How to Build and Scale a Creative Agency—with Jason Swenk

By , November 4, 2019

Agency advisor, mentor, and author Jason Swenk shares the secrets to growing and scaling a creative agency.

Agencies are often really good at what they do, but they struggle at creating the right systems for scaling, generating a steady pipeline, hiring a team and providing the right tools and resources for their team to be successful. Luckily, this week’s guest, agency advisor, mentor, and author Jason Swenk, knows a thing or two about scaling an agency. He grew his own multi-million dollar agency for 12 years before selling it, and now he teaches other agency owners the exact systems and framework he used to do so, helping them grow from zero to eight figures.

While this episode focuses on building and scaling an agency-model business, it contains so many golden nuggets of advice that are helpful for anyone who wants to grow their business the right way—without going through years of trial and error creating proposal after proposal and running after the wrong clients. Listen as Jason shares the secrets to gaining the freedom to scale your business, so you can do what you love.


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Growing Your Creative Agency with Jason Swenk [Transcript]

Jason, thank you so much for joining me. 

Thanks for having me on. 

You and I first met at a conference where I heard you speak on the topic of growing and scaling an agency. I came to appreciate your no-nonsense advice and we kept in touch ever since. I know my audience is larger than just creative agency owners, but we do have a mass market in the digital space and creative space as well. I wanted to dedicate this episode for creative agency owners, but for the rest of you out there, so much of those concepts, you should be able to think out of the box and adapt. 

It’s like gravity. It just works. 

For our audience, I know you own an agency yourself. You had some prestigious clients. You grew it to a multimillion-dollar business and ultimately you sold it. Now, you’re coaching and consulting other agency owners. Tell us a little bit about your journey. 

In ‘99, one of my friends looks like Justin Timberlake from NSYNC. I was goofing around and I created a website making fun of it. It got popular and people came up and was like, “Can you design a website for my law firm or my hair salon?” I started doing websites not knowing how to run a business and not even knowing what an invoice was. I remember my first client asked me for an invoice. I was like, “What’s that?” Google wasn’t around so I couldn’t Google it. I’d asked my dad and failing over and over again, but learning as I was doing that. We started working with LegalZoom, Hitachi and AT&T many years later. We got to a point where people wanted to acquire us.  

We were a big agency and had a good exit. Afterwards, I was completely depressed. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have that significance anymore and created an iPhone app like most people that sell their business to like, “Let’s create a mobile app and make $1 trillion.” I hated it. I was like, “Enough.” People wanted to know what I knew for the type of business we had. I said, “Let’s do a podcast and have a conversation back and forth,” and transform into a media company and a company that is a resource I wish I had when I was running the agency. That’s what I do. 

I’ve worked with your resources throughout the years as we grew Ptex Group the way we are now. I’m loving it, so there’s no reason to quit. We’re always scaling and always looking for the next big move, which leads me into the next question, which is very important based on your work with so many agency owners. What is the biggest mistake you think agency CEOs are making that’s holding them back from breaking through the plateau? We see so many people start growing and then maybe they’re hiring a couple of people and then they’re doing more creative stuff, but somewhere they don’t know how to scale from that. What would you say is the biggest reason for it, and then let’s tackle with some solutions? 

It applies to any business, especially in the service-based business. We knew how to do something cool. Someone wanted me to do something that I knew how to do and offered me money. I was an accidental entrepreneur and an accidental agency owner. I kept reacting to the market of what’s coming to me but I never had a sense of clarity of where I was going. If I don’t have a sense of clarity of who I’m helping and where I want to go, how do I know what to say no to? I’m saying yes to everything and I’m saying yes to a lot of the wrong things. Agency owners or any type of business owner are always saying like, “I want to get to the next step. I need more clients. Let’s go into prospecting.” You don’t have the right foundation yet because you’re reacting to the market or you’re relying on referrals, which aren’t scalable.  

