Our marketing agency clients and audience share with us that their number-one challenge is growing and scaling their agency. The task itself is hard. And so is figuring out what services to offer and market, how to adjust pricing to grow and attract new clients, and how to increase headcount accordingly. There are so many variables that affect agencies, such as leadership, regionality, geography, and more. Ensuring that your solution to growing your agency has to be unique, but that doesn’t mean you have to invent it wholesale.

The Social Pulse Podcast: Agency Edition is designed to talk to and learn from other agency owners, so we can apply those ideas to our own businesses.

In this case, how have other agencies dealt with managing fully remote teams or maintaining culture or quality across teams from the moment of onboarding on?

That’s exactly what Zach Boyette is going to talk to us about. Zach is the co-founder and managing partner of Galactic Fed. It’s a growth marketing agency that [in] over just six years, he built into a powerhouse with 150 employees across 25 countries, driving hundreds of millions in revenue for over 600 clients. He’s a growth hacker, software developer, Stanford MBA, and ex-Google employee with deep expertise across the full spectrum of digital marketing. Zach’s a proud digital nomad who travels the world full-time, rarely spending more than a month in a given time zone.

Listen to the entire podcast below or read on for the full transcript.

What Is Galactic Fed?

Mike Allton: Tell us a little bit more about Galactic Fed, the kind of work that you’re doing, the kind of businesses you work with.

Zach Boyette: I started Galactic Fed in 2018 with my business partner Irina. We both worked at a B2B company before I was running paid media. She was running SEO.

Galactic Fed now is a full-stack growth marketing agency. We do everything from a paid media SEO (as we did originally), but now we’ve expanded to email marketing, web dev and design, and organic social influencer work. Pretty much everything across the online digital growth spectrum.

Initially, I’d say our main focus was on high-growth startups that are trying to grow really fast anywhere from pre-seed, smaller baby startups to series B and series C. We’ve expanded quite a bit now. We work across the full range, and we’ve worked with several Fortune 500s/Fortune 50 companies as well. Our team is around the world. We’re in 25 countries. I believe the latest count’s around 150 folks on the team at Galactic Fed. It’s been a really fun journey scaling the company in the last six years to that size, and I have a lot to share.

Mike Allton: That’s awesome. I’m excited to ask you about all these topics, but one quick follow-up question because I know you’re a growth marketing agency and you mentioned organic social.

Organic Social (and How It Grows)

Is that something that you deliberately added within that umbrella? Did you consider [organic social] a part of growth marketing or are you doing it because you’re working for those clients and they just happened to need organic social?

Zach Boyette: I’d say, it was a bit of both to start. Like, initially, I was laser-focused on paid media and SEO—since I felt that those were some of the bigger chunks of what our clients were looking for. At least, I’d say, 70 percent of clients, in the beginning, were looking for that. We had requests for organic social and maybe some influencer work as well. And we started doing that as it happened. I fell in love with that as a channel as well.

I think that it’s so important that you can get paid media. It’s very important, of course, but you almost can get a little lazy if you’re so used to being able to pay for your impressions that you’re getting. I’ve been impressed with the way that some people utilize organic social to get strong growth. And it has to be so much more of a steady repeatable channel.

As a result of that, it helps create and spin that flywheel that helps you create content that you can put on the rest of your channels too.

I think that organic social has a higher degree for some folks of authority and trust since people aren’t paying to be there. And so I think in certain niches, certain markets with certain messages, it can work very well.

Mike Allton: Love that concept of, yeah, organic social, it’s a flywheel (if you put in the time, of course). And the effort and the creativity that’s fantastic.

You talked about how you’re up to 150 folks now with your agency. And when it comes to growing an agency to that size in six years, no less, that sounds incredible.

Challenges of Growing Your Agency

It also sounds incredibly challenging.

What were some of the hurdles that you ran into?

Zach Boyette: Initially—as many listeners probably can relate—I just wanted to get out from under myself and start hiring out for everything that I wanted to do least at a given moment.

So in the beginning, I was hiring folks when I was running the pay media side. Let’s use an example. I was hiring folks to actually run the Google ads, run the Facebook and Instagram ads, etc., as I was working with the clients directly. So there are more account-operational-specialist types of folks.

Then we got enough revenue that I could justify hiring account managers who are the people who interface directly with the clients. And then after that, it was sales—because that was taking up a large amount of my time—and I just kept focusing on what was the most pressing, the most important thing at the moment, and going from there.

