Building a strategy led design agency – An interview with Sean Tambagahan

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Design that’s based on aesthetics can be very subjective and open to the whims of personal preference, however when you focus on solving business challenges with design, you get better results. That’s where Brand Strategy comes into play.

In this episode Ian interviews Sean Tambagahan, the founder and CEO of Butler Branding – a strategy led design agency to learn how he built his business, what a brand strategy session looks like, how he increased his prices 10x, grew his team and more.

 

The Logo Geek Podcast is Sponsored by Freshbooks

Resources & Books Mentioned

 

 

Sean Tambagahan Interview Transcription

 

Ian Paget: Here today, you’re CEO and strategist for Butler Branding, can you talk about your life prior to starting a business?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah, so I started Butler in 2012 and it was really out of necessity. When it comes to my training and schooling, it was really the school of hard knocks in the university of YouTube and Google. Never had any kind of formal training. Never went to college. Never had the desire to do any of that, actually. I was a terrible student in high school. The idea of college was just so daunting to me, that I didn’t want to choose the wrong career path and then change it in the middle of college. I just was paralysed and didn’t do anything. It was just by happenstance, really. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Definitely didn’t know I wanted to be a CEO of a branding agency, marketing agency.

But I did know from an early age that I wanted to own and run my own business. Really from the time I was 16, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. My dad is an immigrant from the Philippines. My mom, she started her business when she was 18. My dad, when he came here to America, he was always sold on the American dream, that you could do whatever you wanted to do as long as you worked hard enough. He ended up building his own business in real estate and doing investments. He didn’t go to college here. My mom didn’t go to college either, and yet she started her own company when she was 18. So I think being raised in that type of environment, entrepreneurial with parents that never pushed college on me, I just didn’t see a value in continuing with formal education.

When I was 16 years old, I remember going to India with my mom while she was on a business trip. Just seeing how she was able to call her shots and work according to how she wanted to do things, I was really attracted to that. I knew I wanted to run my own business, I just didn’t know what.

Fast forward to when I’m 22. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, so, I got an entry level job with my mom in one of her companies. She’s, again, very entrepreneurial. She had, at one point, seven small companies. She had her main business which was in the call centre industry. She would basically be the middleman between people who sold things, and the call centre. She would oversee call centres and write scripts, and do sales training. I just got an entry level job assessing calls. It was extremely boring. I would listen to sales recordings and just make sure that telemarketers are following the script and not committing fraud and things like that. Quickly, I started elevating in the company, and getting more and more responsibility. After a couple of years, I became her operations manager and then she started entrusting me to do marketing for her other companies, so the smaller companies. She was operating on a very small budget. Basically, she said, “Sean, I have no budget. Figure it out. I don’t know how to do marketing. Do it for me. Figure out the Internet. Figure out search engine optimisation. I think we need a couple websites.”

I was just tasked with the responsibility of doing marketing for these seven small companies that my mom owned. I eventually convinced her to allow me to hire an entry level developer, and he wasn’t even a developer. He was someone who just knew HTML code and kind of knew the Adobe Suite. He would do web design, and development, and I would write the marketing copy. We both did the graphics together. We were the marketing department for my mom’s companies. That was the intro to design and marketing for myself.

In doing that, I realised man, I think there’s probably a need for this from other companies. So while we were working on my mom’s companies, I said, you know what, I think I can maybe start my own thing. So I was moonlighting, developing this thing called Butler Web and Design. So this was just basic websites and graphics, and on page SEO that we were gonna do for small local companies. And we were gonna position ourselves for the businesses who couldn’t afford the big agencies, and we were gonna work on really small projects. It took us a couple months to develop a website and some marketing collateral, and then I just started introducing it to companies on the side. My mom, at that time, she started not necessarily needing the intern anymore, because he had already developed her websites and she wanted to downscale her marketing department, which was the two of us. It was at the same time to where I was actually getting busy with selling the same services to other companies. So within about four months, I had enough income to where I could make that jump and do this full time. So I basically just assumed that employee and started Butler Web and Design. That was in 2012.

