How to Build a Web Design Agency in 2023 - Max Sher
For today's podcast, I've had a chance to have a super insightful conversation with Max Sher - founder and CEO at Sher Agency. Max's team of 25 has helped design and build WordPress websites since 2019. We discuss his story of scaling the agency, best practices for finding leads, dealing with Upwork and Clutch, and growing his online presence on TikTok.
For today's podcast, I've had a chance to have a super insightful conversation with Max Sher - founder and CEO at Sher Agency. Max's team of 25 has helped design and build WordPress websites since 2019. We discuss his story of scaling the agency, best practices for finding leads, dealing with Upwork and Clutch, and growing his online presence on TikTok.
Max'es TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@maxlsher
Please note, the transcript below has been generated automatically.
Stephan Mazokha 01:02
Where are you connecting from at the moment?
Max Sher 01:03
Stephan Mazokha 01:05
I see I've seen your TikTok when you said that you're traveling around. Are you still doing that, or is it already in the past?
Max Sher 01:12
Yeah, I'm still doing it. I just got here, I think, a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, something like that. And I'm here for four months, so this will be my longest stay in a while.
Stephan Mazokha 01:23
That's really cool. Why did you decide to do this whole thing? What was your reason for traveling?
Max Sher 01:27
Like was a I just graduated college, and I was living in Tucson, Arizona, and everyone, all my friends were, like, moving out. They were going know, Phoenix or wherever they were going to get their jobs, and I was just like, sitting there. I had this house that I owned, so I felt like I was tied there. And I realized that I didn't need to be tied there. I could kind of go anywhere I wanted to. So I just called a friend who I knew was looking for a place. I'm like, hey, do you want to rent my room in this house? He's like, yes. So I rented out to him, but he needed to move in the next day, so I had to just leave. I didn't have a place to go, so I just started driving out of two on and all my stuff's in my car or I sold it or gave it to him as part of the move. And then I was just thinking, okay, I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to a place yet, so let me just go and actually, funny enough, picked Austin first. And I drove to Austin, and one of my other budies decided he would meet me there and we split a place. And then I was like, I kind of like this short term living thing. And I just kept going. I just haven't stopped. I just keep going from place to place and not committing to a single location and I've just really enjoyed it. I love getting to see new places and meet new people and experience different it's almost like subcultures. Even though it's mostly in the United States, a small town in Florida has a very different vibe than Los Angeles. And you're meeting different types of people and seeing the different diversity in the way people just I learned so much from now.
Stephan Mazokha 03:01
This reminds me of Airbnb Story because they've said that their original idea was that instead of going to hotel, you're going to live in some other person's house and you're just going to perceive the whole environment in an entirely different way as a person who actually lives there versus a guest. And does it give you an anxiety to travel like that? You have to kind of plan like a few months in advance and kind of sounds scary.
Max Sher 03:23
I don't really plan a few months in advance. Usually I give myself so most of the time my lease ends on like the 31st or something like that or my Airbnb or whatever I'm doing, it'll end on the 31st. So my rule is I try to know where I'm going to go by the 14th of that. So I give myself a two week window to figure out what I'm doing. It doesn't really give me anxiety. Usually. I've had a couple of times where I'm like, oh shoot, I wanted to go to Colorado but I can't find a nice place to live there, what am I going to do? And it always works out cool.
Stephan Mazokha 03:57
Have you thought about going to Europe this way?
Max Sher 04:01
I would love to, but my agency is a little too dependent on me being in this time zone. Right of, okay. I was just in Europe a few weeks ago. I love Denmark and that area, it's beautiful and I would love to spend some time there but at the moment it's just not feasible with my career.
Stephan Mazokha 04:20
Have you tried Trusted house sitters? Do you know what this platform I've.
Max Sher 04:23
Heard of this, but I've never used it.
Stephan Mazokha 04:25
Now it's a huge recommend. I've used it a couple of times and it's just essentially like Airbnb, but it's for free. The only thing you kind of have to do is you kind of have to show to them that you like pets, that's all. But otherwise it's a very reasonable kind of a subscription and they do a background check on you and on the host as well. And you literally just apply like you would an airbnb and you just go there and you don't pay a thing. Obviously you have to pay for travel. But yeah, your only job is to look after a pet, that's all.
Max Sher 04:53
I travel with my girlfriend and I know she would absolutely love that. That would be her favorite. She loves dogs. That'd be a blast.
Stephan Mazokha 05:00
So with my girlfriend, we went last winter to Boston for 20 days. We lived in downtown on Commonwealth Avenue. It's like super close to Harvard campus and everything. That's awesome. No MIT. And we literally had to look after a rabbit, so we had to give him lettuce twice a day. And I'm not sure if you've ever had a pet like that. It's very clean, and it doesn't smell. It doesn't make any sounds. It's just cute. And that's all. And we just spent the time doing whatever we wanted to, and it's free. And they were to exactly right. I mean, you kind of have to be responsible. And if you really screw up, your account is done. So you have to be careful. But I really think you should try it because I'm assuming Airbnb such short notice, you probably have to pay extra penny, so that would be a good alternative.
Max Sher 05:50
Well, I actually don't use airbnb. I use an application called Furnished Finder, which is crazy how few people know about it, but everybody I tell about it ends up living in one of these. It's, I would say, 20% to 30% more expensive than, like, a normal lease, but it's furnished. It includes utilities, and you just show up and you move in, and then you leave when you're done. And again. It's called furnished finder. I think it was made originally for travel nurses, but I'm not a travel nurse, and no one's ever asked me if I was one. So it seems to work for everybody.
Stephan Mazokha 06:24
That sounds I need to try. I'm kind of I kind of like traveling too. So for the sake of people who watch this and they don't know who you are, could you introduce yourself?
Max Sher 06:33
Yeah. My name is Max Shurer. I own a web design agency, Sher Agency, and that's what most of my digital presence is about, know, making websites and optimizing them and my journey as a business owner growing while trying to figure out this whole entrepreneurial landscape while also doing my craft, which is website creation.
