Scaling Your Agency Through Outsourcing With Brian Gerstner

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In today's episode, Brian Gerstner, founder of White Label IQ, joins Rob to share his expertise on how marketing agencies can leverage outsourcing to enhance their capabilities and fuel growth.

We delve into the pros and cons of outsourcing versus in-house hiring when is the right time to consider it, how agencies can find reliable partners and the systems required to make outsourcing work smoothly. 

Brian also touches on the impact of AI in the industry, making this episode a must-listen for agency owners looking to scale their businesses.

Topics Covered In This Episode:

[00:00] Introduction to the episode: Brian Gertser, shares expertise on incorporating outsourced labor and finding reliable partners. 

[01:47] Why Brian started an outsourcing agency

[03:35] Where do you start when considering outsourcing? Learn from your partners before you bring in fixed costs (such as staff)

[03:54] Tips on what tasks to outsource v what should be in-house?

[05:49] What systems & processes do you need in place to make outsourcing successful?

[07:40] How do you find the right partner?    

[10:25] What risks are there with outsourcing?

[13:56] Examples of projects you can outsource

[16:15] The importance of finding partners now

[17:33] How do I integrate partners into my in-house team?

[19:53] How is AI impacting the future of the marketing landscape?   

[23:20] What advice would you give your younger self?


“If you really want outsourcing to work, you have to invest in the front end: treat them like an employee.” — Brian Gerstner
"We all need to build our pool of freelancers and outsource partners, so they're there when we need them. Don’t start looking for one when you need them now!” — Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

Rob Da Costa [00:00:00]:

Hey, everybody, and welcome to this week's agency accelerator podcast. Now, this week, we're talking a whole about how marketing agencies can leverage outsourcing to enhance their capabilities and fuel growth. And I'm really excited today to be joined by Brian Gerson, a founder of white label IQ, a company that provides white-label digital services to help agencies scale. Brian's got years of experience working in the agency world and working with seas of all sizes to offshore design development and paid me media. Now with outsourcing on the RISE, I was keen to get Brian's expertise on how agencies can incorporate outsourcing labour into their business model and operations. So we'll discuss the pros and cons of doing this versus hiring in-house. And how you go about finding reliable partners and making it all work smoothly. And then if we get a chance, kind of be remiss to not ask Brian about how AI is gonna impact all of this. So the goal today is to provide you with some actionable advice about how outsourcing can be a growth accelerator for your agency if done right. I'm Rob Acosta, and this is the agency accelerator podcast. As someone who has stood in your shoes, having started grown and sold my own agency, and I just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable business. So let's dive in. And first of all, Brian, thanks so much for joining me today.

Brian Gerstner [00:01:37]:

Oh, thank you for having me. I love it. Thank you. Good.

Rob Da Costa [00:01:40]:

So to kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to start an outsourcing company focused on sporting agencies?

Brian Gerstner [00:01:49]:

Well, I would say it happened the way a lot of businesses come about we found a problem, and we started working on ways to fix it. And that problem solution to it just kinda kept growing. So, I say that in the sense that, I come from just client-facing brand strategy marketing And in that, we were having a lot more complex requests for just digital needs as we were growing. I don't wanna date myself too much in how that long that progression was, but, you know, the asks when we're complicated, the needs were faster, and we just found that we couldn't do it in-house because we started bottlenecking. And so we did classic. Hiring people, freelancers, contractors, different agencies, and going offshore. And as we did that, we realized that a lot of our peers in the marketing world had the exact same issue, and it allowed us to scale. And we started just working with our peers, which allowed us to scale and that just started to bloom. And we it became the revenue from it became a true business line, and we looked at it one day and was like, we have another business And from there, we started just making a lot of decisions on how to grow it, how to make it better and have really to tailor it to our audience a little bit better. So, we solved our own problem and took it to market.

Rob Da Costa [00:03:11]:

Well, that's always a smart approach to starting a business as opposed to thinking you've got a great idea. And then finding anyone who wants it. So that that's good. So let me ask you, a short question that's a big question, which is when would an agency typically choose the outsourcing, the white label route rather than actually deciding to bring those skills in-house?

