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For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser hosted David Cuff, co-founder of Local View. David gives other agency owners a wealth of information that they can use to better their operations. Watch now.
Anybody who’s been in the SEO business realizes that a website’s just an online business card and developing leads and expanding your business really needs more.
Hello everyone. Welcome to this episode of Ecoffee with Experts. I’m your host, Matt Fraser. And on today’s show, I have a very special guest David Cuff. David co-founded Local View, a full-service Digital Marketing and Web Development agency headquartered in Lynnwood, Washington. He has developed a national website to enable business professionals to manage their entire online reputation and social media marketing in one place. Thus, allowing them to engage clients and sales leads with powerful easy-to-use tools linking business to powerful reputation management and social media marketing tools. He’s the author of several blog posts about Digital Marketing, which can be found on his company website and LinkedIn profile. He is also an avid volunteer, from substitute teacher to construction worker. His motto is a cheerful heart is good medicine. David, thanks for coming on the show.
Hey, thanks for having me. I appreciate it Matt.
It’s a pleasure. So, we’re talking about an idea for today to discuss tips and tools for running a Virtual Digital agency that clients love. And on that note, what inspired you to start your Digital Marketing agency?
About eight years ago, I started with web development and worked with small business owners. Still, anybody in this business for some time realizes that a website’s just an online business card, and developing leads and expanding your business needs more. So I started getting into SEO and started learning it. And the real path and the nuts and bolts of the details of pay-per-click marketing. So I got myself certified with Google and continued with social media, pulled on some products as an agency, and started developing the full-service concierge approach. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to compete with the national companies, so I wanted to develop a company that local businesses could come to for affordable prices and have all the high-end tools, services, and, more importantly, the customer experience that is the glue to keep your agency maintaining long term clients and reducing what others in the industry called churn. So I didn’t want to have many clients, make money quickly, and then not fulfill what I promised. And so I began to quickly learn the details from soup to nuts on Digital Marketing and began to teach others that and developed a team to do that. And that’s pretty much. So I get inspired by helping business owners increase their business rather than I, if I could develop this cool website, or, Oh, if I could increase their analytics. To me, it’s all part of meeting that individual sitting either on a virtual screen or across the table and providing real solutions. And for them to be happy that they met me or someone else on the team.
What are some of your biggest challenges in running your agency?
As you know, web development alone is not just the skills to put together a website. It’s actually a project and taking somebody else’s story and putting it together compellingly. About six years ago, I did an email count of just one client going back and forth and creating their website. We were hired to create the content on that particular website. Nonetheless, it was over 150 emails back and forth until we launched the website. And so, when you contemplate that type of activity, with a conscious approach to putting together just a website, you begin to realize the challenge is getting information from busy business owners. And so, I’ve worked hard on developing systems on our end to make it easy for someone else. I mean, when you talk to a plumber, and they’re running trucks every morning, they get up at 4:45 am and go through their list of jobs that they have to do, and then I call him and say, Hey, you have more information on that About Us page? They would much rather hire me, but they often can’t afford to have us write 15 to 20 pages and do the website, all the details, artwork, and everything. And so, we find ourselves in this kind of budget restrained slash project management. So we use Basecamp. We put everything in Basecamp, one of the tools we use; it’s project management software. And so what it does is it helps us to follow up, and if someone’s busy for a season, and they’re going to get back to us, then we know exactly where we were, everything’s organized, it’s not like we have to research a project every time we get an email. So I think the biggest challenge for us is working with busy local owners or managers and trying to help them put together their online profiles without interrupting their lives severely.
So is your entire agency virtual, or do you have Office-in-house staff?
We don’t have offices. I have a dedicated office here in my home and team, they all have dedicated spaces, but no, we don’t have a physical office from the beginning. Pre-COVID people would go, you don’t have an office, I don’t get it, but after COVID, everybody’s like, Oh, it’s just normal. Everybody works from home, and it saves the client lots of money. But we’ve improved putting together the tools and the process to run from home. And so I’d like to think we’re more productive than having an office and more streamlined and efficient financially.
