Jason Swenk is the agency advisor and mentor that guides marketing agencies through a proven framework for growing their agency faster.
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.
Key Takeaways From Our Conversation
It’s important to recognize when your decision making has become reactionary to the market, instead of intentional.
If you are only taking in clients based on referrals and word of mouth then you aren’t operating with the necessary clarity to grow your business.
Take the time to create a clear outline of what your company’s core beliefs are and who your ideal client is.
Determine why you want to help these clients and then design your services around that.
It is necessary to know what your strengths are versus your weaknesses in order to determine potential gaps for the business.
Rather than focusing on your weaknesses, it is better to hire a team that excels in these areas and allow yourself to grow your personal expertise.
“There are some people who will sell for nothing. Someone will say, “I will pay you ‘x’” and then you get so excited about the money you’re about to get that you take your foot off the gas. And then if the deal falls through, you’re left hanging and a lot of people go out of business.
If anyone wants to buy you, never take your foot off the gas.” – Jason Swenk
You determine the ‘why’ behind your business by identifying the problem(s) you want to solve and designing the necessary solutions.
“My whole why around it is I wanted to create a resource I wish I had.” – Jason Swenk
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Get in touch with Jason Swenk
Resources · Transcript · Tell YOUR Story
Create the freedom within your agency to grow and start doing the things you love. Visit jasonswenk.com to start learning how you can enjoy the experience towards the end destination.
Nicole Holland 0:00
Hey there. Welcome back to season one, episode eight of fascinating founders. I'm your host, Nicole Holland and I'm thrilled to be your guide as we dive in and uncover the stories that came before the success of some of the world's most fascinating founders. hailing from a multitude of industries and socio economic starts, you're going to learn what's made these fascinating men and women realise their dreams from an inspired idea to millions in revenue disrupting, innovating and impacting humanity for the better. You never know what's going to come up in our casual conversations. So get your notebooks ready cosy up with a great Cup of Joe and join us as I dive in to learn how these inspiring individuals have figured out how to thrive in a time where most people give up on their dreams. My guest today is Jason Swank. He's the agency advisor and mentor that guides marketing agencies through a proven framework for growing their agency faster. Jason has literally written the book for growing an agency from nothing to an eight figure agency. He's one of the most sought out advisors to agencies in the world by showing them an eight step framework that worked for growing his agency working with brands like at&t Hitachi Lotus cars, and eventually led to selling his agency. Jason currently hosts two shows the smart agency masterclass podcast, which is the number one 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. Plus “Swenk Today” is a Tuesday and Thursday show that documents how you can grow your digital agency and business where Jason shares the latest growth strategies mindset and answers the most burning questions that digital agency owners and entrepreneurs have. Welcome to the show, Jason.
Jason Swenk 1:47
Hey, thanks for having me.
Nicole Holland 1:49
My pleasure. How about we start out with you just giving our listeners a quick overview of your company and what you do?
Jason Swenk 1:55
Yeah, so my company is a media agency for agencies Where we basically put out content I wish I had when I was running my agency to allow them to create the freedom in order to pick and choose and do the things that they really love doing in their agency.
Nicole Holland 2:11
Awesome. And so this company that you're running now evolved after having an agency that you no longer have, is that correct?
Jason Swenk 2:19
That's correct. Yeah. So I had an agency for 12 years. We built it up, grew it, and then people wanted to buy it. So we sold it. And we're like, Okay, and then I was afterwards I was like, well, let's do an iPhone app. And I hated that. Just lucky enough. I found this.
Nicole Holland 2:36
Lucky indeed. I don't think it was luck, though, at all your brilliance, and I love what you're putting out there. So when you first started your agency, I'd love to talk a little bit about how that evolved. But I'm curious even before that, what was your first entrepreneurial venture?
Jason Swenk 2:53
So that goes back to probably when I was about 11 years old, where I had a lawn mowing service, my tagline back then Was I beat everybody by a yard? And I would go around to the neighborhood and put flyers up at the mailbox and be like, I'll mow your yard for like $5 or something like that.
Nicole Holland 3:10
Wow, that's amazing. And so as a child, then you did that. Did you ever get a quote, real job after
Jason Swenk 3:19
I had lots of real jobs? I got fired from every single one. You know, I worked at Wendy's for a day. The most serious job I had out of school was Arthur Andersen. And I worked as a computer programmer, and that didn't work out either.
