4 Key Client Management Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

About this episode:

In this first solo episode of the Agency Spark Podcast, Sara talks on her background and 4 key client management lessons learned over the past couple years. Sara Nay is the COO at Duct Tape Marketing and founder of Spark Lab Consulting with over 12 years of experience in the small business space. She oversees the day-to-day operations to support the growth of both businesses with a focus on strategic planning, consultant network coaching, and client success.

Core ideas:

  • Focus on the clients that you can make the most impact for AND that value you.
  • It’s ok to say no.
  • You can’t do it all yourself so find great people to work with by hiring for the future not for the current problem.
  • You must take a step back from client work to look at the big picture for your business – analyze your partners and processes regularly.
  • Make sure the tools you use actually make you more efficient.
  • You are not alone if you are feeling overwhelmed and/or stressed.
  • It’s time to work smarter not harder.
  • Clearly define your ideal client.
  • Create your core packages.
  • Find your people to help support you.
  • Nail your tool stack and stick to it.

Show notes:


Sara Nay: This episode of the agency, spark podcast is brought to you by monday.com, a powerful project management platform. Learn more about how to set your team up for success@ducttape.me slash Monday.

Sara Nay: Welcome to the agency spark podcast. This is your host, Sarah Nay. I'm the COO at duct tape marketing and founder of spark lab consulting with over 12 years of experience in the small business space. And today I'm recording my first solo podcast to share a bit of my story along with four mistakes and lessons learned along the way. So you can avoid making the same ones. If you are a marketing consultant, coach or agency owner, this episode is for you. So, as I mentioned, I've been working at duct tape marketing since December, 2010. Earlier this year, we decided to establish a second company called spark lab consulting. And the main goal behind that was to make duct tape marketing all about the brand, the podcast, the books, the speaking that John our founder does, and really all about marketing consultants and agency owners, and to make spark lab consulting, basically a division or a separate company of duct tape marketing, where we focused on our small business consulting clients.

Sara Nay: So consulting had up to this point, always been a portion of what I did, but a smaller one. As my main focus was really helping other consultants and agency owners grow scale and build their practices. So when we made the separation from dictate marketing, I kept all of my same responsibilities along with keeping the two retainer clients that I had already been working on. But on top of that, we transitioned everyone else's clients over to me. So I essentially became the lead coach or consultant on all of our engagements. And we brought on a couple new ones all at once. One of these new clients was honestly not a good fit. I really wanted to support her. I loved her mission. I love her company still today, but she ran a nationally e-commerce company, which isn't typically a niche that we focus on. But more importantly than that, she was really hands-on slow to respond and didn't trust me as the expert.

Sara Nay: She honestly thought of me as a vendor that she could direct from the very beginning versus a consultant that would be coming in and helping her strategically to implement marketing. I put absolutely everything into my work and the fact that I couldn't essentially win over this client was causing me to put a lot of pressure on myself, all of this happening at once. So taking our existing client load and moving it over to me and bringing on these new clients. It really, I put in a situation that I had been helping other marketing consultants and agency owners get out of for years now, I was working really long hours and weekends, my days were almost a hundred percent filled with client work. So I couldn't work on duct tape marketing or spark lab consulting as a business anymore. I was incredibly stressed out. And the biggest thing, the really most eyeopening thing in all of this was it started to impact my family life, which is something that I said would never let happen.

Sara Nay: So I remember one night, very clearly my daughter, Ava, never snuggles anymore. She's one and a half. She is always on the move. She was really sick and she was at home and she was sleeping on my chest. So instead of taking in the snuggles and being fully present for her, I remember I had my phone actually behind her, behind her back as she was on my chest. And I was responding to the problem client trying to get six social media posts approved, which is something that I had been working on for almost a month. And that's right then that was a big moment for me. It's when I hit me. My daughter is here, sleeping on my chest and I'm literally responding to a client over text messages about social media updates. And I am not fully present for my daughter.

Sara Nay: The next two days, something somewhat strange happened. I literally could not stay awake or get out of bed for two days straight for anyone that knows me and my personality. I'm on the go. I'm very active. This was really rare. I had no fever, no headache. I honestly just couldn't keep my eyes open. So I have no idea what causes us as it's never happened before. It could have been that I got what my daughter was sick with, but I have to think that the level of stress and the amount of work I was trying to juggle contributed in a big way. I literally could not keep my eyes open. So after two days in bed, I woke up and I decided I just have to move. I got up and I took my dog. Lummi for a walk on the trails behind our house.

