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Metrics that Matter: Unveiling the Link Between Traffic Growth and Revenue Surge

In Conversation with William Walczak

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed William Walczak, CEO of Hiilite Creative Group, an Advertising Services Company located in Kelowna, British Columbia. Take a deep dive into the evolutionary strategies employed in the dynamic realm of digital marketing. This exploration unfolds the narrative of shifting paradigms from sporadic, one-off projects to the strategic implementation of sustainable and recurring revenue models. The journey unravels the intricacies of navigating this transformative shift and the profound impact it has on fostering sustained business growth.

Watch the episode now for more insights!

By embracing AI technology such as ChatGPT early on, we can elevate our analytical capabilities to new heights.

William Walczak
CEO of Hiilite Creative Group

Hey, hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of E-Coffee with Experts. Today, we have a special guest. We have William, who is a badass marketer and a badass CEO at Hiilite with us. Hey, William

Hello.Thank you for having me.

Great. William, before we move forward and get into the questions, why don’t you talk us through your journey so far? How did you land in the digital marketing space? How did you start? What were the initial challenges? Then we’ll take it forward from there on.

I feel like I could go on for hours about this. You know what? The journey to it was my first degree is actually in engineering, and I have an IT background and I owned an IT company before. At one point, when doing IT, we had to build a site because everyone wanted to grow their business. I have to start doing some advertising. But I would have people come in and they’re like, We like your site. You work with computers. Can you make me a website? In the growth phase, I think a lot of entrepreneurs refuse to say no to things. So we’re like, Okay, we can do this. We started scaling that side of the business as we were scaling the IT side of the business. We hired a developer and then a designer. Then it was this organic growth. At one point, I woke up. I remember this very distinctly. I woke up one morning and It was a 6:00 in the morning call to someone. Someone told me about their servers. I’m like, I just don’t think I care about this anymore. I’m like, You know what? I think I’m good.

I’m done with IT. I’m ready to move on to focus. This was almost two decades ago now, to focus on the marketing side. There were a couple of things we ended up getting into. When the iPhone came out, we started developing some games. We had a portfolio of games and apps in the App Store. I remember having this conversation with a marketer, and they mentioned it was a very stark argument against what my philosophy was at the time, which was the general engineering philosophy, which was engineers rule the world. Building things, if you build it, they will follow that mantra. Then they’re like, That’s what’s wrong. They’re like If you don’t understand who you’re building it for. They were right. I was wrong. It was very wrong. You can build things all day long and you can spend so much time building whatever you want. But if no one knows about it and, If you don’t understand what the needs are, and that made this I’m going to further pivot into, Okay, you know what? There’s a lot to this that needs to be explored. I ended up doing my MBA.

Now I’m doing my PhD on data-driven decision-making and AI and all of these things and strategic tactics and then dynamic capabilities and growth hacking. There’s a whole bunch there. But I guess to answer your question more directly, it’s been the journey of a lifetime. It’s been fantastic to be able to not only apply some of the lessons that we’ve taken over the years and help other businesses address some of these issues but also learn about things that are so interesting and obscure, potentially. It’s like, how do we diagnose some of these problems, and then how do we help entrepreneurs work through them?

Lovely. That is quite a techy way to market your transition, I would say.

I’m still a geek through and through, make no mistake about that. I’m a numbers person, and I feel like that was one of our differentiating points.

Great. From that to now, William Hiilite has become a renowned agency. Can you paint a picture of the initial spark and the challenges you faced in those early days as an agency who have been through it? We all know that keeping the lights on initially is a difficult ball game altogether. From those early days, those challenges to the turning point, that solidifies, Hiilite’s success, project three?

You know what? We were, I think, very much at the forefront of these digital marketing partnerships and SEO partnerships with clients. We used to do a lot of one-off work like websites or campaigns or designs or logos or brands. But I remember, very specifically, we started getting into these ongoing executions and we were like, You know what? Creating a repeatable recurring revenue stream would be a really good idea. We did this almost 20 years ago. But I remember sitting down with this client at the end of the first year, and we’re like, Okay, here’s some of the metrics. Here’s what we’re seeing. What are the metrics? I think we lacked a lot of confidence at that point, so we didn’t ask about revenue and profitability. A lot of businesses held those cards close to their chest. But at the end of that first year, we’re like, Okay, here’s what we’ve seen. We’ve seen it was monthly traffic and organic traffic growth of 300%. Where you were a year ago, the amount of organic traffic is, we’ve scaled that up by 300%. We’re like, What’s the revenue look like? They’re like, We’ve more than tripled our revenue.

