Agency Journey Episode 43 (Y17M10)

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A quick update on my LinkedIn posting activities in the first 3 months of 2024:

  • I’ve consistently posted every weekday with the help of Deal Bridge, who keep me accountable for writing new posts and also helping to recycle some older posts for when I don’t have new ones ready. This has been going on since May 2023.
  • Gained about 800 new followers in Q1, not a big number but steady growth.
  •  220k impressions across my posts in past 90 days, will probably get close to 1 million impressions this year if I keep it up. Nothing crazy vs. the elite LinkedIn creators, but also not nothing. Almost 800k impressions in last 365 days.
  • I didn’t have any “viral” posts, just lots of posts with a few thousand impressions. The best performing post was this one where I asked my followers what type of $10 million agency they wanted to run, good amount of engagement.
  • My posts have helped me connect with dozens of business leaders, agency owners, former/existing clients, and people from my past. They always remark that I come up often in their feeds and that they feel like they’re “in the know” about what I’m working on.
  • I’ve been able to drive leads to all of our Barrel Holdings businesses through my posts as well as get a number of inbound inquiries from agency owners who want to sell their business to us.
  • There’s also a benefit to talent acquisition that I’m finding helpful – people recommend talented folks to me or I get direct outreach from people who are interested in learning more about opportunities across our various agencies.

I’m on the bandwagon with folks who believe that in today’s competitive environment, impactful B2B sales and marketing can come from founders and executives proactively sharing their stories and insights in authentic and largely unfiltered ways. More content along the lines of building-in-public, lessons learned, and the interplay between work and life experiences. After all, people buy from people, so why not let people see the type of person you are by consistently sharing online? Not for everyone, I understand, but it’s been working out for me so far.

About Agency Journey: This is a monthly series detailing the happenings at my agency Barrel, founded in 2006. You can find previous episodes here.


New Business Wins to Close Out Q1

We added eight new clients in Q1. Five of them were opportunities that we’ve been working since last quarter (or even much before then) that finally signed in Q1. Three were opportunities that came in this quarter and closed relatively quickly.

Three of these new clients are CPG food & beverage brands, which helps in our continued positioning push. The others are a mix ranging from a flower business to supplements and baby products.

From an absolute dollars measure, Q1 fell a tad bit short of our goal for new business, but we saw some promising signs including some new clients already signing a second, much larger SOW and a handful of deals that gave us the green light but are in the process of getting contracts sign, which would then count as wins in Q2.

One of the biggest wins in Q1 was for a fashion brand that we initially did a very small analytics project for. They enjoyed working with us and decided to make the switch from their existing agency, awarding us a retainer relationship to support their Shopify website. Examples like this particular client is why, for certain prospects, we’ll be open to doing smaller (think sub-$10k) engagements.

Getting Organized With a 1-Page Report

Inspired by author Benjamin Hardy’s 1-Page Report method (watch his YouTube video), I decided to create a version for Barrel. It still felt early enough in the year to create a 2024 Overview sheet with clear goals for the year along with what I’m calling our “big bets” – initiatives and organizational moves that will impact business performance and structure.

I took inspiration from Benjamin Hardy’s 1-Page Report and created a modified version for Barrel.

The hardest part was narrowing down the goals to 6 numbers, ensuring that what we put in here would be most important to understanding whether or not the business is doing well. I landed on Total Revenue Booked, New Accounts Booked, Existing Accounts + Follow-On Work Booked, Gross Profit, EBIT, and Utilization. The first row is basically devoted to how well we land new business from new and existing clients – I felt strongly that hitting these goals would make it much easier to hit the other goals.

After getting a rough version done in mid-March, I met with Lucas at the end of the month to recap Q1 in our April report. The exercise of aligning on “what got done”, highlighting the key activities in progress, and prioritizing the “Big Impossible Goals” for Q2 was incredibly clarifying and energizing.

We’ve had a version of this going for a while in our quarterly meetings, but because the content lived across several emails, Notion entries, and presentation decks, we often didn’t reinforce or revisit our plans until the next quarter. Things would get done of course, but I found it hard to have a firm grasp on everything going on.

With a 1-page format, the space constraint actually forces a great deal of prioritization and curation that allows us to leave out a lot of non-essential to-do’s and lower impact initiatives. What’s more, the ability to see everything at a single glance vs. an endless scroll feels so much less overwhelming to the mind. There’s a tightness and clarity that comes with being able to distill the goals, priorities, and activities on a single page.

It’s such a simple and straightforward exercise but one that, done consistently over time, may actually play a big part in keeping the company aligned and focusing the team’s energies on the highest leverage activities.

Bolster: Going All In On the Offer

I’ve been working closely with the Bolster team to really dial in the business model and how we position the Omakase offer.

The Omakase is Bolster’s free brand design sprint that results in a logo, color palette, typography set, and other brand elements that can function as a ready-to-use brand style kit. We’ve delivered close to 70 Omakase engagements so far, helping startups and small businesses drastically upgrade their look and feel at no cost.

We’ve been selective in how we offer and share the Omakase on the Bolster site, but we made the decision to start leading with the Omakase as a “try before you buy” offer that’s very hard to come by in the brand design space at the caliber we deliver. We know that if we can get more businesses to sign up for the Omakase, we are certain that a percentage of them will opt in to our paid services which range from further revision designs, slide presentation design, and websites.

Bolster’s new homepage features a letter above the fold that explains our unique offer of a free design before buying.

I worked closely with co-founder and Creative Director Henry Alcock-White on a new landing page for Bolster that really lays out the Omakase offer and encourages people to jump right into getting a free design.