Stephan Mazokha 06:54
When did you guys start?
Max Sher 06:55
It's a tough question to answer because I was doing it as, like, a solo practitioner for some time when I was a freshman in college. I'd say it's like my day that I decided, okay, I'm going to do this professionally. And I did it under a different name and did it for not a different name as in me, like, I did it under a different agency name. I've always been Max. Don't worry. Then as time went on, I started hiring people and realized that I needed to kind of shift gears a little bit. And the agency in its current form, though, to answer your question, has been around since 2019.
Stephan Mazokha 07:30
Cool. And what services do you guys provide?
Max Sher 07:33
Just web design and development and then I guess the management of those websites after they go live.
Stephan Mazokha 07:38
I see do you focus on no code like Webflow? Or is it like full scale HTML, CSS, that kind of stuff?
Max Sher 07:43
We're primarily WordPress based.
Stephan Mazokha 07:45
Okay, I see. And what do you think about WordPress these days? It's kind of on the older side.
Max Sher 07:53
With the audience that we serve, which is primarily business to business based companies that are primarily service based companies. That's not our exclusive niche, but that's like really who we work with the most. It's perfect for them. It's exactly what they need. They need to be able to manage the site themselves. They need to be able to the sites that we can build in it quickly are of the quality that they are required of, but they also occasionally need these really advanced integrations and functionalities, which I just am not comfortable offering in Webflow. Right. So the reason we use WordPress instead of Webflow, it's like, okay, this is what you need today. Could it be built in WordPress or Webflow? Yes, but knowing how businesses like yours grow and what they might need in three to six months, I don't want to lock you into something that maybe one day I come to you and say, I'm not going to be able to build that in Webflow.
Stephan Mazokha 08:48
Max Sher 08:48
We have to rebuild the entire thing from scratch. I don't want to back my clients into a corner. I'd rather just put them on something that's infinitely expandable and they'd rather pay for that.
Stephan Mazokha 08:56
That's a really good point. I've heard a lot of stories recently about guys that are trying to build their systems in Notion and adopt Webflow and all of these no code platforms and essentially they get with so much technical debt that they can't just get out of it without investing six months into rebuilding half of it.
Max Sher 09:12
Stephan Mazokha 09:13
That's a very good point. Yeah. What is the system that you guys are using to actually run the agency? Do you have some SOPs that have been novel that you've adopted? Anything like that?
Max Sher 09:21
Yeah, I don't know how novel they are, but we do have a pretty refined process for building websites. We manage it all through a combination of Monday.com and Process Street. Monday.com is used to kind of manage everyone's day to day tasks and things like that. And really what our core project management infrastructure looks like. I think this is what you're asking me. Our core project management infrastructure is everything starts on a Monday and ends on a Friday. Because what clients hate is when they don't know what is going to come next in your process. That's like the number one thing that's like the red flag. If they have to start asking you, hey, what should I expect next? That means you've messed up as an agency owner. So we map everything out the entire journey from start to finish, week by week. They know every Friday they're going to get an update from us. They know everything that they need to give us in response needs to be in by Tuesday of the following week. If they can't do that, we can't hit our Friday deadline. That is the most solid agreed upon thing in the world before we even start working on anything with them. And in fact, that's actually one of our big selling points, is like, you're never going to be confused about where you are in the project with us. And really that's, I think, been kind of our secret sauce is just being really organized and clients knowing where they are.
Stephan Mazokha 10:34
That's really cool. But I'm assuming you face a lot of challenges with clients who are just slower because this is potentially not their top priority to give you that kind of feedback.
Max Sher 10:43
Absolutely. And the biggest thing is if the client's not contracting us to write copy, which sometimes we do that and sometimes we don't, the biggest challenge is getting the assets that we need from them if we're not creating them. So we're kind of moving towards, look, we're just closing out the project whether you've got it or not at this point, and we'll teach you how to enter it in yourself if you want to later on. Or you can hire us to as of like, three months ago, all of our contracts are structured that way.
Stephan Mazokha 11:10
Gotcha. How do you track the progress with the clients? What do you present to them when you guys onboard? What should a client expect when they say, hey, Max, what's up?
Max Sher 11:20
I believe the onboarding process is super, super important. So when a client first talks to me, first thing that we do is kind of make a sitemap, get a scope of work together. Once we've kind of agreed on all the terms and what we're building, then we move into a kickoff call. My account manager will reach out to them and say, like, hey, book this call. We need this information from you. All of the little details of login details and things like that, we get on a call and then we present to them wireframes for every single page that's going to be on the website. And we don't get off that call until they have said, yes, that's exactly the structure that we want on this page. Yes, that makes sense. And we're editing it live on the fly with them until we get it right. It's actually my favorite part of the process. From there, we present to them a Gantt chart of what the entire timeline for the project is going to look like. We screenshot it, send it to them, and then every single Friday they get another screenshot of that Gantt chart. That's like, here's where you are. This is our plan. This is where we are in that plan. Everything is going smoothly, and that's, I think, what it takes to ensure a good customer journey. If you look at Domino's, for example, when you order a pizza, they're presenting to you like, okay, we're in the prep phase. Now it's in the oven, now it's with the driver. That's what we try and model after. We always want you to know, even though it doesn't matter to me as the end consumer, theoretically, when my pizza is going to like what stage my pizza is in, all I care about is when it's going to get to me. However, showing those little microphases reduces client anxiety and I think that's worth all the investment in the world.
Stephan Mazokha 12:52
You're absolutely right. And I'm thinking about right now all of the, like, even TikToks of the world, which we'll get to in a second. I mean, for every short piece of content that you get, you're just used to getting immediate feedback. And if you're lost while working with an agency and you don't know what they're doing, that's just a complete turn off that way. And so it's a very good insight for someone who is starting an agency today. It's to sort of try to cookie cut your services to make them more standardized and SOP oriented and really provide that everyday single kind of update so that everybody knew what's going on. Makes sense. But here's the question based on that, how big is your team at the moment?
