people, client, maintenance, agency, concierge, wp, project, months, site, day, developer, money, work, wordcamp, wordpress, build, pay, business, pm, profit
Jan Koch, Adam Silver
Jan Koch 00:04
Welcome, everybody. Thanks for joining me again at the WP agency summit. I’m here with Adam Silver who runs concierge WP and kitchen sink WP and I’m super excited to dive into how Adam built his agency, discover some of the pitfalls that he learned that he had to go through along the way. And just overall have a nice conversation about what it’s like to build a WordPress agency. Adam, thank you so much for coming on.
Adam Silver 00:29
My pleasure. Happy to be here.
Jan Koch 00:31
No, it’s my pleasure because we have dived deep into concierge WP but first, can you give us for those people living under a rock and haven’t heard about kitchen sink WP? Can you give us a little introduction about who you are and what you’re doing in the WordPress space?
Adam Silver 00:46
Sure. So I started kitchen sink WP about eight and a half years ago, eight and a half years ago, just as a place I was going to just share information from what I learned, everything WordPress, but the kitchen sink. It’s kind of a play on words there. And then I turned out that I prefer to speak versus blogging. So I started the podcast six and a half, 6.7 months ago. I just did the math recently. Episode 343 just came out this past week at the time of this recording. So every Monday for the past six and a half, almost seven years pretty crazy. And I just share things I’ve learned in WordPress and things that have happened in my WordPress journey. And then the study of the agency. I’m pretty transparent about it. So in our short shows, very short shows.
Jan Koch 01:30
Insane 6.7 years.
Adam Silver 01:32
Jan Koch 01:32
Adam Silver 01:34
Every Monday. I have not missed a Monday yet. So even with a cracked rib, I’ve been sick over the years and years ago. Yeah, traveling. I’ve not missed a Monday yet, so.
Jan Koch 01:44
That is pretty impressive. And next to that you’ve also launched concierge WP which is your agency. So tell us a little bit more about concierge WP and what you do in the first place.
Adam Silver 01:56
Yeah, so the concierge WP started almost as a happy accident. I had a different, I serve a different company name for my LLC and people said, “Hey, do you do maintenance?” I’m like, “No.” I didn’t want to do maintenance and lo and behold, I was leaving money on the table. That’s what people were telling me. So I started that as the maintenance side of my business and then over time, it just got confusing. My contracts were just confusing with my old company name, with kitchen sink WP is where I give away information for free and then concierge is where it needs maintenance. So I’m like, okay, no more, no more confusion about the contracts. I was confused. So I literally, concierge WP is where I do developments and maintenance for money. That’s what the team is there. The kitchen sink is the free community giveaway and some people know they both exist, some people don’t and people usually don’t. The people who pay me don’t care. We provide business developments, WordPress development, maintenance for small and medium-sized businesses.
Jan Koch 02:52
Interesting. How did that agency come to be? Why did you start it in the first place?
Adam Silver 02:57
Because I was a freelancer and I got too busy. In a sense, I mean, a good problem to have. Literally, I had no idea this was going to happen. I thought I was gonna just do some freelance work, left an old day job, had some consistent client work coming in. Just some consistent recurring work coming in as a freelancer. One or two companies and then just project stuff. And then more work came in and the issue is I can only do so much in a day by myself. The strengths that I have are A, and the needs I had were B, so it made more sense to hire people in the sub it out. And I’m good. I like doing that. I mean, I enjoy putting the projects together that way. So…
Jan Koch 03:36
That’s a tough process for many people. Like as I said, it’s a good problem to have when you are swamped with work as a freelancer. And usually, that is where these feast and famine cycles come from, in my experience. When you have like so much work that you’re not doing any lead gen and then the work is done and you have to start from scratch bringing in new customers. So how did you get out of that vicious cycle?
Adam Silver 04:00
I’m not out of it completely. I will say the first year was the hardest. I mean, backstory real quick is I had a day job in social media marketing. I was a director for another company for about three years. It served its purpose, got us out of debt, helped the marriage. I mean, I’m honest about it. And then I had enough savings to have a runway of about a year to live in Los Angeles when I used to live in Los Angeles. Now I live in Raleigh, just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, and I had a year. And then my wife gave notice at her job two months after I started this company. And so my runway went down from one year to three months. So I had to make things happen. We moved across the country, it was a tough time. And that first year was really hard. Those bigger contracts I had gone away. I was doing lead gen a lot. But I wasn’t doing it smartly, or smart. I don’t know if smartly is the right word. But I wasn’t doing it with intelligence, by any means. And I reached out to about three of my friends who are in the agency space and I said what are they doing differently? And they told me I mean, the number one takeaway was having a CRM. Having a process in place to do lead gen to follow up because I was doing a shotgun approach. I would literally do cold emails, email, somebody that I found online, said, “Hey, your website’s not very good.” I mean nicely. And then I would CC my Trello board email address. So to go to the Trello board, but I would never follow up, I never had a sequence in place. But going to a CRM was step number one and being consistent in showing up every day is an idea for the podcast, I then did 4678 months for the agency and just put the time in every day. And then lo and behold, you know, a year and a half, two years later, work picked up. I got more client work. I wasn’t so desperate to raise prices, all those right things. But it was not easy by any stretch. Looking back, and it’s been four years now. So this agency just had its four years, four year anniversary, a couple of weeks back.
Jan Koch 05:46
I can’t imagine that sounds like a very stressful time. And to be able to generate leads consistently, you also need to have, first of all, a good understanding of who you are serving and who you want to work with. So, how did you go about niching down if you weren’t defining your target audience?
