Growing & Scaling an Agency with David Vogelpohl

In this episode, I chat with David Vogelpohl, Vice President of Growth at WP Engine. Before joining WP Engine, David founded and ran his own agency Marketing Clique. Through his role at WP Engine, David is connected to thousands of agencies around the world and in this episode, he shares his thoughts on growing and scaling a successful agency.

In this episode, I chat with David Vogelpohl, Vice President of Growth at WP Engine. Before joining WP Engine, David founded and ran his own agency Marketing Clique. Through his role at WP Engine, David is connected to thousands of agencies around the world and in this episode, he shares his thoughts on growing and scaling a successful agency.

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Today I am really excited to have David Vogelpohl as my guest. David is the vice president of growth at WP Engine. Before joining WP Engine, David ran his own agency marketing clique. Through his role at WP Engine, David is connected to thousands of agencies around the world, and I can't wait to dive into today's episode where we'll be talking about growing and scaling an agency. By the way,
this is not the first time David and I talk on a podcast. One of David's many involvements in the WordPress community is as the host off the Press This podcast where I've previously been a guest, you can find David on Twitter at WP David V. Before we begin the episode, I want to tell you a bit about branch. Branch is my business, and the sponsor of this podcast.
It's the simplest way to set up automated deployments for your work per sites. We've got your back with recipes for all the common workflows that WordPress developers need making it super easy, and fun, honestly, to build out your deployment pipelines, it's continuous integration and deployment without the learning curve and it's free to get started.
So go check it out. And if you open up the live chat widget and identify yourself as a listener of this podcast, we'll double the amount of free deployments on your account. Yep. Twice as many deployments without paying, you can sign up for free on branchci.com. I started this episode by diving into David's own experience, running an agency, David, in your work WP Engine.
You work with thousands of different agencies nowadays. Um, but your background is also an agency and you had your own agency marketing click before you started working with WP engine with all. The things that you're seeing now, Adobe engine and all the thousands of agencies that you interact with at different levels, like, is there something you would have done differently at your own agency?
Kind of in hindsight, if you could. Yes. Hindsight's always 20, 20 Peter. So it's funny, actually, my agents. See, it was a vendor of WP engine. So before I actually joined WP engine directly, a WP engine was a client for actually many years since nearly the beginning of the company. But you know, when I started the agency, I didn't know anything about running an agency.
I guess I freelance, I guess you would say on my own for probably about three to six months and then hired my first employee within that six month period. And then eventually grew it to 22 employees. When I felt it was time to exit the agency world. After about five years, I decided to kind of shop my agency if you will, to see what sort of acquisition offers I could get.
And I would say the biggest thing I learned in retrospect probably was from that event. I think there's other like operational sides. Um, but what ended up happening is I did have an asset acquisition of the, kind of. Value of the business, if you will. But the multiples I got wasn't very high and the reason was because I didn't have established like long-term contracts with customers or like a recurring revenue stream baked into the business.
So that was kind of a nice little surprise on, I decided it was time to move into something else and looking back, I wish I had baked. Those elements into my business. We did have long-term customers who spend a lot of money each month, but they weren't locked into contracts. So that at the end of the day actually undervalued the business.
In my view, that's super interesting. And it really ties into, you know, the whole title of this podcast. I guess that's just a great lesson. And I think, you know, there's a book John Warrillow built to sell is. Exactly about this whole thing. Like basically, and we have a few of the episodes on this podcast as well about basically how to think about recurring revenue, maybe even stuff like productized services.
I don't know if that's something you've ever come across a productizing where you basically offer your services as moral, you package it as a product with different pricing plans and tears and stuff like that. Yeah, the maintenance packages, um, or a care packages, uh, site maintenance, like these kinds of offerings, this product is , it's interesting.
In my agency, we would have like big ticket customers, you know, like for us, we really wouldn't want to mess with anything, unless it was at least $5,000 of work. And then many of our clients were, you know, 10 or $20,000 a month. Worth of work. And so I often viewed those care packages as kind of not super helpful for the business.
In reality, though, productizing your services in that way, one can help you have higher margins, right? So you're not always having to do, you know, that amount of money's worth of hourly work to keep that customer in good shape. You can also leverage your technology and your systems to kind of scale that kind of work to further increase your margins, but also by having that kind of long-term value in your business that builds up over time.
