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For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser hosted Wesley Mann, Co-founder, and CEO of Imperium social. Wesley details his struggles and triumphs as an entrepreneur, from his days as an economics major to his present day when he runs a successful digital marketing agency. He further decodes the go-to procedure and tools for recording SOPs. Watch now for profound insights.
Make sure you have that recurring revenue for those major expenses and your staff cost, and the rest is all gravy.
Thank you very much for having me. It should be a lot of fun.
Yeah, it was interesting. So, towards the end of university, I was thinking like, oh, you know, a lot of the other students in economics are going into the finance route. And that was something that I was interested in but was tiptoeing. I want to do this, but I want to study for my CFA, this seems like a lot of work. And I ran a property maintenance business in university with my buddy Chris, now the co-founder of Imperium. So he was dead set on being an entrepreneur right from the start. It was something that he knew he wanted to do and wanted to work for himself. So we were running this property maintenance business when I started studying for the CFA, and he saw I was miserable. And he says, ” Listen, if you want to tag along with me on my journey here, I have no idea what I’m going to do. But, we have complementing skill sets that we learned from the other business if you want to work with me. So, like, let’s do it.” And I was like, honestly, yeah, like, let’s 100%. I have no idea what we’re going to do, but let’s do it because it’s better than studying for this. So that’s kind of what happened.
So, interesting question. We started in Instagram automation and quickly found out that neither of us liked social media that much, to be quite frank. We understand the value in it. It’s great for your business to drive sales, and it’s something you need to do. But we realized that wasn’t our bread and butter. So, Chris had started designing websites in his free time, and he saw some value in that, so we made the switch. It was easier to sell. People understood the value in it a little bit more in our opinion. So we were, let’s dive right in.
So we both played football together. So, in training camp, they put you up in these miserable residences with uncomfortable beds for two weeks. You’re in the middle of the first year guys, and you’re struggling together. And Chris happened to be my neighbor. So, after two days of training camp, I catch the guy stealing my food in my closet. We’ve been good buddies ever since. So, an interesting start to a friendship.
I think honestly, setting your main goals and having a clear vision of what that end of the line looks like. And for Chris and I, it’s building that agency that is very much self-sufficient. We can be on a beach, developing websites and taking client calls and all that stuff. So just keeping that end goal in mind is super important for me. You’re going to have off days, it happens, and there’s going to be days when you don’t want to do much. It happens to everybody. But just keeping that end goal in mind is always something that’s kept me driven. And also just trying to have fun along the way. I don’t think it’s very much something like, I’m going to get to this end goal, and then it’s like, wow, I’ve done it. I think it’s very important not to take things too seriously and have fun and work away at it day by day, chip away at it and have a good time. So yeah, that’s how we go about doing it.
There wasn’t much means at the beginning. We were bootstrapped at our agency. It was Chris and me, and we didn’t take any external funding or anything like that. So there were some tough times in the beginning. But I think what we ended up doing is very much. One of the biggest things we found for getting more clients is delivering a good quality service and maintaining quality relationships. We found that that has been the best way to keep sales going. So we’ve tried absolutely everything under the sun to get sales. So we’ve done TV commercials, which we have running right now. We do PPC, we’ve invested in SEO for years, social media marketing, white labeling, and everything else. But I think the biggest thing that’s helped us gain sales over the years is maintaining those relationships and giving a quality product that’s up to standards. So, I think that’s the biggest thing.
Yeah. 100%. I think too, and I’m not sure what it’s like in Edmonton, where you’re at, but in Ontario, there are a lot of stigmas that the web design agencies offer horrendous customer service.
Yeah, all of the above. We went to the friends and family rope, but it dries up quickly. And, it’s always strange, like Chris and I are big to like, asking people for a handout and stuff like that. It’s a little bit of an awkward conversation too. And also at the time, to be quite honest with you, the websites we were building were not very nice. They know how to build fantastic websites right now, but we needed to learn, we needed more clients. That’s exactly it. So it was tough to get going. But, we lost money on the first handful of websites trying to get a few in our portfolio because it was super important for us to start building our portfolio and get some people going. So we had a little proof of concept for other people because it’s a huge thing to trust you. So I can sit in front of you, smile, and have a good conversation. But at the end of the day, if I don’t have any results to show you, it isn’t easy to sell your website. So another thing that we did to help with that was we built a lot of websites that were Video production industry. So we built a website for fake video production. So we started building portfolio pieces when we had extra time. And so yeah, that helped in selling as well.
