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Kevin Cohen Consulting on Finding New Clients and Growing a Virtual Agency

Founder of Colorado-based Kevin Cohen Consulting, Kevin Cohen sits down with me to discuss sales, customers, and growing his virtual agency.

Kevin tells me about how he has learned to understand his strengths as an entrepreneur and how he uses that understanding to grow his agency.  Kevin shares with me his generous tactic for finding new clients through friends and family.  We sit down at the uGurus studio to talk about what brought Kevin Cohen Consulting and Kevin Cohen to where they are today.

You can find more information about Kevin Cohen and Kevin Cohen Consulting by visiting his blog and following him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Video Transcript

Brent: I’m Brent Weaver, and you’re watching uGurus, the must-watch web series to become a more profitable and in-demand web professionals. Today, I’m here with a close friend of mine, Kevin Cohen from Kevin Cohen Consulting. Kevin has been a long-time adviser and mentor for me and my company. Did a lot of work with us back at Hot Press Web. And you’re a wealth of information when it comes to online marketing, growing businesses, and all that kind of stuff. So definitely glad that you got a chance to join us today.

Kevin: Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Brent: So Kevin, tell us a little bit about yourself. Like, what’s your specialty?

Kevin: So what I’m… kind of my stupid human trick, if I have to describe it that way, is I know how to build sales and lead gen funnels for clients and friends and different businesses. So most businesses have a sales problem, and they need to figure out how to solve it. And so I walk them through the journey of how to do that. Specifically, I do that in the online medium. So I’m an online marketer, and I help to either generate sales or generate leads.

Brent: So you do that for businesses of all types? I mean, for us, you helped us with that in the web pro space, so obviously I’m very interested in that. I mean, we were able to significantly increase our ticket price for web projects. We were able to also get a lot more referrals, because we were doing better stuff for clients. So what are some of the types of clients you typically work with?

Kevin: I’ve actually applied it to a variety of different clients. I’ve worked with an oil and gas distributor. I’ve worked with a crane repair company. I’ve worked with web developers like yourself, or Brent, you used to do. I’ve done it with my own sites, where I sell supplements online. So in reality, the businesses change, but the process doesn’t. And it’s a proven process that actually has roots back in direct response marketing in magazines in the 1800s.

Brent: So one of the problems you talk a lot about is this… you know, all businesses have a sales problem.

Kevin: Mm-hmm.

Brent: So, you know, what’s the first step in identifying how to solve that problem?

Kevin: Well, the first observation that I would make is that most businesses talk about themselves and their products and services, rather than talking about their customers and their problems and pain that they’re dealing with.

Brent: So in the example of web pro, you know, you go to their website, and it says, you know, “I’m a web designer. I can do… I can build your website,” etc. Like, they identify themselves with their craft, essentially.

Kevin: Right. So to a customer who’s sitting across the table from a web designer, you’re thinking, “How do I solve my sales problem?” Not, “How do I have a web site?” So a web developer, the best thing for them to do in a conversation or in their marketing communications with the outside public or prospects, or even existing clients, is to always focus on the customer and what their goals and aspirations are, or what their problems are.
And typically for most businesses, you have a sales problem. I don’t care if you’re a small entrepreneur or whether you’re a Fortune 500 business that’s publicly traded. You still need to sell more products or services. So that is the big problem of most businesses.

Brent: So once you identify that problem… I mean, it’s hard to go into a conversation with a prospective customer and just come right out with that. To do, like, “You have a sales problem,” you know?

Kevin: Sure.

Brent: I mean, how do you kind of breach that subject with somebody?

Kevin: Well, the first thing you do is you build a rapport with them. So you ask them about their business. You say, “Hey, what’s working, what’s not working. What do you want to be,” you know? “What does success look like for you?” And more often than not, success is tied to sales performance and cash flow. And then when you get into that, then you steer the conversation towards how you can utilize a website to either generate leads or generate sales for your business. And that’s where you get to do the white knight for the customer.