 

Ian Paget: That’s amazing. It’s really fascinating to hear how you gained the initial opportunity from your family, but it’s really admirable that you created a foundation for yourself. So when the time was right, you could take that leap and build your own business. It’s really amazing. Anyway, you mentioned that when you started, it was working on the copy for the websites. How did you eventually get into the strategy side of things?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Okay. So when we first started in 2012, again, we’re positioned for small businesses. And really, we developed a story. Story brand is now a really popular framework that people follow, but at that time, I had never heard of story brand. I just knew that we did need a story. I remember hearing, I think, Simon Sinek’s talk on Start with Why. I was like, okay, what is our why? So I developed our story, and our story when we first launched was, a lot of businesses need professional looking websites and logos, but they can’t afford it. I basically told our story of how I worked for my mom’s companies, and she couldn’t afford marketing. So we wanted to do high level marketing for start up companies that didn’t have that type of budget.

I realised really quickly that I could only get so far with low paying clients. In 2014, I really wanted to throw in the towel and just quit. I was like, man, entrepreneurship sucks, this is hard, I’m busy. At that time we had already scaled to three or four more employees. I had now overhead costs of $20,000 a month, so I had to make 20 grand a month just to get to zero at the beginning of the next month. We were working on 15 to 20 projects per month, because they were all low level. So I was like, man, we’re extremely busy, never getting ahead. I don’t know how to scale. I either have to do one of two things: exponentially increase our rates, or exponentially increase the amount of clients we’re serving every month. Doing 15 to 20 projects, it was a complete nightmare to even think about getting more clients with the staff that we have. So I really had to make more money, and I didn’t know what to charge.

That’s around the same time … so 2014 is when I was just contemplating throwing in the towel. And I knew that I had to do something different. So I said okay, I’m gonna learn a little bit more, not just about business in general, but specifically design and marketing. So that’s when I found this YouTube channel called … at that time, it was called The School. Now it’s called The Futur, with Chris Do. I heard Chris Do start talking about the business of design, and I was instantly attracted to it. At the same time, I started learning more about UX design, and UX design required a level of strategy. I started just consuming as much content as I could about strategy and the design of business, and the business of design. So I started buying books, courses, watching all kinds of videos, going through all this content.

It was, I think it was the end of 2015 when I purchased a framework called CORE. And that’s one of the flagship products of The Futur, that Chris sells. It’s their framework of how to conduct brand strategy. So watching all of the videos that they had on YouTube, and reading all of the articles and things like that, it was kind of like … the way I explain it is having all of the pieces of a puzzle on the table. You have all the tools at your disposal. But then buying that framework, it was like seeing the picture of what the puzzle’s supposed to look like at the end. It helped me put all the pieces together. That was at the end of 2015, and that really changed my mindset of how I was gonna approach our clients.

So I decided we needed to rebrand. We’re not doing websites and designs and basic SEO. We are a full service branding agency, and before we touch any line of code, any pixels, before we set up any automations, before we do anything for our clients, we are going to focus on strategy. In 2016 was when I set to do that, and within about six months, we completely rebranded ourselves to now we’re Butler Branding, as opposed to Butler Web and Design. And at that time, we increased our minimum level of engagement about ten times. That means we went from selling websites for $1000 to now working on $10,000 projects and above.

 

Ian Paget: Wow, that’s incredible. I’m a fan of The Futur myself, and I’ve seen the school videos you mentioned. But I haven’t actually started using CORE myself. But that’s an incredible success story, to 10X your price is really amazing. So I’d love to dive into the strategy side of that, if you’re happy to.

 

Sean Tambagahan: Sure.

 

Ian Paget: Can you talk through what a typical strategy session might look like?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah, absolutely. If anybody’s considering getting into strategy, I would just say make the jump and dive all the way in. Because everybody’s doing some level of strategy. If you’re gonna design a logo, you have to ask a couple questions about who you’re gonna design it for and what their thoughts are. So doing brand strategy or discovery is just a way to better serve your clients and to make sure that you’re covering all the bases before you start going to design. So I would just go all the way in on it, learn as much as you can about it. For me, when I bought CORE, like I said, it was seeing the end picture helped me put all the pieces together. But what it really did was it gave me a framework to see how you could systematically look at an organisation from all of the different components.

