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Jeremy Weisz  18:43 

I held on to my Blackberry as long as they made them. I actually loved them. And I actually there’s a there’s a like a I don’t know if it’s not really a documentary. But there’s a movie out there were there is yeah. I have to watch it. But it’s kind of inception and what happened.

Ben Hagon  19:00 

So at the time I lived in that town, that town where BlackBerry was prompt. So that’s where the business started. They encouraged me to go on my own. I did picked up another couple of clients. And within about a year, I think it was slightly under a year, a client from many years before that I worked at worked with actually at my first ever job in Canada came knocking and she said you know, Ben, I really enjoyed our work together all those years ago, my law firm is rebranding, and we want you to do it. And that came with a lot of work, not just the branding, but all of, there was so many projects, so that within 12 months, we had built a million Canadian dollars on that account.

And we’ve gone from myself, my partner and one junior designer to a team of nine. And so this is where things get interesting. So what happened was we did a beautiful job. We really did a very, very nice job. We learned a lot on the way. And we grew our team to service that client. The problem with a million-dollar client is when the client is done. So today, our clients generally a long-term clients, and it’s not just one and done project, back then we were more of a transactional company, we were project based. And eventually we done the work. And then the in-house team took over. So now the work is done. And I’m looking around, and I’ve got eight mouths to feed. And that’s the problem with a million-dollar client, some agency folks call it the gorilla client, there is an actual term for it.

And that term is that when you have a gorilla client, if you let them, they will chase off all of the other clients on their territory, which is fine until the gorilla decides they’ve had enough for you and they leave. So that’s what happened to us. And it wasn’t because we didn’t do good work, it wasn’t because we don’t have a good relationship, the work was just done. And so then what happens when you’re a fledgling agency owner, is you look around, you’ve got all these mouths to feed, and you think how am I going to do this, so you’d have to go absolutely bananas trying to find new clients and fill in the gap of all that revenue. And we kind of stumbled along for a while. And we found some insurance companies and we did some construction stuff, but it was too big. And so people lose their jobs. And now I’m 15 years in, that does happen, people do lose their jobs. That’s just the way of the agency world. But back then it was devastating and not being able to keep those folks I saw as a personal failure. And it wasn’t necessarily that I think it was just a stage of evolution of business ownership.

So I do caution folks, especially when they’re starting early on. And they don’t have their systems and their processes in place to be very careful when it comes to landing one of these very large clients. And my recommendation today would be to bring on contract workers. So you hire folks, for a specific duration of time, if you can find them, which depends on the economy, if you can find them to service that requirement, and then hopefully things continue, and you’re going to hire them on permanently but committing to folks, and then the work dries up is a factor of agency life, but it’s an unpleasant factor.

Jeremy Weisz  22:27 

Yeah, but that’s what I was going to ask is what you would do differently today. And it sounds like one of those things is you may not have brought everyone on permanently, you would have looked for some high quality contractors to fill that gap. Is there anything else that you do?

Ben Hagon  22:45 

Yeah, I think my point about systems and processes is very important. So today, if we landed a million-dollar client on the spot, we have the systems and processes in place where that one wouldn’t become a gorilla client. And two, we just wouldn’t suffer from those same issues, we would either use contract employees, the day that we landed the million dollar client, the next day, I’m starting to think about landing more clients. Because it takes time, the day that the day as an agency owner that you land some big work and you’re feeling overloaded is the day when you have to promote your business even harder. Knowing that the sales cycle can take six months, it can take a year, it can take 18 months before a project comes in, you cannot take your foot off the gas.

And so we have systems and processes in place for that now, so that wouldn’t happen. And then in terms of infrastructure, absolutely. You have to hire based upon your vision, not based upon your capacity. If you want to grow your company and you have specific roles that you want to hire for that you think will be good for your team long term. That’s one thing, bringing bodies into service, a client is a completely different thing. And so that only comes with business ownership maturity. You don’t know that right off the bat. But that’s what I would do differently today.

Jeremy Weisz  24:07 

Yeah, so it sounds like having a streamlined onboarding with SOPs. It doesn’t like absorb as much resources if you get a bigger client. I’m curious. Your tech stack. In general we’re talking about SOPs, like what do you use to manage different projects whether it’s a CRM or project management tool or SOPs, I want to give a shout out to Adi Klevit I had her on the podcast. That’s all she does. By the way, she basically goes into companies and helps them create SOPs. And so we geeked out on our favorite software productivity tools and how she thinks about streamlining SOPs because like you said, it’s kind of the non-sexy things that makes things work. What’s your tech stack look like?

