Romi and her team were able to take their agency from concept to platinum HubSpot partner in only nine months. Romi shares her learnings along the way, the processes they prioritized and mapped out first, and how they approach client delivery.
On this edition of Agency Unfiltered we have Romi Dexter, director and founder of New Zealand's Hype & Dexter. I'm excited to have Romi in the studio as the Hype & Dexter story's a great one. Romi and her team were able to take their agency from concept to platinum HubSpot partner in only nine months. Romi shares her learnings along that nine month journey including which processes they prioritized and mapped out first, how they grew their initial client engagements, and how they organized their weekly sprints for their clients.
Zero to platinum is no joke, so you won't want to miss Romi's tips and learnings. Let's hit it.
KD: Romi, hello, thanks for joining us!
RD: Hello, thank you.
KD: Excited to unpack a lot with you today. Obviously we were talking earlier about this idea of your agency being an idea but then being able to kind of grow into this platinum partner in New Zealand and you were able to do that under a year, nine months. So I think that's significant growth in a very short period of time. So I'm going to try and get some learnings from you that we can share with the broader community. So when you say “idea” and then grow into platinum, just talk to me through that journey. Like what was the idea first and foremost.
RD: Well I suppose just actually over a year ago, I had my second baby boy. So about a month before I had him, I quit my job because I kind of felt that's just not going to quite work with the lifestyle I want to go forward with. My business partner and CEO of Hype & Dexter, we'd been chatting for a little while about, “hey there's a real opportunity in the market here.” There's nobody kind of playing in this kind of middle to high end business and companies. A lot of people playing enterprise, a lot of people playing in the kind of lower and small business, but nobody really taking advantage and supporting the kind of middle businesses and large businesses.
And also too, a lot of marketing companies but very few full stack suppliers. So a lot of people delivering cost per click, or maybe, “they convert at this point”, but nobody looking at the entire funnel. So we thought, hey, there's a real opportunity here. A little bit sick of making money for other people and building businesses for other people so we thought, hey, let's take a punch and do it for ourselves.
KD: That's great, so focus on mid market, full funnel, not just cost per click or something like that. Walk me through the steps. From my perspective it feels like running an agency is a whole lot of process and a lot of different things you have to develop. Where did you start?
RD: So for our very first two months, we just really spent time in learning. So we kicked off last October officially. I watched like about 40 or 80 hours worth of Academy videos.
I went through and streamlined the process as much as possible so actually going through every single page with HubSpot to really understand what's in it, how does it work, what's the best and fastest way. And our first two clients, we had a bit of a strategy for what the process was, but it was kind of feeling it out. And we probably bit too much in those early days. Just kind of, we went hard on our process. So things didn't go probably as well as they should of.
KD: There's like a balance, so you can over structure from the beginning.
RD: Well exactly, you have to learn and you have to find out what works and what doesn't work. So I kind of did that for the first two months. Then coming into Christmas, I spent a really exciting Christmas holiday, mapping our processes in real detail. So just really detailed processes maps and really detailed templates. Then utilized HubSpot automation and HubSpot templates to make sure that every single communication at every step was structured and defined.
And then automation, every step to get rid of any kind of overhead, because I hate overhead. So but I've actually got things set up, so when a sales guy puts a deal into closed won, it generates a whole bunch of detailed tasks, and assigns them to people so they can actually start working on them straight away. Those tasks were linked to our intranet and videos around exact business practices and how to do the implementation. So right from the get go, whenever we're bringing on anyone new, there's a standard process, you can't really move away from it. You check things off, you get them done and it's right first time.
KD: How do you synthesize that? How do you ensure adoption across the team? It's one thing to develop the process but how do you actually make sure the team members are using it, sticking to it, you know what I mean?
RD: With a stick. No, we build into the induction. So we make sure the people we bring in really align well with our culture and that's quite critical so if they're not “process people”, they're probably not right for us. If they don't want to follow our process, or don't want to kind of work with the rest of the team, it's not going to work. So one, get the right people. Two, we build it into the induction process really heavily. Three, everything is kind of built into what you're doing everyday anyway, so it's just part of how you work. But fourth, probably the most important aspect, is our agile process. So we implemented agile scrum in January this year. And it kind of revolutionized what we were doing. So we ran the new processes for two months.
