In 2007, after nearly a decade of experience in numbers-focused direct-response marketing, Matt Weber used a business broker to buy a small jack-of-all trades agency that provided sales training, traditional media marketing, and a small bit of web development. Over time, that agency became ROAR! Internet Marketing, where Matt is now President. The agency’s forte today? Measurable actions.
In this interview, Matt explains what a buyer can expect from a business broker, how to select one, broker limitations, and a broker’s role in facilitating business acquisitions. He warns that it will be challenging to evaluate transactional opportunities in the next few months. But, he also expects to see a lot of merger and acquisition activity as companies adjust to the COVID-impacted business environment. Matt’s general tips? Agencies will need to be more aware of costs now, “throttle back” on anticipatory hiring, , and eliminate “tool bloat” (buying multiple tools with the same functionality).
Matt is no stranger to change. In 2007, websites were little more than glorified brochures. Matt shed virtually everything of the original business, rebranded it, and focused heavily on digital marketing conversions and direct response. Early on, 85-90% of the agency’s revenues came from web development.
Today, 80% of his agency’s revenues come from recurring digital marketing services, primarily for three verticals: elective medical (almost recession-proof), recurring-business home services (need-based), and manufacturing (which has a completely different cycle than consumer-based marketing). Matt says, when you focus your efforts on a limited number of verticals, you “leverage your success more effectively,” and follows that with the comment: “Diluted focus yields diluted results.”
Matt has created a free tool, Smylelytics.com, which he compares to a car’s “check engine” light. (It won’t tell you what is wrong, but it will tell you when to take a look.) Twice a month, Smylelytics evaluates a company’s Google Analytics, translates the information into memorable, themed photographs, and emails the company with the (good/neutral/bad) “news.”
Matt serves as a national trainer for the Grow with Google program, where he presents small- to medium-sized businesses with a one-day class that covers Google My Business, Google Analytics, and Google Data Studio tools. He also speaks at conferences, frequently on the topic of, “5 Things Your Website Is Trying to Tell You but You’re Afraid to Ask.” Here, he provides a brief overview of those 5 things:
Mayt is available on his agency’s website at: RoarontheWeb.com or on Twitter @BestWebDesignFL.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Matt Weber, President at ROAR! Internet Marketing based in Altamonte Springs, Florida just outside of Orlando. Welcome to the podcast, Matt.
MATT: Thank you. Great to be here. Been looking forward to this for some time.
ROB: Excellent to have you here. I’ve been looking forward to this as well, especially with some of the interesting nuances of your own history and background. Why don’t you kick us off, though, by telling us about ROAR! Internet Marketing and what the company specializes in?
MATT: Our real specialty is conversions. We’ve been around since 2007, and back then we started lead tracking, lead recording, and a focus on measurable results. That came from my background in direct marketing. I did direct mail. I did nearly a decade of direct response marketing where if you couldn’t measure it, you didn’t do it. Back in 2007, that’s not what websites were. In 2007, websites were kind of glorified brochures, and nobody was really talking about conversions and goals and tracking things.
That was our entrée into the marketplace, and we were really one of the pioneers in that area. We’ve continued to evolve that – to the point, though, where we’ve gotten a little bit less into web design and more into digital marketing. When we started the agency, 85-90% of our revenue was web development, and now 80% of our revenue is recurring digital marketing services. So our forte is measurable actions.
ROB: Who were some of the first sorts of clients that were really open to thinking about their website as less of a brochure and more of a destination and opportunity to actually get action? I think some people were willing to spend more money on expensive brochures for a while, but who started turning that corner to thinking more progressively about their websites?
MATT: Elective medical. Cosmetic surgeons, LASIK, cosmetic dermatologists. They came into 2007 with a fairly refined understanding of how much a new patient is worth, and they had some sensitivity to cost per lead. So that’s where we get our start, and that was the segment that was most receptive to our messaging, followed by home services. They were also receptive to that because they were prolific direct mailers. So, they did receive that message well, and we’re still in those two verticals today.
ROB: That makes sense. Certainly, a lot of elective medical can potentially be fairly large tickets, fairly decent margins, and probably also so on the home services side. Was it larger project stuff, or were you also finding things even down to emergency plumbers?
