"Self-Made" Success is a Myth
The in-the-trenches entrepreneurs know it best, there's a ton of work to do to keep a company running well — and it is practically impossible to do it all alone.
The idea feels nice to the ego, but it is bullshit.
None of us do it solo.
The amount of work to be done is too great for one person. Ask any successful company in the world about the goals they are trying to accomplish, and they could give you a task list of seemingly infinite length.
We are the same.
So are those who take this work seriously.
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
— Carl Sagan
Yes, any entrepreneur can get along fine for a while with nothing but what they bring to the table. In fact, we believe all entrepreneurs should start at that exact spot. Yet…
At a certain point in growth, it becomes critical to seek assistance from experts outside of a company’s internal resources.
We need experts — possessing skill-sets we lack — to partner with us and help achieve our goals.
Nobody gets to the top of Everest by themselves.
Someone else made the backpack, the boots, the gloves, and the GPS, right?
We should want those things to be made by experts. The stakes are too high. Poorly made gloves mean we lose our hands to frostbite.
Hiring people who know what they are doing is a principle we can apply everywhere from marketing to accounting and beyond, and…
It will always be less expensive to outsource our work to specialized teams than it would be to hire an array of staff for the same purposes.
An agency (like Wabbit) is made up of many specialists, each owning specific domains of expertise. Yet, here, when someone hires one Wabbit, they get all of us, collectively.
It would cost an insane amount of money to hire a team like ours as full-time staff. The health insurance, benefits, etc, etc… You can trust this fact because we pay us, we know the numbers.
Note: You should know, if we are talking about completing a one-off project, there’s no need for a retainer of any kind. A per-project agreement is the standard.
That said, one-off, ad hoc, per project work will always be more expensive than the ongoing-agreement alternatives.
If there is enough work to warrant it, or if there are long-term goals that need regular attention and action (ie: if you are testing positioning, or struggling to gain results with your website), a retainer relationship can provide the required foundation for addressing the challenge flexibly.
These ongoing agreements enable you to continue to make the most of your agency’s services, which could include any of the following:
Naturally this list will depend on the capabilities of the agency you hire, but it covers the basics that most ought to be able to handle.
All that said, it has to be the right kind of retainer, or the whole arrangement could be a disaster.
The traditional retainer model is broken. It favors the service provider over the customer, and often uses shady practices to hide this truth. We are going to talk about those soon.
We don’t see many agencies talking about this. After all, why would they? They make steady money from the con.
But there’s another way. Once that doesn’t look at people as commodities, but collaborators toward a common goal.
“What distinguishes highly successful people from everyone else is the way they use the power of relationships—so that everyone wins.”
— Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat Alone
We will circle back to that idea later. First, let’s look at some of the common issues plaguing traditional retainers…
As business owners, when we invest in something, we want to see what we are getting in exchange for our money. One of the biggest issues, by far, when it comes to retainers, is the general lack of transparency about completed tasks, and how they correlate to billed hours.
Traditional retainer models hardly provide the clarity most clients need. Broadly speaking, they suffer from an inability to track work allocated to each retainer period.
Pair that with a general lack of transparency into completed tasks, and the problem becomes clear…
Traditional retainers will show hours billed against the monthly allotment, but they rarely show how these hours impact the progress of any given project. Clients are expected to trust that objectives are on track, rather than see the proof.
Of course, in an ideal world, we could rely on trust alone. But, that only works until you get burned by it.
We inevitably find ourselves asking questions like:
- How do we know we really used up all our time?
- How do we know the edit really took 10 hours, not 8?
- How do we know we are being treated fairly?
There are countless agencies out there who operate with integrity and transparency — but, there are also countless who don’t.
Even if we take honor out of the equation, we still aren’t protected from rookies who mistakenly make promises they don’t have the skills to deliver.
As Hanlon’s Razor says:
Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to incompetence.
Thankfully, in most cases, this lack of transparency generally isn’t rooted in some evil intent — rather, it stems from a process and infrastructure issue on the part of the agency.
Note: If you’re an agency reading this… if you’re failing to offer transparency and continue having hour conflicts with clients, it’s a wake-up call to revisit your process
So, the good news is: this issue can be fixed.
The bad news is: it isn’t the biggest problem…
Use it or Lose it
No agency in their right mind is going to allow a client to rollover their hours from month-to-month. It’s suicide. That’s why the “use it or lose it” clause exists in the vast majority of traditional agreements.