So I don’t do strategy the same way I did when I first learned about it. At first I did, because I basically did it exactly the way I saw them do it in the videos. But then I figured out what works for me. So the way we do strategy today, it’s continually changing. When you say, what does the strategy session look like? It changes, really, from one discovery session to the next. Not only because I’m learning a lot more, but also, I’m working with all kinds of different clients that have different needs. So what I would suggest is getting a couple of frameworks, reading a few books on it, and then just start doing it and practicing it, and tweaking as you go.

The way we do it, no matter what exercises we walk through with a client, I always look at four primary categories or aspects of an organisation. The framework that we follow at Butler, we look at the business, the brand, the users, and the marketing. So within those four primary categories, I might have different exercises to pull from that I could do with a client. The business, this is where I get a 30,000 foot view of the organisation that I’m working with. So, how does the money work, what are we selling, who is our competition, how do you stand in the marketplace, who are you really trying to serve, what does your ideal client look like, what are your key offerings, how much profit are you making, what are you looking to do, what are your global business objectives, how do you know you’re on the right track, what are the key performance indicators? We’re looking at the business in general, so that’s the business category.

Then we look at the brand. Okay, so now we know how your business operates. What makes you special? What makes you stand out from the competitor down the street who’s doing the same exact thing? What is your unique selling proposition, what is your brand’s personality, your voice, your tone, what is your messaging, what is your story? So that’s where we’re putting a little bit of personality to the organisation. So first is like very cold, statistical information, now we’re putting some meat on the bones. And then we look at the third category, which is the users. I tell the clients we work with that, without this third category, you don’t exist. Without the people that you’re serving, your brand doesn’t exist. So it’s really important to get your mind off of yourself and onto the people that you’re really trying to serve. And that’s where we might do user profiles, you might call them avatars or personas. And we also do user journeys, user stories, user experience. So if we’re doing a website, we might do a UX strategy session with them to where we are … what do people expect to see on your website? What do we want them to see that they may not have expected? What features and functions should we have? What actions do we want them to take?

And then the last category is the marketing. Okay, so now we know your business, we know your brand, we know who your users are. How are we going to communicate to them? And that’s where we look at the channels that we are gonna focus on, as well as the marketing spend, the messaging, and all of the things that might fall under marketing and communications. So those are the four categories we look at, and I have about 10 to 12 different exercises that I can pull from that fit into each of those categories. That’s how we do brand strategy. Again, it changes from client to client, and we’re always adding and updating the exercises. But typically, the initial discovery session that we do with a client is anywhere from three to four hours.

 

Ian Paget: Nice, okay. And to clarify, that discovery session where you’re investing three, four hours, is that a paid consultancy session, or do you include that with everything else that you would do for that client?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah, we do not do discovery until we receive money. So the deposit secures our ability to schedule my team and to schedule discovery. Discovery’s the first step of us creating. If someone were to just hire me for discovery, we could do that. I’ve had clients just pay us for the strategy session, which is that four hour session. You give me a couple weeks to develop the document based off of the notes that are uncovered in that session, and there you go. And that usually costs about $5000. So that’s just for strategy. We can hand that strategy off to their own internal marketing team or to another company. Obviously our preference would be for us to execute on it, because we’ve actually done it to where people have paid us for strategy and we’ve seen it executed really poorly. So yeah, we don’t do discovery until we get money for it, because it’s a lot of work.

 

Ian Paget: Absolutely. I totally understand. Plus you’re providing a lot of value within that too, so it’s understandable. Another thing I’ve been thinking is how you went from creating solutions for 1000 pound, and then with strategy you’ve been able to 10X that price and start offering solutions for 10K plus. In terms of the actual final product, how drastically different was that after you made that transition?

 

Sean Tambagahan: It really was night and day. So it’s not that we just charged more money to give them the same level of service. We had to transition and level up in our ability to design and create. So after I bought CORE, that’s when I met Chris Do and he actually ended up coaching me. And he’s still my coach to this day. I bounce ideas off him, he’ll call me every once in a while just to check in on me. And it’s been super helpful.

