Episode 3 – Shane Hodge

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Audio Transcript:

Chris Simmance (Host):

Hello and thanks for coming along to And We Have An Office Dog, the digital agency podcast where I talk to agency owner/directors to learn about what makes them tick. From what makes them similar to the things they’d rather have known sooner, we’re here to discuss how they’ve learned some lessons and what they want to do differently in the future. All will be revealed.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I’m your host, Chris, the agency coach, and I’ll be talking to a different awesome person each episode asking them four key questions and seeing where the conversation takes us over the next 25 minutes. Okay, so let’s begin. And in this episode, we’ve got Shane Hodge from TheCamel.co. Interesting name, Shane, go ahead, first of all, before you give us a pitch to tell us what you do and what you’ve done, how did you come up with TheCamel.co as the name?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Oh mate, what happened was we were originally called Camel & Straw Media. The story behind it was that I had a bad day and it was one of those things where the straw that broke the camel’s back. And a mate of mine said on a phone call, trying to cheer me up, “That’s a great name for a business.” So I went and registered Camel & Straw Media, but it was a bit of a mouthful.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, it’s a long URL.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Oh mate, it was too long. And we were searching and searching for years to see if we get something shorter. And then one day we got a notification from Go Daddy, “TheCamel.co is available.”

Chris Simmance (Host):

Brilliant.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And I just grabbed it. And we’ve been TheCamel.co ever since.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So TheCamel.co, Shane, what is it that you do? Give us a plug about the agency for a few minutes, what is it you do best?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Okay. TheCamel.co is a digital fulfillment partner for a company called Duda. Which is a CMS.

Chris Simmance (Host):

My first ever m.website was with Duda, a good while ago.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Awesome. Started back in 2013.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, that’s it. Yeah.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And very quickly became what’s called a global fulfillment partner. And started off with two people, it was just myself and my wife. And she did websites and I sold them.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Brilliant.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And since then, we’ve grown a bit. Now, we’re what’s called a global fulfillment partner. And so we build websites for agencies all over the world and we have our development team, our own digital marketing team. And we’ve got something like 370 clients that we work on consistently.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Crikey.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Five major clients. And got over 200 people with operations in Philippines, India and Australia.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Bloody hell. So you’re a busy man.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Oh mate, yeah. I’m doing all right for an older fella.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Oh, you’re only 23. Right?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Well, I’m actually 62. But what I do is I divide it by two every birthday.

Chris Simmance (Host):

There you go.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

So I’m 31, mate.

Chris Simmance (Host):

There we go. Well, congratulations. You’re looking brilliant for 31.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Thank you very much.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So I’ll jump onto the first question then. Because I think that it almost alluded to in your little plug there. So what do you think has been one of your biggest successes over the was it eight years you’ve been running the agency?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Yep, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Simmance (Host):

What’s one of the biggest successes, do you feel?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Are you talking financial success, account success or…

Chris Simmance (Host):

You’re the judge of your own success there, mate. So you tell me what you feel like is the biggest thing. If you were to walk out the door now to switch the lights off, the biggest success you would always think of.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

That’s a great question. What gives me the buzz, right?

Chris Simmance (Host):

There you go.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Doing a deal. I still love doing a deal every day. I’m a natural salesman and I love closing deals. I’ve been like that since I was a little child. But if you ask me, what’s the biggest buzz? It’s the little guy beating the big guy.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Love it. Okay.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Because we started off, as I said, there was only myself and my wife. And then we got to 10 people and all of a sudden, because we became a fulfillment partner, we were up against massive fulfillment partners, like people with 1500 employees turning over $150 million. And we had to compete against them.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And I can remember the first major account I won, I sat back and seriously, it was like I won the lottery in the feeling. Because it was the little guy in the Philippines back then. And we were dealing with secondhand computers and a little office with plastic chairs. And we knocked off people that all had Macs on their desk and all that. And there was nothing better than that feeling.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

The other part of that success, we’d done it pretty old-school. And what I mean by old-school is I work on the principle if the relationship is right, everything falls into place. So I really focused on building great relationships with new accounts and older accounts. So they become a little bit more forgiving, but it also gives you that opportunity to continually add value while you’re talking about UFC or the football. I love that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It’s authenticity. There’s an authenticity there, yeah.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

