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The Secrets Behind Successful Agency Side Hustles w/ John D Saunders

January 2nd , 2021

Ryan Stewart

John D. Saunders is a Digital Marketing Strategist with 8+ years of experience in building brands online. Working with brands like Land Rover, Audi, and the NAACP, he has utilized Website Development, Content Marketing, SEO, and Social Media to create marketing campaigns that resonate with the consumer and drive REAL leads.

For anything that’s taken me longer than 15, 20 minutes within that business, I’ll create a process and I’ll delegate it to a team member ~ John D Saunders

We go live on our Agency Positioning Podcast with top-class experts like John every week and host live Q&A sessions.

Timestamps:

00:00 Tell us about yourself and what you do?
01:09 How are you able to divvy up your time and how do you focus?
03:40 How were you able to get your team to focus on client work and your project at the same time?
06:04 Is that something that you feel like you could do full-time, or is that something that will always be a side hustle for you?
07:55 What are you doing to market it right now?
11:00 Do you offer marketing services at the agency?
18:50 Is there anything else in your portfolio right now that you’re working on?
19:28 Would you say the agency is your main focus? What is your vision for that company?
22:50 What was the strategy behind building 17K Instagram followers?
24:22 What type of Facebook groups were you engaging in?

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0:00 Tell us about yourself and what you do?

John: My name is John D. Saunders and I’m the founder of 5Four Digital.

We’re a web design studio/branding agency. We focus primarily on startups, helping them develop with an online brand.

I’m also the founder of blackillustrations.com. It’s a platform where you can download illustrations, featuring folks of color, both free and premium packs. And then I’m also the founder of blackwallet.org.

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01:09 How are you able to divvy up your time and how do you focus?

John: For me, 5Four Digital is the web design agency and that’s the catalyst for everything.

I treat the agency like the wheelhouse that powers every other business that we have.

By building systems on web design we have the onboarding process, the standardized process.

This is how we want to work through that process with the client. We have a specific checklist and specific operating procedures that we use to get it done.

Since we’ve niched down to just doing web design and branding and having a focus on using their historical analytics to make informed decisions on design and development, it’s systemized to the point where I can take that system and duplicate it for other business.

When I had the idea for blackillustrations.com, it was essentially just treating that idea as a client. This is the idea that I have, this is how I want to execute it.

03:40 How were you able to get your team to focus on client work and your project at the same time?

John: When it comes to calendars, we try to block out specific times throughout the day that are allocated to the specific types of clients.

For example, if we’re doing a website audit, it usually takes about 45 minutes for a 10 to 20-page website. So we can almost estimate how long that’ll take.

As an agency owner, sometimes things take longer or things happen. At least, that gives us a benchmark to work from.

If a business does around 10 to 30K per month in revenue, we don’t have to necessarily allocate a ton of time to it.

But one thing I’ve learned from you is for anything that’s taken me longer than 15, 20 minutes within that business, I’ll create a process and I’ll delegate it to a team member.

With Black Illustration I was creating operating procedures. If the illustrations are coming in, they need to go on a Q&A and get reviewed. Once approved, it goes to the designer.

The designer creates the assets that we need for the landing page. And then we do the Facebook ad campaign. So it’s pretty systematized.

06:04 Is that something you feel like you could do full-time, or is it just a side hustle for you?

John: I think it could be full time.

When I launched it, I knew this was a good idea. I did my keyword research and saw that this is something people wanted.

There was a good amount of search volume, but there wasn’t a tool or asset that did the job.

When I launched off I didn’t know the extent of how well it would do. Now I realize how large can this become and I’m trying to scale, build out a team and finish these processes so I can pump out more illustrators.

07:55 What are you doing to market it right now?

John: We’re doing Facebook ads and organic content.

We’re also doing partnerships with other illustrators so we compensate them to create an illustration pack. And then we put that illustration pack on the site.

They get 20% of every transaction that goes through. So they’re making money on the back end and then they’re able to promote it to their audience as well, which has done really well.

Then, we’re just really pushing the subscription. That’s the key to really scaling it and getting into the point where it’s automated every month.

11:00 Do you offer marketing services at the agency?

John: No. What’s worked for me is social media.

One thing that’s pushed us over the edge, especially in regards to web design is focusing on Webflow. About two and a half years ago, I found out about Webflow, which is a CMS or a content management system, similar to WordPress.

I’ve built out a site to see if there’s a potential. I didn’t really bring it to clients because I wanted to make sure I knew it really well.

I decided that I’m going to allocate X amount of time to WordPress and save 20-30% of my time and learn Webflow — and it paid off!

Niching down has been the best thing that I’ve done. Webflow and Shopify are our go-to stuff.

We’re a flow expert agency. Now we can get a ton of leads and be able to increase our costs and provide premium websites on the platform.

18:50 Is there anything else in your portfolio right now that you’re working on?

John: Not really. I have my personal brand but I have an online course web design studio.

I teach freelancers how to become agency owners in the web design space and that’s it. I’m really trying to just do three things.

19:28 Would you say the agency is your main focus? What is your vision for that company?

John: I want to grow. I don’t need to become a multi million dollar agency.

I don’t need to grow to a point where I have like 40 or 50 employees. We have six right now. I’m happy with that. I might hire one more junior designer to promote our visual design we have now. But that’s it.

22:50 What was the strategy behind building 17K Instagram followers?

John: I started to grow when I took my Twitter threads and posted them on Facebook.

I’m a big advocate of trying to work on something once and then being able to repurpose that content in multiple ways.

I posted few Twitter threads and they started to create some traction. People liked that and I was getting some free shares.

That’s when I saw growth because people were cycling through my content. They were commenting, they were asking questions and I was getting DMs.

I’d spend maybe one or two hours a week just writing up two or three pieces of content. I pushed that to the designer. The designer would layout the carousel and then we scheduled a post.

That really helped me grow my following. I knew I could do this in Facebook groups as well.

24:22 What type of Facebook groups were you engaging in?

John: Mostly web design. I just posted content in there, the tools that I use or my email templates. I was giving value.

As for Instagram, I had a few posts that had 3000 reshares. So behind the scenes, people are sharing content over time people were seeing me on the explore page, their friends are following me, and that’s what helped me.

One thing that I want to add too is, when you’re doing consistent promo or just value based content, you can create so many clients and create almost a referral base of a branding army of clients, people that you work with, collaborators that’ll go out to sell your business for you.

A lot of the business that come in now, especially in 2020 are referral businesses.

I’d say maybe 75% of our businesses are brokers. It’s amazing when someone either collaborated with us or we just finished a project, then they have someone else.

More on John D Saunders 

Ryan Stewart

I build, grow and sell digital agencies. Most recently, WEBRIS, a 7 figure SEO agency.

January 2nd , 2021

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