Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best in the community to you here every week and press this as a reminder, you can follow me on twitter @wpdavidv and subscribe to Press This on iTunes, iHeart Radio. or Spotify or download the latest episodes at WMR.fm and this episode we’re going to be talking about growing your WordPress agency business by building business systems, not just marketing sites for clients and joining us in that conversation is Mr. Ben Ramsden Ben, welcome to Press This.
Ben Ramsden: David, it’s lovely to be with you today and thanks for thanks for inviting me.
DV: Yeah so glad you could be here I know you’re dialing in from Australia so really excited to have yet another international guests on press this for those listening or we’re going to really be covering today with Ben’s going to talk about. By the way, Ben is with GFChart if you’re familiar with that plugin I’ll tell you a little bit more about that here in a little bit. He’s going to share his thoughts on how agencies can grow again, by not just building marketing sites and business systems which can be a very profitable venture. And actually, in my experience can be a lot less headaches than building this sensitive marketing sites. So Ben to kick us off I asked this question of every guest, I’ll ask that ask it also have you briefly tell me your WordPress origin story When was the first time you used WordPress.
BR: Oh, that’s a very good question. I mean my origin story is all about curiosity. I’ve been a management consultant and sort of commercial operator for for a good many years and when 2008 came around, commonly known as the global financial crisis unfortunately I found myself with far too much time on my hands. So I had a curiosity I decided I should learn more about the digital world and when searching around I came across this thing called WordPress, and I’ve never really looked back since. So that’s it in a nutshell.
DV: Okay, that’s interesting. I have yet to hear a global financial crisis being the spur to someone to discover WordPress we have added a few stories in over the years and people that have had these kind of transformative moments in their career lives that kind of led them to, that’s interesting to hear that connection. Now you’re with the GFCharts, you can help folks understand what GF Chart does and also what you do at GF Chart.
BR: Sure. I mean GF chart, gf GL Foxtrot chart, GF for Gravity Forms, basically we produced business reports from Gravity Forms. You and your listeners probably know the Gravity Forms is one of the original one of the most popular form buildings form builders in WordPress land, and we basically produce business reports from that. So he used that form builder to produce a survey or a booking form or one of the many other different things that people use for builders for, then you can produce business reports charts calculations, anything that your business needs to to work out what’s going on to see the big picture of the data collected via Gravity Forms. And that’s what we do at GF chart.
DV: I like it, I like it you know I think a lot of people think of forms plugins is I’m just doing a lead form or something like that but obviously people take that that too much further in terms of surveys and that of course relative Did you have charted It sounds like you know we are focused primarily as visualizing that data in a way that people can take action on today is pretty cool. And also very relevant for our topic today. So, in the title of the podcasts, we had explained Hey look, you can grow your WordPress agency business by building business systems and not just marketing sites, but could you help explain how you think of what that word, what that phrase business systems needs like, what does that mean what would an agency go build for a client that was quoting this system.
BR: Yeah, David that’s a really good question, and business systems you can you can throw the net as wide as you want but I would say it’s anything that’s just beyond basic sales and marketing orientated digital science. So they tend to be more productivity related rather than sales and marketing related, but the sort of things that come to mind are things like learning management systems workflows systems my workflow, it could be something as simple as authorizing your annual leave allowance with within your workforce, or it could be something a lot more complicated like an insurance company for example processing claims that come through, you know come through the letterbox. Or it could be a whole host of different things from specimens going dry there’s just so many so many different opportunities. But whenever there’s something that typically a human can do it by a human doing it it either gets slow or it gets unreliable or frankly you don’t have enough enough people to do it, you can you can digitize that you can you can build a business system. And then it happens automatically in the background, very low cost and very high speed.
DV: So you know it’s interesting my time at WP Engine I’ve been able to see you know lots and lots and lots and lots of different websites and and brands adopting WordPress and I find that it’s funny that the bigger brands is a very large telco here in the United States by sake of example, kind of got their first taste of WordPress through using WordPress for one of these quote business system type, digital experiences. And so, I also remember for my agency days you know again. I was like everybody else I was like, how can I build a website to help someone make money. But along the way I ended up getting these projects to build these business system like experiences, and the, you know, the cost of the project was huge, the specs were very clear, a definition of success was very clear and I find I found that, You know, I actually enjoyed them much more than building that marketing website. So, why do you think agencies tend to focus on building those marketing or sales experiences like is it just ignorance or like why do you think that’s where all the action is.