I really love it. I mean, on a Sunday, last Sunday in UFC, there was a big heavyweight fight. And I’m sitting there chatting with the CEO of our largest account while he’s sitting at home in Australia having a beer, I’m in the Philippines having a vodka, and we’re talking about the fight. We’re mates, right?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Every year, apart from COVID, we go overseas and we do a road trip. And we go and sit down at a pub, have a counter lunch or have a counter tea with every one of our major accounts. We go state by state, by state, by state. Because that’s old-school business. That’s the way we love to do it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So I think I get where you’re coming from in terms of the win, the first first part of your answer there. It is a big thing. I love the same feeling. I think that anyone who starts businesses for themselves, whether they’re a natural sales person or not, they still love that feeling of the ink is wet on the contract. That immediate dopamine hit of, “Oh my God, we just nailed it.” It might only be a 300 quid a month sign up or a 3 million quid a month sign up, it’s the same feeling, I think.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Same feeling.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Exactly. And I think if you extrapolate that over time and keeping your authenticity, then that feeling remains. I can recognize that. I think quite a lot of the people who listen will probably recognize that as well.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Love a win, mate. Doesn’t matter, big or small. You’re right, it doesn’t matter if it’s a $20 million order or $200 one, nothing beats it. It’s better than sex, I’ll tell you. I love it.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I’m not going to go into that one. So that’s not a question for this podcast. We may have very young agency owners listening. So I guess if you were to go back to, was it eight years or so ago? And talk to the younger, more sprightly version of yourself, what advice would you give yourself back then?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Good question. And I thought about that a lot today. And I think there was two parts of this. In eight years, it was the first three and then the next five. So if I had to go back, I’d go back to that first three and I’d tell myself, “Always aim high.” Reason being is that the wind is going to catch the goal and bring it down a bit.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

So there’s nothing wrong with chasing larger accounts. There’s nothing wrong with chasing bigger orders. There’s nothing wrong in setting higher goals for yourself, revenue-wise, everything else-wise. But set them high because even if you go a little bit lower, or half lower or 75% lower, you’re a damn sight better off than what you were before.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

The first three years, I really struggled with that. I had a bit of a beggar mentality. I would grab any deal because you’re always in this survival mode. But I stopped that after three years. And I said, “No, stop this. If I’m going to go after it, it’s going to be worth it and I’m going to feed the family for a week, not just a day.” So everything I did, I started to aim higher. And that would be something I’d tell myself from the start.

Chris Simmance (Host):

It’s a big thing with, with agency owners, I think. Because as I’ve said, I feel like a broken record when I say this a lot, that you start a business like this because you or your partner that you start with are great at what they do. And you’re great at your respective skills. But at the same time, you look at the bank balance and you know what that means. And quite a lot of agency owners never get out of that position that you say, after three years, that you mentally moved away from.

Chris Simmance (Host):

They take anything that comes along and it often causes problems. So you have a digital marketing agency that say only does SEO and they somehow randomly start selling social media advertising, or they’ll do this massive e-commerce website, which ends up being screwed up at the expense of the client and reputation and things like that. Because they see the number in the pitch and, and they think, “Well, I’m going to go for this.” And they don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for other than the immediate win.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So I think that’s great advice to give younger Shane. And what about on that second half then, on the year five plus, given that you say it’s kind of split in two?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Well, the second half of it, I learned to say no. Because you nailed it, there is some deals that will kill you. They’ll cripple you. But you do it because you think, “We need the money, we’ve got OPEX this month. We’ve got all this.” And I learned that you’re better just saying no because of the drama. But I also learned the golden key, recurring revenue.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yep, absolutely.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

I made it a goal. I was sick to death of got to the end of the month, made whatever we needed to make. Let’s say it was 40 grand or something. And then the next morning you’d wake up and go, “Well shit, here we go again.” And I wanted to stop doing that so I made myself a goal. I said, “As quick as I can possibly do it, I’m going to have it that when I open the door on the first of the month, whatever the OPEX is, comes in.” And that’s when I started to make big leaps forward.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

But I also said no to things rather than being a bit of a beggar in my mentality. So that was the major difference in that, once we got over that first three. Learn to say no, getting in a recurring revenue, that’s when things changed so much.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. You work with Duda, as you mentioned, it is a fantastic platform. It’s certainly made huge leaps, in the last few years especially.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Correct.