You’ve got to look at, “How do I gain clarity of who do I want to go after? What do I want to become? The most important question is why? I’ve already told you why I do this. I wanted to be a resource I wish I had. I used that as the North Star, and my team uses that as the North Star. You run a very amazing agency and you have a lot of employees working for you. If you didn’t have a vision and you didn’t communicate that vision to your team, they’re going to come to you for every single decision, which is going to be annoying. You’re giving them the power. 

[bctt tweet=”Business owners must gain clarity on what they want, who they are going after, and what they want to become.” username=””]

You first have to come up with that clarity, and once you have that clarity of why you’re doing it, who you’re going after and who needs to care, you can position your company in a way where you look different from everybody else. I always joke with agencies, I’m like, “You look like a me-too agency. What’s the difference? You talk about your awards, your services, your products. What makes you any different?” They’re like, “It’s our service. We partner with our companies.” I’m like, “If I hear that again, I’m going to throw up.”  

You start off with a passion and this is what your story is and my story is. I had my first business card when I was thirteen years old. I still have it in my office because I show it sometimes to people. It starts with a certain fire and passion you have towards a certain industry, especially in the creative space. Most of those people will say it started off that way. As you start getting money for it, you start exploring. Your friends, family, people started hearing about you, the new kid on the block. You do amazing and creative things and then people start giving you business and all of a sudden, you’re all over the place. At which stage should a person stop and pause and say, “Let me gain clarity?” 

You should do it as soon as possible, but sometimes it takes us years. If you’ve ever been to Vegas and you’ve been to a Vegas buffet or a buffet that has a thousand options, if this is the first time you’ve ever been to a buffet, you’ve got to figure out what you don’t like first. You’ve got to try out everything. I always do it through a process of elimination and then understanding. Let’s say someone reading this blog will be like, “I am all over the place. I’m being reactionary.” You’re not going to figure out your niche or what you need to gain clarity on in an hour. You have to be aware to look for that over time. When you do that and you gain that clarity and you understand that why, it’s the most boring thing to do. Many years ago when you jumped into the Agency playbook, you probably got a video from maybe like, “This first system sucks. It’s boring, but you’ve got to do it.” That’s what it is. 

Because we love the creativity part of it and then every new leader comes our way with this interesting idea or twist that we need to start building up our creativity again, we get excited. When you start doing something again and again, you lose a little bit of that creativity. 

My goal for everyone and how I operate my business is I want to be able to run a business where I can pick and choose the people I want to work with. That’s ultimate freedom. Creating a predictable business that you can pick and choose the people you want to work with and you can vote people off the island that you don’t want to work with. In order to do that, you have to have this clarity. This is the first thing and then you can move on to positioning and what’s the right offering. Once you have that foundational system, you can go onto the prospecting strategies to get clients. Too many people jump ahead and they go, “Let me do this Facebook strategy.” You have to know the right foundation first. You’re talking in the wrong way. You have the wrong offering. You’re pitching marriage right off the bat. It’s going to make you suffer and you’re like, “What do I do? I’m in a wall.” 

I remember getting to a point in my agency, we had about maybe twenty people at the time. From the outside, everybody saw us as successful but I hated it. We were paycheck to paycheck. I remember looking at our bank account like most people do for the budgeting and I’d be like, “We won’t be able to make payroll in two weeks if we don’t change something.” That was hard on me. I remember my wife going to me at the time. She goes, “Why don’t you fold it up, quit, go take a job somewhere?”  

At the time I was a race car driver, not professionally, but I did it on the weekends. NASCAR had an opening for the CMO. I started talking to them and they asked me two questions that change everything. I want you to do this as well. I think it’s very powerful. They asked me what do I want to do every day and what do I never want to do ever again? What I did, I went home and thought about it. If you get a piece of paper, put it down on the desk, put your fists on the piece of paper, draw a circle around your fist. Everything in the circle, which should be smaller than the piece of paper, I want you to write everything you love doing that you want to do every single day. Everything outside is the stuff you never want to do ever again. That will give you clarity. That gave me clarity. I knew who to hire and what I wanted to be when I grew up. 