But challenges, man, Mike, there’s been a lot. There have been ones from the exogenous shocks, like COVID was tough for all of us. We lost about 30 percent of revenue in two or three weeks from clients pulling out. And at that time, we were on a much more short-term contract, a 30-day opt-out type of situation. That was tough, but I rallied and was able to not let go of anyone on the team, which I was proud of. Just cut my compensation down quite a bit and cut some of our ongoing initiatives, but was able to keep the whole team there. Suffice to say, that was a tough situation for us.

I’d say really, really scaling, as many listeners of the pod can probably appreciate. Some of those junction points that I highlighted of going from just me to a specialist team to account management team to sales. It can be really challenging and really scary.

Sales is one of the ones that, when I speak with folks a lot, they say is the scariest where they say, “I don’t know how I could possibly get someone to sell Galactic Fed as well as [you] do it.” No one will ever be able to have the passion, the background, the energy that I do for this company and be able to speak to our strengths. So I’d say that took us a while to get it first. We have an absolute rockstar sales director, Michelle, and the team that she runs is really great now, but it took a while for us to get to that point. Those are a few examples. Happy to give more.

Mike Allton: Yeah. I’m just wondering, because you listed some things that you didn’t like doing and farm those out, which is absolutely a fantastic framework. We talked earlier in the show with Matt Heinz. We talked about the EOS framework for running a business or a marketing agency. And that was certainly one of the things: to farm out and delegate.

What were some of the things that you really enjoyed?

I don’t know if it’s sales or something else that you held on to as long as you possibly could.

Zach Boyette: It’s funny because all the things that I’m talking about—with the exception of maybe bookkeeping, I never liked that—but all the things that I’ve done at some point in my career. In building Galactic Fed, I’ve enjoyed the sales and the account management, helping the clients grow. I enjoyed speaking with the clients and learning the stories of these founders, business owners, marketers, documentation, and all these things.

But what I enjoyed most was the parts of the work that aligned with building the team.

I absolutely love the clients that we work with, and we do really great work. But I’d say nowadays, six years in, what really gets me up and gets me going is just knowing how I can best support my team at Galactic Fed, the people within us to make sure that they can work to their potential, that they can feel like they’re giving their absolute all for our clients and doing the best without being distracted, without being stressed, without being overburdened.

That may come down to me helping roll out new games, community activities, or cultural events with them within Galactic Fed. That may be me helping our sales team figure out who we can target better, so that we can grow at a faster rate that may be helping our account management team via the right way to communicate with clients on the right cadence.

What really gets me out of bed is the realization that is helping our team do a better job and feel better about themselves.

The Highs and Lows of Working Remote

Mike Allton: Let’s talk about those people. Here at Agorapulse, we are a 50/50 split. We have offices in Paris and about half of the company works out of the Paris offices (or at least nearby). The rest of the company is remote. I’m here in St. Louis, Missouri. I’ve been with Agorapulse for six years and, sad to say, I’ve never worked out of the Paris office for more than a few nights. I work remotely.

We can relate to some of what you’re talking about being 100 percent remote. I know one of the interesting aspects of having a fully remote workforce is that on the one hand, it can be really more beneficial to find folks. You’re not limited to people within a certain geographic range.

On the other hand, it seems like it would be really challenging, particularly on the hiring and onboarding side. I mean, how do you interview and that sort of thing? Talk to us about how that’s been a struggle and how you’ve overcome it at Galactic Fed.

Zach Boyette: Yeah, well, Mike, you hit on two of the big points, right?

Which is that, yes, we were able to find the most wonderful, talented, smart, clever, hardworking folks in the entire world, wherever they may be. I’m in Palo Alto, California, right now. I don’t just have to say we’re going to find the best XYZ person in the Bay area—I could find them whatever country they’re in. So that’s great but, yes, with that does come challenges.

  • Start with remote: I always give the advice, especially to folks trying to start a remote company, that you definitely can do a company that was fully in-person and then go to fully remote—but it’s a lot easier to start the opposite way—or rather to always be remote. To start the company remote from the start, all the principles, the practices, how you hire people, how you onboard people, that’s always been in your DNA. (We saw a lot of people struggle during COVID to bring a fully in-person company to remote, but I digress.)
  • Find the right fit: What helps us is, as I mentioned there, we really have gotten down to a science of identifying the right people who will be a good fit in a remote environment at Galactic Fed that maybe they’ve worked remotely in the past, that maybe they talk about things in the interviews that indicate that they’re highly independent, self-starters, and self-motivated because those are important things for being remote.
  • Be independent: Mike, probably working remotely yourself for six years, you know you don’t have people over your shoulder telling you what to do. There’s no one walking by the back of your computer, checking your screen to see what’s happening. And you need to make sure that you’re hitting whatever metrics you’re trying to do and working hard to do that.get a free trial of agorapulse

Hiring remotely

[As for] how we hire people, now we started with these classic “tell-me-about-a-time-when” personality interviews. And I found those just horrible for us. I’m sure other entrepreneurs out there and agency owners can relate.

