036: Chaos to Coordination to COO – Building Digital Dream Teams in Remote Marketing Agencies with Leah Leaves (Office Hours)
In this special Office Hours episode, Optidge’s own COO and resident expert in all things operations shares her three secrets to building high-performing teams in remote digital marketing agencies. From removing the stigma that surrounds independent contractors to extinguishing the fear of standardization (SOPs are a good thing!), Leah shares how to not only have cohesive remote teams rowing in the same direction, but create a culture of drive, efficiency, and top-notch client service. Whether you’re an agency owner or a team member looking to enhance your agency’s performance, this episode is packed with practical strategies and guidance to help your teams feel supported and successful.
An Optidge “Office Hours” Episode
Our Office Hours episodes are your go-to for details, how-to’s, and advice on specific marketing topics. Join our fellow Optidge team members, and sometimes even 1:1 teachings from Danny himself, in these shorter, marketing-focused episodes every few weeks. Get ready to get marketing!
Key Points + Topics
- [01:54] Danny and Leah delve into the fascinating story of how they first met – through a little-known social platform that had its heyday during the COVID pandemic: Clubhouse. Leah’s introduction of herself as a fractional COO for digital marketing agencies, Danny’s interest was piqued and he knew he had to talk to her ASAP. Over two years later and here we are! She even was Danny’s partner in developing this podcast.
- [05:08] Leah went to Colorado State University for Technical Journalism, but being a more hands-on learner took on a few remote jobs while in school, quickly discovering the beauty of remote working. Ultimately, her journalism skills translated to seeing how every project benefits from ‘bookends’, or having a clear beginning, middle, and end. She then combined this with her love of remote work when launching her career.
- [7:40] While Leah’s early work with digital agencies was in SEO, she realized her passion was in operations. So how did she get there? It all started with seeing the joy of a successful campaign starkly contrasted against less than great results that stemmed from backend operations being messy; a missed document or missed opportunity to gain knowledge from a client could quickly result in crumbling outcomes and disengaged teams. This brought out Leah’s organization tendencies and drive to help teams understand who’s in charge of what, where to go, and how to do it. This, combined with taking on more operations-based roles allowed her to both have the 30,000 foot view and still role up her sleeves to get into the nitty-gritty of operational challenges. From this, a passion for providing the best space for teams to do their best work and shine for their clients was born.
- [10:38] Leah is not drinking the Kool-aid on freelance and independent contractor stigmas of being siloed or not being integral team members! In fact, she challenges the status-quo, explaining that anyone, regardless of employment status, can embed into the fabric of the company and team, and that both leadership and team members themselves have a responsibility to create a culture of team connection and collaboration. If they’re there for the right reasons, share the same core values, and are onboard with the company’s mission, it doesn’t matter if they’re there for 10 hours or 40 hours a week. It’s up to leadership to foster this environment AND up to independent contractors to speak up, ask questions, and let leadership know they want to be a part of something bigger.
- [15:38] Expanding on these ideals, Leah gives her insight on the perennial question of hiring full-time employees versus independent contractors. The answer? A nuanced approach that considers factors such as task volume and complexity, and finding the right fit for the right roles. Because of the wealth of knowledge and skills that fractional freelancers and independent contractors possess, they are often fantastic for most volume and complexity cases. The exception? High volume and high complexity when the agency is ready to bring on the additional logistics that go along with employment. Because of this, she often uses the approach of a mix of employees and contractors.
- [20:58] Speaking of fractional roles, Leah provides a glimpse into her personal journal of becoming a Fractional Chief Operations Office (COO). After being a full-time COO with an agency at the end of the 2010s, she realized she was losing her own identity amongst the agency’s, and being a workaholic was leading to significant burn out. Once she hit that rock bottom and was digging out, she realized she either needed to let go of her side business, or kick the tires and really put it into gear. Around 2019 she learned of the ‘fractional’ executive role, which was the perfect combination of consulting and mentorship skills with digging into the everyday operations on a deeper level.
- [25:527] Leah shares her 3 secrets to building high-performing teams for remote digital marketing agencies:
- 1 – Having an outstanding team member onboarding experience
- 2 – Radically transparent communication
- 3 – Exceptional organization and standardization
- The initial experience sets the tone for new team members. Having a solid onboarding ensures they feel confident and prepared from day one, ultimately fostering long-term success. This includes having access to all setup and clear guidelines on their roles and responsibilities, as well as knowing who to go to for what, where to communicate, and what success looks like in that role, among others.
- [35:13] Communication leads to clarity. Danny shares a real-life example of how thorough documentation and organization facilitated the seamless onboarding of contractors during maternity leave absences. Leah emphasizes the psychological safety this level of organization provides to agency owners and team members, enabling them to confidently step away when needed, knowing that processes are well-documented and accessible.
- [36:22] Let’s talk letting go of the fear around standardizing operations! Leah addresses the common resistance to standardization in agencies, explaining how it can initially be seen as corporate or overly structured. The reality, however, is that the goal isn’t to strip away the agency’s personality, but to eliminate the 80% of repetitive, time-consulting tasks that hinder creativity and strategic thinking. Instead of oppressing team members, it creates MORE freedom by making their day-to-day lives easier!
- [39:36] Once you see the value in standardized operations, how do you document them? Leah encourages agencies to start documenting by breaking processes down into phases (i.e. onboarding, project, account), then further breaking each phase into steps. This gradual approach simplifies the documentation process and makes it less intimidating. Think process first, then step-by-step procedure.