I'm a little bit of a science nerd. One of my favorite topics are things called solar sales and the way solar sales work is they collect sunlight. And there's very little pressure of the sun's solar wind, if you will on the sale, but because there's no friction in space, each little push gets the spacecraft going faster and faster and faster, and you go to like insane speeds using this method.
Well, I think of that same thing within an agency business, as we think about these monthly recurring revenue care packages or maintenance packages or productized services, if you will, because each one of those, you add adds a little bit of pressure forward pressure, upward pressure for your business.
And so I think from the business strategy perspective, they actually make a lot of sense. And even though you may not make a lot. Per customer in that way over time, you can build that base up and have a lot more reliability in your business. I'm a big fan of them from a business strategy perspective, for sure.
Yeah, I love that metaphor. I think, you know, it just a good thing to remember about recurring revenue is you also have to provide recurring value, right. To justify the recurring ness of it. So it's just also is a good way to just keep in contact with your customers and, you know, keep the relationship going.
Yeah, I think so. I kind of shied away. It's it's funny. Cause like I ran the agency for five years and you know, tried a lot of different approaches, a lot of different billing models, hourly rates and so on and so forth. And when I realized at that time, which would have been 2010 to 2015, you know, even still today, there's this push around like, well, don't charge by the hour, like charged by the value, right.
Charge based on the value you're delivering to the customers, not just like break it down into the hours and a lot of other different approaches similar to that. And what I found was that, yes, I could do that, but if I didn't do any work, of course, which I didn't like try to do, I didn't try to cheat my customers, but I was just saying at the end of the day, it really did get down to like, what did you deliver?
And then how did it perform? And you have to account for the, what did you deliver it part because a customer's not going to keep writing you $10,000 checks or even a $200 check or credit card charge if you're doing nothing. And so, as you think about these automated systems that set customers up for success, I think it's important.
That helps. Of course you gain margin by not having to spend so much time doing the things, but if you're automating it, it's helpful to let the customer know this is happening. You know, if you're patching plugins, if you're, you know, doing other maintenance type activity, even in an automated way, it's important to keep like nudging them to like, say, Hey, look, I got your back this month.
And these ways. If you are patching plugins and particularly patches that include security patches, that's absolutely something to bring up to a customer to let them know, Hey, look, I had your back, there was a vulnerability in your plugin. We got the update that it was patched and we applied the patch and you're safe.
Um, so yeah, these are challenges as you have these kinds of maintenance packages, which is like, how do you keep proving that ongoing value? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think we'll talk more about that in our conversation as well. I'm curious at your agency, you've touched on this a bit already, but what was your role in the beginning and kind of, what did your role involve into and kind of, how did it look in the end when you finally sold the business?
Oh, well it was a journey. It was my first business that I'd ever started on my own. 100% funded by myself. I started it with the notion of building an agency. I didn't start freelancing and kind of stumble into creating an agency. Like a lot of folks did, like it was actually my purpose. My business plan was to leverage the agency and the resources.
It had to build our own products, which we would then monetize. So that was our path. If you will. For kind of that recurring revenue or like non hourly based revenue stream. And there was a lot of precedents to this. Like, you know, I'd kind of come up in the early internet days and there are agencies like run by people like Rand Fishkin who spawned products like Moz or SEO Moz at the time.
And so this was really inspirational for me. But the first year was mainly me doing a lot of the work. Of course I started with just me and then started slowly adding folks over time. What I found though, and I would say a lesson learned to maybe convey to others that are running an agency or thinking of running.
Ryan was, I'd say one of the big misses. The stakes I made was really trying to do too much, trying to be an expert at all the different parts of my business and not fostering good leaders in every group I did in some, but not in others. And what I found was that spread me too thin in order to help progress the business.
I was much more micromanagy than, than I am today. And what I found was this. Thing, what I call anyways, like this organizational decay, meaning that I go from team to team and I show them how to spend the plate, you know, spinning plates and keeping your plate spinning. But I would show them the best way that I thought how to spin the plate.
And then I would go from group to group showing them how to spend the plate and I would come back and they had forgotten some of the techniques or they had done them in a way I didn't think was optimized and the plates would just be wobbling. As I got back to each team. What I found though, through the course of running the agency and also sends, you know, working here at WP engine was that if I can foster those leaders, then what they do is they figure out the best way to spend the plate.
When I started adopting that model, what I found was is I got back to each team. The plate was spinning better than ever. There were laser beams, like keeping it balanced and like things I just never thought of. I discovered through that journey, that building that strong leadership culture in any team, but in particularly in agency is super, super important.
