Rob te Braake 0:00
In most entrepreneurs that I speak with, they focus on profits. And of course, profit is super important. Some talk more about revenue, but revenues overrated. The number one thing that they're undervaluing and ignoring is cashflow. So if you have an agency at the end of the year, on paper, you have a million in profits. But you still have 2 million in receivables outstanding because your customers haven't paid you yet. You have a really, really big problem.
Steve Brown 0:31
Rob te Breeka. Welcome to the ROI online podcast.
Unknown Speaker 0:35
Steve Brown 0:50
So Rob, you know, I'm an agency owner, I'm a business owner. And yet I struggle probably with a common insecurity that most business owners have. And that's like, there's all this data available to me, in many areas, but I don't feel confident all the time, that I'm taking advantage of it. And yet, that's what your company insight matters helps folks like me, agency owners actually do that. I know, I can't afford to build a team. But yet, you can help me cross that bridge. No?
Rob te Braake 1:23
Yep, that is correct. In essence, we help agency owners with who don't need on can't afford a full time CFO, we help them get 80% of the value of a CFO, at basically less than 20% of the costs. So we give insights based on financial data based on financial reports that help you make the better decisions to identify where you're making profits where you were making a loss, and where you can improve.
Steve Brown 1:51
So your accent betrays you? You're obviously not from Texas, where are you calling him from today?
Rob te Braake 1:59
I am Dutch. And yes, my accent gives that away. But I am calling in from Budapest in Hungary today.
Steve Brown 2:09
Excellent. So you work with agencies all around the world? Correct?
Rob te Braake 2:14
That is correct. mainly based in the US, Northwestern Europe, and some of them are fully remote. So that could be based anywhere.
Steve Brown 2:23
So you, you started in baking in the Netherlands, and you also spent some time in China give us a little background, let's establish some authority here.
Rob te Braake 2:35
Yeah, I started my career in a Dutch bank in their in their global talent program. There are a couple of projects in the Netherlands, they sent me to China. And after six months, the bank told me to come back to the Netherlands. And in those six months I had fallen in love with with Beijing, China, because the energy the drive to the entrepreneurship there, it was defective. So I did what any sane person would do is I quit my job and decided to stay in China, together with a partner launched a technology and investment company. So we bought bought technology rights in Europe and built companies with that in China, did that for seven years. And then finally came to the conclusion that as a small foreign owned company in China, unless you have really, really deep pockets, there's no way you're going to be successful them. So I decided to call that a good learning experience, step out and get back into finance, where my love and my passion is much more than on the technology side. Started initially as consultants for a couple of ecommerce businesses, couple of sass companies, couple of service providers. And along the way, I realized that the companies that I like to work with are the smaller ones where you work directly with the owner, because it's usually the owner who has the passion that the drive and that's exactly why I stayed in China. But those companies couldn't afford my consulting rights. So that is where we initially started inside matters because we want to work with those companies. That's where we can add value. But we need to do that at a price point. That's, that's fair and realistic.
Steve Brown 4:21
So how does someone fall in love with financial stuff that just doesn't seem sexy, but yet, it's really it is?
Rob te Braake 4:31
It is sexy. Because if you want to have a marketeer talk with a product developer if you want to have a customer talk with your, your admin girl. The only language that combines every single aspect of the business is the financial one. It's like the spider in the web that communicates with every part of business. And it allows you to see where you're doing well when you're not doing well. If somebody has great plans, it always has to translate into a financial number. So, as a marketeer, you probably express the success of your clients in how much extra revenue they're doing, or how much the cost per click or their their customer acquisition costs went down. Those are already financial.
Steve Brown 5:17
Yeah. Why is it that that's so hard for small business to really get really excellent at?
Rob te Braake 5:29
My experiences, that it's very difficult for business owners to really dive down on this, because they're experts in their domain. They're the product developer, they're the markets here. That's where they're trained. That's where their passion is. and finance is often an afterthought, or it's the one thing that they also have to do that would enable them to get to the next level. But indeed, most people don't find it sexy. So it's not something people like to invest in. For most people, it's much more interesting or much more sexy to focus on a new campaign or a new creative or getting into new clients, rather than maximizing the value of your existing clients.