And that was great because for the first two months the process was good, we're getting things done right the first time, but we were onboarding a lot of new clients and everything was a priority so we had this long painful whips where everybody kind of walked out going: “I don't really know what I'm working on” and we were kind of just stalling because we were jumping from one thing to the next rather than just focusing and completing stuff. So when we implemented agile scrum, we literally doubled the productivity within three weeks from the team. Started really heavily utilizing our juniors because at that point, all of the work was getting done by the seniors because there was no time because we had to get all the stuff done.
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KD: Opened up the opportunity for delegation down to the junior staff.
RD: Absolutely, yeah. And it just started to improve and enhance what we were doing. So we also took our onboarding, which we had at about 14, 15 weeks, down to a standard implementation of seven weeks.
Which when you’re first getting started as absolutely critical because you're very compelled by cashflow. Very compelled by getting all those retainers started. So we were kind of like 50% up front, 50% at delivery, and then we'd get into retainer. So the longer their onboarding period, the longer it is before we can get into our business.
It was really critical for us to get it down, get it focused and start delivering value back for the client as well because they're paying (software) license fees from day one.
So it's important, two months and really they should be getting value out of their platform.
KD: Seeing results, yeah, makes sense. Idea to platinum in nine months. We've talked a little bit about making sure team members adopt structure and process. You've mentioned like two layers, junior staff, senior staff. So over those nine months, how did your team grow in size? How did the structure of your team change? That'd be interesting to kind of see that growth.
RD: Yeah sure, so October we started with two people, myself and the cofounder, Ryan. By January, we brought on Alex who's our key creative and creative director. Then we brought on juniors pretty much. So Maddie,Camilla,and Chris, who's a social guru. And pretty much just hired people every couple of months, extended the team. More account management, more sales. We just hired two, an intern and a graduate, two months ago who have been amazing, so they've got up to speed in six weeks.
Like, they were presenting to clients and smashing it within six weeks. Completely revolutionized our entire persona research and creation process and have been absolutely wonderful. And then most recently, we brought on Kelly who's going to be taking over a bit more of my kind of hands-on stuff as an operations manager and she's incredible, she's built some of the top digital and service- and operations-based teams in New Zealand for massive sites, such as Finder, which was acquired by Yellow Pages, and GrabOne, which was a New Zealand version of Groupon, which Groupon couldn't even enter the market when GrabOne started.
KD: Yeah, they had it all.
RD: Yeah, totally. So largest e-commerce platform the country.
KD: We've referenced platinum tier HubSpot. Now obviously I'm not going to assume everybody watching this is familiar with our tiering program. But the long and short of it is that there's a sold metrics, then there's like managed metrics. Which one of those two targets, from your perspective, was the harder one to hit?
RD: Definitely managed.
KD: Definitely managed — so what was your game plan to get there?
RD: So managed, it's interesting because sold MRR is beyond diamond. So all, and we just sold a chip, really big client yesterday. We've got about four more on the wings, which are coming in, which when we hit platinum level, the level of customers we've been attracting have gone up to that next level as well.
KD: Oh sure, yeah. Organically, like have they just been able to find you and...
RD: Literally off the directory. So we tagged up our link from the partner directory so we know exactly when people are coming in by that campaign. And yeah, and so we can nurture them and work on them. But yeah, we saw almost a tap turn on when we first went into that platinum directory. It was quite crazy. But, yeah, that's helped and we've got more of a strategy to get to diamond I guess. To get that managed MRR up rather than initially to get to platinum because we were just selling so well and then it was like, sheesh, just this little bit that we have to get.
So just making sure that people didn't remove us from their portals if we've been supporting them, that was a good strategy.
KD: Yeah, smart.
RD: Yeah, because sometimes we'd just do a three month engagement, in addition to our long term clients, but also ones that we've just supported along the way. Just kind of said, “hey, just leave us it then, because we'll still come and shake it out and help.”
KD: Yep, provide some notes and help.