But one of the things that Chris taught me early on was, Sean, you’re not just charging more just to charge more. You wanna charge the rate you need to charge in order to serve clients the way you wanna serve them. So don’t think about the money you wanna make, but think about, how do you wanna serve clients? If you have the ideal client who, money wasn’t an issue, how would you ideally serve that client? And I said, well, I would send a lot of time on strategy. I’d probably hire the best designer that could … I would hire different disciplines for the different aspects of building something, so it wouldn’t just have one designer on it. I’d have one designer, I’d have a developer, I might have a copy writer, I might have a photographer. I’d have all of these pieces, and then I’d wanna be able to be accessible too. So I wanna be able to answer my phone if they have a question at two in the morning. Nobody’s ever done that, but … just think of, what does rolling out the red carpet for your client look like? And then you say, okay, what’s a fair rate for that? So the level of service has increased with the increase of costs, but also the level of the deliverables because we’re able to hire specialists to do their individual tasks rather than one person creating the entire thing themselves.

 

Ian Paget: That’s a really great way to be able to raise the bar and actually offer the type of products and services you want. I know that none of us could do that on our own, and you’ve needed to build a team. I understand you now have a team of 10?

 

Sean Tambagahan: No, there’s nine of us, including myself and my wife, so I have seven employees.

 

Ian Paget: Okay, could you talk through how you grow that team? I understand you started with just an intern. So I’d love to hear how you was able to grow the team that you have today.

 

Sean Tambagahan: I started with an intern. People say, when should I go from myself to somebody else? And I started with somebody that was hired on. It was a minimum wage paying job because they were going in school, and they would be happy to work for free just to get the experience, but I’d feel terrible to do that. So I said, “Look, my budget is really small. This is what I can afford.” And he’s actually stayed with us and he’s become our webmaster. He’s amazing at what he does. He’s a great designer, great developer, and I love having him on our team. He’s our OG employee.

But the way I’ve hired is, I basically scaled to where we’re busy enough to where we needed to hire somebody. It’s really that simple. We work until we can’t work with the team that we have, and then we have a pain point, and I have to invest into hiring new people. So David is our webmaster. When I first hired him, I was basically working him to death. He said, “Sean, I need somebody that knows what I know, who can help me with some of these projects.” So I went out to another local trade school that was teaching web design, I interviewed a couple of students ’cause I didn’t have the budget to hire a top person at that time. And that developer is actually still with us as well. She’s been with us, I think, four or five years.

So those two … And then I’ve hired a couple of other people. My initial strategy was to do what Tony Hsieh recommended in his book, Delivering Happiness. Which was, hire people that are entry level that show potential to progress, instead of hiring all rock stars. Because when you hire a rock star, they’re usually set in their ways, and sometimes it’s a hard culture shift for them. Hire someone that’s a good culture fit that can do the tasks at the level that you need them to, but they show room for growth. So I tried to do that with all of my staff, but I realised when we were in that transition period, from rebranding our company in 2016, that I needed higher level people. So I had to make an investment. It was money that I was scared to invest ’cause man, it would mean we’re going back down to zero at the end of the month. But I needed to take that risk and hire higher level employees. So yeah, when we first started hiring, it was basically work until we can’t work anymore, invest and hire entry level, try to train them. That worked up until a certain point, to where I realised I needed hire level people.

 

Ian Paget: Okay. I love that you’re being so transparent with that. It’s good to know that sometimes you have to take those risks, but you did that and you’ve been able to make a huge success of it.

 

Sean Tambagahan: I do wanna interrupt, though, and say if I were to start over, I would have done it differently. I think I hired too fast and too early. I never liked the prospect of outsourcing. I was turned off by it for wrong reasons. I had a bad understanding or mentality about what outsourcing would look like for us, but if I were to start back over, I would not hire employees and outsource or make strategic partnerships. And we do that actually now, to this day. Even though we have seven full time employees, plus myself and my wife, we also have contractors that we work with that are amazing at what we do. So we hired good photographers that have a very specific niche. We hired different graphic designers that have a particular design style. And if I were to start over, I would have made more strategic relationships with contractors rather than hiring early on.

 

Ian Paget: That’s really interesting. So if you started out again, you’d be outsourcing and working on your own rather than hiring people to work in the same office as you?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Correct.

 

Ian Paget: One topic I am keen to chat about with you is the rise of brand strategists. Brand strategy is being heavily discussed online, and I’m seeing a lot of graphic designers now referring to themselves as brand strategists rather than graphic designers. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, because I understand you totally focus on strategy. You’re not a designer, you don’t code-

 

Sean Tambagahan: Correct. Well… I’ll let you finish your question, but that is correct, and also incorrect at the same time. So I don’t code for sure, I don’t develop, but I do design. I’m not a great designer. My designers that I hire are better than me, but I’m in Photoshop, I’m in Illustrator, I’m creating layouts and stuff like that. But I’m always progressing towards doing less and less of that, and focusing primarily on strategy.