BR: So this is another really good question. I think basically it’s sort of history and legacy in a marketing and sales is basically where the market started. And that’s still where most of the market is, you know, when clients go online that the first place they go is is sales. The challenge of course is this space is evolving, very fast. So you know age agencies generally are the innovators so they’ve been riding that wave and provided you continue that wave, you perhaps don’t need to go anywhere else but as with all things when they enter businesses in a sales and marketing can be that can be the first we’ve got the gradually the whole business needs to go needs to go digital and that’s where some of the other opportunities that you’ve clearly come across in your career David come to the front.
DV: So, it’s a bit like me I think everyone when they think of, I need a developer to do some work on a website, they’re thinking marketing and sales as a business owners stakeholder but they’re not always thinking geez I can make some of these internal processes better by having a better system. It’s almost like the notion of aspirin is easier to sell than vitamins. So, what are the advantages you think of like when agencies, offer these systems. In addition to say building marketing and sales is like what is it agency.
BR: Yes, you’re gonna look at it from the agency point of view and of course for the for the end customer but from the agency side, I really see it as a whole new opportunity. I mean are we we’re saying, most people already have their own website now. Websites require expertise in SEO. A lot of it’s actually going into content development and content management and sort of building new capability, there’s there’s a big social media element to it, and quite a few of the projects, turn into a sort of build once and never see the client again type scenario, and it is becoming increasingly commoditized. So when you talk about business systems to me it’s a whole new market to up to to enter and enter essentially a very different different one or the other. You may think it’s similar it’s very different indeed. The projects you know frankly I would say can be a less sexy, but they generally lead to much longer term client relationships, because you’re not just sort of digitizing the front of the shop front you’re actually helping to digitize their whole business. That means that you will probably do a small project with him start off with that you will maintain a relationship with them providing that he goes well. And you will keep on building on top of that, that initial project or do other ones because they’re like what you’ve done. You know that leads to other opportunities like different charging models. You may be charging per month, including support. You may have periodic maintenance including coding upgrades. So really it’s, it’s actually a very different sort of kettle of fish, despite being based on very similar technology so I see it as a massive opportunity for for for agencies.
DV: or being really true for my experience you talked about the lack of competition, the longer relationship, the ability to build in different ways that you might in a marketing site, and also the notion of marketing sites can sometimes be one and done. I want to dig into this a little bit deeper but we’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
Welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcast on webmaster radio. This is your host David Vogelpohl, we’re in the middle of our episode growing your WordPress agency business by building business systems. Speaking to Mr. Ben Ramsden of GF chart. Then, right before the break you were talking a little bit about how the competition for building business systems is lower, is that I’m guessing obviously there’s a lower demand from businesses requesting agencies built business systems for them versus say a marketing site. Do you think that is also that kind of lower competition is just that just just in general aren’t focusing on it.
BR: I should be careful with the statement lower competition. I frame it as a sort of different form of competition. If you already have a good relationship with a client, then you’re able to offer them a whole new suite of services without having to do too much to Greenfield type of type sales. If you were just trying to cold call I think it was still fine there were many different other people out there, offering, those sorts of services to, to the customer that you’re going after. But basically you’re moving in moving into a new market, I think one in which you have many, many opportunities. If you’ve ever. I know, go looking for say something like a, let’s say a learning management system for example, you know there’s learning management systems I think these days, a bit like chocolate, you know, wherever you look you could you could find a different one and they all, they all have different bells and whistles, but ultimately a lot of learning management systems come down with the Watson capability. And it usually charge us five basis. He was walking there as a web developer all of a sudden you’ve got a massive advantage because you’re not offering them per seat, per month, you’re basically offering a flat charge per feature, maybe per year. So all of a sudden in the right circumstances you’ve actually got quite distinct advantages over, over the other competition, and also most learning management systems for example, you know, first thing is a short front where you have to log in. And for a lot of scenarios that’s not the right thing. First thing is you need to actually tempt people to take the education, you’re actually offering. So I think as you competition is being you’ve actually got strengths, you didn’t realize you had when you go into that market.
DV: So it sounds like what you’re saying relative to competition is that one benefit to offering these services, it sounds like you could go behind the customer might have built a marketing site for, and then offer them to help improve this internal systems to make that better operational things that
BR: Correct. Absolutely. And you may start pretty close to marketing you may start with a workflow system that actually onboards the customers they’ve just recruited and by putting a workflow system in you know they’re giving a much better onboarding experience for that particular client they’ve just gained so it’s not like you know how you how you met that customer you can bridge from your existing projects.