RD: Yeah, exactly. Our new strategy for diamond is we're doing a campaign specifically out to do: if you've got professional or more, we will do a free audit of your HubSpot against best practice from a full stack perspective. Give you a recommendation based off our session with you. So our drive with that is to obviously get editor to lots and lots of portals and hopefully pick up some good clients off the back of that as well.
KD: Yeah, that's great. What does that process look like internally? Who owns that, and then from like a bandwidth or effort perspective, how much time does a team put into that?
RD: So, we're actually just defining that right now. But I think probably.
KD: We'll workshop it right here.
RD: Yeah, totally. Maybe, I'm kind of putting in probably an hour to go through the best practice stuff. We've got a bit of an evaluation sheet which can be used to do that and just put some basic recommendations and then add to session with probably Ryan or I, or one or the other.
KD: That's great. So, let's just go back to when you were, “oh, hey actually there's an opportunity in this mid market space.” If you could go back in time, you now, to that time, is there anything you would of done over those nine months differently? Is there any advice you'd go back and give yourself?
RD: Definitely, we had one client who went into liquidation. So I would of definitely had a bit more management and support around some of our invoicing prices to protect us a bit more with that. Because there was nonpayment for a few months, and that has had a large impact on the business, just not having that cash flow there.
KD: Would you have any rules of thumb? Any expertise or any tips for developing those payment terms?
RD: Just define them right up front on exactly when and how you invoice and ensure that you have a process, develop what's going out especially if you're managing media spend. If you can get clients to pay for that media spend directly, I think it's just way, way safer and it's always my preferred approach.
KD: Is that what you have currently or is it a mix?
RD: It's a mix at the moment. At a previous organization I worked for, we moved more to that direct model. So we'd just invoice for what we had and it was just way safer because in the end, if you've got somebody spending 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 you can't cut them off, well you could cut them off but that's kind of bad as well. So you kind of let them slip for a couple of weeks and then it slips a bit further. It's just very easy when there's those last chunks going out to kind of miss those little amounts sitting out and going out, and that they're not being reconciled properly. So, having a really solid reconciliation process around your media spend and what you're invoicing is really critical.
KD: Yeah, makes sense. What else? Let's just say, I'm trying to see the same sort of growth. Are there any other processes that again, you've prioritized that seem to really pay off kind of where you're at today?
RD: So I think a bit of things that we've done, mapping processes. So we use process maps both internally and actually is a product for clients as well. So that really helps us to take people from a, “I just want to replace my email system”, to actually, “oh, actually I do need a proper CRM and actually support's awful right now. We run off of Gmail inbox.”
And if you get those right, you can build 12 two-three year roadmaps of stuff that needs to implemented over time. And the clients, by the end of that process are telling you that they need these things. Where if you try to sell that upfront, it would have been impossible.
KD: Right, plant the seed.
RD: Totally, totally and once they understand how it's really going to improve and enhance their business and add value to the business, it's not a question of money, normally, it's how fast.
So we use that process mapping internally as well to define and detail the hand off points which is really, again I think, really critical. Most businesses and organizations that I use to walk into as a consultant, who were going through this kind of growth and stalling kind of process, a lot of the time just doing a process map which would immediately find where the key issues were. Because you'd go, “hey right, so somebody comes in and somebody sends this email and this person picks it up, what's the next step? Oh they do these calls. So who manages that next step?” And multiple people will put up their hand. So that's probably why it's not working. Or nobody would put up their hand.
So finding those little steps, they're really key and making sure that everybody understands that this gets handed off at this point, so there's no double handling or nothing's kind of dropped is important. For us, our agile process make a huge difference as well. Because every single week we do weekly sprints, which is a little bit different than what you do in a software sprint. Software sprints are normally two to four weeks. We found from a marketing lead and change and kind of a growth lead agency, a week is really all we can stop from a context changing perspective and to keep the team focused. Anymore than that, they start to get distracted, would have to stop work and other things.