Will the model work in the long run? It’s hard to say, but what we couldn’t afford to do was be vague and wishy washy about where the Omakase fit into the model. Either go all in and see how far it takes us or don’t do it at all. The market will tell us soon enough if we’re on the right track or not.

Top of Mind

Looking for a Sales Lead

We began the process of recruiting for a sales lead at Barrel this month. This is not someone who will lead or own business development at Barrel –that responsibility will largely remain with Barrel partner Lucas Ballasy. This is someone who will be specifically hired to drive more opportunities for the business–someone who can be relentless in chasing after our ideal client profile, generating opportunities beyond the ones that come through our existing marketing efforts, and ultimately helping to drive revenue growth.

After several initial interviews and conversations with agency owners and sales leaders at other agencies, we’ve refined the role, the compensation structure, and our expectations. We’ve also refined our job description and the application process to tighten up the candidate qualifying process.

The sales lead we’re looking to hire is someone who has hands-on experience being a business development rep (BDR) who can then qualify and work with our team to close deals. If we get to a point where we can scale up the sales team, I can see us having more specialized sales roles (BDRs, SDRs for inbound, and account execs to scope & close), but for now, we are starting with a single hire who can increase our lead volume.

This is not to say that we’re solely relying on a sales lead hire to generate leads. We currently have various outbound campaign initiatives in motion working with 3rd party freelancers and partners to generate leads. This way, our sales lead doesn’t have to start from absolute zero. We’ll hand over some very early marketing qualified leads (MQLs) for this person to nurture along with their own prospecting activities.

The exercise of figuring out the compensation structure has been enlightening. We’ve been trying to figure out what a proper base should be and what kinds of commissions make sense. Base compensation can range anywhere from $75,000 to $220,000 depending on the sales person’s experience and capabilities. On target earnings (OTE), which is what the sales person can make if they reach their sales quotas, can double their base. We’ve seen commissions ranges all over the map but we’ll probably land in the 3-6% range with differences in commission for self-sourced deals and closing of sales qualified leads that get handed to the sales person.

A sales lead, if they can hit their numbers and drive revenue growth for Barrel, should be one of the highest earners in the business. It’s a worthwhile investment if we can find the right person. Of course, I’ve also heard plenty of stories where making a sales hire didn’t go well for agencies, so we’re not pursuing this with blind optimism.

Slides from Friday Solved’s Ryan Hall showing the different roles involved in the agency sales process (shared with permission).

What ultimately helped us to prioritize this role over, say, a head of partnerships or another business development manager type was exposure to a webinar put on by SoDA with Ryan Hall, who runs Friday Solved, which helps agencies build scalable sales engines. His explanation and slides on the different roles in a sales process for agencies made immediate sense. As we shift from relying solely on founders and partners to do sales, his slides helped us better visualize the involvement of other team members – account managers, subject matter experts, sales people – as part of the sales process. Give Ryan a follow on LinkedIn and check out his firm.

Shared with Partners

“‘Look, Brad, if you want to make money in the business world, you need to get used to problems, because that’s what business is. It’s actually about finding problems, embracing and even enjoying them—because each problem is an opportunity to remove an obstacle and get closer to success.'” (Brad Jacobs, How to Make a Few Billion Dollars)

Adopting this type of mindset, I believe, is the difference between enjoying a long and fruitful career versus getting burnt out. This and surrounding yourself with people that you enjoy working with every day.

“Create time alone with yourself. When seeking the wisdom and clarity of your own mind, silence is a helpful tool. The voice of our spirit is gentle and cannot be heard when it has to compete with others. Just as it is impossible to see your reflection in troubled water, so too is it with the soul. In silence, we can sense eternity sleeping inside us.” (Ethan Hawke, Rules for a Knight)

It’s often hard to do because my default behavior is to load up a podcast or audiobook, but the moments where I give in to silence and spend time with my own mind are often the most illuminating and refreshing.

“People tend to have short memories. Most of the time they can forget about bad experiences and fail to heed lessons previously learned. But hard-core stress leaves a scar. Experiencing something that makes you stare ruin in the face and question whether you’ll survive can permanently reset your expectations and change behaviors that were previously ingrained.” (Morgan Housel, Same as Ever)

Take a read through Episode 18 – that experience left a scar that’s fundamentally changed at how I think about agency business (for the better). Project delays, over-servicing retainers, and poor utilization will never escape my notice.

“Your database is your business. Building up the number of names in it and a relationship with those names is really at the very core of what building a real estate business is all about. Think of it this way: The size of your real estate sales business will be in direct proportion to the size and quality of your database.” (Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, Dave Jenks, Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent)

I find the same dynamic in our line of work – the database and the number of relationships are really what drive the value. Our weekly exercise of reaching out to 10 people has really enriched our database versus where it was just a year ago. Adding a sales lead, being more proactive with partnerships, and improving our marketing efforts will also continue to expand our database.


  1. David Kyle Choe says

    I really enjoyed this one Peter.

    I find it really impressive you have posted so regularly on LinkedIn despite not having a post go viral. That’s dedication. Do you feel like you expect it to happen soon or are you comfortable continuing even if there’s no spike in engagement?

    I also loved the Morgan Housel quote. Really eye-opening way to process my own journey.

    Thank you always

    • Peter Kang says

      Hey David, Thanks for the note! I actually have no expectation of anything going viral. I get plenty of value through my 2-3k impression posts where people comment and are in the know about what I’m doing and talking about. And these posts all add up to a decent amount over time.

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