 

Ian Paget: Sure. So my question, people who are graphic designers, do you think that they should learn brand strategy and start to refer to themselves as brand strategists as a way to increase their prices, or do you feel that brand strategy should be a pure, focused discipline?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah, that’s a great question. And really, it depends on who I’m talking to and the context and what they’re trying to accomplish. So if you are a pure graphic designer, like I hire designers, they don’t want to be a part of the strategy. They want to be delivered a strategy by somebody else. They don’t wanna do any of the client communications. They don’t wanna sit at the table with the CEOs. They want to design. And I’m completely fine with that. I will hire you all day, and I don’t expect you to create a strategy. I expect you to create based off the strategy that is provided to you. So no, I don’t think all graphic designers should be strategists. But if you are an agency owner or a studio owner and you’re trying to scale your business, and you’re stuck and you’re trying to grow a business … at the end of the day, you’re in business. You’re not just a designer, you’re an entrepreneur, I’d say figure out what you wanna do. If you just wanna design, then get a job doing graphic design. Whether you’re freelancing or working, but don’t position yourself as a strategist. But understand that there’s only so much money in the pot that has to be distributed. So slapping the title of strategist on you and charging more money, that’s not necessarily transparent or fair. So just be completely honest with yourself.

But if you are a CEO and you’re trying to grow a business, absolutely, you have to think of strategy. So whether you’re doing the strategy yourself or you hire a strategist, it’s a critical part of the design process. What I don’t like, and I’ve seen a lot of this with the rise in, exactly what you said, is that people see this as a means of charging more money. It’s like, you know what, I wanna make more money. I don’t know how to do that. Oh, Chris Do, Sean, they’re telling us to do brand strategy. So boom, now I’m a brand strategist, and I just increased my rates. That isn’t ethical, and it’s not true. It’s not just a means to make more money. You have to think of strategy and discovery as a means to serve your clients better. So if you don’t have a thoughtful strategy that is really different than what you were doing before, then learn it. Figure it out, learn how to do it, and then become that. But don’t just slap the title on you and charge more money, and then offer the same level of service as you were.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, exactly. That’s what I was hoping you would say. It really concerns me that there are so many graphic designers calling themselves brand strategists, when they don’t have the know how or experience and are pretty much offering exactly the same service they would as a graphic designer. But they’re just slapping on that title. But like you’ve explained in this interview, you’ve changed your sales process, your internal processes, who you’re working with, how you’re working. You’ve needed to make big changes, and implementing strategy has really impacted everything that you do. And that’s how you’ve been able to charge more, because you’re actually offering a bigger and better service.

 

Sean Tambagahan: That’s right.

 

Ian Paget: Now, you mentioned a few books and courses you read and took to learn about brand strategy. In this interview, we can only really scrape the surface on this topic. So if someone did want to learn more about this, are there any specific resources you would recommend people look at?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah. An easy way to do this is if you go to butlerbranding.com/books, there are some essential recommended reads. Some of them are around entrepreneurship in general, some of them are around design, some of them are on strategy, some of them are on marketing. And it’s just a curated list of books that I felt were very helpful in instrumental in shaping the way I think about business design and strategy. So yeah, that’s butlerbranding.com/books. On courses, obviously I would consider myself a poster child for the Futur’s course, and all of their content is amazing. I haven’t been disappointed with any of the content that I’ve seen from The Futur. I highly recommend anything from them and Chris Do.

And then also, I’ve been working on this thing for the last five months called The Butler Box, which is about to launch. Well, I’m behind deadline on it, so I haven’t put any hard dates on it. It’s right on the cusp. I was actually working on some of the last minute touches last night. It’s an entire video curriculum, along with study guides, along with templates and worksheets. Everything that I’ve learned in my business, all curated and organised in a easy to read and digest way. So it includes all of our proposal templates, how we do strategy, our discovery documents, how we create stylescapes, how we manage projects. Literally everything about Butler, all wrapped up into a box. And I’m about to launch that here in a couple of weeks.