Steve Brown 6:16
Yeah, it also means that you're going to have to like take this data and put it into some sort of ledger, generally some software. And that's intimidating. The you don't know which one's the best one. Is it QuickBooks? Is it? What other software do I need to connect to get really good, clean, accurate data.
Rob te Braake 6:40
So there's several layers here, in the most basic, what you need is a bookkeeping system. And that is indeed zero, or QuickBooks or Sage are, there's a bunch of them out there. That makes sure if you have a good bookkeeper, that allows you to see what has happened in the past, and that everything is recorded. But that's like the raw data that doesn't give you any detailed insight yet. So you can connect a CRM system on that you can connect your time tracking on that, to really add a little bit more quality to the data. But what we do is we take the data from the bookkeeper, we translate that into the KPIs that we set with the clients. So we look at a bunch of KPIs that are specific for your agency that will drive your success to your role. And then we take the data and visualize it, and report it, and analyze it and come up with the advice. based on the data we see. What should you be doing? Where should you be putting your effort, your time, your money to get closer to your role?
Steve Brown 7:54
Why is it that you specialize in agencies? Or can you find an industry that was less dysfunctional?
Rob te Braake 8:01
Isn't that exactly why it's the most interesting industry. Now, the reality is a bit more pragmatic, because one of my first clients was an agency. And the difference that we saw we could make with them, by pushing them to do that time tracking better, because that's the number one problem we often and the quality of the data that he would get before us and with us, and how it impacted his business decisions. That was a really good reason to, to focus on agencies. So more specifically, that was a website agency, who had a lot of clients on paper had good margins, no cash in the bank. And after we came in, we visualize the data. We agree what the priorities are, we set the targets, conclusion was very simple that they were under pricing, they were too inefficient. So they were spending way too much time or over servicing some of the segments. And they were absolutely horrible and collecting client payments. So after those three things were fixed, business profit went up, cash flow improved, owner had less stress. And that's seeing that result is what makes us really happy.
Steve Brown 9:24
Why does visualization of data so impactful?
Rob te Braake 9:31
Most people if you give them a big piece of paper full of numbers, it's like a wall of numbers, you don't see anything anymore. visualizing the data is what brings out the value. It is where you can hammer home one particular message. You can see in this whole range of data. This is the trend. These are the patterns and we work with a software that allows you to make the chart interactive. We can zoomin and zoom out on specific data points, specific trends. That hammers home the message so much more clear than five numbers in a row or a whole wall of numbers. That's just how not how people think. And that's especially not how creative people think.
Steve Brown 10:20
So, you talk about KPIs key performance indicators, what are like the top five KPIs that an agency generally has messed up or not clear that you get them dialed in with immediately? Oh,
Rob te Braake 10:40
The one they mess law, let's say that revenue is clearly the most one of the most important ones that is the one that people are usually dialed into. Overall, gross margin is where it goes wrong already. If we're looking at gross margin for clients or projects, I have not seen an agency where that goes without flaws, operational cash flow, so the net cash flow that you get from running your business, so all your client payments minus all your normal expenses. That too, is one that people don't look at, or at the very, very least undervalue. Fourth one that agencies don't manage and should be managing customer acquisition costs. I've seen too many agency owners picture projects, looking only at their cost of delivery, and completely ignoring in their calculation, their acquisition costs. And finally, I would say lifetime value of a customer is very, very critical as well. So how much revenue or margin Are you making on a on a client or project over its entire lifetime?
Steve Brown 11:53
So let's talk about the cost of acquisition. Give me Give me some, yeah, enlighten me.
Rob te Braake 12:04
Happy to enlighten you with where to start your acquisition cost is super specific for each company, it depends on your marketing strategy and on your service and your ticket price and your lifetime value. What a good acquisition cost is or should not is, if you're having a content based strategy, your acquisition costs should be relatively low. But your growth is also going to be slow in the beginning. If you work with pay per click, like Facebook ads, Google Ads kind of acquisition model, your acquisition cost is gone in general going to be really, really high. How high depends a bit on your niche on how efficient you are, or how creative you are, and how good your conversion is. But in general, it's going to be much, much higher. Now, if you have a high acquisition costs, but you bring in customers that stay for the long run, that's perfectly fine. That in nine out of 10 cases that's sustainable. If you have a high acquisition costs, but you do one project with them, and then you lose them, you have a problem? Because that's not sustainable. You're not. You're not building up any value. So you're investing a lot while you're not harvesting.