Max Sher 13:30
Stephan Mazokha 13:31
Okay. And what is your on average, obviously, month to month quantity of simultaneous customers you guys work with?
Max Sher 13:38
Right now we're doing 40 40 website builds and then we have like, I think another 30 or 40 retainers that we're managing.
Stephan Mazokha 13:46
How does your team not burn out?
Max Sher 13:49
Well, capacity planning is always an issue right when you're doing a done for you service like this. It is absolutely a struggle to scale your capacity fulfillment with your demand because you don't want to over commit. Like you don't want to get more full time developers than you're going to be able to fulfill otherwise than you're going to be able to sell slots for, otherwise you're going to lose money. And I won't pretend to you that we have that 100% figured out. I will say I think what we've gotten good at is setting up a world where they know how to that where they know how to ask for help. So on Mondays, our department leads. So we've got like a lead designer, a lead template developer, a lead support manager, all the main clusters of people they in their slack channel will send, hey guys, this is what everybody's responsible for this week. Like Kyle's doing this, John’s doing this, Leah’s doing this, whatever. And at that moment, that is the time where they know, okay, I'm not going to be able to hit this by Friday. I need to ask for help. And in that case we just hire a freelancer and we just get it taken care of.
Stephan Mazokha 14:55
I see. And that being said, are you mostly hiring people in the United States or are you going overseas?
Max Sher 15:01
Mostly overseas. We're hiring a lot from South America right now. A lot of our development team is in the Philippines. We've got people in Europe on our design team. We're kind of all over the place.
Stephan Mazokha 15:13
That being said, it sounds to me, based on what you just described, that you still demand quite a lot of people who work with you. And given that they're not in the United States, they're in potentially different mentality about work. They possibly are paid less than you would in the US. How do you motivate them to still deliver and hustle as if you were to be the owner of the company and of the client's project?
Max Sher 15:38
Oh, I don't I don't expect anybody to act like they're the owner of the company. There's two people who have to act that way. It's me and it's anybody who's based who's compensated on a profit sharing model, which is really just my COO right now. Right. And we're the only two people who have an ownership stake. I'm the only owner, but the only people who really are motivated in that way, because I don't expect those people to act as if they're the owners of the business. I just have to be very transparent with them about what is expected of them. And it's super linear. It's that message that goes in that slack channel on Monday. John, you're in charge of this milestone this week. If you hit it, you're doing well. If you don't hit it, you're not doing well. That's all there is to it.
Stephan Mazokha 16:18
I see. So it's probably mostly about micromanagement and having to keep track of every single micro task. And if they get delayed to some sort of threshold, you follow up and you make sure that they do it.
Max Sher 16:28
Yeah, well, I mean, I wouldn't even say it's micromanagement, actually. It's pretty automatic. They've got a board that says, like, okay, this month, John delivered ten of his page templates in on time out of ten and got an average of 4.3 stars on quality rating out of five. John's doing well. It's as automated as that got you. I don't know if that's considered micromanaging, but managing by data is how I like to think about it.
Stephan Mazokha 16:55
It's in the middle.
Max Sher 16:56
It's just in the middle.
Stephan Mazokha 16:58
A lot of times I'm seeing founders who are like, I'm going to give you high level decision making sort of vision, and then it's up to you to decide what to do. And then there is the opposite side of where the person manages every single microtask. And if you delay it, there is a problem. You guys are somewhere in the middle. And I'm assuming that you guys found some sort of a sweet spot where it's still productive, but you're not sitting there, like in 1984 with a TV that is watching you. I see. Yeah.
Max Sher 17:24
I think that's fair.
Stephan Mazokha 17:25
I'm curious to hear so from the point where you were a freelancer, essentially, to the point where you got to this kind of scale, what was your strategy to scaling? Was it just based on I've received this project, I'm going to hire a new person, or did you have some sort of a strategy to get to this point and how did you balance out that slow? I'm assuming increase between demand and what your team needs to be to match that demand.
Max Sher 17:48
Yeah, I'd be lying if I told you there was a strategy. I absolutely was winging it the entire time. There were moments where I found myself in a situation and I'm like, okay, I have to be strategic on how I'm going to get out of this. But no, the answer to the question is my goal is to get as many new clients into the business as possible and then the rest has to catch up with me. So I hire people based on the projects that I can sell. I hire managers based on when I can no longer manage the people for the projects that I'm facilitating. So what's my strategy? Client acquisition.
Stephan Mazokha 18:23
I see. Okay. Now coming slowly to this niche, what are your main channels of client acquisition that you are proud to share?
Max Sher 18:32
Kind of unorthodox, actually. So of course we get referrals, but we also have a really good Upwork funnel. I've got a really good system for getting clients from Upwork and I think if you look at a 12 month period, probably eight months of the year, that'll be where the most of our big clients come from.
Stephan Mazokha 18:50
Max Sher 18:51
Stephan Mazokha 18:51
Max Sher 18:52
Second and rising and growing in strength is Clutch. Clutch is like an agency directory website where it's like, okay, I know I need an agency to work on my website. I'm going to go search agencies in Austin. The sure Agency pays for a spot at the top of that list and you come to us. They also have kind of like a reviews system and we've got a really good reputation on there, so that helps.
Stephan Mazokha 19:18
Is it worth investing all of that subscription fee that Clutch charges you for promoting your agency or are you guys fully free there? Because I know their fees and they can be ridiculous.
Max Sher 19:26
We pay a lot. Yeah, we pay them and it's worth it like every month at our positive.
Stephan Mazokha 19:31
Max Sher 19:32
Stephan Mazokha 19:33
Max Sher 19:33
By like a pretty good margin.