- [47:45] Leah underscores the value of organizational structure, and getting everyone in the agency on the same rhythm. After all, not being able to find the information you need can quickly and needlessly bring a project to a halt.
- [48:10] Leah shares her top three book recommendations for personal and professional growth: “Traction” by Gino Wickman, “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz, and “Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman. She believes these books provide valuable insights into business operations, financial management, and leadership.
- [49:38] Leah recommends “The Science of Success” podcast for its scientific approach to personal and professional growth. The podcast explores various aspects of self-improvement and achieving better results, incorporating scientific methodologies and expert interviews.
Guest + Episode Links
Danny Gavin 00:05
Hello everyone i’m Danny Gavin, founder of Optidge, Marketing professor and the host of The Digital Marketing Mentor. Today we have a very special office Hours episode with Leah Leaves, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Optidge. Leah is the Queen of organization and efficiency. With her organizational brilliance and her beloved spreadsheets, she builds and maintains systems and processes so the team runs like a well oiled machine. Leah’s superb structure ensures our team can do their jobs so that our clients get top-notch service. Aside from holding numerous digital marketing certifications and a BA in technical journalism, Leah is a lifelong learner and participates in executive coaching, online training courses, and professional masterminds. Today, we are going to talk with Leah about learning the three practical strategies to nurturing efficiency and remote digital marketing agencies. Hey Leah, how are you?
Leah Leaves 01:54
I’m doing great today i’m so excited to be on the podcast.
Danny Gavin 01:57
So Leah was actually my partner in coming up with the digital market Mentor podcast so I don’t know I took like a bunch of episodes. But I’m really glad that you’re here today. I guess to start off, I’d love to tell people how we met. I think that’s pretty cool. So the way that I, the way that I tell people is back in the middle of COVID, there was this social network called Clubhouse. You know either you know what it was or you never heard of it because it kind of it had its glory and then it left so motion poll, track who it was, a guest on the podcast, he had this room on Fridays all about jobs in the marketing space. And for those people don’t know about Clubhouse, this is a social network, which is audio. So imagine chat rooms where people are talking, you’ve got people on the stage who are allowed to speak, and then people in the audience who you know can listen and they can raise their hand if they want to come up on the stage and talk and it’s, it was pretty cool it was awesome during the pandemic to allow people to interact, even though they were, you know, at home and isolated. You know, I was invited by Moshe to one of these sessions, and I think I was on the stage to talk about it. And then in walks in, this lady Leah leaves and, you know, she comes up to the stage and she’s like, hey, everyone, I’m Leah leaves i’m a fractional CEO for digital marketing agencies. And when I heard that, I’m like, whoa, I didn’t know that existed. And, you know, obviously the conversation went well i don’t remember the specifics, but afterwards I myself was struggling in the agency, you know, handling too much and I knew that I needed some sort of help. And when I heard that there was this concept of a fractional C o this is really cool. And obviously spoke with Leah. You know, at first I was a little bit like, Oh my gosh, am I literally handing my keys to someone that I don’t even know but kind of got over that we had a three month trial and the rest is history we’ve been working together for more than two years and it’s really been one of the biggest blessings that Optage and myself have had so that’s the story. Do you do you remember it the same way?
Leah Leaves 03:53
I do. I remember that I came into the room and I was looking for a digital marketing specialist for one of my clients at the time and I’ll go to pretty much you know any ends that I need to you know and try anything for my clients and especially on the recruiting side finding the right fit for the right seats. It’s really important to get the right team members in and i remember being at Clubhouse for a while and then finally finding some of these more specific rooms around digital marketing agencies and marketers. And I remember listening to you and Moshe and I think even when I was on stage and you had I think jumped in with the question, I think you even mentioned like on the stage, you know, I think we need to talk. Yeah, I think we need, I think we need to follow up after this and I was like, oh, of course, you know, and just wanting to follow up and stay connected. Yeah and like you said, the rest is history because now it’s two years plus later, yeah. And not on Clubhouse anymore, but still, definitely Fractal Co owing for digital agencies.
Danny Gavin 04:57
Yeah, I don’t know if anyone’s done Clubhouse, but no, there are it’s still kind of, it’s kind of breathing. So, Leah, let’s start at the beginning. Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Leah Leaves 05:08
So I actually went to Colorado State University for technical journalism. I was very lucky, you know, to be in the International Baccalaureate program in my high school so I ended up starting, you know, with over a years, you know, college credit and as much as I love learning and studying, I’m more of a on the job kind of learner. So wanted to get into and out of university, you know, as fast as possible. And I was very lucky, you know, to work with a few amazing companies remotely, you know, during the time that I was in university. And so I paired my technical journalism skills and background, You know, with some online remote work you know, with. I’d say somewhat journalistic, you know, capabilities but you know more so transitioning into, you know, marketing pretty early on and recognizing, you know, the beauty, you know, of working remotely. So that’s kind of where i started and I like sharing, you know, my background, you know, from technical journalism, because I think it absolutely informs, you know, how I structure, you know, operations. You know, everything in journalism has beginning, middle and end you know every story. You know you can, you can really mark that arc, you know and identify it you know when you’re reading through a story whether I mean you’re on creative writing side, you know or on the technical side and so that’s really informed, you know building out operations of always having the bookends, always having the beginning and the end, you know and then meeting in the middle, you know for those milestones. So I was really lucky also to, you know, join the remote world quite early on in my career because 99 9 % of my experience, you know, in professional world has all been remote.
Danny Gavin 06:46
Yeah, it’s crazy it’s kind of like you were setting yourself up for the world later on, but you never knew it.