So we do, we commit every week and we do a one hour planning session on a Monday, as a team we figure out exactly what our sprint goals sorry, we define the sprint goals before we go on, but exactly how we're going to deliver those sprint goals: what tasks are required, we size it all up, we talk about any potential issues, and then we commit to it. Daily, we catch up and kind of talk about what we did yesterday, what we're doing today, any blockers, how that's working towards the sprint goal. And then at the end of the week, we demo the cool stuff that we've done or the different stuff that we've done. Demo other things that we've see in the world that are cool. And even things that we've come across that were maybe a bit rubbish and could be better.
KD: Do you find that often times that's more helpful to review sometimes?
RD: A lot of the time it is, but the great thing about demoing the cool things and the new things is it's just a little win, a little celebration kind of win as well. We also do retrospectives, which are really key. So we look at what could of been better. And what actually worked really well and how do we embed that into our prices. So, we've had things come out of that like clients were a little bit unclear with our process because seven weeks is very, very rapid and very fast. And although, we did state it in quite a few places and it's not actually that complex, it's kind of eight steps.
And it is rapid and it's full on and people were just a little bit unclear of: where am I now and what's next? So we just simple thing, put it at the beginning, on every single presentation. You are here, kind of a little timeline and at the end of every presentation, you're here and a little timeline.
And we recently redid our persona research and one of the key outtakes from that was that our process, that people really liked, was our process were really transparent and really clear and really easy. Which at the beginning of the year that definitely would not have been the feedback. So, we're constantly looking for those opportunities to improve and even if everything went swimmingly, we still look for other opportunities to make stuff better. There's always something and that process could better.
KD: Even if it's the smallest little thing.
RD: Well if we could save five minutes here, and that's a task that we do 20 times a week, let's save that five minutes.
KD: Do the math on it right? Extrapolate. You mentioned the presentation timeline, here's where you are, here's where you're going to go. How else do you communicate, like weekly sprints, or how do you provide visibility for your clients so they know what's going on and how things are going?
RD: It does work kind of with that, you are here timeline that I provide. So we do tell clients about our process and let them know, that hey, Tuesday's our cutoff date. So sometimes we'll be pushing you really hard. Or if you want something, especially for people in retainer, that you need to get it in before Tuesday otherwise you're going to have to wait a week. And people really get that.
KD: And that's communicated right up front? Those are expectations set.
RD: Yeah, totally. So we don't go too much into the detail because it would probably be a little bit overwhelming for them.
KD: They don't need to know, yeah sure.
RD: No, no, but that whole kind of Tuesday to Tuesday, people get it and it's like, it's only a week. In the end, we just haven't really had a situation where somebody's been like, I really desperately need it now because it just helps people to plan out a week.
KD: Yeah right, then just let us know by Tuesday.
RD: Yeah totally, yeah if you want to go forward. So the only time when people say, “I think I do” and then it doesn't happen so you pull it out of sprint but that's worse case scenario.
KD: I want to go quickly back to process maps. Obviously I think there's a ton of value. Well if this happens, here's where we go, here's who owns that. Where does all that live internally?
RD: So I personally use Lucid Charts. We’re a G Suite organization. So we use Drive a lot with Lucid Charts. We template everything. Lucid Charts is such a great tool, it's really fast to use. I use to be a big Visio user but Lucid Charts is so cheap in comparison. It's Cloud based, so we can all collaborate at the same time. It's open to everybody, it's easy to use and integrates with Google Drive so it's just right there and compatible.
KD: Yeah, that's great. We're running out of time. Time flies. Only one final question here for you. Trying to ask all my guests this, and so I'm interested to see your response.I like to ask: what's the weirdest part of agency life?
RD: Tell you what, our team are a bunch of weirdos. They are very strange people. Like the most awesome people.
KD: Agency life just attracts some unique folks.
RD: Yeah and we have just, yeah, really attracted a bunch of really unique very, very cool, very smart, intelligent people. But they're quick as all hell.
KD: That's what you want right? What you look for.
RD: Yeah that kind of makes every day fun and interesting. And we have just a huge amount of fun.
KD: That's great, perfect. One of Academy's core principals is stay weird so I think you guys are in alignment with that. Well that's it for me. Thank you so much for coming on. Thanks for coming all the way from New Zealand and we'll catch you next time.
RD: Awesome, thank you.
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