How To Scale Your Agency Using MRR In Your Projects

John White

John White

Read the transcript

Jan Koch  00:04

Welcome, everybody. Thanks for joining me at the WP Agency Summit. I’m here with John White who I’m talking to for the first time, but I’ve been lurking around him on Facebook in the same groups and sit around similar people really, for ages. And John is doing something really amazing with True Mtn, which he is the co-founder of, and they have structured their web design projects in a way that gives them predictable monthly recurring revenue. John, thank you so much for coming on for making an early time. It’s 6:30. For you, I believe. For being willing to share what you’re doing.

John White  00:39

Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me on, you know, when you reached out, I was pretty excited. You know, anything I can do to keep, you know, giving insight into what we’ve done for our agency in the last couple years to help other people who might be in the same shoes, as you know, were super important to me. So you know, I’m here to kind of offer some advice, or at least a general idea of what has worked for us. Not that it’ll work for everybody. But hey, you know, it’s definitely it’ll save you a couple of months of testing and AB testing to skip the parts that don’t work, at least.

Jan Koch  01:12

I love it. I always love learning from others, so that you could skip a few steps in the data, give us the baby, one-minute or two-minute elevator pitch of who you are and what you’re doing in the WordPress space.

John White  01:23

Yeah, totally. So again, my name is John White, I’m the co-founder of True Mtn Marketing, which is my core agency. At the very top, I started it three years ago with my business partner, John Ogross. And we originally had started our agency, like most people who leave their full-time job is I’m going to do everything creative, and I’m gonna, you know, be super happy. And I’m going to be able to manage a million projects, and it’s going to be great. So what we had originally started our company on was we were going to be photography, video production, and then website design as well. So we were gonna kind of do like these big packages of branding and all this, you know, fun stuff that you know, work with the Apple and work with Red Bull and all these cool projects like everybody wants to do, and then soon realized that with a team of two people, that didn’t quite make sense. And it was not physically possible to put the number of hours and we needed to keep doing this stuff. So after about our first year in business, what we started doing was kind of pivoting our company into strictly a web design corner. At that time. We did that right away, you know, as a young company in any young group of people, which we are. You know, I and my partner at the time were, you know, 25 and 24, were 26 now. It’s very tough to walk in a business and then pitch them a 20-$30,000 website, and then they look at you and they’re like, I’m pretty sure my kids your age, and he’s in college soon. And I’m like, you’re not wrong. And it made it extremely tough. We were running into a lot of that. So we were kind of just like, how do we get these sales? How do we build this business? You know, we can only not make money for so long, between these small projects. And we had run into a couple other, I wouldn’t say agencies, but other like products online, which were starting to kind of test out this monthly reoccurring revenue model for websites. You know, I always bring these guys up, moe pro was one of them, which they still do pretty heavily. They build AI websites, ai based websites. So essentially, they were like $100 a month at the time, something crazy low. But you could fill in a form with the name of your company, some details, and it would spit out a website based on AI would scan the website, crawl it and then build like a template that they probably had like 10 on stock or something. And I was like, wow, that’s brilliant, you know, there’s very little time management involved. You get a reoccurring revenue every month. And then you know, the focus is actually super basic websites. It’s not these massive conglomerates are these fortune 500 5000s. And in your stress levels come significantly down. Because you’re working with a little bit of smaller companies. We saw a couple of other people doing that. And in that scene, there’s another company called b12 at the time, which is still active as well. And they kind of fill this little role of like these AI monthly reoccurring, like websites. And we were like, this is brilliant. But I’m not a full-stack web developer, I guess you could say, or a back end developer. So coding and algorithm or a bot to crawl websites and build the website, was way outside of my, you know, knowledge scale. So about two years ago, we came up with the concept of using this monthly pricing plan but molding it into using our actual agency in our team to do the work still and then service those people. So we were kind of like an in-between where we’re going to charge definitely more than $100 a month because that’s just not possible. And then also completely scrapped the whole $15,000-$20,000 for, you know, a brochure site or a small business site concept. And see what happens. So that’s kind of how the idea kind of got going, you know, we had so many clients just say no to 15,000, no to 20. And then we had so many clients just constantly asking for updates. And on the small websites we had going, like, this is perfect. And the idea for us was born. I’m sure there were some other people doing it at the time. But when I was joining some other agency groups on Facebook and discussing and some other posts in posting people like, well, we’re doing websites, and they started $300 a month, and in a small setup fee, and that’s it, people were like you are nuts, like I was, you might I might as well just told everybody in this Facebook group that everything they’ve done, their whole life was like a lie. And I just like burn, they’re, like company downs, people are either extremely upset, or they were extremely interested. And they only usually became interested once we finally were able to prove six months in when we had at the time about 50 clients. So it was awesome. When you only have two people on your team, you got 50 clients at about 300 a month, you know, that’s decent revenue. And now we’re at about 160-170. So it’s constantly growing. But now, you know, we’ve got this cool reoccurring revenue plan. And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. The pros, the cons, whatever you want to know, we’re hoping

Jan Koch  06:29

that is so fantastic. It’s so inspiring to hear, I mean, just imagining 160 clients, even if it’s just 300 a pop, for each client, I mean, that amounts to quite a significant amount of revenue that you’re bringing in every month. So can you walk us through maybe the thought process of structuring your packages, like when you switched from pitching these five-figure projects to the maybe say, like a licensing fee, and then the monthly recurring revenue that you are charging now, what was that process look like?