We’re like, Okay, this is interesting. Now we have an understanding of what the correlation is between the organic traffic that we’re providing. Then the revenue that the client is getting.

It always makes so much sense to have a safe, secure, recurring subscription-based subscription or recurring payment-based model with clients versus those one-off hits here and there. From that, have you said no to a client for anything that you feel is not something you are good at, or do you feel that the client does not need that at that particular moment?

Absolutely. You know what? I think that’s gotten us a number of really long-term relationships and long-term clients. I remember there are so many of them that are startups or where they’re just forming the idea of something. They’ll come in and say, Hey, look, I’ve got $5,000. Can you help us? I looked at them like, Okay, what have you done so far? Where are you at? Are you registered? Are you incorporated? Are you on the business side? But I’m like, Did you verify? Is there a product market fit? Did you verify whether what you’re doing is what people want? Have you created a social media account? Do you have the diffusion of innovation curve? Do you have those innovators or early adopters? Do you know who they are? Do you? They’re like, No, none of these things. I’m like, You know what? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense for us to take your money because we can build a fantastic brand, but I don’t think you’re ready for it. At that point, I’m like, Hey, look, Squarespace is a really good place to go, and you can build something that’ll get you 80% of the way there in 20% of the effort or the cost or Wix or Shopify or whatever else.

I’m like, Do that testing first, because if you go down this path and you start making this investment, unless you love it and are sure that this is what you want to be doing, test that first, verify that first. So yes, tons of people have said no to it.

Lovely. It’s so important to educate customers while trying to run your show as well. William, branding, we all know goes beyond logos and taglines. While a lot of businesses feel it is just about that, we as marketers know it is way beyond just logos and taglines. So how do you help your clients create immersive and meaningful brand experiences that foster deeper customer connections and drive loyalty at the same time?

That’s a really good question. I think the better the clients understand this, and our ultimate experience is the best teacher, maybe Pain is the best teacher. We’ve had clients, and we parted ways with clients where we’re like, Hey, look, they want us to just build the logo. Look, we just build the logo, we launch the website, call it a day. I’m like, Look, if that’s what you want to do, go to Wix, go to Squarespace, save yourself the money, but you’re not going to be a good client with us. I remember that initially, we were more forceful about this in the sense that we would do the legwork and help these brands and help these companies develop the brand, but then start thinking about what’s the story. How does this tie into your values about who you are your customers and your personas? All of these things. For those clients, with a few of them, we parted ways just because we’re like, Here’s the next recommendation. But we’re like, Hey, fair to you well. A number of them have come back and they’re like, Okay, we didn’t understand the value of what you were saying until we had to recruit a larger team because we had to grow.

Having core values and vision and mission and that alignment, we now get it. We now get that marketing is more than just a sales and revenue activity when done well. I always talk about these three R’s, which are revenue, recruitment, and retention. Revenue is one component, but you can’t scale a business on revenue growth alone. At some point, you’re going to need to recruit people. If your brand is just sold and you’ve done nothing to talk about culture, It’s going to be impossible. It’s going to be impossible to recruit people to your business if all you’re known for is discount widgets, as opposed to, Hey, here’s the great vision behind our company Here’s where we’re. I feel like I’ve gone off on a tangent, but- That’s an interesting question.

No, that’s fine.

That is so relatable when you said because you also meet a lot with a lot of clients where we as marketers just feel about us, that it’s just about those traffic numbers. Get our phones ringing and we are done with you. But while we do those discovery sessions, why did you start what you have started in the first place? You started for something, you had some mission, some thought that this is what I’m going to do with my business. This is the problem statement I’ve come to solve. If you ask these questions, there have been a lot of times when the founder, the CEO, and the board people, were taken aback. Why are these guys asking me why I started my business? What problem did I start? Did I start my business to resolve that this is the problem that exists? I have a solution for it. And all of that. We asked those questions. A lot of business owners, were taken aback that as a marketing agency, why are you asking these questions? They did not understand the importance of it because we intended to build a brand out of it with their own mission and vision statement.

They went back to the drawing boards and took the time, to come back with the answers to our questions. Has it happened with you as well, in a lot of these questions and they feel that, Okay, we just were speaking with William or Hiilite to understand revenue numbers, marketing numbers, traffic, and all that.