Yeah, well, tell me about that. Like, I’m pretty sure that many of our audience listening and watching are agency owners. So what are some of the tips you could share with me? I agree that you founded this from the beginning as a quote-unquote virtual agency. I prefer it because I’ve been working from home for a long time. I don’t see the need to have an office to impress people. But certain challenges come with running a virtual agency, where you don’t have physical offices and you don’t have in-person meetings. So can you tell me about some of those things?
Well, I think one of the biggest challenges is personally, for me as the business owner, and that is, is everybody being productive? This year, you wondered if someone’s sitting at home doing something other than work. But in reality, you need to take a different approach. We do have an online time clock that goes in with our Project Management Software. So we use Ever Hour, and it integrates with Basecamp. And the reason why we do that is client billable. If we’re on a project, we want to know how much time it’s taking, clock in, and manage the time related to projects. But the biggest challenge is empowering the folks working with you, so they’re excited to work. They have meaningful work to do, so they don’t want to sit around. Who wants to waste time? And so I don’t need to walk down halls, look into offices, and see that everybody’s busy. I need to see what we’ve created, the solutions we’ve provided, and the hard work that goes into some of our work. And if someone gets up and gets a drink of water or someone uses the restroom and forgets to clock out or something, big deal. We run our company, so trust is a big thing among the team members and me. I like to incentivize certain things, hey, if you get this job done by the end of the week because the clients are pushing, here’s some extra money if we knock this out before Friday. So we do things like that and try to have an exciting place to work every day. I think that’s the key rather than, is everybody working hard? If you hire somebody who’s just getting over on you, it’s only going to last for so long, and they’re not going to fit. Because unless you have 45 to 55 to 150 people are working for you, you have to have very good managers who also provide that exciting place to work every day so that you don’t have to worry about people wanting to take advantage of working from home.
How did you develop the culture, that exciting culture? What are some tips on that?
We meet daily for 15 to20 minutes, we call it our project meeting. We get together, we talk about what we’re doing. I love to have face-to-face or virtual meetings with everybody.
And we go over different things. I also provide opportunities for training and certifications,we do bonuses for that. I read a while back that the most important thing for people is not money at their jobs although money is important, having meaningful work. So what I like to do is, because we’re a small company. Only eight years old, I like to give people the opportunity to form who we are, to know our culture and what we’re all about and as a result begin to put together solutions as they see the opportunity to develop how we do our business. Because the industry is changing so rapidly, and so many things are happening. So many opportunities to launch off into other areas sometimes we go for it. Still, sometimes I listen to an idea or a project that we could be doing that’s not necessarily client based, it could be something internal that we’re doing, and I let folks go for it. And I think giving people an opportunity to form who we are as a company, not just me laying down edicts on who we are and what we are doing. We have a culture of customer experience. We have a culture of concierge type of service for small businesses. That’s who we are, and we want to see local businesses do well. I read some statistics that seven out of every $10 purchased online is through Amazon. And I thought, I use Amazon a lot, and I don’t want to kick a good thing. But on the other hand, this is choking out small businesses, and people who worked hard and put together businesses over the years are now struggling. And so, how do we get them found? How do we help them tell their story? How do we streamline their process? And how do we get their margins to where they can offer those prices and sell products? Services are always there, you’ll always need a plumber, and you can’t buy a plumber online. But how do we get small businesses to thrive? And how do we help them develop great reputations within their local community? How are those local communities healthy due to having the guy you can go and ask, connect these wires on your TV, and then have the pricing so that they don’t just go over to Amazon and buy the TV but buy it from their local guy because local is, in my opinion, one of the Pioneer frontiers that have been neglected. Now that big businesses have taken over with Costco, Amazon, and Walmart, and all these places were granted. The delivery companies UPS and FedEx and all these companies are growing leaps and bounds. And I’m all for companies growing, don’t misunderstand me. So I’m not sitting on the virtual lawn saying get off my lawn, as a local business owner. But I want to help the local businesses, our heart is to help small businesses grow in a challenging environment.
So you mentioned running virtual meetings daily. What tools do you use, and what’s your preferred meeting platform?
We use Google workspace and the Meet option. So Google workspace, like zoom, has its own Google meet. But it also has a collaborative calendar and email, and we have two terabytes of client data in the cloud that we can all share and utilize. So we have two Unix servers with all of our local websites on, then we back those up every night on the server, then we port those over to our Google Drive, then it syncs it right down here to our Synology drive.