John White  07:03

Yeah, so you know, realistically, and I tell almost everybody that I meet with or talk about this kind of with, from an agency standpoint, or maybe you’re just a freelancer, whatever you are, um, is step one is just, it’s not about building a package to just kind of stuff money into or stuff add ons onto, it’s building a package to fix a problem for whatever you’re going after whatever niche or whatever, you know, whoever your target audience is, so what we did is, we found problems that we were dealing with in our pitch, or that clients were coming to us with, and then we filled them. So, you know, I knew that when I build a website, there are a couple of things that in my opinion, and you know, I consider myself knowledgeable in it, but I’m no fool industry expert to an extent. But I do know, you know, nowadays, three years ago, the conversation was a little iffy, but SSL, you have to have an SSL, and like trying to sell that to a client every single time for $100 and 50. Let’s Encrypt free now. But at the time, it was just like you, they felt like you were pinching pennies during the pitch, and people would almost just shut off and you brought it up. So I’m like, you know what, including SSL, like, it’s not that hard on our hosting, whichever one at the time, you know, it’s a couple of clicks, and it’s good to go. With that meant we were kind of managing DNS, so we’ll control some of the security sides of things. We run it through CloudFlare now, and then we wanted to include hosting, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had a website come over. And then they’re like, well, we’re gonna pay for the hosting because we don’t want to spend $50 a month on it, God forbid. And it’s like, oh, my gosh, and you’re like, fine, if that’s what make or break this deal. Let’s do it. And then they give you like, Bluehost or something small, you know, yeah, I don’t, I’m gonna be careful with. I don’t know who’s sponsoring this. Somebody, somebody hosted it. And it’s on some basic server that’s like, honestly, on a thumb drive plugged into their computer, probably. So like, we were running into so many issues. And then what that also meant was like, sometimes we’d have a client, you know, have a new design person come in or something inhouse, they had no idea what they were doing, and they would like cut our access. And we’re like, well, now we can’t do anything. So this is a problem. So what we did is we took over the hosting, and we included it in the package without any questions that we don’t allow the clients to even decide yes or no on that. Like it’s your if you’re on our host, or if you’re on our package, you get our host. You get our SSL, we’re going to manage that. And then what we decided was, what do we do now on top of that, you know, how do you make somebody commit to the same amount every single month. And for us, we work with small businesses, you know, people with less than 100 to 200 employees, generally, mostly people with like 10 employees, honestly like a landscape company, a mom and pop shops, small restaurants, that’s like our perfect clientele. So for them, what we did was we sell the service of us being there when their hours need to get updated. We came in massive, you know, massive, you know, way of helping this year when COVID hit, because every single one of our clients had to put some type of notice on their website, they had to put all these new rules these new pages up. And instead of us, you know, billing them by the hour, it really helped them out to be like, hey, look, this is already in your package. We’re here, and we’re going to make this update for you. And it was, it was actually a really good case study for us. We can even discuss it a little later. So service hosting SSL coverage. And then finally, how do you justify a larger price and then spaced it out over two years the design so we don’t use any templates, there are no templates in any of our designs. For the first hundred websites, I was personally hand-making every single website with Beaver Builder, which is my page builder of choice. Still is. So I was making beaver theme or header footers making you know, page layouts making the whole website from scratch. And what I say is it’s tailored to the company. So we came up with this, I don’t know if it’s come up with by us, but I haven’t heard anybody yet called tailored web design. And this is what I’m considering. So you’ve got templates, you’ve got, you know, your DIY, which is kind of your Squarespace, you know, your Wix, even, you know, WordPress templates, it definitely fills a void of people. So you got your DIY people, and then you’ve got your full custom people. So now you’ve got people on the end of the spectrum, which are like, I want this in my website, I need the CRM integration, I need this email, signup form I need, you know, all these services listed a portfolio builder, xx, xx, xx, all this stuff. And then you’ve got people who know they need something super nice like this, they don’t have the time to do DIY, and they don’t know, you know anything about what’s in the middle. So what we do is we come in, and we tailor a design to fit their company. So it’s still unique in a custom sense. But at the same time, they’re not telling us every small little thing, we’re telling them, Look, as a restaurant, this is what you need on your website, you know, you need to have your phone number at the top, your address at the top your hours, and then we’re going to build a directions page and menu page. And outside of that, that’s the very basis of a restaurant website minus a contact form. So it’s kinda like going to a car shop, you know, you know, you’re you’ve got a for me, at least, I don’t tell everybody, I know I’ve got a flat tire. I don’t know how to fix that tire, but I know I need a new tire. So I’ll take it to the shop, and they fix it. And that’s kind of like the dumbed-down version of what we are. They’re like, they know they need a website. They don’t know how to make a website, but they know that we do. And we’ll just do it for them. And they don’t have to worry about it. So it’s tailored web design. So yeah, the package is we just want to cover all the basics, all the inside of it. And then outside of that we can always, you know, figure stuff out with the clients offer more. So our base package covers all the stuff we just discussed the design, hosting the service, and the SSL for security. Outside that we have larger packages we started coming up with, for some companies that wanted to do e-commerce, we started running into people that were getting more than 100,000, you know, traffic a month for visitors. So we had to start being bigger plans to cover the hosting. And then obviously, the service for somebody who’s getting that much traffic, they obviously have a few more requests. A lot of people want Zapier started becoming big started understanding what it was. So we started making, you know, our time to do some of those cool integrations, included in some larger packages, and then some other stuff as well. So we’re figuring it out. We’ve been doing the recurring thing for two years, still figuring out where we’re constantly changing it. I think I’ve done a couple of interviews and you can go back to them from the last few years. And every time it’s like oh, that John’s change something here. It worked at a time.