Steve Brown 13:20
Yeah, if I found that. So the acquisition cost, generally, if it's a content based, meaning that you're producing interesting information that attracts a better fit for your agency, what takes that takes a lot of thought and strategy, and time to deliver. And you're right, you don't have a bunch of people ringing, calling you and your phone's ringing off the hook. But that type of client seems to have a better or longer lifetime value. But when you're running a bunch of ads, you're getting a bunch of tire kickers. And if you're not careful, you can bring on a bunch of business that can tax your agency with a lot of misbehaving and Ill fitted accounts.
Rob te Braake 14:13
Yeah, although there I would say it also depends on the quality of the market here. But that's more your expertise than mine, that if you are addressing the right audience with your campaign,
Steve Brown 14:26
You know them the type of work than an agency general generally does. It shouldn't be more of a long term relationship where we're developing out campaigns over a long period of time. And so if you're just doing little one off quick flips on a website or something, maybe, maybe Pay Per Click ad campaign makes sense. But there's a lot of people doing that and there's a lot of competition and the lifetime value is going to go way down. By But for example, I wrote a book. So you think about setting up the reasoning and and convincing yourself you need to write a book, why do you need to write a book, because I noticed that the clients that buy into our philosophy a bit in the way that we approached, they stay a long time. And so a book can do a lot of that. That acquisition, footwork, if you will. And people that read the book, then the conversation is more around, hey, how does adopting your philosophy look in my situation, as opposed to convince me on why I need to do this?
Rob te Braake 15:43
Yeah. So that is selecting the right customers. And if you manage to address the right customers, acquisition cost goes down, lifetime value goes up. And that means net profit goes up.
Steve Brown 15:58
So the the talk to us a little bit about the tools that you like to get up. One of them struggles with the small business is collecting accurate data and depositing it somewhere where it can be set up in a nice visual format that delivers true information. Talk to us a little bit about that process.
Rob te Braake 16:25
What we do is, we start with the bookkeeping data. And for clients that don't have the bookkeeping in order, we do that as well. But because everything that's the foundation, that's the I would say it there was a data warehouse, probably below, don't pinpoint me on that. The quality of that data is critical. So where that data comes from needs to be good. And of course, the bank statements, etc. Those are easy. The number one problem with data quality on the agency side, is how does your team spend their time? How much time and therefore costs do you actually invest in attracting new clients, but also are even more important in delivering for each of the clients or each of the projects, if you don't know how much time you're spending on that you don't know if you're profitable or not. So that data quality is critical. And for us, it doesn't really matter if you use Time Doctor or toggle or harvest, as long as you're consistently using a time tracking tool with your whole team that secures that data quality. On top of that we use visualizations. We use klipfolio because it's easy to integrate, and quite user friendly for our clients. But that you could use any dashboard into any visualization tool that you want, depends on your level of sophistication. Now, back to the time tracking, because that is nine out of 10 times the bottleneck. My experience is most people that work in agencies are creative. And if there's one thing creative people don't like, it's tracking time and those kind of admin tasks. So it is critical for you as the owner or the founder or the managing director, to explain to them why it's so important to at least at a high level, track how the time is spent. It's not to micromanage the team, it is to see which clients are actually the better clients who are the ones that you're underserving were the ones that you're over serving, or the ones that pay least but consume a lot of your time. That is really basic data, you need to have to make the decisions on how to renew your retainers how to put your pricing in line for certain clients. Which direction or which niche you want to focus on. It's really foundational information.
Steve Brown 18:55
Yeah, so imagine having a team that hasn't been used to documenting their time super accurately. Maybe it's more in general that they document the time at least to get paid, especially if they're contractors, right. Help us agency owners see how you can help someone make that transition to where the folks adopt a new way of doing things. Obviously you need to sell it. Obviously you need to convince them of the value of it. But that's the hard sell isn't it?