Otherwise you're just going to spread yourself too thin. Yeah. I mean, I liked the metaphor there as well, and I think that's really solid advice and kind of like, what it makes me think is like, do you think an agency is a good first business model for people who wants to like run their own business? Is that a good place to start?
And what at least Mizzou is kind of like, what does a successful agency look like? So if people are starting an agency and kind of like yourself are also at the same time looking to evolve into. Products and maybe more of a nun hourly build business. Like what should they aspire to build? And like, what are the foundations and the groundwork that they need to lay?
Sure. Absolutely. I'll kind of take these one at a time. So in terms of like, is an agency a good business to start? I mean, I think obviously you have to have some level of skill that the world will want to buy before you start this agency. Even if you're not going to do the work, even if you're going to lead other people, obviously you have to have this baseline.
So assuming you have that, then the question is, is an agency, you know, a good choice for you? Or should you think about something else? So I'd say one of the things about starting an agency Peters. When I started it, I thought I was pretty smart. I thought I knew a lot of things. I'd been around the block.
I'd worked in tech and digital for. You know, I dunno, 15 years at that point or something like that had done some really cool things and made a lot of money for a lot of companies doing it. And I thought I knew a lot of things. And about three months then I was like, Oh yeah, I don't know anything at all.
And so it was really eye-opening to see the different kinds of business models and challenges that have wide variety of businesses had. Yeah. Because you help other businesses run their business when you run an agency as well. Right. So you get to see a lot of stuff. Absolutely. And my way of doing these types of things like optimizing digital and thinking about growth is I always start with like, well, what's your business objective and what are you trying to drive?
And like your question just a minute ago, what does success look like in like, what's the KPI? What are we trying to sell? And then to build everything out from that. And, you know, I would have clients really all around the board. You know, people from driving sales directly on their website, like e-commerce SAS or platform companies like WP engine WP engine was actually really early clients.
I, I did have some background in hosting. Of course that was an unfamiliar, but all kinds of different ways of monetizing leads and so on and so forth. And then different strategies for approaching those. And getting that education, I think has greatly helped me, particularly in the role I have today, but also to kind of broaden my mind on what was out there and what are the challenges people face, which I think can be great fertile ground for coming up with ideas.
Like we did actually produce products through the course of the agency. And I'm going to kind of skip ahead to your third point there, like is starting an agency a good way to start products in a sense. Yeah. Because you have people at your disposal with technical or design or whatever their abilities are that can help you build out that vision of what you think might be helpful.
And then the other benefit of course, is that within the agency, world, seeing all these different scenarios and all these different problems, you can identify opportunities of like what to make. So that's super valuable. The downside though, is you have a payroll that's coming due in two weeks. And when you think about dedicating your team to building these products, you start thinking like, okay, well, when we have downtime, that's the time we'll use to go build the product.
But as a business owner, when you have downtime and a bunch of. Paid checks to make twice a month, or however, often you pay, you're like, Oh, wait a minute. This downtime isn't that great. And so we really had to be very purposeful with how we dedicated that time. And I would say one mistake I made in executing that kind of strategy was thinking about it in terms of when we have downtime, because when those moments hit, I was a little more concerned about keeping the revenue flowing than I was, you know, Thinking about something that would be material, you know, a year from now or more.
And so I think the correct way to think about it is to dedicate that time, like just say, Hey, I'm, we're going to spend 10% of our time doing this, or 20% of our time doing that and treat that product like a customer, not like a side project. Yeah. I like the intentionality. And then I guess the final question you'd kind of made there was, you know, what does success look like?
So people find success in all kinds of agency models. You know, the biggest of the big agencies charge by project charge by retainer. Um, the biggest of the big didn't necessarily get there through things like maintenance plans. Now. It really just depends on what you're trying to do. Like the biggest of the big of course, primarily are either working on very large company sites and projects, right?
Like enterprise level stuff, where you're charging, you know, millions of dollars, even the build out and an experience. And then the other type of kind of very large agency are kind of those that. Maybe more productize what they do for smaller customers. And matter of fact, if you're in a freelancer agency, a lot of these processes are familiar to you because they're probably what you do in your business.
But things like providing, you know, pre-made templates with light customization, but really this more kind of productized approach to delivering that experience for the smaller customers. And these are generally what makeup like the biggest of the big. So yes, you kind of can get there, like in terms of super huge with maintenance and care packages.
