#31: How To Grow Your Agency, Be More Profitable, & Increase Your Overall Quality Of Life
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Pia Silva is a partner & strategist at Worstofall Design, where they build entire brands in 1-3 day intensives. Now Pia is focused on helping small branding, consulting, or marketing companies build more profitable lifestyle businesses using her own no BS intensive model. She's a TEDx speaker, a Forbes contributor, author of Badass Your Brand, and the host of her own podcast, Show Your Business Who's Boss. Today, Pia shares how to grow your agency, be more profitable & increase your overall quality of life.

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Host: Brian Webb

Guest: Pia Silva

Episode 31: How To Grow Your Agency, Be More Profitable, & Increase Your Overall Quality Of Life

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TRANSCRIPT 

Brian Webb:

If you run any type of a business where you are a consultant or you run a creative or a marketing agency, you're going to love my guest today. Her name is Pia Silva. She's a partner and brand strategist at Worstofall Design, where they build entire brands in one to three-day intensives. But these days, she's actually more focused on helping other small branding or consulting, or marketing companies, build more profitable lifestyle businesses using her own no BS intensives model. She's a TEDx speaker, she's a Forbes contributor, author of Badass Your Brand, and the host of her own podcast, Show Your Business Who's Boss.

You're really going to want to check out this interview today because she's going to share some insights that are going to make you more profitable and give you a much, much higher quality of life. I would encourage you to get out a notepad and a pen, take notes. Let's jump into my interview today with Pia Silva.

Hey Pia. It is so great to have you here on the podcast today. I've been wanting to talk to you for quite some time, so it's fun that we get to have you here on our show today.

Pia Silva:

Well, thanks for having me, Brian. It's great to be here. I'm looking forward to this conversation.

Brian Webb:

Yeah. I know that you have launched a new model inside of your business. I want to talk about that with you today. I know that one of the things that you do, that you teach agencies how to take what used to take lots, and lots, and lots of time, and how to compress that into a day or two to accomplish the same objective. I'm really curious for you to share, how did you come about doing this, and what brought you down this path?

Pia Silva:

Sure. Yeah, it was a complete transformation of how we did business and how I showed up in my business, and ultimately, how I live my life. It's very core to who I am today. It really happened like many things, almost like a happy accident. My business is my husband, Steve, and I, and we were trying to build this little agency. We were doing it in the model that I had seen around me. I was networking a lot at the time and saw so many small agencies, and I didn't know anything about this, I had no background in this. The only reason I was in this industry is because Steve was a graphic designer. They all did it this certain way. You meet people, you write proposals, you pitch, you base your proposal pricing on your estimated hours. Then when you get the project, you do these phases of the project. You have dates for deliverables and feedback. That's the agency model.

I had been trying to do that for three years. It was just really unwieldily. It was really hard to manage. It was really hard to keep the projects in scope. No matter how much I charged, we always worked more. So, even though I was raising the prices, anytime I raised the price, the project got even bigger than the amount that I had raised. So, all of this is to say that I was hustling, doing my best, showing up, trying to be my best self for my clients, doing my best work, making them happy. In 2014, about three years after we started the business, I found myself in debt. I was like, why am I working all the time and trying so, so hard? My clients actually really like our work, so it's not even that our work isn't good, and yet, here we are in debt, overworked and underpaid.

That was the moment. We weren't just in debt. We were at capacity. We had no more credit, we had no more cash. You have to do something at that point. I call it the kitchen table moment, Every entrepreneur's got it. You're sobbing at your kitchen table saying, what am I going to do? The low point. Luckily, turns out to be also the turning point. Because we couldn't afford to keep doing what we were doing, we had to get creative.

The year before, we had created this little one-off offering just to generate some cash. A business coach of mine had actually suggested it. I said, "Everyone I'm talking to, they don't have the money to pay us." He said, "Well, how much do they have?" I said, "Well, I don't know, like $3,000." He said, "Well, what could you do for $3,000?" I said, "Well, maybe we could do like a one-day thing." Maybe they could hire us for the day. Steve and I are very fast. We could do a lot of stuff in a day. So, I had done that secretly on the side, just mentioning when it made sense.