Rob te Braake 19:32
That can be a hard sell. And what we have seen work best there is a carrot and stick approach. So the carrots of having a bonus for the whole team or having a team trip if everybody does this tracks that time etc. helps a little bit. I've even heard story the stick works often better but is more hard. For team culture, I've actually heard about one agency where the finance person, the admin person, would print out a picture of a gun on a bit on a piece of paper. And on that day of the month, or everybody had to hand in their timesheets, she would put that picture on the office door, to kindly remind everybody to fill out their timesheets, that was done with a lot of humor, and that was appreciated order works. So you have to be a little bit creative, and balance, really the characteristic, explaining why it's so important goes a long way. But it's not enough usually.
Steve Brown 20:43
Yeah, when you talk about the lifetime value of a client, there's an the other side is the lifetime value of a great employee or contractor that continues to show up and do great work and really relate with your employees. And when you're trying to change documentation method that feels sometimes a little risky. You don't want to demotivate them, you want to motivate them and and you would hope that if their internal values were the same with yours, they would want you to succeed in and understand that this is an important metric. But in the real world, that's there's more at play.
Rob te Braake 21:32
There's more at play. But I'm tempted to say if you have a great employee that delivers great value for your customers, they will understand that it's important to understand which customers are the good customers, and if they're doing the right things. And I'm going to say the probably the customers that the team is very happy with are also more likely the ones that you're over serving. And that's not necessarily bad, because you're delivering a great service to them. But that doesn't mean that next time you're renegotiating the retainer. Keep that in your mind. And either up the scope up the retainer, or charge extra hours for the over servicing. But it doesn't make a lot of sense that you subsidize your clients just because there are nice clients.
Steve Brown 22:27
Yeah, excellent point. So we're talking with Rob te Braake, his company, his Insight Matters. And we're learning about how agencies can be become more efficient, more profitable, and connected, connect better with clients that give you great lifetime value. And so if you're watching on YouTube, be sure to subscribe. And I all the kids say like, like, and all that stuff. So I guess I'm supposed to say that as well. You're listening, hey, go find this over on Vurbl V U R B L.com. That's a great platform. If your podcast is not in there, you need to get set up. Okay, Rob. So I have some questions. I, you know, I like to know what, what everyone's asking what questions they're asking around your industry. So these may seem a little General, but yet, they're very important. So you're an expert. So here we go. First question I have is how to make better business decisions.
Rob te Braake 23:35
The number one thing you need to know to make a better decision is what are you trying to achieve? What are you optimizing for? What is the goal that you have in mind? If you don't know that, you can never make the best decision because you don't know which path you're taking if it's even remotely in the right direction. So making better decisions, start with the goal in mind. And then understanding which road gets you there. And of course, from our perspective, the road that gets you there is which KPIs get you there, which key performance indicators? How do you measure that progress? And then you look at the decisions that you can make, how will they impact that particular KPI or that particular KPI? It's very hard to to see the impact from one decision on the overall goal, because that impact is usually too indirect. So break down that goal into small steps and measure the decision based on those KPIs.
Steve Brown 24:36
Excellent. Okay, so how does financial data influence business decisions?
Rob te Braake 24:45
Financial data doesn't influence the decisions. It's it's 90% of the decision. And that is not because it's only about the money, but every aspect of the business has a monetary component. or can be translated into monetary components. So financial data, if you're looking to launch a campaign and you compare two alternatives, how do you compare them? You look at? What is the revenue that we're going to get from these? What is the return? How much do we need to invest? And what do we get? Having that data available, both for forward looking comparisons your planning, but also to evaluate past campaigns that you have done? That is 90% of the decision making? So understanding the metrics, understanding how to interpret the metrics, that is the decision making.
Steve Brown 25:41
Excellent. So in your perspective, are digital marketing agencies, profitable?
Rob te Braake 25:53
Digital marketing agencies, in general, and I see are profitable, but not as profitable as they could or should be? So yes, they are profitable because they work. I'm not sure if this is probably in your show, but because they work their asses off. But they leave a lot of money on the table by spending by over servicing by spending a lot more time on admin than they should, while they could be spending time on business development, for example, by underpricing they leave a lot of money on the table.