MATT: More things that had a recurring value – your pest control company where it was an average lifetime value rather than a transaction value. They got it pretty quickly. Let’s say you engage with a pest control company; you’re going to typically stay with them for 2+ years at $70 a month or $80 a month. Those companies understand lifetime value as opposed to transaction value, so this worked well for them.
ROB: That’s a great line of thinking, especially to find your way into some of those good long-term customer lifetime value – not so much restaurants and that sort of thing.
You started in 2007. You started at perhaps an inopportune time, much as anyone who started a business last year may feel right now amidst this coronavirus crisis/shift/recession, whatever we wish to call it. How did those next couple of years going through that financial crisis with the business change your thinking, and how is it shaping how you think about the virus era and post-virus era that we are in and heading into?
MATT: I want to answer the second part of that question first because we have always run our business imagining that we were always in the worst of times – because we were, in 2007-2008 and early 2009. We were in times where we were watching this deposit so that we could make this payment. We were running checks to the bank and then saying, “Okay, now we can make this payment.” Everything was almost on a minute by minute basis.
We never forgot that. I think it’s a lot like people listening who might have grandparents or great-grandparents from the Depression era and how that affected their spending all the way up until their late life. That happened to us and a lot of businesses, so we always managed the company as if times weren’t great. That’s helped now. We’re in a stronger financial position, we’re a financially strong company, and a lot of that is the attitudes that 2007 and 2008 brought with us.
ROB: How much of that comes naturally for you? I think any entrepreneur, and especially in the marketing and agency world, one of the first questions you’re asked when you meet anybody is “How many people do you have?” It’s this tempting ego number to hire a little bit ahead of need. Probably throttling back on that along the way, was that a natural thing for you? Or was it an acquired discipline?
MATT: It’s an acquired discipline. You brought up a great one: labor. I think a lot of agencies do hire before the need.
Another one is tools. I run into a lot of agency owners that have six or seven or eight different tools that duplicate functionality. These tools reshape themselves, they come out with something new, so the agency buys a subscription to this one without canceling the subscription to that one, and all of a sudden they’ve got what I call “tool bloat.” They’ve got subscriptions to a bunch of different things they didn’t even know they were subscribing to.
That happens as well. Being mindful of that I think is a result of the 2007, 2008, and 2009 experience, where we track everything we spend on a recurring basis, what we’ve committed to, and we’re very cautious about our labor expenses.
ROB: How do you manage those labor expenses when you do start to get close to the margin? I think we’ve all had that experience where we have a little bit more work than we can do or maybe a lot more work than we have capacity to do. How do you think through some of those inflection points?
MATT: We’ve got quite a few spreadsheets and calculations that we do behind the scenes, and there’s a premise behind it, and that is: we don’t want to be that agency that hires up, loses an account, and lays off. We mathematically figure out not only what the point is when we need to hire somebody, but what’s above that so that if we lost anything, we don’t want to lay off.
I’m happy to say that since 2007, we have never laid off a single employee because we’ve lost an account. We’ve eliminated a position because the scope of work changed, but we’ve never eliminated a position because we’ve lost a client.
Now, when we go to hire people, yes, people are looking for money, absolutely. But at some level, they’re looking for stability. A little bit lesser so today than maybe 6 years ago, but we get to tell those people, “This is our philosophy. We don’t want to hire up and lay down. That’s not who we are. We want to build a team, a coherent team, and we want to build for retention.”
We’ve been very fortunate in that. We’ve got folks that have been with us for 10 years, 8 years, 7 years, and it’s because of that philosophy. They know underneath it all, we’re trying to build something progressively stable.
ROB: That’s insightful. One thing that goes along with that dynamic you discuss of losing an account and laying people off is also revenue concentration. Some agencies can be anywhere between let’s say 30% and 70% all-in with one client. How do you think about revenue concentration? Is it something you try and manage, or is it something you just deal with and manage around?
MATT: We definitely try to manage to it. In fact, we not only manage revenue concentration within a client, but we try to manage revenue concentration within a vertical. Our three verticals are elective medical, home services, and manufacturing. Those were chosen because elective medical is almost recession-proof. In fact, a couple of our cosmetic surgeon clients had some of their best years in 2007 and 2008, surprisingly. Home services are need-based, so it’s hard for a consumer to give up let’s say their pest control company, as an example. Then manufacturing has a completely different cycle than some of the consumer-based marketing that we do.
