Creative Director and Owner of Indianapolis-based Roundpeg, Lorraine Ball joins our program to discuss her agency, growth, marketing, talent, and how she leverages her competitors to get more clients.
Lorraine Ball started Roundpeg because she was tired of the standard, cookie-cutter model of marketing in corporate businesses. After flying out to Denver to create Attract Smarter Clients, a new course dedicated to teaching you how to leverage seminars to grow your web practice, we sat down to talk about what brought Roundpeg to where they are today.
You can find more information about Lorraine Ball and Roundpeg by visiting their blog and following them on Facebook and Twitter.
Brent: I’m Brent Weaver and you’re watching uGurus, the most watched web series to become a more profitable and in demand web professional. Today, I’m having a chat with Lorraine Ball, who’s the founder and President of Roundpeg. Welcome to the program.
Lorraine: Thanks for having me.
Brent: So, Lorraine, what’s your background?
Lorraine: I’ve done a little bit of everything. The short answer is I have a marketing degree and I spent about 25 years in corporate in a variety of marketing roles. And about 12 years ago, I decided I didn’t want to work for anybody else.
Brent: So, you decided to create Roundpeg. Tell us a little bit about what Roundpeg is.
Lorraine: Well today, Roundpeg is a marketing strategy company that offers web design, social media, and content marketing services. But at our core, we’re a strategy company.
Brent: How do you get your customers?
Lorraine: We get our customers from several different, very, very distinct buckets. The first is, we’re a web company, so we get clients from the web. We have a really strong inbound marketing program. We typically create a new white paper every month that we promote on social channels, we promote through our email newsletter, we promote through our strategic partners. So, we have a steady influx of new prospective customers. And not only do we have these new customers, we know what they’re interested in. So, we sort of know which part of our sales process to plug them in to.
We get a lot of our clients from our public seminars. I said that I’ve done a lot of different things in my life. I started as a schoolteacher and so standing up in front of a room full of people is the most natural thing in the world for me, giving me an opportunity to share a little bit of what I know, get to know people, and make them more comfortable with doing business with me.
And the third place that we get a lot of our clients is from what I call strategic partners; people that either have complimentary business or, this next piece is going to sound weird, 50 percent of my clients come from my competitors. They come from other web design companies. And out there, you see them going, “How does she do that?” It’s really pretty simple.
We have a very clear niche. We have a really sweet target. We like early stage two companies, 750,000 in sales to about 10 million. We like clients that have a fairly simple web design. And so, there are several agencies in town whose websites are much bigger, who serve bigger companies. And every one of those agencies, they all say the same thing. If a customer goes,
“Oh, you’re a little too expensive” “You know what? The only person you should talk to is Roundpeg.” And it takes a long time to build those kind of relationships.
I’ve been doing this for 12 years, but half a dozen of the best web agencies in Indianapolis send us the clients that are too small for them. The only one that doesn’t, it isn’t because he doesn’t love us. He actually started a second business to offer a lower priced alternative service, and basically copy our business model, without destroying his primary model.
Brent: So, I really like that and I want to focus on that a little bit, is that you partner with, essentially, other competitors. And you facilitate a market that they’re unwilling to facilitate and you use them as key channel partners that are going to give you continuous business.
Lorraine: Absolutely. In order to do that and in order to make it work, you really have to go through this analysis and figure out who your customer is. And we’ve really spent a lot of time looking at the industries that we’re good in. We really like home services. I have a background coming out of heating and air conditioning. I understand that sales process and those guys feel immediately comfortable with me. We really love food. We don’t really like associations and so I’ve got a strategic partner that loves associations.
We don’t do e-commerce. We’ll do 5, 10, 15 items, but you come to me with a shopping cart of 1,000 items, I don’t want that project. It’s going to bury me. It’s not my sweet spot. There’s an agency in town that loves to build shopping carts. Please, have that customer. And so, getting a better handle on what I really do allows me to have that relationship.
The other thing is, we are a WordPress shop. We have standardized on WordPress. Can I do other programming? Yeah, but I don’t want to, because when you start getting outside of your core competency, now you’ve got this one website that just doesn’t fit. The support calls are harder. Everything is just harder. It’s easier to say, “You know what? You need Joomla or you have a Joomla site and you want update? Let me introduce you to someone who is a whiz at that platform.”