But it depends on what you're trying to do, you know, for you as an individual, or if you're part of a partnership and you all wholly own that business, then, you know, maybe making $5 million a year in care, packages is just fine for you. So I think it really depends on what you're trying to drive out of it, but I wouldn't say that there's one model that only drives success.
Cause I would actually say that there's very large agencies under each model that you could actually point to. Yeah. And I guess like, if you can charge a high hourly rate, even if you're out of like a retainer agreement with someone, like that's not a bad situation to be in, even though you're technically charging by the hour.
And some of the things I would love to talk to you about today is, you know, stuff like brand. Stuff like sales, more like professional things we have in businesses that a lot of like small agencies and freelancers maybe don't think about as much. Like if you're starting a startup, for example, you'd probably be more likely to think about your branding and your sales maybe than if you were just a freelance web designer, but actually some of these.
Activities can I think help make billable hours a good business model. If you have the right pipeline, if you have the right processes and if you can charge enough also. Yeah, I mean, we made good money as marketing click was operating, you know, we had large clients, pioneer was one of our clients, the electronics manufacturer, major brand brands like Easter and.
Um, which is now part of another larger insurance company, but they were a very popular brand at the time and others. And I mean, we were commanding very large relative to like the entire agency space project-based work. I would say just things to remember as to like, Think about those long-term contracts, because we were kind of month to month a way we thought about it as we earn the dollar each month and we've actually pitched it this way to our customers.
Like we have no long-term contracts. Like we want you to be a long-term customer, but we're going to earn that from you each month. That was part of our sales pitch. On the branding side. That was the very first thing I did when starting the agency was I found a designer, someone who specialized in logos and branding, and I hired her to create the visual imagery, the logo, the color scheme, all the things that would fall past that.
And I spent a lot of time getting that. Right. And that was the very first thing I ever did. I'm sure like. Incorporated the business or something like that. But like, I'm just saying the first major project was actually the logo and the brand. And I spent so much time and attention to it. We actually never changed the logo on all five years.
Oh, wow. Yeah, exactly. Right. Like it's so rare, right? Your first logo usually jettisoned after two years. Yeah. You know, there was one part of it. It used to cursor and this was right when mobile was getting up and I'd kind of wished I'd not used a cursor in the logo, but. Was very, very pleased with how it landed.
And so that was the first thing I did was to create this identity. Now I also was kind of angling to get those bigger projects. And so I needed a strong brand identity in order to make those folks feel comfortable that I could kind of do the same for them. So that was important early on. And we did, you know, upgrade the website over time to kind of keep attracting that kind of higher tier of clients.
If you will. One of my pet peeves from the startup land, which is more familiar to me than necessarily the agency land is people start out by hiring support people and basically the ECR roles or the stuff that's easy to outsource. And they spend their early resources on stuff like support instead of spending those resources on.
Some maybe higher leverage roles and like higher as someone who's like a superstar at something, or like a really, really, really good customer success person. But in general, like it just seems like it's less like growth minded. When you think like the first role at your startup should be a support person instead of like a really, really good developer or something like that, that could really move the business forward.
And I think even like within agencies, like you sometimes. See, like, okay, we can take this stuff and outsource to someone who's like achieve all the rate or something like that, but it's not really the growth mindset that you need to really like grow a big business that I don't know if that's something you think about as well, like in terms of hiring and like who you need on your team, like to build a successful agency.
Yeah. I think you really touched on it or at least one of the points I made earlier was just this notion of building leaders within your agency. Right? Exactly. Now, I think you have to balance that though. And again, for the most part agencies, and no matter how you cut it for the most part, almost every billing model is in effect charging by the hour.
So billable hours, if you will. So in my case, my first hire was someone that could charge billable. Yeah. Like someone that would help me grow my revenue. And so I viewed like the number of people I had is directly correlated to the amount of revenue I had. And so my first hire was someone that could bill and it was actually not a very expensive hire because it was my first hire.
I wanted to save a little money. So I found kind of a marketing intern type person that could help with some of the SEO work I was doing alone at the time, but would bill for their time at a lower rate than I build for my own. So that was my first hire. My second hire though, was the developer an engineer and a very good one.
And, um, I got very lucky working with that person. And then he was with me for almost the entire five years. And I even actually still work with him today in various contexts. But yeah, building those strong leaders is super, super important. My hiring strategy in general was I would take more work than my team could handle.
And I would take that additional work and distribute it through some trusted freelancers and contractors. And when that pool of work got big enough to support more than a new full-time employee. Then I would hire a new full-time employee. Usually one of the contractors or freelancers I was using. And then I would have, you know, a little bit of overflow work just for buffer.