Honestly, no. It never really came up. we would go out there and here. Here they are. And if they asked, we would be honest with them, but I don’t think that question ever got asked. So it is what it is. You’re going to free logo maker and get something out there. And yeah, Chris and I always have. Yeah, exactly. We’ve always found unique ways to grow even our property maintenance business before. And then also, this business, but no shortage of long hours and hard work. So we tried to take advantage of a grant program in Kingston. I’m not sure if they have it over in Edmonton, but it was called Digital Main Street, and it’s 2500 bucks to help market your business. So we went around town handing out flyers to every business in Kingston, saying, listen, we can get to 2500 bucks. Do you need a new website? So we persisted and knocked on people’s doors all the time. So, it was an interesting experience, but a fun one.
Yeah, I think they’re in their fourth iteration right now.
Ah, even, you can register on their website and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, it’s the client’s choice to use whoever they want for the project.
It helps when you have no proof of concept to show clients.
We’ve done that for logo design but never for website design. That’s not a bad idea.
Yeah, the lifetime value be cause to sell it.
Yeah, so I would say it’s interesting. I think we made the same mistake with our property maintenance business. And we realized we were doing the same thing. So what we did, and I’ll revert to the property maintenance business and tell you how we did this with our Digital Marketing, is, we thought, you know what, the more services we can offer, the better. Do you know what I mean? So you tried to offer a million things under the sun, and then we realized, Oh, my God isn’t that profitable? It isn’t that proper, this is like two things: our bread and butter, where we make all our money. So we did the same thing, niche down, found out, wow, this is way more profitable, even if our gross revenue was $30,000 less, but we’d make $50,000 more net. It’s like, who cares? Do you know what I mean? So we did the same thing with the website design side of things. So we started offering consulting, SEO, PPC, Facebook advertising, and everything else. And we found that you know, what, like, a lot of this stuff is just like a headache, like we’re stretching ourselves way too thin, doing all these services. So let’s niche down to what we do best. And that came down to our three core principles: the actual website design, logo design, and SEO, specifically the on-page SEO optimization. So that’s what we ended up doing. And it was just getting better at that and hammering our marketing efforts towards those three things, primarily the website design.
Yeah, it’s an interesting question. And I think it was through a lot of trial and error, to be completely honest with you, over a few years. I think very much like, on the website design side of things, when we started, it was very much like, let’s try and get as many clients as possible, and like, let’s try and hammer out websites quickly. But I think you find out quickly that when you do things differently each time, you get a variable result. Your results vary in quality and all that kind of stuff. So it’s very much figuring out what that streamlined process is. For example, on the website design side of things, we broke our website process down a lot of this stuff into four key stages. It’s very much like when we have signed the client. It’s like getting general information that we need, getting the content, doing a design portion, and then the actual development portion. And then, we have the business processes within each stage, and developing those took a very long time, and we made sure we were transparent with our clients. But it was very much like a trial and error thing. We found out at the beginning that a lot of the general information we would collect at the end of the project was to start. Then we discovered that, Oh, my God, by the time we go to launch, we don’t have the hosting information. We didn’t have their original domain registrar login information. So it was like, Okay, well, to ensure we get all this information from the get-go. So at the same time, they’re doing the content, and we get all this information. So that way, they can do their grunt work up front, and then we can take over the process, and they can take the back seat towards the end of the project. And they get to see that result in the design and everything. So it was very much figuring out where my strengths lie, where Chris’s strengths lie and then let’s figure out the best way to do it. I also think like, to develop the standard operating procedures, I think it’s very important that you understand the process of building the website. Understanding those business processes first to develop your SOPs is huge, and having that line of communication with the people performing these jobs. Like, get their feedback. We wouldn’t want to decide where we say something, let’s do it this way, or the other way, and the web designer goes, well, that doesn’t make sense because of XYZ. Like, we encourage feedback and are open to hearing our designer’s and developers’ thoughts. And I think that’s helped us build an efficient system and a better company culture. People want to be heard or part of something bigger than just sitting down and developing a website all day. So I think that’s, that’s super important. Listen to the people who are performing the tasks.