You know what? We ask a lot of questions when we initially meet for a discovery with a client, and some of them end up being disqualifying questions. We’re like, There’s specific things that I look for. I’m like, This is not going to be a good fit. Maybe this is through experience and having learned this lesson painfully a few times. If a client doesn’t want to tell you about why they’re doing what they’re doing or what their vision for the business is, one of the questions I ask is, Where is your business in 5 or 10 years? What’s the vision? Where’s this going? Sometimes it’s a money-making exercise, or this is just the thing I’m doing on the side. Sometimes I can drill down into that and see, Okay, this person either isn’t ready or doesn’t fully understand what they’re getting themselves into. Or oftentimes, it’s like you can identify that this person is going to take shortcuts. It’s like, they’re not going to do the work that’s required to grow a brand, to grow a company. In which case, why would we want the stress of working with someone who looks at us as a commodity service provider, just to know that whether it’s in six months or two years, they’re going to crater?

I wish you all the best. I hope you’re doing your business as well. I’m happy to cheer for you from the sidelines, but we’re not going to be a good fit. Yeah, maybe this is the badass component. I think I’ve lost some potential friends as a result of challenging them too hard. I’ve had a couple of people, though this was many years ago. They stormed I’m out and they’re like, I don’t want to work with Will. Yeah, perfect.

All right. William, with your background in technology and understanding of consumer behavior, how do you see AI and machine learning, reshaping the future of strategy marketing or our industry at large? How are you using AI or machine learning in your day-to-day life, or how is your team using it at Hiilite?

We are so bought in. The moment ChatGPT came out, and even before that, we were into a lot of this. My first degree is in engineering, and so I’m fundamentally a numbers person. I love spreadsheets, I love massive amounts of data, and I’m a huge fan of trying to identify trends and opportunities within it. All of a sudden, you have a tool that comes in and you can start asking questions and connecting in a far more accessible way. There’s so much stuff that I don’t identify that you can easily ask in a query or identify from a chart in Excel or whatever else. This technology, any technology, when harnessed properly, has the potential to not only give us more and deeper insights but help arrive at those insights so much quicker and help make those accessible to more people. We have a lot of junior marketers who join us, and it’s just being able to help get them to accelerate their writing, and their campaigns, or be able to ask questions that they may not fully want to ask someone. There’s a whole bunch of ways that not only does it accelerate and enable and inform really good work, I think.

Lovely. William, you guys have experienced impressive growth. What is your strategy for scaling the business while maintaining the core values? Any particular strategy that might have worked, wasn’t us for you guys. Yeah.

In the first few years, I remember we doubled revenue for the first five years of operations, and we grew dramatically. There were so many lessons from that because there was a point at which that stopped. We were like, Okay, I ended up having children. I realized how much of that had to do with how much effort and how much time I’d spent. It was a really good lesson. That’s, Okay, how do we make sure that the people who come and go learn as much as possible and are also aligned with the driving, the guiding light that we’ve where we want to be? For this, it’s very simple in the business world or marketing world, vision, mission statement, core values, all of those, making sure that they’re so clearly defined, clearly shown, and also not something that lives on a spreadsheet somewhere, but rather is something that’s lived and rewarded. In a lot of our culture-building exercises, we have a weekly huddle. We have team check-ins every day for different departments. We have a weekly lunch, we have an award. All of those are tied to our vision and our values. We use a system to identify rewards when someone lives our values.

We use a system called Bonusly. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but we have… Anyway, there’s a whole bunch of things that Those values need to be defined and lived. Something is interesting… I’ve talked to you, I’ve interfaced with so many CEOs and so many… Sometimes they get annoyed. They’re like, I’ve said all of these things. The most concise answer I’ve ever heard to this is that the CEO should sometimes be called the chief reminding officer. You can’t tell people enough about what your values are. For us, we want to be the best, most badass agency in the world. That helps qualify and disqualify people who want to work with us and also who want to engage with us. If you’re going to half-ask your role, you’re not going to be surrounded by people who are ambitiously trying to drive and educate themselves and try to push themselves to be the best marketers in the world.

On that note, William, what are some of the tips that you want to give to our listeners, especially folks who are trying to make a mark in the digital marketing space or are trying to venture into our space by having their agencies at that stage of their lives? What are the three things you want to tell them?

You know what? Three things, easy. First, always be curious. There’s so much stuff that’s happening out there, and I’ve seen so many people get stuck on, Oh, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be on this platform or this social media or whatever. Be curious. There’s something that you can learn from not only every platform, and every tool, but every person you interface with. There is stuff that would probably transform my business fundamentally. I just don’t know what that is, and I don’t know what the question that gets that out of you specifically. That, to me, is one of them. How do I learn from you? What’s going to help me? Or what insights, what things have you learned? What mistakes have you made that would help me or potentially the clients that we’ve interfaced with? So one, definitely be inquisitive. Two, the value of collaboration. I can’t stress enough. I think we pay lip service to collaboration so much. Yeah, sure. You and I are going to work together and there’s an interview, whatever. But until you’re honest about where some of the frustrations are, what some of the gains are.