At that pivotal moment, we looked at that offer and we said, you know what? That's actually kind of cool. Maybe we could just do those. I analyzed what we had been doing and what that offer allowed us to do and realize that it had so many of the things I loved, doing the work for clients, working intensively, getting paid a great rate, and it lacked all of the things I disliked, all of the ongoing projects that never end, the design by committee, the time that goes by where clients come back and say, oh, my wife, doesn't like this color. You're like, who cares what your wife says about this? We decided to just go down that path and that's really where it started.

Then over years, every time we did it, I made it better, looked at how to make it more valuable, and then simultaneously was increasing the price, such that today we charge $25,000 for that one day and $30,000 for the two days. That's the main offering, the only offering that our little agency has now.

Brian Webb:

That is impressive. Before we started recording, Pia, I was telling you about our previous agency days. My previous agency was called Loud Creative. I was telling you that I used to get a new client, a new project, whatever, and my first thought was, thank God, new revenue, new opportunities. Then it was like, oh wow, now we're going to get buried in the hustle and bustle of what's got to go get done.

Something that you and I actually talked about on a previous call, is that so many times clients, unfortunately, get in their own way. I think that they do it a couple of ways. One you've kind of covered, which is they want to give input that isn't necessarily in their best interest. It's just what they feel about it. Sometimes too, clients mean to be accessible, they want to be accessible, but they're not. A lot of times things just get slowed down, they take longer because you can't get them into a meeting. Two, again, you end up doing what's best for their desire, not what's best for their business. I'm curious to know, what are your thoughts on that? I bet that would be your experience as well.

Pia Silva:

Yes, yes. 100% yes. I think anybody who's worked on projects with clients has the same experience. My conclusion after doing this other model for many years and now teaching it is that a lot of that originates from the relationship and the dynamic of the relationship from the very beginning. In hindsight, what I was doing in those long projects is, I was so eager to make the client happy and do what they wanted, and if they said, this isn't the right color, then they're right, right? Because the client is always right. In retrospect, that is a very low-value way of delivering work. The transformation that had to take place in order for me to charge more than I used to charge, but only for two days instead of eight months, is that it's the complete opposite dynamic from the very beginning.

You're hiring me because I'm going to tell you how this works. I'm going to tell you what this should look like. I'm going to tell you why this is the right color for you. You're going to, not be bullied into it, but because of the way that I lead you through this, because of the very well choreographed, very gentle, but firm way that I take your hand and show you the whole process, and show you why this is what it needs to be, and why this is why we're going to get from where you are to your goals, and why this is the perfect thing, clients are so happy to sit back and just let you drive. They want to say yes, and they don't want to give feedback, and they don't want to have revisions. They definitely don't want to ask their wife or their brother-in-law what they think.

They only do that because they lack a certain amount of trust. They're scared that it's going to not turn out the way it should. When you, as the leader of the project and the owner of the business, let them know from the very beginning, no, I got this, I'm going to make sure that this project is exactly what it needs to be at the end, they relax into it and they actually follow your lead and are not difficult at all. So, in retrospect, they were, "All clients are so difficult." They were all difficult because of how I was acting, not because people are inherently bad clients. Each person, I believe, is going to be a good or bad client, an easy or difficult client, based on how we, the people running the business and leading the project, act.

Brian Webb:

That completely makes sense. Let me ask you this. Say we have an agency listener who's hearing this today, tomorrow, next week, whatever, and they want to move towards this model that you're talking about, what are two or three or more pivots or modifications that they to make before they're able to facilitate or execute this type of business model? First step obviously is to work with you. But beyond that, what are the first two or three pivots that they've got to understand if they want to move in this type of a direction?