Jan Koch  13:44

I think that’s the nature of the business that we are in though that you always have to be evolving to also meet the customer’s needs because the customers become more and more educated and become more and more aware of their choices because of all the marketing budget that companies like WP Engine, Elementor, and co. spend. So it just makes sense to keep up with that. And what I love about your approach is how you tailor everything to your customer, rather than fitting them into a box. The one question that came to my mind is, you mentioned that you also build the website based on the retainer. Doesn’t that mean that you start with this real chunk of the workload at the beginning that probably would make you a net loss? If you just charge for the retainer, then you have to recoup the fees over the next few months. Or how do you structure that work?

John White  14:32

That’s very, very true. Um, it was something we ran into. Well, okay. You know, a lot of people that I’ve talked to this about, you know, they want to get it going and then they find out six months in, you know, they’re like, Oh, you know, I’ve got a company of 20 people, this just isn’t profitable for my company. And you know, it isn’t because, at the end of the day when you’re doing a reoccurring revenue model, it’s a numbers game, you need to get as many sales as possible. As fast as possible. And that’s just the start of it. From there, it’s just you have to grind out like the first six months building 50 websites in six months was absolutely mind-numbing. But it pays off. So it’s one of those things like you said, like, the first probably what we did at first, and this was ridiculous. Now I think back at it, we guaranteed the website in two weeks.  That’s how long it takes my clients to give me the content. Two weeks after we get the content, let me restart here. We had an onboarding form, the form gets sent to us, they got a website in two weeks, if they didn’t like it, we do some changes. But like, it was very rare that they didn’t like it. Because you have to, you have to take a step back. Remember, these people aren’t designers, they’re not web experts. Like you just need something to look in function. Well, that’s the end of the day and make it look good. So we were making websites in less than two weeks. Now. It’s two to four weeks, so we changed it significantly. It’s cause people are like that doesn’t make any sense. Um, so the biggest thing is, you know, I set the two week limit on myself because you have to turn these things you have to turn them as quickly as possible. And you know, what, if they don’t like something on the site, or if something’s wrong or incorrect, or they’re changing prices and services, down the line, like, that’s the whole point of your property or your what you’re selling them is to Hey, no problem, I’ll fix it in a month or two months, whenever you notice it or, or if something changes, and we might have messed something up like we’ll change it for you, we’re not going to charge you. Um, so you know, the process, it can take a long time. The hardest part, as you said, briefly is like getting the content from the client is by far the hardest part. Selling the website easy all day, building the website even easier Getting this information from the client? I’m like, I might as well just take over their dang company sometimes. It’s so difficult.

Jan Koch  16:54

How do you handle that? I would love some insights on that.

John White  16:57

Yeah, but um, you know, keeping it going, the biggest thing I tell people is the process. So you’ve, you’ve figured out maybe how much you want to sell website for. You kind of know what you want to put in your pot, your, into your package, which is cool. Everybody’s going to be somewhat unique in that sense. And now it’s really how are you going to get all the information? And then what are you going to do after you’ve got the information. So for example, we signed people up, our whole process is very, very smooth. So we’ll start we can start at sales if you want you to talk about the little process, walk through it cool, very quickly. So you know, obviously step one is sales, we’ve got my business partner handles all that, but I can do it, anybody in our company can do it, where we’re with proposal fi, so it’s very similar, better proposals, any software like that all, they’re all great. Um, and what we do is we have a pre-built contract that we’ve gotten made in the contract, it walks the client through the timeline. So one of the biggest things we found is, these clients need to know what to expect, and we put it in the first few pages of the contract on their own pages. So it’s like, Look, step one, we’re gonna have you signed this proposal, step two, we’re gonna have, we’re gonna get your payment information. As soon as we get your payment information, you get to step three, which is the onboarding form, when the onboarding forms filled out, which is just a form, we embed on a website with Gravity Forms, we used to do a Word file. And I can’t believe how many people don’t know how to use Word file. But after we get the onboarding form filled in, we submit it to our design team, where now we actually make a mock-up, we didn’t use to do that. But now we just make a mock-up with, you know, a third-party service, which is really cool. Um, they approve the mock-up. And then we go into the design and development phase, which is about two to four weeks. After that, we’re done. That’s the whole process. So we want to make it sound as simple as possible. Because at the end of the day, they don’t care how long it takes me to enable the SSL, how long it takes me to connect to any of my plugin updates, you know, system, they don’t care how long it takes me to set up Google Analytics, and then integrate the tag, they don’t care about any of that. They just want to know how long it takes them to get their website up and going. So that’s what we tell them at the beginning. That’s what we walk them through. And then we try to do that. And most of the time, 90% of the time, we hit that timeline. And what it also does is, you know, keeps them moving on the onboarding form. Also, they usually do the onboarding form pretty quick, because we take payment before we even send them the questions for the website. So they start that monthly payment on day one, they sign our contract, start paying, and then it’s like, take all the time you want if you don’t want to fill this in, I’ve got so much going on. This is great. You’re gonna get charged in 30 days.