So, we not only look at revenue concentration per client, we look at it per vertical. We don’t want to be heavily invested into any one of those three verticals.
ROB: Really interesting, and makes a ton of sense. Matt, how did you get into this business in the first place? What led you to move from whatever you were doing before to starting ROAR?
MATT: I was working for the broadcast industry. That’s where I grew up. I spent 15+ years in the broadcast industry. Then I worked for an exciting and fast-paced direct response marketing company, and I was in a job that was very challenging. A lot of travel, a lot of 65+-hour weeks. My wife at the time also was in a very challenging position, and our daughter was about two years from graduating high school.
We looked around and said, “What does life look like after our daughter leaves the house?” We came to the conclusion that if you are going to kill yourself for somebody, why not kill yourself for yourself? So, we went on this process of buying a business.
Interestingly enough, we ran into a business that at the time – and this is early 2007 – was a high-end luxury home theater business. I was going through the financials and going through the business, and it was owned by a gentleman who was an extremely smart engineer, and he had a great business from a technology standpoint, from an execution standpoint – but he was a horrible marketer. I thought, “Ah, this is for me because that’s my strength. I’m a great marketer.”
I was just about to put pen on a contract to buy that business, and our business broker called and said, “Hey, there’s another thing out there. Why don’t you take a look at it? It’s an advertising business.” Of course, business brokers call everything an advertising business. So we went and looked at it, and it was a guy who had started this small shop that did a little bit of everything – it did sales training, did traditional media, and it did, back in 2007, a little bit of web development.
We looked at 2007 and we said the future is digital, the future is web, the future is not traditional, and the future certainly wasn’t sales training to us. So, we bought that company in early 2007 and began to morph it. We got rid of its traditional market offerings, got rid of the sales training, rebranded it, and got heavily invested into conversions and the direct response portion of digital marketing. And that’s how we got into it.
ROB: I think a lot of people may not be familiar with working with a business broker. Is that something you had done before? Is that something you would do again? Maybe in this season there’s other businesses that would be worth acquiring?
MATT: I think so. You’re right, I think we’re about to enter an interesting time for merger activity and acquisition activity.
I do think a business broker is a time saver. It doesn’t give you a pass on doing your own homework because business brokers can never be an expert in your line of work. In the acquisition opportunities that we’ve evaluated since then, that is very apparent. They don’t know the metrics to ask and they don’t know how to peel back the onions of the financials to look for what really is a healthy agency.
But they do save time. In fact, a lot of agencies that might be for sale – how do you find out about them? It’s not like you can drive by and they’re going to put a “for sale” sign on the outside of the building. The only way you might be able to find out about them is if they’re represented by a business broker. So, I do think if you’re looking to acquire something in the coming months and years, definitely find a business broker that you can trust and build a rapport with.
I think it’s a little bit like buying and selling a home. You have to have a rapport with your real estate agent, and that real estate agent needs to have some level of expertise. You wouldn’t engage with a real estate agent who doesn’t really know the neighborhood that you’re buying in, and you might not do the same thing with the business broker. Don’t engage somebody who doesn’t have at least some high level awareness of the type of business that you’re looking at.
But they are not going to be the expert, and you’re going to need to bring a fair amount of analytical power to the evaluation of any potential transaction.
ROB: That’s a very timely insight, I think. For someone who hasn’t worked with a business broker before, I think a lot of times when you generally talk about acquiring or selling an agency, quite often they’re revenue and retention financed.
How does that dynamic work with a business broker? Is it similar, where there’s an earn-out and payback period? Or is it a little bit more of a buyout and transaction since there is a middleman in there who isn’t involved at all in retaining clients the way you might be doing if you were acquiring an agency more directly?
MATT: Yeah, brokers aren’t really keen on the whole earn-out scenario. [laughs] But they’re going to attach a value to the transaction regardless of how that transaction is funded, ultimately. So, the broker is going to seek its commission based on what that topline value is, and it’s going to be paid at the beginning portion of that transaction. If the transaction takes years to complete, the broker will get his money upfront.