What we have evolved to do over time is a multi-step process, roughly four steps.

The first is an in-depth written assessment, as we’ll call it, which could be anywhere from seven to eight main buckets with questions broken down within them. We tell candidates to spend no more than two hours on it. Many spend a good bit less than that. We don’t want to make it too long or make people doing too much for no work.

Another really important part of that is I believe in this sort of philosophy of “A players hire A players, and B players hire C players.”

You want to get the best people in the world, especially in leadership positions, because then the people they hire underneath them will make your job as a manager way easier. After all, you can trust that that person running a team will hire good people. Whereas if you hire someone who’s just okay, then they’ll be a little more lax in their expectations, and the people they hire will be even worse.

One important thing we do in our hiring process is we do the reverse reference check, as we call it, or the almost threat of reference check, where in the very beginning, there’s a grid and people have to list [their] most five recent managers, the people who directly manage you. And what would they rate you on a one to 10 scale with 10 being the best? And why?

We make it clear like when we speak with that person, what will we say? At the bottom of that, we say we reserve the right to contact anybody for a reference, regardless of if you listed them yourself with the caveat that we will not contact people at their current company. If they gave a problem about a certain person, maybe there was a major toxic relationship. We wouldn’t do that. We’re human, after all.

But this helps us have people be really honest upfront about what they’ve done in the past and how good people view them since. The past relationships from a manager perspective are often the most telling of how they’re going to do in the future. And we found that people are a little less willing to forge and exaggerate their accomplishments if they know and had to write down the names and emails of the folks that manage them, and they can expect that we’re going to ask them about those things.

Written assessment is a big part of the process. After that, again, it varies in the role, but we often have a role-playing type of interview where we’ll give them a brief that’ll say, “You are the Paid Media Account Manager. You’re about to go in and chat with a client who has XYZ goals. I’m going to roleplay being the clients. Let’s do this for an hour or a half hour, and then we’ll talk about it afterward and see how it went.” We find this as important to make sure that people can handle the dialog and the back-and-forth that comes with client relations since that can be difficult for folks sometimes. Then after those first two steps, then we do these culture fits, personality-based types of interviews.

Creating Company Culture While Remote

Mike Allton: Now, earlier, you also talked about culture. And I want to touch on that for a minute. I want you to share how you’re addressing that. Because again, this is a fully remote company. You can’t just take folks to Happy Hour on Fridays and have that one-on-one time or whatever it is that one might normally do in an in-person environment today.

How are you tackling that, particularly with new employees and reinforcing it while it’s on a remote basis?

Zach Boyette: I found that culture is built top-down, middle-out, and bottom-up.

From a top-down perspective, when I started the company (and still now) both myself, Irina, my co-founder, and I have a very—what we try to be—trusting and understanding and casual environment and relationship with our team where we make jokes, use exclamation marks in our messages, use tons of emojis.

Beyond that sort of superficial stuff, we tried our best to set an example that we understand that people make mistakes, that bad things will happen, that you’ll do something that you didn’t mean to do. And we want to make sure we set an environment where we are often owning our mistakes to our team.

When we say, “Man, I wish I had done this differently. I want to apologize. I wish I wish I’d done something else,” that really sets an example that folks are able to do that themselves. And they’re able to be more relaxed because that’s natural. That’s work. Things will happen and what’s important is to learn to grow from it.

From a more middle-out perspective, I just really, really care a lot about the folks that we hire, especially from a management perspective and making sure that they are telegraphing the culture, who we are, what we do, and how we view things. I wouldn’t want to hire someone as a manager who seems like they’re extremely tough all the time, or they’re rough on their team, or they push too hard. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to hire folks on our team who are afraid of keeping people accountable and are afraid of saying, “You said you do this thing by the state, and it didn’t happen. Can we chat about it and see what happens?” And we haven’t had to let go of too many folks at the company, especially to companies our size and our peers.

But, of course, that’s something that we’ve had to do. I’ve had to let people go. That’s the least favorite part of the job for me.

I think that’s also an important thing for managers to be able to do: Realize when someone’s not a good fit at your company. That might be because the performance was not good, or maybe it’s just not working out. Do a good job of coaching them out, and make sure they feel good about it. That’s super-important, making sure that you carry the culture forward in a good way.

