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The Power of Empathy in Leadership and Team Dynamics

In Conversation with CJ Bachmann

For this episode of E-COFFEE with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed CJ Bachmann, CEO of 1SEO Digital Agency, a full-service agency located in Bristol, PA. She shares her journey from a sales background to the helm of a successful digital marketing agency. She discusses her passion for empowering women in leadership, the challenges of scaling a business, and the transformative impact of AI in marketing. With a focus on empathy, education, and innovation, CJ’s story offers a roadmap for aspiring marketers navigating the ever-evolving digital landscape.

Watch the episode now for more insights!

Anytime you change the structure of a company, as you grow, as you scale, what the company looks like changes.

CJ Bachmann
CEO of 1SEO Digital Agency

Hey. Hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay here, your host for today’s episode. And today we have CJ Bachmann, who is the Chief Executive Officer at 1SEO Digital Agency with us. Hey, CJ.

Hey, Ranmay. Thanks for having me.

Great, CJ. Before we go into the details, let’s get to know the human behind the mic. How was CJ as a kid growing up?

Oh, my gosh. I was bossy for sure.

You are right now as well, I guess.

I grew up in Florida on a farm, so I’m a very southern girl. I was one of five. I was supposed to be a boy. So I grew up in a family in which I didn’t know limitations, especially gender-related limitations. So I was very passionate, very driven, very focused, always from day one, I had a father who kind of pushed me to do things outside the norm. And as a child, it felt like child abuse. As an adult, I realized that I was gaining the skill set that gave me the work ethic that I have today. So I would say, honestly, I wanted to be things like a teacher, a lawyer, anything that you could think of that was being responsible for other people. So I guess I wound up in the right spot.

Lovely. And congratulations on winning the US Search awards. Right. So just wanted to understand, CJ, how did you land in the digital marketing space? How did that journey take place?

Yeah, so I honestly got my career started way back in 2001 in a construction-based organization. So they did all the countertops, cabinets, and flooring, and I was on the sales side. So sales have always been something that I’ve been responsible for and the head of my career. And I got interested in marketing because this company did not have marketing. So I started to do a lot of traditional marketing for them. So I got really big into graphic design and creating billboard designs collateral pamphlets, and brochures. And I spent about eight years inside that company, selling to contractors. So first and foremost, that’s not easy being five foot one female bringing a tape measure and talking about blueprints and countertops. So there were some obstacles there. But then I transitioned into a sales and marketing role for a heating and air conditioning company. And that’s where I got exposed to digital. It was trying to help that company build a service-based side of their business. They were mostly commercial and new construction, so it was nice to find new ways of generating leads to come into that company. And that’s what led me to be interested in digital.

I happened to have a family member who was the person who started 1SEO and I started on the ground floor with them, helping consult, doing things like email marketing, and billboards, and just helping with the infrastructure of the company. So by year two, it was consuming so much of my life that I’m like, you win. And I joined and I’ve been at 1SEO ever since.

Lovely and quite a journey, I must say. CJ, you are an inspiration, given the journey that we were talking about before as well. Could you tell us how you started? She handles it. What was the idea behind it?

Yeah, absolutely. So the further I moved up in my career, there was more and more that I noticed. People would gravitate to ask for advice, and ask questions, and I assume that’s like that for anybody else, right? Your title. People gravitate to titles. What I realized is some so many women were capable of being CEOs or being leaders inside of organizations, but they just didn’t always put a voice to the needs or the wants. And so I wanted to create something that lets them know that they’re capable of it. Honestly, it started with this tiny thing, I was bringing the groceries in one day and I had both arms filled with groceries and I couldn’t open the door, so I opened the door with my foot. My son, who is 20 years old now at the time, snapped a picture of me as I was coming in the door. And my mind is like, why am I doing this? Why? I had no reason to carry all of it in at the same time he was in the house. I could have had him come out and help me, and I chose to do it on my own.