Leah Leaves 06:52
Exactly and i can’t imagine you know how people working in an office nine to five, you know Monday through Friday. Granted, you know there are some. Pros and cons of You know, working online and remotely and you really have to learn those boundaries. You know early on. You know and learn you know how to build in that structure for yourself so you can maintain. You know that work life balance, like when you do walk out of your office. You need to be walking into your home even if it’s you know, through a doorway you know rather than you know commuting you know 30 or 60 minutes away.
Danny Gavin 07:25
So your early work in the like the agency space was in content writing an SEO and often like when you talk to people you actually mentioned like yeah I used to do SEO then you transition to the broader operations role. So what drove that path to move and pivot?
Leah Leaves 07:40
Well, first and foremost, I still love SEOI love with all of my heart that is definitely you know, where my soul is, you know on the marketing side and it’s definitely more of the organic side but i have embraced you know, both paid and organic and I really learned a lot, you know and I think you know the love from it came from honestly working with small online businesses, you know that needed local SEO And so I understood the impact, you know quite tangibly, you know through seeing it in the results and in their revenue. And I think where it really started to shift for me was seeing actually the team members who were working on those types of campaigns, you know, for like Legion, for example. I saw their faces light up, you know, when one of their campaigns, you know, would hit it out of the park. And I would also see their faces, you know, just. Fall and crumbled to pieces. You know when that one piece, you know of a campaign was missing that they couldn’t find it, Whether it was like in Google Drive or Dropbox or, you know, wherever. You know that they were really trying to optimize something and they found out later, You know, a piece of information from the client that they could have asked, you know, ahead of time and there were just so many things on the back end that were just messy and it was really impacting, you know, the results, you know and ultimately then it impacted the team. Yeah and how they felt about things, you know, how they wanted to work or not work, you know, at some of the agencies that i was with at the time, you know and so it just kind of naturally brought out my organizational tendencies. And I’m just wanting to put things in order, you know, and clean things up, you know, and make sure that people just know. Like where to go for what you know, who’s doing what, you know, what are we doing in the 1st place, you know and then of course like how are we doing this? And so I started getting into management and project management, account management, you know OPS management, becoming an OPS director and then ultimately it’s C o and i like having that 30.000 thousand foot view. And still getting my hands into the deep end, you know, and I think that’s, you know, the beauty of operations is that you can have a bit of both you can have the big picture, you know, but then also be in the details and it’s, I mean, it’s a beautiful space to be in if you like to have a bit of control, which I’ll be totally honest about, you know, But then you also like to really be a servant leader. You know, because it is about giving the team, you know the best environment, the best space to be in to let them do the their best working and really enjoy it because then the client gets the best in out of the whole bunch. So that’s where it kind of started transitioning into operations and how it came to be where it is today.
Danny Gavin 10:20
So you’ve worked freelance at different points in your career as a fractional CEO. Some would frame that approach similar to freelancing because you are in your own you know at certain points. At the same time, you’re a huge proponent of team building and training, while freelancing can seem very isolated and independent to many. How do you meld those two realities together first?
Leah Leaves 10:38
It is what you make of it, right so everyone who thinks that freelancing is being siloed or being on a desert island by yourself is honestly just. You know, drink in the kool-aid you know they are not giving it it’s due opportunity, which is again what you can make of it, which is a beautiful opportunity that we all have, that I have some of the best team members that I get to work with i have the best experiences and who cares you know, if it’s freelance, you know, or if it was as an employee to me i don’t think that we need to have a delineation. Of being a great team member or doing great work you if you’re one or the other. So to me it i know that a lot of you know my clients and my team members just see me as the C o right they see me just as another team member not as a fractional in a team member or you know an independent contractor. So I think it absolutely is how you. How you want it to be and if you want it to be inclusive, you want it to be in a building a team connection and you know really be able to have that rapport and those relationships then you make it the way it is.
Danny Gavin 11:50
Yeah and I think you’re really a shining example of that like I always, you know people ask me fractional C o that means that like their mind is fractionally there. But it’s pretty amazing lay how you’re able to really when you put yourself into you know one of your clients when your businesses, you’re very present and the people that you deal with don’t feel like you’re working with anyone else. I can imagine that you know to a point it’s difficult, but it’s amazing that you’re able to do that. And then in addition to that, as opticians scaled, you know, we do have fulltime employees, but we do have a lot of contractors and it’s amazing how you’ve been able to like create and set that standard. It doesn’t really matter how you get paid, but you can still be part of the team not only do you live that yourself, but then you’re also able to enlighten others to look at contractors parttime people really as equal parts of the team, whether they’re getting paid a full salary or not.