And that was my strategy. Like I would just keep selling, keep selling, keep selling, keep selling, keep getting the pot bigger and bigger and bigger in terms of billable hours. And then when I had enough in the freelancer pool, then that's when I would trigger that next tire. Is that a Mo your recommend.
Because I see a lot of people do that. Right. Even, maybe you start out as a successful freelancer yourself and you just start like offload work and build up an agency, basically like more organic way like that. Absolutely. I mean, it was a very responsible way of growing, right. I wasn't like hiring someone full time and then, and keep in mind I was all self-funded.
So, and I didn't invest a ton of my own money into the business because I was trying to be scrappy and get it going. So, you know, it was like, You know, you were building the business organically based on the resources of the business. And so by using your freelancer pool where you're not carrying as much responsibility with that group, you know, in terms of like a certain amount of money each month, or the other overhead from that, and you have to be very careful with your employment decisions and how you engage with freelancers based on where you're based, because that can get very sketchy real fast in terms of your liabilities.
You want to make sure to do that right? So check with your lawyer and stuff like that. But if you go about it, right, it's a very responsible way to kind of grow your employee base. I'm a big fan of having full-time employees over freelancers. Um, one, it reduces the employment, law risk and things like that.
Cause you, you have to stay on top of that, but the other reason is. You really get the person to go all in, right when they're only working for you. Part-time and you're also competing with their time with their other clients. They're not thinking about your business all the time. You can't set their priorities all the time.
And so these things can have a negative effect on the projects you do for your customers and some, a big fan of using full-time employees in favor of contractors and freelancers. But I think that model of like using your freelancer pool, building it up to enough full. Time hours to justify someone new and then hiring someone new is absolutely a good strategy.
Did you ever think about having a co-founder or a partner? I guess it's like the agency worked for co-founder. Yeah. Um, I did, of course over the course of the running the agency. I did not in the beginning. I had founded it. Myself and wholly owned it and wholly owned it the entire time. There were good parts and bad parts.
I think the bad parts, I'm probably not as privy to cause they didn't happen to me, I guess, at least in terms of if I had had a partner, like you can have issues. I think the reason I avoided it was you really tied to that. Person, you know, if something goes awry, if they don't contribute the work that's needed to operate the business.
And you're having to take that all on. I mean, this can land in court as you try to resolve these kinds of issues. And meanwhile, you have as an individual, this baggage of this other person's issues, if they have issues. And so that's a lot of risk to take on when you take on a partner. I think the downside though, is it's all on you.
And that means that building that leadership. Uh, organization or roles within your business is super critical in this zone, because if it's all on you and the strategy is on you, and you're really just setting yourself up for failure, I think in general, yes, I did consider it. I got very close a couple of times, but never pulled the trigger, having that stability and knowing that I could kind of control my own destiny was what kept me away from that.
But I certainly missed out on a lot of benefits that having a partner would have come with. Yeah. I mean, there are so many pros and cons. It's just an endless, it, it better be someone you trust if you're going to do that, because it's a big mess. If it doesn't work out. Yeah, for sure.
I kind of want to ask a question that we might just end up repeating a lot of the things that you've already mentioned, but maybe that would just be a nice way to summarize stuff, but I kind of want to ask you, David, like if you landed in a new city, you didn't necessarily know anyone. You didn't have your role now with WP engine and you were starting.
An agency from scratch. Like I would love to know, like with all the experience you have, but not. So the resources you have now and the network you have, how would you do it? How would you start? What would you be thinking about now? Yeah, I think I'd actually do very similar to what I did when I started my agency.
Or I guess now the basic strategies, I don't think have changed very much. So in terms of like getting the business off the ground. When I started my agency, I actually didn't know anyone in my local city. I had been in digital marketing and running dev teams and optimizing and building sites internally for companies for years.
And I'd been involved in the community, but only more now. National or global sense. I actually didn't know anybody in my local town that had these kinds of interests and I didn't focus on local businesses at all. So in a sense, Uh, Peter, I was kind of new to my town, even though I'd lived here for years at the time, but the first thing I did and I would do this, absolutely.
Again, it started going to meetups and not just WordPress meetups or whatever the meetup is. That's related to your technology. That's great. And you get to learn a lot and collaborate a lot and find opportunities there, but go to meetups where the people aren't like you. I would go to chambers of commerce meetings.