Jan Koch  19:39

So you’re using the money to hold them accountable, essentially, to send you the information.

John White  19:44

Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think we’ll always do that it works really well because we’ve actually had a few instances and we actually started doing this because a few instances where we didn’t. We’re like somebody signed up and they’re like, I’ll send me the form. I’ll get it in and then we’ll get things going. And then it’s as you know, six weeks later, they haven’t filled in the form. And suddenly, we’re bugging them almost like, Hey, get this, get this, and then they just ghost us because they’re annoyed because we’re following up even though we’re only following up because they didn’t do it. And then they just don’t do the project because they almost think we’re pestering them. So now we just make them pay we get in the form we do if they don’t fill out the form about two to three weeks, we have a follow-up, give them a call, and email, Hey, what’s going on? Can we help you in any way kind of thing? But also, you need to fill this form out, do it yourself. It’s like the only part that they’re actually involved with, in most of it. And that’s what they want, you know, they come to us, so that we can provide a service, which isn’t cheap isn’t expensive, but it’s enough where they know they don’t want to be involved. So that’s kind of how pushes people through. So very simple process four steps.

Jan Koch  20:51

Nice. How do you go about qualifying leads in the first place before you actually get them to pay you?

John White  20:57

Um, so it’s a lot of just kind of, you know, being used to who we’re good at working with now, learning from people who have kind of, had something with us might have felt fall through, this didn’t work. Or maybe we found something that was too big. So it’s kind of like a learning experience, honestly, on that part. Like startups, people come to us with some cool tech ideas. And I’m usually pretty excited about it. Like we had a guy that had robot lawnmowers. And I was like, cool. And they like, do your whole lawn and everything. Well, they didn’t get the funding to keep it going. So like they fell through a really cool idea. But sometimes, like, it’s not as an agency for me, it’s really can’t be on my plate to like, bet on them being alive for two years, I’ll still do it, if they sign up with us, we’ll give it a try. But for me, the bread and butter of companies that you know, they have a couple of employees already on staff, they got, you know, revenue for a service that they’re providing, every single year, they’ve been around for at least two to three years, which is ideal at minimum. Or they’re a business owner that has other businesses, and this is just one get going which is always cool. Um, so like, landscapers are awesome, I love people that do stuff like that. They provide a service, I like restaurants are awesome. Retail we’re starting to get into they’re doing a lot of small e-commerce, which is awesome. for local. And, you know, just anybody that provides some type of service, roofers, they’re a big one, you know, painters, we get a couple of painting websites, suppliers, b2b is huge. So we build a lot of websites. I know, you know, I didn’t think about that for a lot of b2b companies. So you know, somebody that’s, we’ll say, building cabinets, and then selling them to the retailer. So they just need a website. So the retailer makes them look like, you know, it makes that company look like the cool cabinets or something. So you know, it’s just kind of we fit this little gap. What we don’t do is massive e-commerce like huge. We just don’t have the team or infrastructure and knowledge base to provide them with something to be fully successful. And I’ve kind of recognized that, and we let these people know that. And then, you know, I would say, some people, if you’ve got a website, that’s like, over 100 pages, like, it’s probably 100 pages of like content creation. And at that point, we just, you know, point them to a different direction for people that make the content will build the base structure of a site, though. So we’re starting to learn stuff like that. Like, what are we good at? What aren’t we good at? And then we kind of fill in the gaps with people from there.

Jan Koch  23:21

It’s interesting how diverse your target audience is, did you start out that way? Or did you focus on like restaurants, and then explore more verticals?

John White  23:30

So for me personally, when you think about this as a numbers game, it’s all about sales. So you want to be in something where at least you know, kind of like what you can’t do. But leave your audience as large as possible. So for me, my audience is a very large market called Small and medium business. So SMB is my market. I don’t care what type of business they are, we will tailor a solution to them. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re doing. We’re taking a step back and thinking that, if I was your average consumer, how would I buy this person’s product or service, and then we build it from there. And at the end of the day, with marketing and web design, realistically, it’s our job just to get people to come and click into a call to action. Or ask the client What is your goal? Why are you building a website with us? Is it to get more sales, get more phone calls, you know, what is it and then we just have to from our standpoint, be the creatives and just make that so the clients gonna give you what they want and then we just get creative and how do we get people to do that, you know, and be a little creative, do a little maybe market research and run from there but it’s nothing extensive. I’m, I’m a big proponent and a big kind of supporter of.. find something that has a massive industry so that you never get stopped or you never get, you know, you never peek out. We did I did try making a product specifically for the restaurant industry, pre-COVID. And I thought, well, you know, we had a lot of conversations with people and they’re like, Look, Johnny, your target audience is just so big, you might be confusing people with your product almost it doesn’t sound like I’m the expert on just restaurants, I’m the expert on just roofing companies, which you see a lot of in our industry, which is fine. But for me, I didn’t, it just didn’t work. So I’m a very, you know, I do a lot of our sales, sometimes in person, pre-COVID. And now, I still do a lot of calls where, you know, being able to communicate with these clients is huge, because my price tag isn’t, again, it’s not $100 a month, but it’s not 1000 I still need to talk to these people. When we can do that it’s good to go. Some of these, you know, industry experts, sites, people just get down to it, and they’ll sign up on the site. That doesn’t work for us. It might work for some people, which I think I wish I could pull it off. That’d be great. I’d love to not, you know, take myself out for one more thing. Um, but I leave it wide open. We did a restaurant-specific niche website for a bit, I thought was gonna explore it. The first day we signed? Started, we signed up to two websites. And then after that, we only signed up one. And I’m like, Well, this was a total waste of time building.