Leah Leaves 12:38
I think it’s really important, particularly for the independent contractors, to feel a part of a team because of the stigma i think that comes along with being an independent contractor or freelancer, you know that people often, you know, will look at them as disposable. It’s and it’s such a terrible word to use, you know, But honestly, it is. It’s a tragic position that I think a lot of people have experience with freelancers and independent contractors only through sites like Upwork or unifiber or things like that so they only know them for one hit wonders, you know, or really small, you know, basic tasks like thinking Task Rabbit is another one. And there’s nothing wrong with using those platforms when you have something really specific you know that you need to have completed. But you’re not going to have a relationship out of that you’re going to get, you know, the output that you expected and that’s it yeah and for an independent contractor for the answer, it’s really important for them to feel a part of the team because then they’re going to give you their best work as well. And so getting out of that stigma of their disposable or, you know, they’re easily replaceable, you know, or they don’t have as much skin in the game. Like if you present them, you know to the rest of the team as a team member, not as oh this is an employee or this is an independent contractor again. Whether it’s fractional, you know or it’s full time, it shouldn’t matter if you’re there for the right reasons, you share the same core values. You are on board with the mission you really care you know about the client’s success, you know the client results, you know then again, who cares you know if you’re there 10 hours a week, you know, or 40 hours a week. So a lot of independent contractors, I feel I can do more for their cause. By being also more engaged and upfront at the very beginning, right it’s not all on like the business owners or on the recruiting specialist. You know it’s also on the independent contractors to speak up for themselves and say I want to be something, I want to be part of something bigger you know and I can do that. You know, if you give me, you know more trust, you know or if we build up more confidence together and I can go above and beyond and this is what it looks like in the same thing you know for a regular team member you know or quote unquote employee you know is that. They can all vouch for themselves, you know, and that comes back into like team building and coaching and mentoring. You know, which I know is something that you’re so natural at, you know in your role, you know within Optage, but then also in the podcasting and other avenues is that natural mentorship is something that. I wish people could just open themselves up to, you know, by asking more questions, You know, by saying, hey, i would love to sit in on this meeting and just be a fly in the wall or can I watch one of those recordings i’d love to learn more. You know independent contractors can do just as much you know and put themselves out there, you know to be more a part of the team as well.
Danny Gavin 15:27
So given the availability of contract workers and freelancers in all manner of fields, focuses and specialties, how do you determine full timer contract and how do you determine when to bring on new team members?
Leah Leaves 15:38
This is a question I get often and there are a lot of variables that can be considered. There’s a lot of input that you can definitely research, you know online. And my rule of thumb, you know for when you hire a contractor universe as an employer, vice versa, comes down to a matrix of the volume multiplied by the complexity. Right and so when we’re looking at particular tasks or types of work that have a low level of volume, you know say that you literally can say it’s 10 hours a week, that’s low volume, you know and it’s low complexity, right somebody can do it over and over and over again and it’s the same you maybe per client, it’s the same per day. You know, whatever that low complexity variable is a contractor is my best go to. Is that you know that you can plug someone in and get that thing done again over and over and over it can be reliable, can be consistent. You know now if you start going into Okay, it is high volume, maybe you have a ton of leads you need to process and you need and this goes to like call tracking and call listening. So you have a high volume, you maybe have like hundreds of calls, you know for your particular clients that you have to get through every single month. But the complexity is pretty low. You know, you need somebody to listen to the call you need them to take notes, you know, and enter the information in the serum great that’s pretty standard that’s pretty straightforward, honestly. You know, if the volume is not high enough to warrant a fulltime person, like if you literally do not have 30 plus hours a week worth of work, it’s not high enough volume. Go with a contractor. You know we can find amazingly reliable, consistent and hardworking team members you know, remotely in and across the seas. You know, so you can find people that can do that type of work and hit the nail on the head for you every time. And then we go into Okay, let’s say that especially when we get into the higher complexity you know types of tasks now we’re talking about like strategic work talking about Okay we need, you know, a digital marketing strategist to talk with us and our clients. You know, about how do we manage, you know this three month, you know, paid campaign and we’ve got a lot we’ve got two platforms, we’ve got 3 stakeholders like we’ve got all kinds of stuff mixed in here. If it’s less than 10 hours a week, you know it’s low volume and it’s very specific to also and I’m not saying just that maybe low volume on number of hours, but maybe low volume on number of clients. Maybe it’s only for like two or three clients. This is I think aligned with you know kind of the fractional C o work is that if you can find somebody that knows exactly what they’re talking about, it’s going to fit that bill 100 % of what you’re looking for they have all the skills and expertise and. They have the experience to back it up, you know, and you just need it for like just a few cases, go with that contractor again and leave the door open. You need to bring them on in a full time in the future if that were to expand, if that’s one of your plans. But you’ll see in three out of the four cases I’ve already talked about, I’m talking about contractors because I feel like there is a wealth of knowledge out there that we can tap into, you know, on a fractional freelance in independent contractor basis. To get the right person in the right seat. Because then the case for having an employee is high complexity and high volume. You know that they’re going to need to bounce around to multiple things they’re going to have to wear multiple hats. And I’m also talking about specifically with smaller agencies, you know where they everyone has to pull a little bit more than you know their own weight because you know, we don’t have always the capacity to bring on. Specialist or strategist for one very specific task or one very specific ask. So we have to you know again be a little bit more complex, you know and you be able to service that. And so that’s when I would reserve you know holding on to that fulltime employee role. You know, for small agencies, you know it’s for that high volume, high complexity because then it also makes your agency more complex. Right you have to consider all the legalities, you know, bring on employee, you know benefits. You have to really think through all of the HR components you need to make sure that it’s the best experience long term for both you and them. You know, not that I’m ever promoting turnover, you know with contractors, but I’ll be honest, it’s easier if there is turnover with employees. It’s just harder it takes longer. There are more costs associated with it and I I’m not antiemployees, you know I absolutely love them and I know that there is that right place for them. But I think it comes back to it’s got to be the right person for the right seat and having that clarity ahead of time versus just based off of like only numbers or only gut instinct. You have to have that blend of the two and this is kind of the approach that I take with it.
Danny Gavin 20:54
How did you get into the realm of fractional C o ing in the 1st place?
Leah Leaves 20:58
Ooh do you want the heavily personal version or the more succinct professional version?
Danny Gavin 21:06
I think the personal version would be good, but we can try to keep it succinct as well.