And, finally, these bottom-up things, too. We are fully remote. Most of us have never been in real life. I try to meet folks in real life whenever I can, but we try our best to build community online.

Slack primarily is our internal water cooler. So we have all these different channels that are community parenting or dogs or travel or music festivals or whatever it may be. And these are just such active hubs where people chat all the time. Like any given day, there’s being traded there, whether it is song recommendations or photos of a new place that someone’s visited.

In addition to that, we do regular quarterly, monthly, or so. All-hands and team type calls where we just get to know people on a better, one-on-one, personal basis. We—from the very start, when we do these kinds of bigger calls—wouldn’t do the classic, like “Here’s a deck, I’m going to walk you through the company updates.” We would do a show and tell for the first half hour to an hour where every person on the team would bring one physical object from around their lives, whether that’s a surfboard or a hot sauce collection or a spouse and just tell us a bit about that person or thing for a minute. And we found that that was a good scaffold for further conversations to come from there.

So again, from top-down, middle-out, and bottom-up, I think culture comes from many different directions.

Checking in on employee work and progress

Mike Allton: One challenge, many older traditional agencies, we touched on this before. They’re facing a transition to partial or fully remote work environments. And they’ve got these long-standing practices for monitoring for ensuring productivity, and none of that applies anymore.

Like you said, they can’t look over my shoulder and see if I’m working today. And you’ve got employees working from diverse time zones and cultures. And it can look like trying to hold water in your hands.

What are some of the systems, tools, or even methodologies that you’ve employed to make sure all of your agency employees are getting work done?

Zach Boyette: I mentioned a lot of the more old-school practices, especially whether they’re in-person or not, depended on just watching how much people are doing and trying to figure out if they’re in the office right now. If they’re still online, that must mean they’re doing good work.

At Galactic Fed, we do some of that. We, for many roles, ask folks to submit weekly timesheets showing how they spent the breakdown of different time throughout the day. This is less of a Big Brother trying to see if people are working eight hours a day. This is more seeing, “Okay, people, if a social media manager or SEO manager spends, let’s say, two hours on an audit normally, but this manager on average is spending five hours.”

It’s a good opportunity for us to take a look at them and break down through the funnel of what they’re doing and say, “Okay, maybe here’s a way that you can do your work better,” but when I think of this productivity thing, I think of, “What are some of the areas where I see that in-person companies and remote companies typically waste time, in my opinion?””

One of the biggest sources of wasted time is these recurring phone calls, that many companies have that, as an individual contributor, maybe you’ll have a daily standup and maybe a weekly team call, then maybe a monthly all-hands or something like that every day on your calendar. And then as you move up, and you’re a manager, maybe then you’ll also have one-on-ones with everyone on your team, and you’ll have an internal alignment with your leadership and a few other things. And by the time you’re a director or VP, you find that 20-30 hours per week of your time is just on phone calls, especially recurring phone calls.

So, at the beginning of Galactic Fed, I took an unconventional approach where I said that if you wanted to schedule a recurring phone call, they had to ask me for permission before doing it. Because I found that so often these recurring phone calls just didn’t add a lot of value.

And that’s especially important for us now at Galactic Fed being so remote and in so many time zones.

We do most of our work, Mike, in writing. So Slack, ClickUp, Google Docs. Most of our stuff is operationalized in writing, and we have a go-to method for doing pretty much everything, whether that be kicking off a new client account, letting a client know that we need to change direction, or hiring and onboarding a new team member. Pretty much everything is operationalized and systematized, and that allows us to check based on the amount of time that folks are putting in per hour to do certain things versus what the other team members are doing in similar positions to get the thing done that we know needs to get done—because it’s operationalized, that allows us to help track things and make sure people are getting things done well.

Additionally, we track and maintain catalogs of just understanding. On an individual team member basis, like let’s say it’s—again to use the pay me to account manager position—what is the average client spend rate they manage? How many clients do they manage? What is their client Net Promoter score?

Measuring Your Client’s Business Impact

Mike Allton: Now, earlier, I love that you mentioned, we talked a little bit about how you’re doing organic social media as part of a growth marketing umbrella.

How are you actually measuring the impact of social media on your client’s businesses?

This is a topic I love to bring up and talk about with agencies because everyone’s doing a little bit differently. So I’d love to hear your perspective.

Zach Boyette: Yeah, I think, for us, it’s looking at the impact of social can be.