Stephan Mazokha 19:35
I see. So for a beginning agency founder, in fact, I've had a conversation earlier today with somebody who is aspiring in that space. What would need to be your strategy if you're a beginner to really win those contracts? Given that possibly the amount of hours you have is not great or you don't have access to, let's say, US. Based contracts and you obviously have to compete with so many proposals from other countries, I'd say upwork.
Max Sher 20:02
That's the easiest way to start getting new clients if you don't have any. What really changed the game for me in business was when I realized that I had a source of reliable client acquisition. Because I'm project based, I'm not doing a lot of we have some retainers, right? But we're not building this business based off of retainers. We're building it based on project based work. So that means that I, as a salesperson, need to be consistently bringing in new clients. What really allowed us to grow was when I got one channel down that consistently bring me in some clients. And for me, that first channel was upwork. Then once I had a really good upwork system where I was bringing in X revenue per month, I was like, okay, I can now invest a little bit into this, into something else. Took me a few tries to find something good. Clutch is a really good option. Social media marketing is my other one that's really useful. And then cold outbound email is also pretty good.
Stephan Mazokha 21:00
In terms of Upwork, how much time do you devote on a daily basis to write those proposals?
Max Sher 21:04
I don't devote any time. I have an assistant go through and just apply to every web design job on the platform.
Stephan Mazokha 21:10
Oh, my God. What is the amount of applications and I'm assuming you track some analytics, what is the amount of applications you have to submit to on a daily basis?
Max Sher 21:17
Usually about 60.
Stephan Mazokha 21:19
On a daily basis?
Max Sher 21:20
On a daily basis.
Stephan Mazokha 21:22
And what is the ROI from that in terms, like, I guess, response rate, if that makes sense?
Max Sher 21:27
Yeah, we probably win about five to ten contracts per month from Upwork.
Stephan Mazokha 21:35
So that's 60 multiplied by 30. And then out of that, you get five contracts.
Max Sher 21:39
Something like that? Yeah, 60 multiplied by however many weekdays. We only do it Monday through Friday.
Stephan Mazokha 21:45
Yeah, but yes, I see. So you're not personalizing your proposals that way. So, the reason I'm asking this is because if you're a newbie, you have to compete with a lot of proposal writing companies, let's say from India, from Pakistan, and they submit to pretty much everything. And you have to compete with that. Plus, I know that now there is the biding capacity that makes it super expensive. Are you guys sort of investing to be at the top of every proposal?
Max Sher 22:10
No, I haven't found that to be positive ROI. I did experiment with it for, like, a week, and I just didn't notice any difference. We have a couple of advantages. So advantage one is we're in the United States, and you can bid on us. Only marked proposals. If you're in the United States. I don't know if other countries have that capability. That'd be interesting to know. Two is upwork is very much the rich get richer scenario. So if you have a profile with a ton of hours or a ton of billables logged on it, you look really good as long as your job success score is really high. So we're really lucky in that we've got a lot of money built on Upwork, and we have 100% job success score. So clients look at that and they go, okay, this is a guy in the United States with a perfect track record and a really large track record. This is worth talking to, even though the proposal isn't customized.
Stephan Mazokha 23:05
Gotcha. So, in other words, if you are the one to try to do the upwork proposal writing, first, work with Max to get some hours into your profile and only then go and separately run everything yourself. Yeah, that's cool. Okay, so now coming back to the social media channel, which sounds really cool, I know that you're running TikTok, and you're pretty successful there. So what was the story there? How did you experiment with that? Who pushed you towards that direction, and what did it take to even get to this level? How long did you play in this game?
Max Sher 23:34
Man, I took way too long to figure out how to do social media, which is so funny, because when I was a freshman, I would, like, teach people how to do social media. I'd be like, oh, I'm a kid. I can teach you how to use social media. You old business. So funny. But I didn't know anything, of course. So I initially wanted to start a podcast, and I did start a podcast, but I was really nervous to put my face on camera. I thought it would make me feel really awkward and people would judge me. No one ever did. Spoiler alert. Or at least not to my face. The first thing that I did.
Stephan Mazokha 24:08
It doesn't matter if it's not to your face, to be honest.
Max Sher 24:10
Honestly, I remember the side note, side story. I remember the very first ad that I ran. I was so nervous because I was in a fraternity at the time, and I knew that if I recorded this ad and people saw it, they'd roast me for it for sure, because that's just how it was when you're in a fraternity. So I recorded this video. I put, like, I don't know, like, $300 behind. It was my first Facebook ad, and it got me a client, and I was just so stoked about it, and it was, like, a really good client, like, a really big project. And then it got me a second one, and I was just super excited about that. And then in my fraternity group chat, people just started roasting. They're just like, shirk. They called me by my last name, quintessential fraternity. They're like, shirts, looks like a crazy person on social media, or whatever they called me. I don't remember. And I'm just like that joke. How much money did you make writing it? And they're like, what? How much money did you make writing that joke? Like, none. Well, I made $20,000 on the video. You're making fun of me for it's?
Stephan Mazokha 25:09
Max Sher 25:09
Yeah. And that was my only time I've ever. Received any flak for it, and then no one ever did ever again.
Stephan Mazokha 25:17
Yeah. So that being said, you've ran ads to get clients. So you recorded, like, your first video, and you posted, like, a Facebook ad. Who did you target for that video?
Max Sher 25:25
I couldn't even tell. Talking. I think I was trying to teach people, like, Facebook retargeting, like right when that came out, or something like that. But that's essentially what the video was. And they were like, can you redo my website? Sure. It's not what the video was about, but down.
Stephan Mazokha 25:44
So from then on, how did you.