Chris Simmance (Host):

But there’s times when even five-year-plus Shane will say no to a client that doesn’t necessarily fit that platform. Because not every client fits every single box, right? But beginning, first three years, you might have said yes to that. And I think the lessons that you learned along the way prevented you from causing undue stress and probably reputational damage, I guess.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Oh yeah. Well we weren’t good at building massive, huge websites back then. But I took on a couple because they were good accounts and it nearly killed us. Because the kids, which I call my team, the kids weren’t really geared up to do fully custom websites, the whole place wasn’t. And we failed absolutely bloody miserably. And it was one where you sit back and go…

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And I’m not that sort of person where I get upset for a week. I get upset till I wake up the next day. And I look at it and I think, “Well, what mistakes did I make?” Have a bit of a round table with everyone else, and then next day I make sure I don’t do it again. But I made a few of them because I didn’t say no. I worried too much about being a bit of a beggar. And it is hard, Chris, because when you’re new and you need money, it is hard to say no,

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. But I mean, if you say no, you’re literally taking money off the table.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Yes.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And that money equals other people’s salaries. Or in some instances, you’re paying to support other people’s lives. And that bit of cash flow that say no to, could be instrumental in six, 12, 18 months in the future. And an intangible knock-on impact of saying yes to things you shouldn’t do is the undue stress that you put on your team. They didn’t sign up to work for you to pull their hair out in stress and agony, just because they’re trying to do something, which, if they don’t do it, they’ll lose their job and so on.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So there’s that, you’ll have staff churn as well as client churn, as soon as you start doing these sorts of things. And it’s a knock-on impact that you don’t don’t see coming. I often refer to it as the keep saying yes mode. It’s like everyone else can see a car crash coming, we can see it in super slow motion and you are having a lovely time driving your car without any care in the world.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So yeah, I think you’re right there. Saying no is really, really important. So other than that though, do you think there’s anything that you specifically regret or wish that you’d done sooner? Or is there anything that you’ve learned that has really set you up for success, other than what we’ve just talked about?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

I fell into the trap, which a lot of people do, of thinking I have to have some champions. So getting people in, you think, “Well, I’ve got to get a great designer.” And you’ll pay them more money, thinking that will get you to greatness. Or you have to get a really good account manager or a really good relationship manager. And that caused me heaps of drama, where I had people I was paying a lot of money for, who had bad habits that they’d learned from somewhere else. They didn’t have TheCamel culture, because there’s a particular culture in TheCamel. And that again was that first three years.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And then what I did, I thought, “No, I’m going to train and teach and develop people ourselves. We’re going to create our own team of champions. I’m not going to worry about CVS. I’m not going to worry about where school they went to. I’m going to worry about what’s this guy’s talent or this girl’s talent and I’m just going to nurture and I’m going to grow a team of champions.”

Shane Hodge (Guest):

That was, again, the greatest turnaround. When I no longer took notice of CVS, I didn’t think, “I need the best. I need the best.” Do you know what I mean? If I’m not driving a Ferrari, I’m not going to win at that Le Mans. Well, let’s see what we can do with a mini minor and get us around there pretty quick as well.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. No, exactly. When you look at a, a, a member of staff, you have to break it down into, do they get the job? Do they understand and what they need to do? Do they want to do the job? And are they capable of doing the job? And if, if you’ve got people that you’re looking to hire or are looking in your team and you think, “Well, they get the job. They know what they’re supposed to do. They want the job, whether it’s just for income or because they want to be there, but they’re not quite capable yet. Is that capability something they can learn?”

Chris Simmance (Host):

And if it is, then quite right, you, you, you, you, you bring them through TheCamel.co academy and make them into the champions. Because they’ll stay working with you forever. They’ll happily enjoy the fruits of success because they’re a big part of that. And if they ever do move on, you can be proud of where they’ve moved to, right?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Well, we’ve got people that were with us that started off as just junior, junior, junior people. And they’ve left us, because people do leave. And they’ve gone on, some of the developers, we taught them to be developers, are now working for multinational corporations with senior roles. And I’m proud of that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, yeah. Quite right.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

I’m like a little father, I go, “That’s my son.” you know?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And it’s a good thing. And if I look at all the department heads of TheCamel, every one of them started in this company in a role that’s got nothing to do with what they do now, and had just graduated from school. Our number one designer had no schooling in design. He didn’t even know how to use Photoshop. He just had a very creative mind.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, I’ve had a look at some of the websites that you guys have put together from your site. And I can say that they do look good, so that person’s learned well.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Thank you. He did. He’s good. And even basically the number one developer, this is the only job he’s ever had. He left school and come straight here, he still had pimples.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Oh wow. Crikey.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And our average team, if you work it out, we’ve been going eight years and on average it’s five years people have been here.