 

Ian Paget: That sounds like a really useful resource. I’d imagine by the time I roll out this interview, the product will be live. So what I’ll do is, I’ll make sure to include a link to that in the show notes for this episode. So that listeners can go and check that out. I think they should be able to find that at logogeek.uk/4.6. Do you have a price point for that yet?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah. I set a price by just pulling it out of the air and being really empathetic to the demographic that I’m trying to serve, but every time I’ve told the price, I’ve been told, even by my mentors and coaches and people that are doing the same thing, that I’m underselling it. So right now, I had it listed as $500, and they’re saying I need to double the price. So I think for an initial launch, I might have some sort of a promo through our distribution network of maybe half off. And then it’s gonna go up to $1000.

And then we’re also doing coaching. Well, we … I will be providing group coaching, and I also have to double the price of that. Right now I have the price set at $200 a month for four months, but it’s actually gonna go to $400 a month for four months. And that’s group coaching, and the max amount of people that I’ll be able to have in that group is 10. So I want it to be small, five to 10 people. And that includes two group calls per month where we’re going deep into one of the topics of the Butler Box, and it comes with also one on one coaching calls and Mastermind group, and exclusive content through a private Facebook group. So it’s a lot of value, and it’s almost like a bootcamp style coaching.

 

Ian Paget: That sounds amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing that myself. Now, I’d love to also talk to you about finding clients. I know you’re very active on social media. You have a lot of connections on both Facebook and LinkedIn. Do you have any advice for listeners to make the most of these social platforms, to attract clients as you are?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah. A great book for that topic is Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crushing It. When I set out to do social media marketing, I didn’t have a lot of strategy behind it. I said, you know what, I need to just create content. I know I need to be out there. So I was just gonna add as much value as I possibly could to people. For all I knew, I was throwing up content to the wind, and I didn’t know who was paying attention. Slowly and surely and steadily, gradual growth happened on social media and I built some sort of a following and influence in the space. It wasn’t really … it was intentional, but I didn’t have a strategy behind it. I just started putting out content. So now obviously, we’re a bit more strategic. I have staff that helps me think through these things, and they’re helping me write content and they’re helping me get the videos that we do and put it into workbooks. And they have funnels going on. But when I first started, I was just putting out content. So I would suggest just doing it.

When it comes to business, it’s really simple at the end of the day. It’s about supply and demand. Is there a demand for whatever it is you supply? If the answer is yes, then there’s a couple questions you need to ask yourself. Who’s demanding it? That determines your target audience. And you wanna be as specific as you possibly can. So think about who you’re really trying to attract. Who’s demanding it? And then the second question is, now that you’ve identified who’s demanding it, what is their felt need? What their felt need and what their actual need is are sometimes two completely different things. I knew that when I was creating content, specifically client facing content, that they didn’t think they needed brand strategy. They think they needed a website design, or website redesign. So I created content around what their felt need was. Obviously when I had the conversation with them, we would talk about what their felt need was. And it would transition to what their actual, deeper needs were. But I needed to create my marketing content around their felt needs. So who’s demanding it, what is their felt need, and then where’s their attention?

Social media is obviously, we’re in the age of social media, so it’s here. If you’re not doing social media content creation, then just do … There’s about 1.9 billion people actively using Facebook every month, a billion on Instagram. YouTube is second largest search engine in the world, and they’re adding all kinds of social features to where it’s not only a search engine now, but also a social media platform. I would at least focus … those are the three platforms that we really try to focus on. Not so much Instagram anymore, but Facebook and YouTube. LinkedIn was just a necessary part of the nature of the beast. It’s a lot of B2B, so there’s a lot less users on LinkedIn. But if you’re talking to designers and creatives, that’s where their demographic is. It’s basically Facebook without the drama. It’s all business, no drama. And you can make a lot of great connections on LinkedIn. I’ve made a few on there, but I would say primarily, our leads are generated through our Facebook content and search engine optimisation, which is focusing on content on our website.

 

Ian Paget: That’s interesting. I get most of my leads using SEO too, but that’s a huge topic in its own anyway, and we don’t really have the time to go into that. But with regard to LinkedIn, I rarely use that myself, as I tend to focus mainly on Facebook and Twitter. So what are you doing on LinkedIn to attract clients? Is it just a case of sharing regular content, or do you have a more intelligent strategy for that?