You have the NAS driving?
Yeah. So everything is well backed up and secured. It’s all automated, which is wonderful. We like Google meet, the new upgrade has noise canceling. And I Raise Bishan is also male and female, and sometimes I like to get a little rowdy in the office here and run around and bark and what have you. And once this new upgrade with the noise canceling came out, I apologized to a client when my dogs were getting rowdy, and they said I don’t hear anything. I was like, Oh, good. It works pretty well. So Google workspace is a great tool. There are other like-minded or similar Office suites, but it made sense because we’re a Google partner and do local ads. I like to reduce technology even though I’m a technology junkie and love to learn about new products, you can become so diverse in all your technology that it’s hard to learn it all for a new person to come in. But the next one we use, as I’ve mentioned, Basecamp. We do a cool thing with their templating. So when we create a website, we have a template with all the over 56 immediate tasks. And then, with those tasks in the template, we have videos on how to do them. Another product we use is Snagit from yikes man, and then we also use Loom. We go through that step when we’re working on something, and we record it and put it in our Google Drive, or we also have a website, subdomain for our website, support.local view.link. And in that support domain, we have videos, training, and details of how to work. And we have the standard operating procedures listed in a nice library. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel whenever somebody comes on board and do this heavy training. So like I said, Basecamp with these templates, for instance, we sell a website, so we have 50 some odd tasks that are included, but one of them might be- Hey, make sure you add them to the email campaign that explains to them the process, and so they get an email explaining what we’re doing. And so all the details, we don’t have to remember all this, it’s all right there. It’s not our first rodeo, after nearly 200 websites, you begin figuring out systems that make life easy. And loom is a big one too. Loom is great because we were going to do our videos and put them on our website. But what we liked about Loom is that anybody could watch the video, they don’t have to log in to leave comments. And they can also record a video in response or just type in the comments on the loom video. So what we do is every month, we have what’s called our quality control, where we fill out the forms on their website, we look at their analytics, we look at their search console, what terms are being used, what pages are being frequented, and we give them a video. Then we say, hey, here’s what’s going on. Hey Fred, hey Mary, here’s what’s happening. Here’s how your website’s doing. We noticed you filled out these forms during the month, and how’s that going? So it becomes this personal touch point. So loom is a great product, and it’s easy to use. And then we also use it to ask each other questions that are a little more than just, hey, what’s going on, and we’ll have a screenshot. Hey, I noticed I’m getting this error every time. Do you know how to fix this? We’ll send it off to one of our teammates and that kind of thing. And so then we also have a console that we use for all of our WordPress websites so that it’s nice and easy to update them and anybody can log in. We use I themes. I’ve been with I themes for eight years. We love the console, and it works well. We use their security software as well. Their backups software and then synchronization software manages all these sites. And so what else do we use? We use Xero accounting.
Oh, yeah, I was going to ask you about that for your billing system, so you use Xero accounting?
I was on QuickBooks online for years. And I just found out that every year they raise my price by 25%. And just overwhelmingly expensive. It’s a great product, I do like it. One of the things I didn’t like about QuickBooks payments is that for recurring payments, you can’t have the client update their credit card, which is silly because Intuit allows you to update your credit card for their service. Yes, so when somebody’s credit card expires, or if they change it, I have to call them. I’ve got to have them give me their credit card number, so I have to go back into QuickBooks. So with Xero, it integrates with Stripe, and now they handle all of that through Stripe, and so they can change their credit card, they could change their expiration date, and it’s all done on the other end.
What about like, for instance, do you integrate that with beta? I don’t even know if it needs to be. But I’m thinking about all these things, somehow need to talk to one another. For instance, for proposals, do you use any proposal software that integrates with Xero?