Brian Gerstner [00:03:45]:

As you begin, you should outsource. You should learn from your partners, and you should also build enough business and revenue behind that vertical before you start bringing on fixed costs. So there's always an advantage to learning from your partners first. You may test those waters and decide it's not it's not for you.

Rob Da Costa [00:04:06]:

Right. Yeah. That's a that's a good a good shout. So, what tips have you got for agencies to determine, like, what task can I outsource versus what task should I have done in-house? Whether that be the complete task or, like, the account management part of a task. I don't know. What would your be your view on that be?

Brian Gerstner [00:04:27]:

Well, two ways is first, when you have, like, repetitive type work, That often is very easy to outsource because you can define it really well. You can hand it off to your partner and expectations are very clear. The other areas when it's just outside of your core of what you know how to do well, outsource it quickly learn once again, to that prior question, learn from your partner, and then decide if you wanna bring it in-house and how you wanna bring it in-house. But it is because communication is so key in working with people outside of your own business, that you do have to be able to put definition to what you're wanting. That is a good first step. Once you get into more complexity, that comes with trust. That comes with knowing that your partner has your needs in mind, and that you can go to them with a problem. That's very much how our clients coming into an agency ask. They come at us with the problem. And, just as with your partners, start small, give defined requests, and then kind of build that trust and go bigger and bigger and take longer strides in. In fact.

Rob Da Costa [00:05:35]:

Yeah. That's it's a really good shout about doing it like that. I certainly found I had quite a few failures when I was trying to hire a virtual assistant to work or a team of virtual assistants to work with me and it wasn't until I documented my, like, standard operating procedures that I could successfully outsource this to a team. My, team is based in the Philippines. So, and they do a lot of stuff for me now, but it was, I guess I'm echoing your point, really, that it wasn't until I wrote it down, actually showed them how to do stuff that, they were successful with it. So I think that's a good good point to say do that first. And then when you trust them, you can go to them with questions. So I guess, one question around that, although maybe we've already answered it, is like, what systems and processes do you think agencies need to establish in order to have that successful relationship and also ensure that the quality of the work that the outsourced partner is delivering is kind of what you would expect and what your clients would expect.

Brian Gerstner [00:06:38]:

The beginning of it starts with a very clear scope of work, you know, focusing on the discovery and making sure that you're documenting what the expectations are. At the beginning of the relationship, you're overcommunicating it. And then from there, you can build out more processes based on what's important to you and your clients. I would start with things that are really just top of mind. Now, so if you if your agency is very creatively focused, Okay. And you're then you're gonna wanna start to build processes that are gonna support and help build upon authority because you are good there, and you can contribute to those processes. And you can set expectations with your partner through that. There will be a lot of other processes that your partner will also need to bring to the table and communicate to you clearly because if they're not telling you how they're doing things or what they're doing, you can't set those expectations with your client also. So the answer is I I'd I'd really start in your own wheelhouse. Start with what's important to you to make sure that you're maintaining that authority and you're able to set expectations clearly. You can't accept it's not easy to set expectations in an area that you really don't know or feel comfortable in.

Rob Da Costa [00:08:06]:

Yeah. No. Again, that's a good shout because, I mean, often people are outsourcing because they don't have those skills in-house or they don't wanna have those skills in-house or they don't have them yet. So they may not already always know exactly what they need, and I guess that's where the sort of stage 2 of trusting your partner comes in.

Brian Gerstner [00:08:22]:

And in that too, you know, finding a partner, referrals, you know, if you wanna move quickly, you need confidence. You need credibility, and the best way to do that is by talking to your peers in the industry. Our peer networks have been one of the most helpful things that we've ever participated in.

Rob Da Costa [00:08:40]:

Yeah. So that's that's leading me on to the next question, which you've already started answering, really, which is how should agencies approach finding and vetting the right reliable outsourcing partner or freelancer or offshore or whatever it it is.