 

Sean Tambagahan: No, LinkedIn is still very much one of those organic things. I don’t have my marketing team focusing … Well, I take that back. They do have a strategy that, I don’t know if it’s been rolled out or not. Creating content specifically for LinkedIn. But LinkedIn is just a great way to build your referral source, and I had a few leads through there. There’s some good tips on how to clean up your LinkedIn profile, like how your profile picture ought to look and what your description is. I took a couple of courses on some basic fundamentals of how to set up your LinkedIn profile, and in fact actually I think Monday I’m gonna be doing a video interview for our YouTube channel with one of the girls that did this course on LinkedIn. Her name’s Jennifer Darling and she’s gonna give us some tips on LinkedIn marketing. So short answer is, I don’t have a strategy, but I know some of the basics, which is native video always works best, video works really well, doing articles on your LinkedIn, cleaning up your profile, all of that stuff is really important in getting you in front of the right people and building your network organically. But there are some experts out there that have a lot more, better insights on it than I do.

 

Ian Paget: Okay. That video you mentioned, I know here today that hasn’t actually been created, but by the time this interview goes live, it should be. So I will include a link to that in the show dates so that listeners can go and check that out. As I mentioned earlier, show notes should be at logogeek.uk/4.6.

You mentioned, “who’s demanding it”, so basically who the target audience are. Do you have any advice to help listeners work out who that target audience is?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Yeah. Again, not to pitch the Butler Box the whole time, but a lot of this is in there. So when it comes to scaling your agency, a lot of people think about marketing first. How do I do marketing? And my suggestion is, you’re jumping the gun. Don’t think about marketing first. Think about brand positioning. The chronological order of things that you need to think about strategically to grow your creative business is this. It goes, first, brand positioning, then marketing. Then you need to think about your sales process. Then you need to think about strategy, and then you need to think about project management. So again, it’s positioning, marketing, sales, strategy, and project management. Before you go to market, you need to position yourself. So the question should be, how do I position myself for my ideal client? And that assumes that you’ve identified an ideal type of client. Who are the clients that you want to work with? And that’s really, as an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to define that for yourself. Who do you wanna work with? What types of clients do you wanna work with? What types of projects do you wanna work on? How much do you wanna sell your services for? You get to create that. That’s the beautiful part about entrepreneurship is, there’s no limits on you. So you define that for yourself.

Once you define that, then you have to use either data or imagination and empathy to build out a user profile and figure out, what does our average day look like? What is the pain points that they’re experiencing as it relates to what we offer? Where is their attention? How can I grab their attention and direct them to content that maybe I create? What questions are they asking that I could be the one to answer those questions? So those are the things that you need to think about in brand positioning, and then you gotta look at yourself as well.

One of the other things that I would recommend is look at who you wanna be neighbours with. So look at the agencies or the businesses that do what you do, in the space that you’re in, that you would like to align yourself with. These are the people that I wanna be neighbours with. If we were living in the same neighbourhood, our houses kind of look the same thing. And study them. Look at their messaging, the graphics on their website, how they’re presenting their work, and do a competitive audit and see where are the gaps in your messaging, in your graphics, in your photography, in your case studies. Do an audit that way, and just come up with a list. Tear your own site apart and say, why does this company look like they’re positioned for the clients that I wanna attract, and what can I do differently?

 

Ian Paget: Fantastic advice. Everyone definitely needs to go and check out your Butler Branding Box when it comes out, as it sounds really useful. I also wanted to ask you about pricing. ‘Cause at the start of the conversation, you said that you was able to offer the same product with strategy added on, and basically 10X your price in the process. What was it that you did, from a sales perspective, to make that transition?

 

Sean Tambagahan: I would say it was 90% my mindset. Because by that time, we were doing better quality work, and we had the capability to even do better work if I had the breathing room to focus in on projects. We were good, at that point. So we weren’t doing the same level of work that we did when we first started. When we first started, I sold my first website for, I think, $350. And to be honest, it was worth about that much. But in doing over, I think it was at that point, 300 something websites, we learned a couple things. So at that time, our skill set was there to where we could take on those projects, but my mindset wasn’t there. I didn’t have as much confidence that what I was doing was actually worth it, and people were gonna balk at my price or have a lot of pushback.