Leah Leaves 21:11
Yes, both all in one. Well, that’s what I offer is all the things how I got into fractional COOing and I love that verb COOing. So I was a Co O with an agency back in 2016 to 2019 as a fulltime employee. And I to this day, I mean, I still love the agency i’m still in contact, you know, with the visionary there and many of the team members. But I found that over those years I completely lost my identity. I became the agency and not Leia, the C o you, know at the agency, I really struggled with that understanding, you know, and with that realization until I honestly burned myself out and it was all on my own doing. But in September of 2018 I hardcore burned myself out i was in a major depression. I was having a lot of issues, you know, at home and honestly, even though it’s a functioning workaholic, it was starting to crack you know the veneer was starting to crack and even though I had conversations with my visionary, you know at the time and I was an integrator amongst the CO and he was definitely looking out for me. You know, it really was up to me to hit that rock bottom and then have to make a hard decision, you know and find my way out of that. And so ultimately what came out was I needed to part ways with them because I couldn’t, you know, I couldn’t just be in the role, you know, without being, you know, the whole identity, you know of the agency. And so we started to transition me out we decided, you know that ultimately it wasn’t going to work, you know, as part time, especially since I’ve been there in a certain capacity for so long and I had kept my business open on the side. You know and I mean this was something I negotiated with and so the visionary knew about it, but I’d kept my business open on the side since 2013 and I decided you know at that point I needed to either get rid of it, you know kick the tires and really make a go for it and become a little bit more of that visionary integrator, you know hybrid, you know myself. And so back in about end of 2020 is when I really revamped it and rolled it out i’ve been doing some operations consulting, but honestly that’s not me either. You know I am not a consultant i don’t come in and give you a plan and then you know head out the door. You know again I like getting my hands dirty and getting into the deep end you know being alongside you know other visionaries you know and angencies and helping the team you know really hit that next stage of growth and do it in a sustainable fashion and so it was sometime in twenty nineteen twenty that I had heard the term fractional CLO instead of like operations consultants or you know strategic planning consultant and my brain just exploded, I’m like how have we not had this before I everyone’s heard of you know outsourced CFO’s or fractional CFO’s you know for Chief financial officers for years you know my mother was one you know for years she owned her own business as a CFO outsourced CFO for 20 plus years and it had never occurred to me to do that on the same side as operations. So we now have had this huge boom with fractional leadership roles you know and fractional is used more mostly with executive level positions. So you’ll see like outsourced operations managers or you know virtual assistants you know, but typically fractionally you’ll see just for the C level roles and it really opened up the door in it to what I do best you know is it is handson you know it is what I love to do you know it’s is partnering with really cool agency owners and their amazing teams to drive incredible success, you know, for their clients and so that, I mean that’s, you know where we’re at now is really embracing, you know, the fractional CLO role in embracing you know, the outsourced operations you know, professionals you know and making sure that you know agencies, digital marketing agencies can avoid. You know, the burnout culture that we’re often known for. You know, it’s often talked about. I experienced it myself and I’m here to, you know, help reverse that course.
Leah Leaves 26:26
I’m so excited to talk about this i mean anytime I get to talk about operations for agencies and I get a little tingly because I’m just like this is so exciting because someone can benefit from this and everyone can benefit from this. But it really comes down to three main strategies. The first one is building an absolutely amazing team onboarding experience and I’ll give you some more details in on that. But before that i’ll share all three and then I’ll kind of circle back. So the first is having that amazing team onboarding experience. The second is having transparent communication in the agency. That’s a big one for me that I’ll tell you more about. And then the third one is having killer organization, honestly like standardization and organization. You know if you have those in your agency you’re a head and shoulders above a lot of other people. You know, not just agencies but online businesses in general. So going back to that first one, you know, building out, you know, an amazing team onboarding experience. The reason I start here is because if you can calm someone’s nerves and make them feel like they’re in the right place literally in the first hour, you know of working with them remotely and you’ve practically won the war, right because I’ve had I’ve heard it time and time again from contractors, from fulltime employees, you know, from individual consultants, you know, even you know that will come in and you know after that first onboarding experience just like wow, I’m blown away at how organized it is. You know, how clear everything is like I know exactly what I should be doing, what’s coming next, who to go to for what you know and like just what to do. You know because so many people will come in especially from a remote you know perspective and they’ll just they may give you know you access you know and say okay here you go like jump in like jump into what you know. If you typically don’t even have a job description to start with you know you don’t have you know direction on who am I supposed to be meeting with. Am I part of a department or am I on my own. You know, are you expecting me especially as an independent contractor, are you expecting me to like just start producing work you know or do I need to do some background research first, You know, So really having that onboarding experience where you have everything set up ahead of time and like note this, that biggest asterisk on this is access. When I say having everything set up, I’m not just talking about like paperwork and like their first, you know, Google login, it’s everything needs to be set up they need to have access to the time tracking platform, to file management unit, to project management, to communication tools. You know, they need to be added, you know, to all of the folders, you know, all the logins if you have what you should a password management tool, you know, they should have access to the right subfolders in that, you know so access is so key to set up because I can’t tell you how many people get irked, you know, with jumping into the deep end and then they’re like, oh, I can’t access that i have to request access you know and it just it slows everyone down, you know so having access set up, you know jumping into the deep end by having every single hour of their first week really detailed out for them, you know again whether it’s 10 hours or 40 hours, you know, having that actually mapped out, assigned to them with deadlines, it just relieves so much tension, you know and really they can just show up you know and be who they are and bring their best self. You know, if they have that kind of red carpet just rolled out for them, so it streamlines the whole experience in my opinion. And if you’ve got that one thing nailed, you know you could do so much more with them long term.