We do use proposal software, it’s through our white label software. We’re using Vendasta. We’ve been there for eight years. We were way back before Vendasta was where they are today. We used to do proposals creatively with Canva and our vocabulary and such, and then we found that Vendasta’s new proposal software works well. They also have a full accounting and billing, new within the last year or so. But we found ourselves, okay, if we jumped ship from our system over to Vendasta’s new ability to propose, bill, and secure clients, that we have to take our 100, you know, clients and their recurring billing and move them over. And that is one thing I don’t want to do. So we stay with zero. Now, having spent the first three years, I converted over from QuickBooks and then stripe. What’s nice about Stripe is that we haven’t raised our price on any of our services in three and a half years. So our core maintenance for a website is $45 a month, hosting maintenance, security backups, and a half hour of our time to do whatever it is you need to do. And for 45 bucks a month, that’s a steal. Our margin there is like virtually nothing. But it keeps us connected with clients. And so when we build somebody a website, we want to ensure that they’re happy with what they have, from soup to nuts to launch to two years from now. So, taking these recurring clients and keeping our costs low, I paid a ton in credit card fees, which were 3% – 2.9%. So what it did was I moved over to stripe through zero. Now my client has the option where when they get the bill, they can pay it with a credit card, but they pay the 2.9%. Or they can go with our ACH product, which is GoCardless. And they don’t have to pay credit fees and put their bank account in such. They don’t get credit card points but save money. We haven’t raised our prices this year or for the last three years, but it saved us 1000s of dollars of operating expenses in credit cards.
Wow. There’s a golden tip.
Out of close to 100 clients, I think we had two that complained, and I expect this expressed to them. Our margins are so low right now to work with small businesses that we haven’t raised our prices, so this is what I have to do, and they were okay. They’re still clients, those two particular folks who were unhappy are still with us, which is great. So Xero, Stripe, and GoCardless are how we function. And the recurring billing and the automatic in Xero it’s called repeating invoices. In QuickBooks, it’s called recurring. But essentially, if I can bill them once a month for 45 bucks and make it nice and easy. We have a process in which they can email us or go to Basecamp or can fill out a support form when they want anything to change, or they can call us on the phone and just say, hey, I want to do a hero photo, I want my products updated, I want something done on my website, or what have you, I want to change my email address, whatever they want to do, and it’s nice. And so, it’s all part of the process. Yeah, so other products we use, the whole Photoshop Creative Suite to do you know websites and other creative work that we do in Illustrator and such, and then we also have Camtasia, for easy editing and marketing videos. And then we have for the high-end stuff, that your basic Creative Suite. And what I wanted to do was try to reduce the complexity. But it’s difficult because not every solution provides a great CRM. Regarding the CRM, we use Vendasta, which has some challenges. It’s not like your high-end. We used to be on copper, I think copper is a phenomenal product. But the project management was lacking, and it wasn’t easy. You could create wonderful tasks, but when looking at a full project and integrating your clients into that workflow, copper didn’t have it, so we went over to Basecamp. Basecamp’s wonderful, you pay 100 bucks a month, and you can have as many people on it as you want. And so we have a team on it, we invite our clients over to it, they can upload, they could do whatever, there’s no limitation at 100 bucks a month. And so hopefully, they don’t raise their rates, and we’re good.
Hey, in backing up a little bit, how did you develop your SOPs? For instance, you mentioned that it’s amazing that you’ve created all this documentation. I mean, after doing 200 websites. So we’re going back to when you first started. So what did that process look like, and how did it evolve?
Well, it’s pretty simple, in that you find yourself doing a bunch of core stuff every time you do a website. So guess what, let’s just record it, let’s just put it down, write it down and put it in a video and give it a description, give it some details. Over the years, I’ve hired different folks and said, Hey, could you elaborate on this a little bit, put some text in there, and talk about what’s on the video. The most challenging part of the standard operating procedures is that unless you bring them to the surface, talk about them, and use them, some become dusty. So there’s a balance between, hey, let’s document everything that we do, and what are we doing that needs documentation? So, there are times where, okay, let’s say we bring on a particular client with a particular set of needs that we do have some documentation on how to do that, and the problem is, we haven’t used it in a month, so quite often it could get forgotten. So we have a nice plugin that we use in WordPress for library management, you can do searching and so forth. So it’s worked out pretty well for us. It’s not the best, but we have everything linked to our Google Drive. So if we go with another technology to organize it, we can move those documents over later. So pretty much, we just recorded with Snagit. We talked about it, and they do it, then we save it to the drive and put it in a system that makes sense. And that’s it. Then we’ve organized it to Client Onboarding to web development, to pay per click Account startup, pay per click management, and website optimization, and then we have it in a menu. So once you log into our support.local.view.link, it’s a homepage of our library, training materials, and that kind of thing. And then when you purchase a white labeled software like Nedasta, they have a lot of their training materials. So we just linked to that. And we discussed that as part of the training process when we bring somebody on board.