They want to avoid a client stacking a massive number of labor hours, and then unleashing some huge project on the agency (who may not be be prepared for the workload at the time).
More importantly, they have to actively prevent multiple clients from this hell at once. If you’re an agency owner, there is serious risk of sinking your agency if you allow this possibility.
The “use it or lose it” clause is a smart move, and one that we completely agree with — but, it still sucks for the client.
Life doesn’t happen in accordance with the idea of “months.” Maybe the timing for one project doesn’t match up with the stipulations of the retainer. There shouldn’t be a penalty for that.
The agreement of a set number of hours per month makes sense on paper. After all, it’s the same concept as traditional hourly employment. With that in mind, we can’t be mad at it — the model does work in certain contexts (like fast food, retail employees, etc.). But…
It isn’t the best arrangement when working with highly-trained experts because it puts us in the wrong mindset.
Tends Toward Busywork
Every business has it’s slow months. Even the most successful of us sometimes struggle to find enough work to send to the agencies we’ve hired. This ultimately leads to unused retainer time (which doesn’t rollover) and wasted money.
The natural desire to avoid that outcome inevitably puts us in a terrible mindset:
We no longer focus on making the next best decision. Instead, we focus on sending the agency enough work (each month) to justify the relationship.
We end up choosing tasks that don’t further our goals (busywork), in an effort “get our money’s worth.” Sure, it’s all stuff that probably needed to get done anyway but, is it the best use of the relationship?
Shouldn’t we (as responsible entrepreneurs) be doing everything we can to better serve our market?
Scheduled retainers (and fixed deliverable retainers too) are often structured in ways that encourage the client to over-focus on time spent, not purpose.
That is backwards.
We need to be answering the most important questions of our businesses, not searching for tasks to spend our hours on before they expire.
Thankfully, traditional retainers aren’t the only option when we need ongoing help from experts. Let’s look at the agile solution…
Great Entrepreneurs Stay Agile
Scheduled (or fixed deliverable) retainers should be a thing of the past in our industry, and many others — because Agile retainers reign supreme as the de facto solution for teams who value staying nimble, and efficient.
As opposed to the monthly commitment of the traditional retainer model, in an Agile Retainer relationship, the entrepreneur makes an initial deposit into an account with the service provider. There is no recurring billing.
Any projects, requested changes, or improvements, are billed against that balance on the basis of time spent. When the balance is exhausted, we make another deposit into the account.
This gives the client the freedom to either request one-off work, or much larger, more complex directives. Rather than the constant stress of finding work for people to do, this agile relationship makes the process feel like refueling during a long, pleasant road trip.
Better still, many of the agencies who understand this model will offer a discounted hourly rate to their agile retainer clients, making the investment go even further.
The marketing industry is constantly evolving — a fact so true it’s almost cliché to point out — and, in our opinion, a marketing campaign should never have its approach, opinions, views, or methods set in stone.
Experimentation is required.
That’s way the layman misses about marketing, it is both art and science. That’s why we love growth driven design, it combines the two into a nearly perfect technique for rapid iteration.
Agile gives you room to experiment.
It allows teams to focus on high-value projects, measuring and analyzing their impact once completed.
It encourages shorter, incremental, iterative sprints.
That’s exactly how we Wabbits like to work.
We use the results of each sprint to iteratively improve the strategy by eliminating the parts that had little impact, and focusing on those that had a positive impact.
Each case study we’ve published on this site owes its success to the principle I’m pointing at right now.
The power of this retainer model is that it is designed to support best practices in modern entrepreneurship, rather than encouraging unhelpful mindsets that only serve to pad the pockets of the agency.
“This arrangement has been the perfect solution for our situation. Our business is unpredictable. We need 100% flexibility. Now, there’s no stress of trying to spend our hours before the next cycle. Wabbit is just there, no matter what, any time we need them. They help us stay relentless. If our account runs low on funds and there’s work to be done, we just refill our account and keep going.”
— Capital Remedy
We firmly believe that a marketing campaign should never be inflexible. By using an agile approach, we are able to rapidly experiment with marketing ideas, technology, software and tools to discover which strategies work best for each individual company.
Startups, small businesses, even first-time entrepreneurs can maintain an agency relationship without large, burdensome, ongoing commitments.