ROB: So, the rest of the transaction, are you then able to still revenue finance it and set those terms directly with the owner?
MATT: Yeah, and that’s part of the negotiation. I think we’re going to see changes in that upcoming. I think that we’re going to see some vulnerabilities for shops that are heavily invested in these segments that we just talked about. If you’re running a digital agency and 80% of your revenue is coming from restaurants right now, I sympathize with you. You’re in a tough spot. If 80% of your revenue is coming from travel and tourism, I empathize with you. You’re in a tough spot.
So, what is that owner going to do? Maybe that’s an agency where that owner says, “You know what? Maybe it’s time for me to look at other things.” You have to then bring in the power of where that revenue came from, what it could be, and could you potentially help diversify that revenue? It’s going to be a challenging time in the next few months to evaluate transactional opportunities.
ROB: Going back to the start of the business for you – you talked about how you’ve navigated a previous financial crisis, but I think another thing you’ve navigated is in 2007, as you mentioned, websites were essentially glorified brochures, and social media was in an infancy if at all. LinkedIn I think was around, and Facebook I think was around for college kids.
As additional marketing channels have come online and become viable, how have you navigated the process of when this is relevant to someone in manufacturing, when it’s relevant to someone in elective medical, or when it’s time to sit on it and tell them to take a back burner and maybe it’s not time to put their business on TikTok?
MATT: Great question, and this is where analytics comes in. This is why it’s such an exciting time to be a small or medium sized business owner. If you think about where it was to be a business owner in the early 2000s – and way before that – the data was in the hands of agencies, and the data was in the hands of media outlets. You really couldn’t answer that question that you just asked with clarity.
But now the data is in the business owner’s hands. The paradigm has changed. It’s not a matter of speculating whether TikTok is of value or whether Facebook is of value. It’s a matter of making sure you have the measurements setup in place and answering that question objectively.
We have this conversation a lot. You’ve got a lot of companies that are way too heavily invested into social media because they thought it was cool, because it was the thing to do and everybody was writing a blog article on how you have to use Facebook 5 years ago. But then when you got into the numbers and you broke down the facts, a lot of folks weren’t getting the ROI off of that investment they made into social media, and they were overly prioritizing it.
So, the answer to your question is you’ve got to have the analytics and you’ve got to get the data set up, which has grown so much since 2007. Now everybody has the key to unlock the answer to that question with clarity.
ROB: Very, very interesting. It makes sense, too. Data-driven decisions help here, especially when you have these transaction/conversion focused clients who know what a lead is. It’s always easier to have an objective discussion around that.
Now, if you rewind and if you were going to do this whole ROAR! Internet Marketing thing over again from scratch, what are some of the things you would consider doing differently if you were starting over?
MATT: The biggest thing I would do differently is we were way too late to get into the game of specializing in the three verticals that we’ve chosen now. We at one time were proud of the fact that our portfolio contained everything from A to Z, and we would look at the world and go, “The world’s our oyster! Everybody’s a great prospect!” Ultimately that turned out to frustrate our salespeople. It sounded good, but it really wasn’t a smart thing to do.
When you focus your efforts on a limited number of verticals, all of a sudden you prospect better, and the biggest thing that you do differently is leverage your success more effectively. When you look at any particular business that knocks on your door as a prospect, you typically may not have a great story to tell them of what you’ve done in the past. When you narrow your focus and somebody knocks on your door in one of those verticals, you’re very confident that you have a success story to share with them, and that becomes compelling.
So that’s absolutely the one thing that I would do differently faster. I would focus faster.
ROB: There’s so many interesting levels of discipline in here, because I think some people get into the entrepreneurial world and they think about the excitement, they think about the risk-taking, and I think they think about that correlating highly with running a successful business.
It sounds to me, if we peel back the DNA here a little bit, it sounds like you have built in habits that lead to running a healthy and successful business that is good for your team, that gives margin to invest in them, and candidly – at least, a lot of people I know who have this sort of habit – it’s actually better for their personal bottom line than having a bunch of employees and an infinite number of lines of business. How have you thought about the difference between a healthy business and the ego around it?