Michael Gerber, I am not sure if you are familiar with his book, E Myth Revisited. He wrote that book, which is fascinating for any business owner to read. Especially small business owners because that is what it targets. He tells the story of a baker running his bakery and working from 5 am to 11 pm because they didn’t have standard operating procedures for the business. So he said I had more life enjoyment than owning a bakery when I was a baker. He talked about the key to doing that and being successful was doing what you have done. So creating and recording what you are doing, looking at the organization’s overall structure and creating key positions, and mapping those out regarding who will hold what position. Who will be the In your case, web designer? So, you don’t have to train people over and again constantly. It is a pain in the butt, time-consuming and time costs money. So it’s neat that you have done this and created it in your business.
I read the book, and I think small business owners like myself have struggled with it. So you start a business, working twelve to fourteen hours per day. You made sure the client knew they were the center of the universe. You have a certain way of doing things and ensure all the details are done. Now, you hire somebody, but you say they can’t do it as I can. So like the baker, they can’t bake as I do it. Only I can make the cake. You ask, how are you making the cake? Well, you start with the flour and the mixing. So okay, write that down, document it. Now someone else can do it, and it’s not a mystery. I don’t want to run a metaphorically speaking, Octopus organization where the entire business has to depend upon me and I have all these tentacles. If we are to grow to another level, people have to take responsibility and ownership over those areas of the business. So the Standard Operating procedures are helping us get there. So because if I can show somebody how to do it, they can learn and own it, I grow. So I can communicate to the team the level of customer service that I have strived to get, and the philosophy that we have working with clients is that the business can fold rather than salespeople. So, we can have that same environment growing and expanding.
When you start to develop those processes, as you said, maybe they can make them better if you empower them to do so.
When I started with Google Profiles, which is now called Google My Business, I was scared.
They have changed the name ten times.
It was funny because I had not done one in forever. We only recently did one for a Real Estate Company, and my team is, do you know how to do this? I was, that wasn’t a part of it when I first used it. Processes can not be perfected and made better, but they are also changing, so quite often, if I jump in, I have to go back to the video, get the groundwork, and get it going again.
So, I will not assume your business is running on autopilot. Still, it is running so that your people take ownership, and you don’t have to be involved in every detail.
That is true to a certain extent. I want to say we have fifteen team members. We only have seven, and we will get an influx of work, then months of famine. So suddenly, we will get seven websites for a month and large projects. So guess what? I am back into web development even though I am trying to get out of it. So I am trying to focus on Marketing and Business Development and cooperative efforts with different vendors. For the most part, ever so often, I have to roll up my sleeves and work on a website because I function in a team environment. We have segments to a certain extent because we are small, everybody jumps in, and it is nice because someone can pull out the Standard Operating procedures and start to function in a time of business in a way that they wouldn’t normally and help the team. It’s a nice environment. It’s not like, okay, we have tons of websites but no new paperclip account. Adam, a part of our team, is our primary web guy. He is going crazy while everybody else has gone fishing, but we can jump in and augment the process and make sure our client gets what they expect from a well-run company.
How do you create community amongst your team members when everybody works from somewhere else?
Every time in a while, we will have a lunch party. So instead of the fifteen to the twenty-minute meeting we have every day, we will have a party. The company buys everybody lunch, and we play virtual games, trivial games. The last one we did was a show and tell. Hey, show us something you like to do and tell us something about it. So we do all kinds of team-building stuff in these meetings. Then we have lunch, we are sitting here eating lunch. We had an ugly sweater contest for Christmas, and we all voted on the ugliest, so stuff like that is the best possible. Then we have our one meeting daily, but you can reach out through Google Work Space, under the option called spaces and chat, and next thing you know, you are sitting in someone else’s office going through details about a particular project or client. One of the key things I like is for folks to be better due to knowing me. In other words, in some way, I do heavy encouragement to develop their careers, and I realize some of these folks will not be able to afford them because they get so good and do so well. People have moved on because they have gotten better offers we could afford as a small agency. I encourage growth; I encourage opportunity. I do project Management and time management for them. I am big on time management and putting together the module and philosophy into what we are doing, So I try to help them be better people. I don’t want to make myself a benevolent guy, but the environment is non-punitive. we don’t spank anybody for making mistakes. We all did it. We will work through it. There is no micro-management. But if someone needs extra help, we will spend time with them, training them, helping them until they feel confident enough to take on a particular project. So I like to have the environment here fun and flexible. We can’t mandate their time if we hire someone as a 1099 teammate. So you don’t have to go to the meetings. But over time, if you are out and it’s that important, you may not be a fit here. So we have an environment that is exciting to work in, it is positive for your self-development as a teammate, and it is non-punitive. We know what it is, work through it, and apologize to the client. Everybody makes mistakes.