Ben Hagon  24:56 

Yeah, so probably like many agencies is wrong the chaotic. But we do have a lot of technology tools we use for our sales pipeline, we use a tool called Bigin by Zoho. It’s a free tool up to a certain level. And then you can pay. It’s just a very great visual pipe a sales pipeline slash basic CRM, which is very helpful for tracking opportunities and for understanding where things come in and attributing them to salespeople etc. For project management, we use Asana, which is a very commonly used tool, which helps us understand what’s happening when, what resources we require, and just ensures that everybody stays on the same page.

And then currently, our Master sort of project system is through Dropbox for Business. So we are actually investigating different alternatives this year, due to some of Dropboxes changes, that aren’t really working for our agency. And I’m sure won’t work for many others as well. So we’re looking at some other tools there that increase collaboration for people outside of our organization, because the tool we currently use can be kind of challenging for people outside of our ecosystem.

Jeremy Weisz  26:12 

Is it like sharing resources? Or what do you use Dropbox for typically?

Ben Hagon  26:16 

We use it as a file server. Got it? Yeah. And but we use collaboration tools. But they’re changing those this year, which is…

Jeremy Weisz  26:26 

I was just thinking, those type of tools are so sticky, because I’ve had my Dropbox account forever. And I’m like, I don’t want to get rid of it. Because I still have stuff on it, although I use other tools as well. So yeah, they have that models down.

Ben Hagon  26:42 

Yeah, but there’s folks out there that can help me with migration and whatnot.

Jeremy Weisz  26:46 

Yeah, I still have mine. And I’ll probably pay for it forever. But I want to talk about the team. Right. So you mentioned with some of these projects, it wasn’t me. It was a team and talk a little bit about hiring. And what are some of the things you think about when you’re building a great team?

Ben Hagon  27:10 

Yeah. So 15 years of hiring, and unfortunately, sometimes letting people go, you learn a lot, you do learn a lot. And I am sometimes to my detriment, a bit of a bleeding heart, which I don’t recommend when it comes to business ownership, you have to be a little colder than my natural inclination. But you do have to, as with anything in business, you have to use data to inform your decision. So whether it’s time to hire or it’s time to restructure the team, you have to look at the data. It’s not your love life, you’re not making emotional decisions. And unfortunately, many folks in the agency world, they’re creative people that are emotional people, they’re impulsive people. And that has helped them in their career as a producer. But as soon as you step into that ownership and entrepreneur realm, it’s a completely different skills requirement.

And that I think, is where a lot of agency folks trip up, they’re not able to bridge the gap. And it took me a long time to move over my thinking and my natural inclinations, to be data-driven to make decisions based upon logic and reason and rationale and not emotion. And so when it comes to hiring, I look at what the company needs, first of all, so I need to understand where our gaps are, and where I see opportunities to add value to our client relationships before I bring in a specific role. Then once I’ve decided on what that role looks like, and what we require, I use various methods to find folks but my number one recommendation for any agency owner is always hire based upon character not skills, skills can be taught character cannot really be taught, you can help guide and mentor folks to think in a certain way.

But if they’re not a good decent, diligent person, you can’t train that and I get into arguments with other agency owners about this all the time and I’ve always said you can teach a chimp to use a Mac but you can, it’s so easy to teach software you it’s free now that the YouTube you can do anything on YouTube and we do invest in our team and send them to college and do certifications and whatnot. 300 bucks to go to college is nothing but you have someone that comes in that doesn’t have the right motivations, the right incentivization the right character and it can be very detrimental to your team and your business. So hiring for characters hard as that is, is the number one it’s the only thing I hire on, they have to be at a certain level skill-wise.

But that level doesn’t have to be that high, but they have to be very high in terms of their integrity, in terms of their decision-making in terms of the personality. That’s what it’s all about, right? The word company simply means a collection of people. That’s what it means. And so you have to have the right collection of people.

Jeremy Weisz  30:09 

And how do you assess character in the hiring process? Sometimes it’s hard to judge or get to know people. So what do you do?