Nicole Holland 3:35
You were with Arthur Andersen for a while But weren't you
Jason Swenk 3:37
a whole six months
Nicole Holland 3:40 Nice. And that was the the longest, longest stint eh?
Jason Swenk 3:44
that was the longest I've held the job. Yes.
Nicole Holland 3:46
So at what point did you just realise Hey, this job thing is not for me and I am going to build some stuff.
Jason Swenk 3:54
It was really at Arthur Andersen and I kind of did it by accident. You know one of my friends look like Justin Timberlake. From insane, so I created a fake band fake website called in shit. And it got popular in the late 90s. And then people started asking me and design websites. And I was like, man, I was like, all these people are coming to me to design websites, I could do this from my apartment. And I can do this anywhere I want. And I can work as much or as little as I want. And I was like, screw that screw the nine to five, and started going doing that.
Nicole Holland 4:25
Awesome. And so let's talk a little bit about that, how that evolved because you started just making these sites as a young person. And you sold your company eventually, for a very nice chunk of change from not mistaken and have worked with numerous huge brands along the way. So can you tell us a little bit about how you sort of took that initial realisation of Oh, wow, I can make some money and I am making money to developing into an agency and then beyond that recognition. Know that it's time to go out of the agency?
Jason Swenk 5:03
Yeah, you know, I mean, so I started in 99. So I had full visions of starting a business growing up big and selling it, because everybody back then it was around the.com error. You know, even when I graduated from college and I worked for Arthur Andersen, we were getting signing bonuses as computer programmers. So you put tech on anything, it always accelerated the valuation and everybody wanted to, you know, get a piece of this.com error. And so then, you know, when I started my own, I was being reactionary to the market. I was being reactionary to everything that was coming to us, because it was all based on referrals and word of mouth. And then, you know, a couple years went by and my kind of kind of hit a plateaus. You know, we hit a bunch of plateaus that we just kind of broke through but let's say this plateau, I think it was around the million mark like it was like, why can't we just really break through to the multimillion dollar mark. And what I realised was, I didn't have the right system. systems in place, I didn't have the right foundation because I was I was an accidental agency owner, an accidental entrepreneur. And I knew how to do something cool. But I, I didn't really know what I wanted to do going forward. I didn't know who I wanted to be my perfect client. And so I had to get some clarity of where did I want to go? What was that direction, and I don't even know who to hire. Right? And so I would hire anybody that would work for me. And a lot of times, I would get lucky, a lot of times I wouldn't. And what I realised was, I wasn't hiring people based on my core values, which actually, in turn, turned out to be the company core values. And so as I started getting clarity for that, and then I started getting clarity of going, alright, this is the type of agency we want to become. This is the type of clients we want to work with, and we want to help and then understanding why do we want to do that? And then only from there could I help my team make decisions without me because a lot of times entrepreneurs get in this place where we're making all these things. decisions. And everybody's always coming to us to make the decision. Well, that gets very draining. And I always kind of reference it as let's say, we're on a boat from New York to London. And after about 10 hours, you get tired, you're like, Hey, I'm gonna go in my cabin and go sleep, wake me up if the boat changes direction, or changes course. And so every five minutes, everybody's waking you up, to go up to the wheelhouse and do the little two degree course correction. And then you go back down, and it happens every two minutes. Well, if you just told them, you're going to London, they can make a decision. And if they didn't want to go to London, get the hell off the boat. And so that was kind of the first system. And that was the first realisation that we had in order to allow us to really grow
Nicole Holland 7:44
amazing. And at that point, how many employees Did you have on the team around 1010. And once you were able to start implementing and sort of giving over that ownership of the tasks that you didn't necessarily need to manage. What was the outcome of that?