I would go to, we had a very heavy engineering presence in our agency. I would go to like internet marketing meetups because those people needed developers. And we also had a marketing side. So I'd still go to the developer meetups if they needed marketing partners. And really just start to get to know your community.
I think the one mistake people do make, when they start this kind of activity is they go out and they think, well, how many leads am I going to get tonight? And I did that when I first started going out and I got some leads, but they weren't very material and they didn't work out. And it felt like a waste of time, but I kept going and I kept going and I kept going.
I met essentially WP engine, which ended up being a very valuable client for my agency and referring partner, referring customers to us at a meetup. The very first one I actually ever went to. So that was kind of a boon there. And then there was another meetup, it was an internet marketing focused one, and I got some leads the first night and then they didn't work out.
They weren't very material. And I remember thinking like this, this doesn't work. I'm just not going to go. And then I kind of forced myself to go back, but I wasn't going to search for leads. I was just going to hang out and I hung out at that meetup for 12 months and didn't get one lead. And on the 13th month, I got lucky 13, right?
Peter from the 13th month, six leads came to me. I had friends, I had met at the meetup who brought people over by the hand to meet me, to tell them that I could help them with the problem they had. That's nice. Yeah. What I learned is that by establishing those relationships, I didn't have to go hunt people down and bother them and see if they want to buy what I was selling, because they knew the value that I was delivering.
They were actually bringing me the leads that meetup ended up being a huge source of customers and revenue for us, but it took me 12 months of grinding it out. And of course the very first meetup I ever went to. Luckily I got WP engine as a client, so yay. But that was of course getting lucky. So spread broad.
Go to lots of different kinds of things and then be consistent, but just hang out, like tell people what you do. If they have a need, they'll let you know, like be present, let them know what you do, get to know them. And then over time you'll earn people's trust and you'll get that return back in your time.
Investment. Yeah. I mean, I love that you starting with the network and it's just something, even if you aren't starting right now, but your aspire to start something later on, like, you can just never go wrong if you have a good network. So I think that's really solid advice to start there. Yeah, certainly don't be afraid of emailing people and asking for work ads.
Even I did spend money on Google ads and Facebook ads. So I don't know, in your hypothetical scenario, Peter, if I have a little bit of money in the bank account, but if you do definitely look into those ads, if you're not using. Live chat or something similar on your website. Definitely do that as you launch your agency because you really want to be present to be talking to folks visiting your site because those conversations can turn into great big opportunities.
But I remember with ad-words and my first month I spent $10,000. They didn't invest a little bit early on, but I had spent about $10,000 in ads and I got about $2,000 in business out of it. And I was like, Oh, that hurts. But I started tracking those customers over time. And what I found out over the course of about three years, this is that I actually made about half a million dollars in total revenue off of the clients.
I had acquired that first month for attendance, $10 investment. So I was like, well, that worked out that moment. It didn't feel like it worked out. Just keep that in mind, keep in mind your lifetime value with customers. Because if you're only thinking about that first project, then you're going to be under-investing in your marketing.
What business model would you aim for with this hypothetical agency? Do you think, like what's your favorite split between maybe some recurring revenue, maybe some retainer clients, maybe some traditional betting on projects or, or completely zapped of all my resources, Peter, I would go project-based. I would go with what customers are used.
Too in the beginning, we're going to redesign your site. It's going to cost this amount of money. I'm going to do your SEO. It's going to cost that amount of money, because if I'm just starting a business and maybe I don't have a lot of money in the bank, then I'm going to be thinking about that next paycheck.
Right. I got to make brand, I've got to make my mortgage. If I've. You know, incorporated the business. I might have other overarching expenses, but I would go straight to project based billing just because that's the fastest way to get revenue. And then I would very quickly start building in the notion of care packages, if not just from the very beginning.
And then I would try to productize that as much as I could. And then probably over time split my marketing activities from focused on. Big projects and then activities focused on like acquiring care or maintenance packages to build that MRR base in the agency. But the MRR monthly recurring revenue part is just so critical.
Um, you know, I can't count how many months I was sweating getting that giant check-in on time. So I could make payroll and having that monthly recurring revenue base can help, you know, kind of. Ease your mind in terms of, you know, getting that sustainability in your business and then building beyond that, to even getting, you know, more material outcomes.
I mean, with care packages and monthly recurring revenue, I mean, if you're an individual and you can build that up into something that can sustain you and your family as an individual without hardly any help at all. I mean, that's a wonderful place to be in, or even with a small team. And then you can kind of.