Ben Hagon  30:12 

It is very hard, and especially in these days with remote, because so much of this work is now done via video. My company is remote, we don’t have offices, we don’t have to go to work every day. Most people do it from home. And sometimes I’ll hire someone, I won’t even meet them in person for the first six months that they work for me. So it is challenging. I think it’s old school, you have to meet with them, you have to look at their work history. I am very interested in people’s non-agency sector work history. So if anybody’s worked in the service industry, I’m very interested in them. I want to look for volunteer experience, I want to look at their interests outside of work.

Multiple interviews is helpful, though, not too many, because that can get too much. And I actually have found that the references process is actually counterproductive. Everybody should know that when people give references, they’re sending you to the three friendliest contacts that they’ve ever met in their career. And they’re briefing them to tell you that they’re the most amazing people ever. And I’ve actually had a couple of instances where I got the most glowing references, and the person was not the right character for our organization. And so fast forward, let’s say you hire somebody, and you have suspicions about their fit with your company culture and their alignment with your core values. My number one recommendation to any business owner is fire fast. Hire slow fire fast.

Do not wait as a business owner, you know, you know even if you’re a bleeding heart like me, and you let things go too long, you know if they’re not right, get rid of them. In Canada, we have very strict labor laws, you can’t just fire people on the spot without going through specific processes. So I think some states, it might be a little different. But here we have very specific hiring laws. So for our company, we have a probationary period of three months, we like to try and clear up any missteps within those 90 days, and make sure that, if it’s not a good fit, and most of the time it is I would say 90% of the time we do a good job of bringing the right people in.

But you know as a business owner, don’t wait, don’t think that they’re going to wake up tomorrow and be a different person. I can tell you from experience, they are not going to be, they are who they are. And sometimes it’s not a character issue. Sometimes they’re just not right for the role. Sometimes they’re not right for the company culture. Do everyone a favor and make a decision and let them get on to find the job that is right for them. And you can find the person that’s right for the job. Nobody benefits when you dilly-dally around getting rid of folks.

Jeremy Weisz  33:13 

I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus or you to disclose any private information? But I’m curious for some examples, maybe some red flags that you’ve seen, in your experience of, without releasing someone’s identity, but what are some of the red flags you’ve seen? Because I’m sure it starts off maybe not so obvious. And then it becomes more because obviously, you hired the person. So it wasn’t obvious in the beginning. So what are some red flags that you’ve seen or people should watch out for?

Ben Hagon  33:43 

I would say if you’re truly analytical it is obvious from the beginning. The people who I’m thinking of specifically that weren’t right, either they were a bad employee, or they just weren’t right. They’re a good employee, but they just weren’t right. I knew, I knew very quickly, you just get a feeling for whether they’re a good fit with your culture, and whether they are going to apply themselves properly to your mission. Red flags, like if I think about a couple of the folks it’s a little tricky, I have to say without disclosing information, but work application. So if in the first week, they are not effervescent with excitement for the work. That’s a real red flag. If folks come in, and they’re a little lackadaisical right from the get-go, if first week is not going to get any better.

And it’s not that they’re you’re expecting people to come in and hit the ground running and just be able to do their job in the first hour. But the excitement and application is clear. And as somebody that’s been in business for quite a while now and I’m sure other folks in my shoes will say the same. You can tell when people are faking. You can tell when enthusiasm is faked. Like, usually because it’s too much, it’s over the top. But I love it when someone comes in and they just they pay attention. And they listen. And they ask questions. And they set clear expectations. Those are the folks who want the people who kind of hide the people that are overly bubbly in meetings and overly complimentary, you got to watch those folks.

And then you have the people that just don’t even bother from day one, though, you come across those once in a while. I didn’t employ that just didn’t show up on their second day. That was the biggest red flag, they just didn’t show up. That was day three, they didn’t come back. We parted ways.

Jeremy Weisz  35:47 

Not a good first impression, or second…

Ben Hagon  35:50 

The pandemic did strange things to the HR market. There was no one available. If you were hiring during that time, you ended up sort of kind of taking what you could get. And that was a very negative experience.

Jeremy Weisz  36:05 

So on the positive front, Ben, let’s talk about building leaders. Okay, so what are some of the things I know that’s something you’re thinking about is actually worth thinking about is building leaders within, what are some of the ways that you have found successful to build leadership, build leaders within so they can escalate to a leadership position?