Brent: What do some of your solutions like in that department? So you’ve identified sales as a problem for a company, and then, you know, website could potentially be a solution. Is it just any kind of website, or do you have a specific proscription for that?

Kevin: You know, that’s a very good question. So the two things you need to look at when talking in the web space is number one, traffic, and number two, conversion. So a website is really only a lawn sign that no one will see unless there’s traffic. So the first thing you’ve got to do is you have to figure out both of those elements. How am I going to drive traffic to the site, and then how am I going to have a conversion even occur on that site once it happens?
So for most small businesses that would be your potential customers if you’re a web developer, it would be a local… let’s say attorney or real estate agent. You know, local SEO combined with pay-per-click advertising probably would be your best traffic source. So you want to incorporate those elements into your bids when you’re talking to prospective clients. Because a website by itself doesn’t really do anything.
And then on the conversion side, you know, most professional businesses, unless they’re selling something online or they have a shippable product, you know, that can be ordered over the phone, you’re going to want to capture a lead. So that covers most of the businesses out there. So what you want to do is you want to design a site that’s optimized for conversion of… you want to get email addresses, maybe phone numbers. You know, those are the vital contact pieces. And then you want to build a whole marketing system behind that to convert that prospect to a customer.

Brent: Now, what if somebody is sitting here watching this and says,
“But I’m just a web designer. Why does SEO have to matter to me? Can’t I just be the most brilliant web designer in the world and still get lots of customers?”

Kevin: You can, but you’re going to miss out on a potential marketplace that creates a strategic advantage for you. So long story short, just producing a website will not solve your customer sales problem, so you’re not going to get as many referrals or publicity in local papers, or win contests, whatever, if you don’t create the real need. And the real need is you’ve got to generate sales for your customers.
So you can either avoid it, or you can accept it. And there’s different ways you can deal with it. So you don’t have to be a pay-per-click specialist or an SEO specialist. There are people that, within your network, you can refer people to. At uGurus, you have some contacts with pay-per-click people that you can supply to your network of subscribers. You have SEO specialists that you can refer people to. So you have those solutions, and you don’t have to necessarily bring it in house. You just have to find a partner to work with to supply that service to the customer.

Brent: In terms of charging more. I mean, you’re talking about adding additional services. Do you find that being able to go in and do some lead gen stuff actually is going to increase the project size in just scope, or are you going to actually get more dollars per hour?

Kevin: You know, what I look at it is… if you can add additional services like SEO and PBC, you can get your upfront fee for web development, and then you can get a reoccurring revenue piece, even if you’re outsourcing it. So you can upsell… you can sell PBC services, and instead of… let’s say your third-party provider charges $500 in management fees a month. You can add $200 on that, and get $200 for doing nothing.
So it may not seem material, but if you have lots of clients doing that, then all of a sudden you have this passive income stream that you didn’t have before that you can then really benefit from. So the reason why I like it is, number one, it solves the need of the customer, and then secondly, it can provide economic benefit to the web development professional.

Brent: So it seems like that model is a model that a lot of folks are chasing, which is, you know, upfront fixed price projects, of doing something kind of, you know, big chunk upfront, and then get tapped into that customer on an ongoing basis. I mean, that was the problem we had, was we were always out there hunting for new business.

Kevin: Right.

Brent: It was always about the next lead, the next project. Because we’d do a project, and then we’d move on to the next project, you know? We had nothing to come back and sell those existing customers. Or probably better put, we had nothing to come back and… we couldn’t solve more problems for them. We couldn’t continuously provide value ongoing with doing that online marketing piece.

Kevin: Right. The other thing that’s really nice about creating a sales or lead gen funnel is it actually gives you something to measure. So in addition to having traffic numbers, that you can measure either organic or paid traffic, you can also measure in opt in rates, and you can show them a list that’s growing every month. Every day, for that matter.
And the beauty of having a list, as you know, is that with an email list, they can sell to their customers throughout the year. So you’re giving them really, really valuable assets for their business. Whereas a website, again, is just one piece of the puzzle.

Brent: We’re going to switch gears a little bit and talk about finding talent.