Sara Nay: That's honestly where I do my best thinking. And I try to spend almost a portion of every day out there of mine. You don't see anyone when you're out there in the trails. It's quiet. It's still, there's no distractions. As I was walking up there, I made a decision that I needed to make a change. I couldn't sustain working like this and in what I wasn't going to let it continue to impact my life like it was currently. So I took my first steps back on the hill, and now it was time to take my first steps of the away from the stress that I was essentially putting on myself due to the amount of work I on. So before I actually got down the hill, I called John, who is our founder and also my dad. And I told him that I was going to fire this quote-unquote problem client that I didn't feel like valued me as an experienced consultant that I know I am.

Sara Nay: And of course he fully supported me. The big lesson I learned here, which is something that I, as I have honestly been preaching for years to the people I work with is to focus on the clients you can make the most impact for, and that value you. And it's okay to say no. I think that's a really important second piece is that that value you. Most of my clients, I've had long-term relationships with, they value me. They trust me. And because of this trust, I can make big things happen for them. So it's not only identifying the clients that you want to focus on and you can make an impact for, but it's also that value piece as well. And it is okay to say no. Once I realized again how important this was, I've actually in the last couple of weeks, said no to a couple of different prospects that came our way, just because I realized as part of the sales process, they ultimately weren't going to be a good fit for us.

Sara Nay: And so it is okay to say, no, the second action I took was I found great people. We now have two account managers in place that are running the day to day of most of our client engagements. My role is simply strategy for our clients, leading these account managers to keep all the pieces moving and then client reporting, everything else is handled by our account managers. And I am really grateful for that. It allows me to focus on where I think my strengths are, which include things like creating the overall strategy and managing the account managers to get the work done and to look at the data and see where we're making an impact. Like that's, that's where my strengths are. And then all of the pieces that need to keep moving in between that are managed by the account managers we have in place. So the key takeaways from this is, especially if you're, you know, one person, two person team, you can't do it all yourself.

Sara Nay: And one thing that one of my recent podcast guests actually said to me that really caused me to think about what we were doing in the moment was higher for the future and not the current problem before I found these account managers that we have on today. I actually hired someone that didn't end up working out. It was just, he was just a freelancer on Upwork, but I looking back at it, I was trying to hire for the problem client and the current problem that I had versus thinking longer term, what are we trying to accomplish with spark lab consulting and how does this person fit into the puzzle? And so I think that's a key takeaway in this, as well as this. You can't do it all of your, all yourself by yourself unless you're superhuman. And I certainly am not. So find people that can really support you, but think about the long-term direction.

Sara Nay: You're ultimately taking your company. So next step, and this is really less than three and four, and also something that we've been preaching for a long time. I took a step back and I analyzed our partners and processes before we made the split between duct tape marketing and spark lab consulting. All of us at duct tape marketing were only managing a couple clients at once. And so, yes, we had great partners in place. We had decent processes in place, but we really needed to tighten some things up when I started to scale my specific workload. And so first I looked at what are our core packages that we typically offer to our specific group of clients, which are typically mainly local small businesses. So our engagements start with strategy. Always. We always come in and we identify who's the target audience. What's the core message.

Sara Nay: What's the customer journey look like? What does the content calendar need to look like based on that? And then what are the key growth priorities for a business? So that is where we always start. But then typically we focus on key channels under the digital marketing umbrella to reach the audience of the clients we're trying to reach. And so we look at website, content, SEO, social media, reputation management, email, marketing, and paid. This is the foundation of the system that we deliver for our clients. And so based on this system, we have very set team members and implementers that allow us to get really good at these channels that we focus on to get the best possible results for our clients. And so one of the elements I worked on there was just really tightening up the team members and implementers that we had in these core channels.

Sara Nay: And so we can continue to master them and get really great at them. In addition, I looked at our client management partners and this is where we had a few more gaps. And so, as I mentioned earlier, we brought in our account managers, we brought into for our clients. Um, and then from there, we looked at our project management tool. We looked at how we're delivering social media to clients. And then we looked at how we were reporting to clients. And so prior to going all in on these client management partners that we brought in, after we kind of analyze this process, we, we had decent processes in place, but we really need to revamp. We needed to revamp them. So for example, we were using a mix of spreadsheets and buffer for social media. And I replaced both of those with a tool called Lumley.