The combination of a clear goal, a pre-determined balance of funds, and a discount on the hourly labor rate is a powerful trinity.
Yet, it might not be enough to convince our friend Jerry that he’s safe pre-paying for work. Won’t the agency
Like with poker, one should never play with money they can’t afford to lose.
If a business is too strapped to make a $10,000 deposit… as in, if it will have to close, for good, if the money is lost…
DON’T !$#%@ING SPEND IT!
If the business could reasonably afford $1,000 to hire a group of experts… well, all that’s left to do is determine the goal, and find the right group of experts.
The specifics may be challenging to implement, and our budget may not be enough to 100% accomplish our goal but, that isn’t the only way to look at the situation.
Instead, we can ask…
- How close can we get?
- How can we get there in a way that funds our next phase?
When you really internalize the principle powering the mindset I’m illustrating here, the results will ripple through your life. It’s powerful stuff.
At Wabbit, this dynamic mindset shift provides our clients more freedom to implement marketing strategies that are otherwise too cost-prohibitive to tackle as a one-off project.
Because we design our work to fund its own growth.
Agile retainers allow us to efficiently allocate a budget toward a given goal, test different marketing methodologies, and discover what works best more reliably, at a lower cost, and in a shorter amount of time.
That’s the holy grail.
Rather than concern ourselves with hours worked per month for our clients, we get to focus on continually improving and evolving our strategies, ultimately delivering better results for them over each sprint.
We see results from our high-impact items quicker.
We improve on them constantly.
When someone hires a cab, or a ride-share driver, they don’t pay to be driven for 10 minutes… they pay to get to a destination.
A traditional retainer charges you to drive you around, regardless of whether you have a destination or not. The time spent driving is what you’re paying for.
An agile retainer is charging you to get to the destination. If you don’t have a destination yet, it will help you discover the best options.
The next time a colleague, client, or vendor suggests a monthly retainer relationship, consider implementing the agile alternative instead.
Below you’ll find some of the common questions we get at Wabbit, and our answers. Use it for reference when interviewing providers.
Frequently Asked Questions:
At Wabbit, there is no ongoing commitment required. This isn’t true with all agencies, but it ought to be.
Here, clients must make an initial deposit to fund the account. That’s the only commitment we require.
When the account is depleted, the client renews with predefined amounts. Currently, our minimum initial deposit is $5,000, with renewal options starting at $2,000.
For most, this is enough to accomplish a significant portion of their marketing goals, and start seeing returns on the investment.
Yes, though it’s pretty difficult to make that happen. Inactive accounts only expire one year after their last account usage.
Meaning, if on day 364 you need something moved by one pixel, the clock resets and you have another calendar year before the balance is at risk of expiring again.
For obvious reasons, this rarely happens.
Plus, we reach out incessantly if your balance is at risk.
The short answer is no.
The balance can apply to our management of advertising campaigns, but not the actual hard cost to buy the ad placement, pay for the click, bid on the keyword, etc…
At Wabbit, all of our services are available with an agile retainer relationship — design, development, project administration, content creation, strategy, etc.
We assign our clients an account manager for day-to-day communication, requirements, and requests. They are the first point of contact, available during normal business hours, focused completely on providing the support our clients unique needs require.
We also provide a 24/7 support portal for any critical website issues or bugs.
If there is a technical support issue, our dedicated maintenance team is on deck, at all times, to ensure client sites are up-to-date, functioning properly, and secure.
To submit requests, clients simply email their account representative, or submit a ticket to our helpdesk. Custom CMS and WordPress users can opt to have the helpdesk installed into their admin panel for quick, easy access.
Our team will reply with a confirmation that the task was received, and either act on the request or provide more information for you to choose how you’d like to proceed.
Yes, of course!
For some (rare) clients, we can dive right in with no wait.
The overwhelming majority need to move through our onboarding process first.
Related to a website, this often means we set up a development environment, audit the existing site, assess and secure the web server, etc.
We call this step “triage.” We learn our client’s ecosystem, lock out any previous web developers (if no longer needed) and fix any issues we find.
It’s a great opportunity to assess the viability of the hosting environment as well.
Naturally, our existing clients skip that step because they’ve already completed it.
If you have questions we didn’t address, ask us in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Want this kind of relationship with Wabbit?
Tell us about your goals, let’s see if we’re a fit!