Jan Koch  26:06

It’s the lesson learned though, yep. 

John White  26:08

Yeah yeah. It was one of those things, we tried it, it didn’t work for us. I’ve had a few other friends do the same thing. They tried like a very niche style of this mountain sights kind of concept. And it just didn’t fully work. But again, it might have worked, if they put six months into it and built the numbers up. But the numbers just weren’t there yet. So yeah, it definitely gives it a try. And if it works, cool. If not, you know, oh, well, you know, on to the next you might have a couple of reoccurring revenues, at least they keep you floating by for the most part.

Jan Koch  26:39

Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I love how you’re bringing in this pivot mentality that if something doesn’t work, you just see what you can learn from that, and then go on to the next venture, if you will, because that’s super important for me personally, as well in my life is you are making mistakes, you inevitably will if you go in for something big, and if you’re building your own business, there will be mistakes. So you just have to, instead of trying to avoid them, you just have to go through them. And you have to make your lessons from that. One thing that I was wondering is, when we’re talking about monthly recurring revenue, I think we also need to talk about churn rate and customers canceling their packages with you. I would assume that for a website that you’re building, you have a number of months in mind that a customer needs to stay with you so that your break-even and then making profits. How do you ensure that the customer stays with you for so long?

John White  27:39

So we do two-year contracts. on that, that’s kind of our minimum, we tried 12-month contracts when we first started, and it was one of those things where like, this just doesn’t work. It’s not long enough for us to generate enough revenue. For us, I’d say the breakeven point is about if you include all your time upfront, all the time you put in the sales proposals, getting your onboarding, working with the client, etc. in that one month period, it probably is enough hours, and investments for you know, plugins and in different types of designs and stock and everything like that. I think I breakeven in about the six to nine-month mark for us. So that’s what my goal is, if I get a client past nine months, we’re finally starting to make some real money. So after one year, we are like golden, which is great. So that puts your margin will stay at like 60 to 70 margin, which is very, very healthy. And that’s if you take in the fact that like most of that costs for that six to nine months is your time. So you’re still technically very profitable at the end of the day. And it can be really great because you know, with the web, our only real costs, well, now I have a team. So I’ve got the cost of my team, which is a legitimate time factor is because you’re not the owner anymore. And you’re like this is an expense, get this website done. And you kind of push into people a little more, but we’ve got our team their time. And then you’ve got an actual set costs, which are like, we’ll say, your hosting fee. We negotiate with our hosting provider to get as many installs for our WordPress as possible. So we have like 200 installs that we pay for every single month. So instead of paying, we’ll say $30 per install, like you would anybody just coming on to a website right on the first time, ours is closer to between five and $10 a month per client. You don’t even have 200 installs. So they’re definitely making the hosting providers loving us, you know, they get all this extra, nothing’s happening. But for us, we’re still paying a little less helps us save down the road. And then obviously plugins, in January of this year, we introduced a licensing fee, which what we do now is, we kind of transfer a license at the end of a contract to the client. This helps cover some of our um, you know, I would say like investments that when we buy like any type of integration like a Gravity Forms, even though it’s an unlimited setup for the client to take it if they decide to end early or leave, it’s kind of tough because we now paid $300 a year for enterprise granted, it can be unlimited. We don’t want them to have to then pay for it again. So it’s kind of like a peace of mind for them. where it’s like, hey, we’ll just give you this license, move it over. It’s still yours. You paid for the site, don’t worry about it. Um, I don’t know the legalities of that. So I’m sure I’m gonna get a message about this after this. You can’t do that. That’s not legal. What I meant was, we’re just helping them out, good people.

Jan Koch  30:39

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Please ignore us. We don’t know what we’re doing yet. Yeah.

John White  30:45

Not any bit of legal advice, you know. But ya know, the churn rate you mentioned I would say in the last every year, we lose about three to five websites. One might just be it didn’t work for us. And I’ve had a very small handful of people that we just didn’t get along with. It was tough to work with them. One of two things happen they got rid of us, or we got rid of them. And then outside of that it’s either their business, you know, when under which never is fun during COVID, we had a couple of those, I’d say like two or three businesses just could not make it through, which kind of sucked, but it happens. Or it was they lost their funding, there’s some type of startup night, I would say half of the times we lose the lost the website, they were a startup company, and they didn’t have funding. So like, that’s why we’ve kind of learned like, look, I think startups are really cool. I’m all about it. I love the cool concepts. But I do need to run a business. And I don’t have equity in these companies. So doesn’t really help me.