Sara Nay: Also, when we're doing our client reporting, we were getting by, by going to people's call rail and Google analytics and email marketing platform and pulling in data to a spreadsheet, but we've moved away from her into a presentation, but we moved away from that. And we set up agency analytics that allows us to automatically pull the information that we need to, into one dashboard, keeping it all in place and really simplifying that process for us. So I mentioned the few areas that we looked at, the first one being project management, we were always using, well, not always, but the last year we've been using monday.com for project management. Before that we used a sauna we've used base camp. We've used Trello. There's a lot of really great project management tools out there, but I am suggesting that you find one and you stick to it and you commit to it.

Sara Nay: And not like we made all the changes over the years. So monday.com we've been using for the last year or so now, honestly, it's a tool that if it goes down, I feel like I just stare at my screen and wait for it to come back because I am almost lost at that point. I map out how a hundred percent of my work onto monday.com and I map out a hundred percent of my client work within that platform as well. So now all of our clients can see exactly what we're working on and win along with keeping all of our communication and file sharing in one place. So this gives our clients a lot of clarity and confidence as to what we're doing. And when social media is the next area that I felt like we had some gaps. And so, as I mentioned, we were using buffer and spreadsheets.

Sara Nay: So we brought in loom Lee to replace both of those. And it's been a huge time saver for us. So essentially our account managers now schedule out the next upcoming months worth of posts and lonely. And then we're able to give our clients access to their specific calendars. Our clients are then able to edit and comment and add any notes on the content before it goes out. And essentially just be able to see it all in one place in a number of different views, lonely also just an added bonus, make suggestions on how we can improve our posts such as time of day or certain hashtags we should consider based on the content we input. So lonely, bringing that in helped us, you know, working in a couple of different tools to simplifying into one tool and then agency analytics. As I mentioned, I can not say enough great things about agency analytics.

Sara Nay: It's honestly a tool that I have known of for years now, but I never, I was hesitant and diving in because the whole idea of setting up a dashboard seemed overwhelming from a time perspective, but it was extremely easy to set up. You build templates, you replicate them. Their support is incredible. Um, but the whole agency analytics dashboard has been really great because you're able to use like a site audit and use the dashboard as part of your sales process and actually to show the clients the type of information they would have access to. But it also makes my client reporting on a monthly basis so much easier because I said, I said it automatically pulls in all the information from everything you're tracking essentially and puts it in one place. And so it makes it a lot more efficient and a lot easier. And so honestly, that's the theme behind bringing in these tools for me, monday.com makes me even more efficient with our clients.

Sara Nay: Lonely makes us more efficient and social media reporting makes us more efficient and effective. I would say on all of these things in terms of reporting. So by getting some of these people and processes in place, I am in a hundred percent better position today. I mainly focus on, again, the things that I think where my strength lies, which is strategy and reporting to clients. Well, our account managers work directly keeping really with all of the other implementers and keeping all of the pieces of the puzzle moving forward. I'm now able to focus on duct tape marketing and spark lab consulting in terms of working on our business again, which is the work that I love. I am getting our actual ideal clients that we work with so much better results because I'm not distracted and taken away from them. I am working, let's say much more normal hours than before.

Sara Nay: And most of all, I am happier in life outside of work and more present for my kids. I actually have a picture on my desk of my two daughters. Um, during that we took during a recent trip to California and we were there for a few days. Um, one of two of the days being a Thursday and Friday during the work week. And I think this is the first time probably ever that I didn't check my email during that Thursday or Friday while we were on the beach with my kids. So I was able to be fully present and there for them. I share all of this to say, you are not alone. If you're feeling any of these feelings of overwhelm or stress or anxiety or pressure, these are core concepts that we've been preaching for years now. And I still forgot to follow them myself.

Sara Nay: So I am here admitting the mistakes I made over the last year or so to hopefully make you feel better if you're currently going through something similar. And if you are, I will leave you with this it's time to work smarter and not harder. I have been saying these four things for years now, but I honestly mean it more now than ever. Number one, clearly define your ideal clients from there. Number two, create your core packages. And then number three, based on your core packages and your deliverables, find your people to help support you. And then number four, nail your tool stack and stick to it. Thank you all for listening to my story and the agency spark podcast. This is your host, Sarah, and we will see you next time.


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This episode of the Agency Spark Podcast is brought to you by Monday.com, a powerful project management platform. Monday.com helps teams easily build, run, and scale their dream workflows on one platform.  I personally am a user and big fan of Monday.com – I start my workday pulling up the platform and spend my day working within it for everything from task management to running client engagements. Learn more about Monday.com at ducttape.me/monday


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