Purge off that project-based business. But if I have to pay my mortgage, Peter, in your hypothetical scenario, I'm going project based billing to begin with. First of all. I love the answer. I think it makes a ton of sense, I guess like with combining like some of those like maintenance packages and stuff that you mentioned with also like the strategy of working with freelancers for like overloaded or like offload some work and stuff like that, you can kind of build like a pretty nice lifestyle business to use, uh, a term that from the startup world as well around like your agency business and you don't necessarily have to work.
That crazy heart yourself, because you have, you know, trusted partners that you can offload some of the work too. So that's cool.
Switching gears a bit. Something I've noticed recently when I go to the WP engine website, is it doesn't talk that much about WordPress anymore. And it talks a lot about digital experiences and the it's something I've seen. Some of the larger agencies that we work with through branch, as well as like, they talk about these digital experiences.
And it made me curious about like the language here, and I think that's like sales and marketing and maybe even branding as well. Some of these traditional WordPress agencies are moving up market a bit and selling something that's more, not necessarily enterprise, but it's a different product they're selling.
Can you explain or talk a bit about like this shift from thinking about I'm selling a WordPress sites to like. We're selling digital experiences and how maybe that affects an agency. It's largely about positioning it to be fair though. WordPress appears twice in our H one tag on our website as is definitely still signing your name.
Yeah. Yeah. It's definitely still center to our universe, but what you see is the way we describe WP engine on the home page is the WordPress digital experience platform. And kind of this notion of like beyond managed WordPress hosting and in general, like, I don't think WordPress is a bad part of your marketing strategy.
As a matter of fact, in my agency days, one of the reasons we settled on WordPress as our CMS of choice was because of customer demand. And we still see that today in the agencies and customers I work for in the WP engine context. It's like a lot of brands just to see. I assume you're going to use WordPress because it's best in class for a lot of use cases.
It was initially released in 2003. And what we've seen since then, I guess this would be what, like 17 years now is really an evolution in what WordPress is. And so of course in the early days, really being more focused on blogging, but as capabilities have been added over the years and in particular things like the rest API and WP CLI that really.
Make WordPress, more extensible and more integrated with other things. What we see is like, what WordPress is used for is kind of hard to define now. Right? Like certainly blogging still. We see it used in the JAMstack with things like headless WordPress, and then we see like really interesting applications built with WordPress.
One of my favorites is the Campbell's recipe. Reality soup checker. Basically what it does is you enter your Pinterest, feed it, then scans your pens, using artificial intelligence and recommend soup recipes based on the things you penned. I know, right? Like that's not a word press side. I'm doing air quotes here.
Of course it's a podcast. You can't see that. But like, what is that? Right? And of course they leverage custom plugins and the rest API in order to accomplish these things. But they built something that was fundamentally not. You know, like what you would think of traditionally as a WordPress website, but it actually worked quite well.
It was a very successful campaign, still alive today for Campbell soup. Like Thanksgiving, whenever it was launched like two years ago, it just like blew up. And so there was a huge fervor around it, but like, well, what is that? Right. And so when you start thinking about like, well, WordPress is the means the tool to do these actions, but what you're really building are digital experiences.
One of my favorite examples was what word camp Austin did for their event. They had the event and a virtual reality space and the content within the event was actually also powered by WordPress. So this is why in the WP engine context, we really embraced it. This notion of digital experience platform, certainly not to jettison WordPress.
WordPress is the first word in that WordPress digital experience platform, but it's really acknowledging what our customers are already doing and not just our customers, but people all across WordPress where they're building like so much more than a website. And I think as you. Think about this from the agency lens.
I definitely wouldn't purge WordPress from how you pitch your services, because a lot of value and benefit for businesses when they choose WordPress. But this notion of like coupling it with a broader vision of how you can empower their total digital experience. Absolutely. It can help you up level how you position your services, that rates you can charge the kind of clients you can get.
And so this is one of the reasons WP engine pursued this path is really, it was a. Reflection of what our customers were already doing and an acknowledgement of the wonderful experiences they were building. I love that it's a better positioning for what word actually is today. And I hope that every agency owner listening to this podcast took notes because this was a really, really good pitch for WordPress in general, um, that I think people can use and take inspiration from when they're pitching their clients on WordPress really, really liked that.
There was one other thing I kind of want to talk about. And that's some of the work that you do through WP engine work with agencies, you have your agency program. I think last time I read about it, it was more than 5,000 partner agencies. You're also mentioned to me that you were working on a new. Tool for agencies.