It depends on if we’re doing it with the funnel, from a paid media or SEO approach, or if it’s a pure organic approach, or if it’s influencers. So I will caveat that the different approaches that we’re taking can have different metrics for how we want to measure them.

But I think it’s important to view social, not just as direct last-touch conversions. I think it’s important to have a good look at the full funnel and see how the touches throughout the social funnel are aiding in the eventual conversions that you’re trying to make.

Social is such something that it can touch people at so many different times in so many different ways throughout the customer’s journey that you need it to be something that is aiding and assisting and maybe it is direct—but that’s not always what we see.

What Clients Shouldn’t Do

Mike Allton: One fun question I always like to ask agencies:

What shouldn’t clients do? What would get them fired from Galactic Fed?

Zach Boyette: Some of the most obvious are: We’ve had a few clients, hardly any, but a few that were generally just untoward to my team, were maybe saying sexist or even racist comments, and even ones that weren’t so bad. Maybe they were just a little bit abusive. They used coarse language. We have no tolerance for those sorts of situations with clients even if they’re paying us tons of dollars.

Again, my biggest focus at Galactic Fed is building a strong culture [and] a strong team of people who get along, [who] have a good time and enjoy their work. And so when clients start doing anything that is threatening or rude, that’s an obvious no, but that’s an easy answer, right? I hope that all agency owners do that.

I’d say that something that can be tough is just when clients don’t listen or don’t want the feedback or the advice or the experts or growth tactics that we’re giving.

We hope that when clients hire us, they’re hiring us for a reason, they understand that we’re very good at what we do. But we’ve had situations with clients where we’ll say, “Okay, our recommendation is to write ads in this way or to go live on this channel.” And the client will say, “I read this article or asked ChatGPT, and it said to do something different. So I want you to do that different thing.” And then we say, “We really must insist.” And they say, “No, no, no, I pay you, you do it.” And you say, “Okay.” And then we do the thing they asked, and it didn’t work. And then they’re upset with us. Those are difficult relationships to manage.

When I hire a plumber to come to my house, I’m not under there under the sink with them, directing about which pipes to hook up and which nozzles to screw and such. And, of course, some clients have a larger understanding of marketing than others, and it’s rightly okay for them to have opinions of what we’re doing there. But I think that if they’re hiring us for our expert opinions and our growth and what we know has worked working with over 600 companies now, then it usually works best if they trust us.

Mike Allton: It’s tremendous advice, and it’s a comment that’s been echoed by many of the agencies that have come on here. I haven’t figured out how yet, but I’m going to figure out some way to communicate all this to clients, so they stop acting like they know what’s best in marketing because they don’t or else they wouldn’t have hired me. Certainly, as you said, they can have an opinion, they can have a voice, but they need to trust us, so I appreciate you bringing that up.

What’s in Zach’s Tech Stack?

Just one last question, Zach. And, again, it’s another one of these fun questions I love asking all agency owners.

What tools haven’t we talked about that are in your tech stack?

You’ve talked about Slack, you talked about ClickUp. You mentioned it a second ago. What else is in your tech stack?

Zach Boyette: I really can’t say enough about ClickUp. Slack is sort of our water cooler where people hang out that replaces the in-person collaboration that we might do. But ClickUp for us is the spine of how we organize the company. That is where a lot of these organizational docs that I referenced the operational blueprints. Those are all blueprinted within ClickUp. And maybe that might be a certain framework or workspace within ClickUp that links out to Google Docs.

But we found that having well-organized ClickUp workspaces makes it way easier to copy, paste, and replicate so that it’s easier to scale new hires into the company and help them understand our culture, as well. If I had to give one plug, it’d be ClickUp. That’s been a really great tool for us.

Mike Allton: Terrific. And I don’t know that anybody’s brought up ClickUp yet on the show. So fantastic. Thank you for that.

Get Connected With Zach

Zach, this has been incredible. Thank you so much. For those who want to learn more about you, about Galactic Fed, where can they go?

Zach Boyette: If you need help with any growth marketing, any online digital marketing, we’d love to help whether that’s building a website, running your paid ads campaigns, getting your SEO ranking better, or doing email marketing or organic social as Mike and I chatted about. Search us on Galactic Fed. We’re happy to help you make your dreams become reality and help you grow your marketing.

Mike Allton: Terrific. Thank you, Zach. And, folks, that’s all the time we’ve got for today.

You’ll find Zach’s LinkedIn profile, Galactic Fed’s website, all the things, and every episode that we mentioned, in this episode, they’ll all be linked in the show notes. So be sure to check that out and please visit Apple and leave us a review. Let us know what you think on iTunes and until next time, we’ll see you.

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