Max Sher 25:46
Get to yeah, so some I was nervous to put my face on camera again still, because that was like the one time I ever did it. And then three, four years later, I'm not in college anymore. I know that the next step for me is to start building a personal brand, but I'm really nervous to do it. I think a podcast is the way to go. So I'm thinking, okay, what's something that I can do so that I can't chicken out later? I'll just book a guest. So I called one of my old clients. I said, hey, will you be my first podcast guest? I'll drive to Austin tomorrow. He's like, sure. So I drove to Austin. This is a different time than the first time I went there. I drove to Austin and I booked a podcast studio and recording studio. I record it. I was a terrible podcast host. I did not do well. He was a great guest. He answered my questions. I learned a lot from him. But I suddenly was like, doing know. And this is a recurring theme in my life. I just make a decision that I can't unmake in the direction that I know is right ish and then I kind of fumble my way forward in a positive direction. That's my trajectory in a sentence. But this guy, I tried chopping it up and making it into Instagram clips and all this stuff, and nothing was really taking off. I did probably 20 episodes, and I had a lot of fun with it. I may have even gotten some clients from the interviews, like, oh, I'm interviewing you. You're probably a good client for me. Let's talk afterwards. That kind of conversion did happen a couple of times. The content was also useful, right? So I would be in a conversation with a client. They're like, oh, I'm not sure how SEO works. I'm like, oh, you should watch this interview that I did with this SEO specialist. So for that reason, the content was a helpful thing to have in my arsenal as well. However, I was not getting the organic traction that I thought I was going to get. When you start a podcast, you have this vision of becoming like an Internet celebrity. And again, I was 20 years old.
Stephan Mazokha 27:29
I didn't guy Razz entering all the founders of all the big companies. Oh, yeah, exactly.
Max Sher 27:33
That wasn't happening. But then I had one clip that I posted onto TikTok get, like, some number of views. Right now that would be an absolute failure to me, but it signified a win for me or an opportunity. I'm like, okay, I'm spending hours making these podcast videos and posting them out, and they get seen by like 100 people. But I spent five minutes making this video on TikTok and it got like 1500 views. That's disproportionate effort and result. So obviously now I recognize that there's a difference between a YouTube view and a TikTok view. But still, I saw that as an opening. So I'm like, okay, the strategy is now shifting. I'm now going to be a podcast host, but I'm going to be really focusing on generating TikTok content from it. And then that shifted over time to just me standing in front of a camera and recording. And then that shifted over time to me sitting down in front of a professional camera that I bought at a store and then giving that to an editor and then he edits it and then we post it. And that's where we are today.
Stephan Mazokha 28:36
That's really essentially you've been using Gary Vineychuk's advice, which is you produce your podcast, which is your main sort of meat content. You split it up into small pieces, you produce that and you post on short content media that produces your traffic. That goes back to the podcast and possibly to your agency, and that creates a closed loop of traction. That was theory, and it kind of worked, but it kind of later evolutionized, I guess, into solely focus on TikTok. So what would you say your current numbers on TikTok are? We kind of know where they are. I can see the page, but still. So what is your count of, I guess, subscribers, if that's the word, on TikTok? And what are the view counts on average that you expect and what is the conversion, if any, from that to your company's operations?
Max Sher 29:25
It's tricky to quantify that. Last question. I'll start with the first one. So we have about 30,000 followers on TikTok. A good video, like an average video, I guess, gets between 20 and 40,000 views. A bad video gets less than 10,000.
Stephan Mazokha 29:40
Over how long?
Max Sher 29:42
Like in the first two days? Like the first two or three days.
Stephan Mazokha 29:45
Max Sher 29:46
Yeah. Okay. And then unless it's a really big video or some of them that have searchable content, some of those will grow over time, but most of the time they kind of just fizzle out after a few days. Then, like, a really good video is 100,000 or more. For me, that's where I'm at right now. I have probably one or two of those a month. If I have one of those active. So the 100,000 videos, one that lasts for like five days, six days if I have one of those active, then I'll get a lot of leads for my business. I think the nature of TikTok leads is they tend to be lower quality, but every once in a while there's a really good one in there. So actually in terms of sheer meetings booked and leads on my calendar and in my CRM, TikTok's probably the dominant force. But in terms of good sales that come from it and good client relationships, it's a distant third, I'd say.
Stephan Mazokha 30:42
You know, I've had a conversation two days ago with a person who runs Notion agency. They essentially train different kinds of entrepreneurs and really, I guess, solopreneurs to adopt Notion into their pipelines. And he has a very nice utilization of his audience because I believe they have a channel on YouTube with around 50,000 subscribers. So he says that essentially, obviously there is free views that just give you some sort of ad, I'm assuming revenue and partnerships. Then from then on, a deeper dig I guess would be a course that they teach on Notion, which gives them some sort of revenue additionally per year. And then on top of it, if you need some super, super custom, then you go deeper and actually go to their consulting firm and that's when they do tailored and they do retainers and all that good stuff. So what I'm trying to say is perhaps I would assume that a course could be super awesome. Interesting opportunity for you. Three different words that I shouldn't have used because you could have reused some of that audience and attention with a more, I guess, cheap price point entry and still keep them around because you never know, maybe they will need the website in two months from now. Maybe they're going to have some super tailored but they're not sure whether to talk to you. But if you have that attention and you retain them through that some sort of a cheaper kind of content but still paid, you could come back to them later.
Max Sher 32:04
That sounds like a wise approach. I've definitely considered the course thing. One of my team members keeps telling me that I actually have enough stuff recorded already that I could put into a course because it makes so many, but also like our internal trainings that aren't public to the world. Okay, we've got hundreds of videos that I've made teaching my team how to do different design things or different development things. Now our developers are way more talented than me. So I would never say that I'm a development teacher, but things like that. I have a lot of stuff on. If I did a course, it would probably either be in my upwork funnel because I think that's something that people really need. Like when you're just starting out, you really need a proven funnel that's just going to work for your business and how to get it off the ground, how to start getting clients from it, how to scale it that's something awesome. I'm a little nervous to do it because it's kind of still important to us and I don't really want to create a bunch of competition for myself. So that's why I haven't done that one. But that's probably a reason I should do.
