We at Cloudways are thrilled to kick off our new Agency Guru interview series with agency owner extraordinaire, Brent Weaver of UGURUS.
Brent started developing websites at the very young age of 15, the beginning of a storied career working with top businesses and nonprofits. For 13 years, he ran a digital agency called HotPress Web. Two years before selling it, he started an information product business called BC Gurus. And in 2013, he founded a business coaching and training program, UGURUS, which trains small digital agencies and web design/developer freelancers.
Brent has a reputation for wearing multiple hats, including those of prominent marketing consultant and business coach. So let’s get into it with the man himself!
Cloudways: When you launched your first website at the age of 15, did you have any idea it would lead down this road? What were the turning points that helped you evolve in your professional journey?
Brent: No idea. I’m a bit older now, and I’m not 100% sure exactly what 15-year-old Brent was thinking about, but I’m certain I wasn’t spending much time thinking about old man Brent. I think it was my inner inventor. Creator. Just tinkering and obsessing and wanting to make something cool and show other people what was possible.
I love the idea of connecting people. Whether it’s by sharing information about computer games (one of my very first websites), or these days, helping people all across the globe believe that what they do is valuable and teach them the skills they need to win with their agency.
But it was mostly an obsession. I had a copy of Photoshop on this 100mb Zip Disk and I would take it to my school and run it on the class computers while my teachers were talking about Biology or American Literature or whatever. I’d be working on new site design (painfully slow) just so I could upload it later that night and impress the other guys who were working on the website with me.
I’m super thankful to 15-year-old Brent for having the guts to stay focused on what interested him and to learn about this stuff on his own. I think being able to educate myself and allow my interests to drive what I was learning at the time has been an incredibly valuable skill. I’m 38 now and I’ve never stopped learning.
Cloudways: Digital transformation is the need of the year, so let’s get to it. How quick was UGURUS to adapt to the new normal? Can you elaborate on the process you adopted in this new phase? What common problems have you seen digital agency owners grappling with as they undergo the transformation process?
Brent: Holy smokes, what a year. Last year at our annual agency owner conference, USUMMIT, my opening keynote was titled: Reinvent Yourself. I had no idea how prescient that topic was going to be. I’ve had a ton of my clients reach out and say “thank you,” because they felt like that talk prepared them mentally about the need to constantly reinvent their businesses – when times are good – and now especially.
When COVID first hit, it was a whirlwind. I think like for a lot of people, there was this knee jerk reaction to pull back on all fronts – our clients were getting it from their clients, and many of them reacted the same way, just wanting to cancel everything they paid for. We went into coach overdrive. Our goal was to keep 100% of our clients through the crisis by up-leveling the amount of support we provided and help them keep as many clients as possible, and ultimately reinventing their businesses so they could sign a lot more clients themselves.
I think the biggest thing we had to put out there was that spending on what our company does is an investment and not an expense. We had to become even more indispensable for our clients. Four months into this thing, I’m proud to say that we only lost a single client due to COVID.
We produced training on how to keep clients, deal with cancellation conversations, pivoting marketing messaging, generating short-term cash flow, and so much more. I went from weekly coaching calls with our group to daily. It’s been an intense year. But I’m glad for it. I think every once in a while we all need to get a solid gut punch to remind us that we’re alive and human and fallible and that we have free will.
You truly can do whatever you want to do. Anything’s possible. And seeing the world turn on a dime and reinvent itself is proving that on the daily.
Cloudways: Your About Me reveals you have the wildly ambitious goal of “helping 10,000 agencies double their income, free time, and impact on the world.” Why this goal? How close are you to your goal, and what have you been doing to reach it?
Brent: Let’s start with the outcomes and then we’ll end with a note on the number.
I’m a big fan of seeing people earn more for themselves. Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly solves a lot of problems in and around it. Everyone has different income goals, but the idea of doubling is an easy way for me to set a standard goal across our members. When you make more, you get to pay off debts, invest, protect your future, and buy assets. Early in my business journey, I was really bad with money.
I bottomed out around 2008 when I had $3 to my name, a heap of debt, and would strategically spend on my debit card to maximize cash and minimize overdraft fees. When I went from a web designer to a business owner mindset and started learning about marketing, sales, operations, finance, and leadership, everything changed.
I hope that no one ever has to experience the depression, anxiety, and debilitating fear that comes with having nothing as I did for a time in my journey. I can tell you that rock bottom is not a great place to live your life. So let’s work on our business skills and avoid that journey for more people.
One of my mentors, Garrett Gunderson, says that money is a terrible solo act. It can’t buy happiness and by itself can lead to problems equal to having none of it. So let’s make sure that as you make more money as an entrepreneur, you’re also making time off for yourself and family, and doing great work. Meaningful work, with people you love working with, is a huge part of finding joy on the daily.
Money. Time. Impact.
I believe this is a recipe for more fulfillment.
The 10,000 number comes from simple math I did a few years ago. If I could help add $100,000 in net income to my clients 10,000 times, or for 10,000 different people, that’s a billion dollars in value created for other people. If I help create a billion dollars of income for my clients over the next decade, I can sleep pretty well feeling like we did something that mattered at UGURUS.
Cloudways: That’s quite inspirational. So in a nutshell, what would you say is the dilemma of most agencies that fail to accelerate and become market leaders?
Brent: They don’t believe in themselves as much as they ask their clients to.