Collaboration also relies on authenticity, honesty, and transparency and honesty. I think so many people dress this up. I think it’s maybe a Western thing, but, Hey, how are you doing? Great. What does that mean? Nothing. That’s collaboration. The last one, I could give you five.

Go ahead.

Sure, in that case, fun. If what you’re doing isn’t fun, you’re going to half-ass it. You’re not going to want to do it. That could mean the clients that you’re working with, that could mean the space that you’re in, the tools that you’re using, whatever that is. If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to strive to get better at it. We have five core values, and this is fundamentally where I’m going with this. What I believe is very much tied into what we live as an agency. Anyway, those are the top three. I think there was one that would be a badass and tell people honestly.

I think for you to say that.

Oh, you know what? We occasionally come across clients who are just difficult to work with or don’t see a vision or maybe sell us a vision that they’re not fully on board with.

I’ll be the first person to fire them. Happy to do it, and I’m happy to protect the team. If a client comes with a complaint, sometimes it’s legitimate. Now, I’ll hear it out. But if it’s not a good fit, let it go, man. It’s not worth it. I don’t care how much money they’re giving you. It’s just not worth it. Yeah. However you define being a badass, do that.

Okay. Lovely, William. But before we let you go, I would like to play a quick rapid-fire. I hope you’re game for it. You would be up to it.

I’m ready. Go, sir.

Great. Your Last Google search, William.

That’s a good question. I should look this up. You know what? I drove my kids to school this morning, and the very last Google search was “What was the first building in the world ever?” This is from my son, Max, who’s five years old. What’s the first building built in the world ever? I think it is verbatim what it was.

That was a good one. Your Celebrity Crush.

Celebrity Crush. That’s a good one. I’m going to show my age a little bit here, but I feel like there are many. You know what? I’m not even sure I can give you an answer for this one. Give me one second to think about that. Ask your next question, I’ll come back to this celebrity crush All right.

Don’t worry. All right, moving on. What did you do with your first paycheck, William?

I reinvested it. I know people who have no idea what they want to do with their lives. I have known them since the age of 11. I can pinpoint the exact moment where I’m like, I want to be in business. That’s driven so much as far as… I think my first real paycheck was actually for equipment and, a computer. I remember it was a Pentium 166. I remember this so clearly, and it was fully overkill. But I played a ton of games on it, and I ended up developing a huge passion for tech. I remember very well. It was so reinvesting, that set me on a trajectory where I am into geekdom.

All right. Okay, the last one before we go back to your crush, all right. Where do you find William on a Friday evening post-work?

Where do you find me? Okay, you know The easy answer is I have kids and work is only there to enable time. I love spending time with my kids. I’m home at five o’clock. I’m home for dinner every single night. I’ve built my life after kids, and I’ve given up a lot of the travel, whatever else, to be with my kids. That’s easy. Before kids, on the other hand, after work on a Friday, would be either at a coffee shop doing more work or studying. I’m doing my PhD right now, so I’m still studying. After the kids go down, write, and read. I have a ferocious appetite for knowledge and insights and anything that can help me become a better person.

Lovely. Now, time has come. Give us your celebrity crush. Come on, William.

You know what? I’m going to say, Jennifer Lawrence. Jennifer Lawrence is super ambitious and super humble. Anyone who’s just highly productive, who’s interested in actually People like Jennifer Lawrence is a really good example. There are a number of musicians and artists, but she’s probably the most recognizable one, and she would be a person I would love to get to know at some point.

Okay, lovely. Great availability. It has been a lovely conversation, and I’m sure an audience would have benefited a lot from the insights that you shared. Having said that, if they want to reach out to you, how do they do that?

Absolutely, please do. You can find me on LinkedIn or Instagram at William Walczak. You can find me in a number of different places or do a Google search for me. I am not the guy that I’m connecting with. There’s a guy named Bill Walczak who ran for mayor of Boston at one point. I occasionally get sensitive emails that were supposed to be addressed to him, and that’s how we’ve interacted. But anyway, @William Walczak, you can find me on LinkedIn, preferably, Instagram, or just at Hiilite.com, so h-i-i-l-i-t-e. com. You can find me through there as well.

Perfect. Brilliant. William, thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate it.

Thank you so much. These were fantastic questions. You did a great job, and I look forward to tracking your agency and your growth, too.

Lovely. Sure. Thank you, William. Take care.

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