So at that moment, I’m like, just because I can doesn’t mean I should. And then that kind of resonated with me as a woman. Most of the women I know try to be everything to everyone, and it holds you back, and it holds people around you as well. So that’s where she handles it came from, because I felt like my mindset is so different. You had asked me about my upbringing, and I do think that’s part of it because I never looked at myself as that incapable woman who needs to just be the homemaker and raise the children. But it was how I was raised. And so many women allow their careers to just be complacent or stay stagnant because they’re too afraid to take that next step. Whether it’s that they don’t have support from a significant other at home or they feel this weird sense of obligation to be that Betty Crocker mom who has to be in that classroom parent and all of those things. So I wanted to create a space where we could talk about those things and say, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

You have to have the right mindset. You have to be able to delegate and elevate the people around you. It was my way of giving back to that community and telling them that if I could become the CEO of a digital marketing agency, I can become any type of leader that you want to be if you’re just willing to take the necessary steps.

Absolutely. Delegation is the key. I’ve seen a lot of women entrepreneurs in my journey, and the best ones that I can relate to are the ones who have delegated the responsibilities and then managed the show. I have seen a lot of women bosses in my life, early in my life, wherein they just hold everything in their hands and try to do all of it. Even if they could have very easily given it to me and done this, I would have done that because I was just starting my career. But they then do not give it away and try to do everything on their own. So, I mean, a very good point there wherein you mentioned delegation is the key here. So I can relate to that.

Yeah. And I think there’s another piece too, that is part of what, and she handles it, blog talks about it quite a bit. But it’s empathy, right? Women innately can be a lot more empathetic. And not saying that every man can’t be empathetic by any means, that’s not.

You just said it, don’t worry.

Yeah, but as a sex, we can have that empathy. And the workforce today is very different. Right. It’s not a because I said so workforce. So it does require empathy to be able to be a leader, to be able to have people want to follow you, you have to be able to understand them. And women are very well equipped as mothers to be able to provide that understanding of the people around them, to be able to make people want to follow them. My team knows that they can come to me for anything. My team knows that if they’re having a bad hair day and they’re in a bad mood, they can tell me I’m in a bad mood because of X, Y, and Z, and we’ll work through it. They know that I’m going to understand and I’m going to look at situations with my employees from that empathetic mindset. Because if I don’t understand them, then how can I get them to understand me? I need to know where they’re coming from so that I can help them see my vision and help them overcome whatever obstacle they may be facing as a result of a task that they’re being asked to do.

So I think that’s another reason why she handles it and why it’s so important to me.

Absolutely. You have put it in a very nice way. I really cannot help but appreciate how our listeners would connect to the way you have explained this. Right, CJ, moving on. You run close to 100 people organization now. And as someone who is, again, in an agency setup, I know what the challenges are. You would relate to that, right? Specifically for one SEO, what have been the challenges while you adapt to a hundred people set up?

I think the biggest challenge is it’s always going to be on the human capital side of things. Because anytime you change the structure of a company, as you grow, as you scale, what the company looks like changes. And that means what happens inside the company also changes. So I think some of the biggest things is being able to align everyone with the vision of the company where we’re headed, being able to get them to be fluid, because we work in a very fluid industry, it’s rapidly changing, and I think those are always going to be the primary challenges for us. We had quite a few challenges when we reached certain points through the organization. So I’ll just explain a little bit about infrastructure challenges. For example, when we were a much smaller company, everybody working on an account was very collaborative and could talk about that client from the top down, which allowed strategies to be very collaborative and connected. And then as we grew, the departments became silos. So your SEO team wasn’t connecting with the social media team, and that wasn’t connecting with the web team. So when the strategies were rolled out by the individual teams, it was very siloed and not cohesive.

So that was a challenge that we faced as we grew. What we did at the time was we decided to take our book of business, break it into three, essentially that kind of small, medium, and large size clients, and then have our employees each in one of those segments. And that allowed us to mimic what made us so successful when we were smaller, because now, again, everybody was collaborative. Everybody knew what was going on with that book of business. Clients were happy, and employees were happy. You move on and move forward as time goes on, and a new challenge presents itself. As you continue to grow, onboarding becomes a challenge. Amongst the teams, consistency and getting that process to be rolled out. So we had to find a solve to that. Fast forward to now and we’re back at it again saying, okay, what do we want the infrastructure of the company to be and why? What are the problems we’re trying to solve? So I think that it’s an ongoing thing that happens inside of an organization where it’s not a one-and-done solve. Once you solve one thing, you have to pay attention to wherever that next bottleneck or issue is going to arise so that you can continue to solve it.