Yes, that’s how you handle them.
We do the best we can, and so I think if you were to talk, and by the way before this meeting, I reached out to the team and said, hey, I got this interview, and what do you see positive and what do you see challenging with working remotely? And they all returned with a cool list, which we transitioned some of our processes. Some people said it would be good to have a brief status report on what’s going on at the end of the week. What everybody is working on, and what needs to be done for Monday. So, my Manager integrated it into Basecamp. They are changing and modifying the software now. So when you want to look at a status report for multiple projects and multiple teammates, it’s a little challenging. Like you can’t integrate to getting something done like a philosophy. If they had asked, I have suggested twice to put it in Basecamp. Hey, can we have tags like today, tomorrow, this week, and next month and then I can sort all my tasks among fifty different projects by today. He can’t do it, but hopefully, they are changing that. So what we have done to augment that is created a unique user, and now you can sort everything by users. So now we have project users next week, so you can sort all your tasks over numerous projects with a particular user. To address the status report, we have a new user added to all tasks within projects and among all the projects due at the end of the week. We sort by this particular user, and we have created a weekly parachute board with Basecamp so we can all look and see what everyone is doing and see the collaborative effort. Anyhow they came up with a bunch of suggestions. They don’t like being unable to walk into an office if someone is busy or on the phone when you reach out to them and they are unavailable or off because our time is flexible. So not being available. There was a whole list of pros and cons, mostly because they like the flexibility. I don’t know if that answers the question.
Yes. That was very insightful. It has been fascinating, and we have already blown through quite a bit of time. It has been awesome just listening. I think you have shared many tips and values for other people other agency owners can garner and learn from and consider implementing them into their own business. That being said, how can our listeners connect with you online?
So our website local view.link. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Our phone number, you can call anytime you like 425-298-3303. I love to help people. I tell people I didn’t start this company to make money. I didn’t. I am fifty-nine years old, and this is my fifth career. So eight years ago, I started my fifth career and didn’t leave the other careers because they were going poorly. I was at the top of the place and decided to take on a new challenge. But I started this company to make a living, not to make a buck. Making a living means I have done my best for the clients when I lay down and go to bed at night. I have been honest with them and provided real solutions, not only to the highest margin for the cheapest product, and so that goes along with anybody else in the industry who may need a helping hand or need some advice, within reason. Suppose I am working to make you successful without keeping my responsibilities in check. I am always available for a chat, how did you work this out? I remember when recurring billing was a challenge, and some small business owners were like, well, either I buy this membership software for my website. Do all my billing on my website, and I was like, hey did you know Quickbooks online as a recurring billing option? You have to go through this process, and they have this PDF that you sign and have your clients sign, and it works. I have to tell you, when you are billing eighty-five different recurring invoices per month, doing it manually it’s crazy.
You need a full-time employee to do that and thank goodness for automation.
We spent time with these solutions and time thinking through many of the processes. We were growing, we were learning. Hey, maybe someone who reaches out to us, I might ask them a few questions and learn from them. So feel free to get in touch.
Thank you for being on the show and sharing your stories, tips, and advice today. It’s been appreciated.
You got it. I appreciate it as well, and it’s been great. So for us to reach out to the team and say, hey, I’m doing this interview, what works for you and what doesn’t work for you? It’s also been a pleasure. Matt, thanks again for having me, and all the best. If you need me again, reach out.
Thanks very much.
Take care. Bye
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