Brian Gerstner [00:08:55]:

Yeah. As I said, you know, referrals go a long way. And, you know, there is always a a bit of leap of faith that happens. But you do want to start by just do you feel comfortable. Are they communicating? Is it important to that partner and are they trying to bring clarity? Are they asking questions? Do they want the work? In that regard, you can then start taking steps that you feel comfortable with. I always talk to clients and say, we're gonna over-communicate here. Please don't feel that I'm annoying, but I'm gonna email and call you a lot at the very beginning because there's a lot of assumptions that happen, and we need to make sure we're clearing that and maybe you know, a Zoom call is not necessary, but I'd really like to go to that level because I wanna feel comfortable, and I want you to feel comfortable and I wanna start moving with taking bigger strides faster. So by doing that, I feel that there's an investment that happens. And if the person on the other side, the partner is investing in you, then that's a good sign. And the other thing is do you feel comfortable is the communication clear? Are they trying to create additional clarity? Are they explaining things to you in a way that you can understand and you can talk to your own clients? Because that's key in this particular industry because when you bring on an or an outsource, you're adding another layer. So if your partner's not communicating things to you, you can't communicate to your end client. And if you're not communicating to your end client, they don't think you're doing or, you know, I mean, silence is death in this industry. So we need to keep talking.

Rob Da Costa [00:10:51]:

Yeah. I mean, the answer really is what you're saying is to treat your partners exactly the same way you would treat a client. Because if you want a new client, you'd wanna overcommunicate at the beginning. You'd wanna reassure them wanna get all the systems set up, you're gonna do a lot more work at the beginning to build that relationship. And also, we all know that the best clients are ones that are kind of similar and have a similar culture to us. And I guess you're saying the same thing about a partner as well you wanna find a partner that works in a similar similar way to use, so, some good advice there. What risks or downsides should agencies be aware of without sourcing?

Brian Gerstner [00:11:33]:

With risks, I mean, one of, I mean, one of the benefits is outsourcing often allows you to mitigate risk in general as we talked earlier about bringing on different amounts of work. The other side of the risk has to do with expectations aren't clear. I mean, when you talked about processes and I mentioned, you know, that scope of work, the the biggest risk is when you just try to throw work over the fence and expect it to come back, you know, the way you want it. It is making sure expectations are clear and that you're going to, receive what you need because we often put ourselves in these situations and particularly in marketing where you're start to work on a project. It might not be a small project. It could be weeks or months into it. And if you get to the end and it's not what you wanted, that's a huge problem. So, you know, communication fixes a lot of that, but the risk is really just getting to the end and not having what you expected. And once you've done a few projects, you get more comfortable. Expectations are clear. There's more trust. And once again, you can move faster, but, I would highly encourage to mitigate that risk. Do more iteration. You know, ask you know, someone needs to communicate. There should not be a blackout period. There should, if anything, be a just wanted to give you a status update that there is no update. We're on track. Everything is going well. And, because there's a lot of you're making yourself very vulnerable, and that's why I think a lot of people are feeling uncomfortable doing outsourcing because you can't control what's going on. Yeah. So iterative communication in making sure that constantly you're overcommunicating and that expectations are clear is a way to mitigate it. And if you don't do that, the risk is that you end up with something you dead you don't want. Yeah. And you lose a client.

Rob Da Costa [00:13:35]:

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. This is one of those slow down speed up moments, you know, get it. Find the right partner onboard them correctly, brief them really well, and communicate really well, and then you'll be more like to get to the end result quicker.

Brian Gerstner [00:13:50]:

Yeah. I mean, there is a lot of benefit to doing the work upfront to doing that planning. And, and agencies, all of often, we're just trying to rush and we're trying to get things and throw things over the fence sometimes. But if you can pause you can take that time at the beginning and like I said, invest into what's happening. With that partner, you're gonna save so much time and heartache at the very end. And your client is gonna see that through the process because you'll have the updates. There will be clarity. The planning at the beginning, particularly if we're talking about, say, web development is critical too because there's just so many places for it to go wrong. There's so many opportunities for scope creep or expectations not being aligned. And that's with anything that that you're not familiar with. And that's the whole basis of outsourcing, right, that you're not familiar with and not taking it on. So that that risk is true.