For us, that looked like restructuring the teams. It also included being able to understand the different types and styles of employees that we had in the business so that leadership could be better equipped to work with them. So I made all of my leaders be able to understand different learning styles so that as they’re working with their employees, they’re able to say, okay, this person is an auditory learner, this person is a visual learner. Right. And the same thing in reverse, help them understand their leadership style. Because some employees may need that authority method, sales is one of them, right? Salespeople need that authority, get it done, and you have a quota. Let’s hit it. I don’t hear the phone ringing, but then you have some that need a lot of different learning styles or teaching styles. So it’s being able to adjust based on what your employees need. So that’s another problem that needed to be solved and is still actively solved daily to make sure that we are paying attention to the types of clients we have, just as much as we’re paying attention to the types of employees we have, they all require adjustments.

Absolutely. Coming to that point, you have seen so many changes like we were talking about. Explain to us through the process of the one most difficult decision that you have taken after becoming the CEO of the Agency.

I would say honestly, the biggest decision that I made as a CEO was to adjust that structure. That took a lot of time, a lot of brainstorming, a lot of whiteboard moments to be able to say, at the end of this year, what does that structure look like? And that’s a process I’m going through right now. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that I have had to implement right now as we look forward and we were talking in the green room about diversifications of products and offerings, and I have to build that into what that structure looks like. What I have done now is I’ve decided what I want to look like in five years. And now I’m reversing it back into, okay, what can I accomplish on that plan this year versus what do I need to do next year and the year after that? So we’re getting that granular to where we’re saying, this is what we want to look like, our bag, whatever you want to call it, in five years. This is our major goal. Now, what did we look like this year? And that’s what we’re doing now.

And it’s fun and it’s exciting, but it’s big moves.

Absolutely. What is your favorite client story, CJ?

Oh, honestly, it’s a painting company. I’m so glad you asked. I have two. But my favorite client story is a painting company. They joined us many years ago. It was one guy with one crew. He had essentially had two trucks and one crew. He ran one, and then a couple of other people drove the other truck. We were able to work with him, enhance his marketing, and build a strategy that now he’s a fleet of 15 trucks and a business. He just partnered with another organization. So his company, what drove private equity or funds? That’s been exciting and then even take it to a smaller level. We had a client one time who called me personally to just let me know how much it meant to them that their business was able to grow to a point where he could send his son to private school, and that had been him and his wife’s dream because of the area that they were in, and they just couldn’t afford it. And because of the marketing and their business growing as a result of what we did, they were able to do that, and that was a tiny win, but it felt really good.

Lovely. I mean, that’s quite a story, I must say. All right, we are doing a podcast. What is your thought on podcasts as a marketing tool for agencies?

Honestly, I think that, and we were talking about this in the green room. The way that we look for information, the way that we search drastically is changing. And we’re getting back to a point in our lives where especially business owners want information super quick and super simple. And I think the podcast is a great way to do that. I have a 40-minute commute, and I don’t do anything in my car but audible. And whether I’m listening to a podcast or reading a book, that’s how I feed my brain and a little bit of story behind that. A couple of years ago, I was getting frustrated and I felt like my work-life integration, I don’t believe in balance. It doesn’t exist, but I do believe in work-life integration. And I felt like it was suffering. I felt like there were things that I wanted to do that I couldn’t do. And what I realized about that is that I couldn’t get more time, but I could use my time differently. And that’s when I said, what are the things that I want to accomplish that I feel that I can’t?

And educating myself was one of them. So now, every single day on my way in and on my way home, I am audibly listening to either a book or a podcast to feed my brain. And so when you ask me about podcasts if I do it every single day, I’m a firm believer that it is a great marketing tool, right? It is. Because you’re being that thought leader, you’re being an educator, and people want that information. And guess what? Someone on here is going to listen and say, hey, I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know the different learning styles or the different coaching styles. And then they may reach out to me because they feel like I’m that thought leader in that space or reach out to me for marketing advice. So I do believe that it’s a great marketing tool.

Lovely. And what is your take on AI? CJ, I know what you feel about it, but I want you to share your thoughts here. How do you feel? It has taken our industry by storm. Exciting times ahead, for sure. What do you feel? Where are we heading with AI?