Brent: So, keeping in mind of target customer, making sure you’re really honed on that and then also knowing what you’re good at and knowing what you’re not necessarily not good at, but is outside of your core competency.
Brent: One of the things that you mentioned to me earlier is that you’re in the middle of bringing on some additional talent, because this thing your building is working, which congratulations on that . . .
Lorraine: Thank you.
Brent: You mentioned to me that you’re in the middle of a hiring process. So, how have you gone about finding talent?
Lorraine: Well, there are several things that we’ve done. The first is, we have always had a pretty strong internship program. I have, again, I told you I did a lot of stuff, I’ve taught at three of the universities in town. I have relationships with the placement offices in each of these universities, and so when I need an intern, I’m going to go to the head of the departments of those schools and I’m going to say, “Hey, I’m posting this on your job wall, but I want you to send me your best student.” I make my interns responsible for finding their replacements.
Brent: I just want to hone in on that. You make your interns find their own replacements?
Brent: So, an intern might be graduating or moving on and you tell them ahead of time, “When it’s time to move on, you’ve got to find your replacement.”
Lorraine: Absolutely, because they’re in class with people who are a semester or two semesters behind them and they know, “This guy’s an idiot. She’s brilliant. You want her.” And so, they’re my first best screen. So, a lot of our talent does come to us right out of school. We do get a lot of young professionals.
The other thing is, we’ve built a reputation in town and people know we have a good internship program, we hire young professionals, and we really have some great talented people around the city that came out of our organization. There’s a guy who everybody knows him in the social media community and he’s done really well after he left Roundpeg, but everybody knows where he started.
And when I put a note up on Twitter, so you ask how we promote this, when we’re hiring we put it on our website and we go to our social media channels. And when we put up a note that says, “We’re looking for an intern,” or, “We’re looking for a marketing coordinator,” I am absolutely amazed by the number of tweets and retweets we get from former employees and from people who know us that are like, “Okay guys, if you’re looking at this, you need to call them.” It really builds on itself. So, that’s the first thing.
The second thing is we are open to some very unusual possibilities. One of my very best hires was a woman who was in her early 40’s in a situation in her life where she had amazing degrees, was really bright, was really looking to start over in a different way. She came to work for us as an unpaid intern for six months. We loved her, when it was time for her to go do something else, I didn’t have a job for her, which really broke my heart, she went on, had a great job.
She ended up getting in touch with, quite by accident, Kai Ryssdal from NPR’s Marketplace. He was doing a story on mid-career interns. He interviewed her and then he said, “Can you hook me up with your boss?” I got interviewed on NPR. There is no way I could have bought that experience. Got interviewed on NPR, the program was broadcast nationally. I had calls from all over the country and actually picked up a client.
Brent: Wow. Finding talent, finding clients in the same vein there. Very cool.
Lorraine: And then the other side of it is, we have a pretty rigorous interview process. We’re pretty hardcore, because we’re a small company. When you have three to five people, bringing that one new person in is going to completely change your energy and your rhythm and they got to fit.
We read the resumes. We have a very specific application and the first thing we look at is, “Can people figure it out?” Now, it’s not hard. The question is, “Are you social?” And it says, “Put a link to a profile.” If you fill in, “Yes,” in answer to the, “Are you social?” question, we don’t read any further. We check out your social profile, if it’s LinkedIn, if it’s Twitter. We’re a social media company.
We want your resume and then we ask you to show off your work and we don’t give you any instructions. “Show us off something you’re proud of.” If what you send is your paper that you did for college four years ago and you’ve got nothing else you’re proud of since, you’re not coming in.
And the last question, and I think this is one most companies don’t ask but should, is, “Why Roundpeg?” And that’s all it says, “Why Roundpeg?” And if you give me an answer that is really just your cover letter crammed into that box, telling me about why you’re great, you missed the point. And what it tells me is you don’t follow instructions. You can’t shift out of your cookie cutter mode. I’m not interested.
What I’m looking for is someone who sees that and goes, “Wow,” takes a minute, looks at the rest of my website, figures out what it is about us that is special and why they want to be a part of the team. I’m not looking for them to suck up. I’m looking for them to prove to me that they did a little homework.