Stephan Mazokha 33:02
Mean, think of it this way. What are they going to do? The biggest IP of an agency like yours is really not your process but your count of logos on your website, your face really your brand, because people are going to know Max. People are not going to know some other person. So that being said, you will still be ahead of them in the game, but you would create more opportunities for, I guess, revenue, cash flow, exposure, things like that. As a couple of my friends like to say, extend your surface area of luck.
Max Sher 33:33
What do you think I should charge for?
Stephan Mazokha 33:35
I don't know, maybe $1,000 per course and then let them have it for like a year. And then if I really have challenges, then you can talk and have some ad hoc stuff like $997 per course. That's classic number that they use. Yeah, exactly. And you know what I've actually remember there's this video I watched a couple of weeks ago. I can't remember the name of the guy, but he described this kind of a concept where you start as a freelancer and that sort of lets you learn the game. You grow up to the agency which increases your impact and your cash flow. So let's say from ten k a month you grow to month in terms of revenue. From there you start doing courses. So kind of teach people they want to be like you. Then you get from 100 to maybe a million dollars a year or something. And from then you build your own software and stuff like people like Alex Hermosi and all these people. That's what they kind of do these days. And it seems to work. Right. And it seems realistic. You kind of believe that idea. It's possible as long as you commit enough attention to it and you don't lose in the meantime on one of the first steps.
Max Sher 34:41
Yeah, losing on one of the first steps is a critical easier said than done. But yes.
Stephan Mazokha 34:47
Oh yeah. But I mean, look, you're so close to it because you already have the distribution channel, you have the audience. Usually agencies, they don't really have a channel worth distribution, they just have a few clients. They do well enough to survive. Right. And then that's it. Something happens, either it's life or crisis or some better opportunity and they just give up and say goodbye. Right. That's what there is so much churn with these companies. But in your case you have the personal brand and that's something you cannot just buy. And so in your situation I feel like there will be a very, very lucrative opportunity to scale down that alley. Right. And like, upwork could be one of them, because I know that upwork is pretty hard these days, especially with how much competition is there. So that being said, I'm curious about what are your thoughts in terms of lead gen and in terms of the future of the industry in the next couple of years? Given the crisis around us and the fact that everybody's struggling to get clients.
Max Sher 35:42
I don't know that it's any harder than it's ever been in terms of getting clients. I think people say that a lot.
Max Sher 35:52
I think it's the same game. And if you've been playing it for a long time, this is just a normal cycle of the wave. The one thing that could really shake it up is AI. A lot of the services that we offer as agency owners have a really high chance of being disrupted by these applications that are coming out that are AI based. So that's really the only thing I see. I see lead gen kind of staying the same, maybe getting more expensive. But as it gets more expensive, new channels appear. Hence Clutch. Hence TikTok. These are great examples of lead acquisition channels that maybe weren't as big as they are now, a year ago even. And I think that'll continue to be.
Stephan Mazokha 36:37
The cycle I see. In terms of LMS and AI, what do you think? Is that going to impact? Like, in what way specifically do you think those new inventions will impact the industry in the next couple of years?
Max Sher 36:51
AI-generated web design is really bad still. I test it out like, once every few weeks. The best ones out there right now are probably Framers, and it's pronounced wizard, but it's spelled Uizard. Those are the two that are the closest to viable right now, but I don't think they are. Neither of them have ever produced anything that I would ever recommend anyone publishing that I've seen. I've probably run three dozen tests on each, but we already use it in our platform. So we use AI to speed up our wireframe development process, and then we use AI to generate kind of mood boards out of these UI tools, these automated UI tools. And when I say a mood board, it's the AI attempting to make a website that's good. And then it's like, yeah, that's not really what websites look like. But what does this aesthetic feel like to you? Is this kind of the direction you want your brand to go in?
Stephan Mazokha 37:47
Max Sher 37:47
Okay, cool. All right, sweet. So we'll apply this to the wireframes that we made, and that's kind of like how the pitch goes, what the biggest opportunity is going to be. And the thing that's really going to just blow everything out of the water is when translation from figma to a functioning website is effective. There's already figma to webflow translations out there, but they're slow on the responsive side. They create like, a reasonably good desktop functioning website, but the way that they and I'm not a webflow developer, so this is what webflow developers are telling me. They create a reasonably good desktop version of the site, or mobile, if you give them a mobile first mockup, but then the responsive settings are wacky and the way that it expands and shrinks. Actually having to fix that at the moment takes more time than it would to just do a standard figmented webflow. Like look at it and just two screens, do it by hand. That's not going to be the state forever. That'll be fixed.
Stephan Mazokha 38:48
And what is your strategy for your agency, given the growth of this vector? I mean, I understand that in the short term AI will be just a simple assistant. It will not replace your people, but what do you think your company would look like in the next five years?
Max Sher 39:01
Nothing's going to mean things are going to change, but nothing's going to change in terms of our strategy. So we're going to use new tools as they become available, which we're doing. I think at the moment we are using these AI web design tools as much as they can be used in a practical context. We will continue at that trajectory as they get better. We will need fewer people per project. As I mentioned to you in the beginning of this interview, my strategy as the owner is I need to continue to do client acquisition as much as possible. That isn't changing. I need to continue to bring in more and more clients and it's now going to take fewer people to service the same number of clients. That sounds like a win to me. I'm happy that AI is coming. It's going to be great eventually. Is it going to get to the point where clients can go input their web design idea into I think it's like Wix is one of the ones that's coming out soon where you can just type in what you want and spit it out. Absolutely. At the end of the day, though, I think that's still going to be an entry level website that you get, and that's not who I serve anyway, so I'm not particularly worried about it. 510 years down the line, what do I see happening? It's going to be dramatically different. The tools are going to be substantially better. Marketing departments of substantial businesses will be able to generate their own websites without the need of an agency. And then at that point, our strategy will need to shift to something where we're more of a strategic advisor or a consultant or something like that. If there's still a way we can provide value. If there isn't, we won't exist as a company. But if there is, then we will.