Rob Da Costa [00:14:50]:

And I guess a good partner is always gonna ask the right questions at the beginning as well. So not just relying on you to ask them the right questions for them to ask you the right So Well,

Brian Gerstner [00:15:00]:

that's a lot of time because you don't know what you don't know, and you need that partner to mitigate risk by asking those questions. As we talked in you know, whether it's, you know, asking the right questions to understand the business objectives for a design project, what are you really trying to accomplish and what's the goal or when you get into a development project that's complex and just allowing people to tell you, you know, what could go wrong in the future or how their decisions are affecting the price. Yeah, you're you're you're relying on that person to, cover you.

Rob Da Costa [00:15:36]:

So can you give us some examples of the type of projects or the type of work that you can outsource or that you see people approaching you to find people for?

Brian Gerstner [00:15:46]:

A lot of it is design. So in working in an agency with a core flex type where you're keeping a smaller amount of people in-house, you can set the design. You can set the standards. You can get the look and feel of a project, and then you can hand it off to a production. Person. So that's as an instance as we talked before, you're able to define it. So it's easier to hand off and it's easier to communicate expectations. When you're coming into development, that's one area where outsourcing is very strong because more and more you need subject matter experts. To really know what they're doing and to be able to, as we said, ask the right questions. You know, when we get into things like you know, paid media. This landscape is getting way more complicated. There's more channels to go into, and there's a more need to be accountable for the dollars you're spending. So finding someone who really knows what they're doing and can craft a good strategy is critical so that you're just not wasting people's money. You know, even then when you get into, I think another is just administrative kind of ad hoc tasks. A lot of agencies aren't geared really well to do the smalls. You could have a fire drill or a small come-in, and it eats like your entire day. Whereas you could have been client-facing. You could have been selling something. You could have been working on a bigger project that's going to have a greater impact. So those little tiny things, like be it a content change or a landing page or a small production design work, if you can outsource those things, then you can reduce the fixed costs in your company, and you can really deliver value in what you do well and let somebody else take care of you know, those 1, 2, 3 hour things. The beauty of that too is you can bring them in-house when you need to. If you're slow, you can start bringing that work back in-house. But you then have built a relationship. You have an outlet. You have somebody that you can go to when work increases, and you don't have to say no. Or you don't have to compromise on the quality and deliver it with your project.

Rob Da Costa [00:17:51]:

I guess if you've outsourced it, first of all, you kind of know what you're looking for when you decide to bring it in-house and you understand it better, which you may have not done before you outsourced it.

Brian Gerstner [00:18:00]:

Yeah. And, and, one thing I talk about too is starting out. Find partners. Even if you don't have the work, start investing now because when you need it, it's too late.

Rob Da Costa [00:18:11]:

Absolutely. That's such a true thing. We all need to build our pool of freelancers, partners, you know, whatever it is so that you know, they're there when we need them because as you say, when you need them and you haven't got them, it's sort of too late, and there's a good chance then you're gonna take the wrong partner on because you just need someone to do the work. Right?

Brian Gerstner [00:18:30]:

Yeah. And I'm seeing now in the market that agencies particularly in You know, the, like, 10 to 30 range in staffing are actually shrinking. I'm seeing more and more agencies reduce their footprint and create these strategic partnerships because it's getting noisier out there. As you talk, AI is starting to automate a lot of things. So now you really have to be known for something. You have to bring strategy. You have to bring a higher level of thought to the table mediocrity is just getting beaten out of us.

Rob Da Costa [00:19:13]:

Yeah. And that's very true. I mean, we'll touch upon that in a minute because I think AI is expediting that. But And I and, of course, the pandemic probably kind of has had a big part to play in, you know, first of all, people agency's getting smaller, but also realizing that there's multiple ways of work hitting. I don't just need an in-house staff with an office. The pandemic sort of taught me that we can remote work. I can use time people I can use with free dances and so on. So if I'm if I'm outsourcing, I find a partner. What advice would you give to ensure that I'm integrating that partner really well into my in-house team to ensure collaboration and, of ensure that the client has a great experience?