Adam Silver 06:04
So, I got lucky in that I happen to have a handful of clients who are nonprofits, and or churches, just happenstance. I’m not super religious, and I want to make money. So it’s kind of ironic twist, versus the nonprofit, but nonprofits have money. People say we’re nonprofit doesn’t mean they’re not profitable. They have funds, they have granted. So I’ve got very lucky there. My strength in the niching down, I’m still working on it. I’m actually, we still have an intention for 2021 to pivot a bit from where we’re at now. I still consider us the team, a bit of a generalist, but with ahead with a lean and a bent towards some nonprofit work clients. And yes, in that space and churches by chance, but we still are, do other client work. Some eCommerce, some other things I’m looking at learning management and that’s where I’m thinking I’m shifted. I’m gonna niche down to those two areas. I think there’s more value from what we can provide in that situation. But because there’s a saying, “The riches are in the niches.” and I believe that if you become an expert in one thing, you’re the go-to. However, you can also get boring because it’s not challenging. Like I do the same thing, it becomes very much like routine. But the flip side of that coin is that it can then become a productized service. Very simple learning curve. Sell it. You know exactly what that client needs, within reason. So…
Jan Koch 07:26
Yeah. Yeah, there’s definitely two sides of the coin. What I’m wondering is, based on the projects that you had right now, what are some of the key factors that made you decide on narrowing down on nonprofits or churches and eCommerce? What sets them apart from the other work that you do?
Adam Silver 07:29
Yeah. I think the basic thing is the relationships I have with those clients. They trust me. I think that’s what it really comes down to. For me and for what my skill set brings to the table is that they totally trust me completely without question and I won’t steer them wrong. I’m not gonna, I’ve turned down work if it’s not the right fit. It could be a good payday. It could be a great paycheck. It could sustain us for three to six months of a project, tens of thousands of dollars, but if it’s not the right fit, red flags based on knowing my criteria now, feedback from the client, if it’s a new client that relationship-based, or trust factor, with the people who we work with. I’d like it, I really do like them. They’re a little quirky. They have some random questions, but they get it at the end of the day. That’s, they do what they do. We do what we do. So…
Jan Koch 08:29
So they don’t second guess I mean.
Adam Silver 08:32
They don’t second guess. Not at all. Yeah, the clients that we’ve had issues with in the past, some have fired us. We fired some. We’ve separated, gone our separate ways. They’re nice people. But the micromanagement is, it’s a red flag and or scope creep and that’s on us. My problem was scope creep, letting it happen, changing a footer once or twice is one thing. We changed the whole having a second footer, third footer. That’s on us. That’s a learned process to kind of get over that hurdle as the owner. I have to own that.
Jan Koch 09:02
Yeah, and that’s a great segue into a session that can be quite painful to talk about. But it’s also very, very important to reflect on the lessons learned. So how do you deal with scope creep? Now that you’ve learned that it is an issue in the past? Easy answer. I have a project manager.
Adam Silver 09:23
Best hire I made. I mean, she’s a development project manager. She does both. But right now she’s PM in two projects right now. And if she has a question about it, she’ll come to me and I’ll say it, I’ll just push back. I say just say, “No, it’s outside of the scope of the project. If you want us to discuss that. We can, however, there’ll be an additional cost and a time delay.” Simple. Simple answer. Easier said than done. It’s only easy said now because of experience. We all in the WordPress space, I think as creators, we all want to be helpful. We all want to really, we really want to be helpful and be nice and just get people what they want for a great price. Yeah of course we can build a site for $500, a $1,000. Is it any different than a $10,000 site? Well, maybe, maybe not. But the same token, we all have bills to pay and a life to lead. So yeah. So yes.
Jan Koch 10:12
You’ve basically outsourced and you’ve assumingly created processes around managing the scope creep,
Adam Silver 10:19
Jan Koch 10:19
Or managing the scope of the projects in the first place. So…
Adam Silver 10:22
We do discovery first, and then we do,
Jan Koch 10:24
Adam Silver 10:24
And then we have this, then it stays in scope. Exactly. And if it goes past, and if there’s a delay, if we don’t do any, no, we don’t do any code without content. No. No, and code is a big brushstroke versus your actual code versus building a site or the pages, whatever. But all content has to be in before we do any coding.
Jan Koch 10:42
Adam Silver 10:43
Jan Koch 10:44
What do you do when clients don’t deliver the content? When they don’t know what they’re talking about? Because sometimes when I’ve done project work is I had to guide the clients on how to structure the page and then they would create the content based on the structure that we worked up together.
Adam Silver 11:01
We’ve had some issues where the clients have gone dark, or they’ve gone, they’ve ghosted us to some extent, and then we have a restart fee if we want to come back to that. We have processed all those things in place. We have also guided them to some extent. Most of the sites we’re working on currently have pretty deep layers of content from old sites. The sites are 2, 3, 4 years old in a nonprofit space. And because of where we’re at right now, with COVID, and whatnot, those nonprofits are taking this time to invest in a rebrand and a rebuilding. So they have the content. So they’re taking the time to literally massage all their content and I say, no code without content. Depends on the client. If it’s a brand new client, I’m really firm on it. If it’s a, if it’s an ongoing client that we have trust with, we trust them. So that’s the break. That’s the segment that we kind of work in. You have to earn the trust both ways. Yeah. I think that’s a good balance to strike. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Otherwise, if we’re waiting for, if we’re building a site, and we’ll have to, coz we can, we can build it quickly if we have all your stuff ready to go. But some clients can’t see past dummy images and dummy content, and they get stuck on that. So we won’t build it that way. We’ll give them wireframes and we’ll say this is what the site’s gonna look like. They sign off, next phase. Then we want your content. If you need help, we can put that in the budget, we can put that in the scope and help you with your content. In the next phase, build the site. The next phase is QA. We have it all worked out now.
Jan Koch 12:27
Yeah. So you seem to have this really, really firm structure in place for your projects. Can you walk us briefly through what each of these phases contains?