Once you gained that clarity, it’s also a great recipe for hiring the resources because many times in creative agencies and there are many different levels of a creative agency, sometimes you hired this amazing creative person. They want to build out stuff that your clients are not paying for or they want to do stuff that is not lining up with the price point that you’re putting out there. When you gain the clarity of what you want to do as an agency, then ultimately you can have that level of clarity with your team. 

When you’re building up the clarity, you’re figuring out your own core values, what you believe in and what you’re doing when you hire people on your team. Your most successful people, if you looked at it, believe in something very similar to what you believe in. They’re not your identical twin. That would be a complete nightmare because all of us entrepreneurs are all visionaries. We’d come up with 1,000 ideas and we hate execution. If we hire people like us, we never get anything done. What you want to do is to hire people that believe in what you’re doing and then they’re going to make better decisions than you would for their particular role and responsibilities. You’ll start to become a team rather than a group of people put together in a room that’s getting paid by this one company. 

I know you have your system and the Agency Playbook where you go through those systems. What are the key systems that if we want our audience to jot them down in order to understand that these are the different fundamentals they need to have in order to have a scalable agency? 

The first one is clarity. The second one is positioning. The third one is having the right offering. The fourth is prospecting. The fifth is sales, you’ve got to have a sales system. The next is delivery. A lot of people are good at marketing and sales, but they stink at delivery. How can we do delivery? Next is operations. The last one is leadership. What are the roles that I need to be doing to transform from an agency owner or entrepreneur to this real CEO? There’s a big difference and we can talk about that if you want. 

LTB 16 | Growing Your Agency
Growing Your Agency: As a business owner, if your vision is not clear or not communicated well to your team, they will come to you for every single decision.


Let’s talk about positioning. 

Everybody is always positioning themselves as this type of person. Let’s picture it. We go back to Partner Com. You come up to me and you go, “Jason, I am the coolest person in the world. I had the best agency in the world. I had the best services and we won all awards.” I’m thinking how to get away from you. I’m running like, “You can’t catch me. I’m faster than you.” If you came up to me and you said, “Jason, why don’t you come to the conference? Is there anybody I can connect you with? What’s your biggest struggle? Tell me about your business. Tell me about you. Where are you from? That sounds like an interesting place.” I’m going to love this conversation because you made me the focal point. You’re asking me questions, which is changing the conversation rather than you throwing up on me. 

It’s all about changing that conversation and changing that positioning. Because if you look at all the websites out there, they’re “Me, me, me.” If you go to JasonSwenk.com and you go to the About page, you’re going to see questions. You’re not going to see my story until the very end, buried in that page. Even on the homepage, it doesn’t talk about me. It says, “If you want to know how to grow and scale your agency faster, I might be able to help you out.” It’s all about positioning them as the star. If you make yourself Batman in a story, there can only be one Batman. There’s no two Batman. If you’re Batman, that makes them Robin. I don’t know many people that dressed up as Robin with the green tights for Halloween. I could assume not many people want to dress up as this trusted sidekick. 

What I’m hearing you saying is it’s not just a way of messaging, it’s because that’s what a person wants to hear. They want to see, “What are you going to do for me and how are you going to grow my agency?” How much of the positioning is built about your solutions? 

It goes to the next system. It’s positioning the right offering. Think of agencies or any professional service company out there. They’re usually positioning their core offering right off the bat, which is usually pretty pricey. It’s a bigger decision if we think about it. If it’s a bigger decision, there are more risks. Are you married? 

Yes, with seven kids.  

When you saw your wife, did you ask her to marry you right off the bat? 


Not many people would, but all service-based businesses and all agencies are doing this, “Buy my $100,000 monthly retainer.” That’s a big commitment. If we can slice part of that off, making it an easier decision and show them how you can help them first by charging them something. Think about when you go into an engagement before they pay you, a lot of times you’re giving away a lot of good information for free. You’re giving away most of the strategy and then you’re charging on execution. I want you to start charging for strategy in order to show them how you can help them by doing the strategy with them. 