Kevin: Mm-hmm.

Brent: I think with your consulting company and the work you’ve done in the past with building online businesses for companies, you’ve been able to leverage a lot of kind of freelance and market talent.

Kevin: Mm-hmm.

Brent: Talk to me a little bit about how you go about finding people to fulfill these services within your business.

Kevin: Well, first and foremost, I try to network with professionals that are doing similar things to me, and I flat out just ask, and say,
“Hey, do you have a good designer? Do you have a really good person that’s for speed optimization of a site? What do you like for hosting?” So it’s important to be involved in a community.
Secondly, there’s some huge freelance networks out there that allow you to access talent that is pretty amazing, like Elance. And so one thing you should know about Elance is that Elance has a search engine within it. So once you figure out and experiment on how to set up the search engine within Elance, you can effectively sort through the talent and then identify the top three prospects.
You know, it does… there is a process. I mean, as you know, I developed an information product in this space about how to find talent on Elance. But the main thing is you have to understand that it operates similar to Google. You can set some settings to determine how many stars, how many… you know, whether they’re in a certain country, whatever. And you can identify all these things.
The types of things that you should be looking for as a professional on Elance is, like, graphic design work, copywriters. You can even find PBC management people, though I found that some of the whitelabeled PBC providers outside — which I can give you guys a referral on that, as well
— are sometimes a little bit better. There’s some great SEO people. And just a variety of different, you know, things. There’s video editing that’s available on Elance, which is great. So, you know, I specifically go on Elance.
Some other great resources in addition to that would be, like, 99 Designs, which you can set up a design contest. So there’s some really great resources there. Also, the reason why I like Elance is that they have an escrow process, and then they also have a dispute resolution process. So, you know, sometimes projects do go sideways, but there is a process for reconciling that within the Elance system, so…

Brent: And talk a little bit about… I mean, you use Elance like that to kind of stay lean as a virtual agency, you know? Instead of having a big team, you basically are leveraging specific functional freelancers to do very specific things, and when they’re done, they’re done, and you basically can kind of move on to the next thing.

Kevin: For sure.

Brent: I mean, how has it been to stay lean as a company, for you?

Kevin: You know, it’s all based on personal preference. For me, I know who I am and what I’m good at. And I’m good at managing projects, but I’m not necessarily as good at managing people. And so when you truly know who you… you know, your DNA and what you’re good at, you really have to be honest. You really have to get naked about, you know, what your talents are.
And so for me, it’s been really beneficial up until this point. I am at a current point in my business with my own business stuff where I’m now deciding that I probably need to start building a team. But building that team is also finding someone who can manage those teammates. So again, when you’re honest about what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, then you can devise a plan.
But for me, it’s been great. I mean, the reality is if you’ve ever read “The Four Hour Work Week,” one of his things that Tim Ferris talks about is getting paid in dollars and paying subcontractors in other currencies. In Elance, you get that benefit, because if you can work with developers and designers in India, or Eastern Europe, or South America, you’re paying based on their value. Their economic values of those countries. So typically, there’s a significant amount of savings on there. So what I try to do is I try to find the highest priced person in India.

Brent: Mm-hmm.

Kevin: And it still represents, like, a 25 percent savings over domestic, or even up to 50 percent, depending on the tech. But you want to find the best person, who’s on the high end of the scale for that foreign country. That really provides you with some leverage.

Brent: That’s definitely very interesting. You mentioned one of the ways that you get business for your consulting company: referrals, word of mouth.

Kevin: Mm-hmm.

Brent: I think that that’s very common for most people. How, in the past, have you gone about… maybe incentivizing or growing your referral network? I mean, it’s so hard to create a pipeline for referrals, because you don’t know when they’re going to happen.