Pia Silva:

Sure. I'll preface this by saying, while I focus on helping agency owners, these principles are things that I originally started teaching to anybody selling a surface. These principles relate even if your business is selling other kinds of consulting services. The only prerequisite I would say to being able to use this is that you are a strategic thinker, you're bringing strategy.

What are the things you would need to think about? First, it would be the idea that you are leading with strategy and that strategy is where the value truly comes in. We won't go into it, but you and I both know, there's a difference between selling based on time and selling based on value. This is the kind of project that, and this is the kind of way that you work, where you are definitely selling based on value because you are not selling based on two days of work, you're selling based on the outcome.

The only way I believe you can sell based on value is that you have to have a strategic component to it. You have to be leading the client, not just in, for example, design, it's not just the execution of the project, it's that you are showing them why the execution needs to go in a certain direction. So, really owning that and honing your abilities to do that and being able to execute that well.

I say that first, because the first thing that I teach people when I'm training them on this model, is that you need to eliminate the free proposal stage completely. To me, the free proposal stage is a way to start off a project in a very unequal and bad-for-you dynamic. You're in a defensive position and the client has all the power and you have none. You're doing all this work for them for free, and you're throwing crumbs at their feet and saying, will you please hire me? I'm trying to dazzle you. All of this is putting you in a terrible position. Even if they hire you, you are not starting in a strong position.

I do the opposite. I teach people how to sell, for lack of a better word, sell the proposal, but it's not a proposal. It's a totally different thing, it's a discovery strategic document and experience. But the magic of doing it, is that, especially when you're selling to small businesses, and again, this is true, even if you're selling executive coaching or something outside of the agency model, the key is that you are not selling strategy and discovery. Most people think, okay, so now I'm selling strategy, and then nobody wants to buy it. You know what? Clients don't know what strategy and discovery is, so those are like four-letter words. Do not use them. There's a totally other way to do it. That's a big part of the first step of building this model, is really knowing how to sell strategy without having to convince and educate people that strategy is important. I would say that's a foundational piece of this. There's so much more, but I could just talk all day, Brian. I don't want to just jabber on.

Brian Webb:

When people call me or let's rewind and go back to Loud Creative. What I've told people is, first of all, if we're going to do a proposal, and again, this is the old days, but I said a proposal for us is the last step in the process, not the first step of the process. Because in my experience, a proposal is nothing more than a weapon to use against you. A proposal is something that someone gets so that they can go get two or three more proposals and then basically use the information that you gave against you. I'm sure you agree with that, right?

Pia Silva:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.

Brian Webb:

It seems like something else that you've done is, there's no need for a proposal in this model, as I'm perceiving it anyway, because now if you have like, here's what we do, here's what our fee is, have you productized what you're doing that removes the need for a proposal? Would you say that?

Pia Silva:

Yes, absolutely. Again, this is something I recommend and this is what I do. I really only have one offer and it's my brand up. We do the entire brand, the strategy, the design of the brand and the logo, the design, and build of the website, all of the copy, all of the materials. That's the only thing we do, and we do it in three different levels of packages. All of those prices and a high-level description of them are on our website. So, when I have a call with someone, it's 15 minutes or less, because they already know our prices, they already know what we do, they already know our brand. They've probably read a lot of stuff that I've already written, so they kind of know our philosophy.

Then it's just a matter of, are you a good fit for me? Because I know very clearly who this is and isn't for... If you are, the first step is our brand shrink. So, that's my first step in lieu of a proposal, it's the brand shrink. At this point, it's $5,000. When I started, it was $650. So, obviously, I've increased that quite a bit, but that is the next step. There's no need for a proposal. Every once in a while, not really anymore, but in between, when some people hadn't really read any of my writing before we spoke, they would say, oh, well, why don't we have coffee or can we have another meeting to discuss? I'd be like, there's nothing to discuss, that's the next step. We will discuss everything you want to discuss in the brand shrink, so there's really nothing else to discuss. Then people just pull the trigger.