The first time we’re doing this, at the time we were selling $100,000-plus websites. I was like, “Who’s buying $100,000plus websites?” AdWords came out two years prior and I was like, “If people are spending let’s say $10,000 a month, they need to have a good website.” We started looking for companies that were spending that amount of money and I called them up. I’d say, “I notice your company is spending over $10,000 a month in AdWords. We see a lot of overspending. I want to make sure that you’re not overspending like the majority of people. Let me know if this is something that interests you and I would charge $2,500 for it.” We would provide value to them and then we would learn more about their business and we’ll position a project. Once we build more trust with that project, then we position a bigger retainer. It’s all about creating the right offering. 

[bctt tweet=”Hire people that believe in what you’re doing, and then they’re going to make better decisions than you.” username=””]

Are you suggesting the offering means getting that foot in the door? You give them a lot of value in the beginning so they could start to know, like and trust you.  


What’s the next system? 

The next is prospecting. Now that we have the foundation, we know who we’re going after, we’re positioned in the right way and we’re positioning the right offering. Now we need to reach these people. I feel that you need to have three pillars that you can stand on, a three legged stool. I don’t believe a onelegged stool or twolegged still works very well. The first one is you’ve got to have an outbound channel. You’ve got to have some way of reaching your perfect prospect and pitching and positioning your right offering for them, whether it be inviting them on a podcast, calling them up over the phone, reaching out to them on LinkedIn with a personalized message. The next channel that you need is an inbound channel. If you’re not creating valuable content, rich media content, you are missing out. If you’re creating just a blog, shame on you. You’re marketing like it’s ten years ago. Who cares about your blog? I want you to create rich media content where they can physically hear your voice or see you and connect with you. They’ll feel that they know you. When they see you out, you’re a celebrity to them. You’ll have people banging down your door because you’re creating a valuable service. 

Remember when I told you, I’m a media company for agency owners that want to grow faster. I’ve never positioned myself as an agency coach. I always felt coaches were people that have never done it before. I don’t want to work with people on their mind games. I’m like, “I want to give you strategies and show you how to work.” Business coaches are good. The next thing is strategic partners. I keep thinking of George Bush saying, “Strategery.” I’m not talking about referral partners, but I’m thinking about who are the people going after your audience? Could it be other agencies? Could it be other service-based businesses? Could it be technology companies, publications, conferences? How can you partner with them where two plus two equals sixteenThat’s how you can get out there and you can start controlling your destiny. 

Once you have these channels working, you’re building a predictable pipeline and then you can focus on the sales system. Let’s say you have this inbound channel working. You have all these people calling you. You probably get this still. I used to get this all the time. People call us up, “Jason, I want you to develop Google, Facebook, Pandora, something like that but different together.” That’s the dumbest request. I’m like, “I could do that.” I’m thinking dollar signs like millions of dollars. They want to create Facebook and Google but different and I’m all excited. If I didn’t qualify them, if didn’t have a sales system, I could spend months with them, only to find out they don’t have the right budget or I’m talking to the wrong decision-maker.  

I want to give your audience something that I would always tell my salespeople and it’s NBAT: Need, Budget, Authority and Timing. This is how I would qualify every call right off the very beginning. What do you need? If it doesn’t match up with my core offering, say no. You’re going to mess up your reputation. If it’s easy and you’re like, “This is great stuff, Jason. I’ll do that.” The next is budget. Whenever I’m doing a keynote, I always ask people, “How many people ask the budget?” 50% of the hands go up. “How many people get the budget 99% of time?” 50% of hands go down from that. That means 75% of people are not knowing the budget of the engagement that you’re proposing, which is crazy to me. I’d always tell people there are two ways to get a budget. Here’s how to get the budget 99% of time. I’ll tell you the 1% after that. What happens when you say, “What’s your budget?” Most of the time your client says, “I don’t have a budget.” You leave it. I want you to do this. When people say that I’m like, “I love working with people that don’t have a budget. We can test all kinds of things out and we don’t have to worry about money.” 

I stole that line from you. 