Jan Koch  31:51

It’s a hard lesson to learn, though. Yeah,

John White  31:53

Yeah, yeah, it’s absolutely. But 24 months has been like really good for us, we introduced the licensing fee, it’s 1000 for our base, to start up, and then 1500 for our next package. What it does is, we definitely make some money off this, it’s nice. But it helps cover a little bit of my time with my team getting things set up. And then most importantly, if a client asks for like, some type of crazy little integration, and we find a plugin for it, I just get it. I stopped asking my clients for another hundred $50 hundred dollars to set this up. Because again, it kind of brings me back to the beginning, when we were talking like, I don’t want to have to feel like I’m penny-pinching every single time. I’d rather just tell them there’s a larger upfront cost, and then assume that I’m going to spend some of that, and it helps kind of, you know, alleviate any oh, john, I thought this was included in the package. Now I’m all pissed off, blah, blah, blah. It’s like, No, I’m just gonna buy it. And then we want to think about it.

Jan Koch  32:46

All about the comfort for the client at the end of that. Yeah.

John White  32:50

Yeah, yeah, know, exactly. Um, hope that answered the question. 

Jan Koch  32:54

It does. It was interesting to hear that you have fixed length contracts, rather than just following this very popular cancel anytime movement that we see so often. But I guess, speaking of the amount that a project usually goes for, when you’re selling it at a fixed price, you just need to have that security of the defined contract length.

John White  33:19

Yeah, and we, in our contract. And again, like, every, within the states, like you have to obviously meet with an attorney, because every single state has a different law, very similar to like, you know, I would say, what do you guys call your stuff? Providences? Countries next year, I don’t know. Whatever you guys call them, I’m gonna calm states will each state might have a different law. So we have a an attorney builder contract up. And one thing we were very adamant about, was allowing people to get out of their contract if they needed to. At the end of the day, like, I know, I gotta make money, but I can’t have a bad reputation of being the web company that held somebody hostage, that was a small business. And, you know, they might have been failing, and they just couldn’t stay in the contract. So we do offer an out it’s, it’s half of the remaining balance of the 24 months that they have left. And that’s been extremely fair. From what we found with people because it’s two years, it’s a bit of time most people will do one year, and but you’re locked in. So no matter what you are committed to that year, and you are not getting that money back. So we said you know what, we can make it the two-year worst-case scenario, you know, they get in six to nine months. And then by around that time, they’re like as not working, they do their half, you know, 50% remaining balance, and then I’m still profitable, and then I’m happy and then they’re at least, you know, happy that they’re out of the contract, they can do something else. And kind of figure it out from there. It’s only happened like I said, probably five to between five and 10 times somewhere in that like house. And every single time it’s been very, very smooth. I’ve never actually had like a super upset client. It just things just didn’t work or they’re caught, their business was struggling and I totally understand that. Um, and allowing them an out was super important. Because, look, I get it, I need to make that money. And some people are like, kind of like, the business is the bad person because they’re stealing from us. And at the same time, like, they don’t want to have to make this decision. So like, there’s no reason to put anybody in a weird position. I’ve actually had somebody this was just recently, who was with us, he was doing this really cool startup concept, it was actually really cool, I thought it was gonna blow up COVID came shut his own industry down. He canceled with us two months ago. And I let him out, we actually waived the cancellation fee, just to be nice, because I mean, money is just tight with everybody during that time. And he has sent us two new people in the last three weeks. So just word of mouth referrals. And this is somebody who quit with us. So it’s all about like that customer service, you know, we are doing sales all the time. And at the end of the day, we’re good at what we do. I’m not the best web designer, but I consider myself pretty decent. At the end of the day I can be as good as I want. But if we’re not making the sales, none of this is relevant.

Jan Koch  36:09

Yeah. And it’s all about the relationships too. I mean, just having somebody who consults with you refer more business to you. That’s the best estimate for your work and for your communication skills that you can get probably. Speaking of communications, how do you structure the ongoing communications in the retainer? And how do you avoid scope creep in that context too…