Danny Gavin 30:10
And the crazy thing is that there’s actually agencies or remote businesses that don’t have these things and it’s, I don’t know how they, how they manage and you could also understand like businesses that maybe aren’t remote and never had these processes or systems that were set up. Why they look at remote as being so crazy, which makes sense, right because if they don’t have these things, how are they going to be able to now do those same things in person remotely so you can’t take for granted these wonderful processes and systems that allow people to be remote. And that’s the key. Like if you don’t have them, it’s very difficult to expand your business and to be successful in this remote world.
Leah Leaves 30:52
I agree wholeheartedly and take shadowing as a great example. Often times if you’re looking at shadowing, you know, in person office, it is literally somebody just over your shoulders shadowing you and kind of watching, you know, as you go. And if you don’t set up the expectations of what shadowing looks like remotely right, and you don’t have the expectation of, oh, are we doing it over a slack huddle? Am I just doing screen share do I need to be narrating it, you know, as I’m doing it, you know, or should I be sending a Loom video ahead of time? And then we’re actually Ori and storming it together or you reviewing it together, things like that. There’s so much detail that you have to think through. And when I say you, I mean the operations person, right like it’s so much easier to have the operations in individual, that right hand person, you know that can manage those details in and make sure that it’s going smoothly. Because I’ll be honest, like talking to you, Danny, the owner of an agency, like it’s not your responsibility, right you have so many other things to do and particularly driving home, you know, the vision, you know of the agency and making sure that the systems and processes are improved from a high level view. You know, to make sure that success is managed. Again from that bigger picture view, you know for clients like that’s you know the ideal role you know for the owner rather than you know being in the details of oh, do you have access to this, you know or hey let’s talk through the process of shadowing, you know, so that’s where the operations, you know individual can really come in and make a huge difference. And that’s, I mean that’s just the first strategy as well as you know just on the new team member onboarding. So in transparent communication, just as much as I emphasize the actual access that’s needed in the first step, right, the new team member onboarding, the second is the transparency in communication again, this is very similar to the distance between like in person universes remote is that in person you could literally hear something from the next cubicle or over, you know, the desk across from someone universes remotely. So many people rely on direct messages and then you get into, oh, I’m direct messaging this person and then direct messaging that person and then now I have 5 different direct messages all saying the same thing why aren’t we in a group together? Right And it just it’s like this round Robin that I have constantly of we need to over communicate, you know. And the best way to do that is do it transparently, you know do it in the project management tool, do it in the communication tool if you’re in Slack, do it in a public channel. You know if of course you know there are those instances like if it’s HR related, you know if it’s sensitive information. Oh my gosh yeah. You know, take that offline you know, don’t even do, don’t even write that down, you know, in Slack like let’s make sure we have a call about it or zoom. Otherwise anything that has to do, you know, with regular working processes, you know, within the agency or anything to do with the client, Oh my gosh, write that down, document it and make sure other people see it. And let me tell you, this comes in handy particularly when you are growing and you have more team members that you’re adding in or you have to hand off accounts between team members or you’re trying to just train, you know, individuals, you know on this is what we’re doing this is what we’ve done. You know, no matter if you’ve changed the process half a dozen times, it’s so important for the team to see that you know and it really it builds trust because if they can see what other people have literally thought through by typing it out and saying, oh, we could do it this way, Oh no, let’s try it that way, right then it also shows that they can speak up right, that everyone’s voice is valued and that that’s gets into a little bit more of like the team building side but ultimately, you know it comes back to you know over communication and really making sure that it’s transparent that everyone is a part of it. You know it. I mean you get for double duty, you get the team build inside and you get the actual development you know of your processes, your standardization, your growth, you know as a company. So try and stay out of direct messages as much as possible. You know, communicate, you know more public spaces, you know, whether it’s a group at channel you know, or even better, just stay in the project management tool, stay in that platform and just document it along the way with.
Danny Gavin 35:13
Regard to documentation. I wanted to bring up so obviously at Optage we had two of our wonderful team members who went on a maternity leave and we went through the exercise of, you know, they had a lot documented anyhow before they left, but we had to document even more but you know, before and led up to it and it’s just been so amazing, like we’ve been able to bring in. Contractors on a temporary basis who literally have been able to dive in and do their job and still have that optage feel and know how we do and understand things because the, you know, s o p ‘s are there, the checklists are there and everything was great i mean we just had a, I think a story I was like a week ago where one of our contractors never actually launched a new campaign before and you know we basically tasked and okay, you’re going to have to launch this and maybe we should have said hey, you know, look over here for that list. But he knows, like, we have a list for everything so he, you know, went to the folder where it was there and he was just so excited like, I can’t believe it like everything is laid out like, I know exactly what it is and I’m not going to miss a step and it’s just amazing to see the power of documenting things and you never know, like you never know when you know someone’s going to leave the organization, you never know when someone’s going to go on maternity leave.