It works. You’d be quiet, you shut up and then you go, “You do have a budget.” You have to be what I call the reverse auctioneer. You have to start high. The reason you start high is because everybody’s always going to forget the numbers after the first. You always want them to remember a high number. I’d be like, “Are you trying to do Google and Facebook with this budget for $2 billion, $1 million, $500,000, $100,000, $10? I need to know a range so I know if I’m right for you and you’re right for us.” Let’s say you’re talking to the Hershey Company and you know they have a budget, but they don’t know the budget. It’s like, “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we meet, go over the strategy and we will come up with this together?” You charge them from this and then you’re in there.  

The next thing is the authority. Are they authority? The easiest way to do this nicely because you can never judge titles. I notice some CMOs and CFOs had to go get approval. I would go, “Based on your need and what you want to do, how does this match with your overall company objectives?” They’re like, “I don’t know. Chad knows that.” I’m like, “Who’s Chad?” They’re like, “He’s the decision maker.” I’m like, “Can we talk to Chad?” The last is timing. If they expect this done in a day and this is going to take a year, run. 

LTB 16 | Growing Your Agency
Growing Your Agency: So much time and false hopes get wasted when you fail to qualify the client right away.


If the audience could take this piece of advice that you shared with us and regardless of which industry you are, which is so much time gets wasted on inbound, meetings after meetings, only to find out after the fourth meeting, maybe the budget wasn’t right or after the fourth meeting that this is not the decision-maker or timing as you mentioned, or even the needs were not aligned with the services that we offer for your needs. Much time gets wasted and so much false hopes gets wasted just because we’re not qualifying the right way. For our audience, remember NBAT, which is the Needs, Budget, Authority and the Timing of it. I can personally tell you as agency owner that I’ve used it myself in meetings and we’re able to get way quicker to where we needed to go versus giving all the bandwidth back to the agency. Take two weeks, come up with a proposal and we’re trying to look at the numbers, “How should we go with this proposal? Only to find out a few weeks later that we didn’t even meet and presented a proposal to the right person. This is very valuable and I appreciate it. What comes after this? 

After you qualify them, then it’s all about, “What is the next step? Are we going to do a proposal? I always hated when agencies try to sell what they want to sell versus what the person needs. I use this to remind my sales people the questions asked. I said, “What’s your biggest issue? What’s the impact on your business and how important is it to you?” It’s easy. Three I’s: Issue, Impact and Importance. Based on the biggest issue you’re having, your whole goal is to build the bridge from where they’re at to where they want to go. That bridge is taking them over the challenge mode. What you have to do is ask the right questions to have them figure out what’s the impact to solve this or what’s the impact on their business if they don’t solve it. When they do that, now you have leverage to follow up with them later on. You’re like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while so I presume you solve that $1 million lead generation problem. You haven’t? Is that not important to you anymore? It’s important. I’m glad you called. The same here.” You have that follow-up. 

The other thing you’ve got to think about is now that you’re pitching the foot in the door, you start getting away from doing proposals in the very beginning. You’re building trust and you’re showing value. By the time you get to a proposal, that client already trusts you, so then you can review it with them. Never send the proposal ahead of time. If you do that, shame on you. They should go silent. How many times have you sent a proposal out and the client never called you back? A lot. Because you shouldn’t send the proposal. Review it with them because the first thing they’re going to do is jump to the price, and they’re not going to compare apples to apples. They’re comparing apples to oranges. 

There are many different things between agencies of what they can do from your agency to a bigger agency, to a smaller agency. It’s like night and day. You want to be able to overcome their objections, see if it’s a put off. Have a sales system and then the delivery system is like, do you have a documented process in order to make sure that you can deliver the results that they want within time and within budget, without much scope creep? How can you manage that? How can you communicate the plan? How can you make sure they understand the plan? How can you make sure they understand the value? Even in the very beginning, when people sign up with you, they’re in a high but immediately the next day they’re second guessing going, “Did I make the right decision?” What do you need to do in order to ensure that? Within the first 90 days is the most important that’s going to tell if you’re going to have a long-term relationship or is it going to be quick? 

Obviously there’s leadership, which is working on the business and figuring out the finances and the leadership roles. 