Ben Hagon  36:27 

Well, I haven’t been yet. This is my focus for this year. I’ve never really been able to crack this nut specifically, I had folks get close. But I would say specifically from the creative agency world, it’s almost similar to the point I made before about folks who are really good at being a creative having to shift their mindset so dramatically when they become an entrepreneur or leader. The same thing is true within agencies. So within the agency infrastructure itself, the very, very talented people tend to rise up through the ranks. And I understand that, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to leadership.

That can equate to a director, you can view or if you’re an amazing designer, and you’ve worked for 15 years, and you’ve learned so much about all the different facets of work, you can be a great manager or director of younger designers, that doesn’t make you a company leader. They’re two different skill sets. And so what I’ve been doing a lot of is I’ve been doing a lot of reading, I’ve been doing a lot of learning on this topic from folks like John C, Maxwell and others. And trying to understand this thing called leadership in isolation, away from my business away from my sector, what does leadership look like on a human level? And so now I’m looking for those qualities in the people who work for my company. The challenges is you may demonstrate those qualities and not be the most senior people. And how do you manage that. And that’s something for me to be working on this year.

But if you don’t do it, Jeremy, your company won’t grow. It’s impossible. That’s what I’ve learned over 15 years as the leader, and yes, I have a partner who’s a silent partner. There’s a Jhansi Maxwell calls it the lid. And so there’s a lid that you will hit as one person and your business won’t get any bigger. And I have $1 figure in my mind, I know what that number is you cannot go above or I cannot go above it, I have a capacity. So in order to increase that, whether it’s you wanting to increase the dollars, or whether you’re just wanting to increase the quality of your offering, or all of the above, you need support in leadership. And even at a small company, we’re only allowing people but I need support in terms of leadership. So I am looking for very specific qualities, I am looking for intelligence.

I certainly want a high degree of intelligence. I am looking for folks that have no issue delivering difficult words and statements and decisions that seem to not worry about delivering the hard news, which in general doesn’t jive with creative personalities, creative people do not like them. I am looking for folks that are interested that read that are well rounded and can inspire and also the last point that I’m looking for is people most closely aligned to our company’s core values. You need your leadership to align on values otherwise, it’s going to get real messy real quick.

Jeremy Weisz  39:50 

I mean some of the first steps to, it’s a long journey to formulate a leadership team but some of the first steps is just giving someone a path to upward trajectory. and empowering them. So what are some of the things you’ve done this throughout the company to that you’ve done to empower staff and also give them a path, even if it’s not maybe to leadership, but to managing people or whatever it is?

Ben Hagon  40:14 

Yeah, I think that that is one of the things that is most important to me as a leader is empowering my people, like you say whether they’re going to empower to grow into a leadership role or not. But empowering folks to feel confident in their work, to feel empowered to make decisions, feel empowered to make mistakes, and to know what to do when they’re overwhelmed. And I think that it really comes back. For me anyway, at my business, it comes back to treating people with decency, supporting them when they need support, and getting the hell out of the way the rest of the time.

There’s a real problem in our world, of micromanagement, of managers who are going to be frank, this shitty managers, they’re not managers, they’re control freaks, those are two different things. And so what I find is, and I found it as a worker, somebody before I had a business is, the more my immediate supervisor tried to control me, the less interested in progress I was, the more interested in looking for new jobs I was. And so my mandate at Intent, our manifesto is to improve lives, and the first lives that we improve on the people that work in town. So everything I do, is focused on trying to improve the lives of my team.

And my hope, is that by doing that, they will then focus in on improving the lives of their clients. And then our hope is by doing that the people who receive our work the audience’s the community members, the patients, their lives will be improved. Because they have clearer information, they have more beautiful things to look at the websites work properly, and all along the way. So for me, it’s really about treating people fairly properly, and giving them a path to grow.

Jeremy Weisz  42:11 

Is there a specific meeting cadence? Whether it’s you meeting with people on the team, or certain managers meeting with the staff, what kind of meeting cadence or types of meetings do you have within the company?

Ben Hagon  42:30 

We meet a lot, we do need a lot, we do find that you can get a lot done in five or 10-minute chat, rather than endless email threads. We do do that? I’m a little old school. I want an agenda for every meeting. No agenda? No, Ben, that’s the rule. If you don’t give me an agenda, or you don’t allow me to set one, then I don’t come, there is a crisis in the working world have no agendas for meetings. And so what ends up happening in most meetings, is everybody shows up and they chat for five or 10 minutes about their dog or whatever.