DV: Thinking back to my agency days I think that’s how a lot of this business system projects came to be. Now I remember also from those days and you said this earlier that a lot of these projects just aren’t that exciting right they’re not shiny, and, you know, all the bells and whistles are very helpful to the business. And I found that it was interesting because I thought I started thinking about things like case studies and how I would sell this to other clients. You know, it was just really boring to explain that I helped this one company get you know such and such better in this one particular process, but the company that we did it for it, loved it. So how do you think about telling that story like how do you how do agencies then go to their clients and say I can do this and this will help you. How do you think about that positioning and then how you make it attractive to that customer to buy that business system service from.
BR: It’s really interesting the way you framed that question David makes me think about, are you trying to put lipstick on a pig and
DV: Those are deprecated now but like, it’s really cool but it just doesn’t look cool on the surface, how do you tell the story.
BR: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I think for me. You just got to watch out for your own views getting in the way. Though it may not be dull, so maybe dollar in your eyes. In my eyes, a lot of these things are quite off headaches for the, for the end client. And precisely for the reasons we’re discussing they’ve never really tried to solve it, or usually it’s got to the stage where it’s such a big problem they’ll just pay anybody who’s got a good idea to solve it perhaps I’m being a bit sort of flippant there, but there is actually a lot of value in the less glamorous things because they’re less glamorous quite often they get they are forgotten. So if you can get the client in a quiet moment and sort of say you know what were your biggest pain points. Now he’s a bit of a cliche you will quite often find that these are the areas that they will have, they will admit to so if you can open up the conversation I actually find the sale a little bit easier, because it’s you’re bringing something new to the table that previously there may even be enough for people to be shopping for.
DV: So what are the general is a think about this as you’re proposing to improve your back end systems or aborting or whatever it is, like, what are the benefits you might queue in on like obviously maybe we can alleviate your hiring but like generally how my view. Hiring needs been generally how you think about the value that brands get out of doing this.
BR: There is the sort of five things that I look for. And it obviously will vary on the particular scenario but in no particular order. The first one is around consistency for the brand for the end client. If you put a workflow system in for example or anything. There’s then a consistent business process, that means that they can guarantee, much greater reliability or timeframes to bear and customers you know that there’s consistency and transparency around their process. The second one is around cost, meaning you’re either displacing people or you’re avoiding them having to recruit new people, you know there’s a massive massive advantage there because people, certainly in in emerge in developed countries are really expensive. And like we said earlier, you’re not paying a seat, like you are with any digital solutions you know WordPress is basically pay for a feature. The third advantage is actually bringing them closer to the customer, their own customer. You know, that means so maybe it’s not intuitive the idea that we’re putting a digital system in place you’re actually bringing them closer. But the moment you put something like that in place you can actually see what’s going on, because you’ve got data from that thing you can see the big picture you can see what your your your cycle times are for delivering certain things or how quickly people go through processes and if there’s something not working, you can jump in there by exception and deal with it. A fourth point is around scalability, you can simply reach more people. And you know I have a client who, you know, started off just serving customers in the state here I live in New South Wales in Australia, they found themselves serving the world, which they really really weren’t expecting but that’s what that’s the power of digital. And the final one is speed, particularly for onboarding new staff or new customers digital processes are on 24 by seven very reactive so it just speeds up the whole processing time. So I think there’s lots lots of advantages. As with all sales you don’t go out there sort of saying, I got a solution for you it’s around listening first and listening to the cues and seeing what value you got.
DV: Yeah, selling with your ears, your mouth like that. You know it’s interesting as a again think back to the projects that we would engage in and my agency days it was like a lot of the times in business systems would come to us when something was broken, something broke or something became out of date and they needed to refresh it and fix it. And we would fix it, and we would also leave it better than we found it. Right. In other words, improve something about that process. And then I found people really just got addicted to that it was like, oh crud I didn’t know I could do stuff like that now but I do these other areas of my business. But I think those were some really good points you brought up relative to alleviating this hiring is looking for parts of your business that might be slow and can be sped up and deliver a better experience.