Leah Leaves 36:22
So it’s really important and we see the extreme value that it brings to an agency 100 % and the level of psychological safety that it gives to not only the agency owner, right knowing that they could step away, you know, if they needed to or wanted to, you know, but also to the other team members. You know, knowing that they can train someone else, you know, to do that area of work that maybe they still like to do, you know, but they know that they want to do something even more. You know, they want to expand, they want to evolve, they want to learn and grow, which we encourage them, especially at Optage, right we want them, you know to reach above and beyond and keep that growth pattern and keep honestly not just for themselves but then training and growing, you know those other team members. But like that all connects back into documentation, you know and standardization. Because especially for agencies i often get a push back you when I’m first working, you know with a new agency owner or new agency team. You know, because they feel often that standardizing things, you know and just putting everything in a process in a document, you get everything down in paper they often will push back and say, honestly, that sounds corporate or that sounds too structured or that sounds like you’re sucking the soul out of my agency, just like sounds, it’s so tragic, you know, but it’s all about actually infusing, you know, the soul back into it by getting rid of that 80 %. That is just busy work, right? I mean think of how much time and I literally like I can rack up, you know, the minutes in my head for all the different team members we have. You know, of when anybody says like, oh, where is this right. And if you’ve got one person asking where is this, I can guarantee another three haven’t raised their hand and said it out loud but they’re thinking it right. And then you’ve got another like 5 people in a department that are all needing to take a break and chime in and you know, then maybe someone gets the wrong link and now it’s like, oh wait, there’s duplicate. It’s like, Oh my gosh, you know, it can get so frenetic so quickly, you know and so the structure that we’re looking to build in and the standardization, you know, is honestly really to make everyone’s lives easier so that they can bring that soul of the agency, which is strategic thinking, you know, which is creative brainstorming. You know, they can really have that opportunity, you know, because they know like the basics are covered or the foundation is set. So that goes again back to like over communicating, documenting along the way. Yeah, and for anyone that you know, struggles with that, I often recommend just flip on loom. Just start recording yourself, you know so instead of having to like think through of the process and like write it all down and be super organized, like if it’s if that’s not your style, that’s okay, you know, You can just record yourself doing what you do best, hand it over to someone in the OPS department, you know, to make it an SOP you know but then you have the freedom to just like talk it out or to just demonstrate it, you know so there’s a lot of different ways to document along the way. It’s just important to be aware of it.
Danny Gavin 39:36
A good example for that is, you know, it’s really about breaking things down in order to build it back up. So it’s like a Caterpillar going into that cocoon. And totally changing itself to become that beautiful butterfly or a seed, decomposing, going through that rough but then suddenly this amazing plant comes from it so, you know, at in one perspective, it’s like, Oh my gosh, you’re like it’s destroying, it’s destruction, It’s breaking this down it’s not what it was. But honestly, only through that are you able to actually get this beautiful outcome and you kind of have to that’s why you have to have a little bit of faith in that C o or that integrator you know who can, who you can rely on to be like even though right now it looks a little scary or you know it looks like a dark cocoon but you don’t realize that when you do go into that it’s going to, you know, create this beautiful butterfly I.
Leah Leaves 40:18
Love that. I’m totally going to use that.
Danny Gavin 40:20
Thank you definitely so you’ve touched upon this a little bit before, but let’s I think this is great time to move into number three which is all about organization yes so the organization is so key and. Honestly it’s it may sound really intimidating i think at the beginning because people look at it well manage how am I supposed to organize everything or how am I supposed to document everything and that’s not the ask at the beginning, right i really encourage them to focus on the fundamentals, you know focus on the most basic elements first. You know of Okay what is the again what does that story arc look like for your department? Right and start with the bookends onboarding and offboarding so client onboarding, what does that look like in your department and client offboarding, what does that look like? You know, so and this can be you know for any department doesn’t have to be just on delivery, you know in service and you can look at it you know from the finance perspective, you know and say what does it look like to onboarding new clients, you know and set them up in our financial systems. You know, what about if they cancel services what do we need to have, you know, as like their final receipts, you know, and those transactions recorded and so every single department, you know, across an agency, you can just start there, you know, with very basic, you know, bookends of where do we start a process and where do we stop a process. Yeah, and often times I will. Start a lot of processes at the process level, not the procedure level. And there’s a very distinct difference between those two because a process, and this is actually a reference to Cameron Harold who is C o guru you know, and just adore him he’s written the book the Miracle Morning you know and has the, I think it’s the C o you know, council or something. He just he knows everything about operations and has worked with like. Massive, massive companies. And so he is someone that I follow pretty religiously, but one thing that he shared years ago that has always stuck with me is that a process is a process of if you can fit it on a post it note. So if you can succinctly put together the steps of the process into such a short amount of space and a concise amount of space that you can have it on a post it note, that’s a process. Versus a procedure, which is like a technical manual, right it’s the step by step how to with screenshots, you know, with links to OK open this and then click that. And so more often than not, when I talk about let’s document things, let’s get organized, people think, Oh my gosh, I have to build a whole technical manual and it’s going to be like a thousand. Pages i, was like no no, deep breath. Let’s take a big step back. Let’s just start with taking the beginning and the end. And then what is like the one thing in the middle that you guys do and often times, you know, for most delivery departments, you know, it becomes you’ve got your onboarding or setup phase, you’ve got your building or project phase. So it’s a very clear, you know, deliverable at the end of like a launch. And then you’ve got your account phase, you know, or your ongoing kind of retention phase and so if we can just start with those 3 phases, then we can. Come down and next step, okay what happens in the project phase how do you build, you know, a campaign, you know and how do you make sure you have quality assurance, quality control, you know how what does the creative process look like? And then you bring each one of those down another level. And so we start big and then pull it down to the small and that is the type of organization. That I recommend as well is that when we look at for example your file management, if you’re using like Google Drive, start with a shared drive. You know that you have clients, 1 shared drive for clients. Then you have individual folders per client. Then you have individual folders you know per service line or department you know that client has. Then you have subfolders you know for certain k p i ‘s or other deliverables you know per timeline. Etcetera, etcetera. So start you know from the big to the little you know and that will help guide you know that organization, you know across the board so that everybody starts to get into the rhythm of looking okay what is the category you know or the topic that I’m talking about that I need to find information about, you know then I’m going to go down a step and down a step and the beautiful thing about this too is that once you get into the rhythm of this and you have like consistent naming conventions. Then anybody could find anything anywhere because it’s then less about even I’d say the structure of it in the framework it’s then like you could search and if you have the same naming conventions and you know that it’s all organized in the proper way, then you could just do a search again in Slack, in Drive, in your project management tool and you could find what you’re looking for in the snap of a finger, right so that’s where organization really starts to play. You know, at the bigger table with us, right, is that it is not just like, oh, I want to have my way, I want to have my details organized. It’s how does the whole organization work cohesively together. It’s there is one base standard that they can all work off of.