Adam Silver 12:37
Yeah, so it depends on the scale or the client of the project. Typically, a phone call comes in first, I use a service called Calendly. People can schedule a call with me based on what I allow, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, a couple of hours a day. I have one tomorrow, actually. And then I’ll do a 10, 15-minute phone call, see where they’re at, see what their budget is, what their needs are if we can help. If not, I’ll try to find them, somebody else. I’m pretty honest about it. And then if they want more information, then I need access to their site depends on what we’re going to do. We don’t do maintenance for sites we don’t build anymore and hosting is a questionable concept in there as well. We will offer a retainer based on the fact that we want to learn your site. If someone else built it, how did they do it? What were the best practices? How long? How old is it? So give us a month or two at a higher price point, we’ll take the time to learn your site, give you feedback, fix wherever you want us to fix in those two months, and then move you to a maintenance plan. That’s the caveat there. From a project perspective, like discovery, I mean an early phone call, some discovery in the current site, what they need, if it’s a brand new project, there’s no, nothing to look at. The proposal goes out, they have a week or two to look, review it, maybe go back one or two go-backs and then sign off. Then we have a kickoff call with all the decision-makers on their team and me, my designer and my PM, and then, but my developer’s on vault on that point yet, because they’re so far away two cents. And my developer is awesome. Both. I have two basic developers, and then we start. The first process is design, wireframes, some color swatches, fonts, all that messaging, that kind of goes along with it. And then once that’s signed off, that takes anywhere from four to six weeks. Again it depends on the client. And then that goes from there too, and the PM’s managing all this, so I do the kickoff call. I introduce everybody, and then I hand it off to the project manager. And then she takes it from there. She manages all the phone calls. We use slack for intercommunication. We use Asana for PM, for project management. And so just sort of, she’s the go-between and then just kind of goes through the process and then the checklist and then payments come in based on milestones. So I love it.
Jan Koch 14:47
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I’m a big fan of charging by milestone or if it’s smaller or if it’s a project that can be done quickly, I would go with 50% upfront.
Adam Silver 14:57
Jan Koch 14:57
50 on completion, but I definitely saw the bigger ones.
Adam Silver 15:00
I don’t do completion. I say I say it’s a completion from when you’re done. Not one launch. There’s a difference.
Jan Koch 15:05
Adam Silver 15:06
But when I was younger, I used to say, when we launch. Well, what if they ever launch because they don’t have their content? My work is done. I shouldn’t be on the hook for 50%. So when we’re done, they sign off, I get the balance. Yeah. A lot of keywords in what we do and very specific, and I’m very clear on those words with this client. So.
Jan Koch 15:25
That’s a really good point and you’re bringing people onto the same page as well because one thing that I found really disturbing when talking to a few clients is they would use different terminology, then I and my team would use so that the header could be a top section or whatever, or the hero could be a top section.
Adam Silver 15:43
Jan Koch 15:43
The menu could be items, or what have you?
Adam Silver 15:48
Right. Navigation. Yeah. I mean, it’s, yeah, we try to be consistent. Yeah, same thing.
Jan Koch 15:53
Adam Silver 15:54
A lot of it is just client education. I think a lot of what we do is education.
Jan Koch 15:57
Yeah, I was going to ask about that. Do you budget for that, like when you sometimes have to help clients understand their business model even and how to tie a website into that? Do you charge for that?
Adam Silver 16:08
It’s part of the overall project. I don’t think I’d not as a separate line item but I think based on my margins, I’m covered there. Yeah. I price high enough, I guess, that I have enough wiggle room too if a project goes longer, like for example, my PM gives me 10 hours per month per project depends on the project, but we can figure it out. I have enough wiggle room in there to go an extra month and still make a profit for me.
Jan Koch 16:34
Adam Silver 16:34
I really need to be compensated accordingly. Do you know?
Jan Koch 16:37
Definitely and that’s an important lesson when you’re running a team is you have to calculate that overhead into the equation because you will need it at some point.
Adam Silver 16:45
Right. Absolutely. And then also, the key is been knowing your numbers as an agency owner, I’m running out profit first methodology. So having that extra funds available in case of a downturn and timing or downturn in the economy. So also not to be stressed out like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to pay people?” Like right now my developer is, one of my developers, he’s light on work. We’re waiting for something. So he’s probably like, this week, he’s not working a ton, but I’m okay with that. I’m prepared for that. Yeah. Yeah. So… Can you elaborate on profit first? What does it mean? Oh, so it’s a book. It’s a methodology. It’s a book by Mike. I can’t say his last name. It’s basically, it’s the old mentality and methodology of pay yourself first, first, and foremost. Why do we do what we do? I have an example from years ago, living in Colorado working for myself. I did more video photography back then and I remember I made great money that year. My wife and I, between the two of us, we’ve made close to six figures. This is probably 25 years ago and at the end of the year, we had nothing to show for it. Like, where was it? Yeah, we live comfortably at a nice home in Colorado but where was that money? I just keep that in my mind. And then recently, just as far as, the basic concept is taking money, taking percentages, and having to be assigned for taxes, expenses, owner pay, and profit. What we do is we want to make a profit. So even at 1% profit, put that money aside. So every dollar that comes in, I have a breakdown of my profit and like my four buckets. My expenses are the highest because I have staff and I have freelancers. I put away 20, 25%, 20% for taxes, owner pay, 1% profit, and every six months, take that profit amounts, and take half of it and have fun with it. Go do something. Go out for a nice meal. That’s the profit first methodology.
Jan Koch 18:34
Yeah. And I’m using it too, by the way. So what is really nice is, yeah, I know, but most people watching this probably won’t. So what’s really nice is that it forces you to get transparent with the numbers because I will just have one bank account where everything went into and everything went out of, and there was no way of staying on top of the expenses and tech savings and stuff.