Brian Gerstner [00:19:53]:

When you hire somebody, in-house, you know, you sit down and you walk them through what you're doing, you show them, hey, here's what we've done in the past. Here's what we're doing today. Here's some ideas that I have. And so often I see some people come to, you know, partners and they just throw it over the wall and you take care of that. But I've I feel that if you really wanted to work, you have to invest in the front end and treat them like an employee. You know, onboard them. Tell them, you know, what you do well. Sit down, just have a cup of coffee, talk about how you do workflows, who who communicates, who's really good at what, and just let them be familiar with you. Once again, investing that time, and putting time in front of it, is well worth it.

Rob Da Costa [00:20:40]:

Yeah. So

Brian Gerstner [00:20:40]:

a project or working.

Rob Da Costa [00:20:42]:

Yeah. So true. I mean, why wouldn't you treat a partner in the same way you treat an employee? And yet, most people don't do that. They think I've got a problem. You can solve it, go and solve it, but they don't really you know, they don't really think, well, I need to invest in them just like we want our clients to see as an as an equal partner. We wanna know, the best client relationships are partner relationships, not unbalanced customer suppliers. Well, the same is true with an outsource talk. Right?

Brian Gerstner [00:21:09]:

Yeah. I mean, it's hard. We're in the in being an agency. You're in the middle of it, and you're still focused on the client. And you don't really have to manage both ends. You know, it's just like even in a business sense, you're constantly having to add value for the client to demonstrate your worth. Well, I mean, nowadays too, you on the other side of that, you have to demonstrate and create value for all the people in your company. You can't create value for them, you're also going to win because you lose talent. So, in that same realm, you know, your clients and your partners. You have to create value for them. You have to invest time and energy into them because they're expected to do the same for you. So, yeah, we're in this middle ground, right, where we're we we should know exactly what to expect, but it feels different.

Rob Da Costa [00:21:56]:

Yeah. I think it's because, I talk about, you know, a lot of agencies being stuck on the client service hamster wheel of doom. They are very much in that mode, and therefore, you know, they're not investing enough time in making these partnerships work. And therefore, they create their own self-fulfilling prophecy of saying, well, I knew wouldn't work. Listen, before I let you go, I would really like to get your view on how you feel AI is going to impact what is and will impact the future of the sort of marketing landscape.

Brian Gerstner [00:22:29]:

The phrase I said a little bit ago is true. It’s gonna beat the mediocrity out of all of us. We need to be known for something. We have to demonstrate authority in some areas. I feel generalist agencies are gonna have the hardest time. They're going they need to be focused on a specific vertical. They need to be focused on a specific industry. It's hard. It's scary. But it's well worth it. If you're just going out there telling everybody, you can do everything. I think the day is over. The game's over. People people know that's not real anymore. Things have just gotten so much more complicated, and the, like, expectation for results is much higher than it's ever been.

Rob Da Costa [00:23:17]:

Yeah. I agree. I feel like it's gonna force all of the agencies to up their grit, game, and elevate what they do And, of course, one of the big advantages is it's gonna create more capacity in the agency. They should be more efficient at doing things. But I think we're gonna go through this period of time where clients think they can do a lot of it themselves with AI tools like create content or design or whatever. And then they'll try and do that fail spectacular and come back to the agencies.

Brian Gerstner [00:23:44]:

I don't necessarily think all of them are gonna fail, though. A lot of them are gonna be able to bring it in and manage more of it, but that's, you know, why we have to up our game. You know? It's no longer good enough just to be able to create banner ads. You know, we had to demonstrate, like, how those banner ads speak to a very specific audience in a very specific way. You know? So the production aspect is gonna be, the price pressure, our ability to deliver, the time to deliver is gonna be insane.