And I think it's related to some of the stuff we talked about with recurring revenue and kind of like building up that base. And I would love to hear a bit about some of the work you do and how you're helping agencies and what challenges. Absolutely. So WP engine does have an agency program for those listening.
WP engine.com/agency-partner-program like many partner programs. Of course it includes the ability to refer customers and you can opt in to earn commissions from those referrals. As long as you disclose those commissions to your clients. And then there's a portal for basically managing your experience as a partner with WP engine, there is actually very useful information and like the content section of that portal.
And then we typically will send a newsletter once a month with updates about like what's happening with our platform, but also more broadly in WordPress. So people do find a lot of value in that. The agency program also comes with a free WP engine account that you can use for testing for staging client work.
And then for those unfamiliar, and you can do it with the free account or on your own, you can actually access all of your client's sites. So they would grant you access to it as a user. So even if the client isn't like buying hosting from you, you can still kind of have like a client hosting dashboard where you have access to all of your clients kind of in one view.
So that's super helpful. But I think in general, like the way we approach our kind of agency partner program philosophy is through this notion of growth. Like the whole business WP engine business is really centered around like customer and partner outcomes. In our partnerships. We asked first, how will working together help someone else, right.
How we'll help another business, how will it help our partner service someone in their universe? That's also an ours. Then we think about like, well, how will these partnerships then provide value to our business? And so that's the general philosophy with how we work with partners and our agency partner program, including things like providing listings and our agency directory, which is heavily used by our support department to refer customers who need help above and beyond what our support provides.
So if you're an agency looking for leads, definitely check out WP engine, agency partner program, because again, we're funneling those customer referrals through that system so they can find help when they need it. So that's one thing we've done on the agency partner program and a little kind of a window into our philosophy there.
The other thing you mentioned was something we have, and for those unfamiliar, a couple of years ago, WP engine acquired flywheel found a gift, flywheel.com. And there's a product we've launched@getflywheel.com. Get flywell.com forward slash growth dash suite that is currently in a private alpha, but will be launched in the next couple of months.
Basically, there's a wait list. You can join at that URL. I just mentioned. And what gross suite is, is it's kind of. An expanded version of flywheels white labeling service, where an agency or freelancer could white label hosting and charge a monthly recurring fee for that gross suite builds on that by providing kind of this.
Full customer management and MRR billing suite for more than just hosting. So you could build for your maintenance packages. You can actually also build for like one-off projects if you want. But you would think about this as like a client management and billing platform, but specifically optimized around MRR.
Like that's the hero outcome for gross suite. Yeah. I love those ideas so much. It's such a good idea. And I would sign up right away if I had an agency. Yeah. So we're in that private, yeah. Alpha right now. But if you enter your email there, you can get on the wait list and then it should be fully GA in January.
But we're really excited about that. But like, whether you go with Gris suite or the WP engine, agency, partner program or anything like that, just look for these opportunities with. Hosts and with your technology partners for like, how can I leverage what their assets, their programs to drive growth in my business.
And that's, you know, really our, our philosophy around how we release programs and products is like, how can we drive value in our customers and partners, businesses? Yeah. I mean of you start to think about it. There are so many small things that you could package up, right? Like with the white lip and the hosting, like if you're doing SEO, SEO monitoring is a big one.
Yeah. Yeah. I have an SEO tool that allows you to generate a nice report that you can send to your clients every month, maybe white labeled as well. Like there's so many these things that you can kind of like package up and. It's a great experience for your clients as well. Like our accounting we're using bench, which is also a productized service, but because it's a productized service and it's very well packaged.
Like the experience is also really great as a customer because everything is so streamlined and professional. And I think actually some of these things that you're mentioning is also just an opportunity for an agency to become more professional at first, like seem more professional to their customers.
Absolutely that should help you gain some bigger project work, perhaps from those clients or even bigger clients in general, David, I really enjoyed this conversation and I hope people found it inspiring as well. If there's anything you want to plug or anything you want to mention now is your time. I think I did end up plugging in the last session for Peter.
Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it. And thanks everyone for listening. I really enjoy kind of sharing some of my worst stories. Hopefully you learned a little bit from some of my mistakes and some of my successes. Yeah. And if people want to listen to more that we'll do a plug for you.
Because I've also been on your podcast, press this where you're the host, so people can check out the podcast as well. Yeah, that'd be great. And if you want to hit me up on Twitter at WP David V. Awesome. David, talk to you later. Thank you so much. Thank you, Peter. PWE P
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