Adam Silver 19:00
Right? I have that one bank account if it came into my business account, and when I needed money for rent, or we needed money for the rent or for just bills, I would just move money over. Now I don’t do that. And that’s fine, but it’s sloppy. So now I move money. I take percentages, every percent, I mean, everything goes, it’s assigned. And you’re right, now I really do know my expenses are. I’m like, “Whew! That’s kind of scary.”
Jan Koch 19:25
Adam Silver 19:27
So I have an owner pay account and money’s in there. I have a nice big overpayment. I’m not taking a draw yet. I’ve been broken up for six months now, but that’s the key. So on slow months, I can still draw out the same amount every month if I want to do that. That’s the basic theory as well. So no matter what, you always have a paycheck. If you do it right and if you don’t, if you realize that you’re not gonna get a paycheck, then something’s wrong in your business model. You’re not charging enough, your expenses are too high, one of those two. You don’t have enough client work, or you’re expenses are too high. Something has to give.
Jan Koch 19:57
Yeah. If that’s the case by the way, for everybody watching this, check out the session with Jennifer Bourne on 10 money leaks that can drain your bank account. So that definitely ties nicely into this conversation.
Adam Silver 20:10
Jennifer is awesome.
Jan Koch 20:11
Adam Silver 20:12
We just did a book club. We were in a business book club online, and I did it. We did still profit first recently. So…
Jan Koch 20:18
Adam Silver 20:18
And now we’re doing another book, I can’t remember the name of the book all of a sudden. So Mike, my, my pack I think what after? Oh, yeah. Business books, they’re awesome.
Jan Koch 20:28
Yeah, they definitely. Do you read a lot to learn how to improve your business?
Adam Silver 20:33
I read every day, at least an hour a day. And I’m reading about three books simultaneously at the moment. Yeah, so…
Jan Koch 20:43
Multitasking. But that’s possible due to you being removed from the business so much, I would say so.
Adam Silver 20:50
Yeah, it helps. I just make time for it. It’s on my schedule every day. So I make time in the morning and all night at night, but half an hour each time each day on it. On the front end and on the back end of my day. It’s how I wake up. It’s how I wind down. Exercise. I listen to podcasts. Yeah, I’m always trying to learn more and not just learn but implements and then be intentional with what I’ve done. So, you can just read for reading sake but if you don’t implement it, then what’s the point?
Jan Koch 21:14
Yeah. The same with all the podcasts and with events like this one, too. It’s like, you can watch all the sessions but if you don’t take action, then it’s waste of time.
Adam Silver 21:23
I just talked to somebody yesterday about, coz I’m thinking about doing a course on something recently but she wrote back, well, she thinks the set of courses might be in the same realm. I mean, that’s fine, people have different voices. But she takes a lot of courses, a lot like 700, 800, $900 courses and I haven’t seen her really do much. I like her. She’s a good friend, which hasn’t done much with that information. I’m like, “Why do you keep spending the money on learning versus sometimes essentially just started doing my damn.”
Jan Koch 21:47
Yeah, from my experience of growing my own business, I would invest in courses because of trying to stay busy and trying to feel good about doing something without actually getting work done, without getting the important steps, the uncomfortable work done. So it wasn’t until I spent I think my biggest course was like close to 2k that I spent on how to run these summits. And once I put that into action, it paid for itself over and over again but it’s really when you’re running a business, you do not have the luxury of not executing.
Adam Silver 22:22
Right. Yeah, you have to, I mean, otherwise, it’s just you know, it’s a hobby.
Jan Koch 22:26
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. One thing that many people struggle with, from conversations that I’m having is actually building a team so that you can remove yourself from the day to day business. I would love to hear more about how you did that.
Adam Silver 22:41
With a lot of sweats and tears, and I got lucky and unlucky a couple of times. I’ve had some really great people work with. I say work with me instead of for me. I just don’t like to say for me, but with me. And a couple of the situations that just kind of were happenstance. Somebody was looking for work, I brought them in as a contractor, then they had their own agency take off their focus on their own things they moved on. So I’ve had some people come and go. I’ve had some really bad luck too, with people. Like really bad. Last year, somebody worked with me and it almost caused me to shut down the whole agency. It was like, then I almost lost one of my biggest clients because of it. It was just, you know, it happens. You hope for the best, and I didn’t have a profit first in place. I didn’t have the financial cushion to fix it immediately. So they paid me back, I fronted some money. I learned the lesson that way. I start to be a nice guy, they were to buy and I fronted on the development of money as a developer and it didn’t work out. They never did the work. So that said, the team I have now, I love. They’re awesome. They’re all great. Really, really good. I mean, we all have life, and we all have stuff that happens. There’s death in the families, there are people who get sick, people get hurt. All I ask for is open, honest communication. That’s all I ask and I set a mandate. If you’re gonna work with me, you got to be on my Slack channel for concierge WP, and you got to use Asana, and you also need to have a concierge WP email address. If you push back on those when I interview you, in any which way they gotta want an email address. They’re not gonna work with me. I have to have that overall concise feeling of the unity of a company. So…
Jan Koch 24:19
Adam Silver 24:20
That simple. I’ve had people say, “No,” they don’t want another email address. I’m like, Okay, well, then I guess you don’t need to work with me.
Jan Koch 24:25
That’s stupid. That’s stupid to turn down work because you don’t want another email address. Come on.
Adam Silver 24:31
I just can’t have people, not that I don’t trust people, but sometimes people make mistakes accidentally on purpose, and they’ll shoot off an email to the client from their own account or from a Gmail or something that doesn’t look like us. At the end of the day, the client probably doesn’t really care who’s doing the work. They want to know but they want to feel good about it. And I need that concierge WP. I need that brand to be consistent.