Steve Brown 26:37
Excellent. And yeah, it's appropriate because all the folks that listen to this, they do work their asses off.
Rob te Braake 26:44
I'm not surprised. To be honest, that's one of the things that I liked about agencies, but agency owners, they're super passionate, they work harder than any other group of entrepreneurs that I've seen.
Steve Brown 26:56
Well, alright, so here's the last one, how to manage a marketing agency.
Rob te Braake 27:03
How to make from the finance side with that's, of course, how we look at it. You managing marketing agency by making sure the data foundation is in order so that as you understand who your clients are, how much your time you're spending on servicing them, how much you're charging them for that. And on a more higher level, you want to manage an agency by reviewing your financials every month. So look at your p&l, look at your balance sheets, and especially look at your cash flow statements. Your bookkeeper should give them all to you, if they don't send me an email, I'll talk with your bookkeeper reviewing those three every month, and ideally, the KPIs that will help you get to your goal, to see if you're progressing. Now, if you don't know what your goal is, spend, take a weekend off, spend some time thinking about what are you trying to achieve with this business? This is a lifestyle business, or you're trying to build a nine figure agency, like what is the objective here, work that down into the milestones three years from now, one year from now, three months from now, next month, you can go to next week or tomorrow and the next hour and understand how to measure that progress. And then every month when you review your financials, check with your rolls with your progress. Are you on track? Where are you on track? Where are you behind? Where are you ahead? Where do you need to adjust course, that's how you build a scale. An agency that helps you achieve your goal
Steve Brown 28:49
When's the best time to sit down and get your financial act together as an agency?
Rob te Braake 28:56
Yesterday. If you haven't done that yet, then do it as soon as possible. Now, of course, I would recommend everybody to have a dashboard with the key KPIs and have that fully organized because we've fundamentally believe in the value of that. If that's overkill for you, make sure your bookkeeping is in order, because I look at your p&l, your cash flow statements. That's the ad. That is foundational for us. If you don't have that, you're basically swimming, you're floating in the air without knowing if you're making money or not. If you're profitable, if you're sustainable or not. You would not be the first agency that looks at the revenue thinks you're doing great. While at the end of the year, it turns out your bank comes empty. And that's not necessary.
Steve Brown 29:49
Yeah, I think a lot of agencies struggle with that. They don't need to do they
Rob te Braake 29:54
now know they there will always be agencies of struggle. With their financials, because they're in a tough spot for whatever reason, but nobody has to struggle, because they lack the insight.
Steve Brown 30:11
So if you're watching, we're talking with rod, Rob to brockagh. He's his company, his insight matters. He's in Budapest right now. And he's dropping some good wisdom for agency owners and business owners on how to take advantage of the financial data that you actually have laying around your company that could be helping you make better decisions. So Rob, why is it that then the Netherlands seems to be like the center of banking? what's what's going on there? What's the history?
Rob te Braake 30:50
To be honest, I don't really know I my understanding is that we have a very rich history in international trade and rich, let's call that in the positive side, but also on the negative side. And in that international trade, finance was a key part to facilitate it. The VRC, the Dutch East India Company, with an output is very, very politely a mixed track record, was basically the first publicly listed company. They basically invented the issuing of shares to raise money shared or split the risk, etc. So I think that the nallah has a culture of trade and finance is critical in that.
Unknown Speaker 31:41
Steve Brown 31:42
So what's the one question that you wished podcast? hosts like me, would ask you so that you can really get to talk about what you're passionate about?
Rob te Braake 32:00
I don't know how to phrase it as a question, but I will tell you what I want to rant about and rave about because it is so important. In most entrepreneurs that I speak with, they focus on profits, and of course, profit is super important. Some talk more about revenue, but revenues overrated. The number one thing that they're undervaluing and ignoring is cashflow. So if you have an agency, and at the end of the year, on paper, you have a million in profits. But you still have 2 million and receivables outstanding because your customers haven't paid you yet. You have a really, really big problem. So next time you're discussing the retainer with your clients don't only focus on the level and your margins, focus more than ever before on when will they pay? Don't if you can don't accept net 30 or net 60. And they're still going to overrun anyway. Get them to pay upfront. If you have to, especially if you have bigger clients, it doesn't make any sense to me that you as a relatively small agency, are financing your bigger customers. So the timing of when your customer pays you is as importance or in some cases even more important than the price level that you realize with them.