Then all of a sudden, I get to do all of that really rich, deep diving with them to get to know their business. I'm getting paid for it, which is important for the relationship, but it's also important for them because when they pay for that advice, they listen to it a hell of a lot more. It becomes a lot more valuable to them. If you can't tell, I love to give people advice. I love to share what I think. I freely give people advice all the time, and when they don't pay for it, they rarely take it. It's really important that people pay for your advice.

Brian Webb:

It's true. Pia, having been in the agency world for almost two decades, there are so many people out there who need what you do. Literally, faces and names are coming to mind of people just from my past. Again, I'm glad to be kind of out of that space. What I do I think is aligning a good bit with what you're doing. Here's my question. When someone hears this podcast, and either they are a consultant or a creative agency, but like you said, any type of a consultancy type business model, and they're hearing this and they're agreeing with me, which they should, by the way, which is Pia's doing this right. So, they're thinking, yes, this is awesome. What's the first and best place for them to get started?

Pia Silva:

I think the best thing you could do if you're interested in learning more about this model, because if you've never heard this before or anything like it, then it can be very radical. I forget that, because some people come into my world, and they're like, whoa, you're blowing my mind. But I'm obviously very steeped in it, so I forget that some people are like, you can't do that. I think the best thing would be, I would recommend, obviously, that you read my book. It's not that long, it's very rich with story and details about the transition that we made, and what it looked like, and what it's looked like in a lot of different client businesses. Because we basically started implementing some version of this model in all of our businesses that we branded, and yeah, I would love to share that with your listeners.

Brian Webb:

Hey, so here's a question you weren't ready for me to ask. I've seen this beautiful studio that's in your office. Is Pia going to make an audiobook version of her book?

Pia Silva:

Brian, Pia already did make an audio version, of course, can't not have an audible.

Brian Webb:

Good. Good, good, good. That's good.

Pia Silva:

50% of people don't read books, they only listen. So, yes, absolutely. I had it professionally edited. It was a whole thing. It was a big production.

Brian Webb:

That's awesome. That's great to know. I'd have to imagine that you were talking about how sometimes an agency owner, or again, a consultant, I keep using the word agency as a generic term for this type of business model. But when you were talking about how it can be overwhelming, and they're probably thinking like, whoa, what, wait, what? They're overwhelmed, right? I imagine-

Pia Silva:

That's our Keanu in our family. We do the, wait, what?

Brian Webb:

What? Whoa. Exactly. I would have to imagine that there are going to be, in addition to some strategic changes, some tactical changes, there's probably also going to have to be some mental shifts that have to take place to be successful in this type of a business model? Do you agree with that? I would imagine.

Pia Silva:

Huge mental shifts, yes. Yes, I can explain the tactics till I'm blue in the face, but if somebody isn't ready to transform into, I guess the shorthand would be, really being the leader of their business of the projects, and I think in a different way than a lot of people are used to. Because like I said, let's just use the customer is always right default thinking, this is a different way of approaching it. It requires a really high level of confidence in your ability to deliver. That means that you have to really believe in what you're doing. Most entrepreneurs I run into are like this, they're very precious about the work that they do, so they want to be doing the best. But there is an inherent element that I see a lot, and I was like this too, and I still have bouts of this, it's not like it's completely gone, the client needs to validate it for your work to be good, as opposed to being clear yourself that the work is good. I like to think of, do you know Chris D'Elia? He's a comedian.

Brian Webb:

Maybe.

Pia Silva:

He's got a pretty funny Netflix special. Anyway, he does a great little bit where he talks about doing comedy on stage. He's like, sometimes people don't laugh. It doesn't mean it's not funny. He's like, I know it's funny. They just don't get it, or it's just not their thing or whatever. But it doesn't mean it's not funny. I just loved that, because especially in spaces like branding, strategy, all of that, not to say that somebody can't be better than somebody else, but there's a huge part of it that's very subjective.