Jan Koch 24:53
Especially when your name concierge, I mean it has to be top-notch. Yeah, like we are the white glove lady. We want to take care of you. We want the experience to be amazing. So yeah, those are my three mandates now. And I’m actually working on the new handbook for the new year as an actual employee, like an onboarding handbook and a company handbook. And I’m trying to read one of the books I’m reading right now, has a lot about value and values. I want to implement those more in front of bigger picture things that I can kind of step back at if we continue to grow the way I’m growing. So… Interesting. Where do you go about finding your employees like do you use Upwork, Onlinejobs.ph?
Adam Silver 25:29
So I found one, at one point Onlinejobs.ph. Actually, I found a few there. The person who was working with me most recently has moved on, they got some family issues came up, some health issues. Darrell, shout out to Darrell, he’s awesome. But right now I have a word, I guess, word of mouth, the community, has really helped out a lot. WordCamp US, I met somebody there. She’s up in Toronto. She’s amazing. She came in to fix that bad problem. So she’s amazing, really is. My PM and other developers, I guess just in the WordPress community, just a referral. Word of mouth referral. Yeah.
Jan Koch 26:07
Does that save you on vetting? Do you go a bit lose on those?
Adam Silver 26:12
A little looser, yes. It takes time, though, to still build that trust, and to know how much I want to share with them. Everyone that works for me, with me, realizes that they charge me X, I’m charging Y. They get it. So there’s no secret there. You know, they don’t need to know exactly how much Y. That’s a business model. Yeah, that’s what we do. But they don’t want to deal with going out and finding the client, that type of work of it, or the strategy. They just want to just do their role, what they’re good at, and they’re good at what they do. They’re really are. And I’m good at what I do. Which is this.
Jan Koch 26:47
Definitely. So what’s the structure like? How did you build your team? Which hire came first and then how did you go about hiring multiple people?
Adam Silver 26:57
So the first person was a developer. I don’t say, unfortunately, just because of a client that came to me as a referral, as he told me that was gonna just be some basic maintenance and CSS and content. It wasn’t. It needed some actual some higher-level development work, which was beyond my skill set. So I had to find that person and I found that person pretty quickly. That’s the one who left to do their own agency, their own little, they have a special specific niche that they do. I found a replacement for him, somebody else also was great timing, worked out really well. And then that was specifically one ongoing project. But his prices were a little too high for the other projects I was working on. So I found somebody through online jobs. I found Darrell, my second hire was him. So I had two developers. In hindsight, I wish I’d hired probably a PM much, much sooner. But it’s that I didn’t know my numbers. I didn’t know my budgets, and I wasn’t really good there. But that probably would have helped me a lot because I’m not, I’m a great PM if that’s all I’m doing. But if I as the agency owner, as sales and strategy, and PM and doing some dev work and or maintenance. It’s hard, I might be the bottleneck. I could get overwhelmed. What do you start first? I start by lying on that couch behind me and taking a nap. That’s the truth. So I started with developers and then most recently, my middle-level developer, she’s now doing both, some Dev, but PMing. So she’s awesome. PM is a good person to have. I mean, other people call it a project manager, you can have an implementer. I have a lot of ideas. I could use an implementer. Now, I think, but I don’t know if I can justify it at the moment.
Jan Koch 28:43
Do you have a special methodology for project management like Scrum? Kanban, something like that?
Adam Silver 28:49
Jan Koch 28:49
Or is it just staying on top of stuff?
Adam Silver 28:52
Staying on top of stuff at the moment. So we use Asana, and Asana now has both you can do like just the list, or you can do the like the board, like the Kanban boards. I know that my PM likes the boards. So whatever she really wants, but I’m used to seeing this the list. I really am. I’m open to changes, I just need to I need to be shown what the benefit is.
Jan Koch 29:13
That’s true and nice.
Adam Silver 29:15
I trust the entire team implicitly. Like if they think something is a better way to go with it, great. We had a call last week with just my PM and the designer. We’re reviewing the site before we show the client this week and we had questions and then the designer pushed back. I’m like, you’re right. You’re the designer. If you’re a designer, the client liked it. Who am I to say that I don’t like it? I mean, I don’t like it. That’s a whole separate story. But the client loves it. Fantastic.
Jan Koch 29:45
Adam Silver 29:46
Yeah, it is.
Jan Koch 29:47
Adam Silver 29:48
Right. For the most part. Yeah. So I know it’s a hundred, it’s a thousand times better than what the client has right now. So yeah, it’s just everything’s a little too big. I think from what went from paper to web, the developer made things a little bit too big. So we’re reducing the sizes by about 20% then it’ll be fine. It was almost too cartoony it’s just off. So yeah, that was fine.
Jan Koch 30:11
Maybe the target audience is like 70 plus or something and then it’s fine if it’s big.
Adam Silver 30:16
Eyesight. Based on the number of visual components. Yeah. Interesting. Can you share some of the most important lessons that you’ve learned in building and working with your team? Like I said earlier, probably communication. Don’t go dark. If you have concerns, we’re not available. If you get sick, just let me know. Going dark to me, in any which way, from a team perspective or client perspective, just don’t let it happen if you can avoid it. And it happens and I’ve made some mistakes. I had one, a developer who went dark, there was a family emergency and I felt like a total butthead in wondering like what’s going on to this person goes to me. I went through this whole thing. It happens and realize that I guess I’m not perfect and I’m easily distracted. I like shiny objects. I’m like, “Oh, this is a new idea.” The key is a stay on task. I use a productivity planner. I have OmniFocus I have my plans for my stuff. I do things for the company every day, make sure we’re all signed to do things. Here’s a great takeaway. Make sure you make time for yourself. You need a break. Just because you’re in a different country, different time zone, or just because you’re working with me for a project you’re getting paid on if you need to take a mental health break a day, take it. Totally fine. What we do, the sites we build are not mission-critical. Some of them are eCommerce, some are learning management, nonprofit, they help the bigger picture for that company, but they’re not going to make or break that company for one day. I’m not someone getting done.