MATT: I think running a business sometimes is kind of like the Olympics. For most folks, you have to specialize in a particular event and do well in it, but there are those rare individuals that can participate in the decathlon and be good at 10 events.
I found out that I’m not one of those people. I need to focus on a particular specialty. So that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’ve tried to focus on being a fantastic digital agency that produces results and tried to attract employees that share that singular vision. We’re not thinking about this exciting app that we could do next week, and then we’ve got this idea for this other app that we could build the month after that. Not that we haven’t tried to expand beyond our range; we have. But it’s been cautious and it’s been measured.
I had a former boss tell me one time, and it sticks with me for a long time, that diluted focus yields diluted results, and that is something that I continue to live by. I’m very conscious of where our mental time and attention goes. If our mental time and attention gets diluted, we see it. We see it show up in the numbers that we track. Sometimes it’s my role as the president to bring us back and make sure that we’re focusing.
ROB: Matt, outside of ROAR, you have a couple of other interesting things that you shared, and probably some other interesting new hobbies amidst this pandemic. Among some of the professional things that you do, interestingly, when people are traveling, you go on the road and speak with Google, actually. What do you share about, and how did that come to pass in the first place?
MATT: Yes, I’m a national trainer for the Grow with Google program. About 10 years ago, a call came into the office and our office manager answered it and she said, “Hey Matt, Google is on the phone for you.” I said, “Sure they are.” There’s all these people masquerading as Google. But I pick up the phone, and indeed, it’s Google.
On our website at the time, we had some videos that were called “60 Seconds to a Better Business Website.” We did this series about helping small and medium sized business owners get better results from their website, and they somehow found it. They saw I’m in the video, and they said, “Hey, we’d like you to come to Atlanta and audition for this program to be a trainer.”
At the time, the program was called Get Your Business Online (GYBO). So I went to Atlanta, I auditioned, and I got the job. For the next 3 years, I traveled all over the country for them, teaching Google content.
They disbanded the program, and then about 2 years ago they brought it back under a different name, GWG (Grow with Google). A little bit different content. So, they host these events all throughout the country. They’re typically a day long, and in that day of presentation where they invite small and medium sized businesses, they’ll do a class on Google My Business, they’ll do a class on Google Analytics, they’ll do a class on the Google Data Studio tools.
I’m one of the people – there’s 13 of us – that teaches those classes. All totaled, I’ve gone to 37 different states teaching for Google and teaching those classes, and it’s been a blast. It’s been a real blast.
ROB: That’s a really good credential. It’s a good tip of the hat to what you know and the business you’ve built. Specifically, you’ve presented on “5 Things Your Website Is Trying to Tell You,” I believe you said that you’re afraid to ask. What is our website trying to tell us that we’re scared of?
MATT: this is a program that I do outside the Google confines for a lot of conferences and trade events. It’s called “5 Things Your Website Is Trying to Tell You but You’re Afraid to Ask.” Real quickly, the five things:
Number one, it’s trying to tell you whether it feels confident selling your business. Ultimately, your website is just a salesperson. That’s all it is. Just like you would measure the effectiveness of a salesperson – how many leads did they turn into sales? – you really need to be doing the same thing for your website. It’s going to tell you whether it feels like it’s doing a good job at that.
The second thing it’s going to do is it’ll tell you how to prioritize your time if you let it. We’re all investing in these different marketing activities, and if you look at your analytics, they’re going to tell you which ones are paying off and which ones are not. We really need to focus. Unless you’ve got an unlimited budget and unlimited time, you’ve got to stop doing maybe your organic efforts because your paid is so much more profitable, or vice versa, stop doing your social because your organic is – but if you’ve got limited time and budget, you’ve got to focus. Your website will tell you how.
The third thing that your website will tell you if you let it is, are you making a good first impression? One thing that’s never changed is that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and that’s true everywhere, and it’s true with websites. If you look at your landing page report, it’ll tell you what first-time visitors due when they come to your website for the first time. It may not be making a great first impression, and that could be costing you money.