Steve Brown 33:26
Excellent answer, you know, small businesses, they generally are underserved as far as access to credit, access to capital. Yeah, what are some suggestions or ideas that you have?
Rob te Braake 33:46
The preferred route, but again, not everybody can achieve that, by far the preferred route is let your customers finance you. That financing is essentially free. So pre paying customers are the best, the cheapest and the most scalable way of financing. For agencies, it's relatively difficult to get access to access to other sources of funding. For ecommerce, there's all this revenue based financing, inventory based financing for agencies. If you have a relationship with your local bank, that is often still one of the better places to go. They're all fashions there are Kagan processes, but they're still relatively cheap. And if you can get access to it a really good way of funding. The one thing I want to warn about is credit cards. If you play the credit card game and you have the discipline and ability to pay back on time, it's a good way of like getting a getting 30 or 60 day of interest, free financing. But if you mess it up You're going to pay 20 30% interest on an annual basis. So I am always very reluctant to when I see companies use credit cards to finance their business.
Steve Brown 35:14
Excellent. So the number one best source financing is to invoice upfront and collect immediately.
Rob te Braake 35:24
Yes. And if you can get a deposit from your clients with some of our clients managed to get the deposit and the customer pays upfront. That covers their working capital, they have no cash flow concerns, because they have the full monty upfront only when the relationship with the customer and certainly to pay back to the deposits. But if you deliver good service, and you have a good relation with your clients, that's going to be years years out.
Steve Brown 35:54
Yeah, Ron, you've been an excellent guest on the ROI online podcast. So folks who are listening, they're going like, I wonder what it's like, I don't know if this is what I need. What's it like working with you?
Rob te Braake 36:11
Well, I'm gonna say, of course, it's a pleasure working with us. Now, what is it like working with us? We We always start with a lot of questions, we start with a game plan. And that is we want to identify what is your goal? What are you trying to achieve? Because anything we do, any advice we give is based on where you want to go? Then we break it down into KPIs. So if you want to sell your company in three years, what are the steps that you now need to take? And what are the metrics we need to manage to get you there? And then we break look at how do you need to adjust your bookkeeping and your internal processes so that you can actually measure those KPIs. That is where we always start that is often a very insightful, sometimes confrontational process. After that, we build the dashboards. And on a monthly basis, we analyze numbers, give you advice, based on the metrics that we see, we will run you through in a video run you through the whole reports with the context of colors and connect every all the dots in there so that you can still spend five hours analyzing the reports. Or you can just look at a 20 minute video and get 90% of that value as well. And then we guide you, depending on how much you need hands on or hands off in actually achieving those goals.
Steve Brown 37:46
How can they connect with you?
Rob te Braake 37:51
The easiest way to connect with me is to go to connect rob.com. And if you want to read more about inside matters, it's finance insight matters.com. And if you are interested in a game plan that I just mentioned, then go to finance insight matters.com slash ROI online, because that is where there's a nice hidden, hidden, as well as a nice discount for the game plan.
Steve Brown 38:19
Awesome. See, you guys listening. You get all sorts of value, not just not just all my super Wit and Wisdom, but our guests. And then here's Rob giving you a bonus as well. So connect with Rob calm. Is that what you said?
Rob te Braake 38:36
Steve Brown 38:39
that's smart. So Alright, so let's repeat this special. Tell us again, what's that URL
Rob te Braake 38:47
at finance insights matters.com slash ROI
Steve Brown 38:51
online. ROI online return on investment. Exactly. coming at you from all angles. Rob. Rob to brockagh. Man, I'm enjoyed it. You've been a great guest. Thank you. It was a pleasure. All right. And that's a wrap
Transcribed by https://otter.ai