John White  36:32

Yeah, that’s, that’s actually something we’ve been struggling with. So I’m, I’ve went through in my head, how I’m going to keep doing better at that. And what we do right now is if they have a support request, or they need something changed, I just have a basic form on our website, and anybody can actually see it at the bottom, it just says support requests. It’s a giant yellow button. Because so many people couldn’t find it for some reason. It doesn’t look good on our website, I don’t care, these people need to be able to just click it. So they click it, it takes them to a form like a little gravity form. They fill in what they want. And what it does is we have it just go in Zapier right into our ClickUp and assign it to our team. And then we do it. If they don’t do that, the other thing they do is just email text me or call me any day of the week. And that’s fine. So what I do is then I just put it in my ClickUp for my team, or my task management software, whatever anybody’s using, and run it from there, we do have the occasional person who will ask, it’ll be like a one month period where like every single day, some for some reason, they have to change something on their website. And I’m just like, this doesn’t make any sense. This is overkill. But I’ll let it go on for about a month or two. And then I track everything. So the biggest thing was tracking, you can’t you can never go to a client and say, hey, you’re asking for way too much. Unless you really know the numbers. So like, I’ll never accuse somebody of saying you’re working with us too much. We’re gonna have to raise this bill. And they’ll say What do you mean, what is too much? What have we been doing? So what I’ve been doing in the past, I used a toggle, which was great for time tracking and task management, fantastic program. Now we use click up click ups working for us. So I assign a client to every task. And then we do time tracking depending on how big we think the task is. And if it’s a large one, we track that time. And then we just run a report. So I can say, Hey, you know, fitness center, you ran, you had us build seven funnel pages for your ads team and wherever to make. It took my team, you know, six to eight hours to do all this. And if we’re going to keep doing that the next month, we’re gonna have to up your package an extra hundred dollars a month to cover some of this time. If not, no worries, we’ll just leave it as is just don’t ask for this much every time. So that really helped. And what it did is it helped my service side of things because one I was like, Hey, guys, like we’re not going to charge you for this month. But moving forward. If you think you’re gonna keep doing this, then let’s up your package. So we were just kind of like upselling people throughout this and it worked out versus telling these people Hey, this isn’t what was included. We’re not doing this. Instead, we’re like, we’ll keep doing this. Let’s read talk about what you need in what you’re really utilizing. And honestly, if somebody is asking for all that service stuff that is a good client, you want somebody who’s actually interested in updating their website, it means they’re utilizing something you built for them, which is awesome. And they’re probably willing to do more. So like obviously, like the reoccurring for our website is huge. But you know, I’ve got a full agency. The recurring is Mtn Sites. My agency’s True Mtn we created Mtn Sites is like a product separate from the company when we tried this whole concept. But now we’re merging Mtn Sites into True Mtn. And we’re starting to do recurring concepts with other parts of our company. So digital ad PPC, easy recurring revenue, the client spends money with you, you take 20-30%, every single month. Content creation, we’re now doing a monthly content package $400 you get one photographer and video person at your place every month. Or you can do I think it’s 350. For bi-weekly, we have somebody or company bi-weekly, or 250-$300 a week, and we have somebody go to their place every single week and build content for their social media for their website. And then we do social media management $500 a month and account. Like all this stuff is just kind of comes back in together. So if they’re using their website, I’m sure they’re utilizing one of our other services. So it’s like, this is great. I don’t mind taking a small loss. If you sign up for other stuff.

Jan Koch  40:45

It’s a fantastic perspective, I would have assumed though from most conversations I had is people always get annoyed when customers are asking for too much. And they always have this fixed number in mind that the customer pays for in the retainer. And then as soon as you cross like 10 minutes over, they get annoyed from the customer as you are just shifting the entire mindset in the conversation and yeah, looking for an upsell to make more money.

John White  41:10

I mean, websites in a way for us are a loss later, I mean, we make money, but I consider it like the biggest time-suck of our company is definitely websites. But the websites have also brought in so many other packages that we offer now to these clients that the website was the opener, I mean when you tell somebody that, hey, we’re only 300 $400 a month for a website. And now this business also is doing social media advertising and PPC campaigns and all this other stuff. I mean, you can make just so much more reoccurring revenue, stacking all that stuff, but the website is your first way to get in the door 10 out of 10 times because it’s just an affordable way for people to open up a conversation with you. So if you’re already like penny-pinching people, and plugins on small upsells and SSL whatever, on a couple of minutes overtime, then you’re just pissing them off, they want to have somebody that can call and be like, okay, you know, they’re just getting taken care of this normal sales. And they will sign up all day with you, in some of the clients that we lose the most time with on like, weekly meetings for content creation. Like I have a client, every single Friday, no, every single Thursday, man, that would suck if I messed up my weekly meeting day, every single Thursday, we have a two-hour call with them. And I bring most of my team on that call. But this client also has five businesses, every single one has a website with us. And every single one of those we run their social media for and every single one of those we run their PPC for and then we also do video and photo for. So I mean, this client’s bringing in, you know, roughly five to 10 grand a month on just one person and it can go up and down because we also offer print production now. So it’s like, I mean, it just keeps going up. And then this client also brings us tons of referrals. So it’s like, being able to sacrifice a little time is not a big deal. And at the end of the day with these recurring plans, all we’re doing is sacrificing time from the first day. So it’s just like, Alright, here’s some more, here’s another hour What else we got in this! I love it! Bringing the fun back into scaling your agency. Yeah, this, Okay, this reoccurring plan is not for the faint of heart, it is not for the person that’s trying to get into this so that they can spend more time hanging out on the beach or doing whatever they want. Like I am extremely involved in every single part of this. And I have been for three years. And that’s the way it’s profitable. Look, if I hired a full team of developers just to take it over, and I was just the guy kind of managing it. I mean, you would lose your profit immediately. Not that it’s a bad thing like I have web developers, I have designers, I got that now. But at the start, you can’t bring somebody on for we’ll just say something like four or five grand a month to get like a legitimate page builder that’s experienced to help you out. You can’t bring them on, because you’d have to sell between 10 and 15 websites the first month just to break even on that one employee like the numbers just aren’t there right away. But it could be down the road. With this, you can at least scale it, get there, then hire your person, pull yourself out a little scale, scale, scale, hire somebody else, pull yourself out a little more, etc. And just keep building it up, which is what we’re trying to do right now. And that’s kind of how I tell people like this is not a get rich quick scheme. Is it a get rich at some point scheme? Absolutely. Is it in January, February, you know, we’ve got all these clients and then suddenly this random economic pandemic comes out of nowhere and our sales go absolutely flat for four months? And you’re like, Oh my gosh, most people are probably like, what am I? Am gonna have to pivot my entire company? What do I do? We’re over here and we’ve made the same amount of money since and we haven’t had to worry about a thing. So it’s kind of like a protection plan, as it continues to scale but you have to be willing to be involved with it.