Yeah. So this might not be the exact answer that people are expecting me to say, but AI is evolution and evolution is exciting, right? And I equate AI to power tools, right? So if we go back to caveman days, they had a bat and they whack something over with it, and then you get a hammer and a nail, and that’s more efficient. Then you get a screwdriver and a screw and that’s more efficient than the hammer. Typically, then you have a screwdriver or a drill, and that’s even more. And if you put all those tools out on a table and tell someone to go and build a birdhouse, they’re going to grab the drill because they can work smarter and do it faster and it’s easier. And that’s how I look at AI. It’s a tool. It is a tool that lets you work smarter, not harder. As far as how I feel, it’s going to change marketing. It’s creating new search engines, that’s exactly what it’s doing. LLMs like chat GPT, although right now they’re primarily being used to create content create images, or do research. People are already starting to ask questions about service providers and you get that lovely one answer back unless you ask for multiple, and that’s being indexed.

So now Google is even taking that information, learning from it, and serving it back up in the search engines. So I think over the next couple of years you’re going to see a couple of things. You’re going to see LLMs like chat GPT become more search engine-based and people are going to find a way to monetize it. So there are going to be advertisements inside of that. I think that you’re going to find websites not becoming obsolete, but being used for a very different purpose. And that’s just to feed all of the profiles and all of the search engines, all of the information that they need to know. But the conversions are going to happen outside of that website. So I think business owners who are willing to adopt technology and work with marketing agencies that are pulling all of this technology into their organizations are going to be far above their competitors. I don’t look at AI as a threat. I look at my competitors using AI as my threat.

Lovely. I just love the way you put it at the end. Great. CJ, finally, what advice would you want to give to our listeners, especially youngsters who are trying to make a mark in additional industry space? People are trying to probably climb up the ladder in their agency or trying to start their own. What are the top three pieces of advice you’d want to give to the young ones who are trying to make a mark in the space?

Yeah, I think for anyone that’s trying to get in the space, to begin with, the first thing that you need to do is slow down and take the opportunity to decide who you want to be, who you want to serve, and where you’re going to serve them, and what you’re going to serve. So really taking that slow step to do that product market fit and be able to figure that out is huge. And then I think, secondly, being able to develop new methods for search engine optimization, for paid advertising, for image creation, and being able to focus on the technologies that are enhancing that and being able to find that missing third party data is going to be very critical and help because this technology allows you to get to that information without actually having that information. So I think those people are going to be extremely important. And then I think it’s about continuing education. And I think that a lot of times when young entrepreneurs struggle they have great ideas, they know exactly what they want to do, and then they focus only on that. And then by the time they launch their company or they launch their product, it’s already outdated, and then their competitors are only a couple of months away from outshining them.

So I think it’s being able to, when we talked about that delegating and stuff like that, being able to find a good group of people that can support you and the mission that you’re on is going to be critical for you to continue to be that visionary that you want to be, to make your business successful.

Absolutely. Great, CJ. I mean, it has been a lovely conversation, but I’ll not let you go without playing a rapid-fire. I hope you’re game for it.

Sure, let’s do it.

All right, your last Google search?

I should open up my computer.

Yeah, go for it. This is an open book. Don’t worry.

All right, let me see. What was my last Google search? I like, ah, Six Sigma training.

All right. Okay. What did you do with the first paycheck, CJ? First paycheck of your life?

I bought food. I think that’s exactly what I did. I probably went out to eat and felt good about buying my first meal with my own money. And then I probably spent too much on shoes after that.

Okay, your celebrity crush?

Kate Beckinsale is my female celebrity crush. And then I would probably have to say Tom Hardy is my male crush.

All right. Okay. Where do we find you on Friday evenings? After office or after work?

So depending on the time of year, if it is nice outside, you will most likely find me either taking a hike or a walk on a kayak. If it is winter, you will probably find me snuggled up someplace warm with a fireplace, maybe having a couple of cocktails, and just enjoying time with my family. We love game nights and stuff like that, but we’re an outdoorsy group, so you’ll usually find me outside if the weather permits.

All right, lovely. Perfect, CJ. We will not grill you any further. You have been a sport. Thank you so much for taking out time and doing this with us. Appreciate it.

Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ranmay. And I hope that anyone out there who is interested in what we do and how we do it can look us up. And anybody interested in shehandlesit.com, it’s right there for you.

Perfect. Thank you, CJ.

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