Yeah. I was just going to say that sometimes you get feedback that may not make sense. And sometimes, you get great feedback. So I think it’s very much that fine line and figuring out what is quality information to input and what’s something that can change. So, having been able to formulate your thoughts on that stuff, and a business partner like Chris, to bounce those thoughts off of and come to a perfect solution is super important for us.
Yeah, that’s super important. Like, we want our employees to come for sure and have fun. But, it’s no point in showing up and just thinking, like, this is a job every day, and it’s taxing and boring. So whatever it is, we want to build a company culture that’s fun to work in and that you can thrive in, and you’re willing to go that extra mile because you enjoy what you do daily. So at the end of the day, Chris and I are invested in it, it is what we do for a living. So we started this thing from nothing.
So we want you to kind of feel like a similar responsibility. And the only way to get people to do that is to allow them creative flexibility and grow with the business.
I think Chris and I are very much under the impression it’s like a work-hard kind of play-hard company. We are constantly screwing around in the office and doing stuff like that. But like, we’ll play games, where we’ll play like music over our speakers, and it’s like a movie theme. And we have to guess what movie the music’s from, random little stuff like that. We are constantly doing that kind of stuff, but also to it’s just like, general team building, we go for lunch, we go to movies together like all that stuff. So, it’s supposed to be like a good environment. So we get drinks on your birthday. We do all that.
I think one of the things, too, is paying people what they’re worth. And it means if you have good talent and people who add value to your business, you should pay them what they’re worth, and they’ll continue to provide those good results for you. So I think that’s another thing too: don’t underpay people and rip them off daily. If you expect results from them, then you should pay them accordingly.
So I think one, like just the company culture, is a big thing like you’ve talked about, that’s very much a thing. Like we want to develop a culture where you contribute daily to something bigger than just your nine to five job. You’re helping to build this company, and that’s very important to us. We also offer full benefits for our employees, all that kind of stuff. And we’re very flexible with vacation. Work from home, we’re big proponents of that. So there’s a point when we worked from home because of COVID. Chris and I were taking sales calls, we lived together at one point, and we’re taking sales calls, basically, in our underwear on the couch, just talking to big corporations, they have no idea.
Yeah, just being flexible and stuff like that, and not taking too seriously. I think this is super important for us, at least.
Yeah, so we use Trello. So like, in terms of the standard operating procedures for our sales and stuff like that. So, when a lead comes to our website, it automatically pops up on our Trello board as a lead. So we treat it almost like a CRM, but it’s also like, what we use for our calendars, our management, all that stuff. So we made it our custom platform with them, which is cool. Yeah, so make sure everything is laid out in specific steps, and it’s very visual. That’s why we like Trello as well, too. it’s visual, it’s very easy to see what’s been completed, and you can track certain things. So I would say that’s by far the biggest tool that we’ve used to make sure that our employees are following everything but also too, we’ve created standard operating procedures for how or what our clients will have to do in terms of like following the process from start to finish. So we make sure that it’s a nice visual and easy to learn, and Trello has been able to do that for us.
One big takeaway? That’s interesting. I don’t know. Maybe don’t take yourself so seriously with the Digital Marketing side of things. Just have a good time and grow your agency. I think managing your expectations and mitigating your risk is super important. And if you do this stage by stage and do not try to overhaul your entire agency at one go and do little things, analyze, and then fix, I think that’s it. So that’s a super, super important way to do things.
I also think we built an extremely lean agency to that point, the staff, the overheads. We came out of recession with covid, and now the agency is booming. All these PR agencies have become more important to many businesses, but when you look at how the economy is going, it’s not looking so hot in many places. We know what it means to have a lean business in place is very important. And making sure that all expenses are accounted for. So make sure you have that recurring revenue for those major expenses and your staff cost, and then the rest is all gravy. So that is what we are trying to do.
You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Imperium Social and that is our handle there. You can also look at our website, it’s also Imperium.social. Email and phone numbers are all on the website.
I am on LinkedIn, and you guys can connect with me.
Thank you so much for having me. It was a lot of fun, Matt.
You too, thanks a lot.
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