Rob Da Costa [00:24:17]:

Yeah. I feel like that

Brian Gerstner [00:24:18]:

came out. You know, all of a sudden, everybody's like, hey. We're gonna work 3, 4 hours a day. You know, here I'm agent on dating myself a little bit, but it didn't. We just had to work twice as hard.

Rob Da Costa [00:24:28]:

Wow. I suspect we're just in a cycle like you go back to the Industrial Revolution, you can imagine how that impacted people. Or, I don't know, when the computers first came around, I remember when calculators came out, I'm old to the news. And how that was gonna change everything. And then, you know, the electronic books and kindles and so on came out, and that was gonna kill all the publishing industry. And, of course, it doesn't. It finds its equilibrium.

Brian Gerstner [00:24:52]:

I was just saying in all those areas that you just mentioned, if you look back, the thing is, Massive amounts of jobs were lost. At the end of the day, more jobs were created every single time. But there's a lot of retraining. There's a lot of, like, your cheese is gonna get moved. So, if you're in the agency business, you're probably okay with change. If you're not, this is the wrong industry, but, you know, you've as a change agent here, with AI, we just have to embrace it in a way that we've never had before.

Rob Da Costa [00:25:29]:

Yeah. And it's really interesting that My view is that we absolutely need to embrace it, and we need to see how it can enhance the services we deliver to our clients. As opposed to saying, oh, no, I'm a copywriter and AI will never write as well as me because if you, as an agency, don't embrace it now, you know your competitors embracing it, and they're gonna and your clients are as well, and they're gonna end up beating you. So we should be looking at how it can enhance and elevate what we do and support our clients even more.

Brian Gerstner [00:25:58]:

Yeah. You'll get left behind if you don't.

Rob Da Costa [00:26:00]:

Yeah. Okay. So let's wrap this up by asking me asking you the question that I ask all of my guests, which is If you could go back in time and give your younger self just starting out in business a piece of advice, what would it be?

Brian Gerstner [00:26:12]:

I'd be, learning how to say no. Faster. There's so much power in saying no. And it's not like turning things down, but a lot of saying no has to do with understanding what you really are good at, understanding where when you're as you said before, like, in that hamster wheel of client services when it's not a good fit because the other side of it is if you say no, you will find a better place. You will find a better client. You will find a stronger niche, you know, but, you have to be brave and you have to say no and you have to set boundaries. That doesn't only help you but it creates so much more stability in your agency. Everybody on your staff knows what they're doing. They understand your boundaries. You can scale them. If they understand what to do, how to do it, what you do, and what you don't do, everybody who's seeing the agency can start making decisions that would allow you as an owner to start actually scaling your agency.

Rob Da Costa [00:27:15]:

Yes. Let me ask you a follow-up question to that, which I started asking my guests do you think your younger self would listen to you? If you could go back in time and tell them, tell yourself that advice, would he heed, would young Brian heed that advice?

Brian Gerstner [00:27:29]:

Oh, no. Not as well. Not as well.

Rob Da Costa [00:27:34]:

We also know it, don't we? It's it's a good it's a good thing. And maybe saying no comes with confidence, and maybe when we're younger, we don't we either have misplaced confidence or we don't have confidence. And maybe that's why.

Brian Gerstner [00:27:46]:

And there are some lessons that can only truly be learned through experience.

Rob Da Costa [00:27:50]:

Yeah. Very true. So if people wanted to learn more about you, and reach out to you, where would they go, Brian?

Brian Gerstner [00:27:58]:

White label And, on our LinkedIn page, we produce a lot of content, and we are truly trying to be helpful. So if go to our website, check out our content, and even just give us a call. I'm always open to just consulting. I love talking to my peers. It's been my best resource.

Rob Da Costa [00:28:18]:

Yeah. Good for you. Giving away value is such a fantastic way of, you know, building your community and building your kind of credibility with your audience, I'm all for that. So we'll make sure we include all those links in the show notes. I just wanna say a big thank you for joining us today. I'm sure the listeners will have got some insightful nuggets from the episode.

Brian Gerstner [00:28:38]:

I appreciate it, Rob. Thank you.

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