jason Swenk: He did. It was good for him. But you just look back at that and regret it. When I started my agency, I was twenty-two. Still no excuse, you’re always learning, but now I just turned thirty, and I look back at some of the stupid stuff I did and think ‘Why did I do that?’
Paul Kortman: What are the biggest mistakes your agency has been involved in?
Jason Swenk: We went through two lawsuits; one went to court. We won the first one and then they appealed and we lost. We always did the right thing. So the lawsuit that we went through was with this one company that signed up with us, but never got us the information and wanted their money back. I said, there’s a cancellation clause. So the deposit you put in there is not yours anymore. Looking back, why would he sign a contract and then not do it and want the money back when things get tough? So maybe that was a mistake. I still don’t look at it as a mistake. They signed a contract; that’s why we sign contracts.
Paul Kortman: How did they win the appeal?
Jason Swenk: Because the judge didn’t care about the cancellation clause. He said, if you didn’t do the work, give the money back.
Paul Kortman: Did you sell any services to clients that didn’t help their bottom line?
Jason Swenk: No.
Paul Kortman: Come on, you must have had some things that the client wanted, even though it was stupid.
Jason Swenk: One of the big differences with us is, sell the client what they actually need, not what they say they want. If what they need is not what we can offer or not do well, we wouldn’t do it. Maybe with the one client I just told you about, with us not doing the work, but that’s because of them not getting us the stuff we needed. But all of our services helped the bottom line. Now, could we measure everything? No. Sometimes I’d pitch a project for twenty-pages and then find out it’s five-thousand and we had to honor that. But I think everything we did helped them with the bottom line.
Paul Kortman: Where can people go to learn more from you and get in touch with you?
Jason Swenk: Just go to swenk.it and you’ll find links to my podcast and to my vlog. If you do want to get weekly insights from me, you can join the newsletter. So Swenk it!