We've all had clients ruin projects by saying it should look a different way, when you're like, it should not look that way. That is not good. So, transforming into somebody who really has that unwavering confidence, not blind confidence, not like I don't listen to feedback, but a strength about knowing, and always getting better too, and always being willing to get better and learn. I just think that that is a big part of the transformation.

I have worked with people who are seemingly very confident, even arrogant, about their work, but then I see that they actually still require that validation. That can really throw them off in these kinds of situations because they end up going back to that customer is always right feeling. That can ruin this approach. Not to say we don't want the customer to be happy. My customers are always floored by it, and that is the result I'm going for every time. But it's a different pathway to it, it's a different vehicle. It's a completely different approach to getting to that end result. I find the clients are actually more excited and ecstatic about the work taking this road instead.

Brian Webb:

Someone once said to me, it was probably a friend, I don't even remember who it was, but they said it's important to always remember who is signing the front of the check and who is signing the back of the check. Before that, I was probably paralyzed with that mindset, which by the way, that's probably a mindset shift that you probably advocate for, because something I tell my clients is, I can be consultative and I can be compliant. If you want, let me lead, or if you want, we'll do it the way that you want. But I tell them, we're going to give you way, way, way, way, way, times 1000 ways more value if you allow us to take our experience, our education, our background, and give you that value by consulting and leading you.

I've seen agency leaders, again, you're talking I'm your choir here today, and so I've known so many people who, again, consultants, agencies, what have you, that they're paralyzed with that mindset. The old one that I used to have, which is, I know who signs the front of the check and who signs the back, and really trying to convince a client to show them, I can give you a lot more value by consulting for you and with you, on behalf of you, and advocating for you, but if you want me to be a compliant, I can do it, you're just shooting yourself in the foot. It sounds like that's one of your mindset shifts that you're teaching inside of your program.

Pia Silva:

Yes, absolutely. Because of the nature of the kind of agencies that I'm helping and the kind of agency than I am, so for the last eight years, it's just been Steve and I, we actually got rid of our employees to do this so that we don't have as much overhead. Because there's only two of us, because we can only take on so many projects, it allows us to be so selective.

I think if we were growing bigger and bigger in terms of our team, we wouldn't be able to be as selective. But because it's just the two of us and we like to keep it that way, we get to then say, and if you want us to be compliant, then we're not for you because I'm only going to take a couple of clients. So, that's also something that, again, just because of the size of the kinds of small agencies, but we're really talking less than five people, that's how picky you get to be. Once you can be that picky, once you can say, I'm only taking 10 clients a year, then you really start to settle into the fact that they need you more than you need them. So, you can pick and choose your clients. That's what we all want, I think.

Brian Webb:

Pia, we've come out of this COVID pandemic, but as much as we've come through this COVID pandemic, there is a pandemic of leaders and agencies out there who need your help. I see you as having a cure to cancer, to be honest with you, because what your program is doing, is you're giving freedom. You are giving a sense of confidence. You're giving a model that's a far more profitable, that has way less frustration. So, I've got to ask one, thanks for being on the show today. You've been a delightful guest. What's the best place for our audience to find you, reach out to you, learn more about how you can help them? Other than your book, of course, which I'm going to go get as soon as we end this interview, by the way.

Pia Silva:

Well, thank you so much, Brian. It's really been a stimulating conversation. I appreciate you having me on and for your kind words. Yeah, I think the best place is just to go to my website, piasilva.com, and you'll see all sorts of goodies there. If you're on Facebook, there's a link to go join my Facebook group, where it's just small agency owners. So, it's a really great tight-knit community of people who are all the same kind of business, dealing with the same kind of BS, and looking to implement a lot of these profitable strategies. I've got all kinds of trainings in there for free and stuff, so that would be a great place to start.

Brian Webb:

Well, if you are an agency and you are dealing with this cancer, which I can almost guarantee you that the vast majority of them are, we will absolutely put those links in the show notes. It's been a real, real treat having you on the show today, Pia.

Pia Silva:

Thank you so much, Brian.

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