Kevin: Sure. So the first thing you have to do before you even ask for a referral is you have to deliver overwhelming value. So that goes into the whole philosophy of just building the right site is probably not enough. Because if you’re doing that, you’re just doing the bare minimum. But if you’re providing a sales or lead funnel, that’s a pretty big deal. And if you go out and look at your competitors, they’re not doing it. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is, you know, you can ask for referrals, and some people will do it. But there’s something that… I like to take it to another level. I like to do incentivized referrals. So, for example, let’s say… and this is just a very rough sketch. But let’s say, you know, it costs you $300 to acquire a customer. Why wouldn’t you offer that $300 to your friends and clients and say, “Hey, I’m looking for this type of customer. If they sign with me, I’ll pay you $300.” You have zero risk in that proposition. And in reality, you’re doing them a favor, as well. You know, friends will refer you when it’s top of mind, but if you offer them a cash reward, you’re going to get 10 times as many referrals.

Brent: So you just make sure… I mean, how do you pitch that to your existing friends and family? Do you just send out an email, or do you actually kind of sell it to them along with their projects?

Kevin: I personally think that picking up the phone, jumping on Skype, or meeting in person is always better than sending an email about that kind of thing. And I would just say, “Hi, John. You know, this is Kevin. I’m looking on maybe taking one or two, you know, great clients on. I don’t expect anything for free. Your time is valuable. I know you’re busy. You know, if you think someone is a good fit, please refer them to me. And by the way, I don’t expect you to do that for me for free. So, you know, if they come and they sign with me, I’ll either pay you a percentage of their deal, or I’ll give you $300, or $500. Whatever you think is worth it for you. And, you know, you can go out and buy something nice for your wife, and I really appreciate the referral.”
So it’s just a pretty simple thing. I think it’s more based on relationships, and just being honest and transparent with your friends and clients.

Brent: Very good. I think that’s a great tip. Kind of a bounty program for your referral marketing.
I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about, you know, you as a person.

Kevin: Sure.

Brent: What practices have you done that have gotten you where you are today?

Kevin: So the first thing that I really emphasized is personal assessment. So I’ve gone through Myers-Briggs. I’ve gone through, you know, a variety… strength finders. I’ve gone through a variety of things. And the reason why is that early on in my entrepreneurial journey, I tried to be a Swiss army knife. I tried to do a lot of things. And luckily I was able to do a lot of things pretty well. But if you’ve ever studied the Peretto Principle, or the 80/20 Principle, in that study of the Peretto Principle and 80/20, they say that, you know, 20 percent of your efforts bring 80 percent of the results. And so the trick is to find that 20 percent.
And so what I really try to focus on, day after day — and when I work with subcontractors and partnerships — is I focus on that 20 percent that brings really great value to my clients and to my customers. And then I outsource everything else. So that’s really the first thing.
And then, you know, the second thing, which has been really, really important for me, is that in the world of websites and all that stuff, it’s really easy to talk from a technical standpoint, and talk about code, and talk about design, and talk about these things. But it’s… the reality is that we’re emotional creatures, and the best way to connect with potential clients and your existing customers is to speak from the heart and not the head. And so, you know, if you do that, that’ll build your relationship, and it will increase your sales, but also increase your satisfaction between, you know, in your relationship with them.
And so those are the things that I try to emphasize in my business.

Brent: What would you say you’re best at?

Kevin: For me, it’s strategy. I get… you know, my favorite thing to do is to hear a friend or a client’s problem and figure out a mousetrap for them. Figure out a solution. I’m an ENTP, which is a serial entrepreneur mindset. Strategy and activation are kind of in my blood. So what I really gain energy from is, you know, finding a problem, whiteboarding it out, and coming up with a quick solution.
And I kind of prescribe to the “ready, fire, aim” philosophy. You know, most of my plans are about 80 percent there, but they’re done super fast. And so one of the things that’s really important for me is momentum. So, you know, a lot of people get into analysis paralysis. That drives me crazy. For me, it’s all about action.

Brent: You’ve been in marketing for a while.

Kevin: Mm-hmm.

Brent: You know, just from what I know of your story, you kind of had a pizza business that you were running. Multi-store pizza business. Took some lessons, learned from there, went into online marketing. What have you learned since you’ve been in online marketing that you think other web professionals should know?