Jan Koch 31:53
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad that I’m just a couple of days before recording this I’ve got Diane Wallace to confirm the cheese in the summer too. And she works with the Big Orange Heart.
Adam Silver 32:05
Jan Koch 32:06
Who is the charity for mental health and the remote working space? But that is super cool.
Adam Silver 32:11
We donated to them earlier this year. My friend Scott DeLuzio and I, we did a thing where I was called… back at many work camps. I started this years ago, if someone left a phone around or something happy to take a picture of that with their phone, I would sneak a picture of myself on it. It’s called sneaky selfie. So we start hash. People find them months later, like, “How did Adam get on my phone?” So, people are realizing this. So we started this thing back at WordCamp US and if somebody, if anyone has found a photo of me in the past two years on their phone, and they hashtag it a sneaky selfie, we donated to, it was WP and up back then. They renamed. So that’s one of the things we help mental health, make someone happier. So that was fun.
Jan Koch 32:51
Yeah. Definitely, mental health is important when you’re scaling your own agency. I mean, the tagline of the summit brings back the fun in scaling your agency. That is what it’s all about because in the end, who or why are we building the business. Because we want to live life on our own terms.
Adam Silver 33:07
Right. The other thought is I’ve realized that I don’t get enough. I work a lot. We all work a lot and I may not be in front of the computer working a lot, but I’m always thinking about something. That’s a problem. The brain space that it takes to do what we do is always ongoing, I mean, non stop. And this past summer, my kids all went somewhere. Even in COVID, my daughter went to California for two weeks to see her boyfriend. My son went to the lake. My other son went to the beach for a week with friends. My wife travels for work as a flight attendant now. I went nowhere for 12 weeks. Well since like, February, I didn’t go anywhere and I’m trapped in this 12 by 12 room with a dog usually. It helps a little bit, but it’s like almost burnout so we agreed that every 12 weeks, I’m going somewhere for three to four days by myself. So actually, my next trip is coming up in about four weeks in the third week of October and I didn’t want to spend the money originally. I don’t wanna spend 50, 60, 70 dollars a night in an Airbnb. But you know what, it’s sad or be debilitated by stress.
Jan Koch 34:06
Yeah, That’s where you have the profit account on profit first for.
Adam Silver 34:10
Exactly, exactly. So it’s prepared. I have the money, I can do it. I can justify it and it’s good for mental health. I need to have that space. Relax, read, breathe, walk and I exercise a lot as it is.
Jan Koch 34:22
That’s also the reason why I have this fancy office going on because I love tinkering around with smart home stuff. So everything you see in the background, except for the coffee machine, is smart. And even that side…Even that glass that you see on the shelf is going to be a tank for a smart watering system for the plants right next to it.
Adam Silver 34:41
Jan Koch 34:42
That’s my way to deal with the stress and I think it’s important that first of all, we all know how to relieve stress for ourselves. Everybody’s wired differently in this case, but it’s also important that no matter how much pressure you have from all the projects going on or from being in a feast and famine cycle right now, you need to take a step back at some point.
Adam Silver 35:06
Yeah, it’s true. You really do. I mean, it’s not hard. I mean, it’s not easy. It’s hard. Do what we do is hard in the sense of it’s not like digging ditches, it’s not physically hard, per se, can be, some people get stressed in your neck, whatever. Sitting up, I have a standing desk as you do as well. But it just takes energy, and you have to make sure you have enough to fill it for the day. If you don’t feel like you work in a day, take a day off. Yeah. Simple. Yeah. Simple really. I meant to get off, we’ll see. I’m not taking today off, I have work to do today.
Jan Koch 35:40
That’s also a nice segue into one of the next sections that I would love to talk about within that is how you build your recurring revenue streams through the maintenance services because those relieve stress quite a bit.
Adam Silver 35:53
Yes and no. So they do relieve stress, except, but they also add a little stress. So I think the mistake, people think that it’s easy in the sense of just setup, maintenance of reoccurring revenue, it’s so simple. There’s still work to be done, you still have goods, services, and tools in place. Back in the day, seven, eight years ago, I guess, eight years ago, it was such a thing like easy recurrent maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Just build it and set it up and it’s done. Get these tools, pay for the tools, and you’re good to go. Yeah, but when there’s a problem, what do you do? I mean, case in point, two and a half to three weeks ago, as of this recording, my site, my server, was hacked. It wasn’t part of the big hack that happened. It was a similar hack, like a file manager thing, but we don’t use that plugin. A similar concept and all my sites were affected by a host. I don’t blame the host, it’s just stuff happens. But I have since moved to a different hosting, I’m now at managed hosting. So I’ve had to invest money that I am prepared to spend because I have profit first in place. So my expenses went up by 2%. Just like that overnight. But it took four days of whack a mole of stress, that the three or four days of research, and then four more, five more days to migrate 16 sites off of the one server to different servers, multiple servers, just to protect me. So yeah, recurring money is lovely on the first of the month. I love it. But when that other stuff happens, it was stress. It was an unexpected stress. Didn’t see it coming, obviously. Why would I? I had a good for so long, but it’s not an if, t’s one. It’s not if you’ll get hacked, or you get malware, it’s when? And are you prepared to handle that? So yeah. And I’ve lost two clients since COVID because of budget cuts. One client went from retainer down to maintenance, so they just dropped a third. One client went away completely. Her husband lost a job. Her project was a hobby, they decided to pull the plug, and I could have been a total, I could have held to the firm. I have a 30-day cancellation policy. I just let it go. She canceled another month. Fine. There you go. She didn’t ask for a refund. She could have kept going for two weeks. I kept her for two weeks and then I just, here you go. So, yeah, not a big deal.
Jan Koch 38:09
Yeah. I think it’s most important in these situations to keep a good relationship because things will get better inevitably again and then who would she turn to? It’s you.