I was on the phone with a prospect the other day who wanted to sell $50k+ projects to clients in his niche, but he’d never invested more than $2k in himself. You should invest more in yourself than you ask others to invest in you. The more you invest in yourself, the more you learn, the faster you do it, the more value you’ll have for the clients you serve.
The first sales coach I hired charged me $1k per week to meet with him for two hours a week. I had never spent that kind of money before. But we doubled our business that year, and the next, and then I took the sales methodology we developed in those weekly calls and turned it into millions of dollars in sales from information products and coaching programs.
Is $1k a week a scary investment? Sure. But looking back and NOT having that value for my businesses is a much scarier thought. Like, what would my life look like if I didn’t do that? What would the life of others that I’ve touched look like?
Just typing this is freaking me out. Invest in yourself. It’s the safest asset on the planet.
Cloudways: Well, in that vein, how much money is too much money to spend on a website? And yes, I’m asking this in light of the 100K you dropped on your own site! Do you have any advice for agencies regarding resource allocation?
Brent: If you’re “spending,” then probably anything over $3k is too much.
On the other hand, if you’re taking an “investing” approach as we do with all of our marketing, then the sky’s the limit. We dropped $100k on our website and brand back in 2017. That work will probably last us, minus some small tweaks, about five years. So the math is what kind of ROI will we get on $20k annual investment. Our business does 7-figures a year in revenue and our website probably drives 1000+ leads a year for our courses and programs a year.
If the math works, and you have the cash and investment tolerance, you should evaluate all of your marketing spendings as an investment. What’s going to be the ROI on your money, your time, and all of that good stuff. If there’s a good case for it, go for it.
The second you start thinking of marketing as an expense, then you’re going to try to save money, cut, and that is a losing game. There is no such thing as a “marketing budget.” As long as you’re getting a positive return on the money you’re spending, you should be willing to spend as much money as you have to grow.
At one point, we were spending $50k per month on Facebook ads when we scaled our Bootcamp program. Which sounds crazy to a lot of people. We started at $500 and we got results and then it was just a game of spreadsheets.
Overcome Your Agency’s Dependency on Referrals
On Cloudways Webinar Brent discussed how agencies can grow and own their own niche in the market.
Cloudways: Not everyone is cut out to be an agency owner. Who would you say is the kind of person more suited to being an agency owner as opposed to a freelancer?
Brent: You have to want to run a business. You have to lead. Build a team. Organize a system. You need to want to do business stuff more than creative or tech stuff. Agency owners that love doing the work struggle to find people that are better at them.
Agency owners that love business and are less good at work, are sometimes the best agency owners. They have to rely on a team to fulfill their agency’s promises and that keeps them from becoming the bottleneck of production.
Cloudways: Is there a method to how you plan out your UGURUS courses? What do you look to achieve when incorporating a new course into the program?
Brent: We’re always evolving here. I think the most important thing is to get into your market and really figure out what your customers want. That happens by talking to them. Our biggest flops have always been when I came up with a big idea and went to market without any customer validation.
The more time I spend on customer development on the front end, the more successful our programs are. It’s hard work, with little to no direct ROI. But over the long-run, the difference in doing massive amounts of customer development and not is in the multiple seven figures.
Just writing this is reminding me that I need to go do some customer development work 🙂
Cloudways: You transitioned from being purely a web designer to a marketing consultant. How worthwhile would you say it is to invest marketing dollars on new social media platforms with expanding user bases, as opposed to on established platforms that have accrued a sizable, reliable base and then plateaued? Should agencies wait for a platform to really take off, like TikTok has, before running an ad campaign?
Brent: Most agencies aren’t dealing with numbers for their own business–or their clients–where these big “macro” economic forces are at play. It’s like suggesting that an average American should model their exercise and eating behaviors from Olympic athletes.
Let’s start with some basic fundamentals for most brands: are they producing content, is it consistent, are they putting it in front of their ideal audience. As an agency owner, or typical small to medium business, you do that for a year or two and grow a big audience, and then we can start looking at which platforms are trending in different directions.
Cloudways: What projects in your career are you proudest of?
Brent: What we’ve built around with our current UACADEMY programs and $10K Bootcamp prior to that. Seeing a business scale on one or two ideas–realizing that you can do fewer things, do them better, and that’s the recipe for scale, not 100 products half-baked.
And what we did with BC Gurus will always have a special place in my heart. Had Adobe bought and led Business Catalyst with any sense of leadership, I think that product and ecosystem would have given Shopify and even Hubspot a run for their money. But they squandered it. They didn’t believe in their partner network and they lost out on a multi-billion dollar ecosystem.
And our business suffered because of that failure in leadership. I wish things had turned out differently for the BC market. But I do value my relationships with many Adobe colleagues and also the BC partner network. You know who you are and I will always pick up the phone for any BC partner.
Cloudways: And lastly, what digital tools do you simply refuse to live without in 2020?
Brent: Google Apps, Zoom, and Ecamm. If that’s all I had, I think I’d be ok.
And that’s a wrap! Much thanks to Brent for his valuable time and insights. Join us again on the next installment of Agency Gurus, as we pick the brains of Jammy Digital’s Martin Huntbach.
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Arsalan, a Digital Marketer by profession, works as a Startups and Digital Agencies Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves all things entrepreneurial and wakes up every day with the desire to enable the dreams of aspiring entrepreneurs through his work!