After that, they’re going to have a phone screen and usually Allison or I will do it. Usually she’s the more hardcore person. In this last job search, she actually brought in more candidates. I was a lot pickier. And then we do an interview maybe with one or two people in the company and if I really like you, you’re coming back. Everybody in the company gets a vote. If any one of the people in the table goes, “I can’t work with them. I don’t want to work with them,” you’re out. Oh, and also, the cats.
Brent: That’s a veto vote.
Lorraine: It is a veto. And actually the veto, it’s really interesting, we’ll have you in a group interview. At the end, we’re having a conversation, any person in that room can stand up and say, “I’m really sorry. It was very nice meeting you. I’m working on a deadline,” and leave the room. That is the veto. At that moment, I know this person is not going to be a member of our team.
Brent: I think you might just be giving away a secret.
Lorraine: But you have to have that unwritten, “What is it?” because if you’re bringing somebody into your organization, it’s going to change your company. And every hire needs to change your company for the better.
And I’m going to comment on the cats though. We have two cats, and if you’re allergic or you don’t like them, you’re not going to be happy in our office. The cats roam through the office, and if Truman hops up in your lap, you got a good shot. If he drinks your water and you don’t freak out, you got a really good shot.
Brent: Does that maybe overpower a veto maybe? No?
Lorraine: It might help, it might help. But yeah, it’s important that everybody in the team be committed to the next person we bring on, because we work so closely.
Brent: So, I definitely made some personal notes and I think you maybe just added a couple of questions to my hiring process. You’ve got this really nice business. You’re obviously growing. It’s successful. You’re doing all sorts of great things, in terms of educating your community and doing seminars and all that kind of stuff. What would you say is a practice that you have done over the last decade that’s gotten you where you are?
Lorraine: Wow. I think there are a couple of things. One, I pay attention to the numbers. And I think that surprises people, because the assumption is that marketing people, that we can’t add, that somehow we look at numbers as graphic elements and go, “I’ll put an eight at the bottom of the page because it’s going to look really nice.” Uh-uh. At the end of the day, I’m looking at the numbers. I understand cash flow.
I understand not just getting excited about the sale, but about, “When am I going to get paid?” And I understand the relationship between accounts receivable and accounts payable and what those ratios need to be. And if you’re going to run a business and it’s really going to be a business and you don’t understand that, take a basic accounting class and sit down with an accountant who gives you the half a dozen key performance indicators that you use to give you advanced warning that your business is in trouble. You don’t want to wake up one day and suddenly find out that you have a cash flow issue.
The second thing is, I have a pretty open book business, which probably would really scare a lot of people. My employees know what we sold, what we build, and they know whether or not we made money this month. They know how close we are to breaking even, they know a lot about the financials, and they’re a lot more vested in it. I think you have to have a high level of trust in the people that you’re working with to share that and I do. I work with people I really like. They’re people I want to spend my time with and that’s important. Yeah, those are the big ones.
Brent: Did you go down the open book policy through, I know there’s the book The Great Game of Business, is that where you were inspired to move down that approach?
Lorraine: I’ve always been, even before being introduced to some of those philosophies, a “put my cards on the table” kind of person. You don’t really have to guess where I’m coming from. You know when I’m happy, you know when I’m not. I’m from New York; you’re going to know when I’m not happy.
I think I definitely share more now than I did two years ago or three years ago. And also, my team, we’ve been together for a nice period of time. Allison’s been with me four years. Jenna and Peter, too. Rebecca six or seven. So, I’ve got people that really have been through the ups and the downs, so it’s easier to share more of the in depth information. They’ve got a frame of reference for that.
Brent: So, what do you think you’ve learned during your web marketing tenure that other web professionals should know?
Lorraine: I think you need to find what you’re good at and do more of it. I think you need to be okay letting go of certain things. We let go of our pay-per-click program. We realized that it was going to take more to get good at it and we actually found a company that does it. They handle it well. Life is all good.
Don’t be afraid to spend money. Especially when you’re not making any, it’s really hard to decide you’re going to spend money. Spend it wisely. The very best thing I did was I took a sales training class. There are Sandler trainers all over the country. I’m really impressed with the program and I was really skeptical. And I was like, “I’m not going to do that.” And it was not cheap. It was not cheap. And we are talking about a two year commitment and hundreds of dollars every month.