Stephan Mazokha 40:26
And I think that's a very important point to keep in mind because a lot of times I speak with agency founders and I've conducted at this point more than 30 interviews since the time we spoke previously and it's actually been very exciting to ask these questions of founders. And most of the times, the conclusion that I make after this kind of a call is that the agency that succeeds, that is able to charge reasonable pricing for its services and validate the cost for the client, is not the one that provides the raw scale of, let's say, webflow development or building a website or designing something, but really an orchestrator that is able to make the decision for the actual client. So think of a marketing fractional marketing person, or a fractional CTO, or literally just a dedicated team that handles this vector of the business that is non mandatory to have inside of your team for you. And so this way your job is really, like you said, lead gen and it's orchestration. And the means to execute is really secondary because that's what you can hire anywhere else. The question is about how to make the right decisions and how to steer the project in the right direction. And that's what costs the money. What is your personalized strategy not to burn out?
Max Sher 41:42
Burnout doesn't really worry me personally. Like, if I am a little overworked, I just stop for a second. Luckily I've got a really good team. I've got a COO who manages the day to day operations. My role at the moment is primarily just like big strategic decisions. Like for example, how are we going to use AI in our operations? Or how are we going to segment this department into two different departments, things like that and sales. Those are my two roles. I don't feel close to burnout. Frankly. At times in my career I have sometimes things are tough. There are ups and downs in business and the downs are really tough. But I think the first few downs were really hard. But now that I have the larger context of this is normal, I feel like this like once a year or once every nine months and in two months I won't feel this way anymore. And then I'll have another seven months of up and knowing that, I think, is really all I need to get through it. And then also just like, I take a day off if I feel like crap.
Stephan Mazokha 42:51
It's a bit of a luxury for some people, I think, in the industries that are starting because they don't have that kind of delegation capacity. That being said, how did you learn to delegate and what were your challenges throughout the way?
Max Sher 43:04
I think based on our earlier conversation, you'd probably call it micromanaging. But really what I do is I write pretty detailed processes of what I want to be done right. So website launches are a really good example. They're really time consuming. They take like 3 hours to do the actual website launching process. If you're doing it, if you're doing it properly. But it's done the same exact way every single time. So what do I do? I open up Process Street. I make a checklist of all the different steps that I go through every time, and okay, are we managing the client's DNS? Yes or no? Yes. Okay, then these steps. So it really is kind of like a conditional logic based process that people go through, and I never have to do it again, so I do it once. I video myself doing it, I write out all the steps and the conditional branches, and then I make that into a process and I just give it to someone. At the start, that was how I delegated. I delegated, like, on a task basis. Then as things got bigger, I took the people who were the best that I really relied on the most, and I promoted them to manage other people doing the same thing. So now we took one of our designers, Leah, and we said, okay, Leah, you're now in charge of managing all the designers because you know exactly what I want. I don't need to tell you how to do anything. I just say, okay, Leah, this is kind of like what the client wants. Like, here's a loom video of my understanding of the goals for the project. Spin up some wireframes that'll achieve this, and I just know she's going to do it. I don't even look at them before the first call. So starting with task basis and then building up the one exception to that is when I had to hire a COO, there was no one in the company who wanted to be our had to I had to go find someone. And that was a real challenge for me, is finding someone who can really run this whole thing. So I just found someone who used to run an agency like mine and decided he didn't want to deal with it anymore. And now we have Gert.
Stephan Mazokha 44:56
How do you convince someone to work on such a basis? And how do you negotiate the revenue sharing model with them?
Max Sher 45:03
It was something we kind of discovered over. So, like, I had a theory when we first started, like, oh, you'll get X percentage of gross profit plus this base. And he's like, yeah, that looks like it'll work. And then we have, like, a bad month, for example, and he's like, I actually can't afford to live on this. I'm like, okay, so we probably need to fix the structure a little bit. So we just have, like I think the solution to pretty much every problem in business comes down to communication. It's like, let's have an honest conversation about what's working and what's not working. And from there, we can put our heads together and find an equation that gives us the numbers that we need to be comfortable in the way that we live.
Stephan Mazokha 45:36
So given all of this, let's say you were not to have this company right now, and you were to start tomorrow, what would be your bullet point list for the first three months of work, and how would you devote your time and focus your time?
Max Sher 45:51
That's a really good question. So, like, if I was going to start a company, the answer is don't start a company. Yeah, you're probably right. Put the money that you would have spent in buying a company into a passive asset. I don't know.
Stephan Mazokha 46:08
Can you even do that? I don't think you can. Again, back to the original point. You can because it's a brand of some other person you can't really buy.
Max Sher 46:15
That maybe depends. I feel like there are businesses you can buy, businesses that have an acquisition strategy that aren't tied to the like, I could buy a Laundromat tomorrow and doesn't matter whose face is on.
Stephan Mazokha 46:27
Max Sher 46:28
Yeah, I think boring businesses. Do you follow Cody Sanchez? Sorry, we're getting off track.
Stephan Mazokha 46:33
No, no, I should follow him, probably. Okay.
Max Sher 46:36
Her. Yeah, she's she's pretty killer. Okay, so the answer to your I if I were to start an agency from scratch and, you know, my first three months, what would I try to do? First thing I would do is decide on one service. I don't want to be all things to all people. That was a mistake I made early on in my career, and I won't make it again. Pick one service and pick one niche. Another mistake that I made, probably am still making with this business is we don't have a defined niche that we go after. I know our best clients tend to be B, two B companies, but we work with anybody who comes through the.
Stephan Mazokha 47:10
Door just because that's still too wide, though. It's B. Two B is still like you need to have even more thing deeper.