So I had to get over my own internal hurdles, which was my mindset. And think, I do have confidence. What I have to offer is valuable. In fact, it’s probably worth more than what I can charge for it. Because I wanna help people, I’m gonna charge $10,000. So a lot of it was my mindset change, and I was getting around a group of people that were all going in the same direction as me. That was the Futur Pro group, and that’s why we have a Mastermind group. Getting around other people that have that same mindset. So that was one thing.

But then there were some practical things that I did. The first time I ever charged for strategy. Before, we were doing at least some level of strategy, for free. And I was like, I’m gonna charge for this. And the first time I had the guts to charge, I think it was $300 or something like that, for strategy, and get zero pushback, I was like, oh my gosh. I just charged $300 for something I never charged before. So I’m gonna try to charge $1000 for this. So the next time I positioned it to a client, I said, “We do discovery, and this is what our strategy process looks like, and we charge $1000 for that before we even go to design.” And they said okay. I didn’t get pushback. So all these mental things I was going through, I’m gonna have to overcome all these objections, it was more in my own head.

So then I charged $2500. I started getting some pushback, some people just can’t pay that or can’t afford that. And that’s fine. I had to be okay with saying no to certain types of projects, and really define who I wanted to work with and who I didn’t wanna work with anymore. So I started charging, the first time I think it was $300, and then $1000, then $2500. Then I got really bold six months later, charged $15,000 for strategy. And it was worth it. It was a lot of work. it was a really big company, and it took me about a month to develop the marketing strategy for them. And what was really cool about that is that actually turned into my biggest retainer client, to where they paid us $120,000 last year to do all of their marketing. So just having the confidence to be able to step out and do it was a huge part.

 

Ian Paget: Wow, that’s incredible. I know personally, I can relate with that too. I’ve slowly been increasing my prices over the past few years and the main thing for me is being confident to start quoting higher prices, and actually start charging what I think I’m worth. So I totally agree with you that we all need to start being more confident. There are people out there that are willing to pay for quality service.

Anyway, we are near the end of our time, so I have one last question for you. If you could offer just one piece of advice to designers just starting out in a career, what would that advice be?

 

Sean Tambagahan: Just one piece? Okay. Understand the tension between paralysis by analysis and entrepreneurial ADD. Know where you fit in that, and make sure you go outside of your comfort zone. So that piece of advice needs a little bit of explanation. Paralysis by analysis, this is overthinking things to the point of inactivity, to where you’re always getting ready to get ready and you never actually go out and launch. Everything that I’ve done in my business has really been building the runway as I’m landing the plane. Figuring it out as I go, being okay to step out without having all the answers and without having a neatly buttoned up thing. I think Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra was to move fast and break things. Basically, get out and do stuff, and then figure it out as you go.

Now, that doesn’t mean don’t have any kind of thought behind it. You wanna make sure that you plan as much as you can, but you’re never gonna have all the answers. So just go ahead and start, get something done, and you’re gonna learn a lot as you go. But then on the other spectrum, the other extreme, is what I call entrepreneurial ADD. Which is where you chase every kind of business opportunity that comes your way. You see an awesome opportunity and you go chase it, and you waste all your time and effort on things that are gonna be unfruitful because you’re operating outside of your capabilities. And that’s a lot of people. They say “Oh, I wanna do brand design. I wanna do graphic design. I wanna do web design. Ooh, UX design. I wanna start an agency. I’m gonna build a course.” Focus on the immediate things that you can do right now, and do those with excellence, until you can start adding and scaling. So understand the tension between entrepreneurial ADD and paralysis by analysis. Know where you fit on the spectrum, and be willing to operate outside of your comfort zone.

 

Ian Paget: Absolutely amazing advice to end the interview. Sean, it’s been really great to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time.

 

Sean Tambagahan: Absolutely. Thanks, man. I had a good time.

 

Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks

 

I’m incredibly thankful to FreshBooks for sponsoring season 4 of the Logo Geek Podcast! FreshBooks is an online accounting tool that makes it really easy to create and send invoices, track time and manage your money. You can try it out for yourself with a free 30 day trial.

Building a strategy led design agency - An interview with Sean Tambagahan

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