Adam Silver 38:17
I helped her migrate. She had some services with let’s say, the difference between maintenance on with me or companies versus on your own, is you could access all the services we pay for. All those coz I have unlimited licenses for many things. So now, you have 30 days. Get your own license. So I helped her with those. I didn’t just turn things off and remove them. I’m not a total jerk. I’m not a jerk at all.
Jan Koch 38:40
I can confirm that. Yeah. So what I like when looking at your website is your maintenance services are packaged very nicely and they are priced in I would say in a good way. And good, whatever that means. But your smallest package is $127 and then it goes up to almost a thousand. What is interesting, and what is also on the other side devastating to see, is that so many developers start competing on price when it comes to maintenance. I’ve seen maintenance plans for like 10 bucks a month, including hosting, which is insane to me. So how do you try to set yourself apart?
Adam Silver 39:24
So truth be told that a thousand dollar package is relatively new. I did that because I did the math when I was doing profit first. I realized that I used to offer hosting on the old highest level package was like 350 and it was eight jobs a month. I don’t do unlimited jobs. I’m not that big of a company that I can’t, I’m not 24/7. I don’t have that scale at the moment. I don’t want that scale necessarily. There are companies that do that. That’s great. But I did the math. So if I had to do the work for eight jobs, I lose money. I had to make it, so I had to change up the plans. I had to do a higher plan. If I did that work personally, if I let everyone go, I would still have no money. It’s if someone signs up for it, fantastic. The odds of it. What no one has yet, it’s not a big deal. But maintenance itself, as I said, I don’t just meet back up. I said earlier, you can’t sign up for maintenance just by itself. We won’t take you actually, without having known your site. It used to be when I first started concierge, you could sign up, get going. The problem was people took advantage of that. They’d come in with maintenance on poor hosting, with a site that was really in bad shape, or with this infected, pay I think at that time $67 for us to clean it up, and then leave after a bomb. Well, that’s not fair for us either for it took us three or four hours to fix it, kind of thing. It’s not right. So I’ve made it so you have to apply to be for maintenance. And really, we just don’t take you unless we have a retainer first. I’ve lost, I say Lawson air quotes. I’ve lost work this way but I haven’t. I gained better clients and more time for us to do the bigger things we want to do. So, and I’m actually looking at revamping that again for 2021 and not making it so such a prevalent part of the business. Right now it’s the main page, it says maintenance plans, but we’ll offer it. Yes, but probably in a more specific and targeted way for clients as an add on to when we build a site, and you get this kind of thing, kind of included in that first year.
Jan Koch 41:24
I think this is the best way.
Adam Silver 41:26
The maintenance staff, you’re right. It’s a loss leader for many. I know a lot of people who just want maintenance only than do any agency work and that was my initial intent. My initial intent was that. So I’ve had offers, people want to buy my maintenance clients. I have an exit strategy if and when I want it, which is awesome. But I’m not there yet. And if somebody gave or offer me, I’m not looking for a job, job. I get hit up many times a year, I take two interviews a year, maybe three tops. If I had an opportunity for some amazing opportunity, like a job that was great, financially, it made sense, and I couldn’t do this anymore because of conflict of interest, then I will explore that. Until that comes around, until Matt Mullenweg starts knocking on my door, I do my work every day.
Jan Koch 42:13
Yeah. Yeah, I think maintenance plans are a double-edged sword because, on the one hand, you get the recurring revenue. On the other hand, it’s very hard to build the packages in a way that you don’t lose money when guys really start requesting what you have to offer. But then again they can lose, it can lead to more projects with that client. So I had one eCommerce brand last year? Last year. One eCommerce brand for 1000 bucks a month on a retainer, and they were doing six figures a month. So it was quite a stressful workload for me and the team because when something went wrong, it had to be fixed instantly. Instantly like that.
Adam Silver 42:59
Jan Koch 42:59
And that is definitely something to keep in mind when you’re running maintenance servers. Yeah. Yah, that’s the best point and it’s similar to these events. I mean, anybody could research the information that is shared on the WP agency summit on youtube. It will just take you months to compile all those sessions together.
Adam Silver 43:04
Right. On the package that you see there, it’s like 347, 350. I have a handful of people there and one of them was a client back in California. They rarely use the number of jobs they get. So when they send me something, and that’s over and above the jobs, like we set up a site once for that forgive WP for that, take donations for fundraising, their city councilperson, that’s more than just whatever their jobs counterpart. But she didn’t use any job for six months. The jobs don’t roll over, but I’m not going to just limit you. You’re paying so much and what they pay for is they pay for access. In my opinion, they’re paying for me. No, that’s the difference they want. They want my knowledge, my exposures, and our work ethic. We’re gonna get, we’re gonna fix it, do it right. So there’s value in that and if I’ve done my job right in the approach, I take with building a friendship and a trust, they’re paying for that. That’s the value. Yeah, they can go get shared hosting, they can get all the tools that we use, for obviously, considerably less. But then they have to manage them and they don’t want to. Right.
Jan Koch 44:20
It’s the exact same benefit.
Adam Silver 44:22
Yeah. Like anything else, I have ideas for courses. I want to do deep dives for my podcast. When I started the podcast, on that note, there were three or four other podcasts in the WordPress space. Some are already pod faded, some are still concurrent. My buddy Dustin, he is still current, seven and a half years later. Now there’s like 15 different WordPress podcasts. But we all have a different voice. We have the same content and it’s that same information is out there, but our voice, our style, our approach is gonna be a little different. And we don’t match everybody. I don’t find that being an issue. I don’t find the competition being an issue for people being lower priced for maintenance or for sites for agency work. There’s somebody for everybody, relationships for both love interests and agency work.