When you transition from an entrepreneur or an owner of a business to a CEO, there are five roles you need to fall into and only rather than doing everything like clean the bathroom. You need to set the vision and the direction of the agency or the business and you need to do that often. I talked about that in the clarity. That’s why clarity is so important. That’s the foundation of everything. You don’t have a scalable business if you don’t have clarity. Set the vision and communicate that to the team often. Be the face of the organization. A lot of people say, “I don’t want to be the face because then the clients are always going to want to work with me.” “Have you ever heard of Gary Vaynerchuk? Yes. I’ve heard of him. Is his agency pretty successful? Yes. Do you think they work with Gary? No. Do they want to work with Gary? Yes.” The proof is there. You have to set up the right system for that, but you need to be creating content. You need to be speaking on stage if you want your company to grow. You can have someone in your company to do that but if that person leaves, so did your brand. 

I’ve seen that happen to companies that have put out certain people to be the face of the organization.  

You need to coach and mentor your leadership team only. You don’t need to coach or mentor everybody. Your job is to make people better and find out what do they want personally? What do they want in their business life? Help them out. The other two parts assist sales, not to do all the sales, and then the last part is understand the financial. You don’t need to be a spreadsheet nerd or whiz-kid on the calculator. Just know the financial and know the KPIs and hire smart people around that to help you with. When you do that one thing I can promise you, you’re going to be completely depressed because you don’t know what to do anymore. The business doesn’t need you for what you used to do, but it needs you for those five roles. That is a leader, that is a CEO, not an owner. 

Let me ask a couple of questions. This is very important. Those are the systems that you have to put in place. My observation, we do it ourselves pretty effectively on different markets that we’re going after where once upon a time your agency, which shows should I attend? I’m going to attend every show. I’m going to go to every type of event. Once you start getting into a certain niche product or niche offering that speaks to a certain audience because you have a good positioning there. You want to hang around those people or joint ventures, and that helps you with that. I also want to speak to our audience on what you mentioned. I want to make sure that they took note. You mentioned the three pillars to stand on sales. Because we’re swamp with inbound, we tend to forget about anything outbound or putting out content. We tend not to allocate the proper time for it.  

What happens is that what you’re missing out is two-fold. I want to get your take on it. From my observation, A) Inbound is never predictable because you don’t know who’s going to call you from the next referral. B) You are going to get stuck with a lot of people that call in that might not be the perfect fit for the agency, but because they called, I need to attend to their needs and I need to start putting together proposal for them. The more you put out content towards an offering or you have strategic outbound initiatives, it becomes predictable. You’re not relying on that next call. You could have leverage to say, “Unfortunately, I wish you good luck. I’m might give you a referral to a different agency, but I don’t think you’re the proper fit for what our services are.” Is there anything you want to add it to this? 

As you build this machine, you get to a point where you can pick and choose the people you want to hang out with. That’s the ultimate freedom. You can pick and choose. That’s the thing I want to communicate to everybody. You get in the business and a lot of times you’re in prison by what you created because you have smaller thinking, because you’re so close to it. I grew up in New York. My family is all up there in Long Island. My uncle used to work for Grumman, which is out on Long Island. They made the F-14 Tomcat. One of his jobs was shooting dead chickens at a canopy to test for bird strikes. He kept breaking the canopy and he’s like, “What is going on?” 

[bctt tweet=”Make your client the focal point of conversation. Ask questions instead of it being all about you.” username=””]

His department wrote a letter to NASA. NASA wrote them one letter back, “Unfreeze the chickens.” We’re standing too close to our business, we can’t see the frozen chicken. A lot of times if you step back and think, we can think a lot bigger. We can think and be resourceful and think about, “I don’t have to do this. If I’m not good at this, can I hire someone to do this?” I can create whatever my mind does. The biggest limiting belief a lot of people have is, “It’s always been this way. That’s how we needed to do it.” You can change whatever you want. Go do it. 

I want to dive in a couple of practical questions that I know some our audience have asked because I put out on LinkedIn that I’m going to be interviewing you. I want to make sure that I get some of those questions in. One question that comes up many times for every creative agency or sometimes even every different business owner in general, which is they feel that the value they’re providing is greater than the money they’re receiving. The client sees the website. The client sees an ad, but there’s so much effort that went into it and they’re not on the same page to a fair exchange of value. What piece of advice would you be able to give to those business owners to either in conversation or in action that they could bridge the gap? 