I find that most people don’t even give a damn about their dog, it’s just filling air. And so people kind of scratch around for commonalities that you can kill some time with. And then the conversation typically is rambling and directionless. And people have their sound bites that they want to get out, and it might come out but who really knows. So for me, an agenda is essential, even for internal meetings. And then from there, you go through the agenda.

Jeremy Weisz  43:36 

I just want to point that out, I just want to emphasize that for a second man, because that’s a jump right there. Just that alone, it would save so much time, energy and focus in and just having whatever that meeting is there has to be an agenda ahead of time. And the person thinks through that makes them think through what they want to talk about and actually makes it more fruitful. So thanks. I just want to emphasize that, yeah, thank you.

Ben Hagon  44:03 

And not only do we have an agenda, we send out enough time that people can add input into set agenda. So if it’s not checking the boxes, then tell us and we’ll adjust it in advance of the meeting. And then once you get into the meeting, I’m very in terms of canes, I’m very much like we are now I’m very straightforward. I’m very honest, I don’t put on any business BS. It’s just, we’re just talking about what we’re trying to get done here and how we’re going to get it done. And so I think that that earnestness comes through quite clearly, they don’t play games, they don’t play corporate nonsense. I’m not interested in any of that. I find it utterly boring and pointless.

It can get me in trouble. I’m going to have to say when you run up against large institutions, large hospitals, governments, that their world — it’s very guarded. I’m not like that. I don’t see the point now. I don’t have enough years left of work to waste with nonsense. So I’m very clear. I’m very personable, I think quite casual, but it’s structured casual, it follows an agenda. There are objectives for every meeting, what are we trying to achieve? And then at the end of the meeting, those minutes are typed up and circulated for review. We are very formal around documentation and process. And we are very casual in the way that we speak. And we find that’s a nice mix.

Jeremy Weisz  45:25 

So Ben, I have one last question. First of all, thanks for sharing your journey, your stories and lessons with us. And everyone should check out to learn more, you saw the website and we shared it. Last question is resources, it could be on leadership, it could be on management, what are some of your favorite resources, it could be mentors. But what are some of your favorite resources, people should check out whether it’s books or people you’ve learned from.

Ben Hagon  45:54 

I have a new resource, which is really left field for me that I have been leaning on a lot. And before I get into them, I do want to state that for me when I read when I listen, when I watch, I am not, and I think it’s very important in today’s day and age, I am not accepting what I’m hearing wholesale. I am picking and choosing the elements that I think are interesting. And I am discarding some of the stuff that seems ridiculous. So that’s very important. Because I do think we have an issue with people just watching a podcast and saying, I’m going to do all that stuff. Right Joe Rogan said, so I got to do it. Well, no, no, no, no, you pick what works for you. I have started following a gentleman called Dave Ramsey, who is a…

Jeremy Weisz  46:42 

Oh for sure. He’s been podcasting for many, many years.

Ben Hagon  46:45 

He has so much practical business advice and politically, we’re misaligned. Culturally, we’re misaligned, religiously, we’re misaligned. But he has a lot of business wisdom, you have to cut through some of the multilevel marketing-type style stuff, you have to be careful, but there are some real gems, as he says from the trenches. So I follow I listen and read his work. My absolute favorite is Jhansi Maxwell. I mean, he is just a stalwart, you can’t go wrong, again, politically, religiously, not necessarily aligned. I’m agnostic, I’m not a Christian. These people are very into, I think Jhansi Maxwell is a faith leader. I think that’s his background. But his wisdom on people and leadership, for my money, that the best, it’s the best stuff out there. So I read those.

And then I think that again, like I mentioned before, being well read is important. It’s not just about learning about leadership. If you don’t have A Subscription to the Atlantic, get one. If you haven’t read Michael Pollan read him,  if you don’t follow current affairs, stop following current affairs. There are too many people in the world that go to work and go home and watch quiz shows. I think that Jhansi Maxwell says, every leader is a reader, but not every reader is a leader. You cannot lead if you don’t read, it’s impossible. And an 80% of that could be novels because there’s plenty to learn and novels, but you must read. It’s very, very important. So I say a broad range of inputs, and then select your outputs that you want to take out of things. But everyone should start with Jhansi Maxwell.

Jeremy Weisz  48:40 

Love it. Ben I’m gonna be the first one to thank you. Everyone. Check out Check out more episodes of the podcast and we’ll see everyone next time. Thanks everyone.