Well everyone welcome back to press this the WordPress community podcast on webmaster radio. This is your host, David Vogelpohl and I’m interviewing Ben Ramsden of GF Charts about growing your WordPress agency by building business systems for clients Ben right before the break you kind of laid out what you kind of described as your kind of four key points of value that agencies could use when pitching building business systems for a customer, and I’m just curious like Do you have any samples of agency projects and you can remove the names and stuff like that, where they build businesses for clients come in understand like what. Give me some more examples of what agencies are.
BR: Yeah, let me just pick up on a few and I’ve touched a few times on learning management systems, I’ll just I’ll just tell you about a little project that started off as being a online education solution for a client that once that was rolled out they then decided they wanted a workflow solution off the back of it so that when people took training. It then triggered people on the ground actually approaching the people who’ve done the digital training to follow up with them. And then on top of that they built, we had to build for them, a sort of compliance and examination type module, whereby, there was documentation delivered to them in PDF format with all their results for the, for the course passes they’ve done. So I guess that’s an example of something that started small and actually ended up being getting quite big. But when I look at some other things that that outlines the gf char use it for a lot of them, surprisingly enough use it for data collection. You know, think of a car dealership, for example, it has, you know, showrooms across a certain geography. Monday morning, somebody in the local branch types the sales figures for the weekend into a form, and all of that is brought back to headquarters and aggregated into into into reports by Gravity Forms via a simple form builder, which, which is a very simple solutions, basic solution to to an age old problem. A lot of people build simple databases. We have a, believe it or not a heart surgeon in Indonesia who records all of their heart, operations on a database and they look at success rates and what went well and what didn’t. And it becomes an online sort of data tool for them. There’s a lot of sort of wikis, where documentation is made, easily available, and searchable. Look, I could keep going with different sort of scenarios but the other one is compliance monitoring a non for profit is a grant for a particular organization for funding certain things and they want to monitor when milestones are reached. And that’s you know that’s something else where a very simple business solution business system does exactly what they wanted to do
DV: a series a great this research outside the box was thinking for the typical you know agency focused on building those marketing sites. I want to ask you a question about something you brought up earlier that, it provided agencies, the opportunity to kind of change their billing models of debt, I found in my own personal experience, it changed what my clients expected of what I don’t forget it was more unclear how to achieve the outcome versus a marketing site where, you know, the outcome can be sometimes a little fuzzy and everyone wants to grow but like, what’s the right formula for growth. What did you mean by that, like how might an agency’s billing model be affected by doing worse a business work?
BR: So you think of it in terms of pricing up practice or discovery, some sort of wireframing.perhaps perhaps a set number of months often deliver this and final 10% in case of any stags, but it is very much a lump, and as an agency owner you’re what you’re looking to do is how many projects you’ve cycled through in a year, for example, In the fully business systems model and this is not one that I’m fully in myself, but you know what I’ve what I’ve seen is really I look to sign annual contracts with clients. And so what you’re really doing there is, is looking at recurring revenue. You’re looking a lot more of what the ongoing running costs, running support elements of it are, it’s actually very very different indeed. And I guess another element to be aware of is, WordPress land we tend to think that most of their value is in what we build with business systems a fair amount of the value that you deliver you may not realize this upfront is actually how you analyze the existing operation of the business. You know, if you go in there with a sort of business analyst type heads mindset. You can see the workflows, you can see how the business works. And you might actually give some insights to the customer that you’re not really realizing that you’re giving and that has value for them, and that that actually puts you in a. I think in a much better position with that client because they see you much more as a trusted partner rather than just a contractor to delivering a new shop front.
DV: you’re singing my song, and it reminds me of a client, we acquired we basically quadrupled their conversion rate on their sales page they were thrilled. And part of that work was helping to improve their onboarding experience for their customers. And it was funny because yeah they were thrilled with that very first project of course it yes we did get more marketing, marketing, digital experience from them in the future. It was really the systems where they just kept coming back, month after month, you know, keeping that high retainer coming back and having new ideas on how to improve their business, working with us and letting us see what’s going on, suggests the things. And the majority of our revenue actually came from those visit systems from that client, even though it had such great success on the marketing side to that was really interesting. Then I really enjoyed talking to you today. Thank you so much for joining us.
BR: It’s been absolutely fantastic joining you David and all the very best with your podcast.
DV: Thank you very much. If you’d like to learn more about what Ben is up to you can visit GF Chart, calm, like to thank everyone for listening to press this today that WordPress community podcast on webmaster radio. Again, this has been your host, David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This.