Max Sher 47:15
Yes. I think we'd have grown a lot faster if we had chosen a specific niche. So if I could go back and rewrite the story, that's one decision I would do differently. So pick one service, pick one niche, and then pick one acquisition channel. So I probably sound like I'm reciting an Alex Hormone video, but really these have been the findings that I found. Starting with upwork, for me, was such a good move, I was able to just bring in a consistent flow of leads, and that allowed me to fuel everything else. I don't know if upwork's the best channel, but it's the one that worked for me, so I'd probably do that again, and that's it. I think from there, you can grow to, like, a six figure business with just that. I don't think you can get there in three months, but I think you could probably get there in eight.
Stephan Mazokha 48:04
Max Sher 48:05
Yeah, I think I could.
Stephan Mazokha 48:06
Do you want to make a bet and create new company and do it in eight months?
Max Sher 48:10
I think I could start an agency and get it to six figures in eight months. Yeah.
Stephan Mazokha 48:13
This reminds me of Mr. Beast's video a couple of months ago, I think with Colin SME or something. He said, I don't care if I wake up tomorrow without my channels, I'm fine. I know the strategy and I know how to get to, whatever, a million subscribers in a year, no problem. Even faster.
Max Sher 48:28
That's crazy. To me, that sounds impossible, but I know that what I just said sounds impossible to some people too, so yeah, it does.
Stephan Mazokha 48:35
And I would say that even in his example, I think it's a really good one because I remember an interview that his manager gave a couple of months earlier too, and he said that Mr. Beast used to be jimmy used to be so obsessed about thumbnails and the right title. Nobody did it at the time, and I think that helped him to attract so much audience that nobody else was just thinking about. And now looking at his video, it was the right strategy. So perhaps you have those tricks that really don't seem important, but you just know that there is together amalgamation that makes the impact that you need. Like, who would have thought that posting stuff on TikTok could bring you company leads?
Max Sher 49:16
Gary Vaynerchuk. Oh yeah, that's where I got it.
Stephan Mazokha 49:21
Yeah, the guy's a goat, that's for sure. So who are you looking up to, given that you already mentioned a couple of names?
Max Sher 49:29
Alex Ormozi? Absolutely. Do you know who Ryan Panetta is? He's a bit of a killer. He's in very different industry than mine. I was really lucky that he was one of my first clients before he had any following or before I did. And while we don't work together anymore on projects, I still look up to him and I watch what his businesses do. And I really admire what I learned from watching what he does. His content's also great. Those are probably the two biggest ones. I admire a lot of content creators and how they've built. So there's a guy named Bran Segal who runs an agency called Flux out of Tel Aviv. I believe his content for his agency is excellent. He's built a really great course, which I haven't taken, but I've heard really good things about. So he's a webflow guy, so I respect him a lot. There's another guy, I don't want to get his name wrong. I think it's John Saunders. He's got a really good agency as well. I respect him a lot.
Max Sher 50:38
Who am I looking up to? I respect a lot the agencies that have kind of a done with you approach. So there's this lead generation agency called Closers IO that I work with. I really respect their approach and I admire the way that I think the guy's name is Cole Gordon. The way that he structured that agency has been really good. I think those are probably my big ones. Oh, and she just I haven't followed any of her advice yet. I only have one company, really, but it's pretty sweet and it makes me want to be a business buyer.
Stephan Mazokha 51:17
Have you ever heard about productized services niche?
Max Sher 51:21
Tell me about it.
Stephan Mazokha 51:23
So essentially the idea is that you still conduct your services, let's say, of design, of development, and instead of charging per project, it's essentially a subscription. And the only trick is that you have an unlimited queue of requests that a client can make to you, but you can only have one queue request at a time that you work on, and until it gets finalized and approved, you don't move to something else.
Max Sher 51:46
I love this business model. I've never heard it called that, but that is an excellent business model. I respect it so much. The big names that I know in it are Design, Pickle and Buzzcube. I just made a TikTok video about this. It's not published yet. There's this one agency right now and it's called an agency, but I'll come back to that. It's called designjoy. This would be a really interesting person for you to speak with. I know you know design joy.
Stephan Mazokha 52:12
I've seen his video.
Max Sher 52:13
Yeah, crazy. I haven't seen his video. One of my employees found his website and sent it to me. Insane. They're charging like 8000 a month for just design subscriptions. And I'm just imagining, imagine as a freelancer, instead of going and bidding on all these projects, you just get one $8,000 a month design subscription and you've got your life, like, covered, your basics are covered. And now you just get a second one and then a third one. And it's an agency of one. It's one person. That's 100% profit.
Stephan Mazokha 52:43
He's made a video interview with a YouTuber. I can't remember his name. So there is a trick to that. The trick is that first of all, he started much lower. He actually launched a product hunt out of all places. Yeah, he launched a product hunt, but now he says, like, based on that interview, he says, don't do it because most of the times they're not going to let you because they're going to think you're a copycat. But he launched that way and that was his way to get some traction. But the challenge, he says, is that there is still quite a lot of churn. So obviously bigger clients will stick with you because they just have the money to spend. But if you're working with a startup, they can still sort of get rid of you. So one client is risky, but it's really cool. And to this day, it's hard for me to believe that you can still sort of let yourself to charge people that kind of money and not do enough work with them. It's still a switch in my head that some people value their time to the point where it is okay to charge, whatever, three, four, $500 an hour or something. If you were to count the amount of hours versus how much they pay for the same service. And also, I think there are tricks to that as well. Like, if you subscribe, you can stop at any time and you can come back and resume, but you don't get a money back. So you've spent two weeks, so you've spent 4K, whatever, and then you can pause it and come back in six months and get those four k and still use them.
Max Sher 54:08
Brilliant. It's absolutely brilliant.
Stephan Mazokha 54:10
It is brilliant.
Max Sher 54:10
We experimented with something like it and I think we eventually will release a service like that. We've beta tested it with a few clients we still need to figure out and fine tune it a little bit, but it definitely looks promising.
Stephan Mazokha 54:27
Yeah, that's a really cool conversation we've had, man. Thank you so much for your time.
Max Sher 54:31
Yeah, thank you. They're great questions. You yes, it does.