Chris Simmance (Host):

That’s great. It’s a good sign, not just from a salary perspective, but from a cultural perspective, it’s really important. I don’t know what it’s like on average in your area of the world, but in the UK especially, you’re looking at the junior to mid-level role is maximum of 18 months to two years of a churn rate. And I mean, there’s a lot of agency competition in the UK. But at the same time, I think that there’s a culture of elevation by migration.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Yes, I like that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I literally just made it up there, so patent pending.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Well done.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Terms and conditions apply and all those sorts of things. So, yeah, I think in many cases, the culture is equally, if not more, more important than the salary. And if you can get a perfect mix of the both, and you’re also helping develop people, that’s why you can keep people so long.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

I think it’s a Filipino thing too. Because the Filipinos, if you’ve got one block of chocolate, you will cut that up to feed whoever’s there. So if there’s five people and you’ve got one piece of chocolate, you’ll cut it into five. It’s this real caring, sharing culture. And that’s the culture of TheCamel. It’s like a family. It’s very hard to give an individual award in TheCamel because each team member will say, “But without him, him, and her, I couldn’t have done it.”

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, that’s lovely. That’s lovely.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

All right. So we, you’ve got to get that in them. And they find it very difficult when they go to another company if it’s not matching that culture. Now, we’ve had some kids leave and get senior roles in McDonald’s and one year they want to come back, because they miss the culture. So you’re right, it’s that migration… What’d you call it? Migration by…

Chris Simmance (Host):

Elevation by migration.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Elevation by migration. If you’ve got the right culture, it doesn’t work. Even when you try to bring them into the team, it’s not going to work. You can look at their resume and go, “Well, there’s elevation migration.” They’re not going to fit. And it’s key for an agency, develop your culture.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, yeah. That starts right at the very beginning from the agency owner’s point of view, in terms of, “What do I want out of this business?”

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Yes.

Chris Simmance (Host):

From a personal perspective, not the professional. And then you break that into, “How does my professional life create this personal life?” Yeah. And then you work from there and say, “How do I do this? Well, I need this many people doing this many things. How do I make these people happy to follow this vision which helps me get to my thing?” And you create a culture that meets that purpose.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And I think that’s one thing that lots of agency owners miss out on. And it’s not because of lack of trying. They’ve probably read a book or they’ve had a someone giving them advice. But, one of the key aspects of why that doesn’t necessarily work is that they’re doing it as a box-checking exercise, trying to create a culture.

Chris Simmance (Host):

This is where the name of the podcast came from. I mean, every agency has an office dog almost. And that’s somehow part of the culture, “We have a personality because we have an office dog.” Okay, I have a dog in my office right now, but that doesn’t mean that’s part of the culture of the business. But if you try and create a culture by box-checking, you’re basically setting yourself up for some future pain, I think.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Yeah, it’s the same as not being able to say no.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, yeah. It’s probably even more painful in the long-term.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

It’s the human factor, mate. And I like what you taught. You’ve taught me something today. I like that elevation by migration is now one of my new things.

Chris Simmance (Host):

There we go.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

But it’s so true. And if we look at those new agencies that are out there, it’s so key to get that culture, get that thing going. Train your own people and you will create a team and that will make you money.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah, yeah. I think the fourth question for me was actually going to be what advice would you give? Would the culture piece be that advice? Or is there something else that you think would be quite powerful as a “I’m looking to start my agency this time next year,” what would you give them if you were to sit down with them?

Shane Hodge (Guest):

You ever watch the… Have you got kids?

Chris Simmance (Host):

I have dogs. Dogs are my children.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

You have a dog, all right. Well, maybe your dog has watched that movie Frozen.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yes.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And there’s a famous song in that. “Let it go. Let it go.”