Jason Swenk 8:05
Well, we started growing almost double for a couple years, and really growing a lot faster. And I didn't have to do everything, right. Like, literally, I got to a point where I almost wanted to shut the agency down at that point. And I almost took a job with NASCAR. And they asked me two questions. They were like, what do you want to do every day and what you never want to do. And those two questions really changed everything for me, because then I was like, All right, let me get a piece of paper out. And I basically drew a circle on this piece of paper and probably the circle is about the size of your fist. So if you guys want to do the six exercise, go for it. So put your fist on an eight and a half by 11 piece of paper, draw a circle around it, everything outside that circle is all the stuff that you hate doing or that you never want to do again. And then so as you start doing that through a process of elimination, then you start writing inside the circle of all the stuff you love doing that only you are really good. Good at and, and that you could see yourself doing all the time. And so then what you can start doing is you're like, Oh, these are the type of people I need to hire in order to do this, like project management. I don't need to be doing project management, I suck at attention to detail, someone else needs to do it. I don't want to do finance, hate numbers, hate spreadsheets, great. hire this person. And so then you can start rather than start fixing your weaknesses. You can hire for your weaknesses and keep building on your strengths.
Nicole Holland 9:30
I love that I'm seeing you're taking so many notes. Cool. So when you have that realisation, I guess that also helped you realise that you did not want to go take a job for NASCAR.
Jason Swenk 9:40
Yep, yeah, I turned it down. I was like, I started thinking I was like, Well, I can do this within my own agency.
Nicole Holland 9:47
Yeah. Cool. And so then I'm kind of next steps and and this was around when because you so we're 2019 now and 2019 as we're recording this and you sold the agent See a number of years ago is all right.
Jason Swenk 10:01
Yeah, I sold it in 2012 2012.
Nicole Holland 10:04
So can you kind of take us to the point of which you recognised, okay, it's time to sell. Because I think you've had that opportunity multiple times before I'm not if I'm not mistaken. So when you really knew Okay, I'm ready to sell. And here's why. I'd love to know a little bit about that. And then we can talk about how you pivoted into what you're doing today.
Jason Swenk 10:24
Yeah. So, you know, there's, over the years, especially as you grow rapidly, you're going to always have people that want to buy you. Now, some people will come with pretty crappy offers, you know, and I can't, you know, I can't shame them for asking, like, you know, there's some people that will sell for nothing. So why is well ask? And then we had a couple real offers. And I've even seen some of my friends. Even mastermind members in our mastermind, actually almost go out of business when they actually start going down this path, because someone will say, I'll pay you x Then you get so excited about the money you're about to get that you take your foot off the gas, and then by the time and then if the deal falls through, then you're kind of screwed. And you're, you're kind of left hanging. And a lot of people go out of business. So I remember some of my friends going through this, they're always like, if anybody ever wants to buy, you never take your foot off the gas. And I've always kept that in the back of my head. So, you know, 12 years into running the agency. We had a strategic partner that we kept using back and forth, they were using us, we're using them, and then they just said, Hey, we love what you're doing around X, Y, and Z. We're looking to acquire an agency like yours, we want to buy you. And so we're like, Alright, well, let's talk let's talk about how you value us, you know what, what it's going to look like and, and they put a big offer in front of us and we couldn't refuse it.
Nicole Holland 11:54
Wonderful. Congratulations on that of course. And when You made the when you when you took the offer when you exit it, I'm assuming you you exit or did you stay on for a while
Jason Swenk 12:07
I stayed on. So I had to stay on with the company for another two years, or in the event that they sold again, and I was just lucky enough that they sold nine months later, so I could get out because I hated it.
Nicole Holland 12:21
that's awesome for all of you, I guess. Okay, cool.
Nicole Holland 12:24
So the company's gone or the agency is gone. Now what? How did you fill in that gap? Did you take time off? Did you just know what the next step was? How did you determine where you want it to go from there?