They’re not asking the right questions in the very beginning. If they asked the three I’s, “What’s the biggest issue? What’s the impact? How important is this to you? You constantly did benchmarking. Most people say, “What’s the biggest issue?” The client lies to you because they don’t know the biggest issue yet. You didn’t do a good job of figuring that out. They say, “I need a website because my competitor got a website and I look like dong.” You didn’t dig down deeper to figure out, “It’s a lead generation problem and you’re worried about the business going under because your salespeople are getting older. They’re not utilizing tactics that they needed to. If you don’t do it and solve this $1 million problem, you’re right.” You have to ask the right questions in order for them to state the value. You cannot state the value that you’re providing. You can’t say, “I built your $1 million website.” They’re not going to believe it. If you ask the right questions and you know what they’re looking for, then you can constantly benchmark. We’ve all had this happen. We’ve done an amazing job for a client, they come to you and say, “We’re canceling.” You’re like, “What? This makes no sense.” It’s your fault because you didn’t help them figure out the value you’re delivering. 

Instead of saying that, I built you $1 million website, it should be, “I solved the $1 million problem. 

You have to ask the right question and be like, “I’m just curious. How many leads are you getting right now?” They’re like, “I’m getting 100.” You’re like, “You said a while ago that each lead was worth $100 and how many are you closing?” They’re like, “50%.” You’re like, “You’re making $5 million. Is that right?” They’re like, “Yes, I didn’t think about it that way.” That’s how you need to do it. 

Another question that comes up a lot for agency owners, in particular, is the temptation of retainers versus project-based pricing. I know that you have an opinion on that. What would you say, even if one way or the other or what type of practical pointers would you say if they do go into retainer relationships? 

I’ve changed over the years as I’ve gathered more information. I think they both work. It just matters on the agency and what you’re comfortable with. We were 85% project-based. Do I love retainers? I love retainers. I just don’t like to call them retainers. You think of some bloodsucking lawyers that don’t provide any value. You think of something in the wrong way. I think it’s whatever business model you want. If you like more predictability and sustainability, go with retainers or a hybrid. If you like working with different people all the time, go with projects. Whatever works for you. 

There’s so much to share and for our audience, Jason has a wealth of knowledge and so much on his own podcasts, his website and the videos he put out there. For you agency owners, freelancers or even the business owners in general that want to learn more about what we discussed over here, make sure to visit his website for more information. Let’s close with four rapid-fire questions. A book that changed your life? 

Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert. It was the tennis one. 

A piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget? 


LTB 16 | Growing Your Agency
Growing Your Agency: You have to ask the right questions in order for clients to state the value.


Anything you wish you could go back and do differently? 


What’s still on your bucket list to achieve? One guest tells me he has 100 things on the bucket list. 

I live my bucket list every day. Whenever I have something that I want to do, I go do it that day or that week. 

That’s the freedom to achieve your bucket list. Jason, thank you so much for joining us. I know your time is valuable and that is why in the name of our audience, we will forever be grateful for sharing some of your time with us. 

Thanks very much.

Links Mentioned:

About Jason Swenk


Jason has literally written the book for growing an agency from nothing to an 8 figure agency. He is one of the most sought out advisors to agencies in the World, by showing them an 8 system framework that worked for growing his agency, working with brands like AT&T, Hitachi, Lotus Cars, and eventually lead to selling his agency.

Jason currently hosts two shows…

The Smart Agency Master Class Podcast, the #1 Digital Marketing Agency Owner podcast for sharing the strategies and stories from real agency owners of what is working today in the agency world, and how they got to where they are now; and

SwenkToday is a Tuesday & Thursday show that documents how you can grow your digital agency and business, where Jason share the latest growth strategies, mindset, and answers the most burning questions digital agency owners & entrepreneurs have.

Meny Hoffman

Meny Hoffman is the Chief Executive Officer of Ptex Group, an Inc. 500/5000-ranked marketing and business services firm headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.

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