Jan Koch  45:03

Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t agree more with this. And unfortunately, we’re coming into land here. So we don’t have much more time to dive into this. One topic I would love to talk about before we finish this conversation is how you’re actually building your team because you mentioned that it’s being extremely involved, obviously makes sense from the beginning, not just because you can’t afford stuff, but also because you want to know all the processes and the nitty-gritty details so that you know what to train your people on eventually. 

John White  45:31


Jan Koch  45:32

How do you go about removing yourself from the company?

John White  45:36

Um, it’s, it’s difficult. You know, I’ve talked with a bunch of, you know, people in our industry, which I feel like are kind of like thought leaders as well. And we’ve had some private messages like, hey, how did you get this developer? What are you doing? Nobody knows what we’re doing. Still.  So in December or October, November, I know, sometime around then, I spent a lot of money doing a lot of different things to test out, if I could find a way to source a team together in an affordable way. Um, while it was still a fair pay to do everything, but also in a way where I could still be profitable and get stuff done. So I did, I hired like, 30 people on Fiverr at a time just to make designs. I hired. I did 99 design contests to try that at the same time. I did, there’s Upwork, all this stuff, to try and just build a team through their digital digitally. And honestly, like, I don’t know, if maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing on these guys, or what, but I couldn’t figure out a way to make that work in the best way possible. And I think I could do a little better now. Because now we have a better process of how everything goes, a lot of these people are coming on, I’m like, Alright, well, here’s my onboarding form. Good luck. Thanks for building the website. And these people are like, what? They’re like, you need this in two weeks. I’m like, Yeah, I’ve been doing it for two years, not that bad. And these guys are like, this guy’s freaking nuts. And it didn’t really work. What’s working for me, is I hire local, and I hire in house. So um, you know, like, I was saying, like we’re getting, we’re redoing our whole office right now. You know, I got all these new work desks, we just put in last week, I’ve got a meeting room and everything. I like to be able to work with my team. And if I want to meet with them in person, I can take COVID out of the whole picture. So like, I let my guys come in the office if they want, you know, I like to be able to sit with them, show them how to do things, if they have questions, I can help them out. Obviously, in recent times, now we use a lot of online communication. But I like to be able to know that like, at any point in time, I can meet with this person and kind of walk them through things. So like hiring locally. This year, I didn’t think last year, it would be like a big thing. This year, we brought we went from six people to now we’re about 11 or 12 people, all of them are local, for me works, until I can find out a better way of communicating online with my you know, other talent. So communication is big for me, I’m an in-person communicator, bringing on the talent, I think online is possible. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet the right way. I’ve tried it, I’ve lost a lot of money doing it. And it just hasn’t worked for me. And I don’t know how to make it work. Because when you hire online, I think it’s extremely difficult to have that person feel like they’re part of your company. And then also when they’re talking to the clients feel like, Look, I’m True Mtn talking to this client. When they’re my in house team, they get that like these people are very passionate about working on our team. You know, they fit kind of like our younger, you know, more on the edge vibe, which is cool. When you’re doing that online, and you just got somebody you’ve never really met, maybe on a zoom call or something, it’s a little more difficult. Even if they’re really good. I know a bunch of great web designers, you know, and I still don’t think if they talk to my clients, they would feel like they were part of like our name just yet. So it’s tough. It’s just part of it’s like growing pains. You know, I feel like I still have a pretty small agency, we’ve there are agencies that are probably watching this, and people that run stuff that have you know, 50 plus employees. I’m like, you guys are crazy. Like, that’s the goal. I would love to scale that way. But we’re figuring it out one day at a time. I know, in my head every about 15 to 20 websites we sell, safe to hire another employee. So that’s good for us. Our reoccurring websites, keeps our lights on pays our bills, helps us scale into different industries. Like I said, the very beginning. We used to just be just web that’s how this got going. Now we do photo video PPC, social media management. What else we got going on pretty much anything that you can think of that’s marketing related. We’re trying to get into these industries and try em out. And if it fails, oh, well, yeah, at least we know our websites are keeping everybody employed.

Jan Koch  50:08

That is such a fantastic way to wrap up this conversation John. How do people get in touch with you if they want to learn more?

John White  50:14

Yeah, anybody can, you can email me, it’s just Or you can just add me on Facebook, and my Instagrams, johnwhiteceo. So any of those connect with me, um, you know, I try to message back for everybody. As long as they’re, you know, not messaged me like 4am, which is like, I don’t know, like, 3pm your time, I’ll get back to you when I’m alive. So I’m all I’m always here to help. We’re an open book. At the end of the day, I’m in a bunch of Facebook groups, for agencies, and I get a lot of help from everybody on there. So I do my best to give back with stuff like this. Because, you know, I’m getting advice from other people. And I feel like me being able to share stuff that I know as well is kind of like my trade off. So anything I can do to help, I’m sure somehow, someway, somebody else has helped me. And it’s, you know, it’s just the right thing to do. So just reach out.


Jan Koch  51:12

Brilliant. Thank you so much for taking the time, John.


John White  51:14

Yeah, no problem, man. Thanks for having me.

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