Jason Swenk 12:38
Yeah, I didn't know what I wanted to do. Honestly, you know, I'm a creator, I have to build stuff I have to. And you know, when I sold agency, I was depressed a couple weeks later, you know, I was really excited as it was going through and then as you know, as a week went by, but then I was like, my God, I'm, I'm miserable. And people are like, why are you miserable? And I was like, Well, hey, really figured it out now is it was because I didn't have that significance anymore. I didn't. I wasn't working with Legal Zoom or Hitachi or at&t or Aflac anymore. My team didn't need me. I didn't have a team. It was just me. And so I was like, I gotta do something. And so I thought at the time, I would build an iPhone app that takes pictures of everything you eat and gives you a visualisation. And we put a bunch of money a bunch of time into it, but I didn't like doing it. I didn't have passion behind it. And I was just doing it, you know, because I was like, all right, well, we had a good exit on this, but it wasn't a billion dollar exit. And Instagram just got sold for a billion dollars. I was like, well, let's use that as a goal. And it was stupid. Like I was doing it as like a stupid game as a number, which is irrelevant. And I always tell people don't make decisions based on money. And I was still making decisions based on money. And so I closed it down. And I was about to I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but some of my old competitor editors in the agency space started reaching out. And I started helping them out. They were like, well, how did you? How did you sell? How did you get these big clients? How did you manage this big team? How did you, you know, do everything and I started helping them out for free. And I got a lot of significance back. And when I did that, I was like, Oh, my God, like, I would do this for free, because I was doing it for free. And my wife at the time was like, Well, why don't you do that? I was like, What do you mean? She's like, Well, why don't you work with who you used to be? I was like, Okay. And then I started a podcast, I started putting information together and showing people framework, and I started building a community around around so I could connect people. And I just, then I started focusing on, you know, why would I do something like this and I was like, my whole wire around it is wanted to create a resource I wish I had, and that's been the North Star of everything that we do for the past six years, and the business has grown substantially and it's, it's the coolest thing I've ever done.
Nicole Holland 15:01
This is amazing. I wish we could talk all day about this. However, we do need to start wrapping up. I can't believe how fast the time flew. Okay, Jason, so let us know a little bit more about what you're doing how you're helping people in case anybody in the audience is like, yes, you are the person I've been searching for. So let us know who you're serving, how you're serving and a little bit more of a meaningful way or not meaningful is very meaningful, the whole thing but in a more direct way. And also your best advice for business owners who want to follow in your footsteps.
Jason Swenk 15:42
Yeah, so I mean, the people I serve are the agency owners that want to grow faster, but they're really kind of at a point where they've plateaued or they just really want to speed it up, and they want to create the freedom in their agency in their business in order to create can choose the things that they love doing, and have the freedom to say no to the wrong client have the freedom to say no to the things that just don't fulfill them anymore. And so I show them a framework that worked for us. So those are the perfect, and you have to be cool, you have to be fun. You can't be this workaholic. You know, because we got to enjoy life. Like I realised in building that business. I always treated the end destination as the win, rather than the whole experience building up to it. And, and so that that's those are the types of people I like to work with. And what was the second question? Well, I
You kind of sort of touched on it, but maybe there's something more. What would be your best advice, advice for a business owner wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Jason Swenk 16:49
Yeah, I guess I did touch on it. Enjoy, enjoy the journey. Don't just obsess over the end destination because when it comes, then you'll be depressed. I mean, treat it Like a mountain, okay, you know, in order to climb a mountain, you have to have a goal. So you're not just walking around the desert. So let's say, All right, I'm gonna climb this mountain. Well, you have to come up with a strategy to climb that mountain, enjoy it, like stop, like, I had this. I do this event twice here. It's called the digital agency experience. And at the end of day one, we walk up and hike up the mountain behind my house. And it's, you know, 800 feet up. It's pretty vertical. It's, I mean, but a lot of people just kind of run up as fast as they can. But I'm also and I kind of do that. I've done that in the past, but there was one member that was struggling a little bit and I had to I wanted to be with him and help him get up there because it was just such a cool sunset up there. But by waiting for him and helping him out, I was able to see things and enjoy things. I didn't think I would if I ran up the mountain, meaning the whole way is like enjoy the whole journey out. Just don't focus on getting the top That's it, and then go over what, what's next? But enjoy the whole journey. And then once you do make it up to the top look for the next mountain and the next mountain, the next mountain.
Nicole Holland 18:09
Brilliant. So how can people connect with you further?
Jason Swenk 18:13
The best way is to go to my website Jason Swenk. com. I'm not related to Hillary so it's spelled with an S w e n k. So Jason
Nicole Holland 18:22
Swank calm. Thanks so much to Jason for being my guest on today's show and for sharing his founders journey with us. We'll have links for you to connect directly with him resources discussed plus the full transcript of today's episode and more at fascinating founders.com. Remember, successful people surround themselves with successful people and until next time, this is Nicole Holland, signing off.
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