The fourth thing your website is trying to tell you is who likes you best. It’s 2020. We don’t market to everybody anymore. That’s ridiculous. Let’s shave that down and we’ll find that women are more receptive to our message than men, or 35 to 54s are more receptive to our message than 18 to 24s, or we’ll find out that people in the city are more receptive to our message than outside of the city. Whatever that pattern is – there’s always a pattern – somebody likes you best. Let’s spend our time and energy talking to them rather than trying to convince the whole world that they should buy our product or service.
The last thing that your website is trying to tell you is some of your food is not very good. It’s trying to tell you that some of your pages are just flat-out repelling people. If you imagine being a restaurant owner for a second, and every single time you put down a particular dish on a table – every time – people looked at the dish and they got up from the table and walked out of the restaurant – imagine that happened to you. Ultimately, what would you do pretty quickly? Stop serving the dish, right?
If you think about websites, you know what we’re all doing? We’re still serving the dish. Because we do have a page that you can look at the statistics and go, oh, people look at that page and go, “Ugh!” and they get up and leave. If you look at your exit page report, you’ll see what pages that’s happening, and you’ve got to cure that because if you don’t, then you’re just like that restaurant owner who’s continually serving that dish that’s forcing people to walk out the door.
So those are five things that your website is trying to tell you, but you’re afraid to ask.
ROB: I can definitely see why a lot of us would stick our head in the sand on that and try to do the thing we do every day rather than looking in the mirror and actually thinking about the data on our website and the page that everybody bounces from. It’s straightforward, but I think we all certainly need that reminder.
One other thing in your background I can’t pass up and I have to ask about is Smylelytics. That’s just a fun, catchy name, but what is Smylelytics that you have created?
MATT: I’ve met a lot of small and medium sized business owners, and I talk to them about data like you and I are talking about right now, and they nod their head politely – and yet even my own clients, who I try to make data a little bit more accessible and enticing to them, they’ve got busier things to do, frankly. A lot of my clients are owner/operators. They’re running the business, they own the business.
So, I thought, how do I get this treasure trove of data that can be fundamentally business-changing to them in a way that they want to look at it? What Smylelytics does is takes your Google Analytics data and translates it into memorable photographs. So you can go to Smylelytics and you can pick a photo set – maybe you like sailing; there’s a sailing set. Maybe you like dogs; there’s a dog set. Maybe you’re into cute babies; there’s a cute baby set.
You pick that, and then Smylelytics is going to send you an email twice a month, and it’s basically going to turn your analytics data into red, yellow, green. Super simple. If things are going well for your amount of visitors, then you’re going to get a happy baby face if you selected the baby. If things aren’t going well, then you’re going to get a sad baby.
You don’t have to think about it, you’re not worried about charts, you’re not worried about graphs, you’re not worried about formulas, you don’t have to dig your way through the weeds of Google Analytics. In a nanosecond, you can get the Smylelytics email, which comes out twice a month, and you can instantly know, “Hey, things are going well / things are going not so well.”
It’s kind of designed to be like the check engine light on the car. The check engine light doesn’t tell you anything. It just tells you that you should go talk to somebody. That’s what Smylelytics is designed to do: give you the confidence that everything’s going okay, fantastic. If it’s not, you know it, and whoever that trusted resource is in your life, then you ought to tell them, “Hey, we should look into this.” Maybe it’s nothing. Just like that check engine light, sometimes it’s something significant, sometimes it’s not. But you should pay attention to the check engine light, and that’s what Smylelytics does.
ROB: The way you describe it – we can’t tell because we’re on a podcast, but it does make me simple. Is that a paid tool? Is that a free tool?
MATT: It’s absolutely free.
ROB: Great. We’ll get that in the show notes as well. It’s Smylelytics.com, is that right?
ROB: Excellent. Matt, when people want to track you down and want to find out more about you and ROAR! Internet Marketing, where should they go to find you?
MATT: We are RoarontheWeb.com. That’s where you can find ROAR! Internet Marketing. And on Twitter, I am @BestWebDesignFL.
ROB: Legit. You can tell you started up in an SEO environment. That’s so important to this day, amongst all the other things you’ve learned along the way. Thank you so much for joining us, Matt. I think you’ve had a lot to share that’s really helpful, and we can all bring a smile to our faces and websites in this time.
MATT: Great. Enjoyed talking to you.
ROB: Thanks so much, Matt.
MATT: Bye bye.
ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email email@example.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.