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yep.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

The number one skill you’ve got to learn-

Chris Simmance (Host):

I have a niece so I know that, yeah.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

I tell people that all the time, let it go. In other words, empower people. Even if you’ve only got one person, empower that person. Stop being Eddie the expert and cyclone at every single thing you do. Don’t covet, give people chances. Give them chances, let people take risks. Empower them because they grow. And when they grow, you’ll make more money. So my number one thing, let it go. Number two, get a culture within that company. So, you know, everyone knows, and they might hate McDonald’s, but McDonald’s is McDonald’s.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, good or bad, they’ve done a good job in terms of growth haven’t they.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

And I look at brands, like I love to Ducati, I love Harley Davidson, I love Porsche. Why do I love them? There’s a culture. There’s a vibe. There’s a soul about those things. And if you look at any time they fail, it’s because they go against the soul. They go against the culture.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

But when you build your agency, everyone knows in the Duda world, TheCamel.co, everybody. And I can say that humbly, but it’s the truth. And they know a Camel site, they know a Camel person, they know a Camel template. They know a Camel widget. They know the way we write our blogs. They know it. We have a Camel culture and we maintain it and we grow it and we strengthen it. And we do not compromise it. And that was a same when it was only my wife and myself. We had a culture.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So you’ve stuck to that as well, which is great.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Got to stick to it all the way through. I reckon the worst thing that happened at McDonald’s was McCafe.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, that’s let the game away. In my next podcast, we have the owner of McDonald’s for an exclusive interview about their cafe division.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Oh, crazy. And that’s the key.

Chris Simmance (Host):

I think you’re right. Stick to your guns in that sense is important. And I think with that though, there’s a little bit of nuance to it that, if it’s not right, it’s okay to change something.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Immediately.

Chris Simmance (Host):

But if you know it’s right and you know it works, but you change it because of something else that you feel like you have to change for, it’s often never going to work. It’s not going to suit you.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Yep. And usually when you bring somebody into the team, who’s not of your culture, and people… What is it? Misery loves company.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yes.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Right. And they’ll try and manipulate your culture and your environment. “Oh, it’ll work better.” BS. What got you where you are today, that’s what’s going to make you keep going and keep going and keep going. Stick to your guns. Even learn to say no to people that work for you.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Yeah. I don’t think that that’s bad advice. I guess the counter to that, the counter balance on that, is that sometimes change is good, but you need to know that it’s the right thing to do on balance with the culture, I think is the right way of maybe framing that, I guess. So if someone’s doing something in an agency and they need to change, they know they need to change, but they need to balance that against the culture.

Chris Simmance (Host):

You don’t just suddenly change it because Bob comes in and Bob says, something needs to be done. You need to weigh that up against how’s this going to impact the culture of the business as much as the bottom line of the business, because they are intertwined.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Totally agree, Chris. Awesome.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Well, I think that’s pretty powerful advice to end this podcast on. I’ve got to have a chat with McDonald’s now to make sure we’re not going to get sued. But, we’ll see. I’ll let you know. But no, thanks very much for coming along, Shane.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

It’s my pleasure.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And as soon as this, this podcast’s up, you’ll have to share it with your Duda team and your Duda community. I’m sure they’ll love listening.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

We’ll blast it out there for you, Chris. Don’t you worry about that.

Chris Simmance (Host):

Wonderful. I mean, I’m all about the listens, you see. This is an ego trip for me.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Are you having fun though? Are you having fun?

Chris Simmance (Host):

Oh yeah, love it. Yeah, it’s fantastic. I mean, I get to talk to people that interest me and that’s something that I’m all about, talking to interesting people.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

Yep. I love it, mate.

Chris Simmance (Host):

So thanks very much for coming along, Shane.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

My pleasure.

Chris Simmance (Host):

And for those of you who are listening, of anyone of interest in the metaverse, in the last couple of days I’ve released a new agency coaching mastermind session. International, so wherever you are in the world, you can join me in the metaverse, in our virtual boardroom, to talk about your agency changes, successes, problems, share war stories, and have a conversation. But until next time, thanks very much for coming to listen to And We Have An Office Dog. Cheers, Shane.

Shane Hodge (Guest):

See ya, mate.

 

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