I have earned back every penny I’ve spent a hundred times. I always thought I knew how to sell; I did not know how to sell. I always thought I was good at closing and I knew how to ask for the order, I am way better.
Invest in the things that are going to make you better. Invest in the tools. We used a proposal software and when they first said to me it was going to be 90 dollars a month I went [gasp], because my idea of paying for software was five. But what it allows us to do is unbelievable.
I was leaving for the airport to come out here for this interview and I realized at five minutes to 6:00 that I had forgotten to do a proposal and my flight was at 7:30. And I was done with that proposal, it had been sent to the client by seven minutes after 6:00, because all of the pieces were there and I just had to format it, get the right information in place, and hit send. I can’t put a price on that. In the old days, that was a proposal that wouldn’t have gotten sent for two more days and, quite possibly, I would have missed that sale.
Brent: Sure and I love to hear that. I think it terms of when I went through the most period of growth, where you really learn how to do some things, a lot of that came from spending money on consultants to come in, spending money on education programs. There’s a lot of different things you could do, but not being scared. I feel like whenever I have spent money, even on conferences and things, at the time I’m like, “This is a lot of money,” but I look back and I’ve pretty much never regretted bringing in a consultant for 3,000 dollars for a month to work on something. That might be an extreme case for a lot of people, but for me those investments have paid massive dividends. So, it’s great to hear that you’ve experienced the same thing.
Lorraine: And I think also that we have to understand, we’re asking our clients to spend 3, 5, 10,000 dollars, 20,000 dollars on our services. You have to be able to spend that amount of money to ask someone else to spend it. So, if you are nickle and dime-ing and you’re always afraid to spend five or ten dollars, you’re going to shake a little when you ask someone to write a check for 10,000 dollars. I have no qualms when somebody says, “I want to spend an hour with you,” and I say, “Well, that’s a buck 25.” And I don’t even hesitate, because if it was something I wanted, I would spend the buck 25.
Brent: Sure. So, what trends are happening right now that you’re keeping your eye on?
Lorraine: Actually there are a couple of things going on that I’m kind of enjoying. One is when everybody else was doing white hat and black hat SEO tactics and it was all about meta-tags and keywords and keyword stuffing, I looked at that and I said, “I don’t care if that’s going to drive traffic, because the people that will come will leave because your website is garbage.” And so, four years ago, we really aggressively started getting into content marketing because we thought it was the right thing for or clients. So, I’m enjoying the fact that everybody else is figuring that out. I’m enjoying that Google has said, “You know what? We’re going to reward good content.” So, we have clients who have websites that have got that nice foundation.
The focus on inbound marketing, it is a new term for what we used to call integrated marketing, this idea that all your pieces fit together. I really like that. I think that it puts the website at the center of a customer’s business. So, as a web designer, I have a tremendous advantage because I am now the pivot point where seven years ago, there was marketing and the website was out here. Now, it’s the website and marketing is all around it. I love that. It really puts us in a position of strength.
The shift to mobile and all the responsive web design. I like it because it is creating a situation where people used to build a website and say,
“Well, I’m done.” And five years later, you’re like, “Dude, update the website.” Now, we’re telling clients, “The technology is moving so quickly that you need to be budgeting for every two years.” And so, again, reoccurring revenue. My momma raised a capitalist. It is an opportunity to plant a seed as you’re closing the project that they need to plan on coming back to you in two years.
Brent: Well, Lorraine, this has been very educational for us here. I’ve heard some rumors that you might be contributing some content to uGurus in the coming months. We just wrapped shooting a course on seminar marketing that you’re going to be sharing with the community, which I think is going to be super high value, very potent path to being able to execute your proven marketing strategy of how you’ve grown your business, which I think everybody’s really excited about. We will link to your website, Roundpeg.biz, throw a link out to your Twitter tag so people can follow you and continue to get updates on what you’re up to.
Brent: We really appreciate you taking the time . . .
Lorraine: This was fun.
Brent: . . . and hopefully we will see you again soon.
Lorraine: Would love that. Thank you.
Brent: All right, thanks. Well that’s it and stay tuned for more great content form uGurus.com.