Danny Gavin 45:34
So that’s where like killer organization and all your tools, all your platforms, just get it working in the same direction, get everyone in the same rhythm, you know, and that’s where you can really start growing, you know, naming things in a certain way. It’s funny, like a lot of people like, what’s the value, You know, I know where to find my files. But you know, it’s that one file which you just can’t find and you’re like, you create a God, did I name it correctly? And because you did, then you can find it so it’s worth it, just for that one time that you need it, you’ll be able to find it.
Leah Leaves 46:03
You know, and it’s so funny because I feel like it probably goes back mostly to my SEO days, you know where it’s all keyword based, right? And so. Often times you know if I’m searching for something, you know I know like the top two or three keywords that are going to go off in my head, you know for when I’m searching for it and again that kind of goes back to the documentation and the open communication is that even if you haven’t named something a very specific way, you know say that your keyword is slightly different. If you can get close enough to it, just like an SEO and if you can get close enough to it, you know or a relative you know broad match you know, then you can find it. You know because it’s going to be again in the public domain, it’s going to be in the sphere, you know that you can find it, you know relatively easily. And then there’s just less time for everyone to have to like point you in this direction or you have to spend 20 minutes, you know, going through folder after folder. And so again, it just makes everyone’s lives easier. And I will say 1 asterisk to all that is my rule of thumb is that if you can’t find something or you can’t find the answer, you know, after 10 minutes, just ask. Because if you’re then going to like 15, the fifteenth keyword in your head and you still can’t find it, like just ask. You know it’s totally it’s totally okay just to have, you know that one moment of like, oh, I can’t find this because I can guarantee someone is like, oh Yep, it’s right here. You know, so don’t ever box yourself in and like. So I have to only search for something or I have to only do it this way. I aim for like the 8085 % is good yeah And then there will always be and agencies, yeah, you know, they’ll always be a little flex.
Danny Gavin 47:45
Leia, thank you so much for navigating the three secrets to building high performing teams in remote digital marketing agencies and just as a summary so everyone remembers, that’s number one build an amazing team onboarding experience, number two have transparent communication between team members and number three have killer organization in your tools and platforms. So it’s time for the lightning round. Can you let us know what are your top three books?
Leah Leaves 48:10
Okay, this is the hardest question that I get on podcasts because I have so many books I would recommend, but my top three that I. You know, I’m very confident in everyone will benefit from in some way shape or form. The first one is traction. The firm believer in the e o s system and the yes and comes into that because I believe in e o s and I’m not a purist so traction it’s an entrepreneurial operating system. Sorry i should explain that for e, o second book is profit first. Feel like everyone can benefit from this, you know, No matter if you’re an agency owner, you know or you are an independent contractor or you know a full time specialist, everyone can benefit from this in their financial in path. And then the third is multipliers. I love this book this is by Liz Wiseman, and it is such a beautiful explanation of some of our you know, well known beliefs around management and leadership, you know, and instead of just like adding more people in, it’s really about learning, you know, how to again get people in the right fit in the right seat and then help multiply, you know, their positive effect, you know, amongst one another. So those are the top three that I come back to Traction by Gina Whitman, Profit first by Mike Mccallowitz I believe and Multipliers by Liz Wiseman.
Danny Gavin 49:34
And I know there was a podcast you also wanted to share with us. What’s your go to podcast?
Leah Leaves 49:38
Right now it’s the science of success. I love this because they are so steeped in using the scientific method, you know throughout their own experiences and becoming better people, having you know better performance you know whether it’s you know, having a better life, you know personally and or you know it is encouraging better results in whatever work they are doing. They bring on some of the best individuals you know for interviews, you know for input and guidance, you know on how to be the best that you can be and I firmly believe in expecting the best from yourself and doing what you can and to bring it forth and this is one of the ways that, you know, I constantly encourage it, you know, at my own home and that I would like to always share out with others.
Danny Gavin 50:24
So Leah, where can listeners connect with or learn more about you and your business?
Leah Leaves 50:28
So first and foremost, I would say LinkedIn. That is where I am the most active is You can find me on LinkedIn layout leaves and it’s pronounced like Princess Leia but written like Leia so you’ll see l e a h l e a v e s. So Leia leaves on LinkedIn and then my website alderaanenterprise.com You can find out all about me and my team.
Danny Gavin 50:55
You know there wonderful. Well, Leia this has really been such an informative discussion. I’m sure there are plenty of agency owners who are going to be man, this is great stuff. So thank you so much for being on the Digital Marketing Mentor and thank you listeners for tuning into the digital Marketing Mentor we’ll talk to you next time.
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