Jan Koch 45:11
Yeah, definitely. That’s also the beauty of the WordPress community too. I have probably around 35 to 40 speakers by the time of recording this and they are all in the same space, essentially. I mean, we are all running agencies, we are all selling WordPress sites, but still the CEOs and managing directors and stuff like that from those businesses, they get on a call with me. Even though I’m just a random dude from Germany asking for an hour of their time. I mean, you and I, we didn’t know each other before it reached out. So this is an example of what you can do when you just talk to people in our space.
Adam Silver 45:51
There are 95 million WordPress websites. I can’t handle them all. I can’t maintain them all. I can’t rebuild them all. I cannot. I mean, it’s like there’s plenty of work and people who don’t think there is and people who, scarcity versus abundance mindset. Again, it’s learned, it’s something I’ve learned recently from reading, from just being in business. Work from abundance, be helpful, refer people to if you can’t take it, know somebody. I mean, I have a subsidiary of concierge WP for this exact reason. You asked about vetting people, so I had a friend of mine who kept coming to me asking me if I could do something for him. For some reason, he thought I was like a high-end developer. I’m not. Can you do this? or know someone who can? Because he’s not in the community. He doesn’t want to be, he just has his niche. He has his business, he does really well. So I built a site called canyoustartyesterday.com and it’s a place to where I can, I have a Rolodex, a roster of people who I know, who I’ve met in person, who I’ve vetted because we’re friends. Anyway, if you send me, there’s a whole process, there’s a website, I don’t push it too hard. I make some money off of it every now and then. But it’s out there. But it’s that concept of who do you know? Who can refer work to? There’s a small transaction that makes that happen.
Jan Koch 47:05
Adam Silver 47:06
Until I’ve mentioned that site, I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Forgot about that site.” I always forget about it, and people hit me up on it, and people want to be in it. It’s an invitation only. I have to know you. I’ve met you twice in person before you can be in it. Nowadays a little different because of COVID. But if it’s a referral, but I still need to vet people. So now it’s like full zoom calls before you can get in. Right.
Jan Koch 47:28
That’s awesome. Yeah and that definitely, people watching this take advantage of the networking lounge during the summit and just make new connections. You never know who you’re bumping into in the networking launch. Don’t be shy. There are no like really bad people in the WordPress community because those who will troll you they’ll troll you on social media. They won’t troll you on the website of the summit.
Adam Silver 47:52
Right? Yeah. Some of my best friends are the WordPress base. I’ve vacationed with, I’ve gone to people’s homes, I’ve spent nights with, I mean. I have 12,150 photos approximately give or take on my iPhone. Guarantee you 6000 are related to WordPress. Half of my family, half is the WordPress family, or just at least. Yeah, yeah. Yes. They’re all backed up by way. Yeah, crazy. I had no idea this was gonna happen. When I came into the community, when I found it, I do not see this coming. I’ve been in a ton of WordCamps, I’ve led three work in Los Angeles, I was lead for, didn’t see that coming. When I was asked to be a lead organizer when I sent us to volunteer to do that. That was amazing. Never thought that was gonna happen. Didn’t see it coming.
Jan Koch 48:40
So circling back to your agency, how does that tie into the growth of your agency? Do we get like new leads? Do you get relationships with developers that you can hire, stuff like that? I do. So from the community to the agency is huge, it’s a full circle. I was visiting a WordCamp, I think it was Ann Arbor, I don’t know, three or four years ago, and I wasn’t speaking. I just went to show up and surprise my buddy Kyle Mauer, who’s a good friend of mine, and I was at the after-party talking to people, this woman came up to me and she said, “Hey, who are you? You’re not speaking here, and why does anyone know you?” And I told her who I was, I was flattered. I go, “Well, I’ve been doing this for a while. I go to a lot of work camps back when we were traveling, and I have a podcast.” She’s, “I’ll give you a card.” I gave her a card. she was in do websites. I’m like, “I have an agency.” So then she reached, she listened to the podcast and reached out. Two weeks later, we both recite. She’s the one actually who just recently left for maintenance because her husband got laid off. But we’re still really good friends and she’s awesome. She has a great website. So that full circle, just by me being in the community, by having a podcast, by talking, I get referrals that way. Yeah. Yeah. So if you’re running an agency, you would say it’s almost mandatory to be active in the community and just be friends with as many people as you can?
Adam Silver 50:00
I like to believe so, yes. I’m also a firm believer that there are many, many agencies, people who use WordPress solely as a platform that has nothing to do with the community. They don’t see the value. That’s fine. That’s not for them. I mean, Matt even said it, Mullenweg even said it, that most people would never go to a WordCamp. You just can’t sustain the numbers based on 95 million websites. It’s not gonna happen. Also, totally fine with that. But I’m a believer that, you put in the time, you give value, you’ll get back TEDx over time. But it takes time to build that up. I mean, I will tell the truth. I came into the community desperate for work. I was in a rough place in my life. Marriage, family, all that stuff. I was like, hungry for it. That doesn’t go well. Being a hard sell in the community doesn’t work out. You have to build trust and friendships, and then you’ll get work.
Jan Koch 50:56
Adam Silver 50:57
Once you open yourself up to that saying, don’t be so desperate. It works out, but it takes time. I mean, you got to put the time in. Yeah.
Jan Koch 51:04
A beautiful way to wrap up this conversation.
Adam Silver 51:06
Jan Koch 51:07
I would love to dive deeper into this but we’re coming into the end and I need to be respectful of your time, obviously. So besides, in the networking lounge for this event, where do people get in touch with you if they want to learn more about you?
Adam Silver 51:20
So I’m on Twitter @heyadamsilver and also for concierge WP has a twitter account, such as kitchen sink has a twitter account, kitchen sink WP for the podcast, concierge WP for the website there and yeah, that’s me.
Jan Koch 51:36
Love it. Thank you so much for coming on, Adam.
Adam Silver 51:38
Thanks for having me. I had a good time.