Kevin: Well, I mean, I think the biggest thing is one of the things I spoke about earlier, is that… you know, creating systems and measurement is really the way to differentiate yourself in the marketing world. And a lot of that came out of direct mail, and also out of placement ads in magazines, where people would fill out stuff about learn how to play music, or… you know, there’s some classic John Cables advertising that was done back then.
The biggest thing for me was when I was in the pizza business, I would spend a lot of money on advertising in all these different forms, and none of them would work, and none of them I could trace to an actual sale or event. Which, as a business, owner, was very frustrating. So I’m a lot like your customer, or a lot of the subscribers here that would be buying your services, you know, for web development. You know, I wanted to actually see what this was going towards.
What happened was the only thing that really worked for me, where actually I could measure them and actually gauge the effectiveness, was direct mail in the radius around my stores with a coupon code with an expiration date, and then conversely driving people via SEO to a newsletter signup and then sending out those same offers via email.
So once I saw that, I thought, “Well, why aren’t other businesses doing this?” So what I did is I created a web development company. I didn’t know how to build websites. I found coders to build, you know, CMS websites for me. They would build them, and I would design… I would best practice, you know, the opt-in fields for these websites, and then I would create follow-up sequences on the back end. So I would drive traffic to them, I would get conversions, and then I would say, “Hey, your list is growing X amount. You have this traffic. You have this customer list. How are you doing?” Almost all of my customers loved the fact that they had a system kind of built on automatic pilot.

Brent: Very cool. I always like to understand where the puck’s moving.

Kevin: Mm-hmm.

Brent: So what trends are you currently following?

Kevin: You know, the interesting thing is… you know, obviously everybody’s talking about mobile, and the growth of mobile. You know, I think the biggest trends that I would say that are huge are click to call campaigns for mobile. Because people don’t want to fill out forms, but people will certainly do a click to call campaign on a phone.
The other thing is separating your web properties by desktop/tablet versus mobile. And I think tablets really are the same as desktop at this point. You know, they have the same resolution, and they look… most pages don’t break. I mean, that’s my opinion. But you have to siphon out traffic by that. Now, there are a lot of great responsive design templates out there that are good, too. You just have to make sure that the opt-in forms and the phone numbers are still as prevalent on the mobile responsive sites as they are on the regular sites.
So you just really have to be careful about your browser testing, your device testing. And you sometimes have to change your conversion goal depending on the site.
So, for example, a real quick example would be on one ecommerce site that I own, anybody that is detected on a mobile device, I actually forward them to my Amazon store so that they can check out with their Amazon login already, because everybody has all their information in Amazon already. So it’s a couple clicks and they’re checked out. Versus if they have to enter all these fields without a keyboard or a… you know, hand typing it in, that’s a long process, and you’ll lose a lot of sales.

Brent: Sure.

Kevin:So things like that.

Brent: Very cool. So what’s next for Kevin Cohen?

Kevin: So, you know, I split my time between a few select clients. I don’t take on a lot. Typically, I like to work with a few kind of high dollar stuff, where I can really dig in. I mean, a lot of the reason is that half of my work is psychological counseling, because entrepreneurs have a lot of baggage that they come in with. And that’s just the nature of it. I mean, it’s just being purely honest. It’s not a bad thing. But you’ve got to talk through that stuff. And, you know, there’s a lot of belief systems that entrepreneurs have, just because of the way… you know, they’re human, you know? They have stuff.
So I spend half my time on the consulting side, and then the other half of my time is on my supplementing commerce stuff. And I also have an information product stuff. My supplement stuff is really taking on a huge amount of time right now.

Brent: Very cool.

Kevin: Kind of growing really fast, so…

Brent: Well, we’ll definitely make sure we link out to your various products and the consulting company you guys maintain. I have to say, I mean, a personal referral from me to you, you’ve done a great job in our business over the years providing some of that value. So definitely big props to that.
Thanks, Kevin. Definitely appreciate you stopping by. Definitely keep us up-to-date on what you’re up to, and wish you all the best.

Kevin: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Brent: Well, stay tuned for more great content from uGurus.com.

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